Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Theology of Guilt, Shame, and Personal Self-Destruction

So, I read another chapter of Cramer's book this morning and it really saddened me. He spends a whole chapter detailing his struggle since age twelve with the evil and degrading practice of masturbation (or his preferred terms of self-love and self-stimulation) and pornography. Despite countless hours of selfless, dedicated service in the church, regular scripture reading, weekly family home evenings, regular church attendance, and almost fanatical striving to make up for this evil and degrading sin he continued in a cycle of abstinance and then return to his evil and degrading sin. The guilt and self-loathing continued to build. It affects all aspects of his life until he finally gives up hope of ever conquering it. Although his periods of repentance and righteousness get longer as he grows older, he always fall back into his sinful ways and each time he wallows deeper and deeper in sin. Finally he gives up hope and decides that he will never be a celestial person and reconciles himself with the fact that he will have to spend eternity in a lower kingdom without his family and the blessings of exaltation. He becomes disillusioned with his life and seeking to escape he turns to a divorced female client for comfort and love and throws his life away on a one night stand.

That's as far as I've gotten, but you can see what's coming. At his point, consumed by guilt and horror at having violated his temple convenants and the trust of his family he runs to the bishop, confesses, gets excommunicated, and after further torture, abasement, and humiliation conquers his lifelong habits, gets rebaptized, and lives happily every after to become the bestselling author of ridiculous self-help books for the religiously deluded.

OK, as he's detailing how masturbation and porn led to his slide into wickedness he mentions how a few other, apparently peripheral, issues were also going on. He married at a young age. He states that he and his wife were too young. He had eight children. He worked long, physically demanding days in a feed and grain store. In order to make ends meet he did tax returns for 200 clients and sold life insurance on the side. He was $8000 in debt (book was written in 1983) which was probably overwhelming given his large family and modest income. Despite the crushing work load he wasn't making a dent in the debt. He was forty at the time of his fall, so his children were probably starting to graduate from high school and want to go to college which it sounds like he wouldn't have been able to help with. He was also faithfully serving in church callings and attending all of his meetings and presumably also supporting his children in their church activities. Presumably, his wife was a stay at home mom. He was apparently getting no nooky because at the end he was sleeping on the sofa in the den because he felt too guilty to sleep with his wife. Anyway, all of this was going on, but the cause of his fall was addiction to masturbation and porn.

Now, actually, this part of the story rings true. He claims that he never had lessons condemning masturbation at church but that he just knew from the Spirit that it was wrong. Maybe he grew up before Boyd K. Packer gave his infamous Little Factory talk in general priesthood meeting. I actually remember hearing that talk live when I was eleven or twelve. I remember getting the pamphlet of the talk in church. I remember annual lessons on the evils of masturbation. I remember the questions regarding masturbation from the bishop and my father. At least by the late 1970s, the church was on an active crusade to rid the church of the evils of masturbation and to prevent its young men from abusing themselves. As far as I can tell, that continues today with an additional emphasis on the evils of pornography. Any young man in the church guilty of masturbation knows it is wrong and feels guilty. Unfortunately, probably 95% masturbate at least occassionally. As one pundit put it, everyone does it, but no one talks about it. Experts on the topic such as Spencer Kimball warn how it can lead to homosexuality. Others have counseled tieing your hands to the bed to prevent inadvertently touching yourself while sleeping. Because it's BAD. Really BAD. You should feel BAD. You should feel GUILTY. You should CONFESS. You should REPENT.

Sorry if that's too graphic. My point is, this man focused on what the church told him to focus on and lost sight of the fact that his problems were really caused by following the counsel of the church in every other area of his life. He married too young, he had too many children, he paid excessive tithing, he spent too much time at church, he didn't cultivate his marriage relationship, he didn't have a satisfying sexual relationship with his wife, etc. The least of his problems were masturbation and porn. Even if he'd been successful in avoiding porn and masturbation I still think he would have been depressed and dissatisfied with his life and that this dissatisfaction would have led him to at least consider an affair when the opportunity presented itself. But, if it hadn't been for the guilt and self-loathing and reduced self-esteem that he'd learned form the church, perhaps he'd have been better equipped to resist the temptation to have an affair.

I actually feel sorry for the guy. Whether it's a true story or not, it's sad because many of the themes are shared by many members of the church and instead of realizing the damage that the church's belief system is wreaking in their lives, they voluntarily submit to more of the same and plunge back into the church with even more self-abandonment.

But You've Felt the Spirit

I was talking on the phone last night with my little sister and she asked what was going on with me and the church. Not really wanting to go into it I replied that I didn't have any issues with the church. She insisted so I told her that I didn't have issues with the church, but rather that the church had issues and that I didn't believe in it. So she wanted to know what kinds of problems I thought that the church had.

So, I told her that I'd always wondered why the church was so quiet about polygamy. On my mission people would ask about it and I'd reply with the typical uninformed answers that I'd heard at church such as that there weren't enough men in the church because so many had been killed in the persecutions and that the Lord restored polygamy so that there would be more children. I explained that those explanations had been disproven since the census records clearly show that there were more marriage aged men in Utah than women and that brides were in short supply. Also, census data has shown that polygamous wives had fewer children than non-polygamous ones. I told her about looking at the church web site for information and discovering that the first paragraph where it says that the church only practiced polygyny (one man, many wives) and not polyandry (one wife, many husbands). In fact 9 of the first 12 Joseph Smith's polygamous marriages were to women who were already married. She commented that that didn't continue, but I replied that Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball both had polyandrous marriages. I also mentioned Joseph marrying a 14 year old.

Well, she replied, the church no longer practices polygamy. Really? I asked. So, what happens if a man is married in the temple and his wife dies and he marries again in the temple? Isn't that polygamous. Well.... After a little back and forth she agreed that polygamy was still doctrinal and that the church had only modified its practice in order to comply with the laws of the land.

Then she mentioned the "revelation" ending the practice of polygamy. Revelation? Are you sure? If you read it carefully, it never rescinds polygamy but merely states that the church will comply with the laws in order to prevent its destruction by the government. If it was a revelation then why did the first presidency and quorum of the twelve continue to authorize and perform polygamous marriages for the next 14+ years? Huh? She'd obviously not been taught that in sunday school. I also mentioned the fact that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor had publicly stated that polygamy would never be taken off the earth, that it was an eternal principle required for exaltation, and that if the church ever abandoned it then it would be in apostasy.

Then I mentioned the Book of Abraham and the papyrus that was found that shows that Joseph Smith didn't translate the BoA. She didn't have any response or comment to that. I then asked how the Book of Mormon was translated. She replied, "With the Urim and Thummim." What's that? "It's a breastplate with spectacle like things attached." Really? So why didn't Joseph use it? Huh? She said that he sat on one side of a blanket so no one saw the actual translation process. I explained that that wasn't the case and that he used his brown seer stone. He put it in the crown of his hat, put his face in the hat, and then dictated the book. This is what the eye witnesses related. Where did I hear that? From the church itself. Bushman, FARMS, even current GAs confirm that this is how it was done. I explained that this was the same tool and process that Joseph Smith used for his treasure hunting. No comment.

So, of course, she replied that if you try to intellectualize it that it is easy to be deceived and that what really matters is the feelings of the spirit. Sure, I said, feelings should trump reason and evidence. We shouldn't think about it too much. No, she replied, the church encourages people to think about it. So I replied that that was why the church excommunicated historians who published facts that were embarrassing to the church. That is why they closed the church archives and fired the official church historians. Because they are encouraging open thought and discourse. Right.

But, surely I felt the Spirit while I was a missionary. How could I deny that? Easy, because "the Spirit" is your feelings. It's not an external source. The church has led you to believe that the feelings that they manipulate are the Spirit and come from God. Unfortunately, common con men know how to do the same thing. I replied that if I was buying a car I'd check out the title and do vehicle history report and I'd be very suspicious if the seller discouraged me from doing so and just asked me to trust them and my feelings.

Anyway, maybe I gave her something to think about, but I think she's still convinced that I've been deceived my anti-Mormon sources that have twisted and spun the facts in order to meet their agenda of destroying the true church. I used to think that too. The church has been very successful in cultivating that belief. But, once I dug into reputable sources I discovered that it was the church that was spinning and twisting the facts for its agenda and not the other way around.

So, it all comes down to whether you trust your brains or your heart more, I guess.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

So Who is Steven A. Cramer?

My mom sent me two of his books and Deseret Books lists eight books by this guy. The publisher, Cedar Fort Books, lists six and gives the following biographical sketch.
Steven A. Cramer (pseudonym) is the author of The Worth of A Soul, Great Shall be Your Joy, Conquering Your Own Goliaths,In the Arms of His Love and Putting on the Armor of God.These great books have been produced out of a desire to help others better prepare for adversity and learn the great power, strength and support available through Jesus Christ
I'm just curious if this guy went from excommunicant to shining example or if he's doing the Paul H. Dunn thing. The fact that he originally used a pen name along with some of the curious "details" in the first two chapters lead me to believe that despite the title of the book this is all inspirational fiction. His real name is Gerald Curtis and he has an updated version of his book under his proper name. Anyway, he seems to have capitalized on his problems.

Morm Porn

I unexpectedly received a brown paper package in the mail on Friday. What's this? Hmmm. Mom sent it. Feels like a book. No, two books. Thin books. This isn't going to be pretty. I thumbed open the envelope and slid them out. The top book says, "Classic Best Seller" at the top. Oh, good. Some light reading for my Memorial Day vacation. My eyes slide down to the title: "The Worth of a Soul, A personal account of excommunication and conversion" by Steven A. Kramer. The second book is by the same author and is titled "Conquering Your Own Goliaths Through the Atonement of Christ".

My wife asks, "What's that?"

I reply, "Why does my mom keep sending me crap like this?"

Seriously. Why? She didn't enclose a note, so apparently she saw a book about excommunication and thought of me and felt that it was just what I needed to turn my life around and come back into God's one and only true church.

Despite what most people think of me, I try to have an open mind. I have strong opinions, but if you disagree and can articulate the reasons for your opinion and back it up with evidence and sound reasoning then I'm willing to change my mind or at least sympathize with yours. So, I've been taking little bites of "The Worth of a Soul".

My initial impression is that if the church published the moral equivalent of Penthouse, then this would be an extended "Dear Penthouse" letter. Wait. They do. It's called the Ensign.
Anyway, I think that Spencer Kimball and Boyd KKK Packer would get major wood reading this book. It just touches all of the major mormon sex, guilt, punishment, and forgiveness after extended humiliation buttons. The book as plenty of flaws in the details that reveal that it is either a faith-promoting fabrication or else a story that has been richly embellished to make a point.

So, far I'm trying to get through the story that leads to his excommunication where he comes clean on his grave sin. So far, it seems that he was guilty of the grave sin of masturbation enhanced with pornography. I don't know if he does anything else, but so far that is it. A struggle with "self-love" (at least he doesn't call it self-abuse like my bishop did when I was 14) since he was a child. He tells that he was introduced to this degrading, filthy, evil practice by an uncle who was later convicted of abusing young men in his ward. He recounts all the guilt and struggles as he became an adult and got married.

Anyway, his descriptions of guilt and resorting to religious fanaticism to soothe the guilt ring true. It is sad is that the church makes such an innocuous thing into such a problem for its members to the point where it becomes very destructive to them.

The book is short so I'll try to finish it. The only question now is how I respond to my mother. I've told her in the past not to send church material to me or else I'd respond with anti-Mormon material. I seriously don't know how to respond to this.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Brownout King

Shortly after my arrival in Bolivia as a Mormon missionary my companion told me about a legendary figure in the mission whose nickname was the Brownout King. If you look on Wikipedia or Webster then you'll be informed that a brownout is a period of reduced voltage of electricity caused especially by high demand and resulting in subnormal illumination. But this legend has nothing to do with electricity.

In our mission a brownout was when you crapped your pants. Needless to say, this is a little embarrassing. The Brownout King was an assistant to the mission president (AP or ape). In his former life he was a southern California surfer. It seems that in an unfortunate surfing accident he landed on the skag of his board and it went up his rectum and cut the sphincter muscle that keeps the brown stuff inside. Apparently this left him with less than perfect control and combined with the effect that Bolivia has on your gastrointestinal tract made him prone to brownouts. In one infamous episode he and his companion were sitting in the back of a packed microbus when the King announced that he needed to get off the bus NOW. But the crowd of people prevented the agitated gringo from even standing up. His struggles quickly ceased and he sat back down with a resigned look on his face as the bus miraculously emptied and his companion desparately tried to follow the crowd of people now eager to exit the bus and let the missionaries off. This was one of many such incidents that followed the Brownout King throughout his mission and gave him legendary status.

My companion swore that he'd drop his trousers in the middle of a busy street before he ever browned out. I agreed that that would be the preferred choice. Neither of us expected to ever be faced with that choice.

Fast forward a couple of months.

One pleasant evening we were out in our area visiting some families. Between appointments my companion announced he had to go to the bathroom. So we headed back to the home where we rented a room. By Bolivian standards this was a very nice middle-class home that was lived in by a very respectable Mormon woman and her extended family. I was informed when I was assigned to Obrajes that I should enjoy it because the rest of my mission would all be downhill. Anyway, my companion headed down the hill toward our home at a brisk pace. I knew he was really in trouble when he was nearly run-walking and then he suddenly froze like a soldier at attention. I could see his swedish knit pants get tighter as his butt cheeks clenched. After a few motionless, breathless moments he took off race-walking again chased by my laughter. This pattern of walk, freeze, walk, freeze continued at an increasing pace as the walking became less and the pauses became longer and more frequent. Finally, he momentarily froze and then broke into a dead sprint up the last hill to our house. When I caught up to him he was wiping his shoes off on the little patch of grass in front of the porch. By the entryway light I could see the crap covering the tops of his dress shoes and I couldn't stop laughing.

My amusement was only increased when we opened the door and discovered that the owner of the house was having a party and the entire downstairs was packed with dressed up ladies. They warmly greeted us as my companion side stepped into the room and scooted towards the stairs with his back up against the wall. The ladies didn't understand why I was smiling so broadly and then they got puzzled looks on their faces as they noticed the smell my companion was leaving behind as he inched past them. He made it to the stairs, turned, and dashed up to the bathroom to clean up the mess. When faced with the critical decision of run or drop trow, he'd blinked and added to the Bolivian mission lore. I renewed my vow to never let the same thing happen to me.

Fast forward again. As predicted, my home in Obrajes was the pinnacle of my missionary apartments and it all went downhill after that. It was September and I was assigned to Munaypata. Our apartment was over the hill from our area so we didn't have access to a restroom except in the morning and evening and during lunch. If we got in a pinch we could go to the church in our area. Most of the adobe homes in our area lacked indoor plumbing and a hillside in the middle of the area served as the communal public toilet. Even the restroom at the church left something to be desired. It had no running water and was simply a closet with a hole in the middle of the floor. You squatted over the hole, did your business, and then washed it down with a #10 can of water. Toilet paper was disposed of in a cardboard box so you didn't plug up the works. Suffice it to say that bathroom facilities were limited.

One dark night we were headed from our apartment to the church for a meeting. About halfway there I needed to go. I started the walk/freeze cycle much to the amusement of my greenie Bolivian companion. I was sure I could make it, but as the bulwarks were beginning to breach I jumped off the trail, dropped my trousers, and started hunting through my knapsack for a missionary tract to wipe with. "The First Vision"? No, what would people think if they came across a poop smeared copy of the visit of God and Jesus to Joseph Smith? I hunted and think I finally selected "Meet the Mormons" as the tool of choice. A few pages of reading material later and we were on our way and were only a few minutes late. So, I passed the test. With only a couple of footnotes, I managed to survive without browning out.

The footnote occurred during my bout with typhoid. I made it to the toilet the first time. It was close, but that pretty much emptied everything. After that I made it to our bedroom door before the floodgates let loose. To my semi-relief it was just green gastric juice. The next time I only managed to sit up before it hit. After that I just stayed in bed and waited for the good doctor to show up to administer IVs and antibiotics. But that doesn't count. It wasn't brown. It was green dammit and green doesn't count as a brownout.

Want to Start Running?

As you can tell, I've been bitten by the running bug. Mattman posted a cautionary story that I think deserves further comment.

First, I'd recommend "Galloway's Book on Running" by Jeff Galloway to anyone who is starting or even someone is already a runner. The book is very easy to read and is aimed at normal people, not track stars or elite athletes. This book covers all of the basics such and describes how to get started. Most importantly, it tells you how to run without injuring yourself.

One thing I found very interesting was where he describes the stages of running. I forget the different stages, but one was where you get very gung ho and goal oriented. This happens after you start getting in shape and start feeling good and it is a very dangerous phase because it can have two very bad consequences. The first is that it take the fun out of your running. When you are running and expecting improvement, it is easy to become disappointed if you don't set a personal record in a race or if you run slower than your goal pace. Unless you are shooting for the Olympics, what's the point of that? The second is that this goal orientation will lead you to push harder, to run faster, and to increase the amount of training you are doing and often this leads you to do too much, too fast and injure yourself. Nothing will end your enjoyment of running more than to have to stop and heal. Pain and injury suck. The last stage is one where you run just for the enjoyment. I think that I am there. Once I realized I was in that goal driven stage I consciously stepped past it because it wasn't fun. Now I try to do it just because I like it. I still have goals for motivation, but they aren't the main focus of my running.

Most people push too hard when they are starting out. If you are uncomfortable while you are running, then you are pushing too hard. If you are out of breath and tired the rest of the day, you did too much. Running should invigorate you and make you feel good. One way to keep from overdoing it is to get a heart rate monitor (HRM). When I was starting out I read about them and thought it was a good idea. When I strapped it on I had one of those "Ahah!" moments. My heart was racing at 170. This was very close to my max heart rate. I set a goal heart rate of 145 and anytime my heart was going faster I walked until it slowed down to 130. This felt really easy and comfortable and I walked more than I ran, but the heart rate monitor assured me that that was enough to improve my fitness. Over time I was able to run continuously without exceeding my limit and over more time I was able to increase the limit. But this helped me understand what a proper training intensity felt like. And it isn't as hard as you would think. If you are starting out or haven't run for a while I'd suggest getting an inexpensive HRM from Polar or Timex or Nike.

One important rule to follow to prevent injury is to not increase your mileage and your intensity at the same time and to not increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% a week. If you disobey this rule, like Mattman did above, then you WILL get injured. Your body needs a chance to adjust and adapt and it simply can't handle more than a 10% increase per week. Your bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments all need a chance to strengthen and adapt to the increased stresses and if you don't give them time then they'll start breaking down faster than they can rebuild and you'll break.

So, if you want to start exercising then don't jump into it. Ease in. Be consistent but moderate. Gradually ramp up. Listen to your body. Don't exercise until you are exhausted. If you aren't in good shape, then it may take several years before your body is ready for more intensive training. YEARS. Not days, weeks, or months. The improvements will be gradual, so I find it helpful to keep a running log. I use a free one on That way, when you feel like you aren't making any progress you can look back and see what you were doing a year ago and see that you have made improvements. It also allows you to track your mileage so you don't increase it too much.

Anyway. If you feel inspired to start running, have fun but be safe.

Monday, May 22, 2006


My mother sent me a biographical sketch about my older brother who died when he was only 6 months old. She wrote it at my request and it fills in a void surrounding an event that was never discussed in our family. However, the thing that has been spinning in my brain since I read the story is that while my brother was undergoing brain surgery my mother was alone at the hospital while my father was at the Air Force base flying.

WTF? They'd known since shortly after his birth that the surgery was required. This was the early 60s so I'm sure that this was pretty sensitive surgery. I know several children that have successfully had this surgery in the last decade, but back then? It had to be pretty high risk. Was it really possible that he wasn't able to get leave while his infant son underwent serious surgery? My mother's comment was:
Misplaced priorities but we were young and didn’t have the maturity that we do now.
I'm not sure that that explains it.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my youth and my relationship with my father. Somehow this episode seems very typical of him. Maybe I'll explain in another entry, but for now I'm just confused. I'm speechless. I really can't even begin to imagine what would have kept me out of the waiting room at the hospital.

What's Mormonism Good For?

Based on JLO's recommendation I've started reading "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas Kuhn. I'm not thrilled with the writing style, but it has some choice nuggets. I like the following quote from Francis Bacon:
Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion.
Perhaps Mormonism is good for something after all...

Thursday, May 18, 2006


I can't remember when I first started seeing spots. I do remember one summer afternoon in Iowa when I just felt out of it and figured it was from being out in the heat too long. I laid down on the carpet in our living room and wondered if being out in the bright sunlight was creating the spotty vision that was something like if you accidentally looked directly at the sun.

I remember getting headaches that started at the base of my skull at the back of my neck that felt like my brain had swollen up inside my head and was pounding against the inside of my head with each beat of my heart. When I got these headaches, bending over caused the throbbing pain to get worse as the blood rushed to my head. If I shook my head I could feel my brain sloshing around in agony. They weren't pleasant, but weren't excruciating either.

My parents were big believers in chiropractic, largely due to the chiropractor that moved into our ward and did good business with the church members and other credulous locals. It worked sometimes. He was able to correctly diagnose and treat my lower back pain that was caused by a congenital defect. He also had a nearly miraculous cure for ankle pain that I developed during junior high track season. But he couldn't make a dent in my headaches. If it was caused by a pinched nerve in my neck then he never came close to fixing it. I'd sometimes leave with my head pounding worse than when I arrived.

But the spots were the worst. It's hard to live a normal life when the spots pop up and create blind spots in your vision. Sometimes they'd be like shooting stars or little sparks that would shoot across my vision. Other times they started as a pulsing, jagged dot that would gradually expand with a sparkly, jagged border around a blind region of vision. They always went away after a little while. Sometimes the headaches would start afterwards. Almost always I'd feel out of it afterwards and have difficulty concentrating.

I don't know how often I had the spots or the headaches. I don't even remember the first time it happened. It must not have been too frequently or I'd have probably gone to the doctor. Over time I just learned to live with it. Don't ask me why I never went to the doctor. I guess I figured it must not be that serious since it always went away. Secretly I think that I was worried that if I went to a doctor I might find out I had a brain tumor and was doomed to die and really didn't want to know that.

I distinctly remember a bad bout of the spots that I had when I took the ACT (an alternative to the SAT that BYU used for college admissions) in high school. As I got ready to take the test the shooting stars started flying around. Then the fixed spots started to grow. I remember struggling through the reading comprehension test as I tried to read with my peripheral vision because the blind spots were covering parts of the words. I also remember how difficult it was to read even after the spots went away as the words just didn't seem to stick. I finished the test as best as I could, but knew that a retake would be justified if the results weren't good. As it turned out, I scored in the 99th percentile on the test and did well enough to warrant a 4 year full tuition scholarship to BYU. I'm still curious about how I might have done if I'd have been at full fighting strength.

Things didn't get better when I went away to school. I remember having episodes where I felt so badly that I just wanted to crawl into a hole and die. One evening I was battling the spots so badly that I laid down on the floor with my legs up on the bed, hoping that getting some blood to my head might help. I couldn't stand up anyway because I felt so faint. I had the lights off because any light hurt and the noises in the dormitory really irritated me. My roommate came in and found me like this and went to get some older students who had the Melchesidek priesthood so that they could give me a blessing. They annointed my head with oil and did the blessing, but that didn't provide any relief either.

One Saturday I went to University Mall with my friend so he could shop for clothes. As he was trying on clothes I wandered around the racks waiting. A spot started to grow and as it grew I found a rack of shirts and put my hand on it and waited as the spot filled my entire field of vision and made me completely blind. Time seemed to stop and I wondered how I was going to find my friend or get back home. I'd probably have been really scared but I was also out of it and I was pretty sure that the spots would go away after a while and I'd be able to see. After what seemed like an eternity my friend came out of the changing rooms and I explained that I seemed to be temporarily blind. He guided me to the bus stop where we caught the bus back to campus. During the ride my vision started coming back and after a while I was back to normal.

Strange things continued to happen in my head as I grew older. Several months after arriving on my church mission in Bolivia I was already reasonably fluent in Spanish. But one morning I woke up with a headache and felt nauseous and really out of it. We were living in La Paz at about 13,000 feet so altitude sickness is pretty common. I spent the morning drinking coca tea (yes, the same leaves they use to make cocaine) while we waited for an appointment at our house. The teenage girl we were teaching arrived and as we got ready to teach a missionary discussion I was quite distressed to discover that I couldn't speak a word of Spanish. English was online, but I couldn't even figure out how to say hello in Spanish. That was a new one. After a little while I started feeling a little better and my Spanish came back, but it was certainly odd.

After my mission I immediately returned to BYU for my junior year of electrical engineering. I couldn't take a light load and ease back into my studies because completing the degree in four years required a full load of classes each semester. I was determined to finish in four years, because that is what my scholarship covered and I didn't want to have to pay tuition for extra semesters. So I found myself with 18 credit hours of hard upper division classes after a two year hiatus. Three of the classes were lab classes that required a time commitment far beyond their credit hours. The department strongly discouraged taking more than two lab classes in a semester. I took three because otherwise my graduation would be delayed by a year because of prerequisite dependencies between classes and when classes were offered. Just to add a little more stress, my scholarship required that I keep a GPA of at least 3.5 or else it would be suspended. It was hard, but I actually had one of my better semesters GPA wise.

At the end of the semester I had a welcome break. I went home for Christmas and returned to Provo and my apartment several days before classes started. During the entire butt-buster of a semester I never had problems with the spots, but now they attacked with a vengeance. I was getting the spots two and sometimes three times a day. I was practically bed ridden because most of the time I was having difficulty seeing and the rest of the time I couldn't hardly read because even though I could see, the words just didn't seem to be digested by my brain. With another grueling semester rapidly approaching I contemplated suicide but instead finally went to the doctor.

I described my symptoms to the doctor and how debilitated I was and he just smiled and said, "Those are classic migraine symptoms."

"Huh? Isn't that a really bad headache? My headaches aren't that bad. I don't care about the headaches. I can live with pain. But I can't live with not being able to see and not being able to read, concentrate, and think."

He prescribed some little pink pills that I was to take each night before going to bed that would stop me from getting the migraines. I was skeptical, but it worked. I mostly stopped getting what I now knew to be migraine attacks. I'd still get them occassionally, but not as badly and much less frequently. The only side effect is that they made me drowsy and I had a very difficult time getting up in the morning. I nearly flunked my 7:00 am computer science class that semester because I kept sleeping through classes. But that was a minor problem compared to finally understanding what caused the spots and finding out how to prevent them.

I'm 42 now and still get migraines from time to time. I still take medicine each night as a prophylaxis. But I've learned more over time. Strangely, it isn't stress that triggers my migraines; it is relief from stress. That is why my worst episode of migraines occurred during the break between two very stressful semesters. I now dread vacations because I know that I may spend them fighting migraines. I've also figured out that regular sleep patterns are very important as well as getting adequate sleep. I avoid sleeping in on the weekends because when I do I often wake up with a splitting headache. I also almost never use an alarm clock to ensure that I stay well rested.

Not only is there no cure for migraines, the medical community doesn't even really understand what they are. They're learning more, but doctors generally don't think of migraine as a serious illness. Just one example to illustrate the attitude of the medical community. One morning I woke up disoriented and confused. I didn't know who I was and I didn't know who my wife was. My wife hurried me to the hospital where I gradually started to become lucid. My doctor thought it was "just" a migraine attack but sent me over to the Mayo clinic for a CAT scan to rule out a stroke. The sympathetic intern at the Mayo asked me what I was there for and got a look of disdain when I told him what had happened and what I was there for. "You just had a migraine attack. Why are you wasting our time and money getting a CAT scan?" I guess migraines aren't considered serious because they won't kill you.

It turns out that maybe they can. Some research indicates that migraine sufferers are six times more likely to suffer a stroke. They are related to blood flow in the brain and the throbbing headaches can be lessened by drugs that constrict the blood vessels in the brain. Aspirin works for me, but there are heavier drugs available.

Recently doctors have found some tantalizing clues. Before you are born a hole in the heart shunts blood from one side of the heart to the other so that the blood bypasses the developing lungs. Normally this hole closes up after you are born and blood starts circulating through the lungs. But about 15 percent of the population has a patent foramen ovale (PFO) which is when the hole doesn't completely close and causes a slight heart murmur. For some people this seems to cause temporal ischemic attacks (TIA) which is a temporary stroke and even strokes. If the traditional stroke treatments such as blood thinners don't work then they do heart surgery to repair the PFO. This seems to be effective in stopping the TIAs and strokes, but many patients also unexpectedly reported that it also cured their migraines. Followup studies seem to show that many people with PFOs also suffer from migraine and that a very high percentage of people with PFOs and migraine report relief from their migraines after the PFO is repaired. Unfortunately migraines aren't considered serious enough to justify the risks of heart surgery. But new catheterization procedures for repairing PFOs may change that in the near future. It's strange to consider that some migraines may actually be caused by a heart problem. It just goes to show how complicated the body is.

Weekly Anamnesis

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Chuy's Hot to Trot 5k

Saturday started bright and early as I packed the wife, kids, and dogs into the Suburban and went to pick up my friends that I'd talked into running a 5k. We left the kids at our friends' house to babysit and headed down to the Hula Hut on Lake Austin where there was already a good crowd for the festivities. I took Scout, our german shepherd, and my wife took Hunter, our golden retriever, and we headed to registration. Since I had pre-registered I had to stand in a huge line to pick up my registration packet while my wife walked right up to the late registration table, paid her fees, and went to find some shade. Scout, being a shepherd, became extremely distressed that we'd lost my wife and Hunter. He was franticly looking around for her in the crowd and kept barking and trying to find her. I never cease to be amazed at how breeding affects behavior and wonder about the implications for humans and "free will".

The morning started out cool, but sunny days in Texas don't stay that way. As the 8:45 start time came and went the temperature climbed from a comfortable 60 degrees to the mid-70s. Since ideal running temperature is 55 degrees, this wasn't good news for me. My goal was to run a sub 8:00 minute per mile pace and all of my training has been at a 7:00 minute per mile pace so I thought it was possible.

We all found a shady spot to wait for the race to start and I decided to start back in the pack since I was running with a dog and didn't want faster runners to be tripped up by us. The horn went off and my wife and I funneled into the crowd that was lazily walking to the start line in a mass of compressed humanity. As we crossed the red timing mats we heard the frantic, high pitched beeping of the timing system as it registered each of the hundreds of timing chips tied to each runner's shoe. Then I hit the play button on my mp3 player and the start buttons on my watches and took of trying to thread my way through the now running mass.

It turns out that starting in the back was a very bad idea. The pounding beat and tortured wailing of Audioslave were an appropriate background as I ran on the rocks by the side of the road and passed the packs of slower runners ahead of me. Scout stayed right by my left knee as we weaved in and out. When I had to dodge left my knee would hit him in the right shoulder and when I zigged right he'd do his best to stay with me. Around the one mile mark I dashed past my friends who had started ahead of me but didn't have a chance to say high because I was jumping up on the sidewalk to go around a the pack of runners around them.

As I passed the one mile marker I hit my stopwatch's button and realized that a button had been hit when I bumped into someone so I had no idea for the rest of the race what my actual pace was. But I've gotten pretty good at judging my pace and I was sure I was right around eight minutes. The first mile had the worst of the hills so I picked up the pace in the second mile which was pretty flat. The heart rate monitor was reading 177 and now it moved up to 180. My interval training told me that this was ok, but I've never tried to sustain that pace over this long of a distance. Most of my longer runs are done at a heart rate of about 155, marathon pace is about 158, my lactacte thresholdl is 163, and my max heart rate is 183. So 180 is pushing it.

Mile two came and went and the race started to feel much longer than any 5k I've ever run. I was now anxiously waiting to see the three mile marker as the life started to drain from my legs and my pace started to drop. I managed to keep my heart rate at 177 and finally saw the 3 mile marker. This was the sign to put on the final kick and I crossed the line with a time of 26:09.9 which is an 8:26 minute per mile pace.

In my younger days I might have been disappointed. But I ran hard under challenging conditions and it felt great to do it. I fished some water out of the ice filled bed of a pickup truck and sat on a curb while Scout plopped down in the puddle formed by the melting ice. We both enjoyed a cool drink and then walked back up the course to meet my wife and Hunter. She walked most of the 5k even though Hunter kept urging her to run. Considering that a year ago she was recovering from foot surgery for plantar fasciitis, this was a big step for her too.

Well, sorry to bore you, but if you've never run a foot race go out and do it. For $20 you get a cool t-shirt, help out a local charity, and get to celebrate being alive by running or walking with a few hundred other folks. Times don't really matter since the reward is just getting out and doing it.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mormons and Polygamy

The buzz surrounding the HBO show Big Love and the FBI putting Warren Jeffs on its top 10 most wanted list has the Mormon church spinning furiously. Click on the title of this entry and it will take you to the church's responses to recent news coverage of polygamy. They also link to this entry which is the church's version of its practice of polygamy.

I'd like to correct a few errors in the church's corrections.
During a report about law enforcement’s crackdown and hunt for Warren Jeffs, leader of a polygamist group, CNN superimposed the face of Jeffs over an image of the Salt Lake Temple. Again, this implies a connection between the two. This is not just careless editing, but highly offensive to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Warren Jeffs is not and never has been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The connection is simple. The FLDS church and others like it are offshoots of the Utah church. Plain and simple. When the Utah church apostatized from Joseph Smith's teachings regarding polygamy, some people continued the practice. But the link is quite clear and it is disenguous of the church to claim no linkage.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discontinued the practice of polygamy in 1890.
The Mormon church did NOT discontinue the practice of polygamy in 1890. In fact, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve continued to authorize polygamous marriages and continued to enter into their own polygamous marriages until 1904 when the First Presidency was forced to put out a second manifesto against polygamy and eventually had to excommunicate two apostles who continued the practice after that.

Even then, the practice was NOT abandoned, but modified to comply with U.S laws. In fact, the church continues to perform polygamous marriages in its temples to this day. It regularly performs proxy polygamous marriages for the deceased. It also allows men who have divorced or who are widowed to remarry in the temple even if they are still sealed to their prevous wife. In the church's eyes the previous marriage is still in effect and that man has entered into a polygamous marriage. The church has never modified or renounced section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants which officially authorized polygamy and continues the practice it in the limited way mentioned.
There is no such thing as a "Mormon fundamentalist," nor are there “Mormon sects." A correct term to describe these polygamist groups is "polygamist sects." The inclusion of the word “Mormon” is misleading and inaccurate.
I'm not sure how the Utah church would characterize the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or the Strangite branch of the church or the many other offshoots of the church that was founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. The branch led by Brigham Young is clearly the largest, most successful branch but it is just as clearly not the only one. This statement is so clearly wrong and easily falsified that it boggles the mind. Just because you say something, doesn't make it true. The fact is that there was no clear succession plan in place when Joseph Smith was killed and there were many people who could legitimately claim the leadership of the church. The fact that Brigham Young and succeeding church presidents took years to take the office of president was a direct result of the fact that Joseph Smith left no revelations authorizing them to take that role. The church's current succession practice is not in any canon of the church and is more of a tradition than anything else. In fact, alternatives have been discussed and considered by the First Presidence and Quorum of the Twelve.

Finally, we have this gem.
Polygamy — or more correctly polygyny, the marriage of more than one woman to the same man — was an important part of the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a half century.
Nine of the first twelve of Joseph Smith's polygamous marriages were to women who were married to other men. So polyandry, the marriage of one woman to multiple men, was an integral part of the original practice of polygamy by Joseph Smith. This practice was continued by Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball after Joseph Smith's death.

While I was an active member I wondered why the church talked so little about its polygamous past other than to state that it no longer practices polygamy. It seemed to me that the current church leaders must be embarrassed and ashamed by the practice. If the practice was correct, then why were they trying to hide and bury it? When I learned the facts surrounding Mormon polygamy it became clear. They couldn't very well quote past prophets who claimed that the church would never stop the practice no matter what the government said and that they shouldn't believe anyone who said otherwise. The details of Joseph Smith's practice of polygamy are embarrassing as he skulked around cheating on his wife with other men's wifes and children and then lied about it and slandered those that tried to expose him.

I'm not sure what the church hope to accomplish by publishing "corrections" like in the referenced articles. The facts are so easily found that it is difficult to believe that the statements are made out of ignorance of the truth. The only conclusion I can make is that the church is knowingly lying about its polygamous past and its links to the polygamous Mormon sects in Utah and surrounding states in the hopes that if they repeat the lies often enough then people will believe them and the past will be forgotten.


Come, Ye Children of the Lord

1. Come, ye children of the Lord,
Let us sing with one accord.
Let us raise a joyful strain
To our Lord who soon will reign
On this earth when it shall be
Cleansed from all iniquity,
When all men from sin will cease,
And will live in love and peace.

2. Oh, how joyful it will be
When our Savior we shall see!
When in splendor he’ll descend,
Then all wickedness will end.
Oh, what songs we then will sing
To our Savior, Lord, and King!
Oh, what love will then bear sway
When our fears shall flee away!

3. All arrayed in spotless white,
We will dwell ’mid truth and light.
We will sing the songs of praise;
We will shout in joyous lays.
Earth shall then be cleansed from sin.
Ev’ry living thing therein
Shall in love and beauty dwell;
Then with joy each heart will swell.

It is perhaps telling that the first thing that came to mind when I heard the word accord was the above hymn along with the music. I like music and one of the things that I miss from my church days is the worship music. This hymn is a song of hope and celebration that looks forward to the millenial reign of Jesus Christ and captures a message of hope and optimism that is reflected in the accompanying music.

I remember growing up in church when we had music practice during Sunday School opening exercises. The director I remember most was my piano teacher. She would start leading the song and if she didn't think the congregation was doing the hymn justice then she would stop the music, walk to the podium, and explain what the song meant and how it should be sung. She would repeat this until everyone one singing and doing the song. Joyous songs were sung joyously, worshipful songs worshipfully, and sad songs sadly. I gained a much greater appreciation for church music under her direction.

That carried over to my student days at BYU. I remember really getting into singing the hymns during meetings. It helped that all of the members of the congregation were young, enthusiastic college students and that many had musical talents from their Mormon upbringing. I remember sitting next to girls with angelic voices and being thrilled at the spirit that was conveyed by not just the hymns, but the union of several hundred voices expressing a common belief.

When I became a missionary I spent two months in the Missionary Training Center and music was an integral part of the experience. We sang hymns in our classes, in our branch meetings, and in MTC firesides. Nothing can compare to the joined voices of hundreds of missionaries lifting their unified voices in a celebration of their most deeply held beliefs. It literally sent chills down my spine and brought tears of joy to my eyes. During my mission I often found myself singing hymns to myself to lift my spirits or to express my feelings. This continued after my mission when I'd sing hymns while walking to classes or while resting privately in my room.

Later in life it often saddened me the way that hymns were sung during church services. All of the hymns were played at the same dirge-like 60 beats per minute no matter what the recommended tempo of the hymn was. When the members did sing, and many didn't seem to, it was without enthusiasm or spirit. Instead of being a celebration of their faith the hymns were just another example of going through the empty motions that seem to characterize much of the Mormon culture; they were doing it because they were supposed to but didn't really enjoy it and really didn't seem to see the point.

Even though I don't go to church any more and even though I don't literally believe the message of the above hymn, it still lifted my heart to remember it and sing it in my heart. This is one of those happy memories that are all the more important because they sometimes seem rare.

Weekly Anamnesis

Now You've Become a Part of Me

Nothing ever stops all these thoughts
and the pain attached to them
Sometimes I wonder why this is happenin'
It's like nothing I could do would distract me when
I think of how I shot myself in the back again
'Cause from the infinite words I could say I
Put all the pain you gave to me on display
But didn't realize
Instead of setting it free I
took what I hated and made it apart of me

It never goes away, It never goes away...

And now
You've become a part of me
You'll always be right here
You've become a part of me
You'll always be my fear
I can't separate
Myself from what I've done
Given up a part of me
I've let myself become you

Figure.09, Linkin Park
My wife hates Linkin Park. I think that the screaming and anger stresses her out. Their music is an interesting fusion of rap, hard rock, and hip-hop that probably shouldn't work but that I find pretty compelling. Strong feelings seem to yield the best art and anger and pain are perhaps some of the strongest emotions we experience. I've always liked Figure.09 but I only listened to the words closely this morning and realized why I like it so much. It expresses perfectly one of the great frustrations and struggles in my life. I grew up hating my father. One of my great motivations in life as a teenager was to graduate from high school as soon as possible and go away to college so I could escape a controlling, dominating, abusive father. A big reason I went out for wrestling in high school was so that I could protect myself and my siblings from my father on those occasions when he completely lost it. Yet despite my hatred I catch myself acting like him. Like the song says, I took what I hated and made it a part of myself.

JLO commented in his blog that he hates the fact that even after escaping the mental cluster-fuck of Mormonism it still seems to define him as an ex-Mormon. It's not just Mormonism though. Like it or not our personality and behavior are strongly influenced for good or bad by our life experiences and we only escape our past with great effort and difficulty. Whether it is the anger from our childhood or the deeply ingrained irrational beliefs of a fundamentalist religion we can change. But first we have to confront the thing we want to change, name it, and then constantly remind ourselves of where we want to be and work on change. Even then, we never escape our past since if we are successful in our transformation we now define ourselves relative to what we once were.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Is this a spam blog?

Apparently blogger thinks so. I'm not sure what that means, but apparently the content here matched their filters so I have to type in a Word Verification password in order to post until a human determines that this isn't spam.

I'm not sure what a spam blog is, but I don't think that it says a whole lot about the quality or content of my posts.

Anyway, off to bed where I can ponder how to make my posts a little less robotic.

What About the Other Half of the Other Half?

My friend is a rock climber and over dinner a couple of weeks ago he mentioned that he was taking the scouts climbing on the limestone cliffs above Barton Springs Creek in Austin. He invited me along so the next day I headed out. I yelled to the boys to see if they wanted to come along but only my 12 year old daughter answered. So, I headed to the scout activity with my daughter.

She did her first climbing this year at a rock gym during a Young Men/Young Women joint activity for church. We've gone as a family a couple of times since then and she is pretty good. She's built like I used to be: long and skinny. We showed up and all of the older adult members warmly greeted me. Although none of the church members have gone out of their way to stay in touch with me, they are always very friendly when I occassionally show up at a church sponsored activity.

Anyway, my daughter had a blast climbing on live rock for the first time. She actually did pretty well and made some moves that I'm not sure I could have made. As I was watching I was again struck about how unfair the church treats females. Our ward seems to have pretty decent leaders, but the programs for the boys and girls are still different, have different emphasis, and as far as I can tell the Young Women's program doesn't have anything comparable to Boy Scouts. Maybe the girls just wouldn't be interested, but my 12 year old daughter seemed to enjoy the rock climbing as much as the boys. She also loves to camp, loves to explore in the woods, like to go running with me, likes to ride horses, likes to swim, etc. In other words she likes all of the activities traditionally done by scouts and I'm sure that she can see the greater opportunities that the boys have. My 6 year old daughter also seems to enjoy Brownies as much as my sons enjoyed Cub Scouts, but the church doesn't sponsor anything similar for young girls even though it does sponsor a Cub Scout Pack for the boys. I kind of felt sorry that none of the other fathers brought their daughters along. I know my friend would gladly do the same thing for the young women in the church if they asked, but I doubt that it will happen.

Doctrinally, the church is pretty equal for boys and girls until age 12. Up to that point they attend classes together and receive the exact same lessons. Other than Cub Scouts they are treated pretty equally. Suddenly, at age 12 the boys get the priesthood and the girls start getting lessons on their "Divine Worth." I've read the Young Women's curriculum and as near I can tell a woman's "Divine Worth" is to be a wife and mother and to support the priesthood. They shouldn't attain to anything else. In fact, it seems that they are discouraged from anything that would diminish their focus on being a stay at home mother. They are taught the evils of sex and that their virginity is something to be preserved with their life, if necessary. They are taught to not be a temptation to the young men sexually. They are taught to not date until age 16 and then to only date men that would be worthy to marry them in the temple. They are to make sure their boyfriends go on missions to spread the gospel and then marry them as soon as they get home. The pinnacle of their life should be getting married in the temple, having children, and then raising those children while supporting their family while staying at home. This is the divine road map for women in the church.

The Young Men get lessons on being part of a royal priesthood that is literally the power to act on behalf of God here on earth. From the beginning they are allowed to perform sacred ordinances required for salvation. The little they are taught about women is that they should honor them by not having sex with them before marriage. They are also taught the evils of sex with an additional emphasis on the evils of masturbation, which is apparently not a problem that females have. Supporting the Relief Society or women isn't taught. Instead they are taught to be the leaders in the home since that is the order that God established. This is reinforced in the temple, well it used to be, when the women are put under covenant to obey their husbands as if he were God. The pinnacle is similar to that of women: go on a mission, marry in the temple, and raise a righteous family. After that they are to be the leaders in the home, church, and community and to be the primary bread winners for the family. The only difference is that men are in a clearly superior role in the church and in the family and this is subtly and not so subtly taught to them from the time they are first ordained to the priesthood at age 12.

As I've talked to several people recently it has struck me how poorly the church's teachings serve the women in the church. One general authority of the church noted in a conference address that 1/3 of Mormon women will never marry. Roughly half of the rest that do get married will be divorced at least once. This is 2/3 of the church's women, well over half, that won't fit into the church's ideal. How does the lifetime of teaching serve these women. When they are constantly taught from a young, impressionable age that being wife and mother is not only important but their "Divine Worth" then doesn't that suggest that they've lost their worth. I'm not a woman, but if I were and I grew up in the church and bought fully into the church's teachings then I think that I would be devastated if the years passed and I never found a man worthy and willing to marry me in the temple. I think it would be equally difficult to live the church's teachings, marry in the temple, have children, and then suddenly find myself a single parent after a divorce.

This isn't some small minority like homosexuals that Mormons feel justified in shunning and ostracizing as sinners. This is roughly 1/3 of the church's population that either can't or won't be able to live up to the church's model for life. For these people, what does the church offer? What doctrinal comfort do they have for a life of solitude and loneliness? The church teaches that they should bear it gladly and in return they will be given to righteous men in the resurrection so that they can be their plural wives. What about during life? What comfort does the church offer to them while alive and not fitting into any of the programs or ideals of the church? Where are the lessons about how to prepare for single life? Where is the emphasis on the need for emotional and financial independence? How does the church prepare its young women for the leadership roles that they will be required to take as adults, independent of a husband that they may never have? From what I can tell, the issue isn't officially addressed. Hopefully they'll have leaders and parents that teach them to get a good education and a be able to support themselves in preparation for the likelihood that they will need to support themselves independently. But I haven't found that lesson in the Young Women's manual yet and I'm pretty sure that it isn't in the church's Proclamation on the Family.

I think that my father typifies the Mormon attitudes toward women. My sister is a wonderful, good person who is 40 and never married. She recently decided that she's probably never going to get married but still wanted the opportunity to be a mother so she is going going to be adopting a child from Guatemala where she was a missionary. When my father found out he asked if she was going to quit her job after the adoption. He wondered how she was going to raise the child alone and unemployed. I think he has heard of day care and realized the absurdity of the question. I think this was his subtle way of expressing his disapproval of a non-traditional family. I can see you nodding your heads. Nice, huh?

Think about it next time you hear a Mormon leader talk about the wonderful women in the church and how happy they are and how well they are treated by the church.

Please Stop the Insanity

I've gotten a couple of comments regarding running. I have to warn you where this may all go. Yesterday I got home from work and it was 85 degrees and about 95% humidity. While my children went swimming I jogged across the street to the track and after running a mile at an easy pace I proceeded to run a 12x200 interval workout starting at a 7:00 min/mile pace and ending at a 5:52 min/mile pace. My german shepherd dog completed the workout with me, but my golden retriever had the good sense to sit out the last couple of intervals and watch. The sick thing is that it felt good. Some elemental part of me enjoys this despite the sweat and my heart pounding at close to maximum heart rate after the last interval. What's next? Dominatrices? Piercings? Tatoos?

Before you get too inspired, you might want to reconsider.

Seriously, if you decide to start or resume running please take it easy. The evolution from non-runner to semi-runner has taken me several years. The guideline is that you shouldn't increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% each week and you should reduce your mileage every 4th or 5th week to give your body a rest. If you do that then you'll avoid injuries and enjoy yourself much more. Also, if you can afford it get a heart rate monitor and don't let your heart rate get too high. This is especially critical when you are starting out to make sure you don't overdo it. When I was starting I kept my heart rate below 150. If it got higher than that I walked until it dropped back down to 130. That's a perfect range for a middle-aged person to improve their conditioning and lose weight.

Monday, May 08, 2006


I vaguely remember Jim mentioning that it was difficult to find time to run with all of the hours he was working. Then he took a few days of vacation. Later I found out his "vacation" had been running in the Boston Marathon. Of course, I'd heard of the Boston Marathon. Who hasn't. But I didn't realize that they don't just let anyone enter into the race; each runner has to complete a qualifying marathon under a time based on their age and gender. No offense intended, but Jim had never struck me as a particularly athletic person. He was tall and thin and didn't have much muscle and he just didn't have the look.

It wasn't until last year that I ran my first foot race. Jim and other runners at work ran as a corporate team each year in Austin's Capitol 10k and in the past had won the event. I had started to run because I was in desparate need to lose weight, lower my blood pressure, and relieve stress. I started out not being able to run a mile without stopping. I kept running a 2.5 mile loop until I finally worked up to the point where I could run the entire loop without stopping to walk. Then I subscribed to Runner's World magazine so I could learn more about how to improve my running without injuring myself. I learned to add a weekly long run. Initially this was a 4.5 mile run which was pretty hard for me. As that run became easier I gradually extended the long runs until I was running continuously for an hour. I gradually extended myself on longer and longer runs until I worked up to 7 miles in about an hour and 15 minutes. At that point the 2005 Capitol 10k was coming up and I figured that I could at least finish it because it was 6.2 miles and I knew I could complete 7.

That first race was revealing. For me, it wasn't really a race, but more of a training run. I knew I could complete the distance but was under no illusions that I could complete it quickly. As the race progressed I was amused that I seemed to be racing with a fit lady that looked to be about 70 years old and a group of other mature women that were running with her. I'd let my weight carry me past them going down the hills and they'd come gliding back past me going back up the hills. Jim was waiting at the finishing line cheering me on. He congratulated me and told me that I looked like I was running really well. That was pretty kind of him. When I got home and looked up the race results I saw that he finished the race in about half of the time it took me.

It is a lot of fun running in a race. The Capitol 10k is a huge race with over 12,000 entries and there is nothing like running in a large group like that to motivate you. Even better, there is always someone a little faster than you, someone a little slower, and someone that is running at the same pace. This means that you are never running along. When I train, I run with my dogs, but other than that I'm always by myself. So the races present commaraderie that I don't get in training. I enjoyed my first race so much that I ran a couple of shorter 5k races over the next month.

The races gave me a goal and helped me increase my training. I continued to extend my long runs until I was up to 10 miles. Those long runs made me realize something about running that I'd never imagined. After running for about 45 minutes it was like something clicked in my body and it felt like I could just keep running forever. Some people talk about a runner's high, but I've never experienced that. It was more just a feeling of the running becoming easy and fluid without strain or effort. During the summer of 2005 I realized that if I could run 10 miles then I could probably run 13 and 13 is half of a marathon. So I started looking at a half marathon to enter. As I looked at RunTex's web site I saw a link to the Austin Distance Challenge. I went to that web site out of curiousity and went to the 2004 results. I was amazed to see that my friend Jim had taken 2nd place overall and 1st place in his age group. I knew Jim pretty well from work, but I had no idea that not only was he a good runner, but one of the best runners in Austin. You may not realize this, because I sure didn't, but Austin has a very hot running scene and is home to some world class distance runners. Jim, it turns out, is an elite athlete who consistently runs out at the front of all the races.

The Austin Distance Challenge was definitely jumping into the deep end. Over five months I race a 10k, a 10 miler, a half marathon, a 20k, another half marathon, a 20 miler, a half marathon, and finally the Freescale marathon. In addition to the 101 miles of racing I ran hundreds of miles of training and battled injuries and sore muscles.

Along the way I ran and raced with thousands of other runners. I learned an important, and for me, profound lesson. As you are standing at the starting line it is often to difficult to tell who is fit and who is not. The lean people aren't always well conditioned, although they probably are. Otherwise ordinary or unathletic looking types are suddenly transformed when the horn goes off. I've watched time and time again as apparently overweight people passed me and steadily pulled away as I strained to keep up. I've tried to hang with middle aged mothers who despite average appearances were very fast. I learned that it doesn't matter if you are pretty or homely, short or tall, fat or skinny, elegant or clumsy, you can be a good runner. What matters is whether or not you are willing to make the sacrifices and train regularly and put in the hundreds of miles of preparation. What matters is, literally, your heart. Once the race starts you can't fake it. You can't tough it out. You can't compensate for missed training runs. The race is the ultimate measure of how well you've prepared and how well you've been living your life. Running brings out the best of people by teaching them sacrifice, discipline, serenity, to explore their limits and push past them. And for me it has taught me the important lesson that you can't tell any of those things about a person by looking at surface appearances; you can only judge by the results in the race. So remember that next time you judge a stranger based on surface appearances. That mousy looking soccer mom just might be an elite athlete.

Weekly Anamnesis

Friday, May 05, 2006

Why I Don't Believe in the Mormon Church

I'll apologize up front for the long post. I wrote this a couple of years ago to accompany my letter of resignation which I still haven't sent.

The following points summarize my main reasons for not believing in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am sure that the church is well aware of the issues even though they are understandably unwilling or unable to address them. I don't list these items because I have questions or wish to debate. These issues and conclusions are the result of long and earnest study and my sole intent is to make you aware of some of the reasons behind my resignation. The complete facts behind these issues are easily available from a variety of sources for those that are willing to search them out and expand their education beyond church-approved documents. Unfortunately, I accepted the churches condemnation of "anti-Mormon" literature for 39 years and never read it. Since I have started reading more widely I have realized that the church fails to disclose many facts that contradict its official versions of its history and call the truthfulness of its teachings into question. This is a conscious policy on the part of the church to only teach "faithful" history and actively suppress contradictory evidence including excommunicating members who publish material that the leadership dislikes regardless of its truthfulness or accuracy.

  1. The need to fall back on blind faith and the rejection of reason and intellect as a means of discovering truth. I understand that some things, such as the existence of God, must be taken on faith. But the items below do not. A wealth of evidence strongly argues that the church is not what it claims to be. When contradictions become apparent it is proof that something is false. Faith is no longer necessary, and is in fact impossible, once a fraud can be proven. To meet facts with pleas for faith is disturbing. I find the church's use of "intellectual" as a demeaning word to be personally enlightening since it would seem to indicate that reason, truth, and light are not on the church's side and that the leadership knows it.

  2. Dishonesty of the church. I believe the church's policies to actively discourage and punish scholarship that challenges official church versions of history are overtly dishonest. Rather than openly investigating the truth and accepting the facts, the church whitewashes the results and teaches that historians should only publish that which is "faith promoting" and agrees with the official party line. Those that do not comply are excommunicated. If the church were true then it would not need to concern itself with honest scholarship and full disclosure and would not be afraid of open discourse. Excommunication is the ultimate power to brand a person's work as apostate without having to actually address the facts with reason or evidence.

  3. Joseph Smith lied about his ability to translate ancient documents. This is proven beyond a doubt by the discovery of the "Book of Abraham" papyrus and the subsequent discovery that they are pagan documents that have nothing to do with Abraham or Joseph. This is further corroborated by the discovery that the Kinderhook plates were a hoax that Joseph erroneously believed to be ancient brass plates. Joseph Smith was a seer (in the magical sense) and treasure digger before he became a prophet and used the same tools for translating the Book of Mormon as hunting for treasure. I don't believe (and he admitted in court that he couldn't) that he could find treasure by looking into a stone and find that to be compelling evidence that he was a fraud and con artist. In fact, New York court records prove that he was convicted of "disorderly conduct" for money digging and according to witnesses admitted in court that he could not see such things in his stone. He also confessed the same thing to his father in law. I furthermore don't believe that the same fraudulent tool would be used as the source of revelation, but witnesses clearly state that this stone was the Urim and Thummim used to "translate" the Book of Mormon. Parley P. Pratt claimed that the Book of Abraham was being translated using the Urim and Thummim just like the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham has since been proven to not be a correct translation. I see no reason to believe that the Book of Mormon was translated any more correctly than the Book of Abraham. They are both the products of Joseph Smith.

  4. He never had a real job and never supported himself or his family. His job was being the president and prophet of the church and he personally benefited greatly from that role. Throughout his adult life he constantly received monetary support for his role as prophet. He also received power and sex in his role.

  5. The Book of Mormon is not a historical document. It is at best a 19th century allegorical revelation to Joseph Smith and at worst a conscious fraud on his part to gain money and a livelihood. The historical record clearly shows his intent to make money from the enterprise when he received a revelation to sell the copyright. DNA evidence, textual analysis, archeology, linguistics, demographics, etc. call the historicity of the Book of Mormon into question. In fact, analysis of the Book of Mormon and its origins strongly suggests that Joseph Smith is its author. Even B. H. Roberts was forced to admit that the structure and ideas in the Book of Mormon are consistent with the common knowledge of Joseph Smith's culture and that Joseph Smith had sufficient imagination and creativity to have been the author of the book. Combined with the lack of evidence supporting the Book of Mormon's claims leads me to strongly believe that Joseph Smith was its author and that he drew on the ideas of his time and his own genius to dictate the text.

  6. Doctored history and revelations. The revelations in the D&C have been edited over time with additions and deletions to hide problems with the original revelations. Official church histories have been edited to remove any details that might not be faith promoting. The doctrine of two priesthoods was added after the fact and edited into the revelations after members challenged Joseph's authority. If the revelatory process is so error-prone then how can we trust that what is there doesn't require further editing.

  7. Current prophets method for receiving revelation seems to be even less trustworthy than Joseph Smith's methods, whatever they were. I would refer you to Gordon Hinckley's account of how the “revelation” allowing blacks to hold the priesthood was received. The experience is no different than what ordinary members go through in trying to feel inspiration. They pray and try to let their feelings guide them. If it feels good then they believe it is the Spirit prompting them. Experience shows that this isn't a reliable method. I find it incredible that this is how the church's prophets, seers, and revelators receive revelation. No voice from heaven, no vision, just what feels right to them after prayer and thoughtful discussion. Not that that's a bad method, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the result is indisputably God's will.

  8. Polygamy was not ordained of God or revealed to Joseph Smith. He engaged in polyandry as well as marrying teenage girls as young as 14 years old. This was not godly or righteous. It was simple adultery and seems typical of the predatory sexual behavior of many charismatic religious leaders. It appears that Joseph Smith introduced the doctrine of polygamy in order to provide divine justification for what would otherwise have been illegal and immoral behavior. His actions are not even justified by D&C 132. The strongest witness to this fact is the behavior of Emma Hale Smith Bidamon before and after Joseph's murder. She knew what was going on and that it was an evil practice. Unfortunately, Joseph Smith led the entire church astray with this false doctrine that was hurtful to so many women and children in the 19th and 20th centuries. Despite the church's discontinuation of the practice of allowing multiple living wives, men may still be sealed to multiple wives if the previous wives are deceased or divorced. Polygamy is still accepted as a true doctrine of the church. 19th century doctrine was that plural marriage was necessary for achieving exaltation. Either this was false doctrine or we can no longer be exalted. Or maybe the requirements for exaltation are changeable.

  9. The First Vision was a "work in progress" and evolved over time to bolster Joseph's position as prophet. It started as a simple theophany/dream/vision similar to many others recorded in that era and subsequent retellings over the years added additional details. Simple details that are now fundamental to church doctrine, such as the identity and number of the beings in the dream and the message, have been modified to strengthen Joseph's standing as prophet. It has also been transformed over time from being a subjective dream/vision to being an objective reality. It wasn't taught in the early church at all and didn't seem to be a key doctrine and only received its pre-eminent position many years later and after Joseph had written the current official version nearly two decades after the fact. The various versions are substantially different and the changes are most consistent with someone trying to strengthen their claim to divine authorization by embellishing their experiences.

  10. The temple ceremony is not a restoration of an ancient ordinance. Much of it was copied from Masonic rituals. Despite claims that it is a restoration and that it can't be changed or tampered with, the church has modified it over time to adapt it to cultural norms and removed parts of the original "revelation" that are disturbing such as blood oaths and oaths of vengeance against the United States and covenants of obedience of wives to husbands. It is "sacred", really secret, despite the fact that it contains nothing not openly taught outside the temple except secret handshakes, passwords, and (originally) penalties that were directly borrowed from masonry. It seems mostly to be a tool to maintain control over members through regular "worthiness" interviews that Joseph Smith himself could not have passed. I found it personally disturbing and in conflict with church teachings such as the Book of Mormon condemnation of secret oaths and blood oaths.

  11. The unrighteous use of power in the church. The church wields immense spiritual power over its faithful members. Authorities such as bishops are assumed to be acting for God and their actions are rarely questioned. In the minds of believing members the leaders of the church hold their salvation in their hands and control it through tools such as worthiness interviews that can be used to coerce members into compliance. When this power is abused (as it often is) the church members have no real recourse. Members have no equivalent to a "Bill of Rights" to protect them from spiritual abuse. For stark documentation of examples of such abuse and recommendations on how to deal with it I would refer you to the Mormon Alliance web page.

  12. Denial of the priesthood to all worthy members. Although blacks were originally given the priesthood (one of the original seventy was black), they were later denied until 1978. No revelation or official church statement has been given that authoritatively states why they were denied the priesthood and what changed to allow them to hold it only that it was God's will that it be so. The church simply stated, without clarification as to the reasons, that all worthy males could hold the priesthood. Nonetheless, women continue to be denied the priesthood despite inconsistent statements in the temple that they are ordained as priestesses and despite any scriptural reason why they should be denied the priesthood. They only reason seems to be the reason why blacks were denied: either the prophet hasn't asked or the brethren can't reach a consensus.

  13. Racism. Leaders of the church including Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Joseph Fielding Smith, Mark E. Petersen, Bruce R. McConkie and others taught that blacks are members of a cursed race and that spirits that were not valiant enough in the pre-existence were cursed by being born as members of the black race. A 1949 statement by the First Presidency stated that it was a commandment and a doctrine that blacks could not hold the priesthood at that time. This was taught as doctrine and continues to be accepted as doctrine by members of the church even though blacks can now hold the priesthood. The fact that the church has not publicly renounced these statements indicates that this continues to be the doctrine of the church. The church now seems to want distance itself from such statements although it has never officially repudiated them. The Book of Mormon also teaches that dark skin is a curse that results from wickedness. I do not believe that God is a respecter of persons, that he curses children for the sins of their parents, or that the spirits of black people are any less valiant than anyone else. My experiences with people of various races and nationalities indicates to me that all people were created equal and should be treated as such regardless of race, gender, or other superficial differences.

  14. Demeaning attitudes toward women in the church. The church can make whatever flowery statements it likes; women are subservient to men in the church in all decision making and all positions of true power. Young women are taught that their highest mission is to uphold the male priesthood as wives and mothers. In practice, females are marginalized in LDS culture. I have reviewed the Young Women's curriculum and find it demeaning. I do not want my two daughters to be brought up in the church if this is all that they are taught. Even the women's organization that the church is so proud of is run by men. All of its leaders are selected and must be approved by men. It's curriculum and programs must be approved by men. Any decisions that they make can be overridden by men. The women must swear in the temple obedience to their husbands and covenant to follow priesthood leadership. The church's statements of their respect for women are patronizing and attempt to hide the objective reality of life for women in the church.

  15. The gross ineffectiveness of the church as an organization. The meetings, curriculum, programs, policies, etc. of the church do not meet the needs of many of its members. Everything is driven from the top down and any local independence is strongly discouraged. Since the church claims to be directed by revelation, it does not seem to sense a need to solicit input from its members or to survey them to see how well their needs are being met. The church does not meet my needs and I don't see that it even cares. I would expect a church led by God through modern revelation to do a better job.

  16. The lack of financial disclosure or accountability to the members of the church. The church demands 10% of all members and 100% of those who have gone through the temple. Yet it doesn't disclose its budget or how those funds are used. Members get assurances that auditing procedures are in place that ensure that the money is being spent as directed by the leadership, but it has no way of knowing what the leadership is doing. What does the church fear? If the budget is set by revelation then wouldn't it be uplifting to see the hand of God in it? If not, then the membership deserves to see what decisions are being made and a forum for giving feedback. I would never contribute to any other charity that hides its income and expenditures and would actually find that practice to be extremely suspicious. The church's behavior raises similar suspicions on my part and I find at least certain expenditures that I'm aware of to be extremely questionable. The climate of secrecy and the lack of external accountability has created an environment that is ripe for corruption and waste.

  17. Lack of concern about physical and sexual abuse or effective policies to deal with it. Despite documented cases of sexual abuse by church leaders the church does not have youth protection policies like Boy Scouts that are aimed at prevention. Instead, it focuses on denial and liability control after the fact.

  18. Book of Mormon witnesses were unreliable. The character, impartiality, and reliability of the witnesses are questionable. They never denied their witness of the Book of Mormon, but they also never clarified their witness independently. This is pretty strange. You'd expect that with eleven independent witnesses we'd have many retellings of their experiences. But we don't. We have Joseph Smith's prepared statements. We don't have any first hand accounts of the circumstances surrounding the eight witnesses. Martin Harris' account of his witness sounds a lot like more like a hallucination and wishful thinking than anything else. We also have Martin Harris stating publicly that none of the witnesses saw any of it with their physical eyes. For him it was was probably compelling that they'd seen with their “spiritual” eyes, but to me it leaves open the probability of a dreamlike experience that was influenced by Joseph Smith preparing them for what they should see. David Whitmer never denied his witness, but he also stated quite plainly that he knew with as much certainty that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet as he knew that the Book of Mormon was true. So, if he is believable then should Mormon's that accept his witness of the Book of Mormon also accept his witness against Smith? Beyond this, if these witnesses are compelling evidence then Mormons should be following the James Strang branch of the church instead of Brigham Young's. Like Smith, Strang claimed to have translated new scriptures and also had witnesses that never denied their claims.

I have spent countless hours studying the church and weighing the pros and cons of the above issues and many others. I find the vast preponderance of evidence to be against the church and find very little if any to substantiate its claims beyond blind faith. Although I appreciate the many good people in the church and the good work they struggle to do, I can find that outside the church without subjecting my family and myself to the church's dishonesty and the unhealthy aspects of LDS culture. The church has lied to me my entire life and its leaders either know or should know better. I feel comfortable disassociating myself from an organization that is built and maintained on lies.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

What Google Taught Me About Mormonism

After the Mormon church edited its temple endowment ceremony in 1990 to make it more politically correct and less offensive, I strongly questioned the truth of the church. If the highest ordinances were revealed to the prophet from God, then why would those truths need to be removed in order avoid offending people? How is this different than the signs of apostasy that Mormons point out in other churches such as the practices of baptizing infants or baptism by means other than immersion. The Mormons are very precise in their ordinances. Both baptism and the sacrament have revealed prayers that must be said word for word. The endowment is the same and must be said word perfect. So, isn't changing of saving ordinances a clear sign of apostasy?

I was stuck and didn't know how to reconcile this apparent contradiction with the teachings of the church. I also didn't believe that prayer was an appropriate way of answering my questions since the best it could do would be to make me feel good about a clear contradiction. Frankly, it didn't work and I knew that no amount of prayer could make 1+1=3.

But I stuck it out for 13 years and lived a life of schizophrenic belief. I could drop into my lifelong TBM personality and completely suppress my doubts, but when I was alone my doubting Thomas personality reasserted itself with questions that didn't have answers.

Then a couple of years ago I ran into an article about an anti-Scientology website that was being sued by the $cientologists for revealing their most precious seeeecrets. I couldn't resist going to see what they were so intent on hiding from the uninitiated. What I found was ludicrously funny. How could any person believe such amateur sci-fi psycho-babble brainwashing?

And then it suddenly clicked in my mind. Wouldn't other people see Mormons the same way? I wondered what was out there about Mormons that the Mormon church didn't want investigators to know. So I hit Google and within an hour I realized that the doubts I had harbored for 13 years were valid. I found a rich harvest of facts that showed that the Mormon church had systematically lied to me for my entire life in order to keep me a member and to use me for its own purposes.

So, what did I find out there on Google? Two sites were particularly useful to me. The first was the Tanner's web site at Utah Lighthouse Ministry. Of course, I had heard about the Tanners. They are famous Anti-Mormons and as a Mormon I thought I knew what that meant. It meant that they were bitter liars that couldn't be trusted and that took isolated statements and events out of context and twisted them to their own means in order to attack the church and members with weak testimonies. I was surprised that that didn't seem to be the case. In fact, I discovered that they seemed to be quite cautious in not overstating their case. They didn't seem to distort or misrepresent Mormon beliefs and teachings. Instead, they did a good job of documenting what the church had taught and done in the past and how the church has consistently changed and evolved its teachings in order to further its designs. So I recommend:

Utah Lighthouse Ministries

Another link that I found very helpful was the ExMormon web site. At first I looked at exit stories and discovered that those leaving the church weren't the caricature that Mormons perpetuate of people that had weak testimonies or that couldn't hack it in the church. In fact, many seemed very much like me. They were thoughtful people that reached the conclusion the church wasn't what it claimed and that it wasn't meeting their needs. Then I lurked on the bulletin board and confirmed that these weren't all a bunch of nut jobs. In fact, many were very thoughtful and reasonable. It was comforting to know that I wasn't alone. It was very comforting. You need support and affirmation or else leaving your religion can be a very lonely and difficult journey. The ExMormon web sites help provide that support.

ExMormon Web Site
Recovery From Mormonism Bulletin Board

I spent a lot of time on those web sites initially and became aware of a number of books about Mormon history which over time I purchased and read. I've posted a partial list of those books previously.

Another web site that I found was the Mormon Alliance. This web site documents examples of spiritual and ecclesiastical abuse by the Mormon church and proposes changes that should be made in the church to prevent its leaders from misusing their positions of power and trust to harm the members. This web site has many sad, but compelling stories. If you believe that the church isn't harmful then you should check out this web site. It pretty clearly shows how harmful it can be to those that don't conform to Mormon ideals.

Mormon Alliance

These web sites were key in helping me realize that my doubts about the Mormon church were justified and gave me further evidence that, in my mind, is insurmountable. The Mormon church simply is not what it claims to be and only perpetuates itself by systematically lying and distorting the truth.

I've included these links and others on on the right. So, if you are interested then please explore. Just remember to keep an open mind.

For balance I've also included some links to the Mormon's official web site and their most prominent apologists and defenders. I would also encourage search there for responses to the damaging information on the above web sites. You may be surprised that the church won't officially respond to most of the information. When it does you'll find that its responses are very weak. Further, I think the strongest evidence against the church are the disreputable and often obscene and dishonest responses of its apologists. But that's just my opinion.