French Lives, Arab Lives

If I may depart from all things Mormon and address the other great issue of the moment…

“The worldwide tributes to Paris are beautiful,” an old friend wrote on Facebook. “The Empire State changed its colors to blue white and red…..people are able to change their Facebook profile pictures to the colors of the French flag…Saturday Night Live had a moving tribute….but I’m curious as to why I didn’t see any of these types of tributes when 150 souls were lost in Kenya or when 50 souls were lost in Beirut.”

Many others have expressed similar sentiments, and a blog post has gone viral on social media to add teeth to that observation. Titled “From Beirut, This Is Paris: In A World That Doesn’t Care About Arab Lives,” the writer – a Lebanese citizen named Elie Fares, who, I think, is male, but I’m not sure, so if I’m using the wrong pronoun, forgive me – talks about how he’s been troubled since the Paris attacks, but for a different reason than many.

“Amid the chaos and tragedy of it all, one nagging thought wouldn’t leave my head,” he writes. “It’s the same thought that echoes inside my skull at every single one of these events, which are becoming sadly very recurrent: we don’t really matter.”

I quote him at length:

When my people died on the streets of Beirut on November 12th, world leaders did not rise in condemnation. There were no statements expressing sympathy with the Lebanese people. There was no global outrage that innocent people whose only fault was being somewhere at the wrong place and time should never have to go that way or that their families should never be broken that way or that someone’s sect or political background should never be a hyphen before feeling horrified at how their corpses burned on cement. Obama did not issue a statement about how their death was a crime against humanity; after all what is humanity but a subjective term delineating the worth of the human being meant by it?

He concludes with the bleak assessment that we live in a “world that doesn’t care about Arab lives.”


I don’t blame him for thinking that way. Certainly it’s a question that merits further consideration. But, pragmatically speaking, there are other less pessimistic reasons why the situations are treated differently by the media and the public. The Middle East has been so volatile for so long that many view casualties in its war zones as grimly, tragically commonplace. I would attribute a lack of outrage not to a lack of compassion but rather to a surfeit of cynicism.  We’ve been at war in the Middle East for as long as my youngest three children have been alive, and we’ve grimly come to expect people, even innocent people, to die in that region. We’ve steeled ourselves against the misery by convincing ourselves that chaos, at least in that part of the world, is more or less commonplace. I think we do that as a spiritual survival mechanism rather than as an expression of racism.

The world was united in outrage when terrorism struck a peaceful setting like Paris because it reminded us that evil is unconstrained by geography. For good or ill, it’s far more noticeable to many when terror strikes in a locale so far removed from the day-to-day violence that many in Beirut have inexcusably had to endure for far too long.

So, yes. On its face, there is an undeniable inconsistency in the attention paid to one atrocity and not another. Some would call that deplorable, as it shows that, at least to some degree, we revere some lives more than others, and we’ve become inured to much human misery.

But there’s also a more encouraging way to look at this. The outpouring of compassion for Paris shows that the world is not so far gone as to be incapable of outrage in the face of horror. Rather than condemn any perceived inconsistency, the wiser approach is to applaud people’s better instincts as they search for ways to show love and support for those who suffer. That’s the approach likely to inspire greater compassion for all lives in all parts of the globe.

Rameumptom Watch: Thoughts from the Cheap Seats

Yeah, me again. I left this blog untended for months on end, and now I can’t shut up. Sorry about that.

Members of my church are responding to this new policy change in a host of different ways, and several have thought it appropriate to post links to messages prepared by two of the most beloved leaders the Church has ever had: Gordon B. Hinckley and Neil A. Maxwell.

President Hinckley wrote a First Presidency message for the July, 1990 edition of The Ensign titled “A City upon a Hill.” In it, he warned that we were in the midst of “a great sifting time” as the divide between the standards of the world and the standards of the Church continued to grow wider. The saints were to be tested as to which side they would choose. President Hinckley went on to say that “the time [of sifting] is here,” meaning the test to which he was referring was taking place in 1990, when these words were spoken, and long before any of the issues in the 2015 policy were being actively considered by the general membership.

Elder Maxwell’s talk making the rounds is titled “Meeting the Challenges of Today.” It was an address delivered at BYU in October of 1978, just months after the revelation that extended all priesthood and temple blessings to black members of the Church. The focus of the speech is on the tension generated when religious opinions are offered up in the public square. It warns of a growing “irreligious imperialism” infecting political discourse and counsels members to follow the First Presidency rather than embrace the secular trends of society at large.

There is nothing in either speech with which I disagree. I heartily endorse both messages without qualification, and they are certainly worth your prayerful consideration.

What I find troubling is that so many seem to think these speeches are uniquely applicable to the situation in which we now find ourselves. Because they really, really aren’t.

Consider that neither message is speaking about division within the Church, but, rather, the great divide between Zion and Babylon. The counsel is to leave the world and join the Church. Those members who, like me, oppose this policy have already done precisely that. We made our decision and have decided to follow the prophets. The reason we find this matter so troubling is not because we long to adopt the standards of the world, but because we find this policy inconsistent with gospel principles that the prophets have taught and continue to teach.

To claim we are not following the prophet now is to claim that prophets have repudiated the Second Article of Faith, which teaches the beautiful doctrine that we will be punished for our own sins and no one else’s.  Certainly this principle remains at the core of our doctrine. For generations, primary children have been asked to memorize these words and repeat them in sacrament meeting. That practice continues to this day.

So should I follow the prophet when he tells me that we shouldn’t punish anyone for anyone else’s sins, or should I follow the prophet when he tells me to punish an innocent child by withholding the Gift of the Holy Ghost and the Aaronic Priesthood from them throughout their childhood and adolescence because of someone else’s sins?

President Hinckley and Elder Maxwell spoke of choosing between the ways of the world and the prophets of God. Yet our current situation calls us to choose between two diametrically opposed messages given to us by prophets of God. How, then, are these talks/articles in any way applicable to our current circumstance?

The clear implication by those who cite these two articles/speeches is that those who are struggling are the ones being sifted out, and that those who accept this policy without reservation are the ones who can smugly and self-righteously pat themselves on the back for passing the test. Who would take comfort in that at a time like this? Who would watch those of us struggling and rejoice that the Lord is purging His church of the faithless rather than reach out to us in charity and love?

This calls to mind the story of the Rameumptom in the Book of Mormon, which tells of a group of people who would stand on a massive elevated platform and rejoice that the Lord “hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell.” (Alma 31:17)


I find it deeply depressing that some seem to delight in the spiritual misery of others, especially when those others are desperately trying to follow the Lord according to the dictates of their own consciences. As Latter-day Saints and disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can, and should, do far better than that.

What God told me while I was walking my dog

I find that my most effective and productive prayers take place when I’m walking my dog.

Granted, these prayers are highly unorthodox. They don’t involve closing my eyes or using King James English. They’re structured more like conversations, and, I confess, the conversations have gotten a bit heated at times. I am not yet righteous enough to avoid being angry with God, and sometimes I take it out on Him as I’m strolling with my pooch through the vacant area that’s set aside for an extension of Highland Drive that, hopefully, will never be built. Regardless, it’s at these moments that I can look to the sky and plead my case directly to the heavens.

As I said in my last post, I have been deeply troubled these past 48 hours. While turning off Facebook for the weekend has helped me calm down, it has not changed my opinion of my church’s latest policy that denies saving ordinances and blessings to minor children because of who their parents are. This has put me at odds with my church and its leaders in a way I have never been before. It’s not a position I welcome or sought. And, needless to say, it has been the primary subject of my Dogwalking Dialogues with Deity ™.

So this morning, I was talking to God, and God talked back.

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand. I didn’t see a pillar of light; there were no (visible) angels present; I wasn’t called upon to translate ancient records, lead my family into the wilderness, or part a large body of water. But the message was as profound to me as if Jesus Himself had whispered it in my ear. Because, in a way, He did.

The message was simply this:

“Be patient. It will all work out in the end.”

These words were accompanied by a feeling of peace, love, and kindness. They didn’t come with a timeline or an agenda as to how this will happen. This revelation was also devoid of any confirmation or condemnation of the policy I found, and still find, so deeply troubling. What it told me was that I shouldn’t leave the Church; I shouldn’t rail against its leaders, and I shouldn’t demand that resolution of these concerns happen by means of a process/schedule of my choosing. This does not change my position, but it does change my demeanor.

I think the leaders who wrote this policy were in error, but I also think they were acting in good faith and following their consciences, and that they sincerely believe this policy is in the best interests of the Church. I believe that these are kind, wise men who have devoted their lives to Christ and are trying to serve them to the best of their ability. I find I can sustain them and respect them, even though I may not agree with them in this instance.

I recognize that this response may not be adequate to satisfy some of my friends who believe this demands more strident action to right this wrong. I have read calls for protests, for rallies, for organized resistance to compel the Church to change its position. To those going down that path, please know that while I understand and even sympathize with your motivations, I am not going to join you in these actions.

Over time, I have observed that public shaming of the Church is the least effective way to get it to change. And it does change. But it changes according to the light and knowledge it receives from heaven, which is not dispersed in contentious, heated confrontations. I firmly believe that no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile. Yes, I stole that last bit from D&C 121. It’s the best blueprint for dealing with any disagreement or dissension, within or without the Church.

So, to sum up: if you want to get revelations, you should walk your dog more often.

Steve Urquhart: Let’s retee, adjust our stance, and swing again.

I find myself in the uncomfortable position of being out of step with my church, and it’s tying me up in knots. As my Facebook friends already know – and I’m taking a short weekend-long sabbatical from Facebook in order to calm down – I am deeply troubled by the Church’s new policy to withhold blessings from children of same-sex couples. I find all the explanations and justifications for this policy that have been hitherto offered to be unpersuasive. I see this policy as a fundamental contradiction with one of our most basic Articles of Faith.

I love and sustain the Church and its leaders. I have been richly blessed by my association with this church which has done immeasurable good in this world. God’s hand has been clearly visible in its work. I wish to remain a member in good standing. I have no interest in tearing my church down. I have defended it repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere, and I will continue to defend it as often as I am able.

That said, I cannot escape the conclusion that this policy is a profound error.

As I thought what I would write about this, I saw an essay on Facebook written by Utah State Senator Steve Urquhart, who was one of the primary movers and shakers behind the legislation protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination that recently passed in Utah with the Church’s full support. Steve was my neighbor when I lived in St. George, and he’s one of the finest people I know. He’s also one of the brightest, most clear-thinking individuals on the planet, and what he wrote on this subject expresses my own opinion perfectly. With his permission, I am reposting his words here.


I want to explain why I care that the Mormon Church has decided to ostracize (i.e., exclude from privileges and rites) the children of gay parents (e.g., parents in committed same-sex relationships).

The Church’s decision will hurt individuals. It will hurt families. And it will hurt the Church.

Let me be clear upfront. To my core, I love the Mormon Church. My life is immensely better because the Mormon Church—and so many of its loving, giving, beautiful, Christ-like followers—was there to guide me, my mother, and one of my brothers. My childhood was sloppy. My family was messy. After our already-unsound foundation was rocked by tragedy, my mom, my brother, and I joined the Mormon Church. We were in free fall, and the Mormon Church caught us, supported us, and saved us. Yes, it is flawed, but the Mormon Church is a glorious institution.

Also, the Mormon Church does much, much, much good in this world—most of it very quietly. The leadership of the Church and the members of the Church are consumed with doing good things. Though the Church sporadically frustrates the bejeebers out of me as it struggles to find the right place on issues involving women and gayfolk, Mormons are my people. They are my tribe. And if any of you bastards dare to storm the gates of the temple, I’ll dust off my Triple Combination (scriptures) and use it to beat the living hell out of you. Got it?!

My fellow tribesmen and tribeswomen, I hope you know that many gay members of our tribe need the Mormon Church. They believe in the Church. They draw strength from it. Like the rest of us sinners, they fall short but keep going because of their faith. This policy change will deny their kids rites and blessings.

In addition to our gay tribes(wo)men, there are gayfolk who want nothing to do with the Church themselves, BUT they fully support and appreciate their children’s devotion to the religion. This beautiful reality should be easy to grasp. My dad, for example, thought the foundational claims of the Mormon Church were total bullshit, but he 100% appreciated and supported his boys’ devotion to the religion. He encouraged and paid for my mission. Why? Because he realized that he fell short. He knew that we needed help. And he was proud that we had the discipline to believe and live according to our faith. If he weren’t in Sailors Paradise, I guarantee you he also would defend the gates of the Temple. (He’d have some hilarious asides, but he loved that crazy-ass institution, because it was good for his boys).

Okay? That’s point one. You shouldn’t cut people off from full participation—especially if you believe that they need an extra portion of help and salvation.

Point two. This hurts the Church, because it is bigoted and small. The Church has actively ostracized two groups: polygamists (those who stayed after we got out) and blackfolk.

To justify the decision to ostracize kids of (some) gayfolk, people argue that the same policy applies to kids of polygamists. Yes. That makes my point about bigotry. Honestly, we can’t stand plygs. Our religiously hillbilly cousins claim the same genealogy, name, scriptures, traditions, and stories, and it drives us crazy. People confuse us for them, and we really don’t like it. So, we ostracize them. We are prejudiced against them. And our leadership handbooks reflect that bigotry.

We have been trying to put behind us our ostracism of blackfolk. Just like we now do for kids of gayfolk, for over a century we ostracized blackfolk, denying them rites and privileges. Just like members are now doing regarding kids of gayfolk, members spent a century explaining away the racial bigotry as a mystery of God, something to be cured in the next life, etc. But it was just bigotry. The Church recently took the healthy step of admitting that. The racism of Brother Brigham found its way into church practice (and leadership manuals) and was, then, unfortunately, followed for generations. It was never of God. It was fear, misunderstanding and bigotry.

And that’s what the ostracism of children of gayfolk is: fear, misunderstanding, and bigotry. It’s not of God. It’s of man. And it needs to change. Members of the Church don’t need to explain the denial of rites and blessings as somehow good for a targeted, ostracized group of people. That’s transparently wrong and embarrassing. It is now clear–Church approved–that anyone truly in touch with God’s will would have known that the ostracism of blackfolk was wrong. They would have been right to speak out against it.

I don’t know the will of God. He doesn’t speak to me. But it seems his messages must get garbled in Google Translate at times. When I tried to tell my dad the Joseph Smith story, he said, “Son, you seem reluctant to talk with me about the idea of God talking to a man. I believe it. I see it every day. I know lots of people who talk with God. It is an undisputed fact. But . . . from what I can tell, he must tell them some crazy-ass shit.” It must be difficult to clearly hear and interpret the will of God.

The Mormon Church has learned some lessons from its history of ostracizing blackfolk. We now know that the prophets Brigham Young, John Talyor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Harold B. Lee all struggled to find God’s actual will regarding his black children. We had it wrong for a long time. Similarly, the Church is struggling to find God’s will regarding his LGBT children.

Suffer not the children in my tribe. Let’s continue to work on this issue. The Mormon Church really has made some good progress on LGBT issues. Really. On this one, though, we shanked it into the woods. Let’s retee, adjust our stance, and swing again.

Enhanced Column: Mormons and “Quantico”

So I have an idea.

My regular columns for the Deseret News have cut into my blogging time. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. I’ve thought about simply reposting my columns over here, but that’s kind of pointless, given that they’re already online over at the D News website.

Producing these columns is a process that understandably has tighter boundaries than blogging, and sometimes stuff that I write for the paper, for whatever reason, doesn’t make it into print. So what if I were to reproduce a sort of “director’s cut” of these columns here on this blog? Not all of the columns will merit such treatment, but there are several that I think would benefit from an expanded and revised presentation.

So I hereby present the first of what I’m calling my “enhanced columns.”  (You can read the original here.)


So there I was, minding my own business watching the season premiere of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on ABC – which was quite good, by the way – when a stern looking fellow comes on to frighten everyone preparing to watch the upcoming episode of the new FBI drama “Quantico” with the news that it may contain material Mormons will find offensive. Apparently, the local station had pleaded with ABC to show more respect for members of The Church of Jesus Chrost of Latter-day Saints, but to no avail. The tone seemed to suggest that what was about to follow would have Mormons running screaming into the night as they watched something so horrific that it might melt their eyeballs right out of their sockets.

That was the best ad they could have possibly run. I had no intention of watching “Quantico” prior to that, but after such a dire warning, I had to see what all the fuss was about.

(Warning: serious spoilers for the debut episode follow that may or may not melt your eyeballs.)

I knew something was wrong when they introduced this Mormon guy, nicknamed “Elder Eric,” by showing his family throwing him a party inside the Salt Lake Temple, which the producers mistakenly seem to think is some kind of wedding reception hall. So it was clear from the outset that they weren’t going to get anything right when it came to how my faith was going to be represented.

The advance word on this show was that they were going to show a Mormon character wearing only his temple garments, which are sacred to Latter-day Saints and are often mocked in popular culture. While there was some debate as to whether or not such a scene would make it tour, it did, indeed, make the final cut, but just barely. That is to say, if you blinked, you probably missed it. (He also was removing them in order to get dressed, which defeats their purpose and, once again, demonstrates that these people know nothing about Mormons.) The temple garments were never identified as such, and I would think casual viewers had no reason to recognize them as anything unusual. In any case, they were used as the catalyst for conversation about the Mormon character’s high moral standards, which were depicted as admirable and praiseworthy. So, all things considered, it could have been a whole lot worse, right?

Right. Because just a few minutes later, it definitely got a whole a lot worse.

The plot focused on several FBI recruits beginning their training. The newbies are given the unlikely assignment to dig up dirt on their fellow trainees, which struck as a pretty poor way to develop camaraderie within the ranks. The guy assigned to find the skeletons in the Mormon’s closet is kind of incompetent, so, to make himself look good, he bluffs and starts bragging that what he’s uncovered is really earth-shattering, scandalous stuff. Unfortunately, the Mormon really does have a deep, dark secret that involves pedophilia, abortion, and possibly murder that took place while he was serving as an LDS missionary(!). This, again, makes no sense, since Mormon missionaries spend 24 hours a day with a companion who makes sure they don’t get mixed up in these kinds of shenanigans. In any case, he then ends up killing another trainee and then himself to prevent it from being discovered.

So, yes, the Mormon turns out to be pretty much the most despicable human being who has ever lived. Yippee.

What’s remarkable, however, is that, dramatically speaking, the net effect isn’t necessarily an indictment of his faith, but rather an affirmation of its virtues. The question everyone asked was, “How could someone who seemed so decent and upright – a Mormon, no less – turn out to be such a monster?” The character’s religion was used to create a stark contrast between a righteous appearance and a sordid reality. The only reason the comparison worked is that they expected the audience to instinctively identify Mormons as good people. Had this character been introduced as something despicable, like a drug dealer or a presidential candidate, his fall from grace wouldn’t have been nearly as compelling. That’s something, I guess.

But, really, it’s not much. “Quantico” isn’t really worth your time – it’s a sleazy, by-the-numbers procedural/soap opera teeming with impossibly beautiful millennials. The best thing about it is that they’re unlikely to ever have a Mormon on this thing ever again.

Dressing in the Dark

Mormons have long been hesitant to discuss the subject of temple garments in casual conversation, because such garments serve as reminders of sacred covenants that aren’t to be taken lightly.

That’s why I bristle every time someone dismisses them as “magic underwear,” or worse. I don’t think such comments are always intended to be cruel, but they demonstrate a lack of sensitivity with regard to a religious practice that requires a great deal of context to be properly understood.

A few decades ago, I felt that such context was unlikely to be found in the loosey-goosey atmosphere that often prevailed in dressing rooms when I was a theater student at the University of Southern California. So when it came to changing into costume, I initially tried to find ways to do it out of public view. This was easy in the Bing Theatre, USC’s largest proscenium, because I could change in a bathroom stall without calling any attention to myself. But in the smaller theaters, the bathrooms were too tiny, so I ended up trying to put on my costumes in the dark corners of crowded spaces, which was very much a hit-or-miss proposition.

So I eventually gave up.

After a few semesters of this pointless hide-and-seek, I got dressed right alongside everyone else and braced myself for a wave of ridicule that never came. Oh, sure, there were a few questions here and there, but they were never unkind.  If there were rude or nasty comments, I never heard them.

All this is prelude to the news, reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, of an upcoming ABC-TV drama showing a Mormon character wearing nothing but his temple garments.

“Quantico,” which premieres on Sept. 27, follows the lives of several FBI recruits in training. At one point when they are disrobing, a Mormon recruit gets asked if he is wearing “pajamas under (his) clothes.” This raises more questions, and the Mormon explains that Latter-day Saints are appealing to the FBI because they “respect authority, don’t drink or take drugs, spend time in foreign countries, and they speak several languages,” according to the Tribune. And that’s pretty much it.

If that’s all that happens, I don’t really see this as much of a problem. Certainly it could be a whole lot worse.

In discussing this with a friend, he pointed out that ABC would never feature a scene where someone was wearing, say, a T-shirt with a Mohammad cartoon. That’s true, but I think it’s because writers fear backlash, not because they intrinsically respect Islam more than Mormonism. In addition, it doesn’t sound like the point of the scene is to make fun of Mormons or temple garments, but rather to depict a moment that has surely had several real-life antecedents with LDS FBI recruits, and one that is not that different from my own experience.

As for those who insist that it is never appropriate to show temple garments in any context, they need to take issue with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially released an explanatory video and pictures of temple garments earlier this year.

Don’t misunderstand me. This is still an insensitive thing for “Quantico” to do, and I’m troubled by reports that suggest that, over the course of the series, the Mormon character doesn’t live up to the standards of his faith. There’s also still a question as to whether or not that particular scene will make it to air. But what I find encouraging is the fact that there’s a Mormon character at all. Television now seems to be willing to depict a Latter-day Saint as a three-dimensional human being rather than as a stereotype used to openly mock religion.

As Mormons become more prominent, we should expect pop culture to take notice and also anticipate that there will be a few bumps in the road along the way. That shouldn’t be a reason to go back to dressing in the dark.

Birthday Thoughts

This may seem odd, but I’m over here at my blog hiding from Facebook, where, so far, 180 very sweet, wonderful people have decided to wish me a happy birthday.  (Yes, today is my birthday. I am a year older, not much wiser, and still devastatingly good-looking.)

Every time someone is thoughtful enough to take time out of their day to wish me well, I think that act of kindness deserves a personalized response, and it takes time to respond to 180 different people, and if I get started mid-day, more well-wishes from others pop up as I’m writing back, so I end up feeling like I’m falling behind, and what ought to be a fun exchange with friends ends up feeling a bit like a chore, which is an ungrateful way to respond to good folks who care enough about me to say so. So I’ve decided to steer clear of Facebook all day until everyone’s news feed moves on to the next birthday, and then I can begin the response process on the second day of my 48th year on Planet Earth.

So for all of you wishing me well, thank you so much. You have made me loved and appreciated, and that’s no small thing in this lonely world of ours.

So if I’m not going to hang out on Facebook, the least I can do is to keep this blog from drifting off into oblivion. I thought I’d weigh in on a few issues that have been rumbling around in my brain, each of which could easily merit a blog post of their own.


I’ve written the definitive piece on Trump’s candidacy in my most recent column for the Deseret News, but I fail to mention the issue that is of primary concern to most of those following this bizarre reality show circus, which is that of The Donald’s hair.

Consider the “Hell Toupee” meme:

6834e99713f262a9ab2c72125c46085eIt’s funny, sure, but The Donald doesn’t wear a toupee. That’s all his own hair, which is why there’s so dang much of it. A toupee wouldn’t consume such a large degree of Trumpian scalpular geography. It would just sit there like a dead raccoon, much the way William Shatner’s has done for lo these many decades.


Much better is the “We Shall Overcomb” meme:

we-shall-overcombe-shirt-square-heather-grey2I’m convinced Trump manipulates huge swaths of bleached hair to cover scalpular* portions which God hath left desolate. A toup would just fly off in a strong wind, not flutter askew like a pencil troll gone to seed.

trump-hairThe evidence clearly suggests overcombing, not hairpiecing.

Which brings me to my second item of the day:


Rummaging through one of the many pointless, bait-click online lists I stumble across far too frequently, I bumped into a statement by actor John Malkovich where he was quoted as saying the following:

johnmalkovich“I believe in people, I believe in humans, I believe in a car, but I don’t believe something I can’t have [sic] absolutely no evidence of for millennia. And it’s funny — people think analysis or psychiatry is mad, and THEY go to CHURCH…”

John Malkovich, Non-Combovering Atheist

While I respect the fact that Mr. Malkovich has made far less ridiculous scalpular choices than The Donald, I find it very tedious that so many atheists keep claiming there is “absolutely no evidence” of God’s existence, which is false, when what they mean is that there is “absolutely no proof” of God’s existence, which is, in fact, true.

Mormons deal with this a lot.

For quite some time, the Mormon blogosphere, known by the faithful as the “Bloggernacle,” has been engaged in a long-running discussion/argument/flame war as to the historicity of The Book of Mormon – the book of scripture, not the rancid musical. For those of you who are unaware, The Book of Mormon purports to be a translation of ancient religious records of people that migrated to the American continent and established a civilization that all but collapsed circa 400 AD. It is now fashionable in certain circles to refer to The Book of Mormon as “inspired fiction,” and, while it represents a tour de force of religious insight by purported-translator-but-assumed-author Joseph Smith, there is “no evidence” that there were actual people called Nephites and Lamanites who lived and died and did stuff.

Over at a blog called “Enigmatic Mirror,” Mormon scholar William Hamblin has been exchanging posts with a non-Mormon academic named Philip Jenkins, who likens belief in The Book of Mormon as a historical, non-fictional document to belief in Bigfoot – who we all know is Cain, punished to wander the earth swathed in matted, unbleached Donald Trump combover strands for thousands of years until he finally guest stars as Andre the Giant on The Six Million Dollar Man.

I digress.

Jenkins refuses to either read The Book of Mormon or even acknowledge that there is any reason to do so, because there is – you guessed it – “no evidence” that it’s historical. When Hamblin suggests that Jenkins has “tacitly” admitted that at least some evidence exists, Jenkins gets quite huffy.

“At no point have I ever suggested that there is any evidence whatever in support for the historicity or historical value of the Book of Mormon,” Jenkins huffs, huffily. “I have never suggested or stated that tacitly, or openly, and it is wrong to suggest that I have.”

But there is a great deal of evidence of the Book of Mormon’s historicity, much of which I’ve talked about on this blog. What Jenkins is complaining about, like Malkovich, is the lack of proof, not evidence. (Hamblin himself makes the same point in his response.)

This is the primary argument, incidentally, on an issue of far graver importance than the nature of God or scripture – namely, the identity of William Shakespeare. There is considerable evidence, but no proof, that William Shakespeare was not the similarly named William Shakspere/Shaxper/Shagspur of Stratford-on-Avon who currently gets all the credit for those plays, sonnets, and poems, but rather that William Shakespeare was the pseudonym of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, much the same way Stallion Cornell is the pseudonym of Jim Bennett, the 47-year-old wannabe Duke of Earl.  Yet if you go to Wikipedia, source of all wisdom, Oxfordians base their case on “the dearth of evidence for any conspiracy as evidence of its success.” So not only is there “no evidence” that Oxford was Shakespeare, but the lack of evidence is our evidence? What the crap is that?

If evidence were always proof, then why would we have a criminal justice system? Jury trials involve two opposing advocates using identical evidence to argue for diametrically opposite conclusions. Even the most devoutly religious concede there is no conclusive proof that God exists, but they’ll offer up a great deal of evidence for why they believe he does.  But if the intellectually lazy can equate a lack of proof with a lack of evidence, then they can end all arguments before they begin.

This bugs me.

You know what else bugs me? Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who.

As I announced in one of my columns, I’m binge-watching Doctor Who, which has conveniently incorporated the changing actors in the lead role into the plot structure of the show. The show’s title character is the Doctor, a time-travelling, nigh-unto-immortal alien whose surname is not Who. When the Doctor is close to death, he “regenerates,” i.e. turns into an entirely different person played by an entirely different actor. While he retains his memories from previous incarnations, his personality changes with each new body, too.

This first happened at the end of the first season of the new series, and I thought I would never accept David Tennant as the Doctor after Christopher Eccleston, who was the first to play him in the 21st Century. So imagine my surprise when David Tennant turned out to be a far superior Doctor to Eccleston. Yet after three Tennant seasons, Tennant regenerated into Matt Smith, and I thought there was no way I could make the Tennant-to-Smith transition. But Matt Smith was so brilliant in the role that he won me over almost instantly. So when Matt Smith’s tenure came to an end and the Doctor became Peter Capaldi, I thought, “well, I did this twice before, and it turned out OK. How bad can it be?”

Well, pretty bad, as it turns out.

Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith played the Doctor as a sort of dashing, eccentric rogue, but Capaldi is a 57-year-old arthritic curmudgeon. He’s a full three decades older than Matt Smith, and his Doctor is so far removed from Smith’s interpretation that it’s very difficult to suspend disbelief and pretend they’re the same person. I’m three episodes in to Season 8, and I was hoping I’d accept Capaldi by now. I don’t. But at least there’s no combover.

And so we’ve come full circle. Again, thank you for you kind wishes, and maybe I’ll post here a few more times before my next birthday.

* I have used the word “scalpular” several times in this blog post, when, to my knowledge, “scalpular” isn’t really a word.  Autocorrect keeps trying to change it to “sculptural.” If you can’t tell by the context, I use “scalpular” as an adjective with a definition meaning “of or pertaining to the scalp.” Should this word be incorporated into common English parlance, I will therefore expect Webster’s Dictionary to send me royalty checks. In any case, I have copyrighted “scalpular” and reserved all ancillary rights thereto. Should you decide to say it in conversation, you will owe me $.25 per usage.

Can forgiveness win, too?

The Civil War was brought to a close when General Robert E. Lee arrived at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia to surrender on behalf of the Confederate Army. The terms of the surrender were remarkably generous. Confederate soldiers were promised immunity from prosecution even though they were officially guilty of treason, and they were allowed to keep both their weapons and their livestock. As General Lee rode away, many of the Union soldiers felt that a certain measure of gloating was in order. But as they burst into applause, General Ulysses Grant ordered them to stop immediately.

“The Confederates were now our countrymen,” General Grant reasoned, “and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

We can be grateful that the war over gay marriage was not fought with muskets and bayonets, and that the casualties have been, for the most part, emotional and spiritual rather than physical. The war is now over, and gay marriage has won. But I fear that the divisions between the combatants over the rainbow will be harder to heal than they were between the Blue and the Grey. Neither side sees the other as fellow countrymen, and there are plenty who stand ready and willing to exult over their enemy’s downfall.

This is why I’m uneasy in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that is the cause for so much celebration among the victors and such major lamentation from the defeated. Personally, I think this conclusion has been all but inevitable for quite some time, and I’ve said my peace on the subject numerous times on this blog. I see no point in revisiting any of the underlying arguments, which are largely irrelevant at this point. The decision, in my mind, was merely a confirmation of an already existing reality, much like when the electors gather to select a president months after all the actual votes are cast.

So it’s not the fact that gay marriage is legal that makes me uneasy. Indeed, I’m happy for my gay friends and family, and I think there are a great deal of positives to a future where married gay couples have access to the benefits and responsibilities that married straight couples have. My uncertainty, then, is rooted not in where we are, but in how we got here.

It is an unhealthy reality of our civic life that ideological opponents increasingly see those on the other side not just as misguided or incorrect, but as the embodiment of evil. Where General Grant saw the defeated confederates as “our countrymen,” today’s politicos insist that those who oppose them are either devil-worshipping Stalinists or Nazi Klansmen, depending on whether you watch Fox News or MSNBC. Victory is not achieved by persuasion, but rather by character assassination. The opposition must not only be defeated; they must also be destroyed.

Which brings us back to gay marriage, i.e. the Forces of Love vs. the Army of Hate.

#LoveWins was the trending hashtag in the wake of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, and the unambiguous implication was that hatred had lost. From the outset, gay marriage advocates have characterized those who oppose them, even to the slightest degree, as motivated solely by terrible, horrible, hideous feelings of animus. There is no such thing as principled, good faith opposition to gay marriage – there is only bigotry, ignorance, and white-hot hatred. And now that love has won, it’s not enough that hate has lost.

Hate now has to be punished.

Already, a columnist at Time Magazine has called for religious organizations to lose their tax-exempt status. Expect these calls to increase and intensify as the Forces of Love rally against the Churches of Hate. Already, Catholic Charities is being limited in their adoption services because they refuse to place children with same-sex couples. Businesses that won’t bake cakes or take pictures for gay weddings are getting sued into oblivion. Gay marriage opponents have long been branded as “intolerant,” but now the haters themselves will no longer be tolerated by the Forces of Love.  Apparently, intolerance is only a bad thing when the bad people are doing the intolerating.

So here’s my message to those who are tempted to gloat:

Congratulations! You won! I look forward to sharing a bright future with you in a world where two people who love each other can legally marry without opposition. But those who oppose you are still your neighbors, your friends, and your family, and some of them may have behaved abominably during the battle. Shouldn’t the goal now be to help them understand rather than punish them for their ignorance? Can you accept them for where they are rather than demand that they move to where you want them to be? Is it too much to ask for a modicum of grace from you for those you have defeated?

If love wins, can forgiveness win, too?

Jenner Thoughts

Recognizing that anything I write on this subject will be offensive to somebody, I decided to plow ahead regardless. Batten down the hatches; here we go.

While surfing the web, I stumbled on an article in Canada’s National Post that introduced me to the concept of “transabled” people. According to the article, transabled individuals feel like “imposters in their bodies” and have an overwhelming desire to create some kind of physical disability in themselves. Such was the case with a man who now calls himself “One Hand Jason” when he deliberately sliced off his own arm with a power tool in order to feel normal.

Granted, this kind of compulsion is extraordinarily rare. The article identifies only 37 people worldwide who identify themselves as transabled. But in light of the current media frenzy surrounding Bruce Caitlyn Jenner, I think it’s a phenomenon that challenges the rigid cultural authoritarianism that has sprung up in the wake of Caitlyn’s Vanity Fair cover photo.

The conventional wisdom is that everything surrounding Bruce’s transformation into Caitlyn should be celebrated as brave, bold, and wonderful. Conversely, no one is permitted to publicly deviate from that opinion even in the slightest degree. One programmer created a bot with the handle “@she_not_he”  for the purpose of “scrubbing Twitter, looking for anyone who uses the ‘he’ pronoun in conjunction with Caitlyn Jenner’s name.” And when actor Drake Bell tweeted, “Sorry… still calling you Bruce,” he was raked over the coals by both the press and the public and ultimately forced to delete the offending message. He has repeatedly apologized, but it’s still not enough. Twitter users continue to call on him to deactivate his account and, in the words of one especially harsh critic, “deactivate his life.”

Apparently, tolerance for Caitlyn is as mandatory as intolerance for anyone who disagrees.

For my part, I think kindness is always a good approach. If Bruce Jenner wants to be called Caitlyn Jenner and wants me to use the “she/her” pronouns to describe she/her, I’ll be happy to comply with her wishes. I don’t know Caitlyn Jenner personally, and I don’t feel like I’m in any position to pass judgment on her. I wish her and her family nothing but happiness. In any case, nothing about this entire episode will have any personal impact on me, and I don’t want to waste even a minute of my life getting upset over it.

That said, I think the unanimous applause for what Caitlyn Jenner is doing is drowning out many legitimate questions that society ought to be asking.

For instance, how are the drastic changes Caitlyn is making to her body all that different in kind from what One Hand Jason did to himself in order to feel comfortable in his own skin?  If we know someone’s about to slice off their arm, would we tell them, “Hey, if it makes you feel better about yourself, have at it?” I don’t think we would, yet we don’t apply that same logic to our approach to transgender surgery. In addition, we don’t celebrate those who commit suicide because they loathe their own bodies, but how are the desires of such people so different from Jason’s or Caitlyn’s? If a person feels compelled to surgically alter themselves in irreparable and potentially disabling ways, shouldn’t we do everything possible to find psychological solutions before putting anyone under the knife?

It’s also odd to me that the arguments used to applaud Jenner’s choices are precisely the opposite of arguments made against anti-gay bigotry. If you’re gay, you’re born that way, which means that you need to find happiness with who you are rather than try to be something you’re not. But if you’re transgender, you ought to take radical action to surgically alter yourself in a way completely contrary to how you are born. Isn’t that wildly inconsistent? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on accepting who we are rather than taking extreme measures to try and transform ourselves into something we can never be?

Because the cruel fact is that Caitlyn Jenner will never truly be a woman, at least not biologically. Sure, she can use feminine pronouns and make all the cosmetic changes she likes, but her DNA and internal organs will remain decidedly male, and nothing she can do can change that.

I recognize that even these questions will likely brand me as a hater or a “transphobe,” and that’s unfortunate, because these are questions born of genuine concern, not hatred or fear. Indeed, it’s hatred and fear that are being used to silence legitimate discussions and vilify anyone who departs from the media-enforced orthodoxy. Those praising Caitlyn for her bravery ought to be brave enough themselves to consider other points of view.