Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Romney and Religious Tolerance

A poll just released showed that about 1 in 5 Americans wouldn't vote for an otherwise qualified Presidential candidate if he were Mormon (insert Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman).

When you look at political affiliation, the breakdown of people unwilling to vote for a Mormon President breaks down like this:

  • 18% of Republicans won't
  • 19% of Independents won't 
  • 27% of Democrats won't

The difference in political opinion probably stems from the fact that Mormons are usually very conservative, and have vociferously supported anti-gay-marriage legislation in states such as Hawaii and California. Conservative block-voting, blurring boundaries between church and state, and trying to legislate personal religious views are not very popular ideas among liberal Democrats. The only other real differences in opinion toward Mormon candidates is determined by level of education, where college graduates were less likely to not vote for a Mormon candidate (12%) than someone who hasn't gone to any college (31%). However, it  didn't seem to matter where you are from, your gender, age, or what religion you belong to.

This doesn't mean the writing is on the wall for Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman. An article from the LA Times highlights the fact that in 1959 - the year before John F. Kennedy became president - 25% of Americans said they would not vote for a Catholic. So Mormon politicians have an uphill - but not insurmountable - battle.

But what about people who don't believe in God (or at least admit it)? What's their chances of becoming President? Virtually nil;  According to the same Gallup poll, only 49% of people would vote for a well-qualified Presidential candidate if they were atheist.

And Romney, who is trying to convince voters that a candidates religious beliefs are irrelevant (at least his own), seems to agree that atheists have something fundamentally wrong with them.  Ironic, isn't it? In his 2007 speech, where he tried to summon the spirit of JFK and convince people to vote for him despite his Mormon faith, Romney took the time to throw some rocks at America's real enemies of freedom: atheists!

While trying to make the standard conservative point that our freedom is ensured by religious belief, Romney said "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. […] Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

He then goes on to make the point that separation of church and state are necessary, but that "in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong."

"The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust."

"We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our Constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'"

Here is the problem with Romney's views:

1. Political, individual, or religious freedom does not rest on belief in God.  Atheism just means you don't believe in God, not that you don't believe in freedom. However, the association between atheism and communism was branded into the American psyche during the Red Scare of the 50's, and continues to linger today. Our form of government was derived from classical Roman and Greek political ideals; not from belief in God. Our Constitution doesn't even mention God.

2. If you are trying to convince people that religious belief does not affect political qualification, then don't turn around and say that another misunderstood religious minority (atheists) are somehow unqualified. At least he didn't say, like George H.W. Bush did, that atheists shouldn't even be considered as citizens. But saying that people who believe in the separation of church and state "are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism" - and that "religion and freedom endure together, or perish alone" comes pretty close.

3. Our Founding Fathers were suspicious of religion. That is why they were insistent that there be no state sponsored religion, and that there be a wall of separation between church and state. However, isn't the insistence by conservatives today that our country was founded on the principles of Christianity - or even on the principles of theism - nothing more than support for the state sponsored religion of theism? Why marginalize people, as Romney does, simply because they don't believe as he does? Isn't this the definition of religious intolerance?

This is all very ironic, coming from a guy hoping that more religious tolerance be showed towards him, but seemingly unwilling to give it to others.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Atheism Is A Double Edged Sword

I just finished a great little book called Atheism: A Very Short Introduction by Julian Baggini. It summarizes nicely the main arguments about why atheism is a logical, ethical, and healthy worldview; and you can read it in a couple sittings.

The book closes with a great couple of paragraphs that express an idea that I have thought of often, but have not been able to put into words quite as well as Baggini does:

Many atheists throughout history have compared their belief with a form of growing up. Freud, for instance, saw religious belief as a kind of regression to childhood. With religion, we are like children who still believe that we are protected in the world by benevolent parents who will look after us. It is no coincidence that God is referred to as father in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. 

Atheism is the throwing off of childish illusions and acceptance that we have to make our own way in the world. We have no divine parents who always protect us and who are unquestionable good. The world is instead a big and scary place, but also one where there are opportunities to go out and create lives for ourselves. 

The loss of childhood innocence is a double-edge sword. There is something to lament and something to fear, hence the dark tinge of an atheist belief system which is akin to this loss. But it is also the precondition for meaningful adult lives. Unless we lose our childhood innocence we cannot become proper adults. In the same way, unless we cast off the innocence of supernatural world views, we cannot live in a way that does justice to our natural as finite mortal creatures. Atheism is about moving on and taking the opportunities that life affords, and that carries with it risks of failure and the rejection of reassuring illusions. 

It is this realism that means atheism cannot ever be presented as an undiluted, positive joy. Real life is about accepting ups and downs, the good and the bad, the possibility of failure as well as the ambition to succeed. Atheism speaks to the truth about our human nature because it recognizes all this and does not seek to shield us from the truth by myth and superstition.

So what will it be? Will you take "the blue pill"or "the red pill?"

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Scientific Method

According to a recent National Science Foundation study, over 70% of Americans do not understand what the scientific method is.  What is more common, however, is belief in pseudoscience and myth. This shouldn't be too surprising since the scientific method is somewhat non-intuitive while pseudoscience and myth come natural to us; scientific education in the US is poor compared to many other developed nations; and because humans are beleaguered by a slew of cognitive biases that can distort our perception of reality.

Here's a great video explaining what the scientific method is, what it is not, and some of the problems it's up against:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Why I Resigned My Membership

"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” - Martin Luther King

After walking out of my bishops office two-and-a-half years ago - having just told him that I didn't believe in the Church anymore, and needed to be released from the bishopric - I have had an internal debate about whether I should resign my membership.

I'll start with the cons of resigning my membership:


1. My family (mom, dad, siblings) will find out and they will be hurt. 

Living your life in a way that don't upset other people, is not very genuine or authentic to who you are. We all have to strike out at some point and live our own lives; not the life that our parents envisioned for us. If my family has hurt feelings about my decision, that is their issue - not mine. I love my family, but their love of me should not be conditional on whether I retain my membership in a church I don't even believe in, or identify with, anymore.  With time, I think they'll get over it, because they should love me for who I am, not because of what church I do, or don't, belong to.

2. I will lose status in the church.

This is a slightly embarrassing admission, but it's true. I did my time and hard labor and had begun to climb up the Church's social ladder ; I was a High Priest (are you impressed?), had a pretty good Mormon resume, and was on the Mormon leadership track. If I resigned, I would be stripped of all that.

I suspect that the love of status and authority (maybe recognition from family) is what motivates a lot of men to serve in the Church.  I didn't fully realize this until after I had left myself.  Man's quest for power and status is a universal human trait; Mormons are not exempt from this basic (base?) human drive, even though they claim to be "humble servants" of God. Some are humble in their service; but I suspect that most enjoy the adulation that comes from climbing the church's social ladder.


1.  The Church is not what it claims to be.

The Church makes a lot of claims about who they are. I don't believe these claims anymore because of the history and facts about the Church I discovered on my own. Why belong to an organization that is man made and dishonest? Time to move on. Having my name "blotted out" may be cathartic; helping the process of moving on occur. Simply stated: the Church is not who I am anymore. Why identify with it by keeping my name on the roster?  Nuff said.

2. I have ethical objections to what the Church organization represents.

Let me clear something up first: I like Mormons as people.  My beef is not with Mormons as people; it's with the Church, the hierarchical organization; the bureaucracy; the power-structure; the dogma and the doctrine and the made up history.

This is the analogy that kept coming to mind when I considered Church membership: Imagine you were a member of an exclusive Country Club that had exclusionary policies toward women or blacks or gays (or some other policy that you opposed on ethical grounds). Why would I keep my membership in such an organization? Don't I have a responsibility to resign my membership in protest of such policies? Isn't continuing my membership tacit approval of such policies? I think so.

Some would argue that the best way to effect change in the Church is from within.  I disagree.  If nobody resigned their membership, or spoke out, or protested in some way, then what motivation would there be for the Church to change? Very little, since members would still fill up the pews, pay their tithing, and be counted in the membership stats.  Now consider what would happen if everybody like me spoke out and resigned.  I think that would change things faster than anything else because the Church, and the men who lead it, are interested in one thing more than anything else: growth, strength, and survival of the Church.

Nothing threatens the survival of the Church more than walking away from it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Resignation From the LDS Church: Letter From The COJCOLDS

In return for a letter - such as the one I posted last week - you get a return letter from Greg Dodge, Manager, Confidential Records of The COJCOLDS - saying the following:

Dear Brother (or Sister) So-and-So:

I have been asked to acknowledge your recent letter in which you request that your name be removed from the membership records of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

I have also been asked to inform you that the Church considers such a request to be an ecclesiastical matter that must be handled by local priesthood leaders before being processed by Church employees. Therefore, your letter and a copy of this reply are being sent to President "So and So" of the "Such and Such" Stake. He will have Bishop "So and So" of the "Such and Such" Ward contact you concerning the fulfillment of your request. 

In view of (this is the best part) eternal consequences of such an action, the Brethren urge you to reconsider your request and to prayerfully consider the enclosed statement of the First Presidency.


Greg W. Dodge

(very official looking, very big, signature of the Dodger)
Manager, Confidencial Records

Sunday, June 5, 2011

My Resignation Letter (from the LDS Church). I'm Out.

May 17th, 2011

Member Records Division, LDS Church
50 E North Temple Rm 1372
SLC UT 84150-5310

This letter is my formal resignation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and it is effective immediately. I hereby withdraw my consent to being treated as a member and I withdraw my consent to being subject to church rules, policies, beliefs and discipline. As I am no longer a member, I want my name permanently and completely removed from the membership rolls of the church.

My resignation should be processed immediately, without any waiting periods.

After a lifetime of affiliation and commitment to the LDS Church, the reasons I have decided to resign my membership in the LDS Church are as follows:

1) The Church presents a false account of its history. Significant, yet unflattering, facts of Church history are simply whitewashed and ignored because they are not faith promoting.  Omitting unflattering facts from the Church's accepted history is a form of dishonesty since it purposely misleads others - most importantly, the members of the Church itself. The Church shows little effort in trying to correct the inaccurate version of history it has invented.

2) It is impossible to participate in the Church, with intellectual honesty and integrity, when you do not accept the myths upon which it is based. This tyranny of belief in the Church results because of a homogeny of thought and an orthodoxy created by the leaders of the Church. Freedom of thought and speech is simply not tolerated within the current Church.

3) The Church's beliefs about, and treatment of, homosexual people is reprehensible.  I am particularly concerned with the Church's political involvement in California's Proposition 8 - as well as other similar political misadventures - in which the Church attempted to enforce its religious beliefs on others. The Church's treatment of homosexuals is hurtful; it is not something I want to be associated with in any way.  I view my membership in the LDS Church as tacit approval of its bigoted policies towards homosexuals.

When the LDS Church corrects its dishonest version of its history, and when the Church treats all people - regardless of sexual preference - with equality and love, then I will consider returning to the church that I grew up in, and still continue to identify with in certain cultural ways.  However, I don’t expect this will happen anytime soon.  Please respect my request for name removal from the LDS Church immediately.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Natural and Supernatural

Here is a mind-bendingly illuminating quote from Michael Shermer's new book about the difference between the natural and supernatural, science and theology. I'll piggyback a few thoughts afterwords:

"Science operates in the natural, not the supernatural. In fact, there is no such thing as the supernatural or the paranormal. There is just the natural, the normal, and mysteries we have yet to explain by natural causes. Invoking such words as supernatural and paranormal just provides a linguistic placeholder until we find natural and normal causes, or we do not find them and discontinue the search out of lack of interest. This is what usually happens in science. Mysteries once thought to be supernatural or paranormal happenings - such as astronomical or meteorological events - are incorporated into science once their causes are understood. . .

"When theists, creationists, and intelligent design theorists invoke miracles and acts of creation ex nihilo, that is the end of the search for them, whereas for scientists the identification of such mysteries is only the beginning. Science picks up where theology leaves off. . .

"To our Bronze Age ancestors who created the great monotheistic religions, the ability to create the world and life was godlike. Once we know the technology of creation, however, the supernatural becomes the natural. Thus my gambit: the only God that science could discover would be a natural being, an entity that exists in space and time and is constrained by the laws of nature. A supernatural God who exists outside of space and time is not knowable to science because he is not part of the natural world, and therefore science cannot know God.

Main points:

1. There is no supernatural. The "supernatural" or "paranormal" becomes natural when scientists learn how to describe something previously thought of as supernatural - in natural terms. Or in other words, there is a perfectly natural explanation for all phenomena. For things that currently escape scientists ability to fully describe by natural means (i.e. What happened before the Big Bang? What caused the Big Bang?  How does human consciousness work?) a supernatural explanation is not an explanation at all.  It just pushes the mystery back one more step to God.

Scientists are working on explaining these, and other, mysterious phenomena. They have a great track record of explaining things that were once thought to be due to magic, demons, ghosts, and God. While science cannot (and does not) explain everything, and occasionally gets it wrong (until it corrects itself), it still remains "the best tool ever devised for explaining how the world works."  Is there any doubt that scientists' great track record will continue, and that they will simultaneously chip away at the pseudo-explanations offered by religionists and believers of paranormal phenomena?

2. The only God that science can ever understand is a natural God; the same sort of God Mormons believe in; an evolved super intelligent ET.  If God exists beyond nature, outside the Universe, and outside of space and time (as many theists have placed him so that he cannot be falsified), then there is no way that natural beings like us, who do occupy space and time in this universe, can understand him or interact with him.


Many philosophers and scientists argue that in an age where our technological abilities expand exponentially, that in the not-too-distant future, we Homo sapiens will have the technology to create new universes seeded with stars and planets and even life.  When you consider what we humans have done in the last 100 years with our technology, just imagine what an alien super species, who has evolved 50 million years beyond us, would be capable of doing with theirs.

However, if God is nothing more than a super intelligent ET designer, an evolved human with godlike abilities who created the world by natural means, then one big question comes to mind:

Why should we worship him if he is just a natural being? Indeed, why would self adulation, or worship of oneself  (a fairly base human quality that we despise in others) be important to him? Why does he even care what we think about him? And why would he device silly religious rituals that allow us to remain in his good graces?