Joseph Campbell, exmormons, Daniel Quinn and memetics, anti-gay politics in Nevada and more

6/14/02 - 9/23/02 Messages


The most recent messages can be found here.


received 9/23/02
Congratulations and thank you for providing so many thought provoking, interesting and yet unbiased articles on Mormonism and Christianity. Reading your articles is always a pleasure.

Your examinations on The Book of Mormon and The Book of Abraham are indeed very interesting, now I wish to bring your notice to another "sacred texts" known as "Oahspe" (pronounced "Oh-Ah-Sphee"), written by self-professed medium, Dr. John Ballou Newbrough.

Concerning the so-called "prophet" and "divine revelation" such as in the case of Joseph Smith and his Mormonism; in my opinion, many these "prophets" and "mediums" are sincere in their attempts to create their own version ideal religions or religious sects. The "sacred-texts" "revealed" to them are the reflections of their dreams and desires.

Such is also the case of John Ballou Newbrough and his immense "Oahspe". Newbrough was a New York dentist and self-proclaimed medium in the late 19th century. He claimed that the "sacred scripture" was revealed to him by some angelic beings. Later, Newbrough found a religion known as "Faithism", which until today still have a small number of followers. Oahspe is not commonly known to the public, since the Faithists rarely propagandize their religion. Oahspe itself is a bulky tome, contains more than 900 pages and hundreds of bizarre illustrations.

Joseph Smith's Mormonism is still a continuation of Judeo-Christian religion, but Newbrough's Faithism is a completely new religion. If The Book of Mormon is about a history of Hebrew communities in the New World, Oahspe is about the history of the entire universe, human race and his civilizations.

However, the Weltanschauung, cosmology and history described in Oahspe differ vastly from ours. For instances, according to this "New Bible", China was named after a Chinese sage known as "Chine", the existence of a "lost continent" known as "Pan", Isaiah was a Chinese prophet, Egypt was named after an angel known as "Egupt", etc. Oahspe itself seems to be a big hodgepodge of Zoroastrianism, Judeo-Christianity, Hindusim, Spiritualism, and science fictions.

It is interesting that why there are still a number of people believe in the book that defy our usual reasons and logics, things that seem to be absurd and laughable in public's eyes.

Of course, Oahspe is exposed to critiques, but the Faithist community does not have a well-organized foundation packed with well-learned scholars (frankly, I will be extremely surprise to hear a scholar embracing Faithism) like FARMS of LDS Church to defend their religion.

There is a complete version of the scriptures available on the Internet, you might want to have a look at it: http://www.angelfire.com/in2/oahspe3/oindex.html

A summary of the Oahspean cosmology and worldview by a Faithist can be found at: http://www.angelfire.com/ia/faithist/dennon.html

A brief view on Oahspe and its history by a Faithist can be found at: http://www.oahspe-eloists.com/main5.htm, and another by a Christian: http://www.world-destiny.org/entry3.html

John Ballou Newbough also established an Orphanage known as "The Shalam Colony" in New Mexico, to fulfill his dreams to create a Utopia- an idealistic community and human race as recorded in Oahspe. This project, of course, was doomed to failure. More about this project can be found at: http://archives.nmsu.edu/exhibits/shalam2/shalam2.html

Just like most of the new religious movements, Oahspe received harsh critiques from fundamentalist Christians. Here is a fundamentalist Christian's view on Oahspe: http://www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/1998/apr/m02-010.shtml

Oahspe contain a large section of its own linguistic, physics, meteorology and astronomy that mostly failed to accord with our current scientific understanding. A critique on the "Oahspean Science" can be found at: http://www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/1998/apr/m02-010.shtml

An ex-publisher of Oahspean books now turned to an anti-Oahspe publication: http://www.oahspe.com/

I wish that you could provide a special section on questioning Oahspe in your website, with critical, rational, and unbiased articles on this "New Bible", just like those of your articles concerning The Book of Mormon and he Book of Abraham. I am eager to read your views, comments and critiques on Oahspe.

I'm not interested in critiquing religions these days, but I will post your message in full.


received 9/20/02
Be happy to send you and advance copy of The Wives of Short Creek, an anitidote to the intensity of The Ferry Woman. I have your link posted prominately at
www.geraldgrimmett.com and if you would like to reciprocte would appreciate it. The trade paper edition of Wives won't be out until Jan 2003 for marketing timing.

You'll be able to read the first two chapters and my essay on polygamy through the link above.

Thanks for the offer, but I'm no longer reading or reviewing books on Mormonism.


received 9/9/02
I just wanted to let you know how terrific your site is (
lds-mormon.com). I log in every few days to read & re-read the articles. I applaud your treatment of the lds religion; tactfully showing where the holes are (and they are many), yet stopping short of bashing it.

Similar to your experience, I came to the conclusion that Mormonism is wishful thinking via Book of Abraham, temple endowment, Book of Mormon issues, polygamy, Adam-God, historical whitewashing etc., but one of my main gripes is the oppressive hold that the church has over its members.

I used to love going to the temple. I think it was the beauty of it that drew me. I don't think it was the experience per se. Almost every time the folks around the altar would chant, it kind of made me feel uneasy. That alone did not stop me from attending however. I stopped going to church altogether about 3-4 years ago. I stopped for a number of reasons (those listed above were unknown to me at the time). When I stopped going, of course, I was also unable to attend the temple. Even though I was inactive, I still kept tabs on the temples. I would go to an occasional open house as well as follow the happenings on the church website as well as www.ldstemplepage.org and www.ldschurchtemples.com. I kept track of the newly announced temples and dedications as they happened. As a matter of fact I would log onto the two websites that I mentioned all but daily. Well, I still think temples are beautiful and still enjoy driving by them when I can as well as review the websites. Today I logged on to ldschurchtemples.com I was greeted with "Pursuant to legal threats made against the Webmaster of this site, ldschurchtemples.com has been terminated." printed at the top of the page. Well, now I'm pretty much pissed off.

What an oppressive organization! I'm just so livid I can't see straight.

I guess the purpose of this note is to suggest a portion of your website that could deal with such issues. I realize that you have quite a large portion on ex-mos, but this is a little different. Anyway, just a thought.

Thanks for all your work.

Not a bad idea, but I really couldn't care less about Mormonism these days. As such, I don't have the time to expand the site anymore for current issues or to make it exhaustive. Sorry, but thanks for the kind words.


received 8/18/02
The page "
What To Believe In" is striking in terms of it's ignorance of the work of Joseph Campbell. The page begins with a nice quote from "Dessert Solitaire" lamenting man's limited imagination and sense of wonder and suggets that there is at least as much of "the absolute and the marvelous" to be perceived in "silence" or "water" than anything that might be lost if we abandoned the "ancient dreams". It is implied in what follows that Campbell, due to his "belief in a transcendant reality", is an example of one with an insufficient capacity for wonder. What an incredible juxtaposition!

I did that on purpose. Note that I put the quote there and someone else wrote the rest of the post.

When Campbell speaks of the "transcendant reality" its is precisely such things as the perception of "the absolute and the marvelous" in "silence" or "water" that he is speaking about. He is speaking of transcendant experience, not of transcendant realms. It is precisely this sort of transcendant experience that he refers to in the referenced quote "I do not need faith because I have experience". Campbell did not believe in a transcendant reality of the supernatural sort implied by the author of "What to believe in". He did not believe in a personal god or afterlife. As he made perfectly clear in the same conversation with Moyers cited, "heaven isn't some place we go after we die, heaven is right here right and now--if you don't get it here, you're not going to get it". The author of "What to believe" is obvioulsy thoughtful and intelligent--I am surprised that they should be so glaringly ignorant of the man at the heart of his or her comments--Joseph Campbell. Campbell did have, in my opinion, many faults as an intellectual. I think he tended to romanticize the mythologies of ancient peoples and of primitive cultures and to project his own ideas onto them, naively presuming that only we moderns have a prediliction for taking our myths literally instead of metaphorically. We are talking about pre-scientific, ignorant, superstitious societies here, and though it may not make for as interesting a conversation with Bill Moyers, it is almost certainly the case that the ancient peoples and primitive socities whose myths Campbell collected took those myths as literal supernatural truths and not as metaphors.


received 8/16/02
Just a note to say hello again, it's been a while since I visited the site but I still enjoy it. Especially the reviews. Thank you sincerely for your efforts and I encourage you to keep it up!

Your site was a help to me after "escaping the clutches" of the LDS church a couple of years ago and I'll always be greatful for that.


received 8/15/02
I have perused your site now for two years, and thank you very much for your time and effort to get the truth out. Our family left "the church" two years ago, and we are so happy!

RE: this page http://www.lds-mormon.com/doma.shtml, it is interesting that this particular subject was the "straw that broke the camel's back" in our case, however, this happened in Nevada. Once again an election is coming, and the initiative is again on the ballot (it has to pass two times to become law in NV). The church was behind this initiative 2 years ago, and it passed with a 75% margin! Of course the church denied being behind it, but everyone received a letter asking for donations for the cause, and a letter was read in church in support of it. I think it would be extremely helpful to get this information on your website as well, because there are a lot of "members" in NV that are going to try to get this passed. Unfortunately, I do not know a lot of the history behind it, perhaps other readers on the site would be able to help.

I remember my believing Mormon sister, in Las Vegas, saying that church was cancelled at least once so they could go campaigning instead.


received 8/10/02
I just wanted to tell you what a fabulous site you have! Many of the issues and subjects on it are of great interest to me. I left the Jehovah's Witnesses a couple months ago and found your thoughts on Mormonism quite interesting. I often compare the two religions. Different as they are theologically, they have some similarities in terms of thought manipulation, dogmatism, and totalism. Actually, I think the JWs are far worse in these areas.

I did have a question, though. It is quite common for people to leave the JWs, but it is quite common for some to come back. Some that leave still call it "the truth." Is this also true of ex-Mormons? Do some who leave the LDS Church come groveling back into it? Do those that leave go through some anguish, still thinking "what if the Mormons are correct after all?" These thoughts are common to ex-JWs; even I have thought like that sometimes.

Thanks again. If you have any thought in this matter please let me know.

I've yet to hear of anyone going back to Mormonism who left for intellectual reasons. Sometimes people stop attending for a time and then go back when their life changes but they didn't really leave (with their heads) to begin with.


received 7/24/02
I don't know how I stumbled onto your site, but I'm really glad I did. It's so refreshing to listen to people think and question!

I have a few comments, and a few book suggestions that I don't see on the list.

I think that most humans, whether they like to admit it or not, find ritual (from the simplest to the most elaborate -- do they eat the middle of their Oreo cookie first, to getting the car washed every Saturday morning, on up to social and religious ceremonies) comforting, and even necessary. Anthropologists and sociologists have shown us the many varieties of ritual and symbol that humans have devised over the ages to give expression to deep, unspoken need and feeling. I agree with Joseph Campbell when he asserts that the problem is that we are not the creators of our own symbols and rituals -- we most often adopt those of the society, or of a particular religion. Why would these symbols and rituals hold any meaning for us unless we had a part in creating them? Often our rituals and symbols are outdated and no longer meaningful for our time.

It makes me itchy and uncomfortable when I hear spirituality equated to religion, or when I hear religion equated to fundamentalist factions (all religions have them). It makes it too easy for us to either cling to or completely reject what doesn't work for us and leave it at that, rather than exploring and creating for ourselves... which is what your site seems to be all about. I love the emphasis on knowing and experiencing for yourself -- but I get itchy again when it relies too heavily on reason. Reasoning is a very useful and important tool, but I think it can only take us so far.

I totally agree.

We've certainly seen how reason can lead us to perfectly "reasonable" opposite conclusions. I believe it can point us toward Truth, but I don't believe it's the way to know Truth. I'm more inclined toward the Buddhist view that as soon as we conceptualize something (necessary for reasoning), we have automatically created its opposite. It only leads us to relative truths and duality. For the Buddhist, Ultimate Truth cannot be conceptualized or imagined, it can only be seen by direct perception. And Ultimate Truth appears the same to all who see it.

I was raised Catholic, which I don't really have regrets about -- that was just the starting point for my path. My journey to seeing Ultimate Truth actually began with watching Bill Moyers interview Joseph Campbell in a PBS series called The Power of Myth. It was a fascinating discussion of the recurrent themes in the many myths, symbols and rituals that humans have created in the world since recorded time. It was actually a very painful transition for me from the comfort of my childhood beliefs to seeking Ultimate Truth -- it felt like I had been tossed into the sea without a raft. Now my journey includes elements of many philosophies and traditions. There are beautiful aspects to all religions, and by embracing them, I have found a new joy in seeking the face of the Power which I believe infuses and binds everything. I highly recommend reading The Power of Myth -- each time I read it, I get more and more from it. If one is interested in learning about Buddhism, a favorite book of mine is Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagan.

Thanks for the forum!


received 7/12/02
I just wanted to commend you on what I feel may be the finest site I have seen on the internet. I came across while looking for more information on a book I had just read "
Doubt and Certainty." A great book, by the way.

It seems like I had one of those experiences where I felt I was waking up, just after reading the mission statement of your site. I have just recently dropped out of graduate school after getting my physics degree at a liberal arts school and have been reading many books (mostly early 20th century lit such as Kafka, Hesse, Camus) to try to help me out in understanding this world.

There is much I am trying to put into words about how much I love your site, but cannot convey at this moment. For now let me congratulate you on your site and let you know that I will be a constant visitor.


received 6/28/02
Hey, there. Take a look at
this.

That's me talking with you back then in 1997! Back then you asked "What took you so long to return?" and in case you might ask again (since this latest absence has been far longer!), I'll answer: been very busy. Did a masters degree part-time from fall 1998-fall 2000, wrote a thesis (which you can read and which won my department's first Annual Thesis Prize), founded and am further developing an online magazine, and have been, ever since finishing the thesis, researching a book based on my thesis. As part of my research, I just read Susan Blackmore's "The Meme Machine," of which I'd read only excerpts while working on the thesis. Now that I've read the whole thing, I'm impelled to look into some issues. An email search led me -- surprise, surprise -- straight to your site -- and only after some poking around did I realize that I'd been there before!

Anyway, I'm glad I found you again and that you've read Blackmore's book. Because I actually have some intellectual concerns about how it relates to Daniel Quinn's books -- which I recommended to you, which we discussed, which you yourself refer to on the Blackmore page, which inspired my thesis/magazine/book -- and for which, through my academic work, I've found a great deal of support. I'd really love to get some ideas straight, and perhaps you'd be willing and able to help out through dialogue. Hoping that you are, I'll outline my concerns about Blackmore's take on memetics. Please note that my concerns all flow from the fact that I think many of her arguments are *excellent* and yet they seem to contradict important conclusions that I previously thought flowed directly from a proper understanding of memetics / cultural evolution.

1) Quinn's work -- and my own more academic work, based on many respected anthropologists -- suggests that a proper understanding of cultural evolution shows that civilization in general, not to mention our ever-growing and globalizing one, is far from an inevitable result of the process of cultural evolution. But Blackmore seems to suggest that an ever-globalizing civilization in which communication increases in volume and intensity flows directly from the memetic process itself.

I'd have to agree with Blackmore. More people and more globalizing (and the communication that goes along with it) seems to me to be something that memetic processes would foster, if not thrive on.

2) The power of a systems thinking approach to thinking in general and problem solving in specific seems extremely clear to me, focusing on getting at the root of things instead of treating symptoms. Our culture, though, is in a way blind to this perspective. Indeed, that's a great part of why we remain so dysfunctional. Yet opening one's eyes to systems thinking, it seems impossible to then close them, and this seems a good thing. A paradigm shift makes you thereafter think in new terms, and you look to fundamental solutions instead of symptomatic ones.

Blackmore shows us several nasty little tricks that memes (like genes) can take advantage of in order to spread themselves, and these tricks often give memes strength over whatever might be "true." This gives, e.g., religions, UFO belief and all sorts of New Age pursuits their persistence. It would not be hard to extrapolate her argument to suggest that they might give symptomatic solutions in general an inherent advantage over fundamental solutions in terms of what people are willing to embrace.

I agree.

3) From the general standpoint taken by Quinn, myself, et al, technology is not driven to "advance" uncontrollably on its own -- instead, it is driven merely by the specific, not-inevitable and necessarily temporary (because unsustainable) "Taker" meme, i.e., by a particular cultural vision. But Blackmore makes a very interesting case that memetics itself drives technological advance -- that memes are inevitably evolving better and better replicators. It would not be hard to extrapolate her argument to suggest that they will succeed at their goal even if non-human replicators supplant humans, since memes do not look out for the health of their hosts but are driven instead to produce the best replicating vehicles they can. This is particularly distressing when attempting to argue that human culture doesn't inherently drive humanity to extinction.

Unfortunately true I'm afraid.

4) The idea of the paradigm shift inherently includes the notion that there's no going back. We couldn't go back from a sustainable/fulfillment/stability/equality-based vision, once adopted, to the growth/frustration/instability/hierarchy/-based vision even if we wanted to, anymore than the people of the Renaissance could go back to the Middle Ages -- because we would have come to understand what we previously were blind to. But the way Blackmore describes memetics' inherent tendencies, it seems that even if we alleviated our situation and avoided disaster, we'd escalate all over again and head right back, creating a vicious cycle -- that we'd keep impelling ourselves toward the brink of disaster. Yes, there could be memes that could replace the ones we've got so that you'd think it wouldn't happen again (which is precisely what Quinn believes), but memetics' inherent processes may "want" to make us repeat the process.

Despite the many resonances of Blackmore's book with the work of Quinn, myself, etc, her book also throws a lot of uncertainty on the Quinnian take on "how things came to be this way" but also, and especially, how things can possibly get better. There are a few thoughts in Blackmore's book that *may* alleviate some of these concerns, and I do have a few thoughts of my own about how to reconcile these issues, but on the whole I'm leaning toward being more worried about her book than I am toward feeling validated by it.

I agree with your new thoughts. I know you are a big fan of Quinn (far bigger than I am), but his Leaver worship is too idealistic and impractical at this point I believe. With the current population (and no sign of it decreasing in the near future) going back to the "good old days" (something I also believe wasn't really the case or as Quinn envisions it) isn't going to happen. It simply isn't possible. The only way Quinn will get his wish is if 90%+ of the population is wiped out be a war, a disease, a comet, or something similar. Even then I think things would again evolve toward what we see now and not toward a Quinnian utopia. Sorry to be such a pessimist but those are my thoughts.

And a response:

Thanks for the reply. Since I first had those disconcerting thoughts, I developed some thoughts which begin to allay my concerns. A discussion with Susan Blackmore herself didn't do anything to dispel my general stance -- didn't do anything to really support the idea that memetics is inherently unsustainable. Some thoughts:

Memes may seem to tend toward globalization and unsustainability. But that would mean that they aren't very good replicators, since good replicators have fidelity, fecundity and *longevity.* Maybe they're simply bad replicators? I doubt it. I know of no other evolutionary system which is inherently inclined to destroy itself. Sure, certain genes and species die, but genetic evolution work very well on the whole in terms of sustaining life in general and the genetic system in general. Complexity science suggests that it's in the nature of dynamic systems to self-organize in ways that allow them to thrive. I see no reason why memes should be any differrent.

That these unsustainable memes are the exception rather than the rule of memetics itself can also be understood by looking at two things. 1) How long they took to arise. If they were inherent in the memetic process, we shouldn't see such a hugely long period of relative stability in human culture. But we do. 2) The frequency of different levels of social structure in human history. If this ever increasing complication was inherent in the memetic process, we shouldn't see a human history riddled with simple socieites that never got complex, and a relatively smaller number of complex societies falling back to simpler structures, and only an unthinkably small number of complex societies that ever lasted for any significant amount of time or got to any "significant" level of complexity. Instead, complex structures should be the norm. But they aren't. Anything but.

Thus, I believe Quinn's/my analysis remains correct. Sure, the way things are now seems good for memes. But in the end only that which is also good for meme carriers will also be good for memes. So, as a dynamic and evolving system, memetics should weed out those memes that would bring about its own downfall. Since the human economy would likely crash before silicon-based systems were developed that could ongoingly spread memes without people, memes will end up relying on plain old people. So people will end up either pursuing these unsustainable memes until they drive themselves -- and memetics -- into the ground, or they will adopt other memeplexes which allow themselves -- and memes, and memetics -- to thrive with longevity.

For the record, Quinn doesn't imagine a utopia, and neither do I. Often, people misunderstand this perspective to be utopian. Far from. I envision a world in which people can still be jerks, in which there is still homicide and stealing, in which we never get rid of pollution, etc. There's really only one key thing that "needs" to be changed in our global society -- it's drive to push itself into the ground. Take that self-destructive drive away and you don't suddenly get sunshine and roses for all eternity. But you do get something that can work fairly well on the whole. That's all Quinn and I and people like us are talking about.

Probably the best stuff I can point to to show this, short of my own book which isn't done yet, is:
--Peter M. Senge's "The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization" -- which is really a book about systems thinking, which is really all Quinn's/my perspective is all about
--Paul Hawken's "The Ecology of Commerce"
--E.F. Schumacher's "Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered"
--Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robin's "Your Money or Your Life"
--Michael Shuman's "Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age"


received 6/14/02
I found your
description and analysis of Wilber to be superficial and flippant.

Good! Were it to come across in any other fashion I'd feel bad about having spent too much time on him and my review of his book.

I know I'm being superficial and flippant again. ;) Again, intended.

I have been reading his books for many years (since leaving the LDS church) and found him to be helpful in my own journey of learning and self-understanding. In particular, I was deeply impressed by his delineation of the stages of subjective development in the upper left quadrant of his 4 quadrant model; the progression beginning with self-centered to family centered, to socio-centered (like religion), to society centered, to world centered, and on to the identification with "the ineffable." I could trace my own experiences and recognize the blockages the LDS religion had placed in my path.

I'm glad he works for some. I know a couple of other former LDS members who love his writings too. He's not for me though.

After reading The Theory of Everything, I went on to study Beck and Cowan's Spiral Dynamics and found in this work a much more detailed description of my own transitions from the DQ, Blue, Level 4, Truth system through ER, Orange, Level 5, Enterprise system, to FS, Green, Level 6, Communal system. (See Spiral Dynamics, pages 229-273.) It was like reading my own biography and I found it very helpful. I was finally able to articulate to and understand my doubts and concerns about the LDS church, i.e. only ONE true faith; exclusion of Blacks from the priesthood (which was the case when I left); lack of social responsibility; excommunication of thinking people; a lack of true democratic processes; science as a handmaiden to religion; etc., etc.. After a few years of reading and thinking, I am now able to affirm the positive aspects of all the levels below Yellow including appreciating the wonderful benefits I received from the LDS church.

I, as you seem to, have found an intellectual community in the Unitarian Universalist church which accommodates everyone's personal faith (creed) while affirming our collective responsibility for action (deed); and, at least in our congregation here in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is centered at GT, Yellow, Level 7, Systems but includes a diverse set of people some centered in BO, Purple, Tribal Pagans, and others in ER, Orange, Enterprise who use the church for "networking".

I am wondering where the anger and hostility which comes through in your writing is coming from. Although it has an edge which goes beyond careful and thoughtful criticism, it does have the benefit of raising the ire of the reader and gets responses like mine.

I suppose that is why it is there.

As Ian Anderson said, "I may make you feel but I can't make you think."

I try to be passionate in some of my book reviews. Purely careful reviews can get dull after a while.

You characterized yourself in your review as centered in Orange which embodies a competitive/adversarial spirit which does bring about a kind of truth. This may be the only source. I found (find) that the process in the LDS church suppressed my BO, Red, Level 3 Power system and as a result it comes out and contaminates some of what I do.

Personally, I'm not into such labels and compartmentalizing of people, but if it works for you...

Anyway, I am very glad that I happened onto your website. I am very impressed by the scope of your interests and the accessibility of your references. I will check in with you occasionally.


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