Easterbrook, Dark Matter, and the Olive Leaf

A year ago, Gregg Easterbrook articulated the interesting idea that “dark matter” (a substance most scientists now believe exists, and is a major component of the universe) may be a manifestation of the spiritual world. He wrote: Suppose it turns out to be correct that the preponderance of matter and energy in the universe occurs in a form that’s around us everywhere, and yet we cannot sense or see it; that there is a pervasive physical reality that passes through ours with hardly any direct interaction. This is practically a definition of the spiritual plane. Easterbrook’s position has been criticized by others, but has always sounded like a nice theory to me. In particular, I was just thinking how we can understand this as church members, because of certain verses in the section of the Doctrine and Covenants we call the Olive Leaf.

Mormon Orientalism

Some time ago, Richard Bushman wrote an essay entitled “The Colonization of the Mormon Mind.” In it he argued that Mormons who have looked at the Mormon past have largely adopted the attitudes of those who colonized and ultimately dominated 19th century Mormondom. Hence, we tend to view things like “theo-democracy” and plural marriage as embarrassments and see nuclear, vaguely Victorian looking families as good, mirroring the attitudes of the federal officials who crushed Mormon peculiarity in the 19th century. The hip and lit crit amongst us will recognize the influence of Edward Said in Bushman’s argument. In his book Orientalism, Said argued that Western “experts” on the Middle East constructed a vision of Arabs and Muslims as deceitful, lustful, childish, backward, etc., which Middle Eastern intellectuals then adopted as their own. As Bushman frankly acknowledges, he is applying Said’s ideas to Mormonism. Bushman the Historian focused his analysis on Mormon understandings of their own past, but I think that…

Moroni over Modernism

This may be old news to Manhattanites, but I see that the Church has recently announced that the temple there will be getting a steeple and Moroni. I have somewhat mixed feelings about this. Certainly the changes will help with “branding” (for lack of a better word). But I always liked the building’s fairly pure modernist bent, which blends in well with the surrounding neighborhood (especially Lincoln Center), and has become somewhat rare in Mormondom. Moroni comes, I think, with no small aesthetic cost, but perhaps one worth paying. For more on Mormon architecture and aesthetics, see this thread.

China Reflections

Last week Nate pointed to some of the entries on my other blog about my visit to China. Far from being an expert on China, most of what I know was learned during that week, often from tour guides or Chinese law students and professors. On the other hand, merely being in a place results in a type of learning not available in books. How many words would it take to describe the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings that accompany a trip to the Silk Market? Or the experience of standing atop the Great Wall? I can show you pictures of the food in Beijing’s Night Market, but unless you have had a similar experience, it is very difficult to imagine being offered centipede or silkworm. An essential aspect of the experience simply cannot be articulated. Perhaps this is the reason that I find guidebooks so much more interesting after the visit.

Collective Action: Is it a Problem?

Given our dependence on a lay ministry and an (almost) all volunteer workforce, the fact that the Church operates at all is something of a miracle. Most of us credit (perhaps self-servingly) the “20” in the “80-20 Rule,” that is, those few individuals in every ward who seem to be shouldering the greatest burdens. As my time in the Church has lengthened, my affinity for the 80-20 Rule has waned. The Rule makes sense only when you count all of those nominal members who have no emotional attachment to the Church, but these people are largely excluded from the benefits generated by the “active” members. This isn’t like national defense, where everyone benefits even if only a few pay. With few exceptions, those who obtain the benefits generated by members of the Church are those who are actively engaged as members. To be sure, at any given time, some members are creating more benefits than they consume. Some people live…

The Curtain Draws on Seminary

My year as a Seminary teacher ended today. This job is one reason among many that I have been absent from T&S for the past month or so. The time demands on an early morning Seminary teacher, when added to having a full-time job and trying to raise five children … well, let’s just say that this was not an easy year for me. Next week is Seminary Graduation, but I will be out of the country, so we had our own little graduation party today. One feature of today’s class was reading some of the funny comments that had been made during the year (dutifully recorded by my daughter). Below is a sampling …

Feminist Agitation, Mormon style

Julie’s post on the daughters of Zelophehad and the ensuing comments reminded me of a story I read in a locally-published book called An Ensign to the Nations: History of the Oakland Stake. It seems that in the late 70s, the Church’s opposition to the ERA caused a bit of an uproar in the Oakland Stake, particularly in the Berkeley ward. During an especially tense period, Paul H. Dunn of the the First Council of the Seventy came to town to speak at a missionary program in the Interstake Center auditorium. Because of previous protests involving the ERA, there was some concern that the gathering (about 4,000 people) would invite further incident. Toward the end of the meeting, two women walked up the side of the aisle, stopped, and waited there until Dunn had finished speaking and the closing hymn was being sung. As the closing hymn continued, the two women approached the stage. It became clear that one was…

Blogaholics?

There’s a fun article in yesterday’s New York Times about bloggers. It has some nice observations. Such as: Blogging is a pastime for many, even a livelihood for a few. For some, it becomes an obsession. Such bloggers often feel compelled to write several times daily and feel anxious if they don’t keep up. As they spend more time hunkered over their computers, they neglect family, friends and jobs. They blog at home, at work and on the road. Yikes! I hope I don’t meet that description, at least not too well. (He says as he takes a moment’s break from working to blog). And perhaps the best lines of the article: Sometimes, too, the realization that no one is reading sets in. A few blogs have thousands of readers, but never have so many people written so much to be read by so few. By Jupiter Research’s estimate, only 4 percent of online users read blogs. Indeed, if a…

A Mormon Image: Joseph in the New York Review of Books

For those ever-so-hip, black-turtleneck wearing New Yorkers in our midst, I felt that I would do what I could to relieve any anxiety that you might have about the potential un-hippness of Mormonism. Hence this image of Joseph Smith, which appeared in no less an oracle of Manhattan sophistication than The New York Review of Books. I have to confess that I am a bit mystified as to the significance of the shovel. A reference to money digging perhaps? Digging up the Gold Plates? Who knows. Interestingly, Joseph did visit New York City once in his life. It has been a while since I read the journal entry, but as I recall he thought it was a facinating place, but full of sin and ready for a good smiting by the Almighty. Not a bad description all in all.

Church PR and the CIA

As many people are aware, the Church currently employees a New York based PR firm. The topic has come up from time to time in press accounts about the Church, and journalists have labored mightily to make this into an interesting fact. I am doubtful. However, there are some interesting Church PR stories, including the one about how CIA agents distributed Church materials in Europe during the Cold War.

Happiness

We Latter-day Saints often talk about the blessings that come from being a member of the Church. Occasionally that talk bothers me because I think it too often overlooks the importance of worship: as God’s children, we have a covenant obligation not only to obey (so that we can live the happy life), but also to worship, to adore, to commune. Though his purposes are to bring about our eternal life, a fact that it is important for us to know, it is not our only purpose. In spite of those qualms, however, I want to think about what happiness means for us and how we talk with or think about happy people outside the Church.

Announcements, Announcements, Announcements

Bloggernacking Opportunity: Over at Doctrinal.net, DP is looking for “aspiring conservative bloggers” to potentially guest blog. While this probably rules out some commenters and readers here — such as any of the BCC folk — it may be an opportunity that some T & S readers would want to look into (note: e-mail or comment to him about it, not me, thanks). Music and Art: Organist extraordinaire D. Fletcher brought to my attention a new Mormon art and music CD called Mormoniana. It’s a project involving original art and composition by a great group of Mormon artists. If you like music and art (and who doesn’t like music and art?), you may want to check out their web site for more information. (Sticker-shock warning: The new CD is a bit on the pricey side).

Causing Others to Sin

Kristine raises some interesting points in her discussion of modesty. The comments (which have been very interesting so far) have made me reflect on an argument I often hear raised by church members: Women shouldn’t wear revealing clothes, because that will make men think unchaste thoughts about them. (This particular argument isn’t in the comments to Kristine’s thread; Ben Huff comes somewhat close, when he argues that women have a heavier modesty burden than men, due to the sinful nature of the world). As I’ve suggested before in comments on this blog, I don’t find this reasoning to be particularly convincing.

Rebekah

I’ve been thinking about Genesis 27 where, according to the headnote, Rebekah ‘guides’ Jacob in receiving a blessing intended for Esau. Even the Institute manual concedes that this story “is a troubling one in many respects.”

Thanks Jim S

All good things come and go, which explains why Jim Siebach’s term as a guest blogger has come and gone. Thanks, Jim, for your thought-provoking contribution.

Colleges with Lots of LDS People

I just noticed that we have gotten a few visits from the internet search engine query “colleges with lots of LDS people” and similar searches. I don’t think that there’s currently anything on the site that answers that question. And it’s certainly a potentially useful thing to know. Here is my two cents on the subject, and if enough commenters weigh in, maybe we can get a good idea of where colleges are that have lots of LDS members.

Modesty and Shame

We’ve had a few teasingly warm days in the last few weeks, and so my children are starting to want to be as scantily clad as possible. I’ve been horrified as I’ve shopped for summer clothes for my 5-year-old daughter–everything is spandex and mini and halter-topped and sex-kitten sandals *in size 5!* It’s awful. On the other hand, I scandalized my visiting teacher last year, when she was kind enough to visit teach me at the beach (because it’s the only place my children can play by themselves for 15 or 20 minutes and not end up bleeding), by letting the above-mentioned daughter change her clothes on the beach without any elaborate towel-draping subterfuge. So I’ve been thinking about the relationship between modesty and shame, and how to teach one with as little of the other as appropriate.

The Polygamists are Coming!

A couple of months ago, I made reference to a fine and informative collection of articles in the Salt Lake Tribune, titled “Living the Principle: Polygamy on the Border”. Among the many fascinating tidbits included in those reports were descriptions of tensions and splits among the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints. It appears that the current FLDS leader, Warren Jeffs, has become unpopular and tyrannical, and several polygamist families, led by those whom he’s excommunicated or simply by folks who want to get away from the man, are relocating. (I found to my surprise that one divided faction has put down roots in a small community just over the Idaho border in British Columbia, which would be about seven miles from our family cabin.) Anyway, my friend Scott in Texas informs me that at least one small West Texas town is in an uproar over the possibility that the FLDS are considering a mass exodus to their backyard. Fortunately, according to…

The Criminal Law of Deseret

On January 16, 1851, the legislature of the State of Deseret passed a 34-section law entitled “Criminal Laws of the State of Deseret.” It actually makes for interesting reading. In 1851, the Mormons had been in Utah for only four years. The Territory of Utah had been formed in 1850, but federal authority in Utah was weak to completely non-existent. It would be another six years before any serious outside authority in the form of Johnston’s Army arrived. In other words, Mormon theocracy was firmly in the saddle, the real legal authority was clearly the State of Deseret and not the Territory of Utah, and Mormon political independence was probably as nearly complete as it has ever been. Hence, the laws that they chose to pass are particularly interesting as an insight into Mormon theocratic ambitions.

Doing

Over at Sons of Mosiah, commenter Kent Bailey made a comment that has gotten me thinking. He writes: Compare the number of hours you spend in Church meetings each month to the number of hours you spend out in the community giving service. For me, the ratio is about 20 to 1. If it is ok to do the Lord’s work on the sabbath (actually more than “ok”), wouldn’t our sabbath be better spent, say working at the DI or in a soup kitchen — as opposed to sitting in meetings all day? If the Savior were here, I doubt he’d be spending his entire sabbath in church meetings or at home. It’s an interesting question: Do we spend too much time meeting and not enough time doing?

The Daughters of Zelophehad

On several occasions, I have asked rooms full of adults if anyone could relate the story of the daughters of Zelophehad to us. No one has ever been able to do it. That’s a shame. This story needs to be brought forth out of obscurity, to grace the flannel boards in Primary, to star in Family Home Evening (it does in the Smith house!), and to take its rightful place in the cozy canon alongside Jonah, Daniel and his lions, and Nephi.

Except Die

Every night (whenever I can) I tell bedtime stories to the kids. They’re largely improvised, from a blend of mythology, literature, movies, and whatever else I’ve thought about lately. They’re usually serialized (“And tomorrow we’ll find out how they fought that giant. . .”). In any given night, our intrepid adventurers are likely to come across giants, dragons, witches, balrogs, castles, jedis, hydras, medusa (a favorite), robots, spaceships, invisibility, magic potions, magic wands, lightsabers, and lasers. I enjoy telling the stories, and the kids enjoy hearing them. This leads to some fun conversations with Sullivan, our oldest (almost seven), about the nature of God. He’s been told that Heavenly Father is eternal, and that that means that Heavenly Father can’t die. This morning our discussion went along these lines:

Sunday School Lesson 20

Lesson 20: Mosiah 25-28; Alma 36 Warning: the materials for this lesson may be the longest I’ve produced so far. As always of course, they are intended only to help you think about the material. No lesson could cover all of the significant ideas and questions that come up in these chapters. The first part of the materials is a chronology created by Arthur Bassett. I post that chronology in response to Tom Johnson’s note (here) that I was not clear about the chronological relation between Mosiah and Alma in the materials for Lesson 19.

Visiting Jershon

There are some fun goings-on over at Sons of Mosiah. Bob Caswell wants to know how big is too big when it comes to blogging. It’s a good question and a good post, and it has generated some interesting comments. (A related question is “how big is too big” for a comments chain — I certainly have a hard time keeping up with the uber-chains of comments we sometimes see around here. By way of illustration of “how big is too big?”, perhaps everyone should hit the Sons of Mosiah comment thread, so that we can see at what point Bob posts “Enough! Stop the madness!”). Also, just when I was despairing of ever having enough time to put together an “around the blogs” thread, Cooper (aka Daughter of Mosiah) went and made one herself. It’s a useful collection of links to some recent goings-on inside and outside the bloggernacle. Enjoy!

Quorums

I’ve been working on discovery lately, and in reviewing of documents (board minutes, internal e-mails) I often come across the term “quorum.” Of course, for a board meeting, a quorum has a particular meaning: It is the minimum number of board members who must be present for the board to make decisions. We use the word a little differently in the church (or do we?) — we typically refer to the word’s second definition of “a select group.” But beyond that difference, what exactly do we mean when we talk about quorums?

Mormonism, Liberalism, and Social Epistemology

In the most recent issue of Philosophy & Public Affairs, Allen Buchanan, a philosopher at Duke, has a very interesting article entitled “Liberalism and Social Epistemology.” He starts his argument with the observation that our knowledge of the world is inescapably dependent on social institutions. It is social institutions that allow for specialization, which in turn carried great advantages in terms of knowing the world. These advantages, however, come at a price. We must cede a certain amount of epistemic independence to authorities. This, he argues, creates great dangers. Certain authorities can be badly – horribly – wrong. He points to the examples of teachers and scientists in the Third Reich who lent authority to Nazi ideology, leading many people to accept its truth. His other example is teachers, parents, and ministers in the segregated South, who inculcated ideas of racial superiority etc. The danger, according to Buchannan, is two fold. First, there is the moral danger that we will…