Christ-Like Living According to “The Godfather”

In the Godfather Part III (I know, I know), in response to his protege threatening to knock off a competitor, Mafia don Michael Corleone quips “never hate your enemies, it affects your judgment.”  This is a common theme throughout the Godfather series, also embedded in the (in)famous “it’s not personal, strictly business” line. The cold-hearted calculation for self-interest that requires people to put personal or petty grudges on the side. Incidentally, this is a theme in the book too. For example, the scene where the pedophile/movie producer–his pedophilia is hinted at in the movie but is much more explicit in the book–loses his temper with Tom Hagan is accompanied by an internal monologue where Hagan is stunned that somebody so accomplished would let his emotional desire for vengeance drive his actions.    You see this in politics, diplomacy, business, and other high-stakes games where people who would otherwise hate each other are willing to turn and collaborate on a dime if it’s in their own self-interest. On the opposite extreme, I’ve seen people in the professional world burn all their bridges down because they could not get in control of their personal spite, and one’s ability to be the former and not the latter is a sign of mature emotional regulation. You just don’t pick fights or make enemies unless you have to, because antagonists can hurt you later down the road, sometimes in unpredictable ways. I remember seeing an interview…

Septuagint

When Jesus and the early Christians talked about the scriptures, they were using a version that is different from the manuscript basis of most English translations, including the King James Version that is so often used in Latter-day Saint circles. In a Hellenistic world, they relied on the Septuagint—a Greek translation of the Tanakh (Old Testament). In a recent post at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Philip Jenkins (professor of history at Baylor University) discussed more about the Septuagint. What follows here is a copost (a shorter post with some commentary).

My Spirituality Stack

I’m a sucker for those lifestyle influencers that show off their green smoothie stacks. Even though I know that 99% of supplements are scams that don’t pass the double blind, RCT standard, at the very least it’s still health-motivating to see somebody cram a bunch of greens into a blender (although, to save you time, the only health/muscle/workout supplement that is really worth the cost if you’re already eating your fruits and veges is creatine). Similarly, I’d love to see somebody put together a sort of collation of spiritual “stacks” of spiritually powerful people, including but not exclusively Church leaders. I suspect they would shy away from this kind of thing because beyond the basics of prayer, fasting, and scripture study it’s highly individual, and people might take a particular individual’s personal routine as gospel, but I don’t think there’s any risk of that coming from me, so… My personal spiritual “stack” Prayer at night: My Mission President told us a story about how his MP would require that they set a timer to pray for five minutes every night, and how he thought it was dumb thing to require, but that when he actually tried it and realized that when you have five minutes you have to use, it helps you sit and center your thoughts and not feel any kind of rush. So he did not require us to do the five minute timer, but strongly suggested it,…

Rethinking the OT Narrative

Christians expressed concerns about stories and divine commands in the Old Testament since early in Christian history. Setting aside Isaac and Abraham, things get so much worse with the conquest of Canaan and all the genocidal commands. Christians have long attempted to make sense of the contrast of the significant difference between the divine commands in the OT and NT: “the schoolmaster to bring us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24-27), allegory, Gnostics who said the OT God wasn’t the highest God but was the lower, problematic demiurge. I heard growing up that God gave the law as a result of the rebellion of the golden calf (sort of like DC 84:24-26 and Exodus 32:19 mixed together). I’ve heard the idea in Mormon circles of Jesus as Jehovah got a lot nicer after he lived on earth.

How Do Members Explain the Priesthood and Temple Ban?

Black man ordaining another Black man in the style of African folk art Stephen Cranney and Josh Coates This is one of a series of posts discussing results from a recent survey of current and former Latter-day Saints conducted by the BH Roberts Foundation. The technical details are in the full methodology report here.  The provenance and maintenance of the priesthood and temple ban against Black Latter-day Saints is one of the more if not the most sensitive subjects in the modern Church. Of particular sensitivity is the question of whether the ban was inspired or not and, if not, why it took as long as it did to rescind it. Both David O. McKay and Harold B. Lee were reported to have sought revelation to remove the restriction, but were told that it was not time. Although the Church published an essay in 2013 that condemned past and present racism and disavowed theories of the past, it did not make a statement as to whether or not the restriction was inspired by God.  We suspected that this question of the priesthood ban still divides the membership, with a lot of members on one side or the other. Because of its complexity, we could have asked myriad questions on race in the survey: how many members believe in the “Curse of Cain?” How many members think that Joseph Smith started the ban? How many members think that Black people were…

Lehi’s Thanksgiving

I envision Lehi and his family encountering some curious native villagers near their initial landing beach in the Promised Land. I can imagine that the first Native Americans to see these strangers from the Middle East sailing to their shores in a vessel larger than any canoe may have viewed them as gods. From Christopher Columbus in the West Indies to Hernando Cortés riding into Montezuma’s Mexico, it was natural for the locals to view these otherworldly newcomers as gods. The righteous Nephites would have dissuaded any worship or being treated like gods. Like Ammon later before King Lamoni, they would have denied that they were “the Great Spirit” (Alma 18:18-19). However, it would have been natural for this party of prophets and priests to evangelize to their new friends about the Lord who guided them there.

On Willard Richards

I’ve written previously about the reality that many of the counselors in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a huge impact on the Church, but they may not always be remembered by the general membership after a generation or two. I made that remark specifically with George Q. Cannon in mind, but Willard Richards is another example that was recently explored in an interview with Alex Smith at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

The Tribes that Greeted the Lehites

As we read the Book of Mormon, we will better appreciate its authenticity if we see its stories in the context of the Nephites and Lamanites continuously bumping up against Native American tribes who were already in the Americas. The Promised Land was not an empty land, as many throughout Church history sometimes imagined. In fact, our testimony of the truths taught within its pages are all the more powerful when we look at this ancient record with eyes wide open to the cultural world it actually took place in.

What Historical Claims Does God Insist We Believe?

I mean that question in terms of scriptural claims, especially related to the Old Testament. Readers may be aware of scholarly skepticism of the existence of major biblical figures and events and I’ve often gotten the sense from my fellow members and other Christians of seeing scholars with such views as problematic, secular people not properly holding biblical claims as they ought. I’m well aware of the limits of historical study, but also think that historical methods and lots of work by scholars as a whole do tell us something. I don’t think scholars in any field go about what they do as some kind of malicious pact with the devil. Scholars are happy to debate with each other so though I’m not arguing that scholarly consensus is anything like infallible (consensus can certainly be overturned), but for, me, scholarly consensus suggest a whole lot of work and evidence. Thus if there is consensus on something, I believe scholars have come to that position in good faith. I do not feel the need to hold doggedly to all scriptural historical claims, nor do I believe that God insists that I do so.

Cutting-Edge Latter-day Saint Research, April 2024

Apologies for the length in advance. A lot of people had things to say about the Church and its members this month! Carr, Ellen Melton. “Fountains of Living Waters: How Early Mormon Irrigation Innovated the Legal Landscape of the West.” Oil and Gas, Natural Resources, and Energy Journal 9, no. 3 (2024): 361. There was no abstract, so I uploaded the PDF to GPT-4 and asked it to make a summary.  

Temple Architecture and Local, Native Styles

Longtime readers may recall that I started to do a series on “temple architectural heritages” a while ago. I eventually aborted it since the subject was too big and unwieldy. Still, I’m looking forward to the day when somebody puts together a glossy coffee table book with not just pretty pictures, but also the architectural history and insights of all the different temple designs. (Although the excellent website churchofjesuschristtemples.org/ is close).  Still, I thought as a sort of coda to that enterprise I would provide a list of temples that, in my opinion, do a good job of incorporating unique, local styles into the general Latter-day Saint temple ur-style instead of using a standardized plan that’s been done a thousand times already.  This list is not comprehensive, and I’m sure I’ve missed some.  Japan, Sapporo This recent addition to the Japanese landscape boasts a Zen Garden inside.  Mexico, Mexico City Made in the Maya Revival style that includes Mayan and Aztec elements, so it kind of looks like an ancient Mesoamerican temple.   Bangkok, Thailand “The design of the Bangkok Thailand Temple follows the patterns and colors found within Thai architecture. Many of these patterns overlay various diamond shapes with lotus flower elements and a herringbone pattern, evoking the weaved palms used in traditional arts and goods.” Madrid, Spain  Mediterranean-looking vases in front and Arabesque diamond-patterned screens that are redolent of the Muslim-Spanish architecture.  Rome, Italy According to Wikipedia patterned…

“What about Agency?” – Should Latter-day Saints Be Pro-Choice?

“I’m pro-choice because I believe in agency.”

“Women should be free to choose.”

“I’m personally pro-life, but other people should have the ability to choose abortion.”

I hear these comments all the time from members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many loud voices popularize these claims; even prominent Latter-day Saint voices rally behind them.

Because Latter-day Saints believe in agency, right?

Thoughts on David A. Bednar

I recently worked on reviewing the addresses of Elder David A. Bednar to put together a David A. Bednar quotes page over at From the Desk. As I worked on it, I noticed some interesting patterns and other observations that I thought I would share. These include a standardized structure he seems to follow, some core concepts that he reiterates over and over, and his sources.

My Atheist Conversion, 3: A Lack of Theology

My own research played a role in the atheist conversion I described in previous posts. Like I said, I believe I’ve been able to track down the sources of all Mormon ideas from books to Joseph Smith, which, like I said, was something I’ve been generally okay with. Again, this was a gradual process for me that I felt I could make spiritual sense of, and concluded that any means that God used for the Restoration was okay with me. Yet every now and again I’d stop and notice how far I’d drifted from orthodoxy. I recently did a podcast where I described it as occasionally feeling like this Naked Gun clip: with so much on his mind while he wandered around, Frank finally said to himself, “and where the hell was I?”

My Mansplaining About Modesty

There are few issues in the Church as touchy as modesty. Every society has their lines for what is considered in poor taste on the revealing side or conversely too demure in the other direction, while the Church is consistently a few clicks to one direction on that continuum, making this one of those issues that puts us at slight tension with the background environment, even though the tension here is minor compared to, say, our exotic family forms of yore. A common response about our slightly more restrictive norms is to smirk about the difference between the Church and broader society. “Oh, those silly uptight conservatives.”  Ironically, this attitude is a mirror image of the conservatives that think that modesty lines are eternally drawn by God across time and space. However, in this case instead of acknowledging, respecting and contextualizing cultural differences like one would if they were, say, in an Amish community or a Muslim holy site, the sort of chiding about Latter-day Saint differences (typically by members themselves) ironically kind of presupposes that the metaphysical ideal written in the sky for the balance between too little and too much modesty happens to be right where 2024 America is. “Appropriateness” is by definition relative. Virtually all non-hunter gatherer cultures would find somebody walking down the street completely naked a little jarring (even if legal), and unless you’re fine with that then you too have your lines in the sand,…

“La Ofrenda”

“La Ofrenda” is a sacrament hymn written by José V. Estrada G. It is possible that it was based on “Venid Hermanos En La Fe” by Edmund Richardson or drew inspiration from similar places. It is one of the hymns that was only published in the 1912 edition of the Mexican mission hymnals.

The Copper Scrolls

One of the more interesting finds among the dead sea scrolls is a text that was written onto copper rather than papyrus of animal skin. It’s a unique find, and has become an area of interest for the noted scholar George J. Brooke, who recently spoke with the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk about the copper scrolls. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview, covering some of what these copper scrolls are.

How Often Do Members Pray?

  Stephen Cranney and Josh Coates This is one of a series of posts discussing results from a recent survey of current and former Latter-day Saints conducted by the BH Roberts Foundation. The technical details are in the full methodology report here. How often do members pray? This is one of those standard questions that are in most religion surveys and many generalist surveys. Still, the problem with virtually all such surveys is that the Latter-day Saint sample is too small to derive reliable estimates from. However, the Cooperative Election Study is one of the few surveys that has both a prayer question, an affiliation question, and a large enough sample overall that even the Latter-day Saint subset is pretty big (relatively speaking, N=706). This sample was used in this piece for the Deseret News on how people who don’t go to Church much also don’t pray much.  By comparing our results with the CES’ we can be even more sure of our estimates since it’s essentially a “in the mouths of two or three surveys” situation. So what do the numbers say?  First, the questions are worded somewhat differently, and this can be important:  CES: People practice their religion in different ways. Outside of attending religious services, how often do you pray? 2023CFLDS: About how often do you pray alone?  Also, as seen below, the response options are different, and some of the categories that sort of fit together…

The Going-Back-On-The-Mission Dream

Anecdotally, a common recurring dream among members (and a lot of ex-members) is the classic “return-to-the-mission,” where somebody is called to be a missionary again in middle age.  Dream interpretation can be irresistible to conjecture about, but any particular interpretation is ultimately non-falsifiable. While it makes sense that that particular dream is manifesting some Freudian, deep-seated anxiety our current psychometric tools are way too blunt to test anything. It’s so widespread I suspect the return-to-the-mission dream means something psychologically, but I don’t know what.   In my own version, the primary feeling is one of inconvenience and anxiety. I’m in the middle of life and I’m told I have to drop everything to go back to my old field of Eastern Spain. While in my non-dream, real world mission I did in fact serve the full 24 months (not that I would be ashamed if I didn’t), in the dream the rationale is often so that I can finish a complete 2 year term that I terminated early, and I’m thrown back into the field with a bunch of 19-year olds for a few transfers. Another feeling is one of moroseness; I was super excited to leave the mission and move on with the next steps in life, and returning to the field felt like a step backward.  Makes me think about what it would be like if it was like the old days and I was companions with Bob from…

“La Voz de Jesucristo”

As mentioned previously, Edmund Richardson seems to have had a particular interest in linking indigenous Mexican peoples to the Book of Mormon narrative and “La Voz de Jesucristo” is the third example of this. For some relevant historical analysis, see the following posts:

My Atheist Conversion, Part 2: Spiritual Experiences

In part one, I talked about coming to the conclusion of deciding to both be an atheist and also remain as bishop a year or so into my time as bishop. Part of the conundrum that I was working through was how I felt about my spiritual experiences. I mentioned in my last post that I was not feeling very content with where those experiences seemed to have led me. Furthermore, my PhD education had introduced me to some basics of cognitive science as my adviser had shifted her focus to that field. I talked about this in these posts at JI from a few years back, but had felt strongly prompted to work with Ann Taves, whose work had been in religious history, but was then shifting to cognitive science and its uses in studying religion. Again, I’d felt very prompted to work with her but kind of wanted to do more standard religious history and I had no training at all in this brain science stuff.

¡Oh gente afligida!

Edmund Richardson seems to have had a particular interest in linking indigenous Mexican peoples to the Book of Mormon narrative. In many ways, however, his approach was a colonizing narrative in which the indigenous peoples were ignorant, benighted peoples in need of civilizing through the efforts of Euro-American Latter-day Saints. “¡Oh gente afligida!” is just one example of Richardson’s poetry on the subject, with “La Obra Ya Empieza” and “La Voz de Jesucristo” being two other examples. For some relevant historical analysis, see the following posts: