Thursday, December 23, 2010


I have noticed, as I've slowly adapted to the idea that I don't believe in god, that my dreams have changed a bit.

For some background, I'm on some medication that gives me vivid, unpleasant dreams sometimes.  At first, I had nightmares every night and woke up upset and disturbed, but after a while it calmed down to what it is now: most nights I have at least one vivid dream about something I'm anxious about.  This includes grades, social slip-ups, etc.  I wake up sweating and nervous, but get over it almost immediately.

One interesting aspect of this side-effect is that it very clearly reveals my anxieties on an almost daily basis.
One of the major themes?  Bieng outed as the godless atheist that I am.
I've dreamed about being called in to the bishop.  Crap!  I might lose my endorsement at BYU!
I've worried about being rejected by my brother, who is my best buddy, but who is currently Mr. SuperMissionary and comes home in 5 months.
I think my parents have even been in there, even though they have an inkling of how "misled" I am.

I don't want my professors to know, because it could affect my letters of recommendation when it comes time to apply for grad programs.  I'd prefer to keep it from most of my friends, and all of my ward members (ugh, can you imagine the unwanted attention in the form of efforts to "fellowship" me?).

Maybe someday I can be more open.  Definitely when I'm out of BYU my academic future will no longer ride so much on my religious beliefs.  In grad school I'll probably not be expected to believe a certain thing by everyone around me.  But for now it makes me a little uptight.

My mom talked about my brother-in-law Rob the other day, and warned me that I should probably avoid his blog because it "doesn't have a good spirit about it."  This, of course, is Mormon for "it does not support the church wholeheartedly or reject doubt outright."
It made me want to laugh, actually.  Seriously?  Good thing you don't know about my blog, Mom.  Rob's is pretty benign compared to mine; he's very civil and measured in his writing.  I, on the other hand, rant and rave and blaspheme on a regular basis.  This is where I vent when I don't want to try to argue with people.

I wonder if my parents will ever happen upon this blog.  It's not impossible by any means; there are a number of ways they might find it.  If they do, it might be trouble.  They may have an inkling of my atheism, but they probably don't know how rabid and antagonistic toward god and religion I can be sometimes.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blasphemous Blogging?

So none of this that I'm about to write is really very kosher by any Christian's view, I'd imagine, but if there's a hell I'm probably on the way there in any case, so I thought I'd vent a little.

What would Jesus do?  We're supposed to ask ourselves that, right?
Well... based on what we know abou the guy, my guess is he'd utter a lot of platitudes, intentionally confuse people, piss off basically everybody, and then die.

But honestly, what would he do in most situations?  Would he pirate MP3s?  Would he drive 5 mph hour the speed limit?  Would he make pizza sauce himself or buy it canned?
Basically, all I can say is, I have no friggin' clue, and as far as I can tell, neither do you.
The guy has been dead now for a couple millenia, and all we have are inconsistent accounts of dubious authorship that were written, as near as we can tell, about a century after the purported events took place.

Okay, so I know it's supposed to be "Christ lives," right?  But does he really?  I mean, how many people that died 2000 years ago are alive now?  There are exactly zero documented cases.

In church, someone talked on Sunday about how meek and kind and forgiving and understanding Jesus is.  Right?  Well, except for him killing random fig trees out of spite (it was symbolic, right?  Oh, wait, then why kill the poor tree instead of giving another cryptic parable about a tree?).  And being really, really mean to most of the people around him.  Saying downright mean and dissmissive things to his mom, family and friends.  How about racism?

Like seriously.  Jesus said some things that are salve for the soul or wise or cool, but he also said a bunch of inconsistent, unkind, and nonsensical things.  If, that is, we trust the record at all.

So, clearly, I'm the worst blasphemer ever, but I just don't get it.  I don't even know why I'd need a savior... not that I don't make mistakes, but I can't understand how god can be such a wacko that he can't figure out a way to forgive people without throwing his son out to die at the hands of "his" people.  And great job, by the waty, on those people.  Seems like nothing you told them made any difference, god.

Maybe there's a god.  Maybe there's a Christ.  Maybe I'm going to rot in hell, and all the evangelicals out there will happily dance upon my grave just before being raptured up to paradise.
But in that case, god is insane.  He makes no sense at all.  Have fun in heaven with your psychotic overlord.

A few days ago, the Provo Tabernacle burned to the ground.  Except for the severely-damaged outside walls, the thing is just gone.  But, there's a painting inside where everything except the picture of Jesus in the middle is burned.
"A Miracle!" they call it.  Clearly, all pictures of Jesus are fireproof.  We should just build all our houses out of pictures of him, then fire would never be a problem!
So... what I'm thinking is, if god was intent on performing a miracle that night, couldn't he have just put out the fire?  It would have saved the church a bundle, Provo a lot of hassle, and would have prevented the destruction of a beautiful historic building. 

Seriously, do people really believe it when they say every single slightly-good thing is a tender mercy of god, and every horrible thing is, of course, god's will?  Thanks god, for the mostly-burnt painting.  Maybe next you can work on saving the starving orphans of the world, or maybe the polar bears.  I'd trade the damn painting for the polar bears.

I got terrible grades this semester.  I'm sure some would attribute it to my utter rejection on god, recently.  But you know, if prayer really worked, you'd expect the devoutly religious to have consistently higher test scores.  Plently of failing students at BYU are perfect Mormons, and plently of straight-A students everywhere find the idea of a personal god laughable.
Anecdotes are not data.  Your friend may have prayed and gotten her wish of a smooth day at work on the same day that many, many people prayed for a dying loved one, and the loved one died.

Game over.  Thanks for playing.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Morning Number Fun

I had an entertaining time running some (admittedly extremely rough) numbers this morning.
I was reflecting on how the LDS church is very proud of its exponential growth curve, and started thinking that it might be interesting to plot the percent of the world that is LDS over time, rather than the straight-up population.

Here's what I found:

So, it seems the church can still boast a nice exponential growth in terms of the portion of the world they can call their own.  The fit, by the way, is (% of world)=0.001*exp(0.03*(year-1830)).

Now, a few comments before I go further.  Obviously, you can't go above 100%, so this can't be a straight-up exponential, it'd have to reach an inflection point up to some point.  That being said, up until about half the maximum value the church will reach, the fit should be reasonable.  So we have to make some assumptions about the church's maximum size (in proportion to the world) to know how far we can set any kind of store whatsoever by this fit.

In addition, world population may reach an inflection point at any time, and further screw with our model.  However, as I said, for the time being, hopefully we can trust the fit for a few years.

Finally, there is an obvious anomaly in the data right at the end where the growth rate seems to drastically drop, which might be an indication that the inflection point has already been crossed.  However, for the sake of fun, I'm going to give the church the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to noisy data.

So with that stuff out of the way, we can have a bit of fun.

One of my favorite elder's quorum discussions is "when do you brethren think the second coming will be?"
We always get the mandatory 2012 (the current favorite end-of-the-world for any crackpot theorist), and there are a lot of guesses between 10-30 years in the future.  It is universally assumed that it will happen in our lifetime, or at the very latest our kids'.

I believe it is generally held in the church that a significant fraction of the world must be LDS before Jesus decides to show.  I'm sure some would insist on 50% or something like that, but let's assume a smaller fraction is sufficient.  Say... 10%?

Given the (idiotically optimistic) fit I've found for the church's growth rate, the church should reach 10% of the world's population at around 2130.  We probably won't be around anymore.  Our kids probably won't either... but maybe our grandkids.  Maybe.

Anyway, like I said, the numbers pretty much explode after this, and we'd have to come up with a much better model if we want to predict any further out.  In any case, if the church needs even 10% of the world before Jesus comes a-knockin, we've got a little while to wait.

Basically, the point of all this is, I can't wait for the next time someone brings this up in elder's quorum.  I want to see the looks of discomfort when I tell people it seems unlikely that Jesus will be around any time in the next century, give the church's historical growth and generally-held teachings.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Don't Use Unfair Arguments!

I talked to my mom yesterday, and she brought up the subject of faith.  She wasn't too confrontational, but definitely was trying, again, to convince me that I ought to stay active in the church.

She talked about some people she knows (disapprovingly) who have left the church, and how it was not fair to their spouses because it was understood at the beginning of the marriages that the church would be part of their marriage and family.
I don't completely object to this line of reasoning, because I've thought that maybe I should attend church socially for my wife's sake.  It wouldn't be so bad, after I was out of BYU and no longer obligated to keep secret my disbelieve in god, accept callings, etc.

What I object to is the injustice of this argument when used by my mother, who very openly applauds a former Catholic minister who joined the church in her ward despite the concern that it has caused his wife.  If my mom is going to use the above argument, she'd damn-well better make sure she's okay with it working against her beloved church.

The same goes for another thing she tried to tell me last night: she was telling me that religious experiences are very subtle, but that you had to learn to trust them.  I indicated that some people don't really have very convincing experiences, and she said something like "but what about family and friends who have had those experiences?"  I told her that that doesn't help, because there are people all over the world having religious experiences confirming the truth of vastly different worldviews.  She seemed shocked and asked "what about your family and people who really care about you, though?"
I think it's only fair for her to say this if she is willing to disapprove just as strongly of people coming from other faiths into the LDS church despite their family's devotion to another faith.

She talked about another person who'd left the church because he'd tried hard and eventually given up, as if he'd done it on a whim and altogether too quickly.  The idea, I believe, is that if you don't believe in the church, keep trying to until you do, or until you die.  If she is willing to argue this way, she'd better be ready to accept the argument that other faiths should never convert to Mormonism, but keep plugging away trying to make their own faith work for them.

There are many other arguments of this nature thrown around all over the place.  The LDS church teaches its members to avoid anything critical of the church like the plague, like it'd smut or a pack of vicious lies and authored by the devil himself.  Yet the church openly and smilingly criticizes the doctrines, practices, and historical actions of other churches regularly.  It's part of the missionary lessons.
Why exactly shouldn't I read anything critical about the church?  Can't I make my own decisions about the validity of its claims?  Getting only one narrow side of the story never seems like a good idea.
Is it thoughtcrime?  Am I committing treason by even considering that the church might be based on a bunch of fiction?  And yet the church and its membership are moved to tears of joy by the stories of people having doubts about their own faiths and then joining up with the LDS church when it better fit how they felt the world should operate.
If I am a traitor, then every freaking religious person who has ever joined the church is a traitor.

  I understand why these arguments propagate so well in the church; they are persuasive arguments in their own ways and the church circulates ideas that are best-suited to preserve itself.  It's not necessarily deliberate, it's the mind-virus adapting to its host.  Among religions, blindness to your own implicit exempt status from your own arguments seems to be a particularly common symptom.