Sunday, August 20, 2017

Excommunication and Female Ordination

(Artist: Eric Lacombe)

My thoughts are with Elder Hamula and his family as they process his excommunication. This has brought back painful memories and I have cried over the news. Excommunication from the LDS Church is the most serious form of discipline.

As Elder Ballard described in A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings, “Excommunicated persons are no longer members of the Church. Therefore, they are denied privileged of Church membership including wearing of the temple garments and the payment of tithes and offerings” . . . “they are not entitled to offer public prayers or give talks. They may not hold a Church position, take the sacrament, vote in the sustaining of Church officers, hold a temple recommend, or exercise the priesthood.”

It still surprises me that at the time a person needs community and the blessings of communal sacrament the most is when they are rejected and denied it. When a person is excommunicated, yet is still a believer, there are serious psychological consequences when a perceived eternal family member is removed from the family.

I know this, because I lived this. As I have mentioned before, my father was excommunicated on Easter Sunday when I was 14 years old. He was not fully reinstated into the Church until I was an adult and was already sealed to another priesthood holder, my husband. For an extended period our family did not have an ordained priesthood holder in our home; I had no brothers or close male family members that I could rely on for priesthood access. My mother, two sisters, and I learned to navigate LDS patriarchy without an ordained patriarch. There were many injuries along the way—stories that are not mine to share. However, I know what is feels like to be shunned, ignored, avoided, rejected, pitied, and patronized by my community for mistakes that had nothing to do with me.

I have written about my concerns of being a member of a patriarchal religious community herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I have written about it at Feminist Mormon Housewives, Ordain Women, Rational Faiths, and The Transfigurist. I have discussed it at A Thoughtful Faith Podcast, and the Mormon Transhumanist Association Conference. I will keep voicing this concern until this issue gets resolved. People, often women, are still unnecessarily suffering at the hands of patriarchy, especially in regard to excommunication.

It has been over 20 years since my father’s excommunication, and our family is still healing from the trauma. For me, part of that healing processes is ordaining women to the priesthood. Women cannot receive the fullness of the gospel and full participation of the LDS community without it. There is no other way. We are taught to be self-reliant, but are denied the tools to do it. We are taught we have priesthood authority, but are denied ordination. We are taught to give our time, talents, and service, but we are denied our fullest, sincerest participation. We are taught to nurture, care for, teach our children, but we are denied full participation in their priesthood ordinances.

My mother could not baptize us, confirm us members of the Church, give us blessings of healing, stand as a witness at my temple sealing, or fully participate in priesthood rituals with her six grandchildren. There is no reason why she shouldn’t be able to have the communal priesthood authority to bless the lives of her children and grandchildren. There is no reason she should have to ask another man to come into our home to bless her three daughters when she was a worthy and capable woman.

This is not about shaming anyone, airing dirty laundry, or sharing intimate details about people’s personal lives, history, or mistakes. This is meant to illustrate there is real harm in the patriarchal governance of the LDS Church, especially in relation to excommunication. The same mistakes keep happening. Women are still hurting due to the faults of patriarchal priesthood holders. Women are still denied LDS autonomy and it won’t change until we confront these issues openly, honestly, and compassionately. Change happens when a person in the community is brave enough to raise their hand and say, “Something bad is happening to me and it’s not my fault. Please, let’s fix this.” Change doesn’t happen when the community responds by saying “Put your hand down. You’re being negative, when you should have more gratitude. Your experiences and concerns aren’t worthy of consideration or can be patronizingly placated.” Change happens when people acknowledge that real people in their community are silently suffering due to inequitable policies and power imbalances. I do not think female ordination will solve all our problems with regards to excommunication, but it’s a start.

As for Elder Hamula, the details of his or anyone else’s excommunication are none of our business (unless law enforcement is necessary). Being excommunicated from the LDS Church can bring a complete sense of loss and hopelessness. I’m not being melodramatic when I say the disillusionment of eternal family sealings can bring people to absolute meaninglessness and suicide. I hope the Hamula family will find healing and comfort with one another. My heart bleeds with them, especially his family members that will suffer from this through no fault of their own. Elder Hamula and his family have a long road ahead of them, and I offer my solidarity, love, and support.

*Published at Ordain Women on Sunday August 20, 2017

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Enemy

We are culturally conditioned to be racist before we even know the word. We are culturally conditioned to be sexist regardless of gender identity. We are culturally conditioned to be heterosexist before we have a sexual identity. These ideas cannot be changed without first acknowledging we are living in a racist, sexist, heterosexist society born from the primitive shortcomings, ignorance, and hatred of our ancestors.

Racism is not a black vs. white issue.
Sexism is not a men vs. women issue.
Heterosexism is not a hetero vs. homo issue.

The enemy is not a person, nor does it have a face, other than the one you see in your reflection. The enemy is racism, sexism, and heterosexism. The enemy is unwittingly passed down from generation to generation. The enemy lurks within our minds, pervasively influencing the reality we create, and the enemy has manifested horrific acts of violence. The enemy has made drones of us.

The enemy would die one of two ways:

(1) The collective extinction of the human species.
(2) The collective transcendence of the human species.

I don't see another way out.

I believe we have the capacity to transcend our limitations, but we will be far more effective if we learn from our past and target ideas instead of people. This will be difficult because as mortal beings we can easily be killed with bombs, guns, cars, violence, or even apathy, while a hateful idea can live on like a parasite jumping from host to host. Killing a person is easier than killing the enemy. Insulting a person is easier than killing the enemy. Fearing a person is easier than killing the enemy. We must be reflective of our own faults and skeptical of our institutional affiliations. We must be cautious of the double-edged sword of identity politics. We need to be effective.

If we are going to improve our community, we must adjust our tactics. To defeat the enemy we'll need to work together, not as human vs. human, but as humans vs. hateful ideas.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Two Trees: a dream

Two trees grew on opposite sides of the meadow. Each was strong and beautiful, growing toward the same light. Their branches swayed in the wind, longing to touch the other, but the distance between them was too far, too wide. The only way for them to meet was to grow upward. Their branches would meet only if they crossed paths at the sun, their common destination. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, passed.

The two trees grew taller, but the sun would not be reached, nor would their branches touch. The intensity and heat was too great. They reached too high. The sun singed the trees’ leaves just before the trees' branches burst into flames. The trees heard the other’s cries as their bodies charred. Their roots cringed, grasping for safety, security, and hope in the meadow's soil. They burned until only blackened silhouettes remained. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, passed.

The two trees took refuge in the soil as they mourned. Fog shrouded the meadow until the trees could no longer see one another. They closed their eyes in defeat. Left with only what they could feel, the two trees took notice. Their roots met beneath the safety of the soil. Not one, two, or three times, but an entire network of roots grafted together over the years. The two trees took solace breathing in the soil together, though their branches never met. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, passed.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

My Agenda

(Photo credit: Jocelyn Gardiner)

Every now and then I am questioned about my “secret agenda” by the various communities I participate in and identify with. The truth is I do have an agenda, but it’s not a secret. I openly advocate for my agenda with honesty and authenticity.

My Feminist Agenda

My feminist agenda is to create an existence where biological sex and gender do not mandate unnecessary expectations and limitations of what a person is capable of.

I maintain the importance of feminism, because globally women have and do experience more institutional, political, economic, and physical abuse, oppression, and subjugation than men. Even though that is the case, I extend my feminist agenda beyond the needs, wants, and desires of women. 

My feminist agenda includes a future that not only recognizes our similarities, but also our unique differences. Yet, gender liberation requires equal opportunity despite these differences. While anatomical, physical, and logical limitations are present, it is my desire that we can transcend the unnecessary limitations in liberating persons from certain social constraints. While there is power and creativity to be found in constraints, there are also limitations that prevent further exploration of power and creativity.

As a Mormon, this means to see each other as God sees us, because all are alike unto God (2 Nephi 26:33), and finding prosocial ways to reconcile these differences while transcending limitations that would lead us to radical love.

My Queer Agenda

My queer agenda is to live in a world where radical love is recognized and encouraged.

My queer agenda includes, in part, the advocacy of homosexuality as a moral and prosocial option—though my queer agenda certainly isn’t limited to simply matters of homosexuality. There are also such oppressions in other queer relationships, including plural relationships.

Most opposition toward queer relationships seems to arise from a sense that it is immoral according to God, or fear of the unknown. However, according to scripture, there is no fear in love (1 John 4:18-19) and love is capable of overpowering sin (1 Peter 4:8). In fact, the pursuit to thwart informed, consensual expressions of love is among the most grievous forms of immorality.  To seek to oppress love is to oppress God. There is no God without love (1 John 4:8) when love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10) and the greatest of the commandments (Mark 12:30-33).

I suspect that those in opposition to queer or plural relationships do not see themselves as oppressing love, and would likely agree with the scripture references above. So the question at hand is can love (romantic and/or sexual) be expressed outside boundaries of heterosexual monogamy? Can people love differently and can differing practices be respected and even celebrated?

For example, I like tomatoes. Others may or may not like tomatoes. There is nothing inherently moral or immoral about liking tomatoes. Immorality would be those who don’t like tomatoes insisting that everyone must not enjoy tomatoes, or even worse, must lose the desire for tomatoes entirely. Immorality would also be those who like tomatoes insisting that those who don’t like tomatoes are immoral for not desiring tomatoes. Morality is dependent upon how we choose to reconcile diverse desires, not that we necessarily adopt each other’s values. If it helps, substitute the word “tomatoes” for “women” or your preferred gender(s).

If a person considers a certain type of relationship as sin, they should have the burden of demonstrating how and why it is harmful to the individuals and community. This would require an explanation more sophisticated than “I don’t like tomatoes, therefore you can’t like tomatoes.” You may not desire what I desire, but that doesn’t make it a sin. Likewise, I may not desire what you desire, but that doesn’t make it immoral either. Morality is how we reconcile the fact we love, value, and desire differently which is also its own form of radical love. Those who can accept and love others who love plurally and/or homosexually may also be participating in radical love.

Radical love is far broader than queer love or sexual expressions, though it includes queer love and sexual expressions. Radical love sometimes means refraining from sexual engagement. Radical love sometimes mean enjoying sexual engagement. Radical love is a pedophile seeking professional help and social involvement so they don't injure a child. Radical love is not shaming or injuring the pedophile. Radical love is a mother who gives her life for her child. Radical love is curing diseases. Radical love is forgiveness. Radical love is remorse. Radical love is resurrection. Radical love is a creation of ideas, worlds, and life. Radical love includes so much more than sex.  I think radical love is a necessary mandate for all of us and certainly is also a part of my Transhumanist agenda.

My queer agenda is one of radical compassion and love, even compersion. I want to live in a world where radical love, even queer relationships, is not discouraged, or pointed at and called “sin,” but rather recognized in all its diverse expressions.  I want to live in a world where mutual, consensual expressions of love are not simply tolerated, but celebrated. I want to live in a world where queer love isn’t perceived as a threat that needs to be stamped out or feared, but rather something we embrace as a diverse option, not mandate. I want to live in a world where the word love is used honestly and unselfishly. I suspect others also want that which requires we start trusting each other in faith, not fear, to unify us (Colossians 3:14).

While there are certainly prosocial and antisocial ways of engaging in any sexual relationship--whether they are heterosexual, homosexual, monogamous, or plural, my queer agenda is to find ways of engaging and/or disengaging in sexual relationships that promote radical love.

My Transhumanist Agenda

My Transhumanist agenda is to become a part of a radically compassionate,
super-intelligent posthumanity.

Transhumanism, broadly defined, is the ethical use of science and technology to radically improve and enhance the human condition. Transhumanism holds that we can evolve beyond our current physical, cognitive, and social limitations. Social justice and human rights issues are a part of addressing humanity’s physical, cognitive, and social limitations.

While some opponents may argue that Transhumanism is an unworthy, even oppressive cause due to the lack of universal accessibility, I would contend that the wisest approach is a joint effort to continue to develop technologies while simultaneously acting to mitigate for risks and concrete threats, such as oppression, violence, and ignorance. Social side effects of technologies should be assessed and addressed while continuing to develop better implementations. For example, not all women can afford prenatal care, but should we stop developing prenatal care? No. Instead we seek to find ways to get more women prenatal care while continuing to create better technologies.

Utopia isn’t a place that just magically appears, it’s a direction. Utopian visions may differ according to desires, but who could argue that utopian visions, even religion, have not given us hopeful trajectories? Of course we can and should do better, and that’s exactly the point. The improvement of humanity includes social justice, human rights, radical love, and compassion under its umbrella. Pioneering a better tomorrow is not about naiveté to risk—it’s about hope, faith, and trust in overcoming risk.

My Mormon Agenda

My Mormon agenda is to become Gods, that is one with God, and live with our loved ones in
celestial glory for all eternity in a state of eternal progression.

This is Mormonism and I hold it to be a worthy cause. However, for me, celestial glory is not heaven within the confines of patriarchal authority that neglects and subjugates my sex. Celestial glory is not heaven without my LGBTQ+ family and the radical expansion of love. Celestial glory is not heaven if we don’t make it happen, right here, right now, on earth (Doctrine and Covenants 88:18-20). Celestial glory is scripturally and literally of our own making as we join the Body of Christ as exemplified by Jesus.

Most LDS Mormons don’t have a problem with this agenda, until it comes to changing policy, questioning authority, or challenging dogma. However, accomplishing the primary Mormon objective mandates that we change and adapt policy. Eternal progression is not something independent of our efforts, nor is it the sole responsibility of church leaders to implement. God cannot meaningfully reveal what we would not meaningfully accept, due to agency (Moses 4:3-4). If we are racist, so are our policies, rituals, and interpretations.  If we are sexist, so are our policies, rituals, and interpretations.  If we are heterosexist, so are our policies, rituals, and interpretations. If we are insincere, so are our policies, rituals, and interpretations. God has granted us the agency to either achieve transcendence or commit our own destruction (Alma 29:4-5).

If we are members of the LDS Church, it is not simply our prerogative to change ourselves, and by extension, change policy and the Church, but it is our imperative duty if we are to accomplish the primary Mormon objective. I choose faith in the Mormon agenda which is to become Gods and live with our loved ones beyond this earthly life for all eternity in a state of eternal progression. Eternal progression, in all its forms, is indispensable to Mormon doctrine. But that won’t happen without our collective works. Faith without works is dead (James 2:20).

My Agenda

My agenda is to create the tangible manifestations of radical love.

My agendas might seem unrelated to an outside observer, but for me, they are one in the same. For many people these issues are quite literally a matter of life and death. Life comes with risk—real existential risk on both a global and individual level. I don’t want to exist in a world of eternal subjugation, oppression, ignorance, or fear where radical love is trampled upon and suffering is greeted with apathy. If that is the case, we are no longer working toward heaven, but rather hell. 

I want to compassionately work toward an existence where people can live and love freely, without the limitations of oppression, selfishness, hopelessness, and death. Any transcendent existence I want to build and be a part of includes the radical compassion of all of humankind seeking to build a better existence with reconciliation of diversification. I’m not perfect at it, but I think it’s a worthy aspiration.

*This post is a personal commentary of my own desires and objectives, and I am speaking as an individual and not as a spokesperson for the many non-profits and advocacy groups that I lead and/or affiliate with. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

You are not porn. You are the Sun.

I often hear people talk about widening the canopy of Mormonism to be more inclusive of various interpretations, orthodoxy, and orthopraxy, similar to Catholicism. I’m highly in favor of such aspirations, particularly with regard to orthopraxy.

While I stopped wearing garments three years ago, Mormonism is very much a part of my identity. My clothes might challenge orthopraxy, but my heart still bleeds orthodoxy, which is different than dogma. For me, garments were a reminder of the patriarchal oppression that I experienced in the temple. Some of the most beautiful aspects of Mormon theology are taught in the temple, like theosis, eternal sealings and priesthood power. However, all are dripping with androcentric esthetics and patriarchal policies. Temple depictions of heaven felt more like hell, so I stepped back to reassess. I think about returning to the temple from time to time and someday I might, but currently the wound is still too deep.

Since I don’t wear garments, I sometimes wear sleeveless clothing. I wear tank tops to school, I wear short shorts to go visiting teaching, and yes, I wear sleeveless dresses to church. Honestly, I don’t even notice it anymore. I wear what I like, because it’s comfortable and it makes me feel good. Most people don’t seem to mind either, or if they do they don’t overtly express it. I’ve worn sleeveless dresses while bearing my testimony of Jesus Christ and speaking at a baptism. With patience and time, most have become relatively accepting. Of course there have been a few who passive-aggressively comment on my esthetics, or glance at my legs or shoulders in disapproval, but that’s more a reflection of their issues, not mine.

I’m not going to lie, at first it was hard. The hardest part was getting over my own dogma and insecurities. First, I had to stop shaming my shoulders and stop giving unnecessary social power to others before I could persuade them to do the same. I had to accept that I could be a “good Mormon” even though that didn’t include LDS temple garments. Some aspects of orthopraxy require explicit communal sanction, but this wasn’t one of them.

A friend once offered me a good piece of advice. She said, “If you act like you belong, most people will let you belong.” She was right. I had to stop privileging their view and trust that I belonged to the community, even when my orthopraxy differed from theirs.

I’ve heard some Mormon feminists talk about having a #PornShoulders March to protest the objectification of Mormon women’s shoulders. I think this is a mistake. It will likely be perceived by certain members as a teenage girl throwing a temper tantrum because her daddy said she couldn’t leave the house dressed like that. I do not believe this is the intention, but likely the perception. This will cause those whom need to be persuaded to tighten their grip on the worldview that makes them feel safe, which includes the objectification of women’s shoulders, my shoulders, our shoulders, and even their own shoulders. They will cling to that which we wish to dispel.

It reminds me of one of Aesop’s Fables, The North Wind and the Sun:

“A dispute arose between the north wind and the sun, each claiming that she was stronger than the other.  At last they agreed to try their powers upon a traveler, to see which could soonest strip him of his cloak. The north wind had the first try; and, gathering up all her force for the attack, she came whirling furiously down upon the man and caught up his cloak as though he would wrest it from him be one single effort. But the harder she blew, the more closely the man wrapped it around himself. Then came the turn of the sun. At first she beamed gently upon the traveler, who soon unclasped his cloak and walked on with it hanging loosely about his shoulders. Then she shone forth in her full strength, and the man, before her had gone many steps, was glad to throw his cloak right off and complete his journey more lightly clad.”

We must be the Sun—calm, patient, powerful, smart, bold, unyielding, and effective.

We must protest with persuasion. Stop privileging objectification. Stop hash tagging PornSholders. Stop perpetuating a partisan narrative that disservices the cause. Instead, privilege your view—the one that says God loves and accepts you and your shoulders at church. That is how we widen the Mormon canopy.

You are not porn. You are the Sun.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Contortionist

I can stretch and bend,
put my feet behind my head.
I can smile real big,
and grow my skin thick.
Hold my breath for days.
Dress myself a million ways.
Repress a tear or two.
Laugh on cue.
Hold it together.
Cinch it tight.
Lengthen the stride.
Subdue the fight.
I can be anything for you.

but me.

I can twist my neck,
to suit your perspective.
Be your favorite fantasy.
Better than ecstasy.
Intermingled all night long,
I’ll moan you a song.
Tell you what you want to hear.
Placate your fears.
Take your pick.
I can be anything for you.

but me.

Wherever I go,
Whatever I do,
It’s up to you.
I’ll follow your rules.
How could I refuse?
Simply a toy you could enjoy
while I pretend to be coy.
Whenever you're done, toss me aside.
You can ignore that I cried. 
I'll stick to procedure.
Pretend to be eager.
Whatever you choose,
I can be anything for you.

but me.

But I’m more than machine.
I’m an actual human being,
with my own wants, thoughts and tasks.
But you wouldn’t know, you didn’t ask.
Because the truth is
you don’t know me.
You wanted the girl in a costume,
with extreme flexibility,
to absolve you of accountability,
and relinquish responsibility,
without your sensibilities,
you mock my authenticity,
without regard to my sensitivity,
with ruthless civility,
You wanted—

but me.

But the tragedy is
you could say the same to me.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

In a Dream

(Photography Art by Seb Janiak)

My closest friends know I dream. I dream a lot. 

I have dreams about fantasy worlds that don't exist, and dreams that are so closely aligned with memories that I question if they really happened. I have beautiful dreams, gruesome dreams, violent dreams, adventurous dreams, vivid dreams, abstract dreams, sexual dreams, and humorous dreams. I dream about loved ones from my past, and loved ones in the present. I dream about the future. I dream about time travel. I dream almost every night. Sometimes I write them in my journal.

Some mornings Drew will ask me, "What were you dreaming about last night? You were smiling in your sleep again." Other times I’ll wake up startled and sweating and he will ask, "Did you have another nightmare?" Sleeping in the same bed as me must be utterly exhausting. I don't know how he does it. I supposed he's gotten used to it over the years.

I had a dream I would like to share.

Women were ordained to the priesthood. It finally happened. Just prior to the public announcement, I was granted a private audience with the Q15, because in my dream why wouldn't I be granted a private audience with the men who run the Church? 

I walked into a spacious room where elderly white men sat in opulent, red velvet chairs behind an oversized dark, mahogany desk. I stood in the center of the room with a considerable distance separating me from them. I felt no need to step any closer, nor a desire to sit down. I was wearing my usual Sunday attire, while they were dressed in their usual dark suits. Some seemed happy, some seemed relieved, some seemed annoyed, and some seemed indifferent.

One of them said to me impatiently, "Well Blaire, are you happy now?"

I looked at him, a little confused of how to respond or how I even ended up in this room with them. I said, "Happy? Why would I be happy?"

Another one with a much kinder tone continued, "You're finally getting what you want, female ordination. Aren't you satisfied?"

I paused, gaining my composure before calmly answering, "No. I'm not satisfied."

Another looked confused and questioned, "Is this not what you wanted? You fought for it like you did."

I responded, "No. I care very little about my personal ordination. I suppose I'm happy for others that desire ordination, but my personal desires are almost irrelevant in this context."

Another one with an attractive accent said, "Are you still upset about our policies on homosexuality? We are planning on changing those as well. That will take more time."

I mildly chuckled and said, "I trust policy would change eventually. You've changed in the past, there's no doubt you're capable of doing it again. You change when the institution is threatened. I see how preserving the institution is of paramount importance. It's in atrophy.”

The one sitting at the center of the desk, the leader, firmly questioned, "Blaire, what do you want?"

I furrowed my brows while thoughtfully considering his question. I glanced to my left, out the elongated windows to see light breaking through dark clouds. The windows were the only source of light. Everything else seemed dim.

I smiled and turned my gaze back to the men before replying, "I don't know exactly what I want, but it's not here. To be sure, I want to be Mormon. I'll always be Mormon—it’s quite literally in my blood. I imagine I'll wear the label Mormon ‘til the day I die, hopefully longer. Mormon theology is my theology, but your institution is not my institution.

Everyone seems to be an expert on why Millennials are leaving religion. Yes, your policies and positions are outdated and unnecessarily exclusionary. Yes, it's disappointing it has taken you this long to ordain women to the priesthood. Yes, we are tired of gerontocracies. Yes, we are done being preached at from authoritarians who don’t encourage our autonomy, authenticity, and flourishing. Yes, we’re unimpressed with patronizing rhetoric. Yes, we are annoyed by literalistic interpretations of scripture that hinder the genuine pursuit of Truth. Whether or not a narrative is literal isn't where its power lies. The power lies in human potential, but you’re still in Plato’s Cave marveling at shadows on the walls unable or unwilling to remove the shackles of escapism and bask in the exposure of wonderment, curiosity, and humility. You can’t know God when you cling to the shadows that make you feel safe. God is a risk, not a security blanket.

I can't speak for other Millennials, but for me, I didn’t need the Church to be 'true' from a literal perspective. Honest, yes, but not true. We are shaping the reality of our existence through stories, narratives, ideas, art, theologies, and even dreams that inspire a belief in Godly potential. Religions are the communities that mobilize us to accomplish great acts, and God has always been the projection of human desire. The problem is you don't believe in my potential. You may say it, but you don’t encourage it. I sometimes wonder if you even believe in God. It’s clear you believe in maintaining the status quo, but God is not the status quo. What if Joseph Smith never reached out beyond the status quo? What if he had been content with the existing religions of his time? What if he let external authoritarians override personal revelation? God can only meaningfully reveal what we would meaningfully accept. You cannot put limits on God without limiting humanity, and ironically perpetuating asinine limitations on God is the sort of hubris the scriptures warned us of.

Many Millennials have lost interest in your institutions. We're moving on. If it’s any consolation it’s not entirely your fault. There is a global shift occurring bigger than you, me, the Book of Mormon, the Bible, Mormonism, Christianity, or any other religion. I'm not interested in tearing you or any other religion down—that will happen naturally if traditionally recognized religion fails to pass the gauntlet of natural selection. Even Mormonism, my beautiful home, isn’t immune. 

The failure to adapt will lead to extinction, and you're not adapting fast enough in our techno-progressive world. We’re the generation that grew up with cell phones and the internet. We fact-check you as you speak. We are part of an ever-expanding network of decentralized information and authority. You cannot control Truth. Radical technology has led to radical transparency, and it’s creating unprecedented accountability. I pray these turn of events will lead to radical compassion. However, I am only one small cell in the body of compassion, the body of Christ. I need grace, as do you.

I'm interested in the construction of something better. I’m interested in the transformation of the mind. Transforming policy is helpful, but insufficient. Gods evolve. Gods change. Even more importantly, our perceptions of God change. The death of a God will lead to the birth of a new God, a new myth, a new theology, predicated by our past. We’re storytellers and I pray the Gods made in our image might eventually lead us to Truth. I don’t know when or if that day will come, but I choose faith. Even if I am wrong and this is all a futile protest against meaninglessness, I will have died trying—facing the uncertainty of the unknown, head on without the allusion of a safety net that you so desperately cling to.

You would think I would be more upset at this moment, like a girl saying goodbye to a lover, but I'm not. I'm grateful. The institution has fulfilled the measure of its creation.  Something better is coming—a shift in cognition. This is grander than any of us. I don’t know what it is or what it will look like, but I want to be a part of it. Is this desire of my own volition, or am I a slave to my biological programming? I don’t know. I only know the reality of desire.

I imagine others will feel differently, and will continue to find value in your pews, but you’ll have to forgive me—I have found your pews wanting.

Thank you for your time. I’ll see myself out now.”

Monday, June 19, 2017

Let There Be Light

(Let There Be Light, by Blaire Ostler)

For my final term project for Philosophy of Singularity I created an original piece of art, Let There Be Light. My position as CEO at the Mormon Transhuman Association directs my attention to the intersections of religion and Transhumanism, and while the class briefly touched on religious Transhumanism, I wanted to continue that thought here.

While the two, religion and Transhumanism, may seem like an odd pairing, they are not only compatible, but complimentary. Transhumansim itself functions as a theology of sorts, with both dystopian (hell) and utopian (heaven) narratives. In fact, it is arguable that the nature of Transhumanism and the optimization for human flourishing is a more robust and thoughtful theology, predicated on traditionally recognized religion. What is post humanity, if not another projection of God? What is a Singularitarian’s dystopia, if not hell? What it is an utopian earth, if not Heaven? We tell ourselves and each other stories, and those narratives function as trajectories, ones we should embrace and work towards, or ones we should resist and mitigate.

Transhumanism is the intellectual and philosophical movement that works towards the radical improvement of humanity. The trajectory is “post humanity”—beings so far evolved from our current state they would seem like Gods in comparison. This trajectory includes the robust expansion of our intellectual capacities.

The word “light” is used in the scriptures to convey more than one meaning. In the scriptures light can mean the actually light of the sun, a symbol of life, and a representation of increased intellect.

“And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3)

“Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

“But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.” (John 3:18–21)

“That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (D&C 50:24)

“The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God” (D&C 88:13)

“Whatsoever is truth is light” (D&C 84:45)

“Let your light so shine” (Matthew 5:16)

“I, the Lord, […] will be a light unto them forever” (2 Nephi 10:14)

“I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy” (D&C 11:13)

But what does “light” have to do with Transhumanism? Well, more than you might think.

I recently read an interesting article that thoughtfully articulated the interesting relationship between AI developers, many of whom consider themselves aggressively secular, yet their language and pursuits are dripping with religious language, projections, and basic human desires. Most avid believers in AI tend to recoil at the idea of incorporating religion into their creations without recognizing they already have.

The point of illuminating the compatibility between religion and Transhumanism isn’t just some desperate attempt to hold tight to a cherished tradition and theology, or a misguided attempt to alleviate cognitive dissonance, it's about recognizing the potential of humanity as a story. Not only are we storytellers, but we're also story creators. Transhumanism is one more, or the next, story on the way to more light. Are our stories any more or less powerful because we have a more nuanced perspective? Perhaps it is through understanding our narratives more thoughtfully that we will come to appreciate and utilize them in a much more profound way, thus giving more power to our narratives, ideas, theologies, and beliefs.

Let There Be Light is a representation of all forms of light: secular, religious, intellectual, poetic, philosophical, and aesthetic. The narrative of how light is found, understood, used, and projected is open to innumerable interpretations, but light, in this sense, is at the core or our existence. It is light that gives us life. It is light that enables knowledge. It’s is light that we seek. In all things, let there be light.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Philosophy of Singularity: Week 5

For the next six weeks I will be taking a special topics course, Philosophy of Singularity. This is the fifth post in a series of five where I will share my notes, definitions, summaries, and commentary from class lectures and discussions. These posts are living documents that I may edit, adapt, and develop as I gain more insights and information throughout the semester.

Class Summary and Personal Commentary

Required Reading
Year Million, by National Geographic
Singularity Is Near, by Ray Zurzweil
The Human Connectome Project, by

After watching Year Million, featured on National Geographic, a series of questions continually arose. How will humanity know when we’ve achieved posthuman status? What are the qualities of a posthuman? How would a posthuman know they are posthuman?

A posthuman is an existence, or entity, beyond the state of being human. A being so far evolved from our current state that they would warrant a new classification. Posthumans would seem like Gods in comparison to humans, but what does that look like?

One of the things that make us human is the ability to tell stories, dream, imagine the future, fantasize, ponder the infinite, and philosophize, but all of what we do is predicated on a single undeniable fact: death. The death drive makes us human, and in some ways weak. We limit ourselves necessarily, because we don’t have enough time. It’s fundamental to our nature and existence. If we were able to achieve immortality, and by that I mean end the aging and sickening of our bodies, we’re talking about a soul-rattling reevaluation of what it means to be human. Sure you could die in a tragic accident or at the hand of violence, but the potential of immortality would be a tangible reality. This would seem like one of the defining characteristics of a posthuman society. But how would that be achieved?

There are several potential technologies being developed that could aid this trajectory. Such as nanotechnology, genetic engineering, personalized medicine, mind uploading, and cryonics. However, no matter how or if these technologies prove to be the means human achieve immortality, I can say with confidence that to defy death is an attribute of a posthuman civilization. Think about it, anything you’ve ever wanted to do, learn, or practice, would be within your grasp. Without death we would develop new skills, new ways of interacting, and new relationships. It would be the beginning of unlimited relationships, unprecedented intellectual enhancements, and immortal connections.

Critics contend without death we may not have purpose. There may be a point where prolonging life may not be worth prolonging. The concern is life will become stagnant and we may desire to die of sheer boredom. There is no doubt death gives a sense of urgency. However, we have doubled life expectancy over the last 100 years or so. Is life any more stagnant now as it was then? No. Have people stopped trying to prolonging their existence? No. Does humanity have less self-declared purpose now than before? No. We can conclude by the continuation of our species alone that humanity, despite having longer life-spans, is still interested in living. If we double the human life expectancy again, are we going to stop desiring to exist? I'm less inclined to think so. I'm betting people will still want to exist. Would this be different in 100, 200, or 300 years? It's hard to say.

I can’t speak for others. I can only speak for myself. I don’t know how much time is enough time to exist, and I can’t identify exactly what motivates me to keep living, growing, loving, and developing, but I do know that is my desire. I would like the option to determine when I am done living and not have it decided for me. Perhaps there will be a time when I’ve had enough of living and life is no longer worth prolonging, but today is not that day.

Key Technologies Defined

Nanotechnologies: are technologies with dimensions of 100 nanometers or less, on the atomic, molecular, and supramolecular scale. According to Ray Kurzweil, “Nanotechnology promises the tools to rebuild the physical world—our bodies and brains included—molecular fragment by molecular fragment, potentially atom by atom.” (Singularity is Near, 226)

Genetic Engineering: is the use of technology to change the genetic makeup of cells and organisms. “An organism that is generated through genetic engineering is considered to be genetically modified (GM) and the resulting entity is a genetically modified organism (GMO).” (Wikipedia) Basically, genetic engineering is the altering of genetic code to make us live longer, healthier, more robust lives. However, there is a risk of losing nuerodiversity in the effort to alter genetics and other cognitive functions. Such risks should be mitigated to not lose what makes us diverse individuals.

Genetic engineering will likely be the future of procreation. Most parents want the very best for their offspring. This is why parents take prenatal vitamins, vaccinate their children, lather their skin with sunscreen, send them to school for cognitive enhancements, and brush their teeth. Genetic engineering may simply be the next step in providing our children with the best chances of survival.

Personalized Medicine: is “a medical procedure that separates patients into different groups—with medical decisions, practices, interventions and/or products being tailored to the individual patient based on their predicted response or risk of disease.” (Wikipedia) With personalized medicine could come the potential to indefinitely repair and replace the effects of aging and illness, like a tune-up, but meant specifically for your biology and anatomy.

Mind Uploading: is the hypothetical process of transferring or copying a mental state, or “the self” into a non-brain computer substrate. A computer could then run a simulation which models all other functions that respond in the same ways a brain would to produce consciousness. The simulated mind would live in a virtual word. (Wikipedia)

Some contend that this could be a state of immorality and a human could live forever as a non-biological machine. Some hypothesize that we already live within a sophisticated computer simulation and function on our biological substrates. Many Futurists and Transhumanists see mind uploading as an import part of radical life extension. Such people have already begun the endeavor of mapping the human brain. The Human Connectome Project is uncovering the neural pathways of the human brain to better understand brain function and behavior. (Human Connectome Project)

Cryonics: is “the low-temperature preservation of people who cannot be sustained by contemporary medicine, with the hope that resuscitation and restoration to full health may be possible in the far future.” (Wikipedia)

The issue is it's expensive and we don’t know if it works. There would also be risks to be addressed when a person “wakes up” in an environment that is radically different than when they were preserved. Such acclimation processes would need to be developed if the technology proves to be viable. Many who chose to be cryonically preserved do so as a last resort to defy death. For example, a young girl dying of cancer recently commented, “I’m only 14 years old and I don’t want to die, but I know I am going to. I think being cryo‐preserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up, even in hundreds of years’ time.” (CNN) Who can blame her for wanting one more shot of life? Sure, it may be a pipe dream, but it’s like playing the lottery, if she wins the benefits could be huge.