Sunday, December 23, 2007

December 23

For those that don't know, December 23 is an important date on the Mormon calendar. On December 23, 2005 Joseph Smith was born. By his own admission, Joseph Smith is the most important man to have walked the earth, save perhaps Jesus Christ himself. The appropriate greeting for this day when meeting a Mormon is, "Merry Smithmas to all, and to all many wives."

Thanks to RfM for informing me on the appropriate greeting.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Okay, I know you're just dying to know how my weight loss program and marathon training has transformed the Bull's body. The pictures don't lie. Nothing much has changed...

All Healed Up

I tweaked my calf at the Dallas Half Marathon so I spent last week doing my workouts in the gym on the elliptical trainer. By Thursday I felt good enough to run a couple of miles on the treadmill after 60 minutes on the elliptical. My calf was still a little sore, but it didn't hurt my running. The big day is fast approaching so I made the call that it wasn't up to the punishment of the 20 mile run I had scheduled for last Saturday. Instead I spent 4+ hours in the gym going nowhere on the elliptical with a mile on the treadmill thrown in for good measure every hour. The only saving grace was that I can read on the elliptical so I caught up on a huge backlog of magazines I had laying around.

Yesterday I resumed running with an easy 3.5 miles. No pain or soreness so I think I'm good to resume running. In fact, my legs feel fantabulously great.

This week is a recovery week anyway so I don't have anything tough planned until Saturday. Then it's a short run, but I'll be doing a race simulation with 10 miles at my marathon goal pace of 9:09/mile. I'll warm up for a couple of miles and then do one 10.1 mile loop of Town Lake at race pace to see if the pace is doable. It better feel easy or else it will be time to reset my goals and perhaps pull out of the Houston Marathon and focus on Austin the next month.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is the Mormon Church Honest?

I grew up thinking so. After all, I believed that it was God's true church and the truth has nothing to fear. Right?

However, I grew up fully aware, and embarrassed, of how different my religion was. After all, the basic premise of the Mormon church is that it is THE one true church and that all other churches, although they may have remnants or parts of the truth,
were false. Not only are they false, the Book of Mormon very clearly states that they are the whore of the earth and the church of the devil. Some think that this refers to the Catholic church, but the Book of Mormon clearly teaches that there are only two churches: the church of the Lamb and the church of the devil. If you aren't the true church, then you are part of the other one. Needless to say this didn't go over well with other religions and still doesn't. So the church doesn't exactly go around using this is as a talking point in its missionary discussions.

Anyway, a big part of my mission was overcoming my embarrassment about the church and learning to be proud and bold about talking about the church. After all, if it is true then there is no reason to be afraid. Blacks and the priesthood? No problem. The priesthood is God's power delegated to man. He get's to choose who to delegate it to. He has chosen prophets and told them who can and can't have it. He doesn't give it to non-church members. He doesn't give it to women. And until 1978 he didn't give it to blacks. God has spoken and who am I to argue. I don't know the reason, but he must know what he is doing. After all he IS God.

Do you get the point? The point of the Mormon church, first and foremost, is that it is led by a prophet of God who tells us God's will. It's not a debating society. It's not a democracy. It's the divine source of all truth and knowledge. So, if God's word runs against current social mores then it's an indication that society has strayed. It's not for the church to conform; the world needs to pray, humble itself, and conform to God's word.

In an election year, the church has suddenly been thrust to center stage by the candidacy of Mitt Romney. They have been given an unprecedented opportunity to boldly declare their beliefs and how they differ from the other religions of the world. They have an opportunity to proudly declare their beliefs. Fox News gave them a list of questions that focused on some of the church's controversial beliefs. Check out their answers. Most of them are simple lies. For the record I'll answer the questions for them since they seem incapable.

Q: Why do some call the Church a cult?

A: Because it meets almost all of the attributes of destructive personality cults such as the Church of Scientology. Because it exerts tremendous social pressure to exert control over all aspects of its members.

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God?

A: Yes.

Q: Does the Church believe in the divinity of Jesus?

A: Yes

Q: Does the Church believe that God is a physical being?

A: Yes. It believes that God the Father and Jesus Christ are beings of flesh and bone and that they are perfected humans.

Q: If so, does the Church believe that God lives on a planet named Kolob?

A: Yes.

Update: I was wrong. Kolob is a star. All the scripture says is that it is close to God, whatever that means. In fact, read about it yourself in Abraham 3. If it makes any sense to you then you're doing better than me. Still, as far as I know this doesn't have any theological significance whatsoever to Mormons now or ever other than they claim that Abraham had a great deal of advanced astronomy revealed directly to him by God. However, as far as I know, no astronomers, not even at the Lord's university (BYU), have found that the Book of Abraham has been of any particular use in shedding light on the nature of the cosmos.

Q: Where is the planet Kolob? What significance does the planet have to Mormons?

A: They don't know, but the Book of Mormon, part of the Mormon canon, tells about it and its cosmic relationship to this world and the other worlds in this universe. It doesn't really have any theological role in the church.

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe that God and Mary had physical sex to conceive Jesus?

A: It's not part of the church canon, but one of the church's prophets taught publicly that Jesus' physical body was conceived the same way as any other naturally conceived human body. The same prophet also taught that God and Mary were plurally married. Most members are unaware of the teaching, but the church DOES teach that Jesus is the literal physical son of God the Father. In the end, does it really matter if it was copulation, artificial insemination, or immaculate conception? God fathered a son with an unmarried woman. All Christians believe that. Non-mormons just seem to object to the idea that the Virgin Mary had sex with God.

Update: Here is a pretty good link summarizing the church's past teachings on the matter.

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe Jesus appeared in North America after his crucifixion and resurrection?

A: Yes.

Q: If so, when did this happen? And under what circumstances?

A: Right after his ascension in Jerusalem. After three days of complete darkness Jesus descended in a pillar of light from heaven in America were he ministered to the people, ordained apostles, preached, instituted ordinances, and organized his church.

Honestly, this is the most perplexing answer that the church gave. This is one of their BIG selling points.

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe its followers can become "gods and goddesses" after death?

A: Yes. They believe that God is a perfected man and that all people are his children with the divine nature to rise to become gods and goddesses. This is what the church calls exaltation and it is one of the key doctrines of the church.

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe that women can only gain access to heaven with a special pass or codewords?

A: Their answer is a blatant lie. The answer is yes. The answer is also yes for men. Read Brigham Young's definition of the temple endowment. People must have the keywords, tokens, and handshakes in order to pass by the angels and enter into the highest degree of glory.

Update: Ok, first you have to define what you mean by heaven. Mormons scripture defines 3 heavens: telestial, terrestrial, and celestial. The celestial kingdom in turn has three degrees the highest of which is reserved for faithful Mormons who have been married in the temple. Mormon theology claims universal salvation for all except sons of perdition who openly, knowingly rebel against God. So, everyone, including murderers and child molesters will go to heaven although it might be the lowest. Still Joseph Smith claimed that if we knew how wonderful the lowest heaven was we'd commit suicide to get in.

Still, most Mormons aspire to the highest degree of the celestial kingdom when thinking of heaven and generally when they talk about heaven that is what they mean. Men and women need to be endowed and married in the temple and know the appropriate handshakes and passwords to get in.

Furthermore, men get to know one of the secret passwords of their wives (their new name) but the women don't know the husband's. I learned that men would use this key word to call forth their wives in the resurrection. Sort of as if the resurrection is a temple ordinance over which the men preside. I guess this is another reason why Mormon women should be hesistant about disobeying their worthy priesthood holding husbands.

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe that women must serve men on both Earth and in heaven?

A: Until 1990 women had to covenant in the temple to obey their husbands in righteousness just as they would obey God. They are NOT equal in any way in the church. They are expected to be subservient and accountable to the male priesthood hierarchy. No matter how much the church states otherwise, the church makes clear differences between men and women with women always below men.

Q: Is there such a thing as Mormon "underwear"? if so, are all Mormons required to wear it? What does it symbolize?

A: Their answer here is tactful, but correct. They are called the garments of the holy priesthood and only members who have received their temple endowments wear them. They wear them as a constant reminder of their temple covenants and as a spiritual and physical protection.

A pertinent part of this is an enumeration of the covenants that are made. Romney, if he is active Mormon, wears garments and some of his covenants could be construed to conflict with the oath of the President of the U.S.A. People should be interested in knowing exactly what SECRET oaths and covenants Romney has taken in the temple if he is to serve in high office. If he is wearing garments it is an indication that he takes those oaths seriously.

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe in the existence of another physical planet or planets, where Mormons will "rule" after their death and ascension?

A: This is a clear lie. The canon teaches that exaltation is inheriting "worlds without end". All active, studious members know that this is a lie.

Q: What specifically does the Mormon Church say about African-Americans and Native Americans?

A: This is a clear lie. The Mormon church to this day teaches that the dark skins of blacks and Indians are the result of a curse for wickedness and were given as a sign to prevent the righteous from intermixing with them. Until 1978 a Mormon with even one black ancestor anywhere in their past was denied the priesthood and the blessings of the priesthood and as a result was denied exaltation or the highest level of heaven. This doctrine has NEVER been changed. It was only modified to say that the Lord has decided that the time has come where, finally, everyone could have all the blessings regardless of color. This has only been true since 1978. But even today, dark skin is a mark of unrighteousness.

Updated: OK, a clear lie of ommission. Their answer is true as far as it goes since 1978. But is incomplete and as such is a lie because it is simply non-responsive. For rather obvious reasons they don't want to give a complete answer.

Q: What are or were the "Golden Plates"?

A: The dissimulation here is that The Book of Mormon is a history of "peoples" in the Western Hemisphere. This is a modification of the original teaching that it was the history of all the people of the Western Hemisphere.

Again, the Book of Mormon is the whole reason the church was founded and is one its key doctrinal differences.

Q: Are consumption of alcohol and tobacco prohibited or simply discouraged?

A: The Word of Wisdom was originally a recommendation that wasn't made a commandment until the 1920s. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others were known to violate the Word of Wisdom.

Q: Does the Church also ban the consumption of "hot drinks"? And does that apply specifically to caffeinated drinks?

A: The current prophet has publicly stated that it applies to caffeinated sodas such as Pepsi and Coke.

Q: Why do Mormons go from door to door?

A: No problem here. All Christians should do the same. It's in the Bible.

Q: What do the Mormons believe about the family?

A: They forgot to state that families can be forever if the parents are married in the temple and sealed to their children. I'm surprised that they forgot this. It's only beaten into the head of every Mormon from the time they can first sing a song in Primary.

Q: Can someone who may never marry in life have eternal marriage?

A: Truthful in as far as it goes. The actual doctrine is that single women will be given as plural wives to righteous polygamists in the celestial kingdom in the afterlife. Otherwise they cannot be exalted.

Updated: Thanks for the comments from Mattman. But the answers are positively Clintonian in their parsing of words and careful phrasing and reliance on ambiguity and misunderstanding of how Mormons have redefined the common meaning of words such as "heaven" without revealing how they are interpreting the word in a way that they know the questioner didn't intend or doesn't understand. It's obvious that these questions are intentionally probing into weird areas of Mormon theology. But that some such as the question about the golden plates are core and even there they couldn't give a good answer.

The problem is that the church really IS weird. It is trying to mainstream, but to do so would require stripping it of everything that makes it unique and appealing to its believers.

Monday, December 17, 2007

An Apostle's Witness of Christ

Joseph Smith claimed that he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ. He founded the Mormon church and claimed that he received the authority to do so directly from ancient prophets including Elijah, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, and others. His church has claimed unique authority among the worlds churches and religions to represent God and its members regularly bear testimony that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one and only true church on the face of the earth.

The divine visitations to Joseph Smith are very important to Mormons because they are central to Joseph's claim of prophetic status. Joseph's successors have continued to claim a prophetic mantle and the current presidency of the church and its twelve apostles are all sustained by the church members as prophets, seers and revelators. The apostles also claim the role as special witness of Jesus Christ.

Their is an aura of reverence and secrecy surrounding those claims. I can never recall a modern church leader claiming to have seen God face to face as a man, but church members assume that they have. Part of the belief is that it is too sacred to speak about. But the assumption is there and it is carefully cultivated. After all, if an apostle's faith is no different than a rank and file member's, then what makes his witness "special"? The "special" aspect is assumed by most members to be a personal visit by Jesus that allows them to proclaim his divinity with a certainty denied to those that must live by faith.

If you read the above church article you'll see how carefully the apostles choose their language to give the impression that their knowledge is different than that of a normal member. This is how Howard Hunter describes the role of the ancient apostles:

These twelve Apostles served a vital function in the Lord’s plan. They were special witnesses of the Savior’s divinity and of his literal resurrection. Not only did they know him during his mortal ministry, but they communed with him after his resurrection. The resurrected Redeemer appeared in the midst of his disciples in the upper room. They handled the Lord’s hands and feet and learned that Jesus was not merely a spirit but a resurrected being with flesh and bones. (See Luke 24:38, 39.)

These Apostles knew of the Lord’s divinity and of his resurrection with a certainty beyond all disputation. With this knowledge, born of experience and confirmed by the Holy Ghost, they were commanded to “be witnesses unto [Christ] both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
It is very clear from this quote that the function of an apostle was to be an actual eye witness of the resurrected Lord to those who have not actually seen him. Note that the Mormon church claims to have apostles that fulfill the same role. By implication the reader is left to assume that the modern apostles are also literal witnesses who have "handled the Lord's hands and feet." But note the careful way he states this.
In our day the Lord has again called Apostles. These Apostles have been ordained as special witnesses of Christ in all the world. They know of the reality of Christ and his redemption with a certainty born of the Spirit.
Note that here he uses the cryptic statement, "with a certainty born of the Spirit." Church members are taught that mortals cannot bear the presence of God except through the power of the Spirit. So what does he mean? He quickly follows with a quote from Joseph Smith,
“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice beating record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father.” (D&C 76:22–23.)

The Prophet’s witness, born of experience and of the Spirit, has been proclaimed throughout the world, and the Holy Ghost has confirmed the truthfulness of that witness in the hearts of millions who have received the word with gladness. The pattern for proving spiritual things has been reestablished in our day. And an unbroken chain of succession has ensured that the apostolic calling has been with us continually since it was restored to Joseph Smith.
Are you following his logic? It's seems pretty clear that he's making the claim that he, as a modern apostle, follows the pattern and has had a similar experience to Joseph Smith and the ancient apostles. Here's his special witness:

As an ordained Apostle and special witness of Christ, I give to you my solemn witness that Jesus Christ is in fact the Son of God.


The resurrected Lord has continued his ministry of salvation by appearing, from time to time, to mortal men chosen by God to be his witnesses, and by revealing his will through the Holy Ghost.

It is by the power of the Holy Ghost that I bear my witness. I know of Christ’s reality as if I had seen with my eyes and heard with my ears. I know also that the Holy Spirit will confirm the truthfulness of my witness in the hearts of all those who listen with an ear of faith.

Parse the words carefully and note the "as if." As a faithful member would this increase or decrease your belief that the apostles have actually seen Jesus Christ? Everything leading up to this point is carefully constructed to give that impression, but he comes just short of making the claim. Many members would claim that he's too humble or that the experience is too sacred.

The only reason I bring it up is that he gave this talk on October 30, 1983 and only a little over a month later, while in the Missionary Training Center, I heard this same man during the Church's Christmas Devotional Broadcast explicitly state that he had never seen Jesus Christ and that his "special" witness was a spiritual witness that he felt was stronger than if he'd actually seen him. Maybe it's just me, but it doesn't seem like that is the impression he was trying to give or that apostles continue to try to give today.

So, I'll give him credit for actually publicly answering the question although I can't find any transcripts of that talk.

I'll also close by noting that just a few short years later this man became the president and prophet of the church. So, unless something changed in those years it's probable that the Mormon church is led by prophets that have never seen God despite the fact that they allow the perception to exist that they have.

Is it just me, or is that dishonest?

Friday, December 14, 2007

What I Believe

This is a continuation of three previous posts: What is God? The Mormon Version, Seeds of Doubt, and The Roles of Faith and Science.

This all started out with someone on another forum asking what we believe now that we've left Mormonism. I posted a short answer which but as I started to post it here I realized that it really didn't make a lot of sense without some context about my original beliefs and how they have evolved to reach the point where I am now.

If you believe in an omnipotent, interventionist God then you open a whole can of worms and God becomes very capricious, helping the unworthy while letting the worthy suffer. If he does intervene it is in a manner so inexplicable to me as to be useless to explain either good or evil. I don't see any magic recipe like that promised by Mormonism where we can bind God to bless us if we keep his laws. I just see too many instances where it doesn't work out. Either that or you are reduced to calling bad things trials when they happen to good people and punishment when they happen to bad people. It's not a terribly useful world view especially when no one is totally good or bad because there is no way to disprove it and it provides no predictive power.

It has always made more sense for me to believe that God set things in motion and then lets them play out according to natural laws. He created the laws and then we are stuck living with the consequences and the best we can do is to act in a way to make the world as good of a place as possible. If we want it better then we have to put in the effort. So I guess I've never put much stock in a interventionist God.

Now, I guess I mostly consider myself an atheist. If God exists I don't believe we can prove it because I don't think he interferes. And I frankly don't find magical thinking terribly useful in my personal life. To me God is the mysteries. He's the source of the universe. He defined the laws. He's order. He's the creative force.

To me Satan is the destroyer. He's the source of disorder. He's the perfect foil for God.

And I think we have the seeds of both natures in each of us. At our best we can create and organize and bring great beauty into the world. At our worst we are capable of incredible cruelty and destruction and ugliness. As Jesus said, "You are all gods."

But in the end, both are just a way to say, "I don't know." When I can't explain it and it looks like it simply can't be explained, I guess that is where God and Satan reside in my belief system. They are symbols for causes that are beyond my understanding.

I really don't pray, but I find myself hoping that ultimately good will prevail or at least will balance out evil. I find myself reaching out and trying to tap into the godly aspect of my nature and battling the evil part.

Rather than define myself as what I am not, a believer in God, I prefer to define myself as what I am, a believer in reason and evidence, a rationalist or an enlightened man.

How's that for an ambiguous answer? I'm truly not sure if any of that made any sense but it's my first attempt to express ideas that have been bouncing around in my head since I left the church.

It makes more sense for me to believe that God set things in motion and then lets them play out according to natural laws. He created the laws and then we are stuck living with the consequences and the best we can do is to act in a way to make the world as good of a place as possible. If we want it better then we have to put in the effort.

So, I guess I mostly consider myself an atheist. If God exists I don't believe we can prove it because I don't think he interferes. To me God is the mysteries. He's the source of the universe. He defined the laws. He's order. He's the creative force.

To me Satan is the destroyer. He's the source of disorder. He's the perfect foil for God.

And I think we have the seeds of both natures in each of us. At our best we can create and organize and bring great beauty into the world. At our worst we are capable of incredible cruelty and destruction and ugliness. As Jesus said, "You are all gods."

But in the end, both are just a way to say, "I don't know." When I can't explain it and it looks like it simply can't be explained, I guess that is where God and Satan reside in my belief system. They are symbols for causes that are beyond my understanding.

I really don't pray, but I find myself hoping that ultimately good will prevail or at least will balance out evil. I find myself reaching out and trying to tap into the godly aspect of my nature and battling the evil part.

Rather than define myself as what I am not, a believer in God, I prefer to define myself as what I am, a believer in reason and evidence, a rationalist or an enlightened man.

How's that for an ambiguous answer? I'm truly not sure if any of that made any sense but it's my first attempt to express ideas that have been bouncing around in my head since I left the church.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Roles of Faith and Science

This is a continuation of two previous posts: What is God? The Mormon Version and Seeds of Doubt.

In retrospect, spiritual experiences have pretty mundane explanations once you understand a little bit about human psychology. I would highly recommend Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind for a very interesting exploration of the wonders of the mind. But I'm pretty comfortable that what I was taught were spiritual experiences caused by an external power were actually exceptional, but normal products of human consciousness.

I have always marveled and continue to be awed by the beauty and complexity of the universe and its origins are beyond my comprehension. But my life has led me to believe that even though you don't have the explanation, one can be found. Sometimes explanations are elusive. Some have taken lifetimes to find. But the history of mankind repeatedly shows that when sought, explanations to even the thorniest conundrums follow.

I was raised in a Mormon church that coexisted comfortably with science and knowledge and as a result I was always encouraged to ask questions. The truth has nothing to fear from questions and careful probing because it has nothing to hide. Errors and falsehoods can't hold up to inquiry, but the truth has nothing to fear. The church of my childhood was fearlessly and unapologetically true. My church heroes were James E. Talmage and John A. Widtsoe, educated and thoughtful men who fearlessly sought and defended the truth.

I highly recommend B. H. Roberts' book, Studies of the Book of Mormon. B. H. was a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, the church historian, editor of The Comprehensive History of the Church, and author of many volumes that explained and defended the history and doctrines of the church. His unofficial title was Defender of the Faith. A person sent a letter to the church with some questions about the Book of Mormon. The questions were given to Mr Roberts to answer. Initially he assumed that it would be easy to answer these questions in a manner that would confirm the plausibility of the Book of Mormon as a history of the Indians. However the more he studied the more he realized that the facts were simply inconsistent with the story in the Book of Mormon. He was so concerned by the implications that he petitioned to discuss the issues with the highest leaders of the church. His concerns were dismissed. But he documented his concerns in the above book which was published posthumously. It is interesting that he concluded that there was good evidence that the Book of Mormon was a product of 19th century America and that Joseph Smith was capable of producing the book. While he never renounced his religion or his testimony, it becomes clear that he had serious doubts/concerns and that he felt that the questions were legitimate and that they needed to be addressed by the church. This is clear example of an honest man who understood that the truth needed to provide answers and not ask people to just have faith and ignore evidence against their beliefs.

The book is also interesting because the questions are really only problematic if you believe that the Book of Mormon is the history of the principle ancestors of the American Indians (the so-called hemispheric model). Modern apologists deal with the questions with a modern Mormon invention called the limited geography theory that states that the Book of Mormon is only the history of a portion (possibly quite small) of the original Americans that was possibly limited to an unknown, small geographical area which they suppose is in meso-America. Never mind that this directly contradicts the public teachings of every single Mormon prophet starting with Joseph Smith and the beliefs of most Mormons to this day; the educated Mormons realize that the hemispheric model is strongly contradicted by all available evidence and so the limited geography theory is the only plausible explanation unless you want to deny mountains of scientific evidence. B. H. Roberts was about as educated and knowledgeable as any person in the church in the early 20th century. If he had known of or accepted the limited geography theory or some variant thereof he would have mentioned it. But the fact that he didn't is pretty good evidence that he and others in authority in the church believed what the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith taught: the American Indians are direct descendants of Lehi and the primary ancestors of the hemisphere. Yet today's Mormon apologists pretend as if this is a simple misunderstanding of the church's founder and followers and that this is not and has never been doctrinal.

My point is, I was raised to believe that a belief in God and a belief in science are mutually compatible but somewhere I got the heretical belief that when faith and science are in conflict that science should win. Faith is belief without evidence, so when evidence conflicts with faith then the evidence should win out. My definition of faith was always a belief in things not proven that are true. If they contradict evidence then they are not true and thus can be rejected as true faith. I think that this is still a good definition to work with. I still believe in faith. I don't know everything, so I find faith very helpful.

The Mormon church today seems to have retreated into an intellectual siege mentality where the current president of the Quorum of the Twelve and next man in line to succession to the presidency has declarde that there are things that are true that aren't particularly useful and that those facts should be suppressed and that church members that publish those facts should be punished. Needless to say, this is not characteristic of the church of my youth and is not consistent with what I consider to be true faith. It is the worst form of dogmatism: blind belief.

Ultimately, I expanded my horizons and allowed myself to consider facts that contradicted my life long beliefs about the church. My core beliefs about faith and science didn't change, but they did force me to abandon my belief in the truthfulness of the Mormon church. In the end, its claims simply don't hold up to close scrutiny and its efforts to hide the facts just make it clear that it knows the facts aren't on its side.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Running With Friends

I did something a little different over the weekend and ran the Dallas Half Marathon with some friends. The running part wasn't different, but this time I wasn't running for a personal best but just to accompany them and enjoy the run. This wasn't just their first half marathon; it was their first race ever! Congratulations to them both for the great accomplishment. It was great to get together again, enjoy each others' company, and share a running milestone.

The only drama for me was that about 6.5 miles into the race I felt a little pop in my left calf that immediately hurt a bit and then got progressively worse even though I was just jogging along at a pretty slow pace. At 10 miles I picked up the pace from the 10:45 pace we were running and dropped down to the 8:00-8:30 range and my calf felt better. I actually felt really good. The weather has been so warm in Austin this year that it's been difficult for me to judge my fitness, but I was able to run the last 3.1 miles significantly faster than I would have guessed so I think I'm actually on track to be able to try to run under 4:00 in the marathon.

The bad news was that after I finished my calf immediately started tightening up and getting painful. Last night I was having trouble walking and couldn't raise up on my toes. I was a little worried, but this morning I'm walking without a limp and it's just sore. I'll get a massage tonight and take a week off from running to let it recover. In the meantime I'll hit the elliptical trainer hard so I can keep building fitness.

Last week I ran 41 miles. This week was planned to be a recovery week anyway. I plan on doing my first 20 miler of the year and a 22 miler this month and be ready to taper for the first couple of weeks of January in preparation for the Houston Marathon on January 13.

Seeds of Doubt

This is a continuation of my previous post entitled, What is God? The Mormon Version.

I had a couple of powerful experiences that convinced me that God existed and loved me. I also had many experiences where the church's teachings seemed so right and resonated with my soul. I felt strongly that if the world would just embrace the gospel as taught by the church then most of its problems would simply go away.

However, beyond that I never observed anything that I found miraculous in the sense that I believed that God had intervened. I never observed miracles or anything that defied a natural explanation and required a supernatural explanation. Growing up I heard accounts of miracles, but for some reason I never found them very compelling. For example, there was the tearful testimony by a man who blessed a person with cancer. Subsequently the cancer went into remission and the person was cured. However, I knew that not only did many non-Mormons and non-religious people spontaneously remiss from their cancers, I also knew that many people received blessings and subsequently died. From what I could tell, blessings had little effect beyond comforting the sick person. Beyond that, nature ran its course and the best choice for the sick was to receive the best medical care they could obtain.

This train of thought carried over to historical events that I read as a church member. One that stands out was the account of Joseph Smith miraculously healing the sick in the malaria ridden settlements of early Nauvoo. It was hard for me to see anything terrible miraculous because I knew that there was a terrifically high mortality rate. It seemed more like everyone got blessed and then the church cherry picked the cases where people were healed and recorded them as miracles. What about those that died? If God healed some, why did he let so many other people die? It was much easier for me to believe that God wasn't that capricious and that what people chalked up as miracles were just random chance; some people get better, and some don't.

I can't explain some other experiences. But I also know that just because I can't explain them doesn't mean that they can't be explained and doesn't mean I must accept the supernatural. For example, my father once told me a story about a troubled family that he was visiting as a church home teacher. Apparently this family had many problems and my father thought that there was something satanic going on there. He told me that one time he was on the phone at home sitting on his bed and while talking to them he felt the whole bed shaking and coming off the floor. My mental picture was like something out of the exorcist. Did it really happen? If so, that would be pretty tough to explain. My father isn't prone to fabrication but I've learned that his beliefs strongly color his perceptions of everything so maybe his account is an accurate description of his perceptions of something that was less incredible. I'm willing to say I don't know and I'm not too proud to admit I could be wrong. It just seems extremely unlikely.

I've also had very vivid dreams, usually in the twilight of sleep where the mind is awake but the body is still slumbering. I first remember these during my mission where I was immersed in religion and religious reading. While I was reading Jesus the Christ I had a vivid dream of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane coming to his slumbering disciples. This was a strong confirmation of my beliefs, but I was troubled when later in my mission I had a similarly vivid dream that my father, who was a member of the bishopric at the time, was having an affair and cheating on my mother. I awoke and remembered every detail of the dream and it had a palpable sense of reality. I was distraught because I just knew that it was true. I knew it every bit as much as anything else religious that I'd experience. I have never asked my father about it. Part of me is afraid to discover that it might be true. If so, maybe the dreams really are true and I need to reconsider my current lack of faith. But, I was fairly certain then and am more certain now that that particular dream wasn't true and this led me to doubt some of my earlier spiritual experiences since it seemed that they could be equivocal. Part of me knew that my spiritual experiences could have more mundane explanations, but I didn't want to believe that.

I attended Brigham Young University which is the crown jewel of the Mormon church's educational system. I received a top notch education in engineering and enjoyed almost every aspect of my college years. Strangely, for me at least, the low points of my college experience were the religion classes I was required to take. Some of the classes were good, but some were incredibly bad. The worst ones were not the ones taught by random professors who were not part of the religion department; the worst ones were taught by the faculty of the religion department. Ironicly, Mormonism is founded on a deep seated distrust of professional religionists and my experiences at BYU confirmed those beliefs.

While a missionary, a member had smirkingly (I thought) asked whether it was true that Joseph Smith had 23 wives. I admitted that I had no idea although I thought it could be possible since Joseph received the church's revelation allowing polygamy so it made sense that he would have been the first person to practice it. Even if he did, I didn't think it was a problem. After all, all the other Mormon prophets from Brigham Young to Heber J. Grant had practiced polygamy openly. That means that out of 15 church presidents, 7 of them were polygamists and they governed the church for 115 years of its 177 year history.

One of my last purchases in Utah before graduation from BYU was Mormon Polygamy: A History by Richard S. Van Wagoner. When I saw the book in Deseret Book (I think) I immediately picked it up because it was the first treatment of the topic I'd ever seen. I wanted to know more. Given the importance of the practice in 19th century Utah and the central part it had in the church's revelation on celestial marriage it had always struck me as strange that it was never really discussed in church. Part of me believed that if there was nothing wrong with it, then there was nothing to be ashamed of. But the silence on the topic created a suspicion that something was being hidden and I wondered what the story was and whether the church was hiding something. I made it part way through the book, but I never finished it. I had trouble reconciling the details with what I'd been taught about the character of Joseph Smith. I could easily see how the doctrine might have been introduced as a justification for Joseph Smith's lusts and desires and it became apparent why the church didn't have Sunday School lessons about the origins of polygamy in the church. I came away with a belief that the church was embarrassed by polygamy and just wanted to bury the topic.

Around this time I also read an article in the church's magazine, The Ensign, written by Milton V. Backman, Jr. Bushman that included the different versions of Joseph Smith's First Vision along with an apologetic explanation that while the stories were different they were substantially the same and that if they had been more similar then it would be evidence of a fabrication. I remember thinking, "Those stories aren't substantially similar at all. They are completely different. The only similarity is that he had a religious experience."

I had doubts, as I've no doubt most Mormons have had, but I'd done with them what I had always been taught to do; I put them on a shelf with confidence that at some point, perhaps in the next life, all my questions and doubts would be explained. After all, I'd accepted my spiritual witnesses as evidence that the church was true. It it was true, then there must be an explanation even if I didn't have it.

This process came to a skidding halt in 1990. The bishop announced from the pulpit in sacrament meeting that all temple endowed members should make arrangements to go through the temple as soon as possible. Changes had been made and due to the sacred nature of the temple he obviously couldn't say what they were, but he promised that they were wonderful. I wondered what could change. What could they have added? I'd always found the temple endowment disturbing and perplexing. My wife and I went and I was amazed to find that they hadn't added anything. Instead they'd removed many of the parts that I'd always wondered about. How could this be? The church teaches that its ordinances were given by revelation from God and that they couldn't be changed. If the endowment was the highest and most sacred ordinance, they how could it be changed? If God revealed it, then it should be correct. If it wasn't, then maybe it wasn't really from God. If the prophet can't get the most sacred and holy ordinances right, then what could he be trusted to get right? God is supposed to be unchangeable, so why would the covenants of the temple need to be changed. Furthermore, it seems like the ordinances had been changed because they were found to be offensive by some members. If the ordinances were from God, wouldn't that indicate a problem with the members taking offense? Shouldn't they humble themselves and accept what God was requiring? If God and church members face off, shouldn't God win? Why was the church changing God's revelations in response to public sentiment? The rather obvious answer, to me, was that the temple ordinance must not be from God. From that point on the underpinnings of my religious belief were undermined because here was a clear contradiction. I simply couldn't reconcile this with everything I'd been taught about the church and God.

It took another 13 years to finally dig deeper and go beyond strong doubts and look for more evidence of deception. But once I looked it became crystal clear that I had been deceived my entire life.

Friday, November 02, 2007

What is God? The Mormon Version

Do you believe in God? If there is a God or Gods, what are the characteristics of divinity?

I was raised to believe that Heavenly Father was a perfected man who had once been mortal, lived, died, been resurrected, and then been perfected. For some reason Christians find this to be non-Biblical and non-Christian. I'm not sure why since the Bible teaches that Jesus lived before he was born, that he was the mortal offspring of Heavenly Father and Mary, that he was killed, died, was resurrected in a perfect and immortal state, and that he then ascended into heaven to join Heavenly Father in his perfection. While the Mormon doctrine is unique and heretical to many, it isn't unreasonable even if it challenges traditional beliefs about God.

Mormon doctrine takes the next logical step and proclaims that as children of God, we have the same capacity for perfection and deity within us. Many think this diminishes God, but I always felt that this showed a truly almighty God that was secure in his perfection and willing to share it with everyone willing to follow his laws. Don't be fooled by the fact that the current Mormon prophet, "Doesn't know that we teach that." I don't know a single active Mormon that is unaware of this doctrine and in fact this doctrine is central to both Mormon doctrine and also its practice. It is for this very reason that every believing Mormon aspires to attend the temple, because they believe that it is only through completing all of the ordinances in the temple that they can hope to receive their "exaltation" which is to live in heaven with God and to become as he is.

Mormons believe in a personal God that actively interferes in the daily lives of his children. How he does this is a mystery, but they believe that he answers prayers, heals people, manipulates the weather, influences the behavior of both the righteous and the wicked, reveals truths to anyone that asks and has the spiritual sensitivity to receive the answer, and generally does anything that he needs to do to achieve his ends.

The key to receiving God's blessings is to live his commandments which have been revealed to his prophets. Joseph Smith received a revelation that tells us that God can actually be bound, that is obligated, to bless us. The revelation says that for every blessing there is an associated law. If you want the blessing then you must live the law. But further, if you live the law the God is obligated to give the blessing.

One of the basic commandments is that we should fast and pray. Through fast and prayer we can come to know God's will through the Holy Ghost or Spirit. The Spirit is often referred to as a still small voice. Some people claim to actually hear voices, but I don't know any of them. Most are taught that the Spirit gives us feelings. Another revelation from Joseph Smith describes how to tell if something is true. You must pray diligently and try to work out the answer in your mind. Then you ask God if what you have formulated is true. If it is, then you will feel a burning in the bosom or a feeling of peace or rightness. This is the Spirit bearing witness. If it not right, then you will feel a "stupor of thought". This is a feeling of wrongness that will erase the thing that is not right from your mind. You can read about the process in D&C 9.

As a result of these teachings, Mormons tend to be very conscious of rules and are very focused on trying to keep the commandments to the best of their ability. Non-Mormons like to accuse Mormons of believing that salvation is through works, not grace. But this isn't true. It's just that they don't believe that God will be mocked and that simply "accepting Jesus" gets you an E ticket ride to heaven. They believe that you much accept Jesus, but the Book of Mormon teaches that people are saved by the grace of Jesus after all that they can do.

They also try to be very sensitive to their feelings and try to distinguish between those feelings that are ordinary feelings and those that may be the promptings of the Spirit. And they believe that those promptings can come regarding every aspect of their life including work, finances, and politics.

While I was growing up I had a few powerful spiritual experiences that I believed were manifestations of the Spirit. These feelings were very strong and confirmed my belief in God. I know Mormons, including my father, who have never felt a burning in the bosom. But I've had that sensation twice. My first such experience was when I was about 11 or 12. This will probably sound stupid to you, but I had spent some time one evening organizing the things I needed to do each day into a numbered list. I then put these numbers in a pocket notebook where I could put the numbers on a sheet for each day that I would check off. I guess even at that young age I was already struggling with my general lack of organization. I finished this up and was quite happy and pleased with the prospects of improving myself. I knelt down for my evening prayers and as I did I felt an intense pleasurable warmth in my chest that I instantly recognized as the Spirit witnessing with a burning in the bosom. To me it was a witness that God was aware of me and pleased with the path that I was on. It exactly fit the descriptions in the scripture.

I went to college when I was 16. I was very smart and self-reliant for my age, but I was painfully immature socially and had the paradoxical combination of a huge ego and very low self esteem. I also suffered from crippling migraines and depression. One evening I'd had a terrible migraine attack. My head was throbbing and I was terribly depressed. I felt lonely, alone, unloved, and completely unhappy with simply existing. In this state I knelt down on my knees and prayed and soon felt that comforting warmth fill my chest and expand like a pleasant wave through my body. The best analogy I can make is that it was like a smooth, non-sexual orgasm that left me comforted and reassured that someone out there loved me and that things would be ok. I got up at peace and was able to go to sleep and continue on with my life in a much better state of mind. This was an example to me of the Spirit acting as a Comforter as described in the New Testament.

While I was a freshman at the Lord's university (BYU for those who didn't know) I read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover. As I read it I felt a certain rightness and I just couldn't imagine that Joseph Smith could have possibly made it up. It seemed to be full of teachings and stories that were very helpful in knowing how we should live our lives. It beautifully describes doctrines like faith, grace, atonement, and redemption and is full of moralistic stories where bad people are consistently punished for disobedience and the righteous are rewarded for their good deeds. I interpreted the feelings of rightness as further spiritual witnesses of the truth of the Mormon church.

I continued to study church doctrines and it always seemed consistent and comforting. These feelings carried over to my church mission where I served for almost two years in Bolivia teaching the people there in Spanish about Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I was always reading church books about doctrine and history and felt that I was very knowledgeable about the church although there was always more to learn.

So how is it that I am where I am at today? This post is long enough so I'll continue this later.

Catching Up

It's been a while since I posted so I guess I have some catching up to do. Part of it is that I've been trying to work lots of overtime as I stress over paying for college for my son, classes for my wife's teacher certification, horse crap for my daughters, etc. I'm making more money than ever before and yet there never seems to be enough. I guess it just proves that wants are infinite; no matter how much money you make you'll always want more.

Between working, running, physical therapy, and life in general I've just felt really busy, but I think the reason I haven't posted is more because I let myself sink into a bit of depressive funk that left me not really giving a rat's ass about much. I could whine about it but it would probably make as little sense as the thought's of most depressed people. Let's just say that on more days than not it feels like life sucks.

On the up side I did my last session of physical therapy three weeks ago. I still get some pain and soreness on faster runs and after hard runs, but it clears up quickly and doesn't slow me down at all. I'm still limiting myself to three runs a week, but I'm up to as much as 30+ miles per week and all of those runs are quality runs with either longer distances or faster paces. I had my first race of the season a couple of weeks ago and finished only about 30 seconds off my personal best so things are progressing pretty well. In fact, my legs are feeling fresher and my gate is feeling smoother than I've felt in over a year. I'm continuing the experiment of less running and more low impact cross training. it will be interesting to see if I can continue to improve my fitness and performances. The next test is a 10 miler in a week.

I'm doing the Dallas Half Marathon with a friend in early December. It's his first half and I'm looking forward to running it with him. I set my PR in the marathon at Dallas last year. This isn't a goal race for me, but it is only a month before the Houston Marathon so it will be my last race before I take a shot at breaking four hours in the marathon. At that point I'll only have one or two more long runs before I start my taper so my conditioning will be pretty much done at that point.

Monday, September 24, 2007

When Good Men Do Evil Things

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.

Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate in physics
In the mid-1990s I was an assistant ward librarian and one Sunday I was browsing the bookshelves in the church library and saw "The Mountain Meadows Massacre" by Juanita Brooks. I think I'd heard about the MMM growing up in the church, but never knew any details. I think that the only thing I knew was that it was an Indian massacre that enemies of the church tried pin on the innocent and righteous Mormons. I have always loved church history so I took the book home. Like polygamy, what I found was very unsettling. It turned out that the massacre involved the Indians, but was actually instigated and carried out by the Mormons against a wealthy wagon train of Arkansas natives passing through Utah on the way to California. They wrongly believed that the wagon train consisted of people who had participated in the mobbing of Mormons in Missouri and Illinois and people who had murdered Joseph and Hyrum Smith and who had recently murdered the apostle Parley P. Pratt in Arkansas. They initially convinced local Indians to attack the wagon train, but when the Indians didn't finish the job they called out the local Mormon militia who came to the pioneers' "rescue" by escorting them out of their encircled wagons under a flag of truce and with a promise of protection and then executed over 120 unarmed and peaceful men, women, and children at point blank range. The only survivors were 16 or 17 children that were too young to tell tales.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre is back in the public consciousness due to its date, 9/11/1857, and the recent release of the movie "September Dawn". The church even has an article about the massacre in its monthly magazine, The Ensign. I'd encourage you to read the article since it's pretty short. Even though the church is trying to portray it as favorably for the church as it can, it is still pretty stomach churning. Unfortunately, the article follows the familiar church strategy of simply failing to tell the whole story because the rest of the story is so much worse.

The church protected the mass murderers for over twenty years and then finally gave the government a scape goat: John D. Lee. Last night I read his confession and I'd encourage you to read it because it gives a chilling account of how religious fervor and fanaticism can drive otherwise good men to commit such an heinous atrocity.

What's not clear from either of these articles is the involvement of Brigham Young in setting the entire chain of events into motion and then finally justifying it as a righteous thing that was pleasing to God. Young's justification of it and coverup are described by Lee. But the following information from RandyJ is also very helpful since it it pretty complete. Anyone who doubts that the Mormon temple oaths of secrecy, bloody penalties, and oaths of vengeance were more than symbolic should read Lee's confession and consider the literal realization of those temple covenants on a remote meadow in the Utah mountains.

I could say more, but I'd really rather encourage you to learn about this episode by reading the above articles. It's very pertinent to this day and time because it helps show how fanaticism, religious or ideological, can lead to events such as 9/11/1857 and 9/11/2001 as well other atrocities.

Friday, August 31, 2007

One Step At a Time

I'm trying something new this year and signed up for a marathon training program with Rogue Running. I'm mostly doing it for the social aspect, but I'm also hoping to get help from the coaches to take my running to a higher level. I kick off the season tomorrow with a 7 mile run around Town Lake and I'm pretty excited to see what I can accomplish this year.

Right now my biggest challenge is going to be to monitor my hip pain and try to stay healthy. I went to the doctor 3 weeks ago and while he confirmed that I have mild bursitis in my hip, most of the pain I'm feeling is actually coming from my sciatic nerve which is probably originating with the sacroiliac (SI) joint. He suspects that this is due to muscle imbalances in my hip abductors (outer thigh) and gluteus medius so I'm currently going to a physical therapist once a week for some manipulations of my hip and lower back and for exercises to fix the muscle weakness. I also suspect piriformis syndrome. I had this problem and fixed it on the right using this stretch. But that stretch didn't replicate the pain on the left and wasn't resolving the pain so I was off to the doctor. Things are getting better, but there's still pain when I run. I at least have the consolation that it's not muscular, it's not getting worse, and so far they say it's okay to keep running. Actually, things feel a little better although there's still pain.

If all goes well, I'll be running the Houston Marathon on January 13 and the Austin Marathon on February 17. My goal this year is to get to 12% body fat and complete the marathon in under 4 hours. If I lose the weight then the second part will easily fall into place. I'm optimistic that I'll actually be able to run significantly faster than that, but I'm trying to stay reasonable and set myself for success.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Are Educated People More Religious?

The Mormon prophet recently stated:
A study was made some years ago that indicated the higher the education, the greater the faith and participation in religious activity.
I was curious what study this might be because I'm pretty sure that this is not, in general, the case. It is also interesting that he mentions that it was made some time ago. Sort of like the quote that continues to circulate in the church curriculum about the dangers of caffeine as a justification for the church's prohibition of coffee and tea. Imagine my shock to learn that his reference is another church magazine:
5. From “Rise Up, O Men of God,” Ensign, Nov. 2006, 61.
Great, so he's quoting from another article in a church magazine. This just happens to reference his own talk in General Conference where he originally bemoaned the fact that the men of the church were falling behind the women in education. However, that article does not provide a reference so I guess we'll have to just take his word for it and trust that the study was from a credible source.

A quick Google yielded the following from Wikipedia:
In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins [5] cites an article by Paul Bell in Mensa Magazine, containing a meta-analysis of studies relating to the connection between religiosity and intelligence. Analyzing 43 studies, Bell found that all but four reported such a connection, and he concluded that "the higher one's intelligence or education level, the less one is likely to be religious or hold 'beliefs' of any kind."[6]

Dawkins also discusses the very low percentage of notable scientists (Nobel prize winners, etc.) that are religious and that even those that are religious tend to be very unorthodox in their views and don't seem to take it very literally.

I think the more likely answer is that religion is more strongly linked with culture than education. Churches are full of people who are very religious and also very educated. So education certainly isn't orthogonal to religious belief and practice. But Western Europeans are as well educated (and perhaps more so) than their American counterparts and are very secular and not terribly religious. Education there doesn't seem to enhance religiousity.

I think my own experiences as a Mormon missionary are more typical. The wealthy and the well educated weren't interested in what I was selling. I taught almost exclusively to the poor and uneducated people of Bolivia and they were the only ones that I baptized. The church's greatest growth has been among the poor and uneducated in Latin America, not among the wealthy and educated. The church chalks this up to the pride of the wealthy and educated. They just lack the humility to accept the extraordinary claims. Either that or they have enough education, experience, and critical thinking ability to recognize a fraud when they see it.

The Church Youths' Attitudes Toward Education

They New Era also had the following quotes that speak for themselves.

3. True or false:
A good education is more important for young men than young women.


President Hinckley’s counsel is clear: both young men and young women need to get as much education as they can (see “Seek Learning” on page 4 of this issue). His words are fresh on many teens’ minds as they consider their future.

“I love President Hinckley, and I think it’s cool that he’s stressing that we women get an education,” says Sydnee Barney of the Meridian Idaho Stake. “I think it would be cool to both be smart and be a mom—to be a smart mom.”

“The prophet sees us as equals,” says Camille. “He said it’s just as important for girls to have an education as the guys because both of our roles in the future are important.”

Ryan says, “If my future wife knew how to rear our children well, teach them things that they need to know for school, and help them out, I think that would be great. I think it helps to be with someone that’s around your educational level.”

Ty Harris of the Meridian Idaho Stake remembers President Hinckley’s recent counsel for boys to “rise up” when it comes to getting an education (see Ensign, Nov. 2006, 60–61). “He was straightforward about it. He said that women are getting more college education than men. I think men need to step up and become the caretaker of their family and provide for their family.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Seek Learning (Especially if you're male?)

The New Era is the Mormon church's magazine for its youth. The September issue arrived in our home today and the First Presidency message for the month caught my eye: "Words of the Prophet: Seek Learning". The church has always stressed the importance of education and supports education through its church universities such as Brigham Young University. But its attitude about education for women has always been a mixed message so I was curious how that aspect of the message was treated in 2007. I guess I wasn't really surprised. Here are a few excerpts although you're welcome to read the entire article (it's linked on the title of this post). The fact that the counsel much be tailored for men and women should tell you something. Here are the relevant sections. I've highlighted and inserted my comments in italics.

Special Counsel for Girls

In this day and time, a girl needs an education. She needs the means and skills by which to earn a living should she find herself in a situation where it becomes necessary to do so. [This is code for the case in which she can't fulfill her divine calling as a wife and mother.]

The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it.7 I am grateful that women today are afforded the same opportunity to study for science, for the professions, and for every other facet of human knowledge. You are as entitled as are men to the Spirit of Christ, [The fact that he feels the need to point this out should tell you something. Apparently it's not clear otherwise or perhaps it speaks to common attitudes in the church. Still, it's nice that he's trying to counter it.] which enlightens every man and woman who comes into the world (see D&C 84:46).8

You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part.9 Set your priorities in terms of marriage and family [In other words, getting married and having kids is more important.], but also pursue educational programs which will lead to satisfying work and productive employment in case you do not marry [The prophet has already counseled that a wife and mother should stay home, not work.], or to a sense of security and fulfillment in the event you do marry [Again, if you get married you shouldn't pursue a career. In that case your education is a bauble or an insurance policy in case your marriage isn't successful.]. Education will increase your appreciation and refine your talent.

Special Counsel for Boys

No boy anxious to please his Heavenly Father would fail to take advantage of educational opportunities.11 But there is a troubling trend taking place. Young men are more likely to drop out of school than young women. Women have earned more bachelor’s degrees than men.

It is plainly evident that young women are exceeding young men in pursuing educational programs. [The implication here is that this is clearly a bad thing. There's no question whether or not you'd find this comment in the previous section if the opposite were true.] And so I say to you young men, rise up and discipline yourself to take advantage of educational opportunities. Do you wish to marry a girl whose education has been far superior to your own? [This is not the first time he has said this. He's also made the same comment in General Priesthood Meeting where it was met with laughter from the congregated men. Is it too much to ask what would be so bad about that?] We speak of being “equally yoked.” That applies, I think, to the matter of education. [In fact he's saying quite the opposite. He thinks that in education the man should strive to be superior in educational attainment to his wife.]

I knew a young couple that had recently graduated from college. The wife was very intelligent and had a masters in accounting while the husband wasn't nearly as smart or accomplished. She surrendered a likely successful career to stay at home and start a family because that is what the church teaches. While that's their choice, it would be refreshing if the church could consider that there might be equally acceptable alternatives such as another Mormon couple where the wife continued to pursue her successful engineering career while her husband sacrificed his job as a public school PE teacher to be a stay at home dad.

Friday, August 17, 2007

I'm a Total Geek

Here I am sitting in the back seat of the Suburban while my son drives to Lubbock where he's starting his freshman year at Texas Tech University and I'm on the web reading about publishing.

I have a Sprint PocketPC 6700 phone that is also a small computer with a slide out keyboard that has a word processor, email, web browser and more. I recently upgraded the firmware on it and noticed a new application called "Wireless Modem". I had been considering getting a wireless broadband card for my laptop, but didn't want to shell out $150 for the card and another $50 per month so I wondered if my phone could now be used to give my laptop access to the internet. After a call to Sprint I tentatively extended my contract for a year and signed up for their wireless broadband service for an extra $35 per month. Now all I have to do is start up the wireless modem application on my phone, connect it to the USB port of my laptop, dial up the internet, and voila! I have a high speed internet connection.

So far I've been using it for about 350 miles and several hours across BFE Texas without the connection dropping once. In fact, I'm composing this over my cell phone while traveling along at 65 miles per hour.

I guess that the fact that I find this really, really exciting means I'm a total geek.

Oh yeah. My cost justification? Over the last two weekends I've more than paid for the service for over a year by being able to book consulting fees while sitting at the car while I'm at the horse show with my daughter.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Pain in the

A man walks into a doctor's office with a duck on his head.

"Can I help you?" asks the doctor.

"Yeah, can you get this guy off my ass," replies the duck.
Sorry. Relevance? Probably none except that the pain in my left hip that started in February's marathon hasn't gone away despite laying off running for 7 weeks. It's back with a vengeance now that I've started running again. I thought it was a muscle strain, but I think I've ruled that out. I thought maybe it was nerve pain, but I think I've ruled that out because there is local tenderness. One possibility is ITB syndrome. The iliotibial band is a ligament that runs from your hip to your knee on the outside of your leg. It often gets tight in runners and usually presents with pain on the outside of the knee, but it can cause hip pain too. But ITB stretches and exercises don't seem to help. My last choice is hip bursitis and that is what I think I'm suffering from. There is a small area of tenderness right on the point of the hip that feels "lumpy" as I massage it. So, I'm laying off running again, taking ibuprofen, massaging it, and doing hip stretches and exercises. It doesn't bother me so much during the day, but right now it aches at night and keeps waking me up.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Did You Know? Or Insipid News "Events"

Does anybody know what happened to Lindsay Lohan last week?

How about the ongoing saga of the hotel heiress? (Bet you know her name.)

Did you see the story about the news helicopters that crashed and killed their crews while broadcasting a pickup truck towing a trailer through city streets?

I think it's extremely likely that you know about at least one of the above stories because they've received extensive coverage. The real question is why. There is nothing inherently newsworthy in those stories other than satisfying people's morbid curiosity. I guess you could argue that if people are willing to watch it then the networks have a commercial obligation to give people what they want.

But I'd argue that this is just laziness. Inventive companies are often successful because they create a product that people never knew they wanted until they saw it. Take the iPod, for example. People weren't out clamoring for it. But once they saw it, they had to have it.

I think that the news networks have fallen into the trap of spooning out the same old shlock and aren't trying to figure out how to create interest around genuinely noteworthy events.

My own self-serving example?

How many of you know who Alan Webb is?

Chances are you have no idea or why he is in the news. He just broke a 25 year old American record for the mile. The old record was an incredible 3:47.69 set in 1982 by Steve Scott; Alan ran a 3:46.91 a couple of weekends ago at a small track meet in Belgium. Even today it is a major hurdle for runner to run a mile in less than 4 minutes. Alan did it as a senior in high school. It is just inconceivable what it takes to run it in 3:46, but the second 400m was actually slower than Steve Scott's pace so it is pretty easy to imagine Alan running under 3:46 with his current conditioning. His goal, however, is to break the world record. Hold your breath for this one. The world record was set in 1999 by Hicham El Guerrouj with a 3:43.13. If none of this boggles your mind, I invite you to head down to your local school track to run a mile.

Thanks to modern technology you can see Alan break the record. He's so fast it won't take long so head over to and watch him.

Folks, that is a newsworthy event.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I started a book back in March and submitted a book proposal in June. I just got back feedback from a reviewer and the publisher and it was very positive and they want me to press forward. Unfortunately, not as interesting as Sideon's stories, but it'd be cool to be published even if it is a technical, geeky book. Then I'd literally become "the man that wrote the book" in my area of specialty.

The scary thing is that I actually need to get on a solid writing schedule because it's going to be a fairly long book.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Go West!

I don't take very many vacations, but I just got back from a good one. I used a couple of frequent flier tickets to jet the wife and me to Ft. Lauderdale and then rented a car for a weekend in Key West. I finally got to scuba dive on coral reefs and see lots of fish and sharks up close and personal. We also did lots of turisty things. Unfortunately, I'm now back home looking at a long short work week with a pile of work I left behind.

Here are a few of the hundreds of pictures I snapped while diving. Not all that great, but they give you an idea.

This nurse shark was just chilling out under the reef.

This is pretty typical; lots of fish sheltering under the reef trying not to become a meal for a bigger fish.

I was just minding my own business when I looked up to see a 6 foot long shark swimming straight at me. It took one whiff and swam on by.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Upon All the Ships of the Seas

I rarely post over on RfM (Recovery from Mormonism) any more because it's a little hostile for my tastes (meaning disagreement is more often met with name calling and accusations of being a mormon apologist troll than any kind of reasoned debate) I still drop in for the occasional nugget information or juicy news.

Tonight I found one that addresses one of my few unanswered Mormon questions.

The title of this post should link to Brent Metcalf's web site which I'd never visited before. It has an essay about an interesting passage in the Book of Mormon.

While I was on my mission in Bolivia I diligently read every doctrinal and historical church book I could get my hands on. I remember reading about 2 Nephi 12:16. What's so important about that verse? Nothing from a doctrinal standpoint, but when you compare it to its corresponding verse in Isaiah 2:16 you'll see that it adds a phrase. The King James Bible says:
And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.
But the Book of Mormon says:
And upon all the ships of the sea, and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all the pleasant pictures.
The footnote in the Mormon edition of the King James Bibles makes the following claim which I found quite compelling:
16a The Greek (Septuagint) has “ships of the sea.” The Hebrew has “ships of Tarshish.” The Book of Mormon has both, showing that the brass plates had lost neither phrase.
For those unfamiliar with Mormon doctrine and the Book of Mormon, the Book of Mormon extensively quotes from the book of Isaiah in the Bible and is almost word for word identical to the King James version. The Book of Mormon states that the passages come from plates of brass that Nephi stole from their Jewish caretaker in Jerusalem prior to leaving for the promised land. Therefore, one would expect it to be a close to the original writings of Isaiah. This verse seems like evidence that the Book of Mormon preserved an obscure phrase that was dropped over the years as a result of translation or transcribing or something.

If Joseph Smith were plagiarizing the Bible, the how in the world could he have known to add back in that phrase that the Septuagint had, but was missing from his edition of the Bible? He couldn't have, right? Surely an unschooled farm boy couldn't have done this.

That is the argument of the church's apologists and since it agrees with their preconceived conclusions they stop there and don't dig deeper.

As with so many other things Mormon, the answer is quite simple. Click on the Book of Mormon link over on the web site and you'll find a single essay by David P. Wright that provides a pretty straightforward explanation. Many bible commentaries of the time correctly explained that "ships of Tarshish" was commonly translated as ships of the sea and the proper noun "Tarshish" was commonly rendered as "sea" by translators.

To quote Wright's article:
The many pre-1829 editions of Thomas Scott's The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments (Philadelphia: 1810-12; New York: 1812-15; Boston: 1823-24, 1827) also cite Lowth's comment:
 [[   View the original source   ]] 'Ships of Tarshish signify in scripture, any trading or merchant ships: accordingly here the Septuagint render the words "ships of the sea," as our old English translation does: Ps. xlviii. 7.' (Lowth.)[16]
¶16 The appearance of this datum in so many printed sources indicates that it was not obscure, but relatively well-known. Joseph Smith could have learned about it from any one of these commentaries, or, as is far more likely, from sermons he heard or conversations he had on biblical subjects with those who might have known this particular Bible "fact." Smith may have come by this bit of information specifically via Methodist influence, since John Wesley's teachings provided the matrix for Methodism—a religion for which Smith had felt a passing affinity.
If I'd know this, I wouldn't have been at all impressed by his inserting a footnote into the proper text as if he was restoring an ancient text instead of merely repeating two redundant translations. Of course, I also didn't know that the Isaiah chapters quoted in the Book of Mormon are almost exactly the same chapters quoted in Ethan Smith's "View of the Hebrews" which appears to have contributed a significant number of ideas to the Book of Mormon.

In the end, this has been the pattern of my study of Mormonism. As a believing Mormon I came across items that seemed contradictory or troubling but put them on a shelf believing that they'd eventually be clarified or answered in the church's favor. But as I started studying non church sources I systematically discovered the lies, distortions, misrepresentations, half truths, and omissions of the church and found explanations for all the things that sat on my shelf of questions gathering dust. In the process I had to put some things on another shelf of things that seemed to support the church and that I didn't have an explanation for. That shelf was pretty bare and this is the last item left that I'm aware of. All my reading had taken care of everything else.

Remember, the truth has nothing to fear and distrust any person or organization that tries to limit your information.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Taking a Break

I haven't posted much lately. Things have been hectic, but they always are so that's not really much of an excuse. I guess I just haven't felt a need to share.

I was talking to my sister the other day and she informed me that a couple of her friends missed the posts and want me to post more, just not about running. So I guess I'll apologize for boring you with the details of my running. I understand that it may seem irrelevant or boring, but it is actually quite important to me on a number of levels.

First, I only have one body and everything depends on it working properly. Running has cured my high blood pressure and helped relieve day to day stress. I also suffer from migraines which comes with an associated elevated risk of stroke so maintaining good cardiovascular fitness is important to protect by brain.

Second, it helps meet my need for competition. I'm only competing against myself, but that's enough. Having goals drives me to train and gives purpose to the training. It's disappointing when result don't come, but when I have a breakthrough race like I did in my last race of the season it feels great.

I don't think I wrote about it, but on May 19 I ran a 5k around the Texas state capitol. I averaged 7:36 per mile and beat my personal record by a minute and a half. I followed that up about an hour later by running the Congress Avenue Mile. My mile was relatively slow because my legs were shot from the 5k, but I'm still excited by my 5k performance a month later. But after I finished I realized that I needed to take a break. My hips hurt, I had sharp shooting pains in my right shin, my right foot was sore again and had started having shooting pains in the ball, and my hamstrings were very tight and tender. I'd started my marathon training at the beginning of August and trained hard with only a week break after the Dallas Marathon in December and two weeks after the Austin Marathon in February. I'd exceeded all of my goals, but now my body was starting to break down and needed a break.

So I actually haven't run since before Memorial Day. It's only been a little over 3 weeks, but it feels like forever. Am I really a runner? I don't feel any compulsion to put on my shoes and go out for run. In fact, I'm appreciating having a little bit more time each day. Part of me dreads starting running again but not for the reason you might think. I enjoy running, but I'm afraid that I'll be so out of shape that it won't feel good and that I'll be nearly starting over. Plus, I still have my niggling aches and pains.

I received notification that I didn't get a lottery spot in the New York Marathon so my winter marathon plans are up in the air but I'm thinking of doing the Marathons of Texas series and doing Dallas in December, Houston in January, and Austin in February. Regardless I won't start marathon training again until after Labor Day. Between now and then it will all be about losing weight, regaining flexibility, doing some strength training, and having an enjoyable summer.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Islam and World Peace

I finally finished my book on Islam and thought I'd follow up on what I learned.

The book met my expectations because it clearly articulated a belief system that is appealing and attractive and helped me understand why many good people can believe in Islam. As long as I restrained my critical thinking and an instinct to mentally rebut what he was saying I found myself agreeing with a lot of his philosophy and doctrine. In fact, at one point what he was saying resonated to the point where I felt that he was teaching a universal truth that would be helpful for me to follow.

It's tough for me to review an audio book because I have no text to refer to and as a result I'm really relating my recollections and what I received and perhaps not what the author originally intended, but I'll briefly relate the key points.

The author clearly and repeatedly stated that no follower of Islam would ever use violence or coercion or harm another person. Despite the teachings in the Koran and Hadith that can be used to justify violence, he believes that true Jihad is a spiritual battle using the spiritual tools of the teachings of the Koran to help each person conquer their natural "monkey man" and exemplify the divine attributes of God. This strongly follows Paul's teaching that the natural man is an enemy to God that must be conquered and also reminiscent of Paul's whole armor of the Gospel.

So, the whole point of Islam is to follow certain practices that aid people to overcome their 4 trillion and 10 thousand base attributes and learn to have the attributes of God. The author repeatedly used such numbers, but I suspect that this is shared by the Bible where numbers are not meant literally but figuratively. Anyway, some of the practices include certain declarations of belief such as that there is only one God and that Mohammed is his messenger. Another is praying 5 times a day. Another is to fast. Another is to pay alms. And others that I can't recall. It doesn't really matter to me; the point is that the practices are to serve as a constant reminder of an ideal that you are trying to achieve.

As I was listening I was strongly reminded of the appeal of religion. First and foremost is the belief in an idealized being who is perfect in every way. This belief in perfection is very important because it is the measure by which we judge good and evil and that is the ideal to which we aspire. Mormons capture this in their belief that our ultimate goal is to be perfect like God and to eternally progress until we become gods ourselves. While this is heresy to some, it mirrors what I think is a core belief for devout religious people: God is a model of perfection that we try to follow in our lives.

This lead to a realization on my part. I feel like my loss of faith in Mormonism and a personal God has left me somewhat adrift and cut off from the one part of my religious life that I valued. I realized that I still valued that and that there was no need to lose it. The only thing that has changed is a realization that I can't rely on authorities, whether they be sacred books such as the Bible or Koran, or people such as Abraham or Mohammed or Joseph Smith or a pope or a pastor to set my ideals. Those may be useful sources, but I believe that rationalism, evidence, and reason need to be the basis of my ideals. This leaves me free to draw on the strengths of the worlds great thinkers and religions and also to reject their errors. Along with that freedom comes the burden of accepting responsibility for my own beliefs; I can no longer say I believe because of my book or my prophet, it has to make sense to me. I think that religious people vilify atheists because they think that along with rejecting God they've also rejected the ideals that God represents for them. At least in my case, that is not the case. I've rejected some ideals that are unjustifiable, such as that coffee drinking is a sin, but retained others such as that we should treat others the way we'd like to be treated.

In that context, the five daily prayers of Muslims makes a lot of sense, not in a literal sense, but in a figurative way. It is a call to regularly form in our mind an ideal of what we would like to be and then to reach out to that regularly throughout the day in an appeal to try to conform to what we want to be. For me, that would mean to control my anger, to try to have more empathy for others, and to work toward my goals instead of getting distracted. For you it might be something completely different. If God represents our personal ideals, then regularly touching base with those core beliefs throughout the day would seem to be a good thing. I think that for me this would be more a meditation or perhaps some time of cognitive behavioral therapy, but I think it would be a good thing and make me a better person.

The best analogy I can think of in my personal life is weight loss. I have in my mind an ideal body composition that I'd like to attain. I know what it takes to lose weight, but I've only ever been successful when I log every calorie I eat every day. What essentially happens is that the logging make me very conscious of all of my eating. I have limited calories each day and try to make them count. Every bite involves a conscious decision because I have to log it. The goal is my ideal and life becomes a journey of changing my life to meet that ideal. The process takes something that is otherwise impossible for me and sets me on a long term journey of personal transformation.

Anyway, I can now see both sides of Islam. It's very clear that it can be used to justify horrific human behavior. It is equally clear that at least some Muslims are horrified at the atrocities committed in the name of Allah and that they believe that such things are completely incompatible with the true nature of God and Islam. I hope that the latter group grows stronger in the same way that Judaism and Christianity have mostly moved past their violent pasts to become more moderate and compassionate religions.

One last interesting observation was the very Mormon belief of the author that Islam is a superset of all the good of all the religions of the world. For him a good Jew or Christian or Hindu is practicing Islam because they are trying to be peaceful and godlike. To him since there is only one God that he calls Allah, everyone is really worshiping the one true God. This is very like Mormons who believe that all religions of the world have a part of the truth, but the complete and pure truth is only found within Mormonism. The only difference is that he thinks that everyone will ultimately follow Allah and Mohammed and Mormons think that ultimately everyone will follow the Godhead and Joseph Smith. My belief is that they are all wrong and that ultimately everyone has to be accountable for forming their ideals as best they can and trying to live them as well as they can.