For the past couple months the Bloggernacle has been ablaze with a spirit of activism. For a variety of reasons, I have kept my participation in these threads to a minimum, but I thought it might be nice to weigh in with a few considerations which seem to have either been taken for granted or side-lined from discussion. But before I get to these considerations, I probably need to address a few caveats in order to anticipate potential reactionaries, trolls and other replies which tend to bog down rather than forward the conversation. (more…)
A little more than a month ago I came across a BBC program on the subject of fasting. You can watch the whole thing here.
If you don’t have a whole hour to watch I recommend picking up around the 36 minute mark where they start discussing intermittent fasting, or alternate day fasting. The basic concept is to alternate between fasting days and “feasting” days. A fast day consists of 400-500 calories for women or 500-600 calories for men. (You are encouraged to drink all the water you want on fast days). On the feed/feast days you eat whatever you want.
What are purported benefits of alternate day fasting? All sorts of things according to the researchers interviewed. Here are some mentioned in the documentary:
- Weight loss. It turns out that people doing this intermittent fasting don’t normally eat double their daily recommended calories on feed days. They are more likely to eat about 110% of recommended caloric intake so there is a net calorie deficit every week and that means steady weight loss.
- Reduced blood sugar levels. Warding off diabetes is always a good thing, right?
- Reduced levels of triglycerides, bad cholesterol, and blood pressure. They say this is a good thing. Reportedly reduces risk of heart disease and whatnot.
- Improved brain function. Mice on intermittent fasting remain mentally sharp far longer than the mice that were fed well daily. The theory is that humans see similar benefits. Fasting reportedly causes brains to grow new brain cells. Researchers interviewed for the piece think that this is an evolutionary survival mechanism; as we fast our brains quickly get stronger to give us better odds of wrangling up some food to stay alive. (I’ve been told that other studies indicate fasting has been shown to improve student test scores as well.)
(Authorial Note: This post looks long, but if you ignore the appendix section, it should be a fairly quick read. )
Women and the priesthood, wearing pants, sexism, the place of Heavenly Mother, and so forth are all major issues on the bloggernacle these days. The common thread in each issue is whether women are equal to men in the Church. Some people take the apparent inequality as a given, while their critics argue that these people have the wrong perspective. Men and women are equal in the church; these folks just need to look at the issue differently. And so the debate rages.
Generally the discussion goes round in circles because the debaters share an actually unshared assumption: the meaning of equality. I suggest that there are three forms of equality that this discussion invokes, and since discussion partners are often using one or two different forms of equality, they end up talking past each other. We need to fix this if we are going to move the discussion forward.
So these are the three forms: equality in terms of responsibility, acknowledgment, and theology.
Responsibility equality: Women give service. Men lead and give service. Or, if we count leading as a type of service, men give more kinds of service. More than that, the priesthood has a special kind of value with no strong female equivalent. Usually we compare priesthood with motherhood, but a more fitting comparison is fatherhood with motherhood, which leaves priesthood something extra for men, a mark of worthiness, and a special dimension for spirituality in male lives (or also in female lives via worthy men).
Recognition equality: Women get acknowledged for their hard work, but priesthood camaraderie offers a kind of appreciation among men that keeps women feeling on the outside. We have a very appreciative culture for young men making the next priesthood office and going on missions. Young women are far less recognized. And sometimes this starts even in the primary, anticipating the kinds of tracks these two sexes will go on once they reach twelve. Furthermore, the recognition adult women get for their service is often demeaning or overlooked. This would probably be much less of a problem if there were more women in leadership roles.
Theology equality: Men and women have equal access to the celestial kingdom. They both receive revelation. They are (supposed to be) equal partners in the home. In this sense, there is a fairly undeniable equality between the sexes. However, there are also a few theological inequalities. Some women take issue with wording in the endowment. Heavenly Mother remains a largely mysterious figure and therefore an ambiguous role model for women. Nevertheless, on a theological level, the sexes are largely equal.
So what? I hope that this discussion shows that if women are equal to men in some ways, in other ways there are stark inequalities. Does that mean that those inequalities are wrong? That’s a topic for another time. But in the meantime, if we accept that these inequalities are real, we can at least know in what ways they are real. (more…)
Literary theorist Terry Eagleton provides a fascinating criticism of the New Atheist movement:
My favorite part: “To imagine the Christian faith is meant to be an explanation of the world is rather like supposing that Moby Dick is meant to be a report on the whaling industry.”
One of the authors which has greatly influenced my present ambivalence toward intellectuals and academia is the sociologist Alvin Gouldner. In this post I would like to briefly summarize his critical perspective on academia and then use this perspective in order to reframe various points and episodes from the scriptures.
Before I proceed, I should clear up (muddle up would probably be more accurate) my use of some terms. I have and will continue to use the terms “academia”, “intellectuals”, “scientists”, “philosophers” and “those with a modern mindset” roughly interchangeably. I consider all of these (sub-)groups to be different manifestations of what Gouldner call the Culture of Critical Discourse (CCD). (more…)
Here is another guest post from NCT regular, DavidF
I’m sure most people are sick of conference posts by now. Timing isn’t my best quality. That being said, I’m not sure what to make of these three statements about tolerance from conference:
Packer: “Tolerance is a virtue, but like all virtues, when exaggerated, it transforms itself into a vice. We need to be careful of the “tolerance trap” so that we are not swallowed up in it. The permissiveness afforded by the weakening of the laws of the land to tolerate legalized acts of immorality does not reduce the serious spiritual consequence that is the result of the violation of God’s law of chastity.”
Oaks: “Latter-day Saints understand that we should not be “of the world” or bound to “the tradition of men”… These failures to follow Christ … range all the way from worldly practices like political correctness and extremes in dress and grooming to deviations from basic values like the eternal nature and function of the family.”
Monson: “May we be tolerant of, as well as kind and loving to, those who do not share our beliefs and our standards. The Savior brought to this earth a message of love and goodwill to all men and women. May we ever follow His example.”
These three statements don’t technically clash. They are all vague enough to allow all of them to be right. But the implicit messages are wildly different. Should we beware of tolerant practices (i.e. political correctness, Oaks), embrace tolerance (Monson), or show some kind of measured restraint on being tolerant (Packer)?
This guest post was submitted by NCT regular commenter, DavidF
Hot off the presses, you can listen to the oral arguments over the Same Sex marriage debate before the Supreme Court. I highly recommend it.
I want to bring up some of the highlights by comparing the competing value structures that the two sides rely on to make their case. So you’re getting a philosophical post and a political post for the price of one. But why the philosophy? Because the moral values both sides bring to the debate rest at the very heart of how they justify their positions. This is a useful tool to get at the bias inherent to each side’s argument.
Consequentialism and Deontology Crash Course
There are two moral systems colliding in this debate: consequentialism and deontology. The conservatives rely mainly on deontological arguments and the liberals rely mainly on consequentialist arguments. What’s the difference?
I just saw an article by Joanna Brooks titled “I Died Inside”. Here is the first paragraph:
Emmett C. is a twenty year-old community college student in the Pacific Northwest. Last year, he applied to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religious obligation he had long prepared for and looked forward to fulfilling. But in the course of preparing his missionary application, Emmett came out to his local LDS Church leaders—not as a gay man, but as a straight Mormon who believes that LGBT people are equal in the sight of God and should treated the same as straight members of the LDS Church. And on these grounds, he was told that he would not be permitted to serve.
If Emmett was told he couldn’t serve a mission due to his views on the LGBT topic, I can guarantee that it was not for him believing “that LGBT people are equal in the sight of God and should treated the same as straight members of the LDS Church”. How do I know this? Because the church openly teaches that LGBT members are equal in the sight of God and should be treated the same as all other members. That includes holding all Mormons to the exact same Law of Chastity. The Mormon Law of Chastity states we should have no sexual contact with anyone besides our opposite-sex, legal spouse.
It is more likely that Emmett was advocating that LGBT members should not be treated the same as straight members and should not have to follow the Law of Chastity as it currently stands. Perhaps he was advocating for the Law of Chastity to be amended to give the green light to gay sex (within gay marriages) or something.
I’m sure Ms. Brooks meant well but I find her attempts at spin in that opening paragraph irritating and counter-productive. If you want to lobby for gay sex (within gay marriage) being permitted in the Mormon Law of Chastity just say so. At least we’ll be talking about the actual subject rather that completely dancing around it.
Change within the church, as within any other organization, can be challenging. This is not to say change should not and cannot occur. But it does mean that those who agitate for change need to be sensitive to the issues surrounding it and should be sensitive to the needs and feelings of those who will be impacted by that change.
One challenge many face in the wake of change is uncertainty and confusion about what is correct and valuable. Some will look back on their lives and see a gap in them that could have been filled had the policy been different in their day, and will cry out “How could God let this happen to me?”. Others will see this change as an indicator that other changes are possible and will lose certainty of the paradigms upon which they have made their life decisions. They will either have set up a series of reasoning which had supported the rules before the change and need help deconstructing that list, or they will have reservations making faith claims on any certain position of the church, wondering if it will just change later. They will turn to their own reasoning over the teachings of the church and begin trying to predict rightness or wrongness on their own. This is not bad in its own right, but people will feel further from God as a result of this.
Another result causing a feeling of sadness in people will be their seeing human action trumping divine aid. They have seen you lobby for this change, and they wonder to themselves “All my life I have been told that God runs this church, and that I can pour out my heart to him in prayer and he will answer. But now, these people run the church via activism. Should God have not just heard their prayers and responded?” Some will see this as another indicator that the church is a human run organization with no divine spark pushing it along.
This leads us straight into prophetic fallibility. It can be very challenging for members to see major change from leadership in the church. One of the central ideas of Mormonism, like it or not, is that the Lord uses his prophet to lead the people. It is assumed that this should mean the prophet has some higher level of consciousness and should know God’s will directly. He should not need to be poked and prodded by other men or women. He should take his orders directly from God. When one statement from a general authority is questioned, it creates the Paul H. Dunn effect, where every other statement by that same authority is damaged collaterally.
Lastly, when we are dealing with change of any kind within the church, we have to be sensitive to the human emotion involved. People have invested their time, talent, and energies into defending the thing you are now seeking to change. They have done this because they believed it was God’s will. Some have made it a central part of their identity to defend it. They will need to be assured their energies have not been wasted and still matter, or you will have people become emotionally disengaged.
So when you bring snacks to primary, please be considerate of those who remember the days when snacks in primary were not allowed. Tread lightly, my friends.
Suppose we want to know what the rules of football are – what the nature of football is. Who do we ask? Where should we search for an answer? Which person or source we choose to treat as authoritative is pretty important in cases like this since the Green Bay Packers fan will tell us something very different the Manchester United fan will. And if we, in our attempt to be very thorough and even handed, go to both sources and (obviously) get two different and incompatible answers, how will we decide what the “true” rules or nature of football really are? (more…)
The following guest post was submitted to us by DavidF:
Suppose you are sitting at home reading a book. You glance at your watch. It reads 5:23. So you go back to reading now knowing the time. But unbeknownst to you, the battery in your watch died yesterday. By sheer coincidence it stopped at 5:23. It turns out your belief that it’s 5:23 is correct, but only by accident.
This is a Gettier problem. Gettier invented problems like this one to challenge the foundational claims of epistemology, that knowledge is justified true belief. In this scenario, the watch-reader would have a true belief and think it is justified. In reality, the justification is wrong, but the belief is still true. Gettier came up with the first problems in 1963; they vex epistomologists to this day. Gettier’s paradoxes are interesting in their own right. But what happens when you turn an epistemological paradox into a moral one? And what happens when you make it a specifically Mormon one? Let’s see. (more…)
Over at BCC, Ben F posted a nice little intro to a series which he plans to post regarding science and religion. It’s a friendly, uplifting and informative post which nobody but the most stick-in-the-mud-know-it-all would ever ever take issue with. But hey, what are blogs like this for, if not taking issue with innocent things which don’t really have that much bearing on the rest of our lives, right? (more…)
Let me lay some cards on the table, if only to provide a bit of context for what I want to say. I am a strong and unequivocal evolutionist who places Darwin at the very core of my philosophical mindset. My relationship to religion, on the other had, is …. complicated. I don’t think any of the standard categories unambiguously matches up with what I think and feel, and I’m somewhat okay with that. I just hope that these confessions serve to clarify rather than obstruct the conversation I hope to have. (more…)
In marketing, we often drive for major events which through their magnitude will create an ongoing halo effect, a self-generating gravity which continues to attract thinkers to them for some time to come. In our modern media age, for such an event to be effective, it needs to be really massive to garner any form of lasting halo, and needs to be well supported with a ready network to handle the load it creates. Also, it needs be somewhat controversial while having the ability to deflect some of the controversy away from itself. It’s kind of like a perfect storm, to use N. T. Wright’s favorite analogy. (more…)