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Thursday, March 31, 2011

New Human Life -- When Does Life Start?

      I was born in 1943, though, I have to admit that I don't remember a thing of the event.  My first memory was an incident that happened with my cousins when I was probably about age 6.  But is that REALLY when "I" came to be myself?  According to LDS theology, we lived as spirits before being born on earth.  Although there is no official doctrine about exactly WHEN we change from a spirit to a human, it is assumed that our birth date is the crucial event that changes us.  I know some people  believe that if unborn children, for any reason, stopped living for one reason or another that they are accorded the status of live persons, but this is especially true of unborn babies who are at least several months old. 
     I had an older brother fetus that died while inside Mom's uterus.  The umbilical cord became wrapped around his neck.  He was never named and did not get a certificate of birth because he was not alive when "born".  I have sometimes wondered if "He" was "Me" -- when I came along.  Maybe somehow the "spirit" that was in his tiny underdeveloped body was "Me" just trying to finally get born "right" and it took me two tries to get the job done.  Nothing is known of "children" who last only a few minutes, hours or days after conception.  I know that many are fetuses that had something physically or mentally seriously wrong who natural selection has limited in their ability to have a normal life, or even a normal childhood.  I know that continuing to carry the dead fetus till expelled was very emotionally difficult for Mom.
      I have read of newly-born infants who, even after they are born, are not named in their culture because  many die in the first few days or weeks after birth, due to one reason or another.    I also have read that as many as 1/2 of the "babies" who are conceived do not survive long enough to be born.
     Some people use their religion to try to define  when a baby is "human".    
     I remember being taught as a child, that it was our Christian "duty" to have as many children as possible.  If we used any form of birth control -- social, drugs, abstinence or otherwise -- that it "killed" the children that were waiting in heaven to be born and get physical bodies.  The example was given of a man named Onan (in the Bible) [Genesis 38:8-10] who refused to allow his sperm to get his brother's widow pregnant and was killed by God for this wickedness.  I have never received an adequate explanation HOW this thwarted God's eternal plan.   One study found that 62% of ALL conceptions are not born alive -- and most of these happen prior to 12 weeks gestation [normally referred to as a miscarriage].  This means [if you believe in God] that God "kills" more children before being born than He allows to be born!  To make it all the more confusing, in most of these cases, the pregnant women do not even know that they were pregnant!
     Another aspect of the beginning of  "life" is the use [or non-use] of viable female "eggs".  All the eggs a woman will ever have are present in her body when she herself is born.  This amounts to about 1.5 million eggs!  It is impossible to consider all of these eggs as "human" and thus capable of being born into a living, breathing person!  [Compare this reality with the 300 million sperm that a male adult ejaculates each time].  The sheer numbers of this prohibit the possibility of considering each reproductive cell as a human being.
     So, the question still haunts us, "When does human life begin?"  When is it wrong ethically to take action to terminate continued "life" in a growing, but as yet un-viable fetus -- particularly when there are obvious ethical reasons to do that very thing -- to preserve the life of a woman, end the suffering of a malformed fetus or stop the chain reaction set in motion due to rape, incest or other reason?  A separate ethical or moral question is whether terminating a pregnancy that was started due to rape or incest is any different from any other elective abortion?
     Most of the Christian [including the LDS church] opposition to abortion is based on the scant Biblical admonitions "Thou shalt not kill" "or do anything like unto it" [which, by the way would include playing "cowboy and Indians" where actors are killed -- or photographing or painting images or murder and death].  Abortion is not mentioned in the Bible AT ALL!  
     To me, after a lifetime of thought and serious reflection, human life begins, for all practical purposes, at birth!  I cannot believe that we must have all the children humanly possible or thwart eternal laws.  Neither can I believe that stopping the life of a embryo that will in all likelihood kill the mother if carried to term is in any way wrong [along with all the emotionally-charged stuff that goes with it].
     To me, it is best to think about and talk about what is the most ethical thing to do -- considering everything, not label everything relating to human eggs, sperm, zygotes, birth, abortion, etc. etc., as inherently wrong!   And then allow the people involved the maturity to make their own decision -- without involving their church, their neighbors, their religion.  To allow religions to dictate our laws regarding the beginning of life is equivalent to allowing a type of Christian Sharia law into an otherwise free country.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Fear - Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

I had a conversation yesterday with an old friend.  He is a year younger than myself.   I have known him for nearly 35 years.  Although he has not gone to church for many years himself, he heard that I had 'come out of the closet' about doubting religion and made the comment that I was VERY brave.  He said that he had never before met someone who had been active all his life in church, but who is not AFRAID of dying.  He has met many who have lived lives of indulgence, laziness and sin, but who had become religious as they realized that death might be near.  I am the only person he knows who has come out against religion at this stage in my life.

I don't fit the mold.  I don't seem to be AFRAID.   The prospect of dying and being judged by God seems to be something that people who have even lived very honorable and sinless lives seem to FEAR as they near the end of their lives.  There seems to be so much to FEAR.  Humans seems to have so much to fear that religious teachers play the emotion to the hilt in order to assure compliance up to the very end.  There is a FEAR of thinking for ourselves without the help of a priest or religious teacher.

I was asked, why I don't believe -- and gave a few detailed explanations for my skepticism, but my friend was incredulous -- "But what if it is all true?" -- referring to the existence of an invisible and undetectable heaven and hell and other aspects of an all-knowing God who expects and demands obedience.  My answer is that I have lived a good life.  I have nothing to fear -- but FEAR itself.  I refuse to let my life -- and death -- be guided by fear.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Last Judgment

     While living in Europe for seven years, I had the opportunity to visit the Vatican in Rome.  I toured the beautiful buildings and saw a lot of magnificent art -- some made by the greatest artists the world has known.  On the front wall of the Sistine Chapel is a mural painted by Michelangelo called "The Last Judgment".  It depicts what Michelangelo felt was going to be the fate of mankind after death, as he comes before Christ and is judged -- then sent to hell or heaven.  In typical fashion, at Michelangelo'd death, the church leaders wanted the genitalia of the men covered, so they hired Daniele of Volterra, a student of Michelangelo to censor the paintings.  [presumably, we can't observe our own nakedness without having evil thoughts]  And so the paintings stayed between 1541 and 1993, when the paintings were restored.

     I have decided that many church leaders of most churches are very uptight about human sexuality --  and particularly as it might relate to their own inheritance of the blessings of heaven after death.  The 'Original Sin' of Adam was either disobedience or sexual in nature.  Either way, the teachings of the churches and scriptures claim that all mankind will be lost without the saving grace of a Savior.

     Many church leaders - celibate or not -- are VERY conflicted about any kind of human sexuality.  This is as true of my own prior church leaders in the LDS faith as it is in other Christian religions.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


In lesson after lesson as I grew up in the LDS Church, I learned that OBEDIENCE is the highest form of love and worship.
Doctrine and Covenants 82:10, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”
Doctrine and Covenants 130:21, “And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
Even the purpose of life itself was to learn obedience and do as others command us to do.
While on a mission, I was taught never to question mission rules or commands that came from the leaders of the church or it would show a lack of love and devotion.

Although the church leaders may at times be wrong, they are always the leaders -- and we will be blessed by following their advice.
The problems is that the more a person hands off his own decisions to authority figures, the less one takes responsibility for his/her own actions.
"The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority."
— Stanley Milgra

So, I have come to QUESTION AUTHORITY -- in all its forms.  Nuff said.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


 What happens when we die?  I don't know.
 But I doubt that what most Christians THINK will happen really does.  If I'm wrong, then whatever exists in eternity isn't worth living for in the first place and deserves none of my time, money or respect.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


"Keep your bullshit detector in good working order."  Forrest Gump

Monday, March 21, 2011

Divorce and religion

One of my first 'issues' with religion happened when I was a young social worker in Alaska.  A woman I was counseling was in a very abusive marriage and needed a nudge to go against her church's edict against getting a divorce.  She was also afraid of using contraceptives, but did not need to face the possibility of getting pregnant at a time that she was processing a divorce.  The typical advice of church leadership was to not get a divorce AND not have contraception while working through what to do.  This was based on Biblical passages that allowed divorce for women ONLY due to sexual infidelity.  The same clergy laid on guilt by claiming that if she got a divorce, she would be committing adultery if she ever remarried.

     This type of thinking did not allow for any kind of common sense to guide the decision-making process.

     I have come to the realization that 2,000 year-old Biblical writings simply were intended to deal with tribal politics and could in no way deal with what people face in today's cultures.  Efforts to get Biblical passages to give modern guidance simply fail in may respects.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

superstitions for a 'mormon' boy

    While in my youth, my father taught me to be particularly critical of Catholics.  He would point out how they were superstitious and used idols and amulets to protect them from evil -- generally pointing out the St Christopher statues on their car dashboards and prayer beads that they rolled in their fingers when faced with possible danger of any kind.  His intent was not to poke fun of them, but to teach me that people who did such things were using "graven images" in opposition to the Bible commandments.

     But my parents had their own kind of superstitions that they passed on to me that they may have been unaware they were teaching.  Mormons have their own kinds of rituals and superstitions -- generally associated with the dangers of playing games and being frivolous on Sundays - or not wearing temple 'garments' all the time - or drinking even a small glass of Coca Cola or tea. 

  My skeptical mind now knows that there might be some personal feelings of being 'correct' when we follow various rituals of life, but there is no danger or evil that is automatic from any God that will punish us for not following life rituals to the letter.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Occult, parapsychology, spiritualism and magic

      My parents taught me that all around us are good and evil spirits that can influence our lives.  They can hide things and manipulate what we see and hear and experience.  If I am not careful, the bad or evil spirits can deceive me or lead me into doing things that are bad for me.  However, if I do what I need to do to surround and protect me with good, benevolent spirits, my life will go well for me.  There is some kind of an all-seeing eye that is available to both good and evil spirits that can not only see physical things, but can see into my heart and thoughts.  This is depicted on LDS temples in prominent locations.
     While on my LDS mission, there were numerous stories about the bad things that happened to Mormon missionaries who dabbled in magic by playing with ouija boards, calling out evil spirits or otherwise 'playing with fire' by tempting bad spirits.  The power of evil spirits was emphasized by Biblical powers that showed threats and magic magic that can be manipulated by evil spirits.

     As a growing boy, I accepted these powers as real and to this day have not touched a Ouija board game.  But as I learned more about spiritualism, magic and other types of illusion and deception, I became more and more skeptical about magic in all its varieties -- including Biblical magic expressed today as 'miracles'.

     My understanding was further enhanced by my personal studies in psychology, sociology, social psychology and hypnotism.  I am amazed at the power of the human mind -- both conscious and sub-conscious.  I am now convinced, however, that as strong as the mind is, it does NOT have the power to resort to magic in all its varieties.  Magical thinking is particularly a target of my skepticism.

     In magical thinking, we 'THINK' that by just putting a thought in our mind we can alter reality in ways that does not require us to do anything else.  This now gets to the supernatural powers of prayer, which will be a topic of another blog.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Questioning answers

    One of my issues with allowing myself to continue to accept Biblical apologists is the difficulty of accepting EVERYTHING they say is true.  If one story of the Bible didn't happen [like a universal flood or a literal instantaneous creation of humans] then everything else seems to collapse.

   One story that simply doesn't hold up to common sense is the story of the Tower of Babel in the Bible.  In Mormon theology, the first group of travelers came to the American continents due to this event's actual happening in Babylon.
 My initial skepticism probably is the result of many very tall buildings that have been built in the 20th century that are much higher than this Biblical tower -- and no God has objected to their construction to my knowledge.  Indeed, it could be claimed that God helped it to happen by allowing the knowledge base to widen and make tall buildings possible.  

     But the 'kicker' to the highly unlikely happening of the Biblical account being real history is that what little I know of the development of languages among the various cultures of the earth simply do not support a single common language prior to any given building of such a structure.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Creation(s)

So what really IS the creation story that my Christian religion wants me to believe?  As it turns out, there are really several stories of the creation in the scriptures -- all "true", of course.  I am a product of public schools in Idaho -- but I also spent about 10% of my learning time at home or at church in scripture and religious study.  So I was taught two stories about how everything came to be and was cautioned by my most loved teachers not to trust so-called educational learning by failing to also trust in God [really 3 "Gods", but that is a different story].
"In the beginning, God created"
Even if we were to accept the idea that all things were created in a time period longer than 6 [or 6,000 years] days, the story of creation in the Bible (and in LDS temple ceremonies) is all wrong and chuck full of inconsistencies.
"The" creation is really a misnomer, as there are actually MANY creation stories, all of which came down from word of mouth in various cultures. http://www.magictails.com/creationlinks.html
Since I was born into a loving, believing Christian family, I was taught the Old Testament story of Creation, supplemented by "Mormon" scriptures from a book called the "Pearl Of Great Price" that Joseph Smith claimed to have translated from Egyptian papyri. (The Mormon scripture adds celestial bodies to the normal sun, moon and stars and sets their importance based on their rotation -- but that also is a different story).
     I don't wish to be a modern-day Galileo in fighting any church or set of religious leaders, but the knowledge base of modern education still set what I was taught at church and at home at odds with what is taught by modern science.  My first real confrontation with this was during my first LDS temple session where I was given the chance after the original educational period (called the "endowment" by LDS leaders) to ask questions of church leaders.  The official that day was Joseph Fielding Smith, one of the church's leading  apostles.  I asked him about the literalness of the story of Noah's flood -- and loading all the animals into the ark.  (Joseph Smith taught that Noah and Adam were literal people who had pivotal positions in LDS -- and world -- history)  As could be expected, I was put down emphatically by this church leader.  He added something like, "And unless you also believe this, you have no business going on a mission".  [I was preparing for a Mormon mission at the time]
     So, with that rebuke, I resolved to TRY to believe what I felt in my heart was "true" and resolved to lower my skeptical profile as much as I could.  [I also concluded that it is safer to hope, trust, have "faith" and obey than it is to think for myself]

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In the Beginning

     All my adult life I have been faced with a dichotomy of Biblical proportions -- how to reconcile what I have been taught by science (the rational mind) and what I have been taught in church, as well as by my parents.  My church has taught in sober determination and finality of how "God" created everything.  On the other end of the teeter-totter I have seen the evidences all around me of an entirely different set of reality -- of rocks that are billions of years old; of plants and animals that are incredibly old and what seemed to me a more probable explanation of creation than what was being taught in church.

      When I went through my first LDS temple ceremony, I was instructed again about the story of earth and mankind's creation with the story coming to life by the literal presence of Adam, Eve and other Biblical personages.  There was no way to reconcile the Biblical story of creation with what, at least appeared to be true about evolution.  In fact, the entire temple story lost validity if there was no fall from grace by Adam and Eve, as there would then be no need for a Savior. 

      Was Adam "really" created in an instant our of the dust of the earth?  Was Eve "really" created out of a rib of Adam's?  It seemed impossible to me -- but here were "Mormon" temple officiators claiming solemnly that it was so.  Everyone else in the room seemed to believe it completely.  My internal thoughts said, "Wow!  How in the world can this be true?  But I'm here to learn.  I think I'll at least try to understand what they are saying."  What followed was a symbolic threat of death in several  gory ways if I should ever turn away from what I was being taught.  (that tends to get your attention and stifle questioning)

     I decided to try with all my heart to understand what simply HAD to be true -- that Adam really lived, was created in the likeness of God and the entire creation followed the Biblical tradition.

...... more in my next post.....

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Trusted and loved friends

       Probably the most difficult costs to me of coming out with a clear statement of my skepticism about religion is the chance that I will somehow offend friends that I have had for years and years [many decades, really].  Most my friends may feel that I am deserting THEM by not agreeing with their religious ideas any more.  Such is definitely not the case, however -- but it pains me considerably that ANY of my friends may feel that I have deliberately chosen NOT to believe in something that they believe in so passionately.
      Faith, to most my life-long friends, involves "believing" in something so beautiful and important that to replace this faith with something other than hope for  something more beautiful than facts is some kind of treason.   It is as though I want to take away their dreams of something magically beautiful, important beyond measure -- and replace it with dull, bleak, heartless reality.
    The 1933 novel "Lost Horizons" by James Hilton describes a beautiful-beyond-comprehension place in the tops of the Himalayan Kunlun mountains that was a utopia.  In the film version, Lord Gainsford said about whether or not he believed in its existence after searching for it his entire life, "Yes. Yes, I believe it. I believe it because I want to believe it. Gentlemen, I give you a toast. Here's my hope that Robert Conway will find his Shangri-La. Here's my hope that we all find our Shangri-La." That pretty much touches something in us that it is better to believe in something that raises our spirits than to face up to ONLY believing in reality -- that often does nothing to raise our awe at life and existence.
     I have been asked by my wife [who tries hard to understand my skepticism] why I can't believe in something so beautiful as heaven when the belief is so glorious for her in facing mortality.  [In her mind, being "Mormon", heaven is referred to as "Celestial" heaven]  I have answered till this point in my life that I have tried to believe in the LDS concept of heaven all my life [all 67 years of it], but at some point I have to admit that I do not see enough evidence for the kind of magical thinking that is required to accept it.
    But still, I hesitate to share my skepticism about religion to even my closest of friends because I may either offend them - or I may be instrumental in bursting a comforting bubble that they somehow benefit from and cling to in facing life's challenges.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fearing death ---- or not

The common thought is that as we approach the inevitable, we have a tendency to fear death -- or at least the unknown -- as we approach that inevitable event.  I can't explain why this does not fit my thoughts and feelings, but since I have finally admitted to myself that I don't believe in the kind of religious beliefs about death, I feel calm.  I am more happy with life.  I am more in awe of nature.  I am kinder to friends and relatives.  I have a love of life that didn't exist when I tried to believe in life after death.  Is this crazy -- or is it loving life.
I saw a newly-born lamb last week.  It was amazing.
I also went to the funeral of my closest brother.  He is a loving man.  A good man.  Both the new life and the old are more amazing to me.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Greetings from Idaho

This is the first post to my blog -- by myself.  I hope to meet interesting people and help whenever I can in understanding this beautiful world we live in.