Author: Nate Oman

Church PR and the CIA

As many people are aware, the Church currently employees a New York based PR firm. The topic has come up from time to time in press accounts about the Church, and journalists have labored mightily to make this into an interesting fact. I am doubtful. However, there are some interesting Church PR stories, including the one about how CIA agents distributed Church materials in Europe during the Cold War.

The Criminal Law of Deseret

On January 16, 1851, the legislature of the State of Deseret passed a 34-section law entitled “Criminal Laws of the State of Deseret.” It actually makes for interesting reading. In 1851, the Mormons had been in Utah for only four years. The Territory of Utah had been formed in 1850, but federal authority in Utah was weak to completely non-existent. It would be another six years before any serious outside authority in the form of Johnston’s Army arrived. In other words, Mormon theocracy was firmly in the saddle, the real legal authority was clearly the State of Deseret and not the Territory of Utah, and Mormon political independence was probably as nearly complete as it has ever been. Hence, the laws that they chose to pass are particularly interesting as an insight into Mormon theocratic ambitions.

Mormonism, Liberalism, and Social Epistemology

In the most recent issue of Philosophy & Public Affairs, Allen Buchanan, a philosopher at Duke, has a very interesting article entitled “Liberalism and Social Epistemology.” He starts his argument with the observation that our knowledge of the world is inescapably dependent on social institutions. It is social institutions that allow for specialization, which in turn carried great advantages in terms of knowing the world. These advantages, however, come at a price. We must cede a certain amount of epistemic independence to authorities. This, he argues, creates great dangers. Certain authorities can be badly – horribly – wrong. He points to the examples of teachers and scientists in the Third Reich who lent authority to Nazi ideology, leading many people to accept its truth. His other example is teachers, parents, and ministers in the segregated South, who inculcated ideas of racial superiority etc. The danger, according to Buchannan, is two fold. First, there is the moral danger that we will…

Fruity Con Law at Meridian

The ever exciting Meridian Magazine has been running a series of articles that purport to be “Constitutional Primers,” explaining to Mormons the way that the constitution functions. The most recent one argues that what is known as “selective incorporation” under the 14th amendment is a mistake. This doesn’t sound all that interesting or exciting, but it actually is. I promise.

Adam-God in the Hymnal

I made an exciting discovery some time ago. It seems that Adam-God lives on in the pages of the current LDS hymnal. I write, of course, of that well-loved favorite, “Sons of Michael He Approaches,” hymn 51.

A New Blog

Check out Political Juice a new left-leaning political blog by a Mormon. The author has promised a series of posts on Mormonism and Politics. His first one is on the death penalty. There is no stunning theological or political insights here, but he does have a nice collection of quotes from Brigham Young and Joseph Smith on the topic as well as a discussion of everyone’s favorite doctrine…blood atonement!

The End and the Beginning

We are sad to announce the end of Ben Huff’s stint amongst us as a guest blogger. Thanks for the laughter and the tears, Ben. We will never forget you. (Especially if you continue to comment here, as we hope you will). Our sorrow at Ben’s passing, however, is mitigated by the fact that we are happy to announce our newest guest blogger, Christopher Bradford, who is also known by the codename “Grasshopper,” a hold over from his days in the KGB. Brother Bradford runs his own blog, Let Us Reason and has been an active participant in various on-line Mormon fora for many years. In the “real world,” Brother Bradford works as an internet consultant in Minnesota. We look forward to reading what he has to say!

A Mormon Theogony

Theogony is not a topic that comes up a great deal in discussions of Mormon theology. We tend to take the eternity of God for granted and as often as not end up affirming the eternity of man as well. The closest we generally get to discussion of the birth of the gods is when we ask the peculiarly Mormon question of how God progressed to become God. Orson Pratt, however, did get down to more fundamental questions of origins.


Lyle Stamps, law student and frequent T&S commenter, has been called up to serve in Iraq as a sergeant in the 250th Signal Battalion, Company A, Cherry Hill, New Jersey Army National Guard. His unit has not yet shipped out, but presumeably will be doing so in the near future. Best wishes Lyle. We will keep you in our prayers. Make sure that you drop us an email or post a comment when if you get access to the internet.

Some More Thoughts on Oaths

As I have a tendency to do, I have been reading law today. In particular, I came across a case dealing with the old rule against party testimony. Originally at common law, a party to a lawsuit could not testify in the suit. There were two justifications for the rule. The first was that the parties to a suit had an incentive to lie in their own interested and therefore their testimony was unreliable. The second justification was that testimony was given under oath, which gave it grave theological significance. Perjury was more than a crime. By virtue of the oath it was a grave sin for which one could be damned. The sin was not lyng per se, but rather oath breaking. The judges reasoned that the law should not present parties to litigation with such a grave temptation. Much better to do without party testimony and not risk people damning themselves.

Mormon Nominated to D.C. Circuit

For those who follow such things, President Bush has just nominated Tom Griffith, current general counsel for BYU, to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. For the non-law geeks of the universe, the D.C. Court of Appeals is an intermediate level appellate court (just below the Supreme Court) and after the Supreme Court it is widely regarded as the most important court in the United States, frequently serving as a training ground for Supreme Court justices. (Three of the nine current justices — Scalia, Thomas, Ginsburg — previously served on the D.C. Court of Appeals.) If confirmed, Griffith, to my knowledge, would be the first Mormon to serve on the Court and (in informal terms) the highest ranking Mormon ever in the federal judiciary. Tom graduated from BYU, worked for several years as a CES director before going to law school at Virginia. Prior to taking his current job at BYU, he was Senate Legal…

Mormons Complain About Prayer Day

As I am sure that we are all aware (or something), today is “A National Day of Prayer,” which has been an official national holiday since Harry Truman lead the pilgrim fathers to our sacred shores (in other words, the early 1950s). This year, The Washington Post breathlessly informs us, President Bush will be attending a ceremony run by “evangelical Christian leaders” (play sinister music here.) The most interesting part of the article, however, comes near the bottom, where The Post interviews those who feel left out of the protestant love fest at the White House. It says: In Salt Lake City, Mormons have complained that they are not allowed to lead prayers during the local observance. No other details are provided. Any idea of who these folks might be? Has the Church PR department come out against “National Prayer Day,” or did Mormons for Equality and Social Justice manage to get themselves in The Post but not get themselves…

The Epistemological Tensions of Mormonism

Now how is that for a pretentious blog-post title? What the [explitive deleted] am I talking about? In a nutshell, I am talking about the way in which Mormonism deals with how we gain knowledge and how that ability is socially situated. Here is my basic idea: Mormonism has a radically decentralized and democratic epistemology which is balanced by a highly centralized institutional structure.

This Must Be Good…

I just found a new blog entitled (that is “I Love the Honor Code Dot Com”), by an aspiring stand-up comedian in Utah Valley. With a name like that, how can you not love it? (Link via Brayden King)

Moutain Meadows in the Supreme Court

De Toqueville once remarked on the strange habit that Americans had of eventually turning every great question of politics and policy into a lawsuit, and presenting the issue to the courts for resolution. As it turns out, the Mountain Meadows Massacre also eventually found its way into a lawsuit and in the fullness of time reached the Supreme Court of the United States.

A Contract Theodicy

A theodicy is a justification of the ways of God to man. Most frequently, the term is used in discussions of the problem of evil. Succinctly stated this problem goes like this: 1. God is all powerful 2. God is Good 3. Evil things happen 4. God can and should prevent these evil things (from 1 & 2) I don’t want to get into all of the intricacies of this debate. Generally speaking, Mormons “solve” the problem by in effect denying (1), claiming that there are metaphysical as opposed to merely logical limitations on God’s power. It strikes me, however, that there is another possible Mormon theodicy: An argument from consent.

It’s Official: U. Goes Mormon

The Board of Regents of the University of Utah have selected Mormon law professor and dean Michael Young as the new President of the University. The Deseret News has a story here. (Link thanks to Jared Jensen.) The story says: He said he is a “committed, active member of the LDS Church” and doesn’t see that as a conflict in his new role. “It’s an important part of who I am and why I do what I do,” he said. “At the same time I have spent my entire academic career outside of Utah. It has never been a problem.” Jardine [a member of the Board of Regents] said Young’s religion was not brought up as an issue as the regents discussed the candidates. The Salt Lake Tribune has a story here, which also touches on the Mormon angle: Young said his Utah roots and his faith are a part of who he is. “I am a committed, active member…

The Church as a Corporation: Part III

Here are a few more odds and ends about the Church as a corporation that I was able to find out. First, I wanted to correct two mistakes in my earlier posts. I recently found out that after Joseph Smith was murdered, it was not Brigham Young and the Twelve who succeeded to the office of trustee-in-trust. Rather, Bishop Newel K. Whitney was appointed, which means that he was the legal agent in charge of Church property during the City of Joseph period. Second, upon rereading the corporate charter granted to the Church by the State of Deseret, I noticed that it did contain a rather watered down mortmain provision, which stated that the Church could receive donations of real and personal property “for the benefit, improvement, erection of houses for public worship, and instruction, and the well being of said church.” Obviously, “well being of said church” provided a much larger grant of power than that available under the…

Will the U. Go Mormon?

The University of Utah is currently in the midst of a search for a new president. They have narrowed it down to two potential candiates and one of them is . . . Michael Young. Young is a graduate of Harvard Law School, a former law professor at Columbia, and current dean at George Washington University Law School. He is also a BYU graduate, an active Mormon and a former stake president. Since BYU now has a former Ute as its president, will the U. return the favor by hiring a former cougar? Would both presidents be allowed to root for their alma maters at Utah’s annual football jihad . . . er . . . grudge match. What is happening to the Beehive state?!?

Theo-democracy and the Redemption of Politics

I am finding it difficult to get very excited about politics this election year. Given that we are faced with momentus issues of war and peace this is a bit odd. This seems like a time when politics really matters. Part of the problem is that I am considerably less than enthusiastic about either candidate. However, I find that I am increasingly less interested and passionate about politics. In college I played at being a political activist. I worked on campaigns, did voter registration drives, etc. (In retrospect I admit that my political involvement was largely about meeting girls.) After college, I worked in Washington, D.C. because I wanted to be in politics. (And it happened to be where my wife was going to graduate school.) Hence, I am not an inherently apolitical guy. My current political funk leads me — of course — to theo-democracy.

A New Blog

I just came across a new site, The BYU Law Blog by a recent graduate from J. Reuben Clark Law School. The site is worth checking for the picture of conference protesters surrounded by counter-protesters. My favorite is the guy holding the sign reading “There is no Dana, only Zuul!” Ghostbusters, of course, is one of the great neo-liberal movies of all time! Entrepreneurs save the world, which is nearly destroyed by an officious and ignorant EPA regulator. Classic!

The Real Issue

What follows is a post on homosexuality. I am deeply sorry about this, because by and large I think that this is a very stale topic. Accordingly, I hope that any discussion that follows this post will focus on the particular questions that I pose, rather than spinning off into another SSM free for all.

Who is Julie?

Unlike some of our other bloggers, Julie has been remarkably prompt in providing the administrators of this site (also known from time to time as “The Quataverate” or sometimes simply as “The Big Four”) with biographical information and a picture. Hence, I am pleased to announce the the “Julie Smith” link on the side bar is fully operational. Have you ever longed for an answer to that all consuming question, “Who is Julie Smith?” Your long wait is over. Just click here.

The Quandry of the Sugar Beets

I think that I have finally isolated the great symbol of a recent set of intellectual and spiritual quandaries that I have found myself working through of late. I am not talking about polygamy, Adam-God, or blood atonement. I have in mind an even more challenging remnant of our past: sugar beets.

Best Conference Blogging

With all due respect to others who tried their hands at Conference blogging, I think that the best commentary award goes to a string of posts over at Dave’s Mormon Inquiry Blog (See posts here, here, and here).

Hello and Goodbye to Guest Bloggers: Julie Smith & Karen Hall

We would like to thank Julie Smith for a wonderful two weeks of guest blogging and we hope that she will continue to participate here in the comments. We also want to introduce our newest guest blogger, Karen Hall. Karen graduated from BYU where she studied Russian. She then went on to Harvard Law School. While there, she clawed her way to the top of the Latter-day Saint Student Association hierarchy, and ended her law school days as President of that illustrious organization. Needless to say, she ruled with an iron fist, and the LDSSA descended into chaos and apostacy upon her move to Washington, DC, where she practices law and wastes time on the internet. Welcome Karen!