Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Republicans and the Far Right

Beginning in about the days of Ronald Reagan, the Republican party's standing in the United States Congress has become gradually more extreme. According to statistics by political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal (see a very nice graph here), the "Center Right" began to diminish several decades ago. Newt Gingrich's 1994 Republican Revolution gave momentum to the Right and Far Right, and after 2006, the Center Right disappeared entirely from the House of Representatives. The Senate still has a Center Right bloc, although they're less than half the size of the Center Left bloc.

The results of this trend are abundant. The Democrat party made strides forward in every federal branch of government this election; moderate, swing voters don't want extremists in power. In spite of high unemployment and even higher deficit spending, President Obama won reelection (possibly because of Paul Ryan's firm standing in the Far Right). Democrats complain about Republican obstructionism in Congress, blaming them for many of the government's failures. Two popular political comedy shows, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report, derive large amounts of their comedic material from extreme conservatives.

So, where do we go from here? I have several suggestions to improve the effectiveness of conservativism:

First, moderate conservatives, vote in primary elections! Don't let the extreme, passionate voices drown you out. You outnumber them, according to this study on media viewing!

Second, remind your conservative leaders of moderate-conservative values, such as American leadership that includes respect for other nations, the need to create bipartisan solutions to our problems, the need to give illegal immigrants a path to legal residency at least, the need for a mother's life exception to abortion law(not to mention a rape exception), and our duty to fight for the rights of gay and lesbian individuals in employment, housing, and other public spheres (without treating same-sex marriage like a legal right).

Third, avoid verbal attacks on liberals. They are part of America, and they have a role and a voice in America's future. That role need not be a negative one. When liberals propose moving farther towards moral relativism and socialism than you believe is wise or good, don't just condemn them! Work with the truths of compassion for the poor and tolerance for others' differences that they possess. Find compromises, like wisely administrated welfare work requirements, and cooperate with your political opponents for a better future.

As a Latter-day Saint, I urge my fellow Latter-day Saints to notice that the Church's stance is never totally conservative. They have moderately conservative stances on abortion and gay rights, but they also have neutral (or even liberal) stances on many other issues. Two of the links above are Church statements against extreme conservative policies.

May God bless you, and may unity prevail.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Government and Equal Opportunity

The right to your own property is a sacred and fundamental part of modern constitutional republics, but taxation is a part of all effective governments. How do we distinguish, then, between taxation which is appropriate and that which isn't? It's their property, after all--should we abolish taxation entirely?

Of course not, because some things are absolutely essential. We need roads. We need a common defense. We need officials to enforce the law.

What I'm proposing is that giving to the hardworking poor and needy--the disabled, the injured, the widow, the neglected child--is absolutely essential. It's not an extra thing that the rich can do if they happen to feel like it. It's our obligation as a community to help those who can't help themselves.

Should we just give them handouts? Not if we can avoid it. I think we should follow the Church's plan and do everything in our power to help people get back on their feet. If people are disabled, let's find a way to let them give back to the community.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

LDS General Conference Quotes

Here's my favorite quote from General Conference so far, by Elder Andersen:

"A few question their faith when they find a statement made by a church leader decades ago that seems incongruent with our doctrine. There's an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by all fifteen members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many. Our doctrine is not difficult to find.

"The leaders of the Church are honest but imperfect men. Remember the words of Moroni? "Condemn me not because of my imperfection, neither my father, but rather, give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been." Joseph Smith said, "I never told you I was perfect, but there is no error in the revelations."

"The miracle of God's hand in the history and destiny of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is only understood through the lens of spiritual inquiry."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Theory about Marriage and Orientation

Hey, all! Here is my theory about orientation, religion, and marriage. I don't intend to offend anyone; this is a sensitive subject, and I know that the patterns I've seen may not hold true for everyone. I just want to share the pattern I've seen so far and ask for the insights of others. So you know, I'm an active Mormon. I'm feminine enough that I often relate better to women than men, but I've always identified as a man, and I've always been attracted to women.

First of all, I think an important step to integrating Mormonism with same-sex orientation is to separate action from attraction. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has discussed this at length, and Josh Weed explained that this was one reason he could be happy in a heterosexual marriage: he's physically attracted to men, but he sacrificed a sex life based on physical attraction so he could be married to his female best friend, who he has an excellent relationship with. Many people seem to be able to make their sexual orientation a less important part of their identity.

Based on Josh Weed's blog post and other stories I've read, as well as talking with several people, I think that emotional attraction is more important for a happy marriage than physical attraction. Physical attraction helps a lot, of course, but some people are able to make a relationship work with a primarily emotional connection. Nick Norman wrote, ""To enter into a relationship with a young woman, when I could never truly care for her as she needed, would be deceptive and wrong." On the other hand, Josh Weed bonded with his wife more deeply he had than with any man.

So, here's my theory: I think that, in spite of a physical, sexual orientation towards the same gender, some people have an "emotional orientation" or emotional bond with someone of the opposite gender that makes a heterosexual, LDS marriage possible. Obviously, it would be a sacrifice, and I don't think everyone has the opposite-sex emotional connection for it. I just think that sexual and emotional attraction are not the same thing.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Great Creations

Great creations are not born from a single moment of inspiration. They come from many such moments, which are acted upon and combined together through diligence and patience. Relationships, homes, and Zion itself are built on the love, brilliance, and determination of a group of God's children.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Are you homophobic or moral?

I write this article for anyone who opposes same-sex marriage. For a long time, I have believed that these people can be divided into two groups. Some of us oppose same-sex marriage but support gay rights in housing and employment, and and we try to be understanding and respectful of those with non-traditional sexual orientations and lifestyles. Others among us are truly prejudiced against anyone who is a self-described homosexual, attaching harmful stereotypes to them and treating them as inferiors.

There is also some evidence that we can have implicit prejudices. Consciously, we may believe that God wants us to treat everyone as equals, but without thinking about it, we may still treat people differently based on their ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. In 2009, the FBI documented well over a thousand hate crimes against homosexuals. (Hate crimes based on religion happen at about the same rate.)

To figure out which group you're in, I would like to propose a litmus test for you: how did you feel when J. K. Rowling announced that Dumbledore was gay? How did it make you feel to think that the wisest, most widely admired character in the Harry Potter series was attracted to his own gender? Did you feel uncomfortable? Angry? Frightened?

If so, I invite you to think on this: there is no indication that Dumbledore ever acted on this attraction in a sexual way. Ms. Rowling never suggested that he felt lust when he looked at other men, just attraction. In fact, the only time she says he fell in love with someone, the other man didn't return the feeling, and it was probably the single most damaging relationship of Dumbledore's entire life. It appears that he never found love and died alone. Rowling's announcement is a far cry from an endorsement of same-sex marriage; however, it is certainly a proclamation that people can be good and great regardless of their sexual orientation.

I have a confession to make: when I first heard that Dumbledore was gay, I felt uncomfortable. I wasn't angry, and I didn't suddenly despise Dumbledore, but I didn't really know what to make of it. Now, years later, after reading about the actual experiences of several gay people, I don't feel that way any more. I feel sad for Dumbledore, and I admire his courage throughout a challenging life.

If you still feel angry about Dumbledore's orientation--an orientation he never really acted on--I suggest you get to know a gay person. It's a good way to change your assumptions, to remove implicit prejudices. Different people deal with homosexual orientation in many ways. One of the most insightful stories I have read is that of Josh Weed; I'd suggest it to anyone trying to reconcile their religious beliefs with the reality that many people are attracted to the same gender, by no choice of their own. It's the choices they make that matter.

NOTE: I apologize for using the word "homophobic;" it's a silly term, as homophobia doesn't usually refer to a fear or phobia at all, and it's often used as a pejorative term, an unanswerable insult, like comparing someone to Hitler. I use it here because homophobia is the most commonly used term to describe prejudice or ill feelings towards those who are attracted the same gender, regardless of whether or not they act on their attraction.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

My Testimony

Doctrine and Covenants 46:13-14 says:

To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

When I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at eight years old, the bishop asked me if I believed in God and Christ, if I believed that Joseph Smith, Jr. and Gordon B. Hinckley were prophets of God, and if I believed this was God's church. I answered honestly: I did believe. On the first Sunday of every month, thousands of Mormons get up and announce that they know, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that Jesus is the Christ and/or that this is his church. Knowing and believing are central to our religion, but this scripture implies that there is a difference between the two.

A local Latter-day Saint leader named Russell Hancock recently described his worries as a young man. He believed that the Church was true, but in spite of a great deal of sincere prayer, he did not know for himself. Eventually, his mother encouraged him to act on his beliefs and stop worrying. He did so, and after many years, knowledge came. Brother Hancock cites David O. McKay's experience as similar to his own: President McKay didn't know for himself until after being called as a mission president!

For my friends and family, I want to describe my own experience with testimony.

When I was a young boy, my parents zealously took me to Church and taught me doctrine and wisdom. I believed what they taught, and I was baptized.

Early in my life--I think it was shortly after my baptism--I got what Alma 32 calls a knowledge that the word is good. I said something like verse 28 to myself:

It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

I think this is what most members of the Church mean when they say they have a testimony. They have tasted the joy of the Spirit, and they know that the Church and gospel are good. However, this is not the same as a perfect knowledge. Alma says that we must nourish the word, with faith, diligence, and patience.

When I was 15, I already loved the scriptures, seminary, and Church. I had read the Book of Mormon more than once. Kneeling by my bedside, in Highland, Utah, I decided to test the Moroni Promise for myself:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

I didn't quite get what I expected. I felt a very gentle feeling of peace, and the following words came into my mind: You already know that the Book of Mormon is true. At first, I was a little disappointed that I didn't get something more dramatic, but this experience still strengthens me. In my grandfather's words, I knew that I knew (Douglas Callister).

At this point, I definitely had what most Latter-day Saints would consider a testimony, but there are still two more steps that I have experienced, and there is one more step that I long to experience. Revelation 19:10 says:

The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

When I was 18 years old, I received the Melchizedek Priesthood, and those close to me began to ask me for priesthood blessings. Just like the Holy Ghost had revealed to me that the Church was true, words began to spill out of my mouth. Sometimes I was surprised by what I felt prompted to say, but I knew that what I was saying was inspired of God. What a blessing! And it definitely isn't confined to the priesthood. Moroni finished his promise with these words:

By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

I have received many revelations over the years. Sometimes, I just feel the right words for someone spill out of my mouth. Other times, I feel words and feelings come into my mind and heart, as described in D&C 8.

On my mission, I wanted another witness. I wanted a deeper knowledge of the truth of the Book of Mormon. I knew it was true, but my knowledge seemed relatively passive and quiet. I knelt down and asked for something more compelling, more undeniable. Something like Oliver Cowdery was promised in the work of translation, in D&C 9:

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

And I received something like it. That day, kneeling in my apartment in Trenton, Ontario, God gave me a surer testimony, one that burns in my soul. Ever since then, I have had a passionate desire to bear my testimony to others. I try to bridle that passion, so that I testify when the time is right, when others will understand what I am saying, but I wish I could shout from the hilltops! I wish I could tell everyone what I know.

So, on top of a traditional, quiet testimony, I have tasted the spirit of prophecy and revelation, and I have gained a passion for sharing my testimony. But I have yet to receive the greatest knowledge of all, described in Alma 32:43:

And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.

Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.

I believe that this fruit is eternal life, or, in other words, I believe that this fruit is to get to know God for ourselves. As we do so, we become filled with his love, as Mormon prophesied (Moroni 7:48):

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.

With Mormon, I testify that this love is real and powerful. In the name of Jesus Christ, I can tell you that the spiritual knowledge of a testimony is real, that it grows if acted upon, and that charity never fails.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Two Cows

My wife and I revised the analogy of the two cows:

You have two cows, and your neighbor has none. The government takes both, hires you to milk them, and sells you the milk.

You have two cows. The state takes both and gives you some milk for the rest of your life.

You have two cows. The state takes both, sells you some milk, and tells you what to think about your cows.

Your liege-lord owns you and two cows. You milk them and he graciously lets you keep some of the milk.

You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. If all goes well, you sell the herd and retire.

You have no cows, so you spend your life milking the entrepreneur's cows for a living. If he pays well, you save up and buy one cow.

You have no cows and are unable to get/do paid work, but you are told you are lazy for not milking your cows.

You have two cows, and you sell the milk at a profit. The government gives you ten bulls because you seem promising. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. You sell all your cows for a bull-only business model, and your business fails.

You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. They get sick and die, and the government gives you a new herd.

As capitalism, but the community votes for the entrepreneur to give some free milk to the less fortunate.

The community votes for the entrepreneur to give free milk to the able-bodied poor.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Child of God

One hundred eighty-two years ago this Spring, a child of God knelt in sincere prayer to ask God a simple question, intending to do whatever he was commanded.

And Satan went berserk. That boy wrote: "immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak." Satan did everything he could to silence the boy whose testimony would enlighten tens of thousands in his lifetime. Millions have now grown because of Joseph Smith's testimony.

But God delivered Joseph! He gave the boy prophet protection from Satan, work to do, and power to do it. Soon, under the new Prophet's direction, other children of God began to be called to serve:

And your whole labor shall be in Zion, with all your soul, from henceforth; yea, you shall ever open your mouth in my cause, not fearing what man can do, for I am with you. Amen.

The Lord never intended for one child to do his whole work. Jesus Christ leads the work and ensures that all our mistakes are made up, sooner or later. He promises that everyone can be a part of what he is doing:

For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.

Every person has a gift. Your gifts may include the ability to share knowledge, or to share wisdom, or to be comforting. The scriptures guarantee that you have at least one. The Lord used astronomy as a metaphor in D&C 88 and in the book of Abraham. D&C 88:44 could be describing how our gifts all complement each other in God's work:

They give light to each other in their times and in their seasons.

We all benefit from each other in different ways. I believe that some promptings are more likely to come to men, while others are more likely to come to women. The poor seem to get more revelation about taking care of each other, while the rich seem to have more light on spending their money efficiently. And the scriptures are clear that our own interests and questions have a huge impact on what revelations we get:

Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

Like with Joseph Smith, Satan wants to silence each of us. Of course the light we have is incomplete, there's no way we're going to save the world on our own, but Satan wants us to believe that our gifts, ideas, and interests are irrelevant. He wants us to close our mouths. He will tell us whatever lies are necessary: that women can't be leaders, that men can't be loving, that children can't be wise. Even well-meaning people may believe some of Satan's lies and tell you to be silent. But could the Lord be any clearer?

Open your mouths and they shall be filled, and you shall become even as Nephi of old, who journeyed from Jerusalem in the wilderness.

Yea, open your mouths and spare not, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your backs, for lo, I am with you.

Yea, open your mouths and they shall be filled, saying: Repent, repent, and prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Again, most of us know we all have limitations on our authority over others. We don't have the right to declare new commandments, to judge others' worthiness, or to become angry. We do, however, have the right to speak as we are guided by the Holy Ghost. We all have the right to ask hard questions of others, to point out important deficits in what the Lord has revealed so far, and to propose possible solutions until the Lord reveals more on the subject. We can pray with all our hearts for revelation, and we can receive it.

If we open our mouths, we can literally become like Nephi. His father, the authoritative Prophet in the story, saw a vision of a tree and an iron rod leading to it. After Lehi explained the vision to his family, Nephi desired to see the same vision.

And he did.

Nephi learned some different things from the same vision, things more applicable to his own perspective and needs. And when his brethren were arguing about what the vision meant, Nephi could explain with confidence.

I plead with you, don't wait for someone else to be Nephi (who could explain the vision so clearly), or Esther (who saved Israel by lifting up her voice), or Emma (who got us the Word of Wisdom by objecting to church leaders' tobacco use). Don't let anyone tell you that your gifts are worthless. Their light does not invalidate yours.

After all, you are a child of heavenly parents. Is there anything you can't do, if they are behind you?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Self-Defeating Freedoms

Freedom! Freedom is worth fighting for. Freedom is worth dying for. Most people would say that's part of being an American, and I imagine that most other democratic countries feel the same way.

But many of the people who, with Patrick Henry, cry, "Give me liberty or give me death!" object when they see freedom being abused. This is natural. They understand the harmful consequences of abusing our liberties.

The Book of Mormon explains this principle in terms of choosing God or Satan: "Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself" (2 Nephi 2:27).

In other words, we are free to choose Satan over Christ, but if we do, we will lose many other freedoms. As a student of psychology, I am very familiar with ways we can give up freedom. Addictions are the most obvious example; I'm free to smoke a cigarette, but every choice becomes less of a choice. Soon, I could be a nicotine addict seeking help. Plenty of other freedoms are equally self-defeating. Playing a video game for a few minutes is fun. Playing a video game for hours on end can be a form of unhealthy escape, in which we forget that real life is worth experiencing.

I don't know how many ways there are to give up freedom. I'm focusing more on freedoms that create. Choosing Jesus Christ in any way will make us more free, more powerful, more intelligent, and more like Him. Certain mental illnesses can reduce our emotional freedom, but there are ways to improve. We can get help, exercise, or correct harmful thinking errors. We can learn about our own needs and meet them in healthy ways.

I know from personal experience that there is no greater ally than God in the quest for emotional freedom. According the scriptures, He is the best ally in the quest for physical freedom and the only path to spiritual freedom.