Author: Jim F.

Causing offense

Kristine raised the issue of whether and how “critical belief,” in other words belief that is both believing and independently thoughtful about various issues in the Church, is possible. (I hope she’ll agree that I’ve more or less captured her question.) For me that raises another (broader?) question: what bounds do my relations with others put on my behaviors, including criticism? Since I doubt that the connection between the two is obvious to anyone but me, let me explain:

Dealing with the day-to-day

Jedd asked whether some of our blogging couldn’t focus on more day-to-day challenges. I’m sympathetic to his request. It made me think of my own experience, a time when I could have used advice.

Sunday School Lesson 11

Lesson 11: 2 Nephi 31-33 Chapter 31 Verse 2: What does the word “doctrine” mean? Why is what Nephi and Jacob have written sufficient? Sufficient for what? The phrase, “the doctrine of Christ” can be understood to mean “the doctrine that comes from Christ” or “the doctrine about Christ.” Which meaning do you think Nephi intends?

Sunday School Lesson 10

Thanks for your patience with me. I should have posted this days ago, but this has been one of those lives. Lesson 10: 2 Nephi 26-30 These questions will concentrate on 2 Nephi 26:20-31, 27:24-30, 28:11-15, and 28:19-24.

Sunday School Lesson 8

Lesson 8: 2 Nephi 6-10 This week’s Sunday School materials are much longer than previous ones. It isn’t that there is so much more material, but that I decided to try to cover the whole assignment rather than only part of it. I came to that decision because we often stop reading the Book of Mormon when we get to Isaiah and I wanted to see how Isaiah’s teaching are connected to the events of the Book of Mormon as well as its teachings.

Un je-ne-sais-quoi

Russell mentioned that he is “a doubting, debating, Socratic philosopher.” I’m at least sympathetic. Neither of us would be doing what we do?teaching philosophy of some kind?were that not true. I’m happy to say that the longer I live, the less often I have difficult religious doubts, the more I feel that my intellectual life and my religious life are of a piece. But that has not always been true.

Thanks Dan

Dan Peterson has ended his stint as a guest blogger and we are grateful that he was willing to take the time to do so. Dan is one of the busiest people on the planet–as well as one of the brightest–so we were especially happy for his participation.

Gratitude and Technology

This week I discovered that I had a retinal tear. Within a couple of hours I also discovered that it was relatively easy to fix. Moderately painful for a few minutes, but a few zaps of the laser and I was “as good as new.” (I’m sure that Janice, my wife, often wonders just how good “new” was that it should be the standard for what I am now.) I am grateful for the knowledge and technology that could turn what not-so-long-ago could have been a disaster into a minor, momentary irritation.

Sunday School Lesson 7

Lesson 7: 2 Nephi 3-5 Chapter 3 Verses 1-25: Notice the use of types and shadows: Lehi blesses his son Joseph by telling him of Joseph of old who prophesied of Moses and the latter-day Joseph. Presumably this blessing to Joseph was more than just information. Presumably it gave him something he could use in his own life. In addition, it compares Moses and Joseph Smith in a way that helps us understand each better. Is this use of types and shadows the way that we are to apply the scriptures to ourselves? Of what types do we see shadows in today’s world?

Sunday School Lesson 6

Lesson 6: 2 Nephi 1-2 If you know me or a little about me, such as that I’m a philosophy professor, you won’t be surprised to learn that I’m going to focus on chapter 2. I recognize that is a problem. Chapter 2 is full of such interesting material that chapter 1 gets overlooked and there are also interesting things to think about in it, such as what implications it has that the land to which Lehi was led is covenanted to “all those who should be led out of countries by the hand of the Lord.” In spite of that, I’m going to focus on chapter 2, and not all of that chapter either.

Sunday School Lesson 5

1 Nephi 16-22 (1 February 2004) As usual, I’ve not written questions on every chapter or for every verse in the chapters I’ve covered. Chapter 16 Verses 1-2: Nephi’s brothers tell him that the things he has said are too hard to bear (verse 1). What have they heard that has caused that response? In verse 2 Nephi explains why they find the truth to be hard. Which meaning of “hard” is relevant, “difficult to understand” or “difficult to bear”? What does the fact that the wicked are cut to their center by the truth tell us about wickedness and truth?

Original sin

Kristine pointed out the other day that if we want to understand the Protestant concept of grace, we have to understand their concept of original sin. That got me to thinking. Sometimes when Latter-day Saints speak of the Fall, we deny original sin, However, we also say that, because of Adam?s transgression, we inherit a fallen nature. It is not clear what the difference is between inheriting a fallen nature or disposition and original sin. Without intending to, we may sometimes be teaching something that is difficult to distinguish from the doctrine of original sin.

Sunday School Lesson 4

Lesson 4: 1 Nephi 12-14 (25 January 2004) In chapter 12 Nephi sees the future of Lehi’s descendants: apostasy and destruction, though a remnant will remain. In chapter 13 he sees the future of the Gentiles: apostasy and restoration, though not all will come to the restoration. In chapter 14 he sees the last days: the Gentiles who accept the Gospel will be numbered with the children of Lehi and the abominable church will be destroyed.

Honoring authority

In Sunday School today, while talking about what it means to be chosen, I used an example that I thought was straightforward. I said, “The bishop has been chosen, but not because he is more righteous or smarter than everyone else in the ward.” No one disagreed with me straight out, but I was surprised how many people wanted to qualify what I said with “Yes, but . . . .”

Sunday School Lesson 3

Lesson 3: 1 Nephi 8-11; 12:16-18; 15 In order to keep the lesson materials within a usable limit, I’m going to focus on chapter 11, referring to other chapters in the context of that one. Verse 1: Compare the personage who responds to Nephi’s desire with that who responded to Lehi (1 Nephi 1:5-6). Are they the same being? How does Nephi’s desire to know what his father had seen (see 1 Nephi 10:17), presumably a desire expressed in prayer, differ from his prayer in 1 Nephi 2:16? Three things seem to precipitate Nephi’s vision: he wants to know what his father has seen, he believes that God can reveal that to him, and he is pondering in his heart. The word ponder originally meant “to weigh,” and based on that meaning it came to mean “to weigh something mentally.” What meanings does the word heart have in the scriptures? What does it mean to weigh something in your heart?…

Thanks Ady

Besides welcoming Claudia, we want to thank Ady for sitting in as a guest blogger. It has been good for us to have a perspective other than the legal-philosopical-political perspective of the blogging crew here. A scientist’s perspective keeps us on our toes.

New semester

I really like the beginning of the semester. The last week of Christmas break seemed to drag on forever because I was anxious to get started. I liked the beginning of the school year when I was a child. Those times were associated with new clothes and new pencils and pencil boxes and getting to meet my new teacher. I still have a thing for pencils and pencil boxes, as well as fountain pens, but now the excitement of a new school term is harder to explain.

Sunday School Lesson 2

Lesson 2: 1 Nephi 1-7 (11 January 2004) As is often the case for Sunday School lessons, there is a tremendous amount of material to cover in this week’s lesson. These questions will focus on only a few verses that help us see some of the lessons taught in these chapters. However, to help keep the study questions in context, here is an outline of the history surrounding Lehi’s flight from Jerusalem and an outline of the story in these chapters:


At Nate refers to an ancient blog entry he wrote: Though the discussion in question was baptism for the dead and some objections by non-LDS to the practice, Nate made a very good point in passing: we don’t really believe in damnation except for those who are LDS.

Sunday School Lesson 1

For some time I have created study notes for members of my Gospel Doctrine class. I hand them out a week before the lesson (unless I’m behind, as has occasionally been the case). For the most part the notes consist of questions about the passage assigned for reading. I have avoided commentary, hoping that the questions would be a vehicle for people to think for themselves about the readings. These questions are intended to provoke thought; I usually have no particular answer in mind myself. Since some of those who haunt this list may find the study questions useful. I’ll post them here each week as well.

The Lord’s Prayer

I’ve been thinking about prayer lately and would be interested in other’s ideas about some questions that have been part of that thinking. Specifically these question have to do with the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:5-15; Luke 7:1-4; 3 Nephi 13:5-14). Here are the verses in question (from Matthew, the longest version, with the differences from the version in Alma marked by underline), each verse followed by a few questions for thought. I’m interested in your thoughts on my questions as well as your own questions.

The beginning from the end

As I was preparing my Sunday School lesson for today, I hit on the idea of using the phrase, “know the beginning from the end” as the hook for class discussion. It is an odd phrase, though I hear and see it fairly regularly in LDS talks and writings. My point was that by knowing the end (as both final point and purpose), we would understand what came before. Thus, Revelation?the revelation of Christ?is a book about the meaning of human history that we see if we understand the end of that history in Christ. But I ran into trouble when I found out that the phrase isn’t a scriptural one.

Teaching the book of Revelation

I am a Gospel Doctrine teacher in my ward and I love the job. I like talking about the scriptures with ward members and usually I have to restrain myself from indulging in my interest in symbols, questions of language and translation, New Testament history, etc. I understand that the class isn’t a scholarly class and I avoid making it one. As I see it, my job is to discuss the Good News with members of the class, not to indulge in my scholarly interests, and I try to stick to the job. However I’m finding it next to impossible to get interested in teaching one lesson on the book of Revelation, much less two.

Boys club?

I wonder why so few women comment on this site or take part in discussions of philosophy as it relates to LDS ideas. Women continue to be in the minority in philosophy everywhere, though they are gaining numbers. But they are almost absent among LDS philosophers and philosopher-lawyers. How come?

Christmas Trees

I have sometimes heard of a couple, married for many years, who suddenly divorces, and I’ve wondered how that could happen. But each late November or early December reminds me: it was probably the Christmas tree. I confess that I think they look pretty. I like having one in the house at Christmas. But they are so difficult to set up and decorate–and doing so involves so much tension–that I have yet to understand why anyone has a Christmas tree.


Next summer I have to give a paper on the loss of hope, despair. Since I have to deliver it and discuss it in another language, I’m starting early. Right now I’m working on trying to give an accurate account of hope on which I can then base a discussion of despair. So, hoping that writing this will help me get my thinking going and that what I say may be of interest to you in some way, I’m going to try to say something about hope in a series of fragments ending with some questions.

Philosophy & Scripture

I am interested in the question of how to think about scripture and I am an academic philosopher. One consequence is that I?m also interested in how the two things are related to each other. Here are some not-fully articulated thoughts on that question. They won’t come as a surprise to someone who has read some of my other things?another take on a familiar theme. As I understand scriptural texts, they are not philosophical and cannot be turned into philosophical texts without changing them drastically. [FN: Ricoeur has discussions of the issue in several places, for example, in Time and Narrative; in Figuring the Sacred; in his essays on the Bible, written with LeCoq; and in his essay in Phenomenology and the ?Theological Turn.?] I take it that is the unreflective folk-view manifest in LDS concerns about philosophers and the standard interpretation of ?mingling the philosophies of men with scripture.? (My own understanding of that phrase is that it means…