Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Faith-Based Initiatives

I remember reading somewhere that the LDS church refuses to apply for faith-based initiative grants from the US government for fear that the government will begin to have too much influence on the church. I couldn't find the reference now, so if someone can confirm this I'd appreciate it.

While watching the psuedo-debate put on by Pastor (or Reverend? I've seen it reported both ways) Rick Warren over the weekend, I began to ponder the concept of government funding of faith-based initiatives, and came to this question:

If the charitable cause cannot be funded by the efforts of the people sitting in the pews, and instead needs to be funded by tax payers, can it really be called "faith-based?"

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Gospel: Simple, but Subtle

Quote #1: "Christ knows better than all others that the trials of life can be very deep and we are not shallow people if we struggle with them." -- Elder Holland

Quote #2: "If we constantly focus only on the stones in our mortal path, we will almost surely miss the beautiful flower or cool stream provided by the loving Father who outlined our journey. Each day can bring more joy than sorrow when our mortal and spiritual eyes are open to God’s goodness. Joy in the gospel is not something that begins only in the next life. It is our privilege now, this very day. We must never allow our burdens to obscure our blessings. There will always be more blessings than burdens—even if some days it doesn’t seem so. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”19 Enjoy those blessings right now. They are yours and always will be." -- Elder Holland

Now, I know those two quotes aren't necessarily contradictory (and it does help to read them both in context), but it certainly takes some thought to figure out exactly what is the "right" way to respond to life's trials, or even if there is a "right" way. The gospel is simple, but it sure does have some subtleties.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

What If Food Made You Sick?

When I started blogging I told myself I was never going to post one of those "I'm sorry" posts after a long period of time without posting. Saying I'm sorry implies that there are people that are offended. I'm assuming no one was offending by me not posting for over two months, so I don't feel the need to apologize.:)

As I've mentioned earlier, my son was diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EE), a rare (but increasingly diagnosed) disease which can cause people to be allergic to a wide variety of foods. Often, EE patients cannot eat any food or only a handful of foods. These patients, like my son, are kept nourished using special total nutrition formulas which usually need to be taken via a feeding tube. Fortunately, the disease is not fatal. However, it is chronic and can significantly impair quality of life. To learn more about it, view this video produced by the American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders. It is touching, and for my family it hits close to home.

This has been a trial for my family, and as things came to a boil I could no longer sustain regular posting here. I'm not sure what the future of this blog will be. For the few of you still reading this blog, let me tell you that I would not trade our trials for any of yours. I'm grateful to have a son that teaches me that you don't have to be "normal" to be happy. I try to keep a positive attitude, because I don't want my son growing up feeling like a victim. If we want him to be strong, we must show him how.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Why Am I Me?

Who am I? Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where am I going?

These are the fundamental questions of life. Science and religion have attempted to answer these questions to some degree, and sometimes seem to be in conflict. For a long time, religion was the only means by which these questions could reasonably be answered, since science had no explanation for the complexity, or even the existence of, the world. Alma said:

"Yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator."

Up until relatively recently, the mere existence of the world was enough to prove that God exists to any rational human being. His existence also proves, by definition, that he is our creator. However, as science has advanced, it has increasingly been able to offer alternative explanations for the complexity of the world in which we live. The Big Bang theory attempts to explain the origin of the universe, and the theory of evolution attempts to answer the fundamental questions of life. I'd argue that the explanations that science offers are compelling, and I can see how someone, from a scientific point of view, might consider a "creationist" as a fool. However, there are still some unanswered questions related to how life began, such as... well, how life began. The actual events that led to the first living being are, from what I understand, still not understood by science. Still, from that point on evolution seems like a reasonable explanation; reasonable enough that some have tried to reconcile the two points of view, and claim some ground in the middle of the creationists vs. evolutionist debate.

My point here is not to rehash that old (well, actually relative new) debate. For the sake of argument, let's assume that evolution is correct, and that it fully explains where we came from, why we're here (for no particular reason at all, it would appear), and where we're going (6 feet under). Is that it then? Are there no more questions to ask? No, there's one more question that I would pose to the scientific and religious community alike:

Why Am I Me?

Seriously, why am I writing this post and you reading it, and not the other way around? Or why are we not some Borg-like entity? The idea of "consciousness" or "self-awareness" or whatever you might call it (some more intellectual types might be able to clue me in to the correct term for this) is still unexplained by science, as far as I can see. Hypothetically, I can imagine some explanation involving biological mechanisms and chemical reactions that make my brain think I am conscious. But that explanation, for now, is hypothetical. I've never heard any scientists even attempt to explain why I am a conscious being, and why am I only conscious of myself, and not others. Why, when I open my eyes in the morning, I see the world through the eyes that happen to be attached to this body, and not some other.

Philosophers have wrestled with this question. Descartes supposed, "I think, therefore I am." However, even this is questionable in modern times as medical scientists are increasingly able to explain how our brains work (although still far from completely). One could possible imagine our brain as just a very complex, biological computer. Yet even the most complex computer imaginable still would not be aware of itself (ignoring science fiction, of course). Yet, we are aware of ourselves. Where does this awareness come from? As far as I know, science has not come close to answering this question.

On the other hand, religion does offer an answer: Our self-awareness comes from our spirit, which is different than our physical selves, although the two are bound together to some extent. In the mainstream christian view, God is the creator of our spirits, and therefore the creator of our self-awareness. So the answer, according the mainstream Christianity, is that we are who we are because God willed it to be so, and science has yet to offer a reasonable alternative explanation to that.

Mormonism offers an even more nuanced view. Our understanding of the pre-existence teaches us that we have always been self-aware. Our "intelligence" has always existed, and always will. I am who I am because I always have been. Perhaps that's doesn't directly answer the question, but it is at least a partial answer.

To be clear, my intent is not the set science and religion against each other. I believe there is truth in both, and even when they seem to be in opposition, we do well to learn how each view can enlighten our understanding of truth. However, my point here is to raise the bar, so to speak, on the scientific community by bringing to light one question that still remains beyond their grasp, and help the religious community understand at least one question that remains uniquely theirs to answer.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Everyone Needs a Wife

An author was being interviewed on a radio talk show the other day. For a brief segment, she was talking about how she works from home part time while her husband works as a doctor. She expressed how this arrangement has been beneficial to keeping her home and family running smoothly. Here is the quote from my memory:

"Everyone needs a wife. I mean that 1950s kind of wife that bakes and cleans and takes care of all of that stuff."

Before I get to my point, the context was clear that she was not making a sexist comment (especially since she is a woman). She was using the term "wife" as a euphemism for "person who keeps your life running", and she was including women in "everyone".

Lately I've been thinking about how true that is in my life. My wife stays home with the kids while I work. This works for us and honestly, I have a hard time understanding how couples make it work otherwise. There are so many responsibilities that families have outside of work. How do dual-income families find time for these things? I'm talking about home maintenance, financial planning, shopping, taking care of kids (of course very important), doing research on decisions that need to be made, and a million other important things I can't possibly list. I realize that some of these things you can hire people to do for you, but there are plenty that you cannot, such as caring for a sick child. Our son has medical issues that have caused what seems like daily doctor's appointments. I think if we both worked, one of us would have had to have quit by now. But even without medical issues, it's hard for me to imagine that it could work.

So, for those of you who are in dual-income families, I ask you: How do you do it? How do you keep your life running? For those of you in single-income families but who are married, I ask: Can you imagine your family running otherwise? For those of you who are single parents, I can only imagine how hard your struggle is, as you have the worst of both worlds: a single income and no one to share the burden. My heart goes out to you.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Activist Judges At It Again?

A few nights ago I wrote up a post exploring some of the arguments against gay marriage from a purely legal perspective, in response to the California ruling. After writing it I decided not to post it, for three reasons:

1) I'm not an expert at law, so my attempts to explain things from a legal perspective are probably incomplete at best.

2) The issue of gay marriage has been debated at length in the bloggernacle, from both moral and legal perspectives. I don't really have much to add to that.

3) Even though my intentions were not to spark controversy, I had a feeling my opinions might, and the goal of my blog is not to rehash endless debates.

So in the end I didn't post it, but I would like to throw these questions into the mix of perspectives currently being explored elsewhere:

1) I agree with the church, from a moral perspective, in its stand against gay marriage. I oppose gay marriage and would vote for a constitutional amendment against it. However, given that currently there is no such amendment, is it going against the church to question the constitutionality of banning gay marriage? In other words, can we separate the moral arguments and legal arguments? Can I say: "X is morally wrong, but it is unconstitutional to ban it?". Or, if I want to be in line with the church, do I have to conclude that judges that side with gay marriage must be wicked?

2) At what point to we recognize that we are fighting a losing battle? Is it obvious at this point that it is only a matter of time before we lose, both in the court of law and the court of public opinion? Is there still hope for victory, or are we only fighting to prolong the inevitable? If it's the latter, is it wrong to advocate a scorched earth policy (ie. get the government out of marriage entirely)?

(Note: If the subsequent comments get too controversial, I'll start deleting them and/or closing comments. As I've already stated, by goal is not to bring the debate occurring elsewhere onto this blog. I've already tempered my own opinions to try to avoid that. I'm really only interested in the specific questions I asked above.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Revelation on Home Schooling?

A comment from Elders' quorum from a few weeks ago, when we got on the subject of over-protection of children (quoting from memory):

"Before I joined the church I wondered how we were going to protect our kids from the bad influences in the world. We considered home schooling. But then we joined the church and learned that the church is against home schooling because our kids need to experience the social aspects of school."

There was no reaction to this part of his comment and the lesson went on its merry way. If this comment had been made in Relief Society, I imagine the building would have gone up in smoke before the class period ended.

From what I can tell the church has no official position on home schooling, but if anyone knows where this person might have heard of this new revelation, I'd be interested. Of course, I could just ask him myself...