To Thine Own Self Be True – Authenticity vs Your Best Self


Many years ago, when I was a newly-called volunteer missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Thomas S. Monson, who at the time was the 2nd counselor in the First Presidency of the church, came to speak to us in the Missionary Training Center in Provo Utah.

In his sermon, he told us that he was going to share with us the key to being a good missionary. According to the notes in my missionary journal, he said that the key was to “be yourself– but be your best self.” He emphasized that each of us was an individual, a child of God, and that God had endowed us individually with certain characteristics and attributes. “Be your best self every day.”

The advice to “be yourself– but be your best self” has stuck with me ever since and I have thought of it often.

In subsequent years, our society has developed a kind of obsession with what it labels “Authenticity.” The idea had already gained considerable mind-space in previous decades, but it seems that lately this idea of being “true to your authentic self” has become a kind of all-encompassing prime directive in our society. Continue reading

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Reasons to Oppose the Legalization of Recreational Drugs


In recent years it has become increasingly trendy to favor the legalization of recreational drugs. Proponents of drug legalization make some good arguments, citing both practical as well as increasingly popular libertarian philosophical reasons.

I am certainly sympathetic to many of those reasons. In particular I am supportive of efforts to restructure the laws to permit research into medical applications of marijuana and other drugs and to allow patients who can benefit from medical applications that are discovered to be treated under medical supervision.

I am also open to arguments advocating reforming laws related to the punishment for drug-possession related crimes.

That said, I am still firmly opposed to the legalization of recreational drugs.

In today’s zeitgeist I know that that is a very unpopular view, even among people who tend to agree with me on many other issues, but I believe it is correct. Continue reading

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The Consequence of Court Edict – Some Thoughts on Kim Davis and Civil Disobedience

Martyrdom of St Stephen, c36 (1866). Artist: Gustave Doré

I haven’t followed the Kim Davis controversy closely, so I haven’t really formed a strong opinion of her specific case.

However I do feel strongly that just as we make room for conscientious objectors related to war, we absolutely need to allow space for those who have moral and religious objections against same-sex marriage (or other issues to which people have ethical or religious objections) to not participate or be involved with it, while still being able to otherwise participate fully in society and government.

The right to free exercise of religion is explicitly recognized by the text of the Constitution (though it independently exists whether it is recognized or not). And let’s be clear that the constitution says exercise of religion, not simply belief.

The so-called right to revisionist marriage is imposed by a dubious reading of constitutional penumbras and precedents by a slim majority of a divided court.

Religious exemptions and protections are a must.

Consider the following response to Kim Davis’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on real comments I have seen in social media:

Dear Kim Davis, if it’s your job to issue a marriage license do it. It doesn’t matter what you believe. If you refuse to do your job you should step down.

Now let’s make a slight alteration:

Dear [President Obama]: If it’s your job to [enforce immigration law] do it. It doesn’t matter what you believe. If you refuse to do your job you should step down.

Note, this comparison is meant to expose an inconsistency, not to take a position on these specific issues or their remedy.

The issue of civil disobedience is a complicated one and I often feel conflicted about it. Continue reading

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To Hell in a Handbasket – Conflating Prosperity and Peace with Righteousness


Some years ago a psychologist with whom I was acquainted described a study that was done at Brigham Young University in which Mormon college students were purportedly shown pictures of people or families and asked to rate which were more righteous. The students apparently overwhelmingly identified those people who looked wealthy as righteous and those who looked poor as less righteous.

Keep in mind, I heard this only by word-of-mouth, so appropriate provisos regarding folklore and memory &c. apply. And even if the study as described to me is accurate, I do wonder if there might have been a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy problem with the study itself: if you ask people to judge others based purely upon their appearance in a picture it isn’t entirely surprising that they will be judged by superficial, visual differences, because that is essentially what you have asked for. It would have been interesting, but hardly less problematic I think, had the students judged all of the wealthy looking people as less righteous and all of the poor looking people as righteous.

Much has been written regarding what some have dubbed the “Prosperity Gospel” or the idea that wealth is a sign of God’s favor and that poverty is a sign of sinfulness or sloth. It is an idea that has periodically been popular in many Christian denominations and has sometimes influenced Mormon culture too. Continue reading

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Official LDS Magazine Provides a Detailed Account of the Translation of the Book of Mormon


Image credit: From Darkness unto Light Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon by Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat

In recent decades, some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have developed an oversimplified understanding of the process by which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. Some have placed undue emphasis on artistic renditions of Joseph Smith translating from the golden plates that have been included in official church lesson materials.

When they discover that the process wasn’t as they had thought; that Joseph Smith translated large portions of the Book of Mormon through a seer stone without looking directly at the plates, often with the seer stone placed into a hat for convenience to block out the light, some people have struggled with sudden doubt about the church. Continue reading

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