Nature Loving

While I appreciate the natural world, with it's wonder and beauty, I also marvel at the amazing ways we've been able to manipulate the natural world and take advantage of it's often astonishing properties.

I'm awed not only at the fact that things we find in the earth like copper and silicon, when arranged in certain ways and charged with electricity can be something like a computer or a radio, but that we have figured it out.

By figuring out how to arrange dirt in different ways we've been able to do remarkable things, like fly and shoot lasers. Whenever it seems like we've figured out the basics of how particles behave, someone discovers a new aspect of reality allowing us to manipulate the universe even further.
And for all we know, this trend might continue forever.

In one sense, none of this is really that amazing or weird. The fact that anything exists at all is weird and mysterious enough that there is no reason we should have any expectations of it's properties. Suppose one day we discover that a certain musical note causes all the atoms in the universe to suddenly arrange themselves in a straight line, while that would be shocking based on our current experience, it seems no more weird than the fact that the inherent properties of matter causes it to self-assemble into galaxies, planets, plants, animals and people.

Who knows what sort of yet unknown properties nature has. I would be surprised if we have come close to discovering them all. Or if the current human mind even has the capability to comprehending them. Since we have evolved to only perceive a tiny fraction what we have already figured out exists. How much more might we never even have the ability to conceive of looking for?

In one sense valuing science and technology is a high form of nature loving. It's appreciating the hidden aspects of nature. The aspects which don't reveal themselves unless asked. By evolving into intelligent life, nature not only is able to experience itself, but also to express herself.



My new neighbors, who are an Italian brother and sister in their 60's are real characters. It has only been a couple weeks, but I already have several stories I hope to write here.
As one appetizer I will say this: Cosimo*, the brother, who is short, bald and very unattractive is not fat all over his body, but does have a huge belly. His upper body is extremely hairy in the way we imagine older Italian upper bodies to be. I don't mention these attributes to make a criticism (I may very well look the same one day), but to help paint a mental picture.

I know about his copious body hair because it isn't uncommon for him to be shirtless during the 2-10 times a day he comes by to use my cell phone. (he doesn't have a phone, but makes over 10 calls a day on average. Many, but not all, on my phone) His shirtlessness isn't a big deal for me. Our building only has three units(one of which is unoccupied,), whose doors are closely spaced within a small hallway which contains the shared washer and dryer, so their is a certain degree built-in intimacy. Plus, he has a casualness about him that helps his shirtlessness not feel inappropriate.

There is a big difference in terms of feeling to being shirtless in public versus shirtless in private or semi-private.

Being shirtless in public generally feels okay within a much smaller criteria than in private. One factor is the appearance of the shirtless person, another is the function of the public space. One of the least acceptable places to be shirtless is a place used for eating.

Marissa is a waitress at a fancy Italian restaurant less than 150 feet from our apartment where Carlos eats on occasion.

Imagine yourself eating in this nice Italian restaurant. The sort whose food is supplied locally and has vegetarian/vegan and gluten free options. Now imagine seeing this man Cosimo, 60-ish,A+ short, bald, unattractive, bulging belly and covered in hair, coming into the restaurant with no shirt! (I want you to imagine this because it really happened). Knowing what I do of Cosimo, he probably didn't think anything of it and if asked, would probably have found the event too unremarkable for it to have penetrated his memory.

*I changed his name. Other names I considered were, Luigi, Calzone, Jeff, Sigmund Freud, Totino, Rodolfo

Deseret News

I made 6 unsuccessful attempts to comment on this Desret News Article about a Seminary teacher who had a months long affair with one of his 16 year old students.
I wanted to point out that while the commenters felt this man was despicable and his behavior inexcusable, (an example comment: "Good people don't do what he did. People who do what he did is the very definition of a bad person".) many of them hold in the highest esteem, a man who had done nearly the same thing. ( While married to Emma, before having introduced the notion of polygamy, Joseph Smith had a sexual relationship with their 14 year old house keeper, Fanny Alger Apologists explain this by claiming he had actually married her.)

Knowing the Deseret News comment monitors can be more strict than their posting rules suggest, I made every effort to phrase my comment without judgment and within their guidelines. Five, increasingly milder comments were rejected before I was able to get "This case has interesting parallels to the Fanny Alger situation" approved. I felt my comment was fairly innocuous, since most readers of the Deseret News are probably unfamiliar with her name. Perhaps the monitor was unfamiliar her as well, so accidentally let my comment through.

Whatever the case, discovering my comment had been removed within the next few hours was disappointing.



Having a dog is kind of fun. Sometimes I love her and sometimes I honestly hate her. I don't generally feel hatred towards things, so it is unsettling for me. Especially to feel it towards something so small and cute. But 95% of the time I don't hate her. Only in the mornings when she keeps biting (sometimes my nose, which is so painful, especially when I'm half or fully asleep) and being wild despite letting her out to use the bathroom and feeding her.
Our apartment opens up onto a roof area with walls just high enough Margaret (our dog) can't fall off. Except one part on the far end, the roof walls dip down just enough Margaret could jump over them if she tried. Every time margaret goes anywhere near it, we yell 'NO!' which seems to have instilled a strong enough fear of that part of the roof in her that she doesn't go near it very often.

The roof area is fairly large and has some piles of dirt so we let her use it as a bathroom. Mostly the rain clears her mess away, but if not we clean it up.

Beside our bed is a window that opens up onto the roof, so I can let her out to go to the bathroom without getting out of bed.

During those 5% times when I hate margaret I think, 'I really wouldn't care if she died right now.' But I still make sure she doesn't go towards the far end of the roof and I will jump out of bed and run onto the roof to grab her if she does.


Satisfied Life.

Something dawned on me recently. I realized, that perhaps for the first time, I am fully satisfied with my life.

Not that there haven't been times where I felt satisfied and content, there have been many, but never before had I felt that there wasn't anything that would significantly improve the quality of my life. Never before had I felt 'if the rest of my life stayed just how it is right now, I would be happy with that'.

Not that there aren't things which would be nice to have. A few things come to mind: I wish we had a back yard with trees, bees, a green house and a garden. I would like a kiln and a large outside studio filled with windows and a potters wheel where I could work with clay and not have to clean it up.

However, as desirable as these things seem, I don't feel that my life would be significantly better with them. They would be like icing on the cake or bonuses.

The only things I can think of which I feel would add significantly to the quality of my life would be children (but not yet) and being able to teach at a University. Since graduating I miss academia. I love much about it and a feel my life is enriched by that type of environment. But even without that, my life is fulfilled.

In terms of money and possessions I feel like we are rich. Compared to much of the country we aren't(compared to much of the world we are. Average income worldwide is $7000, but the super rich throw the number off. Most people make much less).

Although Marissa and I live well below the poverty line, we are prosperous. As little as we make, we can easily stay within our means. We have enough money to pay our bills, go out to eat every now and again, occasionally see a show or a movie. Occasionally we travel. (usually within a few hundred miles). Because of food stamps we are able to eat well. We even have some left over for savings.

We can afford to support our hobbies and passions. Books are cheap or free from the library. Art supplies are relatively cheap, especially compared to the amount of use one can get from them. Walks are free. Bike riding is close to free. Having a garden costs a bit to get started but is then free. Knitting is cheap. Swimming in lakes is free. Hanging out with friends is free.

We are both have laptop computers which connects us to most of the information and media in the entire world. Because we live above a coffee shop with unlocked wireless it costs us nothing to access.

Because I have gone through time periods where I didn't have enough money to pay all my bills and eat well, the fact that I am now able to feels that much better. I honestly feel rich. Because I am. Everyone I know is. We all have so many possessions and so much food.

(I recently finished a book on North Korea and came away from it feeling how extraordinarily prosperous we are. Even our homeless are more prosperous than many North Koreans.)

I live in a beautiful part of the country around creative, interesting people who inspire me.

Because I am not Mormon I never feel guilt or moral inadequacy. Which isn't to say that I never feel regret or that I could be better person, because I do, but it doesn't carry the same weight. It isn't guilt. It isn't a sense that I am offending God and that no matter how much I do it will never be good enough.

Being older helps. Experience has taught me what things actually make me happy and what things I only wish would. Maturity has helped me be less impulsive and more responsible to take advantage of that knowledge.

That I am in a healthy and committed relationship is key to all of this. No matter how good things were before I couldn't be entirely satisfied because I longed for a companion I could feel entirely devoted to as I am now.


What do we want from Prophets? Or What should be the role of prophets.

A common element of religious apologetics is to explain away certain uncomfortable statements from history by pointing out that said idea wasn't unusual in its day. For example, when it is mentioned that Brigham Young wrote:
"Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so."
An apologist might point out that interracial marriage was illegal in the United States until well into the 20th century. (on a similar note, I recently learned that it was common for religious people in the 1800's to believe the sun and the moon was inhabited, something I had previously thought was unique to early Mormonism)

While pointing out that a certain teaching may not have been unusual for its time does help illustrate that whoever put forth the teaching wasn't a monster but rather a product of his time, it does little to help demonstrate that person or the Church they represent is true or inspired. In fact, it does the exact opposite. By illustrating that an individual was a product of their time it does just that, shows that, like all of us, their beliefs and values came from their time and culture.

Which exactly what we don't want from Prophets, for them to be mere products of their time and culture.

The measure of a prophet is often how well they are able to predict future events. But how much value does that have? Having a heads up on a handful of world events doesn't seem like it would be significant enough reason for God to disrupt the normal order of things. Besides, that is not even the primary function a prophet plays. People look to prophets for spiritual guidance, instruction on how to live life and how to interact with the divine, so that should also be how they are measured: how well do their ethical teachings hold up against time.

If a prophet's teachings on how to live one's life are shown to have merely been an artifact of their cultural context, by definition it demonstrates that they were not inspired. Which makes it ironic that apologists use this reasoning so often.

But what if a Prophet were able to rise above the values of their time and place to teach ethics which the world may not value for decades or centuries to come? That would be an indicator of their prophetic value more so than an ability to predict future events.

After I left Mormonism I became a Baha'i for about a year or two. What attracted me most, (aside from the overwhelming spiritual experience I had when first encountering the writings of Bahá'u'lláh) were the advanced ethical teachings, Bahá'u'lláh, the faith's co-founder.

He lived in approximately the same era as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, yet in a culture that was more oppressive and what we would see as backwards, the Middle East, specifically Persia (modern day Iran).

However from the beginning, Bahá'u'lláh placed emphasis on the values: religious tolerance, gender and racial equality (to the point of encouraging interracial marriage. Stark Contrast to the Brigham Young quote above) and many others with a similar flavor. These are values even the western world didn't come to appreciate for at least 100 years and in some ways continue struggling with.

Mormonism teaches that we should have low expectations of earlier prophets. Even after I left the Church I generally accepted the apologist explanation for various racist, sexist or simply unenlightened statements of earlier Church leaders. After all, these people were merely men who lived in a certain time and place and it felt unfair for me to expect them to reflect otherwise. However, having been a Baha'i raised that bar and I learned that I not only CAN but I SHOULD expect more from those who claim to be prophets in regard to moral teachings.

Having been a Baha'i taught me that I can expect Prophets to actually behave like a prophet. Prophets should be at the forefront of culture, raising their heads above their time and place to teach radical values that push and stretch people in ways that the secular world may not recognize until later decades or centuries, rather than being dragged kicking and screaming like most religions.

I sometimes say, if you want to know what things religious people will be teaching in 50-100 years, look at what liberal/progressives are teachings now. Liberal/Progressive teachings from the 50's or 60's which were seen as dangerous or radical the time are being taught over pulpits today. In a sense religions are inspired, not by God, but by the secular, progressive groups they often demonize, but delayed by a few decades.

Imagine if things were different. Imagine if instead of playing catch-up to cultural values, prophetic figures and religious leaders were the vanguard, challenging us to think in new, progressive ways. If this were the case, I might be able to believe religion is inspired. If their were a God, why is it that secular thinkers drive our moral direction?


Our weird relationship with self esteem.

One thing people dislike in others more than almost anything else is boastfulness, ie. expressing satisfaction in one's own achievements. Yet we also value those who have good self esteem.

How weird is that? We can't stand other people expressing satisfaction in their own achievements. We all know how good it feels to do something well or to be good at something, yet to express it openly is taboo.

(I am not excluding myself from this observation. I am put off by boastfulness as much as anyone else.)

A person doesn't even need to actually express their sense of self-satisfaction, they can just act like they are self satisfied and it is still repulsive. We have all probably heard the criticism: 'that person acts like they think they are cool'.

But most of us don't feel their is something wrong with feeling that we are cool. A key part of happiness is viewing oneself positively. Most of us want others to have a positive sense of self, we just don't like it to be expressed by them, even non-verbally. Even if that person is obviously very good at something, their articulating it is distasteful.

Why is humility such an admirable trait? Why do we love those who don't express their self satisfaction? Is it so hard for us to take pleasure in other people's sense of achievement?

When people are boastful, it feels draining. Most of us are okay with giving others compliments, but not when that person has already complimented themselves. When people boast it is as if they are taking something that feels as if it can only be given freely. As if someone boasting takes something from us.

Maybe it does. Maybe some part of us feels threatened by other people's achievements. Maybe it is because as much as we might not want to admit it, we are all deeply concerned about our status relative to those around us and when a person is boastful it is an attempt to take status upon themselves. While it would be nice if their were equal status to go around for everyone, because of how we evolved their usually isn't. We have evolved to fit within hierarchies and they develop quickly within most groups. When one person has higher status another will then have lower status. Perhaps when a person boasts it is felt as their trying to get status they do not have, thereby challenging the status of those around them. Since the greater our perceived status relative to those around us, the more serotonin we have, it is understandable would feel threatened when it is challenged.
It is no wonder former Mormons tend to be a bit more outspoken about their lost faith than those of other traditions. Our entire lives we are taught that it is a value to try convince others that our beliefs are true and should be believed by all. Most of us even went on missions, spending every waking hour trying to convince other people that we have interesting and valuable information that other people should hear.
So it is no wonder that this same mentality remains after one loses their faith.
So, in this regard, the Church is training their strongest critics.