Friday, December 10, 2010

Stages of Faith

To My Children,

I have progressed through Fowler’s Stages of Faith, through Stage 5. Although I admit to spending some days in Stage 4, I like to think that I have also spent other days in Stage 6. Hooray for me, however, I am not without wounds from the journey. I wish someone had alerted me about these Stages before I underwent the various metamorphoses because I have been misunderstood and lonely at times when trying to manage my life while experiencing these changes (for the better) in myself within Mormonism's culture of literalism and certainty. My religious indoctrination in church (and yours) was at Stages 2 and 3. The LDS Church, for the most part, leaves the remaining Stages to be achieved on one’s own. In other words, the Church does not conspicuously nor adeptly cater to this level of faith in any of its programs; this is a problem for which I don’t have an easy solution except to alert you that within the Mormon faith it can be painful to move into Stage 4. However, if/when you find yourself there, you may consider that you have made progress instead of thinking something is wrong with you. As you progress through the stages you may feel increasingly like a minority in the Church although you are not alone. Don’t worry. Don’t be frustrated when others hold opinions different than your own; most people's opinions change over time unless they are intellectually stagnant. Don't be frustrated when the Church has different opinions than yours; the Church must make its own journey through the Stages and obviously some members will be ahead or behind the mass. Be charitable with everyone as always. Be patient, humble, and remember to always treat others the way you would want to be treated. If you feel pain, that means you are moving through the "birth canal" into Stage 4 and need to get past it. If you feel disdain toward anyone at lower Stages, then you can know for certain that you have not yet arrived into Stage 5.

Even though Fowler’s book is a tad boring to read, I think his ideas are very important for understanding how the human mind naturally wants to view the world at different stages of maturity. I consider it a great blunder of many anti-religionists to be so out of touch on this matter. I'll let you look up these Stages on your own, whenever you want.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make the religion of your youth a better religion in any way that you can. Sometimes that will mean being supportive and other times that will mean being an agent for change. Indeed, this is a big part of my philosophy of life--to try to make every organization, or institution, or church, or group, or committee, or family, or neighborhood of which I am a member, a better, more functional entity. Your mission is to do the same, and in so doing you will be building the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Prayer

A few months ago someone gave a talk in Church about prayer. The speaker related a story about when their family was going on vacation they took their car to the mechanic to get it checked and ready for the trip. Shortly after driving out of town into the desert, their car stalled. The man tinkered with his engine and tried repeatedly to start the vehicle but had no luck. Then one of the family suggested that they have a prayer. The man was in no mood to pray but he quickly decided that he should not lose his composure in front of his family. Someone in the family offered a prayer after which the man tried one last time to start the motor...and it started, and they were on their way without another problem. Many months before this Sunday I heard this man’s wife tell a more brief version of this story, so I knew that it made a long-term impression on them.

On another Sunday this past year there was a young woman who said that by praying, her mother found her car keys. She said frankly that she didn't think people should be praying for such trivial reasons but she had to admit that this time it worked.

Recently while I was driving my truck in the hot desert summer sun, the engine stalled and I coasted to the side of the road. I remembered the stories that I had heard in church and wondered if I should say a prayer...but I didn't pray. Instead I left my car and walked about a mile to my home. I thought that I should give the truck (and the day) a chance to cool down. I would return and try to start the truck later. When I returned the truck started right up. Later I learned that I had a corroded battery cable (probably due to my high powered speakers).

I do not want to trivialize and disrespect other people's prayers and reasons for praying but I am not able to muster the faith to pray for these kinds of things.

At the beginning of this post is a picture of an old man praying. This picture caught my attention one day when I was a young man while shopping at the Deseret Bookstore. I find much of contemporary religious art to be kitschy but I remember standing for a long time in the store thinking about this painting. It was very simple, but I liked it. I did not see weakness in this man, nor ignorance. I did not think he was asking for too much, or anything at all. I saw a man who had not become hardened over the many years of his life. I saw humility, dignity, and gratitude. And I wanted to be like this man when I got older.

Some time ago I struck up a facebook conversation with a long lost friend who as it turned out was experiencing some troubles in her life. This friend asked me if I prayed. I was taken aback somewhat by this question and had no ready answer. So I started to reflect about what I believed about prayer. My mind hit upon on old hymn that is in many Christian hymnals. I could only remember the first two verses so I looked up the hymn and read all the versus; I still only liked the first two. I decided that these verses captured my feelings about prayer better than anything else I could think to say.
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Unuttered or expressed;
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear
The upward glancing of an eye,
When none but God is near.

-James Montgomery, 1818
Hard-line atheists contend that there is nothing in the universe that listens and responds to prayers, and they might cite as examples the unanswered prayers of women being raped, or the mother losing grip of her baby in a tsunami, or the person dying of hypothermia, or the person suffering in Auschwitz. These atheists argue that prayer is a colossal waste of time since there is nothing that will ever respond to our prayers, and that prayer is a delusion of ignorant minds, etc.

My response to this argument would be to say that there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that people who talk to their plants have greener thumbs. I talk to my plants too sometimes and I commune with them on some level and they respond to my attention. I talk to my cats too and my cats purr back. The Buddhist in me, on occasion, likes to dwell on the interconnectedness of all things; mostly I dwell on the things around me, the things of which I am aware or conscious. Sometimes I’ll walk out into the desert night and look up into the heavens and talk to God and feel a moment of oneness with the cosmos. But I do not expect anything magical to result from my prayers. My prayers are more an expression of my gratitude and wonder for all the good things that I encounter in my life and I make this communion with God in the only way that I know how as a human being, by using words and my voice (or my thoughts), although other humans are known to use prayer wheels, candles, or other such symbols to express the same attitude.

The magic of prayer for me is not that I can make money fall from the sky or anything like that, but rather the magic is the effect that prayer has on me. Prayer helps me to align myself and my thinking with everything that is good in the universe.

I am of the opinion that monastic-style petitionary prayer that has the purpose of persuading the heavens to act differently than they were otherwise going to act, is probably a waste of time but perhaps there is something psychically powerful about prayers, something that exerts an influence outside of myself. I don’t know. Guys like Dean Radin are trying to answer that kind of question.

I have no objection to prayers in schools and in government meetings. Why not just observe a moment of silence like we do when someone dies? That never seems to be politically incorrect. During the period of silence persons would be able to offer their own silent prayers, or if they prefer, they could have a private moment of “gratitude.”

I was taught to pray in the Mormon tradition: 1. Address God, 2. Give thanks, 3. Ask for blessings, and 4. Close in the name of Jesus Christ. I realize that some feminists argue that it is sexist to suppose God is a male, nevertheless I was trained to address "Heavenly Father," and I confess that this issue has not concerned me much one way or the other. Mormons like to pray using the “language of prayer” which means, good-old King James style--thee, thou, thy, and thine. I am not concerned much about pronouns either.

In my family we kneel every morning and every night and say a family prayer. Pam is the most diligent in making sure that this custom does not become forgotten. We take turns each time. I think our custom of having family prayers is beautiful, meaningful, powerful, and useful. I want to preserve in writing a typical prayer that comes from my mouth on days when it is my turn. The following prayer is typical in both length and content:
Dear Heavenly Father,

We are kneeling in prayer to show reverence and to give thanks for all the blessings that we enjoy in our lives. We are thankful for our home in the country, and for the school bus that comes right to our door, and for good schools and jobs. We are thankful that Kristina is going to have a baby girl, and we pray that she will have the strength to keep up her busy schedule while she is pregnant. We are thankful that Shaun and Alison have found new jobs. Please bless Erik that he will be safe. And bless Grandpa Ted and Grandma Ellen that they will not be lonely. Please bless Natalie and Grant that they will learn as much as they can in school today and respect their teachers, and help them to remember to be kind to everyone they meet, and make good choices. Please help us all to be good people and to try to make the world a better place wherever we go.

In Jesus' name, Amen.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Passionate Atheistic Blow Back (The New Atheists)

Books such as these are blowback, or unintended consequences of careless and overreaching religious teachings and structure. There is much in these books that I agree with but I want to comment on a few things that concern me about them.

Technically, Bertrand Russell is not a "New Atheist" but I do want to mention his famous book wherein he endeavors to list all the major mistakes made by Christianity over the last 2000 years, I merely want to point out that a similar list also could be made of all the mistakes made by governments over the last 2000 years, but notwithstanding all the mistakes that governments have made, some form of government has always been needed and will continue to be needed. Likewise, some form of religion will always be needed. Just as government is an evolutionary emergent, so is religion. Both serve necessary purposes in the evolution of the world.

Libertarians like to think of a world without governments but their views are extreme and do not convince most people that libertarianism would not lead to anarchy. Libertarians make the ideological mistake of wanting to minimize the size of governments when the goal rather should be to optimize the size of governments. Passionate atheists, such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins remind me of Libertarians in that these authors seem unconcerned about any resultant anarchy that no doubt would follow from a mass and rapid exodus of people from their traditional religious structures. So far Dawkins, Hitchins, and similar proselytizing atheists have not persuaded me that their brand of atheism would not also lead to some kind of anarchy (at least in the short run).

Dawkins wrote in his 1998 book, Unweaving the Rainbow:
Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful!
This statement by Dawkins reminds me of the time I served as a juror. After the trial was over, the jurors assembled in the jury room and almost immediately one confident man volunteered to be the jury foreman and was elected by the others. We then took a preliminary vote of guilty or not guilty. There were two that voted not guilty--then commenced a long effort to persuade these two holdouts to change their vote. For a while the ten jurors were patient but soon some of the more dominant jurors became frustrated and let the tone of their voices become sarcastic and derisive. Of course the two holdouts reacted to this disrespect by not wanting to agree with their “enemies.” Next the amazing part: after a long and tiresome deliberation process, the hitherto less outspoken jurors began to take their turns at persuading the two holdouts. The gentle jurors succeeded. Case closed. For days afterwards I kept pondering in my mind the power of gentle persuasion and I vowed that if I ever served as a juror again I would not show my cards too soon but would wait for the bullies to talk themselves out first.

Sometimes Dawkins and Hitchens are bullies.

Hitchens wrote:
Religion is man-made. Even the men who made it cannot agree on what their prophets or redeemers or gurus actually said or did. (p. 9)
I say, however, so what if religion is man made? So are governments, disposable diapers and the scientific method. Even if science ultimately replaces religion, it is not prepared to do so yet. I prefer Voltaire's logic when he wrote "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." And Einstein said, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

There is still an important role for religion to play in the world which I hope to explore more fully in other posts.

Hitchens also wrote:
If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world. (p. 220)" He is right about that one but I am not sure that it would be a better world.
All three of these authors are superbly talented individuals whose arguments should be studied even though their books are not balanced. I highly recommend Russell’s, “A History of Western Philosophy” instead. Dawkins is superb when he talks about evolution. Hitchens can make me wince and laugh out loud by his belligerent sarcasm (but so can Howard Stearn whose style I find to be despicable, albeit captivating). I hope that all the creationists, Islamists, and all kinds of fundamentalist zealots will read these authors but to most people, my children included, I recommend being careful with this kind of book that can leave you feeling angry, because when you are angry your judgment is impaired. I recommend reading Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, Peter Hitchens, or Krista Tippett, for starters. (Listen to Tippett in audio. Her style and tone set the standard for seekers with a religious background.)


Five days after I wrote this post, al Qaeda-affiliated gunmen killed 52 Christians and Police inside of a Baghdad church in an attempt to empty Iraq of Christians. This kind of religious extremism makes me angry too and helps me to understand the rudeness of the above mentioned authors. Yet it would be an imprudent indulgence to lash back without calculating all the consequences.

So I say, exterminate the murderous religious extremists but leave the rest of religion to be enlightened by education and diplomacy. And do not make the mistake of shooting back at everything religious or spiritual.

The following authors are among the prime movers of the New Atheism movement: Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Victor J. Stenger and Christopher Hitchens.

Religions are both True and False

Here is an internationally recognized symbol of an atom. I ask you, dear reader, if this symbol is true or false? Please answer this question in your mind before reading further.

In the first chapter of my economics textbook there is a page about conceptual models as they relate to economic theories. I teach my students that a model is an abstract and simplistic representation of a greater truth. A model is a simplistic way of thinking about something more complicated. A scientific theory is a model, a set of coherent logic that is useful in portraying a bigger reality. Such scientific models are imperfect, and subject to scrutiny and modification. There is typically much resistance to changing established models or theories but paradigm shifts do occur over time as more knowledge is obtained and as the most staunch and established proponents of obsolete models die off.

About this time I draw the symbol of an atom on the board and I tell my students that this is a model. Then I ask them if it is true. Pause. Is this really what an atom looks like? Has anyone ever seen an atom? No, and no. If no one has ever seen an atom then how can this be a true picture of an atom? Do scientists believe that electrons orbit the nucleus (planetary model of an atom)? No. Then why do scientists who know better still use this inaccurate symbol and model of an atom when teaching children about atoms?

The answer is simple. A teacher cannot very well begin to teach the concept of an atom by teaching quantum electrodynamics. Rather, the teacher must employ some pedagogical strategy that usually includes some historical background and a graspable visual picture, a model. Years of teaching experience have confirmed to educators that teaching something that is not exactly true or up to date, such as the planetary model of the atom, may indeed be the best way to teach a greater truth, if it is a stepping stone in the right direction. Then I talk about the usefulness of models in spite of their limitations. Of course models also may contain errors and need to be updated.

Now, to answer my first question, the planetary symbol of the atom is both true AND false. It is “true” in the sense that it is “useful” to teach this model first before continuing to more complex models. It is “false” because it is not exactly what an atom looks like (electrons do not orbit the nucleus on planes).

After the class is dismissed and I am alone I continue the lecture in my head. I say that religions are also models, both true and false. They are true inasmuch as they are useful and adequately capture the ineffable truths that science and philosophy have heretofore not been able to capture. For instance, philosophers have come up with existentialism, a philosophy that is obsessed with the themes of absurdity, anguish, void, dread, and despair but have not yet come up with its opposite; until that day there is a place for religion in this world.

Just as scientific models need to be updated as a matter of course, so also religious models need to be updated too, but it seems to be the propensity of religions to resist change which ironically leads to their becoming less relevant in the world.

Religions are their own worst enemy.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I Am a Seeker of Truth (Don't Label Me)

Would you dare label Derrida? Nor should you label me. Would you categorize Kant? Would you look at Sarte and objectify him? Nor should you do these things unto me.

On several occasions I have told my kids that my favorite clothing style is “invisible.” That is, whatever clothing draws the least attention to myself is what I like to wear. All this is not to say that I do not enjoy fashion. In fact, I can offer some good evidence of my love for fashion--I have watched all the seasons (eight so far) of Project Runway with my family. I would love to be more fashionable in my life but I am usually too preoccupied with other thoughts and as a result my desire for fashion is suppressed by my greater love of philosophy. I tell my kids that I do not want tattoos for the same reason; I don't want to be branded. I don’t want to be noticed (unless I want to be noticed). I do not want to be categorized. I don’t want to be looked at and objectified. And I do not want to be labeled.

I dislike “labeling” questions: Are you a Christian? Mormon? Republican? American? From California?

I dislike these questions because by answering a simple yes or no, then the questioner will make many assumptions about me that are not necessarily true. For instance, if someone were to ask me if I am a Mormon and I say yes, then that person would probably assume that I do not believe in evolution and that I take the stories in the scriptures as mostly literally true, among many other things. All this would be false.

If someone were to ask me if I am pro-union or anti-union, then of course I again would be immediately labeled in that person’s mind even though in my mind there are circumstances under which I would be pro-union and other circumstances under which I would be anti-union or ambivalent about unions. For instance, If I were living 100 years ago in a small town with one employer, say, a copper mine, then I would likely be more pro union than when there is a more perfect labor market. Sometimes unions themselves can be the abusers. So I am neither for nor against unions at all times but I am either for or against unions under different circumstances.

If when I am lecturing I perceive that my audience is to the right of the truth, I might try to move them to the left, closer to the truth and I would do just the opposite with a liberal audience.

I teach my students that it does not really matter if a person starts out as a Democrat or a Republican, male or female, or any particular ethnicity or religion. What matters most is that they should try to be objective seekers of the truth and the truth is above petty sub-groupings. What matters most, is not the opinions you have when you start thinking in life but that you steadily improve your opinions all throughout your life.

I am a registered Republican; I was born that way. I am also a male (also born that way). But just because I am a male republican does not mean that I am beholden to the Republican Party and chauvinistic. So even though one may label me as a WASP (white Anglo Saxon protestant) or a Mormon, or a white male, or whatever, does not mean that I am any of these things. These are all just labels that ignorant people may ascribe to me. When I was a child these labels were probably more accurate but now that I have grown up intellectually, there is no stereotype that accurately defines me.

So who am I? What am I? How should I be labeled?

I am a seeker of Truth (Period). Everything else about me is a footnote.

The truth is at the center and I am always willing to move towards it in any direction I need to get there.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Introduction to the Blog

I intentionally gave this blog a conspicuous name, hoping that when I die someone in my family will remember that I did write something down in a blog (for what it’s worth) and perhaps try to find it. This blog is something of a memoir and collection of life lessons, so the reader will indulge me, please, if I write something that is self-aggrandizing and boastful. I have many thoughts that I want to write down but I am in no hurry. I will write when I feel like it.

Any visitor to this blog may feel free to make comments on any post, not just current ones.

The other day Natalie (daughter) and I were alone in my bedroom (Fall 2010). She was looking at my bookshelves when she noticed I had gathered about 20 pink highlighters out of my books (I use them as bookmarks), and she asked me why I highlight my books. She said it would be nice if I would write down what I was thinking when I highlighted my books. I could sense that she understood that although she could not yet understand the books I read, someday she would want to read them and understand what I was thinking when I highlighted them. This blog is, in part, a response to Natalie and the rest of my family.

This blog is a means of sorting out my own position on issues and then purging them from my mind to free up some of my working memory.

In this blog I will make my little contribution toward answering the perennial question, “What is truth?”

Some blog postings will take up Mormon issues or else express a passing thought, but I have no intention of writing Mormon apologetics, nor insensitive criticism.

Some postings will be disconnected, random thoughts and memories.

In short, Spinoza [think of Todd Hansink with tongue in cheek] is not to be read, he is to be studied; you must approach him as you would approach Euclid, recognizing that in these brief... pages a man has written down his lifetime's thought with stoic sculptury of everything superfluous. Do not think to find its core by running over it rapidly; never in a work of philosophy was there so little that could be skipped without loss. Every part depends upon preceding parts; some obvious and apparently needless proposition turns out to be the cornerstone of an imposing development of logic. You will not understand any important section thoroughly till you have read and pondered the whole...

-Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, p.218

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Patience with the World (Invited to Speak in Church)

Patience with the World
Sacrament Meeting Address
May 30, 2010

[I gave this talk in Sacrament Meeting May 30, 2010. After the meeting I overheard one person say to another, “Did you hear that talk? It was so unusual.” And I think that is a fair enough critique.  My daughter Natalie (age 12) showed the most appreciation after the meeting and even asked if she could read my talk. She was happy to tell me that she understood when I mentioned Galileo because she had learned about him in school. (A few months earlier she had told me that she wanted to read Darwin’s book to settle some controversies that she was perceiving in her own mind because of what her teacher taught her about Charles Darwin and religion.) Most of all, Natalie was happy to see me wear my suit coat. She repeatedly remarked about the coat.]

Brothers and Sisters, if you will look up at the podium you will see standing before you an ignorant man. Good morning. From Socrates I have learned that I know nothing. From Joseph Smith/Moses 1:10 I have learned that I am “…nothing, which thing I never did suppose.”

It must seem a bit ironic that this ignorant man is employed full-time to fight ignorance in this world. I am a professor at Imperial Valley College who patiently battles on the front lines.

I have been asked to speak to you today on the subject of Patience and was given a discourse by President Uchtdorf to inspire my thoughts.

And just like a professor, I will not only teach you about patience, but I will also test your patience.

Patience is having a good attitude while waiting for something to happen. For example, patience could be having a good attitude while waiting for me to finish this talk. “Impatience, on the other hand,” according to Elder Uchtdorf, “is a symptom of selfishness. [Impatience] is a trait of the self-absorbed. It arises from the all-too-prevalent condition called “center of the universe” syndrome, which leads people to believe that the world revolves around them and that all others are just supporting cast in the grand theater of mortality in which only they have the starring role.”(April 2010 Conference)

There are many things in the world that try our patience: slow drivers in the fast lane, Republicans or Democrats, Arizona’s new immigration law or illegal aliens, global warming enthusiasts or greedy capitalists, Islamist terrorists, and health care reformers, etc. The issues of the day have always tested our patience. Every current event is surrounded by people arguing in ignorance. It is easy to see ignorance in our government and public policies. It is easy to spot ignorance in our spouses, in young people, even in our Church.

Because we are an integral part of this world we have no other choice than to wait for the rest of the world to become as smart as we are. We might as well wait patiently.

Ignorance is everywhere and it always has been. We have been battling ignorance for some 14 billion years across the universe; 4.5 billion years on this planet alone. But in spite of the many years, there has always been steady progress—think two steps forward for every one step backward. Recently, over the last 200,000 years, homo sapiens have been getting better at making tools, we have discovered fire, named the animals, invented writing, and technology, and even gone to the moon. The man Adam is awake and rising.

There are probably some people in this room that have a hard time accepting that God would use evolutionary means to create us. Could it be that they think God lacks patience? Certainly God patiently waits as all of creation learns by experience (D&C 9:8). And mankind is the sum of this accumulated experience.

But why, some may ask, doesn’t God just tell us whatever we have always wanted to know? Why doesn’t God get to the point. Why does God make us struggle, and wrestle, and reach for what we get? Well, the answer is simple. We appreciate what we work for and we understand what we experience. “There is no other way.” We struggle to live…we experiment…we learn…we resolve issues…we cure diseases…we improve the world…sometimes we backslide…and then we try again until we find the clear path. Meanwhile, God patiently waits for us like a parent who reaches out to a toddler who is considering taking his first steps . God doesn’t compel us to do anything. He waits for us to study things out in our minds (D&C 9:8). We are free to make choices and witness the effects and consequences of our choices.

Eventually we learn. We gather and sort knowledge into principles, and grow in wisdom. We build libraries and internets to share what we have learned. And in obedience to God’s command, “Awake and arise,” we have become the most conscious of beings and have “filled the earth,” and are causing rapid changes in this world.

Sometimes senior people may feel weary after seeing so many changes in the world during their lifetimes. Some seniors might fall into the trap of becoming disgusted with the world because of changes that they do not understand or like. To avoid this pit of negativity one must take the long view of the world and recognize that on the whole, all of these changes in the world are necessary steps in the evolution of the world. People who are negative in their thinking have a narrow and short-term perspective. Let us remember that God has pronounced that the world and all life are good (Genesis 1). How can anyone doubt that life is not progressing exactly as it was always intended to progress--that is my faith. My faith is that the world is exactly as it should be for the moment and is evolving exactly as God expects it to evolve. But, of course, by no means am I suggesting that we should be satisfied with the way things are in the world. Of course not. We must always struggle to improve the world in every way that we can. We must combat ignorance and promote education; that is how evolution works. We must always be improving; that is the purpose of life--to improve (and to find joy while doing it). And it takes time.

In the years since Charles Darwin first published The Origin of Species, there have been many individuals who rejected the bigger world that Darwin described. Yet his book was so logical and full of good examples that many people became intellectually conflicted. And ever since, the Christian world, has been trying to reconcile the theory of evolution with the book of Genesis. At first, our church was relatively open-minded about Darwinism but in the latter half of the 20th century we started to lean toward the literal creationists. Anti-Darwinian views were embraced by many within our church and even taught in our church. However, the Church itself, officially and quietly, remained noncommittal on this matter.

It seems very interesting to me that after so much intellectual battling about Darwinism, our children seem to take it all in stride and don’t quite comprehend the misgivings and apprehensions of their forebears on this issue. In time, short run battles become forgotten while the enduring principles emerge.

We spend our lives discussing controversies. When one controversy is solved, another is waiting to be addressed. Even in our church there are many controversies that God expects us to resolve, and many more waiting in line. But in the church we resolve controversies in a very uncommon way. We try very hard to discuss issues patiently. We reason and persuade one another “by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.” These are the ground rules for debating in the church. If we cannot obey these rules, we do not discuss. However, if we agree to these rules then there is nothing that we cannot discuss.

Do you remember the story of Galileo? He was the one that told the churchmen that contrary to their teachings, the earth went around the sun, and not the other way around. Galileo’s story has been retold since then millions of times. Basically the story is that Galileo was a great scientist and the church refused to listen to scientific reason.

Galileo found himself in the uncomfortable position of knowing more about some things (certainly not all things) than his church leaders. Galileo was a smart man, but was he a patient man? I wonder how the world might have evolved differently if he had been a little more patient in his attitude toward the church, and the church more patient toward him. Galileo wrote a scathing satire about the church, and the church reacted in ways that it has long regretted. Since the renaissance, and the days of Copernicus, Bruno, and Galileo, scientifically-minded people have been judging the church to be backwards-looking, dogmatic, and unable to adapt to a changing world. A long-lasting rift developed between the church and its more intellectual parishioners. Neither side showed much patience toward the other side.

In defense of the church I will say that there is nothing unusual about a large organization being sluggish about change. All large organizations tend to be slow to change. The larger they become, the slower they tend to change.

Because of the church’s inability to adapt to a changing world, it experienced schisms. Eventually, much of the flock within the Christian tradition was scattered and many lost. Especially in Europe, Christianity was gutted, and spiritually disemboweled—yet it lives on. A thousand protestant and restorationist movements have attempted to fill the void. Arguably one of the greatest tragedies in the world since the enlightenment is the loss of churches and the loss of spiritual communities instead of the evolution of such communities.

Meanwhile, God waits patiently and allows us the time we need to learn for ourselves how to rise out of our state of ignorance. We learn in an evolutionary way—“hold[ing] fast to that which is good” (1Thes. 5:21) and discarding the rest. Our own church history provides ample evidence of this evolutionary sorting out of ideas. In our church we have planted many ideas like seeds. If the seed bears delicious fruit, then it was a good seed. If our ideas produce desirable results, then we know that they are “true” ideas (comparable to William James). But when our ideas produce bad results, like sometimes they have, we try planting something else. We just move on. Such is the evolutionary way, such is God’s way. And it is also the godly way, to be patient about it all. (Alma 32)

About a week and a half ago it was reported that the famous and very influential book entitled Mormon Doctrine would no longer be printed by the Church, nor would it be sold by the Desert Bookstore. Now this is a very visible change in the Church. When I was a missionary this book was on the recommended reading list for missionaries. At some point missionaries were told not to read this book any more. Now, suddenly the book is unavailable at any Deseret Bookstore. Of course this does not mean that the whole book is bad. I am not suggesting that the whole book is incorrect but some parts of it no longer ring true, and so the “living Church” is moving on. Frankly, I am very pleased with this change for which I have waited patiently.

But the struggle against ignorance continues. Or in other words, the quest for "greater light and knowledge" continues.

Not long ago I was watching some movie clips on youtube of the minutemen groups that were demonstrating along the US/Mexican border. I also watched clips of the various counter demonstrators. I watched and listened as many demonstrators angrily and emotionally declared their arguments. I tried to look through all the anger and emotion for the logical arguments upon which these people were basing their demonstrations. After listening to many arguments I began to feel heartsick. I was saddened that among so many arguers, I could not find anyone who apprehended the whole issue.  However chaotic these protests are, they serve as a mechanism for prioritizing the order that we address the issues and seek learning. In the long run border issues will be resolved and forgotten. But in the mean time, let us be peacemakers when in the company of those who would protest without complete knowledge.

In the news these days, we hear much of global warming, another confusing issue that is not yet well understood but there is every reason to believe that we will sort it out as well. It will take time, and we may take many wrong turns, misinterpret data, disagree on how to proceed, but we will eventually figure this issue out as well. In the mean time, let us be patient and not create emotional static that would slow the progress.

Healthcare reform is another hot issue. Many think that the government is making big mistakes, and they might be, but in the long run we will figure out how to run a better health care system. We will muddle through and the world will progress. It will take some time so we might as well be patient.

We could easily worry too much that the worlds financial institutions are falling apart, and they might be falling apart. But this will provide the necessary impetus to rebuild smarter. In the long run we will have better financial institutions. We might as well be patient.

In the short run partisan politicians bicker while the news media is always right there to catch the reality, and even to produce a little drama whenever it can. In the long run we will learn to speak more civilly; and in time, our journalism will improve too. After all, we are still very new at organizing ourselves into world-wide governments.

When we suffer earthquake damage, we respond by redesigning and building smarter. We learn from our mistakes. In the short run there is suffering in Haiti. Could it be that the rebuilding of Haiti with foreign aide will produce a stronger Haiti than would have existed if there had not been such a destructive earthquake, and perhaps, even put Haiti into more of the economic mainstream than it was before? I hope so.

In the short run there is often suffering. But in the long run there is always progress. So when we are suffering, let us try to take the long view. This will strengthen our resolve and give us hope. The history of the world is full of examples of good things that are born of short-term suffering. Let us be patient with the world.

There is every reason to be upbeat about the future of this world; and ours should be an upbeat church. We don’t need prophets of doom, nor do we have any. I think the Church has been very careful in recent decades to restrain anyone who would sound like an apocalyptic doomsayer. We do not try to motivate with fear and we do not try to motivate with hyper enthusiasm—just gentleness and love unfeigned. Let us not be discouraged by events that happen in the world. Let us take the long view and understand that the world is working just as it is supposed to. And then let us stay busy, always looking to improve the world—with patience. “There is no other way.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Anthropomorphism of God

A couple of weeks ago a Church leader gave a talk in Sacrament Meeting about the Resurrection (Easter was coming up). After the meeting this Brother took me aside and said he wanted to get my opinion on something. He asked, “Why do you think it is so important that we teach that God has a body?”

Since I had just heard his talk on the Resurrection of Jesus I had some idea of where he was coming from with this question but it was still a very big question. I paused for a moment and then said, “I think that we over teach it.”

He looked a little confused.

Then I said, “I think we over teach, or overemphasize, that God looks like a man in his prime. You said it yourself, that the resurrected Jesus could walk through walls and rise up from the ground and depart into the clouds (See Acts). So I am saying that it is a very narrow teaching to emphasize that God has flesh and bones and looks like a man. God is more than that. But of course if God wanted to communicate to a human being in a dream, or otherwise, He probably would not appear as a fish or as an electron. God would be astute enough to pick a more effective communication medium. He would appear as something we could grasp. We teach our children (I pointed at Natalie, age 12, who was standing close by) about a God that looks like a man because that is all they can grasp; but surely God is greater than what children can grasp. So that is why I say we over teach the idea of an anthropomorphic God, because God must be more than that. [We over teach this concept when we expect educated adults to literally believe the same things that we teach our children.]

The Brother didn’t seem to want to engage the topic further and he started moving away. I guessed my answer was nowhere close to what he had been wondering about.

Before he got away I said a little more, “It doesn’t really make any difference to me what kind of body God has. I can’t say that I literally believe in a God that sits on a throne tapping his fingers while having a symbiotic relationship with His intestinal flora and having nipples, though if He is omnipotent then I’m sure He could do that.”

He looked at me without knowing what to say.

Then I said, “Well you asked.” And I gave him a big smile.

Now another person at Church thinks I’m odd.

Anti-Darwinism in the Church

I was sitting in a combined Youth Sunday School meeting when the teacher started to say something like, “How could anyone believe in Darwin and believe that we came from apes? We are children of God!” Then one of the smart (sometimes smart-alecky) young boys asked a question, “So Darwin got it all wrong?” His question was not acknowledged.

I sat uncomfortably in my seat and knew that I had to say something quickly before the moment had passed. I raised my hand without knowing what I was going to say but I knew I had to say something. The teacher saw my hand and called on me. I took a breath and tried to speak with a calm voice.

I said slowly, “Without disrupting the rhythm of the lesson, may I humbly interject a point about Darwinism. The issues of evolution have been debated many times by good Latter-day Saints at BYU and the Church has decided that we are not required to disbelieve that all life including human beings could have evolved from simpler life forms. I only want to bring this up now because this is the third time in about the last six months where I have heard the idea taught in Church that we do not believe in Darwin. But the reality is that the Church does not have an official position on human evolution even though most of our parents, grandparents, and many Authorities in the Church have spoken out against Charles Darwin. We, in fact, are not required to be anti-Charles Darwin nor anti-human evolution. The reason I want to make this point clear is because I think there are some kids in this room who might study science in college and decide that there is good evidence to conclude that humans did indeed evolve from lower life forms. And I don’t want those individuals to have memories of being taught anti-Darwinism in Church and thus needlessly feel that they are at odds with the Church.”

The teacher looked at me with a blank face and then moved on.

Some days later I spoke to the teacher to make sure that she was not offended by my comments. She seemed to be okay but has now probably categorized me as being a little odd.

The first book that I recommend on this topic is, Evolution and Mormonism, by Trent D. Stephens and Jeffrey Meldrum. This book gently shows how the LDS Church is not officially creationist even though most members and leaders are.

Friday, March 5, 2010

My Alter Ego

Ken Wilber

I was first exposed to Ken Wilber when I found his book, A Brief History of Everything, on my Dad’s bookshelf. (I am always attracted to bookshelves.) My Dad didn’t have much to say about the book except that I could take it. He told me that it was a selection of the Mira Costa College book group that met monthly to discuss their selections and vote upon others.

The book sat on my shelf for a couple years while I attempted to start reading it four or five times. Finally I worked up enough momentum in the book that I started to make progress and then suddenly I was hooked. I studied it very carefully and started to really enjoy it. By the time I finished this book I knew I had to know more about this guy.

Ken Wilber is another one of those rare human beings that have had a significant impact in shaping the way I think. Although he seems new agey at first, seems narcissistic at times, and sometimes dresses funny, I still enjoy all his quirky oddness without feeling the need to emulate him in every way or become taken in by his “fan club-cum-cult.” He appears a bit eccentric but, hey, the guy is truly one of life’s originals and he is full of substantive ideas.

I highly recommend one of his books: A Brief History of Everything, and his audio set: Kosmic Consciousness which covers the same material in an interview format. The combination of book and CDs is most effective as each medium has its inherent strengths and weaknesses; together they best introduce Wilber’s worldview. Beyond these two recommended works of Ken Wilber I make no further recommendations though there are still many wonderful intellectual nuggets to find. I have purchased most of Wilber’s books but that is more a reflection of my way of sizing him up. I do the same thing with musical artists as well. I like to know the full catalogue even when I only like part of it. I like to understand the artist as well as his message.

One reason why I have formed an intellectual bond with Ken Wilber is because he was the one that I was reading when I had a few more of those “aha” moments. Wilber taught me a few new things that I really found enlightening. Granted, I could have had such moments while reading somebody else because most ideas are not exclusively original to any one human being, but the fact is I was taught by Wilber. He was the one who communicated many ideas in such a way that I was able to receive them, and they came at I time in life when I was mature enough to pay attention.

The first topic that impacted my thinking was emergence--everything is simultaneously a “whole” as well as a “part” of something bigger (holons). Subatomic particles are wholes, but also parts of Atoms. Atoms are discrete wholes yet they are parts of molecules. Molecules are wholes that form parts of proteins which become parts of tissues, then organs, then organisms, then the biosphere, then the noosphere (see Pierre Teilhard de Chardin). The “aha” was the realization that I am part of something bigger than myself. I was finally ready to trade up to this broader perspective by giving up my more egocentric worldview and it was not a frightening thought but, surprisingly, it was very comfortable. I kept repeating in my mind, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” This seemed very logical. I started to think of other people as extensions of myself, or, even, myself. This may sound loony but I honestly started to sense a keener kinship to the world than I ever had before. This attitude came from Buddhism through Wilber to me.

After a while I found that I was experiencing a real change in myself. I started to feel a greater ability to detach myself from emotional issues and try to understand them more objectively while all the time believing that in the long run the “truth will out.”

Perhaps the most important idea that I got from Wilber is that I do not have to repudiate things that I transcend; I can transcend AND include.

Ken Wilber is another kindred soul because I see part of myself in him. He is a tireless quester of truth and is not afraid to read all of the world’s best books without waiting for them to be assigned. And although he is ahead of me and different in many ways, we are both questers.