Sunday, October 6, 2013

Logical Fallacies and the 9th Commandment

The most valuable course I took in my entire education was Introduction to Informal Logic. I took the class my second quarter of college simply because it fit in my schedule and didn't look horribly boring. I loved that class so much that I changed my minor to philosophy and almost decided to go on for a PhD in the subject.

When I taught freshman composition, I made sure to introduce my students to the logical fallacies so that they could identify and guard against them. They're pernicious and tend to crop up everywhere.While there are several logical fallacies, there is one in particular that I'm going to discuss today that is unbecoming a Christian.

That fallacy is the straw man fallacy. The straw man fallacy is where someone argues not against their opponents' position, but against a ridiculous, false, or weak characterization of their opponents' position. Wikipedia summarizes it nicely:
To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and to refute it, without ever having actually refuted the original position. This technique has been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly in arguments about highly charged, emotional issues. In those cases the false victory is often loudly or conspicuously celebrated.
Here is an example from real life:

True position: Feminists believe that men and women deserve an equal opportunity to develop and use their talents and gifts both inside and outside the home.
Straw man position: Feminists hate babies and want to become men.

See how they're not even remotely similar? But many people skip right over the true position and go knock down the straw man because addressing the true position is harder than defeating an argument that you made up yourself and that nobody actually subscribes to. It's bad logic.

It is also a sin.

The ninth commandment states "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Exodus 20:16. Going around misrepresenting your opponents' arguments in order to make them look bad is the very definition of bearing false witness. So, in the words of President Utchdorf, "Stop it."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

I'm a lawyer now

Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12

I started law school in January 2005, fresh off my mission, with $77 in my bank account. Since I had no money and no job, I lived with my parents in San Jose. I was going to school in San Francisco. My daily commute was 2 hours each way. My dad dropped me off at the train station at 6:30 in the morning on his way into work, and he picked me up at the train station around 5:30 in the evening on his way home from work. It was thoroughly exhausting.

I kept that up for a year before I was fed up enough with the commute that I moved out. I ended up in Fremont, which was still a 45 minute train ride away, but it was much better. A few months later, my law school education was unceremoneously interrupted due to a whole bunch of bureaucratic nonsense that was out of my control. The day that I found that out, I also lost my job.

I spent the next two years working and trying to figure out what to do with my life, and then I went back to law school somewhere else. (At a school that was far better run and treated the students as respected colleagues instead of as obstacles.) Then I graduated.

Then I took the California bar - and failed it - three times. (Seriously, if someone reasonably intelligent with a law degree can't pass the [expletive deleted] test after three attempts, maybe there's something wrong with the test!) Then I decided that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So I took the Arizona bar in February. I found out in May that I passed it. In fact, I knocked it out of the park. It really was California and not me.

I've been waiting for my background check to clear, and I found out yesterday that it did. Most law schools have big ceremonies a few weeks after exam results are released where all of the alumni who passed the bar are sworn in en masse. Since I'm being admitted to the bar in a different state, and I'm being admitted off schedule, I don't get that.

I went to the UPS store on my lunch break today to get sworn in. So, nearly eight years of toil and effort was culminated by signing a piece of paper in front of a notary and dropping it in the mail. I'm practically allergic to ceremony, but it still felt a little anticlimactic.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Prison Chaplain - Part 2

I have part 2 of a guest post at Feminist Mormon Housewives today. It's a series of FAQs about what it's like to be a chaplain at San Quentin Prison, and I've reproduced it below.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Beating my sword into a plowshare

But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. . .and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Micah 4:1-3

During law school, I took a temporary job as the receptionist at a software company. I was very quickly promoted into a role in the HR department, and I continued to develop professionally until I was second only to the vice president. Around this time, the company was acquired by a defense contractor.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


A singles' ward in a neighboring stake has small FHE groups for the ward members. Back in October, one of my friends invited me to come to her FHE group so that I could meet more people. I decided to come, and I made some new friends.

In April, the groups got changed up, so I started going to a new group, but I still kept in touch with people from the old group. Yesterday, I went back to the old group because the group leader for the new group is on vacation for the next few weeks, so FHE got canceled.

At the end of the meeting, the person giving the closing prayer asked if there was anything in particular that we would like for her to pray for. One guy said he needed help finding a job. I said that I needed help with my toe healing.

On Thursday, I was at the beach, and I stubbed my toe on a rock. On Friday, it was still hurting, so I went to the clinic, and the doctor told me it was broken. He taped my toe and gave me a walking boot and told me to wear it for 4-6 weeks.

During the closing prayer, the person giving the prayer prayed for my toe, and for my friend's job. I got a call from the radiologist this morning, and it turns out it was a false alarm. My toe isn't broken. It's just bruised. I should be good as new in about 2 weeks.

Now I just need to wait to hear that my friend found an awesome job.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Surely He Has Borne Our Joy?

One of the most beautiful truths of the Gospel is that Jesus carried our pains and sorrows.

The prophet Isaiah penned the familiar words "Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." [1] Many composers have put these words to music, probably most famously G.F. Handel as part of the oratorio Messiah.

This sentiment is also beautifully expressed by the prophet Alma. 
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. [2]
I've been thinking recently about whether the converse is true as well. If He carried our pain and sorrows, does He carry our joy as well?

I think He does. I went searching in the scriptures for support for this idea, and I didn't find anything directly on point. I found several passages that refer to God's joy over repentant sinners, but nothing about joy over our joys.

But I still think it's true. Jesus loves us and wants us to be happy. When people I love are happy, I feel happy, too. If I, as an imperfect person, feel that way, then how much more would our perfect and loving Savior feel?

The scriptures teach that joy is the purpose of our existence. [3] So I think when we achieve that, we make God happy.

[1] Isaiah 53:3
[2] Alma 7:11-12
[3] See e.g. 2 Nephi 2:25

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Guest Post at Feminist Mormon Housewives

I was asked to write a guest post at Feminist Mormon Housewives about my work at San Quentin Prison. It's going to be in three parts, and part 1 (the background section) was posted today. I've reprinted it below the jump, but please feel free to join in the conversation over there.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Throwing off the Shackles of Pseudonimity

I've been pretty open about blogging under a (realistic sounding) pseudonym. Those days are over, though.

I'm the blogger (and Bloggernacle commenter) you've known for the past seven years as Keri Brooks, and my real name is Trudy Rushforth. I have an upcoming guest post at Feminist Mormon Housewives under my real name, and I've been participating in Facebook groups under my real name, so I figured it was time to just be myself. Do what is right, let the consequence follow, as the hymn says.

I'll still keep up my sporadic blogging here, but I'll be pseudonymous no more.

Below, I've reproduced the text of the (now deleted) page entitled "My Pseudonym", which explains why I kept up the pretense of a pen name for so long.

Monday, May 13, 2013

I Passed the Bar!

I finally passed the bar exam. I found out on Friday afternoon, but the news hasn't really sunk in yet. In a way, I kind of feel like the cartoon where Wil E. Coyote finally caught the road runner. Once he realized that he had achieved his goal, he held up a sign that said something like "Okay. I caught him. Now what?!" So, I passed the bar, which is something I've been chasing for years. Now what?

Friday, March 22, 2013

To Hear My Soul's Complaint

One popular LDS hymn is I Know that My Redeemer Lives. I'm not particularly a fan of that hymn because I find the music to be dull and a bit repetitive, and it kind of plods along. (Give me something upbeat and brassy like Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.) But I was thinking about it as I was driving home from work yesterday, and something stuck out to me.

In verse 2, there's the line "He lives to hear my soul's complaint." When I was a teenager, this struck me as odd, since the scriptures seemed to have a pretty negative view of complaining (calling it "murmuring" and asserting that it was unrighteous and faithless). I had an epiphany yesterday.

In legal terms, a complaint is the first document filed in a lawsuit. It's a list of the plaintiff's grievances, along with factual allegations to support those grievances. After listing the grievances, there's a section entitled "prayer for relief", which is a request for the court to do something about the problem.

I like that imagery of God. God, being sovereign and omnipotent, has subject matter jurisdiction over our problems and personal jurisdiction over our adversaries. And He wants to hear our troubles. In fact, we have been instructed to cast our burdens on the Lord. (See Psalm 55:2, Matthew 11:28-30.) We can tell Him our concerns and pray for relief, and He has the power to grant the requested relief. And if it's a proper request, He will grant it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Writer's Block

I have so many things that I want to say, but I can't seem to get them into writing. I think part of it is that it's easier to dash off a quick comment in a Facebook group than it is to sit down and write out a thoughtful blog post.

The bar exam (which I took in February yet again, though in a different state this time) kind of wore me out. Plus, I can feel myself getting sick again. I did some more lab testing last week, and I'll find out soon whether my thyroid has gotten worse, or whether I've had an adrenal relapse. (Or whether my body has decided to break in new and interesting ways...) I'm just so tired all the time.

I'm going to a mid-singles' conference this weekend, and there's a pretty good speaker lineup. Elder Holland is the keynote, so I'm sure I'll have something to report. Instant blogging material!

In no particular order, here are the topics I'm considering blogging about once I can focus long enough to do so:

  • Life is a kobiyashi maru
  • Thoughts on theodicy
  • Gifts of the spirit
  • When personal revelation doesn't work out the way we expect
  • Finishing up my ten commandments series
  • A series on the articles of faith
  • Gender-neutral hymns

Monday, February 11, 2013

Feminism and Missionary Service

Sorry I've been so absent lately. My muse has left me, and I've been really busy with health challenges, a career change, and the bar exam (again). If I get a few moments, I'll update on those fronts.

Today at Zelophehad's Daughters, Galdralag has a post about feminism and serving a mission. A friend sent in a list of questions directed at women who have served missions. I answered the questions in the comments there but thought that it would be useful to reprint my responses here as well. So, below are eleven questions I was asked about serving a mission. Feel free to add your responses in the comments, but please also consider posting them at ZD so that the wider Bloggernacle can benefit from your wisdom.