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Protect the Children: Overview

Dallin H. Oaks

Dallin H. Oaks

Elder Dallin H. Oaks recently gave a talk titled, “Protect the Children”, during the Saturday session of the October 2012 General Conference broadcast. In this talk, Oaks described many ways children suffer abuses around the world, and how these abuses are the result of “selfish adult interests.”

Oaks touched on the tragic situations common among children in third-world nations, such as high infant mortality rates due to malnutrition and preventable or treatable disease, and children being forced to fight in wars as soldiers or exploited in prostitution and pornography. He even addressed wealthier nations’ children, some of whom suffer both physically and mentally from neglect, prenatal damage, insufficient health care, poor education, and dangerous living conditions. However, in what could have been a wide-scale call to action for humanitarian aid — as the Church has done for political campaigns — he chose to associate these kinds of epidemic abuses with the “disadvantages” of children born into or raised by non-traditional families.

While the subject matter (the welfare of children worldwide) is a worthy cause for greater awareness and concern, this is ultimately not the focus of Oaks’ talk. He shamefully used this subject as a means of reinforcing the presumed importance of heterosexual marriages and nuclear families, by claiming that any other family arrangement can have devastating consequences to child welfare and development. In first presenting humanistic concerns for the dire conditions in third-world nations, he bridged the general suffering of these children with the assumed suffering of those in non-traditional families. He conflated the severity and type of suffering as being equal across all non-ideal living situations. This gives his audience the impression that children raised by single or gay parents are being victimized or otherwise disadvantaged to the same extent as those who are starving in Africa or being trafficked into slavery.

Oaks began his talk with two overt logical fallacies in an attempt at manipulating his audience to unquestioningly accept his position. The first is an appeal to emotion where he said, “We can all remember our feelings when a little child cried out and reached up to us for help… Please recall those feelings as I speak about our responsibility to protect and act for the well-being of children.“ Invoking   compassion and empathy in this way has the effect of encouraging his listeners to feel, rather than think about what he’s saying.

He immediately followed this with a second fallacy, an appeal to authority. Oaks reminded his audience that his position as an “Apostle is responsible to witness to the entire world” and that he speaks “from the perspective of the gospel of Jesus Christ, including His plan of salvation.” Later in the talk, he also mentioned his “service on the Utah Supreme Court.” However, none of his authoritative positions qualified him to speak on child welfare, childhood development, social services, sociology, psychology, statistics, economics, history, medicine, or scientific research of any kind. Yet, by appealing to his assumed existential authority, he presented himself as a knowledgeable and trusted source, and proceeded to touch on every one of the aforementioned fields of study.

Oaks tried to mitigate some potential backlash by claiming not to “speak in terms of politics or public policy” but he “cannot speak for the welfare of children without implications for the choices being made by citizens, public officials, and workers in private organizations.” While this would normally be seen as an honest and forthright acknowledgement of the implications of his talk, it is undermined by his later criticism of specific laws and policies that he deems immoral or promoting immorality. What is a true believing Mormon to do when a leader of the Church, who claims authority to speak for a perfectly moral and loving god, condemns such laws and policies? Oaks’ attempt at distancing himself from politically charged rhetoric seems disingenuous.

Throughout his talk, Oaks referred to adult selfishness as being the underlying cause of children’s suffering. Whether it be the exploitation of children, abortion, or divorce, among others. Though this is by no means a new theme, Oaks capitalizes on the audience’s emotions on another level: guilt and shame. By demonizing any action that puts the needs of the parent ahead of the immediate needs of the child, one is left with the impression that staying in an emotionally neglectful or combative marriage is preferred over filing for divorce, for the sake of the children. This attitude toward the needs of the parent(s) ignores the potential for the longterm benefits of having two separated-but-emotionally-stable parents for the sake of a marriage certificate.

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Special thanks to go my wife and partner, Eileah, for her continual support, encouragement and her critical mind.

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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Review: The Mormon Delusion. Volume 1.

The Mormon Delusion. Volume 1.
The Mormon Delusion. Volume 1. by Jim Whitefield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Mormon Delusion, Vol 1: The Truth Behind Polygamy and Secret Polyandry (TMD-1), by Jim Whitefield, is a comprehensive and thoroughly-researched look into the polygamous & polyandrous practices of the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), that lasted nearly 100 years. The author’s ability to present an incredible amount of facts and research into a well-organized, and easy to follow book, is quite an accomplishment. I read the 3rd edition in eBook (PDF) format, released in 2011.

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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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Review: The God Delusion

The God DelusionThe God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, is aptly named. It illustrates how the concept of a personal god (specifically the Abrahamic god of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is one of complete fiction, and yet has so many convinced of His existence, despite the mounting evidence that the world is not as described in ancient scripture.

Dawkins’s approach to his arguments against theistic belief in the supernatural is an obvious extension from his career in evolutionary biology. Dawkins is very careful to take the time to define each term that he uses, sorting out the different meanings, so that his specific use of the term is clearly understood. This goes a long way to avoid confusion, especially when talking about the polytheistic, monotheistic, pantheistic, and panentheistic uses of the word ‘god’. Dawkins is also very good at presenting a much more complete picture of commonly misrepresented & quote mined historical figures such as Einstein, the American founding fathers, Hitler, etc., and shows how their uses of the word ‘god’ rarely meets today’s Christian definition.

Dawkins’s ‘The God Delusion’ is a scientific approach, in methodology if not evidentiality, to the arguments against the beliefs in gods, and is much more reserved and soft-spoken than Christopher Hitchen’s rather abrasive book, ‘God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything’. These two books have a stark contrast in their delivery, but share the same sound reasoning and logic. I highly recommend both of them.

View all my reviews

Adolf Hitler & The Plan of Salvation

Today is the 66th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s death, and it got me thinking about how LDS theology views Hitler in its plan of salvation.

We are all well aware of the horrific monstrosities that were perpetrated by Hitler when he became the fascist leader of Nazi Germany during WWII, as well as his role  in the events of the holocaust. To me, such a person as Hitler is beyond redemption or forgiveness. There is no evidence that, if given a chance, he would have changed his ways during his lifetime had he not completed suicide. But what of his next life?

The Plan of Salvation

The Plan of Salvation

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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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Response from the Church, part 2

Just a quick update to my post yesterday:

I just received a phone call from ‘my’ Bishop (whom I’ve never met). He let me know that he’s received a copy of my resignation letter, which was given to him from the Stake President. He simply wanted to confirm with me that I am aware of the “seriousness” of my decision, and warn me that I will lose all priesthood privileges (for whatever good it’s done me). I confirmed that I’m well aware of the ‘consequences’. He then said he’d send in the forms to Church Headquarters!

The phone call was short and to the point, which I really appreciated. I guess this means that I should expect a final confirmation letter in a few weeks.

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Correction: I’ve just been informed that I have met my bishop once before.

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UPDATE: Response from the Church, part 3

Instruction Manual for Life

I’ve been really busy trying to respond to all the emails and messages I’ve been receiving over the past few days. So, I just wanted to post a video that I think is extremely well done. It’s an animated short (about 8 minutes, which I know is longer than the average internet user’s attention span), which tells the story of a young man who grows up being taught one way of doing things, only the find that others don’t do it the same way… and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Here it is, for your viewing pleasure…

Let me know what you think.

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