Cambodian Genocide in Numbers

This is a dynamic plot of life expectancy vs. child mortality of several countries between 1970 and 1993. Watch between 1974 and 1980, there’s one little red dot that drops from a life expectancy of about 32 (already low) to half that in 3 years and then swings back above 32 by 1981. By the end of the video, it has inched its way up to 56.

So, what happened to this country during the mid to late 70s? Something I’ve always heard about, but never knew much about, the Khmer Rouge genocide under Pol Pot:

An attempt by Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot to form a Communist peasant farming society resulted in the deaths of 25 percent of the country’s population from starvation, overwork and executions.

By 1975, the U.S. had withdrawn its troops from Vietnam. Cambodia’s government, plagued by corruption and incompetence, also lost its American military support. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army, consisting of teenage peasant guerrillas, marched into Phnom Penh and on April 17 effectively seized control of Cambodia.

Once in power, Pol Pot began a radical experiment to create an agrarian utopia inspired in part by Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution which he had witnessed first-hand during a visit to Communist China.

Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ economic program included forced evacuations of Chinese cities and the purging of ‘class enemies.’ Pol Pot would now attempt his own ‘Super Great Leap Forward’ in Cambodia, which he renamed the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea.

He began by declaring, ‘This is Year Zero,’ and that society was about to be ‘purified.’ Capitalism, Western culture, city life, religion, and all foreign influences were to be extinguished in favor of an extreme form of peasant Communism.”



Some time ago, a friend shared a political article with me. I responded with the following: “It’s an interesting article and I think there’s probably truth to it. But one thing it does (satire does this in general) is create a caricature of a group of people that then becomes the object of our ire and our justification for dismissing what legitimate message the group might have. We do this on all sides of these issues to the point that we’re locked in a never-ending battle, every side fighting against the caricature or the exaggeration that we’ve developed in our mind. Liberals think the conservatives are narrow-minded, self-righteous, racists while conservatives think the liberals are poor-me, self-proclaimed victims who think the world owes them. All we have to do is keep a collection of anecdotes on hand that we can pull out anytime someone challenges the caricature and use those to assure ourselves that our sweeping generalizations and assumptions are warranted.

Note, this isn’t necessarily a criticism of this article, so much as a general observation about what’s going on in our country. Our late night comedy shows are based on this kind of humor. And to be honest, I think it’s really funny. But every once in a while I sit back and think, what’s the effect this is having on us? Satire and caricature often takes away the human component and causes us to see each other as a sort of cartoon where everything we despise about society is exaggerated. I’m increasingly convinced that most of us are fighting against something at least in part imagined in our heads more than we’re settling down to look at and deal with facts in an objective way. That’s one thing the author of this article calls for i.e. a consideration of facts. But all the while he’s painting his own picture of a group of people that may not be completely true to the reality.” Read the rest of this entry »

God’s Grace

Growing up in the LDS church, I recall learning a certain number of ‘steps’ in the repentance process, all of which conveniently started with R. Such a brilliant mnemonic ensured that you would never forget this formula for reconciling (another R!) yourself to God. I can’t recall how many Rs there were; I thought it was 4 or 5. But based on the Google search I just did, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus. Furthermore, I couldn’t find something official on the site. So, here’s something I found on a blog called Mormon Momma: The Seven R’s of Repentance.

Can you believe that? Seven Rs! This must be the ultra deluxe plan for obtaining divine favor. Here they are: Recognition (realizing and acknowledging you have done wrong), RemorseRelating (another way of saying confession), Restitution (making things right – this never fails to remind me of that old TV show ‘Quantum Leap’ and the tag line “putting right what once went wrong“), Resolution (resolving never to commit the sin again), Reformation (changing our behavior), and Realization (realizing the blessings that come from living righteously). The first four Rs jive with what I remember learning. You need to realize that you’ve done something wrong, feel remorse for having done it, confess (although I could never remember the R for this) and then try to right as much of the wrong you may have caused by your sin(s) i.e. restitution.

Now, I want to throw into the mix a verse that’s famous in modern Mormonism: “…we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25.23) Despite the mention of grace in this verse, almost invariably it seems we focus on the latter part: “…after all we can do.” Combine this with the Rs of repentance (especially the enhanced super deluxe 7-Rs program) and it may give the impression that there’s a whole lot of work involved in earning God’s grace (I’ll discuss another possible interpretation of ‘after all we can do‘ in a little while).

Ironically, the Book of Mormon itself seems to present quite a different picture of repentance that, to me, emphasizes how quickly God is willing to forgive the humble soul who cries out for His mercy and grace. And it is a far more beautiful process than the 4, 5, 6 or even 7 Rs. What I observe from the following accounts in the Book of Mormon is that recognition, remorse and longing or desire for forgiveness certainly precede grace and forgiveness. But everything else follows naturally as a result of having tasted God’s overwhelming love for us. We no more need to grovel and scourge ourselves to obtain God’s grace than a small child needs to beg and plead for a parent’s love after a temper tantrum. All of those other Rs – restitution, resolution, reformation, etc. – they are the fruits of God’s forgiveness and love. Read the rest of this entry »

Our Relationship to God

The following thoughts are a continuation or an outgrowth of what I wrote about in my last post (Wave-Particle Duality). Mormonism – at least the Mormonism of today, taught by the LDS church – defines the Godhead as God the Father, his only begotten son after the manner of the flesh and the holy ghost; In other words, it’s composed of three individuals. A Mormon will sometimes capitalize ‘holy ghost’, because they think of it as a proper noun, referring to an individual that shares godhood with God the Father. Furthermore, the holy ghost is often referred to using the pronouns ‘he’, ‘his’, and ‘him’.

So, in the LDS church of today, it makes perfect sense to pattern all governing bodies after this divine triumvirate. The First Presidency, which was just recently reorganized (since Thomas S. Monson passed away), consists of a President and two counselors. Area presidencies likewise consist of three individuals. The same can be seen at stake (comparable to a diocese, I believe) and ward (similar to a parish, I think) levels. It’s all part of a perfect pattern that any faithful LDS member knows and loves.

With that background, the following seems a curious statement by Joseph Smith, the religion’s founder: “… the Holy Ghost is now in a state of Probation which if he should perform in righteousness he may pass through the same on a similar course of things that the son has.” (here is the source at the Joseph Smith Papers project)

I say this is curious, because elsewhere in Mormon scripture, it says that we – you and me – we are in a state of probation: “…we see that death comes upon mankind…which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.” (Alma 12.24)

What a strange and interesting similarity in the way we describe, on one hand, the condition of a being we consider next to deity and, on the other hand, the condition that we lowly, imperfect creatures find ourselves in here. Is there a problem with this? Read the rest of this entry »

Wave-Particle Duality

We are all, to a certain extent (compared to God), dark or crude creatures. But we have something within us connected to the divine, even if we don’t always pay attention to it. We are in a veiled existence. The flesh we occupy is heavy matter by comparison to the more refined matter composing God’s being (“There is no such thing as immaterial matter…“; D&C 131.7-8). The veil of the ancient temple represented this coarse matter. The high priest in the holy of holies donned a robe in representation of what happens when a being of light descends to this earthly realm to make intercession for those who are stuck here.

We periodically open ourselves up to and receive some of the light from the eternal realm. When we write it down, when we share it with each other, we generate a momentary spark of light in this veiled place. What if we seek out and collect all of these sparks? What if we sift out from the chaff of our error and ignorance the grains of wheat which are these sparks of light and collect them? What will happen?

We should recognize these sparks in each other and be grateful for them. We should acknowledge the bits of light in each other, never assuming that one of us is all that much brighter than the next (again, using God as our frame of reference or standard for judging the degree of light). In this way, we have some hope of living in peace with each other. It’s possible that if we see each other this way, we will no longer be opponents, but we’ll become collaborators in an experiment wherein we seek to identify and collect together the light that emits from us from time to time. Read the rest of this entry »

Solid or ‘Solid’?

How solid are we? You might say we are as solid as E=mc2, the famous equation summarizing the equivalency (or interchangeability) of energy and mass. After a nuclear reaction, the mass of the solid products is actually less than the mass of the solid reactants. Where did the mass go? It went to energy or light.

So, again, how solid are we? The truth is, even without (heaven forbid) undergoing a nuclear reaction we are mostly empty space anyway. If you could look at the atoms composing matter, you’d find they consist of a dense nucleus surrounded by a charged, energetic cloud. So, what makes us solid? Or, should I say, what makes us ‘solid’? There are two things: (1) We feel ‘solid’ and (2) We look ‘solid’.

To elaborate on #1, something only feels ‘solid’ because of repulsion between the energetic particles composing bulk mass. Together, the composing particles generate force strong enough to repel other bulk objects. So, if I grip my arm and squeeze, the repulsive force only grows and it’s impossible for my hand to pass through my arm.

To elaborate on #2, something only looks ‘solid’ because visible light does not pass straight through. It takes a wandering, meandering path of continually dissipating energy until ultimately the light-energy is emitted from our bodies in the form of electromagnetic radiation that is below the frequency our eyes can detect, e.g. infrared light.

Imagine this, though. What would happen if the range of frequencies of light that our eyes perceive suddenly shifted up? How different would our solid, tangible world look then?

The tendency for light to pass straight through ‘solid’ objects increases as the frequency of the light increases. So, as the range of light our eyes can detect increased, we would initially perceive our neighbor as a Halloween horror, a living, moving skeleton. Eventually, as the detectable range increased further, our neighbor would completely disappear to our view. It wouldn’t be until we reached our hand out and touched them that we would again perceive them as ‘solid’.

In conclusion, as interesting as this all is to consider, I guess I don’t really know how to answer the original question…

Coming to Oneness

TL/DR: Whence comes the natural fruit (the unity that existed in the beginning)? Thoughts on the top-down authoritarian LDS church model versus bottom-up, grassroots, self-determination.

The city of Enoch were of one heart and mind with each other and with God to such an extent that the Lord walked with them. Jacob chapter 5 in the Book of Mormon describes a unity that existed at the first – perhaps the original condition before the fall of Adam and Eve – and that will exist again at the last (yet future). It refers to this as the natural fruit:

“…the trees had become again the natural fruit; and they became like unto one body; and the fruits were equal; and the Lord of the vineyard had preserved unto himself the natural fruit, which was most precious unto him from the beginning.” (Jacob 5.74)

As Margaret Barker has elaborated at length, the ancient temple (in the first temple period) strongly paralleled this idea in its symbolism. The Lord’s purpose (as the great high priest) is to invite us to come to him, to gain this oneness with him, and thereby restore the original unity that existed with God at the first. This is symbolized by the holy of holies of the temple.

Recently at church, we discussed Zion, the condition that existed with the people of Enoch and that the Lord attempted to achieve again with Joseph Smith and the latter-day saints. The two best comments (in my opinion) during this discussion, which did not gain traction, were that rather than manufacturing unity by externally-imposed means, such unity begins when we each individually come to know the Lord. Then, unity between individuals emerges naturally from those individuals having first developed a relationship with the Lord.

I don’t know why this idea did not gain traction. We quickly moved on to other topics. It’s a shame, because I think that what we have in the LDS church is a mirage of unity. We’re united in our mutual agreement that we should be following the program of the church. This mirage of unity is preserved from the top-down by our commitment to do what the general authorities outline for us, what our stake leaders outline for us, what our bishoprics and auxiliary leaders outline for us. Read the rest of this entry »