Main Street

Slightly-older-than-breaking (“already broken”?) news: The ACLU’s suit against the church has been dismissed at the district court level; an appeal is probably likely. (Via A Soft Answer).

Mother’s Day

It’s almost Mother’s Day. I don’t like Mothers’ Day. You might expect to hear that from a woman who is childless, or who has strained relations with her children. I’m a married, at-home mom, and I enjoy being a mom. But I still don’t like Mothers’ Day.

This Must Be Good…

I just found a new blog entitled www.ilovethehonorcode.com (that is “I Love the Honor Code Dot Com”), by an aspiring stand-up comedian in Utah Valley. With a name like that, how can you not love it? (Link via Brayden King)

Thanks, Steve!

How time flies! It seems like just yesterday Steve Evan’s stint as a guest blogger was starting (wudn’t he a cute widdle bwog-baybie!), and now, Steve’s guest time is over. We’ve enjoyed having Steve here as a guest (and as the #4 commenter according to the latest scoreboard). Of course, he won’t be quitting his commenting duties (and only 600 to go till he passes Clark!); for regular blog posts, he can be found at By Common Consent.

Theology on the Model of Kuhnian Science

Many LDS thinkers are skeptical of “systematic” theology (e.g. Richard Bushman, whose posts we so enjoyed recently). Here’s a stab at a compromise. Thomas Kuhn presented a powerful way of understanding the development of scientific theories a few decades back in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; here’s a first pass at appropriating his work to think about how our knowledge of God and his ways might develop, in a way that is friendly to continuing revelation and eternal progression.

An Open Letter to the Blue Planner

Dear Blue Planner, So it has finally happened. You’ve gone the way of Mr. Brown and projection films. I suppose I knew that someday you’d be gone, but I’d hoped against hope that you were somehow less transient than other proselyting aids that have fallen by the wayside. To me, you were nothing less than the platonic ideal of Planner.

Moutain Meadows in the Supreme Court

De Toqueville once remarked on the strange habit that Americans had of eventually turning every great question of politics and policy into a lawsuit, and presenting the issue to the courts for resolution. As it turns out, the Mountain Meadows Massacre also eventually found its way into a lawsuit and in the fullness of time reached the Supreme Court of the United States.

Whom the Lord Calls, He Qualifies (Hopefully)

I’m a believer in the principle that callings and responsibilities in the Church are given according to inspiration and revelation. When I get a calling extended to me, I fully believe that Heavenly Father in some way has prompted the leader to give me that calling, and that in some way I am meant to have this calling. What I can’t figure out is just how inspired these callings are.

Walter Kirn, golden contact

In today’s New York Times Magazine, critic and novelist Walter Kirn uses his family’s conversion to Mormonism as a hook for his (dare I say stale) riff on Christianity as pop culture: “I remember my own family’s Great Awakening back in the Jesus-haunted 1970’s, when President Carter was advertising his piety and ”Godspell” and ”Up With People” were packing concert halls. In the same way that it does now, three decades later, religion seemed to be everywhere back then — except in our house. We were secular suburbanites, prone to all of the usual middle-class miseries, and when one of us felt particularly low, we called a doctor, not a priest. But then one day two missionaries came knocking, and everything changed. They were Mormons, two crewcut, fresh-faced boys weighed down with books that they promised would save our souls — souls that we weren’t even certain we possessed. Reading the books enlightened us, however; we converted to Mormonism a…

The Figurative Bible and the Literal Book of Mormon

On another thread, BCC contributor and Sunstone editor managing editor John Hatch makes a very interesting observation. He writes: I’ve spoken to plenty of Church members who are more than willing to accept the Adam and Eve story as a metaphor. I recently spoke to a friend who is a bishop who told me he loved Abraham, even though he may not have existed, and if he did exist, the stories the Bible attributes to him most likely didn’t happen. Yet I suspect my friend would be most uncomfortable saying the same thing about Nephi, or Alma, for example.

“Don’t Be Evil”

Unless you have been spelunking for several days, you have heard a lot more about Google recently than you ever wanted to know. (Of course, if you want to know even more, I invite you to check out my other blog where I have been writing about Google ever since the filing.) This event has attracted so much commentary because Google has provided so much fodder. Most importantly, the founders wrote a letter — “‘An Owner’s Manual’ for Google’s [Future] Shareholders” — that has struck a chord with many who fancy themselves as part of a “corporate social responsibility” movement. And no line in that letter has attracted more attention than this one: “Don’t Be Evil.”

A Contract Theodicy

A theodicy is a justification of the ways of God to man. Most frequently, the term is used in discussions of the problem of evil. Succinctly stated this problem goes like this: 1. God is all powerful 2. God is Good 3. Evil things happen 4. God can and should prevent these evil things (from 1 & 2) I don’t want to get into all of the intricacies of this debate. Generally speaking, Mormons “solve” the problem by in effect denying (1), claiming that there are metaphysical as opposed to merely logical limitations on God’s power. It strikes me, however, that there is another possible Mormon theodicy: An argument from consent.

The Malaysian Model

So now it’s not just the limited geography and the hemispheric models anymore, now there is the Malaysian model. (Link via Dave). The Malaysia idea is certainly novel, and presented as well as I think it possibly could be. The author, Ralph A. Olsen, notes that it avoids a large number of standard Book-of-Mormon location problems, like use of Egyptian, and presence of animals and crops. (For example, he writes that “Wheat, barley, and other cereal grains have long been cultivated in Southeast Asia. There is no evidence of their cultivation in Mesoamerica.”) I’m not convinced.

It’s Official: U. Goes Mormon

The Board of Regents of the University of Utah have selected Mormon law professor and dean Michael Young as the new President of the University. The Deseret News has a story here. (Link thanks to Jared Jensen.) The story says: He said he is a “committed, active member of the LDS Church” and doesn’t see that as a conflict in his new role. “It’s an important part of who I am and why I do what I do,” he said. “At the same time I have spent my entire academic career outside of Utah. It has never been a problem.” Jardine [a member of the Board of Regents] said Young’s religion was not brought up as an issue as the regents discussed the candidates. The Salt Lake Tribune has a story here, which also touches on the Mormon angle: Young said his Utah roots and his faith are a part of who he is. “I am a committed, active member…

The Value of Liberal Education

Between Julie’s post and this week’s challenge of composing the syllabus for the Introduction to Philosophy course I am teaching this fall, I am haunted by the question: Is knowledge good in itself? I have set myself up to be an educator, but many of the criticisms of public education we delivered in response to Julie’s post seem disturbingly relevant to most college education as well; do you agree? And even if knowledge is good in itself, how far should knowledge for its own sake be the goal of a philosophy course required of every student at a given University? (That would be Notre Dame) In your experience, do college students in general hunger to learn? if so, when and how? if not, how do we explain those few freaks who do crave knowledge?

Yet Another SSM Post

Somehow I ended up on the official Church website for UK and Ireland and found this on the top of the page: “The Gender Recognition Bill, which is currently being considered in the House of Commons will allow a man to become a woman in law (and vice versa). This means transsexuals will be able to marry in their assumed sex. The legislation also makes it a criminal offence to disclose the birth sex of a transsexual. We stress that this Bill poses a real threat to religious freedom and we oppose it because we believe it runs counter to the will of God. Please make your opposition known by writing to your local MP as soon as possible. “

On the Shelf

I’ve been thinking for several days about something that Armand Mauss said in the first “12 Questions” post. Speaking of greying intellectuals (which I assume includes me) and their early choices, he said: “Some of them (maybe half – who knows?) opted to put their Church loyalties, careers, and/or public images ahead of their intellectual yearnings and independence, feeling that the latter could not justify the disruption and jeopardy to their largely conservative spouses and families, to their aspirations for respectability in the Church, or to their career plans. Others (maybe another approximate half) decided that they could not simply put their doubts or their intellectual quandaries on the shelf, or compartmentalize their religious and intellectual lives.” He is speaking in broad terms here, perhaps in terms of types, so it is probably a mistake to personalize the remark and ask where I fit.

That awful smallpox story

One of the more disturbing images from General Conference was in Elder Packer’s use of a story (a version of which I’ve heard before elsewhere) about chicken pox and smallpox. Elder Packer stated: “When I was in the seventh grade, in a health class, the teacher read an article. A mother learned that the neighbor children had chicken pox. She faced the probability that her children would have it as well, perhaps one at a time. She determined to get it all over with at once. So she sent her children to the neighbor’s to play with their children to let them be exposed, and then she would be done with it. Imagine her horror when the doctor finally came and announced that it was not chicken pox the children had; it was smallpox. The best thing to do then and what we must do now is to avoid places where there is danger of physical or spiritual contagion.”

The Church as a Corporation: Part III

Here are a few more odds and ends about the Church as a corporation that I was able to find out. First, I wanted to correct two mistakes in my earlier posts. I recently found out that after Joseph Smith was murdered, it was not Brigham Young and the Twelve who succeeded to the office of trustee-in-trust. Rather, Bishop Newel K. Whitney was appointed, which means that he was the legal agent in charge of Church property during the City of Joseph period. Second, upon rereading the corporate charter granted to the Church by the State of Deseret, I noticed that it did contain a rather watered down mortmain provision, which stated that the Church could receive donations of real and personal property “for the benefit, improvement, erection of houses for public worship, and instruction, and the well being of said church.” Obviously, “well being of said church” provided a much larger grant of power than that available under the…

Elite Religion and Common Religion

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the topic of elite religion versus popular religion. In particular, it seems that the development of FARMS and other intellectual centers of Mormon studies has resulted in a division of sorts. On the one hand, Mormon studies scholars believe in a world where the Nephites lived in a tiny section of Central America, where the Hill Cumorah is somewhere in Guatemala, where the flood was a localized event, and where Joseph Smith was polygamous and polyandrous. On the other hand, most church members believe in a world where the Lehites covered the Americas, the Hill Cumorah is in New York, the flood was worldwide, and Joseph’s polygamy is never mentioned. Common church members believe the prophet is never wrong; elites believe the prophet may have opinions that are incorrect (such as men on the moon). Common members believe that women have never held any type of priesthood; elites point out early church instances of women…

The Voice of the Bloggernacle

Think for a moment about who you are — specifically, your relationships with your co-workers, your friends, and your family. Are you kind? Are you patient? When topics are brought up in conversations in Church or elsewhere, and you disagree, do you get angry? Are you condescending or sanctimonious? My guess is that you’re probably like most mormons — respectful of differing viewpoints, kind and patient to family and friends, and gracious to strangers and guests as they pop into your life. Now think about who you are in the Bloggernacle.

Will the U. Go Mormon?

The University of Utah is currently in the midst of a search for a new president. They have narrowed it down to two potential candiates and one of them is . . . Michael Young. Young is a graduate of Harvard Law School, a former law professor at Columbia, and current dean at George Washington University Law School. He is also a BYU graduate, an active Mormon and a former stake president. Since BYU now has a former Ute as its president, will the U. return the favor by hiring a former cougar? Would both presidents be allowed to root for their alma maters at Utah’s annual football jihad . . . er . . . grudge match. What is happening to the Beehive state?!?

LDS Education Theory

Because I plan on homeschooling my children through high school, I have spent a lot of time thinking about educational theory (I also have a teaching certificate and I taught briefly in public schools in California.). Is there such a thing as an LDS-based educational theory? Could there be? What would it look like? Do we need one?

12 Questions for Armand Mauss, part two

As promised, here’s the second half our our “interview.” [For part one, click here.] Thank you, Brother Mauss, for your willingness to lend your unique voice to the bloggernacle, and thanks to all our readers who submitted questions. (Again, the questions are in bold and his responses follow in plain text.) 7. In April conference, Elder Hafen discussed the “misconception” that the Church is “moving toward an understanding of the relationship between grace and works that draws on Protestant teachings.” Any reaction? This is truly an interesting development. The “misconception” Elder Hafen is referring to might not be exactly what it seems.

Our Terrible and Tender God

Prepping a guest lecture for seminary a few weeks ago I was struck with the alignment between Adam’s and Eve’s shrinking from the presence of God after they ate the forbidden fruit, and the shrinking of the wicked from the presence of God at judgment (e.g. 2 Nephi 9). Adam and Eve feel naked, and hide. God calls them forth and rebukes them, confirming that they have something to be ashamed of. They are now to be cast out of his presence entirely. Yet then, after pronouncing curses, he makes clothing for them, as if to say, “Since you’re going out into the world, we’d better at least get you some real clothes!” (Is this Mother acting under the divine plural here?) He confirms they should be ashamed, and yet he specifically intervenes to mitigate their shame, even to bless it after a fashion. Now that he is terrible to them, he goes out of his way to be tender.

12 Questions for Armand Mauss, part one

We are pleased to present our first installment of “12 Questions,” with sociologist and Mormon Studies scholar extraordinaire Armand Mauss (here is a mini-bio). Thanks to everyone who sent in questions. As you will see, they generated a wide-ranging and thoughtful set of responses. Questions appear below in bold, and Brother Mauss’s responses follow in plain text. [Click here for part two.] 1. You have spent your academic career largely outside of church-affiliated schools. As a Mormon studies scholar, what are the advantages and disadvantages taking this route from your perspective? How does it inform and/or impede your work in Mormon studies?