Thursday, October 27, 2011

By all means, let's look at Mitt!

With Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, Jr. in the pursuit for the Republican endorsement to run against President Obama, there have been some --and I can only assume most if not all are Latter-day Saint adherents-- who are calling such a quest 'The Mormon Moment'.  The capitalization is intended to suggest that  this contest to hold the Office of the Executive of our grand Republic exemplifies the arrival of Mormons onto the national and indeed the world political stage; as if this time is the superlative moment of acceptance for a sect that has pursued the executive office since its inception and has repeatedly failed.

Yet this latest 'mormon moment' is but one of a list in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that have caught the attention of the American population:

The introduction of Mormonism in 1830 must be viewed properly as the first 'Mormon moment', regardless of the fantastical and clearly debunked claims made by its founder, Joseph Smith.

1843 was the year that polygamy was codified as doctrine among the Latter-day Saints, although it had been practiced at least by Joseph Smith more than a decade earlier.  It wasn't the date of when polygamy started, but the practice itself that caught the eye and ire of those Gentiles who lived among and near the early Mormons.

The Mormon exodus of 1847 is another stage in Mormon history that perhaps defined Mormon partisans greater than any other, for both good and for ill.  The over-zealous and violent persecution of Mormons was not justified, the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum were clearly murderous in intent; but the event has left a germ of a persecution complex that blossoms fully whenever Mormonism is critiqued, regardless how sharply.

September, 1857 is a 'Mormon moment' that the Saints would clearly rather forget, unjustifiably so. The events in a small glade in idyllic southern Utah over a century and a half ago are still raw to the descendants of the Baker-Fancher party, who met death far too early at the hands of a mob that can only be described as self-righteous and self-loathing fanatics who murdered in the name of their god.

1890 can be seen as a year of progress of a kind for Mormonism when the official --and by definition, doctrinal-- repudiation of at least temporal polygamy was put forward by the Mormon hierarchy in October.  That's not to say there is evidence to suggest that polygamy was covertly taking place in the Utah Territory and was sanctioned by the church headquartered in Great Salt Lake City.

The same could also be said of the events of 1978, when the Latter-day Saints finally allowed full faith and fellowship to black Africans, some fourteen years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act.

The excommunication of Sonya Johnson in 1979 for her position on the Equal Rights Amendment garnered world-wide media attention, much more so than the 1993 excommunication and disfellowship of The September Six: Mormon feminists intellectuals and historians who opined alternative doctrinal views from that of 'the brethren'.

And as late as 2008, the hierarchy of the Mormon church directed its rank-and-file members to donate --to the sum of over $20 million to defend the California ballot initiative entitled: Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. Initiative Constitutional Amendment, otherwise known as Proposition 8.  

Now enters Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, Jr.  No doubt they will quote Article IV Paragraph III of the United States Constitution which bars the enactment of a 'religious test' for high office.  More to the point, they would be unwise not to quote it.  Yet they have to bear in mind the following:  the electorate have the right and will exercise said right to establish individually any set of criteria they deem fit --oafish or not-- to decide their choice of candidate for president; they would also have to concede that if those who vote against them solely on their 'faith' are being narrow-minded, then ipso facto so are those who vote for them simply because they share the same church membership.  

If either candidate is supported and elected in the primaries by the Republican Party to be on the 2012 ballot, then they should be aware that the next big hurdle for Mormonism will be the opening of the temple doors.  Suddenly the long-waited 'Mormon Moment' has its fissures.  Will conservative Christians and non-believers and a well-read and educated electorate choose to vote for someone who claims a faith that is off limits to critique; that holds ceremonies that they deem are so sacred that they are not available for public or intellectual critique?  Doubtful.  Romney and Huntsman should be wholly aware there are no sacred cows in politics.  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pass the Alka-seltzer, Marko.

If one is lucky enough to have lived in Utah for any length of time, one will no doubt know of the semi-annual meetings of Mormon faithful in Temple Square in Salt Lake City, who gather to listen to their leaders sermonize on everything from church membership, to 'moral' exhortations.  Held in the autumn and spring, these conferences are a weekend event, starting Saturday morning and ending Sunday afternoon. One has come to enjoy listening to these homilies for no other reason than they give an opportunity to critique loudly and publicly the insidious nature of religion in general.

This year, faithful Mormons have been graced with a prequel: Evergreen International, an organization that does not 'affiliate' itself with the LDS church, yet in its mission statement affirms the doctrines and teachings of the Mormon church, met in the LDS church-owned Joseph Smith Memorial Building a week before the Mormon general conference.  Those who struggle with same-sex attraction were told by the LDS church hierarchy that finding peace in their lives would come only through focusing on Jesus and his purported eternal and mortal self-sacrifice.  One wishes that one could call this progress of a sort; after all, the 'holy book' that Mormons --and indeed all other Christians-- carry with them to their Sunday services proscribes homosexuality and warrants capital punishment for those caught in such homo-erotic flagrante delicti.  Instead, the Mormon hierarchy is capriciously moving the goalposts.

While still claiming 'moral authority' from the horse-and-buggy rantings of Spencer W. Kimball --who declared that 'homosexuality is an ugly sin, repugnant to those who find no temptation in it, as well as to many past offenders who are seeking a way out of its clutches...  All such deviations from normal, proper heterosexual relationships are not merely unnatural but wrong in the sight of God'-- Mormon leaders are desperately attempting to eat their cake and have it, too.  In 1969, Kimball, known to the faithful as the twelfth 'prophet seer and revelator' of the Mormon church, penned -and quoted above-- a ghastly and guilt-ridden tome that is not only extant and popular among the rank-and-file members of Mormonism, but is still referenced and sanctioned by Mormon leaders in the twenty-first century as a guide for teaching children about the 'evils' of homosexuality.  Yet talk to a Mormon leader or votary about what their church's stance is on being gay and you are quite likely to hear that being gay isn't the 'sin', it is the act of  actually intimately loving someone of the same sex that puts one's 'soul' in 'eternal jeopardy'.  Strictly stated: a gay or lesbian can be an adherent Mormon if they are willing to live either in the pitiful state of abstinence or conning themselves into marrying and having sex with someone they really don't want to be with.

The best Kimball ever came up with was the feeble attempt to argue from nausea and cliche; that is, if a behavior or act causes one to to be 'sick to one's stomach', then it follows that such an act is 'immoral'.  Kimball is long since dead so there is no need to worry about offending his puerile and parochial sensibilities, but the thought of anyone over the age of sixty-five, heterosexual or otherwise engaging in any activity that requires disrobing has the same effect as a bottle of ipecac. The worst of course was his (ab)use of his 'authority' as god's mouthpiece to scare gay Mormons straight, lest they be damned from their families and god for eternity.

The jejune and smug forays of the religious into the inner wonders of simply being human puts me in the mind of the blottoed protagonist in Billy Collins' poem, Hangover

If I were crowned emperor this morning,
every child who is playing Marco Polo
in the swimming pool of this motel,
shouting the name Marco Polo back and forth

Marco Polo Marco Polo

would be required to read a biography
of Marco Polo – a long one with fine print –
as well as a history of China and of Venice,
the birthplace of the venerated explorer

Marco Polo Marco Polo

after which each child would be quizzed
by me then executed by drowning
regardless how much they managed
to retain about the glorious life and times of 

Marco Polo Marco Polo

From anthropology to zoology, religion has offered us pitiful 'theories' of the natural world; why on earth would it be any different with sexuality.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Nine Word Nein

It is not too often that that an NPR reporter can raise my blood pressure to new and dangerous heights, but Julie Rovner did it with just nine words.  At the beginning of her report on Personhood USA (Abortion Foes Push to Redefine Personhood) that aired on June 1, 2011, Rovner opened her on-air story thusly: 'When life begins, of course is a theological question.'  Perhaps the producer or editor of her story should have added that such a statement falls within the clear definition of commentary.  

I'll gladly concede that believers of all stripes have entered the debate not on how but when life begins, but the question is not solely theirs.  Homo sapiens --and perhaps H. neanderthalensis--  have mused on death and life's beginning for millennia, calling on unknown and long-since-dead gods for explanations of both.  And long before Keith Mason or his god showed up; and the question can be asked by believers and non-believers alike; and we continue to find that the question is still not fully answered.  A moral question? Certainly.  A theological question? Perhaps.  Regardless, a peerless philosophical and scientific question posed seductively and perfectly for the dialectic. 

Rovner's introduction is nothing more than the retooling of Gould's NOMA argument. Is there anything more dangerous than leaving the rich debate of the ultimate meaning of life wholly to those who peddle fairy tales from the Stone Age; to crystal-wearing tie-dyed charlatans wishing for a return to the Age of Aquarius? Rovner's capitulation to theological faith-claims leave the question of when life begins open to Jedi masters, but not to Richard Dawkins.  Or worse: those who believe that there is no god but god and Mohammed is his messenger --who subscribe to suicide and to murder and to the atomization of the infidel-- are welcome to the table for discussion, while Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are left holding their intellect and reason on the front porch pondering the danger of the 'no solicitation' sign on the door.  

No matter how kindly offered, one does not accept a belly rub from the intelligent design --or indeed from any faith-based-- community when it comes to their erroneous summation of the age of the Universe.  And one certainly isn't going to beg for a tail-wagging scratch when it comes to figuring out when life begins after the dust settles from the musky dance that literally fleshes out the question in the first place.  If Keith Mason and the remaining followers of the Nazarene want to reduce the number of unwanted and aborted pregnancies, then they must endorse the wholesale emancipation of women and the education of children as regarding sexual and reproductive health. Anything less is window dressing for their version of an Orwellian nightmare of control and caprice.  

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The nauseating argument from nausea

Danke, Herr Ludwig for being a catalyst to my hot caffeine fix this morning. Instead of hearing positive news from my home town, I find a caustic wasteland of hatred and ignorance spewing from your mouth.
My contention has always been that the more a religion emerges as oppressive and absurd, the more humorous and ironic it becomes. (I don't make the assumption that Herr Ludwig is Mormon). Must I expose the irony of Brother Evan's unlettered statement of gays (as if they are a collective) trying to solicit kids into their 'lifestyle'? Must I point out to him that his church has one of the largest proselytizing/recruiting programs that they are so fond of boasting about? Must I present to Bruder Evan the feeble and fatuous attempts of Evergreen International in trying to turn gays into straight-loving-tithe-paying-Boyd K. Packer - fawning Saints the the great Jehovah wishes them to be?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

When the Mormons gather....

If history serves as any guide, the first weekend of April, 2011 will find the the tulips of Temple Square in Salt Lake City bedecked in snow and bent as if in supplication while nearby, members of the LDS faith will raise their collective right arms to the square in what can only be described as an affirmation of subjugation to fifteen fellow primates whom the rank-and-file Mormons will proudly call 'prophets, seers and revelators'. Such abdication is not uncommon among the faithful, Latter-day Saint or otherwise.  Mainline Protestants regularly claim to be slaves to Jesus; Mormons merely have an extra step to the divine by placing mere mortals --all men, not surprisingly--  in positions of power to act for and in behalf and in the name of god.

Peggy Fletcher Stack's article in The Salt Lake Tribune, dated March 25, 2011  gives due justice to such personal secession: taught to the young and innocent and impressionable and codified in Mormon scripture, all Latter-day Saints are commanded to 'follow the prophet'. For example: ask any Mormon about their code of health and they will tell you that abstaining from wine, coffee and tea has less to do with the health benefits of the moderate intake of alcohol and caffeine and more to do with obedience.  Granted, being a teetotaller for Jehovah is progress of a kind from the slaughters commanded by the god of Israel to his chosen people, but it still leaves open the invitation to apply similar reasoning to future actions.  It would seem that Smerdyakov was wrong and the Bible, in this case is right (Matthew 19:26): if one has a belief that god can command --through mere mortals-- the extirpation of the infidel, the homosexual, the apostate; if god can command the mutilation of genitalia, and the taking of children as wives, what stops such actions from being commanded this weekend? Or the next?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Faithless in Zion

If there is one thing that Jesse Fruhwirth's article Temple Termination shows is that the more a religion emerges as oppressive and absurd, the more humorous and ironic it becomes.
Drew Call's story of castigation by his church and his employer merely confirm the theory that the LDS church keeps two sets of doctrines: one for the rank-and-file members heard from the pulpits and
insolently forced across the desks in bishop's offices throughout the Mormon world; a doctrine of guilt and shame and loathing for any who dare to be --either by choice or by nature—different; and one that is shown to the rest of the world of clean-cut, happy, straight members whose only concern is whether to serve green or red Jell-O on Family Home Evening. Such behavior in an individual is capricious at best and schizophrenic at worst; but in an institution it borders on evil.
Those of us who have seen through the lugubrious and pitiful religious bulling that emanates from Temple Square find it pitiful that a church which allegedly prides itself on family would have its adherents choose between following the prophet or rejecting the love of their own flesh and blood simply because they are gay, or atheists, or critics of what the LDS church claims to be the truth.  As an atheist, I embrace my family members, many of whom still believe in golden plates and reformed Egyptian; and in all fairness, they accept me.  What is of concern is  when  my parents or my siblings have their next temple recommend interview they find  they can no longer ‘affiliate’ with me because of my non-belief,  lest they risk the wrath of their ecclesiastical leaders who hold the keys to salvation with the right propitiations.    The antics of the LDS hierarchy seem to indicate no love of family except one that is so narrow as to render the definition inane.