An Excommunication in the News You Haven’t Read

I just read this article. Upshot — a former Latter-Day Saint bishop, Simon Southerton, was excommunicated by Australian church leaders for adultery. He also happens to be the seventh author from SLC-based Signature Books to be excommunicated. He published a book which posits that DNA evidence disproves key claims outlined in The Book of Mormon, especially the claim that a tribe of seafaring Israelites settled in Central America around 600 B.C.

This is hardly world or even national news, and is likely of little interest to any of you. Utah Valley will be buzzing with it for days, however, and the comments page under that article will be so full of anti-Mormon vitriol you’ll wonder what we did to make people so angry.

I have some thoughts on the matter, and they are wide-ranging. Note, however, that I do not speak for the church in any sort of official capacity, nor do I have any first-hand experience with Mr. Southerton or his work.

1) First and foremost, there seems to be a “free speech” concern anytime someone prominent is excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This is a little bit silly. We aren’t the Catholic Church of 600 years ago — excommunication silences nobody. Critics of the church have every bit as much ability to write, publish, and speak as ex-members as they would if they remained members.

2) As a bishop, Mr. Southerton was also a High Priest. When a High Priest commits adultery, he is excommunicated. This is not because the Church is angry with him. This is because, as part of the necessary repentance process for breaking the law of chastity, as received under covenant in the Temple, the adulterer must be rebaptized. A close friend of mine went through this — he cheated on his wife, confessed, was excommunicated, divorced, remarried, and just seven months ago was re-baptized. The process has made him stronger in the faith than I could have imagined.

3) A word further on excommunication. Latter-Day Saints believe that where more is given, more is required. By excommunicating someone who has turned his or her back on temple covenants, the Church is essentially saying “you are no longer being held accountable for certain sins.” For example, it would be sinful for me to drink liquor and smoke tobacco. If I were excommunicated, that law would no longer apply to me in that way. This is one reason I’m so comfortable hanging around Schlockers who drink — I know that behavior is not accounted to them as “sin,” and while I do disapprove of drunkenness you won’t find me pointing the finger at you and shouting “SINNER!” In this regard, excommunicating someone is an act of mercy.

(Note: I can’t get excommunicated for drinking and/or smoking, but I also won’t be able to get a recommend to serve and worship in the Temple until I’ve cleared the matter up.)

4) Southerton claims that he was being excommunicated for his DNA research. His adulterous affair took place years ago, he has since been reconciled to his wife, and only NOW the Church “goes after him?” Well, okay, fine. Regardless of what Church officials in his Ward and Stake in Australia were thinking at the time, if he comitted adultery and voluntarily left the church because he didn’t believe certain things anymore, excommunication is appropriate. If anything, his local leaders should be grilled a bit for not taking care of this sooner.

5) The central claims he makes in his books are largely irrelevant to me. I may have mentioned this before, but I’m of the considered opinion that religious experiences “prove” things to individuals that science cannot “disprove.” I’m happy to see scientists research evolutionary biology, astronomy, tectonic plate movement, and any number of other things that appear to “disprove” claims made in the scriptures I read. Why? Because these studies advance our knowledge of the world around us, and enable us to live longer, healthier, safer lives. And none of what they say in any way undermines the religious experiences I have, in the which I KNOW that God created the Earth, Jesus Christ died for my sins, and prophets and apostles have worked and continue to work miracles.

God requires individuals to prove to themselves that he exists. Science is a method whereby we can trust the proofs offered by others without doing any work on our own. Science is great for helping us live longer. Religion is great for helping us live more happily.

6) That said, here are a couple of chewy bits for my Latter-Day Saint friends — we often look at The Book of Mormon as a record of what was going on ALL OVER the American continents between 600 BC and 300 AD. This mindset is disproved by The Book of Mormon itself — a careful look at place names and timeframes (especially with regards to military marches) shows that it describes events taking place in an area no larger than that occupied by modern-day Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. There’s PLENTY of room for other human gene-pools to have set up shop in the American continents, and they’ve had nearly two millennia to mingle those genes since. And then there’s the matter of the curse placed upon Laman and Lemuel — if it really changed their physical appearance, who are we to say that it did not ALSO alter their DNA. After all, it was passed on to their children…

My foremost thought through all of this, however, is that nowhere in The Book of Mormon are readers invited to let other people prove or disprove the book for them, regardless of their intent or their means. To the contrary, the final writer in the book, Moroni, told us that if we want to know if the book is true, and truly contains the word of God, we should read it and then ask Him in prayer and in faith if it is true. (Moroni 10: 3-5)

I can’t write Science Fiction and not love science. I can’t be a Latter-Day Saint and not love religion. I can’t be an American and not love free speech. Others might have trouble embracing all three of these simultaneously, but I don’t see the conflict.


59 thoughts on “An Excommunication in the News You Haven’t Read”

  1. I haven’t read your full post yet, but just wanted to let you know that your article link is invalid and is pointing to whatever the base URL of the current page is (I kinda freaked at first when I clicked it, and loaded!)

  2. Speaking of juggling different worldviews

    Hi Howard,

    Long time reader, first time poster. I’m not a member, but my wife (geojlc) is. She attended BYU and graduated from the geology department, and so has to hold the concepts of deep time and the Judeo-Christian/Mormon worldview at the same time. Her statement is after she has left this life “there will be the ultimate question and answer session”

    Me, I’m agnostic, with a leaning towards reductionism and materialism so I’m not beholden to an afterlife, all I can do is try to make this world/universe better with my presence (as poorly an effort that it may end up being).

  3. Thank you, Howard. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this matter, and it is simply very refreshing to hear a member (and in “Happy Valley,” no less!) who has such an open mind and clear perception of things both religious and temporal. This is one of the reasons I’m such a fan of Schlock, as well. It’s fun, it has a little bit of shock value, but it never pushes too far. (Of course being the son of a temple president may also bias me towards temple workers a little bit, but hey…) 😉 Anyway, thanks again. For both Schlock and your posts.

  4. Like you need my opinion…

    I once wrote, several years ago, a philosophical exploration on the matter of truth. There are at least four different types of ‘truth,’ only two of which I remember clearly. 😉

    One type related to facts, which can be interpreted to find a truth.
    The other type related to the truths held in the body of stories, myths and meaning.

    Whatever one can say about the facts of the BoM, they do not necessarily affect the truths of the stor(ies) of the BoM – because, as you mention, they are about our relationship with the Divine and ourselves and whatnot.

    Also, as a side note on personal beliefs… it is my opinion that we live in an active cooperative multiverse. This, to me, means that God gives us the toys and the tools we need to make our lives interesting and meaningful – with moments of tenderizing tempering – so that we go back ‘full bodied,’ so to speak. However, it also means that while we may be playing on similar and compatible playgrounds, not all of us are playing where we think we are. 😉

    Thus, according to the agreement of many, the facts of the BoM can be entirely wrong and the BoM would *still* be true.

    That said, there is also interpretation. The whole point of the BoM was that it was interpreted, revealed to Joseph Smith who used the vocabulary he had to describe its contents. While that interpretation may be “perfect,” it too may not be that accurate. Thus, the BoM could be describing a very big beasty and Joseph would have said, “elephant.”

    Just saying.

    Now, mind you, I’m not exactly an active member and my beliefs have restructured a bit. So, big bagfuls of salt and all… 😉

    1. Re: Like you need my opinion…

      I’m of the opinion that there’re two types of truth: truth (facts) and Truth, those funky deals that, when you find them, make the hair on the back of your neck raise.

      Personally, I don’t see most religious ideals to be either type; they are a matter of Faith, and unproveable and not universal — except for those bits that -are- universal, which most faiths contain.

  5. In one branch in Germany where I was a missionary, there had been an affair five years previous. It was still causing problems in the branch, but that’s not why I mentioned it. The interesting thing is this:

    One person involved confessed, was excommunicated or disfellowshipped* and repented. The other denied involvement and was therefore not disciplined. This may seem unfair in a secular light, but it was enlightening to me. Church “discipline” is part of the repentance process, not a police action on the part of the organization. The person who did not confess was not “punished”, but that doesn’t mean that this person is acquitted. There will eventually be a decision on the matter that this person will not be able to escape.

    This may also account for the delay in action in the case you mention. The church will not take proaction on members. It is likely that the church “went after” Brother Southerton because of Brother Southerton’s increasing inactivity in the practice and beliefs of the church.

    I know several people who have done things that would get them excommunicated but are still members simply because they just left and haven’t ever discussed things with proper Priesthood authority. If/When they do, they will need to go through the same repentance process, tailored to their specific situation.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts.

    1. Disfellowshipped

      I put in the asterisk but forgot to define “disfellowshipped” for those who are curious. A disfellowshipped member remains a member but is not allowed the blessings of the church, specifically temple worship, holding callings, paying tithing and taking the sacrament.

  6. What an interesting post. As someone who loves religion, the responsibility of freedom of choice, and good science fiction, your closing paragraph really caught my eye.

    However, I’m not sure I love religion the same way you do. I love religions for their ‘humanness,’ really — for how they reveal beliefs and desires and perceptions of the culture from which they spring. I love comparing them, trying to find what works best in each, what most dignifies and uplifts the ‘human animal,’ and seeing if I can implement those traits or practices in my life, and in the lives of those around me that I care for.

    Perhaps that’s why I too see science as being great for helping us live longer; but service, philosophy, and introspection as being great for helping us live more happily — and wisely. I can see how folks might see religion as accomplishing those goals, though; most good, thoughtful religions (which haven’t yet been overly calcified 😉 call for introspection and service. I’m curious — is that how you see it?

    1. We’re probably mostly on the same page, yeah. When I speak of religion, I’m talking about a personal relationship with the Divine, as opposed to an organization that takes your tithes and spends it on salaries for the clergy.

      Sure, lots of religions fall somewhere there in the middle, because humans in the organization will naturally behave imperfectly, and because even in the most calcified of churches there are those who seek and find the truth.

      The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is founded on the principle of personal revelation. Yes, it’s got a big ol’ hierarchy, but church members are encouraged to pray for answers in their own lives. We’ve got our share of ossification here and there, but the overall organization is, if anything, growing more flexible over time.

      The word “Religion” is a seriously overburdened term. James’ definition (“Pure religion and undefiled before God and The Father is this: to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world”) describes what is essentially an outward observance of an inward Faith — fitting perfectly with the rest of his “Faith without works is dead” sermon. These days, however, “Religion” means “organization” and “faith” and “system of beliefs” and any number of other things.

      So… when I say “I love religion” I’m not expressing approval for everything that happens under the heading of that particular word these days. What I’m really saying is that I love my relationship with God, and I’m grateful beyond words for the all-embracing, merciful, and redeeming nature of that relationship. But I’m not a big fan of the Crusades, or Jihad, or of Bible-thumpers demanding that “Intelligent Design” be given equal time in schools.


      1. That was very nicely put, and examining the religious definitions of the word “religion” has added a new perspective on this subject for me. I believe you’re spot-on too, regarding believing in a personal relationship with the deific, on the ability of true religious behavior to transcend physical church buildings and dogmatic hierarchy, and on the importance of good works as well as faith for true devotion. Thank you; this was a fun chat!

  7. Man, I dont get why people keep complaining about how since Science cant prove God that he doesnt exist. I dont see what’s so mutually exclusive about Science and being an LDS; after all BYU teaches gospel studies and evolutionary biology in the same campus and people arent complaining. People think that just because the scriputes dont talk about science that it means we dont believe in it – as if they are expecting God or Jesus to have gone to the Nephites and then given them a lecture on superstring theory, quantum physics, tectonic plate movement, sociology, evolutionary biology, dark matter, etc… it just wouldnt make sense.

    1. Personally I don’t believe that there is any conflict between true science and true religion. If we see a conflict then we’re probably making invalid assumptions somewhere — witness the naive view held by some LDS folk that Lehi and company were the ONLY ancestors of native americans and that the events of the BoM ranged over the entire western hemisphere. Scientifically it doesn’t hold up, and a careful reading shows that the idea isn’t supported by the BoM either.

      The same thing holds true when we start looking at the origins of life and the earth. Science says nothing about any kind of intelligent intervention into the processes that gave us the world today. A puddle can happen by rain falling into the dirt, or by a child pouring a bucket of water into the dirt — neither possibility invalidates the other.

      The biggest flaw in so-called “intelligent design” is the either-or assumption its proponents push. Natural selection and evolution are facts — we’ve seen them in action. But we can come up with the same kind of differentiation by intentionally selecting which animals we allow to breed. Look at all the varieties of dogs and livestock people have bred up over the years — by intelligent human design.

      Natural selection and evolution have nothing at all to say about whether or not someone gives things a push every now and again. I believe that God works with natural laws. All the principles of science are tools that he makes use of.

      Looking specifically at the creation, we need to remember the context that the Genesis account was given in. Moses (I believe) saw the best episode of Nova EVER and then tried to explain what he had seen to a bunch of shepherds and farmers with no concept at all of “science” as we understand it. And what was the purpose of the whole exercise? Was it to give precise times and chemical formulae and principles of physics and astronomy to that bunch of cow herds? No, they had neither the need nor the ability to comprehend all that. What was important was to tell them “God did all this.” Not Ba’al or Osiris or umpty dozen little nature sprites or whatever. The one God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — he planned it and set it in motion.

      Anyone who tries to use the resulting document to come up with precise times and methods is nuts IMHO. That’s not what it’s for. It’s up to us to explore natural laws and evidences to learn, as best we can, how it was all done.

      Medieval church scholars used the same kind of silly reading way too deep into the text to prove that the earth was flat and square (it has corners, right?). Heck the bible makes clear in the measurements of the fount in the temple that Pi is three — well it is, if you round to one digit accuracy. But that’s not good enough if you want to do precision engineering — 3.14159 isn’t accurate enough for some stuff we do these days.

      The scriptures are concerned with our spiritual well being. They’re here to tell us who did all this and what some of His purposes are. They tell us how to live in peace with one another, why we’re here, and how to become the best that we can be. They tell of of God’s plans for us and sacrifices He and His Son made so that we can progress in spite of the many mistakes that we WILL make. Trying to read more into them will get us in trouble every time.

      That’s not to say that I believe they’re simply myths either. I believe that the scriptures are true (at least as far as they’re translated correctly). And I believe that given a full understanding of them, and of science there will be no conflict.

      1. My opinion on science in regards to religion is this:

        If God created the universe, and one can know a person better by knowing their works, then science is nothing less than the study of the mind of God through his Creation.

        I, too, am puzzled by the fact that many religious people believe that evolution and creationism are opposing and incompatable, when, to my mind, they are completely compatable.

      2. I think algorithmic information theory has a lot to contribute to metaphysics.

        A finite axiomatic system (FAS) consists of a set of axioms, or things that are accepted as true a priori, and a set of rules by which you can derive other true statements. Godel’s incompleteness theorem says that given an FAS powerful enough to model basic arithmetic, there are either true statements that are not provable, or there are false statements that are provable. An FAS is necessarily incomplete or incorrect. Godel disagreed vehemently with Hilbert’s idea that mathematics could be automated; he produced the proof to support his philosophy that proving mathematical truth is an inherently creative endeavour–new axioms will always be needed, and mathematicians’ creativity must supply them.

        Turing showed that there is no algorithm that can determine whether an arbitrary program will halt or not in a finite amount of time, so there are infinitely many true statements that are not provable. Calude showed that almost all true mathematical statements are unprovable–only an exponentially small part of the space can be reached by a FAS.

        Chaitin introduced the concept of an Omega number, which is no more than the probability that a randomly-chosen program (pick your favorite language) will halt. It turns out that there’s a constant c such that given any FAS, the FAS can only prove the value of the first c+(size of the FAS) bits. To deduce the value of any bit past that requires that another bit of information be added to the FAS–there’s no net gain in the predictive power of the FAS; these bits are pure information. The first few thousand bits for most popular programming languages contain the answer to Goldbach’s conjecture, the Riemann hypothesis, and many many other important mathematical problems.

        One really neat thing is that even if the bits were “revealed” to you in some way, there’d be no way to prove their correctness to anyone else.

        Another cool concept is that truth and light are the same thing, physically: information and energy are interchangeable. Szilárd pointed out that if Maxwell’s* demon knew the position and velocity of all the particles in the box, then he wouldn’t need to see them; he could calculate when to open the door. Once the pressure had built up on one side of the box, he could extract energy from it using a turbine or thermocouple or Carnot engine. Information converted into energy. Likewise, he could expend energy to push all a mole of gas to one side of the box, and then have a mole of bits of information about the position of the gas particles.

        (For some reason I can’t get the lj-cut tag to work… you may want to ignore from here on out.)

        D&C 93 applies, of course. “Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither can it be,” applies perfectly in a physical sense.

        With respect to creativity and mathematical truth, consider President Kimball’s statement, “Real intelligence is the creative use of knowledge.” (Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 279)

        D&C 29:31-35 talks about creation, agency, and law:
        “For by the power of my Spirit created I them; yea, all things both spiritual and temporal—First spiritual, secondly temporal, which is the beginning of my work; and again, first temporal, and secondly spiritual, which is the last of my work—Speaking unto you that you may naturally understand; but unto myself my works have no end, neither beginning; but it is given unto you that ye may understand, because ye have asked it of me and are agreed. Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created. Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual.” (Emphasis mine.)

        I think that this is indication that physical laws are shadows of spiritual truth. “A new world, patterned after the old one where we used to live.”

        *(Not Niel A. 😉

  8. and the comments page under that article will be so full of anti-Mormon vitriol you’ll wonder what we did to make people so angry.

    In my case, it’s been part of a religion that tells it’s membership that I’m less then they are because of who I choose to love. So you, unfortunatly get lumped in with most of the judeo/christian religions in that regard. No offense.

    1. I don’t have to share your beliefs to understand that you feel persecuted for them.

      I can’t speak for the rest of the religions you’ve lumped me in with (no offense taken), but I assure you that I have not been taught that you’re any “less” of a person than anyone else in our congregations.


        1. Yeah, those passages are a very explicit discussion of the law of chastity (among other things.)

          The principle difference between the Old Testament laws and the principles taught in the New Testament is the universality of repentance and mercy found in the latter. Adulterers aren’t supposed to get stoned to death anymore.

          This difference is illustrated with the end of animal sacrifice, which was a type and a shadow of the “human sacrifice” of Christ on the cross. The crucifixion fulfilled the need for sacrifice, making possible an eternal mercy that could temper eternal justice.

          That’s pretty deep doctrinal stuff, though — if you want to dig in THAT sandbox, let’s carry on via email. Otherwise, just leave it at “The Old Testament is pretty hardcore.” 🙂

        2. Given Howard’s earlier post, I don’t want to go into a theological debate here, but I do want to say this: I, as a Christian, do not consider you less of a person, nor do I feel that my religion tried to teach me to consider you less of a person. Nor do I consider you a sinner for who you choose to love. (And I personally consider that Leviticus 18:22 is very clear on the subject with regards to a specific time and place that is not here nor now. In my opinion, the practice of pulling out Biblical verses as something purported to be Divine Truth even when separated from their context produces a remarkable lot of … unfortunate results.)

          1. Ok, my major hang up here (and I’ll pretty freely admit it) is that I was raised a Catholic, and come from a large Roman Catholic family. You, the math here, and wonder why I’ve got a chip on my shoulder when it comes to the various churches of Christ. Now, if you can find love/forgiveness/Faith, more power to you. Me? I’m gonna sit over here and be kinda pissed at the whole thing. 🙂

          2. I’m only vaguely christian, but I have been, for a long time, greatly pissed off at the so-called followers of Christ and the Churches founded in his name. They keep going off and emphasizing the minimally important parts of what is in the Gospel (y’know, fags are bad, an eye-for-an-eye, all that Old Testament bullshit) and utterly ignoring the parts that Christ tried to beat into the heads of everyone he ran into. (Y’know — love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek, the rich and camels and needles, Matthew 25:35-41, etc, etc.)

            In my opinion, a true literalist Christian, while realising that, say, Homosexuality is a sin, must still love and respect the sinner.

          3. Well, wouldn’t a true literalist Christian also a) decide homosexuality was irrelevant since Jesus himself said absolutely nothing on it, but rather focused on things like caring for the poor and being a good person — and b) do the research to find out what was actually meant in the (only) six offending verses in the bible?

            They’d discover what we today call homosexuality (a sexual relationships between consenting adults) didn’t even exist in the entire span of biblical time. They’d discover the ancient Jews didn’t even have a word to describe what they were talking about, so had to borrow from the nearby cultures — and when our theoretical researchers looked up what that word meant, they’d discover the ancient Jews and Paul were actually writing of the evils of… pederasty. Duh.

            Why yes, I did do the research. I also discovered the religiously intolerant don’t want to hear it, apparently because it feels so good to have someone to hate. Frankly, I’ll believe that kind of person is truly christian the day they acknowledge me as the Second Coming.

          4. You’re ascribing the wrong set of motives here. Sure, there are people who need to have someone to hate, but you’re being spiteful when you paint the entire Christian community with that particular brush. Please stop.

            Your claim certainly sounds interesting. I do feel, however, that it is potentially at variance with Christ’s teachings regarding the avoidance of lust, and with his statements that he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, which leaves the Ten Commandments in force.

            (note: Christ’s teachings about lust leave most of us who watch television and allow ourselves to be turned on by beer commercials in need of repentance.)

            This probably isn’t the place for the discussion, though. You are welcome to post your claims and the supporting research in your LJ, and link to the post from here.


          5. Sure, there are people who need to have someone to hate, but you’re being spiteful when you paint the entire Christian community with that particular brush. Please stop.

            I have obviously not been clear, and for that I apologize. It was my intent to suggest true Christians don’t need someone to hate — not to suggest all Christians teach hate. However, as per your request, I will stop commenting now. I hope this helps, and thank you for your patience.

  9. Science is great for helping us live longer. Religion is great for helping us live more happily.

    I think you just summed up my feelings on the subject. Beautifully said, Mr. Tayler.

  10. Hm.
    I think I’ll take this opportunity to spout some thoughts.

    First off, I have always respected religion, despite being an atheist myself. I realized the other day that that’s why I didn’t understand why anybody would want to assassinate the pope. Because I respect religion.
    (also why I got EXTREMELY upset when I read about some vandals who broke into a church, did some random breaking things, and PEED IN THE HOLY WATER)

    I’m an atheist, and, um, that is my religion. I know that people who believe in some sort of god are generally happier than people who don’t, but I just am incapable of believing in something that is false. I don’t mean that like it sounds, its just… I’m as incapable of believing in god as others are of not believing in him. I just never accepted the idea of god, just like I never accepted the idea of santa clause. It just doesn’t work for me.

    I think I was going somewhere with that.
    I can’t remember where, though.

    Also: Is it just me, or are mormons generally more devout than members of most other religions? Of course, the only examples I really have to go on are Howard Tayler and Orson Scott Card.

    Also: How often are you compared to Orson Scott Card, Howard? Does it happen a lot? Does it bother you at all?

    1. Responding in reverse order:

      1) I get compared to Orson Scott Card more often than my writing merits. I don’t mind, though.

      2) I’d like to think that Latter-Day Saints tend to be more devout practitioners of their faith than a cross-section of any other faith would be, but I don’t know of a good way to measure it. If I had to look for something causative, it’s that in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints there are no paid clergy positions — we all take turns in the different offices, and that level of service to each other strengthens our faith significantly. If we weren’t so devout, the “machinery” of the Church would grind to a halt.

      3) Yes, it’s kind of harsh for you to announce that something I believe in is False. What I’d prefer for you to say is that you’re unwilling to accept as evidence anything that cannot be instrumentally quantified and verified. The revelations that I have had regarding the existence of God, the Atonement of Christ, and the literal truth of the Book of Mormon fall into that category. In short, I can’t prove to you that God has spoken to me, and until you can get Him to talk to you, you’ll never have your own proof. Know this, though: I am a scientist to the bone, and nothing short of a very consistent set of spiritual experiences and revelations could ever have served to convince me.

      4) I appreciate the respect you pay to faith and religion, especially in light of your own beliefs as to their veracity. Thank you.


      1. Ah!

        I was going to further clarify what I meant by ‘false’, but I guess I forgot.
        I’ve just used the phrase “things I believe to be false” too often recently, and decided to for once be less politically correct.
        Maybe I’m just jealous of you people in the majority who are capable of believing in a god. Or at least… wait. Hm. I… hm. Darn. It’s only been a matter of minutes since I posted the first one, and already I’ve forgotten what I was thinking. I did make a conscious decision to use that phrasing. I think I was trying to make some sort of statement, or something. Man, I can’t remember WHAT I was trying to say. Whatever it was, I obviously failed, else I’d be able to figure it out.

        I hate it when this happens.

        WHAT was I trying to say?

        That’s going to bug me for ages.

        Maybe I was trying for something a little more solid than “I believe that everything you believe is false.” Maybe I was trying to convey my strong religious conviction. Or something.


        Either way, instead of continuing my usual protestations that that’s not what I meant, I didn’t mean to be offensive, I really meant that to be a compliment, or something, today I am going to do something else.

        I’m sorry. I apologize. My bad. I should have phrased it better, or at least clarified why I phrased it the way I did. I wasn’t trying to say you are wrong in your beliefs.

        OK, now I’ve agonized for awhile over leaving out a couple words, probably entirely out of proportion to your reaction, but I do feel bad.

        I’ll shut up now. Maybe get ahold of a surgeon to remove this foot that seems to have found its way into my mouth…

        1. Re: Ah!

          Don’t worry about it. No harm, no foul. I simply wanted to point out that the language was probably harsher than you wanted, and that there might be better and more accurate ways to say what you meant — ways that would allow you to escape a discussion with a Bible-thumper without them resorting to decidedly non-Christian behavior. 🙂


        2. An interpretation.

          Go back to the earlier post on various sorts of truth.

          (And I’ll put here the quote I was going to quote here: “The opposite of a small truth is a falsehood. The opposite of a great truth is another great truth.” Neils Bohr, I think, but I’m probably wrong.)

          In any case, one kind of truth is the sort that is objectively and empirically sharable — that is, the sort where I can do something, note the experiences that result from it, measure them using devices that we agree are independent from my personal thoughts on the matter, communicate that to you, and you can replicate my actions and obtain similar results.

          It’s probably fair to say that, at least for you (and for most people these days, regardless of their religious devoutness), the existence of the Divine is not taken to be that sort of truth.

          (This does get interesting with certain oathbound magical traditions, incidentally; in many cases, the reason for things being oathbound is that going through the process in a certain order, with certain ceremonies, does seem to reliably produce _subjective_ experiences in a way that are empirically repeatable from person to person.)

          And I’m gathering that one of the deep reasons for your religious beliefs — and part of what you were trying to convey with the “false” comment — is that you’re unwilling to put faith in a Great Truth that is not simultaneously an empirical objective truth.

      2. 1) What, people tell you that your writing sucks that often? Jeeze, and here I thought that you were doing *way* better then OSC was..

    2. I’m taking the opportunity to reply both to you, and to the reply Howard gave you; I hope this isn’t confusing or irritating. I’ve labeled quotes in what is, I hope, a straightforward manner, but feel free to ask if things aren’t clear.

      So, from :
      I know that people who believe in some sort of god are generally happier than people who don’t….

      You do? Fascinating; I wasn’t aware of this. Um… is this anecdotal, or is there a study you read about this? If it was a study, can you direct me to it? This sort of religio/sociological review really interests me, and I enjoy researching it — especially since I’ve not found your statement to be the case.

      …but I just am incapable of believing in something that is false.

      Ouch. I agree with Howard here: you’d be far better off, and more courteous, to say you haven’t yourself found conclusive proof of the existence of a deity.

      I say this because I’m in the same boat, although I count myself a relaxed agnostic rather than an atheist; i.e. there may be a deity/deities, but she/he/it/they have not chosen to chat with me yet (at least that I’ve noticed), and I’m in no hurry to die and find out conclusively one way or another. 😉

      I’m also an amateur anthropologist (as in it’s my major but I’ve done nothing with it, post-university), and if there’s one thing anthro studies taught me, it’s that no person or culture has an inerrant handle on absolute Truth. So just because I’ve not personally heard from any Otherworld does not mean it can not exist. 😉

      from :
      …in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints there are no paid clergy positions — we all take turns in the different offices…

      Whoa, I didn’t know that — what a really good idea to prevent clerical arrogance! I confess that’s a major sticking point for me, regarding joining any particular religion. How can I believe in a deity who has ‘interpreters’ who exhort me to follow certain self-limiting hierarchically-based rules that are supposed to be followed by all — when those very interpreters so obviously believe themselves above all such rules?

      1. Hm.

        I think the primary thing I remember is the article in a 2005 Time Magazine that cited studies that showed religious people are generally happier than nonreligious people.

        I think I can remember reading about more studies, but the Time article is the only specific one I can remember.

        1. Thank you — that should be enough to find it if it’s on-line.
          Good luck with clarifying your thoughts. Yes, that’s a gentle tease; I’ve been there and know what it feels like. Keep trying and it gets better. 😉

        2. I’ve never seen the studies or articles about them, but the happiest and most content people I’ve met have been very devout in their religion (which happened to be Pentecostal or Mormon). I’m trying to find which community of faith I fit into, and I pray for the joy and eagerness to serve that I’ve seen in my more religious friends.

      2. How can I believe in a deity who has ‘interpreters’ who exhort me to follow certain self-limiting hierarchically-based rules that are supposed to be followed by all — when those very interpreters so obviously believe themselves above all such rules?

        Well, it might be worth noting that the Christian deity is on record as having pointed out that there will be false prophets who will exhort you to do such things, and is further on record as having explicitly warned you against those false prophets. I’d think that might be a slight mark in His favor, with regards to considering following Him despite the ‘interpreters’ you mention.

        That said, I’ll note that I’ve known a fair number of ministers in the Methodist church, and the ones that I’ve known well have not fit that description at all. They have certainly all believed themselves to have a calling to follow in Christ’s guidance (that is, “the rules”), and have held themselves to far higher standards in that regard than they would hold anyone else — and the rules that they have exhorted others to follow have been neither self-limiting nor hierarchically-based.

        1. It is precisely the issue of the “false prophets” warning which causes me to shy away from religions sporting doctrinal or clerical double standards. There was a time, in fact, where I scornfully held all of Christianity accountable for the misdeeds of the few; that was, after all, the religion I was most familiar with, and by which I felt directly betrayed.

          Since then, of course, I’ve mellowed considerably. I understand it’s not reasonable to hold a present-day group responsible for past thoughtlessness or malice. My ancestors owned slaves, for example, but I don’t feel personally responsible for that, so why should I hold Christians today directly accountable for, say, the Inquisition? I’ve also met wonderful, ethical individuals such as the Methodist ministers you mention, which taught me that just as there are the greedy, self-centered, and stupid in any group (often regardless of its size), there are also the generous, kind-hearted, and thoughtful.

          So I’ve not yet had personal experience of the deific, but I try to no longer throw out the metaphorical religious-experience baby with the Christian bathwater. Or, um… something like that. Wow, that metaphor got mercilessly labored. Hopefully that makes sense anyway? 🙂

      3. I know that people who believe in some sort of god are generally happier than people who don’t….

        I don’t think that it’s necessarily some sort of God, but faith in a greater power or cause that’s the important part for that, whether it’s God or a pantheon or Humanity’s inexorable progress towards true mastery over the universe.

        And I agree with you completely about the ‘interpreters’ line. I’m nominally christian, but my interpretation and experiences are very far from those of any Church I’ve run into.

        1. Faith in a higher goal. Hm… sounds like a reasonable conclusion to me. It’s possible reading the original article will show you’re correct, too.

          I know this will sound odd, but I’d love to be a christian. I just can’t, for irreconcilable ethical reasons with what the interpreters declare christianity is. If that sort of thing is what christianity is supposed to be, then I agree with Groucho Marx — I wouldn’t join any religion that’d have me! 😉

          1. If you can read about Christ, agree with his teachings, have faith in his atonement, and pray to the Father in His name, I’m pretty sure you can be a Christian.

            Whether you decide to take that and join up with a group of like-minded folks who may or may not turn out to be as like-minded as you’d like them to be, well, that’s another matter altogether. 🙂


    3. I’m kind of replying to the whole thread here started by Malimar.

      1) I am a Christian, but somehow Malimar seems the only person I can understand. The way I look at it, my belief of “humanity sinned/God exists/Christ is God/Christ died for humanity’s sins/we can receive salvation through Christ’s power and through submission to God” seems one that, as far as I hold it, I believe that Malimar is wrong. Therefore, I don’t see how it could be insensitive in the least for Malimar to say that I am wrong.

      Now if he says I’m wrong and throws rocks at me, or ties me to a stick and lights me on fire, on the other hand, I’ll be quite offended…

      Now Howard may be right on the difficulty of arguments about religious subjects. I tend to go back and forth myself as to the power of coming to a philosophical understanding of truth, but generally am hopeful that if arguments can’t always convince everyone of the same truth, at least they can help people to understand each other and get rid of misconceptions, and be a bit more intellectually rigorous.

      2) Replying actually to the article itself: I’ve never actually understood people who want to stay within a religion that they actively seek to undercut. It just seems rather … pointless.

      3) Responding to an earlier post – I would love to join in on that e-mail discussion, or in AN e-mail discussion, about the aforementioned “pretty deep doctrinal stuff.”

      1. a little clarification

        What I mean by “think he is wrong” is that “the proposition that I may quite possibly not be able to emperically prove yet base my entire life on is directly contradictory to his idea of atheism.”

        1. Re: a little clarification

          Well, yeah. That’s the whole point. Religious types, especially the more devout, have often had experiences which define their entire lives, and incite them to participate in behavior for which there is little or no instrumentally verifiable, empirical support.

          In short, we act weird. Peter said it well, if inadvertently, when he called us all a peculiar people.


  11. Fortunately, I was not in the middle of all of this in Australia, but I’m inclined to believe that he was ex-communicated for Adultery not DNA research.

    I have a friend who has faced church disciplinary action. I’d like to think that she’s a better person because of all of this. In the year or so that she’s been through this, she has become a better person. She’s focused on what’s important in her life and is a much stronger person.

    I’m sharing this mostly to try to put what has happened in proper light. Being ex-communicated is not the end of the world for someone unless that person chooses it to be.

    The Book of Mormon speaks for itself. It needs no defense. The principals(regardless of belief system) are wonderful: Stay true to your spouse, love people, serve one another(among countless others) are all very timely messages.

    I have zippo problem reading Schlock Mercenary. My husband got me sort of involved in all of this.

    Overall, I enjoy reading what Howard puts out, because he seems like one cool Utah cat!

  12. I’ve admittedly gotten to the point of eye-rolling when it comes to whole DNA evidence thing. Given that Lehi and his family were not actually Jewish, how can we know if we’re seeing evidence of them or not? Does anyone actually have any idea what the markers are for Manassah? Plus, I think the implication is that there were other people around already (having wars so soon after they arrived seems to suggest it-kind of hard to have a war with three dozen people), thus any Israel markers would have been in the minority, and who’s to say that they haven’t been eliminated sometime in the past 1600 years, particularly given the number of indiginous people smallpox and such wiped out entirely.

    1. Re: South Park

      I found a transcript of it out on the web. That is really twisted, yet strangely complimentary. Though it’s amazing how close they came to LDS church history while still managing to distort everything like a funhouse mirror — and yet still end up with the core being a loving, happy Mormon family full of very nice people.

      Then again, what should one expect of South Park. 🙂

  13. I don’t really understand the popularity of the animosity towards Mormons, except in the aspect of doorknocking. While I have met very few Mormons, those I do know tend to be very nice people, down-to-earth, responsible, generally genuinely concerned about others, and, while they don’t partake of alcohol and other things, they don’t laud that over others who do as though they are superior. They’re certainly less annoying than some southern Baptists I know — or Roman Catholics, for that matter.

    Is it still possible to get a free copy of the Book of Mormon? I’ve been interested in reading it. (And, if it is, is it possible to get it without having someone stop by as a follow-up — not that I think there’re many Mormons in my area….)

    1. The only thing I can fault some of the Mormon’s I’ve met with is that sometimes they try a little TOO hard to convert someone while on Missionary service. I’ve had to intervene between a friends younger brother and a batismal he wasn’t feeling particularly comfortable with because he didn’t want to disappoint the missionaries.
      I’ve been to Mormon services, participated in discussion, and felt included and welcomed. A good friend of mine who was Mormon used to come to late night drinking sessions at my house, Ernie would try to convince him to go out and have sex and have beer, and Josh (the Mormon) used to just regard us with amusement. (Ernie telling a girl he found another new Testament in his back yard, that didn’t go over so well.) He was even amused by my logic that Mormon’s must worship Mormo (because Christians warship Christ, Buddhists have Buddha and so forth).

      At one point there was a point to this post. It has long been left by the wayside, I fear. I need to eat something, time for my first meal of the day, only 12 hours after I woke up.

      1. Aah. Neat! Thanks.

        I know I can read it online, but I vastly prefer actual books, particularly if the subject’s religious or philosophical in nature. 🙂

    1. Eek! Sorry!

      Sorry, I hadn’t realized you had replied so quickly! This was my first post to a live journal; I had meant to reply to a deeper post by umikuma, and tried to put the last few paragraphs in an lj-cut, but neither worked, so I deleted it and tried again. It still won’t acknowledge the lj-cut tag, but at least it’s in the right place.

      >I’m going to be reading and re-reading this for WEEKS.
      Thanks! It took me a few years to put it all together in my head…

  14. Caffeinated Mints

    “This is one reason I’m so comfortable hanging around Schlockers who drink — I know that behavior is not accounted to them as “sin,” and while I do disapprove of drunkenness you won’t find me pointing the finger at you and shouting “SINNER!” In this regard, excommunicating someone is an act of mercy.”

    I can vouch for this as I have seen Howard at the last two Penguicons. This last one he happened to hop on the same elevator with my family. As my daughter (12) was leaving the elevator she exclaimed that she was going to go get more penguin mints and ran off in the special 12-yr-old-gonna-get-some-schwag run of hers.

    As the elevator doors closed, Howard looked over aghast (with eyes a-goggle)and said “The kid eats the caffeinated mints?!?!?!?”

    My reply was simply that every time she enters the refreshment room, we can’t keep her hand at out of the bowl.

    Howard’s eyes rolled…his head shook a bit, but he didn’t say a word…

    For the record Howard, she’s a schwag collector…as most small kids are…she even has one of the Novell led flashlights and mousepads you brought last year…we couldn’t stop her from snagging the mints, but she doesn’t eat them…However, the people in my lab, LOVED them…I’m pretty sure that Penguin Mints picked up some new customers…


    1. Re: Caffeinated Mints

      My head-shaking was due to the fact that caffeine is a drug, and should be treated with respect. Most grown-ups realize this, at least at some level, but kids don’t.

      There were a couple of little tow-headed boys between the ages of 6 and 10 playing in and around the Chaos Machine, and they were popping the mints like they were tic-tacs or something. Considering that three mints have the equivalent dosage of a cup of coffee, it surprised no-one that their behavior was execrable.

      Would that they could have been taught to horde the mints instead of eating them, and then trade them up for something more kid-friendly, like cigarettes ore beer. 😉

      1. Re: Caffeinated Mints

        Oh, Indeed…while I do have a strong prediliction to caffeinated cola beverages…and the waistline to prove it…we have attempted to keep my daughter fairly caffeine-neutral. When we go out, she may have a coke, but no refills, but at home it is milk (chocolate or au natural), juice or water.

        I think all kids are schwag hounds and am convinced that if someone at a convention had a bowl of rusty nails for free, I would find a few in my suitcase on the way home.

        In any case, the elevator incident is one of my favorite penguicon memories, as it is such a Brittany-esque story…I’m sure in a few years, I’ll be able to embarrass her with it!


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