Author: Jim F.

Unexamined Life and Faith

Kaimi refers us to a well-written and interesting piece by Chris Walton. In that piece Chris refers to one of his favorite Unitarian sayings, “An unexamined faith is not worth having.” That is an obvious re-writing of Socrates’s claim, “An unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology 38a). Few sayings are as well-known as the latter one; it can be found in any book of quotations and in the beginning sentence of many graduation addresses.

Thanks, Fred

Fred beat me to the punch announcing the end of his stint as a guest blogger, but I want to thank him anyway, even if tardily. Fred not only raised issues that generated much discussion, he set an even and friendly tone in them and in his responses. He showed many of us how we can talk to each other about matters over which we may have deep disagreements and remain civil. And I don’t think anyone–guest blogger or permanent–has been as conscientious about replying to those who responded to his blogs. Thanks very much Fred.

Sunday School Lesson 27

Lesson 27: Alma 30-31 We are all familiar with the story of Korihor, sufficiently familiar that we may read it too quickly. When we read quickly, we tend to skim over the text and “see” in it what is already in our heads rather than what it says. So take time to read through this story slowly, looking for places where it says things that you do not expect it to say. Those are places where you are likely to learn something new. Since Alma 31 fits naturally with Alma 32-35, lesson 28, I’m going to include it in those lesson materials rather than here.

Sinlessness

We often say that Christ was sinless, that he was the only sinless human being. Surprisingly, that isn’t a teaching that we find often in the scriptures. The word “sinless” doesn’t occur in the scriptures. Using the sacrificial type, two scriptures describe him as “without spot” (Hebrews 9:14, 1 Peter 1:19). We infer his sinlessness from other scriptures and, especially, from the teaching of latter-day prophets. But what does it mean to say that he was sinless?

Looking on a woman to lust

I ought to avoid making a mountain out of a molehill and derailing the current discussion (though one more argument about same-sex marriage is the last thing I’m interested in, so I don’t really mind if it gets derailed). Nevertheless, I think I should explain some of the cryptic remarks I made about lust more fully. Besides, I’m an academic. What else could I do but make mountains out of molehills.

Catholic Thought

As Latter-day Saints, we often see the world in the terms given to us by Protestants. That isn’t surprising because they are those with whom we’ve had the most interaction as well as those from among whom most of us have been converted. I’m a prime example; before I joined the Church I thought about studying to become a Protestant minister. But the Protestant view of the world isn’t the only one and it isn’t necessarily the best. We often adopt that understanding of the Reformation without reflection, not only because Protestantism is, for us, a major intellectual inheritance, but also because we recognize the important role that the Reformation played in preparing the world for the Restoration.

Sunday School Lesson 26

Lesson 26: Alma 23-29 Those who may not have a printed lesson manual can find it here. At the heart of this material we have the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, converts of the sons of Mosiah. That story has a great deal to teach us today, but it may not be what we expect, whether we read it as a story of pacifism or as something else.

Individual responsibility?

Frank McIntyre says “I am only responsible for that part of me that is eternally me.” Adam Greenwood agrees and wonders how to makes sense of that claim in light of the teaching that God oversees everything and brings about his purposes. Kristine Haglund implicitly assumes, I think, that despair, acedia, etc. are really individual psychological disorders because, like Frank and Adam, she assumes that individuals are the basic units, the units at which responsibility occurs. Of course that assumption is the norm. But why should we believe it is true?

Hopelessness

I’ve mentioned before that I’m working on a paper on hope. That was, in fact, the topic of my first post (which I do not know how to find and, so, do not know how to refer you to—but it doesn’t matter). The truth, however, is that next month I’m presenting a paper on the loss of hope. Doing that required that I spend a lot of time thinking and reading about hope, and I’ve been writing about it. Now I’m down to the last one-third of my paper, and I’ve got to stop talking about hope and say something about its loss. Perhaps, dear readers, you can help me. I trust that my situation is not hopeless.

Sunday School Lesson 25

Lesson 25: Alma 17-22 Though this week’s lesson contains sermons by prophets, they aren’t its focus. Instead, it is primarily an account of part of the mission of the sons of Mosiah, particularly the missions of Ammon and, to a lesser degree, Aaron. This account makes a good story, with its tale of Ammon’s service to Lamoni and his battle with those who wanted to steal Lamoni’s sheep. We often use that story as an illustration of things such as faithful service or doing missionary work by service. Are those the reasons that the story of Ammon and Lamoni is included in the Book of Mormon? How does this story as a whole (not only the story of Ammon, but also that of Aaron and the other sons of Mosiah) fit in the context of the Book of Mormon and what are that book’s purposes for the story? How do the missionary approaches of Ammon and Aaron compare and contrast?

Welcome Fred Gedicks

Welcome to our newest guest blogger, Fred Gedicks. Fred has been a professor of law at Brigham Young University for fourteen years, teaching classes in constitutional law and telecommunications. His research on has focused on religion and society, constitutional interpretation, and Mormon studies. He was a visiting professor at UNC-Chapel Hill last fall, and will be visiting at the University of Utah this fall.

Politics in the Church

Why is it that conversations about political and quasi-political topics among Latter-day Saints almost always devolve quickly into posturing and name-calling? And why, in my experience, does it seem that those who are conservative are more likely to head in that direction first? I admit that my perception may be biased by the fact that I’m “liberal” (read “middle-of-the-road” everywhere but among American Latter-day Saints). I may overlook more easily the faults of those who agree with me. Nevertheless, my impression is that because they are the mainstream of the Church, conservatives often tend to be smug about their position, assuming immediately that those who disagree with them are not only wrong (that follows by definition) but stupid, ill-willed, uninformed, and perhaps even evil. One need not respond to them, one need only dismiss them. And this is true even for many people who otherwise are intelligent and quite willing to engage in civil discussion of difficult topics.

Sunday School Lesson 24

Lesson 24: Alma 13-16 The outline of the story in these chapters, from the Sunday School manual: a. Alma 13. Alma gives a powerful discourse on the priesthood and the doctrine of foreordination. b. Alma 14. Alma, Amulek, and other faithful believers are persecuted for their righteousness. The Lord delivers Alma and Amulek from prison because of their faith in Christ. c. Alma 15. Zeezrom is healed and baptized. Many people in Sidom are baptized. d. Alma 16. The words of Alma are fulfilled as the Lamanites destroy Ammonihah. The Lord prepares people’s hearts to receive the word preached by Alma, Amulek, and others. I will concentrate on chapter 13

Utah-Idaho-Arizona missionaries

Clark says “we treat missions as a way of converting Utah and Idaho Mormons who’ve been in the church their whole life but never had to gain a testimony.” I was converted in the mission field and lived most of my life prior to getting my job at BYU in the mission field. Since then, I’ve several times lived in the mission field for extended periods. In other words, I think I have a reasonably good understanding of both life in the mission field and life in Utah/Idaho, and I would add northern Arizona. I also spent three years as a branch president at the MTC and worked with hundreds of missionaries, and in graduate school I served as ward mission leader for some time as well as in the stake mission presidency. Though there are lots of stereotypes about “Utah Mormons,” based on my experience I don’t think they have much basis in fact. In particular, I don’t think…

Sunday School Lesson 23

Lesson 23: Alma 8-12 This is the manual’s synopsis of the story in the chapters assigned: a. Alma 8-9. After preaching in Melek, Alma calls the people of Ammonihah to repentance, but they reject him. He leaves but is commanded by an angel to return. Alma is received by Amulek, and both are commanded to preach in Ammonihah. b. Alma 10. Amulek preaches to the people of Ammonihah and describes his conversion. The people are astonished that there is another witness to Alma’s teachings. Amulek contends with unrighteous lawyers and judges. c. Alma 11. Amulek contends with Zeezrom and testifies of the coming of Christ, the judgment of the wicked, and the plan of redemption. d. Alma 12. Alma further explains Amulek’s words, warning against hardheartedness and wickedness and testifying of the Fall and the plan of redemption. To keep the study materials to a usable length, I will concentrate on chapters 11 and 12, with brief questions for chapters…

Heidegger, Pomo, enchantment, . . .

Russell and Damon have asked some challenging questions, and answering them will take me more space than is appropriate for a comment, so, since three and one-half single-spaced pages goes too far for any response, I’m going to respond to their questions (and say something about enchantment) as my own post. I’m not sure what that does to the other discussions going on under Damon’s posts. I hope I’m not making it completely impossible for someone to follow the various discussions. Rather than try to integrate my responses into one coherent essay, I’ll just respond to points more or less serially. I’ll try to provide links to the places where Russell and Damon raise their questions so that readers can see the questions in context.

Sunday School Lesson 22

Lesson 22: Alma 5-7 In these chapters we have two magnificent sermons by Alma the Younger, more than enough material for several Sunday School lessons. These materials will focus on chapter 5, with a few things also from chapter 7. To whom is the address of chapter 5 given? How is it particularly relevant to their situation? To whom is the sermon in chapter 7 given? How is it particularly relevant to their situation?

Sunday School Lesson 21

My apologies for posting this so late. I’ve had family visiting, so blogging has had to take a back seat, along with Sunday School preparation. I think I’ll have the next lesson up by Sunday or Monday evening. Lesson 21: Mosiah 29, Alma 1-4 Mosiah 29 Verses 7-9: Aaron has just been converted in a miraculous manner, and he is obviously serious about his conversion. His mission is evidence of that. Nevertheless, here we see Mosiah worried that being king might destroy him. Does he lack confidence in his son? If so, why? If not, how do you explain Mosiah’s remarks?

Happiness

We Latter-day Saints often talk about the blessings that come from being a member of the Church. Occasionally that talk bothers me because I think it too often overlooks the importance of worship: as God’s children, we have a covenant obligation not only to obey (so that we can live the happy life), but also to worship, to adore, to commune. Though his purposes are to bring about our eternal life, a fact that it is important for us to know, it is not our only purpose. In spite of those qualms, however, I want to think about what happiness means for us and how we talk with or think about happy people outside the Church.

Thanks Jim S

All good things come and go, which explains why Jim Siebach’s term as a guest blogger has come and gone. Thanks, Jim, for your thought-provoking contribution.

Sunday School Lesson 20

Lesson 20: Mosiah 25-28; Alma 36 Warning: the materials for this lesson may be the longest I’ve produced so far. As always of course, they are intended only to help you think about the material. No lesson could cover all of the significant ideas and questions that come up in these chapters. The first part of the materials is a chronology created by Arthur Bassett. I post that chronology in response to Tom Johnson’s note (here) that I was not clear about the chronological relation between Mosiah and Alma in the materials for Lesson 19.

Sunday School Lesson 19

Lesson 19: Mosiah 18-24 Chapter 18 Verse 1: Many of the conversion stories in the Book of Mormon are more detailed and more dramatic than this brief description of Alma’s repentance. (Compare Enos’s story and Alma the younger’s, for example.) Why might this story be told so briefly?

Welcome James Siebach

I’m happy to say that James L. Siebach, a colleage in BYU’s philosophy department, is our new guest blogger. James is a specialist in the philosophy of late antiquity and in medieval philosophy. And, like others among us, he served a mission in Korea. He is also a formidable opponent in an argument, so be forewarned.

On the Shelf

I’ve been thinking for several days about something that Armand Mauss said in the first “12 Questions” post. Speaking of greying intellectuals (which I assume includes me) and their early choices, he said: “Some of them (maybe half – who knows?) opted to put their Church loyalties, careers, and/or public images ahead of their intellectual yearnings and independence, feeling that the latter could not justify the disruption and jeopardy to their largely conservative spouses and families, to their aspirations for respectability in the Church, or to their career plans. Others (maybe another approximate half) decided that they could not simply put their doubts or their intellectual quandaries on the shelf, or compartmentalize their religious and intellectual lives.” He is speaking in broad terms here, perhaps in terms of types, so it is probably a mistake to personalize the remark and ask where I fit.

Why do we have choristers?

Rather than hijack the discussion of Russell’s post, I’ll post my question separately: I wonder why we insist on a chorister every time we sing. In most cases no one is really following the chorister anyway; we follow the pianist. Having grown up a Protestant, I know that a congregation can have very good singing with no chorister.

God, Knowledge, and Change (again)

A couple of weeks ago Kaimi posted a question about God’s perfection and eternal progress. That led to various discussions, including discussions of foreknowledge and what it means for him to forget the past. I don’t want to resurrect that whole thread, but I’ve got some more or less random responses to some of the issues that I wanted to post and only now have time to do so.

Sunday School Lesson 13

Lesson 13: Jacob 5-7 We will concentrate on chapter 5, the longest chapter in the Book of Mormon. However, because chapters 4 and 5 were one chapter in the first edition of the Book of Mormon and I think that Jacob 4:15-18 are an essential to understanding the allegory, I suggest that you read them as part of the lesson. Rather than the usual verse by verse list of thought questions, here are two outlines of the chapter followed by a few general thought questions on chapter 5 and then several questions on chapters 6-7.