Sunday, December 27, 2015

Monday, December 21, 2015

Sunday, November 22, 2015

THE GREAT APE IN THE SKY

Special guest Megan joins Matt and Corinne once again to share her story of leaving Mormonism. Also, updates on articles from last week, trouble in India and Mormon-themed coffee.

Monday, November 16, 2015

RAINBOW ROUSERS

Join Matt, Corinne and special guest Megan as they share their experience at the recent "Mass Resignation from the LDS Church" in Salt Lake City.

http://circlesquaredpodcast.blogspot.com/2015/11/episode-5-rainbow-rousers.html

Monday, November 9, 2015

SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN

In this episode Corinne and Matt discuss "10 Reasons You Should Be Mormon," "Gay Father and Gay Son Want to Marry," online quizzes, and the most recent events in Mormon homophobia.


Monday, October 5, 2015

USER FRIENDLY

I have heard religious people use the following scripture as an argument against atheism: "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." This is the theological equivalent schoolyard name calling. If by "fool" they mean a person who does not believe the same unsubstantiated nonsense as they believe, well, it seems to be more of a compliment than an insult. Such provocations only serve to expose the weakness of their arguments. If there was anything of substance to be presented, they would not fall upon insults to rattle their opponent. Arguments stand or fall on their own merits, as Matt Dillahunty points out. Name calling is not an argument.

It is in this vein of "I know you are, but what am I?" that I have a hard time stomaching some of the ideas promoted in the most recent General Conference of the Mormon Church. One leader, Mr. Dieter Uchtdorf, flat out said that skepticism is the easy path and lacks the moral courage and integrity that a faith-filled life requires. This is absurd and condescending to anyone who has wrestled with difficult topics while a believing Mormon.

Problems and inconsistencies in the Mormon narrative, especially regarding history and the veracity of Mormon scripture, have caused many people over the years to question whether the church is true. This phenomenon has only accelerated with the advent of the Internet, which has increased the layman's access to information. In the past, when someone heard disconcerting information they would have to pour through volumes of books in order to find the truth. Now, most people can fact check claims they hear in church on their phones as they sit in the pews. Pulling wool over the eyes of the average Joe has become more challenging to charlatans everywhere.
  
The accessibility of information and the effect of raising doubts in members has become a growing problem for the Mormon church. Many people have speculated that this problem has caused the church to be more open about their history in recent essays published by the church, in an attempt to get ahead of the curve of dwindling membership.

Surely, amid the commotion, Mr. Uchtdorf has spoken to sincere believers who struggle with their new-found doubts. Surely, he has heard their pleas for satisfactory and comprehensive answers to their questions. Surely, he has seen the alienation that comes to members who doubt and the strength of character it takes to step away from the church of their family and friends. How dare he call it the "easy way." There is nothing easy about it.

I have a hard time believing that someone in Mr. Uchtdorf's position could make such a statement naively. Which implies that he made a conscious decision to ostracize a growing segment of the population of the church.

Another idea promoted in this conference is that true-believing members should only read church approved sources for historical information. In particular, members should avoid the Internet when researching the church. This is obviously a response to the problem described above that members are coming across information on the Internet which disproves the user-friendly version of church history promoted by the church itself. The more the church can control the narrative, the more they can insulate members from facts which challenge faith.

This is done out of necessity, of course. Without resorting to such totalitarian tactics, the church would likely continue to lose members--especially young adults--which directly threatens their coffers. And without ever-inflating tax-free money bags, how else would the church buy another multi-billion dollar high-end mall?


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

AS THE WHEELS TURN

"Religion provides the solace for the turmoil that it creates."
--Byron Danelius









A few weeks ago I had an unexpected conversation with a Mormon coworker about Mormonism. By piecing together things which I had said over the few days prior, she suspected that I was no longer Mormon. So, in a characteristic boldness, she asked if I was LDS. This led to an extensive conversation about Mormon culture--in particular, the all-too-common alienation of non-Mormons--and doubts, and research, and family pressures to believe and go on a mission. It was surprisingly enjoyable.

One of the reasons I hesitate to engage in these conversations is because many people do not take them very well. My disbelief in unsubstantiated faith claims has changed the nature of my relationships with several family members and friends. Most of the people around me trumpet their beliefs without a second thought. Mormons breed a culture of conformity which causes those who question or doubt to wonder if something is wrong with them.

After all, when everyone you know tells you that praying to god about the veracity of the Book of Mormon--the keystone of Mormonism, upon which the religion rises or falls--should bring about a specific feeling in your gut, what does it mean when that does not happen? Furthermore, what does it mean when that does not happen for the better part of a decade? The church will say "try again, and keep trying until it happens." This faux-scientific test seems to have only one acceptable outcome, according to the church. The outcome which favors their purse.

Because of these pressures to experience the same warm fuzzies as everyone else, Mormons feel as if these experiences, and by extension Mormonism generally, are inexorably tied to their identity. Their beliefs define them. This results in a knee-jerk defensiveness when an attack on Mormonism occurs. The attack is not just against an idea or an organization, but against the person. They often have difficulty differentiating between their beliefs and themselves.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when my coworker so candidly discussed difficult topics with me. She is a believer. I have no reason to assume that our conversation has given her cause to doubt. More than anything, she genuinely wanted to understand my experience. How refreshing.

I recently reconnected with an old friend through Reddit. We grew up in the same Mormon congregation and over the years have independently drifted way from the church. His faith crisis is relatively new, despite accumulating doubts for several years, and is still considered active in the church. Through our conversations, I have become aware of other mutual acquaintances who have either left the church, or who are beginning their own faith crisis. I have also become aware that despite my avoidance of outing myself as a non-believer, many people have noticed my disaffection with religion.

Naturally, this has caused me to think ("A most dangerous pastime." "I know."). Perhaps there are more people in my situation than I had supposed. Perhaps there are those who would benefit from a genuine conversation with someone who has gone through a similar experience. I recall feeling lonely when I first acknowledged my doubts. One of the first and most noticeable things about leaving a religion is the lack of a social group. This is why so many people who leave Mormonism have flocked to ex-Mormon support groups and meet-ups.

Personally, I haven't done much with the ex-Mormon community. I haven't felt a particularly strong need for it, although, at times I have thought about it. But my recent discussions with my coworker and my old friend have wet my appetite for similar discussions. I guess what I am getting at is that it may be time for me to be more vocal about my views on religion.


Then again, that sounds like a whole thing, and I'm not really into doing things and stuff. 


Saturday, September 19, 2015

DUMB IT DOWN

"Never argue with an idiot. They drag you down to their level, and then beat you with experience."
--Dilbert









Some of the more convoluted religious discussions I have participated in have been on the topic of salvation for the mentally disabled. Many religions claim that entrance into heaven is conditional upon certain acts of contrition and ritual manifestations of belief. Arbitrary acts of compliance, such as baptism, confession, communion, sacraments, endowments, and so on, are meant to show an all-knowing god that you really mean it--that you really do super-duper believe.

The question becomes, "since many mentally disabled people do not fully understand the meaning behind religious ceremonies, or are incapable of understanding what a god even is, are they required to go through these rites of passage in order to make it into heaven?"

I first encountered this question while on my mission, when a middle aged woman requested that her mentally retarded 20 year old son be baptized. As missionaries, we looked forward to any baptism. Even so, it seemed unnecessary to baptize a grown man with the mind of a five year old. Surely god would allow him into heaven based on his condition, which surely god had imposed on him in the first place.

A few years ago autism was reclassified and broadened to a spectrum disorder, which allows for gradation of symptoms and severity of the condition. Still, there are many things which are in common of autistics as a whole. For instance, autistics tend to be analytically minded, and black and white in their thinking. This makes nuanced social and moral situations difficult for them to process. Because of these attributes, autism is especially interesting when discussing the salvation of the mentally challenged.

A Mormon associate of mine has an 11 year old autistic son (let's call him Peter) who told his mother that he doesn't want to go to church anymore because he hasn't seen any evidence for Jesus. In contrast, a Mormon relative of mine also has an 11 year old autistic son (let's call him John) who loves going to church and often makes decisions concerning social interactions based on lessons he has learned at church. Peter is very independent—almost to a fault—and John depends greatly on his parents and younger brother for guidance.

When Peter's mother told me about his decision to stop going to church, several people in our group reassured her that "he will come around." In Mormonism this means that at some point Peter will have a spiritual experience, or a "burning in his bosom," which Mormons believe is a sign that god is talking to them.

This burning sensation, as far as my ex-Mormon mind can understand, is no different than a "burning" desire for a proposition to be true. Meaning, Mormons believe that because they "have a good feeling" about Mormonism, this means that Mormonism is true. But to me, this is hardly a sound reason to assume the supernatural.

Based on other encounters Peter's mother has shared with me, I don't see Peter "coming around" to Mormonism solely based on feelings. Mormons will likely dismiss his unbelief as a symptom of his mental state, and claim that god will (probably) forgive him accordingly. This makes heaven a consolation prize for those inconvenienced by god's extra-strength cruelty in this life, leaving those who only experience god's regular-strength cruelty to fend for themselves.

If god can so easily forgive a mentally disabled person predisposed to unbelief, why can't he do the same for the rest of us unbelievers? Why is belief in something for which there is no evidence so important for our eternal salvation? What kind of plan is this?

John, on the other hand, has come to rely on church lessons for moral context and pro-social behavior. Mormonism has become his “Rosetta Stone” into social interactions. He is one of the few people I have met who really values and thinks about phrases like "What Would Jesus Do?"

John will likely remain in Mormonism as an adult because he has developed a comfortable routine out of it--another attribute of many autistics. Mormonism helps him understand right and wrong. I have discussed in other posts how difficult it is for many people who have based their moral standard on a belief in god to reconsider their morality after realizing god doesn't exist. For an autistic person who has made religion a social barometer and a routine, this becomes exponentially more challenging.

It will be interesting to see how John turns out, especially considering his affinity for science and space exploration. I wonder how his mind will process a potential faith crisis after, say, praying for someone to get well and waiting in vain for a response from god. After all, the scriptures are clear in the chain of events: pray in faith for something righteous and god will grant it. Will he so easily accept the inconsistent ad hoc rationalizations offered by believers for god's apparent negligence? I can't say. I hope that if that day comes, he finds a secular worldview to be just as useful in determining his morals and social behavior.






BONUS MATERIAL:





South Park weighing in on the subject:


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

BLANK SLATE

"The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain."

"Isn’t this statement encouraging news for parents whose children are sealed to them?"
--Richard H. Winkel, 2006 General Conference






I'm not really into weddings. I understand their purpose, and I support marriage in general. But weddings? Gag me twice with a crusty plunger...

Part of my disdain for weddings comes from my Mormon upbringing. Because of Mormonism's strict rules about weddings (they must be held in an exclusive Mormon temple, and only adults who hold a "temple recommend" may attend), I have only attended two real Mormon weddings, despite coming from a large Mormon family.

The consolation prize for any poor uninvited saps (i.e. heathens and children) who want to wish the happy couple well is a monotone reception, usually held in a local church's gymnasium. I can only handle so much sparkling apple cider, chalky dinner mints and white cake back-dropped with recycled plastic lilies draped over white wire arches. Oh yes. Mormons have a type. If you're lucky, they might have a slide show of engagement pictures, a chocolate fondue fountain or a third-cousin playing contemporary piano music for the low price of a future favor of equal or lesser value.

With such a bland template to go off of, you can imagine the challenge my wife and I had in planning a purely secular ceremony, which would not only celebrate our relationship and reflect our personalities, but would actually be enjoyable.

First and foremost, we didn't put arbitrary religious restrictions on who could attend. I was tempted to say that anyone whose wedding I would not be allowed to attend would likewise not be allowed at my wedding, but this seemed just as petty as when Mormons do it. Besides, our wedding was a celebration--not merely a stamp of worthiness.

Because Mormonism had left a bad taste in both our mouths, we decided to use a non-denominational minister who promised to accommodate our secular views. Naturally, some family members encouraged us to use a Mormon bishop who would happily officiate our ceremony free of charge. But this would undoubtedly mean our ceremony would be neck deep in references to god and heartfelt pleas for us to recommit to Mormonism so we can be married in the temple for "realsies" (after giving 10% of our money to the church for a year, of course...).

The minister was great. Well worth the money. We met with him several weeks prior and went over the itinerary. He was very professional and made a point to go over our religious views so the ceremony would reflect our beliefs. When we said we wanted a secular ceremony, he said he could easily take out all religious references from his service and focus instead on our relationship, loyalty and love. Ya know, the stuff that a marriage should be based upon. We were not disappointed.

The ceremony itself was outdoors at a quaint local farm, rather than a stuffy windowless room in the blandest of mini mansions. We stood under an ivy-covered gazebo, surrounded by close family and friends--and not just the ones who agree with us philosophically. We were even able to personalize aspects of our ceremony in a way a Mormon couldn't even dream of doing, such as pre-writing funny notes to each other which the minister incorporated into the service and playing Star Wars music as the bride walked down the isle.

Even the reception was personalized. We had catered food and Italian sodas--far more substantial than any reception I have ever attended. The cake was an homage to a video game (Portal) which we both enjoy playing and which served as a catalyst for one of our first long conversations. Not to mention it had several flavors, so everyone would enjoy it.

Throughout the reception area we had candles with inside jokes carved into them, and several pieces of art which we had made. The purpose was to celebrate our relationship visually in fun and creative ways. It wasn't about an invisible omniscient third-party who would watch us have sex (think about that, believers). It was about us. Not in a selfish way. But a in a celebratory way.

I mentioned that I have only attended two real Mormon weddings, only one of which was immediate family: my younger sister. My family is huge. I am the fourth of 8 kids. I was too young to go to either of my two oldest siblings' weddings. Instead, I waited in the temple lobby. My second older brother was married while I was on my mission, and a wedding is not an approved reason to leave the "work of the lord."

My younger sister was married while I was attending BYU, and it is basically part of the admission process to have a temple recommend. So I was able to attend her temple wedding. The officiant was an older gentleman who repeatedly praised my sister and her new husband for choosing to follow god's commandments, and admonished them that if they continue to be worthy to go to the temple (meaning, continue to give the church 10% of their money), then they would have a successful marriage which will totally continue in the eternities. The speech was all about their marriage in the context of obedience to Mormonism. Bleh. Gross. Double gross. "Yank-out-my-fingernails-with-your-gingivitis-teeth" gross.

My younger brother married a convert to the Mormon church. I wrote about their wedding in another post. Long story short, there was a bit of a feud between the parents of both families: my parents wanted a temple ceremony at the exclusion of non-Mormons and her non-Mormon parents wanted a civil ceremony so they could attend (no duh).

My brother made the difficult decision--and it was difficult--to have a civil wedding on a beach outside of Seattle, accessible to both families. My mother was heartbroken, even though she knew full well that my brother and his wife would still be married in the temple later. Yup. Mormons can do both.

As a way of discouraging a reasonable and inclusive wedding, the church usually makes more ecumenical couples wait several months before allowing them to be married in the temple (for "realsies"). The church had my brother wait about 3-4 months, which is quite short compared to the usual year long probation. I recall him saying once that he felt like he was being punished for doing the right thing. I replied, "you are."

The moral of the story, and of this post, is that secular weddings are better than religious weddings. They are more inclusive. They focus on the couple and celebrate their marriage. They bring people together, rather than divide. Because of the Mormon church's ridiculous policies to exclude certain people from weddings, I have only been present for two of my siblings' weddings.

I don't know that I have ever considered what my ideal wedding would be. But if I had, I think our inclusive secular wedding, which brought my family together for the first time in 15 years, is it.





BONUS MATERIAL:




Tide commercial (wait for it):


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

ONWARD CHRISTIAN A--HOLES

Because "atheism" simply means that one lacks a belief in god, many people are quick to point out that an atheist does not have to be liberal on social issues, such as gay rights and women's reproductive rights. While technically true, many atheists find themselves leaning left, as it were, in politics. In many ways, the justifications used by conservatives for their political positions are rooted in religious values. When a person loses their faith, often times their conservatism is next to go.

This is one reason the "culture wars" in America appear to be religious. I suppose to a certain extent it is, but there is nothing about atheism which would necessarily drive a person to liberalism. Progressive politics seem to be a byproduct of an absence of religious conservatism.

At present, we are staring down the barrel of two social collisions. First, in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage--which many conservatives are calling an illegal overreach of a few agenda-driven judges--we have the self-made martyr Kim Davis, who continues to defy a federal judge by refusing to do her job as a county clerk in Kentucky. As she sees it, she should not be forced by the Supreme Court to issue marriage licenses to gay couples because doing so would be against her deeply held religious beliefs.

I suppose she would also have no problem if a Muslim who worked at a grocery store refused to sell her pork, or a Mormon who worked at a liquor store refused to sell her alcohol, or a Jehovah's Witness doctor refused to give her a life-saving blood transfusion. Surely, she would respect their religious beliefs...

I can respect her decision to not want to sign marriage licenses for gay couples. I am pro-freedom and choice. She should not be forced to do it. But, given that it is now a part of her job as mandated by the Supreme Court, if she cannot perform this part of her job as a public servant then she should resign. This is exactly what I would do if I felt that my boss required me to do something immoral or contrary to my belief system. I would quit.

The reason Ms. Davis refuses to quit is because she wants to be made a martyr. Unfortunately for her, the fate of most martyrs usually ends very, very badly. Her fate, somewhat surprisingly to me, is that she is being held in contempt of court and on Thursday of last week she went to prison.

After sending Kim to prison, the court ordered her immediate subordinates to sign the marriage licenses. Because they followed the court order, presumably out of fear of also being sent to prison, the court released Davis yesterday (Tuesday). So, she basically missed a holiday weekend in defense of her religious beliefs (just like Jesus!). Davis has yet to say whether she intends to comply with court orders, but the court made it clear that should she continue her defiance, she will return to prison.

After a paltry five days in prison (small potatoes for a truly committed martyr), Davis has milked some old fashioned self-righteous sympathy from conservatives. Some have speculated that Davis will resign only to be picked up by one of the frontrunner GOP presidential candidates and go on a speaking circuit to defend religious liberty. A likely candidate is Mike Huckabee, himself a narrow minded preacher eager to play the victim card, who stood by Kim's side during a rally immediately after her release. During this tour de farce, Davis, who is now on her fourth "traditional marriage," will make some money by pandering to the homophobia of the poor oppressed Christian majority. This is a similar plot to Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber in 2008.

The second social collision is much less comical than a butt-hurt bigot sending herself to prison in order to make money off of other bigots. This issue has more dire consequences, and in some cases, it is a matter of life and death.

For years, conservatives have claimed that 50 million babies have been aborted in America since Roe v Wade. This statistic, the accuracy of which is suspect, is meant to draw up emotion against abortion. It is true that abortion can be emotionally taxing, but this has nothing to do with the legality of it. Besides, the vast majority of women who have had an abortion maintain that it was the right choice for them, even years later.

Abortions will continue to happen because women will always seek bodily autonomy, no matter what fallacious arguments narrow minded politicians and theocrats use to try to strip women of that right. Legalized abortion means that women who seek it will have better healthcare during the procedure.

The most effective way to reduce the number of abortions in America is through comprehensive sex education and access to contraception. Fewer unwanted pregnancies will occur if people can control with greater accuracy when they get pregnant. This "no brainer," however, seems lost among the more fundamentalist religious sects, many of whom have been stirred into a frenzy by a recent "exposé" on Planned Parenthood, a non-profit whose primary purpose is comprehensive sex education and access to contraception and healthcare.

In this "leaked" video, an undercover Christian Soldier talks to a leader of Planned Parenthood on how they, too, can make money selling aborted baby parts. At first glance, this is horrific. It's mad scientist stuff. But, scratching beneath the shallowest of surfaces one comes to find that what is actually being discussed is giving an aborted fetus to a science lab for study. The only money Planned Parenthood gets during such a transaction is reimbursement for transportation costs, which is on the order of about $75.

The ripple effect of this video has caused several politicians--including governors--to push for the revocation of government funding of Planned Parenthood. Several states have effectively done so already. Here is the problem: only 3% of Planned Parenthood's dealings involve abortion. This means that the other 97% of their services will be crippled because of a political knee-jerking.

Some of their other services include free healthcare to the poor, educational materials on reproductive health, and free screenings for STDs. Much of what they do helps poor people who can't afford these services any other way and young people who are too scared to seek these services through their parents because of religious judgments. When one goes through Planned Parenthood for a given service, one is told how much the subsidized service costs (which is usually much cheaper than comparable sources), and one is informed that should the cost be too high, they can pay as much as they want. This means that people can get these services FOR FREE.

I can't see how anyone could oppose this system. Even those who want abortion to be illegal should be in favor of such accessible healthcare services and education, access to which has been shown time and time again to reduce abortions in a given area. Seriously, education trumps ignorance every time. When women have control of their own bodies, STDs and abortions drop and poverty levels improve. Abstinence only sex education is not education--it is religiously motivated ignorance. And when has that tactic ever benefitted society?

And to think that self-righteous Christian a--holes want to take this beneficial program away from those in need because of a misrepresentative, highly edited propaganda video from a group of ignorant sycophantic idealists with no concept of pluralism, freedom or education, who wish to lasso the rest of civilized society into the sand trap of outdated Christian morals. To these self-righteous opportunists, I have one last thing to say: it is a pity there isn't a hell for you to go to, you sanctimonious cunts.





BONUS MATERIAL:





The Young Turks on the Planned Parenthood video:


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

THE NONES HAVE IT

"Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things--that takes religion."
--Steven Weinberg, Physicist and Nobel Laureate








Another friend of mine has ventured down the mind-numbing rabbit hole of discussing religion on Facebook. The main focus of the conversation is on an article which suggests that raising children without religion may have better outcomes than raising children with religion. This is an interesting proposition. Religions often claim to offer exclusive benefits to adherents. If such benefits are not exclusive--or, as the article suggests, come from the opposite direction--then what good is the religion? In my experience, anything good which a religion does can just as easily be done through purely secular means.

I recall a similar conversation from my youth, wherein a Mormon referred to an article which claimed that Mormons are healthier than other denominations. At face value, this seems to confirm the Mormon claim that god blesses members of their sect more than others. However, one must also consider variables which are not exclusive to Mormons.

For instance, Mormons prohibit alcohol and tobacco. These two things alone put Mormons at a lower risk of several conditions, including liver and lung diseases. It isn't Mormonism, per se, which is beneficial, but rather the indirect--and non-exclusive--benefits of a particular emphasis within Mormonism. Similarly, Hindus often tout the health benefits of their vegetarian/vegan diet, which Mormons tend to discount.

A non-religious person, on the other hand, can look objectively at the potential health benefits of any diet and make an informed decision as to which aspects they wish to adopt. Meaning, there is nothing which stops a non-religious person from abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, or meat. And they don't need a religious mandate to do so. They can make a decision based on evidence. They can even decide that moderation--rather than dietary abstinence--is right for them, which is a luxury not afforded by divine fiat.

Most of the "benefits" of a non-religious upbringing are actually simply an absence of the negative effects of religion. A non-religious child does not grow to fear hell or eternal punishment; they are not set back sexually by an aversion to contraception or comprehensive sex education; generally, they do not learn that homosexuals are deviants from whom children should be shielded; the love of their parents is not set on conditions of religious obedience. The list goes on, and to be fair, not every negative point on the list applies to every religion, and I'm sure that some points do not apply all non-religious people.

Other benefits fall more into socioeconomic metrics of society as a whole. For instance, more secular nations tend to have better healthcare and welfare programs and prison systems.

It seems clear to me that a non-religious upbringing offers many people a better life than a religious one. But what happens when an adult, especially one which has built their worldview and morality upon the premise that god will punish or reward them after death, transitions from religion to non-religion?

Many people struggle to make this transition, which is one reason some people avoid it at all costs ("There must be a god! There just must be!"). The idea that god may not exist truly terrifies them. Religions, and in particular more fundamental sects, teach members that if there is no god to issue postmortem justice, then there is no reason to do good, and no reason to refrain from doing bad.

The sort of dirt bags who really believe that the only reason they should not kill or rape or steal is because god will punish them can only be described as amoral sociopaths. However, I have found such people to be rare, and most people who have bought into this philosophical drivel simply do not give themselves enough credit. They are better than their religion would have them believe. Still, navigating through the quagmire of morality is daunting, especially for people reconsidering their tenuous faith-based reasons for pro-social behavior.

As for myself, I choose to not act like a jerk because I don't want people to treat me like I'm a jerk. This is my version of the golden rule, I guess. It doesn't always work in every situation, but, as Christopher Hitchens pointed out, it is about as good a rule of thumb for morality as any.

Some of the responses to my friend's post irked me something royal. One person accused my friend of being ungrateful to his religious grandfather by leaving and criticizing religion. This appeal to emotion is significant in two ways. First, it is fallacious to the point of nonsense. Second, it reveals the basis upon which my friend's detractor has built his worldview: emotion, rather than reason.

It is this coercive core of religious belief which traps many would-be defectors. Even I fell victim to Mormonism's entrancing concept of eternal families, and for many years I feared what my disobedience or apostasy would mean for my family in the eternities. This kind of emotional blackmail upsets me a great deal. I don't have a strong enough adjective to describe my disdain for this kind of manipulation. It is pure evil. Holding relationships hostage in this way is reason enough to dismiss out of hand any worldview which utilizes it. 





BONUS MATERIAL:





Tim Minchin, If You Open Your Mind Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out:


Monday, August 24, 2015

TEACH ME HOW TO DUGGAR

"There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking."
--Christopher Hitchens, god is Not Great










At times the phrase "methinks thou dost protest too much" doesn't even scratch the surface of a person's hypocrisy. At times one's hypocrisy is so massive and throbbing that it drips into the realm of comedic irony: it would be funny if it wasn't so sad. This seems to especially be the case for religious idealists who seek to shove their subjective faith-based morals down the throats of other people, while simultaneously breaking the very moral code to which they wish to force others to ascribe. This is most distressing when shoved down the throats of children.

I have written about evangelical pastor Ted Haggard a few times. For years the Colorado Springs mega-church pastor railed against the "gay agenda" in very public ways, while flaunting the moral superiority of his particular sect of Christianity. His career as a preacher abruptly stopped when it was discovered that he had been regularly meeting with a gay prostitute to engage in gay sex and get high on meth (it was the gay prostitute who exposed Mr. Haggard in order to stop Teddy from further hurting the gay community).

Don't feel too bad for Pastor Ted, however. He went to a Christian counseling facility and through a few weeks of prayer has cured himself of his sinful gayness (surprise!). His wife even wrote a book about how she has forgiven him and their new ministry is stronger than ever (despite being significantly smaller). It seems that god truly does help those who receive direct financial contributions from gulli-believers.

Well, such painful and public irony has reared its ugly head among god's favorite sexually-repressed sect yet again. A few months ago it came to light that Josh Duggar, an "ex-reality TV star" known for TLC's "19 Kids and Counting" and a leading member of the Family Research Council (an anti-gay lobbying group with significant clout among credulous anti-science sheeple), had sexually abused several of his younger female siblings and at least one female friend when he was a teenager. The wake of the scandal nearly caused the network to cancel the show.

His parents, also victims of self-perpetuating sexual-repression, waited over a year to intervene. Their rationale was that they thought it was a phase and that he would stop as he matured. Fine. Honestly, I can't say that I would immediately jump to criminal charges against my own child either. However, the thing which really boils my noodle is that when Josh's parents did decide to intervene they did not go to a licensed therapist or to an accredited treatment facility run by doctors, but to a Christian prayer-based rehabilitation program run by preachers. 

As an aside, the director of this program also fits the category of "sanctimonious hypocrite" since his conviction for child pornography and pedophilia.

Josh has been set up to fail from the start. His parents are part of the "quiver full" movement, which approaches childbearing like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Their take on sex education is that abstinence is not merely the best option, but the only option. Education about reproductive health, contraception, and family planning are all schemes from the devil to thwart god's plan (as if any thwarting of a plan devised by an omnipotent and omniscient being is even possible...). Any mention of STD's should be made only as a scare tactic to encourage abstinence.

Furthermore, one should not engage in any sexual activity until marriage--an ideal most assured through ignorance--and once in a life-bound commitment with someone equally ignorant, one should not use any contraception at all to ensure the most babies possible being born into this lifestyle of perpetuated ignorance.

With all of these cards so neatly stacked against Josh, is it any wonder that, in his ignorance about sex, he acted out sexually?

I heard a podcast a while back where it was mentioned by a social worker or therapist of some kind that in their professional experience there are two types of people who grow up to be sexual aggressors and abusers. The first is victims of abuse. This is fairly self-explanatory. Victims perpetuate a cycle of abuse because this is what they were taught.

The second type of abuser is one which has been sexually repressed and their only reference for sex is the bible. Think about this. Think about the implications of only learning about sex from the bible. King Solomon's sonnets about tower shaped boobs are only the tip of a rather perky biblical ice berg.

Remember the story of Lot? Remember when he threw his virgin daughters to a mob of horny men so they wouldn't rape his angelic guests? Remember when his daughters got him drunk so he would get them pregnant? All of the concubines, the sex slaves, the incest, the virgin girls given to warriors as a prize for conquest, the mosaic laws favoring the rights of rapists over the rights of women--all of it paints a picture of that women are less than men, and that sex is a form of control and a symbol of power.

If this is the only place a young Christian boy learns of sex, his sexual acting out, although reprehensible and scary, becomes understandable. Young boys (and girls, for that matter) who are born in to this unrealistic and repressive lifestyle do not really stand a chance at becoming healthy functioning adults. They are victims.

This is why it is a bittersweet experience for me to learn that Josh Duggar--a leading member of a political organization which seeks to legislate their own warped view of morality on to our children--has been found to have multiple accounts on the Ashley Madison website (a website which allows paying customers to seek out extramarital affairs). On the one hand, I revel in the irony. People like the Duggars have more political power than they deserve and do more harm than good with their anti-science idealism. Their hypocrisy deserves to be exposed, if for no other reason than to sap them of their influence.

On the other hand, Josh is a victim of circumstance. He had no choice but become a pretentious hypocritical sexually confused bigot. He was given no proper education about his sexuality and had no sexual outlets. When his hormones began to rage and he had no healthy way to process or contextualize his budding libido--not to mention the changes happening to his sisters and female friends--he lashed out in his confusion. I honestly think that he had no idea what he was doing.

But he is an adult now. He should know better. He should have been educated and sent to a therapeutic facility to learn how to manage his sexual urges appropriately, but his parents failed him. He is now lobbying against the rights of others because he was mistakenly taught by his ultra-conservative politician father that this is behavior becoming of a decent person.


And to think that Josh's parents are now in the process of pitching a new cash-cow TV show to "The Learning Channel" in which they, the creators of the monstrous hypocritical mess of a man that is Josh Duggar, will advise others on matters of sex and relationships. I have no punch line. These people terrify me. My only solace is that TLC has not accepted their offer. 

FSM help us. 




BONUS MATERIAL:




Roy Zimmerman singing about Ted Haggard:



Friday, August 21, 2015

GIVE MY REGARDS TO SOUTH PARK

"In March 1826 a court in Bainbridge, New York, convicted a twenty-one-year-old man of being "a disorderly person and an impostor." That ought to have been all we ever heard of Joseph Smith,
who at trial admitted to defrauding citizens by organizing mad golddigging expeditions and also to claiming to possess dark or "necromantic" powers. However, within four years he was back in the local newspapers (all of which one may still read) as the discoverer of the "Book of Mormon."
--Christopher Hitchens, god is Not Great







Remember that one time when the Mormon Church apologized for excommunicating church historians who exposed various unflattering aspects of the church's history? Remember that other time when the church admitted that Joseph Smith married underage teenage girls by threatening them with the eternal damnation of their entire families, and that he shipped off men to the other side of the world so he could steal their wives? Remember the time the Mormon Church admitted--finally--that the reason they bought the fake historical document "The Salamander Letter" (wherein Joseph claimed that the angel Moroni appeared to him in the form of a salamander) is because there exist legitimate historical documents detailing Joseph's claim that the angel Moroni appeared to him in the form of a toad?

Yeah, me neither...

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I heard that the Mormon Church would be releasing a photo of the fabled "seer stone" which Joseph tried and failed to use to find buried treasure and claimed to use to "translate" the gold plates.

I first heard about this magic rock while on a two-year Mormon mission. I didn't believe it. I thought it was a hoax. The other missionary assured me that their seminary teacher knew for a fact that stone existed, but I could see no reason to believe it. It was one of my first moments of religious skepticism.

Traditionally Mormons have taught that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim (small clear stones attached to a breastplate, often described as primitive glasses, which is yet another example of technology of Joseph's day bleeding into his version of the ancient world) to translate his mystical plates.

For over a century the scene has always been described in church meetings and in published paintings and drawings as Joseph sitting at a table looking through the Urim and Thummim reading the gold plates word for word (the idea was that the reformed Egyptian on the plates would appear in English when looked upon through these magical spectacles). A cloth partition separated Joseph from his scribe (a position filled by various people who had a vested interest in the success of the Book of Mormon) so that they could not see the plates, which Joseph was quick to remind them was coupled with a curse: should they look on the plates without god's permission, they will surely die and go to hell. Considering the credulous culture in which Joseph's scribes lived, it is no wonder that none of them ever saw the plates with out a cloth cover (with the exception of 3 of Joseph's most superstitious patsies, none of which were qualified to verify the authenticity of the record). To a thinking person, this is a gigantic red flag.

With the admission of the existence of the magic treasure seeking stone comes a whole new story about the translation process. Joseph would put the stone in a hat (to block out light) and read the illuminated words on the stone. Ya know, like a magical iPad. Often the gold plates were not in the same room as Joseph. In other words, it turns out the scene of Joseph Smith doing this folk magic in South Park's episode "All About Mormons"--a scene which many Mormons dismissed out of hand as a preposterous, slanderous and "anti-Mormon"--was correct!

One of the more concerning aspects of this admission is that the Church has had this stone for at least several decades, and yet, until now they have done nothing to correct the misconception--which they helped to create--that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim to translate the plates directly. Apparently, all the ancient artifacts which Moroni carefully preserved and then directed Joseph to, were not even necessary for Joseph to translate the plates!

On the other hand, now that the seer stone is public and the top 15 leaders of the Church claim to be seers, we now have an opportunity for them to put their claim to the test! You see, one of Joseph's more gullible scribes, Martin Harris, was tasked to a take a scrap of paper with some of the characters from the gold plates to a linguist, Dr. Charles Anthon, to verify that the language was authentic. The story goes that Dr. Anthon wrote a certificate of authenticity for the paper, but upon learning of the supernatural origins of the paper, he torn up the certificate and demanded to see the gold plates himself.

For over a century Mormons have claimed that this story proves that the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient record, while critics have claimed the opposite. Well, here is the test. Give the seer stone--the same one Joseph used--to one of the Mormon leaders and have them translate the paper given to Dr. Anthon (which according to his account, is nothing short of gibberish). Once we have the characters decoded, which would have a chapter and verse citation for comparison, we can finally understand reformed Egyptian (the language which Joseph claimed to be on the gold plates, and which modern linguists claim is not a real language).

This kind of linguistic support would surely bolster the claim that the Book of Mormon is an authentic historical record. The fact that the Church has had the characters from the Book of Mormon, several men who claim to be "seers," and a seer stone for at least several decades and no one has done this test reveals quite a bit to me about the Church's confidence in their bald assertions.

This appears to be an attempt by the Church to distance themselves from the hokey folk magic Joseph practiced. Unable to bury the connection between the origins of their religion with superstition and crude magic which educated people generally dismiss as ignorant--in large part due to the advent of the internet--the Church is now being forced to face their history. Of course, now some Mormons are claiming to have been forthcoming on the subject of magic rocks all along.





BONUS MATERIAL:





Flackerman discusses the Church's history on the seer stone (among other things):


South Park explaining the translation process of the Book of Mormon:


Friday, July 31, 2015

I DISSENT

"Gods are fragile things; they may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense."
--Chapman Cohen








It seems that I am not the only person having fun arguing with religious people on Facebook. A friend of mine, who has also left Mormonism, recently posted his thoughts on the current debacle between the Mormon Church and the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), the fallout of which has devout Mormons squirming.

For years the BSA has been wrestling with its policies which discriminate against gays. Some revisions came down the pike a year or so ago, thus allowing openly gays kids to participate in the program without being kicked out. This caused a bit of a stir among Mormons at the time, but now, apparently, they are claiming that they were in support of this revision all along. I have some gay ex-Mormon friends who might challenge this claim...

At any rate, the question now is whether or not openly gay men can be leaders in the organization. In typical religious fashion--standing in opposition to facts and reason--Mormons are upset that the BSA has recently reversed their outdated discriminatory policy, which will allow gay men to be scout leaders.

Their objection, which they hold to be doctrinal, and therefore, a form of religious liberty, is that it is inappropriate for gay men to be leaders of youth groups. Apparently Mormons still think that gays try to "recruit" teens and that homosexuality is closely linked to pedophilia--both of these misconceptions are dispelled by science.

As my friend points out, Mormons have no problem with straight men overseeing Girl's Camp (the lesser-funded female version of Scout Camp). Nor do they object that these same men ask male and female teens--behind closed doors--intimate questions about their sex lives. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Although I have huge problems with religious-based bigotry, I do agree that the Mormon Church has the right to exclude gays from their organization (for the same reasons that the KKK can refuse to allow black people in their group). Unfortunately for Mormons, however, the BSA is not justified in their discrimination since they are a multicultural organization which receives government kickbacks, and financial stipends.

For instance, the BSA is allowed free access to hundreds of military personnel and millions of dollars of equipment--paid for with tax dollars--for their annual national jamboree. Also, many of the Boy Scout facilities and camps are on government-owned property and the BSA is charged a lowly $1 a year for rent.

These are major perks which other youth programs and nonprofits are not afforded by the government. This kind of support is the reason so many people are calling for a revision in the BSA's discriminatory policies. The Mormon Church is free to discriminate, but the government is not.

In response to all the hubbaballoo, the Mormon Church has issued a statement that, should the BSA go through with this change (allowing gay Scout leaders), then the Church will withdraw from the BSA and start their own scouting program. This will be a major blow to the BSA since the Mormon Church is their single largest supporter (approximately 25-30% of all scout troops are Mormon-run). This has been one major reason why the BSA has been so reluctant to change their policy.

The magnitude of the Mormon-BSA relationship is precisely what the Mormon Church relies upon when making the threat to withdraw from the BSA. Mormons are known for many things (some less favorable than others), one of which is sticking with their principles. They are also known for managing money well.

Should the Mormon Church withdraw all support and sever all ties with the BSA (a relationship about 100 years old, by the way), then whatever scouting substitute the Church devises will NOT receive the same government support as the BSA. This means that Mormons will spend significantly more money to run their scouting program.

It is because of this unavoidable monetary spike that I think the Mormon Church is bluffing. I think they will not pull the trigger on their threats of disassociation. I think they are trying to create a power play to strong-arm the BSA. Should the BSA go through with their policy change, I strongly doubt the Mormon Church will make good on their promise to withdraw--the financial stakes are too high. But, only time will tell.

In the post my ex-Mormon friend wrote on his Facebook page he mentioned that he had left the Church. And from out of the woodwork crawled some of his devout Mormon friends, hellbent on defending Mormonism and, if possible, saving my friend in the process.

One Mormon devotee wrote an especially pretentious and closed-minded response to my friend, [N]:

Sam:
"I know that somewhere deep down inside of you, [N], that you remember why you "used" to believe. I know that you remember feelings and promptings that you had, I remember perfectly hearing you talk about them. I remember listening to you testify of the very things that you try to tear down with logic. I know that you know, however buried that may be by emotions, pain, or whatever else it could be that God does exist. The bottom line is something convinced you that there was a God and that everything you taught as a missionary was true. You had a testimony and still do. If you choose to bury those memories than that is fine. But just as you desire to point out your opinion so do I. I cannot deny the very real feelings that I have had in my life. The confirmations that there is a God and he loves us. No matter what information someone provides. I will always know. I love you [N], and I hope that you know that I always have your best interest in mind."

I have never heard a more condescending, presumptive, or closed-minded testimony. Not only does this person claim to "know" that there is a god and that my unbelieving friend likewise "knows" this, but this person states that "No matter what information someone provides," he will always know that god exists.

This is the definition of closed-minded. But in Mormon culture this phrasing is seen as admirably strong conviction. Too bad he doesn't support his claim that his super strong feelings are indicative of god. Too bad no one ever has.

Another Mormon friend of my friend wrote a rather wordy response, so I won't post it here. In his word-salad, he made an interesting point I have not heard in a while. He related the struggle for gay rights to the 1978 change which allowed black Mormons to attain the priesthood.

He said that a possible reason why blacks were not allowed to have the priesthood before 1978 is because members were not yet ready for such a drastic change. To him this is more plausible than the common criticism that the Church only made the change because of societal pressures, as they seem to have done on the issue of polygamy (polygamy was endorsed by the Church for decades; it was not until the Mormons sought to make Utah a state that they abolished the practice; also, the US government threatened to confiscate millions of dollars of Mormon assets should they continue polygamy, much like they currently threaten Fundamentalist Mormons who still practice polygamy). 

The idea that Mormons were "not ready" to allow blacks to have the priesthood before 1978 does not speak favorably of Mormons at the time. The civil rights movement picked up a lot of steam in the 50s and 60s. What does it say about Mormons if they were behind the times by over a decade? Now that gay marriage is legal, how long will it take for the Church to catch up and once again claim moral superiority and exclusive access to divine revelation and prophecy?

Aron Ra was right; god moves in mysterious and delirious ways...





BONUS MATERIAL:





Coheed and Cambria performing Supreme Court Justice Scalia's "dissent" on gay marriage:


Thursday, July 30, 2015

TERRIBLE LIZARD

"Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.
--Richard Dawkins







Through a conversation, which started innocently enough, I learned that a nurse with whom I work believes that dinosaurs are not real. She admitted to me that she holds "some strange beliefs" before explaining her "theory" that dinosaurs are a man-made conspiracy. So, on some level, perhaps, she recognizes that this belief is ridiculous.

When I challenged her on this point (by pointing out that evolution and the age of the earth have been confirmed independently through multiple scientific fields), she began spinning her reconciliation wheels at full throttle. Dinosaurs, she explained, cannot be real because that would mean that the earth is millions of years old, and that, in turn, would mean that the bible is wrong.

Oh, the bible. What else could screw up a person's perception of reality so magnificently?

This thirty-something woman not only attended nursing classes, which surely would have included biology, but she passed with high enough scores to be allowed by the nursing community to administer medical care.

Why is this a big deal? Is a belief in evolution and dinosaurs and an "old earth" really necessary to be an effective nurse? I don't know. But I do know that the antibiotic pill she gave to a patient two minutes prior to her ludicrous admission would not have been developed without those scientific theories being understood by the scientists who developed it.

Furthermore, this nurse is a member of the medical community, yet, she rejects a founding principle of one of the most basic fields of science. She believes that scientists are engaged in a global conspiracy to make the earth appear older than six thousand years. Think about this. An airtight, decades-old global conspiracy involving thousands of scientists across multiple fields--in multiple countries and cultures and religions--is more plausible to this woman than the possibility that the bible might not be literally true. And we allow her to give antipsychotic medications to children...

This is the power of religious faith. This is the power of beliefs based on feelings rather than evidence. Not only must the believer protect their beliefs from criticism, but at times they are forced--usually through exposure to evidence to the contrary--to concoct outlandish and baseless ideas to barricade their core beliefs.

It is this powerful corruption of one's reasoning faculties which drives an otherwise reasonable woman, who has studied science and medicine, to throw out her reason when it conflicts with her belief that a Bronze Age holy book is literally true. When I caught myself doing this very same thing in college, I realized my error and rejected faith altogether.

Without evidence-based support, beliefs should be tentative. When beliefs are supported by evidence, they are not based on faith. When evidence conflicts with a belief, it should be reevaluated, and possibly rejected. In either case, faith is useless. And no amount of conviction makes faith evidence.