All Order of the Arrow Ordeal Secrets Revealed – Again!

Don’t worry – the incendiary headline is strictly for Google’s benefit.

My most popular posts, in which I supposedly reveal the innermost secrets of the Order of the Arrow (OA), AKA the pseudo-Taliban wing of the Boy Scouts of America, continue to attract an unreasonable amount of attention from angry Boy Scouts who think I have violated a sacred trust I established when I was hazed by white guys in Indian headdresses thirty-plus years ago.

If you need a history of my squabbles therewith, the original post can be found here; my follow-up where I discover I’m top-ranked in OA ordeal Google searches is here, and a particularly nasty follow-up on the subject can be found here.

I always find myself amazed at the incoherence of the comments that show up after all these years. You can see them yourself in the comments section in the sidebar, but some of them are just too delicious to avoid calling more attention to them.

Witness today’s excursion into rhetorical genius from our new friend “AnnoyedScout”:

Ordeal is not really a horrible thing and if you had any sense you would take this down; or at least edit it. You make it seem like they kill you just so you can get ordeal level. Having gone through ordeal it is not as horrible as people may think. If you actually got to first class and above without your parents doing everything for you like me it is easier than if your parents did. I do not think this reflects the OA at all. There are a lot of fun things about ordeal. Also ruining OA secrets for people just seeing how wretched this site is like all of the others is not okay. If I sent this to national you would be in so much trouble. If you remember in your induction you promised not to tell anyone any of this.

Except I don’t remember. Anything. I remember people smacking me in the back of the head if I peeked while they led me around on a rope, and I remember freezing and starving and doing slave labor, but if there are super secret loincloth secrets, I don’t remember what they were. And I haven’t revealed them here – not out of principle, but out of, you know, not remembering any of them.

I asked AnnoyedScout if he would, in fact, report me to the BSA national office, and that I’d be happy to print any nasty letter they send to me in its entirety. I shudder to think what other “trouble” I might be in. Can the BSA slash my credit rating? Or just revoke my neckerchief privileges?

Here’s another party recently heard from – someone who playfully refers to themselves as “Order of the Arrow member.”

That is a time honored ceremony going back hundreds of yours you disgrace the brotherhood by reveling these secrets

Not to put too fine a point on it, but, no, it does not go back hundreds of mine. Or yours. Or even years, for that matter. It goes back to 1915, when the Order was first established. Am I supposed to presume that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were Order of the Arrow members and were given a carrot and a gumdrop for dinner?

But I love reveling secrets. Revelry is always fun, unless the Order of the Arrow is involved.

Here’s “Zach Ness” from late last year:

I didn’t think ordeal was that bad i’ve been through worse not that i care a whole lot for the organization i just think if kids wanna be in it its their problem and if parents wanna force their kids into it shame on them but the order deserves better then this…

Better than what?

These are the bad eggs that deserve whatever Dixie Cup boiling they get. But I also had a pleasant exchange with a guy named Randall Cone from Atlanta, who was gracious enough to use his own name, proper grammar, and reasonable arguments. Here is his summation:

[The] OA just wasn’t for you at that time. Just as people who don’t skydive aren’t defective and people who smoke aren’t ALL dangerous (just a few of them). The guys that elected you may not have known you very well and the responsibility of the vote is to select the boys that WILL fit in with OA. I was inducted at age 16. When I was 14 I would have hated every second of my ordeal. If you completed ordeal then you are entitled to maintain your membership. Maybe you should attend a few functions and be one of the people that insure that ordeal isn’t the experience that you had. They still camp but most of the time it’s in permanent shelters with mattresses and good food.

Randall Cone
Atlanta, GA

Fair enough. And I have received a number of off-blog reports from people I respect that much of the hazing extremes that marred my own experience have been curtailed in the current order. So more power to them.

I should note, however, that the good Mr. Cone has revealed just as much detail about the OA as I ever have. Are you reporting him to “national” too, AnnoyedScout? I’d hate to be the guy that kept Randall Cone out of a neckerchief.

Up Yours, GOP!

I continue to receive messages
from my well-intentioned lefty friends about what we besotted Republicans could or should do to improve our electoral fortunes the next time out. The latest, which three people have sent me, is a link to a New York Times article that claims the GOP is doomed due to its technological obsolescence. I’d link to it, except I haven’t bothered to read it, not do I think I will.

The fact is, I don’t care if a Republican ever holds the White House again.

That’s not to say that I have become a Democrat, or a Joe Biden fan, or that I’m all on board the Hillary Express. It’s that I now have a clearer, albeit bleaker, picture of where the country is, or, more specifically, where it has chosen to be.

This is a country that is careening toward insolvency, and, barring some unforeseen cataclysmic shift in public sentiment, it will never elevate anyone to the highest office in the land that has the cojones to say as much. Any Republican that can conquer the overwhelming demographic obstacles that stand in the way of a Republican victory in the electoral college will also have to advocate positions that will make him or her part of the insoluble problem.

As squabbles continue about guns or abortion or global warming or taxes or defense spending or health care gay rights or foreign policy or Benghazi or the president’s vacations or what Michelle O’s hair looks like, it feels more and more hollow.

None of it matters. None of it matters at all.

Does anyone care now what the Soviet Union’s position on gay marriage was? No? So why should we care what the United States policy is on gay marriage or anything else if there’s not going to be a United States?

Because, you know, there isn’t going to be a United States.

This is not wild-eyed alarmism; it is a statement of fact. The course we are on with the demographic trends that drive our mandatory spending will bury us in debt to the point that we will no longer be able to function as a nation. The amount of money necessary to meet our entitlement obligations in the future does not exist. If we don’t acknowledge it now, the math will make it happen for us. And it will happen, regardless of how high we raise our taxes, how much we cut our discretionary spending, and who’s sitting on the Supreme Court.

That doesn’t mean we’ll all die and the country will be sucked into a black hole. It does mean, however, that we’ll have to start over. Neither you nor I know what that looks like, and maybe it won’t be apocalyptic. But it will have to happen. Nobody holding office in any party is even thinking about taking credible steps to stop it. And the longer we wait, the harder it will be to slow the gathering inertia.

So I’m supposed to rally around the flag? Come to the aid of the party? Call the guy with the donkey on his shirt a monster while making excuses for idiots that think the national discussion should focus on laws forcing women to carry the children of their rapists?

Yeah, no thanks.

This is bleak, I know. But I’m not trying to get all Glenn Beck on you. Don’t head for the hills and hunker down in a heavily-armed bunker with your food storage. The life that’s coming for the rest of us left behind in civilization won’t suck as hard as bunker life will. The Soviet Union is gone, but Russia is still there. We’ll still be here, too.

So, bottom line, understand that I have zero party loyalty and no enthusiasm for a political process that has put the destruction of the nation on autopilot. And I will jump back into the fray the moment that any guy in any party demonstrates both a willingness and a capacity to steer the Titanic away from the iceberg instead of rearranging the deck chairs.

I have not seen that guy. I’m certainly not that guy. In fact, I don’t think there is such a guy.

I’m bracing for impact.

(Thank you! I’m here all week! Tip your waitresses! Try the veal!)

The Official Mormon Position On Evolution

Surprise! There isn’t one.

“What the church requires is only belief that Adam was the first man of what we would call the human race,” said LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley in a comment cited in the book Where Darwin Meets the Bible: Creationists and Evolutionists in America. He then went on to say that “scientists can speculate on the rest” and that, with regard to his own studies in both geology and anthropology, “Studied all about it. Didn’t worry me then. Doesn’t worry me now.”

That’s exactly where I am on the issue. I find it somewhat interesting, but I don’t attach any theological import to it. Whether the earth was zapped into existence in 24 hours on October 15, 3004 BC, or if it’s been around for the four quadrillion years L. Ron Hubbard thinks it has, neither scenario poses any intellectual or spiritual obstacle to my faith. The same is true with regard to humanity – if we popped up like daisies a few thousand years ago, great. If generations upon generations of ancestral apes were involved, great.

Of course, not all my fellow Mormons feel that way.

“Is the theory of evolution compatible with the doctrine of the Fall?  No,” wrote Joseph Fielding McConkie, an emeritus professor at BYU, a very bright and personable man, and my mission president when I served as a full-time missionary in Scotland a couple of decades ago. (I know the guy; I like him a lot.) He continues: “We can tug, twist, contort, and sell our birthright, but we cannot overcome the irreconcilable differences between the theory of organic evolution and the doctrine of the Fall.”

His position is consistent with the writings of his prolific father, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who served as an apostle in the church. In Mormon Doctrine, his encylopaedic approach to the faith, he stated unequivocally that “There is no harmony between the truths of revealed religion and the theories of organic evolution.” He labeled Latter-Day Saints who accepted scientific evolutionary theories as having minds that were “weak and puerile.”

Both men can trace their intellectual pedigree on this issue to the writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, the elder McConkie’s father-in-law and the younger McConkie’s grandfather who, like Gordon B. Hinckley, also served as President of the Church.

“This idea that everything commenced from a small beginning, from the scum upon the surface of the sea, and has gradually developed until all forms of life, the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, the fishes of the sea, and the plants upon the face of the earth, have all sprung from that one source, is a falsehood absolutely,” he wrote in his seminal work Man: His Origin and Destiny.  “There is no truth in it, for God has given us his word by which we may know.”

Well, that’s authoritative, no?


In a letter to Dr. A. Kent Christensen,  Department of Medical Anatomy, Cornell University Medical College, then-church president David O. McKay, who happens to be my great-grandfather, wrote the following:


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
47 E. South Temple Street
Salt Lake City, Utah
David O. McKay, President

February 3, 1959

Dr. A. Kent Christensen
Department of Anatomy
Cornell University Medical College
1300 York Avenue
New York 21, New York

Dear Brother Christensen:

I have your letter of January 23, 1959 in which you ask for a statement of the Church’s position on the subject of evolution.

The Church has issued no official statement on the subject of the theory of evolution.

Neither ‘Man, His Origin and Destiny’ by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, nor ‘Mormon Doctrine’ by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, is an official publication of the Church. . . .

Sincerely yours,


David O. McKay


President McKay was a firm believer in organic evolution as well as the principles of geological time. Other prominent church leaders on the pro-evolution side of the ledger include apostles James E. Talmage, who penned the official church publications The Articles of Faith and Jesus the Christ, as well as B.H. Roberts, one of the finest theologians the church has ever known. The fact of the matter is that the Lord has not yet seen fit to reveal the specific process by which either the earth or humanity was created, and anyone taking a hard line one way or the other is doing so on their own initiative, regardless of the church office they may hold.

All this, however, is prelude to my attempt to clarify and record my own personal and ill-informed theories on the subject, which probably won’t make either side happy at all.

I’ve wanted to write this up since a friend of mine on Facebook posted a link to a site called “Conservapedia,” which posits that a penchant for limited government also goes hand in hand with Adam and Eve riding on the backs of dinosaurs six thousand years ago. 

hamdinoI don’t understand why one goes with the other, but to each his own, I guess.

Frequently, I claim that I don’t care, or that it doesn’t matter, or that everyone is free to believe what they want. Well, that’s all well and good, but what is it that I actually believe?

Keep in mind that I have absolutely no background in biology, so what I believe is colored by a hefty dose of good old fashioned ignorance. That said, I think there is much in my faith that is uniquely consistent with evolution and at odds with an orthodox Christian worldview.

The first and most significant difference is in the rejection of “Ex Nihilo,” or “out of nothing” creation.

I wrote about this extensively before, but, in a nutshell, most Christians believe that for a long time there was Nothing, and then, at some point God decided there should be Something, so then the universe popped in to existence. Mormons, on the other hand, have scriptures that teach that “[i]ntelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be,” (D&C 93:29) and that “[t]he elements are eternal.” (D&C 93:33) So the act of creation wasn’t about wiggling the divine nose a la Samantha from Bewitched; it was about fashioning things out of stuff that was already there, and, indeed, had always been there.

This is the way it works in our own experience. When we talk about people who make cars, we don’t assume Ford pickups are created ex nihilo. We understand that the creators actually fashioned steel and rubber and whatever else to make what they make. So when God created the world, He fashioned pre-existing raw materials into what we have now.

Given that premise, it’s very hard for me to understand how any Mormon can get behind the idea of a “young earth.” Whatever it is this earth is made out of, it’s been around for pretty much forever, and we ought to embrace the idea that the raw materials are very, very old indeed. I think I’m on solid-and-uncreated ground in assuming that a lengthy geological history is intellectually consistent with the Doctrine and Covenants. So let me leave solid ground for a moment and speculate a bit.

This is one of my weird little theories that may sound slightly Scientological, but bear with me. Since the elements are eternal, why isn’t it possible that parts of this earth are recycled from something that may have gone before? Chunks of this planet could have been cobbled together from previous planets, and some of those previous planets could have had dinosaurs on them billions of years ago. Wouldn’t that be an explanation that could be consistent with any theory of life or death this time around?

Of course, my wife, the lovely Mrs. Cornell, thinks this supposition is the height of ridiculousness, and she refers to it as my “Dinosaurs-fell-from-the-sky” theory, as if God littered the earth with old bones to confuse us, much in the same way the Flying Spaghetti Monster claims to have done. Pastafarians who worship the Noodly Appendaged One claim that “[t]he Flying Spaghetti Monster buried dinosaur bones under earth’s crust to give the appearance that these creatures really existed long ago, when in fact he’s just hiding the fact that dinosaurs walked along the side of men. He does this all for ‘His Divine Amusement.'”

I think both are misrepresentation of my own crackpot theory, of which I, myself, am not fully convinced. I entertain the possibility that, yes, dinosaurs walked the earth, but it was the previous earth to this earth, and some of them were left over from the earth that was.

OK, actually typing that out for the first time actually made me realize how goofy that sounds. That’s not to say I don’t believe it, sort of, only that I have no factual basis for it and no stomach to defend it. Moving on…

It’s noteworthy that the Judeo-Christian creation story is already suggestive of some sort of evolutionary process. If God created Something out of Nothing in an instant, why did he bother to create the earth in phases, with lower forms of life being created prior to higher forms of life? How did that happen? How much of the story is figurative, and how much is literal? It’s interesting to note that the McConkies, who insist that evolutionary theory should be given no leeway, also believe that the story of the Fall and the eating of the apple is, itself, figurative and not literal. How do they know that? They don’t. And neither do I. But it doesn’t seem too difficult to extrapolate some kind of evolution inherent in the creation story, even if it’s one that doesn’t line up note-for-note with Darwinian theory.

The McConkies, who, again, I like and respect immensely, would reject these arguments and play what they consider to be a scriptural trump card, namely Doctrine and Covenants section 77:6, which contains the following Socratic exchange about the Book of Revelation:

Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?

A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.


Well, there it is. Silly me; the earth is only 7,000 years old. Sorry I wasted your time. The end.

But, hey, howsabout all that stuff about eternal elements and intelligence that I cited earlier? Surely the dirt of which the earth is made is older than 7,000 years – it’s so old, in fact, that it can’t really be measured. Is that what D&C 77 is saying – the physical planet has only existed for 7,000 years? Because that’s not just inconsistent with science; it’s inconsistent with scripture.

7,000 years isn’t the chronological age of dirt; it’s the length of earth’s “continuance” or “temporal existence.” So what does that mean?

I think of it in these terms. How old is the city of London?

According to Wikipedia, the source of all wisdom, the city was founded in 43 AD and first referred to as “Londinium” a little less than a century later. Did London exist prior to 43 AD? Well, physically, yes, of course it did. The Thames was flowing, but it wasn’t called the Thames. All the dirt was presumably there, too, but it wasn’t called London, because there was no one there to call it London. So it really wasn’t quite London yet, despite its geographical relationship to the town and then city that would later occupy that spot of ground.

History is concerned with chronology and where there is no chronology, there isn’t really any history to speak of, either. Anthropologists refer to the era prior to man’s arrival as “pre-history,” as in “prehistoric times.” So when does history begin?

Specifically, if the chunks of matter that make up the earth have always existed, at what point did they participate in earth’s “continuance” or “temporal,” i.e. time-based, “existence?” I submit that the criteria is the same as that of when London began.

History began when people showed up who were capable of recording time, which would require mathematics, writing, and philosophy – in a word, civilization. It’s not scientifically ludicrous to say that, regardless of biological origins, functional human civilization is somewhere around 7,000 years old, give or take. In any case, I don’t think the idea of earth’s 7,000 year-old temporal existence mentioned in Latter-Day Saint scripture ought to be viewed through an ex nihilo filter, nor do I think it presents a significant intellectual roadblock to credible theories about the origins of both the earth and the life upon it.

So there you have it. My biological manifesto riddled with ignorance, just as I warned you it would be. You are not required to agree or disagree with any of it in order to consider yourself a faithful Latter-Day Saint, nor should anyone of faith fear additional light and knowledge on this subject, whether it comes from a biology class or a Sunday School class, and regardless of how weak or puerile your intellect may be.

Maybe there are dinosaurs living in the center of the earth, like mole people.

Boy Scout Issues

It goes without saying that I am no fan of the Boy Scouts of America. Just about every trauma in my youth had some sort of scouting connection. And, on principle, I think the decision to even consider homosexuality as having any sort of bearing on membership in that benighted organization to be backward and silly.

But just for the sake of argument, let’s consider it anyway.

Back in 1993, when President Clinton was considering lifting the ban on homosexuals on active military duty, then–Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell rejected the contention that excluding gays from the military was akin to racial discrimination and instead compared it to a reluctance to live in close quarters with someone of the opposite sex. A military man with tremendous respect for women would recoil at the idea of unisex bathrooms where men and women shower together. That may make him a prude, but it doesn’t make him a misogynist.

In a nutshell, the idea was that life in uniform is strenuous enough without introducing unnecessary elements of sexual tension into the mix. (All that may end up changing now that women are going to be assigned to the front lines, but that’s a discussion for another day.) In any case, Powell’s arguments were ultimately rejected, and now even President Clinton’s feeble “don’t ask, don’t tell” compromise has been repealed.

The sky hasn’t fallen.

Recent academic studies suggest that the repeal has not had a negative impact on the military overall. One might be tempted, then, to conclude that General Powell’s concerns were unfounded, and only bigotry can account for opposition to the idea of the Boy Scouts of America following the military’s lead and lifting their own restriction against gay scouts. Certainly bigotry is an issue. It is not, however, the only issue. Indeed, Powell’s argument carries far more weight when talking about adolescents and not adults.

Those serving in the military are old enough and mature enough to deal with the complexities of sexual attraction amid their ranks. The same cannot be said for 13-year-old boys with hormones a’blazin’.  These are kids who are only beginning to understand the strangeness of their own bodies and what they ought to, or ought not to, be doing with them.

Can anyone persuasively argue that pubescent boys should be going on overnight camping trips together and sharing tents with pubescent girls? What a recipe for disaster that would be. One could expect a lot of scouting pregnancies to result from the annual 50-mile hike.

Could openly homosexual scouts create situations that were equally problematic?

Well, in the pregnancy sense, no, they couldn’t. That’s simple biology. But what about in the emotionally scarring sense? And I’m not just talking about the relatively few instances where a straight kid would face unwanted advances from a gay one. Given the difficulties of understanding and coping with sexuality at that age, the danger of “out and proud” flamboyant Eagles making life uncomfortable for the Tenderfoot heteros really doesn’t strike me as a widespread problem. I’m far more concerned about the gay scouts themselves. Bullying, in my experience, is a Boy Scout tradition. Remember, I used to get beaten up on scout outings because I was a weirdo. I shudder to think what my scouting fate would have been if I were gay besides.

This isn’t just an abstract matter of principle. A significant increase in hazing incidents would present an unacceptable liability risk for the BSA as an organization. Are they prepared for that? Can the BSA survive as an institution if they make this level of a paradigm shift without a clutch?

There are hopeful signs that such a thing is possible. Canada’s scouting organization makes no effort to discriminate against gays, and the sky hasn’t fallen there, either. But it’s important to note that once the ban is lifted, there is no going back. It’s not bigotry to consider all the ramifications of such a decision before jumping in when you can’t jump back out again.

Bottom line: no scout, gay or straight, should ever have to be inducted into the Order of the Arrow.