The Industrial Organization of the Gospel

Over at another blog, I recently commented on the evolution of the American military. Spouting off uninformed thoughts about institutional evolution having proved fun, I wanted to offer some thoughts about the evolution of the Church, particularly the missionary program. Of late, there have been two big shifts that are, I think, a symptom of a sea change in how the Church thinks about itself as an organization. The first is the call to “raise the bar” for missionaries, and the second is abolishing scripted missionary discussions. Here is how I see these changes.

Sunday School Lesson 23

Lesson 23: Alma 8-12 This is the manual’s synopsis of the story in the chapters assigned: a. Alma 8-9. After preaching in Melek, Alma calls the people of Ammonihah to repentance, but they reject him. He leaves but is commanded by an angel to return. Alma is received by Amulek, and both are commanded to preach in Ammonihah. b. Alma 10. Amulek preaches to the people of Ammonihah and describes his conversion. The people are astonished that there is another witness to Alma’s teachings. Amulek contends with unrighteous lawyers and judges. c. Alma 11. Amulek contends with Zeezrom and testifies of the coming of Christ, the judgment of the wicked, and the plan of redemption. d. Alma 12. Alma further explains Amulek’s words, warning against hardheartedness and wickedness and testifying of the Fall and the plan of redemption. To keep the study materials to a usable length, I will concentrate on chapters 11 and 12, with brief questions for chapters…

What Is Religion?

Ironically, one of the most debated questions in religious studies is the definition of religion. In most disciplines there is at least a general consensus about how to define the subject of inquiry. Biochemistry is the study of the chemical substances and vital processes occurring in living organisms. Astronomy is the scientific study of matter in outer space with particular attention paid to the positions, dimensions, distribution, motion, composition, energy, and evolution of celestial bodies and phenomena. Clear disciplinary boundaries are not limited to the hard sciences, however. If you study English Literature it is plain to everyone what the subject of your inquiry is, even though one’s individual study within that discipline may be focused on Medieval, Renaissance, Romantic, Victorian or Modern texts. Such transparency about the topic at hand simply does not exist in religious studies.

Apologies from Damon

Unfortunately, Damon Linker won’t be able to complete the second week of his two week guest-blogging stint with T&S; some unexpected work and personal responsibilities have overwhelmed him for the moment, and he doesn’t think he’ll have the time or energy to contribute as he would like, much less be able to do justice to the many excellent comments which his last post elicited. Some of those comments were rather severe, as he knew they would be–you can’t be a non-Mormon professor at BYU and not know that saying Mormons aren’t Christians will strike a huge nerve–but that didn’t bother him at all; he was anxious to engage those who disagreed with him. Tragically, real life has intervened. We wish Damon well, and hope to have him blogging back here at T&S as soon as the fates allow.

Book of Mormon FHE: Lesson One

In our family, we tie our FHEs to our daily scripture study. We go through the standard works sequentially, study one story per week, and base our FHE on that story. We’ve made it through the OT and NT this way and it has been great. We’re starting the Book of Mormon, and I have decided to post my lessons here in case anyone is interested.

As Expected…

…the Supreme Court has taken a pass, reversed the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision, and dismissed Michael Newdow’s suit against the Pledge of Allegiance on the technical grounds that he is not his daughter’s custodian, and therefore he has no standing to bring a complaint on her behalf. The case was 8-0 in favor of dismissal (Scalia had recused himself). Full story here. I suppose watching the Supreme Court actually try to ban the words “under God” from the Pledge would have been entertaining, as would have been an attempt on their part to constitutionally affirm this particular bit of civic religion. (For the record: broadly speaking, I’m probably quite a bit more open to the idea of an “established” civic religion than your average American–but given the tenor of arguments which surrounded this particular case, specifically those which claimed the phrase “under God” was constitutional because it was merely “ceremonial,” I never thought it was a particularly important battle to…

An Apology

My thoughts this morning echo the words of a poem by Lula Greene Richards (1849-1944). Lula was the editor of the Woman’s Exponent, a staunch defender of women’s right to vote, to obtain an equal education, and to choose their own occupations. This poem comes from Branches That Run Over the Wall.

Benevolent Theodicy: the Logical Necessity of Eternal Progression

Few Mormon doctrines cause traditional Christians more consternation than the belief in mankind’s potential to become like God. This is of course the reason the authors of the most famous anti-Mormon work chose for their title The God Makers. But hacks who deliberately produce fraudulent anti-Mormon screeds aren’t the only ones to be offended by our unique doctrine. Without exception, every thoughtful Christian with whom I’ve discussed the issue similarly believes our doctrine to be blasphemous (though they are circumspect in telling me so). But the Benevolent Theodicy, as I have called it, shows that they are wrong.

A small milestone

We passed a small milestone (so small I didn’t notice exactly when it happened) in the past few days. We now have our first mega-commenter; Clark Goble has passed the 1000 comment mark. Next in line (barring a surge of comments from Brent, Steve, or Bob) is likely to be Lyle Stamps (proud operator of a newish blog, I should note), who about 300 comments shy of a thousand.

Why Mormons Aren’t Christians

What a fascinating series of comment on my “Are Mormons Christians?” provocation. I have several things to say in response. First I want to explain my admittedly (and deliberately) extreme formulation from yesterday, i.e., “not even close.” Though I think my boss could have done a much better job in making the case, I think he was right: Mormons simply believe too many things that are too radically discontinuous with the orthodox Christian tradition to be considered Christian. Compared to these differences, those separating Catholics and Baptists and Lutherans and Eastern Orthodoxy are quite tiny. As someone noted in the comments (sorry, I forgot the name), all of the above accept the validity of the Nicene Creed (except for the Orthodox, who object only over a single formulation about the Trinity). That’s a tremendous amount of overlap. Now, let’s remind ourselves of a few of the Mormons differences.

Painting the Town Red

Are police really bringing felony charges against Utah players who (gasp!) painted the BYU “Y” red prior to a game? Apparently they are. This sounds like a terrible overreaction to me. If the news story is correct, someone (a BYU alum?) believes it proper to bring charges against these college kids, that could subject the nefarious Y-painters to up to 15 years in prison. Of course, some punishment for the painters may be appropriate. Perhaps they should have to repaint (under supervision) a few Y buildings that are in need of a new paint job — these kids certainly know how to paint! It also may be proper to make them pay for the repainting costs of the letter. I’m sure that there are other potential punishments that would fit the infraction. But it seems clear that felony charges do not fit the infraction here.

Once Again: Are Mormons Christians?

It’s been a bear of a day at work (editing 70 text pages of correspondence for the magazine), so I’m going to have to be somewhat short today. I’m pleased to have been able to inspire so many interesting comments in response to my provocation about the “fairy-tale” character of Mormonism, especially those that go beyond the too-easy “inside it makes perfect sense but outside it looks silly” response, which I’d think is hardly the right outlook for a missionary faith: the point is to bring those on the outside IN, is it not? I would only add on the subject that . . .

Hives and Honeybees

I remember being confused as a little girl by the words of the song “In Our Lovely Deseret.” I supposed that the word must be “desert” because I had no concept of deseret. Much like the many children who sing “little purple panties” instead of “little purple pansies” because they have no concept of what a pansy is, I belted out “in our lovely deseerrrt” trying to make the word I understood fit the music I’d been taught. The word deseret doesn’t stay foreign for long if you grow up in Utah, however, since one quickly encounters the Deseret News, Deseret Book and Deseret Industries. But, what does the word deseret actually mean?

A Bloggernacking Mix-and-Match Game

Let’s try a slightly different spin on the “Around the Bloggernacle” post. Below are four five questions and four five links to discussion and/or answers in the bloggernacle. Can you match them up? Have fun! Question 1: How many is too many in a baby blessing circle? Question 2: What should church members think of civil weddings? Question 3: How should we distinguish between rights and blessings? Question 4: How can we reconcile God’s perfection with his freedom? Question 5: Is it possible that eternal progression takes place through memetics? Answers (in mixed-up order): a: Link here b: Link here c: Link here d: Link here e: Link here (Answer key below).

PoMo Mormon Enchantment

I am delighted that Gary Cooper came to my defense with such honesty, passion, and insight on the question of “enchantment.” Yes, this is exactly what I had in mind. But before I say more on that, I’d like to settle things up with Jim F. . . .

Another Bloggernacking Opportunity of Sorts

Steve wants some fresh ideas for BCC, and he’s willing to let the best idea(s) be posted there. What does this mean? Simply that the time has never been better to polish up that ten-page masterpiece on the hidden connection between the King Follett Discourse, the Adam-God Theory, and Zelph, and then notify Steve. Perhaps your name will be on the next BCC post! (Details over at BCC).

Heidegger, Pomo, enchantment, . . .

Russell and Damon have asked some challenging questions, and answering them will take me more space than is appropriate for a comment, so, since three and one-half single-spaced pages goes too far for any response, I’m going to respond to their questions (and say something about enchantment) as my own post. I’m not sure what that does to the other discussions going on under Damon’s posts. I hope I’m not making it completely impossible for someone to follow the various discussions. Rather than try to integrate my responses into one coherent essay, I’ll just respond to points more or less serially. I’ll try to provide links to the places where Russell and Damon raise their questions so that readers can see the questions in context.

Sunday School Lesson 22

Lesson 22: Alma 5-7 In these chapters we have two magnificent sermons by Alma the Younger, more than enough material for several Sunday School lessons. These materials will focus on chapter 5, with a few things also from chapter 7. To whom is the address of chapter 5 given? How is it particularly relevant to their situation? To whom is the sermon in chapter 7 given? How is it particularly relevant to their situation?

Unstable Y

And now, from the “science imitates Andrea Dworkin” department, an interview today in the New York Times science section discusses, inter alia, the genetic problems caused by the relatively unstable Y chromosome: Unlike all other chromosomes, the Y doesn’t get a chance to mix with any other chromosomes. . . . It gets passed on from one male to another, and it cannot repair mutations through genetic recombination. Moreover, the Y chromosome is subject to a higher mutation rate than other chromosomes because it is perennially confined to the male germ line. Male germ line cells and their DNA divide very, very fast to keep up with sperm production. Most mutations occur when DNA divides. So the Y is intrinsically unstable. By my estimate, in about 5,000 generations – 125,000 years – male fertility will be roughly 1 percent of what it is now. Mutations in Y chromosomes are already known to reduce male fertility. So I see a slow…

A Partial Response: Philosophy

I want to thank the many people who took the time to comment on my initial post. You’ve showed me that this guest-blogging stint will be both more stimulating and more time-consuming than I anticipated. I hope it is understood that I cannot possibly respond to all, or most, or even more than a very few of these comments. I’ll try to write two posts today, the first (this one) addressing the philosophical questions raised by Jim F and others; the second post will bring things back to Mormonism. I think the latter is important because this could easily develop into a debate about theory. I’d enjoy that, but I’m unsure if it would be a good use of the Times and & Seasons website. So, on to philosophy, postmodernism, Heidegger, etc. . . .

Sex and Kids: A Practical Question

Last night, Melissa and I watched the new version of Peter Pan. We wanted to see if it was appropriate viewing for the family; though a marvelous film, we decided it wasn’t. This version very clearly turns the tale into a coming-of-age/growing-up/sexual-awakening story, and while we both thought it was told with terrific humor, great sensitivity and tact, and wonderful visuals, we agreed that it was probably too much for our oldest–Megan, who will be 8 in August. Maybe when she’s 10 or so. Anyway, in coming to this conclusion, we found ourselves wondering about how, and when, we should have “the sex talk” with Megan. We both agree that we wanted her to learn about such matters from us before any one else, but we also don’t want to rush things she isn’t ready to handle, just to make sure she gets it from us first. We talked about our own experiences with learning the facts of life–Melissa’s parents…

Where is the Mormon Jurisprudence?

People regularly make the observation that Mormons are more concerned with orthopraxis than orthodoxy. In other words, Mormons are more concerned with right behavior than with right belief. The evidence in support of this claim seems fairly overwhelming in my mind. The fact of the matter is that we allow a huge diversity of beliefs on fairly fundamental questions (the nature of God and the nature of man for example), even though we frequently paper over the pluralism with equivicol and vague language. One the other hand, we worry a great deal about proper behavior: The Law of Chastity, the Word of Wisdom, participation in the Church, etc. In this context, I have frequently heard Mormonism compared to Judaism, which is taken as a paradigmatically orthopraxic faith. Which leads to me question: Why haven’t Mormons developed a jurisprudence.

New Bloggernackers, Redux

The appearance of new, interesting LDS-themed blogs is becoming a weekly occurence. This week (today, actually, via technorati) I noticed two new bloggernackers that I thought I should point out: Dallas Robbins promises a “Latter-Day Slant on Art, Religion, and Culture.” That sounds like a fun new voice in the bloggernacle. (As long as he’s not trying to horn in on the gay-marriage-commentary market — we’ve got that one cornered here!). And the Mormon Wasp is a blog by Justin Butterfield (any relation to frequent commenter Randy?) that aims to provide “a barbed take on all things Mormon offered in the spirit of The Wasp, a short-lived (April 1842-April 1843), sharp-edged, Nauvoo, Illinois, newspaper.” Welcome to the bloggernacle!

Why Won’t They Call it ‘Partial-Birth Abortion’?

Though the act of aborting a partially-born baby is logically called ‘partial-birth abortion,’ the media refuse to use the term when describing the act. Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby explains why. Yes, he thinks the fact that 97% of editors and journalists at major newsrooms identify themselves as being pro-choice is a factor. Jacoby doesn’t address this point, but most press reports of the clash over abortion refer to one side as “abortion rights” activists or groups, and to the other as “opposed to abortion rights” or “anti-abortion.” Because the media has decided to avoid the terms ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ because of their ambiguity, pro-lifers would be wise to call themselves “fetal rights groups.” It’s better to be known what you are for — fetal rights — than what you are against — abortion. And in the case of ‘fetal rights’, the media would have no justification to avoid calling a fetal rights group a fetal rights group.

An Addendum

After I wrote my earlier post, I realized I should have been more precise about something. I know that all orthodox faiths place limits on philosophical reflection. For example, an orthodox Catholic is not free to speculate about whether God is Trinity or whether abortion is actually a virtue. But I was trying to point to a substantive difference between all other Christian sects and Mormons in this regard: the Mormon limitation seem to be more primary (or radical) in that it demands that believers resist fundamental tendencies of Western thought that go all the way back to the Greeks — and that are considered to be indistinguishable from common sense for Catholics and most Protestants today and quite possibly have been since the second or third century. Hence their postmodernism — or rather their attempt to fashion a genuine, stark alternative to the fundamentally Athenian character of Western thought, whether secular or religious. That’s it for now. More tomorrow.