Saturday, September 29, 2012

And the First Child in Our Family to Break a Bone Is…

…Peter!

Congratulations, Peter! Here’s hoping you don’t need surgery!
(We’ll find out on Monday! Stay tuned!)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wait, Wait, Let Me Start Over—

This has been an eye-opening week for me. I’ll spare you details (and spare myself the trouble of writing it all), but I feel like I’ve caught a glimpse of what I want from the future. A more concrete and definite glimpse. It’s exciting. It’s inspiring. It’s a bit terrifying. I’m not sure I’m on the right track for getting where I want to go. Or, rather, I’m fairly certain that I’m not on the fastest track. Or, rather rather, I’m fairly certain this track can get me to my destination quickly only if I hit all the green lights.

Here’s the problem: what I’m currently studying and emphasizing in my doctoral program isn’t what I want to do after I graduate. Or, rather rather rather, what I’m currently doing isn’t what I want my main focus to be professionally. I find the stuff I do genuinely interesting, but it doesn’t thrill me to think of spending my entire life doing it. I resigned myself to the idea some time ago, but lately I’ve been struggling with feeling like I’m not really in my element. Competence isn’t the issue. It’s just that I don’t feel as invested in what I’m doing as I wish I did. (This speaks to the “confidence vs. conviction” distinction I’ve addressed previously.)

This week, I’ve gotten distracted by several online articles, interviews, and the like that pertain to something of much greater interest to me than what I am currently studying as a Ph.D. student. I’ll be more forthcoming in future blog entries, but for now, I’ll just say that this week has been a very inspiring one. I feel revitalized. My brain is teeming with ideas and aspirations that I can scarcely wait to pursue. The problem is, they’re not related to anything I’m doing as a doctoral student of philosophy! (Help me, Abby! Yours truly, Flailing in Florida.) Philosophy itself isn’t the problem. In fact, philosophy could lend itself quite nicely to what I want to do. But not the philosophy I’ve been doing. Fortunately, there is some hope of changing your stripes when you’re a philosopher because philosophy is such a broad discipline. It covers anything, really. So, as a philosopher, you can write a dissertation on ancient ethical theories, get a job, and end up specializing in the philosophy of biology without really changing your career. The main obstacle to changing your philosophical emphasis is that you are likely to be hired specifically because of your philosophical emphasis. If I get hired primarily because of my interest in philosophy of mind, they won’t necessarily want me to devote all of my time to ethics. Nobody could stop me from researching whatever I want and trying to get published on it, but I’d be expected to perform in the area for which they originally hired me. Over time you could move on or, perhaps, gradually shift your focus. But the point remains that you can’t just shift gears immediately out of the gate.

Is this a post of hope or a post of despair? I prefer to think of it as the former, although it’s a little bit of both. It’s getting rather late in the game for me to have an epiphany about what I want out of all of this. Knowing what I know now, I wish I could go back and do things a little bit differently. But there’s no sense in dwelling on that. I’ve learned something about myself, and for now, that’s an opportunity not to be squandered. It can’t change where I’m at, but it can inform my decisions about where I go from here. And that gives my life the little sprinkling of optimism that I sure could use right now.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Holy Crap ... But Mostly Just Crap

Somebody I know posted the following on Facebook this morning:
Dear friends and family, I have been extremely frustrated with how things are going in our country. A lot of my frustration is because I feel I don't know what to do to really make a change. Well, this time I do. I am asking you to join me and my family on Sunday Sept. 30 by fasting and praying for Mitt Romney. That he will be blessed in the debates, which will be held Oct. 3rd. I know that seems like such a small thing but I believe "from small things, great things can come about". I know that fasting and praying brings about miracles. I also know of no power greater that our Father in Heaven. He loves this land and has blessed it many times before . . . with all our fasting and prayers their [sic] will be a great power and protection upon us and this great nation.
Some might find the mentality underlying this Facebook status to be stupid. Some might find it annoying. I find it rather disturbing. Now, why would I be disturbed by someone exercising (and inviting others to exercise) faith in God in an effort to bring about something presumably good (i.e. the improvement of the country)? For three interrelated reasons: (1) the faith is misdirected, (2) the motivation is prejudiced, and (3) the beliefs conveyed are arguably blasphemous.

How is the faith misdirected? It seems to me that if one wants to improve one’s country by fasting and praying, the ideal focus of such activity will be upon those people who are currently in leadership positions. Rather than asking God to help Mitt Romney be appealing to voters, how about going directly to the root of the problem and asking that those with influential positions in government today will be wise and make good choices? As the person who wrote the above post attests, God can bring about miracles. If that’s true, then can’t God help our country even if Barack Obama is president?

Presumably, the author of the above status update wants Mitt Romney not only to look good in the October 3rd debate, but to get elected. I’m going to go out on a limb and suppose that at least some of Romney’s appeal to this person lies in the fact that Romney is a Mormon. In my mind, that makes the motivation behind the praying and fasting for Romney (rather than for Obama) a prejudiced one. The idea seems to be that a Mormon will handle things better—and in greater accordance with God’s will—than even a smart, well-intentioned politician of another (or even of no) faith. Perhaps I am assuming too much. I am obviously passing some judgment on the author of the status update. But I highly doubt—all the while admitting I could be wrong—that the person who wrote the status update would have suggested fasting and praying for just any old Republican. As a Mormon, I am insulted by this. Being a Mormon doesn’t guarantee anything about your character. Neither does being a non-Mormon. To give higher credence to an LDS politician merely because he is LDS is both arrogant and ignorant.

Who does God want to become the next president of the United States? I can’t pretend to know. Thus, I would consider it blasphemous to pray to God that the candidate I personally favor will be elected. Is it appropriate to pray concerning the elections at all? Sure it is. I think it would be great if people prayed about their own choices concerning whom to vote for. I think it would be great if people prayed that whoever gets elected, that person will honorably fulfill his or her political duties. I think it would be great if people prayed that God’s will, whatever it is, be done. But praying that God will help Mitt Romney get elected is a bit too much like praying that God will help BYU win the football game. As a Mormon, I don’t suppose that God wants BYU to win every football game just because the school is associated with the LDS Church. I have no reason for believing God cares one way or the other about BYU winning any football games. Similarly, it’s quite possible that God doesn’t care whether or not Mitt Romney gets elected president. God might even desire that Mitt Romney not get elected. Thus, praying to God to bring about the “good” of making sure people like Romney well enough to vote for him strikes me as attributing to God a desire that we are absolutely unwarranted in ascribing. It suggests that one thinks of God as being as narrow-minded and prejudiced as is oneself. And that strikes me as blasphemous.

That’s my two cents. Make sure you pay your tithing on it.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!

I just wrote a very cathartic journal entry. A private one. I don’t often write private journal entries, but it was time. I’ve been so pensive lately. The other night, I lay awake in bed doing quite a bit of self-reflection. It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself if you just give yourself some time and attention. I’ve learned so much about what’s important to me in the last couple of years. More importantly, I’ve learned why certain things are important to me. That’s equally cool. Self-reflection is a good thing that people should engage in more often. I’ve been my own therapist numerous times in life, and I’m not displeased with the results.

Seven months ago, I wrote a blog entry titled “Confidence vs. Conviction.” It was something I had been thinking a lot about at the time, and I was very eager to share my thoughts. I was disappointed with the results, however. I didn’t feel I made the distinction as clear or as poignant as it had played itself out in my mind. That’s always a trick—to share the wisdom that comes from an uninterrupted stream of thought and translate it into a set of coherent sentences and paragraphs. Thinking and writing are two different processes, and while the latter involves the former, the best thinking takes place when you needn’t worry about communicating those thoughts to anyone else. We’re all geniuses at times. But many of us sound like idiots when we try to share our ingenuity with others.

The reason I bring up my “Confidence vs. Conviction” post is because much of my journal writing today had to do with living a life of conviction. And here’s part of what I said:
Oh yes, confidence follows [from living with conviction]. But it’s a nuanced kind of confidence. It’s a confidence in yourself and your character, not in what you will achieve, per se. It’s not a kind of confidence that says, “Yes, I can do X.” Rather, it says, “Yes, I’ll do X. And I’ll do it the way I want to do it. Here’s my version of X. And I’m good with it!” It’s having confidence in the path you’ve chosen because you like the path, not because it leads to the right destination (even though it will). Instead of thinking, “I’m confident that this will get me to destination X,” you think, “I’m confident this is the route I want to take to destination X. This is the route I want to enjoy on my way to X. I love this route. It’s the route for me. I’m going to enjoy this route, and I don’t give a crap what routes other people take or what they think of my route. This is the way I want to get to X.”
There’s nothing particularly profound in the block quote above, but it did me some good to write it. It helped remind me of what I want out of life, which is something I lose track of surprisingly easily. The point is, I’m on a journey right now. Sometimes I feel somewhat discouraged or ho-hum about this journey. But I realize from time to time—because I have to keep learning the same thing over and over again—that much of my discouragement lies in a failure to be who I want to be right now. I’m focused on the future and ignoring my present self. Well, guess what? My present self is the only self I’ll ever be, and sometimes he’s a miserable and unlikeable bloke. If I can be happy in the present, I don’t need to worry so much about the future. Because here’s a little secret—you’re never living in the future. You’re always living in the now.

The things I’m saying on my blog today are so clich├ęd, I’m almost embarrassed to write them. But they are true, and they need to be said every once in a while. My journal entry was a lot more personal and meaningful than what I’ve shared here. It was more specific and thus less hokey. But the take-home message is the hackneyed one we would all benefit from if we could sincerely take it to heart. Be the person you want to be today—it’s the only day you’ve got.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Mormons, R-rated Movies, and Official Church Policy

This is part three in what has become a series of posts dedicated to the issue of Mormons and R-rated movies. The first two articles in this unplanned series are “Mormons and R-rated Movies” and “Mormons, Caffeine, and R-rated Movies (Again).”

The question of whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has ever banned the viewing of R-rated movies among its adult membership can be approached in myriad ways. One method is to examine the statements made by the general authorities of the Church and see what, if anything, indicates that members have been instructed to avoid any and all R-rated movies whatsoever. This is the method I’ve employed in my previous two posts on this topic (see here and here). Another approach is to ask what it means for something to be a matter of official Church policy. In this post, I’ll combine these two approaches. So far as I’m concerned, quotations are all for not if it can be shown that the mere uttering of something (even by a general authority of the Church) does not constitute the declaration of official Church policy. Still, many people harness support for the view that R-rated movies are forbidden by the Church by picking out random quotations from various Church leaders and rubbing them in the face of people who believe differently. I wouldn’t be a genuine party to the debate if I ignored these quotations, and so I will continue to examine several of them here. (See my preceding posts for responses to other quotations.) After scrutinizing the quotations I regard as most relevant to the debate, I will enter into a discussion concerning the establishment of Church policy. Using this two-pronged approach, I believe it can be shown with certainty that R-rated movies are not banned by the Church.

If you perform a search for the term “R-rated” on the LDS Church’s official website (LDS.org), 90 search results come up. All but 19 of these search results link to articles published in Church magazines over the last 41 years. While these magazine articles provide the most prolific resource for Mormon quotations about R-rated movies, I will limit my discussion exclusively to references made during general conference, the semiannual worldwide meeting of the LDS Church. There are several reasons for doing this. One reason is that Mormons tend to give comments made during general conference higher priority than those given elsewhere. While it may not be an entirely accurate view to hold, general conference is typically regarded by Mormons as the de facto venue for the exposition and announcement of official Church doctrine. Thus, Mormons (on both sides of the R-rated movie debate) more readily hold to, and are less likely to shy away from, comments made within talks presented at general conference. Another reason for eschewing magazine references is that the majority come from magazines meant specifically for the youth, or those under the age of 18. My concern here, as in my previous posts, is with whether or not the adult membership of the Church has been officially instructed not to view R-rated movies. A final reason for focusing only on conference talks is that of the 31 magazine references that do not come from children or youth magazines, most are published versions of the conference talks I will discuss. It is worth noting that conference talks are normally published in more than one of the monthly Church magazines, such that one mention of R-rated movies during a conference talk can easily account for three or four search results on LDS.org. If that talk is later quoted by someone else, the number of search results tied to a singular remark about R-rated movies can triple. One quotation from President Ezra Taft Benson is responsible for five of the first 10 search results to appear, for example, and the quotation reappears in multiple search results thereafter.

Before delving into the particulars of any conference talk, let me begin with some historical and statistical information. The Motion Picture Association of America introduced the ratings system to American cinema in November 1968. Roughly four years later, in October 1972, R-rated movies received their first mention in LDS general conference. They have been mentioned in conference a total of 12 times in the past 40 years, an average of once every 3.3 years. The most recent reference was 11 years ago, during the October 2001 general Relief Society meeting. (Relief Society is the official organization for LDS women age 18 and older. A meeting for the worldwide Relief Society membership occurs in conjunction with the October session of general conference every year.) Of these 12 general conference references, four are directed specifically to the youth or told within the context of concern for what kinds of media the youth in particular are exposed to. Three further references occur within anecdotes involving a personal decision (by youth in all three cases) not to watch R-rated films. These seven conference talks will be ignored, as they cannot reasonably support the claim that adult members of the Church have been commanded to shun all R-rated movies.1

Of the five remaining references to R-rated movies given at general conference, I will begin with the most recent. Speaking in her role as General Relief Society President, Ellen W. Smoot asked an audience of adult LDS women, “Do we show our love to the Lord if we spend our time at R-rated movies, reading pornographic material, or involving ourselves in activities that would be degrading or unbecoming a daughter of God?” What can we glean from this about President Smoot’s attitude toward R-rated movies? On an extreme view, we might conclude that President Smoot believes no R-rated movie is worth the time and attention of a stalwart Church member. It’s possible she feels this way, even if her rhetorical question doesn’t appear to say anything quite so drastic. The more important question to ask, however, is if President Smoot’s question indicates or even presumes that adult members of the Church have been officially prohibited from viewing R-rated movies. The answer is “no.” President Smoot’s question can be understood and is perfectly sensible within the context of her talk, even if no ban on R-rated movies exists. Looking at her quote in context, we can see that her point is one of priorities. What she seems to be asking is this: Is our love for God reflected in how we spend our time and in the character traits we seek to develop? Or are we indiscriminate spenders of time, content to do whatever brings us pleasure in the moment and not worrying a whit about our spiritual development? As I see it, President Smoot is asking her listeners to care about what they do, to seek after good things, and to care about God—to have God ever in their sights. She is asking her listeners not to be indifferent as to the kinds of people they are and will become. Sounds like good advice.

Another conference talk comes from Joe J. Christensen of the Quorum of the Seventy. In a 1996 address, Elder Christensen expresses concern that so many of the youth, “as well as their parents, regularly watch R-rated and other inappropriate movies.”2 While Elder Christensen here makes specific mention of adults (or “parents”), his talk is explicitly geared toward the youth of the Church. When he first introduces the topic of R-rated movies, he does so by telling the story of an LDS bishop who learns that many of the young men under his stewardship are watching such movies. He then goes on to make the remark quoted above. Within context, then, Elder Christensen’s message seems to be something along these lines: “The youth should not be watching R-rated movies, but many of them regularly do so. That’s concerning. Even for adults, it’s a concern when R-rated movies are watched so frequently that a lack of discretion is apparent. Nobody should be wholly indifferent as to the kinds of media that he or she enjoys.” In other words, although adults are not restricted from watching R-rated movies in the same way that the youth are, neither group should go overboard with their movie-viewing habits. As with President Smoot, Elder Christensen’s bottom line concern is one of focus. He seems to be saying that all too often, people become complacent in their lives and indiscriminate in the choices they make. I couldn’t agree more.

The most perplexing use of the term “R-rated” comes from John H. Groberg, also a member of the Quorum of the Seventy at the time of his talk. What makes Elder Groberg’s remark so strange is that the implied subject matter isn’t obviously movies. The relevant quote is this: “Oh, brethren, please don’t sell your precious priesthood birthright for a mess of X- or R-rated pottage.” While this quotation would make perfect sense within the context of discussing movies or the media, Elder Groberg’s preceding comments are not indicative of this. Neither are his follow-up remarks. Indeed, what Elder Groberg seems to be discussing are the thoughts and actions of Church members themselves, with an emphasis on how those members treat the people around them. He warns his listeners against being abusive, angry, neglectful, and selfish. While he also mentions pornography, his emphasis clearly falls not on what Church members view, but on what they do. In other words, Elder Groberg seems to cite the viewing of pornography as an example of inappropriate behavior, not pornography as an example of inappropriate media. This distinction matters, because the true intent of Elder Groberg’s remarks will become clear only if we understand his focus. As it turns out, his focus is not at all on media. Instead, he provides a list of behaviors, all of which seem to involve the mistreatment of others, and then cautions his listeners not to jeopardize their spirituality by engaging in such “X- or R-rated pottage.” In context, then, this “pottage” is unlikely to be movies at all, but seems rather to be the cited behaviors that Elder Groberg is urging his listeners to avoid. Put another way, Elder Groberg may be applying the MPAA ratings system for movies to the thoughts and actions of his listeners. “Don’t live an X- or R-rated life” may be a fair summation of his point. While this interpretation requires that Elder Groberg speaks only poetically when he deems certain behaviors “X- or R-rated,” it is a more reasonable interpretation than that which supposes Elder Groberg is making an out-of-context, off-the-cuff, and obscured statement to the effect that all R-rated movies are prohibited. Think of it this way. If the X-rated pottage refers back to the pornography Elder Groberg has mentioned, then what from his list is the R-rated pottage? As I see it, there are two options. One possibility is that “R-rated pottage” also refers to pornography. If this is correct—and I am willing to grant that some R-rated movies can be seen as pornographic—it still doesn’t follow that Elder Groberg means to condemn all R-rated movies. At most, he denounces a certain subset of R-rated movies. Another possibility is that the R-rated pottage is the abusive, angry, neglectful, and selfish behavior Elder Groberg has mentioned. In context, this interpretation makes sense. After all, it would be strange of Elder Groberg to provide a list of inappropriate behavior and then refer back only to a singular item on the list—pornography—when he says, basically, “Watch out for this stuff!” Again, in context, it seems clear that the term “pottage” is meant to encapsulate everything of which Elder Groberg has been speaking. And he most certainly has not been speaking in general about movies.

The remaining two general conference references to R-rated movies come from one and the same person. Speaking as the First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric (whose foremost purpose is to watch over the temporal affairs of the Church), H. Burke Peterson cautioned the priesthood brethren in 1980 that “there should not be any X- or R-rated movies that we participate in viewing or talking about.”3 13 years later, speaking as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder Peterson said that R-rated movies, “and many with PG-13 ratings, are produced by Satanic influences.” Even if the latter quotation does not expressly prohibit the viewing of R-rated films, Elder Peterson’s statements strike me as the most bold and absolute on this subject. It is here that a consideration of what it means for something to be official Church policy becomes particularly relevant.

According to an official declaration of the Church:

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.4

How can this information help us to assess the remarks made by Elder Peterson? Firstly, we should recognize that, while Elder Peterson’s two statements are compatible, they make two very different claims. The more recent claim is that R-rated movies—presumably all of them—are “produced by Satanic influences.” If Elder Peterson is correct about this, it might be a good reason for avoiding R-rated movies altogether. It might be. Then again, it might not. With greed as a major impetus in capitalist societies, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that most of what we spend our time and money on is “produced by Satanic influences.” The jar of peanut butter you pick up at the grocery store may very well have been produced by Satanic influences. I’m not sure that makes you evil for buying it. Regardless, Elder Peterson’s is the only quote I’ve seen from a general authority of the Church that says Satan is the executive producer of every R-rated film that gets produced. According to the Church’s own stance on what constitutes doctrine, this claim is to be regarded as a matter of personal opinion.

What about Elder Peterson’s explicit admonition to steer clear of R-rated movies altogether? Let us consider again the criteria put forth by the Church concerning official Church policy. There are two questions that we must ask:

  1. Was Elder Peterson’s statement the result of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “counsel[ing] together to establish doctrine”?
  2. Has a ban on R-rated movies been “consistently proclaimed in official Church publications”?

If R-rated movies are officially prohibited by the Church, we should be able to answer “yes” to both of these questions. The correct answer to both questions, however, is “no.” Regarding question #1, it is extremely improbable that Elder Peterson’s remark stems from the First Presidency and the Twelve meeting together to establish doctrine. We have no basis for assuming it originated in this way, and it is beyond far-fetched to think that if the First Presidency and the Twelve did establish new doctrine concerning the appropriateness of R-rated movies, it would be presented to the Church by way of a comment made in the middle of a talk given by the First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric. Fortunately, we needn’t concern ourselves with why Elder Peterson is so vehemently opposed to R-rated movies, because question #2 must itself be answered in the negative. A ban on R-rated movies has not been consistently proclaimed in official Church publications, and that is enough to guarantee that such a ban does not officially exist. Recall that of the 90 references to “R-rated” that appear on LDS.org, Elder Peterson’s is the only one that is addressed to adults and clearly condemns the viewing of any R-rated movies whatsoever. That puts Elder Peterson’s remark into the very same category as his comment about R-rated movies being produced by Satanic influences—it is to be seen as a matter of personal opinion and is not binding upon the Church.

Case closed.


1 A search for the term “rated R” rather than “R-rated” yields two additional general conference talks. Neither is problematic. One talk was given to the young women of the Church in 1996 and briefly recounts a story wherein a teenager refused to watch an R-rated movie. The other talk was delivered by Marvin J. Ashton, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in 1977. Elder Ashton cites an increase in media that attempts to “glorify immorality or violence,” noting the increase in both X- and R-rated movies as evidence for his view. While Elder Ashton is clearly concerned with the media and its influence upon Church members, it is a stretch to interpret his talk as an official prohibition against all R-rated movies whatsoever.

2 I addressed this quotation in my previous blog entry. However, I have since looked more extensively at the talk from which the quotation comes and feel my comments here are more to the point.

3 It is here that I must concede a point I had earlier denied, that adults have been told by a general authority at any point in time not to watch R-rated movies. Despite my good-faith efforts to find quotations like this, I had not discovered this particular gem until it was brought to my attention by someone else. Thank you, Tracy S. From what I can tell, this is the only quotation of this kind to exist.

4 http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine

Monday, September 10, 2012

Potpourri No. 33

Trinkets o’ life…

Choose the R?
Less than a month ago, I wrote a post about Mormons and R-rated movies. Last week, I wrote a follow-up post. I thought I was done. Well, **spoiler alert!** I am not. The Facebook dialogue that I mentioned in my most recent post has since developed into an extensive back-and-forth with one particularly fervent supporter of the view that all Mormons are officially prohibited from watching R-rated movies. It has been an interesting exchange. This would-be defender of the faith has told me that my failure to see her point of view entails that I am either “an idiot” or “so far from the spirit” that I cannot recognize the truth. Her latest charge is that, because I have yet to update my blog with the particular quotes she has presented to me, I must be insincere in my attempts to understand this issue. (So, yes, she has found my blog and may very well be reading this. Hi, there!) On the contrary, I plan at least two more posts on the topic of Mormons and R-rated movies, and I will indeed be addressing (either directly or indirectly) all of the quotes this woman has shared with me. She has come up with a couple of good ones, and I intend to give them the attention they deserve. Suffice it to say, my view has not changed. Stay tuned for details as to why.

Half the Man I Used to Be
The fall 2012 semester is underway. I’m not teaching any courses of my own this semester and am instead back to being a TA. Because I’ve overstayed my welcome (so to speak), my income has been cut in half and my TA duties have been cut in half as well. That’s the general idea, anyway. I’m supposed to do half the work of a regular TA so as to justify the reduction in monetary compensation, but I’m a bit worried it won’t work out that way. I’m the only TA for the class to which I’ve been assigned, and it’s a 3000-level course. There are various writing assignments due throughout the semester, and while the instructor has implied that he will be doing some of the grading, I’m not entirely sure just how much he really plans to do. I can easily imagine doing just as much work for this class as I’ve always done, and I suppose the only way to avoid it is to make myself look bad and complain when I’m asked to do more than I really should be doing. Maybe I’ll get lucky and receive only a reasonable amount to do, but something tells me it is unlikely. I’ve got my fingers crossed … which makes my typing skills highly impressive.

Out of the Mouth of Babes
Creegan’s vocabulary has taken a drastic turn upward in the last two or three weeks. He says “lunch,” “couch,” “plate,” and whole bunch of words that he didn’t say even a month or so ago. I know vocabulary can develop rather quickly at this stage of life, but Creegan has been a bit slower to develop his speech than were Eddie and Peter. At his 18-month appointment, Creegan’s doctor even suggested that we take Creegan to a speech therapist, just to be on the safe side. While Melanie and I were not worried about Creegan, we obeyed the doctor’s orders. The speech therapist wasn’t concerned by Creegan’s development (or lack thereof), and it seems almost immediately after the visit, Creegan started saying a bit more than he had. But lately there has been another explosion of development. Among the most entertaining things Creegan says is “ice … na na na na na na na.” He is singinging “Ice Ice Baby,” which Melanie sings to Creegan every time she gets ice out of the freezer to put in Creegan’s water (which he requests every night as a part of his bedtime routine). Granted, reciting the bass riff from “Ice Ice Baby” as a series of “na”’s may not count as increased vocabulary as far as the doctors are concerned, but I quite enjoy it.

Seeing Things
Speaking of kids going to the doctor, Edison recently had a checkup. When the doctor tested Eddie’s eyesight, the results were terrible. He could see hardly anything. I wasn’t at the doctor’s appointment, but Melanie and I were both shocked. We’ve wondered about Eddie’s eyesight in the past, but nothing recently has suggested that he struggles to see, especially not to the extent suggested by his abysmal performance on the eye exam. Truth be told, Melanie and I are wondering if something strange was going on at the doctor’s office, like he was confused about where the doctor was pointing or something. This isn’t just wishful thinking. Since the appointment, Edison has pointed out words that are fairly small and far away, spelled them for me, and asked me what they say. (For example, Edison was lying on the top bunk, looking over the edge, and asked me about a word on the cover of a book lying on the floor. The word was relatively small, I thought.) So, although we’ve been told to get Edison to an eye doctor, neither of us is convinced he needs glasses. I guess we’ll see. (Get it? We’ll SEE? And “see” sounds like “C,” which is a letter of the alphabet?! And Eddie was supposed to be identifying letters from the alphabet!?!? HA HA HA!!!)

Can You Hear Me Now?
Peter officially broke tradition yesterday by becoming the first of our children to willfully speak into a microphone in front of an audience. He shared a scripture in primary and did a great job of it. Edison has always refused to speak in church, even if Melanie or I am standing next to him, feeding him lines to say. Until yesterday, Peter had always adopted Eddie’s practice of standing silently at the microphone and waiting for his mom or dad to cave in and deliver the assigned primary talk ourselves. Naturally, I felt great pride in my son as he leaned forward and spoke unhesitatingly into the microphone. Who cares that he whispered most of the scripture, an inadvertent consequence of repeating what Melanie was whispering into his ear? As an added bonus, Peter’s bravery seems to have worn off on Edison, who told me he wants to try talking into the microphone the next time he is asked to speak in church. Rock on ... or should I say, microphone on? LOL!

The end!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Mormons, Caffeine, and R-rated Movies (Again)

One week ago today, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (AKA the Mormon Church) posted an official announcement to its website, making clear what many LDS faithful have known for years—that caffeine is not forbidden by the doctrines of the Church. As this Salt Lake Tribune article points out, it is a common misconception among Mormons and non-Mormons alike that members of the Church are not allowed to drink caffeinated beverages. I won’t go into the history of why people have come to this erroneous belief. Personally, I’ve always been baffled that the confusion exists among LDS members themselves, as it seems pretty obvious that nothing in our belief system suggests that caffeinated beverages are a product of Satan. Even so, I’ve heard wild tales of Mormons being all but disowned by their families of origin for imbibing the occasional Dr. Pepper. Fortunately I, having been born of goodly parents, was given Pepsi in a bottle long before I could speak. Nowadays, I can’t imagine a heaven without Mountain Dew.

Today, a friend of mine posted the Tribune article mentioned above to his Facebook page. In response, I quipped that all we need now is clarification that adult Mormons have not been prohibited from watching R-rated movies. (I recently wrote about Mormons and R-rated movies. See here.) A well-intentioned member of the Church responded to my comment, saying that she was fairly certain Mormons had been instructed not to watch R-rated movies. I explained that I had not been able to find any quotes to that effect, and I challenged her to provide with me with evidence to the contrary if she could find it. A short while later, this woman posted four quotes that she believed demonstrated a Church-wide prohibition on R-rated films. For the hell heck of it, I’ve decided to put the cited quotations on my blog and explain why they fail to establish that adults have been instructed not to watch R-rated movies. For the most part, I will cut and paste the quotations, along with their citations, exactly as they were provided on Facebook. I assume they are accurate, but I can’t say for sure.

Quote #1
“We counsel you, young men, not to pollute your minds with such degrading matter, for the mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterward. Don’t see R-rated movies or vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic. Don’t listen to music that is degrading” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1986, 58; or Ensign, May 1986, 45).

This quotation is explicitly directed at the youth, as is clear from the term “young men.” It doesn’t say anything to the effect that adults should never watch R-rated movies.

Quote #2
“What difference does it make why it is rated R? The fact is, a prophet of God has said not to go to R-rated movies. That ought to be enough” (Ensign, July 1998, 16). —Elder Cree-L Kofford of the Seventy.

If you look up the article in which this quotation originally appears, you’ll see that it is immediately preceded by this sentence: “Young people know they should not watch R- or X-rated movies, and yet time after time I hear them say, 'Well it’s only rated R because it’s violent.'” Once again, the restriction on R-rated movies is directed at the youth (or non-adult members) of the Church. What’s more, Elder Kofford is referencing the talk cited in Quote #1. He is commenting on the youth, and he is citing a talk that was directed at the youth.

Quote #3
“It is very unreasonable to suppose that exposure to profanity, nudity, sex, and violence has no negative effects on us. We can't roll around in the mud without getting dirty. It is a concern that some of our young Latter-day Saints, as well as their parents, regularly watch R-rated and other inappropriate movies and videos. One more reason why the devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice (3 Ne. 9:2)” (Elder Joe J. Christensen, October 1996 General Conference, The Savior Is Counting On You).

This is the most promising quotation, as far as establishing that adult members of the Church should not watch R-rated movies. And yet that is not what is being said. In fact, that doesn’t even seem to be the point. Rather, the point seems to be that regular exposure to profanity, nudity, sex, and violence can have negative effects on you. Most of us can agree with that, and yet it doesn’t follow that a person (especially an adult) should never watch R-rated movies. The concern Elder Christensen has is that some people are watching negative things on a regular basis, and this can bring about undesirable consequences. Fair enough. But one might also say, “It is a concern that some of our young Latter-day Saints, as well as their parents, regularly eat candy.” This wouldn’t mean that candy is forbidden. The take-home message, as I see it, is that we shouldn’t be complacent or indifferent as to what we spend our time doing. There should be moderation in all things. If you’re constantly immersed (even vicariously, as with the viewing of a movie) in profanity, sex, and violence, it can dampen your spiritual sensitivity. Those things shouldn’t consume your day. And there are certainly movies with frivolous and excessive profanity, sex, and violence. Making those kinds of movies your only source of entertainment might not be the best way to live your life. But even if we grant all of these things, it doesn’t mean that LDS adults are being told (or even strongly encouraged) never to watch R-rated movies. What’s more, if you look at this quotation in context, you’ll once again see that the message pertains primarily to the youth. When Elder Christensen mentions parents—which he does only in passing—his point seems to be that anyone who carelessly and frequently indulges in certain types of entertainment is putting himself (or herself) at risk. In other words, nobody is immune to the risk of careless indulgence. (It’s worth reiterating that risky behavior isn’t necessarily immoral behavior. Being a fisherman is reportedly one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Yet being a fisherman isn’t obviously immoral.)

Quote #4
“Although there are some uplifting exceptions, in most areas of the mass media there seems to be a declaration of war against almost everything the majority treasures most: the family, religion and patriotism. Marriage is degraded, while premarital and extramarital relations are encouraged and glamorized. Profanity and the foulest of vulgar gutter language bombard the ears of all who listen. Reportedly, in one R-rated movie, the most common, vulgar, four-letter word was spoken 256 times! Human life itself is trivialized by the constant barrage of violence and killings. Remember that anything that is not good for children is rarely good for adults” (Elder Joe J. Christensen, Ensign Nov. 1993, p.11).

This quotation makes reference to one specific R-rated film in order to make a point about the media in general. Nothing here suggests that adults should never watch R-rated movies.

Something I failed to mention in my previous post concerning this topic is that there is actually positive evidence to support the idea that the LDS Church is okay with the viewing of R-rated movies by its adult members. The Church-owned Utah newspaper, the Deseret Morning News, restricts certain content based on religious values. The paper does not allow advertisements for escort services, alcoholic beverages, and NC-17 movies. NC-17 movies are not reviewed by the paper’s movie critic. However, the newspaper both advertises and critiques R-rated movies. What this means is that the Church pays someone to watch and discuss the merits of R-rated films! It would be extremely bizarre of the Church to employ someone to do this if they also prohibit their entire membership from watching these movies. It just doesn’t make sense. At all.

I should mention again, as I did in my previous post, that I’m not suggesting that all adults should watch R-rated movies. My point is only that the LDS Church has not prohibited its adult members from watching these movies. Have I convinced anyone yet? (Sadly, if you already believed this, I didn’t convince you. But chime in anyway.)