Monday, November 29, 2010

"...well they were acting as men."

In 1983 I worked on the Pioneer Theatre Company's production of Amadeus. One of my favorite parts of this show was when Salieri realizes that his life dedicated to religion and the celebration of god through his music did not earn him the position of god's favorite composer.  Instead that honor went to Mozart.
"I was suddenly frightened.  It seemed to me that I heard the voice of God–and that it issued from a creature whose own voice I had also heard–and it was the voice of an obscene child."~ Peter Schaefer's Amadeus.
But Mozart was not really god's instrument he was a man like any other with a gift or a natural born and cultivated talent.  To Salieri the fact that his flawed man was so talented was a slap in the face and cause for a declaration for war against god and a quest to silence his instrument.

I was reminded of this story as I read the Salt Lake Tribunes article on Ezra Taft Benson.  The article pointed out how one of the LDS church's more colorful figures was deeply flawed.  For those of us who are now on the outside this was no surprise.  His follies have been documented his grandson and it is well known that he is the one character in Utah that is responsible for our single party system of government.

Benson was not the first colorfully flawed religious leader where there was a belief that his position/authority/talents were god given.  In LDS lore there are the characters of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.  Smith was a know treasure hunter, philanderer/polyandrous man who criminally destroyed a printing press and started a couple of rebellions and then died in a shoot out while attempting to escape from jail.  Young was a racist polygamist with a thirst for blood atonement who is credited with the orders/environment  that resulted in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  

It is not just LDS leaders who are flawed and leave as their legacy scandals.  The Catholic Church has a rich history of scandals which include the Spanish Inquisition, incest, and organized crime.  The Evangelicals have Ted HaggardJim BakkerJimmy Swaggart, Robert Tilton, and Kent Hovind.  The list includes extra marital affairs, tax evasion, homosexual relationships and fraud.

If you ask the faithful they will excuse the behavior of these supposed men of god.  The will say when they are doing good in the world it was inspired of god.  What about their less inspiring moments?  Well... they were not acting as prophets or men of god.  They were acting as men.

Which is exactly my point.  In each case these supposed men of god rose to power by making claims they could not prove.  They maintained power through manipulation and either lost power through scandal or their fraud became apparent after their death.  It takes incredible mental gymnastics to engage in the cognitive dissonance that is required to follow these leaders or to believe their works are inspired once you know how flawed they are in character.  Yet the faithful write checks, invest time and energy and bet their salvation on the word of men.  Even if that man is "the voice of an obscene child."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Capitalists not Atheist are Ruining Christmas

I found this interesting and it first came to my attention while I was watching the morning news yesterday.  The Fox 13 Utah news commentator opened the story by saying... "Meanwhile Atheist are Trying to Ruin Christmas."  Atheists cannot be held responsible for the ruining of Christmas.  This was already done by 3am openings at WalMart and our American Lust for stuff at the expense of our own financial health.

As an LDS kid growing up there was a certain magic about the holidays.  As an atheist adult there is little joy in the financial and social expectations of the season.

I don't believe in the Myth of Christ and the season holds no special spiritual significance.  As a young parent there was still some magic but as my kids get older and it is apparent they have more than everything they need the shopping portion of the Holiday has become a burden.

Not only do I support the billboard but I think it is time eliminate the government observance of this holiday and the tacit support of the religious buy fest that goes along with it.  Open the government, post offices and banks on the 25th of December.  Unless it falls on a Saturday or Sunday.  The religious will support and celebrate their holiday regardless.  However the artificial economy that is built around this religious holiday is a wink and a nod to Christianity and the myths surround its inception.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thank You for 24 Beautiful Years

24 years ago I married my high school sweet heart.  We were expecting our first of five children.  We were young, naive, and thought we loved each other.  We have been through hardships and good times and experienced personal growth that has sometimes been painful.  There has always been one constant... we've had each other.

I look forward to each day that I spend with her.  While I don't believe there is only one love for each person and that we have an eternal commitment I find the commitment I have made to her to be very rewarding and one that I am satisfied with.  It is in part because of her that I am the man I am today and with her I will be an even better man tomorrow and next year.  Thank you Lisa for a lovely 24 years and it is with optimism that I look forward to 24 more.  As long as you'll have me I am yours!   

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Not a War on Christmas... but a war anyway!

The Holiday Season is rocketing toward us again.  American's are going to spend billions on holiday decor, food, electronics, and toys.  I like somethings about the holiday season.  I like to decorate my house.  I love to cook for and to entertain family and friends for the holidays.  But I hate the financial pressure that we feel during the holiday season.

I have had a couple of friends post a video speculating on what Jesus would buy for Christmas in a call to take commercialism out of the Christmas Holiday.  I suggest we take it one step further and take business to task during the Christmas season.  There is no reason to support the capitalists if they are not going to care for the American Consumer, their employees, and the country we all live in.

In the 1950's Americans worked for employers who would offer generous benefit and retirement packages.  They offered education benefits to workers and their families.  In short the American companies invested in their workers and their country and as a result those same companies enjoyed a productive work force that put the US economy at the top.  There is a reality that this golden age of the American economy came in part from pressure put on employers by labor unions but we had a healthy middle class.

In the early 1980's Reagan "busted" the unions and American's have had to work more hours to maintain the same comparative quality of life.  Fast forward to 2010 and the middle class is disappearing.  Jobs are being outsourced to third world countries and employees have smaller benefit packages while the companies profits are being posted at record rates.

So back to the holidays.  Every year we engage in a tradition of shopping till we drop.  Many of us spend money we don't have to subsidize this ideal that it is better to give than to receive.  Every year we hear of those needy children who without our help won't enjoy a Christmas.  The money comes out of our bank accounts and into the accounts of corporations who treat their employees like chattel.

So here is my suggestion.  Find a new holiday tradition that does not require money and if it does spend it on something you couldn't do without anyway... like a meal a week that is special for each member of the family. Find an opportunity to host extended family and share a meal.  Say no to Christmas gifts you can't afford and make those types of purchases through out the year as your resources allow.  Thin out your closets and make donations to local charities if not in money with your time and energy.  Tell you children that the 25th of December entitlement is an illusion and there are ways enjoy the rich traditions of Christmas without it being about gifts and transferring money from our accounts to the corporate accounts.  We need to learn to do what the large US corporations have done during this last recession and hoard our resources.  If you can meet the needs of your family.... look for a charity to support.  Instead of spending money save it for opportunities to better your or your family's existence.  Put you money in to a tax deferred college savings plan.

This is not my atheist war on Christmas... it is my war on capitalism!  Now if I can just convince my wife....

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Matthew Jewkes 

February 20, 1969 ~  November 5, 2010

I have worked in government for 25 years and and a little over 80% of that time has been in law enforcement.  During my time as a state employee I have met and worked with hundreds of people.  Few leave a lasting impression and even fewer get into my heart.  Today I learned that my friend Matt Jewkes died on Nov. 5th.  He was one of those who made it into my heart.

I met Matt in 1998 when I was assigned to the Salt Lake Area Gang Project as a Metro Gang Detective.  Matt was one of those guys who was easy to get to know.  He had an affinity for talking your ear off but was such a genuine and caring person you would look forward to it.  We would rotate partners in the gang unit and I personally loved riding with Matt.  We got into a few situations together but for the most part our duty was an exercise in surviving the tedium of a 10 shift especially when the weather was cold and it was 2:00 am.

This is what I learned about Matt.  He had been married twice to the same woman.  The first time he married her in the LDS temple.  They divorced and remarried a little while later.  Matt declined to remarry in the temple because for some reason the whole religion thing was not for him.  Yet he believed there was something out there.

A couple of years before Matt went to the gang unit he responded to a Taco Bell robbery.  He confronted the bad guy as he came out and during a scuffle the bad guy took Matt's gun.  Matt was knocked to the ground and the bad guy pointed the gun and pulled the trigger.  For some reason it failed to fire and Matt believed there was some kind of guardian angel or divine intervention that kept him from dying.  He did not know what form it took or if any religion had it right but he thought is was unexplainable and worthy of pondering.

Matt loved his son Mason with every inch of his being.  When he divorced his wife the second time because she had become addicted to pain killers and had resorted to stealing them and forging prescriptions he took custody of Mason and was very concerned that Mason grow up in healthy environment and really looked to his parents as examples.

Based upon some of our conversations the divorce and the Taco Bell incident changed Matt considerably.  He realized how mortal he was and how tentative his happiness was.  Matt had always wanted to be a police officer and he found that he knew nothing else but it seemed to be eating him from the inside out.  He had a big heart and always seemed to have plenty to share with others but he also had a way of feeling the pain other's felt and would frequently tell me ".... I don't know Kevman." , as he tried to make sense of it.  I watched Matt as we would wade through the dark culture of gangs and crime desperately try to make it make sense.  He was troubled by the human casualties we dealt with on a daily basis.  Those casualties included teens who seemed to be throwing their lives away, kids who lived in filth and young men with potential who didn't know what to do with.  Matt would respond to all of this outwardly like many cops do but not very convincingly.

Matt loved the rock Group Kiss especially but also the entire heavy metal genre.  He burned several disks for me.  Some of which I threw out a couple of weeks ago because it was not my kind of music and I hadn't listened to them in 10 years.

Matt was afraid of dogs.  I really could appreciate this because I had a certain fear of them as well.  That's what made his application to and acceptance in the K-9 unit brow raising.  He applied himself to that assignment and worked hard.  He eventually overcame his fear of dogs.  My kids loved when he brought his K-9 Tyger over.

Matt dated several women and married one and divorced her soon after.  He seemed to always weigh those relationships based upon his need provided a positive environment for Mason and whether they met his mother's approval.  He did not settle on one long term but he remained friends with most after they stopped dating.

Matt admitted to me that he had been struggling with depression and things did not seem to be getting better.  He had sought a counselor and started medication.  The law enforcement community is fairly close but on a special unit like the gang unit you are a bunch of 5th grade school buddies who get in to mischief together and tease each other.  There was a stigma and still is to some degree about admitting a flaw like suffering from depression and taking medication to control it.  Matt was sensitive to that.

We both left the gang unit in 2001 right after 9-11.  Matt and I kept in touch for the first couple of years after leaving but as people often do we drifted apart.  A little while ago his first wife Mindy died and it was believed it was the result of her drug addiction.  I found the obituary in the paper.  I called Matt and he apologized, "I guess I should have called ya Kevman."  He was struggling to make sense of it all.  He was very concerned about how Mason would adapt.  I spoke to Matt one other time after that.  He was in a conflict with the school district over a recent incident with Mason in school.

Kiss was here in concert this last summer.  I thought I should call Matt then and see if he was going and more importantly to have him over for dinner.  I got busy and as it often happens I didn't make the call.  I have thought of Matt a couple of other times and as recently as of a couple of weeks ago I thought about inviting him over for dinner... but alas I didn't.

I didn't realize things had gotten that bad for him.  I will really miss Matt.  I loved him like a brother and he was one of my favorite people.  He will be missed.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Facts Don't Hurt.... Dogma Does-The Continuing Same Sex Debate

I am not known for keeping my opinions tight to the vest and this post will be no exception.  Today the Salt Lake Tribune published an article which included a poll on whether Utahns believed same sex attraction could be changed.  Sadly but not surprising 44% believe same sex attraction can be changed.   This poll reflects the conservative nature of Utah.  One might say 'nothing to see here... move on.'  However when broken down by political party and religious affiliation and set against the backdrop of the recent Boyd K. Packer speech at the LDS General Conference all of the noise that has gone on as a result and it becomes concerning.

Okay Curmudgeon this is old news what is the big deal?  The big deal is that in Utah, and nationally where there is a conservative religious base we continue to ignore what science has provided in the form of evidence.  Study after study has shown that there is a genetic component to homosexuality yet we keep hearing statements like 'I don't believe that.'  Dammit! it is not like the mythological god you cling to..... there is evidence that shows there  is a genetic component.  'Science changes it's mind all the time.'  Yes it does and that is the beauty of science.  When the facts and figures do not bear out science re-examines it positions and based upon the truth born out by the evidence the position may change.  However religion is generally not guilty of the same introspection.

So as the result of religious dogma that has in most cases been disproved we make judgments regarding someones worth.  This today is tantamount to throwing women into a lake to see if they float to determine if they are witches.

“The attractions don’t change,” said Lisa Diamond, a psychology professor and sexuality researcher at the University of Utah. “It is disheartening to me that there is such a discrepancy between what is not even an issue anymore in the scientific community and this obvious ambiguity in public opinion.”
Last year, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution warning mental health professionals not to tell clients they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments. No solid evidence exists that such efforts work, the APA said after an extensive research review. And some studies suggest a potential for harm, including depression and suicidal tendencies.
Yet we continue to insist that through prayer, electroshock therapy, reparitive therapy, medication, and self deprivation that they can overcome same sex attraction. The reality is they cannot nor can they live a full and satisfying life.  I thought this quote from the article was revealing:
But therapy can help people change their attitudes about their same-sex attractions or their behaviors, Diamond said.
I also think the person who can benefit from a little therapy is the pious.  It is not the GLBT person who really needs to change their attitudes it is the 61% of conservatives who believe it is a choice that need to get some treatment and 55% of self identified Mormons who are backward on this belief.
“When people don’t accept the science, then there’s a perpetuation of a mythology that is unfortunate because it leads to discriminatory personal attitudes and it leads to justification for social inequality,” said Bill Bradshaw, a molecular biologist and professor emeritus at Brigham Young University.
A vast number of scientific studies in biology, biochemistry and neuroscience, he said, indicate that sexual orientation is biologically “programmed” in human beings.
“I’m convinced by these data that homosexuality is inborn. It is innate,” said Bradshaw, a former LDS mission president and co-chairman of Family Fellowship, a support group for LDS parents of gay children. “It’s true that there are those who dispute that conclusion. I think it’s fair to say that, in the LDS community, the sentiment for a long time has been that gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender persons should make an effort to change.”
The reason this is and continues to be an issue for me is because of attitudes that are exposed in the following YouTube video.  While I generally agree with the way the poster exposes quotes from the LDS General Authorities I also feel that he was too abrasive at the end of the video and as a result may turn people off.

As long as we use a spiritual hammer and tell our children that they are immoral and better off dead the number of teen suicides in Utah will continue to be disproportionately high.  The problem lies in the dogma of piety not the truth that same gender attraction is normal and no less beautiful than heterosexual attraction.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sometimes a New Adventure!

A little more than two years ago I helped co-found a production company that produces community theatre productions in South Jordan, Utah.  I have either built or designed and built 11 consecutive sets and technical directed every show.  For me this has been a dream come true.  I interrupted my college education to work and to raise a family.  I attended the University of Utah as a production and design major and had dreams of making theatre a full time career.  25 years later I made a career out of law enforcement.... how did that happen?

The other co-founder of our production company is a jr. high school theatre teacher at a local charter school.  She left for a two week vacation and needed a substitute teacher for her crew class.  So today I took a half day off and taught her technical theatre class.  Today's lesson was on set modeling.  I spent a couple of hours over the last couple of days putting together materials for the lesson and was very excited to share with 13 and 14 year-olds the process that I go through to design a set.  Many of them have seen my sets and had a point of reference for the discussion.   Over the next 6 periods we will build models based upon their concepts for the production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  

I was kind of struck by the fact that several of the kids seemed to be less excited about the subject matter and seemed to be just taking up space.  It is my challenge to get them all excited about this unit and to find the designer inside.  

As a whole the class was successful and I am looking forward to teaching again.