Author: Nate Oman

The Mormon Mafia

I don’t know how it works in other cities, but Washington, DC is definitely a town with a well established Mormon Mafia. What this refers to is a network of Mormon professionals — lawyers, lobbyists, Hill staffers, and the like — who are acquainted with one another and tend to help out with professional advancement. I have to admit that I am a beneficiary of this “system.” I have now secured two jobs at least in part because of networks Mormons. I am of two minds about this phenomena.

Elder Holland v. Professor Ackerman

Last week I got to do the “Teachings of Our Times” lesson in Elders’ Quorum. These are the lessons that take a recent set of conference talks as the text. This months lesson included Elder Jeffery R. Holland’s recent sermon “A Prayer for the Children.” We used the talk and the lesson as a springboard for a good discussion on the Gospel and theories of education.

Consecrated Computer Geeks

As some have noticed the over all quality of the Church’s internet presence has been on the increase of late. In part this is no doubt simply the result of the Church cautiously exploiting a new medium, but I think there may be more to it than that, or so my brother-in-law tells me. In the interest of spreading unfounded faith-promoting rumors, here is the story as I understand it.

Who is the Church Exactly?

So Mormons have a lay ministry. Hence, there is a real sense in which we are “the Church.” This raises some interesting questions about what counts as official Church action and what doesn’t. Consider the case of Martin v. Johnson, 151 Cal. Rep. 816 (Cal.App. 1979).

The Book of Mormon in Court

I think that most people know that passages from the Bible pop up from time to time in judicial opinions. For example, many old common law rules turned on the distinction between acts that were malum in se (that is wrong in and of themselves) and malum prohibitum (that is wrong simply because they are legally proscribed). The Ten Commandments were regularly used as a touchstone in making this distinction. The question presents itself: What sort of a life – if any – has the Book of Mormon led in the pages of the court reporters?

Introducing Taylor Petrey

We have another guest blogger starting today: Taylor Petrey. Taylor lives in Medford, Massachusetts and is getting ready to begin his Ph.D program at Harvard Divinity School with an emphasis in the New Testament and early Christianity. Taylor grew up (appropriately enough) in Taylorsville, Utah and served a mission in Italy. He graduated from Pace University in New York City. (His lengthy stay on the island of Manhattan doesn’t seem to have caused any lasting harm.) He has also graduated from Harvard Divinity School with a Masters of Theological Studies. He speaks or reads Italian, German, Ancient Greek, and Coptic. He is currently studying Hebrew. He’s one of the smartest and most interesting people I know, and many of my fondest memories from law school are of meeting Taylor for lunch. He lives off of the generosity of his wife Stacey, a former investment banker who now rules the universe in New Hampshire. (States in New England are ridiculously small.)…

Some Thoughts on My Colossal Ignorance

I suspect that I am destined to spend my life feeling inferior to those with Ph.D’s. The summer after my junior year in college, I worked for a law professor and decided that he had about the coolest job in the world. I have been working toward an overpaid tenured sinecure at a law school ever since. One of the disadvantages of pursuing the law is that I am more or less condemned to perpetual dilettantism, constantly dabbling in the disciplines of others. I try to overcome these nagging insecurities by reading books, but I find that this is not working. I am still basically ignorant about pretty much everything. And it looks as though this condition is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Chess, Shar’ia & Church Callings

According to legend, the game of chess arose out of a family squabble. Two brothers were warring for the throne of an Indian kingdom. After one brother killed the other in battle, he invented chess to show his mother how he had brought about his sibling’s demise. Another story has an Indian philosopher inventing the game as a way of instructing young princes in the art of war. Regardless, authorities agree that chess was first played in India in the fifth century A.D. From there it migrated to Persia, where it was eventually picked up by the Arabs. The game emerged as an issue in medieval Islamic jurisprudence, which leads naturally to the discussion of church callings.

Thoughts on the Sunstone Symposium

There is an interesting exchange of ideas about the Sunstone Symposium happening at various other blogs. John Hatch, a Sunstone mucky-muck, has a shameless plug over at some other blog. Dallas Robbins, a vetern Sunstone Symposia attender, has a good rant on what’s wrong with the symposium, viz it’s too expensive, has poor quality control, and endlessly recycles the same issues. The comments at Dallas’s site are worth checking out. They include guest appearances by Dan Wotherspoon, editor and supreme dictator of Sunstone, as well as John Hatch, who as I noted is a lesser Sunstone baron. T&S’s Kristine Haglund Harris will be a participant on a panel at this year’s symposia on Chapel Mormons v. Internet Mormons, a variation on this topic has already discussed ad nausem in this forum. I don’t know if other bloggers will be making any appearances. I certainly hope that the Bloggernacle will exert some positive influence on Sunstone, a possibility that I have…

I am Orthodoxy

Most Mormons, especially those who grew up in the Church, labor under the delusion that they know what constitutes Mormon orthodoxy, typical Mormon beliefs, and the like. I am increasingly of the opinion that we are basically wrong about this. Here is why:

Belated Good-Bye

I missed it at the time, but last month Rhee Ho Nam died. The name probably means very little to most of you, but Brother Rhee was one of the noble and great ones. A very early convert to the Church in Korea, he served as the first Korean stake president, and at one time was the president of the mission where I served: Korea Pusan. When I was a missionary, you would still lots of Rhee Ho Nam stories from members in Pusan. After I returned from my mission and re-enrolled in BYU, Brother Rhee taught one of my Korean classes. He was a warm, funny person, and one who provided tremendous service to the Kingdom and to the Korean saints. A heroic Mormon has passed on.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Elder McConkie

I grew up in a home where I was taught from my earliest childhood to be skeptical of Elder Bruce R. McConkie. I was taught that he was overly dogmatic and that his urge to systemization was inconsistent with the spirit of continuing revelation and the core of the restored gospel. Good honor-thy-father-and-thy-mother-that-thy-days-may-be-long-upon-land child that I was, I imbibed this ethos and by the time I arrived at college I had a deep, anti-McConkie strain. While in the MTC I served with a missionary who was one of Elder McConkie’s grandsons. He (the missionary not the apostle) informed me that it was alright for there to be people like me in the church because there were people like him (the missionary) whom the spirit had endowed with perfect knowledge. This clinched it for me. No hope for McConkie or his kin. Of late, however, I have made my peace. I have learned to stop worrying and love Elder McConkie.

A Mormon Image: Gadfield Elm Chapel

One of the interesting factoids of church history is that for a brief period in the 1840s there were more Mormons in Great Britain than in the United States. Beginning with the mission of the Twelve to England, Mormon missionaries were very successful in Britain, especially in the so-called “potteries” region around Manchester. (Momon missionaries didn’t seem to do so well in London, and Wilford Woodruff had some choice things to say about the city in his journal.) The greatest missionary success came among the so-called United Brethren. The United Brethren were a splinter group that had broken off from Methodism. (Methodism had become very popular in Britain, especially among the working class, in the late 19th and early 19th centuries.) The United Brethren were worried about issues of divine authority and Christian primativism. When Wilford Woodruff preached to a congregation of the Brethren in Preston, England, the whole congregation joined the Church, and Mormonism spread like wild fire among…

The Anti-Nephi-Lehite Puzzle

In the rather endless recent comments on war, torture, and politics, both Rob and Dan have made variations on the claim that it is better to suffer death rather than commit certain sorts of moral wrongs. Rob’s claim to me is more interesting, because as a pacifist he seems to claim that it is better to be killed rather than kill another. Dan and Rob, are of course, free to object that I am putting words in their mouths (which is probably correct), however, the basic proposition raises an interesting question: Why might killing be worse than death?

Political Sins

In the comments on a recent thread, Russell suggested that he could be morally culpable because at the time of the invasion of Iraq, he believed that the United States was justified in doing so. He now thinks otherwise. He suggests that his previous beliefs may well have made him complicit in some moral evil. To put words in Russell’s mouth (one of my favorite pass times), he thinks that he was sinning a couple of months ago because of what he was thinking. It is an interesting question.

A New Guest Blogger: Frank McIntyre

We want to welcome our newest guest blogger, Frank McIntyre. Frank is currently an assistant professor of economics at BYU. He grew up in Kansas, went to the Y, served a mission in Portugal and recently finished up a Ph.D at Stanford. His main research interests are wage and welfare policies in the United States and Brazil. I find it a little disturbing that people that I started college with are now professors, but such is life. Frank and I met our freshman year at BYU, and I am eternally in his debt for saving me from flunking my first ever philosophy exam. At 8am on the morning of our history of philosophy final, Frank called me in my dorm room to inform me that he had been taking the exam for an hour and I needed to get my butt down to the Maeser building. The test was scheduled for 7am, not 7pm as I had thought. Frank is…

The Eternal Significance of Cucumbers

This evening the Oman family ate cucumbers in triumph. The euphoria came from the fact that these cucumbers were the first fruits of our garden. We (meaning mainly Heather) have toiled in the soil, mixing the sweat of our brow with earth, water, and sky to bring forth vegetables! This is heady, elemental one-with-the-earth kind of stuff. The cucumbers, of course, taste infinitely better than those pathetic, commercially grown things you buy in the store. Which brings me, of course, to the apparent decline in prophetic counsel on gardens.

What is with Dialogue?

Last week, I got my copy of the summer issue of Dialogue in the mail, and it left me scratching my head at the editorial practices (and politics) in Mormon studies. In particular, I was puzzled by the sudden facination with Quakerism.

The Hipness of Divine Society

The idea of “social construction” is really hip in the social sciences and the humanities, or at least it was really hip a decade or two ago. Generally the concept gets invoked with another idea, namely “essentialism.” Here is how the game works. We take some quality – say race – and then we argue about its nature. If we are essentialists (and it is pretty unhip to be essentialist about anything), then we would argue that race is somehow an inherent, natural, biological quality. If we are social constructivists (and being the hip, smart people that we are, we are, of course, social constructionists), then we argue that there is nothing inherent about race. All of the characteristics we associate with this concept are actually social creations that are not contingent on nature, essence, or anything else. The distinction gets deployed in normative discussions as well. That which is essential supposedly provides us with a sure foundation for ethical…

The Industrial Organization of the Gospel

Over at another blog, I recently commented on the evolution of the American military. Spouting off uninformed thoughts about institutional evolution having proved fun, I wanted to offer some thoughts about the evolution of the Church, particularly the missionary program. Of late, there have been two big shifts that are, I think, a symptom of a sea change in how the Church thinks about itself as an organization. The first is the call to “raise the bar” for missionaries, and the second is abolishing scripted missionary discussions. Here is how I see these changes.

Where is the Mormon Jurisprudence?

People regularly make the observation that Mormons are more concerned with orthopraxis than orthodoxy. In other words, Mormons are more concerned with right behavior than with right belief. The evidence in support of this claim seems fairly overwhelming in my mind. The fact of the matter is that we allow a huge diversity of beliefs on fairly fundamental questions (the nature of God and the nature of man for example), even though we frequently paper over the pluralism with equivicol and vague language. One the other hand, we worry a great deal about proper behavior: The Law of Chastity, the Word of Wisdom, participation in the Church, etc. In this context, I have frequently heard Mormonism compared to Judaism, which is taken as a paradigmatically orthopraxic faith. Which leads to me question: Why haven’t Mormons developed a jurisprudence.

Excommunicating the President of the Church (and some possible complications)

Suppose that Gordon B. Hinckley really started misbehaving, sinning left and right, and generally leading the church astray. Some might find this unlikely on theological grounds, after all President Woodruff said: The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty. The implication seems to be that the Lord will “call home” any prophet who strays too far from the divine “programme.” Looking at the scriptures, however, suggests another possibility: Excommunicating the President of the Church.

Ambivalence v. Delight

In her fascinating post on ambivalence, Melissa suggests that ambivalence may be an endangered theological virtue among Mormons. “Endangered” because we tend to valorize those without religious ambivalence and lack examples of healthy and productive ambivalence. “A virtue” because Melissa suggests that it is theologically productive. By this, I take it that she means that ambivalence leads to questioning, analysis, synthesis, and revelation. I am doubtful.

Mormon Orientalism

Some time ago, Richard Bushman wrote an essay entitled “The Colonization of the Mormon Mind.” In it he argued that Mormons who have looked at the Mormon past have largely adopted the attitudes of those who colonized and ultimately dominated 19th century Mormondom. Hence, we tend to view things like “theo-democracy” and plural marriage as embarrassments and see nuclear, vaguely Victorian looking families as good, mirroring the attitudes of the federal officials who crushed Mormon peculiarity in the 19th century. The hip and lit crit amongst us will recognize the influence of Edward Said in Bushman’s argument. In his book Orientalism, Said argued that Western “experts” on the Middle East constructed a vision of Arabs and Muslims as deceitful, lustful, childish, backward, etc., which Middle Eastern intellectuals then adopted as their own. As Bushman frankly acknowledges, he is applying Said’s ideas to Mormonism. Bushman the Historian focused his analysis on Mormon understandings of their own past, but I think that…

A Mormon Image: Joseph in the New York Review of Books

For those ever-so-hip, black-turtleneck wearing New Yorkers in our midst, I felt that I would do what I could to relieve any anxiety that you might have about the potential un-hippness of Mormonism. Hence this image of Joseph Smith, which appeared in no less an oracle of Manhattan sophistication than The New York Review of Books. I have to confess that I am a bit mystified as to the significance of the shovel. A reference to money digging perhaps? Digging up the Gold Plates? Who knows. Interestingly, Joseph did visit New York City once in his life. It has been a while since I read the journal entry, but as I recall he thought it was a facinating place, but full of sin and ready for a good smiting by the Almighty. Not a bad description all in all.