A while ago I was having one of those oft repeated conversations about faith, doubt, and intellectual reconciliation. My thoughtful interlocutor asked, “Is there anything that you could learn that would cause you to abandon your beliefs?” The clear assumption of his question was that there was something distinctly fishy about a set of beliefs that cannot be falsified. It is an assumption worth thinking about.
I didn’t blog about it at the time, although I thought about it. But now it’s up on You Tube, so here goes.
I have been listening to the papers that were presented at the recent conference of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology. At the conference there was a presentation on that perennial favorite, finisitist Mormon theodicies, in this case a nicely nuanced comparison of Mormon thinking with the process theology of David Griffin. I was disappointed, however, that the authors didn’t more squarely face the two strongest objections to Mormon finitist theodicies. Indeed, I have yet to see what I think of as adequate responses to either of these issues.
Among my many other vices, I like to read poetry.
The Salt Lake Tribune recently ran a column written by Grant Palmer arguing that Christian salvation turns not on the performance of ordinances but rather on an ethical life. Theologically speaking, the article (as Dave has pointed out nicely) is a pretty pedestrian, anti-sacramental, and essentially Protestant reading of the New Testament. The really interesting question raised by the article is not its theology, but rather what it is doing on the editorial page of an mainstream, secular newspaper. I think that we can safely dismiss the notion that the column was published because the Trib has taken it upon itself to launch a public discussion of Christian soteriology and New Testament hermeneutics. Perhaps the folks at the Trib editorial page think that a decent interest in the eternal salvation of their readers is part of their public function, but I doubt it. So what gives?
The Church issued a press release today annoucing the creation of a “Church Historian’s Press” to handle the publication of the Joseph Smith Papers. (The press release also mentioned “works related to the church’s history and growth.”) I am not quite sure what the rationale for this is. Previous volume of the papers were published by Deseret Book, which did a nice enough job, although of late the physical publication standards at Deseret Book have been falling. Perhaps the new imprint is to insure library quality production values. Maybe it just reduces administrative hassle to have the production done in-house, particularlly in light of the way that technology has been dropping the costs of publishing. Or perhaps something bigger is afoot.
I thought that one of Richard Bushman’s most provocative arguments in Rough Stone Rolling was his interpretation of the temple endowment, and I’ve been surprised that it hasn’t generated more interest.
Mormonism, so goes a well-worn trope, is more into orthopraxis than orthodoxy. That is, we tend to care more about right conduct — e.g. loyalty to the kingdom, keeping covenants, following commandments, etc. — than right belief — e.g. the precise nature of divine progression or the correct location of Kolob. This raises the question, however, of why Mormonism hasn’t really developed any sort of a formal jurisprudence. Looking at church courts in the nineteenth century and comparing Mormon “law” to Islamic law sharpens the issues
A poem for Presidents’ Day:
For the last year or so, I have been doing research on Mormon church courts in the nineteenth century. Until about 1900, it was expected that Mormons would not sue other Mormons in secular courts, but would take their disputes to their local bishop or high council. I’ve been looking at three inter-related questions: How did the Mormon court system develop, why did Latter-day Saints take civil disputes to church courts, and why did they ultimately abandon the church courts? I have now posted a more or less final version of my paper on SSRN, where you can down load it.
First, the poem:
The Marty Center at the University of Chicago has posted this interesting article by Kathleen Flake on President Hinckley’s funeral. Here is the money passage from the piece:
I recently read an article on Joseph Smith’s legal battles in a well-respected Mormon history journal. It was interesting and well-researched. Its main thesis, however, was that certain previous authors about Joseph Smith’s legal troubles had been “lying” (the author’s word not mine) about his trials, and Joseph Smith could have avoided martyrdom by behaving with more integrity. I read a fair amount of legal history, and suffice it to say that these are not the sorts of arguments that one sees in say Law & History Review.
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.
Consider two theological claims. First, a severely mentally retarded child has her retardation because in the premortal world she was an exceptionally valiant spirit and her current disability means that all that was necessary was for her to receive a body and then go straight on to eternal exaltation, worlds without number. Second, in this life blacks were denied the priesthood prior to 1978 because they were not valiant in the premortal conflict with Satan.
President Gordon B. Hinckley died earlier this evening at age 97. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:7-8)
Iâ€™ve been thinking of late about immortality and Mormonism. My question is whether or not you can be a Good Mormon and a Good Homeric Hero. I am unclear on the answer, but Moroni and John Taylor seem to suggest that for at least one Good Mormon being a Homeric Hero was just fine.
Mormon theology and practice centers ultimately on the temple, and yet the temple is a subject on which Mormons are especially secretive and reticent. Therein lies one of the central ironies and challenges facing any Mormon trying to really explain how Mormonism works to an outsider.
Here is my argument: Let us suppose that Mitt Romney does not become the next president. What will this mean for the Mormons? There about 5.7 million Latter-day Saints in America, which in a nation of more than 300 million makes us demographic chicken feed, but the question is important for what it reveals about the presidency and its relationship to American citizenship. You can read the rest of the argument here. What do you think? Too grim? UPDATE: The Salt Lake Tribune ran a shorter version of the article in today’s (1/6/2008) edition. FYI.
Generally speaking, when anyone wants an easy quote on the past racist theologies of Mormonism, they quote Bruce R. McConkie. I am one of those people who would like a clearer statement repudiating past theological justifications for the priesthood ban. On the other hand, I think that at times folks understate the extent to which they have already been repudiated explicitly. In August of 1978, two months after the publication of the revelation to President Kimball, Elder McConkie told an audience at BYU: Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular…
According to Eugene England, this is the best Mormon poem ever written:
I suspect that on Thursday Mitt Romney’s Mormonism will perform the function that Mormonism has been fulfilling in American politics for a century and a half: It will be an anvil on which this mainly Protestant nation hammers out the place of religion in public life.
Terryl Givens is doing a great deal in People of Paradox.
People frequently claim that Mormonism is an essentially atheological religion. It is not always exactly clear what is meant by this statement, but it generally seems to me something like we place right practice and sacred stories at the center of our faith rather than an abstract set of propositions. Whatever the merits of this claim, I think that it is hard to deny that the concept of â€œchurch doctrineâ€ is enormously important within the church discussions.
I have long thought that there ought to be an online clearing house for research papers related to Mormonism. My proposed model is SSRN, the Social Science Research Network, where scholars in law, economics, and other disciplines upload copies of working papers and published articles. Each article is accompanied by an abstract, and all of them become text searchable and available for downloading. (Scholars who either cannot or will not upload copies of their articles can still upload abstracts.) At present there are about 132,000 scholarly papers up on SSRN. Mormon studies, I have long thought, ought to have something like that. It now exists and it is called . . . . SSRN.
A while back the chattering class got its knickers in a knot about demography.
I have been doing research lately on the resolution of civil disputs in Mormon courts in the nineteenth century. Last week, I presented some of my research at the American Society for Legal History conference at ASU. I recorded my presentation and made it into an episode for the Law Talk podcast that I do through the Concurring Opinions law blog. Here is a link to my talk, which is about 25 minutes long. Enjoy!