Thoughts on the CIA

  I’ve been listening to Legacy of Ashes all day, it’s a history of the CIA. There are few interesting notes that I’ve taken from listening to it. It’s seems like the CIA is relatively incompetent or at least intelligence is an extremely difficult task, which is a comfort to me. On the other hand, it seems that the attitude within the CIA is that they are outside and above US law and politicians. Lying to president seems to be routine, especially when their reputation is on the line. The coups and violence aren’t surprising to me, but there total failure to infiltrate the Soviet Union and China combined with regular failed coups, wasted millions and weapons drops to communist agents just paints a picture of an organization that desperately needs leadership and a more coherent purpose. The combination of intelligence gathering and convert operations seems flawed from the start, I’m not denying the value of either action, but it seems that two organizations to serve two purposes would allow for more efficient operation. It seems as though even if no one else would watch these convert agencies they could be created to report on each, well blame each other for failures, that could open the secrets of their operations. The intelligence agents would have more space to operate because they would never have risk being revealed by covert operations. Snowden’s leaks have revealed that the security apparatus is entangled into one big whole, in a seemingly failed attempt to solve the problems regarding intelligence sharing between the FBI and CIA before September, 11. The problem with entangling them, beyond multiplying the mess of bureaucracy, is that it creates a single reputation for all of the intelligence community to protect. It’s better to have competing agencies and have a small group that ties the competing bureaucracies together. This committee would have regulation, approval, and investigatory roles. The committee, to my mind, would work best if it represented all three branches in one. The Supreme Court or Chief Justice would appoint a couple judges, the President would appoint a couple of his personal and trusted advisors, and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee would constitute the last half or third of the committee. I doubt I’m the first person to imagine such a committee, but it seems the most important part of implementing this, to me, is the complete dissolution of the existing intelligence infrastructure. Then a thorough and careful rebuilding of new organizations to replace the old security regime. It seems obvious from history that fixing the CIA never works. Reforms have failed with regularity, every time the CIA is revealed to be doing something especially repugnant to the American people the Executive or Legislative Branches have attempted to force reforms and failed. That’s why rebuilding the intelligence from the bottom up is so important. Of course, this will probably never happen for a number reasons I can think of, so I wouldn’t get your hopes up. 

Warranted Skepticism

AngelMoronibwFor years Evangelicals and Fundamentalists have called the Mormon Church a cult. Cult is a relative term, of course, but the problem for the Mormon church is that there are some very culty Mormons. The polygamists, the so-called Fundamentalist Mormons. Polygamy is something the mainstream Mormon church renounced in 1890, then again in 1904 because once is never enough. The Fundamentalists believe that polygamy is an important doctrine that’s essential to get into heaven; just as all Mormons did in the second half of the 19th century. I want to take a moment here and remind people that the word fundamentalist has lost all of its power. The Fundamentals, a series of 90 essays published in 12 volumes between 1910-5, are the source of the word fundamentalist. It means something along the lines of ‘back to basic or fundamental tenets of faith,’ not merely stringent, weird, or strong belief. The Fundamentals criticized things like higher criticism, the academic textual analysis of the Bible, and spiritualism, socialism, and evolutionism, arguing for a back to basics approach to Christian believe. To tie this tangent back in, they also included an essay that was critical of Mormonism. Fundamentalist may not be the best word, but the only other option that seems to be available is to call them by their ‘clan names,’ essentially who was the first leader of their specific sect. That doesn’t work well either, so I’m going to go with Fundamentalist, with intentional capitalization, now that I’ve given my objections to the word. Fundamentalists continue to practice polygamy and they believe that the mainstream Mormon church is in Apostasy.

Apostasy is a rather complex concept for Mormons, but, suffice to say, the Fundamentalists believe that the modern Mormon church is wrong on a number of theological issues and that they’ve bent to the will of public opinion. Polygamy wasn’t a particularly popular doctrine to non-Mormons, so in 1890 the Federal government essentially coerced Mormon leaders to abandon polygamy in order for Utah to become a state. Fun fact, the Republicans in 1860 ran on stopping the twin relics of barbarism – slavery and polygamy. According to the Fundamentalists, the Mormon Church has bent to the will of the public on more than polygamy, they also adjusted their doctrine concerning Adam and God due to public criticism.

According the Bible, I assume we all know, Adam was the first man. That’s probably the simplest statement I’m going to make for a couple of paragraphs, the rest of this is a combination of crazy, interesting, and stupidly complex. Fundamentalists accept something that is often called the Adam-God Doctrine, or Theory. Simply put, Brigham Young, the second Mormon prophet and president, taught that Adam was God. There’s a variety of ways to approach explaining this, but they primarily breakdown into three forms; apologetic, or defensive of the church, critical, or offensive towards the church, or historical, generally neutral. A neutral approach, I feel, is sufficient for me to explore my fascination. It began in April 1852 when Brigham Young said, “Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, Jew and Gentile, Saint and Sinner! When our Father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world. He is MICHAEL, the Archangel, the ANCIENT OF DAYS! about whom holy men have written and spoken—He is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do. Every man upon the earth, professing Christians and non-professing must hear it, and will know it sooner or later.”

The problem with quotes is that they turn into debates about context and semantics when the meaning is disputed. They don’t prove much of anything, unless the meaning is accepted by everyone involved. The intricate balance between criticism and neutral appraisal of facts is perhaps clearest when fasts demand interpretation. To balance my interpretation of this quote, and the others that will follow, I consulted with sources that were definitely meant to be apologetic along with the historical analyses I prefer. I’m approaching the task of describing this within the context of apologetics because the implications of Brigham Young teaching this proves to be difficult to square with the modern Mormon church, though it’s not impossible of course.

In a Dialogue article titled ‘The Adam-God Doctrine,’ David John Buerger offers historical context and evidence to support the claim that Brigham Young taught Adam was God. The most compelling evidence comes when considering the contemporary reactions. Samuel H. Rogers wrote, after hearing Young talk, “President Brigham Young said that our spirits were begotten before that Adam came to the Earth, and that Adam helped to make the Earth, that he had a Celestial boddy when he came to the Earth, and that he brought his wife or one of his wives with him, and that Eave was allso a Celestial being, that they eat of the fruit of the ground untill they begat children from the Earth, he said that Adam was the only God that we would have, and that Christ was not begotten of the Holy Ghost, but of the Father Adam . . . ” Before we go any further let’s pause for a moment and explain what we’re talking about. Adam is Adam from the Old Testament, according to Mormons, at least Brigham Young, but probably also Joseph Smith, Adam, like many of the Old Testament Patriarchs, was a polygamist. A Celestial Body means that Adam was originally born on another planet were he reached a state of exaltation, essentially perfection, before working with Jesus, also known as Jehovah, to create the earth. Even modern Mormons will admit that they believe that Adam is Michael, the archangel from the book of Revelations, and he helped create the Earth. A being that reaches a state of exaltation is essentially a God, so yeah, Mormons are polytheists, but they only worship one God, so they’re technically monolatrists. The debate comes when Brigham Young is said to have taught that Elohim, God for modern Mormons, was Adam’s father, or our GrandGod. For modern Mormons the trinity consists of Jehovah, Elohim, and the Holy Spirit; Jesus, God, and the mind or essence of God, as three distinct beings with one defined will. So, rather than accepting the powerful concept of three being one, Mormons take away the spirit-inducing awe thinking about three things being one brings and substitute a more 19th century empirical explanation for the trinity. It’s all confusing, I know, but it is so weird you can’t look away.

Is Adam a God? This doesn’t seem to particularly be in dispute, if he’s not now he certainly will be, according to Mormons. Is he the God of our world is the more pertinent question. Young taught the doctrine that Adam was God on multiple occasions after first introducing the doctrine in 1852, saying, on one occasion, “he is the framer of the body, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who is he. He is Father Adam; Michael; the Ancient of days.” It seems clear that Young did teach that Adam was God. Joseph Lee Robinson wrote, after hearing one of Young’s sermons, “attended a very interesting conference, for at this meeting President Brigham Young said thus…that Adam was God, our Eternal Father.” The doctrine did not find popular appeal, even among Mormons. Parley P. Pratt, a leading Mormon theologian, of sorts, vociferously argued against the doctrine. The doctrine never received the vocal support of many leading Mormons of the time, including all the leaders that would follow Young as prophets.

The doctrine, it seems, even before Young died was placed on the back burner. Young stopped emphasizing the doctrine in sermons, and other leaders demurred from offering opinions on the subject. The doctrine attracted widespread criticism from Protestant preachers, adding fuel to the anti-Mormon fire ignited by polygamy. “In October 1897, for example, Mormon elders began proselyting in Fresno, California. They authored a favorable introductory article on the Church which was published in the Fresno paper. A local minister, C. A. Munn, proceeded to publish several articles of his own, in part quoting Brigham Young’s April 1852 sermon. Although the elders tried to meet Munn’s challenge, they failed..” The response of Church leaders to Munn’s criticism is telling, “Adam ‘is not the God to whom we pray, nor did Brigham Young undertake to convey such an idea. We worship the being who placed Adam in the garden of Eden.” The first line of defense appears to be an outright denial that Young ever taught the doctrine. Young having died in 1877, the doctrine seems to have been completely abandoned and, to some extent, covered up. Though later, “Prest. Jos F. Smith then said that… Prest. Brigham Young when he delivered that sermon only expressed his own views and that they were not corobirated [sic] by the word of the Lord in the Standard works of the Church[.]” It appears the Church approached refuting the doctrine in a number of ways.

The apologetic responses seem, according to The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research(FAIR), a Mormon apologetic organization, to break down into six responses; one primary response and five explanations, beyond outright denial. I’m going to focus on the primary response because I feel that’s most important. The primary response breaks down as ‘it has been rejected since Young died and never gained widespread popularity, so it clearly was never doctrine.’ I admit this is probably true, it was never fully accepted as doctrine, but it raises some questions about having faith in the leaders of the Church if a prophet could be so wrong. That’s my primary point. When you’re young and Mormon you sing ‘Follow the Prophet,’ but if you did that here you would be clearly wrong. Wrong to a naturalist like me, wrong to Protestants and Catholics, and, most importantly, wrong to Mormons. I’ve documented in previous posts how Correlation has encouraged members of the church to be even more prone to have faith in leaders. To trust and follow the Prophets. The combination of increased faith in leaders and clear examples of leaders being wrong, such as Brigham Young teaching Adam-God, worries me most about the Mormon Church.

The Adam-God doctrine is important for me because it raises a question that I think every member, believers in anything really, need to ask. Is the authority I’m trusting, we all trust some authority, wrong? I think on the surface we will all admit that it’s a possibility, at least I hope we can all agree with that statement. Of course, it’s hard to determine if an authority is wrong because we wouldn’t need to trust an authority if we were in a position to judge if they were wrong. Approaching life with vigilant skepticism offers the best protection. We can’t be purely skeptical of everything, that leads to solipsism, but we need to question constantly and never invest trust in any one person or movement. Believe if you think you can trust a leader or an organization, I don’t have problem with belief, but just remember they can be wrong. The stringency of some believers is were I have problem. Why? Is always a legitimate question. Why do you want me to do that? That’s a fair question and offering no explanation is an absurd response to my mind. Vigilant skepticism is about judging, as rationally as possible, the explanations authorities offer us. There are tools to judge sources, facts, and explanations. Mental tools that I think are important for all of us to possess. Consider these: http://www.geol.umd.edu/~jmerck/eltsite/lectures/03.html

Endnote: I avoided using a number of other sources I read while researching this to keep it to a reasonable length and I’ve tried to make things as simple as possible without horribly distorting anything. The Dialogue article I used as my primary source for this piece is available for free online and is an easy enough read, though it is about forty pages. I avoided getting into a lengthy debate about Apostasy, for those that understand what I’m talking about, because it’s not a useful point to encourage doubt, in my opinion.

Finding Meaning

 I recently realized that the context that I came to realize life is pointless colors my reaction to it more than the truth of the statement itself. I haven’t believed life had a point for a long time. I don’t know that I ever fully understood what life having meaning implied, but I certainly have found myself to be indoctrinated to believe that life has an ultimate purpose. It’s this belief, or at least acceptance, in life having a meaning that colors my reaction. I’m disappointed. Life doesn’t have a purpose and for much of my life I’ve searched for that purpose, or, perhaps, believed I knew it, and the acceptance that there is no purpose has lead to serious disappoint for me. The meaning, the purpose of life seems so grand. The idea that there was something we could towards that could pull us toward some ultimate meaning drove many of my beliefs and actions. I realized a few days ago that my disappointment is one of two reactions I could have to life lacking any meaning. When life has a meaning and purpose you’re not truly free, you feel like you must work toward that goal or ultimate purpose, but there’s true freedom, as much as we can ever be said to be free which isn’t much, in life not having a purpose. You can work towards anything, you choose the meaning. My problem is that I don’t have dream, I can’t ever seem to find a purpose. There’s nothing that I feel is worth working towards, so my little revelation is ultimately fruitless for me. That’s were the crippling depression comes into play. I can’t remember a time when I’ve ever had a dream, I feel like I’ve been drifting my entire life. There’s never been something I want to do. I don’t really understand dreams or goals, to be honest, I’ve never felt like I had that degree of control over life. I just feel too small, too powerless to even control my life. That’s my biggest flaw. I know that, but I can’t seem to change it. I just try to block out life, most days. And when I do have to confront life, I fake a smile and pretend to be alright, though that may explain why I’m so tired of life. It takes a lot of energy to pretend to be happy when you’re not. 

Blue Skies

Blue Skies

I always notice the sky when I’m avoiding eye contact with people, so I noticed this beautiful sky a couple of days ago. Taken with my phone’s camera and edited in GIMP

Blood Money

Blood Money

I recently made and posted a piece that I called Burn. I felt like it was one of the better pictures I’ve made, but, of course, it seems a though no one else liked it; I’ve found that my personal favorites are never the ones that other people like. Anyway, the picture featured colors that I felt induced thoughts of burning, which is the name of a song by the band Alkaline Trio. The song is, kinda, about insomnia, anxiety, and depression. The biggest feature of the picture, beyond the colors, is the use of the queen from a bank note from England. The back of a pound, if you will. I felt like money, or rather the lack of it, is a major stressor and anxiety inducer for me, so I felt like it fit with the colors and the theme of the song. Yesterday I decided I wanted to work on a set of pictures that used currency to get a message across, like I had with Burn. Burn visualizes the personal anxiety around money. The second one I made, the one that’s above this, is called Blood Money. The picture uses ‘western money,’ from the bank of Scotland, and ‘third world money,’ from Argentina, to talk about the economic imperialism so pertinent to the modern world. The use of bank of Scotland notes, I suppose, is a weird choice, but I like the idea of using the castle as symbol of western culture. The number and text on the right side of the image are from the Argentinian money. I used South America as my symbol of the third world because I feel like other than, maybe, the Middle East it has experienced the most economic pressure to remain Capitalist; I’m thinking of CIA funded coups and support for dictators like Pinochet. The use of the corporate logos isn’t meant to indite the morality of any given corporation, of course corporations can’t be moral or immoral. They’re merely amoral. The thumb print in blood is intended to convey two meanings, the pressure the Capitalist west uses to force these countries to not nationalize their industries and remain Capitalists and the blood that is let out, including assassinations and genocides, for industry to remain profitable. Blood for Money. Image is 2560×1440 and was made with GIMP. 

Joining a Cult

 I’ve always felt like joining a cult would be fun, but the problem I run into is that I don’t think you can really join a cult if you know it’s one going in. Like, I’m fascinated by the idea of structure and the feeling of warmth and love that, presumably, a cult would offer. I also wouldn’t mind being made to feel special again, like I had some secret knowledge no one else did. The weird layers of secrecy and hierarchies of power would all be pleasant enough, though ultimately I feel like I can’t be happy anywhere, so I only think it would last a little while. Then we get to the extreme stuff, the killing, the running away to live on an island, or in the jungle, or somewhere. I can get on board with all of that. I feel like it would be interesting to experience the charisma of someone that could convince you to kill someone for them. That’s awe-inspiring power for another human to have on interpersonal level. Stunning, really. Like I said, though, I don’t think you can join a cult if you know it’s one going in. You can have a pretty negative attitude going in and be convinced, but I feel like thinking the leader possesses some degree of mind control makes you pretty damn defensive going in. My other problem is that I don’t go to meetings, or really any sort of group activity. My loneliness has a higher degree of self-infliction than I like admit, but I just don’t go out enough to meet someone in cult. Nor do I seem like the kind of person that would be worth inviting. I don’t have any really visible signs of how depressed I am or how much of an outsider I am, I let my mind and my thoughts do that for me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to join a cult. I guess my suggesting it’s a cult isn’t going to endear me to the group either. I don’t do well with groups generally. 

The Color of Rain

The Color of Rain

Edited this photo I found online and added a touch of color. Done with GIMP.