Religious and Romantic Need

April 30, 2005

The Book of Mormon is a tangible fruit of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is a truly remarkable record and testament of Jesus Christ. Indeed, as President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints observed recently, “The central purpose of the Book of Mormon is its testament of Jesus Christ. Of more than 6,000 verses in the Book of Mormon, far more than half refer directly to Him.

The Book of Mormon is primarily a religious text, which contains (and has preserved through nearly 1500 years of Apostacy by virtue of being buried in the ground until the 1820s) essential Christian doctrines. As such, it is a miracle–a “marvelous work and a wonder.” At the recent General Conference, President Hinckley repeated a sentiment that I believe he has said before and that I myself have also contemplated:

This sacred book, which came forth as a revelation of the Almighty, is indeed another testament of the divinity of our Lord.

I would think that the whole Christian world would reach out and welcome it and embrace it as a vibrant testimony. It represents another great and basic contribution which came as a revelation to the Prophet.

Unfortunately, “the whole Christian world” does not welcome and embrace this further testament of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I suspect that it is not based on the content of the book, since surely the vast majority of those Christians who reject it wholesale have certainly never read it. Certainly, however, many find it too difficult to believe that God the Father and Jesus Christ would appear to a boy and call him to be a prophet to restore truths that had gone missing from true religion.

But the Book of Mormon had more to offer Americans of the mid-nineteenth century than this religious dimension alone. Interestingly, the Book of Mormon, which was itself published during the period of Romanticism in literature, could have (and perhaps did, to some extent) fufilled a “romantic” need for the fledgling country:

A nation seized with a conviction of manifest destiny should have rejoiced in the book as symbol. It was so very national. It was, in fact, aboriginal. It gave the young country the immemorial past its poets yearned for. With its central theme of the continent as a favored land providentially preserved for the gathering of a righteous people, it improved the American dream with scripture and endowed it with sacred legend. More faithfully than the Prophet’s neighbors in New England and western New York ever realized, his revelation reflected their most cherished myth. Descendants of Puritans and Patriots should have recognized the doctrine.
William Mulder, Homeward to Zion: The Mormon Migration from Scandinavia (Minneapolis and London: The Universtiy of Minnesota Press, 3d. ed. 2000), ix.

Fascinating to see another reason that people should have been grateful for the Book of Mormon!

RFRA in SCOTUS again

April 29, 2005

I just noticed that the Supreme Court has granted certiorari to hear a case in which the federal government is accused of violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 by seizing hallucinogenic controlled substances that are used by a religious group in religious tea ceremonies. The case is Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal, No. 04-1084 (below on appeal it was O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal v. Ashcroft, 389 F.3d 973 (10th Cir. 2004)). Peyote, anyone?

In O Centro Espirita, a panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld an injunction against the federal government, enjoining the government from relying on the federal Controlled Substances Act and the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances to prevent Uniao do Vegetal and its members from using the hallucinogen hoasca in its sacramental rituals. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal v. Ashcroft, 342 F.3d 1170 (10th Cir. 2003). The injunction relied on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act for its basis. This case proves to be interesting since the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was Congress’s attempt (held to be unconstitutional as applied to the states in City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 519 (1997)) to hit back after the Supreme Court held in Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), that a generally applicable and neutral law can apply to infringe on the free exercise of religion regardless of whether the government could demonstrate a compelling state interest for such infringement of free exercise. Smith, 494 U.S. at 885. This holding basically overturned what had been the standard rule for some time regarding the free exercise of religion: that the government could only infringe on it through a neutral law if it could demonstrate a compelling state interest for doing so. Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972). Justice Scalia, in writing the majority opinion in Smith justified this holding with reference to the famous case upholding laws criminalizing the religious practice of polygamy, Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879):

To make an individual’s obligation to obey such a [generally applicable law] contingent upon the law’s coincidence with his religious beliefs, except where the State’s interest is “compelling” — permitting him, by virtue of his beliefs, “to become a law unto himself,” Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S., at 167 — contradicts both constitutional tradition and common sense.

Smith, 494 U.S. at 885. The Tenth Circuit in O Centro Espirita affirmed the injunction en banc. Although City of Boerne held the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was Congress’s attempt to overturn the Supreme Court’s holding in Smith, was unconstitutional as applied to the states, it is still valid as applied to the federal government. Hence, this case will be interesting, depending on whether the Supreme Court upholds that posture–that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies to the federal government causing the exact opposite result from the Smith case, in which religious use of peyote was in issue.

Sorry, English learner

April 25, 2005

I was amused to see the following referral to our humble site by someone asking the Hong Kong Google site “what does birds eye view mean?” Check out the query here.

This was amusing for two reasons:

(1) The pun involved in the title of this blog can obscure the true nature of the idiom. The only reason, really, that this blog carries this name is because our family name is “Fowles,” which, if you remove the “e” becomes “fowls” which is an old-fashioned or (now) technical/context-specific way to say “birds” in English. In fact, for those who think I am “myopic” because of my views (sorry Jordan, for sullying you by association), the name of this blog becomes extremely ironic, since the idiom “a bird-s eye view” implies unimpeded sight, perhaps even far-sightedness.

(2) At the time that this search was entered, Jordan’s post about our non-sensical, computer generated “joint paper” on “Internet QoS and the WWW” was the current post on the main page. This post was likely to confuse any learner of English beyond belief, since the sentences in the joint paper don’t make any sense due to the ad-libbed nature of the joke.

So, English learner, I am sorry that you ended up on this blog with your query as to what this idiom means. A dictionary website might be of more help.

A Confusing Unification of Internet QoS and the World Wide Web

April 22, 2005

John and I have co-authored a CS paper, slated to be published in The Journal of Encrypted, Robust Epistimologies. You can view and read the paper here (you must have adobe acrobat), and here is the abstract:

Unified authenticated modalities have led to many essential advances, including red-black trees and DHCP. given the current status of trainable theory, electrical engineers shockingly desire the refinement of 128 bit architectures, which embodies the unproven principles of algorithms. In order to achieve this aim, we motivate a signed tool for exploring linked lists (Nestful), disproving that IPv4 and e-business can collaborate to achieve this ambition.

Our resources for this paper were largely (ok, ENTIRELY) gathered from SCIgen.

After pondering the great intricacies of Internet QoS, the World Wide Web, their confusing unification, and their odd relation to red-black trees and DHCP, you too should contribute a paper to a CS conference for publication.


WWJBD, or Jack Bauer vs. Jack Bristow

April 21, 2005

Clark’s comment over at the George-Lucas-bashing thread has gotten me to thinking. Clark astutely notes the implausibility of Han Solo’s tough-guy persona based on some of the re-done encounters in Lucas’s digital re-release Star Wars (i.e. the Solo-shoots-last scene). Clark asks

What would Jack Bauer do? Probably grab Gweedo and start breaking fingers demanding where Jaba is.

Last night’s Alias episode had me asking this question as well. After a brief and aggressive restroom encounter with Sloan, Jack Bristow is rather easily convinced that a clone, and not Sloan, is responsible for the havoc in Sydney’s and Vaughn’s lives. I must admit that I rolled my eyes and thought, what would Jack Bauer do?

Jack Bristow, in earlier days, might not have backed down so easily. I remember well encounters between Jack Bristow and some unlucky reprobate that ended in a torturous death. Is Jack Bristow’s age and radiation poisoning softening him? It seems the days are over when one could plausibly ask, what would Jack Bristow do?

Whether you hold to Jack Bauer or Jack Bristow, you still ask, “WWJBD?”. But what has got me wondering is how would a direct confrontation between these two turn out? Jack Bauer has the advantage, perhaps, of being ten to twenty years younger and of being unshakeable in his dedication to homeland security. Jack Bristow, on the other hand, has the advantage of moral ambiguity on who are the good and bad guys, often siding with the bad guys himself, as when he was assistent director of SD-6. Would Jack Bristow muster some of his youthful craftiness in such a fight? Would Jack Bauer find it in him to break a few CIA fingers?


Flappy Bird

April 21, 2005

I just didn’t want to miss the opportunity to point out that we are a Flappy Bird at the moment in the Ecosystem. This happened once before and I didn’t mention it, and, of course, we dropped from there a short time later. It is significant for us since, after all, this is “a bird’s eye view.”

California English

April 20, 2005

Your Linguistic Profile:

75% General American English
15% Upper Midwestern
10% Yankee
0% Dixie
0% Midwestern
What Kind of American English Do You Speak?

This table shows my own breakdown of American English (hat tip to Spencer Speaks). I thought this survey was fun; but I doubt it has much real value.

This notes that my speech is 75% “General American English.” I think this term is referring to California English. When I personally hear other Americans speaking, I am very alert to their regional accents. This stems, perhaps, from my interest in and experience with foreign languages. When I hear a person who “doesn’t really have an accent,” in other words, speaks this General American English, it is because they are speaking California English. This is what my mom speaks–and she is from California. My Dad also speaks “without an accent” even though he is originally from rural central Utah. But he has a lot of education, including a doctorate degree, which I believe ameliorates and eliminates the small-town Utah speech of his own parents and brothers from his speech.

It is a curious phenomenon that California English should be termed “General American English” in a survey like this, in other words, that people think of “General American English,” i.e. Standard American English, when they hear California English (although they might not realize that what they are hearing is California English). The reason this is curious is because California is so new, so how could the English spoken there be representative of “General American English”? I would argue that it is because of the Entertainment Industry. With many (most?) movies and TV shows coming out of Hollywood and California, together with the large population of the state itself, the variety of English that was once just another regional variety, i.e. California or Western American English, has become the standard since the middle of the twentieth century. Before that, I would guess that New York English or Northeastern American English was equated with “General American English.”

Or am I smoking crack here in thinking that what is generally considered “General American English” is really California English? (Just a note: the same phenomenon has happened in Germany where regional dialects were even more pronounced than in the USA. There, Hochdeutsch (“high German”) actually is supposed to refer to the dialects of Southern Germany, i.e., in the “high” altitudes. It is very different than the Hannover German which is now referred to as “high German” in the sense of educated and/or accent-less German. Even though popular usage (mis)labels such German “high German,” this is a misnomer. It is more accurately called Radiodeutsch, or “radio German,” under the same logic as above: that the entertainment industry has streamlined to some extent the language so that one variety–in Germany it is the German spoken around the Hannover area–is now considered standard or educated German and other dialects are considered “accents.”)

Assault on Berlin

April 16, 2005

Sixty years ago today the Red Army began its assault on Berlin while the Western Allies waited not far from the city, allowing the Russians to advance as per a prior agreement. The German civilians, for their part, prayed fervently that the Western Allies would take Berlin. But the Russians advanced, ragged Belorussians and Mongolian conscripts. Tens of thousands of women were raped repeatedly and brutally. It is a sickening tale. I have spoken with victims and survivors of the horror.

As a boy, I was fascinated by Leon Uris’s Armageddon. This compelling work of fiction that deals in part with this situation raised my interest in this historical episode. But that is all it remained to me until I myself went to Berlin and labored among that city’s inhabitants as a missionary. Now this episode is much more than a history of a fallen city; I can see the wives and mothers, the cramped and desperate cellars where they hid in refuge from the raping army. It was a tragedy. Their misery and suffering is added to the unmeasurable horror perpetrated by Hitler’s aggression in condemning Hitler and his war machine. He himself made Berlin a front-line city and swore that the innocent civilians would pay with their blood for his defeat. His defeat was indeed necessary; the war against him was just. If only the Western Allies could have assaulted Berlin that day sixty years ago.

If Men Were Angels

April 16, 2005

Are people fundamentally good (cf. Gen. 1:27; Psalms 82:6; 2 Ne. 2:25) or fundamentally evil (cf. Mosiah 3:19; Alma 42:9-14; Ether 3:2; D&C 29:40-44), and what effect does the answer to this question have on the prospects of a Mormon jurisprudence?

Naturally, this might be a false dichotomy, an inquiry with little real value. Still, it seems that, if such characterizations are possible, the answer could affect views of agency, justice, and law.

Latter-day Saint doctrine certainly breaks from much of the bleakness of Protestantism, dark Calvinism, and any other form of debilitating pre-determinationalism. Is the LDS approach to human nature, however, more positive than these worn-out worldviews? If it is, can it offer alternative or better constitutive principles for the genesis of jurisprudence and laws than have the former determinative principles?

The political and legal system of the United States is the beneficiary of political and legal institutions of England. These were built into the new Constitution of the United States, a document that was the first of its kind and that has offered guidance to many. The Constitution, interestingly, arises from premises based in the dark view of human nature. Thus, explains Madison in Federalist 10,

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.

This is indeed a keen observation on Madison’s part, but is it too negative and untrusting of human nature? Is this a premise informed by centuries of dark Protestantism? Do belief in the evil nature of man and such resulting observations turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy? Madison famously notes further in Federalist 51:

It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

This perspective is really disparaging on human nature. Still, proceeding from this negative view of human nature, the Founders created an ingenious way to channel such evil so as to check itself and to net it in a way, to harness it, that it works for the greater good. Reading the rest of Federalist 51 reveals some of this genius and reasoning. The question is merely whether the evil of human nature is really a necessary starting point for considerations of constitutional and common law. Does LDS doctrine offer an alternative?


April 16, 2005

Why is it that when we see a group of orthodox Jews walking down 1300 E. on a Friday evening to synagogue, all dressed up in orthodox attire (thus very distinctive and conspicuous), we don’t really give it a second thought, but when we see a group of FLDS walking down Main Street all dressed in their homespun cloth and plain dresses, etc., we stare and dwell on their oddity?

I suppose the answer is relatively easy: Jews in their traditional religious attire are, although different and distinctive, a fixture or mainstay in our Western civilization. True, they have a long history of persecution based on the perceived differences in their lives and religion. And perhaps the random guy in Berlin might have the same impression of Jews proceeding to synagogue that I have of FLDS people proceeding to court in downtown SLC. Somehow, though, seeing the orthodox Jews, for me, is completely normal. The FLDS, however, really stand out. The scene I see every Friday evening on 1300 E. in SLC could be repeated on Friday evening anywhere that Jews live. On the other hand, FLDS are truly quite local and marginalized on even this local level.