Author: Nate Oman

Sin and Ethics

One of the points of contention between believers and skeptics has to do with the question of morality. Roughly speaking, the exchange goes something like this: Believer: God is the source of morality. Without a belief in God one cannot have a belief in morality. Therefore skeptics are immoral. QED. Skeptic: Nonsense! There are lots of skeptics who behave in thoroughly ethical ways. Furthermore, they mold their behavior to conform with particular ethical standards, even though those standards lack any particular theological foundation. One can clearly be a skeptic and be a moral person. Framed in these terms (and I think that these are the terms usually employed), I think that Skeptic has the better end of the debate. I have family members, friends, and acquaintances ranging from agnostic to atheist and for the most part they are decent, ethical people. Furthermore, there are lots of thoroughly respectable ethical systems that do not rely on any belief in God per…

Thoughts From A Professional Sabbath Breaker

Thanks to the macinations of the plaintiff’s attorneys, I am spending most of my sabbath today ensconsed in my office with the Bankruptcy Code. For better or for worse, I have a job where Sundays at work are hardly unexpected and although I do my best to avoid them, it isn’t really possible to work at a K Street law firm and completely miss out on this particular fringe benefit. What is the precise scope of my sabbath violations and do I have any defenses?

On Mormon Complacency

As readers of this blog already know, I have a tendency to whine a great deal about the quality Mormon discussions. I have even been accused of being boring on the subject, which is no doubt a fair enough criticism.

Please Let it Be Over

I was surfing around some of my favorite blogs for something to post about, and there were a couple of interesting posts, none of which I am going to link to. Rather, I am going to muse for a few minutes about the pernicious effect of democracy on blogging.

Joseph and Sartre on Hell

Sartre once remarked that “hell is other people.� The remark, I think, is revealing. In a sense the brand of existentialism pushed by Sartre represents the apotheosis of individualism. In the end, he offers nothing beyond the authenticity of personal choice, which becomes the ultimate source of meaning and value. His view of hell suggest that within this vision of heroic intellectual and moral self-sufficiency lies a rather nasty strand of misanthropy and solipsism. Joseph Smith’s vision of hell, I think, is equally revealing.

Galen, Holmes & Hot Drinks

One of the odder bits of Mormon interpretation is the strange life of “hot drinks.� These are the actual beverages forbidden by the Word of Wisdom. As we all know they have come to mean coffee and tea with hot chocolate and Diet Coke forming border cases for some, and no one really objecting to herb tea or hot cider. What is going on here?

On Becoming Jim Faulconer (Sort of)

Our lesson in elders’ quorum last Sunday was on the importance of scripture study. I shared a story that I frequently share when called upon to say something about studying the scriptures. As I was retelling it this Sunday, however, I had an epiphany: I was being a Jim Faulconer poseur.


One of my more prized possessions is a small chunk of limestone. It is about 8 inches long, roughly the size of two fists. Its value lies in the fact that is is a piece of one of the shattered sunstones of the original Nauvoo temple.

A Book I Would Like to See

With luck we should soon be hearing from Professor Royal Skousen, who is the mastermind of the critical text of the Book of Mormon. There is another critical text edition that I would like to see: A critical text of the Doctrine and Covenants.

The Telos of Charity

Having a Greek word in the title is designed to give this post an auro of intelligence that it doesn’t deserve, but it also points toward an interesting question: Why do we care for the poor? Over at Aurochs and Angels (by the way, what is an auroch?), AA suggests that the alms giving is not simply about helping the poor, but also about helping the rich. Hence, he quotes with approval a statement suggesting that the poor in America have a duty to help those that are less economically fortunate than themselves, a group that includes the vast majority of humanity. He goes on to write:

What is With the Bloggernacle?

I am not proud of this, but I have to confess that a very substantial part of my entire self-worth is tied up with how many comments my posts get on Times and Seasons. Unfortunately, I just don’t get it. By what criteria do the commenting bloggernaclites choose one post over another. A silly, throw-away post that I dashed off in a about 15 seconds because I figured I ought to post something, just hit the top of the most comments list. On the otherhand, what I thought was a much better and more interesting post seems to have sunk into complete oblivion. This is not meant as a rebuke to anyone. I am, however, genuinely curious about what people find interesting and comment-worthy (are the two identical?) and why.

On Authority

Authority is a central concept in Mormon theology and practice. It is an issue that anyone thinking about Mormonism must come to grips with. The well-worn criticism that Mormonism is overly authoritarian or that Mormons place “too much� faith in their leaders misses the point. Mormonism is inherently authoritarian. Concepts of authority are part of what define Mormonism. Anyone who believes that they can offer some account or interpretation of Mormon theology while at the same time ducking this issue or reducing it to a few cautionary bromides about individual responsibility and critical thinking is kidding themselves.

What is a KGB Sympathizer to Say?

Several years ago I found myself at a restuarant in Berkeley, California with some of my elders. They were bright, friendly, and very kind to me. I enjoyed the evening, and I am glad that I was invited. During the course of the conversation one of the interlocutors, a disillusioned returned-missionary from someplace in the former Soviet Union, began talking about the Church. She had decided that she wanted to write a story about a Russian convert to Mormonism. The convert would be a former KGB agent, who upon joining the Church would feel immediately at home in the culture of control, monitoring, and intimidation. Everyone at the table thought that this was a great joke, and I have to admit that it was a very clever way of making a point. I didn’t say anything. I smiled politely, ate my meal, and enjoyed the rest of the flow of the conversation.

The New Godbeites

During the course of its history the Church has spawned more than its share of schismatic organizations. During the Nauvoo period William Law and others disaffected with Joseph over polygamy, temple ordinances, the political Kingdom of God, and radical teachings about the nature of God formed the New Church, which was meant to institutionalize Mormonism in its pure form before it was infected by the Nauvoo era innovations. After the abandonment of polygamy Musser and others broke off to found the various fundamentalist sects. Indeed, since the Manifesto, virtually all of the Mormon schismatic groups have been on what one might call the Mormon Right. They have objected to what they see as excessive Mormon compromise with the broader society. Interestingly, however, Mormonism has also spawned liberal schismatic groups. I am not taking here about the Mormon Alliance or other liberal Mormon groups. Rather, I am talking about Mormons who view the current Church as too hierarchical, authoritarian, and out…

Sunstone Boilerplate

For any who doubt that Sunstone at time struggles for new ideas, check out Nadine Hansen’s “The Garden of My Faith” . The essay was originally delivered as a “Pillars of My Faith” lecture at a Sunstone Symposium. As near as I can tell, the “Pillars of My Faith” lecture is sort of like the Storrs Lectures of the Sunstone subculture: an honor bestowed on those who have paid their dues and presumably have something to say. Hansen’s essay doesn’t miss a cliché as she tells of her efforts to weed out white washing, over-correlation, sexism, and homophobia from amongst her neighbors. Perhaps it is an intentional parody of some of the repetitive and predictable devotional schlock that pours forth from Deseret Books, a kind of consciously constructed mirror image. Or perhaps not. The gardening metaphor is kind of fun, but otherwise as near as I can tell Hansen has virtually nothing original to say! Margaret Toscano’s essay works a…

Admiral Hyman Rickover and the Apostle

I don’t know about you, but of all of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve, Richard G. Scott has always struck me as the sweetest and most patient. I have no personal experiences or special information to back this up. It is just my impression. I wonder if this is in part the lingering influence of Admiral Hyman Rickover.

Shameless Self-Promotion, or Thoughts on Writing an Apologetic Article

The most recent issue of the FARMS Review has arrived, and it finally contains my article, “‘Secret Combinations’: A Legal Analysis”. I actually wrote this article two years ago, so it has been a while in coming. It is fun to finally see it in print. The article is essentially apologetic. I am trying to respond to the claim that the phrase “secret combinationâ€? was exclusively associated with Masonry in Joseph Smith’s time and that as author of the Book of Mormon Joseph was producing, among other things, an anti-Masonic pamphlet. The real question, of course, is why I would bother with such a project in the first place.

Mormon Images: Office Decor and the Place of Mormonism in American History

A few weels ago I finished my stint at the public trough and left the service of the federal courts. I know work for the law firm of Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood in Washington, DC. The identity of the firm is significant only because this is the firm (and office) where Rex E. Lee practiced law for many years. There is actually a three-foot tall bronze statute of Lee outside the office’s moot court room (named in Lee’s honor). As you might expect, the firm’s DC office hosts a sizable continent of LDS attorneys and their office decor reflects the the trajectory of Mormonism within American society.

Chastity and Terrorism

What are the root causes of terrorism? Poverty (problem: most terrorists seem to come from middle class or upper middle class Middle Eastern families). U.S. hegemony (at least in part). Embarrassment and rage at the decline of Islamic civilization (almost certainly). Another recent candidate has emerged: Chastity.

The Challenge of Adam-ondi-Ahman

Various debates about the historicity of scripture have captured a fair chunk of the Mormon intelligentsia (and pseudo-intelligentsia) for the last decade or more. The “Big Issue” of course is the Book of Mormon. This seems to have replaced evolution and the creation story of Genesis as a situs for conflict about the scriptures. Lost in all of this is my question: What are we to make of Adam-ondi-Ahman?

The Oddity of Comfort

Comfort is a concept that holds pride of place in the gospel. We learn that an important part of our baptismal covenants is the promise to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” Elsewhere, we learn that one of the reasons for Christ’s suffering and atonement was so that he could “know how to succor his people.” This leads to the question: Why is comfort important?

My Wife Has Noticed That I Am A Nerd

I have been reading Wallace Stegner’s wonderful novel Crossing to Safety this afternoon. The book tells the story of a friendship between two academic couples. It is beautifully written, with more than its share of gently wise observations about friendship and the academy. I understand why it was so tremendously popular among our friends in Cambridge. Definitely worth a read. The book contains the following snippet of dialogue, which I just read. A young graduate student has just driven four hours from Boston to the the cabin of his girl friend’s family in Vermont or New Hampshire. After sheepishly admitting that he forgot to pack anything, the assertive girl friend says: “. . . You must have brought something. Books? I never saw you without a green bag of books.” To her mother she says, “He reads everywhere — in the subway, between the acts at plays, at intermissions in Symphony Hall, on picnics, on dates.” In her copy of…

The Drama of Procedural Nonsense

I appreciate Kaimi’s post about the jury instructions in Reynolds. But I do object to his claim that the procedural arcana at the beginning of that opinion are of no interest today. The substantive law that they deal with — the number of grand jurors necessary in an Article II territorial court — are not of current interest, but the issue is the final chapter of a dramatic story that tells you something about the world of legal hardball that 19th century Mormons played in.

International Mormon Sites

In one of our threads, WilfriedDecoo, a European Latter-day Saint, was kind enough to draw our attention to, a very nicely done web portal for French Latter-day Saints. I would like to add this and similar sites to our collection of Mormon links. If you are aware of any other Mormon dedicated sites, please post URLs in the comments section, regardless of language. I realize that there are a fair number of non-English language anti-Mormon sites. I am not especially interested in these. I leave it to readers with the proper language skills to judge for themselves what is or is not an anti-Mormon site. Thanks in advance for your help!

The Return of Frank

We are pleased that Frank McIntyre has returned to finish his guestblogging stint. Just to refresh everyone’s memory, Frank is a professor of economics at BYU and has the distinction of saving me from ruin in my first philosophy class at BYU. (Full story here) Enjoy the show.

Will the Real Mormonism Please Step Forward

Mormons are efficient. We are a large, hierarchical faith that runs like a corporation. The Brethren are powerful leaders with the ability to dictate the minutiae of members lives and call forth vast resources at the drop of a hat. Mormon congregations are well oiled machines. They even have so-called “home teachers” that visit members each month just to check up on them and insure that they are serving their proper roles in the Mormon juggernaut. Something like this image frequently appears in media accounts about the Church, and we as often as not like to repeat some version of it to ourselves. How many times have you gleefully heard members discuss the swift efficiency with which Mormons have sped relief supplies to disaster ridden areas. I have to confess, however, that I don’t really buy this image. The reason is that I actually go to church every week.