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.

Sunday School Lesson 29

Lesson 29: Alma 36-39 Alma 35:15-16 explains why Alma says the things in these chapters to his sons, Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton: because he grieved for the hardness of the hearts of the people to whom he and others had been sent as missionaries. (See Alma 31:6-7.) How does that explain what he says, especially since one of the three sons to whom he speaks, Helaman, was not part of that mission?

Was Polygamy Good for Women?

I think there is an unexamined assumption that polygamy in general is misogynistic, as if there were an equation in our minds and three or four or five women were needed to be ‘equal’ to one man in a polygamous worldview. I am wondering if we might explore that assumption.

Music Notes, July 25

No history lesson today, just my favorite story about one of the hymns we’re singing. The LDS poet Emma Lou Thayne relates this story about her friend, Jan Cook, who moved from Salt Lake City to a remote part of Africa: “[Her husband’s] work had taken them and their three small children there, and any meetings attended were in their own living room with only themselves as participants. By their third Christmas, Jan was very homesick. She confessed this to a good friend, a Mennonite; Jan told her how she missed her own people, their traditions, even snow. Her friend sympathized and invited her to go with her in a month to the Christmas services being held in the only Protestant church in the area, saying that there would be a reunion there of all the Mennonite missionaries on the continent.

My False Dichotomy is Better than Your False Dichotomy

Over at Sons of Mosiah, Bob Caswell criticizes the popular labeling dichotomy of “Chapel Mormons versus Internet Mormons.” (Which, by the way, is the topic of an upcoming Sunstone symposium panel reputed to include at least one dazzlingly brilliant bloggernacker). To replace that outmoded framework, Bob suggests using his own recently invented dichotomy: Internet Mormons and Magazine Mormons. So, are you an Internet Mormon? Are you a Magazine Mormon? Do you think Bob is nuts to give us yet another useless dichotomy? Weigh in over at SOM, where the conversation has been quite interesting.

My Pioneer Ancestors

I joined the Church in February of 1962, as a teenager living in San Antonio, Texas, where my father was stationed at the time. (He was in the Army, studying hospital administration at Fort Sam Houston, in a Baylor extension program.) My parents and my younger brother joined at the same time. My parents were both from Knob Noster, Missouri, near Warrensburg, in Johnson County, about fifty miles east of Independence. Many of my ancestors were living in the area when the Saints were in Independence and probably took part in the persecutions. If I understood my mother correctly, I am related, collaterally, to Governor Boggs. As a result, genetically my heritage has something to do with the Saints move west to Utah, but it isn’t the kind of relation to the Utah pioneers that would qualify me to join the Sons of the Utah Pioneers.

175th Anniversary of the Book of Mormon

March 26, 2005, will mark the 175th Anniversary of the printing of the Book of Mormon. Our ward is using this event as a catalyst to challenge every member of our ward to read the Book of Mormon. Reading just one chapter per day, the entire Book of Mormon will be finished by its 175th anniversary if one begins reading by next Saturday, July 31. Our sacrament meeting topic for August 8 will be the Book of Mormon, and we will stress the importance of the Book of Mormon and its blessings. To keep the program at the forefront, and to build on the collective preparation, we are going to have several sacrament meetings organized around a theme from that weeks reading. On October 10, the theme will be King Benjamin’s sermon, as Mosiah chapters 2 through 5 were part of that week’s reading.