Category Archives: Philosophical Thoughts

Free Beer in Slabobia!

beer-introIn the alternate country of Slabobia, suppose I have this great idea for helping the poor: free beer. It’s delicious, high in calories, and gone should be the days when self-respecting Slabobians had to beg for their beer. So I contact my senator, who likes the idea, and, lo and behold, a bill gets passed providing free beer for everyone beneath a certain annual income. The streets are alive with drunken celebrations, and living in Slabobia has never been better (provided you’re making less than the certain income). Meanwhile people above the certain income start to feel jealous, especially those who are teetering on the line. They realize that, when comes December, if they were to just turn down that seasonal job, they’d more than make up for the difference with free beer. Plus they’d get a whole extra month of vacation!

So annual incomes drop, demand for seasonal jobs increases, alcoholism reaches an all-time high, drunken fistfights are everywhere, and the tax-payers’ completely fruitless expenditure on beer is tanking the economy. Free beer, it turns out, was a bad idea. So I call up my senator and ask him to try to repeal the act, but he responds, “No can do. The Free Beer Act guarantees millions of votes for me and my party.”

While it was an honest mistake, everyone knows that bureaucracy never dies, so rather than griping about the past, I’m just going to pick my battles and move on. Beer, I realize, was not a need. What the poor need is good, nutritious food. So I call my senator, who likes the idea, and once again, lo and behold, a bill gets passed providing free, healthy food for all Slabobians beneath a certain income level. By taking their vouchers to grocery stores, the poor are entitled to all the spinach, celery, and rutabagas they could ever want.

The only problem is that no one actually wants spinach, celery, and rutabagas, and when the grocery stores realize this, they also realize that they’re missing out on some serious revenue from government reimbursements, so they collaborate with local manufacturers to invent three new products that will technically meet the governmental standards: spinach ice cream, deep-fried celery chips, and rutabaga beer.

The products are a huge success, so much so that obesity among the poor reaches an all-time high. On the up side, this means there’s a major spike in the health industry, but on the downside, because these are the poor we’re helping, none of them actually pay for their services, so once again the economy is tanking.

My benevolent idea, it turns out, resulted in some unintended consequences. Perhaps it was due to loopholes in the text, and the senators should have hired better lawyers. Regardless, because passing a new bill is so much easier than repealing an old one, I decide it’s time to look at the bigger picture in determining what the root causes of poverty are. I decide that everyone, not just the poor, should have free health care and free college educations. So I call up my senator, and once again he likes the idea, and lo and behold, a bill is passed providing exactly what I wanted.

Though the lines get long … really long … everyone gets the primary care they need. Because of the government’s increased bargaining power (they’re flipping the bill for everyone, after all), they can get the lowest bids from medical professionals, so our taxes only rise by a bout 400%. The down side is that half of the doctors in Slabobia are no longer able to pay their bills, so they move off shore, and many of the high-tech medical developments and pharmaceutical research firms are dissolved due to limited funding, but that’s okay, because there’s all those other countries (like the U.S.) that haven’t turned socialist yet. At least they’re still producing good stuff.

And hey, free college! Now that everyone’s got a fraternity or a sorority to join, and the minimum university class size is in the hundreds, campus life has never been more packed with parties and free from education. Of course, we’ve effectively inflated the education system, making the high school diploma beyond worthless and the bachelors degree a prerequisite for flipping burgers, but at least everyone now has the chance to flip burgers. But then there’s the other down side: now that it takes seventeen years of education to qualify for burger flipping, young adults aren’t expected to move out of their parents’ basements until well into their thirties, an unpleasant reality that leads to an even faster halting of the Slabobian population growth. With fewer and fewer people to pay into a welfare state that doesn’t pay back, the economy is once again tanking, and the general quality of life is looking dismal.

For a moment I wonder if government intervention could have had something to do with Slabobia’s problems. I decide that it has. So I call up my senator with a great new idea for a social program to help people who has suffered from the effects of government intervention. And until that bill gets passed, at least there’s still free beer.

Paradoxical Intention and Why Unbelief Should Lead to Spirituality

hands holding the sun at dawnHere’s my Sunday thought. According to Wikipedia, “In psychotherapy, paradoxical intention is the deliberate practice of a neurotic habit or thought, undertaken to identify and remove it.” Founded by the German psychologist Viktor Frankl, the idea is that if you’re suffering from insomnia, rather than trying to sleep, which will most likely backfire, you should try to stay awake as long as possible. In trying not to sleep, you’ll naturally tire yourself out, and the body’s the sleep mechanism will automatically kick in with no further effort. Trying to sleep is like trying to forget: it’s indistinguishable from remembering.

If we believe that there’s no afterlife, it’s reasonable for a philosophy of nihilism to follow. Believing that it doesn’t matter what we do, it’s then reasonable for a life of hedonism to follow. As we inevitably fear the impending termination of our being, it’s reasonable to try to distract our senses with entertainment, sensations, and stimulants. But if all this is in response to a meaningless life, does it succeed in adding meaning, or, like trying to sleep in response to insomnia, does it exacerbate the problem?

Dr. Frankl demonstrates that when it comes to solving psychological challenges, our intuitions are often wrong. What if, in response to concluding that there is no God, instead of rebelling against the idea of God, we tried to become as godlike as possible?

For the vast majority of human history and cultures, the idea of deity played a central role in every day life, because while people lied, it was believe that God could not be deceived. Beneath pragmatic social contracts was an underlying contract between individuals and a transcendent ideology. For every action, word, and possibly even thought, individuals would be held accountable. And how could such accountability not improve individuals and societies? Anyone who’s tried to transform their body through exercise or healthy eating knows self-destructive temptations are a real thing, and accountability is crucial. One needs a friend, a deadline, or a beach party by which to gauge his salvation or damnation.

But if one honestly doesn’t believe in God, how can one feel accountable for his actions? Perhaps the French philosopher Voltaire had the answer: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” I interpret this to mean that, when we see God as an ideal to strive for, the question of whether or not God actually exists is, at least in some ways, irrelevant. To allude back to the fitness metaphor, while it would be nice to see pictures of ripped muscle men for inspiration, whether they actually exist or are Photoshopped illusions should have no bearing on the progress of one’s bodybuilding.

If we believe that there’s no God to overlook the affairs of humanity, then we must become the gods, because the world desperately needs goodness, love, knowledge, power, and principle. Ironically, atheism really shouldn’t lead to hedonism but a more astute sense of purpose, accountability, and even spirituality, because with atheism should come a realization that everything depends on us.

Far from deluding one’s mind with dogma, it is my belief that everyone should choose to believe in the principles of God because of the inherent value in so doing. And who knows, one might actually discover God in the process.

Socialism, Capitalism, and Parenting … What I’ve Learned

monopoly-manIf ever you’re in question of whether capitalism or socialism is the better system, I suggest the following experiments:

Experiment 1

  1. Have lots of babies; the more the better.
  2. Wait a few years.
  3. Tell your children to clean their room.
  4. When, instead of cleaning their room, they lie on the floor, pout, and procrastinate for endless hours, motivate them by offering a guaranteed and fixed allowance, your generous and non-discriminatory compensation for the working class, for which they, of course, should be grateful.
  5. When, after they receive their allowance, they continue to lie around and do nothing, motivate them with speeches about the good of the family and the evil of the individual. Promise them more and bigger benefits of which they’re fully entitled to solely on behalf of their births, and urge them to zealously give back to the welfare family.
  6. When, after receiving said perks, they continue to lie around and do nothing, and you realize that your house is sinking into a bog of chaos, it’s time to administer some good, old-fashioned discipline. So as to prevent them from predicting patterns, inconsistently switch between guilt-inducing talks, vociferous shouting, and endless varieties of chore charts. Of course, all the while continue to pay them their allowance, of which they’re fully entitled to in your enlightened, egalitarian household.
  7. When you grow exhausted of policing your children and discover that your tactics have only made their behavior worse, still continue to pay them their allowance, buy them whatever they demand at the grocery store, and show your kind-hearted benevolence by letting them essentially rule your household, because after all, the working class should have the say. Accept that they will grow up to be brats and propagate the abuse cycle.

Experiment 2

  1. Complete steps 1 – 3 of Experiment 1.
  2. When your children don’t clean their room, don’t pay them.

True Christians Are Unjust

"I am He" - the declaration of Jesus of Nazareth causing the soldiers to fall back in fear

“I am He” – the declaration of Jesus of Nazareth causing the soldiers to fall back in fear

I tried to think of the most controversial title I could for this post, (1) because I’m a menace, (2) because controversy is good for SEO (outraged discussion fuels more engagement), and (3) as proof of the point I’m going to attempt to make. What I mean is that if you find yourself outraged by such an audacious title, read on, and by the end of the article, you might just find yourself saying, “Dang it, I failed the test.”

First, the scriptural basis for my argument. In his “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus teaches, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. … Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 38:44).

Where’s the justice in all that?

Let’s think about this. First, Jesus is telling us to “resist not evil.” Jesus. The son of God. The standard of all things good and true … telling us not to resist evil? But wait a minute, what if someone cuts you off on the highway or besmirches your good name or makes some outlandish, close-minded comment, or worst of all, has the audacity to be wrong about some pressing social or political issue? What if your client never paid you or your so-called friend betrays your trust or that certain mooch takes advantage of your generosity? What about that family member who let you down or that stuck-up rich girl or that shameless demagogue or that horrible group of people who are responsible for all of the world’s problems? Aren’t we justified in a little righteous indignation toward such cancerous cretins?

If we’re going to give Jesus the benefit of the doubt, I imagine he might say something such as, “Worry about your own problems.” Similarly, from classic Brigham Young, we get the following wisdom: “He who takes offence when no offence is intended is a fool, and he who takes offence when offence is intended is a greater fool.”

Apparently we’re not supposed to take offence. Period. If that wasn’t enough, from the words “whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also,” Jesus seems to be telling us to not even defend ourselves. Of course, many other scriptures, such as in the Book of Mormon, seem to justify  defending one’s property, family, country, etc., and if you buy into the Old Testament, the same God we’re talking about may just command you to go head up a genocide or two (but we won’t go there). In any case, these instances are exceptions. The rule is to show meekness, forgiveness, and mercy to both our friends and our enemies. The rule is to not demand justice when we’ve been wronged, to show mercy where mercy is not due (which, I guess, is the recursive definition of mercy). Thus true Christians are not just. They’re merciful. But it’s more fun to say unjust, because it sounds so needless controversial.

So now’s the test. Did my inflammatory title upset you? Did you feel attacked as a Christian and feel a need to sift through this garbage so that you could further feed your outrage and pursue a grounds for redress? Assuming that my assertions are way off and everything I’m writing is hogwash, I hope my fallacy will have no sway over your solid foundation, because you know where you stand, and you know what truth is, so whatever this crazy blogger is rambling about is his problem, not yours.

More often than not, debate is a waste of time. Rather than listening to each other, we think only about what we’re going to say next to defend our egos. Our hearts are so shielded by pride that changing our opinions (which are really just façades over of our feelings) is almost beyond the realm of possibility in the heated moment, sometimes even long afterwards. Outrage is even worse than debate. When we’re outraged, we can’t possibly see an issue from our opponent’s point of view. We’ve already determined that whatever they have to say is wrong.

When someone attacks our beliefs, we feel personally attacked, because through our beliefs we find our identities. Thus changing our beliefs is a very hard thing to do, and a healthy transition usually takes good friends and lots of love. While probably everyone will agree with me that charity is the way to go, we often forget that charity isn’t just about giving but about receiving. And I don’t mean receiving gifts, I mean receiving punches. In the face.

Let people malign your poor tastes, your bad habits, your incorrect politics, and your close-minded philosophies. The uncomfortable truth is that, whether or not you’re humble enough to listen, they might be right. On the other hand, defending pride is a counterfeit of standing for truth. The more we engage in petty disputes, the more we feed the fire. The more we take it like a man, the more respect and power we gain.

Consider John 18. In consequence of Judas’s betrayal, soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Rather than crying, “Judas, how could you!? I’m innocent! This is so unfair!” Jesus boldly yet meekly declared to the soldiers that he was the man they were looking for, and the sheer majesty of his being caused the soldiers to step back and fall to the ground. When’s the last time the sheer majesty of your being caused your enemies to step back and fall to the ground?

Now go ahead. Malign me. I can take it.

Utahans Are Stupid and Dumb – A Revolutionary Rant in Which I Expose Both the Stupidness and Dumbness of Utahans (who aren’t me)

The facts are in. The debate is over. Utahans are both stupid and dumb. Unlike everyone else (trust me, I’m an expert on everyone else), Utahans live in a bubble of ignorance, completely unaware of the REAL world (which, if you haven’t heard, is everywhere but Utah).

Point Number One: Utahans are bad drivers. Have you ever been cut off on the high way by a guy in a Ford truck with a menacing look on his face? Yeah … Utahan. Despite the fact that studies like this report Utahans as being among the best drivers in the nation, numbers have been known to lie. And it’s not like people in other states accuse their own cultures of producing bad drivers. This is clearly just a Utah phenomenon.

Point Number Two: Utahans are ignorant. We all know that Utahans don’t think for themselves but act as drones beneath the tyranny of their religious leaders. Nevermind the fact that putting one’s faith in the wisdom of others is in itself a cognitive exercise. Utahans are clearly the only people in the world … excuse me, the not-real-world … who do this.

True, according to Wikipedia (which obviously can’t be trusted), Utah ranks among the top 10 states for percentage of high school diplomas attained and is above the national average for attained bachelor and advanced degrees. True, as reported by The US Department of Labor, Utah ranks among the top 10 states for lowest unemployment rates (though it doesn’t take great minds to get real jobs). True, America’s Health Rankings reports Utah as among the top 10 most healthy states (big deal; all sorts of intelligent people have unintelligent diets). True, as reported in this study on a respectably progressive website (which could have been manipulated by conservative hackers), Utah has among the nation’s lowest teenage pregnancy rates and is one of the few states that mandates both sex education and medically accurate information. But all of these statistics are beside the point. I’m talking about that certain annoyingness in the way Utahans express themselves, that attitude that says, “I’ve been brainwashed” (unlike us non-brainwashed people).

Point Number Three: Utahans are counterprogressive. Utah has always voted Republican, which, by definition, makes Utahans heartless, money-hoarding, misogynistic, white-supremacists. It’s as if they somehow question the de facto benevolence of big government and the all-American values of Marxism. Despite the fact that CNN Money reports Utah as the #1 most charitable state (by far), there’s something egotistical about people who insist on voluntarily giving their money to others instead of letting the government do so for them (while taking its fair share). Despite the fact that Utah was the second state to grant women’s suffrage, the state’s sexist mentality that women have some innate biological preference toward motherhood over a business career is unacceptable.

Despite the fact that Census.gov reports Utah as among the top 5 safest states, who in their right mind would support the 2nd Amendment, as if defending one’s self inspired a greater sense of safety than the protection of the NSA?  Despite the fact that the Wall Street Journal reports Utah as having the overall lowest health care costs in the nation, what kind of heartless monsters would oppose a government takeover of the healthcare industry, as if a free market that inspires competition and innovation could somehow produce better results and lower costs than a single monopoly with fixed prices? Despite the fact that Entrepreneur.com lists Utah as among the top 5 best states for starting a business, innovation, self-reliance, and problem-solving are poor substitutes for a humble and altruistic reliance on government assistance.

Point Number Four: Utahans are bigoted. Despite the fact that Time.com reports Utah as the least neurotic and “most agreeable place in the country“, everyone knows that Utahans are intolerant of people who are different. What kind of ignoramuses would cling to their own world views and traditional values over the latest consensus of morality? Clearly such thinking is a product of hate. It’s as if Utahans, in their political and social uniformity, think unity is somehow a greater value than diversity. True, Time.com also reports the Provo-Orem area as the overall happiest area in the United States, but happiness is no substitute for social justice.

I mean, what kind of close-minded jerks sum up entire groups of people by stereotypes?

Brigham Young’s Nonsensical Formula for Enlightenment

I want to share some thoughts that I heard last Sunday in church. The topic was “otherness,” which sounds as ambiguous as the lesson was. At first I couldn’t understand what the teacher was even talking about, but by the end, I felt thoroughly enlightened.

It began with a story about Brigham Young (warning to the scholarly reader: I’m too lazy to search for references). Some people came to him with difficult problem, asking for his advice. He told them to go read the scriptures. These people were taken aback, unable to understand how reading the scriptures related to their problem. They asked which book or passage they should read from. Brother Brigham replied that it didn’t matter. What was important was that they immerse themselves with the of the scriptures (a language that was not of the world), and that in so doing, they would be touched by the Spirit of God and attain a state of sufficient intelligence and discernment through which they could solve this particular problem.

It’s as if Brigham Young were saying, “You’ll find the answer to your equation by plugging the variables into a completely unrelated formula.” This logic doesn’t jive well with our modern world, where empiricism reigns supreme.

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts and watching a lot of documentaries on world history. Though the commentators and subjects are unrelated, one theme that works its way into nearly every presentation is religion. Though religion is still a big part of most people’s lives, a hundred or two years prior and straight back to the beginning of humanity, religion was a HUGE part. By modern standards, practically everyone in the middle ages was a religious fanatic. In short, you could say that the ancient world was generally Platonic, and the modern world is generally Aristotelian. By generally focusing on the real world instead of the spiritual and abstract, we’ve been able to make rapid strides in civilization and science. But have there been any costs in abandoning the religious “fanaticism” of our forebearers?

One evidence that we’re missing something is our obsession with fantasy. The teacher of this lesson has been a film and TV director. He told us his observation that movies with intense fantasy elements generally sold much better than movies that were more realistic. It’s evident that not only are we tired of the practical world and long to escape into something more exciting, but we have an inherent longing for a word beyond that which we can perceive with our natural senses. And yet, day-to-day, we fully invest ourselves in the practical world. Especially in matters of controversy, it’s become unfashionable to defend one’s opinion with, “It just feels right,” or “this is my belief,” while far more acceptable to say, “According to such and such a study …”

For the devout Platonist, the temptation could arise to flip to the other extreme and say, “The world as we know it is nothing but an illusion, and only by freeing ourselves from it can we achieve enlightenment.” Mormonism takes a unique stance somewhere between these two extremes. It’s our belief that up until a few years ago, each and every one of us were resident beings of this other world, and that there were some things we simply could not learn without having a physical experience. After all, you can’t learn Spanish by reading about it in English. You have to immerse yourself in a Spanish environment. Thus, as we are truly spiritual beings having a physical experience, to seek to free ourselves from the physical world would be a mistake. And yet, at our cores, we do belong to the “other” world. Our purpose, it seems, is both to learn how to be physical while simultaneously rediscovering our spiritual roots.

The challenge is learning to achieve this balance. It’s an inherent challenge, because “the natural man is an enemy to God.” In other words, being born into physical bodies, spirituality comes anything but naturally to us. According to this article, our right brain is responsible for selfishness, and the less we focus on it, the more “spirituality” we feel.

Perhaps one reason why our world has become less spiritually-minded is because in a day of instant communication, loud music, and fast food, as opposed to the slowness and quietness of the days of yore, we have little patience for ambiguity, and at a quick glance, the “other” world simply doesn’t compute. As a beginner  immerses himself in Spanish, most of it won’t make sense. But to the diligent student, the mysteries will gradually be replaced by understanding, knowledge, and eventually power.

The Holy Ghost is that little ear bud that helps us to make sense of this other world, communicating things to our understanding that we can’t yet explain rationally, helping us to make the transition from the “natural man” to the enlightened man, until we’re no longer driven by our flesh but by something higher. When we achieve this state of enlightenment, we find that that the things of the “other” world, are in fact, fully rational, but had we never taken the plunge into what seemed at the time as irrational, we would have never known.

And that, I think, is what Brigham Young meant.

Imagination, the Cure for Obesity

illustration-dream-magic

It occurred to me tonight why the population of planet earth is growing exponentially more obese, and the reason isn’t poor diet, artificial hormones, or even lack of exercise. The reason is lack of imagination.

Q: Eh?

A: Take children.

Compared to adults, few children are fat, and yet their diets consist of the same percentage of refined starches, sugars, and oils as adults, if not more. Actually, the average child’s diet is almost certainly worse than the average adult’s diet. It’s a well-known fact that children hate eating vegetables and, given the chance, would happily subsist entirely on cupcakes.

Q: But don’t children have a higher metabolism, which allows them to get by on eating garbage?

A: Come on, you don’t even know what the word metabolism means. This argument was invented by the down and out as a mystical justification for their self-induced physical demise.

Q: But come on, it’s gotta be exercise. Kids run around all day while adults sit on their tushies.

A: Halfway there. While moving around enough may do the trick, a half hour of concentrated exercise can never burn enough calories to atone for a poor diet. I know from experience … and from observing more than one marathon runner with a pot belly.

Q: Are you going to get to your point?

A: Yes.

It’s not just that kids run around all day, thus raising their caloric output, it’s that compared to adults, they’re virtually uninterested in food, thus reducing their caloric intake. If you have children, you know what I mean. They’re far more interested in digging holes to China, erecting tents, and even running around in circles than titillating their taste buds and gorging their stomachs.

Again, the reason is imagination. The world is still exciting to children. There’s endless possibilities before them. They want to explore and become, not sit down in a chair and refuel. So many adults, on the other hand, having had their imaginations beat out of them through thirteen to twenty years of formal education and the relentless drudgery of 9 to 5 jobs, have long-since given up on their dreams. Food, therefore, becomes comfort and relief. Lots of food. The more the better.

Deep down, I think we all know that adults never lose their need for imagination. I mean, given our sorry states of life, we may need it more than children do. The difference here between children and adults is that children use their own imaginations while adults have others do it for them in the form of books, TV, movies, video games, and so on. While there are plenty of prepubescent media-junkies (through the fault of their parents), when the TV is turned off, children still know how to live out their fantasies.

When you have dreams to make reality, and life is so exciting that you can’t bear the thought of sitting still until absolutely driven by hunger, how could you not lose weight? If you’re looking to drop a few pounds, don’t call Jenny Kregg. Don’t buy into expensive pills or any other form of magic. Go jump on a trampoline, point your fingers, and make machine gun sounds.

The Other Great Apostasies

When my older brother was serving his LDS mission in Taiwan, I got to talk to him on the phone on Christmas day. I asked, “So what are the other religions like over there?” He replied, “You know how we like to say that all religions are good? Well that’s a bunch of bull. The entire world is utterly apostate.” Of course, this was a bit tongue-in-cheek.

One of the fundamental beliefs of Mormonism is in a “Great Apostasy,” which is that beginning around 100 AD and following the deaths of the apostles, the Church, as established by Jesus Christ, was corrupted. Truths were lost. Authority was revoked. Doctrines were distorted. The philosophies of men were mingled with scripture. There was a universal famine on the earth of hearing the words of God.

Hence, God himself said to Joseph Smith, referring to the churches of the nineteenth century, that “Their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof” (Joseph Smith History 1:19).

This declaration is a little less than ecumenical, and I don’t think God was being tongue-in-cheek. If I were to go around announcing these words to the religions of the world, I doubt I’d win many friends. And yet, as politically incorrect as it is, God himself seems to agree: “the entire world is utterly apostate.”

What I want to explore is whether or not this principle of a “Great Apostasy” can and should be taken further than the subject of which church to join.

When the Lord revealed his code of health to Joseph Smith, (the “Word of Wisdom”), he prefaced it by saying that he was “showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days” and that this revelation was  “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints” (Doctrine & Covenants 89:2-3). I find two important takeaways from this: (1) The Lord is interested in more than just our spiritual salvation. (2) He hasn’t told us everything. In fact, he’s told us the bear minimum of what he’d like to, because he feels a need to adapt his revelations to the “weak.”

The existence of this revelation infers that not only had their been an apostasy in the subject of religion but in the subject of diet. In large, the world was and is abusing substances that aren’t meant for the body. Our addiction to meat is not pleasing to God, who informed us that the killing and eating of animals is for “only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine” (D&C 89:13).

In church, you’re allowed to talk about the Lord’s words on substance abuse, but if you bring up his words on meat consumption (unless you use the supposedly ambiguous phrase “eat meat sparingly”), you’ll be viewed as an extremist, if not an apostate. Yet to the honest reader, the popular interpretation of what the Lord has said is simply at odds with what the Lord actually said. My point: while a few steps above the rest of the world, on the subject of diet, the general body of the Church is still in a state of apostasy. Does it matter? Well … yeah, if you value the Lord’s opinion … and don’t want to die of a heart attack.

If the Lord is interested in not only our religion but our diet, surely he’s interested in other facets of our well-being, such as our lifestyles. Could it be that our American habits of commuting for an hour a day, working for eight to ten hours, then crashing in front of the television and spending our last few hours in mindless recuperation are less than ideal in the sight of God? What if the forty-hour-work-week is another “abomination in his sight?” What if he hates the way we burn up our precious lives in cubicles, call centers, and fast food kitchens instead of climbing mountains, canoeing rivers, and writing poetry? Now I’m the one in danger of apostasy here, because I have no scriptural backings. However, would it be wise to assume that what God has officially spoken is our only basis for judgment? Or would it be wiser to ask ourselves, “If this earth were the Celestial Kingdom, how would things be different?” What’s stopping us from being like God in everything we do?

What if there’s been a great apostasy in education? What if the way we turn our children over to the government for seven to eight hours a day  is backwards, inefficient, irresponsible, and one of the biggest sources of human degradation?

What if there’s been a great apostasy in music, and the sounds we beat our heads to contribute to depression and base desires instead of ennobling and enlivening us?

What if there’s been a great apostasy in fashion, and our plain white T’s and jeans contribute to our lackadaisical airs instead of the majesty the human race was meant for as sewn by the enlightened tailors of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries?

What if there’s been a great apostasy in politics, and the Democrats and Republicans are both wrong? What if the principles of limited government, citizenship, and free enterprise have been shortchanged by greed and entitlement?

What if there’s been a great apostasy in dance, and the way we meander back and forth amid the ear-splitting insanity of school dances is a sheer perversion of the glory our grandparents knew during the swinging 30’s and 40’s?

What if there’s been a great apostasy in attitude, demeanor, conversation, and sense of humor, and the self-doubting, needlessly-limiting, depressed, sarcastic, and irreverent mentalities too common in our world are diametrically opposed to human happiness?

What if there’s been a great apostasy in entertainment, and instead of creating our own fun and fantasies, we’ve become addicted to watching others play pretend?

What if we’ve forgotten how to live, how to love, and how to be, and thus, whether we’re Mormon, Buddhist, or Atheist, chances are we fit among the rank and file of earth’s inhabitants who, in so many ways, are utterly apostate?

Time to get entrepreneurial

It’s interesting how many times I’ve noticed themes in my life. Right now the theme is entrepreneurship. Even more broad than that, it’s a theme of awakening my mind, taking control of my life, and fulfilling my calling. I’ve felt a real need for this over the past few weeks. Not long ago, I was content with my job, and life seemed fine and dandy. Then I remembered a goal I’d set almost two years ago when I first became a full time slave of the corporate machine. The goal was to liberate myself within two years, to spend my hours following my dreams instead of prostituting my talents for things I had no passion for. Do we not too often devote ourselves to something we hate, hoping to, at some future time, free ourselves for that which we love? Lately I’ve been of the opinion that this future time of fulfilment is an illusion. Now is the time to live the life we want to be living, and if there’s a will, there’s a way. The words of a Newsies song come to mind:

Open the gates and seize the day
Don’t be afraid and don’t delay
Nothing can break us
No one can make us
Give our rights away
Arise and seize the day

Back in December I was faced with the difficult decision of choosing between a well-paying job doing something I’m not passionate about or teaching music (something I’m passionate about) at a high school for a lot less money. Part of me now wishes I’d taken the latter offer, though I knew I made the right choice. Aside from getting more real world experience and sharpening my skills, Teresa and I agreed that we needed the cushy job in order to get out of debt and pay back my parents (who were coming upon difficult financial times) the money they’d given us to help purchase our house. Just a couple weeks ago, we gave my parents a substantial sum of money (having to give it in cash and hide it in a card so they’d actually accept it). It was at this same time that I was beginning to have strong desires to quit my job and try something entrepreneurial. Thus giving up the money was a challenge, because I knew how much it could help in the cause of my liberation.

Still, as the days went by, I got to the point where I couldn’t sleep, because the thought of going to work in the morning was too depressing. Not that there was anything wrong with my work. As far as real jobs go, it was very good. But I just knew that, come morning, I’d spend my most valuable hours working for someone else, and almost the rest of my hours in commuting, house choirs, family responsibilities, etc., leaving me few precious moments for following my dreams. Of course I realize that such has been the fate of untold millions of men since the world began, and I should be grateful for what I have. And yet, if there’s a better way, should we ever accept a less than perfect fate?

I asked Teresa if she’d be okay with me quitting tomorrow. She voiced her concern that this wasn’t wise, as we’d just given up nearly all of our savings, and we didn’t have a ready alternative for making money. Though soon she caught my bug, and a night or two later, she said, “Steve, if you want to quit your job tomorrow, I support you.” But by then, the powers of Lord Bore had worked me into saying, “No, let’s wait till September. We need to build a savings.”

Then a funny thing happened on Friday. First, before I went to work, I checked the analytics on a little project I’d begun months ago, a website that could potentially bring in money. To my surprise, the site had reached a new record of hits by a substantial margin. Turning the site into a source of revenue appeared more plausible than I’d imagined. Then I got to work, and I got laid off. The company was falling upon difficult times, and with the bringing in of a guy whose expertise outshown my own, I’d become expendable. This certainly caught me by surprise, but it by no means depressed me. In fact, I sang for most of the way home. How Teresa took the news was another matter, though she now shares my vision.

I began this post with saying that my life happens in themes. To me it’s clear that my feelings of needing to be independent, my challenge of giving up my savings for a greater good, the sudden growth of my website, and my unexpected unemployment, are not coincidental but have been arranged by the master storyteller, who has reaffirmed to me that my time does matter on this earth, that now is truly the time to seize it, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

So what am I going to do exactly? I don’t know. But I do know that whatever it is must meet three conditions: (1) I have to be in charge, (2) I have to work at home, and (3) I refuse to work more than twenty hours per week. My time is mine. I will not give it up so easily again. Sound crazy? Good.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself. And thus all progress depends on the unreasonable man” (George Bernard Shaw).

Thoughts on Proposition 8

As the United States Supreme Court has been taking on the case of California’s Proposition 8, there’s been no lack of opinions shared on social media, especially from my friends who are in favor of the stance now termed “marriage equality”. Years ago when this issue was hot for the first time, I had no restraints in sharing my opinion of supporting Proposition 8. In some ways, I was probably a little too eager to flaunt my dirty laundry and a little too slow to step back and consider both sides. This time around, as I’ve avoided throwing myself in the furnace, it’s been easier to see where those who are against the proposition are coming from, touting the causes of acceptance and equality. Over the past few years, in my own philosophy, I’ve become more of a libertarian, believing that fiscal affairs and social issues are at their best when government intervenes as little as possible. It’s seemed more than evident to me that for a controversial issue such as the definition of marriage, which means so many different things to so many different people, a legal definition is problematic to say the least.

A friend of mine once told me: “I have no logical defense whatsoever for my support of Proposition 8. Yet I believe that if our nation were to discard the traditional definition of marriage, it would be a pivotal moment toward the moral disintegration of society.” After years of carefully thought out arguments I’d raised at the dinner table, I finally had to agree with my friend. If fairness, equality, and non-discrimination are the only criteria for determining the best decision as to the legal definition of marriage, I have no argument for my support of Proposition 8.

Yet my beliefs run  deeper than that which can be reduced to terms of political prudence. I could choose to sin before society’s emerging code of ethics and say that gender discrimination is perfectly valid in defining marriage, or I could choose to sin before my conscience in supporting legislation which undermines what I view as the fundamentals of society. As stifling as this inner conflict is, I also think it’s problematic to be on the opposite side of the spectrum, where the issues are so streamlined and well-packaged that one can believe that a phrase such as “hate is a choice; love is not” actually sums up the issue. Our challenge as human beings is to see the world from our opponents point of view, to avoid the temptation of turning them into straw men. In fact, this is the scientific method.

I’m grateful to my friend James Goldberg for putting tremendous thought, research, and fairness into this issue, which has helped me decide where I actually stand. (See his latest article:  http://goldbergish.blogspot.com/2013/03/toward-marriage-clarity.html.) As an exercise in digesting my thoughts, In the following paragraphs I’ll give my reflections on the points he made:

James points out that there are five important attributes of both traditional marriage and the Western world’s emerging concept of marriage. (He notes that to much of the Eastern world, homosexual marriage would make no sense within societal framework, such as in Sikhism, in which wedding ceremonies don’t only involve a husband and wife but extended family members.) Of course, while most people seem fairly polarized on these issues, there are certainly those who fall between. Here’s my summary:

Attribute Emerging Marriage Traditional Marriage
Origin Sexual exploration can lead people through non-committal relationships until deciding on a more permanent though optional union. Abstinence in youth prepares for the lifelong commitment of marriage, which is the fundamental institution of society.
Exclusivity Exclusivity is preferred, though open relationships can be an option when both partners consent. Absolute fidelity is required.
Family Parenting is an option though by no means necessary. Parenting is quintessential. The love and unity of marriage is as much for the welfare of the children as for the parents.
Gender The genders of spouses are not essential factors for a healthy marriage or for the welfare of children. Gender defines the roles of spouses in dealing with each other and with their children. The balance between a male and female union is ideal for a marriage relationship and for parenting.
Accountability Long-term commitment is a matter of preference. Progressing through many relationships can be just as viable. Marriage is a life-long commitment, often between deity as well as spouses. Divorce is a termination of this covenant and therefore to be avoided where possible.

From my observations, the complex differences between these models have seldom been articulated in the heat of this debate. Rather, it’s been fashionable to over-simply the issues by focusing almost entirely on the attribute of gender. It’s been fashionable to view the debate as the broadening of a definition. But can the model of traditional marriage really be broadened to accept the model of emerging marriage without contradiction? Assuming the answer is no, if the model of emerging marriage were to be officially sanctioned by the government, could it be done without undermining the some 40% of Americans who still hold to traditional marriage?

As James argues, because these models have so little in common, it doesn’t make sense to define them both with a single word. The problem is, the word “marriage” has sentimental weight. It’s romantic and built upon thousands of years of tradition and values. The same can’t be said of the term “civil union”. No one wants to propose with the words “Will you civil me?” But can people wishing to enter into an emerging marriage relationship rightfully group themselves with a history, tradition, and values that don’t correlate?

James’s conclusion is that there needs to be a new word for the model of emerging marriage. He predicts that this won’t happen, because the all-powerful virtues of fairness and equality in America will eventually deem that the “gender discrimination” of marriage must be stopped. He also predicts that the decreasing numbers of those who fervently hold to the model of traditional marriage will have to be the ones to redefine themselves. If all this turns out to be true, life will go on. But I believe it will come with a cost.

Does the definition of a word really make that big of a deal? Could such a small thing really help facilitate the moral disintegration of society, as my first friend stated? Does the government really have any business in defining marriage at all? For me, the answer to all three of these questions is yes. For a believer in traditional marriage, the physical difference between legitimacy and fornication is a piece of paper. Yet to me it’s not just paper but a covenant to which I’ll devote my life. When considering the concept of legislation, the physical difference between order and anarchy can also be viewed as nothing but paper. Yet words and definitions can make all the difference in how we perceive ourselves and interact with others on both individual and societal levels. As a believer that the family is the fundamental unit of society, I can’t imagine how a government could responsibly not recognize marriage as a legal entity, especially over issues of property, children and guardianship.

For example, if Proposition 8 is not upheld, and marriage is defined as a legal union between any two people of any gender with any kind of commitment or values, and if failing to agree with this definition is termed as discrimination, private adoption organizations could be forced to act against their values. This would be a direct violation of the separation of church and state, the government having adopted the religion of moral relativism. In such a condition, if I were to show full “allegiance to the flag”, I would be forced to deny part of my religion: “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World).

The United States of America was never meant for such imperialism. In order to protect a very small minority, a 40% minority need not be discriminated against. The fundamental unit of society (For those who don’t believe in Marxism) need not be undermined. Those with no ill feelings for people of alternate lifestyles, who have no intention of anything but loving their families and upholding high standards need not be falsely labeled as haters. At the same time, those wishing to enter into the emerging model of marriage need not be discriminated against. They’re entitled to all the privileges,  benefits, opportunities, and happiness that society can offer without coming at the cost of others. The solution is not to label almost half of the nation as close-minded, old-fashioned, and discriminatory, but to let everyone do as much good as they can in their own spheres. Marriage can continue to exist as marriage. If something new is emerging for people of alternate lifestyles, let there be a new word for it. This issue could be resolved so quickly. We all just need to talk a little more about what’s really at stake and put aside the political rhetoric.