Category: General Doctrine

From the Pulpit: Notes on Repentance

In the noble tradition of literary hacks who never miss an opportunity to recycle old material, here are the interesting bits of a sacrament meeting talk I delivered in church today. Repentance is, at its simplest, a turning away from sin and a returning to God.

(When) are bloggers permitted to criticize church leaders?

This topic has come up in recent posts around the bloggernacle. For example, Rusty at Nine Moons discusses an instance where a bishop committed all of the men in the ward to “1) To never watch an R-rated movie ever again. Also, to never watch a PG-13 rated movie without his wife’s permission. 2) To use the internet (at home presumably) only with his wife’s permission (by assigning a password on the computer that only the wife knows).” The comments to Rusty’s post include a number of attacks on him for posting criticism of the Bishop. (e.g., “did you pray [before posting this critique] . . . I can say with absolute certainty that you could not have“). Meanwhile, Steve at BCC wonders whether he is allowed to criticize conference talks for style. (The BCC commenters, perhaps inured to Steve’s views, haven’t yet asked him if he prayed before posting them, but I suppose it’s just a matter of time).…

Getting Philosophical about Food Storage

The thing is: we don’t eat the kinds of foods that one can store. A large chunk of our grocery purchases consist of fresh fruit, frozen vegetables (not the square carrots!), and cheese. Whenever I feel all penitent and motivated to store more food, I always hit a wall due to the discrepency between what we eat and what can be stored.

Precious Assurance of God’s Fairness: Baptism for the Dead

A number of years ago I participated in a science and religion mail list with a group of scientists who were also Christians. It was there where I came to appreciate the faith of scientists of other religions who are able reconcile their faith (esp. Genesis) with modern science. I think everyone in the group accepted the finding that the earth is old, and so forth, often in ways that were remarkably compatible with what James Talmage taught in his landmark sermon, “The Earth and Man.” BTW, that speech is especially important because, as Michael Ash points out, it appears to be “the only exposition of a Quorum member to have been reviewed and approved by at least some, if not all, of the First Presidency, and then published officially by the Church” (“The Mormon Myth of Evil Evolution,” Dialogue, Vol. 35, 2003, pp. 19-59). A poignant moment came when a fellow scientist in the group lamented about the “fact”…

Conflicted Thoughts about Hyper-Righteousness

Over at Sons of Mosiah, Bob Caswell shares Bob Millet’s theory on why some members of the Church get so darn hyper about little things: “Millett had another story of a relatively new member coming to him and asking if it was normal for a bishop to require no facial hair in order for a person to be worthy to receive a calling. Millett suggested that the person meet with his stake president. Well, this person did so only to find out that is was his stake president who instigated it! Millett posed the question: What does a person do in that situation? How do you tell a stake president he is wrong? It’s not that easy, especially not in Utah County. Millett gave more examples of Utah County issues he’s dealt with and continued to explain that when a population in a certain area is more than 80 percent Mormon, hyper-righteousness tends to occur, which eventually translates into self-righteousness…

The Anarchy of Revelation

I recently finished Jon Krakauer’s book about Fundamentalist Mormons, called Under the Banner of Heaven: The Story of a Violent Faith (I know, I know, I am about a year behind in my reading list). The book was a fascinating read, though often frustrating for its reductionism, historical inaccuracies, and sometimes sophomoric view of religion. However, he does seem to make an interesting point about what I like to call the Anarchy of Revelation.

Looking on a woman to lust

I ought to avoid making a mountain out of a molehill and derailing the current discussion (though one more argument about same-sex marriage is the last thing I’m interested in, so I don’t really mind if it gets derailed). Nevertheless, I think I should explain some of the cryptic remarks I made about lust more fully. Besides, I’m an academic. What else could I do but make mountains out of molehills.

The Nature of Satan, as Explained by a Seven Year Old

Seven-year-old: Satan doesn’t have a body. Me: That’s right. 7-YO: So he’s a Spirit. Me: Yes. 7-YO (getting more excited): That’s kind of like a ghost. Me: Yep. 7-YO (who has been playing a lot of pac-man lately) (very excited): So if you eat a power pill, then Satan turns blue, and then you can EAT HIM! Me: (trying very hard not to laugh) Umm, not quite . . .

Do we matter at all? Are we stones that leave no ripples?

We love God because he’s just. We look at children in bad homes and console ourselves with knowing that their day will come. Every blessing God has offered us he’ll offer them and through grace he’ll clear them of whatever would impede their choice. We see the cemeteries full of people the gospel never reached and we’re pleased to think of baptisms for the dead. When we ourselves have sinned in our parenting or our friendship or our calling and it seems very much like we’ve made it harder for our children or our husband or our friend to accept Christ and the Gospel we remember that men are punished for their own sins and not for ours. If we mess up, someone else will fix it, or God will offer grace if only our victims will accept it. We are comforted. We can hardly even bear all the inequity that natural disaster and inexorable history and wicked men do,…

Who We Are and What We Are Judged For

In a recent post, there was a bit of a debate about what we are or aren’t allowed to be judged for. For example, suppose I honestly don’t believe the Church to be true. I even pray about it. To what extent can I be punished for my lack of faith? In one sense, this is moot as a judgment tool for us because we never observe others’ sincerity and it is not for us to judge other’s eventual salvation or lack thereof. But we do need to know where we stand, so the the question may be worth thinking about. I would claim that we cannot rightly be blamed for anything that is done to us, only for what we do. Further, that we can only be blamed for something to the extent that it is of our own accord. To the extent that we are behaving as we have been conditioned by others, then that can’t be our…

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Elder McConkie

I grew up in a home where I was taught from my earliest childhood to be skeptical of Elder Bruce R. McConkie. I was taught that he was overly dogmatic and that his urge to systemization was inconsistent with the spirit of continuing revelation and the core of the restored gospel. Good honor-thy-father-and-thy-mother-that-thy-days-may-be-long-upon-land child that I was, I imbibed this ethos and by the time I arrived at college I had a deep, anti-McConkie strain. While in the MTC I served with a missionary who was one of Elder McConkie’s grandsons. He (the missionary not the apostle) informed me that it was alright for there to be people like me in the church because there were people like him (the missionary) whom the spirit had endowed with perfect knowledge. This clinched it for me. No hope for McConkie or his kin. Of late, however, I have made my peace. I have learned to stop worrying and love Elder McConkie.

There Has to Be Error

In a recent post on blessings, Heather notes that sometimes blessings promised don’t happen and that there can be several reasons why this doesn’t occur. I’d like to extend off that idea to note that, if we are to work by faith and not knowledge, things have to not work right sometimes. Thus I am highly skeptical of any evidence that shows too incontrovertibly the Book of Mormon is a historical record. I assume that someone will raise plausible objections to any such evidence given a little time. This is because I don’t believe that most of us now on the earth are ready or best-served by factual certainty of many elements of the Gospel. If that were the case, then God would have left the plates here or sent them back to show around. If paying tithing always made you rich; if blessings that promised complete recovery always worked; if everyone who obeyed the Word of Wisdom was healthy…

What Does a Priesthood Blessing Give That a Similar Prayer Does Not?

I have the Melchezidek Priesthood. It gives me authority to officiate in certain ordinances and the responsibility to obey all the commandments and serve those around me. This I understand. Here is the question. If I bless someone as a Priesthood holder, is that blessing more likely to occur than if I were to have simply stood there and offered a prayer for their recovery? Perhaps this question is not sensible. Perhaps the effect of the Priesthood is to change what or when I pray. I am open to that. I think the question is sensible and the answer is (maybe) yes. I think that the Priesthood gives me the right to speak on behalf of God in a way that a prayer does not. A prayer is a petition. A blessing can be an answer wherein the holder acts as God’s authorized servant. A blessing may also be us literally saying what God would say. But I believe that…

Easterbrook, Dark Matter, and the Olive Leaf

A year ago, Gregg Easterbrook articulated the interesting idea that “dark matter” (a substance most scientists now believe exists, and is a major component of the universe) may be a manifestation of the spiritual world. He wrote: Suppose it turns out to be correct that the preponderance of matter and energy in the universe occurs in a form that’s around us everywhere, and yet we cannot sense or see it; that there is a pervasive physical reality that passes through ours with hardly any direct interaction. This is practically a definition of the spiritual plane. Easterbrook’s position has been criticized by others, but has always sounded like a nice theory to me. In particular, I was just thinking how we can understand this as church members, because of certain verses in the section of the Doctrine and Covenants we call the Olive Leaf.

Causing Others to Sin

Kristine raises some interesting points in her discussion of modesty. The comments (which have been very interesting so far) have made me reflect on an argument I often hear raised by church members: Women shouldn’t wear revealing clothes, because that will make men think unchaste thoughts about them. (This particular argument isn’t in the comments to Kristine’s thread; Ben Huff comes somewhat close, when he argues that women have a heavier modesty burden than men, due to the sinful nature of the world). As I’ve suggested before in comments on this blog, I don’t find this reasoning to be particularly convincing.

The Value of Esotericism

When I began participating in online discussion forums, I selected the nickname “Grasshopper,” rather than using my real name. One of the perceived benefits of the Internet is our anonymity (except on this onymous blog, of course). Benefit, yes, but also a drawback, to some extent, since someone posting pseudonymously is clearly hiding something and cannot be fully trusted, right?

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True to the Faith

True to the Faith was introduced to the Church in the April 2004 Ensign: “The Church has issued a new doctrinal guidebook aimed at youth, young single adults, and new members. True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference is a collection of brief, simple statements on gospel doctrines and principles. Almost 200 pages in length, the book is intended to supplement the scriptures and the counsel of current Church leaders. Young men and young women may use it as a resource to assist them in achieving their Duty to God and Personal Progress awards. The book is designed to accompany the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet and explains the doctrine behind the standards it contains. Priesthood quorums and Relief Society groups may also offer the book to new members to better acquaint them with the doctrines of the restored gospel. True to the Faith is available at Church distribution centers for $1.50.”

Mother’s Day

It’s almost Mother’s Day. I don’t like Mothers’ Day. You might expect to hear that from a woman who is childless, or who has strained relations with her children. I’m a married, at-home mom, and I enjoy being a mom. But I still don’t like Mothers’ Day.

That awful smallpox story

One of the more disturbing images from General Conference was in Elder Packer’s use of a story (a version of which I’ve heard before elsewhere) about chicken pox and smallpox. Elder Packer stated: “When I was in the seventh grade, in a health class, the teacher read an article. A mother learned that the neighbor children had chicken pox. She faced the probability that her children would have it as well, perhaps one at a time. She determined to get it all over with at once. So she sent her children to the neighbor’s to play with their children to let them be exposed, and then she would be done with it. Imagine her horror when the doctor finally came and announced that it was not chicken pox the children had; it was smallpox. The best thing to do then and what we must do now is to avoid places where there is danger of physical or spiritual contagion.”

Sinners, all

I have some strange childhood memories. One of the most vivid is my baptism day. October 31, 1981. Unfortunately, the memories of the baptism itself are somewhat hazy, but what I remember clearly is this feeling of being completely cheated by happenstance. I had an October birthday, and our stake did primary baptisms on the last Saturday of the month. In 1981 that meant I was getting baptized on Halloween, and there lay the problem. In my eight year old wisdom, I knew that I’d be pure and sin free upon getting baptized, but I thought that the chances of getting through an entire Halloween without sinning were slim to none. I was mad that the other kids weren’t baptized on so tempting a day, and therefore their “cleanliness” would last much longer than mine. That just was not fair, in fact, it was so not fair that I distinctly remember the feeling 23 years later.

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…