Transhumanist Advent: The Angels’ Announcement

Jesus was a social and theological revolutionary. The choirs of angels announcing his birth were at the same time announcing the death of the god of the Pharisees, and every other lesser god. The mission of Jesus was to exemplify and orient a faith to the god worthy of it. Essential to this is relinquishing our ties to the dying or dead god(s). Or, in other words, to finish off the dying gods.

This pattern of relinquishing ties to dying or dead gods has been the persistent narrative of all scripture. The dying or dead gods would include any god whose gospel promotes a lesser vision of human growth and development—as the god (or law) of the Old Testament died with the revelation of the god of the New Testament whose gospel promoted a fuller, loftier vision of human growth and potential.

For starters, the dead or dying god(s) would include the gods of religious and anti-religious dogma; the gods of idolatry; the gods of tautologies; the gods of rote recitations; the abstract as to be meaningless gods; the gods who are responsible for everything; the gods who seem to want that we frequently worship them in ways that avoid the call of the world to heal it; the gods who are at our beck and call to fix annoying, urgent, or life and death problems; or the deal-making gods who will fix problem x, provided we do action y; the gods fixed on indicators of participation in religious traditions; the gods that want us to see the world as unchangeably evil (until they sweep in on some future day); the gods that seem to desire worshippers more than peers; the gods that continually pit ‘us’ against ‘them’; the gods that seem more concerned that we acknowledge them in all things than that we acknowledge that we are more capable than we have acted, and can do more to build a worthy kingdom; and the gods who carry the ultimate burden of justification for the evil and death in the world.

And yet, as Lincoln Cannon has put it, “If we can raise our eyes from the altar of religious and anti-religious dogma, we’ll see that the hand raised to finish the dying God is the sign of the oath to the resurrecting God. … we’ll also see the hand is our own and it holds a blade that’s aged and stained. That’s when we have a choice, either to repeat the old sacrifices of our ancestors, or finally to make the new sacrifice that they always implied: we can put ourselves on the altar and learn to become Gods.” (1)

What would a worthy god do and bring about among humanity? Are there aspects in that that we could do, or with which we could help? That is the call of Christ. And in a broader sense, that is the call of life.

As we hearken to the gospel of Jesus Christ and follow his example, we accept the grace of this responsibility to take on the role and mantle of God to the degree we can. And with this revelation, we recognize and accept that we are, and always have been the ones who carry the true and full burden of justification for the evil and death in the world. So, with Christ, may we meet “the hopes and fears of all the years” (2) today.

-Ben Blair

1 -
2 - “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Transhumanist Advent: The Lessons of Scrooge’s Ghosts

Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge is the recognizable curmudgeon-y old man who just can’t get the spirit of Christmas. Instead of enjoying the season, he sees it as just another excuse to pick a man’s pocket. But if we congratulate ourselves, rather than see ourselves in Scrooge, we miss enduring lessons of the three ghosts.

With Scrooge, for the most part, we are caught up in selfish desires, and our selected idols, and may even feel justified because society encourages these (even praiseworthy values such as thrift, frugality, and prudence have become idols for Scrooge), and shrouds the results of our harmful activities, or our shameful neglect. But there are consequences to our desires, actions, and inaction. Despite the good we may do, in light of the pain and suffering in the world, to feel justified in our efforts--whatever they may be--as if they were enough is to play the Scrooge.

Scrooge is visited by three ghosts. The ghost of the past shows Scrooge his younger years, and demonstrates that he has experienced joy and pain, triumphs and successes in his past. With Scrooge, we hold beautiful memories of kindness and generosity, as well as regret for the coldness we’ve shown, and our misplaced priorities. But no amount of joy or regret we feel about the past or the good we have done may redeem us. The past holds lessons, but no salvation.

The ghost of the Present demonstrates that there is still joy in the world, and our work is to experience and spread it; to welcome and be welcomed into fellowship, and see to the suffering and injustice we might make right. The work of the ghost of Christmas Present is to lift the veil to expose more joy and sorrow than we could otherwise see--to extend the reach of our gaze and responsibility.

While the ghost of the past focused on Scrooge and his immediate acquaintances, the ghost of the present expanded this, to show Scrooge others to whom he was connected, including mankind’s emblematic neglected children: Ignorance and Want. The ghost of the present teaches Scrooge that his work is to do what he can to lift others, to bring joy, food, money, knowledge and fulfillment to those wanting. It’s an inspiring message, one that, to that point, Scrooge had failed in ways both recognized and not. If caring for others, looking after their needs, and expanding the circle of who these others are was all that was required, we would need no third ghost. But a third ghost arrives.

Like all of us, Scrooge fears the Ghost of the Future more than the other two. And for good reason. The ghost of the future shows that, despite our best efforts to welcome others, spread joy, and alleviate suffering and injustices, it’s not enough; death remains the end, for us and others, and it’s knocking at the door. So what if we once had joy? So what if we find and spread a fleeting joy? So what if we right a wrong or a million wrongs? In the end awaits death.

The story ends with a renewed Scrooge, not yet dead, but who has seen how it will all play out, unless he changes course. It’s the exact scenario in which we all find ourselves. So he vows to change: to remember, experience and spread joy and fellowship; alleviate suffering and injustices to the degree he can (a degree that is always expanding), and finally to fight to overcome death. These are the lessons of the ghosts.

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more. And to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew.

And so must we all. God bless us in these efforts, everyone.

-Ben Blair

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Transhumanist Advent: A Faithful Position

Two facts exist:

1. Unless there is a drastic change, death is the inevitable end for all of us.

2. Our technological power is increasing at a rate yet unheard of.

Which is the faithful position: That death has been conquered? Or that we may yet be able to conquer death?

-Ben Blair

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Transhumanist Advent: Lift up your eyes and look at the Earth beneath

"Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath" (Isaiah 51:6)

In what is often called the overview effect, humans who have travelled into space and have viewed the earth from that elevated vantage point describe intense feelings of euphoria, interconnectedness, humility, awe, and the awareness of the fragility of life. National boundaries fade away, the atmosphere we often take for granted appears paper-thin, and the world appears as an oasis, silently suspended in an endless void.

Religion is at its best when it too produces these same sensations: euphoria, interconnectedness, humility, awe, and awareness of the sanctity of life. It is at its worst when it is used to produce the opposite: dogma, sectarianism, pride, dullness, and disregard for life. Jesus powerfully orients us towards the best in religion: "My peace I give you" (John 14:27), "In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these" (Matthew 25:40), "he that is greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matthew 23:11),  and "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son" (Matthew 18:10). Indeed, the "fruits of the spirit" has been canonized as "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance" (Galatians 5:22-23).

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel contrasted the difference between anti-science religion used to dull and oppress vs. science-welcoming religion that can awe and inspire:

“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless.” (God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism)

May we turn to the example of Jesus, lift up our eyes to the heavens in spirit and with our tools and technology, then look at the earth beneath with re-invigorated humility and awe towards the sacredness of our world, life, and one another.

-Caleb Jones

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Transhumanist Advent: The Messianic Pattern

In the scriptures we learn that the Satanic pattern is to vault oneself above all others:

"Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God." (2 Thessalonians 2:4)

"For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:" (Isaiah 14:13)

"And it came to pass that Adam, being tempted of the devil—for, behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency;" (Doctrine & Covenants 29:36)

We also learn that Christ's pattern is to raise others up with him:

"And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him." (Doctrine & Covenants 84:38)

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father." (John 14:12)

"They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace; And he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion." (Doctrine & Covenants 76:94-95)

Theologies, therefore, that posit a God who is utterly unique and different from humanity, that are offended when glory is given to anyone but God and seek to reserve glory solely for God, are theologies that posit Satan as God.

On the other hand, theologies that posit a God whose role it is to demonstrate how to be a good person, to show a path that others are capable of following, that invite others to overcome sin and death hand-in-hand with God, that invite others to join the body of Christ and participate in the great atonement of humanity, are theologies that posit Christ as God.

-Carl Youngblood

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Transhumanist Advent: Greater Works Than These

Giving glory to God is good: celebrating God's grace, goodness, and love. But God asks us to worship, not idolize; emulate, not adulate. Jesus exemplified and glorified God's grace, goodness, and love and Jesus challenges His disciples to take upon them these same qualities, not abdicate them to God as an act already performed for us.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father." (John 14:12)

How are we to do works even greater than Jesus? Does our glorifying God forbid this? If so, why? (given Jesus envisioned it). What works did Jesus do? Are we magnifying and amplifying them into this world? In what ways might we be fulfilling this call? In what ways might we be failing? What tools do we have today that didn't exist before which might aid us in fulfilling this call?

We must not let our glorifying God get in the way of our worshipping God. That can make the difference between active emulation and passive adulation. And that is the call Jesus gives to His disciples.

-Caleb Jones

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Mormon Naturalism

I think one of the great strengths of Mormonism is its naturalism; however, the term is equivocal and “naturalism” is sometimes criticized. gives (among others) these definitions of “naturalism”:

Philosophy. The system of thought holding that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws.
Theology. The doctrine that all religious truths are derived from nature and natural causes and not from revelation.

It is in the context of this latter definition that, for example, “naturalistic” approaches to the Book of Mormon sometimes come under fire (typically from Mormon apologetic sources). But it seems there is a dichotomy in this definition that Mormonism rejects.

The assumption in the latter definition seems to be that God is “supernatural.” While this may be definitionally true (one of the dictionary definitions of “supernatural” is anything having to do with deity), there is a lot of baggage here. In Western religious and philosophical tradition, God has been understood to be outside or beyond the universe. But this is not the case in Mormon theology, in great part because of our denial of creation ex nihilo and our interpretation of scriptural creation accounts as pertaining to this earth only, and not to the entire universe.

Translating Mormon Transhumanism

Having spare time on a business trip with a colleague in Orlando recently, we decided to spend the afternoon in Epcot. As went from rides, to lands, and to Spaceship Earth we talked about our lives, families, books we've read, and thoughts on science and technology. In this context, our thoughts on religion and futurism came up. He mentioned that he is agnostic and used to be atheist. I mentioned that I am a post-secular Mormon. He was intrigued what a post-secular Mormon might believe.

This is hardly the first time I've translated my beliefs to someone who is agnostic or atheist. I believe that much of effectively communicating beliefs involves translating our assumptions into the language of the other: to assume their assumptions then find a way to translate our worldview in relation to it. Learning the intellectual and/or spiritual dialect of others is key.

In translating for understanding, I've found it can be helpful to discuss beliefs in terms of "at leasts":
  • God is at least a human projection of our best aspirations.
  • Satan is at least a human projection of our worst flaws.
  • The Atonement is at least the power within us to heal and respond to pain and suffering.
  • Jesus is at least a person who tapped into the power of the atonement & God to face Satan in much needed ways.
  • Salvation is at least our best effort to attain Godhood and a Christ-like life.
  • The restoration is at least a collective effort to renew and re-invigorate faith in light of expanding knowledge gained about the world. Joseph Smith at least contributed to this to the extent that Mormonism can participate in this renewal and invigoration.
With this common, base translation I can then translate hopes, beliefs, and trust which I choose to extend beyond these "at leasts":
  • I have faith that the universe has been around long enough for God(s) to emerge and that the charity required for them to wield the power they do without destroying themselves makes them benevolent Gods.
  • I believe that in an existence with moral freedom that some agents will oppose God and God will grant them space to do so -- I'm okay calling that force "Satan".
  • I have faith that Jesus was more than just a person and was/is a manifestation of God's love, empathy, humility, and charity in more than just metaphorical ways.
  • I trust that the atonement is more than just self-realization and that in it we form a real connection with God.
  • I trust that salvation is physical and that as we act in ways that invite the atonement into our lives, societies, tools, and technologies that we can overcome death and sin.
  • I have faith that God was working through Joseph Smith as he participated in the work of restoration.
Pointing out the choice involved in the faith, trust, and belief we translate our views into above "at leasts" is important. Honest, informed people can reasonably disagree with these and my holding that faith, trust, and belief is, at root, a choice from many possible alternatives.

But regardless of the details of hows, whether truth lies at "at leasts" or somewhere above with faith, I hope that we can all become Christs as we seek to tap into that same spiritual energy Jesus did and become manifestations of God's love, empathy, humility, and charity to one another. This trust and charity that we can extend to one another will take humanity far as we explore the universe.

And I find the above most robustly articulated in Mormonism.

A Primer Primer

Guest Post: Ben Blair, Chief of Special Projects

If you have been to the transfigurism site in the last few months, you may have noticed a link to the Primers. Are/were you confused by these? Well, here's your primer on these primers!

The primers are short introductions to important ideas for Mormon Transhumanism. They came about as a tool to give structure to in-person meetups, and as a simple way to introduce basic ideas of Mormon Transhumanism. The primers are written at around a 6th grade level, and are typically 3-5 short paragraphs in length. One way to think of them is as a way to talk about Mormon Transhumanism to your child or parent.

The structure of the primers is quite simple. Each primer includes one or more learning objective, a summary, easy-to-understand content, definitions for key terms, discussion questions, a call to action, and resources for further study/engagement.

You can find them all here, or by title:

The Basics of Mormon Transhumanism
The Purpose of the Mormon Transhumanist Association
Humanity+ and the Transhumanist Declaration
Exponential Change
Implications of Exponential Technological Trends for Humanity

We will be publishing additional primers every 2-3 months to the MTA website, and also sharing them through the Transfigurist.

Now that they are in circulation, we are especially interested in hearing how people find them useful, or what would make them more helpful--in terms of design, format, content, etc. Tell us what you think! (Or what your child/parent thinks.) Are there uses for these besides those we have mentioned?

The Mormon Church Gathers Mountains of Data. What Does That Mean for Revelation?

It may sound like a small thing, but my view of the world shifted the day I received a survey as a Mormon missionary.

Church leaders in Salt Lake City had sent our mission a stack of surveys and asked us to each fill one out. They intended to use the insights to improve the Church's missionary program.

As I filled out the survey, which was quite extensive, it struck me that this method of gathering insight was dramatically different than the method that Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, had used in the early 1800s.

When Smith wanted to improve the Church, he prayed and then spoke as though he were God. That’s why the phrase “thus saith the Lord” appears 62 times in Smith’s canonized revelations, collected in the Doctrine and Covenants. Smith didn’t survey his followers to know what to do. He claimed to receive revelation directly from an all-knowing being.

By contrast, Church leaders today rarely if ever use the words “thus saith the Lord,” and they frequently rely on data gathering to make decisions.

And the data gathering isn’t limited to missionary work. A few years after I returned home from my mission, I was randomly selected to participate in six digital surveys that took around 20 minutes each to complete. These surveys asked for my views on topics like immigration, church history, and specific Mormon bloggers.

It seems that gathering data is common practice for the Mormon Church.

To a degree, this focus on data mirrors a theory from the writer Yuval Noah Harari. Harari claims that dataism is becoming a new worldwide religion and that humankind will come to trust in data just as we have trusted in the gods.

In his book Homo Deus he outlines four major shifts in human religion spanning the past 10,000+ years. I might sum up his view as follows:
  • Animism (starting 10,000+ years ago)
    • Everything has a spirit, even trees and animals. If you want something from a tree or animal, you must pray to it directly.
  • Theism (starting roughly 7,000 years ago) 
    • There are gods who rule above. If you want something, you must pray to your god to provide it for you.
  • Humanism (starting in earnest roughly 300 years ago) 
    • Humans are the epitome of creation. If you want something, you have to get it yourself.
  • Dataism (currently emerging) 
    • Algorithms rule the world. If you want something, you can refer to algorithms that will suggest the best way to get it.
We see dataism emerging today almost everywhere we look. For instance, we trust Google Maps to guide us to our destination when we’re driving because we know that their algorithm has been right hundreds of times before. We also rely on Google’s algorithms to give us the information we search for. In addition, we get suggestions from Facebook and Amazon about what we might like, and we occasionally look at those suggestions. Algorithms play a role in a range of fields, from self-driving cars to medicine to computer science.

Harari’s point isn’t that dataism will be a perfect religion. Far from it. It will occasionally prove faulty, just as all religions have. But as algorithms improve, they will offer us access to superhuman intelligence. And as we trust these algorithms, we will feed them more data, which will in turn only make the suggestions better and better — resulting in increased trust (and, again, resulting in better algorithms).

Is it too bold to say that Mormonism is currently making the shift from theism to dataism? Perhaps. After all, members of the Church still say (often with evidence, in my opinion) that their intuition guides them when making callings or knowing which members of the ward need help.

However, it’s clear that the Mormon Church is increasingly interested in gathering data and less interested in explicitly speaking as as the voice of God. Perhaps we're looking at a hybrid of theism and dataism. And, for better and for worse, that is certainly a shift from the methods Joseph Smith used to lead the Church.


Jon Ogden is the author of When Mormons Doubt: A Way to Save Relationships and Seek a Quality Life, available via Amazon.

2018 MTA Humanitarian Service Aim: Homeless Youth

I am pleased to announce that in the coming year the Mormon Transhumanist Association has committed to practice discipleship by engaging our members in acts of humanitarian service for homeless and at-risk youths in Utah and Appalachia.

As chief humanitarian officer for the MTA I have sought out service opportunities in accordance with our stated humanitarian aims, and with the unanimous support of the Management Team we have committed to the above efforts for 2018. Our organizational humanitarian aims include reducing involuntary suffering, minimizing existential risk posed by new technologies and their unintended consequences, developing means for the preservation of life and health, improving human foresight (vis-à-vis the Transhumanist Declaration), and persuading others to do likewise, and sending relief, consolation and healing (vis-à-vis the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation).

There are 1.7 million homeless teens in the United States (1) of which approximately 40,000 are unaccompanied (2). A disproportionately large percentage of them (up to 40%) are LGBT and many state rejection from their family because of their sexual identity as the primary reason for leaving home (3). Upwards of 80% of these youths use drugs or alcohol as a means of escape from the trauma of their young lives (4), and at least 40% of these children have been sexually abused or assaulted (5).

This is an unimaginable burden of suffering.  As disciples and agents of empathy and compassion we are committed to doing what we can, as an organization and individually, to relieve some of the burden these children have been forced to bear.

Why I Stay: Claiming Mormonism in the Face of Doubt

Sometimes, being a Mormon is hard.

I don't mean that the expectations, assignments, duties, activities, and lifestyle is hard. They certainly are, but that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about identifying as a Mormon. Actually being Mormon. 

It is very easy to dismiss someone going through a faith crisis. The presumption is that they want to sin or like finding fault, that they aren't praying "correctly" or reading their scriptures enough, that they are too prideful and too sensitive.

But this dismissal ignores the very real struggles of those who are genuinely searching for answers. They want to believe - no one wants to have their entire foundation crumble. They struggle because they find doctrinal or policy inconsistencies that they can't reconcile.

The Prophetic Voice

My ward snagged the last Sunday before my move to Switzerland to ask me to speak. Given the proximity to LDS General Conference, they assigned me the topic "Come, Listen to a Prophet's Voice." Here is an excerpt from my talk, given on September 24, 2017.

When we hear the word "prophet" in the Church today, we typically think of the president of the High Priesthood -- the president of the Church -- and of course we sustain him as a prophet. But the word applies to more than just the president of the Church: we also sustain his counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve as prophets, seers, and revelators. And the spirit, or gift, of prophecy, is given to others as well, who are not part of the leadership of the Church. For example, we read in 1 Nephi 1:4 that in the reign of Zedekiah, "there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed." Lehi was one of these prophets not in the Jewish religious leadership. In fact, through much of the Old Testament, God called prophets from outside the priestly leadership to call the people (and often their civil and religious leaders) to repentance.

While we often connect priesthood authority and the prophetic calling (with the perfect example of this being Jesus Christ, who is called our "prophet, priest, and king" in the hymn "I Know That My Redeemer Lives"), I believe it is important to distinguish the broader concept of a prophet. This is partly because it helps us understand the scriptures, but more importantly, because it helps us understand what the role of a prophet is and how it applies to our own lives.

So what is a prophet? The simplest definition of the spirit of prophecy comes from Revelation 19:10: "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy". But if we understand "testimony" to mean primarily "knowledge", I think we miss a key piece of the spirit of prophecy: feeling. A few years ago, when most recently we studied the Old Testament in Gospel Doctrine, I read a fantastic book called "The Prophets" by Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the foremost Jewish scholars of our time. He says this about prophets:

"The fundamental experience of the prophet is a fellowship with the feelings of God, a sympathy with the divine pathos [or feelings]. The emotional experience of the prophet becomes the focal point for the prophet's understanding of God. He lives not only his personal life, but also the life of God... The prophet hears God's voice and feels His heart. He tries to impart the pathos [or feeling] of the message together with its logos [or content]."

The role of a prophet is not only to speak messages from God, but to feel as God feels and to express that feeling to listeners, to invite them to have the same relationship with God the prophet has. And we are all exhorted to seek after this gift: 1 Corinthians 14:1 (and really, most of this chapter through verse 32): "Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy." Or, as Moses put it when some complained to him that others were prophesying in the camp: "Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!"

This is part of what I meant earlier about how the role of prophet applies to our own lives: we are to be prophets, men and women and children. In fact, Moses's sister Miriam is called a prophetess, along with Deborah, Huldah, Anna, and other women whose names are not recorded in the scriptures. In Acts 2:17, God promises: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy."

Occasionally, when I have discussed this idea with people, they have regarded it as dangerous, as somehow detracting from the authority of Church leaders or encouraging people to simply follow their own way and not worry about unity with the body of the Church. But the true spirit of prophecy is one of unity, because it is to understand (as far as we in our limited state currently can) the mind and heart of God, and one of the key characteristics of the Godhead is unity.

So how can we become prophets and prophetesses and have the spirit of prophecy? By reading and listening to the voices of other prophets. As we hear their messages, and more importantly, as we feel the divine feelings they express, our hearts are transformed and we are open to receiving those same feelings from God. In fact, it is when we ourselves have the spirit of prophecy that we best receive and understand prophetic messages. As D&C 50:17-22 puts it:

"Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way it is not of God. And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? If it be some other way it is not of God. Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together."

Of course, because we are still developing in our godly characteristics, the messages of prophets will often point out where we are deficient, and this is rarely a comfortable thing. This is why so often, people have rejected, stoned, and killed prophets. At the same time, because God feels incomparable love for all of us, prophets also bring messages of comfort. As Jeffrey R. Holland said in General Conference in April of 2011:

"We are commanded in the scriptures to 'say nothing but repentance unto this generation,' while at the same time we are to preach 'good tidings [to] the meek ... [and] bind up the brokenhearted.' Whatever form they take, these conference messages 'proclaim liberty to the captives' and declare 'the unsearchable riches of Christ.' In the wide variety of sermons given is the assumption that there will be something for everyone. In this regard, I guess President Harold B. Lee put it best years ago when he said that the gospel is 'to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the [comfortable]."

As Mormons and as transhumanists, we should feel called with a prophetic calling, to spread the good news of how the divine work of transforming humanity into the image of God is proceeding. Most of us are in a position of great privilege, and if we do not feel uncomfortable with the demands placed on us by the call to be transformed into the image of Christ, we probably do not understand well enough. We should allow ourselves to be challenged by those we sustain and recognize as prophets, listen for the prophetic voice wherever it may be found, and feel "constrained", as Joseph Smith would call it, to challenge ourselves and others to the work of transformation into the divine image.

A Call to Repentance: The LDS Church Response to Victims of Sexual Assault

In 2016, social media was in an uproar. The Mormon Newsroom, the official organization responsible for releasing news about the LDS Church, had just released an article praising the LDS Church's approach to victims of sexual assault. Originally written in 2010 by (now) Elder Von G. Keetch, the article claimed that the Church was the "Gold Standard" in handling sexual abuse. And victims were furious. The Church quickly removed the article, announcing that it's release had been accidental, and later released an updated version (though much of the original text can be here).

The uproar was well-founded. Many of the false claims were easily renounced, including that the one that "preventing and responding to child abuse is the subject of a regular lesson taught during Sunday meetings", even though there are only two lessons (here and here) found in any church manual used for Sunday instruction that even remotely addresses preventing sexual abuse, and one of these (the far more comprehensive one) is on a near decade-long rotation. 

One of the more outrageous claims was that "the suggestion that the Church instructs members to keep abuse issues solely within the Church is false". There are literally only two General Conference talks given directed at victims of abuse, and both of them explicitly state that that victims should report first to their bishops (1992 and 1978) and then actively discourages victims from seeking therapy, directing victims to only do so with the permission from and even inclusion of their bishops. Unfortunately, many bishops are often hesitant to take the necessary actions to help a victim, which would often require separating a victim from their family, the sudden releasing of an individual from a calling, and possibly relocating whole families to different wards. 70% of victims are hurt by people they know, many of whom are in positions of authority or have a close relationship with the victimMany victims are children who lack access to victim services without an adult to arrange it (as the adults may be the very source of their pain), and if therapy would have ramifications on the family or Church (which is likely), bishops may be unlikely to arrange help. Additionally, mandatory disciplinary action (and subsequent record documentation) is only required for sexual offenses if the offender (1) holds a "prominent church position," defined as a bishop or higher, (2) is a relative of the victim, or (3) a "predator", which has many possible legal definitions but which is most often defined as someone who has been found guilty of sexually exploiting someone, often habitually. So unless a victim has already reported to police and the offender found guilty, the offender may not receive any disciplinary action. A Scout leader who molests his charge, a young man who rapes his girlfriend - there is no guarantee that these individuals would face any church disciplinary action or that their church records would contain any documentation to this effect, especially if the victim is dissuaded from contacting the police or receiving help outside the Church. 

These are not the only harmful practices and messages that victims of sexual assault receive in the Church. The most recent talk given by a General Authority to victims of sexual abuse (1992) told victims of abuse that, unless they do everything in their power to stop the abuse, they are partly responsible for what happened to them and need to repentVictims have a hard enough time not blaming themselves for what happened, so the message that they might have to repent is not only abhorrent, but it reinforces the idea that the victims deserved what happened to them. At least two other articles in the Ensign (here and here) encourage victims of abuse with anger problems (a recognized side-effect of abuse and a symptom of PTSD) to repent, which not only oversimplifies the long-term damage of abuse but also blames victims for something they have little to no control over. Change comes when victims receive therapy, not guilt-trips. 

Other articles published by the Church have had more positive messages for victims of abuse, though they are relatively few in number (I could find only five) and were not written by Church authorities. Written by victims for victims (mostly women), they most often focus on the importance of forgiving, finding your self-worth, and ending cycles of abuse, with emphasis on how the church has helped them find peace. While helpful and reassuring, they do little to counter the harmful messages that victims have heard from Church authorities or the unhelpful policies that keep victims from receiving the help they need. The Church did recently release a whopping five-point list of how to help victims of sexual abuse this past April in the Liahona, so at least it's making (some) effort.

Perhaps even more damaging are the messages received from leaders and parents that, while most likely well-intentioned, have done far more harm than good. Messages about modesty are directed at girls, not boys, and young women are frequently told that their bodies cause boys and men to think bad thoughts (even comparing them to pornography). Elder Holland himself stated that he has heard all of his life that women are held responsible because men cannot control themselves, and that the concept is repulsive, a statement made in a BYU devotional and not found on Instead, the same messages that Elder Holland heard are the same the messages that girls receive: that that boys can't control their thoughts and that girls must cover their bodies to keep boys cleanWhen the messages that women hear time and again are that they are responsible for the thoughts of men, is it any wonder that they then blame themselves when they are assaulted? Women who have had sex (consensual or not) are commonly compared to chewed gum and nailed fence posts, with the implication being that you become damaged goods - an all-too common refrain in the minds of victims. Elizabeth Smart has been especially active in communicating the harm this kind of language does, but change is slow, and for many victims, the damage is done. The Miracle of Forgiveness, a very popular book that is still handed out by many bishops to victims and perpetrators alike, states quite explicitly that unless a rape victim does everything in their power to resist, they would be better off dead. Only last year (2016) did the Church remove language from the Personal Progress book, a guide for young women, that a girl's virtue can be taken by rape. Is anyone really surprised that victims of sexual assault have self-worth issues? 

Now, to be completely fair, Handbook 1 does include more victim-friendly language, directing bishops to prioritize victims, encourage therapy (though still within the Church), and assure them they are not responsible for what happened. But there is a problem with this: Handbook 1 isn't publicly available, and Handbook 2 (which is available) doesn't contain any information about sexual abuse. So the only way victims hear these messages are if the Bishops choose to disclose them. Members cannot hold their bishops accountable for abiding by these policies because the members aren't granted access to them. Instead, they receive the messages I've outlined above, and bishops - who were members for years before becoming bishops - often fall back on the cultural norms.

But of all the messages that victims receive, what they don't hear might be more chilling. Not only have been only two general conference addresses targeted to victims of sexual assault since 1971; in a search of general conference addresses, only 23 mention both the words "sexual" and "assault" in the same talk (using "sexually" adds 2 more), the phrase "sexual abuse" is found only 11 times"sexual assault" only once, and "molest" (in reference to sexual molestation) only twiceIn all, I could find only 16 that mention sexual abuse, assault, or molestation specifically in some way, and in most of them, it is referenced tangentially with less than a paragraph devoted to it, usually in a list of the evils in the world, and most often in reference to children (even though teenagers are twice as likely to be sexually abused). In comparison, in the same time period, there have been over 550 on pornography. For this rate to be justified, pornographic use would have to be over 34 times that of sexual abuse. Pornography use is high (nationally between 64% and 84%, depending on how you define "use"), but even at the high estimate, this would require sexual assault to only affect about 2.5% of the population.

And yet - Every 98 seconds, an American will be sexually assaultedOne out of every six of women has been sexually assaulted. One out of every ten women will be raped by an intimate partner. 3% of all men are victims of sexual assault. At these rates, we can estimate at minimum 800 million women were sexually assaulted in the US in the 20th Century. And those are just the numbers in the US: globally, nearly one out of every three women will be sexually assaulted, and the WHO calls violence against women a "global epidemic." And being religious does not make you less likely to be victimized, so any argument claiming that sexual assault "isn't a problem" in the Church is unfounded.

How ironic is it that the male leaders in the church have addressed sexual assault at almost the same rate as men who are victims of sexual assaults?

This silence is unacceptable. Victims have already receive painful messages that they are to blame for their assaults, that their worth is diminished because of it, and that the need to maintain Church and family harmony is more important than their mental health. The neglectful attitude toward victims on their path of healing only compounds their feelings of neglect and isolation. If helping victims of abuse was such a priority, shouldn't this be self-evident in the words of our leaders? 

Victims of sexual assault are already significantly more likely to suffer from mental health problems including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating and sleep disorders, and tendencies toward self-harm and suicide, and almost one third of sexual assault victims will have PTSD. When victims don't receive immediate help, such as being removed from dangerous situations and receiving mental health services, these mental health problems are exacerbated. On top of mental health problems, Mormon women who are sexually assaulted are likely to suffer spiritually as a result of their assaults. Shouldn't we make alleviating the suffering a victims a higher priority than we have?  

To give credit where credit is due, the Church has begun making efforts. The five-point list in April's Liahona was positive, if also brief and inadequate, and removing the harmful language from the Personal Progress book was certainly the right move. After the sex abuse scandal at BYU in 2016, in which victims of assault faced school disciplinary action because of what they may have done to contribute to the assault (sound familiar?), the Church condemned the policy, emphasized the importance of prioritizing victims, and encouraged BYU to change it's approach, which it did the following fall. The Church also recently announced a donation of $125,000 to two organizations in Salt Lake that help prevent sexual abuse and assists sexual assault victims, though this frankly seems like a paltry sum given to only a select few - especially when we're a world-wide church with a global sexual abuse epidemic on our hands and that specializes in organizing world-wide training programs

We have to face the facts: The Church has not done enough for victims of sexual assault. From perpetuating messages that victims are to blame and that they need to repent - both for their assaults and for harmful effects on their mental health - to having policies that discourage victims from contacting authorities and accessing mental health services, they have failed. 

But it's never too late to do better. The Church aspires to be the "Gold-Standard" in handling sexual assault? Well, there's a way to do that: 

1) Stop. Being. Silent. Victims of sexual abuse struggle speaking up for themselves out of fear of being blamed for their assault, being called a liar, and the utter terror of reliving the past. When leaders of the Church address victims of sexual assault only rarely and tangentially, they communicate the message that it isn't important, even though victims often have life-long effects of their assaults, especially when care is not taken to prioritize their needs. Our leaders are responsible for addressing the morally relevant issues of the day, and their relative silence on this is unacceptable. 

2) Specifically address the harmful messages in the past. We're getting better - a little. Removing the language in the Personal Progress manuals telling victims that they have lost their virtue is a step, but it isn't enough. The Miracle of Forgiveness is still being distributed, not only to victims, but to others that continue to perpetuate its harmful messages for victims. 
Victim-blaming attitudes that have for so long permeated the dialogue about sexual abuse continuesin large part because they haven't been directly countered. The articles above are not hard to find; any victim searching for help will find them and read them because this issue has been ignored for so long that there's nothing to drown them out. Articles with harmful messages should either be excluded from the results of index searches or should come with a disclaimer: "These messages contain information that is no longer in harmony with the practices and policies of the LDS Church. Victims should feel no guilt, are not to blame, and are encouraged to seek medical and legal services." But even this may not be enough; those that perpetuate these messages write off language changes as the Church caving to political correctness. Unless the toxic messages of our past are replaced with messages that directly contradict them, these attitudes will persist in our culture, and some bishops will continue to ignore the official polices in Handbook 1. 

3) Push for awareness. Sexual assaults happen in the church. Sometimes the perpetrator is a member, and sometimes it isn't. But it's happening. Bishops receive no mandatory training on sexual abuse; they get a single page in Handbook 1. All bishops, parents, and youth leaders need regular exposure to (1) attitudes and practices for preventing sexual assault, (2) recognizing predatory behavior, (3) identifying signs of assault, (4) best practices for intervention, and (5) how to help victims after an assault. The creation of a Church-sponsored regular workshop/fireside that includes parents, leaders, and youth could do considerable good, in preventing sexual assaults from happening, providing a safe place for victims to speak up, and providing resources for current victims. The ten paragraphs in the Parents Guide manual isn't enough, especially if we're not actually reading them or teaching from them. Comprehensive sex education - from parents, teachers, or leaders - is known to help both decrease sexual behavior outside of marriage and the rate of sexual assault (see also this), and encouraging parents to take a more proactive role in discussing sexuality with their children can be very effective.

4) Re-examine Church practices and policies. Performing mandatory background checks for all leaders working with youth should be standard practice, all claims of sexual abuse should be thoroughly investigated, all youth leaders should have mandatory yearly training on abuse, mandatory disciplinary action should be expanded to all perpetrators of sexual violence, and if we require two leaders present at all overnight youth activities, then we should certainly reconsider the practice of putting young men and women behind closed doors with a single male leader asking them questions about their sexual practices. More than one bishop has been guilty of inappropriate behavior in precisely this setting.

5) Prioritize victims. Historically, many bishops have been known to focus their attention on the repentance process for perpetrators of sexual assault, regardless of what it says in Handbook 1 (since no one can hold them accountable for abiding by its policies, and helping people repent is basically what bishops do). And to be clear - I have absolutely no problem with helping victimizers repent and change. This only becomes a problem when this is a higher priority than helping victims. Sacrificing victims for the sake of their perpetrators is a form of revictimization - they are being told that their needs are not as important as the needs of the one who hurt them. Let that sink it. Is that really a message you want to convey? 

Look, the Church is good at many things, and let's give credit where credit is due. We're great at providing disaster relief, pitching in for service projects, and helping those in financial distress. We're an amazing instant network of social support, and if you need something organized, we're on it. So just imagine the impact we could make if we shifted this type of concentrated effort into preventing sexual abuse and helping victims. But we haven't. 

So yes, the Church has failed.

But do you know what we do in the Church when we fail? We repent. Maybe it's time to start that process. 

This article can also be found at A Believing Scientist

You can have a faith transition but be involved with the Mormon Transhumanist Association

I started this piece, and wrote this sentence, at 3:44 a.m.

Also, I wrote this article the day it was due and went back and forth between what to write, period, for four hours.

Frankly, I didn’t want to be fake. That’s because I have been rather certain for more than a year now that my involvement with the LDS church has concluded. I am, however, grateful for my involvement in the Mormon Transhumanist Association. That includes contributing to the Transfigurist – hence, this post.

. . .

What I am certain of is that all the time my wife and I were separated, my wife would have loved for me to have brought Mormonism back into my life. How I have done that is by being involved in the MTA – I invited her a couple of times to attend meetings.

(I say this not because I want to give her bad publicity – she’s the primary caretaker of our two toddlers and they are incredibly fortunate to be beneficiaries of her general care and kindness each and every day. I say it to illustrate just how much I appreciate engagement in the MTA and association with its wonderful members. It founder, Lincoln Cannon, has helped me think as much as any single individual has.)

Also, I kept on vacillating overnight between wanting, metaphorically speaking, to celebrate a beautiful Mormon-belief body part, and scrapping the providing of good publicity for the church when I other parts of the body to be cancerous.

So instead, I thought about how an article I wrote for work today, that would have suggested a dearth of consideration for local school superintendents and a lack of transparency by a state education department, got lost – and none of it saved. I read stories indicating that we may just be headed to nuclear war because of the temperament of two animalistic national leaders. I thought about how I wouldn’t have known that had I not decided to catch up on many emails with articles The Washington Post sent me, when I thought that I should read more news than I have in the past week or since I’m reporting it myself.

I emailed my doctor, who saw me as I battled mental health challenges over walking away from the church and the family fallout, over an errand. As these actions spanned across 3 a.m., I thought about not wanting to write this article if it would be like a certain public figure’s tweeting at the hour. Then I thought that at the least, I probably wouldn’t be provoking allies both home and abroad.

It’s now 4:15 a.m. and while wondering how to come back around to the topic expressed in the headline, I am thinking about being proud to in just two months, have gone from a domestic abuse shelter to working for a daily newspaper. I’m thinking about writing other things that would further illustrate how wonderful Lincoln and the people of the MTA are but also knowing that I would need to bring in a past incident that… does not comment on my hope today.

I should have been able in the past four minutes to have written more than the immediate above paragraph. And that makes me consider that I may not succeed in effectively getting back to the topic.

So I’ll just say that Mormon, non-Mormon, never-Mormon or post-Mormon (if all of the labels are fair), get involved in the MTA if you are near one of its meetup locations of Provo, Seattle and the Bay Area.

I guess I’ll also reveal a motivation as much as any for writing a feature this past spring about the organization: I wanted to spread the word. You need to participate. Doctrine & Covenants 8 says to use our minds. Isaiah wrote “let us reason together.”

At the meetups, folks engage in significantly enriching philosophical discussion. Would you have liked to have talked with remarkably bright people (we’re talking about doctors and CEOs and real philosophers and historians), who are Latter-day Saints, about the church’s gay policy just after it was released? How about the results of the presidential election shortly after the results came in?

The MTA would have been exactly what you were looking for. These are people who offer help on the journey only from their hearts.

Technological Funemployment

Photo by Tony Webster on Unsplash

For years, the spectre of technological unemployment has been exploited as the sociological apocalypse that will require all kinds of new economic interventions like a universal basic income and universal healthcare. (More on those proposed solutions in the future.) This spectre, however, is harmless. It’s a tiny kernel of truth wrapped in a triple-ply fib of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

The kernel of truth is this: Automation DOES put people out of dangerous and boring work. There are centuries of hard evidence for this. Agriculture jobs? Gone. Manufacturing jobs? Done. Transportation jobs? Endangered. Technology, be it a hammer, or a thresher, or a robot, or an AI, allows people to make repetitive or strenuous tasks a breeze, so one person can do the job of many, pushing people out of that line of work. Seemingly, this is a tragedy.

The lie is the notion that people don’t find or create other jobs. It promotes a fear that many are doomed. Thankfully, it’s easy to find examples that disprove this notion. If technology eliminated agriculture and manufacturing jobs, why are 90% of Americans not unemployed? The answer is that they found safer, more interesting work, and often in new industries that were only made possible by technology. Really, people just moved further down the pipeline, or steps were added in between where new technology created a demand for people to distribute and use it. The products of farms and lumber and quarries and mines were made into complex machines, and these new complex machines required lots of humans to sell them, operate them, repair them, insure them, etc. At the end of the day, every advancement in technology that has saved human labor in one area has created just as much or more human labor in other new areas.

A fast example in the video game industry shows how automation technology in even the most high tech jobs is preserving and expanding the job market. Georgia Institute of Technology researchers created an AI that can recreate a game’s mechanics simply by watching gameplay. An intelligent machine like this can essentially provide a framework for a new game by looking at an old game without having to know the source code. It can just make new source code that developers can use to make new projects:

"Instead of putting people out of work, this will make it possible for people to create games that were otherwise unable to do so," Riedl said. "That makes it possible for more people to create – increasing the size of the pie instead of supplanting individuals. Second, professionals may be able to build games faster by having the system make an initial guess about the mechanics. Working more efficiently doesn’t necessarily put people out of work, but does allow them to make bigger and better games in the time available."

Robots in the workplace simply means that more work gets done, even with the same amount of people. Usually this just means that more satisfying work gets done. All the doom and gloom about recent technological unemployment is slowly being cleared away by the realization that if the rate of job destruction is increasing, the rate of job creation is also increasing, giving people more choices and opportunities than ever as old, stale ones fall away. As these technological processes continue to disintegrate old industries and form new ones from those ashes, we’re not seeing technological unemployment as a pervasive phenomena, but rather as a temporary restocking before employing those souls with new, more fun employments.

At the end of the day, what this means is that we are slowly unlocking the most fun and challenging problems for humanity to conquer, and there’s no sign that we are finding any limits to humanity’s potential. Human ingenuity is boundless. We’ll always be standing on the shoulders of giants, venturing out into new frontiers. We’ll keep extending, not until we reach the limit of our mental and physical capacities, but until there are no frontiers left. Where are we at that point? What are we if not marching towards godliness, with ever-improving mastery over the universe, delving constantly into the depths of the yet-unknown pockets of knowledge that our universe is hiding?

Arthur C. Clarke once said:

“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play.”

Understood in the lens of history, what I think what Clarke really means is that we are taking people away from being paid for drudgery, and towards being paid to play. The rosy future exists where robots and AI provide us all our food, health, transportation, shelter, and entertainment for free, and we simply enjoy unbridled leisure. But even if all the amenities of life are enjoyed freely, we probably won’t be slobs. Instead, we’ll be free to pursue the passions that we all have in our hearts. We’ll be “fun”-employed, due to the technological fruits of the labor of the other fun-employed people that came before us. The goal of the future, then, is full funemployment, and it’s the future we’re already marching towards. We know this because it’s the same path we’ve always been on since humanity began: the hard path, which is also the fun path.