Saturday, October 11, 2008\creedthoughts

For whatever reason, I have always placed a lot of importance on being able to define myself, rather than being defined by others. Although I would like to think that other people's opinion of me means very little--and for the most part that is true--I have a pretty strong internal need to feel justified in what I'm doing.

I've been going through somewhat of an existential crisis lately with my opinion of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although I still feel passionately about trying to live a good life, and I still believe that the Church holds a uniquely important role in distributing critical ordinances, I take serious issue with its recent official stance in favor of California's Proposition 8. I didn't really want to have to do my dirty laundry in public, but I don't think it would be enough to simply say that I disagree; there are some fundamental untruths being told that I want to distance myself from.

First, the Church reports that it "has a single, undeviating standard of sexual morality: intimate relations are proper only between a husband and a wife united in the bonds of matrimony." Although I do not take issue with this standard, it does not necessarily follow that this standard need necessarily lead to supporting a law against sexual immorality. Furthermore, the Church does not, as far as I am aware, support legal bans on other violations of its sexual code (although I personally think that adultery should be tried as a breach of contract). And lastly, how does banning same-sex unions prevent any violation of this sexual standard? Are we to believe that there are droves of celibate homosexuals who are waiting to have sex until after they get married? For those who have married since the CA Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, are they going to return to their celibate lifestyle if Prop 8 passes?

I would really like to know who wrote this "The Divine Institution of Marriage" document. Here are just a few of the things which are fallacious, disrespectful, and extremely poorly written about the treatise.

"The sacred nature of marriage is closely linked to the power of procreation"

It is true that the sacred, religiously valuable part of marriage has to do with procreation. The societally beneficial part of marriage (monogamy as a tool to curb STDs, a public health problem, just to name one), however--something this document often conflates with Mormon dogma--has absolutely nothing to do with procreation.

"Marriage is not primarily a contract between individuals to ratify their affections and provide for mutual obligations."

The writers of this cannot even bring themselves to use the word "love"; it would be totally unacceptable to believe that homosexuals could feel the same way about others as they might feel about their spouses. Moreover, even if I buy that marriage is "primarily" about raising children in a Christian-friendly manner, the very wording here implies that there are other reasons for marrying. Surely, ratification of "affections" or mutual benefits are at least marginally important, are they not? Am I to believe that a union based on these motives is intrinsically bad, just because no biological children can come from it? If so, let’s unmarry anyone who either cannot or will not reproduce naturally, reserving this sacred title for those people who create and then raise their own progeny.

"throughout the ages governments of all types have recognized and affirmed marriage as an essential institution in preserving social stability and perpetuating life itself"

Either the writers are being willfully deceptive about marriage's history (examples of marriage as a political tool, for example, are not hard to find) or they are dangerously naive. In any case, historical examples, especially those which are so vague as to details or consequences, seem to me to be disingenuous. After all, governments of all types have also recognized and affirmed slavery, brutality, corporal and capital punishment, needless wars, and demagoguery as essential institutions and practices to preserve social stability. If the Roman Empire jumped off a cliff would you?

"It is true that some couples who marry will not have children, either by choice or because of infertility, but the special status of marriage is nonetheless closely linked to the inherent powers and responsibilities of procreation"

This makes sense because it makes sense. Hey look over there! If I use the word "nevertheless" it will make it sound like I have a rational, well-thought out position without actually having to have one. Genius!

"This is not only because of the substantial personal resources that two parents can bring to bear on raising a child, but because of the differing strengths that a father and a mother, by virtue of their gender, bring to the task"

I do not believe that all males or all females have certain characteristics simply because of their gender. Even if there were magical characteristic inherent in every man or every woman that is unique to people of that gender, surely there are indices that are infinitely more important in deciding who would make the best parent. Also, it is a difficult argument to make that a woman’s talents cannot be at least partially (and probably tolerably) reproduced by a man. Furthermore, since all people are different, chances are good that neither partner in a marriage will have all of the “personal resources” that these writers would need necessary to raising good children.

"Marriage is fundamentally an unselfish act: ... Societal recognition of same-sex marriage cannot be justified simply on the grounds that it provides self-fulfillment to its partners"

No action or belief is automatically altruistic. A heterosexual marriage is not fundamentally unselfish (even when children are involved, as this document is implying), nor is a homosexual marriage automatically a merely selfish desire for self-fulfillment.

"the all-important question of public policy must be: what environment is best for the child and for the rising generation?"

Is it really our right to define what the best environment for children should be? If I teach my children incorrect things, is the CA constitution going to step in and decide that another family might provide a better environment for my children to learn, and take them away?

"Traditional marriage provides a solid and well-established social identity to children. It increases the likelihood that they will be able to form a clear gender identity, with sexuality closely linked to both love and procreation."

Wow. I don't even know where to start.

"These developments will create serious clashes between the agenda of the secular school system and the right of parents to teach their children traditional standards of morality."

My telling you something does not take away your right to tell your children something else.

I’m realizing now that writing this post has only agitated me further. Although I would love to continue, picking apart wanton lies from the pro-prop 8 campaign, expounding on the history of marriage, homosexuality, or the politics of marriage, I don’t want to spew any more venom here than I already have, lest I isolate anyone still reading (my family reads this blog too). My purpose in writing this was to distance myself from what I feel to be an unacceptable politicization of my religion, not attack or defend the Proposition 8 movement. I suppose that I should probably define what I still do believe in another post, for those who are interested, but for now I want to leave it at this.

By the way, for those of you who are interested, I actually do not support gay marriage, per se. I personally believe that marriage is a religious sacrament, not a political designation. As such, the government should, in my opinion, not recognize any marriages, my own included, but should instead give everyone equal civil unions. If I want to go to a church and designate my union as a marriage in a religious ceremony, that’s my right. If homosexuals want to either find a denomination that will call their unions “marriages”, or if they want to start a new church that will do so, their being married takes nothing away from my being married any more than your being baptized takes anything away from my being baptized. For you Catholics out there, you probably believe that my baptism is moot before God; I’m OK with that. The reason for all of these culture wars is that religion insists on claiming special rights for itself, even at the expense of trying to legislate religious definitions, and those shafted by the religious establishments are trying to gain redress through the power of the government. If anyone wants to try and explain to me how defining marriage isn’t a violation of the establishment clause, I’d love to hear it. Also, I would be willing to post any rebuttals any of you might want to write, if you would prefer to write something longer than will fit in the comments section.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

We'll always have Paris (?)

America has apparently been much maligned lately because our little credit meltdown has accidentally destroyed the economy of the entire world. Rather than defend America and its actions, I figured it would be much easier to defame Europe to prove that they deserve what they are getting. Don't think about it. It makes sense.

This wedding took place in a mall in Magdeburg. That's right, a mall. This is a continent full of beautiful, needlessly ornate churches that nobody is using for any other reason and you chose to get married in a mall? What were you even doing getting married in the first place? Europeans are just supposed to co-habitate, spurning the religious institution of marriage.

That's a potato with a condom on it. The writing on the poster warns Germans to buy condoms before they go on their vacations because AIDS is very prevalent all over the world and the quality of condoms might be lower outside of Europe. Although I can support the message of this poster, I'm pretty sure that I disapprove of putting condoms on potatoes for any reason.

Since when did the Europeans start having children again? They have obviously started copying us, they've started having children like we do, they invested in cdos, and before they knew it, their economy was tanking, NYSE-style.

Don't the Europeans know that the basis of any healthy economy is large automobiles? This offering from Amsterdam could easily fit into the trunk of an Escalade.

There are many sins hidden in this picture. First, who decided that this vending machine would look good in fuscia? Second, this vending machine sells Warcraft and Magic: the Gathering trading cards. And last, look how many of their packs are sold out. Some of the selections that have been snatched up cost upwards of 10 euros a pack. American sub-prime mortgage defaults? I think the blame for your financial ruin lies sqaurely with Wizards of the Coast.

While our aging women shop at Forever 21 to regain their youth through over-priced, chintzy fashion, the Germans have decided to one up us, keeping themselves 3 years younger looking. Of course the lack of a drinking age means that the Germans can get away with convincing their customers to look younger; Americans wouldn't want to have to choose between looking young and being able to drink alcohol. You win this round, Germany.

Monday, October 6, 2008


I was wondering how to broach this subject of experience without a) being overly political or b) without rehashing things all of you have heard a million times in the last 6 months. I think it might help if I mention that Sarah Palin, although the impetus for this post, is not the only reason I'm writing this. As I am in the process of gaining deep specific knowledge for the first time in my life, and grappling with fears that I may never get into medical school, issues of knowledge, expertise, and training have become increasingly pertinent for me.

I'll just come out and say it: I am scared to death that someone as unapologetically average as Sarah Palin could possibly become our next president.

Sure, I've whined a lot in the past 8 years about George W. Bush not being as bright as some sixth-graders I've known, but at least he'd gone through the motions; he pretended that he was competant. Ms. Palin hasn't gone to college. More than that, she seems to demean the importance of intelligence and experience, relying on the innate goodness that supposedly comes from being normal.

For these last two weeks I have been going to a graduate-level Principles of Neuroscience class. During the course of the three-hour class, Dr. Singer seamlessly switches between complex physics concepts, math I've never seen, biochemistry, and evolutionary biology. Although I'm not expected to have as deep of mastery on all those subjects as he has, it's becoming clear to me that it is simply not possible to understand the human nervous system without having a pretty substantial chunk of other branches of science down pat.

I'll admit that it can be uncomfortable (read: humbling) to listen to Dr. Singer lecture. His brilliance adds a layer of seperation between himself and anyone who hasn't done the preparatory work to understand his lectures. It's not that he can't explain difficult concepts simply, it's that difficult concepts need to be understood within their natural context if they are going to be of any use; "Shia=good, Sunni=bad" might get you through a high-school history test if it's multiple choice, but would-be presidents require a slightly more nuanced understanding.

Palin has proven that she can be charismatic, but I worry deeply about her ability--in the same way that would worry about any other Joe six-pack--to understand the world in complex enough ways to lead our country.

I recognize that I am in no position to pass judgement. Ms. Palin has had a lot of success and some real-world experience in governance. Furthermore, she is probably much more intelligent than the Couric interview would lead us to believe; heaven knows that I stumbled over arguments all the time in debate.

I guess what finally gets me angry in the end is that I am struggling so hard to gain expertise, only to have the very concept mocked by national politics. Since when was being average a virtue? What self-respecting company would hire the most middling applicant they could, simply because they were unexceptional? Do you go to the most average mechanic you can find? The most average dentist? So for those of you Republicans out there (and I know that some of you read this blog), when you vote for McCain/Palin, please do so because you think they will be the best suited to run the country, not just because you can relate to them better.

Note: I stand corrected about Palin attending college. I misinterpreted her statement in her interview with Katie Couric in which she said: "I’m not one of those who maybe came from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate college and their parents give them a passport and give them a backpack and say go off and travel the world.No, I’ve worked all my life. In fact, I usually had two jobs all my life until I had kids. I was not a part of, I guess, that culture. The way that I have understood the world is through education, through books, through mediums that have provided me a lot of perspective on the world."
Thanks to Charles for pointing that out to me.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Laodicean health care

Having as much time as I do, I listen to podcasts constantly. Quickly depleting my old wave of standbys, I recently found a podcast of the Intelligence Squared debates and have been working my way through their archives. In much the same what that you will hear a newly-learned word a half dozen times in the week after you learned it, the subject of health care policy kept popping up this week after I listened to the debate on this subject.

I promise that I am not going to turn my blog into a forum for me to continue my days of college debate. As much as I miss debating, an activity where I could be unnecessarily mean to nice kids from Colorado and could argue passionately about meaningless platitudes or policy decisions that would never possibly be considered, it too often devolved into a pedantic exercise in defining terms or nit-picking the rules of debate. Instead of trying to have a debate with all of you, I wanted to point out a few things about health care in America that are somehow missing from the national debate. I'm not trying to indoctrinate anyone to my particular view--you'll see that I am still very torn on the issue myself--but rather to raise the level of dialogue beyond what can easily be found in the popular media.

Do you realize that we already have socialized medicine in America? In most debates about what America can do about their health care system, the socialists line up against the capitalists to debate whether America should switch to a one-payer system or whether we should keep the market-based system that we have now. Individual anecdotes are then traded ad nauseam about the beauties or horrors of either system.

In actual fact, U.S. law prevents hospitals from refusing basic care to anyone who shows up at at an emergency room. This prohibition means that emergency rooms nationwide have turned into the primary care facilities of everyone who can't afford normal health care. This continues until the emergency room goes out of business (someday the national government will learn the same lesson: you can't keep on spending without taking anything in before you eventually become insolvent). After a hospital goes bust, the government steps in to shore up the hospital's finances if it decides that that hospital is necessary for the public health of that area.

My point is simply that we should stop pretending that nationalized health care would be such a departure from where we are right now. Either we should have the resolve to be capitalists, shooing the poor out of our hospitals to die of their gunshot wounds, diabetes, and emphysema (I mean really, they should have moved out of the ghetto if they didn't want to get shot), or we should simply embrace the fact that we're going to pay for them anyway and try and find the cheapest way possible to do it.

While I'm talking about uncomfortable issues, I should probably mention rationing. No one is so naive as to believe that we can give away MRIs, chemotherapy, and AZT for free and still have enough for everybody. The classic argument against nationalized health care is that the rest of the developed world--all of whom have a one-payer system--has long lines (I guess they would be queues, since they're in Britain) for specialized care. The rich, as well as the poor, have to wait for months to get treatment for diseases such as lung cancer; many of them die as a result because the most important factor in surviving such diseases is how soon you start treatment. Clearly, rich Americans, the ones who directly or indirectly end up paying for most of the medical costs in this country, are not going to stand idly by while a poor person gets life-saving treatment instead of them. Most of you would probably chaff at the thought too; how many of us are really so charitable that we would give our lives so that a poor person can get top-rate care (on our dime)?

In closing, I just want to point out that health care in America could probably be better. We spend more than any country in the world yet we have, by many measures, a system which is wildly inefficient and ineffective. We have neither a free-market system nor a universal one. If the government is unable to reform health care in any meaningful way, might I recommend that you do what I do--lie to BYU about having health insurance, put away the money saved by not having insurance, and then blow your entire bank account by traveling to Europe if you don't get sick.

P.S.-if any of you are religious, please pray for me that I don't get a horrible disease that isn't covered by my cut-rate insurance; you'd end up paying for it anyway after I declare bankruptcy, so I suppose it's already in your best interest.

Friday, October 3, 2008

We believe in the literal gathering of Israel . . .

Speaking of Y-groups, I was a Y-Group leader once. I still have as proof the verdantly green shirt with its cute little circles of slighter lighter, slightly more emetic shades. Even though I have never been known for my school spirit, I am still puzzled by the color choice. So yes, they entrusted me with a new batch of bright-eyed Freshmen. I was to show them around, encourage them to participate in activities, and yes . . . galvanize excitement with some rousing rounds of duck, duck, goose.

I'm sure it is of little surprise that the first thing I did with my little Freshmen was to tell them that they were not special. "Everyone else here is just. Like. You," I said. "If you think these buildings are ugly on the outside, just wait until you're stuck in one of them." I wasn't completely a demotivator: I did give practical advise for each person based on their majors, I clued them into Smith's as being the place to get caffeine. I told them which religion teachers to avoid and how to get out of compulsory dating (most of the students were amle). I taught them to say "hell." Game time was to be conducted during and after lunch. I stood awkwardly half in and half out of the globular circle my little group had attempted to form and told them to do what they wanted. After a half-hearted attempt at some head-tapping goosery ended in several people in the circle refusing to chase when goosed, they all gave up and started mocking the other group members, who earnestly ran the requisite goose-laps, determined to convince themselves that they were having fun. As orientation activities dragged on, I told my students truncated, disillusioned versions of what they would learn at the activities and encouraged them to skip. I was most adamant about skipping the Honor Code song. By the last activity, not a single student in my group showed up, and I got to go home, mission accomplished.

My last year at BYU, I saw one of those students. He was apparently very excited to see me. He said I gave "awesome advice." I thought it was funny. Anyway, if there was a point to that anecdote it was probably this: Daine and I were officially put in charge the Little Ones this last week at church.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

or of good report

During my first week at BYU I went to a "Y group" activity, basically a day camp for disabled 9-year-olds that has been appropriated, unchanged, as a bonding activity for new BYU students. As I struggled to think of something to draw on my name tag (we had to draw things we liked so that other people could see a rudimentarily drawn basketball and know immediately that they wanted to be your friend), I feared that I had gone to the wrong university. That feeling grew stronger as my group, following the cues of every group on DT field, started playing Duck Duck Goose. Finally, after we had all shared our thoughts on why we loved BYU football so much, I was able to escape while they were dividing us into teams for Red Rover. I was in full-blown existential crisis. Although I had never fit cleanly into any group in high school (my best friends and I shared no discernible demographic or overriding interest), I always held out hope that I made sense within the broader LDS community. That first "Y-Day" activity showed me that my impressions of what I thought the Church to be were wildly mistaken. I was annoyed by much of what I saw in Mormon culture and I gravitated towards people and things which were often critical of it.

Now this is not to say that I plan on leaving the Church, just because it has made embarrassing mistakes in the past, has a membership I don't particularly like (speaking collectively and not individually), or because I strongly disagree with some of the current policies and stances (I will probably rant against a few specifics in later posts). The reason I bring this all up is actually because I have seen some things lately that make me proud to be alive, proud of other's accomplishments in ways that I am so rarely proud of my own, or my Church's actions.

First off, I just got back from seeing Wicked. I was blown away. It wasn't merely the fantastic singing, fabulous spectacle of costumes and dancing, or even the distractingly cool Oriental Theater as much as I was impressed by the fact that the show had profoundly good messages. Too often I hear derisive comments directed at "the World" as if non-LDS people were some homogeneous group, hell-bent on killing babies, kicking puppies, and burning American flags. I must admit to feeling a pang of shame that I felt more uplifted by Wicked than I feel most of the time that I go to church. As with all good art, however, I do feel proud to appropriate it into my theology, believing that God has directed me to seek out things that are virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy, or of good report.

Earlier this week, I listened to the latest episode of This American Life entitled "Go Big" which documents Geoffrey Canada's attempt to make Harlem a better place. I won't go into the specifics, because I think that all of you should listen to the first part of this episode yourselves, but this show has made me happier and full of renewed hope for humanity since I listened to it.

At such a time as this, where my anger and disillusionment are being stoked almost daily by the presidential race, Proposition 8 (again, more to come later), and ball-jointed dolls, I wanted to share some hope that there is some good still in the world. If you find yourself in a situation where you need something to draw on a name tag, might I recommend a tiny caricature of Ira Glass or the Wicked Witch of the West? On second thought, I think I would recommend that you leave immediately when asked to make such a name tag. Duck Duck Goose is sure to follow.