Sunday, March 30, 2008

Personal integrity

Are you honest in your dealings with your fellow man? I ask myself this question many times every day.

I was indoctrinated in the ethics of honesty from an early age. I internalized the principles of honesty and integrity promoted by the Boy Scouts program, embodied in the tenets of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

Though my experience with the world has tempered my naive idealism, I still firmly believe in these fundamental values.

Scout Oath
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

Scout Law


“Make yourself an honest man, and then you may be sure that there is one less scoundrel in the world.” —Thomas Carlyle

Someone asked me if I believe that following the principles of Scouting makes me better than those who do not. I had to think a while for a reply, perhaps because it seemed to suggest that such ideals contribute to feelings of superiority or elitism. I was taken aback at that thought.

My sense is that the ideal of personal integrity is something intrinsic, against which I measure myself. Integrity, as far as I can determine, offers no standard by which I can or ought to compare myself to others. I cannot know what is in another person's heart -- indeed, difficult enough to discern what kind of stuff makes up my own nature and character.

These internal rules provide metrics by which I can more objectively determine my own standing. This helps spell out to me how much I am worth as a person. It is a fixed standard by which to help me judge my own performance as I wander through my life.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Continuing discussion about "gay"

In another blog I was pursuing comments about "gay bashing". This discussion focused specifically on the concern as it relates to Mormons. Excerpting my comments, interspersed with fragments of replies from other participants...

After decades of hearing the term “gay”, I’m still not sure what it really means. Based on the usage in this group, to me it seems like not a very meaningful label at all. So it seems even less meaningful to consider exactly what is meant by “gay bashing”.

I assume people who identify themselves as “gay” must have something in common, but I question whether this group is as monolithic, unique, and unequivocal as we might be led to believe. And I doubt even more that everyone who ever engaged in some kind of homosexual behaviour considers themself to be “gay”.

I have further doubts about how significant I should consider “gay” as a group. I’d like to know the demographics — for real. Who and what are you talking about, and how many are there? Are they like Republicans or Democrats? If I devoted any intellectual energy to such questions, I think it would take a lot more real information before I would even venture to formulate tentative answers.

Perhaps for the sake of discussion about “gay bashing” in the Church, that response should suffice. I cannot very well be “bashing” if I don’t even know who to “bash” — can I?

Apparently the perception of some is that “gay” has some kind of association with a “political agenda”.

I’m willing to use that assertion provisionally for the sake of the question about “gay bashing”.

If I am opposing political activism to promote a “gay agenda”, does that constitute “gay bashing”? Because it seems to me that the Church is currently involved in a formal campaign to oppose the legalization or normalization of same-sex “marriage”. If I support the Church in that cause, am I “gay bashing”?

What if I choose to go even further, on my own. Suppose I said I was rooting for Utah Senator Chris Buttars in his legislative efforts to oppose the “gay agenda”. Or, say I support the Eagle Forum in their political lobbying and public information campaign efforts. Is that “gay bashing”?

…it’s easy to assume that “in the good ol’ days,” society monolithically embraced the ideas taught by current conservative religious groups.
Ah, but how much easier for those who favor popular trends to filter thier own views of social norms.

The difference is that values and views which are manifestly so plastic and variable are simply reflections of social and cultural invention and evolution, while absolute values are derivative from the commands of God. The former are mutable and ephemeral; the latter are absolute and eternal.

We’d better be able to tell the difference.

We seem perfectly willing to excuse Moses for a misogynist attitude when delivering the Ten Commandments, but cannot consider that latter-day prophets might be similarly biased.

You confuse the message with the messenger — a common mistake.

Moses did not invent the foundational rules upon which the Ten Commandments are based. Even stipulating your politically-correct assumptions does not change that fact.

In the case of the Decalogue, I thought the LDS church had moved beyond treating women as property.

I am not quite sure how you could think that the Church “moved” beyond something that never seemed to be an issue. Did the Church merge with NOW while I wasn’t looking?

As far as Moses and his culture, I’ll let him speak to that question. I personally believe my own views on such historic matters represent the agnostic position. But next time I get to speak with Moses and Aaron, I’ll be sure to get the word on their treatment of women.

Can the Church likewise transcend the anti-gay message foundational to the Restoration? I don’t know, it may be that animosity toward homosexuality is too deeply rooted.

I am not sure the Church has any interest in “transcending” fundamental values that are based on the commandments of God. When God speaks further on the matter, through his servants, the prophets, I for one will be listening. I suppose whether or not discussions on this blog or other media make any difference in the meantime is an open question.

I am still considering the original post, and asking myself what the question is really supposed to address.

I have never asked anyone at Church if they consider themselves “gay”. Not as if anyone wears a badge or a tattoo on their forehead. We don’t share a ward list with each other that elaborates each of our sexual behaviors.

Why should I know or care?

Apparently it was a big enough issue for the church to make related changes to the temple endowment ritual.

An interesting spin, but I am not aware of any Church-published rationale for temple changes, nor do I see a basis for inventing one.

The idea should be easy enough to substantiate. A relevant quote from one of the General Authorities would suffice.

Apparently, gay-bashing we deplore, but open season on Moses and his benighted culture.

What is an appropriate moral paradigm for the homosexual?


Perhaps the reason God doesn’t stop making gay people is to give us all an opportunity to learn to love those who are different, who live on the margins of society.

Perhaps. But I see no compelling reason to attribute to God such motivation, particularly not with a specific attitude toward the the existence of “gay people”. Every person faces the challenge of “love thy neighbor”.

…must seek to see the good in the lesbian couple down the street with the two kids. We must care about the inactive LDS man who “flaunts” his sexuality by being “openly gay.”

You identify an issue that sits somewhere on my list of things to work on. I confess my priorities are generally assigned to other concerns. And, as I indicated, I have never gone out of my way to determine if anyone in my acquaintance feels “gay”, so the point is generally moot.

With regard to prescription for Church members, I trust and support the counsel of leaders who are authorized to represent the Church. Elder Oaks has addressed these questions with an authoritative voice — Dallin H. Oaks, “Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, Oct 1995, 7.

I note in particular from Oaks:

The gospel applies on the same basis to everyone. Its central truth is our Savior’s atonement and resurrection, that we might have immortality and eternal life. To achieve that destiny, an eternal marriage is the divine and prescribed goal for every child of God, in this life or in the life to come. Nevertheless, this sacred goal must come about in the Lord’s way.

Each member of Christ’s church has a clear-cut doctrinal responsibility to show forth love and to extend help and understanding. Sinners, as well as those who are struggling to resist inappropriate feelings, are not people to be cast out but people to be loved and helped (see 3 Ne. 18:22–23, 30, 32). At the same time, Church leaders and members cannot avoid their responsibility to teach correct principles and righteous behavior (on all subjects), even if this causes discomfort to some.

I have no doubt that Mormons do not like or want gays in their congregations.

Indeed. I seldom see specific welcome signs seeking out or recruiting “gay” members, if that is your meaning. And there is an understandable degree of antipathy against those who campaign for the Church to compromise doctrines or policies specifically in order to cater to dissident voices — though this tendency has never been exclusively directed at “gays”.
…explain to me how a ward can make a gay man or woman feel welcome.

By offering the principles and ordinances of the Gospel, without equivocation, partiality, or respect for persons.

I suppose those demanding that God accept them still encumbered with their sins will never feel welcome — though this has nothing in particular to do with “gays”.

What “help” can you give them that still allows them to be fully human?

We will continue striving to teach them the Gospel, along with the rest of Adam’s posterity.

Reiterating from Elder Oaks:

The gospel applies on the same basis to everyone. Its central truth is our Savior’s atonement and resurrection, that we might have immortality and eternal life.

Jim (64) assumes that gays want to “campaign for the Church to compromise doctrines or policies”, which is not what I am doing.

To the contrary, no special assumption was necessary on my part. I am simply sending back what I have heard, consistently, from many of those who claim to be advocates for “gay rights”. These do campaign in behalf of everyone associated with homosexuality. I would have to have been blind and deaf to not have noticed.

In my first comment on this thread, I remarked that the very semantic we associate with “gay” is quite ambiguous. For reasons of their own, a particular collective has co-opted this term to a specific meaning of their own.

When I was in grade school, “gay” had a specific meaning that had nothing whatever to do with sexuality. Today the term has a new meaning associated with it, a meaning assigned by those who presume to represent “gay” — this is what I presume to understand. If my understanding is wrong, if the true meaning of “gay” is misrepresented, it is certainly not through any fault of mine.

I note further the specific comments here that outline the kinds of challenges certain Church members face, in particular because of the supposedly poor attitude of other Church members. While I fully sympathize with those who experience these problems, I again assert that this is not unique to anyone identifying as “gay”. As far as I can tell, I do not feel “gay”, yet I face the same issues with regard to being a single male, voluntarily restricting my own sexual expression, living in chastity, feeling accepted in the general community and among Church members, etc ad infinitum.

In short, very little of what comprises so-called “gay bashing” seems to have anything specific to do with “gay”. Rather, it is a general manifestation that we have a difficult time living up to all the high ideals we preach and aspire to.

No great surprise, that.

As far as acceptance goes, how would you feel if the members of your priesthood quorum had a discussion about people like you and felt that the best way to deal with “your kind” was to stuff them into a barn, lock all the doors, and burn them alive? Ever felt that kind of love and acceptance from the Ward?

In fact, I have.


My challenge for Jim (and anyone else who cares) is to read the new pamphlet “God Loveth His Children”

Yes, thanks, I have read it, and I do care.

…and then try to understand how it is possible to love and accept a gay person who is not sinning

My understanding is that as a disciple of Christ, I simply strive to treat everyone the same, without respect to whether they are subject to any particular set of special feelings or circumstances. This is convenient counsel, because it does not require me to determine apriori whether someone feels “gay”, has committed any particular sin, or has some other unique circumstances that require special treatment or handling. Fortunate for me — I don’t feel qualified to make such judgements. This attitude basically frees me to consider that all are unique and special before God, and as far as I am concerned, none are more or less deserving of God’s love.

Thus I do strive.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Frog boiling

I heard the story in church meeting Sunday, in an argument about global warming. Put a frog into boiling water, and, so it goes, he will jump out immediately. Put a frog into cold water and gradually heat it to boiling. Supposedly the frog will sit complacent until he is boiled to death.

I've never tested this hypothesis, but I would guess that neither assertion would prove correct under all circumstances.

First of all, with any bucket of frogs I've ever observed, the critters are always jumping around trying to get out, any way they can, no matter what the temperature of the water.

Then, in the case of slow heating, I would suppose that any frog has some practical limit for thermal tolerance, no matter how gradually it is approached in the frog environment. Building up a sufficient level of discomfort would motivate the frog to seek to escape.

Likewise, it seems likely that dropping a frog into a deep bucket of full-boiling water could quite possibly overcome any reflexive action, if the frog body was completely immersed and sustained critical core temperatures faster than it could react.

Like so many stories of conventional wisdom, this one contains elements of truth that might be instructive, even though not strictly accurate.

I might also add that although I have no practical experience with
boiling frogs, I have subjected many crabs and lobsters to this
treatment. I can only attest that none of them ever escaped alive
from the boiling pot -- and the results were uniformly delectable,
with just a bit of garlic butter on the side.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Historic Daguerrotype

This is a daguerrotype obtained from the archives of a well-known historic source. The provenance is sound and uncompromised.

Note the stiffness of the subjects posing for this photograph. This is characteristic of photo images of the period, since time exposures were relatively long, on the order of several seconds, and the subject had to hold perfectly still to avoid blurring. Often the photographer would arrange the pose by placing a clamp behind the subjects head, to keep them from moving.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Deconstructing "22 Ways To Be A Good Democrat"

I read this from an Internet spam. It really confuses me.

The email was titled:

22 Ways To Be A Good Democrat

1. You have to be against capital punishment, but support abortion on demand.

2. You have to believe that businesses create oppression and governments create prosperity.

3. You have to believe that guns in the hands of law-abiding Americans are more of a threat than U.S. Nuclear weapons technology in the hands of Chinese and North Korean communists.

4. You have to believe that there was no art before Federal funding.

5. You have to believe that global temperatures are less affected by cyclical documented changes in the earth's climate and more affected by soccer moms driving SUV's.

6. You have to believe that gender roles are artificial but being homosexual is natural.

7. You have to believe that the AIDS virus is spread by a lack of federal funding.

8. You have to believe that the same teacher who can't teach fourth graders how to read is somehow qualified to teach those same kids about sex.

9. You have to believe that hunters don't care about nature, but loony activists who have never been outside of San Francisco do.

10. You have to believe that self-esteem is more important than actually doing something to earn it.

11. You have to believe that Mel Gibson spent $25 million of his own money to make "The Passion of the Christ" for financial gain only.

12. You have to believe the NRA is bad because it supports certain parts of the Constitution, while the ACLU is good because it supports certain parts of the Constitution.

13. You have to believe that taxes are too low, but ATM fees are too high.

14. You have to believe that Margaret Sanger and Gloria Steinem are more important to American history than Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Edison, and A.G. Bell.

15. You have to believe that standardized tests are racist, but racial quotas and set-asides are not.

16. You have to believe that Hillary Clinton is normal and is a very nice person.

17. You have to believe that the only reason socialism hasn't worked anywhere it's been tried is because the right people haven't been in charge.

18. You have to believe conservatives telling the truth belong in jail, but a liar and a sex offender belonged in the White House.

19. You have to believe that homosexual parades displaying drag, transvestites, and bestiality should be constitutionally protected, and manger scenes at Christmas should be illegal.

20. You have to believe that illegal Democrat Party funding by the Chinese Government is somehow in the best interest of the United States .

21. You have to believe that this message is a part of a vast, right wing conspiracy.

22. You have to believe that it's okay to give Federal workers the day off on Christmas Day .........but it's not okay to say "Merry Christmas."