The Destruction of our Civic Ideals of Free Speech

One of the greatest fears that I have regarding the future of our country relates to First Amendment issues. It seems that our society has lost track over the value of the freedom of speech. This morning I saw this article and the attached video from the ConcernedStudent1950 protests and this pit in my stomach of the fear that we are losing ourselves as a nation grew 10-fold. As concerning as the entire video is, the worst part is at the end, when a professor of mass media who has joined with the protestors calls for “muscle” to remove a reporter off public space. That professor in particular ought to be the one teaching these protestors the value of freedom of the press, not how to censure and obfuscate the freedom of the press.

For reasons that are too numerous to find and identify, a belief has grown within our culture that speech is something we are to be protected FROM, instead of speech itself being something to protect. The one main exception “Don’t shout ‘FIRE!’ in a theater” has come to mean don’t say anything at any time that could hurt someone’s feelings. We now have organizations called the “Freedom FROM Religion Foundation” to help close avenues to free speech and expression. To me this feels like the proverbial “Death by a thousand knives” approach. Somehow as bits were carved out here and bits were carved out there, the lifeblood of our nation’s culture is draining out of us.

While most of the damage is being done on very small, individual scale, there do seem to be moments like today when deeper cuts are made that are far more damaging.

People of all ideologies and persuasions have on occasion done damage to the civic ideal of free speech, such as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hearings in the 1950’s, or the development of byzantine rules regarding when, where, how, why, and who may pray in public which have been constantly under review and adjustment since the 1960s.

For me personally, I saw one of the deepest cuts of my lifetime happen with little fanfare, notice or recognition. In the fog-of-war that was taking place on September 11 & 12, 2012 over the attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Lybia we missed much of the bigger picture about what was taking place. We often focus on the death of Ambassador Stephens, the aftermath, the debates over whether misinformation was intentionally spread, etc. What we forget, is that in the early hours of this debate there was a heated debate between President Obama’s campaign and Mitt Romney’s campaign about the freedom of speech.

Prior to the attack in Lybia, US consulates around the Middle East were experiencing protests over a YouTube video that local news organizations claimed the US had either made or funded that actually featured the Prophet Mohamed in an unflattering light. The worst protest was taking place in Egypt. In the debate over the following days as to whether Ambassador Stephens was killed in a coordinated attack, or if as a result of a similar YouTube video protest, we lost track of this freedom of speech debate, and our freedom of speech ideals were damaged in the process.

As the US Embassy in Egypt was dealing with the early protestors, they released this statement:

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

This statement with its strong condemnation of the video, with no defense of the principle of freedom of speech was interpreted locally as a promise to arrest and put on trial the makers of the video. After all, within their cultural context, that is what you do to blasphemers.

Mitt Romney’s campaign, decided to point out the error of the embassy to exclude a defense of the freedom of speech, and prepared a statement to be released late in the evening, as to not detract from the 9/11 commemorations taking place that day. In particular, they stated their belief that the statement “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others,” was tantamount to an apology for the existence of the freedom of speech. The statement also included this line:

“It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

Of course, due to the delayed issuing of the statement, this press release reached press offices shortly after the press started hearing rumors about the death of a US Ambassador. Needless to say, they misconstrued the intentions of Romney’s press release and condemned it for not expressing sympathy for the families of the Benghazi mission, and for trying to score political points off of an attack. (You can get these details from PolitiFact.)

In the following days, I engaged in a heated Facebook discussion with some acquaintances with whom I disagreed politically. I kept on trying to emphasize that there was an important discussion to have about the freedom of speech based on what happened in Cairo and that all the media reports about who said what and when, and whose political campaign had been more damaged was distracting us from the need to reinforce our civic belief in the freedom of speech. I wrote the following as an example of what I believe the Cairo embassy should have written:

“We have recently learned that a small group of Americans collaborated to produce an amateur film that depicts the life of the founder of Islam in a negative regard, as well as in disregard of Islamic beliefs that the prophet Mohammed not be depicted. We strongly condemn all attempts by media and other groups in this country that are stating that this film was made in corroboration with or by permission of the U.S. Government. The United States has as one of its founding principles the idea that speech should not be restricted by the government or by other powerful entities within a society. This does mean that on occasion people with use this freedom to belittle or demean the beliefs of others. However, we consider this a small price to pay to secure our personal liberties. This principle has allowed the millions of Muslims who live in the United States to express their religious beliefs, including occasional criticism of U.S. government policy or social injustices, without fear of government censorship or interference. While some have used this right to offend people here in Egypt, please understand that these opinions only apply to the individuals who expressed them and do not apply to all the citizens of our nation.”

While on occasion I look back on things I wrote in social media 2-5 years ago in embarrassment, I feel no embarrassment whatsoever for this statement. I still stand by this as the appropriate defense of the freedom of speech in that situation. It likely would not have prevented the storming of the embassy (although the embassy’s own statement failed in that regard as well), but at least we would have stood by our principles as a nation.

Too many of our nation’s youth have never had exposure to what the First Amendment really means, nor have they ever seen a robust defense of it. Too many of their mentors and teachers are those who believe that social justice trumps free speech. So as our youth have entered into universities we constantly find ourselves bombarded with:

In the second link in this list, there is a statement that students in these situations are engaging in the cognitive distortion of catastrophizing, and they are. However, catastrophizing is only one of many common cognitive distortions. The more worrisome one to me is emotional reasoning, which is to “[assume] that because we feel a certain way what we think must be true.” So if a student feels threatened by an idea, s/he can then claim that s/he was threatened. This is a dangerous precedent and can only be combated with a nationwide recommitment to the original ideas of benefits that freedom of speech pours out on our society. We need to especially point out how even people who abuse freedom of speech can bring about positive results, and that censuring them is far more damaging.

The Bill of Rights

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An Analysis of “The Mormon Church and Vaccines: A Letter to the First Presidency”

I recently had an acquaintance send me a link to this letter asking me how to approach it from a point of critical analysis; to read things in a more critical way. The project wound up being a lot bigger than I anticipated at first and over the last few weeks, giving it a half-hour here and an hour there, I think I’m done. Given how much work it took I wanted to post my full response.  I’ve removed some references to specific shared acquaintances we have, but for the most part, this is the entirety of my analysis.

For some background The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a pro-vaccination stance, and been so for the last several decades. In recent years members of the Church have been pulled into the anti-vaccination groups that exist in our society and these members have formed a vocal minority in the Church and in society in general declaring the “evils” of vaccines. The Church has never revised its official stance. In recent months, in the wake of the increased prevalence of preventable diseases, and given that the Disneyland Measles outbreak reached unvaccinated members of the Church here in Utah, the Church reiterated its pro-vaccine stance. An has even released a pro-vaccine YouTube Video.Vaccine

Needless to say, members of the Church who believe vaccines are harmful are displeased that the Church will not support them in their opposition to vaccines.  I think this letter probably summarizes how they feel.

I believe they are mistaken, both in the science of vaccination and in church doctrine. Here is my response. The first part is the letter I wrote regarding critical analysis, and the second part is the anti-vaccine letter in its entirety with my commentary intermixed.

I apologize in advance for the length of this post.

————————————————

Dear “Acquaintance”

Here are my thoughts based on how I approached this article, and how I approach most issues that are getting argued one-way.  I think that the challenge is to understand the writer’s viewpoint, see what the claims are, and then deconstruct claims to determine which points have merit and which ones don’t. Depending on if it is an argument piece (which means arguing for or defending a specific idea or notion, not trying to create arguments or disagreements) or an informational piece will determine some of how to approach it, but a lot of the same principles apply.

Here are my general steps for a reader to break down and better understand a paper:

  1. Recognize your own biases.

This one is foremost because the fact is that we have certain things that we would LIKE to be true, or that we want them to be true. I’ll admit that for me, I WANT vaccines to work. I’ve been brought up in a family that has been very pro-vaccine for several generations.  We have family stories about my grandfather knowing Jonas Salk personally, and him taking my mom and her siblings to Dr. Salk’s office for vaccinations (whether Dr. Salk administered the vaccine personally is something that I’m sure of). The simple point being that if I’m going to read something that is counter to my biases, I need to go into it at least acknowledging that I can’t just trust my gut to tell if this thing I’m reading is worthwhile or not.

  1. Know what you know, and try to know what you don’t know

If you’re going to be reading something that is outside of your immediate area of knowledge, at least recognize what you know and what you don’t. So for me, I am not a medical professional and I haven’t taken organic chemistry so that I can describe what chemical enzymes viruses use to infiltrate cells or to install the viral code within the cell’s DNA, but I do know statistics. So some things I know I can respond to myself. For other things, I can’t assume that I’m an expert and I’ll understand it fully, so I’ll need to pull in more information from actual experts in that field.

  1. Try to understand why the author is making this point. What is the agenda?

Not to put down agendas, just to say that if the author has an agenda it should be acknowledged. Most people do acknowledge their agendas, this author did: “I respectfully suggest that it’s critical for the Church to support Latter-day Saints who choose not to vaccinate and I offer seven points in support of this suggestion.”  It is also usually best to take the author at his or her word as to what the agenda is and not jump to the assumption that there is a hidden or dark horse agenda that is being concealed. It’s quite rare, but when it happens it is usually more obvious than people think will be. If we think that dark horse agendas are more common than they are, it can get a person to see conspiracy theories where none exist.

  1. What agendas is the author opposed to? & Did the author “straw-man” those agendas?

Like I said, most agendas are pretty well laid out, and any writer trying to prove a point will at least address opposing viewpoints in an effort to buttress the claims in the paper. However, the opposing viewpoints need to be describes accurately. Creating a false or exaggerated opposing viewpoint that is easier to burn down then some of the real opposing viewpoints is called a “straw-man.”  If the writer has done that, is because he or she haven’t taken the time to understand the opposing viewpoints, s/he doesn’t want to fully address all the opposing claims, or maybe because the author’s own biases or conspiratorial beliefs have led him or her to the conclusion that any opposing viewpoint is a lie or a manipulation anyway, so no reason to fully describe it. If it’s that last one, red flags and sirens need to be going off.

So, those are the general principles to keep in mind when approaching a viewpoint piece. Then we have to get into the nitty-gritty of going through the various points. Here’s the things you’ve got to watch for:

  1. Do logical fallacies creep in?

In general to make an argument you need to say A is because of B, therefore C. Sometimes people try to reverse it to C, therefore A and B, which actually doesn’t follow. So a simple argument is A. it is cloudy, B. it is raining, therefore C. I can’t directly see the sun. Someone might reverse that and say, I can’t directly see the sun, therefore it is raining and cloudy. Well, there are any number of other reasons a person can’t directly see the sun. Maybe it’s night, maybe the person is inside, maybe s/he’s under a tree. The point being that you have to watch out for things like that.

  1. Are definitions being used correctly?

If a real vaccine researcher uses the term “adverse reaction” is the author using the definition the same way? If not, that’s a problem because if the author of the paper is using the definition differently than the sources s/he’s citing, then suddenly “pain at vaccination site” can magically become “autism” inappropriately in the review. No discussion on any topic can take place without an agreement about the definitions of the words being written or spoken.

  1. Do the sources actually tell you what the sources claim?

If there’s a pretty major claim, but then the source is not reputable (a discussion board), arguing the opposite (a research paper), or non-existent in the source, there’s major problems. Throwing a reference at the end of a sentence that goes to an association’s homepage is not appropriate citation. It is especially worrisome when the organization being citied (like the CDC or VAERS) are known to often argue and debunk the claim in the sentence that is using their homepages for a citation.

  1. Have claims been previously addressed and debunked by reputable research and yet the author perpetuates it anyway when a quick Google search, or a review of Snopes would set the record straight?

These are called “mutant statistics” or “malignant statistics” because they evolve and grow and live on in society despite being untrue. Yet belief in them causes unfortunate behaviors in the public, thus making the statistic itself a societal malignancy. Examples: 50% of marriages end in divorce, mattresses double their weight every 10 years, Amish don’t vaccinate, 150,000 young women die from anorexia nervosa annually (which is the prevalence rate, not the death rate; in fact, 150,000 young women do not even die annually), etc.

I’m not referring to the core debate itself, I’m referring to the items of evidence being used to build up and support one side the author’s main point. If a writer doesn’t take time to fact-check his/her points, then it demonstrates laziness and ideological rigidity.

  1. Are loaded words used?

Loaded words are any word that is used to elicit emotion over thought. Words like “extreme,” “overzealous,” “indoctrination,” etc. are used more to scare than to help people look at facts.

  1. Is the argument it is making completely overwhelming?

This is kind of a tricky point, because anyone who writes something wants to make a compelling case for his/her point of view, but if in the course of writing or discussing the argument is presented in a way that is more overwhelming than compelling, there’s something amiss. Overwhelming arguments are presented in a way where there is no room for discussion or disagreement and they use so much “supporting” evidence that getting into each and every claim becomes a ponderous task. Between the huge task of tackling the number of points, and facing the prospect of debating a person who give no indication of being open minded, most people just don’t bother. The arguer can then use the lack of response to his/her argument as proof of its veracity, when the reality is that the argument is so poorly formed that it is usually not worth it for a typical person to even begin to mount a response. Throughout the early 2000s, this was how most people responded to anti-vax arguments: with silence; it didn’t seem worth the trouble. Yet, as the damage of the anti-vax movement has compounded in recent years:

  • The removal of Thimerosal from the whopping cough vaccine reduced its long term efficacy.
  • Outbreak rates have increased
  • Funding for vaccine campaigns in impoverished nations have been damaged

The need to finally speak up and show that these so-called “overwhelming” arguments against standard vaccination are nothing more than paper-tigers. They are easily torn to shreds without too much intellectual work, but will probably take a lot of work to make the response convincing to those who adhered to the previous overwhelming argument.

I’ll throw in one more comparison on this point. If you’ve ever heard of the “Letter to a CES Director” then you are familiar with another “overwhelming” argument that once it is broken down, can be shown to be built on a lot of mistakes and premature conclusions. I’ve personally read the entirety of that letter, and I found that each and every point in all 70+ pages had an answer. It just took a lot of work to get through the whole thing. (BTW, I’ve even gone as far as to read some of the CES Letter author’s rebuttals to websites that have debunked his letter in its entirety. The 2-3% of his rebuttal site I’ve read used the most horrendous examples of selective quoting I’ve seen in recent memory. Even worse than the author of this vaccine letter. I’m perfectly content at this point to leave that whole thing behind me.)

The most frustrating thing about an “overwhelming” argument is that it requires an “overwhelming” response (hence the length of this letter, and my thoughts in the article itself).

  1. Are there more reputable voices I can turn to who disagree with this?

I think that this point kind of speaks for itself. If there are others who know more about this topic than the author, who are generally in agreement on the topic, than why not trust them instead? Vaccines are supported by more than greedy pharmaceuticals, there is a whole host of professions that go into making and supporting vaccines. If they are overwhelmingly in agreement with each other, what evidence is there not to trust the majority opinion? The primary evidence the author presents seems to be conspiracy (a conspiracy that includes the leaders of our Church?!?!). There needs to be a lot more evidence before I’m willing to give that theory any credence.

So, there it is. A way to critically read information that gets presented. As you mentioned, it isn’t so much a step-by-step approach as more of a web-linking approach. You’ll find that one example of a mistake ties to another one, which then connects further, and lastly undermines important conclusions in the argument.

I think the most important thing about this though, is to also remember to keep your critical thinking grounded. Too many people get to a point where they start analyzing everything critically until they become a sceptic of everything except for what they’ve personally experienced, or can be proven by “SCIENCE!!!” (like somehow throwing out that word proves s/he is correct). There are ways to learn things that go beyond the physical, the Spirit can witness to us, and instinctual gut responses can provide insight into ourselves. The real task begins when we experience disharmony between what experts have declared as fact, what the Spirit or instinct are impressing upon us, and instruction from Church leadership. I believe that we’ve been promised to grow towards truth so pondering and working through any disharmonies that take place will lead us closer to God who is the source of all truth.

Anyway, that’s what I believe. In the case I’m wrong, I’ll try my best to correct course and connect to the real truth I had previously missed.

-Kyle

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March 1, 2015

Dear President Monson, President Eyring, and President Uchtdorf,

My name is Brett Wilcox. I am a life-long member of the Church. I am writing to you on behalf of the Latter-day Saints from around the world who share concerns related to vaccinations and the Church’s blanket endorsement of vaccines. I am hopeful that you will be receptive to our concerns and that you will consider the difficulties some of us experience due to the Church’s pro-vaccine position. By way of disclosure, I am not necessarily anti-vaccine or non-vaccinating, but I am absolutely anti-vaccine corruption and anti-mandatory vaccine. Stated in the affirmative, I am pro-vaccine informed consent and pro-vaccine choice. [I’m always bothered by this type of caveat that opens a discussion, because the author is trying to paint himself as reasonable. But the remainder of the letter does not support the view that this author is open or reasonable. My experience has been that once you go through the concerns a person like this has towards vaccines or other issues and point out that most or all of the concerns are not defendable positions, they still will not change their attitude regarding whatever the topic of discussion is nor change the reasons or arguments for why they hold to their beliefs.]

As you know, the topic of vaccines has recently risen to national attention and far too often to vitriolic debate. Members of the Church are seeking Church counsel on the subject and many are, no doubt, choosing to vaccinate their children based on the Church’s prominent statements in support of “immunization campaigns.”(1)

Indeed, Church statements are so strong that many members of the Church will likely arrive at the facile [This is a loaded word. It creates a false narrative that one side studies the complexity of the issue, while the other isn’t considering it fully. It assumes that deep study will only lead to the author’s conclusion] conclusion that God is pro-vaccine and choosing not to vaccinate is in violation of God’s will.

Many members of the Church disagree. And contrary to what the First Presidency has stated in the past, our opposition to vaccines does not stem from ignorance or apathy [I think the debate isn’t about using the term “ignorance” meaning based on a lack of information, but rather “willful ignorance” which is an unwillingness to change viewpoints when new information shows that a person was mistaken. I doubt though that had the First Presidency’s letter used the phrase “willful ignorance” that it would have been received any more openly by members of the church opposed to vaccines; perhaps it would have caused even more of a rift, but I think the term fits].(2) Members or not, as a whole those who choose not to vaccinate possess higher than average levels of education [I’m always annoyed when this is used as a defense of the position. In reality there are a variety of studied cognitive biases, and some of them are more likely to be made by higher educated people then less educated. Two ones knows to be committed more by intelligent people are the sunk cost (once someone has committed to an agenda or effort, people are unwilling to walk away from that cause because so much time and cost has been invested in it that the person’s viewpoint is skewed to the point that walking away looks more costly than stopping) and confirmation bias (that we look for evidence to support our existing beliefs).], and in our increasingly coercive vaccine culture, abstaining from vaccines requires a vigilant and courageous pro-active stance [an example of sunk cost; the more they’re proven wrong, the more they feel that their position ought to be defended because not doing so would mean their efforts had been a mistake up until now].(3)

I respectfully suggest that it’s critical for the Church to support Latter-day Saints who choose not to vaccinate and I offer seven points in support of this suggestion.

  1. Agency
    Agency is one of the fundamental doctrines of the Church. Pharmaceutical companies and the U.S. government promote a one-size-fits-all vaccination policy [This isn’t exactly true, there are plenty of medical situations where vaccines are contraindicated. What advocates for vaccines are saying is that the rare cases are indeed rare. Think about it like this, the prevalence of peanut allergy is about 1.4%, significantly higher than vaccine injury, but advocating pure peanut butter as a healthy source of protein is not name-called as a one-size-fits-all campaign, because for everyone who isn’t allergic to peanuts, pure peanut butter is a good source of protein. So vaccine policy is actually a one-size-fits-most, the argument is over how big a group sits outside of “most.”] Vaccine exemptions are under attack, including religious exemptions.(4-6)

The American Medical Association’s Code of Ethics protects the right of physicians to abstain from vaccines for medical, religious, and philosophic reasons.(7) However some doctors subject non-vaccinating parents to abuse or deny medical care [This is a debatable description of what some doctors are doing when denying patients who won’t vaccinate. The reality is that most pediatric and family practice clinics regularly have clients that cannot be vaccinated. Allowing someone who may transmit measles within a medical clinic is a tricky issue to deal with.] when those parents exercise their right to decline vaccines for medical, religious, or philosophic reasons. In addition, parents have lost custody of their children for refusing to vaccinate.(8) [ <– This is a pretty big charge, so I followed the reference. It is a landing page for an open-to-all posting board to complain about vaccines and doctors. Not exactly a source that is considered reputable, and it’s obviously one-sided because it is just first-person accounts. Also, there are so many posts, I couldn’t take the time to dig through the pages and pages of them to verify this exact story.] People have declared that parents of unvaccinated children should be fined or jailed.(9) Health care workers have been fired for refusing the flu vaccine.(10) Teachers, daycare employees, and others are targeted as well.(11) These events foreshadow the advancement of a vaccine police state [a slippery slope argument, and drawing on words that conservatively minded people, such as myself and most church members, tend to pay attention to, but are not applicable in this situation] summarized in a recent draft of the government’s “National Adult Immunization Plan.”(12)

Any government that has the power to force its citizens to submit to medical interventions that carry the risk of injury or death has too much power [I guess he’s using the “bigger the government, smaller the citizen” viewpoint to advocate this view. In reality, nothing I’ve read had given any credence to the idea that mandates and forced vaccinations are actually about to come. What is more likely is denied access to public accommodations that are available via the government]. Unless we believe that God mandates vaccines and approves of punishing non-vaccinators, then the U.S. government’s move to further restrict vaccine choice is a clear violation of our God-given agency [Based on the 12th article of faith, where do we draw the line? We are supposed to follow both God’s law and the laws of men. Every member of the church when facing oppression needs to decide when a line has been crossed and God’s law then trumps man’s and organized opposition to government is needed. I would think that short of rallying to a prophetic leader, we should stick to being “subject to kings, presidents, and rulers.”].

  1. The Church’s pro-vaccine position jeopardizes non-vaccinators’ agency
    Every U.S. state provides different vaccine exemptions. Utah provides three exemptions: philosophical, medical, and religious. All but two states, Mississippi and West Virginia, offer religious exemptions. Alaska, the state in which my family and I live, provides two: medical and religious.(13) Medical exemptions are growing increasingly difficult to obtain and require a doctor’s signature. This means the only exemption option parents have in Alaska and several other states is the religious exemption.

The official religious exemption form in Alaska reads as follows: “I/We affirm that immunization conflicts with the tenets and practices of the Church or religious denomination of which the applicant/parent/guardian is a member.”(14) [I guess he’s advocating that the Church abandon its pro-vaccine position so that he can sign the religious exemption in good conscience, and won’t get push-back if/when someone points out that his church’s position is contrary to his. I disagree with his view that vaccines are bad, so I don’t have a problem with the church explicitly stating its position. If the Church’s position is contrary to the personal beliefs of some members (a recurring theme on a number of issues lately), the member is typically the one that ought take the mandate seriously to “study it out in your mind.”]

In addition, many health care organizations across the nation—including my employer—have implemented mandatory flu vaccine policies. The religious exemption form my employer provided includes the same language as quoted above and also requires that I submit the name and contact information of my local ecclesiastical leader. [bummer if your bishop is pro-vaccine…]

The Church’s unequivocal support of vaccines provides no support for its members’ religious-based opposition to mandatory flu vaccines for health care employees or mandatory vaccines for children [Ah, I see what he’s conflated now.  So he’s saying the church should have a “religious-based opposition to mandatory . . . vaccines.” The problem is that our Church has a pretty progressive view when it comes to eternal truth, as Elder Nelson said in the April 2015 conference, “Truth is truth! It is not divisible, and any part of it cannot be set aside. Whether truth emerges from a scientific laboratory or through revelation, all truth emanates from God.” So our leaders look to scientific evidence for making policy decisions, and they have weighed the vaccine evidence and come down on the side opposed to this author. It is unlikely for them to have one position advocating vaccination and then have an official statement also opposing mandatory vaccination.] Indeed, the Church’s pro-vaccine policy works against members who would otherwise be able to claim a religious exemption. [Perhaps that’s the point…]

I am grateful to the administrators at my place of employment who generously approved my religious exemption, but no doubt there are other Latter-day Saints who have been fired under similar circumstances because the Church does not appear to support its members’ rights to exercise their agency and decline vaccinations based on religious beliefs. If the Church truly values agency, it must demonstrate that value by declaring that Church members have the right to decline vaccines in accordance with their religious beliefs. [I’m bothered by this because an appeal to agency is not always in a person’s interest. Some scientists argue that adults should consume moderate amounts of alcohol for health reasons, and the current research backs up this claim that alcohol itself is beneficial, not just other chemicals in alcoholic drinks. How should the leaders of our church respond to a complaint that the strict interpretation of the Word of Wisdom that has forbidden alcohol from church members since the 1930s is in violation to the principle of agency? Of course we have agency, but we need to also use agency to decide when we will follow priesthood leaders, even when doing so is uncomfortable. Going back to the alcohol issue, while moderate alcohol made be moderately beneficial, the leaders of our church have decided that the potential for abuse and the potential for members to get drawn into the current “alcohol culture” of our society outweigh any minor health benefits we could get. It is then up to our agency to follow the guidance or not.]

  1. Moral and ethical challenges
    Vaccines present moral and ethical challenges for some members. Following are a few of these challenges:
    • Vaccine development sometimes involves the use of aborted fetal tissue and some vaccines include “human diploid cells.”(15,16) Some members do not want to participate in an industry dependent upon the use of aborted babies. [This is a moral quandary, but since the Church endorses vaccinations, I’m comfortable following their guidance. Also, the diploid cell lines come from miscarried fetuses too, so there’s no way to know.]
    • In addition to fetal tissue, some members believe that God does not want their bodies or the bodies of the babies injected with neurotoxins, heavy metals, [regarding “neurotoxins” and “heavy metals” I’m assuming he’s referring primarily to Thimerosal, which contains ethyl mercury, which the body can safely expel from itself. Also, it isn’t even in vaccines anymore purely because of public fear and not because of actual evidence of harm. Part of the reason the whooping cough vaccine is less effective in the last 15 years is because of the removal of Thimerosal] animal tissues, genetically modified organisms, live or attenuated viruses, cleansers, adjuvants, stabilizers, preservatives, etc.(16) They believe that those substances compromise their immune systems and destroy their health. They believe that there is nothing in vaccines that improves their health [The Church considers the evidence to clearly show that vaccines can improve health by preventing harmful diseases. So this point would be completely dismissed]. They believe that God designed their bodies to function perfectly well without injecting foreign and toxic substances directly into their blood supply. And they believe that doing so violates the will the God. [This is not the position of the Church. The church’s doctrine is that this terrestrial world is a fallen one and everything in it is subject to a fallen state. So the body is not designed to “function perfectly well,” it almost sounds to me like Lucifer’s plan: “follow the rules exactly and everything will be fine!” The biological process that God created to bring about new bodies for his spirit children is subject to the terrestrial laws of nature, which include physical abnormalities and weaknesses towards some diseases.]
    • Vaccine manufacturers use unethical practices that would never be sanctioned in U.S.-based research as they conduct vaccine clinical trials on poor people in developing countries.(17,18) [Not every vaccine comes about this way, and when abuses do happen they need to be addressed. However, once a valuable vaccine is productive, and an ethical way to manufacture it is produced, then why throw away the valuable thing that’s been created?]
    • Vaccines injure and kill an unknown and uncounted number of vaccine recipients.(19) Some members refuse to participate in a system that willingly and knowingly sacrifices its most vulnerable participants for “the greater good.” [This is an exaggerated claim, and is essentially the primary reason people don’t vaccinate. This is where the debate lies. It is interesting that the source is the official CDC VAERS which is primarily used to show that vaccine injury is rare. To me this argument is the result of faulty risk analysis; the fear of an unknown entity is always greater than the fear of a known entity, even if the unknown entity is demonstrably worse and something that ought to be feared more. Just like the human biological body has imperfections as part of its terrestrial state, so too do some of our cognitive capabilities, and we should learn when our reasoning might be impaired and learn to compensate with additional knowledge in those situations.]
  2. One size doesn’t fit all
    Church members live throughout the world and vaccination schedules vary by country. Overall, those schedules have been increasing with the U.S. leading the way with one of the most aggressive vaccination schedules in the world.(20)

While the Church may issue a blanket endorsement of “immunizations,” the implications of that endorsement vary by country and indeed by time.

One or two vaccines from the 1950s had swollen to 34 doses of 11 different vaccines by the year 2000.(21) Today American children receive 69 doses of vaccines for 16 different viral and bacterial illnesses.(22)

But the industry is just getting started, boasting in a 2013 report that “nearly 300 vaccines are in development.”(23) Some of these include: “hepatitis C and E, syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes, HIV, cytomegalovirus, entrovirus [I caught enterovirus last summer, I hope they do come up with a vaccine for it. My full lung capacity didn’t return until December, it was awful.], ecoli, adenovirus, obesity, high blood pressure, acne, [and] tooth decay.”(24)

Furthermore, five major institutions including the World Health Organization have been developing anti-fertility vaccines for over two decades.(25) Women and girls of childbearing age in developing countries have been duped into receiving such vaccines.(26-28) The Church’s pro-vaccine stance renders girls and women vulnerable to “the evils and designs of conspiring men” who fund and facilitate such unscrupulous vaccination practices. [This has been debunked by Snopes: http://www.snopes.com/medical/disease/tetanus.asp]

In addition to infertility vaccines, LDS parents around the world have legitimate concerns that call into question the wisdom of the Church’s support of a one-size-fits-all vaccination recommendation [I again reiterate that the official vaccine policy is one-size-fits-most, and that “most” includes well over 99% of people]. Consider some of these concerns from the USA:
• The government specifically targets pregnant women, describing them as an “adult population” and advising them to receive vaccines that are not approved for infants, let alone for developing fetuses.(12)
• The Hepatitis B vaccine is administered on the day of birth and provides immunity from seven to twelve years. Prostitutes and IV drug users are most at risk of contracting Hepatitis B. How many of our children will become IV drug-using prostitutes within the first twelve years of their lives?(29) [There are other ways to catch HepB, and that particular vaccine has a long history of safety. So better safe than sorry.]
• The CDC recommends that 11 and 12-year old girls and boys receive the Gardasil vaccine to protect against genital warts and cancers of the reproductive system.(30) Teens who engage in unsafe sex are most at risk of contracting the viruses that lead to these diseases. As of June 2014, more than 35,000 adverse events to the Gardasil vaccine have been reported.(31) [Can’t research this claim, the link to the source is dead.] Experts agree that only one to ten percent of adverse events are reported.(32,33) [He’s citing VAERS again. Interesting because even if 1-10% of adverse events are being reported, the VAERS data would still mean it’s a pretty small number. Also adverse event includes fever over 100 and pain at injection site. The official assumption by VAERS and other medical professionals when they say in a public statement that the majority of adverse events aren’t reported is because the adverse event is so minor that the recipient felt no need to report it.] Should LDS parents subject their children to this vaccine? [I will vaccinate my girls against HPV, for two reasons: 1. Girls do not always have control over who they have sex with, some women are raped, and I could never forgive myself if one of my daughters caught HPV from a rapist and I could have prevented it. 2. I will do my best to teach my children to follow the law of chastity, but I know that because of my children’s agency no amount of FHE, prayer, and fasting is 100% effective. I will love my kids even if they go astray, and I don’t think cervical cancer and genital mutilating warts should be the price they pay if they make mistakes. I don’t believe God wants us to live in a world where parents think that their wayward children deserve the STIs they catch.]
• Should parents who have lost a child to vaccines vaccinate their other children? [As long as the other children don’t have the problem that caused the death of the first child. Again, within the anti-vaccine movement the number of deaths is greatly exaggerated.]
• Should parents who have a vaccine-injured child continue to give that child additional vaccines according to the schedule? [They should consult with their healthcare providers to determine (a) if the vaccine-injury was in fact a vaccine-injury and not just a coincidence and, (b) if the other vaccines in the schedule are unrelated enough in content that they won’t cause the same problem. Then adjust accordingly.]
• Should children who have genetic vulnerabilities to vaccines receive vaccines regardless of those vulnerabilities? [No, no one is arguing that. What is argued is when one group claims a vulnerability that is in fact, not a vulnerability.]
• Should children who are immunocompromised receive vaccines? [Same answer as above…]

Clearly the government’s one-size-fits-all vaccination policy is flawed and dangerous [No, this letter has not proved that vaccine policy is “clearly . . . flawed and dangerous”]. And the Church’s endorsement of this policy is equally flawed and dangerous.

It’s time for the Church to acknowledge that individual circumstances vary and that members have the right, responsibility, and stewardship to make vaccination choices based on their circumstances, not on ever changing and ever increasing national mandates. [The Church often encourages people to use their stewardship to make health decisions. The problem is that there is a group of people who have, through misinformation, cognitive errors, and group-think, come to a conclusion that is not backed up by science. The Church is in no way required to placate to people who make these kinds of mistakes.]

  1. The vaccines-are-safe-and-effective myth
    The government ruled in 1986 that parents of vaccine-injured children could no longer file suit against vaccine manufacturers. It established a body commonly known as the “Vaccine Court” in which parents of vaccine-injured or deceased children could submit their cases for review and compensation.(34) Even though it is tremendously difficult to prove vaccine injury, to date the vaccine court has paid out over $3 billion dollars in compensation to such people.(35) No wonder the U.S. Supreme Court declared in 2011 that vaccines are “unavoidably unsafe.”(36) [First, he’s cherry picking the supreme court quote. Here it is in context:

 

“Contrary to petitioners’ argument, there is no reason to believe that §300aa–22(b)(1)’s term “unavoidable” is a term of art incorporating Restatement (Second) of Torts §402A, Comment k, which exempts from strict liability rules “unavoidably unsafe products.” “Unavoidable” is hardly a rarely used word, and cases interpreting comment k attach special significance only to the term “unavoidably unsafe products,” not the word “unavoidable” standing alone.”

 

I’ve seen these complaints about the NVIC before. My understanding from the other viewpoint is that pharmaceutical companies are unfairly protected by the creation of this “vaccine court.” Here is what’s really happening: certain activities carry risk, such as driving a car which is also considered “unavoidably unsafe.” If your car is operating perfectly, but you unknowingly have a condition that causes seizures and you have your first one while driving and then crash, which causes great injury or death to you, you have no legal standing to sue the vehicle manufacturer. The same thing goes with vaccines. If the vaccine has been manufactured according to regulatory standards and the best science known to us at this time, and the doctor administers it having screened for all acceptable contraindications, then neither the manufacturer or the doctor are liable if there was an unknown condition that could not have been screened for. Conversely, if you are injured by a car with a defect caused by the manufacturer or if you have a vaccine injury because the vaccine was contaminated by a manufacturer’s error or the doctor forgot to ask about egg allergies, then there is standing to seek damages. Unlike cars though, which a person could opt-out from using, we would like (not mandate) everyone to be vaccinated. Under perfect circumstances, there will still be vaccine-injury at a very rare rate, and so the NVIC exists to allow society a way of compensating those who are injured by this societal demand. The reason why it is so difficult to prove claims before the NVIC is because most claims are actually not caused by vaccines. Also, thanks to people like Andrew Wakefield, who falsified research to help lawyers sue the UK’s version of the NVIC over autism, there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about the role and purpose of the NVIC.]

Vaccine defenders routinely claim that vaccine injuries are extremely rare [because they are]. Yet, the U.S.A. ranks 30th in infant mortality and according to the non-profit group Save the Children, “The Unites States has the highest first-day infant death rate out of all the industrialized countries in the world.”(37) [This has more to do with the fact that the United States has a much smaller “social safety net” than other industrialized nations (whether that is “good” or “bad” and whether it should be changed needs to be saved for a different debate; for now I want to stick to the vaccine topic). Most of the industrialized nations that have lower infant mortality rates have vaccine schedules very similar to the USA’s.] Rates of ADHD, asthma, allergies, autism, eczema, diabetes, cancers, infertility, autoimmune disorders, and developmental delays are skyrocketing [not all of these are “skyrocketing,” many are increasing primarily due to better screening]. It would be foolish to claim that vaccines are the sole cause of these problems, but it would be even more foolish to continue to claim that our aggressive vaccine schedule doesn’t play a part in the declining health of our posterity [millions of dollars get spent annually on research on these claims, each study piles on more and more evidence that vaccines are not the cause]. One need look no further than the National Library of Medicine’s pubmed.gov to see that researchers link vaccines to more than 200 distinct adverse health effects, including death.(38) [ <–This is an interesting source to dig through. So essentially what they did was search through abstracts that supposedly identify cases of vaccine injury and then claim the sheer volume of abstracts proves a high level of vaccine injury. Yet nowhere on this website could I find a summary of all the finding. Conducting a summary and aggregating those statistics would be considered a meta-analysis, and has quite a few research rules to follow if they were to do so, the fact that the meta-analysis would show wind up showing that true vaccine injury is rare is probably why they didn’t do one. Better for these people to just try and scare through big numbers.

I looked through a few of the abstracts they sited and used by university access to get to the actual journal articles. With over 300 abstracts, I had to cherry pick, but here’s a typical example of what I primarily found:

http://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/adverse-effects-tetanus-toxoid-reduced-diphtheria-toxoid-and-acellular

What this study did was look at adverse effects of the Tdap vaccine in 243 kids, here’s what they found:
47 had redness at the injection site
57 had firm skin and tissue at the injection site
130 had tenderness at the injection site (honestly, I’m surprised that one wasn’t 243!
12 had a fever
No one’s fever lasted longer than 4 days, and all redness, firmness, and tenderness were resolved in less than 7.

That’s not really a strong indicator that vaccine injury is a serious concern.]

In addition, we now know that the artificial immunity produced from vaccines is only temporary which means that adults have no more immunity to infectious diseases than the unvaccinated.(39) [That’s not a “we now know,” that’s been known for a while.] The government plans to solve this problem by implementing a coercive cradle-to-grave, one-size-fits-all vaccination program.(12) [Again, not one-size-fits all, and I don’t have a problem getting regular vaccinations. Once a person reaches their 20’s it’s 5-10 years between most vaccines, a few pricks a decade to avoid disease is okay by me.]

We know that viruses mutate, rendering vaccines against specific diseases ineffective.(40,41) We know that vaccinated children shed vaccine viruses for a period of time after vaccination, spreading the disease to others.(42) That would explain why Johns Hopkins Hospital gives immunocompromised individuals the following advice: “Tell friends and family who are sick, or have recently had a live vaccine (such as chicken pox, measles, rubella, intranasal influenza, polio or smallpox) not to visit. . . . Avoid contact with children who were recently vaccinated.”(43) [This is not a huge concern, it is simply a precautionary measure to take around people with severely compromised immune systems due to cancer or heart disease. The amount of “shedding” that takes place is minuscule and are of the weakened form of the disease that was in the vaccine; if it can’t make the kid sick, it won’t make anyone else sick except under the most extreme cases. Also, the claim that a recently vaccinated kid might have set off the Disneyland-Measles outbreak is without merit because we know that the virus came from an outbreak in the Philippines. The exact person who traveled from the Philippines and brought the virus with them has not been identified.]

We know that reduced rates of chickenpox due to the vaccine have resulted in an increased rate of shingles among young people and that the U.K. does not use the chickenpox vaccine because the risks exceed the benefits.(44) [The children who get shingles get a much more mild version than what adults get. Research is still being done to see if the cost/benefit of the varicella vaccine outweighs the childhood-shingles risk, but it is looking like it is more beneficial to be vaccinated. Also, citing the UK as an example of vaccine policy is not really valid currently as the anti-vaccine movement is even more powerful there than it is here, and it is just as mistaken in belief and analysis as the USA’s anti-vaccine movement.] We know that vaccinated breastfeeding mothers do not pass on the same level of immunity as the mothers who have natural immunity [but if we are a vaccinating society, that doesn’t matter.]. We know that disease outbreaks occur in highly vaccinated communities, calling into question the efficacy of vaccines and the theory of herd immunity.(45) [This source is an opinion piece from a website of questionable validity.]

Our overzealous use of vaccines may one day result in the mutation of viruses for which we cannot vaccinate. We have a similar scenario currently developing due to our overzealous use of antibiotics. [That’s actually not a big concern. It is something to watch for, but when it comes to viruses there’s no reason to assume a mutated version cannot have a vaccine created to combat it.  It is not in the same level of concern as bacterial immunity to antibiotics.]

[This following paragraph is so proven to be false, that it just pains me to even address it. Vaccines do not cause autism.] One particularly contentious and politicized medical concern is the part vaccines play in the current autism epidemic American children are experiencing. The American Medical Association reported in the 1970s that the U.S. autism rate was one in 2,500.(46) Today one in 68 U.S. children have autism and one Senior Research Scientist at MIT states that one in two children born in 2025 will develop autism.(47,48)

Nearly 100 studies implicate the rising number of vaccines as a contributing factor in the autism epidemic.(49) The Amish don’t vaccinate and their autism rate is just above zero.(50) [This myth was debunked years before the article he’s citing was written: http://blogs.plos.org/thepanicvirus/2011/06/28/anecdotal-amish-dont-vaccinate-claims-disproved-by-fact-based-study/] The CDC has known of the vaccine/autism relationship since at least 2001.(51) In August 2014, a high-level CDC whistleblower declared that the CDC had hidden data linking the MMR vaccine to autism.(52) Doctors who treat and reverse autism do it, in part, by removing heavy metals from the body, the same heavy metals found in vaccines.(53-56) [So much conspiracy theory in here that it is so difficult to address it all. Given that we now have tests that can detect autism in the womb, if there is a heavy metal cause it is from the mother’s environment, not vaccines.]

If the Church’s medical advisors dispute these facts, go easy on them; they’re suffering from “ignorance and apathy” as well as dangerous levels of industry indoctrination. [One of the Church’s medical advisors is a current apostle. That’s a pretty inflammatory statement about a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.]

  1. Industry/government corruption
    The Book of Mormon provides a detailed account of bandits known as the Gadianton robbers. These robbers had entered into a secret pact to murder and steal “to get gain.” We are taught that our knowledge of the Gadianton robbers was preserved as a warning to us in these days. Today’s pharmaceutical industry makes the Gadianton robbers look like school kids by comparison [Wow! Just WOW! I have never heard someone try to make a claim this bold before in relation to vaccines. It just boggles my mind that members of the Church think they can see such corruption, but our Priesthood leaders can’t.]. In the past five years alone, drug makers have paid the U.S. government $19.2 billion in criminal and civil fraud penalties.(57) Industry executives are indeed guilty of murdering and stealing “to get gain.” They do this through government corruption, conflicts of interest, sham research, preying upon poor families in developing countries, and an industry/government revolving door. The vaccine industry in particular operates with no accountability and no liability.(58)

When we participate in the vaccination system, we are complicit in the poisoning of every person who participates in the system. How? When we vaccinate, we conduct business with modern day Gadianton robbers.(59) We maintain the demand for thimerosal, formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals. We give our consent to the industry and the government to continue poisoning their customers and constituents, our children and our grandchildren.

The government has declared its intentions to target people of faith “through faith-based organizations and individual faith communities,” because faith-based organizations “can deliver education that is culturally sensitive and tailored to specific subpopulations.”(12)

In 2013 the New York Archdiocese of the Catholic Church locked arms with modern-day Gadianton robbers by denying vulnerable members the right to claim a religious-based exemption.(60)

Will the LDS Church follow suit? Will its leaders and spokespersons become “immunization champions” as the government proposes or will they stand up and say no to our corrupt and dangerous vaccine system?(12)

[Oh my, I honestly don’t know how to address this. Not because it is an argument that seems likely, but quite the opposite, it is so far removed from reality and so inflammatory that I don’t even know where to begin. If a member of the church has gone that far down the rabbit hole, I don’t know what I could even say to start turning them back towards the light of truth.]

  1. Liability
    Vaccination is a medical procedure that carries the risk of injury or death. The Church has no more medical authority to instruct its members to receive vaccines than it has to instruct its members to receive heart surgery. Such instruction has already resulted in injury and death among its members. As previously stated, the government has paid out over $3 billion dollars in compensation for vaccine related injuries and deaths. If it hasn’t already happened, the day will come when Church members will seek compensation from the Church for the harm they experienced because they followed the Church’s medical advice to vaccinate. [I’m going to go back to the point I made under item 5 of this letter, that the understanding of liability related to vaccines is very misunderstood. When all evidence going back to 1798 shows vaccines have medical value, the church is in good standing to makes its recommendation to members. Also, the Church makes all sorts of advice regarding health, that’s what the Word of Wisdom is. Additionally, when there are other Churches out there that make very bold statements regarding anything from the “evils” of blood transfusion, or would form a prayer circles around a choking child instead of performing the Heimlich maneuver, it is incumbent on our Church to clarify how our doctrines relate to healthcare treatment. We need to show to the world that ours is a church that believes in the search for truth in all its forms, both eternal truths related to everlasting life, and scientific truths that improve the health of our imperfect terrestrial bodies.]

In recent years, the U.S. government has successfully chipped away at our individual liberties. Far too few of us are yet aware that the government is destroying our medical liberties as well. We blindly follow behind an army of vaccination pied pipers, rushing toward a vaccination precipice. Some have already fallen over the edge. Among the victims we find the unemployed and unemployable, the diseased, the chronically injured, the brain damaged, and the dead. In the future we may also find the imprisoned.

As Church leaders, you have the moral obligation to oppose governmental and medical tyranny. You have the moral obligation to divest Church-owned stocks and sever business relationships with the companies that profit from that tyranny. Should you fail to do so, you risk losing all moral authority. [This is turning a political argument into a church doctrine one. Yes, we need to debate within our countries the amount of power we’re going to give our governments, and influence our society so that the level of power will not reach tyrannical levels. Yet, this person has equated a social and political debate about public health, and through cognitive distortions and cherry-picked information, sees a demon where none exists. The Church is under no obligation to support this person’s position when he has built his beliefs on a house of cards. If he is going to hang his testimony on what our leaders advocate related to vaccines and assume if the Church disagrees with him then the Church has failed to see the light and has fallen into the company of Gadianton robbers. Perhaps he should take time to better understand why the Church doesn’t agree with him (short of the Gadianton robber thing) and study some of the information that has led to Church to its position on the issue.]

The pied pipers will soon pass their newest pipes to you. Will you play their instruments of propaganda as expected and lead your people off the cliff?

On behalf of all freedom-cherishing members of the Church and all such Americans, I implore you to seize this opportunity to stand for vaccine truth [which this letter is completely devoid of], vaccine informed consent, and vaccine choice. Show that support by condemning vaccine corruption and compulsion. Issue a strong statement in support of members’ rights to receive or decline any and all vaccines “according to the dictates of their own conscience” [“your own conscience” is valid when the decision is being made on wise and true information, not conspiracy theories and half-truths. When people are making dumb choices, it is the dictate of my conscience to point that out when it could potentially harm others.] and their unique personal circumstances [They already do…].

Thank you for considering this crucial matter [unfortunately, from my very first thought as I read this:

“[When we] point out that most or all of the concerns are not defendable positions, they still will not change their attitude regarding vaccinating their own children nor change the reasons or arguments for why they won’t vaccinate.”

this person seems unwilling to even consider that he is in the wrong and the brethren are in the right. I feel genuinely sorry for him because I have found that when someone takes such a black and white stance on any issue such that he will only consider evidence that reinforces his beliefs that he is on a path that will lead to sorrow. Someone who will look for corruption where none exists and see fail to see the real and potential suffering that is the result of his decisions and beliefs is going to paint himself into a corner that will result in an open wound between him and the church and could lead him to turn away from the light of the gospel.

Sincerely,

Brett Wilcox
Sitka, Alaska

Notes

  1. “Church Leaders on Child Immunization,” LDS Living, February 7, 2015,http://ldsliving.com/story/78000-church-leaders-parents-have-an-obligation-to-protect-their-families-through-immunization
  2. “Immunize Children, Leaders Urge,” Liahona, July 1978,https://www.lds.org/liahona/1978/07/immunize-children-leaders-urge?lang=eng
  3. Emily Foxhall, “Parents who oppose measles vaccine hold firm to their beliefs,” LA Times, January 25, 2015,http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-measles-oc-20150126-story.html#page=1
  4. Louise Kuo Habakus, “Religious Exemption to Vaccination Under Attack,” Middletown Patch, October 13, 2012,http://patch.com/new-jersey/middletown-nj/bp–religious-exemption-to-vaccination-under-attack-if9968a3b4c
  5. “You Need to Act Now – Vaccine Exemptions and Mandates Threatened in Even More States,” National Vaccine Information Center, February 23, 2015,http://www.nvicadvocacy.org/members/National/ActionAlertDetails.aspx?itemid=649&Page=True
  6. “Vaccine Mandates: Your Right to Informed Consent Is Under Attack Starting with Oregon SB 442-3,” Thinking Moms’ Revolution, February 27, 2015,http://thinkingmomsrevolution.com/vaccine-mandates-right-informed-consent-attack-starting-oregon-sb-442-3/#comment-115625
  7. “Opinion 9.133 Routine Universal Immunization of Physicians,” American Medical Association,http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics/opinion9133.page
  8. “Cry For Vaccine Freedom Wall,” National Vaccine Information Center,http://www.nvic.org/Forms/Cry-For-Vaccine-Freedom-Wall.aspx
  9. Mac Slavo, “Measles Police State: “Parents who do not vaccinate their children should go to jail,” Freedom Outpost, January 30, 2015,http://freedomoutpost.com/2015/01/measles-police-state-parents-not-vaccinate-children-go-jail/
  10. “Hospitals crack down on staff refusing flu shots,” CBS News, January 12, 2013,http://www.cbsnews.com/news/hospitals-crack-down-on-staff-refusing-flu-shots/
  11. Dawn Richardson, “2014 State Vaccine Legislation in America: Battle Lines Are Drawn & Your Participation is Needed!” National Vaccine Information Center, February 11, 2014,http://www.nvic.org/NVIC-Vaccine-News/February-2014/2014-State-Vaccine-Legislation-in-America—Battle.aspx
  12. “National Adult Immunization Plan,” National Vaccine Program Office, February 5, 2015,http://www.hhs.gov/nvpo/national_adult_immunization_plan_final.pdf
  13. “State Law & Vaccine Requirements,” National Vaccine Information Center,http://www.nvic.org/Vaccine-Laws/state-vaccine-requirements.aspx
  14. “State of Alaska CHILD CARE & SCHOOL IMMUNIZATION REQUIREMENTS Packet,” June 2013,http://www.epi.hss.state.ak.us/id/iz/factsheet/IZReqPacket2013.pdf
  15. “Vatican Document,” immunize.org, June 9, 2005,http://www.immunize.org/concerns/vaticandocument.htm
  16. “Vaccine Excipient & Media Summary: Excipients Included in U.S. Vaccines, by Vaccine,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/appendices/B/excipient-table-2.pdf
  17. “Human Lab Rats – Exploiting the world’s poor for clinical trials,” Journeyman Pictures, November 4, 2013,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-a6_x3EvM8
  18. “The Human Laboratory, BBC Television: Horizon, November 5, 1995,http://www.whale.to/vaccine/horizon.html
  19. “Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS),” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Activities/vaers.html
  20. Julian Whitaker, MD, “The Truth About Vaccinations,” National Vaccine Information Center,http://www.nvic.org/Doctors-Corner/JulianWhitakerMD/The-Truth-About-Vaccinations.aspx
  21. “Notice to Readers: Recommended Childhood Immunization Schedule — United States, 2000,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States, 2000,http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4902a4.htm
  22. “Recommended Immunization Schedule for Persons Aged 0 Through 18 Years,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States, 2015,http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/child-adolescent.html
  23. “Vaccines: A Report on the Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Vaccines,” America’s Biopharmaceutical Research Companies, 2013,http://www.phrma.org/sites/default/files/pdf/Vaccines_2013.pdf
  24. Anne Dachel, “NVIC’s Barbara Loe Fisher on Vaccine Debate,” Age of Autism, February 6, 2015,http://www.ageofautism.com/2015/02/nvics-barbara-loe-fisher-on-vaccine-debate.html
  25. “CALL FOR A STOP OF RESEARCH ON ANTIFERTILITY ‘VACCINES’,” Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights, November 8, 1993,http://www.finrrage.org/pdf_files/Contraception/Stop_Research_Anti_Fert_Vac.pdf
  26. “CATHOLIC DOCTORS SPEAK: TETANUS VACCINATION CAMPAIGN IS ALL ABOUT POPULATION CONTROL‏,” Matercare International,http://www.matercare.org/news-publications/medical-news/catholic-doctors-speak-tetanus-vaccination-campaign-is-all-about-population-control/
  27. “Anti-Fertility Drug Experiments?” Population Research Institute, March 1, 1995,http://pop.org/content/anti-fertility-drug-experiments-1709
  28. “Anti-fertility vaccines,” American Life League,http://www.all.org/nav/index/heading/OQ/cat/Mzc/id/NjgyOA/
  29. Dr. Sherry Tenpenny, “Dr Tenpenny, What the CDC documents say about vaccines,” April 29, 2013, 1:23:00,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1VwVBmx0Ng
  30. “HPV Vaccines,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/vaccine.html
  31. “HPV Vaccine,” A Shot of Truth,http://www.ashotoftruth.org/vaccines/hpv-vaccine
  32. “VAERS Data,” Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System,https://vaers.hhs.gov/data/index
  33. “Hiding adverse reactions ploy,”http://www.whale.to/vaccines/ploy1.html
  34. “National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,http://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/data.html
  35. “Data & Statistics,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 2, 2015,http://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/data.html
  36. “BRUESEWITZ ET AL. v. WYETH LLC, FKA WYETH, INC., ET AL.,” Supreme Court of the United States, February 22, 2011,http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-152.pdf
  37. Michelle Castillo, “U.S. has highest first-day infant mortality out of industrialized world, group reports,” CBS News, May 7, 2013,http://www.cbsnews.com/news/us-has-highest-first-day-infant-mortality-out-of-industrialized-world-group-reports/
  38. Sayer Ji, “200 Evidence-Based Reasons NOT To Vaccinate – FREE Research PDF Download!” GreenMedInfo.com, February 22, 2015,http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/200-evidence-based-reasons-not-vaccinate-free-research-pdf-download
  39. Rouderfer V, Becker NG, Hethcote HW, “Waning immunity and its effects on vaccination schedules,” Math Biosci. 1994 Nov;124(1):59-82,http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7827424
  40. “Ebola becoming harder to treat —US experts: rapid mutation could ‘render treatment and vaccines ineffective’,” The Extinction Protocol, September 1, 2014,https://theextinctionprotocol.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/ebola-becoming-harder-to-treat-us-experts-rapid-mutation-could-render-treatment-and-vaccines-ineffective/
  41. Sydney Lupkin, “Flu: This Year’s Vaccine Is Worse Than We Thought,” ABC News, January 15, 2015,http://abcnews.go.com/Health/flu-years-vaccine-worse-thought/story?id=28249130
  42. Sayer Ji, “The Vaccinated Spreading Measles: WHO, Merck, CDC Documents Confirm,” GreenMedInfo.com, January 30, 2015,http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/vaccinated-spreading-measles-who-merck-cdc-documents-confirms
  43. “Patient Guide,” The Johns Hopkins Hospital, p. 113,http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/kimmel_cancer_center/patient_information/Patient%20Guide%20Final.pdf
  44. Toni Bark, M.D., Suzanne Humphries, M.D., “Bought Movie Bonus Short- Chicken Pox Vaccine,” Jeff Hays Films, February 1, 2015,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVi4270412Y
  45. Suzanne Humphries, M.D., “‘Herd Immunity.’ The flawed science and failures of mass vaccination, Suzanne Humphries, MD,” International Medical Council on Vaccination, July 5, 2012,http://www.vaccinationcouncil.org/2012/07/05/herd-immunity-the-flawed-science-and-failures-of-mass-vaccination-suzanne-humphries-md-3/
  46. Journal American Medical Association 285: 1183-85, 2001,http://www.vaccinationnews.org/Scandals/Feb_15_02/skyrocketing_autism.htm
  47. “CDC estimates 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 27, 2014,http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0327-autism-spectrum-disorder.html
  48. “Half of All Children Will Be Autistic by 2025, Warns Senior Research Scientist at MIT,” Alliance for Natural Health, December 23, 2014,http://www.anh-usa.org/half-of-all-children-will-be-autistic-by-2025-warns-senior-research-scientist-at-mit/
  49. “No Evidence of Any Link,” Adventures in Autism, July 24, 2013,http://adventuresinautism.blogspot.com/2007/06/no-evidence-of-any-link.html
  50. Sharyl Attkisson, “Where are the Autistic Amish?” sharylattkisson.com, July 20, 2014,http://sharylattkisson.com/where-are-the-autistic-amish/
  51. “Senior Government Scientist Breaks 13 Years’ Silence on CDC’s Vaccine-autism Fraud,” Age of Autism, August 2014,http://www.ageofautism.com/2014/08/senior-government-scientist-breaks-13-years-silence-on-cdcs-vaccine-autism-fraud.html
  52. “August 27, 2014 Press Release, ‘Statement of William W. Thompson, Ph.D., Regarding the 2004 Article Examining the Possibility of a Relationship Between MMR Vaccine and Autism’,” Morgan Verkamp LLC, August 17, 2014http://www.morganverkamp.com/august-27-2014-press-release-statement-of-william-w-thompson-ph-d-regarding-the-2004-article-examining-the-possibility-of-a-relationship-between-mmr-vaccine-and-autism/
  53. “Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Reverse Autism Now,http://reverseautismnow.org/treatments
  54. Jaquelyn McCandless, MD, Children with Starving Brains: A Medical Treatment Guide for Autism Spectrum Disorder, Bramble Books, 2007,http://www.amazon.com/Children-Starving-Brains-Treatment-Spectrum/dp/1883647177/
  55. Kenneth Bock, M.D. and Cameron Stauth, Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies, Ballantine Books, New York, New York, 2008,http://www.amazon.com/Healing-New-Childhood-Epidemics-Groundbreaking/dp/0345494512/
  56. Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D. and Bernard Rimland, Ph.D., Recovering Autistic Children, Autism Research Institute, San Diego, California, 2006,http://www.amazon.com/Recovering-Autistic-Children-Edelson-Stephen/dp/0974036013/
  57. Tracy Staton, “Pharma shelled out $3.75B in fraud penalties in record-setting year, feds say,” FiercePharma, February 26, 2014,http://www.fiercepharma.com/story/pharma-shelled-out-375b-fraud-penalties-record-setting-year-feds-say/2014-02-26
  58. “No Pharma Liability? No Vaccine Mandates,” National Vaccine Information Center, March 2, 2011,http://www.nvic.org/NVIC-Vaccine-News/March-2011/No-Pharma-Liability–No-Vaccine-Mandates-.aspx
  59. Kristine M. Severyn, Ph.D., “Profits, Not Science, Motivate Vaccine Mandates,” Well Being Journal, Spring 2001, Volume 10, #2,https://www.wellbeingjournal.com/profits-not-science-motivate-vaccine-mandates/
  60. “Interview with Attorney Patricia Finn on Vaccine Exemptions,” VACTRUTH, October 3, 2013, minute 30:30,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SND6sTx5yWw

Delinquent

Yes, I have been delinquent in writing my blog. I know I don’t have a steady group of readers waiting for each and every new entry, but for my own personal fulfilment I like having a blog to get thoughts out of my head and to hold me responsible to the goals I’ve set for myself.

The reason I’ve had trouble writing for the past 85 days has to do with work and health. I picked up a second job as a group counselor therapist in early August that requires that I work an additional 12-20 hours per week on top of my full time job at BYU. I’m loving what I’m doing as a therapist by helping people through this intensive-outpatient program. However, it is high-stress work and the clients I’m working with are pretty much all suffering from chronic mental health conditions but they experienced a marked increase in severity prior to getting treatment through my program. On top of that in mid-August I became ill. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I have never felt that sick short of getting influenza. I went to the doctor twice to see if they could identify it, but they just kept assuring me that it wasn’t influenza or strep. It wasn’t until late August that doctors started noticing that enterovirus D68 was rampant around the country. I never went back to get it confirmed but I have no doubt that’s what it was. In the 30 some-odd days I was actively symptomatic I did some additional damage to my body from all the coughing. I bruised a rib and thought I’d given myself a hernia (fortunately that was just bruising too, not a full blown hernia).  So that one “cold” left me with lingering problems that I’m just now finally getting over.

The two blog projects that this completely derailed were my healthy living challenge and my #MormonPositive series. I leveled off on my weight loss, but fortunately haven’t regained much. It pretty solidly delayed my goal of getting below 20% body fat before Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I’m not giving up on becoming healthier in general (who knows, maybe the next time a nasty virus goes around, I’ll recover much faster).  For the #MormonPositive series, I’ll get back to writing those. Each of those entries take longer to write, and it has been hard to find the time with the new job. I do hope to write a few more before giving myself other topic to write regularly on (probably something related to mental health and psychotherapy next). Perhaps in the meantime I’ll go back to just writing something random on occasion when I have the time and desire to get my thoughts out.

Bullying & the PB&J

20140608-172735-62855829.jpg Just because my last few posts have been about my goal to become more healthy this summer (specifically focusing on getting to a reasonable body-fat percentage) doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally write about some of my other interests and topics of importance.  This post’s topic: bullying & the PB&J sandwich.

I’ve mentioned before that I was on the receiving end of some rather severe bullying growing up.  The early stuff started around 5th grade and tapered off by 11th, the worst of which happened throughout the 7th & 8th grade years.  While from an intellectual and professional standpoint I appreciate the research done on the lingering effects that bullying has on its victims into adulthood, the part of me that remembers the name-calling, social exclusion, and physical assaults in great detail cringes every time a new headline pops up that reads something along the lines of “New research shows that bully victims still have ___________ problems into adulthood.”  Too often it hits close to home, being correct that I have had more challenges related to problem __________ than the typical non-bullied individual.

At the same time though, I am a pretty healthy and well adjusted adult now that I’ve hit my mid-30’s, so for me it comes down to acknowledging my history, but not letting it define who I am now or who I want to become.  I know that I am in a slightly higher risk-group for certain things like depression and anxiety, and I respond accordingly when there are any signs that attention is needed. Sometimes I want to pretend that I’m not in those risk pools, but every so often something happens that reminds me. And that brings me to the PB&J sandwich… I believe that I ate PB&J nearly every day in my lunch from kindergarden through 8th grade (I was *kind of a picky eater and my mom knew I’d eat it).  Well, during those very difficult 7th & 8th grade years the lunch room was one of the worst places for me to be.  I was relentlessly mocked by some of my peers, a couple times I was thrust into fights, and rarely a lunch passed without something bad happening or being said.  Those rare lunches where nothing happened weren’t much of a break because I was filled with anxiety that something bad could happen at any moment. It was a long two years.

When I got high school we had an open campus for lunch.  Since my house was 1/4 mile from the school I went home every single day.  It was great, I could make whatever I wanted, my mom or dad could check in on me (mostly my dad, he had a home office), and I’d watch Wishbone on PBS (we didn’t have cable, it was that or half a soap opera).  Also, the ability to invite peers over who wanted to escape the school for 45 minutes allowed me to forge new friendships and helped me move past the previous challenging years. The freedom and flexibility to come home, with or without friends, and cook whatever I wanted meant that I rarely ever made myself a PB&J sandwich for lunch.  As my high school years passed by I got to the point that I didn’t like PB&J anymore and would actively avoid them, and that habit continued into college and the years since.

I’d always explained this change to myself and the occasional questioner by saying that my tastes must have changed because my lunches had been so overrepresented by PB&Js in my early school years that I’d just grown tired of the flavor.  It wasn’t really a big deal, rarely was I presented with PB&J as a lunch option, so I never really thought about it much. Last week though, on one of these crazy summer mornings as we were trying to get 4 kids ready for 4 different activities my wife packed me a lunch that included a PB&J sandwich.  I didn’t notice it until I was at work and opened by lunchbox, and noticed when I opened the container and smelled it that I was hit by a strong taste aversion, similar to what happens when you eat a favorite dish right before getting a stomach bug and can’t ever eat it again (I still miss you dearly adobo calamari).  I thought to myself, “this is ridiculous, I’ve never thrown-up  after eating a PB&J, I just stopped eating them.”  So, in that moment I finally explored this within my thoughts and emotions, and intentionally smelled the sandwich and let my mind connect that smell to the first thing that popped up, and immediately the first image in my mind was my middle school cafeteria.  That physiological taste aversion wasn’t connected to a memory of being sick, but the memories and feelings of powerlessness and helplessness that accompanied me to every lunch, five days a week, for two long years.

As I pondered that, I realized that for the most part, I always prefer a warm lunch. I keep a microwave in my office for that, and if I do eat a cold lunch PB&J is never on the menu. The freedom from lunchtime anxiety that had formed during my high school years had also left me with a taste aversion towards the traditional brown-bag lunch items that for so long had been directly tied to anxiety and bullying. So, now that I know that my taste aversion towards PB&J has more to do with emotional memories and not related to becoming sick after eating one (again, oh how I miss you adobo calamari, one of my favorite meals from my two year mission in the Philippines) I could probably overcome it.  I don’t like to hold myself as a victim of past events that were outside of my control. I guess I just need to force myself to eat it and see what becomes of these anti-PB&J tastes that I inadvertently fostered over 20 years ago.

 

*majorly a picky eater

I’m not married to the same woman I knew on our wedding day, and that’s a good thing.

0048Once upon a time I married this amazing young lady.  She’s a different person now 12 ½ years into our marriage but I wouldn’t trade the woman I’m married to now for the lady I knew on my wedding day for all the riches of the world!

Now don’t get me wrong, she was great back then! Fantastic, wonderful, caring, & loving!  Back then she liked doing things like getting caught in the rain (and kissing me while she was at it).  She had time to improve on all her amazing talents like singing and piano playing.  She was an amazing student and blew me away with her knowledge and wisdom.  On top of all that, this lady was totally into me!  She found ways for us to spend as much time together as possible, she doted on me and would make treats and surprises for me (of course I reciprocated).  And, without a doubt, she was one of the most beautiful women that had ever given me the time of day!  When I got married I felt bad for just about every other person with a Y-chromosome on the planet; I’d found her, the best woman in the world, I’d married her…I’d won!

So, what could have possibly changed to turn this already amazing woman into something even better?  In four short words:  She became a mom.

What is it about motherhood that can take the most talented women on planet, the women who put all us men to shame already, and suddenly make them even better?  Is it the nine months of selflessly sharing your body, and sense of individuality with another living being?  Is it the months of using their breasts to give life-sustaining sustenance to this child they had carried?  Is it the years that follow of patiently tutoring this child she had carried and fed into becoming a productive member of society?IMG_1480

Well, by my observations it must me some combination of all of the above.  The young woman I married has been slowly changing in these past years.  Changes that I can’t see day-to-day, that are difficult to even see year-to-year, but who I know has become a different person nonetheless.  The sleepless nights have worn off some of rough edges, the caregiving has nurtured her nurturing, and seeing the accomplishments of her children has born witness to her own talents and her future potential.

I’m still sure I won!  She’s still fantastic, wonderful, caring, loving, & beautiful, but each of those qualities have grown beyond what I even thought possible before my wife became a mother.

 

 

 

(Since I’m sharing this publicly, I do want to add an addendum to this.  This post is essentially a love-letter to my wife, not a factual evaluation of motherhood or womanhood.  I do recognize that many women achieve great things without becoming mothers.  Whether through circumstance or choice, women who do not become mothers have the same chances for individual greatness that women who are mothers do.)

Emotional Mindfullness

I’m undergoing an interesting emotional exercise today, and I’m not doing it on purpose.

On Christmas Eve I started feeling the signs of an upcoming cold or sinus infection.  Well, after two weeks of good days and bad day it finally morphed into a full on bacterial sinus infection last Thursday.  I’m unfortunately all too familiar with these.  I have major pollen and mold allergies so all too often my sinuses will flare up and then turn my nose into a very hospitable breeding ground for all manner of nasty bacteria.  Fortunately I started allergy shots about a year ago and my 4-5 infections per year have dropped to just this one in the past year.  So I’m thankful for that.

My least favorite thing about sinus infections is the congestion.  It’s not your everyday nasal congestion, it’s my-sinuses-feel-like-two-baseballs-are-shoved-up-there congestion.  So much pressure.  So much pain.  So little breathing.  It’s misery.  I’ve tried just about every decongestant modern medical science has to offer.  Sudafed PE (phenylephrine) is a joke, I think it is only sold as a placebo.  Afrin (oxymetazoline) does eliminate the congestion but breaks the proverbial dam that is the congestion and turns my nose into a river, plus they say not to take it for more than a day or two.  So as far as non-prescription stuff goes that pretty much leaves me with ordinary Sudafed (pseudoephedrine), your everyday ordinary decongestant that they keep behind the pharmacy counter (thanks to all the people who try to cook it into meth).

Now, I’m no doctor, just an ordinary consumer who has had a lot of experience taking this drug, and boy do I have a love-hate relationship with it.  Most of the time it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it gives me insomnia, and sometimes it doesn’t.  The one thing that I know for sure is that by the 3rd or 4th day I’ve been taking it, I get hit with nasty anxiety.  And guess what today is . . . that’s right, day 4.  It’s always a huge debate whether or not to take it, but when the choice is either to spend the day not breathing or spend it with some anxiety, sometimes breathing wins the debate.

It’s funny because I used to not know that this was one of the side affects.  I used to attribute these feelings to the stress of having missed a few days of work . . . but I wouldn’t have that feeling if I missed work for a different illness.  A curiosity, but never one I explored deeply.  Then I finally went to grad school and learned about all these things in the world that can trigger mental health disorder symptoms in an otherwise healthy person.  Conditions like hyper or hypothyroidism can cause depression or anxiety.  Birth control pills can cause depression, and so can some acne medicines.  It’s quite remarkable how many there are out there.  And there is was on my professor’s PowerPoint:  Sudafed can cause anxiety.

It was quite the revelation.  Never had I read the little section on the box of potential adverse effects.  So I started experimenting (back then I got enough sinus infections that I could do self trials).  Sometimes I’d use the Sudafed and boom, anxiety.  Other times I would forgo it or just use it the first day, and miraculously no anxiety.  It seemed all too ridiculous.  I’d always thought of anxiety as this whole mental disorder, a problem that was due to something requiring therapy and new approaches to life, but here in this case all it was was me taking a non-prescription medicine for one day too many.

Despite me knowing all this now, I still find myself on days like today, where I would just rather breathe.  So here I am, trying to get through work, constantly having to remind myself that not every email that comes is relates to some crisis and that every phone call isn’t going to be some angry student or parent about to yell at me.  Days like these give me great empathy for my friends, associates, and clients who suffer from anxiety.  It’s such an unpleasant sensation and some days mindfulness, breathing exercises, and thought re-framing can only get you through the day and just can break the symptom.  In this case only a good night’s sleep or two and 24 hours with no Sudafed will only do the trick.

Hopefully by tomorrow I’ll be able to breathe on my own and not need it.

Adding Real Value

I sometimes think about why I do the things I do.  Why do I read the books I read?  Why do I watch the TV shows I do? Why do I do the job that I do?  Why do I study the things that I study?  Why do I blog about the things I blog about?  The primary answer is that I do them because I like them, but the secondary answer is that I do them because I want to influence the world for good; at least my best understanding of “good.”

You might wonder what all of this has to do with a trailer for a documentary on Calvin and Hobbes.  I crave influencing people for the better.  I know that is not something that is high on everyone’s priority list, but it is high on mine.  I have found my way into the jobs that I have because my personality type requires that a sense of doing good, and counselings and academic advising provide me with that level of fulfillment.  Yet, I still find that sometimes I am frustrated by my lack of reach, I want to reach out beyond the people I work with one-on-one and put something out into society that is a positive influence on complete strangers.  Right now, blogging is my main tool for that, but I do spend time pondering if there is a better way.

So, I starting thinking about this in the reverse and was wondering about complete strangers (defined as anyone whom I don’t personally know or who I have had minimal interaction with) who have had a profound impact on me personally through the work they have put out into society, and I came up with this list (including people both dead and alive):

  1. Jesus Christ
  2. Joseph Smith Jr.
  3. Gordon B. Hinckley
  4. Thomas S. Monson
  5. Bill Watterson
  6. Abraham Lincoln 
  7. Paul the Apostle
  8. C. S. Lewis
  9. J. R. R. Tolkin
  10. Fritz Perlz
  11. James E. Talmage
  12. John Green

I was surprised that Bill Watterson was so high, but the more I thought about it, the more confident I was in his placement.  I started reading Calvin and Hobbes in the late 1980’s and I was a huge fan.  I bought every book I could with my own money.  I wasn’t old enough to understand publishing schedules and there was no internet to announce when the next publication would take place, so I would go to Dolly’s Bookstore every so often just hoping beyond hope that there would be a new Calvin and Hobbes on the shelves.

These comic strips made me laugh, but they influenced me far beyond that.  I was an introverted, bullied adolescent who longed to just enjoy life.  By vicariously enjoying life through the lens of this rambunctious, imaginative little boy I was able to find comfort and solace in my own other-ness.  His strips gave me joy and let me know that I could imagine myself as a space-explorer-extraordinaire or as a superhero in order to combat the mundane.  That there was nothing wrong in indulging in my imagination.

Calvin and Hobbes hit me right when I was most impressionable to the message that they carried, and it influenced who I became in both subtle and dramatic ways.

I can only dream to influence some stranger out there as fundamentally as Bill Watterson’s work influenced me.  I don’t know in what medium I will be able to express my thoughts and feelings, and I doubt I will ever be as successful as anyone on my list up above.  Still, I will try.  After all, if we all had as one of our life’s ambitions to leave behind something meaningful, that truly adds value to humanity as a species, then the world would undoubtedly be a better place.

Calvin (Calvin and Hobbes)