Tag: logical fallacy

Jordan Peterson Manipulates Language to Appear Smarter

Ellie McFarland | United States

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson rose to prominence after a video of him defending free speech against the Canadian human rights bill C-16 surfaced online. This bill, among other things, would make it a crime to misgender a trans person. Dr. Peterson’s assertions in the original video were clear and admirable, but further, it was a direct deviation from the current common discourse. He was rocketed into public intellectual stardom after the episode at The University of Toronto; booking speaking event after guest lecture after television appearance. He was, and still very much is, the freshest philosopher in the free marketplace of ideas.

However, with closer examination, it seems his transparency and edge are inconsistent in his current work. Specifically, in the now infamous Cathy Newman interview, Dr. Peterson jumped from hard-hitting clear claims about the nature of political correctness to vague and meaningless facts about lobster dominance hierarchies.

The Bridge Between Lobsters and Humans

Dr. Peterson’s constant metaphors involving lobsters are actually very important to the way he manipulates language. For instance, he might say something about how dominance hierarchies are inherent in human beings and then go on a tirade about shellfish serotonin levels. While both statements are correct, but they don’t inform each other in any relevant way. This is called a non sequitur and means “it does not follow” in Latin. When someone uses a non sequitur, the premises do not logically inform the conclusion, even though all parts of the argument may be correct. Even though it is true that humans naturally fall into hierarchies, and lobsters do have very similar endocrine systems to humans, those facts do nothing to prop each other up, or to prop up his point, which usually amounts the differences between men and women being biological rather than social.

All of these declarations are technically correct according to everything we know about both human and lobster biology. However, neither of them does anything to prove whether or not there are actual differences between men and women beyond the social sphere. There is astounding evidence that he does frequently bring up to prove men and women, our masculine and feminine strengths and weaknesses, are biological. But he very rarely brings them up alongside that specific issue. Instead, he uses them in conversations surrounding crime and antisocial behavior. When these facts, however rarely, are brought up in the context of the conversation they actually belong in, they are cheapened and sandwiched between lobster-talk and dominance hierarchies.

This is actually a spin-off of a well-known debate technique called Gish Galloping, where a debater will try and overwhelm their opponents with as many arguments as possible in the shortest time possible. Dr. Peterson tweaks this idea. Instead of overwhelming his opponent with a lot of arguments all at once, he opens into an explanation of something that has very little to do with his real point in hopes that his opponent won’t bother to address it. The truth is, lobsters have nothing to do masculinity or femininity. But that sort of niche diatribe does impress people even though, critically, it carries no real value.

Redefining the Words We Know

The second way Dr. Peterson manipulates language is through the changing of definitions. The most atrocious example of this definition hopscotch is when he speaks on the topic of religion. He has said consistently that he believes all people are religious because religion is “what you act out.” This is just an unhelpful shifting of meaning. According to this definition, prayer, martyrdom, and communion are all religious acts in the same way driving, making a salad, watching TV, or participating in Punk Rock are religious acts. After all, “you can’t be a disbeliever in your actions”. This is an intentionally blunt definition that detracts from conversational productivity. Sam Harris explained this best when he said,

“People have traditionally believed in ghosts, it’s an archetype you might say– the ghost: survival of death is certainly an archetype. And we know what most people most of the time mean when they say they believe in ghosts. And I say I don’t believe in ghosts, and you say ‘No no, you do believe in ghosts. Ghosts are your relationship to the unseen. That’s a ghost.’ So you have a new definition of ghost that you’re putting in the place provided, to which I have to say of course I have a relationship to the unseen. So yeah I guess I do believe in ghosts. You win that argument. But that simply isn’t what most people mean by a ghost.”

Peterson Manipulates Words for Conclusions

Redefining words is not always such a slimy debate strategy. In many instances, it can be very helpful in coming to a conclusion about rather nebulous words such as “good”, “evil”, or even “god” in order to further some sort of discourse and continue the conversation. Dr. Peterson’s redefinition of religion, though, is all-encompassing by design. This basically boils down to an equivocation fallacy. Dr. Peterson’s definition of religion is clearly not the same as the average religious person’s definition. Therefore, it’s meaningless within any conversation about its impact.

This is not to say that Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is not intelligent, that he doesn’t have anything important to say, or that his philosophies outlined in 12 Rules for Life are immoral or fundamentally wrong. This is to say that not all of his proclamations are valid and we shouldn’t ignore his metaphorical talk-arounds of legitimate criticism. It is fine, even good, to admire Jordan Peterson. It is intellectually dishonest, however, to pretend he is flawless or doesn’t use manipulative language. In doing so, he makes himself seem more intelligent and convinces good-hearted people of positions with little merit.

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Being a Writer in the Liberty Movement

By Joshua D. Glawson | United States

Difficulties as a writer are abundant and come as no surprise to most, and yet we are often finding ourselves in times of struggle in getting our work out to the masses. Most writers will also feel more validity when they see they have more ‘likes,’ ‘thumbs-up,’ ‘follows,’ ‘hearts,’ ‘shares,’ and ‘reads,’ even when it means zero financial gains from the increased viewership.

In the Liberty Movement, one can easily Google libertarian writers and articles and find a plethora of quality material available on the web and in print. We may even find ourselves competing with those other writers, and that is ok to a healthy extent. This is a natural part of the marketplace, where we compete for better writing and getting our messages out to the masses. Competition can make us better as writers and individuals, as it also helps to find the areas that will help our shared messages reach those that were either unwilling or unaware of the concept of Liberty.

In order to become a better writer in the Liberty Movement, we should be eager to read the great works of those we love and admire, as well as countless hours of gruesome reading of those we are not in agreement with. Knowing the way the opposing side thinks helps us become stronger, and it makes better writers when we know how to argue against those arguments. Some of the works of our supposed enemies are, in fact fantastic, and creative in their ways of articulating and deceiving the masses out of Liberty and Freedom.

Many amazing artists, musicians, and writers were never famous or popular during their time alive. Rather, they became validated and popular posthumously. Such people as Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde, Johann Sebastian Bach, Galileo Galilei, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Vincent Van Gogh, and many others. I am sure the same applies to the amazing works of Bastiat, Spooner, and the many others.

The validity of one’s writing, specifically, is not determined by the number of copies sold, the number of reads or views, or the popularity of the work produced. To appeal to such is a logical fallacy known as “Argumentum ad Populum,” (i.e. “Argument to the People”), or more commonly referred to as “Appeal to Popularity.” According to its definition, “This fallacy is similar in structure to certain other fallacies that involve a confusion between the justification of a belief and its widespread acceptance by a given group of people. When an argument uses the appeal to the beliefs of a group of supposed experts, it takes on the form of an appeal to authority; if the appeal is to the beliefs of a group of respected elders or the members of one’s community over a long period of time, then it takes on the form of an appeal to tradition.”

(Image citation: https://edu.glogster.com/glog/appeal-to-popularity/24j7txo2ffq )

If we settle with the validity of a person’s argument solely based on their popularity, then surely every dictator, tyrant, totalitarian, or Statist who has ever written anything is far more logically superior to that of everyone that speaks in defense of Liberty.

Adolf Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, has sold millions of copies, and has surged in Germany in more recent years; the various works of Joseph Stalin have sold millions; Mao’s little red book sold millions; Marx continues to influence people today with millions of books sold, etc. The sheer number of books sold by each of these monstrous leaders does not grant them superiority in logic or provide their arguments extra validity. Simply put, more people read their work, and that is all that can be said about their book numbers. Mein Kampf:

The best thing that each of us can do in the Liberty Movement, as writers, is to continue reading, speaking, debating, discussing, and writing. In order for our naturally positive and realistic messages to gain ground with those in direct opposition of Liberty, we need to stay on top of our understanding, remain decent in our approaches with others, diligent and consistent in our philosophy and politics, and find more creative ways to reach the masses. As we each work in direct competition with the next libertarian writer and those that oppose Liberty, we are also working together with those fellow libertarians as Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” in getting our letters of Love, Liberty, Freedom, and Peace out to the world.

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep writing. Never cease.

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The Fallacy of Limited Government and Classical Liberalism

By Ryan Lau | @agorisms

Since the founding of America, countless individuals have used the doctrine of classical liberalism to define the American way. More often than not, this leans towards ideas such as limited government and a protection of natural rights. After all, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is one of the most well-known phrases in the Declaration of Independence.

Since 1776, politicians have uttered the words as a call to action for the people. After all, the protection of these three critical rights is what sets the United States apart from the rest of the world, right? In the modern day, the usage has shifted slightly: more advocates of limited government use the phrase as a rallying cry, hoping to return to an age of freer markets and freer people. However, everything about the expression is simply a lie. The very idea of a government that naturally limits itself to these basic functions is simply impossible.

Negative Rights vs Positive Rights

First and foremost, what sets limited government and classical liberalism apart from other modes of government is a belief in negative rights. Basically, this means that the people only have protection against other people harming them. The right to life does not mean that a sick person can demand free medicine. Instead, it merely means that someone else cannot kill him against his will.

The same idea follows for liberty and property. An individual may act freely, as long as his actions do not prevent another person from also acting freely. Driving over the speed limit, for example, is an act of liberty. But, as soon as that driver hits another car, he has damaged the other person’s property. If he inflicts injury or death, he also has, of course, taken away that person’s negative right to life and liberty. To summarize, the idea of negative rights suggests that individuals have rights to their lives, liberties, and property, but only insofar as that right does not prevent another from also owning their own lives, liberties, and property. To each his own.

Positive rights, on the other hand, require the use of force against another person to bring about. So, a positive right to life would create an obligation for others to defend the life of an individual. If someone was sick, for example, he would, under a positive protection of life, be entitled to any medicine that may aid or cure him. In terms of property, a person may be entitled to a house, even if it means someone else must buy and build it.

The Classical Liberal Viewpoint

Of course, the classical liberal viewpoint is one that rejects positive rights. A number of practical reasons exist for such a dismissal. In the event of life, for example, let us imagine that same sick patient. A doctor may be able to find a cure if he labors for a thousand hours and abandons all other work. However, this doctor is also a mother. By fulfilling the positive right to her patient’s life, she may not be able to fulfill her duties as a mother. Moreover, she may have multiple patients with different needs, each requiring full attention. She cannot feasibly fulfill her obligation to every person involved, but cannot realistically be at fault. So, the classical liberal argues, there is an obligation to protect rights negatively, but not positively, as such creates unjust duress on the individuals doing the protecting.

The Fallacy of Negative Rights

Clearly, a government cannot adequately or justifiably protect positive rights. In reality, though, the same is true about negative rights, too, especially in a democracy. What breaks the soundness of the argument? Two things: taxation and voting.

On a surface level, a government can claim to only protect negative rights. Specifically, what comes to mind is the minimalist state. As many limited government advocates have outlined, such a government would only control the police, military, and courts. Yet, it appears that this notion cannot come true without taking from others. All of these organizations require the tax dollar, and this, of course, comes from the people, who may or may not have consented to give up a portion of their income. Regardless, the second that the government forces the money from the people, it becomes a positive right. Thus, a limited government cannot truly protect only negative rights: taxation turns this on its head.

A Vote for Change?

In a functioning democracy or republic, many citizens vote, either for laws or representatives. Yet, it is clear that the vote itself is also an example of a positive right. When a citizen votes in an election, he or she is exercising power, albeit small, over the electorate in order to influence political affairs. In other words, they are telling the government to use its force over other people.

Negative rights do not change. They always include, exclusively, the right to life, liberty, and property. So, if a society was to truly protect only these rights, there would be no need for a figurehead. After all, if nothing is to change, why should someone have the power to make changes? If a society ever was to only guard negative rights, any change in policy or executive order must necessarily be a violation of these rights. The only things a government could justifiably do is determine the salaries of its troops and judges, and carry out other business matters.

Theoretically, we could vote on these matters. But, as long as taxation was the end result to obtain them, the majority is still inflicting its will on the minority. If one person does not consent to the collection, then it becomes unjust. Alternatively, the collection of funds could be entirely voluntary, through donations. But, at this point, it is no longer a state, as it is neither coercive nor compulsory.

A Logical Impossibility

Thus, the notions of classical liberalism and limited government appear to be at odds with the principles they claim to safeguard. The logic works in a bit of a circle. In order to protect these rights, the limited government must become no government at all. But, by becoming no government at all, it no longer has the power to safeguard these negative rights.

Therefore, a government cannot both exist and solely protect negative rights. Every action is ultimately some form of force, whether it comes from voting or taxation. Even in the early days of the United States, citizens voted on which figures could use power over others. Eventually, these figures levied higher and higher taxes, increasing the coercion. The world’s great thought experiment has failed, and it is clear that a government cannot exist to guard negative rights. Only through the absence of government can a society exist without widespread force.

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Morality Should Not Determine Legality

By Ian Brzeski | United States

For many people, morality is relatively subjective. To some, sex before marriage is a sin, and to others, it is perfectly reasonable. Some people love taking drugs, and others are appalled by them. People of all kinds differ in their values on these issues and on many others such as access to guns, homosexuality, and prostitution. Whether or not committing a particular act falls under someone’s values, everyone should realize that committing victimless “crimes” should not be punished by the state.

What are Victimless Crimes?

In essence, a victimless crime is a “crime” under the law where there is no identifiable victim. It is performed when no other person or party is involved in the action taking place beside the perpetrator or consenting adults. Consuming drugs is a prime example of a victimless crime. The only party that person would potentially be harming in that act alone would be himself. He or she willingly chose to engage in this act; thus, there is no victim. The same goes for that person when they engage in obtaining the drugs through consensual means. These means include joining into a contract with his “dealer.” The two adults here both agree on terms in this exchange. The dealer provides the drugs, and the consumer provides a means of exchange for his desired goods, presumably money.

Freedom of Choice

Locking people up like caged animals for committing victimless, nonviolent crime is complete nonsense. It does not matter what a person’s morality says about drugs. One could think that they are awful and downright immoral, but that does not change the fact people can do as they please as long as no other person is harmed or brought into unwanted affairs. Those people, out of their own free will, chose to engage in that exchange and then go on with their lives as they please. Nobody was hurt, and everything was purely consensual. Fundamentally, it is not that much different than going out and buying groceries.

If you do not like drugs, don’t do them. Nobody forces you to take them, and if somebody does force you, then that is a crime in itself as it takes away your freedom to make those decisions for yourself. Just as people want the freedom to decide to say no to drugs, others should also have the freedom to take drugs without fear of being imprisoned by the state. It is inconceivable to think that drug abusers belong in a prison cell. Drug abusers need help, not prison time.

While incredible amounts of funding have gone towards decreasing drug use, the drug addiction rate is the same as it was about 40-50 years ago. Instead of spending over a trillion dollars in incarcerating these people, spending should be focused on helping these addicts. Portugal decided to do this about 17 years ago, decriminalizing all drug use and focused their spending on rehabilitation for drug users. At one point, about 1% of Portugal’s population were drug abusers, and now that number has been halved.

The same decriminalization practices should be used for prostitution, pornography, owning guns, and any other victimless crime. If you do not like any of these things, then don’t partake in them- it’s as simple as that. Not to mention that decriminalizing and accepting all of these would make them safer. No more back alley pimps who abuse and drug their prostitutes to make a quick buck. No more sketchy and untrusting drug dealers who may lace their products. No more massive cartels as the majority of their products would be legally imported in the country; thus, losing the majority of their funding. Everything listed here would run as a legitimate business which would then promote competition, naturally making these businesses safer. Interdiction on all of these things is no different from the prohibition of alcohol, and we all know how well that went.

Legalization in Amsterdam

I recently went to Amsterdam where marijuana, certain psychedelic drugs, and prostitution are all legal. The prostitution is all kept in one sector of the city, known as the Red Light District. The Red Light District was bustling with people and seemed as if it were just another business center. These businesses are basically “forced” to care for the health of their laborers as they would have an incentive to because it would be horrible for business if one of their workers had some disease such as an STD. One could find drugs anywhere, but nobody is forcing others to take them. If you want to smoke a blunt, then you can, and if you do not want to, then you do not have to.

The overall cleanliness of the city was surprising. One would think that by allowing drug use and prostitution, the city would be pretty dirty, but that is not true in the slightest. Homeless people and garbage on the streets were not to be found, at least from my experience. Amsterdam has experimented with decriminalizing some of these victimless crimes, and it seems to be going pretty well for them.

Victimless crimes are not real crimes. People should not be punished for doing things that do not harm others or their property, and we must put an end to decades of government control over people’s choice of how they treat their bodies.

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Avoiding The Either/Or Trap: Lessons Learned Losing My Religion

By Craig Axford | United States

I tried. I really did. But the LDS Church (the Mormons) kept insisting it was all or nothing. Given the choice of giving them my all or nothing at all, I chose the latter.

Still, in an odd way, I’m grateful to them. The lessons that have spent the better part of my life sinking in keep rising back to the surface unexpectedly. Triggered by a seemingly random news story or through conversations with others both in and out of the faith, new insights now regularly surprise me. We can walk away from the cultures we are raised in, but one way or another they stay with us.

At first, I thought my growing suspicion of ideology was a product of the times: a side effect of America’s increasing polarization brought to a boil by the results of the 2016 election. But upon reflection, it’s clear to me now that my perspective is largely a reaction to my Mormon upbringing. The LDS Church’s black & white way of looking at the world is woven into the culture as tightly as the stitches in an old pioneer quilt.

. . .

“I know the Church is true.” That’s what Mormon’s are encouraged to stand and declare once a month at what’s referred to as a “fast and testimony meeting.” This declaration is typically followed with something about Joseph Smith being a “prophet of God” and personal inspirational stories that are offered as evidence of the truth of the “gospel” as interpreted within the Mormon faith.

For a member experiencing doubts, there are really only two choices during these meetings: sit and quietly endure them, or stand and lie to the congregation. The third option of honestly confessing your doubts didn’t really go so well for me. With one exception, I was greeted with silence following the meeting. No one seemed to know what to do with me. The one person that did approach me reassured me that if I just kept doing what the church told me to do, eventually I would gain a testimony. I had been given this advice before and was growing tired of hearing it. It was shortly after this experience that I decided it was time to leave the religion.

Unfortunately for the LDS Church, to say nothing of religion generally, technology and changing cultural values have been working overtime to make doubt more acceptable and far easier to express than it has ever been before. For a doubter to feel alone in the pews these days they would have to lack internet access. Our affinity for tribalism now tends to manifest itself more through some secular variety of identity such as race or political affiliation.

My old church’s rigidity has rendered it rather inept at coping with the wave that’s begun to break over it. To be fair, they’re hardly alone. Information is too readily available for orthodox faiths in particular to easily cope. Questions that used to be blurted out only by innocent children who intuitively understood there was something wrong with the claim that two of every species on earth could somehow fit onto a boat can no longer be dealt with through simple answers or stern rebukes. More and more the public’s tolerance for faith is conditioned upon faith being informed by reality rather than blind as a bat. It’s no accident that those identifying as “unaffiliated” or otherwise no religion are now rapidly increasing as a percentage of the population. On the contrary, religion is steadily losing ground.

I had lots of specific reasons for leaving Mormonism at the time. The capacity of Noah’s Ark was actually pretty low on my list. Concerns with the founding narrative of the religion as well as proven historical inaccuracies and inconsistencies within the Book of Mormon account of the peopling of the Americas were closer to the top. The discovery that there had been debates regarding these issues at the highest levels of the church dating back to the 1920s and 30s made me feel as though I had been lied to growing up. Clearly the church’s leadership had always known about these problems and had simply refused to deal with them.

In addition, there were the obvious errors the “prophets, seers, and revelators” had made that, it seemed to me, could have easily been avoided had they really been communicating with God. Polygamy, denying people of African descent access to the priesthood until the late 1970s, and the ongoing treatment of women as second class members of the church were three obvious examples.

But eventually I realized that my particular reasons for leaving the Mormon religion were only culturally specific examples of a problematic approach to the truth that can be found at some point in every major religion’s history. Even if I wasn’t fully aware of it at the time, it was the LDS Church’s treatment of truth, and the intolerant attitude toward doubt that came with it, that ultimately lay behind my decision. As recent events should make clear, these ways of thinking about the world are ultimately toxic to cultures that fail to address them.

. . .

Mormonism continues to hold pretty firmly to an either/or view of the truth of the Book of Mormon. Followers are still expected to accept the scripture’s historical as well as theological accuracy without reservation, though even the LDS Church now admits that not every Native American necessarily descends from someone arriving on a boat from the Middle East around 600 BCE.

But my former religion’s apparent absolutism aside, it is actually employing a variety of relativism to rationalize its doctrines. Small concessions to modern genetic and archaeological evidence not withstanding, Mormonism, like many faiths, advocates treating personal feelings as the primary source of evidence for the truth of its particular narrative.

This conviction that our feelings can be counted on to accurately communicate the true nature and meaning of existence may work well within a particular isolated tribe living more or less in a vacuum, but it’s a dangerous view in a pluralistic society that includes multiple traditions, many of which also see themselves as guardians of the truth. Because people’s feelings can’t be counted on to respond consistently to the various stories religions and other belief systems use to distinguish themselves from one another, intolerance and anti-intellectualism are ultimately the only options available to those unwilling to embrace allegory and accommodate themselves to the latest evidence. Scientific and other scholarly research will always be treated with suspicion in an environment where it’s feelings instead of facts that settle the debate.

. . .

When I was nineteen, I dutifully turned in my paperwork to become a Mormon missionary. A few weeks later the “call” came. The Church was sending me to the Washington, D.C. Mission for two years of proselytizing.

At first the strongest emotion I could muster was a very mild excitement that bordered upon ambivalence. Part of the problem from my perspective was that Washington, D.C. wasn’t really the kind of place I wanted to spend two years of my life. I was hoping to at least gain fluency in a foreign language out of the experience. An urban American setting didn’t really deliver the kind of adventure I was looking for.

Right after graduating from high school the previous summer, I had spent three weeks in what was then still the Soviet Union. The trip whet my appetite for cultural experiences outside the United States, to say nothing of beyond the increasingly uncomfortable confines of the lily white, Republican, and Mormon environment of Provo, Utah. Washington, D.C. undoubtedly would have represented a far greater change from Provo than I was giving it credit for, but it was still my country’s capital after all.

In the weeks following the receipt of my “call” to Washington, D.C., my ambivalence began to turn into terror. What a mission really involved, no matter where it took place, never truly sank in to my still developing late adolescent brain until then. As the image of me knocking on doors to tell people that what they believed was wrong became more vivid, I hit the panic button. Then I did the least Mormon thing I could think of: I acquired a bottle of vodka through some of my less savory friends and got really drunk.

If only it could have been that easy to escape the fate my church had in mind for me. My condition was obvious when I got home late that night and staggered down the hall toward my room. Mother had been waiting up for me and came out to greet me. It must have been a Saturday night because I remember she stayed home from church the next day. She was too upset to attend, but she made sure I went. Hangovers don’t count as an illness in religions that prohibit alcohol consumption. I was sent out early Sunday morning with strict instructions to confess my sin to the bishop before I came home.

Naively I thought my confession would at least mean a postponement of my pending sentence to the nation’s capital. I could use the extra time to work things out. Perhaps the bishop was more tolerant than I gave him credit for, or maybe getting the largest possible percentage of male youth in his charge out on their missions on time made him look good to his superiors. Regardless, he dismissed my drunken binge as just “getting it all out of my system” before leaving, gave me a stern lecture, and left it at that. I was still leaving on schedule when I left his office. If I hadn’t had such a terrible headache and Utah’s liquor stores had been open on Sundays, I probably would have gotten drunk all over again.

. . .

Over the next week or so I was experiencing all sorts of feelings, but none of them matched the description I had been given of the stirring within that I was supposed to be having. I had never had that feeling, at least not in a context that made it obvious that’s what it was.

Every Mormon is raised to believe that at some point they will receive a “burning in the bosom”. That was the signal that the Holy Ghost provided to convey the message that the Book of Mormon and all the other teachings of the Church are true. Unfortunately, this sort of physical sensation could work just as well as evidence that unicorns live on the dark side of the moon. There is absolutely no reason that such a feeling should serve as an indication of anything much beyond heartburn.

Warm and fuzzy feelings have a long and ongoing history of providing validation for beliefs that turn out to be utterly false. So do the feelings of superiority that follow naturally from moralizing. Indeed, a strong sense of identity in any form functions as a kind of intoxicant that clouds our judgment and inflates our ego. Regardless, all I understood at the time was that the only strong feelings I was experiencing were anxiety and despair.

. . .

Eventually I got around to telling both my mother and the local bishop that I did not want to go on a mission. At that point I was told the same thing I would be told again a few years later when I honestly confessed my doubts in testimony meeting: just do what you’re told and you will eventually know it’s true. That people I had previously respected were asking me to go door-to-door lying about what I “knew” to be true was, in retrospect, the moment I truly began losing my religion. I didn’t know my church was true, let alone that anybody else’s was false. That I should say I did anyway destroyed the illusion that any of this had anything to do with truth.

“In Judeo-Christian tradition, Yahweh speaks and the world is created. In Hindu cosmology, Brahma sees that the world is already there.” ~ The Geography of Genius, Eric Weiner

Since then Mormon missionaries have knocked on my door and I have been on the receiving end of the message I was supposed to be delivering all those years ago. We’ve had some interesting discussions. They assured me the LDS Church would welcome me back — that it was more receptive to doubters now than it used to be. They would play me talks by church leaders saying just that.

But, as I always knew it would, it turned out that people with unorthodox interpretations of church doctrine or interested in having open and frank discussions about issues of concern to them aren’t welcome. Another bishop in another country told me as much when, at the missionaries’ urging, I consented to sit down with him.

It wasn’t long after that meeting that the Mormon Church announced a new policy. They decreed that the children of homosexual couples would no longer be able to receive any of the privileges that came with membership. For that they would have to wait until they reached adulthood. The children of rapists and murderers, however, were still welcome.

There was considerable blowback from the small but growing number of cosmopolitan members willing to share the pews with others unlike themselves. It was, I suspect, these members that were as much the target of the new policy as the innocent children of gays and lesbians. In particular, members living in more liberal parts of the world were becoming too accustomed to mingling with people from outside the mythical 1950s version of the nuclear family the Church had built its modern reputation defending. The new policy was a reminder that comfort was misplaced.

Unfortunately, when you tell people you’re receiving your instructions from God and will never lead them astray, there’s not a lot of room to quickly walk your mistakes back once you’ve made them. So innocent children have now gotten caught in the crossfire in the war on “sin”, while more open minded members are finding out, like I did years ago, just how unappreciated their voices really are. For thousands attending rallies following the announcement of the Mormon Church’s new LGBT policy the only option left to them was to officially request that their names be removed from the Church’s official records.

Mormons protest 2015 change in LDS Church’s LGBT policy. Picture from Vice News story regarding protest.

Above all else, what I learned growing up in a conservative religion convinced of its truth is that absolutism and literalism should be treated as bright red flags signalling that beneath the banner there’s a belief system that is not concerned with truth so much as it is with obedience. Institutions that proclaim their books or manifestos possess all or most of what we need to know, and insist that their leaders can do our thinking for us, are ultimately interested in power and conformity, not freedom and diversity.

Tribalism seems to be everywhere in 2018. It’s not just native to the Mormon intermountain west, the Bible Belt, or the Middle East, or even religion in general. We can find it on both ends of the political spectrum and in other parts of the world as well. People waving the flag for their tribe and ready to go to war (literally or figuratively) for their particular identity seem more abundant now than at any other point in my lifetime.

History’s long-term trend lines are still favorable, however, so I’m not overly concerned. I just wish I could think of a way to get the primary lesson of my own apostasy through to others. The truth isn’t something we can own. The truth isn’t even what gives life meaning. For meaning we need to turn to the search for truth. When it comes to life, the old dictum that it’s all about the journey, not the destination remains a good rule of thumb.

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