Category: Mormon Thought

Doctrine – Theology – Philosophy

FairConference, Thursday Afternoon Sessions

Bob Rees A review of Earl Wunderli’s Imperfect Book   Started with this Card Colour changing trick video (http://richardwiseman.wordpress.com/2009/01/07/colour-changing-card-trick-outtakes/) to illustrate that too much focus on one thing can cause you miss the many other things that are going on. What aren’t you noticing? Emerson said,  “Tell me your sect, and I’ll tell you your argument.” How we approach the Book of Mormon will determine what we find within it.  Rees was impressed with Earl’s thoroughness. He has read extensively and carefully. He approached as though cross-examining it in a court of law, and like any good lawyer making a case, he has been selective in choice of witnesses. Wunderli’s book does not give a balanced presentation, although it gives an impression of having done so. And he does raise important questions about the Book of Mormon, from the use of KJV language, internal stylistic consistency, anachronistic scientific understanding, mythology, and so one. Wunderli sees himself of side of reason,…

A Baseball Team in Every Ward

Second_Ward_baseball_team

In the late 16th century Henry IV of France expressed a desire that everyone in his realm would “have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.” That idea showed up again in Herbert Hoover’s promise of a “chicken in every pot”—the politician’s promise of prosperity. I’m not sure whether “a baseball team in every ward” is a promise of prosperity or programming gone awry, but that is essentially what leaders of the MIA suggested in 1922—some years before Hoover made his ill-fated promise. They wrote: “Each ward should have an organized baseball club, and each stake should have an organized baseball league…”

Literary Worship – Miracle

Miracle

I find the story of the woman with the issue of blood, found in all three Synoptic Gospels, both odd and beautiful. Like most of the recipients of Christ’s miracles, she excites sympathy within me. Twelve years is a long time to be sick, especially with an illness that renders you and anyone who touches you perpetually unclean. She must have been lonely. It makes me wonder how many times she did get touched during those years–how many people braved the social and religious taboo to offer her a bit of human care or comfort. Did she have a family? Was she abandoned because of her affliction? Did her ritual uncleanness make her feel personally and spiritually unworthy? The Scriptures tell us that she had spent “all her living” on whatever passed for medical treatment in her day. Not only did the treatment fail to heal her, but she actually grew worse. The resultant poverty must have added to her…

As Instructed

On Tuesday, Ally Isom, Senior Manager of Public Affairs with the LDS Church, encouraged listeners to have respectful conversations about their concerns with and faith in the Church.

Church Discipline: A Comparison

From Socrates in Athens to Galileo in Rome to John Scopes in a small town in Tennessee, trials make great drama. So it is not surprising that LDS disciplinary proceedings, essentially mini-trials, get so much attention, especially in the age of blogs and Facebook. I shared my thoughts on the topic three years ago in Church Discipline in the Internet Age. This post takes a different approach. Ever heard of Mars Hill Church?

Stirring Up the Saints: The Mormon Reformation

So I read Bigler and Bagley’s The Mormon Rebellion: America’s First Civil War, 1857-58 (U. of Oklahoma Press, 2011) last week. It will certainly convince you that the Utah Territory of the 1850s was the Wild Wild West as much as it was Zion. Checking the footnotes, it seems like the narrative is built primarily on reports from dissenters, which I suppose is where you turn for facts if you think Mormons were all liars, thieves, and murderers. There wasn’t much historical context provided, say about levels of violence in other western settlements or maybe something about that Second Civil War that was just around the corner. It seems misleading to paint General Johnston, commander of Johnson’s Army that marched on Utah, as a paragon of patriotism in contrast to Brigham Young’s alleged treason without noting that, shortly thereafter, Johnston was in open rebellion against the United States as a Confederate General and died from a Union bullet at Shiloh…

The Rise of Biblical Criticism and the Mormon Response

“The rise of biblical criticism” is the title of a section in Jaroslav Pelikan’s Whose Bible Is It? A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages (Viking, 2005). Those pages are a short and objective introduction to what is variously called biblical criticism, historical criticism, higher criticism, or the historical-critical method. This discussion is sort of a set up for my upcoming review of David Bokovoy’s new book Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis — Deuteronomy (Kofford Books, 2014), which I will be posting in two parts over the next couple of weeks.

The Book of Mormon as Literature

One can read the Book of Mormon as canonized scripture, to guide the Church and its members in doctrine and practice, or as a sign of Joseph Smith’s calling to bring forth new scripture and establish a restored church. Then there is the possibility of reading the Book of Mormon as literature, to enlighten, uplift, and inspire the reader. So, how literary is it? How exactly does one read the Book of Mormon as literature?

Congratulations, OW: Now It’s A Conversation

A conversation in two senses: First, everyone is talking about Ordain Women (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here; a four-part response here; earlier T&S posts here and here). Second, because, almost without noticing its own success, Ordain Women achieved a significant milestone this week as the LDS Church opened a public conversation with the group by publicly posting an official letter addressed to four of the organization’s “official spokeswomen” (as they are identified on the OW website). The LDS letter responds to earlier private communications from the group and, predictably, elicited a publicly posted response at the OW site. Successfully initiating an official conversation with the Church is no small accomplishment.

A Conversation About Letters to a Young Mormon

letters

This is a discussion T&S permabloggers Julie and Dave had last week about the new book Letters to a Young Mormon (Maxwell Institute, 2014) by Adam Miller (also a T&S permablogger). Dave: Three things a reader should know about Letters to a Young Mormon: It is short, 78 pages if you count the title page. It is published by the Maxwell Institute, part of their Living Faith series (each volume in the series is an “example of faith in search of understanding” by “a scholar who has cultivated a believing heart …”). And it is written by a philosopher, which is always a plus. But I wonder how young a Mormon needs to be to be part of the intended audience. My sense is that anyone from twelve to a hundred would enjoy the book and profit from reading it. Julie: Good question. An interesting bit of reception history here: I’ve seen reviewers mocked for assuming that the book was actually…

Openings and Beginnings

beginning

When we read scripture, we generally start at the beginning. This is one reason why openings — first lines, first paragraphs — are so important. They set the scene for what is to follow. They set the context and frame our understanding for entire chapters and books to follow. Terry Eagleton has a lot to say about openings in his How to Read Literature (Yale Univ. Press, 2013). While his focus is on literature, not scripture per se, his comments are helpful because scripture is a form of literature. And when it comes to how to read our scriptures, we Mormons certainly need all the help we can get.

Two Churches, Two Gospels

As a Mormon, you belong to two churches: your local congregation, be it ward or branch (the Local Church), and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Institutional Church). While something similar may be true for members of other denominations, it is more true for and has more effect on Latter-day Saints. You may draw strength from both your Local Church and from the Institutional Church; I do, and I think most Mormons do. But they are surprisingly distinct units, with rather different, if complementary, agendas.

Some Thoughts on the Inevitable Failure of the Ordain Women Movement

It’s hard to know the future, but I will hazard a prediction: the Ordain Women project will fail. If I understand its ambitions correctly, Ordain Women would define success as an announcement that the prophet, having followed the invitation of these faithfully agitating sisters, has gone to the Lord and has received a revelation that women are to be ordained to the priesthood. I don’t know if women will ever be ordained to the priesthood, but I would be shocked if this was to happen while any institutional breath breathed in the Ordain Women movement. There are two reasons for this. The first is that for pragmatic reasons Church leaders do not want to change basic doctrines or practices in response to what they see as attempts to publically embarrass the Church over its basic doctrines and practices. Doing so creates an incentive for others to seek to publically embarrass the Church. I suspect that Church leaders also worry that…

Mormonism: The Last Fifty Years

mormon image

Over the holidays I read The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (OUP, 2013), by J. B. Haws, a BYU history prof. Technically, the book is a study of how the LDS Church and Mormonism in general is perceived by the American public, and the author presents survey data throughout the book to gauge the ups and downs of the various ways that Mormons and the Church are viewed. No doubt the book is required reading for every LDS Public Affairs employee. But for most readers the book also serves quite nicely as a narrative history of the last fifty years of Mormonism. A lot has happened and a lot has changed: reading about George Romney’s 1968 quest for the Republican nomination for President is like reading about another world.

Reasoning Together – Zion

We talk about Zion in a lot of different senses, but I think most of these share the general idea of communally gathering, developing, sharing, and partaking in everything that is lovely, virtuous, or praiseworthy or of good report. How do we do this, both collectively and individually, on both a theological and political level? Once again (obviously) I can’t adequately answer that question here. But once again I’m bothered by a lot of the discussions I see flying around our virtual and ward-level worlds. I don’t like the divisive,  polemical way in which these discussions are framed – especially when the discussion revolves around whether all is well in Zion or whether Zion is in need of some serious, often non-contiguous reform. In what follows, this question is my main target and what I want you to consider. Is the good ship Zion sinking while the crew and passengers obliviously bask in what they take to be the sunlight?…

Partaking of the Fruit of the Tree

tree

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is sitting in the darkened living room, gazing at the lighted tree. There is something magical and transfixing about the warm, gentle light, the fragrance of pine, and the palpable presence of nature that fills my home with its incongruous beauty. I have many memories of reading Scripture by the light of the Christmas tree. Usually we read from Luke, with Matthew’s bit about the Wise Men added in; sometimes we expand into Isaiah, either spoken or set to Handel. This year, though, when I stole a moment of stillness out of the hectic holiday rush to sit beside the tree, the words that came to my mind were Nephi’s: “I looked and beheld a tree . . . and the bbeauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the cwhiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.” It had never struck me before how much meaning the…

Evangelicals Need Inoculation Too

I hope you have seen the recent public announcement of the initiative to use the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org to essentially do what we have been calling “inoculation” for the last ten years (see here for a list of links to Bloggernacle posts on the topic). The three short video interviews of General Authorities listed at the top of the Gospel Topics page (identified with titles like “How will Gospel Topics be enhanced?” rather than identified as GA interviews) give additional details about the initiative. While there is a lot of ground to cover, this is a very promising development. We should nominate whoever championed this initiative for Mormon of the Year.

Happy(?) Repeal Day!

prohibition_ends_repeal_day_cocktails

The Twitters tell me that 80 years ago today, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, thus ending Prohibition.

Whatever you think about Prohibition, it’s probably worth noting the Pres. Grant was not a fan of its end. In fact, he addressed the end of Prohibition—and Utah’s role in ending it—at General Conference in 1934. Here’s an (annotated by me) excerpt of what he said:

The Practical Atonement

This is the third of three posts on the atonement (see here and here). What effect, if any, does the atonement have on your day-to-day life? Does it change how you think, how you feel, or how you act? I think most Latter-day Saints would agree that the atonement is not simply about something that will happen at some distant point in the future (Judgment Day) when, thanks to the atonement, one might be pronounced sinless and eligible to enter a resplendently glorious celestial world instead of being cast down to hell, away to outer darkness, or off to a dimly glorious telestial world. But how exactly does the atonement work for us in the here and now? And why do so many Mormons not feel cleansed, redeemed, and confidently hopeful in the here and now thanks to the atonement but rather feel guilty and inadequate? What are we missing?

The Theological Atonement

untitled

Last week I posted The Atheological Atonement, noting that the LDS Church affirms the atonement but not any particular theory of the atonement, and suggesting this is actually not a bad “official” position for the Church to take. This post takes a different approach: if the Church were to move towards a publicly stated theory of the atonement, in which direction should it move? I will be relying on Gustaf Aulen’s (1879-1977) fine little book Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement (Macmillan Co., 1966; American edition, 12th printing, trans. by A. G. Hebert; originally published in Swedish in 1930).

The Death of Ishmael[fn1]

jewish-tombstone

Early in the Small Plates of Nephi, Ishmael and his family join Lehi and his family in the wilderness. In spite of their likely close proximity, though, we don’t know much about Ishmael.[fn2] Nephi and his brothers found favor in Ishmael’s sight. Although at various times Ishmael’s sons and daughters act for or against Nephi, we don’t have any sense about where Ishmael falls in the Laman & Lemuel/Lehi & Nephi continuum.

The Life and Times of Parley P. Pratt

Parley Pratt biography

I recently finished reading Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (OUP, 2011), by Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow. Most Mormons know Pratt by name from reading the Doctrine and Covenants. A few Mormons have read Pratt’s autobiography, which gives some idea of the extent of his missionary travels, but provides little detail about his influential writings or his busy family life (he had 9 wives and 23 children at the time of his death). Any reader of this biography will come to appreciate just how significant a role Pratt played in the early LDS Church, almost from the moment of his conversion in 1830 right up to his death in 1857. Here are a few of the highlights from the book.

Confessions of a Former Stay-at-Home Mom

stay at home mom

After nine years as a stay-at-home mom, I recently got a full-time job. I’ve been working for a month now, which seems long enough to state some preliminary observations about how things are going. The short answer is, I am happier than I’ve been in quite a while. I have way more patience for my children when I come home at six o-clock from an office full of adults than I did when I was at home with them all day. My emotional resources are magically magnified by being away from home during the work-day doing something interesting and creative, and I am much better able to deal with the inevitable complications and setbacks of life. And it is so nice to not be living paycheck to paycheck anymore. Worrying about money all the time and freaking out when we had an unexpected car problem or other non-budgeted expense was not an easy way to live. Life is a little more hectic,…

A Mother Here – New Art and Poetry Contest

A Mother Here

There have been LDS art contests in the past, either sponsored by LDS church institutions or by private organizations, but none have yet focused on Heavenly Mother as their theme. That changed this month with the newly announced A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest. Aiming to stimulate the visual and poetic expression of Heavenly Mother, as well as highlight the nascent divinity that resides in women as well as men, monetary prizes in excess of $2200 will be awarded to the best entries. The contest accepts two-dimensional art submissions to be considered in its visual arts awards, and all forms of poetry for the poetry awards. The contest will accept submissions until March 4, 2014, after which award-winning entries will be chosen by prestigious judges Susan Elizabeth Howe (esteemed poet, playwright, and professor) and Herman Du Toit (former head of the Durban Art School and former head of museum research at BYU’s Museum of Art). Winning entries will be announced…