Category Archives: Opinion Pieces

Disagreement: The path to real learning. (Life is tough, brother. Get a helmet.)

Another comment from another blog that I wanted to keep where I could find it.

Many years ago I bought a new computer — a 386SX-16running MS-Dos5, with a user interface called GeoWorks that had client software for this upstart on-line service that thought some day it could challenge the big-boys (Compuserve and GEnie) called America On-line.  It had a free trial number of hours, and I looked around and around (it was a long-distance call to the only access number in my area, and things didn’t move fast on my 2400 baud modem), and, at the very end, I found a listing for Hatrack River Town Meeting, which rung bells from a book I had just bought by Orson Scott Card — there was a little blurb at the end of the book.  So I went there, and met Scott and a bunch of people.  After a while I was invited to come to a private area called Nauvoo, and there I met Robert Woolley.  He was one of the more insightful folks in that space, but it was pretty low-key and happy for the most part.   Continue reading Disagreement: The path to real learning. (Life is tough, brother. Get a helmet.)

Limitations of Religion

This is an excerpt of a comment I made to a friend who is having a tough time with the church she recently left:

No matter what you do, churches are made of people, and people fail. I don’t have much experience with a pastor-based church, but it seems that what you’re alluding to is an unfortunately common experience. Great pastors being followed by inadequate interim pastors who are unwilling to be replaced by more competent pastors, resulting in schism and exodus. I don’t have a solution for that — it seems inherent in the system to me.

But, without churches, there isn’t anybody to teach us about important things. Yeah, I know, we can go directly to God, but our ability to do so on our own isn’t always that good, and it’s very easy to teach ourselves the Gospel according to Me, which includes all our pet doctrines and gospel hobbies, and avoids anything we don’t want to think about very much.

Churches, scriptures, and the witness/testimony of others are windows through which we can perceive things of God. They are helpful, good and useful, but they aren’t God, and worshiping them is a much easier idolatry than worshiping God is. If we accept them in their limitation, and seek to transcend those limitations with God’s help, as we try to transcend our own limitations with that same help, over the long run, we will get what we most need. If we set our sights on them, and succumb to the temptation to worship them at the expense of the God they teach, then we will fail, sooner or later, but badly.

Email to Harry Reid

Bro. Reid,

I have just received an email that tells me that you might be getting some one-word contacts with the word “Gadianton.” While I have many points of disagreement with you (only about political issues as far as I can tell), I disagree much more strongly with people trying to beat you up with the Book of Mormon.

So, if you wanted to start involving Republicans in the crafting of the Health Care bill, and keeping the President’s campaign promise that it would be drafted by Republicans and Democrats under C-SPAN cameras, I’d be very good with that. But, whether you do this or not, please let this one conservative Mormon Republican voice stand against the wing-nuts and nut-job Mormons who don’t understand that political disagreement doesn’t make you evil.

Sincerely,
Blain Nelson

A note to Mormons (and others) trying to help friends avoid a planned divorce.

This is what some of them would like to say to you, but don’t necessarily know how:

Thank you for your concerns about me and my family. I know you have the best of intentions for us, and want to do what you can to help keep my family intact. I love that you want to do this for us.

You can’t do this for us. We’ve already tried every available option, looked under ever rock, and prayed as much as we can. We will be divorcing. That isn’t a question. We don’t know what the future holds beyond that. I don’t yet know when or if I will be married again. This is a very difficult time for me, and I’m none too sure what I will be doing tomorrow. I might just cry a lot.

When I say things like “We just grew apart,” or “We’re not in love anymore,” or just generally don’t tell you anything bad about my marriage or my spouse, this is my attempt to tactfully tell you that what you’re asking about isn’t your business. I’m not going to tell you why we’re divorcing, and you should be grateful that I won’t. There are any number of things that may or may not have led into my decision that you don’t want to hear about: emotional, physical or sexual abuse of me, my children or both, addiction, mental illness, infidelity, and a great deal of pain. I don’t want you to think of or treat my ex badly, and I really don’t want to talk about any of this with you. And I really do want you to drop the questions about what we’ve done or not done, or tried and not tried. As I’ve said, this is a very, very difficult time, and your well intentioned inquiries just poke at emotional wounds that haven’t had the time to become scars yet. It feels a lot like getting kicked when you’re down, and this is why many people leave the Church after they divorce.

I have a support system that’s working for me right now. I appreciate your willingness to be a part of it, but right now isn’t the time for that. Perhaps later.

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History series Ghosts of the Ostfront

This requires more than the usual “Share” on Facebook, because folks would just blow this off as something that sounds like the usual weird thing I post, and it deserves more than that. This series describes the war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the Second World War, and shows how the Soviets beat the Nazis, and the price paid by all parties in the process. Dan Carlin makes a point of putting the listener into the situation to help you build images in your mind to help understand how these crucial battles were carried out in all their awful details. Having just finished the series, I am quite aware of the debt all of us owe the megalomaniacal Josef Stalin, and I’m also a bit nauseated by that.

If you’ve seen Saving Private Ryan, you’ve seen a graphic representation of war fought by the rules on the Western Front. On the Eastern Front, the most egomanical and evil leaders of the twentieth century fought a much larger and more vicious war without any rules, and this series tells you that story. If you want to understand how the world became what it is today, this series is worthy of your consideration. Each of the four parts is quite long — perhaps 90 minutes each. It will require quite a bit of your time to listen to. It is most definitely not for children, and is not for those who can not handle violence. But I do recommend it to those who can handle it.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Updated Gospel Principles Manual to Be Used in Priesthood and Relief Society 2010-2011

While I was writing this post, I found this tidbit of information on the front page of LDS.org:

Updated Gospel Principles Manual

The Gospel Principles manual contains information on 47 core principles of the gospel for personal study and teaching. In 2010 and 2011, this manual will be used in Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society classes, as well as the Gospel Principles class for investigators and new members. The manual is available online in multiple media formats. 

This excites me quite a bit. One of my biggest concerns in the Church is the problem of doctrine. Mainstream Christianity has a relatively stable, if disputed, and quite elaborate set of doctrines which answer essential theological questions, but Mormonism has a much smaller set of core, essential doctrines and a large and robust set of speculative doctrines. Mainstream Christianity also has a large body of professional clergy who learn these sets of doctrines and the chatecisms, confessions and creeds from which they are derived to carry these doctrines to individuals to strive to keep their belief orthodox. Mormonism, by contrast, has no paid clergy, and is based in revealed truth that extends beyond, and sometimes contrasts with, the chatechisms, confessions and creeds of mainstream Christianity. We believe that many things will yet be revealed pertaining to the Kingdom of God. And we have, and have had, a large group of leaders that we believe can speak, through inspiration, the word of God, just as scriptures hold the word of God.

The profundity, and, from some perspectives, audacity of this claim is hard to overestimate. And it brings some major consequences to Mormonism, as nobody speaks through inspiration all the time. Over time, these leaders have explored doctrinal ideas, and shared those explorations, without always being clear that these explorations were their own personal understanding — what I call speculative doctrines. Speculative doctrines are things which might be true, and are contrasted with essential doctrines which must be true. Speculative doctrines can appeal to people for a variety of reasons, some of which are good, because they are true, and some of which are not so good, because they are false, but they can be handled reasonably well when people understand that they are speculative, and not essential. Think of these as doctrinal urban legends, and you’ll have the right idea.

Occasionally, someone will take a speculative doctrine and, with the best of intentions, extend it far enough that it actually becomes a false doctrine. And it can appeal to other people, and spread. This is a problem. The most striking example I can think of of a false doctrine is the doctrine of Salvation by Works, where the importance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is minimized in the misguided attempt to point to the requirement that we do work both to live and to accept the influece of the Savior in our lives. There is no scripture of which I am aware that tells us of anything that can save us but the grace and love of God manifest in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But, because we don’t want to be seen as accepting the notion that one can proclaim Jesus with their lips, and do nothing to follow the commandments he gave, and be saved, far too many over-react and over-estimate the importance of our own efforts.

So I am excited to see that this course of study is going to reach all the adults in the Church over the next two years. This course will cover the essential doctrines of the Church in their most basic form. Anything not found in this course, or in the temple ceremonies, is not an essential doctrine. Speculative doctrines are fine, so long as they are understood and spoken of as being speculative. I am hopeful that this will help clarify this distinction.

The Mormon Thing

This is primarily for my Facebook friends, particularly those who have not hidden everything I post there (I post quite a lot of stuff, and can understand if it gets a little overwhelming sometimes). I post quite a few things having to do with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormonism and Mormon life, and I want to add this to make clear why I do this, and, at least importantly, what I don’t expect anybody to do about it.

I am Mormon. I was born in Mesa, Arizona, which was founded by Mormons, and was strongly Mormon when I lived there (and still is, although there has been quite a migration of Mormons to Gilbert and then further east in the Valley). I call Mesa the southern end of the Jello Belt, which extends north through Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, and up to Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta. It is made up of the many communities colonized by Mormons under the direction of Brigham Young, and was once known as the territory of Deseret, before it was brutally gerymandered to form the smallest possible area that would be politically controlled by Mormons in the form of the modern state of Utah. Unlike many Mesa Mormons I grew up with, I was a second-generation member, since both my parents joined the Church as adults (Dad wasn’t baptized until after I was married), and I was the first in my family to be blessed as an infant and baptized at age 8 (the usual Mormon childhood ordinances). When we moved from Mesa when I was 13, I left the Jello Belt, and haven’t lived there since.

It was several years after this that I actually read the Book of Mormon and, in the process, was converted to the gospel taught by the Church. Although my life has had ups and downs in pretty much every way possible since then, I have never lost the certitude of the truth in that gospel. I have not been a terribly mainstream Mormon for quite some time, and gave up some time ago the notion that I have a responsibility to persuade anybody to believe anything in particular that I believe. I will discuss things Mormon with anybody who is willing to have a respectful conversation free of attempts to persuade anyone of anything within the constraints of reality. I am quite certain that nothing anybody can say will make me want the Church to not be true any more than I already have wanted it to be, and that wanting has not been able to change my certitude that it is true, so I can’t imagine that’s going to change under any circumstances.

I post things from a Mormon perspective here primarily for my friends who are Mormon or interested in Mormonism to any degree. Facebook does not give me the power to limit my postings to any of the groups of friends I’ve created, and I would be happy to restrict my posting of Mormon things to one if they did. However, I don’t know which of my non-Mormon friends are interested in Mormon things to any degree, so I just post things, and leave it to you to decide if you want to look at it. Some of the things I post are likely to make some of my Mormon friends less than comfortable — as I said, I left the mainstream of the Church a long time ago — but I don’t post things that I don’t find interesting or important. I do not intend to convert anybody through these things, whether it be converting them to join the Church, or to join me outside the mainstream, or, for some, to join me in my place which might be closer to the mainstream than they are. I do not believe I have the power to change anyone’s mind, and I make no effort to do so. As with most of the things in my life, I share what I find interesting and important for the benefit of those who find benefit in it.

So, I apologize to those who might find these things uninteresting or unimportant, and absent any benefit for them. I am not trying to annoy people (it’s a talent I was born with — I don’t even have to try). I appreciate the patience of those who have chosen not to complain at me for having annoyed them with any of this. I remain willing to talk to anybody about any part of this on a respectful and non-persuasive basis, and I return you to your life, already in progress.

Polanski furor just a Culture War about symbols, rather than realities?

Should the film director Roman Polanski be extradited to the US over his statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles in March 1977? It’s a potentially interesting legal question. But it’s not the question that is driving the transatlantic furore that followed Polanski’s arrest and imprisonment in Switzerland over the weekend. Instead, various political prejudices and unresolved battles are being projected on to L’Affaire Polanski, robbing it of its specific legal complexities and turning it into the site of a proxy Culture War in which clapped-out conservatives and disoriented liberals are hurling intellectual (and not-so-intellectual) hand grenades at one another. And I find both sides pretty revolting. –Brendan O’Neill

This article, by the editor of Spiked, says it is, and I think it’s getting at some key pieces of it.  There may be critics of Polanski who are using him as a symbol of the excesses of the 60s.  I think the description of where the collusion with Polanski’s sex offenses on the part of more strident liberals and members of the European elite is coming from is quite accurate.

When it comes to my criticism of those elites over the last two posts, however, I don’t think you can stretch what I’m saying to an attack on the 60s, and I don’t know how good of a fit that is of those who are glad to see Polanski finally face justice for what he did.  Does it describe the members of the Academy Awards audience who refused to applaud Polanski when he received his award?

Wait.  I had heard reference to these individuals, but now I’m unable to find any reference to any lack of applause to Polanski when he received the Best Director award in 2003 for The Pianist.  There were references to people who refused to applaud Elia Kazan for his Lifetime Achievement Award due to his mentioning Hollywood people he thought were communists in the 1950s that resulted in the studios black listing them, but nobody apparently stayed in their seats when Polanski was honored for his work. Continue reading Polanski furor just a Culture War about symbols, rather than realities?

Closed Circuit to the French and Polish Governments

Re: this.

Screw you and the horses you rode in on.  It’s sad and disgusting that you’re okay with this guy screwing your teen-aged girls, but it’s not okay with us for him to do that and then run away and evade responsibility for what he’s done.  I can’t imagine who is going to be pleased with you for trying to continue helping him get away with this — and this time through active choices and not the passive way you’ve done so for three decades through stupid extradition policies that attact murderers and rapists to your shores from ours — but I’ve lost a big chunk of respect for both of your countries for this.

Card and Polanski

Maybe I’m missing something.  Over the past few years, I’ve seen quite a few conversations and articles about Orson Scott Card where people are condemning him because they disagree with his opinions on political issues, predominately the legalization of same-sex marriage.  Not a few people have said that, while they’ve loved his writing, they aren’t going to read any more of his writing because they are so offended by his opinions with which they disagree.

Meanwhile, 30 years ago, film director/producer Roman Polanski admitted to drugging and molesting a thirteen year old girl, then ran away before he could be sentenced, and managed to evade arrest and extradition for all this time, until this past weekend.  During that time, he continued making films and being recognized by the film community for the quality of his work.  When he received an Academy Award, reports I’ve heard indicated that about half the audience applauded, and half refused to because they were upset about his sex crime.

I’m a little struck by the fact that so many people seem to have no problem recognizing the value of Polanski’s work despite their (presumed) disagreement with what he did, and yet so many people can’t get past Card’s disagreement with them on some political issues.  Perhaps there is little or no overlap between those groups, and, to be honest, I track news about Card all the time, and only know about Polanski’s arrest due to news coverage this weekend.  Perhaps there has been as much outrage about Polanski that I haven’t seen as I have seen about Card.  But it seems odd to me that there is comparable outrage over stating a contrasting opinion as there is over the sexual misuse of a teen-age girl.