A Happy Ending

In most of the ways that matter, I grew up in a fairly typical Salt Lake City Mormon home. What this means is that I went through most of the various Mormon rites of passage right on schedule in an environment that looked very much like an photograph from the Ensign: baptism in the basement of the Salt Lake Tabernacle, priesthood ordinations by a faithful father surrounded by family, and all the rest. Coming home from my mission, however, was slightly different.

The End-Stopped Line

Sixteen years ago today, May 2, 1989, was a Tuesday. I got up and went to school that morning, along with my three other school-age siblings; I was fourteen, in ninth grade, an everting adolescent just starting to worry about my weight, thinking about my first AP exam in a few weeks. My mother probably stayed in most of that day, occupied with our new two-month-old, Abraham, and the three other home-age children. My dad went to work, and then to a school board meeting that evening. My grandma was in town, too, visiting for a few weeks.

The Boundaries of Suicide

I just had an interesting discussion with my Catholic friend, “C.” The topic: What are the boundaries of suicide? In particular, when does acquiescence to harm, or deliberate participation in likely-death acts, become suicide?

Guest blogger: Elisabeth Calvert Smith

I’m happy to introduce our latest guest blogger: Elisabeth Calvert Smith. Elisabeth is an attorney for the Massachusetts Department of Labor. (The astute reader may realize that T & S seems to be returning to its law roots, with attorneys now constituting the past two guests, three of the past four, and four of the past six). She graduated from Utah State University with a bachelor’s degree in Economics and a master’s degree in Political Science, and earned her law degree from Boston University. She currently teaches legal research and writing part-time to first year law students at Boston University. She also loves (most weeks) her job of teaching the five- and six-year-olds in Primary. Elisabeth is married with cats, and loves chocolate donuts, movies, books, The New Yorker, running along the Charles River. Plus her husband and family (they rank behind the donuts, though). And finally, I would be remiss not to point out that Elisabeth is the author of the best spiritual securities law analogy I’ve ever seen. Welcome aboard, Elisabeth!

Everybody Else is Doing It, so Why Can’t We?

Over at Volokh.com, there’s a fun little contest going on: Name the highest political figure of various minority groups. Thus, Eugene writes: Who are now the highest-ranked, and who have been the highest-ranked [minority groups listed] in U.S. government positions, federal or state, appointed or elected. For our purposes, though, let’s say that the rank of an office is generally inversely proportional to the number of people who hold that sort of office, so the President (1) beats U.S. Supreme Court Justices (9) who beat Cabinet officials (15) who beat Governors (50) who beat U.S. Senators (100) who beat state Supreme Court Justices (roughly 350, I think) who beat U.S. Representatives (435) and so on. On the other hand, I reserve the right to downgrade un-influential offices — there are fewer state Secretaries of State than state Supreme Court Justices, but I say the latter beat the former, and I’ll brook no argument on that. Eugene left Mormons off of his own contest (too easy), though some discussion of Mormons started anyway. I think it would be kind of fun to kick off our own Mormon-themed version of this contest, focusing both on church sects and other religious groups we’re often compared with.

Against King Benjamin

I am sorry to say that I think that King Benjamin’s great sermon has badly distorted the way that Latter-day Saints think about charity, the treatment of the poor, and the redistribution of wealth.

The Tumbaga Pla-ates La-ay Hi-i-dden

Deep in the mountainside . . . Okay, so the idea that the Golden Plates weren’t really made of gold, but rather out of a lighter alloy called tumbaga has now been kicking around for almost 40 years. To what effect, I wonder. Is this a theory which you accept, constant reader? A theory which you dispute? One that you cheerfully ignore? (One that you’ve never heard of, maybe?) And are Mormons in general subscribing to the tumbaga theory? Rejecting it? Have you ever heard the word “tumbaga” used during Sunday School? (How does one pronounce it, anyway?) Used during Sacrament meeting? And most importantly — Do you own any tumbaga kitsch jewelry? (Should you?)

12 (or so) Questions for Kathleen Flake

Back in November, we solicited questions for Kathleen Flake, author of the terrific book The Politics of American Religious Identity (2004). We are now pleased to present her responses. Thanks Professor Flake! 1. How have you negotiated the tension between focusing on Mormon studies versus the broader issues within your discipline? How have your faith and your interest in Mormon studies affected your career at Vanderbilt, if at all? My focus has not been on Mormonism as an end in itself. Rather, I have experimented with using Mormonism as a tool to understand the “broader issues.”

Updating the Expansion Theory

In 1987 I published the theory of the Book of Mormon as a Modern Expansion of an Ancient Source. I wrote the article as a bit of apologetics to show that assumptions made by both believers and critics lead to unwarranted conclusions.

What is it with Mormons and Alternative Medicine?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever sneezed at church, only to have a church member suggest some sort of herbal remedy. Echinacea, goldenseal, St. John’s Wort, chapparal, clover honey, ginsing . . . you name it, and it’s been offered to me at some point by a church member. Along with suggestions for magnetic treatment, and intestine cleansing, and acupuncture. Have you ever had your LDS friend’s mother ask you, with a straight face, “How many bowel movements do you have each day?” I have. (I dodged the question; she told me that anything less than three was unhealthy). And there is the evil flouridation, of course. And all of the attendant conspiracy theories about how doctors already know the cure for cancer and AIDS and arthritis, but they’re shilling for the pharmeceutical companies, and so they won’t tell you their secrets. (But that’s okay — just hook up a battery to this radio device, and sit next to it every day for an hour, and you’ll be guaranteed to be cancer free). Why is it that Mormons are often believers in, shall we say, unorthodox medical practices? I mean, for crying out loud, we have a heart surgeon for an apostle! Isn’t it about time we came to terms with modern medicine?

Converting the Missionaries?

There has been a very interesting and vigorous discussion on Blake’s thread on “raising the bar” for missionary service. I’d like to pick up a theme from early in that thread that I think needs more attention: what sort of spiritual development should we be hoping missionary service will provoke in the missionary?

Religious Bigotry & Judicial Nominations

Cathy Young has a provocative editorial on the recent judicial confirmation kerfuffle. The quick primer: Democrats have been blocking President Bush’s judicial nominees at an unprecedented rate, and Republican Senators have begun to cry foul on grounds of religious bigotry.

Postpartum Depression

I had severe and prolonged postpartum depression with my first child, moderate PPD with the second, and none at all with the third. While I’m by no means an expert, I wanted to sketch out some things that I thought might be helpful to those experiencing PPD and those who are in a position to help them (husbands, visiting teachers, ward leaders, etc.).

Did We Raise the Bar too Far?

The number of missionaries is down about 15,000 from its peak. The number of convert baptisms is down about 20% per missionary. Retention rates are also down. There are numbers of young men who would be willing to serve missions who are not allowed to because of sins that would not have barred them from missionary service previously. Is there a link here?