I Believe in Angels in the Age of Railways

I take you back to the fall of 1986, where I’m living in a tiny dormitory one the second floor of Marks Hall for Deans Scholars on the campus of the University of Southern California.

Across the hall lived a gaggle of very loud film students, and it was very hard for them to find any privacy, especially in matters of luuuv, if you know what I mean. One guy would constantly bring the phone – pre-cordless era, of course- into the hallway to whisper sweet telecommunicated nothings into his girlfriend’s ear. The problem was that he usually leaned up against my door, which is where my the end of my bed was, along with my head most of the time. So I heard every bit of his often lurid conversations, much to my inexperienced embarrassment.

One night, I heard the conversation proceeding as usual, except every time luuuv matters came up, the person on the other end of the line wanted to change the subject to religion. The guy in the hall was clearly an atheist, and he kept offering up reasons why religion was silly, why the Gospels in the New Testament conflicted with each other and were historically unreliable, and why the idea of all of us descending from a single Adam and Eve from some garden in Africa was absurd on its face. By the time he got to that point, the conversation sounded something like this.

“Oh, you don’t think the Garden of Eden was in Africa, then?”

Pause.

“Well, so where do you think it was?”

Pause.

“Independence, MISSOURI?!!”

Yep. I knew he had a Mormon on the other line.

Mormons actually believe this, and we’re often mocked for it. Except that if you believe the Garden of Eden really existed and was actually a place and not just a metaphor, then why is Jackson County, Missouri any more ridiculous than Addis Ababa or some other far flung location? (If it makes you feel better, we don’t think it was called Independence or Jackson County back then. As far as we know, the Garden of Eden was unincorporated.)

The problem, then, is the idea of what Charles Dickens called “angels in the age of railways.” The distance of antiquity allows people to believe that Moses parted the Red Sea, but the proximity of the now makes it very difficult for people to believe that a modern Moses could part anything but his hair. That kind of silliness is what makes it very easy to make the Mormons look ridiculous in light of modernity, which is one of the reasons why the rancid Book of Mormon musical is such a comedy smash.

I’ve said much about the Book of Mormon musical on this blog – see here and here – but I thought I’d take a moment to get more specific. See, there’s much in the musical that’s offensive to decent people of all faiths – who else wants to sing along to that catchy ditty titled “F@#% You, God?” – but the one song designed to hit Mormons squarely between the eyes is the rousing anthem titled “I Believe,” which is designed to show that all Mormons are gullible idiots who have talked themselves into swallowing angels in the age of the Bullet Train.

The song actually starts off well, with a prologue that parodies The Sound of Music’s “I Have Confidence” with lines like “A warlord who shoots people in the face? What’s so scary about that?” It takes a wrong turn at the chorus, which is where the pseudo-missionary starts listing his catechism of stupidity.

I believe that the Lord God created the universe…

OK,  fine so far.

I believe that He sent His only Son to die for my sins…

Even better! Something to shut the “Mormons aren’t Christians” people up. But then we get to the third-time-pays-for-all punchline…

And I believe that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America…

Hmmm. That’s followed by the all-purpose summation:

I am a Mormon
And a Mormon just believes.

Ha ha! What a silly thing to believe! Golly, them Mormons is a hoot. Do they actually believe this Jews-in-Sailboats stuff? (And haven’t the ever ridden the Monorail at Disneyland?)

Well, here’s the deal. We do believe that, pretty much. (Quibbles: They were Israelites from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, not Jews; they came to the Western Hemisphere, but not the USA specifically.)

So we have three ideas: God creating the heavens and the earth; Jesus suffering and dying for the sins of all humanity, and sailing Jews on the way to Pittsburgh.

One of these things is not like the other.

The first two of those ideas guide my life on a daily basis. Comparatively, and to the extent that it’s true, the third is little more than trivia. Of course, the structure of the song gets a huge laugh by implying that Idea #3 is at least as important, if not more so, than Ideas 1 and 2.

You can make any faith look ridiculous using the same formula.

Consider this one:

I believe that the Lord God created the universe
And I believe that one day the Messiah will come to deliver us
And I believe that one day’s supply of oil fueled eight day’s worth of lamps and therefore guided the Maccabees to a military victory…
I am a Hebrew
And Hebrews just believe.

Ha ha! Those zany, kooky Jewish folk! (It also works with Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists – the whole enchilada. It’s especially effective with Scientologists. Just toss a reference to Xenu in there. Comedy gold!)

The song then tells us that “You cannot just believe part way/You have to believe in it all.” Again, the implication is that we not only have to believe all this nonsense, we have to believe it without perspective or emphasis. We ought to spend at least as much time thinking and talking about ancient Semitic sailboats as we do about Christ’s sacrifice.

But we don’t. From my point of view, we’re the only ones who approach this religion thing with consistency. We believe that God existed before railways, and that He still exists afterward. We believe that in all years of time, He interacts with His children and never leaves him alone.  If that makes me a target for mockery, the same way it did to the folks in the pre-railway age, then I’m in good company.

(There’s more of the song to pick apart, but I’m about to fall asleep. So consider this one of those two-part, “To Be Continued” sort of dealies…)

Here Come the Republicans. (*sigh*)

Yes, I’ve watched the Republican debates. Yes, I have strong opinions about them. Yes, I’ll write about them. Don’t rush me.

I don’t know why I’m so reticent to talk about Election 2012. It’s not that I hate the non-Huntsman candidates – it’s just that I have absolutely no enthusiasm for them. Nothing in these debates has changed that. I find I’m rooting for Romney, so I must still be a Romney guy. I do think he’d make the most competent president, but that’s hardly the fire in the belly that creates the do-or-die loyalty to stirs men’s souls. (Vote Romney! He’s competent!)

So let’s start at the bottom, shall we?

Every time Little Jonny Huntsman opens his mouth, I want to throw something at the TV screen. Our erstwhile governor touts his jobs record and his state’s accomplishments as if he actually noticed such things were happening at the time. In fact, Jon Huntsman all but ignored the business of his office and abandoned Utah at the first opportunity. (In his defense, he’s a great example of what people can accomplish when their governor gets out of their way.) When he touts his “private sector” experience, I wonder of he’s speaking of his work at Marie Callendars when he was in high school, because that’s the last real job he’s had. He was appointed to be ambassador to Singapore in his twenties, and his very rich pop got him appointed to a string of equally meaningless positions until he ran for governor in 2004 and won on the basis of his father’s name.

On Monday night, when he called Rick Perry a traitor because he thought a massive fence along the border was an unworkable idea, it was delightful to watch the paranoid smile that crept over his face as the audience booed him. This man reeks of entitlement, and I have to admit that it’s kind of fun to see him getting his teeth kicked in for the very first time.

Ron Paul is a colossal embarrassment. When he’s talking about subjects unrelated to Federal Reserve conspiracies or the sins of the United States, he’s actually refreshingly blunt and almost reasonable. His response to Wolf Blitzer about charitable health care was thoughtful and inspired. But when he starts questioning Israel’s right to exist and regurgitates Bin Laden talking points about the cause of 9/11, you have to wonder who let this guy loose to mingle with actual people.

Speaking of which, is there a non-laughable reason they let Rick Santorum continue to participate in these debates? He’s earnest and heartfelt, but he’s just extra noise, and the time he sucks up would be better spent hearing from people who actually have a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected president of the United States.

Herman Cain is just extra noise, too, but his noise is more fun to listen to than Santorum’s is. He’s got no shot at all, but he’s honest and funny. He reminds me of Morry Taylor, another rich dude who didn’t realize that America isn’t willing to use the presidency as an entry-level position into politics. (If you said “who?” when you read the name Morry Taylor, keep in mind that that’s exactly what everyone will say in two years when you say the name Herman Cain.)

Then we get to Newt Gingrich.

Alas, Newt makes the most cogent points, the most reasoned arguments, and the strongest case against Obama. If I were coming in from Mars and didn’t know that Newt had served divorce papers to his wife while she was dying of cancer, and that he’d been having an affair with his soon-to-be third wife while he was criticizing Clinton for the Lewinsky mess, he would be my guy, hands down. He’s easily the smartest guy in the stage, and he might actually have had a shot if he’d kept it in his pants.

I’m told Michelle Bachmann is a nutjob. She may very well be a nutjob, and, like Mary Kaye Huntsman, she’s married to a self-loathing, closeted gay man. She’s said really stupid things on the campaign trail – Hooray! I was born in the same town as a serial killer! – but she keeps her own nuttiness in the closet in these debates, and I find myself not despising her. Her attack on Rick Perry for forcing dangerous cervical cancer inoculations on 12-year-old girls was far more powerful and heartfelt than Romney’s cynical attempts to do the same. Perry has essentially coopted her Tea Party support and removed any reason for her candidacy, but I don’t resent seeing her on the stage in her long-shot attempt to undermine Rick Perry’s inexplicable lead.

Which brings us to Mr. Perry.

I honestly don’t get it.

So this is the Tea Party darling. Why?  He took a number of very reasonable positions in the Tea Party debate that should tick off the loons. His immigration stance isn’t nearly screwball enough to satisfy the TPers, and when he had an opening to stick the knife in Romney for Massachusetts health care, he refused to take it. I actually found myself in the awkward position of agreeing with him more than almost anyone else and yet loathing him more than any of the candidates except the two bottom feeders. (In case you’ve forgotten, that would be Huntsman and Paul.)

Why? Is it because I’m so loyal to Romney that I viscerally despise the guy who may take the nomination from him?

Well, maybe. But one of the things that is so frustrating is to see how unprepared Perry seems on most of the issues. He’ll say things that are relatively reasonable, but he sounds as if he’s just thinking about them for the first time. He’s timid; he’s clumsy; he’s strangely low-key. And yet he manages to display his lack of preparation with an arrogant swagger that I find extremely off-putting. Mr. Perry, what right do you have to act so sure of yourself when you’re clearly not so sure of yourself? (Mrs. Cornell, incidentally, quite likes Mr. Perry and thinks I’m just jealous that I don’t look as good in cowboy boots.)

And then there’s Mitt. He’s a much better candidate this time around, and he has yet to be caught flat-footed by anyone. He gives as good as he gets, and he even manages to fake looking passionate about it. I just wish I believed that he believed in anything.

So, as of now, I’d be willing to vote for any of the top six candidates before I’d vote for Obama, who I view as a well-intentioned but failed president. I have no real enthusiasm for any of these folks, which makes election season far less fun. However, in the event that either Paul or Little Jonny secures the nomination, I will spend the next year and a half as a full-time, rabidly enthusiastic, unpaid volunteer for the Obama reelection campaign.

Post 9/11 Pettiness

Two days before 9/11/11, I posted the following Facebook status update:

“As 9/11’s 10th anniversary approaches, I find I’m one of maybe six total Americans who misses George W. Bush.”

I received a number of responses. Some sounded like this:
“I hope I’m at least #7…”
“I’m one of the 4 that love him.”
“Loved him.”
“I miss him – I could always feel his strength.”

Yet such comments were balanced by the following:

“try therapy”
“Ew.”
“I’m going to be sick.”
“worst. president. ever.”
And, my favorite:
“George W. Douche”

I got the message. People either love or hate him. That was true when he was in office, and it’s true now. If anything, opinions about Bush have become more polarized since he left office. I doubt that will change much, at least in my lifetime. I do believe, perhaps naively, that history will make a Truman out of him, and his tenacity in the face of public opprobrium will be vindicated. But that probably won’t happen for decades, long after he’s dead.

What bothers me is the attempt to use 9/11 commemorations to excoriate him.

This was not the case in every or even most instances. In an earlier 9/11 blog entry, I lamented that we seemed to be forgetting 9/11. The tenth anniversary of that event proved me wrong. For the most part, I was impressed and deeply moved by the outpouring of love and unity we saw two days ago, along with the renewed, steely resolve to never forget.

For the most part.

Then I flipped open the Salt Lake Tribune and saw this Pat Bagley cartoon:


The whole thing is a snarling indictment of Bush, with a Vader-esque Dick Cheney head in the center, positioned over the caption “torture” and “lies.” It covers all the standard anti-Bush tropes (the “Mission Accomplished” banner, etc.), but for good measure, it tosses in reference to the collapse of Lehman Brothers and Enron, which, as far as I can tell, have nothing at all to do with 9/11, but have plenty to do with people who blame George W. Bush for everything that has ever gone wrong in the world.

And then I read the vile Paul Krugman piece that prompted Donald Rumsfeld to cancel his New York Times subscription. I quote in part:

Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons…The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.

I smell a really putrid trend.

Please understand my point here. I have no desire to re-argue the Iraq War or Guantanamo or “tax cuts for the rich” in the comments section. My positions on all those subjects are here on this blog, and you can reread them if you like. The fact remains that I believe George W. Bush was a fine president and a great man. Such a belief may enrage, embarrass, or even sicken you. So be it. I’ve given a lot of thought to this, and, despite what arguments you may offer, neither your nor my position is likely to change as a result. In any case, I’m not concerned with the vindication of Bush so much as protecting 9/11 from the corrupting bile of partisan politics.

Those who saw the anniversary as an opportunity to bash Bush for supposedly using 9/11 to further an unrelated agenda were the first in line to do precisely that themselves. Krugman, Bagley, and their ilk are eager to co-opt the grieving of a nation to further a blatantly political narrative. Is that the best way to honor those who lost their lives on 9/11? Do we really want to replace “Never Forget” with “It’s all Bush’s fault?”

To use 9/11 as a political football is to diminish the sacrifice of the thousands who lost their lives, including those who gave their lives willingly to rescue others. 9/11 was a watershed for millions, a stark, vivid reminder that all of us are in this together, and what unites us not just as Americans but as people is far greater than what divides us.

If partisan bashing is more important to you than that is, then I think your personal worldview is far smaller and pettier than it ought to be.

The Non-Partisan World

Here’s a puzzler for you. Suppose you lived in a world that was identical to this one except for one key difference. In this other world, there is a magical button you could push that would spur economic growth to 10%, bring the country to full employment, and, for good measure, eliminate the federal deficit.

If such a world were our world, is there really any question that Barack Obama would push that button?

Well, according to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the Tea Party denizens, Obama is deliberately destroying the American economy in order to pave the way for a socialist utopia. In that world, our pinko prez would defiantly leave the button unpushed as he rewired the economy with something redder. Tea Partiers insist that Obama has walled off the button behind an electric fence, and that he’ll eagerly zap anyone who tries to get near it.

Yet in fact, people of both parties continue to act as if we live in Button World. Leftists insist that George W. Bush broke the button on his way out of town, much the way petulant Clinton staffers peeled off the Ws on all the White House keyboards.

Both groups are comprised almost entirely of idiots.

As I bravely announced on this very blog with Stallionic Axiom #1,the economy of the United States is not a product of the government of the United States. If it were, and Obama could push the Fix It Button and solidify his own increasingly slim chances for reelection, he would push it in a heartbeat. And those who blame Bush for all of this cannot credibly cite a single one of Bush’s policies that threw us into this ditch.

“Oh, no, Stallion? What about his tax cuts for the rich? And trillions of dollars for unnecessary wars? Huh? HUH?!!”

Well, what about them? Tax cuts do many things, but one thing they don’t do is slow economic growth. You can argue that tax cuts are responsible for our deficits – which isn’t nearly as clear cut a proposition as the Bush haters believe – but people of both parties are confusing deficits with a bad economy. Remember our pal Ronald Reagan? Tax-cutting Ronald Reagan? Master of record deficits concurrent with record economic growth?

Deficits and a bad economy are two very, very different things.

For instance, how can you possibly make the case that a trillion dollars spent by the government on defense destroys the economy, but a trillion dollars of government spending crammed into a “stimulus package” is the way to save the economy? Anyone remember a little thing called “World War II?” From what I hear, it was a very expensive war. Cost a lot of scratch. It resulted in gargantuan deficits. It also finally brought an end to the Great Depression.

The Right is forgetting that, too. All the Tea Party is doing is screaming about record spending – without providing any workable blueprint to tame it. But even if they were to tame it, the austerity measures required would significantly add to unemployment, not decrease it. We would likely see slower economic growth or more recession and more pain. How popular would the Republicans really be if they succeeded in balancing the budget at the cost of a 15% or higher unemployment rate?

Here’s the skinny, folks. People are partisan, and too many of them look at the world through partisan lenses, refusing to concede any integrity in their opponents and looking to blame them for everything from hay fever and stretch marks. But the reality is that the big, bad, cruel world isn’t remotely partisan. This period of economic distress will end according to the timetable set by factors that won’t synchronize themselves conveniently to coincide with the next election. Bush couldn’t have done this if he’d tried, and Obama, despite all his flailing, can’t fix it, either. So you can push the button all you want, but the green light and the “walk” sign aren’t going to come on any faster.

Imagining

So it’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and I have nothing profound to say. I’ve already said marginally profound things on this subject here and here, and the Internet and the media are full of tributes and remembrances, so I thought I’d take a different tack in my approach today.

One of my memories, post 9/11, was a telethonesque attempt by celebrities to raise money for the victims. I remember, even then, thinking that the post 9/11 unity that everyone was so excited about was wafer thin. The vast majority of America wanted us to fight back, and fight back hard, but America’s celebrities disagreed from the outset. I remember Michael Stipe, lead singer of R.E.M., pleading for a nonviolent response so as not to extend the “circle of hate,” or some such crap. It wasn’t long after that singer Sheryl Crow wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “War Is Not The Answer” and said the best way to avoid war is to not have enemies. (I loved Ann Coulter’s response to that one when she said something along the lines of “we won’t have enemies, because we’re going to kill them.”)

I recall, however, the most rancid response to 9/11 on that telethon was when Neil Young took to the piano and sang a solemn version of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

This brings me to my thesis for the day, which is that “Imagine” is a truly foul little ditty.

Cosmetically, the recording is bland and amateurish, with the “highlight” being John Lennon’s limp, mopey lead vocal. What happened to that distinctive nasal bite that was the hallmark of so many of the Fab Four’s hits? It disappears in all of Lennon’s solo recordings. He performs with zero energy, as if he’s singing the song in a rest home to geezers falling asleep face first in their soup.

But the delivery isn’t the real problem. It’s the philosophy that reeks.

“Imagine there’s no heaven,” he begins, and, already, we’re off to a bad start. “It’s easy if you try,” he tells us, and he’s right. If you look at crippling poverty and cruelty and natural disasters and disease and bullies and dog poop and sharks and those little bugs from The Wrath of Khan that crawl into your ears and take over your brain, you can easily envision that the world has no divine guidance, that all evil will go unredressed, that life is nasty, brutish, and short, as well as pointless, and that nothing you think, say, or do matters, now and forever.

Lennon sings about “no hell below us,” which means people need not fear if they do truly reprehensible things. “Above us only sky,” he says. “Imagine all the people living for today.” You mean I don’t have to worry about tomorrow’s consequences, because there won’t be any?

All right. I’m imagining it, and it ain’t pretty.

See, imagining that there IS a heaven allows many to deal with the injustices of mortality, and it makes for better people and a better world. Yes, you have 9/11 zealots who imagine a heaven filled with 72 virgins if they kill infidels, and that’s a bad thing. But eliminating heaven altogether will mean that people will have no check on their cruelty. As the philosopher once said, “If God is dead, everything is permitted.” So instead of waiting for heavenly virgins, these creeps will have to defile 72 people here on Earth, because they’re living for today. That’s life with no heaven or hell. That’s life with no God. Imagine that.

“Imagine there’s no countries,” Lennon continues. OK. I’m doing it. All right, that’s not so bad. “It isn’t hard to do,” he says. I suppose it isn’t. Maybe we’re getting somewhere.

Oh, wait, Here comes the next two lines. “Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion, too.”

Aargh. We’re back to godlessness again. And why would it be great to have “nothing to kill or die for?” I’d both kill and/or die for my family, for instance, because I love them that intently. I hope I have to do neither, but I’d be more than willing to do so if it were necessary. Having “nothing to kill or die for” means you’re living a life devoid of the meaning necessary to make it worthwhile. That’s not a pleasant thing to imagine.

But then he asks us to “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” Why would a purposeless, godless life be a peaceful one? I’m remembering living through the looting in the L.A. Riots back in ’92. Lots of people there had nothing to kill or die for, and they certainly weren’t bound by the moral strictures of religion, so they were more than happy to rip off television sets and set fire to other people’s businesses.

Ah, but Lennon addresses that in the third verse. “Imagine no possessions,” he tells us. “I wonder if you can.”

Yes, I can. It’s called “poverty.” But no, Lennon insists, that’s not what he means. “No need for greed or hunger,” he claims. “A brotherhood of man.”

I’ve had an ongoing debate about this with my Esteemed Colleague, who has taken to Soviet-style Communism as the answer to all of life’s inequities and problems. Lennon seems to be agreeing with him here – in fact, one might retitle this little jingle as Lennon’s “Ode to Communism.”

Well, it might surprise you to learn that I agree with the underlying premise of what Lennon sings when he asks us to “imagine all the people sharing all the world.” I follow a faith that believes in the principles of Zion, which is described as follows in the scriptures:

And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. – Moses 7:18

Yep! I’m a commie, too, I guess. Except note that one clause in there about how they “dwelt in righteousness.” How does one dwell in righteousness if one rejects God? See, to reach the ends that Lennon and I both agree would be truly nifty, one has to reconsider the means. Lennon thinks rejection of God is the route to Zion, and I think exactly the opposite. Considering my options, I like what I’m imagining a whole lot better.

Now, you may say I’m a dreamer. But, as it turns out, I’m not the only one. So I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one, and we won’t have to listen to John Lennon whine through “Imagine” ever, ever again.

Moe No Mo’

(Happy Birthday to my twin sisters!)

So last Saturday night, I went with my parents, my aunt, and my three boys to the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. (Mrs. Cornell stayed home with the girls, who were either sick or uninterested.) It was a lot of fun, but I couldn’t help wondering why this was considered such a highbrow, cultured sort of event requiring non-profit status. Storytelling is, essentially, stand-up comedy. albeit squeaky clean, outdoors, and somewhat NPRish. None of the storytellers were under 50 years old, and some were considerably older. Maybe storytelling is where the stand-ups go to die.

Anyway, it was thoroughly delightful. We heard stories about Boy Scouts getting in trouble for sneaking off with Girl Scouts, about how George Washington was really a ukelele player who used to shout “Red Hot Mama” at inopportune times, about how Maine is different from Brazil, about how a woman was freaked out as a kid when her dad read her “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe, and about a retiree who accidentally walked into a hotel swimming pool with his clothes on. The only one that qualified as “storytelling,” as far as I could tell, was a woman telling a male version of Cinderella with a hideous Irish accent.

The best guy came last, of course. Named Kevin Kling, he had been in a motorcycle accident and had no use of his right arm and limited use of his left. But holy living crap, the guy was funny. He told the story of running a marathon, and how after he hit “the wall,” he discovered that the hormones that gave him his “second wind” released a flood of auto-eroticism, and “suddenly, everyone was really, really good looking.” He finished with a truly inspiring poem called “Tickled Pink,” which I have tried, and failed, to find online.

All of that, however, is merely prelude.

When it was over, my boys were cold and tired. Thus we left my parents behind and walked briskly so we could get to the car and bring it around for them. On the way, I fell into step next to a familiar face, who was chatting pleasantly with his wife.

It was Moe.

Unless you’ve been reading from the beginning and remember everything you’ve ever read here, you may not recall who Moe is. Moe is not his real name – it was a code name I used in this 2007 blog post describing how much this man well and truly hated me. As of 2007, his hate was still current and intense, beyond the despisal of any rational person. In the intervening years, I had always wondered what would happen if the two of us ever came face to face.

Now I was about to find out.

I had a choice, though. I could have just kept walking. I could have pretended not to see him. After all, he still hadn’t seen me. But curiosity got the better of me.

“You’re Moe,” I said, and he and his wife turned to face me. “It’s me, Stallion.” (Again: Code names are being employed here, both for me and for Moe. I actually called them by their last names to include Mrs. Moe. But if I’d written “you’re the Moes,” you wouldn’t have known what I was talking about.)

If Moe was startled or disturbed, he didn’t show it. He immediately broke into a large smile, as did his wife, and we began chatting like old pals, or at least like old acquaintances that had very little to say to one another. Mrs. Moe, for her part, seemed genuinely happy to see me. Moe himself was harder to read. He had this large, plastic smile on his face, but, then again, he always has a large, plastic smile on his face. I don’t think I was a brilliant conversationalist, as my mind was in a different place.

“This is Moe,” I kept thinking to myself. “He wants to kill me, and here we are, chatting like old pals – or at least like old acquaintances, yada yada yada.”

Imagining the situation in my mind in the years prior to this event, I wondered how I would react. I wondered if I would have the urge to punch him in the face or tell him off or do something to get even. I had no such urge. It was surreal, as if I were standing outside my own body, judging my behavior. “Good for you,” I kept telling myself. “You’re being such a big man about this! Aren’t you proud of yourself?”

That may be why I stumbled in an attempt to answer simple questions. I can’t know for sure, but they may now think that Mrs. Cornell is dead, as I had no coherent explanation for her absence, and as I tried to explain my employment situation to them, I may have left out some necessary verbs.

I was too distracted; I just wasn’t paying attention. I just couldn’t get over how much this man didn’t matter to me anymore.

I found this instructive, because I grew up admiring people who could say, “I don’t care what other people think of me.” Because I certainly cared what other people thought of me. And, regardless of this moment, I still do. I think everyone does. Nobody likes to be disliked, and having people think well of you is very helpful in business and in pleasure. Of course I care.

Where I’ve changed, I think, is in my unwillingness to be defined by what other people think of me.

When Moe wrote me that letter, I was devastated. Because if someone like Moe thought I was evil, maybe I was evil. The only way not to be evil was to get Moe to think better of me. Without thinking, I handed him the keys to my soul so he could drive it into a ditch.

Today, I can say that it would be nice if Moe didn’t hate me, but if he does, that’s his problem, not mine. I’m not a perfect guy, but I’m not the devil Moe thinks I am. Finally, I know myself well enough to trust my own opinion of me more than Moe’s. In any case, barring physical violence that I don’t think is in Moe’s character, he has already done everything he can possibly do to hurt me. He’s shot his wad of cruelty.

So all that’s left is surreal, polite conversation on the way to the car.

Don’t Fear the Reboot

DC Comics has erased almost 75 years of continuity and rebooted all the storylines in all of their superhero comic books. Last week, they released Justice League #1, which featured a story where Green Lantern meets Batman and discovers that he’s just a “guy in a freakin’ bat suit? Are you freakin’ KIDDIN’ ME?” In the story, both Batman and Green Lantern seem about 22 years old, and they meet Superman in the last panel, who looks about 15.

This initially ticked me off. But now consider me unticked.

Long ago, I wrote about how comic books bugged me – you can read the post here – because they’re all running on a treadmill. No one ages; everyone who dies comes back within a year or two; nothing really changes. It wasn’t until I read this article that I realized that, rather than being an annoying anomaly, the constancy of these characters is what makes them work, and even a reboot can’t really change them.

As the guy from Houston said:

No DC reboot is going to do something like resurrect Batman’s parents. Or if they try it, it will only be temporary. Why? Because the death of his parents is Batman’s story. It is integral to who he is and who he becomes. By changing that, you make him no longer Batman, and the world wants us a freakin’ Batman.

Consider the post-Christopher Reeve attempts to reboot the Superman movie series. Prior to the abysmal Superman Returns, which continued/remade the original movie with strangely tepid results, several directors and scripts were proposed, including a weird Tim Burton/Nick Cage collaboration that gratefully never saw the light of day. (Come on. Who wants to see Superman wearing a toup?)

The one script that attracted the most attention/vitriol was one by wunderkind J.J. Abrams, the man who would later be responsible for the ingenious Star Trek reboot. The problem was that the script severely monkeyed with the Superman mythos. To begin with, Krypton didn’t explode, and Superman’s alien parents were still alive. Second, Lex Luthor was a Kryptonian, too – there’s a big aerial battle between Lex and Supes at the end of the flick. (Can you imagine Nick Cage in a Supes toup battling a bald dude? So wrong. SO wrong.) Much of the rest of the script was well done, but purists couldn’t get past the blasphemy of an intact Krypton and a SuperLuthor. Superman is too iconic for any Johnny-come-lately to start rewriting his history.

The Spider-Man movies are getting rebooted, too, and many are complaining, because two of the three preceding films were outstanding, and they weren’t made that long ago. But the third movie was dreadful, and it left the characters with no place to go. So as long as the reboot is true to what Spider-Man is, it will be a welcome addition to the character’s rich history.

(As a Spider-Manic side note, I’m convinced that one of the primary problems with the troubled Spider-Man musical was that the director and the writers had no respect for the world of Spider-Man, and they tried to co-opt the character for their own artsy purposes, including focusing the story on Arachne, an ancient Greek mythological figure, instead of Peter Parker. What they didn’t realize is that, while they had the legal rights to the character, they didn’t really own him. He is too ingrained in the public consciousness; he can’t be rewritten.)

It’s also important to note that no one complains about reboots when the originals go awry. People welcomed the Batman movie despite the fact, or perhaps because of the fact, that it completely ignored the campy Adam West Batman series. And when the movie series fell apart with Batman and Robin, the Batman Begins reboot was hailed as a work of genius. These characters are truly icons, and the problem isn’t that they appear in multiple iterations. The only question that matters is whether or not the new iteration is any good.

So far, with Justice League #1, the jury’s still out. But I’m interested enough to pick up a copy of Justice League #2.

If I Ever Lose My Faith In You

I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith. – Book of Mormon, Ether 12:27

Every year since the beginning of time, the extended Cornell family attends Aspen Grove Family Camp up in Provo Canyon. Being morbidly afraid of heights, I spent years avoiding Aspen Grove’s massive ropes course, where you climb up into the trees and walk around on metal wires that are about thirty feet above the ground. You’re attached to belay lines and are perfectly safe, but even though I mentally understood that, that didn’t keep my legs from wobbling like jelly with every step I took when I finally tried the thing. It wasn’t until I actually fell and the belay mechanisms caught me that I got a feel for just how safe I was, and I was able to move forward in a terror-free manner.

That’s the experience that gave me a hands-on practical lesson in faith.

The reason, for instance, that we “receive no witness until after the trial of [our] faith” is not because God is refusing to let us in on His secrets. The truth is that that’s the way faith works. No matter how much one of those nice Aspen Grove staffers were to describe to me the safety features of the helmets and the ropes and the carabiners – I dig the word “carabiner” – it wasn’t until I actually tested the stuff for myself that I was able to develop the faith and confidence to rely on them.

“Faith,” therefore, is not synonymous with “belief,” or passive intellectual assent. Intellectually, I believed I was safe from the first moment. But my negligible faith – my willingness and confidence to act on that belief – didn’t gain strength until after it had been tried.

There has been much conversation about faith in the comments on this blog. Caleb claimed that faith is “belief in something for which there is no evidence.” No_Spam insists that only believers in the supernatural exercise faith, and that atheists are faith-free. With all due respect to these two very bright folks, I submit that neither assertion is true.

The title of this post is taken from a song by Sting where he renounces his faith in everything but the person to whom he’s singing, presumably a friend or a lover. In order to have faith in that friend, Sting has had to have experience with them, and he likely has plentiful evidence that the person is reliable. Most of us only exercise faith in people or institutions where such evidence already exists. We deposit our money in reputable banks because we have faith that our savings will be safe there. We don’t deposit money in JoJo The Monkey Boy’s Savings, Loan, and Bait Shop because the evidence suggests that it might not be there for us when we come back to get it.

Notice that in each instance, no supernatural entity is involved. Every action we take in every aspect of our life is an act of faith. So when atheists proclaim that people of faith are imbeciles and that they, the enlightened atheists, are beyond such primitive notions, pardon me for getting skeptical.

Take, for instance, our pal and presidential candidate Trust Fund Jonny “Am-I-Still-A-Mormon?-That’s-Hard-To-Define” Huntsman. Columnist George Will mocked my eminently mockable former governor for tweeting, “”I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

George Will’s response: “Call you sarcastic. In the 1970s, would you have trusted scientists predicting calamity from global cooling?”

The answer, at least in Jonny’s case, is almost certainly yes. And guess what? Science would have led him astray, and his faith would have been misplaced. How, then, would he be any less wrong than some religious kook praying to a statue of a man with a wolf’s head? Faith in junk science may have a more respectable veneer these days, but it’s just as wrong as the silliest of cult beliefs. Indeed, science’s track record on doomsday predictions has been not just wrong, but ridiculously wrong. Yet Jonny Huntsman, Al Gore, and their like-minded brethren insist that all those who disbelieve this latest attempt at science crying wolf are heretics, blasphemers, “deniers.” They insist we adopt the tenets of their unproven faith at an astronomical societal cost. Why is my faith more ridiculous than theirs is? Furthermore, I’m not trying to enforce Mormonism at the end of a gun. So why should they be able to inflict their faith on me with the full power of the government to enforce orthodoxy?

Faith is not simply a religious principle. If you don’t have faith in God, then you have faith in something else. Militant atheists a la Richard Dawkins have enough faith in Darwinian processes that they insist random chance could have created the majesty of the universe. On that count, I remain a skeptic. I am, however, quite grateful for the chance to bash atheism, global warming, and Jon Huntsman in a single blog post.

How to Write a Superhero Movie

Once there was this guy.

He’s a good guy. But he just wants to be an ordinary guy. But then something extraordinary happened, and now he can do stuff that no other guy can do. He’s not sure what to do with his new abilities, but there’s this girl he likes, and she won’t give him the time of day.

But when a crisis forces him to make his debut and show off, the girl falls for him. In the meantime, there’s a bad guy who can also do amazing stuff, and he hates the good guy.

So the bad guy shows up and almost ruins everything before the guy can take care of the bad guy once and for all, and he and the girl usually end up smooching.

I say “usually” because there are slight variations on this theme, which was established with the first Superman movie and has been duplicated by every other non-sequel superhero movie ever made. (See Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Superman Returns, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Green Lantern, et al.)

Look how easy it is.

Once there was Clark Kent/Bruce Wayne/Peter Parker/Logan/Clark Kent again/Bruce Banner/Reed Richards/Tony Stark/Steve Rogers/Thor/Hal Jordan.

CK/BW/PP/L/CKa/BB/RR/TS/SR/T/HJ is a good guy. He just wants to be an average Kryptonian/guy with parents/regular teenager who doesn’t look like a geek/amnesiac mutant that no one notices/guy who gets his old girlfriend back/guy who doesn’t turn green/scientist who doesn’t stretch/playboy with cash/volunteer in WWII/prince like he was since the day he was born/fighter pilot. But then he is rocketed to earth/orphaned in a mugging/bitten by a genetically enhanced spider/abducted by bad mutants and rescued by Professor X/confronted with his girl and his bastard son dating some other dude/irradiated/blasted with cosmic rays/abducted by terrorists and forced to make a supersuit/enlisted in a supersecret government super soldier program/banished to earth/given a green ring from a purple dude, and now he can do pretty much anything/focus his desire for revenge into building weapons and abilities to combat crime/spin a web any size/reclaim his rightful destiny as earth’s greatest hero/turn big, green, and illiterate when he gets mad/stretch himself like silly putty/win wars in his own metal suit/achieve physical perfection and use an indestructible shield/protect Earth from Asgardian terrorists/make giant hot wheels racetracks out of green energy. He’s not sure what to do with his new abilities, but there’s this girl he likes named Lois Lane/Vicki Vale/Mary Jane Watson/Jean Grey/Lois Lane with a bastard child/Betty Ross/Sue Storm/Pepper Potts/Peggy Carter/Jane Foster/Carol Ferris, and she won’t give him the time of day.

But when Lois’ helicopter is about to crash/Mary Jane is being beaten up by thugs/bad mutants attack a train station/Lois’ jet is about to crash/the military attacks him at Betty’s college/the Brooklyn Bridge collapses/his weapons show up in the Middle East/the Red Skull kidnaps his fellow soldiers/his hammer is sealed off by government hacks/a helicopter is about to crash on Carol Ferris’ head and CK/BW/PP/L/CKa/BB/RR/TS/SR/T/HJ is forced to make his debut and show off, LL/VV/MJW/JG and/or Rogue/LL w/bastard/BR/SS/PP/PC/JF/CF falls for him. In the meantime, there’s a bad guy named Lex Luthor/The Joker/The Green Goblin/Magneto/Kevin Spacey LL/Abomination/Dr. Doom/Obadiah Stane/Red Skull/Loki/Hector Hammond who detonate nuclear bombs on two ends of the country/poison Gotham City via makeup/blow things up with pumpkin bombs/move metal with his mind/make crystal continents out of kryptonite/hulk out on his own/zap stuff/build his own killer suit/harness the power of the ancient gods/use his own ancient god power/move things with he brain, and he hates CK/BW/PP/L/CKa/BB/RR/TS/SR/T/HJ.

So LL/J/GG/M/KSLL/A/DD/OS/RS/L/HH shows up and puts a kryptonite necklace on Supes/shoots the BatPlane out of the sky/kidnaps Mary Jane/tries to turn heads of states into mutants/stabs Supes with kryptonite/pounds the Hulk in the middle of NYC/deThings the Thing so he can kill Reed Richards/rips out Tony Stark’s artificial heart/beats up Cap in a flying boat/sends a robot to kill Thor and his pals/steals Hal’s ring and almost kills his girl, which almost ruins everything before the guy can stop the bombs from landing and turn time backwards/punch the Joker on the top of a bell tower/get the Green Goblin to kill himself/stop the mutation of world leaders/lift a kryptonite contient and dump it into the ocean/hulk out even more than the other guy/freeze Dr. Doom and put him on a freighter to Latveria/fry Obadiah’s new suit/steal the flying boat and dump the Red Skull/retake his ring, which takes care of LL/J/GG/M/KSLL/A/DD/OS/RS/L/HH once and for all, and CK/BW/PP/L/CKa/BB/RR/TS/SR/T/HJ and LL/VV/MJW/JG and/or Rogue/LL w/bastard/BR/SS/PP/PC/JF/CF end up smooching, except in the case of Clark and Lois /Tony and Pepper/Logan and jean, who wait until the sequel to smooch, and Cap and Peggy, who miss their smooch because Cap has been frozen for seven decades.

Ta da!

The movies that succeed are the ones who know the formula but still have fun with it. But the ones that don’t – i.e. Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four, the ghastly Green Lantern movie – slavishly connect the dots and give us the same crap we’ve seen over and over again. It’s not enough just to be a superhero movie; you have to be a GOOD superhero movie. Otherwise, I can just use the outline I’ve written and make up my own flick in my brain.

You should see the Aquaman movie I’ve got running in my head.

Sufficient Evidence

“Behold, if they will not believe my words, they would not believe you, my servant Joseph, if it were possible that you should show them all these things which I have committed unto you.” – Doctrine and Covenants 5:7

I recall a very frustrating conversation with an O.J. Simpson supporter. I was mounting a very credible case based on the voluminous evidence, and she was rejecting all of it out of hand. That was planted, she would say. He was framed, she would say. Just because he abused his wife doesn’t mean he killed her, she would say. And on and on it went. Finally, I pointed out that the blood found at the scene was conclusively proven by DNA tests to have belonged to the notorious Mr. Simpson. I told her there was less than a one in one billion chance the DNA belonged to somebody else.

Her response was, “Well, I sure wouldn’t want to be that one in a billion!”

In her mind, there were only two possibilities: O.J. was innocent, or else more information was needed.

You see this kind of nonsense in politics all the time. Back in 2004, Keith Olbermann was absolutely convinced that George W. Bush had stolen the presidential election in Ohio. He cited the exit polls, which showed John Kerry winning by a sizable margin, and claimed that the makers of the voting machines were far too cozy with Republicans. When it became very clear that the exit polls were flawed and that the voting machines had not been tampered with, our fearless Keithie still refused to give up the fight. In his mind, either George W. Bush had stolen the election, or more information was needed.

As a young Mormon missionary, I still discovered that just about everyone takes this stand with regard to their religious beliefs, or lack thereof. If you doubt that, try and think what it would take to make an atheist believe in God. What if an angel came down from heaven and told you there was a God? Well, how do I know it’s really an angel? Such things can be faked. I’ve seen Fantasmic at Disneyland – that sure looks like a divine manifestation. How do I know I’m not hallucinating? You know, the Bible says the devil can appear as angel of light. And on and on and on…

The scriptures are replete with stories of tremendous signs and wonders doing absolutely nothing to convince people of the realities of God. Pharaoh continually hardened his heart despite the amazing things Moses was able to do. The Children of Israel saw manna fall from heaven and still whined like little girls whenever something went wrong. The Book of Mormon has plenty of examples, too. Laman and Lemuel start complaining just moments after an angel appears to them. Unbelievers who see the signs of Christ’s coming gradually become “less and less astonished” as they become inundated with irrefutable proof of Christ’s coming. For too many people, either there is no God, or else more information is needed.

So the words told to Joseph Smith in the verse at the beginning of the page are absolutely true. Would the world accept Mormonism en masse if the Golden Plates were on display at the Salt Lake Temple Visitor’s Center? Well, we’ve already found Nahom, a Book of Mormon site mentioned in 1 Nephi 16:34 which nobody writing in the 19th Century could possibly have known about. Why aren’t people lining up to be baptized? Because facts that don’t gibe with deep personal convictions are either rationalized away or dismissed out of hand. Believers do it, too. When confronted with the famous “Salamander Letter” that stated Joseph Smith first claimed Moroni was not an angel but rather a lizard, members of the church didn’t leave in droves. For the believers, either the Book of Mormon was true, or more information was needed. (In this case, the “more information” came soon after and proved that the Salamander Letter was a forgery courtesy of one Mark Hofmann, who is now serving a life sentence for murder.)

At what point do you obtain sufficient evidence to change a deeply-seated belief?

With regard to external evidence, I don’t think there can ever be enough evidence to convince someone who refuses to be convinced. That why all the best evidence for God is internal. It is the Holy Ghost that is to “teach [us] all things.” (John 14:26). He speaks to our soul and makes it impossible to deny the truth. The Book of Mormon tells us that “by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:5) That does not, incidentally, mean the Holy Ghost will teach us all truth. That is, if you want to know the square root of Pi, just praying and asking the Holy Ghost to crib off of his notes isn’t going to work. But if you already have information and you want confirmation as to whether or not that info is on the level, the Holy Ghost can help you there.

There’s only one chance in a billion that what I’m telling you is wrong. Of course, I’d sure hate to be that one in a billion!