Author: Jonathan Green

Don’t free BYU

Michaelsberg Abbey

Brigham Young University requires LDS students who leave the church to withdraw from the university. While some people have lobbied for change, this policy is in the best interest of the students – both those who stay and those who leave – and should stay in place.

Mount Nebo: a fable


As is well known, the prophet Nephi was so beloved of the Lord that he was given power to command all things. If he called for famine, there would be famine. If he commanded Mount Nebo to be moved, it would be moved from its place. And in fact, one morning Nephi walked out of his house, looked at Mount Nebo, and commanded it to be moved thirty miles to the north. The mountain rose into the air, drifted north, and set itself down again in the place it stands today.

Thank you Brother Ward, Sister Ward (no relation), Elder Mantz, and Coach Mostert (probably)

Without much fanfare, Utah has emerged as a per-capita standout in distance running. For a state with a population just under 3 million, Utah regularly produces strong teams and individual runners at the NXN and Footlocker national cross country championships at the high school level, competitive collegians, and a surprising number of postcollegiate standouts. This isn’t entirely surprising: if you give 3 million people the chance to live and train at altitude year-round, good things can happen.

The First Vision of Lienhard Jost

Just before Christmas in 1522, an illiterate laborer from Strasbourg named Lienhard Jost lay in his bed at night and prayed. He had literally felt the ground shifting under his feet when an earthquake had struck while he was cutting wood in the forest that day, but he was even more unsettled by the ongoing religious controversies and by rumors that the world would be destroyed by a second Deluge in little more than a year.

Three Footnotes on Moroni and the Swastika

My review of David Conley Nelson’s Moroni and the Swastika, a book about Mormons and the church in Nazi Germany, was just published in Dialogue. To summarize my review briefly: the book’s primary arguments are wrong, it distorts the facts and documents that it takes as evidence for those arguments, and the writing is imprecise and sensationalist in ways that are more typical of religious polemic than mainstream scholarship.

Linguistics and belief

I don’t want to write about gay marriage. So let’s talk about linguistics first. We acquire language in childhood through a long process of listening to and eventually reading the language output of competent speakers of English (or whatever languages prevail in the communities where we grow up). As we are exposed to countless examples of language, we start to build up an internal model of English. We hypothesize about the rules of English and use our hypotheses to generate English statements unlike any we have heard before in response to new situations. Over time, as our hypotheses are confirmed or falsified, we modify the internal set of rules by which we determine what is and is not a well-formed English utterance. We can’t directly observe the mental structures of language. It’s entirely possible, even likely, that each of us has a somewhat different internal model of English. Even if we had the same set of grammar rules, we might…


Jeder soll nach seiner Fasson selig werden—everyone may find sacred bliss in their own way, in Frederick the Great of Prussia’s formulation of enlightened commitment to religious tolerance. Nowhere is this sentiment more evident today than at a community health club.

Most Mormons


I distrust Most Mormons. Whenever I see Most Mormons, I’m inclined to disagree with whatever is being said. If it were possible, I’d like to do away with Most Mormons entirely

Alma and Apocalypse


In Understanding the Book of Mormon, Grant Hardy argues that an important part of the Book of Mormon’s meaning emerges from how it alludes to, comments on, or patterns itself after other stories, such as Joseph in Egypt, the Exodus, and the Fall. Another such story not discussed by Hardy but central to understanding the Book of Mormon is, I think, the end of the world.

Rankings, Money, and BYU


Money magazine has just released a new ranking of U.S. universities that has received a bit of attention. BYU does quite well, landing in ninth place overall, just behind Stanford, Harvard, Harvey Mudd, and Cooper Union.

Supernatural Selection


If I had to estimate what the median Mormon adult currently thinks about the origin of life, or the model that the church as an institution is most comfortable with, I would describe it as non-exclusive evolution through supernatural selection.

Don’t hate me just because my trek was awesome


When it comes to handcart reenactments, we spend too much time on all the wrong questions, questions like: How much physical suffering is needed for a youth-appropriate spiritual experience? Personally, I’d like to minimize the suffering in my spiritual experiences, thank you very much. Or anxious hand-wringing, like: Do handcart reenactments distort the historically authentic experiences of pioneers who traveled to Utah by various means and responded in individually determined ways to the contingent experience of physical exertion and deprivation over which a superstructure of religious Exodus narrative had been established amid a plethora of competing counter-narratives? Again, I’m not terribly interested; perfect authenticity is not only boring, it’s inauthentic. Instead, the question we should be asking ourselves is What kind of awesome ward activities can we justify thanks to the examples of pioneer ancestors and/or revered persons of non-direct ancestry?

BYU-Idaho: the next ten years (II)

To keep the rest of this post in context, let me repeat that I think Rexburg is a fantastic place, that BYU-Idaho has gotten the most important things right in its transformation from a junior college into a four-year university, and that its dress code is not a terribly important issue. The university’s path forward to becoming the kind of university it hopes to be, although not simple, is clear enough. Another tricky question for the future of the university is how to strike the right balance between local heritage versus consistency with the system flagship in Provo: How much BYU, and how much Idaho?

BYU-Idaho: the next ten years (I)

BYU-Idaho is much different today than it was in 2001, when it changed its name from Ricks College and started to offer bachelor’s degrees. It shouldn’t detract from the accomplishments of the last decade to say that the university is still a work in progress; institutional change takes a generation.  There are more changes in store, challenges that soon need to be faced, and pitfalls that have to be avoided.

What BYU-Idaho does right


You might be surprised to learn that the church maintains not one but two large universities, including one about 280 miles north of Provo. The existence of BYU-Idaho is one of those things that seems to easily escape notice, even for Mormons in the middle of a vigorous debate about what must be done about BYU and LDS higher education. While the low level of scrutiny that BYU-Idaho receives is in general salutary for the university, it’s unfortunate for the discussions of higher education, as some of the most interesting experiments in the American university system today are being conducted in Rexburg, Idaho.



What is it like to move to Rexburg? If you’ve ever driven across the country, you’ve probably stopped for gas or lunch in some town you’ve never heard of and observed in astonishment that people not only live there, but appear to lead lives as happy and meaningful as any other American. Those lives may include more baseball or rodeo than you would choose for yourself, but the people there seem content enough. You see parks and schools and streets with decent-looking houses and a reasonable number of stores, and you wonder what it would be like if you lived there. Moving to Rexburg is like stopping for gas in a place like that and failing to get back on the highway to wherever it was you thought you were going.

Joseph Smith and the failure of the Reformation


One of the paradoxes of Mormonism is the heroic status it grants Martin Luther while simultaneously rejecting all of his central teachings. Mormon teachings and the basic narrative of the Restoration in some cases even suggest that the Reformation, however necessary it may have been, was not only incorrect, but also that it was a failure.

Why I wear a tie to church

Not long ago, on the way to church one Sunday, my son, recently turned twelve, asked me, “Why do I have to wear a tie to church?” Instead of directly answering that question, which would reveal his parents’ rather curtailed ability to compel behavior in their almost-teenage children much earlier than I’d like and short-circuit the altogether salutary process of his exploring those limits in person, I told him why I wear a tie to church.