COVID, Motorcycles, Mormonism and Rebellion

Our unnecessary and absurd over-reaction to COVID had a dramatic effect on me. In the short term this effect is likely negative, time will tell what the long term effect will be.

Masks became the symbol of ignorance and blind obedience to illegitimate authority and support for tyranny. Several studies proved that these mask offer no significant benefit in protection from virus spread, and mostly serve as a bacteria trap we were forced to wear every day, all day, for months. I still hate them and what they represent to me.

I desperately wanted to trade this symbol of support for oppressive tyranny for a symbol of freedom. And I decided that for me, few things represent freedom like a motorcycle. I eventually bought a Harley Davidson Sportster, and it was exactly what I felt that I needed. It was loud, obnoxious, and less safe than other forms of transportation. And the idea that some would feel I had no business riding such a thing was part of the point.

At first I rode cautiously, as I was quite awkward on the thing. But after a couple of months I was riding with what might be called a “screw you” attitude. Not that I was reckless or anything, but I stopped caring about what others thought. If my neighbors don’t like it, tough. I like the style, I like the sound, I like the feeling, and I don’t care if you don’t. And if you say “stay safe”, I will at least think “stay free”.

As I often do, I asked myself what this has to do with the restored gospel, if anything. And I reflected on the idea that Mormonism (I know we are supposed to say Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is in some ways a rebellious movement. In a way it says “screw you” to Catholics and Protestants. Not is an internationally offensive way, but in a way that says your authority is not legitimate, and your creeds are abominable. We will not follow them, but will follow our own revelations and consciences. And if you don’t like it, then we will allow you to worship as you please, and expect the same from you.

There may be some who feel that the church is all about obedience and conformity, but I feel this is a misunderstanding. Even membership in the church is voluntary, as is believing and following any of its teachings. I am an active member of it because I sincerely believe in it, not because I am forced to be. Similarly, I wear a helmet when riding my motorcycle, not because Ohio forces me to (they do not) but because it seems like a good idea, and I am glad that the state allows me to make such decisions. I like being able to do otherwise if I were to choose so.

I am an individual, an American, and a Mormon. And without the ability to rebel in meaningful ways, none of these options would be available, nor meaningful. Stay free.

What Will Combined MP Quorums Mean?

In a shocking announcement during the Priesthood Session of the 2018 March/April General Conference, President Nelson announced that there would no longer be High Priest Groups and Elder’s Quorums in wards.  The two groups would be combined into one, and be called the Elder’s Quorum.  I am both surprised and delighted about this, and I would like to share what I feel will be the benefits to this change.

My first thought is that this will be a nice help to small and medium-sized wards throughout the church.  Many smaller wards struggle to staff all the organizations, and with this move, such wards will have three or so active Melchizedek Priesthood holders available to serve in other callings.

My second thought, is that this really will bring more unity into wards.  There is often a significant separation between the two groups, with negative effects.  Often these groups rarely, if ever, interacted.  And there are likely a handful of men who feel in-between, with some older Elders opting to attend the High Priest Group in spite of being only an Elder, and others in the same situation sticking with the Elder’s Quorum.  Often these good men will wonder what is wrong with them, and why the stake does not care enough about them to just make them a High Priest.  Others may not wish to be ordained a High Priest just because they happen to be getting older.  My hope is that such unnecessary disunity will instantly go away when all men in the ward are part of the same quorum.

With this change, comes the discontinuing of a Priesthood Executive Committee meeting.  This change brings more importance I believe to the Ward Council meetings.  So another thought I have is that this brings something of a ‘leveling’ in the ward.  It is hard for me to articulate now, but with just one MP quorum, and no PEC, it seems that there is less of a hierarchy at the ward level.

I feel that all of the above are in the direction of goodness.  Please feel free to share any impressions that you have on this historic change.  For those interested, I have written similarly on the Elder/High Priest transition, and on the Elder/High Priest distinction.  In both cases I feel that I was ahead of the curve.

How Can Anyone Remain a Mormon in the Face of All the “Facts”?

One of the things that you will see sometimes in anti-Mormon forums is what appears to be a sincere question: ‘How can anyone remain a Mormon in the face of all the facts?’  As a Mormon myself, I would like to address this.

First of all, many of the “facts” they think that they have are not facts at all.  They are more claims than facts.  Even if they have sources for their claims, that does not make them facts.  Claims might be facts, but they might not be.  Facts can be hard to come by on things like religious beliefs, politics, and even history.  Most claims can not be proven to be facts if sufficient rigor is applied.

Secondly, many facts are partial facts.  They do not tell the whole story.  At times, partial facts can produce a distorted view of reality on their own.  Critics are often very good at presenting partial facts in such a way that they present a very negative view of their opposition, and this will often be intentional.  Taking partial facts, deliberately presenting them in the worst possible way, and intentionally twisting them to give a distorted view, is one of the things that anti-Mormons do very well.  Once you see this, it takes most of the bite out of their attacks.

Lastly, one can have a collection of facts and still come to the wrong conclusion.  I would suggest that good conclusions are even more important than good facts.  It does not take much imagination to consider opponents in religion or politics doing this to each other.  Many arguments between pro and anti-Mormons will focus on conclusions rather than facts.

So to summarize, much of what you will find on anti-Mormon forums are claims rather than facts, partial facts used in negative ways, and erroneous conclusions based on some facts.

For me, the real question is why would anyone leave Mormonism, and all of its potential benefits, based on the claims, partial facts, and suspect conclusions that come from anti-Mormons?

About That Taylor Christensen Video

There is a video making the Mormon facebook circuit by Taylor Christensen.  He starts out by telling us that “this is not an anti-Mormon video”.  Here is a tip:  when someone has to explain right off the top that what they are spreading is not anti-Mormonism one thing is certain – it is an anti-Mormon video and they know it.

Taylor claims to have the noble intension of promoting kindness, patience and empathy for those who have left the church.  I have no disagreement with this, but I do feel that this is not anything that really needs saying.  On the whole, Mormons are the nicest and kindest people I know.  But this goal seems to be a distraction from the results of his video – which is to make the church and it’s members look bad.

If I were to go about making an anti-Mormon video, here is what I would do.  I would find a young, good-looking, clean cut guy who could pass as a missionary or a BYU student.  I would have them pose as an active member of the church.  I would have them claim that all of the criticisms of Mormonism are completely true, and that the whole church was a fraud and a pack of lies from the very beginning.  But I would then have them say that they are staying in the church out or childish, blind faith in spite of it all.  If any of this sounds familiar, then you have likely seen Taylor’s video.

One example of the criticisms Taylor brings up is Book of Mormon plagiarism.  Really?  Such claims as the Spaulding manuscript and View of the Hebrews have been to thoroughly and so well explained that many of the harshest critics do not bring it up anymore.  Yet, Taylor brings it up in his ‘not an anti-Mormon video’ while going above and beyond what even the harshest critics bother with.

Look, by all means be kind and patient with any family or friends who leave the church, but there is no need to just shrug our shoulders over the same old criticisms at all.  At least see this video for what it is – an effort to make the church look like a fraud, and it’s members look like childish dupes.

The New York Times Thomas Monson Obituary and Fake News

The president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently died, and the obituary published in the New York Times focused a lot of attention on controversies over same-sex marriage and ordaining women.  This obituary provides an unfortunate, yet clear example, of what goes through my head when I consider the term fake news.

The obituary is not fake in terms of being just a pack of lies.  I do not dispute that these controversies happened during Monson’s term.  The obituary is fake in that it is in disguise.  What it is, is political activism masquerading as journalism.

It would have been quite easy to publish a straight-forward, neutral obituary.  Instead, they used the opportunity of the death of a beloved religious leader to forward their political agenda.  Thus, if you were expecting objective and unbiased media coverage, you are getting something that is fake.

I don’t really need the New York Times, or other media sources, to tell me what to believe, or how to behave.  I have chosen to follow who I believe to be prophets and apostles for that.  I lost a prophet recently, but in short order, another one will be called.  And I can tell you this much, I will be paying much more attention to him, than I will the New York Times.

Perfect College Football Playoff System: 2017 Version

Several years ago I published to the world the perfect college football playoff system.  Since that time the NCAA had been taking baby steps in this direction, but it seems that every year there are additional evidence that shows why this system is needed.  This past year is no exception.

As far as the little guys who deserve a better shot, this year the example is Central Florida.  They went undefeated this season with impressive wins over Maryland, and Memphis (twice!).  They finished ranked #10, but will have no chance at a national championship by definition.  This is inexcusable.

This year there is even a case for one of the most traditionally powerful programs in the country – Ohio State.  In spite of winning the Big 10 conference, they will be on the outside looking in, while Alabama – who did not even qualify for the SEC championship game – will get their shot based on reputation mostly.

Now if the NCAA would have listened to me, all this would simply go away, and things could be decided on the field.  To review the basics of my system:  All conference champs get in (10 teams), and top 6 ranked teams after champions are removed also get in.  Teams are seeded 1-16, with first round matchups following a 1 vs 16, 2 vs 15 format.  Higher rated teams will host the first round game.  A committee will make matchups after that at neutral sites.  This is the perfect system.  So for this year –

Troy vs. Clemson
Toledo vs. Oklahoma
Florida Atl vs. Georgia
Boise St. vs. Alabama
Washington vs. Ohio St
Miami vs Wisconsin
UCF vs. Auburn
Penn St. vs USC

So as you can see, the snubs of Ohio St. and Central Florida are taken care of, like you would expect from a perfect system.  And with some interest, UCF would play Auburn, which is what I believe their actual bowl game this year.

This system has addressed every controversy that has come up, and there really cannot be a credible complaint from any team left out.  This system should be implemented immediately.

Philosophy, Science and Religion: The Divine Hiddenness Argument

The fourth week of the Coursera course on Philosophy, Science and Religion focuses on the Divine Hiddenness Argument as presented by the man who developed the argument, John Schellenberg.  There are several ways to present this argument, but my simple restatement of this argument would be:

P1 – If God exists He would be perfectly loving.
P2 – A perfectly loving being would have an open relationship with mankind.
P3 – There are people who, through no fault of their own, do not have an open relationship with God.

C1:  God does not exist.

The discussion about this argument focused on whether or not there really are these non-resistant non-believers, and on if there were adequate reasons for God to be hidden.  For me, these challenges to the argument miss what should be the main objection – and that is, who is John Schellenberg (and those who agree with him) and what does he know about perfect love?  I might state my objection in the following arguments:

P1 – John Schellenberg thinks he knows what perfect love is
P2 – God does not meet John Schellenberg’s expectations.

C1 – God does not exist

This may seem a bit personal and crude, but I hope it gets the point across.  So many arguments against God end up not being arguments against any God, but arguments against certain expectations and definitions about God.  This argument is no exception.

Mormonism’s contributions of an eternal pre-mortal existance, and the idea of mortal life as a temporary time of testing and development, with merit based degrees of glory in the afterlife, provide helpful perspective when God seems to be hidden.

Philosophy, Science and Religion: Friendly Disagreement, Testimonial Knowledge, and the Importance of Fellowship

The third week of the Coursera course on Philosophy, Science and Religion addresses disagreement and friendly Atheism/Theism.  Professor John Greco lectures on a pattern of disagreement that we see far to often in our modern society.  He does this by presenting an example of the flawed atheist.

In this example the believer feels that the evidence for the existence of God is everywhere.  Everyone can witness this evidence, including the atheist.  Therefore, there must be some intellectual or moral flaw in the atheist.

One of the problems with this example is that it can be turned around.  You see, the atheist feels that the evidence for the non-existence of God is everywhere.  Everyone can witness this evidence, including the believer.  Therefore, there must be some intellectual or moral flaw in the believer.  Sound like a familiar pattern?

Professor Greco spends quite a bit of time on testimonial information as a source for knowledge, and as a path of understanding to a more civil and friendly discourse.  Greco rightly points out that a significant portion of our knowledge has come to us from testimonial sources.  Much of what we know, we know because someone has told us, or because we read it in a book.  This is true, regardless of the topic.  Most of us would not want to simply give up all the knowledge that we have gained from testimonial information – it is vitally important to us all.

When we receive some testimonial information, we have a decision to make – whether to accept this information as true, and count it as knowledge or not.  But what criteria should we use?

One very important criteria all of us use is to consider the source of the information.  We all have certain groups that we are part of, and other groups that we are not part of.  Groups we are part of might include family, friends, coworkers, fellow believers, political parties, countries, and so forth.  From these groups we often have fairly low or easy standards information must pass to be accepted as truth and count as knowledge.  And groups that we are not part of – strangers, the other political party, atheists, other countries, etc., we will tend to have much higher and difficult standards that we will apply to accept their information as truth and count it as knowledge.

This understanding can give a dose of humility regarding our own grasp of knowledge, and can give us another option (rather than intellectual and moral flaws) when evaluating others’ beliefs.

This also adds some value to what we might call fellowship in some form of conversion process.  If we wish to convince someone of our point of view, perhaps one of the most effective ways is to help them feel included in our group.  This can remove unnecessary barriers to accepting our testimonial information as truth and counting it as knowledge.  I had never thought of social conversion in quite this way before.

Philosophy, Science and Religion: The Conflict Between Science and Religion

In the second week of the Coursera course on Philosophy, Science and Religion, professor John Evans gives a series of lectures on the conflict between science and religion.  He organizes his lectures based on three types of conflict – systematic, propositional, and moral.


Regarding systematic conflict, Dr. Evans rightly points out that at least in western cultures, there really is no significant systematic conflict between science and religion.  If this were the case, there would be a significant amount of people who reject science all together, and would not trust nor rely on anything that results from the scientific community.  But even the most fundamentalist of religious believers accept the vast majority of the products of science at face value.  And it is only a relatively small list of specific theories of science that religious believers reject or are skeptical of.   This brings us to the next type of conflict.


Propositional conflict would be conflict that is on a case-by-case basis and depends on just what is being claimed by science.  Thus religious believers for the most part are not blindly dismissing the claims of science all together, but only those claims that they are in specific conflict with.  The nature of this conflict will usually involve the interpretations of religious texts like the Bible, pitted against the conclusions drawn from scientific data.  And of course, both sides can have their own spin on the sources.  But Dr. Evans seems to feel that the most significant nature of the conflict between science and religion is moral in character.


The moral conflict also seems to me to be at the heart of much of the conflict between science and religion.  Where science may be concerned more with what we can do, religion is more concerned with what we should do.  And religious believers will often be concerned with the moral consequences of the claims of science.  One illustration given was called ‘The Evolution Tree’ by Elmendorf shown below:


I think this illustration is helpful in understanding the nature, and likely the motivation, of the religious conflict from the perspective of some believers on the topic of evolution.  The objection here has nothing to do with any sort of data or findings of science, but that the theory itself will lead too all sorts of societal ills including things like abortion, racism, and genetic engineering.  Religion desires to keep its’ place in society to help protect it from these negative consequences, and thus will not want to give up the contest easily.  And this is why the moral conflict is likely the most fundamental conflict between science and religion.


Philosophy, Science and Religion: The Mind and The Religious Experience

I am taking an online course through Coursera on Philosophy, Science and Religion.  In the first week, Dr. Sara Lane Richie gives a series of lectures on religious belief and embodiment, with a focus on recent studies in cognitive science.  This flows remarkable well, I think, from my previous post on Testimony and the Spiritual Experience.

In these lectures, Dr. Richie reviews studies which show that religious experiences are accompanied by repeatable and measurable brain activity in the subject.  And poses the question as to whether these studies disprove the claim of a spiritual experience.

While many atheists will likely claim that such studies do debunk claims of spiritual experiences, Dr. Richie rightly concludes that such studies merely show a correlation between brain activity and spiritual experiences, and do nothing to reveal the cause of such experiences.  Why shouldn’t spiritual experiences be accompanied by brain activity?  Would it not be even more surprising if there were no unique brain activity at all during such experiences?

And as a result, cognitive science will likely never be able to provide any insight into the source of the religious experience, nor be able to determine if spiritual experiences are “real”.


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