99 and Out

26 Feb

This 99th post will be my last. I can’t make it to 100 as I previously intended. I feel spent of my particularly Mormon concerns, at least to the degree that I want to write about them. I may be fooling myself about this, but I hope not.

Of course, Mormonism will remain with me – as part of my past and in the continuing presence of immediate and extended family. Also, I will continue to feel related concerns, such as the nature of belief and morality, but in more general terms. This makes ending this blog part of my transition to responding to the world more broadly. The world is bigger than Mormonism and I’m ready to feel proportionally smaller in its midst by no longer letting Mormonism circumscribe my attention.

My previous three posts were simply the three letters associated with my resignation from the LDS Church. This was an easy way to move toward 100 posts while expressing my desire to move on. That being said, I want to acknowledge that that the Church’s “administrative action” was easy to complete and, more importantly, that its officials were gracious and respectful in the process.

Perhaps I should have made this move six years ago rather than letting myself be drawn into Mormon-themed podcasts, which provoked my rhetorical backlash. But then, I suppose they uncovered unfinished business. My disaffection 27 years ago was not caused by Internet revelations about Mormon history and scripture. However, encountering these pressed me to re-rationalize my loss of faith by constructing a second argument based on new lines of evidence. The original argument evidently was insufficient.

I’m glad I’ve kept this blog anonymous. It was best not to drag loved ones through 99 reflections that reflect such an unprivileged, and soon to be dated, perspective. If there comes a time when someone close to me really cares to know what I was thinking about Mormonism between February 2013 and February 2015, it will likely still be here. And after he or she samples it, we’ll talk about how my thoughts and feelings have changed.

I think I’ll start looking for truth in fiction. This inclination has been growing of late, thanks to my return to the works of John Updike, George Saunders, E. L. Doctorow, Albert Camus and Sinclair Lewis. Most recently I was struck by the following three quotations from the novelist Julian Barnes’s memoir, Nothing to Be Frighted Of. [1]

“But the novelist (me again) is less interested in the exact nature of that truth, more in the nature of the believers, the manner in which they hold their beliefs, and the texture of the ground between the competing narratives.”

“I do not mistrust [memories], rather I trust them as workings of the imagination, as containing imaginative as opposed to naturalistic truth. ”

“[Fiction] wants to tell all stories, in all their contrariness, contradiction, and irresolvability; at the same time it wants to tell the one true story, the one that smelts and refines and resolves all the other stories. The novelist is both bloody back-row cynic and lyric poet, drawing on Wittgenstein’s austere insistence—speak only of that which you can truly know—and Stendhal’s larky shamelessness.”

Still, I equally want to engage in a more serious study of how to think properly, first by getting back to the remarkable book Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment [2] and, perhaps, begin the practice of “mindfulness” meditation. Perhaps a dual (or three part) approach will make my progress toward smaller and more tractable truths more productive. These are the truths that might actually benefit me and others in our relationships. I am thinking of close truths that beckon me to be more alert to the moment-to-moment experiences that deliver proximate meaningfulness, which may be the most real. I have friends and family that may need my material help (if not just my greater presence in their lives) over the next decade or two, perhaps three. I need to prepare myself for them while I can.

To those who have visited, or will visit, this blog, I hope you can make your peace with Mormonism and affect it positively, whether that means making it a more a prosocial institution that moves beyond its more grotesque dogma, or marginalizing it if it doesn’t. That’s JT’s final turn-on-Mormonism.  


[1] Nothing to Be Frightened Of, By Julian Barnes: http://www.amazon.com/Nothing-Be-Frightened-Julian-Barnes/dp/0307389987/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1424902382&sr=1-1&keywords=nothing+to+be+frightened+of

[2] Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment, by Michael A. Bishop and J.D. Trout: http://www.amazon.com/Epistemology-Psychology-Judgment-Michael-Bishop/dp/0195162307/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1424902411&sr=1-1&keywords=epistemology+psychology          


The Administrative Action. Good Bye.

12 Feb

LDS Resignation 2


The Kind Acknowledgement

12 Feb

LDS Resignation 1


The Request

12 Feb

LDS Resignation 3

Doing Philosophy Badly

12 Feb

On the same Mormon Stories podcast I discussed in my previous post, a listener named Syphax, responded to another of my comments that touched on my metaphysically weak atheism/naturalism [1], [2]. He wrote:

Yes, as a matter of strict definitions, anytime you make a positive claim about what exists in reality and what doesn’t (natural, supernatural, forms, essences, matter, spirit, quantum wave functions, etc.), you are making a metaphysical claim. There is an erroneous notion that naturalism is some kind of “default” metaphysics that doesn’t need arguments that support it – or even worse, that it’s not a metaphysics at all.  Reminds me of the saying that floats around philosophy message boards – “If you think you’re not doing philosophy, you’re probably just doing it very badly.”

At the time I didn’t know what to make of this since I wasn’t sure I had made a positive metaphysical claim while at the same time being quite sure I was neither a philosopher in general nor a metaphysician in particular. So, I responded with:

Well, I hope that a life spent making educated guesses based on more or less carefully considered tentative and incomplete findings [based on] methodological naturalism produces more joy than suffering, even if it means slipping up and doing some bad philosophy once in a while.  I’m counting on that being better than the years I spent under the spell of an orthodox Mormon metaphysics.

Given that I find myself pressing toward the end of this blog, I’ll stand by this position with just one more related thought.

Like John Morehead (see previous comment), I sense that Syphax was trying to draw me in to his metaphysical relativism game, as if it were an existential requisite for holding to some belief – however provisionally – as a way of validating his claim to his own arbitrary suoernatural metaphysics. But as far as I can tell, I am a metaphysical agnostic for the same reasons I am a theological agnostic, as discussed in my previous post [3].  I make no positive claims about the ultimate nature of reality. Despite “reality” being an interesting subject to ponder, I feel no need to adopt a positive belief about it. Indeed, such things are pointless without the need.

I don’t think I’m lying to myself when I claim I’m satisfied to navigate this world fully acknowledging the limited models of whatever aspects of reality I might have at my disposal. It is obvious to me they fall short in terms of their practical utility in helping me accomplish my desires, broadly construed to include, and not thwart, those of others. History and personal experience have taught me that models based on methodological naturalism – the procedural foundation of science – are more reliable than the revelations of professed prophets of gods, or my own un-beckoned intuitions.

And if I am wrong about any of this, well, that’s my problem and my responsibility, like every other case in which my best efforts have or will fall short. In the meantime, I’ve got about 10 more years in a full-time career to save enough money to not be a burden on anyone in my old age and, I hope, to take care of my family who will survive me. That’s a more meaningful proximate goal, far more than planting a flag into some metaphysical ground.  I can’t do philosophy badly if I don’t do philosophy at all.


[1] http://mormonstories.org/339-342-the-psychology-of-religion-with-dr-james-nagel/

[2] https://valueofsaintliness.wordpress.com/

[3] https://jturnonmormonism.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/my-metaphysical-weakness/

My Metaphysical Weakness

10 Feb

I’ve been thinking of closing out this blog with the 100th post. This led me yesterday to look for old untapped comments I’ve littered on other blogs that I could re-task to get me there sooner. The first one Google delivered was on John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories podcast interview of James Nagel on the psychology of religion. [1], [2]

This was based on my response to another listener, “John Morehead,” who suggested that atheism should be placed on metaphysical par with theism and, as such, be approached with equal skepticism. He wrote:

“… atheism should be factored into the pie chart of beliefs, and it too is subject to critical scrutiny regarding epistemology as is religious belief. My hope is that we can be consistent in being skeptical of irreligious claims, just as we are of religious ones. Atheism is part of the spectrum of metaphysical commitments, and not immune from epistemological skepticism.”

This is common apologetic rhetoric that strikes me as self-deflating since it amounts to arguing, “you are no better than we are,” and therefore admits to its own arbitrary position. Be that as it may, there are at least three ways to challenge this. The first is to recognize the asymmetry between (1) believing in the positive existence of a supernatural deity and (2) not believing in the same. Given that gods cannot be detected in the same sense as tangible intersubjectively shared perceptions, the proper epistemic default position should be withheld belief. This asymmetry is reinforced by hundreds of diverse gods that people believe in on the basis of indistinguishable subjective experience. Bottom line: believing in a particular god that one has not personally experienced is not on par with not believing in it.

Second, one must distinguish two types of atheism. Positive atheism (or strong atheism) pushes beyond this simple disbelief to assert the positive claim that no deities exist. As such this would seem to entail an a priori metaphysical commitment to naturalism/materialism. I will grant Morehead’s criticism in this case. But most atheists adopt a negative (or weak) atheism. This “agnosto-atheism” escapes the metaphysical symmetry that that Morehead imputes. It’s also immune from epistemic skepticism. Indeed, it embodies epistemic skepticism. Given this, Morehead’s charge amounts to attacking an atheist straw man.

Finally, as to whether weak atheism entails a metaphysical commitment, I just don’t know what to say. I seem to have some kind of access to a natural world – a tangible world that gravity and Standard Model of Particle Physics so thoroughly account for – to the 10th decimal place – with no lingering gap for any other influence on the leptons and quarks that support our thinking. For anyone to look at this extraordinarily exhaustive scientific research and still commit to some overlay of gravity-defying resurrected body-stuff, particularly on the word of a 19th century philandering money-digger (for instance) seems ludicrous. So if my default naturalism still constitutes a metaphysical commitment, it’s an awfully stripped down and weak one. I accept such metaphysical weakness.


[1] http://mormonstories.org/339-342-the-psychology-of-religion-with-dr-james-nagel/

[2] Perhaps more interesting than my comment were those exchanged between James Nagel and a listener identified as Syphax, who linked to his own blog clled, “the value of saintliness.” Syphax describes himself as a “graduate student working on a M.S. in experimental psychology, with a research emphasis in the psychology of religion.” In one of his posts he claimed to believe “naturalism was not true,” metaphysically speaking, not as methodological constraint for science.

Mormonism could be a textbook case of …

12 Jan

… the most current scientific models of the psychology of religion and evolution of religious societies by cultural group selection. The structure, practices, and my own experiences as a Mormon were all illuminated by the following review article by French anthropologist Scot Atran and American/Canadian anthropologist and psychologist Joseph Henrich. I provide here its comprehensive title and abstract with a link to the full article below.

The Evolution of Religion: How Cognitive By-Products, Adaptive Learning Heuristics, Ritual Displays, and Group Competition Generate Deep Commitments to Prosocial Religions [1]


Understanding religion requires explaining why supernatural beliefs, devotions, and rituals are both universal and variable across cultures, and why religion is so often associated with both large-scale cooperation and enduring group conflict. Emerging lines of research suggest that these oppositions result from the convergence of three processes. First, the interaction of certain reliably developing cognitive processes, such as our ability to infer the presence of intentional agents, favors—as an evolutionary by-product—the spread of certain kinds of counterintuitive concepts. Second, participation in rituals and devotions involving costly displays exploits various aspects of our evolved psychology to deepen people’s commitment to both supernatural agents and religious communities. Third, competition among societies and organizations with different faith-based beliefs and practices has increasingly connected religion with both within-group prosociality and between-group enmity. This connection has strengthened dramatically in recent millennia, as part of the evolution of complex societies, and is important to understanding cooperation and conflict in today’s world.

[1] Biological Theory 5(1) 2010, pp. 18-30, Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~henrich/pdfs/BIOT_a_00018.pdf


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