Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Review of "Every Young Man's Battle:Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation"

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I constantly hear the warning from local and general level leadership that pornography is a bad thing, and for very understandable reasons. However, I have not yet in 6+ years of being a member heard any leader talk about masturbation, how to avoid the practice, whether or not it is always sinful, and how to break the habit, as well how pornography is linked to all of this. Most leaders simply say to avoid it, but there is no clear direction of how, and what other things besides pornography constitute sexual sin. Perhaps in future conferences these things will be addressed more in detail.

This brings me to the book I recently finished: Every Young Man's Battle: Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation. Due to what I mentioned earlier, in many respects this book was a godsend to me because it addressed head on many of the things I deal with a single man trying to live within the framework of Christian standards, even if I fail from time to time. The book showed how this is possible.

Just as a quick overview, the book is co-authored by Fred Stoeker and Stephen Arterburn, two men who go in depth about their past addictions to pornography, masturbation, and pre-marital sex. It was refreshing to have someone talk about these issues from the side of being aware of male impulses rather than someone pretending as though they don't exist, which is how this issue is normally treated in church.

One of the main principles I had realized for awhile but it remained in the back of my mind rather than at the forefront was how men receive sexual gratification through their eyes. While this seems obvious in the realm of pornography where the entire industry is built on it, it may not seem that way when a man is looking lustfully at the women who he passes each day: joggers, classmates, female church patrons, etc. I realized I do that far too much myself, and this has the potential of making women into objects rather than into humans. The book recommends bouncing your eyes, meaning not looking at certain parts of a woman and keeping eye contact at all times. I will have to implement that more in the future.

The one drawback about this book is that while it is refreshing on one hand to have Fred and Stephen talk about their pasts and how they overcame it, it can on the other hand serve as a testament that a person can do whatever they want until they get to the point they want to change, and that in the end there were no consequences for engaging in these behaviors. This book would be of more help if written from the person who didn't engage in these sorts of activities and showed it was possible to be pure without having to sink to the lowest point. This narrative was common in my pre-LDS experience, and not ironically many men in my youth group slid down the same road because they only saw where the person was now rather than what they went through in order to get there. Something to think about at any rate.

I would give this book 4 out of five stars, and recommend that those men who are single and young read it. It is easy to read and can give you more tools to fight with in your battle.

Monday, February 22, 2016

bell hooks and Beyonce

This semester at UVU, I am taking a class that at the outset I will admit I do not fundamentally understand: Philosophical Issues in Feminism. Why don't I understand it? Because we are now more than a month in, and I could not give you a concrete definition of what feminism is. As my professor Shannon Mussett has said "One of the great things about feminism is also one of it's great weaknesses; it's lack of a concrete definition." As you can imagine, that causes alot of frustration. Maybe by the time I am done with the class I will come up with one (I would not hold my breath on that).

Today in class we were privileged to watch two videos, one of feminist philosopher bell hooks, and the other of hip-hop/R&B superstar Beyonce. In the first video, bell hooks critiqued a photo of Beyonce that appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. The critique was centered in the fact that the photo was not classy; it was a clear sex appeal photo. hooks said that this sort of thing was participating in what the white patriarchal system wanted black women to do, and by participating in it Beyonce was a terrorist. Believe it or not, that was not the most controversial thing that was uttered in class today....

We followed this video up by watching  the video of Beyonce's hit song "Formation", which you can watch here. In the video, Beyonce talks (or sings) about things related to black struggle (racism, police brutality, etc), as well as showing herself in different modes; sometimes as a superstar, sometimes as a slave, sometime both at the same time or in fast sequence, to give the audience the feeling that she has come from the bottom to the top. The song ends with these lyrics "You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation
Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper." In short, she is saying the opposite of what bell hooks is arguing; namely that she can change things by using the system that is supposedly being used to subject her. More on that later.

This was not the first time I had seen the clip, and I also saw the Super Bowl when she performed the song. Both times before I left scratching my head, not because I didn't like the song or that I do not recognize that Beyonce is a very talented artist; she is one of a kind in this generation. What made me scratch my head was the fact that in 2016 blacks still think that money is the root of the civil rights movement, or that using stereotypes can advance a struggle.

So, as I listened to several observers (many who had seen the video for the first time) praise the video, I had enough. I raised my hand and endorsed the view of bell hooks, that using the tools of a master cannot tear it down, rather it will just build it up. I also uttered an epithet in my frustration, which shocked everyone, including myself (I will not repeat it here, I am ashamed to have uttered it.)

What am I getting at? Simple. The civil rights movement was not fought (and is still being fought) so that a person can be an entertainer. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not march so that Beyonce could perform in the Super Bowl. That was not the essence of the dream that he had.

The dream was that we could eventually get beyond the stereotypes, that we as a people (meaning blacks then) could become what had been considered absurd in his generation: President of the United States, a justice on the supreme court, a congressman, a professor, etc. It was to break out of the stereotype, and to make a new prototype. Sadly, while we have those things now, are these the things that are enshrined in the temples of black culture? Nope. Tell the average black person your dream is to be a professor of philosophy or law (my dream), and you will get little more than a polite smirk. Tell them that you want to record a record or catch a football, and you have to restrain them from expressing their nostalgia. Sickening.

You cannot change a culture by being  and celebrating it. You can change it only be defying it. For instance, there is a reason I never use slang or use the word "nigger" as a greeting. The stereotypes tell me that I must speak a certain way because of my skin color, or that calling a fellow human being a word has now changed from being a word that indicates that you were owned and beneath another race to one that is now a term of endearment. We cannot change the culture by popularizing the stereotype, we must rise above it and become better. This is not to say that I am against entertainment, sports or comedy; I love them all. But if I ever have children, I don't want my son or daughter to aspire to be the next Jay-Z or Beyonce. I want them aspiring to be the next Barack Obama or  Condoleezza Rice.

Beyonce maybe thinks that she has become an activist by wearing a black panther uniform. But the only thing she is doing is mocking what a movement was trying to accomplish. I am sure that if he were alive today, Huey P. Newton would have nothing but contempt for this sort of thing. I rest my case.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Know When And When Not To Trust

In a address many years ago when he was president of Brigham Young University, Jeffrey R. Holland made a gave a talk about trust, especially when it comes to fraud in the state of Utah. Too often, we trust people in this state because they happen to be LDS, or they happen to have a certain calling. Beware, then President Holland said, because looks can be deceiving. I have found this out the hard way.

I recently had to move out of the house I had been staying in due to the fact the landlord was getting married. I hadn't expected to have to move so quickly, and was desperate to find something. A friend said that he had an open spot in his apartment, and that I could take it if I just paid him the money in cash. I will admit, my intuition told me that this sounded a little too good to be true. However, since I was out of options, I agreed to take the spot.

Things were going well until yesterday, when I came home and my other roommates said that the rent had not been paid. The friend I had mentioned earlier was leaving the country, and had not paid the rent and an eviction notice was on our door. We will try to settle this in the morning, hopefully getting a new lease.

Let this be a warning to anyone: Never move into a place without reading and signing a lease yourself. Do not trust the words of anyone; they may come up void. A lease is a binding agreement and speaks much louder than words.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Review of "There is a God: How the world's most notorious atheist changed his mind"

In the Platonic dialogue know as the Republic, Socrates issues a statement that has come to be known among philosophers as the Socratic Principle; namely to follow the argument wherever it may lead. This principle at it's core is simple: be honest. If your point of view does not align with the facts, change it. If a point of view has holes in it, continue to look for answers and adjust your method. Sounds simple, but considering that if you do it you may have to renounce what has made you famous, it may not always be easy.

Enter Antony Flew, one of the leading analytic philosophers of the 20th century. For more than five decades, Flew argued that one should presuppose atheism until empirical evidence (evidence testable by the 5 senses) for a God emerges, a case he makes in books such as The Presumption of Atheism and God and Philosophy. However, Flew never was like the so called "New Atheists" of today; there was no hatred or vitriol in his works. While he fiercely defended atheism, he would often say in his books "However, I am open to the evidence." In 2004, the evidence lead him from being the world's most notorious to being a deist; a theist who believes in an all-powerful non-interventionist God.

Flew begins his book by detailing the early years of his life, stating that while he was raised by a father who was a minister, by the age of fifteen he had become an atheist, in large part due to the problem of evil. He first made a name for himself with an essay that he presented to the Socratic club at Oxford known as Theology and Falsification, wherein he argued that religious arguments must be within a frame of debate that is falsifiable if it is to be meaningful. While this essay is over 50 years old now, it is a classic in the area of philosophy of religion. As a matter of personal reflection, I recall reading it in my philosophy of religion class and as a theist I found the arguments that Flew presented reasonable and fair.

Flew then outlines the evidence that lead him to believe in a God; namely the arguments found in the complexity of DNA and in the fine-tuning teleological argument. He points out that while these arguments lead him to believe in God, they did not lead him to the belief of being a religious man and did not change his views on life after death, a view he rejected until the end of his life. However, in the closing interview of the book with N.T. Wright, he again affirmed his allegiance to the Socratic Principle; stating that he could come to believe that Christianity was true if the evidence led him there. Professor Flew passed away on April 8, 2010, so while he did not change his mind during his lifetime about life after death, he certainly knows now.

The book itself is well-written and very simple, accessible to both philosopher and non-philosopher. The arguments presented are given in a clear, concise matter and are well developed, as well as counterarguments. Through it all, you do not hear the voice of a vitriolic preacher trying to convert you; rather the calm voice of a humble man who was willing to change his mind in the face of new evidence. If there is anything a reader should take away from this book, it is what I mentioned in the opening paragraph : Be willing to follow evidence wherever it may lead, even if it means you must radically alter your own views.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Looking Back at New Year's Resolutions

It is hard to believe that today is February 2, 2016. It seems that only yesterday it was January 1, 2016 and everyone was ready to change their life into something blissful. Then January 2nd came, and everything returned to looking bleak. It is a telling point in our society that if we do not get results immediately or get the results that we want, we simply give up and wait for another year, month, or some other time to begin making resolutions and dreams into realities.

If you you subscribe to the above mentioned philosophy, I hope that after reading this post that you will unsubscribe from such nonsense. Many of the greatest achievements of mankind have taken months and years to come to fruition. Let me provide two examples. First, the United States Constitution. When the original Articles of Confederation were deemed to weak to sustain a government, a convention was called to revise the articles into something stronger. On May 14, 1787 the date came for representatives to show up and discuss amendments. However, only representatives from two states (Virginia and Pennsylvania) showed up. Eventually, the other states representatives showed up and after arguing, debating, changing, and restructuring for about 4 months, the Constitution was ratified by the delegates and sent to the states for ratification. 229 years later it still stands as the supreme law of the land.

A second example would be that of Mr. Thomas Edison, who is famously credited for inventing the light bulb and saying " I didn't fail. I just found 2,000 ways not to make a light bulb; I only needed to find one way to make it work." It took him over a year and nearly killing himself several times, but regardless of his failure at times to make it work, he did not stop until he successfully did make it work.

These two examples, and many others could be cited, give us empirical evidence that although it may take many attempts, it is often worth it to keep trying until your goal is accomplished. In the case of New Year's Resolutions, resist the urge to quit when you have a slip up. Instead, admit to it, and the next day start fresh with your plan. It may take longer than a year for your resolutions to become complete; that is perfectly fine. What is important is that you make changes so that your resolutions can become realities.

I mentioned in my first post of the year what my resolutions were, and I want to grade myself on each one. Some of them have been amended : 1. Arise at 6:30 each morning (C), 2. Limit myself to one hour of Netflix/Video Games per day unless a date is involved (C), 3. Read a book each week (now every two weeks) and write a review on Amazon and the blog (D) 4. Write a blog post weekly (A) 5. Read 12 pages of scripture per day (C) 6. Save half of my paycheck (after tithing) (A) 7. Write in my journal each day (B) 8. Go on a date each week (A) 9. Donate plasma twice per week (F) 10. Attend the temple weekly (this was not possible as my recommend had been taken for lack of tithe paying, but I now have it back. This will be graded next month.

Don't give up on yourself. If you want to make a change in your life, you can. But you have to be honest with yourself, include the help of others (including accountability), and make adjustments if some goals are not compatible with the time you have (such as my book reading.) Hope that you resolutions have a higher grade this month than they did last month, and I will revisit this topic at the beginning of each month.