Thursday, July 29, 2010

Red Family, Blue Family: Which Family, Mormon Family?

A fascinating new book came out this year by authors Naomi Cahn and June Carbone entitled Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture. In it the authors juxtapose two increasingly polarized family arrangements in America, and discuss the implications of that trend.  What enthralls me is trying to fit the Mormon Family into the structure- it seems some portions of the LDS population are teetering on the very fault line between the two camps.

"“Blue states,” that is, the states that voted Democratic in the 2004
presidential election, have moved toward a new family model. Blue families
are characterized by greater wealth, higher average levels of education, greater
urbanization, lower fertility levels, and lower levels of church attendance
They have been among the first to embrace a new family model, which we term
“the new middle class morality,” that responds to the post-industrial economy
by delaying childbearing and investing in the educational and workplace
opportunities of both men and women
." (emphases added)

"The “red states,” that is, the states that voted Republican in the last
presidential election, have not just lagged in adjusting to the new model, but
they are increasingly saying “no” to its imperatives. Most prominently in the
mountain west, the rural plains, and the South, these states continue to
emphasize a more traditional family system that celebrates marriage as the
institution ordained to promote the unity of sex, procreation and childrearing
This traditional system, in tandem with religious teachings about sin and guilt,
places a premium on the control of sexuality. As a result, it encourages
marriage relatively soon after (if not before) the beginning of sexual activity,
identifies responsible childbearing with family form rather than economic self-sufficiency
or emotional maturity, and embraces more authoritarian models of
parenting and the state
-- both should be able and willing to intervene to
promote the “right” moral values. Within red families, abstinence outside of
marriage is a moral imperative, the shotgun marriage is the preferred solution to
an improvident pregnancy, and socialization into traditional gender roles is
critical to marital stability
. Abortion is an abomination not only because it
violates religious teachings about the beginning of life, but also because it
represents a determination to evade the consequences of immoral conduct. And
gay marriage is, if anything, worse than abortion – the symbol of the ability to
flout moral teachings in the name of individualism and choice

("The demographic data supports the emergence of two strikingly different
life cycle patterns in the United States, patterns that are correlated with a state’s
political votes in the 2004 U.S. presidential election.")

It seems to me that LDS doctrines and positions on these families issues have traditionally been red.  However, the church's emphasis on higher education, as well as its demographic shifts and eschewing of divorce, make it look increasingly blue (especially among the better educated, more affluent segments of the LDS population- e.g., the segment I live in).  Do most LDS families you know look more like the blue or red below?  How about the environments those families live in- are they more blue or more red?

(A few notes affirming the book's credibility: 1) I counted a whopping 760ish footnotes in the 209 page book; 2) I have heard from a number of sources, including from an author Cahn/Carbone cite who isn't entirely friendly to their views, that the book represents high-caliber scholarship; 3) I've come across Cahn and Carbone's articles frequently in my family law research; and 4) I've noticed they are often cited by other scholars.)

-Blue states have unprecedented numbers who will never marry, falling fertility rates and considerable concern about the lack of commitment within intimate relationships.
- Two primary demographic factors distinguish red families from
blue ones. The first is age. The average age of marriage in the United States as a
whole is now 25 for women and near 27 for men. In Massachusetts, among the
bluest of blue states, it is 27 for women and 29 for men. In Utah, the average
woman marries before she turns 22, the average man before 24. Yet, full
physical and mental maturity does not take place until the mid-twenties, and
marriage before the age of twenty-five is a significant risk factor for divorce.
Testosterone levels peak around age 25, and the impulsive behavior and risk-taking
associated with late adolescence does not begin to stabilize until the mid-twenties. Delayed marriage, however, requires addressing sexuality on terms other than abstinence, and marriage before full emotional and financial maturity requires a level of support no longer available for large parts of the population.

- postponing childrearing until the parents achieve a measure of
financial self-sufficiency, by which time the peak periods of testosterone
production have passed, and couples can be expected to form stable
relationships with a minimum of societal effort.

- the laws of blue states guarantee access to contraception and abortion, their courts are
generally less likely to consider sexual issues (such as adultery or sexual
orientation) in custody decisions, and they are less likely to rely on abstinence education. 

-sixteen states with the lowest fertility rates are blue.
- blue state family values: greater emphasis is placed on equality, empathy and tolerance.
- In areas of the country that are more supportive of gay and lesbian relationships, or
among groups that marry later, sexual orientation and identity is more likely to
be firmly established before entry into a long- term relationship.

-Although voters in red states care profoundly about morality and marriage, red states have the highest divorce rates in the country. Although red states have the lowest abortion rates, their teens are also more likely to become pregnant and to give birth to children the parents are ill-equipped
to raise. Red states are poorer and the resources available to cushion the consequences of family fragility may be dramatically less. Given the inherent difficulties of controlling sexual behavior and the atrophy of the social forces that historically stigmatized non-marital births and coerced unhappy
couples to stay together, the red states must either increase their efforts to reinstill the right values or give up the fight.

- Regular church-goers appear to be more comfortable, for
example, with the use of force over diplomacy, authoritarian leadership styles,
state intervention in family life, and stricter parenting styles. As a result, they
do not just hold different views on issues such as the acceptability of nonmarital
cohabitation or homosexuality; they also respond to different arguments
and start with different assumptions about the role of the state.

-often more rural, and more working class cultures in which adults are ready to
begin childbearing at younger ages, and expect to marry shortly after women
become sexually active. Emphasizing abstinence education, legal control by
parents of teen contraception and abortion decisions, less tolerance of gay and
lesbian sexual behavior, their laws express continuing disapproval of nonmarital

- states with the highest divorce rates in 2004 were Nevada, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho, and Kentucky, while those with the lowest are primarily, though not entirely, blue states.  family strategies that either emphasize marrying young, or marriage as the solution to an improvident pregnancy are likely to increase rates of divorce, all other things being equal. 
- nineteen states with the highest fertility rates are red
- negative attitudes toward homosexuality tend to correspond with red/blue divisions more
generally. The most negative attitudes toward gays and lesbians, for example,
are held in the South, the least negative in the East, more negative in rural than
urban areas, by those with more conservative political beliefs, and by the least

- youthful marriages often occur before young adults have
fully worked through their own sexuality. As a result, family members may
first become aware of homosexual behavior in the context of divorce.

The authors note that red and blue families affirm very different values.  "The more intense fights come over the extension of state approval to traditionally “sinful” acts: abstinence education in public schools (with education about contraception implying acceptance of non-marital sexuality), abortion and same-sex marriage, and non-marital cohabitation in custody conflicts. These issues go to the core of the values divide."

"The courts, in their day-to-day decision-making on intimate family matters often act
as midwives guiding the birth of new values... Recognition that there may be two (or more) internally
coherent and conflicting family systems raises challenges for a federal system
whether or not they are caught up in partisan challenges."

Conflicting family systems can make family law disputes very difficult to decide: "If a court, for example, decides to award custody of a five-year-old to the adulterous mother who has cared for the child since birth rather than the faithful father who has been stationed abroad, the practical impact of a best interest of the child analysis may appear to conflict with the moral symbolism of the outcome."

Do you think the red way's the best way?
"the shift away from marriage and two-parent families has undeniably had
negative consequences for children. It is a mistake, however, to see the
transformation only in terms of family disintegration. Underlying the changes
and less visible than the Playboy centerfolds that merit denunciation from the
pulpit is a new middle class ethic – with handsome rewards for those able to
reap its benefits. The college educated, who postpone childrearing until the
parents achieve a measure of financial self-sufficiency and emotional maturity,
have become more likely to marry and less likely to divorce than the rest of the
population, with two-parent families that remain intact
, replicating the statistics
that existed before no-fault divorce, the pill and legalized abortion
. The rest of
the country has seen skyrocketing rates of non-marital births, divorce, and
single-parent families, magnifying the effects of income inequality on children
 The hallmark of this new middle-class ethic is later ages of family formation,
when adult behavior has stabilized... for those who avoid early child-bearing, conventional families with two married parents and a high degree of stability follow to a remarkable degree
with a minimum of external coercion

It looks to me like each family/lifestyle has significant pros and significant cons, which makes neither a clearly superior cultural choice.  For instance, though the red family looks more like the LDS family historically, red states have a much higher divorce rate and lower education levels.  The blue family also flourishes more in an information-based economy, which increasingly describes America and, indeed, Western democracies more generally. 

Other interesting quotes:

"marriage at younger ages is a risky enterprise. It
has historically required a high degree of community-reinforced socialization
into marital roles – including stereotypical gender roles, male financial
contributions and female dependence – to succeed. New research emphasizes
that full emotional maturity does not occur until the mid-twenties, and the less
than fully mature early twenties brain (especially if male) is primed for risktaking
and sexual experimentation. At the same time, the modern economy
provides fewer opportunities for the men who are ready to start families in their
early twenties to move into productive employment."

"expecting abstinence until the mid-twenties is unrealistic. Social science
research does suggest that religious women start sexuality activity later, but
more than half of even weekly church-goers were no longer virgins by the age
of 18; it further suggests that well over 90% of all adults engage in sex before
they marry, and that even those who delay sexual activity into their twenties are
likely to do so.  Moreover, marriage at an early age – particularly one
compelled by an improvident pregnancy – is unlikely to last, and the children
produced by dysfunctional unions a greater drain on public and grandparent
resources. To the extent that abstinence and early marriage have worked
historically, they have required a high degree of public consensus and
reinforcement of appropriate behavior. Nationally, that consensus is gone."

From an op-ed response: "First, the sexual revolution overturned the old order of single-earner households, early marriages, and strong stigmas against divorce and unwed motherhood. In its aftermath, the professional classes found a new equilibrium. Today, couples with college and (especially) graduate degrees tend to cohabit early and marry late, delaying childbirth and raising smaller families than their parents, while enjoying low divorce rates and bearing relatively few children out of wedlock.
For the rest of the country, this comfortable equilibrium remains out of reach. In the underclass (black, white and Hispanic alike), intact families are now an endangered species. For middle America, the ideal of the two-parent family endures, but the reality is much more chaotic: early marriages coexist with frequent divorces, and the out-of-wedlock birth rate keeps inching upward." the op-ed continues: "By insisting (unrealistically) on chastity before marriage, Cahn and Carbone argue, social conservatives guarantee that their children will get pregnant early and often (see Palin, Bristol), leading to teen childbirth, shotgun marriages and high divorce rates.
This self-defeating cycle could explain why socially conservative states have more family instability than, say, the culturally liberal Northeast. If you’re looking for solid marriages, head to Massachusetts, not Alabama" (emphasis added).  Last piece from the op-ed: "Whether it’s attainable for most Americans or not, the “blue family” model clearly works: it leads to marital success and material prosperity, and it’s well suited to our mobile, globalized society. By comparison, the “red family” model can look dysfunctional — an uneasy mix of rigor and permissiveness, whose ideals don’t always match up with the facts of contemporary life.  But it reflects something else as well: an attempt, however compromised, to navigate post-sexual revolution America without relying on abortion."
(book pg. 209):  "promoting healthy families can only come... with greater flexibility in the workplace itself, encouraging flex-time, family leaves, and both male and female assumption of family responsibilities.  Second, the continued acquisition of the education, training, and experience that increase human capital should be a lifetime enterprise [looks like "lifelong learning" - an aim of a BYU education].  Third, we need to rethink the transition to adulthood for those unlikely to complete college.  Apprenticeships, family-friendly community college, vocational training, and more direct links between education and employment might do more to promote family stability than marriage promotion efforts" (emphases added). 

 A 70 page "working paper" by the authors with the same title as the book, Red Families v. Blue Families, is available to you for free if you'd like to read it.  The content is very similar to the book, which I have in my grimy hands right now.  My excerpts above come mostly from the pdf.

1. Go here.
2. Click "One-Click Download" at the top.
3.  Either a) "Create Free Account," then come back, type in ID and Password, then "Sign In and Download," or b) click the "Download Anonymously" tab, then click "Download."


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Evidence-Based Happiness

"All of us desire to be happy. The Prophet Joseph Smith captured our true feelings when he declared: 'Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.' 1" Thomas S. Monson, “Happiness—The Universal Quest,” Ensign, Oct 1993, 2

This post explores the academic subject of happiness. Below I juxtapose an LDS/Plan of Happiness perspective against my research on the scholarly consensus about happiness.

First off, I address the issue of definitions.

Second, I paint the picture of the LDS perspective on happiness.

Third, I will paint the scholars' picture.

Last, I discuss and analyze happiness.

1.  Definitions
For a more detailed (and I would say, relevant) study of the various metrics and constructs of happiness, see Elder Faust's talk- Our Search for Happiness, the first paragraph of wikipedia's article on happiness, and happiness economics: "Given its very nature, reported happiness is subjective.[9] It is difficult to compare one person’s happiness with another.[10] It can be especially difficult to compare happiness across cultures.[10] However, happiness economists believe they have solved this comparison problem. Cross-sections of large data samples across nations and time demonstrate consistent patterns in the determinates of happiness.[10]
In my words: As you might imagine, there aren't any happiness thermometers on the market.  On the other hand, there are numerous statistical means that can reduce or increase confidence in the fidelity of an instrument such as a survey. Before you look at the data below, I suggest you take a stance on what construction(s) of happiness you'll accept.  That way, you'll avoid the hypocritical "this research finding matches my expectations, it's great.  This research finding contradicts my expectations- hey, what's your definition of happiness, anyway?"  This is similar to the No-True Scotsman Move

"Someone says: 'No Scotsman would beat his wife to a shapeless pulp
with a blunt instrument'. He is confronted with a falsifying instance:
'Mr. Angus McSporran did just that'. Instead of withdrawing, or at
least qualifying, the too rash original claim our patriot insists: Well,
no true Scotsman would do such a thing!'
What seems to be a statement of fact (an empirical claim) is made
impervious to counter-examples by adapting the meaning of the
words so that the statement becomes true by definition and empty
of any empirical content."

Reasonable folks disagree as to defining and measuring happiness, and that's fine.  For me, when I say "happiness," I mean the commonly understood meaning of the word.  Optimus interpres rerum est usus- "the best interpreter of things is usage."

2.  LDS Perspective

I compose a 20-item list of significant interrelated statements which, together, build a fair construction of the LDS perspective on happiness.

A- President Kimball: “When a husband and wife go together frequently to the holy temple, kneel in prayer together in their home with their family, go hand in hand to their religious meetings, keep their lives wholly chaste, mentally and physically, … and both are working together for the upbuilding of the kingdom of God, then happiness is at its pinnacle” (Marriage and Divorce, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976, p. 24).
B- Monson: "happiness comes from living the way the Lord wants you to live and from service to God and others."  April 2010 conference

Elder Faust's talk, Our Search for Happiness,
C- instant and unrestrained gratification of all our desires would be the shortest and most direct route to unhappiness
D- both happiness and unhappiness are much of our own making
E- (quoting McKay) You may get that transitory pleasure, yes, but you cannot find joy, you cannot find happiness. Happiness is found only along that well beaten track, narrow as it is, though straight, which leads to life eternal.
F- the path to true and lasting happiness is, repeating the Prophet Joseph Smith’s words, “virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God"
G- The odyssey to happiness ... is made on stepping-stones of selflessness, wisdom, contentment, and faith. The enemies of progress and fulfillment are such things as self-doubt, a poor self-image, self-pity, bitterness, and despair. By substituting simple faith and humility for these enemies, we can move rapidly in our search for happiness.
H-  The assurance of supreme happiness, the certainty of a successful life here and of exaltation and eternal life hereafter, come to those who plan to live their lives in complete harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ—and then consistently follow the course they have set.
I- Selfish pride and happiness don’t go together.
J-In summation, our search for happiness largely depends on the degree of righteousness we attain, the degree of selflessness we acquire, the amount and quality of service we render, and the inner peace that we enjoy. We also have some external sources of happiness, including those loved ones and friends whose smiles and regard mean so much to us.

 > Uchtdorf (Happiness Your Heritage):
K- Creation brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment.
L-  As we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our
own lives and our own happiness.
M- "President Lorenzo Snow expressed a similar thought: 'When you find yourselves a little
gloomy, look around you and find somebody that is in a worse plight than yourself; go to him
and find out what the trouble is, then try to remove it with the wisdom which the Lord
bestows upon you; and the first thing you know, your gloom is gone, you feel light, the Spirit
of the Lord is upon you, and everything seems illuminated.'"
N- In the end, the number of prayers we say may contribute to our happiness, but the number of
prayers we answer may be of even greater importance.

> Thomas S. Monson, “Hallmarks of a Happy Home,” Ensign, Oct 2001, 2–8
O- Happiness is found at home.
P- "Hallmarks of a Happy Home.” They consist of:
1. A pattern of prayer.
2. A library of learning.
3. A legacy of love.
4. A treasury of testimony.

> Thomas S. Monson, “Happiness—The Universal Quest,” Ensign, Oct 1993, 2
Q- the path of virtue - don’t have a guilty conscience
R- faithfulness to covenants
S- shed any thought of failure
T- keep all the commandments

An empirical piece on LDS happiness:

Now if happiness is most likely to come from living the Restored Gospel, it's not unreasonable to conclude that one must know that gospel in order to really live it.  Thus, it also doesn't seem unreasonable to presume that, ceteris paribus,  the countries with the highest percent LDS populations would be the happiest.  That would look something like:
1. Tonga32.0%
2. Samoa25.0
3. American Samoa25.0
4. Niue15.0
5. Kiribati6.0
6. Tahiti6.0
7. Cook Islands5.0
8. Marshall Islands4.0
9. Chile2.5
10. Palau2.0
11. USA1.9
12. Uruguay1.8
13. New Zealand1.5
14. Guatemala1.3
15. Honduras1.2
16. Bolivia1.1
17. Ecuador1.1
18. Peru1.1
19. Belize1.1

Now, don't peek.  What countries to you think top the ten happiest list?  By the way, before you look at the bottom and potentially get your panties in a wad, as suggested earlier it may be wise to first make peace with questions you have about the perpetually relevant scientific question of how the data were obtained.  Scroll to the bottom once you've made your guess. 

3. Scholar's Picture

Now for what empirical research has to say about happiness.  First off, I emphasize how much research there is out there on happiness!

>An entire journal: Journal of happiness studies: an interdisciplinary forum on subjective well-being, International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies (ISQOLS), quarterly since 2000, also online

The World Database of Happiness: "continuous register of scientific research on subjective appreciation of life"

Second, I compose a 25-item list of significant interrelated statements which, together, build a fair construction of the scholarly perspective on happiness.

From Arthur Brook's research and regression analysis as revealed in Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America- and How We Can Get More of It and Richard Layard's Happiness: Lessons From a New Science, we learn these trends:
A- levels of happiness in America have remained fairly constant in recent decades, though American wealth has increased
B- Money only has intrinsic value when people are so poor they struggle to provide for their basic needs
C- The richer people in country A are happier that poorer people in country A.  Brooks says, "what the data tell us is that richer people are happier than poorer people because their relative prosperity makes them feel successful."  Thus, I conclude that there is an absolute and a relative component to the effects on happiness of income.
D- "those who believe there is opportunity to advance through hard work are happier than those who do not."  "although it’s true that America has a gap between the rich and poor that’s larger than many developed countries, the fact that more Americans see room for advancement means we’re happier than many European countries."
E- Political extremists, Republicans, the married, and the religious are the happiest people in America.  Brooks hypothesizes about the religious people being happier: "religious people are happier because they lack the moral freedom and choice of secularists... an overload of options means it’s difficult to make moral choices and feel confident in them. It’s much easier to live with simple rules than make difficult ethical decisions."  "too many moral choices leave us insecure and searching, unable to distinguish right from wrong, and thus miserable."  (See also Barry's The Paradox of Choice video: "the secret to happiness is low expectations... settling isn't always such a bad thing."  Fascinating, illustration-laden 20 minute vid. Also, Dan Gilbert's Why Are We Happy video: "freedom of choice is the enemy of synthetic happiness, and the friend of natural happiness."  "One year after the event, the lottery winner and the paraplegic are equally happy.")  It looks like I may have excerpted myself right out of happiness by delving into grays and ethical decision making, which delve is abundantly evidenced in this blog.  I would say that I've observed a connection between the timing of my net happiness decrease of the last year and engaging hard thinking about ethical decision making.  F-  Giving charitably increases happiness

From wikipedia's happiness economics article (Cross-sections of large data samples across nations and time demonstrate consistent patterns in the determinates of happiness[10]), I identify significant correlates of happiness:
G- Money correlates with happiness, but the rate diminishes with more money.[11][10][12] One study, when corrected for social status, showed no correlation between income and happiness.
H- The amount of spare time people have (positive)
I-  People's control over how much spare time they have (positive)
J-  Feeling in control of one's own life (positive)
K-  Losing one's job (negative)
L- Children (negative, at least until they leave for college)
M-  Marriage (positive)
N-  Democracy and federalism (positive)
O-  Higher economic freedom (positive)

From wikipedia's happiness article I identify additional research findings:

P-  50% of one's happiness depends on one's genes... about 10% to 15% is a result of various measurable life circumstances variables, such as socioeconomic status, marital status, health, income, sex[6] and others. The remaining 40% is a combination of unknown factors and the results of actions that individuals deliberately engage in to become happier.
Q- Exercise increases momentary happiness significantly
R- Human relationships are a high correlate affecting the contagiousness of happiness: "Happiness tended to spread through close relationships like friends, siblings, spouses, and next-door neighbors... happiness spread more consistently than unhappiness through the network. Moreover, the structure of the social network appeared to have an impact on happiness, as people who were very central (with many friends and friends of friends) were significantly more likely to be happy than those on the periphery of the network. Overall, the results suggest that happiness might spread through a population like a virus."
S - older Americans are generally happier than younger adults
T- happiness is also correlated with the ability to "rationalize or explain" social and economic inequalities

Research findings about religion and happiness:
U- There is now extensive research suggesting that religious people are happier and less stressed.[19][20] It is not clear, however, whether this is because of the social contact and support that result from religious activities, the greater likelihood of behaviors related to good health (such as less substance abuse), indirect forms of psychological and social activity such as optimism and volunteering, psychological factors such as "reason for being," learned coping strategies that enhance one's ability to deal with stress, or some combination of these and/or other factors.[21][22][23][24][25]
V- spiritually committed people are twice as likely to report being "very happy" than the least religiously committed people.
W- high religiousness predicts a lower risk of depression and drug abuse and fewer suicide attempts, and more reports of satisfaction with sex life and a sense of well-being

X- Conditions don't seem to significantly affect happiness: "The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the tendency of a person to remain at a relatively stable level of happiness despite changes in fortune or the achievement of major goals. As a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness."  "Humans rapidly adapt to their current situation, becoming habituated to the good or the bad. We are more sensitive to our relative status..." (emphasis added).

Y- Ironically, direct attempts to be happy will likely fail: "we fail to attain pleasures if we deliberately seek them. This has been described variously, by many:
"But I now thought that this end [one's happiness] was only to be attained by not making it the direct end. Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness[....] Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness along the way[....] Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so." [1]
"Happiness is like a cat, If you try to coax it or call it, it will avoid you; it will never come. But if you pay no attention to it and go about your business, you'll find it rubbing against your legs and jumping into your lap.""

 4. Discuss and Analyze

Before doing this research I had a simple view of happiness.  Happiness = having expectations met.  You can meet the expectation or lower it to attain happiness. 

Another equation might be: Happiness = experience - expectation.  In other words, your experience in the moment minus your expectation going into that moment determines your satisfaction level.  Picture a girl on a date- she's not sure whether dinner will be included.  If she expects nothing and figures she'll make herself something when she gets home, the hamburger her date then gets her makes her pretty happy.  If she expects to go to a sit-down restaurant and get a full meal, and what's with this guy anyway, doesn't he know that she deserves to be treated better via spending big money on her, then the hamburger he gets her will result in a degree of dissatisfaction. 

As I pondered this post, my view of happiness changed to include an "eat, drink, and be happy," authentic construction - i.e., happiness is achieved by having basic needs met, being your true self, and having that authentic self accepted by others.

At the moment, since I'm trying to live the commandments rather than be authentic, and since my nature is not yet fully aligned with loving holiness, I'm a bit of an unhappy apple.  I have this faith that if I sludge through years of unhappiness now resulting from suppressed authenticity, as long as that suppression derives from my good-faith attempt to live the gospel, God will more than compensate me in the end ("if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness").  Then again, my acceptance of Christ seems to be a much more proximate factor of God's compensation than my lifetime %commandments kept: commandments known ratio.  Perhaps, then, I can emphasize the acceptance of Christ piece and still indulge my dream/crave to be authentic!  But unless my desires and disposition are radically changed, I know from past experience I'll quickly be back to the sinning lifestyle.  Such a plan amounts to justifying sin, which has got to be the most wrong-headed approach out there.  Then again, we have to sin so we'll be broken so we'll go to Christ who, in fixing us, makes us more than we were as innocents. Hmmm.

I have often felt genuinely miserable while striving to obey the commandments with the stress of constant awareness that in said attempt 1) I fail and 2) God's angels are taking careful notes so that my condemnation later can be fully documented.  I once noted to a steady girlfriend a similar misery I often feel- how talking with her and not dating other girls quickly transitioned from something I wanted to do into something I did because I felt I should, which transition resulted in a happiness nosedive for me even thought the conduct remained constant.  For a person who has chosen and trained himself to be very dutiful ("Do you duty that is best, leave unto the Lord the rest-" President Monson), my own whims and desires from minute to minute and hour to hour are almost wholly irrelevant to the choices I make.  I pursue my task list and worthy goals with rabid intention, feeling that if I take control of my life and conform it to the standards and values the Lord has set, I will be happy.  Despite my strenuous efforts, the result has instead been stress and a wistful envy of the go-with-the-flow, more indulgent types.  It has been a while since I've been deeply in touch with my authentic self because, with good reason, I don't trust it.  My conduct I fully control- my whims and emotions and desires (a part of my authentic self) I do not.  I am angry to think that I'm expected to choose a spouse when I am so removed from my own desires that I no longer know what I authentically want (including in a partner)- I only know what I think the Lord expects of me and what I choose. 

When in a relationship I perceive the expectation of exclusivity or frequency of interaction, I meet those expectations- but it's overwhelming because I choose to (based on the motivation to do my duty) rather than because I want to.  Whether I want to or not is largely if not entirely irrelevant, as all conduct is moral conduct (since all behavior has consequences) and wants are not the best available basis for decision making.  This misery made no sense to my girlfriend, and her response indicated that her moral guide was "do what makes you happy."  This painfully reasonable utilitarian justification reminded me of Elder Christofferson's talk about Moral Discipline: "An incredulous female friend asked a young adult woman, committed to living the law of chastity, how it was possible that she had never “slept with anybody.” “Don’t you want to?” the friend asked. The young woman thought: “The question intrigued me, because it was so utterly beside the point. . . . Mere wanting is hardly a proper guide for moral conduct.”7

On the other hand, President Joseph F. Smith wrote: "It has always been a cardinal teaching with the Latter-day Saints, that a religion which has not the power to save people temporally and make them prosperous and happy here, cannot be depended upon to save them spiritually, to exalt them in the life to come."1  Similarly many ethicists, like my ex-girlfriend, argue "for how humans should behave, either individually or collectively, based on the resulting happiness of such behavior. Utilitarians, such as John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, advocated the greatest happiness principle as a guide for ethical behavior."  I find the "maximize happiness" principle attractive as well, except that for me that would mean immediately starting full-scale philandering, and I can't help but think that on balance over the next 10 millenia that path would bring me less net happiness than refraining.  Then again, the Atonement alters the next 10 millenia net happiness calculus significantly - but in which direction and when and how much are difficult to ascertain.  Alas- though I was a math major once, I find all this hedonic calculus overly difficult.

Some would counter my experience of frequent misery by saying, "but if you understood the atonement, you wouldn't feel that way."  That is likely true, but who understands the atonement, not fully, but even significantly? Who draws upon the atonement at even a substantial fraction of that to which they are privileged? If the common man isn't smart/faithful enough to access the main benefits of the Atonement in this life, then the predominance of benefits will only accrue after mortality. The promise of eternal felicity is not a hollow one by any means, yet it seems not unreasonable, if happiness is the design and aim of our existence, to enjoy hefty portions of it before we die.  One might further presume that gospel embracers would enjoy heftier portions than similarly situated others that either 1) haven't heard or 2) refused the gospel path.
My point is, the pursuit of earthly happiness and the pursuit of exaltation are not synoymous.  Not only that, but often the two pursuits are exclusive (see also my comments on marriage). I conclude that the disciple must be willing to exchange both earthly happiness and its direct pursuit for her commitment to the gospel. She may achieve happiness collaterally, but there is no guarantee of it- and in fact, her earthly happiness levels may be less than if she pursued happiness absent a gospel-harmonized lifestyle (for instance, by complying with the research-based determinants/positive correlates of happiness).

At one point I considered titling this post, "Why You Should Stop Preaching the Gospel," provided the arguments add up to LDS folks being less happy on average than non-LDS folks.  Now, I don't really think you should stop preaching the gospel. In fact, I really a lot think that you should share testimony of what God has revealed to you through the Spirit and preach His gospel as found in 3 Nephi 27: 13-21. Though I conclude at the margin that preaching the gospel is appropriate, I do make two arguments against it.

We know that preaching the gospel in the spirit world is met with more success generally than on this side of the veil: "I believe, strongly too, that when the Gospel is preached to the spirits in prison, the success attending that preaching will be far greater than that attending the preaching of our Elders in this life. I believe there will be very few indeed of those spirits who will not gladly receive the Gospel when it is carried to them. The circumstances there will be a thousand times more favorable... I believe there will be very few who will not receive the truth." - Lorenzo Snow
-We also know that God's work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39)- thus, He seeks to maximize human salvation, which outcome necessitates individual acceptance of Christ, receipt of authorized ordinances, and obedience/conformity to a gospel lifestyle sufficient to produce/merit a nature change. 
-Last, we know that "All those who have not had an opportunity of hearing the Gospel, and being administered unto by an inspired man in the flesh, must have it hereafter, before they can be finally judged." -Joseph Smith

It makes sense that everyone should have an opportunity to receive the gospel before being judged on that basis.  Does a mortal opportunity exclude a later post-mortal one?  However, what qualifies as an opportunity?  Must everyone have the same level of opportunity?  Will all have a certain level of opportunity, but it's okay for some to have more than the minimum threshold?  It seems to me that opportunity to hear/receive the gospel is a spectrum, rather than a binary classification.  On one end is the individual, raised in a strong LDS home, carefully indoctrinated in childhood, socialized to serve a mission, etc.  On the other end is someone who was born and died without ever as much as hearing the name of Jesus Christ, but if he/she had traveled more in his/her lifetime would have interacted with a culture exposed to the revealed gospel of Jesus Christ. In between are countless shades of opportunity: the spoken word of the Father piercing your heart, a persuasive talk with a converted friend, missionaries knocking on your door or walking in front of your house, an LDS ad on TV advertising media, a member of the church in your family, attending one or several LDS meetings, etc.  Also, must one be exposed to the restored gospel?  Is knowing some basics about Christ enough to "count" as your opportunity? Mosiah 3:
  20 And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the aknowledge of a bSavior shall spread throughout cevery nation, kindred, tongue, and people.

  21 And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found ablameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent.
Joseph Smith taught:

“I will suppose a case which is not extraordinary: Two men, who have been equally wicked, who have neglected religion, are both of them taken sick at the same time; one of them has the good fortune to be visited by a praying man, and he gets converted a few minutes before he dies; the other sends for three different praying men, a tailor, a shoemaker, and a tinman; the tinman has a handle to solder to a pan, the tailor has a button-hole to work on some coat that he needed in a hurry, and the shoemaker has a patch to put on somebody’s boot; they none of them can go in time, the man dies, and goes to hell: one of these is exalted to Abraham’s bosom, he sits down in the presence of God and enjoys eternal, uninterrupted happiness, while the other, equally as good as he, sinks to eternal damnation, irretrievable misery and hopeless despair, because a man had a boot to mend, the button-hole of a coat to work, or a handle to solder on to a saucepan.
“The plans of Jehovah are not so unjust, the statements of holy writ so [illusory], nor the plan of salvation for the human family so incompatible with common sense; at such proceedings God would frown with indignance, angels would hide their heads in shame, and every virtuous, intelligent man would recoil.
“If human laws award to each man his deserts, and punish all delinquents according to their several crimes, surely the Lord will not be more cruel than man, for He is a wise legislator, and His laws are more equitable, His enactments more just, and His decisions more perfect than those of man; and as man judges his fellow man by law, and punishes him according to the penalty of the law, so does God of heaven judge ‘according to the deeds done in the body.’ [See Alma 5:15.] To say that the heathens would be damned because they did not believe the Gospel would be preposterous, and to say that the Jews would all be damned that do not believe in Jesus would be equally absurd; for ‘how can they believe on him of whom they have not heard, and how can they hear without a preacher, and how can he preach except he be sent’ [see Romans 10:14–15]; consequently neither Jew nor heathen can be culpable for rejecting the conflicting opinions of sectarianism, nor for rejecting any testimony but that which is sent of God, for as the preacher cannot preach except he be sent, so the hearer cannot believe [except] he hear a ‘sent’ preacher, and cannot be condemned for what he has not heard, and being without law, will have to be judged without law.”10

Though helpful, this quote requires a 'sent' preacher, which might apply to LDS missionaries and not to preachers of any other faith, presuming God does not send preachers in sectarian (non-LDS) religions, which may be the case but seems intuitively unlikely.  Therefore, one must still ascertain what it means to A) "hear" a preacher and B) who exactly is "sent."  Thus, what counts as opportunity is tough to discern. 

By the way, I hope the relevance of this line of thought is clear.  This subject fails to qualify as a "not necessary to your salvation" doctrine- though if it does, then perhaps we wouldn't have valuable D&C section 138, which was received because a man pondered these very topics. 

What is the church culture miserifies more than the gospel happifies?  If so, then because the average person accesses the Restored gospel via the church, including its culture, that person is likely to experience net miserification.  It seems to me likely that on average lifestyles are probably more miserable outside the gospel, but for many, certain denial of strong desires, opportunity costs, shame, self pressures and condemnations are less likely outside the gospel. If, on average, both those who do and do not heed the gospel message are, on average, less happy during their lives than they would likely be otherwise (as measured by similar others), then it would seem from a utilitarian perspective one would be ethically obligated to refrain from preaching the gospel.  There are indications that this less happy state is not the case on average, at least for the apparent heeders of the message (see Utah, Happiness, and Mormons, or the New York Times piece about Utah rating relatively high on a well-being index). 

Further Unorganized Pieces:

Daniel Kahnenen's germane TED talk on the important distinction between experiential vs. memorial happiness. 

One rebuttal to the finding of no correlation between the top ten %LDS and top ten happiest status is that people suck at living the gospel- i.e. if they really followed the gospel then the %LDS countries would be the happiest.  Again, the key question is how happy would they be but for the gospel?  If more than half of them fail and are thus worse off than if they never heard, and those who are happier than they would be but for the gospel are only marginally so, then if likelihood of net lifetime happiness is your objective, trying to live the restored gospel is on average a poor bet.

Notably, faithful LDS homosexually oriented folks don't even have a shot at the LDS-perspective "pinnacle of happiness" in mortality, if they follow the church-advised path of celibacy.  "When a husband and wife go together frequently to the holy temple, kneel in prayer together in their home with their family, go hand in hand to their religious meetings, keep their lives wholly chaste, mentally and physically, … and both are working together for the upbuilding of the kingdom of God, then happiness is at its pinnacle.”

Are homosexually oriented people happier than heterosexually oriented folks?  How about homosexually behaving people?  One report indicates that same-sex couples are happier than opposite-gender couples:
Dev Psychol. 2008 Jan;44(1):102-16.  Three-year follow-up of same-sex couples who had civil unions in Vermont, same-sex couples not in civil unions, and heterosexual married couples. Balsam KF, Beauchaine TP, Rothblum ED, Solomon SE. Department of Psychology, University of Washington, USA.
Some other sources might resolve the question: 1) Vanderlaan, D., & Vasey, P.. (2008). Mate Retention Behavior of Men and Women in Heterosexual and Homosexual Relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37(4), 572-85. Retrieved July 29, 2010, from ProQuest Central. (Document ID: 1500875451); 2) Cloud, J.. (2008, February). Are Gay Relationships Different? Time, 171(5), 74-76. Retrieved July 29, 2010, from ProQuest Central. (Document ID: 1428380771); 3) Roisman, G., Clausell, E., Holland, A., Fortuna, K., & Elieff, C.. (2008). Adult Romantic Relationships as Contexts of Human Development: A Multimethod Comparison of Same-Sex Couples With Opposite-Sex Dating, Engaged, and Married Dyads. Developmental Psychology, 44(1), 91. Retrieved July 29, 2010, from ProQuest Central. (Document ID: 1427679611); 4) Mally Shechory, & Riva Ziv. (2007). Relationships between Gender Role Attitudes, Role Division, and Perception of Equity among Heterosexual, Gay and Lesbian Couples. Sex Roles, 56(9-10), 629-638. Retrieved July 29, 2010, from ProQuest Central. (Document ID: 1293023931).

Due to a TED talk I heard about happiness, I think LDS members are more likely to be happy in less-developed or authoritarian countries than in affluent, option-rich Western nations, as the LDS religious practice seems more conducive to synthetic than natural happiness.  For more, watch the talk

Here's a relevant term: preference utilitarianism. Under this theory, happiness depends on an infinitely variable basis of individual preference.  Those who are fortunate/lucky enough to have substantial overlap of their preferences with a gospel lifestyle have a fair chance of both happiness and salvation! 

In conclusion I'll admit, I'm bamboozled and often unhappy.  That's a big motivation for this post.  After I juxtaposed the LDS and scholarly perspectives on happiness, my common sense ignored both and pointedly informed me that turning my brain down and making out more would be big helps. 

"How can we love days that are filled with sorrow? We can’t—at least not in the moment. I don’t think my mother was suggesting that we suppress discouragement or deny the reality of pain. I don’t think she was suggesting that we smother unpleasant truths beneath a cloak of pretended happiness. But I do believe that the way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life."

The top ten happiest countries, according to the 140 country subjective well-being survey, are:

1. Denmark
2. Finland
3. Netherlands
4. Sweden
5. Ireland
6. Canada
7. Switzerland
8. New Zealand
9. Norway
10. Belgium

You might notice that not a single one of the top ten LDS % population countries showed up in the top ten happiest countries.  Only one of the top 19 even cracked the list.  Interestingly, a whopping 5 of the only 9 countries in the world that have legalized same-sex marriage nationwide show up on the list:

South Africa

In a world of about 192 countries, go ask your friendly neighborhood statistician for the p-values on the confluence of these two correlations (%LDS and legalizing same-sex marriage, respectively, on making the top ten happiest countries list).  It's only half-jokingly that I point out, without making a direct argument for causation, that it seems legalizing same-sex marriage is much, much more likely to correlate to top ten happiness than is a greater % of LDSaints in your country.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Mormon Transhumanist Association

On Saturday 24 July the day finally came- lunch with Mormon Transhumanist Association (MTA) president, Lincoln Cannon!  I've been looking forward to this lunch for a while, having first learned of Lincoln and the MTA when learning about human enhancement in Bioethics a few months ago.  Lincoln and I have commented on each others' blogs and have thought/written about similar subjects.  I anticipated our face-to-face, and was not disappointed!  My two favorite quotes:

-"We're built to have the aesthetics of our posthumanity resonate within us."
-"Mormonism is religious transhumanism."

For an explanation of the basics of transhumanism, see 1) the wikipedia article, 2) the MTA website, and 3) my blog post on the related subject of the ethics of human enhancement. 

We met at Fuddrucker's at noon- Lincoln, me, and my buddy Craig Janis (I invited Craig to sub for my author-friend Jeff Thayne, whose flight was delayed in Chicago).  I will relate the meeting by listing insights, names, and resources.

- Lincoln is a thoughtful, articulate, and friendly person. I was impressed by his framing during conversation, e.g. he'd say "let me answer that with a short response, then a longer response that more explicitly answers your question."  The framing helped make his conversation clear and followable.
- Lincoln majored in Philosophy at BYU, served in south France (as did my brother), has three boys, oldest age 12, and has lived in Orem since he graduated.
- Lincoln is smart and insightful, and sometimes eloquent.  
- 90% of the MTA membership is male.  I really wonder why that is.  When it comes to philosophy, evolution, homosexual issues and the church, religious epistemology, etc. I overwhelmingly encounter the ideas, writings, and activism of men.  In my personal experience, the women I've talked to don't have much trouble understanding these concepts- the issues just don't seem to matter much to them.  On average are women less curious about these issues?  More focused on building social networks than being interested in this stuff?  I'm not sure their lack of interest is a bad thing necessarily, but before my observation of the strong trend, I would've presumed about equal contribution from men and women.  I asked my female friend about this disparity afterward, and she related her experience as a freshman in Philosophy thinking, "this is a bunch of stuff men thought of," and compared men:chick flicks :: women:philosophy.  
- The MTA is the largest sub-organization of the World Transhumanist Association (WTA- now Humanity+) in the US
-  The Follett discourse bent of the LDS faith predisposes it to transhumanism much more than most religions due to its explicit theosis.
-  The New God Argument, a key MTA production, is entirely based on secular/non-religious assumptions (Video, Paper form, Revised Summary of the New God Argument (at Lincoln's blog)).  We spent a lot of time discussing the argument and its implications (e.g. it's likely that an advanced, benevolent civilization exists and created our world).
- Perhaps God is not as physically discrete as I'd thought before (I always pictured Him about 6 feet tall, muscular, mature, and bearded, sitting in a nice chair either at home playing with the kids or in his Kolob office, occasionally taking business trips to appear to boy prophets.  Joseph Smith: "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted Man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens...I say, if you were to see him to-day, you would see him like a man in form -- like yourselves, in all the person, image, and very form as a man....").  D&C 88:45-49, however, seems to indicate that perhaps some planetary bodies are part of God- and thus, perhaps, part of His anatomy.  By way of comparison, as we see our computers going from warehouse size to ipod size to integrateable with our bodies (e.g. cochlear implants, brain devices that stimulate portions of the brain to put Alzheimer's in abeyance, pacemakers) it is not difficult to imagine a more seamless human consciousness network: instead of an independent Internet/google/wikipedia, the sum of all human knowledge is integrated- thus, as a people rather than as individuals we are Gods in embryo, and collectively can eventually attain the level of functionality of God (omnipotence and omniscience).  Craig noted that none of us acquire Godhood independently (instead, each requires a spouse, and I would add Christ as well), so it's not a big stretch to presume that deification is communitarian. 
- It's both difficult to tell and not very useful to resolve the question of whether this world is "real" or a "simulation."  Whether it was contrived or created doesn't seem to matter as much as whether it experientially feels "real."  The brain can't discriminate between real and virtual (a common fault of internalism), which to me has two implications: 1) despite His omniscience and overcoming of most orders of ignorance, God would be unable to discern whether He is living out another's computation/simulation, and 2) visions of God or His visitations needn't be "actual" as long as they are legitimate.  Whether God physically appears or whether He simply plugs your optic nerve USB into the Celestial Network real-time vid of God's office matters very little.  Lincoln noted the fantasy games we create on computers, noting that software is physical and material, just as our thoughts are physical and material, yet both constitute created worlds and both are integrated into the anatomy of its platform (the computer or our brains, respectively).  Similarly, this world may very literally be part of God's anatomy. 
- Mormons believe in transhumanism at least in that they believe in a universal resurrection resulting in immortality (and for most, enhanced capacities for travel, cognition, health, and other functions).   A resurrected state is a posthuman state- and seeking to obtain such an advanced state is a righteous goal. 

 (I note affiliations where known)
- Don Bradley
- Steven Peck (my bioethics professor, who is helping to marry organic evolution and LDS theology)
- Dennis Rasmussen (BYU philosophy faculty)
- Jim Faulkner (BYU philosophy faculty)
- Nick Bostrum (well-known transhumanist)
- Steven Pinker (author of History of Violence)
- Joseph West (Lincoln's friend and one of the 14 founders of the MTA)
- James Hughes
- Rob Lauer (Reformed Mormonism fellow)

- Lincoln's blog
- The Journal of Evolution and Technology (JET)
- H+ magazine
- H+ blog
- H+ website
- By Common Consent, a well-known LDS blog
- Times and Seasons, a well-known LDS blog
- Feminist Mormon Housewives, a well-known LDS blog
- MTA's blog list
- Reformed Mormonism homepage
- MTA>about>feeds
- Mormon Mentality blog
- Sunstone blog
- Giulio Prisco blog
 -Steven Peck blog
- Bruce Webster blog
- Lloyd Ericson blog
- Society of Mormon Philosophy and Theology homepage
- Transvision, a transhumanist conference
- Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
- Lincoln's recommended videos (4)

I joined the MTA on 26 July, 2010, declaring my agreement with the Transhumanist Declaration and the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation.  

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Transparent Sin: Pros and Cons

I've noticed from personal observation that gay couples tend to be happier on average than heterosexual couples and single people.  I'm sure I could do some research to see if this observation is borne out in the research.  For the moment, let me presume the positive correlation exists.  Could the elevated happiness be due to the liberation that comes from rebelling openly against the social norm of heterosexual orientation?  Is there a hit that comes from being openly authentic?  Do smokers get a similar hit for the same reason? (tangent- it seems LGBT folks smoke much more than the general population)

We're all deeply flawed.  "For all have asinned, and come short of the glory of God."  Though everyone sins, and probably in quantity*severity that collectively fits a normal distribution curve, not all sins are equally hideable.  For instance, pornography, lying, and fraud are easier to cover than homosexual behavior, smoking, and unwed pregnancy.  The more transparent sinners have the benefit/pro of authenticity: i.e. they don't have the stressful burden of covering and hiding their sins plus whatever reward comes with openly being yourself.  They also have the liability/con of the disapproval of their society/religious community.  The less transparent sinners have the benefit of less initial embarrassment and public shame, but the liability of having to hide their conduct.  Another con: “When we undertake to cover our sins, … behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:37).

This transparency disparity can have other interesting consequences (especially for the less-transparent faults).  I chose to expose a behavioral wart to a past girlfriend of mine by refraining from either covering my tracks or selecting what information I told her.  Consequently, she broke up with me, for which I don't blame her since we all have performance expectations of our relational partners.  The rub for me though is that it wasn't the fault alone that caused her response- it was its exposure as well.  I could fairly easily have kept that wart under wraps and she very likely would have continued dating me beyond that point (which would have been my preference).  If I strategically hid the fault until the relationship and mutual commitments were stronger, I could feasibly have "tricked" her into marrying me where she otherwise would have severed ties.  She might even be okay with such a sequence of events in retrospect as a result of the "look the other way" that rational, happy married people do so often in regard to errors by their spouse.  That reality incentivizes hiding one's sins as much as it does eliminating them- and given the difficulty of altering one's stubborn disposition/nature, it's not surprising that after repeated failure in the elimination effort, many elect the hiding option. The slow progress of fault revelation in dating evidences this behavioral economy as well.

James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and bpray one for another, that ye may be healed.
Lev. 5: 5 And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall aconfess that he hath sinned in that thing:
D&C 59:12 But remember that on this, the aLord’s day, thou shalt offer thine boblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, cconfessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.

I'll tell you where I see "confessing sins unto thy brethren:"  AA and NA meetings.  I'll tell you where I don't see much confessing sins unto thy brethren: church.  Where does a lot of repentance and personal change happen? AA/NA meetings.  Where doesn't a lot of repentance and personal change happen?  You fill in the blank.  My view is that if church/sabbath looked more like an AA meeting rather than one more performance-focused forum (like work and most relationships), it'd be a more repentance-abundant church/sabbath.

Back to my pro/con calculus.  To comply with the confessing commandment is likely to bring great benefit, and to breach the commandment is likely to bring a curse.

Another benefit of being transparent with my faults and sins is that I'm more likely to acknowledge and know how broken I am so that I'll go to the Savior to be fixed.  King Benjamin's people were, like me, generally good and "diligent in keeping the commandments:" yet, they fell to the earth when the fear of the Lord fell upon them as a consequence of viewing their carnal state.  I don't want to end up like the older brother in the Prodigal Son story, who thought he didn't need forgiveness and mercy and as far as we know didn't enter his father's rest.  Both brothers in that story were broken- but only one of them knew it. 

All sins and faults will be revealed on the housetops eventually, which makes the gains from hiding them temporary (or if not the gains, at least the hiding itself).  Losses from hiding are high (e.g. the Spirit is withdrawn), and Mormon 5:8 teaches that "knowing that these things must surely be made known, and that all things which are hid must be arevealed upon the house-tops...." 

Taking all the factors (pro and con) above into account, I choose greater transparency.  By the way everyone, I'm a gross sinner.  No really, I am- in both my nature and my behavior.  Have been for a while now.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mormon Cultural Expectations

Below I paste a facebook conversation I recently had.  Included is a list of Mormon cultural expectations/ideas I identified.  I'll admit my list is rough and not all the expectations/ideas I posit are strongly evidenced trends- it was more of a starting point/gist/constellation of items that helped convey my response to Nicole.

Brad Carmack I've decided that I choose to be a doctrinal disciple and Latter-day Saint. I also choose to be free of cultural Mormon expectations except those norms that are ethical or bring net benefit to me or my family. I don't feel obligated to comply with the cultural expectations of Mormonism as I do the gospel-derived expectations.

Sunday at 11:07  ·  · 
Curtis Galke
Curtis Galke 
There are Mormon cultural expectations? :)
Sunday at 11:09 ·  · 
Brad Carmack
Brad Carmack 
‎:) I know, right? Btw, we'll have to chat more soon- I passed the FSOT and submitted my personal narratives a couple weeks ago. The next phase is the oral examination. My mom's worried about me going down the foreign service route- I think I'll need a couple testimonials to assuage her (and me, for that matter ;)
Sunday at 11:36 ·  · 
Daniel Farrell
Daniel Farrell 
Hey Brad, you're great--I think a trick with this sometimes (for me) is to not let my self-talk drift towards "I'm not one of these people--I'm an outsider," when moments come up where I culturally (not doctrinally) feel like I'm going against the flow.
Sunday at 13:35 ·  · 
Brian Egger
Brian Egger 
Good for you Brad. Follow your heart. I need to hear more about the FSOT. That is exciting. You will be perfect.
Sunday at 13:36 ·  · 
Nathaniel Gustafson
Nathaniel Gustafson 
I approve whole-heartedly. It's good to know where your motives lie and where your foundation is.
Yesterday at 00:02 ·  · 
Nicole Marie Myer
Nicole Marie Myer 
So what cultural obligations do you feel expected to comply with? Just wondering...
23 hours ago ·  · 
Kamron Eck
Kamron Eck 
Are you referring to green Jell-O with things like corn, cheese, or shredded carrots in it?!
6 hours ago ·  · 
Brad Carmack
Brad Carmack 
‎@ Kamron :) Yep, I'm scrapping the Jello with shredded carrots for bacon at my reception. I mean, who doesn't like bacon? You're invited, btw- and I hope that day is sooner than later.
@ Nicole - I provide examples of not-necessarily-doctrinally-derived cultural expectations/ideas: 
1- shaking hands with folks at church
2- starting FHE when enough people arrive to make a critical mass, rather than on time
3- backing off from thinking deeply or talking about certain subjects, such as the implications of church policy, because "it's not important to your salvation"
4- having the woman in charge of cooking and cleaning at home
5- proposing early on, getting hitched young, and having lots of kids
6- anything to do with sex is a huge taboo before marriage, then you're supposed to suddenly embrace and epitomize all things sexual for your spouse the next day
7- helping move-ins move in 
8- hometeaching at the end of the month
9- homophobing
10- not calling on individuals to participate in Sunday School when teaching
11- send your kids to EFY and BYU- and when you're at BYU you'd better excel in everything because after all you're the light of the world and the salt of the earth, so mediocrity evidences failure, and you'd better be smart and good-looking and fit too for the same reason
12- getting your Eagle Scout award
13- giving the girls flowers on Mothers' Day
14- despising evolutionary theory
15- presuming that homosexually oriented people choose to be homosexually oriented
16 - presuming what is natural is good, and that playing God is bad
17- women should be more demure and men more assertive
18- there's little need to do hard thinking about tough issues (such as advances in reproductive technologies) because the prophet will reveal everything that's important for you to know
19- conservative institutions and "the way things have always been" are better than new-fangled ideas and practices from the world
20- politicians are all corrupt and the Constitution is abused and ignored
21- the Catholic church is the great and abominable church
22- playing video games is the main evil in the lives of single young adult men
23- in Elders' Quorum you should always forget your manual and never prep for the lesson; in Relief Society you should always cry a lot and go overtime
24- whenever you give a talk and you mention a line from a talk but don't go into it in depth, you should encourage the congregation to read it in their personal study, though you don't expect them to do so
25- you're supposed to care about where your mission call is before you open it and buy into concepts such as "stateside" and "foreign speaking" as if those categories are somehow very important
26- you've got to give your kids piano lessons
27 - because the prophet was behind Prop 8, the groups that oppose are villains who unfairly targeted the church, and any means (including a paper-thinly supported, largely emotional appeal to parental control over education)
used to pass the proposition is approved by God
28- we're each supposed to check authenticity at the door by donning a carefully managed "i'm doing great and have no major flaws and am into this" persona/mask at church, despite the fact that most of us are repeat sinners, often depressed/lonely/hurting, and not infrequently bored or apathetic.
29- if someone's unhappy it's because they're not keeping some commandment
30- when a leader, you never chew out home or visiting teachers when they break their commitments (don't report, or don't complete their visits, or keep their word to you)
31- presuming in every case that it was God's will that a person died when s/he did, even when, say, some killer guns down your innocent friend
32- personhood begins at syngamy
33- your conscience = the Spirit
34- anything you can't explain must be attributed to God
35- you should propose with a ring
36- you should go on dates, rather than letting your parents arrange your marriage
37- facial hair: del diablo
38- after the prayer you're supposed to stay in your seat for a while before jettisoning
39- you celebrate Christmas with cards and gifts 
40- women should be more nurturing than men
41- when you home teach ask if there's anything you can do for the teachee at the end of the visit 
42- the length and content of public prayers

I hope you can see that I could go on. As I implied above, not all these cultural expectations are egregious. For instance, moving in move-ins is a great gesture and I would say is not only ethically permissible but advisable because of the net benefit of its consequence bundle. But it is a practice, not a principle. Both families and individuals are free to select from programs, practices, and ideas that aren't mandated/commanded. For a more thoughtful approach on many of these subjects, see generally my blog.
Subsequent thoughts:
-Taken together, the corpus of mormon cultural expectations constitutes a heavy burden of expectations for families and individuals.  To discriminate between cultural vs. doctrinal expectations is a difficult task; simply bearing the burden is also difficult and frequently disappointing.  Thus, any Mormon who isn't fortunate enough to be either oblivious or exceptionally talented has their work cut out.

Subsequent discussion:

Alicia Yost
So let me see if I understand: You are going to allow your parents arrange your marriage?
Just kidding.
Alicia Yost
Wednesday at 00:43

Maren Larsen MacMichael
‎#6 on your list is one that has personally bothered me. As far as move-ins......having just moved, I am grateful for that cultural expectation--it was a great help.
Nicole Marie Myer
Hmm. Sometimes I think you're intellectually on par with great philosophers and scientists of history and that makes you a little scary. I kind of feel like that scene from "Ever After" where the prince asks "How do you go through each day with this kind of passion? Don't you find it exhausting?" :) I will read your blog.
Wednesday at 16:47

Shawn Hammond
Interesting list, Brad, and I agree with a lot of them. Although some of them aren't "Mormon cultural expectations" as much as they are "societal cultural expectations." A small sampling of those would be #1, #2 (not specifically with FHE, but meetings in general), #4, #8 (procrastination isn't unique to Mormons) #17, #28, #30, #35, #39.

I agree... See more with Daniel that your decision not to feel obligated to conform to these expectations is totally fine, as long as you don't see it as "me vs. them". That seems to be flirting with dangerous ground. I can see that kind of thought process as building up unnecessary walls between you and other members that could prohibit you from fulfilling Mosiah 18:8-9. But you're totally correct in saying that you shouldn't feel obligated to conform to any of them.

I also would encourage you to not be different in some of them simply for the sake of being different. Your personality is awesomely unique enough that you don't need to be searching for areas where you can be different, just because. Some of your list I believe is inherently bad, but much of your list consists of simple quirks or traditions that, although not doctrinal in nature, also aren't necessarily bad, and being overly critical would prove counter-productive.
Thursday at 10:55

Brad Carmack 
‎@ Alicia, if I went with my parents (at least my Dad) we might be married right now

@ Maren- yes, moving help is a great expectation to cash in on

@Nicole - I have yet to see "Ever After" due to a well-nurtured predilection against chic flicks, but I think I see your point. Good luck on my blog, it's fairly dense and not always super-organized on account of being created after the image of my thoughts, which are also fairly dense and not always super-organized.

@Shawn- thank you for your thoughtful response!! I looked at all of the items in your sample and I think you're correct about each (i.e. they represent a cultural norm with broader application than within Mormondom) as well as your assertion that other items also fit that description. Good point on the unnecessary walls and not being different for different's sake- and the piece about some traditions/ideas not necessarily being bad (which I noted at the bottom of the original list). Also, being overly critical likely would have some counter-productive consequences.
20 hours ago ·  · 
Ricky Kesler
Ricky Kesler 
Brad, I agree. While I do a lot of the things on your list (took piano lessons, wait a few seconds after the prayer to leave, etc.) I don't do them because I believe they are some correct eternal principle, I do them because I choose to and do not look down on anyone else for not doing them.

I also wish we could be more honest about our lives and not feel ashamed if we're, like you said, depressed/lonely/hurting. It is counterproductive to put on a fake persona just to "fit in" and not be looked down on. I've had plenty of times when I wish someone would have known that I was hurting, but I felt like I had to pretend.

I also agree with number 6 whole heartedly and have for a long time. Now that I'm married, I agree even more. I plan to not be that way with my own family. 

You definitely have the right idea here. I guess I just want to point out that doing any of those things is not inherently wrong, but that those things should not be considered the right way to live.
7 hours ago ·  · 
Tara Larsen Chang
Tara Larsen Chang 
Brad, I went through a similar thought process a number of years ago, where I determined that I no longer wanted to be doing anything cultural merely because I felt I 'should'. After thinking through my own list of principles vs. practices and taking all the 'shoulds' out I realized that there were very few things I would actually choose to be doing differently, but now it did feel like it was a choice and not an obligation, which for me was completely transformative.
6 hours ago ·  · 
Alicia Yost
Alicia Yost 
Sweet!!! I'm in!!
about an hour ago via Email reply ·  · 
Brad Carmack
Brad Carmack 
‎@Tara- Wow Tara! I feel mucho similar. I don't think I'll change my conduct a whole lot, but coming at those habits from a position of conscious volition rather than tacit compliance or obligation brings a huge rush of liberating air into constricted lungs.
@ Alicia- :) I'll let my parents know they're back on the job
@Ricky- thanks for sharing your authentic response. I've got a hunch that a lot of LDS members feel similarly to you on #6, and I think most of us have had times similar to yours where we yearn to be open about being lonely/depressed/hurting. As I mentioned to Shawn and at the bottom of the original list, I'm with ya- doing many of the things on the list is not inherently wrong.
2 seconds ago ·  · 

A reader's email comments and my responses in blue:  
My daughter read me your 42 ‘cultural’ things that are not doctrinal.I agreed with almost all of them.  Let me just list a couple that I remember for which I am on the same page as you.  Good idea, thanks.
•        Speakers in church who suggest the audience should read a talk that the speaker quoted.  I NEVER do that when I speak. 
•        People should make their own difficult decisions and not wait for the Prophet to speak first.  This is not how you said it, but I think this was the essence of what you were saying.  Good point.
•        People should not say that homosexuality is a personal choice.  This is a debate that has been going on for decades.  However, the evidence seems to be that most people with homosexual feelings did not choose it. Elder Oaks said that the evidence states that some people are born with a disposition to lean in that direction.  My research also indicates that the predominance of evidence is in the direction that homosexual orientation is far and away more often unchosen than it is chosen.  However, I don't overmuch fault the folks that say homosexuality is a personal choice because 1) often times such folks are speaking of homosexual behavior rather than orientation, and the behavior part is a personal choice; 2) the predominance of the evidence has only become clear in the last couple decades - so someone who hasn't researched the literature lately or that learned from old-school sources would be understandably likely to erroneously conclude; and 3) the question isn't closed yet and will likely never be fully closed since evidence continues to come in- hence a conclusion of personal choice may ultimately be correct despite the current predominance of evidence. 
•        Everyone does not need to be a great student.  Even though I have the degrees, I am not a degree worshiper.  One of my children does not have a year of college, while two have their PhD’s.  I never give this a thought.  My ‘uneducated’ daughter is every bit as ‘smart’ as the other children.  She took a different path for her own reasons and that is just fine with me. Yours seems an appropriate stance. 

There a few your 42 where I disagreed.  I mention two.
•        I will shake hands at church.  I appreciate the feeling of fellowship that it gives.  However, I admit that my Eternal Status does not depend on ‘shaking hands.’  Sure.  There may be a misunderstanding if you think my list was of only deleterious norms- it was instead a compilation of unfortunate and fortunate expectations (I noted in the original list that I approve of some of the norms).  Thus, I don't think we disagree. 
•        I find the Christmas card tradition a good practice.  There are old friends for which this is the only time of the year that we touch base with each other.  And I am glad that we do.  Though again it is not necessary for exaltation. Good call.

I have believed many of these issues you mentioned for decades.  My way to handle this is just to ignore the culture and do what I think is right.  I respect that position.  I have not made any announcements that this is how I feel; but you are courageous in making your list public.

But my main purpose in writing is to mention two of your items where I strongly agree.  And these two are terribly important.  It's funny- you're not the first of the list's audience to highlight these two as standing out.  It seems they strike a cord with many.

•        People say “I am fine” when in fact that are feeling terrible.  This cultural habit is wrong and damaging.  Once decades ago, I was struggling with an issue.  I finally decided to call my Home Teacher over and tell him of my struggle.  After a detailed description of my issue, he made a few comments and we parted.  He never again acknowledged that the conversation occurred.  I had opened up my heart and he had ignored the substance of what I said.  Maybe this is why I like counseling.  I like it too- and I'm glad you feel that way about counseling.  I find people need to be listened to.  I think that need is abundant and ubiquitous.  Often we can help each other.  I cannot close this paragraph without stating I have had other home teachers who have been very receptive and helpful though I only opened up to one other as much as I did to that man discussed above.  The grassroots Christian response seems to be more the receptive/helpful HTer than the avoider HTer.
        I attended the LDS version of AA with … several times.  I thought the meetings where terrific; people talking about real problems. Yes, those types of authentic processes often prove change catalysts. I wished Priesthood meetings could be so moving.
•        “Sex before marriage is BAD, BAD.  Sex in marriage is wonderful.”  I believe this attitude is a real problem in our culture.  I read one couple who had an excellent way of teaching their young children that reproductive power was a wonderful gift.  But that couple is extremely rare. I think you're correct about the prevalence of the attitude you identify.   

So on this issue I am most curious as to what is your solution to this problem – solution in both how to teach the concepts and what actions single people like yourself should take.  Gosh, good question.  I'm not sure yet, sexual issues are pretty touchy and being off base is bad news.  I bet there're some thoughtful, faithful LDS folk out there that would have some tenable solutions to propose, though none come to mind right now.

I have included a document that I wrote a short while ago on this subject.  I have stored this essay in a section I labeled ‘Personal History Chapters that will not be published.’   After reading this again, I may put it in my published history. I couldn't access the doc because it was password protected.  I'd love to read it though. 

This short essay was a result of much prayerful pondering.  On the surface it seems to support the cultural attitude above that you and I do not like.  But it does not.  No matter how important and correct chastity is, we teach adherence to the principal very badly.  We need to find a way to do a better job as a culture.  I think you're right- but as I don't currently have a better alternative, I'm a little hesitant to criticize.

I hope you find my remarks helpful and supportive.  Let me know what you think.  I have always respected you and your wisdom. Well thanks!


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