Category: News and Politics

Politics – Current Events – Media

The Shape of Agency Part 1

Agency is one of the most fundamental concepts in LDS thought. Often people confuse agency and free will. They are not necessarily the same thing. I’m going to avoid all those sorts of nuanced discussions here. What is interesting to me are the more social, literary and especially political implications of Mormon notions of agency. Often a notion of agency is taken for granted when Mormons make a political point. I think this puts the cart before the horse. Agency gets used in such arguments without there ever being an consideration of what agency is. Thus agency because the ultimate trump card. Not surprisingly, it always tends to validate the conclusions and assumptions of whomever is invoking it. To me the key factor in discussions of agency is the “what” and “where” of the discussion. Yet this notion of what is the “self” of the discussion is often lost. Why is this important? Well, let’s first look at the basic…

Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon

Several parts of the Book of Mormon are highly influenced by the text of deutero-Isaiah. The traditional problem here is that deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-55) are usually considered to be written fairly late – usually dated to during the exile in Babylon. Contrary to what some members say, the dating isn’t just assuming that prophecy is impossible. Rather the text makes assumptions of the audience that just don’t work earlier. A good example is the presumption that Jerusalem has already been destroyed. While there are some figures who support an unified Isaiah[1] I confess I just don’t find persuasive their answers to the critics argument regarding a later date. Even if one buys some of the literary claims, that’s typically possible for a later editor bringing the various works together. How then do we deal with this problem of a significant set of texts quoted by Nephi and others after they left Jerusalem?

Benedict Option

Rod Dreher at The American Conservative in response to significant losses on cultural issues in the US suggested that social conservatives should adopt what he calls the Benedict Option. More or less it means those who cease trying to make the public sphere what they consider moral and instead create more local and self-contained communities. Last week Hal Boyd at the Deseret News talked of this option for Latter-day Saint communities.

Translating the Book of Mormon and the Priesthood Restoration

One of the interesting facets of Mormon history is that a few key events are not exactly clear. An example is the Melchezedek Priesthood restoration. Ben at the Juvenile Instructor did a nice overview of the issues a few years back. The Millennial Star did a nice post discussing how Addison Everett’s account bears on all this. Basically though we don’t know for sure when it was restored. A common, perhaps dominant view, is that rather than being a single event it was a process. I don’t claim to be an expert in all this. I’ve read the same books as most of you likely have.[1] What I’ve noticed in what I’ve read though is how little the Book of Mormon text plays into these discussions beyond Oliver Cowdery’s later mention that he and Joseph were translating 3 Nephi. That led them to seek baptism with authority. In turn that led the way to the Aaronic Priesthood restoration.

SMPT at Claremont March 2-4: “Poured Out Upon Us: The Holy Spirit”

The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology will hold its 2017 Annual Meeting at Claremont Graduate University on March 2-4th, on the theme, “Poured Out Upon Us: The Holy Spirit.” Over two dozen presenters, including several T&Sers, will speak on a wide range of aspects of Mormon belief, including: “Deny Not the Manifestations of the Holy Spirit” —John W. Welch, Brigham Young University “‘The Spirit Said unto Me Again: Slay Him’: Latter-day Saint Reflections on Divine Violence” —Patrick Q. Mason, Claremont Graduate University “Toward a Nephite Pneumatology” —Joseph M. Spencer, Brigham Young University “The Family: A Performance of the World” —Rosalynde Welch, Independent Scholar “The Transcendence of Flesh” —James E. Faulconer, Brigham Young University “‘The Spirit Speaketh the Truth and Lieth Not’: The Complex Theological Intersection of Truth, Scripture, and Hermeneutics” —Benjamin Spackman, Claremont Graduate University “Grace and the Baptism of Fire” —Benjamin Huff, Randolph Macon College For the full schedule and other information, visit the conference page.

Wars and Rumors of Wars

There’s something memorable about the phrase, “wars and rumors of wars.” It certainly occurs in the scriptures often enough. Two prominent examples are in Nephi’s vision of the future of his people (and his brothers’) on the American continents (1 Nephi 12:21, 1 Nephi 14:16) and the Savior’s own discussion of the end (Mark 13:7 and Mattew 24:6). The latter usage–echoed as well by Moroni (Mormon 8:30)–always struck me as anachronistic. These were opinions I formed as a kid, back when we all watched the First Gulf War on television. War was a different thing, then. The whole world was on our side, we were rescuing a small country from a larger one led by an evil dictator, and of course nobody could mount a credible resistance to the military might of the United States. Most importantly, however, we could watch the war on our televisions, as reported by correspondents on the ground who were connected almost in real time via satellite…

Truth, Knowledge and Confidence

A few months back we were at Seven Peaks in Provo and my son was staring down the long drop of one of the slides. He knew that it was safe yet ultimately that knowledge wasn’t what was in question. He thought it too big a risk. He didn’t have confidence in the safety of the slide despite having intellectual knowledge that it was safe. I raise this to illustrate a principle. Often when people talk about religion and religious knowledge the issue really isn’t knowledge despite all appearances. What people really are after is confidence.

Mormon apocalypticism

Apocalypticism has become virtually synonymous with the disreputable side of religion, the stall in the religious marketplace where respectable people don’t want to be seen rummaging through the close-out racks. This is unfortunate, as you can’t understand the New Testament without reference to apocalypticism, and (to get to the point of this post) apocalypticism is an inextricable part of the inner logic of Mormonism.

The inner logic of Mormonism

Trying to identify the core doctrines of Mormonism is a project doomed to failure, I think, because it sets up an unworkable categorical distinction between core and periphery, and makes the unsupported assumption that doctrine forms the core of Mormonism in the first place.

Guest Post: Before We Make Up Our Minds

Charlie Fuller has a BS in Sociology and an MPA from BYU and works as a management analyst in the public sector. She and her husband live in Utah County. Before we make up our minds about whether or not to allow Middle Eastern refugees into Utah, we need to take a long hard look at the blood-soaked history of these desert-dwelling religious extremists.

What we must not do

Although none of these assumptions can be taken for granted, let’s assume that Trump’s presidency will feature more or less what his campaign promised, that his term in office will be limited to 1260 1460 days, and that it will come to be widely derided as a disaster for the country. If we look back at the Church’s dealings with governments around the world during the last hundred years, we can see things in retrospect that the Church and its members should have avoided in the past that suggest things that we should avoid now.

Promoting vs. Honoring

If I might be allowed an overly broad generalization, it often seems like political action is locked between two main views. In the past I’ve often called it the Kantian versus the Utilitarian.[1] That’s not entirely fair. Perhaps a better way of putting it is that we have a tension between promoting values versus honoring them. Consider abortion. Many people think it wrong. Some people might go to protests over the issue and do things to signal their opposition to abortion. But some of the same people might oppose actions that would actually reduce the rate of abortion (say free contraceptives) for other reasons. They may not even focus on policies that actually reduce the rate of abortion.[2] Likewise someone might want peace but consider honoring that value so important that they wouldn’t condone war even if it brought peace.[3] On the other side people might get into the situation of the ends justifying the means so killing is fine…

On Punching Nazis

One of the big debates over the weekend surprisingly was whether it’s ethical to punch Nazis. I know people already have an endless supply of thought pieces on the topic. So I’ll be brief. The issue isn’t whether it’s justifiable to punch a particular Nazi. It’s what gets normalized when many people tend to apply the Nazi label broadly. When Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and many others have regularly been called Nazis it makes one a little worried about just who people think are OK to punch.

Being subject to Voldemort

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Donald Trump is likely to destroy American democracy while leaving the nation in ruins and the world in flames, and let’s further assume that all of these are bad things. (I don’ t think the situation is quite as hopeful as that, but I’m not particularly interested in arguing about any of these assumptions in this post.) What should the Church do about it? What should you do about it?

Aaronic Priesthood and Apostasy

The common way the apostasy is understood is in terms of the loss of priesthood authority. Priesthood seems the key thing that needed to be restored by Joseph Smith. Much of our conception of restoration is tied to rites and ordinances revealed by Joseph Smith and administered by the priesthood.[1] To my eye the most interesting question relative to the apostasy concerns the Aaronic priesthood. Was it removed from the earth?

Pragmatism as Mormon Epistemology Part 2

Last time I discussed how the American philosopher C. S. Peirce’s pragmatism saw meanings in terms of how we’d verify a predicate. So “hardness” is wrapped up in all the measurement practices of determining if something was hard. Peirce saw this literally as following Jesus’ adage to judge things by their fruits. An other important aspect of knowledge for Peirce was recognizing that belief was something that happens but isn’t chosen. All we can choose is where we inquire.  The reason for thinking belief is non-volitional[1] is simple. Imagine you’re outside looking up into the sky. It’s a deep blue you can’t miss. Now make yourself believe it is pink. You can’t do it. When we analyze carefully the types of control we have over belief it’s always seems to be indirect. This isn’t to say we can’t delude ourselves but the way we do this is by avoiding thinking about certain things. Non-volitional belief is also quite in keeping…

Co-opting Secular Religion

It has often been noted that, in the United States, politics is our national religion. This is something my co-blogger Walker Wright covered at Difficult Run back in 2013, citing Eran Shalev: Through pseudo-biblicism the Bible became a living text, an ongoing scriptural venture which complemented and foritified notions of national chosenness and mission. This transformation occurred within a poisoned political culture which created “two parallel imagined communities,” namely the two political parties—the Federalists and the Republicans—that denied each other’s legitimacy. This disposition…created a political culture governed by a grammar of combat, which entailed a “politics of anxious extremes.” It fostered the intense employment and further construction of biblical politics, each side depicting the other as wrong-doing “Adamites” or “Jeffersonites.” …The pseudo-biblical language thus wove the Bible into American life and sanctified the young nation. American politics were transformed, in texts largely devoid of references to God, into the new religion of the republic. I came across another example of…

Water under the bridge at Christmas

Of course we understand that singing at the inauguration of a president is a boon for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; the choir’s president Ron Jarrett said that the choir would be “honored to be able to serve our country by providing music for the inauguration of our next president.” It is not the first president they ‘sing into office’, and probably not the last one either. Viewing the change of US president from across the ocean, we from the International Church are puzzled by many aspects. First, of course, the choice of Trump as president, but that is now definitely water under the bridge. Also, to our mild surprise, he was elected by our fellow Mormons in Utah and other areas of the Mormon Corridor, a vote he would never have gotten with the saints in the International Church, not with his track record of racist, sexist, and misogynous remarks, and surely not with his isolationist stand. Once again we…

Therefore not sealed, but with open eyes

The feelings we associate with spiritual experiences are detectable by brain scans, and spiritual feelings can be generated by stimulating particular parts of our brains. That is not surprising. Without something happening in our brain, we would have no feelings and no experiences of any kind, spiritual or mundane. It’s not just that spiritual experiences are associated with particular emotions, but that everything we think and feel is a neurological event of some kind.

Mormonism in the (Post)Modern World

The Wheatley Institution hosted a conference at BYU last month, “Reason for Hope: Responding to a Secular World.” Video of the presentations may be posted at the Wheatley website at some point, but for now we have the Deseret News article summarizing the event, headlined as “Mormons with doubts shouldn’t give up the faith without ‘intellectual and spiritual kicking and screaming.’” I think the Deseret News headline does a better job describing the conference than the official title.

Cell phone theology

Media change is not bad. Each new medium has enabled us to do new and important things in the sphere of belief. Writing made it possible to extend the prophet’s voice beyond mortality and to establish a canon of scripture. Television made it possible to participate in a worldwide faith community. The Internet democratized religious discussion like nothing else before it. Technology extends our abilities to write, read, think and believe. But our cell phones are impoverishing us.

Sunday School 2.0 (sort of)

Love it or hate it, it’s still around: Gospel Doctrine in LDS Sunday School. The SL Trib has a long story detailing the upgrades to the curriculum for the upcoming year, “New scholarship coming to Mormon lessons, but will instructors really teach it?” Apparently the plan for revising the manual is to change absolutely nothing in the current instructor’s manual for D&C and Church History, but to (1) post some additional material online somewhere at the sprawling site, (2) hope the teachers use some of the material posted at the Revelations in Context site (itself a subdomain of, and (3) print some of this additional material in a booklet to be made available through LDS distribution centers. Maybe some teachers will use this extra material, maybe they won’t.

This Is Your Brain on Prayer

My Facebook feed lit up today with links to media reports of an article just published in the online journal Social Neuroscience, “Reward, salience, and attentional networks are activated by religions experience in devout Mormons.” You can guess why I’m linking to the actual article rather than the media reports. Fake news, real news, it all sounds like junk news. Just read the article.

SMPT 2017 submissions due November 28

Submissions for the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology’s 2017 meeting are due this coming Monday, November 28th. The meeting will be held at Claremont Graduate University March 2-4, with the theme “Poured Out Upon Us: The Holy Spirit.” As usual, submissions on any aspect of LDS belief are welcome. For details see the Call for Papers (PDF).

The Roots of the Current Election

I’ll admit I didn’t expect Trump to win. As a conservative I thought my worst case scenario was Clinton winning but Trump keeping it extremely close and outperforming Romney. That would allow Trump to stop the GOP from reforming back to its roots. Trump definitely beat that. With his win he’ll almost certainly consolidate power and remake the GOP in his own image. As a practical matter I suspect the conservative movement is dead although honestly it’s been on death’s door for some time. (I sincerely hope it rebounds) That said it’s hard not to agree with a lot of the anger from within the GOP against their own leadership and elites. Yet this is something more. Even though Trump’s win was unexpected, the forces leading to it were easy to discern for some time. Democrats let one of the most disliked figures of the last 30 years run largely unopposed in the primaries. That a self-described socialist did so…

Dealing With the Election Defeat

Like many of you, I am deeply disappointed with news of the crushing election defeat: the San Diego stadium measure failed badly. This is almost tragic. It’s kind of like Football Brexit, a sudden tear in the social fabric. Who can imagine San Diego without the Chargers? The fabled franchise history that includes Dan Fouts, Junior Seau, and now Philip Rivers will likely be brutally disrupted within a year or two. St. Louis Chargers? The London Chargers? It would be nice to keep the suddenly resurgent AFC West intact. The Portland Chargers? If Salt Lake can host the Olympics, why not the Chargers?