Category: Mormon Thought

Doctrine – Theology – Philosophy

Can Books Cause Problems? Reflections on Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

I recently did a quick read of John G. Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet and posted notes here. Here is my one-sentence summary: “Turner gives a balanced if candid portrayal of Brigham, one that mainstream Mormons should be able to read without serious difficulties.” But not everyone agrees. Some very bright people think the book might very well cause problems for mainstream Mormons and should therefore perhaps be avoided. It’s a serious question: Can books cause problems? If so, what do we do with those problem books: Ignore them? Hide them in locked cases? Burn them?

The Shocks We Will Face After This Life

Several weeks ago, a friend mentioned in a conversation about the gospel that after this life we would know the truth about all things. It then occurred to me that a lot of people are going to be, or already have been, shocked by how wrong they were about their views of life, the universe, and, well, everything. And, in among everything, we have to include ideas about religion. The Buddha must have been shocked. Mohammed, Martin Luther, Calvin, John Wesley, and even, I think, Joseph Smith.

But Is It Priestcraft?

In popular Mormon discourse, priestcraft seems to be the descriptor of choice for things that we don’t like. Paid clergy? Check.1 CES? Check.2 Deseret Book? Check. Authors of religious books? Maybe check.3 It’s fair, I think, to be suspicious of financial interests that are wrapped up with the Church. At the very least,  such interests raise the specter of conflict-of-interest. But—and here’s the big question—is it priestcraft?4 According to the Book of Mormon, “priestcraft” is comprised of five criteria:5 Preaching Setting oneself up as a light In order to get gain In order to get worldly praise Not pursuing the welfare of Zion Note that some are objective criteria (I’d say (1), (2), and (5)), while others are subjective. In addition, in context, these criteria appear to be conjunctive. That is, for something to be “priestcraft,” and thus forbidden by the Lord, it needs to have all of these things. So is paid clergy priestcraft? Note that the Church has paid…

Joseph Smith and Baseball: The Evidence

earlybaseball

“In the 1830s, on the western frontier of Missouri, ball was the favorite sport of Joseph Smith, founder of a new religious sect called the Mormons1.” A couple of years ago I received as a Christmas present the Baseball documentary by Ken Burns, the PBS series that as much as anything has driven my current fascination with the game and led to the Mormon Baseball blog. Early in the first of the documentary’s 10 parts, the narrator makes the above claim, something that even today I don’t hear from Mormon historians. Could it be that Joseph Smith played and loved baseball?

If she wants to…

Women can go on missions, if they want to.  Now that they can go at 19, some will go who may not have wanted it quite enough to wait until they turned 21. But it is still not the same as for men, who have a clear expectation and strong social pressure to serve missions sometime after they turn 18. Girls in the church hit this idea, “they can do it if they want to” quite often. Starting at age 8, when American boys enter the officially sanctioned Church version of Cub Scouts, the segregation begins. The boys meet weekly, with a well-developed program and the mandatory 2-deep leadership to do projects, play games and earn little trinkets of awards. The girls are given the Activity Days program, sometimes called Achievement Days, where they meet twice a month with a generally much lower ratio of adults to children. They are not given a well developed program with a full curriculum…

Finding My Heavenly Mother, Part 3 (Eternal Polygamy Edition)

Caryatids Acropolis

Since polygamy will keep rearing its ugly head every time we try to talk about Heavenly Mother, I’ve given it its very own post, as promised. Polygamy occupies an uneasy place in the psyche of many Mormons today. Although the practice was abandoned by the church in the early 20th century, it is exotic and taboo enough that it continues to be one of the public’s primary associations with Mormons. However, even within the church, the idea of polygamy (and specifically, polygyny) continues to complicate theology and life. Today I’d like to take a deeply personal look at some of the fruits of our lingering, troubled relationship with polygamy, and the effect it has on how we conceptualize and talk about (or don’t talk about) Heavenly Mother. If you’re feeling the need for conversational antecedents, please see Finding My Heavenly Mother, part 1 and part 2; also part 4. In public and to their non-member friends, Mormons typically try to distance themselves…

New Progress for Mormon Studies

Bushmanchair

The University of Virginia today announced today a $3 million anonymous donation to establish the Richard Lyman Bushman Chair of Mormon Studies in the University’s Department of Religious Studies. The chair is still subject to approval by the University’s Board of Visitors, after which a search committee will look for candidates for the inaugural appointment, due to begin serving in the 2013-14 school year.

A Mormon Holiday

conference

Sometimes I am a little envious of my friends whose religions involve a year full of meaningful religious holidays that strengthen and define them both culturally and spiritually. Ramadan, for instance, is a sort of month-long holiday for Muslims, complete with special foods and lots of family time. When we lived in Tunisia, I was amazed at the community cohesiveness produced by a holiday that disrupted people’s lives so much for so long. Not much work of any kind was accomplished during the month of Ramadan, but family ties were strengthened, religious convictions deepened, and there was a palpable feeling that everyone was in this whole fasting thing together, and would help each other make it through. When I was growing up, our next door neighbors were Jewish, and sometimes invited us over to share their holidays with them. One of the most fun times I remember was eating potato pancakes for Purim, and then listening to the story of Esther, and…

The blood of Israel in Europe

anglo-saxon4

At a multi-stake conference in Berlin in 2010, Area President Erich W. Kopischke quoted Joseph Smith as having declared that “England, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium have a considerable amount of the blood of Israel among the people which must be gathered out.”

Finding My Heavenly Mother, Part 2

venus de milo

 The same drive which called art into being as a completion and consummation of existence, and as a guarantee of further existence, gave rise also to that Olympian realm which acted as a transfiguring mirror to the Hellenic “will.” The gods justified human life by living it themselves—the only satisfactory theodicy ever invented.    – Friedrich Nietzsche   During part 1 I described for you my personal awakening to the existence of Heavenly Mother. In this post, I’ll explore some of the implications that discovery had for the way I view God, religion, and myself. (Also see parts 3 and 4) It’s funny, it wasn’t until I became experientially aware of the reality of Heavenly Mother that I realized there is a gigantic hole in the way I had been imagining God. All of a sudden, in the midst of a deluge of male pronouns in scripture and hymn and church discourse, all I could hear was a deafening silence about…

SMPT at Utah State: Theology of the Book of Mormon

This coming Thursday through Saturday at Utah State University, The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology will be holding its 2012 conference, on the theme, “Theology of the Book of Mormon.” There will be over 30 paper and panel presentations, including: “The Promise of Book of Mormon Theology” —Grant Hardy, Professor of History and Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Asheville “Gratia Plena: A Catholic View of Grace in the Book of Mormon” —Peter Huff, Besl Family Chair in Ethics, Religion and Society, Xavier University “Questions at the Veil” —Philip Barlow, Leonard J. Arrington Chair in Mormon History and Culture, Utah State University “The Book of Mormon on ‘The True Church’ and Religious Pluralism” —Charles Randall Paul, President, Foundation for Religious Diplomacy Panel Discussion: “Secular Norms and the Scholarship of Faith” —Terryl Givens, Bostwick Chair of English, University of Richmond —Ralph C. Hancock, Brigham Young University —Daniel C. Peterson, Brigham Young University Also this Thursday evening will be Terryl…

Not a Legitimate Rape

I’ve been listening to the radio this morning about the Republican Party platform and abortion and rape. I’ve never had an abortion; thankfully I’ve never been in a situation where that seemed like a viable option. I am thankful that the Church handbook allows for abortion, but even there the wording is “forcible rape or incest” [fn1]. And apparently Representative and would-be Senator Akin meant to say “forcible rape” rather than the terribly unfortunate “legitimate rape.” But what does “forcible” mean in terms of rape? That a woman or girl [fn2] is held down and raped against her vain struggles? That she is forced to comply on imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm? That she is threatened overtly or implicitly with harm to herself or her family if she does not comply with the rapist’s demands? Does a woman have to fight back? How firmly must she say “NO” for any subsequent action to be considered a rape?…

Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza, Brazil (part 3)

Moroni_Torgan_Mormon

[The third part of a translation of an article written by Emanuel Santana and published on the Brazilian group blog, Vozes Mórmons. The article raises many questions about politics and the Church—questions we are familiary with in the U.S. and perhaps Canada, but which are new territory for Mormons in Brazil and elsewhere around the world. Part one of this series was published Tuesday.] . Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza by Emmanuel Santana The 2004 race for mayor was more exciting. The “Juraci Era” had put Fortaleza’s voters in the mood for change. Inácio Arruda and Moroni Torgan both again sought the office, along with two others who debuted in the election: Aloísio, the candidate supported by Juraci Magalhães, and Luizianne Lins, who, even without the support of the national leadership of her party, launched her candidacy as the Workers Party candidate. From the beginning of the race polls placed the Mormon in front. The barbs exchanged between…

Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza, Brazil (part 2)

Moroni_Torgan_Politico

[The second part of a translation of an article written by Emanuel Santana and published on the Brazilian group blog, Vozes Mórmons. The article raises many questions about politics and the Church—questions we are familiary with in the U.S. and perhaps Canada, but which are new territory for Mormons in Brazil and elsewhere around the world. Part one of this series was published yesterday.] .  Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza by Emmanuel Santana Out of the books and stories of their elders. I can not remember anything of Moroni’s first election, since occurred just a few years after I was born. His subsequent elections, as lieutenant governor, and again as a member of the House of Deputies, I remember somewhat. The political rallies were lively, including comedians, forró bands and gifts meant to encourage people to come. In Brazilian elections, each candidate is assigned a number which is used by the voter in the electronic ballot box. Moroni’s…

Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza, Brazil (part 1)

Moroni_Torgan_Deputado

The following is a translation from an article written by Emanuel Santana and published on the Brazilian group blog, Vozes Mórmons. I have divided it into three parts because the post is so long and raises so many questions about politics and the Church—things that strike me as repeatedly-covered issues in the U.S. and perhaps Canada, but which are new territory in Brazil and elsewhere around the world. This first part covers background information, from the introduction of the Church in Fortaleza to Moroni Torgan’s arrival and rise to prominence as Brazil’s first Mormon Congressman.

The Kirtland Church: A Review of Hearken O Ye People

Staker - Hearken

I received my review copy of Hearken, O Ye People at work; I opened it and began to read on the El heading home. And, from page 1 (or, actually, page xvii), my jaw dropped. Staker started his book with an almost-15-page chronology of Kirtland, beginning in May 1796 as a group begins to survey townships in the Western Reserve and ending on July 6, 1838, when Kirtland Camp leaves Kirtland to settle in Missouri. For that chronology alone, Hearken, O Ye People is worth its price, at least for those form whom the Kirtland years are overshadowed by the founding of the Church in upstate New York, the conflicts and eventual extermination order in Missouri, and the theological and organizational innovations in Nauvoo.

Mormonism: The Second Century

Christopher Jones has a post over at the fine group blog Peculiar People listing ten books on modern Mormonism. The post deserves more discussion, so I thought I’d post my own short comments on the first four books from the list and invite readers to add comments on the others as well as reflection on the original post by Jones.

Book of Mormon Word Cloud [updated]

WordItOut-Word-cloud-96918

I’ve been curious what a word cloud of the Book of Mormon would look like, so , just for fun on a Friday, I finally made one. I don’t have a lot to say about it, other than that “unto” seems to be a very popular word (which doesn’t really surprise me, but I didn’t expect, either). “Lamanite” shows up more than “Nephite,” though the usage of both is dwarfed by “people.” I took the text from the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, and I copied it from here, and I made the cloud using WordItOut. (Note that I actually prefer the look of the Wordle cloud, but I couldn’t get it in the post at a decent size. That said, I’ve included it below.) Update: Ardis pointed out that, in many ways, the word cloud would be more useful if some of the dull words came out (really, other than an interesting look at word choice, having…

The Way We Teach Our Children Modesty

At the age of two, my daughter Axa could point out an immodest outfit in a shop window. At five, she added sleeves to the dress on the princess picture her babysitter had drawn for her. Although I don’t recall making any special effort to teach her about modesty, I was surprised and gratified that she understood the concept at such a young age. However, lately I’ve been having disquieted feelings when she brings up modesty, as I realize that something in the nuance of what I’ve taught has gone awry. And then just a few weeks ago, something happened that disturbed me. Axa (who’s now seven) was reading the Book of Mormon out loud to me. She hadn’t interjected a word until we came to this passage (from the Testimony of Joseph Smith, describing the appearance of the angel Moroni): He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had…

Nothing to Apologize For (Part II)

[Times & Seasons welcomes the second in a pair of posts from Ralph Hancock this week, who previously guested with us in 2010] I argued in Part I that the move from “apologetics” to “Mormon Studies” requires a bracketing of truth claims that may serve legitimate scholarly purposes, but that carries with it certain significant risks.  The New Mormon Studies presents orthodoxy as stifling and itself as intellectually liberating, but it risks purveying a more subtle and powerful conformism, the conformism of secular academic prestige and careerism.  This is intended, not as a condemnation, but as an alert.  We ought to embrace opportunities for rich and productive dialogue with those who do not share our Answers, but we ought not set aside our interest in Answers and thus in effect elevate human (especially professional) “dialogue” itself to the highest status. On with the bracketing, I say, but let us beware of the definitive brackets, those that will not allow themselves to be bracketed.  …

Nothing to Apologize For (Part I)

[Times & Seasons welcomes the first in a pair of posts from Ralph Hancock this week, who previously guested with us in 2010] The recent unpleasantness at BYU’s Maxwell Institute has, the reader will have noticed, triggered much comment on the internet, including celebrations in some quarters over the supposed demise or at least eclipse of certain defenders of the faith at the Institute —characterized by some as apologists — who have been willing over the years to call out arguments they see as weakly reasoned and hold critics of the Church to account for their claims.   Although I do not know enough to assert that my friends at the Institute have always been right or have always succeeded in striking the most appropriate tone, it will surprise no one to learn that I appreciate a spirited defense, when it is judicious and well-founded, and that I expect that celebrations over developments at the Institute by critics are likely premature. Happily, however,…

Practical Apologetics: Defining the middle path in Mormonism

Rachel’s post a couple of weeks ago, The Threat of New Order Mormons, attracted so much discussion that I would like to follow up with my own discussion of middle-path Mormons. Various terms are used to describe those who self-categorize themselves as something other than fully active, fully believing Mormons: Uncorrelated Mormons, Cultural Mormons, New Order Mormons, Liahona Mormons, and so forth. My view is that there are many paths that lead away from full activity and belief, so it is wrong to expect one label to adequately describe what is actually happening. It’s clear these members move away from the center of Mormonism on some items of belief or practice, but which items are the problem for any given individual varies across the population. Here are some different half-way paths.

O Pioneer! Book Review of Villages on Wheels

Kimball__Villages

The 4th of July is a week of intense patriotic celebration in Provo.  Freedom Festival is the biggest party of the year here. People go all out with block parties, fireworks, parades, races, and art contests. We end the week exhausted. As a relative newcomer to Utah Valley, I’ve wondered why is Independence Day is such a big deal here. It turns out that Provo is simply upholding pioneer tradition: “Both Mormons and American travelers commemorated July 4th with elaborate patriotic observances. They generally stated at daybreak with gun and cannon salutes, and continued with cheers, speeches, toasts, feasts, parades, dancing, and drinking whatever spirits were available” (Kimball 82). As we come up on the 24th, it is the perfect time to return to a few books about pioneers. My favorite has for years has been Wallace Stegner’s The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail (1964), which I never have in my home because my copy is…

The Boundaries of Independence

mending-wall

As my children have grown and started to leave home, I find myself conflicted by the idea of Independence. Of course I want them to be independent, to go off on their own, make their own choices and even, to be frank, to require less or none of my support and effort. Its not that I’m not willing to give them support and effort, but more that just as they need to be independent, my wife and I would like fewer requirements. We, too, would like a bit more independence.

Guest Post: Why I Find Developments at the Maxwell Institute Concerning

[A guest post by Professor David Earl Bohn, retired professor of political philosophy at Brigham Young University] Recently, the Maxwell Institute announced a significant change of course on its website—one that re-directs the Institute’s focus away from apologetics and Mormon-centered research and toward a more generic emphasis on religious scholarship. The “bloggernacle” had actually been abuzz about rumors of  these developments since before they were officially confirmed. (For a non-exhaustive sample of related posts and articles see: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Cause for Concern Many of us who care deeply about Mormon research and scholarship have witnessed these developments unfold with some concern.  The character of these changes and the actual manner in which they have been carried out thus far have raised serious questions about whether the very raison d’être of the Maxwell Institute, including the significant achievements of the Mormon Studies Review (and its predecessor), are not being undermined or even abandoned. Over time, all institutions necessarily undergo “a change of guard.” For…

Gendered Unity

Every ward or branch I’ve lived as an adult has struggled with the dilemma of how to increase a sense of unity among the Relief Society sisters. In some places, demographics have dictated a natural split between the transient (a few months to a few years) young college and graduate age students, wives, and mothers and those who live in the ward on a more permanent basis: more established families, families with grown children, and retirees. We’ve also lived in a branch split by language differences in which about half of the members spoke English as a native language, about half spoke some form of Spanish, and a few spoke other languages like Portuguese and Tagalog. In all cases, there was an obligation felt by the Relief Society presidencies to increase unity among the sisters. We tried planning enrichment meetings that would encourage cross-generational and cross-cultural interaction. Some things, like potluck dinners with recipe exchanges worked pretty well. But we…

Sent Back

mormon-immigrants-castle-garden

In the latter half of the 19th century, the principle role that New York City filled for Mormonism was as a transit point—more than 75,000 Mormon converts entered the United States through New York City during those years while several thousand missionaries sailed for Europe from New York’s port. But beginning with the Page Act in 1875 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the U.S. began restricting immigration, beginning with Chinese and also including convicts, lunatics, and “others unable to care for themselves.” And in the late 1880s, attention on polygamy prosecution in Utah led to a provision of the Geary Act of 1892 which prohibited entry by polygamists. If you were restricted from immigrating, you were sent back.

Single Moms and Adoption — Another Perspective

I have been fascinated by the idea of adoption for a long time. Growing up, I knew a few people who were adopted, and the idea of bringing home your baby from Korea or the Ukraine always seemed exotic to me. But my obsession really took off when I got my Patriarchal Blessing. After gushing about the children that would be born to me, a totally out-of-the-blue paragraph began with the words, “I bless the love of your family to extend to other children . . . ” Suddenly, adoption was part of my envisioned Mormon “happily-ever-after,” and I embraced the idea delightedly. When my husband and I were newly married and trying for a baby, I recall telling him that if we didn’t have a baby before we went on our field study to the Philippines the next year, we were adopting one there. Two biological children later, my compulsion to adopt has only increased, and we’re finally preparing…

In Memoriam

I spend the morning with my children at the cemetery. The high school band played, the mayor placed a wreath at the war memorial, and servicemen, including a veteran of Pearl Harbor, spoke to us. We bought red paper poppies to pin to our shirts. We didn’t talk about Memorial Day in sacrament meeting yesterday. The only mention was that the scouts would be placing flags on lawns. It seems that we should want to remember and honor those who have fought and fallen in our worship services. How many times in the Book of Mormon are the people exhorted to remember and always retain a remembrance of the the faith of their forefathers and the mercies God has shown to them? I am not a huge fan of the war chapters of the Book of Mormon; I’m not terribly interested in battles and strategy in general. But I do love the passion of Captain Moroni and his bold and…

You and Your Righteous Religious Mind

righteous mind

Psychology has come a long way the last couple of decades. Instead of seeing us coming into the world with a mind like a blank slate, psychologists and cognitive scientists are discovering through cleverly designed empirical research that we are born with a preloaded mental operating system. It predisposes us to see the world like emotional, opinionated, tribal human beings rather than like rational, logical robots. You can get the whole story, with special emphasis on how moral systems and individual moral convictions are formed, in Jonathan Haidt’s new book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (Pantheon Books, 2012; publisher’s page; official book page).