The Morals of Superman

Superman is an alien from another planet with some amazing pretty powers. To us mere humans his kryptonian physiology is almost God-like in comparison. This got me to thinking about the morals shown by this guy in tights and how we view him. Your hereby invited to jack into my stream of consciousness and see where it leads us!

First my favorite song about Superman in the whole world, literally at the top of my Superman playlist. (Yeah I got a superman playlist, don’t giggle too much.)

Superman is a pretty cool guy, one of the first things the song explains is he isn’t in it for the money. He helps other people for one simple reason, because he can. This is something worth emulating I think. Taking on not only personal responsibility, but taking on responsibility for others because he is capable of making a difference.

Another of his morals is he doesn’t sit around doing nothing when he can do something. Since he is such an awesome guy, we often see him faced with moral quandaries that push the boundaries of what he can and can’t do.

It’s why even superman has his kryptonite:1

For us to like the guy he needs to have a weakness. That’s because without the weakness he can’t have the dilemma to face. Consider the following situation. Say some guy was gonna have his head cutoff by a terrorist. Supe’ is close by and doesn’t do a thing other than watch it. What would you think about it? Pretty awful right? Tie some kryptonite chains around him though and make it his friend that is getting murdered and it is a whole different story.

In one case he is a jerk just standing there doing nothing, in the other he is a hero we want to emulate. Consider the reason why. Does the agency of the terrorist come into play at all? Or is our judgment wholly dependent on Superman’s limitations?

Think about that. If Supe’ said I can’t intervene because I need to let that bad guy do whatever in the Jaheem he wants cause you know he’s free n’ all. Would you respect that answer? I don’t think so. At the very least you wouldn’t honor him at all for those kind of morals.

Of course if Supe started taking over the world and intervening in every way becoming a ruthless dictator you wouldn’t like him very much either. In fact some of the best stories are the ones where a bad guy like general Zod with just as much power aims to do exactly that.

It’s because you expect the good guy to exercise judgment. He should know when to be involved and when not to. Telling you which presidential candidate to vote for, eh not so much. Needless beheading… yeah that’s worth stepping in for.

Which brings me to my point. There is another guy, most call him God, some even think he is an alien from the star Kolob2 In most cases the power that God wields is believed to be far greater than that of Superman. So powerful that when asked, a believer in this guy can’t imagine a situation where his power might be constrained or out matched. This God recently just stood by3 when some terrorists lopped the heads of some of his worshippers.

He did it, according to most believers, for pretty much the same reason that you would never accept from Superman. At least not and still think he was a decent guy. This God also ordered Abraham to kill his son as a sign of loyalty. Why you ask? because it was symbolic of him later having his kid slaughtered for all the world, not because he had to mind you (remember he’s all powerful!) No, he did it because he wanted to.4

So Supermans morals? Intervene and prevent a bad thing from happening if possible. God’s morals? Eh, we will just let that play out and see what happens.

When I think about it these days, if there really is an all powerful guy like superman up there in the sky cruising around watching out for me. Why is he more worried about finding my car keys than stopping people being killed for him?

To put it in better words read the response of a friend of mine to this Facebook post celebrating the all powerful guy that just stood by and watched.

I feel sick. I can’t even… I’ve had an experience where I was asked to renounce my faith under duress and I refused. I wasn’t killed, obviously, but I was beaten… At the time I considered it a spiritual experience that renewed my dedication to God….

I felt like God was there comforting me, that He was proud of me… but He didn’t DO a fucking thing to stop my abuser, just like He didn’t DO anything to stop these beheadings, and He didn’t DO anything to save the people thrown into fires for believing in Him…. What kind of God is that?

I used to buy that God doesn’t intervene out of respect for agency, until I experienced what it was like to be on the receiving end of someone choosing to assault me… actually even then I still swallowed it. It wasn’t until someone pointed out that anyone with any sense of decency and respect for life would intervene if they could. God’s supposedly all powerful, but for some reason His hands are tied.

Someone wants to behead people that believe in you and have faith in your grace and are willing to die in your name and you don’t save them because… agency? Fuck that!

It absolutely sickens me to see people taking comfort that these victims are now “in a better place” and hoping that they can also have the strength to be a martyr if it’s asked of them, and this God they’re putting their trust in continues to sit on His ass and do NOTHING. Who knows, maybe He approves. The beheadings are committed in the name of Allah after all…

I’m not all powerful. There are days it’s all I can do to take care of myself and my kid, let alone help others in need. But I damn sure try. And if I were all powerful, you can be damn sure I wouldn’t be twiddling my thumbs while others suffer.

Personally I think Superman’s morals are worth striving for. This God guy on the other hand not so much. So forgive me if I don’t kneel before your deity anymore. And for the love of Fridge. Please think a bit about the guy you have chosen to kneel before… You might have picked the villain to worship, cause last time I checked Superman didn’t require anyone to kneel before him. It was this guy:

  1. Yeah this is on the play list too, don’t worry I won’t link them all!
  2. In hind site  this is one of the crazier Mormon beliefs, but it is true, look it up here. Maybe this is why I still like superman 🙂
  3. Of course it might have been Allah standing by watching and approving since the terrorists did it in his name I suppose, but I don’t think this blog gets much traction in the muslim community so we won’t delve into that bit of irony for now.
  4. Some mormons believe that God was once a guy and is really more like superman with some limitations. God with a little ‘g’. You know, god-like relative to our own pitiful powers.  It helps resolve this quandary a little bit, but not entirely if you think about it. There are so many other ways of dealing with forgiving people, one simple one is just saying it. ‘I forgive you.’ See no human sacrifice necessary! The LDS church has however gone more christian mainstream over the years, pulling away from that doctrine to be more line with standard Christianity and Islam where God has a big ‘G’ and can do as he pleases no matter what. These days you are hard pressed to find a Mormon that will admit they think god is limited to a small ‘g’.

Manifest Destiny, Kate Kelly and Torture

The LDS church was born out of a time in the United States when the country at large believed in a concept called manifest destiny. It is essentially the idea that God is blessing his people and justifies them taking over the land.  This concept is enshrined in the church’s founding scriptural tome. The Book of Mormon has this to say in 1st Nephi13:12

And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.

Members believe the book is talking about Columbus in this scripture. In fact the main theme through the entire book is this idea that people follow God, he leads them to a promised land, then they stop doing what he wants them to, so they get curesed and become all loathsome and dark skinned.1  Then the next group that get to be God’s promised  people come over and take over said land for themselves. From my new perspective of non belief it is no small coincidence that this doctrine mirrors the 19th century idea of manifest destiny.

Manifest destiny was a hotly debated topic when they were using it to justify war on Mexico and owning slaves. The reason is this idea that they were entitled to have slaves and take land from other people because God said so. It’s that very same sense of entitlement that has kept the middle east in conflict for centuries.

But what does that have to do with Kate Kelly and torture? Quite a bit if you think about it. In the church its members are taught a specific hierarchy in the temple. Women make a promise to hearken to the men, men make a promise to hearken to God 2 They are also committed to building up the kingdom of God by promising to give everything they have to the LDS church. Do you see the link to manifest destiny now?

So here you have an organization with leaders at the top that believe they are there because God said so, supported by a bunch of people committed to keeping them there.  They in turn are taught that the church will eventually take over the world so that Jesus can come back and take the reigns one day. This goes clear back to the origins of the church where a council of fifty was created to lay the foundations for this church takeover of world government. Smith was even ordained king right before running for president of the United States. 3

The council of fifty eventually was disbanded, but this idea that the church is God’s organization on the earth and its people are destined to inherit the land has continued to the present day. Is it really any wonder that a woman standing up to the men in charge and asking for equal treatment is booted out? If the people running the show really deeply believe they are doing the almighty God’s will in making America the great promised land is it any wonder that church members and even bishops can create torture programs for millions of dollars and get nary a comment from the same people that would excommunitcate Kate?

steven_weinberg_on_religion_by_fiskefyren-d66ilc8

The single biggest negative about religion in general is this sense of entitlement that it creates. When a person starts talking about how ‘God is on their side’ That is when you know they are feeling manifest destiny. Because implicit in that declaration is the idea that your competing philosophies are wrong and not divinely ordained by the creator of the universe.4 This sense of entitlement5 is a form of pride. People are proud to be Mormon, even when the facts are clear it isn’t a tenable position. Like this poor soul that lists out a bunch of the upsetting facts that have come to light. (Avoiding the teenage polygamy ones for some odd reason.)6 In the end she proudly declares that no matter what, she’s ‘all in‘. Think about that, how is it any different than the follower of Warren Jeffs claiming they are ‘all in’ even if Warren is in jail? Why would you say something like that?7

Is this because of the amount of pride you would have to swallow in admitting you were wrong about the church and had been misled by your feelings in the same way you think the Muslim or Atheist has been misled? I think so. Because admitting to myself that I was mistaken in my faith was quite possibly the hardest personal thing I have ever done. Pride is definitely the hardest pill to swallow.

honest man

 

  1. And possibly bald, have you ever noticed that those unrepentant Lamanites were always bald in church pictures?
  2. Women used to have to obey the law of their husbands without question, but in 1990 they changed that to a milder form of listen to them with a so long as they follow god qualifier.
  3. I personally think this movement was significant in the mobbing of carthage and the death of Joseph Smith, the people of that day and age weren’t interested in another theocracy taking over right after they have just thrown off England theocratic reign.
  4. I personally think this begins to happen when myth is taken as fact. More on that next time! stay tuned.
  5. Have you ever noticed how conservative mormons get all pissed off about people feeling a sense of entitlement when it comes to politics? Confirmation bias never ceases to amaze me when I see it in action.
  6. I can’t imagine for the life of me that she missed the angel forcing polygamy on teens in her research… just another of those carefully worded semi admissions to the truth IMO.
  7. Funny thing, when I read that article a little piece of Mormon still in me feels a prideful pull from that simple declaration of faith, if I still believed I know I would have also been ‘proud to be mormon’ after reading that.

The role of the LDS church in developing torture

Torture_by_eWKn

The brutal “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed by the CIA to extract information from suspected terrorists were developed by two Mormon psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell. 1 The techniques included waterboarding, sleep deprivation and forcing prisoners to assume “stress positions.”

John Rizzo, the acting CIA general counsel who met with the psychologists, wrote in his book, “Company Man,” that he found some of what Mitchell and Jessen were recommending “sadistic and terrifying.” One technique, he wrote, was “so gruesome that the Justice Department later stopped short of approving it.”

In fact, the Mormon church provided four key players in  the CIA’s quest to evade the Geneva Convention, since Judge Jay Bybee signed off on memo’s that redefined the term “torture”, enabling interrogators to use more brutal methods in their attempts to extract information from detainees. Rounding out this infamous group is Timothy Flanigan,  deputy White House counsel at the time, and one of five attorneys who referred to themselves as the “War Council”.  2

How is it that a church that undoubtedly preaches love and basic Christian goodness has in its midst four individuals who developed, enabled, and implemented policies and techniques that resulted in the brutal torture of human beings in the almost universally fruitless search for useful intelligence information?

I believe the problem lies with the LDS church’s supreme emphasis on authority. Joseph Smith claimed to have restored God’s only “true church” and proper “priesthood authority”. The leaders of the LDS church continually teach that authority is necessary in all important things, from leadership of the church, to leadership of the ward, to leadership of the home.

There is a clear hierarchy in all things and that hierarchy is to be respected and obeyed.

If two people disagree on something within the church or their families, the individual with the highest authority prevails.

Authority is supremely important in the LDS church.  Talks in LDS General Conference stress that members are not to doubt or question the authority of their church leaders. Leaders are called of God, given priesthood authority through a lineage dating back to Adam, and because of that will not lead membership of the church astray. Members are reminded in ways big and small that if they have opinions which contradict those in authority over them the member is the one at fault, not the authority figure, and that member must bring themselves in line or be in sin.

The 12th Article of Faith states, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” This in itself is a fairly noble belief. The LDS church does not support anarchy or special privilege of its membership to violate the laws of the land. However, the church teaches that the United States was formed by men inspired of God expressly for the purpose of creating a country with the necessary freedoms in place so that God could return the true and everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth. The leaders of the United States, while highly imperfect, have authority that protects our nation and our freedoms, especially the religious freedoms Mormons value so highly. Once again, the leaders of our land have authority that has an almost divine sanction to it, at least at its origins.

Now, many of you may have heard of the Milgram experiment. In 1961, Yale University researcher Stanley Milgram set up an experiment in which participants were instructed to deliver increasingly strong electric shocks to invisible individuals. The individuals, while not seen, could be clearly heard. While the individuals received no actual shock, the participants believed that they were administering higher and higher levels of shock, and even as the invisible recipient screamed and begged to stop, up to 2/3 of the participants administered shock all the way up to the highest 450-volt level.

Milgram

Participants were more likely to administer the shocks when a researcher was in the same room with them. Results remained consistent across racial groups and genders.

The Milgram study showed that people will do seemingly immoral things when told to by an authority figure, and has served as an important means of understanding the events that occurred in Nazi Germany as well as at other times throughout human history.

Stanley Milgram declared, “A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act and without limitations of conscience, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority.” According to Martha Stout, Ph.D., in her book, The Sociopath Next Door,

Milgram believed that authority could put conscience to sleep mainly because the obedient person makes an “adjustment of thought,” which is to see himself as not responsible for his own actions. In his mind, he is no longer a person who must act in a morally accountable way, but the agent of an external authority to whom he attributes all responsibility and initiative. This “adjustment of thought” makes it much easier for benign leadership to establish order and control, but by the same psychological mechanism, it has countless times rolled out the red carpet for self-serving, malevolent, and sociopathic “authorities.”” (page 63)

A paper recently published in the British Journal of Social Psychology by researchers Professor Alex Haslam (University of Queensland), Professor Stephen Reicher (University of St Andrews), Professor Kathryn Millard (Macquarie University) and Professor Rachel McDonald (University of Kansas) argues that the meaning of the experiment has been misunderstood. 3

Participants in the Milgram experiment were not distressed by their participation, but rather felt happy that they were part of an important contribution to science.

Professor Haslam said: ““This provides new insight into the psychology of oppression and gels with other evidence that perpetrators are generally motivated, not by a desire to do evil, but by a sense that what they are doing is worthy and noble.”

Professor Reicher added: “This new analysis suggests that we may have misunderstood the ethical as well as the theoretical issues raised by Milgram’s studies. We need to ask whether it is right to protect participants’ own wellbeing by leading them to think that harming the wellbeing of others can be justified as long as it is in a good cause.”

So four individuals, from a  religious background that heavily stresses authority and obedience, and who esteem their government as being originally sanctioned by God participate in the development of a scheme of cruel and inhumane torture that they perceive as for the betterment of society and the protection of the (God-given) American way of life

It would appear that is the case, given that earlier this year, James Mitchell defended himself by stating, “I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country.”

And as Mormon Studies expert Professor Patrick Mason has told Mormon writer Joanna Brooks,  “Mormonism has “no systematic theology” on issues like human rights or poverty or war. Its view of morality is “highly individualized.””

In fact, within the LDS church there is virtually no discussion of morality. Right and wrong comes from scripture and revelation, usually to those with priesthood authority. Morality, in most LDS discussions, refers to keeping the LDS law of chastity, the Mormon rules for sexual conduct, not to the generalized means of determining right from wrong. Search for the word “morality” on lds.org and this is what you will get.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 11.22.01 AM

The LDS church is not concerned with the question of morality, i.e., the constantly evolving discussion of right and wrong that has occupied philosophers and religionists for millennia. Rather, the LDS church teaches obedience above all else and defines morality in terms of one specific behavior.

The LDS mentality is a perfect breeding ground for the type of individual capable of doing what Jessen, Mitchell, Bybee and Flanigan have done. It would stand to reason that the antidote would be independent thought, support of reason, and questioning of authority. And those aren’t things you’re going to learn in any Mormon church.