Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Today is Ada Lovelace Day! If you don't know, Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer--and her work was done about 100 years before modern computers were invented! A few years ago, Ada Lovelace Day was started to celebrate women, past and present, in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In that spirit, I just wanted to give a shoutout to two awesome women I know in those fields.

My sister Diana is an amazingly talented accountant--probably the most practical form of mathematics there is. (She also has a great gift for incisive, charitable political thinking, but that's not the point of Ada Lovelace Day so I won't mention it.)

My friend Erin is getting a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering, which is pretty freaking cool no matter how you cut it. I love talking to her about xkcd, outer space, and anything that makes us laugh.

I might have included a few other super-cool women in STEM fields, but they don't have blogs, so they lose out on this round. Anyway, I'm grateful to live in a world where people are able to enter fields they find interesting regardless of gender (though there are still plenty of informal obstacles to be conquered). Rock on, heiresses to Ada Lovelace's legacy!

Body of Christ

One of the things I like about religion (and life in general) is the way things can mean two different things. Puns are one light example, but I think of symbols as falling in this same general category. I was thinking this last Sunday about the multiple meanings of the body of Christ as I took the sacrament.

The bread of the sacrament represents Christ's literal body, which was broken and torn for us. It's a poignant reminder of his suffering, which itself is a representation of the love he had for us. But (probably inspired by this post about the sacrament) I was also thinking of the other scriptural meaning of the body of Christ. The phrase is also a metaphor for the Church, meaning the people who make up the followers of Christ. Paul speaks beautifully about how we are all part of one large body of Christ, and every body part is equally valuable. (Good thing he didn't have access to this wikipedia article.)

In this secondary context, the sacrament reminded me of how the members of Christ's church (broadly construed) are all torn and hurt, ravaged at times in ways that remind us of Christ's own suffering. As I ate the bread that was handed to me, I tried to think of the members of the Church who feel broken and bruised--and how I might be able to help them. I confess I didn't come up with any particularly insightful answers, but I did feel a kinship to my fellow sisters and brothers, and a renewed desire to make them feel like they really do belong to the body of Christ. I consider this a theological pun :)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ordaining women and Ordain Women

Personally, I can't think of any good reason women don't have the priesthood in the same sense that men do in the LDS church. [1] And I think that the church would be a better organization if women were ordained. Hence, you could say I support the ordination of women: I do think it would be a good idea.

That being said, I don't quite identify with the Ordain Women organization. Part of their mission statement reads thus: "Ordain Women believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of [the fundamental tenets of Mormonism]." That one word, "must," is just what puts it one step too far for me, personally. "Must" to me means that the way forward has been determined, the answer is clear, there is no other valid option. While I think ordination of women is the best path forward, I don't know it. And I'm uncomfortable telling people I sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators that I know what direction the church needs to go; that's just not what I see my role being.

On the other hand--and maybe this is splitting hairs--if OW was all about imploring church leaders to sincerely and urgently ask if female ordination is not indeed a good idea, then I'd be totally in favor of it. I do think church leaders should be asking that question, and I think it's fine, and in fact good, if members faithfully encourage leaders to ask questions that are important to them [the lay members]. (If church leaders have asked this question already, and have received a definitive answer one way or the other, I'd love to know about it!) I think ultimately it comes down to whether I'm totally committed to my opinion being right, whether I think it's at least possible--even if unlikely!--that God's answer on the issue would be "no, women should not be ordained to the priesthood in the same sense as men." I think such an answer is possible--though I'd quickly add that I can't believe that the status quo regarding women is ideal; in other words, if women aren't meant to be ordained, I have to believe that there will be other ways for them to achieve much more equality with men in our church organization and culture. While I find that outcome unlikely--I do think that the ordination of women is (part of) the way the church is going to, and should, change--I can't rule it out. And that's why I don't join the OW movement. [2]

However, I'd like to emphasize that this is my personal stance. It's what makes the most sense for me and how I understand Mormonism. It incorporates theological beliefs (how God wants me to act), ethical beliefs (what is right), and pragmatic beliefs (what will be most effective in promoting gender equality). But I could be wrong--on all counts: maybe there really is no chance that some form of separate but equal when it comes to priesthood ordination is OK in God's eyes, or maybe it's just inherently wrong for this difference to persist, or maybe these kinds of bolder approaches are going to help change things for the better more quickly. For these reasons (in addition to the general prohibition on it) I don't judge anyone who does participate in OW--I see myself as more on their side than not, after all, and of the people I know affiliated with the organization, virtually of all them seem sincere and honest.

This post is already a bit long, so I won't go into details, but I will say though that the more I think about it, the OW action [3] scheduled for October 5th (women waiting in line for standby tickets to go to the Priesthood Session of General Conference) strikes me as a good thing. (I mostly love that it's generating discussion and also that it's more open to interpretation than OW's mission statement's language.)

Any thoughts? How do you feel about OW? Are you going to be waiting in line at the Priesthood Session on October 5th? Are you really mad about OW? Does my position make any sense? I'd love to hear more thoughts and have some more discussion!


[1] "have the priesthood" and "ordination" are the phrasings I'm going to use as a catch-all for the Mormon male experience with priesthood as distinct from that of Mormon women--maybe women get the priesthood in some sense when they are endowed in the temple, but that's not what I'm going to be focusing on here. [UPDATE 9/19/13: I didn't want to go through all the arguments for and against female ordination here, but I just read this great post that I think addresses a lot of the common arguments against it. I pretty much agree with everything in it.]

[2] That being said, OW's members have a range of views. This profile on their site, for example, is something I could get behind 100%. However, even though my position would apparently be welcome on their website, I'm not personally comfortable joining an organization with their mission statement for the reasons given above.

[3] I'm using the phrase they've given for it, not "protest" as some have described it.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Caveat: You Might Find This Post Boring and Technical

I was recently telling a friend about how on my mission I (sort of) knowingly lied to people all the time about the LDS church. I told people that if they got a testimony that the Book of Mormon was true/the word of God, then they would know that the LDS church is true, too. While I believed (and still believe) both those things, I recognized even then that the latter doesn't automatically follow from the former; the Book of Mormon's veracity alone could just as plausibly fit with the view that the Community of Christ (once known as the Reorganized LDS Church) is true, or that the FLDS church is true, or lots of other things. But I didn't spell that out for any of my investigators. Some people might be mad at me for lying to convert people to my religion, but I didn't and still don't have a problem with it. Here's why.

Essentially, what I did was leave out a caveat: that there are other possible inferences to draw from a testimony of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon being true does make it more likely that the LDS church is true, and it is a necessary condition of the LDS church being true. But I didn't spell out every step in my argument, and I didn't define every term precisely at the outset. I was presenting a concise version of (what I took--and take--to be) the truth. I admit, it's inherently paternalistic. But the thing is, it's also necessary. I challenge you to make any argument without leaving anything out. It can't be done. Every story we tell, every argument we make, every truth claim we assert--they're all partial and selective, based on certain assumptions and concealing certain necessary steps. (Lewis Carroll demonstrated this principle beautifully in the field of logic with his short story What the Tortoise Said to Achilles -- text and wiki summary.)

Of course, that doesn't mean you can just leave out enormous steps in any argument and consider yourself justified--if I told you that my gas station had the lowest prices of any place anywhere nearby, but I was defining "anywhere nearby" to mean "within 10 feet of my station," that's grossly misleading and not OK. But my point is that any words we use to express ourselves lie somewhere on the spectrum of misleading--the deception may be inconsequential or it may be significant, but some amount of it is inevitable. I view my statement about the Book of Mormon proving the LDS church's veracity as sitting much more towards the former, innocuous end of the spectrum. Of course, what one considers a minor or major deception depends on a lot of things and is ultimately a value judgment; personally, I feel good about still testifying that the Book of Mormon's truthfulness is one of the proofs that the LDS church is true. Maybe you disagree and think the deception inherent in that claim is unacceptably large, and that's OK. Anyway, I don't think anyone relied purely on a testimony of the Book of Mormon and nothing else when they joined the church--if there isn't a spiritual testimony of other aspects that are actually unique to the LDS church I don't think people will choose to convert.

This issue comes to mind for me all the time now after a few years of law school. Law is in many ways an exercise in trying to pin down words into one specific meaning, which is why contracts are so long and detailed, and why I personally have started getting into the bad habit of using caveats with everything I say. It comes from a good place--I want to minimize the deception I wreak!--but as a byproduct it can increase my annoyance factor and even impede actual communication when I'm in an informal (read: almost every) situation. I'm trying to talk (and write!) using fewer caveats and nuances. It helps me remember when they're actually important and when I need to let the human condition, with all its inherent foibles and shortcomings, just be.

Friday, March 29, 2013

What is a Bigot, Really?

Honest question here: What is a bigot? I'd really like people to leave thoughts and comments.

Some further framing of the question: dictionary.com defines 'bigot' as "a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion." (One of their example sentences is "To be a bigot means that you hold negative views of a group despite evidence.") Google's define function refers me to 'bigoted,' which is then defined as either "Obstinately convinced of the superiority or correctness of one's own opinions and prejudiced against those who hold different opinions" or "Expressing or characterized by prejudice and intolerance." Merriam-Webster defines a bigot as "a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance."

Of course, I'm really asking this in the context of the Supreme Court's recent hearing of arguments in two high-profile gay marriage cases. A lot of claims of bigotry have been thrown around, mainly by supporters of marriage equality about their ideological opponents, but sometimes vice versa as well. I don't think many people would disagree that there do exist bigots who oppose marriage equality (exhibit one: the Westboro Baptist Church), but does that label apply to most of the people who are against gay marriage? Surely a simple disagreement on policy doesn't equate with bigotry--otherwise every opponent on any issue would deserve the label. There seems to need to be some kind of animus against a group, utter intolerance of opponents, and a head-in-the-sand disregard of evidence that could disprove one's own views.

Depriving LGBT people the right to marry (and the concomitant benefits afforded by state and federal laws, not to mention society) could be a sign of animus towards that class, it's true. And I am very unconvinced by conservative claims about gay marriage harming children--the evidence seems to me to point quite strongly in the other direction. But I'm not sure there's utter intolerance or real hatred motivating the people I know who oppose marriage equality. It's largely a conservative, in the Burkean sense, hesitance to allow a significant change to a revered institution. While I agree that that ends up perpetuating harm against the people who are less privileged under the status quo, it does so indirectly, not as its primary purpose. (Maybe that shouldn't matter, though?)

I think I want to reserve the term bigot for the people who sic dogs on protesters (or otherwise condone violence against their political opponents), or who disown their children if they belong to or associate with those "others," or who use slurs towards a group, etc. I don't deny that there are people who oppose marriage equality who do some of those things and thus deserve the label of bigot, but I don't think that voting in favor of Prop 8 automatically qualifies one as a bigot. But then, maybe I'm hedging because I count many, many people as friends and loved ones who oppose marriage equality--and naturally I don't want to label them as anything so ugly as 'bigots' unless I have to.

For those reading this who support marriage equality, do you agree with that take? Or are all the people who disagree necessarily bigots? If not, what does it take to qualify as a bigot in regards to this issue? Do you ever worry that the term 'bigot' is being thrown around so much it's losing meaning?

For those reading this who oppose marriage equality, what do you think a bigot is? Do you see people on your side who qualify? Have you seen people on the other side who qualify? (Do all marriage equality proponents qualify?) And finally, do you think it was possible for people who opposed interracial marriage in 1965 to not be bigots, or is that an issue where opposition equaled bigotry? What about someone who is against it today?

I'm really curious. Please leave thoughts and further questions in the comments.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How to Get Married in 12 Months

A friend of mine gave me a checklist of things to do in order to get married in just one year (as well as some words of wisdom at no extra charge). It's tongue in cheek and it always gives me a laugh. So here ya go, Internet!

1) Embrace your nerdiness
2) Realize that everyone is in the business of fashion (i.e., dress and groom well)
3) Take girls out on dates [I think this could easily be emended to taking whoever you want out on dates, regardless of your or their gender--let's not be too androcentric and heteronormative here, eh?]
4) Make out with them when you're both having a good time.
5) Continue making out while getting to know them better
6) Date them when after making out you find out they're not crazy.
7) Marry one of them when you date for like 9 months and you still really like them.

7 steps.
You got this.
Numbers 1 through 4 are key to get the ball rolling.
Numbers 5 through 7 are genuinely tricky.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Google Reader is dead. Long live Google Reader!

It's stupid, I recognize that. But I'm almost distraught at the news that Google Reader is being shut down in a few months. No point in explaining it if you don't already know it, but it's the best RSS feed reader out there as far as I was concerned. And while there are replacements out there, the simple, clean interface and the perfect integration with my Google account just can't be replaced.

But why should I even care? I should probably be grateful: maybe this will help me be less addicted to the internet. And obviously in the grand scheme of things, this is obviously the smallest of small inconveniences. It's basically a parody of #firstworldproblems that I'm even writing any of this. Again, I recognize that. And yet . . .

We don't think it's that weird for people to have an emotional attachment to a car, or a house, or a local grocery store, or any of a number of other inanimate objects. I remember reading a pretty moving virtual memorial service for a chapel that had burned down back in 2009! And there's the classic Mormon example of holy nostalgia for otherwise normal places that were the scene of some transcendental experiences. So why not a nonphysical thing? Now don't misunderstand this analogy. I'm not suggesting that Google Reader was in any sense holy or really even all that great on its own. It was wonderfully functional, but I'm not trying to deify a web app.

No, I'm just saying that Google Reader was a simple background for most of the most interesting stuff I've read over the last few years. (And Molly Mormon Democrat can confirm that that's a lot :) ) It's like the road you walked to school on for years--it wasn't anything particularly special in itself, but when it gets bulldozed to make a new housing development or a highway, you miss it. Something that was simple, comfortable, and dependable is gone.

I'm sure people thought it was stupid for an audience member to be emotionally affected by a play the first time that happened. ("They're just actors! As in, everything they said was not real. You realize that, right?!") Or by a TV show. ("It's a stupid half-hour vehicle for showing you commercials!") Or whatever. This century it's going to be websites. I mean, even if you didn't use Reader, can you imagine the day when Google will be shut down? It's almost unfathomable today, but it will be happen. And you might not be upset, but you'll probably at least be annoyed about having to find a new search engine (or whatever we're using then for some vaguely analogous purpose). Or when Gmail closes its doors. It's just kinda weird to think about. It will happen someday. Of course life will go on, but a little bit of who you were as a human was wrapped up in something you used extensively and reflexively. And that's how I feel today. Just weird. And yes, a bit sheepish about feeling so weird.

And it's going to be especially weird to see this very post pop up in my Reader feed in about 30 seconds, when I open it again in the Pavlovian response that is built into my fingers when I'm using the internet . . . :)

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Random Thought on the Day of Obama's Second Inauguration

I was recently on a plane, and while I was reading books the entire flight, there were small TV screens up above that were showing a few TV shows. Every once in a while I'd glance up and catch a few seconds of soundless video. At one point, the show on was 1600 Penn, which I knew was about a family in the White House (with the president played, as is only fitting, by Bill Pullman--he who gave us the greatest presidential performance ever caught on film).

Anyway, the moment I happened to see from 1600 Penn was of the actor Andre Holland, who plays the White House Press Secretary, standing at a podium in the West Wing taking reporters' questions. And the first thought to pop into my head was that, even though I technically knew that Bill Pullman was the president in the show, Andre Holland must be the president--because, you see, Andre Holland happens to be black and thus look more like Barack Obama than Bill Pullman does.

The small fact that my brain subconsciously assumed the black person was the president seems in some way huge to me. Of course we all knew in 2008 that anyone--black, white, Asian, latino, male, female, etc.--could be president, until January 20, 2009, for the most part we all subconsciously pictured "The President" as a white dude. Because that's how it had always been.

Say what you will about his policies; I'm immensely grateful that Barack Obama has helped us all understand more viscerally that anyone really can be president.