Friday, July 27, 2007

Disaffected with disaffection

In April of 2003, Hinkley said:

Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing. -- Gordon Hinkley, Loyalty, April, 2003

For a long time, I thought that was a weird thing to say. Could he be that shallow in his thinking? I doubted it--I figured he was keeping it simple for the masses. A couple of days ago I read the Oaks and Packer interviews from the PBS documentary. I was quite surprised to find almost the exact same declaration from both of them. I have decided that I will have to believe that Hinkley is being completely honest when he says things like that.

So, here's a great example of why I disagree. I had a very interesting experience reading the latest (or possibly one earlier) edition of Dialogue. I was flipping around when I came across a short essay about the recollections of a woman whose sister died of polio in her youth. I read it standing in my kitchen and openly wept.

A minute later I noticed it was in the Fiction section of the journal.

I was furious.

I felt like my emotions had been jerked around. Like I had been used or manipulated in some way. Here I was, emotionally connecting with a phantasm, a figment of someone's imagination!

But it was well written, so a couple of nights later I read it aloud to my wife. I couldn't get through it because, again, I wept. (But less than the first time--I'm not hopeless!) I found this fascinating in a new way--knowing it was fiction, and that I had been annoyed by that, I still was emotionally connecting with the characters in the story! That's the great thing about fiction--it tells truths in a way that simple facts cannot. An author can write, "I am sad," and that may be a fact, but it is nothing like writing an essay about the trials of a fictitious character (or a metaphorical poem). By doing that, I will actually feel what the author is feeling.

So, I can accept the Book of Mormon as fiction and still find value in it. At the moment I don't find much, mainly because I'm also in a state of rebellion against the literalism that is "required" by the church, but if I were having a conversation with others who also approach it as fiction I think I could find more to value. It becomes a commentary on 19th-century America and Joseph's (and/or a co-author's, if that's your fancy) interaction with that society. It's just set in a fictitious pre-Columbian society (which is yet another commentary on 19th-century America!)

There clearly is a middle ground--I live in it, and so do many people that I know and love. It's not the easiest place at times, but ease has never really been my top priority in life.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Reviving Ophelia -- through Mormonism

I finished reading Reviving Ophelia last week. I've got some young daughters, so I thought I'd try to get a sense for the challenges ahead. It certainly raised my consciousness of cultural messages that get pounded into girls as they approach (and pass through) adolescence.

While I was reading the book, I felt like active involvement in Mormonism could be helpful, in that the culture of Mormonism does not portray women as sex objects and teaches against substance abuse and premarital sex (sources of serious problems for adolescents, obviously.)

On the other hand, the author asserts that part of the turmoil that can arise during adolescence is a result of waking up to the fact that this is a "man's world." Girls begin to experience harassment and gender-based inferior role assignments (don't look or act too smart!), and it crushes their spirits. Needless to say, Mormonism falls pretty flat in this area, by teaching that the superior positioning of men is actually God's divine plan (or, in recent parlance, the Great Plan of Happiness).

How will this all work with my girls? I don't know of course--they're totally unique from one another and a decade or more from their teenage years. I only know that they'll be raised to know that patriarchies are a human invention, not part of some divine ideal! (And then, off to a private all-girls school!)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Gods and the Bees

Since coming to the harsh awareness that the myths of Mormonism no longer align with my constructs of ultimate reality, I have been struggling to redevelop meanings for some of the symbols I left behind. The most powerful of these was obviously "God".

I think God is a great support for some of the myths I continue to tell, such as the notion that, "the worth of souls is great in the eyes of God." But problems with theodicy and the (as far as I can tell) inseparability of the "soul" and our gray matter leave me unable to consider a micro-manager God. I've been leaning more towards pantheism, in fact. After all, if we were microscopic creatures studying a living brain, the behavior of neurons would appear completely deterministic, just like the world around us does. (I'm siding with Einstein here, not Bohrs.) Without the quale of being human, we would have no sense of the consciousness of our subject on a larger scale. As I see it, God could be like that, for the whole universe. Likewise, just as a human cannot select a particular neuron to manipulate in a "random" way, pantheistic God can't be manipulating our day-to-day lives. My only problem with this approach is that God then seems to be pointless to some extent.

I was drawn to thinking more about this recently after reading an article on swarm behavior. If you don't want to read it, here's the gist: swarms can solve problems that individual members never could. In essence, intelligence is additive in a universal sense. This clearly holds true for humans as well. Consider, for example, the manufacturing of a jet aircraft. Not the assembly, but the machining and forging of parts, mining of ores, fabrication of silicon wafers in the circuitry, generation of power required to run welding equipment, etc. The knowledge to build an an aircraft from "nothing" does not--could not--exist in a single person. There aren't even organizations with the complete knowledge, but rather groups of organizations that must act together in the simultaneous application of inter-individual knowledge. Yet airplanes are common sights in the sky. The same could even be said of much simpler things, such as ball-point pens. Perhaps we as humans are progressing towards divinity not as individuals, but as a species. I like this new idea, as it captures Zion and God in one idea--a collection of humans united in the pursuit of familial love create Zion and become, in a sense, God.

Labels: , ,