The Flight 93 Election: A Gospel Centered Response

I was disappointed to see a recent post on Millennial Star attacking Mitt Romney for his willingness to critique Trump. I strongly disagree with the post’s substantive critique of Romney, but also with the more general moral framework that the post employs. While the specific discussion about Romney, Trump, and Impeachment is important, I think the broader moral debate is even more important.

The post in question’s foundational premise can be summarized as a belief that Romney’s critique of Trump is intemperate or inappropriate because Romney ignores how evil the Democrats and those who oppose Trump are. In light of all of the things that Democrats endorse which the author sees as contrary to Church doctrine such as “new multi-trillion dollar government programs” and the “complete embrace of intersectionality politics,” the author describes Romney’s actions as “willful blindness” and ignorance as to “what the stakes are.” This post appears to share the perspective of a well-known essay which labelled the 2016 election a “Flight 93 Election” and argued that conservatives who failed to endorse Trump were ignoring the great evil that a Hillary Clinton presidency would lead to. That article’s central analogy was that terrorists had taken over the cockpit of America and that any tactics were justified in a last ditch effort to save it.

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God cares about what I drink with lunch!

Last week, the Church put out a new statement about the Word of Wisdom which built off of a recent article in the New Era which described how certain modern beverages or smoking methods (such as vaping) nevertheless violate the Word of Wisdom.

In response, I have seen a surprising amount of hostility by those proclaiming that it is unchristian and just plain wrong for the Church to impose such burdensome restrictions on its members.

I grew up in a Jewish household and went to a Jewish day school. I had a lot of friends who kept kosher and I never really understood why they would avoid eating such delicious things as cheeseburgers and lobster. I saw the commandments they were keeping as restrictive shackles.

For a time in college I dated a semi-active member of the Church who nevertheless was very opposed to me consuming any alcohol. For her, I agreed not to drink. I was very resentful because I saw her wishes as restrictive shackles that stopped me from enjoying myself.

Since that time, I have come to see dietary commandments in a completely different light. My present perspective is perhaps best illustrated by the insightful observation of well-known American Rabbi Harold Kushner who wrote about his perspective on keeping kosher:

“Let’s go back to my hypothetical lunch with a friend. Watching me scan the menu, he may suspect me of thinking, “Oh, would I love to order the ham, but that mean old God won’t let me.” But in fact, what is probably going through my mind at the moment is “Isn’t it incredible! Nearly five billion people on this planet, and God cares what I have for lunch!” And God cares how I earn and spend my money, and whom I sleep with, and what sort of language I use. (These are not descriptions of God’s emotional state, about which we can have no information, but a way of conveying the critical ethical significance of the choices I make.) What better way is there to invest every one of my daily choices with divine significance?

There is nothing intrinsically wicked about eating pork or lobster, and there is nothing intrinsically moral about eating cheese or chicken instead. But what the Jewish way of life does by imposing rules on our eating, sleeping, and working habits is to take the most common and mundane activities and invest them with deeper meaning, turning every one of them into an occasion for obeying (or disobeying) God. If a gentile walks into a fast-food establishment and orders a cheeseburger, he is just having lunch. But if a Jew does the same thing, he is making a theological statement. He is declaring that he does not accept the rules of the Jewish dietary system as binding upon him. But heeded or violated, the rules lift the act of having lunch out of the ordinary and make it a religious matter. If you can do that to the process of eating, you have done something important.”

There is a lot to unpack here that applies beautifully to the word of wisdom.

First, we should be filled we gratitude that the God of heaven reached out once again to us in our dispensation to give us a law of health. I am reminded of God’s promise in D&C 59:3-4 that those who are faithful and come to Zion will “be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me.” Commandments are ultimately a sign of love and a blessing from a loving God rather than a curse and a burden.

Second, It is truly incredible that the same being that created the universe cares what I drink at a happy hour or what I consume when on a break. That knowledge fills me with such joy and appreciation for my Heavenly Father. He knows me personally and cares about what I ingest and how I spend my time.

Third, the word of wisdom has the impact of transforming our routine choices into sacred ones. When we choose not to drink a coffee or consume an alcoholic beverage, we are “making a theological statement” about our devotion to God and our willingness to submit to his will. Keeping the word of wisdom provides us with an internal and external opportunity to stand out, be different, teach about the Gospel and set a good example.

I am grateful to know that the God of heaven is mindful of me and that he cares about me and what I do with my life. The Word of Wisdom helps me to connect to God and to appreciate all of his tender mercies and blessings.

Keep government hands off social media

Over the weekend, Rameumpton wrote a post urging for government action to break up social media “monopolies” like Facebook, Google and Twitter. He is not alone in calling for such action. Facebook is portrayed as a behemoth that has to be taken down for the good of society. But this argument is both historically and philosophically misguided. I want to respond to and elaborate on three points:

  • Facebook is not a monopoly

First of all, it is worth discussing what exactly makes a monopoly a monopoly. There are (at least) two competing definitions of what kind of concentration of power justifies government intervention. One view sees big as bad and aims to break up companies that have too large of a market share. This was the dominant anti-trust paradox until the late 1970s. The other approach which has been dominant since Robert Bork published his seminal work, The Antitrust Paradox, in 1978 is that a big is only bad if it harms consumers by producing anti-competitive results.    

This matters immensely when talking about companies like Facebook. Sure, Facebook has a large market share and ubiquitous presence. But unless there is meaningful evidence that it has engaged in anti-competitive behavior that is harmful to consumers, then there is no anti-trust injury and no reason for government intervention.

Previous monopolies have erected barriers that have made it difficult or nearly impossible for free and fair competition. For instance, AT&T had an actual government regulatory monopoly which made it practically impossible for competitors to erect the infrastructure needed to compete. Because it bought into a faulty theory of scarcity, the government handed AT&T exclusive power and regulated AT&T like a public entity. Government intervention was actually what caused the monopoly to exist in the first place, and so government intervention was necessary to break up the juggernaut that it had enabled.

The situation with social media could not be more different. The internet has leveled barriers of entry. Anyone with a computer and coding skill can attempt to create the next big internet phenomenon. Remember that Facebook itself was started by a bunch of college aged kids at Harvard who saw the need for a better networking platform than existed at the time. And anyone arguing that Facebook is immune to free and fair competition will have to recon with the fall of former giants such as MySpace.

  • Private Social Media Companies do not violate the First Amendment

Rameupton claims that social media platforms need to be broken up because they are engaged in censorship and are violating free speech principles. But this argument seriously conflates the actions of private companies such as Facebook with government censorship and restrictions on freedom of speech. The First Amendment prohibits only government censorship or speech restrictions. When a private company chooses to restrict speech on its platform, it is not violating the first amendment. To the contrary, the First Amendment protects the right of Facebook to restrict access to the platform that it has created (which is its own private property) for practically any reason. Simply put, Facebook is not required to allow neo-Nazi propaganda, or white supremacist speech, or any other speech that it does not like.

Are there reasons to be concerned when social media sites target conservative voices more aggressively for censorship? Sure. Social media platforms exercise an outsized impact on our culture. And we should criticize them when claim to be unbiased and open but hypocritically go after certain viewpoints.

If we do not like what Facebook does, we have options. We can protest or boycott. We can loudly make the moral case that we should create platforms where sharp differences can be expressed. And if we are really outraged, we can leave and start our own platforms. Indeed, that is what gun enthusiasts did when YouTube began to demonetize gun videos—they created a separate site called Full30.com to promote those videos.

What we cannot do is recruit the government to compel private companies like Facebook to give us a space to express ourselves. That is not within the government’s power to do.

Now, there is a separate but closely related issue concerning whether social media platforms should be held liable for things that users post on their platform. For instance, if I go on Facebook and defame someone, should Facebook be responsible? This is a complex issue that exceeds the scope of this post. But the remarkable success of social media has come precisely because platforms have not been held liable for what users say or do on the platform. And in my opinion it would be an enormous mistake to break down the foundation that has produced immense prosperity and changed the world.

  • Regulations are likely to create rather than eliminate monopolies

Rameupton is right about at least one thing, however. We should be suspicious when we see Mark Zuckerberg and others calling on Congress to regulate his company and calling for government led censorship. Could it be that such government action would help to cement Facebook’s position by making it harder for competitors to challenge Facebook? The truth is that when the government steps in, it almost always creates unintentional consequences that harm consumers. We should not rely on the government to fix all of our social media problems.

In the Marrow of our Bones

Elder Whitney Clayton was the keynote speaker this week at an interfaith religious freedom conference series being sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, William Jessup University, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. THe Conference series is on the topic of “Preserving Our Religious Freedoms with a Civil Voice: People of Faith Working Together in the Public Square.”

Elder Clayton’s remarks were well received by a very diverse group of people of diverse faith traditions who are coming together to speak up about the important role that faith plays in the public square.

His remarks were recorded and will eventually be available online. However, his remarks were substantially similar to ones that he gave at BYU’s Religious Freedom Annual Review in June 2018. Here is a write up in Meridian on those remarks.

Elder Clayton’s central thesis was that increasingly many people in our secularizing society do not really understand the role that religion plays in the life of the believer. All too often, faith is seen “as something akin to a quirky, private belief or hobby like secretly believing in the Yeti or UFOs or belonging to a weekly bowling league.” From that premise it is easy to treat faith as something quaint or unnecessary. Accordingly, it is easy to say “You are welcome to have your own private fantasy world, but keep it private and don’t make me acknowledge it.” When push comes to shove, beliefs must yield to changing social trends.

But in reality, faith is far deeper than that. “[F]or tens of millions of Americans, faith and religious convictions are the most powerful defining sources of personal and family identity in their lives. … [T]heir faith is marrow to their very bones of who and what they are.” Faith is far more central than that: ”
“Once experienced and accepted, faith in God is life-altering. The faithful, life-changing choice to believe deeply influences ones personal, familial, and cultural identity. It defines who and what we are, how we understand our purpose for being, how we relate to others, how we deal with pain, suffering and death.”

Elder Clayton argued that we can do much more to make clear that religious plays a role at least as profound as our identifiers such as “race, color, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education, profession, wealth and so on,” and that from such a foundation we can build am ore authentic and productive dialogue with those who might disagree with us.

I really liked Elder Clayton’s focus. All too often, we believers try to minimize or downplay our faith in conversations with others. Instead, we need to be clear about where we are coming from and about those beliefs that are part of the marrow in our bones

Overcoming the Stigma and Shame of Mental Illness: A Review of Silent Souls Weeping by Jane Clayson Johnson

Depression and mental illness are topics that are rarely talked about openly in our church. Aside from Elder Holland’s path breaking talk in 2013, we rarely hear sermons devoted to the topic. And when the Church does address the topic, it often focuses on its more extreme manifestations such as suicide attempts, rather than the day-to-day or hour-by-hour struggle that so many endure. The unfortunate side effect has been that shame and stigma has clouded this disease and made it harder for those who suffer to get the care they need.

Enter Jane Clayson Johnson’s revolutionary new book: “Silent Souls Weeping: Depression – Sharing Stories, Finding Hope” that was recently published by Deseret Book. Clayson Johnson is a celebrated journalist who has interviewed presidents and prime ministers. She is also the mother of two children. Yet, while everything outwardly appeared to be going well in her life, she suffered a serious depressive episode. Her recovery led her to want to shed light on the topic of depression which is such a taboo in our Church. She therefore set out to interview over 150 people who have either suffered from depression or helped those suffering from the throes of the disease.

This is a very important endeavor. As one of the people she interviewed told her, ”
“Depression thrives in secrecy, but shrinks in empathy.”

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