Tonight I attended a lecture at sixth&iwhere Michael Shermer talked about his new book, The Believing Brain: From Ghosts to Gods to Politics and Conspiracies.It was a full house with at least 200 people in attendance, maybe 300. In it, he argues that the brain naturally looks for patterns as it processes its environment. The brain then forms these patterns into belief that people confirm with self selected proof, ignoring evidence to the contrary. Further, through these beliefs, the brain can even produce experiences perceived as supernatural, especially when the social human is alone or sleep deprived.
My friend invited me to attend with him. This was a response to my prior invite for him to attend a panel discussion with me at the Religious Freedom Education Project out of the Newseum. I don’t frequently attend atheist discussions with my Saturday night, though it’s likely something I would have done if Michael, the author, was on campus during the week.
Believe it or not, in the Q & A, Michael asked me whether I wear Mormon underwear. After a bit of an exchange, I said that I blogged about it and wanted to provide those links for anyone from the sixth&i event who may visit the MormonInside tonight. I’m planning on writing a response to Michael’s remarks within the week, so be sure to come back.
Mormon Underwear: A Constant Personal Reminder to Always Remember Jesus Christ and Keep His Commandments
MacGyver Groupie and Lengthy Leggings
How’d we get to “magic mormon underwear” in the Q & A, you ask? Good question. It was quite priceless, actually.
I’m in the process of choosing a thesis topic in my master’s in American Studies program at Georgetown University. I want to do something with public school education, the Constitution, and religion. I’m concerned with the taboo status of teaching morals in the public school system. As a result of this problem, we are creating a generation not bound to a sense of moral or civic responsibility. If this trend continues, the experiment we call America will fail because our form of government relies on the people’s civic virtue and engagement. Whose morals should get priority in such a prime forum? America’s, of course; shared values embodied in the Constitution should be the promoted ethics. I’m ruminating arguing that religious communities are a vibrant source within American society to contribute to the development of civic virtue, though it is not the only source. Since secularists often portray religionists as stupid or ridiculous and because religion is increasingly portrayed as ruining everything, the potential of religious communities increasingly goes untapped in countering this problem.
That background motivated my question.
The mission of the host organization, the Center for Inquiry is to “foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry and humanist values” and the author described how morality, or in other words treating someone respectfully, is a natural means for humans to perpetuate genes. So, I asked how his views would contribute to an educational approach moving forward. As students increasingly think within a scientific method framework, how should morals, which are value judgments, be taught?
In addition to referring me to Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape, he suggested using the scientific approach in determining what makes a good society. North and South Korea measurablely demonstrate some political forms are better than others in achieving good health, well being and personal freedom, he said.
Then in jest, he said something along the lines of how it was difficult to determine morals because some people like the Mormons “morally” lead teenage girls into polygamist relationships; a system where the man wouldn’t otherwise “be getting any.”
Unable to with hold my smile, I thanked him and said that I happened to be Mormon and that as we discussed tonight there are various views and religious sects in the world and I am not part of that sect.
He responded laughingly and the room also filled with a sense of amusement. He recovered a bit by saying that those are the Mormon fundamentalists and all the mainstream Mormons he knows have been really nice people.
He then asked if I wore the underwear.
I said, “You’re asking me about my underwear?” I intended for this to be a playful way of feigning offense at an otherwise very impertinent question from a middle aged man of a young woman (if it wasn’t religious clothing).
A man sitting closely in the pew (yes they were pews, sixth&i is a synagogue) attempted to help me understand Michael’s question and said something about “magic mormon underwear.”
I said, “Yes, I do wear a reminder of my covenant with God.”
The whole thing was really priceless.
I just spent a few minutes googling the term “magic mormon underwear.” I’m not sure who started this term, but it’s really disrespectful.
Calling the reminder of my covenant “magic mormon underwear” is kind of like saying you’re going to beat up my mom. It’s rude, but I roll with it.
After we stood in line for my friend to get his book signed by the author, we talked a bit with a man born into the Jewish community, but who does not accept any of the beliefs. He told us that secularists are now building community in the same way that religious groups do. I suggest that as this group gains more of an identity and they seek to encourage rationality in society, they couple it with showing respect of beliefs or practices special to others, even if they don’t see any scientific value. Maybe secularists could consider that my attitude and behavior with regards to wearing the garment may contribute to making me nice, like Michael noticed in other Mormons.
Maybe a religious practice is not so ridiculous if it contributes to the creation of a peaceful and civil society. Not every religious practice is akin to jihad.