Mormons Need to Atone for Our Sad Racist Past

Since 1978, the LDS Church has been trying to rectify its sad history of racism.  Until recently, this process has been occurring slowly.  But lately the atonement process has started to accelerate.  Frankly, it is time to wipe the slate clean.  We can’t change our history, but we can impact our future.

Recent steps in the atonement process include:

  • An admission that the denial of the priesthood and temple entrance to blacks had nothing to do with Old Testament scripture.
  • An admission that the denial was more a function of the times that it was of real doctrine.  Instead of blaming God, we are starting to understand the follies of the humans responsible.

So why do we need to repent for our racist past?  Our alleged doctrine lead to very ugly acts of racism.  In addition to the priesthood denial, I will mention four particularly ugly episodes:

  • As late as the Presidency of David O. McKay, the Hotel Utah was segregated.  It may have been a grand hotel, but it was also a very “White” hotel.
  • In a 1954 letter to Michigan Governor George Romney, Apostle Delbert L. Stapley made the following statement:  “I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations, but not full social benefits nor intermarriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted Whites area.”  And there were others of the General Authorities that had similar views.
  • President Ezra Taft Benson preached that the Civil Rights movement was part of a communist conspiracy.  In 1966, he published a 1966 pamphlet titled:  “Civil Rights, Tool of Communist Deception.”  He also had thoughts of running on a Presidential ticket on two separate occasions with separate segregationist southerners (one a Senator and one an infamous Governor) each time.
  • On my mission, a Canadian was married to a Czech woman who had a baby with African blood.  The child was not allowed to be sealed to the couple.  So much for focus on the family.

On October 7, 1943, both Benson and Spencer W. Kimball became Apostles.  Because Kimball was older than Benson and was therefore ordained first, he was given seniority over Benson in the Quorum.  So Kimball became President of the LDS Church before Benson.  One can only wonder if the 1978 racial pronouncement would have been delayed if Benson had been ordained first.


So how do we atone for our institutional racism?  Here are three suggestions:

  • First, that the leadership pen a letter that is read over every LDS pulpit that states unequivocally that our past racism was never a doctrine of God.
  • Second, we need to formally apologize to a venerable Black organization like the NAACP or Urban League for our past racism, and for the longtime it took us to come to grips with our past.
  • Third, that LDS Church members begin to overtly discuss racial issues as part of our various educational systems.

Let’s put this unfortunate part of our past behind us.  Let’s repent.

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Hanging Out with Preschool Kids in Cuzco, Peru

Over the summer, while in Cuzco, Peru, my relatives and I got a chance to hang out briefly at a preschool located on a hillside overlooking the city.  We were there to install a swing set.

The Preschool Kids and My Family in Front of the Newly Installed Swing Set

The Preschool Kids and My Family in Front of the Newly Installed Swing Set

Our Cuzco guide–Wilfredo Torres (aka Willow)–has a brother David who is a metal fabricator.  The brother agreed to build a swing set for us and he suggested we install it at a preschool located near his workplace and home.  So late one afternoon, we carried the swing set parts to “Pronoei Cesar Vallejo” preschool.  Several parents were already at the worksite ready to assist with installation of the 3-seat swing set.  It was a fun evening.  It gave us a chance to meet the preschool teacher and hang out with the kids.  I frequently enjoy this type of activity more than I enjoy sightseeing.

Sign at the Cuzco Preschool

Sign at the Cuzco Preschool

This fall, a friend told me about parents who going to Cuzco to pickup their daughter; she had just completed a LDS mission to Peru.  The parents agreed to carry some computer supplies to Cuzco for me.  They left the supplies–a laptop, a LED projector, and speakers–at their hotel in Cuzco where it was picked up by Willow and delivered to the preschool.

Preschool Huddled Around the Newly Arrived Laptop Computer

Preschool Kids Huddled Around the Newly Arrived Laptop Computer

This last week, Willow sent me photographs of the kids enjoying the swing set and huddling around their new laptop computer.  I sure love the opportunities that travel gives my family and me to interact with the citizens of the world.  Life is good.

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More on 3-D Printing

By Andrew Maynard [1]

3D printing–and additive manufacturing more broadly–are on a roll.  The idea of creating objects by building them up layer by layer has been around for a while.  But over the past couple of years, there have been massive advances in access to low-cost, extremely sophisticated 3D technologies.

At one end of the spectum, you have devices like the $100 Peach Printer.  At the other, industrial 3D printers that are capable of making on-demand parts for jet engines and other high performance products.  And in between, printers that are enabling everyone from kids and hobbyists to entrepreneurs to make stuff that it wasn’t possible to make just a few years ago.

The technology is opening new doors to how products are made.  But it’s also potentially leading to new health risks.  Whether it’s the products of 3D printers (how do you control weapons that can be printed at-source, or ensure the safety of 3D printed car?), to the emissions from the devices (just how many 3D printers in a classroom does it take before kids are inhaling more nanoparticles and fumes than are healthy?), 3D printing raises questions about risk and safety.

Environmental Implications of Additive Manufacturing

This past October, I participated in a National Science Foundation workshop on the environmental implications of additive manufacturing.  We talked extensively about the potential health risks of 3D printing and other forms of additive manufacturing, and how these may be avoided.  But I must confess, as I learned about what is likely to be possible in the future, I found myself mulling over some of the more speculative implications of 3D printing.

There’s a saying that, in additive manufacturing, complexity is free.  Of course, nothing is totally free.  But I was particularly taken in the workshop by the relatively low investment and energy costs associated with generating incredibly complex structures using techniques such as 3D printing.  This is core to the transformative nature of additive manufacturing–it’s what fundamentally enables us to create products with processes such as 3D priniting that are far beyond the reach of more conventional manufacturing technologies.  It’s also what will potentially enable us to create devices and products that present us with truly emergent risks–just because we can make things we’ve never been able to make before.

Complexity is Cheap

There comes a point with conventional (i.e. non-additive) manufacturing where it becomes economically unfeasible to manufacture structurally complex products.  It’s just too difficult, or too expensive.  In contrast, within resolution and materials capabilities, few such limits exist with 3D printers.  A very simple 2D analogy is printing images on an inkjet printer.  With the resolution limits of the printer, it’s just as easy to print an incredibly detailed high resolution photograph as it is a black rectangle–complexity is cheap.

The same applies to 3D printing–but this time in three dimensions.  With this technology, we are at the cusp of a manufacturing revolution where we can make highly complex three dimensional products that were unattainable just a few years ago.  And by “we” I mean anyone from kids tinkering in their basements to a global corporation.

It was this transformative potential that got me speculating about what we might be able to 3D print that would be nigh impossible using non-additive technologies.  And from there, it didn’t take long to arrive at the idea of 3D printing something that is intimately dependent on three-dimensional complexity–an artificial brain!

For more on the subject of 3D printing and brain research read here.


[1]  From a post at

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Kudos for Lars Peter Hansen

By Thomas (Tom) J. Sargent, 2011 Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics [1]

Lars Hansen is the gold standard as a scholar, teacher, referee, editor, and academic citizen.  His research work is unusually creative and innovative, while also being very respectful of work by previous scholars.  A hallmark of Lars’ work has been to get so completely inside the best previous research that he knows it better than the authors who originally created it.  That has allowed Lars time and again to jump off in authoritative ways and push things to higher levels and often in new directions.

As a referee, Lars’ knowledge is wide ranging and his insights wise and generous.  As a department chairman and editor, he has been unusually patient and generous.

Lars is a devoted and successful teacher.  His students are accomplished and extraordinarily loyal to him.

Lars Hansen has been granted extraordinary gifts by “nature,” so that much should have been expected of him.  But he has converted those gifts into fine contributions by putting in extraordinary effort with steady discipline.

But no one is perfect, and Lars is not.  Lars is not especially good at keeping track of the latest files being worked on with his coauthors.  And he is not especially good at LaTeX.

Note:  for more information about Lars, click here and here.


[1]  An introduction written for an economic’s conference in Park City, 11 Dec 2014.

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More Playground Equipment for the Northern Navajo Nation

This Fall (2014), swing sets and other playground equipment were installed in the northern and eastern Navajo Nation.  The first installation was accomplished by volunteers from the BYU Global Engineering Outreach Club.  They added a 2-seat swing set and a double teeter totter to an existing playground near the Living Water Tabernacle (located adjacent to Monument Valley UT).  The parts for the swing were provided by Navajo Santa (a SLC-based NGO) and Bureau of Reclamation volunteers.

GEO Club Members Working on the Monument Valley Teeter Tooter

GEO Club Members Working on the Monument Valley Teeter Tooter

Completed Playground Near Monument Valley UT

Completed Playground Near Monument Valley UT

Earlier in the Fall, Reclamation volunteers made repairs to swing sets at a playground in Halchita, a Navajo community located just across the San Juan River from Mexican Hat UT.  They also installed a 4-seat swing set near the Becenti Chapter House in western NM.

Installing a Swing Set near the Becenti Chapter House in Western NM

Installing a Swing Set near the Becenti Chapter House in Western NM

In December, Reclamation volunteers added a uniquely designed teeter totter adjacent to an existing swing set at St. Christopher’s Mission, located just east of Bluff UT.  The teeter totter was made using irrigation sprinkler wheels.

Sprinkler-wheel Teeter Totter at St. Christopher's Mission near Bluff UT

Sprinkler-wheel Teeter Totter at St. Christopher’s Mission near Bluff UT

This makes a total of 7 swing sets and 3 teeter totters installed on the reservation.  Additionally, 3 swing sets have been repaired.


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3-D Printing in the News

The latest editions of Time Magazine (1 & 8 December 2014) and National Geographic (December 2014) both have articles naming 3-D printing a hot new technology.  According to Time:

A machine that can build any object.  It sounds like sci-fi fantasy, but thanks to the rise of 3-D printers–devices that can build objects from digital blueprints, usually by layering plastic or other materials–is rapidly becoming reality.

That’s a boon for consumers and corporations alike.  In the past year alone, middle-school students have 3-D printed stock cars for physics lessons, scientists have 3-D printed tissues for human organs, and GE has used 3-D printing to improve the efficiency of its jet engines.  “This is one of the technologies that literally touches everything we do,” say Avi Reichental, CEO of 3D Systems, who 3-D printers produce candy and musical instruments, among other things.

Time names the technology one of the “25 best inventions of 2014.”  According to Roff Smith writing in NG:

Rocket engine parts, chocolate figurines, functional replica pistols, a Dutch canal house, designer sunglasses, a zippy two-seater car, a rowboat, a prototype bionic ear, pizzas–hardly a week goes by without a startling tour de force in the rapidly evolving technology of 3-D printing.

The magazine goes on the describe 3 ways to print in 3-D:

The term “3-D printing” includes a number of different technologies, but they all rely on the same basic principle:  building up an object by adding material layer by layer.  The methods, which vary in cost, speed, accuracy, and materials, each have their own advantages.

  • Fused Deposition Modeling:  Plastic filament is fed into a printer, melted, and deposited in layers, which harden.  The process is suitable for an office, making this an ideal technology for desktop consumer printers.
  • Selective Laser Sintering:  Fine powder, such as metal or plastic, is laid down, and a laser passes over it, selectively fusing it to the layer beneath.  This allows a broad range of materials to be printed.
  • Stereolithography:  A photosensitive liquid resin is exposed to a laser or ultraviolet light, which hardens it.  The process is fast and can create high-resolution shapes, but yields objects with limited material strength.
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What Can Mormons (and Other Christians) Learn from Atheists?

In a Q&A session posted on, atheist author Sam Harris answered the following question:  What do you think the role of religion is in determining human morality?

It is generally an unhelpful one.  Religious ideas about good and evil tend to focus on how to achieve well-being in the next life, and this makes them terrible guides to securing it in this one.  Of course, there are a few gems to be found in every tradition, but in so far as these precepts are wise and useful they are not, in principle, religious.

Additionally, Mormons also have a unique perspective that causes them to focus not only on the next life, but also on the well-being of their ancestors.  So, they look both forward and backward, and this causes their focus on the present to be further diluted.  Harris goes on:

The problem with religious morality is that it often causes people to care about the wrong things, leading them to make choices that needlessly perpetuate human suffering.  Consider the Catholic Church.  This institution:

  • excommunicates women who want to become priests, but it does not excommunicate male priests who rape children;
  • is more concerned about stopping contraception than stopping genocide; and
  • is more worried about gay marriage than about nuclear proliferation.

When we realize that morality relates to questions of human and animal well-being, we can see that the Catholic Church is as confused about morality as it is about cosmology.  It is not offering an alternative moral framework; it is offering a false one.

While we could dismiss Harris’s opinions as being directed only at the Catholic Church, we could see that these arguments could just as easily be directed at the LDS Church.  This institution:

  • excommunicates women who want the priesthood, but it does not excommunicate members who lead armed insurrections;
  • is more concerned about the dead than it is about the well-being of its members living today in developing-world conditions; and
  • is more worried about gay marriage than about global warming.

Harris comes to a very unflattering conclusion about religion:  “Anyone who thinks that gay marriage is the greatest problems of the 21st century, or that women should be forced to wear burqas, is not worth listening to on the subject of morality.”  Obviously an overstatement, but one worth pondering.

All Christians need to look at Harris’s comments and see if our moral values are indeed in the right spot.

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