Where the Light Is

“And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only. But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true.”
– The Book of Mormon, Alma 30:40-41

If you check the comments on my Science of Resurrection post my friend James, who I have known since time immemorial, is having a long-running discussion with his atheist brother who, for purposes of discussion, we’ll refer to as “Josh,” because that’s his name. The discussion uses lots of big words and is somewhat hard to follow, but the bottom line is that Josh believes there is no God, because there is no material evidence of His existence.

To which my response is, “Sez who?”

Like Alma, I see “all things as a testimony” that there is a divine creator. Reasonably speaking, the mathematical likelihood of life accidentally arising in all of its various permutations is so close to zero that it’s not even worth considering. Evolution’s inability to offer a plausible alternative also ought to be put in the “plus” column as evidence in God’s favor.

Consider, for instance, that Darwin himself provided a standard for whether or not his theory could adequately explain life.

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications,” he said, “my theory would absolutely break down.”

In Darwin’s age, nothing was known about molecular biology and the inner workings of the cell. Today, Intelligent Design proponents* have pointed out several different biological constructs that are irreducibly complex. Michael Behe points to the flagellum, which provides the cell’s “tiny outboard motor.” The flagellum is constructed of 46 moving parts. If you only have 45 of the 46, you don’t have a slightly-less-useful flagellum; you’ve got nothing but genetic junk that doesn’t do anything. In order for natural selection to produce something like this by accident, each of those 46 components have to come together perfectly, because even 45 out of 46 provide no genetic advantage and therefore are completely useless in natural selection.

The eye. The ear. DNA. The central nervous system. The taste bud. Each of these things have millions, if not billions, of tiny, microscopic, moving parts that they face the same challenge as the flagellum on a far greater scale. Darwinian evolution can’t explain them. To objectively examine this data and conclude that there is no design behind them requires deliberate rejection of the most likely logical conclusion.

Now this hasn’t “disproven” Darwinian biology, because Darwinian biology provides workable explanations for many observable facts in the natural world – adaptation of species to fit their surroundings, for instance, even it gives no insight into how the basic building blocks of life began. When asked those questions, an honest biologist should answer, “we don’t know.” Which, of course, is a perfectly valid response. Science rarely “knows,” since it never reaches final conclusions. It’s always subject to change based on new data, and if the data don’t exist, science stays mum.

So have I proved God exists? Not at all. I think I’ve effectively demonstrated gaps in Darwinian theory to explain the origins of life, and I’ve offered a suggestion that biological constructs are designed by intelligence. But the theories to explain that intelligence are endless, and only a few of them would include a God who sent His only son to die for our sins. Some have proposed the idea of aliens seeding the earth with life in a theory called “panspermia.” There’s the theory of the Flying Spaghetti Monster who made us for fun and then used his noodly appendages to plant fake dinosaur bones to freak out paleontologists. There’s Scientology, which says the evil galactic emperor Xenu trapped billions of spirits on here on Earth – or Teegeeack, as they say it in Scientologese – with Hawaiian volcanic explosions.

The best evidence for God’s existence is internal, not external.

We are born with an innate understanding of eternal moral standards. That’s why you will not find a civilization that applauds murder for material gain, that teaches children that dishonesty is the best policy, that recommends adultery as a course to lasting happiness. As C.S. Lewis states in Mere Christianity:

I know that some people say the idea of a [Moral] Law of Nature or decent behaviour known to all men is unsound, because different civilisations and different ages have had quite different moralities. But this is not true… Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five.

This provides internal guidance suggesting we ought to behave in a certain way, and we are always unhappy when we ignore that guidance. Psychologists call it “conscience” and try to explain it away as an evolutionary fluke, despite any lack of scientific evidence to back them up. The Book of Mormon calls this “the light of Christ,” and it offers it up as the best evidence yet there is a divine being who has a very specific moral definition for what a good human being is.

To truly find God, one should spend less time studying science and more time searching their own soul.

I quoted this story in the comments section of my resurrection post, but it bears repeating. These discussions remind me of the old story of the guy who lost his keys at night and looks for them under the light of a streetlamp.

Another guy comes along. “What are you doing?” he asks.

“I’m looking for my keys,” answers Guy #1.

“Did you lose them over there?” asks Guy #2.

“No, I lost them by the curb.”

“So why are you looking for them over there by the streetlamp?”

“Because this is where the light is.”

People looking for God in science are essentially looking in the wrong place. They think they’re seeing things clearly and that the way is illuminated, but they’re actually stumbling in darkness. If you’re only willing to look where the light is, you’re going to miss the only light that matters.

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*Intelligent Design folks have raised some very interesting questions, but they haven’t offered a workable scientific theory to replace evolution, and, therefore, they shouldn’t be interjected into science classrooms. Just saying “it was designed!” offers no useful scientific information. Imagine walking into a GM plant and trying to find out how cars are made and having the plant manager say “they were designed!” and nothing else. Good luck replicating their manufacturing processes.

…And Why The Music Man Makes No Sense.

Watching The Music Man without feeling insanely jealous, as I recounted yesterday, opened my eyes to some of the fundamental flaws in the story. It’s a story I love, mind you, but in many cases, it’s really messed up.

If you don’t know the premise, here’s a thumbnail sketch. Harold Hill is a scam artist who goes town to town selling band instruments, uniforms, and musical instruction books to unsuspecting yokels with the promise that he will teach them how to play and form them into a band. But after the stuff arrives, he skips town, leaving behind lots of instruments and things with people who don’t know what to do with them.

What a really lousy scam.

First of all, he does all the same work he would have to do if he really were going to form them into a band. He makes all the sales calls, and, most notably, he actually produces the goods he is selling. What kind of scam is that? He has to eat the cost of the raw materials, so he only makes as much money as a legitimate salesman would. Why not collect the money, skip town the next day, and then not deliver anything? Where I come from, that’s a real scam.

In fact, Harold Hill himself alludes to the fact that that’s the way he used to do business. On arrival in River City, the setting for his latest shenanigans, he bumps into an old sidekick, who doesn’t understand why he’s back peddling music.

“I thought you were in steam automobiles,” his sidekick says.

“I was,” Hill replies.

“What happened?”

Hill grimaces. “Somebody actually invented one.”

See? A fine scam right there! Hill was selling a product that didn’t exist – notably, an EXPENSIVE product that didn’t exist. What’s the profit margin on a real live trombone or a band outfit compared to the bounty that comes from selling nonexistent cars? In addition, think of how much time Hill has to waste as he sticks around town to wait for the Wells Fargo Wagon to show up with the goods. One sale of a fantasy steam car in a single day would give him more money than weeks of hawking real band goods, and he could skip town twenty-four hours later. Time is money, especially for scammers.

Think of all the online Nigerian princes who offer you billions of dollars if you’ll only give them a five thousand dollar finder’s fee. Now imagine what their lives would be like if, instead, they offered you free clarinet lessons with the purchase of every clarinet. You get the clarinet; you even get a music instruction book, but doggone it if that Nigerian prince doesn’t have any online musical support! Which, in terms of scam potential, is the most lucrative?

In addition, one of the first things Harold tells Marian, the local music teacher he has to seduce to keep her quiet, is that he’s only going to be in town a short while. He makes it clear to everyone that he’s a traveling salesman. Well, don’t traveling salesmen travel? How stupid are his marks that they can’t see the contradiction in the idea of a traveling salesman sticking around to be a volunteer band conductor for the next several years?

Even with all this said, it’s still a delightful show. But not as delightful as the show I’m writing now called “The Prince of Nigeria,” about a guy who actually inherits billions of dollars from a dead king and can’t get anyone in America to give him the five grand he needs to release the funds.

What I Learned from The Music Man

Followers of this blog will likely recollect my two Music Man stories – one here and one here – that were seminal experiences in my theatrical career. I thought I’d take a moment to chronicle a third Music Man story that was equally seminal, albeit not in a way you might expect.

This past month, I joined my extended family in their annual pilgrimage to the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, Utah, where they produce six plays in repertory ever summer. I missed the first of the three days, so I only saw four of the six, and three of the four were really quite extraordinary. But the extraordinariest was yet another production of The Music Man, featuring Utah Shakes co-artistic director Brian Vaughan in the title role.

For years, even when producing theatre for a living, I was incapable of watching a quality production of any kind without feeling a dull, aching jealousy in the pit of my stomach and a nagging voice in the back of my psyche.

“That should be you up there, “ the Voice would say. “You’re a performer. So if you’re not performing, you’re worthless.”

I don’t really know where that voice comes from. I wasted a great deal of my adolescence and my young adulthood judging my worth by the amount of applause I could get on any given night. Thunderous applause was validation; mediocre applause was failure. My value as a human being was measured solely by how loudly people I didn’t know clapped their hands together.

Intellectually, I could always recognize just how silly that idea is. But emotionally, that’s a hard pathology to overcome.

That was what was so remarkable about this performance of The Music Man in Cedar City. I have seen this particular show in a variety of settings, including a stellar Broadway production back in 2000. Yet I have never seen a finer production than the one I saw this past month. So if any show were going to reignite that jealous ache and the nagging voice, this would have been it.

It was such a delightful experience to discover that the voice and the ache weren’t there at all. I could enjoy the performance for what it was and be grateful for the talent of those presenting it without being envious of them. Maybe I really am a grown-up after all.

Well, not necessarily.

What this performance also taught me was that theatre is, for most participants, a fairly ephemeral art. Only a relative handful of people have ever seen me perform at all, and only a small fraction of those people remember the experience. (Most of those people are related to me.) Once the show is over, it’s really over. The performers have made no permanent mark on the world.

The writer, on the other hand…

See, the one constant in every performance of The Music Man is the story itself. It’s the writer who makes the one indelible contribution. Thousands of people have played Harold Hill in theatres and high schools and community gymnasiums all across the country, and no one remembers any of them. But Meredith Willson’s musical is common to all of them.

So the old ache has been replaced by a new one. Before I die, I want to write something that will be read and performed and remembered for generations. It’s a tall order, I know, and I probably ought to recognize that even writers fade with time. But that’s one of the reasons I’ve reignited this blog. I don’t want to sing and dance; I want to write. I want to be read. So maybe I’m still measuring my worth by how other people react to me, and I haven’t learned a dang thing.

But you’ve read this, and you can’t unread it, so I’m one step closer to my goal.

The Science of Resurrection

Do you believe in resurrection? I do.

In fact, I’m going to go spend three hours today to worship someone who lived about two millennia ago, give or take, and then died when he was thirty-three years old when he was crucified by the ancient Roman government. Not to worry, though – he didn’t stay dead. That’s right! Crazy as it may sound, He came back to life, along with hundreds of others, all of whom came out of their graves and appeared to their loved ones. The fact that He came back to life is a promise that all of us will do the same. Best of all, once we come back to life, we’re never going to die again. So every Sunday, I spend a good chunk of the day pondering this fact, discussing it with like-minded people, and celebrating this wonderful news with family and friends.

Here’s the problem, though. The science is in, and it’s not encouraging.

It’s even worse than that. All scientific evidence suggests that once something dies, it stays dead. Forever. In fact, it rots away until there’s nothing left of it. In a few decades or so, it’s pretty much as if the thing never lived in the first place. There have been a number of empirical case studies on the subject, and each reaches the same unequivocal conclusion: death is forever. Most anecdotal evidence points in this direction, too.

Resurrection is bad science. And it is magnificent religion.

“Reconciling” science and religion is an ultimately pointless exercise. Science provides no theological context, It observes; it reports, and it cheerfully changes conclusions with the appearance of new data. Think Pluto, for instance. When I grew up, it was a planet. Now it isn’t. Pluto hasn’t changed, but our understanding of it has, so science has reached a new conclusion.

With regard to resurrection, all science can tell you is that no such resurrections have ever been observed, and that no current scientific principle can explain how such a thing could happen. But if there were a resurrection – and I believe there will be oodles of them – science could then examine the new data and reach a new conclusion. And that wouldn’t mean science has been in conflict with the religion of resurrection prior to that new conclusion. Rather, it would only mean science was offering its best explanation of the observable facts, which is what science is supposed to do.

My children are now reaching the age where they are taking science classes in public schools. I haul my children along with me to the Sunday classes where they’re taught that a resurrection will take place. Yet, to date, not a single one of them has reported a discussion of resurrection in their science classes. I personally can recall no such discussion in my own public education. Even more strangely, I can’t recall a single protest throughout the nation wherein religious fundamentalists decry the teaching of unresurrectioned death in our public classrooms. With regard to resurrection, people seem to recognize the clear distinction between religion and science and are more than happy to allow each their proper place.

Not so with evolution. And, strangely, those who seem to be wandering out of their jurisdiction here are the scientists, not the pious zealots.

Witness, for instance, the publication of a slew of books by evolutionary biologists insisting the theory of evolution proves there is no God. In his book The God Delusion, prominent scientist Richard Dawkins does precisely that, proclaiming that all those who disagree are clearly deluded.

“When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.”

– Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

Well, I studied evolutionary biology in school, too. I must have missed the part where they proved God doesn’t exist. In my mind, evolution was simply a compilation of observable facts, and it had as much theological weight to it as, say, the theory of gravity. Does evolution tell you either how or why life began? No. Does it tell you why life exists? No. Does it provide a moral framework in which to live your life? No. Does it preclude the possibility of divine purpose or order? No.

How, then, can Dawkins reach such a sweeping religious conclusion based solely on scientific observation?

I raise this issue on the basis of this editorial cartoon which appeared in today’s paper.

Suddenly, as it is every four years, evolution is now not only a religious issue; it’s political, too. Jon Huntsman, the most elitist candidate running this cycle, has made his belief in evolution his primary campaign platform. And Oliphant and others are making hay about Rick Perry’s supposedly ludicrous assertion that evolutionary theory has gaps* in it. Over and over again, Republicans are asked if they believe in evolution.** Why aren’t they asked if they believe in resurrection? (They all do, by the way.) Isn’t resurrection a more ludicrous scientific postulation than creationism?

The shrieking about evolution every four years presupposes that we are only inches away from a theocracy, where biology teachers hurl all Darwin out of their textbooks and replace it with a semester studying the first chapter of Genesis and how the earth was created on October 26, 4004 BC in six twenty-four hour periods. Even if Rick Perry believes that, and – yikes – he becomes president, there is absolutely no chance of that happening. The obsession with evolution, therefore, comes solely from those who are confusing the scientific and religious principles, and, in the case of this particular theory, it’s the atheistic Left that’s confused.

When they’re resurrected, they’ll finally figure it out.

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* I don’t want this to be the focus of this piece as I’ve discussed the content of evolutionary theory several times previously in this blog. Still, of course evolutionary theory has gaps in it. So does every other comprehensive theory.To eliminate all gaps, and even the possibility of gaps, one would have to have a complete knowledge of all possible facts. No such knowledge exists. That doesn’t mean that the theory is unworthy of study; it means that theory is simply science, which never reaches permanent conclusions, because it never stops seeking new information.

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** What does this mean, anyway, “do you believe in evolution?” It is not a single, objective fact, like the color of the sky. It is thousands upon thousands of facts and theories, some of which are in flux. For instance, biologists have largely abandoned the idea of gradual, Darwinian evolution as it was first explained in The Origin of Species and moved to ideas that suggest what they call “punctuated equilibrium,” with far quicker advances in evolution than Darwin originally anticipated. So when you ask, “do you believe in evolution,” are you asking about those early ideas or the later ones? Are you considering the possibility that evolutionary theory is, as yet, inadequate to explain complex systems like DNA, cellular structure, and the eye? Is asking those questions a sign of religious heresy, despite the fact that there is no solid scientific answer for them?

The Goodly, The Badly, and the Uglily

My sister, knowing my appreciation for grammatical authoritarianism, posted the following video on my Facebook page.

Far be it from me to criticize a fellow Grammar Nazi, but if you’re going to get yourself worked up into a lather about badly grammar, you shouldn’t do such a badly job of it.

His first mistake is to presume that it’s inappropriate to say “I feel bad” because the word “bad” is always synonymous with the word “evil.” If that were the case, I would be an evil tennis player; milk past the expiration date would go evil, and George Lucas would have made three evil Star Wars prequels. (I actually agree with that last one.)

Irregardless*, the guy goes on to state that “I feel badly about that” is the correct way to express badly feelings. As evidenced by my misuse of said term three times in previous sentences, “badly” is not an adjective. That little “ly” attachment transforms the adjective “bad” into the adverb “badly.” When you describe yourself as feeling bad about something, you are using the adjective “bad” to describe the subject of the sentence: you. Adjectives modify nouns, not verbs. “Badly” is an adverb, and adverbs do, in fact, modify verbs. So “badly” does not describe you; it describes your feeling capacity. If you feel badly, then there is something wrong with your sensory inputs.

If you doubt this, notice that you may feel hot, but not hotly; sad, but not sadly, and pregnant, not but pregnantly. And who can forget that classic James Brown hit, “I Feel Goodly?”

Speaking of goodly…

Most members of my church can cite verbatim the first part of the first sentence in the Book of Mormon. It goes something like this:

“I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents…”

This has been the subject of countless sermons about how goodly it is to have goodly parents. It is virtually canonized in songs our young’uns sing every Sunday.

“We have been born, as Nephi of old, to goodly parents who love the Lord…”

Mormons have all bought the idea that “goodly,” therefore, is synonymous with “good.” (To confuse the point I made earlier, “goodly” is, in fact, an adjective here, despite the “ly” attachment. It’s an ugly truth that not all words with “ly” are adverbs. Witness the adjective “ugly,” for instance. I wish the English language functioned more consistently and less uglily, because that would be goodlier than what we have now.)

With that said, if “goodly” means “good,” then why not use the word “good?” Nephi, the guy who calls his parents “goodly” says it was a “good thing” that the children of Israel were brought out of bondage. (1 Nephi 17:25) After he built his ship, he tells us that “my brethren beheld that it was good.” According to LDS.org, the word “Good” appears 205 times in the Book of Mormon, and it always means what you think it would mean. The word “goodly,” however, never appears in the Book of Mormon again after that first verse.

Of course, you could argue that Nephi never used the words “good” or “goodly,” because the Book of Mormon is a translated document. But if you did that, you’d be playing right into my evilly hands, because “goodly” would therefore be reflective of the translator’s vocabulary, not the author’s. And what did the word “goodly” mean to Joseph Smith in 19th Century America?

The clue is in the next word after the clause in question.

“I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore…

Aha! The word “therefore” establishes causality. The goodliness of Nephi’s parents led to some result, which is revealed in the subsequent clause.

“I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father;

Nephi’s parents’ goodliness allowed for Nephi to receive a stellar education. How does one receive a stellar education? One pays through the nose for it using one’s goods. “Goodly,” in the 19th Century, meant “laden with goods,” or “wealthy.” But that screws everything up.

“We have been born, as Nephi of old, to wealthy parents who love the Lord…”

I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t have the same ringly to it.

*”IRREGARDLESS” IS NOT A WORD, YOU DINGUS!

Truth in Bad Poetry

“When your mother has grown older,
When her dear, faithful eyes
No longer see life as they once did,
When her feet, grown tired,
No longer want to carry her as she walks –

Then lend her your arm in support,
Escort her with happy pleasure.
The hour will come when, weeping, you
Must accompany her on her final walk.

And if she asks you something,
Then give her an answer.
And if she asks again, then speak!
And if she asks yet again, respond to her,
Not impatiently, but with gentle calm.

And if she cannot understand you properly
Explain all to her happily.
The hour will come, the bitter hour,
When her mouth asks for nothing more.”

- Written circa 1923

Lovely poem, no? Well, no. It’s a clunky, melodramatic piece of tripe. But you have to remember that it was translated from its original German, where, arguably, it’s less clunky. Certainly the sentiment is a noble one, isn’t it? Love of mothers and all that?

All right, would it change your opinion of this poem if I told you that Adolf Hitler wrote it? Because he did, in 1923, long before he was, you know, Adolf Hitler.

On the Internet, Hitler is the gold standard of evil. Everyone trying to make a profound philosophical statement always harks back to Hitler as the worst of the worst. Ol’ Adolf even has his own Internet Axion: titled Godwin’s Law, it states the following:

GODWIN’S LAW: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1 (100%).

So, at the risk of being trite, I invoke the Almightily Evil Adolf to make a fantastically brilliant online point, which is this:

Does that fact that Hitler once told us to love our mothers negate the need to love our mothers?

Allow me to elaborate. Imagine, if you will, a heated political discussion, perhaps on some noted Cable News Network or radio talk show, where some Tea Party weenie talks bout how important it is to love our mothers, because the day will come when they won’t be with us. And then some wannabe Keith Olbermann yells back, “You Nazi! That’s just what Hitler said!” And then it all goes downhill from there until the ad comes on telling you to buy gold and live in a bomb shelter.

This is one of the primary problems in discussing important issues, whether they be political or religious or about what kind of pizza we should order. The conversation always goes downhill when it turns its focus to the motives of the messenger instead of the substance of the message.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve said something about global warming, for instance, and the response is, “Oh, you got that from a stupid guy being paid a bajillion dollars by Big Oil.” On the flip side, Al Gore has said all kinds of nutty things on this subject, but rather than respond to him substantively, many conservatives cite Gore’s hypocrisy in his use of private jets and his own massive carbon footprint. And, in both cases, that’s essentially where the conversation ends, and the people who attack the messenger think they’ve accomplished something, when, in fact, they have not. The initial argument hasn’t been refuted; it’s simply been diverted to a far less interesting topic.

In other words, if Al Gore tells me the sky is green, the issue shouldn’t be whether or not Al Gore is a poophead. (He is.) The issue, it seems to me, should be whether or not the sky is green. And even if someone as vile as Hitler tells you to love your mom, it doesn’t mean that loving your mom isn’t a good idea. (It is.)

I recently ran into this in my discussions with my aforementioned cousin who no longer considers himself a member of the church. Many of the arguments he cites are brilliantly refuted in a 1961 book by Mormon apologist High Nibley titled The Myth Makers. When I pointed this out to him in an email exchange, he responded thusly:

The problem with Nibley [is that] he is 100% biased to defend the Church no matter what

And with that, he was relieved of having to respond to any of what Nibley actually said. By questioning motives, he gets to ignore the message. Suddenly the discussion is about Nibley himself, and the important stuff goes by the wayside.

So what if Hugh Nibley really was naught but a Mormon corporate stooge? What if he boiled puppies in pancake batter and served them as hams? What if he were – gasp – genocidal dictator and erstwhile obscure poet Adolf Hitler himself? If such a man tells you the sky is blue, do you prove him wrong by citing the horrors of concentration camps or the vileness of deep fried poodles?

There is a limit to this, obviously. When one is trying to find support for the love of motherhood, one will usually avoid citing Hitler as a reference, and Hitler’s atrocities do mitigate the amount of time most of us will spend culling through his wretched life for pearls of wisdom. But all truth stands independent of the person that passes it along.

The sky is, in fact, blue. You don’t get to ignore that even if Hitler believed it, too.

Asking the Question

Bear with me here.  This is going to be a bit of a tightrope to walk, and I don’t want you to freak out if I fall off somewhere in the middle. (I’ll most likely get into trouble near the end, which is when I jump off the deep end.) Just take a deep breath, keep your shirt on, and nobody will get hurt.

Ready? Oh Kay!

Mormon youths are all told the story of how the Word of Wisdom, the Mormon dietary code, came into being. It seems that every gathering of Mormon dudes included lots of tobackey, which cheesed off Joseph Smith’s wife, Emma. She had to scrub up the tobacco juice off the hardwood floors, and the place stank to high heaven. So she asked her husband to seek a revelation with regard to the Lord’s purposes for such a vile weed. The result has been canonized in Mormon scripture as Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants and is referred to by members as the Word of Wisdom.

One wonders how long it would have taken the Lord to reveal such a thing if Joseph hadn’t bothered to ask the question. (Perhaps we’d still be able to swig hard liquor before Sunday School if Emma had had a greater tolerance for tobacco stains.) Yet in multiple revelations, the same pattern holds. Joseph considers a scripture, a principle, or a specific problem before taking the matter to the Lord, and the result is a revelation that changes much of what went before.

This, incidentally, is what caused Joseph serious problems in the early days of the Church. When it was first formed, the Church was largely indistinguishable from most protestant churches. But subsequent revelations changed that. Oh, by the way, the Lord wants us to build a temple. By the way, there are three degrees of glory, not just a static heaven and hell. Guess what, folks? Time to consecrate all you have to Zion. And then there’s that little bit about plural marriage…

With each revelation, the church grew farther and farther away from the standard teachings of the time. And with each revelation, someone got angry, denounced Joseph as a fallen prophet, and a few even established their own churches to create, or recreate, the church as it was before Joseph’s latest nonsense ruined everything.

There are two lessons here. The first, which is easy enough to spot, is the idea that in order to receive revelation, we usually have to ask the question. But the second lesson, which is not as clear, is the idea that we probably shouldn’t bother the Lord if we’re not willing to accept what His answer will be.

In my opinion, that was the problem with extending all the blessings of the gospel to all people, regardless of race. I think the early prophets, like the vast majority of people in the 19th Century, didn’t even consider the possibility that blacks were equal to whites, so they didn’t even bother to ask the question. Especially in the case of Brigham Young, they accepted as binding the prevailing, mainstream position of the Protestant world, which was that blacks were the seed of Cain and therefore deserved to be slaves.

Latter-Day Saints have no such revelation that states such a thing, but nobody bothered to question it, so it stank up the church until 1978, when a revelation was received that finally put all people on equal footing and fulfilled the promise of the Book of Mormon that among “black and white…all are alike unto God.” (2 Nephi 26:33)

Of course, the question was asked prior to 1978, most notably by President David O. McKay, who, according to recent biographies, prayed heartily about this idea throughout his time as President of the Church, from 1950 until 1970.

Why did he get no answer? He asked the question, didn’t he?

Those same biographies also demonstrate that President McKay’s opinions about people of African descent were, once again, consistent with those of the generic Protestant world. He was very comfortable with segregation, and he still didn’t believe that interracial relationships were acceptable in the eyes of the Lord.

Consequently, I believe that, while he was willing to ask the question, he wasn’t quite willing to receive the answer.

(Be afraid. Now’s where we start to wander onto shaky ground.)

All this is preface to my central point: where is the revelation that helps us to understand homosexuality?

You can cite all the same Biblical scriptures everyone else does, but that gets silly, especially since they represent tenets of the Mosaic Law, which also bans shellfish and hot dogs. If you’re quoting from Leviticus to justify current church positions, you’re kinda forgetting that we no longer  stone people to death who shop on the Sabbath. Either the Law of Moses was fulfilled or it wasn’t. If it was, then those Old Testament prohibitions are no longer binding.

In the New Testament, we find little on the subject – mainly just oblique references in Romans Chapter One where Paul makes it clear that he doesn’t like dudes who “leave the natural use of the woman.” But Paul gives us no guidance – he neither tells us why people would do such a thing, or what should be done with them.

The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and all other modern revelations are completely silent on the issue.

As a result, the Church’s stand has mimicked the mainstream Christian world’s stand. We’ve moved from the idea that all homosexuals are voluntary perverts to a more tolerant dodge of the issue, where we firmly state that “we don’t know” why some people are incapable of finding the opposite sex attractive. We have progressed from contempt to a sort of detached pity for those who suffer from this temptation, and our shifting position comes precisely because we have had no direct guidance on this issue in this gospel dispensation.

So wouldn’t it be nice if someone asked the question?

I’m not sure if anyone has. And if they have, I’m doubly doubtful that those asking are willing to accept any and all answers.

I’m walking a fine line here. I’m not trying to attack specific leaders or criticize current policy. I’ve just had enough personal experience with fine people who happen to be gay that I feel like there’s more information on this subject than has currently been revealed, and I’d like to know what it is.

Isn’t it, at the very least, a question worth asking?

My Despisal of Science

I hate science. I loathe it. And I fight it everyday of my life. I want a president who despises science and divides by zero. Yes, he must divide by zero, because he must hate mathematics, too. I have always hated mathematics. Just ask my third grade teacher, Mrs. Smith. What a nightmare that woman was. She smelled like she’d been locked in a chimney for half a decade.

Of course, I would vote for her before I would vote for Jon Huntsman.

“A politician who isn’t anti-science? Call him crazy, but Jon Huntsman trusts scientists.”
- A Jon Huntsman for President Facebook ad.

Well, call ME crazy, but I’m not really that interested in Huntsman’s “pro-science” position, because even he doesn’t understand what he means. When expanding on this idea, and on the concept that Republicans are anti-science, Governor Trust Fund had this to say:

When we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said… about what is causing climate change and man’s contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position.

What does this mean? Seriously?

Ba ha ha ha ha ha ha!

For instance, if I ask how natural selection can account for the existence of seemingly irreducibly complex systems like the eye or the inner workings of a cell, does that make me anti-science? Does that mean I’m willing to shake evolution’s hand but not “embrace” it? Does this mean that evolutionary theory will not entertain any questions and only accept big hugs? How is refusing to ask questions a “pro-science” position?

What position, incidentally, has any Republican taken that “runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said?” In order to do that, 98 out of 100 climate scientists would have had to say the same thing. A statement like that presumes that 98 have said the sky is blue, while silly Republicans agree with the two people think it’s bright orange. When talking climate science, there are too many balls in the air to take a truly contrary position.

For example:

1) How much of current climate change is humanity’s fault? All of it? Most of it? Some of it? Do 98 scientists have an agreed-upon percentage?

2) What is the globe’s optimum temperature, and is current climate change getting us closer or farther from that perfect spot on the worldwide thermostat? I have yet to hear one of the 98 wise men opine on this subject.

3) Would any of the current political proposals – Cap and Trade, a carbon tax, green technology incentives – reduce global temperatures? At all? (The unanimous response, even from Our Pal Jonny’s 98 geniuses, is no.)

There are so many variables in climate theory that to boil it down to a single yes-or-no question is to either completely misunderstand the science or to ignore it in order to be politically fashionable, which, I suspect, is Jonny Huntsman’s entire raison d’etre.

I will vote for a sock of old cheese before I vote for Jon Huntsman for president.

Would I Be a Muslim?

My cousin has decided to leave the LDS Church. He cites a number of reasons for his departure in a lengthy online Google doc which you can read here, and many of them are, frankly, recycled anti-Mormon tropes that have been circling for years and are fairly easily debunked. (Case in point: if you still think Solomon Spaulding and Sidney Rigdon wrote the Book of Mormon and smuggled it to a teenage Joseph Smith, you probably think we faked the moon landing, too.)

Where his manifesto becomes pertinent is in the personal details – a time when he felt like the Spirit had let him down, and other intimate moments of doubt. I can’t refute or explain why his spiritual experiences were or were not what they ought to have been – that’s between him and God, and if God isn’t explaining it to his satisfaction, there’s not a lot I can do.

He also raises an age-old question that deserves further review, which I will quote below:

If I had been born in Saudi Arabia instead of Provo, Utah, I would have been raised a Muslim instead of a Mormon. Every night I would read the Quran instead of the Book of Mormon. I would follow the teachings of Mohammed instead of Joseph Smith. And I would believe it with the same exact same surety and conviction, using the Spirit and faith as my guide.

Ironically, this conclusion comes from a distinctly Latter-Day Saint mindset. That is to say, we encourage members to pray about specific doctrines – most notably the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon – and rely on their personal experiences with God to verify truthfulness. I have no idea if this is the pattern adopted in Islam, but it’s not consistent with much of the Christian world.

Catholics, for instance, are encouraged to rely on the rich tradition and history of their faith to provide the foundation of their faith. Until Vatican II in the 1960s, Bible reading was actively discouraged. The idea of seeking direct, personal revelation from God to confirm the veracity of the church’s authority would have been alien at best and heretical at worst. To this day, the laity of the Catholic church requires the intercession of the priesthood and an infallible papacy in order to access both God’s forgiveness and interpret His revelation.

Evangelical protestants are probably closer to the LDS interpretation of how spiritual things operate, but the personal revelation comes solely from a powerful “saved” experience with Christ. Beyond that, the Bible provides the infallible source of all ecclesiastical authority. Personal emotions, thoughts and feelings are unreliable; only the Bible can be trusted. (And that presupposes that the Bible is not only infallible; it is also self-evidently clear about all doctrines of salvation, which, given the confusion among thousands of Christian sects and denominations, is a fairly difficult pill to swallow.)

You will rarely, if ever, hear an evangelical Christian claim that their particular branch of Christendom is the only true faith. Indeed, most will acknowledge that their unique sect is far from perfect, and that truth can be found in many denominations. All that matters is Christ. The fact that so many people interpret Christ and His message differently isn’t really all that big a deal to most of them.

All that said, I am left to wonder how my life would be different has I been born a Catholic or a Jew or a Muslim. I can never know the answer to that question, but my cousin’s theory presupposes that I would likely have accepted the religious dogma handed to me, and that would have been that.

Well, maybe he’s right. And maybe he’s not.

These were question I felt very acutely as a teenager, when I was wrestling with my obligation to serve a mission for the Church. I knew it was something I ought to do, but, whether I realized it or not, I was desperately looking for a way out that wouldn’t go contrary to my conscience.

As it happened, I dated a Catholic girl prior to my mission. At the time, this girl went behind my back and sought out the missionaries, and she ended up joining the Church in a remarkable conversion that would have made a great article in the Ensign. I sat in on all her missionary lessons, and I had a positive experience that provided me with an intellectual justification for my faith. See? The Church works! It must be true! And I’ve found out for myself, so I’m not just doing this because my parents want me to.

For the first few months of my mission, I would cite this experience as my own personal, dramatic “conversion story.” I would maintain that I, too, was an unbeliever one moment, but a believer the next. It seemed powerful and compelling, but it never sat well with me.  It wasn’t long before I realized that telling the story that way was to discount all of the spiritual experiences I had had as a youth. It was my way of saying to the Lord that the life He had given me wasn’t really enough, and that it required dramatic embellishment. When I accepted that I am who I am, and that my testimony had grown from a lifetime of experience and not from one single dramatic moment, I felt far more at peace and, I think, was a more effective missionary with a more powerful testimony.

So would I have stayed a Muslim if I were born as such? That’s the kind of unanswerable hypothetical that makes for interesting discussions, but it’s ultimately fruitless.

I am who I am. And because of who I am, I remain a Latter-Day Saint.