Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Free Kate Kelly! Free John Dehlin!

I just found out that the church has threatened Kate Kelly, founder of the Ordain Women movement, and John Dehlin, founder of  Mormon Stories, with excommunication.

I think this is a big mistake one the part of the Church.

According to the New York Times, the church has stated that "Decisions are made by local leaders and not directed or coordinated by church headquarters."  I have a hard time believing this.  I think it is highly likely that at least someone in higher church leadership had a hand at this.  Otherwise, it is simply too big of a coincidence.  However, I also think it is highly unlikely that there is consensus among the church leadership.  This is probably a highly contentious issue and some of the leadership are trying to act out on their own by interfering with the local leadership.

I think there is going to be a backlash.  I also want to openly promote a backlash.

But before I get to that, let me state that I don't actually think the church should ordain women.  I don't really care if they do, but I think it is okay for the church to reserve some symbolic positions for men.  Call me old fashioned, but I think that mysticism is a big part of religion.  By mysticism I mean the whole Yin/Yang thing associating masculine and feminine properties to everything in the universe.  Leadership is kind of masculine (Yin, I think) quality, and I have no real problem with the symbolism of having men lead the church.

The problem is that actual authority should not be limited to men.  Let men perform rituals etc., but women should have an equal say in the things that matter.  And they don't.  Anyway, I would make a distinction between symbolic authority and actual authority.  The ordain women movement is based on the idea of giving women symbolic authority.  And maybe that is a prerequisite for having actual authority, but I don't think so.

The more important point is that I don't think the church should go about excommunicating people who just want to be equal members of the community, or who want to explore some of the hard questions that come with being a member of the church.

So I have joined (submitted my profile to) the Ordain Women movement and I urge you to as well.

If you don't want to do that, then maybe you can "like" the Ordain Women facebook page, or send a tweet with the #freekatekelly hash tag (or #freejohndehlin).  Do what you can to show your support.  Even if you are not a member of the church!

Church leaders hate internal contention more than anything.  They want clear in-group/out-group lines, so when something threatens them from within they (or at least some of them) want to make the source of the dissonance into an enemy.  Don't let them.  By showing our support for Ordain Women we are saying that there are real questions within the church, not just threats from enemies of the church.

Update: I was suspended from the website Cougarboard for suggesting that the church would make a mistake by excommunicating Kate.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Not At Any Price

Those were the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about whether Israel was still willing to continue peace negotiations with Palestine.

What he probably meant was that there is a limit to how much Israel is willing to sacrifice.  That is, there is a certain price that they are not willing to pay.

But the words have another meaning, and one that seems a bit more apt given how these negotiations tend to go.  Namely, Israel is not willing to sacrifice anything to achieve peace.  That is, there is no price Israel is willing to pay to get peace, so we just have to hand it to them for free.

So which is it, Bibi?

Sunday, March 16, 2014


The other day I heard this song, in which one of the main parts of the chorus states:  I don't want to be your hero.  Take a listen, it is a really good song.

Given that I have been thinking about heroes lately, this got me thinking.  Whey wouldn't you want to be someones hero?  Maybe it is too much responsibility?  Maybe.  But I think it has to do more with a conflict in trying to live up to someone else's expectations.  Sports stars often complain that they don't want to be held up as heroes, for example.

On a related note, I have also been rethinking my view on the phrase "What Would Jesus Do?"  I always thought this phrase was a bit funny because we really don't know that much about Jesus as a person.  We are just projecting what we think of as the ideal person onto him.  But different people might have a different idea about what the ideal person might look like.

Anyway, then I decided that this might be a good thing.  In order to avoid adopting someone else's idea of a hero we might need to create our own in our own image.  That is, we need an Avatar that represents our own personal hero.  If calling the Avatar Jesus helps us feel like it is legitimate, then so be it.  The key is that we should be able to choose our own image of what we want to be, and then strive to be it.  The danger is that when we choose our hero we won't rally be true to ourselves.  That is, we can easily confuse what everyone expects us to be with what we really want to be.

The moral of the story?  Choose your own hero, and be it.

Side note:  I wonder if playing role playing games helps people to be able to independently construct a personal hero?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Satan ⊂ Gamification

Gamification is a major trend in the modern education reform community.  I have written previously about it here, and have even developed my own game to teach math.

But this post isn't really about using games to teach math.  It's about using games to teach morality.

Last night Mercedes and I watched the final episode of a new tv show called True Detective.  In the end I was a bit disappointed in the primary villain.  He a a bit of a cliche for a psychotic, satanic serial killer.

But then my thoughts took a left turn and I started to think about the meaning of evil.  Why do we like to represent evil in an incarnate form as some psychotic killer?  Seems to me that most bad things are the result of natural and social forces that are much bigger than a single man.  Take hurricanes, for example, or war.

Anyway, my thought was that evil as we know it is actually an emotional reaction.  We feel evil the way we do because of how our emotions have evolved.  You may remember that I have said something similar about truth and love.

Basically, I think evil is related to our capacity for hating our enemy.  In group - out group associations are some of the most basic emotional responses we have.  One purpose of our moral code is to distinguish between who is in and who is out.  The actions of people from different cultural groups appear barbaric, foreign, and well, evil.

If this is correct, then it may be true that in order for us to feel evil, we have to anthropomorphize it.  That is, it is an emotion that is triggered by the thought of an enemy that we must fight against.  If we don't incarnate evil, we can't really feel the proper level of competitive hatred.  This can help to explain why churches often represent their moral struggles as a battle against Satan.

In this sense, the incarnation of evil is equivalent to the gamification of math.  Gamification is simply a technique to put learning in an emotional context, to tap the vast stores of motivational potential that can be released with the right evolutionary triggers.  So Satan is the gamification of morality.  There are a lot of moral rules that don't exactly excite our competitive warrior spirits.  Even the thought of a crucial natural challenge, like overcoming global warming, leaves us emotionally flat.  In order to get moving we have to have an enemy, and the enemy must be personified.