Year: 2008

Teaching and Sentencing

Teaching is like sentencing. After all, we all know that sitting though Sunday School can seem at times like cruel and unusual punishment. Also, in both areas, we see the same sorts of arguments in play, about the appropriate balance between predictability and flexibility.

Coase on Abortion

Estimates suggest that, on average, Americans behave as if they value a year of their life at, more or less, $100,000. This would put an average American life at a “revealed preferred” value of somewhere around $7 million.

Teaching the very familiar

The Elder’s Quorum this past Sunday was Lesson 1 from the Joseph Smith manual. It consists almost entirely of direct quotes from Joseph Smith-History, and it’s material that everyone in Elders Quorum has seen several dozen times. How do you go about teaching the very familiar?


Today is a good day to point out that the documentary Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons will be playing in the next few weeks at film festivals in Dallas and San Diego. And possibly more places, depending in its success at those festivals. This very worthwhile project is the product of lots of effort by Darius Gray and bloggernacle regular Margaret Young. Keep us all posted on the progress of your film, Margaret.

Mormon Church and Utah Politics

Wilfried noted this article, which says, Before each general [Utah legislative] session, GOP and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate sit down separately with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints special affairs committee, a group made up of church general authorities, church public relations officials and their lobbyists, to discuss any items on the minds of both legislators and church leaders. Does anyone know what other groups legislators of both parties meet with, to discuss issues of concern? Do the GOP and Democratics leaders in South Carolina have combined meetings with the Southern Baptist Convention?

Mistrust and Verify

A reader asks me to expand on a recent comment regarding historians and histories of Mormonism. I do so realizing that it may wrongly be interpreted as personal; my purpose is to illustrate the causes for my earlier evaluation and to demonstrate the value of questioning claims that don’t quite “feel” right.

Dear Brandon Sanderson

A few months ago, Kaimi asked you a few questions about your experience as a Mormon author. You not only responded, but your answers were interesting and thoughtful. In fact, your answers suggested that you might just be the kind of author whose books I would enjoy. So I bought Mistborn.

Utah Historical Quarterly: Utah War Issue

“One hundred and fifty years ago a federal army of nearly two thousand soldiers under the command of Col. Albert Sidney Johnston huddled in their makeshift quarters at Camp Scott near the ruins of Fort Bridger in southwestern Wyoming to wait out the bitter winter and prepare to march into the Salt Lake Valley later in the spring of 1858.”

The Silent Core of Mormonism

Mormon theology and practice centers ultimately on the temple, and yet the temple is a subject on which Mormons are especially secretive and reticent. Therein lies one of the central ironies and challenges facing any Mormon trying to really explain how Mormonism works to an outsider.

“This Thing Was Not Done in a Corner”

I was delighted when Noah Feldman accepted my invitation to give the keynote address at Princeton’s Mormonism and American Politics conference because I knew he’d offer a thoughtful and sophisticated outsider’s perspective on these issues. His latest NYT piece, a polished and updated version of his conference remarks, is even more that that, however. In challenging what Feldman calls the “soft bigotry” against Mormonism, still surprisingly so widespread, while at the same time effectively raising legitimate issues for Latter-day Saints to wrestle with themselves, Feldman’s piece does what few other articles on Mormonism have been able to do and is rightly getting a lot of attention.

Essential Differences

I recently read The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male and Female Brain (Basic Books, 2003) by Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of psychiatry at Cambridge University. Anyone interested in the source and nature of gender differences (i.e., everyone) will find this an interesting book, and people with an interest in understanding autism are particularly encouraged to find a copy and read it.

An unfortunate typo

All of this to-do about Jesus and Satan being brothers is unfortunate, really. As far as I can tell, it’s all a misunderstanding based on a simple typo. Mormons don’t really think that Jesus and Satan are brothers. We think that Jesus and Santa are brothers! And what could make more sense than that, really? Look at all of the similarities:

An Al Smith Moment?

Here is my argument: Let us suppose that Mitt Romney does not become the next president. What will this mean for the Mormons? There about 5.7 million Latter-day Saints in America, which in a nation of more than 300 million makes us demographic chicken feed, but the question is important for what it reveals about the presidency and its relationship to American citizenship. You can read the rest of the argument here. What do you think? Too grim? UPDATE: The Salt Lake Tribune ran a shorter version of the article in today’s (1/6/2008) edition. FYI.

A Pleasant Surprise

It seems 2008 has delivered its first miracle — the new Joseph Smith manual. Who would have thought that a correlated manual could actually be interesting? That’s doubly rewarding as the new Joseph Smith manual will be with us for two years. A short write-up with several striking illustrations is posted online at the Church News. I’ll add a few things I noted while browsing through the manual on Sunday afternoon.

Blacks and the Priesthood, a Request to the Media

Generally speaking, when anyone wants an easy quote on the past racist theologies of Mormonism, they quote Bruce R. McConkie. I am one of those people who would like a clearer statement repudiating past theological justifications for the priesthood ban. On the other hand, I think that at times folks understate the extent to which they have already been repudiated explicitly. In August of 1978, two months after the publication of the revelation to President Kimball, Elder McConkie told an audience at BYU: Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more. Accordingly, I have a request. Anytime anyone in the press quotes Elder McConkie’s theologies of race, I…