Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Greatest Threat to Mormonism

In February a visiting speaker to our Sacrament meeting told us of a tradition he has of reading the entire Book of Mormon in the month of March (He calls it 'March Madness', my wife renamed it March Holiness, because somehow Madness and the word of God just didn't seem sensible together.)

I typically read the Book of Mormon cover to cover every one to two years, I try to take my time and digest little bits. I was intrigued by his challenge, and decided to give it a go. There really is something about compressing the timeline - you see things differently. I guess it is sort of like the difference between walking through the trees and flying over the forest. A very different perspective allows you to see things in an entirely different light.

For me, the rapid read called greater attention to the infamous 'pride cycle'. I noticed several details I had not really caught before.

For those not familiar the pride cycle is a repeating pattern of behavior documented in the Book of Mormon. The people would be righteous for a time. God would bless them and they would become very prosperous. Then the people would become prideful, and would turn to sin, and Then there were wars, famines, pestilence, etc... This would cause the people to become humble, they would turn to God again, and would become righteous again, And then the cycle would repeat. righteous -> prosperous -> prideful -> wicked -> "cursed" -> repeat.

People tend to treat this as a purely religious thing, that God directly, actively blessed the people when they were attentive to God, and then he directly, actively cursed the people when they weren't attentive. This cycle does't really require a deity in order for it to hold. In Christianity we call it the "Law of the Harvest", or "you reap what you sow", Ironically, the secular world tends to favor the less pragmatic, more spiritually rooted term "Karma".  But the fact is, this cycle is quite natural. Plant corn seed and  you will get corn. Not apples, not peas, not oats... corn. It is so common sense. It works that way in human endeavor as well, though not quite so quickly, nor always so easily observed. But those who pay attention can see it.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
    - Martin Luther King Jr.

In other words, God doesn't have to be nearly as directly involved in the process as some suggest. It is simply the nature of the world. Why does this matter? It changes how we perceive God. He is not a meddler, he is not arbitrarily doling out blessings and punishments for our every act, like an overly diligent dog trainer. God is our Father. Our Father who loves us unconditionally, who wants us to be happy, who wants us to have blessings, who is eager to bless us, who has given us direction how to live "after the manner of happiness" (2 Nephi 5:27). And who then lets us live as we choose.

Okay hang onto those two framework ideas (pride cycle, nature of God's relation to people,). And pressing forward...

What really stood out to me with the rapid reading was the consistent thread which represented the starting point of the downfall of the Church.

The key elements which repeated every time were:
Focusing on the "fine things of the world"
Abandoning/neglecting the poor

Here are a few verses for reference...


2 Nephi 28

13 They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up.

Jacob 2

13 And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.

20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken unto you concerning pride; and those of you which have afflicted your neighbor, and persecuted him because ye were proud in your hearts, of the things which God hath given you, what say ye of it?

Alma 1

22 Nevertheless, there were many among them who began to be proud, and began to contend warmly with their adversaries, even unto blows; yea, they would smite one another with their fists.

Alma 5

55 Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?

Alma 60

16 Yea, had it not been for the war which broke out among ourselves; yea, were it not for these king-men, who caused so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, at the time we were contending among ourselves, if we had united our strength as we hitherto have done; yea, had it not been for the desire of power and authority which those king-men had over us; had they been true to the cause of our freedom, and united with us, and gone forth against our enemies, instead of taking up their swords against us, which was the cause of so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, if we had gone forth against them in the strength of the Lord, we should have dispersed our enemies, for it would have been done, according to the fulfilling of his word.

Helaman 4

12 And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation, murdering, plundering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, rising up in great contentions, and deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites—

Helaman 6

39 And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God.

40 And thus we see that they were in an awful state, and ripening for an everlasting destruction.

3 Nephi 6
10 But it came to pass in the twenty and ninth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions;

11 For there were many merchants in the land, and also many lawyers, and many officers.

12 And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.

13 Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God.

14 And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up...

4 Nephi 1

24 And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.

25 And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them.

26 And they began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ.


Nonmembers weren't a significant threat to the periods of prosperity. 3 Nephi 28 speaks of the disciples - after Christ's visit to the Americas - baptizing people (clearly there were nonmembers to be baptized), and being thrown into pits and furnaces, clearly there were nonmembers who didn't like the church. Earlier there were cases where the wicked kingdoms attacked, were soundly defeated and then the people enjoyed years of peace.

The Gadianton robbers weren't a significant threat. For those who aren't Mormons this referred to criminal groups comparable to everything today from Drug cartels to Mafia to Illuminatii-esque groups who manipulated governments, assassinated political leaders, etc... The Gadianton robbers were only able to gain power when the people were prideful and contentious.

The times when the church was at risk, when prosperity was lost, always started with the members withholding help from the poor. Turing their back on those who needed help. Getting in verbally abusive arguments or physical fights with those who held different views. Excluding those who look different, dress different...

I direct this toward Mormonism because, well... I am drawing form the book of Mormon, but in reality this applies to any belief, any society actually (refer back to my framework comments).

The problem with pride.. it is so easy to miss it in ourselves. I find I can slip from self-reliant to selfish in the mere blink of an eye.

And it is so easy to look to Book of Mormon heroes like Captain Moroni, want  to emulate their stalwart, direct action against evil... And it is easy to forget Captain Moroni fought Invaders, not immigrants. He fought against usurpers who overthrew the government, not the government (and at a time when they were already fighting a war against an attacking force. It is also easy to forget hw never fought for longer or took more lives than was necessary, and was always ready to let go any who would throw down their weapons and promise never to attack again).  It is easy to get "caught up in the moment", not even realize you've taken a step sideways...

“Most of the bad guys in the real world don't know that they are bad guys. You don't get a flashing warning sign that you're about to damn yourself. It sneaks up on you when you aren't looking.” 
― Jim Butcher 

It is hard to consistently remember to look inward and ask "is it I?" (Matthew 26:22)

And yet, that is always where it starts...

Thursday, March 30, 2017

American Healthcare Reform?

The recent republican healthcare debacle has had me thinking about my views on healthcare - what it should look like, and how it should work.

As always. I think I am somewhere in the middle.

No child should have to go without basic healthcare.

That just seems basic, common sense to me. How could semi-civilized human being refuse basic care for a child, just because his parents decided to spend their money foolishly? Or abandoned said child altogether?

From an economic perspective, a few dollars of prevention now could save thousands of dollars later. So at least for children, universal healthcare seems like a no-brainer.

But what about  the rest of healthcare? Certainly it would seem there are some places for cost savings. imagine if victims of automobile accidents were covered by a universal plan. Considerable savings could be found in avoiding all the legal back and forth that goes on in our current system. We would pay for the cost of recovery from the accident, instead of that AND the salaries of the several lawyers involved AND the bevy of insurance claim handlers AND the extra "pain and suffering" damages that are frequently awarded AND...

What about terminal diseases? Or Chronic illness? Those are just plain expensive. Those are what insurance was really about, back on the 'good old days'. Everyone paid into a community chest, just in case. The money was then available for the poor unlucky soul (That is a lottery you really don't want to win). In theory one much larger pot would be more efficient and effective than lots of little ones, right?

But... What if someone gets emphysema as a result of chain-smoking in spite of all the health warnings? What if someone gets diabetes and a flood of related illness because he just flat-out refused to stop drinking 64 oz. of mountain dew and inhaling a box of Twinkies every day? Is it really fair to those who try to take care of themselves, that they have to pay in more than is actually necessary because of members of the population who don't take precautions?

I suppose you could try going all New York and ban every potentially harmful substance ($114 Billion annually for alcohol related accidents based on numbers from 2000. You ready to try prohibition again?)

What about coverage for abortion? Birth control? No matter where you draw that line you are going to make some group very unhappy, and infringe on someone's religious/civil rights.

What about cosmetic surgery? Breast implants, or I understand calf implants are the rage among men. No? What about in the case of breast cancer? What about those born with disfigurements? How "disfigured"?

What about ageing?

The problem with paying for healthcare, it can consume essentially as much money as you are willing to give it. It has an infinitely large appetite. And we are getting better and better and keeping a corpse mostly alive. Sooner or later, you have to start drawing lines - some of those lines people will draw for themselves, based on quality of life, some don't want to be a financial burden to their kids. Others, well.... Who do you want making that decision for you? Obama? Trump? Whoever the next guy happens to be?

I'm inclined to think there are some aspects of healthcare which are a easy yes for a universal system. Preventative care, Child healthcare. Emergency care (Though perhaps in the case of self inflicted due to crime or blatant stupidity, they would be required to reimburse).

Others are less clear, and perhaps would be better served by old fashioned insurance, or voluntary, charitable contributions.

But, even though I am inclined toward socialized care for some things, I still have one concern which gives me considerable hesitation.

That concern is the money. Specifically, who manages it? Consider for a moment our Social Security system.  It is meant to be a safety net for retirement. It is in trouble, in part because the old are living longer and the supply of young is slowing. It is also in trouble because the government keeps raiding those funds to use for... other projects.

Healthcare is a REALLY big number. A number from which literally millions of dollars a year could get lost as rounding errors (I have enough experience with large corporations to know that this is not an exaggeration). In 2011 I wrote a post titled "A Case For a King". I think it applies.  When I consider the kinds of things well meaning people have demonstrated they are willing to do for the sake of "The greater good"... (let me refer you to "The Lucifer Effect", "Edward Snowden", "MKUltra" as a bit of reading material.)

The problem with things like money and power, the more you give up, the harder it is to reclaim them. And sooner or later someone will end up in charge, that you don't want there....

That said. I am still on board with the idea of socializing certain aspects of healthcare. So long as it is a separate accounting book, fully exposed to the public, with crowdsourced/consensus management.

Then insurance can go back to covering the outlier issues, with different rates and solutions based on individual risk and  personal preferences and needs. With government regulation of this insurance limited to basic fair business practices and anti-monopolistic behaviors (possibly some reigning in of excessive litigiousness?). It seems to me that would help considerably with cost of basic care, while maintaining a relatively high degree of choice, flexibility, and freedom.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Liberals Elected Trump?

I was listening to an interview the other day, with a Utah polling organization, discussing Trump's first weeks in Office.

At least in Utah, it seems the majority of people don't really approve of many of the actions Trump is taking. particularly the immigration blocking and wall building bits.

The interviewer pointed out that Trump is only doing what he promised to do, so why such a negative reaction, even from those who voted for him?

The interviewer noted that this wasn't really such a surprise, given the exit polls. (Again, at least in Utah) The exit polls indicated that most people who voted for Trump were "Holding their nose" as they did so.

So, they didn't vote for Trump, they voted against Clinton. That is only marginally surprising, considering Utah has been strongly Republican for decades. But what was interesting from the polls was that the decision this last election seems to have hinged largely on one point.

The Supreme Court appointment.

This one point may very well have decided the outcome of the election.

Why was this one thing so important that it mobilized so many to take a position they didn't really want to take?

January 2010 - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on health care: “We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in but we're going to get health care reform passed for the America people."

(a healthcare reform they excluded themselves from...)

2008 Prop 8  (Bill to establish marriage as valid only if between a man and a woman) passed in California by a 52% Majority. Ignore for a moment any personal feelings you may have regarding this, just consider this. It had a majority. It was overturned by one (1) judge who was in a same-sex relationship. (To take emotion out of this, try to imagine you passed a law making burglary illegal, and it was overturned by a Judge who happened to be a burglar).

Following that, there were several lawsuits against various Photographers, Bakers, etc... who refused to provide their services to same-sex marriages, where the legal system ordered that said businesses would render their services, or would lose their livelihood. Place these cases in context. First, they are not required or life-sustaining services (this is less important to the point of being nearly irrelevant but I mention it anyway). Second, these were all forms of artistic expression, which usually is recognized as free speech (Hustler Magazine won multiple legal battles against censorship on this ground, Political cartoonists and other satirists have wielded the free speech banner to defend their right to draw Mohammed and other religious figures...). So in effect, one judge was violating an individual's right to free speech, by ordering them to celebrate in art something which they felt was morally wrong. (again, you are welcome to disagree with their moral views, refuse to do business with them, encourage your friends to refuse to do business with them. By all means do, and good on you for sticking by your personal mores).

Also in 2008, President Obama made the following statement:
"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

What stuck in people's minds?

"Small towns"
"Cling to guns or religion"

and then there were headlines like this from 2015: "Four years after agreeing to “sequestration” budget cuts, the White House has emphatically told Congress that President Obama will no longer abide by them and will use his veto to insist that lawmakers boost spending on defense and domestic programs alike."

Suddenly Pelosi's speech sounds like it is about more than healthcare. Suddenly it sounds like a call to war... against...?

So, roughly half of America wasn't just not getting things the way they wanted, they were actively being marginalized, bullied, backstabbed, forced to abandon their opinions, mores, ways of life... Treated as worthless, dumb, sub-humans.

If a black bear is in your garden, you generally can make a ruckus, chase it off, and that is that. If you keep chasing it, corner it, give it no place to go... well... then it may get desperate. This is true of most any animal. It is part of evolution, fight or flight... When flight is no longer on the table...

So... it seems to me, when I look at all the bits and pieces, that perhaps the liberals created  - and elected - Trump.

(P.S. perhaps we shouldn't have let the extreme left and right take over.)