Sunday School 2.0 (sort of)

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Love it or hate it, it’s still around: Gospel Doctrine in LDS Sunday School. The SL Trib has a long story detailing the upgrades to the curriculum for the upcoming year, “New scholarship coming to Mormon lessons, but will instructors really teach it?” Apparently the plan for revising the manual is to change absolutely nothing in the current instructor’s manual for D&C and Church History, but to (1) post some additional material online somewhere at the sprawling LDS.org site, (2) hope the teachers use some of the material posted at the Revelations in Context site (itself a subdomain of LDS.org), and (3) print some of this additional material in a booklet to be made available through LDS distribution centers. Maybe some teachers will use this extra material, maybe they won’t.

This Is Your Brain on Prayer

My Facebook feed lit up today with links to media reports of an article just published in the online journal Social Neuroscience, “Reward, salience, and attentional networks are activated by religions experience in devout Mormons.” You can guess why I’m linking to the actual article rather than the media reports. Fake news, real news, it all sounds like junk news. Just read the article.

SMPT 2017 submissions due November 28

Submissions for the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology’s 2017 meeting are due this coming Monday, November 28th. The meeting will be held at Claremont Graduate University March 2-4, with the theme “Poured Out Upon Us: The Holy Spirit.” As usual, submissions on any aspect of LDS belief are welcome. For details see the Call for Papers (PDF).

The Misguided Quest for a Common Moral Framework

The Mormon Newsroom just posted a new think-y piece titled “The Quest for a Common Moral Framework.” A few years back the Newsroom posted a number of these reflective essays, such as “Approaching Mormon Doctrine“, but not so much recently. So this one is worth taking a look at. It seems like a spinoff from the intensive Religious Freedom initiative.

The Roots of the Current Election

I’ll admit I didn’t expect Trump to win. As a conservative I thought my worst case scenario was Clinton winning but Trump keeping it extremely close and outperforming Romney. That would allow Trump to stop the GOP from reforming back to its roots. Trump definitely beat that. With his win he’ll almost certainly consolidate power and remake the GOP in his own image. As a practical matter I suspect the conservative movement is dead although honestly it’s been on death’s door for some time. (I sincerely hope it rebounds) That said it’s hard not to agree with a lot of the anger from within the GOP against their own leadership and elites. Yet this is something more. Even though Trump’s win was unexpected, the forces leading to it were easy to discern for some time. Democrats let one of the most disliked figures of the last 30 years run largely unopposed in the primaries. That a self-described socialist did so…

Dealing With the Election Defeat

Like many of you, I am deeply disappointed with news of the crushing election defeat: the San Diego stadium measure failed badly. This is almost tragic. It’s kind of like Football Brexit, a sudden tear in the social fabric. Who can imagine San Diego without the Chargers? The fabled franchise history that includes Dan Fouts, Junior Seau, and now Philip Rivers will likely be brutally disrupted within a year or two. St. Louis Chargers? The London Chargers? It would be nice to keep the suddenly resurgent AFC West intact. The Portland Chargers? If Salt Lake can host the Olympics, why not the Chargers?

Call For Applications: 2017 Mormon Theology Seminar

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The Fourth Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology “God Himself Shall Come Down: Reading Mosiah 15” College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia June 5–June 17, 2017 Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar in partnership with The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship In the summer of 2017, the Mormon Theology Seminar, in partnership with the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and faculty devoted to reading Mosiah 15. The seminar will be hosted by the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, from June 5 through June 17, 2016. Travel arrangements, housing, and a $1000 stipend will be provided for admitted participants. The seminar will be led by Adam Miller and Joseph Spencer, directors of the Mormon Theology Seminar, with assistance from Brian Hauglid, director…

The Policy: Year One

Happy birthday, Policy, you are one year old today. In January I posted “Policy or Revelation?” which outlined the public timeline of the messy initial release of the Policy, along with links to relevant documents. Time for an update on the Policy. Maybe I’ll do one every year until it dies.

Pragmatism as Mormon Epistemology Part 1

C. S. Peirce

Speaking of his famous pragmatic maxim the great American philosopher C. S. Peirce said that we should reflect a little upon what it implies. It has been said to be a skeptical and materialistic principle. But it is only an application of the sole principle of logic which was recommended by Jesus; “Ye may know them by their fruits,” and it is very intimately allied with the ideas of the gospel. (CP 5.402) His maxim was a principle for understanding belief and meaning. In order to determine or verify the meaning of something we must consider what practical consequences would result from treating it as true. The totality of these consequences exhausts its meaning. So to understand what it means for a diamond to be hard, for instance, we might ask the variety of ways we might measure it’s hardness or the physical implications of its being hard.

The Danger of Attacking a Lack of Traditional Families in Mormon Politics

Donald Trump and his surrogates have become rather worried about Evan McMullin’s chances in Utah. In several polls he’s either been tied for first place or is within striking distance. (Most still have Trump ahead) The last week he’s been the talk of the media with many seriously thinking he has a chance. Last week noted Fox News host Lou Dobbs made an unfortunate attack on McMullin saying he’s helping the “Mormon Mafia” affect the election results. This led to a slew of rather hilarious tweets mocking the idea of a Mormon Mafia. Around the same time various stories started spreading innuendo about McMullin both because he’s single but also because his mother apparently married an other woman after getting a divorce.[1] I don’t want to delve too far into McMullin. Just because he’s attacked unfairly doesn’t mean he deserves your vote. Despite being a conservative and thinking a lot about this election, I’m honestly not sure who I’m voting…

The Primary Program: Reflections and lessons learned

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And now for something a little different on T&S… This past Sunday our ward Primary presented its annual program. As I was writing the program last month, I appreciated seeing sample scripts and reading other Primary leaders’ reflections online, so I thought I’d make our script available here together with a few older-and-wiser observations. This was my first rodeo, at least as far as writing the script and directing the thing, and overall I’m pleased with how it went. The Primary theme this year is “I Know the Scriptures Are True,” so I knew I wanted most of the program to focus on retelling scripture stories rather than presenting bite-sized bits of doctrine. I wanted to try group recitation for the youngest classes, something that has worked well for my kids’ preschool performances. It was important to me to strive for gender parity in the program content. I decided with my music director to keep the music portion very straightforward, without…

Jack Chick has Passed Away

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I don’t know if it is still a thing with Evangelicals, but back when I was on my mission there were Jack Chick comic books everywhere. While Chick didn’t limit himself to virulent anti-Mormonism it’s those tracts that still bring a chuckle to me. Almost anywhere we looked we found them. What was so amazing about them was just how mind bogglingly ridiculous they often were. He’d have characters meeting new Mormon investigators and suddenly start quoting by memory obscure passages from the Journal of Discourses. Others were more in the extreme conspiracy theory such as a communist-catholic takeover of the US with Cleon Skousen by way of rock music. He hated Catholics, Dungeons and Dragons, evolution and nearly anything else not ‘pure’ by Evangelical standards. While Chick’s tracts were popular in some ways, apparently their hateful nature led many religious bookstores to stop selling them. The Christian Booksellers Association considered expelling him in the 80’s although he withdrew before they…

Five Possible Wrong Turns

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I’ve read several books and essays in the science versus religion genre, some by secular scientists or philosophers (such as Stephen Jay Gould’s Nonoverlapping Magisteria essay) and some by Christian scientists (such as Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution). I recently found a refreshing new perspective within the genre: The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning (Schocken Books, 2011) by Jonathan Sacks, a prominent Jewish scholar and rabbi. It offers a more relaxed, more pragmatic treatment of the topic than other books I have read. A one-sentence summary: Science and religion are complementary: science is about explanation and religion is about meaning, but individuals and societies that push religion aside and fully secularize are almost guaranteed to gradually adopt some form of nihilism and lose their way.

No Big 12 for BYU

Big 12 Expansion

I know BYU football isn’t the normal talk here. I think it’s relevant to the broader LDS community this year if only due to how it’s perceived around the country. While as I write this the Big 12 hasn’t formally announced the death of expansion plans, it’s being widely leaked. For months BYU seemed like a shoe in. Then came the activism at many colleges over the honor code at BYU. While some of the information out there was simply incorrect, the basic idea of no pubic displays of affection for homosexuals seemed like a deal breaker to enough college presidents so as to kill BYU’s hopes.

SMPT Notes: Joseph Lowell

Joseph Lowell was a philosopher I wasn’t familiar with at all. He was speaking on creation, artisanship and creation ex nihilo. However the fundamental topic he was after was aesthetics. I didn’t take as many notes first because I’ll fully confess I know only enough about the philosophy of aesthetics to be dangerous. There’s a lot I’m ignorant of. Second because most of Lowell’s approach was via process theology and Whitehead. While there’s a lot in Whitehead I agree with, overall I just don’t buy his system. I do acknowledge he’s been really a significant influence in many thinkers like Blake Ostler. I confess I just have problems with Whitehead. That said we had some fantastic discussions in the Q&A. I really hope to read more from Joseph.

SMPT Notes: Brown

For the first concurrent session I attended Sam Brown’s. While he’s not as well known as David Paulson he has written numerous extremely well received papers and books. I honestly can’t fathom how he has the time to do all he does. He’s a medical researcher and ICU physician as well as writing on Mormon philosophical notions and history. We were very lucky to have him there. At the end he noted how he’s really trying to cut back on all he does. So in that case we were doubly lucky to have him there. It’s almost difficult to describe Brown’s talk although I had more notes on it than anything else. He started off talking about how the god of classical theism was really the ground of being. It’s thus problematic to talk of an essentially embodied being since how can the ground of the universe ground the universe. (Some philosophies do attempt that of course) His notion is…

SMPT Notes: Paulson & Boyd

I wasn’t able to attend Ben’s session this evening and it’s looking like I won’t be able to go like I’d hoped tomorrow. Still I really enjoyed the sessions I went to. To give a bit of a taste (and to encourage everyone to attend tomorrow and Saturday) here’s some notes with a bit of commentary. My notes ended being a bit longer than I expected. So I’m doing a separate post for each. Hopefully those of you who attended the other sessions can tell me how they went. David Paulson and Hal Boyd (opinion editor at the Deseret News) opened things up with a discussion of a few parts of their forthcoming book Are Christians Mormon. The theme of the book is various moves in Christian theology the past couple of decades where many theologians are making moves towards elements of Mormon theology. I just don’t know enough of the main figures in contemporary theology let alone how they…

Conditional Love Is Back

The recently announced LDS doctrine of conditional divine love comes from President Nelson’s 2003 Ensign article “Divine Love,” in which he stated: “While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional.” No additional commentary was added until the October 2016 General Conference, when two apostles, citing President Nelson’s article, restated the doctrine. It is rather more nuanced than it first appears and I expect some local leaders and members will misconstrue and misapply this new doctrine in unfortunate ways. So pay attention. This is important.

Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology

SMPT

The annual meeting of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology is this week at BYU. All the sessions are being held in B192 in the JFSB from Thursday through Saturday. You can see the full schedule of sessions at the smpt.org website. Like an idiot I hadn’t put it on my calendar. I’d completely forgotten about it until Ben called me this evening to ask if I was going. Unfortunately my wife is going out of town this weekend. I’m going to try and go to the Thursday and Friday sessions though. Even though I’ve not been able to attend as regularly the past few years as in the past, I’ve always enjoyed the sessions I’ve attended. There are lot of great thinking by people far smarter than I am. So I always get something out of it – especially in the sessions I disagree with.

The Conflict of Theological Innovation

Theology has an odd place in LDS thought. Early on there was a rather positive view of theology. Lectures on Faith, then part of the Doctrine and Covenants, praised the idea of theology calling it: …that revealed science which treats of the being and attributes of God, his relations to us, the dispensations of his providence, his will with respect to our actions and his purposes with respect to our end. (Question 1 of Lectures on Faith)  Now this was just quoting from a well known theological dictionary of the time. It most likely reflected Sidney Rigdon’s view of theology which would have been shaped by the more systematic theology of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin along with various others.  Certainly Joseph Smith saw great value in learning and studying from theology and biblical studies. He studied multiple languages so he could read the scriptures in the original languages. By the time of Nauvoo many new theological ideas were introduced in part…

Jeremiah, Truth and Intelligence

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A couple of months ago I had a post talking about how Hebrews talk about things being true. While my focus was on common Mormon expressions like “I know the Church is true” the basic principle applies to many scriptures. That includes famous Book of Mormon ones like Alma 32. The basis for most of the post was an interesting book by the philosopher Yoram Hazony. He argued in his book The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture that there was an unique philosophy present in the Old Testament that had been largely neglected by western philosophy in preference to Greek notions. I only discussed the first less controversial part of the book. There he largely is just discussing the Hebrew notion of truth which is somewhat similar to the more Aristotilean notion of essence. Objects (not words or propositions) are true when they show themselves over time to be how they present themselves.[1] The majority of Hazony’s book is a tad…

What is Zion and how do we get there? 31 Mormons weigh in: You’ll definitely find your Zion somewhere in here

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A review of A Book of Mormons: Latter-day Saints on a Modern-Day Zion In this useful collection of brief essays, an impressively wide array of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints describe what Zion means to them. As the editors write in their introduction, “Forget about glossy Mormon-produced documentaries. Forget about funny Broadway musicals. … Here you will find a potent mixture of everyday and extraordinary Mormons speaking in their own voice about tough issues and hard-won testimonies.” The range of approaches is wonderfully expansive. Some of the authors speak of how Zion means better inclusion of groups that have historically been under-empowered. Neylan McBain, whose book Women at Church I can’t say enough good things about, writes, “As we stretch toward a new identity of Mormon womanhood, our community craves a vision of how we can honor our priorities without being slaves to their former trappings.” Julie Smith explores the question “does Mormonism oppress women–or…

Forthcoming Battles Over Religious Liberty

I know many think the focus on religious liberty is misplaced. To my eyes it seems we have more religious liberty now than at any time in American history. I recognize not all feel that way although often it is due to the majority religion being constrained in some ways from acting as the de facto religion. But in terms of individuals practicing their religion in general rather than limited practices of the majority in government contexts, we seem to be doing great. Why then the worry of the brethren over religious liberty? Robert Couch sent me a link today that may highlight the problem. It’s Rod Dreher talking about famous Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne giving a paper at the Midwest Meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers. Note that this is a philosophy conference that is supposed to be discussing Christian philosophy. Swinburne is speaking about traditional Christian sexual ethics and arguing for homosexuality being extrinsically wrong.

Maxwell Institute 2017 Summer Seminar Announced

The Maxwell Institute just posted a call for applicants for its next summer seminar. The topic is Mormonism Confronts the World: How the LDS Church has Responded to Developments in Science, Culture, and Religion. The seminar runs June 26 through August 3, 2017. Plenty of time to find a topic and clear out six weeks of your schedule. Anyone with a topic to suggest is free to share it in the comments.

Call to Repentance

It is rather presumptuous to call someone to repentance, don’t you think? The act implies at least two things: that the caller knows better than the called, and that the caller has the authority to issue the call to repent. In a world of increasing moral relativism, many of us are uncomfortable with the idea that one person can or ought to impose his or her standards on another. This discomfort illegitimizes the call for repentance by not only undercutting the moral authority of the caller, but the very standards by which a call may be justified. But the call for repentance has always been a call away from the world. It is a beacon that returns us to the Lord’s standard, a corrective guide. In our church today, we accept that our leaders, especially the prophet and apostles, have the authority to call us (and the rest of the world) to repentance. And in part because of the cultural…

Issues in Epistemology: A Response to Inside/Out

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I didn’t really touch on it in depth in my theology post last week but my view of theology entails being able to give reasons for why one asserts what one asserts. The emphasis then was in how we read. Underneath it all really was Eco’s view of the ideal reader who pays close attention to the process of interpretation. That reader is an ideal reader because they can explain why they read the way they do. It was with some interest then that I read the inaugural post at Patheos’ new blog, Mormonism Inside and Out with Patrick Mason and John Dehlin.[1] They started out with the whole topic of epistemology or how we know. It turns out one of the several half finished posts I have planned engaged deeply on these issues. Rather than going through my thoughts on epistemology I thought I’d respond to a few of the issues they brought up in their discussion.