Tuesday, September 23, 2014

God may not be omnipotent

I've been inspired to examine my beliefs about the world and God, and I started on this process in part 1 of what may become an ongoing series. I find it frustrating to make assumptions, but as this Dinosaur comic illustrates, every one of us has to make assumptions about the veracity of our physical experiences and the reliability of our sensory input in order to try to make sense of the world and survive and stuff.

The other day I was singing "The Spirit of God," which at one point says "the knowledge and power of God are expanding." Wait. If they're expanding, that means they're not infinite! So we have an LDS hymn that basically states that God is not omniscient or even omnipotent. This makes God easier for me to understand, because otherwise, why would They put Their son through all that suffering if They could just change the rules with all Their omnipotence. God's desire to rear little souls makes more sense to me this way too, because then our experiences, when exalted, can expand the knowledge and power of God (maybe too much of a stretch?). God knows all the rules of the physical and metaphysical universe, but maybe They didn't make them, and at least can't break them. So the answer to my question of "why would God make such a ridiculous rule about the price for repenting of sin?" could be "God didn't make that rule."

There's a great speech by BYU's Dr. Paulson on the problem of evil that my sister recommended to me. In it, Paulson states:
[Joseph Smith's] revelations circumvent the theoretical problem of evil by denying the trouble-making postulate of absolute creation—and, consequently, the classical definition of divine omnipotence. Contrary to classical Christian thought, Joseph explicitly affirmed that there are entities and structures which are co-eternal with God himself. On my reading of Joseph’s discourse, these eternal entities include chaotic matter, intelligences (or what I will call primal persons), and lawlike structures or principles. According to Joseph Smith, God’s creative activity consists of bringing order out of disorder, of organizing a cosmos out of chaos—not in the production of something out of nothing.
Basically, he's saying that, according to Joseph Smith, God didn't create the world ex nihilo, but that he organized it out of existing matter (although there's still the question of where that matter came from). My husband Adam and I were talking about the limits of God's powers--there are all sorts of quotes about how God has power over all the earth and is outside of time--but there's room for interpretation in it. God knows our thoughts, God knows everything on Earth, God can make stars and planets, and "all things." But perhaps there's room for God to be "bound," not just by when we keep covenants, but in other situations like how Jesus had to suffer for all of our sins, and how God cannot look upon sin with the "least degree of allowance."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fall goals follow-up

Okay, time to follow up on last week's goals. Or you could look at more baby pictures!

Hot breakfasts

I ate hot breakfast every day for a week. Most mornings I had an egg on toast and some oatmeal with a banana and almond butter. The banana was sweet enough, and the almond butter added enough interest that I didn't feel the need to add more sugar. It felt like a lot to eat every morning, but I was trying to get enough calories. Since I've been breastfeeding sometimes I'll feel dizzy in the afternoons, and usually eating something helps (breastfeeding moms supposedly need 500 extra calories/day). I still felt dizzy one day though, so maybe it's more of a hydration issue.
a typical breakfast
I got tired of frying eggs, so I decided to try out the egg cooker my grandma gave me about a year ago. It's actually really handy! I loved how I could stick an egg on it and have a soft-boiled egg ~5 minutes later. Here's what it looks like:

The honeycomb part is where the egg rests (there are spots for seven eggs). Beneath it is a hot plate. You put a certain amount of water on the hot plate (determined by how done you want the egg), put the special dome on top, and it beeps when all the water has evaporated. It's quick and there's almost no mess to clean up either. It can also poach eggs but I haven't tried that yet. At first I thought having a one-trick appliance was stupid, but after using it every morning I grew to really like it. 

I want to continue eating hot breakfasts most of the time, because it isn't that much more trouble and I believe it is both cheaper and healthier. But I'm also okay with eating an occasional bowl of cereal, like this morning when I overslept and was in a rush to get out the door. I still want to try making a big quiche to gradually eat in the mornings, and I want to try some other oatmeal toppings, like cashew/coconut/sugar/hot sauce. I did try having my egg on my oatmeal one morning, and I thought it was gross. 

Vegetarian meals half the time

Eating vegetarian 3-4 nights/week has been really easy as long as I put it into my meal plan. This last week we had big pasta shells stuffed with feta, egg, and spinach, with tomato sauce and mozzarella on top (kind of like spinach lasagna). Last night I made dragon noodles with cabbage. And eggplant parmesan is on the menu.  

20 minutes of exercise

I want to continue doing abdominal exercises. My back still is sore all the time even though I've been taking Piper for walks in her stroller instead of using a baby carrier. I think I need to throw in some other exercises too though (probably elliptical).

No Facebook from 12-5

I did pretty well on this one. A few times I caught myself idly clicking on Facebook in the afternoon, but most of the time I closed the tab before it even loaded. I was surprised at how automatic my Facebooking had become. There were a few times where I had something specific to do on Facebook where I did go on, like "I'm going to look up how to spell that person's name and then close it." Sometimes I found myself looking forward to 5pm so I could check Facebook. I think it was good for me to limit my Facebook time though, because it forced me to work on other things, like organizing my pantry or making a big pile of computer parts to recycle. So I'm going to continue this one too.

Monday, September 15, 2014

reducing waste

I'm kind of enamored with the idea of zero waste, but I don't know if I could ever make that happen. I know, I know, I'm in charge of my own life, right? If I REALLY wanted it I would stop making excuses and do it. But I think if I had the goal for zero waste it would be overwhelming and I would give up. I know that I can make small changes though. I've been trying to reduce the amount of junk mail I get. Every time I get a piece of junk mail, I try to unsubscribe. I could just use catalogchoice, but I've come so far contacting individual companies that I'm not sure if I want to give my information out to another company. We have a lot more days where we simply don't get any mail, which I like. Every piece of mail I receive feels like a burden to recycle or file (but I do like receiving mail from humans!). The blog post I linked to made me look at packaging in a completely different way. We use materials that last hundreds of years (plastic) to temporarily transport things from one location to another. Also, recycling is awesome but it still uses a lot of energy and anything that is recycled is basically downcycled, meaning that fresh paper gets turned into recycled paper, etc.

I have been looking into composting because I know that's one way to reuse a lot of the things I put in the garbage. The thing with composting though, is that it feels so "go big or go home." You can't just compost a little. We could start a compost pile in our backyard, but I feel like since we will be selling our home in the next year I don't want to create any problems there. I looked into countertop composters as well and they all seemed very expensive to me (for a process that could occur naturally outside with a little preparation). One thing that does work is putting scraps down the garbage disposal. This page has some information about if it's better to put leftovers down the drain or in the trash. Basically, it comes down to if your wastewater treatment plant composts biosolids or burns them. In Provo they are composted. I sent a message to Spanish Fork asking about it, but I don't know yet (update: they do use leftover biosolids as fertilizer, hooray!). Spanish Fork also has a compost facility that theoretically accepts compostible waste. Simply putting our kitchen scraps down the drain would probably be the easiest thing for us at least.

I like the idea of reducing my waste because it seems like it works pretty well for reducing consumption of machine-processed foods, or encourages local consumption of such products. I have this pastoral image of biking to the farmer's market every week and buying all my food there (but half the year there isn't a farmer's market, and I'd still need to buy staples like spices and flour at a grocery store, and I haven't biked anywhere for a year).

One more thing I can do to reduce my waste is to simply buy less stuff, or at least when I buy things online, to consolidate my purchases to reduce the amount of packaging in shipping, and also to buy things used (like clothes?). I've also been trying to reduce the amount of stuff in my life, but I feel very attached to some things. And plastic is everywhere, and I'm not sure how much it's worth it to try to avoid it entirely. And tissues! I need tissues. I wash diapers for crying out loud but washing handkerchiefs seems so gross to me (would I have to bleach them?).

I don't have a specific goal for waste reduction yet, but I'm thinking about it.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Some goals for fall

My friend Tamsin likes to do challenges on her blog, like not wearing jeans for a month or going to bed on time, or going for walks every week. I was reading a post on Feminist Mormon Housewives (yeah, that's a thing I guess) about how being a stay-at-home parent doesn't have any adrenaline-rushed deadlines, so it's easy to let things go. I think little goals are a pretty good antidote for that. I've been doing some goal-like things lately; here they are!

Eat more vegetarian meals

I started this one two weeks ago and it hasn't been too difficult as long as I plan the meals ahead of time and have a recipe. I made African peanut stew, Hoisin noodle salad, black bean soupcurried chickpeas and spinach, and quinoa chili. Most of those links go to Budget Bytes, which is probably my favorite food blog so far. The meals are delicious, not too demanding, and each entry has a printer-friendly short-form version of the recipe, as well as step-by-step photos. I think I want at least half of my weekly dinners to be vegetarian, like 3-4/week. I love meat but I need to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to "eat meat sparingly."

Exercise for 20 minutes every day

I was doing pretty well on this for a while; I was reading while doing a little light exercise on our elliptical every morning before breakfast. I got out of the habit last week, and my back hurts a lot. I think my abdominal muscles are probably still weak from giving birth, so I want to do this workout three times a week until it's easier to go for longer walks while carrying Piper.

Go for one week without eating cold cereal for breakfast

I love cold cereal, so maybe I just want to torture myself? Lately I've been trying to challenge my ideas about what breakfast should be. It seems like a lot of breakfasts are just starchy dessert, which while delicious doesn't have a lot of nutrients (I'm looking at you, waffles and pancakes). Yesterday I had a fried egg on toast and this morning I had a spinach-cheese omelet... but I still had some oatmeal and brown sugar on the side. Maybe I'll experiment with some other hot cereals and having more fruit with my breakfasts. Plus, cereal is pretty expensive for what it is, and part of me feels like paying so much for processed corn is stupid. I'm not really sure how to have a protein-heavy breakfast without sausage, bacon, or eggs though.

Don't look at Facebook in the afternoon

At the beginning of the year, I made a resolution to not look at Facebook in bed, because it was procrastinating my sleeping pointlessly. I'm doing pretty well on that. Sometimes I get in a weird cycle of feeling a little bored and just zoning out on Facebook on my laptop though. I like that Facebook helps me feel connected, but I want to do other things in my day, so I think I'm going to say no Faceebook from 12:00-5pm.

Feel free to ask about how my goals are going! Also please let me know your favorite vegetarian or breakfast recipes/ideas.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Things I definitely believe in and things I don't understand

I'm doing a series of posts where I examine what I believe and why I believe it. It feels like an overwhelming task, but I feel like some of my beliefs are nebulous and namby-pamby.

I mentioned on Facebook that I choose to believe in God. I don't think science can provide evidence either way. For every argument that "humans/nature is so complex it had to have a creator!" there is an equally compelling "this system is so stupid if someone had created it they would have been smart enough not to make it this way." So the way I see it, it really is a choice, and for me, believing in God gives me aspirations beyond things on Earth. 

What God is:

I believe that God is a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. God made the Earth, and everything on it. I also believe that since God organized all the matter on Earth that he did so using the physical laws everything on Earth is subject to. I believe that God made the stars and other planets. I admit that I'm confused about how God could make the universe, because then He (They? She?) would have to exist outside it. Like Joseph Smith, I believe that spirit has matter, or at least is a phenomenon explained by the interaction of physical elements. However I was recently contemplating how an individual's atoms change completely second-to-second, showing that consciousness isn't accounted for by individual atoms. I don't completely understand the science there, but if it's true that my soul isn't made of atoms, what is it made of? Admittedly this is blowing my mind a little and I'm not sure if what I believe about the science of consciousness would really change my actions anyway, so I guess I'm shelving that for now.

If we're an advanced form of primate, God is an advanced form of human. Or maybe a better analogy would be that we're caterpillars and God is a butterfly, except that transformation is contingent upon how we act and what we choose to believe. I kind of hate that God is a completely different kind of human, because it means that whatever He does, He can explain it by saying something like "my thoughts are not your thoughts" you poor shortsighted human. I don't know if God works this way, but I'd like it better if His laws made logical sense to a human. If God is all-powerful, He should be able to explain His awesomeness in a way that stupid humans can understand. If the human-monkey God-human analogy is correct through, there are probably some aspects of God that were are completely incapable of understanding, which seems unfair. I do think there are aspects of my religion I can understand better by thinking about them though. 

What is sin:

 I wanted to define sin in a way that I could look at any action and determine whether or not it was a sin, like "does it cause suffering for myself or others?" But I went through a lot of edge cases and I couldn't find a specific definition that fit all the things I consider a sin or not a sin. My husband suggested that a sin is "intentionally disobeying God, or going against His will." I don't like this definition as much, because it's more complicated, but I think it does account for theology pretty well. It explains why there's so much emphasis on knowing and aligning onesself to the will of God. It's possible to sin even if you haven't formally studied religion/God's will, because everyone has the light of Christ, or a conscience, to make them feel guilty initially for wrong things. I don't think that guilt is a good ultimate indicator for sin though, because we can feel guilty about things that are right, and not feel guilty about things that are wrong. It seems like God should have given us a measurement more precise than a feeling for knowing what is wrong. One example that comes to mind is that victims of abuse often blame themselves or feel guilty for being abused, even though being the victim of abuse is not a sin. Conversely, some sociopaths feel no guilt for things like murder which most people would feel guilty about. Those are extreme examples, so here are some less extreme ones. Some people feel guilty for eating food they enjoy, even though eating is something humans need to do to survive and I think you might as well enjoy it (as long as you're not hurting yourself). I don't feel guilty for eating meat, generally, even though in some cultures and religions this is considered a sin. 

I feel conflicted because the evidence seems to contradict my religious belief, so I feel the need to change my belief. Maybe it should suffice that the feeling of guilt is an indicator that I should examine my actions and decide if they were actually wrong. 

Going back to the definition of sin as intentionally disobeying God's will, I like the definition because it does account for wide variety of human behavior. It accounts for how little children can do terrible things, but still be "without sin," because their brains are theoretically not developed enough to understand the concept of God and intentionally disobeying him. It ignores the consequences of actions; "the Lord looketh upon the heart." At the same time I feel kind of cheated though, because if I were to try to institute a similar scheme of discipline with my child(ren), I wouldn't be able to, because I can't mind-read and tell when someone didn't mean to do something (because a cunning child would constantly say "I didn't mean to" in that situation). Given this definition of sin, it seems futile to try to judge when another person sins. But we need earthly laws to prevent society from falling apart (probably?). But since we can't mind-read, we have to look at what the consequences of an action were to determine if it was right or wrong. 

How does the atonement work?:

Anyway, I was trying to decide what sin was to figure out how the atonement works, because the atonement still seems magical to me. The atonement makes it so we can repent from sins and change ourselves. God complied with earthly laws to make the Earth, and God complies with spiritual laws when it comes to the transformation of our souls. This is the part where Jesus comes in, and the reason it had to be Jesus is because he's half God; I believe that God is both Jesus's spiritual and physical father. Somehow Jesus's demigod status makes it so he could be the first person to become one with God (basically when he was resurrected?). Jesus talks a lot about how he is the way and the truth--his unique situation as half-human, half-God, made it so he could explain how to do it to us stupid humans. The part I don't understand is why he had to suffer for our sins, or even what it means for him to suffer for our sins. When we do something wrong on Earth, we suffer the natural consequences, like going to prison or whatever. So if Jesus really does relieve our suffering, it is our psychological suffering. The atonement covers any kind of psychological suffering, even suffering unrelated to sin. I think this can work just be believing in it, and indeed, the idea that faith, or belief, is essential for the atonement to work in one's life makes for a satisfying logic loop. The atonement may be a placebo, in that its power is directly influenced by our belief in it, but I believe the power of placebos is practical and nothing to be ashamed of. 

The part of the atonement that is still magical to me is why God needed someone to suffer for all the times someone rebelled against Him. One way I can explain this to myself is that God is a collection of "intelligences." Like a big brain? [note: the following is not LDS canon. LDS canon is that God has a body of flesh and blood.] We are child souls of the collective that is God, and our goal is to become part of God. But since God is a consciousness, it hurts to have lots of parts that don't agree with each other. God needs to be consistent with Himself, so He can't contain everyone that wants to become part of Him. So... Jesus has to transform these souls into God in a process that causes him pain, but he does it anyway because it's God's will and he's the only one who can do it? Well, I still don't get how that works, but luckily I don't have to decide everything I believe in today, so I think that is enough for now. I will continue contemplating what I believe.

Part 2

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

I wasn't a good grad student

There's a new baby photo post at my private people-photo blog. Our August was unusually rainy and I got some photos of one particularly gorgeous sunset (yeah, they're phone camera photos, whatev).
our stake center haloed by the sunset
the lines going downward are rain
when I feed Piper this is what Koko does half the time
I got rid of a bunch of old school papers lately and it made me reflect on my time as a grad student. Looking back on my papers, I seem really stubborn and a little stupid. Why would I sometimes ignore my professors' suggestions, when obviously they are experts on what they want to see in the papers they're grading? I think that I was trying to break away from doing whatever pleased my professors/teachers. I did that and got the good grades in most of my undergraduate years. But now that I have more distance I think that I was trying to hard to be my own academic mind, per se. Maybe it was necessary for me to see my own ideas as worthwhile, rather than as a tool to impress someone. I was both self-conscious about my lack of experience in literary criticism, and of my superior dedication to empirical research. I was both proud and self-deprecating. Quite possibly I have the same problem now but I'm too close to myself to see it.

Lately I've been reading a Harry Potter fanfiction called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. It's really good! I think I like it even better than the original Harry Potter books, although there are a few parts that are annoyingly self-satisfied (like most fanfics). My favorite parts are when characters use their awareness of cognitive biases to improve their situations. 

Piper has been lovely. She sleeps through the night and doesn't cry too much. I have no complaints.