Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Here's my present to you all:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why the "Kill the Bill" people have no sense

OK--This is my last post of the year (besides a Christmas video I just set on auto-post) So I'm gonna rant about something that has been making me absolutely crazy: Reading all of these lefty bloggers like Jane Hamsher trying to say that instead of passing the bill without a public option, they should just kill it and start over. This is quite possibly the stupidest thing I have heard since, well, shoot, I just remembered this, so I guess it's been the past two weeks or so.

In evaluating whether to pass any policy, there are three questions to ask:

  1. What are the benefits of the proposed policy compared to the status quo?
  2. what are the costs of the proposed policy compared to the status quo?
  3. Do the benefits of number 1 outweigh the costs of number 2?

Any other question is irrelevant and should not be considered. The questions to not be considered include the question "could the policy be better?"* That may be a good question when it is time to craft or amend legislation, but is totally irrelevant when asking whether the policy should be passed or not. Advocating that a bill be defeated because it is not as good as the best option, even though it's better than the status quo is not progressive or idealistic--it's petulant and naive.

For those of you who would argue that it is the "progressives'" way of trying to make the senate accede to their demands as they do with conservative democrats, I have news for you--these sorts of threats only work if they're rational. Conservative democrats have leverage on this issue because based on their interests, their objections are rational. No amount of wailing about the lack of a public option would give you leverage because at the end of the day, if you are rational, everyone knows you'll vote for the bill. What's more, If you're the kind of progressive who would cut off his nose to spite his face, the conservative faction won't hesitate to give you a knife.

While no one would argue that this is an ideal bill, the bill goes a long way to fixing what is wrong with out insurance system. That's pretty amazing. Now is the time to celebrate and encourage the conferees to make the final bill as good as it can be, rather than throwing rocks at the Democratic leadership because they didn't make a perfect bill.

* There is one important exception to this--if passing the policy now would make it harder for a better policy to pass in the future than it would be if we didn't pass the policy, that is a valid consideration in determining the costs and benefits of the policy. Since this is a bill that comes once in a generation and progressive reforms tend to lead to more progressive reforms being passed, this argument does not apply to the health care debate.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Max Weinberg repays Orrin Hatch for the Hanukkah Song he inflicted upon the world.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Church and the Gays: A Modest Proposal

This will likely be my last post on this topic for a while, as I have managed to say everything that's been floating around in my head. I believe I have said on this blog earlier that I am in an uncomfortable position. Being gay and in a lover of the LDS Church and its members, I have a foot in two worlds that seem diametrically opposed to each other. However, I firmly believe that there are far too many good people on both sides to keep us apart forever.

But what would a rapproachment look like? I think it has to take into account the core concerns of both communities. The LDS Church's core interest is in protecting their ability to preach, congregate, and worship as they please. The gay community's core concern is making sure that their relationships are on an equal footing with straight relationships in the eyes of the State. Any compromise would have to guarantee religious freedom and civil equality. I have written on this issue quite a bit, and have come to the conclusion that same-sex marriage does not infringe on religious freedom, while creating marriage-like statuses that are called something other than marriage does not lead to civil equality.

With that in mind, here is my idea of a compromise that would cover each side's core concerns:

1. The Church reiterates its religious opinion that “marriage is between a man and a woman,” and that they will continue to only recognize and perform temple and non-temple marriages for opposite sex couples.

2. The Church also notes that marriage is both a secular institution and a religious institution. To the extent that the State would attempt to impose upon the Church the obligation to accept practices that are against its doctrines, the state would be committing a grievous violation of the “sacred freedom of conscience” and the Church would actively resist any efforts to have such an obligation imposed on them.

3. However, the Church also notes that marriage is the institution that the government has chosen to regulate and organize secular society. The Church admits that, even though they may not believe that homosexual behavior is consistent with God’s will, as a matter of good policy and fairness, these relationships should be equal under the law. While the Church had hoped that a parallel institution would protect the rights of same-sex couples wile recognizing the religious importance of marriage, if the civil authorities, including the legislature, electorate, or the judiciary, decide that such a parallel institution cannot be equal, the Church will not oppose the use of the term marriage to describe these relationships for governmental purposes.

4. The Church issues this statement with the full cooperation with Joe Solmonese or some other mucky-muck from a prominent gay-rights group. Said person will make some appropriate conciliatory gesture, including apologies for intemperate rhetoric and lack of civility, the importance of the freedom of conscience, which protects both the Church and the gay community (explicit reference to the 11th article of faith would be appropriate), the mutual commitment to protecting the integrity of all families, and the commitment to work together in unity.

This is just off the top of my head and may be far too weak and capitulatory as far as the Church is concerned. I admit that this may look as though they are bowing to outside pressure, so any and all adjustments to this hypothetical scenario are welcome.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Shameless Advertising, Part 3

One final reminder: the Christmas Concert is tonight and tomorrow night--hope to see you there.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

If you're always this grumpy, why would you ever need them?

I've never denied the charge of being a bit persnickety about grammar and punctuation. But this polemic against emoticons takes the cake:

Mary Elizabeth Williams, Death to Smiley: Why Emoticons Need to Die*

I think the appropriate response is as follows:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Shameless Advertising, Part 2

More of what you'll be missing out on if you don't show up Friday or Saturday:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Beginning of the end for DOMA part 2

I previously blogged about a very interesting pair of cases in the Ninth Circuit refusing to apply Federal DOMA. It turns out that the Office of Personnel Management has refused to comply with the order, leading Chief Judge Kozinski to issue the following memorandum decision. Judge Reinhardt issued a similar decision here.

I'm not sure what the Obama administration's motives are here. If this is an attempt to to set up an appeal over federal DOMA, it seems that it would have been better to appeal the case in the first instance rather than just refuse to follow the court's order. I suppose we'll find out within a few days, however. The OPM has until December 18 to file an appeal.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Shameless Advertising, Part 1

More music from the concert on the 11th and 12th--If you're in the SLC area, come. Tickets are $10 at the door, or get a hold of me if you need a discount...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Music Post: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Something to get you in the Christmas Spirit.

Oh, and don't forget the Christmas concert:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On the supernatural

This is the most evenhanded illustration of the difference between science and the supernatural I've ever seen. Would that we all had such a measured and logical way of communicating:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's December!

Let's get the holiday season started off right:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The LDS Church and Gays--The Long and Winding Road

As I stated before Thanksgiving, it seems that the Church's about-face on housing and employment rights is indicative of a wider change of attitude toward recognizing that sexual orientation actually exists. The following is from a paper I wrote while I was in law school that documents some of the changes:

The present attitude toward homosexuality seemed to begin in about the late 1950s. Before this, it had been common practice to simply “drop them from positions they held,”1 to use J. Reuben Clark’s words. Elders Spencer W. Kimball and Mark E. Petersen were called to counsel homosexual members in about 1961,2 and Brigham Young University began electroshock aversive therapy to “cure” homosexuality.3 In 1962, the Church issued a directive that “no one will be admitted as a student at the B.Y.U. whom we have convincing evidence is a homosexual.”4

The rhetoric of Church leaders became harsher as well. President David O. McKay declared homosexuality in his view to be “worse than [heterosexual] immorality . . . , a filthy and unnatural habit.”5 Spencer W. Kimball called homosexuality a habit based on selfishness and caused by masturbation,6 declared that it was contrary to the nature of God and therefore unnatural,7 and concluded that no real love could spring from homosexual coupling.8 He also believed it could be cured, and suggested that those who had failed had simply not tried hard enough: “How can you say the door cannot be opened until your knuckles are bloody, till your head is bruised, till your muscles are sore? It can be done.”9 Boyd K. Packer, in a talk in a 1976 general conference, cited with approval the assault of a homosexual by his missionary companion for “self-protection.”10

Church leaders’ abhorrence of homosexuality is not all that surprising given the dominant paradigm of homosexual culture at the time. In the late 1960s and -70s, the sexual revolution was just gaining momentum, and gay culture was at the forefront of a movement that seemed to have abandoned any semblance of morality in favor of a hedonistic existence. Gay journalist and scholar Jonathan Rauch recounts: “The master narrative for gay life was: come out, leave home, gorge at the banquet of sexual liberation. Gay men celebrated their image as sexual rebels; straight America was happy to consign them to that role.”11 Is it any wonder that Spencer W. Kimball questioned gay members of the church that he counseled: “what would [your homosexual partner] do for you . . . should you suddenly fall victim to a dread disease, an incurable disease? Suppose your body shriveled; suppose you could no longer satisfy or get satisfaction sexually; suppose you could no longer be ‘used.’ How long would the alleged friendship or friendly ties last?”12

Kimball’s words were prescient. The dread disease did come; the AIDS epidemic changed the narrative of gay culture “from ubiquitous sex to ubiquitous death . . . . For the stricken there were lesions, chills, wasting, death; for friends and lovers, there was grief compounded by despair.”13 But this culture of death provided a crucible out of which was forged a culture of life. “Lovers, friends and AIDS ‘buddies’ were spooning food, emptying bedpans, holding wracked bodies through the night.”14 Many gay couples proved that same-sex love was more than the pursuit of pleasure; it was love and community as real as that found in traditional society. This shift in gay culture has not gone unnoticed by Church leaders, who have more recently softened their rhetoric regarding homosexuality. The focus of many general authorities when discussing the subject has tended to emphasize the difference between orientation and behavior and admitting that for many, homosexuality may be a lifetime condition.15

  1. D. Michael Quinn, Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example 376 (1996).
  2. Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball 85–86 (2005). Kimball and Petersen reported counseling almost one thousand individuals between 1961 and 1968. Id. at 86 n.4.
  3. Quinn, supra note 1, at 379. While some documentation suggests that this practice was ended in the late 1960s, see Gary James Bergera & Ronald Priddis, Brigham Young University: A House of Faith 82 (1985), there is evidence of these practices continuing on well after that time, see Rocky O’Donovan, “The Abominable and Detestable Crime Against Nature”: A Brief History of Homosexuality and Mormonism, 1840-1980, in Multiply and Replenish 123, 157 (Brent Corcoran, ed. 1994) (citing several doctrinal dissertations from BYU students on electroshock therapy conducted in the 1970s).
  4. Quinn, supra note 1, at 379.
  5. Id. at 376.
  6. Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness 78 (1969) [hereinafter Miracle of Forgiveness]; Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball 275 (Edward L. Kimball, ed. 1982) [hereinafter Teachings].
  7. Teachings, supra note 6, at 276 (“‘God made me that way,’ some say . . . . This is blasphemy. Is man not made in the image of God, and does he think God to be ‘that way’?”).
  8. Id. at 274.
  9. Miracle of Forgiveness, supra note 6, at 82.
  10. Boyd K Packer, To Young Men Only (1976) (“There are some men who entice young men to join them in these immoral acts. If you are ever approached to participate in anything like that, it is time to vigorously resist . . . .While I was in a mission on one occasion, a missionary said he had something to confess . . . . After patient encouragement he finally blurted out, “I hit my companion.” . . . After learning a little more, my response was “Well, thanks. Somebody had to do it, and it wouldn't be well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way.”). This talk has been excluded from the Ensign and Conference reports, but is produced as a pamphlet and published by the Church.
  11. Jonathan Rauch, Families Forged by Illness, N.Y. Times, June 4, 2006, § 4, at 15.
  12. Spencer W. Kimball, New Horizons for Homosexuals 28 (1974).
  13. Rauch, supra note 11, at 15.
  14. Id.
  15. See Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Issues Resources: Same-Gender Attraction (Aug. 14, 2006), (the 2006 interview with Elders Oaks and Wickman).

Monday, November 30, 2009

I love the [insert decade here]'s

Boy, I can't wait for the next ten minutes to be over with so I can be nostalgic about it.

Please check out #44, which is just pure awesomeness:

Dear Mr. Lucas:

It has come to our attention that your actions over the past decade in the production of the films Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode 3: Return of the Sith (hereafter referred to as "Star Bores") as well as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (hereafter referred to as "Grandpa Jones") infringes upon the rights of millions of moviegoers to preserve their childhood memories unscathed. This is a clear violation of your contract with the public to create films worthy of the legacy that you, yourself, began in 1977. Your recent actions have been grossly negligent, displaying a complete lack of regard for taste and artistic merit. Star Bores and Grandpa Jones represent a failure to satisfy the duty of care mandated for a filmmaker of your status.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I'll be back next week with more posts, but for now, let me plug the concert again and give you another preview:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pure awesome

This is the coolest thing I've seen in a while:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday music post: Ave Maria

Come to the Salt Lake Men's Choir's Christmas Concert. We will be singing some great numbers, including this one:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The history of the LDS Church's position on housing and employment rights for gays

UPDATE: Welcome, Times & Seasons readers! You may want to check out the greatest hits of my blog here.

Over the last few days, I have been involved in a conversation at another blog. One of the questions was whether the Church’s recent endorsement of the Salt Lake City anti-discrimination ordinance is "entirely consistent with the Church’s prior position on these matters" as its statement indicates. The Church's current position is certainly consistent with their statement given before the Proposition 8 vote that "The Church does not object to rights . . . regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the family or the constitutional rights of churches and their adherents to administer and practice their religion free from government interference." However, the record of the Church previous to the 2008 vote is much less clear.

Before I get into the results of my research, I want to hedge a bit: Because the Church has so many ways of unofficially putting out its message (the Deseret News, mid-level officials, etc.), trying to interpret whether a message reflects the desires of the Church is often an exercise in Kremlinology. Therefore, I will try to give you my primary sources so that you can decide for yourself whether you agree with my conclusions. With that disclaimer out of the way, let me begin . . . .

I initially stated at T&S that I thought that the Church had publicly opposed housing and employment protections for gays. This is because I had remembered reading that they supported Colorado's Amendment 2, which prohibited any designation of gays as a protected class until it was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. I reviewed my notes, and my source for this was Michael Quinn. His support for this conclusion, however, was based on the fact that Rex E. Lee helped draft the brief in support of the amendment while he was president of BYU, which would have "required specific approval from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles." This seemed somewhat inconclusive to me, and so I went in search of more evidence.

While I could not find any other contemporaneous accounts of LDS involvement in Amendment 2, I did find some information on another event that the Church seemed more involved in. In late 1997, the Salt Lake City council passed an ordinance similar to the one that was just passed. While the Church did not make an official statement at the time, editorials (see also) in opposition to the ordinance were written by the Deseret News, and the Area President over Salt Lake City instructed bishops to encourage their congregations to attend the city council meeting on the night when they were to vote on whether to repeal the ordinance.

While it is likely that none of these items in isolation would provide good evidence as to the Church's position regarding housing and employment rights, taken as a whole, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Church was working against these measures.* Indeed, rhetorical choices such as "granting official sanction to the same-sex lifestyle" sound somewhat familiar.

However, if you really want to figure out if the Church has changed its position on gays and lesbians, just take a tour of old Ensigns. The official position of the Church as recently as 1996 was that there were no such people as gays and lesbians:

We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.

Comparing last week's announcement to that statement is like comparing night and day. By advocating housing and employment rights, the Church has crossed the chasm from adjective to noun--that is, the Church acknowledges that gays and lesbians exist. And that's a mighty big first step.

* There is, however, one really fantastic story in Idaho of how the Mormons were the crucial vote in defeating an amendment similar to Colorado's Amendment 2. But that's a story for another post . . . .

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

News Flash: LDS Church comes out in favor of (some) equal rights for gays

So by now, you've all heard the news that the LDS Church has backed a Salt Lake City ordinance that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing and employment. Elder Holland has even suggested that the statute should be applied more widely, leading some to wonder whether this will give momentum to the Common Ground Initiative, which ended up stalled in the last legislative session. Even conservative Senator Chris Buttars admitted that "a person ought to be able to have a roof over their head and have a job. I don't have any problem with that."

Many in the gay community have argued that this is a transparent PR move. Maybe they're right, but I don't think it matters. Any softening of the Church's position deserves a great deal of praise, regardless of the reason the change was made. If the gay rights movement is only for those on board 100% of the time, we will fail. Being encouraging, civil, and looking for areas of common ground and agreement does more to help the cause of gay rights than insisting on ideological purity will. I agree with Andrew Sullivan:

For this degree of respect - even if it is not fully what I want or what gays truly deserve - we should reciprocate with respect as well. This is a moment of genuine dialogue and civil compromise. And it was accomplished in Salt Lake City among gay and straight Mormons and gay and straight non-Mormons in a way that other Christians in other places have been unable to replicate.

I communicate often with an LDS man from California who is totally rational in just about every topic that I have talked to him about, except for the gay issue. He is unable to believe that the gay community is willing to enter into dialogue. He is a person who many would say is anti-gay to the core, and yet it is clear to me that he is someone who can be reached if he can get over the bitter taste in his mouth. While I am not suggesting that we offer the Church unfettered praise for their actions, the Church needs to be recognized by our community for their efforts in trying to bridge the gap--that is the best way to encourage future progress.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday music post: Rhythm of Life

In case you missed the October choir show: (Fixed the broken link)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Apparently the BBC does not subscribe to the mercy rule

You definitely need to watch this debate. The archbishop of Nigeria and an English Conservative MP debate Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry on the motion "that the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world."

As a former debater, allow me to give a couple points of constructive criticism:

  • Don't do your topic analysis in the final speech.
  • Make sure you don't bring up what most would believe would be one of your weak points (see AIDS in Africa) as a plus for your side.
  • try and pick a debate partner whose voice does not make set people into convulsions.
  • At lease try to be conversant with the arguments against your side before appearing on national television and destroying whatever credibility your side has.

That is all.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How is this not front page news?

So apparently, the LDS Church is lobbying for the business interests of its mission presidents. Check this out:

Several years ago, Salt Lake County was pushing a bill at the Legislature to allow its county and municipal fire departments to offer emergency ambulance service rather than having to contract with privately owned Gold Cross Ambulance . . . . However, Dan Eastman, then a state senator, told some legislative colleagues he had heard from LDS Church Apostle Russell M. Ballard, who discouraged any legislation that would hurt Gold Cross' business. The firm's owner, Gene Moffatt, was serving as an LDS mission president at the time, and Ballard felt it was unfair to go after the firm while Moffatt was away. So the watered-down bill that passed added new constraints that made it less attractive for local governments to bid against Gold Cross.

In Salt Lake County, two municipalities have done so anyway: West Valley City now operates its own ambulance service and Salt Lake City accepted the bid of Gold Cross competitor Southwest Ambulance Service. Still, Gold Cross maintains its monopoly in the rest of the county and in many locales around the state.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The subtle nihilism of horserace politics

This pissed me off enough to come out of my blogging sabbatical:

The extremes of the anti-war left before Iraq were every bit as inflammatory and loopy as the Tea Partiers today. Now, they were opposing a war that turned out to be a catastrophe for all involved, while the Tea Partiers are just opposing the working poor having a chance to buy health insurance. But if Godwin's Law is the point, many (but not all) on the left currently do not have a leg to stand on.

Putting aside for the moment the accuracy of the statement, the assumption that "Godwin's Law is the point" is astounding, but unfortunately altogether too common among the Washington commentariat. Most of the punditocracy has come to view politics as some sort of a game: form is analyzed while substance is ignored. The question is never "who is right?" but always "who won?"

Viewing politics as some sort of game in which there is no good, bad, right, or wrong, only winners and losers, is nihilism, pure and simple. Equating one side's employment of ad hitlerium arguments in service of denying people health care with employing those arguments in service of avoiding a disastrous foreign policy misadventure is akin to equating killing someone in self defense and killing someone because the sun was in your eyes. Politics is more than a game. The wise use of the power and resources of the State can lead to freedom, prosperity and enlightenment. Misuse of the State can lead to tyranny and misery. Politics, in many cases, really is a matter of life and death.

Now the obvious rejoinder to my point is that the Teabaggers sincerely believe that the health care plan will lead to tyranny and misery. However, this argument is again, rooted in nihilism, albeit a form of nihilism that has found a home in the major news networks. While in a pluralistic society all points of view should be tolerated, it does not follow that all points of view should be given equal respect. The Teabaggers' arguments have no foundation in evidence or logic and are not deserving of any more than a thorough debunking. The news media's insistence on reporting the controversy rather than analyzing the facts underlying that controversy is an implicit statement that there is no truth and that all points of view are equally valid. In sum, focusing on balance and tone to the absence of facts and substance says that a person's opinion on issues of war and peace is no more consequential than whether he or she likes Pet Sounds more than Rubber Soul. I will speak against this sort of nihilism at every opportunity, and if I sound shrill while doing it, that's a risk I'm willing to take.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Behavior Modification Therapy

Sure, Alli blocks the absorption of fat that you eat. But that isn't why you'll lose weight when you take it.*

*--Yes, I know I haven't explained why I haven't posted in four months. Next time, I promise. Just enjoy this for now.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What I was doing instead of blogging

I was redoing my office. I inherited an office with walls that looked like this:

Needless to say, this was not acceptable. So, I repainted, got new office furniture, and hung up some pictures, and here we are:

This is the view as you enter my office. I will be replacing the office chair sometime soon.

This is my grandfather's desk, which now belongs to my brother and he is graciously letting me use. A lot of the pictures are his as well.

This is the peace lily that I got from my dad's funeral last May--it's sitting on a walnut chair my brother got from Jordan High School.

You can see here what I did with that hideous wallpaper--I left the portion below the chair rail as a faux-wainscoting.

I bought this desk for $150 at a used furniture store. It matches the roll top desk perfectly and it's solid walnut. A little polishing and a glass cover and it looks great. I am changing the knobs to something a little less target-like, but the new knobs are on back order and won't be here for a week.

Finally, here is my view. It will be supplemented by a large antique framed map as soon as the map gets out of the frame shop. I will also be getting new chairs as soon as I have the money to do so.

Anyway, I just got done with this yesterday, so let me know what you think.

UPDATE: Just got this from the framing shop:


Monday, April 27, 2009

Quote for the day

“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year-old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

Kung-Fu Monkey

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday music post: Agnus Dei

I know it's late for Easter, but I got it up before Pentecost--what more do you want?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A distraction for your Thursday

I was going to write about the torture memos, but I got sucked in playing the new Gemcraft game because I didn't want to think about it. Give it a try, but don't be surprised if you end up losing track of time.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The stupid, it burns...

First tea-bagging, and now this:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Colbert Coalition's Anti-Gay Marriage Ad
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

And of course, no one is better at mocking it than Stephen Colbert. By the way, National Organization for Marriage's campaign is called . . .

Wait for it . . .

Two million for marriage, or 2M4M for short. So, so, sad . . . .

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mind the Gaps

I have long argued that a belief in organic evolution was not incompatible with a belief in God or some other metaphysical belief. My support for this was Stephen Jay Gould's argument for "Non-Overlapping Magisteria:"

The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch cliches, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.

However, the more I have thought about the idea that science and religion are trying to answer totally different questions, the more I realize that Gould is talking about something different than what most people think of as religion. How much different would religion look if, as Gould suggests, it were limited to questions of meaning and value?

For one thing, there would be no miracles, or at least not as miracles are currently regarded. It is a tenet of most believers' faith that God answers prayers not only through inner peace and inspiration, but also through actual intervention in the physical world. If God were to intervene in that way, science would be able to detect his presence. The problem with actual, physical miracles is that they are not normative, but rather descriptive. The believer is claiming that an event was brought about by divine intervention. That is a testable claim.

The way to get around this dilemma would be to posit that God does not actually intervene in the physical world, but rather, being omniscient, had the foreknowledge to plant the seed of the miracle in the foundations of the universe. While this is a perfectly reasonable way of reformulating the idea of miracles, it calls into question the necessity of prayer. Why should the believer ask for divine favor when the die has been cast already? While one can argue that it is to show faith and penitence, that is a much different view of prayer than most adhere to.

While a totally non-descriptive religion is possible, I wonder if the idea of a God who does not perform miracles would be attractive to most believers. Cordoning off religion to the realm of ethics, rather than its former position of being priest, lawyer, scholar and king is disconcerting. Fundamentalism is attractive to many because the idea of shared authority does not provide the surety that they need in their lives. Can religion survive as one voice among many? Time will tell, I guess . . . .

Monday, April 20, 2009

An update

Sometimes your body just forces you to slow down.

The last three weekends, I've been busy. Very busy. I stripped off the wallpaper in my office and painted three weekends ago. I was doing taxes two weekends ago, and this last weekend I went to St. George and sang with the choir. Since the only time I usually have to blog is on the weekends, my blog turned into a ghost town. But this morning, I woke up with a sore throat from hell. I was having difficulty swallowing, and my tongue and glands felt swollen. I went to the doctor and was (unsurprisingly, given how I felt) diagnosed with strep throat.

But, dear readers, my suffering is your gain, because being cooped up in the house for a few days will give me some time to actually do some blogging. So, this week, I will wrap up the LDS same-sex marriage series, blog about the events in Iowa and Vermont, and generally pick up my blogging life again. I hope you enjoy it. Feel free to comment and send my posts to your friends. Sometimes I feel like the ghost in The Ring--I'm not looking for peace, just publicity.

So, while you're waiting for new material, why don't you take a minute and read some of my other work?

LDS Doctrine and Same-Sex Couples:part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6.

The Prop 8 case: A legal analysis of Strauss v. Horton: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Same-Sex Marriage, equality and Religious Freedom: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, and Part 8.

Rants on Religion: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Random musings about Science, politics, grammar, and bathroom graffiti: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

LDS Doctrine and Same-Sex Couples, part 6: Prophetic Authority

Part six of the continuing series... click for part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

The belief in modern revelation is one of the distinctive features of the Church. Members of the Church sustain the leaders of the Church as prophets, seers, and revelators and look to them to declare the word of God for our time. Doctrine and Covenants 68:4 proclaims that the words of the prophets, “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost[,] shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.” Clearly, the current leadership of the Church has decided that homosexual activity is sinful. However, to claim that this is the end of the story would be to ignore the dynamics of revelation within the Church.

The scriptures claim that God is “the same yesterday, today, and forever . . . ,” (1 Ne. 10:18) and that he does not “vary from that which he hath said.” (Alma 7:20) However, the Church makes changes constantly, from mundane policy changes like changing the length of missions, to dramatic changes in doctrine like the manifesto banning plural marriage and the extension of the priesthood to all men regardless of race. While these changes may seem to conflict with the scriptures quoted above, it can be explained by the fact that revelation, even the revelation given to Church leaders, is limited by certain principles.

The first principle is that revelation is a human-mediated process. While the Church is led by prophets, it does not follow that all words and actions of the Church and its leaders are therefore from the Lord. It is commonly understood in the Church that the leadership of the Church receives constant revelation and guidance regarding the everyday affairs of the Church. But if we take at face value the idea that revelation guides the Church on a daily basis, it becomes easy to infer that the Church is exactly the way that God would have it be in every detail; bureaucratic inertia, political compromise, and the personal passions of individuals are assumed to have divine stamp of approval. This is not the case. Church leaders are fallible and have their own priorities and prejudices. Brigham Young said that the brethren “are all liable to err . . . and many may think that a man in my standing ought to be perfect; no such thing.”1 While it results in an imperfect expression of his will, the Lord accepts such imperfections and shortcomings. Thus, it is possible for Church policy to be based not the unadulterated word of the Lord but rather on the understandings, prejudices, and preferences of human leaders.

Secondly, revelation must be understood as the expression of the will of a perfect God to imperfect people. The process of revelation is described in the scriptures as occurring “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little . . . .” (2 Ne. 28:30) The logic of gradualism is described in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.” (D&C 50:40) Those not prepared to receive and live a higher law will not be given the law and therefore will escape the condemnation that would come with it.

Finally, revelation is a process that is, as a rule, initiated by humans. The model for receiving revelation is to search, ponder, and pray for confirmation. God will not give knowledge that a person has not asked for, and that knowledge will not be given without study on the individual’s part. The Doctrine and Covenants explains that “you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask [God] if it be right . . . .” (D&C 9:8) This requirement provides a barrier to an individual, or for that matter, the Church, receiving the will of God. If there is no concerted effort to ask and resolve a question, God will not provide an answer.

These limitations provide space for the possibility of change for the status of homosexuality in the Church. The 1978 lifting of the priesthood ban is a good example of the change of a doctrine said to be eternal. While the position of the Church in its early years seemed to be ambiguous on the question of slavery and ordination of black members to the priesthood, by the tenure of Brigham Young, the practice of denying the priesthood to blacks was established. Young spoke to the subject in 1852: “[A]ny man having one drop of the seed of [Cain] . . . in him cannot hold the priesthood and if no other [p]rophet ever spake it before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ I know it is true and others know it . . . .”2 Young also declared miscegenation to be an offense worthy of death, declaring that “if the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.”3

Doctrinal explanations were constructed to explain President Young’s teaching. Orson Hyde and Orson Pratt, among others, proffered the hypothesis that those of African blood were less valiant in the pre-earth life, choosing to fight for neither God nor the devil in the war in heaven. Scripture was also employed to justify the doctrine. Mormons borrowed the biblical scriptures employed to justify the ownership of slaves to justify their doctrine. Restoration scripture was used to extend this doctrine as well.

The attitudes of the Church reflected the attitudes of the wider society, which viewed blacks as inferior. While there was a difference of opinion within the Church, Oliver Cowdery’s statements against abolition are illustrative of the attitude of many at the time: “Let the blacks of the south be free, and our community is overrun with paupers, and a reckless mass of human beings, uncultivated, untaught and unaccustomed to provide for themselves for the necessaries of life—endangering the chastity of every female who might by chance be found in our streets . . . .”4 The practices of the Church in supporting segregation, denying accommodations to blacks in Church-owned hotels, and LDS hospital’s maintenance of an all-white blood bank are further evidence of Mormons taking on the attitudes of the wider population.

Changing attitudes about race inside and outside of Mormon society, as well as the practical difficulties of maintaining the priesthood ban, led to its ultimate demise in 1978. While the Church initially resisted movement toward racial integration, legal and social developments within the United States put pressure on the Church to review its position and support black civil rights, while preserving the priesthood ban. President Hugh B. Brown called for the Church to extend at least the Aaronic Priesthood to black members in 1965, and in 1969 called for the end of the ban altogether. But this was not to be at the time, and Joseph Fielding Smith, successor to President McKay, reaffirmed the status of the ban.

Meanwhile, the civil rights movement found an effective way to put pressure on the Church: its university. BYU athletic teams were met with protests when they competed at other schools, and some schools severed ties with BYU entirely. The pressure put on the Church and its members regarding the priesthood ban resulted in what Mauss called a “siege mentality”; resulting in Utah members taking precautions against the “expected black onslaught,” an increase in racist remarks and race hostility within the Church, and the circulation of rumors of black mobs attacking cars with Utah license plates.

While this pressure was significant, it is more likely that the heartache of injustice was not nearly as influential towards the lifting of the priesthood ban as the headaches of administration it caused. The priesthood ban became a quandary for proselyting efforts in Latin America, where miscegenation had caused the intermingling of African blood throughout much of the population. Men were ordained to the priesthood, only to have their privileges “suspended” because of suspicion regarding their ancestry. By 1978, there were 41,000 saints and a temple in the works in Brazil, the most racially diverse and intermixed of the countries of Latin America. In reviewing this, Mauss asserts that “[i]t seems unbelievable that a decision would deliberately have been made to build a temple in the most racially mixed country in the continent without a concomitant realization . . . that the priesthood ban would have to be ended.”

President Spencer W. Kimball, it seems, understood very well the implications of that decision. While he had been a faithful supporter of the Church’s position on the priesthood ban as a member of the Twelve, his ascension to the presidency of the Church made him feel a “direct, personal responsibility to discover the Lord’s will” regarding blacks and the priesthood. President Kimball described the process of receiving an answer: “Day after day, and especially on Saturdays and Sundays when there were no organizations [sessions] in the temple, I went there where I could be alone . . . . I was very humble . . . . I was searching for this . . . . I wanted to be sure . . . . I had a great deal to fight . . . myself, largely, because I had grown up with this thought that Negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life until my death and fight for it and defend it as it was.”5 Kimball encouraged the other apostles to search over the question themselves, wanting unanimous support from the brethren. Finally, the Church announced the change on September 30, 1978, where it was given to the general membership to sustain.

This episode in the Church’s history is instructive to the possibilities regarding the Church’s handling of the question of homosexuality. While Church leaders have asserted the eternal nature of commandments against homosexual conduct, those same assertions were made regarding interracial marriage and priesthood ordination by Brigham Young. While change in the Church is sometimes a slow and agonizing process, it can be done if there is a concerted effort to learn God’s will, and if the Church is ready for the change.

  2. Lester E. Bush, Jr., Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: A
    Historical Overview
    , DIALOGUE: A JOURNAL OF MORMON THOUGHT, Spring 1973, at 25.
  3. Id. at 26.
  4. Id. at 15.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pure, unadulterated awesome

Especially like the choice of song:

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday music post: Philosophy

I have no idea how I've gone this long without posting this:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Eppur si muove

Last week, I made reference to Big Love's portrayal of portions of the LDS temple ceremony. After talking with some readers and friends about the post, I determined that there was a larger issue that it would be productive to discuss. While members of a faith consider their rites sacred, what about people who don't share that feeling? This question is by no means unique to the Big Love controversy. Muslims were outraged at the negative portrayal of Muhammad in a Danish political cartoon. Catholics were upset over PZ Myers' threats to subject communion wafers to "heinous cracker abuse." All of these episodes involve behavior considered blasphemous by members of a religious community perpetrated by non-believers. That raises the question of what level of deference an outsider to a religion owes to the members of a religion with respect to their sacred rites.

At the outset, I want to make it clear that this is not a legal question. In the United States, people are free to blaspheme with impunity because of the First Amendment. Rather, I am asking this question as a person committed to a pluralist society. I believe in a society where people are free to believe according to the dictates of their own consciences. This ideal cannot be enforced only by law; even bigots have First Amendment rights. We have an ethical and social obligation to promote religious tolerance and pluralism by our interaction with each other. There are certain standards of respect that we have an obligation to uphold because we are decent people that are committed to a just and free society.

However, there is a countervailing proposition: we cannot allow respect for other people's beliefs to stifle honest religious discussion and debate. Religious pluralism gives people the "right to be wrong," but it does not mean that everyone must be treated as though they are right. Pluralism is not relativism. In a pluralist society, the statement, "the Eucharist is just a cracker," is not out of bounds anymore than the statement, "the Eucharist is the body of Christ." Turning a critical eye to the practices and truth claims of a religion is a vital part of the pluralist project. Pluralism exists in the zone between religious bigotry and unquestioning deference to religious dogmas.

The rule that I have come up with is good faith. Non-believers owe a duty to believers to represent the beliefs and rites of the religion accurately and honestly, without resorting to logical fallacies or equivocation, and to act without fraud or deceit. This allows observers to make up their minds for themselves about the claims of the religion. The religion is not being slandered, and the restriction does not slide into moral relativism.

Notice that I did not talk about the motive of the person portraying the religious rites. This is because it is frankly irrelevant. Before you object, ask yourself this: would Mormons have been OK with the portrayal of the temple ceremony if it was done in a widely televised documentary for educational purposes? Would Scientologists have been OK with the information presented in the South Park episode if it were presented in a less mocking way? Would Catholics be OK with scientists driving nails through the Host if they were doing it to show that contrary to legend, the Host does not bleed when pierced? Or is it the case that blasphemy is blasphemy, regardless of the motive of the blasphemer?

I'm interested to know what you think. Is there a better place to draw the line? I'd love to hear from my readers regarding this. I will say, however, in formulating your rule, you keep in mind the Flying Spaghetti Monster rule: Any rule you propose insulating Christianity or any other major religion from criticism must also apply to Pastafarians. If you can't do that, you aren't proposing a pluralist rule.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Aware of all internet traditions, vol. 2: Time Cube

You haven't seen this before? Seriously? Check it out—It's not every day you get to read something written by the world's wisest human.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

LDS Doctrine and Same-Sex Couples, part 5: Exploring the Possibilities

The widow’s problem is just one illustration of how little the Church claims to know about the architecture of the celestial society. The incongruence of current monogamous marriage practices with the plural marriages of the 19th century, not to mention Joseph Smith’s short-lived introduction of polyandry in Nauvoo, suggest that the plan of salvation as we understand it is too vague to conclusively foreclose the accommodation of homosexuality by the Church.

In fact, there is even an argument to be made in favor of eternal same-sex couples. While the assumption is that homosexuality is a temporary condition, this seems to contradict the LDS belief that “that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there . . . ,” (D&C 130:2) and “that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.” (Alma 34:34) The doctrine of eternal intelligence posits that there is a part of each of us that has always existed, an essential personality that is co-eternal with even God. The idea that homosexuality is a temporary affliction of the body rather than a part of the essence of personality conflicts with the experience of many gays and lesbians. It also fundamentally denies part of Mormon theology—that sexual desire is not a vice, but rather an eternal part of God’s plan. LDS scholar Wayne Schow explains:

Sexuality . . . is more than just the power of procreation . . . . [O]ur sexuality is self-expressive, a dynamic assertion of personal identity; it is a “fingerprint” of personal force . . . . More than simple gratification of all of our physical senses, sexual union can unify body, mind, and spirit . . . . To ignore this aspect of sexuality is to give up a rich and integrative dimension of personal wholeness. A life without sexual realization is not a complete life, however good it otherwise may be.1

This question ultimately cannot be resolved in this life, but if homosexuality is part of eternal personality, then speculating about the will of God for these children in the eternities would be appropriate.

The basic objection to having two men or two women as an eternal coupling was the lack of fecundity that such a coupling would imply—how would such a pairing be able to produce worlds without number? The flaw in this argument lies with its central assumption—that spirit children are created sexually. There is no reason to believe this case beyond conventional wisdom, and thinking of the implications of the argument reveals the absurdity of applying traditional notions of mortal reproduction to the production of spirits. A woman would have to be pregnant constantly in order create the spirits necessary to populate planets. The process sounds more akin to a colony of bees than an equal partnership between husband and wife. The absurdity of this position is also shown by taking it to its logical extreme, as Joseph Fielding Smith did. Based on his understanding of eternal increase, he deduced that those assigned to less than the highest degree of glory would be resurrected without genitalia.

But the argument’s assumptions can be revealed one level further—there is no reason to believe that spirit production occurs at all. While some statements by general authorities suggest this to be the case, there is support for the idea that spirits are co-eternal with God, implying that the process of becoming spirit children of our heavenly parents did not require spiritual birth but rather adoption. This could be done as easily by a same-sex pair as by an opposite-sex couple, nullifying the logic of restricting eternal marriage to opposite-sex couples. This model has powerful support with the sealing doctrine, which teaches that families are not created by blood but rather by priesthood authority. (D&C 132:7)

The sealing of same-sex couples would not be unprecedented, either. While the current conception of the sealing ordinance is limited to monogamous marriage and sealing parents to children, earlier sealings included polygamous marriages, sealing to prominent Mormon families, and friendship sealings. If the Church were to recognize same-sex orientation as a part of eternal identity rather than a temporal affliction, these earlier sealing practices would allow for the introduction of new uses of the sealing power.

Another argument that can be raised against eternal same-sex marriage is the complementary nature of man and woman. The Proclamation on the Family states that “[g]ender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” However, the document does not explain the reasoning behind this statement, and so we are left with little guidance to discover just what it is about gender that is essential (beyond the biological arguments above), and even less to say that both a man and a woman are essential for an eternal marriage. We must be careful not to extend the logic of current marriage relationships into the eternities. Marriage as we know it, and the gender roles that go along with it, has more rooting in the Industrial Revolution than in the eternities. To hold up this version of the marriage relationship as the ideal form of marriage ignores history and remakes God in our image.

In conclusion, the argument against same-sex relationships from the standpoint of the Plan of Salvation can only be valid if there is something within a temporal homosexual relationship that would block an eternal opposite-sex marriage. The only explanation for this is if there were something inherently disordered and sinful with any homosexual relationship, even a committed, legally sanctioned, faithful, and monogamous relationship. While most faiths would depend on the word of scripture or natural law to determine sinfulness, the LDS faith relies on the word of living prophets to declare the will of God to its adherents. I will deal with that argument in the next post.

  1. Wayne Schow, Sexual Morality Revisited, DIALOGUE, Fall 2004, at 114, 121.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Total Pwnage

I previously talked about Dinesh D'Souza's horrible America-hating book. I was unaware until recently that he got the drubbing he so richly deserved:

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday music post: William Tell Overture

In honor of last week's Salt Lake Men's Choir performance:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Strauss v. Horton, part V: Odyssey edition

O fly the dreadful sight! expand thy sails,
Ply the strong oar, and catch the nimble gales;
Here Scylla bellows from the dire abodes,
Tremendous pest, abhorr'd by man and gods!
Hideous her voice, and with less terrors roar
The whelps of lions in the midnight hour.
Twelve feet, deform'd and foul, the fiend dispreads;
Six horrid necks she rears, and six terrific heads;
Her jaws grin dreadful with three rows of teeth;
Jaggy they stand, the gaping den of death;
Her parts obscene the raging billows hide;
Her bosom terribly o'erlooks the tide.
When stung with hunger she embroils the flood,
The sea-dog and the dolphin are her food;
She makes the huge leviathan her prey,
And all the monsters of the watery way;
The swiftest racer of the azure plain
Here fills her sails, and spreads her oars in vain;
Fell Scylla rises, in her fury roars,
At once six mouths expands, at once six men devours.

Close by, a rock of less enormous height
Breaks the wild waves, and forms a dangerous strait;
Full on its crown a fig's green branches rise,
And shoot a leafy forest to the skies;
Beneath, Charybdis holds her boisterous reign
'Midst roaring whirlpools, and absorbs the main;
Thrice in her gulfs the boiling seas subside,
Thrice in dire thunders she refunds the tide.
Oh, if thy vessel plough the direful waves,
When seas retreating roar within her caves,
Ye perish all! though he who rules the main
Lends his strong aid, his aid he lends in vain.
Ah, shun the horrid gulf! by Scylla fly.
'Tis better six to lose, than all to die.'

—The Odyssey, Book XII

OK, I've watched the oral argument, and it would appear as though the California Supreme Court's decision will come down to one fundamental question: is there a principled distinction between Proposition 8 and an amendment that would overturn suspect class status? While the media tend to simplify court decision into winners and losers, appellate opinions are about creating doctrine for lower courts to follow. Therefore, the court has to look beyond the parties in this case to the potential implications that the rule they lay down will have on future cases. The court is stuck between Scylla and Charybdis in this case; no solution will be clean or without bad consequences. Either the court overturns the will of the people and sacrifice judicial capital by being (rightly?) perceived as unelected tyrants, or they open the door to stripping equal protection out of the California Constitution altogether. At this point, the court just has to take a long look at what option is the least bad.

I have mentioned previously that protecting suspect classes from discrimination is a fundamental structure of a republican form of government. This differs from fundamental rights analysis because restrictions on fundamental rights, at least in theory, applies to everyone. The inherent protection of someone's self-interest does not apply when the majority can target a minority group for differential treatment. Heightened scrutiny is needed to make sure that minorities are not denied access to the political process. Now, whether you agree that sexual orientation should be a suspect class or not, current California law says that it is. If 50%+1 voters can overturn suspect class status, the thing that is meant to provide extra protections to historically politically disfavored minority groups, then the entire concept of suspect class status is illusory.

This is relevant because while declaring Proposition 8 valid would not strike down suspect class status in and of itself, it would be hard, given the court's analysis in the Marriage Cases to draw a doctrinal distinction between Proposition 8 a proposition that would overturn suspect class status entirely. The court said in the Marriage Cases that sexual orientation is a suspect class and that marriage is a fundamental right. A rule saying that an initiative amendment can remove a fundamental right from a suspect class, but cannot remove suspect class entirely would be protection in form but without substance, and it is difficult to imagine that the court could maintain any honest distinction.

On the other hand, the whole purpose of the structure of the California Constitution is that it was meant to be responsive to the will of the people. The constitution was set up during a time when railroads and other large corporations ruled state politics; the initiative process was meant to counterbalance against corporate and elite control of government. Also, given the countermajoritarian nature of the judiciary, it must tread lightly when overturning legislative acts. This goes doubly for direct initiatives and triply when those initiatives claim to alter the constitution that the court is interpreting. Even if one has a cynical view of the intentions of the court, it must still use its judicial capital wisely to ensure that it retains moral authority, the currency by which its decisions are enforced by the other branches.

So what is the Court to do? I can see only one way out, a way the court alluded to earlier: read Proposition 8 and the equal protection clause together, and declare civil marriage unconstitutional. The court allowed for this in the Marriage Cases by saying that the constitution would be satisfied "by extending to the previously excluded class the treatment or benefit that the statute affords to the included class, or alternatively . . . by withholding the benefit equally from both the previously included class and the excluded class." Proposition 8 says that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California," but does not mandate that a legal union between a man and woman must be marriage. Therefore, the court could read the case and Prop 8 consistently by declaring that there is no such thing as civil marriage in California. I previously only thought of this solution as a clever way of teaching people a lesson about careful drafting, but I think in this case it is a viable solution. The court allows the amendment to stand by interpreting it as removing a possible remedy rather than as discriminating against a suspect class. The Court avoids overturning the amendment while simultaneously avoiding setting a precedent that would destroy equal protection jurisprudence. No one will really be happy at the outcome, but it might be the least bad solution.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This will haunt your dreams...

Click here, but don't say I didn't warn you.

More sexy people here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

LDS Doctrine and Same-Sex Couples, part 4: Chastity and Eternal Marriage

Part four of the continuing series... click for part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Another argument against homosexual relationships is based on the principle of chastity. A pamphlet produced by the Church, True to the Faith, explains the law of chastity thusly: "You must not have any sexual relations before you are legally married. When you are married, you must be completely faithful to your husband or wife."

The principle is construed into an argument against same-sex marriage like so: Sex outside of marriage is immoral, and marriage is only between a man and a woman, so homosexual sex is against the law of chastity. However, the argument is circular; homosexual sex is immoral because marriage is between a man and a woman, and marriage is between a man and a woman because same-sex relations are immoral.

One can argue that chastity encompasses more than just a prohibition on extramarital sexual relations, but homosexual relations of any sort. However, the authority supporting this conclusion is not found within the law of chastity itself, but rather from the doctrine of eternal marriage.

The Latter-day Saint view of chastity is based on the idea that sexual activity is a dimension of the power of God given to humans, and so misuse of this power is blasphemy. The basis for this idea is the belief in eternal marriage. Doctrine and Covenants section 132 explains: "[I]f a man marry a wife by my word . . . , it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection . . . and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths . . . . Then shall they be gods . . . , and the angels are subject unto them."

The doctrine of eternal marriage is a dilemma for gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints. As Armand Mauss explains, "Marriage between the sexes, and the expectation of procreation here and hereafter, seem to lie at the very foundation of the doctrinal complex called the 'Plan of Salvation.'"1 There are three options for a gay or lesbian saint, none of which conforms to the ideal standard laid out in LDS doctrine: choose to marry a person of the opposite sex, choose to stay celibate, or enter into a relationship with a same-sex partner. I will look at these options in turn.

Until recently, the option favored by the Church was for gay and lesbian saints to sublimate their natural urges and marry someone of the opposite sex. The logic of this position was based on the idea that there was no such thing as inborn or ingrained homosexuality. President Spencer W. Kimball was an advocate of this practice, encouraging homosexuals to "force [themselves] to return to normal pursuits and interests and actions and friendships with the opposite sex."2 This position was reinforced by the idea that sexual gratification was base and therefore not essential to a good marriage and the belief that only through marriage can men and women achieve eternal life.

This approach has been less than successful, however. A high percentage of mixed-orientation relationships fail, with disastrous consequences for both partners and the children involved. The homosexual partner in these relationships finds that the homosexual urges that the marriage was supposed to "cure" do not go away, and so that partner falls into despair. This despair often leads to risky and self-destructive behaviors like unsafe extramarital sexual practices, drug use, and even attempted suicide. Meanwhile, the straight partner is disappointed by the gay partner’s lack of desire for sexual intimacy, and worries that this condition is somehow his or her fault for not being attractive enough. Because of the lack of success in mixed-orientation marriages, they are no longer promoted as a general rule. President Gordon B. Hinckley stated the Church’s policy: "Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices . . . ."3

The new preferred policy among Church leaders for dealing with homosexuals is celibacy. President Hinckley’s comments illustrate this new approach:

Our hearts reach out to those who refer to themselves as gays and lesbians. We love and honor them as sons and daughters of God. They are welcome in the Church. It is expected, however, that they follow the same God-given rules of conduct that apply to everyone else, whether single or married.4

This approach certainly has support from the early Christian tradition, which viewed sexual urges as another bodily desire to be overcome, and championed celibacy as a way of becoming closer to God. However, this tradition does not square with LDS doctrine regarding celibacy. Early Church revelations are hostile and dismissive of celibacy as a "holy" choice: "[W]hoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man. Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation . . . ." (D&C 49:15-17). Bruce R. McConkie reiterates the traditional LDS view, saying that "[m]any who practice celibacy do so out of an excessive religious devotion . . . . In reality they are forsaking some of the most important purposes of their creation for a man-made, uninspired system . . . . [T]he principle of not marrying is not the doctrine of the Church . . . ."5

Marriage is viewed not only as a necessary stamp on a saint’s passport required for entry into the Celestial Kingdom, it also is viewed as a key to happiness and spiritual progression in this life. The General Handbook of Instructions states that "[m]arried couples also should understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a means of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife." Therefore, while current LDS doctrine allows for the hope of marriage in the next life in exigent circumstances, those who are not married in this life forfeit the extra happiness and spiritual growth that such a relationship can give in this life.

Single saints are also at a disadvantage within the Church community. The fact that there is no tradition of celibacy in the Church creates the implicit perception among other members of the congregation of single saints' spiritual deficiency. The unmarried Latter-day Saints (especially those beyond college-age years) often feel like they exist in a doctrinal limbo, and going to meetings becomes progressively harder as these saints are treated with pity or suspicion, or perhaps both. They are constantly asked "why aren’t you dating anyone" by well meaning saints hoping to show support, yet who serve as an unneeded reminder of something painful to many.

Hostility toward celibacy as an alternative lifestyle, along with the belief that a just God will allow us opportunities that we were denied in this life and that things will work themselves out in the eternities creates doctrinal space for same-sex marriage as a viable alternative to celibacy in this life. The Church’s policy toward widows is instructive. A woman, past her childbearing years, whose husband has died is not required nor encouraged to remain celibate for the rest of her life. She may remarry, and this is counted as a good thing even though the marriage itself is for this life only and not an eternal marriage. The church encourages this behavior because it holds that marriage, even for this life, even without the chance of offspring, is still good.

The same logic could extend to same-sex couples. Even though the union is not procreative, and even though the union is not eternal, it would still be a chance for the persons involved to enter into a mutually strengthening relationship where there is a unique opportunity to feel love and happiness. If it is true that homosexuality is a condition that will only exist in this life and that there is an opportunity for an opposite-sex marriage in the hereafter, then there is no eternal difference between a temporal same-sex marriage and celibacy. There would be a temporal difference, but it seems to be a positive difference rather than a negative difference.

  1. Armand Mauss, On “Defense of Marriage”: A Reply to Quinn, DIALOGUE, Fall 2000, at 53, 57.
  3. Gordon B. Hinckley, Reverence and Morality, ENSIGN, May 1987, at 47.
  4. Gordon B. Hinckley, Why We Do Some of the Things We Do, ENSIGN, Nov. 1999, at 52.
  5. BRUCE R. MCCONKIE, MORMON DOCTRINE 119–20 (2d ed., 1966).