Being subject to Voldemort

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Donald Trump is likely to destroy American democracy while leaving the nation in ruins and the world in flames, and let’s further assume that all of these are bad things. (I don’ t think the situation is quite as hopeful as that, but I’m not particularly interested in arguing about any of these assumptions in this post.) What should the Church do about it? What should you do about it?

The Evolution of Adam

That’s a book by Christian scholar Peter Enns: The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins (BrazosPress, 2012). The arguments in the book are directed at Evangelicals, but Mormons can quite profitably read along as well. Given that the LDS Church has “no official position on the theory of evolution” and that evolution is taught as part of the biology curriculum at BYU, you would think evolution is a non-issue with Mormons compared to the trouble it seems to cause Evangelicals. But prior statements of some LDS leaders and certain passages in LDS scripture create difficulties for Mormons that Evangelicals don’t face, so it sort of balances out. For Evangelicals and Mormons alike, the Enns book is an excellent discussion from a believing Christian perspective that attempts to reconcile the apparent tension between biblical and scientific accounts of humankind’s origin, as well as the place of the historical Adam in that account.

Aaronic Priesthood and Apostasy

The common way the apostasy is understood is in terms of the loss of priesthood authority. Priesthood seems the key thing that needed to be restored by Joseph Smith. Much of our conception of restoration is tied to rites and ordinances revealed by Joseph Smith and administered by the priesthood.[1] To my eye the most interesting question relative to the apostasy concerns the Aaronic priesthood. Was it removed from the earth?

Pragmatism as Mormon Epistemology Part 2

Last time I discussed how the American philosopher C. S. Peirce’s pragmatism saw meanings in terms of how we’d verify a predicate. So “hardness” is wrapped up in all the measurement practices of determining if something was hard. Peirce saw this literally as following Jesus’ adage to judge things by their fruits. An other important aspect of knowledge for Peirce was recognizing that belief was something that happens but isn’t chosen. All we can choose is where we inquire.  The reason for thinking belief is non-volitional[1] is simple. Imagine you’re outside looking up into the sky. It’s a deep blue you can’t miss. Now make yourself believe it is pink. You can’t do it. When we analyze carefully the types of control we have over belief it’s always seems to be indirect. This isn’t to say we can’t delude ourselves but the way we do this is by avoiding thinking about certain things. Non-volitional belief is also quite in keeping…

Co-opting Secular Religion

It has often been noted that, in the United States, politics is our national religion. This is something my co-blogger Walker Wright covered at Difficult Run back in 2013, citing Eran Shalev: Through pseudo-biblicism the Bible became a living text, an ongoing scriptural venture which complemented and foritified notions of national chosenness and mission. This transformation occurred within a poisoned political culture which created “two parallel imagined communities,” namely the two political parties—the Federalists and the Republicans—that denied each other’s legitimacy. This disposition…created a political culture governed by a grammar of combat, which entailed a “politics of anxious extremes.” It fostered the intense employment and further construction of biblical politics, each side depicting the other as wrong-doing “Adamites” or “Jeffersonites.” …The pseudo-biblical language thus wove the Bible into American life and sanctified the young nation. American politics were transformed, in texts largely devoid of references to God, into the new religion of the republic. I came across another example of…

Scripture and Historical Context: A Contemporary Example

There’s a common assumption that historical accuracy and a spiritual orthodoxy compete against each other in a zero-sum game. Either you have to take the most recent finding or the dominant academic consensus as credible, or you have to take a literal reading of the scriptures as axiomatic, but you can’t have both. Well, that’s probably OK, because in my case I prefer neither. Reading the scriptures “literally” is a proposition that makes no more sense than trying to read Robert Frost “literally” since the scriptures contain poetry (and a host of other literary genres) that are supposed to be read in some fashion other than “literal.” On the other hand–much as I value and am interested in scholarship and research–I cannot take seriously the idea of handing the ultimate authority over any spiritual question to a committee of experts, which is about the most optimistic way you can look at the consensus of scholarship on any one particular issue at any particular…

Water under the bridge at Christmas

Of course we understand that singing at the inauguration of a president is a boon for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; the choir’s president Ron Jarrett said that the choir would be “honored to be able to serve our country by providing music for the inauguration of our next president.” It is not the first president they ‘sing into office’, and probably not the last one either. Viewing the change of US president from across the ocean, we from the International Church are puzzled by many aspects. First, of course, the choice of Trump as president, but that is now definitely water under the bridge. Also, to our mild surprise, he was elected by our fellow Mormons in Utah and other areas of the Mormon Corridor, a vote he would never have gotten with the saints in the International Church, not with his track record of racist, sexist, and misogynous remarks, and surely not with his isolationist stand. Once again we…

Listen to the stories of those who hurt because of the ghost of eternal polygamy

a review of Carol Lynn Pearson’s The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men I don’t think about polygamy much. I have no interest in participating in it (in this life or another). It doesn’t come up much in my conversations, except as I discuss my polygamous ancestors from the early Church or the lives of Brother Joseph or Brother Brigham and their contemporaries. I am one of those for whom, as Carol Lynn Pearson writes, “it is not to be taken very seriously.” But Pearson argues that there are others, “a great many, I think,” for whom “it is a blight, rather like the crickets that destroy a crop.” To that I say, but wait, didn’t we — and by we I mean the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — give up polygamy more than a century ago? Well, yes and no. Members of the Church who enter into polygamous…

Therefore not sealed, but with open eyes

The feelings we associate with spiritual experiences are detectable by brain scans, and spiritual feelings can be generated by stimulating particular parts of our brains. That is not surprising. Without something happening in our brain, we would have no feelings and no experiences of any kind, spiritual or mundane. It’s not just that spiritual experiences are associated with particular emotions, but that everything we think and feel is a neurological event of some kind.

Mormonism in the (Post)Modern World

The Wheatley Institution hosted a conference at BYU last month, “Reason for Hope: Responding to a Secular World.” Video of the presentations may be posted at the Wheatley website at some point, but for now we have the Deseret News article summarizing the event, headlined as “Mormons with doubts shouldn’t give up the faith without ‘intellectual and spiritual kicking and screaming.’” I think the Deseret News headline does a better job describing the conference than the official title.

Cell phone theology

Media change is not bad. Each new medium has enabled us to do new and important things in the sphere of belief. Writing made it possible to extend the prophet’s voice beyond mortality and to establish a canon of scripture. Television made it possible to participate in a worldwide faith community. The Internet democratized religious discussion like nothing else before it. Technology extends our abilities to write, read, think and believe. But our cell phones are impoverishing us.

Sunday School 2.0 (sort of)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…