stallioncornell

The Rise of Ad Hominem (and the decline of everything else.)

(Title gleefully lifted with apologies to Hugh Nibley.)

Sadly, the Mormon faith has become a place that incentivizes the survival of the least fit. Since strict obedience is demanded and harshly enforced, only the least talented, least articulate, least nuanced thinkers, least likely to take a stand against abuse, and the least courageous people thrive in the Church today.

– Kate Kelly, former Mormon and current leader of Ordain Women, writing for the UK Guardian.

So there!

As one of the untalented, inarticulate, nuance-free, abuse-tolerating cowards who remains in the church, I obviously have no standing to answer this charge. Which, ultimately, is Kelly’s purpose here. Once you accept her premise that all Mormons are knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, you can save yourself the aggravation of listening to anything they have to say.

If not “skeptic,” what should the opponents of climate science be called? … The dissenting scientists have been called “lukewarmers” by some… It is perhaps no surprise that many environmentalists have started to call them deniers.

The scientific dissenters object to that word, claiming it is a deliberate attempt to link them to Holocaust denial. Some academics sharply dispute having any such intention, but others have started using the slightly softer word “denialist” to make the same point without stirring complaints about evoking the Holocaust.

The above is from a column in the New York Times devoted to finding the appropriate ad hominem label with which to utterly dismiss people who notice the earth hasn’t warmed at all in 17 years and that all the alarmist climate models have been wrong by a factor of 300%, and so maybe a regressive tax on the poorest of the poor that even alarmists admit won’t lower global temperatures might not be a good idea.

I’ve written about Shakespeare denialism many times before… and I’ve started to feel like I’m running around in circles while simultaneously banging my head against a wall (do not try this)… When the media use false balance in stories about the “authorship question,” they also bestow undue legitimacy on a discredited notion. Shakespeare deniers have received sympathetic treatment in surprising places for a long time.

A recent article on skeptic.com from an orthodox Shakespeare scholar that maintains the best way to deal with the myriad of problems with the conventional wisdom about Shakespeare’s authorship is to call those who ask questions “deniers” and refuse to create the “false balance” that comes from letting them speak.

“And lest we get on our high horse and think that this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

– President Obama, February 10, 2015

Rather than be concerned about the barbarism being perpetrated in 2015 in the name of Islam, Christians should recognize they are disqualified from passing judgment because other Christians committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ a thousand years ago.

To sum up:

Contrary opinions no longer need to be refuted; they only need to be disqualified. And disqualifying opinions these days is remarkably easy to do.

Heaven help us all.

Logan’s History of Sound and Fury

“It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.”
 – William Shakespeare

Sonia Johnson, like John Dehlin, came from Logan, Utah. And like John Dehlin, she asked a lot of questions and didn’t much care for the church’s answers. Johnson’s issue was the Equal Rights Amendment, and she cited the Church’s opposition to same as evidence of “savage misogyny” in the Mormon hierarchy. She refused to support church leaders and even vocally shouted “No! No! No! E.R.A. says no!” in the Tabernacle when it came time to sustain Spencer W. Kimball as the President of the Church. She gave speeches across the country counseling people to turn away Mormon missionaries until the church reversed its position on the ERA. Finally, when she was excommunicated in December of 1979, the news media reported it as a major story that would generate a tremendous backlash against the LDS Church.

Indeed, excommunication did little or nothing to slow Sonia Johnson down.

She chained herself to the gates of the Seattle Temple to protest the church’s position, and she found herself thrown in jail for her efforts. She ran for President of the United States in 1984 and came in fifth, with over 70,000 votes. (She lost to Ronald Reagan, who got considerably more than 70,000 votes.) She announced she was a lesbian and founded an all-women commune in Arizona. She spoke at a number of radical feminist gatherings and made a name for herself in various academic and feminist communities.

She is still alive today, but no one knows where she is.

Wikipedia says her last known speaking engagement was in 2007,  and in 2010, a Logan newspaper tried to do a follow-up, “Where are they now?” story about Johnson and came up short. The reporter of that piece contacted one of Johnson’s relatives, who said they thought Johnson was now living in Costa Rica, but they weren’t sure. My own Google searches have come up empty, too.

This is very different from the 1980s, when national stories about the church often included a quote from Sonia Johnson, who invariably used the occasion to criticize the church of which she was no longer a member. Johnson had every bit the national profile that John Dehlin and Kate Kelly now enjoy, and her arguments were very much in line with what Kate Kelly is now saying to every media outlet that will listen. Yet in Johnson’s case, we now have more than three decades of hindsight to determine what kind of lasting impact her excommunication and subsequent anti-LDS activism has had on the Church at large.

Time has not been kind to Ms. Johnson’s legacy.

The Church has not made the requisite changes to its doctrines and practices that Sonia Johnson demanded, yet it has somehow continued to grow and thrive. The media, once infatuated with Sonia Johnson, have forgotten her entirely, as have the vast majority of current church members, most of whom have likely never heard her name. It’s hard to argue that all the sound and fury she generated all those years ago has signified anything other than nothing, at least as far as Mormonism is concerned.

Understand my purpose here. I am not trying to mock or vilify Sonia Johnson, just as I am not trying to mock or vilify  John Dehlin or Kate Kelly or anyone else whose spiritual journey leads them outside the boundaries of the Church. I am, rather, trying to provide some needed perspective. If you  think Dehlin’s excommunication is some kind turning point, or that it heralds the inevitable decline of the corrupt Church he has exposed, or that Dehlin’s and/or Kelly’s influence will continue to expand while the Mormon house of cards comes tumbling down…

If you’re of that opinion, you might want to talk to Sonia Johnson about how all that worked out for her.

If you can find her, anyway.

From the desk of Scott C. Kuperman

By way of introduction regarding our guest post today, I ought to recount some blog history. I have recounted this history in-depth previously here, but newbies may want a more streamlined explanation for why this is relevant.

In the early days of this blog – September 16, 2007, to be precise – I wrote a post titled The Order of the Arrow. In it, I recounted my unpleasant introduction to the Boy Scouts of America’s goofy secret society which I don’t much like, as you’ll discover if you read the post.

I never expected to mention the Order of the Arrow again. I certainly had no desire to become the online locus for all things Order of the Arrow, nor was it my intent to lead some kind of crusade against it, despite my lingering distaste therefore.  However, in a Google-fueled irony, my site ranks high in searches where people are trying to find out the secrets of the Order of the Arrow “ordeal,” i.e. the O of A initiation ceremony. Consequently, this blog still gets a steady stream of daily visitors to my various O of A-themed pages, even six-plus years after the first one was written.

This occasionally makes for some colorful comments, the latest of which I received today from our new friend Scott C. Kuperman, who, unlike me, does “not hide behind anonymity.” I offer you Scott C.’s full diatribe unedited and intact, but I must confess that, as of this writing, I haven’t actually read the good Mr. Kuperman’s full remarks. I started skimming after he assured me that “no one can be you but you,” and I checked out soon after. I did like the cryptic paragraph about “Lord of the Flies” and decaffeinated polygamists reading inscriptions on rocks, though. You don’t read stuff like that every day.

There was a time when I found O of A defenders to be charming in a Dudley-Do-Wright-Gone-Sour sort of way, but now they just bore me. However, this one seems more literate than most. I still enjoy passing the better ones along because I’m of the opinion that highlighting the humorless scolding I receive on the subject helps to reinforce the original point I made six years ago, which is that the Order of the Arrow is, you know, kinda dippy.

So, without further ado, I’ll let Scott C. Kuperman take it from here. He gets the last word.

__________

Greetings, “stallioncornell”. I do not hide behind anonymity.

An obvious, but pertinent statement: “No one but you, can be you.” None of us can or should comment on your personal experiences since your perceptions equal your reality. Neither I, nor anyone else besides you can understand your experiences as you have.

Having first explained that fact, it is important to explain another: I don’t believe the year or ‘era’ in which you experienced your ordeal has anything to do with your hazing experience. Hazing has never been permitted by the Order (or the BSA for that matter). Both the written and unwritten codes expressly forbade and currently forbid it. To this end, how you now hold the entire Order accountable for the actions of a few miscreants is equally abominable to your experience.

Whether you experienced your ordeal under the heavy hands of Budweiser-fueled, Silent Generational sadists, and Lord Of The Flies driven Scouts; or loin cloth wearing, no caffeine, weird rock transcription worshiping polygamists, and brain washed, Children Of The Corn driven Scouts, should make no difference. Hazing is as wrong as *stereotyping*. And what is right is right even if no one is doing it. And what is wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.

I first experienced my honor into Brotherhood in 1991 at the age of 16. I experienced my Ordeal at 14. I endured events as you have similarly described by action, but I took away nothing but positive feelings. After I was told not to look, I’m sure I peeked. I’m sure I got a quick, but gentle slap on the back of the head. I learned not to peek and instead to hold my honor as I had originally promised not to peek. I took part in ceremonies designed to unify and solidify bonds of fellowship…

I had a day of eating similar foods (minus the gum drop). I encountered days of similar work. However, my take away to this day is still a feeling of alignment with those who walked the path before me, of understanding the value of service to others. My “slave labor” afforded thousands of campers the ability to experience a great summer week instead of a crappy, bug infested week without campfires or fun activities. No one “hazed” me. If I had felt hazed for one instant I would have reported those who hazed me in conflagration with the values espoused by the Order. If it became an even larger issue, I would have quit.

It is exactly what you describe in your original post that offers controversy. Your story tries to indicate that you were “hazed mercilessly”. While the term hazing can have different meanings to different people, your description of hazing, to me at least, makes you seem like an intolerant, immature, whining infant. You accepted your Troop’s nomination into the Order. You had to have known what the Order was about long before you conducted your ordeal. For someone so tied to the proper use of vocabulary and grammar, what part of ‘ordeal’ do you feel was misrepresented? Why not just quit if Scouting wasn’t your bag?

It is a good thing you do not remember anything about the Order to further denigrate it, and yourself (by proxy having taken the oaths,) any further. The “secrets” of the Order exist to elate future Ordeals and Brothers who desire a path of self discovery through trials. This is why such secrets are now completely open to parents who wish to be assuaged that their sons are not joining a cult. The Order’s “secrets” do not exist to create a secret society to be falsely feared, let alone by small minded individuals with an apparent childish vendetta against a group with values and methods he cannot understand.

It is true: No matter where you go in America, you can find small minded people in positions of power over others. Whether you’re looking at Paris Island or Salt Lake City; the “City of Brotherly love” or the state of multiple matrimony… Unfortunately, the internet provides those with even false gripes to have a limited amount of power. Your blog exemplifies this. You now feel that you have the power to ruin for others what you felt was ruined for you.

Your problem isn’t with the Order of the Arrow, sir. The problem you have is with yourself. Once you realize this, you will be able to see that your fellow Scouts didn’t haze you – instead, as a youth you allowed yourself to take part of an honor that simply wasn’t meant for you.

Your experience wasn’t tragic. However, what is tragic is your current need to denigrate the Order.

__________

Brian, Beck, and Bitterness

So NBC anchor Brian Williams was caught telling a lie. He was not in a helicopter hit by enemy fire in Iraq, despite having said he was on a number of occasions.

The reaction to Williams has been widespread outrage. Most people recognize that lies don’t happen in isolation, and someone willing to make up one story is likely to make up a lot of stories. And, predictably, tall tales told by Williams are now coming out of the woodwork. His reputation is shattered, and his career is likely over.

But what if I were to tell you that the people who called Williams’s falsehoods to light didn’t like him? What if they worked for ABC News or some other competitor? What if they had a longstanding grudge against the guy? Or, for you Mormons out there, what if Brian Williams were a member of the LDS Church? Would any of those qualifiers lessen the severity of what Williams did? Would any of them make him an honest man? Would they restore his credibility and salvage his career? Of course not.

But when you change the name “Brian Williams” to “Glenn Beck,” all bets are off.

This began on a Facebook thread, where noted Mormon scholar Daniel Peterson linked to this article about Glenn Beck’s “crisis of faith.” I jumped in and pointed out that Glenn Beck, like Brian Williams, doesn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story, so, like Brian Williams, he can’t be trusted. Beck’s defenders then leapt into the fray with weak attempts to claim Beck was just misquoted by his own website, but the conversation quickly shifted to… me. Because, see, I worked for a Democrat at one point, and Democrats are Beck’s ideological enemies. And I’m just a bitter Beck hater because Beck said nasty things about my father. Also, Glenn Beck is a fellow Mormon, and one Mormon has no business calling another Mormon a liar.

That same sentiment spilled over into the comments section of my previous post. A comment from Andy said my  “infatuation with all things Glenn Beck is… disturbing,” while a commenter named Nate directly referenced the Facebook exchange and concluded that my behavior there was “at least as” bad as Beck’s original lie – meaning it was probably worse.

“In a recent Facebook thread where you repeatedly attacked Beck as a “liar” who had embarrassed the church, I couldn’t help but feel that your behavior in that Facebook thread was at least as deplorable and embarrassing to the church as you think Beck’s comment was on that radio show.”
– Nate, February 7, 2015

Nate and I discussed this further in what was, I hope, a civil exchange in the comments section, but I wanted to bring this to light on the main page here, because  many who read my original posts may not pore over what is said about them in the comments.

I found it interesting when I raised the Brian Williams comparison, Nate had no problem with using the “deplorable and embarrassing” language he criticized previously. To quote Nate again:

It is beginning to look like Williams is a pathological liar. How could he possibly retain his position as the face of NBC News?

How, indeed? Also, why is it okay to call Brian Williams a pathological liar but not Glenn Beck? Referring to Williams as a liar is entirely appropriate, but referring to Beck as a liar is “deplorable and embarrassing” – indeed, “at least as deplorable and embarrassing” as the vicious lie Glenn Beck told to millions of listeners.

I don’t get that at all.

I also have no patience for the idea that because Beck is a Mormon, he should get a pass. If anything, Latter-day Saints should have less patience for dishonesty from one of their own than for someone like Brian Williams. Beck’s prominence as a Mormon requires more moral accountability, not less, and Mormons ought to be the first in line to expose Beck’s dishonesty.

Also allow me, for a moment, to address the issue of my oft-cited “bitterness” and “infatuation with all things Glenn Beck.” I have repeatedly written on this blog about the damage that festering hatred can do to the soul. You’ll have to take my word for it that my so-called “obsession” with Glenn Beck – who is mentioned in only 32 of my 833 posts here, and usually only in passing – is not fueled by half a decade of festering bile. Rather, it is motivated by concern for the damage Glenn Beck is doing to the church, which is considerable. A dishonest, inaccurate, and apocalyptic prophet of doom is the most prominent public face of the church to which I belong and a stumbling block for good people who are rightly disturbed by his bad example. I have a big problem with that.

Still, you may not believe me. You may think this is nothing more than a schoolyard grudge. Such is the way of things – I’m the only one who knows my heart on this subject, and there’s nothing I can do about whatever judgment you choose to make on that score.

So let’s suppose my detractors are right. Suppose I really am nothing more than a seething cauldron of anti-Beck bitterness, and that I spend every waking moment of every day nursing my anti-Beck wrath to keep it warm.

How does that change the facts I’ve cited?

How does my being a terrible person make Glenn Beck an honest one?

Peeves

I’ve never really understood the expression “pet peeves.” I love my pets. I don’t love my peeves. But I have a lot more peeves than pets. So, that said, here are some things bugging me at the moment.

1. I just read this article, where Ordain Women leader Kate Kelly comments on podcaster John Dehlin’s likely excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She asserts that Dehlin “is facing a church trial for supporting marginalized Mormons and the ordination of women.”

This is factually inaccurate.

The LDS Church keeps strict confidentiality about the reasons for its discipline, yet Dehlin has chosen to publish the letter from his Stake President that specifically outlines why he faces excommunication. (I don’t want to link to it, as I have no interest in sending any traffic Dehlin’s way, but Google will back me up on this.) The letter does not mention, either directly or indirectly, Dehlin’s support for the ordination of women or support for marginalized Mormons as reasons for discipline. It does mention the fact that Dehlin has very publicly and repeatedly rejected every foundational truth claim upon which his church is built. Specifically, John Dehlin has repeatedly and publicly stated that he believes there is no God, that Jesus was not only not the Son of God but that he likely wasn’t even a historical figure, and that Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon are both abject frauds.

I wish John Dehlin no ill will, and I think he is entirely welcome to believe what he wishes. It so happens that I have many friends who believe there is no God and no Christ, that Joseph Smith was a con man, and that the Book of Mormon is 19th Century fiction. In fact, there are many fine people believe such things, so John Dehlin will find no shortage of companions and allies who share his point of view. I am not even remotely upset that he believes these things, and his difference of opinion with me is not at all peeve-worthy.

Here’s the problem that earns peeve status.

The people I know who believe the things John Dehlin believes are not Mormons. They have no desire to be called Mormons. They certainly don’t expect that a church filled with Mormons should endorse their belief that Mormons are part of a massive theological delusion. Yet, somehow, Dehlin – and Kate Kelly, if this article is to be accepted at face value – both think The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should allow people to remain members of said church while they are publicly and passionately fighting against it. On his website, Delhin himself puts it this way:

“One can be Mormon or claim a Mormon identity without necessarily adhering to the teachings or doctrines of any religious organization. We can retain the label ‘Mormon’ but remake it and redefine it in the public mind as a mere cultural label.”

Or, in other words, John Dehlin does not wants to stay Mormon so much as he wants to fundamentally change what a “Mormon” is.  He is not trying to stay a member of the church; he is demanding that the entire church declare itself meaningless. Were he to succeed, he would diminish what it means to be Mormon for every Mormon on the planet.

This peeves me to no end.

The church welcomes a much wider diversity of thought than Dehlin and Kelly suggest, but it should not and cannot continue to accommodate those who are actively working to destroy what it means to be a Mormon. Whether or not his name is on the church’s membership records is largely irrelevant at this point. It’s obvious that John Dehlin has made the decision not to be a Mormon, and he doesn’t get to avoid the consequences of that decision by making all Mormons less Mormon in the process.

2. Hey, did you know Glenn Beck thinks it’s terrible when Mormons mix religion and politics?

“There is something really wrong in Utah. There is something really, really wrong,” he said. “Remember, it was the Mormons, the two Mormons Smoot [and] Hawley, they were two Mormons that brought us the Smoot-Hawley Act which brought us the Great Depression.”

Yeah, great. Just another instance of Glenn Beck not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. Not sure this is as deliberate as when he manufactured a meeting with my father out of thin air, but Willis C. Hawley of Smoot-Hawley Tariff fame wasn’t a Mormon. And he was from Oregon, not Utah. So when our pal Glenn complains about Utah Mormons mixing politics and religion and cites a non-Mormon and non-Utahn as one of his key examples, he’s once again making stuff up.

But it gets better – or worse, as the case may be. “Sometimes [Mormon] theology can go and mix with politics and go wildly wrong! When Mormons go bad, they go really bad. They go socialist. They go socialist. They mix the Gospel with government.”

Good heavens. So, SO peeved.

To hear this man complain about mixing Mormonism with politics is to witness a white flash of hypocrisy so potent that it could make Spock go blind.

spock-is-blinded(That above image is from the episode “Operation: Annihilate” in which Spock goes blind during an experiment designed to keep people from being murdered by flying pancakes made from plastic vomit. Look it up.)

Mixing Mormonism and politics?! Glenn Beck’s entire existence is predicated on mixing Mormonism with politics! And not just any Mormonism and politics – he taps into the very worst of both worlds to produce a Cleon Skousen/John Birch society paranoid nightmare that has God sending tsunamis to Japan because of gay marriage.

Beck is famous for predicting ridiculous things, so I don’t feel bad about making a few Beck-centric predictions of my own. Prior to his “Utah-Mormons-like Willis-Hawley-are-socialists” rant, Beck made cryptic rumblings on his Facebook page about a “crisis of faith” that involves rejecting “men of the cloth” in his own church.

Now, I have no hard evidence for what I’m about to say, but if Glenn Beck has taught me anything, it’s that evidence is the enemy of wisdom.

I think it likely Glenn Beck has had a negative experience with one of his local church leaders, perhaps a bishop, who, hopefully, asked him to tone down the apocalyptic hooey and stop saying dishonest and/or crazy things. Given that Beck’s instability correlates directly with his messianic delusions, I think he’s currently chafing at the limitations of reasonableness imposed by church membership. The day is not far distant when Beck parts company with the Mormons in order to have an unfettered hand to practice his unique brand of moonbattery, which will likely lead to him becoming an outspoken enemy of the church to which he now belongs.

You read it here first.

3. I have other peeves but I’m tired of writing. So you only get two peeves. But that’s more than you had before I started, so don’t get all peeved on me.

Wrong about being wrong

So Mitt proved me right about how wrong I was, and he dropped out of the race before getting into the race he was never going to get into, and, while dropping out via recorded conference call with donors, he insisted that he would have won the nomination, but he’s not going to run, unless circumstances change, although that’s very unlikely, which is exactly what he said just a few months before he decided to run, which he’s not doing. Running, I mean.

Look, I’ll let smarter people than me sort all that out. By dropping out of the race, Mitt saves himself and his family a lot of pain, and that’s a good thing. But now I have friends asking me for my take on the race going forward. Who do I think will win the nomination? Which candidate has the best chance against Hillary?

The answer to question #1: Don’t know and don’t care.

The answer to question #2: The same candidate who has the best chance of winning California’s 55 electoral votes – i.e. none of them.

I don’t say this to be bitter or nasty. I say it because in order for the Republicans to be competitive on the presidential level, they have to break through the “Blue Wall” which guarantees that Democrats win at least 240 electoral votes out of 270 right out of the gate. Based on demographic trends, it seems that two other states that have fallen behind the so-called “Blue Wall” are Virginia and New Hampshire.

That puts the Democrat at 270 before the race even starts.

This blog post explains all this better than I can, but this is all based on the fact that demographics are solid predictors of voting patterns. When, say, black voters vote for Democrats 95% of the time regardless of who’s running, campaigns become increasingly irrelevant. In the modern era, it’s easy to pinpoint the demographic trends and commensurate voting patterns with frightening, Nate-Silver-esque accuracy. Those trends produce predictable voting behavior that is prohibitively difficult for any campaign to overcome.

That means that for a Republican to win, they  have to win every single swing state, including heavily contested Ohio and Florida, both of which went blue the last two times around. Then they also have to flip a blue state, too.

Which blue state could Romney have flipped? Which blue state will Jeb Bush or Scott Walker or Chris Christie flip? Bush might hold Florida, but he won’t flip anything. Christie has zero chance of winning his home state of New Jersey. Walker is the best bet of these three, because he has an outside chance of flipping Wisconsin, but then he has to win everything else, too, and that’s just not realistic at all. And Ted Cruz would likely see several red states flip over to blue.  So, to sum up, Republicans have to run the table and win the jackpot at the same time, whereas a Democrat just has to wake up on the day after Election Day.

Republican voters are increasingly old, white, and rural. Their numbers continue to shrink, and the party’s death spiral will swirl downward for generations.

I do not expect to see a Republican president again in my lifetime.

Mitt dodged a bullet here.

The Righteous Outlet

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a press conference this morning affirming their support for LGBT rights in housing and employment. This was significant in many ways, not the least of which is that Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an apostle of the church who has spoken in vigorous opposition to gay marriage, used the acronym “LGBT” in describing the gay community. Church officials usually tend to address gay issues by relying on the term “same-sex attraction,” a description that tries to delineate between gay people and gay desires. I’ve always interpreted that as a signal that “same-sex attraction” should be viewed as an external affliction or disease that can be overcome with adequate treatment. Acknowledging that someone is gay, on the other hand, concedes that sexual orientation is a fundamental part of who someone is, and it can no more be changed than someone’s height or the color of their eyes. This strikes me as a self-evident truth, as I have yet to meet any human being who has ever made a conscious decision as to which gender they will find sexually attractive.

When an apostle acknowledges, then, that there are such things as “LGBT issues” rather than “same-sex attraction issues,” he is subtly affirming that the Church now rejects the affliction/disease premise, which is a significant and positive step. Indeed, over the past few years, there have been multiple acknowledgments of this truth by church leaders in a variety of forums, and while they may not be revolutionary, they clearly demonstrate movement in the direction of greater acceptance of gay Latter-day Saints.

The question, then, is how many more steps is the church willing to take.

It’s hard to believe that this is as far as we’re going to go. The debate over gay marriage, at least from a legal standpoint, is over. Gay marriage won. It is not going away. It is only a matter of time, and not very much time, before gay marriage is legal in all fifty states and in most countries across the world. At this point, debating whether or not it should be legal is a bit like debating whether or not we should privatize the fire department. Even if you have cogent arguments that fire departments ought not be publicly funded, no one is going to listen to you. Gay marriage opponents in the public arena are discovering that their position is increasingly anachronistic, and they will soon have no choice but to move on. For my part, I think everyone ought to focus on adapting to the new reality rather than trying to bring back the old one. That includes the church.

But applying this principle to our church creates a whole slew of problems that are unique to Mormon theology.

Most gay rights advocates will be satisfied with nothing short of the Church’s full acknowledgment of homosexuality as completely equal to heterosexuality, and they yearn for the day when two men or two women can be sealed for time and all eternity in a Latter-day Saint temple and be granted all the same blessings or promises given to straight couples. But for this to happen, both theology and biology will have to cooperate.  So far, neither has proven willing to budge.

Acceptance of gay marriage has coincided with increased acceptance of gay parenting. If “Modern Family” has taught us anything, it’s that a gay couple can raise children just as well as their dysfunctional straight counterparts can. But the fact remains that a straight couple can make children, and a gay couple can’t. That’s not a bigoted plot to deny gay people their rights; that’s simple biology. And, at least on this score, biology is homophobic.

Mormon theology is built on the premise that the greatest joys of both time and eternity are to be derived from family bonds. The following quote from the Doctrine and Covenants puts this in very simple terms:

1 In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;

2 And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];

3 And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.

4 He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.

D&C 131:1-4

This whole idea of “increase” ties into the doctrine that we believe all people to be the literal sons and daughters of heavenly parents. Just as we have a mother and father here on earth whose union created our physical bodies, so we have a Heavenly Mother and Father whose union created our spirits. We are promised that those who inherit the Father’s kingdom will have the opportunity to create spirit children of their own. This has been the subject of much mockery from critics of the church who, in the words of the anti-Mormon film “The Godmakers,” argue that this condemns Mormon women to being “eternally pregnant,” complete with endless eons of bloating and morning sickness. I think that’s a crass assumption that presupposes that there are no differences in the experience of mortals and immortals.

But it’s also true that we don’t know what those differences are.

If the church were to follow the lead of the world and conclude that gay marriage is exactly the same as straight marriage, then they would be saying that gender will not be an obstacle in the creation of spirit children the way it is now in the creation of physical children. That would require us to ignore the precedent of mortal biology altogether and drastically change how we understand our relationship to our Heavenly Father.

To many, this may seem silly to even be talking about any of this. By raising these kinds of objections, I open myself up to the criticism that I’m hiding behind piety to justify my bigotry. I don’t think that’s what I’m doing, but I have to consider the possibility that I’m wrong, which I frequently am.

So, given the caveat that I’m probably an idiot, I will say that I think the church’s current position on homosexuality, while more laudable than what it was, is still untenable in the long run. Even if we can’t take as many steps as the world wants us to, I believe there are still more steps to be taken.

When I was growing up, I was told that my biological reaction to the opposite sex was normal and natural, but I still had to essentially ignore it, even when my hormonally-charged body wasn’t letting me think of anything else.  But, not to worry, the day would come when I would get married, and the feelings I’d been suppressing throughout my adolescence would finally have a righteous outlet.

Gay Mormons used to be told their feelings were the result of their bad choices, but now the church is teaching them the same message they taught me, but with one crucial difference. Yes, we now recognize gay people’s feelings are normal and natural and not the result of any inherent wickedness on their part, but we still maintain there is absolutely no righteous outlet for them. If you want to remain a Latter-day Saint, those feelings must be suppressed and ignored throughout your entire life.

And in the meantime, your straight friends get to have marriages and families, and you will either have to marry someone to whom you are not sexually attracted or else walk through this world utterly alone. I don’t think it should surprise us when gay Mormons review those unpleasant options and decide that there is more happiness for them to be found outside the boundaries of the church.

So what’s the solution? I don’t know. I don’t think our theology will ever let us ignore all differences between gay and straight marriages. But I think the answer is somewhere to be found in that idea of a “righteous outlet.” I can’t say what that would be, and I think it will probably take a revelation to be able to define it. We’re certainly not there yet, but I think we’re moving in that direction.

I hope I’m wrong again

If there’s one topic I get wrong more often than anyone else, it’s Mitt Romney.

I thought he would win the nomination and then the presidency in 2008, and I proudly predicted that “‘Hail to the Chief’ will play for President Mitt Romney in January of 2009.” I was wrong.

I later thought he would win the presidency in 2012 in a landslide. I was very wrong.

And, more recently, I assured you with whatever inside baseball contacts I have left that there was absolutely no way he would run in 2016.

Turns out I’m wrong again.

So I’m done pretending that anything I say about Mitt Romney will hold water. But I’m going to say a few things anyway, and Romney fans, including me, should all hope that I’m just as wrong about him as I have ever been.

Mitt is going to run, and he’s going to lose.

He’s not even going to get close to getting the nomination this time around. He may linger like a hard-boiled egg left in a gym locker the way Santorum did last time around, but voters will very quickly sour on him, and he will embarrass himself and squander all the good will he’s generated since the last election.

I do not want this outcome, but this outcome is so transparently obvious that I’m left to wonder why Mitt doesn’t see it himself.

Remember, this is the guy who was excoriated for flip-flopping all over the place, and he’s spent two years saying “no, absolutely not, no, no, no, no.” And now it’s a yes. What’s his rationale for running? Well, Mitt says “I want to be president.” The guy’s 67, in good health, and has all the money in the world and nothing better to do. That’s pretty much it.

And his new platform? Well, now he’s all about lifting people out of poverty – good –  and global warming – pfft.

I do not get it. At all.

Peggy Noonan sums it up better than I do.

Romney enthusiasts like to compare him with Ronald Reagan, who ran three times. This is technically true… [but the] real Romney-Reagan difference is this: There was something known as Reaganism. It was a real movement within the party and then the nation. Reaganism had meaning. You knew what you were voting for. It was a philosophy that people understood. Philosophies are powerful. They carry you, and if they are right and pertinent to the moment they make you inevitable.

There is no such thing as Romneyism and there never will be. Mr. Romney has never encompassed a philosophical world. He has never become the symbol of an attitude toward government, or an approach to freedom or fairness. “Romneyism” is just “Mitt should be president.” That is not enough.

Mitt should be president. But he will not be president. And he shouldn’t run, because he will lose.

I really hope this isn’t the first time I turn out to be right.

Lessons from the Tidy Church

While much of the world has lost interest, the topic of Joseph Smith’s polygamy that I raised in my earlier post remains white-hot in various pockets of the Internet. As the Church wrestles with how to confront the thornier elements of its history amid the scrutiny of the Digital Age, many of its critics gleefully paint a picture of a corrupt and dishonest cult ruined by a past that is finally catching up with it.

Yet The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints stubbornly refuses to collapse on cue.

Indeed, record numbers of Mormon missionaries are taking the message of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ to every corner of the globe. There has been no mass exodus. To the contrary, the Church continues to grow. Most of its members blithely ignore the latest online controversy and quietly go about their lives striving to emulate the example of the Master.

There are a handful of us, however, who still pay attention to the arguments and feel an almost irrational need to push back against the detractors. And as we do so, every once in awhile, we have a moment of weakness where we wish the Church were something other than it is. I don’t like polygamy, so why do I have to defend its 19th Century practice? Why do we even have to consider the possibility that Joseph Smith may have had sex with young girls? Why do we have to deal with the reality of Brigham Young’s racism infecting the church as a whole? Wouldn’t the church have been better off if it had never practiced polygamy, never denied the priesthood to black people, and never pushed all of the strange and unusual doctrines that get people so riled up?

With so much messiness in our history, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a much tidier church?

Believe it or not, there is an answer to that question that isn’t hypothetical. Because that tidier church actually exists.

These days, it’s called the Community of Christ, but from 1860 until 2001, it was known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (RLDS.) Their church is a whole lot like our church, with a First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 Apostles and everything. In fact, they’re more directly connected to Joseph Smith than we are, since the first president of their church was Joseph Smith III, and for over a century, each president was one of his direct descendents. Their church has operated with essentially an identical organization and hierarchy to the one familiar to Mormons, except they’ve smoothed away all of the rough edges that get the Mormons into trouble.

For instance, they believe that Joseph Smith never practiced polygamy and that plural marriage was an invention of Brigham Young. Their priesthood has always been open to men of all races, and now it’s open to women, too. In their history, they haven’t generated even a fraction of the kind of opposition the Mormons have seen, and today, they are respected members of the National Council of Churches. No one questions whether or not they are Christians – they are – and their temple is even open to the public.

So where has that more inclusive, inoffensive, tidied-up history gotten them?

Let me take a moment to say that if I’d been an impartial observer back in the day when the two churches split, I’d have probably put my money on the RLDS church being the one more likely to do well. They had membership numbers that nearly rivaled those of the Utah church, and they had Emma Smith and Joseph Smith’s posterity leading their cause. They were also respectable, as opposed to the Utah heretics trudging out into Mexican territory to practice polygamy in the wilderness.

But it’s a funny thing. The LDS Church has expanded exponentially since those earlier days, whereas the Community of Christ has faded into almost complete obscurity. Where the RLDS was once competitive with us so-called “Brighamites,” they’re now barely clinging to life, with only about 200,000 members and falling fast.

I think people should remember that when they hear Kate Kelly saying the Church is doomed if it doesn’t ordain women to the priesthood, or they hear John Dehlin say the Church needs to abandon claims to the Book of Mormon’s historicity to remain relevant, or they hear Abby Huntsman say the church needs to open its temple doors for everyone to come inside if it wants to continue to grow.

The Community of Christ did all that, and it’s dying. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, with all its historical untidiness, continues to thrive.

Why is that?

There are a number of answers, but the one that rings true to me is the one Jesus provided in the Book of John. “If the world hate you,” He told his disciples, “ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” We should not be surprised that our faith is the object of so much derision – Jesus told us to expect this and wear opposition as a badge of honor.  “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own,” Christ taught, “but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”

There are worse things than being hated. One of them is abandoning everything you believe in a foolhardy attempt to be loved. Once the Community of Christ started smoothing everything away, it didn’t know where to stop. They have all but jettisoned the Book of Mormon and any revelation that makes people uncomfortable, and now they’re virtually indistinguishable from any other conservative Protestant denomination. This process has made them irrelevant, not beloved.

So if you’re tempted to follow that route in order to avoid opposition, always remember that it was the untidy church that came out on top.

The evil that is “Christmas Shoes.”

I have no one to blame but myself.

They told me I was foolhardy to listen to Christmas music on the radio before Thanksgiving. But I had braved these minefields before, and I’d made my peace with the fact that “Last Christmas” by Wham! has inexplicably become a holiday standard.

But I wasn’t prepared for “Christmas Shoes.”

Usually by the time of my first encounter, I’ve had a few weeks to steel myself and mount some kind of defense. But my first hit came early in the season, and I was caught unawares. I didn’t recognize the instrumental intro soon enough, and before I knew it, I heard those first few words…

“It was almost Christmas time, and there I stood in another line…”

I lunged for the dial, but the damage was already done.

You may think I’m overreacting, and that one can voluntarily expose oneself to this odious piece of Yuletide dreck without leaving permanent scars on your immortal soul. But you’d be wrong. So very, very wrong.

Consider the maudlin premise. You begin with a kid with poor hygiene who abandons his dying mother’s bedside on Christmas Eve in order to buy her a pair of shoes so she can look good in her coffin. There are the obvious questions, such as, you know, why is he abandoning his dying mother’s bedside on Christmas Eve in order to buy her a pair of shoes so she can look good in her coffin? But those questions are easy. The real horror lies in the questions no one thinks to ask.

Here’s one: how did this kid get to the store in the first place?

Think about it. He’s clearly not old enough to drive himself, and it’s unlikely that he lives next door to a Famous Footwear or a Foot Locker. So that means someone gave him a ride, and, given that we’re told he is “dirty from head to toe,” his chauffeur is probably somebody from his own family who is used to the stench. So now you have at least two members of the family are leaving Mom to die alone.

“But, Stallion,” I hear you say. “Maybe he took the bus.”

No, he didn’t. Remember, his entire life savings is supposedly the collection of pennies he dumps on the cashier’s counter, and he needs to con the singer into picking up the difference. How was he going to get home without bus fare? See, I’ve thought this through, because I’m a professional. Don’t try this at home.

Anyway, you’ve got one kid trying to buy shoes with pennies, and another older kid, or maybe even Dad, waiting in the parking lot. Why doesn’t the driver come in to help shop for the shoes? Because two people would ruin the scam. And, come on, who do they think they’re fooling? The whole thing is a scam.

There’s no dying mom. There’s just a couple of kids, a Sparkletts water bottle filled pennies, and a story that gets strangers to buy shoes for them all over town. The day after Christmas, the older kid goes back to the stores, returns all the shoes, and pockets the cash. Meanwhile, suckers all over town are still feeling warm and fuzzy and think they now know “what Christmas is all about,” while two underage grifters score a bunch of easy marks. Next year, they’re going to move up from shoes to bigger prizes.

“Could you buy this flat-screen TV for my mama, please? It’s Christmas Eve, and this XBox is just her size…”

“Christmas Shoes” is everything vile, repugnant, and disturbing about the world today distilled down into two verses, a bridge, and a chorus. If you listen to the radio unprepared, don’t say I didn’t warn you.