Category: Liberal Arts

Economics – Law – Philosophy – etc.

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.

The Progression and Perfection of God

I’ve been thinking recently about how to reconcile the two ideas of the perfection of God and the principle of eternal progression. We read that God is perfect; and therefore we may think that he has reached some end point or finish line in his progression. At the same time, we read that as God is now, man may become, and we are told that our exaltation will involve eternal progression; these two ideas, read together, suggest that God continues to progress. (Query: Does this refer to the Father? The Son? Both? Since we believe that the God we generally deal with is Jesus, this post will relate mostly to Jesus in his role as God, but many parts can apply to both). How can we reconcile the ideas of a perfect God and a God who continues to progress? One potential resolution that I like is to suggest that God has perfected himself as an individual, and is now…

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:

The Passion vs. The Last Temptation

(I blush to confess that) I’m old enough to remember the release of The Last Temptation of Christ. While there was some discussion of the film in the student ward I attended, I don’t remember it being nearly as big a kerfuffle (or “brou-hahr-hahr” as they say around here) as The Passion has been. I’m sure that not nearly as many Mormons saw The Last Temptation as will see The Passion. I can think of several possible reasons for this:

Civic Religion – Again

For those not aware of the fact, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Locke v. Davey a few hours ago, holding that it did not violate the Free Exercise Clause for the State of Washington to exempt divinity degree applicants from an otherwise available scholarship fund. I am not going to comment here on the opinion itself, but there was a line from Justice Scalia’s dissent that brought to mind an earlier discussion here at T&S on civic religion.

Mormons and Lord Devlin

When Mormons get up set about things like abortion, pornography, SSM, constitutional prohibitions on anti-sodomy laws, and the like they frequently talk about how these kinds of developments threaten to undermine society’s “moral fabric.” However, I don’t think that we have been sufficiently reflective about this rhetoric. I think that Lord Devlin can help us understand why.

What is “Church Doctrine” Good For?

The discussion of “church doctrine” on this blog has thus far focused on what might be called its soteriological significance. However, it seems to me that this is hardly the only reason that one might want to be able to understand “church doctrine.”

Rescuing an Orphaned Thread (aka Lazy Blogging)

Last week Nate wondered about how to define “church doctrine.” Near the end of the comments thread, two people very articulately wondered about why we should bother doing so. (Here’s a link to the full discussion). Greenfrog asked: “At the risk of being perceived as a bone-headed realist, doesn’t that suggest that searching for some meaningfully mandatory set of doctrines is missing the point? If such a set of doctrines really isn’t an operationally determinate criterion, why should we conclude that it matters?” Joseph Spencer then usefully reminded us that the word “doctrine” simply means teaching, and posited that the function of church doctrine is not to systematically address every theological question that could come up, but to teach members to look at the world differently. I’m not sure I have anything useful to add, but I think these are interesting questions, so I want to consider them again and try to ask some related ones:

Priestcrafts

The Book of Mormon uses the term “priestcrafts” as follows: “priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.” (2 Nephi 26:29) Last weekend, I visited the “local” LDS bookstore (located about two hours away, near the Chicago temple) and discovered a new book about Jesus, written by a man I had met several years ago while practicing law. Although we met only briefly, my impression of this man was very favorable, and I am pretty certain that he could teach me a thing or two about Jesus. Nevertheless, whenever I visit an LDS bookstore, the verse quoted above about priestcrafts pops into my head. Mormons tend to associate that idea with televangelists, but I wonder …

Chaplinsky in Zion

According to the Deseret News, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson is considering a city ordinance that would ban some of the more extreme street preaching around Temple Square.

What is Church Doctrine?

As Mormons we often like to speak as though we have a well settled body of doctrine that provides determinate answers to some set of questions, but is silent as to other questions. Thus, someone makes some comment in Sunday School with which we disagree, and we are able to say, “Well that is your opinion, but it is not church doctrine.” My question is how do I figure out if something is church doctrine or not.

A Society for Mormon Philosophy

It looks like “The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology” has finally decied to go public. You can check out their new website (very slick) at www.smpt.org. In addition, they will be sponsoring a conference at UVSC on March 19-20 on Mormon Theology. (link here) As a lawyer, I thought it is interesting that one of the things that they cite as spurring the formation of their society is the increased awareness of the importance of the 19th century Mormon experience for the constitutional interpretation of religious freedom. Note: T&S’s Jim Faulconer is the chairman of this august organization.

Guilt

There has been an interesting discussion of guilt over at Bob and Logan’s blog. In response to some comments that I made, Russell makes the following intriguing remark:

Office, Oaths, and Sins

I work as a law clerk for a federal appellate judge. As part of my work, I routinely assist in the enforcement of legal rules that I think are unwise or even unjust. Of late I have been wondering about the morality of what I do every day.

Justice for Fornicators

The extended discussion of Matt’s last post has got me thinking about abortion. I freely admitt that this is not a subject that I have actually spent a lot of time on, so I can’t claim that what follows is informed by either deep reading or deep thinking. What I have tried to do is put together an argument that makes sense out of the Church’s somewhat modified pro-life position, i.e. no abortion with limited exceptions of for rape, threats to life, etc. Warning, what follows contains a fair amount of pseudo-philosophical rambling.

Mormonism and Christianity

“Are Mormons Christian?” The question comes up again and again, and causes no small amount of frustration and hard feelings between Mormons and (other?) Christian groups. The response of the church, and of many members, has been to assert “Of course we’re Christian! We believe in Christ, don’t we?” Mormons are frustrated that that assertion doesn’t answer the question. After all, Christians, including those who believe that Mormons are not Christian, state that the requirement for Christianity is acceptance of Christ. If that’s the sole requirement, then Mormons are in (The church states “Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He was the Creator, He is our Savior, and He will be our Judge.”). However, Dave’s recent discussion of a Methodist examination of differences between Methodism and Mormonism made me rethink the question. Are we all being a little too simplistic? That is, is Christianity defined solely by belief in Christ, or is there more to being “Christian”?

Mormonism and Commodification

One of the perennial (and perennially fun) debates in legal theory revolves around the issue of commidification. In this context commidification means the ability to take something and sell it. Thus, we have all sorts of fun debates about prostitution, markets in adoption rights, surrogate mothering contracts, and the like. So does Mormonism offer us anything that gives us any unique traction in these debates, or as Mormons do we simply argue about these sorts of issues in the same way as everyone else?

Covenant and Contract

I have been working on this post for a while, and I have finally given up (for the time being) on trying to make my thoughts more coherent. So be warned, what follows involves some rather rambling discussions of legal theory and legal history. I disclaim any warranties explicit or implied. Read at your own risk. Void where prohibited. One of my main academic interests is contract law and contract theory. As a result, I am fascinated by the theological idea of “covenant.” Generally, when people talk about “covenant” and “contract,” they distinguish them by saying that “covenants” involve spiritual things, while contracts are merely commercial transactions. They then go on to describe a covenant as a set of recipricol promises. We promise X and in return God promises Y. I tend to think that this whole approach to the question is wrong.

Mormon Structuralism

There is an interesting post on “The Strange Career of Mormon Structuralism” over at the Metaphysical Elders about the relationship between structuralism and the thought of Hugh Nibley. I am not sure that I agree with everything in the post, but it does raise some interesting questions

A Whole Lot More on Natural Law

In a mad attempt to throw together Kaimi’s post on the “Christian Right” and Nate’s post on natural law, while also tossing in a bit about Catholic and Protestant theology… A few years ago I dug a little into a group called the World Congress of Families. It, like United Families International, has its roots in a loose network of politically conservative churches that saw the United Nations as beholden to an anti-traditionalist agenda. This is hardly a new complaint; it dates back to the 1960s and 70s, where you can find old John Birch Society stuff warning against the “unisex” and collectivist designs of the U.N. But it really seems to have picked up steam in the 1990s, perhaps because the weight of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic hierarchy really began to be added to the agenda (especially in regards to the role of U.N. agencies in promoting birth control and “family planning” (i.e., abortion rights)). Whatever the…

Noel Reynolds, Natural Law, and the Personalized Good

One of my favorite former professors, Noel Reynolds, dropped by and left some very interesting comments on natural law. He begins by faulting the Thomistic natural law tradition for beginning its analysis with Aristotelianism rather than the scriptures, noting that in the scriptures it is either God’s command or our covenant with him that provides moral direction, not nature. Noel goes on to ask: And yet, the plan of salvation does presume the necessity of some disposition within us to seek after good or evil. And our salvation depends on the choice we will make. Or is that already a hellenized way of putting it? For other scriptures pose this alternative as choosing to obey the Father or the devil. So is God pursuing the Good, or is he laboring to build a universe committed to doing what he believes is good? Whatever might lie behind it, the latter seems to be the view provided by him to mortals. I…