Friday, April 19, 2013


"Tolerance is a virtue, but like all virtues, when exaggerated, it transforms itself into a vice. We need to be careful of the “tolerance trap” so that we are not swallowed up in it. The permissiveness afforded by the weakening of the laws of the land to tolerate legalized acts of immorality does not reduce the serious spiritual consequence that is the result of the violation of God’s law of chastity."
--Boyd K Packer (Mormon Apostle)

I'm not really a political person, yet people often think that I am. I freely acknowledge my own ignorance on most political issues, and I generally withhold commenting on things I know little about. But there are a few issues which can really stir me, such as gay marriage.

A couple of weeks ago Right-wing nut job Glenn Beck released a concession that "they" have won the gay marriage battle because "they" made it about freedom:

As much as I want to believe that the tides are turning for political conservatives, this concession seems all too opportunistic. Maybe I'm being cynical. Maybe Beck, a self-proclaimed libertarian, really has had a change of heart and really does see that conservatives have no legal basis to deny gay people the right to marry, no matter how icky or immoral they may find it. I just have to ask "Why, Mr Beck, has it taken you so long to look at this issue through the libertarian lens of freedom? Why the change of heart?"

I suppose that even if Beck is a hypocritical opportunist, this is still a sign of progress. If he is merely appealing to his constituencies, then this means his constituencies are changing their minds. This would be very good news.

Similarly, the Boy Scouts of America have recently changed their policy on gays in their organization. While the change is not as inclusive as some had hoped (gay adults are still not allowed), and it seems to be the result of monetary pressures from donors rather than doing the right thing on moral grounds (like the organization professes), it is still a step in the right direction.

With all the recent advances in gay rights, many are making predictions that gay marriage will be allowed in most states in X number of years, etc. A while back, I made a similar prediction that eventually even the Mormon Church will soften its policies on gay members, just as they did with black members in 1978. So, today I will reiterate that, like Glenn Beck, the BSA and the Mormon Church in 1978, all of whom changed their minds to reflect the social and political climate at the time, one day the Mormon Church will allow gay civil marriage in their churches, and gay men in openly gay relationships will hold priesthood offices in the church. All we have to do is wait for Mr Packer to die.


Here is Bryan Fischer chastising Glenn Beck for changing his mind on gay marriage:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


"Stepped into a church I passed along the way
Well, I got down on my knees and I pretended to pray
You know the preacher likes the cold, he knows I'm gonna stay"
--Mamas and the Papas (song "California Dreaming")

This is a sort of continuation of a previous post.

One of the things which fascinates me most about the Book of Mormon story of Korihor and Alma is the rather ironic lesson in tricking yourself into believing falsehoods. You see, the Mormon Church teaches that if a person has a desire to believe in the Church but as of yet has not received the spiritual witness from the Holy Ghost testifying of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, then that person can gain a testimony "through the bearing of it". That's right, the Church actually teaches that if you don't know the Church is true, just say you do in front of other people over and over again--eventually you will start to believe it.

Here are a couple of quotes from various Church authorities (source Mormon Think):

"A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it. Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that 'leap of faith,' as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and step into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two."
--Boyd K. Packer (Mormon Apostle)

"Another way to seek a testimony seems astonishing when compared with the methods of obtaining other knowledge. We gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it. Someone even suggested that some testimonies are better gained on the feet bearing them than on the knees praying for them."
--Dallin H Oaks (Mormon Apostle)

The implication that these men are trying to convey to their members is that by saying one knows the Church, etc. is all true, one will finally receive the witness from the Holy Ghost. But, as I have asked before, how does one reliably discern between a genuine divinely-caused burning of the bosom and an emotionally-charged, self-induced sensation reflecting one's desire to believe (aka confirmation bias)?

Furthermore, Joseph Smith once told Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery that he had received revelation through the same process he had used to allegedly translate the Book of Mormon (a seer stone in a hat) that they should go to Toronto, Canada to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon, in order to expedite the publishing process and get the books made more quickly. Returning empty handed, Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery inquired of Joseph why the Lord had seemingly given him a false revelation. Joseph received yet another revelation, again through the same process, that "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil". This presents a perpetual problem for believers, as such potential sources of revelations are apparently indecipherable in their similarities--even to Joseph Smith:

"Be ever on guard lest you be deceived by inspiration from an unworthy source. You can be given false spiritual messages. There are counterfeit spirits just as there are counterfeit angels. Be careful lest you be deceived, for the devil may come disguised as an angel of light.

"The spiritual part of us and the emotional part of us are so closely linked that it is possible to mistake an emotional impulse for something spiritual. We occasionally find people who receive what they assume to be spiritual promptings from God, when those promptings are either centered in the emotions or are from the adversary."
--Boyd K. Packer

Now, to a true believer this is important information, although the Church has yet to offer a reliable way to discern between these "false spiritual messages" and genuinely divine messages. For someone such as myself who thinks all three options are of the same man-made origin, this apparent conundrum is very telling.

For those of you positing the possibility that Joseph Smith just made a one-time mistake, consider the fact that the same thing happened to the Muslim prophet Mohammad, which is the origin of the "Satanic Verses" in the Koran. If Joseph Smith was admittedly deceived by Satan once, is it not possible that it could have occurred more than once? Could it have happened every time? Is it only possible to tell if a revelation is true by it coming to pass? Is this method the least bit rational or reliable?


The Atheist Experience on faith:

Thursday, April 4, 2013


"To me religion is like Paul Rudd. I see the appeal, and I would never take it away from anyone. But I would also never stand in line for it."
--Excerpt from "Community"

Last July I wrote a verse by verse deconstruction of a chapter in the Book of Mormon wherein Joseph Smith really shows his lack of understanding of atheism by portraying Korihor (anti-Christ) as one of the most cliche-ridden depictions of an atheist I have ever seen. He also seems to have confused the Law of Moses with the US Constitution...

At any rate, at the end of the story Korihor reveals that he only disbelieved in god because a demon disguised as an angel told him there is no god, and he repeated the lie in his mind over and over again until he eventually believed it. To me this is the only thing of value in this story.

The concept of repeating falsehoods until you believe them is a well known psychological phenomenon, and I think many people fall victim to it within the realm of religious conviction and spiritual experiences. Furthermore, and this is the real point of this post, religious people are encouraged to get together regularly (sometimes even daily) to reaffirm each other's experiences and opinions as truth.

In my youth I was taught that the path to apostasy starts with inactivity. This is why the Mormon Church puts so much effort in to their "Home Teaching" program--so they can catch apostasy early on and bring people back to the Church. (Note: No Home Teachers have tried to contact me since I graduated from BYU, so clearly that's why I'm an atheist....)

I will admit that there is some truth to the notion that if you stop attending a church you will gradually become disenchanted with its teachings. But unlike religious people, who will tell you that this method of apostasy is just Satan gently leading you away from god, I say this shows the weakness of religious arguments. Conversely, biologists don't get together weekly just to tell each other that evolution is still true, because evolution does not rely upon subjective experiences interpreted through the lens of a book of questionable holiness and origin.

There are atheists who admire religions for their social networks, and some have even tried to start "atheist churches" to mimic this, but by and large most atheists do not feel the need to come together en masse on a weekly basis to reaffirm their logically sound, empirically based arguments. If anything, they want the occasional potluck and game-night.

Well, this coming weekend the Mormon Church is hosting their semi-annual General Conference and will broadcast it around the world. For those interested in seeing what group-think is really all about, or if you are just curiously masochistic, feel free to check it out. I, on the other hand, will be getting paid overtime as I work during each session of the conference. If anything interesting happens I am sure Facebook will let me know on Monday.


Christopher Hitchens on the strength of atheism:
And a cheeky advertisement for Britain's first atheist church: