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The desire to believe vs the disappointing anxiety of a false hope


I have gone around in several venues (even here, way back when) arguing against doxastic voluntarism — or, in layman’s terms, the idea that beliefs are consciously chosen. That’s just not the way I see things. Beliefs are a response to stimuli, evidence (although my understanding of evidence is far more subjective than others might like), experiences, etc., — and that response is not chosen. I recognize that what I can do is choose to place myself in certain situations and hope that I will have certain responses…but the response is never chosen. My favorite analogy for changing beliefs is that of gambling — if someone chooses to keep buying lottery tickets, he may one day win. But does choosing to buy lottery tickets mean choosing to win (in the event he does)?

I would say no.

Rejecting doxastic voluntarism really doesn’t mesh well in lots of theological contexts (like, say, Arminianism). But it also really doesn’t mesh well with Mormonism, which fetishizes free will and agency. Many Mormons just don’t know how to deal with the concept that beliefs may not be chosen.

I feel that one common move for Mormons to make is to talk about the difference between knowledge, believing on the words of others, desiring to believe, and hoping. This setup is fleshed out in a Mormon sense on D&C 46: 11-14 or so:

10 And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are, that are given unto the church.

11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.

12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.

13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

Even though people mean the discussion of gifts in an inclusive way, it seems to me that people read things pretty narrowly. I mean, just because it is given to “some” to know and to “others” to believe on their words…that doesn’t mean that “some” plus “others” equals everyone. And really, if you look at all of the gifts, it seems that not all gifts are created equally. If you don’t know or believe, then who cares if you have the gift of the word of knowledge? I mean, we know from the scriptures that to be learned is good, if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

But I digress. I wanted to get into the phenomenology of hope vs desiring to believe, and why I don’t think these are choices.

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The Un-Sorcerer


My favorite trope of all TVTropes is probably the Un-Sorcerer.

But first, a background. A few years back, I wrote a post about magic, fantasy, and atheism. There, I discussed the way that many people see fantasy as illustrating greater highlights to this worlds’ spiritual reality, whereas I do not see such. Instead, I wrote:

What struck me about this was that for me, I never really felt the magic of Mormonism. I never felt as if I was “living in a magical world of angels and miracles.”

I then wrote about SaGa Frontier 2 — and specifically, how in that game it discussed the issue of a character who utterly could not use magic in a world suffused with it. As I wrote:

When I played SaGa Frontier 2, I thought that one character was particularly interesting: Gustave XIII, the heir to the Finney family and heir to the throne, fails the family’s “Firebrand Ceremony” and is banished from the kingdom. But what is this ceremony and how does Gustave fail? The Firebrand Ceremony determines who is the worthy successor to the throne in a kind of sword-in-the-stone-esque manner: the candidate for the ceremony lifts the family weapon (the namesake Firebrand) and channels his “anima” (a force that actually permeates throughout all living beings and all of nature, but which humans can only manipulate through tools) so that the blade glows fire-red. If the candidate is burned by the blade, he fails.

…But if the candidate cannot even channel anima through the blade, and thus cannot make the blade glow, then he fails even more spectacularly.

To the horror of his father (the King), Gustave has utterly no control of anima.

Gustave is able to remain relevant in the game through his use of steel, which is dead to anima and therefore well-suited to those who cannot use anima like Gustave. The thing about steel is that in contrast to the materials that make anima-infused tools (e.g., stone, wood, fangs, things like that) is that it’s more physically powerful and more durable (oh yeah, in the game, you have to worry about using most weapons too much, because they will break…metal weapons have infinite durability). In a way, Gustave’s adoption of steel tools vs. the dominant non-steel tools is like the introduction of guns to a world that had previously fought with swords, spears, and bows. (Is it interesting that Mustadio, the character who first introduces guns to the game Final Fantasy Tactics, also is an avowed atheist?)

I tried comparing to other series’ concepts like Harry Potter’s squibs, but I found appreciable differences. I mean, in Harry Potter, there are squibs, but it would be difficult to imagine writing the series with Harry being a squib — his ability to be a protagonist is distinctly based on his ability to use magic.

But then I found out The Unsorcerer from TVTropes.

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(Not) Making Sense of Christianity


I know that it’s been a long time since my last post, and I’ve kept thinking to myself…I should write a post. But then I feel that it would just take so long to catch everyone up with what I’ve been thinking about. Since I’m lazy, I would probably do a really poor job of that, but I wouldn’t want to post something that I know to be a pretty lazy post. And so I’ve sat around without any new posts.

But I’ll try something out after all.

Recently, I’ve been commenting at LDS & Evangelical Conversations. I used to read the blog a long time ago, but at some point, I just stopped reading as regularly. It wasn’t for any particular reason…it just dropped off my list.

Recently, though, it got back on my list. What intrigued me was a series of posts by Jared C. Without linking to each post that caught my eye, I’ll just say that what intrigued me about Jared was that he is someone who was raised Mormon, who had been an atheist for some time, yet who appears to have come to a very different (…Protestant?) view of Christ. He has written a series of posts attempting to harmonize LDS concepts to traditional Christian concepts (for example, his post that the traditional Christian God is the Light of Christ in Mormonism). I don’t think this is really done to say that Mormons believe the same things as non-LDS Christians — since Jared’s project also about showing that there is something missing in how Mormons understand Jesus or how they understand sin — but I do think it is very much an ecumenical project.

That being said, what I’ve been interested is seeing if perhaps he or the other regulars at LDS Talk can make sense of Christianity for me.

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I Won an Award…and my latest post on Wheat & Tares


Last week, the voting for the Brodies Awards closed, and chanson posted the winners…check that link for them all, but my “Mormonism and Race in 2014” won in the “Best Religion-and-Race Discussion” category.

I’ll have to write about this more, but I’ve been thinking more and more — Mormonism very much is a part of me, regardless of what I believe or what I practice. How is this so? How can someone say they are still Mormon even though they don’t believe or they don’t practice? Even though they haven’t attended church for years?

I think it has to do with how Mormonism treats race.

As I’ve written before, there really isn’t a way to become “white and delightsome.” There is never a way to become respectable enough. Not that I’m saying I would want to do, but it’s not truly possible to do.

However, what is possible is it’s possible to become, say, an oreo: black on the outside, white on the inside. And what has caused this, for me?

Certainly, my upbringing. Since “acting white” basically can drill down to speaking normative English grammar, certainly one doesn’t have to be a black Mormon to be an oreo…but for me, that is an undeniable part of my upbringing. I won’t get too much further in this post, but as I’ve reflected, there are other things…other ways of thinking…that I recognize as playing into my racial experience that came about because of Mormonism…

But I’ll hold off on that…for now, I’ll switch hard to the next subject — I wrote a post on Wheat & Tares about Mormon Stories, Open Stories Foundation, and non-profits.

Remembering great things from the Mormon interwebs from 2014


Since it’s the beginning of a new year, it’s time to think about our favorite stuff from last year — and all of the various Mormon blogs and groups are hosting their annual contests. Some have already finished (like Main Street Plaza’s “X” Mormon of the Year contest or Times & Seasons Mormon of the Year no-contest), but some are still ongoing, like Main Street Plaza’s Brodies and Wheat & Tares Wheaties…and more importantly, a lot of things that I’ve been involved with (or that I personally have appreciated) have been nominated for stuff!

I will now proceed to shamelessly tell you who I think y’all should vote for: Read more…

Progressive Mormon Tropes: Religions as Citizenship


As with the exmormon trope I discussed in the last post, I have seen a trope from liberal or progressive Mormons (and some pastoral apologists) more and more often. The setup for this trope will usually be the liberal Mormon arguing for why he or she stays in the church. A critic of the church will counter that the church has a variety of moral failings, and thus, remaining as part of the church is complicity with those moral failings. The trope goes something like this (this is an actual quotation of someone using this argument in an online discussion, so I’m not making this up):

One of the things I didn’t get to explore in the post is the fact that this problem of “myth” vs. “reality” is not just a Mormon problem. It’s a human problem.

We are constantly being faced with the reality that things aren’t always what we thought they were. And when that happens, we are faced with a few options: retrench into literalism, abandon our former beliefs completely, or find a middle way that lets go of some (most) of the literalism but still finds value in the symbols.

I think America is a good example. There are plenty of people disgusted by the fact that our country conducted a vast torture program under the banner of “freedom,” which is a value as Americans that we hold dear. We were lied to by our leaders. They manipulated us, and they manipulated the system in order to get the result they wanted.

And yet, I’m not aware of many Americans who are using this as a reason to renounce their citizenship and move to another country. Because we have the ability (in reality, I think it’s more of a human need) to set aside pure, literalistic interpretations of things and “break the myth” of the thing we once valued. It allows us to keep what we treasure while discarding what is unpalatable for us.

As with before, I don’t know where this trope originated, but it also doesn’t make sense to me.  Read more…

Exmormon Tropes: Nothing uniquely good


For some time now, I’ve seen a recurring trope from many disaffected Mormons. In any discussion about Mormonism that shifts from the discussion of factual accuracy to a discussion of moral good, utility, or practical value (which seems to happen more often because of the shift to pastoral apologetics), someone inevitably will come in and point out that whatever good Mormonism has doesn’t count because it’s not unique.

I’ve seen this often, but I haven’t thought to catalog the mentions. However, here are a couple of statements I’ve seen from recent discussions (emphasis added by me):

…Now if you want to make an argument that there are important spiritual concepts, I will not argue (I will say though that there is nothing original in even the spiritual themes). However I must insist that you quit claiming things that are just not true. It is dishonest to make an argument “The BoM has not been scientifically disproven”.

Or this:

1. If it works for you, great, I would hope however you don’t harm others by supporting Mormonism.

2. Mormons do not have a monopoly on truth. The same truths, even greater truths in many areas, can be gained elsewhere.

3. Mormonism, in my opinion, still promotes sexism, homophobia, anti-intellectualism, anti-feminism, critical thinking, being judgmental, anti-science, cultural and personal elitism, prosperity gospel, excusing or justifying racism, and a host of other problems contributing to the social pain and problems we see in the world today.

Therefore, for me, I see the value in Mormonism as not being unique, and there are too many problems with it for me to feel compelled to be a part of it.

But if it works for you, great.

I don’t know where this trope originated, but I recall someone (maybe it was Mormon Expression’s John Larsen?) stating it most pithily in this way (sorry for the paraphrase): everything good about Mormonism is not unique, and everything unique about Mormonism is not good.

This trope doesn’t make sense to me, though.

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Lying for the Lego Lord Business


In case you haven’t read my earlier posts on pastoral apologetics, here’s another chance to see it in action. Over at Rational Faiths, James Patterson has written an article on his realization and subsequent conclusion that Mormonism may be made up…but it’s still true. As he alludes in his post, he had been undergoing a faith crisis for some time, primarily due to LDS.org’s essay on Race and the Priesthood. But what was it that got him out of the crisis? Well, per him, it was the Lego Movie.

Definitely check out his post for more details, since I’m not going to quote everything line-for-line.

I for one am happy that James is at a good place with respect to the church. In some ways, I regret writing each of these articles, because, by and far, the pastoral apologists are the good ones. (Not saying that all non-pastoral apologists aren’t good, but there are definitely worse positions to take.) I am not prima facie opposed to to pastoral apologetics. In fact, as I have said before, I think that if more people had that approach — and if it were supported institutionally, Mormonism would probably be a lot better for a lot of people.

My problem, as I have stated before numerous times, is that I don’t think a lot of Mormons have this approach, and I don’t think it is institutionally supported, so I don’t think a lot of people can make pastoral apologetics work. And I don’t think that pastoral apologists fully appreciate the precariousness or the privilege of the situation they are in when and if they can make it work.

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Mormonism and race in 2014


I was having a conversation with a friend about a few lines from my previous post. (This conversation was in a relatively private location, so I’ll try to keep things anonymous). From my earlier post, I had written:

I think that if Mormons were to candidly have racial conversations, that sort of thinking would possibly come out — that is, if or when people could even admit that there is a racial dimension (rather than merely a “family” dimension). The basic system probably wouldn’t be criticized as unjust.

My friend wanted me to elaborate on what the “basic system” was.

I wrote:

The “basic system” is that criminal justice, meritocracy, etc., are basically “fair” and “accurate” systems. The basic system is that people get where they are, etc., primarily through their own actions.

As of right now, on issues like race (but also orientation, I think), I think a lot of Mormons don’t even recognize that there are some non-chosen aspects in play (e.g., race, orientation). But I think that even if Mormons were to say, “OK, being gay isn’t chosen, and it really does play differently in our social and theological system”…or, on race, “OK, being black isn’t chosen, and it really does play differently in our social system”, they probably wouldn’t say, “Well, our social system needs to be changed.” Rather, they would say, “black people need to be more respectable.” (Or, in the gay example, gay people need to be celibate.)

In 2014, most people wouldn’t say that a righteous black person will become white in the afterlife. But we do commonly see comments about LGBT people being straight, correct gender, having opportunity to marry, etc., in the afterlife, so, I’m not sure if Mormon theology actually really can cope with blackness except as something to be overcome.

The friend asked me if, within a Mormon context, the only way to reframe the underlying assumption (that blackness is to be overcome) would be through revelation.

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Mormonism and respectability politics


Over several past posts, I’ve come to increasingly reconcile and view my upbringing in the Mormon church as an upfront course in black respectability politics. I can contrast the descriptions and rationalizations and excuses made in recent police-involved shootings with the values that my parents and my church have taught me and come up with a few points of difference. I mostly share these points of difference in snark, in jest, in sarcasm (because I am not unaware of the injustices), but maybe a part of me shares these points of difference out of a hope that maybe one can be “respectable” enough. For example:

  1. Since I, as a Mormon, was taught to follow the Word of Wisdom, I would have no need of cigarillos. No cigarillos, and I’m out of that situation.
  2. Since I, as a Mormon, was taught to follow the Word of Wisdom, I would, again, have no need of loosies.

These are straightforward points of difference. But of course, I could synthesize specific implementations from generic principles. For example:

  1. Since I, as a Mormon, was taught to “avoid even the appearance of evil,” I would make sure to dress in ways that would not even seem to be threatening.
  2. Since I, as a Mormon, was taught to “avoid even the appearance of evil,” I would not carry objects in public that would seem to be weapons (regardless of my rights to do so, regardless of whether my state/city is open carry, etc.,)

The education in black respectability is something that I think Mormonism can and does teach well to black members of the church. Unfortunately, as story upon story has come out (and rationalization upon rationalization) has come out, I have realized a few things…about black respectability and about Mormonism.

Firstly, one cannot ever be respectable enough. There will always be someone arguing that the dead guy wasn’t sufficiently respectable. If the police suspected me of having a gun, then someone will argue that “I should have put the gun down, thrown it away from me.” If I did that, then someone else would argue that “I should not have reached for the gun in the first place.”

But I think the lessons about Mormonism (which I have strewn part and piecemeal through other posts on the subject) are more relevant to this blog:

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