Tuesday, September 29, 2015


"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


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

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.


South Park weighing in on the subject:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


"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.


Tide commercial (wait for it):

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


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.


The Young Turks on the Planned Parenthood video:

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


"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. 


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