Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Imminent and Prolonged Collapse of Society

I know that this post won’t make some people happy.

I guess that is OK, as events of late in my chosen state of residence don’t make me particularly happy.

This past Friday US District Judge Robert J. Shelby declared Amendment 3 to Utah’s constitution to be unconstitutional. The news of the ruling and Shelby’s subsequent refusal to grant a temporary injunction has reverberated around the world; the fact that it occurred in conservative Utah simply served as a catalyst for that reverberation.

ShelbyJudge Shelby’s decision came as a surprise to many. It didn’t necessarily come as a surprise to me. I’ve been able to see such decisions on the horizon for the better part of the past decade. And I’ve been troubled by them.

I’m reminded of R.E.M.’s 1987 hit, It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine). Except I don’t feel fine. I feel troubled. I am bothered by where we are heading.

I have a friend who, every time an advance in “gay rights” comes about, looks at me, smiling, and says “see, the world didn’t end.” But worlds don’t end in a moment. They morph, over time, to something entirely unrecognizable until, one day, you wake up and wonder how things got to that point. We are all just frogs in a slowly warming bucket of water.

I took time to read through all 53 pages of Judge Shelby’s decision. I found it interesting reading, but it all hinges on what the judge sees as incontrovertible fact, something that is beyond reproach and unassailable in its conclusion. As he states:

The Plaintiff’s testimony supports their assertions that their sexual orientation is an inherent characteristic of their identities. Forty years ago, these assertions would not have been accepted by a court without dispute. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association still defined homosexuality as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III), and leading experts believed that homosexuality was simply a lifestyle choice. With the increased visibility of gay men and lesbians in the past few decades, a wealth of new knowledge about sexuality has upended these previous beliefs (pg. 24).

In other words, Judge Shelby’s decision is only possible in light of a foregone conclusion that same-sex attraction is an “inherent characteristic” of some individuals’ identities.

And this is where the sticking point is for so many people. Is it nurture (choice and/or environment) or nature? The judge throws out the former (nurture) as “upended” “previous beliefs” and his decision asserts that it is the latter (nature).

There are millions of people (yes, including me) who think that this basis is not a foregone conclusion and that making decisions as if it is makes for bad legal decisions.

The Peril of Acceptable Science

Is it an uncontested fact that same-sex attraction is an inherent characteristic of individuals? Perhaps, but we may never know in our lifetimes. Why? Because some science simply isn’t socially acceptable to examine. The effect is that those who would contest such “facts” are almost entirely shut out of the all-necessary funding to conduct research to examine the assumptions.

As just a single example, Nature reported in October 2013 that sexuality was considered a “taboo” research area, particularly if the research involves searching for “environmental influences that might affect the trait” of homosexuality. Genetic researcher Eric Vilain wants to study just that, but his work cannot obtain funding. He feels that if it were funded, “it could upset some gay rights activists who have seen their cause benefit from the ‘hardwiring’ theory.”

And yet Judge Shelby has just decided law based on that very theory of “hardwiring.” That is infuriating to those of us who believe that minds should still be open while there is research to do. The problem is that Judge Shelby’s decision cannot be undone if research is one day done which evidences that the basis underlying his decision is a shaky one.

The Dictum of “Me First”

I am old enough to remember the sexual revolution at the end of the 1960s. The Summer of Love (1969) was touted as evidence of a societal transformation for the better. That revolution promoted the mantra of “if it feels good, do it.” Stephen Stills released a song in 1970 titled Love the One You’re With. This wasn’t an anthem to everyone getting along; it was a license to free love: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”

Free love. Free from strings, free from shame, free from guilt, free from responsibility. The entire concept flew in the face of millennia of human development, but it was accepted within the course of a decade by people who thought that they knew better than the entirety of human history before them. The individual and his or her desires was elevated, for the first time in history, above the needs of the society in which the individuals functioned. Kennedy’s famous call in 1961 to “ask not” and thereby put your country before yourself was replaced at the end of the decade with a flock of mindless seagulls screaming “mine, mine!” And they have been supported in their desires to make the individual supreme by courts both Supreme and not.

What they wanted, they wanted. And they wanted it now. And they got it. And they got everything that came with it. And it opened the door to many of the societal decisions that have followed, including the ill-founded acceptance of same-sex attraction as normative.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Unintended consequences always follow any social revolution. Always. By definition they cannot be foreseen or mitigated by prior action. Would the sexual revolution have been as enticing or as gleefully embraced if one had foreseen the advent of Madonna, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, or dozens of act-alikes? Would it have seemed as much a nirvana if we knew that it would lead to increased marital infidelity or higher levels of teen sexuality and rates of pregnancy? Would the reality of sexting or twerking have changed how we felt?

There is an old adage that states that when you make a decision you also accept everything that goes with that decision, regardless of where it leads. “Love the one you’re with” may sound good and “freeing,” but it does nothing for trust and building strong character. It doesn’t build relationships; it destroys them.

In 1969 those crying for what has come to be known as “marriage equality” were few and far between. But they were there, in the background. And they were constantly and vigilantly looking for ways to overturn the public’s sense of abhorrence of homosexuality. They obviously have succeeded, despite the fact that in 1969 the public feeling was that such would never happen. Where we are today is an unintended consequence of the sexual revolution, pure and simple.

While Judge Shelby considered and copiously cited the law in his ruling, he gave no thought to the law of unintended consequences. Such considerations just don’t exist in his prose—I looked for it, but it isn’t to be found. And that worries me. A lot.

Why does it worry me? Because we don’t know where these decisions will lead. The quiet background voices of the 1960s are today enacting laws to normalize what was then considered wrong. Should one, perhaps, pay attention to the quiet background voices one hears today? Should one be concerned about them?

For instance, well-known biologist Richard Dawkins has minimized the effect of “mild pedophilia” on children and believes that, at least in his case, it should not be considered abusive. Other voices are starting to state that perhaps sex between teachers and students should be decriminalized because it should be expected.

Just anecdotes? Perhaps. Remember, though, that we don’t know where the law of unintended consequences leads—we can’t know. But we must accept where it leads, nonetheless.

Wrong is Wrong. Still.

Judge Shelby’s ruling is understandable, but it is bad. It is bad for my grandchildren. It is bad for society. It is based on inconclusive science. It is bad for social trends. It attempts to make the abnormal normal.

And it is wrong. The law of unintended consequences will come into play and, along with the law of the harvest, mold an environment that we would not recognize today. I guarantee—from first-hand knowledge—that the world we live in today is not one that people would have recognized in 1969. Yet here we are. Frogs in a collective bucket.

I would much rather have my grandchildren raised in the uptight-yet-somehow-more-virtuous environment that held sway through the early years of the 1960s than in the anything-goes-as-long-as-I-can-do-what-I-want era in which we now live. Judge Shelby (and others providing similar rulings) are pandering to the desires of the seagulls and contributing to that era with their ill-advised rulings.

What Is One to Do?

First, I believe that anyone in public office who has had a hand in where we find ourselves today should be kicked out of office or, at the least, voted out of office at the next election. (Yes, that includes arch-conservative Orrin Hatch.) They should be replaced with those who hold views compatible with our vision of what society should be.

I think that nothing short of a huge public outcry, sustained over decades, will make a difference. It is what made the difference for gay activists, so why shouldn’t it make a difference for those with different visions of how society should be shaped?

I started out this post by saying that it wouldn’t make some people happy. But it still needed to be said. I have no doubt that my words, although carefully chosen, may cause some people to jump to the wrong conclusions about me. I can’t help that.

I understand that such judgment or (if you prefer) stereotyping is normal, as it is a way to excuse the listener from understanding and, perhaps, accepting what I may have to say.

So be it; there are plenty of other voices crying in the public square. I’m sure that those who reject what I have to say can find a voice more to their liking in any number of echo chambers that line that square. But at the same time, those who assure the crowing crowds that “all is well” still cannot escape the twin laws I mention (unintended consequence and harvest).

In the meantime, if you agree that Judge Shelby and others who base decisions on incomplete science are wrong, say something. Don’t be quiet. Make your voice heard respectfully yet forcefully. Make sure that people cannot misunderstand your position on this important issue.

 

This Week in Polygamy

The topic of polygamy has always generated a prurient interest or curiosity in the non-Mormon population at large. This interest is most obvious among those in monogamous cultures, particularly those cultures with strong European influence.

This actually makes a bit of sense, as in the supposedly authoritative words of Wikipedia, “in the global context, acceptance of polygamy is common.” In the statistics cited at the source, only 15% of the cultures in the world are monogamous. Most cultures where polygamy is legal are located in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia (particularly southeast Asia).

The interest in polygamy within the United States invariably turns to the Mormons, who practiced it—both openly and not—between the early 1840s and early 1900s. Among some groups who trace their religious history to the Restoration, polygamy is still practiced. It is not currently practiced by those who belong to the mainstream Mormon church. In fact, if a person practices polygamy they cannot join the LDS church (regardless of whether it is accepted within the larger culture) and if a member starts to practice polygamy they are excommunicated from the LDS church.

polygamy1The peculiar interest in polygamy within Western cultures is evidenced by the increasing incidence of reality television shows focusing on the practice. Participants in one such television show, Sister Wives, brought federal suit against laws in the State of Utah that banned polygamy. Last week Clark Waddoups, a federal judge in Utah, struck down a portion of the Utah law, specifically the portion that prohibits “cohabitation.” The ruling, in the case of Brown v. Buhman, also effectively overturned significant portions of a 132-year-old precedent established by Reynolds v. United States. For me there are actually three fascinating things related to the Brown v. Buhman ruling—historical irony, social impetus, and social acceptance.

Historical Irony

If anyone ever wonders how societies can change over time, this ruling presents a textbook example. The Utah law against cohabitation—which was the portion of the law struck down—have been in place since the time of Utah’s statehood in 1895, as a requirement by the federal government for that statehood. At the time polygamy was seen as a challenge to morality and civility, with the potential to bring down the entire US government. This feeling is true and is recounted again and again in the public efforts of the time to outlaw polygamy. The feelings were the basis for the Reynolds v. United States ruling which outlawed polygamy, as recounted again in last week’s decision in Brown v. Buhman.

The striking down of the law represents a complete turn-about in legal reasoning. Whereas 135 years ago it was thought expedient to outlaw cohabitation, today it is considered an inherent element of religious freedom. In other words, 135 years ago it was unconstitutional to cohabitate, but today it is unconstitutional to forbid cohabitation.

To further add to the irony, 135 years ago the free exercise of religion (which the LDS church asserted as a legal defense against attempts to outlaw polygamy at the time) was seen as an inadequate basis for striking down the law. Today the free exercise of religious is seen as a primary reason for the law to be struck down.

In his decision, Judge Waddoups found it easier to dismiss the reasoning in Reynolds v. United States because of “the entrenched nature of an orientalist mindset among ruling elites” that crafted the decision and that incorporated attitudes of “racial inferiority” toward “Middle Eastern, African, and Asian cultures”—the very cultures that practiced and still practice polygamy.

One wonders what other reversals society will enact 135 years from now.

Social Impetus

If anyone has been observing US culture over the past 50 years, they have no doubt seen the wholesale adoption of an “anything goes” attitude when it comes to forming relationships and families. With marriage rates at an all-time low and divorce rates at an all-time high, the majority of US males already practice “serial polygamy” by engaging in sustained sexual relationships with multiple women over the course of their lives.

When people can engage in such fluid relationships over time and still be considered fine examples of upstanding citizens, it is no wonder that laws relating to cohabitation would be found unconstitutional. Judge Waddoup’s reasoning that predominant attitudes formed a basis for Reynolds v. United States can also be seen in his decision to overturn portions of that precedent. Just as judges then were products of and influenced by their society, so are judges today.

It is not uncommon in today’s world to find people of both genders (but predominantly men) who actually do cohabitate and practice a form of polygamy. They may spend a few days with one family, move to another household for a few more days, and then repeat the cycle as they maintain multiple concurrent familial relationships. And while society may frown on such behavior, it certainly doesn’t prohibit it.

(I know of one never-LDS member of my extended family that kept two households for years. He was married in two different states and maintained the separate families secretly, so that one wife didn’t know about the other wife. The world called him a bigamist, but surely his experience would be fodder for a reality show and successful lawsuit in today’s legal climate.)

Laws are ineffective at proscribing morality. When significant numbers of citizens opt for a lifestyle that embraces or tolerates cohabitation, how can laws against cohabitation remain viable? The simple answer is that they cannot.

Social Acceptance

In the wake of the Brown v. Buhman decision, social commentators have become a bit more vocal in calling for a reappraisal of whether polygamy should be fully permitted under the law. One legal analyst stated on CNN that:

When the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in U.S. v. Windsor in June, opening the door to federal recognition of same-sex marriage, it also set the stage for a discussion of plural marriage. …in calling DOMA definitions unconstitutionally restrictive, the court, perhaps unwittingly, also struck down the federal numerical limitation in a marriage, immediately re-opening the possibility of plural marriage at the state level. Activists have taken note, and are only getting louder.

The analyst argues that “going straight from criminalization to full recognition [of polygamy] is both the correct legal answer and necessary to assuage public fears” of the practice.

Some political commentators are also happy with the decision. In the words of the president of a Libertarian think tank (the Libertas Institute), “We welcome this ruling as another step in the direction of individual liberty.”

Even some entertainers, such as hip-hop artist and entrepreneur Akon, are starting to opine that polygamy might not be a bad thing. (There’s also actor Scott Thompson and several others that I won’t bother to list here.) Then there’s this post at Duke University that I’m not quite sure what to do with.

The LDS Church

In a statement quoted by the Utah Daily Herald and other news outlets, the LDS spokesperson Cody Craynor said,

This ruling will have no effect on Church doctrine or practice. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not practice polygamy, regardless of its legal or cultural acceptance. The polygamists and polygamist organizations in parts of the western United States and Canada have no affiliation whatsoever with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, despite the fact that the term ‘Mormon’—widely understood to be a nickname for Latter-day Saints—is sometimes misleadingly applied to them.

In fact, just a few days after the Brown v. Buhman decision the LDS church posted a new essay about polygamy on its website. It is definitely worth a read, as it succinctly and deftly recounts the history of LDS polygamy and reaffirms that “any person who practices plural marriage cannot become or remain a member of the Church.” The post is given kudos by noted non-Mormon historian Jan Shipps.

Some, but not all, of the historical details introduced in the article may be familiar to members of the Church. It has long been known, for instance, that President Wilford Woodruff stopped the general practice of plural marriage in 1890 with the issuance of what is known as the Manifesto, but not everyone may know that there were limited numbers of plural marriages that continued to be made through the year 1904.

I find, in particular, the closing paragraph of the Church’s essay to be instructive regarding the Mormons’ historical practice of polygamy:

For many who practiced it, plural marriage was a significant sacrifice. Despite the hardships some experienced, the faithfulness of those who practiced plural marriage continues to benefit the Church in innumerable ways. Through the lineage of these 19th-century Saints have come many Latter-day Saints who have been faithful to their gospel covenants as righteous mothers and fathers, loyal disciples of Jesus Christ, and devoted Church members, leaders, and missionaries. Although members of the contemporary Church are forbidden to practice plural marriage, modern Latter-day Saints honor and respect these pioneers who gave so much for their faith, families, and community.

With all this news related to polygamy coming about this past week, I can hardly wait to see what next week brings.

 

New Church Article on Race and the Priesthood

It is no secret that before 1978 those of African descent could not hold the priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (It is technically wrong to say that “blacks could not hold the priesthood,” as non-African blacks could hold the priesthood before 1978.) People of all races could belong to the Church, but withholding the priesthood from one group of people based on their race stopped them from participating in the ultimate ordinances offered by the Church for both individuals and families.

blacks2This fact has led many to call Mormons racist. The charge isn’t heard as much today as it was during my earlier life, but it still exists. Discussions around this point and issues related to the priesthood ban have been the topics of articles, essays, discussions, seminars, and books for generations. There have been many theories proffered for both the inception and ending of the ban, and no doubt there will be many for years to come. (The history of blacks within the Church is fascinating and, at times, painful to read.)

Recently (within the past few days) the Church published an article on its website entitled Race and the Priesthood. It is worth a read, as it very clearly and succinctly lays out the facts surrounding the ban and, more importantly, the Church’s current position relative to race and racism.

I am particularly encouraged by this paragraph from the article:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

In a single paragraph—only 68 words—the Church has finally, gratefully, and (hopefully) permanently put an end to some ugly theories about the races that are periodically proffered by otherwise well-intentioned people.

The final sentence of that paragraph is also very interesting if you think about it. It means that any past racism—which would, by definition and by specification of “any form” include racist statements and actions by past Church leaders—is “unequivocally condemned” by the Church today. This marks the formalization of comments along this line made in April 2006 by President Hinckley:

I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?

I, for one, applaud the straight talk and the appearance of this article. I hope it is widely shared by Saints everywhere.