Next summer I have to give a paper on the loss of hope, despair. Since I have to deliver it and discuss it in another language, I’m starting early. Right now I’m working on trying to give an accurate account of hope on which I can then base a discussion of despair. So, hoping that writing this will help me get my thinking going and that what I say may be of interest to you in some way, I’m going to try to say something about hope in a series of fragments ending with some questions.
Some believe that this image is a photograph of the Prophet Joseph Smith. If they are right, it is the only known photographic image of Joseph . . .
As I read Dahlia Lithwick’s coverage of the Davis v Locke oral argument, I wondered what approach the court and press would have taken had the case originated in Utah. Dahlia writes: [Justice Kennedy was] bothered by the fact that Davey had his scholarship revoked simply because he’d declared a double major in pastoral ministries and business administration. According to Kennedy, Davey could have just declared the business major, taken theology courses, and kept his funding. Kennedy asks, over and over, “What is the state interest in denying him funding simply because he declared a double major?” Finally Ruth Bader Ginsburg has to answer him: “I thought the interest was the state doesn’t want to fund the training of clergymen.” Lithwick clearly thought Ginsburg’s comment responsive to Kennedy’s concern. The Utah Wrinkle About 95% of Utah’s state legislature are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).
I am interested in the question of how to think about scripture and I am an academic philosopher. One consequence is that I?m also interested in how the two things are related to each other. Here are some not-fully articulated thoughts on that question. They won’t come as a surprise to someone who has read some of my other things?another take on a familiar theme. As I understand scriptural texts, they are not philosophical and cannot be turned into philosophical texts without changing them drastically. [FN: Ricoeur has discussions of the issue in several places, for example, in Time and Narrative; in Figuring the Sacred; in his essays on the Bible, written with LeCoq; and in his essay in Phenomenology and the ?Theological Turn.?] I take it that is the unreflective folk-view manifest in LDS concerns about philosophers and the standard interpretation of ?mingling the philosophies of men with scripture.? (My own understanding of that phrase is that it means not substituting common sense, in the literal sense of that term, for revealed truth.) Latter-day Saints aren?t the only ones to believe that there is some kind of contradiction between scripture and philosophy. For example, Alain Badiou has argued that at least some scriptural texts, specifically Paul?s letters, are anti-philosophical as well as anti-rhetorical, but that isn?t necessarily a criticism of those texts [FN: Saint Paul, La fondation de l?universalism (Paris: PUF, 1997)].
In Institute we wondered why God would give contradictory commandments: Adam and Eve were told to multiply and replenish the earth, and they were told not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. These commandments, the scriptures plainly state, contradict each other. See 2 Nephi 2:22-23.
Perhaps second only to regular features as a reliable blog standby are lists. I know, I know, such posts usually generate endless quibbling about meaningless personal preferences. But I want to propose what I think will be a worthwhile exercise. I want to know, what are the five essential texts in Mormon studies?
Since blogs seem to thrive on regular features, I have decided to start one here at T&S. Because my father is an art historian and a curator at the Museum of Church History and Art, I have always been interested in the images and art that Mormonism has produced. Thus, I will begin regularlly posting samples of it to this blog, along with a little bit of commentary. I begin with C.C.A. Christiansen
Under the Utah Constitution, “[t]here shall be no union of Church and State, nor shall any church dominate the State or interfere with its functions.” The interesting part of this is the Domination and Interference Clauses. What might they mean?
Yesterday, Nate wrote that “Wasatch Front Mormons often times fall into the trap of thinking of the Church as a powerful institution.” There is probably a lot of truth to this–and I found Nate’s reflections on the financial situation of the church very interesting–but I found it strange that he connected this observation with the idea that most (or at least many) Wasatch Front Mormons think “separationist arguments are primarily about limiting Church power.” I found it strange for two reasons. First, because I think Nate’s rather cavalier endorsement of strict separationism as beneficial to the church is far from obvious (but more on that another time). Second, because while I haven’t lived in Utah for about 10 years, his description doesn’t fit what I remember as, and what still seems to be, the reality.
We have a new guest blogger: Jim Faulconer! Jim is a professor of philosophy at BYU. You can get a sense of some of his interests from this recent article by him in the Journal of Philosophy and Scripture. Russell ought to appreciate the presence of another non-lawyer on the blog, although we seem to be skewing toward philosophers, who I think of as kind of wanna-be lawyers…
My entry below about Mel Gibson’s forthcoming film Passion generated some very thoughtful comments that I had overlooked until now. Rather than responding way down there, I thought it best to bring this topic to the top, as it is bound to generate more interest. The focus of the comments — a mini-debate really, between Brent and Taylor — is the historical record of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Bear with me. This post is not about what you think it is about. My beef is not with Republican Mormons, social Mormons, Utah Mormons, Jello salad, or any of the other sins that Wasatch Front Mormonism is generally accused of. Rather, I am interested in power.
In my course on Business Organizations, I teach the law of principals and agents. Under this body of law, the notion of “free agency” is nonsensical, since a person becomes an “agent” only by attaching himself to a principal, at which point the person is no longer free. By contrast, in religious studies, the term “free agency” (or just “agency”) connotes free will, which is a complex and deeply interesting topic, though not the topic of this post. In this post, I want to use the law of agency to propose a different way of thinking about ourselves as agents.
Both of my parents (now divorced) have been deeply involved in Mormon studies for my entire life. Thus, I grew up in a Mormon studies family. My father is a senior curator at the Museum of Church History and Art and was hired by the Church Historical Department a few months before I was born. My mother was one of the early editors of Sunstone Magazine and worked as an editor and then board member of Signature Books while I was growing up. The result is that I think of most of the big names in Mormon studies – Richard Bushman, Michael Quinn, Ron Walker, etc. – as people that my parents know. My earliest memories of Mormon publications are of looking through old issues of Sunstone. It made for an interesting childhood.
We are happy to welcome Russell aboard as a permanent member of the blog. Now we are only 89 away from a quorum-sized group.
A few quick administrative notes: 1. I will be out of town most of this week, and will be blogging lightly or not at all. Please don’t take my silence as a sign that I agree with anything Nate, Matt or Gordon say. 2. The site seems to be striking a chord with people, as we are now averaging 65 visitors per day. To our visitors: Please feel free to e-mail us, to comment on posts (and for those wondering about comments from week 1, yes, we will get them copied over at some point — technology has not been particularly cooperative), and to let us know any suggestions you have for topics of discussion or for improvements we could make to the site. Thanks for visiting, and we hope to see you here again!
Here is what I have always thought was the best visual depication of Kaimi’s theory of Book of Mormon geography. The painting is by the wonderful Minerva Teichert.
Other things have been keeping me busy, but Nate reminds me that I have yet to follow up on my comments about Native Americans and Lehite descent. Nate suggests that: Yes it is true that lots and lots of Mormons think that the Book of Mormon provides the only account for Native American ancestry. Yes it is true that there are probably a whole lot of general authorities that subscribe to this view. So what? I find this assertion absolutely baffling. “A bunch of general authorities — the people we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators; the people who are in direct contact with God — subscribe to a certain view of scriptural interpretation. And Nate’s response to this is “So what?”?? Wow.
There is a strange schizophrenia about popular images of Mormons. On one hand, we get stereotyped as shinny, well-scrubbed, conservative, paragons of middle American virtues circa 1955. On the other hand, we get stereotyped as dangerous, homicidal, polygamist fanatics. As Gordon points out in his post the latter stereotype popped up recently in Law & Order: Criminal Intent, but that is hardly the only place one sees it. Remember that the religious bomber in the movie Contact was from Prowan, Utah. At the same time, Mormons pop up in Tom Clancy novels as shining examples of American decency. As I pointed out in an earlier post, this second stereotype also has a dark side in the eyes of some. For example, the English spy novelist John La Carre has dropped Mormon characters into his novels, where they serve as the personification of the naive and slightly frightening earnest true believers of the American national security state. It seems to me that the problem with all of these images is that at bottom they are not really about Mormons.
Have you seen the trailor for Mel Gibson’s film about the last 12 hours of Christ’s life? This has been the subject of much debate, as Jewish leaders raise concerns about anti-Semitism and others respond. Here are some responses from people who have actually seen a rough cut at the behest of the New York Post, which apparently bootlegged a copy (the uniform reaction — except from the “Post reader” — was that the film unfairly portrayed Jews). Amitai Etzioni, who has been blogging regularly on this topic, had an interesting take on this flap way back in September: Those who will wrap themselves in the First Amendment should note that no one is arguing that the government should ban the movie — only that it is morally not right. There are many things we can say about African Americans, Jews, and for that matter about Catholics, which best remain unsaid. While I suspect that there will be no uniform Mormon response to this film, my inclination is to agree with Etzioni.
I just saw what was perhaps the most offensive portrayal of the Church that I have ever seen on network television. In an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent that originally ran on November 16, a young man (almost 18) is cast as a Manson-like figure. He assembles of group of three young women disaffected by the depraved behavior of their high school peers. The young man preaches a different gospel, one informed by Siddhartha (Hesse’s novel). When the young girls kill three male classmates and then some parents at his command, Detective Goren is on the case. As he closes on his suspect, he finds the clinching clue: the young man has been reading books on Mormonism, including the Book of Mormon! He then concludes that the young man fancies himself a prophet and has made plans to flee to Utah with the girls (can you say polygamy?). Wow! What a shock! This plot twist was wholly gratuitous. Manson (a pretty clear allusion) had no connection with the Church. Nor does Siddhartha. The connection between Mormon doctrine and the actions of the characters was completely unexplained (and unexplainable!). Ultimately, the plans to go to Utah figured not at all in the resolution of the crime. It made me wonder if the writers had read Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, the point of which appears to be to portray the Lafferty brothers as…
As Gordon points out, we all seem to be enjoying our post-Thanksgiving naps just a little too much. Before moving too far on from the Thanksgiving theme, I think it is appropriate to reflect on what Thanksgiving means in particular, to Latter-Day Saints. However, the discussion of what Thanksgiving means to Latter Day Saints raises a threshold question: Is there a distinct LDS attitude, approach, or spirit towards Thanksgiving — an LDS Thanksgiving identity — or are we as church members merely hangers-on to the broad Protestant Thanksgiving tradition?
Yep, we have moved to Movable Type. We are currently working on updating comments and links. Things may be a bit bumpy for a few days, but we expect any problems to be ironed out quickly. In the meantime, the old site is still available at www.timesandseasons.org/mt/ . And a big thanks to Matt Evans for setting us up on this software (now if only we can figure out how to use it . . . )