Sunday, February 18, 2018

Ethics and Politics

While I have a strong interest in ethics, I don't have much interest in politics. Unfortunately for me, the two subjects go hand in hand. Ethics is the study of what people ought to do, and politics is the foundation of public policy. Political forces create incentive systems which encourage people to behave ethically (or unethically). If we want to live in a more ethical world, a world in which goodness is rewarded and badness is punished, then politics is a strong tool to that end.

I had hoped to not become interested in politics. I don't want, or feel qualified, to tell others what to do. Plus, many of the people who care deeply about politics come off sounding somewhat crooked or unhinged. Yet, while politics is often used for one's personal gain, I think that it's a tool that I should learn to use as well, not for my own benefit (except in a karmic sort of way), but for the benefit of society. I have a vague idea of how the world ought to be. I have a sense of justice and a sense of right and wrong. I should use that to help me support laws that are just and right and to oppose laws that are unjust and wrong. I don't want to get into politics, but I feel an ethical responsibility to encourage others to be good, or at least to remove some of the incentives that encourage people to do evil.

I believe that I have a moral responsibility to get political. I still don't want to, but I think it's the right thing to do.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Lesson Plan: Sacrifice, Activities

Last time I gave a lesson in Primary, I ran out of material before I ran out of time. While I don't think that;s likely to happen this time, it would be foolish of me not to plan some kind of activity the class can do if we have extra time. In my previous class, the Go To activity was hangman. One child selected a word or phrase from the lesson, and the other children had to guess letters until they could guess the whole word or phrase. This time, I think I'll do something similar, but instead of letting a child choose the word or phrase (which can lead to trouble if the child accidentally marks down the wrong number of letters), I think I might choose several words that apply to the lesson, like Temptation, The Fall of Adam and Eve, The Atonement, Sacrifice, and Repentance, and I'll use those words for the hangman game. That way, we can have several shorter rounds rather than a few longer rounds.

I also, with my family's help, thought of another "activity" that might help the lesson sink in. At the beginning of the lesson, I'll give each child an Oreo and a promise. The promise will be that if they haven't eaten their Oreo by the end of the lesson, I'll give them a second Oreo. This will give the children a hands-on lesson on temptation, the blessings of resisting it, and (possibly) the consequences of giving in to temptation. I was almost willing to consider that the "activity," but it's not very fun, and it won't help kill time at the end of the lesson. Hangman should do the trick though.

When giving any lesson or delivering any message, it's important to consider both your audience and how much time or space you'll have to work with. A 45-minute lesson for eight and nine year olds is going to be very different from a 15-minute presentation to adults or a 5-page research paper for a college-level class. Tomorrow, I'll need to teach at my students' level, and I'll have to use all the time I'm given. I'll start, of course, by getting the kids' attention and teaching the lesson, but I'll finish with a time-flexible activity that will help the children remember at least the key terms.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Taking It On Faith

The more I study Philosophy, the more glad I am for religion. Philosophers ask deep, important questions, but they rely on themselves to come up with the answers, so various philosophers produce conflicting answers. I believe in objective truths and objective moral values, but I don't have to rely on myself or any other human to tell me what many of them they are. God already did. And the answers God hasn't given us yet are either within our grasp or not terribly important. Of course, I'm not giving up on learning or thinking just because God already gave us all the answers we really need. I'll keep trying to figure Philosophy out. It's just not as urgent for me as it is for some people. Some philosophers seem to think that it's up to us to find all of the answers to life's important questions, that it's up to us to discover the truth, using only our own reasoning and logic. For the record, I have nothing against reasoning and logic. I think they're important! But we have other ways of learning the truth, and while I think that we human beings can and should learn God's Truth and the logic behind it for ourselves, until we manage that, I'm happy with taking it on faith.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Temporary Separation

In light of a recent event, I am prompted to feel a deep sense of gratitude for the fact that families can be together forever, that this earthly life isn't all there is, and that any separation between worthy, sealed family members can only be temporary. When deaths occur, people say that "life is short," and, thankfully, so is the pain that comes from the loss of life. This may not bring much comfort to those who have lost loved ones, but I hope that it brings them at least some comfort, and I think that it will bring some comfort to me when it becomes my time to mourn.

Four Benefits of Ethics

For all that Spinoza and the other modern philosophers got wrong, he got a few things wonderfully right. Near the end of Part 2 of his classic work, Ethics (which had unfortunately little discussion of ethics in the sections we covered in class, by the way), Spinoza lists four ways in which people can benefit from studying his philosophy.

The first of these ways includes knowing that we are part of God (in some weird, metaphysical way), which means, in part, that "we share in the divine nature." He also wrote that "virtue itself . . . is happiness itself," which I think is just beautiful.

The second way we can benefit from Spinoza's deterministic view of the universe is that it teaches us "to expect and endure with patience both faces of fortune [good fortune and bad fortune]." This sounds incredibly "zen" to me, and might be the source of the "complete tranquillity of mind" that he mentions within the first way his philosophy can help us.

The third way is that it teaches us to be patient with others, remembering that their actions are also determined, as all events are, and that they, too, are a part of God.

And the fourth way we can benefit from Spinoza's philosophy is by using it to build a stable and virtuous society.

I don't agree with everything Spinoza wrote, and I don't think that all of these benefits he says follow from his philosophy actually do that. Yet, as I read the benefits he claims his philosophy unlocks, I found that he gets pretty close to speaking of eternal truths and blessings of eternal and temporal value. Again, I don't think all of these blessings can come from following Spinoza, but I do think that all of these blessings, and many more, can come from following God.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Lesson Plan: Sacrifices

I'm teaching the lesson in Primary this week, and the topic is pretty simple. I'm teaching Lesson 5: Adam and Eve and Their Family Offered Sacrifices, which wouldn't normally seem important enough to teach a whole lesson about, but why I considered WHY Adam, Eve, and their family offered sacrifices, the lesson plan began to write itself.

As usual, we'll start with a review, teaching about how the Fall of Adam and Eve caused a lot of changes in the way the world worked, with the most important change being the introduction of sin. Because sin was a part of the world now (and because this kinda had been the plan all along), it was necessary for Jesus Christ to sacrifice Himself to accomplish the Atonement so we could be redeemed from our sins. Adam and his family was commanded to offer sacrifices to remind them of the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ on their (and our) behalf.

Today, we  have a different way to remind us of Christ's sacrifice, and we make different sorts of sacrifices ourselves, but the core concepts remain largely the same. We all need the Atonement, so we all need ways to remind ourselves of the Atonement. In fact, this lesson is going to be mostly about the Atonement, why it was necessary, and how we remember it. After all, the Atonement is the most important part of the gospel and was the greatest sacrifice ever made. The "story" part of the lesson may be about the Fall and Adam making sacrifices, but what I really want my kids to take away from this class is the importance of the Atonement and the importance of remembering it.

Philosophy is Hard

Philosophy is hard in at least two ways: First, its concepts are often difficult to understand, and Second, its principles are often difficult to apply. My last blog post is evidence of this. I am currently wrestling with several difficult philosophical concepts, and I am confident that, even when I understand them, I may find them difficult to apply. It's hard to be a good person, especially when you first have to try and figure out what being a good person means.