Category: Cornucopia

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

2014-04-28 Dresdenfiles Quote

This post is a follow up to my two previous posts As Much As I Know Anything and What It Would Take To Not Believe. I have to start out by clarifying something that I didn’t define well enough in a previous post. I made the statement that we cannot not believe, but that depends on a definition of belief that isn’t universal and that I should have made more clear. Obviously we can choose to not believe in lots of things individually. But when I think about belief I have something more holistic and systemic in mind. Our really important beliefs tend to weave together in a web that makes it impossible for some strands to be pulled without having an effect on the entire fabric. At this point we’re not just talking about individual propositions. We’re talking about a world view, which is a cohesive whole that includes not just beliefs, but also values, emotions, and memories. I’m tempted…

A house with a gun is not a home

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Everybody was shocked by the news that on April 19 in Utah a three year old girl killed her two year old brother with a shotgun. Poor boy, poorer girl and still poorer parents, what a tragedy, also for the wider family, the ward, the community, the church, in fact for everyone. This is exactly what should never happen. Such an accident always depends on a string of improbable circumstances: the fact that the gun was within reach of toddlers, that it held still one bullet, that mother or father were just out of sight at that very moment, the improbable aim at the little brother, her finding the trigger at all, etc. Sure, each of the chains in this string can be broken if proper care is taken, but my point here is stating the obvious: there should have been no gun in the house, not in this house, nor in any home. A house with a gun is…

The Message of Mormonism (pt. 2): Angels, Visions, Prophets, and Gifts of the Spirit

In my last post I talked about Mormonism as an answer to the question, “Which church is true?” and suggested that this question has only been compelling on a large scale in fairly limited circumstances. I ought to note here that I am not trying to come up with some kind of general explanation for why people adopt religions or even of church growth in general. I am just interested in the kinds of messages that we have given about the Restoration and why those messages might or might not be compelling in differing social contexts. Another message on which preaching the Restoration has relied is one that emphasizes the continuation of the supernatural world of the scriptures in the present. This is the message of angelic visitors, gold plates, the gifts of the spirit, continuing revelation, and a re-established and literal Israel preparing the world for an imminent second coming. It promises to believers a religious life filled with…

Thinking about Miracle Stories

Should the stories of miracles that Jesus performed be considered historically accurate? Did he walk on water, or was there a conveniently placed sandbar that made his disciples think he was walking on water, or did Mark just make this story up?

What It Would Take to Not Believe

2014-04-14 Karl Popper

There was one question in response to my last post that I particularly wanted to answer, but wasn’t able to at the time. This is the question, which was posed by Sebastian Dick: “What would it take to convince you that (in as much as you know anything) propositions such as God exists or the BoM is historical are false? Or do you consider such propositions unfalsifiable?” This post is my answer. It is not a trite cliché that everyone has to believe in something. It is the literal truth. When your life has ended and you look back and see the decisions that you have made along the way, the pattern of choices will imply a corresponding constellation of beliefs. Those facts and principles that you affirm as relevant and true because they are made logically necessary by your actions are the things that you believe. This perspective is a generalization of the economic theory of revealed preferences, so…

The Message of Mormonism (pt. 1): Which Church is True?

This is the first in a series of posts in which I lay out some of my thoughts on what Mormonism’s message to the world has been and what it might become in the next generation or two. It’s a big topic, and I’m likely to yammer on at some length. You have been warned. Since the beginning of the Restoration Mormonism’s central message to the world has been “Join us!” We are and have always been a missionary religion. From an internal perspective missionary work serves three basic purposes. The first is to assist individuals work out their cosmic salvation by persuading them to make and keep sacred covenants under the authority of the priesthood as instructed by God. The second is to make the lives of converts in the here-and-now better by giving them a set of disciplines that will allow them to avoid much of the misery of the world for themselves and their families. Finally, missionary…

Martha’s Sacrament

Times & Seasons used to post, from time to time, something “From the archives”. So is this one. *** Martha was one of the older sisters in our branch. We counted a scant dozen of them, singles and widows, making more than half of the congregation and being its very backbone. When I got to know her, Martha was in her sixties. Huge by nature and strong from her lifelong labors as a market woman, she lived in a modest but sunny apartment, four flights high. Rent and utilities took most of her tiny pension, but she managed. Every Sunday the happy woman rode to church on her big black bicycle, rain or shine. She entered our old rowhouse as if it were a palace, beaming faith and friendship. In the living room, meaning our chapel, she gave talks and testimonies with a stentorian voice, developed during her years on the market place, praising Joseph Smith and the Book of…

NBA strikes deal with LDS Church for Jabari Parker

Jabari Parker

Today the NBA announced a landmark agreement with the LDS Church to ensure that Jabari Parker’s desire to serve a mission does not interfere with his draft prospects, saying the church has agreed to their proposal to call Parker to serve as a missionary in the city of the NBA team that drafts him.  While the official statement is brief, sources close to the negotiations report that because the NBA considers Parker to be a certain star, league officials, including new commissioner Adam Silver, went to unprecedented lengths to ensure that Parker enters this year’s draft. The deal stipulates that Elder Parker will proselyte and live with missionary companions, like other volunteer Mormon missionares, except that, since Elder Parker will be an NBA player, he and his companion will attend all of the team’s practices and games.  The NBA has even given permission for Elder Parker’s companion to sit on the team bench in missionary attire during games to comply with mission…

As Much As I Know Anything

2014-03-31 Before the Pulpit

“Out of curiosity, what makes you believe in Mormonism? Or God for that matter?” This is a question I got from a close friend, more or less out of the blue, the Wednesday before last in a Facebook conversation that had been—up to that point—mostly about how much I love Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. It’s not like it’s the first time I’ve been asked that, but it’s a question I’ve struggled unsuccessfully to answer in the past. I’ve tried on more than one occasion to sit down and write out my reasons, but I always failed. Eventually I gave up. And then, last week, I found that the answer had been there all along. And it was pretty simple. Looking back, I’d say that was the problem. For all I love to write about epistemic humility, doubt, and uncertainty I have just about the simplest and most conventional Mormon testimony that it is possible to have. And maybe, in the…

So Who Gets a Press Conference in Front of the Tabernacle?

One of the aspects of the Church’s recent statement to OW regarding the priesthood session that strikes me as eminently sensible is the insistence that OW not invite media on to Temple Square and confine their demonstrations to public property. It’s worth noting that the letter didn’t say that OW members could not come on to Temple Square as worshipers. It said that they couldn’t conduct a press conference in front of the Tabernacle during a General Conference session. There are three reasons that this makes good sense to me. First, inviting television crews onto Temple Square and holding a press conference during a session of General Conference actually is inconsistent with the spirit of the event. This really isn’t a difficult call. We are not talking about wearing pants to church. (Something that I didn’t even realize was a thing until it was a thing.) We are talking about a media event. On Temple Square. In front of the…

Faith, Revelation, and Jewish Parallels

Some Jewish reading recently has triggered some LDS thoughts and parallels. I jotted these down in between lengthy organic chemistry homework sessions, so they’re less refined than I’d like, but still important to get out there. (I’m trying to shed my perfectionist writing tendencies.) James Kugel is an insightful and approachable Hebrew Bible scholar. He’s also an Orthodox Jew who retired from Harvard to go live in Israel. Kugel’s How to Read the Bible details differences between how ancient and modern audiences understood the Bible and why, exposition which many people find disturbing or even undermining of faith.

When Civil Disobedience Isn’t

(Disobedient, that is.) As you may have noticed, the recent discussions about Ordain Women and related projects such as Wear Pants to Church Day have generated a complicated set of responses, many of them very critical. We saw critics labeling these women apostates or “dumb feminist bitches.” A few outliers even threatened violence against organizers. These harsh reactions start from a baseline that women who want to wear pants to church, or attend General Priesthood Meeting, or even (gasp) be ordained to the Priesthood, are obviously disobeying a core gospel principle, by disagreeing with existing church policy and culture. They are sometimes cast as protesters taking a stand through civil disobedience, in a way that violates Mormon norms. But is disagreement really wrong? Is this really disobedience? There is of course a great tradition of Civil Disobedience in Civil Rights activism, and it has generally involved public rulebreaking. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks clearly broke laws. And these were…

A Discarded Draft

The following draft of a letter was discovered in the waste paper basket at the Church Public Affairs Office:* Dear Sister Kelly, We have received your request for a ticket to attend the Priesthood Session of April General Conference. The purpose of this session is to provide instruction from Church leaders specifically for men and boys. Each year the Church receives more requests for tickets from men and boys than it can accommodate. Accordingly, your request for tickets is refused. We appreciate your desire to hear from Church leaders, however, and invite you to watch the live broadcast of the meeting and the other sessions of General Conference. We welcome your interest in finding ways that the Church can better serve its female members. God loves and values all of his children, and the Church is always eager to find additional ways of advancing His work. By divine revelation, the priesthood is conferred only on men. The leaders of the…

Some Ironies of Continuing Revelation

I was recently having a conversation with an orthodox Jewish law professor about the challenges faced by Mormons and orthodox Jews as they seek to adapt their religion to life in liberal societies. He was struck by the parallels between Jewish and Mormon discussions, and then said, “Of course, I assume that the idea of continuing revelation makes things much different for Mormons.” His comment got me thinking, and here’s what I wrote in response: Chaim, You’d think that ideas of continuing revelation would make discussions of change — including basic theological and liturgical change — easier for Mormons, and in a sense it does. However, there are two reasons that the idea of continuing revelation provides less flexibility than many folks — including many Mormons — assume. First, very early on in the church ideas of personal revelation and continuing revelation led to antinomian chaos. This isn’t that surprising to anyone that has studied the history of religion. In…

Human Evolution: Problems and Possibilities

2014-03-17 Sun Over Earth

I agree with Jonathan Green’s description of how most Mormons tend to think about evolution vs. creation. To recap, we tend to: Affirm an active role for God in the creation of human beings Accept basic science as it relates to genetics, natural selection, geology, etc. Reject attempts to force an either/or choice between points 1 and 2. As a general rule, Mormons are happy to embrace science and religion, and do not see a necessary conflict between the two. When it comes to the usual hullaballoo over religion vs. science, this is certainly correct. There just isn’t any particular reason to care very much whether God created Adam and Eve using natural selection or some other means. However, there is a more subtle conflict. It exists between the continuity of the evolution narrative and the way we talk about humanity as a discrete category. Here is one example of the problem from a typical statement of Brigham Young’s: The…

The Desolation of Noah: An Unexpected Explanation

Hi, I'm Noah.

It seems like we’re being inundated with discussions about Noah lately. A major motion picture is set to discuss the tale of Noah and the Ark — but the picture will also include an unusual disclaimer stating that it shouldn’t be seen as the real Noah story. Meanwhile, the Noah story itself faces a rising tide of criticism, with Bill Nye (the Science Guy) publicly ridiculing the story on national television. In response to that wave of criticism, some writers have floated defenses of the Noah account. For instance, at Meridian Magazine, writer Ronald Millett gives an in-depth discussion of how the Noah account can be reconciled with science — and therefore, how its critics are all wet. Given the extent to which the discussion has made a splash, I thought I might dip in a toe as well. Ahem. So. Millett is, of course, on the right track. Obviously the Noah account is real; and obviously as well, there…

Fallibility, Trust, and Commercial Development

2014-03-10 Philly Dev Site

I’ve written about the fallibility of our leaders before (here, here, and here) because I think it’s important for us as members to develop greater spiritual independence and because the unrealistic expectations held for the leaders (as often by the critics as by the devout) set people up for unnecessary disappointment. But the concept of fallibility, like the even trendier concept of doubt, can be overplayed. Leaders are fallible, yes, but that doesn’t preclude room for trust. The proximate cause of my ruminations was the announcement of the Church’s addition of a chapel and a commercial apartment tower next to the Philadelphia temple site. Based on reporting in the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer, local reception of the proposed projects is quite enthusiastic. From the NYT: [Philadelphia’s] deputy mayor for economic development… praised the church for taking a step that private developers were less likely to tackle, that is, committing to such a project without more evidence of economic…

What are the best Ensign articles?

We have four missionaries in our ward, with ipads. They have complete access to the LDS.org library, but (per their mission president’s wishes) little else in terms of reading/enrichment material. I keep mentioning different books, as is my wont (see here, here, and here), and telling them “all you need to do is read,” so they’ve been frustrated at the apparent lack of access to “the good stuff.” 

Ordain Women – the Joke Is On You

Ordain Women - the Joke Is On You

I just read the “hilarious” post on Andy Kano’s blog titled: Some LDS Women Want The Priesthood? Well LDS Men Have Some Requests Too. If you don’t want to read it, in a nutshell it’s a “comical” slapdown of Ordain Women in which he demands equality by, you know, providing a room where men can nurse their babies (I mean who wants to see all that exposed chest hair!), adding padded priesthood room chairs, and equalizing other disparities that he, apparently, thinks (in that über gut-busting way) are equivalent to not being able to share in the power of God and all that silly stuff that no one really wants to be part of. To be clear, I have a wee tendency to be sarcastic. And I like parody and can enjoy good satire. I guess that’s what Andy was trying to accomplish. But I think he fails because he’s part of the church “power structure” ridiculing those who aren’t…

Why Equality is a Feeling

This is a little long. Bear with me. “Equality is not a feeling” has emerged as something of a slogan among some Mormon feminists. It’s offered as a reply to those who insist that many (most?) Mormon women feel loved and valued within the Church, aren’t pushing for radical reforms, or the like. These women don’t feel unequal. But, equality is not a feeling. What might it mean to say that equality isn’t a feeling? It seems to me that there are two possible ways of understanding this claim. The first is that equality is an objective, empirical judgment rather than a normative or psychological judgment. This strikes me as wrong. Equality always involves normative judgment. To say that things are equal is not to say that they are the same. Rather it is to say that like things are being treated alike. We must make judgments, however, as to what makes two things alike. In doing this we pick…

Supernatural Selection

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If I had to estimate what the median Mormon adult currently thinks about the origin of life, or the model that the church as an institution is most comfortable with, I would describe it as non-exclusive evolution through supernatural selection.