Once upon a time, the rare article or essay on Mormonism was noteworthy and bloggable. Now, in this extended Mormon Moment, there are so many it is hard to even keep track of them. But Adam Gopnik’s article “I, Nephi: Mormonism and its meanings” deserves special notice, not just because The New Yorker is widely read and respected but because it is a serious and informed discussion. Maybe the media is getting better when it comes to discussing Mormonism.
Christopher Jones has a post over at the fine group blog Peculiar People listing ten books on modern Mormonism. The post deserves more discussion, so I thought I’d post my own short comments on the first four books from the list and invite readers to add comments on the others as well as reflection on the original post by Jones.
Rachel’s post a couple of weeks ago, The Threat of New Order Mormons, attracted so much discussion that I would like to follow up with my own discussion of middle-path Mormons. Various terms are used to describe those who self-categorize themselves as something other than fully active, fully believing Mormons: Uncorrelated Mormons, Cultural Mormons, New Order Mormons, Liahona Mormons, and so forth. My view is that there are many paths that lead away from full activity and belief, so it is wrong to expect one label to adequately describe what is actually happening. It’s clear these members move away from the center of Mormonism on some items of belief or practice, but which items are the problem for any given individual varies across the population. Here are some different half-way paths.
So after several recommendations, I finally got around to reading Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. The book examines a simple question: how do institutions or nations (the book’s focus is on nationalism) create a sense of identity in their membership or citizenry? It’s one thing to feel a sense of identity with a group whose membership one knows personally: an extended family, a village, a small company. But what about churches or corporations or countries whose members, workers, or citizens number in the millions? The more you ponder that question, the more interesting it becomes. In that light, let’s talk about the strong identity that Mormons seem to feel.
A couple of months ago I received a review copy of Saints of Valor: Mormon Medal of Honor Recipients (Greg Kofford Books, 2011; 430 pages in paperback | publisher’s page). I’m going to first discuss two issues related to war and Mormonism: (1) how Mormons serving in the military improve the public perception of Mormonism; and (2) the ambiguous position of Mormonism on participation in war versus pacificism. Then I will provide a short discussion of the book itself. War and Mormonism The willingness of LDS volunteers of the Mormon Battalion to serve in the US Army was largely forgotten by the nation in subsequent decades as Mormons in Utah came into conflict with the federal government. During the Utah War of 1857-58, Mormons took the field against US soldiers, although happily the conflict was resolved without actual combat between the opposing forces. Consequently, the patriotism of Mormons was very much in doubt in the second half of the 19th…
Seismic changes at the Maxwell Institute have prompted reflective blog posts on the fate of FARMS and Mormon apologetics in general (The Rise and Fall of FARMS | The Legacy of FARMS | Explosive Tensions within MSR). My view: the FARMS approach has become outdated. Mormon apologetics will become more decentralized and more social as people (both LDS and non-LDS) turn to Google and Facebook rather than the bookstore, the library, or journals to get answers to their Mormon questions. Apologetics will therefore become more personal and more practical. People still want answers. Mormon.org, blogs, and Mormon Stories are the shape of the future for apologetics: diverse, personal, interactive. [Disclaimer: I’m not endorsing the agenda of Mormon Stories, whatever it is, just noting the popularity of the format.]
I’m not quite up to creating original content today, so I’m going to link and comment to a few posts and articles that caught my eye. It’s really amazing how much coverage Mormonism is getting lately compared to a few years ago.
I took the two-hour drive to Idaho Falls last night to hear Greg Johnson and Robert Millet present their friendly conversation on Mormons and Evangelicals to an audience of six or seven hundred. Johnson is an Evangelical pastor who runs the Standing Together ministry in Utah; Millet is a Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU. Together they coauthored Bridging the Divide: The Continuing Conversation Between a Mormon and an Evangelical back in 2007. Their live presentation covers some of the same ground as the book, but also takes questions from the audience.
Two recent essays provide a new perspective on the never-ending discussion centered around the question, “Are Mormons Christian?” Mormons claim to be Christian, while at the same time denying divine authority and full legitimacy to all other Christian denominations. Consider the specific topic of rebaptism. Previously baptized Christians who join the LDS Church are required to be rebaptized by an LDS priesthood holder, which seems quite natural to Mormons. Baptized Mormons who later choose to join another Christian denomination are generally required to be rebaptized by that denomination because, in their eyes, Mormon baptism doesn’t count, which rather incongruously strikes most Mormons as wrong. We seem to think everyone else should accept our baptism as valid while we are free to reject anyone else’s baptism as invalid. Obviously, we haven’t adequately thought through this question of Christian identity and Mormon identity.
Psychology has come a long way the last couple of decades. Instead of seeing us coming into the world with a mind like a blank slate, psychologists and cognitive scientists are discovering through cleverly designed empirical research that we are born with a preloaded mental operating system. It predisposes us to see the world like emotional, opinionated, tribal human beings rather than like rational, logical robots. You can get the whole story, with special emphasis on how moral systems and individual moral convictions are formed, in Jonathan Haidt’s new book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (Pantheon Books, 2012; publisher’s page; official book page).
I live in a small town. We get lots of visitors and they’re all welcome, even the slednecks who take over the town once a year for a weekend of drinking and driving (up the mountain on snow machines). But a group has finally found the limit of a friendly tourist town’s welcome: Christians.
Krister Stendahl, the noted Swedish theologian who was unusually considerate of the LDS Church, listed “holy envy” as one of his three rules of religious understanding. Let’s see if comparing Mormon talks with Christian sermons doesn’t create for us a bit of holy envy. I think there might be something we can learn from how other Christian denominations preach from the pulpit on Sunday.
It is published as a reference work, but you can read it like a book, albeit a book of essays: Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO, 2010; publisher’s page), edited by W. Paul Reeve and Ardis E. Parshall. Listing at $85 ($68 on Kindle), it might not find its way onto your bookshelf until a trade paperback version comes out in a few years, but at the very least it puts a very accessible LDS history reference on the shelves of America’s libraries and newsrooms, featuring 140 entries covering individuals, places, events, and issues. I stumbled across a library copy that was in the stacks and could actually be checked out rather than being secured behind the librarian’s firewall (that is, placed in the reference section). If you are so lucky, do the right thing and take it home for a few weeks.
I keep my visions to myself.Have you any dreams you’d like to sell? Mormons tend not to keep their visions to themselves. In his recent General Conference talk “How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life,” Elder Richard G. Scott seems to be inviting Mormons to do the same with their dreams.
Once upon a time, family law was a marginal legal topic that didn’t make many headlines the way constitutional law or criminal law so often do. But gay marriage and Prop 8 have propelled family law and marriage to the legal center stage. In an odd parallel development, “the family” has, over the last few years, moved to the center of LDS doctrine and practice as well, with “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” being the most visible evidence of that change. We are living in an intersecting perfect storm of changing family law, family doctrine, and family practice. So we should learn some family law before the cyclone hits. Let’s start with a current case.
Ross Douthat posted a column adapted from his new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (Free Press, 2012). Mormons are used to denigrating references — recall Mitt Romney’s response to the Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, “I’ve heard worse” — but it still has some shock value for most American Christians, who generally think they deserve a pat on the back instead of a kick in the … shin. Welcome to the club, fellow heretics.
I recently finished reading Samuel Brown’s In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death (Oxford University Press, 2012; publisher’s page). It’s an impressive book, although I disagree with the implicit argument of the book that the esoteric branch of Joseph Smith’s eclectic and diverse theology is central to his thinking and, by extension, should be central to present-day Mormonism. It is a book anyone interested in Mormon Studies should read (twice), but probably not the first or even second book on Joseph Smith that a practicing Mormon should read.
Mormon doctrine is showing up in unlikely places lately, including the campaign trail, where earlier this week Mitt Romney squelched a questioner’s short speech that started off quoting from the Pearl of Great Price. I suspect that will not be the last doctrinal question of this campaign. But the glare of heightened publicity and attention that comes with having an LDS candidate on the presidential ticket is making it evident that Mormon doctrine — simply what it is and what it isn’t — is just not all that clear.
President Uchtdorf conducted the closing session of General Conference. Direct quotations of a speaker’s words (based on my notes) are given in quotes; other text is my summary of the remarks given. Any text in italics represents my own editorial comment.
President Eyring conducted the Saturday evening Priesthood Session. Direct quotations (based on notes by Kent and myself) are given in quotes; all other text represents my summary of the remarks given. Text in italics is my own editorial comment. I have highlighted in bold type one particularly striking thought or comment in each talk.
President Eyring conducted the Saturday afternoon session. Direct quotations of a speaker’s words (based on my notes) are given in quotes; other text represents my summary of the remarks given. Any text in italics represents my own editorial comment.
Good morning, Conference viewers. Times and Seasons will once again post session-by-session summaries of Conference by Kent and Dave. Whether you are attending in person, listening on television, iPad, or radio, or will miss a session due to conflicts, we hope the posts add something to your Conference weekend.
Below are notes from today’s live-streamed presentations at Utah Valley University’s Mormonism and the Internet conference. I will bold particular comments that stand out as I listen. Readers are welcome to make additional observations in the comments. Any reader attending in person?
That question is not as straightforward as you might think. Garry Wills’ Head and Heart: American Christianities (Penguin Press, 2007) reviews these two different approaches and uses them to structure his history of Christianity in America. It is an effective format that helps the reader follow developments, in contrast to most histories of religion in America which are often overloaded with doctrinal and denominational details that have little interest for most contemporary readers.
Not too long ago, Ben and Jerry’s opened a new front in the culture wars by temporarily renaming its “Chubby Hubby” flavor as “Hubby Hubby” and highlighting this chilling act on their website. And now they’re at it again. I’m guessing that at some point the Church will respond with its own renamed flavor, which is where your collective wisdom is required. Here is a list of Ben and Jerry’s flavors. The best I could come up with is renaming Triple Caramel Chunk as Triple Temple Dunk. But I’m sure you can do better.
Joanna Brooks is the Chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University. She is the author of several books, most recently The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith (2012). The book is available at Amazon and at the author’s website. A short couple of hundred pages, the book is at various turns both enjoyable and troubling, as the author recounts growing up LDS in Southern California, informally leaving the LDS Church then returning to activity, then rather suddenly emerging as a leading voice of what might be termed the progressive Mormon agenda which takes issue with traditional Mormon positions on race and gender. As such, she is on her way to becoming controversial (not generally a compliment in Mormon circles), so I need to start out with a couple of disclaimers.
It has been only one week since the initial Washington Post article quoting BYU Professor Randy Bott’s controversial statements was published. [See Kent’s very helpful ongoing chronology of events and published stories.] But a week is a lifetime online. While official and unofficial reactions will continue to play out over coming weeks and months, we can already see who the winners and losers are among the main players. Briefly, the winners are the LDS Church, LDS Public Affairs, LDS bloggers and columnists, the mainstream media, and the rank and file members of the Church. The losers are BYU and the BYU College of Religious Education. Professor Bott gets a category of his own.
I have seen several notices publicizing an upcoming conference at BYU, Exploring Mormon Conceptions of the Apostasy. Sounds interesting, particularly in light of the one-paragraph blurb stating goals for the conference, which challenges rank and file members of the Church as well as scholars to reconsider LDS views of “the Great Apostasy”: Examining claims of historical apostasy is a pertinent task for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the last hundred years, the Great Apostasy narrative has shaped Latter-day Saint historical assumptions, contributed to the construction of Latter-day Saint social and theological identity, and impacted the ability of the Church to develop ecumenical relationships. The contributors want to raise awareness about the influence of this narrative as well as to reconsider some of the assumptions made by this narrative. We hope to cultivate scholarly discourse among the contributors as well as the Latter-day Saint community about the challenges and consequences of simultaneously acknowledging complexity, causality,…
This is the fourth in a series of posts taking a broad look at the Book of Mormon. This post continues the discussion of the prior post, The Book of Mormon as Narrative, by considering verisimilitude. This term refers to how faithfully a text represents the real world or, to various degrees, depicts events that do not conform to the readers’ view of the real world. First, a tighter definition of verisimilitude [Note 1]: The semblance of truth or reality in literary works; or the literary principle that requires a consistent illusion of truth to life. The term covers both the exclusion of improbabilities (as in realism and naturalism) and the careful distinguishing of improbabilities in non-realistic works. As a critical principle, it originates in Aristotle’s concept of mimesis or imitation of nature. The verisimilitude issue presents two questions, one for the author of a text and one for its readers. The Problem for Authors and Historians To what extent…
This is the third post in a series taking a broad view of the Book of Mormon (first, second). In this post I will discuss aspects of narrative encountered in the text. Not all scripture is narrative: consider the lengthy legal codes in the Torah and the moral exhortation found in James. Not all historical accounts are in the form of a narrative, although most history books written for the popular market are narrative histories. Most novels are in the form of a narrative, including historical fiction, which adds authorial speculation to large chunks of authentic history, often mixing fictional characters with actual historical figures and events.