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Superstition, Rationality, and the Merits of Religion: A Facebook Debate

Last month, I was engaged in yet another Facebook debate — this time with an old work colleague of mine, who’s non-LDS. It turned out to be a great example of the kind of debate in which I wish I could engage my family and close friends, since I found it to be both intellectually challenging and amicable. Unfortunately these days, my family and friends rarely engage me in anything other than idle chit-chat, fearing that I’ll bring something up that will make them “uncomfortable”; but I digress.

The debate started off discussing whether irrationality and/or superstition is a requirement to do others harm; branched into a debate on whether Hitler was a theist or not; then came to a comparison of definitions of religion & other philosophies.

With permission from the other parties, I have decided to include the entire debate below; I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

[Note: due to Facebook’s limited abilities, I’ve taken the liberty of re-formatting the text of the debate for my blog. I’ve modified paragraph & line breaks, fixed typos, added emphasis, etc. Other than this, the debate remains unedited in terms of content. I’ve also colour-coded each speaker to make it easier to follow the conversation: I (Tom) am red, Travis is blue, and Jason is green.]

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My Contribution to Exposing The Mormon Delusion

Zina D. H. Young

Zina D. H. Young

A few weeks ago, while I was reading Jim Whitefield’s The Mormon Delusion Vol 1, I double-checked a claim that the author had made regarding the Church’s official website. On pages 132-3 of TMDv1 (2011 PDF edition), Whitefield had noted that, in 2006, the Church’s biographical sketch of Zina D. H. Young grossly misrepresented history and established facts. After Whitefield had pointed out the ‘error’, the Church deleted the offending sentence – which Whitefield notes in the updated edition (I read the latest 3rd edition).

I wanted to check for myself what the current wording of the biographical sketch was, so I did a quick google search of  Zina Young site:LDS.org. Sure enough, I quickly found the revised bio, just as Whitefield said. However, in the search results, I also found a link to a Relief Society Presidents poster which still contained the original biographical sketch! There I had it, proof that the LDS Church had not only rewritten history to mislead people, but that they had deleted the misrepresentation once it was discovered!

Once I realized that I had clear before-and-after copies of the Church’s official biographical sketch of Zina D. H. Young, I contacted Jim Whitefield to let him know.

Below is Jim Whitefield’s official September 2011 update containing my contribution. Click here for the original source.

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Understanding Atheism

AtheismI’ve decided to expand on my previous post entitled, “Atheism vs Agnosticism” where I explored the different ways of thinking about atheism. The reason for this is because since writing that post, I’ve further explored what atheism means to others and have done a lot of reading on the subject. Some of the books I’ve read are: God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Letter to a Christian Nation, and An Atheist Manifesto by Sam Harris – all of which I highly recommend. In addition to these books, I’ve come across a wealth of information on various websites and especially YouTube.

As my original post talked about, there are a number of ways to define the terms ‘atheist’ and ‘agnostic’. My exploration of these terms were on a more passive level, that is to say I didn’t apply an active component to the definitions; the words were simply defined as what they mean separate from how they’re used. I’d say that most atheists, like myself, use a strict definition where ‘a-theist’ means, “not theist” (just as ‘atypical’ means “not typical”), and opposed to “a disbelief in a god” (since this would indicate a type of belief itself). I tend to like this definition for its simplicity. However, I’ve noticed that most theists (meaning ‘religious believers’) tend to view the term as having much more intent behind the term, such as “against religion”, “god hater”, or “anarchist” (the last two making absolutely no relevant sense). There are many atheists out there who either don’t subscribe to the label (though fit my definition) or don’t actively oppose religion at all, while others are in active opposition to specific theistic beliefs or all of theism. It’s important to remember that atheism is not an ideology, nor is it a religion unto itself as some people like to think.

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BYU Honor Code Debate: Tactics

Last week, I had posted the article entitled, Gay Students vs. BYU Honor Code (archived here), to my Facebook account. This, along with my opening comments on the article, caused quite a debate (you can read more about this on my previous blog post). What really struck me were the tactics being used by those in favor of BYU’s honor code (and by extension, LDS morals). What I mean by “tactics” is the way in which they presented and ‘justified’ their argument, not the argument itself. Some of these tactics are somewhat universal, in that most people use them regularly, including myself (though I’m trying to improve in this area). However, I’ve noticed certain ones being extremely common among Mormons specifically.

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BYU Honor Code Debate

Last week, I came across a news article entitled, Gay Students vs. BYU Honor Code (archived here), which was an editorial showcasing three cases of how gay students were being discriminated against by LDS-owned Brigham Young University’s honor code. I found this article to be interesting since it touched on a few of the same issues that I have with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“the Church”).

After reading the article, I made the decision to share it on Twitter and Facebook (something I do regularly with articles I read). After clicking the “share” button, it asked me to add my own comments to the link, so I wrote the following:

Post-secondary education should be about challenging the status quo, pushing boundaries, innovation, exploring the world with new eyes, and free-thinking. Yet BYU’s Honor Code represses all of that, and is simply “about controlling the production of the next generation of Mormons”

(Note the last line being a quotation from the article itself.)

I knew that what I wrote would be provocative – especially for my LDS family and friends who would be certain to see it on Facebook – but this was kind of the point. I wanted the article to get people’s attention, because I feel that such discrimination happens all too frequently and shouldn’t be tolerated, let alone institutionalized, by a prestigious post-secondary institution. At the time, I didn’t expect to get much of a response from posting it on my Facebook wall, seeing as I post numerous other articles on a daily basis, with only a few comments here and there. This one, however, gained a lot more attention than I could have imagined, and turned into a large 4 day debate.

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Going Public

Well, it’s been a few days since I sent my essay/letter to my family and closest friends. For the most part, the responses have been very respectful and even encouraging (more on that in a later post). My family hasn’t said much at all so far, but that’s how they deal with things. My non-LDS friends have been very supportive, while my LDS friends are evenly split. Time will tell how they’ll respond to me, and my newly vocalized opinions, in the future.

I decided to release a more public announcement this afternoon via tweet and Facebook post, informing everyone I know on these social sites of my decision to leave the Church.

For those who would like to read my essay, you may download it from these links: PDF or ePUB (works great with iBooks for iPhone & iPad, or other eBook readers)

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