Update about this blog

Just so everyone is clear, this blog is retired. I don’t have the time to keep up with it and I got tired of doing so. It was a good run while it lasted. I’m leaving up all the posts, and people can still comment if they want.

Protesting President Packer

I suppose I ought to weigh in on this matter. But given the silence that has characterized this blog of late, I suppose I won’t say too much.

I must have been quite distracted when President Packer gave his talk last weekend. No disrespect meant to him, but I think I was waking up from a nap. I found I had missed out on something Monday, though, when I received an email denigrating President Packer for being both a homophobe and a pedophile, accusations that are just mean-spirited and do nothing to advance anyone’s “cause.” But the lack of care, compassion, and sophistication didn’t stop there. Apparently there was also a protest in Salt Lake City yesterday. Good for them. Here are just a couple of words about the lack of sophistication which has characterized the discussion so far:

Continue reading

Marriage is more than a “right”

Something is wrong, here. It’s suddenly become very normal to talk about marriage as a “right” and a “freedom” and that seems to me a rather impoverished way of talking about marriage. And yet, though one side (those opposed to gay marriage) often disagrees on marriage being a “right”, neither side can seem to get past this issue.

The “right” to be self-fulfilled

Let me try to articulate what I’m talking about: by talking about marriage as a freedom and a right, people are essentially drawing on a narrative like the very one I grew up with: when I marry, I want someone to whom I am physically and sexually attracted; I want someone who treats me well (in part because of their attraction to me) and who helps me reach my full potential as a person (can take me to the temple, etc); I want someone who cares for me like I care for them, who I can keep secrets with and who will share my life with me. I want… I want… I want…

Continue reading

The Fourth Mission of the Church: Why Absent from Conference?

At this last General Conference, I was anxiously awaiting someone–particularly President Monson or the Presiding Bishopric–to discuss details about the Church’s new mission: helping the poor and needy. This mission will be added to the the Church’s existing three missions, which will be called four purposes: perfecting the saints, proclaiming the gospel, redeeming the dead, and helping the poor and needy.

I assumed that it would at least be mentioned. Which would have been nice, as most members I’ve talked with, including priesthood leaders, are unaware of the announced addition to the church’s mission.

To my surprise, there was no mention of it (unless I missed something). This post is not a complaint; I imagine the Brethren know what they’re doing in terms of implementing the new mission. Perhaps they just want to take the time to develop a systematic program before they make a big deal out of it.

So why did the Church make the announcement several months ago? Perhaps it was more a message to the world than to the Saints. Perhaps they didn’t want to wait to let others know that we are really serious about helping the poor and the needy.

I’m curious if anyone has information about the rolling out of the fourth mission. Has the Church communicated anything about this to stake or ward leaders? Has anyone’s ward, stake, or quorum began any kind of organization or new callings associated with helping the poor? For example, has anyone’s Elders Quorum called a Helping the Poor and Needy chair? And would it be OK to do something like this, absent specific instructions from Salt Lake?

Highlights from General Conference, April 2010

This was kind of a rough General Conference for me — because of the little one — but it was still inspiring as always. Dominant themes included the Resurrection of Christ, teaching children the gospel, and having hope and faith in the midst of turmoil and adversity.

Because this post is late and synthesis requires more effort than chronology, I’m just going to list the Top 10 “moments” that stood out to me (in chronological order), and include some of my own thoughts:

Continue reading

On the Impossibility of Genuine Self-interest

The philosophy of Objectivism (created by the philosopher and author Ayn Rand) includes the idea that all actions and choices are ultimately motivated by self-interest; people do things for their own benefit, whether they realize it or not. One problem I have with this idea is that it rules out the possibility of any actions that are altruistic (selfless, or purely for another’s benefit).

I recently attended a conference where the presenter, C. Bradley Thompson, defended the philosophy of Objectivism. During a question and answer session, someone asked him, “What single philosophical idea do you believe has caused the most damage to human society?” He responded immediately and confidently, “Altruism.” He argues that human beings consistently forgo actions that are in their best individual and collective interests for the sake of an unobtainable ideal that usually does more harm than good. Mutual exchange, based upon mutual self-interest, does for more good in the world than encouraging free-loaders and laziness by giving valuable time and resources to those unwilling or unable to reciprocate. Continue reading

Responding to the Call of the Other

For a while, I rode the city transit bus to the university. One day, I was sitting next to an empty seat on the bus, and reading a chapter out of my physics textbook. A man got on the bus, and was looking for a seat. I shifted my legs onto the seat next to me, and buried myself in the book. The man found another seat, and I enjoyed sitting next to an empty seat for the rest of the trip.

Continue reading

Levinas and Two Ways of Approaching the World

Emmanuel Levinas was a Lithuanian Jew who lived from 1906 to 1995, and studied under some of the most influential thinkers in Europe. He later moved to France and authored one of the most exciting and original philosophies of the 20th Century. He lived for a time as a prisoner of war during World War 2. After the war he responded with force against what he saw as the movement of western philosophy.

In Contrast with Western Philosophy

What is Western philosophy? Western philosophy traces its ancestry to ancient Europe, to countries such as Greece and Rome. It is the philosophy that you and I are already familiar with. It permeates our thoughts, ideas, and even how we make sense of the world. In Western philosophy, truth is generally considered to be the unchanging, foundational principles of the Universe. Philosophy itself is thought to be the method of reducing the flux of everyday experience to a set of static principles. For Western philosophy, there is no loss in this “reduction,” because we are making the world intelligible, or reducing the chaos we find in experience to unchanging unity.

In simple terms, in order to be truth, it has to be true everywhere, all of the time. Mathematical abstractions are the perfect example of Western truth. The equation c2 = a2 + b2 seems to be true everywhere and everytime, regardless of the particular circumstances, and thus Pythagoras and subsequent Greek philosophers regarded it as truth. Thus, for Western thinking, all things that are dynamic, that are in motion, and that change can be accounted for by the few things that fundamentally do not change. The few things that are always the same govern or explain the many things that are in flux.

A perfect example of this Western way of thinking is Continue reading

Marriage, part 5: Defending marriage, defending charity

This is the final post in a five-part series on marriage, in case that wasn’t obvious in the title.

Thus far I have tried to make a case for difference in marriage, arguing that without confronting the fundamental differences symbolized by the sexual unity of male and female, we are less able to understand fully what it means to be charitable. In this final post, I will argue that defending marriage – and by association, charity – requires we defend difference.

Thus far, Latter-day Saints have put a lot of money and rhetoric into defending marriage, in particular against gay marriage. Perhaps the most notable example of this was the church’s recent campaign for Prop 8 in California. Though Prop 8 passed, we have seen since its passage that this “victory” for marriage cost more than just a lot of money. For the Latter-day Saint church in particular, the victory bordered on a public relations nightmare, with a lot of hate generated against the organization and its membership. Even worse, perhaps, was the division it caused within the membership.

Continue reading

Marriage, part 4: The sin of Sodom

This post is the fourth in a five-part series of posts about – you guessed it – marriage.

To sum up my argument so far, I began this series of posts discussing differences and why we ought to value them. I then discussed that teaching children to value difference in others begins in the home, where two parents of different descent love each other for their differences (not to say, also, their similarities). Previous to this post, I argued that married couples engage in what I called a ritual of difference, wherein they realize a full expression of the infinity of their relationship – made up in part of their differences – and are better situated to have charity for one another, as well as for others. I would like to turn now to the sin of Sodom and draw all three posts together. Continue reading

Marriage, part 3: Ritual of difference

This post is a continuation of a five-part series on Marriage. Access part one here; access part two here.

In the last post, I argued that teaching our children charity was facilitated by the love parents share in the face of differences. In being one body (one flesh), as Paul taught, we must embrace our differences – otherwise, where were the hearing?

In this post, I want to address a particular difference (or set of differences) which many married couples experience on a regular basis. I’m talking in particular about “knowing” one another in the biblical sense (e.g., “Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived…“). I am not trying to be coy about using the word “sex.” For my purposes, I feel that knowing is the most appropriate word.

Continue reading

Marriage, part 2: Teaching our children charity

This post is a follow-up from “Marriage, part 1: Why difference matters.” Three more related posts will follow.

In the previous post, I argued that differences were actually essential for a spirit of charity to thrive in marriage. In seeking out and embracing these differences, we learn to love that which is other than us – and by love, I mean in part to appreciate and embrace the unique contribution made by those differences.

Charity, as Paul says, “Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). The truth is, we (husbands and wives) are different, and to have charity, we must rejoice in those differences. Doing so has the benefit of uniting us, as I discussed before. In this post, I’d like to discuss another benefit through a semi-narrative.

Imagine two people perpetually in conflict with one another. Let us say their conflicts are sometimes not particularly contentious, but do (as they must) get heated every once in a while. Now, in spite of how those conflicts play out (i.e., whether they are resolved or not), imagine that these two people also love each other with complete fidelity – that they are desperately faithful to one another. We might even see their love for one another manifested during conflicts.

Continue reading

Marriage, part 1: Why difference matters

This is the first in a five-part series on marriage, wherein I discuss charity in marriage, why the gay community should favor marriage between a man and a woman, and why Latter-day Saints are not positioned well to defend against gay marriage.

In all three scriptural accounts of the physical creation, Adam is created of the dust of the earth, while Eve was created of Adam (Genesis 2:7, 21-22; Moses 3:7, 21-22; Abraham 5:7, 15-16). Adam, upon seeing woman for the first time, notes the significance of this division when he calls woman bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh. What is striking to me is what Adam says next: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (v. 24 in Genesis and Moses, emphasis mine). Were they not already one flesh before God removed the rib from Adam’s side?

Continue reading

Why Mormons Should Be the Most Environmentally Friendly People on Earth

We had an excellent Sunday School lesson today in my ward about the Creation, which focused primarily on our stewardship for the earth and for all of God’s creations.

Here are some great quotes (most of which were distributed from my ward’s gospel doctrine teacher) that illustrate just a taste of why, I believe, Latter-day Saints should be the most environmentally friendly people on earth. Continue reading

Mormon Creation Narratives and Creation by Evolution

I once heard it said when I was a young undergraduate that the creation accounts – particularly that of Abraham – fit very well with evolutionary accounts of creation. A casual read of Abraham seems to confirm this: earth, void; waters divided from earth; plants come up from the earth; fish and fowl; beasts of the earth; man. This sort of progression would make sense from an evolutionary perspective – creation evolves from simple to complex.

But add Moses’ account into the mix and things become a little dicier. Continue reading

Another Post about Evolution

This site has been quiet for some time and it makes me wonder if we’ve stopped “thinking in a marrow bone.” I haven’t stopped thinking, but I’m not sure if I’m doing much thinking that’s worth anything. So instead, I’d like to issue a challenge and have you do the thinking for me: someone help me understand why so many Mormons accept evolution whole cloth without settling some of the most crucial divisions between doctrine and Darwinian dogma?

Let me reveal my ignorance by talking about things I don’t understand.

Continue reading

Highlights from General Conference, October 2009

I always feel spiritually rejuvenated after General Conference, and this conference was no exception. Here are some of the dominant themes and highlights I noticed, along with some of my own thoughts:

1. Fresh ways of looking at the “fundamentals”

I sometimes grow tired of the way the “fundamentals” in the Church are sometimes talked about by church members: “the Sunday School answers; you gotta read, pray, and go to church; you gotta make good habits; etc.” It’s not that I disagree with the importance of the “fundamentals,” it’s that I think they are too often talked about in shallow ways.

This conference, however, had several excellent talks that can aid members in the way they think and talk about the “fundamentals” of consistent scripture study, prayer, family home evening, and worship.

Continue reading

Conviction by Invitation

[This is a “reprint” of part 3 of a series I posted on my home blog, www.ldsphilosopher.com]

In a previous post, I presented Oakeshott’s view of rationality as the capacity to form interpretations of and responses to experience. In another post, I described ways in which the movie Contact provides an excellent example of this. In this post, I will explore a little deeper how Ellie’s experience in the movie illustrates Oakeshott’s point. I would recommend that those who haven’t read either of these two posts do so here: Rationality Redefined; Jodi Foster’s Empiricism in Contact.

Interpreting Experience

There were several ways to interpret Ellie’s reported experience. The committee chairman interpreted the entire experience as a delusion: Ellie, a young woman starved for contact with her long deceased father, created the experience in her mind to ease her loneliness and sorrow; the entire project was a hoax developed by an eccentric personality who had for a long time been influencing Ellie’s life and research.

Ellie, although she admitted that the chairman’s interpretation seemed more likely than her own, chose to interpret the experience as an interaction with an alien intelligence that wished to learn about the human race. She chose to interpret the experience this way because this Continue reading

In Defense of Elder Hafen: Brief Response to FMH

Elder Hafen recently gave (at an Evergreen conference) what I consider to be a wonderful speech concerning same-sex attraction and gay marriage. It is linked on the LDS Newsroom. This speech is probably the most well-balanced and well-informed article on same-sex marriage by an LDS general authority.

Then, to my dismay, I came across this post at FMH, in which ECS criticizes Hafen’s speech, in particular his use of references. But the FMH post itself is misleading and needs to be critiqued.

Continue reading

Jodi Foster’s Empiricism in Contact

[This is a “reprint’ of part 2 of a series I posted on my home blog, www.ldsphilosopher.com]

One of my favorite movies is Contact, based on a novel written by Carl Sagan. One reason I like it is that it makes such important statements about how we come to know things. (Spoiler alert: Those who haven’t seen the movie and would not like the plot spoiled for them should not read this post.)

Ellie Arroway and her friend Palmer Joss discuss the meaning of religious experience.

One of my favorite movies is Contact, based on a novel written by Carl Sagan. One reason I like it is that it makes such important statements about how we come to know things. (Spoiler alert: Those who haven’t seen the movie and would not like the plot spoiled for them should not read this post.)

The movie is about a woman named Eleanor Arroway (Ellie, played by Jodi Foster), who is an astronomer working for the SETI program (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). She scans the stars using radio telescopes, looking for radio signals from other planets that may be communications from intelligent life outside the solar system.

Traditional Empiricism

Ellie is an atheist (or at best, an agnostic); she does not find any compelling evidence to believe in God. She refuses to believe in anything unless it can be demonstrated to her scientifically. She does not feel that there is enough evidence to warrant belief in a Supreme Being.

Ellie befriends a man named Palmer Joss, who is a theologian and a humanitarian specialist who writes books about the lack of meaning in our lives. He finds it remarkable that despite an increased standard of living and incredible technology, we Continue reading