Sunday, July 10, 2011

Thoughts on the 4th of July

“The possibility of coherent community action is diminished today by the deep mutual suspicions and antagonisms among various groups in our national life.

"As these antagonisms become more intense, the pathology is much the same. . . . The ingredients are, first, a deep conviction on the part of the group as to its own limitless virtue or the overriding sanctity of its cause; second, grave doubts concerning the moral integrity of all others; third, a chronically aggrieved feeling that power has fallen into the hands of the unworthy (that is, the hands of others). . . .

"Political extremism involves two prime ingredients: An excessively simple diagnosis of the world's ills and a conviction that there are identifiable villains back of it all. . . . Blind belief in one's cause and a low view of the morality of other Americans--these seem mild failings. But they are the soil in which ranker weeds take root . . . terrorism, and the deep, destructive cleavages that paralyze a society.”

-Hugh B Brown quoting John Gardner. From an address given to the BYU student body on May 13, 1969, when Hugh B. Brown was First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jeusus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

“If I say to an American that the country he lives in is a fine one, aye he replies and there is not its equal in the world. If I applaud the freedom its inhabitants enjoy he answers ‘freedom is a fine thing but few nations are worthy of it.’ If I remark on the purity of morals that distinguishes the United State he declares ‘I can imagine that a stranger who has witnessed the corruption which prevails in other nations would be astonished at the difference.’ At length I leave him to a contemplation of himself. But he returns to the charge and does not desist until he has got me to repeat all I have been saying. It is impossible to conceive of a more troublesome and garrulous patriotism.

-Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835

“[There] are…perils which can be understood only if we realize the ironic tendency of virtues to turn into vices when too complacently relied upon; and of power to become vexatious if the wisdom which directs it is trusted too confidently. The ironic elements in American history can be overcome, in short, only if American idealism comes to terms with the limits of all human striving, the fragmentariness of all human wisdom, the precariousness of all historic configurations of power, and the mixture of good and evil in all human virtue. America’s moral and spiritual success in relating itself creatively to a world community requires, not so much a guard against the gross vices, about which the idealists warn us, as a reorientation of the whole structure of our idealism. That idealism is too oblivious of the ironic perils to which human virtue, wisdom and power are subject. It is too certain that there is a straight path toward the goal of human happiness; too confident of the wisdom and idealism which prompt men and nations toward that goal; and too blind to the curious compounds of good and evil in which the actions of the best men and nations abound.

“A too confident sense of justice always leads to injustice…Genuine community, whether between men or nations, is not established merely through the realization that we need one another, though indeed we do. That realization alone may still allow the strong to use the lives of the weaker as instruments of their own self-realization. Genuine community is established only when the knowledge that we need one another is supplemented by the recognition that the “the other,” that other form of life, or that other unique community, is the limit beyond which our ambitions must not run and the boundary beyond which our life must not expand.

“In the present situation even the sanest of our statesmen have found it convenient to conform their policies to the public temper of fear and hatred which the most vulgar of our politicians have generated or exploited…Constant proof is required that the foe is hated with sufficient vigor. Unfortunately the only persuasive proof seems to be the disavowal of precisely those discriminating judgments which are so necessary for an effective conflict with the evil, which we are supposed to abhor. There is no simple triumph over this spirit of fear and hatred. It is certainly an achievement beyond the resources of a simple idealism. For na├»ve idealist are always so preoccupied with their own virtues that they have no residual awareness of the common characteristics in all human foibles and frailties and could not bear to be reminded that there is a hidden kinship between the vices of even the most vicious and the virtues of even the most upright.

“There is irony in the Biblical history as well as in Biblical admonitions. Christ is crucified by the priests of the purest religion of his day and by the minions of the justest, the Roman Law. The fanaticism of the priests is the fanaticism of all good men, who do not know that they are not as good as they esteem themselves. The complacence of Pilate represents the moral mediocrity of all communities, however just. They cannot distinguish between a criminal and the Savior because each violates the laws and customs which represent some minimal order, too low for the Savior and too high for the criminal.

“We…as all “God-fearing” men of all ages, are never safe against the temptation of claiming God too simply as the sanctifier of whatever we most fervently desire. Even the most “Christian” civilization and even the most pious church must be reminded that the true God can be know only where there is some awareness of a contradiction between divine and human purposes, even on the highest level of human aspirations.

“…[I]f we should perish, the ruthlessness of the foe would be only the secondary cause of the disaster. The primary cause would be that the strength of a giant nation was directed by eyes too blind to see all the hazards of the struggle; and the blindness would be induced not by some accident of nature or history but by hatred and vainglory.”

--Reinhold Niebuhr in The Irony Of American History, 1952

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Theological Interlude 01: Imperfection and the Atonement

Recently my mind has been in a more explicitly theological place rather that political (don’t worry I’ll get back to politics soon.) So, for the next little bit, I’m going to focus on more “spiritual” things (whatever that means.) These may not seem directly political or liberal, but it is these spiritual teachings that inform my values, including (and perhaps especially) my politics and my embrace of a liberal world view. If you want know why I’m liberal and what that means to me perhaps this and future ruminations may help.

Christ told Peter that “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may shift you as wheat.” The same can be said for any of us. Like the ancient farmers that sat and shifted the wheat to separate it from the chaff it is Satan’s goal to separate us from our Father in Heaven and the Love of Christ.

I worry that we underestimate the cleverness and the subtleness with which the Deceiver goes about his work of attempting to separate us from God.

In the Book of Mormon the Prophets Lehi and Nephi each had similar dreams. In their dreams they saw the Tree of Life and wanted all of their family to come and sit with them and eat the fruit that they found growing there. But as they looked for their family they saw that everything was covered with a mist of darkness and yet in that curious way of dreams they were able to discern a guiderail leading through the darkness to the Tree of Life. They also saw a terrible ravine with a dangerous river at the bottom, and, within shouting distance of the Tree, they saw a building which they described as “great and spacious.” They saw many people pushing forward in attempt to get to the Tree of Life, but they also saw many others push forward in an attempt to get to the building, which Nephi was told represents “the pride of the world.” Then they saw this building collapse destroying all that were in it.

Of course we need to stay clear of this “great and spacious building.” But one of the things that Satan wants us to forget is this: It doesn’t matter to him where we end up so long as it isn’t the Tree of Life. He doesn’t care if we end-up in his supposedly great and spacious building, drowned in the river, or just wandering aimlessly through the dark, any of those would suite him just as well. It is his goal to keep us from the Tree of Life which is the Love of God.

As a church community we are very good at understanding that sin can lead us way from the Love of God and to places that will ultimately prove, like the building in Lehi’s dream, to be without foundation. But we are not always so good at recognizing that there are other tricks that the deceiver uses to separate us from God.

It strikes me as both ironic and cleaver that for Satan to get maximum benefit from his great and spacious building he has to place it within shouting distance of the Tree of Life. And so it is with many of the more subtle tricks that he plays on us. Some of the deceits of Satan will only work against good, faithful members of the church. He twists our desire to reach the Tree of Life into a hyper-awareness of the “great and spacious building”, and thus we turn our efforts from seeking God to avoiding Satan. He makes us fear his “great and spacious building” so much that we let go the guiding words of the Lord and end up wandering lost in the dark, unable, to find the Love of God. He works hard to turn our righteousness into a snare and to use our understanding of the commandments against us to push us beyond the mark.

Although Satan has many such specialized lures in his tool kit I want to touch on just one. Remember, his goal is to separate us from God anyway he can. And so he works to get us to believe that we are unworthy of God’s love or his help. If he is successful in getting us to believe that because we are imperfect, or that because we have sinned, or are weak in some way, we are unworthy of the love of God, then he can prevented us from using the very tools that the Lord has provided for us to us heal from our shortcomings. If he can convince us that we are unworthy of the promptings of the Spirit of the Lord then we may not hear those promptings when we are buffeted by temptation and need them most. If he can convince us that our weakness disqualifies us from the Atonement, then he has denied us the only tool that can overcome that weakness.

During the time of the Apostle Paul there were many followers of God who believed that it was possible to “obey” their way into heaven. In fact, prior to his conversion Paul was one of these. But Paul learned that this is just not possible, we can not be righteous enough to be saved on our own merits. His letter to the Romans was written to help those that where struggling with this false belief understand the True doctrine of the Atonement. In chapter 3 verses 10 and 12 he quotes from the Old Testament when he says: “There is none righteous no not one…They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good no, not one.” And in verse 23: “…all have sinned and, come short of the Glory of God.” We cannot earn our way into heave by our own works of righteousness for as King Benjamin tells us in Mosiah “…[the Lord] doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him and are and will be forever and ever; therefore of what have ye to boast?...Can ye say aught of yourselves? I answerer you Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth.”

If God where to require us to be without sin before receiving the Holy Ghost, receiving revelation, or receiving forgiveness, then no one would feel the Spirit, receive revelation, or be forgiven. No one would be saved and nothing would ever have been able to be reveled. Satan’s attempt to get us to believe that our human weakness disqualifies us from the Spirit of the Lord is an effort to deprive us of the very tools we need to overcome, or transcend that weakness. He wants us to believe that we need to perfect ourselves before we can qualify for the blessings of heaven and then sits back and laughs as we fail at the impossible task that he has set before us.

Unlike Satan, the Lord doesn’t place before us impossible tasks. The Lord knows and understands the effects of the fall. He knows that we will fall short of the standards that he has set for us, and of the standards that we set for ourselves. He knows about the briars, thorns, and noxious weeds. And so he provided a way for us to transcend our struggles. He provided us with our Savior.

Satan wants us to believe that to qualify for the help of the Lord we need to be perfect, but the Lord teaches that to be perfect we first need his help. In other words we need his help now, before we are perfect, before we “repent,” before we change. It is the Atonement that allows us to change. This is what Paul was talking about in his letter to the Saints at Ephesus when he said: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”

Do we need to qualify for the Atonement? Of course, but we need to understand the qualifications as revealed by Lord. The Prophet Lehi in speaking to his son Jacob taught about qualifications and the Atonement this way: “Behold [Christ] offereth himself a as sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.”

In other words the Atonement of Christ becomes effective, not after we have fixed ourselves, but once we have shown a desire to do be fixed-even though we may lack the capacity or skills needed to make the corrections ourselves. When our desire is sincere, the power of the Atonement can cleanse us of sin and guilt and can help us through the process of healing. He can help us carry our loads and he can help us to grow and develop the skills we need in order to become increasingly like him. We do not have to do this alone, we don’t need to struggle by ourselves, or worry that we are not doing enough. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, complained of a thorn in his flesh which he had begged the Lord to remove. The Lord responded, not by removing the thorn but by telling him: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

We don’t need mountains of faith to move mountains. As Alma taught the Zoramites, sometimes all we need to start is only a desire to believe, and by letting that desire work in us we can turn our hearts to Christ and he can heal us. The gospel of Mark tells of man who brought his son to Christ to be healed. The savior told him that if he believed then his son could be healed. “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” That was enough- the Savior healed his son.

Satan will do anything he can to separate us from God. He will miss-quote and miss-use the scriptures and teachings of the Prophets. Like the friends of Job sometimes the carriers of his messages of despair may be well intentioned, but misinformed people close to us, whose misguided attempts at comfort, add to, rather lighten our burdens.

Do not be deceived, Christ’s grace is sufficient for you. Embrace it now and then work with Christ to be healed. As long as you are moving toward him he will be with you however small your steps and however long it takes, until he has perfected you in and through his Grace.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Lessons from the Book of Job

It is time for what is becoming my quarterly blog post. No politics this time, or at least not directly.

Until this last year I’ve always had a rather cartoonish understanding of the Book of Job. I knew it only superficially as the story of a man who became the object of a “wager” between God and Satan. Satan bet God that if Job were no longer blessed then he would abandon God. Satan caused all manner of terrible things to happen to Job but Job stayed faithful and was blessed. The End.

This version of the story teaches little more than “suck-it up and don’t complain.” And it only encompasses the fist two chapters and the last; it completely ignores the intervening 39 chapters. It also completely misses the point of the book.

Satan’s challenge to God was an effort to prove a common misuse of faith: He wanted to show that there is a simple correlation between blessings and righteousness; that “blessings” (prosperity, wealth, health, freedom from obstacles, and freedom from temptation) either cause righteousness or result from it in a simple way that is easily and readily accessible to the human mind.

The Book of Job is a refutation of this simple correlation. This doctrine is taught elsewhere, of course, such as in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, where Christ teaches “[Your Father in heaven] causes his sun to rise on the evil and good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt 5:45) But nowhere is it taught more beautifully than in the Book of Job.

Taking Satan’s bait and biting into the idea of simple correlations can play out on every scale of the human experience, from within our own heart to international relations. And while it would be fun to blast the ignoramuses that exploit natural disasters to “prove” their own righteousness and the wickedness of whoever was effected (such as blaming hurricane Katrina on Gay Pride celebrations or the Haitian earthquake on a 200 year old pact with the devil), such obvious distortions are easily dismissed with a little thought and a nudge or two from the scriptures (for example Luke 13:1-5.) It is at the personal and interpersonal level where a correct understanding of the role of suffering and its relationship (or non-relationship) to righteousness can make or break the human spirit. It is here that we see these forces play out in the book of Job.

The first two chapters set up the story, we as readers see that the cause of Job’s suffering is not his wickedness; quite the opposite: it is because God knows of his righteousness that Job is chosen by the Lord to be his champion. This, however, is unknown to Job and the friends who come to comfort him. Job’s friends assume that his suffering is the result of some unconfessed sin, Job does not speculate on the cause of his suffering other than to rebut his friends and to maintain his righteousness.

The depths of the pain that Job is suffering can be felt in his words:

“Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb? ...Or why was I not hidden in the ground like a stillborn child?”

“What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient? Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh Bronze? Do I have any power to help myself now that success has been driven from me?”

“I loath my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God: Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me….Even if I am innocent, I cannot lift my head for I am full of shame and drowned in my affliction.”

Job’s friends come and try to comfort him. But they do not seek to comfort him as the Lord does, by sharing his burden, mourning with him, comforting him, or serving him. Instead they try to preach to him, quote scripture at him, and show him where he went wrong. They see his suffering as evidence of God’s displeasure with him, and his complaints as proof of his unrighteousness. As Job grows more insistent in proclaiming his righteousness and louder in his laments his friends grow increasingly blunt in their accusations. They tell him that all he needs to do is repent and pray harder and his suffering will go away (see, for example, 11:13-20.) They tell him to just walk away from his suffering and quit complaining (18:2-4.) They tell him that God is perfect and perfectly just therefore if Job is suffering it is because he deserves to suffer (34:5-12). But Job refuses to concede, he knows of no wickedness that he has done that would warrant such a punishment. He tells his friends that: “…as long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not speak wickedness, and my tongue will utter no deceit. I will never admit you are right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.” (27:3-6)

One of Job’s remarkable strengths is the way he maintains his integrity, even in the face of accusations from his friends who present “proof” that his suffering is the result of sin.

One of the more subtle ways that the deceiver attempts to separate us from God is to get us to believe that our life and the path it will take is completely know to us, and can be controlled by us through a simple set of rules and rituals. He would have us believe that salvation is through the law rather than Christ, he would have us believe that if we continue to suffer from the effects of sin or any other of the effects of the fall that it is because we have not prayed hard enough, that we have not purified ourselves enough. Like Job’s friends using Job’s own complaints as proof of his unworthiness, the father of lies tries to get us to believe that the temptations he places before us are proof that we are unworthy of the Love of Christ. He wants us to believe that faith in Christ will take away our struggles, sorrows and temptations, and that, if it doesn’t, either we have failed or Christ has. The truth is much more powerful, but less easily understood: it is that we must to come to Christ with a broken heart and contrite spirit (2 Nephi 2:7), have faith that Christ’s grace is sufficient for us, and understand that, while the Lord can give us strength to helps us with our problems, we live in a post-fall world: sometimes the cup will not pass but must be drunk to the dregs. (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

We cannot even judge our own righteousness by the presence or absence of sin, pain, temptation, suffering, strength, knowledge or capacity, let alone that of any other soul. Those are not standards of righteousness; the only standard is this: Have we come to Christ with real intent, with a broken heart and contrite spirit covenanting to do good and follow his will with all the strength we have, however great or small that strength may be and any given moment? Do we have faith in the strength of Christ?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Response to Comments

So I’ll respond to the comments from my post below (who would have thought that a three word post would generate my most comments ever.)


Ah, the fun of trying to defend off-the-cuff comments. Of course I do not believe that we live in a “pure” market economy (and thus I believe that we, technically, live in a “blended” one.) And though I’m loath to use Wikipedia as a source, I concur that we do have some “semi-socialist” programs. However, even Medicare is not government ownership of production; the government buys the services of private individuals to provide medical care (albeit at a mandated, below-market rate.) A better example of “socialism” by the US government is the Veterans Administration where the government actually owns the hospitals and employs the doctors; other examples include public schools and public libraries (socialism by the state or local governments, rather than the federal government.) However, I would submit that if the United States is not the most free market of any country in the world it is very, very close. A “pure” socialist economy is one in which all means of production are owned by the all the people and controlled by them through the government. The following quote is from the principles of socialism of the Socialist Party USA: “In a socialist system the people own and control the means of production and distribution through democratically controlled public agencies, cooperatives, or other collective groups.” Communism is an example of non-democratic socialism; the Socialist Party purports to be working toward democratic socialism. Saying that the US is not a “pure” market economy is a little like claiming that your tap water is not pure because it contains trace amounts of something other than H2O.

The attempts to redefine socialism to mean government regulation or government services is a political scare tactic used by the right wing and other anti-government forces to whip up fear of the government or political opponents by attempting to link them to the now defunct demon of communism (think the Union of Social Soviet Republic). Government regulation is not government ownership. To attempt equate them is an attempt to confuse the issue and the public. Labeling opponents as communist has been a favorite tactic of the right for at least fifty years (think the attacks on Martin Luther King Jr., Senator McCarthy’s hearings, or the John Birch Society’s claiming that President Eisenhower was a communist puppet.) With the collapse of worldwide communism it can no longer serve as a viable boogieman. But Socialism is still around and is being used in much the same way. Equating regulation with socialism is an attempt to confuse the public into fearing regulation and attack policies based on emotional sound bites rather than facts. That the right wing has been successful in propagating confusion is no excuse to accept it.

I’m sure that we could find exceptions, but my observation is that most uses of the word socialism to describe Obama, the Health Care Bill, Democrats, or Liberals are attacks intended to be derogatory made by the right wing. I highly doubt Obama would consider himself a socialist, or the healthcare bill socialist. The aims of the Democratic Party are not socialist and even most liberals are not socialist (though it may be possible to argue that most socialists are liberals or at least left-wing.)

As I’ve said before on this blog if we are going to have real intelligent discussions about issues we need to abandon attempts to use words or catchphrases that are deliberately calculated to ramp up fear and diminish trust. We need to focus on facts, not fear. Labeling the health care bill as socialist was a deliberate attempt by some (which was then picked up by less knowledgeable others) to increase fear and loathing for the bill and those that support it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Is the world more wicked now than it once was?

Is the world more wicked now than it once was? I think I may just about have set off a riot in Sunday School when I suggested that it is not. CS Lewis once said something to the effect that the theological questions that we struggle with the most will turn out, once we have a better perspective, to make as much sense as asking “What color is a mile?” or “What does yellow smell like?” That is, they are questions that can’t be answered because they are based on irrational premises. I believe that inquiring into relative wickedness across time is one of these. In fact, the Preacher counsels against such questions: “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

There are several things that disturb me when people begin complaining that current times are so much worse than the good old days. I’m not so bothered by the idea that the current times have an abundance of evil; that is obvious. What bothers me is the premise that the times past did not have an abundance of evil, or were somehow less evil that the current times. Emerson said, “Behind us, as we go, all things assume pleasing forms, as clouds do afar off. Not only things familiar and stale, but even the tragic and terrible, are comely, as they take their place in the pictures of memory. The river-bank, the weed at the water-side, the old house, the foolish person, – however neglected in the passing, – have a grace in the past. ” There are several reasons for this. One is that our memories of things past fade, and those things that do stand out in our memories tend to be the good things. Another is that troubles (or evils) never look as big once they have been conquered as they do during the battle; it is always the unsolved problem that looms largest. Yet another reason is that there are many things that we now consider evil that once were never talked about, or were not considered evil at all. Take for example various forms of child abuse. There are actions that we now consider abusive that were once commonplace, and others that were never talked about that we now take proactive measures to prevent. Because these actions were either common or hidden they don’t stand out in our collective memory. Now that we are better at recognizing these evils of course we will see them more— it is not the “quantity” of evil that has changed but our capacity to recognize it.

The next disturbing aspect to inquiries about increasing amounts of evil is the assumption that evil is measurable. How do you measure evil, and (for another day) how do you even define evil? Do we measure evil by the number of sins committed, or the “size” of the sins; some combination of both, or some other way altogether? How much foul language equals a murder? How much fornication equals a lynching? How many insincere compliments equal an unjust war? I think that inquiries into relative evil are unanswerable and ultimately pointless. It is the evil that is before us that must concern us not how it compares to times past.

The third problem is that comparing evil across time focuses us on others, but not in a good way. There are, of course, ways in we which should be focused on others, but attempting to gauge others’ righteousness with our memory or dreams of the past isn’t one of them. Engaging in pointing out the evil of others and comparing it to some standard (either the past or some other standard) is pointing out the sawdust in someone else’s eye while ignoring the plank in our own (Matthew 7:3-5). It is our own sins that we need to be worried about, not those of others, past or present, and it is our own separation from God that should be our concern, and not how the Gross National Righteousness Index stacks up to historical trends.

Lastly, the question is ultimately pointless. How the evil of today compares to that of yesteryear is totally and absolutely irrelevant to my salvation, or anyone else’s. One of the great doctrines of Mormon theology is what it teaches concerning the Justice of God. The 2nd Article of Faith teaches us that each individual is responsible for their own transgressions. As moral agents, each of us is responsible for our own actions and how we respond to the actions of those around us. We are taught that individuals who did not have a legitimate opportunity to accept the gospel in this life will be found acceptable before God, if they would have received the gospel while in life (D&C 137:7) The same principle needs to hold true in reverse: we cannot be permitted into the Kingdom of God if the only thing that kept us from sin was luck of circumstance. In other words, if we would have sinned given the opportunity, but were never given the opportunity, we are damned, just as if the only thing that prevented us from increasing in righteousness was being born in a time and place where the gospel was unavailable. To have righteousness judged on any principle other than our own actions, governed by whatever light we currently possess, is to make salvation dependant on luck, or worse: on the actions of others. If the world is more wicked today than it was 50 years ago I will be judged by how I relate to the world as it currently exists. To say that the state of the righteousness in the rest of the world impacts our chances (either negatively or positively) for salvation is to accuse God of allowing the actions of others to determine our salvation. If we assume that the forces of evil are stronger today, that they slow our progress to God more now than they did in the past, then smaller gains become more significant. Like the widow offering her last mite, it is more important that we do our best, whatever the circumstance we find ourselves in, than what our best is; the Lord will then make up whatever remaining distance is required. We each have our own unique strength and our own unique weakness. We are each presented with a unique set of problems; our judgment will be based only on how we respond to our problems with the tools we have. If other tools were available to people of other times that allowed them to respond differently to their problems they will be judged on how they used their tools—we will be judged on how we use our tools. If the circumstances that we face today are different from the past then we will be held to account for how we respond to our circumstances and not compared to people in the past living with different circumstances. People of times past hold no special advantage over people of today when it comes to righteousness. The complaint that “these times are more wicked” is a complaint that God is unjust and that we have been placed at a disadvantage because of the behavior of others. It walks hand in hand with the false belief that God will hold us guilty by association, or that we can somehow be “contaminated” by associating with those whose beliefs and actions are different from our own. In short, it expresses a fear that we will be punished for the sins of others.

The world is constantly changing—in one generation the danger may be ignorance; in another, apathy; in another, fanaticism. I would choose no other day to live than ours. Given the choice between public acceptance of gay marriage and lynchings, I’ll take gay marriage. If I have the choice between a world full of hate and rejection of others and one that is so loving and accepting that we end up accepting and loving some things that we should not, I’ll take an excess of love. If the choice is between government-, culture-, or society-mandated righteousness and freedom I’ll choose freedom even when freedom means that some people will be wicked.

We need to spend our time trying to understand how to navigate the world, not complaining about how it isn’t the way we wish it was.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A response to comments

First of all no need to apologize; it’s the nature of blogs (and email and texts, etc.) to make people sound harsher than they are. I really don’t get offended very easily; negative comments mostly make me curious as to why other people don’t think I’m as smart as I think I am. I’m obviously the most brilliant person alive, if only the rest of the world would realize it and hand me the reins of power. (Or the rains of power, I’ll take whatever, I’m not fussy.)

Let me respond to your comments one at a time:

You said “I don't think that anyone is arguing that gay people want marriage rights so that they can bring down the institution of marriage from the inside out…” Actually there are some people who believe exactly this. Most Church members are not this extreme, but some are. And there are some non-LDS groups that we were allied with that do believe this view, or similar ones (i.e. there is a great gay conspiracy attempting to trick us all to hell, or other such nonsense.) When we make common cause with groups like that sometimes we are assumed to agree with all of their viewpoints and this obscures our message. It also allows some of their ideas to bleed into ours.

“I think when people use the word "destroy" it means more along the lines of making marriage less sacred.” This is still the same argument, only said in a nicer way. The underlying assumption is that gay people are inferior and they would spoil marriage (“make it less sacred.”) The point isn’t to learn to use nicer words, but to actually talk about, and understand the issues in a way that the gay community would accept as fair. Offensive attitudes are still offensive even when they are delivered with kind words.

“I think both sides need to understand that, while their are extreme fringes, most people on either side are just good people, trying to make sense of their world, and make decisions that will make the world a better place for them and their kids.” I agree, but even good people can have bigoted attitudes. Nowadays we like to think of racists as pure evil, but the fact of the matter is that 50 years ago there were a lot of good, honest, nice people who really in their heart of hearts didn’t believe that black people were as good (clean, wholesome, intelligent, etc.) as whites and thought it entirely unfair that black people couldn’t stay in their own specially designated black zones. They believed that desegregation was a violation their rights because they should have a right not to be in the same stores, or share restrooms with people they thought of as dirty or inferior. They really believed that giving blacks equal rights threatened their rights. Just because someone is trying to do what they think is best doesn’t mean they are doing what’s best, and that is why it is so important to deal with people on the basis of respect and equality rather than on the assumption of their inferiority or unworthiness.

“For some people that means marriage as Christian religion has traditionally defined it- between a man and a woman.” I addressed this form of the argument in my original post. If I were to look up marriage in the dictionary we would all think it strange if it said “Marriage= between a man and a woman.” Such a definition doesn’t make sense. Marriage does not mean “between a man and a woman.” Marriage is what is between them, or in other words it is a type of relationship. If we focus on defining the type of relationship that marriage is, and the role that it should play in society then who can enter into such a relationship will flow from that definition naturally. I also believe that from a public attempt to create such a definition would flow other types of relationships that are beneficial to society, and thus would be worth giving official recognition to. As would the recognition that it is the relationship that is sacred, not the word “marriage”. This would also leave the question of rights denied, or religious beliefs threatened, out of the issue.

I believe that the debate on marriage should not be about who should marry (and especially not about who we deem “worthy” to marry), but what marriage is, and its role in society. These issues go way beyond the issues of gay marriage and begin to incorporate the much larger issues and problems facing marriage that the current debate is obscuring (casual divorce, poverty, marriage-like cohabitation, unrealistic expectations, adultery, selfishness, etc.)