Day 2 of Gratitude


Prayers of Gratitude—Sunday, November 9 . . . was the annual Primary Program, one of my favorite Sundays of the year. Though many find this day difficult, I simply have to smile at the unpredictable entertainment, as well as the sincere belief and sincere silliness of little children. Moreover, there is the pleasure of watching someone else discipline my rowdy children while I sit and enjoy whatever message I can glean from the too-close-to-the-microphone yelling of three-year-olds. This year I did get a message.

When to Disobey

2014-11-24 Naughty Dog

I’ve been having some interesting conversations about the high cost of membership in the Church. We believe, in general, that the cost of being a Mormon is high and that this is a good thing. Sacrifice leads to faith. We pour a lot of time and a lot of energy into the Church, and this helps us value our membership more than if the Church asked less of us. But it can be taken to extremes. There are reasons to say “no” to something our leaders ask of us, and foremost among those is the sake of our families. The Church exists to serve the family. Families do not exist for the purpose of serving or repopulating the Church. My bishop—a man I admire greatly—made this point explicitly at the start of priesthood opening exercises last week. He enumerated the very large number of activities planned for the ward between now and the end of the year, and then he…

Short Musings on the Wu-Tang Clan, Ezekiel, and Church Curriculum


Yesterday at a restaurant with my parents, I heard a nice bluesy instrumental over the audio system. I’m a blues fan, and liked it so much I flagged down the waitress to ask what it was. She went to check, and reported to our mutual surprise, that that particular song was “Slow Blues” by the Wu-Tang Clan! I don’t know much about Wu-Tang or the ODB, but I’m familiar enough to know that this is not their usual genre. Most of their music, from what I can tell, is fairly explicit rap. I imagine their CDs (if they still exist) would likely have the parental warning on them. If one of your kids came home with a Wu-Tang CD with the “explicit lyrics” warning, you might be concerned. (First question- “They still make CDs?! Why are you buying CDs?!”) Indeed, even if they explained they’re only listening to the blues song, it still might be of concern. Selective listening gives a…

Announcing the BYU & Maxwell Institute 2015 Summer Seminar

Maxwell Institute Logo

UPDATED: The original version of this post didn’t include the link to the application form. That link was added on Dec 10, 2014. In the summer of 2015, the Neal A Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, with support from the Mormon Scholars Foundation, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students, CES educators,  and other qualified individuals, on “ORGANIZING THE KINGDOM: PRIESTHOOD, CHURCH GOVERNMENT, AND THE FORMS OF LDS WORSHIP.” The seminar continues the series of seminars on Mormon culture begun in the summer of 1997. This iteration will be conducted by Terryl Givens, Professor of Literature and Religion and James A. Bostwick Chair of English at the University of Richmond. Givens writes: This particular seminar will continue a series begun five years ago on the history of Mormon thought. More specifically, we will study LDS ecclesiology, focusing on the origin and development of church organization, the evolution of public worship services and practices, and related topics. We will…

My morning with McBaine and Wiman

As happens every now and then, I had a furious, fortuitous conjoining that so filled the boughs with fruit that they now creak and threaten to break. And language—especially quick language—isn’t likely to succeed in conveying the experience. What follows is a quick, momentary set of notes. But I don’t want to let it pass or hold back; I want to attempt to capture and share a moment of clear resonation. Riding in to work I was reading two books: Christian Wiman’s utterly unparalleled My Bright Abyss (review forthcoming) and Neylan McBaine’s desperately needed Women at Church. The one prepared me for the other, but I’ll share them in reverse order. At the end of Chapter One Sister McBaine seems to strike right at the heart of our paradox with women’s issues: “How do we protect the traditions, practices, and truths of our earliest progenitors while holding sacred the rebel explosion of the Restoration?” I’ve no desire to dilute or…

Mormons and Politics

Readers may be interested in a recent episode of the “Research on Religion Podcast,” featuring Quin Monson (BYU) and Dave Campbell (Notre Dame) discussing their new book Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics (also co-authored with John C. Green). The book is the first full length study by professional political scientists of the place of Mormons in contemporary American politics. Scholarly discussions of Mormonism tend to be dominated by those trained either as historians or else (more recently) in religious studies. The work of Monson, Campbell, and Green is important because it brings in a bit more disciplinary diversity to the discussion. Among other things, they have actual new data on Mormon political attitudes — as opposed to opinions based on political discussions in the foyer at church — and a social scientist’s sense for what is unique about Mormons and what is not. The podcast provides a nice summary of a some of their research. Enjoy!

Reading and Writing (Genesis): Books, books, and more books

I have a few things in my way before being able to work full-time on Genesis 1– a recalcitrant article draft, some travel, volunteer work, etc. In the meantime, I’m making slow but good progress. I’m beginning to suspect the most important parts of the book will be the first two sections dealing with groundwork/assumptions and LDS entanglements with Genesis, not the last two sections on the ancient Near Eastern context or the text/translation itself. I’m interested in a lot of things that are secondary or tertiary to the main thrust of the book, such as the history of biblical interpretation, the history of interaction between science and religion, history of science, and how other religious traditions have handled the challenges to tradition, authority, doctrine, etc. It’s terribly difficult to avoid spending too much time filling out these secondary areas, but I really can’t afford the time to read everything relevant; there is a TON of relevant scholarship. Below are a few…

Doux Commerce in the City of God

I just put up an essay at the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) that readers of this blog might find interesting. It’s a response to some of Hugh Nibley’s writings on Zion and commerce. Nibley was famously critical of the mercantile ethic, arguing that trade and capitalism were fundamentally hostile to the ideal of Zion. This essay takes a more optimistic view of commerce, drawing on the ideas eighteenth-century thinkers like Montesquieu, who saw in the rise of markets a fundamentally pro-social force with the potential to limit violence and conflict. I’ll let readers judge the ultimate merits of my mash-up between Joseph Smith and Adam Smith, but hopefully it’s worth taking a look at it. Along the way, I offer a critical reading of some nineteenth-century Zion building that may interest Mormon history nerds, particularly those enamored of Leonard Arrington’s work. Enjoy! Here’s the abstract and a link to the article: Doux Commerce in the City of God: Trade…

I Need My Kids

Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter in "Raising Arizona".

Last month, my friend Betsy VanDenBerghe wrote a piece for Real Clear Religion inspired alternately by Pope Francis and the Coen brothers’ 1987 comedy Raising Arizona about Why Children Are Better Than Pets. Her central question was: What would a society of adults skewed toward childlessness, like the perpetually barren Time magazine beach couple, look and act like without having acquired the altruism, personal growth, and wisdom that bringing up children generally bequeaths on those who undergo parenthood? Her piece really resonated with me. My life has not gone at all as planned over the last several years. Without going into any gory details, I started a new job in 2008 and the training materials bragged about inventing the mortgage backed security. A couple of months later the housing bubble burst, and a couple of months later I was part of company-wide layoffs. In the years since then, I’ve worked hard, helped to launch and run a startup, earned a second master’s…

Historians Saying Interesting Things … About Mormonism

Between the new polygamy essays at and the new religion curriculum at the BYUs, there has been a lot to argue about this week. Let’s try something a little friendlier: The Mormon History Association’s Tanner Lectures: The First Twenty Years (U. of Illinois Press, 2006). It has been on my shelf a couple of years now. I recently pulled it down as part of my new plan to actually read the LDS books that I buy. The book contains 21 articles, all variations on “Mormonism and X” but all terribly interesting. That template derives from MHA’s format for the lecture series: an accomplished historian (all non-LDS as far as I can tell) who works in a field related to LDS history but who has not studied Mormonism directly is invited to research and present something interesting about “Mormonism and X.” Here is what three of these historians talked about.

Q&A with Myself

Q. Are you an apologist or neo-apologist? A. No, I’m just a philosopher. Others have said I’m an apologist, but I’ve never been interested in apologetics. Mormonism can stand on its own two feet and it doesn’t need me to defend it.

A Crazy Wild Reformation Day


For some reason, kids in my neighborhood don’t celebrate Halloween: they do Reformation Day instead. Right around 5, the little tikes start pounding on doors, dressed as characters of the Reformation and absolutely clamoring for people to tell them more about the big event.

Constructive Thoughts on the Curriculum Shift

As I’ve stopped hyperventilating over the leak of this forthcoming change, I’ve had some thoughts. I have a general rule when I’m in Gospel Doctrine that I try not to say anything unless it’s constructive (or the teacher says something really flagrantly crazy/wrong, which is rare in my experience.) Let me open with this positiveness, then. BYU’s RelEd has some fantastic people, some new hires, and good things happening. I’ll single out the Advanced Book of Mormon class. The two Fall 2014 sections are not the first time this class has been taught. The two “regular” Book of Mormon classes are prerequisites, the syllabi I’ve seen look very good, and the profs are top-notch.  BYU still includes this aspirational statement (which I’ve cited before) about the nature of teaching in RelEd. Teaching in Religious Education is to be substantive and inspirational. Students should become familiar with the text studied in each course taken and learn the implications of the text for daily living. They should feel…

Letter to a CES Student

It’s important to keep our tough questions about Mormonism in perspective. And, especially, we need to keep the genuinely urgent questions front and center. The big problems are straightforward. We’re dying here. You and I. We’re getting sick, we’re getting old, and we’re dying. Our lives are small and our time is short. Our days are filled with suffering of all kinds: distress, worry, boredom, frustration, and loss.

Alma and Apocalypse


In Understanding the Book of Mormon, Grant Hardy argues that an important part of the Book of Mormon’s meaning emerges from how it alludes to, comments on, or patterns itself after other stories, such as Joseph in Egypt, the Exodus, and the Fall. Another such story not discussed by Hardy but central to understanding the Book of Mormon is, I think, the end of the world.

New Polygamy Essays

Read them here, here, and here. I’ll leave the squabbling over whether they fairly represented the historical situation to those who get paid the big bucks to consider those questions and instead look at a tangential issue: how they depict the way that prophets receive revelation.