Brian, Beck, and Bitterness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t get that at all.

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

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

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

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

How does that change the facts I’ve cited?

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

Peeves

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

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

This is factually inaccurate.

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

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

Here’s the problem that earns peeve status.

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

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

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

This peeves me to no end.

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

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

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

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

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

Good heavens. So, SO peeved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You read it here first.

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

Wrong about being wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitt dodged a bullet here.

The Righteous Outlet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D&C 131:1-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope I’m wrong again

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

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

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

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

Turns out I’m wrong again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do not get it. At all.

Peggy Noonan sums it up better than I do.

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

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

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

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