Enhancing Nature

At first blush, this may not seem like a serious entry, but it is. (Well, mostly serious anyway.) The other night, I was watching television just before midnight. I don’t remember the program for sure, but since I have a limited palate, it must have been Law & Order, Monk, or a college baskeball game. In other words, nothing that would have signalled to me that I should be especially cautious about the commercials. Suddenly, I was assaulted by a commercial featuring a woman talking about “that special part of a man’s body.” I could not believe what I was watching! And, of course, like a gawker by an accident, I could not change the channel. I just sat there, slack-jawed. She kept saying that phrase over and over, using her tone to put it into italics.

A Mormon Image: Elijah Abel

Elijah Abel is generally thought to be the first black Mormon. (Click on the picture to the right for a larger image.) He was most likely born into slavery and escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. In 1832 he was baptized by Ezekial Roberts. In 1836 he was ordained an elder, most likely by Joseph Smith. He was later ordained a Seventy and during the course of his life he served at least three proselyting missions. He came west with the Saints, settling in Salt Lake City, where he worked on the Salt Lake Temple as a carpenter, although Brigham Young refused to allow Elijah to recieve his temple endowment. He died in 1884. Both his son and grandson were ordained Elders. For more information on Elijah Abel and other black Latter-day Saints, check out www.blacklds.org.

If you happen to be in California this weekend . . .

The Miller-Eccles Group has a speaker coming that sounds quite interesting. March 13, 2004 Speaker: Prof. Karen Torjeson Subject: LDS and their place in the Mosaic of Early Christian Belief-and-Why Claremont Graduate University Wants to Establish a Chair of Mormon Studies Time: 7:30 p.m. You will enjoy a riveting a stimulating presentation on comparisons and contrasts of Latter-day Saint doctrine and teachings with early Christianity, particularly with respect to the Godhead and Christology; the place of Mormonism in the mosaic of Christian belief and practices; Claremont Graduate University’s relationship to the Dead Sea Scrolls (and any connection to BYU’s scroll and manuscript preservation and digitization efforts); Why Claremont is interested in establishing a Chair for Mormon Studies (what is there about Mormonism that is worthy of study by the wider academic community). I omitted the location from this blog post to save it from spam-bots, because it appears to be a private home. Interested readers should go to the the…

The Political Limits of Agency

Mormons frequently invoke the idea of “agency” (whatever that means) in political discussions. We generally invoke it in liberal ways, as a justification for not regulating some for of behavior. What I want to question is this easy link between “agency” and liberalism. In the formulation given by John Stuart Mill, liberalism invokes freedom as a reason to abstain from regulating self-regarding activity. I think that when Mormons invoke the idea of “agency” to make liberal arguments they generally do so in some sort of a vaguely Millian way. However, given the theological uses to which the concept of “agency” is put, I don’t think it fits nicely into some version of John Stuart Mill. Here’s why.

Committees and Technology

We’re all aware of church committee meetings, the bane of our existence. (The oft-recycled joke is that the “Fourteenth Article of Faith” goes something like “We believe in meetings, correlation, committees, sub-committees, . . .”). In a recent thread, Steve Evans comments: My suggestion: embrace technology — the e-committee is the future of the Church. Is the e-committee — having meetings through chat, e-mail or IM — a good idea? I can think of reasons that it might not work well –the digital divides between rich and poor and between young and old; lack of knowledge of computers; potential difficulty in feeling the spirit in discussion via instant message; church hesitancy to endorse the Internet given potential problems the Internet brings into households. Yet I would be thrilled if I could have more church meetings via e-mail, IM, or chat. And it seems quite possible that the church will move in that direction. (Or perhaps the “committee blog” is the…

The Progression and Perfection of God

I’ve been thinking recently about how to reconcile the two ideas of the perfection of God and the principle of eternal progression. We read that God is perfect; and therefore we may think that he has reached some end point or finish line in his progression. At the same time, we read that as God is now, man may become, and we are told that our exaltation will involve eternal progression; these two ideas, read together, suggest that God continues to progress. (Query: Does this refer to the Father? The Son? Both? Since we believe that the God we generally deal with is Jesus, this post will relate mostly to Jesus in his role as God, but many parts can apply to both). How can we reconcile the ideas of a perfect God and a God who continues to progress? One potential resolution that I like is to suggest that God has perfected himself as an individual, and is now…

Babies in the Temple

When my wife was still about 8 months pregnant, she stopped by the ______ Temple (location deleted to protect the innocent) to inquire about any guidelines they had regarding attendance while pregnant. (Like how the airlines won’t let you fly, etc.) The matron looked at her with great concern and said, “You’re not planning on having the baby here, are you? Because we’d strongly discourage that.” We were rather stunned, both at the idea and that someone felt the situation warranted mentioning it at all.

Sunday School Lesson 11

Lesson 11: 2 Nephi 31-33 Chapter 31 Verse 2: What does the word “doctrine” mean? Why is what Nephi and Jacob have written sufficient? Sufficient for what? The phrase, “the doctrine of Christ” can be understood to mean “the doctrine that comes from Christ” or “the doctrine about Christ.” Which meaning do you think Nephi intends?

Discussing the Gospel

Over the course of the past four months, several people on this blog have mentioned that they appreciate the opportunity provided by T&S to discuss the Gospel in depth. Does this strike anyone else as odd?

Losing a Child

On March 5, 1987, my son Neill Earl Smith was born. Three months later, he died of pneumonia. He was a victim of a rare neurological disorder known as Werdnig-Hoffman Syndrome. He would be 17 years old now. My wife and I have had five other children, but I still miss him.

A Nepotistic Link

My brother (who is normally a sportswriter) has this article in today’s Deseret News, dealing with Mormon tours of Central America. Noel Reynolds, Stephen Houston, and Brian Birch weigh in. I’ll have to tell him that Sorenson’s book is “An Ancient *American* Setting . . .”

T&S = Instructor’s Manual

I just returned from a conference in Oregon, and found an email from a T&S regular, who related a story about her husband using one of our discussions to teach a Seminary class. I have done the same thing (several times), and I was wondering whether anyone else has had a similar experience. Do you ever use the insights gained here in teaching?

Mormon Baby Names

Is this an archetypal thing for a new father to be doing on a Saturday night, sneaking a post while/whenever the kid is asleep? We just went through a nerve-wracking and overly self-conscious process to coming up with 1) lists of baby names, 2) baby naming approaches, and 3) ways to avoid blundering into some naming meta-trend we weren’t aware of. Ultimately, we named our daughter Ada Catherine, inspired by my wife’s great great-grandmother, Ada Philena. Of course, both double names and great grandmother-era names are both trends in themselves. So, is it a particularly Mormon trend? What is/are Mormon baby naming trends? (Brush up on the current research at Utah Baby Namer.) A mission companion was named Joseph Hyrum; someone in NC (where I grew up) assumed my first name was Elder, didn’t blink an eye.

Thanks Linda, and Welcome Greg

Linda Hoffman Kimball’s illustrious run as a guest-blogger ended yesterday, and I’m sure everyone here joins me in thanking her for the great posts. Hopefully we’ll hear from you again soon, Linda! Our newest guest blogger, Greg Allen, joins us today. I was a fan of Greg’s critically-acclaimed blog for a while before I came across a post that outed him as someone who could contribute to our discussion here. Here’s a bit of a bio:

State v. Bell and Changes to Marriage

Bob Herbert’s New York Times column cites to an 1872 Tennessee case that upheld a law prohibiting interracial marriage. See State v. Bell, 66 Tenn. 9. The Tennessee Court wrote that: Extending the rule to the width asked for by the defendant, and we might have in Tennessee the father living with his daughter, the son with the mother, the brother with the sister, in lawful wedlock, because they had formed such relations in a State or country where they were not prohibited. The Turk or Mohammedan, with his numerous wives, may establish his harem at the doors of the capitol, and we are without remedy. The Court, of course, was wrong. Interracial marriage statutes were held unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia in 1967, and none of the parade-of-horribles scenarios has come to pass in the forty years since. The difference between the threatened result in that case and the actual result when Loving was decided is instructive. The court…

Charity and the Ex Post/Ex Ante Dilemma

We are supposed to help those who are in need. The scriptures seem to be quite clear about this. And that, of course, is the problem. I have phrased the issue in what legal theorists call the ex post perspective. We take need as given and the morally relevant question is what our response to the need should be. Our decision is seen as being an after-the-fact (in this case the fact is need) event. The problem, of course, is that we can also look at our decision from what legal theorists call an ex ante perspective. Rather than seeing it as an after-the-fact event we look at it as a before-the-fact event. The event that our decision is “before” in this case is the reaction of others to that decision. Let me give a concrete example:

More on the Passion

Greg Easterbrook has a great comparison of Gibson’s Passion with Frano Zepherelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. I am a huge Zepherelli fan and I quite liked Jesus of Nazareth, although I haven’t seen The Passion. Easterbrook’s conclusion is that the Zepherelli’s is a better movie because it has more narrative and characterization and sticks more closely to the Gospels. Easterbrook writes,”The Christ story is among the most compelling ever told, yet directors can’t resist adding invented characters who are unnecessary.” The same can be said of the Church’s recent film Testaments, which is supposedly about the Book of Mormon, but as near as I can tell does not contain a single Book of Mormon character or story.

High School

Driving my daughter to Seminary and then to high school this morning, I learned an amazing amount about the social structure of Middleton High School. According to my daughter, the most despised group is the “Populars.” This is ironic because, as you may know if you have teenagers, the Populars aren’t … they just act like they are. The “Semi-Populars” (at this point, I am already beginning to think that she is making this up as we go) are really the most popular. These are kids who don’t act popular, but are really decent people, usually with a good sense of humor. The Freaks are fun. Well, at least those who are into drama and art. Some people are freaky in a creepy sort of way, and they are definitely not fun. The Druggies come in at least two varieties: Mild and Hard Core. The former are just dumb, but the latter might be dangerous. The Jocks are what they…

A Smoot Book

Kathleen Flake of Vanderbilt divinity school has just published what looks like a very interesting book with UNC press. She traces out the history of the Reed Smoot hearings, arguing that they were a pivotal event in defining the role of religion in American public life. Reed Smoot was an monogamist Apostle who was elected to the Senate at the turn of the 20th century. At the time, many Mormons continued to be polygamists from pre-Manifesto plural marriages. In addition, there had been a large number of secret, post-Manifesto plural marriages. These marriages, along with accusations that the Church controlled Utah politics led to a challenge to the seating of Mr. Smoot. The hearings were a protracted ordeal for Smoot and the Church, and eventually President Joseph F. Smith was called to testify before the Senate committee. Smoot was eventually seated and served into the 1930s. For many years the Mormon branch in Washington D.C. met in Reed Smoot’s living…

Great Sermons

In our casting about essential Mormon texts and our questing for Mormon literary achievement, I think that we frequently foget on of the great Mormon mediums and one that we have produced in huge quanties, with occasional examples of great quality. I am talking about sermons.

Lying to Our Children

When I arrived home from work yesterday, my wife calmly informed me that she had just lied to our son. Sullivan, our oldest, has many quirky preferences (like a lot of other children, I believe) and he can be quite stubborn (gee, I wonder who he inherits that from?). One of his quirky preferences is that his sandwiches be made with grape jelly, not any other flavor, and especially not strawberry. I consider this preference to be quirky because Sullivan can’t really tell the difference once the sandwich is made. Yesterday we had a household crisis — we were out of grape jelly of any kind. Sullivan initially asked for grape jelly and was told that we were out. He then refused to eat any sandwich not containing grape jelly. And so he watched suspiciously as my wife reached into the fridge and pulled out a jar labeled “four berry” jam (one that I had bought a week earlier, because…

“One Flesh”

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to spend more time with my wife, and since she didn’t object, this is one resolution that I have kept. My motivation is partly short term — my wife is my best friend, and I enjoy our times together. But I also am motivated by the idea of eternal companionship. Indeed, I like all of the doctrines of unity: marriage, Zion, exaltation. These concepts inspire me. With regard to marriage, we are told that “man [shall] leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Genesis 2:24. Also, “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” 1 Cor. 11:11. I understand these scriptures to mean that I must become one with my wife in the same way as Jesus become one with the Father. I can think of no better way of doing this than reading…

The Passion vs. The Last Temptation

(I blush to confess that) I’m old enough to remember the release of The Last Temptation of Christ. While there was some discussion of the film in the student ward I attended, I don’t remember it being nearly as big a kerfuffle (or “brou-hahr-hahr” as they say around here) as The Passion has been. I’m sure that not nearly as many Mormons saw The Last Temptation as will see The Passion. I can think of several possible reasons for this:

The Books to Be Written

Let’s see if we can start a discussion that doesn’t revolve around homosexuality and same sex marriage. (What a sexually obsessed bunch we are!) A while back, one commenter suggested that what we needed in addition to a list of “must read” Mormon studies texts is a list of books that haven’t yet been written but should. In the spirit of that question, let me offer some ideas.