Saturday, December 20, 2008

Too Many People, or Too Many Westerners?

The Family Proclamation states the following: We declare that God's commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.

So, we are a people of reproducing. We marry, we have children, we increase the world's population. What affect does this have on the world? What about concerns of over-population? Ask most LDS people what they think of over-population, and they will tell you it's a myth, that the Earth's problems aren't caused by an excess of people, but by improperly distributed resources. I whole-heartedly agree, but do we practice what we preach?

How many people can the Earth support anyway? To save time and for convenience, I'm going to rely on this article for my information. I encourage you to read the article.

The point of the article is that the Earth can sustain the amount of people currently on it, but only if we stop consuming at our current rate. Unsustainable practises and over-consumerism are destroying the world and the brunt of the blame lies on members of the Western World. Mormons are no exception, despite the preachings of several church leaders, past and present.

The fact is, the culture of Mormonism and the doctrine don't always match up, and I think this is definitely a case where that applies. Mormon culture adores the rich and ambitious. Sometimes this manifests itself subtley, and sometimes with such blatantly ignorant statements such as "poor people obviously aren't righteous or they wouldn't be poor" and "people who live in poor countries were less righteous in the pre-existence." It makes me think that the Book of Mormon really was directed at us, considering the ad naseum warnings of the "pride cycle". The Nephites repeatedly succumbed to pride, classism, and the "wearing of costly apparel."

Back to the point, I don't think wealth and consumption are nearly as venerable as people seem to think they are. If we really are all about the family (and having children), if we really do believe that the Earth is our inheritance, if we really do believe that everyone on Earth is one of God's children, then why do we take more than our piece of the pie? Why do we uphold an unsustainable and exploitative culture of commercialism? Aren't we supposed to me in the world, but not of the world? I think we should all be striving to be a "one Earth" type of person. That is, I would like to live in such a way that if everyone lived the way I do, we would only need one Earth.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Brigham Young Was Onto Something, Doc!

I recall reading a while back about how Brigham Young encouraged women to become doctors, as they were natural healers. I was reminded of this as I lay on my stomach getting stitches in my leg in the ER last week. The doctor tending to me was a woman.

Thinking back over the past few years, I've had quite a few experiences with female doctors. I've given birth to two children in recent years, so I've been to clinics and hospitals more than most people in a relatively short time frame, what with pre-natal check-ups, labour and delivery, then having to take my son to the ER on two occassions. It seemed to me that most of the younger doctors were women. My regular physician often has student doctors, which were mostly women. I wondered if it was my imagination or if there really were more women becoming doctors. I looked into it, and apparently, women are dominating medical schools across the board.

Based on my experiences, women do make better doctors than men. The short answer as to why I think so, is that they're nicer. I sense that the male doctors are more interested in looking at test results than listening to their patients and that they see things in very black-and-white terms. They act like authority figures rather than public servants, which is what I think they should consider themselves. I also think that it would be more comfortable for women patients to have women doctors. I know I feel this way. Plus, I insist that my healthcare professionals not only tolerate my stand-up routine, but like it. I like my current doctor but I still wish he was a woman. He'd make a funny-looking woman, but then again, he makes a funny-looking man so I guess it doesn't matter.

Regardless of my personal belief that women are superior physicians, there seems to be some worry over the increasing number of women graduating med school. One concern is that the pendulum has swung too far and that now men are being discriminated against. I doubt it. My hunch is that women honestly find themselves more drawn to the profession. I think women become doctors because they think they'll enjoy it and be good at it, whereas men become doctors because the income, title, and status in the community appeal to them, hence why they act like authority figures.

The other worry is that women are more likely to work part-time, so staffing problems will become an issue when all the older, male doctors retire. My answer to this is that there should be efforts made to make full-time work more achievable and appealing.

Now, perhaps you've read this and think I'm being a little hard on male doctors. Maybe so, but experience has les me to prefer female doctors. What can I say? I think they're just plain ole better at it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Burnt Out on Works

There has been talk in my Sunday school about grace vs works lately, and it seems that no two Mormons can agree on the matter. If you ask the question, "Are we saved by grace or by works?" you might hear either one, but the most popular answer seems to be "both".

How wrong that is. How very, very wrong. How someone could spend X number of years in the Church and think that works has anything to do with being saved is beyond me. According to our scriptures, both the Bible and other uniquely LDS scripture, we are saved totally and 100% by grace. Not only are we not saved by works, but we aren't even partially saved by works. It isn't a question of doing the best you can and God making up the difference. This mode of thinking is reinforced by such stories as The Parable of the Bicycle. I hate that stupid parable.

I don't really want to get into why we are saved by grace and not by works, because it isn't really even an up-for-debate topic. Church doctrine is clear on this, even if many a Sunday school teacher is not. I do want to address the fact that a great deal of Mormons seem to think that we are saved, at least in part, by works. I had a thought after reading an exit letter from an ex-mormon stating her reasons for leaving the Church. I won't get into names and details, but I don't need to because it's a common theme among exit letters. The author often begins by explaining how they were the model Mormon for years and years, how they tried to be perfect in every way, maybe even held positions of authority, served missions, made a million casseroles for their sick neighbours, or whatever. Then they describe how they weren't happy, even though they were trying so hard to be perfect. In the particular letter I'm thinking of, the person left the LDS church for another Christian church, where the emphasis was not on responsibility or actions in the least bit, but simply a matter of declaring belief in Jesus Christ and leaving it at that.

All I can say is that it's no wonder people get burnt out if they think they're saved by works. What a chore, trying to do Christ's job! Trying to be perfect? I may as well try to reach my tongue out and lick the moon. I'm not saying works don't have their place, nor am I saying that we need to all start slacking off so that we can be happy, but perhaps our desire for perfection in the here-and-now is shooting us in the foot. In my opinion, it leads a lot of people giving up on trying to actually be perfect and settling for the appearance of perfection, or just giving up all together. Our works should be inspired by our love of humanity, not our fear of hellfire. We should be so filled with gratitude for the grace of being saved that we want to pour out our hearts and our lives to others.

Not to mention, it's a little ungrateful trying to take (albeit partial) credit for what Christ has done for us. Let's focus on our works as a means of saying thank-you, instead.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Existentialism and Mormon Women

I follow the Exponent II blog and one of the posts caught my eye. It was this one: The Existential Crisis: A Common Phenomenon for Mormon Women? The main issue discussed is that LDS women who don't have a career (in other words, are stay-at-home moms) are prone to existential crises. If you don't know much about existentialism, check out this Wikipedia article. I would say that the hallmarks of existential crises are feelings of disconnect and futility. How does this apply to Mormon women? Well, this is what I wrote in the comments to the blog:

Society has ingrained in us from a very young age that everything that has value has a price, therefore, a person’s value depends on their jobs. In other words, a person’s value is tied to their ability to produce profits.

So, yes, it’s common for those who opt out of the workforce to feel unfulfilled. They can’t shake the feeling that they aren’t accomplishing what they should.

We need to remind ourselves that society and commerce exist FOR people not, vice versa! The contribution of healthy, well-adjusted human beings is more valuable than any job.

Of course, on that same note, a mother is just as human as her children and should pursue any worthwhile interest that she pleases. Personally, I prefer volunteer work and artistic hobbies to having a job, so I relish in the opportunity to let my husband "bring home the bacon."

In my opinion, the existential crisis is one of many by-products of a processed and industrialised society. It's easy to feel like a queen bee forced to live the life of a worker bee when our society pushes both individualism and loss of self in the economy. The answer? I say we start focusing more on people. I mean, not in an individualist way and not in a Thomas Hobbes' Leviathon way, either.

Individualism, and it's twin sister, hedonism, are vices pushed by big business to make you want their products. How many times have you seen something you don't need advertised with the words, "Go ahead! You deserve it!" What you really deserve is to have a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle, not to give in over and over again to entirely unfulfilling products that will make you less happy in the long run. Materialism is just another way for your brain to get it's dopamine fix; it's a cheap substitute for sustainable happiness. Avoid it like the plague.

On the other hand, you don't want to "selflessly" throw yourself away, either. Proponents of utalitarian governments and communism are quick to state that the happiness of the individual is less important than that of the "community." I agree to the extent that a healthy community makes for healthy individuals, however, a community is also made up of individuals. So, while I don't condone exploiting others for your own happiness (that's happiness at someone else's expense), I also don't condone exploiting yourself for someone else's happiness. This ties into motherhood because a great deal of women feel guilty when they pursue interests outside the home and feel that if they do anything besides care for their children, they're being selfish. Really, if one of their children wanted to pursue a hobby, they wouldn't tell them not to because they need to be more concerned with helping others pursue their hobbies. Mothers need to take their own happiness into consideration as well. On the other hand, you don't want to fall for the trap of feeling useless because you're not in the workplace, either. You don't exist as a food pellet to shove down the gullet of the Market. You and your children are more important than creating profit for whatever company you end up working for.

Here's a comment posted on the Exponent II blog entry I linked to that I really liked. It's by a man, but I still agree with the sentiment:

I just can’t accept my stayathomelessness. I can’t face the next twenty-five or thirty years of career ladder garbage without knowing that I am also working towards my ultimate Eternal goal. I can’t face the mind numbing irrelevance and unnecessary competition of my career without a plan for how I will someday contribute to my community by raising a righteousness posterity. And I can’t figure out how to shake the feeling that the days I spend in my career are days of meaningless time wasting.

-A career Dad

I know, I’m a man, I don’t understand, but I really found myself unsympathetic to the comparison between staying at home and contributing to a community through a career.

What is so great about careers and working anyway? It is an means to an end, and we shouldn't mistake it for our life's work. That being said, some women truly do find fulfillment in the workplace, much as I find fulfillment in having and working with my dogs (an uncommon interest, and one which I don't think most people understand).

My advise for stay-at-home moms who feel unfulfilled is not to smother their feelings in guilt or to jump up and run to the workplace. Do some soul-searching, find what makes you truly happy, and pursue it. You may find that volunteering for a charitable organisation part-time and getting involved with your community is more fulfilling than earning a weekly paycheque. You may also find creative and artistic endeavours deeply satisfying. Be open to new concepts. Find a way of living and thinking that makes you happy.

I also really liked the D. Todd Christofferson talk at the next General Conference. Here's a link to it. It speaks of materialism in a way I really appreciate.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

We are not guilty of Adam's transgression... but what about Eve's?

I just remembered something that used to really bother me a few years ago. It doesn't bother me anymore and I'll explain why at the end.

I was obsessed with the idea that women were being punished for Eve's transgression, despite the fact that we are told that we are not guilty of Adam's transgression. The statement about Adam's transgression, of course, is a rebuttal to the Catholic belief that we are all born sinful because we are stained by Adam's sin. In essence, that simply being human is a sin.

So what did I even mean by being guilty of Eve's transgression? Well, first we'll look at the Catholic belief about original sin. They baptise little newborns to cleanse them of the sin they have supposedly been born with. So, we have a situation where a person is naturally fallen by virtue of their identity and not their actions, and requires specific action to reverse this affect. Now let's look at women: God cursed Eve that she must be subject to her husband because of her disobedience. In essence, Eve sinned and was being punished. So why is it that the rest of womanhood has to be subjected to their husbands because of something Eve did? We aren't guilty of Adam's transgression, but it seems as though women were guilty of Eve's.

Now, you might say that Adam was cursed, too, and that we're all subject to those curses as well. Adam's curse being that he had to labour by the sweat of his brow for all the days of his life. However, I would argue that the consequences of Adam's actions are natural whereas the consequence of Eve's actions are arbitrary. Because Adam partook of the fruit, he could no longer dwell in the Garden of Eden, and things outside the Garden of Eden are a certain way. They just are. Trees don't bare fruit spontaneously so you have to work hard to feed yourself. Fact of life. Eve's curse, on the other hand, seems totally artificial. Women certainly don't have to be subjected to their husbands, but the Bible seems to advocate the subjugation of women based on the account of Eve's life. We are taught to punish women. Besides that, women had their share of the natural consequences in the childbirth department. I have two kids, I can attest to this.

So why am I guilty of Eve's sin? Why do I need to be punished for something she did? Well, I promised that at the end I'd explain why I don't feel this way anymore, and I will. Basically, I don't believe that women are subject to their husbands and I don't believe that the Church (at least not the one I belong to) advocates the subjugation of women.

So, basically, I don't believe that I do have Eve's curse. This leads me to something else - why not? Why does the Bible teach it if it's not true? Well, I do believe many, many women have been subjected to their husbands throughout history. Abuse and inequality caused by the subjugation of women are a curse in their own right, but I do believe that curses are meant to be fought against, not embraced. For instance, if the land I live on grows food relatively easily, I'm not going to go out of my way to make it otherwise. If my labour and delivery isn't painful enough, I don't feel the need to stab myself in the eye to make it worse. In fact, mankind has several innovations to reverse these affects. We have tractors, fertilizer, combines, and the epidural. No one (in their right mind) thinks that it's a sin to use these things as a means of reversing our curses. Women have been prone to marginalisation due to their weaker statures. In a world where might is right, women are, unfortunately, often abused. Besides all this, my religion clearly teaches, sometimes ad naseum, that men and women are equal, that men are not to subjugate their wives, and that women are not obligated to put up with subjugation.

Personally, I feel quite empowered. Aside from the fact that I'm an equal partner with my husband, I don't feel marginalised or abused by my religion either. Sometimes, people's perceptions of women are an obstacle to me, but this is not mandated by God, nor is it necessary, or even acceptable. Women are not inferior to men, nor must they relinquish control of their lives to men. Unfortunately, there exist some men who feel that they have to treat women unfairly. I mean obvious things like abuse and withholding rights, but also little things, like the attitudes people have.

For instance, there's this dumb guy that works at Home Depot who tries to talk me out of buying things because he doesn't think I know what I'm doing. I've run into him a few times and now I refuse to talk to him. Once he told me that I couldn't use a rope clamp to make a loop in some nylon braided rope. Like heck I can't! He told me to weave it (I think he meant splice *eyeroll*). Little does he know that a splice causes the rope to lose roughly 20% of its strength, whereas a clamp loses only 5-10%. Anyway, what does he think rope clamps are for if not for clamping rope?

Anyway... my conclusion is that we are NOT guilty of Eve's transgression, and are not obligated to put up with subjugation. We live in a fallen world, so abuse happens. Our purpose in life is not to accept bad things as they are, but to try to reverse them. That is how we find our humanity and our godliness: we right wrongs and try to make the world better.

The Mind/Body Problem

Descartes said that the mind and the body were two distinctly different substances. We LDS folk, of course, believe that our purpose for coming to Earth was to gain a physical body. We believe that our intelligence have always existed, but that the Plan of Salvation is required for us to obtain physical bodies. I'll equate the mind with the spirit, as that means most logical from an LDS perspective.

So, this leads me to the mind/body problem. How does the mind/spirit control the body? If we need bodies (which are physical) to influence physical matter, then how is it that we are able to control our bodies in the first place? How is it that a spirit can influence a body directly, but no other physical substance?

My only explanation is really no explanation at all. I think that spiritual matter and physical matter co-exist but do not effect each other. Unless, of course, you have a portal from one realm into the next. That is to say, the body is the portal by which our spirits are capable of interacting with the physical world. Or, perhaps, our spirits do not possess any energy whatsoever, just will and purpose. Perhaps the physical world consists of energy and substance and the spiritual world consists only of awareness. Then, if you apply the spiritual to the physical, you have purposeful direction of energies and substances, rather than random chaos or latency. Think of a person lying completely still, then moving. What changed? Well, the energy and power needed to move was always there, but it had no will to move, and therefore didn't. Perhaps it is all part of our eternal mission: to bring order to chaos.

I'm not sure if any of this made sense. I'll have to read this again tomorrow and see if I'm out of my gourde or what.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Prop 8: Living and Letting Live

The obvious issue for my first (serious) post seems to be prop 8 which recently passed in California. What a time to be mormon! Things are getting increasingly heated between those who support prop 8 and those who oppose it. I'll weigh in, and try to be fair to both sides.

The likelihood of proposition 8 passing were looking pretty slim to begin with; all but the most conservative seemed against the idea. So, what changed? Well, I'd say most of the voters were of the "live-and-let-live" variety and, at first, saw no harm in allowing homosexuals the right to marry. However, things seemed to change when reports came out of children being taken to gay weddings, books condoning gay marriage being read in schools, and religious charities closing because of pressure from gay rights groups. At this point, I think the live-and-let-live crowd started to think that the LGBT community wasn't going to live and let live, which made them feel threatened.

In fact, this may be what lead the Church to want to take action this time and not other times. Gay marriage has been an issue in other states and countries (Canada, for instance) and in those instances, the message coming from the First Presidency of the Church was to get involved if you wish, but not in the Church's name. This may suggest that they felt something else was at stake here, not just whether or not gay people could marry. Although, to be clear, the Church has not donated any money whatsoever, they simply sent a letter out encouraging people to get involved. Also, no one is obligated to get involved. Many LDS people have been opposed to proposition 8, and no action has been taken against them.

Since the proposition has passed, there has been a lot of talk of rights being taken away and people not accepting the love that two people have for one another. This kind of language seeks an emotional response, although it isn't accurate. I don't feel it's appropriate to talk in terms of "rights". Technically speaking, no rights were taken away, as a civil union carries with it exactly the same rights as a marriage. Also, prop 8 really had nothing to do with love. No one's ability to be in a loving, committed relationship has been compromised. I feel it is a strategy of prop 8 opponents to make it seem like more has been taken away than really has or that prop 8 supporters feel a certain way about homosexual couples when they really don't.

The argument has also been made that redefining marriage shouldn't be an issue since blacks used to not be allowed to marry whites and slaves used to not be allowed to marry at all. However, marriage has never been defined as between "a man and a woman, but not of different races and as long as they're not slaves". The definition of marriage has always been "a union between one man and one woman", that contract was simply being withheld from certain people. Also, it's important to note that marriage has been in practise for thousands of years and is not limited to American history. There have been various restrictions based on culture (caste system in India, to name one) but it has always been a contract between one man and one woman. Even when polygamy has been in practise throughout history, it has been a contract between one man and one woman, the men having multiple contracts with different people (this being the distinction between polygamy and polyamory). Even in Roman times when homosexuality was quite rampant and widely accepted, there were never marriages between two men. A man would have a wife in addition to male sexual partners; they were considered two seperate things. I'm not saying this to mean that the definition could never change, only that this argument shouldn't be used to support the legalisation of gay marriage.

And now, we come to the reality of the situation. (Most) prop 8 supporters aren't actually interested in taking people's rights away and (most) prop 8 opponents aren't actually upset about a lack of rights. Both sides are worried about something else and I think all this talk of "rights" is just beating around the bush. This is really a multi-million dollar argument over the word marriage. So why all the fuss over a word? Well, let's look at this from both sides.

First, we have the gay side. This is really a plea for acceptance. They have all the rights of straight people and can enter into de facto marriages, but they lack the connotation of being "married". I understand the desire, and don't find it to be all that unreasonable. When homosexuals first started "coming out", they adopted the term "gay" because it was a positive word. So, in this case, I feel the desire for marriage is a desire to use a word that gives the impression of a normal, healthy, loving relationship and apply it to themselves. It's really a way of saying, "hey, we're just like you guys, and we want to be treated the same."

On the religious right, I feel that there is a group of people who want to deny the word marriage to the LGBT community for this very reason. They don't want to grant official acceptance of homosexual relationships. The majority of those opposed to gay marriage, however, are probably just afraid of having their own rights taken away, at least this is most likely what swayed the vote in prop 8's favour. There's a pervading "give them an inch and they'll take a mile" mentality that says that if we allow gay marriage, religious leaders will start getting sued for not performing these gay marriages and children will be indoctrinated in the schools. I'm sure there are some gay people who want these things, but most of them probably don't care. As with most things, there are extremists and bigots on either side of the fence.

Really, we just have two sides who are both afraid of the same thing, and that is that their freedom to live as they choose will be taken away. The solution is probably an open dialogue between both sides. Both sides seem to feel that if they let live, they will no longer be able to live themselves. In Canada, when gay marriage was legalised, there were also measures taken to protect religious freedom, which I think is a good compromise. We just need to make sure that both sides are protected and no one has their rights taken away.

What we definitely don't need is more anger, hatred, and disrespect. Let's permanently throw out mudslinging language because it's not getting us anywhere. Besides, it just makes your opponent feel more resolve. When gay people start calling mormons bigots, vandalising churches, and threatening to have their tax-exempt status away, it just solidifies the fears of religious freedom being taken away. Some of the harassment that LDS people are receiving in the name of equal rights is completely ridiculous. If I were a member of the LGBT community, I would be distancing myself from these people as much as possible.

We're all in this together, living in the same world and breathing the same air. We need to co-exist peacefully with our fellow citizens. If we can't do that, we have a serious failure on our hands.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

First Post Jitters and the Virgin Mary

Okay, I admit, I have a bit of blog-fright about making my first non-introductory post. I feel like I have to get off on the right foot, make a good first impression, and so on. I'm pretty sure no one knows this blog exists as of yet, but try telling my nerves that. Whenever I'm nervous I go into stand-up comedian mode and if you're going to read my blog, you'd better get used to it. Anyway, here's a light-hearted post to break the ice.

An image of the Virgin Mary is on my pantry door. No joke. I've known it for a while, but last night I took a picture so everyone would know I was serious. Check it out:

So there you go.

Friday, October 17, 2008

First Post!

Since this is a first post, I suppose I should explain. This is my blog that I'm setting up so I can ramble on and on regardless of whether anyone is actually listening. The focus will be on my viewpoints, wonderings, and so on from the point of view of an LDS person who happens to be left-of-centre. Hence the name "prog'mo", as in "progressive mormon".

I'm not liberal as a rule, although some of my strongest viewpoints fall in the liberal realm. I'm big time into the environment, social programmes, and local economies (as opposed to unfettered globalisation), to name a few. Mostly, I believe that we should always be striving to make life better not only for ourselves, but for others and for generations to come.

So there you have it. Enjoy.