Author: Dane Laverty

Standing Firmly on Dubious Truths

800px-Grjotagja_caves_in_summer_2009_(2)

I recently watched The Crucible, a movie about the Salem witch trials. The core issue of the story is, how do you track down the criminal in an untraceable crime? The people of Salem believed that witchcraft could be performed by anyone, anywhere, with no outwardly visible evidence. Convinced of the reality of witchcraft, and unwilling to accept that nothing could be done about it, the Salemites’ solution to the issue was to allow “spectral evidence” — testimony based on dreams. A person who had dreams of his or her neighbor as a witch could prosecute the neighbor solely on the evidence of the dream. Of course spectral evidence requires two great leaps of faith: first, that dreams are reliable indicators of witchcraft, and second, that the people who claimed to have these dreams were being honest. The people of Salem recognized these risks, but ultimately had to ignore them. Regardless of whether or not spectral evidence was true, they…

Created Truth vs. Discovered Truth

File_Extermination_of_Evil_Sh?ki

Can truth be created? In the church, we tend to privilege truth that is discovered, and we dismiss creative doctrine-making attempts as the “philosophies of men”. Our common discourse places the identification of truth as solely within the purview of God’s authority, to be dispensed only through His designated prophet. In this paradigm, discovered truth is the only solid truth, and the only reliable mechanism for discovering truth is authorized revelation through priesthood channels. This worldview that privileges discovered truth is what anti-Mormons attack when they point out how Joseph Smith’s environment influenced his revelations, translations, and doctrinal innovations. Masonry, Ethan Smith, and kabbalah are threats to the “discovered truth is the only truth that matters” paradigm. The same is true of the observations that Joseph’s later doctrinal innovations came more often in observations and treatises than through explicit revelations. The attackers suppose that if they can demonstrate that Joseph’s work was influenced by his environment then he was not…

The First Freak-Out Question

522px-Alpinistes_Aiguille_du_Midi_03

My five-year-old daughter Alanna started kindergarten a few weeks ago. She’s loving it, and I love getting to talk with her about her day when I get home from work. She shares experiences, sings songs that she learned, shows me her artwork, and tells me about her friends. And she’s started asking questions. That’s great for me, because I can usually answer a five year old’s questions. So it was a big surprise to me last night when, while I was lying in bed getting ready to fall asleep, my wife mentioned, “Alanna asked me today, ‘Why don’t girls get the priesthood?’” Gender issues in the church are a tender spot for me. I strongly believe that the church’s current restrictions on women holding the priesthood or on gay marriage are analogous to the early church’s restrictions on blacks holding the priesthood or on interracial marriage — that both are cultural artifacts representing the prejudices of well-meaning individuals. There is…

Feminism and Religion

– – – I saw this photo on Reuters. What struck me most was the head scarf she is wearing. Here is a woman who, by joining the fight against the Taliban, is not rejecting her heritage. She is actively pursuing a new world, but not at the expense of her faith. The war in Afghanistan is often depicted as a war between the “backwards religious” and the “enlightened secular”, as though religious devotion cannot coexist with modern liberal democracy. This woman, by wearing the scarf that symbolizes her faith, defies that too-convenient dichotomy. She demonstrates that the definition of a religion is determined by the voices (and actions) of its members. She is reclaiming her heritage. She is choosing what it means to be Afghan, what it means to be Muslim; rather than being defined by the expectations of her people, she is defining the expectations the world will have of her people. And that’s awesome.

The Icarians

While browsing the Wikipedia entry on Nauvoo, I saw this: Nauvoo attracts large numbers of visitors for its historic importance and its religious significance to members of…groups such as the Icarians. I’d never heard of the Icarians before. So, continuing down the Wikipedia path, I found this: The Icarians were a French utopian movement, founded by Étienne Cabet, who led his followers to America where they established a group of egalitarian communes during the period from 1848 through 1898. followed by: After the failure of the Texas colony, the Icarians decided to head north to Nauvoo, Illinois, a city on the Mississippi River that had recently been vacated by the Mormons after having surpassed Chicago in population to become Illinois’ largest city in 1844.  Nauvoo became the first permanent Icarian Community in the early 1850s. In the census of 1850, 505 family names are listed in Icarian Nauvoo; by 1854, there were 405 members of the colony. Most of these…

Those Oh-So-Temporary Golden Ages

800px-Staudammkrone_Lünersee_2

I started teaching seminary three weeks ago. We’re off to a great start. I don’t have any goofballs in my class, so that helps. As I started preparing before the semester began, I tried to figure out how to present the Doctrine and Covenants in a way that could be compelling to high school students. The strongest memories I have of my own seminary years are the rides to and from the seminary building. I’m not sure whether the fact that I remember the transit more than the classes themselves says something about the quality of the instruction or just the nature of the teenage mind. Regardless, I hope to present the material in a way that it will stick with the students, so I’ve chosen to teach the book in reverse. We started with the martyrdom in Section 135, and then spent the last three weeks covering the Nauvoo period from 124 to 132. What hit me for the…

Instruction as Worship

300px-Lactarius_indigo_48568_edit

It’s no secret that we Mormons aren’t big on praise worship in our meetings. You won’t hear any “hallelujahs” or “amens” in our sacrament meetings. And that’s fine for us. I think that members of our church tend to believe that worship is best accomplished through living in accordance to God’s commandments — that obedience expresses reverence. And since “righteous living” is difficult to perform in a Sunday meeting (as opposed to, say, praise), we settle for the next best thing: instructing each other toward righteous living. Now the fact that we spend our church meetings in preaching rather than praising isn’t news, but I’ve just come to realize how pervasive instruction-as-worship is our church. In all the places traditionally associated with worship-through-praise, we instead tend to worship through instruction. This is obvious in our Sunday meetings, general conferences, and temples, but it’s also true of our less formal religious gatherings — in our home and visiting teaching, in our…

Antichrist to an Antichrist

800px-Nietzsche_Olde_06

I’m currently through the beginning of Nietzsche’s The Will to Power. I like what I’ve read, and I’ve identified a few possible Nietzschean approaches to Mormonism. Joseph and Neitzsche as two men whose respective philosophies are fundamentally similar. Latter-Day-Saintism as Nietzsche’s “Revaluation of All Values”. Joseph as a realization of Neitzsche’s ubermensch. Now I’m no educated philosopher, and I’m only basically familiar with Nietzsche’s work. That said, here we go. 1. Joseph and Neitzsche as two men whose respective philosophies are fundamentally similar. Nietzsche’s states that “it is in one particular interpretation, the Christian-moral one, that nihilism is rooted” (1.1), and that “the sense of truthfulness, developed highly by Christianity, is nauseated by the falseness and mendaciousness of all Christian interpretations of the world and of history” (1.2). Joseph expresses similar feelings in his youthful response to Christianity, saying, “[N]otwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths [Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist] expressed at the time of their…

The “V” Words

399px-Schwappender_Wein

This post is brought to you by the letter “V”. (Don’t worry, that’s grape juice in the picture. Really. I’m sure it is.) Vigor. Verdant. Vibrant. Vivacious. AliVe. These are the qualities I expect true religion to inculcate. Does it make me think more? Does it make me love more? Does it make me see more? Does it make me do more? Does it make me be more? “These things are fun and fun is good.” Does it make life awesomer, and does it make me awesomer? Or, as Parley P. Pratt so effectively stated: The gift of the Holy Spirit…quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty…

Labels

300px-2h_Namur_13

Alright people, here we go…on labels! (apollo, this one’s for you.) Labels of preference These are the labels anyone can just pick for themselves. “Awesome”, “feminist”, and “Abba fan” are all labels of preference. You just pick one, apply it to yourself, and no one can say you’re wrong! These labels aren’t owned by any organization, so they mean whatever you want them to mean. Labels of significance These are labels a person must earn, like “doctor”, “lawyer”, and “cosmetologist”. Labels of significance are “owned” by an organization, like the American Medical Association owns “doctor” (at least in America). In order to acquire a label of significance, a person has to meet the qualifications set by the body that owns that label. Labels of organization These labels are used internally within organizations, like “sergeant”, “project manager”, and “Relief Society President”. These labels don’t signify things a person has done, but rather point at the things that person will be doing.…

Scriptural Literacy

300px-Great_presidential_puzzle2

I’ve just been called as a seminary teacher. Today I was sustained during sacrament meeting. I’m really excited about it — I enjoy working with youth, I enjoy the scriptures, and I enjoy teaching. Heck, I’m even a morning person. The course of study is the Doctrine & Covenants. It has me thinking about how to help them understand the role that the scriptures play in the church. When I was twelve-or-so years old, I had a teacher who wanted us to understand the importance of the scriptures. He encouraged us to bring our scriptures to class each week, and even took roll on who brought theirs. However, I remember consciously asking myself, “What’s the point? We don’t learn from the scriptures at church. We learn from the lesson manual.” In other words, I hadn’t made the connection that the doctrines in the lesson manual were based on scriptural teachings. Like most Sunday school classes, the teacher would have us…

Wanted: Greener Grass

300px-Baker_Beach_2

People leave the church because…well, I don’t know. I’ve had a few acquaintances who’ve decided to be done with it, but I’ve never sat down and talked with them about why. If I were to guess, it’s because they discovered things they didn’t like about the church and decided to head out to where things are better. That’s why this article on gender stereotypes and science caught my eye—it’s easy to think that the cultural difficulties we try to navigate in the church are specific to the church. I wonder how many people leave the church thinking, “I’m done with these folks—I’m heading out there where [gays/women/intellectuals/artists] are treated with respect!” only to discover that our cultural biases within the church are largely just reflections of the cultural biases of the world at large. In the ‘80s, China performed an “Anti–Spiritual-Pollution Campaign”. The nation’s leaders were concerned that the world outside of China was having too much influence on the…

Excuses for Stopping

800px-Citrus_paradisi_(Grapefruit,_pink)_white_bg

The post is brought to you by my wife, Heather.  Please be nice to her :) ****** It was time for Dane and I to have a discussion — the, “our baby is approaching 15 months old, do we want to have another one?” discussion.  We currently have three wonderful, healthy children.  At one point in this discussion I told my husband that I would probably feel guilty for not having more.  He was surprised and asked why I should feel guilty.  So I told him and the answer surprised him even more.  Actually, this is why I am writing this.  He wanted me to share this experience. As a disclaimer, I was not raised to believe that women are baby machines.  In fact, I was taught that having a family and kids was a good thing, but the number of children was up to us.  My siblings and I all decided that if/when we had kids we would try…

The One True Hot Dog Stand

500px-Hot_dog.svg

I’m hungry. I need a hot dog. Nate’s Dawgs smells delicious, but they’re a little pricey. Joe’s Rolled Meats are cheap, but they taste like cigars. Trader Moe’s dogs are additive free, so I guess they’re healthier than the others. But the girl at the Delirama counter is a total babe. How can I possibly select the optimal hot dog stand?

God’s Game

300px-Bufo_americanus_PJC1

It seems to me that there are two contradictory sets of underlying assumptions about the plan of salvation. One is the “salvation as a game” perspective and the other is “salvation as a journey” perspective. The key difference between a game and a journey is that in a game the rewards are given by people, while in a journey the rewards are obtained from nature. For example, money, gifts, recognition, and grades are rewards given by people. In a game, someone has the authority to bestow the reward. In a job, your boss has the authority to grant your paycheck; in a sport, the referee has authority to bestow points; in school, your teacher has authority to assign grades; in court, the judge or jury have power to decide a victor. In a journey, however, the rewards are not given by an authority – rather they are obtained from nature. The mathematician seeking a more efficient algorithm, the inventor working…

Late-night Doctrinal Discussions

300px-Acinonyx_jubatus_-Southern_Namibia-8

I’m in the final semester of an MBA program at Oregon’s Willamette University. I took a job in California a couple months ago. That means I’ve got a killer commute to class. All that to say that my time for deep, theosophical discourse with my wife is limited to the occasional late-night discussion when we both really should be sleeping. Generally these discussions rehash the well-worn topics that have occupied our philosophical speculations over six years of marriage. This last week, though, I was caught flatfooted by an entirely new and vitally important doctrinal disagreement inspired by Geoff J’s post on cosmetic surgery: how much power do resurrected beings have over their appearance? Lacking any divinely inspired guidance on this matter, we swam deeply in the sea of groundless speculation. My highly nuanced and sophisticated argument was that, hey, if you’re a god, then of course you can make yourself look however you want. I mean, come on, you’re a…

Life’s Tough When You’re a Girl (or a Boy)

300px-Damaliscus_topi

A girl I know was considering taking a commissioned sales job at a truck stop. She commented to me, “Maybe I’ll wear a tight shirt and a push-up bra. I bet that would help with my sales numbers.” My immediate reaction was, “Don’t sell yourself like that!” I’m told that there is a correlation between a man’s physical height and his achievement in traditional measures of success (fame, fortune, etc.). I’d bet that there’s a similar correlation for women and bust size. So why would I feel comfortable encouraging a man to use his physical traits to advantage in his work, but uncomfortable encouraging a woman to do the same?

Reasoning the Doctrines

300px-GinkgoLeaves

The question of the truth of the church didn’t enter my consciousness until I was about twelve years old. That was the age when I started discussing religion with my school friends. I remember a conversation I had with a friend after school. His family was not religious, and he was curious about my beliefs. I started by explaining to him the one doctrine that resonated the most deeply with me — the three degrees of glory. I remember learning about the three kingdoms in Sunday school and thinking, “Wow, this makes a lot of sense. Of course God isn’t just going to assign His children to eternal joy or eternal suffering. We’re a diverse bunch, and it makes sense that there should be a diversity of outcomes for us.” That phrase — “it makes sense that it should be this way” — sums up my reaction to most of the distinctive doctrines of the Restoration. It makes sense to…

“And What Do The Women Do?”

300px-Echium_wildpretii_LC0203

I credit any awareness I have of gender issues in the church to the challenging, patient, and frank discussions that take place within the bloggernacle. Reading the first-hand experiences shared by many sincere sisters here has forced me to reconsider the paradigm I was comfortable in — the one where men and women have separate but equally valuable roles in God’s plan. Now I’m more inclined to view these strongly typed gender roles as reflective of the church’s situation in a specific time and culture. This week I went with the missionaries to visit a less-active member in our ward. She is an amazing sister who has started attending church again recently. She is working through a lot of family drama, but has found strength in the Lord and in her faith. Since she is not deeply familiar with church doctrines, the missionaries have started visiting her weekly to study together from the Gospel Principles manual. The lesson this week…

Calling Silos

Julie’s post on scouts has me thinking about how we do callings in the church. Several people pointed out that since scout leaders are called rather than volunteering, you end up with people who aren’t enthusiastic or engaged in the program. I understand that you can’t just let everyone pick their own callings in church, since you’d have twenty people teaching gospel doctrine and nobody teaching the nine-year-olds. However, perhaps we could allow people to pick the general areas they’re interested in. For example, you could divide ward and stake callings into: Teaching Leadership Clerk Provident Living (things like employment, emergency preparedness, education, etc.) Activities Music Then ward leaders could call people in areas they feel enthusiastic about. Another thought as I’m writing this — how about moving some of these more to the stake level? When it comes to certain specific activites — choir, book club, game nights — a lot of wards have one or two interested people,…

Nexus of Harmony

800px-Patti_Smith_performing_in_Finland,_2007

I’m a believer in having role models (and anti-role models). One of the great things about sharing the world with billions of other people is that you get insights into where you might end up depending on the paths you take. I like to watch people who are twenty or thirty years older than I am, to look at the ones who are happy and the ones who are bitter and ask, “How did you get there?” And patterns start to emerge. I see life as extending along four axes — “I” (my relationship with myself), “IT” (my relationship with things and ideas), “YOU” (my relationship with other individuals), and “US” (my relationship with groups of people). When I think of the people who’ve been my greatest role models, they tend to be the ones who have developed character along all four of those axes. The combination of curiosity, gratitude, confidence, and friendly conversationability is just beautiful. “Nexus of harmony”…

Noel’s Memorial Service

Wfm_russian_river

The memorial service was held in the mouth of the Russian River. Not on the beach by the river, but right in the water. Over a hundred surfers gathered there, clad in their wetsuits. They paddled on their surfboards into the river, pulling a massive floral wreath out on the water with them. The first thought that struck me was how distinctive the group was. The surfers that gathered there became a foreign community to the rest of us, like I imagine a group of Amish or Hasidic Jews (or Mormons!) would be. The wetsuits acted like ritual attire, visually uniting the group (whose individuals are normally remarkably colorful) in smooth, somber black. Watching the service from the shore, I had a glimpse of how loved ones waiting outside the temple during a wedding ceremony might feel. The river served as a natural, physical temple, separating the initiates from the merely curious. I could watch the service, but I was…

Various Thoughts

as_surf_noel_bottom_630

Photo of Noel Robinson by Todd Glaser My cousin died this week. He was a surfer, Noel Robinson. All the surfing sites have pieces on him (this one is my favorite — what a great picture!), and there’s been a huge response from the surfing community. Noel and I got along well, but we only saw each other rarely. I had no idea that he was a celebrity in his sphere. Now that he’s gone, I really wish I had put in the effort to know him better. ***** I participated with Mormon Helping Hands yesterday. What an amazing gathering. I love to see how well we in the church come together. My only complaint is that the on-site management of the projects is usually pretty loose. We had about 300 people (or so I’m told), but I think that only about 1/3 of us were actually contributing at any time. That’s not due to lack of willingness, just that…

Personality Tests and “Muchness”

graph(3)

A friend of mine came to visit a couple weeks ago, and he had me take the “Color Code” personality test. Perhaps you’re familiar with it. It divides people into red (control-oriented), blue (intimacy-oriented), yellow (socially-oriented), and white (peace-oriented) personalities. There are plenty of tests like this — Myers-Briggs, enneagrams, etc. — that result in classifying the taker into some class or archetype. I think they’re fun, and even useful. They provide frameworks for looking at oneself and one’s relationships. I don’t expect that any of them are The One True Truth, but insofar as they offer guidance and understanding I’m certainly a fan of them. My biggest complaint with these kinds of tests is that the results only address quality, not quantity. To use the Color Code as an example, take the following two individuals: The Color Code test would return the same results for both of these people — primary red, secondary blue. But, obviously, that’s missing a…

Taking Happiness at Face Value

“…wickedness never was happiness.” — Alma 41:10 I’ve only ever heard this phrase from the scriptures used as an encouragement toward righteousness — “if you are wicked, then you won’t be happy, so be righteous!” But reducing the scripture to a causal relationship like “if ( wicked ) then { not happy }” necessarily implies the contrapositive: “if ( happy ) then { not wicked }”. Both of these readings reduce the rich context of the passage to a logical proposition, and these sorts of shallow reductions don’t often translate well to the complexity of real life. Even so, I think it’s worth considering the passage from both directions. I can’t tell how often I’ve heard said at church, “Those people out there sinning may look like they’re happy, but it’s not real happiness.” As my circle of friends has widened to include people of various lifestyles, I’ve found that, while yes, some of them are not happy, many of…

Luke’s Spiritual Journey

I’ve asked several of my friends from different religious backgrounds to share the stories of their spiritual paths through life — what they believe, and why. This is the response of my friend Luke. Despite having looked into many religious movements as part of my graduate studies, I find writing about my own spiritual journey remains a challenge.  I don’t profess a faith, though I remain sympathetic and responsive to the efforts people make to introduce me to their beliefs and/or attempt to convert me. This suggests a curiosity on my part about things like spirituality, faith, and religion generally. I have been told by missionaries of multiple religious movements “we don’t know how to help you…we usually work with people in crisis.” Some religious practitioners have expressed their frustrations to me, pointing out that because I seem very interested and genuine it is perplexing as to why I don’t join. Certainly I can list several sociological explanations which would…

Introducing, Me

We T&S bloggers are pretty impersonal. Our posts tell about the kinds of things we think about, but we don’t share much about who we are or what we do. So here’s a bit about me.

Approaching Diversity

The text for today’s blog post is brought to you by BYU Speeches, specifically, “Weightier Matters“, by Dallin H. Oaks (does anyone here know if speeches are quoted, underlined, or italicized?). In part of his talk, Elder Oaks discusses diversity in terms of means vs. ends. Specifically, he says, “Since diversity is a condition, a method, or a short-term objective — not an ultimate goal — whenever diversity is urged it is appropriate to ask, “What kind of diversity?” or “Diversity in what circumstance or condition?” or “Diversity in furtherance of what goal?” This is especially important in our policy debates, which should be conducted…in terms of the goals we seek and the methods or shorter-term objectives that will achieve them. Diversity for its own sake is meaningless and can clearly be shown to lead to unacceptable results. My question is, does it make sense to talk about diversity in terms of ends and means? The church’s goal is to…

A Monastery for Families

800px-Litom??ice_Sv_Št?pán

My wife and her friends chat together in the quad while the kids play outside. This last week, one of her friends said, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all just buy some land and move out there together?” This kind of sentiment is what I’m all about. We just need some place, some facility, to do it. How about a monastery? I mean, who doesn’t like monasteries? They’re peaceful, worshipful, and beautiful. In fact, I could become a monk. Except that I’m married. And have kids. And am Mormon…and we Mormons don’t have monasteries. But if we did have monasteries, I bet they would have space for spouses, and for kids. Could a church-supported monastic order fit in our conception of the gospel and the Lord’s plan? A monastery is a place of retreat. It would be a place where harried people could escape from the chaotic pressures of a demanding world. A monastery is a place of…