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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . .
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?
Lots of people believe lots of different things. There are many different religions. How do we cope with this issue?
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).
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. . . .
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).
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.
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?
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…
I’ve pretty much exhausted my energy and time on my first, philosophical response, so I’m going to keep this short. Hopefully the balance will be a bit more even tomorrow. For now, let me leave you with a provocative suggestion . . .
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. . . .
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
In 1990 Revered John Heinemeier gathered with other local ministers to solve the housing crisis in East Brooklyn. Together they developed an innovative housing program to construct 5,000 single-family housing units designed for lower-income buyers. East Brooklyn Churches (or EBC) had a long-term vision of what they needed done but there was much to overcome. These neighborhoods were crumbling, impoverished and drug-ridden. The majority of middle class families had long since fled the area. The EBC found inspiration for their ambitious endeavor in the story of Nehemiah who had been sent by the King of Babylon in 420 back to Jerusalem to facilitate the rebuiling of the city. “You see the trouble we are in, How Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the walls of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer in disgrace.” So, the Nehemiah Housing Project was begun
First off, let me thank Russell, both for inviting me to contribute to Times & Seasons and for his flattering comments about me. After that introduction, I fear I may disappoint. As Russell notes, I spent two years teaching at BYU, and have enjoyed dozens of email exchanges about LDS-related matters with the handful of good friends I made during my time on campus. Since I don’t have An Agenda for the following two weeks, I think I’ll start by sharing a few thoughts that have grown out of those exchanges.
Suppose that Gordon B. Hinckley really started misbehaving, sinning left and right, and generally leading the church astray. Some might find this unlikely on theological grounds, after all President Woodruff said: The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty. The implication seems to be that the Lord will “call home” any prophet who strays too far from the divine “programme.” Looking at the scriptures, however, suggests another possibility: Excommunicating the President of the Church.
In our continuing effort to bring something new to the Bloggernacle, Times & Seasons is delighted to welcome on board our latest guestblogger–Damon Linker, current editor of First Things magazine, one of the premier religious journals of opinion and commentary in the United States. Damon is probably the most intelligent outside observer of Mormonism I have ever had the pleasure to know. He studied and received a Ph.D. in political philosophy at Michigan State University**, after which he taught for two years at Brigham Young University, where he did such a smashing job that at least a few of those who worked with him tried, in vain, to find some way around BYU’s current (and unfortunate, if you ask me) mandate for hiring only Mormons into tenure-track positions. (I can remember telling Damon at a conference that if he’d only convert, they’d roll out the red carpet for him. He declined.) Currently, he spends his time arguing with–and editing the…
My apologies for posting this so late. I’ve had family visiting, so blogging has had to take a back seat, along with Sunday School preparation. I think I’ll have the next lesson up by Sunday or Monday evening. Lesson 21: Mosiah 29, Alma 1-4 Mosiah 29 Verses 7-9: Aaron has just been converted in a miraculous manner, and he is obviously serious about his conversion. His mission is evidence of that. Nevertheless, here we see Mosiah worried that being king might destroy him. Does he lack confidence in his son? If so, why? If not, how do you explain Mosiah’s remarks?
Several weeks ago during lunch at a professional conference a colleague told me that the LDS missionaries had knocked on his door recently. I took a deep breath and immediately commenced mental preparations for whatever he was going to ask me. This particular colleague is a philosopher of religion so I was fairly sure he was going to ask me about some bit of LDS history or theology. But, I was wrong.
Here’s the second half of our dialogue with the esteemed Professor Gordon. [Click here for part one.] I’m sure everyone joins me in thanking her for such intelligent and provocative responses to our questions. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out her landmark book, The Mormon Question. Again, our questions are in bold and her responses follow in plain text. Enjoy! 7. There has been some discussion here at Times and Seasons about the apparent analogies and disanalogies between the nineteenth-century antipolygamy movement and the current battles over same sex marriage. To what extent do you think that cultural and legal strategies employed by antipolygamists are (or are not) available to those who now seek to define marriage as between a man and a woman? I was waiting for this one!
For many years, a story haunted me. It was a story told in graphic detail to a bunch of priests and teachers, one of whom was me, by a doctor in our stake; a story about a baby boy who lost his penis during a botched circumcision, and who was then surgically altered to become female by his ignorant parents and by malicious doctors in order to cover up the “mistake.” The larger point of the story, of course, was to impress upon us the level of wickedness and sexual disregard in the world today by way of an anecdote which presumed the principle of gender essentialness. I’m not sure it worked; trying to scare or horrify someone into righteousness and/or orthodoxy usually doesn’t. But I never forgot the story, and I always wondered what kind of hell that child had been thrust into. An awful one, as it turns out. Over the years I would occasionally hear different versions…
In her fascinating post on ambivalence, Melissa suggests that ambivalence may be an endangered theological virtue among Mormons. “Endangered” because we tend to valorize those without religious ambivalence and lack examples of healthy and productive ambivalence. “A virtue” because Melissa suggests that it is theologically productive. By this, I take it that she means that ambivalence leads to questioning, analysis, synthesis, and revelation. I am doubtful.