Earlier this month, I visited Utah to give back-to-back presentations at conferences by Mormon Scholars in the Humanities and the Mormon Transhumanist Association. Today, I’m going to recap my presentation from the MTA conference, “Zion as Superorganism.” In subsequent blog posts, I’ll share some thoughts about Mormon transhumanism and the rest of the MTA conference (including some of the other talks I thought were particularly interesting), and then also my talk from the MSH. The most well-known description of Zion in our scriptures is of course Moses 7:18: And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. Another implicit description is found in D&C 38, although you have to pull from disparate verses to make the connection to Zion. Here, I start in vs 4 and then skip to 27: I am the same which have taken the Zion of Enoch into mine own bosom… I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine. Based on these two scriptures, I see the hallmark characteristics of Zion as altruism and unity. On the one hand, that gives us a very general conception of what a Zion society would look like. But on the other hand, that’s really nowhere near enough, from a practical standpoint, to go about building a Zion society. This leaves Mormons in a pickle. We’re under divine…
Category: Nature and Environment
For the Beauty of the Earth
The latest move by the Church on the environmental front is the production of a beautiful, 94 second spot on the Mormon Channel.
Earth Stewardship: Doctrine, Principle, or Heritage?
I was recently told that earth stewardship is not a doctrine nor a principle of the gospel; rather, it is a heritage.
Stewards of Prudence and Altruism
Prudence and altruism combined allow us to delay personal gratification or even make sacrifices for the benefit of future people who have not yet been born. The hearts of the fathers must turn to their children
Guest Post: Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability Part 5: The “Greater Sin”/ Sane Repentance & Forgiveness
[This is the fourth in a series of guest posts on Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability. The first three installments are available here: Part 1:”Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death” (Mark 14:34), Part 2: Causes and (Mis)Attributions, Part 3: Fractured Images of God, Self, and Others, and Part 4: Accommodations in LDS Activities and Meetings] Now knowing a portion of my background, you can probably guess I’ve had opportunity to give a fair amount of consideration to the concepts of personal responsibility, repentance, and forgiveness. Please take this post as exactly that, my own considerations on these topics, long thought out, studied, prayed about, discussed, and applied, but still open to question/ suggestion/ correction/ reinterpretation. This is also about individual, rather than institutional forgiveness, though I’d love to hear insights from any who have served/ are serving as church leaders where their judgments about people are required in their church work. We’ve talked a bit about accountability in relation to mental illness. I want to start by saying I don’t think repentance and forgiveness are necessary where there is no accountability for error. Learning, yes. And sometimes even apology and explanation. But repentance, no. While acknowledging that someone who has hurt or offended us did not or may not have intended nor be aware of the harm done can allow us to keep moving forward without getting wrapped up in judgment or a desire for vindication, it is not the same as forgiving. When we forgive,…
Snow, Citizens, and Stewards
It has recently been announced that Steven E. Snow will replace Marlin K. Jensen as the new Church historian. Elder Jensen has been a wonderful historian for our church, bringing both compassion and honesty to the work.I expect this good work will continue under Elder Snow’s direction. I am curious to see what his areas of emphasis will be. I wonder if one of those areas might deal with the pioneers’ settling of West and environmental issues because in the past, Elder Snow has written on this particular stewardship topic.Elder Snow wrote an essay published in New Genesis entitled “Skipping the Grand Canyon.” In it, he reflected on the struggle to survive his grandfather Erastus faced when colonizing the St. George Valley under the direction of Brigham Young. He wrote that although those “early settlers didn’t appreciate the beauty of southern Utah, they preserved it” (243). That preservation was done out of necessity, not out of an aesthetic appreciation. Without careful stewardship, especially of the agricultural lands, those pioneer settlers would not have survived. We are no longer an agrarian society, no longer tied so closely to the land that we feel immediately the effects of our stewardship, for good or bad. Part of that may be because we own such tiny little pieces of land instead of family farms, grazing ranges, and ranches. Even if I do everything I can to improve on my own .21-acre lot in downtown Provo,…
Mormons Do Care about the Earth
Mormons do care about the earth. We care about preserving, protecting, and maintaining it. We care about the earth because 1) We love God, 2) We care about other people, and 3) We believe in the intrinsic value of the earth.
Consumerism vs. Stewardship
The following is a modified excerpt from my presentation at Sunstone this summer. We live, not only in a capitalist, but a consumerist, society. Our society is all about spending, acquiring, cluttering, and replacing, not about maintaining, restoring, renewing, and protecting. It is cheaper to buy new than to repair old. We live in a disposable country, where everything is trash, if not now, then soon. How did we get here? One of the best explanations I’ve found is in the work of the social theorist Max Weber (1). He examined the correlation between the Protestant religious belief and its accompanying work ethic and the accumulation of capital and the subsequent rise of capitalism. One aspect [of the concept of calling that arose during the Reformation] was unequivocally new: the fulfillment of duty in vocational callings became viewed as the highest expression that moral activity could assume. Precisely this new notion of the moral worth of devoting oneself to a calling was the unavoidable result of the idea of attaching religious significance to daily work (39-40). The motivation to accumulate wealth was the desire to have confirmation that one was saved. Unlike Catholics, Protestants had no priest to confess to and receive absolution of sins, so the status of soul was in doubt, which was a very uncomfortable position to be in spiritually (60,66). “Restless work in a vocational calling was recommended as the best possible means to acquire the…
Hurricane open thread
It’s going to be a long day for some East Coast readers, but at least you’ve still got Internet. This thread is to share your first-person accounts and post helpful information. My contribution: Weather Underground, the best online source for hurricane tracking information. As of 11 AM EDT Saturday, their tracking map forecasts a storm path for Irene passing directly over New York City at about 8 AM Sunday morning.
Home Waters: Recompense
Of his awakening, Dogen says, “I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers, the great wide earth, the sun, the moon, the stars.” Tinged with enlightenment, you see what Dogen saw: that life is borrowed and that mind itself is mooched. Every day you’ll need something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Mind borrows mountains and rivers, earth, sun, and sky. But you can’t just keep these things forever. Even if they weren’t quite what you wanted, they gave what they had and now some compensation is needed, some recompense is required. “Recompense is payback,” Handley says. “It means to weigh together, to bring back into balance” (xi). What was loaned must be returned or replaced. What was given must be given back. Nobody gets to start from scratch, not even God. To make a world is to borrow, recycle, and repurpose the matter that, even if disorganized, is already out there mattering. All creation is reorganization. Even the mind of God must mooch its mountains, cajole them, persuade them, serve them, compensate them. This is messy and its messiness is compounded by the fact that everything is in motion. “Nothing is still,” Handley reminds us (3). Nothing can be still because recompense is itself never done. Recompense compels the world’s motion: everything is in play as everything borrows from everything else in giant, intermittently harmonious rounds of exchange, compromise, and negotiation.…
Home Waters: Gene/ecology
Earth is stratified time. Use some wind, water, and pressure. Sift it, layer it, and fold it. Add an inhuman number of years. Stack and buckle these planes of rock into mountains of frozen time. Use a river to cleave that mountain in two. Hide hundreds of millions of purloined years in plain, simultaneous sight as a single massive bluff. It’s a good trick. Bodies, made of earth, are just the same: in my face, unchosen, generations of people are stratified in plain, simultaneous sight. My father’s nose, my grandfather’s ears, my mother’s wink, the lines my kids have etched into my squint. My wife pats my cheek and says: “Dear, your genealogy is showing.” She’s right. The lines on my face and in the palms of hands are family lines. But these lines aren’t easy to follow because, counter to expectation, time’s line isn’t straight. Time piles up. It loops around, knots up, peters out, and jumps ahead. It moves in fits and starts. Time’s inevitability, its straight-shot necessity, is tempered by the meandering play of accident, coincidence, and contingency. In Home Waters, Handley finds the same thing. Alone in the family cabin, he tries sorting out his own family lines. He’s got rolls of genealogy, “full names, dates and locations of birth, dates of death . . . each name like myself, a knot of time and flesh” (75). But these knots are the trouble. They’re tough to…
Home Waters: Soul as Watershed
Spurred by Handley’s Home Waters, I’ve been reading Wallace Stegner. Like Handley, Stegner is interested in the tight twine of body, place, and genealogy that makes a life. On my account, Handley and Stegner share the same thesis: if the body is a river, then the soul is a watershed. Like a shirt pulled off over your head, this thesis leaves the soul inside-out and exposed. You thought your soul was a kernel of atomic interiority, your most secret secret – but shirt in hand, everyone can see your navel. Stegner’s novel, Angle of Repose, opens with the narrator’s own version of this thesis. An aging father, writing about his pioneer grandparents, names the distance between himself and his son: Right there, I might say to Rodman, who doesn’t believe in time, notice something: I started to establish the present and the present moved on. What I established is already buried under layers of tape. Before I can say I am, I was. Heraclitus and I, prophets of flux, know that the flux is composed of parts that imitate and repeat each other. Am or was, I am cumulative, too. I am everything I ever was, whatever you and Leah may think. I am much of what my parents and especially my grandparents were – inherited stature, coloring, brains, bones (that part unfortunate), plus transmitted prejudices, culture, scruples, likings, moralities, and moral errors that I defend as if they were personal and…
Home Waters: Overview
George Handley’s Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River (University of Utah Press, 2010) practices theology like a doctor practices CPR: not as secondhand theory but as a chest-cracking, lung-inflating, life-saving intervention. Home Waters models what, on my account, good theology ought to do: it is experimental, it is grounded in the details of lived experience, and it takes charity – that pure love of Christ – as the only real justification for its having been written. It is not afraid to guess, it is not afraid to question, it is not afraid to cry repentance, and it is not afraid to speak in its own name. The book deserves some time and attention. It’s what you’ve been wanting to read. It may also be what you’ve been wanting to write. At the very least, it made me want to write about it. I’ve planned a few posts that will air some of my ideas about Handley’s ideas: one on the importance of place, a second on the importance of genealogy, and a third on importance of (re)creation. The book’s self-description reads like this: People who flyfish know that a favorite river bend, a secluded spot in moving waters, can feel like home—a place you know intimately and intuitively. In prose that reads like the flowing current of a river, scholar and essayist George Handley blends nature writing, local history, theology, environmental history, and personal memoir in his…
Writings in the Stone
Some years ago I sat in a Gospel Doctrine class taught by a physician. I mention his profession because I think it matters, as he took the opportunity to deviate from the lesson and condemn in the strongest terms the theory of evolution. He labeled it a satanic concept, one that we must avoid, one that destroys faith. I took a deep breath and then spoke up. I pointed out the numerous statements and scriptures supporting learning from the best books, and pointed to Brigham Young’s statement that Mormonism embraces all truth. It wasn’t the most uplifting class. I might have handled it better. It created a tension between us that never really dissipated. And I made a mental note to seek medical care from someone that actually puts stock in the foundational theory of modern biology. (This wasn’t anything personal, it couldn’t have been. He is an OB/GYN, and I am decidedly male, so it really didn’t matter in this case.) I’ll state this bluntly: I believe that a rigid, literalistic stance is dangerous. It is dangerous to our children as it forces them to face a false dilemma. If we teach that a literal reading of scripture is the only proper reading, what happens when our children reach high school and college and they see the vast weight of evidence – and the consistency of that evidence – as it points to an old earth and natural selection?…
The Downstream Principle of Language
I’m posting this at Times and Seasons as follow-up to a three-part series I wrote here a couple years back (see here, here and here). I’ve cross-posted it over at A Motley Vision’s companion blog Wilderness Interface Zone. September 17th marked the two-year anniversary of the closing of Crossfire Canyon (real name: Recapture Canyon) to off-highway vehicular (OHV) travel. Since then, the canyon has become an even more volatile epicenter of rhetorical and legal power struggles over land use policy. Private citizens, environmental and off-road advocacy groups, and the federal government have all entered dogs in the fight.
He Is Not in the Desert
“So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; … do not believe it” (NIV Matt. 24:26).
Grace in the Morning
This morning I went running with my dog.
Four sources of the Apocalypse
With the past two months, I have read — for various reasons — four different novels laying out apocalyptic events within the United States. Here are the novels, in the order I read (or re-read) them, and with the reasons why I read them: — Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (1977): a comet fragments and strikes the Earth in numerous places, collapsing much of world civilization, including the United States. I’ve read this several times before; I saw it cited on a blog (Samizdata) in a discussion on “the best end-of-the-world novels” and decided to dig it out and read it again.
Nature and Cities
I often find walking in nature a spiritual experience, for want of a better term. Growing up, I think that I found my testimony in part by tramping through the Wasatch Mountains and watching thunder storms roll across the Great Salt Lake. Today, I am likely to have real moments of reverence and gratitude to the divine while watching mist play across the still waters of the James River in the early morning or enjoying the power of a big Atlantic storm slamming into my bit of the world. I realize that there are some real dangers with identifying God too closely with anything as randomly and — at times — wantonly destructive as weather and nature, but as an aesthetic matter such experiences are an important part of my religious life. Oddly, I have never had a similar reaction to a city.
Paper or Plastic?
We begin with a quiz.