Category: Liberal Arts

Economics – Law – Philosophy – etc.

Nietzsche and Longfellow

I’m neither a Nietzsche-ologist nor a Longfellow-ologist, and it’s likely that this association has been made by others. Still, it’s something that I personally had never noticed till this morning, when it suddenly occurred to me: Nietzsche’s famous charge has already been answered (in a sense) by Longfellow — and the answer came a full decade before the charge was even made.


One of my more prized possessions is a small chunk of limestone. It is about 8 inches long, roughly the size of two fists. Its value lies in the fact that is is a piece of one of the shattered sunstones of the original Nauvoo temple.

A Book I Would Like to See

With luck we should soon be hearing from Professor Royal Skousen, who is the mastermind of the critical text of the Book of Mormon. There is another critical text edition that I would like to see: A critical text of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Betting with Blaise

Clark mentioned Pascal’s wager in a comment, and that reminded me of a thought I’ve had for some time: Pascal’s wager seems like a bad deal for Mormons. In case anyone is unfamiliar with Pascal’s wager, the basic idea is that God can either exist or not. If he does exist, then believers go to heaven. If he doesn’t, then it really doesn’t matter whether one believes. The smart money says to believe in God and take the x% chance of infinite happiness. How does this apply to Mormonism? Well, we have the added wrinkle of some pretty good second-best destinations. Thus, if one’s options are to either be a believing Mormon or a believing Catholic, and the two possibilities are that either Mormonism or Catholicism is true, the resulting chart of possibilities would look like this: —- Mormonism Correct Catholicism Correct Believing Mormon Celestial Kingdom Hell Believing Catholic Terrestrial Kingdom Heaven


In the thread on suicide below, several comments have raised this idea from 1 Cor. 10:13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” What does this mean? When BRM states, “Persons subject to great stresses may lose control of themselves and become mentally clouded to the point that they are no longer accountable for their acts,” isn’t that an example of being tempted beyond one’s ability? Is Paul’s statement just “rah! rah!” talk?

The Oddity of Comfort

Comfort is a concept that holds pride of place in the gospel. We learn that an important part of our baptismal covenants is the promise to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” Elsewhere, we learn that one of the reasons for Christ’s suffering and atonement was so that he could “know how to succor his people.” This leads to the question: Why is comfort important?

The Reynolds Jury Charge

The trial court in Reynolds v. United States gave the following jury charge, which the Supreme Court later found was proper and not inflammatory. I think it not improper, in the discharge of your duties in this case, that you should consider what are to be the consequences to the innocent victims of this delusion. As this contest goes on, they multiply, and there are pure-minded women and there are innocent children, innocent in a sense even beyond the degree of the innocence of childhood itself. These are to be the sufferers; and as jurors fail to do their duty, and as these cases come up in the Territory of Utah, just so do these victims multiply and spread themselves over the land. It’s a fascinating snapshot of the ideas and prejudices of the time — Note that polygamy (or is it the church itself?) is referred to as “this delusion.” The jury, not surprisingly, convicted, leading to the Supreme…

Dead Man Walking

Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun, published Dead Man Walking in 1993. I am just finishing the book, which reinforces my long-held disdain for the death penalty. I have not seen the movie, but the book is a powerful accounting of Sister Helen’s experiences counseling death-row inmates in Louisiana.

Evans-Pritchard: Mormonism and Theories of Religion VI

E. E. Evans-Pritchard is one of the most important anthropologists of the last century. Unlike many of his predecessors (and contemporaries), he actually went to live with the people he studied and meticulously detailed their beliefs and practices. If he teaches us nothing else, it is that close research is vital to understanding religion.

Eliade: Mormonism and Theories of Religion V

Unlike the other thinkers we have reviewed so far, Mircea Eliade was a religious person himself. Perhaps for this reason his sympathetic approach to religion has been extremely well accepted by Mormon scholars. When reading his books for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel a strong kinship with him, as if his interpretation of religion was written about Mormonism itself. I once advocated in an EQ lesson that Eliade was essential reading for all Mormons.

Illegal Work and the Minimum Wage

Last Saturday my advisor informed me that he never wanted to read my dissertation again, which was his way of saying he was ready to sign off. So I thought I would amuse everyone (well, me anyway) with a very brief recap of my findings. Let me assure you that there is no Mormon angle to this work, so if you are offended by the secular, feel free to move on.

Marx: Mormonism and Theories of Religion IV

My titles were too long and hard to distinguish in the “Recent Comments” section, so I have switched the order around. The next theory in this series is that of Marx, just in time for the lifting of the ban on socialism! Like the others, Marx’s theory is reductionist. As a former Marxist myself, I find this particular kind of reductionism unpersuasive. However, this theory of religion became more than just a theory. For a good part of the 20th century a huge portion of the earth’s population subscribed to this theory. For this reason alone it derserves to be seriously considered.

Mormonism and Theories of Religion III: Durkheim

This follows up on the previous entries in this series here and here. Emile Durkheim is one of the most important founders of modern sociology. He is also one of the most important figures in the study of religion. Like Tylor, Frazer, and Freud, his theory of religion is also reductionist. It seeks to explain religion by pointing to something other than religion itself.

Mormonism and Theories of Religion II: Freud

This is the second installment in this series, begun here. Freud has had a huge impact on thought in the 20th century. He was a truly revolutionary thinker, to such an extent that the statement “We are all Freudians now” certainly rings true. Among the many subjects he treated, religion was a particular interest for him. He dealt with it in three books, Totem and Taboo, Future of an Illusion, and Moses and Monotheism.

Mormonism and Quetzalcoatl in Court

While we’re on the topic of court decisions about the church, it’s always fun to mention the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Alvarado v. City of San Jose, 94 F. 3d 1223 (1996). The plaintiffs in that case sought to enjoin the installation (and later, force the removal) of a Quetzalcoatl statue, on the grounds that, inter alia, it violated the California Constitution because it promoted Mormon beliefs. The court dismissed the claim, noting: While Mormons are clearly a recognized religious group, the evidence presented by the plaintiffs does not support a First Amendment argument. The writings suggest that, according to certain Mormons, ancient worshippers of Quetzalcoatl were in fact worshipping Christ. Historically, Mormon missionaries taught that Christ had revealed himself to native Mesoamericans in the form of Quetzalcoatl or the Plumed Serpent long before he appeared to man in the human form known to Christians. This attribution of Christian or Christ-like qualities to ancient religious symbols and practices does not,…

The Book of Mormon in Court

I think that most people know that passages from the Bible pop up from time to time in judicial opinions. For example, many old common law rules turned on the distinction between acts that were malum in se (that is wrong in and of themselves) and malum prohibitum (that is wrong simply because they are legally proscribed). The Ten Commandments were regularly used as a touchstone in making this distinction. The question presents itself: What sort of a life – if any – has the Book of Mormon led in the pages of the court reporters?

Mormonism and Theories of Religion: Tylor and Frazer

As Nate mentioned, I am starting my doctorate in Religious Studies this fall. In my first semester I will take a required seminar for new doctoral students Contemporary Issues in the Theory of Religion. We were given some summer reading as a preparation for this course, which included the introductory book on the subject, Seven Theories of Religion, by Daniel L. Pals. He recognizes, and I concur, that these are not all of the theories, and some important thinkers are overlooked, but seven does sound like a nice round(ish) number.

“On Equal Grounds”

The story of Korihor in Alma 30 contains many lessons for the modern audience. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most interesting part of the chapter to me is the discussion of law in verses 7-11. In particular, this discussion is bookended by the concept of equality: 7. “Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds.” 12. “… Nevertheless, there was no law against a man’s belief; therefore, a man was punished only for the crimes which he had done; therefore all men were on equal grounds.” In an earlier post, Jim Faulconer asked a question that I would like to revisit here: What does it mean to be “on equal grounds”?

UofU and Theatre Student Settle

Christina Axson-Flynn’s lawsuit against the University of Utah garnered lots of attention, but I am not sure that we have discussed it here. The events took place in 1998, and revolve around Axson-Flynn’s experience in the University of Utah’s Actor Training Program (ATP). When she refused to use vulgar and profane language, her instructors pressured her to “get over it.” In the face of her refusal to change her views, the instructors escalated the pressure, and she ultimately decided to leave the program. In the wake of her withdrawal, she sued the University and her instructors for violating her First Amendment right to refrain from speaking and for violating her free exercise rights under the First Amendment. After losing both claims on the defendant’s motion for summary judgment in the U.S. District Court, Axson-Flynn won a double reversal at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. This entitled Axson-Flynn to pursue the lawsuit in the District Court, but earlier this week,…

Spirituality & Fundamenatlism II

Hi, sorry to have dropped out for a few days (what do you call a guest blogger who doesn’t blog?). A friend from the philosophy department has been helping me (actually, I’ve been helping him) work on a home construction project that is taking longer than expected (proving, I suppose, that between the two of them, law and philosophy can confuse pretty much anything). I enjoyed the comments. Some thematic responses.

Individual responsibility?

Frank McIntyre says “I am only responsible for that part of me that is eternally me.” Adam Greenwood agrees and wonders how to makes sense of that claim in light of the teaching that God oversees everything and brings about his purposes. Kristine Haglund implicitly assumes, I think, that despair, acedia, etc. are really individual psychological disorders because, like Frank and Adam, she assumes that individuals are the basic units, the units at which responsibility occurs. Of course that assumption is the norm. But why should we believe it is true?

Spirituality & Fundamentalism

Hello all, and thanks for Jim’s warm introduction and Lyle’s and Gordon’s welcomes. To get started, let me summarize some recent research I’ve done on current trends in the sociology of religion, and then pose some questions.

The Anti-Nephi-Lehite Puzzle

In the rather endless recent comments on war, torture, and politics, both Rob and Dan have made variations on the claim that it is better to suffer death rather than commit certain sorts of moral wrongs. Rob’s claim to me is more interesting, because as a pacifist he seems to claim that it is better to be killed rather than kill another. Dan and Rob, are of course, free to object that I am putting words in their mouths (which is probably correct), however, the basic proposition raises an interesting question: Why might killing be worse than death?

Constitutional Turnabout

According to reports this week, the leadership of the United States Senate is currently considering whether to bring to a vote a proposed constitutional amendment to define the nature of marriage. There is widespread agreement that the proposal lacks the necessary votes to pass, suggesting that the vote is primarily intended to make a political issue of the proposed amendment’s subject matter during an election year. Still, many constituencies remain highly exercised over what they perceive to be the necessity of such an amendment to resolve the matter of single-sex marriage. Curiously, these constituencies seem largely to be the same as those that vehemently opposed the passage of a different constitutional amendment — the Equal Rights Amendment — some thirty years ago. At the time, opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment claimed that use of the constitutional amendment process to address the purposes of the proposed amendment was both unnecessary and unwise

Twelve Differences Between Taxation and Robbery

This is a short primer on the differences between taxation and robbery. At times these two phenomena are sufficiently difficult to differentiate that perhaps such a discussion will be helpful. Feel free to append your own differences to the dozen provided: 1. Taxation is done by a group of people that claim to represent you. Robbers do not claim to represent you.


Occasionally there is some odd comment here or there on this site alluding to “rational choice” models. Now almost nobody in economics uses this phrase, because you don’t need a word to describe what everyone is doing. Yet rationality seems to get some non-economists excited. Why?

Oops — I forgot

The judicial nomination of Thomas Griffith, General Counsel of Brigham Young University and Bush appointee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals seems to have hit a slight snag — as reported by this morning’s Washington Post, Griffith appears to have been acting as the University’s chief legal officer without the little detail of a license to practice law. Apparently Griffith’s admission to the District of Columbia bar lapsed for failure to pay his dues, and he never quite got around to sitting for the Utah bar. Highly embarassing, but perhaps not fatal to the nomination if no one’s out for blood during the confirmation process.