William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Laws That We Disagree With Morally And the Articles of Faith

The question was put:
"If/when the law is changed to allow same-gender marriage, what attitude will you take as a church member with regards to the article of faith that states in part:

'...obey, honor and sustain the law.'

Personally, I will "deal" with it, but I can't honestly say I will honor it. My feelings on it will be an exception to the rule. What about you and do you think I am wrong to think/believe this?"

To which I responded:

The 12th article of faith is a principle, not an absolute rule. Individuals have a moral duty to give deference generally to laws duly enacted by a legitimate government. But we are perfectly at liberty morally to: (1) disagree with the propriety of the law; (2) advocate in a non-violent fashion for a change in the law through petitioning the government; and (3) refuse to comply with any law which unreasonably treads upon our own conscience and requires us to act against it. In extreme circumstances, when by any reasonably objective standard, individual liberty or lives are at stake, and the govnermnent is in effect engaging in oppression and abuses of human rights, even violent protest and revolution can be justified. The American Revolution and the French Revolution are examples of this.

In Joseph Smith's day, when he authored the articles of faith, he did so with the backdrop of mobs questioning Mormons' willingness to be subject to the United States' laws. Doctrine and Covenants Section 134 further elaborates on people's rights to rebel against oppressive regimes.

In the gay marriage context, because I believe the Government should get out of the marriage business altogether and grant civil unions to both heterosexual and homosexual couples, I do not agree with the recent federal district court decision out of San Francisco in which the judge ruled that gays be given the right to have government-sponsored "marriages." I believe the right result would have been to conclude that marriage is a term with a religious context which implicates the conscience and religious doctrines of individuals and religious faiths, and that, although the government has no rational basis to deny gays the right to have civil unions and all of the same rights as heterosexual unions (excepting, perhaps, equal adoption preference), neither does the government have the right to decide which unions are and are not sanctioned by God.

So I would disagree with a law that the state must recognize gay marriage (or heterosexual marriage). But such as law, as far as I can foresee, would not require me to act against my conscience (for instance, I am not an employee of the government required to give the stamp of approval on a homosexual marriage license), and I therefore do not see any conflict in my duty to comply with the 12th article of faith and my personal disagreement with government-sponsored gay marriage.

On a side note, on the question of gay relationships, taking out of the equation the issue of whether they should or should not be called "marriage" by the state, I believe they should be eligible for recognition and protection. My own speculation is that God will sort out the gender issues in the next life, and that for now, although gays should not be eligible for homosexual "marriages" or temple marriages, the Church should nevertheless allow them to have civil unions "for time." I do believe that homosexuality in many instances is inalterable during mortality, and for those individuals, only a cruel and capricious god would torture them with an injunction of absolute celibacy for the duration of mortality. Since I believe in a loving god, I believe that the people, in and out of the church, who claim that God prohibits all homosexual relationships, are simply wrong.

It would be very interesting to have a reliable statistical answer to the following question:

"Among people who believe that there should be government-sponsored heterosexual marriage, but not government-sponsored gay marriage, what percentage believes that homosexual intimacy is sinful in the eyes of God?"

My speculation is that the number would be well over 95%, at least among the Caucasion, Hispanic, African American, and predominantly-Islamic-country immigrant populations (there are probably other cultures which oppose homosexuality more on generalized bigotry grounds rather than religious grounds, such as some Asian cultures and African cultures).

Another interesting statistic would be to know what percentage of Christians, who believe that homosexual intimacy is NOT sinful in the eyes of God, also believe in government-sponsored gay marriage. I think it would be difficult to conclude that the mainstream debate about gay marriage is something other than a religious debate at its core.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Polygamy?

The question was put: "What are the pros and cons of polygamy?"

To which I responded:

It seems to me that the bulk of the criticism of what has erroneously been termed "polygamy" is really about non-egalitarian polygyny (one husband having multiple wives).

My position on the subject, which I have held for years now, is that both polygyny and polyandry should be legal, with the following conditions:
1. There must be capacity (persons who have a mental disability or who have not reached adulthood cannot competently agree to enter into such a relationship);
2. There must be informed consent, meaning that all partners must be aware of the arrangement before their consent to it is deemed valid;
3. The consent must be given in the absence of coercion or duress (including coercion exerted through the cloak of religious authority or position, i.e., a flaming angel told me this is what God commands, etc.);
4. There must be laws in place protecting the human rights and property rights of those involved, including children, so as to prevent abuse, neglect, etc.;
5. Individuals within the polygynous/polyandrous family must be free to terminate the relationship if so desired, with the condition that the divorce laws pertaining to such termination account for the continuing needs and responsibilities of the parties (i.e., alimony, child support, etc.).

In evaluating the pros and cons of polygyny as called for in the question, it is critical that we distinguish between coercive/non-egalitarian relationships and those entered in situations meeting the above criteria.

In non-egalitarian arrangements (which I consider deplorable and which should remain illegal the world around), there are admittedly some benefits which may flow, both to the women and the men. Many of these have been mentioned- comradery among wives, more sex for the man, built-in babysitters, pooling of economic resources, specialization of talents and abilities, etc. But the detriment is that we do violence to our human dignity, and elevate the man's worth and status above the women. Where polygyny may be coerced, especially in heirarchical religious societies, many men will also be excluded from the possibility of ever having an intimate relationship or marriage. And the women in the polygynous relationships will be oppressed and forced to accept circumstances which they did not voluntarily consent to.

But in the egalitarian setting, it is a whole different ballgame. If two men want to marry one woman, then they have little right to complain that she is unavailable for sex when she is intimate with the other one, because that is what they signed up for. Likewise, women who truly consented to a polygynous relationship are simply getting what they signed up for when they get less total attention from their husbands because he is spending time with one of his other wives. I believe that mature adults have to moral right to consent to whatever responsibly practiced marital arrangements they wish, with the conditions above, and neither God nor man should prohibit it. There may very well be diminished intimacy in a multiple-spouse situation, but it is up to individuals to decide whether that is something they can live with.

Come to think of it, it is rather strange that people would bother to debate the pros and cons of truly consensual polygamy among non-coerced adults, at least to the extent that it does not involve children and property rights. The sex/relationship aspects ought to be a no-brainer: of course it's fine in the egalitarian context! Those women or men who would not want to share a spouse need only refuse to enter into one of those relationships. Those competent, consenting adults who would be willing to share a spouse, on the other hand, of their own free will and choice, ought to be able to do so generally, and it is not any of our business to tell them they cannot.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Absolute Objectivity In Our Search For Truth Is Impossible, But . . .

The question was put:

"I've been doing a lot of pondering of late. Thinking about what is fair, what is honest, what I know and what I don't know and what within me leads to believe what.

The nut of this is that I've come to the conclusion that if you have never given something a fair trial, then you can't say you know anything about it's truth. If all you have ever eaten are fuji apples, then you can't really say that fuji apples are the very best in the world can you. They very well may be, but you can't say that. If you have a lot invested in fuji apples being the best in the world, your self esteem, life experiences, time, money and your family will give you hell if you ever say anything different - well how honest are you when you say that "I know fuji apples are the best in the world" ? Are you being honest with yourself is you do say that ?

And so it goes for the Church. If it's all you've ever known can you truly say you know it's true ? Oh, I hear you all out there already - but I have spiritual experiences . . . yea, I'll get to those in a moment.

How many people here have really, truly, given the Church a fair trial ? Fair meaning starting from as unbiased position as is possible and then working you way from there ? It's not fair, if you start from the "it's true" and then look at all the evidence and say you still believe - that in my book is not being fair, it's being biased, and the temptation to either knowingly or unknowingly support your bias is beyond what humans can do.

We are all taught that we must be converted at some time in our lives. I submit that without doing as unbiased trial as is possible you can not truly become converted, and say you KNOW the church is true. You can hope it's true, you can believe it's true, you can really, really need it to be true, but you can not know that it is.

back to the spiritual experiences . . . yea, I've heard it all before Let me submit that there are well over 10,000 religions on this planet with full time clergy. If you were to interview them how many of them do you think would say "I've had a spiritual experience" or something similar ? The vast, vast majority of people on earth are not LDS. Of those who are religions how many of them would say they have had a religious experience ? A lot, a whole lot.

In any test of truth - we can have errors. Either a false positive - the answer is false, but we got a true - or we can have a false negative - the answer is true but we got a false.
I submit that if spiritual experience is the yardstick for which we should solely base our 'truth' on, then we also have to acknowledge that for the population of the earth, given that the LDS Church is true, then spiritual feelings have a false positive error rate of 99.9999+ precent. Therefore it is not a valid test upon we should heavily weight an answer.

That's an example of what I mean by being fair - unbiased. You have to look at the issue from all sides. You can look at spiritual experiences and weigh them differently, but you should have a good reason for doing so in the face of the above paragraph. If all you do is say "I've had this experience, and therefore it's true" well, is that really being honest ? As painful as that is to contemplate.

OK, so what makes your spiritual experience different from everyone else on the earth ? you do know that people have converted, and deconverted and so we have people we can ask about these things ? Do those here really think that the LDS spiritual experience is vastly superior to others - without trying others ? Aren't we right back to the fuji apple comparison ?

Again, how many people here have had the courage to truly look ? To truly give the Church a fair, unbiased trial ? Otherwise, our own bias, will prevent us from knowing anything.

Just my thoughts and musings for the day. Carry on, and I'm looking forward to hearing about your experiences and answers, and not looking for a debate. I've come to my own conclusion about how to proceed in my life based on my own best judgment, now I'm trying to understand that of others."

To which I responded:

I agree with most of what you have said, but I think it is important to note a couple of points:

1. While it is critical that we attempt to remain completely unbiased in our quest for the truth, we have to accept from the outset that it will not be possible. Our own prejudices, fears, and self interest will inevitably get in the way sometimes. In fact, self interest can even have the opposite effect when combined with fear. Example: a prospective catholic priest, very much wanting to get married because his instinct and sex drive are pointing him in that direction, decides that when he puts the question to God concerning whether he should marry or whether instead to devote himself to the ministry, he thinks he cannot trust any answer that he should marry, because he thinks that such an answer is simply the product of his own carnal desires; but if he gets the answer that he should devote himself to a celibate life as a priest, he trusts that the answer must have come from God because he thinks that his mind (tainted by his self-interest) could not have manufactured the perceived spiritual experience, and therefore concludes that the answer was authentic revelation from God.

I give this "fear-tainted" example because LDS people have often criticized my own convictions as being mere attempts to "justify" my supposed sins and positions on various church doctrines and policies. So, just as self-interest can taint perceived revelation, so can fear. As I strongly believe that God created us to have joy in the plain sense of the word (not just some re-defined sense which is really just another way of expressing the social acceptance and lack of guilt people can feel when they follow all of the standards and doctrines emphasized within their circle of TBM peers), I believe that we should never disregard a perceived truth just because its truth would have the net effect of giving us greater joy or pleasure.

2. There is still a place for faith, and we cannot demand that all truth will be made known to us by study alone. All we can do is temper our faith by rejecting those doctrines/positions which appear unreasonable or unlikely in light of the evidence and arguments available to us.

3. Although we are inherently biased in our search for the truth, our conclusions will be much less prone to error if, as we study and ponder and pray, we bear in mind our proactive moral duty to do good in the world, even if that means a reasonable amount of self-sacrifice.

Read my blog and you will see how I have treated this subject in greater detail.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Does God's Certainty About Our Choices Deprive Us Of Agency? Yes.

The rhetorical comment was made:

"How does knowing the outcome of an event change how you desire the event to happen?
When you watch Romeo and Juliet you know that they are both going to kill themselves by the end of the play. Does this mean that you don't want Romeo to meet Juliet? Or that you can't desire that Juliet wake up before Romeo drinks the poison, even knowing that she won't?"

To which I responded:

You are suggesting, by this analogy, that God sits by desiring that we will make one choice but knowing that we will make another, bad choice. I think there is at least one point of Mormon theology which I believe is irreconcilably inconsistent with that (at least when taken in conjunction with the idea that some people will not ultimately attain salvation), namely this:

If God knows that someone will make their bad choices, and wind up in hell or some similar eternally unhappy predicament as a result, why engage in the futile exercise of calling them to repent or to command them to live righteously? I for one cannot accept that God engages in any acts which are certain to be futile, and I believe that he would only tell us to repent if there were some possibility that we would heed the call. But if he KNOWS that no matter what he does, we will make our bad choice anyway, then he may as well send us to where we will ultimately end up and dispense with torturing us with the prospect that we have the potential to attain salvation. In my younger years, I took a certain amount of unhealthy pleasure in surrounding an ant with a ring of honey. From above, I would watch the ant, probing the honey ring at random trying to find a way out. No matter how many times he would turn back from the wall, determining that the selected route was impassible, he would continue trying, indefinitely. From the ant's perspective, it was not a foregone conclusion that he was stuck in that circle. He would keep trying and trying, believing there must be some way to get out. I, of course, knew secretly that there was no way, and that the ant would try thousands and thousands of times to get out, and would eventually die. Now, if there is no possibility that the ant will escape, isn't it cruel for me to simply sit by and watch it be tormented by the illusion that he might actually escape if he tries enough places in the honey wall? Certainly.

If God knows for certain from the outset that we will not attain salvation, then his choice to place us on Earth is like him putting us ants in that circle surrounded by honey. If our future is a foregone conclusion of eternal misery, then there is no purpose for the present existence.

I have been around and around with people on these arguments, people who believe in the absolute omniscience of God. I think they need to reconsider whether it is actually even necessary that God be omniscient. Isn't it OK if there are some things, including certain future events, that he doesn't know in advance?

It may feel to us like we are exercising our agency, but in reality if God knows for sure what we'll choose, then our perceived choice was predetermined from the outset by forces and mechanisms which we are simply unable to perceive.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

On The American "Ruling Class" Supposedly Attacking The Family

The comment was made:

"The July-Aug. 2010 issue of The American Spectator presents an article by Angelo M. Codevilla entitled "America's Ruling Class -- and the Perils of Revolution." The article is stunningly brilliant, detailing what has brought America to the brink of moral and financial collapse. Apropos for this forum, I believe, is what Codevilla states about the ruling class's disdain for the traditional family. (Codevilla defines "ruling class" as power-elites in both parties and those in influential positions whose allegiance they have purchased with government [taxpayer] dollars and favors.) Here are excerpts:

"The ruling class is keener to reform the American people's family and spiritual lives than their economic and civic ones. In no other areas is the ruling class's self-definition so definite, its contempt for opposition so patent, its Kulturkampf so open. It believes that the Christian family (and the Orthodox Jewish one too) is rooted in and perpetuates the ignorance commonly called religion, divisive social prejudices, and repressive gender roles. . . . Since marriage is the family's fertile seed, government at all levels, along with 'mainstream' academics and media, have waged war on it. They legislate, regulate, and exhort in support not of 'the family'--meaning married parents raising children--but rather of 'families,' meaning mostly households based on something other than marriage. . . . . Hillary Clinton [has] written law review articles and books advocating a direct relationship between the government and children, effectively abolishing the presumption of parental authority."

This article should be mandatory reading for every American who cherishes this nation and is willing to do whatever is necessary to preserve its time-honored values. And as Latter-day Saints, it should give us new appreciation for the inspiration found in "Proclamation on the Family." To access all 22 pages of Codevilla's article, enter "The American Spectator" in your search engine and click on the article's title."

To which I responded:

Reading the article in depth would take me much longer than an hour, which I unfortunately do not have at the moment, so I scanned it as best as I could in ~45 minutes. There is way too much material for me to respond to here, so here are some brief comments:

Codevilla's piece is best read as his own opinion, rather than a serious scholarly essay. It is riddled with his own perceptions and judgments concerning numerous disputed issues, including, inter alia: 1) the proper interpretation of the constitution; 2) the motivations of people in power for doing what they do; 3) what defines a "ruling class"; 4) the proper role of government; 5) the causes of American apathy and ignorance; 6) the likely effects which various laws will have on the lives of average Americans; etc.

The article is also packed full of broad, unjustified assumptions, such as the idea that the defined "ruling class" somehow is atheist and despises all religion, the idea that virtually politicians are highly corrupt, the idea that a secular focus in governmental policy amounts to an attack on religios liberties, the idea that America's "founding generation" somehow was vastly different than ours in having an egalitarian society (glossing over the slavery issue which was sactioned by our original constitution), etc.

I believe this article is a far cry from needing to be "mandatory reading for every American who cherishes this nation and is willing to do whatever is necessary to preserve its time-honored values". I do, believe, however, that we do have a duty to educate ourselves and consider all views on various subjects to the extent we reasonably have the resources to do so (time being one of them). So for that reason, it would be good to read this article to hear the author's arguments and views.

As for myself, I espouse many of the political views that Codevilla apparently despises. But I am no atheist. I believe in religious faith as playing a critical role in both spiritual enlightenment and personal commitment to live a moral life. I strongly believe in separation between church and state, and I have had many life experiences which lead me to believe that there is in fact a connection between religious conservatism, political conservatism, narrow-mindedness, and lack of secular education. That is not at all to say that people who didn't go to a prestigious secular school are automatically stupid, narrow-minded, uneducated, or foolish. But my life experience has been that, more often than not, people who have not had much diverse exposure to opposing cultural values and religions, and who have not received a robust secular education, tend to be much more paranoid about people who are different, and they are much quicker to jump to conclusions about ill-motives and to perceive conspiracies when in fact the supposed conspirators are acting in good faith based upon honest disagreements and viewpoints. Although I have strong political views on a number of subjects, I recognize that there is room for reasonable disagreement in many areas, and I certainly do not claim that all of my conservative friends and family members who disagree with me are "just stupid" or that my view is the only was a reasonable person could view the issue. I do believe that many of our disagreements stem from our world views about human nature, which in turn are heavily influenced by both our upbringing and life experiences. I tend to be somewhat of an idealist, but there is also a hefty dose of cynicism influencing my views.

I do believe there is certainly corruption in the American political system, on both sides of the aisle. I do not know of a single politician who either agrees with me on every issue or who is free of character flaws (I'm not either). But I honestly believe that, in general, our elected officials are trying to do what they think is right. Many of them realize they don't have all the answers and that policy decisions will have to be made which inevitably disfavor some class of people while favoring others. But in the aggregate, I think we've got a great system in the U.S., and I also believe that our society today is far more just, prosperous, and free of oppression than it was in past generations. And a great deal of this progress has resulted from laws passed by government, including the U.S. federal government.

I suppose what bothers me most about Codevilla's article is that he comes across as taking for granted that his perceptions and interpretations of history are the only reasonable ones to have. Things are rarely black and white, and there are a lot of grey areas where healthy debate and study are needed to arrive at resolutions.

Does God Exist Outside Of Time?

The comments and questions were put:

"There are the pro and con arguments on God and time being relevant to him. We know that time is a tool of measurement. It measures when to get up such as the sunrise, or go to bed as in sundown. It measures the seasons. It exists in this physical universe. There is no denial on this.
Would time really matter toward Heavenly Father existence in his mind or where he exists? Example in Genesis:
First day was when he made light to day and darkness night. He called it the first day. What kind of day? 24 hours or one week or 1million or 1 billiion years. How relevant was time to HF?
If the first day cannot be summed in accurate time measurement until after we have later in Genesis
It was not until the fourth day that HF gave us the concept of earthly time of 24/7/365 with seasons etc...
If the first 3 days were of time how long?
Is it really relevant to HF?
We teach the concept of eternity i.e. celestial marriage.
Therefore all those who assert HF lives within time cannot be. Eternal is eternal. It is Timeless and infinite. It has no relevance to HF. Would time matter to HF? HF is outside of time. It is only a tool given for us on this plane of existence."

To which I responded:

I have never been able, and probably will never be able, to grasp how it can be that time is an illusion or that anything or anyone, including God, can exist outside of time. I can partially understand and accept the concept that an object or person could travel into the future. Because the concept of "time-applying-only-to-us-mortals-and-not-God" is completely counter-intuitive to me, I am left to make sense of various scriptures and/or doctrines which are interpreted to mean that time does not apply to God. I conclude, for now, based on my limited understanding, that these doctrines are in effect an attempt to logically extend and expand on the existing doctrines about God's supposed omniscience and omnipotence. For example, proponents of the doctrine that God knows every single detail about the future throughout eternity feel compelled to come up for some explanation for how that is so. They then reason that God could know all about the future if time were simply an illusion to us and God were able to perceive eternity from start to finish as "one great big eternal NOW". A born-again evangelical actually used that phrase once in explaning that concept to me as a teenager.

My own view, which I have held for many years, is that God is neither omnipotent nor omniscient in an absolute sense, nor is it necessary for him to be so in order for him to be a god or for him to deserve my worship. It is important to me that God be powerful and wise, but when these attributes are deemed absolute, other problems are created- particularly on the issues of free agency, accountability, punishment, and reconciling them with God's love for us.

I believe the authors of the doctrine, of God existing outside of time, were simply putting forward their own ideals of what God should be, perhaps without giving due consideration to the question of whether it would be necessary for God to have such an attribute in order for him to be God.

That is not to say that God will at some point cease to exist. I believe he will continue to exist forever. But did he have a beginning? Probably, in my opinion. And God can no more change the past than we can. He can foresee a great deal of the future because of his wisdom, knowledge, and experience, but that does not mean he knows everything down to the most minute detail, or that he can predict every future event with absolute certainty. He can probably predict most human events with much greater certainty than we can.