We Love You Pakistan!

I was just checking over our site statistics. We seem to have settled into a groove of about 250 to 300 unique visitors per day. Our readership continues to be disproportianately concentrated in the Eastern United States. However, as the map below indicates, five percent of our recent visitors seem to be coming to us from Pakistan.

What is Church Doctrine?

As Mormons we often like to speak as though we have a well settled body of doctrine that provides determinate answers to some set of questions, but is silent as to other questions. Thus, someone makes some comment in Sunday School with which we disagree, and we are able to say, “Well that is your opinion, but it is not church doctrine.” My question is how do I figure out if something is church doctrine or not.

The Greatest Film of All Time

I’ve felt rather guilty about not posting more during my guest stint here. My e-mail has been on the fritz, I have been out of town, and . . . Well, anyway, even though it’s really late at the moment, I simply have to post something to salve my conscience.

Questions About Lucifer

We believe that Lucifer, the Son of the Morning (Isaiah 14:12), fell while still in the premortal existence. This fall resulted in Lucifer being eternally deprived of a physical body. Ultimately, he will dwell in Outer Darkness, where there is “weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.” (Alma 40:13) In the meantime, Lucifer, and the spirits who followed him in the War in Heaven (Revelation 12:7), play a role in the Plan of Salvation, for “it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet.” (D&C 29:39)

Faith versus Proof

One thing that has always fascinated me is the tension in the church between faith and proof. We tell people they should pray about the Book of Mormon and receive a testimony of its truth and of the prophet Joseph Smith. And then we spend lots of time and energy trying to prove that they are true. What do we use as proof? The Lehi stone. Chiasm. The health benefits of the Word of Wisdom. The Civil War beginning in South Carolina. And a thousand whispered rumors like the idea that the Dead Sea scrolls contain the prophecies of Lehi.

Sunday School Lesson 6

Lesson 6: 2 Nephi 1-2 If you know me or a little about me, such as that I’m a philosophy professor, you won’t be surprised to learn that I’m going to focus on chapter 2. I recognize that is a problem. Chapter 2 is full of such interesting material that chapter 1 gets overlooked and there are also interesting things to think about in it, such as what implications it has that the land to which Lehi was led is covenanted to “all those who should be led out of countries by the hand of the Lord.” In spite of that, I’m going to focus on chapter 2, and not all of that chapter either.

Mormon Monasticism

I have frequently heard people make the claim that there are no Mormon monks. This may be true, but as I was reading a book on medieval legal history this weekend, I was struck by the fact that Mormon monasticism is quite common.

Good Examples

Recently, through Times & Seasons, I reconnected with a friend from BYU and Law School. Sean Lindsay is now working as an attorney for Qwest in Denver. We first met at BYU, where both of us worked as tutors in the Reading and Writing Center along with another law school classmate, Shawn Bentley. (Just a side note: the Director of the Reading and Writing Center at that time was a kind professor named William Shakespeare!) By the time that I was deciding where to attend law school, Sean had left BYU and was pursuing a Ph.D in English at the University of Chicago.

STQ: Sustaining Church Leaders

My Seminary class just completed 1 Samuel, which tells the story of Saul’s reign over Israel. As you know, the people of Israel demanded a king to replace the corrupt judges. (1 Samuel 8:19-20) Samuel was inspired to choose Saul. On the day before they met for the first time, the Lord told Samuel, “To morrow about this time I will send thee a man out of the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt anoint him to be captain over my people Israel.” (1 Samuel 9:16) Samuel does, in fact, annoint Saul, and the people accept him as their king. (1 Samuel 10)

The Iago Problem

A while ago we had some discussion about a popular question among church members: why there are not more great LDS writers, more “Mormon Shakespeares.” Various ideas were suggested, among them that church callings take up too much time for a nascent Mormon Shakespeare to begin filling up her folios. Let me articulate another reason, hinted at (but not explicitly discussed) in the earlier thread: Church members have an Iago Problem. We are generally incapable of creating believable truly evil characters. We just don’t have the skill set to breathe life into an Iago. And without Iago, there can be no Shakespeare.

Welcome to the New Place

Hi everyone. We just switched servers — what a headache! Hopefully this looks exactly the same as the old place. A few things to note: 1. Timesandseasons.org e-mail will be temporarily down. You can e-mail me at kaimi *at* wengerfamily.com . Look for everyone else’s e-mails (if you want to e-mail them) on their personal blog site or description. 2. The domain name (DNS) is not fully resolved, and it seems to still be pointing at the other site sometimes. Since the DNS was being wacky, I set up a redirector at the old host, so you should end up here anyway. :) The only difference will be the address bar, and even that should return to normal once the DNS settles down. 3. There will probably be little bugs here and there — let me know of any you come across, we’ll get them resolved.

A Society for Mormon Philosophy

It looks like “The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology” has finally decied to go public. You can check out their new website (very slick) at www.smpt.org. In addition, they will be sponsoring a conference at UVSC on March 19-20 on Mormon Theology. (link here) As a lawyer, I thought it is interesting that one of the things that they cite as spurring the formation of their society is the increased awareness of the importance of the 19th century Mormon experience for the constitutional interpretation of religious freedom. Note: T&S’s Jim Faulconer is the chairman of this august organization.

Guilt

There has been an interesting discussion of guilt over at Bob and Logan’s blog. In response to some comments that I made, Russell makes the following intriguing remark:

Will Russell Support Bush?

Our very own Russell Arben Fox, who has endorsed Dick Gephardt on this site, is flirting with not thinking that Bush is the Great Satan. If I may over simplify Russell’s comments in a really gauche way, it seems that since Bush has been coming out in favor of spending lots of money on good stuff, that he seems (in policy terms) to be migrating toward Russell’s preferred position of social conservatism and economic egalatarianism. Of course, Bush isn’t quite there, but Rusell (and my friend David Bernstein) make an interesting point.

A Mormon Image: Fremont’s Map

Shortly before his death Joseph Smith began making plans to move the main body of the Saints to someplace in the American west. After his assination, Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve continued to flesh out these plans, ultimately choosing to move the Saints to the Great Basin. In making their plans they depended on the reports of John C. Fremont and on the maps of the American west that his expeditions had created. Here is one of them.

From My Cold, Dead Hands?

Some discussion has come up in recent threads over how members are to reconcile church teachings with political beliefs. To date, the political beliefs examined have been largely liberal ideas which are seen by at least some as conflicting with church values. However, the church also takes positions that may be seen as counter to conservative ideas. One recent example is the church’s decision to prohibit members from bringing guns into church, even where the members are licensed concealed-carry permit holder. (See the BYU article about the policy, link via the Pollyanic Steve Evans). What is a strongly pro-Second Amendment, gun-rights church member (there are quite a few such members) to think of that policy?

What if?

Latter-day Saint worship services and chapels are rather plain and utilitarian. How much of that do we owe to early Latter-day Saint conversion patterns? What if those patterns had been different?

Office, Oaths, and Sins

I work as a law clerk for a federal appellate judge. As part of my work, I routinely assist in the enforcement of legal rules that I think are unwise or even unjust. Of late I have been wondering about the morality of what I do every day.

Is it okay to be a Pro-Choice Mormon?

We’ve had some extended discussions of abortion here in recent threads. One topic has not been discussed in any detail, and it’s one that I find interesting. Are church members required to be pro-life? (That is, opposed to legal availability of abortion). Or may they be pro-choice — (in favor of allowing abortion under the law)? The church has taken a solid position on the morality of abortion itself. The church web site makes clear: “The Church opposes abortion and counsels its members not to submit to or perform an abortion except in [certain] rare cases.” However, this does not answer the question of whether members must oppose the existence of legal abortion.

The Mormons Take Manhattan

The New York Daily News discusses the recent influx of Mormons into New York City. (Via my colleague Wendy Cassity). The numbers are interesting — up from 1700 to 4000 members over the past 10 years alone. And there are apparently 25,000 members in the five boroughs. (Though as a member of a Bronx ward, I have to wonder what percent of the 25,000 are actually active). The article also discusses the new buildings, which have to be an exciting development for Manhattan members. (See Claudia’s earlier post mentioning the choreography of multi-multi-ward buildings in Manhattan).

It (Still) Seems So BIG

What first caught my attention with respect to the Gospel was the sheer size of it. For my first ten or fifteen years of consciousness, growing up in a semi-active part-LDS home, the Church, to me, represented boring meetings, lackluster hymn-singing, and little more. Other things in 1960s California seemed much more exciting, and, frankly, there was little home pressure to think otherwise.

1 Nephi 13

I don’t get to attend Sunday School often, but yesterday I was able to attend an interesting lesson taught by Logan. The major topic was the great and abominable church. The discussion made me wonder about one thing (which we discussed briefly in class). The scripture talks about removal of plain and precious things from the Book of the Lamb (which appears to be the Bible). I was wondering — how exactly did / does this occur?

The Poor Oppress Me

A week and a half ago, Jennifer (I don’t recall her last name) came to our door. It was raining out and Jennifer, who was wearing jeans and an old knit sweater, was soaked and shivering from the cold. I’d never met her before. She was short and fat, had tattoos on her forearms; her hands were calloused and her face had heavy lines–she looked to be in her late 40s, but poverty (and abuse) can age you prematurely. She was desperate for $13 so she could afford a bus ticket to Oklahoma to visit her ailing mother, and had–in a wet garment bag–a wedding dress she was willing to sell. She told me that she’d already walked downtown (they had no car), and tried to sell it at a couple of second-hand stores, but no one would buy it. She stood dripping on our doorstep pleading with me, fumbling with the zipper of the bag, explaining to me the…

God and the Movies

Larry Ribstein, a corporate law professor at the University of Illinois, has an interesting blog on the treatment of business in the movies. He argues, among other things, that the generally negative portrayal of business is in film does not reflect some ideological bias against commerce. Rather, it is a reflection of the tension between the “creative types” who make movies and the studio executives who control them. I wonder if there is not a similar economic explanation for the generally poor treatment of religion in the movies.

Sunday School Lesson 5

1 Nephi 16-22 (1 February 2004) As usual, I’ve not written questions on every chapter or for every verse in the chapters I’ve covered. Chapter 16 Verses 1-2: Nephi’s brothers tell him that the things he has said are too hard to bear (verse 1). What have they heard that has caused that response? In verse 2 Nephi explains why they find the truth to be hard. Which meaning of “hard” is relevant, “difficult to understand” or “difficult to bear”? What does the fact that the wicked are cut to their center by the truth tell us about wickedness and truth?

Doing the Right Thing

Mormons believe in revelation. Within limits. Admittedly, what I am about to say is a gross overgeneralization, but I hope that it will provoke some interesting discussion. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a rich tradition of public and private revelation, but in my experience, most members of the Church do not trust in their own ability to receive revelation. Moreover, those who profess to receive revelation often are viewed with skepticism by other members. Given that our history includes lunatics like the Laffertys, such skepticism is not without foundation. Nevertheless, I think we shortchange ourselves through our fear.