Thursday, 27 June 2013

Gay Marriage or Democracy, pick one.

I can't say that I'm surprised that the US Supreme Court has ruled to strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.  Words like 'marriage' and 'spouse' in all existing and future Federal laws will now be taken as meaning either a same-sex or a traditional marriage or spouse.

In my mind, when it comes to things like hospital visitation rights, insurance, etc., it shouldn't matter what kind of relationship it is.   I would say it shouldn't need to be a marriage of any kind.  Why does there have to be a sexual relationship to give somebody that standing in your life?  I have two sisters who for several years shared an apartment before either of them married. Why not allow them to grant each other (if they want) a legal status that would allow them to better look after each other for the time they shared living accommodations?

In other areas, such as adoption, I think it is a great disservice to the child to deprive them of having a parent of each gender.  And how this change will play into the interaction between church and state (seeing as the wall of separation is not holding up so well) has yet to be seen.  I expect it to be used as a wedge to further attack that wall.  I would not be surprised to see the day where government pressure is brought to bear against churches that hold a position similar to ours.  More on that next time.


What should be more alarming than the effect of removing Section 3 is what precedents were set along the way to that ruling. 

Californian voters were given a choice, Proposition 8, and they had a free and fair election.  The Church came in heavily in favor of the proposition to ban gay marriage and became a target of angry gay activists in the aftermath of the vote.  So far everything is going along democratically, (except for the vandalism).

When the predictable legal challenges came, California’s Governor and the Attorney General refused to defend the proposition even though it was their duty to do so.  Other private groups were allowed to step in, but the U.S. District Court of Northern California ruled these groups had no standing to act before the court in defense of the proposition.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision, and so now has the USSC.  On top of this, in 2011 the Obama administration decided that it would no longer defend DOMA, even though it too had an obligation to do so.  Section 3 was not struck down on because of what is in it, but because those constitutionally and legally obligated to defend it sat on their hands.  For all the lip service Obama has given to supporting traditional marriage, his actions show his heart was never in those words.

The end result is a precedent where any ballot initiative or federal law can be invalidated by the State or Federal government by following the same process.  The whole concept of having a ballot initiative is nullified, increasing the power of the State government over people's lives.  The oath of a President to uphold the laws of the United States likewise become meaningless when the President and pick and choose what laws he upholds and what laws he throws under the bus.  Troubling indeed.

The second big area of concern is with the majority decision itself.  The ruling of the majority relies largely on denigrating the motives and character of the proposition and the groups defending it rather than dealing with the facts and the law.  The conclusion was that Section 3 only existed for the purpose to "disparage", "injure", "degrade", "demean" and "humiliate" homosexuals.  Where is the evidence that this was the motive and reason?  Where is the testimony to back this claim up?  Nowhere, it wasn't the topic under examination.

So it seems now that if you demonize a group thoroughly enough, you can get the courts to ignore the merits of their position. The majority has simply accepted the false argument made over and over in the media that opposition to same-sex marriage is inherently bigoted and a violation of the rights of gay persons.

Put it together and you have the will of the people, expressed both directly in Proposition 8 and through their elected representatives in DOMA,  thwarted by the executive and the judicial branches of government.  Gay marriage or a republic based on democratic ideas.  Pick one, it doesn't look like you can have both.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Pride and the Low Information Voter


The Book of Mormon is a very unique book of scripture.  Over the course of 1000 years a lot happens.  Consider what the world was like in the year 1013, what countries and empires have risen and fallen over those years, what wars were fought, what scandals were exposed.  I had no idea that Denmark invaded England back then until now.

Anything from more than a century ago quite fuzzy to most people, and the farther back you go from there the fuzzier it gets until every legend is taken as a fact or every fact is taken as a legend by the general public. 

Mormon had a reliable record of the Nephite millennium in the New World, and under God's direction he compiled for us a record for us.  Far, far more was left out than what was included.  While Mormon included doctrines that needed to be restored or clarified in our day, he also included parts of their civilization's history so the lessons of their experience can guide us in our day.  It is perfectly fair to say that the Book of Mormon is designed to be applicable to modern politics and current events.  Looking through the lens of Nephite history we can perhaps see more clearly what is happening around us today and keep from being mislead by the same things that led others astray in their day.

The downfall of the Nephites was the result of their pride more than any other factor, and we should take note as to how that pride manifested itself.  It's easy to point to the 'fine twined linen'  and 'costly apparel' as evidence of Nephite pride, but it is a bit of a stretch to say that a nation fell because people were too well dressed.  A deeper examination is called for.

President Ezra Taft Benson delivered a landmark talk on pride in the April 1989 General Conference and I strongly encourage you to read it over in light of today's state of affairs.  There is one manifestation of pride I would like to add,  willful ignorance.

The term 'low information voter'  has become a popular part of the political lexicon since the 2012 election in the United States.  These are people who despite living in an age when information is more freely available than ever before, are still deeply uninformed about issues and candidates and the state of the nations, and yet they still consider themselves capable of making a good choice at the ballot box.  There have always been voters like this of course, but it seems we have reached a point in history where there are enough of them to decide who wins and who loses an election.

Such votes are cast out of pride.  It is pride that says 'Our economy is too big to fail', or 'We are too strong to be overthrown' and ignores valid warnings.  It is pride that leads a person to think they don't need to honestly look at the other side because they already know they are wrong.  It is proud ignorance that gives people a false sense of security so that casting a vote based on a politician's charisma, or on blind partisanship, or to be popular with the right people, or in the hopes that such a vote will facilitate them in living wickedly, is seen as harmless to the nation.

We can find similar attitudes in the Book of Mormon.  In Mosiah 12 we read:

 And it came to pass that they were angry with him; and they took him and carried him bound before the king, and said unto the king: Behold, we have brought a man before thee who has prophesied evil concerning thy people, and saith that God will destroy them.
 10 And he also prophesieth evil concerning thy life, and saith that thy life shall be as a garment in a furnace of fire...

 15 And behold, we are strong, we shall not come into bondage, or be taken captive by our enemies; yea, and thou hast prospered in the land, and thou shalt also prosper.
The people living under King Noah's reign did not evaluate the facts or logic of what Abinadi was saying, they reacted to the fact that his words offended their pride.

The people of Ammonihah also showed they belonged in the low information category.  From Alma 9
Who art thou? Suppose ye that we shall believe the testimony of one man, although he should preach unto us that the earth should pass away?


 Now they understood not the words which they spake; for they knew not that the earth should pass away.

 And they said also: We will not believe thy words if thou shouldst prophesy that this great city should be destroyed in one day.

 Now they knew not that God could do such marvelous works, for they were a hard-hearted and a stiffnecked people.
As with Abinadi, Alma and Amulek offended the pride of these uninformed people and they reacted out of anger to the 'plainess of his words'.  Out of pride leaders of the city mocked God and sought a sign saying:
Alma 14:24 ...If ye have the power of God deliver yourselves from these bands, and then we will believe that the Lord will destroy this people according to your words.

Both the people of King Noah and the people of  Ammonihah quickly came to discover that they were quite wrong, but they were blinded by their pride and clung to their ignorance to the bitter end.  Any nation, no matter how rich, no matter how powerful, can and will be brought low if they persist in their enmity towards God.  But another lesson we can glean from both these examples in the Book of Mormon is that the righteous were saved from God's wrath when it was poured out on the proud. 

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Monday, 17 June 2013

It was not a submarine!

I know there are bigger fish to fry out there, but this is a bit of pet peeve with me. 

We all know the story in the Book of Mormon of the Jaredites building their barges and sailing over to the promised land.  Often I hear their ships referred to as a kind of submarine, or compared to a submarine at least, and that really is not correct at all.

We get our first detailed description of the ships in Ether 2

 16 And the Lord said: Go to work and build, after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built. And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did go to work, and also his brethren, and built barges after the manner which they had built, according to the instructions of the Lord. And they were small, and they were light upon the water, even like unto the lightness of a fowl upon the water.

 17 And they were built after a manner that they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish.

While the shape may somewhat resemble a modern day submarine, it seems pretty clear that these were very buoyant watercraft.  Also there is no mention of any kind of apparatus for adjusting the buoyancy of the barge.  While there was an opening at the top for air, and one at the bottom (presumably for waste removal and also perhaps to allow some fishing en route) the only way to use these for buoyancy control would be to open both stoppers at the same time and sink the ship to the bottom of the sea.

The way they sailed to their promised land also runs counter to what would be true if these vessels were some kind of submarine.  In Ether 6 we read:

And it came to pass that the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind.
 And it came to pass that they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind.
 And it came to pass that when they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah; therefore when they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters.
 And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind.

Their barges clearly did not travel underwater, but on the surface where the wind was able to move and direct them to their destination.  The storm that accompanied the wind caused  huge waves to wash over them, and to briefly drive them below the surface, but the ship was designed to withstand it and return them to the surface as soon as possible.

Calling the Jaredite barges a kind of ancient submarine makes it harder for sincere, intelligent people to take the Book of Mormon seriously.  Some anti-Mormons go out of their way to portray these ships as submarines so they can set up a straw man they can use to attack and mock the Book of Mormon.  When we start talking of it in the same way we help them, not the Lord.   If a comparison must be made to a modern boat, it would be a far better match to compare them to a large kayak rather than a submarine.