Monday, March 31, 2014

To Be Sinless

I think that for a lot of Mormons, there is this ideal of sinlessness to which we aspire.  For example, we want to be one of the 99 sheep that the Good Shepherd doesn't need to go find.  But when we carefully read the scriptures, Christ was talking to the hypocritical Pharisees who considered themselves above consorting with lesser beings.  They consider themselves the 99 who are not lost.  If we think about it, wouldn't we want to be the one that Christ seeks, the one that he saves?

In the Doctrine and Covenants, the instruction to Joseph Smith about the power and authority of the Priesthood does not require sinlessness.  Look rather at what disqualifies someone from the power and authority of the Priesthood: "when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness."

Notice, it doesn't say that you have to be without sin, because then it would be unavailable to anyone but Christ.  Rather, we shouldn't cover our sins.  The Gospel is all about repentance; we need to confess and forsake our sins.  We also need to avoid pride, becoming more humble and patient.  Most of all, we need to have charity towards others rather than exercising dominion in unrighteousness.

To me, it seems that the characteristics that disqualify us from priesthood power are characteristics of rebellion.  We all sin, but sinning is different from rebelling.  A rebellious attitude would encourage covering of sins, is motivated by pride or ambition, and is in the business of compelling or manipulating others to share or legitimize the rebellion.

It's also there in the sacrament prayer.  It doesn't speak of what we do, but what we are willing to do.  We need to be willing to take upon us Christ's name, always remember Him, and keep His commandments.  We all fail at doing these things sometimes, but if we are willing to keep trying and not become rebellious, we can receive great blessings and opportunities.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why I'm a Member of the Church

When I was a young teen, I knew I was attracted to guys, and not to girls.  It wasn't something that I could question.  I also tended to the intellectual side of things, and asked difficult questions.  I sometimes felt alone and unlovable.  I wonder if all teens don't go through something like this at some point.  Those times drove me to seek out the Lord, and I had some very personal and powerful experiences.  That's why I'm a member of the Church.  Despite my gay orientation, despite my natural skepticism, despite my political views that often differ from a majority of members, I have a strong testimony of the veracity of the Gospel of Christ, and the institution of the Church.

So I usually view new ideas from the starting point of my previous position (as basically everyone does).  This means that I see things from a position that already accepts the Church and its doctrine.  While this can make communication a bit tricky, I try my best to tell my story in a way that others can understand.  I also hope I come across as respectful of others.  If I fail, please forgive my shortcomings.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Church and Politics

President Marion G Romney once recounted the following incident:
One day when President Grant was living, I sat in my office across the street following a general conference. A man came over to see me, an elderly man. He was very upset about what had been said in this conference by some of the Brethren, including myself. I could tell from his speech that he came from a foreign land. After I had quieted him enough so he would listen, I said, ‘Why did you come to America?’ ‘I am here because a prophet of God told me to come.’ ‘Who was the prophet?’ I continued. ‘Wilford Woodruff.’ ‘Do you believe Wilford Woodruff was a prophet of God?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ 
Then came the sixty-four dollar question, ‘Do you believe that Heber J. Grant is a prophet of God?’ His answer, ‘I think he ought to keep his mouth shut about old-age assistance.’
Old-age assistance became known as social security, and as we know, is soon to be one of the biggest financial burdens our government has ever faced.  The leaders of the Church warned us that it was not wise, and stated its position.  Did the Church have that right?  What kind of free speech should the Church have?  The gentleman in this story felt that the Church should not have the right to speak about an issue important to the man himself.  I think the man was wrong.  The Church has often warned of dangers, even when the warning was unpopular.

Many people have complained that the Church should not be allowed to express an opinion about same sex marriage.  I don't see how this is any different from the story above.  Where does it say in the tax law that to have tax free status, you have to give up your right to free speech?  It doesn't.  That's why the Church can and does file legal briefs, issue public announcements, and the like.  Can the prophet speak about things that may be controversial?  Well, they've been doing it all through the scriptures.  I don't expect it to stop now.  Nor will a controversy around the prophet's words shake my testimony.

If there were a proposed law that would increase restrictions on alcohol, the Church might very well support the proposal -- not that it's trying to control people's lives, but that the law seems to be doing something that seems responsible, from the view of the Church.  I can't help but think that the same thing is true of laws in support of traditional straight marriage.

If the laws eventually favor the side the Church didn't support, well that's fine.  The Church isn't trying to control, just make its voice heard.  Nobody is excommunicated for their political views.  But under current policy, you still can't join the Church if you drink alcohol, legal or not.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Logical Fallacies - Slippery Slope

I have lived in areas with freezing rain.  You people who have only experienced Rocky Mountain snow do not know what it's like.  The rain falls, and instantly freezes on anything it touches.  That releases a bit of heat which makes a slick layer of water on the top.  Friction practically goes away.  If you start moving down a slope, there is really no way to stop.  This concept forms the imagery of an interesting logical fallacy, the slippery slope.

It goes something like this.  If I take the following action, I will inevitably continue to take more and more extreme actions, so I should not take the first action.  If you start eating cotton candy, soon you'll be eating it every morning.  After that you'll progress to eating cotton candy for every meal, and become malnourished.  Therefore, you should never eat cotton candy.  In this context, it's pretty clearly a fallacy.

Take the following example:
If we allow gay marriage, where will it stop?  We will move toward allowing polygamous marriages, and perhaps marriages between siblings.  Even parent-child marriages!  Abominations in the gene-pool, and the destruction of the human race as we know it!  So we can't allow gay marriage!
This should be seen as just as ridiculous as the cotton candy example.  Now look at this one:
If we allow anyone to refuse service to a gay customer, where will it stop?  People will start by refusing to take pictures at a gay wedding, and pretty soon gay people won't be able to shop at the supermarket.  We can't let this happen!
The amazing thing to me is that many of the people who readily recognize one of the above examples as clear fallacy often entirely miss that the other one is based on the same logic, and just as unsound.  These fallacies are meant to rile up the masses -- they are a call to arms.  I think we need to stop this kind of verbal warmongering and start actually conversing.  That way we can problem-solve and actually come out better in the end.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What Makes a Stereotype

What are the stereotypes around gay-oriented males?  Femininity?  A predisposition with fashion and style?  A dislike of manly things like cars, football, or hunting?  Involved in the arts -- particularly performing arts like acting, singing, and the like?  A tendency toward depression and/or suicidal thoughts?

Why are these stereotypes in place?  I'm not really sure, but I have some guesses.  First, I've seen numbers suggesting that a healthy percent of males are gay-oriented, but many of them don't express it to others.  You could say they are "in the closet," but I don't think that adequately expresses their position.  They won't necessarily identify as "closeted gay" at all, but rather that they are attracted to males, yet choose to be straight.  Please don't confuse me.  They don't choose their orientation.  That may not be changeable at all.  Rather, they choose a different identity for themselves.  Someone with incredible talent on the football field can choose to be a non-athlete if they want.  That doesn't affect their inborn strengths, but simply their desires to identify themselves differently.

People who are heavily involved in the performing arts, however, usually need to express a level of vulnerability and sincerity when they perform that makes such chosen identities harder to pull off.  In fact, it may seem dishonest to them to identify themselves as anything but gay.   So, among those who publicly identify as gay, a disproportionately high percentage are involved in performing arts.  Similarly, if there is a mental challenge involved like clinical depression or anxiety, the reflections used in most therapies are likely to make it difficult to identify as something other than gay, especially when their orientation has become entangled with the mental condition.  That would create a disproportionate number of depressed and possibly suicidal people among the gay population.

Not only that, but "gay" and "transgendered" have been confused so often that many traits of one are assumed to be part of the other.

Again, I'm not really sure about these, but I think they would explain many of the stereotypes that persist about gay-oriented males.  In truth, I don't believe in these stereotypes.  I think they are there due to sample bias and misunderstandings, and the real population of gay-oriented males will show no greater propensity for sports, effeminate behavior, the arts, etc. than the population in general.

But I freely admit that I may be wrong.  It's just so hard to get a good representative sample when so many people with gay orientations don't even identify as gay.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Compare and Contrast - Gay vs. Deaf

This one has always really fascinated me.  I happen to have friends who are part of the Deaf culture, yet I'm not deaf.  On the other hand, while my orientation is gay, I don't really interact with anyone who is part of the gay culture.

This parallel is often seen as offensive to both groups.  The similarities are quite remarkable, though.  Many straight-oriented people view a gay orientation as a kind of reproductive disability, but the gay community rejects that view strongly.  Similarly, many hearing people view deafness as a disability, but the Deaf culture strongly rejects that view.  Many people believe their orientation is something they are born with while others feel it is realized later in life.  Many deaf people were born deaf, while others lost their hearing later in life.  In both cases, the culture mainly caters to the former.

A major debate in the Deaf culture deals with cochlear implants.  If a deaf person is treated so that they can hear, is that the overcoming of a disability or is it the loss of part of their core identity?  Is the act of getting a cochlear implant a betrayal of the Deaf culture and heritage?  This sounds like debates surrounding re-orientation therapies that have plagued the homosexual community for years.  It also could be connected to mixed-orientation marriages where a gay person can have their own children with a straight spouse.  Is that a betrayal of their gay community?

Despite all these similarities, there are some clear differences.  First, the Deaf culture uses ASL primarily to communicate.  They have their own language.  The gay community, on the other hand, uses English, and their language does not identify them.  It would be difficult for a deaf person to hide their deafness from hearing people around them, while it is common for people to hide gay orientations from the straight people around them.  These different situations produce very different types of challenges and concerns among the members of each community.  A closeted gay man, for instance, might feel psychological trauma for hiding their feelings from their family and friends, but a deaf man can't hide their deafness, and doesn't experience the same problems.  Rather the deaf man might feel more isolated among the hearing because of the communication barrier, which the gay man doesn't experience.

Differences like these make it dangerous to draw too many conclusions from a comparison between the two groups.  This can be said of any parallels drawn between the gay community and another group of people, yet both sides of the "gay-debate" constantly extrapolate too much from such metaphors.  These comparisons are fine to communicate ideas, but they have no power to prove debated points.  Any relying on these similarities as evidence of some kind is a logical fallacy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Compare and Contrast - Gay vs. Alcoholism

In my last post, I looked at the common comparison drawn between orientation and race.  This time I'd like to examine another comparison.

"Being gay is like having alcoholism."

First, let's examine the similarities.  Alcoholism is, in some measure, an attraction to drinking.  The thing that people emphasize is that there is a distinct difference between the attraction to drinking and the drinking itself.  In the same way, a homosexual orientation is an attraction, but that can be seen as separate from forming sexual relations with another person of the same gender.  I think this is the main point of the simile for most of the people who use it.

But there are many significant differences.  First, alcoholism is precipitated by drinking alcohol.  On the other hand, at least for most people, orientation is established long before any sexual activity.  That was certainly true in my case.  But many extrapolate using this analogy, and figure that homosexuality is caused by homosexual relationships, which is taking the analogy way too far.

People who abuse alcohol really do have a problem that needs to be addressed.  Similarly, there are certainly those of gay orientation that are addicted to sex.  They also have a problem.  But their orientation is actually not the problem.  Sex addiction is a problem regardless of whether the orientation is straight or gay.  So unlike alcoholism, where the attraction to alcohol fuels the addiction, it's not the orientation that fuels an addiction to sex.

An interesting similarity is the idea that "once and alcoholic, always an alcoholic."  Basically, there are those who believe that alcoholism is something that doesn't go away, you just have to learn to deal with it.  Despite this belief, there are many people who claim to actually be cured of alcoholism, that they no longer have the temptation to over-drink.  Similarly, many people claim (and I'm among them) that a gay orientation is something that can't be "cured."  If your orientation is gay, you have to learn to deal with it.  Yet there are some people who claim that their orientation has changed.

Of course, the big issue that offends some people is that alcoholism, the attraction to drinking, is a disease.  But a gay orientation is not.  Extending this analogy to imply that a gay orientation is a kind of mental disorder is probably the worst use of this analogy.  Please don't fall into this trap.  It's such a common mistake, that this analogy should probably not be used at all, or perhaps only if great care is made to prevent its use in that way.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Compare and Contrast - Gay vs. Race

Last time, I talked about the extrapolation fallacy.  When we draw a comparison, it's always tempting to take it a little further to gain more insight, but that can produce more confusion than insight.  Let's take a look at a popular example.

"Being gay in our culture is like being black in the 50s."

This is a very important and widely used comparison.  It's the basis of labeling people as bigots -- the racists of our day.  There are many similarities.  But there are also many differences, which often get ignored.  Like any analogy, we can learn much from these differences.

The fact that gay individuals have been treated as second class citizens is the obvious similarity, but the scale of the class gap really is not similar at all.  It doesn't take much research to see the decades of Jim Crow laws and such were far more severe and blatant than the discrimination based on orientation.  So while the comparison is apt, we need to temper the reactions.

Another difference is the ability to hide.  There was no don't-ask-don't-tell when it came to race.  This changes the way orientation discrimination has progressed, both in good ways and bad ways.  For instance, the good: I suspect most people are friends with someone who is gay, but they just don't know it.  When the friend comes out to them, this provides opportunities to overcome stereotypes because they are already friends.  On the other hand, the bad: keeping secrets can have emotional consequences like feelings of isolation, higher levels of depression, etc.

A very important similarity is the fact that orientation, at least for most of us, is not something we actively choose, just like race is not something that is chosen.  But there's a remarkable difference.  While race is mostly identified its physical characteristic, people were of the unfortunate belief that there were personality and behavioral differences.  People mistakenly believed that those of African heritage were mentally inferior or some other such nonsense.  On the other hand, orientation is primarily a trait that affects behavior -- sexual and relationship behavior in particular -- but many want to view it as some kind of purely physical attribute, like race.

These kinds of differences confuse the lines of communication, because people tend to forget about the differences and focus only on the similarities, and often take the analogy too far.  This is getting too long, so I'll put other examples in future posts.  This analogy is one used by the "pro-LGTBQ" side, so let's look at one used by the "anti-LGTBQ" side next, alcoholism.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Logical Fallacies - Extrapolation

As a human being, I communicate by finding comparisons.  I think it is something hardwired into our brains.  Notice how many parables were used in Christ's teachings.  But the problem with any parable is that the comparison only goes so far.  For every similarity, there are also differences.  It's like when my junior high teachers asked me to write a compare-and-contrast paper.  We learn just as much from the differences as we do from the similarities.

The extrapolation fallacy is where some relationship or analogy is drawn, and then that relationship is used beyond the scope of its relevance to draw some conclusion.  For example, we know that a ten-year-old child is about 25% taller than a five-year-old, on average, and a fifteen-year-old child is about 25% taller than a ten-year-old, on average.  If we extrapolate this to older individuals, we might think a 30-year-old was 25% taller than a 25-year-old.  But that conclusion would be an example of the extrapolation fallacy in action.

Whenever someone says that "being gay is like -----", there is probably some relevant connection, some similarity that helps the speaker communicate their meaning.  But when the relationship is extended to imply more about homosexuality than the primary similarity, that is when the extrapolation fallacy is being invoked.  There are so many examples of this from so many different parties, that rather than list them here, I'll split them up among several future posts.