Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Step 4: Truth

I guess I'd better interrupt gushing about how great my life is for a little down-to-earth reality check. I still have my unresolved issues, and they're still waiting to be worked out. 2007 started out pretty great in terms of avoiding porn, but I'm by no means out of the woods. So, it's about time I got back to doing the 12 steps.

Step 4 calls for a "searching and fearless written inventory of your life." I've read the description several times detailing exactly what this is intended to mean and how to go about doing it, but I'm still at a loss. This blog would be the ideal place to do it, I suppose, if I hadn't connected my real identity with it (for at least a handful of people). Now, I'm afraid I can never quite write things 100% frankly because I'll always be subject to the self-consciousness that is a part of dignified human interaction.

But a searching and fearless life inventory is bound to have many stories, some of which are not inappropriate to share. I guess I'll blog the ones I can and keep quiet the ones I can't. It is a bit of a shame though to leave such an incomplete overall story to make it seem contrived.

My efforts to rid myself of pornography addiction seem pretty closely intertwined with my being gay. They are two separate issues, yes, but in me they seem to be related so intimately I can never quite think of them separately. So, I'm going to try over the next while to remember the things that have happened in my life to make me who I am, how I've reacted to them, what my motivations have been, etc. In figuring it out, I'll be one step closer, and I will presumably have a great deal more personal insight.

One glorious result of completing step 4 is that you take a major step toward freeing yourself from behaviors that defined your past. The reflection of yourself that you will see as you complete this step can inspire you to change the direction of your life if you will let it. Because of the love and grace of the Savior, you do not have to be what you have been. By calling on the Lord for guidance as you examine your life, you will come to recognize your experiences as learning opportunities. You will find that uncovering weaknesses you have suffered with for so long will allow you to move forward to a new life.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

To marry or not?

I wrote this a long while ago, but thought it was relevant to a few things I've read by others recently, so I went ahead and busted it out of draft status:

I remember the ache in a deep place in my heart. I wanted to be married so badly. I felt alone and needed someone to love me unconditionally--not just as a friend.

I've always been one to make friends pretty easily. At least, the kind of friends who are well above "acquaintance" but not quite intimate enough to call on a moment's notice to demand a shoulder to cry on. They would have said yes, of course, but I'm not one to make myself so vulnerable... even if it means being miserable in my wallowing loneliness.

Amidst the misery and self-pity, I had little insight into the fact that I was gay. I mean, I knew it in some sense. But it didn't weigh in consciously as a factor in my everyday decisions. So I still dated as if I were straight. I found no girls to be particularly what I was looking for, but I had a lot of fun just the same. On the rare occasion that I could comprehend the fun simultaneously with the inadequacy of it all, I realized I was in deep trouble. Fun wasn't going to get me a soul mate. And the soul mates I wanted were unavailable to me (as men).

Finally I got some good advice from my brother. He's an ardent Mormon in the true sense--works for the church, loves it, gives everything he has to it. I explained to him that there was a girl I had a lot of fun with (and had for years), but that it just didn't seem to be romantic or sexual. It didn't seem to be enough. Now, I suspect that he might know about my gay feelings even though we've never discussed it. He suggested that I consider all my feelings for her and not demand that it be a perfect fit. We had a connection, he said, that he had seen first hand. If we were both committed to each other, to the gospel, and recognized that life wouldn't be perfect, we might be right for each other.

Ultimately, God knows what is best. I'm one who believes there is not just one person in the world right for me, but that I could be happy with many of them. So, I asked God if she was right for me and he gave an affirmative answer. This woman knew by this point that I was gay. She accepted me anyway. We had a long history that I had never had with any other woman. We had had a lot of fun over the years. I thought that we could make it work. But there was a still a reluctant part of me that wondered if there was someone better. Should I hold out or should I just settle? My pride got in the way and the issue was suddenly not about sexuality at all, it was about finding perfection rather than accepting the love that was right in front of me. She loved me. I knew that she did. And on reflection I knew that I loved her. But the fact that it was only a deliberative love, not an unreflective one, gave me a lot of concern.

It took me several years to finally mature to the point where I realized that love can be something you perfect over time, given the proper quality and a sufficient quantity of raw materials. My gay feelings would be an obstacle more obvious than those imperfect character qualities that everyone has to deal with in marriage. And yes, it's qualitatively different, but not unmanageably so. We've made it work. And we continue to make it work. And despite all the nay-sayers who refuse to give any validity to our testimonial because of our relatively young marriage (not quite 5 years), I'm 100% confident that we'll continue to make it work.

I've never been happier and my loneliness is gone. The work continues, certainly. It's not all automatic.

But it's real. It's not a sham marriage. Despite the charges that I'm deluding myself, that I'm in denial, that I'm just a few months from melt-down... it's absolutely wonderful.

So. To the person who recently asked for advice on how to tell his family to lay off a little with their advice, I'd say just listen and relax. They might actually have something of value to relate, even if they know nothing about your sexual situation. Don't assume you will or won't marry. Live and learn, and stay open to God and his miracles. In my mind, it can always go either way until you close the door with your own self-determination.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


OUT of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

-William Ernest Henley

Too familiar perhaps? But I still love it.

Have you ever laid down at night and when your head hits the pillow you realize with sudden clarity that you were beyond tired but failed to notice it because you just kept moving anyway? I sometimes stop and ponder whether I don't realize I'm miserable because I've just been too acclimated to it--but if I only had a moment of real freedom and gay enjoyment I would realize how much of a sham my attempt at a conventional family has been. And then I laugh out loud at the absurdity. Don't get me wrong, you'll see plenty of melancholy posts pop out of this blog, but the balance of my current life has been no less than charmed.

I've heard people claim that marriages like mine are destined to either fail or be propagated by sheer force of will despite that everyone involved is utterly miserable. By "marriages like mine" I mean a straight marriage in which one partner is gay. -L- must be some care-worn and prematurely aged 30-ish guy who puts on a brave face and continues through the motions of existence with no passion, no love, and very little life left after caving to the unreasonable... nay, impossible... demands of the LDS church.

Makes me roll my eyes just to portray the caricature.

But, perhaps it's precisely because I'm willing to weather the bad times without promise of relief--even when they're a bit extended--that I can feel comfortable knowing I'm the captain of my fate and my family's, and the fate will ultimately be a good one. If I have to endure misery for the circumstances I've chosen, I will. I'll continue "bloody, but unbowed." But I have full confidence that 1) such misery will be temporary, and 2) it's not inevitable by any means. Enduring calculated discomfort may be the secret to success in life... and so I don't really want or need to avoid all the misery I might be subjected to; but I have every intention of bringing happiness to the amazing folks who find themselves in my small family.

Friday, February 23, 2007

525,600 minutes

It's been a year since I first cracked my knuckles and hammered out a self-conscious, slightly ridiculous post. There have been over 200 since then, and things for me have (appropriately enough) changed.

I've used this blog as a kind of narrative therapy: not a therapeutic intervention that has been measured for this purpose ever before (to my knowledge), but an amazingly effective one from my experience nonetheless. My counseling visits were a good start, and I still endorse counseling, but this has given me a much more thorough method with which to explore my ideas, receive feedback, and deliberately shake down my issues. And I have the permanent records of the journey rather than someone whose relationship with me will be temporary. I've thought all along that if I force myself to read relevant books and really think about what they say, I might be getting better therapy than if I were sitting in an office rehearsing my life details to someone who doesn't know me. I'm ultimately in favor of a combo approach for now--counseling and blogging.

However, I can't unreservedly recommend blogging as narrative therapy because there are certain risks involved. I've been subjected to some harassment, minor really, and a smidgen of humiliation and misunderstanding now and then. It's a risk, I suppose, exposing one's thoughts to public scrutiny where all manner of anonymous nay-sayers get a full opportunity to scoff and scurry away.

The other risk I've noticed is less applicable to me (since I'm remotely located and anonymous), but ought to be mentioned just the same. While I've made many friends online (some of whom have become more conventional friends over time), I've also heard of folks who have gotten into trouble with other bloggers. I suppose there's something to be said for the value of choosing good influences online and being cautiously judicious just as we should elsewhere.

But overall the enterprise has been a successful one, I think. If a year is measured in love, it has been a red letter year for me. Past that, this blog has been themed with change. So, I suppose I ought to give an accounting of where I've been and where I want to go. I'm more knowledgeable, sensitive, and self-aware than I was a year ago. I'm more faithful too, somewhat surprisingly.

This year I need to continue some of the projects I've started--like the 12 step program posts and book club. Oh, and I should probably go back and label all those old posts from before the new blogger! Finally, I probably need to economize a bit in terms of how I spend my online time, so I apologize if I comment less.

Anyway, here's to my one year blogiversary and positive change!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Moment of unity

I know it's not always too fun to read the lyrics or poetry that others think is great, but I can't help myself.


Let us live for the grace beneath all we want,
let us see it in everything and everyone,
till we admit to the mystery
that when I look deep enough into you,
I find me, and when you dare to hear my fear
in the recess of your heart, you recognize it
as your secret which you thought
no one else knew...

O let us embrace
that unexpected moment of unity
as the atom of God...
Let us have the courage
to hold each other when we break
and worship what unfolds...

O nameless spirit that is not done with us,
let us love without a net
beyond the fear of death
until the speck of peace
we guard so well
becomes the world...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


The further I go in my journey, the more I realize that life is all about relationships. Being lonely sucks. Loving and being loved by lots of people is much better. Who knew?

I was thinking about this because of a recent post by Samantha Stevens, as well as conjecture about the status of David and Jonathan's relationship in the Bible, as well as the discussion of Lincoln's relationship with other men. I still hold to the idea that social influences have affected my sexuality and I wonder if difficulties in relationships have been central to the whole issue.

I can think of lots of great and fulfilling relationships I've had in my life. My relations with both parents have always been above average, I think. And I've never been at a loss for friends of some sort or another. However, I think I just have a particularly needy personality... the kind that needs more than just a few casual friends and an above average connection with family members. And I haven't always gotten what I need emotionally.

I suppose there are two ways to address an unmet need. You can reduce the need itself or you can satisfy it. I think over the last several years I've done a little of both, but it's not yet quite enough. Getting married was a risky way to accomplish both at once, I suppose. Loneliness is much less of a factor than it has been, but it's by no means gone.

I find myself trying to gratify my hunger for connections in some indirect ways. I think it may be one of the reasons I'm always looking for approval of some sort--awards, recognition, good evaluations... favorable comments. ;-) And more relevantly, I think it's part of why my brain now thinks it needs to own another man in some physical way.

Now I have enough life experience under my belt to see how my relationships have played out. The exposition is done, so to speak. I make lots of quick friends and then have trouble staying in touch or "letting them in" more than a little... which leaves me pretty lonely. On the relatively rare occasions I have really let some man in and become emotionally tied to them in a more significant way, things have become sexual (short of sex, but still sexual). How this has happened, considering the men in question have nearly all been straight is really baffling. It's been more than once, and even if they're gay, it's been a pattern of me being unable to have fulfilling and intimate relationships with men without sexualizing them (and them reciprocating to some degree).

Lincoln, I think, was able to be intimate with men without being sexual. David of the Bible was too. But, the difference between them and me is that I'm gay... and what I mean by that is that I tend to flounder in that circumstance where they thrive. Not that I support the culpable connotation of it, but I am without natural affection. I either defensively disengage from deeper friendships, or I make them sexual in my mind where it is unnecessary for them to be so.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Queer Lincoln?

In honor of President's Day (I guess), I heard a story on the radio today about how Lincoln might have been gay. This conclusion was drawn mainly from letters and records that show Lincoln likely slept in the same bed with other men on occasion, and even said such things as "I love you" once in a while.

I think I'd rather be gay Lincoln style, and avoid the sex.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Unreflective love

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charact'ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love! -- then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

-John Keats

I love this because, after years of dating women, I never found unreflective love to be possible. But after some lengthy deliberations, I found my love for one woman in particular was real: reflective or not. Now, I'm enchanted at times with the stomach spinning realization that unreflective love has blossomed from our shared destiny.

I love you.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

I like Wilcox because, like I mentioned in that last post, her poetry is easily accessible. I've had moments that may have been a Gethsemane of sorts for me. But sometimes I'm afraid that I have a lot more of Gethsemane to look forward to. Whatever comes, I'll survive.


In golden youth when seems the earth
A Summer-land of singing mirth,
When souls are glad and hearts are light,
And not a shadow lurks in sight,
We do not know it, but there lies
Somewhere veiled under evening skies
A garden which we all must see -
The garden of Gethsemane.

With joyous steps we go our ways,
Love lends a halo to our days;
Light sorrows sail like clouds afar,
We laugh and say how strong we are.
We hurry on; and hurrying, go
Close to the border-land of woe,
That waits for you, and waits for me -
For ever waits Gethsemane.

Down shadowy lanes, across strange streams,
Bridged over by our broken dreams;
Behind the misty caps of years,
Beyond the great salt fount of tears,
The garden lies. Strive as you may,
You cannot miss it in your way.
All paths that have been, or shall be,
Pass somewhere through Gethsemane.

All those who journey, soon or late,
Must pass within the garden's gate;
Must kneel alone in darkness there,
And battle with some fierce despair.
God pity those who cannot say,
Not mine but thine, who only pray,
Let this cup pass, and cannot see
The purpose in Gethsemane.

There are certain aspects of SSA that have changed my life in ways that I wasn't expecting. Some of these accommodations are certainly such that I would not have otherwise chosen them. But I accept them now out of necessity... and it turns out I'm okay with that.


Necessity, whom long I deemed my foe,
Thou cold, unsmiling, and hard-visaged dame,
Now I no longer see thy face, I know
Thou wert my friend beyond reproach or blame.

My best achievements and the fairest flights
Of my winged fancy were inspired by thee;
Thy stern voice stirred me to the mountain heights;
Thy importunings bade me do and be.

But for thy breath, the spark of living fire
Within me might have smouldered out at length;
But for thy lash which would not let me tire,
I never would have measured my own strength.

But for thine ofttimes merciless control
Upon my life, that nerved me past despair,
I never should have dug deep in my soul
And found the mine of treasures hidden there.

And though we walk divided pathways now,
And I no more may see thee, to the end,
I weave this little chaplet for thy brow,
That other hearts may know, and hail thee friend.

Friday, February 16, 2007


O precious evenings! all too swiftly sped!
Leaving us heirs to amplest heritages
Of all the best thoughts of the greatest sages,
And giving tongues unto the silent dead!
How our hearts glowed and trembled as she read,
Interpreting by tones the wondrous pages
Of the great poet who foreruns the ages,
Anticipating all that shall be said!
O happy Reader! having for thy text
The magic book, whose Sibylline leaves have caught
The rarest essence of all human thought!
O happy Poet! by no critic vext!
How must thy listening spirit now rejoice
To be interpreted by such a voice!

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I don't think a blog is much of a "voice" for poetry per se, but poetry within the context of people's lives takes on a special voice in my view. I've never been a huge fan of poetry, but I do find that some poems are amazingly powerful in their simplicity. If they teach me something about myself, all the better. I like the ones that aren't so pretentious--that are accessible. It's the really weird poetry that turns me off, so I just avoid it usually. But I don't mind reaching out once in a while to try something new.

If, of thy mortal goods, thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one and from the dole,
Buy Hyacinths to feed the soul

-Muslihuddin Sadi

Poetry is an online hyacinth... and no loaf selling is necessary.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A beautiful day

After a hefty amount of snow, a near death experience on the freeway, and a run of sub-zero temperatures... today is gorgeous.

It reminds me that life cycles. Things don't stay the same for very long. I'd like my moody oscillations to trend up overall, though, and luckily, I think I'm being successful in that. I've still had my requisite ups and downs for the last several weeks and months, but overall there's a placid background of contentment... something I never really had a few years back.

It's likely that I'll hit some pretty low lows in the not so distant future. That's just life's way. So, I try to remind myself to be prepared for when they come. I try to ground myself with a constant awareness of what is most important to me in my life and where I want to find myself and my family next year, in five years, in thirty years...

And thirty years from now it's unlikely I'll remember this day at all. But it will have made me (in part) into whatever I will have become. And for that I'm very grateful for the beauty and the serenity of today.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Gilmore Gripe

I can't stand Gilmore Girls this season. Or last season, really.

I think my problem is just that the characters and plot have become constrained for the purpose of extending the romantic tension. Luke and Loralei were so close to getting married, and everyone was so happy that she could finally have a bit of happiness from life, and so the writers had to sit down and come up with a way to destroy it all so that they could keep the show alive and kicking for a few more seasons.

Not having any actual good ideas, they went with the spiral of stupidity and unbelievable plot twists we've seen for the last couple seasons.

The thing about last night's show that was believable but still ridiculous and sad was when Loralei and Christopher were talking about their marriage and decided it just wasn't going to work out. They had a problem--and in my opinion it was a completely superficial and incidental problem--and they were incapable of trusting one another and moving on. They had to second guess each other until they made the rift between themselves transform from imagined to real. They chose to walk away.

This makes me want to swear a little bit.

I know that the show is designed for Loralei and Luke to be the favored couple. But inconveniently, that didn't work out and Loralei married Christopher. That should be the end. Marriage is a promise. And it was based on real love, in my opinion. Loralei and Christopher have loved each other for decades. And then when something makes it complicated, Loralei looks for advice from Suki (naturally, as best friends) but doesn't even bother to consider counseling! How can she not read my blog and know that everyone should get relationship counseling!

It's just so ridiculous. Can real people be so stupid? Wait, don't answer that.

So, here's a note of gratitude to a woman who has weathered much worse, is way more clever than Loralei, and always manages to rest comfortably in our permanent mutual commitment to one another. Oh, and she's hotter than Loralei too.

I love ya, babe. Have a Happy Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 09, 2007

My valentine

What does a guy do for the most amazing woman in the world for Valentine's Day? Please keep in mind that the guy is dirt poor... and busy... and not terribly creative about such things.

I've seen all the crap people buy, and that's just not our style. But I would like to do something special. I might even pony up some cash in a completely unprecedented show of spendthrift indulgence and get a really nice piece of jewelry.

But even then, it would be nice to give it to her in a creative way. And some of the readers here are particularly creative, so I'm petitioning for your advice (or stories of things you've been impressed with before).

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Rational faith 5: Wrap up

While I was writing one of my previous posts, a resident I work with asked me what I was doing. I explained that I write a blog and that I was currently writing about science and religion. He recommended a recent article in Time magazine, so I had a look.

The article includes an interview with Francis Collins, the guy who headed the human genome project. Dr. Collins is actually sort of a hero of mine. I had the chance to meet him at the NIH a while back during a meeting for physician scientists. He was so approachable and happy, I just wish I had the opportunity to be his friend on an ongoing basis.

Anyway, I was happy to see him featured in an article in Time and taking a position similar to mine from the last several posts. Here are a few quotes from the article:

TIME: Dr. Collins, you believe that science is compatible with Christian faith.

COLLINS: Yes. God's existence is either true or not. But calling it a scientific question implies that the tools of science can provide the answer. From my perspective, God cannot be completely contained within nature, and therefore God's existence is outside of science's ability to really weigh in.


DAWKINS: I think that's the mother and father of all cop-outs. It's an honest scientific quest to discover where this apparent improbability comes from. Now Dr. Collins says, "Well, God did it. And God needs no explanation because God is outside all this." Well, what an incredible evasion of the responsibility to explain. Scientists don't do that. Scientists say, "We're working on it. We're struggling to understand."


DAWKINS: ... It would be unseemly for me to enter in except to suggest that he'd save himself an awful lot of trouble if he just simply ceased to give them the time of day. Why bother with these clowns?

COLLINS: Richard, I think we don't do a service to dialogue between science and faith to characterize sincere people by calling them names. That inspires an even more dug-in position. Atheists sometimes come across as a bit arrogant in this regard, and characterizing faith as something only an idiot would attach themselves to is not likely to help your case.

Collins acknowledges what I believe as well: science is inadequate for answering questions about God. He shows that a brilliant scientist can believe in God and science simultaneously. And Dawkins demonstrates the disdain of certain non-believers who seem to not only disagree with the idea of religion, but resent it. I'll stop short of writing an extended review of his comments (and tone) in the article.

I did have a few more thoughts I wanted to put in this series, but I'm sick of it now. Some other time I'll post those other thoughts on their own. I may not have persuaded anybody that I'm not brainwashed, but it was a great exercise to really look inside myself and realize why I believe as firmly as I do in the gospel even while aware of so-called anti-Mormon points of view. I'm very happy with my current level of testimony and understanding and look forward to a life of learning and growing.

Index to series:
Rational faith 1: Science
Rational faith 2: Spirituality
Rational faith 3: Grand unifying theory
Rational faith 4: Creative calculus

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Rational faith 4: Creative calculus

In trying to understand how to value both spiritual and scientific information, I've found the following analogy helpful.

I think everyone in the world is constantly engaged in assessing what is likely to be true, and the assessment is the sum of calculations our mind is constantly performing in the background. It's as if reality is a mathematical function of endless complexity that includes erratic twists and turns when graphed on a Cartesian plane. From the moment we're born, as humans, we gather bits and pieces of information and incorporate them as variables into our own equation that approximates that graph of real reality. The more successfully we are able to match our conception of reality with actual reality, the more empowered we become.

Early on we realize that our variables must be weighted with a relevant coefficient to achieve the best results. Certain pieces of information are deemed reliable and others are judged to be anomalous and are consequently given a low coefficient. We learn to be alternately skeptical and trusting in certain circumstances. We solve parts of the overall equation all the time, compartmentalizing and simplifying the data we have to keep in mind on an ongoing basis. Occasionally we find a clever way to resolve a set of variables that others may miss. It's natural and inevitable that variables drop out over time, either by being incorporated into some larger statement, or from being relegated to the distant past of forgotten experience.

We also have the opportunity to get huge swaths of the equation second-hand from parents and teachers. We can plug this data into our equation to see if it works, or add the information piece by piece based on our own experiences.

There is an inevitable challenge in managing this equation. Some previously resolved portion of the formula eventually ends up contradicting another. There's a division by zero, of sorts. Sometimes when this happens, you can go back and check the math, but that can be entirely impractical for sections of the formula that have incorporated hundreds of thousands of variables over years.

So, we add coefficients. We fudge. And I think we all do this out of necessity. We choose to devalue certain pieces of information to a fraction of their original value because they come into direct conflict with other more powerfully verified portions of the formula. The effort is always to judge rationally which terms carry more collective weight, which have more collective evidence. In really troubling instances, spot checks help sort out the facts. But often there are is no apparent way out of the mess despite that plenty in the peanut gallery claim a certain way to be the only legitimate one--and they frequently don't agree with each other.

The art of life, in my opinion, is learning how to best manage the whole enterprise. We all do it whether we realize it or not--it's just part of life as a biological creature. We assign coefficients to the evidence that presents itself in the cleverest way possible. Ideally we learn how to efficiently secure solved portions of the equation with the highest relevance and value. Life is about finding balance.

Some get carried away inflating the value of some information while zeroing out others. A piece of information zeroed out for its incompatibility with some other weighty established phrase may seem inconsequential alone, but if enough data is neglected serially over a long period of time, the person has managed to deceive himself thoroughly. It is this self-deception that many attribute to people of faith.

Another self-deception happens when new information is given higher credibility than old merely because of it's immediacy on the mind. Years of experience corroborated with a steady stream of consistent information is thrown away in an instant because of some plausible new bit at odds. Certain significant memories of a more ethereal character are more likely to be forgotten. They have to be vigilantly kept in the fore-front to be kept at all.

On the other hand, some people try admirably to keep all the data unmodified, accepting only raw information of the most demonstrable nature as legitimate. This approach is wonderfully successful for filling in certain parts of the graph, but is too inefficient to cover much and largely neglects certain key portions of the graph.

Being fully aware of the aforementioned limitations and pitfalls, I sit perched with my number two pencil and my sheet of graph paper wondering how best to tackle the variables I've assembled. I decide to compartmentalize where possible, and address the data by prioritizing by urgency, importance, and purpose. The process perpetuates itself as solved portions of the equation cast new light on previously obscure variables. In this way I'm persuaded by preliminary results that hope, when used judiciously, can sometimes be a legitimate coefficient. I'm persuaded that observance of certain rituals and covenants has surprising power, while others are silly or harmful. I'm persuaded that Occam's razor isn't always the final word.

The fact that I believe in free will leads me to believe that how I manage the effort will be an expression of who I am most fundamentally. Plunging the depth and breadth, traversing the whole while scooping up critical minutia here and there--it's all an art, a rewarding enterprise, and an expression of my soul.

Index to series:
Rational faith 1: Science
Rational faith 2: Spirituality
Rational faith 3: Grand unifying theory
Rational faith 4: Creative calculus
Rational faith 5: Wrap up

Monday, February 05, 2007

Rational faith 3: Grand unifying theory

The conflict between science and religion is a cliché. It's there demanding to be addressed by anyone who values them both but notes the inconsistencies. Ezra Taft Benson said:

Religion and science have sometimes been in apparent conflict. Yet, the conflict can only be apparent, not real, for science seeks truth, and true religion is truth. There can never be conflict between true religion and scientific fact. That they have occupied different fields of truth is a mere detail. True religion accepts and embraces all truth; science is slowly expanding her arms and reaching into the invisible domain, in search of truth. The two are meeting daily; science as a child; true religion as the mother. Truth is truth, whether labeled science or religion. "Truth is knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come" (D&C 93:24). Truth is always consistent. It can never be in conflict with itself.

This is a quote explaining an idea I've long been fond of. It jives with my sense that there's Truth out there with a capital T, objective reality plugging along despite our inability to pin it all down. I love the idea that ultimately there are answers for everything... things work. Proving existence of objective reality is burdensome (and somewhat ridiculous), so I just start with confidence in Benson's notion here.

However, the problem with interpreting Benson's quote is that it may tempt us to try to reconcile faith and religion now, as if we have the means to do so. This effort has been made in the past with some unfortunate outcomes. Churches have dictated what science is allowed to do, and dictated "truths" about the universe based on a presumptive reading of scripture. I'm of the opinion (and I think history supports me on this) that that's a bad way to go about things. I'm a resolute opponent of Intelligent Design masquerading as science, for example.

I see science and spirituality as two separate but effective ways of learning. They teach us about different things and we will be wise to use them only as directed. Science works terrifically for advancing temporal causes, but using it for spiritual pursuits is something like building a tower of Babel or seeking signs. That's not to say that reason isn't central, because I think it is inseparable from a genuine testimony, but the effort to prove religious principles can be antithetical to portions of the plan of salvation.

Similarly, intuition and unfounded confidence have to be checked in science. There's room for creativity and fresh ideas, but when it comes down to testing a hypothesis, aberrancies are wrought out and destroyed, precision is pursued with alacrity, and confounders are battled with vigilance. Holding on to any biases not supported by verifiable data is counter-productive. And, as I mentioned before, using doctrines or religious tenets anywhere in the scientific process is a bad idea.

Despite their differences, the effectiveness of both science and spirituality for their respective purposes is undeniable in my mind. As my previous two posts attest, they both work really well for me. It's just the inappropriate inter-mingling of the two methods that causes problems. Just as one should not combine the theory of relativity and quantum physics, the two systems of thought can't be mixed without coming up with some absurdities.

Is there a way to use both together to build a unified world view? Where's the grand unifying theory of science and religion? I'm working on my own version, but it has its problems. I do believe that some such combined world view is possible without resorting to being irrational. Perhaps it won't be provable (just as string theory attempts to reconcile relativity and quantum physics but can't be proved without a particle accelerator the size of a gallaxy) but that lack of proof won't make it automatically irrational.

Next time: my effort at a rational and faith-accommodating world view.

Index to series:
Rational faith 1: Science
Rational faith 2: Spirituality
Rational faith 3: Grand unifying theory
Rational faith 4: Creative calculus
Rational faith 5: Wrap up

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Rational faith 2: Spirituality

Despite the undeniable utility of scientific inquiry, it is largely inadequate to answer spiritual questions-questions that are arguably the most important ones we face. While science can tell me how best to reach a certain objective or what to expect from the natural world, it can't transcend the natural world to provide answers about meaning and purpose.

This observation is no indictment of science. It's just how things are. If we trace back natural laws to moments after the Big Bang, we find that they suddenly fail to hold. Laws we typically accept as fact are broken, it seems. We can no longer use our conventional tools to answer important questions. What was before the big bang? What is smaller than a quark (or insert the latest vogue subatomic particle)? What is past the edge of the universe? ... all seem out of reach. Even granting the theoretical ability to answer those specific questions, there will ALWAYS be something out of provable reach, as Gödel has gone ahead and shown. Let me say it again: on the most fundamental level, there will always be something just out of the reach of observation, measurement, and even logic.

One may choose to be satisfied with these limitations, but I'm prone to believe that there is a fully spiritual aspect to my humanity, and that addressing it may transcend those limitations. Maybe it just requires a different approach. I hunger for meaning and spiritual knowledge. How I find that spiritual information is still subject to rational processes but is not subject to all the assumptions of science (and therefore may not be subject to all its limitations).

Many are quick to point to the widely disparate conclusions drawn by those pursuing spirituality. They conclude that none of those spiritual views have any merit over the others. This is invalid. I believe that some spiritual conclusions are right, and some are wrong. Some are incomplete or inferior. And some are supernal and real. Faulting spirituality for its non-demonstrable nature shows a misunderstanding of the rules of the game, and denying that reason plays a role is equally incorrect. We ought to have respect for differing views without accepting them all as having equal merit. Some spiritual views are irrational, yes. But calling all spirituality irrational is a fallacy of generalization.

There are admittedly many perils inherent in any subjective process, but those perils can take you in opposite directions. I've met folks who interpret Mary's face on a piece of toasted cheese to be a sign from God, and although I can't rule that out, I agree with those who note such random "signs" will happen with certain regularity over time based on probability alone. On the other hand, categorically dismissing spirituality as the result of misinterpretation of coincidence in all cases is unjustified. A rational person will recognize that the existence of such misinterpretation and coincidence does not rule out the discovery of genuine spiritual information in some cases. That is, there are both real and mistaken spiritual experiences, and one's discovery of the existence of the latter shouldn't lead one to fallaciously generalize all spiritual experiences by all people to that group.

The notion that an all-powerful Father in Heaven has created this universe and our souls for purposes that can only be partially represented to our mortal minds as "joy" and "exaltation" establishes a framework from which to understand our spiritual world. The scenario is fleshed out quite reasonably and rationally with an explanation that God's interactions with man are limited and indirect because those circumstances are necessary for development of a righteous will and maturation of a divine nature. Further, the idea that God provides information through a nuanced combination of personal revelation and authoritative messengers makes a lot of sense.

Spiritual inquiry necessarily uses reason and logic, but expands acceptable working data past what is reproducible and demonstrable. Clinical trials and retrospective analysis are key for discovering and believing what can't be overtly proven (and must therefore be based on faith). But the data turned up by such analysis can only be personally appreciated, and may therefore get a lot of scorn from those who have had a vastly different personal spiritual experience and have no context to appreciate an individual's specifics.

Spiritual truths are most immediately meaningful for what they tell us about living life abundantly, finding joy, and being filled with other divine attributes like love. Spiritual inquiry, because of its subjective nature, is often condemned for its non-reproducibility. But this non-reproducibility is expected within the context of a personal spiritual journey in which transcendental truths are available on a need-to-know-when-you're-ready basis. So, ultimately, it comes down to each individual and his or her own experience. And my experience tells me that spiritual inquiry has been extremely successful in my life in providing meaning and purpose. It has been extremely successful in making the people I admire into the people that they are. It has been extremely successful in predicting what will make me happy and help me flourish. Basically, I like spiritual inquiry because it works really well.

Index to series:
Rational faith 1: Science
Rational faith 2: Spirituality
Rational faith 3: Grand unifying theory
Rational faith 4: Creative calculus
Rational faith 5: Wrap up

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Rational faith 1: Science

Those who practiced medicine many decades ago eventually realized that anecdotal evidence just isn’t as helpful as repeatable experiments that give consistent results. Where herb poultices and leeches had occasionally cured certain maladies (and inadvertently caused others), understanding pathophysiology helped invent and direct more reliable cures. We’ve moved toward understanding things and proving things rather than occasionally lucky stabs in the dark. Now, it seems, you can’t even apply common sense to medical problems without conducting multi-phase clinical trials to prove what everyone thought was right from the beginning. This is because evidence-based medicine has been extremely effective in treating disease, so it’s thankfully here to stay.

Science is the system of determining facts about the world through an objective process of measurement. At least, that’s how I think of it. The measurements have to be similar when done by different people at different times, and the facts apply only to conditions unique to the experiment. Testing hypotheses in this way has proven to be a hugely successful way of generating information.

Add on a little math and/or logic, and you can extrapolate facts from other facts. If this experiment shows us this, and this experiment shows us this, we can conclude that this third experiment would result in this, even though actually conducting such an experiment may be impossible. Through rational thought, we move forward.

And thus we have the Internet, antibiotics, space shuttles, etc. Go team.

Unfortunately, the progress from simple direct experiments like Mendel’s pea plants to sophisticated nano-scaled machines means that most of us are just going to have to accept most of science on faith. We can’t know it all for ourselves because the existing body of knowledge is too broad and too deep. The minutia of technology and the esoteric nature of sub-specialized fields of expertise mean that I’m obliged to sit here and happily type my blog without giving a second thought to how it all works. From the binary code of the software to the physics of electricity to the economics of free web-based services, I have no choice but to trust that people have this stuff figured out, and my trust is rewarded with results.

Unfortunately, faith in science can be misplaced. We resident doctors hash out the specific details of scientific papers all the time as a part of our training. In “Journal Clubs” we dissect journal articles to find flaws in their methodology, their study design, and the conclusions they claim to have reached. Contrast this with the press, who often not only fail to question the actual plausibility of a study’s findings but often overstate the conclusion and give the public a completely false impression that some ridiculous idea has been “proven by scientists.”

There are occasional mistakes that take scientists down a false path for a long time before realizing the error. Unfortunately, some errors are deliberately propagated by those who are trying to sell something, both material and ideological. Either way, don’t ever assume that something claimed on “scientific” grounds is a sure thing. Your trust is probably well-placed, but not necessarily.

The good news is that poor science, even the most esoteric kind, is likely to be eventually uncovered. But it’s uncovered by the folks who take the time to really understand the data, not by the peanut gallery who scoff at the unfamiliar. The scoffing is just noise.

My brain has gone all over the place now, and you just have to stay tuned to see why I even wrote this post. There’s no denying that a systematic, ordered approach to demonstrating what we don’t yet know has taken us amazing places--even in my life time. I like science, logic, and rationality, because they work really well.

Index to series:
Rational faith 1: Science
Rational faith 2: Spirituality
Rational faith 3: Grand unifying theory
Rational faith 4: Creative calculus
Rational faith 5: Wrap up