Featured Post: Coming out in the LDS Church


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

PZ Myers vs. David Marshall

David Marshall,
author of Christ the Tao
David Marshall, author of the blog, Christ the Tao, has issued a challenge to PZ Myers. David would like to debate with PZ Myers as to whether Christianity has liberated, or oppressed, women throughout history. David would take the position that Christianity has liberated women, while PZ Myers would obviously be of the opinion that it has been a source of oppression. On his own blog, PZ Myers has expressed his opinion on this topic before:

"Whenever I hear that tripe about the beneficial effects of religion on human cultural evolution, it’s useful to note that the world’s dominant faiths all hardcode directly into their core beliefs the idea that women are unclean, inferior, weak, and responsible for the failings of mankind…that even their omnipotent, all-loving god regards women as lesser creatures not fit to be intermediaries with him, and that their cosmic fate is to be subservient slaves to men, just as men are to be subservient slaves to capital-H Him. 
David Sloan Wilson can argue all he wants that religion helped promote group survival in our evolutionary history, or that his group selectionist models somehow explain its origins, but it doesn’t matter. Here and now, everywhere, those with eyes to see can see for themselves that religion has for thousands of years perpetuated the oppression of half our species. Half of the great minds our peoples have produced have lived and died unknown and forgotten, their educations neglected, their lives spent doing laundry and other menial tasks for men — their merits unrecognized and buried under lies promulgated by religion, in cultures soaked in the destructive myths of faith which codify misogyny and give it a godly blessing. 
Isn’t that reason enough to tear down the cathedrals — that with this one far-reaching, difficult change to our cultures, we double human potential?"

PZ Myers
It will be interesting to see what response, if any, come from Myers. Myers, a paragon of reason and rationality, never seems terribly interested in earnest discussion on his blog, Pharyngula. His tactics seem more along the lines of ridicule, ad hominem attacks, and trolling until the dissenter gives up and leaves. Because of this, I'm not sure the debate will even happen.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Big Bang Theism

Sometimes when I read atheistic writings or publications it seems like the term "Christian" or "Theist" is taken to be interchangeable with "Creationism". I think this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be either a Christian or a theist, and it also shows a lack of understanding or awareness that there are different forms of creationism.

There is Young-Earth Creationism, which holds that the Earth is only 6000 years old, there is no evolution, etc. There is also Old-Earth Creationism, which holds that the six "days" in Genesis were not literal 24 hour periods,  God may have used evolution as the mechanism by which He created man, etc.

Here is a handy little graphic I found that illustrates each view.

John Loftus Retires

John Loftus, is the author of the blog Debunking Christianty, and several books, such as Why I Became an Atheist, and editor of The Christian Delusion, and The End of Christianity. He has three Masters degrees in the Philosophy of Religion with some Ph.D. work.

Also, he's retiring!

I'm actually pretty sad that he's giving it up. I'm going to miss being challenged to think about my beliefs in new ways. I'm going to miss the insight that a former Christian adds to discussions. Most of all, however, I think I'm going to miss that hat!

I mean, look at that thing!

But seriously, I wish him the best of luck in whatever is in store for him. He was a rational and talented thinker and that is a rare thing among atheists and theists. Good luck, Sir!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

(Gay) Mormon Guy: My Experience Being a Faithful Mormon

Guest Post from "Mormon Guy"

There are plenty of people who feel the words "gay" and "Mormon" are about as opposite as it gets. From the public view, it seems they stand opposite each other at political events, on moral issues, and even in the working definitions of social psychology. Popular culture propagates the notion that Mormons (insert epithet here - hate, abuse, vilify, torture, brainwash, deprive, etc) gays and points to Mormon doctrines about traditional families as proof of bigotry and hatred. That isn't my experience. I'm a single guy who's attracted to guys, who has lived in Mormon and non-Mormon communities around the world. And being Mormon is the best thing that ever happened to me... my experience in coming closer to God, loving myself for who I really am, and learning to have faith and hope and happiness in life together make my message a bit different from the one you hear in the media. If you want a better relationship with God and perspective on the purpose of life, try being Mormon. It's the best place for anyone - straight or gay - to find peace and happiness in life.

I grew up in a stalwart LDS family, complete with parents who served as leaders and taught me the gospel in our home. We had family prayer, weekly family home evening, and woke up to study the scriptures before school. It was never a question of if we would attend Church. We always did, along with every activity and fireside and service project.

My parents never talked about same-sex attraction when I was younger. Neither did any of my leaders or teachers. But, then again, there were lots of things they never really talked about. They talked about what applied in my life as a kid, and what applied to others. Dating issues. Morality. Honesty. Kindness. Forgiveness. Patience. Love. If I ever asked a question, they answered it, or helped me find the answer on my own - and I fell in love with the logic and simplicity of the doctrines of the Church.

One double-edged sword of LDS society is the expectation of goodness in others. You go to Church and honesty give people the benefit of the doubt - treating them as if they had no major problems and lauding them for their faith. It was double-edged for me because I couldn't imagine ever disappointing those around me... which meant that in the moments when I did, I couldn't share it with anyone.

The realization after my mission that I lived with same-sex attraction (or ssa or sga or gay or whatever you want to call it) was one of those moments. Marriage and family are huge in LDS culture, and perhaps even more important in my own family. The only thing I had ever heard (I have no idea where - not from my parents or from Church. It was probably some type of media...) was that being gay was a choice. Only one problem - I definitely had not chosen to be attracted to guys.

I looked back on my life and wondered if maybe I had been cursed because of past sins. I had a pornography addiction when I was young, struggled with pride in high school, and was sexually abused in my teenage years (and the abuse still felt like it was my fault - anyone who has been abused understands that dilemma). So I threw myself into the gospel and tried to repent of my sins to be freed from the curse.

And nothing happened. I grew closer to God, more able to make better decisions, and better at resisting temptation, but the attractions didn't go away with prayer, fasting, study, temple attendance, service, or blessings. I wondered if there was something fundamentally wrong with me. Maybe I was simply doomed to damnation because I wasn't cut out for faith... and this was just the proof of that. Maybe I hadn't tried hard enough. The one thought that did not cross my mind was, "Maybe it isn't true." I had enough experiences with the Spirit and with God Himself that I could never deny the truth of the LDS Church and all - ALL - of its teachings. So, if I was cursed, as the scriptures say, "men bring all curses upon themselves." So I must be the one at fault.

Except that I hadn't been cursed. The flaw wasn't in my nature or in the teachings of the Church. It was in my understanding of them.

I'm not sure when it was that I realized that I could be faithful no matter what. It was probably at the depths of my frustration, when I finally gave up everything to the Lord and committed to Him that I would keep His commandments even if I never made it. Somewhere, deep inside me, I realized that keeping the commandments was all that I needed to do... and that I hadn't been cursed at all. I had just been dealt a different hand in life... just like everyone else, and making it back to God involved playing the hand right... not having the right cards to play.

Sometime afterward, I learned that in the LDS Church, there is a doctrine that matches the revelation I got from God. There is a major distinction with regards to homosexuality that is often not made outside - that of action. In the words of Church leaders, there is no sin in the attraction part of same-sex attraction. The sin only comes if you act on that attraction. In that regard, all members are the same. If you keep the commandments, you can serve a mission, receive temple ordinances, hold leadership callings, and be a member in full fellowship (all of which have happened in my life). If you make a mistake, then you can repent - and the repentance process is the same whether you're attracted to guys or girls.

My folly was in believing the dichotomy that presents itself. Either 1) Homosexuality is a choice and a sin, should be avoided at all costs, and if you are righteous enough you will be freed from all sin, or 2) Homosexuality is inborn and immutable, and hence either I am a permanent sinner or will never get married or have a family. The reality is that sexuality is neither fully a choice nor fully immutable. It slides along a scale dependent on genetics, nurture, choice, environment, and as many other factors as you can imagine. And same-sex attraction isn't a sin.

That realization freed me. God loved me. He hadn't cursed me. And I had just as much of a chance to make it back to Him as anyone else if I kept the commandments.

The one thing I didn't do is believe that my attractions automatically meant I needed to follow them. God may not have made mistakes when He created the bodies of Adam and Eve, but He didn't create the part of me that is ultimately me. And, as part of my life, He gave me plenty of imperfections to work on to bring me back to Him. Being attracted to alcohol doesn't mean I should morally drink. Neither does being attracted to multiple women mean I should seduce each of them. In my case, being attracted to guys is just a characteristic I have. My actions don't directly follow unless I choose them.

Understanding how same-sex attraction fit in took much, much longer than I ever imagined, and applying the gospel has taken much more work than I thought it would. It's not enough to be faithful just while on a mission, or to graduate from BYU or Seminary, or even to serve as Elder's Quorum president. There aren't as many resources as I wish there were, few Conference talks and fewer references in Church manuals like For the Strength of Youth.

Ultimately, If God and teachings of His Church aren't bringing you happiness, then either you have a flawed understanding of His teachings (which was my case), you're doing something wrong (sin), or you just need to right the chemicals in your brain (also a very real issue). It's not an issue with God or His Church.

Today I'm an active, faithful member of the Church in every way. I love the support it gives, and have had only positive experiences (well, except for one) with leaders in private discussions on same-sex attraction. Everything applies to me, even though I wonder about the talks that focus so heavily on dating. As far as my long-term plans? I don't know what's going to happen. As long as I'm doing what is right, the Lord will take care of me. Maybe I'll fall in love with a girl (that'll take a miracle), get married, and raise a family. Maybe I'll be single for the rest of my life and able to bless tons of other people's lives. But the key is finding happiness and peace today - not worrying about the future. And I've found that embracing my circumstances in life, matched with living the gospel (as soon as I actually understood it and how it applied in my life) has done that and more.

"Mormon Guy" is the author of (Gay) Mormon Guy. An amazing and insightful blog sharing a perspective that is often overlooked and a voice that is rarely heard. Mormons and Non-Mormons alike could learn quite a bit from this individual.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Stone Age Europeans Discovered America

Here is an interesting article saying that new discoveries indicate that the first settlers of the Americas were not Siberian-originating ancestors of today's Native Americans. New finds, such as arrowheads and other tools show that some Europeans made it here about 10,000 years before those who crossed over the Bering Strait.

"A remarkable series of several dozen European-style stone tools, dating back between 19,000 and 26,000 years, have been discovered at six locations along the US east coast. Three of the sites are on the Delmarva Peninsular in Maryland, discovered by archaeologist Dr Darrin Lowery of the University of Delaware. One is in Pennsylvania and another in Virginia. A sixth was discovered by scallop-dredging fishermen on the seabed 60 miles from the Virginian coast on what, in prehistoric times, would have been dry land.

The new discoveries are among the most important archaeological breakthroughs for several decades - and are set to add substantially to our understanding of humanity's spread around the globe."


This doesn't directly support anything taught by the LDS church, but at the very least, I hope we can realize that we do not have a full grasp of the history of the American continent, and I hope we can be a little more open-minded towards some LDS claims.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

LDS Church Responds to HRC Petition

Here's an interesting video I stumbled across from a few years ago when Prop. 8 was at it's height. Elder Packer, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles made some comments in a General Conference that upset some people, so the HRC issued a petition asking him to take back what he said.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

10 Ways to Tell if You're in a Cult or a Conga Line

Here is an interesting infographic from Cracked.com letting the reader know how the difference between a conga line and a religious cult. The picture is obviously meant to be funny, and it is, but I like it because it really illustrates the fact that if you really tried, you could make anything sound like a religious cult.

View graphic HERE!!!

Friday, May 4, 2012

IAmA Former Mormon Missionary. AMA

So Reddit.com has a subsection called IAmA where people post threads stating something unusual about themselves and invite readers to "Ask Me Anything" (AMA). There are some interesting threads by a girl who survived a school shooting, a Daily Show intern, the saxophonist from the Saturday Night Live band, and others.

I posted a thread called IAmA Former Mormon Missionary AMA, not really expecting much to come of it. Much to my surprise, it got over 300 comments. I spent about 9 hours answering questions. Even more to my surprise, the vast majority of questions were civil, polite, and respectful. There was lots of good discussion on a lot of topics that don't often see the light of day.

Check it out at the link above and feel free to leave a question!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sam Harris on Eyewitness Accounts of Miracles

HERE is a clip of Sam Harris speaking a while ago on eyewitness accounts of miracles, particularly in the Christian gospels

At the end of the video, Harris says that all of Sathya Sai Baba's miracles hardly merit on hour on the Discovery Channel, but if you take those same supposed feats and place them in an ancient text, written thousands of years ago, they suddenly become sacred, immutable facts. He then asks if anyone else sees a problem with that.

I am a theist, and I can tell you that I do have a problem with that.

The problem is that miracles are a legitimately poor reason to believe. Even Jesus would agree with this. When the Pharisees and Sadducees came asking for a miracle as proof of his claim he answered that "a wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas." 

The reason Jesus was hesitant to use miracles as a foundation for faith was probably because they are so easily duplicated or falsified. They don't prove anything.

Take televangelism, for example.

Another example, of course, are the magicians of Pharaoh's court, who were able to duplicate almost every miracle performed by Moses. Speaking of magicians, if miracles were a legitimate reason to believe, then Penn and Teller would, ironically, be greater than any Biblical prophet.

And certainly much cooler.

So I do see a problem with people basing their beliefs on "miracles". The problem is that they prove nothing, especially in an age filled with Photoshop, computer animation, and Las Vegas magicians, but even in Christ's day, miracles were easily reproduced.
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