Episode 155a: Annual Essay Contest Part 1

Zilpha hosts the listener essay contest.

Essay Information

Episode A
1. Blinking In the Starlight: Jesse
2. I Am Pro-Polygamy: Seth
3.Thoughts on his 30th birthday about leaving his 20’s: Gardener
4. I want a Disney Romance, Not Polygamy!: Kate
5. Word of Wisdom?: Roger
6. An Outsider In Our Lovely Deseret: Travis
7. Thinking And Reasoning, Mikey!: David

Episode B
8. Not So Drab: Lauren
9. I Was Offended Vignettes: Anonymous
10. Polygamy and shifting beliefs: Jonathon
11. Allegory of the Campfire: Bryan
(Non-entry: Revealing your loss of faith to loved ones – Richard)
12. I Live in Questions: Elliot
13. Somebody Dunn Me Wrong: Tony
14. Bag of Gifts: Sara

Episode C
15. It’s Not Working Because She’s Gay: Gail
16. Mormon Temples are Not for Gays: Timothy
17. Special Conference at the Morley Farm: One Who Watches
18. Movies and Flies in Milkshakes: Alyssa
19. My Mission: Jacob
20. Walter’s Journal

Episode 155a

38 comments on “Episode 155a: Annual Essay Contest Part 1”

  1. Jesse Reply

    Thanks for handling this Zilpha, I know it was a lot of work, your narration is perfect.

    I laughed when you said that you and John put your favorites toward the end – and then mine was the very first essay – that seriously cracked me up.  

    • Steven Stewart Reply

      Jesse…I’m a disney freak, and a post-mo…I liked Tangled but you made me Love it.  I want to go home tonight and watch it again with my kids.  I want every one of my Mormon friends to listen to your essay…but I know they’d be in denial about even being locked in a tower.

      Thank you for your essay…it was great.

    • Zilpha Reply

      Jesse, I loved your essay. We only selected ONE winner and that ONE is at the end. The others are in random in order, so don’t feel bad. In fact, I thought yours was a great one to lead with because it was so good.

    • Jacob Brown Reply

      I really loved the “Tangled” essay. The music works wonderfully. It was very touching to think about how they lyrics applied to a post-Mormon.

    • Cwald71 Reply

      I liked Jesse’s essay,Tangled, the most of all the essays.  I had my teenagers listen to it last night as our “family home evening” lesson.  Very well done.

    • Guest Reply

      FYI – Jesse, I’m definitely showing your essay to my wife (TBM) tonight – we watch Tangled all the time at our house (two little girls) and it is perfect for describing thoughts that I have been unable to put into words.  Thank you.

  2. Kevin Reply

    Really fine podcast. I’m looking forward to listening to the other two.

    One of the essays touched on an issue that I’ve always found confusing: the ability to live in a loving, moral way while being an atheist. I’ll be the first to agree that theism isn’t a necessary precondition for morality. But I’m always surprised at how readily atheists will intuitively accept conventional standards of morality — e.g. do unto others as you would have them do unto you — while in the next breath announcing that they refuse to accept any belief that can’t be logically deduced from objective reality as perceived by the physical senses.

    I’ve only heard one attempt at explanation: that moral behavior has survival value, and an inclination toward it is therefore programmed into our brains. I’m not sure this is true. It often appears that a certain degree of ruthlessness and self-centeredness is helpful in being a survivor, as the Social Darwinists point out.

    But even if there is something to this explanation, it seems to remove the virtue from morality. According to this idea, a decision to engage in moral behavior has no more intrinsic nobility or praiseworthiness than other survival traits such as, for example, stereoscopic vision or opposable thumbs.

    I’d appreciate some education from others who have wondered about this question, or from people who have opinions about it.

    • Megan Reply

      Well, for the biology question you might do some research on observations that have been made of higher primates. There is some really good stuff out there and it’s very well documented. Of course, like all scientific research, there are controversies, but it’s very interesting. You could start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_morality 

      And if you’re really interested a couple of good books to start with are:

      Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved 

      Good Natured: the Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals
      The thing is whether you believe morals are somehow distinct from behaviour. In other words, is acting in an unselfish way a moral act if at the root it has a selfish purpose? Of course, this gets you into difficulties at once if you believe in an afterlife and consequences for behaviour as all moral actions become inherently self-serving since they are to either avoid punishment or achieve a reward! This is why I’ve heard some folks claim that atheists are the only truly moral people as they don’t expect eternal bliss to result from their good deeds.

      • Kevin Reply

        Thanks for the link.

        The author’s central point seems superficial, although it is one that most theists and atheists could probably accept: Happiness is good, and behavior is moral if it tends to increase the amount of happiness.

        But the argument founders on the author’s apparent assumption that happiness is a sort of commodity or aggregate quality, rather than something that is primarily experienced on a personal, individual level. The author speaks of “a world where everyone agreed on the goal of advancing human happiness, … a world where happiness was the primary goal, and where every human being’s happiness was judged to be of equal value.”

        This inevitably leads to contradiction. The author rhapsodizes about “a world of free choice,” “a world of free enterprise where people succeed on the basis of effort and merit,” but not the sort of world “championed by libertarians.” Huh?

        Taken to its logical end, the author’s arguments seem essentially Marxist. He advocates what used to be called “scientific socialism”: “a morality [which] could even be seen as another field of science, like a subdomain of
        anthropology or sociology: the study of how best to promote human flourishing.” If the author is serious about valuing “facts and evidence that can be demonstrated to anyone’s satisfaction,” then he should read up on the history of Communism and National Socialism. These philosophies fell a little short of creating “a world where the sun rises on olive trees and vineyards growing where once
        there was barbed wire and checkpoints.”

        • Anonymous Reply

          Kevin, you should look into the idea that morality is an evolved trait, not something bestowed on us from the outside.  I haven’t had a chance to read these books yet, but my husband loved them: 

          The Mating Mind by Geoffry Miller
          Moral Minds by Marc Hauser
          Origins of Virtue by Matt Ridley

          • Kevin

            Thanks, Heather. I’ll try to get hold of these books.

            It wouldn’t surpirse me at all if morality were an evolved trait. I have no problem with evolution. I don’t see evolution as being in conflict with theism, so I don’t see a conflict between morality as an evolved trait and morality as something bestowed on us from outside. Why couldn’t it be both?

            But if morality is NOTHING BUT an evolved trait, then it seems a little disingenuous to characterize it as “virtue”, “goodness”, or — well — “morality”. It is simply a set of behaviors that have general survival value, like the ability to hunt as a pack or a tribe.

            In other words, if morality is nothing except the result of natural processes, then it has no higher meaning or implication. It is not a phenomenon that can be meaningfully engaged through intellect, sentiment, or will.

            If this is the case, then isn’t the whole field of ethics an illusion? The worst accusation that could be made against any behavior is that it lacks survival value, not that it is any other sense “wrong.”

            This seems to me to be the greatest weakness of any ethics that claims to find a basis outside of theism or intuition.

          • Anonymous

            Meaning is value given to something by humans whether they believe in a god or not.  “Higher meaning” is no different.  It’s still an evaluation made by humans. 

            “God” isn’t some tangible external entity that hovers above the ground
            giving orders and assessing values.  Everything about “god” is communicated through humans.  Humans say, “God says to do this.”  Humans say, “God is like that.”  There is no other conveyor of “God” and his will.  It’s all coming through humans.  So any “higher meaning” given to something “by God” is still coming through humans. 

            Ethics is no more an illusion than music or history or any number of other human creations.  Just because humans create it doesn’t mean it’s not real or doesn’t have value.  When you get right down to the core of it… based on what I said above about “God” being communicated through people… a theist looks at something immoral (say murder) and says, “God says that’s wrong” while an atheist looks at the same murder and says, “Our rules say that is wrong.”  It’s still just two humans saying something is wrong. 

          • Lance

            I kind of feel like any system of morality can be reduced to a level that is disingenous.  Theism can be reduced to only doing things for one’s own salvation.  Any system of morality and any moral act can ultimately be shown to be selfish.  However the only way for humanity to thrive and for the greatest number of people to experience the greatest amount of happiness is if our actions either cause no harm or if those actions are mutually beneficial.  We adopt terms like ‘virtue’ and ‘goodness’ to encourage a soceity that adopts that kind of behavior and we create laws and other punishments (sometimes as simple as breaking a friendship or relationship) and rewards to enforce and encourage that kind of behavior.  I guess I don’t see how believing God becomes the one who enforces and encourages what we label ‘virtue’  (that we follow to gain His reward or avoid His punishments, ie selfish reasons) is any more genuine than following a system of morality enforced and encouraged by society and developing ‘virtue’ in order to gain social rewards or avoid social punishments.

          • Megan

            Sorry but this seems to come down to simple semantics. Humans created language, including manufacturing meanings for words like ‘morals’ ‘ethics’ or ‘virtue.’ That’s the starting point. Humans developed the need for language and then coined words for perceived concepts as well as for concrete things like bread and rocks and trees. So ‘good works’ as a phrase has had a number of meanings throughout history – and the phrase FAR predates Christianity. We find it in pagan texts and near-pagan texts, in works that are touched with religion but are at their essence deeply non-religious (in a modern sense).

            I cannot fathom why there is a higher value placed on ‘unselfish’ acts that are performed by someone who might (or might not) be motivated by a particular set of religious diktats than those performed by someone who simply wants to alleviate someone else’s suffering but doesn’t happen to have a belief in a higher power. The acts are the same, yes? The outcome the same? The cost to the person doing them? So why is there more value given to one person – who, let’s face it, has been told that she or he has a vested interest in doing unselfish things based on the demands of a particular deity – over another?

            I suggest a very simple idea. Look around you at the atheists or agnostics you know. Are they kind? Do they behave in a socialized way? Do they run amok, murdering and stealing and having any number of deviant sexual encounters? Are they, in any really palpable way, ethically different from their religious neighbors? If not – well, then atheists are moral without a god.

            I apologize if this came out more harsh than I mean – I’m tired, I’m tense, the usual excuses. The thing is that from a very, very early age I have been an atheist. I have no sense for the spiritual. In fact, I can state definitely that so far in my life I have discovered three areas in which I am totally lacking understanding: spirituality, philosophy and accounting [I have no idea why these three, it’s just the way it is]. I have no sense of god nor ever have. I have never in my life had a spiritual experience although I had been raised to look for, even eagerly expect and desire one. And it does, just a little, get up my nose when it’s implied that because of this I am not a moral person. I like people (one on one). I want them to be happy. I do what I can, when I can, in big ways (when possible) and small, to make their lives better. I try to educate myself so that I can educate others because I believe that this is what improves the world. I do this without expectation of blessings or of some favored seat in the hereafter.

            So if someone can’t accept the idea of ‘moral’ meaning ‘act that is ostensibly [even to the actor] unselfish and for the greater good and therefore virtuous but ACTUALLY grounded in the evolutionary pressures of a social species,’ that’s okay, I can respect that. But really? I don’t see why that is a less valuable definition than, ‘act that is ostensibly unselfish but is also dictated by the rules of a deity who reveals his desires through fallible men (whose words must often be translated multiple times and thus muddied and confused) and who promises as a result a reward after death, or a punishment if the actions are not followed through’*

            Personally I just think that we’re a bunch of people trying to muddle along and do what seems best for our fellow beings AND for the children who, poor things, must inherit the world we create with our moral, or immoral actions.

            *Yipes, had to hold myself back from going into religious requirements that are, arguably, not morally inspired at all.

          • Megan

            I’ve had an 11’th hour inspiration:

            let’s simple replace the word ‘moral’ with the word ’empathic’

            That way, a religious person can say their actions are based on an empathy inspired by their faith in their particular set of beliefs, and an atheist can say their actions are based on their empathic response to another’s plight, based on the atheist’s own (or imagined) experience.

            phew. All that messy philosophy bypassed at a stroke!

          • Megan

            ahem. prolly empathetic ackshually. What can I say, I am spelling impaired!

          • Kevin

            Thanks, Heather. I’ll try to get hold of these books.

            It wouldn’t surpirse me at all if morality were an evolved trait. I have no problem with evolution. I don’t see evolution as being in conflict with theism, so I don’t see a conflict between morality as an evolved trait and morality as something bestowed on us from outside. Why couldn’t it be both?

            But if morality is NOTHING BUT an evolved trait, then it seems a little disingenuous to characterize it as “virtue”, “goodness”, or — well — “morality”. It is simply a set of behaviors that have general survival value, like the ability to hunt as a pack or a tribe.

            In other words, if morality is nothing except the result of natural processes, then it has no higher meaning or implication. It is not a phenomenon that can be meaningfully engaged through intellect, sentiment, or will.

            If this is the case, then isn’t the whole field of ethics an illusion? The worst accusation that could be made against any behavior is that it lacks survival value, not that it is any other sense “wrong.”

            This seems to me to be the greatest weakness of any ethics that claims to find a basis outside of theism or intuition.

  3. Nancy Reply

    I vote for the last essay on part one, but I haven’t listened to part 2 or 3 yet. These are all great and I appreciate the different perspectives.

  4. Mike Conder Reply

    I’ve tried to point out the logical consistency of his polygamy argument for years. I don’t practice, but  it certainly makes since if people should be able to choose same sex relationships, then people should also be able to choose polygamist relationships. Certainly, there are plenty of people who are not monogamists and how much different is that really?

  5. JT Reply

    Travis,

    Wow!  Brilliant!  I loved your essay.  I was smiling and chuckling all the way through.

    But much more than this – what a great widow into Mormonism.

    This deserves a wider audience.   It would definitely work – it speaks to all religions.

    I can imagine this on the radio show This American Life.  

    Send it in to Ira Glass!  

    Thanks

    JT

  6. Zilpha Reply

    Essay Information

    Episode A
    1. Blinking In the Starlight: Jesse
    2. I Am Pro-Polygamy: Seth
    3.Thoughts on his 30th birthday about leaving his 20’s: Gardener
    4. I want a Disney Romance, Not Polygamy!: Kate
    5. Word of Wisdom?: Roger
    6. An Outsider In Our Lovely Deseret: Travis
    7. Thinking And Reasoning, Mikey!: David

    Episode B
    8. Not So Drab: Lauren
    9. I Was Offended Vignettes: Anonymous
    10. Polygamy and shifting beliefs: Jonathon
    11. Allegory of the Campfire: Bryan
    12. I Live in Questions: Elliot
    13. Somebody Dunn Me Wrong: Tony
    14. Bag of Gifts: Sara

    Episode C
    15. It’s Not Working Because She’s Gay: Gail
    16. Mormon Temples are Not for Gays: Timothy
    17. Special Conference at the Morley Farm: One Who Watches
    18. Movies and Flies in Milkshakes: Alyssa
    19. My Mission: Jacob
    20. Walter’s Journal

  7. Acrist1210 Reply

    I liked so many of them, but after listening to the first 2 installments, I liked Travis’ the best because he managed to mix some great observations, humor, and a great singing voice.  I like the ones that can talk smack with a smile 

  8. Elder Vader Reply

    Thanks to all who submitted the listener essays.  I enjoyed listening to them.  I searched my brain for an essay to submit, but I came up with nothing.  

    I agree with John and Zilpha.  Walters journal was my favorite.  

  9. Fred W. Anson Reply

    “Mormons are far better at confessing the sins of others than their own.” 
    (from  “Thinking And Reasoning, Mikey!” by David ) 

    Unless someone can top THAT truism I think I’ve found my winner!  But I’m only about half-way into Episode B so who knows . . .

  10. Will Reply

    True Story: I cried, while listening to the “Tangled” essay, in the bathroom at work.  The analogy is so incredibly perfect.

  11. Jarrettflowers Reply

    Amen and amen!  This and the current errors in the church will continue to haunt it until reason prevails among the leadership and they realize that the church’s very survival will depend upon reform, modernization, liberalization, and tolerance.

  12. James Leverich Reply

    Matthew you are Brilliant… you have summed so articulately what has been on many of our minds for years “How can you square this stuff with the prophetic mantle.” Brother Holland “We just don’t know, in the historical context of the time, why it was practiced” I think he of course does know but is  protecting the prophetic mantle

  13. analisae Reply

    I find myself coming to the same conclusion, and, as a faithful member, I wish they would just out with it, and clarify to the membership that it doesn’t mean that these men weren’t prophets. Just that they were fallible and had agency just like everyone else.

  14. Farmdog47 Reply

    what i find really incredible is that God gets the blame. There is no real evidence of any revelation or other recorded document to set up the ban as coming from God in the first place. when the brethren meet with Him on the other side they just might have some splainin to do.

  15. Rude Dog Reply

    Nicely said.  I’ve said as much through the years.  As a missionary I sold the concept of Modern Day Prophets and Apostles as a huge advantage in keeping our church “from the errors of man”.  That’s what kills me.  The statements that “our views were no different than anyone else in America at the time” are so missing the point of the claims of the restored church as to make reason stare.  The great claims of our church is that the heavens have been opened again through the boy prophet, and that God Himself leads this church through a living line to the Prophet.  

    Joseph used to receive revelations on some of the most mundane inquiries.  Is it too much to expect, like you point out in the OP, that God would nudge us along the path that secular science finally brought us to, and that is the myth of race?  

    I’m out of the church, and will seek through my own study.  As imperfect, flawed, biased, shortsighted, ignorant, and under-educated as it is, I still think I have found a better morality than the 15 Grey Hairs in Salt Lake seem to offer.

  16. Gunnar1961 Reply

    That this is the real reason why the General Authorities cannot bring themselves to condemn their racist past has long been obvious to me.  Thank you for stating it so clearly!  If this Church really is led by divine revelation from God through living prophets, there is absolutely no credible excuse for the LDS church having lagged so far behind in the civil rights movement.  It should have been in the forefront of the struggle for civil rights and racial equality from the very beginning.  It potentially could have been, at first, as Joseph Smith did ordain at least one black man to the priesthood.  This is, perhaps, the one way in which he was morally superior to most of his successors.

    The fact alone that the LDS Church could have been so wrong for so long on a moral issue as important as this one is enough to dissuade me from seriously considering the possibility that it was ever the divinely led institution it claims to be.

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