Another Open Letter to Trent Horn About Mormonism

Trent Horn graciously replied to my previous post to him. Here are my thoughts in return:

Hello again, Trent! Thank you so much for your thoughtful and detailed response. I love exchanges of thoughts that are both kind and productive, so thanks also for that. I’d like to continue our conversation.

On sources

I’m still curious about your education in my faith; you say that you’ve “read extensively the work of contemporary Mormon apologists,” for example, but what constitutes “extensive” here? It’s one thing to note that you “cite primarily” from LDS sources, but quite another to have studied those works holistically and fairly, rather than using them as research for quotes alone. (Also, why leave out the Bible when you define our “standard works?”)

I certainly didn’t mean to accuse you of having any attitude at all, much less one that finds this subject “irrational or easy to refute,” and I’m sorry if it sounded that way. You quite rightly say that I can’t fault you for the conclusions you’ve drawn about my faith as they’re grounded in your own faith’s perspective–fair enough, yes–but surely it’s reasonable for someone to hear your teachings and want to ask about what has gone into forming and supporting them.

Speaking of which, you say that you are “well aware of the arguments made for Mormonism, as well as Mormon rebuttals to arguments made against the faith, all of which I have found unconvincing.” Really, *all* of them? There’s not a one that carries any weight at all? That’s odd.

If you used some space in your book, though, to accurately correct misconceptions about the LDS church, then you have my sincere thanks. We agree then that there is much erroneous information out there in need of correction.

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Where NOT To Get a Smoothie

Here’s a fun game: let’s say you live a really evil life, so you end up spending eternity at the Smoothie King in the northwest part of Las Vegas.

You can pass the time by trying to count all the signs they have posted that basically yell at you in advance. There are 8 1/2 x 11 laminated signs all over telling you not to steal, and that the bathrooms are for customers only, and that they don’t honor certain specials, and to hurry up and leave, etc.

Anyway, I counted 11 such signs on my last visit. Eleven!

Don’t try using a coupon there. They will make you suffer.

They have virtually no seats, so they can make more room to stock shelves full of pseudo-healthy junk to sell (“Amazing herbal bar melts away the pounds!” kind of stuff).

The only conclusion I can reach is that Smoothie King actively hates its own customers.

I’ve been there four times over the last couple of years, trying to give it another chance, because I love smoothies. I’ve never seen the same person working there twice–high turnover, perhaps? Maybe, because on three of those four visits, the people working there were rude, curt, and depressed. I can’t tell if they just hire miserable people, or if working there makes people miserable.

On the plus side, do you know what I just noticed this summer? On Aliante Parkway and Centennial, there’s a new Tropical Smoothie Cafe. Yea!

Where To Get Your Car Fixed

I’ve been taking vehicles to Honest-1 Auto Care for a few years now. I can’t say enough good things about them. It’s just the beginning to note that, unlike most other places, they don’t try to rip you off. Their work is superior, and they really care about helping you out and doing great work.

A guy named Rich runs the place, and my wife and I have come to like and trust him. We used to compare their suggestions and quotes with other places; after doing that a few times, though, we know just to take our cars to Rich now. Far and away the best car shop I’ve ever been to.

Use Honest-1 Auto Care for all your car needs. They’re the best.

An Open Letter to Trent Horn

Hi Trent!

I heard you on the radio last Monday talking about Mormonism. I tried calling in but the lines were busy. I tweeted you on Tuesday asking to talk about it, but you haven’t responded yet–maybe you’re busy?

At any rate, I thought this post might be a good way to open a dialogue, if you’re OK with that. Feel free to respond to any and all of the items I discuss here, or proceed as you see fit. I look forward to a friendly and respectful, but candid and productive discussion!

I didn’t hear the entire program, as I was driving around and running errands at the time, but I think I got the gist of it; certainly, I heard enough to be able to address what I think your major points were.

First, I want to offer some general observations, in the form of questions, about what I heard you say on the radio. (I’d love to hear your actual answers to these questions, please–they’re not meant to be merely hypothetical!) Then I’ll cover a few of the biggest specific issues you raised.

10 questions regarding general observations

1. You invited Mormons to call in and discuss your teachings, and this leads me to wonder: have you engaged many Latter-day Saints in conversation about your claims regarding us? Have any of them had the equivalent education and training in their religion that you’ve had in yours? Do you feel you have a solid understanding of what LDS answers to your objections are?

What have their responses been? Have you found any of those responses compelling at all?

If not, doesn’t it strike you as odd that a religion with so many adherents should be incapable of adequately explaining *any* of your claims? Might that seem to indicate the presence of confirmation bias on your part?

Do you ever address these responses in your presentations on Mormonism? If not, why not?

2. If you have not sought out responses from qualified Latter-day Saints, why not? Shouldn’t someone who professionally teaches about the perceived negatives of another group seek out responses and even rebuttals from that group as assiduously as possible as part of their own preparation? Wouldn’t that bolster your credibility and, frankly, be the most civil thing to do?

3. What have been the primary sources of your education about Latter-day Saints? What would say are your top five sources? Continue reading

Movie Review: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

indexFirst things first: here’s my ranking of the Mission Impossible series, from best to worst: 4, 5, 3, 1, 2. Yes, this new movie comes in 2nd place overall, just edging out the J.J. Abrams-directed third film, in 3rd place, but not quite reaching the perfect popcorn heights of Brad Bird’s flawlessly fun fourth entry, Ghost Protocol.

I think we can all agree that the only really bad film in the series has been the second one. What garbage that one was! I didn’t like the original when it came out, either, but upon rewatching it last year, I was surprised at how well it had aged. Or maybe it was because of how well I had aged. Either way.

If I had to summarize what makes Rogue Nation work so well, it would be this: loyalty vs. subversion. RN works in commentary on a few themes, but none so much as loyalty.  It does this both by bald exposition and by narrative subversion, contrasting the two ideas.

(And I like my popcorn flicks to have just a little of that substance to them, and good action movies these days do it quite well, embedding the ideas they illustrate quite organically, and making those ideas more meaty than those in an after school special, but not exactly trying to be Nietzsche. Chris Nolan is also very good at this–The Dark Knight Rises is even better than most people gave it credit for.)

The subversion in Rogue Nation is both a plot point and a narrative method–nobody likes supposed mysteries that cheat you with contrived twists or random reveals, but those here are neither. I like how the subversion isn’t just the inevitable betrayals that we see in the MI franchise’s stories, but direct the viewer to examine their own conception of the format. This starts with the trailer, which very cleverly misdirects us.

On the commentary track for an old Simpsons episode, the writers talked about how consciously they tried to do that with the series, to subvert expectations in a way that illuminated for the audience expectations they didn’t know they had. That’s the source for a lot of the show’s classic humor. Such a technique is used here for suspense and resolution.

It should be noted at this point that Chris McQuarrie, who wrote and directed this movie, also wrote The Usual Suspects.

[One more comment, but it’s a big spoiler, so don’t scroll down unless you’ve seen the film.]

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The Depth of Time and Detail

I don’t remember individual tweets, blog posts, or status updates for very long. I do remember individual novels, vacations, and relationships.

Time and detail matter.  They have depth, and weight, and life.

And yet, I also feel the cumulative substance of the more ephemeral experiences in which I habitually engage: meals, sunsets, church meetings, and exercise, for example.

But even after years of overindulgence, reading tweets, blog posts, and status updates have very little cumulative substance.

A ton of feathers may weigh the same as a ton of bricks, but years of sunsets outweigh years of tweets.

I want to read the complete works of Charles Dickens. I want to spend years exploring and gardening the same patch of homeland. I want to be married to the same woman forever.

These are the kinds of things that take a lot of time and involve deep detail.  They do matter because they have matter.

(Inspired by Katrina Kenison’s introductory essay to The Best American Short Stories 2006. Copied from my journal entry, 1.24.2015)

The Book of Mormon Loves the Bible and Leads Us Back To It

Some anti-Mormon critics have pointed out that the Book of Mormon uses specific and unique phrases from the Bible several dozen times.  They’re wrong, of course.

The Book of Mormon uses specific and unique phrases from the Bible several hundred times.

This amazing presentation by a BYU scholar at a recent conference on the complex language of the Book of Mormon goes into this.  There’s no concrete explanation for how this phenomenon is to be accounted for: for the faithful, we don’t know exactly how so many of these non-quotation uses appear in the Book of Mormon; for the critics, since there’s so much subtlety and deep understanding evident in the phrasing (and it in no way helped any hypothetical hoax), there’s no way to simply write this off as lazy copying.

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NPR, ISIS, and Recognizing Identities

For over a year now, when I hear NPR reporting on terrorism in the Middle East, it’s always with reference to “the so-called Islamic State,” or “the self-proclaimed Islamic State.”  NPR always uses those two, and only those two, modifiers.  Is there some NPR style guide that dictates this?

The rationale is obvious: they don’t want to legitimize the group’s theocratic claims.  Fair enough.

But is the constant use of the qualifiers necessary?  Apparently NPR is afraid that calling them merely the Islamic State–even once–will result in people thinking, “Golly, I guess those guys are the official political leaders of all the world’s Muslims or something.”  And isn’t that really an insult to the intelligence of their listeners?

Approaching this from another angle, though, reveals some cognitive dissonance.  After all, who is NPR to imply that the identity ISIS prefers is not to be honored?  Are they saying that we are not obligated to celebrate someone’s sincerely held belief about their own nature?  Obviously, there has been an uncritical acceptance of some “self-proclaimed” labels and an ideological distancing from some others.  Why the inconsistency?  What’s the rationale for qualifying some labels and honoring others?

But again, the real reason here is obvious.  For mainstream American liberal media, all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

A Spiritual Metaphor

Each of us is a complicated congregation.

Paul used this fact in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, where he used various body parts to represent different gifts and callings, showing that just as a body needs all its parts to cooperate in order to work best, so does the church need a variety of gifts and offices to best perform its duties.

It occurred to me recently that we could apply that metaphor to an issue in the church today:

Each of our individual “congregations” is led by a presidency: our spirit is called to preside over the rest of us, perhaps with the mind as first counselor and the heart as second counselor.

The rest of the things that constitute ourselves–the “members,” as Paul put it–have their various functions, but all work best in an established order, cooperating harmoniously and ever submitting to the leadership of the presidency.

Whenever a member decides to disregard the order–indulging in its own desires and placing its own wisdom above that of the presidency–the entire congregation suffers.  Whatever member that is–the stomach, the eyes, the genitals, the ego, etc.–risks apostasy.

In any congregation–the global church, a stake, a ward, or our own individual selves–the best way to live is to follow the order established by God.  That means training ourselves to live under the mentoring of our leaders.

Favorite Quotes from John Taylor

“I have no ideas only as God gives them to me; neither should you. Some people are very persistent in having their own way and carrying out their own peculiar theories. I have no thoughts of that kind, but I have a desire, when anything comes along, to learn the will of God, and then to do it.”

The Life and Ministry of John Taylor

The only question with us is whether we will cooperate with God, or whether we will individually work out our own salvation or not; whether we will individually fulfil the various responsibilities that devolve upon us or not; whether we will attend to the ordinances that God has introduced or not; for ourselves to begin with, for our families, for the living and for the dead. Whether we will cooperate in building temples and administering in them; whether we will unite with the Almighty, under the direction of his holy priesthood, in bringing to pass things that have been spoken of by the holy prophets since the world was; whether we will contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the Saints. These things rest with us to a certain extent. …

Chapter 1: The Origin and Destiny of Mankind

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Fahrenheit 451 is a Conservative Classic

9781451673319_p0_v7_s456x700And I don’t mean “conservative” here just in the sense that Bradbury is arguing for preserving an established way of life, though his most famous work certainly does that.

No, despite its perennial status as a staple in the counterculture, Fahrenheit 451 defends the ideas of the right far more than the those of the left.

It’s always fun to track the many items in our modern world that Bradbury basically predicted here: earphone radios, massive flat screen televisions, reality TV, etc.  Far more prescient, though, are the modern issues of the Puritanical, tyrannical left that he saw ascending to dangerous heights.

Consider these passages from Beatty’s exposition in the first third of the book.  I’ve labeled them with contemporary problems that Bradbury described perfectly.

Censorship comes from aggrieved special interests who don’t want to be challenged.  This narrowing of acceptable ideas helps dumb down the culture and focuses it on lurid media that stimulates the body and pacifies the mind. 

“All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals.”

“Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag.”

A sprawling government bureaucracy can infantilize society through a shallow, technical education system and a coarse, hedonistic media culture.

“You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, what do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren’t they? Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun? That’s all we live for, isn’t it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.”

“If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.  Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can, nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide-rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won’t be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely. I know, I’ve tried it; to hell with it.  So bring on your clubs and parties, your acrobats and magicians, your daredevils, jet cars, motorcycle helicopters, your sex and heroin, more of everything to do with automatic reflex. If the drama is bad, if the film says nothing, if the play is hollow, sting me with the theremin, loudly. I’ll think I’m responding to the play, when it’s only a tactile reaction to vibration. But I don’t care. I just like solid entertainment.”

9 Blue Jokes in Shakespeare That Made Me Laugh

I admit, these juvenile gags gave me a giggle, and I kept track of them in my notes.  In chronological order:

#9. Guys get teased about someone sleeping with their mother.

Shakespeare is full of practical life advice. Like this: let’s say you’ve been secretly sleeping with some powerful female executive, which would really cause a scandal if revealed, because you’re black.

But then she gets pregnant and the baby comes out black, so the cat’s pretty much out of the bag on that one. Then, her two spoiled brat sons start whining to you that your little scandal has ruined mom’s career. What’s a guy to do?

Don’t worry, Shakespeare’s got you covered:

Demetrius. Villain, what hast thou done?
Aaron. That which thou canst not undo.
Chiron. Thou hast undone our mother.
Aaron. Villain, I have done thy mother.

–Titus Andronicus, Act IV, Scene 2, emphasis added

That’s right: tease the jerks about it. When Chiron says, “Thou hast undone out mother,” he means that Aaron has spoiled their mother’s reputation. Perhaps Titus Andronicus is set in Mississippi. But Aaron replies with one of those clever plays on words that Shakespeare is so famous for. Aaron’s response also uses the word “done,” but here it means…something more literal.

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