Category: News and Politics

Politics – Current Events – Media

Call For Applications: 2017 Mormon Theology Seminar

The Fourth Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology “God Himself Shall Come Down: Reading Mosiah 15” College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia June 5–June 17, 2017 Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar in partnership with The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship In the summer of 2017, the Mormon Theology Seminar, in partnership with the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and faculty devoted to reading Mosiah 15. The seminar will be hosted by the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, from June 5 through June 17, 2016. Travel arrangements, housing, and a $1000 stipend will be provided for admitted participants. The seminar will be led by Adam Miller and Joseph Spencer, directors of the Mormon Theology Seminar, with assistance from Brian Hauglid, director…

Pragmatism as Mormon Epistemology Part 1

Speaking of his famous pragmatic maxim the great American philosopher C. S. Peirce said that we should reflect a little upon what it implies. It has been said to be a skeptical and materialistic principle. But it is only an application of the sole principle of logic which was recommended by Jesus; “Ye may know them by their fruits,” and it is very intimately allied with the ideas of the gospel. (CP 5.402) His maxim was a principle for understanding belief and meaning. In order to determine or verify the meaning of something we must consider what practical consequences would result from treating it as true. The totality of these consequences exhausts its meaning. So to understand what it means for a diamond to be hard, for instance, we might ask the variety of ways we might measure it’s hardness or the physical implications of its being hard.

The Danger of Attacking a Lack of Traditional Families in Mormon Politics

Donald Trump and his surrogates have become rather worried about Evan McMullin’s chances in Utah. In several polls he’s either been tied for first place or is within striking distance. (Most still have Trump ahead) The last week he’s been the talk of the media with many seriously thinking he has a chance. Last week noted Fox News host Lou Dobbs made an unfortunate attack on McMullin saying he’s helping the “Mormon Mafia” affect the election results. This led to a slew of rather hilarious tweets mocking the idea of a Mormon Mafia. Around the same time various stories started spreading innuendo about McMullin both because he’s single but also because his mother apparently married an other woman after getting a divorce.[1] I don’t want to delve too far into McMullin. Just because he’s attacked unfairly doesn’t mean he deserves your vote. Despite being a conservative and thinking a lot about this election, I’m honestly not sure who I’m voting…

Peacebuilding and Mormonism Conference

Today and tomorrow at UVU, the BYU Wheatley Institution and the UVU Center for the Study of Ethics are hosting a conference on “Peacebuilding: Religious and Ethical Perspectives.” They have lined up an impressive list of speakers from near and far; come check it out!

Jack Chick has Passed Away

I don’t know if it is still a thing with Evangelicals, but back when I was on my mission there were Jack Chick comic books everywhere. While Chick didn’t limit himself to virulent anti-Mormonism it’s those tracts that still bring a chuckle to me. Almost anywhere we looked we found them. What was so amazing about them was just how mind bogglingly ridiculous they often were. He’d have characters meeting new Mormon investigators and suddenly start quoting by memory obscure passages from the Journal of Discourses. Others were more in the extreme conspiracy theory such as a communist-catholic takeover of the US with Cleon Skousen by way of rock music. He hated Catholics, Dungeons and Dragons, evolution and nearly anything else not ‘pure’ by Evangelical standards. While Chick’s tracts were popular in some ways, apparently their hateful nature led many religious bookstores to stop selling them. The Christian Booksellers Association considered expelling him in the 80’s although he withdrew before they…

No Big 12 for BYU

I know BYU football isn’t the normal talk here. I think it’s relevant to the broader LDS community this year if only due to how it’s perceived around the country. While as I write this the Big 12 hasn’t formally announced the death of expansion plans, it’s being widely leaked. For months BYU seemed like a shoe in. Then came the activism at many colleges over the honor code at BYU. While some of the information out there was simply incorrect, the basic idea of no pubic displays of affection for homosexuals seemed like a deal breaker to enough college presidents so as to kill BYU’s hopes.

SMPT Notes: Joseph Lowell

Joseph Lowell was a philosopher I wasn’t familiar with at all. He was speaking on creation, artisanship and creation ex nihilo. However the fundamental topic he was after was aesthetics. I didn’t take as many notes first because I’ll fully confess I know only enough about the philosophy of aesthetics to be dangerous. There’s a lot I’m ignorant of. Second because most of Lowell’s approach was via process theology and Whitehead. While there’s a lot in Whitehead I agree with, overall I just don’t buy his system. I do acknowledge he’s been really a significant influence in many thinkers like Blake Ostler. I confess I just have problems with Whitehead. That said we had some fantastic discussions in the Q&A. I really hope to read more from Joseph.

SMPT Notes: Brown

For the first concurrent session I attended Sam Brown’s. While he’s not as well known as David Paulson he has written numerous extremely well received papers and books. I honestly can’t fathom how he has the time to do all he does. He’s a medical researcher and ICU physician as well as writing on Mormon philosophical notions and history. We were very lucky to have him there. At the end he noted how he’s really trying to cut back on all he does. So in that case we were doubly lucky to have him there. It’s almost difficult to describe Brown’s talk although I had more notes on it than anything else. He started off talking about how the god of classical theism was really the ground of being. It’s thus problematic to talk of an essentially embodied being since how can the ground of the universe ground the universe. (Some philosophies do attempt that of course) His notion is…

SMPT Notes: Paulson & Boyd

I wasn’t able to attend Ben’s session this evening and it’s looking like I won’t be able to go like I’d hoped tomorrow. Still I really enjoyed the sessions I went to. To give a bit of a taste (and to encourage everyone to attend tomorrow and Saturday) here’s some notes with a bit of commentary. My notes ended being a bit longer than I expected. So I’m doing a separate post for each. Hopefully those of you who attended the other sessions can tell me how they went. David Paulson and Hal Boyd (opinion editor at the Deseret News) opened things up with a discussion of a few parts of their forthcoming book Are Christians Mormon. The theme of the book is various moves in Christian theology the past couple of decades where many theologians are making moves towards elements of Mormon theology. I just don’t know enough of the main figures in contemporary theology let alone how they…

Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology

The annual meeting of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology is this week at BYU. All the sessions are being held in B192 in the JFSB from Thursday through Saturday. You can see the full schedule of sessions at the smpt.org website. Like an idiot I hadn’t put it on my calendar. I’d completely forgotten about it until Ben called me this evening to ask if I was going. Unfortunately my wife is going out of town this weekend. I’m going to try and go to the Thursday and Friday sessions though. Even though I’ve not been able to attend as regularly the past few years as in the past, I’ve always enjoyed the sessions I’ve attended. There are lot of great thinking by people far smarter than I am. So I always get something out of it – especially in the sessions I disagree with.

What is Zion and how do we get there? 31 Mormons weigh in: You’ll definitely find your Zion somewhere in here

A review of A Book of Mormons: Latter-day Saints on a Modern-Day Zion In this useful collection of brief essays, an impressively wide array of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints describe what Zion means to them. As the editors write in their introduction, “Forget about glossy Mormon-produced documentaries. Forget about funny Broadway musicals. … Here you will find a potent mixture of everyday and extraordinary Mormons speaking in their own voice about tough issues and hard-won testimonies.” The range of approaches is wonderfully expansive. Some of the authors speak of how Zion means better inclusion of groups that have historically been under-empowered. Neylan McBain, whose book Women at Church I can’t say enough good things about, writes, “As we stretch toward a new identity of Mormon womanhood, our community craves a vision of how we can honor our priorities without being slaves to their former trappings.” Julie Smith explores the question “does Mormonism oppress women–or…

Forthcoming Battles Over Religious Liberty

I know many think the focus on religious liberty is misplaced. To my eyes it seems we have more religious liberty now than at any time in American history. I recognize not all feel that way although often it is due to the majority religion being constrained in some ways from acting as the de facto religion. But in terms of individuals practicing their religion in general rather than limited practices of the majority in government contexts, we seem to be doing great. Why then the worry of the brethren over religious liberty? Robert Couch sent me a link today that may highlight the problem. It’s Rod Dreher talking about famous Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne giving a paper at the Midwest Meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers. Note that this is a philosophy conference that is supposed to be discussing Christian philosophy. Swinburne is speaking about traditional Christian sexual ethics and arguing for homosexuality being extrinsically wrong.

Call to Repentance

It is rather presumptuous to call someone to repentance, don’t you think? The act implies at least two things: that the caller knows better than the called, and that the caller has the authority to issue the call to repent. In a world of increasing moral relativism, many of us are uncomfortable with the idea that one person can or ought to impose his or her standards on another. This discomfort illegitimizes the call for repentance by not only undercutting the moral authority of the caller, but the very standards by which a call may be justified. But the call for repentance has always been a call away from the world. It is a beacon that returns us to the Lord’s standard, a corrective guide. In our church today, we accept that our leaders, especially the prophet and apostles, have the authority to call us (and the rest of the world) to repentance. And in part because of the cultural…

Forgiving our leaders

It is about ten months ago now, that Sad Sunday when the ‘Exclusion Policy’ was upon us, the one that created a lot of problems, while solving probably none. In our ward we lost our bishop through it, and he still has not returned. Also, some of the Primary kids still have not been baptized, as some still wait for the exclusion policy to be revoked. There is ample reason for such a repeal; after all, as I analysed last year, the policy of excluding children of same sex parents from a normal entrance into our community does not really address anyone in practice, whereas it does send a signal of exclusion into the world. And into the Church. It is the wrong arena, the wrong battle, the wrong fight. Yet, a retraction is unlikely to happen for several reasons. In any formal organization, not just the Church, reversing a decision is much harder than taking one, as it erodes…

Out of the Bubble

It is nice to take a break from the bubble that is Utah Valley. Last month we moved to Belgium for a year-long sabbatical, and I hoping that this time will be restorative. I’m ready to reenter the conversation.

The Open and Closed Texts of Theology

One of my all time favor books is Foucalt’s Pendulum by the great Italian author Umberto Eco. It’s a fantastic book about the problems of interpretation all wrapped up in a conspiracy theory. Despite having several famous books Eco’s greatest works are actually as a philosopher and semiotician. A constant theme of both his fiction and scholarly works are the limits of interpretation. He often explains this in terms of the “open text” and “closed text.” The closed text is a text (or any collection of signs like paintings or clothing) that has a very limited number of valid interpretations. The open text by contrast seems to have unlimited interpretations. Within his books his characters often face ambiguous texts out of which they attempt to gain understanding and meaning. The question always remains though: are all interpretations equally valid? Back in 1990 he gave the O. C. Tanner Lectures on this very topic.[1] It was reprinted in the book Interpretation and Overinterpretation.  His goal…

For Dutch-speaking readers

I apologize for not having contributed much to Times and Seasons lately, but since last year I have chosen to concentrate on our Dutch-speaking members and friends. So much is available in English, so little in many other languages. Our site Mormoneninfo.be is geared to information that can enrich the understanding of Mormonism. This year the site is mainly devoted to the Book of Mormon curriculum. Wherever possible it integrates intellectual, cultural and artistic contributions from the Low Countries (the Netherlands and Flanders).Even if you don’t read Dutch, you’re welcome to browse through one of the lessons under “Evangelieleer 2016”, like this one with 16th and 17th century paintings of old men (to celebrate patriarchal record keepers) or this one on language and Bible history.Enjoy the art and like us on Facebook if you feel so! But in particular: thanks for passing this information to Dutch-speaking people, including former missionaries from Holland and from Dutch-speaking Belgium.

Why the Nones are Rising

One of the most interesting demographic shifts of the last era is the rise of the Nones. These are people who don’t self-identify with any particular religion at all. I’ve written about them several times in the past. My own view is that the rise of the Nones has primarily been a shift among people with loose commitment to religion. In the past they’d have named a religious tradition they were a part of. Now they say “none.” To my eyes the primary shift has been less a shift in their behavior than a shift in how they name themselves. But of course that’s not the whole story. While that’s probably what’s going on it doesn’t explain everything. Demographically the primary part of the population driving the rise of the Nones has been millennials. Fully 36% self-identify as part of the Nones. Older groups, like my Gen-X generation, have become slightly less religious but the primary driver of the social shift are…

American Mormons Aren’t Leaving the GOP, the GOP is Leaving Us

Believe me, no one wants to write about the Trump campaign (yet again) less than I do. However, events last week might have long-term consequences for the position of Mormonism in American society, and I thought it was worth a little bit of a look. The story starts with a major shake-up in the Trump campaign. As the NYT reported last week: Paul Manafort is out; Stephen K. Bannon is in. So, who are these two folks, and what do they have to do with Mormons? Paul Manafort is famous for, among other things, working to rehabilitate the image and career of Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych is the authoritarian, pro-Russian Ukrainian politician who was ousted in that country’s Orange Revolution. Manafort is the guy who was hired to get Yanukovych back in power. He overhauled Yanukovych’s image from clothes and haircut to people-skills, as this Slate article details. Surely, the idea went, if Manafort  could sell Yanukovych, he could also sell…

Eschatology or How it’s Always the End of Days

Eschatology is the study of the end times. It’s hard to read much of the New Testament, Book of Mormon or even Doctrine and Covenants without noticing how much is focused on the end of the world. As some have recently noted a common refrain in the Church since it’s early days is how the end times are always nigh. In the 19th century many Mormons thought the Jesus would come before the 20th century. When I was a kid, we were constantly told we were a generation prepared for the last days. Most people thought a conflict between the USSR and America was inevitable. While all the apocalyptic movies from the 80’s now seem quaint (despite a resurgent Mad Max last year) it really was a time when people fully expected the end of the world. Is this pessimism though? I’m not sure it is. 

Musement and Alma 30

One of the more controversial arguments in the Book of Mormon is found within Alma’s response to Korihor in Alma 30. Korihor asks Alma to “show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea show unto me that he hath power….” (43) Alma responds that “all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” (44) Most people cast this debate as between the humanist skeptic of religion and the believer. Alma’s response is thus seen as a variation on Paley’s argument from design for the existence of God. Paley argued that if we found a watch on the ground we’d assume an engineer had designed it. In the same way creation makes us assume a creator. Now the argument…

How is the Church True?

I regularly see people complain about common LDS phrases such as “I know the Church is True” or “I know the Book of Mormon is True.” People often think these sentences are meaningless. Now I’ll be the first to admit that the way we speak in this context is alien to our fellow Christians. Pedagogically it’s perhaps not the best terminology to use in trying to help people gain a testimony. I do think the sentences are completely sensical though and that most people have a reasonable grasp on what they mean. Usually if you ask someone who’s used the sentence, they’ll rephrase it as “this is really God’s Church on earth.” Part of the problem is that culturally we’ve largely adopted a way of speaking that comes out of philosophy. This largely starts with Aristotle. Truth is a property of propositions (the meaning of sentences) and not entities like churches, books or the like. Remnants of earlier ways of…

Reminder: SMPT Submissions due August 15

Paper proposals for the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology’s 2016 Annual Meeting are due soon—Monday, August 15. Proposals are particularly invited on the theme, “Christ, Our Forerunner,” but proposals on any aspect of LDS belief will receive full consideration. For full details on the conference and the call for papers, see the original announcement.

Book Review: The Mormon Jesus

I remain fundamentally unconvinced of the book’s central claim and argument, and am personally ambivalent about it—though in that I’m surely in the minority amongst Mormons (rank-and-file and all the rest) whom I suspect will heartily cheer the book’s primary claim: Mormonism, taken as a whole in it’s historic trajectory, is patently Christian.

What Was the Nephite Law of Moses?

Most scholars assume that the type of Judaism Jesus encountered had its main development during and after the Babylonian exile. When we read the Old Testament, especially the books of Moses, it appears as if they were written as a single text. However there are compelling reasons to believe they were composed out of multiple texts and traditions by groups with competing religious views. The Book of Mormon itself suggests problems with the editing and redacting of these texts. Speaking of the Bible held by the gentiles, Nephi is told it “containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many.” (1 Ne 13:23) So at a minimum the brass plates held many writings not in the Bible, such as Zenos quoted by Jacob. Obviously many texts like Ezekiel weren’t written until after Lehi had left Jerusalem.