Thursday, March 29, 2018

All Because of Him

We’re celebrating Easter this weekend with kids and grandkids. I love the festivities of a holiday, especially Easter and Christmas. There are eggs and candy and decorations, of course. But it’s also important to celebrate the most important event in the history of the world—the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Back when I was a teenager, I heard a talk about the medical and historical details of the crucifixion. It had a profound effect on me then, and stuck in my memory.  The video below, called “What Was Crucifixion Like?” posted last year on the Messages of Christ YouTube channel, presents that information, along with visuals.  There’s good and bad to that. I never saw the movie The Passion of the Christ, because it was too gruesomely intense for me. I’m glad it exists, but it wasn’t really meant for me.

This documentary video uses partly literal recreation, along with computer illustrations for some of it. So I managed to be amazed at Christ’s suffering without being overcome by the savagery. It’s about 7 ½ minutes. And it ends with this: 

The willingness for Jesus to die on the cross for us, in such a painful and agonizing way, teaches us of His incredible love. Jesus could have been killed by stoning, or by one of many other ways, but He instead chose to be crucified. He submitted to the most heinous and dreaded forms of death, so that He could understand and succor His people. None of us can claim that Jesus cannot fathom our sorrows, anguish and pains, for He has endured all things. Truly, as Isaiah so prophetically stated: "he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed."

At Easter we do, of course, remember the crucifixion. But what is the most important event in all history is the resurrection. That makes all the difference.

In our religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we look at these events somewhat differently from other Christian churches. We do not deny in any way the importance of the crucifixion. But we also note what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before. We don’t see this as a weak or worrying moment for Christ, fearing what was to come. The suffering in the Garden was itself enough to cause even God to tremble, and bleed from every pore. This can’t be from imagining what was to come; it had to be important in itself. And we believe it was.

I struggle to explain clearly and briefly. But we believe that what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane was the temporary withdrawal of the Spirit of God the Father. What happened the following day, on the cross, was the separation of the body from the spirit, which is what happens in death. So there are two “deaths” to overcome: the one we understand when we see it, when the body and spirit separate; and also the one that separates our spirit from God’s spirit, that came about with the fall.

We live in a fallen world, where bad things happen, and where we make mistakes that we have no power to overcome on our own. Christ overcomes both the physical death, leading the way for us to be resurrected as He was; and spiritual death, leading the way for us to return to our Father.

Christ rescues us all from physical death; every one of us will be resurrected. But our place—our acceptance back into the presence of God—depends on our accepting Christ’s act, his atonement, to make up in every way our deficiencies, if we are willing to do as He asks, by earnestly striving to live according to God’s commandments, and to repent when we fail or slip up.

There was a talk, by one of my favorite Church leaders, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, from 2006. In it, he says,

Considering the incomprehensible cost of the Crucifixion and Atonement,
I promise you He is not going to turn His back on us now.

I love that. I feel loved by knowing that. Christ didn’t do His ultimate sacrifice to be able to weed us out when we make one little mistake too many; He did it to give us every opportunity to be redeemed, because of His profound love.

Our worldwide Church has a theme again this Easter. This year it is #Because Of Him. Besides some reminders for each day of Holy Week, there’s this brief video reminding us of the many ways we benefit from what Christ did for us. It’s a worthwhile reminder before the Easter egg hunt and the family dinner.


Monday, March 26, 2018

How to Have a Good Life

There are certain facts of life that are true: Life is hard. Bad things happen, even to good people. And how we face what happens to us matters, if we’re going to have a good life.

But it is possible to have a good life. So the question is, how?

That’s a big question. It’s probably one of those simple but difficult things. But I thought we’d do a little exploring of that big question today.

Some years ago we had a discussion with a thinker, one of a few mentors we’ve known, who was talking about the younger work force these days. He said something surprising that stuck with me. Those game players, the somewhat geeky ones who play games—what they really want, our friend told us, was to be the hero. To do something meaningful. If they couldn’t find that in real life, at least they could live it in the pretend world of a game. And that made them rather impatient with work in the real world that didn’t seem heroic enough.

I was reminded of this, doing what has become a common evening pastime: listening to Jordan Peterson interviews. There are hundreds of hours’ worth, so I’m just scratching the surface, but I think I’ve watched/listened to enough to qualify as a student of his, informally. Anyway, he talks about mythology, and stories, quite often. In one interview, posted a couple of weeks ago, he and host Richard Fidler on ABC Radio (in Australia) were talking about stories and their purpose: 

Dr. Jordan Peterson
screen shot from the interview

Stories map out how to live. And the question then becomes, well, what’s the story that maps out the proper way to live. And that story would have to contain a description of the environment, right? Just like a map has to map out the territory. The story would have to contain a description of the environment. And then it would have to contain a description of your role in the environment.
And so, the mythological landscape is something like this: It’s good and evil at the level of the individual. That’s the hero and the adversary. Everyone has to contend with that. The darkness and goodness in yourself, and in other individuals. Everyone contends with that. So it’s a universal truth.
And then, how is that individual encompassed within society? And society is the wise king and the tyrant. And it’s always the wise king and the tyrant. It’s both. Now, some societies are almost all tyrant, and some societies tilt quite nicely towards wise king. But, even if you grow up in a relatively benevolent society like ours, you’re still crushed by the mob into a certain conformity. And there’s a lot of pain and wastage that goes along with that. Now there’s benefits.
And then the last element of the mythological landscape is the terror and creative potential of nature. Well, that’s the mythological landscape. And a meaningful story guides you through that.
And he adds a minute later,

Well, if you get in a car without a map, you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. What good is that? All there is then is confusion and pain. So, yeah, the story is life. The story is, well, it’s the story of Rule 1[i]: Stand up straight with your shoulders back. Stand up and confront the catastrophe of existence. Voluntarily. Move forward. Under your load. Discover new things. Share them with the people around you. Life is a call to adventure. And everything’s at stake. That’s the thing. It’s an all in game. So you might as well play it that way.
OK, so, stories are going to help. We want to have meaning in our life: logos. Victor Frankl faced the horrors of the concentration camp by finding meaning. Logotherapy, he called it. He wrote in Man's Search for Meaning, that if you have meaning, a higher purpose for your life, then you’re more likely to survive, and be able to move on afterward.

There’s something about recognizing the dialectic of good and evil, realizing your potential to go either way, and then make the conscious choice to choose the good. That’s even necessary, Dr. Peterson says, when you face malevolence (evil). This is his approach to PTSD:

If you’re a na├»ve person, and you encounter [malevolence] in someone else, or in yourself, it will produce post-traumatic stress disorder. Because post-traumatic stress disorder occurs when people are touched by evil. That’s not how it’s normally described clinically, because academics—I would say people in general—don’t really like to grapple with that sort of reality. But if you talk to military personnel who have post-traumatic stress disorder, and you start talking to them about a dialectic between good and evil, they’re instantly on board for that. They need a dialectic of good and evil to recover from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Bad stuff does happen. Some people experience worse things than others. But there are things we can choose to do to improve the chances of living a good life.

In another Jordan Peterson interview, this one published this past Saturday, with Roaming Millennial, Peterson says the key is simply the truth: 

Dr. Jordan Peterson
screen shot from the interview

You have to speak the truth, and listen to the people that are criticizing you so that you can improve the manner in which you’re formulating your arguments.
That’s the way to live. And, look, here’s why: As the religious sages have insisted throughout the ages, life is suffering. There’s no way around it. Because human beings are limited and vulnerable, and the universe is a very large place. You’re destined to suffer.
And so, then, you might say, well, what defenses do you have against that? And one is the armor of ideology, and rightness. But the other is the shield of truth. You know, just like in Sleeping Beauty, when the prince goes off to have combat with the dragon. And truth elevates your life. And enriches it.
He suggests an exercise to find out whether you’re speaking the truth:

This is, I think, one of the most useful psychological exercises that anyone could ever do. So, start with the assumption that many of the things you say and think aren’t yours, and that you don’t believe them. They’re just things that you’ve picked up for one reason or another as you’ve walked through life, and you’ve brandished them like markers of your status. But they’re not really you. Because, what’s really you is hard to figure out. So you have to start from that assumption.
Then start listening to what you say. And feeling what you say as well. And here’s the rule; it’s a very simple thing to try: Pay attention to whether the thing you say makes you feel stronger or weaker. If it makes you feel stronger, then you can keep saying it, but if it makes you feel weaker, then you should stop saying it. Stop saying it right away. And see if you can reformulate your words so that when you restate them, that feeling of integrity and strength reappears. And you can feel it, really, down the middle of your body
And, because, what happens if you’re saying something that is untrue is that you dissociate to some degree. A part of you agrees with it, and a part of you doesn’t. It’s like you’re splitting your psyche.
That’s interesting. I’m thinking about that, and trying to reconcile whether someone insisting, forcefully, and certainly, that what they say is right when I know it’s wrong—are they feeling the strength, or the split? I’m going to have to observe that for a while, and maybe only ever know for myself. But I do know, for me, I understand what the wholeness of truth feels like, and that’s why I seek it.

He’s certainly right that it takes paying attention. And he goes on to offer ways for people to figure out what they want, what a “heavenly” life would look like, as opposed to a “hellish” life they could certainly create; as he puts it, “how horrible your life could be if you let all your bad habits and foolishnesses and deceits get out of hand.” The program is at a website called That program is having good effect on people in universities, lowering dropout rates by as much as 40% in a semester. Pretty effective.

I haven’t used his program, but I’ve been doing similar exercises in a couple of books: Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, and Find Your Why, by Simon Sinek, with David Mead and Peter Docker.

The point is, it’s possible to choose the best possible life, in a world where things go wrong and bad stuff happens—if you don’t give up, if you don’t give in to nihilism or cynicism—if you figure out what a good life means for you, as a person you really care about (because you have to care about yourself, and some people haven’t had much practice doing that).

Dr. Peterson is talking about living a life that builds your character:

That’s the problem with being a materialist. You know, you think that you collect all these things around you, and that that’s going to protect you from the suffering that’s intrinsic to life. That isn’t what protects you. It’s your character that protects you. If you have your character intact, you can sleep at night with a good conscience, and you can take on the burdens of the day the next morning. And you can live without recrimination or regret. There’s nothing better than that.
It's almost as if he’s saying, the way to have a good life is to choose good and fight evil, in yourself and all around you. Become the good guy, by choice. Become the hero, by consistent practice and effort.

Yes, it did turn out to be one of those simple but difficult things. But worth it.

It probably doesn’t hurt to add that religion has been leading us to develop character all along. As the Ten Commandments tell us, love God—the source and definition of good. And honor life, family, property ownership, and honesty. And a further step is to love others as you love yourself—which requires starting with loving care for yourself.

[i] Referring to his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, here.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Promising Pencils

One of the principles of the Spherical Model is that you handle economic needs through a combination of free market and philanthropy.

A friend told me once about her experience as a missionary in socialist Denmark. Her assignment was to help the women’s organization figure out how to serve each other and the community. But when they would meet, every time the women came up with an idea, their first step was, “And we can apply to the government for a grant to do this.” It didn’t seem to occur to them that they could use their own resources. People had forgotten their own power to do good.

So I’m always pleased to find examples of people working to solve problems themselves, instead of saying, “How can we make government solve this problem?”

Remember, as we say here,

Whenever government attempts something beyond the proper role of government (protection of life, liberty, and property), it causes unintended consequences—usually exactly opposite to the stated goals of the interference.
People really can solve problems better than government can solve their problems. And this is true worldwide.

This week in book club we talked about the book The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change, by Adam Braun. This young entrepreneur, only now in his mid-30s, began his project with $25 when he was not yet 25 years old.

Braun was trained in finance and started his career at Bain. But his heart was connected to a dream—maybe an obsession. He says, in the book’s subtitle, that he’s an ordinary person, but he probably doesn’t qualify; he's probably extraordinary.

The book is set up to take us through the story behind his “for-purpose” organization (a term he adopts, because “nonprofit” doesn’t pack enough power) that builds schools in impoverished parts of the world.

The first location was Laos. Later he expanded to Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Ghana. To date Pencils of Promise has built 457 schools for 86,021 students. They also do teacher training now, and water and health programs.

Screen shot from the Pencils of Promise website

The reason for the pencil comes from a question he asked. He was doing a Semester at Sea, traveling around the world. He didn’t want to collect trinkets as souvenirs. So he decided to collect answers from children. He would ask one child per country, “If you could have anything in the world, what would you want most?” He expected answers to be fancy things you can buy: a flat-screen TV, an iPod, or a fast car. But children didn’t answer that way. One young girl in Hawaii said, “To dance.” In Beijing a girl answered “A book.” This girl loved school, but didn’t own any books of her own. Another child answered, “Magic.” Yet another wanted his mother to regain her health.

In India, he asked a boy his usual question, and the boy said,

“A pencil.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. He had no family, nothing, yet his request was so basic.
More men came over and started chiming in. They prodded him, “You can have anything. He might give it to you!”
The boy remained constant with his wish: “A pencil.”
I had a No. 2 yellow pencil in my backpack. I pulled it out and handed it to him.
As it passed from my hand to his, his face lit up. He looked at it as if it were a diamond (p. 35).
The boy had never been to school, but he knew that children in schools learned to write, and they used pencils. What he wanted most was to go to school. It was the way to “unlock potential.”
So the pencil became a symbol—the beginning of learning, the portal to possibility.

Braun began carrying pencils with him, to give away to children, in various other countries.

He thought for a while—and his parents advised—that he would work hard, make plenty of money for a couple of decades, and then use that to eventually make a difference. But the dream to build a school kept eating at him. He started out doing fundraising to build a single school. Then he created an internship to work at his own nonprofit. And then he dove in full time to the nonprofit, and learned, a lesson or two at a time, to make it successful.
Nuth on the steps of the first
Pencils of Promise school,
photo by Nick Onken,
p. 128 of the book

Fortunately, he did a lot right. And, as he said, he learned from his mistakes. In fact, he said the organization benefited more from his mistakes than anything else.

In the book, each chapter heading is a mantra—or, rather, a principle statement about how to be successful in accomplishing whatever it is you dream of doing. These are things like, “Why Be Normal,” “Get Out of Your Comfort Zone,” “Big Dreams Start with Small, Unreasonable Acts,” and “Practice Humility over Hubris.” It’s his story of building Pencils of Promise, over several years, bringing in friends and family along the way. And bringing in timely contributions from just the right people.

I especially liked the chapter, “Change Your Words to Change Your Worth.” In that chapter he realizes that, when he’s talking to businessmen, they start to tune out when he says he’s involved in a nonprofit. They’re about profits, so being against what they’re for is a disconnect. The realization changed how he did things. He realized it wasn’t lack of profit he was focused on; he was focused on a purpose. So he started using the term “for purpose.” 

And then he started running things less like an ad hoc volunteer place and more like a business. Even volunteers who weren’t productive were “fired,” and replaced with committed producers. I don’t know if the phrase “for purpose” will catch on, but it is a better description of many enterprises, maybe even some “for profit” ones.

A lot goes right in Adam Braun’s story. While the mantras try to make it look like anyone could do this, it probably also required a young man with a sense of mission and an endless amount of optimism and faith, which all coincided with much fortuitous, well-timed help. It’s almost as though God wanted this enterprise to succeed.

Among the things I especially like were that this was all done without asking for government handouts. There had to be some working with various governments. And some cases the governments had a budget for teachers but not for building schools, so once Pencils of Promise put a school in place, education got underway.

But it is more than just rich people from rich nations dropping in to do something good and then dropping out. They got buy-in from the people in those poor local areas by having them make an investment. For people who only earned a dollar a day, they couldn’t contribute money. But sometimes they could contribute wood or stone that they gathered and carried to the building site. And sometimes they contributed their time in the construction. It was important that they showed they really wanted the school.

The partnerships were built ahead of choosing the building sites. The communities had to be ready, and show their willingness, before they were chosen as a building site. It was also important to have local management making things happen.

I prefer organizations that put all their donations into doing the good—rather than into overhead. Pencils with Promise operated on very low overhead the first few years. Still, they considered they were doing great to have around 83% of donations go to the actual building of schools. Later, they found a way to do a single large gala to earn the annual operating budget, so that all those small donations intended for the educating children would go 100% to building schools—and later also to books, materials, uniforms, and teacher training.

It helped that the self-driven young man, who surrounded himself with other self-driven volunteers and workers, had a background in finance. He still had a lot to learn, but it wasn’t a random guy off the street with an idea; it was the right guy.

I hadn’t heard of Pencils of Promise before we decided to read the book. But I’m glad to know about it now, and see it continue to do well.

Still, good isn’t always done by large worldwide organizations. Sometimes a service-oriented person finds things that need doing very close to home, and just does them. My mother-in-law was one of those. There was no stopping her; she had to serve, as a way of life. It was tiring for some of us to watch. But it was a good life.

Living a life with purpose is probably always going to be a life well lived. Happier. More fulfilled. Extraordinary success is great, and sometimes certain big things require the extraordinary effort, like Pencils of Promise. But small philanthropy done by many people in many places close to home, is also an answer to solving the economic and social problems in our world.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Virtue Signaling Religion

Back around the beginning of this century, Gordon B. Hinckley, our beloved prophet at the time, wrote a book titled Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes. The “Standing for Something” part refers to a saying: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
I own the book, but I
got the image here

The book is about our need to return from the secularization of our culture. In the introduction he says,

People who carry in their hearts a strong conviction concerning the living reality of the Almighty and their accountability to Him for what they do with their lives are far less likely to become enmeshed in problems that inevitably weaken society. The loss of this conviction, the almost total secularizing of our public attitudes, has been largely responsible for the terrible social illnesses now running rampant among us (p. xix).
I think there’s a connection between this loss of God and a movement toward a whole long list of alternative “virtues” that don’t qualify as ultimately good, because ultimate good is defined by God. In short, when people stop relying on God, they fall for all kinds of substitutes.

People like to be able to think well of themselves. A traditional way of measuring your own goodness has been through religion. And that has been effective. Religious people tend to think about things bigger than themselves, related to pleasing God and effecting good for the rest of the human family. This leads to stronger intact families, celebrating life and protecting the lives of others, honesty, respect of property ownership, service, sharing, helping, kindness, and other things we typically think of as virtuous.

People who fail to believe in God still want to think well of themselves, but they don’t have the same source of guidance. They may still adhere to many of the behaviors in the above list. Or their secular religion might come up with another whole list of “virtues.”

They might shun some of the traditional virtues—particularly sexual purity. And then, in an effort to let those around them know that they have reason to think well of themselves, they do outward behaviors to signal their perceived virtue. They virtue signal. To themselves as much as to others.

And along with virtue-signaling, they might also shame anyone who doesn’t join them in their “religious” behavior. 

That’s where we have problems. It’s hard to find common ground when one person is shaming another—either direction. Sometimes these very people shove their beliefs down the throats of everyone around them while shouting, “Stop shoving your beliefs down our throats.” And they do this completely without self-awareness.

People might not be aware these days of some ancient history patterns. We think we’ve grown beyond the pagan, or the superstitious. But some of the virtues being signaled today are the same, with some wording differences and technological updates, as ancient pagan practices.
We can categorize some of these anti-religion’s tenets.

Worship of Environment and Animals above Human Life

I wrote this last year, after the US stepped away from the Paris Accords:

Climatism (not climate-related science, but the thing you’re not allowed to question) looks to me like a pagan religion. The sacrifices being required of us in the essentially vain hope that such sacrifices will appease the climate gods look eerily similar to throwing people into the volcano. It might make people feel like they have some control over something out of their power, but it doesn’t actually affect an eruption—and it’s really bad for the ones who get thrown into the volcano.
Are there reasons to be concerned about clean atmosphere and water? Of course. We’re better off with clean air and water. But the more advanced technologically a country gets—much of that from fossil fuels—the better air and water quality. In fact, we have made so much progress that way that there was a sudden shift from worrying about carbon monoxide to worrying about the very natural and positive carbon dioxide.

Should we be concerned because of climate models? Maybe, but they’ve been so consistently wrong so far that changing our entire lifestyle seems extreme.

And saving water is a good idea, especially if you’re in a drought area, because getting enough potable water for a large population is a challenge. But, the world is not running out of water. I saw a documentary in the IMAX theater of a museum once that showed a very dry part of the US, and talked about the worry of running out of water. I was puzzled, because they didn’t say “here”; they said it as though the world is losing water.

But, if you were taught the water cycle in grade school, then you know that water from the atmosphere comes down as rain, and makes its way into groundwater or into streams and rivers that eventually flow into the ocean. When something wet dries, that water goes into the atmosphere. And sun shining on lakes and oceans causes water to evaporate into the atmosphere. That’s how it gets there to come down as rain or snow. And the cycle goes on.

Water molecules are made up of two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom. Those are elements. They don’t disappear. Even if you disconnect the hydrogen and oxygen, you don’t lose them; they stay here as part of our earth, and they can be reconnected. (“Sciencing” was used in the novel The Martian, about an astronaut trapped on Mars, explaining how to “make” water.)

Example of virtue signaling found here

Should we be concerned because of climate models? Maybe, but they’ve been so consistently wrong so far that changing our entire lifestyle seems extreme.

Another aspect of ancient pagan religions is to honor animals above humans. No other species would sacrifice its entire species out of guilt that its existence fails to always positively impact some other species. Species are designed to perpetuate themselves. It isn’t virtuous to feel guilty for being human; it’s unnatural and ungrateful.

So, if you’ve been virtue signaling in one of the following ways, you might want to ask yourself how you know what you do is virtuous. And then, if you can’t explain it so clearly, logically, and unemotionally to a nonbeliever that you convert with persuasion, maybe you’d better stop the shaming as well:

·         Feeling panicked about global warming.
·         Driving a Prius or other electric status vehicle.
·         Pushing for alternative energy sources—except not nuclear.
·         Eating vegetarian or vegan, not just for your health, but because you believe your species has no right to eat other species.

Sexual Depravity and Human Sacrifice

Related to valuing other species above humans also shows up as human sacrifice in pagan, savage societies. Certainly we ought to be beyond that. And yet that is a pretty good description of abortion.
Some ancient societies do away with the old and infirm. That is what euthanasia is.

Savage societies typically fail to honor monogamy. This leads to a lot of social failures we’ve known about for a long time, as described by Vico and Unwin. (I’ve written a fuller discussion here.)

A side issue related to failing on monogamy is the spread of what have always been considered deviant behaviors: homosexuality and gender confusion. Finding better ways to treat people with these issues has to be a more humane approach. But tolerating and embracing deviancy isn’t enlightened; it’s very old and very pagan.

So, if you’ve been approving of the following things in an attempt to virtue signal, you might also want to ask yourself how you know what you do is virtuous. And again, if you can’t explain your reasoning so clearly, logically, and unemotionally to a nonbeliever that you convert with persuasion, maybe you’d better stop the shaming as well:

·         Alternative sexual lifestyles
·         Promiscuity
·         Homosexuality
·         Same-sex “marriage”
·         Transgenderism
·         Sexual freedom (promiscuity) for minors
·         Abortion
o   Favoring government funding and approval
o   Refusing any limits to abortion
·         Divorce for any reason
·         Benefits to couples whether married or not
·         Pro-masculinity for women
·         Anti-masculinity for men

Ruler as God

Another tactic of ancient potentates—kings, emperors, pharaohs, etc.—was to replace the people’s religion, setting themselves up as god incarnate, or perhaps an idol that they create as the object of the ruler's new religion. Then the people had to be loyal to him or be prosecuted (and usually executed) for heresy. The people were instructed to bow down to their god/ruler, pay him whatever assessment he charged, and then he, their god/ruler, would look on them favorably.

I don’t know if the ancient king who set up a fiery furnace for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego offered amenities that some “subjects” expect of their government today. Life was brutal, so maybe just less imposed brutality was enough to buy their subjects’ worship. But today, in exchange for “worship” of the government/ruler, people speak as though government is doing the divvying out of good things so that the “subjects” can be absolved from needing to give.

So it becomes something virtue-signalers do when they “take care of the poor and less fortunate” by having government confiscate wealth from some to give to others. And they feel charitable doing this—even though it was coerced, and therefore not charitable giving by them or anyone else.

And anyone who even mentions that government interference actually makes things worse (look at welfare recipients since the War on Poverty began in the 1960s) is shamed as cold and hateful—even if that person is personally giving a tithe and more in actual charity and the virtue-signaling shamer has given nothing.

As we say here at the Spherical Model pretty often, 

If the government wants to implement something beyond the proper role of government, not only will government fail to achieve the stated goals; it will likely do exactly opposite of the stated goal.
So, if you’ve been approving of the following things in an attempt to virtue signal—you’re getting the idea—ask yourself how you know what you do is virtuous. And once again, if you can’t explain your reasoning so clearly, logically, and unemotionally to a nonbeliever that you convert with persuasion, maybe you’d better stop the shaming as well:

·         Socialism

·         Anti-capitalism
·         More government regulation
·         Infringing on First Amendment rights: religion, speech, assembly,
·         Gun control
·         Welfare unrelated to work or ways to get off welfare
·         Ignore or reimagine the Constitution
·         Public school monopoly of education
·         Socialized medicine

The list could go on. The point is that our disagreements go deep—as deep as religious beliefs. If we are ever to have peace, we need to learn to respect people with different beliefs, stop assigning them epithets—racist, homophobic, transphobic, hateful, bigoted, science denier, etc.—simply for not following a new, unpersuasive list of virtues.

And if we want more civilization and less savagery, we need a religious people who recognize virtue in honoring God, life, family, truth,and property.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Reality Is Kinder

Have you ever known anyone with anorexia? I’ve known a couple. Their brain is telling them that they are fat, that they must do something to lose weight, when in reality they are dangerously thin. They starve themselves, affecting their health, possibly causing permanent damage, and risking their life if left untreated. It is treatable, but not easily.

Would you go to such a person and support them in their delusion about themselves? Would you say, “You’re right; those people who are telling you that you don’t know what you’re talking about are so unsupportive. You stay away from that food all you want”?

No. If you care about them, you do whatever it takes to bring them back to reality—because their life is at stake. You get them mental health care. You might get them to a hospital or live-in program that will intervene long enough to get their brains to develop new neural pathways.

So, can we agree that, when a person has a mental disorder that causes them to be unable to perceive or accept reality—if that delusion is life-threatening, it would be better to offer treatment than to attempt to change the world to buy in to their false view?

If we compare this anorexia example to gender dysphoria, leading to transgenderism, we need to know two things:

·         Is the person with gender dysphoria unable to accept reality?
·         Is going along with the delusion (if that is what it is) life threatening?
If the answer is yes to both, then the treatment for gender dysphoria ought to be similar in process to treating anorexia or other mental delusions. I’m not saying the treatment is the same, or even that I know how to treat mental delusions. I am saying that treating for the delusion is a more humane approach than supporting the delusion.
image from here

I’m not the first to make this comparison. The CanaVox video blog uses this as a way to discuss transgenderism in an age appropriate way when it comes up with children. And, because of media, and activists within academia, these issues are coming up for children at younger ages than we wish. I'm unable to provide the video here, but this link will take you to the 5-minute video on Vimeo.

Let’s start with definitions. Back when my dictionary was written (which I use in order to recall what certain words meant before recent definition changes), gender referred mainly to the classification of nouns and pronouns in languages that use those distinctions. In Spanish, for example, you can’t communicate without knowing the gender of the nouns and modifiers you’re using. In English, gender is mainly confined to pronouns that are referring to the sex of a person or animal: he, she. But, colloquially, gender can also be a synonym for sex; i.e., male or female.

The invention of gender as something separate from sex, something outside of biology, is newly invented.

So, back to the two questions. There’s the scientific, biological answer. And then there’s the non-scientific, or philosophical (personal belief) answer.

The non-scientific newly invented definition insists that gender is fluid, and a matter of choice, and refers mainly to expression to the world. That’s pretty vague. But it essentially means putting on the trappings—clothing, hair, makeup, mannerisms—of the gender of choice. And this has been extended to include more elaborate expressions, by hormonal and/or surgical interventions that make the transgendered person appear more like the opposite of their biological sex.

The scientific answer is that the gender, or the sex, of a biological creature is determined by what part is played in the reproductive process of the organism.

Ryan T. Anderson, author of When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, explains it this way:
available here

Sex is a bodily reality that can be recognized well before birth with ultrasound imaging. The sex of an organism is defined and identified by the way in which it (he or she) is organized for sexual reproduction.
This is just one manifestation of the fact that natural organization is “the defining feature of an organism,” as neuroscientist Maureen Condic and her philosopher brother Samuel Condic explain. In organisms, “the various parts… are organized to cooperatively interact for the welfare of the entity as a whole. Organisms can exist at various levels, from microscopic single cells to sperm whales weighing many tons, yet they are all characterized by the integrated function of parts for the sake of the whole.”
Male and female organisms have different parts that are functionally integrated for the sake of their whole, and for the sake of a larger whole—their sexual union and reproduction. So an organism’s sex—as male or female—is identified by its organization for sexually reproductive acts. Sex as a status—male or female—is a recognition of the organization of a body that can engage in sex as an act.
That organization isn’t just the best way to figure out which sex you are; it’s the only way to make sense of the concepts of male and female at all.
There is no alternative scientific definition of sex. Maleness and femaleness are biological realities in particular organisms.

As Anderson says, this shouldn’t be controversial. In social “science,” however, the non-biological approach has gained traction. That should not be construed in any way to actual science overriding what we know of biology. Anderson quotes Dr. Lawrence Mayer:

I have searched dozens of references in biology, medicine and genetics—even Wiki!—and can find no alternative scientific definition. In fact the only references to a more fluid definition of biological sex are in the social policy literature.
Dr. Mayer says further:

Scientifically speaking, transgender men are not biological men and transgender women are not biological women. The claims to the contrary are not supported by a scintilla of scientific evidence.
So, the answer to the first question, about reality, is that gender dysphoria is a condition in which the person is unable or unwilling to accept reality. It is not possible to change from male to female, or from female to male. It is only possible to do elaborate play-acting.

There are plenty of delusions in which otherwise sane people might be unable to accept reality, and yet the delusional can go along with their lives functioning well enough anyway. So the second question is also important. Is it harmful?

“Transitioning” does not bring psychsocial outcomes of wholeness. This proves true even in countries that are considered “trans-friendly.” That is, they accept what many societies would consider weird, and take it in stride without social isolation or stigma.

Long-term follow-up studies are rare and inconclusive. But Anderson suggests the best one comes from Sweden. There, it was found,

Ten to fifteen years after surgical reassignment, the suicide rate of those who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery rose to twenty times that of comparable peers.
An argument for having transitioning treatment (hormonal and surgical) has been that it would solve the dysphoria, assuming the dysphoria was caused simply by a mismatch between brain and body. So it was assumed the depression and suicide among those with gender dysphoria would be drastically reduced. Instead, the underlying problem causing the dysphoria is untreated, leading to even greater hopelessness, and 20-fold more suicides.

It is difficult to know if that number is accurate. It may be higher. One of the difficulties with long-term studies is that the few attempted studies have lost track of more than half of participants. One likely reason for being unable to re-locate a participant is suicide.

If that weren’t tragic enough, according to Anderson, “death due to neoplasm and cardiovascular disease was increased 2 to 2.5 times as well.”

So the answer to the second question is, yes, going along with this delusion can be life threatening.
Therefore, treatment to bring the person into touch with reality is much kinder and more healthful than joining activists to change the world and insisting it is wrong to even question the “right” and “rightness” of playing along.

I am now acquainted with a transgender person, which I wasn’t aware of a week ago. I have seen several, of course. But not among people I know. This is not someone I know well. But I have known his wife since she was born, and was there for their wedding.

He has decided to become a woman, and is already undergoing hormonal therapy. He has not, prior to this, been cross-dressing. It used to be a requirement, or at least a recommendation, before transitioning “treatment,” to live as the opposite sex for a full year. Now it appears that, at the first sign of gender dysphoria, a therapist encourages transitioning—permanent changes, as yet untried, just to see whether it helps. Because a delusional person who is denying biological fact should be treated as sensible and capable of making such important decisions?

So, I am sad for the people I know who care about this young couple. So far the couple is childless, and cannot going forward ever engage in sex that results in offspring. They froze some sperm, just in case—because they’re not actually unaware of biological reality. But they stopped going to church and completely altered their lifestyle at the moment of beginning the hormonal treatments. So their support system is compromised as well. The wife is staying with him for now. But she is not a lesbian; she is not attracted to women. But staying with him forces that pretense upon her.

Also, I’m just saying, as a woman, we’re aware of body image, more so than your typical male. What are the odds that a 6”2” “woman,” who is a slightly doughy and hairy male to begin with, will be without body image issues simply by “changing” into a female?

My disapproval will matter not at all to these people; we are not close enough for me to have that influence. But I am sad that people who should have been able to offer actual help—particularly the psychiatric/medical community—offered instead something that is likely to lead to suicide, misery, and the loss of parenting opportunities and anything we might have meant when we wished this couple happiness in their marriage. I see nothing but tragedy in their situation—chosen, avoidable tragedy.

Monday, March 12, 2018

A Wrinkle in Theme

This is going to be a movie review today, plus some tangents.

We went to see A Wrinkle in Time this past weekend. I think it was opening weekend, not sure. We went to a late matinee, and shared the theater with maybe five other people.  So it’s probably not going to be a blockbuster. It was a worthwhile use of a couple of hours, especially visually. But, because I’m familiar with the book, plus a couple of other reasons, it was somewhat disappointing.

The Newbery Award winning book by Madeleine L’Engle was first published in 1962. For perspective, this science-fiction/fantasy comes seven years before the moon landing. It predates Star Trek, the TV series, by four years. It came fifteen years before the first Star Trek movie. So you can’t judge it by current science. You just need to suspend your disbelief about the science. The purpose of science fiction and fantasy is to put people (or other sentient beings) in different circumstances, so you can see more clearly the important human interactions without the noise of our world to blame things on.

Anyway, the movie does some updating and scene changing, some of it intended to make it more appropriate to our times. Some of it works, but some of it adds extra noise.

The original is set in rural New England. The Murry family is made up of both mother and father scientists, plus high schooler Meg, her ten-year-old twin brothers, and pre-kindergarten age genius brother Charles Wallace. The movie keeps the parents, lowers Meg’s age to middle school (I’m guessing; it isn’t specified), leaves out the twins, and adds an adopted Charles Wallace.

Instead of flaming red hair and porcelain skin, the beautiful mother is played by British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I didn’t recognize her, but she played Plumette in the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast. She’s mixed race but appears black, and is very attractive. That fits the book, but the movie doesn’t have her doing crazy concoctions over a Bunsen burner, and talking naturally about when her children’s father will return. Instead she’s uncertain about his disappearance, even though she’d been working on the experiments with him, and is kind of angst-filled, which doesn’t help the two kids.

Father is played by Chris Pine, who is one of the more reliable actors around these days. He’s less heroic and swashbuckling than usual here, but he’s one of the reasons I was hopeful about this movie. In the movie he’s ahead of his time and his science is scorned by others. In the book, he is part of a government team, and not the first to attempt the tesseract (which is moving through time and space, not a magical artifact as in the Marvel universe).

Anyway, the marriage of these two attractive parents means the daughter, Meg, is mixed race. Adopted Charles Wallace is unidentified. He looks maybe partly Hispanic.

One of the things I liked was that this racial updated was completely uncommented on. It just was. That is how to treat race in a movie, so I didn’t mind that.

I do miss the brothers, the rural setting, and a few other details. The change in theme is subtle, but significant. I’ll get to that in a minute.

movie poster from
The movie uses some big name star power: Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon, Zach Galifianakis. Probably others I’m missing. These are big personalities in real life—and in other roles they’ve played. Except for Reese Witherspoon, who imposed a full personality on her character (different from the character in the book, but I can tolerate the differences), the others were underused. Oprah Winfrey was stiff and lifeless—so coated in glitter that maybe the stiffness was to prevent it from flaking off. The same was true for Mindy Kaling, who had the added difficulty that her character was “evolved beyond speech,” so she only spoke in quotations. The quotations were updated and didn’t always seem as apt as the ones in the book. But my disappointment was that she and Oprah seemed like prom dates with a special dress and hairdo that they’re too afraid will spoil if they get down and dance at the prom.

The Happy Medium is female in the book. I wouldn’t mind the change to male, to make use of Zach Galifianakis, if they’d made use of him. He was odd. But neither he nor Oprah nor Kaling were useful; any random unknown but decent actor could have filled any of those roles.

The child actors are adequate. Storm Reid plays Meg. Since the character was meant to be not yet attractive (her mother hadn’t been as a child either), and socially awkward, her stiffness is tolerable. We may see more from her in the future. Calvin is played by Levi Miller. He’s a pretty boy, with pretty eyes, and most of what he is required to do is look adoringly at Meg for reasons that aren’t really explained in the movie. If his job was to be of interest to tween girls, he’ll do. Charles Wallace was OK. The role required being able to speak as though he was very advanced for his age, while looking somewhat babyish. He was able to deliver the lines, but there wasn’t much acting there.

Full confession: Back in sixth grade (which was elementary school, not middle school, in my world), my class read this book and decided to turn it into a play. We typed up the dialogue and some stage directions, and then put it on for the school and our parents. I played Meg. That was the full extent of my acting career, I’m sure for good reason. Anyway, when I say the young actors were adequate, that is a complement. I think it takes a lot for a young person to provide depth to a role.

Getting back to the change in theme. This is a book I’ve used to teach my method for doing literary analysis for homeschoolers. It works for anyone, not just homeschoolers. But sometimes it’s a challenge for non-English-major moms to figure out how to talk about literature with their kids, and they resort to online lists of questions, which is almost as painful as answering a list of questions in school. This doesn’t instill a love of literature; it instills dread. So, I have this brief pattern for the conversation, and the parent can facilitate, but doesn’t need to have all the answers beforehand. They discover them together.

You list all the main characters. Then you go through each one and describe what it is that character wants, or is seeking, near the beginning of the book. Then you see if the thing they were seeking changed by the end of the book. Give evidence from the book as you answer the questions together. (And there can be disagreement; just write the extra views on the board too.) Then identify whether the characters’ individual goals were met or not—with evidence from the book. By the time you’ve gone through this discussion, you know a lot about the book, and you’re ready to try to say what the author was trying to tell you. Take a stab at a theme statement or two.

So, that’s the process. This is actually the first book I did this with in our homeschool. At the beginning of the book, Meg’s goal is to fit in, to not be different. She’s not doing well in school. People talk behind their backs about why her father is missing (the assumption that he must have run off with another woman). Meg is socially awkward, unlike her twin brothers, who seem to fit in fine.
On page 19, talking to her mother, she says, “I hate being an oddball. It’s hard on Sandy and Dennys, too. I don’t know if they’re really like everybody else, or if they’re just able to pretend they are. I try to pretend, but it isn’t any help.”

In the movie, she has troubles as well. But it appears those around her are just mean; no one in their right mind would want to “fit in” with them. She’s just suffering because life is cruel, people are cruel; and that turns out to be because of the darkness shadowing and looming above in space.

When they travel to Kamazotz, that dark mysterious planet her father disappeared to, with plans to rescue him, they come upon a tidy neighborhood with children bouncing balls. All at the same time. To the same rhythm. This shows up in the movie, too. But the scene dissolves afterward, so none of it was real. In the book, these are real people, afraid of making an error or doing anything differently.
On pages 100-101 they have a conversation with a paper route boy, who is puzzled by their being out on the streets at a time when only route boys are allowed:

“Are you examiners?” the boy asked a little anxiously. “Everybody knows our city has the best Central Intelligence Center on the planet. Our production levels are the highest. Our factories never close; our machines never stop rolling. Added to this we have five poets, one musician, three artists, and six sculptors, all perfectly channeled.”
“What are you quoting from?” Charles Wallace asked.
“The Manual, of course,” the boy said. “We are the most oriented city on the planet. There has been no trouble of any kind for centuries. All Camazotz knows our record. That is why we are the capital city of Camazotz. That is why CENTRAL Central Intelligence is located here. That is why IT makes ITs home here.”
So, of course, they go exploring to find out what IT is. Charles Wallace’s brain is captured in the process—not at all like in the movie. He becomes a voice for the IT. And he starts telling his sister to give in, to submit. To their request to see their father, the IT-controlled Charles Wallace says, “Father? What is a father?” Charles Wallace intoned. “Merely another misconception. If you feel the need of a father, then I would suggest that you turn to IT.”

Here’s something scary about it, explained through the little boy’s body:

“Perhaps you do not realize that on Camazotz we have conquered all illness, all deformity—“
We?” Calvin interrupted.
Charles continued as though he had not heard. And of course he hadn’t, Meg thought. “We let no one suffer. It is so much kinder simply to annihilate anyone who is ill. Nobody has weeks and weeks of runny noses and sore throats. Rather than endure such discomfort they are simply put to sleep.”
“You mean they’re put to sleep while they have a cold, or that they’re murdered?” Calvin demanded.
“Murder is a most primitive work,” Charles Wallace said. “There is no such thing as murder on Camazotz. IT takes care of all such things.” (p. 127).
And page or two later he adds,

“On Camazotz we are all happy because we are all alike. Difference create problems. You know that, don’t you, dear sister?”
“No,” Meg said.
“Oh, yes, you do. You’ve seen at home how true it is. You know that’s the reason you’re not happy at school. Because you’re different.”
In the book, IT is a disembodied brain set on the dias in a room in a large building. The thing is “just enough larger than normal to be completely revolting and terrifying.” In the movie IT is a planet-sized brain, and they’re inside it, fighting off the occasional swinging neuron tendrils.

In the book it tries to take them in by its pulsing rhythm, so the humans resist by reciting things in their minds that won’t fit into the rhythm. In the book, at Calvin’s suggestion, just before IT can take them in, Mr. Murry tessers them away from Camazotz, to a weird cold planet, where a kind creature helps them rest and recover. And then Meg is the chosen one to return to rescue Charles Wallace. In the movie, Mr. Murry is somewhat cowardly and is willing to lose Charles Wallace (because he’s adopted?), but Meg doesn’t allow him to tesser her away.

In both movie and book, Meg reminds Charles Wallace of her love, and this pulls him out of the spell of IT. And then they get away with the help of others tessering them away.

Visually, the rescue scenes are very different. In essence, love wins out over the darkness. But in the movie the darkness is just a vague uncomfortable human meanness. In the book the darkness is loss of freedom—of thought and action.

I don’t think Madeleine L’Engle was very political. In New England, if anything, she was probably Democrat. But the ideas here compare to socialism or communism—IT provides everything, and everyone is made equal, but at the sacrifice of their freedom and individuality. Remember that article a while ago, about Iceland eliminating Down’s Syndrome? They did it like IT—by eliminating (i.e., killing) any Down’s Syndrome babies or fetuses. Central control ≠ a good thing, no matter what IT claims. It’s not about what’s good for the people; it’s about what gains power for the tyrannical ruler, which is what IT is.

In the end of the book, what Meg wants isn’t to fit in, or conform; it is to resist conforming. And you do that with love from one individual to another.

The message of being an individual came through in the movie. It was kind of a celebration of “You should stop loathing yourself and love yourself for being an individual.” But the message of resisting conformity is lost.

So, the movie was interesting, and visually worth watching. But probably not the classic that the book has been for almost 60 years.