America’s Greatest Mystery Novel

Once you strip away all the Book of Mormon’s pretenses of scriptural import, what you have is nothing more nor less than a lusty tale of America’s favorite subject: families and murder….

Murder and ruin are written across the breadth of Joseph Smith’s pre-American panorama, and because violence always demands an explanation or a solution, the Book of Mormon’s unexamined greatest revelation is a truly startling one: As Moroni looks at the blood-reddened land around him, and as he reviews the full reach of the history that led to this mass extinction, it is plain that the force behind all these centuries of destruction is none other than God himself. It is God who brought these wandering people to an empty land, and it is God who established the legacies that could only lead to such awful obliteration. God is the hidden architect of all the killing at the heart of America’s greatest mystery novel, the angry father who demands that countless offspring pay for his rules and honor, even at the cost of generations of endless ruin.

The single strongest instance of blasphemy in the Book of Mormon occurs when a charismatic atheist and Antichrist named Korihor stands before one of God’s judges and kings and proclaims: “Ye say that this people is a guilty and a fallen people, because of the transgressions of a parent. Behold, I say that a child is not guilty of because of its parents.”

For proclaiming such outrageous words, God strikes Korihor mute, and despite Korihor’s full-hearted repentance, God will not allow him forgiveness. Korihor is left to wander among the people of the nation, begging for mercy and support, and the people take him and stamp upon him, until he dies under their feet. –Mikal Gilmore, Shot in the Heart

You’ve never read a book quite like Shot in the Heart. Even if you’ve read The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer, which deals with some of the same subject matter, you’ve still never read a book like SitH, which is a lot shorter and far less boring than The Executioner’s Song (which I am convinced went to press without any serious editing, because it’s such a bloated mess). People admire TES because of the power of Gary Gilmore, the person at the heart of the story, not Mailer’s sloppy thousand-page account of Gary’s life, crimes, death, and notoriety.

Gary Gilmore, in case you didn’t know, murdered two young Mormon men in Utah County on subsequent nights in 1976, for no reason but meanness. He was swiftly tried for one of the murders, convicted, and sentenced to death. He then refused to appeal his death sentence, which enraged people. The most devoted supporters of the death penalty had no interest in killing someone who wanted to die, because that was no punishment; they only wanted to execute people who wanted to live. On January 17, 1977, Gilmore was shot to death at the Utah State Prison in Draper (if you’ve ever driven from Salt Lake City to Provo, you went right past it; it’s just to the west of I-15), and became the first person executed in the United States in almost a decade, after the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty in 1976.

Gilmore was in Utah because he had family there; his mother was born in Provo. Gary was never Mormon, but his mother and his younger brother Mikal both were, though Mikal went inactive as a teen–he was asked to stop attending when it became obvious just how much he loved girls and rock & roll. (Mikal wrote for Rolling Stone for years and has published a history of rock & roll entitled Night Beat: A Shadow History of Rock & Roll.) Mikal’s insider knowledge of Mormonism makes his analysis of it all the more compelling. He gets a few details wrong (for instance, misremembers some of Mormon lingo across three decades), but he really nails some things, as when he describes his Utah cousins as “prissy and mean at the same time–in the way that only well-bred Mormon children can seem.”

Shot in the Heart is both a Utah story and a uniquely Mormon book on the one hand, and, on the other, a harrowing tragedy that transcends place and religion. Like the Book of Mormon, it is about love and loyalty and devotion and murder and intergenerational violence and children punished for the sins of their parents. It’s a ghost story and a family history. It’s scriptural exegesis and true crime. It’s an elegy and a polemic about the US prison system. it’s grim and despairing–it’s really hard to be cheerful when your brother is the most notorious murderer in the country–and still somehow uplifting. It’s a work that should help inform the mission and scope of Mormon Alumni Association Books.

It was made into a crappy TV movie in the early 2000s. Skip that and just read the book, even though it’s long. It’s a heartbreaking work of staggering genius in ways Dave Eggers’ work can only hope to be.

Mithryn’s breakdown of the lawsuit against Monson. Has it got a chance?

Full text here

I’ve done some digging on the 2006 fraud act, and the 7 claims that are specifically mentioned in the brief may not hold up.

Of them, most claims (Nauvoo expositor was full of lies, Book of Abraham legitimacy, DNA and indians, etc.) were made publically before Jan 15th 2007, so they don’t apply to the law.

However, if Tom can show correspondence between himself or others and the General Authorities claiming these things, that might suffice.

Further the church can use Monson’s Alzheimers or “I cannot recall” as a defense at any time, but that might cost them.

Click on full text for legal breakdown and links.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a sociopath’s dream”

Read this deeply bizarre cover story from Psychology Today.  Entitled “Confessions of a Sociopath,” it tells the story of a female Mormon law professor with an undergraduate degree from BYU.  Here’s the most relevant part about the church:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a sociopath’s dream. Mormons believe that everyone has the potential to be godlike—I believe this includes me. Every being is capable of salvation; my actions are what matters, not my ruthless thoughts, not my nefarious motivations. Everyone is a sinner, and I never felt that I was outside this norm.

When I attended Brigham Young—where students were even more trusting than the average Mormon—there were myriad opportunities for scamming. I stole from the lost and found, saying I lost a book, but then I would take the “found” book to the bookstore and sell it. Or, I’d take an unlocked bike that sat in the same place for days. Finders, keepers.

But I am functionally a good person—I bought a house for my closest friend, I gave my brother $10,000, and I am considered a helpful professor. I love my family and friends. Yet I am not motivated or constrained by the same things that most good people are.

The essay is excerpted from a book entitled Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight by someone named M.E. Thomas, a pseudonym for someone who who started this awesome website for sociopaths and went on the Dr Phil Show to promote her book.  At that point, people had some decent clues to work with in trying to figure out who she is.

Turns out she’s probably someone named Jamie Rebecca Lund. And not only is Ms. Lund Mormon, but she was set to join the faculty at BYU law school–which church leaders are now apparently trying to undo.

We’re actually late to this party–it’s been parsed on Facebook and Mormon Discussions.  There are debates about whether she’s really a sociopath or just a narcissist–I saw comments from someone who saw her segment on Dr. Phil; apparently she kept claiming she had such and such a trait, which was a hallmark of a sociopath, and Dr. Phil kept saying, “No, it’s not.”

Anyway, it’s a funky story to begin with, and the Mormon angle just makes it too salacious to resist.




“Religious Exemption” in Sexual Orientation Nondiscrimination Law

I’ve been thinking about how a couple leaders of the LDS Church have vocalized how they wouldn’t mind the 2009 nondiscrimination laws in Salt Lake City (in housing and employment, on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity) be expanded across the state of Utah. Specifically, what they’re interested in is duplicating how those laws include “religious exemptions” that let Mormon and other religiously-owned institutions be exempt from the nondiscrimination laws altogether. The leaders don’t bring attention to this, of course — rather they just voice their support for the “balance” in the laws — but you can bet your breeches that if the exemptions were removed, the Church would not support the nondiscrimination laws whatsoever.

Not all Mormons are convinced these laws are good, regardless of the exemptions. Many Mormons continue to believe that such laws are a sign of “death by a thousand cuts” to traditional family culture. This is because it’s possible to imagine the phrase “religious exemption” as a temporary placeholder for when everyone will eventually have to follow the same law, rather than the language setting in stone a divide between “civil society” and “religious institutions.” When it comes down to it, no Utahn is a member of a religious institution and not also subject to civil society. I can understand why the dialogue hasn’t moved much in the Utah State Legislature, even as a few more individual cities have followed Salt Lake City’s lead since 2009.

There’s an angle of why the Church feels its exemptions are necessary that I think is worth examining in order to move the dialogue forward. Let’s take, for example, a teacher at BYU in a same-sex relationship. Currently, if the school finds out about the relationship, the teacher will be fired on the basis of breaking the honor code: namely, the rule that students and faculty are not supposed to have sexual relations with anyone other than a married spouse (“married” as defined by the Church must be an opposite-sex spouse). If that teacher were able to sue BYU for “discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation,” then that would open up BYU’s honor code to legal scrutiny (as it is applied to everyone, gay, straight or otherwise). Is it possible to protect people from being fired on the basis of sexual orientation/gender identity at BYU, but also not affect BYUs honor code? I can’t think of how. Still, does an individual citizen’s “right” to privacy trump a religious institution’s “right” to have knowledge of private affairs and discipline accordingly for the sake of religious assembly? Perhaps this isn’t the way the legal world would frame the issue exactly, but hopefully I’ve made the contention clear.

Recently, I asked an orthodox gay Mormon (who thinks same-sex intimacy is a “sin”) who supported the SLC nondiscrimination ordinances what is more important to him: protection in housing/employment, or preventing same-sex couples from being allowed in Mormon spaces. He told me that he would rather deal with Mormon homophobia than bring “sexual orientation law” into Mormondom. He feels such law would limit the Church’s right to discriminate on the basis having sex with someone you’re not married to. He casually added that same-sex couples are allowed at church, “everyone is allowed,” which, well…I’m slightly curious about the current cultural dynamics (that is, how my local ward would respond to a same-sex couple…though my partner isn’t interested in carrying out such an experiment with me, understandably).

Anyhow, I’m not sure how to resolve this protection and/or privacy vs assembly issue other than the exemptions that are in place. On the other hand, I’m not a fan of the exemptions because I see them as wiggle room for the Church and individuals in the Church to continue to be as homophobic as they want, and not have to be subject to the same law everyone else is.

Prop 8 update: the question of child welfare

Thirteen states have signed on as “friends-of-the-court” to assert that defining marriage is a state issue rather than a federal issue. If gay marriage comes to pass federally, they promise to break away and become colonies. (kidding.) The irony is that in order to argue for a state’s right to determine the definition of marriage, they have to outwit Judge Walker’s logic that Prop 8 violates the 14th Amendment, Equal Protection clause of the US Constitution. Basically, the age-old arguments are being pushed to their limits within a federal framework (rather than a state framework) because this is ultimately going to the US Supreme Court. I’m not sure how much life these age-old arguments have left, but some new twists have turned up that I haven’t seen before.

Here’s an example:

  • Heterosexual couples who are infertile or do not have children reinforce and exist in accord with the traditional marriage norm. This is because by upholding marriage as a social norm, childless couples encourage others to follow that norm, including couples who might otherwise have illegitimate children, and it is in children’s best interest to be in a stable household.
  • Parenting by same-sex couples is not worthy of the same protections because same-sex couples can only become biological parents by deliberately choosing to do so; thus, without the same potential for unintended children, the state does not necessarily have the same need to provide such parents with the incentives of marriage.
  • If over time society concludes that the children of same-sex couples would do better if some incentive existed for such couples to remain together, then states can address that need.

So, the argument is that the state is interested in producing children, society is interested in children having stable homes (and a married coupledom is such an incentivized home), but same-sex parented homes are seemingly stable enough that marriage for them is unnecessary at this time. I don’t think this makes much sense, unless you deem same-sex parented homes as “lesser than” opposite-sex parented homes.

The way I see it, it’s a question of which comes first: The state’s desire to produce children, or society’s desire to care for children? Here in Washington State where same-sex adoption is legal, there is a campaign to get gay couples to adopt because these couples generally tend to have disposable incomes. This campaign exists because there is an abundance of uncared-for children. It is briefly suggested by the “friends-of the-court” that the welfare policies of the 1960s weakened the incentive to marry (since a single mother would be supported by the government), and there is a subtle suggestion that adoptions by same-sex couples are a band-aid to the problem of child welfare; the “ideal” is supporting marriage as is and limiting government welfare. The “friends-of-the-court” admit that gay couples are great at family planning, but are nonetheless averse to incentivizing their families. Why? Again, I think it’s because of a “lesser than” stance. They repeatedly state that Prop 8 wasn’t about “animus toward gay people,” but obviously what is at work here is an animus toward homosexuality. Because they can’t say “love the sinner, hate the sin” (due to the separation of church and state), they instead take a scenic route through heteroville.

Some of the language of the document sounds like it could have come directly from Mormon leaders. Consider this:

In brief, the State may rationally reserve marriage to one man and one woman because this relationship alone provides for both intimacy and complementarity, while also enabling the married persons in the ideal to beget children who have a natural and legal relationship to each parent, who serve as role models of both sexes for their children.

How can they not realize that this language is homophobic? Are same-sex relationships devoid of intimacy and complementarity? What does it mean to be a “role model” of both sexes? Because I have a penis, I am A, B and C? Personally, most of my role models are women. Does that make me “gender dysphoric?” Good grief.

The next set of arguments has to do with the idea that if marriage isn’t about procreation, then it can’t be about anything, because “commitment” as a definition leads to incest, polygamy, etc, so the government might as well get out of the marriage business altogether. Walker had stated that marriage is about “1) facilitating governance and public order by organizing individuals into cohesive family units; 2) developing a realm of liberty, intimacy, and free decision-making by spouses; 3) creating stable households; 4) legitimating children; 5) assigning individuals to care for one another; and 6) facilitating property ownership” and that a gender distinction is not important. The opponents of Walker argue that if there’s no gender distinction, then the government “must necessarily be served even more by expanding marriage to any group.” Same-sex marriage is deemed the limit here, they say, only because of a “desire for social recognition and validation of same-sex sexual love and relationships,” a desire for validation that could apply to any other group. Being “gay” is not a suspect class and they have judicial precedent to prove it.

Unfortunately, I can see why gay rights groups were frustrated about taking this through the legal system right now, because I can see how the odds are stacked up against gay marriage in the form of endless rhetoric.

Judge Walker’s Prop 8 ruling: Evidence shows that a gender restriction on marriage is “nothing more than an artifact of a foregone notion that men and women fulfill different roles in civic life”

This is the first (of six) of Walker’s dismissals of Prop 8 supporters’ claims. The first claim was that “tradition” is enough to maintain marriage as between a man and woman. Walker states that previous court rulings indicate that an “ancient lineage of a classification” does not make a classification timelessly rational. “The state must have an interest apart from the fact of the tradition itself”; the tradition of opposite-gender marriage is rooted in a history of mandated gender roles, which are no longer legal. Continue reading “Judge Walker’s Prop 8 ruling: Evidence shows that a gender restriction on marriage is “nothing more than an artifact of a foregone notion that men and women fulfill different roles in civic life””

BYU Law Professor explains why Prop 8 was an unfortunate example of Mormon fundamentalism

Frederick Mark Gedicks
Brigham Young University – J. Reuben Clark Law School
William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 18, pp. 901-914, 2010
God of Our Fathers, Gods for Ourselves: Fundamentalism and Postmodern Belief:

” … there is also an ethical reason for wariness. One should pause at imposing absolute truth on those to whom the validity of that truth cannot be demonstrated unless they already believe it — indeed, absolute truth whose universality or validity may sometimes be in question even among those who claim to believe it. As Learned Hand once famously declared, “The spirit of liberty is the spirit that is not too sure that it is right.” This is the best safeguard of religious freedom in a pluralist democracy, a constant and present and humble reticence at imposing one’s own truth as the truth for all.”

h/t Times & Seasons Notes from All Over
Continue reading “BYU Law Professor explains why Prop 8 was an unfortunate example of Mormon fundamentalism”