Month: April 2004

A Contract Theodicy

A theodicy is a justification of the ways of God to man. Most frequently, the term is used in discussions of the problem of evil. Succinctly stated this problem goes like this: 1. God is all powerful 2. God is Good 3. Evil things happen 4. God can and should prevent these evil things (from 1 & 2) I don’t want to get into all of the intricacies of this debate. Generally speaking, Mormons “solve” the problem by in effect denying (1), claiming that there are metaphysical as opposed to merely logical limitations on God’s power. It strikes me, however, that there is another possible Mormon theodicy: An argument from consent.

The Malaysian Model

So now it’s not just the limited geography and the hemispheric models anymore, now there is the Malaysian model. (Link via Dave). The Malaysia idea is certainly novel, and presented as well as I think it possibly could be. The author, Ralph A. Olsen, notes that it avoids a large number of standard Book-of-Mormon location problems, like use of Egyptian, and presence of animals and crops. (For example, he writes that “Wheat, barley, and other cereal grains have long been cultivated in Southeast Asia. There is no evidence of their cultivation in Mesoamerica.”) I’m not convinced.

It’s Official: U. Goes Mormon

The Board of Regents of the University of Utah have selected Mormon law professor and dean Michael Young as the new President of the University. The Deseret News has a story here. (Link thanks to Jared Jensen.) The story says: He said he is a “committed, active member of the LDS Church” and doesn’t see that as a conflict in his new role. “It’s an important part of who I am and why I do what I do,” he said. “At the same time I have spent my entire academic career outside of Utah. It has never been a problem.” Jardine [a member of the Board of Regents] said Young’s religion was not brought up as an issue as the regents discussed the candidates. The Salt Lake Tribune has a story here, which also touches on the Mormon angle: Young said his Utah roots and his faith are a part of who he is. “I am a committed, active member of the LDS Church. At the same [time], I have spent my entire life outside of Utah and that has never been a problem.” The U.’s previous two permanent presidents were not LDS; the first 11 were. Rob Allen, a…

The Value of Liberal Education

Between Julie’s post and this week’s challenge of composing the syllabus for the Introduction to Philosophy course I am teaching this fall, I am haunted by the question: Is knowledge good in itself? I have set myself up to be an educator, but many of the criticisms of public education we delivered in response to Julie’s post seem disturbingly relevant to most college education as well; do you agree? And even if knowledge is good in itself, how far should knowledge for its own sake be the goal of a philosophy course required of every student at a given University? (That would be Notre Dame) In your experience, do college students in general hunger to learn? if so, when and how? if not, how do we explain those few freaks who do crave knowledge?

Yet Another SSM Post

Somehow I ended up on the official Church website for UK and Ireland and found this on the top of the page: “The Gender Recognition Bill, which is currently being considered in the House of Commons will allow a man to become a woman in law (and vice versa). This means transsexuals will be able to marry in their assumed sex. The legislation also makes it a criminal offence to disclose the birth sex of a transsexual. We stress that this Bill poses a real threat to religious freedom and we oppose it because we believe it runs counter to the will of God. Please make your opposition known by writing to your local MP as soon as possible. “

On the Shelf

I’ve been thinking for several days about something that Armand Mauss said in the first “12 Questions” post. Speaking of greying intellectuals (which I assume includes me) and their early choices, he said: “Some of them (maybe half – who knows?) opted to put their Church loyalties, careers, and/or public images ahead of their intellectual yearnings and independence, feeling that the latter could not justify the disruption and jeopardy to their largely conservative spouses and families, to their aspirations for respectability in the Church, or to their career plans. Others (maybe another approximate half) decided that they could not simply put their doubts or their intellectual quandaries on the shelf, or compartmentalize their religious and intellectual lives.” He is speaking in broad terms here, perhaps in terms of types, so it is probably a mistake to personalize the remark and ask where I fit.

That awful smallpox story

One of the more disturbing images from General Conference was in Elder Packer’s use of a story (a version of which I’ve heard before elsewhere) about chicken pox and smallpox. Elder Packer stated: “When I was in the seventh grade, in a health class, the teacher read an article. A mother learned that the neighbor children had chicken pox. She faced the probability that her children would have it as well, perhaps one at a time. She determined to get it all over with at once. So she sent her children to the neighbor’s to play with their children to let them be exposed, and then she would be done with it. Imagine her horror when the doctor finally came and announced that it was not chicken pox the children had; it was smallpox. The best thing to do then and what we must do now is to avoid places where there is danger of physical or spiritual contagion.”

The Church as a Corporation: Part III

Here are a few more odds and ends about the Church as a corporation that I was able to find out. First, I wanted to correct two mistakes in my earlier posts. I recently found out that after Joseph Smith was murdered, it was not Brigham Young and the Twelve who succeeded to the office of trustee-in-trust. Rather, Bishop Newel K. Whitney was appointed, which means that he was the legal agent in charge of Church property during the City of Joseph period. Second, upon rereading the corporate charter granted to the Church by the State of Deseret, I noticed that it did contain a rather watered down mortmain provision, which stated that the Church could receive donations of real and personal property “for the benefit, improvement, erection of houses for public worship, and instruction, and the well being of said church.” Obviously, “well being of said church” provided a much larger grant of power than that available under the previous Illinois statute. What about the Church today?

Elite Religion and Common Religion

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the topic of elite religion versus popular religion. In particular, it seems that the development of FARMS and other intellectual centers of Mormon studies has resulted in a division of sorts. On the one hand, Mormon studies scholars believe in a world where the Nephites lived in a tiny section of Central America, where the Hill Cumorah is somewhere in Guatemala, where the flood was a localized event, and where Joseph Smith was polygamous and polyandrous. On the other hand, most church members believe in a world where the Lehites covered the Americas, the Hill Cumorah is in New York, the flood was worldwide, and Joseph’s polygamy is never mentioned. Common church members believe the prophet is never wrong; elites believe the prophet may have opinions that are incorrect (such as men on the moon). Common members believe that women have never held any type of priesthood; elites point out early church instances of women wielding priesthood or quasi-priesthood authority. And so forth. Bridging this chasm are church leaders, who sometimes seem to favor one worldview, and sometimes another. It seems the more that FARMS scholars research and write, the more that apologists respond to…

The Voice of the Bloggernacle

Think for a moment about who you are — specifically, your relationships with your co-workers, your friends, and your family. Are you kind? Are you patient? When topics are brought up in conversations in Church or elsewhere, and you disagree, do you get angry? Are you condescending or sanctimonious? My guess is that you’re probably like most mormons — respectful of differing viewpoints, kind and patient to family and friends, and gracious to strangers and guests as they pop into your life. Now think about who you are in the Bloggernacle.

Will the U. Go Mormon?

The University of Utah is currently in the midst of a search for a new president. They have narrowed it down to two potential candiates and one of them is . . . Michael Young. Young is a graduate of Harvard Law School, a former law professor at Columbia, and current dean at George Washington University Law School. He is also a BYU graduate, an active Mormon and a former stake president. Since BYU now has a former Ute as its president, will the U. return the favor by hiring a former cougar? Would both presidents be allowed to root for their alma maters at Utah’s annual football jihad . . . er . . . grudge match. What is happening to the Beehive state?!?

LDS Education Theory

Because I plan on homeschooling my children through high school, I have spent a lot of time thinking about educational theory (I also have a teaching certificate and I taught briefly in public schools in California.). Is there such a thing as an LDS-based educational theory? Could there be? What would it look like? Do we need one?

12 Questions for Armand Mauss, part two

As promised, here’s the second half our our “interview.” [For part one, click here.] Thank you, Brother Mauss, for your willingness to lend your unique voice to the bloggernacle, and thanks to all our readers who submitted questions. (Again, the questions are in bold and his responses follow in plain text.) 7. In April conference, Elder Hafen discussed the “misconception” that the Church is “moving toward an understanding of the relationship between grace and works that draws on Protestant teachings.” Any reaction? This is truly an interesting development. The “misconception” Elder Hafen is referring to might not be exactly what it seems.

Our Terrible and Tender God

Prepping a guest lecture for seminary a few weeks ago I was struck with the alignment between Adam’s and Eve’s shrinking from the presence of God after they ate the forbidden fruit, and the shrinking of the wicked from the presence of God at judgment (e.g. 2 Nephi 9). Adam and Eve feel naked, and hide. God calls them forth and rebukes them, confirming that they have something to be ashamed of. They are now to be cast out of his presence entirely. Yet then, after pronouncing curses, he makes clothing for them, as if to say, “Since you’re going out into the world, we’d better at least get you some real clothes!” (Is this Mother acting under the divine plural here?) He confirms they should be ashamed, and yet he specifically intervenes to mitigate their shame, even to bless it after a fashion. Now that he is terrible to them, he goes out of his way to be tender.

12 Questions for Armand Mauss, part one

We are pleased to present our first installment of “12 Questions,” with sociologist and Mormon Studies scholar extraordinaire Armand Mauss (here is a mini-bio). Thanks to everyone who sent in questions. As you will see, they generated a wide-ranging and thoughtful set of responses. Questions appear below in bold, and Brother Mauss’s responses follow in plain text. [Click here for part two.] 1. You have spent your academic career largely outside of church-affiliated schools. As a Mormon studies scholar, what are the advantages and disadvantages taking this route from your perspective? How does it inform and/or impede your work in Mormon studies?

Theo-democracy and the Redemption of Politics

I am finding it difficult to get very excited about politics this election year. Given that we are faced with momentus issues of war and peace this is a bit odd. This seems like a time when politics really matters. Part of the problem is that I am considerably less than enthusiastic about either candidate. However, I find that I am increasingly less interested and passionate about politics. In college I played at being a political activist. I worked on campaigns, did voter registration drives, etc. (In retrospect I admit that my political involvement was largely about meeting girls.) After college, I worked in Washington, D.C. because I wanted to be in politics. (And it happened to be where my wife was going to graduate school.) Hence, I am not an inherently apolitical guy. My current political funk leads me — of course — to theo-democracy.

Thanks, Richard and Welcome, Ben!

Alas, today we bid farewell to guest blogger Richard Bushman, whose first entry broke records for the rate of immediate commenting (I’m guessing–not even Kaimi is nerdy enough to keep those statistics!), and whose last flurry of posts should keep us in interesting topics for a month or two! Thank you very much, Richard, for asking such good questions and helping us think about interesting things in new ways. Fortunately, we will not lack for good new discussions–Steve Evans continues his stint for another week, and today we welcome another guest, Ben Huff. Ben’s animal magnetism has been discussed here, but he’s not just another pretty face! He’s currently finishing up a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Notre Dame, writing his dissertation in Ethics, focusing on the relationship between virtue and happiness. He earned his undergraduate degree from BYU, in philosophy and math, after serving a mission in the Japan Tokyo South mission. Prior to his mission, he spent a year at MIT, in the aeronautical/astronautical engineering program.* He still dreams about building spaceships. He also enjoys cooking, mountain biking, singing, and playing ultimate frisbee. *(I was in Boston at the time, as well, and we sang in the ward choir…

Aaron Brown’s Catholic Experience

Apparently, longtime T & S commenter and BCC contributor Aaron Brown has been doing something most members would never imagine — he’s been officiating (along with some LDS missionaries) at a Catholic Mass! He writes about this experience in his latest BCC post. An excerpt: About a year ago, Father Hans approached me with an unusual request. Convinced that LDS missionaries are ‘angels,’ and that they obviously love and follow Christ more than anyone in his congregation could ever hope to, Hans wanted to organize a Catholic-Mormon ‘hybrid’ Mass. He proposed that my four full-time missionaries and I (the Ward Mission Leader) play an active role in his services. He would conduct as usual, waving the incense, reciting the liturgy and preaching a short sermon (complete with occasional Book of Mormon or D&C quotations – without attribution). We would stand on the stage with him as representatives of Christ, read excerpts from the Bible at key junctures and offer the closing prayer. Since I’ve never quite had the chance to lead a Mass myself (perhaps my rusty Latin has something to do with it?), I found Aaron’s account very informative and thought-provoking — and I suggest is that T &…

Sister Benson

I’m reading President Benson’s biography. You probably already know that he grew up, the oldest of eleven children, on a sugar beet farm in Idaho. At one point, when his mother was expecting her eighth child, his father was called on a mission.

Higher Powers

This morning as we were leaving for church, I ran over my daughter’s scooter, which she had left behind the mini-van. It was firmly wedged under the rear axle, with the handle bars turned to make removing it impossible. While we were puzzling over what to do, and trying to remember how to work the jack, Louisa (age 5) piped up, “I know what to do!” We immediately thought it was going to be one of those testimony meeting moments, where a child in sweet innocence asks for the immediate and practical help of angels. Our sappiness was quickly dispelled when she said excitedly, “Let’s call the Car Talk guys!” (This one’s for you, Nate; I know how you love NPR!)

Book of Mormon

What do you think is the most gorgeous and inspiring thing about the Book of Mormon? Be specific; don’t just say it testifies of Christ. I am searching for ways of putting across the power of the book to non-Mormon readers.

Chicken Marsala

I hear conflicting statements about the propriety of using alcohol in cooking. For example, chicken marsala, which is one of our family’s favorite dishes. Some members say that alcohol evaporates during the cooking. I am sure that at least some of the alcohol evaporates during cooking. At the same time, I am doubtful that it all evaporates. I also hear that some de minimus amount is probably allowable, since homemade bread contains trace amounts of alcohol (from the yeast fermentation) and that’s a Mormon staple. Again, I’m not sure of the veracity of this tale. Does anyone know of an official statement about this? Alternatively, does anyone have information to support or discredit the Mormon myths about cooking with alcohol? What think ye?


How would you map Joseph’s thought. If you had to reduce his thought to four or five major areas, what would they be. The ones I am using are: a. The simple gospel of faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, and endurance. b. Zion, gathering, the millennium. c. Priesthood, ordinances, endowment of power, temple, rituals. d. Family bonds: baptism for the dead, priesthood marriage, sealings. e. Stories of eternity: the accounts of God’s history and nature, the nature of individual free intelligences, the purpose of life, the hereafter and human destiny.


Are we prepared to accept contradiction, plurality, and even ambiguity as an integral part of our theology? Is the aim absolute precision and consistency, or is built-in ambiguity a requirement of a theology that comprehends reality?

The Grand Alliance

Do you think it is proper to say that God is recruiting us for the great cause–joining Him in the work of eternal life? Rather than simply being saved from our sins, we are being mobilized? Does this mean, in turn, that God benefits from our worshiping Him, that bringing to pass eternal life for His children adds to His glory? Is priesthood (including women) another name for the grand alliance of those who have joined God in His great work?


I have a line in my book about Joseph Smith being the Copernican theologian par excellence. Does that stimulate any thought? Does Joseph Smith’s theology exploit the possibilities opened up by an infinitely expanding universe?