I Love Gellies

Mormonism, Evangelicism and Chaos Theory

Remedial Statistics

Recently, I was able to quite impress a Young Lady (doing statistical biology) by (honestly) stating that statistics should be more required in high school, and college.

Jack’s comment here made me want to make the following comment. The reason people anything like, “Not in my experience” or “not in my ward” is to show that it’s not a mainline or mainstream strain of thought. That is, assume an individual who has been in the church for ten years has been in three wards, each with 200 people in it. Assume next the individual blogging is aware of many of the struggles of those in their wards (either as a leader, or as a member on which the struggling person has turned to for support). Now of course, not everyone knows everything, but large scandals are going to get some attention. That means, even within a stake (of over 2000 people), you’re going to hear about the big scandals, and not just the small stuff. So, usually a blogger can assume that they have some of the shared experience of at least 600 people, and a superficial awareness of large scandals of around some 6000 people. In any case, the number of people required by the central limit theorem is only some 30 people. So, a blogger is justified in believing that most statistics they experience are in some way valid. Therefore, when someone hasn’t experienced something what they’re doing is placing an upper limit on how prevalent that is. What do they end up finding? While the LDS standard deviation is much smaller than the rest of Christendom or American culture, it is still finite. Such lack of experience means that the occurance is very, very rare. Not even a three sigma deviation, but something even more rare. As such a statistical outlier, is it really fair to focus so much time and attention on it? I don’t think so. I mean, regular Christians certainly aren’t fond of liberal lefties equating all Christianity with their statistical outliers, such as abortion clinic bombers, abortion doctor murderers, and other wackos.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, when anyone says, “I’ve never experienced that,” they ARE NOT saying that it’s impossible, or even highly improbable. But rather, the event is very uncommon. This stands in oppostion to those with a psycholociacal need to tear down the LDS church.

As I mentioned before, I’m no inerrantist. I have no psychological need to prove every leader or person on the LDS church as perfect. I have no false faith that no Stake President or Mission President has ever done anything morally depraved. But statistically, I am justified in recognizng that those who visit the post-Mormon boards have less trust than a random stake President or Mission President, and without some other kind of evidence, I’m not likely to be persuaded. I have no need to doubt someone’s honesty or sincerity, but just because someone’s sincere or honest doesn’t make them right. Evidence not just innuendo is how you persuade. In America, someone is innocent until proven guilty, and Gloria has provided no evidence.

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October 4, 2009 Posted by | Religion | Leave a comment

On Bearing False Witness

From the heights of Sinai, the voice of Yahweh commanded Moses, the Israelites, and all people to keep the Ten Commandments. One of those commandments was against lying. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” This is a commandment broken almost constantly by everyone, both purposefully and unintentionally. People tell non-truths all the time, “No it doesn’t make you look fat” (intentional), “Um, the answer is b”, even though the answer was a. They answered honestly about what they thought, but untruthfully about what the answer was. But there is a certain ugliness when the person knows the answer isn’t true. Because of the vicissitudes of humanity, we must be careful about whom we believe, and I’ve never met anyone who believes everyone. I believe those who have built up a history of telling me truthful things. Those who constantly tell me things which I know to be untrue, I learn to not trust. There are people I trust with knowledge of science that I do not trust with knowledge of God, or with knowledge of “how to treat people”. There are people with knowledge of God that I do not trust with knowledge of science.

But it is not an “extreme viewpoint” to believe someone or not. Those who set this up as an extreme option are really showing their own delusional thinking. Every day, each of us makes a conscious decision of whom we’ll choose to believe and who we won’t. It is neither extreme nor unexpected.

Nor does disbelieving someone have anything to do with whether not someone believes another is a liar. There are other options. For instance, someone who insists that the squareroot of 26 is 5 doesn’t necessarily have to be a liar. No matter what, they’re wrong. But in their head, they could honestly believe that 5×5=26. Let’s set this up.
Grandma says: “5×5=26, therefore, 5 is the squareroot of 26”.
PC: “Um Grandma, I don’t believe you.”
Now at this moment, one’s siblings could start breaking in with judgemental and arrogant comments such as, “PC, you’re calling grandma a liar.” But that’s just not true. Know, if I knew that grandma new better, and said, “Grandma, you’re lying” then that statement would have been true. Instead, I was stating a fact, “I don’t believe Grandma, she’s mistaken.”

Now my personal reasons in thinking how Grandma is mistaken here are personal, and I don’t think it’d be fair to express. But there’s nothing inappropriate, extreme, or incorrect in expressing disbelief.

Now, to change the subject a bit.
I don’t have much patience for those who bring up accusations in vague, unverifiable ways. Hugh Nibley’s daughter came out with a book after her father passed away. During his life, he had refuted her accusations, but didn’t have a chance to refute her written record. Of course, the sisters who had slept in the same room with the girl did refute her “recovered memories”, which fits in good accord with modern science which has shown that most of these “recovered memories” are merely falsities suggested to supposed victims.

Mackenzie Phillips also came out with accusations after her fathers death. While I tend to actually believe her infinitely more than Beck, I do find the tactic of waiting until after someone has passed on to be unforgivable. I mean, it is now absolutely IMPOSSIBLE to verify most of her stories. Of course, that won’t stop the weak minds from thinking they know the absolute truth. Sad.

So here’s what I’m asking. Be willing to provide some evidence so that your story can be verified or invalidated. Provide some evidence and details. Be specific. Let’s hear your name, your age, your mission, so we can go find out who the mission president was, and confront him. Let’s extract some verifiable truth rather than abstract accusations. Let’s see a sealed testimony with an affidavit.

Is that really too much to ask?

October 3, 2009 Posted by | Religion | Leave a comment

Telephone: The Game.

Or, on the Single’s/Married Divide in Illinois.

Here’s an example of the “telephone game”, which is illustrative of a problem in our stake. Last year, two of the great professional musicians in our stake wanted to start a choir, and did so under the institute. The directors chose some wonderful music, designed a diverse and spiritual program, and brought the choir to a great level. All of the concerts were very sparsely attended (they weren’t advertised very well), but it was still a very uplifting experience. The only drawback, in my opinion was the lopsided demographics of the choir. Including the two directors, there were 17 people in the choir. Taking a strict demarcation between conventional wards and the student ward, roughly 1/3 of the choir was from the student ward. Taking a more effectual look at the demarcation, I count the engaged people with the conventional ward against people who are not engaged. That left 2 versus 15 or approximately 1/10 of the choir was representative of the student ward. I know the directors didn’t plan for more married people than single, and they certainly wouldn’t ever want people to think singles were unwelcome.

But there’s a problem with Mormon social culture. Actually, it’s all social cultures. We tend to talk about the things we have in common. Therefore, you get a group of married Mormons together, they will talk solely about their marriage, their children, everything focused on their “marriedness.” In this sense, this is a problem with Mormon social culture: people are defined by their marital status rather than their personhood. So, I tried to get several other people from the student ward to join, but was informed that they have no desire to hang out with people that they consider “cliquish”. One quote I can share is, “I don’t feel welcome, everyone’s married, everything they talk about is their marriage.” This quote doesn’t originate from someone afraid of being with families, she babysits, and does quite a bit with her married friends, they’re just different than the type of people in the choir. Her friends discuss their lives in a way that’s inclusive, whereas choir members would discuss their lives in a way that was exclusive.

I shared this information with a member of the choir, so they could hint to members of the choir to try being more inclusive rather than exclusive. Of course, conversation lead to conversation, and eventually this email was sent to our list-serve:

I also want make sure ward members are clear that the choir is for all stake members of institute age, not married students only. I’ve heard that some people have been told that it is just a “married student thing”, but that has never been the intention of the choir. Last year the choir was about half married students and have (sic) single students, and it would great to have that kind of a group again this year. We would love to have any who are interested in participating from the University ward.

Somewhere between what my friend said, and what I said, and what was reported to the director, there was a little bit of telephone effect. A little bit of a straw-man that was built up. Something which is easy to fight, but what was not a fair representation of what was said. I never said that the intention of the choir was to make a choir of married students to which singles were not invited. I said, that the way the choir had turned had become something to which many singles did not feel welcome, as any socializing before or after focused on the married nature of most of the members of the choir. And, because the director didn’t understand the problem, the email he sent out certainly didn’t address the problem.

In discussing this whole thing with Tomchik, he wrote something very profound, which I share here:

[B]ut I wish that married folks wouldn’t treat the University Ward folks as different, when they are just like anybody else – human beings, members of the Church, who want to fit in, be loved and appreciated, etc. It goes the other way, too, when people in the single’s ward don’t want to participate in something simply because of the high number of married people involved. In essence, I wish no one would view marital status as a social divider, and I wish no one single or married would act in such a way that others would resort to using marital status as a social divider.

But we’re not there yet. And I’ve given up on this stake. I decided to join a community choir instead.

October 2, 2009 Posted by | Religion | Leave a comment

Anthem: A Parable

I don’t play chess. I’m not Russian. I’m incredibly patriotic to the original righteous principles of the Constitution of the United States. But to me, this song isn’t about patriotism to a nation, at least not now. If I was away from the US, (like in Germany), I might view this song within the context of how much I missed my homeland, and yet was still, at heart, fully American (albeit one fully converted to Quark, Gouda , and Schwarz-brot). I can still remember how much I longed and yearned for my homeland.

Fast forward seven years. Due to various circumstances I feel a bit separated from another important force. A lot of it arises because of things I just can’t understand. It used to be because I couldn’t understand a lot of things. The list is somewhat smaller now, but still larger than I can handle. My heart feels far away but in neighborhood but not in spirit. I know I have no idea how to leave the true love of my life, I just don’t know how to get rid of some of the damaging expectations. So my heart is gladdened by the phrase “Let men’s petty nations (forces) tell themselves apart. My land’s only borders lie around my heart.”

September 27, 2009 Posted by | Religion | 2 Comments

Wars on Cultural Mormonism: “Prosperity Teachings”

I want to preface this post with a recognition of how important our personal efforts are in keeping the commandments of God. All of the standard works teach that keeping the commandments is necessary. In fact, the LDS standard works contain a surrogate of the phrase “Keep [my, the] commandments] 264 times, 72 times in the OT, 14 times in the NT, 117 times in the Book of Mormon, 59 times in the D&C, and twice in the PoGP. So I recognize that as saints, we SHOULD be trying to keep the commandments. But the real point of my post is this: I hate the false “prosperity teachings”, that teach us to view God as a divine vending machine, or as someone whose blessings can be purchased. Some call this “the gospel of prosperity” but this is no good news, so it is not a gospel, rather a teaching.

For a while I didn’t know how to reconcile this belief (against the prosperity teachings) with some scriptures in the BoM. But recently, a friend shared a different way of interpreting these verses, that all depend on the pre-conceptions that I bring to the text.

Here are two representative examples of this teaching:

2 Nephi 1:20 And he hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.

Alma 50:20 Blessed art thou and thy children; and they shall be blessed, inasmuch as they shall keep my commandments they shall prosper in the land. But remember, inasmuch as they will not keep my commandments they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.

Other examples include: 1 Nephi 2:20,22, 1 Nephi 3:16,21; 1 Nephi 4:1,14; and many, many others. And for my gelly friends, be reminded that Jesus himself told us to keep his commandments to show that we love him (John 14:15), and John told us that those who claim to know God, and don’t keep his commandments are liars (1 John 2:3-4). As Jack pointed out (somewhere), both LDS and regular Christianity confine unrepentant liars to a not very happy place (2 Nephi 9:34, Revelation 21:8).

What, therefore, are the preconceived notions I was bringing to the text? Why the Greek ones of course! Being a child of the Greek society, I’ve inherited a Greek worldview. What is the Greek worldview? According to Stephen Robinson, if you look at the Greek literature, the Greek worldview focuses on the individual. The Illiad is the Greek epic poem centered on what happens to a man, Achilles. The Odyssey is the Greek epic poem centered on what happens to Odysseus. Contrast this with the Hebrew worldview, The Hebrew Bible focuses on God’s dealings with “a people.” The Odyssey describes the failings and trials of a man, whereas the Bible describes the failings and trials of a people. The greatest Greek literature teaches an individual to focus on themselves, whereas biblical literature teaches an individual to focus on the community. Take the example of Achan in Joshua 7:21. He had taken spoils of war that God had explicitly commanded him not to. The result: All of Israel suffered until the matter was made right. The focus is not on the individual (Joshua wasn’t the one who sinned), yet Joshua, along with the whole camp, DID suffer. Of course, proper atonement meant the man had to be stoned and burnt, but that’s not the point.[1] In the Hebrew worldview, the community is the most important, whereas for the Greek’s the individual was most important.

So therefore, when I read the Book of Mormon (from a Greek, individual focuses perspective) I misinterpret the text. I use to read it as a “Any individual who does well (temporally) was obedient to God’s commandments and was blessed (temporally) for that obedience.” Whereas, recognizing that the Nephites were Israelites by culture (“learning of the Jews”), we should read this passage in a communal sense. So, if the people as a people keep the commandments, they can expect to prosper, but not necessarily at an individual level.

I think this viewpoint is further supported by the last chapter of Mosiah (29)

26 Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.
27 And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.

The same problem is found when we interpret Paul’s teachings on predestination or foreordination.

Romans 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

Ephesians 1:5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

So if we insist on reading scripture by a Jew as a Greek we are bound on misinterpreting it, as most Mormons think our Greek-Minded Evangelicals have for the last 500 years.

I’m grateful to have been reminded of this paradigm shift. I feel a little bit more grounded in the scriptures now that I am applying this interpretive tool. I hope it helps some of you too.

Notes

[1] I’m of course ignoring that most bible scholars consider these story to be an etiology myth.

September 26, 2009 Posted by | Religion | Leave a comment

Eroding Evangelical Creedance

No my gelly followers, you aren’t losing your creeds.

From my conversations with some of you, your loyalty to post-biblical creeds is still stronger than death.

What I wanted to talk about is the things Evangelicals do to lose their trust in Mormon eyes.

Sam B posted over at Mormon Matters:

I was at church one time when a couple teenagers from a local evangelical church came in during fast and testimony meeting and went up to the stand. Apparently they started talking anti-Mormon stuff (I was like 8, so I likely wasn’t really paying attention to what they were saying; in any event, I don’t remember exactly what it was). The bishop got up, put his arm around the kid, and kindly led him away. (Again, I don’t remember if it was in the middle of the kid’s remarks or at the end.)
Of course, it turns out they were put up to it by their pastor. It further turns out their church met in a city-owned building. And it turned out the mayor was in our ward (maybe that’s common in the Mormon corridor, but it’s relatively uncommon in California). It didn’t happen again.

This brought up ThomasB’s reminiscing:

“Sam B.s post reminded me of when I was a Bishop and had an evangelical teen come and “minister” during testimony meeting. Most of what he said was harmless but when he told the congregation that they did not have to be baptized the “natives” were becoming restless. I let him know he needed to close at that point and thankfully he did. If we would have refused I would have had him removed physically or anyone else who decided that they were going to make the ward pulpit theirs for their own position. Sacrament meeting is not an open forum for opinion.”

So here’s my point. Like any other group, for Mormons, it is very easy to be distrustful of the other. When Evangelical groups insist on defending behavior like this, they lose creedance. We trust you less. Now, if your purpose is merely patting yourselves on the back and making yourselves look “more spiritual”, then mission accomplished. But if your true purpose is to glorify God, you’re sorely lacking.

Seriously, Evangelicals. Learn something from the muslims who don’t denounce terrorism. Renounce war, proclaim peace, and speak the truth in love, for a change.

September 24, 2009 Posted by | Religion | Leave a comment

The Only Acceptable “Sunshine Song”

In the LDS hymnbook, the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a preface that states:

The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord.
Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end.

There is one “Sunshine Song” that, in my opinion, fulfills the First Presidency description:

There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today

1. There is sunshine in my soul today,
More glorious and bright
Than glows in any earthly sky,
For Jesus is my light.

[Chorus]
Oh, there’s sunshine, blessed sunshine
When the peaceful happy moments roll.
When Jesus shows his smiling face,
There is sunshine in the soul.

2. There is music in my soul today,
A carol to my King,
And Jesus listening can hear
The songs I cannot sing.

3. There is springtime in my soul today,
For when the Lord is near,
The dove of peace sings in my heart,
The flow’rs of grace appear.

4. There is gladness in my soul today,
And hope and praise and love,
For blessings which he gives me now,
For joys “laid up” above.

This song builds faith by teaching us to view Jesus as our light, that when our lives our near Christ we have peace and grace, and that we should hope and praise and love God for our current and future blessings.

Let’s look at some of the non-canonical “Sunshine songs.”

You Can Make the Pathway Bright

1. You can make the pathway bright,
Fill the soul with heaven’s light,
If there’s sunshine in your heart;
Turning darkness into day,
As the shadows fly away,
If there’s sunshine in your heart today.

[Chorus]
If there’s sunshine in your heart,
You can send a shining ray
That will turn the night to day;
And your cares will all depart,
If there’s sunshine in your heart today.

2. You can speak the gentle word
To the heart with anger stirred,
If there’s sunshine in your heart;
Tho it seems a little thing,
It will heaven’s blessings bring,
If there’s sunshine in your heart today.

3. You can do a kindly deed
To your neighbor in his need,
If there’s sunshine in your heart;
And his burden you will share
As you lift his load of care,
If there’s sunshine in your heart today.

4. You can live a happy life
In this world of toil and strife,
If there’s sunshine in your heart;
And your soul will glow with love
From the perfect light above,
If there’s sunshine in your heart today.

While this hymn does move us towards good works to comfort the weary and console mourning, there is NO MENTION OF GOD!!! Except with a brief mention of “heaven’s light”, any humanist, agnostic, or atheist could sing this work song! While I firmly believe that God DOES want us to do the things listed in this hymn, it’s certainly an incomplete sermon. The focus is so firmly on what we do in this hymn, there’s no mention or place for God. And this incomplete sermon can place an incorrect emphasis on the doing of the church rather than the good news of the Gospel.

Today, While the Sun Shines

1. Today, while the sun shines, work with a will;
Today all your duties with patience fulfill.
Today, while the birds sing, harbor no care;
Call life a good gift; call the world fair.

[Chorus]
Today, today, work with a will;
Today, today, your duties fulfill.
Today, today, work while you may;
Prepare for tomorrow by working today.

2. Today seek the treasure better than gold,
The peace and the joy that are found in the fold.
Today seek the gems that shine in the heart;
While here we labor, choose the better part.

3. Today seek for goodness, virtue, and truth,
As crown of your life and the grace of your youth.
Today, while the heart beats, live to be true,
Constant and faithful all the way through.

The same is true for the preceding “hymn.” There’s no mention of God, and it is an incomplete sermon.

Scatter Sunshine

1. In a world where sorrow
Ever will be known,
Where are found the needy
And the sad and lone,
How much joy and comfort
You can all bestow,
If you scatter sunshine
Ev’rywhere you go.

[Chorus]
Scatter sunshine all along your way.
Cheer and bless and brighten
Ev’ry passing day.
Scatter sunshine all along your way.
Cheer and bless and brighten
Ev’ry passing day.

[Chorus Alto, Tenor, and Bass.] Scatter the smiles and sunshine all along over your way.
Cheer and bless and brighten
Ev’ry passing, passing day.
Scatter the smiles and sunshine all along over your way.
Cheer and bless and brighten
Ev’ry passing day.

2. Slightest actions often
Meet the sorest needs,
For the world wants daily
Little kindly deeds.
Oh, what care and sorrow
You may help remove,
With your songs and courage,
Sympathy and love.

3. When the days are gloomy,
Sing some happy song;
Meet the world’s repining
With a courage strong.
Go with faith undaunted
Thru the ills of life;
Scatter smiles and sunshine
O’er its toil and strife.

So, I’m suggesting that we finish these sermons so that instead of merely a pep-talk, they actually become prayers. Maybe if we include the gospel in these hymns I would enjoy them (instead of loathing them).

September 23, 2009 Posted by | Religion | 1 Comment

Wars against Cultural Mormonism: “Gratitude”

“We should just focus on our blessings. Our blessings outweigh our suffering.”

This Cultural Philosophy has done more to damage my spirituality than any other I’ve heard. It is not healthy to hear “Your problems don’t matter.” Because, in the end, we are saying, “You don’t matter.”

Additionally, looking at others suffering, and realizing one doesn’t have the same extent of problems as others doesn’t mean we should feel blessed. Sure, it’s a good reality check, but true happiness isn’t built on comparing ones “blessings” to another’s misfortunes.

True gratitude doesn’t require ignoring the bad in our lives. True gratitude encompasses an acknowledgment of the good and the bad. Hearing that I had to ignore the bad (or say the bad didn’t matter because of the good) did not help. And it drove a wedge in my spiritual relationship with God. This wedge was forged, placed, and fostered by cultural Mormonism. So for heaven’s sake. Acknowledge your blessings, acknowledge your trials, and don’t feel like you have to “fake it.”

September 22, 2009 Posted by | Religion | Leave a comment

Wars against Cultural Mormonism: “Positivism”

I’ve figured something important out last week.

I don’t have to “focus on the positive” or “only think happy thoughts” or “scatter sunshine” in order to be a good Mormon (or Christian ftm). In fact, in my experience, hearing those phrases are often something that “causes” unhappiness.

The fact is, one doesn’t have to ignore the bad and “focus on the positive.” But one also doesn’t have to ignore the good and “focus on the negative.” This life has both. If life is giving you mostly “bad” things, the healthiest thing is to recognize that fact. But forcing a positive or negative outlook is an unnatural and unhealthy action.

September 21, 2009 Posted by | Religion | 3 Comments

What think ye of Nietzsche

A post from Jacob…

Among religious thinkers, as you would expect, Nietzsche has predictably been portrayed as a negative figure, a malevolent soul who inspired a kind of atheist renaissance in the 19th century. My philosophy teacher at BYU, however, suggested otherwise. What most people don’t realize is the kind of atmosphere Nietzsche was living in. Although a contemporary of Joseph Smith, he lived the duration of his life in a Europe where the decadence and corruption of prevailing religious practices was astounding and pervasive. From this vantage point, our teacher suggested that Nietzsche was, in fact, ACCURATELY seeing the surrounding cultural landscape for the “nauseaus” and heartbreaking reality it actually was. Rather than a deformed, demented man, we learned that Nietzsche may have been, in reality, a man of such enormous sensitivity that he couldn’t help coming to the conclusion he did based on what he was seeing. . . the proverbial canary in the cultural mine-gone-toxic.

Was European Christianity so apostate to justify Nietzsche’s statement that “God is dead?”

September 3, 2009 Posted by | Religion | 3 Comments