Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Busy

I have not been posting lately.  Sorry about that.  It's just that I've become much busier than ever before and don't have as much time to spend writing blog posts or reading blogs.  When life lightens up a little I hope I can find the time to write more.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Overreaction

When some people are opposed to a book or movie, if they overreact and make a big deal of it, they just serve to promote the book or movie they opposed.  I am worried that the same thing is happening with Kim Davis.  Think of how it must feel to be her.  She is expressing a view that, twenty years ago, was held by a majority of Americans.  Suddenly she is accused of hate crimes for holding that view.  She feels persecuted, and what's more, she feels persecuted for doing what she feels is right.  It provides fuel to those who quote Matthew 5:10, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

When people exaggerate the seriousness of her crime, it tends to add fuel to the fire rather than mend things.  It would not have been hard to accommodate her, and allow an assistant to issue the licenses.  But now things are out of hand.  Those vitriolic posts and comments that accuse her of obscene bigotry are adding fuel to the fires of hate and intolerance themselves.  The "I'm going to make your life miserable until you change your mind" plan is not a very effective one.  A much better plan would have been to accommodate her, and let people feel she was being insensitive and immature, rather than belabor the point and make her a martyr, a rallying point for those with whom you disagree.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Born That Way

I know people who have a genetic variation that makes them different.  They are color blind.  They were born that way.  Have you seen the viral video of the guy who gets special glasses and can discern colors he never could before?  It's fascinating and wonderful.

Now, what about sexual orientation?  Suppose it could be fixed by some special hardware like the glasses.  What does that say about orientation?  Would it be right to round up all the gay oriented people and give them the hardware so they could be normal?

I think that the "born that way" premise is not a very good argument to make.  It's fraught with unintended consequences.  Another such consequence is that this kind of argument is often used to justify behavior rather than take responsibility for behavior.

Maybe the whole dialog needs to change.  I know I didn't choose my own orientation, and I don't think it's going to change any time soon, but that doesn't mean my orientation controls me.  I can take ownership of my own traits and make my own decisions.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Volunteer Response Bias

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Statistics can be no better than your source of data.  Go to any statistics teacher at any school and ask about volunteer response surveys.  They are among the most common surveys yet have among the worst bias of all surveys.  Bias, in statistics, means that the sample does not accurately represent the population that is being studied.  A volunteer response survey asks people to volunteer to be a part of the survey.  However, only people who feel strongly are likely to respond, and they will encourage friends to respond, many of whom share similar views, making their opinions vastly over-representative.

For example, if CNN ran a survey on their website on whether or not GMO food was good for you, natural-food-nuts would quickly pounce on it and get their friends to do so as well, while most of the population would not bother.  The results would be very skewed and not at all representative of the population's view, even if it got huge numbers of respondents.

With that in mind, the results of the gay Mormon survey are out.  It was a classic case of a volunteer response survey.  I saw it circulating among a certain circle of friends, and I warned those who asked me about it that it was going to produce skewed results because of the way it was being run.

Imagine that you are a former member of the LDS church who was in a so-called mixed orientation marriage, but you got divorced and then excommunicated, or possibly had your name removed from the records of the church.  You are already public about it, and relish the opportunity to make yourself heard.  Not only that, but you have friends in similar situations so when you get the survey, you forward it to all these friends and you end up with huge participation from this portion of the population.

Now imagine that you are a faithful member of the church in one of these mixed orientation marriages.  You aren't public about it because you are unsure how people in your ward would respond.  You don't have lots of friends within the gay community.  Firstly, you are much less likely to come across the survey; and secondly, even if you do, you are less likely to fill it out.  You definitely won't be forwarding it to all your friends in mixed orientation marriages, because you don't know who they are.  You are in the closet.  You aren't making noise.  This segment of the population gets vastly underrepresented due to the nature of volunteer response surveys.

To me it was inevitable that the survey results would show that the participants predominantly left the church and failed at these mixed orientation marriages.  The bias was clearly pointed that way, regardless of the size of the survey or the actual divorce rates (or excommunication rates) of the whole population in question.  The sample does not accurately represent the population being studied.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

It's Not Fair!

I think we, as human beings, are wired to value fairness and equity.  When my kids notice anything that strikes them as unequal, the complaints start up again.  "It's not fair!"  "He got more than me!"  We, as adults, are often still doing it.  The 99% movement motivated it's masses with a similar war-cry.  It's a normal human bias.

It shows up again when I hear, "If there was a God, he wouldn't let so many people suffer more than others."  It's an insistence that any perfect being would be fair and equitable.  But all this assumes that the purpose for life is being content.  I rather think life is a crucible, a test, an opportunity to grow.  In order to learn math, we have to do homework and take tests.  We have to be challenged to grow.  It has nothing to do with equity and fairness.  Math tests aren't fair, they are challenging.  They are frustrating.  And sometimes we fail.

What kind of a teacher would allow a class where people can fail?  What kind of a teacher would cause so much discomfort and frustration among their students?  Well, a good one.  If we think of life, of God this way, I think it becomes clearer.

"Why does my orientation have to be gay?  It's not fair!"  Well, it can be challenging, but that just means the teacher feels this is the challenge I need in order to progress, in order to grow and develop.  The teacher trusts me to work on this particular subject.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Becoming

"You can be anything you want if you just put your mind to it."  So goes one of the most depressing phrases in common belief.  If you happen to be 5 foot 7, you cannot be an NBA center, regardless of how much you put your mind to it.  You can practice a bunch and become very good at basketball, but it's near impossible to be an NBA star (unless your name is Spud Webb), and there is no way you'd be a center.

We all have some kinds of physical limitations, but we are remarkably adaptable.  We can learn many different skills.  We can become good at almost anything we put our minds to, but we still have limitations to what level of excellence we can achieve.  And we can't change our stature by willing it to be so.

Similarly, we can't just change our orientations by willing it.  No matter how much one may wish not to have a gay orientation, it's like your height.  It's not going to just change.  However, you can increase your love for those around you.  You can develop and get better at social skills.  You can work on healthy relationships with people of both genders, and of all orientations.  There is so much that we can take time to develop, we don't have time to fret over the things we can't change.

We can become so much -- we can become more like our Father in Heaven.  That's a worthy goal.  Don't lose sight of it by worrying over what we can't change.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Outliers

I was talking with some friends who brought up the possibility that the church might sever its ties to scouting.  They talked as if there were an organized push to attack the church.  Personally, I think they have been reading too many posts by uber-conservative friends who share articles employing scare-tactics to push an agenda.  There is not some big anti-religious force behind the so-called gay agenda.  I know many people who have gay orientations and none of them have any designs to attack religion.  I did make an attempt to redirect their fears in a more healthy direction.  I think their fears are largely unfounded.

But there is a kernel of truth in their fears.  There are those who are trying to attack religion, and the LDS church in particular.  Once things settle down and normalize, there will be a few people, outliers from the main body of opinion, who will unite with those who attack faith and try to do the precise things that my friends fear, and which mainline opinion says will not happen.  In particular, will the gay marriage ruling be used to attack the church?  Of course it will be.  It's only a matter of time before some outlier from normal mainline opinion tries to use the ruling as grounds to attack the church legally.  Most judges would dismiss such attacks as frivolous, because they are.  But there will be a judge somewhere that rules against the church and the issue will escalate.  My hope is that we will have a reasonable enough legal establishment to prevent such attacks from progressing far.

Some day that may change, though.  But I don't think that day is imminent.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Friends of Scouting?

I've always had a few gripes about the scouting program within the church.  First, it's expensive.  Scout camp fees, badges, uniforms, books, equipment, and more tax ward budgets, and even with fundraisers, the families of scouts often have to lend extra financial support.  Then, on top of all this, we run "Friends of Scouting" campaigns to raise money, not for our own boys, but for the BSA corporate structure.  Each council has paid executives who need this money to fund their paychecks and run their offices.

Second, the path to eagle lacks flexibility.  Most of the merit badges you need are not negotiable.  While some, like personal management and physical fitness can be seen as valid life skills, others like camping, environmental science, and swimming don't appeal to all boys, and don't seem necessary in a program preparing boys for missionary service.  With all the merit badges available, why are there so few electives in the path to eagle?

Third, there is no equivalent program for girls.  Girls camp may be a fun program, but it lacks the structure, award system, activity opportunities, leadership training, and general recognition of the scouting program.

Fourth, the international church doesn't have the same program.  A majority of church membership lives in areas outside the BSA's footprint.

Finally, the scouting program's requirements for leadership don't perfectly match the church's.  I've read of active temple attending members who happen to be gay being called as scout leaders and having their assignment shot down by the scouting program at the council level.  Yes, it's a rare circumstance, but a small problem can still sting.

Now, the scouts have done something interesting.  They remedied my fifth concern, but in doing so they broke faith with church leaders by voting when they were absent.  That might open a can of worms, because now the church is reviewing their relationship with the scouts.  I don't see the vote itself as a deal-breaker between the church and the scouts, but if the review starts considering other concerns like those I've listed, the overall picture might incline leaders to sever the relationship.  It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Why Do MOMs Fail?

What if a husband or wife in a traditional marriage has a gay orientation?  The failure of many of these so-called "mixed orientation marriages" or MOMs have been a popular topic for those write about gay issues.  For some, the existence of healthy MOMs is an affront to their opinion, and they have to relegate these claims to either "they must be lying" or "they are a weird exception and not relevant."  Ironically, these are the same arguments used for years to discount stable same gender relationships.  For others, the possibility of healthy MOMs give rise to unrighteously judging those who have gay orientations who are not in or do not desire to enter MOMs.  The problem is that we have no good way of measuring how many stable MOMs there are -- because any data is subject to social desirability bias (see this article for examples of this bias).

Regardless of this, there are definitely many MOMs that fail.  I wish to examine these.  First, some of them fail because of deception on the part of a spouse -- a gay man lying to his fiance or even to himself about his orientation, for example.  The other spouse can feel distress due to the deception and that can disrupt the trust in marriage and lead to failure.  It doesn't have to, but it often does.

Second, a gay oriented spouse might get married to hide their nature or in an attempt to change their orientation.  That's not a particularly healthy reason to get married.  When the orientation fails to change, if the couple has not developed a healthier relationship, their marriage will almost certainly fail.  However, even though the reason to marry may have been flawed, if the couple did develop a more healthy relationship in the intervening time, the marriage might still succeed.

Third, a gay-oriented spouse might find that they simply don't have the self control to avoid cheating, betraying their spouse.  That kind of betrayal can be destructive to marriage, of course.  But such lack of control exists among marriages between heterosexual partners, too, and can lead to just as much failure.

Fourth, a couple in a MOM might go through the normal stresses in a marriage, but they might blame the trouble on the gay orientation and not address the real source of the problem.  That, in my opinion, is the most tragic reason for a MOM to fail.

There are undoubtedly many other reasons for such a marriage to fail that I haven't listed, but these are probably the most common.  Understanding the common reasons can help a couple avoid the pitfalls and give couples a better chance of success.  Again, this advice is for those who desire to have a successful MOM.  There are certainly those who do not desire such a marriage.  In this case, it would be irresponsible to enter into a MOM.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Basis of Romance

An interesting article explores the nature of romantic love and come to some interesting conclusions.  For example, older individuals tend to have more satisfactory romantic relationships.  When looking for reasons for this, they found the following:
It has been found that older individuals perceive their spouse as warm during both disagreements and collaborative tasks and report high marital satisfaction. Older married couples have fewer marital conflicts than younger counterparts, although they report that erotic bonds are less central in their lives. Companionate love, which is based upon friendship, appears to be the cardinal feature of their lives. Overall, intimate relationships in old age are harmonious and satisfying (Berscheid, 2010; Charles & Carstensen, 2009)
The author makes the distinction between romantic intensity and romantic profundity.  The former is characterized by sexual excitement, fiery passion, and the like, while profundity is more centered on calm assurance, friendship, peaceful connection, and the like.

This kind of distinction is good for all couples to understand.  For me, a profound romantic relationship represents a maturity in the relationship that is characteristic of the most stable couples.  It's the qualities of my relationship with my wife that I most value.  Also, it is available for a man such as I who is attracted to other men rather than women, even in a traditional marriage.  The article makes the point that "excitement" is possible, and even desirable, in a profound romantic relationship.  The true love of long term romance is not characterized by fiery passion, but calm assurance.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Sacrifice

Imagine if someone believed they had to kill their children to be obedient to God.  We'd think they were insane zealots who lacked the ability to reason.  But we view Abraham very differently.  Of course, human sacrifice was more common in his day, but he knew it was wrong, having been nearly sacrificed himself when he was younger.

Thomas S. Monson told a story in a talk a few years ago of a young man named Benjamin Landart who was extremely accomplished on the violin.  Just as he had auditioned into a prestigious orchestra, he was asked to serve a mission.  The only way he could afford to do so was to sell his violin.  He took a day and played the violin all day long, and then sold it.  I love music, and the story was painful to me.  How could he just give up something he loved so much?  It seemed unreasonable to me that he would make such a sacrifice.  But fifty year later, he claimed that the choice to sacrifice something he loved so much to serve the Lord was one of the best things he ever did.

Should he be persecuted for making such a choice?  Surely many people in society today would want to take him to task for making such a sacrifice.  But his sacrifice ended up anchoring his life in service and blessing him.

In this community I often hear (or rather read) criticisms of the sacrifices of others.  Why would any gay-oriented man choose celibacy and stay in the church rather than seek out a relationship with another man?  Why would a man and woman choose to get married despite one partner having a gay orientation?  How could anyone sacrifice so much?

Personally, I don't find it much of a sacrifice, especially when I am so blessed with my family, my wife and children.  But so often others don't understand.  They see my situation as somehow making an unreasonable sacrifice.  But true love always comes from sacrifice.  We love those for whom we sacrifice.  Parents sacrifice for their children and that cements their love.  If marriage doesn't include sacrificing for your partner, it won't last through the challenging times.

One of the reasons I am anonymous is that our current culture ridicules the sacred and sanctifying sacrifices that are made that bring me closer to my God and closer to my family.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Poor Arguments

Okay, I'm back to the poor arguments that people use.  First, let's go to arguments from the church and its members.

They argue that gay marriage is wrong because it doesn't lead to children or eternal families.  But I know people who can't have children, yet their marriage is supported by the church -- they are even sealed in the temple.  Also, I know a man who is married to a widow who was sealed to her first husband.  They cannot, therefore be sealed in the temple.  Their marriage cannot lead to an eternal family.  But the church seems to be okay with their marriage.  So the arguments against gay marriage don't really hold up in general.

Then we have the arguments in support of gay marriage.  There is a general feeling that we can't expect people to be chaste; that marriage is primarily based on mutual attraction; and that marriage is primarily for the benefit of adults, while children have little to do with it.  These arguments aren't really new with gay marriage, but they stem from the "free love" movement that pervades western media driven culture.  And I feel the arguments are wrongheaded.

It's hard for me to get behind a side in an argument when these kinds of faulty reasoning are used.  I don't want my support for the church to be linked to the poor arguments.  I don't want my support for gay marriage to link me to the arguments typically used to support it.  It's problematic.