William James

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

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Appropriate Condemnation Of Certain Pornography


I recently saw the documentary film, "The Price of Pleasure," which takes a harsh look at the porn industry. Here is my feedback:

1. Most of the film portrays several forms pornographic media which I consider to be unacceptable and exploitative. In fact, I think it is downright shameful! These forms of porn appear to glorify the suppression of women in the most extreme and depraved ways. Women being tortured and violently raped as part of a sexual ritual of male dominance is the most common version of porn portrayed in the documentary. Other scenes portray (using adult actors and graphic simulation) sexual exploitation of children by adults. Examples are given of actresses consenting to dangerous and downright demeaning sex acts to make a little bit of money- such as: submitting to men ejactulating on their faces, being choked, being made to gag while having a penis forced too far into their mouth/throat, being suffocated, submitting to simultaneous penetration by two or three penises at a time, being violently slapped and cussed at, submitting to anal sex and immediately afterwards giving oral sex to the man who just had his penis in her anus, etc. I am angered by anyone who would choose to make these kinds of films and financially capitalize on the depraved and out-of-control sexual appetites of certain men. These appear to me to be examples of true exploitation and degradation of women. Shame on those people who care so little about human dignity that they are willing to abuse and harm for profit! If I did not have such a strong conviction about God's unconditional love for us mortals, and his desire that we all one day become perfected to live in enlightened peace and happiness, I would probably succomb to the temptation to say that these deparaved exploiters would burn in hell!

2. For all of the film's appropriate condemnation of the forms of porn described above, the film has unfortunately failed to give adequate consideration and broad evidientiary/viewpoint treatment of what I consider to be more mainstream erotic media, namely: non-violent, non-exploitative, consensual, adult-on-adult, less explicit forms of sexually oriented media. In these forms, you are not likely to see close-ups of vaginas or penises, you definitely will not see semen or an ejaculating penis, there won't be any "double penetrations" or choking or slapping, or degrading name-calling, anal sex, or domination exceeding the realm of playfulness. In fact, there is a good chance there won't be an real penetration at all- merely feigned penetration if anything. The film has done nothing, in my view, to demonstrate that the actors in this type of media are being badly treated or exploited or abused, nor that this type of media promotes or glorifies such behavior. Yet, the film appears to condemn it anyway be using the objectionable forms mentioned above as a "straw-man" argument. Just as the existence of unhealthy sexual behavior would not justify condemning all sexual behavior, so, too, the existence of true exploitation in sectors of the porn industry in no way justifies the condemnation of all erotic media.

3. I don't believe it is reasonable to expect any woman to accept without objection that her husband consumes (or for that matter, buys) the type of media described in paragraph 1 above. But I do believe that the type of erotic media described in paragraph 2 is the kind of erotic thoughts and fantasies that the overwhelming majority of men are going to have anyway whether they are watching it or not. Watching it may provide variety and enhancement, but I honestly do not think it is likely to cause most men to confuse fantasy with reality or to be rendered unable to sexually function without getting fed more and more bizzare and/or violent fantasies from the condemnable realm. So on that front, both tolerance and temperance are in order.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

On Concerns About Overpopulation Vs. Commandment To Multiply

The comment was made:

"We've been taught to "multiply and replenish the earth."
Many of us assumed that meant to procreate, & I think it is part of it. Yet taking care of the earth can involve multipling & replenishing in other ways too.
Anyone remember the song, "Zero Population" in Saturday Warriors? http://www.youtube.c...h?v=4dX4XD_gJJ4
Concern about world population isn't new & I was taught that it was hype to scare people, a tool of the adversary.
Yet, the reality is... our population is almost at 7,000,000,000, projected to be 9,000,000,000 in 2045.
Some feel it already...
& of course it's all relative...

My deepest concern is for children.
In large families I've become familiar with, I've noticed some type of neglect or abuse (verbal or physical).
This study reports, "Large family size significantly raises the risk of both types of maltreatment."
Growing up in a large family, I experienced some neglect & abuse.

What are your thoughts on family size, treatment of children & world population?"

To which I responded:

This is an important issue. My view is that the issue of whether the world is or will become "overpopulated" depends in large part on how we manage our resources and our environment. As a lay person, I am of the opinion that the Earth could support many more billions of people than we have now, PROVIDED THAT WE PROTECT OUR ENVIRONMENT WITH APPROPRIATE PLANNING, INFRASTRUCTURE, AND TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS. We learn in LDS theology that God did not only command Adam and Eve to multiply, but that they were also to take good care of the Earth. I am not someone who is terribly concerned that we must accelerate population growth in order to bring down as many anxious spirit children as possible, either generally, or in specific concern about the end of the world. In the end, I believe population will naturally regulate itself to an optimal level if we have the right policies, which include, among other things: (1) making sure that everyone has access to safe and affordable birth control; (2) not providing overly generous economic incentives for having large families; (3) considering it a public good to research and implement technologies which enable greater environmental sustainability and compatibility with larger human populations; and (4) heavily regulating environmental impacts of human activity to preserve, enhance, and optimize the utility of pristine areas, clean air and water, diverse species, forests, etc. I do not believe in mandatory abortions to control population, but there could conceivably be a point where society would be at least justified in creating some kind of sanction for a person's negligent or intentional failure to reasonably use birth control. That's all theoretical at this point.

When Does God Give Revelation?

I commented:

I have heard it said many times in the LDS church that this or that revelation came at a particular time (instead of much earlier) because the person receiving the revelation simply did not bother to ask God the question. This has been used to explain the Word of Wisdom, blacks and the priesthood, and other doctrines and how they came about. This idea seems to also be used as a way to repel claims by non-believers that the church is false or that its doctrines merely reflect the personal views of whoever happen to be the leaders of the churh at any given time. Thus, many believers or apologists would argue that Joseph Smith would have received the Word of Wisdom earlier if he had merely asked God about it. I believe there are many important questions we need to consider on this topic, including the following:

1. Does a prophet, by merely asking God the right question, while being "worthy" in the traditional LDS sense, always get the right answer from God?
2. Are there other factors (which have nothing to do with worthiness) which influence a prophet's ability to receive revelation from God?
3. Can we safely assume that church doctrine will remain as it is today on the issues which the church focuses most on today (e.g. homosexuality, historicity of the Book of Mormon, etc.)? Why or why not?
4. Have the church leaders asked God about whether there must be blanket condemnation of homosexual behavior?

My own view is that everyone's ability to receive revelation is heavily influenced and limited by their pre-existing ignorance, ambition, desires, prejudices, and fears, and that this is no different for a prophet of God. This is a much more plausible explanation for how church doctrine/policy has evolved over time. Our methodology for discerning true revelation must therefore seek as much as possible to gain a more objective and informed perspective before we jump to conclusions about the will or doctrines of God. This is where science and evidence and reason come into play.

I suspect that in 50-150 years, the LDS Church will have abandoned its official stance that all homosexual behavior is sinful. And what explanation will be given at that time for the position we have today? Will it be that Monson, et al. simply never asked God because they relied upon what they erroneously assumed were prior authentic revelations on the subject? Will it be that Monson, et al. never gave the matter serious thought, study, and contemplation, and that God has given greater light and knowledge on human sexuality?

Given the importance of the topic of homsexuality and other related issues, wouldn't it make sense for church leaders to take some time and pray about it all and give an official pronouncement on it?

And one person responded:

"I don't see how that can be since the issue isn't being homosexual but being unchaste, the same as for heterosexuals who never marry. Chastity is a foundational principle which has existed since the beginning of scripture."

To which I responded:

Thanks for your reply. As I see it, the "it's always been that way" argument sounds a whole lot like the reasons given for denying blacks the priesthood until revelation was given to the contrary. Furthermore, how do we know that homosexual behavior automatically falls outside the definition of what it means to be "chaste"? If you are referring to the modern temple definition of "no sexual relations except with lawfully wedded husbands or wives," then I think a few acknowledgements are in order: (1) that has not always been the definition, even in the LDS church; (2) nothing in the law as stated would prohibit two gay men from being each other's lawful husbands, or two gay women from being each other's lawful wives; (3) understanding the application of any law requires understanding the reasons behind it.

In the case of chastity, while inartful attempts have been made to explain the rationale for the LDS Church's version being an intuitive law of God (Jeffrey R. Holland's "Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments" comes to mind), I don't believe the Church has ever given an official and complete explanation for the basis for the law of chastity. Historically speaking, before the LDS Church was founded in 1830, it appears that chastity was founded upon several principles, which varied greatly from one society to the other, and included one or more of the following:

(1) Conformity with a society's norms about sexual relationships;
(2) The notion that sex tends to corrupt one's character and thus must be avoided or carefully limited (it seems some Greek philosophy heavily influenced this);
(3) The notion that sexual appetite constitutes a weakness subject to exploitation;
(4) The notion that women as property of men should remain "pure" so that their husbands can have exclusive sexual rights to them and not have their egos bruised, their lineage polluted by other men, and themselves subjected to sexually transmitted diseases;
(5) The notion that pleasure is inherently evil because it goes against selfless sacrifice (some eastern philosophy has also signed onto this kind of idea);
(6) The notion that children born out of wedlock, because they have no rights to inherit from their fathers, are a problem in society.

More modern insight and philosophy (including that of Holland) tends to view chastity as justified in order to foster tight emotional bonds between spouses. We also consider it the right of children to grow up in stable loving homes in which the parents set an example of love and affection. I cannot discern any rational basis for God placing a blaket condemnation on all homosexual behavior. You may wish to dismiss this concern with a cliche reference to God's ways not being man's ways, but if that can always be used as an excuse, then we truly have no reliable moral compass, because an LDS prophet could tell you anything, and you would have to accept it no matter how ridiculous it sounded.

Another person commented:

"Based on the logic presented "thou shalt not steal" will apparently lose its status as a commandment. I mean, just because its always been wrong before doesn't mean it will be wrong in the future."

To which I responded:

No, you are wrong. My belief that a blanket condemnation on all homosexual behavior is erroneous, is very different from the hypothetical you have presented, that stealing will be OK. The prohibition on stealing can stand on its own feet (not by a mere circular appeal to the cry that "stealing is wrong", but by pointing out that it has victims and necessarily causes objective harm). We do not condemn stealing on the basis that, "Both ancient and modern prophets have condemned stealing," or that scripture teaches us that stealing is wrong. We are able to see that it is wrong because it hurts people.

Consensual homosexual behavior, on the other hand, if responsibly practiced, has no victim. Religiously conservative heterosexuals cannot demonstrate that homosexual behavior is inherently immoral by any objectively justified standard (unlike stealing), and so they have to rely on religious dogma to support their propositions. And it is not hard to do, because homosexuals have been discriminated against for thousands of years, and homophobic sentiments found their way into scripture because of the prejudicies of the authors.

So, by way of clarification, I am NOT arguing (nor have I ever argued) in favor of moral relativism as you seem to be implying. What I AM saying is that, although God may not change, man's understanding of God and truth is constantly evolving, and we should never be content with assuming a conclusion on any controversial issue merely by virtue of it having been held for a long time in our religious tradition.

Take the hypothetical child-molestor who gets called as bishop (and it has happened). The stake president has heard of the man's great reputation and spirituality, and the stake president feels a spiritual witness (the same feeling he got when he prayed about the Book of Mormon) that this is the man who should be called as bishop. Now, we, as informed outside observers, know that it could not possibly be the will of God that this criminal be placed in a position of ecclesiastical authority where he can molest innocent children in the church. But the stake president is completely ignorant of this, and is thereby permitted to feel what he perceives is a spiritual witness. Wouldn't we all agree, that if that same stake president were aware of the truth, he would have completely different feelings about the matter, and would never extend a calling to this prospective bishop? The same principle is applicable to spiritual contemplation on other subjects. If we gather facts objectively based upon the science and the evidence, then we will be better prepared for whatever truth God wishes to reveal to us. But if our pride in never wishing to admit past doctrinal errors gets the best of us, and if we cast out the evidence in front of us because we are too afraid to even give it fair consideration, then we place ourselves in a position of potentially endorsing doctrinal stances which are no less erroneous than the stake president who calls the child-molestor as bishop. It matters that the prophets of the past addressed homosexuality without the understanding which modern science has given us. Had they understood what homosexual people go through, had they understood what a burden it would be to live a completely celibate life because you happened to be gay, had they known that you cannot simply choose to be heterosexual or pray the gay away, perhaps this would have inspired greater compassion and empathy in those prophets. Perhaps they would have come to accept the possibility that God wants gays to be happy just like he wants everyone else to be happy, and that consensual homosexual relationships can be every bit as loving and fulfilling as heterosexual ones.

I think that we heterosexuals should be honest about some things. We find it easy to condemn homosexual behavior because we heterosexuals naturally find the thought repulsive and gross. I for one am turned off by it. But kids are turned off at the thought of adult heterosexual behavior. People don't like to think about their own parents having sexual relations, but that does not make it wrong.

There are those who believe that homosexuals are treated fairly because their trial of celibacy is no greater than that of heterosexuals who wish to marry but are never given the opportunity. This may be true in some respects, but there is an important difference. To refrain from physical intimacy because it is simply an impossibility or impractical is one thing (indeed, one might not even call it "refraining," because it simply cannot be accomplished)- but to refrain based solely upon religious doctrine, where it would otherwise be possible to have a happy and fulfilling relationship, is likely to create greater misery and even self-loathing. If God's plan is for us to not simply survive, but to thrive, then it seems God would not throw up extra obstacles (beyond those already existing through nature and chance) to deprive us of joy and pleasure, such as condemning all homosexual behavior, unless there were some objectively observable and justifiable basis for it. I do NOT believe in self-denial for the sake of self-denial. There are certainly times when self-denial is a virtue (example might be when a parent fasts so that their mal-nurished child can eat), but it should never be considered an end in itself. Chastity zealots too often resort to the argument that self-denial is an end in itself.

So, in summary, the slippery-slope argument that embracing homosexuality as OK will eventually lead to tossing out condemnation for stealing, is ridiculous.

I would close with the following challenge to TBMs: Setting aside any religiously based arguments, what if any reasons do you believe justify a blanket condemnation on all consensual, adult homosexual behavior?

And another person commented:

"You've chosen to focus on the political question while your diatribe was on the religious side.

As a libertarian (small "L"), it is my position that the state ought to take no action against anyone whose own acts do not harm unwilling others. If twenty adults want to sit naked in a circular room and shoot curare-tipped darts at each other, it's their (stupid) choice, and the state ought to let them do so. However, if a non-participant wanders into the room, the game must stop immediately: he is not a willing player.

The religious argument is based on entirely different premises: God's will and knowledge on the matter are the only points that matter. While it may (which I do not concede) be right that it is our lack of willingness to embrace (figuratively speaking, of course) our homosexual brethren and sistern is all that keeps Father from reversing the course of the Church in this regard, there is no evidence to support the implication that the wickedness of homosexuality is man's work and not one of the facts of the universe.

One of those facts is that we are God's children. We bring Him glory when we become like Him, among other things. He has (at least) one wife (see "O, My Father", The Family, A Proclamation to the World), and His creative activities are based on Their being heavenly Parents. Those who do not achieve Celestial glory do not bring Him/Them glory, and Celestial glory is to become exactly as They are. Homosexuality does not permit this because Male and Female are eternal, complementary concepts.

It is therefor impossible for God to "allow" homosexual behaviors to exist in His kingdom.

We do not know why people become homosexuals. I have a well formed opinion based on personal experience as a young man working with evangelical homosexuals and seeing/reading plays/movies/books like A Chorus Line. There are homosexual recruiters out there. One frequent statement I heard was "Today's conquest is tomorrow's competition." As a myopic pre-schooler, the homosexual dancer in A Chorus Line was fondled repeatedly on the front row in a movie theatre by two old men while his mother sat further back with the rest of her children. But "how" doesn't answer the question "why?", and neither addresses your question.

I believe that homosexuality is an affront to the universe because it is in opposition to Father's plan for the human race: to become like Father or Mother. It is wholly incompatible with What They are.

Again, you ask us to use political logic in addressing a religious question. Your battlefield is oriented in the wrong direction, and is tilted strongly in favor of your chosen team."

To which I responded:

Thank you for your response. Although I disagree with you, I trust that you are sincere. I am NOT analyzing this from a political perspective. I am analyzing it from a generally secular humanist moral perspective (though I personally believe in God and Jesus Christ, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God (on that note, I can't recall any of Joseph's or Jesus' teachings on homosexuality- help me out if you know of any references)). My philosophy on morality (not just "sexual morality" as the term "morality" typically connotes in LDS circles) can be summarized as follows:

All is permitted, unless there is an objectively reasonable justification for prohibition. In addition, we have a proactive duty to study, ponder, and search for the truth and enlightenment, whatever it may happen to be, and to make reasonable self-sacrifice in order to make the world a better place and improve the lives of others. Notwithstanding our generalized duty to do good in the world, we have the moral right to seek our own happiness, within reason, so long as we do not unduly harm others in the process. God commands us to behave righteously, but generally does not give commandments for capricious reasons (such as merely to glorify God, to make us miserable or subservient, to "test" whether we will violate objective moral codes just to see if we will obey, etc.). God treasures individual liberty and only commands restriction of that liberty in order to better ourselves, and to make ourselves and others happier and more enlightened. In helping to ascertain whether purported revelations from God our authentic, we should start from the premise that God has, at a minimum, all five of the following attributes: (1) he is loving; (2) he is just; (3) he is merciful; (4) he is wise; and (5) he is powerful. (I reject the notions of absolute omniscience and omnipotence, because they lead to results which appear to undermine other necessary attributes of God.) Although we mortals will never possess all of the knowledge and understanding that God has, the justice of God could not reasonably condemn anyone who lacks the ability to grasp and accept any purported commandment which is not intuitive or objectively justifiable by inherent human conscience and evidence. Therefore, God might very well command something which does not have any apparent objective reasoning behind it (e.g., that people should clip their toenails twice a week, dissolve them in acid, and then drink the solution in a cup of herbal tea), but God could not justly condemn those who violate the commandment while they remain in ignorance about the reasons God gave it. Where a commandment appears to restrict human liberty without an apparent objective justification, or if the commandment reasonably appears to contradict the essential five characteristics of God listed above, there is a strong likelihood that the purported commandment is inauthentic and man-made.

You and Jeff K have listed some examples of behaviors which you appear to believe are on par with homosexual behavior: prostitution, gambling, naked people throwing darts at each other, and injecting heroin. I will now explain why those are different in my view (prostitution is the most difficult to tackle, so I will start with the others).

1. Naked people throwing darts at each other. Darts are harmful. You are likely to create objective physical harm to the body. Someone could lose an eye, damage an organ, damage the skin or a blood vessel, and possibly die or have to go to the hospital (realistically probable if you are throwing darts at a naked human being). The mere fact that the activity is consensual does not make it moral, because, as I stated before, I believe that humans have a proactive duty to do good in the world. If our bodies are physically harmed or damaged, we are likely to have less of an ability to do good in the world, and to live a longer and healthier life in order to fulfill our other mission mentioned above, which is to seek enlightenment.

2. Gambling. Gambling in the classic sense (in a casino) is harmful because the odds are stacked against you to lose money. If you lose money (and through a venue which is not charitable, like a casino), then you are reducing your ability to proactively do good in the world. In many cases, gambling can create objective severe adverse effects on one particular sector of the world- your own family, whom you have a duty to support. Taking financial risks where by definition the odds are stacked against you, when the money risked should be supporting a family, is immoral. In fairness, we must acknowledge that gambling for some people does provide some entertainment value, and there could theoretically exist situations in which gambling is only nominally immoral, without having significant adverse impacts. But on the whole, for the overwhelming majority of typical gambling situations, it is objectively wrong.

3. Injecting Heroin. Heroin is, by all scientific evidence, harful to the body, and in large doses or with prolonged exposure, can cause serious, objectively observable, permanent, physical damage. The damage caused our our bodies, and the resulting hinderance of our ability to fulfil our general moral duty to do good in the world, far outweighs any entertainment value which one might gain by using heroin. To be fair, heroin also can be used for medicinal purposes, such as to dull or eliminate extreme pain, and in those circumstances, temporary use could be morally justified, because there is no virtue in experiencing pain for pain's sake! (Note: whenever we are considering the burden/benefit analysis, we should take into account reasonable alternatives for both getting benefits and avoiding negative consequences).

4. Now, Prostitution. Prostitution is hard to generalize, because there are many varieties, the biggest distinction being between coerced versus consensual adult prostitution. In addition, it can be practiced in many ways, some of which are significantly riskier than others, particularly with respect to its propensity for spreading disease and creating unwanted pregnancies. I have no personal experience with prostitution, but have read many articles and viewed documentaries on the subject. As to coerced prostitution, that is ALWAYS wrong because it by definition invades personal conscience and liberty. Truly consensual prostitution, on the other hand, could theoretically be morally permissible in my book in certain very limited theoretical situations. I could give some elaborate hypotheticals, but I am not going to take the time to do it right now. I should comment, however, that fairly speaking, there is not always a fine line between prostitution and traditional marriage (take a situation, for example, where a woman marries a man for his money and not for love. I cannot see why in the eyes of God such a woman should be considered all righteous when all that separates her from a prostitute is that she has a formalized marriage). Suffice it to say that there is probably something else at work here- I think that couple intimacy is more likely to exist when both partners are exclusive with each other. I suppose (though I do not know) that in general, this increased likelihood of couple intimacy and happiness, along with the reduced risk of disease and children born outside of stable relationships, is a sufficient moral justification for curtailing our sexual liberty and prohibiting even consensual prostitution. Then again, if we accept that God is a polygamist (as many LDS do and have), then perhaps this argument about inherent marital intimacy based upon exclusivity falls apart. Further note: my perception is that the primary motivations behind many conservative zealots, when condemning prostitution, is the subconscious suspicion about sex generally. They/we have been taught in our puritannical religious tradition that we should feel guilty about our own pleasure. I felt that way once, but have come to completely reject this notion now.

Lehi has proposed that homosexuality is antithetical to God's plan based upon the Proclamation on the Family, and the hymn, "O My Father." (I love that hymn, by the way, and it happened to be written by one of Joseph's plural wives.) I also have faith in a Heavenly Mother. But why must we assume that procreation during mortality is something we must strive for to become like our heavenly parents? What about the sterile, the impotent, the deformed, the diseased, and the hermaphrodites among us? They will not procreate here on earth. We do not tell an impotent man or a sterile woman that they cannot be married. Have you considered that perhaps homosexuality is a temporary condition which will be remedied in the hereafter, and that for now, it may very well be acceptable to God for two gay men to have an intimate relationship during mortality? After all, we do not condemn heterosexual couples merely because they do not have a temple marriage or because they are incapable of pro-creating. I do not see how engaging in homosexual activity on Earth hinders one from becoming like God. Are we afraid that somehow if they act in a homosexual way on Earth, God will be incapable in the next life to make changes to their sexual orientation? I don't see how that must be, even if gender is an eternal characteristic of the soul. Is an eternal characteristic of the soul to feel sexual attraction towards the opposite sex? Clearly not- what about the signficant asexual population among us? What about the pre-existence? Were we sexually attracted to the opposite sex then when we did not even have bodies yet? I have never heard any doctrinal pronouncements on that. In summary, I cannot see at all how it must follow that homosexual behavior must be prohibited by God, based uopn the mere fact that we are to strive to become like God. It seems to me we know awfully little about God's sexuality, and it is almost never discussed in church or official church channels. Inasmuch as a forced celibate life would certainly make me miserable, I cannot fathom how a loving God would create anyone with un-riddable homosexual attraction and then punish or condemn them for not confining themselves to a miserable life of unnecessary celibacy.

You made a reference to my "chosen team." I am not sure exactly what you meant, but I would say that I play for the side of love and human happiness. If God condemns me for that position, then he sure has not done a good job of showing me why I am wrong and "should know better." On the other hand, I can't help but to imagine God one day hearing the pleas of all those who, even in our modern times with all of our scientific knowledge, still managed to zealously claim that God condemns homosexuality. I imagine God would say something like this:

"What were you thinking? Didn't you realize I am a loving God? Didn't you realize that of you I expected tolerance and love towards people whose only significant difference from you was their sexual orientation? Didn't all those suicides make you think and question? Why didn't you listen? Why didn't you pray with an open mind on the matter? Was it not obvious that ancient writings on the subject were the philosophies of men who operated with limited understanding, fears, prejudices, and ignorance? Why did you not embrace your gay brothers and sisters as they were? Why were you so blinded to their devotion, love, and faith? Yet, after all this, I am a merciful God, and love you unconditionally. Be enlightened, and study to understand these things, so that your minds will be prepared to accept greater light and knowledge."

Lehi, I can tell you with sincerity that I once thought much like you do, on this topic and many others. It has been a long journey to get to where I am now in my faith. And on the topic of homosexuality, part of my journey has been to study the subject objectively and to talk to gay people. I am not claiming that you are totally ignorant, but I would implore you to seek out some gay people and talk with them in depth about the subject. One thing I am sure of- virtually no one chooses to be gay, and those who are capable of ridding themselves of homosexual tendancies are few and far between.

And in response to my analysis about gambling, a person commented:

"Chuckle, so its only wrong if you are at a disadvantage, ie the odds are against you. Since when does being at a disadvantage make something wrong? Gambling takes place outside of casinos without the house rules, thereby evening the odds on a number of games. And then there is poker, where everyone has an equal chance. Odds do not make something a virtue or a vice. Your analogy fails."

To which I responded:

I did not say it is ONLY wrong if you are at a disadvantage. But I included that in my explanation because there is not always a fine line between gambling, on the one hand, and mere wise investment strategy, on the other hand. Is it gambling to invest in stocks? If so, then many of our church leaders are likely guilty of gambling. How about buying a house which might burn down? Is that gambling? How about trading in credit default swaps? What about land speculation (like Joseph Smith engaged in)? What about buying treasury bonds? What about buying "asset-backed securities" in a housing bubble? What about going into debt to obtain a college education, without any guarantee that you will have a job to repay the debt? I point these things out to illustrate that there is a good reason for including "the odds" as one factor in determining whether a particular financial behavior can reasonably be considered "gambling" in the sinful sense. If I am poor, can barely even support my family, and decide to take $5,000 over to a blackjack table (money which is supposed to support my family for the next three months), where the odds are obviously stacked against me, it is much easier to make the case that that behavior is immoral. By contrast, if I am well off, and I invest surplus funds in a stock which, by all objective standards, has an extremely high likelihood of appreciating, it is hard to categorize that as gambling, in my opinion.

And in response to my explanation about general morality principles, the same person commented:

"Sigh, much of the same reasoning can go towards smoking, drinking, prostitution."

To which I responded:

Alright, show me how my reasoning justifies alcohol consumption or smoking. Weren't you listening to what I said? Because smoking and drinking are objectively physically unhealthy, they naturally impede our ability to do good in the world, and without adequate justification. Therefore, they are immoral. I already addressed the prostitution issue, but if you have more to say, feel free.

And the same person commented:

"You have no objective standard, you deny the light of Christ and you can justify anything based on any philosophy you choose."

To which I responded:

You are apparently ignoring what I have written. I laid out the standard. It is you who has no objective standard. Your standard is apparently that morality is whatever Thomas S. Monson says it is. That sounds about as subjective as I can imagine.
How am I denying the light of Christ? It sounds as if you are accusing me of being insincere. If that is the case, then you are simply wrong. By the way, I do not doubt YOUR sincerity. I think you genuinely believe the truth of your position, even though I believe you have used a faulty methodology in arriving at it. But I would ask, where do you make the leap that I am denying the light of Christ? Nowhere is it recorded that Christ, at any time during his 33 year mortal life, preached against homosexuality. If it were such an obvious abomination, I would have expected at least some recorded passing references. If you are assuming that I have "denied the light of Christ" merely because I have reached a different conclusion on the gay issue than you have, then it seems that you need some lessons on both humility and the variety of spiritual experiences. Did you know, for example, that equally sincere and worthy honest seekers have gotten contradictory answers about the truth of the Book of Mormon? Why is that? Your explanation would have to be that anyone who gets an answer that it is not true must be asking wrong, or is faithless, or is secretly sinning, etc. What an arrogant, ignorant position! You must not have spoken in depth with such people. If you would come to realize that spiritual witnesses are not nearly as consistent and universal as you apparently imagine, you might realize at least the possibility that I could easily reach my conclusions about the gay issue without "denying the light of Christ".

And the same person commented:

"God does not find it acceptable for two gay men to have sex. He condemns it. Simple."

To which I responded:

Now you are back to square one. I understand you think God condemns homosexual behavior, but I have yet to hear a rational argument for why God does condemn it. If there is no rational argument, then it sounds to me like you believe in a capricious god.

And the same person commented:

"I would suggest that before you attempt to think like God, you might want to consider understanding Him. Judas committed suicide when he realized what he had done. Will you now condemn Christ for being the cause of the despondency Judas felt? He knew what he had done was wrong, and that he had rejected God. Are you telling us it is Christ's fault that Judas committed suicide? I reject such a position."

To which I responded:

First of all, I try to understand God with sincerity of heart. Where you and I disagree is that you believe all we have to do to understand God is listen to what cannonized sciptures say (except to the extent modified by church leaders). But I believe we can and should consider other sources, including historical documents, scholarly writings, prayer, reason, study, and experience. I realize that you view requires less thinking and is less complicated. Blind obedience is simple in concept. As I attempt to understand God, I feel compelled to ask questions and reconcile my belief with what I observe and experience in life. Did you know that for generations, southern slaveholders used the Bible as a justification for slavery? To question slavery was to deny the holiness of the Bible! If history has taught us nothing else, it should teach us humility about our own understanding, for it is a virtual certainty that future generations will look at us, just as we have looked at earlier generations, and see all of the mistaken conclusions we drew.
Now let's talk briefly about Judas. Nothing in the Bible explains what precisely motivated Judas to turn Jesus over to his executioners (I do not think it plausible in the least that Judas' sole motivation was pieces of silver). Recently discovered evidence suggests that Jesus may very well have commanded Judas to betray Jesus. But let's just suppose, for purposes of your questions, that Judas was precisely what the church makes him out to be: a completely selfish person who knowingly turned away from the Son of God and knowingly participated in bringing about Jesus' death, out some evil motivation, be it greed, spite, etc. Judas then realizes (apparently independently and on his own) that he had sinned by betraying Jesus, and Judas then commits suicide. Now YOU are implying that I would blame Jesus for the suicide! Where are you getting that???? Judas in this hypothetical would legitimately feel guilty for his obvious sin. That such guilt would rise to the despair necessary to induce him to commit suicide is clearly not Jesus' fault. I don't see how this in any way is anologous to the gay issue. It is not the inherent sinfulness of homosexual behavior which makes gays feel guilty. It is the doctrine that homosexual behavior is sinful which makes them feel guilty. Someone who helps murder another ought to naturally feel guilty of his own accord- that springs from the light of Christ which God gave us. But I do not see how a gay person would naturally feel guilty about homosexual behavior without something beyond the ordinary conscience- such as doctrine that it is sinful. So, in summary, we obviously should not blame the victim of a crime (Jesus) for the guilt felt by the pertrator (Judas). But consensual homosexuality has no victim, and why should a gay person feel guilty about it? There is certainly no reason to be angry at God for condemning homosexuality if in fact God does NOT condemn homosexuality in the first place. So, NO, I do not blame God for gay suicides. I blame, in part, all of the people who in their laziness and fear, persist in condemning homosexuality, while refusing to give the matter open-minded consideration. But I also believe that God is merciful and takes your ignorance and fear into account. I do not believe in a fire-and-brimstone punishment for those who persecute gays; I imagine that the persecuters' primary "punishment" (if you can call it that) will be their own remorse when they become enlightened on the subject and realize their past errors.

And the same person commented:

"We have prophets and apostles who pray quite often for guidance. We as members pray quite often for guidance. The ancient writings were correct in their condemnation of homosexuality, the prophets have reaffirmed it, indeed, the churches membership following the same method of prayer have confirmed it. It seems you want us to ignore it. We can't."

To which I responded:

As I said before, I believe you are sincere. But you must realize that sincerity alone, even when one asks prayerfully and in faith, does not guaranty correct conclusions. I am sure that church leaders and members pray for guidance. But are they praying with an open mind, or are they merely asking God to confirm a pre-existing belief? There is a significant difference, and in case you have not noticed, people are much more likely to perceive spiritual witnesses confirming pre-existing beliefs, fears, or desires, than they are to receive spiritual witnesses telling them that their previously held faith positions were wrong. Take a sample of 1000 active evangelicals, and tell all of them to pray sincerely about whether Thomas S. Monson is God's prophet on the earth today. What do you think are the chances that all of them, after sincere prayer, will conclude that Monson is a prophet? I suspect that it would be very few of them (if any). Why is this? You would probably say it is because they are sinning, or insincere, or lacking in faith. But the more obvious explanation is this: probably most of them don't even know who Monson is! Probably most have never studied LDS teachings in any depth. Probably most do not have close LDS friends. Probably most have not given sincere consideration to whether the LDS faith even COULD be true. Probably the overwhelming majority of them have been taught by their trusted ministers that the LDS religion is simply false, condemned by the Bible, and an abomination in the eyes of God. Probably most imagine false characteristics of the LDS church today- such as that we continue to practice polygyny, or that we are all racist, or that we worship Joseph Smith, or that we do not believe in Jesus Christ as our savior, etc. How, then, could we reasonably expect them these dear evangelicals, regardless of their sincerity, to even approach God with an open mind about whether Monson MIGHT be a true prophet? I say we cannot reasonably expect them to, until they have had greater opportunity for study and contemplation. Brother, so it is with you. You may be presently incapable of asking God about the gay issue with an open mind. That does not make you a bad person. But if you want to have any credibility in claiming that you have given the matter fair consideration, I think you are going to need to devote much more time and thought and study on the issue. For a start, I would recommend you watch this video:


And the same person commented:

"You also confuse love with acceptance. One can love a brother with a proclivity to steal, or lie, or cheat, or have extramarital affairs because they are driven to it. That does not mean one accepts the behavior. Try to realize that. I would say that Latter-Day Saints have spent more time deling with the issue, being ostracized for their choice, and praying about it than you can ever imagine, which reflects a certain ignorance you have as to what Latter-Day Saints are about and what they believe in, than you can ever imagine.
In effect you have embraced the philosophies of men, and you are attempting to sell it to us as Gods. We know cheap tin when we see it."

To which I responded:

Brother, I am a Latter-Day Saint (or try to be). I am straight. I grew up in a very conservative household in which I was taught, and I accepted, that homosexuality is an abomination. I am not ignorant of the sciptures or the pronouncements of modern church leaders on the topic of homosexuality. I served a full-time mission. I know what LDS people believe. That LDS people knowingly elect to be ostracized for persisting in condemnation of homosexuality proves nothing other than their sincerity. Gay people often leave the church knowing that they will be ostracized from their own family and friends- does that by itself prove that they are in the right? Of course not.
You may very well conclude that I espouse the philosophies of men. I am not trying to SELL anything, nor do I purport to speak for God. But if you are truly sincere, you will need to do more than dismiss my arguments as "cheap tin."
One final note: unfortunately, as a working man, I have significantly less time on my hands than you apparently do to devote to this board, so there is nothing I can do to guarantee that I will be able to follow up adequately with anything you have to say in rebuttal to this post. But know this: I hope that God will bless you with further understanding, and I wish you all the best.

On The Origin Of Satan

The comment was made:

"I,the illustrious me, and some other members of my ward were bombarded by emails recently from a duo of inactive members of the ward, among others things. I answered one or two and then asked them a litany of questions none of which were answered. The claim was that Jesus and Satan were or are brothers (I have been attending Church for over 30 years now, never ONCE heard anything like that) but where do other faiths think or believe that Satan came from? Is he from some other world, some mystical evil force, some human gone terribly bad or what is the story?"

To which I responded:

Though I am not an expert, it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of non-LDS Christian have little if any explanation for who Satan is or where he came from. I myself am skeptical about whether Satan even exists, and think it is more likely that Satan is man's personification of evil, and the doctrine of Satan has historically been used to create fear sufficient to induce obedience, and also to end discussion about authority and doctrine.

But in any event, whether or not you believe in Satan, it seems to me that the threshold question we should ask, before we ask whether Satan and Jesus are brothers, is, "Why would it matter?" It seems to me that the critics of the LDS belief of Jesus and Satan being brothers (usually evangelical Christians) have two primary concerns: first, because they make no distinction between Jesus (Jehova in LDS terms) and God the Father (a.k.a. Elohim in LDS terms), it is blasphemous to suggest that Jesus could have a brother at all, because such would imply that Jesus had a finite beginning when he was created by parents; second, there tends to be an assumption of "evil by association," in that a familial bond between Jesus and Satan somehow necessarily would imply that Jesus is partly evil or that Satan is partly good, and such a conclusion would contradict fundamental Christian beliefs about Jesus being perfectly good. My own opinion is that it does not matter whether Jesus and Satan (if he exists) are or were brothers. Jesus can still be just and righteous, and Satan can still be evil, just as blood siblings among mortal beings can be like night and day in their differences in character. As for Jesus having a beginning, I don't have a problem with that, either. Traditional Christian doctrine sadly evolved to hold too many absolutes (i.e., omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, etc.). Such absolutes create too many problems when we try to think them through. I have decided to settle on much less dogmatic notions of God, and living with a little uncertainty is much more comfortable for me than trying to have all the answers.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Addendum to prior post regarding tithing and financial help from the LDS Church

The person responded:

"I don't want you all to think I find tithing easy. far from it. I went years only paying token tithing which was not really a true tithe. My spouse actually is a stickler for exactness and pays thites in full. I must admit our finances are better now than they were when I was not faithful in my donations.

I would like to point out that the Bishop didn't pay my medical fees out of his own pocket, it was out of the Fast offering fund. which I try to pay into each month.

It may seem to some to be "Corporate in nature" but it is a good system in my view. everyone contributing and everyone being helped when in need.
Not depending on the state or other agencies is a plus, is it not?"

To which I responded:

A good system would be for those who are reasonably in the position to help to help those who need it. It makes little sense, in my opinion, to consider anyone entitled to help from fast offering funds because they contributed some amount to the fund at some point, even though that amount is dwarfed by the amount the fund contributes to them. One might say something like, "Well, they are only deserving if they are willing to do their part and contribute." If a person's financial need clearly outweighs any reasonable ability to contribute, wouldn't it make more sense to say to the needy person, "Use your funds to help yourself so that the fast offering/tithe funds do not need to help you as much."?

I think that in principle, it is a very good thing to have tithes and fast offerings in order to help people in financial need. It also has the potential to be distributed more efficiently than a government program would. The problem, as I see it, is the power that bishops and the church have to make help contingent upon the perceived religious devotion or deservingness of the recipient of the help. That system can lead to what I call religious or spiritual coercion, and it has potential for great abuses. People who choose to contribute and then later need help may find themselves in a position where they are not entitled to a refund and that if they want help, they will have to do religiously oriented work to prove that they are deserving (for example, "Are you reading your scriptures everyday? Are you living the law of chastity, etc.). That is totally improper. I do think it would be proper for a bishop to refuse to write out a check to someone who would be likely to blow it on illegal drugs or alcohol, or someone who was beating their spouse or children. But I do not believe that a person in need ought to be subjected to some sort of temple worthiness lecture every time a bishop wonders whether they are deserving of need. In that sense, government welfare programs have their own advantage, namely that assistance may be distributed without discrimination or the danger of religious or spiritual coercion.

On Entitlement To Financial Help From The Church

(From October 2004)

I commented:

I would like your perspectives on the concept of tithing.

All present and former active LDS members are aware of the law of tithing. There exist, however, many different perspectives on it. I would like to raise one question:

Assuming that the law of tithing is in fact a god-given principle, in what circumstances, if any, would the duty to pay tithing be excused?

(Let's leave aside for now the issue of whether to obey the law, the tithing must be payed to an LDS bishop. I think it could be just as well donated to a charitable cause, since "when you are in the service of your fellow being, you are only in the service of your God.")

Life has many duties and responsibilities. I believe we should, for example, love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We should also look after the welfare of our families and be responsible citizens. The difficulty comes in sorting out priorities, given limited resources of time, energy, and money. Being responsible citizens, in my view, entails paying our debts to those we have made promises to repay. We should also live within our means as much as is reasonably possible.

But suppose that a family member who is dependent upon you financially has major health issues. In order to treat them, you have to incur great debt, because your health insurance, through no fault of your own, sucks. Your income is such that in order to pay tithing, despite all of your fiscally responsible choices, you would have to go into more debt or fail to pay off existing debt. The question is, would God have you pay tithing, or would God have you take care of your family's present financial obligations first.

Members of the Church are bombarded with the idea that if they pay their tithing, they will always have enough for everything else they need. "I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise." There are frequent citations to the scripture in Malachi which says something like, "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me, in tithes and offerings. . . . Prove me herewith, if I will not pour you out a blessing from heaven that will be so great you will not have enough room to receive it." Members are taught that tithing must always come first.

In my view, God would expect people to take care of their families and their basic needs before a charitable duty to tithe arises. In Mosiah, King Benjamin teaches the people that it is OK not to give to the needy, as long as the reason is that the would-be giver does not have a surplus to give. Only those who could reasonably give but do not are condemned. On the other hand, we read of the story of the widow in the new testament who gave a very small amount, even though she was apparently impoverished herself. I, however, view the widow's behavior as extraordinary, and exceeding the standard that is normally expected of moral beings. (presumably, however, an old widow was not neglecting duties to dependents by donating funds, and was merely making a personal sacrifice)

Since I view tithing as an act of charity, I believe people who "have not", are justified in not paying it. In particular, I think that people who have pre-existing financial obligations generally ought to pay those obligations off before donating money (with minor exceptions). Many people, however, view tithing as primarily an act of faith (rather than an act of charity which is subject to reasonable ability to pay. When finances are tight, they say, it is just as important to exercise your faith by paying tithing, in order to show God that you trust in him to provide for your needs. Tithing is therefore more of a piety/faith concept than a charity concept, they say.

I think it is important to note that the law of tithing appears to have originated in a time when few or no social programs existed to take care of the needy, the sick, and the orphans. Today, though, we pay heavy taxes, which do much to fund social welfare (of course, they don't generally fund church activities).

For those that believe in the concept of tithing, please tell me when, if ever, you think the duty to pay is excused. For those who don't believe in "tithing" per se, but who do believe in charity, please tell me when you think our duty to contribute financially to charitable causes is excused.

To which one person responded:

"The law of tithing as we know it in the LDS faith, is one tenth of your increase. I think we all agree on that so far.

Now You asked about situations like hardship and other difficult situations. Obedience to the law we say, does bring blessings. If I have paid my tithing and get by without difficulty that is fine. What then in the week where I have a massive unexpected bill or medical emergency?: As I have experience in my life, these things definitely do happen. The Lords programme allows for this in a good way.

All I did in the 2 occasions where I was in dire need, was approach( confidentially ) my Bishop and he actually paid my medical bill for me on one occasion and on another he paid some bills for me. I was asked to do some chores in the chapel as a repayment when I was on my feet.

The lord looks after people who trust in him. one way or another.( and those who dont most of the time)"

To which I responded:

"I appreciate your willingness to express your opinion and your perspective, which you have formed based upon your personal experiences. But I do have some difficulties with what you said.

First, while I think it was extremely kind of your bishop to offer to pay your medical bills, people cannot expect those kinds of favors all the time. What if your Bishop was struggling financially himself and was in no position to offer such assistance? Would you not be faced with a very difficult choice? Would God have you neglect your obligations toward another, a doctor who provided such a necessary service to your family, just so that you could pay your tithing?

Secondly, if we are to credit God with all that we have been given, would we not also be justified in attributing to Him the circumstances which caused us to incur certain debts such as medical expenses? Would we not therefore be justified in subtracting such expenses from our "increase" so that our tithing obligations were truly based upon our financial solvency and ability to pay?

Although the law has in the past been worded as "increase", it has traditionally been interpreted as "income" in the church today. This poses some great difficulty. A person might have a lot of income but have no "increase" because of unavoidable expenses. (for that matter, I personally consider food, clothing, and shelter also to be unavoidable expenses to stay alive).

The LDS Church, by perpetuating the erroneous (in my opinion) view that a person is required to pay tithing every time they have "income", regardless of their circumstances, forces people into either unnecessary financial hardship, or to neglect their financial obligations to others, and forces many people into unjustified guilt. This is especially true because paying a full tithe is a requirement to attend the temple, and "temple blessings" are constantly lauded as the highest and most ideal thing we can achieve in this life. I personally believe in a God who is pleased when we exercise faith in making good choices, even when it requires some personal sacrifice on our part, but I also believe in a God who is just and who takes all circumstances into account before he condemns us for failing to obey a rule as interpreted by the Church. In my opinion, the Church ought to transform its view of tithing and preach that some people will not be reasonably able to pay tithing, and that individuals must make that choice on their own, and that a person who makes a good-faith judgment that they are unable to reasonably pay tithing is on the same moral ground as someone who can and does pay it. The Church ought to quit asking people whether they pay a full tithe as part of "worthiness interviews."

(one personal note: the last time I had a "tithing settlement" with a bishop, he printed out my tithing contributions year-to-date. He made me feel like he was going to judge whether that amount could reasonably be considered a "full tithe". I did not feel at liberty to say that I paid a full tithe when I knew that he knew just how much I paid, and that he probably had a general idea about how much I earned. Therefore, I made an additional payment at the tithing settlement so that the total amount contributed would be more acceptable. I did not feel comfortable getting into a debate about whether my circumstances (having a family member with a serious chronic disease) justified paying less than 10% of my income. This kind of coercion, however subtle, is totally unacceptable, in my opinion.)"

On The Claim That Antagonism Towards The LDS Church Proves Its Truth

(From October 2004)

The comment was made:

"Human beings are as tempormental as the weather--they sway in and out of what they think they know and want in life and beyond. When we find anything solid; anything that can not be challenged or changed, it is easy to indentify the unchallengable thing because it immediately affects our conscience and causes a lot of heat. It is a state of denial that we fall into when we find that God's truth can not be fit into our own desires.

Throughout history, the topic that has caused the most termoil is religion. It affects all people, even today, and the most interesting issue is that because it is identified by the heat it causes, it is more certainly seen at the heat of the battle. As I have searched religions throughout the world, I have come to find that there is no religion that has more antagonism that does the Mormon religion. Why does it cause so many people to desire its destruction? Further, why is it that those who once were members become so hostile afterward. I know many of other religions that just leave it alone one they depart from their particular religion.

The more people who fight this thing, the mormon beliefs, the more I am convinced that it must be true because of human nature to resist those things that can not be changed, such as God and his truth. In fact, after reading the things on this site and many like it, I have seen a perfect display of what I just wrote. People make excuses, based on the idea that they believe in themselves and in a God other than in the Mormon religion. I challenge anti-mormons to not respond to this message; I have come to the realisation that a message like this will make anti-mormons boil because they know they can't change the fact that this church must have something true about it. If it didn't, it wouldn't cause so much negative attention. Sorry."

To which I responded:

Although I appreciate your willingness to express your opinion, I do believe that it has been erroneously formed. To start, lest I be accused, I am still a Mormon and do attend church regularly (at least for now). I would never describe myself as an "anti-Mormon". I would describe myself as "anti-error". Regardless of your belief or lack thereof that the LDS church is the "one and only true and living church on the face of the earth," any reasonable person would have to admit that there is at least some error, either in the past, present, or both.

Have you thought about the fact that BOTH truth and error may stir up controversy and antagonism? By your reasoning, a white person from the South in pre-Civil War days might have concluded, "Well, there are so many of these abolitionist groups who oppose slavery. Many include blacks. Those blacks are simply unwilling to accept that God made them inferior and subservient to us whites, because accepting that places hardship on them that goes against their desires to be free. Since people tend to reject truth in favor of their own desires, it makes sense that slavery is in fact a true and correct principle because so many people oppose it."

Anyone, including you, can see how ridiculous that would be! In case you did not already know, it appears that Ezra Taft Benson was against the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Have you read Apostle Mark E. Peterson's talk about how God separated the whites from the negro and that God commands us not to intermarry? That position is now utterly rejected by the LDS church (thank goodness). Surely you are also aware that Brigham Young taught that Adam was God? That doctrinal position is also completely rejected in modern mormonism.

These errors do not in themselves disprove the truth of the LDS church. The church recognizes that people, even prophets, are imperfect, and that "A prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such." The question, though, in my opinion, is what leads to these kinds of errors, and how can we tell the truth from the error? The cause of the errors, in my opinion, is the very kinds of erroneous logic which you are advancing. Fear of questioning and critically challenging doctrinal positions is, I think, the biggest single contributor to existing and continuing errors in contemporary LDS doctrine. The culture within the church perpetuates the fear of questioning by attacking people with accusations of lack of faith and threats of church sanctions. This is the most unhealthy environment I can imagine for preventing and correcting errors.

So, why is it that ex-mormons and others have so much antagonism towards the church? Apart from doctrinal disagreements, I think that the dissenters have so much antagonism because the church does not provide adequate and peaceful means for them to express their views and questions in an open and non-threatening environment, where those views and opinions will actually be considered. People within the church, including leaders, fear that faith would be destroyed if error would be admitted. So they choose the path of not admitting the error and allowing it to persist. It is not difficult to see how these actions and attitudes displayed by the church stir up so much animosity.

God gave us brains, and he gave us reason. Faith, I believe, is a true principle, but it must not replace reason, and faith must be based upon the truth. The church, to the extent that it asks its members to believe in doctrine which is patently unreasonable by the standards of logic, asks its members to be unreasonable and to deny the intellect God has given them.

Exercising faith and curbing our own desires for righteousness' sake is always difficult. The difficulty alone is not a sufficient ground to say that the law is wrong. However, we must look at the reasons behind any laws. I do not believe that God expects us to live any laws just because he says so. Since God wants people to be truly happy, all of his laws are given to us for that purpose. If it appears clear, by the reason with which God has endowed us, that a law that purportedly comes from God does not have the effect of making people happier, then I believe it is logical to assume that the law either did not in fact come from God, or else it has not been adequately expressed or qualified to be correct.

In conclusion, the church, true or not, is imperfect, not only in its inevitably imperfect human membership, but in its current and incomplete doctrine. A loving God would not demand from people that they discard their reason and accept error. He would have those people debate and fight the error. Truth is arrived at not only by revelation, but by inquiry, study, and debate. When the church, or any other powerful entity, denies its members the opportunity to freely question and debate in order to arrive at the truth, people naturally get angry. Anti-mormons and ex-mormons are often so antagonistic because they are branded by the church as evil on account of their questioning. They feel the need to defend themselves- thus the antagonism.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

On LDS Women Using Sexually-Oriented Media

The comment was made:

"The only time porn is brought up is in the Priesthood session. I’m positive a lot of girls grow up not even realizing that some of what they’re engaging in is wrong because it’s never brought to the attention of women, particularly when they’re young girls and teenagers. The YW manuals never once mention any such problems; the only chastity lessons they get are how to keep boys at arm’s length. Why is no one addressing this issue? Why do women have to wait until they’re already addicted before anyone will help them not be addicted? Why is it that when women see their bishops they’re often treated as freaks of nature because “that’s a man problem, not a woman problem”? Why isn’t the church educating bishops and stake presidents about the possibilities of this being a large problem for women as well and how to help them like they help the males in their congregations?

I agree with you that the church addresses this problem largely among the priesthood members. And, to their credit, it is a problem that affects more men than women. However, I also agree with you that it is not addressed among the sisters of our church. Here are some reasons that I believe might contribute to this:
•It’s impossible for the Church to address every problem that arises for its members. I believe that they do their best to follow major trends and try to address these as they come up. There are so many different problems that surround the area of sexuality, I’m sure it’s difficult to address.
•A major trend that has been a very real issue for the women of the Church of late is the rising frequency of clinical depression. I have noticed that the talks directed towards the sisters focus more on self-acceptance, not running faster than we have strength, self-esteem, etc. I’m sure that although the leaders recognize that there are inappropriate behaviors that women are engaging in, they would rather not add one more thing to the “guilt tank” LDS women are already dealing with.
•I agree with you that in our culture in general (not just LDS) we tend to think of men as being more sexual than women. This is actually not the case at all. Our sexual templates (what turns us on) and drives may differ, but all human beings are sexual. I also agree that because of these perceptions, we tend to be surprised or excessively judgemental when we hear that a woman could be a sex addict or enjoys looking at pornography. Even women who have a higher libido than their husbands can be left feeling “weird” or inadequate. This is an area we need to become more comfortable addressing.

It’s important to remember that pornographic use does not automatically translate into pornographic addiction. Those who struggle with sex or pornographic addiction have a high likelihood of sexual trauma in their past. Remembering this can help us as members be more empathetic and understanding when these issues come up.

It is also important to be aware that some women who look at pornography do so because they feel pressured to so by their spouses as a way to liven up their sexual lives or legitimately enjoy seeing their spouses excited by the pornography. Therefore for these people, the use of pornography has more to do with the spouse than with their own desires. My findings have been that although this can create a sense of false intimacy at first, it is exactly that: false intimacy. And it then becomes a harder task to go back and recreate the true intimacy that couples want in their sexual relationships.

It is paramount for us as members to become educated about our sexual & cultural surroundings, relevant statistics, and negative trends so that we are better able to educate our children and react appropriately to friends and other members within our stakes and wards. We cannot always rely on the Church to do all of this for us.

MM readers:

What is your take on this question? Should the church be addressing pornography use and women?

Do you agree with me that pornography use between couples results in false intimacy or not?

If a couple want to engage in watching pornography together should this be considered as part of their sexual repertoire and only their business – in other words, not needing a confession to a priesthood authority?

How would you respond if you knew of a woman who was a pornography and/or sex addict? Would that surprise you?

If you are a woman, what perceptions do you have or have you felt regarding this issue?

I realize that this could be a sensitive topic with varying opinions, so please keep it civil."

To which I responded:

I feel so terrible to hear all these women feel guilty about their so-called porn addictions. I think they would feel much better about themselves if they would realize that they are normal and and that porn is usually just an extension of our god-given tendency to enjoy sexual fantasies. Unless your porn use is causing objective problems (i.e., you cannot function responsibly in daily life), then I do not believe it can or should be considered an "addiction" and you should just embrace it as part of you. For that matter, you should consider the huge benefit it could be to your current or future husband that you are tolerant about it and could enhance your sexual relationship with him by virtue of your interest in it. Consider for a moment the millions of LDS men who are feeling guilty about it because they assume their wives are not OK with it. Caveat: there are some forms of porn which truly are harmful, like child pornography, porn which glorifies non-consensual sexual encounters, and the like. But as for porn which depicts consensual sex between adults, and is produced in humane and consensual ways, let us shed this ridiculous guilt. I say to you women porn users, and particularly LDS women porn users, "YOU GO, GIRLS!" Feel good about yourself and relax. Embrace your sexuality and stop the self-loathing! Also, watch the following testimonial video:


To say that the solution is for church leaders to give equal treatment to men and women in inciting guilt about sexuality, I could not disagree more strenuously. Let's stop making EITHER of them feel guilty about it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Once Again On Modesty

I commented:

Modesty as a means of curtailing or eliminating male sexual fantasies about pretty females is futile, in my view. I believe that this goal is the primary motivator behind the Church's emphasis on modesty. There are, however, other bases for principles of modesty which in my view are rational, worthwhile, and described below, but which do not justify the application of modesty as presently taught in the Church.

Any normal, post-pubescent, pre-male-menapausal, healthy male will naturally have his brain flash erotic thoughts in his mind, consciously or subconsciously, when he sees an attractive woman. Granted, the fantasy is often more pleasurable or intense when the woman is dressed or made up in a way as to highlight her physical beauty (this is NOT just about clothes or showing skin- it includes things like hairdo, makeup, etc.). But cultural experimentation in extreme forms of modesty (women being forced to wear burkas comes to mind) have not at all yielded the desired results in reduced illicit sex. In fact, it seems they have made things worse- turning the view of a woman's body into a kind of forbidden fruit seems to increase the likelihood of non-consensual sexual encounters, i.e., rape, which tends to be more prevalent in cultures with stricter cultural/religious standards of modesty. Compulsory modesty (whether enforced via cultural norms or religious dogma) also tends to have a disproportionately negative effect on women's liberty and self expression. If it is for the protection of the woman, then why not let the woman choose what level of "protection" she desires.

We must re-evaluate modesty by first tossing out the notion that sexual fantasizing about someone you're not married to is sinful or wrong in and of itself. Why toss it out? For one thing, "illicit" sexual fantasies are extremely common, even among people who in real life have the discipline to refrain from having a real-life sexual encounter. (I happen to fit in that camp, so I can vouch for this on personal experience.) From this, we should learn that people have an often underestimated ability to separate fantasy from reality. Secondly, we must recognize the historical origins of American and LDS standards of modesty, which are largely derived from Puritanism- a religious philosophy which tends to shun physical pleasure as a bad thing in and of itself. I do not believe that a loving God would create our bodies and brains with a physiology so programmed for sexual pleasure, and particularly sexual arousal triggered by even non-sexual ordinary encounters with the opposite sex, while condemning us for having sexual fantasies and relieving the tension from those fantasies through masturbation. If you want to go ahead and believe that a loving god would so condemn us, go ahead, but I cannot in good conscience find that such a position is in the slightest bit reasonable.

Once we have ditched the idea that modesty must be practiced for the sake of eliminating sexual fantasizing, we can begin to have a rational dialogue about what are the right principles to consider in formulating a doctrine or standard on appropriate modesty. Here is, in my view, a non-exhaustive list of reasonable justifications for modesty in certain situations:

1. To temporarily avoid distractions (i.e., it would probably not be too workable for everyone to show up to sacrament meeting naked- I for one would likely have some difficulty concentrating on the ritual);

2. To temporarily set a mood or focus on something less sexual (this is very similar to #1, and would include things like dressing professionally for a professional type of job, or military service);

3. To send an unspoken message regarding a woman's lack of interest in attracting men's sexual interest;

4. To reduce the likelihood that some wacko (who is unable to separate fantasy from reality and unable to reasonably control himself) will be so attracted to a woman that he can't help himself and sexually assaults her. Note: this circumstance tends to be rather rare in a more sexually-liberal society, because the would-be-assailants generally have other outlets to relieve themselves- i.e., masturbation, pornography, voluntary prostitution, etc., and also because the sight of flesh is not so unusual as to provoke an uncontrolable response;

5. To maintain some barrier to sexual relations in order to preserve the uniqueness and special-ness of sexual relations.

6. To resist social pressures for young girls to become sexually-oriented before they are ready.

These, however, are not the only things to bear in mind when determining modesty standards. We must also consider: (1) that pleasure is in and of itself a worthwhile pursuit, and that while it must necessarily be constrained by bounds of reasonableness, we should not count it as nothing in the equation; (2) women should have the right to decide what amount of modesty is right for themselves; (3) too much emphasis on modesty, particularly when it is based upon Puritanical notions about sex and pleasure, can be highly damaging to self-esteem, and can send an improper message about bodies being evil or shameful.

Based upon the foregoing principles, I personally do not consider it a problem if teenage girls, whether LDS or not, are wearing short shorts at a non-Sunday church activity, or wearing tops which show shoulders, a belly, or a low neckline. Let's just accept from the outset that we men are going to get turned on, like it or not (for that matter, with or without modesty), but let's have a little faith in our own self-discipline. If girls are concerned about the occasional wacko who might assault them, they can dress differently, and more importantly, make sure to associate with people they trust and stay out of dangerous situations. Frankly, I doubt we can reasonably blame the occasional sexual assault on manner of dress. For my own part, I tend to think that thongs should only be worn by women who are at least 18 years old. And I also deplore the idea of pre-pubescent girls wearing clothing with language like, "booty call," and things of that nature. That is disgusting. But in the post-pubescent world, we have to carefully balance the need to reasonably protect a girl until she is mature enough to do so herself, and the likewise important need to avoid stifling sexuality and inducing self-hate.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

On Gender Egalitarianism, The Economics Of Sex, And The Law Of Chastity

The comment was made:

"A fundamental principle of sexual economics is that “sexual activity by females has exchange value, whereas male sexuality does not,” Mr. Baumeister and Ms. Vohs wrote in their 2004 paper. Thus, women have the power to influence sexual norms were they to use it, Mr. Regnerus said. “When women collude to restrict men’s sexual access to women, all women tend to benefit,” he said, noting that “if women were more in charge of how their romantic relationships transpired … we would be seeing greater male investment in relationships, more impressive wooing efforts, fewer hookups, fewer premarital sexual partners … shorter cohabitations, more marrying … and more marrying at a slightly earlier age. In other words, the price of sex would be higher. It would cost men more to access it." However, he said, “none of these things are occurring today. Not one. The price of sex is pretty low.”

Economy of sex: It’s cheap these days. Men tend to rule marriage market.'

Thoughts? A good way to reason about "free milk and a cow"?"

To which I responded:

It is a fascinating topic to consider chastity in the context of sexual economics. In general, with some exceptions, we can reasonably assume that a healthy young man will almost always be up for sex if it is offered to him by a reasonably attractive woman (this does not mean that his level of enjoyment is always the same, or that he would pursue it if he perceives that the female is not interested). Women, by contrast, seem to have far less of a biological need for sex, on average. Because non-consensual sexual encounters are forbidden (and rightly so), this naturally puts women in a position of power over men- if they choose to exploit it, but only to the extent that there are obstacles to a man's comparable alternative outlets (such as masturbation, affairs, etc.). Some people assume that it is a good thing for men in a marriage to be at the complete mercy of their wives for the satisfaction of men's biological needs, because such an arrangement would theoretically force men to be so courting and fantastic to their wives in order to induce/seduce the wives into giving the husbands sex. As a committed gender egalitarian, I believe that such a notion is degrading to human dignity and to men. Just as I believe that wives are not to be treated as objects only good for sex and housework, I likewise believe that men should not be dehumanized to beg for sex. As for my own part, sex which is not freely given, or which arises from duty, compulsion, or guilt, is somewhat sad and pathetic. I would like to live in a world where both husbands and wives treat one another with respect and dignity, and where they let their mutual love and attraction for one another be their natural motivation for sex. Perhaps it is inevitable that there will be times where one spouse is not especially in the mood, and gives in to satisfy the other in the spirit of loving accommodation, and I suppose it is better to have some compromises than to demand the absolutely spontaneous "fireworks" sex every time. But to the extent that there are naturally occurring circumstances which justify one or both spouses in not engaging in sex with each other (examples could include illness, travel, children, particularly busy schedules, professional stress, biologically-based lack of desire, etc.), there must be an available solution to avoid the misery of longing and unsatisfied physiological and psychological urges for sex (people who have experienced this, particularly males, ought to understand the magnitude of frustration I am talking about). This is one reason why I believe masturbation and some forms of sexually-oriented media are perfectly morally justified. In general, so long as they do not result in the rejection of a spouse's sexual advances, or a refusal to make reasonable efforts to satisfy one's spouse sexually, they are an acceptable outlet which can accomplish several worthy goals, among which are: (1) reducing sexual frustration; (2) reducing resentment and anger towards a sexually unavailable/uninterested spouse; (3) leveling the playing field in the dynamic of sexual economics, so that sex is much less likely to be used as a tool of manipulation towards the more physiologically desperate spouse; (4) reducing the likelihood that physiological compulsion will influence a premature or irrational decision to get married in the first place to someone who is a poor marriage choice; (5) reduce the guilt felt by a spouse who is justifiedly not in the mood to satisfy the other spouse's sexual needs; (6) reduce the likelihood that one spouse will succumb to the temptation to have an affair; (7) reduce the likelihood that a husband will, out of frustration, force sex upon his wife either via physical constraint or psychological manipulation (i.e., guilt trips, etc.). Oddly, there exists a prevailing puritannical view in the LDS Church today that masturbation and all sexually-oriented media must be condemned, as they inherently destroy marital intimacy; the aformentioned marital benefits of these practices are completely ignored, overshadowed instead by the underlying unspoken and even subconscious assumption that sexual pleasure is automatically "suspect" because it is deemed to be "of the flesh" rather than spiritual, and that the only way to get over the guilt is by reminding ourselves that God commands sex within a marriage. This phenomenon has also been termed, "erotophobia," or fear of sex. As for the claim that masturbation and all sexually-oriented media inherently destroy marital intimacy, this does not seem to necessarily be true. The fact, that millions of men (and probably hundreds of thousands of LDS men) seem to have relatively happy marriages though they continue to conceal their masturbation and use of sexually-oriented media from their wives, suggests that the bigger culprit is NOT the masturbation and sexually-oriented media, but rather puritannically-backed anger felt by wives upon discovery, because they have been conditioned to imagine that their husbands are sinful or of low moral character or do not love them if they engage in these practices.

True gender egalitarianism demands that we cannot have it both ways. We cannot, on the one hand, tell men that egalitarianism demands that they refrain from any compulsion towards their wives to get sex, and on the other hand, forbid men from taking care of their own needs when those needs are not met by their wives. Of course, some people will resolve the problem by throwing out egalitarianism and rolling time back to the good old 1950s, where men could force sex on their wives whether they wanted it or not, and society did not frown upon the practice. Puritans, if that is your position, I think you are horribly wrong, but at least you are taking a view which is on its face internally consistent. At least this corrupt view takes natural male sex drive into account. But TBMs, if you want to claim that men have to lick their wives feet and make themselves subservient to their wives just to get sex in the "correlation-committee-approved" fashion, and that husbands have no right to otherwise take care of their own sexual needs, then at least don't pretend to hold that men and women have equal dignity before God, or that the Church has an egalitarian view of the sexes!

I believe that true principles of gender egalitarianism, if preached with more vigor, would do more to improve and increase the number of stable committed relationships in our society, and would improve the mutual happiness and satisfaction of both husbands and wives.

Sorry for the rant, everyone. My greatest desire is not to complain, but rather for the Church to wake up and realize how inconsistent its doctrines on so-called chastity are with the human nature God gave us. Viewing church history through the objective lens of empirical human nature ought to make it plain to see how powerful the male sex drive is. Instead of coming to grips with this fact, all kinds of excuses and apologetic arguments have been invented to reconcile empirical facts with puritannical doctrines on sexuality. Spiritually coerced polygyny, for example, instead of being taken as proof that even the most spiritual of men like Joseph Smith could be influenced by their sex drives, instead gets used as evidence for Joseph's devotion to God by having plural wives even though he loved Emma so much, because "God commanded it." If Joseph were alive today, there is little doubt in my mind that he would be excommunicated from the LDS Church and branded an apostate. Point of clarification: I still have faith that he was a prophet, but believe that he erred in many respects and was just as human as the rest of us. Many apologists (and even TBMs) even have a similar view. But what bothers me is that many of these same people continue to insist that Thomas S. Monson's official teachings are automatically immune from criticism or legitimate disagreement because he is a prophet. If we take the reasonable step of admitting that Joseph erred in his teachings and revelations, then then I do not see any reason why we must assume that Thomas S. Monson's teachings are error-free.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What the LDS Church could do about "uncorrolated" Mormons

In response to what the LDS Church might do to retain more members, particularly what have been termed "uncorrolated Mormons," I responded:

Eventually, if the LDS Church wishes to maintain a committed membership, it is simply going to have to change its positions and teachings on a multitude of issues. Stop condemning masturbation, period. Stop the overbroad condemnation of pornography, and recognize that it actually has beneficial uses. Admit that denial of the priesthood to blacks was an error of men, and not a doctrine from God. Admit that coerced polygyny was an error of men, and not a doctrine of God. Admit that the BoM may not be what it purports to be, even if it does contain the word of God and true teachings. Actively encourage members to fully consider church history, and concede the points that must be conceded. Abondon the condemnation of homosexuality, and allow God-sanctioned civil unions between committed gay couples. Accept that the law of tithing does NOT demand that people in difficult financial circumstances donate 10% of their income in order to be worthy to participate in temple ordinances. Give women true leadership positions in the church and seriously consider giving them priesthood ordinations. Stop branding people as apostates just because they voice their honest opinions which happen to contradict church leaders. End the cult of personality surrounding the 15 apostles. Get political on the things that really matter- hunger, poverty, slavery, war, disease, corporate greed and corruption, etc. Stop pressuring young, naive people to marry prematurely.

If I were the president of the LDS Church, I think those are just some of the things I would do. The church would likely lose some conservative members, but I believe its membership would explode overall because it would be able to reach the hearts of many more honest people out there who are wanting a church whose values are not so repulsive to secular humanism.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My Motivation As A Critic Of The LDS Church

The question was put:

"A critic is anyone who expresses a value judgement.

Informally, criticism is a common aspect of all human expression and need not necessarily imply skilled or accurate expressions of judgement. Critical judgements, good or bad, may be positive (in praise of an object of attention), negative (in dispraise), or balanced (weighing a combination of factors both for and against). Since all criticism must be regarded as having a purpose, a critic may also be definable by his or her specific motivation. At its simplest, and for whatever reason, a critic may have either constructive or destructive intent. My link

Granted, this forum has more "honest critics" than what I have seen in other forums and being rare are very welcomed. Yet, I continue to see "cheap shots" toward our sacred faith with "questions" disguised as "gotchas" or the elusive trail to the "nail in the coffin" for the Lord's Church.

As a "critic", what is your purpose or motivation?

I only ask because I know of no one in the LDS Church who plays the role as a "critic" for other's beliefs and I completely don't understand the need to be one. I am open to understand."

To which I responded:

As a critic, I have no intention of destroying the LDS Church. I remain a member. I criticize the church because of the immeasurable pain many of its teachings have caused in my life (unnecessarily, it turns out, because those teachings were, in my view after study, pondering, and prayer, wrong). My hope is that I can be an instrument in helping to bring about corrections of erroneous teachings/doctrine so that future generations will not have to suffer what I have suffered. I realize that this change is not likely to happen during my lifetime, but I keep hope that it will happen one day, and when it does, a very heavy yoke of bondage will have been lifted off of people who want to keep their faith.

On God's Reason For Giving Us Commandments

The comment was made, that God give us commandments "because he requires obedience." That person also stated:

"Not everyone that says unto Jesus that he is their Lord will be saved. Jesus clearly says that you must keep the commandments. Matthew 7:21."

To which I responded:

That Jesus requires that we follow the commandments does not by itself reveal the reason behind giving them. One of my favorite LDS doctrines, that men are that they might have joy, reveals in my opinion, the reason God created us and gives us instructions- it is for our own happiness. Many conservative LDS use this doctrine as justification or support for LDS commandments/standards themselves (taking the position, for example, that no matter how difficult or ridiculous it may seem to follow a purported commandment, we should follow it anyway because we can be sure that following it will make us happier). I take a different approach- that we can use the doctrine as a tool for helping us to determine whether a purported commandment is genuine. If, given the evidence and logic/reason available, it appears that a purported commandment would have a greater tendency to make people miserable rather than happy, we can take it as a strong indication, or at least a clue, that the purported commandment probably is not genuine.

If I ever subscribed to the idea that God gives us commandments for their own sake, it was long before my adult memory. The very idea is repulsive to me, and if it is the case, then it seems we have a very capricious and egotistical god.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Reconciling The Old Testament God With Reality: Can God Learn?

The comment was made:

"I stole this from another thread, but I didn't want to muck up that thread with a different direction I wanted to take this.

This is breathtaking to me, although my first introduction to the possibility of a "learning God" was probably over 5 years ago in some forgotten thing I have read and it has stuck with me although until recently the knowledge has scared me (which is generally my first reaction to any revelation I get from God). But recently, I have learned some more things by experience and by precept that nuance this idea and well . . . ok, it still scares me.

I have come to realize that we must challenge God in order to progress. Or, at least, we must challenge "God". I don't know why this is a surprise to me since it is pivotal in the Adam and Eve portrayal.

One thing I have thought is that we have to remember that Satan wanted God's name and wanted to be worshipped as God. Therefore I think some of the most invidious deceptions we have to watch out for are not the ones that have "Satan" stamped clearly all over them, but the ones that have "God" stamped on them.

I think a very easily comprehensible example of this from our point of view in history is the racism and its consequences that were perpetrated in the world and of which the Church also partook of. Racism was fashioned from the beginning as a godly order. Of course, those who fight such a thing also realize that they are hearing God tell them to resist such things.

I always imagine President Kimball petitioning the Lord for the removal of the Priesthood Ban, and I always hear the story tell that President Kimball, not God, initiated the exchange/revelation/new reality. (I could be wrong on that.) The following is a completely fake conversation of course, but here's how I sometimes see it in my head.

Pres. Kimball: "We don't want to do this any more, and it's not right. Everyone should have the Priesthood."
God: "You're saying that you think that all men should be able to enjoy the priesthood and the consequences of that? And you don't want me to deny the Priesthood any more to people with black skin?"
Pres. Kimball: "That's what I'm saying. You know I'm right."
God: " 'Bout time."

Okay, my point isn't about racism and its consequences, whether world or church. That is just the most plain example that might resonate with the most people about how we once thought something was godly and now we realize it just isn't.

Anyway, I don't care what angle you take on this, but I would love to hear people's thoughts about struggling with God a la Jacob wrestling with the angel and Abraham arguing about Sodom, and I think I liked someone else's point in another thread that Abraham may have actually failed God's test when he tried to sacrifice Isaac.

Do we need to challenge God in order to reach our full potential as part of the assembly of the Firstborn? I may have more thoughts, but your turn first."

To which I responded:

I share a portion of the sentiments expressed above, in the sense that I do not believe God is omniscient in the absolute sense. Nor do I believe he needs to be in order to command my respect and reverence. For that matter, I think God probably has very few, if any absolute characteristics (i.e., absolute perfection, omnipotence, etc.). Somewhere along the line of the progression of human theology, it seems someone came up with the idea that God has to be absolutely omniscient, or else there would be no good reason to follow him and trust his judgment. I disagree. It is enough for me that God is much wiser than I am on all or almost all subjects. The more difficult question is determining whether a purported revelation/commandment/doctrine truly stems from God or is instead the creation of mankind. One thing that continues to amaze me is the obsession some people seem to have with needing to twist reality to be compatible with Biblical inerrancy. If the "true god" is one that ordered Moses to wipe out innocent women and children, then that is not the sort of being I would want to place my faith in. Rejecting Biblical inerrancy, of course, carries with it problems of its own, foremost of which is that it forces us to think and study more deeply and not have truth spoon-fed to us. But as between the quasi-comforts associated with thinking the Bible is inerrant (and for that matter, any LDS scripture), and the liberty of discerning truth without the chains of millenia-old prejudices and human errors, I'll take liberty over the comfort of a less-engaged brain. In my own view, based upon my life experience, one of the greatest lessons which religious zealots have usually not learned is this: revelation from god is necessarily hindered when it is subjected to the imperfections of the human mind; ignorance, fear, self-interest, and prejudices all combine to distort, filter, exaggerate, prevent, or water down the true message God would have us receive. For LDS, this should in theory be easy to accept- scriptures in the D&C instruct us that truth comes line upon line, precept upon precept, here a littler, and there a little, and that truth is less likely to be given when we are not prepared to receive/understand it (either because we have not been exposed to an idea or we have not devoted sufficient time to research and contemplate the subject matter). For this reason, I consider all purported revelations subject to scrutiny, regardless of their human source (prophets, scriptures, local leaders, etc.). I feel no need to demonstrate Biblical inerrancy by simply altering my view of God to make it fit stories which on their face reveal a spiteful, vengeful, capricious, and child-like god.