Why I still stand by Joseph Smith

“Mormon leaders admit church founder Joseph Smith practiced polygamy” – Fox News

“The Mormon church finally acknowledges founder Joseph Smith’s polygamy” – Washington Post

“It’s Official: Mormon Founder Had Up to 40 Wives” – New York Times

“Joseph Smith Had Up to 40 Wives. Why Is the Mormon Church Finally Admitting It?” – Slate.com

These headlines are both incendiary and incorrect. The fact is that Doctrine and Covenants section 132, the revelation to Joseph Smith that commands him to enter into plural marriage, is canonized LDS scripture and has been in print for well over 150 years. To say that the Church’s new essay on polygamy is the first time the church has ever acknowledged that Joseph Smith was a polygamist is to say something demonstrably false.

But some members are acting like this information has been hidden or suppressed. The New York Times quotes a blogger in Farmington who laments that “This is not the church I grew up with, this is not the Joseph Smith I love.” Even a regional authority in Europe abandoned the church because he had previously considered statements about Joseph’s polygamy to be the “whisperings of Lucifer” and was shocked to discover they were true.

Except they aren’t true, at least not in the way the critics are coloring them. Yes, Joseph was a polygamist, but his actions require a great deal of history and context to adequately understand. Yet understanding history and context is tedious and requires effort, whereas inflammatory accusations provide instant results.  I saw this on Thanksgiving, when an old friend posted a link to an article about the Church’s essay commenting about how we in the church “have been lied to on a massive scale” with regard to Joseph’s polygamy. “Joseph married, shagged them and then dumped them on their old husbands and left them to fend for themselves,” he said. “[It’s] hardly a story of married bliss…”

And it’s not the true story, either. But while it takes seconds to make the accusations – “Joseph married and then slept with other men’s wives! Joseph was a pedophile who molested 14-year-old girls!” – it takes paragraphs, pages, or even books to provide the context that disproves them. I’ve made several attempts on this blog to provide some of that information – see here, here, here, here, and here – and, I should note, I have never faced any kind of church discipline, formally or informally, for publicly acknowledging Joseph’s polygamy. (One of the accusations in that Facebook thread was that those who spoke openly about Joseph and polygamy were branded as anti-Mormons and booted out of the church prior to this recent essay’s publication. I am living proof that this is simply not true.)

So here’s what I’m going to do. This post will have two parts. The first part will be an attempt to provide adequate context to refute the more sensational accusations against Joseph Smith. That part will likely be dry and plodding, and if it doesn’t interest you, I understand. But I feel it is necessary to get some of this on record in order to reassure any bloggers in Farmington who don’t love Joseph Smith anymore that their image of the Prophet isn’t as far off the mark as these accusations would have you believe.

One caveat – Joseph wasn’t a perfect man, so if you want perfection, I can’t help you. But he was a good man, and that’s the best any of us can do.

The second part of this will be more accessible and personal than the first. It will give you a personal context for why I stand by Joseph Smith. I know he was a polygamist, and I know the available details surrounding the more sordid accusations against him, and yet I still revere him as a prophet of God. How do I reconcile those facts with a clear conscience? The answer comes in Part Two.

So let us begin with Part One. (Skip down to Part Two below if you’re already bored.)

BEHOLD! PART ONE!
Revelations often came to Joseph as answers to his direct questions. The most famous example is the Word of Wisdom, which counsels Latter-day Saints to avoid alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, and tea. As I was taught in Primary, Emma Smith was sick of cleaning up tobacco stains after church leaders would meet, so she asked Joseph about tobacco’s purpose, and Joseph, in turn, asked the Lord. He received a response that said, among many other things, that “tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man.” (See Doctrine and Covenants section 89.)

That was how the process usually worked.

The wording of Doctrine and Covenants section 132, the revelation that commanded Joseph to take additional wives, suggests that it came in response to a direct question about Old Testament polygamy. That’s clear from how the revelation begins:

“Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines—

Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter.”

So when would Joseph Smith have been asking this question? Most likely when he was reading about the Lord’s polygamous servants in his own translation of the Bible, circa 1831. There is additional historical evidence that this revelation was received early on, not long after the church was organized, yet the revelation itself wasn’t recorded until over a decade later. And, with one important exception, Joseph didn’t marry any additional wives for another ten years.

So why the delay?

The answer is that Joseph was not the predatory Lothario his critics try to pretend he was. He was not eager to take additional wives. Documents demonstrate that his devotion to Emma, and her devotion to him even after his death, was real and powerful and did not waver throughout his life. According to Joseph, he was visited three times by an angel who rebuked him for dragging his feet on taking another wife, and the third time, this angel was brandishing a drawn sword. If you take his word for it, Joseph was a very reluctant polygamist indeed.

Of course, critics are quick to dismiss Joseph’s own account as a self-serving rationalization, but there is no other adequate explanation for the existence of the revelation a decade before Joseph was willing to fully abide by it. If the revelation was a fraud perpetuated solely to satisfy the cistern of his lust, why wait ten years? Why wait at all?

The evidence strongly suggests that Joseph viewed plural marriage as a religious principle that was part of the “restoration of all things” that had been practiced anciently. He accepted it as a trial of his own faith, as well as the faith of his fellow Latter-day Saints. Western culture, then and now, has largely viewed polygamy as aberrant, and Joseph’s sensibility was largely the same as the culture in which he was raised. The caricature of him as an insatiable wanton simply doesn’t jibe with what we know of how he both received the revelation and how he put it into practice.

I mentioned the exception to his self-imposed “wait-a-decade” rule, and it’s a significant one. His first plural marriage likely took place around 1833, about two years after he received his revelation. He married a girl named Fanny Alger, who was a serving maid in his house. Reliable details about Joseph’s marriage to Fanny are few and far between, and most of what we know of their relationship comes from third-hand sources. A few facts, however, need to be noted at the outset.

In their recent article, the New York Times referred to her as “15-year-old Fanny Alger.” But Fanny Alger could not have been only 15 when she married Joseph Smith. Her birth certificate states that she was born on September 30, 1916. If she married Joseph in 1833, she was either 16 or 17 at the time of the wedding. This would place her above the 21st Century age of consent in roughly half of the United States and all of Canada. In the 19th Century, English Common Law placed the age of consent at between 10 and 12 years of age and didn’t raise it to 13 until 1875, which was 31 years after the Prophet’s death. Those who would cite this marriage as evidence of Joseph’s pedophilia ignore the fact that a 16 or 17-year-old girl, while admittedly younger than the average bride of the day, was still considered to be of age in the 19th Century.

I do not wish to be misunderstood here. As the father of two daughters roughly the same age as Fanny was on the day of her nuptials, I readily admit that my stomach turns at the prospect of either of my girls today marrying a 26-year-old man, which is how old Joseph was at the time of his first plural marriage. I’m not applauding Joseph’s actions; I’m simply trying to provide historical context for them. While polygamy certainly violated 19th Century mores, a monogamous marriage between a 26-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl did not.

It’s also important to note that sources indicate that Joseph approached Fanny’s parents and asked for their consent, which they provided. Even anti-Mormons who hated Joseph acknowledged that there was a wedding between the two and that this was not just a sexual indiscretion on Joseph’s part.

We know no details about this marriage, as neither Joseph nor Fanny offered any, and we do not know Emma’s reaction, although most understandably assume it was negative. Fanny left the Smith household in 1836, married another man soon after, and never said another word about what happened between her and Joseph. We do know, however, that Oliver Cowdery considered it to be a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair” and not a legitimate marriage. When Oliver confronted Joseph on this point, Joseph did not deny a relationship with Alger, but instead denied that the relationship was adulterous. Oliver then left the church, and he never provided any information about the facts that formed the basis for his opinion. After Joseph’s death, Oliver was rebaptized and regained full fellowship with the Saints, but he never spoke on the record about Fanny Alger again.

That’s pretty much all we know.

I confess that of all of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages, I find this one to be the most unsettling. How could he not have realized that polygamously marrying the serving girl in his own house would be a bad idea? I imagine a young man given the near-impossible commandment to take another wife without having the slightest clue how to go about it. After a couple of years of self-doubt and ambivalence, I think he ultimately decided to marry the girl he saw every day, thinking that might be the simplest way to obey. I also think he may have not been as clear as to the purpose of the revelation as he was later in life.

But all of that is pure conjecture. We simply don’t know what happened, except to say that it was eight years before Joseph took another wife. My guess is that he realized he’d botched things the first time out and was gun shy about making the same mistakes again. Were Joseph’s later marriages different from the one with Fanny Alger? Evidence suggests that they were.

First, keep in mind that of the 40 wives that the New York Times is talking about, 39 of them were married after 1841. By June of 1844, Joseph Smith was dead. All of these weddings, then, took place during a compressed three-and-a-half year time frame that was the busiest period of Joseph’s life. This was when he was building the second-largest city in Illinois and the largest religious building in the country, as well as leading a rapidly expanding church and, oh yeah, running for President of the United States. For most of these weddings, the wives got a ceremony and not much else.

It’s noteworthy, too, that Joseph fathered nine children with Emma, yet he had no children with any of his other wives. That alone is the basis for the specious RLDS claim that Joseph couldn’t have been a polygamist after all. While that doesn’t prove any such thing, it does suggest that sex was not the only or even the primary motivation for these marriages.

It’s also important to note that current critics make no distinction between a “wedding” and a “sealing.” It is a distinction that is lost even for many contemporary Latter-day Saints, but it’s a crucial element in understanding Joseph’s behavior.

By 1841, Joseph saw plural marriage more as a way to bind families together in the eternities than as a license for sexual adventurism. This explains his relationship with women who were sealed to him even as they continued their marriage to other men, including many who were active Latter-day Saints. Thus the accusation of “polyandry” exemplified by my friend’s comment that “Joseph married, shagged them and then dumped them on their old husbands” just doesn’t hold water. These “polyandrous” women never left their old husbands, and, to make matters even more confusing, the husbands were fully aware of the sealings to Joseph. The simplest explanation is that when there was another husband involved, these were sealings, but they were not marriages. There is very little information about any of these marriages, but what information exists suggests that sex was not involved in them at all.

That’s not to say that none of his post-1941 sealings included sexual relations. Some of them clearly did, but it’s likely the majority did not. That includes, incidentally, Joseph’s sealing to Helen Mar Kimball, the 14-year-old girl sealed to Joseph in an instance that many see as conclusive proof that Joseph was a pedophile. Helen herself, later in life, stated that the relationship was “for eternity only,” which implies a celibate arrangement.

So if so many of these marriages were sexless, why would Joseph Smith even bother with them if his only aim was to bed as many helpless young maidens as possible? While the critics have no answer to that question, neither do believers, but for a different reason. The problem with plural marriage is that critics misunderstand it and the Church, by and large, ignores it. It’s not an active campaign of suppression so much as a cultural squeamishness to address something so easily misunderstood and so contrary to conventional morality.

What many modern church members ignore is that so much of the modern church’s theology is still tied to the principles in D&C 132. When primary children sing “Families Can Be Together Forever,” they’re referencing D&C 132. The  concept of sealing families together, as well as the doctrine of theosis, trace their theological roots to the revelation on plural marriage. The modern church compartmentalizes the plural marriage part of the revelation and embraces the other good stuff, but to Joseph, the two were inextricably linked. Joseph saw the sealing power as the fulfillment of the Savior’s promise to Peter in Matthew 16:19 – “whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” He viewed plural marriage as the way to build heavenly bonds, and, rightly or wrongly, the doctrine bound the church together here on earth, too. Rather than simply reject the whole thing out of hand, it’s much better to try to understand its place in Joseph’s thinking and in church history.

Which leads me to PART TWO:

I begin Part Two by quoting a previous blog post of mine on the subject:
_________

Many anti-Mormons take delight in pointing out that the Book of Mormon rails on polygamy with more ferocity than anything in the Bible. The Lord condemns the unauthorized practice of polygamy as an “abomination” and refers to the taking of multiple wives as “whoredoms,” and then says the following:

“Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none.” (Jacob 2:27)

That seems to be a pretty clear-cut standard, which makes you wonder how Joseph Smith could possibly lead the church to go contrary to the plain language of the scripture he himself translated.

Until you read on to verse 30:

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.”

In other words, monogamy is the norm, unless commanded otherwise by the Lord to “raise up seed” unto Him. That’s exactly what happened when the Church practiced polygamy in the 19th century. The doctrine bound the church together through a torturous time and raised up a large second generation to carry the gospel forward. And now, when it is no longer necessary, the Lord has commanded us to revert back to the norm.

_________

There’s more to this, though. Many are surprised that Mormons stand by Joseph Smith even knowing all of the above information. The reason they do, or, at least, the reason I do, has little or nothing to do with affection or loyalty to Joseph Smith as a human being. For the unavoidable fact is that he was a human being, flawed like all of us, and those who seek to deify him misunderstand the fundamental principles he taught. The doctrine of agency, central to Joseph’s teachings, requires all of us, even prophets, to learn from mistakes. Joseph needed to do this as much as anyone, and, indeed, many of those mistakes are referenced in the revelations he received and published.

To a degree, those revelations  form the basis of my faith. I have read the Book of Mormon, a book which the most accomplished 19th Century scholar could never have produced, let alone an uneducated 23-year-old farmboy named Joseph Smith. I have read Joseph’s other revelations, which provide a cohesive and glorious vision of the universe that has no equal in the other religions and philosophies of the world.

But as marvelous as the ideas are, they wouldn’t matter if God weren’t at the heart of them. But He is. My confidence in Joseph Smith is due to the fact that I have encountered Jesus Christ in an intimate and personal way as a result of what Joseph accomplished, which is why I believe he’s earned a few benefits of the doubt.

Thanks for reading this all the way through.

Mathematics is now “sick” and “gross”

I’m right-brained by nature, so math was never my forte. But one professor at the University of Utah changed my whole perspective.

“Mathematics,” he said, “is not a matter of opinion. Rather, the study of mathematics is nothing less than the study of truth itself.”

I found this revelatory not only because it is accurate, but also because it recognizes the reality that truth is not relative or negotiable. It exists independent of interpretation, and it is not subject to change via majority vote. All the protests in the world cannot make two plus two equal five.

I’ve been thinking about that old math professor all day as I’ve watched the madness unfold in Ferguson in the wake of the grand jury’s decision. Many view the violence as a righteous reaction to what they perceive as a system where racist cops delight in slaughtering unarmed black teens, and where a grand jury of Klansmen turned a blind eye to this horror so they could protect one of their own.

But none of that is objectively true.

Ferguson attracted so much attention largely because it is so unusual. White cops do not routinely gun down unarmed black teenagers. As Rudy Giuliani noted on Meet the Press, 93 percent of black people who are murdered are killed by other blacks. And for that true observation, Giuliani was branded a racist and a hater by those who think their feelings of outrage trump that which is objectively true.

As for the specifics of the case, very little of the information that emerged from the initial media reports turned out to be reliable. The cowardly cop shot Michael Brown in the back! (Oops. No, he didn’t.) Michael Brown didn’t attack the cop! (Oops! Yes, he did. And all eyewitnesses who said he did were African-Americans.) These initial accusations were the subject of hours of breathless reporting and stoked the fires of rage and fury. In the weeks that followed, the true details trickled in quietly with little fanfare, as they got in the way of the “AmeriKKKa” narrative.

As for the grand jury’s decision, consider this true account from the Wall Street Journal:

A jury of a dozen average citizens, chosen long before this case came before them and including three black Americans, looked at 70 hours of testimony, heard 60 witnesses and deliberated for two days. The public statements of some witnesses proved to be false upon examination of the physical evidence, Mr. McCulloch said, including the claims broadcast on TV that Brown was shot in the back. Brown resembled a suspect identified in a local theft and there was evidence that he reached into Mr. Wilson’s car to punch him.

The jurors were presented with five potential criminal counts, including involuntary manslaughter, and rejected each one. The evidence was released to the public after Mr. McCulloch’s press conference, so others will be able to sift through the file and make their own judgment.

But the rioters aren’t going to sift through anything with facts in it to make their judgment. They’ve already made their judgment, and their verdict of chaos, violence, and destruction promises to devastate their local economy, hurt or even kill their own neighbors, and further widen the gulf between black and white.

The media, for their part, are doing everything they can to make the situation worse. Saying “This is revolting,” Salon.com posted a link on Facebook titled “Right-wing’s sick Twitter celebration: Ann Coulter, Ted Nugent, Brit Hume battle for grossest Darren Wilson tweet.” Looking for something sick and gross, I clicked through reviewed their entries and saw these instead:

“Hardcore leftists’ don’t really give a rip abt facts. Goal is and has always been to undermine civil society, stoke unrest, chaos.” – Laura Ingraham

“Dear Liberal Media, You are the problem. Again.” – Melissa Clouthier (who I’ve never heard of, along with many other examples Salon used.)

“Might say they’re anti science MT “‪@RichLowry: Liberals pride selves on their supposed adherence to facts, but can’t accept them in Ferguson” – Brit Hume

“All of the witnesses who testified that Brown charged Wilson were African American.” – Jonah Goldberg

Ted Nugent’s tweet – “DarrenWilson did good MichaelBrown did bad justice is served” – was the only one that was remotely celebratory. The rest were appeals to fact and reason, which are apparently now “sick” and “gross” in an era where truth is less important than feelings. By that template, the haters are the Rudy Giulianis and other “sick” conservatives who point out facts that people don’t like, not the rioters burning down their neighbor’s homes and businesses.

In this new Orwellian nightmare, mathematics, which is “nothing less than the study of truth itself,” must also be seen as “sick” and “gross,” too.  I can live with that. But the rest of this is more depressing than I can express.

Consistency and Bill Cosby

As the accusations against Bill Cosby continue to pour in, society at large has chosen to abandon him. TV Land yanked its planned “Cosby Show” Thanksgiving marathon, and NBC axed its in-development sitcom that would have marked Cosby’s return to prime time. As more and more venues where he was scheduled to perform withdraw their invitations, Cosby looks to spend his golden years in a permanent state of pariah-hood.

It is unlikely, however, that any of these accusations will be proven in a court of law. The alleged assaults took place decades ago, and assembling a legal case against him is all but impossible. Yet the accusers are credible, and collusion among them is very unlikely. In light of these realities, Cosby’s defenders are few and far between. (My Esteemed Colleague thinks this may be a white supremacist plot, but he’s the only one I’ve seen who has even come close to providing a defense.) Public opinion’s judgment is unanimous, and it is not contingent on the findings of a jury.

The masses have spoken, and they, now and forever, will view Bill Cosby as a rapist.

Make no mistake – I am not writing this to appeal the public’s verdict. I also find the accusations persuasive, and the pattern of behavior is too consistent to ignore. I had tremendous respect for Bill Cosby prior to this scandal, but my opinion of him has now been forever changed. Barring some dramatic revelation that invalidates the testimonies of his multitude of accusers, I will regard this man as someone beneath contempt.

You know, the same way I regard Bill Clinton.

Clinton has been accused of rape and sexual assault by just as many women as Cosby has, and the women who have come forward against him are just as credible as Cosby’s accusers. Unlike Cosby, Clinton has been proven to have repeatedly lied about his sexual behavior, and the pattern of abuse is far more readily established in his case.

Yet while Cosby is a pariah, Clinton is the Democratic Party’s patron saint.

Clinton’s speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention was the killing stroke that effectively ended Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Polls show Clinton is the most popular political figure in the country, and his wife is the prohibitive front runner to become the first woman president, due largely to residual affection for her husband’s administration.

So can anyone explain why Cosby should be shunned but Clinton should be revered?

Proof that I’m not Glen A. Larson

I haven’t posted here since the passing of “Battlestar Galactica” creator Glen A. Larson, which might serve as circumstantial confirmation to my arch-nemesis Languatron that the good Mr. Larson and I are one and the same person. He has made that accusation countless times and in countless forums, and I wondered what he would think when the sad day came that Mr. Larson was no longer with us.

Well, with apologies to Languatron, I’m still here. And this article I wrote, published today by the Deseret News, proves it.

_________

So Glen A. Larson has passed away.

If that name means nothing to you, then you weren’t a kid in the ’70s and ’80s. But it just so happens that I was such a kid, and during my childhood, it was impossible to turn on the television and not see Glen Larson’s name on just about every TV show that mattered to me.

But there was one occasion when I got to see some of Mr. Larson’s work live and in person.

I grew up in sunny southern California, and back in the day, our Cub Scout pack took a field trip to the special effects studio doing work for Larson’s series “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.” This was the pre-CGI era, so all we saw was some tedious stop motion photography. But the real excitement came when one of the technicians took us to a storage room where the models for the canceled series “Battlestar Galactica” had been mothballed. He cracked open one very large crate, and all of us got a good look at the Galactica herself.

That may well have been the greatest moment of my pre-pubescent life.

“Battlestar Galactica” — the original, not the nihilistic, joyless reboot of the series that aired on the SyFy Network around the turn of the century — wasn’t Larson’s most successful series, but it was arguably the most personal to him. It was launched in the wake of “Star Wars” mania, and it spurred a lawsuit from George Lucas for copyright infringement. Lucas lost that battle, and rightly so. Yes, there are superficial similarities between the two space operas, but “Galactica” offered a premise that was actually something much deeper and richer than the “Star Wars” universe.

“Battlestar Galactica,” in essence, was Mormons in space.

Glen Larson, himself a Latter-day Saint, had infused his series mythology with too many Mormon references to ignore. His Twelve Colonies of Man were essentially the Lost Tribes of Israel whose history began at Kobol, an obvious anagram for Kolob, which, in Mormon theology, is the star nearest to the throne of God. The colonies were led by a “Quorum of 12,” and marriages were referred to as “sealings” that extended beyond mortality and “through all the eternities.” The show never shied away from religious themes, and, at one point, the characters encounter a group of angels who paraphrase LDS Church President Lorenzo Snow.

“As you are, we once were,” the angels tell the Galactica crew. “As we are, you may become.”

Sound familiar? It certainly did to me.

I was thrilled to see Mormon themes woven into pop culture, but not everyone shared my enthusiasm. My mother thought it was a light-minded approach to sacred things, and I have to concede that time has provided some evidence for that point of view. Critics of my faith take Mormon precepts and present them with a Galactica-esque spin to make them sound kooky and bizarre. An anti-Mormon film in the 1980s sneeringly referred to the LDS concept of heaven as “Starbase Kolob,” and during the so-called “Mormon Moment,” I sensed “Galactica’s” influence in the media reports about Mormons “getting their own planet” after they die.

So if “Battlestar Galactica” is your only context for what Mormons believe, you can be forgiven for thinking that we Mormons are a whole lot less boring than we really are.

But I don’t think Larson’s intent was to mock things he held sacred. I think he was trying to make them accessible to a wider audience. Those kinds of themes were missing from 1970s television, and they’re still missing from much of television today. In a medium celebrated for its vapidity, Glen A. Larson dared to produce something profound.

He will be sorely missed.

 

Partisan Promise Disparity

This is the first election in living memory where I couldn’t care less about the outcome.  Yes, I think Republicans will take the Senate. Big whoop. What will this mean in terms of its practical impact on the nation at large?

Nothing. Nothing whatsoever.

Every piece of significant legislation that might reverse the damage Obama has done will be summarily vetoed. And, conversely, every attempt by Obama to advance his agenda will be nipped in the bud. There will be a flurry of partisan activity and a marked increase in rhetorical volume, but no actual lawmaking will take place.

That’s actually just fine with me, as I find government inaction to be a preferable default position to well-intentioned, expensive, and ultimately destructive social engineering. But there is action government needs to take to avoid the fiscal implosion of the entire nation – entitlement reform, anyone? – and neither party will take it. A Republican Senate will not stop or even slow our inevitable collapse.

So forgive me if I’m not giddy with partisan glee.

My exile from the GOP has given me a different perspective on the party that was once my home. It occurs to me that the Republicans will always be at a disadvantage, because we can never out-promise the Democrats. The Left believes that government is the primary – indeed, the only – vehicle for positive social change, and that all the ailments of humankind can be attributed to an inadequate amount of government. Poverty, violence, disease, despair, the global thermostat – all these can ostensibly be managed and controlled for the betterment of humanity if we just send the feds enough money.

Of course, none of that is true.

That’s not really a matter of opinion. For decades, we’ve been dumping truckloads of taxpayer cash on these problems, and, if anything, they’re worse, not better. Our fifty-year “War on Poverty” has cost trillions upon trillions of dollars and has created a permanent underclass with no intergenerational memory of self-sufficiency. Those governments that go whole hog and abolish private ownership produce tyranny, corruption, and crushing poverty – but at least everyone is equally miserable.

But real-world, empirically verifiable results don’t get in the way of Democrats who continue to dangle the promise of taxpayer-funded paradise in front of voters. Just keep writing checks, and, sooner or later, the government will get it right, even though they’ve gotten everything terribly, horribly, miserably wrong up until now.

Republicans, on the other hand, don’t offer anything nearly as exciting. Vote for us, they say, and we’ll minimize the damage government does. Of course, there will still be poverty and inequality and misery and pain, but at least it won’t be as bad as it will be if the Democrats add huge new gobs of government into the mix.

So the Democratic promise is “Vote for us and the government will create a paradise!” Whereas the Republican promise is “Vote for us and everything will still suck, but it might suck a little bit less.”

Which one of those rallying cries is more likely to stir the soul?

I think government is a necessary evil, and it has a critical role to play in establishing boundaries within which freedom can flourish. But freedom also admits the possibility of failure, and government cannot remedy the pain and affliction that is fundamental to the mortal experience. Only Jesus can do that. And when He comes back as King of Kings, that’s when I’ll get excited about government again.

Until then, it’s “meet the new boss; same as the old boss.”

Confessions of Languatron’s Bane

“Star Wars: Episode VII” recently resumed production after taking a two-week hiatus to allow Harrison Ford to heal. Rumor has it that the Han Solo actor broke his leg when a hydraulic door of the Millennium Falcon was dropped on it. But other rumors say it wasn’t the Millennium Falcon’s door but, rather, the door of another spaceship altogether, the identity of which would likely constitute a spoiler for the much-anticipated sequel.

The Internet has no shortage of similar Star Wars spoilers. If you believe everything you read, you can piece together a workable plot of the film, despite director J.J. Abrams’s notorious penchant for on-set secrecy. (There’s a poster in his production offices that says “Loose Lips Sink Starships.”) Tight security notwithstanding, you can, with just a few Google searches, find out where Luke Skywalker has been for the thirty years since “Return of the Jedi,” as well as who this trilogy’s bad guy is and what he looks like. You can even see what Han Solo will be wearing in hot and cold weather.

That’s all presuming, of course, that these rumors are all true. And they’re not.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that all of them are wrong. The Han Solo costume designs look particularly legit, and surely there are some nuggets of truth amidst the gossipy dross. But big genre movies like these tend to bring out the Internet trolls, many of whom spread disinformation just for the cheap thrill of getting away with it.

Trust me. I speak from experience.

The year was 2008, and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was getting ready to hit theaters. That meant that a bunch of movie sites were publishing “advance reviews” that warned that the movie was going to be awful. There were dozens of them, many of which were poorly written, and I started asking how so many illiterate nobodies were given access to what was the most hotly anticipated film of many a year. I concluded that most of these reviews were bogus, and I wondered what it would take to write such a thing and get one of the sites to pick it up.

You can see where this is going.

Yep. You heard it here first. For no good reason, I churned out a piece of nonsense that was essentially a “greatest hits” melange of all the tidbits I had found in other articles. I submitted it to AintItCoolNews.com using the silly pseudonym “Languatron’s Bane,” and I waited to see if they would take the bait.

They did.

“A more positive, yet far more damning, review of INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL comes in…” the headline screamed. The piece was peppered with such bon mots as “that’s not to say it’s a bad movie. It’s just an unnecessary one,” and “This is the “Free as a Bird” of Indiana Jones movies.” Despite the fact that I got a crucial detail wrong – I claimed that the movie included the line “It’s not the mileage; it’s the years,” and it didn’t – my error wasn’t enough to expose the fraud. Indeed, my review was quoted by a number of other publications, including the UK Telegraph. That’s right – my piece of hooey made it across the pond! I should have been ashamed of myself, and I probably would have been if I could have kept myself from giggling every time someone else fell for it.

There’s a lesson here. Writing fake reviews and making up phony information about movies isn’t something people ought to do, but people still do it, because it’s fun and because they can. Be wary. And look for my exclusive advance review of the next James Bond movie in my next post.

Our Tribal Future

“And the people were divided one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land.”
– The Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 7:2

The late Professor Daniel H. Ludlow was fond of noting that The Book of Mormon not only provides counsel written by ancient prophets for our day, but that it also serves as a metaphor for modernity. The Nephites and Lamanites were people who were preparing for the first coming of Christ, and we can expect to see parallels in their society to what the world will be like as we approach the Savior’s Second Coming.

It is in that spirit that I read 3 Nephi 7:2 as more than just a product of its time.

I am now going to give you entry to some of my more bizarre political musings, many of which wander afoul of common sense and veer into mild lunacy. But that said, I’m increasingly of the opinion that the nation state, as a concept, is on its way out.

This isn’t a variation on John Lennon’s “Imagine there’s no countries.” Most who decry the nation state yearn for a borderless Utopia where nobody fights, nobody ever says a cross word, and everyone hugs a lot. That might be nice, I guess, but that’s not where we’re going. Divisions will still be a large part of our future, but those divisions will be increasingly tribalistic, not nationalistic. There was a time when tribalism and nationalism were the same thing, but that’s not the case anymore.

Granted, the nation state itself was born as an extension of the tribe. Most people spent their entire lives in direct contact only with those in relative proximity, and borders sprang up to add definition to an already existing reality. But as travel and communication opportunities have increased, the strength of both physical and cultural borders have eroded, and tribal loyalties can now easily transcend geography. I feel more kinship, for instance, with a Mormon living on the other side of the world than I do with a Muslim who lives just down the street. My tribal loyalties are no longer bound by borders.

Of course, those borders still figure in to my personal tribal calculus. I’m an American, after all, and my American-ness is very much a part of my identity. But I’m a Mormon before I’m an American, and I’m a husband and father before I’m a Mormon. My primary tribal loyalties are to my family and my faith. My loyalty to country, while significant, will never ascend to the top of that list.

And what happens when country fails?

I don’t mean who wins or loses elections. Increasingly, the partisan bickering in every country is over small and relatively silly things. The ship of state is increasingly looking like the Titanic, and the relatively small shifts to the left and right that dominate current politics aren’t going to be enough to escape the iceberg. Within the next decade, the demographics of the modern welfare state will require huge austerity measures and massive benefit cuts in both America and the EU if governments don’t take action now. Well, no one is going to take action now. So we’re all going to follow Japan down the toilet, and people who turn to the state for help will eventually discover that no help is forthcoming.

So where to turn? Simple. We’ll turn to our tribes.

When the state can longer keep its promises, it will also lose its power to govern. That has happened in Iraq, where tribal identities have nothing to do with nationalism. No one in Iraq thinks of themselves as an Iraqi – they think of themselves as Sunnis or Shiites or Kurds. The state there is failing because it bears no relationship to the tribes it supposedly represents.

It will take longer for the state to fail in Europe, where common ethnicities and languages and centuries of shared history have shaped the culture for all of recorded history. But the EU is an artificial construct that can’t survive the coming economic implosion. Does a Frenchman think of himself as an EU citizen, or as a Frenchman? Certainly when the EU implodes, no one will cling to their EU citizenship as their tribal identity. And when France can’t keep its commitments, how big a deal will it be to identify as a Frenchman? People cling to tribes because there is strength and protection in them. When countries can’t provide such things, then their citizens will, of necessity, turn to something else.

I’m not saying the nation/state will dissolve in a puff of smoke, or that the shift to tribes over nations will necessarily be apocalyptic. I think the tribal future will have its good points, too.

For example, Mormons are of the opinion that Jesus can’t come back until the Restored Gospel is preached to every nation, kindred, and tongue. The assumption is that this process will require legal recognition in every country on earth, and young men on bicycles will pedal their way through Saudi Arabia before the end finally arrives. But is this really necessary to fulfill the prophecy?

There was a time when a nation state could control the information that flowed to its citizens. That era has long since passed, despite North Korea’s best efforts to stem the tide. Missionary work is shifting from bicycles to wireless connections, mainly because that’s where the conversation is. A Muslim living outside of Mecca is far, far more likely to come into contact with the Book of Mormon through a Google search than through two Mormon kids in the desert knocking on their door. When the nations stop mattering as much, the kindreds and tongues will take over, and the gospel will spread online to anyone who seeks it. When Isaiah said that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea,” (Isaiah 11:9) he was likely anticipating the universal reach of the World Wide Web. Borders are floodgates, and once they’re opened, the knowledge of the truth will pour into every corner of the globe.

I recognize that erosion is usually a slow process, and that the Grand Canyon wasn’t born in a day. But the nation state is definitely eroding, and the collapse of the unsustainable welfare state concept will likely break a large hole in the dam. I don’t think nations will disappear altogether, but I do think the nation state will collapse into irrelevance far faster than anyone currently anticipates.

This is why I find myself increasingly uninterested in the political enterprises of great pitch and moment whose currents will soon turn awry. Both Democrats and Republicans are going down with this ship. It’s time we all started to look to the tribal lifeboats.

The Languatron Party

I have a political metaphor for you today that involves our old pal Languatron, but it occurs to me that some of you Johnny-Come-Latelys to this blog may not even know who Languatron is.

Oh, how I envy you.

To educate yourself about the Internet’s most prolific and brain-dead troll, you can peruse my own Languatron Chronicles, which begin here. To summarize for those of you too lazy to read the unexpurgated version, Languatron was a supposedly ardent fan of the original Battlestar Galactica, but his over-the-top lunacy alienated him from those who would otherwise support his position. He lashed out at everyone who didn’t agree with his every word, labeling them corporate spies on the payroll of Universal Studios. (He also hated gays, Jews, Mormons, and “Mormon Jews,” whoever they are.) The net result was that he made his allies look like idiots, which ended up damaging the case he was supposedly trying to advance.

I thought of this as our old pal Moisture Farmer, who is quite a skilled Languatron opponent in his own right, wrote some comments to my last post that referenced RINOs – Republicans In Name Only – and took me to task for my distaste for the Tea Party. I have apparently begun a “fundamental transformation into one of the collectivist pod people” because I’m “attempting to ingratiate” myself to a “clique of shallow mental adolescents.”

He ends by saying “Snap out of it. We need you.”

To which I replied, “Well, if you need me, then it might be nice to stop insulting me.”

I’d like to expand on that premise, if I may.

The demonization of one’s ideological opponents is the modus operandi of both parties, but the hard truth is that one party needs converts, and the other party doesn’t. Democrats begin every presidential election with at least 246 out of 270 electoral votes in the bag, and Republicans have to run the table of everything else. The fact that the Dems demonize Republicans just as viciously as the GOP demonizes them back is of no practical value.

Democrats can afford alienate those outside their party. Republicans can’t.

One of my primary problems with Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Sarah Palin, and the uncompromising, perpetually aggrieved self-righteous patriots who would prefer reading the Constitution to the nation’s problems to actually solving them is that there is nothing they are doing that would attract new converts to the fold. They are nasty, condescending, and arrogant beyond measure. They ridicule not only Democrats but Republicans – i.e. RINOs – under the assumption that those who disagree with them are “pod people” and “shallow mental adolescents,” not decent people who happen to disagree on matters of policy. Public Enemy #2 for the Tea Party – Obama is #1 – is “Establishment” Republican Senator Thad Cochran, who beat a Tea Party primary challenger because he had the gall to reach out to black voters that the Tea Party deem illegitimate.

Not a winning strategy, folks. If the Tea Party are going to continue to savage the Republican Party alongside the Democrats, how are they ever going to get 270 electoral votes?

They won’t. They can’t. The Tea Party has become the Languatron Party, because they are an embarrassment to those who should be their allies. The GOP frontrunners right now – Cruz, Perry, and Paul – don’t even appeal to everyone in their own party. There’s no way on earth they’ll appeal to independents, let alone Democrats. They’re doomed to go down to a Barry Goldwater-style defeat. Goldwater, like the Tea Party, valued a narrow definition of ideological purity over electoral victory.

I say this dispassionately, as I have come to the conclusion that America is careening toward collapse, and it will get there within the next decade or two regardless of whether the person in the White House has an R or a D next to their name. (Spoiler: it will be a Democrat for the rest of my lifetime.) So I put my faith in God and my community, not in a nation that refuses to fix itself. I therefore feel no loyalty to either party, and as I fatalistically watch the Languatronization of the party that used to matter to me, I feel a mix of resignation and freedom, as I no longer feel duty bound to defend the GOP when it errs, which it does with increasing frequency.

Have a nice day.

Mitt won’t run

I went all in for Mitt in an embarrassing way last time around, and I would vote for him if he ran again. But he isn’t going to run.

I don’t say that as a rhetorical device, or as a tease, or as a temporary sort of condition. (“He’s not running now, but who knows?”) This is a done deal. Mitt Romney will not run for president again.

Period. Full stop.

Yes, there is significant Romney buzz, mainly because the Republicans have no one else. And I confess that, on occasion, I found myself thinking that Mitt could be persuaded. My assessment, until recently, has been that Mitt actually wants to run, but that Ann doesn’t, and so Mitt won’t run in deference to his family. Then I had a conversation with someone who actually knows Mitt and is close enough to understand his thinking.

“The thing you’re missing,” this guy told me, “is how much Mitt hates to lose.”

Apparently, his 1994 Senate loss to Ted Kennedy was absolutely devastating to him. He thought he was going to win, and he came up short. It was the first time in Mitt’s life that he had failed at anything, and he did so publicly in a way that was personally devastating to him. He didn’t dip his toe back into the electoral waters until nearly a decade later when he successfully ran for governor of Massachusetts. And he did that against a weak opponent and with every confidence that he wouldn’t have to lose again.

Then he ran in 2008 and lost. And, once again, it was devastating. On that occasion, it was Ann who persuaded him to pick himself up and get back in the ring again. The thinking was that he had made enough mistakes that he was sure to win in 2012. And he ran that campaign with the full expectation of victory. His pollsters told him he was going to win. His family told him he was going to win. And, of course, I told him he was going to win, which, clearly, was the most important endorsement of all.

And up until election night, he thought he was going to win.

Think about that for a moment. When I doubled down on a Romney victory and dared to defy the wisdom of Nate Silver, everyone told me I was nuts or just plain deluded. And I probably was. But so was Mitt. In spite of it all, he went into Election Day 2012 with the full expectation that he would go to sleep that night as President-Elect of the United States.  And then he lost. And he lost big.  He isn’t willing to expose himself to that again, nor should he.

Because if he runs again, he will assuredly lose.

The Electoral College landscape now makes it next to impossible for any Republican to win the White House, and one that has run and lost isn’t going to be able to leap that impossibly high demographic hurdle. Plus Tea Party types still distrust him, and the Mormon thing is still a lead weight around his shoulders. He has too much baggage to even attempt the leap.

And he knows that now, which is why he won’t run.

People are therefore misinterpreting his ubiquitous presence on the campaign trail now. Mitt wants to be useful, and, to be cynical about it, he doesn’t really have anything else to do. So he has been crowned the kingmaker/elder statesman/great guru of the GOP, and, as my insider friend told me, “that’s not a position he can be fired from.” I’m sure Mitt appreciates the good will and good press as he’s proven right, and he probably enjoys the attention that comes with being entreated.

But if he runs, he will lose. And he hates to lose, so he won’t run.

This message brought to you by the Jacques Cousteau 2016 Campaign Committee.

What It Doesn’t Mean

So Kate Kelly, leader of Ordain Women, has been excommunicated.  If my Facebook newsfeed is any indication, this is a critical turning point in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It apparently represents the stifling of all future dissent, the permanent second-class citizenship of all Mormon women, and very possibly the collapse of the creaky, falling-apart-at-the seams Mormon patriarchy, which resembles the old Soviet Union before the Berlin Wall fell.

But here’s the thing. My Facebook feed isn’t representative of anything, because this doesn’t mean any of those things. Indeed, other than its impact on Kate Kelly herself and her family and friends, it doesn’t mean much of anything at all.

That may be very difficult for some to believe, but this episode is hardly a watershed moment. It has been preceded by similar supposedly watershed moments that most have forgotten. The history of the church is replete with examples of members with a grievance who insisted the church needed to change, and the members were excommunicated, and the church continued unchanged. If Oliver Cowdery didn’t derail the church by leaving, then neither will Kate Kelly.

Please understand my purpose here. I am not rearguing – or even initially arguing – for or against what happened with regard to Kelly’s disciplinary council. There are plenty of other blogs where you can find passionate essays on both sides. I am saying that those who think the church can’t possibly survive this need to take several steps back.

For my part, my steps back were taken as I drove from my home in Sandy, Utah, up to the Pacific Northwest where my in-laws live. I am writing this post safely ensconced in Port Angeles, Washington, far removed from the Wasatch Front echo chamber. When news of Kelly’s fate came online, I said aloud, “So it looks like Kate Kelly has been excommunicated.”

My mother-in-law then asked, “Who’s Kate Kelly?”

As I filled her in, she recalled hearing in passing about Ordain Women’s march on the Conference Center and their attempt to gain admission to the priesthood session. But she had no real opinion on the matter, and she shrugged off the news without a second thought.

Now I recognize I’m being anecdotal here, and it’s silly of me to suggest that somehow my Facebook friends are entirely unrepresentative where my mother-in-law is somehow emblematic of the church at large. But the reality is that most members don’t comb the Bloggernacle on a daily basis and don’t weigh in on Salt Lake Tribune comment threads. (And thank goodness! Trib comment threads on Mormon subjects contain more bile per byte than any other form of online communication.)  Yes, this has gotten some national media attention, but Mitt Romney isn’t running for president anymore, and the news cycle will quickly move on to something else.

This will frustrate and disappoint many, but likely far fewer than Kelly and her closest allies would have you believe. And the vast majority of church members will take little or no notice, and the work will progress. And persecutions may rage, a few mobs may combine, and maybe even some armies may assemble, and more calumny may defame, but the truth of God will still go forth boldly, nobly, and independently until it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear and the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.

I paraphrased that last bit.

But the fact is you either believe that or you don’t. And if you believe that, you’re not going to panic when the expected mobs arrive and the predicted calumny does its defaming. You may be bent out of shape by the fact that fallible people have been tasked with doing the work of the Lord, and that this fallibility comes into focus at times like these. But this work is bigger than you, me, or Kate Kelly. And it will continue with or without us.

Carry on.