Author: Nate Oman

The Church as a Corporation: Part II

What follows is a continuation of my earlier thoughts on church legal histroy (see Part I). Despite the absence of comments, I hope someone is reading this stuff. If not who cares. I have access to the Moveable Type software, therefore I get to post what I want to.

The Church as a Corporation: Part I

I have been doing a bunch of research of late on the history of corporate law. As I was doing so, I was struck by how much of early Mormon history could be illuminated by the evolution of corporate law. What follows in this and subsequent posts are essentially my research notes. We have enough lawyers and law geeks visiting this site, that I hope there will be at least some audience for this stuff. I even think that this stuff could be interesting to non-lawyers, and none of what follows is technical.

Do Dogs Go to Heaven?

We recently had to put our dog down. It has been a traumatic experience in our family and has given rise to the inevitable theological quandry: What is the precise spiritual status of animals? I have repeatedly heard people cite to Moses 3:7 — “all things were before created; but spiritually were they created and made according to my word” — as a proof text for the claim that animals have souls (or at least dogs; I don’t think that anyone believes that cats have souls). However, if you look carefully at the scripture, it won’t really bear this interpretation. First, it mainly seems to be reconciling the dual creation accounts in Genesis: one is spiritual and the other is physical. Second, in context it seems that only human beings are directly referenced as having spirits. Is there a better source for the common Mormon belief that dogs have spirits? If they do, are their spirits co-eternal with God? Are…

A Mormon Among the Yuppies

Confession time. I am a lawyer. It is now official. Last week the Board of Bar Examiners sent me my certificate stating that I am duly liscensed and qualified to practice as an attorney and counselor at law before the courts of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Yesterday, I recieved in the mail an offer from the D.C. office of an international law firm, which I will probably accept. What this means is that I am on the threshold of the land of the Yuppies.

The Strangeness of Winner’s History

I spent a fair amount of time Sunday evening reading David Bigler’s book Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847-1896nk that Bigler’s book is written in the best tradition of local antiquarianism rather than professional history per se. There is very little attempt (even by history writing standards) of synthesis or analysis. Rather he puts a high premium on lively narrative and close attention to local detail ? e.g. he tells you the current street addresses of the locations of skirmishes or events from the days of Deseret and in the footnotes bemoans the vandalism of historic markers. To the extent that the book has a thesis or any analysis it is very simple: The Good Guys Won.

A Guest Blogger: Susan Staker

From now on, we are going to try to have two guest bloggers simultaneously and stagger their appearances so that we have a new person coming on board each week. Thus, while Julie will continue to blog for another week, we have a new guest blogger coming on board today: Susan Staker. Susan is a graduate of BYU (B.A.) and the University of Utah (M.A.). She is also ABD in literary theory from the University of Utah. She is the co-author with Carol Cornwall Madsen of Sisters and Little Saints, a history of the founding of the Primary. ( erroneously lists Madsen as the only author.) Susan was one of the managing editors of Sunstone1980s. In addition, she is the editor of Mormon Mavericksection of biographical sketches on Mormon “rebels,” and Waiting For World’s End, which is an abridged version of Wilford Woodruff’s journal. She is also the compiler of the index to Wilford Woodruff’s journals, which means that she…

Wanted: More People in Hell

This morning my wife went with the sister missionaries to teach a discussion. The investigator was an intelligent, well-educated woman who was quite religious and very biblically knowledgeable. (We live in the South.) She had an interesting concern when the sisters taught her the plan of salvation: Not enough people were going to hell.

Marketing Sunstone

A while back I commented on the greying of Mormon studies. I just ran across something that further confirmed my initial intuition. According to a survey collected at the 2003 Sunstone Symposium, the age break down of Sunstoners looks like this: 6% — Under age 25 7% — age 25-34 8% — age 35-44 14% — age 45-54 35% — age 55-64 30% — age 65 or older Wow! Think of what that means. Well over half of the participants are over the age of 55. A whopping 79% of Sunstoners are over the age of 45, and under the most generous reading of the data less than 15% of Sunstoners are in their twenties. Unless Sunstone can do something to reach younger folks, they probably ought to think about marketing promotional deals with modern maturity. Here is one bit of unsolicited advice. One thing Sunstone might want to think about is its rather awful on-line presence. Their website is…

Figuring Out What God Thinks

Aaron Brown has an interesting post (re-cycled from the ldslaw list) on whether or not we can draw inferences about God’s political priorities from institutional church involvement. Although Aaron is (needlessly in my opinion) coy in his post, the bottom line is that he thinks that the disjunction between Church political priorities and what was really important has been so wide that we shouldn’t draw inferences about God’s preferences from Church statements. (See Aaron’s comments here)

Statistical Navel Gazing

There is a norm in the blogosphere that every ten thousand visitors or so, a blog is supposed to engage in a bit of statistical navel gazing. We are pleased to point out that in the last day or two we passed the 30,000 visitors mark. As some of you may know, this blog began its life as a joint venture between some of the most obnoxious posters on the ldslaw e-mail list. When I look back at those heady days of long ago (November 19, 2003) when Time & Seasons first hit the internet, I can see how far we have come. In those early days we were still on blogspot, and the ranks of the permenant bloggers were still un-diluted by any non-lawyers. We were young (execept for Gordon of course. This was before Russell, Jim, and Kristine joined the team) but we had a dream. A dream to be “Quite possibly the most _____ yet _____ onymous…

Kristine’s Favorite Sites

If you check out the links from “Kristine Haglund Harris” on the side bar you will notice that, depending on which of her three names you clikc on, you will be taken to either the website of The Republican National Committee, The National Rifle Association, or Bush/Cheney’04. This choice of links constitutes extreme action on the part of one of the site administrators in an attempt to get Kristine to send in her biographical information and a picture, so that we can get an introduction page for her like the rest of the permanent bloggers. In the mean time, we are taking suggestions for other right-wing sites that we could link to Kristine’s name.

Most Overrated Books in Mormon Studies

I am feeling testy today, so I thought that I would post on a subject I have been thinking about for a while: the most over rated text in Mormon studies. Perhaps it is part of being raised in a prophetic, leader-revering culture, but there is a tendency on the part of Mormon intellectuals toward hagiography. Not of church leaders of course. (Being Mormon intellectuals has liberated them from anything so crass.) Rather, I am talking about hagiography by Mormon intellectuals of Mormon intellectuals. (See the article on Quinn.)

Brigham’s Attack on Communal Economics

One of my most prized worldly possessions is a complete set of the Journal of Discourses. I love these books. I love the way that they look. It probably has something to do with my fascination with law books, which they closely resemble. I also love the sermons. They are a wonderful mass of exhortation, speculation, advice, brow beating, and occasionally sublime testimony. They also have a wonderful ability to surprise you. A couple of Sundays ago, I pulled down a volume at random and started reading a sermon. (I do this from time to time.) While I was doing this, I came across the following attack by Brigham Young on New Testament religious communism. No joke:

The Nature of Mormon Nationalism

About fifteen years ago, Harold Bloom — a freakishly brilliant and productive literary critic at Yale — turned his attention to American religion and fell in love with Joseph Smith. Among other things, Bloom identified Joseph’s “religious genius” with what he called the basic insight of Jewish history: truely successful new religions transform themselves into a new people. In essence, he argued that one of the things that sets Mormonism off from other “American” religions (or as Bloom would say, manifestations of “The American Religion”) is that Mormons, unlike say Southern Baptists, became a people. There is a sense in which we are as much nation and ethic group as church. So, I am curious about the nature of Mormon nationalism.

Temple Murals Errata

In my post below, I wrongly stated that the Ghana temple was the first one to have murals. My bad. Los Angles (1956) was the last temple to have murals before the recent spat of temple building. The Winter Quarters Temple didn’t have murals, but it has very large, framed paintings in the ordinance rooms. This paved the way for the Columbia River Temple, which was the first recent temple to have true murals. Since then, murals have been included in the temples listed in this comment. In addition, there have been murals in the Monteray, Mexico temple, and the Nauvoo Temple (although these were commissioned after the temple was dedicated).

God and Game Theory

Ars Disputandi, which is a journal on the philosophy of religion, has a review of what looks like a very interesting book using game theory to analyze stories in the Old Testament. Game theory is part of the rational-actor branch of social science. It attempts to understand social interactions by creating mathematical models of different “games” and then deriving the optimal strategy for pursuing those games. The most famous example is the so-called prisoner’s dilemma. (The optimal strategy in a single round game is to rat; in a multi-round game it is to co-operate and punish non-cooperators). So here is an exmple of applying this kind of thing to the Bible.

A Mormon Image: Ghana Temple Murals

Beginning with the Saint George Temple, our temples use to include murals. Generally the endowment would progress from a creation room, to a garden room, to a world room, to a telestial room, and finally to a celestial room. From the Saint George Temple to the Los Angles Temple, the practice was to put murals on the walls of the creation, garden, and world rooms showing some version of creation, garden, and world. Then for a long period of time, these murals disappeared from our temples. With the Ghana temple, they are back.

How Mormons Became White

As we all know, in 1978 the President Kimball and the Quorum of the Twelve (sans two members) recieved a revelation proclaiming that all worthy males — regardless of race — could now recieve the priesthood. Following the long and torturous course of the “Negro Doctrine” as it was called would, of course, require a great deal of careful discussion and research. No one in his right mind would attempt to do so in a blog post. Here goes.

Arresting Ministers

The State of New York is charging two Unitarian Universalist ministers with a misdemeanor for solemnizing a marriage without a liscense. (Story here) The Unitarians have long granted gay couples religious unions, but they have not exercised the power delegated to them by the state to create legal marriages. Given the ubiquitious comparisons between the gay marriage legal kerfuffle and the anti-polygamy crusades, is there a parallell here?

Utah Near the Bottom for Public Corruption

A recent study ranked all fifty states according to how corrupt they were. As a measure it used the ratio of public officials convicted of corruption to the population as a whole. Lousiana came in first, as the most corrupt state in the country. (Actually D.C. is more corrupt, but it didn’t count as a state.) Nebraska came in as the least corrupt state. Utah ranked the sixth least corrupt state after Nebraska, Oregon, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Colorado. Interestingly, Idaho, which I believe is the second most Mormon state in the Union, came in as the 17th most corrupt.

Using Religious Arguments

The discussion of the PETA ad has got me thinking about another question: Is it proper to use religious arguments to persuade a religious believer when you yourself do not accept the religion in question?

A Mormon Image: Elijah Abel

Elijah Abel is generally thought to be the first black Mormon. (Click on the picture to the right for a larger image.) He was most likely born into slavery and escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. In 1832 he was baptized by Ezekial Roberts. In 1836 he was ordained an elder, most likely by Joseph Smith. He was later ordained a Seventy and during the course of his life he served at least three proselyting missions. He came west with the Saints, settling in Salt Lake City, where he worked on the Salt Lake Temple as a carpenter, although Brigham Young refused to allow Elijah to recieve his temple endowment. He died in 1884. Both his son and grandson were ordained Elders. For more information on Elijah Abel and other black Latter-day Saints, check out

The Political Limits of Agency

Mormons frequently invoke the idea of “agency” (whatever that means) in political discussions. We generally invoke it in liberal ways, as a justification for not regulating some for of behavior. What I want to question is this easy link between “agency” and liberalism. In the formulation given by John Stuart Mill, liberalism invokes freedom as a reason to abstain from regulating self-regarding activity. I think that when Mormons invoke the idea of “agency” to make liberal arguments they generally do so in some sort of a vaguely Millian way. However, given the theological uses to which the concept of “agency” is put, I don’t think it fits nicely into some version of John Stuart Mill. Here’s why.

Charity and the Ex Post/Ex Ante Dilemma

We are supposed to help those who are in need. The scriptures seem to be quite clear about this. And that, of course, is the problem. I have phrased the issue in what legal theorists call the ex post perspective. We take need as given and the morally relevant question is what our response to the need should be. Our decision is seen as being an after-the-fact (in this case the fact is need) event. The problem, of course, is that we can also look at our decision from what legal theorists call an ex ante perspective. Rather than seeing it as an after-the-fact event we look at it as a before-the-fact event. The event that our decision is “before” in this case is the reaction of others to that decision. Let me give a concrete example:

More on the Passion

Greg Easterbrook has a great comparison of Gibson’s Passion with Frano Zepherelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. I am a huge Zepherelli fan and I quite liked Jesus of Nazareth, although I haven’t seen The Passion. Easterbrook’s conclusion is that the Zepherelli’s is a better movie because it has more narrative and characterization and sticks more closely to the Gospels. Easterbrook writes,”The Christ story is among the most compelling ever told, yet directors can’t resist adding invented characters who are unnecessary.” The same can be said of the Church’s recent film Testaments, which is supposedly about the Book of Mormon, but as near as I can tell does not contain a single Book of Mormon character or story.