Lost in all of the buzz about the Bloggernacle Awards (I was tempted to make a big acceptance speech until I realized that I got only 21 of the votes cast for the category I won, meaning that the vast majority of the voting public was against me) was an interesting set of comments asking about which blog could claim the honor of first Mormon blog.
This is a tricky question, as what counts as a “Mormon” blog is difficult. If we mean blogs devoted exclusively or mainly to Mormon topics, then as far as I know, this honor goes to the now defunct Metaphysical Elders, which began posting on November 23, 2002 and had its last post on August 4, 2004. Now for the big revelation, never before even suspected by the internet-reading public. I was “the Lawyer” at the Metaphysical Elders. Here is the story of the blog.
When I was in law school, I had three very close friends in my ward. One was a graduate student in biochemistry, one was a divinity student, and one was a graduate student in literary theory. We were all interested in our own way in Mormonism. Just about every Tuesday, we would meet for lunch in the science center cafeteria, which has the honor of being a very ugly building on a campus full of very beautiful buildings. Usually, but not always, we had read some article that would serve as the starting place for our discussion. Sometimes we would use a paper that one of us had written. Mostly we just talked Mormonism.
We dubbed ourselves “the Metaphysical Elders” based on a conjunction of two historical study groups. The first was the so-called “Swearing Elders,” a group of irreverent Mormon intellectuals who met at the University of Utah in the 1950s. The second was the Cambridge Metaphysical Club which met after the Civil War and included Charles Pierce, William James, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. We never developed a secret hand shake, but the name stuck enough that my wife would say things like, “We’re going over to _____’s for dinner with the Metaphysical Elders,” etc.
The blog grew out of our weekly discussions, serving half as record and half as a continuation of what we were talking about. We were our own intended audience. In that sense, I think that the Metaphysical Elders, to the extent that it had non-Metaphysical Elders readers, exemplified what someone (I think Julie) once called the “community as spectater sport” aspect of the Bloggernacle.
The Metaphysical Elders broke up when people started graduating and moving. Without the weekly meetings, the blog died. It was always an extension of the discussions and in this sense, I suppose, it was never a “pure” blog. Only one of the original Elders is still in Cambridge. I still keep in touch with my friends, but I badly miss the weekly discussions. Looking back, I think that our meetings were among my most intellectually formative experiences in law school, and I suspect that the friendships I formed with the Elders will be among the most lasting of my life.
In modern society the life of the mind is largely institutionalized and professionalized. For those who wish to pursue it as a livlihood rather than a hobby, it requires close attention to institutional and professional norms. There is a great deal of hopping through hoops and putting in time involved in becoming a professional intellectual, and I have seen the process beat the intellectual excitment out of more than one friend or acquaintance. As I slog through what I hope are the steps that will eventually lead to a professorship someplace, I take some solace in my memory of the Metaphysical Elders and its wonderful sealing of friendship and ideas.