Category: Liberal Arts

Economics – Law – Philosophy – etc.

[Languages of the Spirit] Doubt

My husband frequently says of our team dynamic that he is the historian and I am the theologian, and that before I talk about anything I lay a theological framework for it. This is clearly interesting and endearing of me. The last couple of posts have been me laying the theological framework for this series, and now we get to get into actual examples of spiritual divergence. Just one last thing, though. A few comments in a previous post pointed out that I have not clarified what exactly I mean by spirit. This is a really good point because, frankly, the concept of spirit isn’t always clear. There is the Holy Ghost (which is talked about as a power by which our mind is connected with God[1] but is also described as a person). There is the Light of Christ which sometimes is the conscience with which everyone is born and is secondary to the holy spirit which is the source of greater truth[2], but other times is the source of all light and truth and makes the role of the Holy Ghost a little more ambiguous[3]. There is the spirit that is inside our bodies and the spiritual creation inside everything and the spirit of different powers and principles. So what does “the spirit” mean? Firstly, I think this is a really important question and I am grateful for the comments that brought it to my attention. Secondly, I…

Machine Translation

Two attitudes about translation are on my mind. One is about Joseph Smith: “Seeing words appear in a seer stone is magic, not translation. Translation is when you have the equivalent text in a foreign language, like Google Translate.” The other attitude is not uncommon among translators and translation clients: “Google Translate isn’t translation. It’s just inputting one text and getting the mechanical equivalent in another language.”

A Lake of Fire and the Problem of Evil

I remember talking to an atheist on the riverfront walk in Dubuque, Iowa one day while serving my mission.  He told my companion and me that he couldn’t believe in God after some of the things he had seen, and went on to describe (in a fair amount of gruesome detail) visiting a Catholic church in South America in the aftermath of an attack by a militant group of some sort and seeing the mutilated bodies of the Christians laying scattered about.  If God existed, he reasoned, God would have not allowed such horrific act to take place.  I was taken aback and was uncertain how to respond to his expression of disbelief rooted in such deep trauma.  We talked with the man for a little while longer and moved on in with the day.  His comments got at one of the most difficult and complex philosophical issues of Christian religion—the theodicy, the question of why evil exists if God exists, is good, and is all-powerful.  That evening, I remember talking about the incident with my companion and thinking (somewhat naïvely): “I should have just opened up the Book of Mormon to Alma 14, where Alma and Amulek watch their converts burn and discuss why they can’t do anything about it.  That would have shown him how we have all the answers.”  Looking back, however, I’m grateful we didn’t turn to that section of the Book of Mormon during our…

The Author and the Congressman

The Author In my childhood, I watched my evangelical classmates devour the Left Behind series, curious what a Mormon analogue would look like. Lo and behold, in 2003 Deseret Book published a novel titled The Brothers. Befitting his history as a military pilot, the author had previously focused on military techno-thrillers, and the book series to which The Brothers was a prologue — The Great and Terrible — was mostly of that genre.  While it turned out that The Great and Terrible was not exactly comparable to Left Behind — it wasn’t about the end of days — The Brothers did not disappoint. I unironically love the book as a ingenuous crystallization of a certain moment in Mormon political theology, projected back into a narrative set in the premortal, pre-Earth life. The author prefaces the book with an Author’s Note, in which he admits that he “was forced to take author’s license in many of the details presented in this book. The simple fact is that we know very little of what life was like for us in the premortal world, and the war in heaven is a mystery we know even less about. Yet any literary work, especially fiction, requires some sense of time, location, conflict, and description in order for readers to allow themselves to be pulled into the story.” Without these, he says, “the story turns out to be little more than a series of conversations.” He…

Quodlibet: Vaccination

Whereas disease, as now with COVID-19, causes death to many and harm to many more, and worsens poverty and hunger even among those it does not strike directly, and causes fear in those who await infection and its consequences, and inflicts sorrow and grief on those who lose family and beloved friends; while Jesus, in His atoning mercy

How Should LDS Christians Give to Charity?

It’s a heart wrenching decision.  A beggar asks you for money.  You remember the words of King Benjamin: “Ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain.”[1]  You also remember Christ’s commandment to feed the hungry, take in the stranger, and clothe the naked.[2] At the same time, you have practical concerns about how the money would be used.  A 2002 questionnaire of 54 panhandlers in Toronto found that the median monthly budget of panhandlers was $200 for food, $112 for tobacco, $80 for alcohol and other illicit drugs and $120 for all other items.[3]  In the last twelve months, 93% reported tobacco use, 37% reporting cocaine use, 9% reporting heroin use, and 80% reporting alcohol use.[4]  Of those that reported alcohol use, 26% reporting daily alcohol consumption, 28% reporting alcohol consumption 1-6 times per week.[5] When you see these statistics, you may feel justified if you refuse a beggar.  You might say, “there are better ways to help the less fortunate.”  That may be true, but that excuse only works if you find and a better alternative.  If not, you are simply justifying yourself in sin (unless you do not have the means).[6]  So what are the alternatives?  Should you ever give to panhandlers?  How well are LDS Christians fulfilling their obligations to the poor? Fast Offerings and Humanitarian Aid For LDS Christians, the obvious place to start is by donating a generous…

Is it a Sin to Binge Watch Netflix?

We all know that the defining sin of the Nephites was pride.  But what about the defining sin of the Lamanites?  From the very beginning of the Book of Mormon, Nephi focuses on one particular vice.  “[A]fter they had dwindled in unbelief” the Lamanites became “full of idleness and all manner of abominations.”[1] He later calls them an “idle people.”[2]  When the Anti-Nephi-Lehies famously buried their weapons of war, they also made a covenant that “rather than their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands.”[3] The Lamanites’ sin of idleness is, in fact, the mirror image of the Nephites’ sin of pride.  The Nephites successfully overcame the sin of idleness, but then used their surplus “despising others, turning their backs upon the needy, and the naked and those who were hungry, and those who were athirst, and those who were sick and afflicted.”[4] What is worse: spending the days of your probation pursuing “treasures on earth”[5] or idling it away?[6]  It doesn’t really make a difference to the people you could have helped.  The sheep don’t care if you forgot to feed them because you were too selfish or because you were too lazy; either way they don’t get fed.  It’s the spiritual equivalent of choosing your Mammon in the form of extra vacation days or a cash payment. What’s the 21st century equivalent to spending our days in idleness?  It’s allowing the “next episode” timer to…

Voir dire

Voir dire, from Norman French, is pronounced “jury selection” by normal people, but I had always stayed one step ahead of the law and never seen it first hand.