Thursday, June 25, 2009

To everyone who wants prayer in American public schools

To everyone who wants prayer in American public schools: I say fine. That's a great idea. In fact, it would be much more convenient, especially for the dhuhr, if it were led by school officials. That way, no students would have to worry about drawing attention to themselves when they take out their individual prayer mats at whatever time they deem best. After the recitation of adhan and iqama over the public address system, the gym would probably be the best place to gather for school prayer. That way, everyone can say the prayer together and no one will feel left out. There could even be markings on the gym wall to ensure that everyone knows the exact direction to Mecca.

prayerWhat's that you say? You don't want to take part in these prayers? I will remind you that Allah's mercy is great for those who believe in him and obey, but he has little patience for infidels. Nevertheless, you will not be forced to take part in school prayer. You may sit around the edges of the gym and watch. Everyone is free to participate or not. There's no need to feel you are being discriminated against, just because you choose not to take part in the historic American tradition of school prayer.

You're still not satisfied with this arrangement? I thought you were the one who wanted school prayer in the first place! Oh, I see... you only want school prayer in the manner of your religion. Well, I'm sorry to say that not everyone believes in your religion, and we can't have school prayers for every possible religion! That would be ridiculous! Why don't you just pray silently to your own god while everyone else is reciting the school prayer?

Still not good enough? Okay, how about this compromise. Instead of trying to shove any particular religion into public schools, why don't we just focus on educating the students instead? Let's not have an official school prayer for any religion. That way, no religion gets special treatment. No one needs to feel offended, embarrassed, or left out. You can pray to your own god or gods, on your own, whenever you like, and everyone else can do the same if they choose to do so. It's too bad you're not okay with the school prayer solution I suggested earlier, because it would bring glory to Allah and would be really convenient, but I suppose I can live with the compromise.

Now that I think about it, I guess the compromise is more in line with the First Amendment, anyway. No school prayer means your children and mine will not be discriminated against for abstaining from a prayer they disagree with. It means your children and mine will not be forced to sit awkwardly and silently through a prayer they disagree with. It means no official state endorsement of a religion you or I disagree with. That works for me. Doesn't it work for you?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A modest dress code proposal

Stolen directly from Dissenting in Part: a BYU student asks that the university mandate school uniforms because the current dress code "obviously [is] not strict enough."

I think the student's suggestion of standard-issue BYU T-shirts and pants to enforce modesty is a good one, but the problem with this suggestion is that it doesn't go far enough. Obviously there's no modesty problem with men (except for the fact that the modesty problem is all in their minds), so men should be allowed to wear whatever kind of BYU T-shirt they choose. Women should be required to garb themselves from head to toe in a burqa, lest any exposed skin accidentally titillate an unsuspecting male student, teacher, or General Authority. The sale of BYU burqas could be a great source of revenue for the school during these tough economic times. And I know plenty of men who grew up in cultures where they had this dress code, and they loved it. It's a win-win-win situation all around.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Main Street Plaza

I just noticed that my last post was highlighted over at Main Street Plaza. Thanks, chanson! For anyone who doesn't know already, MSP is a community for anyone interested in Mormonism, and most of the posts provoke good thought and discussion. If you like my blog, I think you'll like MSP as well. Give it a look!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Avoiding personal apostasy

In this month's Ensign, there is an article entitled Avoiding Personal Apostasy. It's pretty much what you would expect. It addresses none of the real problems with church doctrine, history, or evidence. It assumes that those who leave the church do so because they want to sin, they are offended, or they find fault with church leaders. Naturally, any substantial criticism of the church or its leaders can't possibly be true, and must be an indication of personal apostasy which came about for one of the above reasons.

I won't even bother addressing the majority of the article, except to say that the reason for my unbelief, and the unbelief of many others I know, has nothing to do with anything Elder Claudio D. Zivic assumes must be the cause. As with everything I believe or disbelieve in life, for me it comes down to evidence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and in my view, the evidence for the LDS church's extraordinary claims is woefully insufficient. The only way I could hold a literal belief in the LDS church would be for me to decide ahead of time that I would believe, and then twist and interpret the evidence to fit the belief. I did that for long enough to know that I can't do it forever. Plenty of people are able to do it, but I am not one of them.

What concerns me more is the paragraph in which Elder Zivic casually dismisses the possibility that the LDS church is in error. In fact, he goes even further, dismissing the possibility that the LDS church could ever be fundamentally in error. He says,

We need not be concerned about the possibility of another apostasy of the Church of Jesus Christ. We have the privilege of living in the dispensation of the fulness of times. This gospel dispensation, which began with the Prophet Joseph Smith, is the last one before the Second Coming of the Savior.

Second ComingFirst, people have been saying this kind of thing about the end of the world for millennia. Christians have been saying it ever since Jesus was said to have preached that the kingdom of God was near at hand, and that many within the sound of his voice would not taste of death before they saw the Son of Man coming in his glory. Seriously, the second coming has been "any day now" for two thousand years. Joseph Smith, Sr., the first patriarch of the LDS church, gave many, many blessings during the 1830s and 1840s, in which he claimed that the receivers of the blessings would live to see the Second Coming. Shouldn't we start to suspect that maybe "imminent" doesn't mean what we think it means?

Second, and more importantly: "We need not be concerned." The prophet will never lead us astray. Never mind that the prophet led us into polygamy. Never mind that the prophet implemented institutional racism for 130 years. Never mind that the prophet is still implementing institutional sexism. Never mind that the prophet made up a "Egyptian alphabet and grammar" that bears no resemblance to actual Egyptian, and used it to translate a history of Abraham from papyri that have nothing to do with Abraham. Never mind that... never mind that... oh, never mind anything that's not in the Sunday school manual. Anyway, thou shalt not criticize the prophet, and don't worry yourself about any of these "apostate" ideas. We need not be concerned.

Kool-Aid ManIt frightens me whenever anyone uses the words "we need not be concerned", especially in reference to religious belief. Advising others to abdicate their responsibility to think critically about their beliefs, and advising them to follow their leaders without question, is extremely dangerous. It's not the kind of advice that would be considered valuable in any arena except religion. "We need not be concerned" leads to tragedies like the Peoples Temple suicide, the September 11 martyrs, and to take a Mormon example, the Mountain Meadows Massacre. This is not melodrama for its own sake; this is what happens when you think you have God on your side, and are not concerned about the possibility of being wrong.

I much prefer the words of my favorite LDS prophet (if I have to pick one), Joseph Smith, Jr. He said,

We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who presided over them, if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God . . . would despise the idea.

Others, in the extreme exercise of their Almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without asking any questions. When the elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves.

Need we be concerned about the possibility of being led astray? Despite the assurances of Elder Claudio D. Zivic, there is, indeed, cause for concern.