Tech

Medium wants to know: Can Mormon transhumanists revitalize the Latter-day Saints?

Medium wants to know: Can Mormon transhumanists revitalize the Latter-day Saints?

When Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, decided to tell the world that the National Enquirer was blackmailing him with nude photos, he turned to the blog platform Medium to tell the world about it.

Everyone, from Mashable to USA Today asked why someone worth $150 billion would self-publish not in the Washington Post, which he owns.

Instead, he turned to a humble (but neutral) place that’s accessible to everyone and anyone. I joined Medium a month ago — after perusing it for over a year — because the writing was about unusual topics with unique angles. There isn’t an army of editors going over the prose; what you see is raw copy straight from the writer’s laptop.

As it turns out, I’m not writing about Bezos, but I am writing about a recent piece on Medium about Mormon transhumanists, whatever they may be. Fellow GetReligionista Dick Ostling has written about them before, but some things bear repeating.

Mormons are the opposite of cafeteria Catholics. Instead of a pick-and-choose religion of faith du jour, they inhabit a closed system with a unique holy book and scriptures; certain beliefs that only they own and a place as the preeminent American-founded religion. Its legends and history are uniquely that of the Western hemisphere.

Before we start, please note the author isn’t just any old pajama-clad writer wannabe. Erin Clare Brown has worked for the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. although her stint with the Times lasted only seven months. Whatever. (See here for a piece on Nordic Mormons she wrote for the WSJ three years ago). Her Linked-In account mentions she is a former Mormon missionary to the Russia, which explains her insight into these folks.

The piece starts with an anecdote by Michaelann Bradley, a young woman who was having a crisis of faith and had drifted from her Latter-day Saint roots.

In 2013, Bradley met her future husband, Don, at an academic scripture study group. He was a thoughtful historian 18 years her senior whose own faith in the LDS Church had been shaken years before. Many of their early dates were to “Mormon-adjacent gatherings,” Bradley said, so she hardly batted an eye when Don invited her to a meeting of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. He billed it as a group of thoughtful folks tackling slightly different ideas about Mormonism. “I thought he meant ‘transcendentalist,’” Bradley told me. “I came prepared to talk about Thoreau.”

The meeting was as far from Walden as the moon or a terraformed Mars. Held in a local tech entrepreneur’s basement, it was a philosophical free-for-all of ideas that were closer to science fiction than scripture. The 10 other attendees — all male, all white, all in their 20s and 30s, and mostly with backgrounds in computer science or the tech world — batted around theories that reframed deeply held Mormon beliefs, like the notion that “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become,” in terms of cryonics and the singularity. They quoted futurists in the same breath as Latter-day Saint Apostles and Carl Sagan. They asked whether we could become like God through technology — could we live forever now and not just after we die?

Taking certain Mormon beliefs to their logical conclusion, I’m guessing.

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China's 'social credit' system: 'Hunger Games,' Big Brother or the book of Revelation?

China's 'social credit' system: 'Hunger Games,' Big Brother or the book of Revelation?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a piece on Vice.com about China’s social credit system, a mix of “Brave New World,” “The Hunger Games” and Revelation 13:16-17.

Do you think the Chinese government would use this system to punish religious believers? We will come back to that angle.

For those of you not familiar with end-of-the-New Testament prophecy, the latter concerns a “mark” (barcode?) one must have to do any financial transactions worldwide. It all sounded like something out of the 22nd century until I began reading about China’s creepy citizen tracking system.

A short piece at Vice started thus:

RONGCHENG, China — Here and in other cities across China, monitors have been tracking people's behaviors — good and bad — for the country's new Social Credit System. It’s kind of like the American credit score system, except it tracks far more than financial transactions.

And the consequences can be pretty serious.

Part of the system is a neighbor watch program that's being piloted across the country where designated watchers are paid to record people's behaviors that factor into their social credit score. Zhou Aini, for one, gets paid $50 USD a month to watch her neighbors as an "information collector." She records observations in a notebook and then shares it with a local government office that determines the results.

A high score could bring you lower interest loans and discounted rent and utility bills, but if your score is low, you can be subjected to public shaming or even banned from certain kinds of travel. Basically, your life gets harder.

While the score is not exactly the biochip everyone must have embedded in their hand or forehead mentioned in the apocalyptic “Left Behind” novels, it is unsettling.

China’s persecution of its Muslim, Falun Gong and Christian minorities is getting worse by the day, so you can guess which groups would immediately suffer losses of their social credit. Today they might not be able to buy tickets for a plane flight. Tomorrow they may not be able to buy food.

Various media have been covering this trend for the past year. However, when it comes to religion, I haven’t seen much connecting of the dots.

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How and why will your New Testaments be changing in the computer era?

How and why will your New Testaments be changing in the computer era?

THE QUESTION:

How and why will a new technique for computer analysis of ancient texts affect the New Testaments you’ll be reading?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

A revolution now under way will gradually change every future English translation of the New Testament you’ll be reading.

Translations are based upon some 5,800 hand-written manuscripts of the New Testament in Greek that survived from ancient times, whether fragments or complete books. Scholars analyze their numerous variations to get as close as possible to the original 1st Century wordings, a specialty known as “textual criticism.”

Books by Bart Ehrman at the University of North Carolina tell how such differences turned him from conservative to skeptic regarding Christians’ scriptural tradition. Yet other experts see the opposite, that this unusually large textual trove enhances the New Testament’s credibility and authority, though perplexities persist.

Two years ago, a good friend with a science Ph.D. who closely follows biblical scholarship alerted The Religion Guy to the significance of the “Coherence-Based Genealogical Method” (CBGM). What a mouthful. The Guy managed only a shaky grasp of CBGM and hesitated to write a Memo explaining it.

But he now takes up the topic, prodded by an overview talk by Peter Gurry, a young Cambridge University Ph.D. who teaches at Phoenix Seminary, video posted here (start at 33 minutes). The Guy won’t attempt a full description, but you can learn details in Gurry’s article for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (.pdf here), or his co-authored 2017 book “A New Approach to Textual Criticism.” (Gurry’s doctoral dissertation on CBGM is available in book form but pricey and prolix.)

If it’s any encouragement, Gurry confesses he himself needed a year to comprehend CBGM, which he says “is not widely known or understood, even among New Testament scholars.”

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It's a new fact of news life: Reporters have to start reading the alternative Catholic press

It's a new fact of news life: Reporters have to start reading the alternative Catholic press

The scandals that have engulfed the Catholic Church the past few months are only intensifying.

The allegations to come out of Pennsylvania (as well as Ireland and Australia) and accusations against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick not only revealed how much the church is hurting, but also the stark ideological split within it. These events have also seen a rise in the power of online media.

The growth of conservative Catholic outlets, for example, and their ability to break stories against “Uncle Ted” has coincided with the internal struggle contrasting what traditionalists see as inadequate news coverage from the mainstream media regarding Pope Francis’ leadership. Filling that void are conservative journalists and bloggers on a mission to expose what they see as the Vatican’s progressive hierarchy.

In 2002, an investigation by The Boston Globe unearthed decades of abuse by clergy never before reported to civil authorities (click here for links). These days, accusations of wrongdoing within the Catholic Church are being exposed by smaller news organizations. No longer are mainstream outlets setting the pace here. Depleted newsrooms and not wanting to do negative stories about the pontiff have spurred conservative Catholic media to fill the journalism void.

Indeed, it’s a small group of influential blogs and news websites that has helped to inform millions as well as drive the debate.

The sex-abuse scandals that dominated news coverage over the summer are not going away. In the latest allegations to hit the U.S church, John Jenik, an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of New York, is under investigation after being accused of sexual abuse. First to the punch with the story soon after Cardinal Timothy Dolan made the announcement was CruxNow, a Catholic news site, and not any of the three competitive New York City dailies.

The revelations regarding Jenik could be just the start of a new flood of allegations going into 2019. The Justice Department recently sent a request to every Roman Catholic diocese in the country ordering them not to destroy documents related to the handling of child sexual abuse cases. The request to preserve those files, first reported by the blog Whispers in the Loggia, is yet another sign that the prove is expanding after the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

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China and its creepy facial recognition technology targets Uighur Muslims

China and its creepy facial recognition technology targets Uighur Muslims

The title of the article seemed to be a joke: “A Summer Vacation in China’s Muslim Gulag.”

Appearing in ForeignPolicy.com, the piece was about a Uighur student, called Iman, who was studying in the United States. He knew his homeland was a dangerous place to visit, but he had a mother he’d not seen in years.

So, he had no sooner stepped off the plane in eastern China than he was thrown into jail for nine days, then -– still shackled -– put on a 50-hour train ride to Xinjiang, his homeland in western China. He got to the city of Turpan.

The stress intensified as he was taken to the detention center, or kanshousuo. “I was terrified as we approached.” (As we talked, for the first time Iman directed his gaze at the ground, avoiding eye contact.) “The compound was surrounded by towering walls. Military guards patrolled the metal gate. Inside, there was little light. It was so dark,” he continued.

He was immediately processed. An officer took his photograph, measured his height and weight, and told him to strip down to his underwear. They also shaved his head. Less than two weeks before, Iman was an aspiring graduate at one of the top research universities in the United States. Now, he was a prisoner in an extrajudicial detention center.

Still in his underwear, Iman was assigned to a room with 19 other Uighur men. Upon entering the quarters, lit by a single light bulb, a guard issued Iman a bright yellow vest. An inmate then offered the young man a pair of shorts. Iman began scanning the cell. The tiled room was equipped with one toilet, a faucet, and one large kang-style platform bed -- supa in Uighur -- where all of the inmates slept. He was provided with simple eating utensils: a thin metal bowl and a spoon.

He endured 17 days of imprisonment for crimes he did not commit and then, unexpectedly, was released and allowed to go home and eventually to return to the United States to finish his studies. Not surprisingly, he’s not planning to return to China any time soon, plus his mother herself is imprisoned in the same kind of “re-education center.”

China’s barbaric treatment of its Muslim minority (represented by the blue flag with a crescent and star with this piece) doesn’t get any protests from the worldwide Muslim community, unlike the anger that’s released toward Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. Foreign Policy makes that point in a piece published last week. A sample:

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Too radical for America's tech overlords: liberal Baptist pastor rattles Silicon Valley

Too radical for America's tech overlords: liberal Baptist pastor rattles Silicon Valley

I first saw the story in the Guardian with this headline -- “Elitist den of hate:” Silicon Valley pastor derides hypocrisy of area’s rich liberals.”

There's more. The sub-head proclaimed: “Gregory Stevens resigns after tweets about Palo Alto, slamming tech industry greed and empty social justice promises”

Whoa. I had to read that. Textured stories about the religious left aren’t easy to find. Plus, when “rich liberals” slam someone, it’s usually a conservative, not one of their own. Not only that, here was a person taking on Facebook and other tech companies.

So I dove in:

A Silicon Valley pastor has resigned from his church after calling the city of Palo Alto an “elitist shit den of hate” and criticizing the hypocrisy of “social justice” activism in the region.

Gregory Stevens confirmed on Monday that he had stepped down from the First Baptist church of Palo Alto, an LGBT-inclusive congregation, after his personal tweets calling out the contradictions of wealthy liberals in northern California surfaced at a recent council hearing…

“I believe Palo Alto is a ghetto of wealth, power, and elitist liberalism by proxy, meaning that many community members claim to want to fight for social justice issues, but that desire doesn’t translate into action,” Stevens wrote, lamenting that it was impossible for low-income people to live in the city. “The insane wealth inequality and the ignorance toward actual social justice is absolutely terrifying.”

My first question was to wonder what sort of Baptist we’re talking about: The centrist/liberal American Baptist Church or the vastly more conservative Southern Baptist Convention?

That distinction should have been drawn out -- pronto. It’s an ABC congregation, their web site says.

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Young Greek atheist in a trench coat: The matrix of symbols on display at Santa Fe High

Young Greek atheist in a trench coat: The matrix of symbols on display at Santa Fe High

No doubt about it. It's hard to get more Greek than the name "Dimitrios Pagourtzis." So, yes, I was not surprised to receive emails asking me the significance of the Greek Orthodox heritage (and ethnic dancing skills) of America's latest young student with guns and a mission.

Once again, we face questions about the contents of a gunman's head and heart, as journalists (and law officials) try to answer the always painful "Why?" question in the mantra, "Who, What, Where, When, Why and How."

The Orthodox connection is mentioned in most background stories about Pagourtzis. Here is a TMZ reference with a link to video. You will not, when viewing it, be tempted to shout, "Opa!"

The student arrested for gunning down 10 people at his high school appeared to be nothing more than a church-going dancer mere days before the shooting.

TMZ has obtained video of 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis participating in a choreographed dance for his Greek Orthodox church the weekend before he allegedly shot and killed 8 of his peers and 2 teachers.

Sources connected to the event tell us the dance was part of a larger Greek festival in a town about 30 minutes away from Santa Fe, TX where he went to school. 

In traditional, even elite, media this Greek Orthodox information is more likely to look like this -- care of The New York Times.

Investigators, meanwhile, are scouring his journal, a computer and a cellphone that Mr. Abbott said showed the suspect had been planning the attack, and his own death. ... 

In many ways, Mr. Pagourtzis was a part of the Santa Fe community. He made the honor roll. He played defensive tackle on a school football team that was the pride of the town. His family was involved in the Greek Orthodox Church.

As always, in this digital-screens world of ours, what a person does with his or her time in analog life (like dancing in an ethnic dance team) may not be as important as what the person expresses in social media.

It's interesting to note that the Times team did not include the following piece of social-media information about Pagourtzis -- which did make it into print at The Washington Post.

In the Facebook account, he described himself as an atheist and said, “I hate politics.”

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Guilt folder chatter: What happens when newsworthy topics are 'covered' in entertainment?

Guilt folder chatter: What happens when newsworthy topics are 'covered' in entertainment?

Faithful GetReligion readers are familiar with our "folder of guilt" concept. If you live online, you have one, too.

It's the large stack of emails that you know you need to deal with, but more urgent (or less complex) emails keep arriving, day after day, week after week. The digital layers between you and the "guilt" emails get bigger and bigger.

The difference here at GetReligion is that some of us have -- literally -- created "guilt" folders in our email software to protect certain stories or op-eds or online discussions that we know we should deal with, somehow, someday. Like today.

This brings me to a 5-star "guilt" discussion that took place recently among the GetReligionistas. This one was important because it cut to the heart of what we do here and, to be blunt, what we may or may not be doing in the future.

The basics: GetReligion has, for 14-plus years, attempted to critique the good and the bad in mainstream coverage of religion. We have deliberately tried to avoid writing about opinion and analysis journalism, other than making references to add depth or perspective to posts about hard-news coverage. We also have the weekend "think piece" feature that points readers to all kinds of journalism about issues linked to religion and, thus, religion news.

Meanwhile, trends in the Internet age have weakened the wall between straight news and advocacy news (#DUH). We know that and we have struggled to cope with that.

But we also know that many of our culture's most important discussions of religious issues and events are taking place OUTSIDE of the journalism world -- in entertainment. That's one of the reasons I left a newsroom in 1991 to teach mass-media studies at a seminary.

So what is GetReligion supposed to do with debates about "news" topics that take place, to cite one example, in a show like HBO's "Silicon Valley"?

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Porn education for teens? The New York Times (like it or not) raises big moral questions

Porn education for teens? The New York Times (like it or not) raises big moral questions

If you spent anytime on Twitter and other social media this week (and you're a parent) then you probably noted tweets and posts about that ultra-viral New York Times Magazine feature about teen-agers involved in a porn-literacy class in Boston.

So what is the religion angle here?

What makes this our must-read "think piece" for this weekend?

Well, there is no absolutely religion and/or moral angle to this story at all, according to the Times magazine. at least that appears to be the case based on the content that made it into print. Actually, I guess the moral angle is whether constant porn consumption is in some way negatively shaping how young males view sex and, thus, affecting their sex lives and those of the teens with whom they are having sex.

You can kind of see what's going on in the story's double-decker headline:

What Teenagers Are Learning From Online Porn
American adolescents watch much more pornography than their parents know -- and it’s shaping their ideas about pleasure, power and intimacy. Can they be taught to see it more critically?

At one point in the story, there is this mild form of moral nervousness, when addressing the issue of whether tax-funded porn classes for teens should actually RECOMMEND some porn sites to parents and students as safer and more sex-positive -- in terms of avoiding violence and truly twisted material -- while warning them about others.

I mean, after all:

That may be more than most parents, even of older teenagers, can bear. But even if parents decided to help their teenagers find these sites, not only is it illegal to show any kind of porn -- good or bad -- to anyone under 18, but, really, do teenagers want their parents to do so? And which ones would parents recommend for teenagers?

Yes, read that a second time and think about it.

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