Author: Clark Goble

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.

The Open and Closed Texts of Theology

Foucault's Pendulum

One of my all time favor books is Foucalt’s Pendulum by the great Italian author Umberto Eco. It’s a fantastic book about the problems of interpretation all wrapped up in a conspiracy theory. Despite having several famous books Eco’s greatest works are actually as a philosopher and semiotician. A constant theme of both his fiction and scholarly works are the limits of interpretation. He often explains this in terms of the “open text” and “closed text.” The closed text is a text (or any collection of signs like paintings or clothing) that has a very limited number of valid interpretations. The open text by contrast seems to have unlimited interpretations. Within his books his characters often face ambiguous texts out of which they attempt to gain understanding and meaning. The question always remains though: are all interpretations equally valid? Back in 1990 he gave the O. C. Tanner Lectures on this very topic.[1] It was reprinted in the book Interpretation and Overinterpretation.  His goal…

Why the Nones are Rising

One of the most interesting demographic shifts of the last era is the rise of the Nones. These are people who don’t self-identify with any particular religion at all. I’ve written about them several times in the past. My own view is that the rise of the Nones has primarily been a shift among people with loose commitment to religion. In the past they’d have named a religious tradition they were a part of. Now they say “none.” To my eyes the primary shift has been less a shift in their behavior than a shift in how they name themselves. But of course that’s not the whole story. While that’s probably what’s going on it doesn’t explain everything. Demographically the primary part of the population driving the rise of the Nones has been millennials. Fully 36% self-identify as part of the Nones. Older groups, like my Gen-X generation, have become slightly less religious but the primary driver of the social shift are…

Sacrament Prayers: A Close Reading

A while ago my dad had pointed out some features of the sacrament that somehow I’d missed in all the years I’d been partaking. A few of these were examples of something that’s right before you the whole time yet somehow you still miss. I thought I’d share them with you. We get our sacrament rite largely from the Nephites rather than the Palestinian Christians. Many have argued that the evolution of the sacrament amongst the Nephites takes the form it does going back to King Benjamin’s famous speech. (See for example John Welch’s argument in King Benjamin’s Speech: That Ye May Learn Wisdom where he argues for a close connection to Mosiah 5) The Palestinian version of the sacrament is most likely that found in the Didiche, an early 1st century document that deals with rituals and other such matters. It differs a fair amount although there are points of similarity. Given how the near eastern form of Judaism…

Eschatology or How it’s Always the End of Days

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Eschatology is the study of the end times. It’s hard to read much of the New Testament, Book of Mormon or even Doctrine and Covenants without noticing how much is focused on the end of the world. As some have recently noted a common refrain in the Church since it’s early days is how the end times are always nigh. In the 19th century many Mormons thought the Jesus would come before the 20th century. When I was a kid, we were constantly told we were a generation prepared for the last days. Most people thought a conflict between the USSR and America was inevitable. While all the apocalyptic movies from the 80’s now seem quaint (despite a resurgent Mad Max last year) it really was a time when people fully expected the end of the world. Is this pessimism though? I’m not sure it is. 

Musement and Alma 30

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One of the more controversial arguments in the Book of Mormon is found within Alma’s response to Korihor in Alma 30. Korihor asks Alma to “show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea show unto me that he hath power….” (43) Alma responds that “all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” (44) Most people cast this debate as between the humanist skeptic of religion and the believer. Alma’s response is thus seen as a variation on Paley’s argument from design for the existence of God. Paley argued that if we found a watch on the ground we’d assume an engineer had designed it. In the same way creation makes us assume a creator. Now the argument…

How is the Church True?

I regularly see people complain about common LDS phrases such as “I know the Church is True” or “I know the Book of Mormon is True.” People often think these sentences are meaningless. Now I’ll be the first to admit that the way we speak in this context is alien to our fellow Christians. Pedagogically it’s perhaps not the best terminology to use in trying to help people gain a testimony. I do think the sentences are completely sensical though and that most people have a reasonable grasp on what they mean. Usually if you ask someone who’s used the sentence, they’ll rephrase it as “this is really God’s Church on earth.” Part of the problem is that culturally we’ve largely adopted a way of speaking that comes out of philosophy. This largely starts with Aristotle. Truth is a property of propositions (the meaning of sentences) and not entities like churches, books or the like. Remnants of earlier ways of…

What Was the Nephite Law of Moses?

Most scholars assume that the type of Judaism Jesus encountered had its main development during and after the Babylonian exile. When we read the Old Testament, especially the books of Moses, it appears as if they were written as a single text. However there are compelling reasons to believe they were composed out of multiple texts and traditions by groups with competing religious views. The Book of Mormon itself suggests problems with the editing and redacting of these texts. Speaking of the Bible held by the gentiles, Nephi is told it “containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many.” (1 Ne 13:23) So at a minimum the brass plates held many writings not in the Bible, such as Zenos quoted by Jacob. Obviously many texts like Ezekiel weren’t written until after Lehi had left Jerusalem.

DesNews Expanding Beyond Mormons

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It’s no secret that in the ever increasingly unstable newspaper market that the Deseret New has been trying to increase it’s market beyond both Utah and even the Mormon audience. It’s always been a bit odd being a metro paper in competition with the Salt Lake Tribune in a tiny market but also publishing the Church News. I remember as a kid my parents having a subscription to the Church News in way off Halifax, Nova Scotia. With the loss of classified dollars and the shift to the internet with low ad rates, all newspapers have been struggling. In a small market with two competing papers (plus the Provo Herald and Ogden Standard Examiner) it’s hard to stay in business.

Some Thoughts on Trends in Apologetics

First let me say upfront that I simply don’t read that many apologetic papers anymore. That’s less about any problems with the genre so much as just a lack of time. I have to be a little pickier about what I read than I used to. One day when little kids aren’t waking up all hours of the night that may change. Second let me say I’m not really interested in doing apologetics in the below. I’ll do my best to refrain from answering tangents that head in that direction. Rather, what I’m more interested in is the theoretic scaffolding behind different eras and trends in Mormon apologetics. I’ve been thinking about this a lot primarily in reaction to some of Dave’s post and Brad L’s comments to it last week. Brad in particular justifiably called me out on staking out a stronger position than I could defend. That said, I’m not sure I agree with taxonomy of apologetics many…

God’s Condescension

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I’ve been enjoying James’ recent close readings of the Book of Mormon. His last post on 1 Nephi 11 got me really thinking about what the condescension of God is. Around the same time I read Ralph Hancock’s recent essay at First Things about common ground between Mormons and traditional Christians. The big divide between Mormons is usually taken to be our theology of the relationship between God and humans. “As man now is, God once was; As God now is, man may be,” to quote Lorenzo Snow’s famous couplet. Within that couplet we find some huge divides with traditional Christianity. First we absolutely reject Augustine’s notion of creation ex nihilo. That absolute gap between God and humans disappears. That isn’t to say we necessarily have no gap. Most Mormon theology tends towards a flat ontology so there’s no ontologic difference between God and humans. Yet many such as Blake Ostler do put God in a special place we can never reach.…

Hell Part 1: Close Readings of the Book of Mormon

I love doing close readings of scripture. The normal way to do this is reading linearly through the entire book of scripture. An other great way is to study by topic. Each helps you see things you might miss using only the other method. While I’m glad our gospel doctrine has encouraged reading all scripture, part of me kind of wishes there was something akin to the Gospel Principles class. Just with broader topics and focused on reading our key texts rather than simple answers. My goal here is to do that sort of thing with a particular focus on the Book of Mormon. It’ll take time and may follow a somewhat circuitous route. With luck I’ll make a post each week in this series. I’ll be mixing the two methods I mentioned slightly as I’ll typically pick a few texts related to the topic and then do a close reading of them. I was kind of encouraged by a recent…

Wanting Authenticity and Getting It

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Many of you may have seen the J. Golden Kimball stage show from a number of years ago. He was the infamous swearing general authority. I must admit I first heard it on my mission when a companion had some tapes of the show. We were in the southern states where J. Golden had served as a mission president during its more dangerous era. It was a very different portrait of general authorities than I was used to. One of the best known stories was his going off and telling wards they were going to hell. He was sometimes told he had to go back and apologize. According to the stage show he’d blame this on phone calls. “It’s that damn contraption the telephone that gets me in trouble. Before it was invented I could go out and say anything and come back and deny it. Now they call Heber and before I get back he’s waiting for me at…

What if Belief isn’t Volitional?

Imagine you walk outside under a beautiful blue sky, the sun warm on your skin. Now someone comes up to you and tells you that you must believe the sky is orange and the air cold. Can you do it? If not, does that mean your beliefs are freely chosen? Can you choose to believe?

Huntsman Buys Salt Lake Tribune

As rumored for a while the Huntsman family has bought the Salt Lake Tribune. Both the Tribune as well as the Deseret News have been struggling for quite a while. The drying up of classified ads has hurt newspapers across the country the last 15 years. For a relatively small market like Utah to have two major papers really has been difficult economically. However unification has always been controversial due to the relationship of both papers to the whole Mormon question. Historically the Salt Lake Tribune arose to be a critical voice against Mormons. It was part of the Godbeite movement in the late 19th century. Godbe wanted religious and political reform in Utah. The fact that the other main paper, the Deseret News, was controlled by the LDS Church allowed for both perspectives to be voiced.

Converts per Missionary

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A few years ago in October 2012 the Church dropped the age for missionaries from 19 to 18 for men and 21 to 19 for women. There are various speculations of why the Church did this although I don’t think anyone knows for sure. (A popular explanation is that it cuts down on young men leaving the church when they go to college for their Freshman year) Regardless of why the Brethren did this, at the time I was concerned that it would lead to less effective missionaries. We now have a few years worth of data so we can examine the effect, In my view the most recent Church data in particular tells a story of a drop in missionary effectiveness.

Modern Gadiantons?

One last post, before my non-philosophical blogging stint is done. One thing I’ve thought of with recent events in the middle east was the parallels to the Book of Mormon. I know that’s not exactly an original point to make, but I think the Book of Mormon has a lot of parallels both regarding our enemies as well as how we act towards our enemies. Dan Peterson has long written about the strong parallels between the Gadianton movement and various guerilla movements and insurgencies. I’ve listened to him describe extensive parallels, for instance, between Mao’s insurgency in China and events in the Book of Mormon.

Reading Poetry Aloud

Now that I finally have a child, one of my enjoyable activities with him is to read to him before bed. The one problem I face is not in selecting poetry I want to read, but learning how to read it properly aloud. I’ve scanned Google for some suggestions. They all tell me what I already know. Don’t put too much emotion in it (over acting). Don’t pause at the line breaks – it makes it choppy. Basically they tell me not to do the thing I can’t seem to keep from doing!

The Importance of Thanksgiving?

I confess, having grown up in Canada that I still have a hard time thinking of this week as Thanksgiving. To me it was back in October. (That’s Columbus Day for you Yanks) Since my parents lived way out in Nova Scotia I never went home for the US Thanksgiving either. So my memories of Thanksgiving consist either of going hiking or climbing, joining in a “joint-sorrow” dinner of singles trapped in Provo, or else driving up to Alberta to hang out with my brother, eat pizza and ice climb. Now that I’m married and with a bride who has family in the area, I’m still getting used to it all. Truth be told, I think I’d rather be out skiing. But that’s me.

Utah Mormon Socializing

I thought I’d put up a slightly different kind of post and get at a pet peeve of mine from back in the days when I was single. (i.e. only a year and a half ago) The big question is, outside of Church, where does a single Mormon go to socialize? The problem is, of course, that Church culture orients our socializing around Church activities. But if you are cursed to be in a ward where you “don’t enjoy the company” or they don’t have good activities, where do you go? Further, Church activities are primarily focused around a kind of extension of the youth programs that seem fine until you hit about 22 or 23 when they start seeming immature or boring.

Holocaust as Metaphor

I know it’s the weekend and blog activity drops way down on weekends. However I thought some might find this discussion interesting. I’ve been blogging about it on my website the past few days, but have primarily been focusing on abstract phenomenological and semiotic aspects of the problem. The basic issue gets back to the whole Sheri Dew Nazi reference. Over on LDS-Phil we had this (to me) extremely interesting discussion of why her comments were inappropriate. Quite a few people I really respect strongly suggested that to use the holocaust as a metaphor diminishes and denigrates the holocaust.

Science and Mormonism

My background within the Mormon “intellectual” community is primarily within the science community. Even now, most of my friends have ties to the science community and despite the “personae” I might convey as a philosopher-geek, I’m really much more of a physics-geek in my own mind. One thing that I’ve long wondered about was the relationship between science and Mormonism. I don’t just mean among active, or even inactive Mormons, but rather the effect Mormon culture has on engendering a scientific mindset.

Political Lessons of Mormon History

One nice thing about blogging here is that I can talk about topics I don’t get to on my blog – specifically politics. However what I find interesting is what Mormonism can bring to the political arena. One thing that has long been on my mind are the lessons of our past. The example of Mormon history was often discussed back in the days following Waco and the tragedy there. However what has been little discussed is how the problem of Mormonism and pluralism in places like Illinois, Ohio, or Missouri can help us learn how to deal with the problem of assimilation of Islamic people in many places – especially Europe.

Essential Net Resources

First thanks to everyone for actually allowing me to write on topics unrelated to my blog. Hopefully I can live up to some of the excellent guest bloggers from over the past year. (Damon Linker was among my favorites.) One thing I’ve noticed of late is that my favorite series on Times and Seasons has been neglected. I speak, of course, of the essential texts series that was so enjoyable in the early days of this blog. Beyond encouraging those who’ve not read through those lists to do so (and add their own comments) let me suggest another useful list: Essential Net Resources.