Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Elder Hafen, Come Out of the Closet!

Homosexuality doesn't really bother me so I've always been perplexed by those who are really bent out of shape over the threat of homosexuality to our society. It's as if they think that it's infectious and that by accepting or tolerating it we will encourage its spread. Instead we need to fight it and battle it. After all, any guy could fall prey to the temptations of easy, promiscuous homosexual sex, right? If society says it's okay then think of all of the guys that would stop chasing those icky women and marrying them for reproduction and eternal exaltation.

I know a few of you out there are going, well duh. Of course.

I have news for you. You're at least a little crooked and definitely not completely straight.

Take, for example, the following quote from Elder Hafen, a Mormon General Authority.
In other words, before puberty, boys are typically more interested in other boys than in girls. Then their interest gradually shifts to girls, but a few boys don’t make this transition. Often these boys are emotionally sensitive, introspective, and, especially among Church members, perfectionistic. When puberty hits this group, they can be sexually aroused by many factors. When these factors include other boys, they can become fixated on the fear that they are “gay,” especially if they have male sexual experiences, including male pornography. Then their fixation can block their normal emotional-sexual development.
Now, maybe I'm not your typical heterosexual male, but this doesn't even begin to describe my romantic or sexual interests at ANY point in my life, especially in the years immediately preceding and during puberty. I remember my first crush in first grade on Becky Wolf to this day. My second crush was on my attractive, young, single second grade teacher. Many others followed and by the time I entered junior high I was fairly well entranced by all things female. At no point do I remember ever having even a passing attraction to other males much less being more interested in other boys than girls.

So, my question for Bruce Hafen and Boyd Packer, who he was quoting is if this was their experience? It apparently was also the experience of other anti-homosexual religious and political figures such as Ted Haggard and Senator Larry Craig. They seem terrified of the acceptance of homosexuality because they themselves can easily see themselves succumbing to their own homosexual temptations and without legal and religious proscriptions can see how it would spread.

I had a conversation about this with a friend at work a while back. He was laughingly telling me about a friend who was describing how he could see how easy it would be for a man to become gay and that he could imagine how that could be a temptation that needed to be resisted. Of course, this was pretty laughable to both of us.

Again, maybe I'm way off here and maybe I'm abnormal among heterosexual men, but while I can concede that it may be attractive to some men, I simply can't imagine it. I don't remember ever making a choice about my sexual orientation and frankly find male homosexual sex icky. No offense, but no thank you. It's not hygienic or anything, I just can't imagine being intimate with a man.

Anyway, this whole need to resist the temptation to be gay, repent, be fixed, etc. seems rather like fighting the need to eat or drink water or meet other basic physical needs. The apparent classification of sex by the church as some kind of completely optional, unnecessary physical activity that can be overcome seems pretty unreal to me. Are they gay or frigid? Would they really like to live their lives without any sex or physical bonding with another human being that they find attractive? What would that make their life like? Because that's what they're asking of their homosexual members. For all I know, that's the way they feel about sex with their wives.

The rest of the article is pretty sad that basically asks the gay members he was addressing to repent of their sins (not that their same sex attraction itself is a sin, he points out) and seek the healing power of the atonement to help them either celibate for the rest of their lives or functional heterosexuals who resist their temptations (because what they feel is not their natural state, but a mental illness that can be treated) and be made whole and heteorsexual either in this life or the life to some. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Just Drop Your Pants

Have you ever seen the Saturday Night Live sketch with the androgenous Pat? Was Pat male or female? We'll never know. As it turns out, answering the question can be a lot more difficult than having the person drop their pants (although that will usually suffice).

The question comes up in sports like track and field where men and women compete separately because of the significant difference in performane potential between the sexes. Occassionally men are caught cheating by entering women's events in "drag" so when a woman comes along with broad shoulders, narrow waist, heavy muscles, and a deep voice and proceeds to blow away everyone in elite competitions, the questions inevitably arise. Is "she" a he, or is she just incredibly juiced like the East German women used to be? Or is something else going on?

The problem surfaced during this year's IAAF Track and Field World Championships when suspicion fell on Caster Semenya when she dominated the women's 800m final. Her win fell under a cloud of suspicion and protest and I wondered why a quick trip to the showers didn't solve the problem.

The short answer is because that wouldn't necessarily answer the question.

The IAAF did genetic testing for a while for gender. They checked for a gene that only exists on the Y (male) chromosome. Amazingly (to me) there were 8 of the 3000 females tested in the 1996 Atlanta olympics that tested positive as being genetically male. They had a Y chromosome. So doesn't that make them male? If so, then why were they allowed to compete?

This excellent blog post at "The Science of Sport" gives a great explanation. A condition called androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) can cause a male embryo to develop testes and not ovaries or a uterus, but to not develop the rest of the physical traits of a male. The external genetalia may be ambiguous and the physical appearance doesn't match the genetic sex. Other conditions can result in ambiguous genetalia and intersex conditions where the person is neither male nor female.

So, the result may be very interesting and counterintuitive (to me at least). Caster may indeed be genetically male, have internal testes, no uterus or ovaries, but be allowed to keep her world championship and continue to compete as a female. And, the controversy may actually save her life because internal testes need to be removed because they can quickly become cancerous and in her case are not needed.

Of course, Mormons have this all figured out as witnessed by this excerpt from The Family: A Proclamation to the World:

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

So there you have it. The Lord's prophets have declared that male/female is an intrinsic, eternal, essential characteristic. So, I wonder if they would ordain Caster to the priesthood even though she, her family, and friends all believe she is a woman. Does her genetic identity trump? It's great that the Mormons have a prophet to sort out and address such issues. Perhaps she can get a patriarchal blessing to not only declare her lineage, but also her gender? Or perhaps in a Mormon family she would be forced to be male although she has no penis and feels like a woman. Perhaps it's her burden to be an eternal male destined to pass mortality feeling like a female.

Or perhaps even on topics so apparently easy to deal with, such as gender and sexuality, the world is much stranger and more complicated than we ever imagined.

I'm not holding my breath for the church to come out with anything reasonable on this because it doesn't fit neatly into their black/white world and would to easily transition to other questions of sexuality for which they aren't known for being terribly understanding or reasonable.

Nope, God has made it all so simple to understand.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess

Over the last few months I read a couple of church history books. The first was Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess by Richard S. Van Wagoner. The second was Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?: The Spalding Enigma by Wayne L. Cowdrey, Howard A. Davis, and Arthur Vanick.

The first is a long overdue biography of Rigdon. He is best known among Mormons for his pivotal role in the early days of the church and was in the First Presidency right up until Joseph Smith's murder. After that he tried to assert his claim to the presidency and when Brigham Young and the apostles supplanted him and other claimants he went his own way and was excommunicated by Young for continuing to try to regain his former leadership role. Like so many early leaders of the church he became an apostate cast by the wayside and largely forgotten.

Most interesting to me was his religious exploits after Smith's death because I think it gives great insight into how to consider his involvement in the founding of Mormonism. After to failing to gain a following in Nauvoo he head east to Pittsburgh (?) and took over leadership of a branch of the church there. He became a prophet and tried to establish a new Zion in a similar fashion to what he had done with Smith in Kirtland, Independence, and Nauvoo. Like those previous attempts he failed miserably. He finally wound up living in impoverished circumstances with his son's family. His son forbid people from discussing religion with his father because of the problems it caused.

Apparently in secret, Rigdon continued to act as a prophet to people who he led via letters as he remotely led them from site to site of new Zions while constantly berating them with prophecies condemning them for failing to adequately support him. His small flock apparently placed great faith in him as they sacrificed everything trying to support him and comply with his arbitrary directions.

In a tragic turn of events for seekers after truth, Rigdon's wife apparently burned all of his papers. One wonders what might have been in that treasure trove that he didn't want exposed to the world but we'll never know.

The second book explores the possibility that Rigdon had a role in the production of the Book of Mormon. Despite the length of the book, there is really no solid evidence. About all that can be said is that they have shown that Rigdon was in the right places at the right times so that it's a possibility. But is is so highly speculative in nature that the case is hardly compelling. It can't be ruled out, but then again neither can the theories proposed by Brody and others including B.H. Roberts who concluded that Smith was certainly capable of producing the Book of Mormon on his own using the resources at his disposal.

But, when you take the two books together it struck me how quickly Smith's prophetic voice changed as soon as he joined with Rigdon in Kirtland, Ohio. Nearly all of the church's revelations were given in Kirtland with Rigdon by Smith's side the whole time. Prior to Smith, Rigdon had already spent years developing his own Christian restorationist theology as a Cambellite minister and had had a falling out with the Cambellites because he seemed to go to far. However as soon as he linked up with the Mormons you can see his ideas finding fruit in Smith's revelations. During this period, not only were most of the revelations given, but he and Smith "translated" the Bible, established Zion in Missouri, and tried to set up a communal order and various business enterprises. It is easy to understand why so many people at that time believed that Rigdon was the real founder of Mormonism.

Like Smith, Rigdon was never successful in earning an honest living with his own hands and relied on his religious roles and the charity of others to support himself. After his split from the main branch of Mormonism it becomes easy to see him continue a pattern until his death where he tried to use the faith of others to his own advantage.

I highly recommend the first book, but not the second unless you really, really want to see how far people are willing to stretch scanty evidence or are very interested in minute details of the period.

Oh. The second book also raises a very good point about how very little we know about Oliver Cowdery prior to his role in the production of the Book of Mormon and the founding of the Mormon church. I've pointed this out with regard to the testimonies of the three witnesses, but it is extremely suspicious how little we know of Cowdery's life. As church historian it makes one wonder at what he might have been trying to hide and the book actually does a pretty good job at pointing out what some of those things might me.

Smith and Rigdon were the key figures in the foundation of Mormonism and it's theological evolution. I think that the character of Smith's closest associate sheds a great deal of light on Smith himself.