Author: Dan Burk

Happy Trails

So long folks. While some of the conversation here has been interesting, the inability of at least one of the site’s bloggers to adhere to the standards of civility purportedly required for comments tells me it’s time to spend my time on matters more productive. ‘Bye.

The Company We Keep

Sometime back, BYU Magazine ran a feature on BYU’s International Cinema which included mention of the difficulty of finding high-quality foreign films that would meet the requirements of the BYU code of standards. The director of the program was quoted as observing — with no apparent hint of irony — that films from Iran had proven to be a good choice for the theater, not only because of their high artistic quality, but because the censorship imposed upon them by the revolutionary Islamic regime in Iran made Iranian films just perfect for BYU standards. Now, were I to discover at some point that my personal values closely paralleled those of a repressive fundamentalist regime, I hope I might be inclined to launch a deliberate re-evaluation of myself. Nonetheless, the discovery of not only strange, but positively repulsive, bedfellows seems to have less power to prompt institutional introspection.

Again, Tonsorial Jihad

The latest dispatch from the LDS beard wars comes from Marietta, Georgia, where a visiting area authority, speaking at my brother-in-law’s stake conference, declared that no man in the Church should have a beard. The speaker reasoned as follows: since every member is a missionary, and because missionaries are required to be clean-shaven, every man in the Church should be clean-shaven. Despite the questionable premises of this syllogism, not to mention at least one category mistake, my brother in law decided to inquire of the Lord about the conclusion, and felt prompted to follow the instruction and shave his beard. Our family has long felt that my brother-in-law looked quite awful wearing a beard, and so considers the area authority’s instruction to have been inspired. At a minimum, we conclude that the Lord shares our sense of aesthetic judgment.

Giving Up

Some months ago my wife and I were treated during ward conference to a lesson taught by a member of the stake presidency (and not the one you’re thinking of, either). We always learn a great deal from this counselor, although, because he generally fails to think through the implications of his presentations, what we learn is typically not what he intended. On this particular occasion he shared with us an incident from the summer of his 16th year, directed to the topic of perserverence. Addressing himself most especially to the youth of the ward, he described how he had decided, over the objections of his parents, to join an outfit selling encyclopedias door to door in a remote area of the country. After weeks of fruitless effort, having sold only one encyclopedia subscription, he considered whether his parents had perhaps been right and he should perhaps give up and return home. But he determined, as he put it “not…

Constitutional Turnabout

According to reports this week, the leadership of the United States Senate is currently considering whether to bring to a vote a proposed constitutional amendment to define the nature of marriage. There is widespread agreement that the proposal lacks the necessary votes to pass, suggesting that the vote is primarily intended to make a political issue of the proposed amendment’s subject matter during an election year. Still, many constituencies remain highly exercised over what they perceive to be the necessity of such an amendment to resolve the matter of single-sex marriage. Curiously, these constituencies seem largely to be the same as those that vehemently opposed the passage of a different constitutional amendment — the Equal Rights Amendment — some thirty years ago. At the time, opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment claimed that use of the constitutional amendment process to address the purposes of the proposed amendment was both unnecessary and unwise

Civil Disobedience

I received rather a shock some few days ago, reading through the Ensign report of the April 2003 General Conference Priesthood Session, which I had been unable to attend in person. In the course of a talk on worthiness, addressed primarily to young men preparing for missionary service, Bishop David Burton casually drops the following bomb into the midst of a homey sports metaphor: “Our participation in life’s important events may be jeopardized if we fail to follow the rules contained in our Father in Heaven’s commands. Involvement in sexual sin, illegal drugs, civil disobedience, or abuse could keep us on the sidelines at key times.” (“And That’s The Way It Is,” Ensign, May 2003)(emphasis added). Could he possibly truly mean what he seems to have said? That sitting at the wrong lunch counter is comparable to sexual misconduct and drug abuse? That political protest disqualifies one for missionary service? That adherence to gospel standards means Rosa Parks cannot demand…

Three Statements on War

My previous post on LDS Ethics and torture generated not only a good deal of discussion on the particular topic, but on the related question of military service and just war. Since there appears to be quite a lot of pent-up interest in this topic, I am going to give it its own thread. To get the ball rolling, I provide three statements by Presidents of the Church during the latter Twentieth and early Twenty-First Century:

Hanging by a Thread

This past week, the Washington Post released the full text of a fifty-page Department of Justice memorandum, prepared for the White House at the request of the Central Intelligence Agency, discussing the legal justification of torture. Academic commentators analyzing this memo have characterized it as “a legalistic, logic-chopping brief for the torturer.” The memo attempts to set out possible legal justifications and defenses that might be asserted by the government after they have physically and psychologically abused detainees (and, presumably, been found out). The legal theories presented might be charitably described as dubious, including a fairly implausible theory that Congress cannot restrict the activities of the executive branch in wartime. The analysis of this memo was picked up in a subsequent Department of Defense memorandum on the justification for torture, which in turn appears to have set the stage for the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib, and for the matters complained about by the International Committee of the Red Cross,…

Oops — I forgot

The judicial nomination of Thomas Griffith, General Counsel of Brigham Young University and Bush appointee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals seems to have hit a slight snag — as reported by this morning’s Washington Post, Griffith appears to have been acting as the University’s chief legal officer without the little detail of a license to practice law. Apparently Griffith’s admission to the District of Columbia bar lapsed for failure to pay his dues, and he never quite got around to sitting for the Utah bar. Highly embarassing, but perhaps not fatal to the nomination if no one’s out for blood during the confirmation process.

Tonsorial Jihad

Recent anecdotal evidence suggests that someone in the bowels of Church headquarters has launched yet another installment in the periodic holy war against masculine facial hair. A new member of our stake presidency was instructed by a visiting Area Authority Seventy to shave his beard. He was told by the Seventy that there was no scriptural or doctrinal basis for this instruction, but that it is currently an “unwritten policy.” At about the same time, several acquaintances of mine who volunteered to serve as veil workers at, respectively, the Oakland and Saint Paul temples were informed that they could do so only by becoming clean-shaven. While no one has yet quite dared denude the temple representations of the Father and the Son of facial hair, given that Moroni seems to have lost his beard in Church art representations over the past hundred years, perhaps it is only a matter of time. Coming from a profession where beards are relatively common,…

Blogging in a Different Voice

In my last post I raised several questions about the nature of participation in blogs and other computer mediated communication (CMC) fora, based upon research detailing the life-cycles of such fora. An additional, related line of research that seems to me important for the future of a blog such as Times and Seasons is a substantial body of work exploring the gendered nature of CMCs. This research arose out of observations that suggested a surprising scarcity of female participation in openly accessible CMC fora. Subsequent empirical and ethnographic studies by Susan Herring and others suggest that men and women have different discursive styles that are accommodated quite differently by CMC technologies. Analysis of messages posted by males in CMC fora find a masculine discursive style that tends to be aggressive, confrontational, and argumentative, placing a high emphasis on rationality and logical consistency. Posts by women on the other hand, are apt to be more conciliatory, emotive, and empathetic, placing a…

The Market for Bloggers

Those of us who have been using the Internet for awhile have watched the waxing and waning popularity of a variety of discussion media – beginning with USENET newsgroups, then listservs and chatrooms, various types of conferencing interfaces, IRC channels, and now weblogs. A few of us even remember FIDONET and dial-up computer BBS fora prior to the general accessibility of the Internet. Blogs seem to be the latest in a long line of electronic discussion formats. Researchers who study the social structure of computer-mediated communication (CMC) have noted that CMC discussions appear to evolve through one of a discrete set of predictable life-cycle progressions. Most start with a period of initial growth and enthusiasm, where participants join the forum and post actively. A very few discussions achieve an equilibrium of arrivals and departures that sustains them in a steady state over a long period. More often, they fall into decline; some slowly collapse in on themselves, like a white…

Paying the Lord’s nth

We were treated this past week to a priesthood lesson on the law of tithing, which we were told is a simple rule that can be lived perfectly. We owe this particular trope, I believe, to President Spencer W. Kimball, who suggested that on the road to perfection, we master the commandments one at a time. He recommended beginning with tithing, because it’s easy to count to ten. At ten percent we are “perfect” in obeying the law of tithing, and we can then move on to perfect ourselves in incremental obedience to the next commandment. This formulation of tithing treats it as a clear and bright-line command. In legal scholarship, such bright-line commands are called “rules” — for example, “Drive at 55 miles per hour.” In contrast to rules, legal scholars have also recognized in law a different kind of imperative called a “standard” – for example, “Drive at a reasonable speed.” Unlike clear, hard-edged rules, standards are fuzzy…