23 October 2016

The Gated Retirement Community of Carefree Terrestrial Rest

My maternal grandmother (Gran) was a good Christian woman. She believed that her afterlife would be filled with harp-playing and quietly praising Jesus while floating in a cloudy heaven, protected from the riff-raff by an ever-vigilant Saint Peter who ran a portal called the "Pearly Gates". It was her Christian duty to denounce The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) (to which her daughter and grandchildren had converted) and to fib to her friends and family that my mother and her children (including me) actually went to another congregation of Gran's chosen non-LDS denomination because of Sunday timing preferences.

Again, Gran was a good woman and accustomed to hard work, likely a product of her upbringing in the highly religious and relatively hard-pan frontier of west Texas and eastern New Mexico. She never thought much of her progeny's religious choices, but she was kindly and loving regardless. I knew her primarily in her retirement, where she was an industrious cook, always had a nice car, a nice home, a big TV, and had resources enough to eat in restaurants regularly. My early view of what constituted a proper conclusion, and hoped-for afterlife, was something along the lines of what my grandmother enjoyed in her latter years.

In this promised continuation (previous post here) of philosophical visits to different levels of "glory" or "kingdoms" that one might aspire to for an afterlife, which I interpret from the Mormon Plan of Salvation, I now consider the middle or "terrestrial" reward. (Please understand that what follows is my personal concept of the afterlife and doesn't necessarily reflect the doctrines of the LDS Church.)

If you think of what my grandmother believed about heaven and her life as I perceived it as described above, I think that is an apt concept of what the middle reward will be like. I will go on a limb here and estimate that most Christians aspire to this middle glory as their version of "Heaven". This concept goes approximately as follows:

Picture in your mind a very upscale retirement community. People play golf, they grill and pursue pleasant hobbies, the place is maintained perfectly, and you don't have to lift a finger to make it happen. You worked all through a good life and this is your reward - not having to work anymore! Alternately, you can think of an never-ending tour on a cruise ship - everything is already paid for and you can just relax and recreate forever.  To people who toiled away for most of their lives, a pleasant retirement in their autumn years and an eternity at rest sounds just divine, doesn't it? Where the catchprase for the telestial (lower) reward was "no consequences", a simple description for the terrestrial (middle) reward might be "no responsibilities".

There was an entertaining display of genteel and light-hearted Christianity in the original VeggieTales video series. The following snippet showcases my perception that the terrestrial glory would be very familiar to residents of gated retirement communities.

I don't want to make anyone who achieves a terrestrial glory feel bad about it - It is a very good reward that follows a life of basically doing good. Of course, I have alluded to the fact that there are three basic glories to which one can aspire alongside God's marvelous grace. The highest "kingdom", known as the celestial, has a description and posting of its own that is soon to come.

16 October 2016

An Eternal Groundhog Day of Telestial Hedonism

You remember that funny and touching Harold Ramis movie Groundhog Day? Phil Conners, played by Bill Murray, lives through countless renditions of the same day. Philosophers, theologians, and psychologists have cheered the movie and its message (intended or not by Ramis and Company) for all sorts of reasons, from the idea that we should "live in the day" to the benefits of the concept of reincarnation.  In that grand tradition, I offer my own take on the premise of the movie and how my wonderful wife helped me see such things in a wider context.

Mormons believe that God has a plan for us, often called the Plan of Salvation.  The official plan from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is HERE and my own interesting adaptation can be found HERE. (Please understand that what follows is my personal concept of the afterlife and doesn't necessarily reflect the doctrines of the LDS Church.) At the distant "end" of this salvation process, every person is sent to a "kingdom" or "glory" that they earned through their thoughts and doings while on Earth, combined with the grace of Christ. There are three basic glories - The telestial, terrestrial, and celestial. I am going to reserve any comment on the high (celestial) or middle (terrestrial) kingdoms for now and focus our attention on the low (telestial) one.

The telestial kingdom is the catchment glory for people who don't merit a better kingdom - the bulk of the population of the Earth throughout time will end up there because they didn't put forth much effort toward getting a better reward. Every kind of low-life and scum will be there alongside the lazy and those who never got around to being particularly decent.

Can you see the character of Phil Conners in that description?  I'm not talking about the one at the end of the film who had finished his development program in piano and tire-changing.  I am talking about the guy who, in the company of Ralph and Gus, made this realization early on:
Driving with a Phil unconcerned by consequences

Phil: What if there were no tomorrow?
Gus: No tomorrow? That would mean there would be no consequences, there would be no hangovers. We could do whatever we wanted!
Phil: That's true. We could do whatever we want.

Behold!  The ruling attribute of the lowest glory! From the most powerful ruler to the most powerless serf, the telestial man has the same desire - they want an existence where they can do whatever they please and suffer no consequences.  Like the Groundhog Day movie, these people want to wake up to each new day as if the gluttony, pleasures, and pillaging of the nights before never happened.

LDS teachings also say that every person will be resurrected after their mortal life ends with a glorious body that has no pain or sickness and will never die again. Likewise, I believe these "kingdoms of glory" that I spoke of before will be similarly indestructible, worlds that cannot be ruined or destroyed.

Imagine the possibilities! Your rotten neighbor steals all the apples from off your trees every night, but you don't care because the apples are regenerated every morning. You can go to the mountains and burn down the forest that surrounds you and no one bats an eye because it will be regrown in the blink of that eye! No consequences. It will be a dream-world for those who choose to practice no self-control - the telestial people.

Of course, God will not be trusting anything he truly values to such people, so there will likely be nothing particularly worthwhile on such worlds. For instance, God will not trust such people with treasures like children so he simply removes their ability to procreate, leaving a favorite activity from mortality (unbridled sexual pleasure) without any of the responsibility (parenthood). Again, such an afterlife is a "heaven" for those who love their vices more than anything else but hate the aftermath.

Please remember that this is the lowest glory that God offers. There are better glories to be sought for, but a person needs to be able to forgo a future of telestial hedonism to have them.

Coming up, I will describe my take on that middle or terrestrial glory.  Stay tuned!

09 September 2016

Luna Lovegood is a Happy Person. Would You Like to Be as Well?

My wife and I have read through the Harry Potter book series by J.K. Rowling. It was the first time for me as I avoided it during its publishing heyday. It was good together time for us and ended up being quite thought-provoking for me, which was a surprise.

For instance, I particularly enjoyed the character of Luna Lovegood. She is a transcendent person already in her teens, rising above the pettiness of her cohort, speaking truth and kindness when everyone else choose the paths of covering their egos and nursing their hatreds, wearing their hearts on their sleeves. She will tell you what you need to hear in such an unassuming way that it bores into your soul past your typical defenses. Luna was almost ethereal yet unbendingly upbeat compared to those around her, reliable in her honesty and thoughtfulness. I consider her an excellent role model.

Luna, as a character, represents one of those people that it is an uplifting experience just to be near. Although she is initially odd and off-putting, she ends up being the greatest of friends. I wouldn't mind being such a person.

Wouldn't you rather be like Luna?  She is happy almost all the time, forgives everyone, and always looks on the bright side, even in the dungeons of life.

It brings to mind the story of Glenn Beck and the Amazing Mr. Plastic Man, who helped the talk-show host desire greater happiness and a way to get it. Not surprisingly to me, it came through the restored gospel as taught through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which, like Luna Lovegood and our own Psychic Proximity Principle, is often viewed askance. Worthwhile relationships and pursuits are often seen that way in the beginning.

Perhaps you are searching for something that you lack - true happiness. You have a good chance of finding it in the path followed by Luna Lovegood and the Amazing Mr. Plastic Man!

14 August 2016

The Freedom to Choose, Abortion, and a Warning

If you haven't already noticed, I am a classical liberal in my political bent and I most greatly appreciate the political philosophy of the late Harry Browne, who was the Libertarian Party candidate for POTUS in 1996 and 2000. Although I support many of the principles of the LP, I am not a member nor do I particularly support the ideas of Gary Johnson or Bill Weld.  However, I tend to vote for libertarian candidates when I am given the option because I want to record my desire for very small government, greatly expanded liberty, and the original intentions of the writers of the founding documents of the United States of America.

Given all of this, my attitude about much legislation these days reflects a desire that federal governments not be run by zealous social engineers of any stripe, right or left.  Individual choice is good and should be given as free a rein as possible.  Although children should be beholden to their parents until they reach maturity, adults should be primarily beholden to themselves and have very few compulsions placed upon them by external forces such as government.  Adults should be able to choose their own actions insofar as they do not curtail the choices of other adults.

Everything above summed up:  Choice is good.  Additionally, I have a personal attitude that Abortion is bad.

The practice of ending the development of new human life, except in cases where the life of the mother is gravely threatened, is an evil thing in my eyes.  My desire is that the rather flippant aborting of new life, often with the excuse of inconvenience or "symbolic" assertion of women's rights, become more and more rare.  It seems I am not going to get my wish in this case given the current social climate, but I will keep stating my stance on this subject.

Although I think abortion is an odious act, I also think that each person involved in a decision to abort or not should be able to choose their actions in relation to it. If a woman wants to abort, that is her choice to make. If the doctor involved doesn't want to perform this abortion, they also have that choice and a more willing practitioner could be found. If the biological father is an adult and desires to curtail the abortion and take responsibility for the birthed child, that choice must be considered as well and the justice system may need to be involved to resolve any conflicts over the shared pregnancy (the woman didn't conceive without help!) and its outcome. As (potential) children are beholden to their (potential) parents, principles of choice dictate a rejection of any appeal to the "rights of the unborn" in a purely pragmatic sense in this case - the waters are muddy enough.

I repeat, I think abortion is an evil thing.  However, people have the right to choose to be a party to abortions.  Further, I really hope that these people will choose not to pursue abortions, especially as an answer to relatively small embarrassments and social inconvenience. This is a very serious decision to make, often wrapped in large emotional and religious consequences and associated responsibilities.

I view very dimly those who "promote" abortion for any reason beyond a clear threat to the individual woman's life. Any coercion used to encourage an abortion impedes a woman's ability to choose their acts in full understanding of their culpability. Legislators that authorize the use of public funds to subsidize abortion and its promotion are just as liable to consequences as direct promoters. Funding for abortion services can, with greater integrity, be raised from sympathetic donors with full understanding of the activities being funded.  The act of taxing people opposed to abortion for its subsidized provision is, at its heart, unjust and foul. The tenets of liberty are offended by the forced subsidy of abortion by those who oppose the practice (ala Obamacare).  

Women still have choice - one can choose not to have an abortion.  Sadly, forces are working diligently with the young, the poor, and the troubled (feeding on ignorance) to convince them to hate children (Baby Think-it-over), to have (protected) sex like drunk monkeys (I apologize if I offend monkeys), and to abort every "unwanted" (actually every) conception. These are veiled cousins to the old eugenics and sterilization programs that tried to eradicate "undesirable" groups, like blacks. Such abortion promoters are actually enlisting each woman's help in the destruction of her own culture, race, and society!

May I offer a warning to my Judeo-Christian/Islamic friends?  God is really weird about a few things - one of them is taking human life. He punishes "fooling around" with non-productive sex and aborting sexual "accidents" just as strongly as he does murder.  If your spiritual leader is too shy or liberalized to say so, I will: You put your soul in serious jeopardy through the flippant disregard for God's stance regarding intimacy, conception, childbearing, and human life.

You can choose to honor life and use your procreative powers appropriately. You can stop supporting abortive practices yourself and implore others to do the same. The point is that we don't use instruments of force, like government, to make others do things in a fashion that pleases us.

31 July 2016

Being the Second Choice - Alma 50:37-38

On occasion, a work supervisor will tell me that I was not the first pick for a job. That bothers me a little. I know that I can be a controversial decision, given things like the Psychic Proximity Principle, the Trump/Clinton ticket, and other bizarre pronouncements, but I would hope that in a few realms, I can be the first person considered. I am always grateful for my employment, no matter how it comes to pass, but it can be tough to think that you essentially were something like a back-up plan or a fall-back position and someone else was originally more preferred. Apparently, there is always a little more room for some more humility!

I am heartened by the fact that a great man in the Book of Mormon was the stated second choice in a matter of great importance concerning the record of the people of God. Alma the Younger, the only man to be both the leader of God's church in America and the political chief judge of the Nephite nation for a time, was deciding who was to be the next custodian for the sacred records to which he had been entrusted, essentially who would be the next writer in the Book of Mormon.

There are only two direct references in the Book of Mormon to Alma's first choice for the next record-keeper: a man called Nephihah. Earlier, this man was Alma's appointed successor as chief judge when he wanted to focus more on religious matters. The other reference is at Nephihah's death that is mentioned in Alma 50:37, which gives just a touch of background to this man's life:
And it came to pass that in the same year that the people of Nephi had peace restored unto them, that Nephihah, the second chief judge, died, having filled the judgment-seat with perfect uprightness before God.
This sounds like a good man "with perfect uprightness before God." The people thought enough of him to name a new city after him. Alma obviously liked him, because in the next verse, it is revealed that Nephihah was Alma's first pick for the job of the keeper of the sacred records:
Nevertheless, he had refused Alma to take possession of those records and those things which were esteemed by Alma and his fathers to be most sacred; therefore Alma had conferred them upon his son, Helaman.
So, Nephihah had "refused" the job and it was given to Alma's son Helaman, the second choice.

Now, Helaman was no slouch - eventually leading the legendary 2,060 stripling warriors that also looked to him as a father and became an important prophet and church leader in his own right. However, in the most sacred responsibility of keeping and adding to the record of the Nephites, he was the first runner-up that got the job because the original "winner" refused it.

Sometimes, we get the joy of being the "next choice", but neither I nor you should let this sort of fact get us down. Most of the important things in life are not a competition and we hopefully choose to do the best we can with opportunities (even second-hand ones) that come our way - just like Helaman did.

19 July 2016

Don't Give Up on a Trump/Clinton Ticket

I've gotten some flak for proposing a Trump/Clinton presidential ticket in the past.  It was just an impression that I got a la the Psychic Proximity Principle that seemed compelling at the time. Now that the Donald has declared an absolute nobody as his running mate and is heaving his way through the Republican Convention, everyone is ready to say that what I said in the past was wrong.  I respectfully disagree.

Donald Trump was the star of a reality TV show I never watched (my TV blew up in 1997). He fired someone every episode or so I am told. Life imitates art and I think the pick of Pence at this juncture is a tactic to get the Trump juggernaut through the Convention.  I predict that Trump will "fire" Pence as soon as negotiations with Hillary are concluded and the opportunity to maximize the impact of a Trump/Clinton announcement are engineered.  It is bold thing to do - bringing opposing party candidates together - but that makes for very popular reality TV (which is what our political leaders long to emulate).  Trump is up for the challenge of bucking the system (call it "trumping" the system) and Hillary continues to be willing to bide a bit more time to guarantee her ascension as the first woman president (through a stint as congresswoman, secretary of state, and now vice-president).

Honestly, Hillary can't really compete against the flash of Trump - she is stodgy and steady.  Her accusations of Trump as crazy don't enthuse her voters to turn out - they will trust that a crazy person can't become President. Trump will win because Hillary can't get her people charged up enough to get off their duffs and vote.

I still think my inspiration will prove correct and you will see a Trump/Clinton ticket in the White house come January.

11 July 2016

Encouraging the Development of the Different and Explaining Xenos

 The prevailing cultures in which we live have been sold the idea that there is a "perfect" person.  This idea pervades every aspect of our lives and is defined by corporations, government, media, and ourselves.  These things set the boundary (that black one in the picture) where people are expected to live within.  You, with the help of all the institutions we create to service or rule us, are expected to fill in the defined space (the rose colored stuff) and be a competent, useful person, as society defines this.  Are you not smart enough?  You need more school.  Are you not rich enough?  You need to get a better job.  Can you not hear music in your ears everywhere you go?  You need an mp3 player!  These are a few of the numerous expectations that society has for you and to be a good member of society you are expected to meet them all as an adult.

Society's expectations of what a person should be can be compared with a cookie cutter (the black line).  People are expected to fill that cookie cutter completely, which is what a lot of people call being "well-rounded".  The ideal goal in our society is to be well rounded, which is to have some ability or interest in all acceptable and anticipated areas and no serious deficits anywhere.  Our society assumes that nearly everyone has (or should have) sufficient dough (or ability) to fill in the established cookie cutter expectations.

There are some people who don't seem to have enough ability to meet society's expectations.  This is like having too little dough available to fill up the cookie cutter form. Society has a label for that problem:  disability.

As a disabled person, you are deficient somewhere and that is a problem for everyone.  Other people feel badly about the fact that your cookie cutter is not filled in everywhere and they want to “help”.  Society has decided to form entire industries for the purpose of trying to make disabled people more "perfect".

Our society has decided that there is one way to fix disabled people: remediation.  If you cannot fill in the cookie cutter society has designed, outside help is required in the form of medicine, psychology, therapy, and other interventions.  The goal is still to make a person well-rounded, but if that cannot be accomplished, the most important thing is to make the person “look” more round to outside observers.  If a disabled person is good at something, it is often ignored in favor of working very hard to address the things a person is not good at.  Essentially, remediation is an attempt to steal dough from “unwanted” places to fill in blank spots within cookie-cutter expectations.

There is an interesting sort of person that we will call Xenos.  It is an ancient Greek term for a stranger or alien (to one's village). These people are obviously very different from "perfect" people, much like the disabled are different.  For the most part, a Xenos person would have the same amount of ability as the "perfect" person, it is just distributed differently.  A Xenos is someone who focuses on one facet of life, often has greater than normal ability and interest in it, and typically has shortcomings in other areas of life.  This person is often called "obsessive".  For the Xenos, this obsessive nature is inherited and cannot really be eliminated, though it can be hidden by "behavioral training" or “healing” obvious and socially-disquieting quirks out of a person.

Fortunately for everyone, these Xenos people can often learn to steer their obsessive abilities toward interests that make the world a better place.  It was Xenos-type people who created industrialization, telephones, the light bulb, radio, television, nuclear energy, computers, and ultimately iPods and iPhones, as examples.  No one can doubt that people like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Bill Gates are pretty obsessive and odd and were able to do things that normal people cannot do or would have never thought of doing.  Thankfully, many people were willing to ignore Einstein's unkempt hair and interesting mannerisms and focus instead on his theory of relativity!

Unfortunately for the Xenos, society doesn't like obsessiveness particularly.  It gets in the way of making people well-rounded.  Society's institutions (think about schools as an example) are designed to produce and service people whose ability and interests fit into the established societal cookie cutter.  A Xenos person will have serious problems and cause serious problems when faced with a world (such as ours) that is heavily and inflexibly oriented toward institutional well-roundedness.

You can see in the picture above that there is some dough outside the black line.  This is the indication of someone obsessively pursuing an interest or ability beyond what is considered normal and acceptable.  To make up for things required to follow an obsession, material is missing from other facets of life.  Often, the Xenos person is poor at mundane everyday tasks like hygiene and may lack common sense or common manners.  In a typical Xenos, the basic dough (or level of interest or ability) is roughly the same as (or greater than that) in a "perfect" person; it is just distributed differently, some of it outside of the cookie cutter definition of what is normal and acceptable.

Our society grows more and more myopic and can only see value in what is considers to be normal and (frankly) profitable. If you were to cover over the dough that is outside the black circle in the picture, the Xenos person looks just like the disabled person - someone who doesn't have their cookie cutter filled in. To most people, a Xenos person is considered disabled, being practically unable to see ability outside of the boundaries of social normalcy.

It is important to remember that society controls not only the way things are done but the institutions created to do and run things. There is really only one cookie-cutter definition of normal and there is really only one established way of dealing with things that are not normal: remediation. Therefore, Xenos people end up being put through the same people, institutions, and processes that disabled people face. "Johnny, I want you to stop designing the next Mars rover and sit with the therapist and practice blowing your nose properly. It is much more important to fit in with the other kids than it is to win the Nobel Prize in physics."

Most disability professionals would excitedly attack that unsightly blob of "wasted" ability outside the established circle in the picture above and chew up someone's childhood or entire life trying to fill in that missing place in the cookie cutter that dictates how well one holds their fork. Thank goodness there were no therapists engaged in fixing Einstein - who knows how much we would have lost!

It is important to note that there can be truly disabled people among the Xenos, just as there are among typical people. These disabled Xenos are often labeled "autistic". I am sure you can see the picture in your mind of the cookie-cutter and a small amount of cookie dough stretched out toward some obsession, resulting in very little lying inside the circle. There is some need for therapists and doctors and psychologists for those people, with an understanding that you cannot beat or drug the obsession out of the Xenos, only help channel obsessive behavior toward something positive. A helper's focus can be better set toward expanding existing ability to help the Xenos achieve their potential to go where no normal person could ever go!