February 17th, 2014

Consequences of a Refusal to Recognize Our Creator

Can an ungodly society be a free society?

This question has kept busy both philosophers and pastors for ages. Whether the bondage of sin correlates to, or causes, the bondage of statism is a subject of significant importance. How necessary, really, is a belief in God?

Of course, a belief in God is rather irrelevant without corresponding behavior; actionable belief, or in other words faith in God, is what’s important. Too often faith is treated with tunnel vision, whereby people only consider its influence on their individual lives. But just as faith can move mountains, it can shape societies—and a lack of it can likewise leave a noticeable imprint.

It takes effort not to notice the many stains on society that surround us—news reports overwhelm us constantly with tales of government corruption, societal scandal, depravity, or corporate malfeasance. In systematic fashion, people use their rights in an irresponsible way or have them violated by others acting wrongfully. All of this stems from a rejection of our Creator.

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February 10th, 2014

Anti-discrimination proposal violates property rights

The following op-ed was published in the Deseret News.

According to a unanimous decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court, the suppression of one’s moral convictions and the denial of one’s property rights has become the “price of citizenship.” The court’s opinion stemmed from a lawsuit against a photography studio whose owners declined to offer their services to a homosexual couple. Citing their religious convictions as a basis for their choice, they were soon faced with a legal battle over their discriminatory decision.

This is part of a larger trend nationwide. A Vermont country inn was fined $30,000 because one of its employees turned away a gay couple seeking to hold their wedding reception at the facility based on the owner’s religious convictions. In Colorado, a judgeupheld a gay couple’s lawsuit against a bakery for not offering them a wedding cake. A florist in Washington was likewise sued for her refusal to offer her services in support of a same-sex ceremony. We can expect more legal battles along these lines in the future, including here in Utah.

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January 5th, 2014

The Gamification of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

When game designers began to leverage the networking potential of the internet to connect players together, a new layer of interaction emerged that has become a standard feature of today’s video games. Through direct competition, players were incentivized to improve themselves and achieve victory over others and were given rewards for doing so. Earning badges, ranking high on leaderboards, and acquiring skill points or other character improvements entice players to dedicate themselves to the game.

Game designers and other cultural thinkers have recognized the benefits that might come from applying these game mechanics to other things. In one of the most popular presentations on this concept of gamification, Carnegie Mellon University professor Jesse Schell illustrated the degree to which this incentive system can permeate our personal behavior.

There are numerous positive benefits gamification can bring to behavior modification—encouraging us to improve our hygiene habits, diet, exercise, study, etc. At its core, gamification is merely the encouragement of (and reward for) the completion of small tasks, each of which lead the person to the fulfillment of a larger goal. In a game, it might be the completion of a level; in real life, it might be going six months without a cavity.

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December 21st, 2013

When Judges Overturn the Will of the People

In the past week Utahns have produced a cacophony of emotions, with elation on one side and wailing and gnashing of teeth on the other. This rollercoaster of reaction was sparked by a pair of opinions issued from federal judges in Utah relating to marriage. In response to both, many critics have cried out that the judges overturned, and thus violated, the will of the people of Utah.

Let’s see if this is true.

The first ruling, Brown v. Buhman, was issued last week by Judge Waddoups in response to a lawsuit over Utah’s bigamy statute. While most bigamy statutes around the country aim to prevent fraud by prohibiting a person from marrying more than one spouse, Utah’s goes a step further by banning cohabitation with a person other than one’s spouse. This clause was introduced specifically to target polygamists, and was declared unconstitutional by the judge. Asked for comment on the ruling, Utah Governor Gary Herbert summarized a popular criticism of the ruling in saying:

I’m always a little concerned when we have decisions that change public policy by the courts. I’d much rather see decisions on social issues come from our Legislature representing the will of the people.

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December 12th, 2013

Selling Our Birthright For a Mess of Pottage

The following is an op-ed I had published in today’s Standard Examiner.

If you remember your Bible stories, you’ll recall Esau and Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac and grandsons of Abraham. By being born first, Esau was the legal heir to the birthright, set to preside over the family and receive a double inheritance from his father. Surprisingly, he exchanged this prized status for a mess of pottage—giving up something profoundly important to satisfy a momentary desire.

Of course, the fulfillment of a fleeting need for food was temporary, and Esau would once again be hungry at a later time. Perhaps for this reason—by abandoning his birthright in favor of something so ephemeral—we read that Esau “despised his birthright,” obviously placing little value on it.

Many politicians follow in Esau’s footsteps.

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December 10th, 2013

What the New Statement on Blacks and the Priesthood Means to Me

You’ve heard about it by now, I’m sure—the LDS Church’s new explanation on the previous ban that existed for African members of the church preventing them from holding the priesthood and participating in certain ordinances in the temple. Though not accompanied by the signature of any general authority, nor being read in general conference or over the pulpit, the commentary (expounding on a previous statement) nevertheless has the gravitas of an official statement by being published on the church’s website under its “Gospel Topics” study section. It is meant to clarify history and contextualize a controversy.

A couple things stand out to me in this article. While noting the church’s embrace of “the universal human family” and that God is “no respecter of persons,” regardless of their race, the text explains that the church’s establishment in 1830 came “during an era of great racial division in the United States.” This repugnant reality “influenced all aspects of people’s lives, including their religion.”

“People” includes, of course, members and leaders of the fledgling church. While Joseph Smith supported abolition and ordained black men to the priesthood, other “Mormons” both then and since did let the color of one’s skin affect their religious views and actions.

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November 24th, 2013

On Appealing to Authority

In any debate, it is common to encounter a logical fallacy—an error in reasoning that weakens, if not negates, the individual’s argument. There are many of them, and knowing what they are and how to avoid them can help to strengthen a person’s ability to engage in discussion on any topic.

One such logical fallacy is the appeal to authority, when somebody claims that because a certain authoritative figure has stated that X is true, it therefore follows (without question) that X is true. This claim sidesteps logical analysis of X, instead concluding with certainty that it must be true because it has been affirmed by somebody who claims to know about it. John Locke described it this way: “When men are established in any kind of dignity, it is thought a breach of modesty for others to derogate any way from it, and question the authority of men who are in possession of it.”

In religious discussion, critics often cite this logical fallacy as a reason why Christians—and more particularly Mormons, with their belief in modern-day prophets—are errant for believing things merely because some authority figure has spoken them. Especially in social media discussions, such critics will respond to any scripture or prophetic statement with a dismissive “appeal to authority!” comment, indicating their supposed logical superiority.

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November 17th, 2013

How to Defeat the Utah Data Center

The following is an op-ed I had published in this weekend’s Salt Lake Tribune.

“Concealed within his fortress, the lord of Mordor sees all. His gaze pierces cloud, shadow, earth, and flesh.” —Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Like the eye of Sauron, the NSA’s new facility in Utah overlooks hundreds of thousands of people in the valley below. Perched on a mountainside fortress of concrete and barricades, the one million square foot complex exists solely to allow the NSA to “see all.”

In the wake of the Snowden leaks and widespread concern with the pervasive surveillance activities of the federal government, many Americans have been wondering how to fight back. Can an effective opposition even be mounted against the power of the NSA? What can be done to restore privacy and protect our rights?

The strategy to succeed is quite simple. When fully operational, the NSA facility is expected to require a staggering 1.7 million gallons of water every day to cool down the computers harvesting information on people worldwide. That water is supplied by Bluffdale City. Without it, the facility cannot function.

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November 15th, 2013

The Misguided Movement to Restrict Internet Porn

A new citizen petition on the White House website asks the Obama administration to “require porn to be an ‘opt in’ feature with Internet Service Providers rather than a standard feature.” In an effort to collect enough signatures, proponents of this request are heavily promoting it on email lists and social media. Their efforts are misguided and in fact dangerous.

As a person whose livelihood requires using the internet on a regular basis, I have, like many others, encountered content I find objectionable without my actively looking for it. This is the basis of the petition’s request: people who want pornography should be allowed to opt in and get it, but the rest of us—and especially our children—should not have to stumble upon it accidentally, subjecting ourselves to images that cannot be forgotten, and whose effect can be psychologically and spiritually detrimental.

As a parent, I can sympathize with this desire. I, too, want to protect my children. I, too, want to shield them from illicit images and degrading content. I want the same results that the petition’s proponents want, and yet cannot in any way support their methods of pursuing those results. Let’s look at a few reasons why.

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October 24th, 2013

The Peril of Pre-Existing Conditions

In a case study highlighting how off course many Republicans have become from their professed ideals of free enterprise, limited government, and low taxes, the former spokeswoman for the Utah Governor, Angie Welling, recently railed against Mike Lee for his efforts to obstruct “Obamacare.”

Welling, a Republican, writes that her mother, a 16-year breast cancer survivor, is “uninsured and uninsurable.” Her cancer constitutes a pre-existing condition that “prevents her from obtaining health insurance.”

Today, God willing, Mom will sign up for health insurance on the federal health exchange. She will finally have coverage. That is, if you and your group of obstructionist legislators don’t ultimately get your way. You and your ilk are acting like schoolyard bullies – stomping your feet and making threats to upend the entire country if you don’t get what you want.

The debate over pre-existing conditions has been passionate and exhaustive. Those with a medical condition, past or current, feel slighted by insurance companies who refuse to provide them coverage. They largely consider medical coverage as a basic human right being denied them by greedy corporations, and therefore see their circumstance as unjust. Such persons—along with their family members and friends who are sympathetic to their situation—petition the government to intercede on their behalf, thereby compelling insurance companies to take customers that they otherwise would choose not to assist.

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October 21st, 2013

Should Libertarians Support War to Defend the Defenseless?

Libertarians apply the non-aggression principle to both interpersonal and geopolitical conflicts. This means that self-defense is justified against a threat of any size, whether it be from an individual or an entire army. Put simply, we are morally justified in employing violence only to deter an attack.

Of course, not all wars involved groups of people with similar size, skill, and supplies. Those being attacked are, in many cases, ill-equipped and largely defenseless, leading to outright slaughter, and in some scenarios, borderline genocide. Many libertarians struggle to reconcile their political philosophy with this very real circumstance. It’s a question we must all ponder: is war justified when it’s being done in defense of a defenseless, victimized third party?

A strict interpretation of just war theory and the non-aggression principle would lead most people to conclude that the answer is no. My answer is a qualified yes.

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October 11th, 2013

No Caucus Means Flyover Counties

The following is an op-ed I had published in today’s Deseret News.

For years, former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt led a failed effort to create a presidential primary in the West, hoping to remedy the longstanding concern that Utah and other surrounding states are “fly-over states,” meaning that candidates don’t spend much time or attention here. Now, Leavitt and his like-minded associates are promoting an effort to create this same problem in Utah.

The “Count My Vote” initiative—a proposal to dismantle Utah’s hybrid caucus/convention and primary system and move to primaries alone—would disenfranchise rural counties with sparse populations around the state, thus creating “fly-over counties” that would fail to attract candidates for state-wide office during a primary or general election.

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