Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Apostate or Not?

Since our founding, Mormons have had strong feelings about those who leave our faith. We are to love others throughout the world, of all faiths; yet, the Book of Mormon is full of stories of those who rejected the faith and descended into such evil that they were willing to murder their former friends and neighbors:

And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things.

These apostates had a tendency to emigrate to a neighboring nation, and persuade the people there to declare war on their homeland.

But this is not merely an ancient phenomenon: some of Joseph Smith, Jr.'s friends and companions deserted the Church and fought against it, giving false testimony against the Prophet in anger, pride, or fear. Some tried to kill him. Neal A. Maxwell wrote,

There are the dissenters who leave the Church, either formally or informally, but who cannot leave it alone. Usually anxious to please worldly galleries, they are critical or at least condescending towards the Brethren. They not only seek to steady the ark but also on occasion give it a hard shove! Often having been taught the same true doctrines as the faithful, they have nevertheless moved in the direction of dissent (see Alma 47:36). They have minds hardened by pride (see Daniel 5:20).

In this mindset, perhaps, Brigham Young spoke harshly of Emma Hale Smith when she did not accompany the Church westward. Later, she participated in forming the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which held Joseph Smith, Jr.'s inspired translation and notes on the the Holy Bible. They published these as the Inspired Version of the Bible, but the larger Church in Utah did not use this version for many years, until one of our own scholars got to see the original manuscript for himself.

Turns out, the Reorganized Church had done a fine job. No apostate changing of scripture. No malicious, prideful, or evil intent. Today, differences from the Inspired Version (or "Joseph Smith Translation") are placed in the footnotes of LDS-published editions of the King James Version of the Bible, and routinely used in our Church curriculum.

So... if Emma Smith and company weren't evil apostates, what were they?

Robert Kirby (author of the "Five kinds of Mormons" and the "Five kinds of non-Mormons") offers a lighthearted take in his "Five kinds of ex-Mormons," placing those who leave the LDS Church on a spectrum from very hostile to not at all.

Many Latter-day Saints struggle with a series of dialectics: our Church is the One True Church, but the rest of the world can be saved, too. Satan wants us to leave the Church, but God loves his lost sheep. Those who leave can do so out of pride, guilt, or anger... or, they can do so out of sincerity, hurt feelings, or misunderstandings. One popular blog post on this issue, "The Alarming Truth behind Anti-Mormonism," illustrates what I would describe as a one-sided approach to these issues. And there are verses of scripture, as well as sermons from modern Church leaders, where the approach is similarly one-sided.

The gentler, more compassionate side is often represented in talks by Gordon B. Hinckley and Dieter F. Uchtdorf. Dallin H. Oaks has individual talks that are one sided, but his teachings as a whole touch on both sides of the dialectic. 

If you wish to read more about how different people leave Mormonism for different reasons, I suggest three talks. First, "Come Join with Us,"by Dieter F. Uchtdorf:

The search for truth has led millions of people to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, there are some who leave the Church they once loved.

One might ask, “If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?”

Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.

Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church.

In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves.

Second, I invite you to read "Nurturing the Less Active" by Carlos E. Asay:

The lost sheep spoken of by the Savior could represent the member of the fold who strays from the path, following rather passively the enticements of the world. He may not do so with planned or malicious intent; he simply follows the crowd and melds into the group that shows him the greater interest. Usually, a lost sheep will respond to overtures of genuine love, concern, and proper fellowship.

Perhaps the Savior used the parable of the lost coin to demonstrate that a valuable soul, like a piece of silver, may be lost through neglect. At times, leaders and teachers become neglectful, even offensive, and allow others to slip away. If this happens, and it can happen very easily, the responsible party should light the candle, sweep the floor, and do all within his power to recover the coin before it becomes encrusted with dust and is lost forever.

The prodigal son may represent those who openly rebel against heaven and home. The prodigal is often one who feels he might know more than his elders, who wants to try his own wings in uncertain areas, or who stumbles and falls while walking the slippery path of youth. Those close by may not understand the exact reason for the rebellion. However, the prodigal’s soul is of great worth and he should never be abandoned. Prayers, pleadings, persistent love, and the welcome mat at the door often win him back.

"Rescuing the Lost Sheep," by Roy Bean, takes a similar approach to Elder Asay's, focusing on how the effort of Church members and ministers may be different in those three situations. On the issue of Emma Smith, the Prophet's wife, I once heard a mission president say, "I think it was more a case of the Church leaving her, than her leaving the Church."

I hope this illustrates how Church members can accept their Church as the "only true and living Church upon the face of the whole earth," without assuming that those who leave have apostatized from everything they know to be true, good, and holy. In doing so, I hope that we will be an example to cultures that have little to no tolerance for a change of faith.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A conservative argument for universal healthcare

I am naturally conservative in many ways. I value in-group loyalty and moral purity. I respect hard work and independence.

Therefore, I believe we need universal healthcare.

Think about it. Entrepreneurs, job creators, are one of the great archetypes of conservative ideology. But the single greatest obstacle to entrepreneurship may be dependence on health insurance: why would I give up my stable job, with my access to health insurance, to try something that may or may not pay enough to let my kids go to the doctor? I wouldn't.

Barack Obama's progressive compassion is commendable, but the Affordable Care Act didn't solve this problem. Instead, it increased the burden on job creators, by putting much of the burden of paying for health care on employers' backs. Everyone needs health care, but should it really be employers' responsibility to cover that?

My libertarian and Constitutionalist readers will be quick to note that it shouldn't be the government's job, either. The Constitution does not give the federal government power to administer universal healthcare. The Affordable Care Act tried to get around that, awkwardly.

But what if the state governments were responsible for healthcare?

State and local governments' involvement in education and healthcare is not new. They have been since America's founding. The Founders reserved that power for the states and the people, and did not give it to the federal government. On the state and local level, I believe that a conservative system for universal healthcare would focus on conservative principles: family, entrepreneurship, competition.

First, universal healthcare should focus on families. Providing generous prenatal and postnatal care would likely reduce the number of abortions nationwide. Work requirements for government aid should recognize that parenting young children is hard work, and providing healthcare for parents and young children can make one of the most challenging phases of life a little less stressful. Likewise, we should continue to provide aid for the elderly.

Entrepreneurship is another core value of conservativism: what if we started by extending Medicaid to entrepreneurs and their families? How many more people would experiment with creating jobs and services? What would happen to our economic growth? I'd also like to note that good health is a prerequisite to hard work: if we provide universal mental health services, in particular, we can increase the proportion of the population that is capable of self-reliance.

As a conservative, I believe that single-payer healthcare is unnecessary for universal healthcare (one of Hillary Clinton's criticisms of Bernie Sanders), and removes the power of competition. Instead, we simply need minimal legislation to oversee fair competition: price transparency, anti-monopoly measures, and so on. Our current system allows for monopolistic health insurance companies, and it hides the prices for medical procedures. We have a strange for-profit bureaucracy, not a capitalist or socialist system. By making the health insurance system truly capitalist--transparent and competitive--we could promote efficiency and entrepreneurship in that field.

Bernie Sanders means well, but we don't need to jump to single-payer in order to have universal healthcare. Switzerland and Hong Kong provide universal healthcare in ways that, I believe, would greatly appeal to American conservatives.

America is tied for the best healthcare in the world--but among the world's top countries, our healthcare is the most expensive and least efficient. We use Canada as an excuse for avoiding universal healthcare, but among developed countries, Canada is unusual in having such long waiting times. We can build our own system, using the best of the world's wisdom as an inspiration, just as James Madison did when he draft our Constitution.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What Amazon Prime benefits cannot be shared with your household?

As I write this, most Amazon Prime benefits can be shared with a spouse or significant other, as long as you feel comfortable sharing a credit card with them. However, several things cannot be shared:
  • Access to the Prime Music library
  • Amazon Music purchases
  • Amazon Video purchases
It's possible that they're restricting music and video in an effort to keep prices low. I imagine buying a "family license" would cost more than buying a "personal license." Why that doesn't apply to ebooks and audiobooks, I can only guess.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-Mother

I'd like to present a moderate, comprehensive approach to abortion, based on three overall principles, which I see as equally essential:
  1. Mothers have the right to choose when and if they have children.
  2. Unborn fetuses have a right to life, which is secondary to the mother's right to life.
  3. Sex, parenthood, and childbearing are sacred, and worthy of the highest protections our society can offer.
Most of the debate around abortion surrounds the competition that can arise between the first two principles: does a rape victim have a right to an abortion? Does consensual, unprotected sex constitute consent to the possibility of pregnancy? What about consensual, protected sex? Is abortion a valid back-up option for birth control?

The questions are challenging, and different people prioritize life and choice differently. My purpose here is not to claim that life is more important than choice, or that choice is more important than life. My purpose is to show how we can protect them both, simultaneously.

Similarly, sex education debates about birth control vs. abstinence are really about a false dichotomy between sexual agency and sexual sanctity; in reality, teenagers do make choices about sex, and sex is sacred, and the data I've seen shows pretty consistently that teaching about birth control, or even providing free birth control, does not make teens more promiscuous. In other words, whether they happen to have birth control handy is not usually the deciding factor when teens decide when to become sexually active.

A comprehensive approach to sexual agency, the sanctity of unborn life, and the sacredness of sex and parenthood involves at least four major policies:
  1. Public and private recognition of the dignity of the unpaid work of caring for children
  2. Support for parents who are struggling to provide for their children
  3. A culture that encourages teen fathers to be involved in their child's life and support
  4. A culture that celebrates both abstinence and birth control
Allow me to explain.

I loved Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate. I really did. But to me, his most offensive comment was not about the 47% who would vote for a Democrat no matter what because they benefit from government programs (which he apologized for)--I already knew he didn't really understand poverty, without him saying something unkind and memorable on the subject. No, what bothered me most was when he said that young mothers on government aid should be required to have a job outside the home so they could learn "the dignity of work."

How often we use the word work in that way--as if paid work, outside the home, was all that counted?

"Oh, your wife has kids. Does she work?"

"Your baby is 2 years old now. Are you planning to go back to work?"

"When are you going to put that degree of yours to work?"

Of course she works! Stay-at-home parents are some of the hardest workers in this economy. By failing to recognize their unpaid work, we put a huge amount of pressure on new parents, especially women. We could resolve this by using the word "work" differently, by recognizing that having a kid under 5 is a full-time job in our SNAP and TANF and other government aid requirements, and perhaps even by having a national database that tracks the amount of unpaid work being done in our civilization.

This leads into my second point: as a culture, we need to support young parents. Imagine how many more women would choose not to have an abortion if they knew their families, their churches, their governments, their employers, or other organizations would help them every step of the way? (Being unable to afford a child is consistently the top reason for getting an abortion, followed by fear that the new child would disrupt their career or education plans.) Imagine if we had decent maternity leave, paternity leave, and other programs to care for new parents!

Some people criticize those who have children because they know that they will have substantial help from parents or government programs. But having a child is an enormous sacrifice, a sacrifice that should be honored. Unless both the financial care and the caregiving labor are primarily given by someone else, by the parent's own choice, the parent deserves to be respected as such.

Getting fathers involved would add to that support system, financial and emotional. I'm not an expert on this, so here's a list of facts on teen dads. Educate yourself. Fatherhood is sacred and powerful and worthy of respect, no matter the age. Most teen fathers do want to be involved, even though they may not be of much support financially.

Finally, we need a culture that celebrates abstinence and birth control. It is my understanding that teaching abstinence in schools is marginally effective for kids who haven't started having sex yet, but kids who choose to wait are almost always doing so because of their religion or their family. On the other hand, birth control education in schools, as well as providing free birth control, are very effective for teens who have chosen to be sexually active.

Sexual agency--the right to choose when and with whom to have sex and children--is a sacred part of our free will. It is so central to our sense of self that being raped can cause PTSD, just like almost dying can. Birth control enhances our sexual agency, and if used consistently with one's conscience and religious convictions, it takes away nothing from the sacredness of sex and parenthood. It makes it easier to protect the mother's health by spacing out children; it allows a sexually active couple to go to God and ask how many children they should have, and when.

In summary, we can simultaneously keep sex sacred, protect unborn children, and uphold the woman's right to choose, by providing a culture and support system that upholds parenthood. If we have laws against abortion, this would give these laws a context that prevents dangerous illegal abortions and protects mothers' well-being. If we legalize abortion, then this system would minimize the number of abortions.

I hope that this perspective offers a common vocabulary and set of goals that helps conservatives and liberals to be Pro-Mother, together.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

My D&D Profile (according to an online quiz)

I Am A: Lawful Good Human Wizard/Cleric (2nd/2nd Level)

Ability Scores:

Lawful Good A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act. He combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. He tells the truth, keeps his word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Lawful good is the best alignment you can be because it combines honor and compassion. However, lawful good can be a dangerous alignment when it restricts freedom and criminalizes self-interest.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Primary Class:
Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Secondary Class:
Clerics act as intermediaries between the earthly and the divine (or infernal) worlds. A good cleric helps those in need, while an evil cleric seeks to spread his patron's vision of evil across the world. All clerics can heal wounds and bring people back from the brink of death, and powerful clerics can even raise the dead. Likewise, all clerics have authority over undead creatures, and they can turn away or even destroy these creatures. Clerics are trained in the use of simple weapons, and can use all forms of armor and shields without penalty, since armor does not interfere with the casting of divine spells. In addition to his normal complement of spells, every cleric chooses to focus on two of his deity's domains. These domains grants the cleric special powers, and give him access to spells that he might otherwise never learn. A cleric's Wisdom score should be high, since this determines the maximum spell level that he can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

My Uneducated Thoughts on Transgender Issues

Mostly for myself, I'd like to use this blog post to outline what I do and don't know about transgender issues.

First, it bothers me that part of the definition of gender identity disorder is that a person prefers stereotypical activities, friendships, and clothes of their "true gender" rather than their physical sex. As a man who usually prefers female friends, who loves cooking and reading and writing, who relates better to women in most ways, and also as a psychology grad who is highly skeptical of stereotypes, I think we need something better to go on.

Second, contrary to common LDS opinion to the contrary, I can find no canon, doctrine, or consistent Apostolic teaching that it is impossible for a male spirit to be born to a female body, or a female spirit to be born into a male body. I see no doctrinal explanation for hermaphrodites. On this matter, I can only say, "[I] believe that God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Article of Faith #9).

Third, Latter-day Saints have a unanimous Apostolic statement that gender is eternal, applying to spirit and body alike. Therefore, the gender of the spirit is of paramount importance.

Fourth, I don't know what it is like to believe that your true gender and physical sex are at odds. I don't know what sort of support, therapy, or counseling such people would need. But I know that the Savior knows, because if he experienced every sorrow, temptation, and imperfection of humanity on the cross, then he experienced the sensation of gender identity disorder.

Fifth, even if spirits can be born into opposite-gender bodies, it seems likely to me that there are people who believe that they have a spirit-body gender clash, but who really just don't relate to gender stereotypes. People like me: I have a male body, a male spirit, and strong feminine tendencies. If I am right, and there are people like this, then a sex change operation is not what they need. They need to see how foolish stereotypes are, and to embrace being a "feminine" man or a "masculine" woman: we have women of strength, determination, intelligence, and boldness, and we need them; we have men who are gentle, nurturing, relationship-oriented, and wise, and we need them.

Sixth, the Lord has to be the ultimate judge. He knows the gender of each spirit, the needs of every soul. He alone can care for us as we truly need to be cared for.