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Illusions of Happiness

I’m no longer content with being happy, but I have learned to be happy with being content. Perhaps I should say, that I have found happiness is not consistently satisfactory, even the pursuit of it which, in the United States, I have as a recognized, natural right. It would be safer and more honest to say that I do, now, find satisfaction in choosing contentment over happiness as a preferred state of being.

I wasn’t born this way, and I didn’t wake up on morning after reading philosophy the night before, suddenly enlightened and enlivened. I still struggle to be content though the struggle does not feel so strenuous as it once did. It required a great deal of heartbreak, a total and utter destruction of the world paradigm that had been inculcated in my mind and heart from my first human interactions. For me, the loss of faith was a necessary though not sufficient waypoint in finding contentment preferable to happiness. I am a mere human primate that still craves monoliths, icons, and ideals that might be considered unchanging or everlasting. That was partly due to the religious conditioning to which I was subjected and that I perpetuated by writ and by rite into adulthood. I also believe such a yearning for the absolute it is part of our nature. When that all collapsed around me, I quite naturally sought out new guru’s and scriptures to rebuild a foundation for my morality and for how I perceived and interacted with the world and its inhabitants. Curiously, my morality didn’t crumble into degeneracy and debauchery and dishonesty. I simply felt compelled to excuse or give basis for my morals. While I owe something to my faith tradition, I found morals went deeper than that. And my reasons became human solidarity where, once, the adolescent, “my dad/God told me so,” had been my natural, scoffing reply.

After six years, two episodes of significant depression exacerbated by personal and professional challenges, I feel I have come out the other side better-off than I had been early in my faith transition. Unlike early Mormon malcontents and apostates–the Thomas Marsh’s and Martin Harris’s–I have better explanations for misery and for the natural world. Even during my extended moments of unhappiness, I knew that I could no longer be happy as a Mormon. I am confident I would have been more miserable had I returned to activity after breaking away. In the first two years after reasoning myself in atheism, I did try going back. I tried believing. I accepted callings within the church including being twice a bishop’s councilor—the first being when I became an atheist and remained covertly. When I was to be released, the next bishop asked me to remain in the position despite me revealing my mental and spiritual state to him. I accepted the call. I tried without lying to anyone. I felt more lost. The misery of trying to reconcile what I knew with what Mormonism required me to believe and claim as knowledge had no balm to soothe and no tincture to cure. Those were not the extent of callings I accepted as an atheist. None offered comfort and certainly not happiness. How could one be content living a lie when you were aware of the facts?

Confession: yes, Mom; yes, Bishop; yes, President (insert name of geriatric, white male and don’t forget the middle initial!)—I am NOT happier since I left the Mormon church. You may also be right in your solipsistic accusation that, when I experience happiness, I “only think I’m happy.” And this is a big part of the problem and part of why I, and many others, experience such heartbreak in leaving Mormonism. Aside from the loss of friends, the alienation of and by family, the infantile position you feel yourself in when the meaning for life crumbles into ruins around you, the accompanying social and professional suicide, and the strain on marriages and parent-child relationships each apostate must prepare for a confrontation with happiness itself. 

There exists a familiar pressure from the ex-Mormon community to feel happier than I did when I was an active Mormon. Unlike the days when I followed the prophet, it’s a passive pressure. Reading or hearing fellow ex-Mormons describe how much happier they are rings with a similar tone for me as hearing active members describe how happy they are. I don’t doubt that many or all of them are. Maybe I’m supposed to be happier and, if I’m not, I must be ex-Mormoning incorrectly. (I’ve experienced this, too. “You’re not praying intently.” “You’re not reading the scriptures with an open heart.” You’re not Mormoning correctly or you’d call it Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Sainting“) I will say that I find a greater degree of validation for experiencing melancholy or despair from the ex-Mormon community than I did from Mormons. I’m not inundated with encouragement that makes not attempt at empathy. No one tells me to count my blessings or reminds me of how happy they remember me being. They demonstrate understanding and support without expectation.

The other aspect of needing to feel happier post-Mormonism is to show my family that they were wrong. I am happier! I’ll show Mom and Dad and everyone else that I’m happier! Sob, sob. Sniff, sniff. Can’t you see how Happy I AM! Luckily, I’ve already disappointed them severely enough simply in rejecting their mythology that I’ve grown quite comfortable with being a disappointment in this matter. And I’ve developed–not necessarily a thick-skin–but a healthier perspective on happiness since leaving the faith. It doesn’t make me happier, but now I no longer expect it to and I feel no guilt or shame, I don’t feel compelled to say or show happy expressions, when I’m genuinely feeling down or even outright miserable.

The words originally performed by Jimmy Ruffin and made popular to my generation by Paul Young have become suddenly salient and profound: “As I walk this land with broken dreams, / I have visions of many things. / But happiness is just an illusion / Filled with sadness and confusion.

I’ve been to the top of the mountain. I’ve seen behind the veil. I’ve participated in the rites and unquestioningly paid ten percent of my annual, gross income. There is not happiness there, either. I used to tell people there was. With conviction, even tears–those learned expressions all Mormon’s know–I testified of happiness that comes from obedience. It takes a vulnerable person to bring the honesty out of others willing to, as Orwell said, face unpleasant facts. No one wants to admit that altruism is less a motivation to them than money or prestige or relaxation. In fact, we all feel guilty when we don’t put altruism or charity on a list of our fundamental motivations. Like happiness, we feel compelled to claim it for ourselves even when we don’t feel it. Then, living in our contradictions, as everyone does, we claim happiness or altruism when, in practice, we hoard billions for a rainy day.

In his Rubaiyat , 11th-12th century Persian polymath and poet Omar Khayyam, expressed his doubt openly and beautifully. I encountered the Rubaiyat early in my journey out of Mormonism. And I have found it immensely reassuring. Khayyam said:

“Nor idle I who speak it, nor profane, / This playful wisdom growing out of pain; / How many midnights whitened into morn / Before the seeker knew he sought in vain. / You want to know the Secret—so did I, / Low in the dust I sought it, and on high / Sought it in awful flight from star to star, / … My soul went knocking at each starry door, / Till on the stilly top of heaven’s stair, / Clear-eyed I looked—and laughed—and climbed no more. / Of all my seeking this is all my gain: / No agony of any mortal brain / Shall wrest the secret of the life of man; / The Search has taught me that the Search is vain.”

Most ex-Mormons I know were not idle in their devotion. As Kayyam said later in Rubaiyat, “The unbeliever knows his Koran best.” To understand the mysteries of God, we were told to prepare for and participate in the silly rites of the Mormon temple. Many of us stood at the “silly top of heaven’s stair” in great and spacious Mormon temples, seeking knowledge from “on high.” Once through the confusion and the communal and familial pressure; once honest enough with ourselves; in the “wisdom” that grew from our pain; beyond the “agony” of our “mortal brains” and hearts–we finally understood the secret. Searching for happiness or knowledge “taught [us] that the Search is vain.”

Not only is the search “in vain” it is itself “vain.” Consider Kayyam’s most famous line from Rubaiyat: “And do you think that unto such as you, / A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew, / God gave the Secret, and denied it me?— / Well, well, what matters it! believe that too.” The vanity of those who think their form of happiness or their Search is superior? Perhaps it’s simply an error of translation. What matters it! The search is not only “in vain” it is propped up by tithing-hungry old men who claim humility as they vainly declare their spiritual and philosophical superiority. The vain flock to this and join the Search.

Happiness is an illusion propped up every day by imposed facades on the faces of normal people. We hide our pain from one another. Social media personas typically present curated lifestyles, even of those close to us, and rarely do they air dirty laundry. While we are painstakingly aware of our own misery, we are deprived of seeing it in others. The oasis of happiness seems a pleasant destination in the midst of the desert. It is not that happiness is fleeting, it is a mirage. It is not to be found as a destination but, as Orwell suggests in Can Socialists be Happy?, “Happiness” is not a goal to be achieved but a “by-product” of striving for worthy goals–human brotherhood, social and political justice, and economic equality, just to name a grand-eyed sample.

On a personal level–one cannot base their happiness on things like familial harmony or professional success where the choices of others can so dramatically challenge it. We cannot count on validation from other people or entities because, as Jerry Seinfeld once said of people, “they’re the worst!” The acquisition of wealth or health can be problematic as markets out of our control and nature itself may seem to conspire against us. I may take heart in the words of Paul, who suggested that, despite his life nearing its end at the hands of executioners, he had “fought the good fight,” he had “finished [his] course.” It is in striving toward worthy goals that we find contentment. Happiness may come at moments and ought to be basked in when it does–it certainly should never be spurned as undesirable. One can be content while melancholy or disappointed. Depression poses a real challenge to contentment. But, in my experience, happiness is not the answer to depression.

Neuro-philosopher (I made that up) Sam Harris observed, “Some people are content in the midst of deprivation and danger, while others are miserable despite having all the luck in the world. This is not to say that external circumstances do not matter. But it is your mind, rather than circumstances themselves, that determines the quality of your life.” Not your happiness, mind you. Suicide rates are highest in countries with the highest levels of social, religious, and personal freedom. They have the highest standards of living yet they find living has lost its allure. It’s not about convincing yourself that you are in the midst of bliss but, to me, accepting that life is filled with just as much doubt, depression, and disappointment as it is with bliss, elation, and excitement. Likely, it is subject to far more of the undesirable emotions. 

I did search for what I could raise in my life as scripture and began collecting icons. Many came from the world of literature and philosophy. I remember what I felt and thought the first moment I read the work of David Foster Wallace. Oddly, the man has amassed something of a cult following of people who dissect his fiction with the fervor of monotheistic apologists. Unlike L. Ron Hubbard, he didn’t seem to have any desire to lead an actual cult. A friend an I (Hi, friend!) have, on occasion, discussed what books we have adopted with a scriptural deference. Neither of us sees any literary work as infallible, but we do find some books worth re-reading. In my own process of collecting insights, David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” (May 2005) is at the top.

Originally given as a university graduation speech, the oratory was soon transcribed and published. Both the audible and written versions are worthwhile. Wallace was particularly concerned with the detrimental effects of ubiquitous, easily accessible entertainment on mankind.  He struggled with drug addiction and depression throughout his life. He spent time in drug and alcohol rehab as well as multiple stays in psychiatric hospitals. He may have seen entertainment as another potential addiction and a fix worth avoiding and chose not to have a television in his own home. None of this diminishes his contributions to the world, in my estimation. He never claimed to be more than a man and certainly didn’t proclaim divine inspiration for his work. He struggled to find meaning and insight in the post-modern world that valued irony without insight into improvement. It seems obvious he craved some kind of spirituality but, perhaps, couldn’t bring himself to adhere to any religion for long. Several snippets rom “This Is Water”:

An outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough.

Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.

Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay.

Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

“Yeah, but Mr. Byrd, all of this is in the Bible and The Book of Mormon. No wonder you’re not as happy. You went searching for what you already had.” Well and good for you, dear reader. For me, anything that I must adhere to by divine injunction, no matter how I feel about it, when it outrages reason and when facts fly in the face of its purported truth, is a challenge to contentment and happiness. It requires me to lie to others and, most of all, to myself. This is tried-and-true prescription for misery.

For me, the insights of This Is Water proved even more profound when I found out, after reading it for the first time, that David Foster Wallace died by suicide in 2008. Just three years after expressing insights that may have prevented some from choosing suicide, myself included, the speaker succumbed to his own depression.

Just before I read This Is Water and listened to the speech, I had become enamored with Christopher Hitchens. I recall that on multiple occasions, Hitchens would be asked by an interviewer if he counted Orwell or Jefferson or any other of the many literary and historical individuals he would routinely quote as a hero. Hitchens would nearly, invariably respond that he rejected the idea of heroes and the collection thereof. He simply admired men for their contributions but never raised a mere human above the message.

Recently, I attended a continuing education course in my profession. Two fellow participants and I seemed to share a lot in common other than our careers. We spent one evening speaking about subjects that went far deeper than our shared career. Late into the night we discussed religion, philosophy, relationships, and politics. After I shared some insight or another, one young man asked where I learned all of the things I was sharing? He could not believe that an atheist had stumbled on these things without God or a really good life coach. It also seemed to matter to him I was not a Trump supporter as he was. I expressed my concern for people voting for a man who, in no way, represented the ideals that they had espoused for decades. The man was being placed ahead of ideals, that is a massive danger to free society. He pressed for my reasons for thinking this way. I shared my perceptions on totalitarian rulers and the methods they use to come into and maintain power. But the idea of putting a man ahead of an ideal brought us to David Foster Wallace. I shared with the young questioner that when we live our lives in fear of losing something—beauty, reputation, power, sexual allure—we cannot be content and any happiness is quick to abate. We find our lives continually and chronically unfulfilling. Our happiness becomes dependent upon external validation of these things. And what if our idol or hero turns out to fail in living up to the message that they have so powerfully communicated to us? What happens when a man who’s words saved your life, takes his own? Positive progress gives way to backsliding; happiness seems not only elusive but futile.

Perhaps this is why some Mormon men run to their bishop to confess sins as simple and as common and as victimless as masturbation. They become dependent on their Bishop declaring them worthy. They stake their happiness on that interaction and the declaration of a person in authority telling them they are worthy. It becomes as much an addiction as the sin they confess. It may even drive the behavior for the chance at feeling forgiven and reconciled.

I am content and, I would even venture to declare myself happy to say that I can and do appreciate David Foster Wallace’s insights into living a peaceful and meaningful life despite his tragic end. Among the other insights he shares during the short and profound speech, Wallace also says of the things we worship: “The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious.”

Already alluded to, a phrase bidding to be one of the best known in world history states that governments are and ought to be formed to ensure that humans need not fear their “self-evident,” “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are abridged. Mormon founder Joseph Smith took the right to pursue happiness further in stating, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence.” He gave this bit of advice and counsel and, in his self-proclaimed station as THE divinely anointed prophet of God, revelation, in an essay written in the wake of his wife finding out he was practicing polygamy, sorry plural marriage, behind her back. Consider, with a spouse angry of and unsupportive of the polygamy he already practiced with many other women, that in the same essay, Joseph said, “[God] never has—He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness.” (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Volume 5, pg134-35).

Honey, you may not support me having clandestine wives (Emma was still woefully ignorant of the extent of Joesph’s plural marriages) but you won’t be happy if you don’t support me because God said so. I know. I’ve been lying to you even though the Book of Mormon says that ‘the liar shall be thrust down to hell.’ I know that it also says that ‘many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord1…Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none.’ I know I’ve told you I wasn’t doing this, but there was this angel with a flaming sword that threatened to kill me if I didn’t do it. I know you saw my ‘exchange’ with little Fanny Alger between the slats in the barn. But now you know that you can’t be happy if you don’t accept it and let me do it and support me?

In the same essay, he would go on to say,  

Happiness is the object and design of our existence, and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God; but we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know, unless we comply with or keep those we have already received! That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; at another time he said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted, by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the Kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added.

This is precisely how authoritarians operate. Joseph Smith gave his followers a recipe that would enable his soft, theocratic tyranny to continue in a coarser, crueler form under Brigham Young.

Joseph, er, God, would go on to back up the essay’s sophistry with a real threat, not of unhappiness, but of actual destruction and loss of salvation. In the section of the church’s Doctrine and Covenants that authorizes and outlines how polygamy is to work, he tells those like Joseph’s wife, Emma:

Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.

For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.

For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.

And as pertaining to the new and an everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.

(Doctrine and Covenants 132:3-6, emphasis added)

I think it was important that you understand the circumstances under which–or into which–the aforementioned essay referencing happiness came about. Happiness is mandated! Along with telling Emma and other doubtful saints made uneasy by their sick feeling of disgust and betrayal, they are told in the same essay: 

That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another…Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is…Everything that God gives us is lawful and right…if we should seize upon those same blessings and enjoyments without law, without revelation, without commandment, those blessings and enjoyments would prove cursings and vexations in the end, and we should have to lie down in sorrow and wailings of everlasting regret. But in obedience there is joy and peace unspotted, unalloyed; and as God has designed our happiness—and the happiness of all His creatures, he never has—He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed…

And we atheists and agnostics are the one’s being told that our morals are situational or, at least, that they lack the credibility of being absolute. Those more clever apologists have abandoned the word absolute for objective. “What can a person not justify without God?” they cry out! I reply, “What evil cannot be justified, indeed, what wickedness has not already been justified in the name of God?”

As for happiness, many are raised to think that happiness is the natural and inevitable result of obedience to God’s every command. We begin to find our happiness is conditional and that unhappiness is our fault in every instance. After all, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence.” The striving for perfection while holding up a Savior or a man or a church as the perfect embodiment of divinity is a poisoned chalice. Orwell further said, in Can Socialists Be Happy?, “Whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness.” The perfection-mongers can’t be happy until you’re either conscripted or converted among them or until you are safely secured in the bowels of Hell for your well-deserved, eternal punishment. The attitude Christopher Hitchens described as, “Created sick and commanded, under pain of eternal torture, to be well again,” is the “essence of sadomasochism.” A “creepy and sinister impulse” in the religious who, having been told they are incomplete, spend the rest of their lives being reminded that “without God, they are nothing.” Their inculcated emptiness begs for them to find icons of perfection, which they are reminded they will never, ever attain in this life, and to base their happiness and confidence in the virtues of that individual–usually a male. Thus, they can never see nor will they admit any wrong-doing by their prophet or Savior since their entire hope in life, their happiness, comes from having a lamb without blemish. A willing scapegoat upon which to heap their pretended sins. Posed an imaginary problem and offered a pretended solution.

You’re right, Believer. I do not feel as much happiness since I left the Mormon church. What I have come to realize is that, since I’ve left, I no longer have to convince myself that I have to be happy all day, every day. Felling melancholy, low, or even despondent, is not a punishment— organized as a natural consequence or directly imposed by divinity. Being unhappy is a natural part of life as a still-evolving primate with a large prefrontal cortex capable of over-thinking its circumstances when a disproportionately large adrenal gland and overactive limbic system respond to all manner of stimuli. 

Mormonism is just one of many religions that hijack people’s emotions, convincing them that physical experiences like frisson or elevation emotion are the result of God speaking to them. Mormon’s simply plagiarize from the New Testament fruits of the spirit. But if you feel any unease, depression, even sorrow–nature’s way of warning you that something isn’t right–there exists a milieu of shame. Lack of happiness equals a lack of the Spirit as a result of sin or simply doubt. If I wasn’t happy, I was made to feel I had failed. I must have been sinning or not reading scriptures or praying often or intently enough. I should be spending more time at the temple. (Oh, god…please not the Temple again…) There existed, in every instance of less-than-happy emotion, a reason to blame myself. Happiness was the object of my existence. It was right there in the Book of Mormon—the most correct of any book!—“men are that they might have joy.”2 Geez! “Wickedness never was happiness.”3 If I’m not happy, I must be wicked. That big, bad guy, Satan, works so “that all men might be miserable like unto himself.”4

I will give some credit to the Mormon religion. For as puritanical as their religion is in practice, at least in theory they expect happiness to be a part of their life–and if that fails, a definite guarantee to the faithful after death. For many, they can endure decades of misery just for the hope of bliss when they die. H.L. Menken once said, “Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere might be happy.” Mormons don’t entirely subscribe to misery and the purifying power of both spiritual and temporal poverty though that is one way of encouraging the weary. Despite being told I cannot possibly be happy out the church, I also get to hear that, if I do experience good feelings about life, “I just think I’m happy.” To them, in reality, what I feel is a counterfeit. From the outside looking in, I feel that I can say with confidence, that when you continually tell someone that they have the truth and tell them how happy they are, they do a good job of equating what they feel to happiness and then giving all the credit to the church for it. My happiness is Mormonism was a choice despite my feelings. Outside of it, my melancholy is an admission and acceptance of how I really feel. I have license to feel down from time to time. And I experience no happy-facade-inducing-shame to convince others and myself that I’m worthy, righteous and, therefore, happy.

For me, it’s no longer changing what you think about that matters, it is changing how I think. I don’t need to pretend I’m happy or ignore undesirable, horrific, or mournful aspects of life. I can acknowledge my unhappiness, recognize and own it, then focus on striving for contentment in the areas of my life over which I have some influence. Focus on being responsible for what I can be. A close family member, still active in Mormonism, seemed eager to tell me that all I had to do was “change what I chose to feel.” They were asking me to think positively and ignore negativity. That doesn’t work for me. It’s self-deceiving and self-defeating. Again, it means that if I’m not happy it’s my fault for how I look at it. Member-in-good-standing or degenerate apostate, happiness is an illusion. In both cases, it is something that happens to me. I can choose it but when I fail, there is guilt in the failing. I’d rather let myself be unhappy if that’s how I feel, and acknowledge contentment despite disappointment.

Those in religion are also taught the value of contentment but it is used as a means to trap them. When confronted with questions to which there is no answer, they are taught to be content to get an answer after they die–refer the question upward and give God the credit and the blame for their ignorance. The religious are taught to be expected to be content with bad explanations based on bad evidence or none at all. They are assured and content that feelings confirm not only truth but, indeed, even fact. Of course, this only applies to their faith or the many conspiracy theories to which the faithful seem prone to participate. In almost every other area–including the veracity of faith’s not their own–they would never accept such poor explanations.

Literature has been paramount in my transition to finding peace after Mormonism. Most ex-Mormons are familiar with the wise insight of the manservant, Lee, from John Steinbeck’s, East of Eden, “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” That is how leaving religion felt. Learning what that means entails intense and prolonged moments of unhappiness. But, no matter how depressed I became, I never felt that returning to church would actually help. There is no cure for deceit in a church that, by apostolic decree, doesn’t seek apologies nor does it give them. In addition, if perfection meant being happy, that pressure was also, largely alleviated, with respect to the sinful nature of unhappiness. The pressure was not divinely appointed even if I felt some expectation from fellow ex-Mo’s or to show my family I was what they said I could not possibly be.

Consider the novel and story of Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Years after leaving his asceticism, Siddhartha was challenged by close friend who remained that, had he stayed and continued to learn from the Shramanas, Siddhartha would have learned how to walk on water. Alas, by leaving his faith, he had missed out on this spiritual power. Siddhartha replied, “I do not wish to know how to walk on water.” With, perhaps a bit of contempt he adds, “May old shramanas content themselves with such wiles!” I see in Siddhartha, a man who did not find any more happiness outside of his religion. He may have found less contentment. But what contentment he did find was not in believing the unbelievable or striving for the unattainable. Abandoning the “vain search” offered something “the stilly top of heaven’s stair” could not–contentment without convincing one’s self that they can walk on water. What good is walking on water as an old man if it means giving up your youth to pursue it? Shunning all the real, tangible wonders and woundings of life to do something that will die with you. Even in an age of credulity, Siddhartha learned to value the tangible and find unaffected contentment therein.

Why hold out for eternal bliss in a heaven no one has ever experienced and certainly never demonstrated including the men who claim divine authority to reveal it to you? No less than the first prophet of God to have his word’s are recorded in the “most correct” book on the Earth, teaches his sons, that “no man can return”5 from the “cold and silent grave.” Lehi teaches6 just a few verses later of the resurrection—a doctrine no other Old Testament writer seemed inspired to clearly teach let alone define. The fact is that everyone who speaks of what Heaven or Hell have no more experience with it than you or I.

Jesus started off well by instructing his followers that “in this world” they would “have tribulation.” He then gave them the injunction to “be of good cheer” because of his alleged triumph over said world.7 It would almost make allowing yourself to feel despair or unhappiness into a sin itself. 

I much prefer the insight from The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus. Regarding the titular hero of the Greek myth, Camus says in the closing paragraphs of his analysis:

It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.

I see no call to cheerfulness. No injunction to be happy and no declaration that happiness is the point of existence or ought to be the condition of it. Victory comes, for Sisyphus, not in the choice of how to feel, but in how to act despite how he feels. Perhaps he knows some sense of satisfaction that would draw a smile on his beleaguered face. I do not suspect that he has any sense he will earn reprieve from the eternal, mundane task laid before him. He is conscious of his fate and the seemingly pointless labor eternity demands of him. Yet, the victory comes, not in carrying the rock to the top. No! Victory is in the moment when he turns back, having watched the stone tumble to the base of the slope for the most recent of a countless number. He will not let his fate overwhelm him. He may not be happy, but he is content to endure without pretending to be happy.

For a time I found myself feeling as Dickens’ heroic Sydney Carton except, I identified with a rather pathetic, early version of the man. It was said of Carton in the early chapters of A Tale of Two Cities: “Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.”

In the process of confronting his misery, he found friends in Charles Darnay, his wife, Lucie, and their children. An entirely platonic friend, beloved by this family, Carton found contentment, if not happiness, with them. He could not make Lucie, whom he love, love him romantically in return. He would tell her, as she struggled to reject his advances while remaining friends, “…Your unselfishness cannot entirely comprehend how much my mind has gone on this; but, only ask yourself, how could my happiness be perfect while yours was incomplete?” Carton would go on to trade places with Lucie’s condemned husband who was found awaiting the guillotine because he refused to let an innocent man suffer for his sake. Mr. Darnay would live and Carton would go on, in contentment, to sacrifice his life to ensure the happiness of Lucie.

Comparative happiness or, happiness made apparent by contrast, may have some merit. As I mentioned previously, George Orwell, in the essay Can Socialists Be Happy?, suggests that happiness ought not to be a pursuit but a by-product of worthwhile pursuits. He observes of Dickens’ impoverished Cratchit family, “their happiness derives mainly from contrast…The Cratchits are able to enjoy their Christmas precisely because Christmas only comes once a year. Their happiness is convincing just because it is described as incomplete.” No prosperity gospel thinking here. Simply the rule and role of opposites offering contrast. The bitter makes the sweet all-the-sweeter in comparison. Can we truly understand happiness when we think we must experience it perpetually and feel it as the natural course? Of course. But any interruption to the expected feeling is an indictment of you for some sin our doubt. Is an eternity of bliss truly desirable?

Is the Heaven offered by monotheism truly worth dying for? Many people heard the apocryphal teaching of Joseph Smith that, in essence taught, that the lowest degree of heavenly glory awaiting mankind after judgment was so grand that, if he could see it, he would cut his own throat to get there. This teaching may have taken root in Mormon lore from a speech by then church Patriarch, Eldred G. Smith. “The Prophet Joseph Smith told us that if we could get one little glimpse into the telestial glory even, the glory is so great that we would be tempted to commit suicide to get there (BYU Speeches, March 10, 1964, p. 4).

Scholars have been unable to find an original statement made or attributed to Joseph Smith by any contemporary observer. I understand that Mormon philosopher and historian, Truman Madsen, spent a good deal of effort trying to track down this teaching attributed to both Smith and one of his proclaimed successors, Brigham Young. At best, he found a statement attributed to Wilford Woodruff—a contemporary of both Smith and Young—but reported in the journal of another contemporary, Charles C. Walker in August of 1837. Walker reports that Woodruff reported Smith saying: “Elder Woodruff said the Prophet taught this, roughly: that if we could see what is beyond the veil we couldn’t stand to stay here in mortality for five minutes. And I suggest from the context that he was not talking about the telestial kingdom. He was talking about what it was like to be in the presence of God and the family” (Truman Madsen, The Radiant Life, p. 91).

Notice the vagueness of the statements. The assurance of some unspeakable glory and bliss that would be so preferable to the knowable now as to compel one to suicide. Hiding behind weakness of imagination or language, they simply assure a person of how amazing it will be.

Orwell, in Can Socialists Be Happy?, offers a criticism of any utopia from the Stalinist attempt to fictional imaginings including those created by religion. If we consider their banal musings on Heaven, with its green fields and harp music or prolonged family reunions, this quip is all-the-more amusing: “All ‘favorable’ utopias seem to be alike in postulating perfection while being unable to suggest happiness.” Stalin, at least according to Martin Amis in his memoir, Inside Story, and confirmed by nearly any account you read of Soviet indoctrination8, not only postulated perfection, he demanded happiness until people credited him with it. “Stalin had become a Tsar: children now chanted, ‘Thank you, Comrade Stalin, for our happy childhood!’” Indeed, Amis also notes that “A happy child is no better than a gerbil or a goldfish when it comes to counting its blessings…” Indoctrination doesn’t care. For the devout, teaching children how to think is less important than what to think. They truly believe that if they “train up [their] child in the way he should go…when he is old he will not depart from it.”9 Children who do not understand happiness any better than a goldfish, children who still find great happiness in the myth of Santa Claus, are then inculcated with visions of utopia and promised they’ll get it when they die if they don’t sin. Presents at Christmas for good behavior.

Who can deny that a child behaves, often, just as they are raised up? But I prefer to temper my enthusiasm with the idea of William Blake’s “mind-forged manacles” as I raise my children. I’d raise them up to think freely and to approach information fearlessly. Let them make their own choices for happiness without fearing how my happiness may be affected simply for what books they like or what political party they align themselves.

What all of this hearsay, conjecture, and perpetuation of apocryphal ideas demonstrates is the fervor and yearning of people to find happiness where they can. Even Mormons who are outwardly very happy, genuine or affected, cannot shake the craving for assurance that there is even more happiness to come. That the misery they endure now, including the prospect of suicide, will be worthwhile to make it to heaven and its attendant bliss.

I have never experienced the soul-stifling misery or known the perpetually uncertain hunger that Dostoevsky’s characters often do. The bright student, Raskolnikov, in the misery he made for himself, continually sought to justify the murder he had committed. In contrast to Sydney Carton, Raskolnikov finds that happiness, for himself, is the only reason to live. “No, life is only given to me once and I shall never have it again; I don’t want to wait for ‘universal happiness.’ I want to live myself, or else better not live at all.”

In his poem, September 1, 1939, W.H. Auden said it a different way with similar words. On the heels of the Great Depression and the long slog of World War I, events in Germany and Poland ensured the reality of a second World War. Sitting in a “dive”, soaking up the quiet tension of the people around him, he mused upon the faces of the people at the bar who “cling[ed] to their average day” expecting that the lights and music would simply stay on as convention, or that to which they were accustomed–even promised by experience. Everyone lived in a sort of dull, eyes-wide-shut reality that didn’t want to see what was really happening. They didn’t want to confront, honestly, the fact that to do so would require us to “see where we are, / Lost in a haunted wood, / Children afraid of the night / Who have never been happy or good.” He then expresses that the wasted, spoken air of Important Persons cannot match the coarseness of the average man at the bar. In each human an “error” is “bred in the bone” that “craves what it cannot have, / Not universal love / But to be loved alone.” 

Both Dostoevsky and Auden seem to hint at what Thomas Jefferson expressed in a letter he wrote to his would-be lover, Maria Cosway. Titled My Head and My Heart, Jefferson demonstrates the tug-of-war between one’s reason and one’s emotion. His head tells his heart, “The art of life is the art of avoiding pain: and he is the best pilot who steers clearest of the rocks and shoals with which he is beset.” 

It is obvious Jefferson, perhaps in the attempt at romantic sentiment, is attempting to imply that the head ought to subject itself to the teaching and superiority of the heart. The Heart replies, in part:

Morals were too essential to the happiness of man to be risked on the uncertain combinations of the head. She laid their foundation therefore in sentiment, not in science…I know indeed that you pretend authority to the sovereign control of our conduct in all its parts.

If acquiring happiness is the emotion that drives us, I think we are bound to be unhappy. Like David Foster Wallace alluded, it can become what we worship. Losing it can be traumatizing. Judging others for what we see as the loss of it, can become the emotional, head versus heart game we play to soothe our own insecurity. Consider the words of Albert Ian Gray’s, The Common Denominator of Success. He admits to failings of imagination and intellect but hints at one of its strengths that we might do well to grant greater attention. He says, “There’s no inspiration in logic. There’s no courage. There’s not even happiness in logic. There’s only satisfaction.”

There is no happiness in logic, but there is a great deal of potential misery in faith. A misery that many are forced to confront with by submitting and deferring to a redemptive perspective of a heretofore only postulated, glorious Heaven. How many LDS parents have found their happiness compromised when a child decides to leave the church? Mine expressed that they were “disappointed.” They’d placed their happiness in the idea of their family being “together forever” based upon the promises of men who cannot possibly know what awaits them beyond the veil of death. Not only that, they placed their happiness upon the words, previously expressed, that happiness comes from obedience and damnation from spurning the free gift of salvation. Words first said by a man who’s lies had been revealed and who needed to have his dalliances excused to his own wife.

Happiness is easily found in escape. Mental escape is easy to be had in the on demand unending availability of streaming video. Autoplay movies and television and streaming games offer a never-ending escape from real life for those who desire it. On par with drugs, alcohol, sugar, and any other substance that can disengage our minds and emotions from interacting with reality, entertainment is a better servant than a master. Phone in hand, the younger generations may now even disengage from the old escape, church. Where else could you dream of and, for an hour or three on Sunday, engage with a fantasy world that is so real to you, you prefer it to the capricious and inexplicable world outside the sanctum? David Foster Wallace, in his magnum opus, Infinite Jest, took a direct shot at American’s and what he percieved as a critical component of the prevailing culture. The monstrous book described drug and alcohol addiction and rehab hand-in-hand with entertainment addiction, and was published in the years when dial-up internet still prevented anything on-demand beyond text and grainy photos. In one description of the main character, we read, “Like most North Americans of his generation, Hal tends to know way less about why he feels certain ways about the objects and pursuits he’s devoted to than he does about the objects and pursuits themselves. It’s hard to say for sure whether this is even exceptionally bad, this tendency.”

I think it’s fair to say that I knew so much more about Mormonism, scripture, and things said by prophets than I did about how and why I felt the way I did about them. At the time it was difficult for me to comprehend the total influence of upbringing and geography on my religious affiliation. I’d been conditioned to notice good feelings and attribute them to the Spirit of God and never think about my feelings beyond that. Thus, the fact that I felt was the extent of my understanding of feeling. I knew bad feelings meant I was sinning or out of tune with God. I didn’t really know why and didn’t think I should ask. God works in mysterious ways, after all…best to leave it a mystery. I hadn’t learned a bit about individual or group psychology or physiology and had been inculcated with a skeptical relationship toward them anyway. I thought I was free to choose—the right was scriptural! In the same verses that declared that men are supposed to have joy, I learned that I was free to choose liberty with God or captivity and death at the hands of the devil. 

Orwell’s Principles of Newspeak placed at the end of 1984 offer some insight into the manner in which thought is controlled by oppressive regimes, be they secular or theocratic. 

The word free still existed in Newspeak, but it could only be used in such statements as ‘This dog is free from lice’ or ‘This field is free from weeds’. It could not be used in its old sense of ‘politically free’ or ‘intellectually free’ since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless. Quite apart from the suppression of definitely heretical words, reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself, and no word that could be dispensed with was allowed to survive. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.

We don’t talk about Bruno, no, No. NO! Topics that might challenge the founding myths of Mormonism, the current theocratic oligarchy, or might place something rational and empirical on an even footing with the reality faith demanded were diminished and discouraged. I was taught to feel uneasy—unhappy—when my faith was challenged. I was convinced that this was God telling me something was not okay. Thus, so many trusting kids are taken advantage of by adults they are assured are spiritual leaders worthy of their trust. What of the adults scammed of their hard-earned wealth by friends, neighbors, and priesthood leaders? People are not taught how to evaluate a claim to truth or authority. Conspiracy theories are presented the same way their ultimate truth is presented to them in church. And they are happy to believe in nonsensical theories posited by obscure, faceless, nameless anons. And they stare down their “vain” noses at people like me and pat themselves on the back as they repeat in their minds the affirmation: “I’m so happy! They only thinks they’re happy.”

In or around 1780, in a letter to his mentor and fellow Founding Father, George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson said, “I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people…No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness.” Education and freely accessible knowledge are not sufficient guarantees of happiness, though they may be necessary for a democratic, pluralistic society. And Jefferson was not deluded enough to think that the Constitution was a perfect, divinely appointed dispensation of knowledge or practice. Speaking of his misgivings of the Constitution he was not present to sign, “…we must be contented to travel on towards perfection, step by step.” Whether or not he was happy with it, he stated his contentment in a letter to Reverend Charles Clay, “The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches…we must be contented to secure what we can get from time to time, and eternally press forward for what is yet to get.”

I’m no longer convinced that the hamster wheel of obedience and sacrifice to deity can offer true and lasting happiness. Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, sounding a bit like Samuel to Saul, said:

Ablutions were good, but they were water, they did not wash away sin, they did not quench spiritual thirst, they did not dissolve fear in the heart. Sacrificing to the gods and invoking them was excellent—but was this all? Did sacrifices bring happiness?

A Mormon leader in my former congregation once told a judgmental story about a work associate. Clearly, this man only thought he was happy. The leader told us how fleeting the man’s happiness was. Apparently he sought fulfillment in worldly things including a daily cup of morning coffee. Akin to those who eat bread or drink water that will surely hunger or thirst again, the leader assured us that those who take of the Living Water or eat of the Bread of Life will never thirst nor hunger again. Even in my most strident days as a believing Mormon, this bothered me. I even challenged him that even he, satisfied as he was with the bread of life and the living water of Jesus, also taught us that we needed to read scriptures and pray every day as well as return to church weekly for the sacrament—communion—in order to remain faithful in such a fallen world. Turns out, for mere mortals, the effects of the atonement of Jesus wear out in about a week. Remember the compulsion for validation of worthiness so many young men crave, returning to their clergyman often to confess just for a taste of forgiveness? So much for not thirsting again. 

I realize I’m being trite, but the fact remains that the faithful don’t get a simple one-and-done baptism. They must refresh their faith from day to day. They ought not to bemoan or decry the man who drinks a cup of coffee every day or the woman who exposes her shoulders and treat them like some degenerate addict or would-be prostitute. I’m sorry to say that this is a very real thing.

Paragon of virtue, far apart from what the religious establishment of the time espoused, Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, became a thorn in the side of the church-anointed king Henry VIII, for his stridency in points of doctrine regarding divorce and remarriage. The King and his councillors are desperate for More’s support in the matter. He is a man content with his convictions and under no delusions of happiness. He declared: 

If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly. And we’d live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes. But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought, and have to choose, to be human at all…why then perhaps we must stand fast a little—even at the risk of being heroes.

I advocate for choosing to be human and to striving for excellence while not pretending to some enlightenment or purity or happiness we may not know or feel. Shame breeds discontentment and depression in the well-meaning. Because of my community expectations, shame makes me unhappy and that makes me ashamed.

In Auden’s aforementioned, ominous poem, September 1, 1939, he leaves us with encouragement. I find no happiness in the sentiment but I do see that contentment under even the threat of war, is achievable. Like him, “All I have is a voice /
To undo the folded lie…the lie of Authority / no one exists alone; / We must love one another or die…May I, composed like them / Of Eros and of dust, / Beleaguered by the same / Negation and despair, / Show an affirming flame.”

That is, to me, the essence of contentment. “An affirming flame” from the those “beleaguered by…negation and despair.” No, I’m not as happy as I thought I used to be. But I have earned the affirming flame despite feeling beleaguered, disappointed, and even stuck in a life I may have chosen otherwise had I felt the freedom to do so. I am free, now. Free to move forward. Free of the pressure to feel happy. Free to bask in contentment.

It’s a beautiful and wonderful and mysterious world. I don’t know all the answers. I don’t expect to walk on water or defeat death. And I’m okay with that. It’s pretty amazing.

__________________________________

1 This is from the Book of Mormon, Jacob chapter 2. The Book of Mormon, according to Joseph, was and is the most correct of any book on the Earth. The quotation I used is in reference to David and Solomon having many wives and concubines. Clearly, the most correct book on Earth considers their polygamy to be an abomination. The chapter does go on to state that if God wants to build up a people to himself, he may command such a practice despite his blanket statement of it being an abomination. But in the Doctrine and Covenants—further, canonized revelations to Joseph—God proceeds to “justif[y] [His] servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines” (D&C 132: 1). Why should we be surprised at a religion wanting to have it both ways in regard to sexuality? They even rename it plural marriage and claim it is different than polygamy. Newspeak anyone?

2 2 Nephi 2:25

3 Alma 41:10

4 2 Nephi 2:27

5 2 Nephi 1:14, The Book of Mormon

6 2 Nephi 2:8

7 John 16:33

8 I highly suggest you read Katya Soldak’s insightful essay on her upbringing in the Soviet Union. Try to read it without thinking of how religions indoctrinate their children. 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/katyasoldak/2017/12/20/this-is-how-propaganda-works-a-look-inside-a-soviet-childhood/?sh=248c2bf73566

9 Proverbs 22:6

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The Standard of Goodness

Early in A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens introduces us to Sydney Carton. Initially, amongst the other characters, he is forgettable, pathetic, and even loathsome. Perhaps that is a hallmark of great literature. It can produce contemptible, disgusting characters like Sydney Carton in whom a man like me may see our own character reflected. I speak only of the Mr. Carton found in the first quarter of the book. Of this character, Dickens writes:

Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.

What I write today is quite personal. Essayists I admire like Orwell and Hitchens, Wilde and Wallace, to name a few, managed to write very personally while maintaining a distant objectivity. They made themselves the subject of their writing without making themselves the object as well. As comedian Ricky Gervais has often pointed out, they were the subject without being the target. This is admirable and the product of a strong moral ideal, unapologetic self-confidence, and most of all, a willingness to air their own dirty laundry without compliment-seeking or compassion-sowing.

My community just watched as mother nature rendered thousands among us homeless in the space a just a few hours. Heavy winds, downed power lines and perilously dry conditions fed raging fires that consumed hundreds of homes and businesses from the blinkable space spanning from brunch to dinner. The ominous smoke was visible on weather satellites; the haunting flames were visible from my home. The apocalyptic sensation, well-fed by Hollywood over the years, felt proportionate to the scene and the sensate experience. Checking upon a close friend, she indicated that her house was not affected though she was still unable to return home even twenty-four hours after her hometown evacuated. Her comment to me after acknowledging the tremendous loss her neighbors suffered is that she “feels so blessed” to still have her home intact.

I’ve considered this answer with what I consider a fair amount of self-awareness and irony. I can’t bring myself to think of being blessed under the circumstance. Perhaps the only appropriate word I can adopt to describe how I feel is “lucky.” Luck doesn’t imply a directing hand but the indifferent providence of chance. Those who’s homes were destroyed were ridiculously unlucky. But they were no more punished than another was blessed. Darker would be the thought of divine passivity that allowed such a thing to happen, closing its ears, heart, and mind to the cries of the doomed when it certainly lies within the being’s power to intervene.

I want to say: the close friend I mention is one of the kindest, most compassionate people I know. And, while she might indeed feel “blessed,” I believe her use of the word shows the sinister nature of religious conditioning. The word has become so ubiquitous in our culture that we start to say it and, perhaps, eventually believe it. Looking for blessings and pitying those whom God did not see fit to equally bless.

Yet, there are many who will extol “answered prayers” when their home is untouched while their neighbors has been rendered little more than smoldering ash. No doubt we’ll hear “God spoke here today” and that we humans should listen. When the first unburnt Bible is shown on the evening news, I hope they’ll remember how ubiquitous that book is. And that as they celebrate the miracle of unburnt paper, thousands of decent people find they have no pieces to pick up.

What this moment makes me consider is the fundamental question I recently asked myself: what makes a person good or bad? Am I a good man? As a naturally introspective individual, I ask and have asked myself this question often. I see now that, like Sydney Carton, I’ve been too quick to resign myself to let some aspects of my life eat me away. I am a man of good abilities and emotions but have given much of my sense of self-worth over to the judgments of others. The tendency seems a common and formidable trap amongst humankind. And while I wait for people to draw near to me, I become incapable of exercising what talents I have developed toward the pursuit and promotion of goodness and happiness for myself, let alone others.

The stark realization I have recently experienced was as liberating as it was demoralizing. How many people, emancipated from mind-forged manacles, have finally understood Steinbeck’s insight that, when we let go of being perfect, we are finally enabled to be, very simply and adequately, good? Unfortunately, the peddlers of “perfection in Christ” still make the demand and seem ironically hell-bent on making you perfect after their own image of what that means.

Take the less-well-known or even concealed but equally factual and salient aspects of the life of Joseph Smith. When I was a devoted missionary, we taught that Joseph Smith never had a wife other than Emma Smith. That he never practiced polygamy. Any assertion that he did was simply a lie told by bitter apostates or dangerous anti-Mormons committed to destroying the Prophet’s good name. I was taught to feel disgust, repulsion, and pity on the people who perpetuated these lies. I was also conditioned to feel sorrow for the tarnish upon the good name of Joseph Smith. After all, “He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood.”

According to the LDS owned Deseret News, the church published an essay addressing Plural Marriage (Newspeak for Polygamy and Polyandry) in Kirtland and Nauvoo in October of 2014. Until this point, my experience with the church including University religion courses at BYU had spoken of Joseph Smith’s practice only as a testament to his goodness. He resisted God’s demand that he institute the practice of Plural Marriage until an angel with a drawn sword threatened to kill Joseph if he did not comply. Such was the story he told. And when Joseph similarly demanded that Apostle Heber C. Kimball give his wife, Vilate, to Joseph for his own wife we are told that all of them were reluctant and wept. However, Heber and Vilate agreed and when Heber presented Vilate to Joseph at his door one evening, Joseph was so overcome with emotion that he wept and told Heber that he’d “passed the test.” On the spot, Joseph “sealed” Heber and Vilate together in the sacred marriage ceremony Mormons place all their eternal hopes on to this day. Such might have been considered a glorious likeness of Abraham and Isaac: a just command given and, with demonstration of obedience, mercy extended. Not only mercy, but divine and eternal blessing!

What we didn’t hear about was Heber’s daughter, Helen Mar Kimball, and her alleged marriage to Joseph Smith. The story was no more than an anti-Mormon deception when I was young. The fourteen year old child coerced into marriage under pressure from her father to do so. In addition, the Prophet of God himself gave her twenty-four hours to decide and meekly informed her that it would ensure eternal salvation for her self and her family if she consented. I do not care whether or not the marriage was consummated, that is no way for a man to speak to a teenaged girl in any generation. If it were done by anyone other that their chosen prophet, no believer in Joseph Smith’s revelation would stand for it! The larger point being that I didn’t learn that Helen Mar was, in reality, married to Joseph Smith until the essay was published. Prior to that, the party line was that Joseph NEVER practiced polygamy himself. Vilate Kimball’s experience was shared as evidence that he DIDN’T practice it, he only humbly, reluctantly taught it to others and then granted great blessings to those who gave their will.

Since my disaffection, people will say that I could never have been a “devoted” missionary because of my current state of disbelief. “If you truly believed and were once converted to the gospel, you would never be able to leave.” These people lack imagination and, worst of all, empathy. I’m certain if you asked my companions, roommates, and high school classmates, most would agree that I was self-righteous and even spiritually arrogant, but that I was a devoted student of LDS doctrine and history and that I was entirely committed to my covenants. I was a budding apologist with a fire for defending the faith. But, in a high-demand religion, what one’s knows or claims to know doesn’t matter. If you are an unbeliever, your motives automatically negate your message regardless of its factuality. For Mormons, and I suspect for most religions, what one does matters less than what they profess.

My father-in-law can imagine an eternal heaven in which, if he remains faithful, he’ll become like God in power. He can imagine a conscious life he lived with God and Jesus before being born to Earth. Somehow, his imagination cannot handle conceiving of something that has actually happened many times in history. What would he tell his fifteen year-old granddaughter if the prophet of the Mormon church came to her and told her she had twenty-four hours to decide if she would consent to be his “plural wife.” If she said no, she would be damned. If she said yes, she and her entire family would be guaranteed eternal life. He deflects this question as smoothly as a politician. However, in the same conversation, he agreed that for a public school teacher to make an identical offer would be criminal. If the prophet asks, you pray about it and do what you feel is right. (Spoken like a person accustomed to holy manipulation.) If someone else does, you call the police.

So what if Joseph never had children with any of his approximately forty wives? Brigham Young and others practiced the same order of plural marriage and DID have children by their other wives. The facts are that Joseph deliberately hid the practice from his followers and his own wife. His sacred sealing to his “legal and lawful” wife, Emma, happened only after he was already sealed to many other women that she didn’t know about. He conveniently allowed himself to be “re-sealed” to two of these women, sisters, at Emma’s approval. He never told Emma that he’d already been sealed to them.

Reminds me of Bible verse from Proverbs: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.” The behavior of Joseph, in concealing his escapades from his wife and the public, seem like the behavior of a man who knows he is wicked. If he really felt he was doing the will of an omnipotent God, would he need to add lies upon lies?

He married dozens of women without his first wife’s knowledge or consent. When she finally found out, he prophetically threatened her with divine displeasure and eternal destruction if she did not accept polygamy. Poor Emma had caught him in the barn with Fanny Alger. Emma found her divinely anointed husband in the barn with the sixteen year-old girl who had served in their home. She euphemistically said that she viewed the “exchange” through the gaps in the barn wall. Oliver Cowdrey, incredibly upset by the relationship would call it a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair.” Read the history from both apologists and independent historians and decide for yourself if you feel this behavior can be excused in any way.

He married sisters as well as mothers and daughters. Neither of these things bothers me so long as they are consenting adults. What does bother me is that Joseph and Brigham Young would both send men on missions to build the church and, while they were away, make their spouse a plural wife. Even worse, we come back to the secrecy. Not simple failure or neglect to reveal the facts, there was a concerted effort to obfuscate the truth. He would say publicly, in May 1844, when he already had 30 wives, “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.”

Here is a good source of Joseph’s carefully worded denials over the years.

To me, the creme de la creme is the story of Joseph fleeing an absent pursuit, involves his relationship with Sarah Ann Whitney. The incriminating letter Joseph wrote to her and her parents highlight both his guilty conscious in the attempts to conceal as well as his intentions with at least some of these women. It was not merely dynastic.

Dear, and Beloved, Brother and Sister, Whitney, and &c.—

I take this oppertunity to communi[c]ate, some of my feelings, privetely at this time, which I want you three Eternaly to keep in your own bosams; for my feelings are so strong for you since what has pased lately between us, that the time of my abscence from you seems so long, and dreary, that it seems, as if I could not live long in this way: and <if you> three would come and see me in this my lonely retreat, it would afford me great relief, of mind, if those with whom I am alied, do love me; now is the time to afford me succour, in the days of exile, for you know I foretold you of these things. I am now at Carlos Graingers, Just back of Brother Hyrams farm, it is only one mile from town, the nights are very pleasant indeed, all three of you come <can> come and See me in the fore part of the night, let Brother Whitney come a little a head, and nock at the south East corner of the house at <the> window; it is next to the cornfield, I have a room inti=rely by myself, the whole matter can be attended to with most perfect safty, I <know> it is the will of God that you should comfort <me> now in this time of affliction, or not at[ta]l now is the time or never, but I hav[e] no kneed of saying any such thing, to you, for I know the goodness of your hearts, and that you will do the will of the Lord, when it is made known to you; the only thing to be careful of; is to find out when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safty: only be careful to escape observation, as much as possible, I know it is a heroick undertakeing; but so much the greater frendship, and the more Joy, when I see you I <will> tell you all my plans, I cannot write them on paper, burn this letter as soon as you read it; keep all locked up in your breasts, my life depends upon it. one thing I want to see you for is <to> git the fulness of my blessings sealed upon our heads, &c. you wi will pardon me for my earnest=ness on <this subject> when you consider how lonesome I must be, your good feelings know how to <make> every allowance for me, I close my letter, I think Emma wont come tonight if she dont dont fail to come to night. I subscribe myself your most obedient, <and> affectionate, companion, and friend.

Joseph Smith

Why would Joseph care so much about keeping a home teaching visit from his wife?

So, what makes a man a good man? Believer’s and apologists say that Joseph didn’t lie because his “sealings” were not the same thing as having wives. Yet, these same individuals wouldn’t have that double-speak in any other context from any other human being outside of the LDS church leadership.

The simple analysis is that, for a believer, what qualifies a man as a good man simply comes from his active membership in the right church. That’s it. That’s all that matters. Even if he says what you’d rather not hear, if he claims membership you agree with, that’s enough to invest your life into. Even actions don’t matter after that. I mean, is that what the “second anointing is all about?” He could murder someone in the street and you’d still vote for him.

It’s not just Mormons. A stark example comes from a video oft posted on the web. An Islamic cleric of some degree (I plead ignorance of their hierarchical structure) claims that the man who does not pray is a more vile sinner in God’s eyes than the man who murders or, even, the man who rapes children. I’m certain he does not speak for all Muslims, but he does demonstrate the odds we face as a species. Goodness is determined by your profession of faith, not how you treat others. Just read a book about the Presidency of Donald Trump. See how the evangelicals flock to his banner. Mormons, too.

For Mormon young women, there is immense pressure to marry a returned missionary. That’s the overwhelmingly important criteria for a suitable partner. A kind, hard-working, respectful man without the name tag is, at best, a risky proposition. Other things may be overlooked or, at the very least, the man can be reformed or improved if he’s done his two years proselyting.

When that is the kind of man you consider “good” and the example a good man should follow? The Doctrine and Covenants declares Joseph’s “the best blood of the nineteenth century.” Either that statement is scripture to you, or it is not. Also said, “He lived great and he died great.” Does that include his treatment of women and their husbands? Yes, it does. We’ve had this conversation.

How can a non-Mormon, especially an apostate defector, ever be good enough for you? How can he or she measure up to that? Your standard allows debauchers, manipulators, and purgers to be counted as good in the face of their actions simply by their affirmation of a shared faith. There is no objective standard one could reach because it is capricious. It is based on feelings alone that ignore repulsion or categorize it carefully. Believers are conditioned to think that when they encounter “troubling” information that the unease or repulsion they experience is not because of what they are told but because they are losing the Holy Ghost who testifies of truth.

“I don’t like what you said, it makes me feel bad. Therefore you must be lying to me.”

As an unbeliever, one would make you uneasy. They would be a hindrance to you feeling the spirit. Thus, that individual must be wicked. Certainly he cannot possibly be a good man.

Our challenge becomes avoiding Mr. Carton’s fate: resigned to ourselves, letting the situation eat us away. We have made a horrible but necessary decision to leave the faith of our youth. We’ve chosen our integrity over propping up a corrupt institution that pads its coffers on promises made to the destitute. We’ve learned that being perfect according to dogmatic definitions, is neither sufficient nor is it necessary to being good. Thank you Mr. Steinbeck.

And to be overly dramatic and even sensational, in freeing ourselves from the mind-forged prison of piety, we, like the Mr. Carton later in A Tale of Two Cities, we can feel for ourselves that “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

Featured post

No Mask, No Vax, No Problem

You don’t blame the neighborhood cats for barking. Barking is a dog problem and one that seems to spread with little encouragement. When one canine begins the nightly recitation, it’s as if all dogs within earshot cannot help but joint the expanding chorus. I can’t claim to know much about Islam or Judaism. I can say that the madness of crowds appears to be an especial susceptibility amongst Christianity. They have just enough political clout and a sense of inter-denominational solidarity that when one pundit, priest, or pastor makes sufficient noise–though it sound like irrational barking to other, highly evolved primates–the reactionary minds within range tend to pick up the refrain. Like ripples on the water, it spreads amongst those too conditioned in their reactionary tendencies to critically assess what the barking even means. They see neither the irony of the “dog whistles” to which they lend their voice and their vote, nor of their own theocratic positions that lie just a bit further down the slippery slopes of their own cognitive bias.

As Christopher Hitchens once said, “[Their] sail [is] so raised as to be ballooned by any bullshit that [blows] by.”

Yes, I suffer from this affliction as well. Just like the tendency to bark in response to barking, irrationality is a characteristic of the human species. However, I believe it is one tendency we are intelligent and compassionate enough to be capable of outgrowing or, even better, inoculating from the species while they remain impressionably young.

Speaking of inoculations: I currently sit in a coffee shop named after the owner’s Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I like this cozy, small town coffee shop. I find the energy of coffee shops creatively stimulating. Not quite so sterile as a library. Not so lonely as my empty home. People come and go and speak of things trivial and things paramount. I can tune out the din with noise-cancelling headphones and still experience the caffeine-perpetuated buoyancy. I often seek out coffee shops when I write. This one has become not only an easy choice by proximity, but one I’m accustomed to such that, when I enter, my brain easily settles into a mindset conducive to writing. I have a few other shops I’ve gravitated to over the years. One closed during the pandemic. Another seems to have survived. But, this may be my last visit to this particular shop and, regrettably, I find myself in a state of mourning.

When I entered today, I found a familiar notice on the front window. By direction of the state and local government, masks are mandated in public areas to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Interestingly, the first paper they have displayed is a general order from the city government. We are a town that straddles two counties, one of them happens to be the “liberal” bastion of Boulder, Colorado. So, the shop owners, on their second, displayed paper, blame Boulder for the mask mandate when the order they list, clearly states that it comes from the city of Erie government. (I tried to avoid revealing my city. Well, here we are. If anyone who wanted to know actually reads my blog, it will be hard to keep my identity secret now.)

Two slippery slopes easy to identify.

First: concern about overreach of local government. A close friend and brilliant political mind, when asked by me, replied that he felt our interests were usually best represented by the smaller, local governments. That mobility allowed someone to change their location geographically, when they felt their local government no longer represented their interests. That doesn’t excuse real overreach by government of any size. What I do find confusing is where someone’s liberty is being undermined. How does mandating mask use in public, for Mr. Franklin’s ill-applied caution regarding safety, harm anyone? My profession wears masks all day, anyway. Aside from a bit of acne, it seems to have negligible ill-effect on anyone. And acne is not an infectious disease I can spread just by breathing.

I don’t like the idea that someone should have to move if they feel oppressed. But I don’t see how masks are oppressive. Turn on the Christian and political right’s entertainment network, Fox News, or simply tune into a conversation at a coffee shop named after Jesus, and you’ll hear the pundits and citizens tell immigrants, “If you don’t like our laws, go back where you came from.” For how much support American Christians offer to Israel, would they tell the Israeli’s to leave Palestine if they don’t like how local politics functions? They are the immigrants, after all.

Masks are not some tenet of Shariah. Immigrants are not coming to America and claiming that a neighborhood should be allowed to forgo mask mandates in public spaces because of their religion. Yet, here we have some fanatical blowhards, taking up the neighborhood bark that, somehow, a equitably enforced mask mandate, without preference for any ethnic or religious group, is the equivalent of Nazi propaganda and practice. When someone says that only Christians must wear masks in public, I’ll consider the parallel and, likely, come vociferously to your defense. Until then, stop barking.

On top of that, consider a law passed in France in 2010 that prohibited the wearing of face coverings in public. The direct result was an infringement of the rights of Muslim women from wearing the full burqa as mandated by their faith. In effect, the “mandate” prevented those who wanted to be free to practice their faith, from leaving their homes. Like a mask mandate to slow the spread of coronavirus, people who did not want to break the law became confined to their homes, significantly restricting their freedom. I remember the discourse amongst my Christian friends and family (including myself at the time) that we wished there were a similar law in the United States to restrict Muslim women from wearing face coverings in public. Like the the European Court of Human Rights, we accepted the argument that the such a law promoted “a certain idea of living together.” Religious freedom meant something for us, but we would not extend it to them? Like J.S. Mill said regarding the freedom of speech, if it is not for the other person, it is not freedom. “The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.”

Perhaps I should be willing to include a person’s right NOT to wear a mask in public. Despite what the coffee shops own notice stated, the workers were NOT wearing masks. I was the only one wearing a mask for much of the time I was there. I did “get looks” and I didn’t care. I do care that people seem unwilling to make a simple choice that does benefit others in their community. Their freedom not to wear a mask is fine, I’ll simply do as capitalists do and take my business elsewhere. But what freedoms would these people NOT tolerate from me? Which brings me to my second point.

The devoted Christians who own and operate this establishment would immediately call the cops if I insisted upon sitting in their establishment in the nude. No shirt, no shoes, no service. The evangelicals and other Christian fundamentalists LOVE public decency laws. Why? “To protect the children.” Or, as the owners of this coffee shop said, “For [others] safety.” They would legislate burqa-like shrouds for women in public (many in private as well) if they could name them something appropriately Christian in the process to avoid sounding like hypocrites. (Catholics have habits but evangelicals may need their own terminology.) Shoulders are pornography as is a hint of cleavage. Women are made responsible for how men think about them. Each person, especially every woman, becomes responsible for protecting the virtue of the populace by being forced to wear mandated minimums of clothing.

This is a strange, slippery slope where clothing may be mandated for public decency and restricted for a particular religious group in the name of public safety and is oddly consistent with their parents’ stories of walking “uphill both ways” to school. Except, these Christians don’t seem to walk to school anymore, and it shows. A healthy dose of church every day and worship at the altar of Fox News keeps them immune to the devilry of charitably wearing masks to protect others. Masks protect us but, more so, they protect others from us. Additionally, my Christian friends seem to have lied about being barefoot on their cold, uphill trudge to school. Being shoe-less wouldn’t fit into their public decency mandates for shirts and shoes.

Think about this: they ardently support mandates for a women to wear a shirt in public lest her exposed breasts pose a threat to the public good. They do NOT think the same applies to a microscopic virus that has already killed over 800,000 people in the U.S. That’s the entire population of South Dakota completely wiped out in under two years. The difference that ought to be obvious to the nudity police is that a person can close their eyes or avert them to avoid looking at a shirtless woman if they find the view offensive. What we are unable to do is hold our breath in the presence of contagious diseases suspended in the very air upon which we depend for the next sixty seconds merely to remain alive.

A close family member has recently inundated my email inbox with conspiracy theories. I’m making an effort to be open-minded and evaluate what I other consider worthwhile information. But opening and reading those emails is like watching a horrible car accident. I want to look away but find my eyes, for once, without the need to blink for a time. I’m a bit of a prisoner to my past. Too much of my life was spent calling everything that challenged my beliefs a lie and everyone who challenged them a liar. I disregarded anything and everything for for 34 years and, because I listened in church, claimed I was informed and unbiased. Well, I listened to the video provided in the email and heard the same, tired line about how infectious disease spread has little to do with masks or vaccines and more to do with host theory. (I posted about a confrontation with my chiropractor on the very subject some time ago.) It turns out that the people who question germ theory don’t understand what they claim to disagree with. Germ theory includes the understanding that the future, infected host must be susceptible to the infectious disease.

Like the Immaculate Conception for Catholics or just about any controversial subject in Mormonism, the adherents know so little about what they don’t believe and claim to be a lie, and they know even less about what they do believe and upon which they stake their lives. They take the barking dog line that “humans didn’t evolve from monkeys” and repeat it as if this is the absolute refutation of Evolution by Natural Selection. They are right that humans didn’t evolve from monkeys or even chimpanzees. They are wrong because they think that is exactly what Evolution postulates. They don’t understand the very basics of a theory they claim to be false.

I was speaking with a close family member last week when the subject of alcoholic beverages came up. This person and their children, all devout Mormons, questioned why someone would drink alcohol. I responded that even Jesus made water into wine for a wedding (over 900 bottles worth with much of it left to spare) and that Joseph Smith requested it during his imprisonment at Carthage Jail and for the express purpose of calming his nerves. The adult in the conversation scoffed and said, “Why would he drink wine then? He refused it as a boy for his leg surgery?”

Under the weight of this air-tight logic, I realized I had to find a good resource. First, it had to be accurate and, for the other person’s sake, had to come from a non-biased source like from the LDS church itself. Luckily, it took only a short web search to find the I had to find a BYU site with the story published. BYU Studies, a part of BYU.edu published regarding this incident in a lesson manual. Everyone in the LDS church knows that John Taylor, one of the men that shared the jail cell with Joseph, was asked to sing A Poor Wayfairing Man of Grief. The don’t question that story. But, though it comes from the same account and in the same paragraph that reported the singing, they are quick to call into question the “Prophet’s” request for wine.

Sometime after dinner we sent for some wine. It has been reported by some that this was taken as a sacrament. It was no such thing; our spirits were generally dull and heavy, and it was sent for to revive us. I think it was Captain Jones who went after it, but they would not suffer him to return. I believe we all drank of the wine, and gave some to one or two of the prison guards. We all of us felt unusually dull and languid, with a remarkable depression of spirits. In consonance with those feelings I sang a song, that had lately been introduced into Nauvoo, entitled, ‘A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief’, etc.

Take up the tune of the barking, neighborhood dogs. Any barking you’ve never heard before or that doesn’t fit the accustomed din, must be rejected and it’s speaker called a cat. There is no incentive to research the entirety of the facts when your leadership carefully crafts the narrative and you’ve been convinced that no one else has better intentions than they.

I’m often wrong and some readers will potentially point out those points of which I’m mistaken. Last night my Fox News-loving mother pointed out that liberals had been anti-vax prior to the election. I didn’t remember hearing that so I challenged her to send me references. She balked and said that she’d “just heard it.” A five-minute or less search at home found several sources that would seem to corroborate her assertion. But, upon reading the actual quotes from liberal politicians, I can see that they are easily spun for conservative political talking points. While there was skepticism among democratic leaders prior to the election, it was a wariness of Donald Trump’s motives and support for a vaccine in-the-face of the expertise of doctors and scientists.

While Mormons, at large, seem to be hell-bent on supporting a person’s freedom from wearing a mask, consider that Utah has charged individuals with “lewd conduct” for being topless in their own home. They wouldn’t sue a parent for failing to cover their face and, as a result, infecting their child with COVID that ultimately led to the child’s death–as unlikely as that outcome may be. But if your step child accidentally sees your breasts, you can be held criminally liable. Her husband, also without a shirt, was not charged with a crime. The death of a child to COVID is a tragedy. Their eyes seeing a boob is a crime.

I’m trying to be alert to the barking I take up by reflex. I’ve been indoctrinated to bark and even though my paradigm has substantially changed, the urge to join a chorus has not been inoculated from me entirely. It likely never will be. But the simplest solution is, in this day and age of instant information, available at our finger tips. Look for the original source before you start barking.

Inconvenient Truth

Climate change is not a new revelation, but for those dependent on iron age revelations for their morality and as explanation of how the world works, the climate has been changing for some time. With the progress of secular morality and science, religion has scoured its unbreakable texts in an attempt to make them bend where and as much as they can. From Galileo’s geocentric model of the Solar System to Darwin’s The Origin of Species to Fred Hoyle coining the term Big Bang (as a derisive term, I may add), mankind has found that the scriptural explanations for the questioners existence at this place and time to be unnecessary. Advances in medicine, psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy have challenged the efficacy of prayer and faith healing and divine inspiration. I rejoice in this while recognizing a truth that ought to be embraced. As the villain of Stephen King’s, The Gunslinger, says, “This wealth of information produce[s] little or no insight.”

Here, the scriptures may have something to say of value. Indeed, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are quick to quote the Bible and praise it as an extraordinary work with literary value. There exists a monumental difference between holding to the Bible as scripture versus respecting it as literature. With the former, a reader is expected, under threat of divine punishment, to hold to every word as that of God himself! The epitome of morality and philosophy. With the latter, the burden rests upon the reader to take from it what they will and allows the freedom to disregard the horrors of it. No one need defend slavery as a practice that is morally good at best and morally justifiable at worst. No one need defend human sacrifice including filicide as moral acts. No one must rejoice in the mauling to death of children by bears as the act of a loving god. On the same hand, we can enjoy the euphony and insight of Proverbs and Psalms when they do offer valuable lessons.

I’ve always rather enjoyed versus such as: “The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold therefore shall he beg in harvest and have nothing.” This echoes with the lessons of my father toward industry in the face of discomfort. I reject the Bible’s inerrancy and divine origin while carrying this life lesson with me. I can do that without seeing some importance in turning a woman into a pillar of salt for the heinous crime of looking back while her husband is not punished in any way for offering his daughters as sexual objects to slake the desires of a lustful mob.

I was long a strident defender of the Bible and the Mormon fan-fiction that followed it. Feverishly clinging to every word and story of dead and living prophets, drinking the Kool-Aid of the faithful Mormon party line, I contorted and distorted the horrors of the ancient books and modern obscenities to fit the misshapen holes my childhood conditioning had created in my mind and heart. I was an apologist in the making.

In materials science exist words who’s definitions apply well to the faithful mind. To be thixotropic is to become more fluid/flowable under static conditions. That is to say, if you are working with plaster, the more you shake or vibrate the material, the more flowable it will become. The kicker is that such a material will often harden faster after having been thus agitated. A related term is rheopectic. A rheopectic material will become hardened or less fluid when shaken or agitated. Many lubricants behave with this property.

I was admirably rheopectic as a believing member. When I encountered written or spoken challenges to my faith, I responded as I had been conditioned to do. Repeat to myself that these men are and were prophets of God. Console myself the knowledge that everything I heard was a lie meant to discredit a good and decent man like Joseph Smith who would never have practiced polygamy. “Here’s a little story about how he didn’t practice it.” Take refuge in Wilfred Owen’s “old lie” that it is good and honorable to die for my sense of patriotism as applied to my church. Like a good lubricant that kept the church moving forward, I clung harder to the gears and pistons and axles of God’s Kingdom.

Speaking of old lies, as has become a popular and appropriate motto of the Exmormon community, “Yesterday’s anti-mormon lies become today’s gospel topics essays.” When the essay on Racism in the church, euphemistically titled Race and the Priesthood, was released, the doubts I’d long harbored seemed, suddenly validated. It wasn’t just Satan trying to deceive me. I had been right all along to doubt the idea that the prophets can’t lead us astray. In fact, they could be wrong on an issue as paramount as denying the full blessings the church so smugly peddles to an entire race of people. And, despite previous prophets claims to the practice being so divinely inspired as to be doctrine, they claim with affected remorse, that the practice of denying black’s the priesthood and temple experience were the result of anointed prophets acting by their own prejudices. Brigham Young didn’t think he was the prejudice asshole the current prophets have just thrown under the bus. (He simply and arrogantly thought he was an inspired asshole.)

The second essay that I read, after I already felt the church couldn’t be what it claimed to be, was the Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham. I knew what the title page of the scripture said: “Written by his own hand, upon papyrus.” The strange theories proposed about catalysts and lost pages and whatever else the apologists had come up with flew in the face of what was actually written in the canonized text! You can’t have it both ways. My rheotropism became thixotropism. I was shaken by lies and bent by mental gymnastics to the point of breaking. Integrity will only allow one to remain faithful for so long under such conditions. Yes. I believe that a person who knows all the facts about the founding of Mormonism and remains faithful in the face of that knowledge lacks integrity.

Thankfully, rather than dig in my heels and/or resort to fundamentalism in an effort to remain faithful, for the first time in my life I submitted to something worthy of submission. Under the discomfiting vibration of new facts, I flowed into a new space and changed my mind. Or, rather, I allowed my once happily rigid mind to flow into a more honest if uncomfortable space where doubt had a home.

To change one’s mind under scrutiny is not a weakness. It is an admirable and wonderful thing.

I took a chance, this fall, to be involved in a community theatre production of Steven Dietz’s brilliant, insightful, witty play, This Random World. My mother in the production is a vivacious older woman trying to eke every savory moment out of her final years. Upon receiving an unfavorable diagnosis, she delivers a sweet and, to me, profound monologue on one thing she regrets from her life.

If I could do it all over again, Rhonda, I would have doubted more. What was I so busy being certain about? I chased away most of the wonder from my life by telling myself I already knew good from bad, right from wrong, left from right, and all the rest of it. God, what a tedious woman I must have been. But uncertainty…doubt…oh, lord, doubt is so appealing to me now. Doubt is the unmarked door.

When a person who lives off your donations, not to them, but to the God they claim to represent, tells you to “doubt your doubts” or to simply trust them because God won’t steer you wrong, doubt their doubts about your doubts. Recall that they repeatedly affirm that God is steering His church through a bunch of old men who, as they teach that God won’t allow them to lead the church astray, teach that their predecessors indeed led many people wrong.

To encounter new information and to entertain legitimate doubts is appealing to me now. Partly because I crave to actually stand for what is factual and good. A theory that not only allows itself to be censured but provides the standard to disprove itself and then, repeatedly stands against challenges to its veracity is a theory worth espousing. Sorry Jeff Holland, your claims that The Book of Mormon has managed to do this are wrong. You know it has and continues to fail under legitimate scrutiny. Still, you preach it’s moral and historical supremacy.

To change one’s mind under scrutiny is not a weakness. It is an admirable and wonderful thing.

This isn’t the real problem I have with the faithful. My real problem is that they claim their scriptures are THE standard for morality. However, when challenged with the simplest of standards: slavery, filicide, subjugation of women including as sexual slaves of their conquerors, codified racism that promotes a “white and delightsome” savior complex–the believer must defend the Bible or any other scripture as correct. I’m accused of presentism for even bringing it up when I don’t claim that God exists let alone that he is unchanging, all-powerful, and the author of such heinous outrages to dignity and morality! Look at yourself, believer.

Would you be a slave under the terms condoned by God in the Old Testament?

Would you gut your child to prove your love of God?

Would you tell your wife or daughter that her opinion doesn’t matter and that she should keep her mouth shut in church?

Do you consider yourself superior to another because of the hue of your epidermal layer?

Presentism would be holding another civilization accountable for their actions within the moral framework of our modern day. I don’t. I hold the God that they worship accountable for it which really means that I hold their epileptic, narcissistic spokesman of deity responsible. I don’t have to defend the text or the history. If God can command you to not eat pork, surely He can command you not to hold another person as property. If He can command you to have no more than one ear piercing per ear, He can command you not to declare that “faggots go to Hell.”

Luckily, now that I am an embracer of doubt, I realize that morality doesn’t work that way. If compassion and love must be commands, they are not compassion or love. It is, as Christopher Hitchens often pointed out, degrading to morality and destructive of ethics to claim that we can’t know or perform a right action without a divine mandate. If so, we would hear people claiming that slavery is still okay. The Bible never condemned it and the Bible is the moral standard. How often must we turn on the news and hear of a woman killing her child because God told her to? And God’s word, in whatever form and by whatever interpretation it is taken by the believer, becomes the capricious, relativizable standard for morality.

Grotesquely, there are those who would say, indeed have said in my presence, “Maybe God did command her to kill her infant. She’ll be rewarded in Heaven for doing as God commanded her, even if she has to pay a price to our modern society.” The lesson taken by these individuals who admire the man, Abraham, who would gut his kid to show his devotion to Goda, have found their way to excuse the behavior. Ought we not to fear God more than man? Shouldn’t we be willing to do as God asks of us no matter the consequence imposed by man? Old Testament Jehovah will create a law that punishes people with death for wearing mixed fabrics or gathering fuel for a fire on the Sabbath. The New Testament incarnation of Jehovah, even Jesus Christ, introduced the concept of eternal punishment or damnation. Modern society, though it has failed from time to time, has still succeeded in adopting insanity as a viable criminal defense. The growing tradition of secular thinkers dedicated to religious and social pluralism offer a higher value to the individual’s life than God who would use a child to test the adult’s devotion. Isn’t God omniscient? Shouldn’t he know their level of commitment without such a barbaric demand?

Oh, you are a Bible believing Christian? And others are misinterpreting the text but, somehow, you have it right?

Tell that to Jephtheth.

I believe it is a safe assumption that, of all the women stoned to death for adultery, many had a father and mother and sibling who threw stones. Better to follow God’s mandate than risk His wrath. Better to show your devotion to Him through murdering your own child to fulfill His commands. (As an aside: How many fetuses were aborted by this barbaric practice? Abortions performed in the name of God.) This type of horrid practice still takes place in Islam with honor killings and capital punishment for women and young teens who are the victims of rape.

Is God omniscient? If he knows the woman will kill her child and still demands it of her, this seems horribly meddling, capricious, and cruel. As if he actually delights in the torments of the parent and child. That he would make victory over his enemies dependent upon a grotesque bargain with Jephthah, knowing before hand that the man’s daughter would be the sacrifice.

I grow tired of Bible-dependent believers telling me that I misunderstand a book I’ve read more than they have. One read through will usually be enough, and I’ve surpassed that lowly number. I even had an acquaintance send me a link to the Jehovah’s Witness website and a video that proceeded to tell me that everyone misunderstands the Bible. This is the major problem of our world. God has spoken we simply fail to understand His word. I’m too stupid to comprehend it, but they are not. Come to us and understand the Bible. Sorry, JWs, I was raised a Mormon. They feel the same way about you. The fact is that the Bible is quite easy to understand if you take it at face value, realizing it was written by bronze and iron age agrarians, and written by men for males of the human species. If I assume that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, that his word never changes, and that whatever He says is good, then I don’t need to interpret much. I can see how horrible it is, just like you can and do see it. And I reject it rather than make excuse for it.

The believers who transcend the horrors of the Bible demonstrate that they are good and decent to the extent that they do NOT follow the Bible as their sole source of morality. But the belief in it’s divine nature is a precursor to being convinced that the atrocities within it are not atrocities at all. Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Those who believe the Bible is God’s word are doomed to follow it. It has been and will be our children that pay the price for our devotion to ancient screeds and prehistoric myths.

I’m sorry your truth is inconvenient for you. But, please, Believers, at least own it and be honest about it.

a–Taken from a monologue by Christopher Hitchens in answer to a question during a debate with a monotheist.

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The Pinnacle of Piety

When I invite my son to go on a hike, maybe his reluctance and even refusal are because he’s been listening in church. He knows that when Abraham’s invited his son Isaac to climb Mount Moriah, it was more than a leisure hike that was intended by the father. He also knows that I’ve never demonstrated enough devotion to any person or thing to sacrifice a non-combatant to it. I’ve often told my children that, so long as they are not harming themselves or others, they can count on my support for their decisions. Cases of self-defense and war aside, I can’t imagine what it would take to bleed the life from someone. And even if I could, taking the leap to filicide is a non-sequitur. When one hears voices in their head, all bets may be off.

I actually teared-up when I found this image.

But Abraham is held in high esteem by all three monotheisms. He is the father of a divine covenant between God and all of Abraham’s seed, literal or adopted. None who consider the Old Testament or Torah as divinely inspired scripture consider the great patriarch to be anything less than completely lucid, utterly moral in his decisions, and a demonstrator of the ultimate expression of piety. And even if you want to say, “Well, he didn’t have to go through with the sacrifice! God only wanted to see if he would do it.”

My response: “Your God is a sadist. Would you give a pass to the tyrant or mob boss who demanded you kill your child only to say, ‘You passed the test. Now, remember, I can command anything I want. And you’d better do it without question and without delay. Capisce?'”

“But God didn’t require it in the end. That’s the point. God is merciful. You need to read your Bible before you criticize it.”

“Tell that to Jephthah.”

Gulp. “…Who?”

As wicked as their parents’ obedience to unseen voices in their heads is, the obedience of the children in the face of their death is equally horrifying. They submit so readily you have to wonder: if the stories are true then the utter, mindless indoctrination of the children by their parents and communities is a testament to the toxicity of belief in the divine.

For those unfamiliar with Jephthah, check out Judges 11:30-40. (It’s not a story they would tell you in Sunday School as it’s horrible and not faith promoting bu they can’t cut it out of the Bible because the book is perfect for most Christians and almost perfect for Mormons.) In this story, once again, the children become the theatre for parents to show their absolute devotion to their post-adolescent, imaginary friend. Jephthah promises God that if he prevails over the Ammonites, he will sacrifice to Him the first thing that exits the door of him home. When his daughter is the first, he is sorrowful but, dammit, he’s pious! Unlike Abraham, God doesn’t intervene to stop the murder though He has two months to do so. Jephthah’s daughter, after spending the two months bewailing and mourning her virginity, submits to her father’s promise. Instead of saying that he guts his daughter, murders his own child, or even sacrifices his own daughter, the text tells us that he, “did with her according to his vow which he had vowed.” The text makes a point of explaining that she died a virgin. Thus, another cult demonstrates the strange fascination humans have with female virginity as if that point made her either a more sorrowful sacrifice or a more appropriate one. Perhaps both.

The above story is a stark and nearly perfect refutation of the excuse that Abraham didn’t have to sacrifice his own son. That God provided a scapegoat in the form of–not a goat at all–but a ram. The ram, a symbol of Jesus, right? The sheep that pays the price in our place. If you have a “Y” chromosome. If you’re unlucky enough to be stuck with only two “X” chromosomes, your salvation is only really in your husband. God didn’t send a replacement for Jephthah’s daughter. The Mormon church has quietly changed the wording in their temple ceremonies to make it seems as if the women have some independence in the pursuit of Godhood. And, yes, that is the purpose of the temple. Not salvation. You get that through baptism and repentance. The temple is concerned with exhalation–becoming like God himself.

They covenant to give all of their time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed them or with which he may bless them to build up the Kingdom of God on the Earth (the LDS church) and establishing Zion. Everything. Everything including your children are blessings from God and thus, belong to Him anyway. If he asks for them back as the price of your own, bloody, knife-wielding hand, do as Abraham was asked to do. And be ready to follow through as Jephthah had to do. Remember that God doesn’t like when you keep living things alive that he’s commanded you to slaughter. Just ask Saul. Mormons are covenanting in their temple to become “Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestesses” but Saul lost his kingship for keeping animals to offer as sacrifices. Of course, let’s not forget when Israel conquered the Midianites all the men and male children and non-virgin women were to be slaughtered but any and all virgins of every age were to kept alive. Let your imagination run with that, if you dare. Would you celebrate your daughter being among those kept alive because she would be grafted into the covenant people? Or, would you consider her better off dead?

In rabbinical tradition, as I understand it, Isaac was 37 years old when his father invited him on the long, gloomy hike to the top of Mount Moriah. Most traditions of which I am aware have him as over 20 years of age. Some that seem ironically hell-bent on making the Old Testament tradition rhyme with the New Testament–like Adam Clarke–have said Isaac, like Jesus, was 33 years old when his sacrifice was demanded. Either 33 or 37, I find the age personally interesting. This is the range in which I left the Mormon church and, by so-doing, obtained the ignominious status amongst those who love me (at least love their Mormon version of me) that they feel I would be better of having died than having recanted my faith. If only they knew how I speak against it, now. Danites among them might feel the call of God to deal with me appropriately.

I must admit feeling flattered that, by my late thirties, I have obtained a life of such consequence that some might be “better-off” if I were dead. My children would not think such a horrible thing, though some fathers have actually earned that distinction. But for those zealots who might think or even say such a thing, their holy writ contains enough divinely inspired instruction to hold such a position. Not only may they hold it, the may find consolation and conviction in it.

Unfortunately, for those striving for Godhood in Mormonism, this kind of devotion is still expected. God still expects people to tried, even as Abraham. Doctrine and Covenants 104:4-5: “Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son. For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified.”

“Yeah, but he said that to a specific group of saints!”

What I say unto one, I say unto all.”

Mormon God

According to Joseph Smith God, the requirement to gut your child is to chasten you. To become like God you must be willing to act like God. You might say, “It’s not about what a person does or doesn’t do because everyone won’t be asked to sacrifice their kid to God. It’s really about the character you develop. Have you become the kind of person who would do anything and everything God asks of you?” Even if that includes gutting your child to prove your love of God–an unseen, unheard, not demonstrable, merciful, all-loving father.

When will you say enough is enough? I don’t care if you’re all-powerful. I won’t submit to a tyrant. My morality and decency demand that I say no. If you claim you would hide a jew in your attic and lie to the Nazi’s when asked about it but you would still kill your kid if God asks, I wonder what level of authority you wouldn’t submit to. And, if you tell me that you couldn’t make yourself go through with the murder of your child at the command of deity, then the extent to which you are a good person is to the extent that you are not a Christian or a Mormon.

Few Mormons or Christian’s would admit that they would do it. But the same majority that won’t admit to it, would also not say that they wouldn’t or couldn’t do it. To say they would means they will kill their kids because a voice in their head instructs them to do so. Thus, they typically avoid the hypothetical altogether claiming that they can’t imagine the command coming to them and God surely wouldn’t ask it of them.

“But what if He did?”

“He won’t.”

“It doesn’t matter if he will, it matters how you would respond.”

Nearly everyone in this day and age knows that to be willing to sacrifice one’s own child is abjectly wicked and evil. When they hear of a mother killing her children because God told her to–it’s in the news often and even once is too often–the saint can pass off the impulse and horrific act as inspiration from the devil. But they can’t say that God hasn’t commanded it in the past and even allowed and relished in the obedience.

If you say no you wouldn’t follow the command to gut your kid, it means that you are admitting you wouldn’t do anything God asked of you. And that’s the whole point of submitting to God. Would you do any thing He commanded? If not, you’re not worthy of him.

I’ve had this conversation multiple times with active, believing Mormons. They will not answer. They pretend they cannot or will not entertain a hypothetical. They won’t say yes and they won’t say no or they’ll dismiss by saying that they can’t imagine it happening or that they don’t know what they’d do. The latter is as good as an admission that they would. If you can’t say no without so much as a breath; if you can’t say no with conviction; if you feel sorrowful or shameful that you would decline God’s command, you may be a horrible person.

Can you see why I don’t want my kids in your care for even an hour on Sunday during their primary indoctrination time? If you’re not teaching them to kill their own kids, you’re teaching them as kids themselves, to be willing to submit if their parent says, “Let’s go for a hike…oh, this? I always carry a knife like this.”

Featured post

For the Children

*Author’s Note: This is a short story I wrote several years ago. I didn’t try incredibly hard to publish it conventionally. With the recent pandemic it seems, at least as far as fiction is concerned, apropos.

Ironic that a man of Adam W. Walsh’s virility should live in such a sterile apartment. But that was the requirement of an Achromatin-contributing Fertility Assurance Specialist. Known to the public as a second man, one of the few things Adam still liked about his job was the acronym of his official title, AFAS. He’d been half-assing it for months. No, not a job. It had become his life, the purpose of his entire existence that not only informed every decision, but made them for him. Sterility of environment was mandated by legislation passed without a single dissenting vote in either house. A law now ensured by daily compliance reports and monthly inspections. Such was life for a second man employed by a government-accredited fertility assurance agency operating in The United States. Promoting their commitment to employing only disease free second men was critical not just to avoid bureaucratic inquiry, but to maintain the reputation the corporation had struggled to build in the first years after it was discovered that universal infertility had a work-around.

Just as well that he was scheduled for his bi-weekly drug screening and CBC. 

“We are the protectors of progeny.”

He smirked. The company motto used to inspire him. Now it sounded in his ears like a death knell. A vestigial phrase that meant something to those seeking the company’s services though it had become a sappy reminder of a gift stolen by necessity to become a burden of responsibility for him.

Through the long, window-lined hallway from his bedroom to the immaculate kitchen, he shuffled his bare feet along the polished marble tiles. He paused at the center of the hall and leaned his forehead against the clear pane, gazing at the waking city twenty floors below. Cars and trucks shuffled from one street to another, pausing at intersections or train tracks as electric rail-cars zipped by with their morning commuters. 

The soft hiss of the coffee maker spewing hot water to percolate through the filter drew his attention. He made his way to the kitchen and then, with a steaming mug, to the balcony. The crisp morning air refreshed him as he sipped his morning pick-me-up. He rested his elbows on the thick, concrete rail and peered at the park across the street. The slim brunette that looked so good in those athletic pants wasn’t out today as usual, jogging around the park. He scanned the perimeter of the green-space, ignoring the handful of sullen walkers and their restless dogs. Several men and women in business attire hurried along the sidewalk, a briefcase in one hand and to-go latte in the other. He raised his own mug in a silent cheers—to living—and took a slurping sip.

Oh, that was new. A man and woman, with a small child in pink pants and coat toddled between them as they crossed the grassy field toward a seldom-used swing set. They each held one of the child’s up-stretched hands and every few steps lifted her from her feet to swing the child playfully. Over the din of morning traffic, he thought he heard a squeal of delight from the girl. Despite his mood, he grinned, wondering if that child could be one for which he was responsible. It was possible but unlikely. Not since the Same City Proscription. That was, what, five years ago? This toddler was no more than three. Could have moved here from elsewhere.

Adam shrugged. Did it really matter? Life was his responsibility, not living. But was the former worth it without the latter?

He left the half-finished mug on the rail and grabbed his gym bag from the entry-way bench and slipped out he door. Rather than the elevator, he opted to take the twenty-one floor descent via the stairs. At the emergency exit on the ground floor, he hesitated, nearly giving in to the impulse to push his way out, set off the fire alarm, and make his mandated, morning cardio a jog along Denver’s streets. The impulse had become habitual just as had his response. Habit and duty always won out, and he made the turn down the final flight.

After changing into blue shorts, a Stanford t-shirt, and his running shoes, he stopped at a fountain and filled his water bottle. It took half-of-the bottle to wash down his morning regimen of vitamin supplements before he trudged to the treadmill. Several coworkers were already there, going through their regular workouts for the day. 

“Hey, Adam!” 

He turned in the direction of the voice and waved.

“Adam—THE FIRST MAN! ADAM!” His coworker, Paul, flexed obnoxiously but in that easy manner that pretended to nothing. “Here early as usual.” 

He grinned and shook his head dismissively as he scanned the other weight machines. “Where’s Ramon? He’s usually the first one here.”

Paul, short and slightly balding, always wore a friendly smile. Even if he felt lonely most of the time, Paul was one of the few coworkers Adam really did like. “He’s out today. They sent him hopping from here to K.C. to Nashville to Miami. He should be back by Saturday.”

Adam placed his water bottle in its holder on the treadmill. “Did one of the others fall through or something?”

Paul rubbed at his shoulder. “I guess. I think the scheduled second was out of D.C. or Dallas, but they came down with something. You know how some of the clients are. No matter what the science says, they still think they need the right ethnicity to make it work.”

“No kidding.” He stepped onto the treadmill and pressed the quick-start button. “I could use a vacation, to tell you the truth.”

Throwing his head back, Paul offered up a hearty laugh. “Man, we are way-too in-demand to get a vacation right now. Maybe after next year. At least that’s what Director Jeffs mentioned last week. He was just speculating, but—really? You want a break?”

Focussing on the treadmill settings, Adam feigned casual indifference. “I guess I’m feeling worn out.”

“You’re strong as a horse and look like a male super model. With your pedigree, you get twice as many requests as the next two of us combined.” 

Adam sneered as Paul shook his head. “If they could get a personality screening, the clients would choose you and Ramon a hell of a lot more often than me.”

“Nature and nurture, my friend. Some things can’t be nurtured, like your traps and IQ.” Paul patted his shoulder.  “Seriously, you won the genetic lottery at birth and after the sterilization.”

The belt of the treadmill sped up to a fast walk. “To each his own, I guess.”

The short balding man rapped his hands on the machine. “Alright, buddy. Count your blessings, that’s what I say. You could be crawling around through crawl-spaces fixing AC duct work. Believe me, that’s not pleasant in the Alabama heat.”

He smiled and plugged his earbuds in his ears as Paul trotted off to another weight station. Tuning the audio to television number two—CNNAdam settled into an easy jog. As a commercial break touted the protectors of progeny, he scanned the room, remembering the days he got to work-out in gym with men and women. He hoped those days would return. Soon.

“We’re back with the latest on President Warren’s bill proposed last week,” the nasal voice of the male co-host of the network morning show, Drew Lambert, spoke in his ears.

He trained his eyes on the screen as Megan Lynn, the network’s political analyst, chimed in. “Yes, Drew. The Freedom of Fertility Act may get its day on the house floor after all. Despite push-back from house republicans, a coalition of democrats and socially-conscientious republicans are banding together to at least give this bill a chance for debate. And they hope to get it through committee and onto the actual floor during the waning weeks of this session of congress.”

Co-host, Gennifer Carmike, gestured with an open hand. “Megan, if this bill passes congress, what would it mean?”

Megan nodded. “Genniefer, many experts on both sides already think that such a presumption is, just that, presumptuous. A spokesman for AFAShas been quoted as saying, ‘The measure won’t get through committee any easier than an embryo can implant in a womb without a viable second man.’ And that is what democrats seem to be scrambling for right now, a viable second manfor their legislation at the last hour. Some hope the President may come forward and openly support the measure. But for now, we are left with a fertility industry in this country that is almost completely in the hands of corporations—”

“That’s not true,” Glen Dawson, the ultra-conservative analyst butted-in. “There are no laws restricting the industry from entrepreneurs. There are hundreds of agencies around the country offering fertility services.”

Red-faced, Megan Lynn pointed at Glen’s chest. “Maybe there should be. Legitimate companies—those certified by the Department of Health and Human Services—are pricing their services out of reach of anyone who isn’t wealthy. Smaller companies are uncertified. We are even seeing the rise of black-market fertility and STD’s.”

“When the risk of pregnancy goes down, the incidence of STD’s are bound to rise as well. You free-lovers can’t have it both ways?” Glen threw his hands up with a smug grin. “And why should we fear competition from small business? Isn’t that another one of your special classes that need all-sorts-of government protection? A surge in entrepreneurism without bureaucratic regulation! Free-markets at their best.”

“Wait, wait,” Gennifer interjected, “this has nothing to do with free-markets or government control. This has to do with protecting the gene pool and the health of mothers and babies. This has to do with ensuring the perpetuation of the human race.”

Drew shot a scathing look at Glen. “It almost sounds as if you don’t know remember what happened not long ago. Our species survived the most destructive epidemic known in the history of man.”

Glen folded his arms. “Gennifer, why don’t you leave science to the scientists and medicine to physicians. People can decide what service they want to use.”
“That has nothing to do with it,” Megan cut in. “STD rates are higher in low-income populations then they’ve ever been.”

Glen scoffed. “And teen pregnancy rates and abortions are effectively at zero.” He held up his hand and peered down a tunnel made with his fingers and thumb. “But that has nothing to do with a decrease in sexual activity. If anything, that has skyrocketed to obscene levels.”

Megan gestured as if trying to calm Glen down. “We all agree that rampant sex is a public health problem. But when any Tom, Dieter, or Henry can advertise themselves as a second man, regardless of whether or not it’s true, couples desperate for a child and for money are getting swindled. And they are getting swindled in a very personal way.” 

“And the answer is to nationalize the fertility industry? Like India and Brazil have done? You want to show me how that has turned out for the better for their citizens?” Glen rolled his eyes. “And let’s not pretend that these certified companies have a perfect track record.”

“You’re not suggesting that they are fraudulent?” Drew’s mouth was agape.

“I’m suggesting that they are not perfect. They don’t have a one hundred percent success rate.” Glen smirked.

“If you are so concerned about perfect results,” Gennifer snarled, “perhaps you would like to explain your support for the appropriations bill that would have cut all funding to researchers trying to find an alternative to second men?”

“I never said I was interested in perfect results.” He scowled. “My primary interest is in protecting freedom.” 

“Is conceiving children a right?” Megan raised a firm, silencing hand as Glen tried to spew a reply. “Let me finish. We are heading toward a society where only the wealthy can propagate. Poor and low income people would not only take risks that result in early death, they might be bred out of existence because—if you can imagine it—they can’t afford to breed.”

Drew added quickly, “I agree. Fertility isn’t a scarce resource. It is limited, but why should it only be available to the rich?”

“So this bill, if passed, would effectively make the fertility industry a government-run service.” Gennifer read from notes in her hand. “Would taxes pay for the service for anyone who would qualify? Would there be qualification criteria or standards?”

Megan nodded. “Yes and no. Right now, credentialed providers are not required to service anyone with a venereal disease. President Warren’s bill would require health exams—offered for free at city, county, and state clinics—for anyone who applies as well as ensuring that they are in an emotional and financial position to provide for a child.”

Glen scoffed. “The government would get to say who can have a child and who can’t. Even fewer women would become pregnant, and only the upper class would qualify for the service anyway. After you take away all those with no STD’s, history of drug use, and with means to provide for a child, you eliminate the poor anyway. The market does that already but keeps the door open for them to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps.”

Gennifer nearly leapt over the half-moon shaped table. “That is blatant classism!”

“Blatant! You want to—”

Adam switched the channel. Anything but pundits arguing about whether or not he should become a compulsory employee of the state. It landed on coverage of the Kentucky Derby. A sports anchor was talking about last years Triple Crown winner, Speed of Sound. The heralded bay had gone on to command stud fee’s in excess of $350,000. 

He smiled despite himself. Amongst humans, he was a Triple Crown winner. Destined or doomed as a result of winning several genetic races that only one in one-hundred thousand had won.

Thirty minutes of cardio and another thirty minutes of weights were not enough to distract him. He logged his time with the attendant and trudged to the elevator, closing his eyes and taking slow deep breaths as he rode to the top floor.

He made an organic, nutritional breakfast shake as he cooled off, and took it to the round, glass table. He sipped, staring at the empty seat across from himself, straining to remember when it was last filled. Maybe Paul or Ramon? And then just for a drink and to watch a few games during March Madness? Never a girl. He hadn’t had a romantic relationship since college. Six years in this sterile prison. Discovery of his “gift” at the mercy of a compulsory government screening for viable second menthe selective service for the war of his generation. Maybe all generations. The only war that could truly end all wars.

He chuckled, remembering Ramon’s take, “The sex-lective service.”

Of course, the monetary compensation was incredible. If he invested well, his great-great-great-great grandchildren would never have to work a day of their lives, inflation notwithstanding. The irony was that as active as he was, he may still never have a kid. Each month’s mandatory recuperation week came and went. The lights of Paris, Tokyo, and Dubai. The ancient serenity of Machu Picchu, Rome, and Athens. The gardens of Babylon. The art of Vienna. The tranquility of the Himalayas, Patagonia, and Denali. In six years he’d seen the world on the company dime and done a great service to his species in the process. But he was alone.

It wasn’t as if he couldn’t get a woman. With the fear of unwanted pregnancy almost completely eliminated, some women were more aggressive than ever. And they loved him. He felt like James Bond in Monte Carlo. Money to throw around, a mandated physique that came naturally as did his sexiest-man-alive good looks. But as soon as they found out what he did, their smiles faded and their flirtations gave way to subtle excuses or sudden headaches. He was chewed gum to them. No one wanted chewed gum, did they? Especially gum chewed over and over and over by dozens each month.

He could have a relationship. Some of his coworkers were married, but most of them had started off that way. Their wives accepted their fate as the spouse of a second man. Who wouldn’t? After all, it was for the good of mankind, wasn’t it? And the income! Like a rock star who has to submit to weekly drug and disease testing. The perfect man.

But what really made a man perfect? Looks. Money. A good heart? He wasn’t perfect. He was alone. All he really wanted was someone to talk to. Someone to share his deepest thoughts. Someone where sex didn’t get in the way of the relationship but was a part of it all-the-same. Six years ago, he wouldn’t have cared. But now, he wondered if it was even possible. The way things were wasn’t just due to the conditioning by zealots, it was the reality of everyone’s life.

He focussed on the patter of warm water against the glass, shower door and the soft gurgle as it drained. The steam helped settle his mind and, after a scandalously long repose, he made his way to the fourth floor and signed in at the nurses’ station for his blood draw. He was called back immediately by Rachel, a young RN that always had a flirtatious way about her. Attractive, fun and intelligent, yet Rachel couldn’t date anyone who worked for the company. It was part of her employment contract, as it was his.

“Adam!” Her voice had a light southern drawl that drew him in. She grinned in her usual manner, touching his arm in an interested way. 

He was ashamed that she knew so well the details of what he did. She’d known it for over four years. Details he’d never tell his mother and only vaguely revealed to his company therapist. “Good morning, Rachel. Lovely as always.”

She tilted her head and offered a sideways smile, her ponytail swinging as she did so. “Oh, Adam. You know it’s just not meant to be.”

Adam nodded and plopped into the chair, setting his left elbow in the padded arm rest. “The new normal, I guess.”

Rachel tightened a latex band around his bicep, and he flexed a little. She chuckled and cleaned the soft bend in his elbow with an alcohol wipe. “You know, I know you all are supposed to work out but you have some of the best veins. They could be a wonder of the nursing world.”

“I’m glad you like them.” He clenched his fist as she prepared the needle.

“Tell me, then, where did they have you last week.” She inserted the needle and placed the first vial.

He didn’t even wince. “You know, you’re getting pretty good at this. I hardly noticed.”
“Hardley?” she responded with a hint of bruised pride. “I guess I should practice more.”
“That’s why I’m here.” 

Undoing the rubber band on his bicep, she repeated, “Now, where were you last week?”

She had the locations right there in his chart, but he knew she was trained to distract during blood draws. “I had a crazy hop into Fairbanks on Monday and on to Anchorage the next night. Two days off and a then a double in Seattle. Back on Saturday night.” 

“And this week?” She changed vials without glancing up.

“Rachel, you know all this. Why do you ask?”

She peered up at him, her flirtatious smile back. “I’m supposed to ask.”

He sighed and closed his eyes. “I know I’m starting out in Salt Lake City tomorrow. From there I’m not really sure.”

She removed the last vial, the needle, and placed a bandaid. “Here you go, Adam.” She stoppered the vials, stuck the printed labels on them, and stood. “It’ll be fifteen minutes in the lab. Do you want to wait?”

He nodded, resting his chin on his palm.

“Okay. Doctor—” She glanced at the chart, “Brookings will be here once he’s finished, it’s been a light morning. Shouldn’t be long. By the way, what does the “W” stand for?”

“Weary,” he said, wiping his mouth with his hand and smiling. Seemed sinisterly ironic that his middle name was Wood. But whichever grandfather took it as a surname couldn’t have known anymore what the future held than the parents who gave it to him at birth.

She put her hand on her hip and cocked her head to the side, furrowing her brow.

“That’s all you get from me until we go on a date.” He grinned, sharing his perfect teeth.

She blushed and bit at her bottom lip. “Fine. Mister Walsh. The doctor will be with you shortly.”

As the door closed, he peered through it to watch her ponytail bounce while she walked down the hall. He followed her with his gaze until the sealing door cut-off his view with a metallic thud. The latest copy of The New York Times caught his eye from where it sat on the table beside him. 

One headline was for an opinion piece titled, A View of the Apocalypse. Though he’d never been particularly religious, he opened to the editorial. This guest editorial came as a contribution from one Reverend Malcom Bidwell of Rogers, Arkansas.

It is in these sobering times that I feel the most appropriate salutation one can offer to their fellow men and women is the euphemistic title of Brother or Sister. Indeed, our species—the divine offspring of the great and powerful creator—has stood at the precipice of extinction and viewed our lonely, inescapable annihilation. Not through a glass darkly, but face to face with the end itself. But our Great God has seen fit to show us the way. Our Master has calmed the tempest and taken our stone hearts as he once did his Rock—by the hand—to lift us from the cresting waves where our heads had gone below.

Some would say—indeed have said—that this is the just punishment of a just God upon a wicked and fallen generation that has chosen in the face of all His gracious blessings, to call good “evil” and evil “good”. An age of the world where those with itching ears and stiff necks incline their praise not to the good grace of God but to the power of the arm of flesh. Indeed, we have put darkness for light and light for darkness. The wicked prosper and the voices of the righteous are lost to the clamor of unbridled and unchecked relativism.

Others have said that our current situation is the result of God showing us that his foolishness is greater than the wisdom of men. We are being given a lesser law to prepare us for the goodness and greatness that is to come in His due time.

Cults are crying out in a loud voice with their forked tongues that their revelations and their revelators set the example of polyandry over two-hundred years ago. Those among us most dedicated to the good, and pure, and only Word of God have seen fit to declare the rapture is complete and we are suffering the burnings of our final days with the burden of choosing between an unchanging God’s commands and the adulterous act that we find necessary to perpetuate our species. But we are no menial animalia, we are the offspring of God! And if children, then heirs of God if so be that we suffer with Him.

If the apocalypse is upon us, we can see God’s hand in it, and His wisdom in declaring to us that the wicked will be destroyed by fire. Perhaps the gates of hell will open to receive the wicked in this time as fire falls from the sky and surges from the growing pressure beneath. But, as I see it, the true disciple will keep all of God’s commandments with faith, for his word is sure and his course everlasting. The follower of Jesus Christ will live as long as he or she may in obedience, holding out for the grace of God that is in Christ, Jesus, our Lord. 

The fires of hell do not burn about us, above us, or below us. They burn within us. They burn for the man or woman who gives up faith that the fire of lust and the flame of fearful iniquity lead us to do that which has been forbidden for the followers of God since the beginning. And, I know that the jealously of a good husband and the shame of an innocent wife burn all the hotter when we listen to man’s counsel. 

Those who, with good intentions, seek out these so-called second men have shown their indifference to God. I do not apologize for the innuendo in saying that such souls have indeed put their trust in the arm of flesh.

“Good morning, Adam,” Doctor Brookings ambled into the room, his white lab coat swaying as he walked. “How are you feeling?”

“Decent,” Adam placed the newspaper on the table beside him.

Doctor Brookings glanced over his wire-rimmed glasses and pointed toward the newspaper. “I read that, too. I remember a day when the New York Times would never have run an editorial like that.”

Adam nodded. “What did you think about it?”
“Not much.” He scanned the papers he held. “I’ll tell you what I do know. This fifth generation Zika virus was no act of God or men. Nature had its day. One-hundred percent infectivity of the world within three years. Death rate less than one percent. Complete infertility as we knew it.”

He’d heard it all before, but somehow it still felt like a dream. Hearing it from his physician somehow settled him into reality.

Brookings cleared his throat. “Your labs look great. The model of health.” 

Adam lifted his shirt as the doctor inserted the buds of a stethoscope into his ears. Brooking spoke between listening to his breathing with the cold instrument on his back and chest. “My wife and I finally got past it and hired a second man.” 

Quiet pause.

“Of course, the company provides one for us. No waiting list, no nothing.”

Pause.

“She picked a guy, a lot like you, out of the Miami center.”

Pause. He removed the stethoscope from his ears and tossed it casually over his neck. “He was a really great fellow. Very professional. I think the board has done a great job securing the best seconds out there and getting them under one roof. Present company included.”

Adam found a tongue depressor in his mouth and penlight waving from his mouth to nose to eyes. “We still don’t know why it takes copulation to make it work. All those samples you boys provide on your off-weeks? Those go straight to Philly for that research.”

He stood, pushing the small, rolling stool back with his calves as he came to his feet. “I know some of you would hate to be out of a job. This is a pretty good gig for the one in a hundred-thousand that can do it.”

“Is the ratio that low?” Adam tugged his shirt down.

“It’s actually one in ten-thousand but only one in a hundred qualify under the government guidelines and fewer meet our own strict protocols.” He checked some boxes on the notes. “I don’t see you’re due for any vitamin injections. You eat pretty healthy anyway, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir. Always have.”

“Athlete?”

“Volleyball, in college. Almost made the olympic team before the outbreak.”

Brookings removed his glasses and peered at Adam. “No kidding? That’s a shame. Well, being a second man is no bad gig.”

Sure. Being a perpetual runner-up. Always coming in second. “Thanks, Doc. I’ll see you in a week.”

“Sure thing, Adam.” Brookings whistled as he disappeared down the hall.

*   *   *   *   *

“Adam, Adam, Adam, Adam, Adam——shame!”

Yup, it was Leonard. Why did it have to be Leonard.

A hand clapped him hard on the shoulder. “How are they hangin’ my second brother?”

He closed his eyes, subduing a full-body wince. “Just getting some grub before I board. Airport food does a body good.”

A leather bag plopped to the floor and a coworker that looked oddly like Napolean Dynamite in a button up Hawaiian shirt collapsed in the seat across from him. Well, a Napoleon Dynamite that had found a professional stylist to help his image. “Where you off to this week?”

“Salt Lake City tomorrow and the rest of my itinerary is still on its way. Who knows,” he grinned mischievously, “Maybe just one hop this week.”

“OoooooOOOO oo! Be careful in Utah, my friend. I had a husband watch there once.” He nodded, an incredulous look in his eye. “Sat there beside the bed for the whole thing. He insisted on it. Garret and Blake had the same thing happen. Guess where? Utah and Idaho—but close enough you could spit into Utah if you wanted to.”

Adam shrugged. “So what. You love a woman and committed your life to her? As hard as it may be to see that, I’d imagine even y—most decent husbands would consider doing the same.”

“Maybe.” He trailed off, scratching his head and pushing his glasses back up his nose. A grin flashed on his face and he leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. “You ever get to go on an international call?”

Chewing his salad as he nodded, took a long drink of water, and wiped his mouth. “Every couple of months. Canada. England. France. Germany. These days, they’ll only let us go to Canada, Australia, and Europe anyway.”

Leonard’s grin melted to a frown. “I thought South Africa was still open?”

“Nope, closed it a year ago. Malaria and a couple of other things.”
“There’s immunizations for that.”

“Too risky. Mutations in the virus, I think. Rachel was explaining it to me a few months ago.” He smiled to himself.

“Whoa. Whoa, buddy. Back up the cart! You and her?” Leonard wore a disgusted sneer.

“Me and her? Of course not. Like you, I happen to see her every week because of my job.”

“And you talk to her?” He wiped casually at his nose with the back of his arm and gave an anemic snort. “Man, she is way too intimidating.”

“You don’t talk with her?”

Leonard scoffed. “I don’t talk to anyone, let alone pretty girls. But,” he gestured up and down at Adam with an open hand, “look at you. Girls were never a problem for you.”

“Oh? Okay.” Forget about it. 

Leonard’s wide eyes bored into him. “Why do I get the feeling you don’t like this job?”

Adam set down his fork and shrugged. “It’s your feeling. You tell me?”

The lanky man sagged back in his chair, arms thrown wide in frustration. “Dude, it’s totally obvious. You won the friggin’ lottery and you act like you’re getting shipped off to Auschwitz!”

Adam set his eyes on Leonard in a scathing rebuke. “That’s not funny.”  

The peevish man held his hands up defensively. “Lighten up and enjoy yourself.” He leaned forward, wagging a slender finger at Adam. “One of these days, those guys in Philly are gonna figure it out and you and me are gonna be out of a job.”

Rolling a straw on the table with his fingers, he sucked at his bottom lip. “So what? We’re rich as rock stars.” He folded his arms over his chest. “Can’t come soon enough, if you ask me.”

Leonard stepped his glasses up the bridge of his nose with several short, rabbit-like wrinkling movements. “I agree it’s odd in this day and age, with all the medical and biotech in the world, that they haven’t figured out how to put us out of a job. The one’s I meet, I’m sure they’d prefer a doctor’s hand over our services any day.”

“When that day comes, I think I’ll be happy for a chance at a normal relationship.”

“You’re one of the good looking ones. You don’t know how hard it was for some of us?” He sat tall, a smug look on his face. “I know you wouldn’t believe it, but back in high school, I was a total nerd.”

Adam suppressed a smile and, instead forced a feigned expression of shock.

“Yeah, yeah. I know! Dungeons and Dragons and RPG’s, the whole nerd thing, man.” He jabbed a thumb into his own chest. “Now, I get paid. I’m helping myself, and I’m helping humanity. God! We’re like fireman! Saving the world!”

“Seems to me we’re like chemotherapy. A repulsive and degrading treatment. Keeps life going but at a huge cost.” 

Leonard scoffed. “Why do you do it then? Can’t you just quit. Go into hiding somewhere?”

Returning a scoff, Adam sighed. “I feel some sense of duty, too. I hope what I’m doing is good. We do offer hope to people. And there are so few of us—one in a hundred thousand are suitable candidates. That’s three-thousand men at most in this country.”

“Man.” He scanned him up and down as if seeing him for the first time. “I’m the nerd here but you! You must be like a stiff board for those women!”

“You’re an ass, Leonard.” He stood, gathering the remains of his dinner. “We have a job to do for desperate people. You think those women and couples that call us like the fact that they need us have a baby? They ever invite you out for dinner afterward? You get Christmas cards from anybody?”

“Simmer down, Adam. Let a man like his job!” He brushed at his hair and exhaled through his lips like a horse. “Gosh, I thought jocks were all balls and no brain.”

“That’s why you’ve got the worst reviews of anybody still employed, Leonard. You’re lucky they don’t publish those in the brochure or NO ONE would request you. That’s why your rate will never get above the minumum. You’re a selfish, inconsiderate prick.”

“God! Shut the hell up! I follow the script just like everyone else!” Leonard was halfway to a fetal position. “You think we’re seconds, but we aren’t. We’re not runners-up. They depend on us! We make it happen. We’re really the primary, even if we are not the first.”

“In twenty years, we won’t be needed anyway.” Adam shouldered his carry-on and trudged toward his gate, offering a one-finger salute over his shoulder to Leonard. 

He boarded the ERJ-175 with the first class passengers though this short flight really had no first-class cabin. The hop was barely an hour from gate to gate but, just like most outbound flights in the last couple of years, he removed a leather portfolio from his carry-on and opened it. 

A faded picture, its corners worn, hung inside the front cover. The pages were smooth, plastic sleeves. He thumbed through the handwritten messages the sleeves protected. 

Cards. 

Paper in blue, pink, and yellow. Some bore blotched ink and stained paper where tears had fallen. Some also had pictures. Photos of infants, of families. He grinned at the black and gold card with a photo of twins in matching blue onesies that each said Daddy’s Soccer Star.

Few clients sent letters. He understood. His father had been a dentist and a damn good one. He heard from someone nearly every week growing up about how much they appreciated and respected his father, but in forty years, the old man had only gotten a handful of written letters to say thank you. And he cherished every one of them. Professionals don’t work for compliments even if they try to earn them. 

Some of Adam’s clients had sent more than one. The subsequent cards usually provided updates on the child’s birthdays. They were consistently expressions of gratitude and they were always awkward. But in that awkwardness, he sensed the genuineness of the gesture. These clients sensed how difficult the process was not just for themselves, but for him. 

As usual, he thumbed to the end. The purple card with the cherubic face of a newborn, eyes closed tight against the harsh newness of light. He brushed his fingertips lightly over the plastic protection and took a deep breath.

God gave us Hope when he sent you to us.

And though we held her and loved her for but a few hours

God needed her home, a rose amongst His flowers.

We cannot measure, nor dare we guess

How her moment in our arms o’ercomes all the grief.

Thanks to you, we have Hope forever, be the memory brief.

*    *   *   *   *

Adam glanced at his vibrating phone and slid the red icon across the screen, “Hi, Mom.”

“Hi, honey,” she said in her perpetually hoarse voice.

“Asthma still a problem?” He said, glancing upward at the tall glass building. The buildings of AFAS remained unmarked after several religious groups threatened violent reprisals against them and one bomb was unsuccessfully deployed near their Chicago office. 

“Oh, you know doctors. They can’t seem to figure anything out these days.”

He rolled his eyes, dismissing the quip about the medical professions failure to remedy the current infertility epidemic. “Yeah.”

“Where are you this week?” the question seemed to linger like air freshener in a recently and desperately used lavatory. He knew what ruminated beneath her words.

Kicking at the side of the building, he shrugged. “Nowhere, Mom.”

“They don’t have you out somewhere dishonoring your family, faith, and morality?”

He twisted the mic on his phone up, away from his mouth and nose, and took a deep breath. After a weary exhale, he dropped the mic back to his lips. “Is this why you called?”

“You didn’t have to answer.” He sensed she wanted to say more, and remained silent through her pause. “Maybe that’s why you answered. You don’t always.”

Forcing his voice to stay calm, he said, “If I’m near my phone I always answer when you call.” He felt himself half-frown thinking about Rachel. You are the only woman I have, Mom.

“Is that right?”

“Because of you and dad, Toby never calls. Samantha’s husband won’t let her have contact with me. You all disowned Cameron, and he won’t answer any of my calls or letters. Dad’s gone. Who am I supposed to talk to?”

A sniff, he was quite sure was not the result of her asthma, scratched though the earpiece. “We can love you without loving what you do.”

“Tell that to Toby. Convince Jarod so he’ll let my sister call me. Reach out to Cam and tell him you love him.”

“Well—” her voice trailed off.

“Then at least tell him I had nothing to do with it all. I have no one—”

She cut him off. “And don’t thin—”

He returned the favor, “and I’m under no delusion that these kids will fill in that space, Mom! I don’t expect them to! They aren’t mine!”

Feet scuffing on the concrete beside him drew his attention and an embarrassed blush. He mouthed, “sorry,” and turned back to face the glass paned building. 

“Honey, it’s just—”

“I’ll talk to you later, Mom.” His voice cracked. “I love you.”

He pressed the “end call” button a bit more forcefully than he would have liked. Fighting back stinging tears, he licked his teeth beneath his lip and rolled the phone over and over in his hand. Taking two deep breaths, he stood tall and stepped to the door. 

Rummaging in his pocket, he removed a photo key card and dangled it by the lanyard beside the black, key box. A green light flashed on the box. An audible click. And the door slowly slid open.

“Good evening, Adam,” the receptionist at their Salt Lake City bureau said with a smile. She was cute, with wire-rimmed glasses that refused to stay up on the bridge of her nose. Blonde hair fell in wide curls over her gray suit coat.

“Hi, Amina.” He raised his hand in a casual wave as the glass door clicked closed behind him.

She offered an empathetic pursing of her lips and pained squint, “Rough phone call?”

He hefted the phone, still in his hand, and shrugged. “Mom.”

Amina tried to stifle a disgusted expression. “Sorry.”

He shrugged again.

“And,” she started slowly, a hint of regret in her tone, “your clients’ flight was delayed. They won’t be here until midnight.”

Relief flowed over him like cool water on a scorching summer day. “Just as well, I suppose.”

“Good thing your schedule is open.”

He tapped his phone and glanced at the screen then back to Amina. “What time do you get off?”

“Without them showing up,” she said, glancing up and to the left with a contemplative brow raise, “five.”

He wagged his phone as if she could read it. “That’s fifteen minutes. Want to get some dinner with me?”

Amina adopted a conspiratorial smile and bit at her lower lip—just like Rachel. “Well,” she drew out the word.

“My treat.” She smiled again. “You show me the place, I’ll pay. Any price, as long as we can walk there.”

She leaned forward, her white blouse with the top two buttons undone billowed downward, revealing a bit more than he wanted to see. “Business related, of course.

Wow. This one went from zero to sixty fast. He forced his own voice to remain coy, not wanting to deceive her at all. “Just two friends from work.”

She nodded, her curls sliding over her shoulder to bounce around her flawless face as if framing her portrait in a glistening, blonde frame.

He hefted his bag. “Let me drop this in my suite, and I’ll meet you down here at five?”

She nodded again, and he made his way to the elevator in a corridor behind the reception desk. Was this a bad idea? He chuckled aloud and though he heard her chair creek. His whole life was a bad idea.

As the doors to the elevator slid shut, he thought he heard a whisper from Amina’s direction. “Yeah, the really handsome one! He asked me to dinner. I know its—”

The sealing doors cut her off. He almost smiled, but his sinking stomach took away the pleasure of flirtation. They were coworkers, after all. 

*   *   *   *   *

When he returned to the reception desk, Amina leaned back against the desk with her feet crossed. Her heels accentuated the curves of her slender legs that disappeared at the knee under a dark-blue, pencil skirt. Her white, silk blouse, no longer hidden beneath the gray blazer, hung gratifyingly over her young, full breasts which she seemed determined to show off with her back subtly arched and her hair pulled back in a messy but undeniably sexy bun. 

He refrained from rolling his eyes, glad to have feminine company for an evening, and offered a genuine smile. Sliding his hands into his jeans pockets, he gestured with his head to the exit. “Where did you decide to go?”

With sultry, cat-like grace, she pushed up from the desk and glided to him, taking his arm with her hand. “Oh, I don’t want to go anywhere fancy. There’s a Brazilian place just a couple of blocks from here.” She raised her heel from the ground and glanced over her shoulder. “And walking anywhere in these isn’t much fun.”

He pulled his gaze from her exposed leg, and smiled. “Sounds good to me.”

As they made their way down the busy sidewalk, bustling with workers headed home from work, Amina squeezed his arm. “So, you’re from Denver?”

Oh, I wish she was that receptionist from Albuquerque. Just a nice smile and good conversation and not trying for anything. “That’s where I’m based out of, sure. But I was born and raised in Oregon.”

“Oh, I love Denver! I’ve thought about moving there a few times. I have friends in Boulder.”

This time, he did roll his eyes. Everyone had friends in Boulder. “What about you?”

“From here. All my life.”

He nodded, and she pulled him around a corner. “This place won’t be busy on Monday night. We’ll get a seat right away.”

“That’s nice. My last meal was an airport salad in Denver.”

“Eww!” She cringed, but her voice sounded a bit too much like a character from The Californiansin a Saturday Night Live sketch from years ago. 

He wanted to take her attention off of himself. Holding the door to the restaurant open, he said, “So, you must see a lot of guys come through from all over the place.”

“At least forty a week. In the winter and spring, I’ve seen a week with over two hundred.” 

“Wow,” he said with mock amazement. He knew the larger bureaus in New York and Houston averaged over three-hundred each week.

“Well, we’re nothing like the big cities.” She admitted, holding up two fingers to the hostess. 

Kari, the hostess’ name tag read, grabbed two menus, napkins, and utensils before leading them to a booth near the rear of the dining area. “What would you like to drink?”

“Water,” Adam answered on reflex.

Amina gave him a surprised, disappointed expression. “Just water?”

He glanced down at his menu and tried to speak with an indifferent tone. “For now.”

“I’ll start with a mojito.” Her expression remained conspiratorial. “And a water.”

Kari nodded and held up two fingers. “Two waters and a mojito?”

Amina’s glance practically begged him to order something stronger. He smiled at the hostess and handed her his menu. “That’s right. And I’m just going to do the works.”

“Me, too,” Amina said.

Kari smiled at Adam, and he suddenly wished he were at dinner with her instead. Frankly, he was afraid of what Amina might be like after her second cocktail.

Smiling warmly, he said, “Well, I feel like I haven’t had a real meal in ages.”

She seemed to flush at the comment, biting her bottom lip again. “I know what you mean.”

He was talking about food but might as well have been talking about something else—something Amina was thinking of. Trying to remain friendly, he stood and tapped the table. “Shall we?”

After filling the plates at the extensive salad bar, they returned to their table together and sat looking at their food. When a long moment passed, he picked up his fork. “I don’t say ‘grace’ or anything like that, but if you want to, I don’t mind.”

Amina shrugged to one side. “My family always did. I guess I do sometimes, but usually not in public.”

“Why would you change what you do in public?” He asked, setting down his fork.

“Oh, I don’t want to make others uncomfortable,” she said, her tone lacking confidence.

“If someone’s offended by you saying a prayer, that’s their problem, not yours.”

With her head slightly bowed, she rolled her eyes upward, peering at him from under her eyebrows. She smiled though he could barely see it. “Thanks…Dad.”

He snorted and she giggled in response. He held out his hands as if offering the table to her. “Please, the table is yours.”

Tipping her head side-to-side, she bowed it and softly mumbled something he could barely hear before raising her eyes to meet his own again. 

“Do you feel better?” he asked.

“Not really,” she said. 

The first unaffected thing she’d said to him since saying “hi” at his arrival. It seemed they may have passed through a wall and could simply talk. At least, he hoped they might.

“Well,” he mused, picking up his fork, “I do.”

She laughed aloud and he joined her in chuckling through a bolus of salad in his cheek, drawing a few curious and even irritated glances from around the room.

“Why do you think this bureau has so few calls compared to others?” He asked, mulling some Persian-inspired chickpea salad. “Other branches in similar cities like Portland and Tulsa are far busier.”

Taking a deep breath, Amina sighed. “I don’t know. My Dad thinks it’s a good thing, shows that people’s morals haven’t ‘gone to hell’ in this place. But he doesn’t say hell.” She almost choked on a cucumber as she laughed. When she recovered, holding a hand in-front-of her mouth to keep from spitting her food, she added, “He says ‘heck’.”

After along silence of eating, she asked, “What do you think will happen?”

“What do you mean?”

“To us?”

He raised his brow in question.

“Humans. Our species. What will happen to us?”

Wiping his lips, he took a sip of water and sat back to finish chewing whatever meat the server had just cut onto his plate. He swallowed. “Who’s to say?”

“Well, won’t our jobs become obsolete in a few years, when all the new babies being born are able to start having kids of their own without our services?”

“Maybe. We still don’t know if the virus’ affects will reach the next generation or not. And the virus is still out there. It didn’t go anywhere. We haven’t figured out an immunization for it yet. But even if the babies being born today can reproduce like we used to, it will be twenty more years before we could hope to be past this awful reality.”

“Awful?” her voice rose in genuine curiosity. “I mean, it’s kind of silly and maybe unpleasant but—well—you think this is awful?”

He shook his head subtly, unprepared for such a question. “What do you mean? You don’t?”

Her gaze travelled up and down as though she could also see through the table. “This must be a dream come true for you guys.”

“Why would you say that?” She was being genuine, but he was tired of this line of questioning. Maybe because he had the conversation with himself nearly every day.

“You get to—you know—” She stammered with a subdued pumping gesture of her fist. “All the time.”

“That sounds appealing to you?”

“Well, the culture I was raised in thinks that every man will have many wives in heaven and get to populate worlds. Men spend their whole lives doing what God wants so they can get this eternal sex life. Having babies forever is all that matters to them. If they don’t get that, it means they weren’t good enough people.”

“Your culture sounds like a sex cult.” He tried to give an apologetic, empathetic look with his eyes. “My job sounds like a sex cult.”

Her disgusted expression faded to a weary smile. “They both certainly do.”

Adam took a bite of grilled pineapple. “Do you flirt like this with all the seconds that come through here?”

Her head bowed with a shameful, shoulder shrug to mask her blushing cheeks. “Just the cute ones.”

“That’s a relief, I guess.” He sipped his water. “Maybe I should get a drink.”

She looked up carefully.

With the waiter passing by, he asked for a dirty martini then met her gaze. “I haven’t had a drink in months.”

She tossed her head a bit and raised her second mojito. “Is that so.”

“Who else?” He asked, finding himself suddenly enjoying the playful banter even if that’s all that it could be.

“Well,” she mused, “there’s you. Everyone knows about you.”

He nodded and rapped his fingers on the table.

“There’s a funny guy named Ramon, but I think he’s married.”

“Know him,” Adam added quickly. “He is. And his wife is amazing. She makes the best guacamole you’ve ever had.”

Amina’s face contorted in a disgusted, tongue-thrusting wretch. “I hate avacados.” When he didn’t answer, she added, “And there’s a spaniard, Emilio. All the ladies talk about him. From some town on the Mediterranean.”

Nodding, Adam said, “I know Emilio. Great guy! Always smiling. He’s from Murcia, actually, but his parents have a place on the Med. Been there twice. Quite the artist—sculptor—if you ever see him again ask him about his sculpture of a full set of teeth. Pretty incredible. And, he’s engaged to a really sweet señorita from Barcelona.”

She bit her lip—in disappointment this time. They went back to eating in silence for a few minutes. A child across the dining room caught his eye and he thought me recognized the parents, but those false-positives happened to him a lot these days. The child couldn’t have been more than eighteen months. Happy, giggling, and with a mess of processed food covering his chin, cheeks, and rolling down his bib.

Amina set her fingertips lightly on the back of his hand. “What are you thinking about?”

Only then did he realize he was staring. “I need a second man to have a baby, too, you know.”

Of course she knew, but suddenly, the flirtatious little girl gave way to a mature, empathic woman. “Do you know why?”

“They think competition or the threat of it is what motivates the embryo to finally implant. In vitro is usually ineffective without a second man, too. So I can fertilize an egg, but I still need that competition to make the embryo implant.”

“Is that hard?” Her tone was sweet, gentle, and kind.

“Of course not. It’s the way for everyone else, why not for me?” But there was resignation in his tone, not acceptance. “Simulation of a second man isn’t totally useless. Three to five percent of women will have successful gestations. But they find more spontaneous terminations of the fetus from it than are worth the risk.”

Amina stirred her potatoes about the plate. “It’s standard questioning now to ask if they’ve tried any simulated, secondary copulations in the last two weeks. They have to sign an affidavit that they have not and that we can’t be held liable for any failures due to their providing misinformation.”

“I hadn’t seen that.” Adam said.

She grinned and sat tall. “You don’t ask those questions. I do.”

“I passed a scraggly old man on my way to the Centre. He was holding a sign on the street that said,” he held up his hands as if unfailing a marque, “‘The Government Sanctions Adultery and calls it Good.’” He dropped his hands to his lap. “His other sign quoted the Bible, ‘In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be Without natural affection, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which lead captive silly women with divers lusts, never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.’”

Amina reached out again and touched his hand. “Do you like what you do?”

He tipped his head side to side as he thought about what to say. “I used to. Thought I was the luckiest man alive.”

“What about now?”

He nodded toward the window where the infant sat in his high chair, trying to pick up a cooked carrot. “That’s what I like about it. But none of them are mine.”

“So, you’re not like some of them—a sailor, with a girl-in-every-port attitude about it?”

“You think these women like it? Their spouses and boyfriends don’t. Some women need a man they are attracted to, since they know it’s only physical. Some men can’t stand it to have a good-looking guy in my position.” He took another sip of his martini. “Besides, I can’t have a significant other.”

“Can’t you get married?” 

“Even if the company allowed new marriages, how could I date someone long enough to get that far? Women run away when they find out what I do. And I can’t lie about it.”

“I’m sorry, Adam.” Her concern was genuine. “I didn’t realize—”

“It’s not your fault, Amina.” They sat silently, trying to avoid eye contact. “Thanks for coming to dinner with me.”

“What would you change,” she started, “if you could.”

“I don’t know. I’m scared of some dick-congressmen in D.C. declaring me a slave of the state. My family all think that I’m the spawn of Satan. And I can’t have a girlfriend.”

“So, you want a girlfriend then?” She said with a teasing glint in her eye.

“I would.”

As if held back for hours, her breath rushed out in a giggling deluge. “That’s a relief.”

“What do you mean?” he let the derision ooze from his voice.

“Well, you’re cute and smart and fit. Some of the other ladies wondered if you are gay.”

Is that why you’re trying to seduce me? To win a bet or something?” He slid his chair back as if preparing to get up and leave.

Her hands flew out to stop him, “No! No, no, no, no, no. I am sosorry.”

“You know,” he said, chuckling in a sickly fashion, “Ten percent of seconds are homosexuals by nature. They’re great guys. Most of them a lot easier to be around than others.” He thought of Napoleon and sneered. 

Amina’s head hung shamefully and she twiddled her thumbs at the edge of the table.

“I always wanted to really understand my brother. He’s a gay man and a very good man. He is an addiction recovery counselor, works with homeless people not far from me. Does great things. I haven’t heard from him in years because of how my mother and brother treated him when he came out to them. He won’t return my calls, and I hardly blame him. He was told to live his life without acting on his natural affections. He was supposed to live alone, craving something he could never have so that his actions wouldn’t harm impressionable children. ‘You have to deny yourself for the sake of the children.’ Well, he found a great guy, I’ve actually spoken to him. But, until things change, I’ll never have what my brother has. And I am truly happy for Cam. But I’ll have to try to enjoy a counterfeit experience for real, emotional and physical companionship. All for the good of humanity. For the children.”

“I’m sorry.”

He took a deep breath and exhaled before speaking softly, “I can barely get it up these days.”

“We have meds for that.” He saw her cringe as she said it.

“Oh, I know. And I use them.”

“Adam, I don’t think this job sounds good for you. Why not get out?”

He shrugged pathetically. “I tried last year but they offered me a pretty big increase in salary. I had plenty of money, don’t know why I ever took it in the first place. Now, I have a contract through nextyear.”

“You can’t keep this up. Haven’t they caught this depression in a psych evaluation?”

“They’re not worried about me as long as I don’t hurt anyone else. They have enough to worry about with fundamentalist groups trying to sneak their people inside and video-taping the beheading of second men.”

Amina’s hand flew to her mouth. “My gosh!”

Gosh? 

“You didn’t know? We had a huge training on it. Happened in the Paris center. Apparently this is a new, radicalized-sanctioned form of jihad. The culture that results in Islamic countries is so opposed to this necessity, they want to wage an all-out war with their more liberal, fellow-believers and any others that are embracing such a wicked practice as ensuring the survival of the species. If they knew the names of any second men, there would be specific fatwahs declared against individuals.”

“That must be frightening.” She hadn’t touched her drink in a while.

He shrugged. “We don’t travel overseas like we used to. But we have plenty of hate from fundamentalist Christians in our own borders anyway so, what’s the difference?”

“Can I do anything?”

As her fingers settled on the back of his hand again, he felt a surge below his waist—no pill involved. She was practically begging him to spend the night with her, but he had to work tomorrow. Even if it were allowed, it wasn’t right. Besides, it couldn’t mean anything? She knew some of the real him, not the alias to which he must pretend with a client. 

He let go of her fingers and sat tall. As kindly as he could, he smiled. “Thanks for listening, Amina.”

She nodded, her brow furrowed slightly.

He met her gaze, the pressure within him dissipating and the dull, numbness returning. It could never work between he and anyone. Not right now. It wasn’t fair to the clients tomorrow. It wasn’t fair to Amina. His whole life wasn’t fair. He let her hand go with a wan smile, the smiling face of Rachel popping into his mind.

“I’m going to go for a walk.” He pushed his chair out and, with that same smile, tried to tell her that he was sorry and that this wasn’t her fault. “You’re very sweet. Don’t waste yourself for whatever you think we could be.”

“What about you?” she asked with a breathy voice.

“For now, it’s too late for me.” With a nod, he gestured to the family in the corner where the infant clumsily reached for a vegetable. “But, for now, I’ll be okay.”

Featured post

The Cult of Human Sacrifice of Latter-day Saints

Brigham Young once said: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. Well, he may not have said it but he lived it. What’s it called when you say one thing but do another? Hypo…NO! That’s not it. Ahh! It’s called being a Special Witness of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days! It’s not okay for YOU, dear reader, and you should definitely confess to your bishop or branch president about any instance of transgression. But, if any of your duly ordained apostles happens to do it, that’s fine. It’s like polygamy. When God condones it because the ordained leader tells you He condones it, it’s not wrong and we name it something else like Plural Marriage. Whew! That was close. Thank goodness for deceptive godly propaganda language and it’s essential companion credulity. As for hypocrisy, we ought to rename it, too. How about, apostling or ‘postling?

As we can see, George Orwell proves more prescient and wise than all the Mormon leaders from 1830 to today. Animals being more equal than others, as many of you recall, is from Orwell’s famous allegory, Animal Farm. The book presents the Russian revolution of 1917 under the leadership of Lenin and the exploitation of the citizens that followed. Not only were proletariat and bourgeois exploited by the small, ruling body under Lenin during the revolution, but after Lenin died and Stalin, Trotsky, and others vied for power–Stalin ultimately conniving his way to the top–the people were made to suffer in the name of communism and to consolidate and maintain control. Everyone, aside from the senior leadership (and even those who were not name Stalin) were justifiable sacrifices to preserve people’s faith in the party, its unstoppable destiny, and the leadership that would take them there.

Born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, Stalin, like many others, took upon him a strong, revolutionary name that meant Man of Steel. He was a not a large man. The non-Russian was born in Georgia with some physical limitations including an underdeveloped arm. Trained in a Georgian Seminary with intention to become a priest, he was actually expelled from the institution before he could receive holy orders but, as some historians like Montefiore have pointed out, he there learned lessons in controlling and manipulating people. It’s no surprise to me that the egomaniacal Young was given or took upon himself the revolutionary restorationary title, The Lion of the Lord. The moniker was attached to a house built for him.

Lion seems a strange symbol for a representative of the Good Shepherd…an alleged carpenter that really, really, loved sheep. But if you consider the allusion to sheep in the promise of the lion lying down with the lamb, it actually fits remarkably well! In the Biblical sense, since all disciples may be considered sheep and the words lie and lay have their own sexual connotation in Judeo-Christian cannon, it may even be a prophetic title. Brigham certainly did lie with a bunch of women during his lifetime. However, they ought not to be ridiculed for acting as sheep in a man’s world. These women are and were victims of men taking upon themselves the name of God in vain.

The Lion House in Salt Lake City was the second Utah home of Brigham Young, built in 1856. (Remember that year…) The other home, The Beehive House, was built two years earlier. The former boasted twenty bedrooms with gabled windows–quite the extravagance on the virgin frontier. The latter, according to the LDS website, “was the anchor for Brigham Young’s large property holdings.” He had other homes built, of particular note in St. George, Utah, but these were built at a critical time as the saints settled in the Salt Lake Valley.

If you haven’t read “The Devil’s Gate” by David Roberts, you may find the unbiased report on the history of Mormon Handcart Companies a worthwhile if infuriating read. You won’t find milquetoast pandering or highfalutin, apologetic prose and sanctimonious celebrations of faith in the face of adversity. If you’d like another, more concise yet still intriguing discussion, I recommend the Mormon Stories podcast with John Larsen (Episode 1489) titled, “The Worst Regional Conference Ever.” I won’t rehash everything Mr. Larsen says and I wonder if I could duplicate his passion and indignation which I admire. Rather, I want to discuss the Mormon iteration of the cult of death that is Christianity.

Christians love to stress the the New Testament imperative that animal sacrifice is abolished by the sacrifice of Jesus. (This is somehow an expression God’s unending mercy despite their reality that the same God commanded it in the first place.) Christ became the final sacrifice of flesh and blood to atone for the sins of God’s people and, indeed, all mankind that had lived, did live, or ever would live on Earth. Mormon scripture outlines, in the words of Jesus himself to people in America (although there is now prophetic instruction, most recently as of this week, that we should not consider The Book of Mormon as a historical document)1, that with the completion of Jesus’ sacrifice:

…ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

3 Nephi 9:19-20

Perhaps Jesus still requires human sacrifice–the blood and lives of some on the altar to purchase the salvation of others. When I left the church and informed my family, at my request, they were not to respond to my email for a week in any form. I told them I wouldn’t look at anything they sent for at least a that long. About six months later, I received a conventional letter from my parents outlining how disappointed they were in me. They expressed their concern for my eternal welfare and piled shame upon my decision in light of the sacrifices of my ancestors who left Sweden, Denmark, and England to cross the ocean and then a continent to gather to Zion and worship as they wished. Some travelled by handcart, watching their children and parents and friends die along the way. And their sacrifice was to extend to me and my children that same freedom to worship as we please in a free land.

Oh, the irony that, for me, that means worshiping how THEY please…I’m sure many of you understand.

If you think this is unique to my family, it is not. Just posit the question on Reddit’s r/exmormon and prepare to be inundated with hundreds of comments from fellow descendants of Mormon pioneers who were raised to honor the sacrifice of those who died to make the journey to Salt Lake City. The idea is so ubiquitous that a Mormon off their guard would not hesitate to agree with you that the lives lost were a small price to pay. If they realize that you find the idea reprehensible in light of the facts (see David Robert’s book or the John Larsen podcast or dozen’s of contemporary and modern criticisms) they will make their clever plural marriage/polygamy-esque word swap. The behavior is annoying but not uninteresting.

Follow the story and what was asked of these poor people and the reality becomes clear: Despite Christ’s alleged torture and death to end the rite of animal sacrifice, Mormonism continues to celebrate human sacrifice in the name of their faith. And, in 1856, their leaders promoted and even ensured it. I’m not talking about “broken hearts and contrite spirits” which certainly were and are a foundational tenet of the faith. I’m talking about the creation of an environment, practice, and expectation that directly resulted in the unnecessary, preventable deaths of hundreds after periods of unimaginable suffering. The inspired leaders, themselves, are to blame. The culture of shaming those who spoke truth to power and exploiting the “widow’s mite” from the destitute faithful who’d already offered all they had except their lives to “the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and the establishment of Zion.” And, like all tyrannies, the elite, ruling class glutted themselves upon the crippling burdens placed upon those who viewed the said leaders as called by God, chosen to rule, and ordained by mystical, heavenly power to ensure blessings AFTER the faithful have died. They can’t promise them in the known and tangible world, but they make guarantees of salvation and exhalation for the unknowable, unseeable-and-unseen afterlife!

Coincidentally, one of my favorite bands released a new album this week. One of their songs is playing in my noise-cancelling headphones as I write this in my favorite coffee shop. Here is a lyric that describes a tyrant and I can’t help but think of Brigham Young:

There’s a man who swears he’s God
Unbelievers will be shot
There’s a man who walks around
Like he owns the fucking lot
There’s a man who takes his time
From his homemade cuckoo clock
And he makes us march around it
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock

Coldplay, “People of the Pride”

If you don’t yet hate Brigham Young, let me introduce to you Franklin D. Richards and Levi Savage. If anyone could be considered a hero, it would be Savage. If there is a villain it would take an Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, or Heath Ledger to pull off, its Richards. The lesson we learn from Levi Savage’s experience and the totalitarian regime ruling over the 19th century Latter-day Saints, it is that tyrants do not value wisdom at the expense of conformity and obedience. What’s worse, as we will see, the current Mormon narrative celebrates such conformity and repackages the horrific actions of the leadership during this time (and every time) as inspired, faith-promoting, and enviable. And we aren’t talking about using them as cautionary tales but heroic and hallowed.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

Levi Savage was not an idiot. He’d made the journey across the plains and understood the way the weather works in Wyoming during October and November. (I’m from Wyoming. September has its share of blizzards and cold.) Savage may have known that the leadership in Salt Lake City, sitting comfortably in their mansions with shelter, fire, and food were dishonest in telling the eager pioneers just how long the journey would actually take. These men who’d already made the journey themselves, nevertheless deliberately misrepresented underestimated the distance by several hundred miles! Even after the disaster in which many saints starved or died of exhaustion or froze to death, the leaders that demanded others go out into the wilds to save the struggling pioneers in winter storms, claimed in a church conference that the handcart pioneers had made a miraculous journey in record time! All of it lies and, I’m convinced, not lies told in ignorance of the facts.

Many decisions were made to save money. While Brigham Young oversaw the construction of his second mansion in Salt Lake City, he required the poor saints from Europe to give all their possessions and money to support the effort of migration. And then, for those who couldn’t now afford their own handcart, he offered a solution: the Perpetual Emigration Fund! How about you give all you have to us and then, we will loan back to you some money to make a shitty handcart. But don’t worry, if you survive the trip, you’ll only owe us the money back plus 10% per year. And, oh boy, you get to build the handcart yourself with green wood! Oh, you’re a baker and have never done something like this? What an adventure for you. God showed Nephi how to build an Iron Age, transoceanic ship by himself. How could you miss this deal?

Savage realized that making handcarts of green wood, a perilously late start in August, a greater distance than they were being told, and the scant resources created an impossible situation. He wisely told everyone in a public speech that many of them would die if they left this late. That was something they might be able to change even with green wood and lack of experience. They could gain an advantage with proper timing. They would be better off to wait until the following summer and get an earlier start. For speaking wisdom to them, he was shamed publicly by the ordained leader of he party. Being the most experienced man among them, he realized that the people would die and, without him, many more were likely to die. His sacrifice, to join the fated handcart party, was done for his fellow saints. It certainly could not be for the church and its selfish leadership. After the shaming, he told the group that he would go with them and he would die with them. What would’ve happened had he not gone with him? He did survive the journey, but what if he hadn’t gone? What if he had come later and survived and lived prosperously with good health and happiness and wealth? I’ll tell you how the memory of a wise man would be handled by the church: he would still be considered a pariah. His experience would be told as a cautionary tale. Complete ostracization and ignominy for a man just for daring to be wise and speaking honestly.

You know who didn’t speak honestly? Franklin Richards. Franklin Richards, on his way to Salt Lake City with several other elders returning from the East with horses and all ability to travel with speed, came upon the fated Willey Company in September. Having heard, somehow, that Savage had already warned the pioneers of the very real and likely threat of bitter cold and deep snows with only thin tents and blankets to protect them, Richards proceeded to berate him in-front-of those he already promised to die with. Then, after promising the destitute saints that God would part the storms as he had the Red Sea for Israel, he demanded the fatted calf from their meager herd, had it butchered, and ate it, taking the remainder with he and his companions along their swift journey to Salt Lake City. He was obviously no moron for, upon arrival he quickly informed Brigham Young of the handcart pioneers likely dire condition in central Wyoming. Still, he promised them miraculous deliverance akin to the children of Israel in Exodus. A deliverance they did not experience and to say that they did is to neglect the memory of those who starved, froze, and were buried in shallow graves from Omaha to Casper, WY.

The difference: Levi Savage told his fellow pioneers, “I will die with you,” and Franklin Richards said, “You can die without me.” If ever there was a pig who walked on his hind legs and believed he was more equal than others, it is Frank. And amongst the company he held with Brigham Young and other tyrant-prophets, that’s saying something. Ask yourself, which man is more Christlike? If you are Mormon, which man is considered a special witness of Christ while the other’s story is told to you as one of a man who’s faith wavered?…faith in who/whom or in what? In a world of campaign posters that invite us to “Fuck ______” (name your politician). I think Franklin Richards and Brigham Young fit such a t-shirt or window cling like water to its puddle.

Not a lot has changed in 150 years. The wealthy brethren sit in their palaces in Salt Lake City while they expect the poor and rich alike to sacrifice everything they have and then come across proverbial plains with handcarts. The decision to utilize handcarts and then use green wood in their construction were money saving decisions and little more. They were told that they could not afford to wait nor could they afford wagons when Brigham–one of the wealthiest men in the western United States at the time–needed a second mansion built next door to his just-finished, first mansion. Current leaders could employ thousands of people in the U.S. alone to clean buildings, they actually did years ago. Instead, they expect the rank and file to clean the building, supply all the money for humanitarian aid separate from their tithing, fulfill missions and move members and offer all of their time, talents, and everything to the building of the Kingdom of God on the Earth! They sit, protected in their ivory towers while they grow their obscene stock and real estate investment portfolios on the back of consecrated widow’s mites and protected from government taxation, being told that the Soviet Party-esque apostles are God’s anointed that rightly bask in the recognition and then demand everything from the members. They demand that members covenant in temples to “give their own lives, if necessary” to build the church. They are a cult centered around a bronze-aged human sacrifice that revere the practice and hallow it even in this time of their plenty. Brigham Young wouldn’t even let the handcart companies purchase iron to make their wagon wheels because it was too expensive.

Brigham Young, who road in the back of a wagon with plenty of food and bedding, orchestrated this tragedy and Franklin Richards as well as other leaders sold it. Individuals gave up cherished items to make required weight limits. Not only that, but they sacrificed shelter and bedding and food and clothing to reach the allotted weight limit of seventeen pounds. And Brigham managed, in the midst of this poverty, to have his heavy, solid wood furniture carried from the east to Salt Lake City? He walks on his trotters incredibly well while he watches the dedicated, hardworking, loyal and naive Boxer build the windmill for his benefit.

The pioneer anthem, Come, Come, Ye Saints is propaganda at its finest. Contemporary accounts tell us that the captains of the company, on more than one occasion, herded and whipped every child under eight as they moved along the trail because they thought the children were the problem with the companies many delays. This was a forced march–crosses on their shoulders and whips at their backs. If you fell along the trail you were left behind! A man crawled up next to his sick wife in the wagon while they were stopped just to comfort her and was beaten mercilessly for it…while they were stopped! A boy falls down on the road and his beaten with a stick until he gets up–until he wakes up from falling unconscious from malnutrition and exhaustion. Their planned ration, to save money that didn’t need to be saved, was 1200 cal of flour to walk 15 miles each day. That ration was repeatedly cut as the hardship increased. Restocks promised to wait for them at U.S. military outposts along the way, were not there. Most of the people who died, died of starvation when the boiled leather of their boots and wagon wheels failed to make up for the lack of nourishment. But, at least they had they privilege of sacrificing their best calf to a prophet of God.

How many individuals have been sacrificed on the altar of faith–not for themselves? And then, how has the church treated their death and sacrifice? As propaganda to promote their growing investment firm fronted by a church. They ignore the horrid stories and hundreds of not-miracles to tell of the seventeen miracles that are claimed to have happened. Isaac was spared, but the impulse to grotesque obedience is still celebrated even if it means sacrificing your child for your faith.2

We’re still sacrificing people on the altar of faith today. I lived in the neighboring stake from which a woman died doing a handcart reenactment for the youth in Oklahoma. I’m sure that if you asked her bishop or state president they would tell you how tragic it was and also that it’s not a reason to lose faith in God. This woman two left children at home to facilitate this reenactment and died of heat stroke on LDS church-owned property northeast of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. I filled the same role she did a couple of years earlier, in the same place. In three days of barely strenuous activity in the summer heat, we had at least three adults taken to the hospital to be treated for heat stroke. Why? Some strange attempt to build the faith of teenagers? I hated it then and, mostly, was already on my way out when my wife and I went to be a ma and pa for a pretend handcart family. Yes, we pushed a handcart. We were lucky. I would certainly never consider my luck a blessing. The woman’s two children and husband will be without her. And I guarantee her death is packaged as a sacrifice for their faith by some clergy-assholes out there.

On that same trek in which the woman died, five of the youth were taken to the hospital including three who were already unconscious when paramedics arrived to rush them to an emergency room. I’m not a betting man, but I’d wager that the church didn’t offer a dime to this bereaved husband who watched his wife die. You know who will foot any financial expense: good members willing to donate. Crowdfunding from people who don’t know her or her family and a canned apology from the one-hundred-billion-plus-dollar church that exasperatedly reminds everyone that IT bears the name of Jesus Christ as HIS church.

So, here I am exploiting this woman’s memory in a way with which she might disagree and, perhaps those who know her best would also do. I express no shame. I would say the same regarding thirteen year-old girls living under religious tyrannies who are stoned to death for being raped.

Human sacrifice is an idea we have not yet managed to transcend. In coming to terms with it, we will debate abortion. We will also debate whether or not we should feed, clothe, and otherwise honor the life of those forced to birth by our laws. There are slippery slopes and guiding principles will not always be as clearly facile as pundits want us to think that they are. But I hope we can agree with regards to our human brothers and sisters that all animals are equal and no animal is more equal than another. The next barrier will be convincing the zealot that this means a one man or class of men should not have their second mansion built while demanding that others give their money to build it and then take out a loan to come and build it for him…if they survive the journey. One man doesn’t deserve your fatted-calf just because he calls himself a special witness. I mean, isn’t the term special witness evidence enough that these pigs think of themselves as more equal than others?

__________________________________

  1. Within 48 hours of publishing that LDS Prophet/President instructed members that The Book of Mormon is not to be taken as a book of history, the same report in LDS Living online. (See links in original blog text)

2. Judges 11:30-40

Featured post

Inclusivity: On Demand

If there’s one thing you can count on from the overly vocal spokesman of Jesus, its the self-congratulatory, gratuitous usage of really shitty metaphors when trying to make a point. Typically, the bombastic preacher employs these metaphors when they must defend their archaic position on a matter that is only made controversial by the dogmatics’ devotion to it. After years of being disappointed by unfulfilled prophetic words and unanswered prayers, it’s hard to see any other consistency in the sayings or doings of prophets. I realize now that such metaphorical speaking grants these narcissists safety in vagaries and inherent misunderstandings. “That’s not what I meant,” becomes a natural sequitur employed by themselves, media spokesmen, and apologists to nearly everything the anointed will ever say. And the misunderstandings are always the fault of the listener rather than the divinely appointed speaker.

My sister has made several trips to Holland, The Land of the Tulips. I’ve become enamored with her descriptions of the friendly people, the Old World charm, and the tulip-carpeted countryside. But, I seem unable to think of the Netherlands without thinking of another “Holland” with whom I am more well acquainted. This “Holland” is Elder Jeffrey R., a senior apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He, too, has two lips and should consider keeping them tightly pursed more often. A side benefit from sparing us his vitriolic, pretended empathy, is that not wagging his jaw would also prevent his massive, bull-dog-esque jowls from flapping.

Most of my readers will already be aware of the speech Mr. Holland gave at Brigham Young University to faculty and staff. Mr. Holland is both a member of the board of trustees for the LDS owned and operated University as well as a senior member of the same Church’s governing body (he is not only ordained as an Apostle: Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, the members sustain him as such on at least four occasions each and every year). As such, those in his audience are obligated as employees to take his word as direction for the course they help the University maintain. In addition, for those who are members of the church–at least 99 percent of attendees–are under sacred covenant to consider his words the same as God’s own (Amos 3:7).

This is why the church is so adamant about individuals not recording the proceedings of events where General Authorities speak such as stake and regional conferences. The words are prepared for that audience and not intended for general consumption. The leadership seems to disregard the admonition of God, himself, repeated so often in the Doctrine and Covenants as to be ubiquitous. “What I say unto one I say unto all.” (Type it into LDS.org as a search)

A few weeks ago, the ward of which I am still a member sent out an email survey regarding inclusion. It asked us questions such as: Did we feel included, welcome, wanted at church? What were barriers to us feeling included? And other questions of this ilk. I responded honestly and without longing. I don’t really need to feel included. In large part because, like polygamy or salvation or friend, inclusion means something different to Mormons than it does to nearly everyone else. If you needed further evidence of this, Mr. Holland’s talk should settle the debate once and for all.

An aside: can we think of a better term than talk. “I gave a talk in church on Sunday,” or “Jeffrey R. Holland gave a talk to BYU faculty.” There is something so casual and dismissive about the word. We’ve created a noun out of a verb. While I’m a big fan of verbing nouns, there seems to be some laziness or indifference here.

“I heard you ran a marathon this weekend.”

“Yeah, I gave a run.”

Back to inclusion. Earlier this week I told my wife that I had responded to the survey and she told me that the congregation was having a combined, fifth Sunday meeting of the youth and adults to talk about the survey and inclusion. Considering myself a friend of the Bishop, I sent him a text message offering a “outsider’s view” of inclusion and that if he felt the need, I would be happy to share and to do so respectfully. This was before news of Holland’s talk aired.

The Bishop responded that their agenda was already set and that, in the spirit of inclusion, there would be nothing approaching questions or an open discussion. The implication being that, as with all agenda’s in the patriarchal organization, the presentation would be a “Y” chromosome exclusive, top-down sermonizing. While I’m confident our local leaders actually do work for real inclusion of the marginalized, they must follow the example of the Apostles at the top. Dissent or even open-minded discussion cannot be tolerated.

The gist of it: please come and listen but we can’t include any other ideas into what we are presenting. It didn’t bother me. I really prefer not going to church anyway, but I did see, for a moment, a chance to be a contributor in a very real way that could be beneficial.

When Holland’s talk came to light, I realized that my level of respectful speaking would be, perhaps, beyond my ability to muster. How can a member even speak of genuine inclusion after a talk like Holland’s? After all, “When the Prophet speaks, … the debate is over.” This is not a controversial saying. The church still embraces and endorses this. The exact words of counsel can still be found quoted in messages from the First Presidency and general conference speakers on the church’s official website. Mr. Holland has spoken. Inclusion Sunday can’t have a discussion because that is too much like a debate and, as we know, the debate is now over.

Of course it’s been over for decades. This is not new. This is exactly how the church has preached regarding sexual orientation since long before its conversion therapy experiments conducted at BYU under then president, Dallin H. Oaks–sitting, next-in-line to be the buck-stops-here mouthpiece of the Lord when the current weasel wearing the mantle dies. Good old Oaks has spoken against and been suspicious of gays since before we learned that there are, in fact, no Quakers on the moon. Here is Mr. Oaks concept of inclusion: In a 2006 television interview, speaking of a hypothetical gay or lesbian son or daughter, he said:

I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say, “Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your “partnership.”

–Angry, Old Bigot

This, is how the top brass view inclusion and Mr. Holland’s recent talk was no exception.

Under the shadow he casts over his entire talk, of an adolescent feeling of love for BYU that has lasted for over 70 years, Holland sets the tone of someone suffering from “Golden Age Thinking.” If you’ve never seen the Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris, I highly recommend it. One of the interesting quotes from a pedantic know-it-all is that another character suffers from this problem of Golden Age Thinking.

Nostalgia is denial. Denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is Golden Age thinking — the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in — its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.

While Holland is pining for the BYU of the 1940’s and 50’s, which was, in his mind, “greatest University in the world,” he might as well bring back attitudes and practices of segregation. Under direction of the University’s Board of Trustees (the very same Board of which Holland cites his membership and authority on University matters) black student applicants were encouraged to apply and seek degrees elsewhere. That’s the kind of Board of Trustees Holland dreams of being a part of and, with his position, can attempt to make a reality so far as LGBT inclusion is concerned.

The substance of his talk can be found in its original form as a video with transcripts easily obtainable by web search. In his great speech on inclusion, Holland wastes little time in reaffirming:

“If we (BYU) are an extension of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [excessive, overly-dramatic filler to garner sympathy from the acolytes in the audience who, like most good people, respect people who take their responsibilities seriously]…But until “we all come [to] the unity of the faith, and . . . [have grown to] the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,” our next best achievement will be to stay in harmony with the Lord’s anointed, those whom he has designated to declare church doctrine and to guide Brigham Young University as its trustees.”

He makes the token mention of Jesus and alludes to following Him, but that’s not what any of the talk is really about. Not love or even coming to a unity because we aren’t there yet and ostensibly have a long way to go. It is about getting students and more particularly, faculty, in line! Goddammit! That was the essence of this entire talk. Captured in the last line of the above quotation, “our next best achievement will be to stay in harmony with the Lord’s anointed.” THAT is all that his diatribe was about.

Note that he doesn’t emphasize actually measuring one’s self against Jesus, he emphasizes being a yes-man to the apostles. We see, two days after the talk, a BYU student attempting to erase a simple gesture of support for the 5-10% of the BYU faculty, staff, and student body or, approximately, 1800-3500 individuals, who identify as LGBTQ. When someone drops the term homophobia near the feverishly in-harmony-with-the-Lord’s-anointed “saint” high on his saintly ecstasy, he declares with orgasmic rapture, “Faggots go to hell.”

The overwhelming rush of sidewalk-chalk artists who converged on on the city sidewalks at the base of the hill upon which BYU campus sits, is inspiring. The city set on a hill can’t be hidden and I hope it isn’t. I hope the world sees the hate of Holland and his covenant-keeping followers who call their words–like “musket fire” and “faggot”–words of inclusion and love. The faces of the artists will not be remembered for their inclusive demonstration. In fact, the powers-that-be professionally and thoroughly baptized the sidewalks to purge the colorful and kind works of solidarity for the BYU students living under fear of those who feel obligated (under divine covenant) to do God’s work.

It’s no wonder Holland quotes Dallin Oaks in his talk. Since the death of the beloved curmudgeon, Boyd Packer, whereelse in amongst the Apostles of Jesus will he find such a repository of words that affirm and extend love? The venerable Oaks said some time ago, “I would like to hear a little more musket fire from this temple of learning.” To claim that Holland could have been speaking about any sin or offense to God would be to ignore the entire context of the totality of his talk thus far. He further referenced faculty that aren’t supporting the brethren’s stated position regarding LGBT members; he referenced Matt Easton, the BYU valedictorian who came out as gay during his commencement speech in 2019; he spoke of crying for those who “struggle” with the affliction of loving someone that doesn’t fit Holland’s own conception of what two kinds of people can experience legitimate love. Musket fire is a violent reference to mounting an opposition against, well, what must feel to him like opposition.

My wife is a huge fan of the television show Queer Eye and a follower of ex-BYU Cosmo, Charlie Bird. If people like Jeffrey Holland think they are about to be violently opposed by an army well-dressed, energetic, and truly kind people, Holland’s tears can only be for how little he actually knows or cares to know about individuals like Matt Easton and Charlie Bird. And I must be careful not to make objects of these men as I throw stones at some old pharisees sitting in Moses’s seat. I’m likely to fail in that regard.

Holland’s expression of tears for LGBTQ individuals is based the preposition he perpetually posits that they “struggle with” or are “afflicted by” same sex attraction. He continually assumes that it is a struggle. I’m sure it is a struggle, not because of the feelings experienced, but because of the world in which they are wont to experience them. What I really heard Holland saying was: “The whole world wants to include and embrace these wonderful people just as they are! Well, the whole world doesn’t know what include means. If I could just get them to shut up, feel ashamed, and change so I’m comfortable with them, we could include them, finally!”

Holland even brazenly declares:

“So, it is with scar tissue of our own that we are trying to avoid — and hope all will try to avoid — language, symbols, and situations that are more divisive than unifying at the very time we want to show love for all of God’s children.”

Do I really need to point out the irony of the language and symbols this man of God has already employed just breaths earlier? What about the situations he’s promoting that do and will divide? Simple chalk art meant to unify were destroyed in a “situation” inspired by HIM! Parents unable to include their LGBT children in their family, even deliberately and cruelly telling them they are not welcome, yet blame the child for not including themselves. “Don’t expect to stay the night or go out in public with us…we love you!”

If you want everyone else to be inclusive, and preach as if you have little left to learn about it, why don’t you old codgers demonstrate how you’d like everyone else to act. You’re blaming everyone else for being divisive and claiming that you and your bigoted buddy Oaks and the other apostles are somehow blameless, full of caring and inclusivity. You’ll blame a faculty member for being divisive for verbally and emotionally supporting a gay student. Why is he/she being divisive by your definition? Because, as you said earlier, “our next best achievement will be to stay in harmony with the Lord’s anointed.” Unfortunately, when your morals and commandments are offered to you in tablet form, whatever God says is moral, be it genocide or stoning to death for wearing clothing made of of mixed fabrics. God’s word is moral even if its murder. Holland speaks believing he is one of Jesus’s anointed servants and to do so is the same as God, himself, speaking. By extension, anything other than following the brethren is divisive.

Jeff, can you really say the following with a straight face? “Too often the world has been unkind, in many instances crushingly cruel, to these our brothers and sisters.” Ahh! Your favorite nemesis and convenient scapegoat–the World. Isn’t your speech precisely one of these crushingly cruel instances? You would shift the burden of blame for what you are saying the environment created by others. You’re not wrong: the world has been historically cruel to these, our brothers and sisters. But you fail to claim your own responsibility in this. At best, you don’t care to do so; at worst, you shift the blame to God. “I’m only speaking what God tells me to…otherwise I weep for you.”

Not to put violence aside: let’s bring it back up and then give license to the Deznats of the church and those who feel a need to audition for their ranks. “Musket fire? Yes, we will always need defenders of the faith.” Just make sure that you don’t injure “the church, its leaders and some of our colleagues within the university community.” That’s the real “tragedy” and, yes, he used the word, “tragedy.” Not regarding the excluded teens that find life so unbearable that Utah’s teen suicide rate is among the highest in the country. Not tragic that students who want a place in the church and at Jesus’s flagship University of Inclusivity, BYU, leave heartbroken and often with their hard-earned college credits frozen. No. The tragedy that makes Jeff cry is when “the church and its leaders” are wounded by unpopularity.

“There are better ways to move toward crucially important goals in these very difficult matters — ways that show empathy and understanding for everyone while maintaining loyalty to prophetic leadership and devotion to revealed doctrine. My brethren have made the case for the metaphor of musket fire, which I have endorsed yet again today.” (emphasis added) NOTHING about following Jesus and letting the sinless cast a first stone. Nothing about inclusivity. Just another reminder to fall in line. But, isn’t that inclusivity?

There was never a moment when I felt Holland was about to shift gears or truly inspire anyone to make an inclusive gesture as simple as chalk art. That resounding, simple act came from the goodness of people without prophetic incitement. If you want to know who you incited, Jeff, it was the hideously cruel, presumable BYU student declaring the eternal destination of those who, like David simply loved a person of their own gender as they loved their own soul. Or, greater than the love he had for a woman. (1 Samuel 18, 2 Samuel 1).

The only thing Holland loves as much as a woman may be BYU. In addition to earlier affirmations, he quotes another beacon of inclusion:

In his discourse, President Kimball used the word “unique” eight times, and “special” eight times. It seems clear to me in my 73 years of loving it that BYU will become an “educational Mt. Everest” only to the degree it embraces its uniqueness, its singularity. We could mimic every other university in the world until we got a bloody nose in the effort and the world would still say, “BYU who?” No, we must have the will to stand alone, if necessary

Under the talk’s long, inquisitory shadow, my wife’s (and mine, technically) ward carried out their long-planned inclusion Sunday. Several weeks ago they issued a survey to members asking questions about inclusion and how included/welcome each individual felt at church. I responded honestly and without vitriol. This Sunday meeting had been planned for several weeks and I’m sure the well-meaning leaders were blind-sided with Holland’s words. My wife’s sister sure was. Her husband had to continually remind her that Holland’s tone and message were not new, however. This is the modus operandi for the church as long as I can remember with regards to LGBT. It’s been attempting to cleverly disguise itself as temporally impotent and even changing (they like to say, “ongoing restoration”) entity for the last few years. With some ups and downs, permissions and reversions, they have managed to avoid alienating the last of the really decent members. This talk back-tracked a great deal–Proposition 8, sneaky handbook refusals to baptize children of same-sex parents, and BYU acceptance to witch-hunt reversal toward LGBT students notwithstanding. Or, perhaps, they’d simply managed to get to us stop thinking about it. Nothing trumps a good, old scandal like a good, new scandal!

What would I say on inclusion Sunday? I thought about this for several days, even after the Bishop told me not to worry about it…though he would like to hear my thoughts on the subject after-the-fact. This refusal was probably a good thing because, after Holland’s remarks, I don’t think I could have shown much respect. But, even respectfully disagreeing can be a problem for most Mormons I know. Most monotheists I know, when encountering disagreement revert to their default setting which is to feel and respond as if personally attacked. Even and especially much of my family, some of which seem to be very progressive and open-minded in how they present themselves, bristle at disagreements over the proper wording to tell someone that a girl is fourteen years old. What’s more interesting is that, in line with Holland’s attitude, I am permitted to disagree with Jesus, but if I suggest that Holland or Oaks or any of the prophets, past or present, are wrong or cruel or bigoted, they always come to the defense. Jesus can be disagreed with and disparaged, but not the Lord’s anointed. “There’s a covenant for that.”

I didn’t attend the meeting though I tuned in online. Due to the online link timing out at noon, the end of the meeting was cut-off. All I heard was the first speaker, a counselor in the bishopric, and the Relief Society president who spoke immediately following. (I learned later that the Bishop and Stake President both addressed the congregation as well). As a fellow exmo friend who also watched the meeting commented: they like to talk about inclusion as a concept but they don’t want to talk about the real, tangible issues that people are dealing with. I agree, particularly regarding the first speaker who toed the party line with the deftness of a skilled if frightened ballerina. The second speaker, in lieu of Holland, demonstrated that the rank-and-file members are good people trying to genuinely follow a loving version of Jesus but whose hands and hearts are tied to sustaining the prophets at the low cost of their personal integrity and moral decency.

When I share this with the Bishop, I’ll edit but, essentially, here are my thoughts on inclusion in the Mormon environment:

I think you need to ask yourself what you mean by “inclusion.” I think the church has commandeered the word for its own purposes because it sounds Christ-like, but you don’t really know what it means outside of your bubble. The word is thrown about like candy at a parade. Elder Holland spoke about it yet failed at even demonstrating an iota of it. He blatantly and proudly contradicted himself while letting all the blame settle on everyone else for failing in it. Like the word inconceivable, “You keep using [it]. I do not think it means what you think it means.” A word that hits closer to the mark for Mormons is “assimilation” which implies “conformity.” Your intentions may be impeccable and even godly, but if we really analyze what you mean–i.e. how you plan or attempt to be inclusive–what you really mean is assimilation.

Inclusion not only implies but demands “making room” for new and different ideas. Just having someone in the same room is necessary but not sufficient to claim inclusivity–perhaps it’s not even necessary. A physical, mental, and emotional space must be conceived of and implemented, where people want to be and feel safe, welcome, and appreciated. Not appreciated for the imprint of their rear on a cheap, fabric chair, but for contributing even a contrary view to the discussion and direction of the organization. A place where they are heard even if they are in opposition. Otherwise, why would they make time and invest emotionally to be with you?

If you want them to come, ask yourself “Why do I want them here?” Is it because you think you have something they need? If they don’t want what you have then do you really want what’s best for them, or do you want what makes you feel better about yourself? I’ve been in bishopric meetings and trained bishops as a High Councilor to utilize something referred to as the New and Returning Members Progress Form. We were taught to ask, “What’s the next ordinance for this person and how do we get them to it?” If they don’t want what you are offering but you insist on persisting, then you are making them an object of your devotion. You have a format to follow in “including” them that, by it’s very nature, is a tool to “assimilate” them. The very website that introduces this form on LDS.org states: “Ward council members help strengthen new and returning members in the ward.” The assumption is very clear that you need to create an environment of inclusion to get people in the door so that you, who knows how to strengthen them, can strengthen them.

Do you view them as “in need” of being with you on Sunday? Why? The foundation of your entire discussion on inclusion is divisive. It is coming from a place of arrogance and conceit. “I have something you need. You are broken and here, with us in this sterile church building, you can be fixed.” Now, you add quickly, “We are all broken and need to be fixed,” to somehow seem less condescending. You truly believe that ONLY your church is Jesus’s established church with God’s authority. The first speaker during inclusion Sunday said almost exactly this!

The admonition of Isaiah to “enlarge the place of your tent” ought to be taken quite literally as well as figuratively. We are not simply making space within an enclosure by extending its physical borders, but also by expanding our minds and hearts to take in those seeking community without utter annihilation of their personality. If we are all broken, as Mormons love to remind us, then making space for the broken without expectation of them mending in the way we see fit, is true inclusion. We see lines being shorn, borders drawn tighter, and the wings of Jesus’s proverbial “hen” metaphor, made smaller and more particular. Wouldn’t we rather see wings spreading to include the adulteress, the pharisee, and the other who’s practice of romantic love may seem foreign to us? They need not squeeze and compress into the small-minded, strict thinking manner of Mormonism.

How can you preach inclusion after Holland’s talk? He’ll be anathematized within a couple of years of his death and this entire speech disregarded and even disparaged as “words of men.” Except, you can’t do that while he’s alive. So you perpetuate the cycle of hate and exclusion–assimilation masquerading as inclusion. And if his words are not condoned by Russell Nelson, then the Prophet’s silence on the matter is as good as consent. And then, when he does die, the words and attitude will be so ingrained in a new generation of believers, his words may be anathema, but the culture of exclusion will not be.

Do you, Bishop, see what he and others like him have done? Just like you would make an object out of someone for the sake of inclusion, he is making an object out of you for the purpose of conformity to his antiquated and hateful opinions. You will “follow the prophet” with a well-practiced, conjured smile, affirmations of devotion to and gratitude for living apostles–until he dies. Will breath a sigh of relief when he is gone and you can go on to really loving and including as your basic, innate morality is suggesting to you through the bitter haze of dogmatic conditioning? This episode simply confirms to me that for good people to do wickedly, you need religion. Within a day of Holland’s talk, we saw it and heard it from the most BYU-looking male you’re likely to see.

Holland speaks of crying tears for these people but they are not tears for the environment of hate, derision, and exclusion that He–yes, the Apostle of Jesus–and the church have promoted for ages. Nor are they for the pain and loneliness and self-hate countless individuals have experienced. It’s not entirely the Brethren’s fault alone, but they haven’t been on the side of progress. No. His tears are because of the mounting social pressure he feels. His sorrow is for himself, not for the LGBT individuals he uses to his own end. He and his fellow apostles mourn because the others “sinning” frightens him though, it’s not because it does him any real harm. And, if he cried for any perceived harm to himself, his tears are absolutely selfish.

Why do you want me here?

It will be good for me.

Conceit, condescension, and judgment toward and of others. It validates your assurance that you’re in the one true church. It has nothing to do with what’s really good for me, and it seeks no understanding of me. When I was freshly into my disaffection from the church, I asked to be released as first counselor in the bishopric and eagerly assumed my seat in the pews with my family. I continued to attend with my wife and children. I said nothing. I didn’t pray. I contributed little other than a few BTU’s of body heat and some carbon dioxide into the stale, chapel air. In short, I acted precisely how a recently disfellowshipped brother behaved–silent presence within the carpeted walls. Not one person asked me what what going on–not a single one.

Several months later I heard from a non-Mormon co-worker that a mutual friend who was a Mormon had told her that everyone at church thought I had committed adultery. And the person I’d done so with, was named. This was, apparently, the scuttlebutt of the ward, from people I’d served with and with whom I’d worked, played, and prayed. NO ONE asked me but they assumed. My wife felt this and said of that time that she “wanted to disappear.”

You can’t know what’s good for someone if you don’t ask them and, when you do ask, you will find out that you do not know what is good for them despite your assurances of personal, divine favor.

We want you with us.

Why? because it makes you feel better about YOUR decision to be here. You need the confirmation of others presence to validate your own choice to be here. In the 1993 comedy, “Dave,” the man, Dave, suddenly acting as President of the United States, finds out that there is a federally funded program designed to bolster consumer confidence in their previously purchased, domestically manufactured automobile. That’s what this kind of inclusion feels like. My silent presence at church, like Nelson’s silence regarding Holland’s talk, somehow provides validation. Nelson’s silence validates Holland’s message; my silent presence at church validates your own decision to devote your life to Mormonism. Yes, I think this is exactly what happens for many member. It’s about them feeling good about a decision they already made.

We are to invite everyone to come unto Christ.

It’s about you, again. I’m an object of your devotion. If you really cared for me you would ask me about myself, what I believe and why. You wouldn’t judge me as wrong out of the gate, in need of fixing or healing at your hands which work in the place of Jesus’s hands. I’m here so you can fill out your periodic reports to Salt Lake City that you had a “less-active” member in church and that you have his/her name on a New and Returning Member Progress form.

Inclusion does not put one person or their beliefs above that of the person they are trying to include.

A word about the kid erasing chalk art and using horrible slurs. He, and many like him, have been waiting for this moment. The dog-whistles sounded after some time in which only society clamoring for real inclusion and love of LGBT individuals could be heard. He’s relieved. He won’t care if society at large vilifies him. He finds solace in the idea that “the wicked take the truth to be hard.” And, that sometimes you have to “dare to stand alone.”

I’m not suggesting every group needs to make room for everyone. If you don’t like chess, don’t join a chess club. Every club and every “click” is not for everyone. Interests are diverse as are personalities. But if you are going to position yourself as representative of Jesus, proselytize, and demand inclusivity of everyone, you ought to actually practice it yourselves.

Upon This Rock I Will Build My Church

If you are looking for a repository of absolute truth, unalterable mental meanderings, or in-amendable sophistry I suggest you stick to your favorite house of worship with its preferred texts and energetic spokesmen. One of the beauties of empirical science and philosophy are their willingness to be censored and amended. Not long ago, I didn’t see it that way. I felt that knowledge or wisdom failing to stand up to the scrutiny and competition of new and better data was a glaring weakness. An idea or affirmation should stand on its own merits and, if it does not, deserves to be cast aside under the appropriate pressure of new, better-supported theories. The dichotomy of the faith-affirming mind is it’s tendency to believe in this standard of evidence while remaining so devoted to its affirmations that it refuses to see or hear new, contrary information. Both reason and faith espouse the superiority of ideas that withstand the test of time. The difference being that reason would seem not only open to but eager to be proven correct in the face of contrary facts or inconsistent dogma. It would not disregard new data because it makes claims on probability, not on feelings.

Leaving a theory open to amendment or falsification is not a weakness, it is an incredible strength! A researcher will often declare ahead of time what criteria or finding will nullify their hypothesis. Theories are, by definition, subject to revision and even negation. Any idea that leaves itself open to being disproven also permits itself to be proven right while not making itself a prisoner of its own conceit. Theories are expressions of confidence based on repeated demonstrations of accuracy. Ask a theist what would cause them to renounce their belief. For most of them, nothing could do so. Ask a scientist what would disprove evolution or ask an atheist what would induce them to believe in god. Even at their most evasive, they will simply and honestly reply, “I don’t know.”

As a Mormon missionary, we had an entire discussion with potential converts regarding the changing knowledge and wisdom of men. We actually talked about how the prevailing theories of a flat earth or geocentric dogmas in science and religion in the past were evidence of damning inadequacy. Societal disagreements regarding race, gender, and sexuality provided proof that we needed divine revelation now more than ever. We appropriated the stories of men like Galileo for our own purpose, oblivious to any self-effacing irony. We relished the fact that the Roman Catholic Church convicted the 16th and 17th century Italian astronomer of heresy for challenging the prevailing scientific model and official church dogma of geocentrism. Based on the evidence and future observation, science caught up with his theory much more quickly than the representatives of an omniscient deity. And that was precisely the problem we Mormons wanted to capitalize upon…so long as the potential convert or committed adherent didn’t look behind the curtain.

One of these individuals is the greedy, narcissistic leader of a toxic empire and the result of the deranged creation of men trying to make money on a stupid idea sold for popular consumption. The other is a popular cartoon character from a comedic television show.

You see, we wanted it both ways. We wanted to use science when it suited us and spurn it when it did not. The merry example of the corrupt, Catholic church being so dependent upon their dogma as to refute science and imprison and silence its brightest minds to protect their authority as arbiters of truth helped us promote the idea of all religion having “fallen away” truth and into apostasy. The Mormon prophet now is the Mr. Burns-esque figure of Russell Nelson. By any account, Nelson’s medical career is one of phenomenal accomplishment and well-earned accolades, appointments, and honors. Perhaps he didn’t find it fulfilling and the call to church service was a welcome one. As an apostle and church president, he has overseen the acquisition of numerous pieces of valuable real estate, defined the “M-word” that offends God, and convinced destitute people all over the developing world that the cure for poverty is to dutifully pay a full tithing to the hundred-billion dollar church investment empire over which he presides. We could speculate on the thousands of lives he would have saved or improved as a talented if unfulfilled surgeon and the many millions of lives other hands down the line would have saved from techniques or technologies he pioneered. But why save people’s hearts when you can save their souls? His expertise as a man of god extends to economics as, from his Ivory Tower and sacrosanct pulpit, he so genuinely extorts the impoverished with prosperity-gospel guarantees. The LDS church PR machine makes big news about donating some $9 Million dollars to the NAACP while quietly purchasing, in the same week, a $148,000,000 Marriot resort on Maui.

It’s not Mormon’s, alone, that conveniently choose which scientific theories they will reject and which they will commandeer. I’m no expert on logical fallacies–you may find many within my writing–but I believe the tendency to take ideas or data that support your position while rejecting any that do not, is simply and colloquially referred to as Cherry Picking. One of the most prevalent examples of this from apologists is with regard to The Fine Tuning Argument. Herein, the apologist takes the scientific observation that the values we observe for gravity, the expansion of the universe, the weak and strong nuclear forces, the mass of electrons, protons, and neutrons are so precise that should just one of them be changed by infinitesimal, almost inconceivable amounts, life as we know it would not be possible. For them, this scientific conclusion demonstrates, conclusively, that God is the author of the universe! Forget the fact that we cannot, outside of mathematical proof, actually demonstrate that such variance would be incompatible with life–theists love it! Forget that they have yet to demonstrate the existence of deity; they inductively conclude that not only is a god outside of space and time the cause but, from that assertion, they are capable of deducing this deity’s mind and will and are sanctioned–even commanded–to tell everyone else how to live their life.

The scientists such as Stephen Hawking who have described this incredible degree of complexity and the perception of fine-tuning have not gone so far as to postulate a deity to fill-in the gaps of understanding. Humans need an explanation so badly for every happening that we will make up a bad one rather than persist in not knowing a why. Deity provides a convenient deus ex machina, not only here, but in every explanation for every natural occurrence. Theists have gone from explaining lightening, earthquakes, plagues, and every disorder of mind and body as the active punishment of God to the passive, benign, but equally deferential “will of God.” He didn’t cause them but he could have prevented them. Except he didn’t. And the death of millions of children from the lack of clean drinking water to abuse at the hands of God’s anointed is so apathetically dismissed with the trite refrain, “God works in mysterious ways” that even I begin to wonder how I could ever have said such a hideous thing!

The God of monotheists went from a being who used his corporeal finger write the Ten Commandments after speaking with Moses with the equally corporeal description, face to face, to a being who exists outside of space and time. The Nicene being without body parts or passions becomes more critical than ever. The infinite regress of God’s existence is cleverly ignored or refuted by an equally unknowable assertion that God does not exist within space and time. Douglas Adams, author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, offered an interesting perspective on the tendency of humans to perceive fine tuning in the universe. 

“Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!”

–Douglas Adams

While the religious often appropriate science for their purposes (I was taught to as a missionary), they have become adept at also rejecting any claim it makes that doesn’t fit their inviolable, bronze-age mythos. Two of the most consistently confirmed, testable theories of biological science, Germ Theory and Evolution, find their only opposition from the religious. What is obvious when you discuss either theory with a believer, is that they do not know what they don’t believe any better than they know what they claim to believe. Ask a Catholic to what the “immaculate conception” refers. Chances are you, the reader, are incorrect. Look it up! It’s easy to find and well-defined by Catholicism. I also have found that an atheist is more likely than a Christian to know the correct answer to “what is the immaculate conception?”

A recent, person experience for me involved my chiropractor. In the middle of the COViD pandemic he quietly and in all sincerity whispered to me with a conspiratorial smile, that “we both know masks don’t work.” As a dentist, I have worn one daily for my protection even before it was mandated for everyone. In shock that one of my health care providers would say something like this, I was also not surprised to hear it from someone who’s profession is rife with devotion to homeopathy and promises of cancer cures that result directly from realignment of the spine. When he explained that one of the men who first postulated Germ Theory recanted it on his death bed, I realized that the spirit of Theocracy and its attendant, desperate desire to force recantation from heretics or slyly interpret their final words as a recantation of heresy, is alive and well even in the twenty-first century. Said chiropractor, at my dubious expression, explained that its not germs that get us, it’s something called “host theory” in which the host must be susceptible to disease and that alone is why some get sick and some do not. I challenged him in that moment to enter a closed room with me. I get a KN-95 mask and he has nothing. Tuberculosis is then released into the air of the shared space. How strongly does he believe Germ Theory is a hoax in that situation? I might have gone with condoms and HIV, but we simply aren’t that close…not yet.

He balked, back-tracked, and mumbled some deflective statement but, unfortunately, did not recant. Perhaps on his death bed as many COViD-deniers, gravely ill in their final moments, gasping for breath, have done to their caretakers. What actually bothers me most regarding this entire exchange is that my chiropractor doesn’t know what he doesn’t believe. A susceptible host is a key component of Germ Theory along with a route of transmission and a viable infective agent, or “germ”. Coronavirus wants human cells to infect. I’m human, and cannot change that. What I can do is make the route of transmission a greater obstacle for the virus with a mask. Who do we see in this country claiming masks are an outrage? The religious right. Friends and family in the south and in the Mormon, Intermountain West, confirm to me that there exists a large, vocal subset among whom the prevailing ethos is that mask mandates are a breach of their rights and by extension, religiously discriminatory or even blasphemous.

Akin to this is the Catholic church’s campaign against condoms, opens a route of transmission for the HIV virus in Africa. Not just amongst the sexually promiscuous but in the babies born with it due to the piety of their parents who’s sin of adultery was far less preventable and damning than the life of a child that will be damned to suffer from a disease that is often very preventable in the neonate. While children born in wealthy, western societies have access to expensive medical treatments, the already destitute child born in Africa of an HIV positive mother is almost certainly damned to a short and horrible existence.

Even more fundamentally, the disdain of the Theory of Evolution, most often bares its ironically maladapted head in discussions of the origins of life. How many times have you heard seemingly eloquent and well-educated people of faith aver, “Humans didn’t evolve from monkeys!” Some hit a bit closer to our own DNA profile by saying chimp instead of monkey. However, both statements are actually technically correct though the speaker is wrong in their own understanding. Evolutionary theory does NOT teach that humans evolved from monkeys or chimps. In this, the speaker, quite unwittingly, declares a demonstrable fact of evolutionary theory. The problem is, like the immaculate conception or germ theory, many with firm opinions on the matter do not know that what they have so confidently decided upon. They think evolution makes the case that humans did, indeed, evolve from a primate we see today like chimps or another ape. They even go so far as to say, “If humans evolved from chimps, why are there still chimps?” I’m not here to teach evolution and many of the the religious seem incapable of teaching it let alone comprehending it. The fact remains that they willfully remain ignorant of the theories they deny and in so doing acknowledge that the theory is an actual threat to their faith. Having lost their monopoly on teaching and affirming facts of nature, they now must fearfully, if not silently, watch the last corner of their moral soap box disintegrate.

There is a great difference in trusting a book or another human and in trusting a process. The process of scientific enquiry is trustworthy not only because it has been demonstrated to work, but because part of how it works is by being open to amendment–We can trust it because it will let us know if it is wrong. Trusting a man or a book as infallible or, if fallible, still excusable in their failing, is not only sufficient, but also necessary for cults and tyrannies to rise from their predecessors ruins or even from utter obscurity. Faith, that most exhausted and counterfeit ideal to be named a virtue, makes credulity respectable in its vast shadow.

Rather than trust that our current understanding is dynamic and always improving with modification and clarification and that such a position is perfectly alright, the faithful only trust unanswerable questions that pose no threat to their paradigm. When Jesus supposedly placed the mantle of leadership upon the broad, fisherman’s shoulders, he told Peter that “upon this rock I will build my church.” Catholics claim this meant that Peter, himself, was to be the cornerstone and foundation of the church he would build in his fulfillment of the law of Moses. Mormons claim that the teaching in the verses previous to Christ’s “upon this rock” declaration is that revelation is the rock upon which the church would be built. Thus the need for living prophets and the string of con artists to take up the mantle since Joseph Smith. If there is one universally applicable and unifying tenet of all religion is its un-falsifiability. Jesus may as well have told his chosen apostles that he would build his church upon the rock of the lack of contrary evidence. Both the claims of divine appointment and equally arrogant claims of being receptacles of divine revelation cannot be disproven. The other side to the coin that never lands “up” when a theist pulls it from their pocket is that neither has any man managed to demonstrate their claims to such lofty posts.

Hitchen’s Razor has become an easy standard for those of us who believe a claim should stand on its own merits not just the bombast or confidence with which it is spoken. The absence of contrary evidence to supernatural claims is not in and of itself evidence for the claim.

That which can be affirmed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

–Christopher Hitchens

Consider the unanswerable question regarding life after death. This may be the penultimate mystery upon which a theist builds their faith. How many, facing the death of a loved one or their own passing, hasn’t wondered at or even hoped for life beyond the grave? One cannot be blamed for hoping for another moment with loved ones who passed, particularly those who’s death was premature. The religious double-think on salvation is also curious to behold. The believer’s son who rejected Christ, who abused his wife and kids, and who died in an alcohol related car accident that claimed the lives of two children may, nevertheless, be “saved.” The same believer who claims the grace of God and salvation for their wayward son offers no grace to those currently living who, despite their best efforts, cannot find the credulity to believe in Jesus. A physician who volunteers her time to community service needs saving so desperately because she was seen reading a book by Richard Dawkins! And she needs saving before she dies! Otherwise, her time is up! Debts will be called due and Jesus won’t be able to make the payment when his name never fell from her lips. I’ve been on the faithful end of this conversation, and I’ve been the atheist doctor as well albeit with a “Y” chromosome.

I don’t begrudge these parents their need for hope. Over seventy years, their entire world-view has been built upon hope of Christian salvation. Unlearning or deprogramming was difficult for me as a 35 year-old man. The entirety of religious history seems to have been formed by mankind’s need to explain the unexplained. Shakespeare described death well in one of his most well-known soliloquies, musing “that the dread of something after death,” is common among men because it is an “undiscovered country from whose bourn No traveler returns.” He admits to the un-verifiability of life after death–a journey we must all make but, for which, no one can claim certainty regarding the destination. And considering a sample size of zero, any likely probability is impossible to substantiate. But that doesn’t keep the frocked from claiming their certainty!


The belief in this afterlife in which a person will see all their deceased relatives, friends, even pets, and get to meet the long deceased, epileptic narcissists that they call prophets, is unfalsifiable. Anyone can claim to have knowledge of anything, but unless it is open to empirical review and testable by indifferent, third parties, no on can add any degree of legitimacy to their claim–be it alien abduction, visions of angels, near-death experiences, or witnessing miracles that defy our notions of natural law. I’ve ridden a unicorn to the city of Atlantis: A benign claim that would make the most credulous among us scoot farther away on the subway. What matters is when the claim carries the claimant into the realm of speaking for deity and demanding control over the minds or actions of other fellow primates. Those who make extraordinary claims have only one logical determinant on their side: in most cases of extraordinary claims, no one can prove that what they claim did not happen or is not real. Like Bertrand Russell’s teapot, we can’t prove it isn’t there. For the believer in supernatural, eternal beings, their God’s existence and the reality of an afterlife can’t be proved–or, at least, has yet to be. The alleged apostle Paul made a faithful refutation scriptural when he drearily taught that without faith we can’t please God. The strength of their conviction comes not from evidence but from clinging to the fact that their God’s existence cannot be falsified.

They care less, if at all, about positive evidence for their claim yet irrevocably place the entire burden of their faith upon the lack of evidence that could refute it. “Is there any position a person could not take on faith?” Matt Dillahunty often asks on the Atheist Experience call-in show. The answer is, “No.” And most callers will admit this because most callers have the vestiges of an understanding of logic. Public school hasn’t utterly failed them despite the religious’ attempts to commandeer it. Unfortunately, most callers understand logic only insofar as it applies to everyone else’s unverifiable claims. Their own faith, however, is a case of special pleading because, well, it is special. In the eyes of the Evangelical: Islamist, Mormon, and Eastern religions are all falsifiable. Catholicism is three-fourths correct and Judaism may be half-right. But to be wrong even in the slightest is to be completely in apostasy or aligned with the repugnant gentiles.

The reality to which I slowly became aware as a rosy-lensed Mormon is that an overwhelming majority of religious claims throughout history have been falsified and only adapted under immense secular pressure. While many historical aspects of scriptural stories are accurate with regard to places, people, culture, and events, the miraculous are often refutable by evidence and probability. But their foundations, the belief in an unseeable God and a blissful afterlife cannot. And in this age of rapid scientific progress, the existence of God and an afterlife are the pillars of faith that remain because they cannot be negated by any information we have or that we might even imaging acquiring in the future. Upon this rock they must place the entirety of their hope which, as they love to profess, cometh of faith.

While there are some differences in Atheists and Agnostics, the majority of both take the stance that when a claim is made that affirms the reality of a being, the burden of proof resides on the maker of the claim. We are simply not convinced. Our stance is a default position until reliable evidence is presented to support a claim. Theists believe the burden of proof is upon the people who are not convinced due to lack of evidence rather than upon themselves and their affirmations despite the absence of any evidence. Why should we be surprised when they also believe that the Sun stood still in the sky without any attendant cataclysmic events. And any evidence that they require as a standard for belief, trust, and action in any other area of their life need not apply to how they evaluate the truth claims of their religion.

Only…ask them if they believe in unicorns…

Fine tuning and the moral argument, among others, are thought provoking rationalities for the existence of deity. What they are not, is evidence. They may involve clever deductive or inductive reasoning but they could care less about habeas corpus. Convenient that there is no resurrected Jesus to examine. Convenient that the Mormon’s haven’t access to “the gold plates” from which their scripture was “translated.” Nevertheless, proponents fall back on arguments like fine-tuning or the moral argument eagerly if not in desperation. All-the-while, they easily dismiss scriptural evidence that the god they worship is a sadistic narcissist. They proclaim him to be a god of love when he clearly states in his sacrosanct, approved text that he is a jealous god who answers disbelief upon the head of generations beyond the offender.

Coming upon the heels of his policy failure surrounding the great flood, the god of Israel decided to choose one tribe and make a nation of them. Rather than destroy everyone, he would use this chosen people to wipe out entire races. Why? For the reason Mel Gibson gives as the title character in the 1994 film, Maverick. Of the Native Americans, Maverick jokingly declares that he tries to kill one [Native American] every day. His justification: for them “being on [white man’s] land before we got here.”

Despite the fact that those with the greatest to gain from it, well-funded Israeli archeologists have not found one jot or tittle of evidence for the Exodus story. Perhaps piously, perhaps innately, perhaps professionally, these researchers have chosen not to bear false witness to evidence or attempt to substitute the trivial or unfounded as authentication of their tribe’s mythology. If the “Exodus” story teaches us anything, it is that the god of the Old Testament eagerly utilizes plagues to reach one of two ends. The first goal would be to humble someone or an entire people enough to bend them to his will, using torture to permit free will to play out. Or, secondly, he may punish and destroy those who do not accept and cow to his will. Even if the story is no more than mythology, the lessons taken are intended to be the epitome of morality and godliness. Consider the example of the Christian missionary, John Allen Chau, who died at the hands of those he to whom he was determined to proselytize. The Sentinelese, an indigenous tribe inhabiting an island in the far east Bay of Bengal, had already attempted to kill him once but failed when, miraculously, their arrow struck the Bible he carried. Having already willfully neglected not only the warnings and advice of others but the law of India as well, he proceeded to land his boat on their shore for a third attempt at preaching Jesus to them. He knew that death was a real possibility and, I suspect he also realized that the foreign microbes he carried and to which his immune system had evolved to combat posed a genuine threat to these people. It’s no surprise that our species has an innate fear of outsiders when they often bring disease and death with them.

Such was Chau’s conviction that he was right in his belief, that the risk to himself was nothing. How could the Indian government claim any authority to prevent him from preaching the Good News when he was on God’s errand? If he considered the danger contact with him would pose to the Sentinelese lives, we have no record. No doubt the arrow that struck his Bible confirmed to him his Godly errand and the words of Isaiah echoed in his head, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” (Isaiah 54:17) He would attempt to communicate with them and, if he was lucky or blessed, would succeed. The gift of tongues is a thing…right? Undoubtedly, he would share a refined and virulent microbiome. Language and immune systems evolve divergently but susceptibility to disease needs no translation. Anyway, their deaths were a small price to pay so long as they could hear about an obscure preacher from two-thousand years ago. What is un-falsified Germ Theory against the power of my un-verifiable God?

One might translate the Christian, proselytizing ethos to: it’s better to make a child an orphan than to allow its parents to “serve other gods.” We are so convinced that god will protect you from our diseases and us from your arrows, that we will go forward in faith. If I happen to die, that’s God’s will. If you die, at least your heard his word and can now be condemned to hell for it. And if your kids have to be raised without a mother or father as a result, well, that is God’s will too. And believe me, he loves them so much, it must be good for them.


While we may refute a great deal of a person’s beliefs, their faith is founded upon claims we cannot hope to falsify.
I say this as a once devout and utterly convinced Mormon: Joseph Smith’s claims are ridiculous. The Kinderhook Plates are a verified fraud. The Book of Abraham is an even greater example of Joseph’s con. Despite the divinely translated record declaring that it was “Written by his own hand,” no credible examiner of the original documents–who is not a Mormon themselves–has concluded that Joseph’s story about their translation could be correct. Now, contrary to the declaration of the book itself to have been written by Abraham’s own hand, we are told that maybe the common funerary text simply acted as a catalyst to inspire Joseph to translate.

Joseph even claimed to produce an “inspired translation” of portions of the Old and New Testament. Research out of Mormon flagship university, BYU, concluded that “it is arguable that [Adam] Clarke is the primary source Smith used” to make inspired changes to the King James Bible. Not revelation from God, in other words.

The Book of Mormon is not respected by ANYONE as a book of history of ANY people that lived in the pre-Columbian Americas. (I had a patient that once upon a time who spent over forty years as a professor of North and South American anthropology. I once carefully brought up the Book of Mormon and needed smelling salts to bring his rolled eyes back to facing forward.) Being considered “the keystone of [their] religion, the Book of Mormon may be the hill Mormon’s choose to die on. In 2009, Mormon Apostle, Jeffrey Holland, offered a stirring and rousing sermon on the divinity of The Book of Mormon. During a diatribe in which doubters and skeptics were called foolish for being unconvinced, he proceeded to make the case for the book based entirely on its un-falsifiability.

For 179 years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history—perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born and parroted and have died—from Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator.

Jeffrey R. Holland

Upon this rock, I will build my church. How appropriate, unmoving and unthinking. To borrow from an old Chevrolet truck ad-campaign: “Like a Rock.” Holland commits a fallacy here, essentially a false dichotomy in which he asserts that, since another explanation has not been proven correct (by his pathetic, faith-addled standard) then ONLY his explanation could possibly be an alternative. All of it, however, rests on the foundation of un-falsifiability.

Joseph not only lied, he was a compulsive liar. Consider polygamy in which his spouse was kept in the dark for years and, just shortly before his death, he publicly declared that he’d been accused of polygamy but, (see the pattern) since no one could prove it, he could confidently affirm that he “could find only one.” The Mormon temple rituals are simply appropriated from already bizarre, male-centric Masonic rites. It helps to claim that they were inspired, godly rituals to endow mortals with the power to become gods. It helps even more that no one can prove they weren’t inspired. Despite his long history of deceit or incompetence, most of my family hope to meet Joseph in heaven and thank him for his dedication to “restoring” the gospel.


The afterlife…their yearning and hope for and faith in an afterlife that cannot be verified. Yet this dream accounts for such a large contribution to their faith that they will disregard all else. Nothing, NO THING!, could be given credence enough to call their faith into question. The belief proves it, and that is enough to build their life upon it.

Transcending the Trivial: When Sports Are At Their Best

I was raised to see skin color and to pass judgments as if it mattered. For a boy growing up in rural, Mormon-pioneer-settled-community in Wyoming, I saw very few people who’s skin was not as white as mine. When I saw a white family at church with the black nephew and niece they were raising, my four-year-old self turned to my mom and asked, “Are those chocolate people?” My mother, horrified, hushed me while my father and older siblings chuckled. They hadn’t taught me to think like that, but I hadn’t been taught not to. I don’t think that four-year-old or his parents should be blamed for what was said. Other races were simply not in our line of sight on a regular basis. Our television received three, grainy, rabbit-ear signals out of the cosmopolitan enclaves of southeast Idaho and northern Utah. We didn’t have PBS–a good thing, too, since their liberal ways triggered my father. I didn’t get to see Mr. Rogers dip his feet in the pool with his black mail carrier until I was an adult looking for genuine role models.

What I did get to see, on the rare occasion they were broadcast, were sports. I didn’t really start watching them until I was ten. in 1990, just twelve years after the Mormon church finally allowed members with black skin to hold the priesthood and be married in their temples, Ty Detmer won the Heisman trophy for our BYU Cougar football program. The season captivated me as I fed off the excitement of my father and older brother. I also started to notice, that there were black people playing…and they were incredible athletes! Detmer won over Raghib Ismail and Eric Bieniemy! Despite being enamored by Detmer, I can’t remember any specific play from that season. I do remember the incredible kick return by Ismail that would have won the Orange Bowl had a penalty not nullified it.

Sports became a passion for me following that season. Up to this point, there had been little exposure to racism for me in my home. It was definitely there but it was subtle, built into the daily discourse in a way my young mind couldn’t discern. You might say it was systemic and by being so prevalent, it was normal. I figured everyone spoke this way.

We had our teams to follow–BYU anything; Steve Young’s San Francisco 49ers; and whomever was playing against the University of Wyoming. When basketball season came around, we peripherally followed the Utah Jazz. That white point guard they had was an acceptable role model. He wasn’t flashy but he was tough, smart, and dignified in his press conferences. He looked and sounded like us. But when a game came on the TV with two teams we didn’t know, I learned quickly how to decide which team to cheer for. When I asked who my father was cheering for, he almost always had picked a team, especially when it was basketball. “Why them?” I would ask.

“Because they have more white guys on the floor.”

Over time I learned to think in this way. I should cheer for the team with the most white guys because we are different than the black guys and…it mattered. If it mattered for something as trivial as sports outcomes, what about real, complex, divisive social, political, and personal issues?

I think that I felt there was something not quite right about this but, like my love of ice cream and my devotion to Mormonism, I absorbed some unhealthy habits from my dad. This trite phrase became hard-wired, expected for its consistency as well as its reliability and applicability. In essence, there was a difference when it came to race. I should notice white and black, and one reason to think this way was as a standard for deciding who to cheer for. Can you imagine how I felt when Barak Obama campaigned for the presidency against a white war hero or, *gasp*, a white Mormon?

THE ROOTS OF MY RACISM

I grant my parents and grandparents a pass. Why? Because, like anyone raised in a cult like Mormonism, everyone following orders is a victim. Add to that a moral superiority and divine infallibility exuded by the men at the top claiming to be modern-day Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John, and you can get anyone conditioned to defer to your judgement to say or do anything.

Artistic depictions of my white family’s and largely white church’s Palestinian-Jew, Jesus, were always of an anglo-Scandinavian male who’s slightly tanned flesh was the result of a bit too much desert sun. The actual words “white and delightsome” are used in The Book of Mormon to classify the good guys. The bad guys of the same book, in a vision to a prophet, were labeled as “a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.”

When that vision came to pass, we are told in 2 Nephi 5:21-25:

21…as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.

23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.

24 And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.

Don’t fret. These dark and loathsome creatures can reverse their “curse.” In fact, as recently as 1960, Mormon church leaders have taught that the curse can be and has been reversed so that the loathsome, dark skin of Native American children was becoming lighter! Prior to the civil war and for sometime after, leaders promoted the eternal rightness of enslaving people of African decent. Though the church wants to now promote the idea that these prophets were products of their time, other church leaders within the same governing body, The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were opposed to slavery. (Turns out that Brigham Young University bears the name of a decrepit racist) The apostle Orson Pratt, unlike the slave-holding and slaver-sympathizing leaders, opposed to slavery. He was certainly ahead of his time and perhaps should have been targeted by God to lead the church so that the church couldn’t be led astray against reassurances that said deity would never let that happen. Prohibitions against interracial marriage were taught from the pulpit for over one-hundred-thirty years. Until 1979, blacks couldn’t go to the temple for the most sacred, capstone-rite of Mormonism–eternal marriage to one’s spouse.

Those factors influenced my parent’s a great deal as the operating system they were given had been passed from their parents for at least six generations of Mormons. (That’s as far back as anyone can claim.) But my dad had his own reasons for cheering for the team with the most white boys playing. It took me thirty years to figure it out.

Members of the University of Wyoming’s “Black 14”

We cheered for BYU and whoever was playing against the University of Wyoming. This became a double-win when, as happened in 1969, BYU travelled to Laramie to be UW opponent. Fourteen black players at UW asked their coach if they could wear black armbands during the game to quietly protest BYU’s sponsoring entity’s–The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–policy that excluded black individuals from equality in the church. The “Black 14” included seven starters on their nationally ranked team. The coach’s response was to promptly remove each of the players from the team, citing team rules. The University realized there could be a constitutional conflict with their rules and dropped the rules a week later. However, they did not reinstate the fourteen students.

The bad PR to the University of Wyoming is its own story. For my father, something else happened. Like the University of Wyoming, it was my father’s own fault for reacting as he chose to. His loathing for UW became permanent and irrevocable, a loathing he passed on to my older brother. I, too, carried the torch until reason prevailed over me, and I realized that the only chance of anything catching fire was my own decency. The larger choice my father made was to see black athletes as lazy and entitled and lesser.

His own mother, a vocal racist in her own right, used the word “negro” or “colored” as often as occasion would permit. A college tennis player in the early 1940’s, we watched tennis tournaments all summer in her home. Due to a lack of diversity, I saw few non-white competitors in tennis before Venus and Serena Williams. My grandmother was happy to see Venus win Wimbledon and talked about watching Arthur Ashe play. This was the first I’d heard of him. My grandmother was one of the sweetest women I knew. She was also the racist product of a sectarian, racist belief system and larger, racist social construct. We cheered for the Williams sisters in-spite-of their skin color. My father is her son with the slow erosion of social progress smoothing some of the rough edges.

The simple fact remains that through sports my father taught me that race matters. It may just be through sports that I have learned that it shouldn’t matter.

WHEN SPORTS ARE ONLY GAMES

I do not think my father is or ever was a malicious racist. I believe he would, like Abraham Lincoln, espouse and defend the axiom, “As I would not be a slave, so I will not be a master.” Even the great Lincoln, with his fight for emancipation, seemed to believe that whites and blacks could not or should not coexist. President Lincoln made attempts to garner support in an effort to expatriate blacks, after emancipation, in colonization efforts to Liberia or the Caribbean.

In 1880 Frederick Douglass said, “In all my interviews with Mr. Lincoln, I was impressed with his entire freedom from popular prejudice against the colored race.” Yet, Douglass would also said, four years earlier, that Lincoln was, “In his interests, in his associations, in his habits fo thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man. He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country.”

I’ll accept both Lincoln’s–the Great Emancipator and the White Man’s President. Why should I revere half of one man? Why should I choose to see only the half of my father that maintains racist impulses or the half that would not be a master any more than he would be a slave?

Watching sports with my father, and football in particular, was always all about the contest. Extended breaks for replay were perpetual annoyances unless it benefitted our team. Distractions from the game and competition were almost always unwelcome. With the exception of the Olympic games, story lines were rarely compelling outside of the competition at hand. Unless, of course, it involved a former or current BYU athlete.

I recall in 1993 when Emmitt Smith held out from his expiring contract with the Dallas Cowboys. I think I remember it mostly because my dad thought such a thing as a holdout was immature and immoral. After all, Smith signed a contract. “When you sign a contract, you follow through.” (My father also opposed unions, convinced they were an apparatus of socialism at best, and that was an inevitable precursor to communism at worst.) During the 1993 season and the years on either side, we cheered for the San Francisco 49ers–the Dallas Cowboy rivals–led by BYU alum and future hall-of-fame Quarterback, Steve Young. Despite the Cowboys being our arch rival and a much better team with Smith on the field, my father seemed to take Smith’s holdout personally. “They are payed millions to play a game!”

I heard similar rhetoric, though with more disgust and vitriol from my father when Colin Kaepernick began to kneel during The National Anthem prior to Football games in 2016. This behavior had gone from something like Smith’s selfish demand for money to blatant disrespect for the United States of America and its divinely inspired and appointed National Anthem! Disrespect for the soldiers who had given their lives to defend its Constitution and the freedoms it outlines.

I’m not immune to the climactic, elation-inducement of a well-performed rendition of Francis Scott Keys’ lyrical majesty. When Whitney Houston performed our National Anthem in Tampa Bay before Super Bowl XXV, I was not yet a teen. With all that surrounded that monumental performance in 1990, perhaps it is no wonder that my father’s eyes were misty at the end. If you watch the video and see faces in the crowd, and even Ms. Houston’s, he wasn’t alone. To this day, her rendition of The Star Spangled Banner still brings a tear to my eye.

Let’s not forget that there are more verses to the Nation Anthem than the first. The author, himself a slave owner, penned the words that celebrate the United States of America as a bastion of freedom for the oppressed. Black men (women, black or white, weren’t counted at all) were legally considered only 3/5 of a man and then only for apportioning WHITE representatives to the U.S. Congress. For practical purposes, it would seem that few considered their black slaves as human at all. Treating them as beasts of burden and chattel, I think of Jefferson’s words (another slaveholding founding father who perhaps appreciated the irony of the practice) when he said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.” Even under the grand auspices of The Star Spangled Banner, we must admit that it contains a dream of freedom for everyone…so long as they are considered a human.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, father to the famed Supreme Court Justice, penned a fifth verse to the Anthem during the American Civil War. Perhaps we will one day, our nation may stand united when we have realized the hope contained in Homles verse:

Down, down, with the traitor that dares to defile
The flag of her stars and the page of her story!
By the millions unchain’d who our birthright have gained
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained!

Until then, I don’t think we should find it offensive or even surprising that an entire community within our nation should find a hero who kneels for them. The song certainly did not represent them when it was written or adopted. After reflecting on the justice of God, Jefferson added, that God’s “justice cannot sleep forever.” And despite the famous Christmas refrain, “Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name all oppression shall cease.” For now, I am left to trust in the goodness of collective humanity–an exhausting and discouraging course–to break the chains. Rosa, Martin, Colin, Bayard, Abraham, and George: If God’s justice is to be awoken, chains broken, and the oppressed to go free, it will begin these names and those we haven’t yet met who’s acts and words will inspire and indict.

Sports At It’s Worst


Fall in line. Do your duty. More dramatically, “the powers that be are ordained of God.” That is how I was raised. There’s no value in dissent. Conformity is far more honorable than individuality. Things are pretty good. The status quo works! Well, it works for families like mine. God. Family. Country. The United States is ordained by God! To serve one is to serve the other. Ms. Houston’s yet unrivaled performance of the Nation’s anthem evoked a great deal in my mind. Commitment to the flag and the institutions of the country. Somewhere within that, I believed that the government and the flag were the country

An injured olympian struggling to finish a race to which they’ve dedicated their life, only to see their father run from the stands to help them cross the finish line.

A high school athlete collapse when her body can’t go on, and struggle to rise, determined to finish when her competitor stops and lifts her as they cross the finish line together.

A professional athlete, idolized by a child visits them in their hospital bed granting them encouragement.

Alex Smith, determined to return to the field after a horrific injury and near deadly recovery, returns to competition and leads his team to the playoffs.

Victories of the human spirit over their circumstances. Sports can and often does inspire the best within us. Yet, the two-bladed-sword of humanity cleaves divisively in the opposite direction. Where there is the best, we often see the worst at work as well.

There exist grotesque levels of selfish, entitled, and violent behavior from fans, parents, and athletes. These often happen precisely over the less-important, silly-children’s-game aspects of sports. I can’t think of them being justified. But they happen when scores, playing time, and individual ego are taken too seriously by aspiring amateurs and overpaid, professional, athletic entertainers. Sports are at their worst when we take them too seriously for what they actually are. Other than money or pride, little rides on the outcomes of sporting events. A person’s livelihood may depend upon it, to be sure. And I expect that every player takes their job seriously. They put their health on the line to entertain. They are placed in an environment of physical and mental strain. I’m not surprised. But I have come to appreciate that sports can be so much more than entertainment. I want the entertainment, but I see now that we, all of us, need the game to be far more.

As a youth, I vaguely understood the ill-defined silhouette of these historical events and motivations leading up to and through the end of The Civil War. I pledged allegiance to the flag, saluted it appropriately in cub scouts, and Lincoln’s reminder or redefining at Getteysburg of “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people” may have made “the people” extensions of those symbols rather than the reason for their adoption. The military pomp with navy, marine, and army color-guards and air-force fighter-jet flyovers that accompany the National Anthem remind me of George Orwell’s words in his essay, My Country Right or Left. In the essay that explains how the middle-class are most susceptible to and are a nationalistic toward military service. He wrote, “I grew up in an atmosphere tinged with militarism…To this day it gives me a faint feeling of sacrilege not to stand to attention during, ‘God save the King.'”

Sports At It’s Best

From “God Save the King” to “The Star Spangled Banner”…

I was raised to hate an athlete like Colin Kaepernick. Overpaid prima donnas making a fortune to play a child’s game. What happened to the love of the game and striving for the best within us? The virtues that made college sports and the Olympics the pinnacle of athleticism? I just wanted to watch football. Get through the ceremony of the National Anthem and watch some football. The Anthem was out-of-place anyway. Not only should there exist a “wall of separation between church and state” as Jefferson once said, there ought to be a wall of separation between sports and patriotism. Are we to be indoctrinated as Orwell said by the vestigial rite we perform before each athletic contest? But that’s not really the point or, rather, it doesn’t have to be. What I did feel was a reverence for the song and the flag–symbols–not a reminder of what the symbols represent.

I tolerated the form which was made more important than the freedoms.
Now, consider the irony of my father’s dislike for Colin Kaepernick. For a man who believed that sports were a child’s game and could be little more than that, he refused to allow sports to represent something more. For a man or woman to use the stage of athletic contest for something other than entertainment; to kneel or sit and by so doing to stand for something much bigger than a game; this is where sports are at their very best! This is where a man like my father ought to see that an athlete might just be worth millions.

Transcending the events on the field is when sports is at its best–black fists raised in solidarity and black knees bent in memoriam. Triumph on the field of competition can’t mean more than victories in our communities and schools. If it’s all about cups and rings, my dad is right. Its just a game. A captivating but ultimately meaningless game played by adults. And the worst of it is just the natural offspring of it.

We’re not talking about an uninjured LeBron James walking off the floor with nearly six minutes remaining in a blowout, playoff loss. We’re talking about the difference between that “me first” behavior and The Black 14 who weren’t allowed to play for making a statement about something bigger than their own ego. I’m a white dude enjoying privilege and security from a life easy enough to grant me the time and energy to contemplate these things. I’m not sacrificing much. I write under a pseudonym to protect me from my family or friends learning my identity. Most of my family wouldn’t care if I expressed racist or sexist views if they were framed with the “wisdom” of ancient scripture or modern, prophetic catch-phrases. Harming the reputation of their tribe is what is important to them. They don’t care about Kaepernick’s tribe. Yet he and others have sacrificed their careers to their tribe. He took a knee in an attempt to raise his tribe’s station. I don’t doubt he would welcome a common unity where the only tribe that matters are those of the collective, human race.

When Kaepernick lost his value in the NFL, I heard some say, “It serves them right for being ____________.” This kind of reaction offers a lazy mind (dogmatic minds tend to be lazy) a comforting, facile deflection from engaging with difficult ideas. But when they fill-in-the-blank with “gay” or “a woman” or “a black man” it is necessarily preceded by a qualifier like “bitter”, “man-hating”, or “ignorant.” A white man is simply an “angry man”, or an “ignorant man.” In saying it this way, it seems to justify the anger or ignorance or at least to excuse it as understandable if not acceptable.

While the golden rule serves as a great mantra for those who feel empowered, it seems to fall short for the marginalized and oppressed. It can lay a groundwork for such individuals and groups to act passively when strength is called for in word and deed. The Bible played a powerful role in both oppression and emancipation. The fact that it can be used to justify both sides weakens its role as an arbiter. It encourages slaves to be subject to masters and for everyone to submit to the powers that be. Don’t go violently usurping an oppressive tyrant. God put him there to begin with!

Far better is the wisdom often attributed to Nelson Henderson though written by his son, Wesley, in the book, Under Whose Shade: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. seemed to be utilizing this mantra when he, realizing it would not happen in his life time, still dreamed of his own children playing with the children of his white neighbors as equals in dignity and opportunity. Can we say the same for Colin Kaepernick? It seems safe to assume that he put his career in serious jeopardy by “taking a knee.” Kapernick took a knee to direct people’s minds to the persistent inequity with which black people continue to endure in the land of the free.

Tim Tebow loved to take a knee. It’s hardly possible to imagine him without visualizing him on one knee. He took a knee to point attention to the “big man” in the sky. If it were not for that reason, why do it publicly? I don’t recall him kneeling during the Anthem, but should it matter? Both are attempting to point attention to where they feel it needs to be.

The difference is that we can all see the people to whom Kaepernick attempted to turn our collective attention. We don’t need to take anyone’s word for it. Sky Daddy has yet to come out of hiding yet society seems to pine and sappily ahhh when an athlete takes a penitent knee. It’s not only Tebow. Many athletes of every ethnicity do the same.

Like those who went before him, Kaepernick utilized his platform of athletic popularity to plant a tree. Today, athletes take knees during the National Anthem with some regularity. None of them risk their career and their reputations seem to recover well-enough. They bask in a shade under which their predecessors only dreamed.

What is the National Anthem? It is a poem put to music and adopted as a theme for the United States of America. It celebrates the grim nature of war if fought for a just cause. It celebrates a red, white, and blue fabric and the freedom from oppression for which it stands. It honors free and brave individuals who give their lives for collective emancipation.

Where we should honor the principles and ideals for which it stands, in this country our co-dependent relationship with an idol of billowing fabric too often supersedes the republic for which it stands. Many people in my circle who seemed incredibly offended by the passive, kneeling activism of Kaepernick and his disrespect toward the Stars and Stripes were reluctant or even obstinate in condemning the Capitol storming of January 6, 2020. Somehow, for them, the fabric of the flag and the F.S. Keys poem set to music are sacrosanct while the institutions and civic rites for which they stand are easily anathematized. Even by riled protestors waving the same flag in insurrection upon the floor of our congress.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, and spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.”

“In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of the earth.”

We can’t see the future but we have a clear view of the past and growing clarity of the present. Kierkegaard reminded us that, though we live our lives forward, we can only understand it backwards. Like Lincoln, the Black 14, and Colin Kaepernick, we don’t know the future. We can’t see it. We can only hope for it and strive to bring it into being. Whether on our feet or on our knees, it is our hearts that must learn empathy and our minds that must endure the painful struggle of understanding. We hope to see a tree, we hope to bask in its shade. I hope that we can find the shade as one people. I hope for a day when sports can be about the competition because, perhaps through sports, we will have arrived at a place dreamed of by those ahead of their time.