Theological Vapidity

My son Stalliondo was baptized yesterday. Prior to this event, he was interviewed by a church leader to ensure that he understood the step he was taking, and he was asked if he could explain, in detail, his understanding of what it all meant.

He launched into a lengthy exposition of the life and sacrifice of Jesus, and how the Savior forgives us and makes it possible for us to dwell in the presence of God, and how the Sacrament represents the body and the blood of Jesus, which shows the two key components of the Atonement – physical resurrection and cleansing from sin. He spoke for, no joke, at least ten minutes, and Mrs. Cornell and I just sat there, dumbstruck, as we discovered that this squirming, A.D.D.-addled kid revealed that, yes, he really is listening to everything we tell him.

As is my custom, I overshared this event on Facebook, and posted the following update:

My youngest son is getting baptized on Sunday. Tonight he had his baptismal interview, wherein he recounted the scope and breadth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the specificity and passion of a Bible scholar five times his age. Apparently, he absorbs information while he squirms. So proud of that kid!

As of this writing, this post has 74 “likes,” including many from people not of my faith. But it got one private “dislike” from an old friend, about whom I will speak in general terms so as to not return offense for offense.

Privately, a friend informed me that I was being dishonest by citing my son’s love for both Jesus and the Bible, since, as a Mormon, neither he nor I believe in the “real Jesus,” and he and I don’t really respect the Bible, either. “No offense,” they told me – it’s just that I’m going to hell, and I’m leading my son down with me.

Now I’ve written extensively about the absurdity of the idea that Mormons worship a different Jesus than the rest of the Christian world. And at this point, I’m not really interested in defending my faith, or the pure faith of my young son that this pal of mine has condemned to eternal damnation in advance. I think I have a pretty good sense of where I stand, and where Stalliondo stands, and I’m OK with it. Instead, I want to call attention to the rationale of any Christian that feels it appropriate to sit in Christ’s place and determine who, in the next life, will sit on the Lord’s right hand and who will be cast in to the fiery pit.

I wonder if such people realize what kind of attributes they are attributing to the God they worship.

Such a God creates people ex nihilo – out of nothing – and inflicts mortality upon them, with all of its misery and suffering, only to condemn large swaths of them to an eternity of torment. Many such people never get an opportunity to hear of the only way to avoid said torment – Jesus – and will find themselves eternally broiling anyway. For the lucky relative few, all they have to do is say a few magic words – “I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior” – and then they get a golden ticket to paradise in the next life, regardless of what shenanigans they get into in this one. While people who strive to live good lives but never utter the salvationary sentence – Gandhi, for instance, or most any Jewish person you can think of – will discover their entire mortal existence was all for naught and a ridiculously brief prelude to an endless Satanized nightmare.

Now I, personally, have said those magic words, and my damned son has said them, too. But since we’re Mormons, we said them wrong, or apparently we’re saying them about a different guy who is precisely like the other guy in every respect except, well, in ways that I don’t really understand. But since we’re Mormons, we don’t count, and the underworld awaits. Meanwhile, the-Few-the-Proud-the-Saved rejoice in the goodness of their Lord while blissfully overlooking that their Lord has arbitrarily created a scenario where unspeakable misery is the eternal reward for the overwhelming majority of the humanity he created for no reason at all.

Of course, most of them don’t think this far. If they’re aware of the unspeakably cruel implications of their vapid theology, they don’t seem troubled by them, which leads me to believe that there’s little effort placed on wrestling with the thornier moral quandaries that are the central intellectual and spiritual challenges of the human condition. Their worship, instead, is drenched with emotion and rejoicing for God’s goodness, because, well, God is good, or at least God is good to them, and that’s enough. But behind every “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lord” is the implicit message, “Well, at least we’ve got ours.”

Yet even with all that, I would never be presumptive enough to confront a Christian who believes this sort of thing and tell them their Jesus isn’t really Jesus, or that their God isn’t really God. My church teaches that Christians of all stripes aren’t evil or hellbound, or that they’re entirely wrong.

To quote former LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley:

“Let me say that we appreciate the truth in all churches and the good which they do. We say to the people, in effect, you bring with you all the good that you have, and then let us see if we can add to it. That is the spirit of this work. That is the essence of our missionary service.” (From a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, 17 Feb. 1998).

Conversely, it would be nice to see that same spirit reflected in the outreach of mainstream Christianity to Latter-Day Saints. If you’ve got something better, then offer that up on its own merits. Don’t simply try to destroy my faith when you have nothing constructive to offer in its place. I believe in Jesus, and I love him with all my heart. Asking me to believe less about him in order to make my theology sufficiently vapid to accommodate conventional mores just isn’t going to work.

Stalliondo’s baptism went on without a hitch, and it was one of the most spiritual moments of my life. I received a very clear spiritual impression that our Savior was pleased with us at that moment, and that he both knew us and loved us without qualification. And it is Christ’s judgment, not the judgment of any church, creed, council or Christian, that is all that matters.

Anatomy of a Column

Again, another shameless plug for my growing body of work over at the Deseret News, where you can read all my columns online here. The volume of my writing over there has diminished somewhat my contributions here, which is something I’m trying to remedy. But I digress.

My latest column is an indictment of “The Bachelorette,” which was written Wednesday morning, and then published online later that afternoon. It appeared in print last Friday.

The published piece is slightly different from the piece I submitted, and it’s always interesting to me to see what an editor feels necessary to change. The sentence “Never before has garbage been presented with so much artistry” originally read “Never before has dreck been presented with so much artistry.” I think “dreck” is a funnier and more descriptive word than “garbage,” but it apparently violated some kind of taboo that I don’t quite understand. Less mysterious is their rejection of my description of “The Bachelorette” as “televised prostitution.” A bit too provocative for their tastes, I suppose, although I still think it’s lamentably accurate.

I often find myself confused by what they will or won’t publish. When I submitted a version of “The Miracle of the Christmas Poo,” I was sure they wouldn’t touch it. They did. Although the changes they made in that one were really strange. In talking about my song, I originally wrote “I can safely say it’s the best song about ‘Christmas’ and ‘Poo’ ever recorded.” That was changed to read “I can safely say it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever recorded.” Who safely says things like that? Not me. The new sentence bears absolutely no resemblance to the old one, and it completely shifts the meaning, and not in a good way. But I was so thrilled that they published it that I didn’t care much.

And, to their credit, they published my opus on Shatner’s Toupee without altering a word.

Still, we have minor squabbles which I usually lose. I can read the edited versions before they’re published, and on very rare occasions, I’ll push back. In my column on religion on television, for example, I described the wretched series “The Book of Daniel” as “what ‘Touched by an Angel’ would have looked like in Bizarro World.” They changed “Bizarro World” to “Bizarre-O-World,” not knowing that Bizarro World was the planet where Superman’s precise opposite lives. I pointed out that Bizarro World was an actual reference to a thing, not something I made up. So they changed it back. But in the same column, I made the hyperbolic claim that Star Wars had spawned 9,876,538,002 copycats, give or take. They added the disclaimer that this was an “unscientific estimate.” Well, of course it’s an “unscientific estimate.” It’s called a “joke.” And the stupid disclaimer stepped all over it.

But all that is neither here nor there. What I’m going to share with you is a first draft to a column I never submitted, but I got sidetracked in giving you the inside scoop on how my column sausage is made. I was initially going to tell you about what I wrote in my column on “The Bachelorette,” which I wrote in a hurry as I realized my deadline was approaching and I still didn’t have any ideas. I had hated “The Bachelorette” for quite some time, and when my daughter decided to watch it on Tuesday night, I reluctantly joined her in order to procure some column fodder. But I wasn’t happy with what I produced.

It was sort of an angry screed with some attempts at biting humor sporadically inserted into the mix. I was OK with it until I let Mrs. Cornell take a look at it. “It’s not funny,” she said simply.

“So you don’t like it?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s OK, I guess. Just not your best effort.”

“I have to turn it in tomorrow morning,” I said. “It’s all I’ve got.”

“Well, sleep on it, then,” she said. “Make some changes when you get up.”

That was great advice. I used a few choice nuggets from the original, but I changed the thrust of the whole thing. What ended up getting published is far lighter than what I had originally envisioned, and I think it works better than the self-righteous approach.

Judge for yourself – just for the sake of posterity, I am posting the inferior original below. I had intended to to do this to save me having to write a whole blog post from scratch, but this intro is already longer than the column itself, so I’ve kinda defeated my whole purpose.

Still, here it is. Behold Stallion’s wrath!


Hey, kids! Are you lookin’ for love in all the wrong places? Well, if you’ve seen “The Princess Bride,” then you know that true love is something that doesn’t happen every day. And if you’ve seen ABC’s “The Bachelorette,” you know it only happens on national television as dozens of perfectly coiffed male models compete for your hand and try and pretend the million-dollar dowry that goes with it isn’t really important. If I’ve learned anything from “The Batchelorette,” it’s that love only comes to those who are really, really good-looking. Take Desiree, the current Barbie-like brunette whose job it is to thin a herd of suitors by crushing one of their hearts per week, on average. She sure talks a good game about how essential it is to be open, kind, and honest, but always remember that she’s not talking about open, kind, honest ugly people. There was one guy competing for her affections who didn’t look like he’d had the requisite surgeries and steroid injections, so he wasn’t invited to the hilltop mansion to make a rap video with all the other beefcakes, who all kept insisting they were “there for the right reasons,” and the million bucks never got mentioned as a reason at all, even a wrong one. You’d think somebody would have brought that up. But no, the “right reasons” provided the incessant theme of this past episode, where the guys repeatedly insisted that, yes, they have the right reasons, and one guy got mad at another guy who, apparently, didn’t have the right reasons, but the wrongness of the other guy’s reasons was never catalogued with any specificity. Apparently, a reason’s rightness is something inexplicable, something callow, something that sounds like it could have been read from a fortune cookie. See, one guy talked about how important it was to have an open heart. He was speaking figuratively, as there weren’t any cardiologists on hand. Another guy talked about how he didn’t want to be a clown. Nobody broke out any makeup or bulbous red noses, so I think he’s in the clear. They all had hardscrabble stories of tough childhoods and single fatherhoods and things that tore at Barbie’s heartstrings long enough to get her to make slurping noises as they chewed each other’s faces off. And all of them professed their undying love for this vapid girl with whom most of them had spent about fifteen minutes, tops, yet it was their goal to build a life of meaning and passion with someone they barely knew, but don’t mention money, because, obviously, becoming an instant millionaire can confuse the rightness of a guy’s reasons faster than a closed heart in clown makeup. A couple of guys got to spend all day with her on elaborate dates that included rented Bentley convertibles and/or private concerts with rock stars, who were obviously performing in the middle of the street for the right reasons – i.e. they were getting paid. I could be quite the Don Juan, too, if network executives were willing to fork out six figures for my weekly date night. Of course, I only date one woman at a time, which used to be how most people did it, but according to this show, it’s better to cheat on all prospective boyfriends with their two dozen roommates. In a more chivalrous era, the rule was “don’t kiss and tell.” Now it’s “don’t kiss and tell until the camera crew is set up.” “The Batchelorette” is an odious, morally repugnant bit of bile that teaches all the wrong lessons, regardless of how right its reasons are. This isn’t love; it’s televised prostitution. That’s the rightest reason I can think of to change the channel the next time it comes on.


OOOOH! I’m going to “change the channel!” Blah, blah, blah.

Or maybe you like this version better. I like the whole “closed heart in clown makeup” motif, anyway.

I be done now.

It’s Not 1984

So everyone is in high dudgeon about the latest of the Obama scandals, which involves the government acquiring all of Verizon’s phone records over the past few months. I made the mistake of listening to Glenn Beck for a few moments on the way into work, and I turned it off after he claimed that this demonstrates that the United States is now a totalitarian state, and that we will “dwarf” Nazi Germany in the years ahead as we use these phone records to commit genocide. “Hitler,” he claimed, “would have killed every Jew on the planet if he had this technology.” And, by implication, Herr Obama will supposedly do the same thing.

Yeah, no.

That’s not to say this isn’t outrageous, especially in light of the president’s overwhelming hypocrisy on the issue. By now, you’ve probably seen the video of his speech where he excoriates George Bush for doing far, far less than what he’s done. The liberals now screeching about Obama’s overreach are always sure to note that this is really just the logical extension of Bushism, or, as Ron Fournier claimed in the National Journal, “Welcome to the era of Bush-Obama, a 16-year span of U.S. history that will be remembered for an unprecedented erosion of civil liberties and a disregard for transparency.”

Yeah, still not buying it.

In the first place, Bush would have been thrown out of office if he’d collected every domestic phone record of one of the largest cell phone providers in the United States. Bush’s surveillance program was actually quite limited in scope and only monitored foreign phone calls, painstakingly avoiding assembling records on domestic phone traffic. The outrage over Obama’s actions are being tempered by an attempt to claim this is all just more Bush, when it’s actually a colossal escalation of the Bush policy. The double standard here is really breathtaking, especially in light of the new information that Obama was gathering and monitoring traffic on major websites like Facebook and Google.

For crying out loud, remember the outcry when the Patriot Act gave the Department of Homeland Security the right to see what library books you checked out? (Number of times the Department of Homeland Security actually used that power under George W. Bush: 0.)  Library books. How quaint. Now Obama’s checking umpteen million Google searches, and it’s just “more of the same.” Ummm, no it isn’t. It’s a lot, lot more of more of the same. How many times do you check out a library book? How many times do you perform a Google search or post on Facebook? Quite a broad ratio, no? One of these things is exponentially not like the other.

And still, I don’t live in fear of the Obama gestapo.

Why not? Because the sheer volume of this information prohibits its use with any specificity. There is no human being that is going to lay eyes on any of it – it’s all being fed into a massive computer to look for patterns or some such, and the likelihood of a government bureaucrat seeing you reposting the latest cute George Takei pic in your newsfeed are less than the odds of you winning the Powerball lottery. And don’t worry, porn addicts – the NSA isn’t going to publish transcripts of all your kinky phone sex conversations with 1-900-KLINGONLOVE. That’s simply not how this works.

That’s not to say that, on some level, this isn’t troubling. Of course it is. The current application of this gathering of information isn’t as disturbing as the “slippery slope” as to where it could lead, just as library books have lead to Google searches. But where we are right this moment poses no real danger to your personal privacy – it’s where we could be tomorrow that ought to disturb us. Thankfully, public outrage is virulent enough that we’re going to see much of this scaled back in the years ahead. At least, I think we will. But, as President Romney can tell you, I’ve been very, very wrong before.

My prior wrongness is preventing me from extracting any measure of schadenfreude from the implosion of the Obama presidency. Yes, we conservatives said all along that this president was slipshod and incompetent, and that his signature achievements were economically unworkable. As Obamacare implodes and the president tries to use idiocy as an excuse to justify his endless array of missteps, we’re being proven right on an almost daily basis. But there’s little joy in a doomsayer’s vindication, because it just means that things are as bad as we said they were. I’d rather be wrong and have things not be so bad.

But I must concede that, with all of the nightmarish problems out there on the horizon – entitlement bankruptcy, national insolvency, economic stagnation and high unemployment for as far as the eye can see – a government computer looking for patterns in over a billion phone calls just isn’t one of them. Although it could be that it’s just because I’ll always try to be on the other side any time Glenn Beck and Ron Fournier agree.

Phase Two and a Big Head

An actual conversation that just took place with a friend I hadn’t seen for a few weeks…

Him: “Hey, you look really thin!”

Me: “Thanks! I’ve lost about thirty pounds.”

Him: “But you still have a ginormous head. It looks really weird on a thin body.”

Yes, well, not much I can do about that. I’ve always been a prototype of the whole “orange on a toothpick” motif, even when my weight was only in double digits. My parents always said that if I finally grew into my head, I’d be enormous. I grew, but my head still doesn’t fit. Or maybe it’s my body that doesn’t really fit with the head. Either way, I’m happier to have a head that’s far less chubby, even if it is still sizeable.

Big heads, incidentally, run in the family. In one of her infant check-ups, we found out my oldest daughter’s head size was in the 99th percentile.

“Oh, that’s terrific!” the doctor said.


“Well, this is the first time she’s been in a normal range. She was way off the charts in her last visit.”

Thankfully, she has grown with better proportions than her old man. And she doesn’t need to slim down. Although she has been nicking some of my Somae Health protein smoothies that have been fueling my weight loss. I love those things! A cup of fruit – berries, etc. – along with a little bit of almond milk, some ice, and two scoops of the magic Somae powder, and presto! Low calorie, high nutrition goodness. Which is pretty much my life now.

Phase Two is far more demanding than Phase One was. I eat no grain or dairy at all, and I lost one serving of fruit. In addition, my protein servings are only 3.5 ounces, not 4, like they were in the last phase. This made for some hungry days before I discovered the smoothies. Those suckers fill you up without bloating your gut. Good, good stuff.

One of the things that worried me was that, for about a week, my weight was staying constant. Part of that was due to the fact that I was exercising a whole lot, and, hopefully, adding a bit of muscle. But that didn’t explain all of it. After all, I was dropping about two punds a day on Phase One. Why wasn’t Phase Two working for me?

My weight loss mentor suggested that my body was trying to “reset” itself, with that new weight as the new normal. She recommended that I do what they call an “apple day,” where I ate nothing but apples for twenty-four hours. Eight apples total. Believe me, that’s a lot of apples. After apple 4, I started to hate the sight of those things. But it worked – I had lost 2.5 pounds when I stepped on the scale the next morning, and my weight loss in the week since I ate nothing but those vile red things has been steady, if somewhat slower than I’d like. But I’m getting into a groove now – I know what I can and can’t eat, and I’m not struggling to avoid the steady stream of chips and salsa that made the man I am today – or at least the man I was a little over a month ago when I started following the Somae program.

By my count, I’ve lost just over twenty-five pounds, but I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday where I had to weigh in. The nurse practitioner was startled when she noted that I was thirty-one pounds lighter than the last time I had weighed in. My blood pressure was also far better than it had been, and she told me that whatever I was doing, I ought to keep it up.

So I will. But I’m not going to get a big head about it.