Will the Real Mormonism Please Step Forward

Mormons are efficient. We are a large, hierarchical faith that runs like a corporation. The Brethren are powerful leaders with the ability to dictate the minutiae of members lives and call forth vast resources at the drop of a hat. Mormon congregations are well oiled machines. They even have so-called “home teachers” that visit members each month just to check up on them and insure that they are serving their proper roles in the Mormon juggernaut. Something like this image frequently appears in media accounts about the Church, and we as often as not like to repeat some version of it to ourselves. How many times have you gleefully heard members discuss the swift efficiency with which Mormons have sped relief supplies to disaster ridden areas. I have to confess, however, that I don’t really buy this image. The reason is that I actually go to church every week.

Effects of the Ex-Mormon Lunatic Fringe

A few weeks ago, Jeff Lindsay posted a humorous discussion of the “Exmo” computer virus that turns otherwise sane people into spiteful, obsessive anti-Mormons. In the comments on his blog, many ex-Mormons offered thoughtful and reasonable discussion, and objected (politely but firmly) to his apparent characterization of all ex-Mormons. This in turn led to a revision, where Lindsay suggested that perhaps a better title would be the “Rare Former Mormon Who Becomes a Raving Anti-Mormon Quite Unlike Most Ex-Mormons Who Are Really Nice and Intelligent People virus.” I agree with the comments on Jeff’s blog, to the extent that they demonstrate that many former church members are reasonable, nice, intelligent, and happy people. I have friends who are former church members; we’ve got some very nice blog commenters who are former members, and at least one very nice commenter who may be in the process of leaving the church. It is clear to me that many former members are decent…

Sunday School Lesson 31

Lesson 31: Alma 43-52 The manual gives this overview of the material in the lesson: a. Alma 43–44. Led by Zerahemnah, the Lamanites come to battle against the Nephites, seeking to bring them into bondage. The Nephites, led by Moroni, fight to defend their families and their liberty. The Nephites prevail because they are “inspired by a better cause” and because they exercise faith in Jesus Christ. b. Alma 45:20–24; 46. Amalickiah desires to be king and causes dissension among the Nephites. Captain Moroni raises the “title of liberty” to inspire the people, and they covenant to follow God. Amalickiah and a few of his followers join the Lamanites. c. Alma 47–48. Through treachery, Amalickiah becomes king of the Lamanites. He incites the Lamanites to fight against the Nephites. Captain Moroni prepares the Nephites to defend themselves righteously. d. Alma 49–52. War continues between the Nephites and the Lamanites. The king-men desire to set up a king over the Nephites,…

The Mormon Mafia

I don’t know how it works in other cities, but Washington, DC is definitely a town with a well established Mormon Mafia. What this refers to is a network of Mormon professionals — lawyers, lobbyists, Hill staffers, and the like — who are acquainted with one another and tend to help out with professional advancement. I have to admit that I am a beneficiary of this “system.” I have now secured two jobs at least in part because of networks Mormons. I am of two minds about this phenomena.

Best Colleges for Young Single Mormons

All of our permanent bloggers are married, so we do not talk much about the life of single members, except by way of remembrance. This morning, however, I had one of those milestone events that marks the aging of a father as I spoke with my daughter about her college plans. We had explored this topic before, but only in fairly general terms, and over the past six months she has been receiving college brochures at a pace that would rival a top high school quarterback. Today she listed some of the colleges she was considering, and I was surprised by some of her choices, mainly because they are in locations that do not seem to hold much promise for finding LDS peers. (Given that she has spent most of her life in such locations, I suspect that this factor did not even enter her calculation.) That started me thinking: what are the best undergraduate colleges in the US for…

Mormons From Utah

The New York Times is reporting that “Mormon genes are hot.” To a scientist, the single greatest attraction of Utah – and its biggest distinction in a nation of rootless wanderers – is stability. For more than 150 years, largely because of the Mormon church, the state has been a magnet to people who mostly stayed put. A relatively small founding population was fruitful and multiplied – aided in the 19th century by polygamy, adding a unique wrinkle to the genetic trail. With its emphasis on family records and genealogy, the Mormon church, officially the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then created a treasure trove of details about those people.

Mormonism and Theories of Religion III: Durkheim

This follows up on the previous entries in this series here and here. Emile Durkheim is one of the most important founders of modern sociology. He is also one of the most important figures in the study of religion. Like Tylor, Frazer, and Freud, his theory of religion is also reductionist. It seeks to explain religion by pointing to something other than religion itself.

The Mormon Take-over of Nauvoo is Proceeding According to Plan

Honestly, I don’t have anything to say about this article, except that 1) it’s a nice little bit of slice-of-life reporting, 2) doesn’t get anything egregiously wrong so far as I can tell (which is always a relief), and 3) isn’t telling us anything that couldn’t have been predicted the moment the Nauvoo temple was announced. What I want to know is: why is the Mormon take-over of Kirtland going so sluggishly by comparison? We should be running that place by now. But no, we haven’t even bought the original temple back yet! Don’t tell me that the native sons and daughters of rural northeastern Ohio are so much more defiant of Mormon goodwill, savvy, and up-front cash than are the disgruntled locals of western Illinois. (And it’s not like the Community of Christ couldn’t use the dough.) Somebody better get their priorities straight. Yeah, I know what you’re all saying: “Oooh, but Brother Fox, we have to recapture Nauvoo…

Elder Holland v. Professor Ackerman

Last week I got to do the “Teachings of Our Times” lesson in Elders’ Quorum. These are the lessons that take a recent set of conference talks as the text. This months lesson included Elder Jeffery R. Holland’s recent sermon “A Prayer for the Children.” We used the talk and the lesson as a springboard for a good discussion on the Gospel and theories of education.

The Purpose of Gospel Doctrine Class

The discussion below under Utah Mormons has rekindled a longstanding question for me: why do we have a Gospel Doctrine class? Elder Harold G. Hillam offered a very interesting history of the Sunday School Program of the Church in the August 1999 Ensign with an article entitled, “Sunday School: Oil for Our Lamps.” The Sunday School program of the Church dates back to the mid-1800s, when the focus was on teaching children the Gospel. Gradually the target age range for Sunday School lessons expanded to the system that we have today.

Consecrated Computer Geeks

As some have noticed the over all quality of the Church’s internet presence has been on the increase of late. In part this is no doubt simply the result of the Church cautiously exploiting a new medium, but I think there may be more to it than that, or so my brother-in-law tells me. In the interest of spreading unfounded faith-promoting rumors, here is the story as I understand it.

Mormonism and Theories of Religion II: Freud

This is the second installment in this series, begun here. Freud has had a huge impact on thought in the 20th century. He was a truly revolutionary thinker, to such an extent that the statement “We are all Freudians now” certainly rings true. Among the many subjects he treated, religion was a particular interest for him. He dealt with it in three books, Totem and Taboo, Future of an Illusion, and Moses and Monotheism.

Utah Mormons

Since things are a bit slow around here today (unless you are interested in Zelph), I will take the opportunity to contemplate with you a silly question that has been on my mind from time to time lately: what is a “Utah Mormon”? I started wondering about this a few Sundays back, when a visitor to our Gospel Doctrine class started answering all of the questions with great authority. When I learned that he was from St. George, and I immediately thought, “Oh, it figures. He’s a Utah Mormon.” Then I started wondering how I could identify him as one of this breed.

Who is the Church Exactly?

So Mormons have a lay ministry. Hence, there is a real sense in which we are “the Church.” This raises some interesting questions about what counts as official Church action and what doesn’t. Consider the case of Martin v. Johnson, 151 Cal. Rep. 816 (Cal.App. 1979).

Zelph Examined

John Hatch has a not-to-be-missed examination of Zelph over at By Common Consent. (For those not familiar with Zelph, the very short version is that Joseph Smith, on finding a burial mound in Illinois, stated that the remains were of Zelph, a great Nephite general, and scholars, critics, and apologists have been writing reams on Zelph ever since). New DNA evidence makes Zelph look potentially problematic. John concludes that there are five reasonable possibilities for interpreting the Zelph story. His post is very interesting, and highlights some of the tensions and questions relating to Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling, modern scientific theories, and apologist work attempting to reconcile the two.

LDS-themed Bloggers Need Not Tolerate Anti-Mormon Google Ads

Jeff Lindsay has the scoop: When I first started this blog at Blogger.com, I was surprised to see ads for anti-Mormon sites appearing at the top of my page. I sent a complaint in to technical support. Wonderfully, they listened and upgraded my account to an ad-free blog. I have noticed some other LDS folks with blogs have anti-Mormon ads showing up. Don’t settle for that kind of abuse, brothers and sisters. It’s a route that Orson’s Telly (current ad: “Out of Mormonism: Tools for Reaching LDS Mormons with the True Christian Gospel”), By Steve’s Consent (recently graced with “Are Mormon Beliefs Biblical?”) might consider taking. Plus (though I haven’t noticed anti-Mormon ads on them), it’s something that other blogspot users like Grasshopper, Demosthenes, the Brothers Bell, and Motley Vision might want to keep in mind, should anti-Mormon ads start (or continue, as the case may be) appearing on their blogs.

Mormonism and Quetzalcoatl in Court

While we’re on the topic of court decisions about the church, it’s always fun to mention the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Alvarado v. City of San Jose, 94 F. 3d 1223 (1996). The plaintiffs in that case sought to enjoin the installation (and later, force the removal) of a Quetzalcoatl statue, on the grounds that, inter alia, it violated the California Constitution because it promoted Mormon beliefs. The court dismissed the claim, noting: While Mormons are clearly a recognized religious group, the evidence presented by the plaintiffs does not support a First Amendment argument. The writings suggest that, according to certain Mormons, ancient worshippers of Quetzalcoatl were in fact worshipping Christ. Historically, Mormon missionaries taught that Christ had revealed himself to native Mesoamericans in the form of Quetzalcoatl or the Plumed Serpent long before he appeared to man in the human form known to Christians. This attribution of Christian or Christ-like qualities to ancient religious symbols and practices does not,…

The Book of Mormon in Court

I think that most people know that passages from the Bible pop up from time to time in judicial opinions. For example, many old common law rules turned on the distinction between acts that were malum in se (that is wrong in and of themselves) and malum prohibitum (that is wrong simply because they are legally proscribed). The Ten Commandments were regularly used as a touchstone in making this distinction. The question presents itself: What sort of a life – if any – has the Book of Mormon led in the pages of the court reporters?

Mormonism and Theories of Religion: Tylor and Frazer

As Nate mentioned, I am starting my doctorate in Religious Studies this fall. In my first semester I will take a required seminar for new doctoral students Contemporary Issues in the Theory of Religion. We were given some summer reading as a preparation for this course, which included the introductory book on the subject, Seven Theories of Religion, by Daniel L. Pals. He recognizes, and I concur, that these are not all of the theories, and some important thinkers are overlooked, but seven does sound like a nice round(ish) number.

Can a Good Mormon have a Drinking Game Named After Him?

I just noticed that Dana Stevens at Slate.com has created a set of rules for the Ken Jennings Jeopardy drinking game. (Scroll down, it’s the second item on the linked page). Among the rules: 1) If KenJen misses a question, everybody drinks once. If one of his opponents gets that same question right, drink again. 2) If KenJen misses a Daily Double, drink twice. . . Everybody drinks once whenever: a) Alex Trebek mentions Ken’s affiliation with the Mormon church . . . This creates some fun questions. Can Ken get in trouble for any drinking that he inspires? (Does this create a religious duty not to answer wrongly?) And does anyone else think it’s kind of strange to have a drinking game inspired by a Mormon? On the other hand (given that we can’t exactly support Ken in this particular manner), perhaps we need to adapt the idea. It could become the LDS KenJen Ice-Cream game, or perhaps the…

The Anarchy of Revelation

I recently finished Jon Krakauer’s book about Fundamentalist Mormons, called Under the Banner of Heaven: The Story of a Violent Faith (I know, I know, I am about a year behind in my reading list). The book was a fascinating read, though often frustrating for its reductionism, historical inaccuracies, and sometimes sophomoric view of religion. However, he does seem to make an interesting point about what I like to call the Anarchy of Revelation.

Introducing Taylor Petrey

We have another guest blogger starting today: Taylor Petrey. Taylor lives in Medford, Massachusetts and is getting ready to begin his Ph.D program at Harvard Divinity School with an emphasis in the New Testament and early Christianity. Taylor grew up (appropriately enough) in Taylorsville, Utah and served a mission in Italy. He graduated from Pace University in New York City. (His lengthy stay on the island of Manhattan doesn’t seem to have caused any lasting harm.) He has also graduated from Harvard Divinity School with a Masters of Theological Studies. He speaks or reads Italian, German, Ancient Greek, and Coptic. He is currently studying Hebrew. He’s one of the smartest and most interesting people I know, and many of my fondest memories from law school are of meeting Taylor for lunch. He lives off of the generosity of his wife Stacey, a former investment banker who now rules the universe in New Hampshire. (States in New England are ridiculously small.)…

Some Thoughts on My Colossal Ignorance

I suspect that I am destined to spend my life feeling inferior to those with Ph.D’s. The summer after my junior year in college, I worked for a law professor and decided that he had about the coolest job in the world. I have been working toward an overpaid tenured sinecure at a law school ever since. One of the disadvantages of pursuing the law is that I am more or less condemned to perpetual dilettantism, constantly dabbling in the disciplines of others. I try to overcome these nagging insecurities by reading books, but I find that this is not working. I am still basically ignorant about pretty much everything. And it looks as though this condition is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

A Guest Blogger

We’re very excited to welcome our latest guest blogger: Ben S. Ben is a Ph.D. student in near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, with a specialization in Comparative Semitics. (What is that? Ben explains on his web site, “Comparative Semitics is a broad language approach to the Near East. That is, I focus on no particular geographical region or time period. I study the major languages from each, more as a philologer than a linguist.”). Ben teaches institute in Chicago, sometimes writes for FAIR, and has his own moderately quirky web site which includes some very useful church resources. Ben has been a frequent commenter here, and his comments are uniformly good. We’re looking forward to reading his posts.

Utah and Massachusetts

I’ve noticed a few interesting statements linking the two states lately. The Boston Globe notes that: In Massachusetts, 16 percent of poll respondents said that they belong to “no religion,” only slightly above the national average of 14 percent (and below Utah’s 17 per cent). (Link via Philocrites). Meanwhile, Danithew notes John Kerry’s recent statement of how Mormonism is mainstream (and how that affects Massachusetts): “I think that over the course of this convention, people are going to see a Massachusetts that’s very much like America,” he said. “It’s interesting: the last four governors of our state have all been Republicans. We now have a Mormon Republican who originally came from Utah. Our state is as mainstream as any.” So the masses of marauding Mormons have made Massacusetts more mainstream? (How’s that, alliteration-haters?). Is this the beginning of a trend? (And did it start with sweet Sunstone symposiasts who schlep in from sunny Swampscott, snickering at silly syllogisms?). Will we…

The Next Apostle

Yesterday in Church, someone asked, “So, who will be called as the next Apostle?” I responded with great certitude, “Merrill Bateman.” Of course, I have no idea whether Elder Bateman will become the next Apostle, but former BYU Presidents have a good track record in that regard. Actually, I didn’t find the question all that interesting because I know so few people who are legitimate candidates that the likelihood of my guessing correctly is close to zero. Only when another member of the ward suggested the name of someone I knew — someone not currently a General Authority, but who has reputedly “positioned himself” for such a calling — did I begin to contemplate the selection process.