Friday, December 04, 2015

So-Called Anything

In an article about the doping scandals exploding in the world of track and field I saw this choice quote:
Coe dismissed world authorities on blood-doping as “so-called experts". link
It reminded me of the church and its apologists' frequent prefixing of so-called onto the front of any group they want to marginalize or discredit: so-called intellectuals, so-called scholars, etc. The clear implication is that they are not what they claim to be. They pose as experts or scholars or intellectuals, but they really aren't, so you shouldn't believe them. Instead believe me. I am the real deal. Trust me.I will tell you soothing platitudes so you feel comfortable ignoring the uncomfortable things those people are saying.

Boyd Packer seems to be particularly fond of this tactic. I guess it is understandable given how weak his arguments were. Here are a few examples from Mormon Think.
In the early 1930s, there grew up in some of the institutes a so-called superior scholarship.
If you feel drawn to others who regard intellectual achievement to be more important than the fundamental doctrines, or who expose their students to the so-called realities of life, back away.
He uses it twice in the following quote about homosexuality to try to deny the scientific truth that the church now accepts and also manages to imply that homosexuals can't be trusted about homosexuality.
Some so-called experts, and many of those who have yielded to the practice, teach that it is congenital and incurable and that one just has to learn to live with it. They can point to a history of very little success in trying to put whatever mechanism that causes this back into proper adjustment. They have, to support them, some very convincing evidence. Much of the so-called scientific literature concludes that there really is not much that can be done about it.
The common theme in the above quotes is clear. Experts on blood doping can't be trusted. Superior scholarship is really not superior if I disagree with it. The realities of life aren't real. Experts on homosexuality really aren't. The scientific literature, although it has convincing evidence, isn't really scientific because it contradicts his beliefs.

Time and time again, this kind of ad hominem tactic is used by people who can't defend an issue on its merits. Rather than directly address the topic they instead focus on the messenger, not the message. They simply dismiss the opposing evidence with that little epithet.

Next time you hear or read "so-called" then you should immediately be on guard about the credibility of the person using the term. Honest people don't need say that.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

That Awful Squeeling Noise

The person lifts the microphone and starts to speak and suddenly a high pitched whine explodes out of the speakers and compels everyone in the room to suck in their breath and cover their ears. If you've ever experienced this then you really can't forget it.

The cause is something called positive feedback. The microphone converts sound waves into electrical waves which are in turn fed into an amplifier which makes them stronger and sends them to speakers where magnets convert the amplified electrical waves back into sound. This is great until the amplified sounds feeds back into the microphone, gets amplified again, comes out of the speakers even louder, and feeds back into the microphone in an endless feedback loop that increases the volume until the amplifier is driving as strongly and as loudly as it can or something blows up or someone turns the volume off or the speaker wisely covers the microphone or stops pointing it at the speakers. The reason that it picks one particular frequency or ranges of frequencies (the squeel) has to do with the design of the amplifier which usually has a "sour" spot where it is prone to instability and feedback.

Ever wonder why the church places such a strong emphasis on regular meeting attendance? What are they afraid of if people attend irregularly? That they'll turn evil? Maybe, but I really don't think that church attendance has much affect on people's behavior. I think that it is because church attendance creates a mental positive feedback loop. In church, the message is heard and repeated. The members hear the message and it resonates with their beliefs and it gets amplified. This causes them to echo the message which makes it stronger to them, but also triggers similar feelings in everyone around them. This sets up a positive feedback loop that reinforces the message in everyone.

The church fears that without that regular reinforcement then the feelings will fade and doubts and reason will have more influence when the church's message isn't being amplified.

This effect is sometimes called an echo chamber or a herd mentality and it is effective in religion. But it is also used in politics and media to try to influence people to do or believe things that they wouldn't do on their own.

So, challenge yourself to put your hand over the microphone and get to a quiet place where you can think things through on your own without giving inappropriate importance to what the herd is saying.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Well That Was Easy

It appears that the church is getting used to people resigning and is streamlining the process. On November 9 I sent an email to the church resigning my membership and yesterday I got a confirmation letter from them confirming that they had processed my resignation. My email was terse and theirs was equally so. No pamphlet inviting me back, not waiting period, not contact from the ward, no statement that it had to be handled locally. They just did it and it only took a couple of weeks.

If you're wondering, the email address is:

The text of the email was:
This is email is to notify you that I resign my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints effective immediately and request that you permanently remove my name from your membership records. I desire no further contact from the church except confirmation that my request has been completed. 
Full Name: Bull
DOB: Somewhere in time
Bull's house 
I think I am in the Local Ward
 Last year I sent a resignation letter to my local ward building only to have it returned because apparently they don't receive mail there. When John Dehlin leaked the church's latest anti-gay policy I just couldn't stand to let them continue to count me as a member so I googled up the information and sent off the email not knowing whether or not it would work.

You may wonder why I've waited so long. It wasn't any doubt about my conclusions about the church. The reason I waited was because of my family. Originally I was the only non-believer. I was worried that my children might remain in the church and decide to get married in the temple. I had this thought that if that happened I might possibly jump through hoops so I could participate. I knew it was unlikely but it seemed imprudent to do something I couldn't easily take back while there was a possibility I might want to undo it. I was also worried about how my wife would take it.

Since then all 4 of my children have all left the church although as far as I know none of them have resigned. This is one of the funny things about the church. Five out of six members of my family haven't considered themselves members for years and yet until now none of use have formally resigned.

The other thing I've realized is that my wife is never going to stop being pissed off about my disbelief and that nothing is going to change that. It came up again in therapy recently and it amazes me that after more than 10 years she continues to be angry and hurt about it yet refuses to talk about it or do anything to resolve it. She continues to characterize it as a betrayal by me and dishonesty by me that I hid my doubts from her even though that is exactly what the church taught me to do.

Anyway, my non-Mormanity is now official.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Beware Mormons Bearing Gifts

My daughter has been in a psychiatric residential treatment center for most of the last year because of suicide attempts,  self harming behaviors, and emotional instability. On her birthday she had a day pass to spend at home with her family. The young women at church took this opportunity to set up a visit and bring her a gift. How thoughtful, right? And the gift?

Drum roll please...

A nicely wrapped copy of "For the Strength of Youth" and another young women's pamphlet. Because everyone one knows that that is what a girl with severe self image issues needs to turn her life around.

Fortunately it stayed unopened and at home at the end of a very nice day when we had to take her back.

This is just another instance of the church's complete lack of understanding of mental health and the role that their messages play in some of those issues. I don't blame anyone for my daughter's problems. But I haven't found anything in Mormonism that provides any answers or help, but I know many things continue to the problems: arbitrary dress and grooming standard, sexual repression and shaming, perfectionism, arbitrary rules like the word of wisdom, and many more. My daughter has issues with all of those things.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Back Again

For a long time I haven't thought about the church. In the last few months, however, I find that I'm constantly reading the /r/mormon and /r/exmormon reddits. So why, suddenly am I reading about the church again?

I suppose that part of it is that at the moment it feels like my life is falling apart. My marriage has really never recovered from the fallout from my departure from the church. My struggles with depression have ebbed and flowed. My youngest daughter has struggled with severe mental health issues including 5 suicide attempts in the last 2 years. I'm doing the best that I can and on the surface I guess I look like I'm doing pretty well. But I frequently find myself walking along and feel tears welling up in my eyes. The weight I lost and kept off for years has packed itself back on in the last year as I abused food for comfort. Then 2 weeks ago a former co-worker and friend committed suicide. I find myself being incredibly irritable lately. That's a rough summary of my current travails.

I think that part of it is that I'm seeking closure on this phase of my life. I never formally resigned from the church and my wife and I have never been able to talk about the church so the resentment continues to fester with my wife and it festers in me knowing that she feels stuck in a marriage she doesn't want. So maybe I've been reminding myself of why I left the church so that I can finally put it behind me. And along the way, take whatever steps necessary to resolve that chapter in my life.

And, that is going to suck. Right now it's difficult to see the light at the end of a very long tunnel. But I continue to have hope that I'll come through it.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Answers To Prayer

The sun was dipping low in the west as I left work last night, so as I prepared to mount my sport bike I put on my helmet and swapped my glasses for prescription sunglasses and tucked the hard case into the pocket of my jacket. Initially it didn't go all the way in because I also had the garage door opener in there, but I fiddled with it and every thing fell into place. I turned on an audio book and settled in for the 23 mile commute home. The ride was pretty uneventful except for one little pucker moment as I pulled onto a highway where I got onto the throttle and the rear tire spun up and gave me a little kick as the bike fishtailed and then snapped back into line. I didn't think I had gotten on the gas that hard and I suddenly started worrying I had oil or radiator fluid leaking on the rear tire so I pulled off on the shoulder as quickly as I could. A quick check showed that everything was fine and the rest of the ride home was uneventful. I pulled up, parked, took my sunglasses off, doffed my helmet, and reached for my glasses to find a jacket pocket with only a garage door opener.

All good Mormons know how the story goes from here. You bow your head and say a quiet prayer. You humbly ask Heavenly Father to protect your glasses from harm and to open your mind and sharpen your eyes so that you can find them. God's will be done of course. Then, faith strengthened, you head out in search of your lost item.

Which is what I did. Minus all of the superstitious mumbo jumbo. What I did do was try to do what I believe prayer normally accomplishes. I calmed down. Took deep breaths. Walked through what happened. Tried to reason out the most likely places where it would have fallen out. When I first pulled out of the parking garage. At stop lights and turns. When I stopped at the side of the road. When I stopped to fill up with gas. Anywhere between work and home. Then I pulled out and started looking. And tried to stay positive and sharp.

As I searched I wondered a little why I was bothering. The likelihood of finding my glasses was incredibly small. And if I found them it was very likely that they would be mashed garbage in the road. This was reinforced by the heavy oncoming traffic that was making it difficult to see the road I was trying to scan. I also noticed how easy it would be for the case to have tumbled off the road and into the grass alongside the road where there was no chance for me to see it. The only chance for me to find them was if they fell onto the road or shoulder and somehow avoided getting run over.

I made it all the way back to work and then started working my way back. I got to the point where I got kicked out of the saddle and pulled off. I didn't see anything and started to ride by but then had a flash of recognition! Pulled over and walked back. Sure enough. Right on the edge of the grass was my case! I opened it up and with a sinking feeling saw that it was empty. Okay. With the sun beginning to set I turned up the road, spread my arms out in a search cone and looked carefully as I started to walk and nearly stepped on them as they sat, neatly as you could wish for, as if someone had laid them neatly down on the side of the road without a single scratch or bit of damage about 10 feet away from the case.

So, how improbable is this? If a believer had prayed first and had this happen to them, would this have been a faith-promoting answer to prayer? Almost certainly. An eye glasses sized needle in a 23 mile, traffic clogged haystack. In order for my glasses to have been safe and to have been found they had to fall onto the side of the road, not into traffic. Or into traffic, but not in the wheel track. But if not into traffic, not off of the road where they couldn't be seen. The odds just seem pretty small that they would be found and even if they were found that they would be found completely unharmed.

But I was utterly faithless in any kind of divine intervention. I trusted only in myself. And I was completely reconciled to the very probable outcome that I was going to be scheduling an appointment with the optometrist to get a new prescription (which I need to do anyway) and then order up some new frames. Frankly, I was wondering how I might change the obvious hit to my wallet into a positive by changing up my look with some cool new glasses. But instead I found my old ones.

I really appreciate this "miracle" a great deal despite my complete atheism. I felt great relief and happiness when I found my glasses. I felt, dare I say it, pride in being tenacious enough to not give up and go back and find them. But what is a little easier for me is that I don't have to try to fit all of this into some kind of great metaphysical equation where I try to figure out God's will and why he grants some prayers and not others. This was just one of life's random occurrences. This one happened to go my way. Many others in life haven't.

In my believing days I had my spiritual experiences and answers to prayers. I now explain them in the same way that explain the incident above. All of those experiences were real, but in every case I've been able to given naturalistic explanations for them that require no God or supernatural cause. It was all very simple in hindsight to realize how circular my reasoning was to support my testimony and belief in the church and God. In the end I realized that I believed because I wanted to believe but that there wasn't any evidence at all for any of it.

Once you reach this state of mind it becomes impossible to go back to the Mormon mindset of getting on bended knee and fasting and praying about questions or problems. Exactly what is that supposed to accomplish that thinking and talking and reasoning can't? See the above rational process I used for finding a lost object.

So, there was my atheist miracle which recalled miracles from my Mormon days. Just in case you are worried that you will no longer be blessed once you wander into apostasy.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Proportional Penalties

It has taken me a while to digest the news that BYU basketball player Brandon Davies was indefinitely suspended for having sex with his girlfriend. While I'm a fan of BYU sports, I wasn't any more worked up over the impact to their season than I would have been over a season ending injury. Those sorts of things happen to sports teams all of the time and players and coaches are responsible for dealing with them.. What really upsets me is how the church has ruthlessly sacrificed the reputation and career of one man and his teammates in order to score a PR coup for the church.

BYU has every right to set its honor code. Every person applying to BYU signs the honor code and knows what is expected. And the university knows that every student is fallible and that there are bound to be violations. In fact they have a whole department in the administration whose purpose is to enforce the honor code. They get to do important things like monitor students standing in line to get student IDs to make sure that they meet the school's grooming standards. Hair too long? Go get a hair cut. Forgot to shave? Go shave. They get to kick people out of the testing center during finals week for wearing shorts, not shaving, having too long hair, etc. Back in the day the dress code required females to wear dresses on campus. During finals in December a girl wasn't allowed to take a final in the testing center because she was wearing pants. So she went into the bathroom and took off her pants and put them in her backpack. She went back to the counter in nothing but her long coat and properly exposed legs and was allowed to take her test. Her letter to the campus paper raised quite an uproar.

What about premarital sex? Believe it or not, it even happens at BYU. I wouldn't know, but I'm guessing more than a little bit but probably not a lot. People just get married instead. But it happens. People get hot and heavy, things go to far. The next Sunday visits get made to the bishop, teary confessions are made, calls are made to the other partner's bishop, disciplinary councils are sometimes held, etc. I suspect that sometimes the students get expelled. But I know for a fact that if they are repentant they often don't. They stay in school, go through their repentance process, and life goes on. People have their suspicions because they see them not taking the sacrament, but the process is private. It's not public. I don't know that the university is even ever notified. One thing I can say for certain:


So what is special about the case of Brandon Davies? Why is a start basketball player being singled out? Is it because the basketball is ranked 3rd in the country? Is it because they are picked for a #1 regional seed? So why do we have headlines? Maybe because the church just can't pass up quotes like this:
“in an era in which big-time college athletics has run amok, BYU has maintained its core values and refused to sell out.”
The media has got this all wrong. The church completely sold out. It has treated Brandon Davies completely differently than it would have treated any other student guilty of the same honor code violation. It has used and manipulated his "honor code violation" for its own benefit without any regard for the personal repercussions for Brandon, his girlfriend, their families, his teammates, or for that matter the rest of the university. I don't know if Brandon is Mormon or not. If he is his proper punishment might have been excommunication, not being able to take the sacrament, etc. If he's some other religion I'm sure the church would have worked with his ecclesiastical leader for appropriate religious discipline. But the church doesn't typically have authority to suspend you from an athletic team. The church did that to make PR hay.