Spirituality & Fundamenatlism II

Hi, sorry to have dropped out for a few days (what do you call a guest blogger who doesn’t blog?). A friend from the philosophy department has been helping me (actually, I’ve been helping him) work on a home construction project that is taking longer than expected (proving, I suppose, that between the two of them, law and philosophy can confuse pretty much anything). I enjoyed the comments. Some thematic responses.

Individual responsibility?

Frank McIntyre says “I am only responsible for that part of me that is eternally me.” Adam Greenwood agrees and wonders how to makes sense of that claim in light of the teaching that God oversees everything and brings about his purposes. Kristine Haglund implicitly assumes, I think, that despair, acedia, etc. are really individual psychological disorders because, like Frank and Adam, she assumes that individuals are the basic units, the units at which responsibility occurs. Of course that assumption is the norm. But why should we believe it is true?

Belated Good-Bye

I missed it at the time, but last month Rhee Ho Nam died. The name probably means very little to most of you, but Brother Rhee was one of the noble and great ones. A very early convert to the Church in Korea, he served as the first Korean stake president, and at one time was the president of the mission where I served: Korea Pusan. When I was a missionary, you would still lots of Rhee Ho Nam stories from members in Pusan. After I returned from my mission and re-enrolled in BYU, Brother Rhee taught one of my Korean classes. He was a warm, funny person, and one who provided tremendous service to the Kingdom and to the Korean saints. A heroic Mormon has passed on.

Do we matter at all? Are we stones that leave no ripples?

We love God because he’s just. We look at children in bad homes and console ourselves with knowing that their day will come. Every blessing God has offered us he’ll offer them and through grace he’ll clear them of whatever would impede their choice. We see the cemeteries full of people the gospel never reached and we’re pleased to think of baptisms for the dead. When we ourselves have sinned in our parenting or our friendship or our calling and it seems very much like we’ve made it harder for our children or our husband or our friend to accept Christ and the Gospel we remember that men are punished for their own sins and not for ours. If we mess up, someone else will fix it, or God will offer grace if only our victims will accept it. We are comforted. We can hardly even bear all the inequity that natural disaster and inexorable history and wicked men do,…

Hopelessness

I’ve mentioned before that I’m working on a paper on hope. That was, in fact, the topic of my first post (which I do not know how to find and, so, do not know how to refer you to—but it doesn’t matter). The truth, however, is that next month I’m presenting a paper on the loss of hope. Doing that required that I spend a lot of time thinking and reading about hope, and I’ve been writing about it. Now I’m down to the last one-third of my paper, and I’ve got to stop talking about hope and say something about its loss. Perhaps, dear readers, you can help me. I trust that my situation is not hopeless.

No Rest for the Wicked?

I’ve always thought that one of the more interesting scriptures is the verse in Isaiah that states, Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! After all, the somewhat humorous way to read this is: If you’re going to be an alcoholic, sleep in.

Who We Are and What We Are Judged For

In a recent post, there was a bit of a debate about what we are or aren’t allowed to be judged for. For example, suppose I honestly don’t believe the Church to be true. I even pray about it. To what extent can I be punished for my lack of faith? In one sense, this is moot as a judgment tool for us because we never observe others’ sincerity and it is not for us to judge other’s eventual salvation or lack thereof. But we do need to know where we stand, so the the question may be worth thinking about. I would claim that we cannot rightly be blamed for anything that is done to us, only for what we do. Further, that we can only be blamed for something to the extent that it is of our own accord. To the extent that we are behaving as we have been conditioned by others, then that can’t be our…

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Elder McConkie

I grew up in a home where I was taught from my earliest childhood to be skeptical of Elder Bruce R. McConkie. I was taught that he was overly dogmatic and that his urge to systemization was inconsistent with the spirit of continuing revelation and the core of the restored gospel. Good honor-thy-father-and-thy-mother-that-thy-days-may-be-long-upon-land child that I was, I imbibed this ethos and by the time I arrived at college I had a deep, anti-McConkie strain. While in the MTC I served with a missionary who was one of Elder McConkie’s grandsons. He (the missionary not the apostle) informed me that it was alright for there to be people like me in the church because there were people like him (the missionary) whom the spirit had endowed with perfect knowledge. This clinched it for me. No hope for McConkie or his kin. Of late, however, I have made my peace. I have learned to stop worrying and love Elder McConkie.

Thanks, Dan

On behalf of T&S, I would like to thank Dan Burk for the substantial time that he spent on the site over the past two weeks. As Kingsley noted below, Dan’s posts have consistently generated a lively discussion, in which he was an active participant. I said in my introduction two weeks ago that I always learn something new when I speak with Dan, and nothing in the past two weeks has proved me wrong.

Happy Trails

So long folks. While some of the conversation here has been interesting, the inability of at least one of the site’s bloggers to adhere to the standards of civility purportedly required for comments tells me it’s time to spend my time on matters more productive. ‘Bye.

Good Faith

The concept of good faith plays an important role in the law of contracts. Courts and commentators have long recognized that (many) contracts are incomplete, that parties cannot build meaningful, long-term relationships without some gaps in the initial framework. Such gaps, when discovered, might seem to allow one party to take advantage of the other. One method of preventing such behavior is the application of the duty to act in good faith. According to Judge Richard Posner, “The office of the doctrine of good faith is to forbid the kinds of opportunistic behavior that a mutually dependent, cooperative relationship might enable in the absence of rule.” If ever there was a legal concept ripe for Gospel application, this is it.

Sunday School Lesson 25

Lesson 25: Alma 17-22 Though this week’s lesson contains sermons by prophets, they aren’t its focus. Instead, it is primarily an account of part of the mission of the sons of Mosiah, particularly the missions of Ammon and, to a lesser degree, Aaron. This account makes a good story, with its tale of Ammon’s service to Lamoni and his battle with those who wanted to steal Lamoni’s sheep. We often use that story as an illustration of things such as faithful service or doing missionary work by service. Are those the reasons that the story of Ammon and Lamoni is included in the Book of Mormon? How does this story as a whole (not only the story of Ammon, but also that of Aaron and the other sons of Mosiah) fit in the context of the Book of Mormon and what are that book’s purposes for the story? How do the missionary approaches of Ammon and Aaron compare and contrast?

The Company We Keep

Sometime back, BYU Magazine ran a feature on BYU’s International Cinema which included mention of the difficulty of finding high-quality foreign films that would meet the requirements of the BYU code of standards. The director of the program was quoted as observing — with no apparent hint of irony — that films from Iran had proven to be a good choice for the theater, not only because of their high artistic quality, but because the censorship imposed upon them by the revolutionary Islamic regime in Iran made Iranian films just perfect for BYU standards. Now, were I to discover at some point that my personal values closely paralleled those of a repressive fundamentalist regime, I hope I might be inclined to launch a deliberate re-evaluation of myself. Nonetheless, the discovery of not only strange, but positively repulsive, bedfellows seems to have less power to prompt institutional introspection.

First Presidency on Disseminating Comments

Here is the recent Church statement about repeating General and Area Authority statements given locally (Thanks to Dan for the link): From time to time statements are circulated among members which are inaccurately attributed to leaders of the church. Many such statements distort current church teachings and are often based on rumors and innuendos. They are never transmitted officially, but by word of mouth, e-mail, or rather informal means. We encourage members of the church to never teach or pass on such statements without verifying that they are from approved church sources such as official statements, communications, and publications. Any notes made when General Authorities, Area Authority Seventies, or other general Church officers speak at regional and stake conferences or other meetings should not be distributed without the consent of the speaker. Personal notes are for individual use only. True spiritual growth is based on studying the scriptures, the teachings of the Brethren and Church publications. I take this as…

100,000 visitors to Times & Seasons

Times & Seasons will today welcome its 100,000th visitor. Since we started our web counter shortly after we opened last November, we’ve grown from 8 daily visits to 900. To mark the 100,000 visitor milestone, I spent some time trying to figure out how much writing has been produced in our seven month stint.

Again, Tonsorial Jihad

The latest dispatch from the LDS beard wars comes from Marietta, Georgia, where a visiting area authority, speaking at my brother-in-law’s stake conference, declared that no man in the Church should have a beard. The speaker reasoned as follows: since every member is a missionary, and because missionaries are required to be clean-shaven, every man in the Church should be clean-shaven. Despite the questionable premises of this syllogism, not to mention at least one category mistake, my brother in law decided to inquire of the Lord about the conclusion, and felt prompted to follow the instruction and shave his beard. Our family has long felt that my brother-in-law looked quite awful wearing a beard, and so considers the area authority’s instruction to have been inspired. At a minimum, we conclude that the Lord shares our sense of aesthetic judgment.

There Has to Be Error

In a recent post on blessings, Heather notes that sometimes blessings promised don’t happen and that there can be several reasons why this doesn’t occur. I’d like to extend off that idea to note that, if we are to work by faith and not knowledge, things have to not work right sometimes. Thus I am highly skeptical of any evidence that shows too incontrovertibly the Book of Mormon is a historical record. I assume that someone will raise plausible objections to any such evidence given a little time. This is because I don’t believe that most of us now on the earth are ready or best-served by factual certainty of many elements of the Gospel. If that were the case, then God would have left the plates here or sent them back to show around. If paying tithing always made you rich; if blessings that promised complete recovery always worked; if everyone who obeyed the Word of Wisdom was healthy…

A Model of Information and Prophetic Counsel

Suppose Heavenly Father wishes to convey some important information to us that will be useful to our salvation. Now we know that He can communicate with us but that He limits that communication to be based on faith (ours or those around us). Thus, getting answers from God involves a cost in terms of faith and effort (see D&C Section 9). Starting from this point, one can write down a simple model of prophetic guidance that lets us understand what we observe: Assume everyone wishes to know some value T (if it helps, pretend it is the exact percentage of tithing we are to pay). We can receive an estimate of this value but our estimate is “noisy” in that it is error-laden. Thus we get information Y with Y = T + e, and e is the error. If e is big (negative or positive), then our estimate Y is not very close to T. If e is 0…

Welcome Fred Gedicks

Welcome to our newest guest blogger, Fred Gedicks. Fred has been a professor of law at Brigham Young University for fourteen years, teaching classes in constitutional law and telecommunications. His research on has focused on religion and society, constitutional interpretation, and Mormon studies. He was a visiting professor at UNC-Chapel Hill last fall, and will be visiting at the University of Utah this fall.

An American Church

In the vigorous debate about Iraq happening below, Laurie Burk (hi, Laurie!) wrote: “In the Mideast, America is still viewed as a Christian nation. In most of the world the LDS church is still viewed as an American church, and the violence of the Iraq war is seen as American instigated violence. And violence does not advance the cause of Christ.” I will leave the Iraq debate to that thread, but I am interested in the idea of an American church. I heard this often on my mission, and I heard it just last week in Germany. It was never intended to be flattering, but it wasn’t necessarily intended to be insulting. The speakers often applied the description as a simple statement of fact, which carried with it the implicit suggestion that the Church was not relevant to them.

Rooting for BYU

Adam’s post about Rafael Araujo started me thinking about a debate that rages from time to time on BYU sports boards: whether Church members should feel obliged to be BYU sports fans. The reasoning in favor of this proposition goes something like this: BYU is supported by Church funds and managed by the Prophet and other General Authorities of the Church; in furtherance of BYU’s mission, the Board of Trustees and BYU’s President have endorsed an athletic program, partly because it performs a missionary function for the Church; therefore, all Church members should rejoice when BYU fields a successful team. And, of course, the natural corollary: Church members who root against BYU are on the road to apostacy. Now, I assume that there may be some dissidents in these parts from this line of reasoning, though I can’t think of any coherent counterarguments. ;-)

A Mormon Image: Gadfield Elm Chapel

One of the interesting factoids of church history is that for a brief period in the 1840s there were more Mormons in Great Britain than in the United States. Beginning with the mission of the Twelve to England, Mormon missionaries were very successful in Britain, especially in the so-called “potteries” region around Manchester. (Momon missionaries didn’t seem to do so well in London, and Wilford Woodruff had some choice things to say about the city in his journal.) The greatest missionary success came among the so-called United Brethren. The United Brethren were a splinter group that had broken off from Methodism. (Methodism had become very popular in Britain, especially among the working class, in the late 19th and early 19th centuries.) The United Brethren were worried about issues of divine authority and Christian primativism. When Wilford Woodruff preached to a congregation of the Brethren in Preston, England, the whole congregation joined the Church, and Mormonism spread like wild fire among…

Boredom

I recently returned from a teaching stint in Europe, and this morning I was thinking about a small incident that prompted some Gospel-related thoughts … not about war. Two of my children and I were traveling from Bath to London, and we decided to take the scenic route, which allowed us to stop at Stonehenge on the way. We were all quite enamored with the ancient structure, which I found oddly inspiring. My children (ages 10 and 8) listened intently to their self-guided tour recordings and asked interesting questions. They were genuinely engaged.