Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Zeal Without Data: Blaming the Church for Utah's Allegedly Low Vaccination Rates

Romans 10:2 speaks of those who "have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." Psalm 19:2 in the NET (New English Translation) tells us that "It is dangerous to have zeal without knowledge, and the one who acts hastily makes poor choices." Hugh Nibley was fond of the phrase "zeal without knowledge" and once gave a talk at BYU with that title. Zeal without knowledge can refer to those who think they are valiantly following God but acting in ignorance of the truth, which can lead to atrocious results that hurt others and hinder Zion. Nibley urges us to do our own thinking, to use our minds, to constantly seek knowledge, so that we can mature, grow, and do what's right. "Zeal makes us loyal and unflinching, but God wants more than that." Nibley quotes Joseph Smith (Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 80) saying, "Many, having a zeal not according to knowledge," said the Prophet, " . . . have, no doubt, in the heat of enthusiasm, taught and said many things which are derogatory to the genuine character and principles of the Church." 

That problem continues to this day, in spite of he incredible growth of access to information. Highly educated people who think they know what they are talking about can easily act in zeal, driven by their passionate loyalty for misguided causes, sharing information and teachings that are based on ignorance and a lack of accurate data. Nibley warned that if we don't actively seek and obtain good information and use our minds to their full capacity, then "false information flourishes" and we are likely to believe all sorts of preposterous nonsense.

A case in point is the very unfortunate op-ed column by a Latter-day Saint professor, Benjamin Park, in the influential Washington Post explaining why the past conservative politics of the Church is to blame for Utah's allegedly very low vaccination level. The subhead (line below the headline) declares that "LDS leaders stoked a far-right culture for decades. Now it might undermine their authority." Yep, that's the problem, all right. Utah's got some Republicans and it's the Church that foolishly "stoked" that. Now I suppose Utahans are going to be devastated by COVID as a result since those ignorant right-wingers aren't getting vaccinated.

Park jumps in quickly with data showing how behind Utah is: "Less than half of eligible residents of Utah, where members constitute a majority of the population, are fully vaccinated, placing the state in the lower half of the nation." The link he gives is to a Utah vaccine dashboard where Park apparently has taken the percent vaccinated among all Utahans, not the smaller population of "eligible residents." Huh? 

It's well known that Utah has lots of children, and children under the age of 12 are not eligible for vaccination. So why isn't Park looking at the eligible population when he claims to be reporting that data? That dashboard page shows Utah's vaccination level is at 51.2% of all residents (might have been just below 50% when Park penned his article in August), but what's the level among the eligible? This isn't hard to find. In fact, the Utah dashboard page that Park linked provides relevant data right next to the number Park was using. The more relevant number is hard to miss: "Percent 12+ Received at Least One Dose" and the value reported is at 72%.  That's a lot better than "less than half." The number who are fully vaccinated is at 63% of the eligible population. You can also see how Utah compares to the rest of the nation -- not bad at all all  -- on the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Tracker page under the section, "State COVID-19 vaccine rates by age."

If there was any kind of real fact checking going on at the Washington Post, this embarrassing blunder would have been rectified -- but then the story would not come close to fitting the desired narrative, for the real data directly contradict the basis of Park's rant.

Park's error is treated in more detail by A&R Skabelund in the post, "An Attack of Mormon Mania: Embarrassing blunder by WaPo and Benjamin Park on vaccine hesitancy among LDS Church members and what it reveals about our ruling class" at Worthless Thoughts, Sept 21, 2021. They use data from Aug. 18, the week before the Aug. 24 publication of Park's piece, and show just how painfully off this piece was, not just in the reported "less than half" level, but also in the comparison to other states:

The second part of Park’s claim, that Utah was in the “lower half of the nation,” also proves to be wrong. I consulted the Mayo Clinic’s vaccine tracker (also from August 18th) to compare fully vaccinated rates for each state in the three demographic categories provided: under 18, 18-64, and 65+. In the under 18 fully vaccinated rates, Utah is at 14.2% vaccinated, tied for 25th place. For the 18-64 demographic, Utah’s fully vaxxed percentage comes in at 62.3%, at 17th place. And for the 65+ demographic, Utah is at 90.4%, at 20th place.

The older group most likely to have been influenced by the conservative era that Park decries, are the most vaccinated and are in the top 20 states. 

Scholars make mistakes all the time, just like medical experts do. The appropriate scholarly thing is to own up to it and make a retraction.  The appropriate political thing, however, if your purpose is pure politics driven by data-free zeal, is to continue acting with zeal while ignoring the real data because the end justifies the means and "progress" is all that matters. I'm looking forward to seeing whether this particular professor will choose scholarship over politics, now that the blunder has been made known. Here's my wish that he and WaPo will issue a correction that gets at least as much visibility as the error did, though such a thing is rare in the increasingly politicized media. 

The Skabelunds go on to discuss reasons for the lack of scrutiny to facts and data in pieces that attack the Church, and also write much to point out that there are good reasons why intelligent people might be skeptical of the positions our government is taking in the fight against COVID. Some of what they write is similar to the points I made in my recent article, "How to Talk to Concerned Church Members Who Are 'COVID Policy Doubters,'" published Aug. 15 in Meridian Magazine. Please read their full article and consider some of the excellent point they make. It can help us be less divisive and more understanding of those among our ranks who don't yet want the vaccine. Again, I'm vaccinated and encourage people to get it, but I value freedom of choice on this issue.

Park is worried about fundamentalist, evangelical, and right-wing white Americans who seem to be the bogey man for COVID, failing to recognize that the data shows black Americans and some other minorities are among the most vaccine hesitant. And the reasons they have for not being super trustful of the US government should not be ridiculed. Ever heard of the Tuskegee experiment? Park may have accepted the call of the politicians to demonize the vaccine hesitant, but his response is an unfortunate illustration of how some of our own members can harm the cause of Zion by acting in zeal without knowledge, or in this case, zeal without sound data.


Friday, September 10, 2021

Medical Tyranny? When Your Government Tells You to Abandon Freedom and Personal Choice, It's Time to Speak Out

Victory Boyd

The mainstream media has largely ignored a chilling story about disrespecting the religious beliefs of a black woman, Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Victory Boyd. After being hired by the NFL to sing the national anthem at the season-opening football game on Sept. 9 in Tampa, Florida, she was fired when she stated that she wanted a personal religious exemption from the League's vaccination requirement. The requirement is surely not based on science, for she would be performing in Raymond James Stadium, an open-air venue, where she would not need to be in close contact with the fans and staff, just her entourage. But the NFL refused to honor her request for a religious exemption. Fired. And almost no media coverage (e.g., so sign of the story on CNN.com or CBS.com, though the latter has a story that mentions the release of her song "Open Your Eyes").  

To get a taste of what America missed on Sept. 9, please listen to her sing the most beautiful and touching rendition of the National Anthem that I've ever heard in her video post at Instagram.

But now it's not just the rights of one black woman that will trampled on. President Biden now seeks to protect us all by forcing people to be vaccinated. In his declaration on Thursday, he declared that private businesses now need to mandate vaccinations for their employees. “This is not about freedom or personal choice,” Biden said. “It’s about protecting yourself and those around you.” He's got that right: it's definitely not about freedom.

This comes after prior assurances from the White House and the head of the CDC that vaccine mandates were not within the scope of government plans nor authority. Now it suddenly is, though for some reason, the Administration still recognizes that it can't mandate masks. See "Biden Admits He Can't Mandate Masks. Why Does He Think He Can Mandate Vaccines?" at Reason.org.

Those who speak of personal choice and freedom these days are scorned (unless they are using that language to justify an act of violence against an unwanted prenatal human). I guess I need to come out and say I am willing to be in the scorned group.  If the potential for some minor public benefit trumps personal freedoms and Constitutional restraints on government authority, then freedom has no meaning (landlords, of course, already know this now that the CDC has "discovered" its authority to declare legal and voluntary contracts between renters and landlords essentially void "due to COVID"). When we think of the abuses of government in the past, there has almost always been a public welfare argument to be made:

  • Withholding syphilis medication from the victims of the Tuskegee experiment yielded important medical information that the Public Health Service and its daughter, the CDC, thought were important for medical progress for the good of society. 
  • Forced sterilization of "mentally feeble" citizens would supposedly help improve the overall mental ability of the race. This was not just one of the diabolical extremes of National Socialism in Germany, but the results of laws passed by many states in the US in the 1920s and supported by a ruling of the US Supreme Court in 1927, mentioned below.
  • Putting Japanese Americans into prison camps would allegedly reduce the danger to the rest of us when America was at war with Japan. 
  • Using force and terror to suppress the votes of freed black slaves in the South and rig elections would secure the rights of the white man and Christian society and "fortify" elections and democracy itself. On this, see the highly recommend work on the reign of terror in the South after the Civil War, Stephen Budiansky, The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox (New York: Viking, 2008), which I'll be reviewing here soon.

But vaccination requirements are not without precedent in the US, and even gained the support of the Supreme Court in the 1905 decision, Jacobson v. Massachusetts. The issue there was not exactly that of forced vaccination, but requiring a $5 fee to be paid if one did not get the smallpox vaccine. The Supreme Court ruled that there could be limits on individual freedoms when "reasonable regulations" were needed to secure public health.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was a Supreme Court justice who helped create the 1905 Jacobson opinion, built on the Jacobson decision in a later case related to eugenics, which had become politically popular in the 1920s. The following comes from History.com's 2021 article, "When the Supreme Court Ruled a Vaccine Could Be Mandatory":

In a far darker chapter, the Jacobson decision also provided judicial cover for a Virginia law that authorized the involuntary sterilization of “feeble-minded” individuals in state mental institutions. In the 1920s, eugenics enjoyed wide support in scientific and medical circles, and the Supreme Court justices were not immune.

In the infamous 1927 case Buck v. Bell, the Supreme Court accepted the questionable “facts” presented in the lower court cases that a young Virginia woman named Carrie Bell hailed from a long line of “mental defectives” whose offspring were a burden on public welfare.

“The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes (Jacobson v Massachusetts, 197 US 11). Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” wrote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in a chilling opinion.

The Buck decision opened the floodgates and by 1930, a total of 24 states had passed involuntary sterilization laws and around 60,000 women were ultimately sterilized under these statutes.

Buck v. Bell is the most extreme and barbaric example of the Supreme Court justifying a law in the name of public health,” says Sanders.  [emphasis added]

I think the ethics behind forced vaccination are questionable, especially for a disease far less dangerous than polio and in a climate where the science and ethics of those constantly seeking to expand government power leave huge question marks over the reasonableness of such a mandate. 

While I have been vaccinated, I support the rights and acknowledge the feelings of those who are hesitant about the COVID vaccines. As I have previously explained, they are not necessarily acting out of mere ignorance, but often have legitimate reasons for their positions. Ph.D.s, with whom I share some affinity, are among the most likely to resist the vaccine, and it's not out of pure ignorance.  Forcing them or people with any level of education to lose their jobs because of their choice relative to a new drug (for which it may yet take years to determine its long-term side effects) seems horrifically unfair and yes, contrary to the principles of freedom on which this nation was founded.

There are those who are at risk of adverse affects from the vaccine, and some have even been warned by their doctors that they should not get the vaccine for their own health. Will many of them now lose their jobs thanks to this sweeping, unjustified mandate?

There are those, perhaps particularly in the relatively less-vaccinated black community, who have sincere and thoughtful reasons for not wanting to take a vaccine that has not had the normal years of safety testing. Their reasons may be based on distrust of government, which was a legitimate reason for vaccine hesitancy expressed by many Democratic politicians when Trump was president, and may be a legitimate concern regardless of who is president, perhaps especially for those who recall the tragedy of the morally corrupt and vicious Tuskegee experiment that harmed many black Americans, an experiment that was supported by the CDC. 

Some, such as Victory Boyd, may have personal religious reasons for not wanting this particular vaccine, reasons which may be influenced by the rapidly developed nature of the vaccine and the sense that long-term safety testing has not had time to be fully completed. 

Some may have basic scientific objections such as the inadequacy of testing so far and the need for long-term evaluation of the effects of the vaccine relative to large control groups of unvaccinated people in order to properly assess long-term risks (if everyone is vaccinated, there will be no control group and no easy way to determine if the vaccine may be responsible for elevated cancer rates or other issues in years to come). The concern over safety is not a groundless concern. Indeed, if we are going to learn anything from the polio vaccinations of the past, it should be the very real risks of harm when a vaccine is rushed to market. The Cutter incident resulted in many unnecessary polio victims. Then, later batches of the polio vaccine were frequently contaminated with Simian Virus 40 (SV40), a virus from primates that has the characteristics of a cancer-causing virus, though it is still unclear if it has caused increased cancer in vaccinated humans (the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine has said that more detailed work is needed to determine if cancer did increase because of the vaccine). You can read about both the Cutter issue and the SV40 issue on the CDC's page that seeks to assure us that vaccines are usually safe (a proposition I generally agree with): see "Historical Vaccine Safety Concerns." 

There are also some who may have an irrational fear of vaccines, just as some may have an irrational fear of germs or, more commonly now, an irrational fear of the unvaccinated. But if we presume that we can override someone else's right to say "my body, my life" and decline the vaccine, can we also decide that they are too deplorable to have children and thus mandate sterilization? The Supreme Court once might have agreed, but that doesn't make it right. There is irrational anger being stirred up by our government and other governments (Australia comes to mind) against the dread threat of vaccinated people, even when over 70% of us have been vaccinated and many of the remainder may already have natural immunity. There is absolutely no recognition from the authorities in our government about the beneficial effect of natural immunity. To some, that makes it look like it's at least partly about political power, forcing people to get the government jab or else as a step toward expanding an avaricious governments' power over its subjects.

Given the actual data for the COVID virus, the risk that an unvaccinated person poses to the vaccinated seems quite small. Is it worth sweeping intrusions against liberty and choice? Why do we have leaders who wold shut down so much of our society for so long over a threat not vastly more dangerous than that of cancer, heart disease, and automobile accidents? We do we tolerate lockdowns that hinder the future our our children, vastly increase suicide and mental health harms, exacerbate heart disease and other health issues, without weighing the dramatic costs against the illusory gains? 

We need to recognize that everything comes with risk. Your alleged right to travel by driving your car down the road puts me at risk when I am a driver or a pedestrian. Your alleged right to drink alcohol puts me at risk when you drive or operate machinery. Your alleged right to eat lots of sugar, fat, or fast food puts me at risk because your future bad health may use up the hospital bed I need after I exercise my right to go skydiving. Your alleged right to live in a home made with wood puts me at risk because it could catch on fire and trigger a forest fire that threatens my well-being while living in my enlightened but rather dim and damp fireproof cave. As one of the few troglodytes willing to speak out, I'd like to say that freedom and personal choice are still vital for our society and for all mankind. We need to stand against medical tyranny and for the freedom of people to choose what they will allow to be injected into their bodies, even if we don't agree with their decision or their reasons. 

After being fired by the NFL for sticking to her religious values and declining an unwanted injection, Victory Boyd, according to Digital Music News, said “I’ve made peace with not being able to sing the National Anthem tomorrow for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But I have not and will not make peace with the re-emergence of segregation and discrimination. This is not okay and it’s about time that we say so.” She further explained her position in what I understand was the first news site to report her story:

“The Bible admonishes Christians to appreciate their bodies as being sacred and a temple of the Holy Spirit and to not participate in things that can defile the body or render the body dysfunctional.

“I am in prayer to make sure that the Lord guides me into the right decision concerning receiving an unproven injection with artificial properties that can potentially have a long-term effect on my reproductive health.

“If I want to take the vaccine, the decision will be between myself, my doctor, and my God. At this point, the Spirit of God is leading me to take a stand for freedom of choice.”

Thank you, Victory Boyd, for thoughtfully expressing your desire to make a decision for yourself and about your body (not the body of anyone else) based on your religious values. Your decision may differ from mine, but I believe you should have that right and that the NFL was unreasonable, perhaps even discriminatory, in requiring you to be vaccinated in order to stand alone on an open field and sing a song to America that reminds us of the need to stand together for freedom and liberty.  May we stand for freedom and against medical tyranny.

Update, 9/12/2021: While standing for the right of people to choose their own medical treatment, let me reiterate the need for more of us to be vaccinated. I'm vaccinated and have considered the data carefully, leading me to believe it is safe and effective. President Nelson's encouragement in favor of vaccination is wise counsel for the general population and I hope you'll consider it. Vaccination may be especially critical for those of you in vulnerable groups, such those who are elderly, overweight, have impaired lungs or other serious health issues. COVID is a serious illness for many, and if you are in those groups, you could easily need to be hospitalized. 

Some less vaccinated regions like Alabama are facing a crisis now as ICU beds are at capacity (some counties in northern Idaho and many other places are also struggling). A man just died in Alabama when he was turned away from numerous overwhelmed hospitals, unable to get treatment for a heart condition. That could have been prevented if more people had been vaccinated. It also could have been prevented if more people reduced their weight, improved their diet, exercised more, quit drinking and smoking, got better nutrition, and stayed off skateboards -- all problem areas that, like inadequate vaccination, could be solved by the use of force in the name of saving our lives. Rather than override the principles of liberty that our nation was founded upon and turn our nation into a police/nanny state, I prefer that we maintain our republic and use wise counsel to encourage wise behavior. 

We obviously want this crisis to be over (nearly all of us, anyway) and get back to our lives, but this is not the time to be casual about the risk of infection. Consider vaccination, which is proving fairly effective. Vaccinated or not, maintain care in terms of hand washing, avoiding densely packed gatherings, etc., and respect requirements for masking, even if you understand that mask efficacy is very low. 

A problem, of course, is that the wisdom of our government's counsel to be vaccinated is obscured in the minds of many by actions that reflect bad faith. A few days ago a sincere journalist asked a reasonable question in a White House press conference, wondering why American citizens are subject to a vaccine mandate but the numerous undocumented migrants entering our nation are not. In response, Jen Psaki snapped, "That is correct" and immediately went to another journalist for the next question. This looks like bad faith. It does not reflect the attitude of people who feel they have been asked to represent and serve the American people, but rather seems to reflect the attitude that it's our duty to humbly serve and obey them and stop asking questions. 

I've seen test data suggesting that as many as 20% of the undocumented walking across our border are COVID positive. Many southern states like Florida and Alabama have been sent large numbers of the newcomers. If COVID is such an existential threat that American liberties must be suspended and companies must be forced to terminate the vaccine hesitant (even if they already have natural immunity!), how is it possible that our government doesn't seal the border to ensure that only the COVID-free are brought in, and that they are at least encouraged or incentivized to be vaccinated? Those who see this discrepancy can't help but question the motives of our leaders, even when they give what normally should be seen as wise and thoughtful counsel. But I hope we can look past these issues and recognize that, no matter what the failures of our politicians might be,  the vaccines themselves are safe and effective, and by being vaccinated, we might save our own life and perhaps the lives of others. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

A Google Earth View of a Candidate for Bountiful, Khor Kharfot on Wadi Sayq

Here is a beautiful view from Google Earth of a leading candidate for the Book of Mormon site Bountiful, Khor Kharfot, the fertile inlet at the end of a long wadi (valley or ravine where water can flow in the rainy season), Wadi Sayq, in Oman. It is at a location nearly due east of the candidate for Nahom in Nihm tribal lands, about 25 miles north of Sanaa in Yemen. Khor Kharfot, a site I've discussed frequently on this blog, is one of the most fertile spots on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, boasting the largest fresh water lagoon in the entire Arabian Peninsula and a truly a place of abundance. It is a site of ongoing research and conservation work, thanks in part to the Khor Kharfot Foundation to the early work of the now defunct Khor Karfot Foundation. 

Thanks to Warren Aston for the link to this view of Khor Kharfot. 

Click to enlarge. Any of you been there? It's a goal of mine to visit Oman and Yemen.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

How to Talk to Concerned Church Members Who Are "COVID Policy Doubters" (CPDs)

Some Latter-day Saints, probably only a minority, were frustrated with a recent request from Church leaders. Some of the frustration might be lessened after carefully considering the wording of the very brief First Presidency message of Aug. 12, 2021, with the title "The First Presidency Urges Latter-day Saints to Wear Face Masks When Needed and Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19." As a vaccinated and pro-vaccine member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, today I want to share some thoughts from the surprisingly diverse community of Latter-day Saints who struggle with some COVID policies and who may be struggling with the Aug. 12 First Presidency Message. In today's society,  COVID Policy Doubters (CPDs) are widely dismissed, even ridiculed, and assumed to be selfish or ignorant in their views and their unwillingness to comply with policies from vaunted experts. I feel they deserve to be understood a little better. My aim is to help those who are puzzled by CPDs to recognize that their concerns may be driven by something other than ignorance, immaturity, stubbornness, or a foolish fear of all vaccines. I am not asking you to accept any of their perspectives, but to be able to talk to them by first understanding how seemingly faithful and intelligent people can also be mistrustful of government and be COVID policy doubters.

First, to my CPD friends, please understand that this Aug. 12 First Presidency Statement is a good-faith effort to help us navigate temporary risks that are around us. Let's exercise patience and understanding in  response.  And you may also be grateful to see that the statement did not call for endless lockdowns, vaccine passports, mandatory vaccinations, mandatory masking, further forfeiture of property rights of landlords, shutting down schools again, the closure of churches and synagogues, or trillions of dollars of spending with shady 3,000-page laws packed with corrupt pork that could impoverish the country -- all issues that are concerns to some CPDs. There truly have been some terrible abuses of power that have occurred in the name of "standing together" against COVID. At the same time, there are some things we should worry about, in spite of the bad faith of some parties that may have exploited COVID fears for their own benefit or who acted out of ignorance. Many more have died than a bad flu season would have caused. Now new variants can have unpredictable risks. Yes, our species has lived with viruses and viral mutation for countless generations without the need to shut everything down, and I stand with you in concern about the serious long-term health and economic consequences of lockdowns. But those concerns may fly away when one's family faces the potential tragedy that this strange disease can bring. I hope you'll keep considering the evidence related to vaccination options and be open to it if there aren't clear health factors putting you at risk (consulting with your doctor would be wise here). But I will respect that as your choice. I also hope you'll see the First Presidency Statement as one based on a real concern for our well-being, and recognize that there may yet be more serious health risks in the near future for which these added precautions may be a blessing on the whole for our congregations.

The gist of the First Presidency Statement was simple and reasonable: "To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible. To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated." So in public meetings, if people will necessarily be very close to each other, our leaders will urge masking. Individuals are urged to be vaccinated for their own protection. This is really just asking us to reduce risk appropriately. In fact, with the currently increase in cases and hospitalizations in many parts of the country, this may be the right time to increase our guard for a while. I hope it's a brief period, but let's be patient and faithful through this. 

The First Presidency's short, positive message should not be interpreted to override the personal health issues that may make vaccines or even mask wearing inappropriate for some, including infants and young children, pregnant women, those with certain heart or kidney conditions, some with severe asthma or other respiratory problems, those with certain allergies or skin conditions, etc. See the WHO's guidelines on who should be vaccinated (I apologize if this WHO document does not align with some CDC guidelines or government goals pushing for vaccination of teenagers and ultimately younger children). In any case, it's still your choice, something that may be discussed between you and your doctor but not with the whole ward, and personally I believe that we should respect the medical privacy of others in this matter.

I made my choice and have been vaccinated. I don't mind sharing that bit of my medical history. So far, I think that was wise for an older guy like me who could be at elevated risk with COVID, but I can't guarantee that I won't regret my decision in a few years as we get more data from these experimental vaccines that have been rushed past some of the normal hurdles of long-term safety testing. I think COVID vaccinations are a good idea for many, but I can understand the reasons why some might not want that. Sadly, I think too many of our members have been conditioned to be angry at the unvaccinated and the CPDs. 

Now I'd like to address those who are concerned about the CPDs among us. I'll try to share some glimpses into the wide range of CPD attitudes in hopes that there might be better communication and a touch of understanding. We need communication and understanding, not anger and judgement for those who doubt, even if we may disagree with some of their positions and personal choices.

One Slur Won't Fit All: The Diversity of CPDs

First I must explain that CPDs in the Church and in our communities are surprisingly diverse. Some loud voices make it sound like the CPDs and the unvaccinated (two related by not identical groups) are all less-educated white Republicans from the lowest caste in our society known as the "deplorables." Here I would urge you to consider the data or at least talk to some of the CPDs in your congregation and understand who they are and why they are concerned. The stereotype that the "resistance" is only from the less educated is based on propaganda, not data, in my opinion. A new study from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh gives us some insight into who the unvaccinated are. It's only a pre-print that has not yet gone through peer review, so be cautious, but the survey data may still be helpful and resonates with what I've seen. See Wendy C. King, Max Rubinstein, Alex Reinhart, and Robin J. Mejia, "Time trends and factors related to COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy from January-May 2021 among US adults: Findings from a large-scale national survey," MedRxiv.org, July 23, 2021, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.07.20.21260795v1, with the full-text PDF at https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.07.20.21260795v1.full.pdf. One view of the data related to education is provided at Unherd.com, showing that the group most likely to be vaccine-hesitant are those with Ph.D.s. But it's a u-shaped curve, with high hesitancy among the least educated and also among the most-educated. In my experience, regardless of education, the CPDs I've talked to are typically able to articulate reasonable explanations for their views. (Distrust and fear of adverse side effects are not groundless, in my opinion, though I may disagree with how they are weighing risks.)

In terms of ethnicity, the charts at the end of the Carnegie Mellon study show vaccine hesitancy is not unique to whites. Several age groups of Blacks and Native Americans, for example, are quite hesitant to receive COVID vaccines and may align in other ways with CPDs. That includes African American citizens as well African immigrants, a group that is well represented in my part of Wisconsin and which has become an important part of the social life my wife and I enjoy here, with many friends now from DR Congo and neighboring countries. 

A related story from the New York Times is "Why Only 28 Percent of Young Black New Yorkers Are Vaccinated: As the Delta variant courses through New York City, many young Black New Yorkers remain distrustful of the vaccine."  The age 18 to 44 group there has only a 28% vaccination rate, "compared with 48 percent of Latino residents and 52 percent of white residents in that age group." Mistrust of government is a factor in this.

Here I would ask for understanding of what I think may be very rational bases for mistrust of government. For example, for minority Americans and immigrants aware of the tragedy of the Tuskeegee experiment, how can we expect all of them to now trust the government when it asks them to take an expressly experimental drug? As a refresher, here's the opening paragraph from Wikipedia's article on the Tuskegee experiment:

The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male (informally referred to as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment or Tuskegee Syphilis Study) was an ethically abusive study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the United States Public Health Service (PHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The purpose of this study was to observe the natural history of untreated syphilis. Although the African-American men who participated in the study were told that they were receiving free health care from the federal government of the United States, they were not.

The study of 399 men infected with syphilis and other uninfected men continued to 1972. Contrary to promises, no treatment was ever provided to the men who thought they were being treated, even though the safe, effective, and inexpensive treatment of penicillin had been available since the 1940s. This would adversely affect them, their wives, their children, and other. And who was behind this cruel abuse of ethics and human rights? The Public Health Service and the CDC. So if minorities or anybody else chooses to be skeptical of the CDC now, it's not totally irrational. There's a precedent for justified skepticism.

The CDC also has a page on the tragedy of the Tuskegee experiment which provides much of the same information as the Wikipedia page, though it's not as clear there that the CDC was involved, apart from a note in a timeline that the CDC called for support of the study in 1969. Nowhere is the complicity of the CDC in that study clearly acknowledged. Shouldn't it be, along with an apology? Have they left something out from the data they are sharing about that terrible aspect of US history? Again, I apologize for asking questions that may not align with CDC guidelines, but when I ponder the possible concerns that some Blacks may have when it comes to government policies and experimental treatments, I can understand why there might be some rational hesitancy.

It's not just the unsavory track record of our own government that can cause concern. Immigrants who have come to the US as refugees from dangerous countries have often suffered greatly because of the corruption and failures of government abroad. Trusting and relying on government can get you killed in some countries. They see the US as a much better land of opportunity with better systems, but if they are still hesitant to comply with proclamations of leaders they don't yet know and trust, can we blame them? I didn't blame Kamala Harris when, in her Vice Presidential debate, she expressed concern about taking a vaccine from a government she didn't trust. Many others in her party expressed similar concerns in 2020 when it was the Trump vaccine in the pipeline. That's the pipeline that gave us the vaccines we have now. If it was OK to doubt then, is it so clearly evil to doubt now?

Again, I encourage people to vaccinate, but given that there are risks to any procedure, people should have the right to weigh the risks for themselves and make their own choice. And discussion of risks or posts of adverse reactions should not be summarily censored, as has happened on Twitter and elsewhere. Science requires robust discussion and transparency. Censorship can exacerbate mistrust, at least for those who notice it. In any event, trust or the lack of it is a reasonable factor to consider. Lack of trust in government is not necessarily irrational now, nor was it necessarily irrational in the previous administration.  To compel trust or to compel people to accept an injection from a source they don't trust would be to desecrate the principles that make this nation great.  But let's dig a little deeper now to understand why mistrust in our government's COVID policies have become so strong for some people.

A Common CPD Trait: The Perception of Bad Faith in the CDC and Beyond

Business leaders, community leaders, and leaders of congregations and churches often have experience interacting with political leaders, whether at the local, state, or national level. The interactions often include some aspect of negotiation, seeking to influence and find support for important causes.  In such talks, it is natural to see the good in the other party and to assume that even when they hold different views, that they are basically good people acting in good faith. This generosity of thought makes the world a more civil place and tends to pervade my particular church. Unfortunately, there are also times when the brutal reality of bad faith in others needs to be faced.

Just as those who doubt some COVID policies may be more educated and more diverse than is commonly assumed, their motives also may not be as simple or infantile as their opponents suggest. The growing distrust in government among some people goes far beyond "sour grapes" over a lost election. Many CPDs have sincere questions about the approach of government and media to the COVID pandemic. Tensions among these doubters may be much higher than local leaders recognize. They may be faithful members who seem to follow rules from local leaders on masking, social distancing, curtailing of activities, etc., in spite of their misgivings. But they may now be increasingly troubled by those rules, perhaps reaching a breaking point for some. A few have decided to simply stop attending meetings if they will be pressured to wear a mask or receive an unwanted injection. Some may face particular health challenges that could increase the risk of adverse effects from vaccination, while perhaps a greater number may object as a matter of principle or for other reasons.

While there is a spectrum of concerns among the doubters I am discussing, a surprisingly common aspect among the more educated CPDs, in my opinion, is the perception of bad faith in the CDC and broader federal government. This comes as a surprise to many whose perception of current events comes largely from mainstream media and their social media feeds. Social media posts that criticize the CDC or make statements contrary to CDC policies are often deleted or otherwise hidden from the eyes of other in the name of preventing harmful misinformation and our modern media tends to be enthusiastically on board with most policies and pronouncements of our current administration. I am taking a risk in even discussing why some CPDs see bad faith in the government. Seriously, bad faith in one of our most trusted organizations? "What's wrong with these CPD lunatics?" you might ask.

Please allow me to offer a different way of looking at things -- or rather, a different direction. Let's begin by looking south to see why some CDPs, when it comes to trust in their government, have already crossed their own Rubicon, or, perhaps, their own Rio Grande. 

First, Look South: A Simple Act That Can Affect CPD Perspectives

Take a moment to reflect on the pandemic and our nation in a different light. For many months now, we have been asked to make sacrifices of many kinds to cope with the overwhelming dangers of COVID. Many of us lost jobs, some lost businesses that were shut down with what sometimes seemed arbitrary decisions that favored the biggest or most connected businesses, many children lost a year or more of education, many lost the ability to visit dying relatives, we couldn't visit friends or get together at church, and now we are even being told that parents should social distance from their own kids. Travel was shut down. To this day, it's nearly impossible for US citizens to simply go across the border and return to the US to visit family or friends in low-COVID Canada. Most American citizens were good sports about all this sacrifice in the name of slowing the spread, flattening the curve, and helping the nation in a time of unusual peril. It was supposed to be for two weeks. Then four. Then eight. Now it's been over 18 months and it looks like the sacrifices must go on forever, along with an incredible expansion in spending by government and a similar expansion in their power. All for our good because the crisis is so severe that every means possible must be taken to avert it. 

One's attitude about all this sacrifice can change quickly by simply looking in one direction: south, to the massive border crisis that receives very little attention from our government and its allies in the media.

Take a look at our southern border. What you may not have heard from your news sources is that COVID is now raging among the massive increase in undocumented immigrants surging across the southern border, yet they are often being released into or allowed into our nation without being subject to the same COVID restrictions the rest of us face, and even known or suspected positive cases are being allowed to enter and stay. See, for example, "Illegal immigrants being sent to major Texas cities without COVID tests" from the New York Post. How can a porous border without strict efforts to keep COVID from entering the United States be squared with the sacrifices being asked of the rest of us if doing whatever is needed to fight COVID really is so essential for this nation? To ignore sick people walking freely across the border just might point to one terrible conclusion in the minds of many who read or see what is happening on our southern border: our government may not be acting in good faith. It can easily appear that they are either allowing a deadly disease to spread without concern, or that they aren't really worried about the disease as much as they are about politics. Either way, bad faith seems to be involved. But maybe that's wrong. I'm open to other ideas. If you have a better explanation, please share it here so we can help doubters to overcome one of the biggest factors stirring doubts. But at least understand that for those who have seen the border crisis unfold and the seemingly willful neglect of a potentially significant route for COVID entry into the US, it's not irrational to believe that the government's use of the COVID crisis to justify bigger spending and bigger power grabs may not be driven by a sincere desire to just follow the science. It smells of bad faith, or at least it can to an educated person looking closely at the southern border. 

Next, Look East to Provincetown and India

A few weeks ago millions of Americans breathed a sigh of relief when the CDC announced that we could back down on masking guidelines. Then recently, the CDC leaked information to the New York Times about shocking new data indicating that a return to tough measures was needed. Then the CDC study was released which gives data for an outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts during July 3 to 17, showing that many "breakthrough" cases of COVID in vaccinated people had occurred and that the frightening delta variant was highly involved. This was said to justify new guidelines for more masking. We were warned by the CDC that just being vaccinated is not enough, for the study shows that vaccinated people can still transmit the virus. The CDC's Aug. 6, 2021 report on this outbreak says:

On July 27, CDC recommended that all persons, including those who are fully vaccinated, should wear masks in indoor public settings in areas where COVID-19 transmission is high or substantial.* Findings from this investigation suggest that even jurisdictions without substantial or high COVID-19 transmission might consider expanding prevention strategies, including masking in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status, given the potential risk of infection during attendance at large public gatherings that include travelers from many areas with differing levels of transmission. [emphasis mine]

The study indicates that 469 cases of COVID-19 erupted in Provincetown, and that 74% or 346 of these cases were in fully vaccinated people. Of those, 274 (79%) were symptomatic. "Among five COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized, four were fully vaccinated; no deaths were reported." The study reports without commentary that 85% of those who had COVID were male, a seemingly unusual occurrence. What is also not reported is how many people were in Provincetown, a town with a population of about 3,000. Were there nearly 500 cases among just 3,000 people? Or was the denominator much greater? 

The study actually provides what could be viewed as some good news that seems to have been ignored by the media and the CDC: while the vaccine is not 100% effective, meaning that there is still some risk of getting COVID, as we have always known, very few people needed to be hospitalized and nobody died. The vaccine is working. But yes, delta is highly transmissible and is spreading, and sadly, this will lead to further deaths, especially among the elderly and those with other serious health issues.

What the CDC didn't share in their pronouncements about the Provincetown report or the report itself, a report that was used to change COVID recommendations for all of us, is that what happened in Provincetown was unrepresentative of typical conditions in the United States. It was an extreme outlier, in fact. The study of this anomaly cannot be wisely and reasonably used to make blanket policies for the rest of the nation. 

As a neutral USA Today article notes about the Provincetown event, "Although not mentioned in the [CDC] report, the outbreak overlapped with July Fourth weekend and 'Bear Week,' Provincetown’s annual gathering of gay men; 85% of the identified infections were in males. In the summer, the town’s population swells to approximately 60,000 people." Provincetown is a famous party town, especially in the gay community. Gay men from all over the country gather to party at this time, causing a small town of 3,000 people swells to about 60,000, many of whom are packed into bars and restaurants. There's a lot of socializing going on, including plenty of kissing, one of the best ways to spread a respiratory virus. Crowds packed into small enclosures in old buildings with old ventilation systems coupled with kissing and romance in the air, along with plenty of viruses, is a perfect storm for spreading COVID. Speaking of storms, rain during the time period in question also kept a lot of these people indoors, exacerbating the risk of spreading disease.

Here I do not wish to propagate old stereotypes of gay men being irresponsible. My impression is that they are highly vaccinated, more than the US average. In fact, I just checked and one recent survey from July 2021 shows 92% of those in the LGBTQ+ community have had at least one vaccine shot for COVID. That's great news. But the bad news is that CDC failed to let Americans know that the outbreak in Provincetown occurred under unusual conditions in a rather unusual town. 

Many sources reported the study as if it showed vaccines aren't working, for 74% of the COVID cases were among the vaccinated. But first note that the visitors to Provincetown were probably even more highly vaccinated than the highly vaccinated locals. If, for example, the 50,000 or so tourists that may have been partying at this time were 100% vaccinated, and if the only locals who left their home were also vaccinated, could there have been an outbreak? Yes, of course, for vaccination does not prevent all infection, but according to the CDC, may reduce the risk of COVID by about 90% and even though some vaccinated people can still get infected, the vaccination is valuable in reducing the severity of the infection. So if we had only 100% vaccinated people partying in Provincetown, some could still get the disease -- and guess what the statistics would then show? We could have headlines like "100% of those infected were vaccinated!" Should that be shocking? No, it would be fully expected. If there were 60,000 people sharing close quarters with occasional sharing of infection during the peak of Bear week in Provincetown, having 469 cases break out means less than 1% were infected by being present under ideal conditions for spreading the disease, and only 1% of that 1% (a total of less than 0.01%) ended up being hospitalized. And again, zero deaths. For this, we need to panic? 

The real number of cases may be higher because many without symptoms may not have been tested and some who were sick may have already left the area and returned home before showing symptoms or being tested. It's possible the number of infections may have been several times higher than the reported 469, but again, as far as we know, there were no deaths. This is good news. The fact that some of the many vaccinated people present got COVID is completely expected. But for some of us, the CDC's use of this study and its failure to give the context was irresponsible, and suggest that the goal was justifying an agenda rather than simply being transparent and following the science. Yes, to some CPDs, that's a sign of bad faith. 

The CDC also used the Provincetown study to argue that the "viral load" of vaccinated people who get COVID is the same as those who aren't vaccinated, meaning that they can be just as effective in transmitting the disease since they are producing large numbers of virus. This was an important part of the  narrative spread by the CDC, but it's an justified statement based on the study -- though I wonder if any mainstream journalists noticed that.  

Here's what the CDC study actually reported: 

Finally, Ct value [the cycle count required in PCR testing to get measurable evidence of the virus]  obtained with SARS-CoV-2 qualitative RT-PCR diagnostic tests might provide a crude correlation to the amount of virus present in a sample and can also be affected by factors other than viral load.††† Although the assay used in this investigation was not validated to provide quantitative results, there was no significant difference between the Ct values of samples collected from breakthrough cases and the other cases. This might mean that the viral load of vaccinated and unvaccinated persons infected with SARS-CoV-2 is also similar. However, microbiological studies are required to confirm these findings. [emphasis mine]

A speculative possibility that was not confirmed and needs further work to see if it's true was elevated to a shocking "fact" to be spread across the nation, again, without context. Already it looks like there might be some good reasons to doubt the assumptions the CDC is making, especially in light of a Singapore study, as reported by Jacob Sullum at Reason.com in "The Evidence Cited by the CDC Does Not Show That Vaccinated and Unvaccinated COVID-19 Carriers Are Equally Likely To Transmit the Virus," Aug. 4, 2021.  Also see Sullum's related July 29 article.

Here's how CNN conveyed the message about viral load: 

A new study shows the Delta Covid-19 variant produced similar amounts of virus in vaccinated and unvaccinated people if they get infected – illustrating a key motivation behind the federal guidance that now recommends most fully vaccinated Americans wear masks indoors.

Experts say that vaccination makes it less likely that you’ll catch Covid-19 in the first place – but for those who do, this data suggests they could have a similar tendency to spread it as unvaccinated folks.

“High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with Delta can transmit the virus,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement Friday.

Don't blame CNN for misunderstanding the study, though. The Director of the CDC herself spoke about "high viral loads" as if that's what the Provincetown study examined. Here's her official statement from July 30, 2021:

Today, some of those data were published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), demonstrating that Delta infection resulted in similarly high SARS-CoV-2 viral loads in vaccinated and unvaccinated people. High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with Delta can transmit the virus. This finding is concerning and was a pivotal discovery leading to CDC’s updated mask recommendation. The masking recommendation was updated to ensure the vaccinated public would not unknowingly transmit virus to others, including their unvaccinated or immunocompromised loved ones.

Setting national policy based on speculative assumptions isn't following the science, it's dragging the science with a chain -- or at least an educated person could feel that way. They could feel that what the CDC did with the Provincetown study was anything but scientific. They could feel that it was manipulation to achieve a political goal, an act of bad faith. I don't think that conclusion can be dismissed as entirely irrational.

The apparent bad faith was also manifest in the other study, a study from India that the CDC relied on to justify masking and fear for the vaccinated. They cited a study in India that was actually rejected by peer review and involved a vaccine that is not used in the US. Using a rejected study without mentioning its status does not engender trust.

Other CDC errors have contributed to the sense among some that the CDC is not always acting in good faith. One example is the recent claim from the CDC that the delta variant is as contagious as chicken pox, which even got rare push back from NPR. These errors always seem to be in the same direction: the direction of increasing fear, alarm, and justification for government spending and doing more.

From an Aug. 11 NPR Story Shared by WKU FM in Kentucky

Finally, for those who still think CPDs are ignorant for believing that the CDC might not always act in good faith, what are we to make of the CDC's utterly unconstitutional moratorium on the ability of property owners to enforce contracts and evict people who don't pay rent? It can be argued that this overrides the basic premise of rule of law and is a step closer to the Cultural Revolution than the principles of liberty this nation was founded upon. Yes, it sounds nice to suddenly give people free rent for a while at the expense of someone else. But the people who work and save to obtain rental property are people also, and what right, one might ask, does a public health agency have to tell people what they can or cannot do with their rental property? Even after the Supreme Court told the current administration that this was wrong, the response was to go ahead and extend the moratorium because by the time it could be fought in the courts, they'd get what they wanted already. That's contrary to the rule of law, contrary to the principle of upholding the Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights, and a cynical expression of a willingness to act in bad faith. If they'll do that, can we trust them to act with the best of faith in anything else? Again, that's at least the position that a rational person who has read the Constitution and the news of the CDC's actions could take. If politics can come above the rule of law, can it come above the reign of science? I don't think such concerns are irrational. 

Talking to CPDs About Masks

There may be a legitimate debate about the various positions our officials have taken regarding masks and the use or abuse of science in taking the position, but I choose to wear a mask where it is required and believe that that's the right thing to do for most of us. I also think that's the approach most Latter-day Saints and even most CPDs will take in light of the recent First Presidency Statement. But it would still be helpful, in my opinion, to understand that the objections many CPDs may have to US masking policies may not be based on selfishness or immaturity.

When we have recommendations that seem contradictory, such as government declarations that masks are not effective except for trained medical professionals, followed later by declarations that we all must wear masks or maybe even two masks, all apparently driven at times by politics and not science, it's hard for CPDs to feel much reverence for the vacillating experts. When numbers are used in deceptive ways, as happened in Illinois recently to justify mask mandates, trust in government officials is not strengthened. If officials are just following the science, why be tricky? There's a good article that by Jeffrey Anderson at City Journal on the questionable science and contradictory stances related to masks mandates that reflects the concerns of some CPDs. Before we assume that mask-hesitant CPDs, including vaccinated CPDs,  are deniers of science and spreaders of death who need to shamed, it would be wise to read it and at least understand some of the science-related and logical issues that many CPDs might have. I won't link to that article directly due to the repercussions that might be inflicted for sharing masking information based on peer-reviewed studies that don't comply with the policy of the moment from the CDC. Instead, please use this TinyUrl shortcut to a trusted source, the CDC, and be careful not to alter the shortcut by, say, foolishly deleting the trailing number. The trusted CDC article can be accessed at the shortcut https://tinyurl.com/masking-science0. Keep that zero at the end, or else! 

In talking with what may be a minority of CPDs who disagree with the need to mask at church, I think it would be helpful to first read some of the scientific and well-reasoned critiques that have been made of US policies and the behaviors of our leaders. By doing so, you may better understand that for some CPDs, again, there is a question of bad faith that may be part of their concerns. Recognizing and acknowledging  the rational basis for their concerns can be a useful way to begin a conversation aimed at understanding their issues and helping them to also be aware of your concerns for your congregation. I believe that many or at least some CPDs who initially seem non-compliant can become more willing to accept policies for your congregation through meaningful dialog and loving, respectful encouragement, and perhaps a perspective of respect for their views can be used to coax those who disagree angrily with the CPDs to be more patient. But please understand that there may be legitimate concerns and sometimes genuine health or other issues that make masking a challenge. I hope you can work with them, be accommodating when possible, and find a way to heel the deep fractures that may arise between members of the Church over COVID controversies. 

How Do We Know Which Government Recommendations Are the "Wise and Thoughtful" Ones?

Finally, I wish to address what may be the most challenging wording in the First Presidency Statement. Some CPDs might have been most concerned about the bold sentence under the title of the statement: "We can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders.” I must explain that I can fully agree with this sentence. We should all be willing to follow "the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders." But which ones are wise and thoughtful, which are purely political, and which are wrong, deceptive, dangerous, or in bad faith? I personally think we should initially assume that policies are issued in good faith, but if there are serious scientific, logical, or ethical issues that are evident or later uncovered, it would seem reasonable to at least be able to question those policies. I recognize that such a stance may be viewed as dangerous and subversive in some countries, but in the systems we still have (so I hope) in the United States, good citizens ought to be able to raise such questions and push back through legal and appropriate means. 

Of course, when the statement was written, it was likely considering specific recent recommendations, such as masking in high-risk areas, a recommendation which I think is wise. But the recommendations we receive from local, state, and federal authorities are not always consistent and may vary from place to place and over time. We need to exercise some degree of judgment in dealing with the policies and proclamations of mortals.

I don't think it's possible for us to assume that all government policies are inherently wise and thoughtful. In fact, we would fail in our duties as citizens if we took that passive, apathetic attitude. Sadly, as we read the Book of Mormon and its many warnings about the "works of darkness" and "secret combinations" in their day and ours, we must be at least aware that there may be occasionally be some bad actors who, as in the days of the Nephites and Jaredites, rise to positions of power in society, often seeking to ruthlessly expand their power and control. Our Founding Fathers were highly mistrustful of power in the hands of men, and rightly so, based on the lessons of history. They sought to limit the power that any one man or group of men could exert through strict limits and abundant checks and balances, many of which have been eroded in recent decades. Some CPDs are worried about the abuse of power by government officials, at the local, state, and national levels. There may be a need for healthy skepticism when it comes to the deeds of mortals these days. I'm not saying we need to suspect "secret combinations" at every turn, but really that we must be aware of human failings, whether it is lust for power, greed, conflicts of interest, or just plain old bad decision making.

We don't believe prophets to be infallible, and this may be a good time to recognize that politicians and their allies given the political keys of public health power may be equally or more fallible than the Lord's prophets and apostles.  So what do we do when officials and vaunted experts aren't always "wise and thoughtful" or when we have good evidence that their recommendations are contradictory, politicized, incoherent, or not based on credible science? Must we treat their proclamations as infallible?

Of course, nobody is infallible on everything, but are our public leaders at least relatively infallible when it comes to COVID policies? And if so, when? When they tell us masks don't work for us ordinary people, or that we absolutely must mask? And is it their words that are infallible, or their actions (thinking of the steady stream of elites who tell us to social distance and mask, and are then seen attending restaurants or crowded parties without masks)? There may be moments of infallibility in there, but for CPDs, the contradictions, the steadily shifting goalposts, and the seemingly endless excuses for why politicians must hold on to and expand the power they have grabbed raises certain doubts. If their proclamations, however contradictory or unscientific, become the law of the land,  CPDs who are faithful Latter-day Saints will likely seek to respect the law in spite of objecting to it, consistent with their duties as citizens and Article of Faith #12, but they may also wish to use the democratic process to push back in some appropriate way. That may be a sound path even for those who are comfortable with the policies we've been given so far.

To be good citizens, we should keep an eye on the actions of our leaders and require them to act in good faith. That requires staying informed and aware. So I suggest that we should just do the best we can to study these things out in our own minds and apply some scientific and logical tools. Let's examine the statements and actions of our political and medical leaders and trust when trust is warranted. Policies and proclamation that can withstand scrutiny and are able to withstand peer review, logical tests, and the smell test, might be deemed as "of good report" and embraced. When it comes to the our health and the welfare of our families, paying attention and trying to make wise, informed decisions is a good idea. But if we are confident that other agencies are truly following the science wisely and we trust them, then we can relax for a while and simply follow what they say. Our choice.

How to deal with all the noise of life and evaluate what government is doing? Perhaps it comes down  to teaching our people, our children, our students, and our congregations correct principles, and then letting them govern themselves. I apologize again if that view does not comply with the latest goals of the CDC, but I think that's a principle that can stand the test of time. At least some CPDs might agree, but given their diversity, certainly not all. 

So what should a local church leader do with CPDs who are struggling with a unit's policies? It's a tough call, but one suggestion might be to talk to them and begin by recognizing that they may have serious reasons, possibly with some merit, for their concerns. Listen and discuss with respect. Share perspectives from our leaders and from your experience, and solicit their support where it is needed. Be patient, find workarounds, respect their agency, ask for their support, encourage others in the ward not to be angry or hostile, and keep moving Zion forward without compulsory means. Let's hope that these challenges will soon be things of the past as we focus on the things that matter most eternally.


Friday, July 30, 2021

A Sacrament Meeting Worth Shouting About

Sunday turned out to be one of the most exciting sacrament meetings I can recall. It was exciting because a wonderful young lady, a 16-year-old who came to America as a refugee from the chaos in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, stood at the pulpit to give her first talk and touched the entire congregation. It was especially exciting because she gave the talk in Swahili, with my wife at her side giving the English, allowing our many Swahili speakers to finally hear a talk in a language they can understand. (I almost said "in their language," but that would be a mistake. For those coming from the Congo, Burundi, or Rwanda, it's their second, third, or fourth language. One of my new friends from Africa told me after sacrament meeting that he speaks 10 languages.) I wasn't the only one excited by her talk. When she finished, there was a loud cheer from the pew behind me that filled the chapel with the joyous voice of her proud mother, celebrating her daughter's accomplishment. I clapped very quietly to join her mother in celebration. 

My wife and I helped our young friend to write her talk a couple of weeks earlier. She told her story in English as I typed. We edited it down and then practiced the Saturday before. We felt having my wife at her side could help her face the great fear she had about speaking to a large group of people, and by going one sentence at a time, English first and then Swahili, it could help her and the audience. I was very proud of my wife and her loving influence on this young lady, and especially proud of my wife when she supplied a couple of Swahili words when the girl stumbled (e.g., the difficult word for "saints," watakatifu). 

Our friend told the story of being just 9 years old when the family had to suddenly flee with almost nothing in order to escape the growing danger in their homeland. She told of crossing a dangerous border at night to evade the Congolese authorities that would force them back into the Congo, and of having to split up into small groups, apart from her father and other family members, not sure if they would ever see each other again. Once into Uganda, there were new dangers and hardships. Her father was able to resist those who wanted to split the reunited family and send them to two different refugee camps. They were blessed by the kindness of a stranger on a motorcycle who helped them find friendly police and even went out of his way to bring back food for the family. Kind Ugandan police even cooked breakfast for them. So many challenges had to be overcome, but they eventually were brought to the United States as refugees, and I am so grateful for the many people who have shown kindness and love to this large family, both in Maryland and now Wisconsin. 

She told the story of how her family began to seek God more earnestly in their lives. They attended several churches but she was confused by the differing teachings. Then a relative told them about Appleton, where he had also found a church he liked. They moved here and began attending the Appleton Second Ward. But when the missionaries challenged them to be baptized, she said no, even though others said yes, because she had heard that Americans baptize by just getting your head wet in a little bathtub, but she wanted to be baptized like Jesus, by immersion (kwa kuzamishwa). But after learning that that's how we do it, and after gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon, she had the courage to be baptized, and reported that she has found lasting happiness through the Gospel, happiness she didn't have before. 

It was a great moment, or about 20+ minutes of great moments. And it wasn't just Mom that wanted to shout for joy. Other non-African members told me how exciting the talk was for them, too. A sharp young man from Burundi told us as we were driving him home that he loved the meetings at church that today and that "the talk" was his favorite part. 

I am so proud of the members of my ward for their support and love for the many investigators and new members who have come from Africa. 

I am also so proud of my community, Appleton, Wisconsin, a little Midwest town that was nearly all white a few decades ago and has had its own struggles with racism but has become a vibrant community where refugees and immigrants from several parts of the world have found kindness and great opportunities, and are welcome and important parts of both our church and our community. 

I feel a real need to express my gratitude to Appleton and the surrounding Fox Valley area and Wisconsin in general for their acceptance and support of the many African people who are now here. My wife and have been in many homes of African families in this community in the past couple of months, and what I see are people who are grateful for this country, grateful for the kindness of this community, and who feel safe and welcome. Their challenges are still great. Some have family members still in Uganda who may need to wait years more until they can be united again. They are working hard, often in local food manufacturing factories, but inflation is taking a toll as rising housing costs plus increasing costs in other areas are really hurting and complicating life. They will have many struggles to face in the future, but there is much to rejoice over now. I am grateful for what we share in this great community, this great country, and in the glorious, unifying Gospel of Jesus Christ for those who embrace that as well.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Chosen: Act Now to See the Season Two Finale Within 24 Hours

My life has been uplifted and touched deeply by the brilliant series, The Chosen, on the life and message of Christ. I just saw the finale of Season Two, episode 8, which was broadcast tonight and will be available for the next 24 hours via the app or the website. All of Season One and so far 7 of the 8 episodes in Season Two are also available on BYU TV (get the app or view it on your television via Roku or other services). 

I love so much about this series, including the attempts to provide reasonable backstories for some of the events and characters. Yes, there is plenty of speculation and artistic license, but it's done in a way that at least helps us ponder the biblical account more deeply, recognizing that there may be significant background stories for many of the details in the Gospels. I love the portrayal of the humanity of Christ in the flesh. I respect the treatment of women and the efforts made to help us better appreciate the women that were part of Christ's life and ministry. 

This grand production is offered for free to the world, relying on donations via crows-sourcing, perhaps the most remarkable fruit of crowd-sourcing in the history of entertainment. I hope you'll join me in making a donation to support the completion of Season Three and beyond (seven seasons are planned). 

Latter-day Saints watching this may think it's a Church-produced film, but it's not. The director and co-writer, Dallas Jenkins, is not a Latter-day Saint, but I think that nearly everything I've seen so far can be appreciated by those in the Church. So much of it resonates with the Christ we know from our scriptures, including of course the New Testament, but also the Book of Mormon and beyond. I feel the series can be a great tool to help us appreciate the majesty of the Savior but also what it might have been like for His mortal followers to cope with the challenges of being a disciple to a Master who often disrupted their expectations and constantly took them out of their comfort zone. So many of these issues apply directly to our day as well, with those who seek to follow Him being increasingly in tension with the world around us. 

This series can help us reconsider our own lives, better visualize and recall the example the Savior, better appreciate the value of those around, even those whom we may dislike or condemn. And if nothing else, watching this series will help us yearn to better understand the scriptures and the power of the Messiah's life and ministry. 

Please watch this series and share it with others. And please help it become available to more people (the goal of Dallas Jenkins is to have 1 billion people see it) by making a donation today to support this inspiring work.

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Embracing C3ns0rsh1p: A Survival Guide with Helpful Input From China

I marvel at the shock and outrage of some conservative voices as their posts, tweets, and entire websites are progressively downgraded in search visibility, flagged as "fake news," demonetized, deplatformed, or, in the case of a few unruly celebrities like our former President, exiled for life from major social media platforms. It's time for these complainers to embrace the new order and specifically, to embrace what they may call "c3ns0rsh1p." As I will explain, accepting and living with "c3ns0rsh1p" (better to say "fortification of democracy") is a lesson I learned in my 9 years of living in China, a place I love deeply.

As an ardent embracer recognizing the new reality, I'm not going to properly spell out the word I'm embracing (cens0rshi1p, c3nsurship, c3ns0rsh1p, sensorship, etc.) lest our very delicate search engines and deplatforming algorithms misunderstand my warm embrace as some kind of complaint against their valiant fortification work.

If your response is, "C3ns0rsh1p? What c3ns0rsh1p?," then you have already learned a basic survival lesson well. I congratulate you. No need to keep reading -- here, or anywhere else.

If this supportive post were misunderstood as some kind of complaint, that could have serious consequences. For example, Ron Paul, a former presidential candidate, an outspoken critic of President Trump, and a heavy user of social media, suddenly found he was locked out of his Facebook account immediately after he made a post complaining about so-called "c3nsorship" from the Big Tech lords of social media. Some who recognized the importance of shutting down Trump and his supporters on social media were surprised at the silencing of Ron Paul, but it makes sense when you understand social media's new and majestic role in protecting national security, as I will explain shortly. However, the chains on Ron Paul's account were soon removed as Facebook, faced with backlash from Ron Paul's many supporters, felt it was best to back off for now and declare that a mistake had occurred. We can only hope that Paul learned his lesson and will be less critical of our new democracy in the future. 

Being deplatformed for politically incorrect statements can be traumatic, especially when one uses social media tools for one's employment. I, too, have a painful lesson I learned in this regard. 

My current work frequently involves reaching out to people on LinkedIn, which is a prized database of numerous contacts and a source of rich information that helps me almost daily. To be booted from it would be painful and harmful, so it was quite a scare when my former boss once informed me that LinkedIn had just canceled a post of mine for violating some policy. Was I on the path to being deplatformed? Perhaps! The errant post linked to an article summarizing several peer-reviewed studies that suggested we were not being given accurate information by the media about the efficacy of some treatments for COVID. I didn't say I agreed with the article, but did say that if the summary of those studies was accurate, it did raise questions about the integrity of the media. What was I thinking? My boss agreed with my post, but still, posting it was a big mistake since I had questioned the wisdom of the mainstream media and might have even unintentionally supported something once said by Him Who Must Not be Tweeted about potential treatments for COVID. That's pretty shameful, but I must live up to my error and reform.  I have carefully reviewed my past errant attitudes and now recognize the need to accept the established media authorities as authoritative. I will strive to better comply and "follow the science" by accepting authoritative declarations from anointed authorities rather than turning to the science directly or to antiquated notions of the "scientific method" where I may make grave political errors. 

Learning from China

Prior to the rise of our current administration, China was often criticized for "c3nsoring" information. Highly educated Chinese people generally know that information is carefully controlled in China -- searches on some controversial issues will reveal nothing, harmful sources of misinformation like Twitter, Facebook, and the Wall Street Journal are banned, dangerous or critical comments on social media will be censored, and severe penalties may be applied for sharing information that undermines social harmony and national security. But many of the educated in China and probably most citizens in general understand that this is necessary for a stable, healthy Communist society. They have learned that there may be some inconveniences, but that nearly everyone is better off by embracing or at least quietly accepting what Americans call "c3nsorsh1p." Don't think of it as deleting, banning, or rigging information, but as "fortifying" information to enhance national security. That's my take on how information control is generally viewed (though this issue may be highly complex).

When you realize that for a harmonious society, "national security" often means protecting the status quo and keeping the Party firmly in power, then of course the Party must take steps to "fortify" information as it works in unity with information outlets across the land. And then you won't have to worry about whether a report is "true" or not, or whether important information has been withheld or manipulated. You will understand that the information you receive is what is needed for national security and shows you the right way to view things. That should be enough. Through steady trust by the people for the government, security and democracy are fortified. There will be harmony, not the chaos we tend to have, or once had, in America.

Achieving such harmony requires tight cooperation between all aspects of social media, news, and information flow in China. Social media giants, news outlets, publishers of all kinds, and schools and universities all closely cooperate with the government to ensure harmony and national security. National security, of course, entails preserving peace and social stability with the safety, security, and respect of the Party being absolutely essential. The government is the Party. Democracy, a widely accepted and publicized value in China, is all about the rule of the Party, the people's Party, which does receive input from the people in many ways in a fortified form of democracy. (Westerners may be surprised by how frequently one sees the Chinese words for "democracy" all over Shanghai and other cities.) Preserving democracy is preserving the Party. Careful control of information and vigorous actions against sources of trouble are viewed as essential in protecting and strengthening China.

Sadly, many Americans still cling to outdated ways and view such vigorous measures to fortify democracy as "totalitarian," as some form of "thought control" or "brainwashing," and use other pejoratives like "c3nsorship."  They don't understand that such fortification is a vital aspect of national security. Harmful information can fan flames of dissent and threaten national stability, decrease trust in the Party, and stir up lawbreaking, violence, or rebellion against the Party. Violence and rebellion are sometimes used for bringing about revolution, of course, but once the revolution has established the Party as the legitimate reigning authority, the Party must strive in every way to secure national stability  by ensuring its power remains unchecked and unthreatened for the good of the people. This requires careful control of information to ensure that what the people learn engenders trust, compliance, unity, harmony, and other virtues. This should all be so basic, but remarkably, it's still quite foreign to many anti-progressive Americans who haven't waken up to the realities of our new order and still demand what they call "freedom of speech." 

China, for the record, points out that among the many rights that the government kindly provides to its people is freedom of speech, provided that it is done according to law and the dictates of national security, which may differ from the chaotic, non-fortifying version some Americans demand.  (Article 35 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China grants freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly, and Article 36 provides for freedom of religion, though all must be done according to law, which may, of course, impose certain restrictions as needed to fortify national security, etc.) The enumerated rights granted by the government are impressive. On the other hand, many Americans don't see their freedoms as rights that are granted by government and subject to any limitations by law, but insist that their freedoms are given by God and that certain rights cannot be taken away by government. It may take some reeducation to remove those old notions. Our schools and universities are succeeding in shaping proper attitudes among the young who are taught to revile the founders of this nation and its original principles, graduating with almost no real knowledge of the Constitution and the noble principles behind the Republic, but what of those still clinging to the old ways? Limiting their influence may be the most humane thing possible, as far as state security goes.

Fortifying Our Democracy with Fortified Information Control

One you recognize that there is a need to "fortify" information to protect national security (which, of course, means protecting the power of those who rule), you will more easily drop the doubts and stupid questions that can disrupt our national harmony. You won't fall for crazy conspiracy theories, even if they are later accepted by the authoritative media, because you will trust the timing of when you should believe what, knowing that there may be a national security purpose behind it. A very practical example comes from the history of COVID pandemic, when it was initially "bad" to think that everyone needed to wear a mask, and later it was essential to believe that. It's not that the scientific "truth" changed, but that there was initially a political need to suppress individual mask purchases to ensure that there were enough masks for healthcare workers. You might be tempted to complain that Fauci and others "lied" to you at first for political reasons, but the right and noble thing to do is trust that there must be reasons for the information tweaking, and then comply. Ditto for other declarations coming from trusted authorities that seem to change radically over time due to political issues.

When you are enlightened about the need for national security above all, you won't ask harmful, doubt-stirring questions but will comply as needed and maintain harmony. More specifically, you won't read authoritative statements from the Party or its major media outlets/PR organs looking for contradictions or questioning their "truth," resulting in arguments and hostile feelings from others who better embrace the new order.  You won't ask ridiculous questions about why the mainstream media refused to carry stories about the disclosures of Tony Bobulinski ("Tony who?" -- yes, that's the right response!) in October 2020 prior to the election, or why news about Hunter Biden's laptop was not reported widely before the election ("what laptop?" -- another perfect answer). 

You won't make the mistake of millions of angry Americans who misinterpreted the authoritative article in Time Magazine about the fortification of the 2020 presidential election. I refer to the thoughtful and reverent reflections shared by Molly Ball in "The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election" (Time.com, Feb. 4, 2021). This article carefully details how a group comprising insiders from the Party, CEO's of Big Tech and other corporations, and other entities closely cooperated to ensure that Trump was overthrown, the only and obvious "proper outcome" of the election. Angry Americans looking for fault have criticized this as if it were revealing a conspiracy to rig the election. What they don't get is that this shows the the important and benevolent role of Big Tech in fortifying our democracy, something they should celebrate, not condemn. Here's an excerpt on the fortification that some have misunderstand -- but by now, I trust you will understand and embrace it:

This is the inside story of the conspiracy to save the 2020 election, based on access to the group’s inner workings, never-before-seen documents and interviews with dozens of those involved from across the political spectrum. It is the story of an unprecedented, creative and determined campaign whose success also reveals how close the nation came to disaster. “Every attempt to interfere with the proper outcome of the election was defeated,” says Ian Bassin, co-founder of Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan rule-of-law advocacy group. “But it’s massively important for the country to understand that it didn’t happen accidentally. The system didn’t work magically. Democracy is not self-executing.”

That’s why the participants want the secret history of the 2020 election told, even though it sounds like a paranoid fever dream–a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information. They were not rigging the election; they were fortifying it. And they believe the public needs to understand the system’s fragility in order to ensure that democracy in America endures.

I think that is beautifully and accurately expressed. The media is not "rigging" or "c3ns0ring" anything; they are just working with the Party to fortify our democracy. Fortification is something you really must learn to embrace if you are to survive the new order. 

Likewise, with a healthy appreciation of the importance of state security, you won't make the offensive and silly mistake of publicly asking why, if COVID is so frightening and requires that we surrender so much, must we then open our borders and allow tens of thousands of people to wander into the country without being tested for COVID, and why our government won't answer questions about how many COVID cases have been introduced through the non-crisis at the border? The answer, of course, is that this must all be about national security and the long-term security of the Party. Trust the decision, trust the omniscience of our rulers, and don't trust those who moan about "crisis" at the border (what crisis??). If national security is being fortified, it's for our good (i.e., the good of the Party) and no complaints should be tolerated, even if some things seem illogical or questionable based on our limited knowledge. And you won't make Ron Paul's mistake of denouncing the enhancement and fortification of information because you will understand that the purpose of social media and of journalism itself is not to spread information or uncover unpredictable stories, but to protect and fortify national security. To criticize the PR team of the nation and its party is, therefore, to undermine national security. You can trust that the silencing, though temporary, was certainly appropriate. It's all about national security and trust.

Remember, in Gov we trust.

Don't criticize and cry foul when you are disappointed by fortification. If the government announces that chocolate rations are being doubled, don't do your own hostile "fact checking" based on outdated data like last month's allotments and cry out that the new 50-gram ration is only half of the previous 100=gram ration. You must recognize that for purposes of national security, there must be a good reason for the new "doubled" ration. Smile, be grateful, and go on, doing your duty quietly. Life will be much more harmonious that way. 

More from China to Ponder

Shortly after President Trump was banned from Twitter, I had a surprising conversation with a citizen of China. "Jeff, how can this happen in America?," she asked. "He's irresponsible, yes, but he's the President of the United States. If he can be censored in his own country, what will happen to freedom of speech for the rest of you? That's what America stands for, and if that's lost, what will happen?" I was somewhat speechless and didn't want to say anything that might encourage her in a potentially sensitive rant. At that time, I didn't understand the nature of our own revolution underway, otherwise I could have simply explained that silencing enemies is necessary for national security in the new state. Perhaps she would have understood, perhaps all too well. 

Caught off guard, I muttered something foolish about biased media with a double standard, citing an example of hateful rhetoric from the leader of Iran calling for the destruction of Israel that has remained on Twitter in spite of its supposed policies against hate speech (I won't risk linking to the article, but you can read one side of the story from the Jerusalem Post under the headline, "Twitter downplays Khamenei calls for genocide as political speech.") I apologize for that error. In fact, I now understand that no hypocrisy or double standard is involved. There is only one standard now: national security, which naturally entails protection of the Party and silencing of enemies. Twitter knows what they are doing, and we should trust them, of course, though China doesn't for some reason.

China has some valuable things to teach Americans as we adjust to the new dawn of enhanced informational guidance in America. I lived there for 9 years and deeply respect the Chinese people and love much about China, and have often been criticized by Americans for talking about some of the very positive things there like its world-class intellectual property system and the economic freedoms that have lifted many from poverty. While China is very different from America, or has been historically, it has much to teach us about surviving and staying out of trouble. 

In the very progressive land of China which has evolved to a one-party state where we don't have the bitterness and divisions that come from multiple parties and the many problems of elections, state security and stability are essential. Security is obtained by preventing dangerous uprisings, requiring most public gatherings to be approved by and monitored by the government, carefully monitoring what people say and do online, using observed behavior and input from others to create a "social credit score" for every person that determines what rights the government chooses to grant you, etc. Though very different than our historic traditions (many of which must be dismantled anyway for social progress), it's a very effective and powerful system, developed in part with the help of tools from Big Tech.

To live in China is to understand that there are some things you just don't want to say, ever. We recognize that our emails, texts, phone calls and online actions are monitored, whether by humans or creative electronic tools. It's important to accept this and act appropriately in China, and we should probably do the same here for our own good. We Americans often say that we want our voice to be heard. We need to adjust that kind of thinking to be more like, "We want our voice to be heard, provided it is consistent with WHO and government guidelines and properly fact-checked by government-approved corporations." Who would want anything more? When you know that your government is  trustworthy, objective and always accurate, then surely it should be wrong to disagree. Why allow people to say and think things that are wrong?

There is an ongoing and politically necessary fortification (critics may call this a "purge") underway now, like fortifications that have happened in many other well fortified nations in the past.  Here it's being done mostly by large, trusted corporations, the ones who vigilantly control most of the information that Americans receive via social media and mainstream media sources to help fortify our nation. Concerted action by these giants has led to the silencing of thousands of unruly voices, the elimination of unwanted competitors, and the creation of fortification warriors (called "mobs" by some haters) that help "cancel" harmful voices of doubt and dissent. It's a new age, and one that we had all better welcome, or else. 

Some benighted foes might say that this is not a step toward a healthy democracy, but a step toward "tyranny. " That's a sad way to describe a fully fortified democracy. I could like to tell you to please disregard what they say, but there's actually no need, for the system will quickly disregard them for you. They will be cancelled and silenced, and we should be grateful for that. The new age brings great progress toward unity by eliminating dissent, and you can stay happy and safe if you just do the new American thing by laying low and cooperating. To achieve peace and unity, it's vital that you don't ask questions. Compliance is peace. Trust is harmony. Canceling is unity. Follow the science.

If you've heard of alleged cases of dissent being cancelled or silenced, don't get agitated, but calmly learn from their experience. Understand where they went wrong and avoid that mistake. This applies to individuals in most cases so far, but will increasingly apply to institutions, including religions. There may be a need to tone down some doctrines and update certain scriptures and policies to more fully fully support whatever national security needs may arise.

This is the time to prepare to more fully embrace the fortification of democracy -- which is absolutely vital, of course, to national security. Follow the science. Comply. Do your duty. And be very careful about what you say and where you say it. It's the enlightened thing to do.