Author: Dave Banack

Mississippi Rising

CNN reported yesterday that 83 out of 99 counties in Iowa have been declared disaster areas — the scale of the flooding is tough to grasp. Those flood waters are now spilling into the Mississippi and moving south. Another service opportunity for the MIY (missionaries in yellow), who are out filling sandbags in Quincy, Illinois. Our sympathy and support to all of those struggling against the waters.

Growing Up in Utah

I didn’t. But if you read “The Skeleton in Grandpa’s Barn” and Other Stories of Growing Up in Utah (Signature, 2008) you’ll get an informative glimpse of what it was like.

A Bastion of Mormonism

Being mildly depressed about blogging at the moment, I decided to go trolling for a “good news” story to post. Here it is, a story about SVU from the SL Trib: “A bastion of Mormonism in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.”

Faith and Fame

Faith and fame aren’t always an easy mix, but Mormons who hit the big time seem to be able to hold it together most of the time. At least that’s the thrust of “How Mormons Deal With Fame” at the LDS Newsroom, discussing, among other names we all recognize, the 17-year-old phenom David Archuleta.

Love Thy Neighbor … or Not

I don’t read to the end of many online essays anymore — either most writing is dull and pointless or I have developed blog-induced attention deficit disorder, you decide which. But I read “Love Thy Neighbor: The religion beat in an age of intolerance” at the Columbia Journalism Review start to finish (hat tip: Get Religion).

Apostasy and the Dark Ages

Do these concepts have anything to do with each other? Apparently some Mormons think they do, hence Davis Bitton’s corrective essay “How Dark Were the Dark Ages?” (conveniently reposted at Meridian Magazine).

An Ethics of Teaching

I’m reading a short book that reviews what one might call the virtues of teaching: learning, authority, ethics, order, imagination, compassion, patience, character, and pleasure. Each virtue (which might be though of as an aspect of the character of an ideal teacher) is reviewed in its own chapter. The ethics chapter suggested an interesting question to me: Is there an LDS ethics of teaching that differs in any particulars from a Christian or secular ethics of teaching?

Apostasy is Back on the Bookshelf

Once upon a time, The Great Apostasy by Elder James E. Talmage was on every Mormon’s reading list. But somehow that topic went out of fashion for a couple of decades — no LDS books treated the subject and it received considerably less attention in General Conference talks. Suddenly, the Great Apostasy seems to be back.

Bloggernacle in the News

In the online Deseret News: “Today in the Bloggernacle,” with links to posts at BCC, Nine Moons, and Millennial Star. I’ve seen similar posts in recent weeks (such as here and here) under different titles but with the same format, so this appears to be a new regular feature. Just one more reason to check spelling and grammar before you hit the “post” button.

President Hinckley and Mormon Memory

In Religious Literacy, Stephen Prothero considers the decline of religious knowledge in America, much of which relates to the failure of institutions (family, school, church, university) to maintain a “chain of memory” that transmits religious knowledge from one generation to the next. President Hinckley helped Mormonism avoid this failure. Mormon memory is alive and well.

Essential Differences

I recently read The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male and Female Brain (Basic Books, 2003) by Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of psychiatry at Cambridge University. Anyone interested in the source and nature of gender differences (i.e., everyone) will find this an interesting book, and people with an interest in understanding autism are particularly encouraged to find a copy and read it.

A Pleasant Surprise

It seems 2008 has delivered its first miracle — the new Joseph Smith manual. Who would have thought that a correlated manual could actually be interesting? That’s doubly rewarding as the new Joseph Smith manual will be with us for two years. A short write-up with several striking illustrations is posted online at the Church News. I’ll add a few things I noted while browsing through the manual on Sunday afternoon.

Religious Pragmatism

Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” [1] In various writings, he expanded that claim, contrasting a natural law approach to justifying legal and ethical rules of conduct with his own more modest approach rooted in history and experience and falling under the broad perspective labeled pragmatism. Since religion in general and Mormonism in particular have many rules of conduct for which a variety of justifications grounded in natural law, experience, and history are held out, Holmes’ approach may shed some light on how we do this.

The Monolithic Myth

Much of the commentary and criticism swirling around Mitt Romney and the religion issue seems to take as its starting point the assumption that there is a single Mormon view on any particular issue, decided by LDS leaders and accepted by the LDS membership. Too bad there isn’t a Mormon view on particular issues. That kind of kills the theory.

Mormon Studies Moves Up a Notch

Today’s LA Times has a longish article on the recent official announcement of Richard Bushman as the Howard W. Hunter Visiting Professor in Mormon Studies, in the School of Religion at the Claremont Graduate University in Southern California. [There is also a story at the Salt Lake Tribune.] The appointment as a visiting professor is an interim post until the endowed chair is fully funded. The article makes some interesting comments.

Teaching the Net Generation

It’s easy to forget how much time LDS teenagers spend in LDS classrooms, roughly seven hours per week. Are they learning anything? That’s a fair question, as the “classroom model” that governs teaching hasn’t changed much over the years, but students have.

On the Road for On the Road

I recently brought to a successful conclusion a one-month, eight-hundred-mile odyssey that had a simple and straightforward object: to purchase a copy of Richard L. Bushman’s On the Road with Joseph Smith: An Author’s Diary at Deseret Book. I didn’t think it would be such a challenge.

Barbarians at the Gates

And who might they be, these cultural barbarians? You and me, according to the author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture (Doubleday, 2007). Will it kill the Church too?

Technology and Religion

Get Religion has posted a review of an interesting Wall Street Journal article examining how cell phones are affecting Hutterite culture. The GR post uses that example to touch on the larger issue of religion and technology, which is one of those rare topics that hasn’t been kicked around the Bloggernacle much. Christian radio, televangelism, and online churches come to mind for American religion in general. How has technology impacted the LDS Church?


The tireless Kevin Barney is hosting a discussion of LDS apologetics for teenagers over at BCC, trying to get a handle on the tone, approach, and content of a fireside-type presentation to LDS youth on that topic. Reflecting on this, it occurred to me that one of the challenges is how the topics that get thrown at Mormons (and that therefore get discussed by LDS apologists) change from generation to generation and how this might be a problem.

LDS Historical Sites

A couple of months ago I heard a presentation on the general topic of historical sites that the Church owns and manages. I came with a pocketful of snarky questions but left with some appreciation for how tough the task is and (on the whole) how well the sites are set up and managed. I’ll give a couple of paragraphs summarizing the talk, then a couple of paragraphs commenting on historical sites I have visited.

Friends in Strange Places

It is surely one of the more unexpected voices to go to bat for Joseph Smith: Harold Bloom in his 1992 book The American Religion, which gave serious (if unconventional) consideration to Joseph Smith’s role as a religious figure and which famously described him as a “religious genius.” As sort of a post-script, in the March 2007 issue of Sunstone there was a two-page essay by Bloom entitled “Perspectivism and Joseph Smith.” I can’t say I follow every remark in the essay, but I do appreciate his continued interest in Joseph Smith. Here are a few points Bloom makes in the essay.

Myths for the Modern World

I just finished finished reading Karen Armstrong’s A Short History of Myth (2005). Almost everyone loves myth from a distance, as a conceptual springboard or reference, as long as it doesn’t get too close to one’s own beliefs or worldview. This book helps put myth in a more useful perspective, which I’d like to explore. But rather than spend several paragraphs defining or explaining what myths are or are not, I’ll just settle for a one-sentence definition [myths are stories about the world with cosmic significance, that talk about birth and death, love and pain, good and evil, earth and sky, origins and end times] and move on to the good stuff. I’ll give one paragraph each to two particularly relevant points Armstrong makes in the book, then speculate a bit on whether and how Mormonism has shown itself capable of providing usable myths for the modern world.

Rescued From the Dustbin of History

And just where is the dustbin of history these days, you ask? It’s at Amazon, where the pitiless laws of supply and demand are on full display in the “used books” queue attached to every book title. That’s where I rescued a like-new copy of Claudia and Richard Bushman’s Building the Kingdom of God: A History of Mormons in America (OUP, 2001) for the price of $0.03. [And that’s three times what the lowest-priced copies are selling for today!]

Missing Essentials

Once upon a time, there was a book called Essentials in Church History. It was first published in 1922 and authored by Joseph Fielding Smith, who was made Assistant Church Historian in 1906 and an Apostle in 1910 (then President of the LDS Church from 1970 to 1972). For many years, this book (in one of its many successive editions) was part of every ward library and was found in most LDS homes. It was sort of expected that Mormons would read the book and know their history. It may have been faith-promoting history, but at least it spent 500 pages telling the story.

Ph.D. versus Sci-Fi

Beliefnet is hosting an online debate of sorts on the topic (and I’m sure you’ve never seen this one before) “Are Mormons Christian?” Albert Mohler, who holds a Ph.D. (in systematic and historical theology) and is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, titles his post “Mormonism Is Not Christianity.” Orson Scott Card, an award-winning science fiction writer and an active Latter-day Saint, replies with “Who Gets to Define ‘Christian’?” I’ll take one paragraph to talk about Mohler, one paragraph to talk about Card, and one paragraph to talk about the mixed bag of comments to Card’s post.