The Worth of a Life

If you are religious, then you likely believe that a soul continues to live for eternity. Whether it’s heaven and hell, reincarnation, or the energy of the universe, you believe that life… never really ends. But what if you’re wrong? What if, when someone dies, that really is the end? How easy it is for a light to be snuffed out. There one moment, and the next… poof. Gone.

I don’t think believers really understand what it means to grieve as an atheist. I don’t think they understand how much it hurts. I don’t think they understand the horror in response to acts of violence.

How can they understand?

They think there is no end.

Well, that’s all well and fine, for you. But there is no evidence that a soul even exists. There is no evidence that anything continues on after death. There is no evidence of any of it. If there were, you wouldn’t need faith. All you have is your belief.

If that belief gives you comfort, fine. If that belief helps you cope, fine. But atheists don’t share your belief, and it is no comfort to be told that you are praying for the welfare of a soul that likely doesn’t even exist. Someone DIED. They’re gone. They’re not coming back. Their life ENDED.

They will no longer experience the joys and pains of this world. They will no longer experience love. All those life plans cut short. No more college. No more marriage. No more family. No more children. No more career struggles. No more parties. No more protests. No more movies. No more art. No more stories. No more traveling. No more… no more… No. More… life…

To take a life, to pull the plug on someone’s journey, is to take away something that can NEVER be returned. And no amount of praying can make that better. No amount of hope. No amount of faith. Because they’re GONE.

There is no comfort, no solace, to those who mourn such loss.

And so, as you find comfort in your beliefs, I hope you also take some time to mourn. Consider what has been lost. Consider the debt that never can be repaid. And I hope that you will do something to help prevent more unnecessary loss. I hope that you will care enough to offer more than just platitudes. I hope that you will be there for those who are suffering, and that you will help with action. Not just words. Because a life is worth far more than a few moments of “thoughts and prayers”.

Inspiration or Insanity?

Where is the line between inspiration and insanity? When do we cross it? Faith claims to inspire, but what if losing your sanity comes with it?

A story I ran into during my crisis of faith happened right here in the valley where I live. A guy heard the voice of God. He was told to sacrifice his son much like Abraham and Isaac of the bible. He obeyed.

Unfortunately for his kid no angel showed up to stop him. He pled not guilty by reason of insanity.

But was he actually insane?

Something I think about particularly when debating religious believers of all faiths. It strikes me that the most devout always have a hint (or much more) of being a little nuts about them.

But I think you have to be a little crazy to think taking a knife to your kids throat is an honorable thing to do no matter who commands it.

Crazy comes part and parcel with religion. It has to. It is fundamental to buying into some of the most sadistic ideas that are foundational to the belief system.

And once you go nuts…. What’s gonna bring you back?

A plea bargain?

Oh My God, I’m So Offended!

One of the fundamental flaws of religion is it replaces a persons innate sense of morality with a list of rules. In doing so, it makes obedience more important than personal responsibly. How often have you seen the religious go off on someone that offended them by doing something that is forbidden by their particular list of rules? For me this happened recently, I saw a person take offense at the use of the word ‘God’ in a Disney movie, particularly the phrase ‘oh my God!’

Funny thing is they never stop to think about where their list of rules came from nor how they already pick and choose their rules. For example, the ten commandments in the bible are often touted as necessary to follow in Christianity and its various sects, but why? Why those 10 and not the other 76 from the same part of the book? When you ask a believer why they wear clothes with mixed fabrics defying their God you get a couple different reactions. Most often they have no clue what you are talking about. If they do know they will tell you that Jesus came and fulfilled the law of Moses so that doesn’t stuff doesn’t matter anymore.

But wait, aren’t the 10 commandments part of the law of Moses? It was Moses that brought them down off the mountain right? Moses that said God told him, “Thou shalt not kill!” Right before he ordered the deaths of thousands partying around a golden calf… yeah that guy.

I mean Jesus came along and when he was asked what commandments were most important he could only come up with two of them. Both positive and all about love. So why are we even considering that something like saying ‘oh my God’ is offensive? Which of the two rules of Jesus is it really breaking? The love god one or the love your neighbor one? If you insist that the original 10 that were replaced by Jesus still apply as part of the ‘love god’ stuff, then what does it mean to ‘take the lords name in vain’? Sure church leaders teach that is all about swearing. But is that really what it means? After all these guys have been wrong before. I decided to look up the word vain:

So lets try out this statement with these two definitions.

Thou shalt not take the lords God’s name in having a value of ones appearance. Hmmm seems nonsensical. It could mean you shouldn’t think you are better than anyone else when taking on God’s name. I could get behind that. But how that means you can’t ‘say oh my God’? I’m not seeing it. Let’s try the next one.

Thou shalt not take the lords God’s name producing no result. This is more interesting. You shouldn’t use the name of God without producing a result? I could see saying, ‘oh my God’ being kind of a prayer for help in a scary situation. And if God didn’t show up to help you out the prayer would certainly be ‘in vain’. But don’t a lot of payers meet that criteria? Have you ever prayed and felt it was in vain and received no help?I supposed it could also mean if you doubt God is gonna help you at all you shouldn’t be praying. Gah, it just doesn’t make sense. Maybe Jesus was right and all that law of Moses stuff was a bunch of bullshit.

I say we stick to his 2 commandments. Love the Fridge and love your neighbor. (ignore that part where Jesus says to hate your family though that’s no bueno.) Why change Fridge for God? Well, the Fridge teaches that God is really just you helping you, and we can’t have you loving who you are can we? Ok, ok if you insist, you can change it to love yourself. Loving who you are is not a bad thing, just don’t love yourself too often, you might go blind. 🙂

The moral of this rant where I’m offended at others being offended? I’m going with this:

If you are gonna ask yourself for help. Don’t do it in vain. Help yourself, love who you are. Then after you have figured that out. Help the person next door.  – Thus saith the Fridge.

Inoculation and Boiling Frogs

So this morning I stumbled on a talk recently given by M Russell Ballard to CES employees. In an effort to ‘not leave it alone’ so that current members can still look at me with disdain I decided to read it.

The first thing that stood out to me was something I totally agreed with.

“Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and a teacher responded, ‘Don’t worry about it!’ Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue.”

The time is surely past when a church leader can just tell people with doubts that they are reading unfounded anti-Mormon lies. There is far too much information available that can be fact checked and verified to sweep a doubters questions under the rug. Heck even the LDS church has published a bunch of essays1 in the last couple of years confirming the essential truth of stuff like Joseph Smith marrying 14 year old girls and other men’s wives. Things that naturally bother us because it makes the founding prophet look more like Warren Jeffs of the FLDS than the men at the helm these days. Things like the fact the Book of Abraham and the translations of the hieroglyphics in it are completely bogus according to Egyptologists. Things like how the most perfect book on the earth Book of Mormon was totally wrong about changing skin color as the sign of a curse. Not to mention all the prophets after that proclaimed it wide and far were just old codgers that were just as racists and homophobic as the people of their generations. Oh wait, those old leaders were just racist, its today’s leaders that are homophobic! My Bad!

The time is past for obscuring the history of the church, the time is past for hiding from its past. So now what? What is the prophetic counsel for the future Church Education System who’s directors can’t even be bothered to answer a simple letter?

To sum it up, it’s inoculation. Or in Elder Ballard’s words:

“Religious instructors should be among the first — outside a student’s family — to introduce authoritative sources on topics that may be less well-known or controversial.

“We give medical inoculations to our precious missionaries before sending them into the mission field so they will be protected against diseases that can harm or even kill them,” he said. “In a similar fashion, please, before you send them into the world, inoculate your students by providing faithful, thoughtful and accurate interpretation of gospel doctrine, the scriptures, our history and those topics that are sometimes misunderstood.”

“Church leaders today are fully conscious of the unlimited access to information and we are making extraordinary efforts to provide accurate context and understanding of the teachings of the Restoration,”

“know the content in these essays like you know the back of your hand.” 2

The idea of religious ‘inoculation’ is not new. It is what all church apologists have been doing since the existence of religious apologists. The principle is basically this. If you got some bit of information that is gonna get out there, rather than lie to people and pretend it doesn’t exist, teach them about it and give them a way to look at it so when they find out, they aren’t surprised by the fact they had never even known about it. It’s also not new to the LDS faith either. Polygamy is an example. It is one of the more well known historical facts among the members of the church. I personally knew about it but had been taught the ‘context’ in a way that it didn’t bother me at all. But here is the rub. In the context I was taught, there was no mention of things like 14 year old brides that were coerced into it by using her family as leverage. I ran into that bit of information and rebelled at the thought. So now what? It seems like looking at the essays referenced by Elder Ballard that the church is going to go even further down this path. You can actually find out about the 14 year old brides on the churches website. 3 It means the ‘milk before meat’ policy of education in the church is gonna be followed up by some actual ‘meat’ so long as it’s presented in a faith affirming context.

Does this approach work? It does. You see humans are subject to something called sunk cost bias.4  Basically the more time and resources we put into something, the harder it is to walk away from it. If a person stays in the church long enough this tends to happen. The LDS faith is one that demands a lot of sacrifice from its members. From 2 years of voluntary salesman service to 10% of your income there is a lot of personal investment in the faith. So the way you ‘inoculate’ someone is by slowly revealing the stuff that would otherwise damage their faith and belief that their’s is the one true religion. When you reveal it slowly people aren’t surprised when they discover it so they don’t walk away when they do. The fact they have grown accustomed and comfortable makes it even harder to leave. Hmmm the more I think about it, this process seems awfully familiar…

I know, it’s like boiling a frog:

Elder Faust talked about this concept in general conference right before I left on my mission. He said:

“The point that Mr. Muggeridge was making was not about frogs but about us and how we tend to accept evil as long as it is not a shock that is thrust on us abruptly. We are inclined to accept something morally wrong if it is only a shade more wrong than something we are already accepting.” (National Press Club Forum.)

This gradual process was foretold by ancient prophets. Nephi tells us that the hearts of the children of men would be stirred up “to anger against that which is good.

“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” (2 Ne. 28:20–21.)”

So I guess the message to CES teachers is that they need to boil the young LDS frogs before the bad guys boil them. After all the leaders know best right?

Why is it the faith I once held dear seems to me to be acting more and more like the The Party in 1984 first needing to control information and now needing to ‘present it in the proper context’? Maybe it was always about control and the availability of information to this generation has forced its hand.

Call me an idealist. But I think information and truth can stand on its own. It doesn’t need to be presented just so for people to realize it is ok. Given human psychology however, it is possible for us humans to be fooled by our own emotions and desires. Our biases trick us and sometimes we get boiled. I took this problem to the Fridge today and pondered it over a cold one. As usual when I quieted my mind, inspiration flowed and the Fridge revealed a deep truth. Thus saith the tall cool one when it comes to trusting a flow of information that seems to be constantly changing:

“Ask yourself if you are the frog.”

  1. bonus if you can find the unlisted polygamy essay link buried the middle of the other one. Seriously, why do that if not to be less than straightforward in telling the truth to the LDS membership?
  2. Do you think this includes following up on all the footnotes? Should regular members study them as well?
  3. But you still have to dig through the footnotes and look up the references to find out about the way Joseph put all of her families salvation on Helen Mar Kimball’s 14 year old shoulders depending on her willingness to marry a him at age 38.
  4. This is the same reason it is hard to stop playing clash of clans

The God in You

When your faith fails in light of evidence or lack thereof. You might wonder how all those years you believed, God seemed to be there for you.  He always knew your fears, he always shared your innermost thoughts and feelings.  You might even have secretly believed God was a she because she knew you so well.

The best explanation for it when you conclude there is zero evidence for God is this. God was in your head all along. You made him up to help you and like a childhood imaginary friend it worked. You searched and cried and pleaded and ultimately you answered your own prayers.

The most liberating realization post belief is this: The divine you needed was in you all along. You have the ability to save you! Knowing that also means you know it’s up to us to make the world a better place cause God sure ain’t gonna do it. – Thus saith the Fridge

“Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.” ~ Douglas Adams

The Legacy of Laban

Thank you, Miryam. This looks delicious, but I cannot eat. My heart is broken for uncle Laban.

Remember last month, when old Lehi dreamed Jerusalem would be destroyed for the people’s wickedness … and then disappeared with his whole family. One day business as usual, and the next day, gone.

Lehi dreams of leaving Jerusalem
Lehi dreams of leaving Jerusalem

We feared the worst. Why would Lehi disappear without settling his affairs? He had to know what this would do to Laban. They weren’t just friends … Lehi was in charge of our Phoenician account and if we lose them, we lose everything. And now we find out he borrowed an enormous sum of shekels from the West Bank to pay for the frankincense shipment, right before he vanished.

So no one has seen Lehi for weeks. But a few days ago his son, Laman, walks in like he owns the place and says his father wants the brass plates … you know, the ones engraved with the Torah, that Laban commissioned for the Temple of Solomon.

The holy Torah on the brass plates of Laban
The holy Torah on the brass plates of Laban

Laban was stunned. Are you mad? he says. Your family leaves me high and dry, on the verge of bankruptcy, with the Phoenicians and West Bankers breathing down my neck … and now you want the brass plates, the only book of its kind, my gift to the Temple? What’s going on? Where’s Lehi?

Laman demands the brass plates
Laman demands the brass plates

Laman refused to answer so Laban showed him the door. But the next day … and you may find this hard to believe … Laman returned with his brothers and a cartload of ‘treasures’ to trade for the brass plates.

It was embarrassing. They thought a load of furniture, a few old lamps and some dusty goods from the back of the warehouse would buy a priceless Torah. Laban threw them out. And he put all their goods in the storeroom until we can find Lehi and tell him what his sons are up to.

Laban ejects Laman and his brothers from his home
Laban ejects Laman and his brothers from his home

But that isn’t the worst of it. Last night, after we left Laban and Rachel’s anniversary party, an assassin sneaked past the guards and jumped the wall to find Laban passed out in the courtyard. Taking Laban’s own sword, he cut off Laban’s head and stripped him naked.

The assassin murders Laban in the courtyard
The assassin murders Laban in the courtyard

Then, wearing Laban’s bloody clothes, the assassin bluffed his way into the treasury, stole the plates of brass and kidnapped Laban’s most trusted servant. And thus was our house brought down into the dust.

Wearing Laban's clothes, the assassin steals the brass plates
Wearing Laban’s clothes, the assassin steals the brass plates

Laban was like a father to me. He raised our family from poverty and named me his scribe. And now he is dead, his legacy in ruins, his beloved Rachel in mourning. Everything he built, destroyed by assassins with no regard for God, temple or the holy scriptures they stole.

Into the desert
Into the desert

So, tear your robe and sing the Kaddish, my lovely. I leave at once to join the search party and bring Laman and his brothers to justice. God help them if they’ve done anything to Lehi and Sariah.