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The irrelevance of religion to me


As a reprobate, a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction, someone insensate of the music of the spheres, unable to act or be acted upon in matters of the spiritual realm, or, for my fellow obscure video game aficionados and TVTropers: SaGa Frontier 2 “steel user”, Final Fantasy Tactics 0 faith, TVTropes page “anti-magic”…here is my main conundrum with certain kinds of religion or a certain way or religious thinking…

And I understand that because of all of the above, many of my conservative religious friends will read the below and say, “Andrew, you are missing the point!” and that’s part of this message:

Religion is *useless* to me to the extent that it insists upon a vision of perfection or a vision of the ideal that is not applicable to me.

(oh yeah, this is a post about LGBT rejection by conservative religious traditions, but it could apply to so much more.)

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Gift giving and receiving


These days I feel like religion is too hard and complex and fraught. If I want to talk about “God’s unconditional love” (mainly because I feel like Latter-day Saints, in their efforts to differentiate themselves from what they believe is the rest of Christianity, seem to be doubling down on conditional love in a way I don’t think makes sense) or “grace” and “works” then things get so caught up with so much baggage and the conversation goes nowhere.

So, instead, I want to simplify things down to terms I can grasp and discuss in a completely secular way.

What are the implications of a gift?





As I see it, a gift is freely given. You can’t “earn” a gift. You can’t “deserve” a gift. It’s freely given, without preconditions. This highlights the graciousness of the gift giver.

Now, given all of that, it may also seem like the gift comes with no conditions, And yet…it feels like the gift prompts a particular response. Like, even if there is nothing a recipient might do to “earn” a gift, we can acknowledge that there are grateful and ungrateful ways to receive a gift. If someone received a gift and then complained, “This isn’t what I wanted,” we might acknowledge that as some sort of faux pas. Or if someone received a gift and ignored it, that would register for many of us as a similar kind of “missing the mark”. Certainly, on the extremes, throwing a gift back into the gift giver’s face is something many of us would agree is…not…the best response.

At the same time, can’t everyone resonate with the experience of receiving a gift that they really didn’t want or need??? Can some ingratitude be excused???

I suggest this complicates things — it suggests that even gift givers might need to have something in order to know what gifts are best for the recipient?

(That being said, there’s a difference between what people might want and what people might need, and all of this conversation doesn’t change the fact that gifts are not “earned” or “deserved”, but are freely given.)

Can we acknowledge that even thought a gift may be freely given, it may in some cases not be free to receive? For example — and some of you may already know where this analogy goes, but I’m still trying to keep this purely secular — if someone gives me free piano lessons, then for me to receive that, I have to actually commit to practicing the piano. And that may be difficult and time-consuming, even if the financial price is already paid for. They can’t just “gift” me piano virtuosity (which might be the ultimate goal and desire). There is still work and effort required.

And yet, the gift was given freely. The work that signals that I have accepted the gift in good graciousness cannot be and should not be confused with me having earned the gift, or me “deserving” what I was given.

These are the things I keep thinking about. Much more important to me these days than what is the correct ordering of commandments or what is a mortal sin or how many angels can dance on a pin, I wonder about how much work I need to be a better gift recipient and a more thoughtful gift giver.

The difference between a disenchanted and an unenchanted world


I have occasionally written that for me and my Mormonism, I didn’t have a faith crisis as so many of my exmormon brethren have had, so much as a lack of faith crisis. It was a crisis not of once having faith, and then losing it…but a crisis of having never had faith, and then coming to realize that’s not how most people experience the world. In a faith that insisted that anyone who was serious enough could just choose to believe.

I find myself fascinated by those who document a life infused richly with spirituality and communication with God or gods. I find myself heartbroken for those who document the end of such life, the often involuntary cessation of their spirituality, the silencing of the communication. I have seen some of my friends ask for prayers that they might one day re-experience the presence of God. I’m not much for prayers, but I genuinely send some thoughts their way as best I can.

It is fascinating and heartbreaking to me because I am utterly unfamiliar with it. It is not my story.

I know only in an intellectual sense that people who have had experiences that they once attributed to God can come to reclassify those experiences, or mourn the loss thereof.

But for me, the heavens have always been closed.

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Sinless Sacrifice and Perfect Protests


I am still somewhat surprised by the recent prominence of #BlackLivesMatter and related sentiments on social media, but I am unsure if my surprise is unjustified cynicism, if the apparent prominence is just the result of me being thoroughly enmeshed in an algorithmic bubble, or if the related protest and riot actions across many cities in the country are just the spillover result of pandemic isolation-related restlessness.

It’s come so far that I’m seeing people who normally would never say much of anything now come forward and encourage others to speak out. I am heartened to see people from a broad range of interests (not just the typical lefty politics realms) connecting those interests to the questions of racial equity. More and more, I’m seeing people state that silence on this issue is no longer an acceptable “neutral” position. More and more, I wonder how my own relative silence on social media will be taken?

But…

I still see and hear the voices of opposition. My nature is to constantly, voraciously collect and consume data that subverts a clean, easy narrative (even if it’s hard to frustrate my own clean, easy narratives.) This holds me back in part, because I fear what will come back at me if I say anything (the scales only tip in favor of me pressing publish on this post because I know that very few people even read this blog any more). I fear that I don’t have the resolve (or strength?) to fight if the voices of opposition speak out against me, because this isn’t some academic question to me.

I’ve seen this story before. Where people will insist that the cause is not worth supporting because its victims aren’t perfect angels, and its adherents aren’t peaceful protesters. Whether it be a criminal allegation, failure to provide proper deference to police, the violence of protests or riots or looting, I am well aware of those who will say: it’s just people reaping what they sowed.

And it’s made me think of Christianity and Jesus.

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An overly keen sense of injustice or a tendency to mysticism


There’s a description of a character in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice that continues to stick in my mind…I had to look it up just now:

I had known Awer House for a long time, had carried its young lieutenants, known them as captains of other ships. Granted, no Awer suited for military serviced exhibited her house’s tendencies to their utmost extent. An overly keen sense of injustice or a tendency to mysticism didn’t mesh well with annexations. Nor with wealth and rank — any Awer’s moral outrage inevitably smelled slightly of hypocrisy, considering the comforts and privileges such an ancient house enjoyed, and while some injustices were unignorably obvious to them, some others they never saw.

In any event, Lieutenant Skaaiat’s sardonic practicality wasn’t foreign to her house. It was only a milder, more livable version of Awer’s tendency to moral outrage.”

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie. chapter 14.

and another quote from another character about the same (see the difference in sentiment!)

“All the Awers *seem* polite enough…They *seem* totally normal at first…but then they go having visions, or deciding something’s wrong with the universe and they have to fix it. Or both at once. They’re all insane.”

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie, chapter 19

I think a lot about this. About the description of this character (and indeed, her family) as being prone to moral outrage or prone to mysticism or both. Because those aren’t always together.

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The INFP’s Introverted Feeling & Enneagram 4


Over the past several weeks (months), I’ve been (not so) casually trying to figure myself out. This has involved going through some old and well-known personality assessment tools like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (albeit with a different lens now), as well as looking through some new (or rather, less familiar?) frameworks like the Enneagram.

I am aware that MBTI isn’t necessarily psychologically sound. However, to me, I have always chafed at the critique that the MBTI suffers from the Forer Effect — when I read about different descriptions and explanations, I can usually strongly intuit that some descriptors fit and some don’t.

Of course, there is also the gap of things I don’t understand how to process yet.

Going through the Enneagram has caused me to revisit MBTI, and to revisit my own understandings of myself.

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Music and writing: motivations intrinsic and extrinsic


Over the past few weeks I have been thinking about the complicated relationship to my YouTube channel and my music. On the one hand, I chafe against the suggestions of YouTube advice coaches to craft with a value proposition for a target audience in mind — I want to cover the music that I want to cover, in the style I want to cover, without really thinking about what would be most palatable or what would appeal to the most people.

…on the other hand, I am not playing for myself. So, I struggle with the poor performance of covers that in all honesty I should have realized wouldn’t perform that well with “the algorithm,” or with a general audience.

So, there I am stuck, wondering if I actually enjoy music at all.

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Instinct, Practice, Grace, Works


As an atheist, I’ve thought a lot about trying to analogize religious concepts into an accessible secular schema. I think my Sunstone presentation on Grace, Works, Devotion and Video Games ended up being a good starting point in this vein. (You can purchase the session audio now…it’s session 137, but realistically, I’ll probably do a more concise cover story on my YouTube channel as soon as I get around to arranging a music cover.)

The concepts I’ve been thinking of are instinct/talent and practice/discipline. I analogize these concepts to religious concepts like grace and works. Instinct or talent is an unearned gift — there’s nothing a person does to get whatever set of talents and instincts they have. At the same time, talent must be activated, and this is through practice.

To me, this illustrates the proper relationship of grace and works. You need the works. If you have talent and do nothing with it, then you won’t get anywhere…

And yet…relying solely on works misses the mark. Even if practice makes perfect, practice is enabled or force multiplied by talent. If I have talent, then even with a little practice I will rapidly increase. If I have little talent, then all the practice in the world may result in little progress.

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Scattered post-Sunstone thoughts on forgiveness and activism


There were a few moments when Jonathan Streeter’s hoax apology for LDS racism was discussed.

There were several people who noted, either explicitly or implicitly, that Jonathan Streeter is persona non grata to them. There was a bit of discussion about whether Christians (even progressive Mormon Christians) are even theologically allowed to have personae non gratae, or whether theology compels them to always be willing to forgive, even when immense emotional turmoil has occurred.

But during one conversation, I said wryly that as a non-religious atheist, I was not beholden to the Christian and Mormon rules, and this included those admonitions on forgiveness.

But still, I was struck by our modern concept of “Cancel culture,” which has evolved from its predecessor “call-out culture.” There’s something to be said that in an increasingly post-Christian landscape, one of the Christian concepts we are jettisoning is forgiveness.

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Grace, Works, and Algorithms


I have a strange fascination with the religious concept of grace, mainly because it is so central to Christian denominations, yet so opaque to me. I understand it is a core of the disagreement between the various Christian traditions (Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and even less well regarded traditions like Mormonism.) I don’t think my inability to understand is solely due to a Mormon upbringing, because, to be fair, I don’t even fully grok the Mormon understanding. When I ponder it, it all evaporates in a stupor of thought.

This fascination has led me to try to explore it in irreverent analogies and metaphors to things that I understand slightly better. At Sunstone, I will talk about grace, works, and devotion from the perspective of video games.

Will I get it? Will I have any insight? Hah. Probably not. These presentations are gratuitous.

Today, I was thinking about grace, works, and social media success driven by algorithms.

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