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BOB MCCUE - SECTION 4
Topics surrounding well-written Bob McCue.
| What did Paul Dunn and Joseph Smith have in common (hint see http://www.watchman.org/lds/page1may.... and http://www.mormonismi.net/pdf/lying_f...)?
- They were both Mormon religious leaders, holding special power and standing as Christ's especial witnesses to all humankind.
- They were both powerfully charismatic speakers who moved audiences to feel “the Spirit”.
- They both lied for the purpose of persuading their followers to do what they believed was God’s will.
- Many people who were deeply moved by their stories while they seemed to be true stopped being moved by them once they were determined to be false. This shows how context dependant the Spirit is. That is, the feeling of “the Spirit” does not reliably indicate anything other than that our emotional buttons have been effectively pushed.
In general, when we change our belief in what is real, the time and place of our feelings of emotion related to spiritual things changes. Jon Haidt (The Happiness Hypothesis) and others have shown that atheists “feel the spirit” and have “sacred” places as well as do religious people. However, the language they use to describe these experiences and places are different. This pattern indicates that our beliefs, rather than some greater reality, is responsible for what we feel.
Now, what is the main difference between Paul Dunn and Joseph Smith? Dunn was not foundational to Mormonism and so when he was found to be a liar, and hence a liability to Mormonism, he simply disappeared. I asked my adult kids a while ago about him. None of them knew who he was despite years of church, Seminary, etc.
Smith, on the other hand, is foundational to Mormonism and hence it will take longer for Mormonism to distance itself from him. However, it is highly probable that this will eventually occur. In the meantime, he will continue to be described either falsely (see any Mormon lesson manual, the missionary lessons, etc.) or as an impossible to understand paradox (see Richard Bushman, “Rough Stone Rolling”, for example). The truth, however, is usually much less complicated than the stories people use to defend their beliefs (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam's_...).
Joseph Smith found that he was able to use religious rhetoric to get people do what he wanted, including giving him a better living than he had ever enjoyed, lots of influence, and lots of sex. His earlier endeavours (like paid treasure hunting see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_li...) had not been anywhere near as successful.
L. Ron Hubbard (see http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/...), John de Ruiter (see http://www.globalserve.net/~sarlo/Yjo... and http://www.rickross.com/groups/ruiter...) and countless others took advantage of similar persuasive powers after failing in more mainstream lines of work. And, human power tends to be self-justifying. That is, when a man has power he is likely to imagine or interpret God's will to justify that power.
In Joseph Smith's case, that took some doing. He kept what he was up to secret and lied about it until long after the fact. This caused marriages, families, businesses and an entire culture to be been built around him and his stories before his failings were recognized. So when the truth finally came out, there was so much at stake that people continued to lie about him. When that no longer worked, far more was a stake and so people said that Joseph was such a deep mystery that we had best just not think about him. And that will increasingly be the case. The more Mormons know about Joseph Smith, the less they will talk about him. Kind of like Brigham Young.
This is kind of like what they say about borrowing money from a bank. If you borrow a little money and you get into trouble, the bank will squash you like a bug. But if you borrow a few billion from them and get into trouble, you have a partner. If you do down, they might too. Or at least a few of their officers might be fired. So they will do all the can to get you on your feet again. And only with the greatest of reluctance, and in secret if possible, will your remains be disposed of.
That is the difference between Joseph Smith and Paul Dunn. Mormonism can't afford to take Smith down - or at least not yet. Books like Bushman's, however, are the first stage of that. Joseph's sexual habits, lying and other flaws will eventually become accepted just as have been Brigham Young's crazy statements on various subjects. The Book of Mormon will continue to look more like fiction and less like history. And at some point in the future, Mormon leaders will admit what most Mormons will have then long known - that Joseph Smith is not an essential part of Mormonism. But they will wait to do that until it doesn't matter - like the Pope acknowledging in the 1970s (see http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/10...) that the Catholic Church was a bit hard on Galileo, and that the Earth does go round the Sun.
| The following is part of an edited version of an email I sent to a close friend a short time ago who is trembling at the thought of what she faces as she "comes out" as a post-Mormon.
I want you to know that I think about you a lot - and always have - though I don't often call or write. I have always been better at responding to those who communicate with me than initiating communication. I don't know why this is, but it is.
If there is anything I can do to make things easier, let me know. I will try to listen instead of talk. I also recognize that to some extent this kind of thing is a solitary burden. One has to work it out, and do it, on one's own after books are read, advice is taken, plans are made, etc.
It may help to bear in mind that we are hardwired to be conservative. That is, making mistakes often caused death in our evolutionary environment whereas missing an opportunity was not such a big deal. Think of a noise in the bushes. It might be rabbit for the stew pot or a wolf. Those who assumed it was a wolf and ran tended to survive longer than those who took the chance it might be a rabbit.
Hence, we tend to be more cautious and fearful regarding most things than is now merited (our environment now is far less risky than our evolutionary environment), and this is particularly the case when we are confronted with something that might put us sideways with our family or an important social group. This prospect triggers deep, irrational, existential fears in us because for most of human history this kind of thing could mean death (get too far sideways with the family or tribe, and you are expelled with means you likely die and are far less likely to reproduce). And our minds are set up to rationalize, and justify, the fears we feel. Religious and other ideologies have always used fear of the unknown to make humans more obedient. This is now, for example, both Hitler and Mussolini came to power. Neither of them were ever elected by majorities. They came to power as the leaders of minority governments, and then took advantage of social turmoil (which they appear to have exaggerated to a degree) to make the populace fearful, and give their governments the power they said they needed to quell the turmoil. And then one thing led to another.
For example, when I hear you talking about the concern you have re. hurting other people when you tell them what you believe, I in part hear your sensitive nature, and in part your rational mind trying to explain to yourself the deep fear you feel with regard to doing what that same rational mind feels it needs to do.
Our minds are funny things. The huge subconscious regularly interferes with the relatively small conscious part of the mind, leaving the conscious mind to find a rational reason for that interference. But there is no visible rational reason for this. Hence, the conscious mind confabulates. Many psych tests demonstrate how this works. Our pattern finding skills go to work and we confidently indicate reasons for what we have observed that have nothing to do with the real reasons for our observations in cases where stimuli is controlled in a laboratory and hence the real reasons for our observation are known. Jon Haidt's book (The Happiness Hypothesis) is the most recent of many I have read that outline how this works. One series of tests uses images flashed so rapidly that the conscious mind does not pick them up, but the unconscious does and uses the image to manipulate the conscious mind.
For example, an image of a chicken is put up on the screen and a shovel is flashed so that only the unconscious picks it up. When the subject is asked what he associates with chicken (you would think egg, right?) he says "shovel". When asked why, he says that shovels are used to clean out chicken coops. He is unaware of the real reason for the association (the micro flash), and thinks he has simply made a logical connection. Were he shopping for a chicken, he would be much more likely to buy a shovel too because of that micro flash. Advertisers use this kind of trick on us all the time.
Much of our conscious perception is driven in this fashion by associations suggested by the unconscious. And this is only one of many ways in which the unconscious leads us around while "we" (the conscious part of us that perceives itself to be in control) are under the deeply mistaken impression that all we consciously perceive and remember is all we perceive and remember, and that this is all that goes into our decisions. The idea that our conscious self is in control is one of the most important psychological fallacies I have come to understand. The wonderful injunction that we come to "know ourselves" largely means that we need to come to know the unconscious part of ourselves.
| The Pareto Principle states, in its broadest form, that something like 80 or 90% of all results come from 10 or 20% of causes. For example, in most economies 80 to 90% of the income is produced by 10 to 20% of the population. 80 to 90% of the problems in any group will be caused by 10 to 20% of the people. Etc. The Pareto principle hence directs us toward identifying those critically important 10 or 20% of the causes, and spending most of our effort on them. This is one of the reasons for which a few of our decisions will have a huge effect on how our lives go, and why it makes sense to spend a fair bit of time to identify these decisions, and then make them as well as possible.
A little background (OK, a lot of background) is required before I will be able to connect the Pareto principle to fast pitch softball, and then life in general.
I used to be a serious athlete. Not a great athlete, but a serious one. I played three sports (baseball, basketball and volleyball) well enough to compete at the university level, and enjoyed recreationally pretty much every other sport that was played in our community. Then, I repented of my sins, went on a Mormon mission and decided when I came home that it was time to “stop playing around” and “get serious about life”. So I did not return to sports. I became a serious student for the first time ever (there was reasonable doubt as to whether I had a functional brain up to that point), got married, had kids, etc. As a result, aside from a few slow pitch softball games and a little recreational basketball (until osteoarthritis struck a decade ago), I became a non-athlete. Arthritis put golf on the agenda, that seemed to satisfy my need for being physically competent at something as well as creating a bottomless source of humility. Golfers who read this will know what I mean.
Fast forward thirty years from my last competitive baseball game, and 25 years from my last recreational slow pitch team.
I left Mormonism a few years ago. I crave community of various kinds for reasons I will outline below. My body and mind are waking up my mind in a brand new way, and my body toward its former, more active state. A guy at the office sees me play in a once-a-year-meet-the-young-lawyers slow pitch game, and asks if I would be interested in playing for his commercial league fast pitch team. I have never played fast pitch softball and have heard how hard good pitching of that kind is to hit, but think “What the hell. I’ve done so many new things during the past several years, what’s one more. And this might be fun.”
So I told him that I would go to a batting cage, and if I could hit a fast pitch softball (it has been literally 30 years since I have tried to hit a real baseball pitch, and I have never stood up to an 80 mph underhand pitch), I will come out. So off to the batting cage I go a few days later, with my 11 year old son in tow since he enjoys that sort of thing.
As we pay, get bats and helmets, etc. I am watching a couple of guys who are obviously baseball players swing at some medium speed pitches (40 50 mph) and hit them solidly. Then, just before I am ready, they move to the fast pitch cage (70 80 mph). I settle in behind them to watch, and to get a feel for how fast the ball is coming. It is quick hard-to-see quick and the first of these seemingly competent players wiffs on 20 consecutive pitches, and exits the cage with his tail between his legs. His buddy is laughing so hard he has trouble standing up, and waves off his friend’s demand that he “Shut the F*** up and get in there show me what you can F***’n do!!”
So in I go, adrenalin pumping. The first pitch hits the mat behind me before my bat starts to swing. I laugh at myself, aware that the two guys who just finished, and my son, are watching. I am handcuffed by the next several balls, but manage to wave at them like my Grandma might. Then I hit the ball, but just above my fists. The ball dribbles weakly toward the pitching machine and my hands go numb from the bat’s vibration. I am obviously too close to the plate and so move back six inches. And from then on I hit most of the pitches, but weakly. My hands ring with almost every hit. And then finally, a solid shot. It is effortless, and the ball rockets across the cage and into the net on the far side. I glance at my son and am pleased by the shocked look on his face.
Of the first 20 balls I only hit a couple solidly, but am elated. The miracle of muscle memory has shown itself again. The thousands of balls I hit as a kid make it possible for me to still hit balls that are coming so fast I can’t see them. You hit them based on instinct and subconscious information processing, or not at all. I stay in the cage to swing at 80 balls in all, and the next day can barely open or close my hands.
So I signed up for the team. It is not, I find, a great team. Should I have thought otherwise? They recruited me, after all.
We are 2 wins and 8 losses as the season’s halfway point approaches. The guys are regular guys. A few lawyers. A banker. A few business people. A few guys who work construction or in industrial jobs. Their ages range from early 20s to mid-50s. Regular, decent guys. We talk on the bench about nothing important. Mostly the game. And occassionally we have a beer after the game where the conversation runs along similar lines. We celebrate our rare wins with gusto.
Some of the guys have played for this team for 25 years, and during those years they have won a championship or two. One of the long term players died of cancer recently. We were law firm partners. Three of his teammates, in full uniform, gave part of the eulogy at his memorial service. It was one of the most touching, funny, and appropriate, I have ever heard. That is how this team initially came to my attention. One of those guys last night asked me some questions about the scholarship fund he is helping to set up for his departed teammate, and we retold a couple of our favorite stories about him.
I don’t enjoy watching baseball despite having played it competitively for ten years (ages 8 to 18). However, playing baseball is radically different from watching it. For example, my partner who died of cancer was the third baseman and since that is one of the positions I used to play, they gave me a chance there. During a given game I will see two or three balls if I am lucky. Some games I see none. And in an average game, about 30 batters go to the plate and receive an average of 4 pitches, for about 120 pitches in total during the game. And each of those could come screaming down the line toward me, fast enough that instinct alone protects my face and other precious body parts from surgical reconstruction. This means that for every one of those 120 pitches I go into my most athletic crouch, and move right or left instinctively based on the speed of the pitch and how the batter starts to swing at it. I subconsciously process immense amounts of information on each swing, and as a result come out of my crouch in one direction or another well before the swing is complete. What might happen with each pitch ensures that I am fully present fully engaged. And time disappears. Playing third base is a flow activity for me. My teammates appreciate the contribution I make to our effort when I play that position.
I am not a great player. I am an adequate third basemen in an insignificant softball league in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. And I am starting to skip rope again because I feel sloppy sometimes when the ball comes at me. This is likely because my mind is writing cheques my feet can’t quite cash. If I can just get the juices flowing a bit more
I was never a fast runner, but was well above average. Now I am a slow guy. And worse than that, I feel awkward when I try to run hard to beat out a ground ball or chase down a fly. Why? Maybe because I haven’t done this in literally 25 years? And if I feel awkward that means I look awkward, like one of those old guys I told myself I would never allow myself to resemble. “I’ll slit my wrists with a rusty spoon before I let myself look like that”, I used to tell my friends when we were the young hot shots on the diamonds and courts. “If you see me out there looking like a fool, just shoot me” we used to say to each other. And here I am. As result, I am interested in getting on the elliptical trainer, stretching and lifting weights, and am tending to do that instead of coming home at night and crashing in front of the TV.
And boy, I suck at the plate. These fast ball pitchers are tough. This is an unpleasant experience for me. I am one of those people who does things well or not at all. And after half a dozen games, I did not have a hit. I strike out more than half the time. These pitchers are not the best in the world, but unlike the batting cage, they change the speed of their pitches, throw curves, risers, knuckleballs, etc. and I look and feel like a fool at the plate.
Nothing in my experience as a baseball player prepared me for this stuff and so I have no relevant muscle memory. I have to learn something new to cope.
The pitchers are closer to the plate (60 feet instead of the 90 in baseball). They are almost as quick as the baseball pitchers I faced so long ago I can barely remember it, and their off speed pitches are far harder to deal with because the shorter distance provides less time to identify the pitch and adjust the swing. I almost fell down a couple of times when swinging at a fast ball that turned out to be a change up.
During most games a player or two gets hit when a pitch gets away from the pitcher. Sincere apologies from the pitcher are almost always made, and the hit player only occasionally has to leave the game. And it is a rare trip to the plate that does not include at least one close call as a too-far inside pitch (and significant pain) has to be avoided. There is nothing like the risk of pain to make a guy feel fully alive, and to think about things he might do to improve his reflexes
The challenge of learning to hit real fast ball pitching has me in its thrall. So I go to the batting cage regularly before games, and occasionally at other times. I limit myself to 20 balls a trip so that my hands will only be sore, instead of paralyzed, the next day.
I am getting pretty good at hitting the 70 80 mph pitches at the cage. Just like learning a new sport, video game, driving a car or riding a motorcycle, what seems impossibly fast and complicated at first gradually slows down and becomes manageable. Lots of life analogies in that one.
But the pitches at the batting cage are all one speed, and don’t curve, wobble or rise. I have no way to get in front of a real pitcher and practice, as I would like to. Our team doesn’t practice. We don’t really even warm up properly. The guys have families, jobs, etc. This team, and the game they love, is squeezed in between all of that, and seems to spice it surprisingly well.
And so I continued to suck as a batter. Last night I struck out twice and then grounded out once. The next time up, I noticed that when the pitcher was going to throw his knuckleball (an off speed pitch), I could see him hold the ball with a distinctive knuckleball grip (I used that when I pitched baseball) as he started his windmill motion, giving me a spit second’s warning as to what was coming. Even with that knowledge, I missed his pitch and then grounded out on a fastball. But the next time at bat I waited for the knuckleball, and belted a line drive into left field. That felt amazingly good. I will live on that feeling for at least a week. And the time after that, my last at bat for the night, he walked me. Rather than going straight at the strike zone as he had before, he tried to play cute, and missed.
So, at age 48, I have a significant first the first sold hit of my life off a good fast ball pitcher. I felt wonderful last night, and am still mildly euphoric today, hence this essay.
But does this matter? Let’s keep it real, as Simon Cowell might say. I play for a piddly-ass, bottom half of a nothing beer league, fast pitch softball team. And I hit a single after weeks of striking out. This thrills me? Maybe I should get a life.
Or maybe we need to make sure we see both trees and forest. This insignificant fast pitch team has put a spring in my step. I am excited about getting into better shape because my teammates rely upon me to field balls and get on base occassionally. Incompetence at third base, and at the plate, can be painful or even dangerous. This gives me an incentive I haven’t had in a long time to become more fit, flexible, quick, etc. And the evolutionary path on which the homo sapiens male still walks makes activities like throwing and hitting rapidly moving objects, working as a team, and competing, very attractive.
And finally, I have been welcomed into a nice little community the core of which has been stable for well over 25 years. Will I discover any deep truths here? Not likely. Will I meet a few long term friends? The choice is mine. This community richly rewards those who are consistent, long term contributors, as do most communities,
As odd as this may sound, being part of a pathetic little softball team for many people is one of Pareto’s crucial 10 20% causes of the good life. And this is consistent with what Jon Haidt says in his book “The Happiness Hypothesis”.
Haidt says that happiness comes “from between”. He means that happiness should not be pursued as a primary objective. Happiness is derivative of things like intimate relationships (with all their warts, pain and joy), meaningful and challenging work (see “flow” above), our attachment to stable small groups that appreciate our contribution to them (even pathetic softball teams), and our perception that our actions and lives have meaning in some kind of larger than us context.
Many other scientists, philosopher and writers over the millennia have made the same point Haidt does. But Haidt makes this point particularly well. And while he does not mention Pareto, his book is laced with Pareto’s insight that a few of the choices we make and things we do (or don’t do) have an immense effect on how satisfied we are likely to be with our lives. And oddly, if we are thinking much about how satisfied we are, we are not likely satisfied. Satisfied people are usually engaged on enough fronts that they don’t spend time wondering whether they are satisfied. And well-adjusted people those who have life as good as it gets generally think they need more.
Nature has designed us to quickly habituate to whatever we have, and reach for more. Much of the trick to the good life relates to directing this predictable impulse toward things that build relationships, community and the ability to do more of what we are good at since this is where we find most of what stabilizes and spices our lives.
These concepts are particularly important for those of us who have left Mormonism and are hence at loose ends with regard to several of the factors Haidt says are crucial to the good life. Mormonism provides a one stop shop for the small group interaction and big picture meaning aspects of life. And its rules govern how most of our intimate relationships work. People who leave Mormonism hence have a lot of fundamentally important re-tooling to do.
The answers to the big questions related to relationships, meaning, etc. will often be found in the simple things that have proven over time to provide us with joy. In my case, some sports and the opportunity to connect to people through them is part of this equation. I am also turning over new leaves related to the artistic side of life. This is immensely, and surprisingly, satisfying.
The idea that we will find satisfaction “between” is one of those simple concepts that I think has great potential. If we are unsatisfied, the question we should ask is not “what do I need to do to find satisfaction”, but rather what kind of basic nutrients (turn to Haidt and other similar scientists for suggestions as to what these are) does my life lack? For example, do I give and receive enough intimacy? Am I sufficiently challenged and engaged by the work I spend most of each day doing? Do I regularly interact with small communities (at work, community, recreation, etc. endeavors) where my contribution is appreciated? Do I perceive that my life is connected to something that has a meaning that is beyond me and my immediate group (like improving our schools; teaching kids sports; working toward a more sustainable consumer culture; politics; etc.)?
And for those of us who have the chance to do so, listening to those whose judgement we trust about these things can be invaluable. It is near impossible to self diagnose. Most systems (including us) cannot be fully understood from a point of view inside the system. Some things can only be seen from the outside. Hence, taking the advice of those who observe us and have the broadest perspective possible (that is, the most wisdom) is usually helpful.
Satisfying, resonant music is not created because we watch the instruments and will music into existence. Music is made by people who have talent, have developed their talent, and have chosen to collaborate. Likewise, the good life is largely the result of getting our circumstances right, and choosing to be as engaged as reasonably possible in those circumstances. And this is not like walking the Mormon tightrope to the Celestial Kingdom where the slightest slip can throw you into the abyss. Rather, all we need is to be in the ball park; to show up and give it our best shot. There are so many ways to succeed that we can’t count them. And we are far more adaptive than most of us can imagine.
But we do have to know where the ball park is, and sometimes need some help getting there and knowing what to bring with us.
And the oddest things even piddly-ass softball teams sometimes provide critically important tools, or bridges, or whatever (you choose your metaphor) as the stunningly beautiful stories that are our lives unfold.
 See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_p....
 See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(ps....
 See http://www.happinesshypothesis.com/ .
 See http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.art%....
| I have not revisited cognitive dissonance - one of my favorite topics - for quite a while so this is as good an excuse to do so as any. I take it as a compliment that the Mormon apologists think that this issue is one they need to address, in their usual unwitting-self parody way, and that they have put me front and centre. I copied the material below from their site on June 16, 2005. I won't bother to attempt to edit it there since that would quickly devolve into a time wasting war with the people who control the site. Instead, I will post my comments in other places where they can stand as testimony to the tactics, shallow thinking and probable cognitive dissonance of Mormon apologists in general. |
I will place the www.fairwiki.org text in quotes, and my comments in square brackets.
"Critics of the Church are fond of portraying all members as either naive, ill-informed dupes or cynical exploiters."
[rdm - I hope that they do not include me in that camp. This is a classic straw man argument. The Mormon apologists speak for the critics and do so in terms that are easy to show as silly. In contrast, see my essays at: http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.deni...;
where I go out of my way to show how the smartest among us, the most objective among us, are subject to the distorting forces of denial. Cognitive dissonance is only part of the equation. This applies to Mormons, post-Mormons and all other believers and non-believers of every stripe. However, it applies differently to each of us and this predictable in part on the basis of how we have been conditioned, as I will set out below.]
"Unfortunately for the critics, most fair-minded people realize that-just as in any religion-there are many intelligent, well-informed people who become or remain members of the Church."
[rdm - I agree with this, except most of the critics I know are in the fair minded camp. More straw man treatment of the critics. This makes sense once we recall who this stuff is written for - faithful Mormons who are starting to question. See http://www.exmormon.org/mormon/mormon... and http://www.exmormon.org/Why%20We%20Be... (Day 4) for a summary of how apologists work. Much of this is the result of their own denial and cognitive dissonance. That is, once their shallowness is pointed out to them, they work hard to fix it. As a result, there is no doubt that this article will be fixed or perhaps even scrapped once the more knowledgeable among the apologetic crowd look at it. And, it is precisely this kind of process that led me and others who were apologists of one kind or another, out of Mormonism. The fellow who developed the Mormon apologetic site at http://www.whyprophets.com, for example, thought his way out of Mormonism more or less in lock step with me as we exchanged emails and questioned a variety of things.]
"To get around this, critics appeal to the psychological concept of 'cognitive dissonance' to try to 'explain away' the witness of intelligent, articulate members."
[rdm - As noted above, cognitive dissonance is part of the picture, but far from all of it. See the essay on Denial noted above.]
Source(s) of the Criticism
· Bob McCue, "Notes for Van Hale's Radio Show"; e-mail posting (5 September 2004), copy in author's possession.
· Bob McCue, "Van Hale's 'Mormon Miscellaneous' Radio Talk Show," Version 3, 20 Sept 2004.
[rdm - See the other essays above as well. "How Denial Works" is the most complete of these. The Van Hale essay can be found at http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.van%...]
"What is cognitive dissonance?
Cognitive dissonance theory was first described in the mid 1950s by Leon Festinger.
Cognitive dissonance explains behavior by pointing out that all people have various beliefs, thoughts, or ideas, called "cognitions." From time to time, these cognitions will come into conflict-for example, someone might believe that their child is honest and law-abiding. However, they might learn one day that their child has been charged with shoplifting. There are now two cognitions in tension:
· cognition #1: "my child is honest"
· cognition #2: "my child has been arrested for shoplifting"
These cognitions create conflict, or "dissonance" because they create internal conflict-it is not readily apparent how both cognitions can be 'true'. This realization is a psychologically unpleasant experience, and according to the theory, people seek to minimize or resolve dissonance. This can be done in a number of ways:
the former cognition can be rejected
"I guess my child isn't as honest as I thought he was."
the new cognition can be rejected
"My child wouldn't take something without paying. There must be a mistake." or "It's a lie! He was framed!"
a new cognition can eventually be formed which reconciles the two conflicting cognitions
"My child put something in his shopping cart, and forgot to pay for it on leaving the store. Thus, he was not trying to be dishonest, but it is understandable why he was arrested. It was a misunderstanding."
The important point is that all people experience cognitive dissonance whenever they encounter something that does not match what they have thought or believed previously. People may choose appropriate means of reconciling their dissonance (e.g. accepting new truths, adopting new perspectives, rejecting or modifying previous beliefs) or less appropriate ones (e.g. denying new truths, clinging to false ideas). "
[rdm - I agree with this for the most part. For more background see http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.deni... starting at page 52.]
"The presence of cognitive dissonance alone says nothing about the quality or truth of someone's beliefs. For example, in the third case, the child might really have forgotten to pay for the article, or the parent might have seized on a rather threadbare excuse (not bothering to ask, "How did you forget the radio was hidden under your jacket?") and accepted it uncritically, because rejecting the first cognition-my child is honest-is too painful. The presence, or resolution, of dissonance proves nothing about the facts."
[rdm - Agreed. Cognitive dissonance is a function of conflicting cognitions. The accuracy or truth of the cognitions has nothing necessarily to do with it. However, cognitive dissonance is often the product of beliefs that are false colliding with more accurate apprehensions of reality. Religious history is full of this. And Festinger's seminal research into cognitive dissonance related to religious beliefs.]
"How do the critics misuse it?
Michael Shermer, an agnostic and writer for Skeptic magazine, specifically dismissed the idea that "cognitive dissonance" could generally explain religious believers:
'It would be a long stretch to classify [millions of white, middle class American Christians] as oppressed, disenfranchised, or marginalized
[millions of apocalyptically-inclined] Americans are anything but in a state of learned helplessness or cognitive dissonance. Indeed, some recent polls and studies indicate that religious people, on average, may be both physically and psychologically happier and healthier than non-believers.'"
[rdm - This is another straw man argument. I am very familiar with Shermer's work. I have three of his books on my self at home ("Why People Believe Weird Things", "How We Believe" and "The Science of Good and Evil"), all well marked and thumbed, and I attended a conference he put on last year at about this time at Cal Tech where I had the chance to chat with him. In the quote above he is talking about the entire breadth of religious believers above, including liberal Protestants and many others.
On the other hand, in his book "Why People Believe Weird Things" Shermer quotes with approval psychologist Raymond Nickerson (1998) who published a comprehensive review of the literature on the confirmation bias, as follows:
"If one were to attempt to identify a single problematic aspect of human reasoning that deserves attention above all others, the confirmation bias would have to be among the candidates for consideration. It appears to be sufficiently strong and pervasive that one is led to wonder whether the bias, by itself, might account for a significant fraction of the disputes, altercations and misunderstandings that occur among individuals, groups, and nations." (quoted in "Why People Believe Weird Things", p. 299)
The confirmation bias is one of many forces that causes many beliefs to be so securely held that no conflicting cognitions can take root. See "How Denial Works" for a list of other forces that perform a similar function. Depending on how the term "cognitive dissonance" is used, this kind of thing may or may not be included in it.
Cognitive dissonance can only exist once a conflict between cognitions has been subconsciously, at least, acknowledged. For example, "Joseph Smith is a prophet" and "Joseph Smith lied about his sexual activities and had sex with young girls and others means wives" are conflicting cognitions for most people, but will only produce cognitive dissonance after the latter cognition has a been acknowledged to some degree.
In classic apologetic fashion, fairwiki is taking the concept of cognitive dissonance out of context and misapplying statements made about it in an attempt to persuade the ignorant or those who need to believe that cognitive dissonance is irrelevant to their religious faith.
The best part of this is that fairwiki is using Michael Shermer to defend precisely the kind of religious beliefs that Shermer specializes in debunking. He just uses different concepts to do the job, such as the confirmation bias. I am going to send this to him. I am sure he will get a kick out of.
This is what happens when people know a little about something (cognitive dissonance and Shermer's writing) and think that they know a lot.]
"Critics like to pretend that talking about 'cognitive dissonance' is very scientific, and objective. However, they usually ignore one of the most important principles of a scientific explanation: falsifiability.
The criterion of falsifiability...says that statements or systems of statements, in order to be ranked as scientific, must be capable of conflicting with possible, or conceivable, observations.
The hallmark of pseudoscience is its inability to be falsified. That is why neither religion or any other philosophical system can ever be called science, or tested by science."
[rdm - I agree with the above three paragraphs, except that some concepts that are closely related to a religion or philosophical system can be falsified because they are scientific hypotheses. For example, the statement "Israelites emigrated to the Americas circa 600 BCE" is a statement that can be falsified, subject to the collection of adequate data. It is important to remember that falsification with regard to anything in the empirical (physical) world is not a matter of 100% certainty. So, while most people feel comfortable saying that "the Earth is not flat" and "the Earth is far more than 6,000 years old", neither the hypotheses "the Earth is flat" nor "the Earth is 6,000 years old" has been falsified with certainty. We must be content with probable falsification to one degree or another.]
"God made it all out of nothing in seven days, and faked the evidence," says the young earth creationist. "Any Mormon who doesn't interpret the evidence as I do must be suffering cognitive dissonance," says the anti-Mormon."
[rdm - So, anti-Mormons (presumably, anyone critical of Mormon belief) are here compared to young earth creationists. This is rich. Young earth creationists are famous for denying scientific evidence that contradicts their belief that the Earth is about 6,000 years old. What scientific evidence about Mormonism do anti-Mormons deny? None to my knowledge. What scientific evidence to do Mormon's deny? The list is extensive. Start with DNA evidence (see http://www.postmormon.org/exp_e/index...) related to the Book of Mormon origins, and go from there remembering in each case that we are not looking for certain proof that Mormon belief is false, but rather evidence that makes it seem highly probable that Mormon belief is false. Mormon scientists, for example, have stated that the evidence is against them on the DNA point, but that since proof is not certain enough yet they are justified on continuing in their Mormon beliefs. This is similar to the way in which evidence mounted in favor of Galileo's position and against the Catholic Church's. It took many generations for some Catholics to accept what many scientists believed much earlier, and what we have virtually all accepted now - Galileo was right and the Catholic Church was wrong.]
"How could a faithful Mormon's behavior or attitude toward the evidence prove that he or she is not subject to the critics' "cognitive dissonance"?"
[rdm - Lets suggest a falsifiable experiment. How about the one I outlined starting at page 18 of http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.does.... That involves the concept of "belief maps" and is consistent with the studies used in the academic cog dis research related to how people seek out information that is consonant rather than dissonant with their own views, so as to avoid cognitive dissonance (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitiv...).
For example, most Mormons are comfortable accepting that much of the Bible, and particularly the Old Testament, is metaphoric. The time it took the earth to be created, for example, is not taken literally by most well-educated Mormons. Nor is the worldwide flood. However, the Book of Mormon is believed by Mormons to be literally true. So, we would predict that Mormons will believe the Bible to be literally true to the extent that it is consistent with the Book of Mormon and that Mormons would tend to be more ignorant of information that conflicted with their beliefs than other similarly well educated people.
I have not tested this hypothesis (other than in casual conversation with some of my Mormon friends and relatives, where it passed with flying colors), but it is testable using standard social science tools. For example, I am confident that we would find that most Mormons believe that the Tower of Babel was a real historic event, whereas the creation of the Earth did not literally occur in seven days. Why? Because the Tower of Babel is referenced in the Book of Mormon and literal creation is not.
And, I would be willing to bet that a given group of university graduate Mormons are more ignorant of the linguistic theory that shows how silly the Tower of Babel story is than would be a similarly educated, and otherwise similar, group of non-Mormons.
Another way to use "belief maps" as noted in my essay above to construct a falsifiable hypothesis for testing cognitive dissonance would be to generalize the experiment I just suggested. For example, we might predict that religious beliefs tend to create both non-acceptance of scientific principles and ignorance of information related to them to the extent that religious belief conflicts with science, and then take several groups of religious believers who are university graduates and indicate that they are generally in agreement with the scientific point of view, and map their religious beliefs against their areas of ignorance or non-acceptance of science, and then compare that to the belief map of a group of agnostics. How do you think the Mormon population would do relative to the science related to sexual orientation (probably biological), or human origins (Africa), or the evolution of the human species (from mice)?
There are all kinds of ways to scientifically test cognitive dissonance and other denial related concepts on Mormon populations.]
"There is nothing which the critic could not shoe-horn into his theory-cognitive dissonance is thus little but a handy club to beat anyone who does not share his interpretation. "Of course you see it differently," the critic can kindly, but oh-so-condescendingly assure his Mormon friend. "You're still in the grip of cognitive dissonance." "
[rdm - See my comments above. This is ignorance writ large.]
"The anti-Mormon (ab)use of the theory is especially vulnerable to the charge of being unfalsifiable, but a lack of falsifiability has long been the chief criticism of cognitive dissonance theory generally:
One continuous criticism of Dr. Festinger's theory is that is may not be falsifiable. That is, there is no solid empirical data that proves without a doubt that people will react in a specific manner in a given situation or when dealing with dissonance."
[rdm - This is simply the criticism that is made of the social sciences in general. They are much less precise than the hard sciences, and hence one should take care when applying theories from the social sciences in any real life application. However, there have been countless cog dis experiments performed under falsifiable conditions. Cog dis and attachment theory are two of the best established psychological theories to date. This science is as solid as social science gets, while still being subject to the caveat that it cannot be applied with certainty to any real life application.]
"Dissonance is easier to point to when a group of people is exposed to the same situation and choices under controlled conditions. Trying to tease out why a given individual holds to or rejects religious or philosophical positions is a much taller order. There are no controls on the critics' rampant speculation."
[rdm - I have addressed this concern above.]
"Is turnabout fair play?
This is not to say that cognitive dissonance cannot play a role in religious belief. It might play a role in some Mormons' refusal to accept an uncomfortable truth. It could also play a role in the critics' experiences, in which their expectations and beliefs did not meet their perceptions of reality. Each critic is the only one able to make that assessment."
[rdm - I have been upfront about this all along. I have numerous times at www.exmormon.org and elsewhere chided people who seem to have forgotten that the same biases that affect Mormons affect post-Mormons. And we would be testable in the same as the Mormons are.]
"But, lacking access to others' reasoning and spiritual experiences, a critic cannot objectively judge the influence (if any) of cognitive dissonance in others' decisions."
[rdm - Much of the point of science is to assess what is objectively accessible from the outside, using the perspective that can only be gained through the comparison of many experiences. Science acknowledges that it cannot directly deal with the subjective nature of the experience, its qualia. However, what does it mean to a Mormon when she finds that countless people all of the world in different belief systems have precisely the kind of "testimony" experience she has? And that their brain states, measured during this experience, are doing exactly what her's do (see http://www.exmormon.org/Why%20We%20Be... - Day Three). This is a testable hypothesis and all of the evidence so far indicates that there will be nothing to distinguish the Mormon spiritual experience from that of countless others. This would explain the tenacity of Mormon as well as many other beliefs, and would cause some Mormons to wonder what kind of god would give so many different people with different conflicting beliefs precisely the same experience. Other cognitive dissonance suffering Mormons will cling to the possibility that somewhere, somehow, their belief is different and superior and god will in his due time explain all this.]
"He can worry about the dissonant beams in his own eye; others' motes are out of the reach of his self-justifying inquiry."
[rdm - Or maybe he is humble enough to recognize that there are beams and motes in all eyes. An understanding of science leads to this conclusion. It also allows us to measure these to an extent. How many Mormons would likely believe that hard core Moonies are not subject to heavy cognitive dissonance? Would we trust a group of well trained psychologists to measure the Moonie cognitive dissonance relative to reality and compare it to that of, say, some Reform Jews? Why not Mormons v. Moonies v. Reform Jews? There is another interesting, falsifiable, hypothesis. Moonies - worst; Mormons - second worst; Reform Jews - best (of this group).]
"Many critics seem unwilling to recognize that men and women of good will and sound intelligence might honestly disagree on the interpretation of evidence, even if considered with all the objectivity they can muster. This is, for example, why some people will buy stock at a price at which other people are eager to sell. (But perhaps the entire economy is merely an exercise in cognitive dissonance?)"
[rdm - In fact, denial, the confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance have been shown to play a large role in market crashes and manias.]
"LDS critics often have a naοve, super-simplified view of the historian's work whereby anyone who disbelieves a religious account is somehow automatically more free from bias than a believer. Such a stance ignores the fact that unbelievers may feel at least as great a stake in disproving uncomfortable and uncompromising religious claims as believers might in supporting them."
[rdm - I have already acknowledged that we are all subject to the same forces. However, one can predict blind spots using tools like the confirmation bias, which allow a belief map to be drawn and areas of ignorance and possible cognitive dissonance to be predicted. And this can be done using falsifiable hypotheses as I have indicated above.]
"It is therefore no surprise that critics label interpretations with which they do not agree as examples of "cognitive dissonance" in action, while the critics' positions are portrayed as merely the product of dispassionate analysis.
One critic fond of this 'theory' tells us:
The most important part of this analysis, by far, is to recognize that the forces we are about to discuss [cognitive dissonance] operate mostly at the subconscious level. To the extent we drag them into the conscious realm, they largely stop operating.
"Subconscious" forces which are used to explain behavior, especially by the outside observer, are a classic unfalsifiable hypothesis. How can we know that a "cause" which has been supposedly dragged from subconscious to awareness is the genuine article?"
[rdm - The subconscious forces are part of the cognitive dissonance theory. People show signs of cognitive dissonance in measurable, falsifiable ways, and are unaware of their source. This is by definition the result of the unconscious part of our minds.]
"Why isn't our "discovered" reason simply a rationalization, which is driven in turn by an even deeper "subconscious force" and so on down forever? Since a person is-by definition-unaware of unconscious processes, how can the critic know with any confidence that the "forces we are about to discuss" look anything like the unconscious ones?
[rdm - See above. ]
"How can you say that A and B are the same thing if no one can get a certain look at A?'
[rdm - More silliness. These people need to do some reading.]
"If this is difficult in oneself, how much harder is it in another person, to whose mind and experience the outsider has no direct access? Despite these major hurdles, the critics seems to presume that they can reliably determine what others' unconscious processes are and "drag them into the conscious realm." Freud would have been envious."
[rdm - I have not suggested anything beyond what the scientists who work in this field have done many times over.]
"The critic then makes the equally strange assertion that these effects "largely stop operating" if we are but aware of them. Even if the critic, by the greatest fortune, has indeed identified a proper "subconscious force"-something of which he can never be sure-this belief is extraordinarily optimistic. Anyone who has spent any time in counselling or mental health work knows that awareness of a problem rarely provides a direct line to altered thinking or behavior. If it did, therapy would be just a dump of information to the patient. "
[rdm - Here is what I meant. Cog dis is part of the complex of forces related to denial. Cog dis starts when we become aware - often at the subconscious level - of conflicting cognitions such as those related to Joseph Smith's lying about sexual activities and his prophetic status. This conflict produces the kind of pain cog dis theory described, and that pain produces various rationalizing behaviours. Once we become aware enough to assess the best evidence relative to both cognitions in light of how denial works (including the role of cognitive dissonance) we tend to be able to resolve the dissonance by rejecting false belief. Think of the abused spouse example that is so often used to illustrate cognitive dissonance. One cognition is that her husband loves her and is committed to her and her children; the other is that he occassionally beats her. All her friends tell her to leave him. She tells them that they don't understand him; that he is really a good man. Often learning about how denial and cognitive dissonance work, and being introduced to objective evidence about how abused spouses in her situation tend to act; how their friends tend to act; how the abusers tend to act; and acknowledging that her life fits this pattern, etc. helps her to overcome her denial. Thus, her experience of cognitive dissonance declines (or even ends) on that issue.]
"The critic goes on:
The message that booms through the above evidence to me is that the denial inducing nature of cognitive dissonance makes it difficult to self-diagnose.
Unfortunately for the critic, if we assume that this is true, then critics are equally vulnerable to the same treatment. The Mormon could just as easily respond that an anti-Mormon's perspective is all due to cognitive dissonance. He just doesn't know it, because such a condition is "difficult to self-diagnose."
[rdm - I have already agreed. So, why don't we line up a bunch of Mormons and post-Mormons and run a controlled experiment conducted by non-Mormon psychologists to measure the cognitive dissonance relative to science and Mormon belief in the two populations. I bet I can find some psychologists who would love to do that.
This is the kind of experiment Mormons would be unlikely to participate in, because in general they don't want to know. This contrasts with the statements of earlier Mormon leaders who said things like "The truth cuts its own way" (J. Smith) and "If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed." (J. Reuben Clark). Most people are like that to an extent. However, those of us who have experienced the pain of having our most important beliefs debunked tend to be more willing to expose our new beliefs to scrutiny, and are far less likely to be come as committed to our new beliefs as we were to our former, and so are more inclined to this kind of testing. And I note that this is in and of itself a testable hypothesis.
I now go out of my way to seek the advice of third parties in an effort to identify my blind spots. I would welcome the change to be the subject of a professional psychological study that would help me to identify the sources of cognitive dissonance in my own life, since I acknowledge that I am unlikely to be able to that on my own, in spite of my best efforts.]
"This illustrates that whatever else might be said about the flaws in this theory-the lynch-pin ("most important part
by far") of which is an unfalsifiable and unverifiable claim about subconscious motives-it is not rational and not scientific. "
[rdm - I address this above. It is flatly wrong. This person knows somewhere between little and nothing about the social sciences.]
"But, appeals to "cognitive dissonance" allow the critic to fit the evidence to his biases, and "diagnose" flaws in others. No matter how much his Mormon target might insist that the critic does not understand the Mormon's point of view or evaluation of the evidence, this just serves as stronger evidence to the critic of how deluded the Mormon is. Cognitive dissonance in the critics' hands is nothing but self-fulfilling prophecy, or a variation of the observer-expectancy effect. It is full of fallacies, a substitute for rational discussion of the evidence and the witness of the Spirit. "
[rdm - He repeats himself over and over. I have addressed this above. If cognitive dissonance and denial theory cannot be applied to Mormonism it can't be applied anywhere. And as I indicated above, it is one of the more thoroughly tested of psychological theories.]
"Cognitive dissonance theory," when applied in the critics' idiosyncratic way to explain away the witness and convictions of others, is hardly scientific. The critics' efforts fail on many grounds:
· it cannot be falsified
· the critic can explain and dismiss any attitude, any belief, or any conviction
· the critic relies on claims about hidden, unverifiable, "subconscious" motivations as explanations
· the critic arrogantly assumes that the interpreter knows more about the person and his/her experiences than the person him/herself, even if the subject disagrees with the analysis
And, any argument which the critic uses against a member can be used in just as strong a form against the critic in turn."
[rdm - I have already addressed each of these points.]
1. [back] Michael Shermer, How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science (New York: WH Freeman and Company, 1999),211-212.
2. [back] Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations (London: Routledge and Keagan Paul, 1963), 33.
3. [back] M. Bruce Abbot, "Cognitive Dissonance Theory," class notes for ADV382J, University of Texas at Austin, September 2003 (accessed 31 October 2005). *
4. [back] Bob McCue, "Notes for Van Hale's Radio Show"; e-mail posting (5 September 2004), copy in author's possession.
5. [back] Bob McCue, "Notes for Van Hale's Radio Show"; e-mail posting (5 September 2004), copy in author's possession.
[rdm - My essays lay out the theory relative to cog dis and denial, and maps it against a host of my own and other Mormon experience that I believe is explained by that theory as well as much other religious experience that has been subject to scientific observation or testing in this regard. In this so-called critique of my position there was not a single substantive comment relative to my approach. The entire argument of this critique rests on the assertion that it is impossible to apply cognitive dissonance theory to Mormon experience. This is flatly wrong. Much cognitive dissonance research has been done relative to religious belief, and there is nothing special about Mormonism in this regard.
From what I saw today looking around www.fairwiki.org, this is as good an illustration of cognitive dissonance as anyone is likely to find.
| Mormon culture is set up to sabotage those who will not play by its rules. This make sense, since it tends to cause those who leave Mormonism and hence do not conform Mormon standards, fail. This supports Mormon claims that God blesses obedience and curses disobedience.
For example, in his excellent talk at last year’s exmo conference, Duwayne Anderson reviewed a number of questionable use of science statistics by Mormon apologists. I can’t now find the talk on-line in any form. Anyone who can help in that regard will be greater appreciated.
One concept Anderson trotted out caught my eye particularly. It had to do with life expectancy in Utah. An LDS researcher had claimed that Mormon’s in Utah had a much higher than average life expectancy. Anderson showed, however, that once certain adjustments were made that were necessary in order to make the Utah data comparable to the national averages, that Mormons in Utah were bang on the national average, and that non-Mormons or less than active Mormons in Utah were far below the average. As I recall, the same kind of analysis was performed re. suicide rates. The conclusion was that being anything other than a full blooded Mormon in Utah was harmful to your health.
And we all know about Utah’s nation leading use of anti-depressants, bankruptcy, commercial fraud and other indications that things are not going well for a lot of people there, Mormon or otherwise. I have not seen any statistics that break these categories down on a Mormon v. non-Mormon (or less active Mormon) basis, and again would be indebted to anyone who could point me to that. My bet is that active Mormons, less active Mormons and non-Mormons in Utah are all shown to be less functional than the average American in these areas.
The question, of course, is why would being a non-Mormon or less active Mormon in Utah cause problems?
I thought about this recently when hearing about some wayward children of my Mormon relatives and thinking about my own teenage waywardness. Most Mormon kids are not equipped with a healthy context in which to interpret they own behaviour outside of the Mormon norm. That is, they tend to see behaviour as either good (as prescribed by the Mormon community) or bad. There is not much in the way of a gradient that goes from good behaviour to questionable behavior to dangerous behaviour to “you must be nuts” behaviour when it comes to the Mormon rule book.
For example, I recall while serving as Bishop being taken to task by a ward member (one of our stake most respected members) for talking to the kids about what to do on dates in a context that presumed there would be some kissing and touching. She told me in no uncertain terms that she wanted her children taught that there would be no kissing or touching of any kind. I told her that I lived on Earth, understood what teenage kids were like and valued the credibility I had with them. I was not going to waste my time and theirs, not to mention destroying my credibility with them, by giving advice that was unrealistic. “Who”, I asked her, “was listening to these kids (including hers) in worthiness interviews and was charged with the duty to give them the most useful advice possible there and elsewhere?” (just typing those words give me the heebie jeebies). She reminded me that I was charged with instructing the kids to keep God’s commandments. I politely suggested that I was doing a difficult job as well as I could and would continue to do what I felt was best regardless of her opinions, and that I thought recognizing “normal” teenage behaviour and helping the kids to cope with in the most healthy manner possible was the best route to helping them in the long term to comply with as many of God’s rules as possible. Again, the act of remembering what my former head space was like, and what I told those poor impressionable kids, makes my shiver involuntarily.
In any event, once a Mormon kid has started down the “bad” path, it is natural for them to perceive themselves as bad all over. This kills self esteem. Kids with poor self esteem seek similar companions. And it does not help that Mormon kids like this have to lie to survive at home, and the psychologists have clearly laid out data that shows how once a few lies have been told in one context, the probability of lying in general skyrockets. Deceptive behaviour further degrades the social opportunities available to disobedient Mormon kids. And dysfunctional, low self esteem, naοve kids become adults with similar problems even if they have two or three degrees from BYU and have one of Utah’s relatively good jobs.
In a nutshell, Mormon culture is set up to sabotage those who will not play by its rules. This make sense, since it makes faithful Mormons look good to the extent that those who do not conform to Mormon standards fail.
As is so often the case, we can see a more extreme case of Mormon behaviour be looking at the FLDS. Around here, many FLDS kids have recently left that community and are woefully equipped to survive in the “real” world. They are poorly educated; have been taught from the cradle that the world is wicked and to be avoided and so are dysfunctionally fearful; have been conditioned to think in simplistic terms and obey instead of making decisions on their own; etc. Hence, many of them do not thrive outside of their community, or utterly fail. This means ending up with addiction problems; in trouble with the law; dealing with unwarranted pregnancies; etc. This of course provides evidence to those on the inside that their way is God’s one and only, and that those who disobey will be punished.
I am thinking of several people I knew growing up who were very talented, and ended up living what seems to be to be well below their potential. One in particular was (is) high end smart, charismatic, attractive - he has the whole package. He and I both became near pathological liars as teenagers in order to experiment in what I now see as harmless teenage stuff. He lied his way into Ricks, lied while there, lied his way through a mission and got ex'ed shortly after coming home. Until his mid-40s, he lived outside of Mormonism while believing that he was not good enough for it. During this period, he had a host of different troubles. He has now falsied Mormonism and moved on, but a lot of water under the bridge can't be changed.
I wonder what he would have been like had he been raised in an environment that rewarded creative thought and brass balls, which he had in abundance.
It is likely not possible to test this scientifically, but I bet that persons who are of the type that is likely to non-conform would thrive in many environments while being chewed apart by Mormonism.
In conclusion, I believe that Mormons sets up its members for similar familiar for the same reasons, those in not the same radical terms as its more pure FLDS version. I don't suggest that any of this is by conscious design, though some of it may be. This is how organizations, acting as organisms, defend themselves. Only the organizations with good defence mechanisms survive. Mormonism's perimeter is well set up in this regard. The anology to the human body's immune system is apt.
| I was on a business trip this weekend (spent part of a day at Canada’s National Art Gallery in Ottawa Emily Carr was the focus artist wonderful another story), and as usual watched more TV than I customarily do as a result of using that to wind down at the end of the day and to wake up in the morning.
A news clip caught my eye. I think it was on CNN.
Somebody with a lot of money in the US is making it possible for science teachers in large numbers to experience zero gravity on the theory that this experience will excite them about science, and this excitement will be communicated to their students. As the announcer described this idea, I noticed my eyes involuntarily rolling. “Another weird philanthropist who ought to visit Africa”, I thought.
But I was still getting dressed and so continued to watch.
They take a specially equipped jet, fill it with science teachers, take the jet up to 34,000 feet and then put it into a nose dive at 30 degrees down to 24,000 feet. This lasts about 30 seconds, and during freefall zero gravity is achieved. They showed this happening in the plane. The teachers were free to move around, and went giddy. They were laughing at each other; flipping through the air; imitating various kinds of flying; squeezing globules of water out of bottles and then diving through the air trying to pick up the globules with their mouths like dogs leaping to catch treats, but in slow motion; etc. In short, they were clearly excited by this experience. So the idea worked to at least that point.
Just as I was about to shut the TV off to head out for my meetings, one of the teachers a young woman was interviewed after the flight. While describing her experience, she said something like “It was amazing. Nothing was pulling me down. It was like all of a sudden I would do anything. I felt so powerful.” This power and the new degrees of freedom than came with it, were euphoria producing.
I was suddenly struck by both how well her description fit my experience on leaving Mormonism, and how the exuberance she and her colleagues exhibited while cavorting in zero gravity matched what I felt during in the days and weeks immediately following my rebirth. A powerful force that had been pulling me down a form of social gravity had as if by magic disappeared.
I recalled the days when I would tear up while driving to work because I thought of what I would do that weekend instead of going to LDS meetings; or how I would feel like my heart would burst as I walked through a park, saw people playing with their families and felt a kinship to them that was new to me. I recalled the immense energy that it had taken to break the bounds that had held me down. Countless other memories flashed by.
There a lot more that could be said using the gravity metaphor. It is gravity that paradoxically creates the muscles that give us the feeling of power when gravity is relaxed; we habituate quickly to anti-gravity and muscles start to deteriorate; etc. Some of these aspects of the analogy work, and others don’t. So I am not trying to say that the “anti-gravity” aspect of the post-Mormon experience fits across the board.
I am trying to communicate the joy that release from arbitrary, senseless, harmful bonds produces. This is so different from those who are made to feel that they exit from Mormonism is evidence that they are defective. The dysfunction this causes allows them to be used as evidence that Mormonism is indeed true.
Do a back flip today. And if you find someone suffering from Mormon guilt, which is a side effect of this form of social gravity, lovingly snip as many of her bonds as you can while passing by.
| Does Attachment Theory Help To Predict Mormon Behavior And How We Will Respond To Exiting Mormonism? |
Thursday, Jun 29, 2006, at 08:00 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE - SECTION 4 -Link To MC Article-
| ↑ |
| Lee Kirkpatrick’s excellent book “Attachment, Evolution and the Psychology of Religion” is a great read for many reasons. Among other things, for example, he does a find job of putting the religious experience in a social science context and in this regard resembles such scholars as Scott Atran (“In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion”), Pascal Boyer (“Religion Explained”), Loyal Rue (“Religion is Not About God”) and Daniel Dennett (“Breaking the Spell”).
However, Kirkpatrick is particularly helpful for those of us who are wondering at some of the profoundly difficult aspects of the “leaving the fold” process. And, I have found while reading him answers to questions about some of my most basic behaviors that will be helpful to all aspects of my life. This note is intended to give a taste of how useful Kirkpatrick’s wares may be for some trying to find a satisfying path outside of Mormonism.
Much of Kirkpatrick’s books is based on attachment theory (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachme...), developed in the by John Bowlby and one of the most carefully studied, fruitful areas of psychological research.
The basic idea of attachment theory is that children develop different “styles” of attachment to their primary care giver, based to some extent on that caregiver’s behavior. The child’s genetic propensities (often inherited from the caregiver) are also important. Then, the attachment style developed in childhood to a large extent colors the “attachment” relationship between romantic partners. And, Kirkpatrick explains to us how religious institutions and/or “god” act as attachment figures.
The three main attachment styles in children are “secure”, “insecure” and “avoidant”. Secure attachment correlates with caregivers who are available, consistent, loving, etc. That is, ideal caregivers. Insecure attachment correlates with caregivers who are available but conditional or controlling. Avoidant attachment correlates with caregivers who are not available.
The basic behavioral characteristics of the three styles are:
- Secure: Uses the caregiver as a secure, protective base from which to explore; becomes anxious when caregiver departs, but recovers quickly upon caregiver’s return and then continues exploring.
- Insecure: Less willing to explore even in the caregiver’s presence; more distressed by strangers; more distressed when caregiver leaves; alternatives between punishing caregiver and demonstrating high needy behavior when caregiver returns; tends toward more temper tantrums; can be controlled with withholding, or offering, intimacy; has high needs for intimacy.
- Avoidant: Not as willing to explore in any case; not afraid of strangers; does not treat caregiver and strangers with much differentiation; not very distressed when caregiver leaves; not demonstrative when caregiver returns.
In adult romantic relationships, securely attached people tend to get along well and make wonderful mates. Insecure and avoidant people demonstrate variants of the behaviors noted above, and make less attractive mates.
Many Mormons will tend toward the insecure attachment style because of the kind of parenting encouraged within Mormonism (lots of arbitrary rules; love conditional to a degree upon those obedience to those rules; etc.), and the Mormon conception of god and his reflection in the Mormon authority figures and community are consistent with this.
And this, ironically, works out well for Mormonism since insecurely attached people are more controllable than the others. In a nutshell, they are dyfunctionally dependant on the relationships in their lives, and the Mormon system should be expected to produce this. And as a result, they are more susceptible to control through the threat of the loss of these relationships, and through the offer of the kind of intimacy that intimate relationships usually contain. And, their personal relationship will be characterized by heightened displays of distress or anger, demands for control, and conditional offering of their own intimacy while feeling more need for intimacy both with individuals and groups than is the norm.
The Mormon institution did not, of course, study attachment theory before developing its strategies that lead many Mormons to become insecurely attached as just indicated. Rather, Mormonism seeks to control its members. Since insecurely attached people are easier for an institution to control, Mormonism over time developed a host of foundational concepts that influence its members’ behavior toward insecure attachments to each other and the institution.
Hence, insecurely attached Mormons confronting the possibility of changing their beliefs will feel more distress than most people in similar situations. This is the result of an insecure attachment to the institution and/or god, as well as insecure attachments to spouses and family members within the Mormon group. And if a person leaves Mormonism and perhaps some of his most intimate relationships as well, one can expect more “needy” and “angry” behavior to result, which will manifest itself as a complete rejection of the former attachment figure the caregiver who has abandoned or perhaps even abused her charge.
Not all Mormons will be insecurely attached, but many will be. Since that is the dominant stream I detect in my psychology, I am more interested in it than the other forms of attachment, and am working on some ideas with regard to how those of us who are insecurely attached to one degree or another can rewire ourselves to the extent possible in this regard. I would appreciate hearing of any ideas others may have in this regard, or with regard to attachment theory in general as it applies to religion.
| Many people who leave Mormonism and other controlling ideologies struggle with depression on the way out the door and for a long time afterwards. Depression is a frequent result of cognitive dissonance (see http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.denial.pdf at page 51). That is, as the tension between our connection to Mormon family, community and ideology is increasingly noted by our subconscious to be in conflict with common sense, history, science, etc., mental tension (cognitive dissonance) builds. The depression that often results from this and many other (but not all) sources is part of the warning system that has been built into us to let us know when our lives are not working as they should - kind of like pain when we touch a hot stove. This is a blessing.
Mildly depressed people tend to perceive reality more accurately than most of the rest of the population, who are often described as wearing rose colored glasses. A bit of depression gets rid of those distorting lenses.
The fact that Utah leads the US in anti-depressant consumption is an indication of how extensive depression is in Mormondom. Dealing with depression (and hence cog dis) in this way is one of the many defense mechanisms the Mormon Church has developed as it struggles to bring itself into a position that is more consonant with reality as most people understand it without admitting that to the massive deception its leadership has perpetrated.
The last thing Mormonism wants is a bunch of members whose perception of reality is heightened by a bit of depression. Those people tend to become dissatisfied with Mormonism, which is a clear sign that they are sick and must be medicated, at least as far as the therapists to whom these sufferers tend to be referred are concerned. It would be impolite to note that these therapists are employed by the Mormon Church, who set up this counselling system after finding that non-Mormon therapists often pointed the finger at Mormonism when dealing with depressed Mormons. So, Mormon family, friends, RS Presidents, Bishops etc. are taught to refer their depressed loved ones to LDS Social Services or Mormon therapists who are in league with them.
Through depression is often a blessing, it also frequently becomes a weed that once rooted is hard to root out. For example, depression and insomnia go together. While it is hard to tell which causes which, once a person is depressed and not sleeping well the insomnia tends to reinforce the depression and vice versa. A classic vicious circle. This is one of the many things that those of us who have had to fight our way to, and out, the Mormon door sometimes have to deal with, and why getting professional assistance is a good idea. It is hard to self-diagnose with regard to this kind of thing.
Post traumatic stress symptoms are also commonly experienced by those who leave a controlling religious group, like Mormonism. Again, depression and sleep disorders regularly haunt this type of person long after Mormonism is in the real view mirror. Wounds heal, but slowly. And the worst traumas leave permanent marks.
But for all of the difficulties associated with it, I am grateful for the fact that I experienced some depression during the years leading up to my departure from Mormonism. While I did not know what was wrong, I knew something was. And as I look back on what I did to cope with that (taking anti-depressants want not one of those), it is clear that the discomfort I felt played a big role in the steps I eventually took to bring more sanity into my life. I thank god (or fortune) that I was not medicated into submission.
So, in praise of depression, I have re-written an old hymn ...
We thank thee, oh God, for depression
To guide us through our latter daze
We thank thee for opening our eyes
Helping us see through the Mormon haze
Perhaps someone could finish this for me ...
| If you want to see a wonderful graphic representation of Mormon faith collapsing have a look at this strange attractor as it disappears ...
If you want to see a wonderful graphic representation of Mormon faith collapsing, go to http://brain.cc.kogakuin.ac.jp/~kanam..., scroll down the left hand side to part 5.4, open it, and then view the simulation. This depicts the collapse of a "strange attractor" in a "complex system" as a result of which the system shifts to a new state.
Note how no perceptible change occurs for a long time, and then how the nature of the system changes radically and rapidly. This is a common feature of change in natural, complex processes and I believe applies to changes in important beliefs like those related to the truth or falsity of a religious tradition. It is not that there is not change. Rather, the cumulative effect of changes that are occurring become perceptible relatively late in the process.
Basically, a strange attractor is one kind of dominant pattern in a complex system. The human brain is a complex system, and some of our modes of thought (like belief in Mormonism) are strange attractors. Human social groups are probably strange attractors (at least in some ways), and the tendency toward a particular pattern of social behaviour based on beliefs accepted by the group (ie. religious group behaviour) is likely a strange attractor. See http://brain.cc.kogakuin.ac.jp/~kanam... at section 2.2 (view the simulation) to get the idea of how strange attractors form. You can vary the parameters of this simulation and produce different, but similar, patterns. So, the human form or that of other species can be thought of as strange attractors. As the parameters of the system that give rise to the strange attractor change, it changes and in come cases can disappear entirely. As it changes (whether on theway to disappearance or not), the universe of behaviours that it captures changes.
The model at section 2.2 shows only behaviours that fall within the range of the strange attractors. Think of marbles being tossed into the basin in such a way that they roll around the sides. Some have enough energy to escape the basis. Others do not. Section 2.2 shows only what happens to those that stay in the basin.
Think of a basin that is either becoming smaller or shallower. Think again of marbles being tossed into the basin in such a way that they roll around the sides. Some have enough energy to escape the basis. Others do not. As the basin become smaller and shallower, the set of marbles that will stay in the basin upon being tossed becomes smaller because the energy required to escape becomes smaller.
Staying in the basin might be "good" or "bad" depending on the nature of the attractor as well as one's point of view. For example, the basis might represent the educational system. The larger and deeper it is, the broader the set of behaviours it can accommodate while effecting its educational and socialization function. Or, the basin might represent Mormonism and one of the parameter's affecting its size and depth might be the degree to which it can prevent its members from discovering evidence that probably disconfirms its foundational premises.
And finally, here is a description of my "deconversion" process that I wrote a long time before I had so much as heard the term "strange attractor".
"Why Did The Deconversion Process Take So Long?
I have often shaken my head over that one. I am, after all, a reasonably well educated if rather slow witted fellow. One Calgarian friend suggested in jest (I think) that the problem was likely that my university degrees are all from the U. of A., in Edmonton (Calgary's rival city). Another suggested (likely not in jest) that I am wonderful proof of how linear in their thinking lawyers tend to be.
I think two issues nicely explain my experience. First, the psychologists make it clear that the forces of cognitive dissonance are far more powerful than most of us wish to believe (See for example, Shermer, "Why People Believe Weird Things"; Aronson, "The Social Animal"; and Levine, "The Power of Persuasion"). That is, once we have a particular belief lodged in our head, and we have built our life around it in terms of family and social relationships, we will be highly resistant to any information that suggests our belief to be incorrect. A number of examples of how thoroughly cognitive dissonance can block information in a variety of religious contexts are summarized starting at page 43 of an essay titled "Religious Faith: Enlightening or Blinding?" and in another titled "The Mormon Use of Persuasive Technique", both of which can be found under the Spirituality (Post-Mormon) button on my website (http://mccue.cc/bob/spirituality.htm).
Second, the Mormon Church enhances the power of cognitive dissonance within its membership by suppressing all troubling aspects of its history in the manner noted above. And, Mormons are taught that those who write the "real" history of Mormonism are not trustworthy. Because obedience to leadership authority is paramount within modern Mormonism, I chose not to read anything that questioned my religious leaders or the beliefs they approved. Most faithful Mormons do likewise. And so I made it to age 44 in a state of almost complete ignorance respecting the most important aspects of Mormon history and culture formation, and hence the information most relevant to whether the spectacular claims Mormonism makes with respect to exclusive divine authority, and hence being God's "only" true church on earth, are justifiable. Ironically, I considered myself well informed respecting Mormonism and religion in general, and was looked up to within the local Mormon community in that regard.
James Fowler' book "Stages of Faith" describes six stages of spirituality and how many people progress through them. This book has also helped me to make sense of my experience.
The third stage Fowler describes is the "my faith is the best or only true faith". People in this stage make great followers, and so it is encouraged by many institutional religions, including Mormonism. The fourth stage is the realization that many aspects of one's faith do not square with reality, and involves a painful reappraisal of belief, often followed by a rejection of it. The fifth is a joyful, wondrous stage in which the good of many faiths is appreciated and spirituality becomes less bounded, more flexible. Often during this stage one is able to reappraise, and reconnect with, one's "old" faith. In this case, however, it usually becomes part of a much broader, richer spiritual tapestry. I note in this regard that my personal spirituality continues to be informed by many of Mormonism's basic teachings.
My overall summary of how the evolution of faith works is as follows: Our religious beliefs are supported by social networks, our conditioning, education, etc. Cognitive dissonance results whenever any information challenges those beliefs. 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 and more 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 term "rebirth" is often applied to this process. I think it is apt."
| Ursula Goodenough coined the term "covenant with mystery", and used it in her book "The Sacred Depths of Nature", to convey the idea that not knowing nourishes us in myriad ways, and that hence we should take care to resist the persistent human tendency to think we "know". That is, humans tend to be certain about a host of things regarding which certainty is not justified. The better we can become at resisting this tendency, the richer life tends to become.
I have recently stumbled across uses of Ursula's lovely concept with regard to particular phenomena that we don't (and perhaps can't) understand. For example, some argue that what precedes the Big Bang is an impenetrable mystery; others that fact that anything at all, as opposed to nothing, exists.
It occurred to me that a covenant with any particular mystery is a violation of the basic humanist tenet that all conclusions (including that something is a mystery) are tentative. To make matters worse, it is similar to the "god of the gaps" - the tendency to use "god" to explain whatever science has not gotten around to explaining. This god - the one who hides in the gaps in our knowledge related to what is real - has seen many of his presumed favorite hiding places carefully examined by science without any trace of him being detected. Theologians and others who seen now to locate god in the fog surrounding post-modernism, quantum physics, string theory or the science of emergence are playing a very old game.
As an aside, I note that Mormon readers may see a similarity between the god of the gaps and the location of the Book of Mormon narrative. That is, when science has shown to a high degree of probability that the Book of Mormon is not real history with regard to the Americas as a whole, a gap in scientific knowledge small enough to seem impenetrable, and hence permanently defensible, is sought. In this case, the so-called "limited geography theory" of the Book of Mormon resulted, which tells us that narrative found in that book was played out in such a small, remote area of Central America that it likely will never be found. If accepted, this theory of the Book of Mormon renders it non-falsifiable, which is precisely the objective (conscious or not) of most god of the gaps theories. A kind of god that acts in ways beyond our examination, and hence falsification, is sought.
The problem with this approach regarding the god of the gaps, Book of Mormon and covenant with mystery is the same: Science often advances in unanticipated ways, and ends up closely examining the supposedly impenetrable. Therefore, my covenant with mystery is an admission of epistemic humility first, and second expression of awe with regard to the amazing aspects of reality I am capable of perceiving, including so many awe inspiring, beautify, wondrous aspects of reality that I cannot count them. These are my current mysterium tremendum et fascinans - my mysteries - any one of which may at any time be explained to my satisfaction.
The broader our perspective and more aware we become, the more clear it is that we are not justified in the belief that we can accurately apprehend what is within our view, let alone all that is. Godel's theorems, deterministic chaos, quantum mechanics and other phenomena, as best we can now understand them, underscore this. And more is on the way. For example, the implications of Godel's theorems have recently been extended by Greg Chaitin to suggest that there are limits to what math can describe, and that we are hence limited in our effort to apprehend what is real.
And yet we must make important decisions. In the face of our ignorance, well-understood perceptive foibles and in mystery up to our eyeballs, we need to find ways to avoid mental paralysis and make the best decisions we can. Science, properly used instead of slavishly followed, unquestionably provides the most reliable means of doing this in a thoughtful fashion, while denial, cognitive bias, etc. as well as amazingly efficient heuristics are our de facto decision-makes in most cases, for good and ill.
As a group becomes more self aware, its members tend to rely more on the wisdom of diverse crowds. And yet the confirmation and other biases in the scientific community (one of our most self-aware groups) are still so strong that Max Planck famously said that science progresses one funeral at a time.
Somehow, in spite all this, technologies that make us more powerful continue to come into being. This is irrefutable evidence that we have enough knowledge of realty to manipulate a few of its bits.
Meanwhile, some of our most farsighted fellow travellers are trying to understand the connection between what we can control - our power - and the rest of what is. They tell us that as we exercise control over small things (like our desire to travel large distances and heat or cool large houses) we set in motion forces that we can only dimly perceive as a result of the frames of time and space over which they operate, a bit like the monkey who having discovered a saw and figured out how to use it, is about to cut off the tree branch on which he sits far above the jungle floor, and thrilled with his "progress".
And so our seers, knowing something more about saws, trees and gravity than the rest of us, are deeply disturbed by what they see in the tea leaves available to them. The warning they and others sound have aroused signs that parts of humanity are becoming conscious enough of our power that they choose self restraint. Whether this will be enough to defuse what might be called the KKR ("Kaufman Kauffman Rue", not "Kohlberg Kravis Roberts") Emergency is arguably our most important social imperative.
So, what are the consequences of a human act? Can we act otherwise than through mostly mental and social inertia? Are we building our future or sawing off the our tenuous ties to existence?
We will never run short of mystery. However, the extent to which we perceive and react to the wonderful mystery at the core of reality is more connected now that ever to how long and well the human aspect of life's drama will continue.
Mysteries can be created out of any nonsense. We don't need more of these chimera that are at best entertaining and at worst an increasingly dangerous distraction.
Now, more than ever, certainty is our enemy, while mystery of the most real and hence highest sort, is our inspiration and may be our Savior.
 See http://www.sofn.org.uk/Bibliography/u... and http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.the%....
 See http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/eng....
 See http://www.exploratorium.edu/complexi... and http://www.ams.org/mathmedia/archive/....
 See http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/CHAOS.html.
 See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_....
 See http://www.cs.auckland.ac.nz/~chaitin....
 See http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.deni....
 See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerd_Gig....
 See Surowiecki, James, "The Wisdom of Crowds", reviewed at http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0525/p1....
 See for example, Diamond, Jared "Collapse"; Wright, Ronald "A Short History of Progress"; Ehrlich, Paul "Human Natures".
 Gordon Kaufman (Harvard theologian), Stuart Kaufman (Santa Fe Institute and U. of Calgary complexity theorist) and Loyal Rue (Luther College religious studies professor) were the most outspoken proponents of the "we are in trouble and need to pay serious attention" point of view at the recent Institute of Religion in an Age of Science 2006 conference at Star Island, New Hampshire on "emergence" and the science of complexity.
 KKR is a well known investment fund and money manager.
| One of my joys in life is teasing, and playing with, our four year old grandson Ayden. As a result, he has learned to tease back and last night was threatening me with his Captain Jack Sparrow sword, and calling me names while I occassionally karate kicked at him, causing him to shape-shift from pirate to ninja.
Since Ayden has a relatively new pair runners, he regularly needs to demonstrate how fast he is by sprinting in his slightly lopsided way from one end of the house to the other with a hilariously determined look on his face. It is mandatory (enforced by Grandma) to ooh and aah after this performance, and then to pay similarly serious attention as Ayden explains the various features of his runners that make them so fast. These include the amazingly "sharp" grips on the bottom, racing stripes on the side (the are mini-Asics), etc.
During Ayden's runner recitation last night I told him that I was way faster than him, and it occurred to me that while we have had little races inside before, we have never taken this particular game outside. So after he got mad, I challenged him to "have a real race, outside". Though I am sure he had no idea what that meant, the idea that this was "real" (he thinks he understands what that means) and new (that is, "outside") appealed to him, and he got excited. I was still in my suit from work and having dinner (including a nice glass of Merlot), and he came to check on me at least half a dozen times during the next 15 minutes to see when I would be ready for our race. When I finally finished dinner, he followed me to my bedroom, telling me all the way how badly he was going to beat me, while I teased back in various incisive ways.
"Pooky head", I would say.
"Crack butt!", he would reply and then triple karate chop and kick the air while making "whoosh" noises since his hands and feet don't go fast enough to make them. I would reply in kind, and try to graze him with a kick and punch or two. Any more than a graze and he will run crying to Grandma. He does not bother with his Mom with this stuff because she doesn't give the kind of reaction he wants.
I proceeded to change into a pair of denim shorts and my favorite soccer jersey (Bayern Munich, Owen Hargreaves team in Germany), hoping to one-up him - overawe him with a cool logo - "You don't have a soccer jersey! Ha ha!". But before I could do that, he went straight for the jugular I didn't realize I had.
"Those are not fast shorts", he deadpanned, while looking me square in the eyes.
"But soccer players are really fast!", I said, "look at my soccer Jersey! Bayern ...".
There was no point continuing. All I got was an eye roll before he looked away.
I was being out trashed talked by a four-year-old. But then I realized that I had never heard him trash talk before. That is, he does not (as far as I know) pretend to believe realistic things for teasing purposes. He says what he really believes or drifts into a complete fantasy world involving becoming various characters, dinosaurs, etc. The idea that he might misrepresent a realistic belief for the purpose of teasing me was innovative. But after a few seconds thought about his past and present behavior, I satisfied myself that he has not reached that level of cognitive sophistication yet. I was faced with his real belief. My shorts were not fast, and he hence he had me in our race.
So we finally went outside. It was a perfect Alberta summer evening on our small acreage. About 25 degrees C. (77 F.) and just enough breeze to keep the bugs down. The Rocky Mountains were in full grey blue splendor behind the house and the faded fields that surround it. Harvest was well underway, and so each field emitted a different sweet smell, and the rich greens of the alfalfa and grain golds have been leveled to their dull roots, seasoned by green bales and yellow swaths. Myriad wildflowers hid in the tall grasses where the prairie sod has not been broken. The sky was light with the kind of fluffy cloud that would produce a spectacular sunset within a couple of hours.
We were to run out about 30 years to a big pine tree planted in the middle of a garden that makes a roundabout in our driveway, around the garden, and back. Grandma had been recruited to act as starter and umpire. Ayden tried to cheat by edging ahead before Grandma said "go". I protested so loudly that he came back to the starting line, with a sly smile on his face.
Finally we took off. It was brutally close. He pulled ahead first, but I caught him at the turn and passed him on the inside as he came back toward the house, causing his little face to convulse with fear and determination. He gradually reeled me in and I thought I had engineered a tie as we passed the finished line. The corrupt umpire, however, gave the race to Ayden. He was elated and ran shouting inside to tell the whole house about his win, and no doubt high-five his uncles, while Grandma laughed as she told me that the look on his face as he caught up to me was too much to toy with by doing anything other than declaring him the winner.
I awoke this morning with the thought that in addition to making a cute story, this incident speaks of something basically human. We habitually use the combination of our pattern finding skills and perception of things that are beyond our comprehension to support what we need to believe about ourselves. For example, it is hardwired into every child I have even known to think that he is fast. Ayden will find out soon enough that he is slow, as did his Mom when she was in elementary school (it took one race at one track meet to get this message across, and a pretended stomach cramp after the message sunk in to deal with it) and Ayden seems to have inherited her physique in this regard, as well as her artistic flair. But for the time being, he feels fast when he runs; he looks fast since he has the same kind of stuff the really fast people on TV wear; and in an instant he spotted the fact that his stuff looked faster than mine. He is not old enough to understand the physics of muscle power and limb length, or to notice that I do a lot of things that would like indicate he does not have a chance in a real race with me. Then, courtesy of the kind of show that also bring Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny into a child's life, he is encouraged to feel good about his budding physical abilities. This confirms to him that he was right - anyone wearing shorts like mine has no chance in a race with someone like him.
There are a few concepts that have been thoroughly studied by social scientists that relate to my race with Ayden. The first is "bounded rationality". That is, what is rational is determined by context. Were I raised in the Artic and have never seen a cell phone, I am not stupid or irrational because I can't figure how to turn it on. If I am a 15 year old girl raised within certain Muslim sects or the Fundamentalist Mormons, I am not irrational if my most fervent desire is to marry a 60ish man who already has a dozen or more wives.
The second is feedback. Human belief is largely determined by feedback. If we have lots of feedback that supports an idea (polygamy is good; foot binding is good; self flagellation is good, especially around Easter) and none to contradict it, regardless of how bizarre the idea may seem to those who have received a different kind of feedback respecting it, we will tend to accept it. This is an important part of the boundedly rational concept, but worthy of special attention.
And so how can we expect Ayden, having never had any feedback that indicates anything except that he runs really fast, to believe differently? He is boundedly rational.
And finally, there is social mass. During most of human history, if our group did not survive or if we got kicked out of it, we died. Hence, whatever seems to hold our group together and keeps us in it must be true. Our feelings of comfort and security within the group, and fear when we venture to its edges, confirm that there is something special about our group. Our pattern finding skills show us countless examples of why other groups do not measure up to ours. They dress differently, act differently, believe differently, etc. Since these things would cause difficultly within our group, they are clear signs that others do not enjoy the same exalted status as do we. Etc.
As long as a child's perception remains in place, Santa is real and all races with people wearing slow shorts will be won. As that perspective gradually expands, Santa morphs into Mom and Dad in an inexplicably good mood, and races of all kinds are determined by ability instead of clothing. In fact, we relish it when the "posers" are exposed.
The expansion of adult perspective is more difficult to engineer. Adults largely control their own worlds, and are past that wonderful stage of life during which the mind is slowed down and cracked wide open so that it can learn. Adults are those beings evolution designed as doers. Learning uses so much brain power that not much is left for doing. So, the tradeoff is that each generation of children would learn and so adapt to the environment as it changed without doing much more than that, while their parents and other adults produced what was necessary to allow for this species-saving luxury. This means that the parents - the doing-instead-of-learning-adults - will be so busy doing that they cannot perceive much beyond what is required to keep their group on an even keel. And so they will be boundedly rational, shaped by their lack of feedback and inability to learn, and as a result should be expected to regularly mistake reality for whatever works to keep their world moving in its orbit.
So the next time you hear an adult (or child for that matter - it is all the same) say something that sounds profoundly irrational, like "I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church on the face of the Earth, and that Joseph Smith restored the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its Fullness to the Earth, and that Gordon B. Hinckley is God's only true prophet on the face of the Earth today", you should think about bounded rationality.
But you only really need to remember one thing: "Those shorts are not fast".
| Democracy, civilization all of that stuff depends on the obedience of the people to rules. There is a unwritten deal between those who are in charge and all of the rest of us. That is, we will obey as long as their rules are reasonable. When the people who make the rules breach this agreement, we stop obeying. And when even a moderate percentage (like 20%) of the people stop obeying certain important rules, the system breaks down and hence is forced to change. As few examples from the world of income taxes one of our most common and difficult to enforce kinds of law, can perhaps help to make this point. Bear with me; this does have to do with religion in general and Mormonism in particular.
For example, a few years ago in Canada the tax on cigarettes was raised to a ridiculous level in an effort to make them so expensive that their use would decline. Result massive, importation of illegal (that is, untaxed) cigarettes into Canada from the US across several native reservations that straddle the Canada-US border, and eventually the establishment of underground cigarette manufacturing operations. This led to a roll back of the tax, which eliminated the black market profit, which radically pruned the black market.
Or, in the late 1980s in Canada the so-called “goods and services tax” was introduced. This is a 7% tax on almost all goods and services purchased in Canada. In some Canadian provinces, there was already a provincial goods or services tax in the rage of 5 to 7%. Hence, the tax on every purchase in some places was well above 10%. At the time, income tax rates in Canada at the top end were well above 50% in most places. This additional 7% tax was the straw that broke many a Canadian law abiding back. As a tax attorney, I saw more people than I can count during the late 1980s and early 1990s who asked for advice as to how to cheat the system. They were not going to pay that damn GST, and this meant opting out of the system to a large extent. I had to tell each person who asked for advice as to how to cheat that I could not help them, but if they called any number of offshore financial institutions they would find plenty of help. During the late 1990s and so-far in this century, the Cdn. trend has been toward lower taxes, and as a result I have not had someone come to me for “cheating” advice in several years.
Or, in the 1980s New Zealand’s income taxes had risen to ridiculous levels something like 80% at the top end for individual income. New Zealand’s economy was flat on its back. A new socialist government came to power, and then realized that if they wanted to run nice social programs someone, somewhere in the country had to be making money and paying taxes. One of the first things they did was to halve income tax rates. Incredibly, tax collections immediately rose. Why? Because at 80% a lot of people had decided to “cheat”. But in their minds it was not cheating, since the government had breached its unwritten agreement to be reasonable in what it required of the people. At 40 or 50%, the people were prepared to pay tax and so voluntarily re-enrolled in the tax system, and tax revenues went up as a result.
Each of these tales points to the fact that when governments become too unreasonable, it backfires on them. This applies to religious government as much, or more, than to civil government.
So, what is likely to happens when a religious government (say, the Mormon government just for discussion purposes) starts to behave in unreasonable ways? Or, what happens if the Mormon population suddenly begins to perceive the Mormon government to have been behaving in unreasonable ways for a long time? And again, purely for discussion purposes, what if that perception comes about from the sudden realization due to the Internet that Mormon leaders have been behaving from the beginning as if the Mormon rules related to being honest don’t apply the them, and hence deceiving the Mormon population?
In such a case, I would predict something similar to what happens in the tax cases I outlined above, as well as many other kinds of cases that I could outline. That is, many people will quietly begin to disobey. There will be a few who are in-your-face disobedient, but since in the beginning at least this risks becoming the focus of unwanted institutional and community attention (think of the academics and others who have been excommunicated; many divorces that have occurred; jobs that have been lost; etc.), this will be the exception instead of the rule. The rule will quiet disobedience; rationalized lying in temple recommend interviews and PPIs; faked or non-existent home teaching; regular internet lurking and posting under pseudonyms; more vacation homes in and retirement to places that don’t have LDS chapels close by; more quiet encouragement of children to become educated away from BYU and Utah, not to go on missions, to marry outside Mormonism, etc.
I believe that we are at the beginning of this trend. What do others who are looking at the tea leaves see?
| Where are the potential costs of clearly observable disobedience highest? In the Corridor, of course, where economic, family and Mormon networks overlap to a very high degree. From this simple observation we note the following:
Expect more “under the radar” disobedience in the Corridor and less overt disengagement/disobedience. This creates the irony of Corridor Mormons going to places outside the Corridor and being surprised to find more committed Mormons than in Utah. This is because those who remain Mormon outside the Corridor will tend to be pretty straight laced because the less-straight laced tend to leave. The less-straight laced in the Corridor have so much to lose that they remain nominally Mormon while not committing the energy to Mormonism that it theoretically requires, thus creating a nonchalantness an apathy around being Mormon that is off-putting for non-Corridor Mormons who experience it. The often-pejorative term “Utah Mormon” communicates this outside the Corridor. “Utah Mormons” bring a feeling of weakness or wishy-washiness to their Mormonness that “real Mormons” do not like.
Among other things, this explains the reaction of so many Corridor Mormons to people like me formerly uber-committed non-Corridor Mormons who are profoundly distressed when they find out about the rot in Mormon foundations. “Why didn’t you just quietly go inactive?”, I have been asked more times than I can count by Corridor Mormons. Where I come from, that is not an honorable option. In Utah, however, it often is because while the foundational rot is not spoken of, its presence has been felt for so long that it shapes Mormon behaviour.
This brings up something foundational about how humans communicate. A lot of our most important communication is non-verbal. This is how oligopoly pricing works, for example. Even wonder how gasoline prices are arrived at? Where there are only a few players in a market, they communicate with each other by where they set their prices. They know that lower prices mean lower profits for all of them. If one of them drops its price, they all have to match. So why would anyone step out of line? This is a problem our competition laws have not solved.
The same thing happens during war. Either side can bomb the other's supply lines at any time. Why don’t they do this? Because unless this appears likely to create such weakness that it will bring the war to an end, it will just cause misery on both sides because there will be immediate retaliation in kind. So, the bombing of a supply line says “please bomb our supply lines” and non-bombing communicates the continuation of the tacit agreement not to bomb supply lines. The use (or non-use) of other weapons during wartime is similarly communicative. Some of the clearest evidence of this phenomenon was gathered during WWI by observation of the average soldiers' (on both sides) unwillingness to shoot clearly exposed soldiers in the opposite trenches.
So, when a young Mormon in the Corridor sees all kinds of successful professionals, business people, university professors etc. attending church but not accepting demanding, high profile leadership positions, this communicates something profoundly important. In my case, growing up outside the Corridor, I saw most of the people in the classes just described in leadership positions. This communicates quite a different message about what certain kinds of people should do. Social mores are based in this kind of signaling behavior.
And what happens (as it is now where I live) when those who accept Mormon leadership positions are often chosen mostly for their willingness to follow orders? This leaves an increasing percentage of those most qualified for the leadership of human groups taking care of Mormon membership records, teaching primary (a great and important calling, by the way) or holding no calling due to “family issues”, "health concerns" (read, "Mormon callings depress me") or “other commitments”.
This kind of communication will have a profound effect on the nature of Mormon communities in various places over the course of the next generation.
We should also expect social evolution to occur more slowly within the Corridor than elsewhere. This is because a greater percentage of the population will at least pretend to follow the Mormon rule book. This will slow down the dissemination of new cultural ideas and behaviors.
Now, consider the state of Mormon affairs in the Mormon hinterlands (places like New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc.). The use of the word "hinterlands" to describe those places says something important about Mormonism in and of itself - this is an Alice in Wonderland kind of world.
In any event, in the "hinterlands" we should expect to find a larger percentage of people than in the Corridor who when troubled by the differences between Mormon theory and reality simply walk out the door and don’t come back. Their jobs don’t depend on Mormonism; their families likely include people who are already integrated with the non-Mormon community; most of the people in their neighborhoods are non-Mormon; most of their kids friends at school and on sports teams are non-Mormon; etc. The transition to a non-Mormon way of life is not easy for them, but it is far easier than for those in the Corridor.
When we visit a Mormon congregation in NYC or the other non-Corridor cultural centers, we might think we see evidence that contradicts the hypotheses above. For example, we might see a wider array of dress tolerated; less conformity in terms of lessons being taught straight from the manual and scriptures; more working mothers; etc. However, if you tracked the non-conformists for a period of time, you would find that a large percentage of them and their children have left Mormonism while those who stay toe the line pretty carefully. This amounts to saying that the “core” of the Mormon community outside the Corridor is more stable (or conservative) than the core within the Corridor. However, around the non-Corridor core (too many “cors” here) there is a group of Mormons that are waking up, holding a wider range of beliefs and engaging in a wider range of behaviors than their parents and other members of the core, and then leaving instead of hanging around in a state of suspended animation. One has to wonder howlong this can last before a near complete collapse occurs, starting at the perimeter. What is holding this house of cards together?
Non-Corridor Mormon populations are renewed in two ways. First, through baptisms. There was a time when this was a significant source of new blood. Those days are gone. In North America, it is rare for a stable family to join Mormonism. Some “golden” university students join, but they are rare. Most Mormon converts are needy - a net loss in the unspoken physics of Mormon leadership. These converts are tolerated, not sought. Look for a concerted move toward higher membership criteria in North America.
The other source of new non-Corridor Mormons are Corridor Mormons who move to “the mission field” as my parents did in the late 1960s (from Utah to Victoria, BC, Canada).
Corridor Mormons are often converted into serious, uber-conservative non-Corridor Mormons as a result of this move. They are almost immediately put into leadership positions, which brings the “saying is believing” bias to bear on them (see http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.deni... at page 86). They then try raise an uber-Mormon family outside the Corridor, and have to deal with the pressures of having kids many of whose friends are not Mormon, have access to the Internet etc. The gap between uber-parents and quasi-secular kids widens. Many relationships have been and will be shattered in these rocks - more "justifiable" Mormon collateral damage, just like gay kids who commit suicide. These sacrifices must be made to keep the Mothership and her revenue streams safe for as long as possible.
The observations above relate to trends. It would be easy to find exceptions. And, many of the statements above could be rephrased as scientific hypotheses in the sense that they could be tested if we had access to the relevant data. Since the data can only be gathered by extensive interviewing of active Mormons (or access to Mormon records), this would be tough to do.
Again, what does your look at the tea leaves indicate?
| We started to talk the other night about the connection between the Axial Age (900 BCE to 200 BCE) and the compassion that came into being then [Note: This is when the “eye for an eye” rule in the Hebrew world gave way to the golden rule. While Christ is commonly credited with this social innovation, most scholars now believe that it pre-dated him by at least a couple of centuries.] and what is happening now in terms of human expanding the circle of compassion again to include more life forms and the planet itself. You mentioned group evolutionary theory, which I think has some traction but is likely not the important factor in this case. I think both the Axial Age and what is happening now are better understood using complexity theory.
Karen Armstrong's "The Great Transformation" offer’s one of the best treatments of the Axial Age I have seen from an historical point of view. Philip Ball in "Critical Mass" has a nice chapter in which he uses game theory to explain the Axial Age shift toward compassion without mentioning the Axial Age. Ball summarizes the game theory research that uses the prisoners dilemma to show that the best way to break out of a pattern of constant cheating (the law of the jungle) is "tit for tat", straight up. That is, "a eye for an eye". However, more wealth (opportunity) is created for all players if they moderate tit for tit into something that might be called "compassionate tit for tat". We start out assuming our partners will be trustworthy and not screw us, and even if he screws us once or perhaps twice, we will forgive him and give him the chance to become trustworthy and maximize the size of the pie for everyone. But if he screws us enough times, we label him a cheater and expend more of our resources than is justifiable from our individual point of view alone to warn the group that we have a cheater in our midst. This trusting pattern allows the group to be the most productive, it is hence the most efficient and hence is one of the minima - the attractor basins - in energy landscapes that will attract behavior in various ways (Note: see the graphics linked to <http://www.learning-org.com/01.09/005...>). That is, human individual and social behavior is drawn to what is most efficient - what “works” - to produce the things the individual or group needs to achieve what they want, and particularly, to survive and propagate.
We don't need to rely on group evolutionary theory to support this idea, though the same kind of thing would be at play in the altruistic behaviour of flocking birds (warning against predators, etc.) and other small group animals. In the human case, the observation that another group is using a social or other technology that gives them an advantage is enough to cause new behaviours to be incorporated into some other groups. We would not need to wait for biological evolution. And the groups who adopted the more efficient practises would tend to amass more resources than the others and hence take over. The compassionate tit for tat social environment would tend, for example, to facilitate technological innovation. And so when war breaks out, the "compassionate tit for tat" people had more technology and resources of other kinds, and tended to win. And of course, compassionate tit for tat only applied within the social group. A completely different set of rules existed for group outsiders. This is exemplified by the way in which Christ talked about families breaking up, the eye being plucked from the body, etc. as a result of differences in religious belief. Compassionate tit for tat was mostly limited to in-group interaactions. Differences in religious belief drew important lines between groups.
I don't like to use meme theory to explain the move from tit for tat to compassionate tit for tat. Meme theory is only useful in a loose metaphoric sense. In this I differ from Dennett, though I agree with him regarding most other things. I think other paradigms are more useful for understanding how and why culture forms and evolves. And eventually, an information theory like what Terry Deacon (Note: see <http://ls.berkeley.edu/dept/anth/deac...> and <http://www.amazon.com/Symbolic-Specie...>) is working on (as previously discussed), coupled with far better measurement capacity than we have now, will be required for the foundation of a rigorous, falsifiable theory of social evolution.
So, when I add up Armstrong's history and Ball's game theory regarding the Axial Age, I see human social groups in four different parts of the world (Europe, the Near East, China and India) all reaching an age, size and complexity at which the conditions were right for compassionate tit for tat to emerge. Since this state represents an efficient state or energy minimum for groups of the kind we are talking about in their time and place, it was just a matter of time before this happened. It may have emerged separately in all four places, or seeding events could have resulted from the relatively little social interaction between these regions. It would not take much give the conditions just noted.
This is the old biological story of organisms growing together, giving up adjacent possibles, becoming interdependent, and eventually becoming a single organism.
Now we come to what we see emerging currently. The planet is on the verge of being overrun by humans. In complexity theory terms (Note: See for background and definition of terms) This amounts to more energy in the pot. So much energy that the pattern that sustains life is starting to break down. In order to maintain a the pattern required for human life as we know it, more ordering principles are required to channel, diffuse, or reduce the energy we produce. The rule of compassion amounted to this kind of social ordering principle in the Axial Age. The energy that would have been released against a fellow human being as the result of a slight was muted by compassion. And when fellow humans were suffering (needing an energy infusion) in cases where the old rules would not have elicited any help, the new rules required that help be given (energy released). So the compassionate rule reduced energy during times when the social pattern was at risk of being destroyed because more people were living in close quarters with more resources than ever. It also caused more energy to be released in cases where it was helpful to the social order to do so. What a brilliant adaptive response.
I see the same thing happening now. Our numbers and the resources under our control (machines, fossil fuel, etc.) have us bouncing off each other and other life forms and releasing more energy than ever, by far. Hence the problem Gore points out re. global warming. Social conflict of various kinds is similarly explained. Likewise for some new diseases that result from our exercise of power over the microbial environment.
The necessity this situation creates is that we constrain or re-channel some of the energy we now produce. Feeling compassion toward other life forms (including humans on the other side of the globe and yet to be born) is a means to this end. And that is what we are seeing start to spring up all around us. Europe is far ahead of us in this regard. Parts of the East never joined the western trend toward technology and consumption and we are now ironically learning to live from those who never followed our path, while they are adopting our technology and in many cases trying to live in the way we are realizing will bring impoverishment (if not death) to many of us.
So, new mores related to our interconnectedness to all life will come into being for the same reasons as compassionate tit for tat (including the golden rule) did in the Axial Age. This process can be aided by international conventions related to the great commons of the planet (sea, air, rainforests, etc.) since the golden rule does not work well unless there is a fairly close connection between humans. I doubt that most humans are capable of conceptualizing the relationships over time and space required to make the kind of short term consumption decisions required to avert disaster. But we humans are well suited to following rules established by credible authority figures and connected to a compelling story - a mythology.
| I have observed a pattern in the changes that occur as thoughtful Mormons (I hesitantly count myself in that group) move toward the fringes of Mormonism, develop intellectual legs and often “leave the fold”.
Most Mormons are dogmatic. That is, the evidence is ignored or interpreted in odd ways to make it support (or at least not seriously question) Mormon belief. Mormon apologists twist the evidence or redefine belief to provide the raw material for this process.
However, as a thoughtful Mormon begins to read science (like Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” or Ursula Goodenough's "The Sacred Depths of Nature" (about biological evolution)) and Mormon history (like Michael Quinn’s “The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power”, or John Brooke’s “The Refiner’s Fire” or Todd Compton’s “In Sacred Loneliness”), the evidence against dogmatic Mormon belief mounts to the point at which many beliefs cannot be maintained. So metaphor begins to replace literal belief. But most Mormons can’t go all the way with this, which forces them into a kind of dogma protecting relativism. That is, they find a worldview that justifies the insistence that no one may legitimately question their most important beliefs. This is the only shield left to the former thoughtful Mormon dogmatists once they are familiar with the scientific and historic record.
The philosopher Heidegger and his version of phenomenology are often inarticulate participants in this relativizing process. He is, for example, the uncredited source of much of the “what you feel justifies your belief” worldview that is becoming increasingly important in Mormon circles.
Relativism is a step in the right direction in one sense because it means that Mormons are not justified in pressing their dogmatic point of view as they still do. That is, relativism is a far better shield than sword. Were Mormons consistent in this approach, the most they would do in terms of missionary work is invite others to try Mormonism to see if it makes them feel as do the Mormons who love their way of belief and the life it creates. And when others don’t feel the same way, this would mean nothing more than they don’t feel the same way. It would not mean that they are disqualified for the Celestial Kingdom, or anything else of a negative sort.
Of course, Mormonism has a long way to go before its relativism will be consistently applied, if that ever occurs. Mormonism’s dogmatism, like dark roots under blond hair, will probably always show through. For example, “You can’t question our beliefs because they are based on our feelings, but if you don’t feel the same way we do you won’t go to a real Heaven after death, and our real Heavenly Father who loves you deeply because you are His literal spirit children, will weep through eternity as a result of your loss.” WTF!? Where are my anti-deprssants?
This kind of dogma protecting relativism is very common in North American liberal religious circles. It is at the root of something scholars call the “evaporation of creed”. That is, many religious people are turning their attention toward what they do, and discounting the importance of particular beliefs. This has recently made it appearance in fringe Mormon circles through an article on "praxis" in Sunstone.
Nothing new in this either. Many Jews have perceived their religion this way for centuries. Likewise the Mennonites, but for a shorter period of time. Much of liberal Protestantism is going this way. And the evaporation of creed coupled with an emphasis of golden rule based praxis may be our best hope for getting rid of a lot of the religious tension in the world. Imagine the Muslim world with an “evaporated” creed and golden rule orientation toward non-Muslims as well as Muslims. That would be real progress.
Many Muslims, I note, seem at the moment to be irony impaired. "We are a peaceful people as Mohammed taught!" they scream while rioting and threatening death to all who dare contradict them by quoting from the Koran or pointing out that they are rioting, etc. An evaporation of creed there would do us all good.
And I note (consisent with my current fixation) that the evolutionary turn I have just noted in religious circules is consistent with what complexity theory predicts for social evolution.
Relativism is, however, an inadequate worldview. It is sometimes a useful crutch for transitional purposes or to paper over ideological differences until the go away. And it is sometimes a way to highlight dogmatism. But it does not permit the clean analysis of worldviews, and largely for that reason has mostly fallen out of philosophical favor except in populations (like the Mormon) in which it plays the kind of pivotal role described above.
The philosophies that tend to dominate intellectual public discourse (again, unconsciously for most of us) are pragmatism, realism and naturalism. Google these if you want the details. While these terms are used in a variety of ways (I have Richard Rorty's goofy neo-pragmatism particularly in mind here - see http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/... and http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/1...
), their mainstream heads toward a common sense view of reality as science discloses that to us. It presumes that there is an objective reality that we can come to know a lot about it through science without ever being 100% certain that we have that right. And importantly, it indicates that we should not believe in alleged “realities” (like the Celestial Kingdom or the even more baroque version of the same thing in which many Muslims believe) that are beyond science’s ability to assess. It also illustrates for us why people tend to believe in all kinds of absurdities that are beyond falsification (that is a reliable form of social glue), while not being able to see the absurdity of their own beliefs as the often openly ridicule those of other groups (to see would wreck the social glue). The maintenance of social groups is an imperative that has been hardwired into us by biological evolution (see http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.deni... atpage 120).
I find in my own experience as well as in discussion with various Mormons in varying degrees of “out-the-doorness”, that elements of dogmatism and relativism cling as we evolve toward some kind of realism or naturalism.
Those who have not gone to far down this path tend to be terrified that the “atheist” or “nihilist” view of life will be too dark for them. They are generally surprised at how full of life, love and energy this world view is. Nature is truly enough. She has depths that are far more sacred than can be imagined while the dogmatic or relativist blinders are still on. See http://www.naturalism.org/ for ideas in this regard.
| I had a flight home Monday afternoon, having planned to visit some people at BYU before heading home. That did not work out, which was good in some ways since I had no idea how tired I was after our wonderful series of late nights and early mornings until Monday arrived. So I had breakfast with a couple of old friends, and then went for a long walk around SLC before heading to the airport.
As an aside, I stopped at a book store and bought Jeff Anderson’s wonderful new book “Second Genesis”, a science thriller with spiritual undertones that Jeff is uniquely suited to write. Half way through, I am glad I bought it. Jeff and his wife Kari are insightful SLC post-Mormons with whom I have had the pleasure of spending some time.
This long, slow walk in a soothing, nourishing rain gave me a chance to allow my thoughts about the exmormon conference to coalesce. This is the first chance I have had to record them. And it will have to be quick since a number of small fires are burning in my office as I type this.
From my point of view, the biggest kick by far in this experience (my first) was the chance to be able to interact “in the flesh” with people I felt I already knew a lot about. The face to face communication, with all of its non-verbal elements dwarfs what can happen on-line or even over the phone. While I don’t like the word “spiritual” in most contexts because it carries so much baggage, it can be appropriately used to describe this experience. There is so much about a person (subconscious smells, micro facial expressions, body language, etc.) that is conveyed subliminaly. This means that when you are in close proximity and are focused on each other, experience occurs at a level not duplicable by remote. And to have all of this information layered (in some cases) onto the long histories of correspondence over several years was an amazing experience.
In one particularly bizarre and touching case, I spent time twice this weekend with a post-Mormon friend whose wife is TBM. She and I dated right after my mission and have not seen each other since. However, she knows all about my apostacy by way of her family, and held some predictably skewed opinions about who I had become.
During our first, chance, meeting this weekend, we each remembered one date, but it was a different date. She went home, looked up her journal, typed out the relevant pages for me, and called to suggest we (with her husband) meet again.
There were two dates. She was 19; I was 21. We were both thinking about marriage. Her record of my description of my earlier “troubles” and how I had repented of them and was committed to living so as to please my Heavenly Father is as good a record of my self loathing at that point in life as I could possibly have. Her husband (a close internet friend and one who I was pleased to finally meet in person for the first time) was concerned that the first meeting would go badly. I think it went well for all concerned, and am very happy to have had that chance to reconnect with someone for whom I used to have strong feelings, and who has been quite upset by my change in belief and the erosion in character that this is presumed by many faithful Mormons to cause.
I was most touched by the four person panel on Sunday morning. The trip would have been justified for me by that experience alone. That is not to say that it was in some way objectively better than the rest, but rather that it was particularly touching for me given the psychological space I now occupy. Each was wonderful in its own way.
Jarom’s statement that his faithful LDS wife “passionately does not give a shit” about the LDS post-LDS conflict will resonate forever with me. I had the chance to chat with them for a few moments afterwards and could feel wonderful things from both of them.
Tracy’s willingness to share her point of view while still in such a raw state was remarkable. The couple seated next to me said she should write a book. I agree. She poignantly described the feelings of loss and hopeless that we experience upon giving up the “social capital” earned by a lifetime of Mormon activity, and facing the fact that this capital is largely unrecognized and without value as far as most of civilized humanity is concerned.
Tracy's description of her relationship to her mother was particularly touching the conditional love she experienced as a child, how once her mother’s Mormon beliefs cracked she for the first time in her life had a mother, a person who simply loved her, was there for her, wished to help her become who she is uniquely suited to be, etc.
Dennis’ wry insight into the social and mental processes that anchor Mormonism was fabulous. He described the self loathing I felt, and people like Martin Seligman (“Authentic Happiness”) have described as one of the Judeo-Christian tradition’s primary failings. I loved his description of the pretzeled logic that results when you start every thought with “Since the Church is true
” His story of meeting with Dallin Oaks is a classic. When Oaks said “Don’t leave Mormonism until you find something better?” Dennis replied “Nothing IS better.” When Oaks completed his summary of the evidence regarding certain of Mormonism’s truth claims by saying that against all of evidence, he chooses to believe to have faith, Dennis replied that the last time he looked, faith was supposed to be used to leap from what we have good reason to belief to be true into what we cannot know. It is not used to suppress the near certain truth.
And Dennis’ description of how he all the information he needed to put the puzzle together for years, and how it took a disaster in his family (his wife’s mental illness) coupled with finding the Book of Abraham literature to make it all coalesce. As another conference attendee told me, “I kept putting my questions up on the shelf, and one day the shelf broke off”. This is all consistent with what I have observed the chaos (or a de-ordering of life) of some kind is a fundamental requirement to the kind of growth that many of us experienced as we left Mormonism. When Dennis finally talked about this to his convert mother, she admitted to him that going through the temple was the worst day of her life, and that she had lots of concerns with Mormonism. None of these had been expressed to Dennis, in obedience to the Mormon tenet that the Brethren not be questioned (no “evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed”). Dennis’ reply was “thanks Mom”, and his warning to the audience was that those who are taking their timeabout this should think about their kids. The Mormon machine is set up to condition young people, and it does a highly efficient job of this.
Another conference attendee told me that he was leaving his kids to make up their own minds, and told me about a friend of his who had let his daughter “have it with both barrels” right before she married in the temple, and how this did not good. My comment was that by then it is too late. The conditioning process is gradual, and largely driven by social associations and related condition during the teen years. We either have our influence at that stage by changing the environment the kids are in, or not. Words are inadequate. These are human psyches a species of plant that are growing and will to a large extent faithfully reflect their environmental conditions. To allow that to happen within Mormonism and then to lash out with words is like shotting popguns from intellectual rowboats in the general direction of fully armed emotional battleships.
And Sandy’s description of her journey hit me like a truck. I am particularly grateful that she has the courage to express herself in public. During her first few nervous words, I was willing her to continue.
The idea of a blessing that promised that she would recover from a speech impediment if “faithful” and die if not faithful, is too painful even for me to think much about. The image of that fateful day when the ward superwoman admitted that she was on anti-depressants, thus giving permission for half the women in the ward to “come out of the closet”, will stick with me. I love the idea of her daughter who at age 10 was saying “I know the Church is true
” thus waking Sandy up, and then watching her daughter blossum into a 20 year old jazz musician. And most of all, I was stunned by the idea that a woman who is being abused would be told that all she needed to do was be a better mother satisfy her husband more thoroughly; cook better meals; keep the house better; etc. and the abuse would stop. This was painful beyond words.
I am so proud to count myself as fellow travelers with people like Jarom, Tracy Dennis and Sandy.
Let me also record what I think is the best story I heard while at the conference. A post-Mormon friend who I spent a bunch of time with this weekend told me that he was a classic hardcore Mormon boy. He returned from his mission 100% committed to Mormonism, and shortly thereafter went on a date with a girl from his high school in whom he had been interested before his mission. They went to a rock concert, during which she pulled out a bag of “weed” and tried to get him to partake. This scared him half to death, and that was the end of that relationship. He eventually married a 110% committed Mormon woman, they had several children, made each other miserable and after some years, divorced. He later ran into his weed smoking former girl friend. She had also married, divorced and still had her free spirited ways. They romanced, married and have made each other happy while growing and struggling as all couples do. He is now a pretty laid back guy on the fringes of Mormonism, balancing business issues related tomany Mormons with whom he deals, his still-Mormon children from his first marriage, his very non-Mormon children from his second marriage (some of whom are doing things that make him cringe a bit), his still evolving non-Mormon beliefs.
And here is the best part. While going through some therapy to try to understand himself, my friend's psychologist told him that his second wife has “unlocked him”. Her orientation toward freedom of expression and her intuitive grasp of life’s beauty and wonder (she cares nothing for the post-Mormon or Mormon dialogue she passionately “does not give a shit” about this stuff) has helped him to unlock one part of his psyche after another the very elements of his personality that were buttoned down by his Mormon childhood, teenage and young adult conditioning. She was and is his key to freedom. I had the pleasure of meeting briefly, and embracing, this wonderful woman.
I was thrilled to see the young people at the conference. Rogue Guitarist and his friends where the ones I had the chance to chat most with. Evan Mark was another. They have their own way of communicating with each other and their peers. That is where the game is really being played, btw. We old farts are just lucky to have gotten out. The scholarly literature is clear on this point. The young people and particularly the teenagers are the ones who have a chance to really change things. I hope RG and his buddies will apply themselves to this task. Youtube in particular seems to me to be a powerful medium. I will post something else along these lines.
My primary regret regarding the conference is that I did not get to spend more time in intimate conversation with more people. I so much enjoyed the chances I had to do this. But there are only so many minutes, and energy is limited. And in particular, I was looking forward to meeting a number of people who I now see by reading the board were there, but I did not get to meet. Thank you to those who sought me out and took the time to introduce themselves and allow me to feel your goodness.
What a wonderful weekend that was. Thanks to all who put it together. And particularly, thanks to our pioneers. The Tanners; Juanita Brooks; Fawn Brodie, Richard Packham, Eric K.; etc. We owe them a great debt.
This place (and the conference) is part of a therapy cooperative. We end up walking on each other’s sacred ground mid-wifing the emergence of our own and others souls. What a privilege this is. And this is why being at the exmojo 2006 was such a treat for me.
| Many self described "Christians" who happen in here seem to have the impression that we must choose between some brand of Christianity (usually dogmatic Christianity the liberals don’t seem as interested in this kind of discussion) and atheism (defined as disbelief in their particular brand of Christian god). This is a false dichotomy.
I spend a lot of time with liberal theologians like Phil Hefner, Karl Peters and Gordon Kaufman. These men have religious beliefs that are consistent with science in that the probability they assigned to their beliefs tends to be consistent with the evidence available to support them; and their conception of god is similar. Kaufman (a Harvard theologian) defines god as the creative force in the universe, whatever that turns out to be.
I have no problem attending Catholic mass, Anglican communion, Jewish shabat, and other religious services as I experience community and seek to understand the human experience (including my own stumbling steps). I have an allergy to Mormon ritual as a result of my Mormon conditioning. Perhaps that will subside, perhaps not. I am not worried about it one way or the other.
Religious ritual has been developed over centuries for a purpose, and as a result of this trial and error history is a highly effective community building and self exploration tool if properly used. And community is important to most humans.
However, dogma is an intellectual weed that should be pulled out of every crack in the sidewalk where it springs up. Science has a highly developed mechanism to suppress the dogma that tends to appear among its ranks as well as everywhere else. Most religious groups, on the other hand, encourage any dogma that supports them.
There is no justification for refusal to constrain religious beliefs by science. Many liberal religious people’s beliefs are so constrained. Religions that refuse to accede to this rule are generally more interested in preserving their power base than in helping their people. Mormonism is in this group. So are most fundamentalist Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups.
My personal experience and what I observed in many other people indicate that in many cases religious belief is the product of how we were raised and the people with whom we spend our time. Larry Iannaccone, for example, recently showed how people who move from an area where religious belief is common to an area in which it is not common tend to become irreligious. Their beliefs change to match those of their closest associates. The same happens in reverse. That is, people who move from an area where religious belief is uncommon to an area where it is common tend to become religious believers. It is reasonable to conclude based on this research that our “mimetic” (copycat) tendencies are stronger than we like to believe. This, in my opinion, explains much of religious and other socially originated behavior.
Another social innovation worth paying attention to in this regard is illustrated by David Oler’s Jewish synagogues around Chicago. Oler is a clinical psychologist who spends roughly 50% of his time acting as Rabbi of a Jewish synagogue and supervising the affairs of approximately 40 others. Each of this group of 40 synagogues is explicitly secular humanist (atheist) in belief. Oler and the other members of this group believe that their tradition, the rituals that go with it, and the particular kind of community that forms around those are important. Hence, they invest significant amounts of time, money and energy in maintaining their community, while being as dogma free as any religious organization I have ever encountered.
Oler and his group illustrate something religious scholars refer to as the “evaporation of creed”. That is, in religious circles these days the tendency is increasingly toward the emphasis is increasingly on behavior as opposed to believe. Interestingly, this has been the case in secular humanist circles for a long time. This is the approach that offers the most hope in terms of dealing with the Muslim world.
This trend has shown up to some extent and Mormonism. For example, about one year ago I saw an article in Sunstone magazine that referred to the importance of “praxis”. That is, what we do is more important that what we believe. The Jewish community was used as an example in this regard.
It is interesting to note that ant colonies have life cycles of approximately fifteen years. During the course of that life cycle, it has been shown that ant hives and other similar insect organizations seem to have the ability to process information and learn. As the ant hive matures, its overall behavior becomes less aggressive and erratic. For example, foraging members of an adolescent hive (a hive that is less than fully mature) tend to fight when they come into contact with each other. Members of mature hives, on the other hand, tend to tip their hats and go on their way when they encounter each other.
Human religious groups are similar. As time passes they learn from their experience, and determine over centuries (ants do this in about ten years, I might add) that it is unwise to invest much energy in fighting over little scraps of grass or intellectual material. Hence, the older religions such as Judaism and Catholicism tend to be much less aggressive than the younger religions. Likewise, religions that have been in isolation and hence have not had the opportunity to learn from experience bumping into other groups tend to remain more aggressive. This explains the difference between Muslim behavior in North America and the Middle East.
When people ask if I am Christian I tell them that I am in the sense the Bishop John Spong is. If they don’t know who he is, I tell them that I am a very liberal Christian. That I was raised Christian and that I will always likely have a preference for some Christian metaphors as I make my way through life, but that I do not hesitate to reject any and all Christian ideas that seem off to me. That fact that it was written down a long time ago is not good enough reason for me to believe anything. The fact that my ancestors believed it is an even worse reason for belief. And that fact that a lot of people who happen to live around me believe it is the most unreliable reason for belief of all.
| One of the themes that came up a number of times at the exmo conference last weekend was the role of personal boundaries in mental health, and how Mormonism interferes with the establishment of these. I have written a number of pieces that touch on this subject and since the last time I addressed it have read several things that have changed my thinking a bit.
While I can’t attempt to be thorough on this topic in the few minutes I have this morning for this, I want to raise the subject for discussion and ask those who are inclined to share their thoughts about one aspect in particular how dysfunctional personal boundaries affect marriage, and how those of us who are still struggling to re-tool in this and other regards can address this issue.
Mormonism and other heavily group oriented organizations emphasize the importance of the individual acceding to group standards, usually as dictated by tradition and those who lead the group. Personal boundaries are hence broken down to prevent resistance to this by, for example:
I could keep going indefinitely.
- Personal interviews related to “worthiness” by parents and religious leaders (kids are taught that they have no secrets god knows all and parents and other leaders must be told about any significant breaches of community standards);
- Rituals that encourage self doubt, guilt, dependence (think of what is supposed to be done during the sacrament each week; need to read scriptures and pray daily multiple times to gain god’s strength, or expect to fail);
- Acknowledgement of authority (kids worthiness interviews and temple trips; temple recommend interviews for adults; “bow your head and say ‘yes’” how many times each temple ceremony; putting garments back on after making love and before falling asleep; etc.);
- Giving up what is precious to you on a regular and continuous basis (meeting attendance up the ying yang, for example); etc.
In Western society at least, the lack of adequate personal boundaries is more trouble than help. For the moment, all I wonder about in this regard is how Mormonism affects marriage in this regard.
Without well established personal boundaries, we are likely to think that our family members (as well as others) have a far greater role to play in our lives than they should, and we are likely to think we that we belong in other’s personal space more than we should. While I realize that co-dependency is probably an overused term (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codepend...), I think it might fit here. Mormonism makes us dependant on it in dysfunctional ways, and this slops over into how we behave relative to other significant parts of our personal landscape. We hence tend to become over-dependant on our spouses, and they on us.
This might, for example, cause a father to tend to be less involved in the care giving at home and hence miss establishing a healthy connection with his kids, and a mother to be far too little involved in the family’s financial affairs and in disciplining her children; etc. Dad’s role is x; Mom’s is y. Dad and Mom are “one”, and each has to “do their duty” properly in order for the family to make it to the celestial kingdom. The person and the mask (see http://www.postmormon.org/exp_e/index...) tend to merge.
Because of the Mormon focus on doing our duty, we lose touch with the feeling of being connected to our emotional environment which in the family setting means each other (as spouses), the kids and all that goes into being a successful parent, lover, producer, community member, etc. This is in part because war is at the center of the Mormon meta-narrative. We are fighting the cascading evil that threatens to engulf us. Our kids are rebelling against us and the behavioral standards we seek to impose on them, which proves that we are at war and need to redouble our efforts. We do not have the leisure required to feel what is going on around us. We have a supremely important job to do, so get on with it.
Without realizing it, this mentality causes us to get lean and mean. We give up the non-essential aspects of life, this giving up time spent doing and feeling a broad range of things, thus give up the stuff from which our life experience and in fact our selves must be woven one thread at a time or not at all. We become more human “doings” that “beings”. We move from being artisans with a wide array of skills and experience to being factory workers, and experience a similar deadening; a creeping death if it goes on too far or long. We define ourselves by out ability to accomplish the supremely important Mormon task reach the Celestial Kingdom with our families, which practically speaking means at a minimum to be personally obedient to the Mormon behavioral systems, and cause our children to be similarly obedient. Any feelings, inclinations, doubts, etc. that get in the way of this must be shut down.
There is no question that we each to an extent change our behaviour to suit different contexts (see Richard Nisbett, “The Geography of Thought”). Easterners tend to be more inclined this way than westerners. Mormons are likely more Eastern than Western in this behavior because of Mormonism’s tendency toward emphasizing the collective in some ways over the individualistic. But Westerners exhibit the same kind of chameleon behavior as Easterners, just not as strongly.
Another way to think about this is in complex systems terms. Complexity theory tells us that we should expect to give up some of what we are capable of doing in order to fit into a complex adaptive system (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_...). In economics this can be seen in the specialization by function that causes us to become reliant on each other. I can’t farm, but I can help the farmers (or others) with their tax planning. They need me (sort of); I certainty need them. We are dependant on each other in a way we regard (mostly) as healthy. And as Jared Diamond chronicles in “Collapse”, these dependencies can result in big problems as economies or ecosystems start to unravel.
Marriage and other intimate relationships are similar. Marriage causes us to emphasize some behaviors and de-emphasize others, partly in response to what our partner does, her nature, etc. Some of this is inevitable. The question, how much of this behavior is functional in different contexts?
The question I want to put forward for discussion is whether the kind of weak personal boundary person created by Mormonism is likely to intertwine a person to “become one” with his or her spouse in an unhealthy manner, and if so, what kinds of therapy would likely be helpful in this regard.
For example, I have noticed in my marriage and others that when one spouse is away from home for a period of time, the behavior of the entire family changes and the behavior of the spouse at home alone changes in particular. Passive spouses become more assertive; distant or cold spouses become more demonstrative; etc. Likewise, I have noticed in some divorces have both spouses have suddenly come to life, like anchors have been cut off both their ankles. I wonder how much of this results from a lengthy, or permanent, change in the relationship environment forcing a dysfunctional co-dependency to change.
Does the lack of adequate personal boundaries combined with the crazy behavioral objectives Mormonism imposes on us causes a hyper “specialization by function” within the marriage relationship that causes each spouse to feel less dimensional less human than is ideal? Might this explain why when one spouse is absent and the other spouse is required to play an expanded role, he or she experiences this as a coming back into life or at least life more fully experienced?
I believe that the hyper clear Mormon objective of making it to the Celestial Kingdom causes the kind of radical specialization by function that we seen in highly competitive markets or harsh social systems (like the military of primitive tribes struggling for survival in a harsh environment like the Australian outback). That is, achieving the all important entry into the CK is a tough trick to pull in our pluralistic society. It hence requires a lot of cooperation and effort. Mormons in good faith attempt to do what is required, and this ironically and tragically often creates problem instead of solving them because it disconnects the couple from each other and puts them under immense pressure because they end up behaving in ways are far our of line with the norms within our society:
I just described a horrifically dysfunctional marital situation, and one I bet that many people who read here will recognize.
- Mom is at home full time focused on conditioning the kids, maybe home schooling them. This tends to make Mom depressed because homemaking has morphed into a the kind of job that does not provide the kind of time absorbing challenge we need to feel engaged and growing (see Seligman, “Authentic Happiness” and Haidt, “The Happiness Hypothesis”).
- Mom has lots of kids, because that is what god wants. In fact, if the kids are going off the rails it may be god’s punishment for not having enough kids, so have a few more. But having a lot of kids increases the financial pressure on Mom and Dad, which is known to cause relationship pressure.
- Mom does not develop talents that are respected “in the world”. This serves as an anchor to hold Mom in the Mormon world since she knows from hard experience that the honor badges she has earned as a Mormon mother qualify her for sympathy and little more in she is moving in many parts of non-Mormon society.
- Dad has to bring home the money to keep the family ship afloat and moving forward, which means that he tends to be away from home a lot and hence is emotionally disconnected from what is going on with his family.
- Dad is the decision-maker because that is the priesthood model, and after Mom has been overruled enough times she doubts her own judgement and degrades as a decision-maker in her own right, tending to get pushed around by the kids until the decision maker gets home. This further depresses Mom and infuriates Dad.
- If Mom and Dad appear to be successful while walking this tightrope, they are given Mormon leadership callings which increase the emotional stakes while making both their jobs more difficult. They are now apart even more. They must appear functional, and believe that they are functional, because they are gods anointed. The women suffer more than the men in this regard in part because the men get more ego gratification from their jobs and church callings then do the women. And it is not surprising that women medicate themselves with anti-depressants far more than do the men.
Then, let’s assume that this couple leaves Mormonism with all of their bad habits, want to remain married, and want to change their relationship. They have little in common except their kids. They have spent a life time living in different worlds and learning to do their duty and shut down feelings that might get in the way of that. Now there is no more Mormon duty, but there are not many feelings either likely in large measure because they have both become adept at shutting a lot of things down. They try to just “get over it”, but they can’t seem to act outside their old roles relative to each other.
Am I exaggerating? If so, give me another way to frame the experience I have described. If not, what are some alternative hypotheses and their therapeutic upshot?
I have also noticed in many Mormon and post-Mormon relationships an orientation toward hierarchy that I suspect is a carry over from Mormonism and also a function of inadequate personal boundaries. This is perhaps rooted in the idea that there is “one right way” to do things, and that someone in authority is the best person to determine what that is.
Sometimes this is true there is a best way and one person should bed in charge. But usually there are multiple ways to accomplish the same thing and we are not smart enough on our own to figure out which is ideal in the case that confronts us. Teams with different points of view and a mechanism for selecting the best point of view in different contexts have been shown time and again to be our most effective decision-making tools (see James Surowiecki, “The Wisdom of Crowds”), and a marriage that includes different points of view, access to lots of outside information and a good measure of mutual respect has the potential to be a great decision making organ.
I don’t see a lot of marriages like that within Mormonism. I see a lot of marriages in which the husband thinks that he is in an “equal” partnership with his wife, but since someone needs to be in charge and god has said the man is in charge, whenever there is a difference in opinion the male opinion trumps the female. But they are still “equal” because she gets to have babies in exchange for him being in charge, and in some magical sense they will be equal after death since she will also hold the priesthood then, but he will somehow still be in charge while they are equal
. My head is starting to hurt.
It is not surprising that after this kind of a mind-screw for half a lifetime that post-Mormon men and women struggle while trying to balance their relationships. Men say they want to give up power, and then find themselves acting like babies when the women have the nerve to disagree with them. And many of the women don’t want to exercise more power badly enough to carve (initially at least) painful new behavioral grooves and put up with male whining and angry acting up that will likely occur during the process of change.
This is a therapy cooperative. What do you think about the issues I have described above?
| Jared Diamond described in his book “Collapse” how some decades ago the U.S. Forest Service established the seemingly sensible goal of putting out all forest fires the morning after they were reported. And they were successful. As a result, undergrowth did not burn every decade or so, and eventually grew so high and dense that small fires started to leap into the canopy before they could be put out, creating the infernos hundreds of feet high we have been experiencing for the last while. These decimate the forest, destroy the seed bank from which the forest had traditionally regenerated, destroy wildlife habitat in unprecented ways and otherwise wreak havoc.
The relatively small forest fires that seemed so destructive to us were, it turns out, a pruning mechanism used by nature to maintain a delicate ecosystem. Small fires are a form of renewing chaos. They destroy, surely, and by so doing create the conditions required for continued growth. On a long term cost-benefit basis, they come out way over on the benefit side of the equation.
The principle illustrated by forest fires can be seen operating in many other contexts. Traffic flows, for example, can be regulated to such agree that very few small traffic jams occur. However, when a traffic jam finally slips through the system it is likely to be catastrophic. The same thing applies in economics. Small recessions and the occasional and seemingly destructive market downturn prune the economy and make catastrophic collapse less likely. Regulation that attempts to control these makes severe depressions or other forms of highly destructive collapse more likely.
The same thing applies to the use of antibiotics and our exposure to pathogens. If we control the diseases that put our bodies under stress too well, we weaken ourselves, making death and serious illness more likely. The recent rise in allergies and immune system disorders in children has been linked to this, for example.
And in politics, pick your poison the regular, relatively mild chaos surrounding democratic processes or the stability of a communist command economy (or dictatatorship) for many years followed by wrenching revolution.
The principles just described apply in general to self organized systems. These systems are the type that co-evolve in order to remain in contact with their sustaining environment. Life itself is such a system. Ecosystems too. Market economies as well. It appears highly probable that each individual human being is also such a system, as well as many relationships among human beings.
Because of our limited perspective, it seems that we often act with regard to our personal lives as the well intentioned foresters described above. When we experienced pain or difficulty in life, our first instinct is to attempt to quell it. And our increasing power to control our environment (including our personal bio-chemistry and social environments) gives us more rope with which to become our own hangmen.
For example, I acknowledge the legitimate use of Prozac and other anti-depressants, but it seems clear that we often use avoidance mechanisms of this sort to smooth life’s way too much. We do not want the destruction of a pruning personal forest fire, no matter how small because we do not understand the rejuvenating nature of these minor crises in our lives.
We use many of these avoidance mechanisms. Anti-depressants. Dogma. Remaining within tight knit social groups where our point of view will not be questioned. Clinging to sometimes dysfunctional, limiting relationships that are not amenable to change and hence growth. We need to grow. It is grow, or die for most humans. I felt death creeping up on me for years as a Mormon, but did not know how to name it.
We need both order and chaos. Our biology inclines us toward order. We are conservative by nature and often too a fault. While chaos has its risks and too much will kill us, our tolerance for it is far greater than we generally imagine and mild dozes are amazing catalysts. This can draw back the curtain on ourselves in ways nothing else can. The wonderful surprises waiting there are earned by confronting our fears; launching ourselves into the void. And much of the risk in this enterprise can be removed by learning from the experience of those who have gone before us.
We post-Mormon adventurers owe a massive debt of gratitude to many in this regard. They disbelieved; disobeyed and the world did not end. They carved new behavioral paths and found new joys. They went in a multitude of directions instead of marching in file, and chaos did not consume them but rather enabled them to paint an incredible mosaic.
We are late to this game. Many started down the path that seems to miraculous to us during the Renaissance. Others followed during the Enlightenment. The more faithful the Mormon, the more likely it is that her thinking will be characterized by Medaivel patterns, the more terrifying will be her leap into a pluralistic world, and the more joy she is likely to find once that leap has been made.
| I had the pleasure a while ago of sitting and mostly listening as a couple of well-educated, successful 20-something post-Mormons (one still in university and the other on his way to a successful business career) asked each other questions and talked about what led them to decamp Mormonism. Some aspects of their stories, and both their inconsistencies and consistencies with each other and my experience, are instructive.
This will be another of my introspective, exploratory self-therapy sessions, so those looking for something concise had best stop here.
I will refer to these young people as Dick and Jane, and note that I am mixing up genders and other facts so as make it improbable that anyone who knows me and who I might talk to can guess who they are.
Dick was raised in a liberal Mormon household and since his teens was aware of most of “the issues”. He participated in Sunstone for a number of years after his mission. He contacted me shortly after my apostasy became well known. At that point (about three years ago) he had a full deck of information related to Mormonism’s problems. I introduced him to some social theory that was new to him, but he was mostly tuned in to that before he met me. He did not believe he would ever leave Mormonism. He could be a believer while tuned into the paradox of religious belief in general and Mormon belief in particular. He would be a classic Dialogue or Sunstone Mormon who relied on a kind of mixed up postmodernism to make sense out of Mormonism and his role in it. Given how long he had been in the know, I took him at his word while shaking my head. "How could someone so sensible and well informed keep his head in the sand like that", I wondered.
During the course of the two years following our initial contact, it gradually became more difficult for Dick to continue to participate in the Mormon institutional setting. Mormon meetings gradually seemed less relevant to anything real in his life, and in some cases flat out silly. The temple became irritating; nonsensical. And the "We need to meet so that we can figure out how to get more people to come to meet with us, so that we can figure how to get even more people to come to meet with us ..." attitude that underlies so much of what makes Mormonism tick increasingly irritated him. What an enormous waste of time and energy. Mormonism started to seem to him like the eternal circle jerk it is.
And, Dick gradually became depressed. He did not associate this with his Mormon beliefs or lifestyle at the time. He eventually began seeing a physician and taking anti-depressants to cope with daily life.
There was no identifiable collapse of Dick's faith. Rather, it wasted away. He gradually realized that what he once considered paradox and mystery was mostly nonsense - the same kind of irrational mumbo-jumbo he had known for years characterized the core beliefs of other religions. One after another his Mormon beliefs fell into this category, but he rationalized that he "was" Mormon (like he was Cacausian - his Mormonism was an unchangeable attribute) and that Mormonism offered a great deal of good that was worth keeping in his life.
Slowly, however, the realization dawned that the things he felt were most important - integrity; democratic institutions; free speech; access to information; rational thought; the scientific method; human rights; etc. - were attributes of secular society that had worked their way into Mormonism for the most part in spite of (not because of) Mormonism's core beliefs, and that far too often Mormonism's distinctive aspects at least had to be ignored and sometimes were at odds with the innovations of secular society that Dick cherished. He had the information in his brain about these things for years, but had not put the puzzle together. As time passed, these ideas became increasingly clear and troubling. James Fowler in "Stages of Faith" says that this kind of disillusionment is common during the 30s. Dick got there a little ahead of schedule.
The thing that increasingly troubled Dick included Mormon leadership deception and suppression of important information; Mormon leadership authoritarianism; Mormon racism; Mormon sexism; Mormon dogmatism; and various forms of Mormon dogma based prejudice.
Gradually Dick moved from seeing himself as a Mormon with liberal views that often required a dose of mystery and paradox to dovetail with what institutional Mormonism taught and did, to a secular humanist liberal person who had jettisoned his former Mormon induced ignorance, but still had attitudes and preferences that were to an extent influenced by his Mormon upbringing and likely always would be. This occurred during a roughly two year period. Dick also found that he enjoyed using his time to associate with non-Mormon groups and causes far more than sitting in Mormon meetings.
Dick was teaching the Elder’s Quorum when he finally reached the point where he no longer wished to participate, quietly announces his disbelief to his EQ Pres. and Bishop, quit his calling and stopped attending. Shortly thereafter, his depression cleared up, he stopped taking meds and has not had to return to them.
One of Dick's close friends, on the other hand, is married to a hardcore TBM woman and divorce is likely if he does not continue to believe and behave as do faithful Mormons. He started taking anti-depressants in order to be able to control his anger sufficiently to attend LDS meetings, do his LDS priesthood duty, and stay married. Dick told me that this friend has an “anger management problem”. I noted that I thought his behaviour sounded pretty normal. I would have a similar problem in similar circumstances, as would many people I know. He is being forced to compromise his best judgement in order to remain married and hence avoid the kind of disastrous fight many divorces become.
Dick continues to associate most of his LDS friends. Many of them have never asked him why he no longer attends or believes, but all know that he has had a change in belief. His friendship with these people covers such a broad range of interests that the elephant in the corner is relatively small. I noted the difference between this situation and the one I have with almost all of my former friends who are Mormon. Very little of my relationship with them remained after my beliefs changed. The elephant in the room is huge relative to what we had left. Hence, we have little to do with each other.
Dick is prepared to talk to anyone who wants to talk about Mormonism and why he left, but has no desire to bring the topic up. This helps him to get along with active Mormons. Dick’s way of handing his departure from Mormonism is consistent with his low key, intellectual, introverted personality.
Jane’s experience is quite different. She was raised hardcore TBM. In personality terms, she is similar to Dick introverted, intellectual, nice and her manner of dealing with her departure from the LDS social group and her change in beliefs is consistent with that.
This raises one of the points that was most striking to me about this discussion that we should expect that the way in which we deal with a change in belief will be consistent with how we deal with other kinds of trauma. Some people hide from things like this or deal with them as quietly as possible while others take the bull by the horns and then make a blood sport of the event. I don’t think it is possible to say which is best, but it is reasonable to suggest that thinking in terms of a style of departure that suits your strengths and weaknesses is a good idea.
Jane learned about LDS historical and other problems while on her mission and got by that using the same kind of magical thinking Dick used. But she never really “got into it” as Dick did. The information was simply there in the background, and she thought about it as little as possible.
While in university, some of Jane’s friends started asking her questions about Mormonism. She is an open, approachable, thoughtful person and two of her classmates were dating Mormons and occasionally had questions that they were not comfortable asking their boyfriends/girlfriends. Jane gave the pat LDS answers to these questions (“Why can’t non-Mormons go into the temple to witness a marriage?”; “Why would god ever have racially discriminated the way he did with the Mormon priesthood?”; etc.), and when her friends would say “That doesn’t make much sense because ...”, she would think about it, tend to agree with them, and promise to get back to them.
These unanswered questions built up until Jane started dating a non-Mormon boy, and fell in love. Then during the course of a two week period, Jane went looking for answers to her stockpile of questions and all of the information already in her head reorganized into picture that made much more sense than the Mormon version of events ever had. She simply took her garments off and stopped going to church. She continue to pray for about a week, and then quit that too. If Mormon authority was false, then her ideas about God were likely wrong. Prayer had to stand on its own two feet, and it failed that test. However, meditation and other forms of "spititual" exploration began to make sense in new ways.
Jane started to attend other churches looking for an alternative spiritual point of view, and did not find anything that made sense. She is still poking around, but is mostly happy with an agnostic position.
The hardest part for Jane was telling friends and family. She tried to do this on her own terms, but word got out and quickly spread. This led to several tearful, angry, painful encounters that still cause her obvious discomfort. All of her friends eventually said that they understood her and were still her friends. Most of them don’t call anymore. She understands that and is not angry or bitter about it.
So Jane doesn’t have much to do with LDS people anymore. She does not like talking about religion much and would rather just get on with her life. She feels that she learned a lot of good things while Mormon, and is content not to think about it much beyond that. She is reluctant to talk to Mormons about Mormonism at all. Go in peace is her watchword, to everyone (and especially to herself).
Dick and Jane say that they don’t think they have changed much. They discussed the gay issue, and they both said that their position prior to becoming post-Mormons was that the Mormon beliefs related to gay people were somewhere between confusing and wrong. They are now more comfortable with what they always believed in that regard, and did not experience a radical reappraisal of how they feel about gays and others types of people Mormons tend to consider broken or sinful.
Both Dick and Jane are the type of person who were lauded as near perfect Mormons while they were Mormon helpful; kind; thoughtful; 100% faithful; holding leadership positions. Neither of them “sinned” on the way out the door. Both of them now live a secular life in many ways that is contrary to LDS standards, while continuing to be honest, trustworthy, kind etc. They are still the type of person any group would want to have on their side. So while they say they have not changed, Mormons would see huge behavioural changes that would be unacceptable. These would include doing lots of things on Sunday instead of going to church; perhaps having the occasional alcoholic drink; perhaps doing things of a sexual nature that is beyond Mormon standards (we did not talk about the last two specifically, so I am not sure); etc.
Dick lurked on RFM and other similar places for a while, but they did not perform a function for him. Jane can't imagine why she would want to do that, but doesn't judge anyone from whom on-line interaction about Mormonism makes sense.
Dick and Jane said that the information that created the important triggers for them was delivered in a more or less neutral way. The forceful, angry arguments against Mormonism did not seem to affect them much, though they agreed with me that this information did penetrate their minds and had an effect on them. But the straws that broke the camelss backs were quiet, sincere statements of fact made by relatively neutral parties or the gradually dawning acknowledgement that what the equally sincere Mormons were saying and doing did not make sense.
They also spoke with passion regarding the plight of many young Mormon women they know. The Mormon women who are most talented tend to pass their “sell by” date in the Mormon community because they intimidate young Mormon men. And once they hit 23 or 24, the marital pickings become awfully slim. And so time passes as they pine for a Mormon man or with great feelings of guilt begin to date in the non-Mormon market and struggle to maintain their “standards” while often getting chewed up in an environment they are not equipped to gracefully negotiate.
In both Dick and Jane's, cracks in their Mormon testimonies correlated with their increasing disgust at how these wonderful women were falling to the bottom of LDS society in some ways, and the consternation and frustration they felt while listening to Mormon leaders crack the whip over the heads of young Mormons about the importance of early marriage, child bearing etc.
I should note that neither Dick nor Jane is married. This is a likely a key factor since marriage ups the stakes by imposing a lowest common denominator mentality on the couple. It is much less likely that two will smell the coffee at the same time, and the risk of divorce makes it less likely that either will wake up enough to rock the boat.
But for those become more conscious, and the longer one remains unmarried and continues to gain an education the more this tends to happen, the increasing gap between what makes sense to the average, well informed college age young person with regard to how relationships and marriage are dealt with outside of Mormonism as opposed to inside it, is likely to become an increasingly important flash point.
Both Dick and Jane have expanded their horizons radically in terms of what the future might hold for them. Having babies is optional. Environmental and population related issues are on the front burner. Lots of travel and education are planned. Lots of charitable works are planned. These are two idealistic, wonderful human beings who are likely to continue to become broad thinking, talented and well educated as they mature. They are the kind of people I hope my children marry.
The impression that stuck with me after listening in on this conversation is one of optimism and gratitude. Somehow these kids were not as dramatically and negatively affected by Mormonism as was I. Jane's case is particularly striking since she was raised in a Nazi Mormon environment, and yet never bought into the negative Mormon attitudes toward gay people, women who decide to have careers instead of raise kids, etc. So, Dick and Jane both are capable of walking away from Mormonism without anything like the kind of trauma I experienced.
As noted above, Dick and Jane feel like they haven't changed much as a result of leaving Mormonism. I made a few comments above in that regard. Another way to think of this is within the complex systems framework.
The adaptive landscape on which Dick and Jane exist has changed radically. They are same the same old ethical, trustworthy, altruistic individuals they were before. And now they are open to cultural and other influences from a far broader range of sources then before. That is, the range of life - the good - they will allow themselves to experience will be far more diverse than what they could have experienced as Mormons. This will change them as time passes. They will mature differently. They will become more dimensional; wiser; deeper than would likely have been possible had they remained Mormon.
Influential young people like Dick and Jane will have huge impact on LDS. Dick is a particularly interesting and potentially influential case. Ironically, the Mormon fringe trained him to be comfortable in paradox and so there he remains to a degree. He continues to associate with active Mormons who feel as he does about a lot of things. They talk about issues related to Mormonism without talking about Mormonism. He is often an educating force in their lives relative to scientific or philosophical currents. And they tend to re-work those ideas a bit and then release them into the Mormon population. This is precisely the kind of process that causes social organisms to mutate.
All of this made me feel joy and contentment; to be more hopeful with regard to the way in which the Mormon population is likely to evolve as people leave Mormonism and Mormonism itself changes in response to the pressure this blood letting will cause.
And make no mistake, this is a blood letting. Many people elike me have left. Enough to hurt financially. And many of the next generation of leaders are checking out or putting themselves in a position where they will not make the big sacrifices my generation was prepared to make.
This is all good.
| I am sure that the bright minds here can do better than this, but here are a few ideas.
You might be on your way out of Mormonism if ...
- Choirs, uniforms and white shirts start to irritate you.
- You visit temple square with your kids to help them understand their ancestors, and spend most of the time there rolling your eyes, shaking your head or cringing.
- You realize that during the past few years, "mystery" and "paradox" have become the most important words in your Mormon vocabulary, and feel sophisticated for a while.
- You realize that absolute certainty based on mystery and paradox makes no sense whatsoever.
- You get mad when an intellectual Mormon friend tells you that absolute certainty based on mystery and paradox is the most wonderful paradoxical mystery he has ever heard of, and that you should start speaking at Sunstone and write an essay for FAIR.
- You are suprised by your feelings of empathy for the male leads in Brokeback Mountain.
- You learn the history of Mormon tithing, realize that there are lots of ways to calculate your annual "interest" or "income" for tithing purposes, that many of these calculations end in "zero", that this accounting is entirely between you and God, and wonder if buying a vacation property for your family might be possible after all.
- It occurs to you that the doctrine of prophetic fallibility means that prophets might be wrong about everything instead of just what they have been proven to be wrong about.
- You realize that the fact that Mormon prophets have been found to be deceptive or mistaken about many important things means that they probably were deceptive or mistaken about other important things.
- A colleague at work hits you up to come to an Amway presentation, and you realize that you used all the same tones of voice, facial expressions and half truths the last time you tried to invite a friend over to meet the missionaries.
- You go to an Amway meeting, find half your Mormon friends there and think you have walked through the looking glass into some kind of bizarro testimony meeting.
| This was the first time I watched that movie since just after it came out, which was before my exodus from Mormonism. I saw parts II and III for the first time as a post-Mormon.
It is very unusual for me to enjoy watching a movie the second time. This was an exception.
I was transfixed by the sequence, in particular, where Neo was "awakening". He comes to in the vat; he struggles and we see him inadvertanely break the membrane that maintained his world; he thrashes around in the fluid, gets his head above it and pulls the long apparatus out of his mouth, wretching because this parasite had made itself part of him but continuing because his instinct (now that he was conscious) told him that this foreign object must be removed; his lungs gasp into operation for the first time; his muscles are atrophied; he watches as the many tubes that had been syphoning off his life's energy disconnnect; he sees the "watchman on the tower" notice that he had become disconnected, inspect him, and then flush him into the sewer to dispose of him since his utility to the "institution" has ended; he throws up when Morpheus succeeds in getting the message through; he hears Morpheus say "I have a rule never to wake someone up after they have reached a certain age because it just doestn't work, butyou are special" or something like that ...
This is powerful stuff.
After the movie I tried to explain to my boys, aged 16 and 12, how I identified with that aspect of Neo's character, and how his experience is a accurate portrayal of what it is like to emerge from a restrictive worldview. After only four years outside the Motrix they have no idea how it worked and had a hard time understanding why I thought Neo was relevant to my experience. This makes me happy. They were respectful and interested, but they I could tell that they could not imagine how the physical wrenching Neo went through could be caused by not going to church any more. This is a lesson I hope they don't have to learn. I will continue to try to innoculate them.
I also found the relationship between Morpheus and his crew to people like Neo fascinating. Awakening causes pain. There is a cost benefit calculus to be performed in deciding whether to try to awaken someone. And each is given a choice - the blue or red pill. This is a limited choice since those awakening have no idea what lies ahead. The choice of the red pill is either the sign of an adventuresome personality, or blind faith in the icons who have already passed the great consciousness divide.
Having taken the red pill, some can't handle it and choose to return to darkness. The "desert of the real" is too much for them.
I thought this part of the movie misses an important point the point. A percentage of every ideologically restricted group will not fit and will break through the membranes designed to hold them. In some times and places that means death, but many individuals still do it.
And it is not the desert of the real that does them in. That same real is paradise for many of those conditioned to it. It is the shock of transition that gets them. And this is largely a matter of how they have been conditioned to see what is, not what the nature of what is.
As an aside, I recall a short time ago being shocked by the realization that if I lived in China, I would probably be one of the idiots who smuggles in contraband literature on pain of death if caught. This epiphany occurred to me as I was reading about some of these people, shaking my head and thinking "It is crazy to take that risk for a book ..." when it hit me. I am one of the crazy ones, and am deeply grateful for that.
Despite it silliness and violence, that movie will be one of my alltime favorites.
| Mormon Scientist Says DNA Evidence Does Not Disprove The Book Of Mormon, And Big Foot Is Real |
Thursday, Nov 9, 2006, at 08:00 AM
Original Author(s): Bob Mccue
Topic: BOB MCCUE - SECTION 4 -Link To MC Article-
| ↑ |
| Mormon Science is flourishing. First we have nut-bar conspiracy theorist Steven Jones (see http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249...) and then I was reminded last night of the accomplishments of Book of Mormon defender D. Jeffrey Meldrum.
Meldrum is an LDS scientist at Idaho State who has published a number of articles and at least one book related to science and Mormonism. He weighs in on the “you’ll never refute the Book of Mormon using DNA evidence” side of the DNA argument (see http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/pdf.p...). There, after offering a silly mixture of scripture, J. Smith’s meandering ideas, magical thinking and unparsimonious science, Muldrum and his co-authors conclude:
“Ultimately we are impressed by the realization that the fundamental question of the veracity of the claims of the Book of Mormon lies beyond the ken of modern DNA research. The final implications of the book, as a witness of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith and as another testament of the divinity of Jesus Christ, remain within the realm of faith and individual testimony.”
Hmmm. Might the same be said about the proposition that the Earth is very old? Indeed, there are many people with PhD’s in geology, mostly on staff at Biblical literalist educational institutions (using that term a bit loosely) who argue that the case has not been definitively made that the Earth is much more than 6,000 years old. “You can’t prove it!” is their battle cry.
I was reminded of this last night when I heard that Meldrum was interviewed on CBC with regard to one of his other research interests proving that Big Foot is real. Here again, Meldrum is piecing together scraps of evidence against long odds. Says Meldrum, “I'm not out to proselytize that Bigfoot exists. I place legend under scrutiny and my conclusion is, absolutely. Bigfoot exists."
Does anyone see a pattern yet?
See http://www.isu.edu/~meldd/fxnlmorph.h... for a sample of Meldrum’s Big Foot work, and http://www.dailytidings.com/2006/1106... and http://www.sci-tech-today.com/story.x... for summaries of how his professional peers view his research. The typical comment runs as follows:
many scientists are embarrassed by what they call Meldrum's "pseudo-academic" pursuits and have called on the university to review his work with an eye toward revoking his tenure. One physics professor, D.P. Wells, wonders whether Meldrum plans to research Santa Claus, too.”
Another of Meldrum’s colleague’s puts his finger of the problem’s root, as follows:
“A scientist should not be a believer, said Martin Hackworth, a senior lecturer in the physics department at Idaho State University.”
| The “Joy Book"
I have noted before my impression that literalist religious people are "irony impaired". While this is both true and funny, it hides a disturbing truth.
I thought of this the other night when I stumbled across the Larry King Show’s summary of Warren Jeffs pre-trial hearing. The "joy book" used in the FLDS community was mentioned several times. That is the book into which the names of girls as young as 14 years of age are entered by their fathers when they are ready to be married. Given the supply and demand equation within that community. That is, there is a chronic shortage of women to fuel the polygamist fire. Practically speaking, human populations tend to be divided pretty evenly between males and females. So if some men have more than one wife, others will not have a wife. This means that many young men will have to be kicked out of the community since there is a high correlation in virtually all human communities between populations of unmarried adult men and social unrest -- go figure. And in then there's the problem of finding enough new young wives to reward your faithful lieutenants. The number of wives has in the FLDS community is a bizarre measureof social status. Having spent some time speaking with prominent Mormon polygamist, I doubt that the sexual dimension of the potential relationship with a new wife has much to do with their behavior, at least at the upper leadership level. Imagine, for example, having 10 wives already in being offered the opportunity for number 11. This is much more important as a trophy -- the symbol of social status -- than the opportunity for more or different sexual stimulation.
In any event, it is easy to predict that within the FLDS community there would be a lot of pressure on fathers to put their daughters forward to be married as quickly as possible. And Joseph Smith took a 14 year-old wife, didn't he. So the age of 14 is likely not coincidental.
One of the women interviewed on the Larry King show described her terror when she found out that her father had entered her name in the “joy book". She resorted to various kinds of acting out in an attempt to try to delay the announcement of her marriage. She eventually escaped the FLDS community at age 16. In most cases, only a couple days notice was given between the announcement of marriage and the marriage itself.
The key witness at the Jeffs trial described her experience in similar terms. The men she was married was her first cousin. He was 19; she was 14. He had regularly bullied her throughout their lives. She touchingly described the emotional trauma she faced after a lifetime of being that sex was dirty and then suddenly at age 14 start having sex with someone she not only did not love, but instead feared and detested.
The "joy book"? This is straight out of Orwell's 1984. And, more to the point, straight out of mainstream Mormonism. Remember the "Courts of Love"?
Regrettably, Orwell had many things right. If you call something the "Court of Love", and succeed in getting enough other people to call it that as well, you will change the meaning of the word "love". It will become loving to inflict a certain kinds of pain on people, just as in the FLDS tried it is "joy" to experience a certain kind of terror while submitting yourself obediently to the will of your group's leaders.
I have pimped James Surowieki’s fine book "the wisdom of crowds" a number of times here. Let me do it again. One of the key concepts there is that smart crowds encourage diverse points of view and the circulation of lots of information. Any time you see a social group established on a basis that limits information flows and the expression of different points of view, you can count on it becoming stupider as time passes. This is a social law that may not be quite as reliable as the law of gravity, but it comes close.
Authority of many kinds is used to anchor this kind of institutional stupidity in place. In this regard, there is not much difference between the "wisdom" governing the FLDS group, and what passes for wisdom emanating from the mainstream Mormon quorum of the 12 apostles.
| There was an interesting article in most Canadian newspapers this morning full page summarizing the goings on with respect to the Warren Jeffs pretrial hearing last week. One of the statements attributed to the star witness was that women within the FLDS culture were completely dependent on men. This included the idea that men mediated the relationship between women and god. For young girls, this relationship passed through their father; when they married, that relationship continued to through their husbands; and at all times, their relationship to god was circumscribed by what the prophet said. I inferred from other comments she made that the FLDS are told to seek a personal relationship with god. However, in the event that anything a woman (or anyone, for that matter) feels about that relationship or what god wishes her to do is inconsistent with what she is told by her father/husband/prophet, this was clear evidence that she was not hearing god's authentic voice.
I read this article over breakfast this morning, and then talked about it for a few minutes with my 25 year old daughter. She is a single mom. Her son is a four year old who challenges her; anchors her; motivates her; sometimes makes her miserable; etc. - in short, a normal mother-child relationship. She made an anguished decision as to whether to keep him or not; had selected his adoptive parents and did not decide to keep him until the day she went into labor. In fact, it seemed that her body was waiting for that decision befor being prepared to deliver the baby. He was about two weeks overdue.
She suffered significant damage at hands of the LDS social services in particular and well meaning Mormons in general during the process of deciding whether to give the baby up for adoption. This played a significant role in my post-Mormon awakening.
But I digress, as usual.
As we chatted this morning about the testimony described above, my daughter told me that soon after her son was born, a young man she attended high school with, and who had just returned from his Mormon mission, was chatting with her in a casual social setting. He mentioned, in a matter of fact way, that having had the baby out of wedlock was not such a big deal since all she had to do was find a man to take her to the temple, and she would still be able to go to the celestial kingdom. While this is not, technically speaking, correct Mormon doctrine, it is easy to understand where ideas like this come from in the Mormon population.
The more one learns about the way the FDLS community works, the more clear it is that mainstream Mormonism differs by degree, not by kind. Unfortunately, this concept is not the coming out in the news. I’m waiting for some good journalism that ties the FLDS culture to mainstream Mormonism, and highlights their similarities. The same could be done to a limited extent with the mainstream evangelical Christian culture. Magical thinking and patriarchal authority come to us in large measure through Christianity, at least around here.
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