How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Resolution

There exist in the world, forces, entities, people, organisms, those who lack the propensity for empathy. Sociopaths. Psychopaths. Those bent on destruction, without remorse. The world we live in is a result of the willful destruction of such existences.

Also. There exist in the world, forces of good. Those bent on creation, creativity, preservation, fecundity, living in a world of productivity and abundance, rather than strife.

The battle between life and destruction will never cease. But no other battle exists.

What more of substance is there to fight for? Of what value is the last dodo, monk seal, passenger pigeon? There is nothing less than the essence of existence itself at stake.

Here I strive. Coral reefs lie at the mercy of lapping seas contaminated by human greed. Birds travel miles only to find dredged wastelands. Ancient floral stowaways find genetic refuge, temporarily.

There is no choice but to fight for the cause of ecological righteousness.

There is no other cause.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Song of the Nighthawk – Silent Summer Skies


20 years ago, I lived with my young family in an old wooden house, known as “the Point House,” at the very tip of the then-wild island of Providenciales. The house was old, the wood sun-baked, and the yard was filled with the gnarled trunks and branches of coastal trees that told a tale of centuries of struggle against the elements of sun, sea and wind. Beyond the yard was the beach, so a short walk down a stony path took us to our own little white sand and turquoise sea paradise. At that time, the water was alive with living sand dollars, sea stars and molluscs of various persuasions.  

At land’s end, a relatively deep but narrow channel divided Providenciales from the completely untouched islands of the Little Water Cay and Mangrove Cay. Those small islands were and are today Protected Areas that have been deeded over in perpetuity to those who rightfully own the land, Turks and Caicos rock iguanas and an array of herons, sandpipers, stilts, plovers and terns.
In the early summer months, as seasonal rains collected in the boggy roots and peat of Mangrove Cay, and mosquitoes, sandflies and their insect kin exploded in a frenzy of reproductive bliss, our island paradise home became a living hell.  The Point House was directly downwind from Mangrove Cay, and insects don’t observe the irrelevant boundaries of land.

In the first year of our residence, we thought we had reached our capacity to cope with the itching. Then one early evening, as we sat in the living room clawing at our flesh, a flock of hundreds of birds flew in to the yard. These birds had the body language of swallows, but they were much bigger, swooping and diving in a display of impressive acrobatics.  At times as they swooped towards the screened porch of the house, we thought they would crash, but they veered off at the last minute, vocalizing a strange creaky call, “karikidik-karikidik-karikidik.”  We were mesmerized.
After the first visit of the Antillean nighthawks, we noticed our habitat became more liveable once again. The mosquito population plummeted, and life resumed its normal sedate pace. Every night of mosquito season, the nighthawks visited the Point House, and they became our most-beloved birds, their creaky song was the blissful sound of relief.

Over the years, in my ramblings across the wild places of the Turks and Caicos, I have stumbled across an occasional nighthawk or two, literally. Their mottled colouring perfectly matches them to the stony substrate they nest on. Laying one or two mottled eggs directly on the ground in a small stone depression, the bird then sits on her eggs and blends into the earth. When disturbed, the female fly away from her nest and pretend she has a broken wing to distract you from her eggs. This creative adaptation has allowed nighthawks to survive millennia against predation pressures.
But the little birds that nest vulnerably on the ground don’t stand a chance against the worst predator of all. The north-eastern shores of Providenciales are now lined with luxury homes and the mosquitoes controlled by chemical means. I had been back for a week before I saw my first nighthawk, but rather than flying in a group of hundreds of noisy kin, this nighthawk flew silently, alone across the evening sky.

Because the nighthawk’s habits are largely unknown, we don’t know where they spend their winters, for example, it is difficult to know exactly what is causing their decline. Some believe that the chemicals used to control mosquitoes are to blame, others point to the nighthawk’s nesting behaviour. An ingenious tactic of pretending your wing is broken doesn’t stand a chance against a bulldozer.

For now, I watch the few I see with gratitude and remorse, and I hope that theirs is not another journey to extinction. Their lone calls sing into eternity like a requiem. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Healing and Hope – Coming Home Again


In the 1960s and 70s of my early childhood, divorce was rare. I was the only child in kindergarten who came from a “broken” home. The burning question always asked of me: “Where is your father?” was at first met with honesty. My parents are divorced. And later avoidance, as I realized such a distinction marked me among my peers as different.

For all the psychiatric warnings of the emotional damages done to children in my situation, I was a happy child. At the time, there were few injunctions against the scourge of deadbeat dads, and Mom, exhausted from the rigors of raising three children on a teacher’s salary, adopted a laissez-fair attitude to child rearing. The result was practically unlimited freedom, with our only restriction being that we returned home every evening as the sun went down for a family dinner. The fare was simple, Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, Ragu on pasta and macaroni and cheese. Mom wasn’t much of a cook, but she was adamant about family dinners. I suppose it was the only parenting she could muster up the excess energy for.

School provided the only structure in an otherwise rambling childhood and that ended every day at three pm. When the bell rang, the shoes came off and I was set free. Other neighborhood kids were chauffeured to school and back by car, and then were expected to finish their homework before they went outside to play. They filtered in and out of my life between firm boundaries of parenting I never knew.

In the absence of little competing organization, the earth provided my rules and insight. I knew every secret humid space the South Florida landscape had to yield. The old ficus tree down the block in Cindy Keith’s yard often had pigeons’ nests that invariably held two small, white eggs. The orange tree in the yard of the house on 28th Street had fruit that was bitter, while the tree at the house on the corner had fruit that was delicious and sweet. The trees had to be harvested stealthily, as the inhabitants of both homes were not fans of barefooted, scraggly haired, dirty kids in their yards. The man with pet monkeys in his yard seemed very nice, but he turned out to be a pedophile.

I learned life’s lessons from the world. Nobody told me that trees could not be friends and that cool grass is not a substitute for a warm hug. My family included the whole outside world, and I grew to love each character in it intimately. A gigantic fig tree lived in the backyard of a Miami duplex my family rented when I was six years old. We were dirt poor and the neighborhood was a bit rough. A block over from our house lived a family that had recently moved from Brooklyn. The youngest daughter, Debbie, was younger, smaller, scrappier and a much better fighter than I was. Debbie was a wicked puller of hair. Fortunately, my tree climbing skills were superior. I suppose that spending her formative years in a concrete jungle had restricted Debbie’s familiarity with the fine art, so whenever Debbie was looking for a brawl, I would seek refuge with my tall friend in the backyard. I would climb high up into the canopy and secure myself in the fork of a branch, where I couldn’t be dislodged by the swaying of the wind. Sometimes I would have to wait it out for hours, while Debbie took out her frustration, providing me with an education in four letter words, as she beat the tree’s trunk with a two by four or other weapon of choice.
Me at age 7

My time in the tree was not spent in fear. Once I reached the canopy top, I knew I was safe, and when my head peaked out just above the foliage, I had a vantage point across the flat plain of South Florida as far as the eye could see. From the treetop, I would fantasize about my future life in exotic places far away from the slums of South Florida.

In the 11th grade, we read The Scarlet Letter in Honors English class. My teacher was a tight-laced, pinch-faced matron who never fostered or expressed any affection towards me. As we read Hawthorne’s depiction of the bastard child Pearl, Mrs. B. commented that the child reminded her of me. At the time, I took her remark as a compliment. I felt an affinity with the character, as my own life mirrored Pearl’s rambling and unencumbered wild existence. It was only later in life that I realized my teacher  had probably meant to insult me, child of a broken home, peculiar and forever marked with shame by a divorcee mom who let her children run wild.

Yet in spite of societal scorn regarding my lack of boundaries, I never lost my desire to find solace and familiars in the company of the natural world. When I first moved to Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands over 20 years ago, the entire western portion of the island was completely undeveloped. I would often take the “Best Dog in the Whole Wide World,” Chad, out to the island’s Northwest Point and walk along the perfect shoreline. Meandering in and out of the shrublands and woodlands for hours I delighted in the friendly blue gray gnatcatchers, scolding me for disturbing them.  Assimilated into the place, I revitalized my body and spirit with an elixir of salt-drenched and sunbaked earth.
The edge of the world at Northwest Point

As a developing country with few natural resources, the TCI have only their white sand beaches and warm turquoise waters to sell. Inevitably, one day the bulldozers came and pushed a road through Northwest Point. A jarring rumble of steel scraping rock drowned out the whistling wind and the twittering of feathered inhabitants. In the wake of the machines, broken sentinels lay ruined and slaughtered. When I discovered the ruins, I sat down in the rubble and wept, my soul as crushed as the bleeding branches beneath my feet.
Bulldozer at Northwest Point
In his 2011 book Dreams, Derrick Jensen examines the common cultural myth of individualism, the idea that each of us is an entity separate from all others and discrete unto ourselves. We are not. Everything we are comes from the world around us. The molecules of oxygen passing in and out of our bodies are constructed in the tissues of plants, and the carbon dioxide that is the elixir of their existence is manufactured in ours. The water that provides the solvent for all our life processes is eternal, each molecule having inhabited millions of other living beings since time immemorial. Our fates are inextricably wound up with all the other life forms and non-life forms on Earth. When we live in a place, exchange air with the floral beings of that place, share water with the ecosystem and subsist on the plants and animals that call that place home, we are literally of that place. We become a living manifestation of all that it is. Western culture encourages us to ignore this connectedness and programs us from our earliest existence to feel separate, superior, entitled. For those like myself with a feral upbringing, however, the western programming never took hold, and the truth of connection reverberates as obviously as a blue sky and wind in the leaves. Each cut of a bulldozer blade feels like biting amputations of pieces of the soul.

Shortly after my crying session, I was enjoying spaghetti dinner with friends. As I conveyed the carnage at Northwest Point to my family doctor, the onslaught of tears began again, dripping off my chin and onto the garlic bread on my plate. “I think you are depressed,” he observed. Of course I am depressed. “No, I mean clinically depressed. It’s normal to be dismayed by environmental issues, but your anguish is beyond normal, it’s pathological. I mean after all Kathleen, it’s just a road.”

The doctor suggested that I take an antidepressant. “Just try some Prozac for a couple of weeks. I promise it will make you feel better and give you some perspective.” I took his advice, and he was right. A few weeks into my medication regimen, the Earth’s destruction became a mild annoyance, rather than an all-consuming grief.  The sharp edges of my intense emotions were blunted. As the World Trade Center crumbled to the ground, I watched with abstracted interest. The pain was gone, but eventually, I started to miss my emotional self and my arboreal family, so I gave up the Prozac. If crying over trees is pathological, I would rather be crazy than sane.  

Nevertheless, the development boom on Providenciales turned out to be more than I could handle, every development eating away at my green family and my psyche like ecological leprosy. I had to leave and then spent ten years recovering in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The change of geography was apt. Leaving a place that was succumbing to Western-style development, I entered one that was recovering from it. The ancient mountains, once relentlessly harvested for timber, are once again lush in dense secondary growth. They are not the same as they were before, but they are alive and thriving in a new reality. Nature heals herself and rambles on into new possibilities.
Mangroves at East Bay Cay
In Dreams, Jensen also talks about Earth’s six great extinctions. At five other times in the history of the world, life has been brought to its knees and then rebounded with greater magnificence and diversity than ever before. During this current, sixth great extinction, one species, Homo sapiens sapiens, is single-handedly wiping out life as it currently exists on the planet in a massacre that rivals any of the previous great extinctions. Great despair, not apathy, for all that is lost should be the natural reaction. It should be normal to be mortified and depressed about the state of the natural world. The fact that the realities of human existence require mind-dulling medications just in order to cope is telling. We seal ourselves up in artificial structures or chemical straightjackets to keep from connecting with the wider family we are systematically destroying. The concept of a nuclear family, a man, woman and two-point-two children implies an enclosed nucleus, sealed up together against the elements of the outside world, but there is no “outside” world.  My family had no core, no boundaries, no restrictions, yet the vast infinite space was not empty but rather full of related, living souls. The physical house was a stopping off point, a place to refill and rest before scattering back out into the world, the home I discovered when my first home was broken.
Pelicans at French Cay

In Dreams, Jensen reflects, “If we don’t have hope that creation will respond, then we have no reason to continue.” When I left the TCI ten years ago, this was the depth of my despair, but the mountains have healed my wounded psyche and given me hope, hope that nature will respond and that humans as a part of nature can evolve from the brink of their own destruction and resurrect the dying world.

Armed with this hope, I return to my natural home to the Turks and Caicos. I have been gifted an amazing opportunity to work as the Director of the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs. I start work tomorrow. The scars of development have not yet completely hobbled the natural tenacity of these wild islands. Within all that remains are the seeds of resurrection. I hope.
Noddy tern with juvenile

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gun Violence in America – Victims, Victims Everywhere


This past week news headlines flashed with an unfortunately all too familiar tragedy. A lone, heavily armed young man entered a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado and open-fired on the crowded theatre, killing 12 people and injuring dozens more. Americans justifiably stand shocked with disbelief at the horrific scenes that splash across television screen, and the media portrays the event as a rare twist of fate, an anomaly in American culture, an unforeseeable catastrophe.   

If only this were the case. Last year, a similar scene unfolded at a political rally in Tucson, Arizona. A couple of years before that, the scene was recreated at Fort Hood. Prior to that was Virginia Tech. 13 years ago, a mere 15 miles away from the scene in Aurora, a total of 15 were sacrificed at Columbine High School. Mass shootings are not an anomaly in American culture; they are a symptom of it.

In fact, mass shootings in America account for an average of 20 deaths per year in the United States. When one adds the victims of mere gun violence, the number explodes to around 30,000 per year. The number of gun-related deaths in the United States is a shocking 20 times higher than any other developed nation on earth. As such, gun violence may be the single most preventable form of death in this country. The number of victims caused by 9/11 pales by comparison. As we hunt down “terrorists” in the Middle East at a cost of trillions of dollars, perhaps we should ask ourselves if the greatest threat to the safety of Americans is American policy, rather than scary brown people with a different way of worshipping Yahweh.

Given the deplorable instance of gun violence in the United States, one would think that this issue would be paramount in political discourse, particularly during an election year.  James Eagan Homes, an obviously disturbed Graduate student of Neuroscience, obtained his weapons, including an assault rifle capable of delivering 50 rounds per minute, legally.

Holmes purchased much of his equipment online from a company TacticalGear.com. When interviewed, the CEO of the company reported that while there was nothing unusual about Holmes’s purchase, the CEO was “appalled” that equipment purchased at his company was used in the shooting. One wonders why a CEO of such a company would be appalled or surprised that equipment he supplied was used for its intended purpose. Such is the irony of the American gun culture. Commercial goods (guns and ammo), that have the singular purpose to maim and kill, are sold in many states more easily than tobacco or alcohol. Conservative, gun-toting patriots object vociferously to what they perceive as moral deficiencies, such as gay marriage, women’s reproductive rights or the teaching of scientific facts in schools, and yet have no qualms whatsoever about freely distributing deadly weapons to anybody who wants them.

The gun lobby spends obscene millions of dollars to maintain this status quo, and Congress impotently turns a blind eye to the obvious. Guns are killing tools. Rather than being readily available, they should be strictly controlled. The United States has a gun violence rap sheet that resembles statistics from war-torn Sub-Saharan Africa.  No other developed country has this problem. They also don’t guarantee their citizens a “right” to bear arms. Gun enthusiasts see gun control as an infringement on their personal freedom. I would gladly trade James Holmes’s right to bear arms for the lives of 12 people in Aurora, Colorado, who have now been unjustly deprived of the simple right to exist. The Supreme Court and Congress waste precious time and resources arguing whether universal healthcare that saves lives is Constitutional, while almost 100 people are dying every day from a gunshot. Insanity.

Sadly Holmes, like his predecessors Jarred Loughner, Seung-Hui Cho, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold and Nidal Hassan (to name but a few), is a deeply disturbed, mentally ill young man.  Another culture or country that offers universal healthcare, including mental health care, to all residents probably would have treated him long before tragedy struck. Otherwise brilliant young men could have been productive members of society, had society not ignored their needs. While our culture tells us to hate them for their crimes, we should also remember that they too are victims of a culture that values the right to bear arms more than it values the welfare of its people.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Steven Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and the Western Culture of Destruction


Steven Covey died yesterday. His best-selling, self-help book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is a paragon of the Western, goal-oriented culture that conflates “effectiveness” with human value. In Covey’s seminal work, he promotes seven behaviors, which he contends will lead to self-mastery, interdependence and self-renewal. Nobody could argue with these goals. Self-mastery and knowledge, and intimate integration in a meaningful way with one’s natural and human communities, could be viewed as the ultimate goals in a human life.

However, as with many glitches in our culture, it is not Covey’s goals that are problematic, but rather his stated means of achieving those goals wherein the telltale signs of cultural dysfunction are found. The seven “habits” Covey promotes are:

1.       Be proactive
2.       Begin with the end in mind
3.       Put first things first
4.       Think win-win
5.       Seek first to understand, then to be understood
6.       Synergize
7.       Sharpen the saw

Immediately, one can see the contradictions that arise with Covey’s narrative. The first three habits are intended to promote the first promised value, self-mastery. It would seem that Covey equates self-mastery with productivity. The two are not the same. The next three habits are ironically intended to foster “interdependence,” ironic because if one looks at Covey’s plan for developing interdependence, he completely excludes mention of the primary player in interdependence, the earth itself. His platitudes are merely prescriptions to placate other human players in order to maximize production. Like most victims of Western culture Covey confuses interdependence with exploitation.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People advocates a system of visualizing a goal, creating a plan to achieve that goal and then implementing the plan. This process would indeed result in productivity; however, productivity has little to do with self-mastery, interdependence or self-renewal. Our culture prizes production and “progress.” The problem is that during the process of achieving one’s goals, actual life takes place. By focusing on an event or theoretical accomplishment down the road, one loses track of the immediate. The paycheck at the end of the month, the holiday at the end of the year, the paying off of a mortgage or car, graduation, looking ahead to a hypothetical future that may or may not transpire, overlooks the reality of the world around us.

Ultimately, our goal-oriented culture has been a disastrous “habit” for the earth. As Westerners clamor to grow their economies, the actual substance of those economies, living and non-living entities (capitalists call them “resources”), are being churned into oblivion. The 1,000 year-old redwood that gave its life to be toilet paper or siding on your latest construction is not impressed by your bottom line, nor are the spotted owls that once resided in its majestic branches. If Western humans weren’t so focused on achieving a desired number on a balance sheet, perhaps instead of cramming ourselves into inanimate cubicles and “working,” we would take a walk in the woods and come to realize that the redwood and the owl are infinitely more valuable than siding and toilet paper, never mind their right to simply exist. The “progress” that renders the earth into “goals” is no progress at all. It is a process of mass-murder. Self-mastery, self-awareness, self-control. These values are not based on achieving theoretical goals. They are based on an awareness of one’s place in the world, the acceptance of the inter-connectedness of that existence, and respect for the other entities that also inhabit that space.


In my work performing environmental impact assessment, I witness the realities of our goal-oriented culture on a regular basis. The hallmark of Western culture’s agenda is “development.” This holy grail of development promises improved livelihoods for the people and places upon which it is imposed. In every case, the degree of improvement in livelihood depends entirely upon where one stands in the hierarchy of theoretically trickling-down benefits. Those at the top of the pile certainly enrich their bottom lines, and the working class is pacified with jobs for their complicity. Those who support the entire infrastructure, the trees that are now lumber, the wildlife that once foraged and thrived in the landscape, now scraped clean of life and sporting a shiny new condominium, the “resources,” have paid with their lives. Covey (and the goal-orientation he advocates) says, “Don’t look at the massacre. Ignore that. Keep your eye on the prize.”


The world now stands on the precipice of the actions of “effective” humans. 200 extinctions of irreplaceable species are sacrificed on the altar of human progress every day. The aerial view of our once-beautiful shiny green and blue orb is now marred in every recess with the scars of development. Vast oceans, once brimming with the substance of creation itself, are now struggling to maintain a last few vestiges of life. The thermostat is broken, thrown permanently on the heat cycle. It is no small irony that Covey’s last prescription for effectiveness is “sharpen the saw.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mitt and the Mormons – Racism and a final word on the LDS faith


As I was preparing for another round of discourse on Mormonism, it occurred to me that killing Mother is starting to look like a blog dedicated to dissecting the idiosyncrasies of the LDS church. So I have made an executive decision to make this the last post on the subject. This is not to say that the discussion we have been having is not important. Given the very real possibility that Mitt Romney will be able to purchase the White House this November, all Americans should be aware of the details of his religious faith, which will no doubt color his tenure as President. But we have just come through a national heat wave that broke all records at many locations and killed dozens of people. It’s time to get back to how sex, politics, money and all religions are conspiring to destroy our planet.

Most of the conversations we have been having here can be summarized with a few general observations, which I will offer at the conclusion of this post; however, since the subject has been raised and commented on extensively, I think it is important to first address the very real history of racism in the LDS church before we proceed.

As with polygamy, racism was not just historically condoned in the Mormon faith, it was canonized in scripture. In The Pearl of Great Price (one of Mormonism’s four authoritative scriptures):

 Moses 7:8; “For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.”      
Moses 7:22; “And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.” 
Abraham 1:24-27; “When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.  25 Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal.  26 Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood.  27 Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry.”

The above passages, received by Joseph Smith, supposedly from divine prophecy, provide the justification used by the LDS church until 1978 to ban people of color from entering the temple priesthood, and thus (since progression through the priesthood is the way to progress through heaven) damning them to servitude (at best filling lower ranks on the heavenly hierarchical scale) for all eternity based on the color of their skin. 

Steven, a Mormon who has graciously agreed to engage in a civil conversation on this blog, suggests that the issue of racism in the LDS church “arose from a common early American belief that Africans are the descendants of Ham, who Noah cursed as to the Priesthood.” Steven is correct that “the curse of Ham” was a prevalent view justifying slavery in America during the time of Joseph Smith’s revelations. Indeed it took a long time for the bulk of racist Christendom to come to terms with rejecting a practice (slavery) so thoroughly sanctioned in the Bible. Some are still struggling, as evidenced by the irrational reactions and claims of “otherness” regarding our first African American President.

The LDS scriptures go further. In The Book of Mormon:
2 Nephi 5:21-23: "And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them."

"And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities."

"And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done."

"And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey."

2 Nephi 30:6, [if the cursed accept Mormonism as their faith] "...their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people." (Note: In 1981, "white and delightsome" was changed to "pure")

The Book of Mormon clearly equates whiteness to blessedness and blackness to being cursed. Nevertheless, as Steven notes, the LDS church has received a revelation and mended their attitude.  For this, we must commend them; however, with the exception of the above alteration to the text, the racist scriptures remain canonized. One might be inclined to interpret this as a religious sanction of racism. One should also consider the heinous human rights atrocities that are splashed throughout the Judeo-Christian Bible. Most religions (I would submit with the exception of Buddhism, which isn’t really a religion, but more like a philosophy) are able to justify and explain away the immorality of their scriptures, which are apparently attributable to an “all-loving” God with the cover-all excuse: "We cannot understand the ways of God." Mormonism is no exception.

Regarding racism and bigotry, I would like to add a final caveat on the LDS church’s current treatment of LGBT people. Like polygamy and racism, it would appear that bigotry against LGBT people is canonized within Mormon doctrine. As Steven notes:  “Mormons believe in several degrees of heaven, but in order to obtain the highest a man and woman must be married and have their marriage sealed for eternity by one in authority and love and respect each other and grow as one in that marriage. In this way both men and women are co-dependent on one another to achieve the highest degree of happiness (or heaven) in the next life.” In my interpretation of this doctrine, homosexual couples are therefore specifically excluded from the upper echelons of heaven. I think it should also be noted (from my understanding) that a woman’s ability to rise through the heavenly hierarchy is based entirely on her husband’s ascent through the levels of the priesthood. Her heavenly status is not based on her own merits, but on her husband’s, since she (like people of color in recent times) cannot enter the priesthood.

It is no secret that the LDS church almost single-handedly spearheaded Proposition 8 in California to defeat marriage equality laws for LGBT couples. For the moment, Mormons view their stance of bigotry against LGBT people as morally justified, just as they once viewed polygamy and racism. It is my hope that the current prophet will receive a revelation overturning this current attitude of discrimination soon. In my moral worldview, uninfluenced by the doctrines of any organized religion, it is wrong to discriminate against any person or other living thing, and any justification of such simply illuminates the limitations of ideologies based on faith rather than reason. Which brings me to my final point.

During my little excursion through the Mormon faith, it has become abundantly clear to me that the Mormons are correct in their assertion that their faith is no different than other Christian faiths. In fact, their faith is no different than any other religion based on the prophecies of dominant male patriarchs. Moses received prophecies from God, and woops, he dropped them on the way down the mountain. But never mind. Read the Bible, and it will reveal to you all of the benefits God supposedly wants bestowed on Moses and his descendants for his troubles. Mohammad went from being a poor orphan, shunned by most of his community, to a man of great wealth and influence, with numerous wives, when he started receiving divine revelations.

Jesus was a bit of an exception in the prophecy department because by all accounts, his revelations brought him nothing but woe, but his tale was certainly highly marketable to others who wanted to cash in on the opportunity that Jesus passed up. In fact, for more than 1,000 years, the Roman Catholic Church ruled affluently over much of the Western world.

The difference between the other Judeo-Christian faiths and the Mormon faith is that we can view the events of Joseph Smith’s prophecy through the eyes of written history, which is unavailable to us with the more ancient religions. Joseph Smith, a well-known con artist (who was once imprisoned for "treasure hunting"), hailing from a long line of con artists, found himself in trouble with some wealthy benefactors when his treasure hunting schemes didn’t pan out. Suddenly, he became a prophet. The Book of Mormon and the other doctrines of the LDS church read no differently than the prophecies of other male patriarchs: The Lord said, “Do as my prophet says, give him your money, your daughters and even your wives if he asks for them.” What a racket.

L. Ron Hubbard, the father of Scientology, science fiction writer and behavioral psychologist, once speculated that he could design a religion that would attract millions of people and make him rich. He was right. The sad thing is that while many are getting rich on the gullibility of others, more pressing issues, based firmly in reality, are at hand.

While I will not be posting any further posts on this subject (at least in the near future), I  am happy to continue the conversation in the comments section. Thank you Steven and the other LDS members who participated anonymously in this conversation. While I may not agree with you, I respect your opinions and your willingness to share them.
KM

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Mitt and the Mormons, Part IV – Clarifying issues about Mormons and plural marriage


After posting a series of three articles on Mormonism, I was fortunate enough to get a few responses to my blog posts from members of the LDS Church. They were all extremely gracious and genuinely concerned about “setting the record straight.” Most wanted to remain anonymous; however, Steve posted directly within the comments section on the blog and invited any and all people curious about his faith to contact him. Thank you Steve for your openness and willingness to participate in this important conversation.  

Steve’s comments were very detailed, and it has taken me a few days to digest enough of the material to form an adequate response and to identify areas where further clarification is needed. Because the material is lengthy, I will be breaking it up into sections, which I will post in a series over the next few days/weeks (depending on the demands on my time in the real world). This first response is dedicated exclusively to the thorny subject of plural marriage.

Please see below  a portion of Steve’s original message my response:
Steve: I just randomly ran into this blog post through Google, and since I have a little bit of time on my hands, and there have been some comments or requests for a response from a Mormon on this post, I don’t mind responding. Just a little background info—I am a young entrepreneur, my wife is a student finishing up her master’s degree, and we have a little baby girl almost 8 months old. I love composing music, studying science, and playing most sports—but especially soccer. I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at a young age and have been a member for close to 20 years. I did serve a full time mission for the church a while back at 19-21 years old, but currently do not hold any special or authoritative position in the church in which I could speak officially for the church. For the most part, I’m just a normal guy and I’ll do my best to “weigh in and correct or clarify any misrepresentations [the author might have made]” from just my own personal standpoint as a Mormon. Quickly going through, here are some of the things the stick out to me as misrepresented or wrong:

“readily overturned major doctrinal tenants on polygamy… in the interest of political expediency.”

There are a few loaded issues with this statement. The doctrines or policies I believe you were referencing were not overturned readily, and from a Mormon perspective definitely not out of political expediency… Mormons believe in continuing revelation through our leaders who we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators. If you are familiar with any revelation found in the LDS cannon, including the Bible, it is more often than not given in a response to a particular question weighing on the mind of God’s people. God cannot answer a question if it is not asked. It should not be surprising then that in the late 1800’s when Mormon’s were being heavily persecuted over polygamy that the Prophet leading the church would inquire concerning its future…I am personally grateful that God has given us prophets who help us as a people and a church to course correct and leave behind former ignorance.

KM: Polygamy is not just an idea or practice that was carried out by a few misguided members of the church. It was a basic tenant of doctrine, etched into scripture, and supposedly the direct word of God. I have excerpted passages from the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132, attributed to a revelation from God to Joseph Smith, recorded in Nauvoo in 1843, but “known” by Smith since more than a decade earlier.[1] I provide the link to the LDS website where the complete text can be found. Section 132 deals primarily with the covenant of marriage and explicitly justifies polygamy (in great detail). I have abbreviated the section below (it appears that the Lord suffers from an extreme case of literary reduncancy), but I urge all to take a gander at the original text.

1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many awivesand bconcubines—…
 34 God acommanded Abraham, and Sarah gave bHagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.
 35 Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, acommanded it.
 37 Abraham received aconcubines, and they bore him children; and it was accounted unto him for righteousness, because they were given unto him, and he abode in my law; as Isaac also andbJacob did none other things than that which they were commanded; and because they did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into theircexaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.
 38 David also received amany wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me.
 39 aDavid’s wives and concubines were bgiven unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the ckeys of this power; and in none of these things did he dsinagainst me save in the case of eUriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath ffallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit them out of the world, for I ggave them unto another, saith the Lord.
 40 I am the Lord thy God, and I gave unto thee, my servant Joseph, an aappointment, and restore all things. Ask what ye will, and it shall be given unto you according to my word.
 41 And as ye have asked concerning adultery, verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man areceiveth a wife in the new and everlasting covenant, and if she be with another man, and I have not appointed unto her by the holy banointing, she hath committedcadultery and shall be destroyed.
 42 If she be not in the new and everlasting covenant, and she be with another man, she has acommitted adultery.
 43 And if her husband be with another woman, and he was under a avow, he hath broken his vow and hath committed adultery.
 44 And if she hath not committed adultery, but is innocent and hath not broken her vow, and she knoweth it, and I reveal it unto you, my servant Joseph, then shall you have power, by the power of my Holy Priesthood, to take her and agive her unto him that hath not committed badultery but hath been cfaithful; for he shall be made ruler over many.
 46 And verily, verily, I say unto you, that whatsoever you aseal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever you bbind on earth, in my name and by my word, saith the Lord, it shall be eternally bound in the heavens; and whosesoever sins you cremiton earth shall be remitted eternally in the heavens; and whosesoever sins you retain on earth shall be retained in heaven.
 51 Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to aprove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.
 52 And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, areceive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God.
 54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide andacleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be bdestroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.
 55 But if she will not abide this commandment, then shall my servant Joseph do all things for her, even as he hath said; and I will bless him and multiply him and give unto him an ahundredfoldin this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of beternal lives in the eternal worlds.
 61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse aanother, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.
 62 And if he have aten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.
 63 But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto him to amultiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be bglorified.
 64 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.
 65 Therefore, it shall be lawful in me, if she receive not this law, for him to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give unto him, because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor; and he is exempt from the law of Sarah, who administered unto Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to take aHagar to wife.

KMs Synopsis: God says, “Emma, your husband is going to take a lot of wives and screw around and that’s okay because all my prophets of the past (i.e. powerful men) have done the same with my blessing. Be a good wife and stop complaining, and don’t think you can have sex with multiple partners just because he does. Girls aren’t allowed to have fun. Joseph Smith is my mouthpiece on earth, everybody should just do as he says or be destroyed. ”

It is well-documented that when Smith first presented the idea of polygamy, his wife Emma was understandably adamantly opposed to the idea, and many of his early plural marriages took place without her knowing and without her consent. Then revelation 132 put an end to any questions about the morality of plural marriages. Emma was forced to comply, but after Smith’s death, Emma and her supporters established the Reorganized LDS church in Missouri (Emma did not travel west to Utah with Prophet Brigham Young, the founder of the LDS church). In the Reorganized LDS church polygamy was not promoted or openly practiced.

Even before Smith received the prophecy telling him to take multiple wives, he had a reputation for womanizing. Historical confirmation of this includes letters from Emma’s cousin who repeatedly accuses Smith of “improper conduct with women.”[2] A mob that tarred and feathered Smith in Ohio was said to be infuriated by Smith’s advances on a teenage girl, who later became a plural wife.  Some historical documents indicate that the mob’s intention was to castrate Smith. One has to wonder what drove them to such a dramatic course of action.

Emma Smith wasn’t the only person who objected to Smith’s promotion of polygamy. The primary co-author of the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery was particularly distraught. He wrote to his brother that Smith’s polygamous exploits were a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair.” Cowdery was ultimately excommunicated for “seeking to destroy the character of President Joseph Smith.” Smith revealed prophecy 132 during this period of in-group turmoil. Also, Smith claimed (as noted above) that he had received the prophecy several years earlier, thus justifying his behavior to date. It all seems just a bit too convenient.

Having thus been established, polygamy became deeply entrenched in the LDS population that migrated and settled in Utah. The United States government made no bones about refusing Utah statehood based on “the Mormon problem,” i.e. polygamy. As Steve notes, the LDS church resisted giving in. California, Nevada and other territories all passed into statehood without controversy, but all of Utah’s applications were rejected. Frustrated by the tenacity of the polygamists, the United States government started chipping away at the Utah territory, annexing great sections onto Nevada. Seeing their autonomy and landholdings literally disappearing before their eyes, the Mormons relented and publicly denounced polygamy. Utah was almost immediately granted statehood. I don’t think there is any doubt in any historian’s mind that polygamy was sacrificed in the interest of statehood and by extension, political expediency.

I am very interested in any information that could provide an alternative way of interpreting these events.

I believe that to admit that the doctrine of polygamy was a “mistake” raises questions about the validity of all remaining doctrine. The argument that that “God has given us prophets who help us as a people and a church to course correct and leave behind former ignorance” suggests that former (ignorant) prophecies can ultimately be deemed to be fallacious. When viewing the entirety of the scriptures, which as noted are revealed through prophecy, how is one to know which are “ignorant” and which are divinely inspired?

Question: If Smith received a prophecy regarding polygamy that was explicit, heavily justified and lengthy that is now believed to be in error, how can one view the rest of the Mormon scripture, received by the same prophet as accurate?

Having said that, as I note in my blog post “The Differences between Mormon Christianity and OtherChristianities,” the evolving nature and continued “revelation” in Mormonism that allows it to correct obvious problems in doctrine is one of the qualities I find to be the most agreeable aspects of the LDS philosophy. It takes a fine character to admit one has made a mistake and to correct it.

I would ask all who respond to this post to do so politely. We are all entitled to our opinions, and need to respect each other’s rights to the same. At the end of the day, it is humbling to consider that we are all probably wrong. I will look forward to a robust and respectful discourse.
                                                                                                                                                -KM


[2] The source I am citing for this information is Mormon America by Richard and Joan Ostling. Please see Chapter 4.