Reading Atlas Shrugged

I read Atlas Shrugged sitting by my son’s bedside while he recovered from pneumonia in a Viennese hospital. His treatment cost us nothing, by which I mean nothing, as we not only benefited from European Union healthcare reciprocity, but also because I was not a taxpayer at the time and so made no financial contribution to social medicine whatsoever. I imagine this makes me what Rand would call a “looter.” It certainly made reading Atlas Shrugged all the more delicious; indeed, I could hear her bones rattling in her Westchester grave as I turned each page. Note to the Ghost of Ayn Rand: for all the looters like me, the Austrian capitalist economy has done pretty well over the years.

I enjoyed some of the book. I liked Dagny Taggart rather a lot and thought that she, rather than Galt or Rearden, was the real hero of the story. Dagny was at her best when she struggled against the economic implosion caused, not by looters like me, but sociopaths like Galt. Her dogged determination to keep going was admirable; her eventual acquiescence rather sad. The scene where she rides her new train is quite exhilarating as such things go. She is also a rather sexy minx, which might explain some of the appeal to a male reader, although I shall deny it vociferously if accused of such shallowtude.

The build-up to the John Galt reveal is also pretty good. In large part I kept turning those pages in that Vienna hospital because I wanted to know “who [was] John Galt”? I also found myself attracted to Rand’s celebration of human reason as an epistemologically good thing. These are about all the positives I can muster. Mostly, particularly the latter third when the polemic really begins, Atlas Shrugged is junk. Here’s why: [Read more...]

In Defense of Passive Aggression

David Heap’s temporary BCC reign of terror continues.

But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father?

(Matthew 21:28-30)

I first learned of passive aggression from K-Lynn Paul’s article in Dialogue, “Passive Aggression and the Believer.” K-Lynn Paul’s article is excellent and, I daresay, timeless. I commend his piece to you. I do not think a lot has changed since then. [Read more...]

The fallacy of appealing to intellectualism

We hear repeatedly throughout our educations that appeals to emotion are forms of argumentative fallacy.  In many cases, they are exactly such, and the interjection of emotion obscures the underlining problem and makes it difficult to resolve productively.  However, in other cases appeals to emotion operate as (the only) viable forms of evidence.  In these cases, the interjection of emotion into an argument should not be seen as a fallacy, but as evidence needed initially to push a conversation forward.  Of course, we are familiar with the risks that come when we voice emotion, and, as a strategy, we should strongly consider looking for non-emotional forms of evidence in order to avoid these problems.  But in this post I’m not interested in the good reasons to avoid emotion.  Those are discussed enough.  I’m concerned with the often-overlooked phenomenon that occurs when emotion used as evidence is dismissed by the fallacy of appealing to intellectual tones or modes of argument. [Read more...]

Born Alive

I often disagree with the pro-life hardliners around the bloggernacle. But the relatively recent Florida infanticide in the news lately — according to the news stories I’ve seen, there is not a lot of dispute as to the facts – is something everybody should agree on.

Some readers are opposed to abortion in most or all cases, but for those who are not, the only reasonable arguments for abortion rights center around the freedom and autonomy of the mother. Once a child is delivered, there is no question. Infanticide is never acceptable.

Pro-choice progressives should be more vocal in denouncing this infanticide. It’s a shame that the pro-life crowd have been the only folks complaining about this incident. Yes, some conservative commenters are using the incident to make broader critiques of abortion. But that’s no reason why progressive pro-choicers should not be vocally denouncing the infanticide and calling for punishment of the doctor, as well as safeguards against this kind of thing happening again.

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

Fellow-Countrymen:

At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured. [Read more...]

James Dobson is my homeboy

Between the Republican primary and Proposition 8, 2008 afforded us a lot of opportunities to ponder the wisdom of us Mormon folk joining forces with conservative evangelical Christians. “Broad faith coalitions” are all well and good, but do we really want to be getting in bed (so to speak) with people who think we’re going to hell? Shouldn’t that give us just a teensy bit of pause? [Read more...]

Prop 8 Redux: Afterthoughts

Without touching on any of the merits of one or the other side of the same-sex marriage/marriage equality debate, I’d like to suggest a possible answer to the following question: How can Mormons who feel that the Church is wrong about the threat gay marriage poses to families reconcile their doubts on this particular question with their faith in the restored gospel, and in the identity of Church leaders as prophets, seers, and revelators? [Read more...]

Excavating a Sense of Pride over Certain Aspects of the Prop. 8 Win

You all know me and know that I did not favor Proposition 8. I was sorely disappointed when it passed, although my sense of disappointment was tempered by an Obama win–very exciting, particularly here in Chicago! And the fact that it took awhile for the result on 8 to be called gave me an opportunity to get used to the idea of it passing. Also, I thought of Derrick Rose, the NBA no. 1 draft pick of the Chicago Bulls. He has won at every level, but now he is going to have to get used to losing much more than he has experienced in his life. But, as the veterans have taught him, in the NBA the next game comes so quickly that there’s no time to obsess over the losses; you’ve got to keep focused on the next contest. I don’t doubt that this is just one step along the way in a process, and eventually when the culture catches up there will be gay marriage, in California at least. [Read more...]

Pictures at a Demonstration

Last night, thousands of people gathered in the cold across from the Church office building in Salt Lake City for a hastily organized demonstration. While I do not know who organized it or how it came together, I do know that Thursday night text messages flew along networks announcing the rally and march for the next day. One, from a former student who was forwarding it arrived late at night and woke me from my sleep. [Read more...]

Am I Adequately Outraged?

At a recent screening of _Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons_, a very bright audience member said that Mormons were pretty silent during the pre-1978 years about what most would now view as clear discrimination.  A few were adequately outraged, but not many–not enough.  He wondered if he in this day was not outraged enough that his daughter would be excluded from the priesthood. [Read more...]

Real Americans, Reality Checks, Kenyan Last Names

During the just-concluded U.S. presidential elections, various Republican candidates drew opprobrium for referring to “the real America,” “the real Virginia,” and so forth. Presumably, the “real” versions of these various geographic and political entities were basically Republican, made up of people with center-right ideology and conservative Christian faith. Such rhetoric is not particularly new; as a former resident of the San Francisco area, I have over the last decade routinely encountered dismissive comments about the Americanness of people like me who live in major metropolitan areas, have worldwide social networks, and occasionally eat spring mix salads in the place of iceberg lettuce. [Read more...]

JRCLS Fireside

Consider it your chance to interrupt Kaimi having fondue with the legendary (yes, he really exists!) Greg Call. Also, to discuss same-sex marriage. Really! [Read more...]

What’s a Newsroom for?

Many have highlighted the LDS Newsroom’s very interesting coverage of the discussions surrounding Proposition 8, in particular the document entitled, “The Divine Institution of Marriage.” The analysis of this document and the arguments and doctrine it contains I leave to more talented and audacious bloggers than myself (suffice it to say that like any other political document, it contains things that I find convincing and things I do not), but what I find infinitely more interesting than the immediate squabble over Prop 8 is the nature of the Newsroom itself and this document in particular. “The Divine Institution of Marriage” gives us an opportunity to revisit and microwave one more time that most rewarmed of topics, that of defining and delineating our notions of what constitutes doctrine. [Read more...]

Republicans are from Mars, Democrats are from Hell

This month’s Sunstone contains an absolutely awesome reader letter explaining the relationship between Republicans, Democrats, politics, and righteousness. It goes like this: [Read more...]

Cohabitation and Common-Law Marriage

Marriage is an important institution to the Church. [Read more...]

Memorial Day: The Costs of War and Those Who Bear Them

What follows are my thoughts for Memorial Day, generated in no small part from extended conversation and correspondence with a family member of mine this weekend. Jon (not his real name) is a veteran of the Iraq war. [Read more...]

The Next Step

Stop me if this sounds familiar. I’m indebted to the always-handy BYU 100 Hour Board, as well as the LDS Church History site’s exhibit on Primary. [Read more...]

Best Sermon I’ve Heard in Years

I just spent a half hour feeling the spine tingles and intermittently moist eyes I associate with the presence of God. I do not mean for a moment to deify a politician, no matter how eloquent. I do not intend to urge any particular voting patterns and am sympathetic to those who support all three current contenders for the American presidency. I do not intend to imply that God has provided his seal of approval for any particular political campaign. I do not mean that our own church leaders do not write and deliver magnificent sermons. I do not mean by this post to attack the Romney campaign, the conservative movement, or the Republican Party. I am also self-conscious about the complaints about the sentimentalization of the youthful senator from Illinois or the crowds of fawning liberal groupies wandering after the self-proclaimed agent of change. Even so, I felt to confess that the first thirty minutes of Obama’s speech today stirred my soul. Whatever happens in the US election, I thank God for this moment of moral and spiritual clarity.

Messianic Prophecy and the Meaning of Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday. Christians worldwide will commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a spring day sometime during the first half of what we have come to refer to as the first century of the Common Era. Much can be said here about the social, political, and historical context of what the Gospel accounts portray as a momentous (if ironically so) event. I propose a reading of this story* for which one particular element of the sociopolitical context is especially relevant: Jesus’ “triumphal” entry was not the only procession into Jerusalem that day. [Read more...]

Abortion Theology

john f. is a lawyer with an interest in literature, foreign languages, history, theory, and comparative religion. He has been blogging with his brother Jordan F. at a bird’s eye view since July of 2004 and has been commenting at By Common Consent for even longer. In ancient Bloggernacle history they were once described as “the most dangerous minds on the net” although they never quite figured out what this meant except they are pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment.
———————–

The anniversary of Roe v. Wade today falls within an election season that could conceivably threaten a fissure in the coalition that the Church seems to have formed in recent decades with Evangelical Christians on certain social issues, including abortion. Specifically, the vocal opposition of many Evangelical Christians to Mormonism and the faith of its adherents has found new outlets in the mainstream media because their view of Mormonism and its adherents now has some relevance on the national political stage as a result of Mitt Romney’s candidacy for the presidency. The increased intensity of Evangelical denunciations of Mormons has also given opportunity to reflect on the political positions of Evangelical Christians (and other creedal Christians) and, more specifically, why they take those positions. [Read more...]

Commencement speech

The following is the text of the speech given by graduating BYU senior Ashley Sanders at the BYU alternative commencement. It is posted with permission.

A lot of people have asked me: if you disagree with what BYU or the government does, why don’t you just go someplace else? (A favorite suggested location is Berkeley.) I only know one way to answer them, which is to tell them that I love this place, and want it to be what it can be. After I answer this way, there is always another question: If you love it, why do you criticize it? My answer is the same: because I love it, and because I believe that integrity requires a mix of staying and going, charity and chastisement, and because I want to go to a school and live in a country that let me do all of the above. [Read more...]

Graduation Day, 2007

April_2007_peace-signs-7289e-cropped-350-pixVP Cheney’s speaks at BYU’s commencement later today (at 4pm). At noon BYU students and faculty demonstrated in a “Go Forth – Establish Peace” rally. It was held at the west entrance to campus, at the “Enter to Learn – Go Forth to Serve” sign.

In general, it was focused on peace. The most prominent signs were 10’ tall scrolls with Peace written in 28 languages. Some of the other signs were:

“Support this: “Therefore, Renounce war and proclaim peace. D&C 98:16”
“If we’re going to fight a war, let it be a war on poverty”
“1/2 the world lives on less than $2 a day”
There were a few signs that targeted Cheney such as, “Was it Divine Inspiration to Vote Bush/Cheney…or just Temporary Insanity.” [Read more...]

Dear Mr. Cheney

I was thinking about you the other evening. Manchester United and AC Milan were playing soccer on the TV. It was a great game. I enjoyed it. During halftime I fired up the interwebs and saw that 9 US soldiers had died in Iraq. ‘Oh well,’ I thought, and continued watching the game.

Then it it hit me. Young men my age are sacrificing their lives for their country whilst I get to chomp my Ikea crispbreads and enjoy the footie. It’s not fair.

Not fair for people like me, I mean. [Read more...]

Sit-in at BYU’s JFSB Quad

Demonstrators, April 4, 2007, BYU

Demonstrators, April 4, 2007, BYU

Here’s a shot of today’s demonstration/sit-in/protest at BYU. By my rough estimate, there were about 250 students and faculty participating at any one time, with a total count during the 2 hours of 700-800 (not counting passers-by).

Some of the signs hoisted by the participants were:
“One Nation under…..Surveillance.”
“That’s Ok, I didn’t need my civil rights anyway.”
“Cheney should go to…..BYU.”
“You Lied [under large photo of Cheney] — They Died [with large photo of Bush made up of 1" photos of what may have been servicemen and women].”
“Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Torture.” [Read more...]

RFK at BYU in 1968

March_2007_rfk-at-byu-march-1968-cropped

As bloggers have pointed out in the recent discussions over the prospect of Vice-President Cheney speaking at BYU, Senator Robert F. Kennedy spoke at BYU on March 27, 1968. [Read more...]

Cheney at BYU: my view from Europe

I fully understand that given Dick Cheney’s offer to speak at BYU’s commencement, BYU and the church would have little choice but feel obliged to honour the sitting Vice President. [Read more...]

Four years

Inspired by Russel Arben Fox, I thought I’d repost something I originally wrote on the eve of the Iraq War. It was not a policy critique, but an attempt to position current events into the continuum of history: [Read more...]

Neighbors and the Tragic Commons

I had a long talk with a friend and colleague about the experience of being not Mormon in the midst of Mormondom. One example this friend provided of a frustration with the institution of Mormonism is the presence of Seminary buildings adjacent to the campuses of public secondary schools and the existence of so-called “released-time” in which non-participants are ghetto-ized while participants receive their religious education without any additional time commitment on their part.

By way of confession and disclaimer, I have a memory of a ninth grade seminary teacher invoking the anti-Christ clause to eject me from class (I was preaching evolution in a rather insulting tone), and playing a tenth-grade teacher’s pious hopes of my eventual submission by using “released time” to get something to eat at the local diner until I was fully and finally ejected from the seminary program for truancy. (I went on to teach Institute classes part time toward the end of college in partial penance.) As far as my view as a parent, if we live in a setting where our children are offered “released time” at the relevant time in their lives, I think we would allow them to participate, though we would not push them to do so.

[Read more...]

Fighting the Good Fight

When we think about morality in our personal lives, we often focus on the simple, mundane choices that we face. Should we pay our tithing or not? How hard should we work at our jobs? How should we react when others criticize us? These are indeed moral choices, yet all of us face larger, more defining decisions every day. Let me sketch one such decision that we all currently face, as well as my belief about what the moral decision is — and some of the reasons that I’m not making that moral choice.

The longstanding genocidal conflict in the Darfur region of the Sudan has spread into the eastern regions of neighboring Chad. As in Darfur, Arab militias from Chad and from across the border in the Sudan (called the janjaweed) are now slaughtering black African residents of the region wholesale. There are political aspects of the struggle, but much of the killing seems purely racial, purely genocidal. [Read more...]

The Sacrifice of Service

The following notice was published in the Nauvoo Neighbor in Jan 1844.

December_2006_carn-help-the-poor

This announcement, probably meant to benefit German immigrants living in the sixth ward, warmed my heart and made me think of a church functioning as a Christian community. I wanted to imagine myself stumbling out across the ice of the Mississippi to gather wood for my destitute coreligionists.

But then I read on, placing the notice in immediate context. [Read more...]

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