Monday, July 16, 2007

On Protesting Dick Cheney

In April, there was a big to-do at BYU about Dick Cheney being the Commencement speaker. Nothing could be a bigger waste of time than protesting against Dick Cheney for the following reasons:

a) He's a vice-president
b) Nobody really cares what he does or says
c) Protesting a domestic politician is so 1960s
d) Did I mention that he is a vice president?

I suspect that the real reason for the protest was for BYU students to show that they can rebel against the university establishment. I guess that when you live in Provo, Utah, you just don't have much else to do or think about.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On the Three Nephites

I’ve often wondered why urban legends flourish the way they do. I think it’s because the stories play upon some of our deepest fears and desires. One of the most popular urban legends among Mormons relate to the Three Nephites. Mormons believe that the Three Nephites are three disciples that asked Jesus if they could stay on Earth until his Second Coming. Needless to say, many rumors and legends have sprung up regarding the whereabouts and the doings of these three individuals. By far, the best anecdote that I have ever heard about the Three Nephites comes from a friend of mine back home. While serving his mission in France, he had risen to the level of district leader. One morning, the sister missionaries in his district came to meeting late. They excitedly told the district that one of the sister missionaries had gotten a flat tire and two gentlemen who were distinctly 'Lamanite'-looking came from out of nowhere and helped her to fix the flat tire. After being helped, the two men apparently vanished. One of the sister missionaries got it into her mind that they had been helped by the Three Nephites. My friend summed up her story perfectly however. “Sister Smith, you’re saying that you got a flat tire and that the Three Nephites came and fixed it for you, except that there were only two of them and they were Lamanites?”

Monday, July 9, 2007

Against Acronym Mormonism

Talk about disillusionment. I think that I am disillusioned with the disillusioned. I thought that at last, I might have found a group of people with an open mind who really want to discuss the important issues. I found to my dismay that this is simply not the case. Consequently, it is hard to take anyone seriously who refers to themselves using an acronym or a prefix. This post deals with what I term “acronym Mormonism” (hardly surprising considering the title of this post). There is a subset within the Mormon Church who labels themselves NOMs or Cultural Mormons or “Cultural Hall” Mormons (What the hell is a Cultural Hall anyways? Is it supposed to be akin to a Cultural Center?). These people claim to disbelieve traditional Mormon doctrine and claims, yet, for one reason or another, desire to remain socially connected to the Mormon Church (or its members) on their own terms. There is a group of people who have left the Mormon Church and consider themselves “Ex-Mormon” or “Post-Mormon”. The distinction between NOMs, TBM (“True Believing Mormons”) and the “Posties”, of course, are absolutely meaningless. This is because all of their beliefs are completely fundamentally irrational and therefore any distinction between them is meaningless.

Let’s start with assumptions. First, in order to qualify as a NOM, apparently you have to prefer the scientific method as the means for ascertaining truth to other methods of ascertaining. (All of this assumes, of course, that the ‘truth’ exists and that it can be ascertained. Although that is important topic and worthy of discussion, I’m won’t deal with it here.) NOMs consider ‘objective’ evidence as superior to “subjective” evidence. I find it rather odd that a person would consider a religious experience as a lesser basis for believing in a religion than empirical evidence. Religion is built on the strength of the absurd. Belief in kinetic molecular theory is unlikely to prompt people to radically alter their lives (although it may have a radical impact on a person’s life). Belief in a personal God who is intimately involved in your daily life can have that effect. I also find the fetish that NOMs have with history odd. I don’t believe there is anything even remotely approaching “objective” history for the simple reason that history cannot be verified. We can look at what people in the time period have written and we can use inductive reasoning to establish theories on motivations and meaning, but unlike a field such as chemistry or physics, we ourselves cannot reproduce what happened and experience first hand what happened. We are totally dependent on our sources with all of their biases and shortcomings. The NOM and Postie argument that the Mormon Church is stifling ‘true’ history is ridiculous. I agree that the Church may prefer ‘faithful’ history to New Mormon History, but then again, I’m sure that a lot of private organizations would prefer an interpretation of events that favors them. (Does that make an organization manipulative, evil, and censorious or is it merely a rational self-interested organization? Does an organization have an obligation to lay out both sides of a controversy? If so, what is the basis for this ethical standard and what are its implications?) To believe any history (or inductive argument), you must make a leap of faith. With a nod to Giambattista Vico, history is nothing more than the interpretation of human events and language. The interpretation you choose to interpret implies a choice.

This, of course, fails to take into the real leaning of NOMs and Posties. The preference for the objective over the subjective is really code for preference for the naturalistic over the supernatural. But this reliance on the naturalistic is misplaced. Nobody believes in a religion because it has been empirically verified to him. A religion that demanded such would be devoid of the mystical and the spiritual. Even with hard evidence that every single claim of the Mormon Church was true would not lead to an increase in converts. People believe in religions based upon their own mystical or spiritual experiences, not uncontroverted scientific evidence.

The second objection would be that although religious experiences exist, empirical evidence to the contrary should invalidate those experiences or at least lead one to be suspect as to the nature of those religious experiences. This is a difficult argument to refute. The difficulty of second objection, however, is that is assigns religious experience or passion a lower significance in religion without justification. Why exactly is empirical “objective” evidence preferable to “subjective” personal experiences?

These arguments are in no way exhaustive, but they do represent my views that all belief or knowledge implies a choice, a choice, which when fully investigated, is not based on reason, but on passion.