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.

Church Materials in MP3

Is this old news? The Church is now offering the Book of Mormon, D&C, General Conference, Church magazines, and certain other materials in MP3 format. The audio site is here. The Church’s website also has some downloads for handhelds, and music downloads. Check out the music player by clicking the name of the song you would like to hear. Pretty cool stuff.

The Anti-Nephi-Lehite Puzzle

In the rather endless recent comments on war, torture, and politics, both Rob and Dan have made variations on the claim that it is better to suffer death rather than commit certain sorts of moral wrongs. Rob’s claim to me is more interesting, because as a pacifist he seems to claim that it is better to be killed rather than kill another. Dan and Rob, are of course, free to object that I am putting words in their mouths (which is probably correct), however, the basic proposition raises an interesting question: Why might killing be worse than death?

Giving Up

Some months ago my wife and I were treated during ward conference to a lesson taught by a member of the stake presidency (and not the one you’re thinking of, either). We always learn a great deal from this counselor, although, because he generally fails to think through the implications of his presentations, what we learn is typically not what he intended. On this particular occasion he shared with us an incident from the summer of his 16th year, directed to the topic of perserverence. Addressing himself most especially to the youth of the ward, he described how he had decided, over the objections of his parents, to join an outfit selling encyclopedias door to door in a remote area of the country. After weeks of fruitless effort, having sold only one encyclopedia subscription, he considered whether his parents had perhaps been right and he should perhaps give up and return home. But he determined, as he put it “not…

Orrin Hatch Channels J. Golden Kimball

A recent article from the nefariousliberalmedia discusses the recent spike in Senate profanity. I’m proud to see that Utah senator and church member Orrin Hatch is one of the politicians who has been putting blue language to public use. Well I say, it’s about time. There ought to be more profanity in Congress, not less. After all, Senators are important public figures. If they swear, others might start swearing as well, and that can’t be a bad thing, can it? Civility is over-rated. Politeness is for the namby-pamby. Contention may be of the devil, but it gets the votes. And dammit, that’s what matters!

Reconciling the Iraq War and Christianity

Critics of the Iraq War are quick to argue that because Saddam hadn’t killed Americans and didn’t pose an immediate threat to Americans, the war wasn’t justified. I don’t know of anyone — Howard Dean, Al Gore, Michael Moore — who believes America would have been wrong to overthrow the Baathists had the Iraqi state gassed thousands of American women and children, thrown scores of Americans into plastic shredders, tortured American children in front of their parents, and tyrannically oppressed millions of Americans living in Iraq. In other words, the critics think the Iraq War is immoral because Saddam’s victims were foolish enough to be born to Kurds and Shiites, and not born to Americans who lived in Iraq.

Constitutional Turnabout

According to reports this week, the leadership of the United States Senate is currently considering whether to bring to a vote a proposed constitutional amendment to define the nature of marriage. There is widespread agreement that the proposal lacks the necessary votes to pass, suggesting that the vote is primarily intended to make a political issue of the proposed amendment’s subject matter during an election year. Still, many constituencies remain highly exercised over what they perceive to be the necessity of such an amendment to resolve the matter of single-sex marriage. Curiously, these constituencies seem largely to be the same as those that vehemently opposed the passage of a different constitutional amendment — the Equal Rights Amendment — some thirty years ago. At the time, opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment claimed that use of the constitutional amendment process to address the purposes of the proposed amendment was both unnecessary and unwise

What Does a Priesthood Blessing Give That a Similar Prayer Does Not?

I have the Melchezidek Priesthood. It gives me authority to officiate in certain ordinances and the responsibility to obey all the commandments and serve those around me. This I understand. Here is the question. If I bless someone as a Priesthood holder, is that blessing more likely to occur than if I were to have simply stood there and offered a prayer for their recovery? Perhaps this question is not sensible. Perhaps the effect of the Priesthood is to change what or when I pray. I am open to that. I think the question is sensible and the answer is (maybe) yes. I think that the Priesthood gives me the right to speak on behalf of God in a way that a prayer does not. A prayer is a petition. A blessing can be an answer wherein the holder acts as God’s authorized servant. A blessing may also be us literally saying what God would say. But I believe that…

Political Sins

In the comments on a recent thread, Russell suggested that he could be morally culpable because at the time of the invasion of Iraq, he believed that the United States was justified in doing so. He now thinks otherwise. He suggests that his previous beliefs may well have made him complicit in some moral evil. To put words in Russell’s mouth (one of my favorite pass times), he thinks that he was sinning a couple of months ago because of what he was thinking. It is an interesting question.

Rationality

Occasionally there is some odd comment here or there on this site alluding to “rational choice” models. Now almost nobody in economics uses this phrase, because you don’t need a word to describe what everyone is doing. Yet rationality seems to get some non-economists excited. Why?

A New Guest Blogger: Frank McIntyre

We want to welcome our newest guest blogger, Frank McIntyre. Frank is currently an assistant professor of economics at BYU. He grew up in Kansas, went to the Y, served a mission in Portugal and recently finished up a Ph.D at Stanford. His main research interests are wage and welfare policies in the United States and Brazil. I find it a little disturbing that people that I started college with are now professors, but such is life. Frank and I met our freshman year at BYU, and I am eternally in his debt for saving me from flunking my first ever philosophy exam. At 8am on the morning of our history of philosophy final, Frank called me in my dorm room to inform me that he had been taking the exam for an hour and I needed to get my butt down to the Maeser building. The test was scheduled for 7am, not 7pm as I had thought. Frank is…

A Modest Terminological Proposal

Or maybe not so modest. You all decide. Here it is: can we T&Sers, and perhaps in time the bloggernacle community in general, come to an agreement, if only for purposes of discussion, on what is and is not meant by “liberal” and “conservative” in Mormon contexts? Because it seems that everytime these labels arise, confusion abounds.

Civil Disobedience

I received rather a shock some few days ago, reading through the Ensign report of the April 2003 General Conference Priesthood Session, which I had been unable to attend in person. In the course of a talk on worthiness, addressed primarily to young men preparing for missionary service, Bishop David Burton casually drops the following bomb into the midst of a homey sports metaphor: “Our participation in life’s important events may be jeopardized if we fail to follow the rules contained in our Father in Heaven’s commands. Involvement in sexual sin, illegal drugs, civil disobedience, or abuse could keep us on the sidelines at key times.” (“And That’s The Way It Is,” Ensign, May 2003)(emphasis added). Could he possibly truly mean what he seems to have said? That sitting at the wrong lunch counter is comparable to sexual misconduct and drug abuse? That political protest disqualifies one for missionary service? That adherence to gospel standards means Rosa Parks cannot demand…

Belated Thanks

I have to apologize for not thanking Melissa Proctor for her excellent guest-blogging. I was hoping to provoke her into another post or two, but she is ever-so-diligently preparing for qualifying exams and writing a dissertation prospectus, and has steadfastly refused all of my wiles. So, hearty, if somewhat belated, thanks to Melissa for some quietly thought-provoking posts. If you’re looking for a break from all the war talk, I’d suggest a re-reading of hers. (I’m still trying to figure out what to think about “Deseret.”)

A Peek Behind the Scenes at T&S

Our gentle readers may be interested to know that Jim’s post on discussing politics grew partly out of some extended e-mail discussion that has gone on today among the T&S regulars about a perception among readers of a conservative tilt in the comments and discussions here (there were a few e-mail complaints from readers; a few of the regular bloggers–cough, khh, cough–were feeling a little oppressed). After reading and responding to this flurry of e-mail, I checked in just in time to read the exchange on the Elder Packer and Beards thread about how the conservatives are oppressed around here. Perhaps if everyone feels opressed, we’re doing something right? If there’s anyone who doesn’t feel that his or her (or their, Kingsley:)) ox is being well and truly gored, please let us know immediately, and we will do our best to offend you! :)

Politics in the Church

Why is it that conversations about political and quasi-political topics among Latter-day Saints almost always devolve quickly into posturing and name-calling? And why, in my experience, does it seem that those who are conservative are more likely to head in that direction first? I admit that my perception may be biased by the fact that I’m “liberal” (read “middle-of-the-road” everywhere but among American Latter-day Saints). I may overlook more easily the faults of those who agree with me. Nevertheless, my impression is that because they are the mainstream of the Church, conservatives often tend to be smug about their position, assuming immediately that those who disagree with them are not only wrong (that follows by definition) but stupid, ill-willed, uninformed, and perhaps even evil. One need not respond to them, one need only dismiss them. And this is true even for many people who otherwise are intelligent and quite willing to engage in civil discussion of difficult topics.