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Technical Plateau

I have noticed a recurring pattern in my life, and it bugs me that this seems to be happening to me in so many places.

It is a plateau of my technique or expertise in a given area where I come to realize more fully my limitations as an amateur, or my ignorance as an outsider.

What does this look like?

When my boyfriend challenges me to a game of Connect Four, I enter it thinking this is a battle of reactions. He goes, then I analyze what he must be trying, then I go. I’m thinking about laying down traps, and outthinking his. My boyfriend crushes me several times. He says, “You’re not following the optimal path.” Even without having studied anything, I know, vaguely, that I should stick to the middle. But I don’t want to learn optimal paths. Even though this is a solved game, I don’t want to play it as if it’s a solved game.

In chess, it looks like a friend crushing me several times. He tells me, “Well, you have pretty good reflexes, and decent tactical thinking, but you should really study on openings and defenses. Here you started with what looked like so n’ so’s opening, but then you did something very unconventional, so I was able to come in here and here.” He tells me about his development as a chess player, studying openings.

I have no idea who so n’ so is. I’m just playing the game, trying to think a couple moves in advance — but certainly not with an entire game played out in my head.

In fencing, it looks similar. My coach says, “You are pretty athletic, and good at responding, but you don’t have discipline. And you should study tactics” I know it. My footwork is terrible. Watching myself in videos is cringeworthy, even when I win.

But I just want to fence! I know the drills are necessary, but I just want to fence freely!

I wanted to learn how to draw, but the pain of drawing junk stopped me every time. (Maybe next time will be different?)

I started playing music again, and I got to a place where my sound started sounding good enough to me for me to continue.

And yet, here I am with the plateau again.

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Reasons not to resign from Mormonism

In light of the latest drama in Mormonism regarding the updated policy on apostasy (and the barring of the children of a parent in a same-sex relationship from receiving a name and a blessing, being baptized, and so forth), a lot of people have finally decided to resign. There’s a lawyer on r/exmormon who says that he’s processed over 1500 resignations since the news.

And then there’s little old me who is still on the rolls. Is it time to resign?

There was a great article at Feminist Mormon Housewives discussing why one might stay in the church — even though they don’t attend and have no intention on attending in the future. Just a couple of reasons from the article:

VOICE: I only get to resign once. If resigning is the way I choose to use my voice, I am effectively choosing to make it silent forever after. This is the last thing I get a voice on. Storming out of the room feels good, but it also means I am now out of the room. And they will not follow me and ask me to clarify my position. They will be shocked for a second, and then I will simply cease to be an issue.

THE SLOW BURN: On the other hand if I stay on the records, I am forever a thorn in the side of the local ward with my existence, whether or not I go to church. They have to send me home and visiting teachers; they have to wonder what happened and why I don’t come. Somebody has to have the uncomfortable job of reaching out to me, in every place I live, and with every change of leadership. Every time this happens I have an opportunity to tell someone IN the church how I feel, if I want to. I can certainly decline to engage, if I’m not in the mood. But it leaves the door open to continue to have a voice with the local members and leadership of the church. I’m not ready to close that door.

That being said, I’m not sure if I agree that all of these (or even most of these) apply to my situation, or that I would want them to.

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Things to be shocked about

In life

There are some things to be shocked about, and

some things not to be shocked about.


When the Mormon church created this policy,

where they confirmed same-sex marriage as apostasy

I assessed that was something that was expected, and

some thing not to be shocked about.


When the Mormon church created this policy,

that would also apply to the children of a parent in a same-sex relationship

At first,

I felt that was some thing to be shocked about.

But then,

I realized this was some thing to be disappointed about, but

some thing not to be shocked about.

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Preserving Heteronormativity in the LDS Church

If you aren’t keeping up with Mormonism right now, then your venture into many progressive Mormon sites might appear something like:

Troy walks into room with discover that the room is on fire

What’s the fire this time? The LDS Church has modified its policies to make being in a same-sex marriage apostasy.

“What’s the big deal with that?” you might ask. After all, Mormonism has not been known to be friendly to gay people in same-sex relationships.

Well, one thing that’s new is that by defining being in a same-sex marriage as apostasy, disciplinary action is required. It is not something that is at the discretion of local leaders.

…but that’s not all. Check out this image regarding the children:

A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing.

A lot of people are far more upset about this language regarding children than anything else.

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Does the LDS Church Lie to Its Members?

Over at Worlds Without End, Brian Whitney discusses whether or not we should say that the LDS church has lied to its members. His post is an analysis of history, and more importantly, of historiography — how has history been studied by the church and its agents?

In particular, Whitney describes a complicated relationship between factions that would support a more “heritage” approach, and those who would support a more academic approach. This “Heritage vs History vs Propaganda” model is expounded upon by Lindsay Hansen Park in her participation on Mormon Matters’ recent episode (which also features Brian Whitney, along with Jon Grimes, Emily Grover, and of course, Dan Wotherspoon.) [I caveat: I still have yet to listen to this episode, so my apologizes if I mis-summarize what Lindsay intended. {Although I must say…this caveat has a great deal of relevance to my thesis for this post.}]

From the Worlds Without End post:

So, what happened? Simply put, the non-professional historians won the narrative contest. The didactic approach to telling history remained favorable to the academically-grounded attempt at objectivity and socially-contextualized history. People don’t like “messy,” and that includes our church leaders who were all raised on the same Seminary and Institute curriculum that promoted the Essentials in Church History approach. Borrowing from Lindsay Hansen Park, as a religion we remained more enamored by our “heritage” than our “history.” Perhaps nothing underscores this better Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was distributed by the church in 1996 to its adult Sunday School classes—a 150-page throwback to Essentials in Church History.

Then the Internet happened.

While the church is, without question, paying the price for promoting an overly-simplified “heritage” approach to history, I don’t think the motive was based in intentional deceptiion; rather, I think the disinclinations towards academic approaches to history were based in sincere love for the church and a desire to protect it. Many, including President Packer, felt that advertising our flaws was tantamount to handing our critics information on a silver platter that they could manipulate against us. I believe that the leaders of the church who were reticent towards candid historical examination were not so because they had some sense that the church was built on lies, but instead because they sincerely believed it to be true; and that they distrusted the historian’s craft that tended to remove the spiritual aspects of the faith that were (and still are) viewed as vital to building and maintaining a testimony. I have no doubt that, in their eyes, they were not suppressors of truth as much as they were being the dutiful watchmen along the tower.

We are paying the price for willful ignorance.

– See more at:

I am amenable to the basic idea here: lying implies intentional deception, and there are plausible narratives where that intention is not there.

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Critiquing Mormonism: Past, Present, and Future

There is a blog post at Outrageously Sensible where the blog’s author Scott discusses why he stays in the church. As often happens with these sorts of blog posts, the author describes several reasons why he thinks people leave the church, and he summarizes them in subheadings of past, present, and future:

1. They can’t reconcile the past.

When people come to find out that the history of the church isn’t as stark white as they thought it was in primary it can really take a toll on their testimony…

2. They  can’t reconcile the present.

The church has come a long way but to some they haven’t come far enough. People become at odds with the way the church operates currently, especially in relation to social issues…

3. They can’t reconcile the future

They don’t hate the church but they can’t see themselves continuing to live it. Priorities shift and views are altered that inhibit them from continuing forward…

At his blog, he goes in further about those three reasons, but please read there for the detail. When he provides his own reasons for staying, he addresses — at least in part — the reasons for leaving he had just set out.

I like that he separates the reasons in terms of past, present, and future, because I have often noted that faith crises and transitions can have different bases. And I think it can be difficult for those having faith crises in one area to identify with those having faith crises in another area.

So, when Scott challenges the foundation of having a faith crisis for Mormonism’s past, I am not too bothered by it, since historical issues weren’t my issues. However, I think the weaknesses in Scott’s post is that his reasons for staying focus on “present” and “future” aspects — but he does not adequately address that the “present” and “future” aspects of Mormonism may be what is pushing people away!

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The Value of Happiness and Suffering

I have recently been engaged in a rather lengthy discussion on the subjectivity or objectivity of things like beauty. I don’t think I’m necessarily convinced of Agellius’s idea that beauty is objectivity (but the same is probably likewise true for him with my own position on subjectivity), but one thing that has been profoundly interesting to me is the sense that these disagreements go very far downward. When one of us tries to use an analogy as an attempt to explain, the other has a very different way of processing that analogy that is coherent with our worldviews, but utterly ineffective at reaching out to the other worldview.

So, for example, in trying to tease out a moment where he would perceive a difference between his subjective perception of morality and his view of what is actually objectively moral, I asked him if he could give an example of an instance where he personally found one thing moral while recognizing at the same time that he believed it to be objectively immoral. As an example, I gave:

On the moral front, it would be to search for an instance like “Abortion is objectively evil, but I subjectively feel that it’s permissible/not evil. I recognize I am wrong on this, and yet I still feel in favor of allowing abortions, being a Democrat, etc., etc.,” Can you think of anything like that?

To which Agellius responded:

I don’t think I have ever thought of morality in terms of how I felt about things. For me it has always been an external standard to which I either assented or didn’t. At times I have wondered at how seemingly cruel and difficult morality could be. For example in Dickens, it seems like he often has his heroes in situations where they voluntarily undergo extreme, prolonged suffering rather than take some seemingly simple, easy step that could alleviate their distress and provide them with an easy, comfortable life. But they won’t because of some principle or other which they would sooner die than violate. But this I think is what makes you love his heroes and get that lump in your throat when things work out for them in the end.

I wrote in response:

See, the way I would interpret this is that the heroes would voluntarily undergo extreme, prolonged suffering rather than take some seemingly simple, easy step because they *felt* that violating some principle or another would be personally, subjectively unconscionable to them. But one person’s “core principle” will not be the same as another, so one person’s sacrifices and suffering may not make sense to another.

But he still zigged instead of zagging:

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Contrasting Dan Wotherspoon and John Dehlin in 2 Quotes

My last post discussed the first two of a four-part episode series of interview between Dan Wotherspoon and John Dehlin co-published at Mormon Matters and Mormon Stories. In that last post, I focused on John’s interview of Dan, and in particular Dan’s closing comments.

I am now listening to Dan’s interview of John, and as many people on the various Facebook groups have noted, the perspectives are drastically different. I have seen several group posts asking: are you a Dan or a John? Just from reading the very different comments at Mormon Stories and Mormon Matters, the contrast in audiences is stark.

Anyway, the difference in perspectives — especially on perspectives on pursuing spirituality in flawed religious institutions — came out to me in something John said that heavily contrasted what Dan had said in his interview. In the second part of Dan’s interview of John, around 1 hour in, John says:

It’s not just these isolated positive emotional experiences that I had, that you have had, that others have had…it’s the fact that those are tied to an institution that brings vulnerable people — and I will say vulnerable, whether it’s investigators that are ignorant to many of these things, or young children that are brought up in it and then…get…you know…the young kid who masturbates and then is shamed or the gay person or whatever…they then get confronted with really difficult, sometimes toxic, and even life-ending situations because the book and the spiritual experiences are tied so tightly — before you’re able to become Dan Wotherspoon when you’re 40 with a Ph.D. and throw nuance at everything, you may have tried reparative therapy and committed suicide; you may have entered into a marriage where you then don’t believe anymore and the wife is taking the kids away; you may have, instead of pursuing a Ph.D. as a female, you may have married some guy and had five kids and now the future that you really would have chosen wasn’t really made available to you. And for me, the connection with the institution make full disclosure and the stakes of difficulty much more significant.

But if you can give full disclosure and blunt the negative impact of the institution, then yes, then at that point, it’s all about what good comes from your reading the text. How does it enlighten you? How does it expand you? But for me, I can’t turn a blind eye to those other things in this narcissistic rapture of that wonderful emotional experience I had as a teen…I’m not going to sit and marinate in the rapture of my spiritual thrill if it comes at the expense of all these other things; to me, they are all tied together.

(I’ll note that during the interview, Dan takes exception to John’s classifying the experience he had as “emotional”. As I have discussed elsewhere, Dan’s perspective seems to hinge on people having experiences that are “more real” than can be reduced to emotional/psychology/confirmation bias/etc., However, that’s not why I have picked this quote.)

Let’s contrast with a part of Dan’s comment from the earlier post:

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Losing Your Life to Preserve It: Hitting Rock Bottom for Faith

In several religious traditions there is this idea that there is a greater reality outside of ourselves that, if we are in harmony with it, will improve our lives. Typically, this will require some form of submission or discipline, as our default mode of living and existing will tend to prioritize more immediate needs or desires that — when placed in the context of the greater reality — should not actually be prioritized. It seems to me that different religions have very different ways of framing this, to the extent that they probably wouldn’t necessarily summarize it the way that I have, but this seems like a common thread to many religious traditions.

For Islam, this is written into the very name of the religion — peace is identified closely with submission and obedience to God’s laws. In an eastern tradition like Taoism, this might be effortless action, working with the flow of nature. In Buddhism, it is in cultivating the sense that what we perceive as immediate needs and desires are cravings that are the origin of suffering, and which are ignorant of the true reality. Buddhism and Hinduism have concepts of anatman — the “non-self” that we confuse and split into pieces and parts.

In Christianity, each of the Gospels (Matthew 10:39 and 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, John 12:25) note Jesus saying at some point:

Those who try to gain their own life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will gain it.

In other words, if you are so set on preserving life under your terms, with your rules, with your thoughts and beliefs and feelings, you’ll never succeed because that’s not how reality works. But if you submit to the Gospel, Jesus, grace, etc., then you will live the more abundant life that was always what the human life was meant to be in its perfection/wholeness.

In our 21st century world, as secular and rational as it is, belief and faith seem to be focused on mental assent of certain intellectual propositions…and that’s how I viewed these terms for a long time. Yet as I have read and engaged with a lot of thoughtful people of faith in the past several years, I have come to a different understanding of terms like “faith” and “belief” — these terms imply a sense of trust or loyalty…one has faith in someone or something because one is faithful to that someone or something. In a religious context, one trusts God, and as an extension, one may trust the religious institutions that speak and act on behalf of God in the mortal realm.

The question even after this shift remains: what causes one person to have faith and another not to?

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In Defense of Subjectivity: Sound, Color, Beauty

I am aware from the many conversations I’ve had where people have run circles around me that I am not a particularly stellar philosophical thinker, but there is something that I’ve thought for a while that I wanted to try to put onto paper.

Frequently, in conversations, people argue for the objective existence of certain qualities that I perceive/conceive of as subjective — but even more, I perceive and conceive of these things as not really making a lot of sense as being objective. To this extent, while I may be able to conceive of objective models for these things, I don’t see how those models or definitions are particularly helpful, and sometimes, I think they may be harmful to our discussion of these things.

Morality is usually the biggest ticket item for which this applies. People seem to really like the idea of an objective morality in a way that I just don’t get the appeal of. Believers in objective moral values (as well as objective frameworks for other concepts I will discuss as well) seem to also believe that if something does not have an objective basis, then it does not actually exist, or it must be an illusion. I think I want to get to morality in a future post, but since I see parallels in a few other concepts, I want to discuss those first.

I want to put onto paper my thoughts about the subjectivity of the concepts in the title — sound, color, beauty [and eventually morality] — as well as sketch out why, to a subjectivist, objectivity isn’t necessarily the end-all, be-all for “what exists” or “what matters, etc.,

In the title of this post, I’ve arranged three concepts in terms of what I find to be “easy” to “hard” (and in my previous paragraph, I have a fourth concept that is even more “difficult”) in terms of my perception of how likely someone might be persuaded by my explanation. Instead of addressing the “hardest” of these (morality), or even the second “hardest” (beauty, of which the following post from Agellius’s blog has really inspired this blog post as Agellius’s thoughts seem to be a good representation of the “objectivist’s” viewpoint), I want to start from the easier ones.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

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