More on Mitt and Trump

Anybody who cares about the Mitt Romney campaign against Trump (and vice versa) should listen to this podcast by Dave Rubin. Rubin interviewed Richard Grenell, who is the current ambassador to Germany. (Grenell was just named Trump’s new director of national intelligence on Wednesday). Grenell was, for a short time, one of the leading foreign policy advisers to Mitt Romney during his 2012 campaign.

Grenell, who is openly gay, was forced out of the Romney campaign specifically because he was openly gay and had written an op-ed explaining why conservatives should support gay marriage. Grenell, using very diplomatic language, accuses Mitt of not defending him from social conservatives who wanted Grenell off of Romney’s presidential campaign, specifically because of his sexuality. In effect, Grenell says Mitt was too wishy-washy to defend Grenell, and Grenell was forced out of the campaign.

Four years later, Grenell says he found a candidate who didn’t care about the fact that he was gay, ie, Donald Trump. Grenell also admired Trump’s America First foreign policy. He joined Trump’s campaign and is now has one of the highest profile foreign policy posts in the U.S. diplomatic service. Grenell points out quite clearly that Trump’s foreign policy has been hugely successful, and says that Trump in three years has achieved considerably more than Obama or Bush ever achieved in Europe.

So, for those of you suffering from cognitive dissonance, let me reiterate a few points:

–Romney’s campaign was anti-gay and Trump’s was not, and Romney did nothing to defend the gay guy, whereas Trump had no problem with the gay guy and even promoted him to a high profile position.

–Trump’s foreign policy has been hugely successful in a relatively short amount of time.

To be fair, Grenell is just one voice out there, and of course he has an incentive to claim success. He is, after all, part of Trump’s foreign policy team. But if you listen to the podcast (and please do before you comment on this post), Grenell lists many examples of Trump’s successes in Europe. I found his arguments convincing.

I mention this because, frankly, many of the recent posts I have seen regarding the whole Trump and Romney brouhaha have been childish. What I mean by this is that these articles turn Trump and/or Romney into cartoon characters. Trump is either heroic or really, really bad, like Nazi bad. And Romney is either a sinister schemer or Captain Moroni waving that title of liberty.

Friends, life is never that simple. People are much more complex than this. If you listen to CNN and MSNBC, Trump cannot even tie his shoes correctly and walks around insulting every person around him and of course is secretly planning a Hitler-like takeover of the government. And if you listen to many of Trump’s defenders, the president is playing 3D chess and is outsmarting the entire world.

Here is the reality: the truth is somewhere in between. Trump, like all presidents before him and certainly like all presidents after him, has done some good things and some bad things. The economy is doing well (in the short term — in the long term we are in for some pain). Trump has cut taxes and decreased regulations. His education and energy policies are, in my opinion, excellent. He has put forward many good federal judges. Some of his foreign policy has been very good. But of course he is out-doing Obama on the national debt, and, personally, I find much of his rhetoric to be very ugly. So, as I say, some good, some bad.

Meanwhile, anybody who thinks Mitt Romney has acted heroically is way off base. Mitt sought Trump’s endorsement in 2012, then came out against Trump in 2016, and then went begging for a Cabinet position in 2017, then sought Trump’s endorsement when he ran for the Senate in 2018, and then repudiated Trump in 2019 and ultimately voted for impeachment in 2020. No reasonable person can look at this record and see a consistent policy of integrity. Mitt has acted like a politician which is, after all, what he is. But I don’t think Romney is evil — I think he is misguided and perhaps miffed that a vulgar loud mouth like Trump has become president while Romney could not win in two presidential campaigns. Nobody can read Romney’s mind, but it is worth pointing out that a very large number of people believe he is motivated by jealousy. Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings nationwide have fallen from 43 percent in October 2012 to 18 percent in a recent poll. A lot of people don’t see him acting honorably.

The recent posts by Romney defenders trying to argue that he is acting like Captain Moroni are simply not convincing to anybody except the small, insular group of people who already love Mitt Romney. And the fact that most of these people seem to be suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome makes their arguments even less rational.

I really miss the pre-Trump days in one sense: it was easier to have reasonable conversations in those days. No president is perfect, and no president is perfectly evil. President Obama (one of my least favorite presidents) nevertheless did some good things. So did President Bush and President Clinton, and on and on. And of course all of these presidents also did bad things.

Here is my suggestion to the anti-Trump/Romney hero worship crowd: please listen to the podcast I linked at the beginning of this post. If you listen with real intent to understand, it really will give you another perspective that may blow your mind a bit. And then watch this short video by John Stossel. Stossel is very tough on Trump and very critical. But he criticizes in a fair way, and even pro-Trump viewers I know are forced to admit that Stossel’s criticisms are on target. This, my friends, is how you convince people.

The Church changes the Handbooks

The is a guest post by Michael Davidson

The Church has discontinued Handbook 1 and Handbook 2 in favor of a new volume titled “General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” It is available to all to peruse on the Church’s website and on the Gospel Library app.  It has been several decades since the previous iteration of the Church’s general handbook of instructions has been given such an overhaul, and it is the first time that it is explicitly public.

And, despite its now completely public stance, not much of it has changed.  The FAQ that accompanied the release recognizes that only nine of the thirty-eight chapters have been completed with the other chapters being largely copied word-for-word from the pre-existing handbooks. Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 15, 18, 32, 36, and 37 are those completed chapters, but various changes have been made in the rest of the volume, particularly with regard to what we used to call Church discipline and disciplinary councils.  There are also some important updates to various Church policies and guidelines in Chapter 38.  

While each of the new chapters are well done, they don’t represent any changes in direction or the guiding principles that have always governed in the Church.  I was not surprised, given that this volume is public, that time was taken to elucidate things that perhaps could be left unsaid when your audience is limited to stake presidencies and bishoprics.  Chapter 1-4 provide a great introduction to the doctrinal framework that gives structure to all that we do in the Church.  Out of the whole volume, these are the chapters that would be best for all members to read and understand.  The rest of the General Handbook simply cannot be properly understood without an appreciation of these principles, and many of the critiques I have read today miss this entirely.  

Perhaps the biggest change, in this author’s humble opinion, is in the significant revision to what is now Chapter 32, Repentance and Church Membership Councils.  It bears reading in full for those interested, but it is interesting that the words “excommunication” and “disfellowship” are nowhere to be found in this volume.  Instead, the results of a Membership Council may include no change or “remains in good standing,” “personal counseling with the Bishop or Stake President” on an informal basis, “formal membership restrictions,” or a “withdrawal of membership.”  

Personally, I like this change as it has always been the duty and responsibility of leaders and members to continue to fellowship the disfellowshipped and continue to communicate with, and minister to, the excommunicated.  In fact, as near as I can tell, the word “excommunication” is only listed twice in the LDS standard works; once in Section 134 in which the Church stands for the position that religious organizations should have the right to excommunicate members, but not to punish them in other ways. See D&C 134:10.  The other time is in the historical headnote to D&C 81, in which it is noted that one person mentioned in the revelation had been excommunicated.  

Instead, the scriptures refer to the names of unrepentant transgressors being “blotted out” from the membership records, and that they not be numbered among the membership of the Church.  In almost all cases, excepting those who are wolves (see Alma 5:59-60), we are to encourage repentance for those who stray, rather than shunning them or celebrating their sin.  I think that the new phraseology used here is better attuned to these needs and expectations. 

This could not be considered complete without addressing a couple of the elephants a small but loud contingent have walked into the room. The first I will address is transgenderism. In reading the sections added to chapter 38 on the topic, and the attendant changes made throughout to harmonize with these additions, I find nothing that is not in harmony with what has been taught and explained from the pulpit by the Brethren for many, many years.  What has changed is that the Church has closed a lot of loopholes that certain individuals thought existed in the written policy statements. Some critics of the Church have expressed gratitude for the increased clarity while bemoaning that the (arguably highly politicized) philosophical science of the day has not held sway against eternal truths announced by the Brethren. 

We all know the Church encourages us to be loving and compassionate in these circumstances.  In fact, it is the first thing said in this section and others.  With all of that, members of the lgbt community and their allies often make the argument that the Church’s refusal to accept the currently promoted social narrative on these issues is evidence of hatred and bigotry, and certainly a lack of love.  Aside from the obvious authoritarian bent of such pronouncements, we should still reach out in love and compassion and not allow the rejection of those expressions (if they are rejected) to dishearten us in so doing.

With that introduction, the teachings of the Church with respect to transgenderism are, as found in 38.6.21: 

(1) gender is eternal; 

(2) gender is first expressed physically in the developing child and that expression is the expression of the eternal gender of the spirit and body; 

(3) in the statistically limited cases in which there is physical ambiguity, consult with doctors and questions regarding ordination and temple ordinances should be addressed to the First Presidency; 

(4) leaders are to advise those considering medical or surgical intervention for the purpose of transitioning “will be cause for Church membership restrictions;” 

(5) leaders are also directed to counsel against social transition, which “includes changing dress and grooming, or changing a name or pronouns, to present oneself as other than his or her birth sex;” 

(6) “those who socially transition will experience some Church membership restrictions for the duration of this transition;” 

(7) restrictions for those who surgically, medically, or socially transition are a prohibition from “receiving or exercising the priesthood, receiving or using a temple recommend, and receiving some Church callings;” 

(8) other non-restricted Church participation is welcomed; and 

(9) if someone is “prescribed hormone therapy by a licensed medical profession to ease gender dysphoria or reduce suicidal thoughts,” but does not otherwise medically, surgically, or socially transition, and is otherwise worthy, they may have Church callings and attend the temple.

None of this is new or novel, even though it is being spelled out in greater detail in the General Handbook in this edition.

Also, the Church is decidedly in favor of people observing the law of chastity, and “only a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband or wife should have sexual relations.” Anything outside of this, including same sex marriage, could subject the participants to withdrawal of membership.

To sum up, the handbook changes make the Church’s positions more public and more clear to all members and also the general public. But there are no indications the Church has made any significant changes on long-standing moral issues.

Mourning With Those That Mourn

These are just some thoughts that I’ve had swirling in my head for a while now, but with the release of the new Church Handbook today, I’ve seen a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth on the socials from people who style themselves as LGBT “allies” in anticipation of what they think the new Handbook will say.

One tweet said, “We need to mourn with our LGBT friends that mourn today and not remind them of the commandments” (???????)

There was another tweet about the supposed harm the Church does when it makes clear policy and doctrinal statements regarding the Law of Chastity, moral behavior, marriage and family relationships. I’ve seen it called “spiritual violence”.

Needless to say, it’s a full sack cloth and ashes day for some.

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Lovecraft Revisited and Views on Wickedness

There has been in the past some discussion here about Lovecraft and his atheist and nihilistic beliefs, mirrored in his stories. It is stressed that the stories he writes are more nihilistic than the most pessimistic nihilists,

By comparison, Lovecraftianism assumes there is no hope at all, so knowing the truth can’t save you. Knowledge is only power if there is some realistic chance you can act upon it. Lovecraft’s stories often assumed there was not.

A key word in the quote is “often” as even his most popular stories have some moral criticisms that are overlooked. It might be true that once the truth of how inconsequential they are is found out humans will go completely insane. Putting that aside, there is almost always some human action that provokes the cosmic horror to be unleashed. Even when there is a case that the horror is not provoked into surfacing, past or current moral deficiencies tend to exacerbate the situation.

* Evil is not a natural part of the (neutral) physical world.
* Sins that are taught or ignored can become multi-generational
* Evil takes root where family, community, and eventually civilization are at odds.
* War and violence lead to awakening ancient evils.
* Humans can be as destructive as the forces they cannot detect or control.

Although the videos I made about some short stories of H.P. Lovecraft look at them as a whole, there are still a few moral lessons. Don’t expect any specific descriptions of morality and sin. Despite that, it is interesting to see how this atheist author used his work to point out social disorder.
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