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BOB MCCUE - SECTION 2
Topics surrounding well-written Bob McCue.
| Was Joseph Smith Jr., Mormonism’s Founder, Reliable? |
October 18, 2005
Joseph Smith Jr. would have been 200 years old on December 23, 2005. Hence, we are in the midst of a reporting flurry regarding Mormonism. Much of this shows Mormonism at its clean-cut best attractive families; successful businessmen and politicians; Steve Young; with smiles all-round. And Mormons generally have earned their hardworking, pleasant image. However, the more we know about history the better we can understand the strengths and weaknesses of what we encounter in the present. In that neighbourly spirit, let’s consider a few of Mormonism’s foundational planks.
Joseph Smith’s claims include that God appeared to him and commanded him not to join any church because all were “abominations”; angelic visitors and the voice of God himself regularly guided Smith as he led God’s Kingdom on Earth; and God sent Peter, James and John to give Smith God’s exclusive authority. Then add lots of sex, deception, political intrigue, Smith’s run for the U.S. Presidency and claim to be “King of the Earth”, and millions who today revere him as humanity’s second most important person behind only Christ. This is quite a story.
While there are many ways to interpret Smith, one pedestrian question takes his most important measure: Was he reliable?
Before Smith became God’s prophet he was a convicted con man. Among other things, he pretended to be able to see buried treasure by looking into a small brown stone. People then paid him to find the treasure. Court records describe his conviction on fraud related charges in that regard. This cooled his enthusiasm for treasure seeking.
Then Smith began his prophetic career. He reported that God and Christ appeared to him, and that an angel gave him the golden plates from which he claimed to translate the Book of Mormon. He used his treasure seeking stone to perform this translation, mostly without the golden plates present.
Once accepted as a prophet, Smith exercised the alpha male’s traditional sexual prerogative over his followers. What he eventually called polygamous marriages were often little more than clandestine affairs. Several of Smith’s over thirty “wives” were young girls, others were already married and remained so while consorting with Smith. In a few cases Smith sent husbands out of town on long term Mormon business before propositioning their wives. Rumours of adultery and polygamy swirled around him while he gradually allowed other Mormon leaders to join him in this secret practise. Meanwhile, for over a decade Smith and the others involved denied their behaviour. This lying established a pattern of leadership deception that still dogs Mormonism.
Smith claimed to be able to translate ancient records but failed in his only verifiable attempts. For example, his mistranslation of the Book of Abraham from Egyptian papyri became apparent long after his death when scholars developed the ability to read Egyptian. And over a century of Book of Mormon scholarship has produced little to support its claims, against mountains of disconfirming evidence.
Smith’s tendency to deceive pervaded his mode of civic and church government. And he altered his personal history as well as revelations from God in ways that helped him maintain control over his followers.
While he sometimes admitted error, Smith’s most egregious deceptions were excused on the basis that God told him to lie because it was necessary. This characterized much of what is most troubling about Smith the ends too often justified the means. In a theocracy God's law, as stated by God's prophet, trumps all. Hence, Smith became a law unto himself.
Disillusioned Mormons left Smith in droves as reality collided with his grandiose claims. But the stories he told on God’s behalf evolved so as to attract new followers. Many who stayed did not understand his shortcomings until they were so committed to Mormonism that they rationalized his deceptive behavior. The study of cognitive dissonance and cognitive bias explain how this works and why it should be expected.
Smith was murdered at a time when Mormonism was stumbling. His martyrdom caused him to become an icon that would be used for often conflicting purposes by the many groups into which his followers splintered. One such group followed Brigham Young to the Utah desert where it grew into mainstream Mormonism.
For leaders like Young, a community building myth about Smith was more useful than Smith’s history, so inconvenient fact tended to be surpressed. Hence, Smith’s deceptive tendencies were not understood until long after Mormonism reached critical mass as an American sub-culture, and even now many well-educated Mormons are unaware of their religion’s questionable beginnings. The current prosperity of many religions with unsavoury pasts illustrates that once a social group has a sufficient head of steam, it takes far more than scandal to stop the train.
However, the tension between Mormon myth and the information rich, Internet world is painful. This causes many Mormons to emphasize more than ever the idea that the powerful emotions they feel while worshipping are God’s voice affirming all Mormon beliefs, and that these feelings are the most trustworthy evidence of reality. The belief taht emotional feeling is a form of knowledge makes Mormons susceptible to manipulation of many kinds, and is likely responsible in part for Utah’s North American leading rate of white collar crime, anti-depressant consumption and several other unflattering social statistics.
So, should Smith be believed? It appears not. But his life coupled with Mormon history presents a gripping, cautionary social parable.
| What follows is a copy of a lightly edited letter I sent earlier today to a respected, liberal Mormon academic.
I have appreciated much of your work, and have not listened to your interview on *. I do, however, have a few things to add to what ** said to you.
Mormon leadership has from near the beginning has ridden two horses at a minimum in terms of authority. On the one hand, they claim absolute divine authority and obedience as ** noted. Countless statements from Mormon authorities can be mustered in support of this claim as well as the temple ceremony itself. And on the other hand, they claim the right to make mistakes and that such do not dilute their authority. In fact, the major defence Mormon leaders make of Joseph Smith and his error prone successors is that we cannot expect perfection from humans and that Smith was both God's prophet and human, so we should not hold him to an impossible standard. Fair enough. However, when you combine the claim for divine authority and obedience whenever you can't be proven wrong with an "out" that does not dilute your authority whenever you are proven wrong, you have something that resembles the "Texas sharpshooter's fallacy" in logic. That is, if you want to look like a great shot (or a prophet), you fire a bullet at the wall first, and then before anyone sees the hole you draw the target around it to show the hole in the middle of the bull's-eye. In similar fashion, Mormon leaders have invented and Mormon followers have accepted a system that can't be falsified. If you are right or can't be proven wrong, you are a prophet. If you are proven wrong, you made a non-prophetic error that does not affect your authority and hence the members' obligation to obey you. Followers are prevented by their belief system from using the usual connection between past error, prediction of future error, and decision as to whether to follow the advice/order of the error prone leader. Hell-of-a-deal for the leaders as long as they can can get it, and an interesting evolution of the inerrancy doctrine that was used by religious leaders in times when they were questioned less than religious leaders tend to be now.
And what about the Mormon leadership attitude with regard to questioning their authority? I love it when Mormon leaders trot out quotes from Brigham Young, Joseph Smith and others that show how Mormons are expected to think for themselves. And of course, they must also obey regardless of what they think. So why are we surprised that most Mormons don't think critically about their beliefs? What is the point if you can't act as a result of your thinking, not to mention the common Mormon advice in recent years that says, "Don't think, or read, or talk about anything that might cause you to question". And, obedience is what is covenanted in the temple. And members must not "speak evil of the Lord's anointed" which means in effect not questioning Mormon leaders in public or private so that legitimate concerns circulate and answers are demanded instead of quietly dying in a divided and conquered populace. This is a system similar to that which despots from time immemorial have created, and to which Mormons have simply agreed. This, in my view, is evidence of the kind of mythological evolution people like Joseph Campbell talk about. Mormonism has come up with a mythology related to its leadership authority that makes superficial sense in a scientific thinking world. We are small herd animals by evolution and instinctively cling to our dominant social group. Hence, it does not take more than superficial sense to keep us there most of the time.
That having been said, my concern with the Mormon leaders demand for unconditional obedience differs from **'s. It is the case, as he indicates, that Mormon leaders could make unethical demands and members would obey. It is also the case (and much more likely) that Mormons who are conditioned to obey the people they perceive to hold divine authority may at some point change their allegiance in that regard to a smaller, more radical group or start to become their own authority (like the Laffertys). The idea that God communicates his will to Mormons (or anyone) through feelings is a dangerous idea that can't be proven and is so easily susceptible to abusive manipulation that it should be rejected as a matter of priniple.
But my greatest concern with regard to the requirement of absolute obedience is that it causes Mormons to follow bad advice. What about gay Mormons who I understand to be even more depressed than the average Mormon and who commit suicide more often than the average gay person? What about Mormon women who are depressed in astounding numbers? What about Mormon women who are particularly inclined, or suited, to make professional endeavours their primary focus in life? What about Mormon intellectuals who are told in effect to stop thinking, talking and writing about what appeals to them in many cases? What about all those Mormon kids who get married so young, then start having kids, then get into Mormon leadership positions, then don't look up until they are in their 40s (like me)?
There are countless ways in which Mormon leaders provide advice to their followers that is profoundly to the advantage of the institution and profoundly against the interest of the average member.
And what does the emphasis on absolute obedience do to the moral fibre of the average Mormon? The temple covenants with regard to obedience are never met in my experience, and you are hearing from a guy who from the time he returned from his mission to being called as Bishop about ten years later did not miss a single home teaching appointment. I was ultra obedient, and in my view, no one fully lives up to the obedience requirement. Most Mormons fall so far below it that it is pathetic. They are put in the position of either carrying terrible guilt, or rationalizing the meaning of their covenant to obey and do all they are called upon to do within their reasonable power. Hence, most rationalize, and this slops over into all other aspects of their lives. Mormons, hence, in my experience are less honest on average in their dealings with their fellow man than most similarly situated individuals. Statistics drawn from Utah (with which I suspect you are more familiar than am I) support this in terms of tax evasion, software piracy, personal bankruptcies and other matters. This may also be a carryover from the time between the First and Second Manifestos during which Mormon leadership perfidy was so common and blatant, and some Mormon leaders wrung their hands over how this may have warped the moral timbre of their society.
And finally, what of the issue of reliability? Joseph Smith was not reliable. He deceived people constantly and when caught either used the "opps" out noted above, or in grievous cases used the "God told me to do it" out. In either event, he misled people while proclaiming his divine ability to see both the present and future with prophetic clarity. He lied about polygamy. He used the most disgusting, ridiculous seduction lines I have ever heard with many women, blatantly exercising his presumed divine authority to get their sexual favor. Those of his translations that have been checked have been proven to not be translations in the sense his hearers thought them to be. He used his prophetic mantle to attract investment capital to ill-conceived and sometimes illegal schemes. He regarded himself as in general above the law. He used secret quorums of various types to manipulate what was thought at the time to be relatively democratic church and a supposedly democratic city governance structure. The Book of Mormon has been shown to have an extremely high probability of not being what he said it was. And this is just the start of a list that I presume you know better than I do.
Whether Smith was a sincere believer in his own abilities, a pious fraud or just a fraud doesn't matter in a sense - what he said was not reliable. And his tendency to say whatever was required to get his people to continue to follow him and believe what he said was passed on to those who claim their authority from him. Hence, much of what they say is not reliable either. That was particularly the case during certain periods of time, but even now when we compare Mormon history as taught in missionary discussions, adult Sunday school classes and even for credit university courses at Institutes of Religion and elsewhere, the charge of deception is irresistible. Were Mormonism a security, many of Mormonism's highest leaders would be in jail for fraud.
When you combine leaders who consistently do not provide advice to followers that is based on the best available understanding of reality, with followers who are carefully conditioned to obey without questioning or discussing their concerns with anyone, you have a social disaster in the making. This disaster is no likely to manifest itself in a visible collapse, but rather in terms of blighted, impoverished lives. This was my experience, and the stats re anti-depressant consumption and a variety of other behaviors in Utah make me believe that this is a reasonable way to read the tea leaves in front of us.
I am glad there are people like you around who try to tease apart the threads of Mormon experience. However, in my view you do not go anywhere near far enough in your critique, and end up apologizing for an organization that would be best seen in history's dust bin. I don't expect it to find its way there because of Mormonism's proven ability to do what it must to survive. However, just as I now look back on the events that caused revelations to be received to do away with polygamy (after the fits and starts with which you are well acquainted), I wish that those with voices like yours would put as much pressure as possible on the Mormon hierarchy. They will change when forced to do so by declining membership rolls and revenues. I do not believe they will do so until a loss of personal and institutional power seems the lesser of evils from where they sit. The organization has been down that road at least three times before.
ps My further thoughts regarding Mormonism can be found at http://mccue.cc/bob/spirituality.htm
| A Few Thoughts About Mormon Marriage |
October 22, 2005
Table of Contents
Two’s Company; Three’s A Crowd 2
Fear and Desire 3
The Man’s On Top 4
Where’s The Love? 5
Mormonism Takes Undue Credit 5
Temple Building As An Investment Strategy 6
Marriage In Traditional Societies v. Modern Societies 7
How Does Mormon Marriage Stack Up? 8
What Is Required To Understand The Mormon Experience? 10
Marriage (noun): That which turns love’s speedboat into a barge.
I recently attended a Mormon wedding reception. It was a typical Mormon reception in most ways. It was held in a cultural hall at a standard issue Mormon chapel and had a Spartan feel to it largely as a result of following the day’s highlight at the Cardston Temple. The people in attendance were friendly and seemed happy; a feeling of good will and hopefulness filled the place. Most there were outfitted like Mormons on Sunday men in suits and white shirts; women in their Sunday dresses. I enjoyed seeing a number of friends whom I seldom see these days. I respect and enjoy these people, despite the elephant in the corner.
The reception’s unusual feature was a ring ceremony, included I suspect, because one of the newlyweds had many non-LDS family members in attendance. I have known the bishop who officiated at the ring ceremony for many years. He is a well-educated, good-intentioned man. Both his description of Mormon marriage and words of advice to the young couple were Mormon classics, and caused me for the first time in a while to think about the basics of Mormon marriage. I go on at length in this regard in an essay at http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/temple%... Here, I will come at this topic from a different angle and be much more succinct.
Two’s Company; Three’s A Crowd
My bishop friend, among other things, noted during the ring ceremony that Mormon marriage is like a triangle with the couple at the base and God at the apex. He used the analogy of a couple kneeling across the altar from each other in a Mormon temple with a beautiful chandelier above them. The chandelier, he said, represents God. Hence, the marriage is not a two party, two-dimensional, affair as are most “til death do you part” marriages. Rather, it is three party and three dimensional, and most importantly, eternal. This means that it is much stronger and better than marriages entered into without God’s authority and participation. I wondered how that remark made the non-Mormons in attendance feel, for whose benefit the ceremony was being conducted.
In any event, I agree with the good bishop as to one thing Mormon marriages are tri-partite affairs. The Mormon institution, presumed to represent God, is the third party. To use the temple or a chandelier in the temple as a symbol for this third party is appropriate, in my view. Both husband and wife are required to covenant absolute obedience to God and his presumed representatives on Earth Mormon leaders. These promises are made in the Mormon “endowment” ceremony that is incorporated by reference into the temple marriage ceremony. The endowment ceremony is considered by Mormons to be “a gift of knowledge and power”. It is what marks spiritual maturity for a Mormon, and while it does not teach much that is not in Mormon Sunday school lessons, it does require the initiate to make a variety of far reaching promises such as those just noted. No notice of this is given and the initiate is usually put on the spot with a group of expectant friends or relatives who have already made the same promises looking on. It would take uncommon psychological strength to do anything but go along. And the psychological research indicates that making of this kind of promise will make obedience much more likely than would otherwise be the case.
The words used to extract the promise of obedience are as follows:
we should covenant to sacrifice all that we possess, even our own lives if necessary, in sustaining and defending the Kingdom of God
you do consecrate yourselves, your time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed you, or with which he may bless you, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion.”
The “Kingdom of God” and “Zion” are both references to the Mormon Church. Mormons who go through the endowment ceremony are required to indicate that they “solemnly covenant” to accept these commitments by raising their hands, bowing their heads and saying “yes”. Mormons who have been through the temple are reminded of these covenants in many ways.
In particular, Mormons are reminded that disobedience to temple covenants disqualifies them for what the temple promises life after death in the “Celestial Kingdom” more wonderful than they can imagine. They will be forever in God’s presence with the faithful Mormon members of their families, endlessly procreating in the physical, sexual sense of that word while creating, organizing, populating and governing “worlds without end” as “kings and queens; priests and priestesses”.
I note as an aside the way in which Mormons are encouraged by their beliefs to bargain the present for what the far distant, likely non-existent, Celestial Kingdom offers. For example, it should be expected that married Mormon sex life would be less than stellar given the body shame Mormon’s are taught; endless pregnancies in many cases; the time and financial demands of large families; heavy Mormon community responsibilities; etc. But don’t worry about that; endure to the end and there will be sex forever in the Celestial Kingdom.
“Queens”; “Priestesses”? What is that about? Well, in the Celestial Kingdom women in some hard to understand way will finally get the real authority they are not permitted to have on Earth. So don’t worry about not having authority now. And time will no longer exist in the Celestial Kingdom, so don’t worry about being run off your feet now. And if you are not taking care of yourself as you should, or are depressed, or are physically ill, the Celestial Kingdom will take care of that too. It will be a world of physical and spiritual perfection, all you have to do is
endure to the end
of this life.
Fear and Desire
Fear and desire are two sides of the same coin. The Celestial Kingdom concept harnesses both of them to motivate a great deal of Mormon behavior. If Mormons stray too far from the path of obedience to Mormon authority, they will be shut out of the Celestial Kingdom. The stronger the belief in the Celestial Kingdom, the more fear will result from the possibility that one might not have been obedient enough to god's commandments (as communicated and interpreted by Mormon leaders) to make it there. Hence, a great deal of Mormon effort throughout life is dedicated toward qualifying for the Celestial Kingdom by obeying Church authority.
This means that in a marriage between faithful Mormons, if one falters in obedience the other may with justification point to their marriage covenant of faithfulness to Mormon authority and cry foul. That is the one of the most important parts of the brief Mormon temple marriage ceremony. Hence, the institution of marriage itself becomes a primary Mormon defence against the questioning of Mormon belief.
No wonder young Mormons are encouraged in many ways to marry as soon as possible and to immediately start their families. Making sex illicit until marriage is enough to do the job in most cases. Explicitly stigmatizing men in particular who make it to age 25 without marring is also helpful, not to mention how women who are not married well before then are made to feel. And the deeper the family roots go down through the mutual dependence of spouses on each other as children arrive, debt is incurred to purchase cars and houses, etc. the better the marriage acts as a defence against any information that might cause the questioning of Mormon beliefs.
The Man’s On Top
A number of the bishop’s and MC’s jokes at the wedding reception made the implicit Mormon relationship between man and woman clear the man is a rough gem who acts like he is in control while the woman puts up with him and over the long haul, with much trial and tribulation, gets the job done. This reminded me of the relevant portions of the Mormon marriage ceremony. After a few brief words of advice respecting married life, the man performing the marriage would say to the groom:
“Brother ______, do you take Sister ______ by the right hand and receive her unto yourself to be your lawful and wedded wife for time and all eternity, with a covenant and promise that you will observe and keep all the laws, rites, and ordinances pertaining to this Holy Order of Matrimony in the New and Everlasting Covenant, and this you do in the presence of God, angels, and these witnesses of your own free will and choice?”
The groom then says, "yes". The officiator then turns to the bride and says:
“Sister ______ do you take brother ______ by the right hand and give yourself to him to be his lawful and wedded wife, and for him to be your lawful and wedded husband, for time and all eternity, with a covenant and promise that you will observe and keep all the laws, rites and ordinances pertaining to this Holy Order of Matrimony in the New and Everlasting Covenant, and this you do in the presence of God, angels, and these witnesses of your own free will and choice?”
The "Holy Order or Matrimony" and the "New and Everlasting Covenant" are references to the endowment, where the heavy lifting with respect to Mormon marriage is done as already noted.
That is the entirety of the official part of the ceremony, and there is very little window dressing permitted around it.
The only substantive difference between the two paragraphs above is that the groom "receives" the bride, and the bride "gives herself" to the groom. The groom does not "give himself" to the bride. This reflects Mormonism’s patriarchal orientation. The man is in charge. The woman has "given" herself to the man. This language also harkens back to the day when the female of the species was a type of property, to be transferred by her father to her husband whom she would then serve for the remainder of her life. It is also consistent with the manner in which men and woman promise obedience during the endowment. The men are required to obey god. The women, in the current ceremony, are required to promise to obey god and:
to hearken to the counsel of her husband, as her husband hearkens unto the counsel of [god]
Until the last round of changes to the ceremony were made a few years ago, this passage used to say that the women would,
obey the law of their husbands and abide by his counsel in righteousness
Again, the patriarchal orientation of the ceremony is visible, as are the changes that are slowly being made to bring it into line with early 20th century (if not 21st) sensibilities.
Where’s The Love?
Note that during the Mormon marriage ceremony itself says nothing about the love the couple has for each other; nothing about their commitment to each other; and nothing about their hopes, dreams, the challenges they may face, etc. The ceremony's emphasis is twofold: first on the eternal nature of the covenant made, and second, through the reference to the New and Everlasting Covenant, on obedience to the Mormon Church.
Compare this to a typical Anglican ceremony, which most Mormons I know consider to be a terminally unimaginative religion to the extent they think about it all. The Anglican ceremony notes that marriage,
was ordained for the mutual companionship, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.”
The core of the Anglican covenant is to love your spouse. It includes the following language:
will you have___ as your wife/husband, to live together, as God has ordained, in the holy state of matrimony? Will you love her/him, cherish her/him, honour and protect her/him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her/him, as long as you both shall live?
And the Anglican ceremony is crowned with this marvellous phrase:
With this ring I wed you, with my body I worship you; with all that I am and all that I have I honour you: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This, in my view, is uplifting, inspiring, encouraging all that the guiding principle of marriage should be. I cannot think of a better concept to use at the apex of the marriage ceremony, while not preferring its theistic language.
Mormonism Takes Undue Credit
Back to the reception. The bride and groom were both radiant and effusive in their assessment of their experience at the temple and the wonderful day they had just enjoyed. The Cardston Temple is located in the foothills of Canada’s Rocky Mountains, and offers spectacular views from the highest hill in a down on its luck small town. The marriage occurred on an Indian summer day in October. My wife and I were married on a near identical day at the same time of year just over 25 years ago, and probably looked and sounded at that time a lot like the young couple whose life together we were celebrating at the reception. I have known the groom since he was a baby, and teared up a little at some of my memories of him and his family as the evening progressed, as well as while writing this.
“Isn’t that nice”, I thought to myself after listening to the bride and groom gush over how wonderful the temple was. “Once again, the third party to the relationship has taken most of the credit for what is a wondrous and universal human experience the intertwining of two lives through marriage. Most couples are euphoric on their wedding day. Their families usually are too. So here we have a bunch of people who have been helped along toward being conditioned as surely as Pavlov’s dog to feel good about Mormonism.” I know the groom’s unorthodox Mormon history, and this is the kind of experience that will likely keep him headed in the “right” direction from a Mormon perspective for a while at least, and perhaps one thing (including marriage to a faithful Mormon) will lead to another and he will become a lifer.
Temple Building As An Investment Strategy
“What is the present value of the tithing these young people can be reasonably expected to pay?” I wondered. “Hell of a deal”, I thought as I roughed out the number in my head and worked out more or less how many temple marriages that are done in a typical Mormon temple each year. “No wonder they keep building temples even though not many people use them for proxy work-for-the-dead.”
And then the penny dropped. “What about the present value of all the tithing paid by family members, and particularly parents and grandparents, who want to attend the temple to be with their kids and grandkids when they are married?” The huge number I had calculated on the basis of the brides and grooms on their own rocketed into the stratosphere. “These temples are the best investment imaginable! And to think that N. Eldon Tanner, from my home town, was the financial genius likely responsible for all of this
Tanner was a respected businessman (he built the “TransCanada” pipeline system) and politician in my home Canadian province of Alberta before being called to full time Mormon leadership service, and is generally credited with taking Mormondom “corporate”. I had thought before about the connection between temple attendance requirements, temple construction and LDS revenues, but had never worked through the numbers in the clear fashion I just had. “And all of that got started on Tanner’s watch. Wow”, I thought. “This reception is turning out to be interesting in an unexpected way.”
On the way home my wife and I talked about our observations. We both enjoyed the company of old friends and agreed that we should make more of an effort to stay in touch with them. Conversation turned to what makes marriages happy, and why in my view so many Mormon marriages under-perform in that regard.
We started out talking about something I read a long time ago, and ran across again recently that has to do with why people divorce an appropriate topic of conversation on the way home from a wedding reception. One stream of research reports that as people move from marriage number one, to two or three, that their expectations decline. A high percentage of people who divorce and remarry report that the problems in their first marriage followed them to their second or third, and that they eventually accustomed themselves to these. This would suggest that personal fulfillment through marriage is so elusive that we should not bother to chase it.
However, another fascinating set of studies show how predictable divorce is on the basis of a mere 30 minutes of video footage of a couple talking about routine matters. Each bite of their communication is determined to be either positive or negative using sophisticated criteria developed by Dr. John Gottman (see http://www.gottman.com/research/abstr...), on the basis of which Gottman has a prediction success rate of 95% as to which couples will be married for a certain period of time after the interview. Using the first 15 minutes of the interview, his batting average drops to 90%.
The key to Gottman’s formula is that positive to negative communication (as he defines both) must be better than 5:1 for a marriage to have a good long-term survival prospect. And most important of all is the degree to which what he calls “contempt” is displayed. This is a hierarchical behavior verbal or non-verbal communication that shows that one spouse considers him or herself to be above the other. That is, it is not necessary that what we would usually think of as contempt be shown. Accordingly to Gottman, marriages can successfully deal with much more anger, deception and other obviously toxic behavior that a little polite indication of “who’s who”. If much of that is detectible, the marriage has a short life expectancy.
This line of research persuasively questions basic notions about what causes marital dysfunction and how hard it is to predict and in some cases correct either within a marriage or by choosing a new life partner. And in particular, it points out that the problems people will tell us are what break a marriage are often not it at all. We have problems, and hence solutions, of which we are largely unaware. Fascinating stuff.
After kicking this around with my wife for a few minutes, I wondered out loud whether Mormon marriages under-performed because Mormons are simply prepared to settle for less. That is, Mormon marriages with which I am familiar are often hierarchical in orientation, and so accordingly to Gottman should be more vulnerable to divorce. However, Mormon marriages end in divorce a little less frequently that the average. However, absence of divorce is a poor measure of marital quality. There are not many divorces among the Older Order Amish or traditional Hindus, but few of us aspire to that kind of marriage.
Marriage In Traditional Societies v. Modern Societies
There is a huge difference between marriage in traditional societies and modern democracies. The notion of “romantic” love is a recent invention to which many traditional societies still do not subscribe. Hence, in traditional societies such as the Hindu and Muslim many marriages are either entirely or largely arranged, and the expectation is that the couple will form a family that will be a social building block, and that they will make it work. Individual self-fulfilment or happiness as a primary objective of marriage is not an issue, and divorce is not an option. There is a high correlation between this kind of arrangement and bad societal deals for women in general, since the men often find a way to make things work from their point of view through having affairs, running the social and financial show while the women remain behind the scenes with few rights, etc.
In western democracies, women have more rights and the idea that marriage is about romantic love and self-fulfilment is generally accepted. This means that divorce is a necessary evil. The frequency of divorce is the natural consequence of the western realization that individual freedoms of many kinds, including those related for forming and dissolving marriages, can be granted without causing the kind of chaos that is still used to justify much of the social control that is exercised by traditional societies over their members.
Another way to understand the marital difference between traditional and modern societies is to think about expectations. It has been pointed out that much of our unhappiness results from differences between our expectations and reality. The further reality falls short of expectations, the more stressed and unhappy we tend to be. Hence, people with low expectations tend to be more satisfied with life than those with high expectations. This is one of the less than stellar outcomes of some aspects of Buddhist philosophy from my point of view. If you expect and want nothing, you will not be disappointed. But I digress.
Expectations fundamentally affect the factors used to choose marriage partners. In traditional societies were marriages are arranged, the focus is on what will build a strong society. Hence, family relationships and social stability of various types are of primary importance and if the happiness of the couple is considered, it is a minor factor. On the other hand, where personal happiness is the primary marriage objective that is where emphasis is placed. Countless books and magazine articles have been written to help the western public understand how this works. New breeds of the traditional matchmaker are now regularly paid large fees to help potential mates understand their psychology and the kind of person who will complement them. Sophisticated markets of various kinds now function where people who are looking for relationships can digest information about possible mates and make dating choices. People typically wait much longer to marry than in traditional societies, and the research indicates that theolder a couple are when they marry the more likely the marriage is to last and flourish. Recent research also indicates that the quality of life of a couple’s children tends to increase if the mother’s age when she has her first child is more than 30 years, thus indicating on average a better-educated, more prepared mother (see http://www.freakonomics.com/)
In traditional societies less is expected of marriage from a personal point of view. Hence, husbands and wives are routinely satisfied with situations that would be intolerable for most people in the West. And in the West, for the most part, the expectations are higher, dissatisfaction is more common and so is divorce as individuals try to find a match that works for them. The idea of “starter marriages” is gaining currency a marriage that like a small first home is used to get one’s toe in the water and find out what is important before moving on to something expected to be more permanent.
How Does Mormon Marriage Stack Up?
So, I wondered, perhaps we can think of marriage in some sense as being on a scale of one to ten in terms of personal expectations of happiness and self-fulfilment. Marriages within the most traditional societies still encourage very low personal expectations in this regard, and so will be put at one. And at ten we will put the most individualistic of the western tendencies to look for self-fulfilment through personal relationships of a marital type. And between them we can plot all other marriages. In that case, where would Mormon marriages fall?
After some discussion, my wife and I agreed that Mormon marriage is closer to one that ten. My best guess was around three. More importantly, this line of thought raises some interesting ideas about Mormon marriage in light of what I wrote above.
Mormonism is a type of traditional culture that places social controls above individual rights far more than the majority of the democratic western culture within which Mormonism exists. Hence, in many ways Mormons are torn between what they are taught by their dominant Mormon sub-culture and the messages they receive from the broader culture to which they are also exposed. The Hutterites, Amish, FLDS, some Hindus and Muslims and other traditional cultures that exist in the West deal with this by isolating themselves to a large measure. Mormonism did that for a long time in Utah, but eventually the Mormon mainstream decided to integrate with the secular forces that moved into the area by being “in” but not “of the world”. Mormon isolation is now accomplished to a degree by Mormon leaders telling Mormons to avoid information that threatens their belief, and to allow emotional experiences to override information collected through rational means. That is, “I felt really good at the Temple, therefore Mormonism must be true despite what I know about Joseph Smith’s deceptive tendencies
This is tricky business, and usually ends up meaning that Mormons adopt social trends a few decades or generations after the broader culture does. The various brands of fundamentalist Mormons, on the other hand, have retreated from modernity and with justification accuse their mainstream cousins of having been “corrupted” by secular forces.
By attempting to both function as an integrated part of modern society and retain tradition values, Mormonism places a heavy psychological burden on its faithful. For example, young Mormons like my friends whose reception we attended carry both the Mormon expectation that marriages will be made to work no matter what marriage is “eternal” and the western secular notion of romantic, self-fulfilling love. Hence, they have high expectations with regard to the personal satisfaction they will receive from marriage. But have they gone about choosing their marriage partners so as to make those expectations realistic?
Most young Mormons who marry are attracted to each other. But how hard is that bar to clear? The mere fact that they cannot satisfy themselves sexually prior to marriage without experiencing a great deal of guilt makes it likely that their hormones will be screaming for them to find an acceptable mate.
A big problem in my experience is that young Mormon couples who take their religion seriously place a lot of emphasis on how likely it is that a potential mate will help them get to the Celestial Kingdom. Questions like, “What kind of a mother/father is she/he likely to be?”; “How faithful to the Church is she/he likely to be?”; “Does she/he have the spirit with her/him?”; “Does She/he study the scriptures and pray each day?”; tend to play a dominant important role in the decision-making process after the initial, and easy to satisfy, “Does he/she turn me on?” test is passed.
The factors I just noted are much more relevant to the marriage making concept in a traditional society than in the contemporary western world because they focus on the ability of the relationship to accomplish societal goals within a particular context (the Mormon social group) instead of how well the couple get along; the extent to which their interests overlap; how they will spend years enjoying themselves alone together before starting a family; and after the children leave; how they will provide for themselves; etc. The faithful Mormon is taught that if she has sufficient faith to be obedient to Mormon authority God will take care of the rest, so don’t worry about it too much. Many young Mormons rely on this fantasy to their detriment.
And how do young married Mormons tend to behave? First, they tend to be very young, and so the research indicates that the deck is staked against them because they have not finished developing (the brain does not finish the basics until the mid-20s in most cases), don’t know themselves well yet and are not established in the way that tends to make for successful marriages. If they are like most young Mormon couples, they will start their family quickly and so be on the wrong side of the research that indicates that the children of mothers who begin their maternal career after age 30 do better than others. They are burdened with the patriarchal notions noted above, and the wife in particular is likely to have a hard time ignoring the voices around her that empower women. This in many Mormon marriages encourages the kind of hierarchical communication that Gottman says breeds divorce.
In short, there are lots of reasons for which to expect that Mormon marriages in Western society will be under a lot of pressure. Add to this the personal bankruptcy and anti-depressant use rates in Utah (70% Mormon and hence a reasonable proxy for it), and a troubling picture emerges. And as noted above, the Mormon divorce rate is about what it is in the rest of society.
This all leads me to believe that Mormon marriages, on average, tend to survive more because of lower expectations and determination to “make it work” somehow than because they are well chosen and have been properly nurtured. In this regard, Mormon marriages are more like those of traditional societies than most of those in the democratic west.
I hasten to add that anyone who asks a married Mormon if he is happy in his marriage will probably hear that he is. This is a requirement of Mormon belief that you be happy and that your marriage be happy. To admit that this was not the case would be itself evidence that things were likely not right in your life. And many Mormon, including most of the friends with whom we spent some pleasant time last night, give the appearance of having well-adjusted, compatible marriages. I do not suggest that they, in particular, have anything other than that.
What Is Required To Understand The Mormon Experience?
My main point is that contrary to popular Mormon belief, if you want to understand Mormonism or any aspect of it such as Mormon marriage, you’ve got to do much more than ask a Mormon or have lived a Mormon life. The Mormon point of view (as is the case with any culture specific viewpoint) is far too narrow to grasp the nature of the Mormon experience. What we need is access to the kind of data John Gottman collects data that penetrates the facades we all put up and shows the stresses underlying ordinary communication. We need to understand a broad base of other cultures and behaviours as they really are instead of as Mormonism tells us they are. And finally, we then need to understand the base of values and expectation on which Mormon and other cultural behavior is built. Until we understand the background against which Mormonism is set, we cannot understand it. And if the point of the exercise is to decide how “Mormon” one wishes to continue to be, an understanding of other value systems and the outcomes they are likely to deliver is of course crucial.
Oh, I almost forgot the closing highlight the wedding reception. There was the typical computer generated slide show of the couple’s lives from babyhood through the cute kid, ugly duckling and blossoming swan stages. Throughout, the bride’s name appeared with her pictures in the upper left hand corner of the screen, and the groom’s name appeared in the lower right hand corner with his. At the conclusion of the slide show, in a nice musical crescendo, a picture of the Mormon temple appeared on the screen and the two names began to move toward each other and obvious union at mid-screen. “Nice touch”, I thought. Then, to my amazement, the names kept moving after coming together until the groom’s name was for the first during the presentation on top of the bride’s.
Freud would have a field day with that one.
| Questions from the Mormon Fringe How Mormon Leaders Receive Revelation and Agnosticism
The following is a lightly edited copy of part of an exchange I am having with a sincerely questioning Mormon. Since the questions are basic, I thought others here might find this useful. I would be interested to hear how others would answer this kind of question.
Bob, am I to believe that you are now an agnostic? Also, is it true that you were a Bishop for 5 years? If so, I have a question for you. Did you honestly feel any distinct guidance when people were in front of you facing a Bishop's Court? To discern between excommunication, disfellowship, or simply counseling?
Hello again XX.
I am agnostic as to most things related to religion, except what we can test using science. I will cut and paste below a summary I recently sent to some scientific friends with much more experience in this area than I have in which I asked for their advice as to the approach I am developing. I have since heard back from them that they see things more or less as I do.
While I was Bishop I did not preside over any bishop's courts. I had several cases where I could have convened them, but choose not to. My policy was live and let live unless I felt forced to act. So I have to answer your question on the basis of things like not convening those courts, extending significant callings, etc.
I followed the procedure outlined in DandC 9, which speaks of concentrating and reasoning with feelings of warmth to follow if the decision is right and feelings of darkness if not. This, from my point of view, is the same process I use at work. I keep thinking, collecting data, etc. until the decision feels right. The only difference is that as Bishop I used formal prayer more during the process. At work, however, I used prayer a lot in making the important decisions I made. So, in my case at least, there was little difference in the major decisions I made at work and at church as a Mormon leader. In each case, common sense (in the end) was the primary determinant. And common sense is little more than the cumulative total of our conditioning coming to bear on the decision before us.
While I was a Mormon leader I believed that God was inspiring my decisions in that regard just as he did my personal decisions. Since God's voice in my important personal decisions had been so faint all I had to work with were vague impressions, I was not surprised to find the same was the case with my church responsibilities. I spoke with my SP and other bishops about this, and was told that their experience was the same as mine. And statements that Hinckley has made recently to the press indicate that the highest counsels of Mormondom are run on the same basis.
The emotional high points of being the Bishop came from the same font as the high points during the rest of my life's experience as well. That is, when I counselled with people who were under stress because of marital problems, perceived sin, etc. and helped them to find relief, this was gratifying for them and hence also for me. To have people come to me week after week with their most important problems and thank me profusely for helping them, was of course both an ego boost and produced of satisfying emotional experience. The same was true as I participated in intimate family moments like weddings, funerals, baptisms, missionary farewells and welcome homes, etc. The emotional charge I received as a result of this felt like God's approval of my work; at those moments while feeling mildly euphoric I thought I was feelings his presence and hearing his voice. However, I now see that the same dynamics are involved in any human group whether it be politics, the law firm at which I work, a social club, internet discussion group, etc.. When we share other's lives at an intimate level, it is deeply satisfying.
Mormonism brilliantly takes control of many of life's high points, thus giving the impression that the powerful and usually positive feelings we tend to have in conjunction with those experiences are related to (or even due to) God, and Mormonism. In addition to the kind of thing I have noted above, this extends to fathers' blessings, blessings of health, rites of passage such as being ordained to the priesthood or passing through the Young Women's program, and even the conditioned tendency to pray during both times of deepest sorrow and joy. That is, each time life dips us in its renewing chaotic brew that both accompanies and produces change, Mormonism teaches us to genuflect to its version of God, thus associating the most powerful emotional forces we know directly with God and his presumed Mormon agents. Many other religions have used the same process. It is arguably the single most effective social conditioning and control agent mankind has ever invented.
Part of the downside of acting as bishop was that it deepened my confusion about the kind of feelings that may be due to a God of some kind, and what is just the result of how humans are built and interact with each other in groups. This lengthened the time it took for me to "think my way out" of Mormonism. In addition, while acting as bishop I was drained of time as well as physical and emotional energy that was badly needed in my home by my wife whose health was failing as she cared for our young and growing family pretty much by herself.
Now that I have a broader understanding of religious history and social psychology, I see all around me people who interpret life's powerful emotional events as God's voice, or presence, or will, etc. This is one of the oldest stories known to man.
And so I believe that agnosticism with regard to most of this is the way to go. However, I think it is safe to conclude that most people who think they hear God telling them anything in particular are mistaken. And even people like Gordon Hinckley, when put on the spot, admit that they are not hearing anything particular from God. Their decision making process, as far as I can tell, is just like that I have outlined above. They are acting on the assumption that the amazing revelations Joseph Smith claims to have received are what he said they are, and are merely attempting to be consistent with that while maintaining the authority over their followers. And the biggest issue in that regard, of course, is Smith's credibility. The closer his life is examined, the less credible he is.
Michael and Phil:
Let me again edge into your conversation, more to ask for enlightenment than to contribute. But to become enlightened, one must first disclose his ignorance, so I will start with that.
I am still trying to get the basic concepts straight in my head, and am encouraged to see my friend Michael beavering away at a similar task.
My system, which is still a work in progress, for approaching issues like the one Michael raised [how much can science teach us about the big meaning questions; how do we draw the line between physics v. metaphysics] is as follows:
- I start with epistemology - the study of how we justify our beliefs.
- I move from there to ontology - the study of the broadest range of categories of existence; The study of the nature of being, reality, and substance.
- Then I get to physics (or science). The epistemic principles with which I am comfortable direct me to physics as the most reliable means to begin to work out my ontology. A definition of physics I like for this purpose is: Physics (from the Greek, ??????? (phusikos), "natural", and ????? (phusis), "nature") is the science of Nature in the broadest sense. Physicists study the behaviour and properties of matter in a wide variety of contexts, ranging from the sub-nuclear particles from which all ordinary matter is made (particle physics) to the behaviour of the material Universe as a whole (cosmology). Hence, physics underlies all other sciences. Physics is what we use to determine whether particular entities exist, what their nature is, and hence how they interact with other entities.
- So, were does metaphysics fit in? Metaphysics ("beyond" physics) is what frames physics. That is, when you define physics, you define metaphysics by exclusion. Thus, it is a vast area that includes epistemology, ontology, mythology, cosmology, semiotics, etc. I am accustomed to using the term metaphysics to refer to "speculative thought about matters outside the perceivable physical world", which is another common definition. To avoid confusion, I do not use the term metaphysics much. When I mean that something is not scientific, I say that since people are more likely to understand me. When scientific language is used to describe something that might be metaphysical, I prefer to speak in terms of how that can be justified within a particular epistemic framework. I find that most misunderstandings can be cleared up most quickly by first nailing down differences in view regarding epistemology.
- In an interesting way, physics (or, better put, the entire scientific enterprise) have strongly influenced both epistemology and ontology as they are now widely accepted. In this sense, I agree with Michael that science affects metaphysics, but as noted below, think that to say science "generates" metaphysics is not quite right. Rather, as the scope of science changes, it changes the boundary of metaphysics by definition. This includes relegating to the garbage heap ideas that were once widely considered to be metaphysically valid and that have been falsified by science. This also tends to make metaphysics on the fringes of science look more interesting for some purposes, like defining one's ontology.
The epistemic and ontological theorists whom I find most helpful are those who use science's reliability as their acid test. So, I end up finally on the road toward constructing my worldview or ontology with an epistemic system that is strongly influenced by science, and hence an epistemic hierarchy that uses Bayesian probability theory as does science to assess evidence and justify both ontological belief and action. This means that as I deal with different aspects of the scientific enterprise, I try (as do most scientists with whom I have debated issues of this kind) to distinguish between that which is more measurable and hence reliable, and that which is less. Physics (as the narrowly defined branch of science) offers both poles - certain principles that are nailed down with a great degree of precision like Newton's laws, to some aspects of theoretical physics that are not supported by a shred of empirical data while being taken very seriously. String theory would be an example of this. However, in general physicists have looked down their noses at biologists, for example, because of how much less predictable (and hence scientific in a sense) biology is than physics. And the social sciences in general deal with phenomena that are much more difficult to measure and hence reliable than most of what biology works with, resulting in more peering down noses as the hard scientists in general regard the social scientists and their work.
The important point for me is that as we move from phenomena that are more accurately measured and understood to those that are less, our ability to use science within the epistemic system to justify belief diminishes. So, at what point does the knowledge provided by science become less able to justify belief and behaviour than other forms of knowledge?
- Mythology in its commonly understood sense is the study of myths. However, the most important mythology for me is human history as I believe it to be. This is the human story, starting for many people before recorded history or even before life on this planet, that tells us at the most fundamental level who and what we are by giving us a part in a vast epic. As such, this kind of mythology is part of ontology - it tells us basic things about who we are; why history is patterned as we perceive it to be; what the cosmos is; what or who controls the cosmos; etc.
We all start somewhere in a human group with a mythology that is called history, science, story, etc. and is believed to describe past and present reality. Hence, the primary form of knowledge that competes epistemically with science in our current society is personal mythologies that are derived in some way from group mythology.
People like Einstein and Feynman suggest that to the extent our inherited ontological and epistemic beliefs are not falsified to some reasonable degree of probability by science, we do not have a good reason to abandon them. This recognizes the utility of cohesive human groups to both individuals and society. Of course, there is lots of debate around when inherited beliefs have been sufficiently falsified to be abandoned. A strong apologetic tradition going back as far as I can trace it says that certain inherited beliefs (such as religious beliefs) are so important that virtual certainty of falsehood is required to justify change. Remembering that these are non-scientific beliefs that are not falisifiable by definition helps us to see this standard for what is - a social defence mechanism designed to prevent change in belief and hence the group. When we see something like this, we should ask "who benefits" and then determine who is promoting this view. They are generally the same people.
- I have trouble teasing meaning apart from its related ontology. Semiotics is the study of how meaning is constructed, and what I mostly see there is epistemology and ontology. Meaning is based on perceived reality. So, how do we decide what is "real"? That is, what is the real nature of a human being? Are we designed by God in some way, or not? Does God exist, or not? And if so, what is His/Her/Its nature? These are ontological questions, answered on the basis of epistemic principles and meaning flows from that without more.
Again, I think it is helpful to recognize that we don't start in a vacuum without meaning and then construct it. It is a given; a basic premise that is an intrinsic part of our inherited ontology. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If there was even an example of co-evolution, it must surely be mythic meaning and ontological belief within a given culture. The question is, will we change what we inherited? Such changes are usually driven by nascent ontological belief that is inconsistent with mythic meaning, not the other way around.
- Given what I have just said, I don't agree that science "generates" metaphysics. That, in my view, is a contradiction in terms. What you are saying, I think, is that our non-scientific ontological views are affected by science. I agree with that. Sometimes it is a matter of science having falsified so many claims of a particular type (faith healings, for example), that other similar claims are not accepted without a high standard of proof being met. Or science has provided explanations that are far more parsimonious than what religion offers for some phenomena, such as that many types of visions can be medically explained; epileptic seizures do not necessarily mean demonic possession; etc.
A lot of what science uses to question ontological beliefs is on the fringe of measurable phenomena and hence the fringe of science - social science. This should make us sceptical of its probative value, and to think carefully about Einstein's and Feynman's advice before we stand on that pedestal to insist that others, within social groups the dynamics of which we do not understand, change their beliefs and so incur personal costs that may not be justifiable in their circumstances. Those same believers, when assessing the likely costs assoicated with a change in belief, would do well to remember that our cling-to-the-group instinct was developed in our evolutionary past when clinging to the group was necessary for survival. Therefore, in our current context we tend to dramatically overestimate such costs.
And sometimes we find ourselves way outside science and yet hear even respected scientists (as Michael Ruse has pointed out in "Mystery of Mysteries - Is Evolution a Social Construct?") positing non-scientific ontologies in their popular works and having many members of the much less scientific public swallow them whole because they are dressed in scientific garb and presented by respected scientists. This justifiably angers other scientists.
- To conclude, lets run one of the topics from Star Island this summer through my little system.
I can use scientific analytical tools to assess the accuracy of a statement like "Buddhist monks report losing their sense of self while meditating; their measurable brain states at the same time are consistent with that reporting; and these brain states are consistent with other well known brain states that accompany lovemaking and other phenomena known to cause a powerfully attractive emotional and hence physical state." Those statements are falsifiable on the basis of data collected, measured, etc. and are hence within science's reach.
However, I can't use science to assess the statements, "Therefore, there is a state of "absolute unitary being" that is more real than the base-line waking reality we generally experience. And therefore, I believe that God [pick your favourite flavour] does exist and what the Monks experienced was a taste of the dimension in which he lives and where we will go after death and ... [go on from there to deal with questions of life's purpose and meaning as you wish]" I realize that this is not what Newberg said in his book ("Why God Won't Go Away") or at Star. I am repeating what I have heard others state as their personal beliefs on the basis of his research.
The second and third statements posit an ontology that cannot be tested scientifically, but is argued to be consistent with Newberg's findings and hence justifiable from an epistemic point of view that has science's approval even though it is not scientific.
As I start to assess this statement, I will first want to talk about epistemology in general. What will be our standard for accepting that something is real? Is it enough, in general, to show that something is not falsified by science? Were that the case, any number of bizarre beliefs would be justifiable including those of Muslim suicide bombers who feel enormous peace and in some cases orgiastic epiphanies as they prepare for their missions of the kind the great mystics write about.
I would then pull out some social science, acknowledge that any conclusions drawn from it are far from bullet proof, and look for patterns in what people from different cultures believe in basic ontological terms. I may be able to show that any experience that makes a person feel a bit like he or she just had a sexual climax will likely be perceived to be highly attractive, and anything perceived to cause the experience will likely be considered both valuable and powerful. I can likely use Newberg's research to show a link between some mystic and religious experience and powerfully attractive, motivating emotional states. I may be able to show correlations between various kinds of environmental conditions and ontological beliefs (environments of scarcity produce demanding, punishing gods and hard to reach heavens; etc.). I may be able to show correlations between ontological beliefs in general and other aspects of human psychology or neurology. I may be able to show correlations between theories as to how orwhy the ontological beliefs in human groups develop and other psychological theories such as evolutionary psychology. I may be able to show correlations between both group and individual attributes and their ontological beliefs, and suggest that by choosing an ontology we to some extent choose our group and individual natures. Etc.
In the end, I don't think I will have trouble justifying within my epistemic system the following:
- I am not justified in a belief merely because it has not been falsified by science.
- Strongly held ontological beliefs that are not justified by science are correlated with many factors that seem inconsistent with a concurrent correlation to reality. That is, things like belief in particular kinds of gods or human purposes are much more reflective of social reality and other objective circumstances of the individual and her group than anything else.
- This pattern suggests that any particular non-scientific ontological belief is unlikely to accurately describe reality, and human nature appears to be such that this suggestion will be almost universally resisted by people who hold particular ontological beliefs, no matter how bizarre they may seem to non-believers.
That is it for today. I would welcome any education you, Phil or others may wish to offer.
| “The Gospel is perfect but the people are not” A Critique: Part II - The Gospel is Perfect?
Part II The Gospel is Perfect?
I did a google search as well as a search of the www.lds.org data base of two phrases: “The Church is Perfect” and “The Gospel is Perfect”. I noticed an interesting pattern. By and large, faithful Mormons do not say “the Church is perfect”, and the lds.org data base does not include a single incidence of that phrase. The faithful almost universally say something like "the Gospel is perfect but the people are not", and the lds.org site does contain that phrase.
There is an important difference between the “Church” and the “gospel”. The Church is the collection of imperfect people who try to follow the dictates of the Gospel, which is taken to be the perfect word of God. Mormon leaders are quick to admit that they, and all of their predecessors are imperfect, and that their imperfections are not evidence that the Mormon Church is not God’s church. Mormons say that God must work through the agency of imperfect humans to accomplish his purposes, one of which is the “perfecting of the Saints”. I recall being moved a number of years ago at General Conference by a women who spoke in that inimitable Intermountain West accent while modelling a squished beehive-type hairdo. She was, I think, I member of Primary General Presidency. She went on about how grateful she was that members of her ward and stake were imperfect! Spectacularly imperfect! This, she gushed, gave her the chance to develop her patience and love in the best possible environment for that kind of thing! The Church was perfecting her because of the imperfections of its members! Isn’t that amazing! I wonder where else on Earth one might find imperfect human beings to test ones’ patience? This must mean Mormonism is “true”!
In any event, the Mormon Church is clearly not perfect. And this goes far beyond its being comprised of imperfect individuals. The Church is structurally imperfect in ways that incline it toward certain kinds of predictable abuses. And these structural flaws are traceable to its foundational instructions as contained in the Doctrine and Covenants, a set of “revelations” Smith purported to received from God, and in which he was instructed as to how the Mormon Church was to be set up and operated.
For example, the Mormon Church is non-democratic. History teaches us that when humans have power over other humans that is not carefully circumscribed and subjected to checks and balances that the train will run off the rails. It is not a question of “if, but rather of “when” and “how bad will the damage be”. This is why the invention of democracy and the emergence of the modern democratic state is considered to be of such monumental importance in human history. Mormon leaders are constrained in many ways by the rights of citizens within the democratic states in which Mormonism operates, but within their sphere of permitted operation they behave as should be expected of non-democratic leaders. They maximize their influence, and distribute as little information as possible to the membership by way of which they might be held to account for their actions, while extracting the maximum amount of resources of various kinds from their membership.
Among other things, the non-democratic nature of Mormonism explains the astronomical percentage of blood and marital interrelationships within the ranks of high Mormon leadership. The perquisites of Mormon leadership do not generally include a lot of money. But if you don’t think that the right to order people around and have them worship you is something people will do almost anything for, read a little history.
I laughed out loud a short time ago when Gordon Hinckley, the current Mormon prophet, feigned astonishment that one of his sons had been nominated for high office within Mormonism. “I had nothing to do with it”, Hinckley assured his listeners. His son was called by God to Mormon officialdom, and Hinckley himself was not involved in the process. And I believe him, at least to the extent that he was not directly involved. That is the beauty of the Mormon leadership system Hinckley would not have to do anything. The rest of the leaders know what to do to keep the game going.
At the congregational level, Mormon leaders are generally chosen from among the more financially successful and respected of the male members. Some of them (Bishops particularly) are then required to dispense advice regarding important, intimate personal problems. These include marital disputes, career advice, teenage difficulties, who one should marry, whether one should go on a mission or to university, etc. The advice most often handed out by these generally well-meaning men is that one should obey the Lord’s commandments (that is, stop sinning as defined by Mormonism), spend more time praying and studying the scriptures, and immerse oneself in Mormon service. That is one size fits all advice provided by men who have in general no training in counselling, and are not considered to need any. They rely upon "god's inspiration" to guide them in the advice they give.
If a Mormon bishop is confronted by someone who is obviously mentally ill, most of the time he will tell them to see a doctor. And Mormonism has set up its own psychological counselling system so that Mormons in many places do not have to see a non-Mormon for help with life’s emotional challenges. This was likely done because non-Mormon psychologists, oddly enough, often regard Mormonism itself as a big part of the problem and recommend disengagement. As this pattern became clear, the Mormon Church invested heavily in training and then employed a cadre of counsellors who would offer different advice that encouraged Mormon to remain Mormon.
I heard a few days ago about a young friend who is going through a difficult adjustment after coming home from his mission. He is having trouble deciding what to do for a career and hence what to study; his lacks confidence in his own judgement for a variety of reasons; etc. His bishop’s advice “pray more, study your scriptures more, immerse yourself in church service, and are you sinning?” The boy does not think he is sinning, but who knows. If he follows the Bishop's advice and does not feel better, what is likely to happen? He will become more depressed because not only does he feel poorly, but God is not responding to him and the most likely reason for that within the Mormon worldview is that he is sinning. And so a more strict adherence to Mormon behavioural norms would follow, and this cycle could continue for some time. That could be depressing on a new level. I suspect his difficultly lies in the kind of thing a good psychologist and some career counselling could straighten out without too much trouble.
A medical doctor friend told me recently of a call he received from a bishop of an LDS singles ward with whom he has been friends for years. The bishop was concerned with the degree of depression he was seeing and hearing about during the interviews he conducts with members of his ward. He wanted the docs advice as to whether the problems he was hearing about were clinical, and hence whether he should refer members of his ward to a doctor, or whether the “pray more and stop sinning” advice was enough. This bishop is more perceptive than most.
After listening to the bishop's summary of the problems his ward members had, my friend said that most of what he heard sounded clearly clinical to him, and he asked what percentage of the ward was in this state. The bishop replied that he thought it was in the 50% range. Lots of kids are depressed because they are not married, and perhaps have sexually sinned while trying to get married. Others are depressed because they don’t want to get married and are under a lot of pressure to do so. Others because they are terrified of going on missions, and under great pressure to go. Others because they are simultaneously trying to give heavy time to LDS service and get the kind of grades they need to have to follow the LDS path successful professional etc. with large family and a high Mormon calling. Pretty picture. How do I get some of that?
So, we will agree that the Church is not perfect, and its members certainly are not. What, then, is the “gospel”, how does it relate to the “Church”, and is it reasonable to say that the “gospel is perfect”?
The “gospel” is generally defined as the good news of Christ’s redemption, usually interpreted as that version contained in the four canonical “gospels” in the New Testament. “Gospel” is also used as a synonym for “true”, as in “it is gospel!”. However, in the Mormon context the word “gospel” has a different meaning. In its introduction, the Book of Mormon proclaims itself to be the “fullness” of the Gospel. This no doubt follows various DandC passages that also say this (see for example, DandC 20:9, 135:3). And in the Mormon temple, prior to 1990 those who made the promises that are part of the Mormon “endowment” ceremony were required to agree that they would obey “the Law of the Gospel as contained in the Book of Mormon and the Bible”. In 1990, this was modified to say, “the law of the Gospel as contained in the Holy Scriptures”, which would bring the DandC (amendable at any time by Mormon leaders) and other statements by Mormon leaders that are regarded as canonical into the Mormon definition of “gospel”. Theseinclude all statements of Mormonism’s highest leaders made twice each year at Mormonism’s general conferences. This is consistent with other aspects of the Mormon temple ceremony in which Mormons promise absolute obedience to Mormon authority.
So, for Mormon purposes the gospel is Christ’s message as contained in the Bible (as far as it is translated correctly), as restored by Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon, and most importantly, as stated by Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders in any way that is regarded by Mormon leaders as being part of the Holy Scriptures.
But hold on. Didn’t we agree above that the Church itself is not perfect? And now we learn that the Church is defined by the DandC which is part of the perfect gospel? Isn’t that contradictory? If the gospel (the DandC) defines the Church, how can the Church be imperfect from a structural point of view?
I suspect that the Mormon answer to this question would be that only the parts of the DandC that do not relate to the “human” side of the Church are perfect. Another way to look understand this is that anything that relates to the pre-existence or life after death or the nature of god, etc. is the gospel and the rest is not. That is, anything that can’t be disproved is the gospel and hence perfect. Hmmmm. While I can understand why a Mormon might say this, it seems to quite clearly contradict many other things that Mormon leaders have said, as well as the Mormon temple ceremony. And, if the gospel is perfect, it does a pretty poor job of letting you know where its boundaries are. Is that not a contradiction in terms? How do you get poorly defined perfection?
In any event, one might note that both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are notoriously difficult to interpret, as evidenced by the fact that there are numerous Christian and Mormon sects. If the gospel is perfect, why it is so confusing?
The Mormon answer would be that the Bible and Book of Mormon are only confusing to those who do not accept that the only people on earth who have the authority to speak for God are Mormonism’s leaders. And they say, as do other religious leaders, “Obey us and give us your money and other resources.” Hmmmmm. It is almost tempting to think that there is a scam going on here. Lots of nice sounding things that fall apart on analsysis. Nah, it couldn't be that. These Mormons are far too nice and well-intentioned to be scammers, aren't they?
What we are really confronted with in the realtinship between the Church and the gospel in Mormon doctrine is circular logic. That is, the definition of one thing relies upon another, which in turn relies upon the first. The gospel is perfect; the Church (including its leaders) are not perfect; and the gospel is defined by the Church’s leaders. So, the perfect gospel is defined by imperfect leaders? Hmmmm. Houston, we have a problem.
This is part of one of Mormonism (and other religions’) oldest tricks. Joseph Smith, for example, is God’s prophet and inspired by him, unless he is proven to be wrong. In that case, he is assumed to have made a human error that does not invalidate his prophetic power with regard to all that has not been proven wrong. And this is the case even when we learn that many of his errors were due to his having decided to mislead his followers because that would be in everyone's (and especially his) best interest.
In like fashion, any error that Mormon leaders are shown to have made in defining the gospel was never really part of the gospel. This must be so because the gospel IS perfect. Hence, by definition anything that is eventually found not to be perfect was not part of the gospel. The error, really, was ours. We thought that because the imperfect Mormon leaders told us what the gospel was and that it was perfect, that everything they said about the gospel was accurate. We have been told that the leaders are imperfect and should not have been confused.
“Well then,” a confused Mormon might ask, “how can I know what is true? If the members are imperfect, and the leaders are imperfect, and the Church itself is imperfect, I thought that I could at least rely upon the gospel. That was my unshakeable bedrock. And now you are telling me that I can’t even rely on that as it is set out or interpreted by Mormon leaders in the Holy Scriptures? You say that I should be ready at any time to be told that what I have been told is part of the perfect gospel was just another error? Now I am really confused.”
I can just the response of the Mormon leaders: “I bear you my solemn testimony, with tears streaming down my cheeks, that I know the gospel is true and perfect and that Joseph Smith restored it to us in spite of his imperfections. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt. I have felt it in my very soul. I testify this to you in the name of Jesus Christ, and promise you in his name that if you will remain faithful to Mormonism, you will receive blessings beyond your ability to imagine them in the Celestial Kingdom!!” [pause for effect]
Well, that makes me feel much better about all of this.
All the best,
| I just visited http://ldsliberationfront.blogs.com/l... for the first time and found a few interesting items there. One caught my eye in particular - an analysis of the difference between Mormon apologetics and Mormon criticism. My lightly edited post to the thread is found below. I suggest that using a wider angle lens is better than taking either the Mormon Apologetic or Mormon critic approach.
A friend just referred me here, and I have enjoyed reading a few of your pieces. I will briefly comment regarding this one.
Let me suggest that there is another axis along which you might approach Mormonism that in my view makes more sense than either apologetics or criticism. It uses the most basic of epistemic principles.
As you intimated, scientific epistemology dominates our culture. This is so because it produces knowledge based on repeatable experiment that is more reliable in some ways than any other kind of knowledge we have yet produced. And within science, of course, there are gradients of reliability. Most aspects of psychology, for example, do not produce knowledge that is as reliable as that produced by most aspects of chemistry, for example.
As we move toward the fringes of science in terms of the reliability of knowledge produced and into metaphysics, we find that what passes for knowledge is to a greater extent socially constructed. That is, people simply agree as to what certain phenomena mean, and in our society most of this can't be tested by science. In pre-scientific societies, even more knowledge was created on this basis.
In scientifically oriented societies, the greatest battles are pitched as knowledge produced by science collides with (and generally overcomes) socially constructed knowledge. Think of Galileo, Darwin (including the current ID debate), and in Mormon circles, the "is the Book of Mormon real history" debate and its most recent chapter involving DNA evidence. The approach of the Mormon apologists in that regard has clearly been to redefine the Book of Mormon's claims to make them unfalsifiable, and hence non-scientific, and hence more amendable to being maintained as social constructs.
There is one way to test socially constructed knowledge that cuts across almost all human cultures and is relevant to Mormonism. A basic and finely tuned set of human skills or heuristics is related to sensing how trustworthy other people are. Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" outlines some of the recent research in that regard. In a matter of seconds, most humans can form amazingly reliable impressions of how trustworthy other people they meet are likely to be. This ability is likely related to the importance to human group cohesion and success of the ability of group members to trust each other, and to weed out those that are not trustworthy. See also Gird Gigerenzer's research summarized at http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/gigerenzer03/gigerenzer_index.html
On the other hand, there is massive literature on cognitive bias that outlines the circumstances in which humans are likely to misperceive in this regard. I describe some of this at http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.the%... and http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.do%2... starting at page 26. Many of these distorting forces relate to what is called the "authority bias". This seems to derive from the need individual humans historically have had to be protected by a group. Until recently it has been more important to our survival to act so as to maintain group cohesion than to always be "right". Hence we are biased toward agreeing with the dominant authority in our group. The principle of insufficient justification and the saying-is-believing principle (as noted in the second document referenced above) are best thought of in some ways as sub-sets of the authority bias.
When our amazing ability to detect untrustworthy behaviour and our tendency to defer to authority are considered in context, I think the following is a reasonable hypothesis. The ability to detect untrustworthiness has been important to human survival, but not as important as being within a protective group. Hence, certain types of untrustworthiness within the group tend not to be detected including many of the foibles exhibited by group leaders. For this reason, the same leadership flaws and untrustworthiness that goes unnoticed within the group will be highly visible to people outside the group, and what is effective leadership within the group will often be perceived as pure evil by outsiders. Think of Hitler and countless other political leaders. And, when we consider the way in which con artists operate, we find that they invoke the authority bias in innumerable ways thus disconnecting our critical faculties. We find the same thing - usually in more subtle fashion - accountable for much of the success our best salesman have. See Robert Levine "The Power of Persuasion - How We Are Bought and Sold" for in interesting read in that regard.
In modern North American society religious groups are not required to protect their members. Yet the instincts that cause deference to group norms in terms of accepting socially constructed knowledge and overlooking leadership error work in favor of such groups. This is due to the fact that human biology changes much more slowly than human society.
So, when one steps outside of the Mormon group and looks back with an outsider's eyes, what does one see? First, one sees a group of people who inexplicably (until the above factors are considered) accept as their foundational premises the word of a man who is a proven deceiver (whether delusional or dishonest being irrelevant) with regard to immensely important matters, and who justified some of his most egregious deceptions on the basis that God told him to deceive. This is the same God who he said authorized him, and only him, to lead all of humanity.
The second thing one notices is that only a tiny percentage of the Mormon group is aware of the extent of the founding leader's deception, and the extent to which current leaders continue to deceive. And, when this information is presented to group members, there are two main responses. Some quickly distance themselves from the group, and the rest find a way to rationalize the leaders' behaviour (past and present) in a fashion that would be acceptable to virtually no group outsiders. That is, group outsiders almost universally and immediately conclude that anyone who would deceive about the range of things Smith did should not be believed about anything of substance, and particularly should not be believed when he claims God's unique authority to lead mankind. And the outsiders immediately recognize in Smith's behavior a well known human pattern - that of the con man who invokes the authority bias to take advantage of others. Group insiders can't see this.
All of this is consistent with the hypothesis just indicated.
And then when one goes around looking in on other religious groups who have similarly odd versions of socially constructed belief when compared to the broader society in which they find themselves, one finds similar behavoural patterns both with regard to group insiders and outsiders.
| Here is another marathon post. Sorry about that. I put this together for my own purposes and thought it might be useful to some others.
As noted on another thread (link to exmormon.org deleted), I was doing some file cleaning today and ran across a number of letters I wrote while leaving Mormonism. This prompted some thought with regard to how my faith was created and eroded, and I decided to record them since I have not thought about the details of this process for a long time and the perspective I have now allowed me to see some things that I had not previously seen. Most of this has to do with how pressure was building that I could even perceive until I was at the end of the process and could look back.
Some have criticized me for sharing deeply personal information in what I write. I have made the conscious decision to do this (within limits in some cases determined by my wife where events involve her) because this is precisely the kind of communication that Mormonism cuts off, and I believe that I would have benefited tremendously had others been willing and able to share experience of this kind with me.
Hence, I don’t say that I did things the “right” way or that others should follow my example. In fact, it seems clear to me now that I could have proceeded more wisely (much more wisely in some cases) had I known more about the nature of the process. So all I offer here is a review of what happened in my case and hope that this will be helpful to some others as they attempt to hear their own voices and see the path ahead of them.
And, I note that I no longer hold many of the beliefs that are contained in the several letters that are included below. A worldview can only change so fast.
Finally, I have included several letters in full because I want a record of them in this format. To make the timeline easier to follow, I have noted these letters and attached them at the end of the piece.
After writing the timeline below, I decided that it would be helpful for those reading it to appreciate the context within which I now see events before reading them. Here is a summary of that context.
We all start somewhere with inherited beliefs of many kinds. Religions beliefs are a form of inherited beliefs.
There is a powerful correlation between inherited beliefs and persistent perceptual error. That is, Mormons can spot the silliness and the JWs can spot Mormonism’s silliness, but neither can see their own problems. Inherited beliefs often create blind spots. This is attributed to various cognitive biases, the most important of which is likely the confirmation bias. Once you have committed to any particular position, this commitment makes it difficult for you to process information contra that position.
Interestingly, the smarter you are the harder the confirmation bias bites. This is thought to be because smart people are better able to find patterns in complex data sets and persuade other people to their point of view, both of which tend to support their beliefs no matter how crazy they may be to people who do not start out encumbered by them.
I would suggest that this is a reason for humility for those of us who have escaped. It is likely that we did not leave because we are the “smart one” who "thought our way out”. Rather, it is likely that we have questioning, authority resisting personalities as a result of our nature and nurture and these allowed us to see more of what is obvious to almost all those who are not subject to the confirmation bias with regard to Mormonism.
Cognitive dissonance (see http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.do%2... at page 39) lies at the bases of the cognitive biases, including the confirmation bias. It fires up whenever any information challenges our inherited beliefs and the social networks, our conditioning, education, etc. that go along with them. All of this is, in effect, a weight that holds our existing religious beliefs in place regardless of whether they are correct.
Whether we can overcome that cognitive dissonance, and how long that will take, depends on our ability to learn and change, as determined by genetics and conditioning. Michael Shermer in his book "How We Believe" cites extensive social science research that shows that the more open a person is to new experience, as measured by a personality trait called "openness", the more likely it is that she will become less certain or more liberal in her religious views as time passes. I have collected data in the post-Mormon community online that indicates that certain Meyers-Briggs personality types are more likely to question their religious beliefs than others. Particularly, those who are introverted (as opposed to extroverted); intuitive (as opposed to sensing); and thinking (as opposed to feeling) are more likely to seriously question Mormonism. My data sample size and the manner in which it was collected, however, were such that these conclusions are tentative at best. I am in the process of preparing a larger andmore reliable survey that will address the same issue.
Our psychology seems to be designed to promote stability to cause us not to change social groups unless the cost benefit advantages are obvious, and often not even then. This makes sense in light of the importance of being part of a well functioning group to our survival throughout most of humankind's evolutionary history. Hence, the threat of expulsion from our primary social group causes profound fear. This buttresses cognitive dissonance and makes information that challenges our beliefs more difficult to rationally evaluate. This irrational fear of leaving the group is exploited to a tee by Mormonism and other similar groups.
It takes a massive amount of learning for even a personality type predisposed toward change to overcome the weight I have described in the case of a well-conditioned Mormon. I visualize this as an old fashioned set of scales, like the scales of justice. Disconfirming experience and evidence has to be piled on the side of our scales opposite religious belief until they begin to tip. That is, we have to experience enough cognitive dissonance to make us finally question the reality we have assumed to exist. The epiphany experience many people have as they leave a controlling religious faith is related to what happens when we reach the "tipping point" on our scale. Then, suddenly, it is as if a switch were thrown and we can see all kinds of things that have been building up just out of view as a result of the work our mind has been doing to keep us in denial. Suddenly, much of this information and insight is released into the conscious mind because the unconscious can no longer hold it back. It is as if the lights suddenly came on. This experience changes most people irrevocably. Afterwards, they can perhaps fake being who they were, but they are and always will be different in fundamental ways.
For the reasons just indicated, I doubt very much that I could have thought my way out of Mormonism without several years of decompression after my stint as Bishop, which ended just over a decade ago. I needed that much time, space and energy to slowly take weight off the Mormon side of the scale and to experience cognitive dissonance producing things that would add weight to the other side.
And, perhaps most importantly, I needed time to become sentient again. I was so busy for so long that I no longer felt much outside of a narrow range of the emotional spectrum. It was the realization that something had died inside of me that got my conscious attention first. I was depressed but not so badly that I could be diagnosed as such. I went to various doctors, assuming that something was physically wrong with me. I checked out clean in each case. Only as I emerged from Mormonism did my vitality come back.
The question of limited time raised another important perspective from which to consider the phenomenon of Mormon belief.
There is only so much time. If a large percentage (almost 100%) of a person’s discretionary time is devoted to Mormon activities, there will be little chance to place life in a broad perspective and hence see Mormonism in context so that one might question whether it is what it purports to be.
This is a classic magician’s trick called “misdirection”. See http://www.leirpoll.com/misdirection/.... As the legendary magician Jean Hugard said, "The principle of misdirection plays such an important role in magic that one might say that Magic is misdirection and misdirection is Magic". That is, magic is performed by the magician using tendencies in human perception to make us look at his left hand while his right hand (or foot, or assistant, etc.) does something that we do not notice and gives the impression that something magical has occurred.
So, if we are focused on the minutiae of living a Mormon life, the big picture will not be questioned. Hence, Mormonism (and many other religions that use the same system) are all about the details of daily living, and result in such a busy day to day existence that there is no opportunity to think about where the train is headed.
This is not the result of the plan of some evil men sitting around in the Salt Lake Temple. Rather, this is how human social organizations of all types to some extent function. They spontaneously organize to protect themselves, find the resources they need to flourish, etc. The reason that the rules of modern democracies are so important is that they run against the hierarchical gain of human groups, and so force human organizations in an unnatural direction. This requires leaders to account to members; this restrains the natural direction of power; this requires information about how and why leadership decisions are made to be disclosed to the members. Perhaps the clearest lesson from human history is that absent the constraints that democracy imposes on the power of those at the top of the social pyramid, power will be abused.
In any event, here is the timeline as I now see it.
1971-74: I was aged 13 to 16 during this period and in all out rebellion against Mormonism and its restrictive standards. I did not commit terrible sin, but engaged in a lot of the usual teenage experimentation some drinking, smoking tobacco, marijuana and hashish, etc. This caused tremendous conflict with my parents. The pain this caused eventually broke me. I could see how I was hurting them and my younger brothers and sisters. I felt great guilt as a result of this and my “deviant”, “sinful” (from a Mormon point of view) behaviour that would consign to my life outside the Celestial Kingdom. As I lit up a cigarette one day I recall thinking that this life was not so bad, and since the Telestial Kingdom was like this life I would be OK. But the pain I seemed to be inflicting on my family and thought of being separated from them throughout the eternities eventually became too much for me to bear.
1974-76: I was trying to “straighten up” and eventually did so. This healed the rift with my family. I was a classic returned prodigal who was celebrated in many ways.
1977-79: I served a Mormon mission in southern Peru. I was a completely straight arrow missionary. The pain I experienced while playing at the edges of the teenage road made me decide that the only way to go was straight up the middle.
1979-89: I continued as a straight arrow. God blesses those who are obedient and who sacrifice for him. I was committed to doing all I was asked to do by the Mormon Church. My wife and I married. Our family started 10 months later. We had four kids while I earned three university degrees. I served as various class and quorum instructors, stake missionary, YM pres., Stake YM presidency, High Counselor. I did not miss a single home teaching visit. The law firm I joined, the nature of legal practice I choose (tax), the city where we lived, the part of city where we lived, and many other foundational decisions were made on the basis of what would be best from a “service to the kingdom” perspective. My main goal in life was to experience the receipt of God’s confidence and power described in Helaman 10.
I was acutely aware that from the time I had “gone straight” I had succeeded in virtually everything I had attempted, and believed that my success had been negligible prior to that. This I attributed to God’s blessing and cursing. I had not yet noticed how ill my wife was, and how desolate our relationship was. This was largely the result of my neglect and the ridiculous burden she imposed on herself as a result of constant pregnancy and effectively raising our children alone. Her individuality had dissolved.
1989: We decided to leave Vancouver, British Columbia. Living there required too much commuting and not enough time at home. The realization of how bad our marriage situation was slowly dawning. The realization that the pace at church was too great was buried in the background, but starting to call for attention and being pushed down. I accepted job in another city and was called as Bishop two days later. I told the SP about why had decided to leave Vancouver, etc. He told me that God had work for me to do there and that if I had the faith to accept I would be blessed to be able to deal with my problems. I told him to go away and fast, pray etc. and tell me he was sure that he was speaking for God. He did, and called me early in the morning the following day at work to tell me so. So I told him I would serve as required, hung up the phone, knelt down and begged God to make me equal to the task. I believed he would, but was terrified.
I then called the law firm whose offer of employment I had accepted a few days before and asked to be released from my contractual commitment to them, and then went to the firm I worked for (where I had resigned a couple of days before) and asked for my old job back. I am sure both firms thought I was nuts, but one released me and the other gave me my job back.
1989-93: I served as Bishop. We had two more kids. The pace of life went from frenetic to crazy. Our marriage and my wife’s health continued to decline without being noticed. Exhaustion set in. But being constantly admitted into the most intimate details of other peoples’ lives, being trusted, obeyed, and told how wonderful you are has a way of buoying one up. I am deeply conflicted now with regard to many of the friendships that were formed during this time. They were based, in my view, on false pretences. To continue, each has had to be placed on a new and completely different footing. This is a difficult process that I have only been able to successfully negotiate in a few cases.
I was still completely obedient to Mormon authority. For example, after about three years as Bishop I told the SP that we had decided that after six kids that it was time for me to have a vasectomy. The Handbook of Instructions indicated that this decision should not be made without the counsel of ecclesiastical leaders, and counseled against it. To make sure my memory on this point is accurate, I looked the GHI up to. Here is what it says:
“Surgical Sterilization (Including Vasectomy). ‘Surgical sterilization should only be considered (1) where medical conditions seriously jeopardize life or health, or (2) where birth defects or serious trauma have rendered a person mentally incompetent and not responsible for his or her actions. Such conditions must be determined by competent medical judgment and in accordance with law. Even then, the person or persons responsible for this decision should consult with each other and with their bishop (or branch president) and receive divine confirmation through prayer’ (11-5).”
I told him that my wife was not coping well; etc. He questioned the wisdom of taking this step, noting that my wife and I were young (35 and 32 respectively), and that he and his wife had 8 kids and one of his counsellors had 10 and the other 7. The second counsellor’s wife had her children all in circumstances of difficult health. Her referred me to the GHI (see above) where it counsels against vasectomy and suggested that we continue to use the forms of birth control that had so far resulted in four pregnancies. He noted that if my wife's health was that bad, that perhaps a hysterectomy might be in order. I was irritated, but changed my plans according to his advice.
Later, as the end of my five year term as Bishop approached I told the SP that my wife and I had decided to move to a different and smaller city after I was released because our family situation (commuting, too much time on church stuff etc.) was killing our marriage and family life. The SP told me that the stake presidency would be reorganized shortly (stake split) and that I was likely to be called to new SPresidency. He told me that he felt that God had work for me to do in the new SPresidency. In my first small act of defiance of Mormon authority, I told him that I was confident that we should move, and would do so despite what he told me. I told him that when I fasted and prayed (and I had done a lot of that) about this issue I felt perfectly at peace with moving and my stomach churned at the thought of staying. I asked him if he was in a position to extend a calling to me (knowing that he was not) and said that absent that, I would leave. I felt comfortable with the idea that God had accepted that our family’s needs would be better met in another city, and that there I would do what I could to take low profile church callings that would not require the time away from my family that had I to put as Bishop. We parted on friendly terms and a few months later, I accepted a job in a new city, told the SP when I would be leaving, was duly released, and left.
One of my last acts as Bishop was to deal with a man who resigned his membership on the basis of things he had learned about Joseph Smith’s polygamous activities. I counselled him unsuccessfully several times, did not read the literature he gave me on the basis that history is so uncertain that you can’t know what to believe, and gave him some Hugh Nibley books. I was not fazed in the slightest as far as I could tell by this encounter. However, I had started to question some doctrinal matters that did not make sense to me. These were minor questions, from my point of view then - inconsistencies that would be eventually cleared up. I took the approach of Camilla Kimball (see her biography she also drank wine while with Spencer on a Church trip to France) with regard to these matters. That is, I had a few “chestnuts” that I kept up on a mental shelf that I occasionally took down and chewed on, and then put back up. They didn’t bother me in a material way as far as I knew. I made no connection between what I had been told about Smith (teenage girls; huge number of wives; lying; etc.) and my other concerns.
1993-2001: Once in our new city I was exhausted and went to see several doctors in an effort to find a medical reason for how I felt. I was told that I was simply exhausted and that should stop trying to do so much. I now realize that I was close to a nervous breakdown. The effort required to be Bishop had completely sapped my strength and I while I acknowledged that I could not acknowledge how close to the brink I was.
It took several years for my energy to gradually come back. I think that I had in some ways hit a “growth” wall as well. The administrative challenge of making life work as Bishop was more than enough to fully occupy me. But once that was gone and I needed to find meaning in the practice and study of Mormonism as a regular member, I found more and more that did not make sense and so shied away from study. I now know that I need a relatively high level of intellectual stimulation unless I am so busy that I don't notice this need. And it is not healthy for me to be that busy.
Attending Sunday School and Priesthood classes was painful because of their repetitious nature and ridiculous things that were often taught there. Human nature, as far as I can tell, is strongly orientated toward innovation and leaning. Mormon discourages this beyond the basics, and encourages a deadening attitude of “enduring to the end”. This causes death from the head down at an early age, and is likely connected to the statistics regarding Mormon anti-depressant use.
But the problems with Mormonism I had found were all ignorable. I had still not read anything but the Nibley kind of stuff. And anyway, the Gospel is perfect, not the Church or the people. This was the place for me to exercise my spiritual muscles precisely because the people were so imperfect. Bla, bla, bla.
In our new ward I was immediately called as scout master. Our oldest son was about to become a scout so I accepted. About a year later I was called to be the YM pres. in same ward, which would have resulted in my having to leave my son and take care of someone else's kids. I begged the Bishop to reconsider on basis that I wished to spend my “church time” with my son. I still believed that if called, after explaining the circumstances fully to the person issuing the call, I must accept. The Bishop allowed me to remain with the scouts. Had he not, this might have put me over the edge. During this period I missed the first few home teaching visits of my adult life and felt terribly guilty about that. I tended to form close relationships with the families I home taught, and these misses came after my “route” was arbitrarily changed. I blamed my derogation of duty on still being tired, but could hear a little voice telling me that it was because I was pissed at the HP group leader who had made these nonsensical changes after I had invested so heavily in service to and friendship with “my” families. This little voice scared me.
After three years with the scouts we moved to a new ward in the same city and Stake. I was immediately called to the Stake YM presidency. After a year in that position, I was called to be Stake Mission Pres. I accepted on condition that I did not have to put in the 10 hours per week technically required by the calling, and would have not to call other stake missionaries to account for this. I had always felt this time requirement was a ridiculous rule that hardly anyone obeyed and hence caused many people to feel guilty. I had not required it of the stake missionaries in my ward while I was bishop.
After about six months as Stake Mission President the SPresidency went through two successive reorganizations. On both occasions a number of people approached me and indicated that they had heard, or were sure, that I was about to be called into the SPresidency. I pleaded with God not to do that to me. Our family situation was worsening in some ways as the seeds of my neglect came home to roost. Our oldest daughter was going through all kinds of trouble; my wife continued in relatively ill health but resisted seeking treatment, etc. I had my speech prepared in the event I was called, but felt that if the calling was extended in any event I would have to accept. In neither case was I called. The relief I felt was tremendous. I suspect I missed that bullet in part because of the clear conditions I had put around my calling as Stake Mission President that related to what I perceived to be my needs at home at the time. Had I been called into the SPresidency, I would have given it my best shot and likely not beenin the mental space required to make the changes I later did.
- July - Sept 2001: I had a three month sabbatical from the practice of law during which for the first time since my teenage years I had time to think and fully unwind. This was a wonderful, new experience. I visited my mission field with my family and had a wonderful time connecting with families I had converted while there, all of whom were still "faithful". I was unaware of any spiritual "trouble" on the horizon, but loosened up in a number of ways in terms of my commitment to work and realized how frenetic our lifestyle still was. I could tell that the time to think about what I was doing in life was healthy, and committed to making that more a part of how I lived. Ironically, this was encouraged by a seminar I attended at BYU while on a Marriott School of Management program that focused on how modern society (of course not the Mormon Church) tended to make us into “human doings” instead of “human beings”. I committed to try to become better at “being”.
- November 2001: Our eldest son (my little scout) left for a Mormon mission in the Ukraine. My remarks at his farewell can be found at http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/brayden... I was still serving as Stake Mission Pres. I had some extremely irritating experiences while trying to arrange for his departure to occur so that he could return without losing a full year of university. His departure was, it seemed, eventually designed to do precisely what I had diplomatically tried to avoid. In the end, he lost a full academic year. I wondered at the time if someone was attempting to teach me humility as a result of the polite request I had made. But I wrote it off as not a big deal and did not think or worry about it. People are sometimes petty. The Gospel is true; the people are imperfect, etc.
- Sometime in 2001: The Mission President with whom I worked as Stake Mission President tried to introduce a new proselytizing program that required more than the usual extreme use of guilt and fear on member missionaries (ie. all members). I refused to cooperate on the basis that carrots work better than sticks, and I found the proposed approach personally objectionable. In a carefully controlled meeting with the other Stake Mission Presidents in our and an adjoining Region, I was shown a video during which Spencer Kimball (I think) clearly advocated the tactics the Mission Pres. wanted us to use. The other Stake Mission presidents in attendance agreed to go along. I surprised myself by flatly, on the spot and in public, refusing to have my Stake participate. I was particularly irritated at the attempt to manipulate me and the others present through the use of group dynamics (show the film; ask for public commitment one by one starting with those known to be ready to commit; etc.). I invited the Mission Pres. to take the matter up with my Stake Pres. if he wished. Mouths dropped all over the room. The Mission Pres. was a former senior executive with the O.C. Tanner company, and was clearly irritated with my unwillingness to get in line and march when told to do so. His counselor, one of my long time friends, took my aside afterwards and begged me to not make his life any more difficult than I already had.
I still had no concerns with regard to the Mormon Church as an institution, but was not prepared to bow to authority as I had been. My SP never spoke to me about the matter.
I recognized at the time that the manner in which I had simply and publicly defied the Mission Pres. meant that I had crossed some kind of a line, but I did not think enough about this to recognize what was happening. My relationship to Mormon authority was changing. I believe that this would have happened much earlier had I not been on the authority side of the equation for so long. The study of cognitive biases (the "principle of insufficient justification" in particular) explains why this should be expected to be the case. See http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.do%2... at page 48.
I had also become a “regular” home teacher. That is, I did my home teaching about as often as the other members of the HP quorum maybe 50%. I still felt guilty about this, but excused myself on the basis of how tough things still were around our home with first one daughter and then another running into huge problems.
- March 2002: I resigned as Stake Mission President for "family reasons". We had a number of challenges with a couple of our children and my wife and I felt that we needed to focus on things at home. However, things were no more difficult at this point than they had been for a couple of years. I was unaware of any changes to my faith that may have been then occurring. However, I wonder now if a New Yorker article that one of my Mormon partners passed on to me for comment may have had something to do with this. You can find it at http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content... I wrote a lengthy Nibleyesque critique and gave it back to my partner and invited him to circulate it. He later reported that his father-in-law (a General Authority) had commented favourably with regard to my analysis. I was perceived in the Mormon community as one of the intellectual “defenders of the faith” and for that reason my partner had given the article tome. However, some of the questions that New Yorker article raised did not simply go away. And I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach as I read it for the first time. After writing my rebuttal, however, I felt fine on the surface at least. The questions, I now believe, percolated in my subconscious.
July 2002: A friend called me to tell me that his son had left Mormonism as a result of things he had found on the Internet. He had been our Bishop before I was called to take his place and has done numerous kind things for us over the years. I had been his son’s bishop, his Venturer leader, had counseled him through some tough times as a rebellious youth, and sent him on a mission. I was very close to both father and son. I thought, “That kid is in over his head. I will get on the Internet, find the stuff that concerned him and straighten him out.”
The next morning, a Monday, I typed “anti-Mormon” into Google. I had never read anything about religion on the Internet or any anti-Mormon literature except as Bishop some of the “Godmakers” while helping a ward member with that while Bishop. The “Godmakers” strengthened my Mormon testimony. That book uses the wrong approach to reach Mormons. It is designed to keep Baptists out of Mormonism, not help Mormonism to see the weakness of their own position.
In any event, for the next three weeks I did very little legal work or anything else, other than read Mormonism (pro and con) from early awakening to late and troubled falling into bed. I went back and forth between FARMS and academic sources, having quickly determined that the General Authorities and most strident of the anti-Mormons were not worth paying attention to. I had diarrhea during most of that period, and off and on for many months following.
I stopped attending Church, but found work and family travel excuses each week to excuse that.
I mentioned to my wife that I was seriously questioning some aspects of our beliefs, and the emotional nature of her response warned me not to say anything else until I was sure what I needed to do.
August 2002: My surrender is described http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.reve.... This is not exactly how it occurred, but the emotional impact is accurately conveyed. Then I had to decide what to do.
I started to frantically try to find the bottom of the pool in terms of "truth", and entered what I will always remember of one of the most exciting phases of my life. That is, as terrifying as the “destruction” of false faith is, the construction of a realistic worldview that is truly one’s own is wonderful. I spontaneously teared up at least one a week at the joy of discovering how connected I was to humanity; how sensible science was; how rich other faith and philosophical traditions were, etc.
And the joy of freedom! This did not hit home fully until I was able to come out of the closet. A gay friend who is familiar with my experience tells me that the emotional territory I was travelling at this point is almost identical to what many gays experience as they "come out".
October 2, 2002: With an incredibly poor sense of timing that my wife will never let me forget, I took her away for a overnight trip to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary and told her that I no longer believed; was not going to participate in Mormon services anymore; would teach our children about my beliefs; was breaching my temple covenants of obedience; and that I loved her more than ever and wanted to recommit to her as a marriage partner on terms by which we could both live. She went ballistic, and for many months that followed we struggled to determine whether our marriage would survive.
October 2002: After Juli and I had our talk and spent a miserable night together, we returned home and the next day I called the kids together and told them what I had decided to do and let them ask any questions they wanted. This went surprisingly well. Two daughters aged 16 and 21 at the time told me how happy they were; that they had never believed. They still say that they felt like being let out of prison. Both immediately began to be more open with me about what was going on in their lives.
The younger kids (aged 12, 10 and 8) were concerned because they could tell that uncertainty was in the air as far as our family was concerned. However, they have each adjusted well. None of them has any inclination to return to Mormon activity. Our son in the mission field and daughter at BYU took the news very badly and are both still active Mormons.
I told the kids at home that we should not talk to others about what I had decided to do because they would not understand. I was still not sure about whether I would attend LDS services on some basis, etc.
October 24, 2002: I sent a letter to my friend and Bishop resigning my callings. It is attached as Appendix A.
October - November 2002: Shortly after I sent the letter to the Bishop, one of my Mormon partners (I am a partner in a large law firm; in our office at the time we had about 40 partners of whom five were LDS) came into my office, closed the door and told me that he had heard I was having an affair with my secretary and that he understood how these things happen, etc. and wanted to assure me that he was still my friend, was there for me, etc. It then came out that he had also heard that I was questioning my Mormon beliefs, which would make sense if I was having an affair. One of my daughters, it turned out, had told one of her friends “in confidence” about our family meeting, and the word had spread like wildfire. My partner lived two stakes away on the far side of a city of 1,000,000 people. Adultery was a much more palatable explanation for my change in belief than the most careful, prayer, consideration of my like.
As a result, I sent a letter to 30 of my Mormon business associates that was designed to make sure that I was not savaged by the rumour mill. It is found in Appendix B.
November - December 2002: Within a week of the above letter going out, my SP contacted me. We met once alone, and once with a local GA. The day after the meeting with the GA, I sent him the letter attached as Appendix C.
A couple of days later the SP told me that after consulting with the GA and others in Salt Lake City that he felt that he had no choice but to require that I agree not to talk to anyone outside my immediately family about my beliefs, or resign my membership, or go through the “court of love” process.
I immediately resigned. My resignation letter is attached as Appendix D.
December 2002 November 2005: My beliefs have continued to evolve toward secular humanism. I am thrilled with life. My marriage survived (thank goodness) and my wife is doing better emotionally and physically than at any other time in our marriage.
This process has not been easy, but now that I understand it I would not hesitate to go down the same road again. We are programmed to fear what we don’t understand, and since we have no experience with what is on the outside of Mormonism, there is no way for us to appreciate the good things that await those who are prepared to challenge Mormonism’s false authority. I am grateful to whatever it is that allowed me to have this experience.
| I attended the funeral of a business associate the other day. He died tragically at age 50 of cancer. At his funeral were members of his hockey and fast pitch teams. He had played on those teams for over 20 years with the same group of guys, gradually drifting down through the divisions from “open” to “old fart” over the years with the athletic activity gradually being replaced by social relationships as the focus of the team. This made me ache for what might have been, and decide to pursue the same kind of relationship are my relatively advanced age (47).
Relationships of the kind my deceased friend had are rare within Mormonism, unless your ward boundaries and callings don’t change for over 20 years. That is, personal relationships of all kinds are determined not by preference, what you like to do, etc., but by the way in which the Mormon Church functions. This is only one of countless ways in which the Mormon Church inserts itself into our most intimate relationships with the result if not the intent that our relationship to Mormonism remains primary and all other relationships subsidiary.
This results from the fact that Mormonism’s primary objective is to create the strongest possible institution. Hence, its social structures are set up to do this and so the relationships sponsored by Mormonism are relatively weak. Strong personal relationships, after all, would likely interfere with allegiance to the institution. All the way along the road Mormons are required in uncounted ways to affirm the primacy of their relationship to the institution. This is usually presented a commitment to God.
So, the Mormon Church impedes the development of real friendship by keeping people so busy that the only relationships one has time to nurture are those related to church callings. This is yet more evidence of the way in which Mormonism puts it institutional interests ahead of those of its members. The image of human bodies being used as anesthetized batteries to run the machine world in the Matrix series is a useful caricature in this regard. Consider the following in this regard:
Time and “Misdirection”
It is all about time. This is where the scam has its roots.
There is only so much time. If a large percentage (almost 100%) of a person’s discretionary time is devoted to Mormon activities, there will be little chance to place life in a broad perspective and hence see Mormonism in context so that one might question whether it is what it purports to be.
This is a classic magician’s trick called “misdirection”. See http://www.leirpoll.com/misdirection/... As the legendary magician Jean Hugard said, "The principle of misdirection plays such an important role in magic that one might say that Magic is misdirection and misdirection is Magic". That is, magic is performed by the magician using tendencies in human perception to make us look at his left hand while his right hand (or foot, or assistant, etc.) does something that we do not notice and gives the impression that something magical has occurred.
One of my favorite magic tricks (and one of the few that is simple enough for me to do) is performed as follows. A group of people is seated in chairs and watching the trick. I put my hands in front of the subject’s face, and about a foot away from her nose. I show her a handkerchief with my left hand, and then while moving my hands around each other in a circular manner that is supposed to look confusing but not be confusing, I stuff the handkerchief into my closed right fist so that an edge is still visible. While doing so, I close my left hand into an identical fist. I then ask her where the handkerchief is. She points to the right hand.
I repeat this procedure twice more. Each time the subject easily spots the handkerchief.
Now, having defined the “relevant space” and “relevant actions” for my subject, I know that her attention will be focused on the area around my hands in front of her and on what my hands have done the past three times. This time as I move my hands in precisely the circular motion I have trained her to watch, I release the handkerchief from my left hand and it flies quickly over her head. This is obvious to everyone else in the room because they stand at a distance from the action that allows them to see the handkerchief as it hangs in the air for a second and falls to the floor. However, the subject has the chance to see the handkerchief as it moves about 12 inches before passing out of her field of vision, and she is focused on the area a few inches around my hands. While the human eye is quick enough to pick motion of this sort up, when “misdirected” it will not do so. The subject looks foolish when she assumes that the handkerchief is in the right hand again, and is amazed when it is not in either hand.
And misdirection is much more powerful that this. My favorite object lesson in this regard can be found on the Internet (though I could not find it now), where I once say a video clip of people passing a basketball between them. Five (I think) people are dressed in light colored clothes, are walking in a complicated pattern and are passing a light colored ball between them. You are told to count the number of times the ball moves from one person to another. This is not easy to do because of the way they move in front of each other while passing the ball around. After the video is over (maybe 30 seconds) you are asked if you noticed anything “odd”. I didn’t. “You didn’t see the gorilla?” you are asked. “Nope” was my response. So you replay the video.
While the people are walking through their pattern and passing the ball, a man dressed in a black gorilla suit walks into the middle of the group, turns toward the camera, lifts his arms and makes a face, and then walks out of the frame. It is that obvious. And I did not see it because I was focused on who was passing the ball to whom, and the gorilla was dressed like the background (dark) instead of the figures (light). But once you knew that something “odd” had happened and paid close attention, this was as obvious as the computer sitting right now on the desk in front of me. It was “magical” when the gorilla appeared out of thin air.
Such is the power of misdirection.
So, if we are sufficiently focused on the minutiae of living a Mormon life, the big picture will not be questioned. Hence, Mormonism (and many other religions that use the same system) are all about the details, routine and ritual of daily living, and result in such a busy day to day existence that there is little opportunity to think about where the train is headed.
This is not the result of the plan of some evil men sitting around in the Salt Lake Temple. Rather, this is how human social organizations of all types to some extent function. They spontaneously organize to protect themselves, find the resources they need to flourish, etc. The reason that the rules of modern democracies are so important is that they run against the hierarchical grain of human groups, and so force human organizations in an unnatural direction. This requires leaders to account to members; this restrains the natural direction of hierarchical power; this requires information about how and why leadership decisions are made to be disclosed to the members.
Perhaps the clearest lesson from human history is that absent the constraints that democracy imposes on the power of those at the top of the social pyramid, power will be abused.
How does, then, Mormonism affect our relationships?
This is arguably (and hopefully) our most intimate relationship. As such, it contains a power that can either work for or against the social organization. Mormonism adroitly harnesses this power to work it. See http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.a%20...
The Mormon Church is institutionalized as a third party to the marriage relationships. Both spouses make promises in the marriage ceremony of obedience to Mormonism. If one spouse falters in this commitment, the marriage is in trouble. Mormons are encouraged to marry young and to immediately put down anchors in terms of the wife staying home to have kids so that if the Church relationship is threatened there is a lot at stake.
Other Family Relationships
I often thought, and said, while Mormon that I deeply appreciated the way in which the Mormon Church helped me to raise my children. In exchange for my spending time with their kids as YM president, others spent time with my younger children. Parents, I thought, could not do certain things for their own kids, and so it was good that I had a village to help me raise my kids. It was a cooperative.
What I did not realize was that by weakening the primary bonds between parents and children, for example, and by substituting relationships that are brokered by Mormonism, the Mormon Church was gradually taking a control position with my own children.
I should have seen this coming because when my own ultra orthodox Mormon parents suggested to my wife and I when we married that perhaps waiting a year or two to start our family would be a good idea, we both thought that they were becoming a bit worldly, and accepted instead the advice of our even more ultra orthodox Mormon institute director (I was the LDSSA President at our university at the time) to "not put off bringing spirits into mortality" for any reason. Baby no. 1 was born 9.5 months after our marriage.
When I told my children that my beliefs had changed, two of the oldest four were sufficiently conditioned by Mormonism (as ages 20 and 18 respectively) that they distanced themselves from me. Our son, who was serving his mission at the time, expressly refused for a long time to look at anything I wanted him to read because, "I respect your intellect Dad, and you have been deceived. Whatever has deceived you can deceive me, so I can't afford to take the chance of looking at it." He now says he will look, but as far as I can tell has not done so in a meaningful way.
Friendships are usually formed on the basis four things: Neighborhood proximity; children’s activities; personal interest; and professional interests.
The Mormon mindset (we are the chosen; we are in the world but not of the world; etc.), social organization and time requirements all interfere with each of these relationship forming mechanisms.
For a Mormon, neighborhood proximity is not as important to the opportunity to be friends as which ward she is in. There is not enough time for close friendships with neighbors in the usual fashion because of the time spent attending to Mormon ward activities. And when the ward boundaries change or someone moves a short distance but out of the ward, friendships change. If you don’t see people at church at the various activities each week, it is hard to maintain friendships on the basis of the time otherwise available. If they move out of the Stake, or the Stake boundaries change, the may as well have gone to Europe. I remember lamenting this many times as ward and stake boundaries changed and people moved to new neighborhoods close by but in different wards.
Children’s activities are dominated by Mormonism, and to the extent that our kids are involved in the community we run into the time problem again when it comes to developing non-Mormon friendships. Just when are you going to see these non-Mormon friends, particularly if you are on the Mormon leadership track?
The same sort of thing can be said of the friendships one has at work or as a result of hobbies. Life’s focus is directed toward what happens at church.
As callings change within the ward, and particularly as home and visiting teaching callings change, the amount of time we spend with different people radically changes. Think was happens if one is moved from the Elder’s Quorum Presidency into the Young Men’s Presidency? Or from the Relief Society to the Primary? Social life is largely reorganized as a result. Thus the message of obedience, and primary of the institution over the individual, is constantly reinforced.
How many true friends do you see regularly, once a month? How many of those friends consistently call you on the 29th or 30th and ask you to inconvenience yourself to set aside some time within the next two days for a visit? I remember flinching once before calling an non-member spouse of a ward member to do just this knowing that it would be apparent to him that I was performing a duty instead of visiting a friend. But I did it. I apologized to him for the late call, but asked if he could nonetheless set aside some time the following night to chat with me. He sighed, and said yes.
This is an unnatural form of human social association. It is institutional. And if a friendship happens to be spawned during the course of such a HT or VT association it is highly unlikely to endure. I was so busy while Mormon that I did not occur to me to try to maintain close contact with former home teaching families after my assignment changed. It was simply not possible.
And what of the sports team relationships that I noted my recently deceased friend enjoyed so much? Very few Mormons participate on teams of this kind. Again, they are too busy. If they play sports they are likely to be Mormon sponsored teams. Those are subject to the vagaries of Ward boundary changes and so seldom endure over many years.
God Is In Control
I remember becoming aware in my mid-20s of the reality I have described above, and thinking that it was a good thing. That I was allowing God to determine who I associated with and who not. That God would use this to bring people into my life “for a reason” and so school me in his ways. Among the many bad things that happened as a result of this attitude is the worst (by a long ways) investment I have ever made. A relationship based on a Mormon calling blossomed into a business deal in which far too much confidence was placed in my Mormon colleague in large measure as a result of my “this is God’s way of guiding my life” attitude. I and other people we invested in this venture as a result in large measure of their respect for my judgment lost a total of more than $3,000,000 Cdn. as a result of my error. I am still paying for this bit of education and will continue to do so for a long time.
On the way out of Mormonism we realized that we were in effect limiting our children’s circle of friends to the Mormon kids. We were not doing this overtly, but as we stopped attending Mormon meetings our kids’ friends changed. And in each case I can say that the “fit” between our kids and their friends improved. I believe that this is because the kids had a larger pool to choose from, and were able to find people to whom they more naturally related with whom they more naturally resonated than the Mormon kids with whom they used to associate.
I do not suggest that all Mormon relationships are puerile. I value some of my Mormon friendships still. However, it is clear that Mormonism’s primary interest is a strong institution. Hence, its social structures are set up with this as the primary objective and as a result, the relationships sponsored by Mormonism are poor relative to what can be expected of relationships formed on a more organic basis in the community at large.
Remember to watch for the gorilla.
| This is an excerpt from "How Denial Works" (version 2) at http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.deni.... If version 2 is not yet up when you check the document, wait for it to start reading or make a copy.
Attachment theory applies the principles of evolutionary psychology to the study of child-parent relations and has been extended by some researchers to adult romantic relationships and other researchers (see Kirkpatrick and Faber below) to the relationship between individuals and religious groups or ideologies. In light of the cognitive bias research we have already reviewed, it is fair to suggest that the application of attachment theory to religious behaviour is closely related to the authority and conformist biases, or perhaps tells us something about their origins.
Lee Kirkpatrick, (see “Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion” http://www.guilford.com/cgi-bin/carts...) in what is likely the best book published on this topic so far, indicates that attachment is just one of a large number of evolved behavioural systems that comprise human nature and are relevant to how different kinds of religious beliefs can be expected to affect the behaviour of different kinds of people. He indicates that attachment theory is particularly explanatory with regard to how many monotheists (for example, Christians, Jews and Muslims) relate to their religious beliefs and groups, and are affected by them.
Kirkpatrick’s statement as to why be believes attachment theory is a good place to start with regard to understanding monotheistic behaviour in particular is worth repeating in large measure Here it is, from the introduction of his book:
First, attachment theory is a fundamentally psychological theory. It was developed initially as a theory of infant social development, particularly focusing on the ways in which experience with caregivers shapes subsequent behavior and social relations; it was in no way developed specifically for the purpose of describing or explaining religion. ...
Second, attachment theory is more comprehensive than most alternatives currently extant in the psychology of religion.
It is not a theory about emotion, behavior, cognition, or physiology; it is a theory about all of these and, most important, about how all of these are integrated in an organized, functional way. The theory includes both normative and individual-difference components, which are needed if we wish to answer both normative questions (Why are people religious?) and individual-difference questions (Why are different people religious in different ways?) about religion.
Third, attachment theory is deeply explanatory. It does not merely describe how infants interact with their mothers, or adult romantic partners with one another, but purports to explain why humans are built in such a way that they behave this way. It not only provides a descriptive typology for conceptualizing individual differences in people’s orientations toward personal relationships and intimacy, it purports to explain how these differences come about and why the system works in this rather than some other way. This functional, process-oriented approach enables its application to other phenomena such as religion, offering a basis for addressing questions about both the causes of and individual differences in religious belief and behavior.
Fourth, attachment theory is unambiguously a scientific theory. It has been supported by countless empirical studies reflecting a multitude of methodologies and populations, meaning not only that we can have considerable confidence in it, but also that it has clearly been demonstrated to be amenable to empirical testing. Perhaps equally important, however, is the fact that its application to religion is not laden by evaluative baggage. In contrast to earlier psychoanalytic formulations that presuppose religion to be inherently infantile, regressive, and mentally unhealthy, attachment theory provides a more value-neutral theoretical basis for understanding many of the same aspects of religious belief in which Freud was interested. Like Freud’s theory, attachment theory focuses on human concerns about comfort and protection, and God is psychologically represented as a kind of parent figure. However, from an attachment theory perspective, there is absolutely nothing assumed to be “infantile” or “regressive” about any of this. As Bowlby argued cogently and other researchers have subsequently explored in depth, attachment system processes are designed to operate across the entire lifespan. Attachment theory thus provides a scientific view of how humans are designed with respect to these issues in a way that is inherently neither pro- nor antireligious.
The theory of attachment as it applies to children suggests that the manner in which a child relates to her parents the form of attachment between child and parent affects the way in which the child relates to many aspects of her environment. For example, one stream of research suggests that there are three common attachment “styles” demonstrated by infants to their parents. These are called Secure Attachment Anxious-Ambivalent Insecure Attachment Anxious-Avoidant Insecure Attachment, Disorganized Attachment. In each case, the nature of the nature of the attachment to the parent or primary caregiver is mirrored to an extent by other aspects of the infant’s behaviour.
For example, the manner in which a child relates to its mother might be observed in a way that would allow the child’s attachment style to be determined. Then other aspects of its behaviour would be observed. In such experiments, a correlation has been found between children who are securely attached to their mothers and children who tend to explore freely while the mother is present, will engage with strangers, will be visibly upset when the mother departs, and happy to see the mother return. The theory says that children are best able to explore when they have the knowledge of a secure base to return to in times of need. When assistance is given, this bolsters the sense of security and also, assuming the mother's assistance is helpful, educates the child in how to cope with the same problem in the future. Therefore, secure attachment can be seen as the most adaptive attachment style. According to some psychological researchers, a child becomes securely attached when the mother is available and able to meetthe needs of the child in a responsive and appropriate manner. Others have pointed out that there are also other determinants of the child's attachment (including genetic factors), and that behaviour of the parent may in turn be influenced by the child's behaviour.
Other researchers detected similar patterns of behaviour in adult romantic relationships. Securely attached people are able to place trust in their partner which, in turn, means they can confidently spend time apart. People with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style may have difficulties because their way of behaving in relationships can be seen as needy or clingy by their partner. They are prone to worry about whether their partner loves them or whether they are valued by their partner. People with an avoidant-attachment style are uncomfortable being close to others. They have difficulties in trusting other people and do not like to depend on others. These patterns are believed to develop in infancy, but can be modified as people enter into new relationships.
M.D. Faber in “The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief: Searching for Angels and the Parent-God” (see http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/archi...) also develops the attachment theme along the religious axis, but in a narrower (and less helpful in my view) fashion than Kirkpatrick.
Faber focuses on how our earliest biological needs, our dependence on our parents and their endless satisfying of those needs predisposes us toward a belief in a kind of God that would treat us in similar fashion. Faber makes a good case for the way in which some religions exploit this “weakness” in our character with which our biology has equipped us. As he puts it:
[Churches] strive to trigger state-dependent memories of the early period through formal, diurnal practices
[Religion] has shrewdly played into man’s most childlike needs, not only by offering eternal guarantees for an omniscient power’s benevolence (if properly appeased) but by magic words and significant gestures, soothing sounds and soporific smells – an infant’s world
Thus religion is a cunning, unconscious method of preserving the tie to the
original mother and father
We can play the game of life in two directions, staying put and moving on
And so it is with religion
Not only does one get the caregiver back, but one gets the caregiver back in an idealized form. One is not alone, and one has nothing to fear from a just and merciful God.
The basic biological situation, the implicit memories, the desperate anxiety associated with separation, and every church’s deliberate and clever attempt to seduce innocent minds – such factors travel a great distance in explaining monotheism’s virtually irresistible attraction for humanity, including the most intelligent and educated among us.
Both Faber and Kirkpatrick note that not all religions present the kind of a God just described one that infantilises His followers. Many religions, and the Eastern religions in particular (at least as they tend to be interpreted in the West) posit a god that likely encourages us to grow out of ideas of dependence and attachment. In fact, Buddha blamed “attachment” for most of what ails humankind (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism). And Marvin Levine (see “The Positive Psychology of Buddhism and Yoga”) does a fine job of pointing out many of the ways in which some aspects of Eastern “religious” wisdom is well prescribed for what ails Westerners.
This reminds me of the various ways in which different kinds of religions have been categorized by religious studies scholars. We have, simply, “good religion” v. “bad religion”, “sick-souled” v.
“healthy-minded”, “mature” v. “immature”, “intrinsic” v. “extrinsic”, etc. As we attempt to characterize religion in terms of the positive or negative attachment style, we are making this kind of value judgment. That is, we are defining where a particular religions ideology stands relative to what we value. We are not defining something essential about the religion. There are many people who believe that the best religions, for example, are those that cause the most complete dependence of the worshiper on the worshipped. Indeed, the most of the Muslim faith and large parts of Christianity are so premised.
There is, of course, a vigorous debate in this field along nature v. nurture lines. To what extent, for example, does how Mom parents cause the attachment style and to what extent is it innate? Does the nature of one’s belief in God affect parental attachment, and vice versa? And how much can that vary in accordance with the romantic experience in adulthood? Many other similar questions are being asked.
Various fine books have been recently written on the nature v. nurture topic in general. Among my favourites are Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” and Quartz and Sejnowski “Liars, Lovers and Heroes”. None of them dare do more than point the way, and indicate that most of our major behaviour characteristics have large components of both nature and nurture.
| That was the question put to me recently. Here is my answer.
Sorry for the delay, I have been running lately.
I think that the leaders are noticing, but not reacting in the manner you and I would likely hope. I heard a while ago, for example, about a large number of bishops in the SLC area who have simply resigned and stated reasons like mine for doing so during the past year. This does not indicate that the organization is going to collapse, but can be counted on to influence Mormon leadership action.
Here are the things I observe along those lines.
- A greater emphasis on the idea that faithful members should stay off the internet related Mormon sources. These sources are cancerous, etc. People like me are used as examples of how even the "very elect" can be deceived. My own RM son uses that one me. And I have heard of two lessons recently taught here in SS and HP group that used me for that purpose. And I am no big fish. Each area will have a few people like me. More now than ever.
- A fellow I know very well was recently called as Bishop. And I also know very well the SP who called him. That combination would have been unthinkable a short time ago due to the nature of the new bishop. He is a sheep. He is not a thinker; two inches deep at most. He will love the profile of being bishop, but will not be effective in any aspect of its execution. His apprecation of human nature is shallow. He is lazy. Etc. But, there is virtually no chance of him quitting because of intellectual concerns. Look for more people of this type to be called as bishop, and fewer young people (less predictable - I was 30 when called) and few intellectual, think-for-yourself leaning people who might challenge authority. The Church will become more McMormon.
- More tolerance toward the publication of books like Bushman's that tell more of the real story but still find reasons for both belief and obedience. This allows them to say "Look, the information is out there is you want to find it".
- But, no change in the intolerance to things like Bushman's book coming up at church. Hence, more emphasis on the "stick to the lesson manual" (no sources outside the manual itself and the scripture; no interpretative aids to the scripture - this baffled me while I was still active but now I understand perfectly what was afoot) approach both to teaching lessons and speaking in church (where the lesson manual will be the scriptures only). This practically speaking prevents the vast majority of Mormons from finding out about their history.
- More use of the "gag order" approach they used on me. That is, believe what you want but don't talk about it. That way the continued participating of intellectuals in Mormon meetings will be tacit approval of what it taught there, deceiving more young people (as I was) when they see really smart people coming to church, holding callings, etc. and never emitting a squeak of concern.
Overall, the best model to predict the behaviour of Mormon leaders I have found is power dynamics. They will not do anything, until forced, that will reduce their power. And they will do anything that they think they can get away with long term to maintain or increase their power. The internet is forcing them to accept things like Bushman's approach to JS's history, but they will draw the line there.
All this means that the Church's growth will slow and the membership in North America will likely decline as it already has in Western Europe. They will call this a "winnowing", a "flight to quality", a "sign of the times", etc. The leadership's emphasis will be more and more on the miracle of growth overseas where the world is not wired yet and hence the pickings are easy. But there will be increasing pressure to make those places carry themselves financially. And in North America the emphasis will be on keeping what they have. Thus, bishops who obey and aren't likely to question, but who may be much less adept at delivering the administrative and spiritual goods bishops are traditionally expected to deliver will be part of the program.
| I will further disclose the low brow nature of my intellect by admitting to occasionally watching Southpark with my kids. This started a few years ago when I learned that Trey Parker, one of the two creative guys behind the show, is a Mormon refugee and hence some of his humour is laced with stuff few but post-Mormons would pick up. And to my wife's initial horror, I made the case for allowing our kids to watch the show as well. Potty mouthed and crude as it is, the show comes at issues in ways that my kids understand and we have some our best laughs together while watching it, and best discussions about moral and social issues after watching it.
Last night my sons (15 and 11 years old) persuaded me to watch part of a South Park Christmas Special with them. There was a sketch about how Pokemon was being used by the evil Japanese to brainwash the children of American and turn them against the American establishment that had me crying I was laughing so hard. I literally fell over sideways on the couch and could not move for a few seconds at one point.
The Japanese manipulators of American culture successfully defused each and every confrontation with American authority figures who had hard evidence of the brainwashing that was underway by quickly first pleading ignorance, second promising to fix their mistakes, and third noting that the poor Japanese with their tiny penises could do nothing when compared to the Americans with their huge (and dinosaurian, and mastodonian, and other highly entertaining adjectives) penises. The Japanese ran over the first two points and then hammered the third one home over and over again. This reduced the American authority figures (including Clinton) to vacant eyed smiling acceptance of the Japanese and their brainwashing ways on the basis of the obvious Japanese honesty and good sense in recognizing American penile superiority.
I almost died laughing.
After the movie my sons and I talked about the nature of the point of this lovely caricature (the use of disingenious flattery to manipulate emotion and action through advertising and many other aspects of society including religion - "Agree with us and you are by definition one of God's elect; oh, and now start paying tithing, etc."), and what creates humour in general (the connection of two usually unconnected concepts in a plausible fashion - a gay Satan; little kids who use sophisticated profanity; a piece of pooh (Mr. Hanky) with his own Christmas Special; the use of genital flattery for manipulative purposes in an overt instead of implicit fashion; etc.).
Southpark nicely illustrated the principle of cultural manipulation. Find out what the people want, and then use fear and desire to manipulate them. These are your emotional battleships. As Southpark accurately reflected life, intellectual rowboats get blown away in most encounters with the much stronger emotional weaponry.
And over time, emotion can be used far more effectively than even this (also illustrated in this Southpark episode). You can get people to think that they want something, and persuade them that you have the power to help them get it. This is the principle on which advertising and salesmanship is based (relative to religion as well as all other things), as well as magic. In magic it is called "misdirection". See http://www.leirpoll.com/misdirection/... for examples.
As the legendary magician Jean Hugard said,
"The principle of misdirection plays such an important role in magic that one might say that Magic is misdirection and misdirection is Magic".
That is, magic is performed by the magician using tendencies in human perception to make us look at his left hand while his right hand (or foot, or assistant, etc.) does something that we do not notice and gives the impression that magic has occurred.
Misdirection in magic is based on based weaknesses in the human ability to perceive that psychologists and neuroscientists now study. My favourite object lesson in this regard can be found on the Internet (see http://viscog.beckman.uiuc.edu/grafs/..., if you have a java enabled computer). It is a video clip of people passing a couple of basketballs between them. Five (I think) people are dressed in relatively light coloured clothes, are walking in a complicated pattern and are passing two light coloured balls between them.
If you can access this video, you may as well perform the experiment on yourself. So before reading further, watch the video and count the number of times the balls moves from one person to another. This is not easy to do because of the way they move in front of each other while passing the balls around.
After this short video ends (maybe 30 seconds) you are asked if you noticed anything "odd". I didn't. "You didn't see the gorilla?" you are asked. "Nope" was my response. So you replay the video.
While the people are walking through their pattern and passing the ball, a man dressed in a black gorilla suit walks into the middle of the group, turns toward the camera, beats his chest and makes a face, and then walks out of the frame. It is that obvious. And I did not see it because I was focused on who was passing the ball to whom, and the gorilla was dressed like the background (dark) instead of the figures (light). But once you knew that something "odd" had happened and paid close attention, this was as obvious as the computer sitting right now on the desk in front of me. It was "magical" when the gorilla appeared out of thin air.
Such is the power of misdirection. This applies to religion, politics, economics, social relationships of all kinds, etc. It is one of those fundamentally important things to grasp if one wishes to understand as much as possible of human behaviour, both individual and social.
To show how deep this runs, consider the unsettling story of how progress sets traps that destroy entire civilizations is really about the human tendency to focus on social fine points (like how quickly our economy is growing) while missing critical big picture imperatives (like global warming). Jared Diamond tells this story in "Collapse" (see http://www.newyorker.com/critics/book... and http://www.davidbrin.com/collapse.htm...) . For a shorter and much more accessible (if darker) version of the same events, see Robert Wright's "A Short History of Progress" (see http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2005/0...).
So, if we are sufficiently focused on the minutiae of living a religious life, an academic life, a businessperson's life etc., the big picture will not be questioned. Hence, many religions and other ideologies that wish to control behaviour are all about the details, routine and ritual of daily living, and result in such a busy day to day existence that there is little opportunity to think about where the train is headed.
This is not the result of the plan of some evil people sitting around in determining the fate of humanity. Rather, this is how human social organizations of all types to some extent function. They spontaneously organize to protect themselves, find the resources they need to flourish, etc. within the constraints imposed upon them. The reason that the rules of modern democracies (self imposed constraints that affect collective and individual behaviour) are so important is that they run against the hierarchical grain of human groups, and so force human organizations in an unnatural direction. This requires leaders to account to members; this restrains the natural direction of hierarchical power; this requires information about how and why leadership decisions are made to be disclosed to the members.
And as I noted in my earlier message, the time may have come for us to revisit some of the basic rules of our democratic system.
Our ancestors taught us that the clearest lesson from human history is that absent the constraints that democracy imposes on the power of those at the top of the social pyramid, power will be abused. We may need to extend their wisdom by building protections into our system that will counter the human tendency to think and act within a short term and small group frame of reference. This is in many ways the same tendency that causes humans to abuse power - short term thinking coupled with a very small group (me) is what causes me and all other human beings to tend toward the abuse of power. The current generation of human beings should likewise be counted up to abuse its collective power to take resources from future generations, and should be assumed not to be able to see that its actions are wrong. Therefore, just as democratic institutions were designed and implement to restrain one kind of power and the bad decision-making that tends to go with it, the time may have come to agree that we should imposeconstraints on ourselves that constrain the exercise of similar types of power.
And I don't have the slightest notion as to how it would be best to proceed in this regard.
| Tom Clark (see Center for Naturalism) is a thoughtful fellow from whose writings I have consistently drawn wisdom. What follows is an email he sent to a group in which we both participate, and my response. The issue is how one derives meaning from our life experience after having jettisoned the notion of a literal god.
See http://www.stnews.org/News-2451.htm for a story on religious naturalism featuring Ursula Goodenough (a respected biologist) and Michael Ruse (a respected philosopher of science and religion).The article closes with a quote from Ruse:
“Ruse, on the other hand, said that he sees nontheistic and atheistic systems as equally lacking in meaning. "I would want to say, you give it [belief in God] up, there is no meaning. Now I'm not saying you can't have joy and friendship or enjoyment of ideas or family or all of these things. I think you certainly can. But ultimately, it's meaningless," he said.”
I think it's a mistake to characterize ultimate reality - the whole of what is - as "meaningless," since that's to project our parochial expectation or desire for purpose onto something that's incapable of being construed in such a fashion. It's a descriptive injustice to characterize an unsupervised, wild cosmos as meaningless, as did Steven Weinberg when he said "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless." Rather, the fact of existence is inscrutable, quite beyond the meaning/no meaning distinction. Purposes necessarily inhabit an overarching, non-purposive context, which necessarily escapes being construed as purposive. If god existed, she'd be in the same existential predicament we're in, which is to wonder what's the point of it all, and then see that such a question is necessarily unanswerable.
Center for Naturalism
Thanks for that note. By the way, my wife and I were driving home from an out of town Christmas party this morning and used your Science and Theology News interview on religious atheism (http://www.stnews.org/News-522.htm) to launch a nice discussion about the line between science and religion. Your material is always useful and thought provoking.
While agreeing for the most part with what you and Michael C. said, my take on Ruse was somewhat different. I think he makes an important point (certain kinds of meaning are not justified within a naturalistic framework and must be let go of when one becomes a naturalist) while missing another (other kinds of meaning are naturalistically justified and should be expected to evolve as our understanding of nature improves). Let me flesh this out a bit.
First, I agree with Ruse that atheism and non-theism are the same. So what goes for one goes for the other.
Second, I think he had a valid point regarding the epistemic and ontological rules that govern science and those that take it seriously, and what they imply for meaning. This is what my wife and I were talking about on our trip home.
The big difference between people who take science seriously and those you have called "squishy minded", it seems to me, is in what they are prepared to accept as reliable knowledge and act upon as such. I note, by the way, that terms like "squishy minded" while accurate in a sense are also pejorative and hence unhelpful. I would prefer to speak of these people in terms of things like socially conditioned assumptions regarding reality and other concepts of that sort that in my view recognize the limited (if any) agency people of this type have when it comes to this aspect of their worldview. However, it is hard to find an accurate label for them that is efficient and not pejorative. I will use the term "scientific people" to refer to those who use science consistently to draw the line between reliable and unreliable forms of knowledge, and "unscientific people" to refer to those who do not use science consistently in that regard. Ironically, some people to whom I will refer as unscientific are in fact practising scientists of some repute, but due to our instinctive deference to our dominant social groups and the foundational premises we have inherited from it operate with a compartmentalized mind. That is, they have sources of epistemic certainty that cannot be justified scientifically, and they do not see a conflict between the scientific principles that govern one part of their lives and the unscientific that governs the balance.
Unscientific people accept as certain things that are manifestly uncertain; things that cannot be shown to be reliable; things that are non-scientific. In fact, the more uncertain some alleged phenomena seem to be (the nature of God, for example) the more emphatic some people are that they are certain. This is tied closely to questions of ultimate meaning, as noted below, as well as being a big part of the glue that holds social groups together.
Scientific people will admit that many things are possible (like some form of god) but are not certain and hence should not be relied upon in epistemic or ontological terms. Hence, for scientific people what lies outside what is "known" is by definition not known and hence unreliable. Therefore, we are therefore not justified in drawing certain conclusions about it.
Scientific people try hard to remain open to what might be out there beyond the known, and hence able to accept what science may in the future try to teach our hardening neural networks in that regard. They try to maintain the same attitude about what appears to be known based on the best available evidence from time to time.
You indicated that existence is inscrutable - beyond the meaning/no meaning dichotomy - and hence we should not speak in terms of meaning with regard to existence as a whole. While that is true, I think there is more to it. I will be interested to hear what you think about this.
Scientific people will tell us that the boundaries of our knowledge of the world in which we exist create a whole. This is not the whole of existence. Rather, it is the whole of what we reliably know about existence. The part of existence defined by our reliable knowledge is no doubt anchored it many other things that are real, by those are beyond our understanding at the moment and hence are like the darkness beyond a spotlight illuminating a play on stage. What we cannot see cannot reliably inform what we perceive to be happening on stage.
This is important to meaning because meaning is context dependant. That is, a flower does not have meaning or function in isolation. If our knowledge were restricted to a single flower, we might be able to find the functionality and hence infer some forms of meaning for its parts by examination of how they interact and relate to the whole, but the entire flower (being the universe for purposes of this example) simply is. However, once that flower is set within its context as we know it in this world, it acquires many attributes by reference to that context. It has certain functions. It "means" one thing to a bee, another to each of many other insects, another to the earth into which it decays, another to the animal that eats it, etc. And what does it mean to the multiplicity of humans who see and use it in various ways using our symbolic minds? Of course, as our understanding of both the figure (the flower) and its ground (the context) changes, our perception of things like function and meaning also change.
I am not equating function with meaning, but rather using function as an illustration of how the ground largely defines the figure.
Perhaps all Ruse is saying is that once you have accepted the naturalistic hypothesis and its epistemic and ontological implications, you have reduced the context around your empirical world to the point that it is like the flower-as-universe example above. Devoid of a context that has characteristics discernable with some degree of specificity and probability of being "real", all of empirical reality as we understand it is shorn of the kind of meaning that can be easily derived from God and all that goes with Him, including various stories as to why and how the Earth and humanity came into being. This is the context that humans wrap around empirical reality as they perceive it in order to create meaning.
As is well known in the world of art, you can vary the way the figure is perceived in many ways by changing the ground. Hence, by changing the assumptions related to God and other metaphysical aspects of existence that are presumed to surround empirical reality, the meaning of the empirical reality can be controlled.
Without this context for empirical reality, we can still find the function of various parts of reality as we know it and can justifiably infer various meanings for these parts relative to other aspects of the known whole. For example, in the evolutionary context my purpose and meaning may be to act so as to enhance the prospects for the long term survival and propagation of my genes and all other genomes related to them. It is not hard to connect that to Maslow's hierarchy of needs for each human being of the current and future generations, not to mention other forms of life. I derive this from my empirical context, as I am justified in believing it to be while operating within the naturalistic hypothesis. But without a context for the empirical whole that we can justify as real, there is no justifiable way to derive a function or meaning for that whole that then might inform the meaning I perceive for myself as part of that whole. As my understanding of empirical reality as a whole increases, my perception of the function, meaning and other attributes of various parts (including me) changes, in many cases becoming richer. I expect this perspective expansion to continue indefinitely, and so that justifiable perceptions of meaning will change indefinitely.
My meaning and purpose used to relate, for example, to doing what was required to pass the test to which God had put me in this life, and be able to return to live for eternity with Him and become a God like Him. The overarching purpose and the meaning with which this presumed context for empirical reality infused my life dictated an amazing amount of what I did from moment to moment. This meaning, however, was not justifiable and was based on what I now perceived to be an extremely improbable set of ontological and epistemic beliefs that were designed to remove time, energy and other resources from me and give them to other people who happened to lead the religious group that promulgated this story. It amazing how consistent that pattern is throughout history - the guys telling the metaphysical story are at the receiving end of the time, money etc. donated by those who believe the story.
So, does accepting the naturalistic hypothesis necessarily render all existence meaningless? No. However, under the rules of justified knowledge that naturalists use, we are not justified in concluding that there is any meaning for the whole. Ruse is perhaps merely pointing that out. And he separates meaning from living a joyful, fulfilled life.
I understood you to say that Ruse is posing, or responding to, the wrong question. He said "if you give up belief in god, there is no meaning". That is too strong. He might have better said, "within the naturalistic hypothesis, if you give up belief in a god and his attendant metaphysical ontology, you cannot justify any particular meaning for the whole of existence". I think that is what he meant, and I am OK with that. I think his words were an understandable slip that need a little dressing up.
However, one can move from what he said to another important point which is that just as beliefs in empirical reality can be justified to one degree or another within the naturalistic hypothesis, so can beliefs with regard to meanings.
As noted above, many meanings can be justified with regard to the parts vis-ΰ-vis other parts or the whole. It is just meanings with regard to the whole that can't be justified. As what is embraced by naturalism becomes a better representation of realty, the materials from which our justified meanings can be forged will become richer. I have no idea where that will go, but as my discussions with Stan and others here have illustrated to my satisfaction, there is much more to empirically justifiable material to work with than I had dreamed a few years ago. If you go back 150 years, there was certainly much less. If we project forward 150 years, I can't imagine what will be on the table, and am far more excited than fearful about that.
I think it is important that we face the uncertainty of what is not known, and so I think Ruse's point is important. People do need to face the fact that the ontological assumptions that ground many of their meanings are not justifiable, and hence their conceptions of meaning are not justifiable. I have spoken to Ruse about this and believe that this is his view as well.
I suspect as well that he would agree with both the justification of meaning of the limited sort I just described, and the likelihood that the empirical playing field will expand in this regard as time passes, but I have not spoken to him about that.
In my view, it is a Faustian bargain to accept the manifestly uncertain as certain, thus creating unjustifiable ontological beliefs and hence unjustifiable meaning by the relationship between the empirically testable and whatever social dreams, oft thousands of years old, that are presumed real. I know you agree with this
If history is any guide, those who go down this road will manufacture the context that, relative to the empirically known, will justify the actions they (or at least some of those who are powerful in their group) feel are necessary. This will be yet another mirror in which we can look and feel pleased with ourselves. This closes the mind and misleads at the same time. And it is what I see in both old and new belief systems, such as many New Age quasi-religions.
And what about people like Ray Kurzweil (see
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0670...). He seems like a genius, and yet is foolish enough to have suggested that on the basis of 220 supplements per day he has found the fountain of youth, and some branch of complexity theory has allowed him to create a money machine that outsmarts the stock market (see http://www.boston.com/news/globe/idea...).
My point here is not to be critical of Kurzweil. I have not yet read his most recent book which a friend whose judgement I respect has recommended to me. However, I expect that we will see more people like Kurzweil who will attempt to provide meaning by wrapping the empirically known with the scientifically speculative. The recent and lamentable movie "What the Bleep Do We Know?" (see http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.what...).
It is my view that when confronted with meaning creating propositions such as those Kurzweil and others will increasingly float, we should be sensitive to the same things as we are regarding meaning created by theology. Some of those are:
· How justifiable are the "facts" posited in order to create this meaning?
· If they are not justifiable, why am I inclined toward accepted this set of unjustified assumptions but not others? The answer to this question usually relates to blind spots created by social conditioning, and hence the question is best put to people who are not affected by the same social conditioning as we are.
· How does the interface between is justifiably known and what is speculative create meaning in this case? That is, the empirically known is hard to change. However, the speculative context can be made up by anyone creative enough to do so. Hence, an examination of how the speculative wrap interfaces with the empirically known is often illuminating.
· Who are the beneficiaries of the meaning so posited? And who is pushing the story that creates the meaning in question? If those who benefit are also those who are pushing this particular form of meaning, alarm bells should go off.
· To what extent does this meaning tell me and others like me what I want to hear, and so manipulate me?
Out of time this morning.
| But Good Things Often Come From Bad, And So People Are Justified To Choose To Remain Mormon Even After They Understand Its Real History |
Friday, Dec 16, 2005, at 08:57 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE - SECTION 2 -Link To MC Article-
| ↑ |
| But good things often come from bad, and so people are justified to choose to remain Mormon even after they understand its real history. And, people are often worse off outside of Mormonism than in, and so I would not want to disturb those who wish to stay in.
So I was recently told. My lightly edited response was as follows.
You and I also seem to have a different view of the options outside of Mormonism. You are perhaps unaware that the suicide and depression rates (as measured by anti-depressant consumption) in Utah are the highest in North America. Mormons say that this is only true outside of the "faithful" Mormon community. I doubt that. I know a lot of Mormon women in particular who take anti-depressants, but it is not socially acceptable within Mormonism (even less so than in other groups) to admit that you are depressed. And the suicide stats are really interesting.
If we believe that the active Mormons do not have a high suicide rate (this is what Mormon researchers tell us) then what it is about being an inactive Mormon or non-Mormon in Utah that raises the suicide rate for that group into the stratosphere? And why does Utah lead the US in personal bankruptcies, reported spousal abuse, some kinds of reported sexual abuse, etc.?
If you take similar demographic groups (Mormon and not) in terms of income levels, educational levels, community attributes, etc. (like Mormons and non-Mormons in the suburbs of Calgary or Denver) you will not find that the non-Mormons are out doing drugs and raping people while the Mormons are at home baking cookies and reciting poetry to each other. Rather, you will find similar social behaviours, with the non-Mormons tending to have more time for community affairs, spending more time doing things as a family (instead of attending Mormon functions together, but apart), not using anti-depressants as much, being more racially tolerant (by behaviour, not word), encouraging their daughters to become more and better educated, encouraging their children to marry later and have fewer children, etc.
For more detail in this regard, see http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.shou... at page 19.
To understand Mormonism (as is the case with every social group) you should listen to what they tell you about themselves. Rather, you should collect the most objective data possible about their behaviours.
I don't think that a case can be reasonably made for Mormonism enhancing lifestyle in the ways most of us would appreciate. And when you cut through the marketing BS (Mormonism has become very adept at persuading both its members and others that it is "family first", produces happy people, etc.), I think a solid case can be made that Mormonism impedes the creation of the kind of life most people value.
The easiest way to think about this issue is as follows: Mormonism requires a lot of time and money. If it is "true", that makes sense because your time and money are buying goods to be delivered after death. If Mormonism is not "true", it is no more than any other social club or church, and so I should examine each of the potential uses for my time and money on the basis of only what I can expect in return for them during this life. This is the critical point - take away the "after life" benefits Mormonism promises, and the sterility of what it offers her and now comes into disillusioning focus.
When I go through the exercise I just noted with Mormonism (think of those endless, boring, uneducational meetings; those assigned friendships; the endless time spent planning meetings to get other people to attend more meetings to get other people to attend more meetings; etc.) and other potential uses of my time and money, this is an easy decision. There are many other uses to which I can put my time and money that are more likely to bring what I value into being than what Mormonism offers.
I wish you the best on this adventure.
| What follows is an expansion of one section of the essay at http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.a%20.... I would be interested in some feedback since I am never sure whether my perceptions are on track or influenced by our many mental processes that are designed for things other than to accurately perceive (see http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.deni...).
In a nutshell, what I am wondering about is the extent to which cultures like that around Mormonism tend to cause dysfunctional marriages to last longer than they in some cases should.
The most interesting research regarding marriage I have run across is John Gottman’s. On the basis of a mere 30 minutes of video footage of a couple talking about routine matters he has a 95% prediction rate for which couples will divorce within seven years. He does this on the basis of the ratio of positive to negative communication (including non-verbal communication) using sophisticated criteria he has developed over years of this research (see http://www.gottman.com/research/abstr...). Using the first 15 minutes of this interview analysis, his batting average drops to 90%.
The key to Gottman’s formula is that positive to negative communication (as he defines both) must be better than 5:1 for a marriage to have a good long-term survival prospect. And most important of all is the degree to which what he calls “contempt” is displayed. This is a hierarchical behavior verbal or non-verbal communication that shows that one spouse considers him or herself to be above the other. “Disrespect” is perhaps closer to what most of us would use to describe this kind of communication. Accordingly to Gottman, marriages can successfully deal with much more anger, deception and other obviously toxic behavior that a little polite indication of “who’s who”, including things that are so subtle that few of us would catch them, and Gottman and his staff has to slow down the video and look for momentary flashes of emotion across the face that indicate what is “really” going on in the head (usually at the subconscious level), before the conscious mind suppresses it and gets on with the business of trying to get along. If much contempt, as Gottman defines it, is detectible on this subtle basis, the marriage probably has a short life expectancy. This is particularly interesting because the couples in question generally have no idea that they are in trouble. The signs Gottman detects are something like going up in a helicopter above a couple in a canoe floating down a river to a height where you can see the rapids or waterfall around the next bend. Regardless of how the couple in the canoe think they are doing, you can see things that indicate serious trouble ahead.
This line of research persuasively questions basic notions about what causes marital dysfunction and how hard it is to predict and in some cases correct, either within a marriage or by choosing a new life partner. And in particular, it points out that the problems people will tell us broke up their marriage are often red herrings. Gottman lucidly explains that we have problems, and more importantly solutions, of which we are unaware.
It seems to me that within Mormon marriage there is a greater power imbalance than in most marriages between similar non-Mormon couples in terms of age, socio-economic status, etc. That is, the man has more power in Mormon marriage than non-Mormon marriage. This, it seems to me, likely makes both Mormon men and women tolerate higher levels of disrespect in their marriages than would be the case of non-Mormon marriages. For those of you familiar with couples from cultures even more conservative or traditional than the Mormon culture, think of how those marriages work. I am thinking of Hindu women who walk behind their husbands while in public with their faces covered; of Hutterite women who are almost completely deferential to male authority; of FLDS women to whom their polygamous husband are a kind of quasi-deity and whose daughters are taught to sing hymns like “My Daddy is the Best Man in the World!”. It seems to me that in such cultures, the tendency to tolerate disrespect within the relationship would beeven higher than in the LDS culture.
In any event, it is my observation of Mormon marriage that in general there is a greater incidence of the kind of subtle disrespect that is a marriage killer according to Gottman, but the divorce rate is slightly lower than the national average. I would suggest that this can be explained by lower expectations on the part Mormon couples, which is the other side of the “tolerance of disrespect” coin.
What do you think about this? And you can see the essay referenced above for a more detailed comparison of LDS marriages to both traditional and modern/secular marriage.
| Most importantly, Mormonism and Scientology both foster community based on literal, metaphysical beliefs that amplify humankind's tribalistic instincts. "Believe what we tell you, and this will prove that you are one of God's elect and in line for incredible blessings!" Without those metaphysical beliefs to attract adherents, both of those faiths would likely die.
I had the chance to demonstrate the power of this kind of belief while out for dinner a few nights ago with some of the young lawyers at our firm (articling students, in fact) who invited some of us old farts to join them. Since I have not recorded this yet, I will use this email as an opportunity to do so.
After a few drinks, one of the other senior lawyers with us who was seated at the other end of the table indicated in answer to a question I did not hear that he had been excommunicated by the Catholic Church after choosing to marry a non-Catholic in a protestant church. This happened in Quebec, where Catholicism was at that time (about 30 years ago) still the primary organizing force in some small communities. This led to an energetic discussion of the merits and demerits of religion. In my demur way, I was staying out of it. My wife has told me that she tires of having Mormonism dragged into most of our social encounters, and I am trying to learn from her advice. But within a few minutes someone put a question straight to me about how my experience with Mormonism compared to my friend's with Catholicism, and away we went. A short time later, one of the female articling students said to me something like this,
"This makes no sense whatsoever. I have seen these Mormon missionaries going around and some of my friends have talked to them, and I have never heard such a ridiculous story - angels, golden books, god appearing to people - it is ridiculous. I don't understand how anyone could fall for something like that." In our conversation up that point this girl (in her late 20s I would guess) had demonstrated a lot of personality and self-confidence. She was clearly the type who has no hesitation to swim against the tide when that makes sense to her.
I replied by asking her if she really wanted to understand what this kind of thing was about. She said yes. We were sitting across a corner of the table from each other with one person between us. I leaned over the table and extended my hands to her. She looked at me like I was off my nut. "Give me your hands", I gently said. She reached out toward me, still looking at me a little sideways, and I took her hands in mine while looking directly into her eyes. Our table of eight people in the middle of a noisy restaurant became quiet.
"Angela [not her real name]", I said, "are you close to your parents?"
"How about your husband?"
"I feel moved to tell you that I know that you can live with them forever. After death, I know that you can be with your parents, your brothers and sisters, your husband, forever. Would you want to do that?"
She rolled her eyes and smiled confidently, "This is crazy!"
"OK", I said, "It is crazy. But stay with me. I want you to imagine that both of your parents died during the last few months. How are you feeling?"
After a few moments of silence, "I am devastated".
I continued and squeezed her hands gently, "I am a Mormon missionary and I just knocked on your door, and because I look so sincere and you are feeling like you need someone to talk to, you let me in. You tell me your story - about your family, how much you loved your parents and all that and then (I squeeze her hands a little more), I look you straight in the eye and with tears running down my cheeks I tell you that I know for a certainty that your father and mother still live; that they are watching down on you; that they inspired me to come to your door; that I have a message they want you to hear so that you can take some steps in your life that allow you and them to be rejoined after death ..."
She interrupted me, "This is creeping me out". Her confident smile was gone, but she did not take her hands from mine.
"Or imagine", I said, "that you just had a baby (she had said earlier that evening that she planned never to have children) and the same thing happens. I knock on your door; you are feeling emotional because of your new baby and the way she has changed everything about your life, and I tell you that God has sent me to you because of your new baby, and that God has inspired me to tell you how you can be with that wonderful baby after death ..."
"OK I get it!", she said as she pulled her hands from mine. "This is too weird! I could feel something from you that I have never felt before ..."
Angela went on for some time about the bizarre nature of what she had felt as I look into her eyes, touched her hands and spoke to her with absolute certainty about things that are among the most uncertain, and terrifying, known to man. I explained that all I was doing was replicating the kind of thing I did innumerable times as a Mormon missionary and then lay priesthood leader. The expression of sincerely believed certainty is a powerful thing. Andy Newberg explains why we should expect this kind of reaction from a neurological point of view when such certainty is combined with existential crisis (see http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/out%20of%20my%20faith.pdf at page 78). And when you add this kind of personal power to even clumsy communal ritual and experience, it is supercharged. Nothing that people do in this mind of context surprises me. Jonestown, Heaven's Gate, Waco, Moonies, Hari Krishna, Mormonism, etc. These are the most powerful social forces know to humanity; the emotional battleships I have mentioned in other posts. And groups like Mormonism use them to near perfection.
Mormonism will be interesting to watch during the next several decades because some of its foundational beliefs are sufficiently susceptible to scientific investigation that they will be shorn of any credibility they had, at least outside of Mormonism, forcing Mormonism to either become like the Young Earth Creationists or Old Order Amish (islands of irrationality in a sea of reason) or to retool their foundational beliefs. Mormonism has re-tooled before (after polygamy was taken from it in the late 1800s) and so my bet is that it will go that route again. I think it probable that Mormonism will end up resembling most standard Evangelical sects within 50 to 100 years, which is a nanosecond in the time frames over which religions develop. Hence, I suggest that Mormonism is right now at a tipping point as a result of the confluence of certain sketchy Mormon foundational beliefs, science (genetic science is at the forefront at the moment - see Simon Southerton "Losing a Lost Tribe" http://www.signaturebooks.com/Losing.htm) and the Internet.
In my view, the primary lesson for Religious Naturalism (see www.religiousnaturalism.org) in Mormonism and Scientology is the importance of the belief that something is "true" in creating an enduring mythology, and how that must be linked to both ritual and communal experience to take on a life of its own. As Karen Armstrong notes (see "A Short History of Myth"), mythologies are lived more than they are believed. The energy Angela felt from me would be translated quickly by Mormonism into a connection to a community of supportive, loving people who would teach her the "right" way to live and infuse her life with ritual practice that would occupy a large part of each of her days from then until she refused to allow it to do so any more. The connection to a community and way of life that made her feels secure would soon supersede the importance of her beliefs. This is an example of a particularly interesting kind of feedback loop as described by emergence and complexity theory (see http://www.new-paradigm.co.uk/complex-od.htm), within a particular kind of human culture. The willingness to believe creates a transcendent experience, which connects one to a group, which causes one to adopt daily habits that are consistent with/mandated by belief, which causes habits of behavior and interdependence on the group, which both support the beliefs and render them unnecessary this causing change to occur in both the group and individual behavior, etc. all of which is set in an environment that brings pressure to bear on both the individual and the group that causes this complex system to continue to evolve at the macro level as well as at its nexus with a particular individual. This is the model that I think in the mid to long term has the best chance of explaining how human groups (religious or otherwise) function, and how the behavior of particular individuals relative to their group are likely to work.
Science is currently our best bet when it comes to finding out what is real. However, as discussions as recent as ours concerning Brian Swimme (see lecture at www.meaningoflife.tv) indicate, the territory that a mythology needs to cover in order to be effective is arguably much larger than what science covers. One of science's primary virtues is that it is set up to discredit those who overreach. Hence, people like Swimme will have to be clear that they are not speaking as scientists if they wish to retain their credibility as scientists, and that credibility is critical to their enterprise.
As indicated above, groups like Mormonism and Scientology use our tribal instincts against us. One of the things that attracts me to Religious Naturalism is that it uses this tribal instinct in our favour. The ecological approach, for example, shows us how we humans on this planet are all part of one system; that for practical as well as ethical reasons we can't afford to ignore that is going on in Africa, for example; that while we might feel more connected to some small group that this is an illusion as much as watching an enjoyable movie is; etc. Religious Naturalism leads to ecologically sensitivity, and this is the only idea I have found so far that passes the test of "truth" while packing the emotional punch that I think is necessary to found a mythology powerful enough to capture the minds as well as hearts of a large percentage of people on the planet. This is based in science. It is important. And while working at the fringes of science, it does not have to go as far as people like Swimme take it to be compelling. An explicitly non-scientific mythology that is consistent with science, with its attendant rituals of a group and individual nature, could be constructed to help us experience the transcendence that most humans crave and wrapped around science. I think this is where people like Swimme are headed, and as long as the transition from the science to the non-science is made clear enough, I don't have a problem with this.
And various modes of communal association, over the Internet and in person, could be devised to enable the feeling of connectedness and "tribe" that most people also seem to need. The program could be set up so as to be adaptable to already existing religious groups who are somewhat adrift at the moment. And there may well be some people who wish to start from scratch.
At the core, however, of all of this is an idea powerful enough that one person can literally or metaphorically take the hands of anther in hers, and say "I know what we should do ..." about something that terrifies us.
Which reminds me of something. I can't believe that I almost forgot the best part of the Angela story.
Did I mention that she is quite an attractive young woman? After we finished at the restaurant (it closed at 11 pm) a group of six moved next door to keep chatting. Not long after we were settled at our table a well dressed businessman in his late 30s or early 40s approached our table. Angela was sitting with her back to the wall, and so he had to lean over the table to address her.
"I never do this", he said, "but I have to tell you that I have just experienced love at first sight. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and I love you."
Angela looked around the table at our stunned faces, and then held up her left hand to display a wedding ring. "I'm taken" she said. And one of her female lawyer colleagues wrapped her arms around Angela and said, "And I'm the backup".
It took a few minutes of additional conversation to get Romeo to abandon his quest, and I have no doubt that he continued his cruise of the bar using what I suspect is a pick up line that will bring him a conquest before the evening ended. Those who seem certain of themselves have an intoxicating effect on a reasonable percentage of their peers. We had a good laugh regarding the parallels between my little experiment in the restaurant and the "man on the prowl" in the bar. And we see the same thing as we attend sales presentations for financial products, real estate, various forms of technology, etc.
The projection of certainty as a tool of persuasion (conscious or unconscious) is a human universal.
| I developed these positions while my Mormon testimony was in its death throes. During this period, I went back and forth between people at BYU and other apologist organizations on the one hand, and skeptical Mormons or apostates on the other. I was recently reminded of this by receiving a few emails from a Mormon who seems to be at a stage of the process similar to mine when I first thought through what follows.
Before I start this I should state the conclusion I eventually reached. That is, Mormonism is on balance severely toxic. It of course contains some good, but on balance, it contains much more bad for most people. Those who can are well advised to simply leave and construct their lives on the most rational foundations they can find, surrounded by people who hold similarly high moral and rational values, and there are plenty of such wonderful folk waiting for us to join them. However, there are exceptions to every rule and since I do not understand (nor can I understand) any individual’s circumstances fully, I do not feel competent to suggest what anyone else should do.
In any event, after becoming aware of all of the relevant facts, it is my observation that the following two positions are best able to justify continuing Mormon belief. That is not to say that they are reasonable justifications, but they are the best available.
First, Mormon belief can be said to depend upon a form of knowledge that cannot be justified by rational means. Having dispensed with reason entirely, we have no need to continue to argue about history, science or anything else based on reasons. And we can even find academic support for this kind of approach in the post modern tradition. See http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.do%2... at page 15 for an overview of the post modern connection to Mormonism.
But if this approach is taken, then Mormonism loses reason as a sword as well as a shield. This is essentially a relativistic position that says that truth is in the eye of the beholder, and so if one sees truth in Mormonism it is there for she who sees it, and this cannot be questioned or defended on rational grounds. It just is. Mormon missionary work in this context can be defended by indicating that until other people have had the chance to look at Mormonism, they will not know if truth is found in Mormonism for them. Hence, they should be given the chance to look.
Most Mormons will find this to be an odd way to look at things, since the same approach can be used to justify any religion as well as Mormonism. From a Mormon leadership point of view, this approach is likely to be preferred since it justifies whatever authority Mormon members can be persuaded to allow Mormon leaders to exercise. And the existence of this approach need only be discussed with those few Mormons who begin to seriously question the details of Mormon history or the justification for the exercise of Mormon authority. If information is managed appropriately, this will be a small percentage of the Mormon population.
This, in fact, is how I perceive Mormonism today to be managed.
Second, a rational defence of at least part of Mormonism can be constructed by discarding the elements of Mormonism that fail rational tests and keeping the rest. Since this is likely to reduce the authority of the current Mormon leadership group, it is not likely to be promoted by them. However, some Mormons who find the irrational/postmodern approach inadequate are adopting a rational approach along the lines I am about to describe. Indeed, this was the line I used to try and justify Mormonism before leaving it. My thinking in this regard is as follows:
1. We should acknowledge that science is our most reliable means of determining what is “real”. So, we should give science its due where it is justifiably reliable, and this means forcing religion and other non-scientific beliefs to cede ground where required by reliable science to do so.
(a) We should trust the scientific process in this regard, which means relying upon the judgement of those people who are best informed regarding the phenomena in question, and discounting the views of those who are likely to be biased. Importantly, this means using the same kind of probabilistic reasoning that we use to make most of our decisions. That is, we do not require absolute proof of what is real before we make important decisions because absolute proof is not available with regard to anything in the real world. The best we can hope for is evidence that justifies a belief in a particular state of reality on the basis that it appears to be the belief most likely to be correct.
(b) We should recognize the powerful nature of the biases that affect the judgement of all human beings, and use the mechanisms science has developed to screen these biases and other kinds of misperception out of the process of determining what is real.
(c) Historical analysis is a quasi-science that is subject to many well understood kinds of uncertainty, and professional historians (often aided by scientists) are those best equipped to examine historical evidence and tell us how probable it is that different versions of past events have occurred.
(d) We should use the best available scientific and historical techniques and expertise to reach decisions as to what likely occurred in the past, since our conclusions in this regard often profoundly influence our current decisions as to how to live.
(e) We should recognize that we regularly make important decisions on the basis of the best available evidence, and our perception of probabilities based on that evidence, and we should conduct ourselves regarding religious matters in a fashion that is consistent with how we deal with other important aspects of life.
(f) In Mormonism’s case, this means that we should acknowledge that the historicity of the Book of Mormon is highly improbable and that Joseph Smith was deceptive on so many occasions that it is not reasonable to rely upon his words for an accurate recounting of literal events, especially when what happened is crucial to his maintenance of power. This means, among other important things, that Smith’s claims to have received God’s authority as he says he received it are highly improbable to be true.
(g) We would note that many other religious traditions have gone down this road. The Catholic Church and all of the Protestant traditions that depend on it, for example, have gradually given up important dogmas in the face of science’s advancing tide. This process has humbled those religions to an extent. Mormonism is young enough that it has not yet been humbled sufficiently to accept that many of its dogmatic foundations are so likely to be incorrect that it is not moral to continue to teach them as “truth”.
2. We should acknowledge that most of what we believe is not reliably justified by science.
(a) Science does not touch the big "why" questions, for example, and many of the beliefs in cause and effect mechanisms that govern our behaviour relate to sociology, religion, politics, economics, etc. which are either on the fringes of what science can reliably deal with, or outside it because of the complex nature of the phenomena in question. Beliefs that are outside of science are referred to as “metaphysical” beliefs beliefs that are beyond “physics” which is what science used to be called.
(b) So, we should acknowledge that in the absence of reliable science, a wide variety of metaphysical beliefs are equally justifiably.
(c) However, many people hold metaphysical beliefs and accord them unjustified status in terms of reliability or "truth". Once we are outside science, or so far out into its fringes that its predictive capacity is close to that of dice tossing, we should acknowledge this and understand that it is not rationally justifiable to make decisions on the basis that one belief is preferable to another because it is more likely to be “true”.
(d) This means that rational Mormons will abandon their claim that Mormonism has more “truth” than other religious belief systems or philosophies. However, they may rationally advance the claim that for particular people at particular times in particular places, Mormonism may be the best system, or a reasonable system, to use if one wishes to achieve particular social or personal outcomes.
(e) This also means that many of the values and other metaphysical beliefs that are part of Mormonism may well be justifiable. These include the Mormon emphasis on honesty (which is ironic in light of the fact that deception is one of Mormonism’s core leadership values), family and community relationships, patriotism, education, science (except to the extent if conflicts with Mormon belief, but that is dealt with above) and a variety of others.
3. We are making progress on a wide variety of fronts in terms of being able to use social science to predict which outcomes that will result from particular human groups adopting particular moral rules.
(a) We should use social science to the extent possible to predict outcomes that are likely to come from adopting and living by particular metaphysical beliefs. This involves complexity theory, emergence theory, the increasing capacity of computer modeling, etc. Just as we have increasing ability to predict when tropical storms will occur, our ability to predict human social outcomes is increasing. This tools can be used to justify, or not, various Mormon metaphysical beliefs in light of given objectives in terms of social outcomes.
(b) This analytical project will include a consideration of how metaphysical beliefs affect our ability to understand and use science. See the http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.deni... in this regard.
(c) We should consider in this regard questions like how belief in a metaphysical system like Mormonism's plan of salvation is likely to affect attitudes toward things like birth and population control. This is a good example because our ability to control the planet's population over the next several generations may determine humanity’s long term survival. If we accept the metaphysical premise that there is a certain number of "spirits" waiting to come to Earth and that God is in control of the process, then the use of abortion and other forms of birth control may be dismissed out of hand. This metaphysical belief hence strongly influences how technological power will be used, and biases the perception of data of many kinds related to these issues.
(d) We should consider how our beliefs regarding epistemology (how we can justify knowledge) affect our ability to perceive and use scientific theory and data. For example, a Mormon who believes that God communicates the most important truths about reality through emotional forces will likely be rendered in capable of perceiving scientific knowledge that contradicts the truths that are received through more reliable means. This is how I explain people like Scott Woodward (former a respected microbiologist at BYU) who in the BofM DNA debate has acknowledged that the extant DNA evidence indicates that the BofM unlikely to be what it says it is, but since this has not been proven with 100% certainty he still feels justified in holding his Mormon belief that the BofM is what is says it is (see http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.dna%...).
(e) In short, there is a complex set of feedback loops (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_...) in the complex system that contains both our metaphysical and scientific beliefs. So, in my view it is not reasonable to suggest that we can all simply accept science and then go our own way regarding our "spiritual" (metaphysical) beliefs. There is a sub-set of possible metaphysical beliefs that are more consistent with science than the rest, and less likely to interfere with our processing and use of scientific information.
(f) As the tools that can be used to predict social outcomes become more refined, we will become better able to decide which aspects of Mormonism are likely to work for particular individuals who have particular goals, and which will not. This will justify some Mormon metaphysical beliefs, and cause others to be discarded. And Mormonism will continue to be dynamic, thus creating more metaphysical beliefs to be tested.
(g) We should recognize that some Mormon congregations and communities are much more amenable than others this the kind of approach to Mormon belief I am here outlining. Some people may feel so strongly about their connection to Mormonism that they will move to a Mormon community that will enable this kind of belief and practise of Mormonism.
4. This approach basically amounts to cafeteria Mormonism. At present, this is hard to do and those who embrace Mormonism in this way are stigmatized as “less active” or “not fully committed” or “cultural Mormons”. However, bearing such stigma may be the lesser evil for some people.
In conclusion, I note that Mormon apologists do not tend to use either of these systems. They don’t like admitting to irrationalism, and so do not confess to option no. 1 above. However, they denial of science and history when it hurts their case amounts to this in many cases. And they do not like brutally pragmatic approach represented by option no. 2. So, they end up betwixt and between and we know what the good book says about that, don’t we “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16).
I second that motion.
| Notes For A Podcast Interview: Religious Belief Impairs Our Ability To Perceive And Reason In Some Ways |
Tuesday, Jan 3, 2006, at 07:51 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE - SECTION 2 -Link To MC Article-
| ↑ |
| I was asked to participate in a podcast a little while ago. Here are some of the notes I prepated for it.
2) Religious Belief Impairs Our Ability to Perceive and Reason in Some Ways
a) The basic point that I am going to try to get across is that religious belief in certain circumstances has a predictable, powerful and distorting effect on our ability to perceive the evidence around us as to how the world works.
b) I limit my critique to literalist religious beliefs.
i) Most religions include a mixture of metaphorical and literal beliefs.
ii) Mormonism has some metaphorical beliefs, such as that the Biblical story of the earth’s creation in six days is not to be taken literally, but rather is a metaphor for six creative periods that must have lasted much longer than 24 yours each given what science tells us.
iii) Due to the findings of science, linguistic and textual analysis of the Bible and other ancient religious documents, for the last couple of hundred years at least there has been a trend within Christianity and other religions toward a more metaphoric understanding of religious texts and concepts. Some Christian sects regard the entirely of the Old and New Testaments are metaphoric. And pastors tend to be more metaphoric than regular members.
iv) However, most of Mormonism’s foundational beliefs are taken to be literally true. God really did create Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that really was in Missouri; God impregnated Mary in the usual fashion and hence Jesus is God’s literal son; God really did appear to Joseph Smith; Joseph really did translate the Book of Mormon from golden plates an angel really gave to him; the Book of Mormon stories really happened; etc.
v) It is the dogmatic approach to knowledge required by literalist religious belief that causes the problems I will try to point out during this podcast.
vi) To the extent a religious can be shorn of its dogma, it will become more functional and healthier for its adherents in my view.
vii) However, religious authority is usually largely based on dogma. Once authority has to be earned it is much more difficult to maintain. If history is any guide, those in control of religious institutions can counted on to give up their power and influence as slowly as possible, and this means giving up the literalist belief and dogma that sustains power as slowly as possible.
viii) Religious dogma regarding authority can be thought of in business terms as a barrier to entry; something like a monopoly power that keeps other competitors out of a market. And it has the same effect as monopoly power: It creates costly, poor service oriented organizations that are designed more to benefit those who run them those whom the organizations are supposed to serve.
c) Literalist religious beliefs in an age of dominated by science and religious belief are a fascinating study in consistent, predictable contradiction.
i) For example, most modern religions, including literalist religions like Mormonism, accept reason as our best guide to reality except where it conflicts with “revealed truth” in a way that would threaten the credibility and hence authority of the religions institution in question.
ii) The authority and credibility if religious institutions and their leaders is critically important because religious believers place enormous confidence and trust in the ability of their religious institution and its leaders to tell them what is “right” or “true” and hence “what to do” regarding a wide variety of contentious, difficult to answer questions. For example,
(1) What are the proper roles of man and women in the home, community, government, etc.?
(2) Is birth control or abortion justifiable, and in which circumstances?
(3) In what circumstances is sexual intercourse permitted (and hence implicitly how young should people marry and start having children)?
(4) Is homosexuality justified?
(5) How should different races relate to each other and is interracial marriage OK?
(6) When is war justifiable?
(7) To what extent is it justified for humans to play god by cloning, genetic engineering, combining technology with human and other biology, etc.?
iii) By answering questions of this kind religions have both simplified social interactions (which is useful in some ways) and created social fiefdoms under the control of different religious and/or political leaders. This supercharges the natural and increasingly dangerous human tribal propensity.
iv) The history of each literalist religion and hence the “truths” that they have emphasized while answering questions such as those above constrains their ability to accept the knowledge that science has to offer and creates a predictable pattern of irrationality.
d) Assume for example:
i) You are at a party. One of your friends has had five beers during two hours because he is upset about breaking up with his girlfriend. And he is not headed to his car to drive home after loudly proclaiming, “I am noooo drun” and “I aaam juus fiiiiine ta driv hom!!!”. You don’t doubt his sincerity or the certainty of his belief. Do you feel justified to take his keys away, forcefully if necessary, and prevent him from driving his car?
ii) Most people would feel justified to intervene. In fact, if it is your house and he is your invited guest, you probably have a legal obligation to take his keys away from him.
iii) The justification for both our feeling about the “right” thing to do and the law that in some cases compels us to act is objective data that clearly indicates that a certain amount of alcohol impairs human judgement. There is no reasonable basis on which to dispute that conclusion.
iv) So, once someone has had a more than a certain amount of alcohol, we do not take what they say seriously. We may love them, trust them in most circumstances, etc. but in this particular circumstance, we don’t trust them because we understand that they are “under the influence” of something that overpowers their reasoning ability.
e) During this podcast, I will attempt to demonstrate that certain types of religious belief overpower the human ability to reason in a fashion similar to alcohol.
i) That is not to say that religion somehow makes people drunk or that the impairing capacity of religion is as extensive as it is regarding alcohol.
ii) But rather, that just as there is a correlation between drinking alcohol and impaired reasoning, there is a correlation between certain types of religions belief and certain kinds of impaired reasoning and that this pattern is so predictable that it is reasonable to infer that religion causes this particular form of impairment to our rational faculties.
iii) I am not suggesting that the impairment mechanism is the same and in fact I am sure it is quite different.
iv) All I suggest is a similar correlation.
f) In basic terms, here is how I believe this works:
i) Reason and the scientific method produce the most reliable knowledge known to man.
ii) The primacy given to science by religion (except when it is too dangerous to do so as indicated above) is the result of the success science has had in developing technology and predicting many things.
(1) This is because science has had far greater demonstrable prophetic success, and success in performing what amount to miracles, then religion can possibly claim.
(2) Imagine our ancestors seeing television, flight to outer space, cell phones, current medicine, etc. These are miracles that have been produced by science. This demands that it be acknowledged as our most powerful means of coming to understand reality, combined with the unwillingness of religions to admit that they are wrong about ideas that are perceived to be linked to their authority.
iii) We define “reason” or “rationality” to mean that we will seek out, accept and use the information most likely to enable us to have the highest probability of achieving our conscious objectives. It is therefore irrational to ignore such evidence.
iv) The scientific method is the use of various evidence gathering and theory testing mechanisms to form and test hypotheses about how the natural world works.
v) The opinion of the majority of scientists with expertise in a given field of enquiry represents the information that is most likely to be accurate with regard to that area, and hence if we are rational we will adopt and use that information as soon as we reasonably can.
vi) All scientific analysis is done on the basis of what if more probable to be accurate. That is, the question is not “is this idea true or not?” but rather something like, “how probable is it that this idea is our best approximation at the moment of truth, and what degree of reliability can I expect if I use this idea to predict future events?”
vii) The most reliable of scientific knowledge produces the amazing technologies we use every day.
viii) Scientific knowledge becomes less reliable as the phenomena in question becomes more complex, with things like the prediction of weather patterns, whether global warming is due to human activities, how human culture will develop in the future and why it has developed as it has in the past being susceptible to scientific analysis but with far less precision and hence predictability than how cell phones can be counted on to work, for example.
ix) Take the impact of human beings on global warming as an example. This is a complex, contentious area of scientific enquiry. However, a strong majority view has now developed with regard to it (see below). It is irrational for those of us who are not experts to ignore this opinion. Many in North America still ignore this information, likely as a result of the sacrifices it calls upon us to make. Our ignorance may cost our descendants dearly. This kind of “denial” (see http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.denial.pdf) is a common and well understood feature of human perception. It applies to religious and other beliefs as well that would be painful and otherwise difficult to change in the same fashion it does to things like global warming.
x) There is a huge area outside of science. That is, science only addresses questions that are testable, and there are far more questions that are not testable given the means science has at her disposal at the moment than are testable.
(1) Does God exist?
(2) What is God like?
(3) Does Heaven exist? Hell?
(4) What caused the Big Bang?
(5) Do the parallel dimensions predicted by String Theory exist?
xi) None of these questions are amenable to scientific analysis.
xii) Science has been described as a small clearing in the midst of a vast forest, with the odd trail pushing out from the clearing into the forest’s darkness.
xiii) See Appendix A for a graphic representation of “Reliable Science”, “Less Reliable Science”, and “Non-Science”.
xiv) Literalist religious people in the Developed World tend to accept science, but also tend to believe that when science conflicts with their religious beliefs that science should give way.
g) This creates a predictable pattern as follows:
i) Smart, well-educated and literalist religious people will tend to have irrational beliefs wherever their religious beliefs contradict science.
ii) See Appendix B for a graphic representation of Evangelical Christian Young Earth Creationist beliefs relative to science. Note that they accept most of science while disagreeing with those scientific beliefs that contradict foundational religious beliefs. Virtually all other scientifically inclined people would call the YEC beliefs that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, dinosaur bones were placed in the Earth to test human faith in God, Adam and Eve were created with the rest of life and creation less than 10,000 years ago, etc. as irrational.
iii) This attitude regarding science is severely dysfunctional for the YEC community in many ways. It causes members of this community to retreat from mainstream culture in various ways, and do be much more suspicious of science in many ways that is healthy. This attitude thus produces ignorance of many kinds.
iv) See Appendix C for a similar graphic representation of Jehovah’s Witness beliefs. Their areas of disagreement with science are different from those of the YEC, and likewise predictable on the basis of their religious beliefs.
v) See Appendix D, E and F for similar graphic representations of alien abductionist beliefs, New Age beliefs and Mormon beliefs respectively. Again, the areas of disagreement with science are different from those of the others and predictable on the basis of their religious beliefs. Each of these is discussed in some detail below.
vi) We could produce similar charts for many other literalist religions.
h) As a result of the analysis we just performed, if I am speaking to a scientifically oriented, orthodox Mormon, I can predict with a high degree of probability each of the following:
i) He will accept that Biblical metaphor is acceptable in some cases at least because the Mormon temple ceremony describes the creation of the Earth as occurring over a long period of time thus indicating that Genesis need not be taken literally. Hence metaphor is OK regarding many of the Old Testament stories.
ii) So, while being prepared to take a metaphoric position regarding many Biblical teachings such as the six days of creation, the age of the earth, the existence of dinosaurs, etc. he will not do the same regarding the Tower of Babel, and hence will be in conflict with science regarding how languages developed.
(1) This is the result of the reference to the Tower of Babel as a real event in the Book of Mormon which Mormons have a much more difficult time dealing with as metaphor than they do the Bible.
(2) For linguists, the idea that human language diverged less then 6,000 years ago is as crazy as the idea that earth is less than 6,000 years old.
iii) Therefore, most well educated (from a Bible studies point of view) Mormons would accept that Noah’s Ark is likely metaphor or myth, same for the falling of Jericho’s walls and Jonah and the Whale.
iv) Same for Christ’s miracles, the Virgin birth, the literal resurrection, etc. Since they are referenced by the Book of Mormon they must be taken literally.
v) He will be ignorant of and/or dispute evolutionary theory on a basis that is consistent with the statements of Mormon leaders of the years instead of science. That is, evolution may have been used by God to create life but probably not to separate one species to another, and certainly not to create man from mere animals.
vi) He will think that the Garden of Eden literally existed and can be located in Missouri and hence he will be ignorant of and/or dispute various accepted aspects of how recent genetic, linguistic and other research has shown that homo sapiens originated in Africa and spread from there starting about 65,000 years ago after a far longer history of pre-homo sapiens life forms in other parts of the globe (provide weblinks? recent article in the Economist is good; provide link to global dna project);
vii) He will be ignorant of and/or dispute various accepted aspects of how the Americas were populated and the origin of the Amerindians (Israelite) and in particular she will be ignorant of and/or dispute the validity of the DNA research that shows that it is extremely unlikely that Hebrews immigrated to the Americas;
viii) He will have an incredibly inflated idea of the importance of the US in current and future human affairs;
ix) He will have an usually deferential attitude toward certainty types of authority, and more resemble in behavior the conformity oriented Asians than the individualistically oriented North Americans (see Richard Nesbitt, “The Geography of Thought”).
x) He will relatively easily susceptible emotional manipulation, which explains in part at least Utah’s US leading incidence of multi-level marketing and financial fraud participation rate. This, Mormon family size and the payment of tithing is likely related to Utah’s US leading personal bankruptcy rate.
xi) He will have unusually rigid ideas with regard to the appropriate roles for men and women. This may well be responsible at least in part for Utah’s US leading rates of anti-depressant use, reported spousal abuse and certain types of sexual assault.
xii) He will regard homosexuality as a sin, perversion of human nature or “test” (like a bad temper or physical defect) of some kind that God has imposed on some humans that must be overcome.
xiii) He will regard any knowledge that contradicts Mormon dogma as dangerous, suspect, and to be avoided despite a clear pattern in Mormon history of many now regarded as sound scientific and social ideas being rejected, and then accepted.
(1) Consider, for example early Mormon attitudes toward geology, evolutionary theory, cosmology, race relations (until recently).
(2) And what about the way in which Mormon leaders fought to keep polygamy, lied for over a decade about their behaviour, and finally abandoned it in the early 1900s. Then having been forced to do so, they took Mormonism mainstream.
(3) What would Mormonism be like now had it retained polygamy? Talk about “prophetic leadership”.
(4) If God is responsible for Mormonism, to say that He works in mysterious ways is an understatement, and He has an exquisite sense of irony.
i) The pattern that this analysis develops is clear literalist religious belief causes the adoption of irrational scientific views where the two are in conflict. This often results in the adoption of irrational, dysfunctional opinions and behaviors.
i) Furthermore, as our chart notes the further from the center of science we get the more complex phenomena become and the less predictable or reliable knowledge related to that phenomena.
ii) And yet people who hold literalist religious views hold their most certain opinions regarding phenomena that are outside the purview of science, and hence are among the most uncertain of all we experience.
iii) As noted above, these include questions like “Does God exist?”, “What is God like?”, “What will happen after death?” etc.
iv) We are irrational if we ignore the clear lessons of human history as to the folly of believing that we have certain knowledge as to how questions of this kind must be answered.
v) Dogmatic certainty with respect to the untestable is what creates the kind of ignorance and tribalism that has made a wasteland of Northern Ireland and Palestine, causes suicide bombings all over the Middle East and flew airplanes into the World Trade Center.
vi) Neither God nor religion is a problem, but people who purport to speak for God or think they knew with certainty what we must do to please God are a serious problem. Their behaviour is irrational.
vii) I agree with the bumper sticker that pleads “God, Save Us From Your Followers”.
j) This denial of probable reality and hence adoption of irrational belief as a result of religion has been carefully studied as part of a wide range of consistent human perceptive failures (see again http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.denial.pdf), and relates largely to our historic dependence on social groups for survival and reproductive opportunities.
i) Our instincts to defer to group opinion and authority structures, even where to do so is irrational in the manner noted above, were developed during time when we were much more dependant on our dominant social groups than we now are and hence it was more important to keep our place in the social order than to be “right” about many kinds of things.
ii) These instincts change slowly.
k) In many circumstances we acknowledge that our reason is impaired by emotional and other forces and follow rules to protect ourselves.
i) Hence, medical doctors are advised not to treat family members because the emotional forces involved have been shown to impair judgment.
ii) For the same reason lawyers are advise not to act on their own behalf, and the insurance companies that protect law firms from negligence claims deny coverage where lawyers are representing companies in which they have large shareholdings because it has been shown that a disproportionate number of negligence claims come from cases of this type.
iii) Financial and legal advisors are routinely hired to assist us to make important financial decisions were fear and/greed may impair judgement.
iv) Our corporate business world, though far from exemplary in terms of reasoning and virtue, is set up to require independent members of boards, executive compensation and audit committees, etc. in recognition of the human inability to exercise power in a reasonable fashion.
v) Law firms often require “second opinions” where one partner must review the work of the person primarily in charge of a matter to ensure objectivity.
vi) Large accounting firms sometimes require the partner responsible for a matter to rotate each few years because of the problems that have arisen as a result of partners becoming to close to their clients and losing objectivity.
vii) We often seek marital or family counseling to deal with issues that are known to be so emotionally volatile that we cannot reasonably expect to deal with them on a rational basis.
viii) Our democratic institutions are perhaps the greatest social monument of all time to man’s inability to make rational decisions when in the possession of power, and hence under the sway of greed and/or fear.
ix) And if this is not our greatest moment to this aspect of bias and our need for help to be rational, then the scientific enterprise certainly is. It requires peer review before publication of a material nature. It requires the pooling of knowledge for public critique. It myriad ways it acknowledges that the wisest among us have blind spots that only others will be able help us see.
x) Fear, greed and other primal emotional forces have been shown in countless experiments to interfere with rational functioning, and we are advised to distance ourselves from whatever causes these forces to play on us before making important decisions.
xi) And yet in their wisdom religious leaders and those who follow them proclaim their certainty and disdain for the views of any who dare disagree with them. This is a breathtaking form of ignorance, and arrogance, once it is seen in the context of the human endeavor to know as it has played out over our recorded history.
l) These rules are designed to protect us against predictable failures in our ability to perceive, and so are similar to the “don’t drive after drinking regardless of capable you think you are” rule.
m) In similar fashion, it is advisable to follow similar rules to protect us against the proven inadequacy of our reasoning relative to our most important religious beliefs.
i) This means that we should not take seriously the views of religious people that contradict the best scientific information that is available. Religiously driven opinions of this type are demonstrably irrational.
ii) Most of us routinely do this with regard to the religious views of other people.
iii) It is much more difficult to follow the same rule regarding the religious view of our own group. However, not to do so is as demonstrably irrational as driving after drinking more than a very small amount of alcohol.
iv) The rational thing to do in this regard is to defer to science where it disagrees with our religious beliefs, and work toward gaining the perspective necessary to see the irrational parts of our religious culture for what they are.
v) And it is extremely unlikely that more than a small percentage of the population will do what I have just outlined because of the way in which religious beliefs are perceived by those who hold them to be foundational to life itself.
n) An important example of how Mormon perception fails is illustrated by the way Mormons and non-Mormons answer the question “Should Joseph Smith be trusted?” in light of evidence related to his history of error and/or deception regarding many important matters.
| What follows was sent to me today by Carl Smith (Vanderbilt University - [email withdrawn]) a musician who is also a professor of music. It is wonderfully insightful on a number of levels. Carl would be happy to hear from any of your who have comments regarding his review.
Somehow I seem to have fallen into a pattern of posting a long piece around the first of the year. Perhaps it’s because by that point I have survived the rigors of Christmas as only a church musician knows them, or perhaps it’s because I’m not yet ready to face the rigors of the coming semester at school. Whatever the reason, here’s this year’s candidate for your “delete” button.
As I’m sure many of you have been, I have been utterly astonished by the Brokeback Mountain phenomenon. I can’t recall another new art work that has prompted anywhere near the quantity and quality of discussion and commentary this film has. There has already been an enormous amount written about it, and undoubtedly there will be a great deal more. The film is so huge in scope and so rich in its humanity that it can be seen and understood in many different ways and on many different levels. I have seen it a number of times and have read both the story and the screenplay several times. I confess to being - for once in my life - in agreement with the majority view, which is that the film truly is a masterpiece. Like most masterpieces, it is not without its flaws. But my intent here is not to write another review but rather to point out some interesting aspects of the film and what it shows us about how art works. Still, I do have to add that, as a creative person, what I appreciate most about this film is it’s effectiveness in raising all manner of themes and questions without ever appearing to do so. It is a story, a great story, beautifully told. Its meaning is what each of us understands its meaning to be, and that it allows us so readily to bring to it and take from it as much or as little as we are able is an indication of its greatness. If you have not yet seen it, I urge you to do so. There are more than a few of us who consider it essential.
For any of you who have not seen the film, here is an absurdly brief synopsis.
“Brokeback Mountain” is a short story by Annie Proulx, originally published in the New Yorker magazine; it was adapted into a screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana.
Set in 1963 (in some ways a vastly different era from the present), two young men, Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, “both high school dropout country boys with no prospects, brought up to hard work and privation, both rough-mannered, rough-spoken, inured to the stoic life” are hired for a summer to tend sheep high up on Brokeback Mountain. (Since this piece is basically about metaphor, and since I have not seen anyone as yet point them out, I will call to mind in passing our many traditional and religious associations with sheep, especially innocence, naivete, and gullibility.) Jack is the livelier and more emotive of the two; Ennis is much more stoic, taciturn and tight-lipped to a fault. They work high on the mountain, just below and then above the tree line, “looking down on the hawk’s back”. That sex could occur between two young men in such a situation is hardly worth mentioning; if it happened, it would be without comment or consequence. In an essay, Proulx quotes an old sheep rancher who claimed he alwayssent up two herders “so’s if they get lonesome they can poke each other”.
But in this case the two young men not only satisfy their immediate needs, they satisfy a deeper need they are not even aware of, they fall in love, in “once-in-a-lifetime love” as Proulx writes. That kind of love cannot be left behind, and it follows them down the mountain. And it haunts them until one of them is killed physically and the other emotionally. The story is a tragedy. The moral order is transgressed and a harsh penalty is exacted as a result. The sex is, per se, of little consequence to the story. It’s the love that is an offense to the natural order of things, and they die because of it.
When they come down off the mountain, they go their separate ways, although both know on some level it is the wrong thing to do. They marry and father children - and cause a great deal of pain to those around them. They get together a few times a year until Jack’s death, always in remote, desolate, locations - and always in the mountains. But they never return to Brokeback. They refer to it, and it seems ever-present in their lives whether they are together or apart, but physically they never go back.
It is a shame that someone somewhere christened this the “gay cowboy movie” and that the name has stuck. Whenever an exasperated Proulx has the opportunity, she points out that these young men were not cowboys, they were two guys who had pretty much nothing and knew just about as much. They called themselves cowboys in an effort to get by and to buy their way into the cowboy myth, hoping to find in it some kind of community and identity.
What I would like to consider is the dramatic role of that mountain in particular and of mountains in general in this story and in our on-going IRAS discussions of art. It only need be mentioned in passing that ‘going up to the mountain‘ or into the mountains has been used countless times to signify an intentional distancing of oneself for purposes of contemplation, or perhaps to seek inspiration. And God gave Moses the ten commandments on a mountain, Christ gave the sermon ‘on the mount’, from the Magic Mountain to the Seven Story Mountain to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, references to the metaphor of mountain are endless. And we all know immediately what is meant when we hear someone describe ‘a mountain-top experience’.
But there is another metaphorical use for mountain, less familiar perhaps, but one at least as powerful. Artists frequently use the metaphor of ‘going to another place’ when writing or composing. And we sometimes immodestly describe our efforts in Promethean terms, likening ourselves to the ancient Prometheus who stole fire from the gods on MOUNT Olympus. He was punished by torture for his audacity, for his trespass against the gods. We sometimes refer to the act of discovery in the process of creation as “stealing fire from the gods”, and in Christianity divine love is sometimes referred to, especially by poets, as celestial fire. As Jack and Ennis climb higher and higher on Brokeback Mountain, they remove themselves further and further from convention and societal restraint. They are high enough to look down on the back of the hawk, a predator; they are beyond both his reach and his interest. At the tree line, the strongest visual image in the film for me, everything of convention has been left behind. Theyare left to revel in the austerity and innocence of the place, the austerity my friend Belden Lane refers to in his book entitled “The Solace of Fierce Landscapes”. And it is precisely here that they unknowingly touch the gods’ fire.
For artists, crossing back below the metaphorical tree line is sometimes almost unbearably difficult; after the ecstasy of the heights, the mundane can seem stifling. Is should be of little wonder that many of us use drugs of one sort or another to remind ourselves of how much better it feels up there, above the tree line. But we artists are challenged, indeed expected, to bring something back down with us, something that through our art may be made to seem beautiful and of value. The most memorable creative experience I have yet had was in the summer of 1995 when I was given as a work space an almost bare room near the top of the bell tower of a monastery, which was itself located on the highest point on the highest hill in Rome, well above the tree line. It was wonderful, and it was hard work; I was being paid to create something and was expected to bring it down with me. But when Jack and Ennis come down off Brokeback Mountain, they unwittingly bring down with them some of the gods’ forbidden fire, and thetragedy begins to unfold.
Up to this point, everything in the story has taken place in Wyoming in 1963, a now distant time and - for most of us - place. Much in our society has changed since then, much has not. It has only been two years since the Supreme Court struck down the remaining sodomy laws. The story had already been published and widely read when Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and strung up to die in Wyoming in 1998. (I cannot refrain from pointing out that a more common spelling of his name is shepherd, a sheep herder.) The so-called “religious right” was duped into turning an ill-conceived wish by some for gay marriage into a brilliantly conceived hot-button issue just in time for the last election. Frank Rich, writing in the New York Times, predicts that Brokeback Mountain will have a significant impact in the on-going arguments about civil unions and gay marriage. I am going to have a fine time watching to see if that happens; and, if an undeniably great work of art actually influences public thought and policy, itwill be an extraordinary thing. The last time I can think of when that happened was in 1541 when, after its first public viewing on Christmas Day, Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” in the Sistine chapel caused such prudish outrage that graphic artists quickly produced prints of it, which were then distributed in Protestant-leaning northern Europe and were cited as further evidence of the corruption of the Roman church. He was devastated by the reception and misunderstanding of his masterpiece and by it’s politicization. A number of artists were hired in the century following its unveiling to overpaint portions of it. Contemporary accounts maintain that he never again set foot in the chapel where the now much-venerated frescoed ceiling and Last Judgment are to be found.
If Frank Rich is right and Brokeback Mountain does have some sort of societal impact, Michelangelo will have his revenge.
Annie Proulx, in the essay I mentioned earlier, gives us an extraordinary example of one of the ways art works. I will set it up and then quote from her. Somewhere there is a theater, and on a wall in that theater there is a screen, and there are some seats facing that screen, and behind those seats there is some sort of projection gear that throws images onto the screen that our suspension of disbelief allows us to belive are real. Ultimately though, it’s still all smoke and mirrors. Proulx: “Aside from the two-faced landscape, aside from the virtuoso acting, aside from the stunning and subtle makeup job of aging these two young men twenty years, an accumulation of very small details gives the film authenticity and authority: [here a long list of such details, concluding with] the switched-around shirts, the speckled coffeepot, all accumulate and convince us of the truth of the story. People may doubt that young men fall in love up on the snowy heights, but no one disbelieves the speckled coffeepot, and if the coffeepot is true, so is the other.” When you leave the theater, the image of that object (the coffeepot) might linger a bit in your memory. But the response you experienced to the portrayal of the story of their tragic love is not an object, a merely conjured-up image, it is true, a force in the shared human experience. And if you find the parameters of what you know of that shared human experience stretched a bit by watching Brokeback Mountain, you, too, will be guilty of having stolen a bit of the gods’ forbidden fire. Art’s like that.
Sorry this is so long, but you were warned.
Have a good 2006. It will be an interesting year.
| My wife and I went to see "Brokeback Mountain" last night. I have thought a lot about it since. What follows resulted.
Life for Ennis and Jake (the "gay" cowboys) was presented as grey slate punctuated by explosions of color when they could get together. When about to get together, or together, they were presented as having smiles on their faces and a spring in their steps. At all other times, they labored through what "they had to do". This was realistically presented. Life is like this for all of us. There is nothing the matter with grey. In fact, the process of "habituation" (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automati...) will ensure that even days jammed full of color will quickly degrade into mostly grey, and we will need to find new sources of color. This continual search for novelty and learning is likely what impelled humanity to occupy its position atop (in some ways) the biological heap.
As I thought about Ennis and Jake’s “color deficit”, I recalled how I perceived my life while Mormon. This is best conveyed by summarizing a series of conversations I had with a close friend shortly after I was released from five years service as a Mormon bishop about 12 years ago. I will call him Bill.
Bill came to me for marital advice. My "bishop’s mantle” was perhaps still at least partly in place, he told me, and while bishop I had developed a reputation for giving at least occasional good advice as a marriage counselor.
Bill said that he was seriously thinking about leaving his wife. They had a number of small children and divorce would be hard on the entire family, but he thought that continuing to model dysfunctional mating behaviour would be worse for the kids. And he felt dead inside; he and his wife shared few interests; they were growing further apart; all they had in common where the kids and Mormon belief (they both were and still are active Mormons); and while he did not have another woman in mind, he dealt with so many at work who shared his hobbies (outdoorsy) that within a short time he would find a mate to compliment him instead of driving him batty. And he acknowledged that he was not good for his wife. She was an attractive, cultured woman who would have no trouble finding another man who would share her world with gusto instead dragging along, as was my friend. What did I think?, he asked.
My advice was that he had made sacred covenants and God would bless him to be able to find enough in common with his wife to make the marriage work if he was irrevocably committed to this; and that in any event, his expectations were too high. He wanted too much color. Life was mostly grey, I told him. Expect grey. Learn to like grey. And when the occasional flash of color comes along, enjoy it to the max because that is the best for which we can reasonably hope. I was merely relating my own experience and telling him that if it was good enough for me, it should be good enough for him.
Bill spoke with other people, got some professional counseling, and stayed with his wife. They are still together as far as I know. However, a few years after the crossroads I just described we happened to run into each other again and almost immediately went deep into conversation. He told me that life was still pretty grey, but that he had learned to cope. He went his way, and she hers, most of the time. They fought about some things, but had learned to predict and stay away from the contentious topics. And, he said, he was seriously thinking about having himself sterilized. “Snipped?”, I queried. No, he replied, "Sterilized. Become a eunuch”, he said.
I was staggered. Why?, I asked. He told me that he had been doing some reading about eunuchs and thought it sounded like a pretty good deal. Getting rid of the sexual tension in his life would make things so much easier. He would not be constantly bothering his wife for sex anymore. He had not discussed this idea with her, but was pretty sure she would be relieved to have sex out of the way permanently. And, he would not be tempted by sexual thoughts when he ran into attractive women. No more problems with masturbation. And he would have so much more energy to devote to business, hobbies, etc.
I told him that I thought he was sick, needed to see a counselor and that if my advice about accepting a grey world was responsible in any way for his circumstances, I was very sorry about that. He laughed off what I had to say, and so I didn’t push it. Within a year of this conversation, I was on my way out of Mormonism.
I now have quite a different take on Bill’s experience. Most of us need more color more variety; more of what puts a bounce in our step then his life contained. I needed much more color than I had, and this was in part what caused me to wake up. I was malnourished, but did not realize that until I was so weak that I was stumbling at every other step.
But, I did not need more of the explosive color that Brokeback showed coming into Ennis and Jake’s lives each time they got together. That is rare stuff. Wonderful, miraculous stuff, but rare. A life based on chasing that is likely to be an out of control roller coaster.
The question is, how can we balance our need for stability (and the way in which other lives depend on ours for stability) with our need for novelty, learning, etc.? I explore this to an extent at http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/out%20o... starting at page 127. However, when I wrote that I had not read enough of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (see http://www.psychologytoday.com/articl... and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Csikszen... for a primer) to understand how the process works. As the Psychology Today article just noted indicates,
“Flow tends to occur when a person faces a clear set of goals that require appropriate responses. It is easy to enter flow in games such as chess, tennis, or poker, because they have goals and rules that make it possible for the player to act without questioning what should be done, and how. For the duration of the game the player lives in a self-contained universe where everything is black and white. The same clarity of goals is present if you perform a religious ritual, play a musical piece, weave a rug, write a computer program, climb a mountain, or perform surgery. In contrast to normal life, these "flow activities" allow a person to focus on goals that are clear and compatible, and provide immediate feedback.
Flow also happens when a person's skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges. If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.”
Having lots of flow experience is correlated to just about every positive life outcome with which I am familiar. And to stay in this experiential space, we must have found ways to continually challenge ourselves; to continually learn; and so to continually grow. It is growth that feels good.
I think Brokeback is a wonderful film. It shatters stereotypes of many kinds, and by so doing increased my understanding of a way of life that I regard as legitimate, but have not had the chance to understand. I am therefore grateful for this movie and take its wide acceptance as a healthy “sign of the times”.
However, to make its tragic point Brokeback needed to emphasize a certain kind of pathos as well as a certain kind of joy. This useful caricature could lead some to look for life sustaining color in the wrong place.
Ennis and Jake had certain needs that their culture prevented them from satisfying. This social wrong should be righted. However, had their needs in this regard been met they would soon have habituated and their relationship would have become grey until they found ways to use the principles articulated so well by Csikszentmihalyi, Martin Seligman (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_S...) and others to enliven both their individual lives and their relationship. Continual growth, and hence sustainable growth, is the key.
And we should all continue to feel gratitude for the occasional miracles of joy, illustrated so well by Ennis and Jake, when they burst into our lives.
| I have said that our brains have to be re-wired and this is done by running new through patterns over new circuits that are formed by our new way of paying attention to reality and processing information about it while certain old circuits (such as those related to deferring to Mormon and other authority, being a conformist, etc.) fall into decay. This is like paths through a park. Those that are used become better defined; those that are not grow over. Or it is like the tracks water makes as it runs down hill. The first random grooves tend to capture subsequent water falls and become deeper. We need to take steps at the top of the slope to redirect the water into channels that we have determined to use.
I have said that I am like a sapling that has been deformed by growing out from under a boulder. When the boulder is moved, it is not enough to just "straighten out" the sapling. It will have to be staked and held straight for a long time before it will retain its new shape. And if the "sapling" is 44 years old when you move the boulder, you simply have to live with a crooked tree that will start to grow in new directions from its deformed base. With enough work this often produces unusual, beauty like the Diamond Willow, whose wonderful growth pattern is a reaction to its battle against a fungus. Or, you may just lop off entire huge branches because you realise that it is not a good thing for the tree's energy to be directed toward them. This pruning will be painful, but it will cause new growth to rapidly reshape the tree, and after enough time the warped foundation may be hard to see unless you know what you are looking for.
I have said that I am like a concrete foundation that is cracked all to hell, and even has some big chunks missing from it, such as was found to be the case with our house's foundation after a huge rainstorm that flooded our basement in June of last year. It took six months to repair, as a large section of the footings under the old foundation that was falling apart because it was not properly laid had to be jack hammered out one piece at a time and replaced. If the entire section of footings was removed at once, the front of the house would have collapsed. So, a few feet of footings at a time was hammered out, and then replaced. The remainder of the rotten concrete was enough to support this restoration process and in fact was critical to its success. But continuing to live with that old foundation was not an option. It had a high probability of collapsing. However, once the jack hammering, re-cementing, plastering, framing, insulating and drywalling were done, we had a wide range of decisions to make. What color would we paint? The carpet had to be replaced. What color would that be? Should we make some changes since we has to redo things? We eventually redecorated so as to change the look of many things about our home. This we chose, but it was in some ways driven by the things that had to be done. With that impetus, the inertia of what "was" would like have caused us to continue with little change. Still, there was a huge difference between the process that forced itself upon us, and the more enjoyable, creative exercise that it invited us to embark upon.
| I am not looking for the answer, “Because you are a pussy.” At some level it makes sense to rage at idiocy. But I recognized something that went way beyond normal in my reaction to Mormon idiocy. These were my people; my former idiocy; and it got to me so completely that I would rage. And especially when someone close to me rubbed my nose in it. I could feel the adrenalin hit like a freight train, and off I would go.
But think about this. If a casual acquaintance bears serious testimony that God loves me so much that he planted dinosaur bones in a 6,000 year old Earth to test my faith or that if I change the spelling of my name the course of my life will also change (I was told this seriously at a Christmas party a few weeks ago by a numerologist), I have trouble not laughing out loud while saying something like “How about that amazing Vince Young in the Rose Bowl!” or whatever, and then escaping the conversation as soon as I can. And then I do laugh out loud.
Why then, until recently, would I get so upset when my loved ones insisted that Joseph Smith was commanded by God to have sex with other mens’ wives and teenage girls, translated a book using the same magic peep stone he used to pretend to find (while not finding) buried treasure, etc.? And more importantly, why do I no longer feel the same degree of upset? Am I just "healing"? And in any event, what are the important things that have changed in my life to facilitate this?
I think most of the reason for this change in my experience is found in the branches of social science research related to attachment theory (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachme...) and individuation as they relate to religious and other social groups (see for example Lee Kirkpatrick, “Evolution, Attachment and the Psychology of Religion” - http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1593...). This theory suggests that we need attachment to certain kinds of authority or security figures starting with a primary care giver and ending with intimate mates and various groups, and that we can be conditioned to have varying degrees of need in this regard by our experience. Mormonism supercharges our need for the group, and so attachment of that kind is a powerful drag on those who leave Mormonism. This is one of the many things that makes it hard to become a post-Mormon.
Until our attachment needs are met by a combination of connecting to another group or groups and weaning ourselves from the unhealthy dependency on authority of various kinds that Mormonism has caused, we will tend to react strongly to messages that confirm the unwelcome fact that we are sans group. That is, each time a close friend or family member rubs information in our face that demonstrates that we no longer belong to our only group of signicance, our tendency will be to persuade the person who has approached us (or whom perhaps we have approached) that she is wrong and we are right. If we succeed, we will have company in our loneliness.
And why do men tend to have an easier time with this hellish adjustment than women? Mormon men tend to have more non-Mormon attachments than do Mormon women. And men in general do not attach as thoughly to others as do women. Simple as that.
As we become securely attached to other groups and develop a set of healthy relationships that fill the need most of us feel for camaraderie, intimacy, identity with others, etc. our reaction to Mormon family and friends changes in many ways. In particular, the desire to persuade them declines. If they challenge us, we react less aggressively or not at all.
In short, we begin to treat Mormon idiocy (even when it comes from those closest to us) with the same kind of understanding and grace (or lack thereof) with which we treat other similar kinds of lunacy. And we can take this as evidence that we are healing.
Relationships to parents and other aspects of the family group are complicated by the way in which Mormonism uses parental and other forms of authority to control individuals and cause allegiance to the Mormon system. Hence, Mormon children do not individuate away from parental control to the same extent as do most other members of North American society. For some insight into how this likely works, see Richard Nesbitt “The Geography of Thought”.
It is often necessary to radically restructure the parental relationship in order to get past the conflict that results when Mormon authority is rejected. From the parents’ point of view, the rejection of Mormon authority is also a fundamental rejection of parental authority. This is another example of the problems Mormonism causes by confounding important aspects of life in order to reduc the chance that it will be jettisoned. For example, marriage is placed on a social and religious pedestal within Mormonism, and if you want to be at your grandchildren’s marriages in the temple, you have to toe a certain behavioural (and financial) line.
If you want to marry in the temple or go on a mission, both important rites of social passage for young Mormons, you have to promise absolute obedience to all kinds of Mormon authority while in a Mormon temple and that promise is sprung on you without warning in circumstances were it is highly probable that you will make it. Having made this promise, the psychologists tell us that it is likely to significantly influence behavior.
Having married Mormon, you committed to be obedient to Mormon authority as part of the marriage covenant. The marriage is hence based in large measure on a joint commitment to obey. To break that promise threatens the marriage, which radically reduces the chances of disobedience. I know many people who fake it precisely to avoid marital conflict and possible divorce. This impoverishes their lives, not to mention what it does to their children.
So, to reject Mormonism requires the rejection of a system of behaviour, social connections and relationships that go far beyond what would be required to leave many other belief systems.
During months of fighting with my parents over issues related to Mormonism we repeatedly agreed that we would not bring Mormonism up and all of us broke that agreement many times in different ways. I think attachment and lack of individuation on mostly explains this.
My parents are incomplete without me in the Celestial Kingdom and hence my disagreement threatened them at an existential level that is beyond articulation. I was still pscyhologically on them and their approval in many ways, though I would never have guessed that and nor would anyone who knows me well. Disagreeing pleasantly in that situation was extremely difficult to do.
Finally, I simply withdrew from the relationship. While difficult, this has been far preferable to being engaged with them as we were. And as my need for attachment to them and other aspects of Mormonism declines and other healthy relationships form, reengagement has become possible. Whether I will pursue it is another question. My life is peaceful now to a degree that is both new and enjoyable. The idea of visiting the cloister saddens me, much as I suspect would be the case for a Hutterite who has left the colony. I still love many people who are mired in pathetic circumstances. To be reminded of where and what they are does not lift my spirit.
I think that it is important to work at forgiving those who have harmed us as Martin Seligman (see http://www.authentichappiness.com) and other psychologists say is so important from a mental health and happiness point of view. However, the further down this road I go the more important I think it is to create a new life, think new thoughts, find new and more healthy relationships, etc. Processing the hurt works to an extent, but filling up with the wonder around us was more important for me.
As our life brims with enjoyable, healthy activities, we are more whole. If "psychological healing" metaphor is valid, this is where the process at its root mostly occurs. But I am not sure that this is so much a function of healing as just filling spaces that we need to be full.
In the long term, it makes sense to think about how large and of what shape those spaces should be. But in the short term, and particularly while in the midst of the trauma caused by leaving Mormonism, it makes sense to me to simply fill our emptiness with reasonable and more healthy substitutes for what Mormonism did in our lives. This is surprisingly easy to do. We are far more adaptable than we think. Most other people are more kind, generous, ethical and enjoyable than as Mormons we were taught to believe. And there are far more ways to connect in meaningful ways with these people. At the kids' school; at the kids' sporting activities; at community centres; through continuing education classes; through hobbies; through political or other “cause” oriented involvement; etc.
And art itself is a wonderful source of the perspective that in what seems a mysterious way causes us to heal. See http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.art%.... Charing perspective changes the size and shape of our holes.
I think we can learn a lot about how well our recovery process is going by paying attention to our baseline behaviour when confronted by ideological idiocy exhibited by groups to which we have not been attached, and comparing that to how we react to Mormon idiocy. When our behaviour is each of these cases is similar, we are well along the road in the right direction.
Life is good. This good surrounds us, flowing by up to our gunnels. We need do little more than reach out our humble bowls and they will be filled to overflowing with human abundance.
| Are Heretics Good For Mormonism?; Are Liberal Mormons Bad?; The Dysfunctional Nature Of Mormon Decision-Making |
Thursday, Jan 12, 2006, at 07:58 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE - SECTION 2 -Link To MC Article-
| ↑ |
| The following is a lightly edited note I recently sent as part of an email exchange with a well-known, well-informed liberal Mormon who continues to suppport Mormonism.
I am not a Webberian prophet (as per his prophets v. priests distinction), but I am a Campbellite heretic. Joseph Campbell said that heretics are the life blood of most institution who act as an important part of the external nervous system that transmit important messages back to the decision makers in their bunkers. Your path is radically different from mine. I am not critical of your approach and think there is great value in it while being clear that I could not, and would not with to try, to do what you do. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
However, I tire while dealing with people in the liberal Mormon community of being given this label (the "180-degree-switched-true-believer"). It is a classic, and shallow, believers ploy, which I thank you for not applying to me.
Literalist Mormonism makes as much (or little) sense as literalist JW, Young Earth Creationist, alien abduction, etc. belief. To be clear on that point is not to become a 180 degree true believer. Nor is it a 180 degree flip to apply normal probabilistic, cost-benefit analysis to Mormon social practises. Having done that, I have concluded that while Mormonism offers much that is of value, at this point in its evolution it offers far more that is dysfunctional than is functional when compared to readily available other groups where I live, and I suspect in most places. Parts of Utah may be an exception to this general rule. You and I may disagree on this point, and that is fine.
Too many liberal Mormons use the 180-degree label to dismiss those who disagree with them. This is a common form of irrational behaviour that we should seek to weed out everywhere we find it. You would enjoy "The Wisdom of Crowds" (see http://www.randomhouse.com/features/w... and for reviews see http://www.metacritic.com/books/autho...). While not being without shortcoming, it goes a long ways towards explaining the dysfunctional, and functional, aspects of group decision making.
A lot of liberal or fringe Mormon behaviour is explained by the lingering and powerfully dysfunctional influence of the Mormon individual and group epistemic system. If you described how the Mormon Church makes decisions, and teaches its members to make decisions and then compare that to the decision making features that scholars tell us are calculated to produce dysfunctional decisions, the overlap is staggering. The opposite analysis produces similar results. That is, the mechanisms the scholars tell us are likely to produce functional decisions are notable in Mormonism mostly by their absence.
The more clearly and palatably this message is articulated, the more pressure for change will be brought to bear on Mormon leaders. In my view, many liberal Mormons are delaying this process of change by offering support for institutions that are profoundly dysfunctional.
I don't believe Mormon leaders will change until they must. This is consistent with org theory in general, and the history of Mormonism in particular. And the insular, dysfunctional decision making paradigm used by Mormon leaders makes it likely that a sledge hammer will have to be used on them to get their attention. The best sledgehammer I know of is declining baptisms, declining attendance, and most importantly, declining contribution of volunteer time and money.
However, I recognize the practical difficulties we face when trying to change a culture quickly. Those who wish to change Mormonism from the inside often, it seems to me, attempt to protect other Mormon from certain painful and harsh realities about Mormonism. In this they resemble the well intentioned family members profiled in "Goodbye, Lenin!" (see http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.good...). Frequently when well intended protection of this type is offered, the pain that must eventually be endured multiplies exponentially as time passes.
While I recognize how tough it is to deal with questions of faith and social foundations, I err on the side of telling it like it is and letting the chips fall where they may. When this strategy is considered from a multi-generational point of view, it has particular merit.
I also, however, note the analogy of changing Mormonism at large or its role in any particular life to a recent home renovation that nature forced on us. We had a 100 year flood in Alberta last summer, prompted by a storm of 100 year quality. This exposed weaknesses in the foundation of our home. The footings under about 25% of our walls were crumbling as a result of improper construction techniques. If the entire section of footings was removed at once, the front of the house would have collapsed. So, a few feet of footings at a time were hammered out, and then replaced. This took six months. The remainder of the rotten concrete was enough to support this restoration process and in fact was critical to its success. But continuing to live with that old foundation was not an option. It had a high probability of collapsing.
However, once the jack hammering, re-cementing, plastering, framing, insulating and drywalling were done, we had a wide range of decisions to make. What color would we paint? The carpet had to be replaced. What color would that be? Should we make some changes since we has to redo things? We eventually redecorated so as to change the look of many things about our home. This we chose, but it was in some ways driven by the things that had to be done. With that impetus, the inertia of what “was” would like have caused us to continue with little change. Still, there was a huge difference between the process that forced itself upon us, and the more enjoyable, creative exercise that it invited us to embark upon.
Replacing foundations is a tricky exercise.
| Karl Peters (see http://www.metanexus.net/metanexus_on...) is a theological who participates on an email list to which I also subscribe. His views run along the naturalist/humanist (or even atheist) line. He teaches at a theological seminary and is a UU pastor. I heard him speak last summer. He is brilliant moving, funny, huge range of knowledge regarding science, history, etc.
Earlier today Karl posted to our list a nice piece on what he called “thin places”. I would have liked to share it here, but Karl asked that we not post it off the list since it is part of a manuscript for a book he will shortly publish.
“Thin places”, Karl tells us, have been known in many cultures as those where we encounter the divine, or something real, or something special, and he tells a number of personal stories about his encounters of this variety as well as giving some interesting historical background. My response to his post is below.
This kind of interaction has been very helpful to me. It provides a context for my Mormon experience by illustrating how much of it is common to many groups of people, and how much of it is pure Bizarro.
I enjoyed that immensely. The concept of “thin places” has a prominent role in my inherited belief tradition (Mormonism), and as the post I sent out a moment ago regarding the meaning of the word “religious”, I still find many places thin.
I wonder if in your book or elsewhere if you have considered the concept of a “mirage thin place”? I also wonder what others who read here think about this. There are so many ways in which our sense of reality can be heightened, or our ego sense suppressed, to produce desirable states of mind. What guidance can you (or others) give as to how we can reasonably attach meaning to these?
Since you mentioned the “flow” state, I will illustrate my point with an example that will seem innocuous for at least those who do not take sports seriously.
It has been shown that statistically when a pro basketball player is "hot" he has no better chance than usual of hitting his next shot, and the same is true when he is cold. I have been hot on the basketball court many times, and but for the data I have reviewed on this point, I could never have been convinced that while "hot" I did not have a better than usual chance of hitting my shots. The feeling of "hotness" and "coldness" is as unconnected to realty in the gym as the casino, and likely in the performance hall, art studio and many other places. Our mind is a great trickster. In these cases, the adrenalin and other chemicals caused by certain kinds of success create a mental space that feels, and is, special while all of the evidence indicates that our physical abilities and circumstances remain within their usual limits. These are only a few of countless examples that can be marshalled to illustrate a “mirage thin place”.
The very idea of a “thin place” posits a barrier between reality as we dimly perceive it and something that is a more accurate perception of reality, or even what is “more real than real” to use Andy Newberg’s term. “Seeing through the glass darkly” is one of our most commonly used metaphors to describe the difference between normal and heightened experience. This has been used in one form or another in countless cultures, ancient and modern. Even Bill Clinton is in on this act (see http://www.gracecathedral.org/enrichm...).
Without trying to answer the question “What causes the thin place experience?”, I note that where we find our most important thin places and the meanings we attribute to them correlate with our metaphysics our unquestionable and often unfalsifiable foundational beliefs. In logical terms, these are our premises.
And on the other hand, we have an immense base of neurological, psychological etc. data that tells us a lot about cause and effect mechanisms that reasonably account for why we feel as we do in thin places. And this also correlates in interesting ways to social or cultural experience.
I also suggest that by mapping the thin places commonly frequented or sought out by members of a particular social group against the metaphysics of the group, we are likely to find interesting patterns similar to those that are found when we map group metaphysical beliefs against the tendency of group members to irrationally deny the accuracy of information produced by scientific investigation. This mapping is crudely described at http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.does... starting at page 8. This notes were hurriedly put together. I think the core idea is sound, but a lot of the rest needs much work.
As an example of how thin places correlate to metaphysics, consider the following. An important and literal Mormon belief is that all humans lived prior to coming to Earth with God in a “pre-existence”. There, everyone who eventually will come to Earth committed to God to be faithful to His commandments and come to Earth to have their commitment tested in various ways. The test would not work if the pre-Earth life was remembered, so a “veil of forgetfulness” is drawn by God across the human mind that blocks both memories of our pre-Earth existence as well as perception of the “spirit world” that Mormons believe exists around us on Earth, in the kind of extra dimension that string theory postulates. Many intellectual Mormons like ideas of the string theory, QM sort that they think cast doubt on the “reductionist” views of scientists that question Mormon foundational beliefs. And in God’s world (the world we inhabited in our pre-Earth life) there is no time the past, present and future are all before go simultaneously. “Thin places” in Mormon phenomenology, are thought to be caused by a literal thinning of “the veil”. This accounts for:
The Mormon thin places are wonderfully moving. And I know them well. Nothing in my experience allows me to distinguish phenomenologically between them and other similarly moving and far more healthy experiences I have had in other environments, such as the chapel on Star Island listening to you.
- Deja vu experiences when we meet someone or experience something familiar (You knew this person or knew of this experience before coming to Earth).
- The powerful impulse to do one thing or another we sometimes feel (God is speaking to us from the other side of the veil see Jon Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven” for a chilling account of where that can go).
- The way nature sometimes moves us (Nature is God’s handiwork and he often communicates his love to us while we are in tune with it, which means we must be in tune with him, and when we feel these wonderful feelings this is evidence that God continues to do His most important work through the leaders of the Mormon Church).
- The reverence and awe Mormons feel when in the presence of their religious leaders, particular in large groups (These men are God’s literal representatives on Earth, are the only humans who communicate with God on an intimate basis, and hence the veil around them is thinner than usual).
- The feelings of peace and joy that come to Mormons when they make tremendous financial and other sacrifices for their faith, believe that this earns them a higher status after death as a result of passing this part of God’s test for them, and are recognized by their community for those sacrifices (Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of Heaven, one of which is a thinning of the veil so that we can feel God’s love).
- The feelings of peace and joy that come to Mormons when they are in Mormon temples, which are opulently decorated, reverent places filled with people dressed in white and in an attitude of worship (Mormon temples are literally the only place on Earth holy enough to accept God’s literal presence and hence to which he literally comes, and hence the veil is particularly thin there).
I hope this post is not construed as a disrespectful attempt to unweave a rainbow. I treasure my thin place experiences, and would like to find ways to rationally decide how much to give myself over to them. I have some ideas in that regard. I will keep those to myself for now while learning from what others think.
| Art Therapy for Recovering Mormons
I just returned for my first art class, and have had an experience so interesting that I need to write about it in order to process what happened. As I sit here, getting started, I have no idea where this is going to end up.
As indicated in my essay at http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.art%... there is solid scholarly support for the idea that engaging the right brain through an artistic endeavor of some kind should help us break through mental log jams, enable us to perceive many thing more clearly, “restory” ourselves, and otherwise advance in our recovery from the effects of a lifetime of Mormon belief and practise. So, I signed up for an art class figure drawing for beginners at the Alberta College of Art and Design in my hometown (Calgary, Alberta). I was surprised to learn that ACAD has a world class reputation. I don’t get out much. The instructor, Richard Halliday, is the recently retired head of ACAD’s Department of Drawing. He is a pleasant, encyclopedic instructor. There are 20 students in the class, most with significant prior experience who were attracted to the class by Richard’s presence.
The class meets once a week Tuesdays from 7 until 10 pm. Tonight the first hour was used for administrative stuff. For the second two hours we draw non-stop with a 15 minute break.
Richard had us start with some scribbling. I understand that I need to get into right brain space (a semi-meditative state) to draw and so while Richard talks about admin stuff and then we scribble, I am focusing on one thing or another in an attempt to shut down my chattering left brain.
A female model joins us, and Richard has us shift from scribbling randomly to scribbling her dynamically posing form. We are not to more than occasionally glance at the paper. We are to trust our hand, and to feel that we are scribbling on the model. I realize later that at this stage of the class I sink into the semi-trance I had earlier sought.
During the course of the roughly hour and a half that we draw, Richard has the model change position every 2 to 10 minutes, depending on the exercise he has us working on. And with each change we start a new drawing. We progress from quick scribbling to more deliberate scribbling to shading, which emphasizes “volume” (the perception of three dimensions) through the use of shadow. Time passes unnoticed.
By the end of the session I feel much as I did during our creative writing, and parts of our painting, experience in France. This is an odd sensation, one so rare for me that I want to record it while the memory is still fresh. I did not do this in France quickly enough to catch it.
Exhilaration is the wrong term. The feeling is both more full, and flatter, than exhilaration. The feeling is one of satiation; of being filled with something good almost to overflowing; but still vibrating with latent energy. There is no desire to shout or dance. The feeling is quieter and more fulfilled than that. It is more like roots going down deep and nurture coming up than fireworks going off. And this feeling held steady during a long walk to my car, a 20 minute drive home and only started to fade as I did a few chores and began to get ready for bed. As I realized it was fading I decided that I needed to do some writing.
Another sense that was so clear I could taste it was that what I did tonight was profoundly healthy. It was a little like just the right amount of physical exercise when your body thanks you over and again for choosing to work out and stopping before you hurt something. I can feel my life forces giggling around inside into what seem more like their proper places. I feel profoundly at peace.
I am not sure where this leads, but am excited to continue the trip. My recommendation of “art therapy for recovering Mormons” just become more clear and enthusiastic.
| I personally have no criticism for people who are well informed and decide to continue to participate in the Motrix on their terms as long as their actions in this regard to do not impair their children's (or other's who rely on them) opportunity to develop in a healthy fashion. They are using religion as should be the case instead of being used by it. But this is harder to do that we might imagine.
Each path before us has offers different pros and cons and the one Maturin and other people who I know personally and respect have chosen has a few cons that are particularly difficult in some circumstances. It also offers important pros (peace at home; some business and community relationships of particular importance that are not severed; etc.) I don't minimize these, and understand that I can't understand how important they are to a person's life unless I had lived it. And finally, I think it is fair to consider how our personality types play into this. We are geared genetically and conditioned by experience to deal with stress and confrontation in different ways. For some people it would be impossible to do what I feel compelled to do. I don't fault them for that. Hence, it is somewhere between difficult and impossible for me to judge that the decision of any particular person is "wrong".
However, I think it is useful to consider that price the those who choose this particular path are required to pay. Having done so, I think that it is fair to indicate that in general, this path is not to be recommended. And again, I do so without any criticism for Maturin in particular. Here are the big "cons" from my point of view with which one must deal while on path of "inner darkness", as one of my friends likes to call it:
1. The kids. I think the children of those who remain "active" while they are "unfaithful" face particular challenges. Can they be raised within the Mormon conditioning system and somehow not be infected by it? My personal view is that up until 8 or perhaps 12 years old, the Mormon system works great. But when it is time to learn about the reality of Santa Claus, sex and many other things, Mormonism breaks down.
There are at least two sides to this coin. The first is the least important. The child raised within Mormonism does not have as much chance (and in some cases no chance) of learning many important things. I won't try to be complete, since that would mean writing a book. But a few things that come immediately to mind are:
a. Scientific (or merely "rational") thinking. The Mormon use of "feelings" to find "knowledge" is the antithesis of science and highly dysfunctional.
b. Metaphoric thinking. A literal minded approach to most things is unhealthy. Mormons tend to be far too literal minded. It is healthy to introduce children at the earliest possible age to metaphoric, symbolic thinking. This opportunity is degraded or killed by Mormonism.
c. Global thinking. Mormonism is tribal to the core. This means that issues related to the importance of breaking down tribal barriers are not dealt with.
d. Environmental/overpopulation issues. These not on the Mormon map because the conflict with basic Mormon beliefs, and this is not likely to change anything soon. This is likely to lead to a life out of sync with reality in many important ways.
The second side of the coin is much more important. Children raised Mormon are taught some profoundly unhealthy things, including the opposites of each of those mentioned above. But most of all, think of how confused the moral reasoning of a child raised Mormon by unfaithful parents is likely to become. At what age can a child deal with this kind of complexity: "The nice people at church mean well, but they don't know what they are talking about. So, you have to ignore them when the say
But don't tell them that you disagree with them, because that will only make them upset and cause trouble for our family. I know this is different from how we have talked about behaving at school and elsewhere, but church is a special place and we have special ways of behaving there. And, I know you had a lesson last week about how taking the sacrament renews your baptismal covenant and how that means that you are promising to obey all of god's commandments each week when you take the sacrament and that Dad doesn't obey everything the Church's leaders want him to obey. You need to understand that when we promise to obey at church, it is not like a promise to obey we give in other places
I suggest that there is no age at which that kind of thinking would be healthy, and that for a child it would be profoundly dysfunctional. As I noted on a recent thread, psychologists have shown that those who rationalize in this fashion in any environment tend to begin to do so in other environments. It degrades the moral fiber of those who do it.
2. Relationships with our kids. As has been noted on many threads here, the Church does its best to become a party to our most intimate relationships. That is what is at work here. The Church attempts, through its well intentioned youth leaders, to put itself in a position where if Mom and Dad stumble in their responsibility to teach a child the "truth", the Church can do it in their stead. And if the child chooses the Church over their parents at some point, it will be there to support the child. And in any event, this is an environment so rich in cog dis that I question how healthy it is. How early can a child learn to walk the mine field of inner darkness? Who can I speak to, and who not? And in each case, what can I say? This is a complex environment. It reminds me of the children of holocaust Jews in hiding who had to learn to be quiet in order not to threaten the lives of their families, and themselves.
I experience the trumping of parents by church in a minor way with my ultra faithful parents. When we married, my wife and I were counseled by a CES director in Edmonton that we should start our family immediately, and were provided with lots of prophetic advice to support that position. My parents encouraged us to wait a little while at least. We felt that they were "slipping" a bit in their faithfulness, and followed the prophets advice. Baby no. 1 was born 10 months after our marriage, and my wife was sick more or less constantly for the following 17 years as she had baby after baby. I was concerned about this. She felt that she wanted to continue no doubt out of a desire to be "faithful". I felt it was her decision, and so supported her in that. We had our heads up our asses. But I digress.
3. The kids friendships. Mormon friendships are largely condtional upon continued obedience to Mormon authority. When the kids are young, this is not a big deal. As they progress through their teenage years, and approach mission age, it becomes critical. A kid who gets off the "mission/temple marriage" path is likely to lose most of his or her Mormon friends. This alone gets some kids into the mission field where the worst possible conditioning takes place. I think it is much more healthy to allow our kids to form friendships that are likely to be less conditional/more authentic from the get go. Learning to pick kids from a large population at school or elsewhere that are compatible with you and whose company you enjoy requires the development of certain skills. The Mormon way (around here at least) is to have your friends picked for you by the few your age who are Mormon and in your ward or at your school. We spent years fostering friendships that were likely less than optimal. One son in particular was forced to endure endless hours with a mean kid his age who was in our ward. He came to regard that boy as his only "real" friend, largely because of the vast amount of time they spent together. This I am sure was not healthy for his self esteem. He is now developing a broader spectrum of friends who seem to treat him much more nicely.
I hope that is enough to make my point re kids. I decided that being raised mormon in the envrioment just described might make my kids strong, but so might naming each of my sons Sue, and I didn't do that. I think people who have children at home and attending church are in a much more difficult position re the path of inner darkness than are people whose kids have left (or almost left) home. I know some people who are well informed re the Church's history and take the position that their kids will figure it out, as did they and so do not say anything. I do not think that this position is morally sound, on any basis I have reviewed. To purposefully withhold important information that you would have wished to have had at the same stage in life is in breach of the golden rule, moral principles based in utilitarian theory, and most of what I understand about morality that is based on justice theory. Those are my three primary filters for moral reasoning. The same reasoning, precisely, condemns the Church's leadership for keeping the members in the dark they do not wish to lose things they (the leaders) value like the followership of the members and so decide to withhold information that may cause the members to disobey them, even through leaving the members in such ignorance is bad for the members. If a parent chooses to leave his or her child in ignorance out of fear that the parent will lose status in the community, or that important relationships of the parent will be disrupted, it is my view that this is at best questionable for a moral point of view.
3. Self respect. Again, different people are affected by this kind of issue in different ways. I was not able to look myself in the eye for the brief time I tried to believe x and appear to most people to believe y. I felt inauthentic. I can tell that some people like Maturin struggle with this. It is part of the price they pay to keep the peace, or whatever. And I know some people who are not bothered by this at all. They cruise along, doing their own thing.
4. Support for something that is on balance more bad than good. I suspect that at least some of my parents university oriented friends who were active church members while I was growing up were closet doubters or apostates. But they never let on. As I matured, in this crowd of mormon university professors and professionals, it was easy to adopt a "if it is good enough for them, it is good enough for me" mentality, and so not question. The church's policy of silencing dissenters is designed to facilitate this. This is why it makes perfect sense from a policy point of view for the church to permit disbelievers who will keep their mouths shut to attend: the Church gets a free crack at conditioning their kids; and the very presence of intellectual types who do not overtly question makes it easier to persuade those who are less inclined to question in any event to follow along. This is kind of like following along with the Nazi's, but at least not bayoneting any babies yourself, in my view.
Let me conclude with a little analogy that I owe to the philosopher Alan Watts. He says religion is the boat we use to cross a lake so that we can find a place that works well for us from a spiritual point of view. We must cross the lake. There is unlimited space on the other side, whereas all we have is a boat launch where we come into this life. And while it is possible to swim the lake, but few can do that on their own. It makes the most sense to use a boat, and there are lots that are readily available. But, says Watts, make sure you remember to get off the boat when it reaches the other side. And if you are unlucky enough to have a boatman who insists that you stay on his boat as he travels back and forth (some are much worse for this than others), ignore him and get off anyway.
Maturin and others are in the regrettable position of being surrounded by people who insist on staying on the boat while it goes back and forth. That poses a difficult question does one get off alone, or stay on the boat and pretend. Maturin and others choose to stay sort of. He spends a lot of time looking through binoculars at what is happening on land. He sneaks off when the boat touches land, spends as much time as possible off the boat without getting caught, and gets back on when he has to. He might, perhaps, even arrange for a dummy who looks like him to be propped up in a corner on the boat for a full voyage so that he can really enjoy land life for a while. Not a pleasant position to be in.
I have nothing but encouragement to offer to those who, like Maturin, have awakened and then find that the price required to get out is so high that it is worth paying the price exacted of those (and their posterity) who stay in.
All the best,
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