Sunday, April 20, 2014

My Recap of #ldsconf

The first weekend of April was the biannual conference held by the Mormon Church. Growing up I always enjoyed these two weekends because we didn't have to go to our normal 3 hours of church and the conference sessions are only 2 hours. I got an extra hour of free time on Sunday which was great, even though an hour on Sunday was only 1/10th as fun as an hour on Saturday due to all of the restrictions on playing that were imposed by the church and our parents to keep the day "holier." It got even better as technology caught up and the conferences were broadcast through certain cable and satellite services. Once this happened we were able to watch the conference at home, which made it much easier to sleep through.

Today the conference is streamed live on the internet. I saw a lot of members making statements or posting memes about how they enjoy that they don't have to get dressed up on Sunday to watch conference because they can watch it in their pajamas. I fully agree that it is great to not have to get dressed up on Sunday - I can do it every Sunday and it is wonderful. Taking back Sunday is one of the best perks of being a non-member and I highly encourage all members to try it.
Back in December I posted My List of Grievances with the Mormon Church which included Homosexuality, Women's Roles, and Sexual Repression. All three topics were addressed in the conference.

Neil L. Anderson discussed how the Mormon God has not yet changed his mind on marriage. He thinks that the purpose of marriage is not to make those getting married happy (I thought this was the main reason for marriage) and that heterosexual marriage is ideal for raising children (source needed - other than the Bible)
"While many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not," Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve said Saturday. "He designated the purpose of marriage to go far beyond the personal satisfaction and fulfillment of adults, to more importantly, advancing the ideal setting for children to be born, reared and nurtured." (ABC News)
Dallin H. Oaks discussed how women do not technically need the Priesthood because fulfilling roles within the church, designated by men with the Priesthood, is just as good. This reminds me of the old argument that women don't really need to vote because cooking and cleaning for a man who can vote gives her part of his vote. He then asked that we not worry about this little issue anymore.
Elder Oaks also explained that access to priesthood power applies equally to women as it does to men. He cited women serving missions, working in the temple and serving in Relief Society positions as examples of accessing that authority.

“We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their church callings, but what other authority can it be?” he said.
Elder Oaks encouraged the members to focus more on responsibilities in the priesthood rather than rights to its authority. (byu.edu)
Linda Reeves spoke about how terrible pornography is and will lead to you being body slammed by a Lowland Gorilla. Wait, I think I am confusing her slippery slope argument with Direct TV's. Well I'm sure that since most people view pornography and most people are normal and okay that this is just fear mongering. It probably would have been more helpful and productive to provide some general sexual education.
Linda Reeves, one of the three highest-ranking female leaders in the church, urged parents and leaders to help prevent children from falling into "Satan's trap of pornography." Reeves is the second counselor in the general presidency of the church's Relief Society, the organization for women.

"They need to know the dangers of pornography and how it overtakes lives, causing loss of the spirit, distorted feelings, deceit, damaged relationships, loss of self-control, and nearly total consumption of time, thought and energy," Reeves said. "Pornography is more vile, evil and graphic than ever before." (ABC News)
Well, I hope everyone enjoyed conference. Remember, six months from now you can sleep in a little on Sunday and watch October's conference in your pajamas. Just remember to clear your browsing history before you watch or God will know what you were looking at.

Enjoy your gorilla burrito.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bronchitis

On Tuesday b was admitted to the hospital with bronchitis. Everything that was happening in our lives stopped and we assumed our emergency roles. My wife's emergency role is to be at the hospital focusing 100% on b and his recovery. My emergency role is to ensure that P is taken care of, maintaining her schedule, and making sure that my wife has everything that she needs.

Between Tuesday night and Thursday night I spent a lot of one-on-one time with P. This is something that I don't get a ton of and I really enjoy. Over the two days she spent a lot of her time trying to help. She packed toys and books in bags to bring to the hospital. She helped me make cupcakes for her mother's birthday, that she spent entirely in the hospital. When we were at the hospital she helped by comforting and playing with her brother whom she calls Baby-Boy. She wanted to stay at the hospital as much as he wanted to leave every night.

She loves to tell stories and many of the stories that she told were about things that b liked or things that made him laugh. As we were driving to the hospital, listening to kid music, she would tell me which songs he liked and why he liked them. She told me that when she says "you-fear-meers" it makes b laugh (Mater says "rear-view mirrors" in Cars which she misunderstood - she loves Mater).

On Thursday afternoon when we came back to the hospital after nap, my wife and b were out of the room for the first time playing in a sitting area at the end of their hallway. b was wearing a little Mickey Mouse hospital gown, sweatpants and socks. He still had the nasal cannula in his nose even though it wasn't attached to anything. When P and b saw each other they ran towards each other to hug. It was the highlight of the couple of days in the hospital because they really love each other and I knew he was doing better and it wouldn't be long before he was discharged.

He was discharged Thursday night after P was asleep. On Friday morning she was so happy that he was back home and by mid-morning they were back at it; playing and not-sharing and whining and playing some more - a much sweeter sight at the end of this week.

Thank you to everyone who helped, offered to help or showed concern. 

Here's the video of Sweet Brown singing about bronchitis from YouTube. "Ain't nobody got time for that."



Enjoy your cold pop burrito.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Opening Day, 2012

To celebrate the beginning of baseball season, here is an excerpt from my book A Bestselling Novel. The story is based upon the text messages of four friends and I encourage you to read it like a play with four people each reading a part: Frank, David, Mike and Brian.

The story is basically a caricature of the text messages between my friends and I. I have changed the story and characters enough to protect them from the highly offensive things that they have said. It’s probably more offensive now – feel free to be offended.

Opening Day, 2012

10:29 AM
F – David, are you tailgating at the ballpark already? Beat up some White Sox fans!

D – Yeah, we’ve been here for a while

M – Poser

F – David is the biggest Rangers, er, beer fan I know!

M – Who’s the starting pitchers David?

F – That’s not a fair question for a true Rangers Fan. There is no way to know that.

M – Quit protecting him Frank! Does he have tickets?

F – David, did you guys get a satellite dish?

10:45 AM
M – David you’re being a real bitch right now!

D – Damn fuckers calm the fuck down! We have internet tv and Colby Lewis is pitching

B – Somebody asked Siri!

F – We’re just trying to enjoy tailgating vicariously!

F – It’s a real word, look it up.

M – Who’s there, tell them all I said hi individually then send me back each of their responses.

B – Is fat Elliot there?

11:06 AM
B – And…I killed it

B – Sorry everyone. That was inappropriate. Elliot is not a lard ass

F – No, I think it was my use of master’s level vocabulary.

D – Curt’s response was whatever. And I wish fat stinky lard ass Elliot was here. I’d get all up in that nasty thing

M – Curt is a cunt mouth whore. You tell him I said that cause no one disrespects me in this chat forum!

11:49 AM
D – This chat forum izzzzz gayzzzz. I’m so sexy in that van. I whacked off in it

M – You’re drunk and embarrassing yourself, you have a problem…

1:46 PM
D – That was Curt. I wish I was drunk. This day is turning out awful

M – Cause now you stuck watching beisbol?

F – Nelson Cruz!!!

M – Hola Frank soy Nelson gracias amigo!

3:33 PM
B – 162-0

F – Using math, that is the appropriate projection!!!

B – How do you like them apples, David? You never believed in this team and now they’re undefeated

3:48 PM
D – Apples are tasty and healthy. I’m a fan of them

6:30 PM
M – Frank, Lincecum getting rocked!

F – Big time Timmy Jim? Damn!

M – First thing you gotta do is get that beer off your head!

6:50 PM
F – They need to put in that beard guy to close out the first inning.

M – Rangers are gonna kick his hairy ass in June!

F – You gonna get off when the Rangers come to town?

M – Already off, my parents are comin, we goin to Yosemite.

8:19 PM
F – For any of you not watching the Mavs, you missed a shut-it-down-let’s-go-home dunk by Wright!

M – I’m recording it Frank so shut the fuck up!

F – Sorry, I guess the Mavs aren’t your top priority sports team anymore.

8:34 PM
F – Let’s all get herpes to support Delonte West!

F – Is that safe Brian?

D – Hey I didn’t watch. Did the Dallas Mavericks win?

F – It’s halftime.

9:25 PM
M – Right stuff!

M – Or should I say Wright stuff?

F – Yeah!! Real time Mike!

9:52 PM
M – Extra innings, bring in the bearded guy…

F – Dirk dirk dirk

F – Eff

M – He is my brother in law, don’t hate.

F – Just hold on to the gd ball and take the last shot. Shit, basketball isn’t that hard.

F – He needs to learn my baseline hook shot.

M – Devin Harris tearin it up out there in Oakland!

10:37 PM
B – Who’s got herpes?

D – Why? Can u heal them?

B – Depends. Chickenpox is herpes, shingles is herpes, cytomegalovirus is herpes, and herpes is herpes.

11:16 PM
D – So everything is herpes?

B – Pretty much

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Why Am I An Atheist n+1


A year ago I wrote Why Am I An Atheist. It was my response to a challenge by Patheos to answer the question of why I am [insert belief] in 200 words or less. Since I wrote that post I have become a gentler atheist and much of the credit goes to Chris Steadman and his book Faitheist. I think that this book became a bit of a turning point for me. The point when I realized that people of belief and non-belief should spend most of their time working together to make the world a better place rather than arguing the minutiae of belief.

So without going back and reading my post from last year, I have re-answered the question, Why am I an atheist?
I am an atheist because I have yet to see any evidence that would support the claim of one or many gods.

I understand how the brain can make people believe in things that do not exist, that you can convince yourself of something if you want enough for it to be true, that anecdotal evidence, convincing as it may be, is not a reliable source of evidence, even when written, and that coincidences occur chaotically if you pay attention.

I am unconvinced that books that are full of anecdotes and stories are factually correct, especially when they are contrary to the observable facts of the natural world. I am awestruck by the natural world and know that the scientific method is the only way to truly understand it. I find it irresponsible to fill scientific ignorance with a "religious knowledge."

I am curious of the nature of life and death and its purpose. I give meaning to my life by understanding that it is brief and try to fill it with happiness. I am most happy when those around me are also happy.

I think that the goodness in people is independent of belief. I think kindness is magic.
So what do you think? Was there much of a change from last year? Maybe a little?

Enjoy your 200 word burrito.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

My Eulogy for Fred Phelps


Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Batpsit Church, was an interesting man who was capable of uniting millions of people against him. There have been very few people throughout history who have been able to bring as many people together as he did. He took some of the very worst parts of the Christian religion and its Bible and made them the forefront of the message that he and his followers were so eager to spread. A satirical religion couldn't have done any better than he to point out these flaws that are normally overlooked each Sunday.

If Fred Phelps would have directed his campaign at only the minority communities of LGBT people he wouldn't have gained his notoriety, these have been dime a dozen. But he instead chose to demonstrate on the hearts of so many Americans; at the funerals of soldiers. The image of the WBC grew so much that they do not even have to show up any more. All they have to do is announce that they are going to picket with their "God Hates Fags" signs and they get their spotlight when the media delivers the story. Communities come together to rally against them hundreds to one it seems.

I think Fred Phelps had a tremendously positive impact on the fight for LGBT equality. He created a spotlight that shined brightly upon the treatment of LGBT people within the Christian faith. When the public opinion abruptly shifted, he became the villain and most of the mainstream sects have done their best to take a more liberal view publicly on this issue and have distanced themselves from his position.

In his death I have heard a lot of people condemning him to hell, where ever that is and whatever that entails. However, the best message I came across was from his atheist son, Nate Phelps:
Fred Phelps is now the past. The present and the future are for the living. Unfortunately, Fred’s ideas have not died with him, but live on, not just among the members of Westboro Baptist Church, but among the many communities and small minds that refuse to recognize the equality and humanity of our brothers and sisters on this small planet we share. I will mourn his passing, not for the man he was, but for the man he could have been. I deeply mourn the grief and pain felt by my family members denied their right to visit him in his final days. They deserved the right to finally have closure to decades of rejection, and that was stolen from them.

Even more, I mourn the ongoing injustices against the LGBT community, the unfortunate target of his 23 year campaign of hate. His life impacted many outside the walls of the WBC compound, uniting us across all spectrums of orientation and belief as we realized our strength lies in our commonalities, and not our differences. How many times have communities risen up together in a united wall against the harassment of my family? Differences have been set aside for that cause, tremendous and loving joint efforts mobilized within hours…and because of that, I ask this of everyone – let his death mean something. Let every mention of his name and of his church be a constant reminder of the tremendous good we are all capable of doing in our communities.

The lessons of my father were not unique to him, nor will this be the last we hear of his words, which are echoed from pulpits as close as other churches in Topeka, Kansas, where WBC headquarters remain, and as far away as Uganda. Let’s end the support of hateful and divisive teachings describing the LGBT community as “less than,” “sinful,” or “abnormal.”  Embrace the LGBT community as our equals, our true brothers and sisters, by promoting equal rights for everyone, without exception. My father was a man of action, and I implore us all to embrace that small portion of his faulty legacy by doing the same
Thank you Fred Phelps for playing the villain. Although your hatred was painful to too many, you have helped us as a whole move towards a future where more people are thought of as equals in this country. Hopefully we will remember the message that you stood for and how terribly hateful that message is in order to continue the fight for equality for all people.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Morality of Eating Meat

Recently on The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast, episode 452, they had a debate about the moral ramifications of eating animals. Steve argued for eating animals while Rebecca argued against it. Rebecca then followed up the debate with an article on Skepchick.

 

Coincidentally* enough, as I was reading The Complete Idiots Guide: Understanding Judaism, I ran across the chapter discussing kosher food. One of the processes that ensure that a kosher animal’s meat is kosher is how the animal is killed. They explain in the book that you must use a very sharp knife and cut across the neck severing the trachea, esophagus, and arteries in one clean motion. The reasoning provided was that this killed the animal quickly while it feels minimal pain.

 

Back when Planet Earth came out my wife and I had reached a consensus. In Planet Earth, as well as many other nature documentaries, they will show animals hunting and killing other animals to survive. This is always somewhat tough to watch because I always felt bad for the baby elephant that was killed by the hyenas or the rodent killed by the owl or the seal killed by the killer whale. But interestingly enough I felt very little emotion when the animal killed was a fish or reptile or bug. So the consensus that was reached was that if the animal is a mammal it’s okay to feel bad, but it’s not necessary to grieve the death of a non-mammal.

 

Isn’t it strange how people in general tend to show different levels of emotion based upon which type of animal is suffering? Most Americans would find it absurd to kill and eat dogs, man’s companion, but have no problem doing so for cows or pigs. The same people who find animal fighting to be repulsive may hardly bat an eye at the cultures that eat live animals such as fish, crabs and oysters.

 

So where do we draw the line, what isn't okay for people to kill. Of course humans are at the top of the list. Below them are maybe domesticated animals such as dogs and cats - these are usually off limits. But then there are farm animals such as cows, pigs, chickens. A little bit further down are other mammals like rodents. And then fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians – these are usually okay to kill for food. What’s below that, spiders and bugs – we usually don’t even think twice about killing them, especially if they are in our homes. But what about bacteria and viruses? How about trees and other plants? These things are not even in the Animalia kingdom, does that make it okay to kill them, or can they even be “killed” in the same sense as animals?

 

I don’t think that there are any right or wrong answers to these questions, but they are interesting questions nonetheless. I think that as long as you treat an animal humanely when it is alive and kill it as painlessly as possible that you have upheld your moral responsibility in general. Of course if you feel differently, you have your right. So where do you draw the line?

 

-----

*I try to point out as many coincidences as I can in my life so I don’t ever succumb to confirmation bias. Life is random and coincidences happen all the time, you just need to notice and remember all of them, not just the ones that support your predetermined views.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cyber-Stalking Neil deGrasse Tyson Pays Off Big


If you haven't noticed, recently I've done my best to cyber-stalk Neil deGrasse Tyson through every medium I can get my hands on. I read articles about him, found his personal podcast and thoroughly enjoyed his first episode of Cosmos. Once I finish the book I''m reading, rest assured (I hope this hadn't kept you up at night), I'm going to see if the library has any of his. Luckily for me, my normal blog sources have done a great job of leading me to him. And luckier, they led me straight to the podcast Rationally Speaking where he gave one of the very few interviews in which he discussed (a)theism. And luckiest, it turned out to be an absolute gem hidden within the plethora of wisdom that is gushing out of him lately.

In the Rationally Speaking podcast they covered three distinct topics: Tyson's personal beliefs (thoughts), the intersection of science and religion, and dogma's effect on society. In all three areas, the discussion led me to take a good, hard look at my personal viewpoint.

Tyson Does Not Call Himself an Atheist
Tyson explains in the podcast that he is not an atheist activist; he doesn't even care to be classified as an atheist. He is a scientist and his passions are for science and the universe. These are the things that excite and inspire him and his disbelief in a deity does not. If you want him to make an appearance to discuss a topic, it's going to be science, not religion.

But even though he won't come onto your podcast, talk show or host a television program about (a)theism, it doesn't mean that he doesn't have an opinion:
I remain unconvinced by any claims [statements or evidence] that anyone has ever made about the existence or the power of a divine force operating in the universe. 
He was very specific with his wording and would consider himself to identify more as an agnostic than atheist. This is not too far off from my personal opinion. I am also unconvinced of evidence of a divine force, but I would take it a step forward. In situations where the evidence does not support the claim, I feel comfortable making the statement that the claim is not fact/real/exists. I also understand why Tyson would stray away from these statements because they can become distractions and could take away from the beauty of his message. So I guess we are a little different because I would make the statement that unicorns do not exist and I have yet to hear Tyson utter this statement.

They next discussed how he and Richard Dawkins are dissimilar. While Dawkins is an atheist activist, Tyson is a science activist. Again, science is Tyson's passion. However when discussing Dawkins and atheist activism he states, "but I completely respect that activity; fulfilling a very important role out there."It appears that he supports Dawkins and his role but has no interest in following suit.

Science and Religion
From there the discussion leads into the intersection of science and religion. It is usually thought that the science community is full of atheists. When in reality, several polls conclude that as high as 40% of scientists would claim a personal god. In the National Academy of Sciences, 7% of the most elite scientists claim a personal god. Tyson poses two questions:
If you want to say that high education and scientific training promotes atheism then how come that number isn't zero?
...
If you can't convince that 7% of the absence of God as an ardent atheist why are you running around to people who are not so educated, who are not so scientifically trained and complaining that they are a bunch of idiots for how they feel?

So while science is thought of as an enemy of religion in certain parts of society, Tyson seems to be pointing out that they are not incongruous. This is something that I considered halfway through the Bill Nye, Ken Ham debate. Yes these two men disagree with certain aspects of the past, but they both now accept the natural world and physical laws as they are in present day and are proponents of science moving forward. Of course they have a much different perspective, but there are plenty of creationists who are actual scientists today, as Ken Ham is very willing to point out.

Science will continue to provide conclusions that dispel religious beliefs; that's why there are apologists who will reinterpret the cannon as needed to hone their arguments. There are still enough gaps in knowledge for the idea of God to lie and the human brain is the perfect breading ground for such beliefs ["thoughts without evidence to support them"]. As long as the religious groups remember that science is providing facts and that their personal beliefs are the things that need to change, science and religion can be compatible.

Dogma's Impact on Society
So while Tyson believes that religion and science are not incompatible he finds a problem with dogma in general.
The issue is not that religious people ... mess up society. That's the wrong way to look at this. The issue is dogma in any form messes up society.
He defined dogma as "where people want you to believe something in the absence of evidence and make that policy, make that educational curricula, make legislation based on that. That's where you have problems." An example he provides for nonreligious dogma is political dogma.

The essence of this argument against dogma is when a group takes their beliefs, present them as facts, and force them upon others. If we go back to creationism once more, this can provide a great example. The problem in this instance is not necessarily peoples' belief that the Earth is a mere 6,000 years old, silly as that may sound. The problem arises when there is a push to insert this belief into the science classes. Putting this topic in a religion course would be fine, but keep it away from science.

One of the aspects that makes Neil deGrasse Tyson such a great science communicator is his ability to navigate a topic such as (a)theism in a manner that neither insults or belittles those on the other side of the fence, while providing sound reasoning and evidence for his position. He is being compared to Carl Sagan a lot lately and I think that is a good thing. It's been nearly two decades since Sagan's passing and hopefully Tyson will be able to continue engineering the bridge between science and the general population with the same expertise as his much beloved predecessor.

Enjoy Neil deGrasse Tyson's Burrito.