Ripe for the Picking

A person who spends his or her entire life, from the moment they hear human voices, imbibing the flavored, highly sweetened and vibrantly-hued Kool-Aid of religious indoctrination are often assured that only they are drinking of the pure, “living water.” So ubiquitous are the children’s hymns and poems and axioms to which they are subjected, they often don’t realize that what they are being force-fed is flavored at all. It is simply part of their environment–the way life is. The pedagogy makes certain to tell them that their doctrine is the norm–so normal and banal as to be mundane and common sense. If there exists a superior color and flavor, theirs must be it while all others are either entirely bland and colorless or flamboyant distractions, vicious counterfeits, or well-meaning perversions. That’s how they begin to see anything and everything that conflicts with the world-view their parents and clerical leaders have carefully curated in them since their mother first sang nursery hymns to them as she held them to her bare chest.

Like a battery in the matrix, how could a human brain, so wired to embrace tribalism and Us vs. Them categorization, and ready to accept the reality presented to them at face value, ever become aware of such programming? David Foster Wallace’s recounting of an old fish encountering two young fish makes the point succinctly. The older asks the younger, “How’s the water today?” The two young fish smile and swim on and, when beyond earshot of the older fish, one young asks the other, “What’s water?”

Children raised in an immersive religion that informs every aspect of their life, belief, knowledge, and world-view consider their faith-environment and ask “What’s belief?” To them, their faith is the only pure and wholesome and reasonable option there is. To them, their faith is as normal and as easy and as pervasive as the air around them or the ground beneath their feet. When presented with actual, clear water, they sneer at its transparency (a metaphor completely apropos) and balk at its plainness. “No wonder you’ve lost the light of ________ in your eyes,” they say. Of course you have. You’re drinking something so bland and meaningless! Obese in their certainty, they continue drinking their familiar Kool-Aid and wonder how anyone can get through a day without purple-stained mouths and the near-catatonic sugar rush.

The reality is that youth raised to think this way become adults who struggle to think in any other way. And the emotional and social costs required to change their firmware and update their operating system are just as painful as the clerically instilled terror has made them fear. Their mental and emotional firmware are so programmed as to run only programs that protect their system’s integrity. Programs or information that challenge their belief system can’t even be run to begin with. When they do run, they may cause the entire system to crash. Luckily, the anti-virus programs of many cults and religious traditions can often weed out and restore normal operations with little harm done. Shame and fear and blind devotion can even overcome the effects of abuse and manipulation from the organization itself. Individual Stockholm Syndrome overwhelms the Streisand Effect for even a tenuous belief. All other religions are guilty of horrible atrocities but my religion isn’t.

Objectivity: Error 404. Operation not found. Exe: Special Pleading

The foundation of modern religion comes from ancient texts. The Ultimate Man or human is a prophet or savior of the past. A man who rose above everyone else to impart the word of god/gods/God to the deplorable masses of men and women. By their nature as bronze-aged texts born of agrarian, feudal societies while being the story of the greatest man to ever live, they implicitly make the values taught–values beholden to and quite literally the product of their time–the greatest and most wonderful of all values! They aren’t just good ideas, they are the very mind and will and words of unchanging, infallible, omnipotent-scient-present Daddy-deity!

Despite the blathering Karen’s of The United States Congress, most Americans still believe that pluralism and Jefferson’s “separation of church and State” should be guiding principles for our republic. For the image driven, sixty-second-Tik-Tok-preferring populace, news cycles will always depend on provocative headlines and abridged reports that will still keep the Wheel of Fortune crowd tuned in.

For the good news: religiosity has been on the decline for decades in the United States and Europe among younger generations. This fact alone is evidence of a widespread embrace of people willing and free to ask themselves, “Do I really love big brother?” and to admit that “2+2 does not equal 5.”

Over the last few decades, the proportion of the U.S. population that is white Christian has declined by nearly one-third. As recently as 1996, almost two-thirds of Americans (65%) identified as white and Christian. By 2006, that had declined to 54%, and by 2017 it was down to 43%[4]. The proportion of white Christians hit a low point in 2018, at 42%, and rebounded slightly in 2019 and 2020, to 44%. That tick upward indicates the decline is slowing from its pace of losing roughly 11% per decade.

…The proportion of white Christians increases proportionally as age increases. Among those ages 30–49, 41% are white Christian, as are half of those ages 50–64 (50%) and a majority of Americans 65 and older (59%). These increases are offset by sharp declines in the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans in each age group. While more than one-third of Americans under the age of 30 are religiously unaffiliated (36%), that proportion drops to one in four (25%) among those ages 30–49, to 18% among those ages 50–64, and to only 14% among those ages 65 and older.


I’m not the best person to evaluate statistics and my observations are often instinctual–a bit too much like faith, perhaps. (The difference is that I have become someone willing to change my mind in the light of new evidence.) Thus, I find interesting is that there are several demographics that tend to vote conservative. (Another widely used term for conservatives that transcends “Republican” in the U.S. or “Tory” in England is the appropriate and descriptive term “Reactionary.”) Older, white males without college degrees overwhelmingly vote for the Republican candidate in presidential elections. I, for one, voted Republican until 2016 when pussy grabbing and bragging about the freedom to murder people on 5th Avenue without consequence turned me off quickly to Comrade Trump. Perhaps it was the then, white, very recently post-Christian male-with-a-doctorate in me that found his language and manner beyond indecent and inexcusable as provocative. I’d like to think it was the investment in reading from Orwell and Hitchens during that time that helped me see him for what he was. But why were my parents and siblings with college degrees and a profound sense of Christian morality supporting someone who lacked common decency like Donald Trump?! I didn’t like candidate Clinton either. But Trump bragged about doing things that made me ill. How could explain voting for him, even if I thought he represented values I shared (I never felt that way) to my daughter? My vote for Clinton was more about keeping Trump out of the White House than anything else. I believed separation of powers would keep the train from derailing over the next presidential term. Four years later, the cult of personality that supported a disgusting populist platform that, like all populists in all countries–only enriched the elites in practice, frightened me even more as Trump began undermining the election the preceding summer.

I’d heard this rhetoric before. Mormons are taught to consider apostates “lazy learners.” That definition means, in practice, that someone either didn’t do any study whatsoever and simply caved to the philosophies of men. Or, because faithful members don’t become apostates due to neglect but by following their integrity in their studious diligence, Mormon’s believe know that their apostate friends and family did indeed study but didn’t do so in faith or, they didn’t study the right way. If they had studied the Mormon dogma and scripture with the appropriate faith, wearing blinders as they stare down the barrel tunnel of piety they would have reached the same conclusion as a believing Mormon. Put more simply: “You’re wrong unless you come to the conclusion that I know is correct.”

I hope the idea of “blinders” put you in mind of Orwell’s old, laborious horse, Boxer. Horses wear blinders to prevent them from being frightened by the world around them. But not for their safety, for the safety of the person driving them and his or her cargo. They use the horse for their own ends. With humans, one cannot simply breed them to fill a role, you have to convince them that what they do is for their own good or for the good of the whole. And you can ply the whip of shame and fear of eternal punishment to motivate them to build the mill until they do, quite literally, “waste and wear out their lives” to build something on a foundation of lies and sexual deviancy cloaked in euphemistic semantics. The trick with humans is that you must put on the blinders from birth–information control–and cultivate that fear and shame that keeps them from trying to peek beyond the blinders edges–emotional, behavioral, and thought control. Even thinking of looking beyond the blinders is made a sin.

Mormons are just one cult who’s regional influence remains largely isolated. I think seeing it for what it was helped me to identify the same “cult of personality” tactics in Donald Trump and see the blind devotion of his adherents riding their MAGA Kool-Aid sugar rush all the way to January 6th. Of course it all started in his first run for President when celebrating pussy grabbing and his power to murder without consequence were dismissed by rabid reactionaries as a septuagenarian who shouldn’t be held accountable for reprehensible, ninth-grade locker room talk. Perhaps this says more about the person who would excuse such language than it does about the rotting jack-o-lantern that said it (my apologies to jack-o-lanterns everywhere). But the former high school classmate I remembered, who made that very excuse for Trump, publicly, on social media, would never have said something like that. Thank goodness for the freedom of expression. Now I think I can tell what he was thinking all these years.

Fast forward through a lazy, degenerative and divisive presidency, and Trump’s rhetoric about the 2020 election became more brazen. He knew he had his committed supporters. He knew they hung pictures of him on their walls next to those of Jesus. He could tell them in an interview with Pat Robertson:

Well they’re going to show up for me because nobody’s done more for Christians or evangelicals or frankly religion than I have. You’ve seen all the things that we’ve passed including the Johnson Amendment and so many things we’ve nullified. Nobody’s done more than we have.


His acolytes don’t care that, though he stopped enforcement of the Johnson Amendment by executive order, the amendment itself was not legislatively changed at all. He didn’t need to say another word. If he told them he had opened Mars for Christian proselyting, they’d be calling to ask how they could catch a ride to the red planet and, could they name Mars something else? Something that wasn’t a Roman god? Maybe name it something biblical, like Two Corinthians. Or Troth Senshal.

Despots and theocrats take the skepticism inherent in humans and make blinders out of it. You don’t want people to see everything. In the internet age, blinders aren’t easily affixed any longer. Thus, you can create blinders in-effect by simply making the credulous skeptical of everything beyond their paradigm that is in conflict with it. If their preacher doesn’t say it or Faux News doesn’t report it or the Dear Leader doesn’t stammer it incoherently, they are skeptical of it. Orange Kool-Aid is the most tremendous Kool-Aid and everything else is fake. And while you’re at it, don’t call it fake anymore. Newspeak to the rescue: if we say “fake” that implies to the electorate that “fake” or “illegitimate” or “untrustworthy” information actually exists. Maybe they’ll think we are saying fake stuff. Let’s eliminate the word from the vernacular. Let’s rename it “alternate.” Suddenly everything is factual but only our facts matter.

Trump had long undermined any lackey-less news entertainment. In addition, he sought to undermine institutions of government. Only he could be trusted. Not the election process or even the Constitution. If you don’t come to the same conclusion as me, you’re wrong. (Where had I heard that before?) He brazenly declared that if he lost the 2020 election it would obviously mean there was fraud. However, if he won, it’s all legitimate or, legitimate enough. And if he lost, he could send “alternate” electors that represent the “real” results of the election.

How could such a man rise to power in a free society that depends on the rule of law and the ideal that justice be meted out equitably regardless of wealth or station? As Hitchens said of Stalin, “You don’t belong in the dictator business” if you aren’t ready to take advantage of a “reservoir of credulity” prepared for you over centuries of religious indoctrination. Stalin’s regime was propped up by the orthodox church–despite his disdain for and sabotage of it–directly during his reign and indirectly in the preceding centuries by creating a populace ripe for the picking. An entire nation raised to believe that their dear leader was chosen by divinity or providence and that he was something more than a man. Read Katya Soldak’s personal account of a childhood nourished on the Kool-Aid of Soviet indoctrination. Take off your blinders for fifteen minutes and open a browser window in your suppressed intellect with safe-guards turned off, put your religious leader’s name in place of Comrade Stalin and Lenin; put your nursery hymns and scriptures in place of hers and see if it doesn’t overlap almost perfectly.

Evangelical America has been waiting for their own David to come along and slay the mighty, taunting giant of secularism. Ultimately, they await the arrival of their King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The ethos of fundamentalist Christianity might be stated, “A wicked man chosen by God as a king over men is better than a good man chosen to the position by free people in a free and fair election.” Trump, knowing it would be difficult to win another national election, simply perpetuated his fake news and fraudulent election Kool-Aid until the blinded work-horses he’d raised up would storm the Capital for him. They could do the work, pay the price, and he could reap the reward.

What could be more reactionary than that kind of ideology? Trump’s win in 2020 is in part due to effectively mobilizing those who did not regularly vote to cast one for him. As we’ve seen, his electorate was also composed of regular church goers in white, Christian America who’s fundamental, uniting principle is devotion to a bronze-aged text and a deep distrust of everything “non-Christian,” especially education. They pine for the good-old days that will be reinstated when Jesus can reign as King of Kings. Until then, a divinely appointed dictator will do. There’s a word for that: Theocracy.

When you have a romantic view of some bygone, golden-age, why consider the future? The past was better than now and now is definitely better than a future doomed to corruption and “wickedness in high places” to precede the long-awaited and definitely-to-occur eschatology of rapture, war, and divinely imposed peace. “Take no thought for the morrow” is a particularly special ingredient in religious, reactionary political ideology. When the sufficient evil happens, tomorrow, we may react to it. We don’t need to prepare or attempt to mitigate it because God is mindful of the lilies and sparrows and each hair of our head. Why should we worry about protecting the innocent from the growing wave of gun violence? God is mindful of them. Let’s do nothing to prevent the next one and claim that the wake of a mass shooting is not a proper time to discuss politics. After all, why not be content with current “tribulation?” Didn’t Jesus assure us that we would have tribulation in this world anyway? All-the-while, some on both sides, not content to wonder where the next victims will come from, strive to create an environment of pluralism and curiosity to drive medical advancements against the golden-age pining of faith-assured God-botherers.

Christianity was at its strongest in the middle-ages when inquisitions and heresy hunts were not just despotic convenience but sacred duties. Artists’ commissions came, to a large extent, from creating trite devotional works of which each cathedral seemed to need at least one. Like many museums, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence preserves and celebrates hundreds of these works. There exist, just in this gallery and as a single example, dozens of renderings of the baby Jesus with his mother. (The churches within blocks also have their commissioned pieces of this scene.) Each is rich with Christian and, in particular, Catholic, iconography. Halos encircle the heads of Jesus, Mary, and the bishop or pope who is the likely subject of the piece. Knights and dignitaries and clerical authorities pay homage to the inhumanly stoic and benevolent infant. In some he patriarchally places his hands on the head of his mother or a bishop in the attitude of blessing. Sometimes he simply looks on them in solemnity and holds a finger skyward as if directing their attention to heaven. In one I recall, the oddly adult-looking baby cups his mother’s chin and raises it as if offering much-needed encouragement.

By the third room of the Uffizi, I was tired of halos and Catholic-clothed clerics and crosses and babies who, in need of diaper changes and burping, were revered as old and wise sages. The way the paintings deliberately expressed the divine approval and proximity of the church powers became a bore and an irritant. For a largely illiterate populace of people attending the church in which this would have been on display, what better way to communicate 1000 words about the divine right of the Pope or King, priest or noble patron, than with an icon-rich picture? For a feudal lord or ambitious priest and to uneducated and credulous population, how many words is such a picture worth? To the illiterate peasant, such a picture alludes to the authority of their cleric who tells them that all the answers they need come from a book they can’t read but which they know as “The Good.”

Now, with video and social media, church decor is of lesser use. Would-be tyrants need only speak the language of their devotees. Utilize keywords or simply vagaries–tremendous; phenomenal; fake. Appeal to shared mythologies/conspiracies upon which people base their life and against which all other claims must be weighed. Fears kept alive within these mythologies motivate people to pray, pay, and obey.

All a would-be tyrant like Trump has to do is to appeal to his acolytes’ reactionary tendencies with ideas about America no longer being “great,” that drugs and immigration are already beyond horrific, and that America can, once again, be the most tremendous place on Earth and way better than everywhere else. It often feels that reactionaries would rather make history that attempt to really engage with and learn from it to be proactive. After all, they already know all there is to know about the history they were taught in home school and Sunday school. Remind them of the pictures of a wonderful by-gone age–pictures painted in their minds by preachments and revolutionary nostalgia.

What ought to be terrifying is that, because of Biblical and Quranic assurances, a large proportion of reactionary monotheists look forward to something far more insidious than simply returning to a bygone golden age. Despite injuctions to take no thought for the morrow, Christians look forward to A day in the undetermined future. They can be guilty of morrow consideration if their long-awaited future comes to pass tomorrow. Monotheistic parents world-wide are raising their children with the help of priests and imams to understand little that does not fit with their faith convictions. These rely on the idea that they are part of a generation–if not THE Generation–who’s eternal duty is to prepare the world for Armageddon and violent purification. (Which monotheistic sect believes it is their duty to save the world or improve the circumstance of those wont to take refuge on our little planet in an obscure region of the galaxy. Such people are easily taken advantage of by scam artists that know the correct code words and cynically employ them.

Begin, dear tyrant, with the inoculation of the intellect. Luckily for you, the Christian preachers have started this monumental work from birth. Descartes’ oft-quoted quip expresses a truism that to think it is a fundamental component of being human. Like the physical, one needs to hone the skill, but nearly everyone is capable of critical thought until the capacity is inoculated from them. Too many are made to be susceptible to conspiracy theories that fit their bronze-aged mythology. They are made to that they can be an expert on any subject by reading an op-ed or listening to an endless string of distracting questions from Tucker Carlson that cleverly keep him free of direct culpability for his listeners’ fanaticism yet offer no answers or insights. “I’m only asking questions.” We make them think that one real estate developer with no college transcript can know more about biochemistry or meteorology than anyone with a PhD in the field.

Average humans don’t know more than the folks with doctorates about the details of processes they’ve studied their whole life. Average humans are born with the innate ability to spot a crook and a liar. Rather than follow your instinct, you get inoculated to be teachable only when the proper passwords and dog-whistles are spoken by your approved source–such as a man who has done more than Jesus for Christianity. All you hear are the keywords and that means he couldn’t possibly be lying to you. That’s what church did to you. Is it any wonder that evangelicals line up behind him? They are told to ignore science and believe in a young Earth; virgin birth; resurrection; talking asses (I guess that may be why they are in awe of Donald Trump).

A lifetime of this repeated rhetoric in the company of your trusted, adult mentors chanting the tedious string of “Amens” makes a person comfortable with contradictions and adept at recognizing hypocrisy in everyone but themselves and their religious demagogues and in any system but their own. Under the impression that their leader is so in touch with the divine as to know His mind and will, acolytes even swallow such morally and intellectually bankrupt statements as:

That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under anotherWhatever God requires is right, no matter what it is

History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Volume 5, pg 134-35

I could furnish more examples of logical and moral inconsistencies from “Good” books of scripture. Christians would balk at examples from the Quran while being completely incapable of recognizing them from the Bible or Mormon’s from their additional, canonized fan-fiction. The same is true of political parties, particularly those built around adoration of a man or woman and committed to seeing that person in power. The man is right, no matter what. He is chosen by God, therefore what he says or does is, by that endorsement, right.

Mormon’s, in particular, have scripture that promotes the idea of conspiracies in high places that seek only power and the oppression of the good, moral, people of God. In The Book of Mormon, they are known as the “Gadianton Robbers.” These wicked people seemed to have little more motivation than the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s, The Dark Knight. Alfred tells Bruce Wayne that “some people just want to watch the world burn.” Couple that story with the revelatory idea that The Book of Mormon was preserved as a warning to people in the 19th century and beyond. Mormon Prophet, Ezra Taft Benson, among others, affirmed:

The Book of Mormon … was written for our day. The [authors of it] never had the book…It was meant for us. Mormon wrote near the end of the Nephite civilization. Under the inspiration of God, who sees all things from the beginning, he abridged centuries of records, choosing the stories, speeches, and events that would be most helpful to us.

Teachings: Ezra Taft Benson, 140

Propped up by Biblical warnings like that of Ephesians 6:12: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” conspiracy prone, pattern seeking individuals trained to surrender their intellect to revelation, easily see the corruption their would-be leader claims is rampant even while ignoring his many amoral statements, actions, and well-published corruption. Benson repeatedly warned the Mormon membership of “secret combinations” high in government seeking to destroy God’s most blessed country of The United States.

I testify that wickedness is rapidly expanding in every segment of our society. It is more highly organized, more cleverly disguised, and more powerfully promoted than ever before. Secret combinations lusting for power, gain, and glory are flourishing. A secret combination that seeks to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries is increasing its evil influence and control over America and the entire world.


Since the sixties and seventies, when Benson acquired his apostleship, he spoke this way to the worldwide Mormon church, in the fever of fading McCarthyism kept alive by John Birch fanaticism, generations of Mormons heard and listened and lie in wait until a man so orange as to appear touched by the purifying fires of the finger of God, started saying exactly what their prophet–one who stood on the watchtower to warn the people–had been saying since the 1950’s.

Interesting note: The Gadianton Robbers of The Book of Mormon were characterized by the secret handshakes and code words their order shared only with one another. There is a reason some derisively call the Mormon temple the International House of Handshakes. There are no less than four secret handshakes, four secret hand and arm posturings, and four secret keywords that only the initiated and committed are privy to learning.

If you are a Mormon reading this and thinking, “Yeah, but you’ve got it all wrong. They’re not secret, they are sacred.” You might just be self-deceived. I was there, too. I regurgitated the tired apologetic arguments to skeptics. But the first time I performed the temple rite, I didn’t think how amazing this was or how sacred. I remember thinking, “This is exactly what The Book of Mormon warned me was a hallmark of a corrupt society.” But I was with my parents and uncles and aunts and brother and sisters. They were drinking the Kool-Aid. Maybe it is laced with poison. But I’ll be going to heaven by drinking it, so it’s not really poison…right?


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.”

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.

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?


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.


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.

My Theocracy Right or Wro…Right!

We can typically agree on morality until someone opens up a holy book. Put the reprehensible action on the pages of an antiquated text considered by many to be scripture, and suddenly the injunction to murder becomes not only morally acceptable but divinely sanctioned. If it is the decree of the creator-god, it must be the highest of moral actions! Thus, imagine my godless, secularist satisfaction in listening to my children taught from The Book of Mormon that if someone disagrees with you, you can label them a threat and, with the authority of the government, have them exterminated if they won’t agree with you. Use their reluctance to comply with your way of doing things as the excuse. I mean, only an atheist believes that, as Dosotevsky deftly pointed out in The Brothers Karamozov, without God, all things are permitted…right? 

Excuse my previous sarcasm. I was horrified to hear, from my new and expanding vantage point, the story adoringly told–to my children!–of a character named Captain Moroni, asking for and being granted permission by the governor and the majority of citizens in a primitive America, to kill those who opposed the political ideology to which he and they subscribed. They refused to take up the weapons in defense of their own country, thus providing a ‘just reason’ to have them exterminated. The epigram that has been rendered, if you look through rose colored glasses, all red flags simply look like flags must have an auditory corollary. How could I have once venerated this disgusting character and barbarous story as an example of what it meant to fight for freedom and to uphold high virtue? The book was “written for our day” after all. And it’s ‘inspired’ text instructs the reader to “liken” the scriptures to themselves.

In his book, The God Delusion, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins highlights the interesting and frightening research of Israeli psychologist George Tamarin. From Dawkins himself:

Tamarin presented to more than a thousand Israeli schoolchildren, aged between eight and fourteen, the account of the battle of Jericho in the book of Joshua:

Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout; for the LORD has given you the city. And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction . . . But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD.’ . . . Then they utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword . . . And they burned the city with fire, and all within it; only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.”

Tamarin then asked the children a simple moral question: ‘Do you think Joshua and the Israelites acted rightly or not?’ They had to choose between A (total approval), B (partial approval) and C (total disapproval). The results were polarized: 66 per cent gave total approval and 26 per cent total disapproval, with rather fewer (8 per cent) in the middle with partial approval. Here are three typical answers from the total approval (A) group:

1) “In my opinion Joshua and the Sons of Israel acted well, and here are the reasons: God promised them this land, and gave them permission to conquer. If they would not have acted in this manner or killed anyone, then there would be the danger that the Sons of Israel would have assimilated among the Goyim.”

2) “In my opinion Joshua was right when he did it, one reason being that God commanded him to exterminate the people so that the tribes of Israel will not be able to assimilate amongst them and learn their bad ways.”

3) “Joshua did good because the people who inhabited the land were of a different religion, and when Joshua killed them he wiped their religion from the earth.”

The justification for the genocidal massacre by Joshua is religious in every case. Even those in category C, who gave total disapproval, did so, in some cases, for backhanded religious reasons. One girl, for example, disapproved of Joshua’s conquering Jericho because, in order to do so, he had to enter it:

1) “I think it is bad, since the Arabs are impure and if one enters an impure land one will also become impure and share their curse.”

Two others who totally disapproved did so because Joshua destroyed everything, including animals and property, instead of keeping some as spoil for the Israelites:

1) “I think Joshua did not act well, as they could have spared the animals for themselves.”

2) “I think Joshua did not act well, as he could have left the property of Jericho; if he had not destroyed the property it would have belonged to the Israelites.”

Once again the sage Maimonides, often cited for his scholarly wisdom, is in no doubt where he stands on this issue: ‘It is a positive commandment to destroy the seven nations, as it is said: Thou shalt utterly destroy them. If one does not put to death any of them that falls into one’s power, one transgresses a negative commandment, as it is said: Thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth!

Unlike Maimonides, the children in Tamarin’s experiment were young enough to be innocent. Presumably the savage views they expressed were those of their parents, or the cultural group in which they were brought up. It is, I suppose, not unlikely that Palestinian children, brought up in the same war-torn country, would offer equivalent opinions in the opposite direction. These considerations fill me with despair. They seem to show the immense power of religion, and especially the religious upbringing of children, to divide people and foster historic enmities and hereditary vendettas. I cannot help remarking that two out of Tamarin’s three representative quotations from group A mentioned the evils of assimilation, while the third one stressed the importance of killing people in order to stamp out their religion.

Tamarin ran a fascinating control group in his experiment. A different group of 168 Israeli children were given the same text from the book of Joshua, but with Joshua’s own name replaced by ‘General Lin’ and ‘Israel’ replaced by ‘a Chinese kingdom 3,000 years ago’. Now the experiment gave opposite results. Only 7 per cent approved of General Lin’s behaviour, and 75 per cent disapproved. In other words, when their loyalty to Judaism was removed from the calculation, the majority of the children agreed with the moral judgements that most modern humans would share. Joshua’s action was a deed of barbaric genocide. But it all looks different from a religious point of view. And the difference starts early in life. It was religion that made the difference between children condemning genocide and condoning it.”

(edited for formatting)

If you need me to explain to you why the above quotation is horrifying, you’re not the target of my writing even if you are the subject. The justification is together absurd and horrifying and, in no conceivable way, can be made to seem as if the injunction came from loving, omnipotent God that is no respecter of persons. Perhaps the only difference between Joshua’s story and that of Captain Moroni from The Book of Mormon is that the state-sanctioned murder of thousands is made to appear as a noble and heroic act of goodness and freedom conquering tyranny. To the victors often go the spoils and they alone are left to tell the tale of their conquering and they never malign themselves in the telling. 

Regarding Captain Moroni and the chief judge of the people, Pahoran: I have come to believe and written regularly of the struggle of humankind against tyranny. The real human struggle has been and always will be the struggle against totalitarianism. Absolutism is its methodology and it thrives by convincing its supporters that it serves them. Label the regime with any classification you want: democratic, people’s republic, socialist, stalinist. It really is by their fruits you shall know them. That is how I came to see the sordid but obvious totalitarian nature of what happens in the first twenty-two verses of Alma 51 of The Book of Mormon. 

According to the text, after many years of peace (v.1), suddenly there was a “contention among the people” for “there were a part of the people who desired that a few particular points of the law should be altered”(v.2). The leader of the people, Pahoran, called the Chief Judge, would not change the law (v. 3). We must assume that it was in his power to do so. And what, you may ask, did this small faction of citizens want changed? Before we answer that, this is not a governmental system that operates democratically, at least not in the way we understand in our day. There is no legislative body. Though the people may petition–the word itself is used several times in text–the chief judge has what seems to be not just judicial power as his title indicates, he also has legislative power (as shown in his denial to use said power to change the law) and executive power (as we will see later). 

The framers of the U.S. constitution and those of many subsequent democracies around the world realized that to have all three powers in one place constituted a tyranny. They separated the powers to limit the tyrannical capacity of any one group or person and that each governing body might check the abuse of another. While this system has been known to fail, the balance of justice has largely been as equitable as mere primates with our barbaric history could hope for as we seek, under the protections of our young governmental systems, to further realize untainted equality for each citizen under the law.

 Back to Pahoran: the minority who disagreed with their chief judge’s ruling, were angry and wanted him removed from power. Verse four even states that “there arose a warm dispute concerning the matter, but not unto bloodshed.” Sounds like a reasonable protest. Perhaps they stood outside the capital building or “white house” in Zarahemla (the capital of Christian peoples in first century B.C.E. America) with signs and chanting slogans like, “Stop Pretending You’re Not A King and Give Us the Real Thing!” Primitive as they were, they didn’t attempt a violent overthrow. They ought to be given some points for that. 

Verse five is where the “rose by any other name” business becomes unabashedly flagrant. For a man acting like a king and endowed with such power, it’s comical that it would be written, “those who were desirous that Pahoran should be dethroned from the judgment-seat were called king-men, for they were desirous that the law should be altered in a manner to overthrow the free government and to establish a king over the land.” Do I need to point out that the text LITERALLY uses the word THRONE? 

Mormon’s love to publish the fact that Joseph Smith couldn’t have written The Book of Mormon because he only had a third grade education. This story proves that they are right about one thing, he wasn’t well-educated. His ignorance is on full-display here, further convincing me that he did, indeed, author this work of fiction. Pahoran had every power of a king and employed them. These dissenters simply wanted to replace the existing tyrant with one of their choosing. 

The only quality that marks Pahoran as a “freeman” is that he supported and maintained the religion of the people. Here, we have a tyrant becoming a theocrat. It is in “maintain[ing] their rights and the privileges of their religion” that they think they can call themselves “a free government” (v.6). Demonstrating a vestige of democratic principles, in verse seven, we are told “that this matter of their contention was settled by the voice of the people. And it came to pass that the voice of the people came in favor of the freemen, and Pahoran retained the judgment-seat, which caused much rejoicing among the brethren of Pahoran and also many of the people of liberty, who also put the king-men to silence, that they durst not oppose but were obliged to maintain the cause of freedom.”

First, Pahoran did listen to the people though we already know that it was in his power to change the law regardless of what the people said. Second, when these king-men lost their attempt at changing the law peaceably, they did not oppose the ruling. Sounds like a peaceful and democratic attempt at pursuing one’s political ideals. They failed, but they remained civil.

Remember the “executive power” in government? Here is another example of its tyrannical use in this chapter. In the next several verses, we learn that an enemy of the Nephites was preparing to wage war against them. Say what you will about the king-men here. According to the story they were happy with this attack by their countries enemies and refused to fight to protect it. The military leader, Captain Moroni, became “exceedingly wroth because of the stubbornness of those people whom he had labored with so much diligence to preserve; yea, he was exceedingly wroth; his soul was filled with anger against them. And it came to pass that he sent a petition, with the voice of the people, unto the governor of the land, desiring that he should read it, and give him (Moroni) power to compel those dissenters to defend their country or to put them to death” (vv.14-15).

Moroni was so concerned with “put[ing] an end to such contentions and dissensions among the people” that he believed the end justified the means. Luckily for him, the tyranny of the majority won, and the voice of the people was given what it wanted. They could slaughter their fellow countrymen if they refused to submit to conscription (v.16). Just like a good democracy of free people, the government allowed the military to act against its own people. Of course, it is again put in religious terms here because, as verse seventeen says, it was necessary “to pull down their pride and their nobility and level them with the earth.” Instead of saving his own army to fight their enemies, he decides to risk their lives to fight citizens who were NOT uprising.

Use of military against one’s own people, particularly those not in rebellion but, in a civil manner, opposing a government action, is a hallmark of despotism. And, with all three governmental powers in the hands of Pahoran, the king-men had no one to whom they could turn for redress. Sounds like the freemen were such in name only. I’m reminded of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and others who labeled dissenters as “counter-revolutionaries” and used their military might to slaughter them by the millions. In the end, “there were four thousand of those dissenters who were hewn down by the sword; and those of their leaders who were not slain in battle were taken and cast into prison, for there was no time for their trials at this period” (v.19). 

This is the first time any type of judicial proceeding is mentioned. It ought to be said again that Moroni’s intention and injunction was “to compel those dissenters to defend their country or to put them to death.” When they saw the army coming it was to kill them if they did not comply. Ironically, in verse twenty-two, it is actually said that this Captain Moroni was “subjecting them to peace and civilization!” It reminds me of Christopher Hitchens pointing out the demeaning irony of a person telling him, “Of course we have free will! The boss insists on it.” 

Which group acted with impunity, as if they held the “divine right” to do so? Do I need to add the medieval, sanctimonious “of Kings” to drive the point home? Was their cause so, absolutely right that they must eliminate dissent? That’s what many communist and fascist regimes have done and how they’ve justified it. The communists always call their nation “the people’s ___________” to, as Pahoran did with “the voice of the people,” behave as if the majority of common men and women sanctioned their actions. Simply label anyone who disagrees, no matter how peacefully, as “counter-revolutionaries” or “dissidents” and sentence them to death without due process. One man becomes judge, jury, and executioner and is given authority by another man acting as a despot would. Lenin encourage Stalin to be more brutal, to raise the death toll, to strike fear in the heart of any who would dissent against their workers’ revolution. Bring down the nobility! Up with the poor and humble. Lenin is to Pahoran as Stalin is to Captain Moroni.

Who are the king-men in this story? Just because you label someone a king-man, doesn’t make them one. If Pahoran and Moroni are kings in their “new clothes” they’ve managed to convince not only their B.C.E. subjects that they are freemen but also to convince their highly educated, twenty-first century audience of the same. Like a naked tyrant, everyone is unwilling to point out the obvious. Pretty soon, everyone goes along with it. After all, they’ve just seen Moroni slaughter fellow-citizens who dare to peacefully ask for a change in the law he didn’t agree with. You have the power, you create the labels and the people accept them. 

If anything, this is a cautionary tale from which we ought to learn a different lesson. Do not to let those in charge have too much influence on what you think! And learn how you think! In a democracy, as we know it and as should have been understood by an omnipotent god inspiring a book of scripture “for our day,” citizens can work to change laws to match their ideals and goals. They understand that they have to change individual voters perceptions to make this happen. Or, in a republic, you petition your legislators to work at changing the law. This seems to be what the king-men attempted and failed to do.

In a tyranny (theocracy) all that you need to do is to change the populace as a whole. Kill off entire populations or classes that stand in your way. Take their lives or their property. Instill fear in those that survive the purge. That’s how you get your way. It’s not just the leaders who crave this. Look at the French revolution and the zeal of the people who supported it?

Don’t think that Mormon’s are opposed to kings or even that they believe kings are okay but democracy is better. King Benjamin and King Mosiah are revered characters in The Book of Mormon. Aside from their example and that of many others in their holy texts, one verse I’ve often heard quoted in Sunday school is from Mosiah 29:13. “Therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments, yea, if ye could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people—I say unto you, if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you.”

This, my friends, is the attempt to establish a theocracy. Does anyone reading this really want sharia in the United States or Europe? Would you like for adultery to be punishable by stoning? Would you be concerned if it became illegal to wear clothing of mixed fabrics? Does slavery as outlined in and sanctioned by the Bible be alright with you? Even in a democracy or a republic, if you want another to have to live by your standards, your might be inclined to tyranny over them. We can agree that murder is wrong for everyone. But should no one be allowed to eat meat? Or drink wine or coffee? What about work on Sunday? 

Perhaps we would do well to learn from Oscar Wilde who said, “Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more, and to be more, and to do more.”

Illusions of Grandeur: Politics, Religion, and Polite Company

Considering the relative ease with which one buries refuse at a landfill, relative to the difficulty one faces of burying within their mind harmful, detestable, insidious ideology, it would seem one method of trash handling is not applicable to all circumstances. Neither is the modern ease with which we dispose of excrement to be found in the shit-sifting that is breaking free of childhood indoctrination. Without a severe blow to the head, it would seem the evolved primate brain to which we are dependent, is nearly incapable of purging noxious patterns of  programming. Perhaps this understanding illuminated Christopher Hitchens when he wrote, “Illusions, of course, cannot be abolished. But they can and must be outgrown.” 

Growth is about change. Change comes as we enlarge our view of the world, of others, and of ourselves. The foremost challenge is against our preconcieved notions and long-held traditions. When we refuse to entertain new information we become prisoners of our own illusions.  “The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the Earth, the continents, and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.” The appetizing fruit at the top of the pile is enough to satisfy our eyes to the point that we may say either the rot doesn’t exist–a willfully ignorant position–or, more sinisterly, the rot doesn’t matter at all. How deep are we willing to dig for truth? Does complete truth matter or only our small, superficial view of the surface layer we allow ourselves to see?

I once believed and was often taught that after death, one of my regrets would almost invariably be that I had spent too little time in study of the scriptures. Now I can say that I feel precisely the opposite. Committed to my memory are a small collection of wisdom from Kipling, Shakespeare, Frost, and Twain. Crowding the precious and seemingly more resistant space within the same memory are a festering, heaping, landfill of Bible and Book of Mormon versus. Myths and fanciful teachings of men like Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and other “prophets.” These are largely passages and phrases to which I was exposed from the ages of fourteen to thirty. Try as I might, the process of “burying” the refuse with fresh soil in which new epigrams, lessons, and sonnets may be stored has proved much more difficult than I might have imagined. But where I cannot obscure or flush away the stinking waste, I am attempting to outgrow it.

In addition, I faced the guilt of wanting to read anything if I had not yet read from The Book of Mormon. If I hadn’t given time to reading the Mormon foundational scripture that day, I was making a poor choice to read something else. I felt less guilt for reading books or articles by church leaders or apologists, slightly more for clever but harmless fiction, and shame for an interest in literature or philosophy with their dangerous, liberal ideas. This guilt often won and, despite my piety, I wound up reading nothing at all. Outside of school obligations, I found reading or studying those things that interested me a burden rather than a joy. I sated myself with the droning punditry of Fox News and thought I had learned something. 

Unfortunately, it is not simply an issue of available space or adequate time. As the venerable Twain was known to have said, “The trouble with the world is not that people know too little; it’s that they know so many things that just aren’t so.” Former Congressional Librarian, Daniel J. Boorstin is credited with refining and focussing Twain’s sentiment when he said, “The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.” Herein lies the greater tragedy of my youth. Space can be made or expanded in the miraculous mind of a human, but changing the manner in which one learns, the lens through which they view the world, and reclaiming the time spent conforming the square mind of the indoctrinated to the round hole of reason and logic proves far more difficult than I might have imagined. Falling into old ways of thinking and responding to feelings in a reactionary reflex to protect my ideas and, indeed, my feelings from a perceived attack requires some professional help to deprogram. Especially when I was nurtured to equate disagreement with hostility and depravity.

Though I ask for and accept no sympathy regarding these emotional and mental handicaps, I cannot keep my reader from recoiling in disgust and their heart swelling with the natural primate impulse to empathy when I reveal that I received a degree in Neuroscience from Brigham Young University. The only ill-will I hold in regards to my time there is with respect to the academic integrity. I’ll allow one example to speak for my scientific education at BYU. (Though a great deal could be said about the required “religious” studies credits which amounted to one, two-credit course each semester!)

On a pleasant afternoon, I made my usual journey on foot from my off-campus apartment to the heart of campus for a class. I took a path through the Wilkinson Student Center to find that the university President, Merrill J. Bateman (a member of the LDS church’s First Quorum of the Seventy and thus sustained as a “prophet, seer, and revelator” by the membership of the church), had subjected himself to an open question and answer session. Any student willing to wait in line could ask whatever question was on their mind. I watched the display for some time as students asked questions ranging from the understandable “married housing is too expensive on campus, what are you going to do about it?” to the inane “how can we keep the girls on campus from wearing immodest clothing? For gosh-sakes, their knees are visible! And sometimes their clavicle!”

Finding that I had time on my hands, I stepped in line to see if I could ask a question. This was not long after I had returned home from my two-year missionary service. I had become more indoctrinated in that time and more confident in my faith. I had a real world to live and work in. I wanted to know and understand the secular arguments that I would inevitably encounter. The sooner I was exposed, the sooner I could wrap them tidily in the revealed truth of the gospel. As it turns out, due to the time constraints, I became the last individual to ask a question. “It seems to me that students are not treated as adults in our science classes. My professors hedge as if they walk on broken glass when the subjects of big bang cosmology or evolution come up. We hear a banal statement from the church on the first day of each semester in any natural science class. A statement from 1909. Why can’t our professors treat us like thinking adults and teach us what they surely learned in their PhD programs?”

As if his brain shut down or, rather, went into his ecclesiastical programming at the mention of “big bang” and its debaucherous cousin, “evolution,” Mr. Bateman said nothing more or less than, “The church has made a statement on the origin of man. I would refer you to their statement for any clarification anyone would seek on this matter.” And, like a good prophet, seer, and revelator, he walked away. The crowd dispersed, and I went to whatever class was on my schedule with a strange sense of anti-fulfillment. It wasn’t that I had failed to be fulfilled, it was that any fire of scholastic fulfillment had been doused by a needless evasion. What if I had asked him about the veracity of the 1969 Moon landing and he had said, “I refer you to a statement by LDS Prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith, from 1961:

We will never get a man into space. This earth is man’s sphere and it was never intended that he should get away from it. The moon is a superior planet to the earth and it was never intended that man should go there. You can write it down in your books that this will never happen.

I wonder how many books this was written in? Remember, this was from the mouth of an Apostle of Jesus Christ, a prophet, seer, and revelator to members of the church that sustained him as such. To take it to the ultimate endgame, he believed himself an Apostle chosen by God to minister to the WHOLE WORLD even if only his acolytes in the church were listening. He didn’t muse it in a journal or say it jokingly over donuts and cider. It was said in an official church meeting in Hawaii over which he would have been viewed as the presiding authority. 

So, it came as no surprise to read another compelling observation of Mark Twain. “All schools, all colleges have two great functions: to confer, and to conceal valuable knowledge. The theological knowledge which they conceal cannot justly be regarded as less valuable than that which they reveal. That is, when a man is buying a basket of strawberries it can profit him to know that the bottom half of it is rotten.” It turns out that Mr. Twain was more prophetic about BYU than Joseph Fielding Smith was regarding space exploration. He was also more insightful regarding the Mormon church’s long history of consciously concealing the unsavory and deceitful aspects of the church’s history that rot at the bottom of the basket of the “appealing” fruit they sell. By their fruits, ye shall know them! Just don’t forget to raise the first layer to see what lurks beneath. 

This type of wizard-behind-the-curtain or king’s-new-clothes might be nothing more than an amusing blip in the human species collective history if reason could win the day. In his iconoclastic expose on Mother Teresa, The Missionary Position, Christopher Hitchens adroitly observed, “In the gradual manufacture of an illusion, the conjurer is only the instrument of the audience. He may even announce himself as a trickster and a clever prestidigitator and yet gull the crowd.” Ask those who sustained Joseph Fielding Smith a prophet of God if his rotten, prophetic fruit dissuaded their opinion in any way? Or, more to Hitchens point, what about the followers of Mormonism’s not-so-distant cousin led by Warren Jeffs? This man, once placed in prison and after languishing for some time, announced to his followers that he was a fallen prophet. Ironically, the statement is a “revelation” that the Lord “dictated” to Jeffs. But, he was their prophet! Of course, they would not listen–even to him. Not listening to what you don’t want to hear is a long-honored tradition for the zealous faithful. For the faithful, their hearing may be selective though not so selective as what they choose to believe. Where the ears cannot always be guarded, the mind can be made nearly impervious to challenges to one’s faith.

Merrill Bateman’s answer demonstrated two aspects of NEWSPEAK from George Orwell’s 1984. At the end of the narrative story, Orwell includes a section called “The Principles of Newspeak.” Of the need for brain activity in answering questions regarding INGSOC, or in my case, The Church, he said: 

Ultimately it was hoped to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brains centres at all…[words were] ambivalent in meaning. Provided that the opinions which were quacked out were orthodox one, it implied nothing but praise…

I don’t doubt that, in a private conversation with Mr. Bateman, the topic of evolution or The Big Bang would result in much more fulfilling and insightful dialectic. Orwell further expressed regarding Newspeak: 

For the purposes of everyday life it was no doubt necessary, or sometimes necessary, to reflect before speaking, but a Party member called upon to make a political or ethical judgement should be able to spray for the the correct opinions as automatically as a machine gun spraying forth bullets. His training fitted him to do this, the language gave him an almost foolproof instrument, and the texture of the words, with their harsh sound and a certain wifely ugliness which was in accord with the spirit of Ingsoc, assisted the process still further.

Language is simply a tool for the pious devotees to those truths who’s only evidence is faith. The real depth of the chasm to be crossed is determined by the height of the cliffs which abut it. They are the tangible reality on one side in which everyone shares sense experience. On the other side is the reality that many “see” through their lens of faith. They have a scriptural teaching that “now we see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Worse yet, they are instructed in their perfect, divinely inspired book in the same verse that “now I know in part; but then shall I know…”

We can share the experience of watching the sun rise. We can expect similar physiologic results from medicines. We can watch the same video of the President lying to the world. We can read the same histories of “holy men” declaring that they are the husband of one wife while secretly having wed dozens of other women and girls. We can study the same anthropology, archaeology, and DNA history of the world. The reality of these facts and countless others, are there for the individuals of the world to share.The facts remain indifferent the conclusions drawn. In the world of falsifiable science, we are eager to render the best conclusions. Often we are right! That does not make the intellectually honest unwilling to change or outgrow their assumptions and conclusions under the light of new information or contrary evidence.  

But what about the unfalsifiable? How can we verify heaven? Especially when we have so many, conflicting versions of the same? There is no evidence we can point to that a person can share or verify in any way. In a recent conversation with my own mother, I was told that with the coronavirus pandemic, the wildfires, the social unrest, and the threat of war with various countries, the second coming of Jesus Christ couldn’t be far off. “When the church announces temples in Independence and Far West, Missouri,” (a totally Mormon thing associated with Jesus coming again) “I’m gonna say I told you so.” 

Aside from my disdain for those who crave death and destruction upon the world for their illusion to be made real, I was hurt by my mother’s attitude. However, I have developed a thicker skin and a confidence in how my mind works. I attribute this to my confidence in my intellect but my willingness to be proven wrong. My reply was calm as I said, “Well, your position is unfalsifiable. You’ll always be waiting to tell me ‘I told you so.’ I would never want to say that to you. But there is not and never will be anything you’d accept as evidence against your position. If it does happen, you’ll say I’m right. If it doesn’t you’ll say, ‘We weren’t worthy of it.’ Or, ‘God works in His time.'”

My mother, and many others, believe their concept of heaven is more real than their experience here. This veil of tears is an illusion. They will reject any and all evidence present in this illusion if it does not conform to the reality of their heaven. They can reject evolution, physics, climate science, psychology, medicine, etc because they are products of an illusion. “I reject the evidence of my eyes and ears for the ideas of my mind and heart because right now, we see through a glass darkly.”

How many families have been torn apart because the faith-devoted spouse rejects the love of their unbelieving husband, demonstrated through decades of commitment, affection, and intimacy for the illusion, born of hope and unsupported by ANY evidence, that after she dies she can bask in the eternal love of a white-bearded old man in heaven? The pious will willingly and joyfully sacrifice relationships with children and grandchildren in the tangible now to build a future kingdom through missionary work and to save the dead. All of this is dependent upon their illusion of a future kingdom–an illusion they “know” is more real than reality. “You may be LGBT now but I will cut you off to show you that I care more about an illusory exaltation than our real, demonstrable relationship. One day you’ll thank me, my child.”

It’s not only the power of religion that can and does arouse such devotion. I used to view iconoclasts as petty, negative swamp rats that gloried in controversy and provocation. I see them quite differently now. To place any individual in a position of glory, saviorship, and adoration creates a fertile bed for cults of personality to take root. It is then a short growing season to the harvest of tyranny. 

How often have we heard Donald Trump say something grotesque regarding women, those with mental or physical handicaps, or call dead soldiers “losers”? How many times has he said something idiotic or wrong regarding the coronavirus? He may be ill-informed or simply ignorant of facts in some cases. But do a web search of the verified LIES he has said or written. The stance I’ve heard from his supporters? “The media doesn’t give him a fair shake.” And, yes, I’ve heard this one, including yesterday from a Republican Party pollster going door to door in my neighborhood, “The real Donald Trump isn’t the one you see on TV or Twitter.”

Their idea of him is more real that the reality of what he has said and done on record. Again, what he says and does are well-reported facts that supporters and opposers alike can share. But for the believer, there is no way to falsify their position. NEWSPEAK has gone from Trump’s witless rambling to infect his supporters. Their brains have shut-off to let Trump and the vociferous right’s inane language become their bulwark. He mocks you for your belief. He’s bragged–BRAGGED–that his followers are so loyal, he could shoot someone in the middle of the street and not lose a single vote. He’s not an idiot but he knows his supporters are. That is why he mocks you. This is not praise for you. Can you imagine anyone saying this? Even Stalin was more shrewd than this. It’s the equivalent of a mob boss looking you in the face and, knowing how pathetic and sycophantic you are, telling you, “I could tear your kids from your arms, kick you out of the country, and kill your spouse in-front-of you and you’d still love me.” It’s not praise, it’s bragging! He’s taunting you. Your illusion of who he is is more real to you than the reality we can actually, mutually see, hear, and read about.

There is another level of devotion to an illusion, however, that may be more disturbing. What is truly frightening is when people acknowledge the shared reality in the face of their individual illusion, yet claim it does not have any affect on their reality. This degree of devotion requires an obscene amount of “inoculation” and “brainwashing.” It is nearly always a case of special pleading. They reserve their harshest judgements for any and all other individuals while refraining from applying the same to their revered leader/savior/prophet. If Joe Biden were to have said or done what Donald Trump had said or done, the rules they refuse to apply to Trump suddenly become paramount against Biden. This is a broader human problem for which both sides of the aisle are guilty. It seems, to me, far more apparent now with the would-be-dictator currently inhabiting the White House. 

Oft attributed to Jonathan Swift, the following is perhaps less eloquently rendered but still as true, “You cannot reason someone out of something he or she was not reasoned into.” Put another way that elucidates the emotional aspect of the same epigrammatic image, English Poet John Dryden said, “A man is to be cheated into passion, but to be reason’d into truth.” The two topics, politics and religion, that we oft avoid but of which G.K. Chesterton said, “There is nothing else to discuss,” are simply emotional realms. They don’t have to be, but changing human nature will not happen by the dialectic. Again, we can’t change our illusions or our nature, we must learn to and work to outgrow them. This is where the dialectic is ALL THAT WE HAVE.

Along my journey, I’ve leaned on many forms of support as I challenged my own illusions and grown to accept my doubts. My journey accelerated around a significant back injury, surgery, and recovery. Frequent walks were the prescription therapy in the weeks following surgery. Up to five walks a day with increasing duration. As the paths I walked around my home became more familiar, I looked for insight and distraction from audiobooks and music. Already a casual fan of Coldplay, they had a new album released, Ghost Stories, that I began listening to during these walks. This led me to other albums. The most supportive and insightful during that time was their album X&Y. Among the applicable tracks, the song Talk applies well here: 

Oh brother, I can’t, I can’t get through

I’ve been trying hard to reach you ’cause I don’t know what to do

Oh brother, I can’t believe it’s true

I’m so scared about the future, and I wanna talk to you

Oh, I wanna talk to you

You can take a picture of something you see

In the future where will I be?

You can climb a ladder up to the sun

Or a write a song nobody has sung

Or do something that’s never been done

Are you lost or incomplete?

Do you feel like a puzzle, you can’t find your missing piece?

Tell me, how do you feel?

Well, I feel like they’re talking in a language I don’t speak

And they’re talking it to me

So you take a picture of something you see

In the future where will I be?

You can climb a ladder up to the sun

Or write a song nobody has sung

Or do something that’s never been done

Or do something that’s never been done

So you don’t know where you’re going and you wanna talk

And you feel like you’re going where you’ve been before

You tell anyone who’ll listen, but you feel ignored

Nothing’s really making any sense at all, let’s talk

Let’s talk, let’s talk, let’s talk

It’s all we have. Talk. Conversation. Open-mindedness and shared experience. If we can’t share it, we can’t talk about it in a meaningful way. If what we share is an illusion compared to what you believe is yet to come, we can’t talk. We need to talk about here and now. The climate is changing. The serious researchers that spend their lives studying it are in almost perfect consensus on the fact that mankind is largely responsible. If you believe an unseen God whose more real to you than your neighbor will destroy the earth with fire and war and plaque and pestilence before restoring it, how can we talk about what our species can do now? If you feel that your illusion about the current political leadership is the real Trump and the comments, tweets, and lies we can both view are an illusion, we can’t talk about it. If you believe that glory awaits you in heaven for obedience to the dictates of an unseen God through other men and women on this planet, how can we find common ground on social justice issues?

At some point in the future, my teenage daughter will ask if I voted for Donald Trump. I have not. My reason the first time around were his degrading statements about and treatment toward women. We share the reality of what he said. I couldn’t face her if I had voted for him. I couldn’t talk to her and tell her that its not the real Trump. I couldn’t expect her to buy the illusion in which I would certainly have had to sell my integrity to believe. If we can’t talk about the only experiences which we can share as earth-born primates, we can’t talk.

Let’s talk.

Will the Fake Donald Trump Please Stand Up?

Pundits praised Trump’s final debate performance like a mother congratulating their toddler for making sure their poop made it into the toilet rather than in their pants or on the furniture. How long do we need to listen to ass-lickers claim that the media doesn’t “give Trump a fair shake” before they’ll finally admit that he is a scruple-less con man? 

“How do we know if a politician is lying?”

“His (or her) lips are moving.”

I heard this joke regarding lawyers from friends and family many times and no doubt I have repeated it. With the exception of the honorable Justice, Amy Coney Barrett, who was able to hide the facts (or truth, pick your word) without answering a single question during her senate confirmation hearing, I always thought law required communication rather than stonewalling. Stonewalling is a hallmark of a bad relationship.

You know what else is a hallmark of a bad relationship? Deceit. Gaslighting. Undermining. 

Having Trump in the White House is like being forced to be married to a toxic partner. One who doesn’t care about facts or feelings or people. They care about themselves. They will say anthyign to preserve their power over you. And they expect their partner to defend them at all costs while in public and private they demean and degrade them.

Trump has always been a liar. He lies every time he opens his mouth. So while you defend the President for a gentler, kinder, more dignified debate performance, remember Hannity and Dobbs, and my parents, that his performance was just another lie. He lied to you about who he is. That was not the real Donald Trump. The real one is the one we see in public every day. The one who calls fallen soldiers losers. The one who tear gasses peaceful protestors for a self-serving photo op. The one who diminishes a woman into an entity that he can “grab by the pussy” if he wants to. But he appointed a female to the Supreme Court! For me, talking about one woman in that way is too many. And we know it’s not just one. And we know that he appointed Justice Barrett to serve him like any good woman should serve a man. We’ve seen how Justice Kavanaugh has already peeled back his abusive, alchonhoic veneer to reveal his true colors as a partisan muscle in the highest court of the United States.

Trump is a liar. His performance to earn votes by seeming kinder and more dignified was a lie in-and-of itself. That was not the real Trump. If you think it was, you’d love to read how Stalin pandered to the same people he also demanded be executed. Until the bullets tore through their own skulls after their show trial, they believed that Stalin would save them. That he was on their side.  

Trump is on no one’s side but his own, and he’ll say anything to stay in power. He’ll undermine a free election that may be the most sacrosanct rite of a free, democratic, pluralistic society.  He’ll dismantle the FBI and the USPS and the justice department to protect his interests. He’ll pledge to challenge any election result that doesn’t include him winning. That is the real Trump.

But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

I don’t know if I’ve ever faced blatant racism in the way that I did a weekend ago. It’s taken me some time to process the experience though, in the moment, I knew it was wrong. I felt it in my gut: revulsion, surprise, confusion. Certainly I’ve seen it in on television or heard it on the radio. But never have I been face-to-face with it. Sadly, I said nothing. I wanted to walk away from the conversation in protest, instead I stood there dumbfounded, jaw agape, and nauseated.

There is a powerful scene in the movie “42” about Jackie Robinson that you’ll not soon forget if you’ve seen the movie. Powerful in part because of how the actor was able to say the terrible things he said so convincingly–as though he truly believed what he said. The actor is the phenomenal Alan Tudyk and he plays a rival coach from a southern U.S. city. I watched it unfold and heard him say such awful things about a man because of the color of his skin, and remember well how I squirmed in my seat and wanted it to end. The difference between this and my real-life experience is that I knew I was watching something portrayed in a negative light. No one on the movie set believed or condoned what was being said. I could be relieved it was over and marvel at the fine acting I had seen while considering what races of humans have put up with because of their natural condition.

Enter Friday night last week.

I had just attended a movie with a group of adults for the birthday of my best friend. Luckily, he was not part of the conversation that occurred after the movie as we all stood outside enjoying the unusually cool evening and avoiding a return home to responsibility. To set the scene, I am a formerly entrenched mormon now on the outside looking in though my major circle of friends remains deeply committed. Here I was conversing with the current bishop of the local congregation (think priest for catholics and pastor for evangelicals) and another man who held the same position only a three years ago. I was a counselor to both of them before asking to be released from the position because I could no longer do it with integrity, feeling that mormonism was indeed built on a foundation of deceit.

We are discussing politics and Donald Trump. After stating that I can’t vote for the man in good conscience, the current bishop chimes in. Know that I have largely admired both of these men for some time and think of them as a good, decent, honorable people. As closely as I can, I’m going to try to quote what he said:

What did you guys think about Ben Carson? 

(We nod or shrug, indicating that at this point he seemed a better option than our current nominees–though he has expressed some bigotry of his own.)

You know, I kind of liked him but…I don’t know. You know with Obama, just looking at him makes me sick. The more I think about it the more I believe there is something to it–that Ephraim is supposed to lead.

(Knowing exactly what he means, I begin to feel sick. Then the former bishop nods his enthusiastic agreement.)

Now, I know that may sound racist but…the cursing happened for a reason.

HE ACTUALLY ACKNOWLEDGED THAT IT WAS RACIST. But you got that sense that he was thinking (because I’ve thought this before while immersed in the same, dogmatic worldview), “If God said it first, then it can’t be wrong.”

Those of you wanting clarity on how Ephraim fits into this, I can expound. In context alone, its an explicitly racist comment that needs no explanation.

This upsets me on many different levels and further exposes the world of castes, privilege, and discrimination in which I lived and breathed for so long. To say that this is just one man’s opinion (or two based on the enthusiastic agreement of the other gentleman) and that the church to which he belongs can’t be held accountable for it is naive. Mormon doctrine is incredibly dogmatic with very little wiggle room for personal interpretation. Disagree? Ask Jeremy Runnels or John Dehlin about that. The fact is that these ideas are well-supported by Mormon doctrine and tradition. I’m not just a bitter outsider, I’m someone who was deeply invested in it from 12 years old to 34.

This bishop knows what he meant as well as I do. The difference is that I feel sick about it. This is a clear example of Steven Weinberg’s famous quote, “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” I might add, “to say evil things.” And we all know that evil deeds often follow evil words.

Perhaps there was something to the words of the alleged Jesus who is quoted in Matthew 15 as saying, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” It defiles those who have to hear it, too.

1984: How to Start a Religion



There are some stark contrasts to my last blog entry about George Orwell’s, Coming Up for Air, with regard to what I’ll say about his monumental classic, 1984.

In commenting on Coming Up for Air, I went to great length to romanticize both nostalgia for the past but also the ability to live in the present moment. In 1984, government abolishes any capacity for nostalgia by erasing the past and making every moment in time somehow the present. The atmosphere of constant war, perpetual hate, and mandated conformity create a reality that only allows someone to live in the present.

It’s hard to know where to begin the analysis of 1984. My first thought is that Orwell has created a “how to” book on controlling large populations of people. From what I understand about Solviet communism and what I know of George Orwell, 1984 simply took the extremes of communist party doctrine and took their current practices, institutions, and intentions to the extreme. While Orwell likely had socialist, revolutionary leanings, he did not agree with the form it took with Stalin’s accession into power. It is my understanding that Animal Farm is a blatant, analogous account of the Bolshevik revolution, the death of Lenin, the rise of Stalin and fall of Trotsky, and the emergence of the USSR under Stalin.

I don’t want to rehash the narrative or the plot for you. If you haven’t read 1984 all I can say is, “What are you waiting for?” Rather, I’ll present the ideas that I had while reading and as I’ve contemplated it since. So, as an instruction manual for obtaining control, here goes.

(If you think these tactics only work in politics or revolution, just pay attention with a truly open mind and heart and look around at the faces of those with you the next time you’re listening to a sermon in church. Having been educated in a Russian Orthodox Seminary, though he became an atheist, Stalin surely learned a great deal about the process of controlling the human mind.)

Step One: Establish an Infallible Leader.

(I don’t mean to make this about a man but, lets be honest, how many women have done the things I’m about to describe? For brevity I’ll refer to the “leader” in the male form.)

The circumstances upon which the dear leader came to power must be mystical and unverifiable. This may include the fabrication of events surrounding his birth, upbringing, anointing, and revelation. Clever regimes will learn to tell the facts in compelling way to make the leader seem set apart from the common man, but fabrications and half-truths that can’t be verified are critical to generate appeal.

Make acceptance of his words and conformity to his commands required. Consequences of rejecting the leader’s words may range from social and family ostracizing to pain and death. The most powerful motivator for some will be the promise of eternal suffering. This can never be proven, but men can be made to fear it. Instill this fear and stir the zeal of the faithful with mob tactics–use emotional furor fed by demogoguery to mobilize the tentative among the mob of the faithful.

A word about devotion: Orwell shows examples of wives informing on husbands, children against parents, and so on. What struck me the most was Winston’s description of his wife, for he had been married at one time. He described her as completely devout to the party. She only consented to “making a baby” because it was to raise up children for the party.

The aim of the Party was not merely to prevent men and women from forming loyalties which it might not be able to control. Its real, undeclared purpose was to remove all pleasure from the sexual act…The only recognized purpose of marriage was to beget children for the service of the Party. Sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema. This again was never put into plain words, but in an indirect way it was rubbed into every Party member from childhood onwards. There were even organizations such as the Junior Anti-Sex League which advocated complete celibacy for both sexes…the Party was trying to kill the sex instinct, or, if it could not be killed, then to distort it and dirty it…And so far as the women were concerned, the Party’s efforts were largely successful.

A paragraph later, Winston describes his wife, the devotee of the Party:

As soon as he touched her she seemed to wince and stiffen. To embrace her was like embracing a jointed wooden image. And what was strange was that even when she was clasping him against her he had the feeling that she was simultaneously pushing him away with all her strength.

Bind their devotion to this leader by emotion. Teach them the virtue of statements like this one: “There is nothing you could tell me that would make me question the dear leader.” Make them reaffirm their commitment to the party and its leaders often both in private and, more importantly, in public amongst their peers in the zealous masses.

Create in their minds the idea that, if something does not turn out as promised by the prophetic leader, that it must be their own fault. They did not work hard enough to obtain the promises that have been made; they misinterpreted the meaning and intent of the leader; they were not worthy of the blessing. Make them demonize themselves and turn to the party first for answers and help because the party and dear leader cannot fail. Thus, the party remains above reproach.

Big Brother  is infallible and all-powerful. Every success, every achievement, every victory, every scientific discovery, all knowledge, all wisdom, all happiness, all virtue, are held to issue directly from his leadership and inspiration…His function is to act as a focusing point for love, fear, and reverence, emotions which are more easily felt toward an individual than toward an organization.

Step Two: Establish a Single, Eternal Enemy.

People need something to fear if you are going to manipulate their minds, therefore you must convince them that there is a prime enemy who is always attempting to subvert the work of the trusted leader or leadership. All influence contrary to the party is surely the direct meddling of this adversary. The resultant fear of this enemy and loathing of his ill-intent will keep followers from considering the slightest thought or idea that does not come directly from the mouth of party leaders.

Vilify the party member who even casually entertains a contrary idea. Marginalize them, tell everyone that they are weak minded, deceived, sinful, and sinister.

Luckily, the party leaders–beginning with the dear leader–have proven themselves beyond the grip of this villain. Their every act is directed toward protecting the people and exposing the designs of the adversary. You don’t need to question them because they are the purest of heart and strongest of mind.

Step Three: Habits are Powerful; Make Rituals Out of Them.

Create rituals and habits that become ingrained in each person while very young.  Convince them that following through on these rituals will gain them power against the eternal enemy. Make the rituals progressive, with more to look forward to as they get older and progress in the party. Always ensure that the members feel obligated to certain daily, weekly, and yearly rituals. Make them so much a part of their life that they notice the missing component when it is neglected only once.

Use leaders close to individuals to check up on them to see if they are doing their rituals regularly. Train other citizens to keep an eye out for transgressors and to confront them or notify leaders should they see someone falter. Leaders must behave with shock and concern when they find members not in conformity, even better, create leaders who actually feel shock and concern. Promise individuals they will be happier if they consent to and participate in the rituals. Most of all, praise them when they do it and tell them that what they feel is the reward of obedience. If done when they are children, they will crave the praise of their superiors and accept that as the mystical reward for conformity. Within a generation you’ll have no need to deceive because the leaders brought up in the faith will genuinely believe it themselves.

Create in their minds the idea that all goodness is found in the party. Use this to create devotion in individuals first to the party and its infallible leaders. This devotion must be greater than that of husband to wife, parents to children, and amongst friends.

Concerning his wife, Winston recollects:

She had without exception the most stupid, vulgar, empty mind that he had ever encountered. She had not a thought in her head that was not a slogan, and there was no imbecility, absolutely none, that she was not capable of swallowing if the Party handed it to her.

Step ThreePointFive: Indoctrination with Dogmas and History.

Convince them that the only way to feel self-love and peace is by conforming to the party ideology and then make any mode of living contrary to the ideology a living hell for them. Monitor them with regular interviews, constantly preach of the goodness of the party’s way and the abyss of any other way, make their friends marginalize them when they stray–even in the slightest–for fear of being led astray themselves.

Start with rituals and habits every day and build with regular sermons and prayer and preaching and schooling. Make anything scientific suspect and vilify purveyors of unapproved theories. Orwell uses regimented, daily exercise routines and something called “The Two Minutes Hate,” (think of a “daily devotional”), and Hate Week (Jesus Camp), among other requirements, for these purposes.

And the people’s reaction to “The Hate”:

The little sandy-haired woman had flung herself forward over the back of the chair in front of her. With a tremulous murmur that sounded like “My Savior!” she extended her arms toward the screen. Then she buried her face in her hands. It was apparent that she was uttering a prayer.

At this moment the entire group of people broke into a deep, slow, rhythmical chant of “B-B!…B-B!…B-B!” over and over again, very slowly… It was a refrain that was often heard in moments of overwhelming emotion. Partly it was a sort of hymn to the wisdom and majesty of Big Brother, but still more it was an act of self hypnosis, a deliberate drowning of consciousness by means of rhythmic noise.

Step Four: Control Language and Other Forms of Expression.

In 1984, the party is well aware of the power of language therefore they begin to create a language they called “newspeak.” In this way they can control the understanding and the minds of the people under their power. Any words, phrases, or concepts that went beyond those bounds they labeled as vulgar or obscene. They know that a man who can say four letter words is a man who has a free mind and is willing to express his emotions regardless of what others may think of it. Worst of all, such a man is not worried about protecting the image of the party. Language is a powerful thing and you can control people when you control what they say and how they speak, but most of all, when you control how they feel about what they say…especially how they feel about what they think.

Make everyone thought police for themselves. Build in them the compelling need to tell an “authority” of any sleight in thought but fearful of letting anyone else know.

Make sure that the language of the Party is the only language with which they are truly conversant. Do this through “encouraged” personal study every day in the official, endorsed tomes of the Party. Make any other learning encouraged but only when Party study has been completed. Fill their lives with so many other obligations that they can’t give time to anything else. Further indoctrinate them in language through their regular Party preaching and sermonizing. Communicate with them in Party language at all times. Make periodicals and broadcast communication that reinforces this language. If this is done from an early age, it will ensure Their discomfort when contact with foreign language is encountered. They will feel completely inadequate in a conversation based in intellect like physics, biology, or psychology. They will nevertheless feel completely justified in their position by falling mentally into their programmed language, and they will feel that those to whom they speak are ignorant or unintelligent because the Party member cannot make himself  understood to them.

Instill in them the power of phrases like, “It will be done.” Compel them to respond to any command with such phrases. Use words like “gentle admonition” or “loving persuasion” but make them feel subconcioulsy that “requests” are really “commands.”

In 1984, there is a government agency called “The Ministry of Love” that deals with those guilty of “thoughtcrime”. The people know that The Ministry of Love is a place of cruelty and fear. But they are made to feel that, since Big Brother and the Party have their best interest at heart, what is done there is done out of love. Reminds me of something called a “court of love.” The real interest here does not seem primarily for the good of the person on trial, but for the image of the Party and the ensured conformity of a person’s heart not just their actions.

Another interesting word used by Orwell is “doublethink.” I doubt I need to explain this to you but, to be simple, it means ignoring what it apparent to your eyes and mind and believing what the Party tells you is the real truth.

The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right!

If the Party tells you that 2+2=5, then 2+2 does equal 5. Even though you know the answer is 4, you choose to happily believe it is 5. And if you don’t…..


To keep this short, Winston is given an old, tattered book that was written by Emmanuel Goldstein, the “eternal enemy” of the Party. The book outlines how the party operates and their reasoning/justification for controlling all aspects of a man or woman’s life. There are some great insights here and I am left believing that George Orwell was not only highly intelligent but also incredibly wise.

The consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival…Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war.

World conquest becomes:

an article of faith. It is to be achieved either by gradually acquiring more and more territory and so building up an overwhelming preponderance of power, or by the discovery of some new and unanswerable weapon.

Proselyting=gradual acquisition.

Armageddon and the rapture (I hear this one all the time in Arkansas)=the final weapon that will kill all those who oppose the Party and ensure total victory.

This compels me to share one thought from outside of Orwell from one of my favorite authors, Christopher Hitchens. If you think of the idea and message of 1984, and apply the lessons to any entity attempting to mandate how people think, this is the direct application for each of us.

With a large part of itself it quite clearly wants us all to die, it wants this world to come to an end you can tell the yearning for things to be over, whenever you read any of its real texts, or listen to any of its real authentic spokesman, not the pathetic apologists who sometimes masquerade for it. Those who talk, there was a famous spokesman for this in Virginia until recently, about the Rapture, saying that those of us who have chosen rightly will be gathered to the arms of Jesus, leaving all of the rest of you behind: if we’re in a car it’s your lookout, that car won’t have a driver anymore; if we’re a pilot that’s your lookout, that plane will crash; we will be with Jesus and the rest of you can go straight to Hell. The eschatological element that is inseparable from Christianity, if you don’t believe that there is going to be an Apocalypse, there is going to be an end, a separation of the sheep and the goats, a condemnation, a final one, then you’re not really a Believer and the contempt for the things of this world shows through all of them. It’s well put in an old rhyme from an English exclusive Brethren sect: “We are the pure and chosen few, and all the rest are damned. There’s room enough in hell for you, we don’t want Heaven crammed!” You can tell it when you see the extreme Muslims talk, they cannot wait for death and destruction to overtake and overwhelm the World, they can’t wait for what I would call without ambiguity a Final Solution. When you look at the Israeli settlers, paid for often by American tax dollars, deciding if they can steal enough land from other people and get all the Jews into the promised land and all the non-Jews out of it then finally the Jewish people will be worthy of the return of the Messiah, and there are Christians in this country who consider it their job to help this happen so that Armageddon can occur, so that the painful business of living as humans, and studying civilization, and trying to acquire learning, and knowledge, and health, and medicine, and to push back the frontiers can all be scrapped and the cult of death can take over.

Don’t let you kids play with kids who don’t go to your church. Don’t hang out with people who may not have the same values as you. Ever read All Quiet on the Western Front? You should. Turns out German soldiers, rather than being vicious, cruel robots intent on killing all others, felt the same way American soldiers felt. From 1984:

If he were allowed contact with foreigners he would discover that they are creatures similar to himself and that most of what he has been told about them is lies. The sealed world in which he lives would be broken, and the fear, hatred, and self-righteousness on which his morale depends might evaporate.

Imagine being told that a bar is an evil place and that anyone who sets foot in one is a miserable lost soul. I have news for you, NOT SO. Some of the most friendly people I’ve met were during my time in dental school and they enjoyed going to the bar on the weekend. Some of the most miserable and likely to stab me in the back went to church each Sunday and made sure you knew it. (Including me at that time. I was a pretentious jerk. Now I’m just pretentious.)

The citizen of Oceania (the fictional country of 1984) is not allowed to know anything of the tents of the other…philosophies, but he is taught to execrate them as barbarous outrages upon morality and common sense.

Election politics anyone?

You have to wonder if the book by Emmanual Goldstein, which was given to Winston by the man who would eventually torture him in The Ministry of Love, was propaganda for the Party. I am still trying to grasp this, because it seems so blatantly anti-Party. For example, in it, we read:

The main item in the Socialist program, with the result, foreseen and intended beforehand, that economic inequality has been made permanent.

The essence of oligarchical rule is not father-to-son inheritance, but the persistence of a certain world-view and a certain way of life, imposed by the dead upon the living. A ruling group is a ruling group so long as it can nominate it successors…All beliefs, habits, taste, emotions, mental attitudes that characterize our time are really designed to sustain the mystique of the Party and prevent the true nature of present-day society from being perceived.

A Party member is required to have not only the right options, but the right instincts. Many of the beliefs and attitudes demanded of him are never plainly stated, and could not be stated without laying bare the contradictions inherent in [English Socialism]…in any case an elaborate mental training, undergone in childhood and grouping itself round the Newspeak words…makes him unwilling and unable to think too deeply on any subject whatever…He is supposed to live in a continuous frenzy o hatred of foreign enemies and internal traitors, triumph over victories, and self-abasement before the power and wisdom of the Party.

Oh, I could go on. The Emmanuel Goldstein writing was some of the most interesting that 1984 had to offer and I left out a great deal. Moving on to the most shocking part of the novel, Winston does indeed get arrested for “thoughtcrime.” While in the Ministry of Love, he goes through weeks or months of interrogation and mental reprogramming until he does admit easily and freely that 2+2=5. But it is not enough. He has to believe it. They send him to Room 101.

Just imagine the worst, most terrifying thing you can think of. That is what they not only threaten you with but prepare to inflict upon you. For me it might be being thrown into a pool of hungry sharks or having my hands tied to a pyre and being burned alive. For Winston–I still struggle to comprehend Orwell thinking of this–it is having a mask connected to his face that allows starving rats to eat his face off while he is alive. Of course, at this point, Winston experiences a complete conversion to Big Brother. And this is the thought I had as I read that portion of the book:

If you had taken Abraham of the Old Testament to Room 101, he would have found Isaac, wood, and a stone altar. The one person he would not have betrayed was Big Brother which is exactly the purpose of the trial in Room 101. Of course, in both cases, when obedience was shown, neither punishment was inflicted.

Consider Jesus’ admonitions to “take no thought for the morrow” or “let the dead bury their dead.” Isn’t he really saying, Big Brother is all you need to adore.

Such is the way of dictators.