Book Review: Helen Andelin and the Fascinating Womanhood Movement

CaptureUp until ten days ago, I’d never even heard of Fascinating Womanhood, a how-to-save-your-marriage manual-cum-lifestyle popularized by a Mormon housewife in the early 60s. Thanks to historian and author Julie Debra Neuffer, that situation has now been rectified. Neuffer’s new book, Helen Andelin and the Fascinating Womanhood Movement, gives an unprecedented look into the personal experiences and social/political climate that spurred Andelin’s pursuit of an antidote for divorce, the growth of her idea into an international enterprise, and the supposed enemies she made along the way (“…the feminists, the abortionists, the liberals, the BYU Family Relations Department, and the General Presidency of the Relief Society.”) [Read more...]

Cultivating the Garden of Friendship

In a recent post I expressed my belief that the world is an entropic chaos tending toward death, and that in rebelling against this we can make beauty, which the all-devouring nature of the void requires that we make again and again. I mentioned this idea in conversation with a new friend the other day, and she suggested that it would be better to think about how to cultivate beauty, to find ways of sustaining it over time. This seemed to me a good and wise correction, and although seeds of the idea do appear in my post, especially in the idea that human connection is the highest form of beauty, I wish to develop them further here. Zion, after all, is at once a place and a form of human community where the people are, as the scripture reminds us, of one heart and one mind, dwelling in righteousness, and having no poor among them. [Read more...]

2014 Christmas gift book guide

I’m starting to really believe that the older you get, the brain really does process time differently, the perception of it being accelerated. Welcome to another year of the BCC annual Christmas gift book guide. 2014 was a pretty fine year.

 
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Neither hath come near to a menstruous woman

I’m preparing for my GD lesson, the first one on Ezekiel. The lesson reading begins with Ezekiel 18, which is a sermon on individual (as opposed to corporate or familial) responsibility, riffing off of Exodus 20:5. A righteous man will be blessed for that righteousness, even if his father was wicked. The upshot is that the Judahites cannot blame their present circumstances entirely on their ancestors; they remain responsible for their own actions and how they react to their present circumstances (in exile). [Read more...]

A World of Spice

The scent of butternut squash roasting in curry, coriander, and cumin is filling my kitchen, a layer of comforting protection from the bitter cold outside.  Some people express their love through song or poetry, I express my love by making soup.  My parents are coming to visit me for Thanksgiving, and I want to greet them with some hot, homey butternut squash soup and cornbread.  Unexpectedly, though, the scent of these spices is bringing back a strong memory from my childhood, also infused with curry and cold weather.  [Read more...]

Christ triumphant at the end of the year

Genesis 1 is probably a liturgical text from the ancient temple that celebrated God’s enthronement as lord of the heavens and the earth. On the seventh day he comes to rest, his work done, his Person triumphant. This is the king of kings, lord of lords. Such a notion — God’s royal prerogative — is not on the face of it particularly difficult for Christians, but we ought still give attention to two issues, one theological and one practical: how is it that it is Christ who is the King, and what difference ought that belief make in our lives?

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On Epistemological Crises, Humility and Building Zion

In a recent post, Jason K. posed a series of challenging questions aimed at furthering the cause of Zion. One of them—How much attention to the nitty-gritty details of Church history does unity require?—prompted some thoughts that I decided to develop here rather than risk derailing his efforts there. [Read more...]

The Sermon Book Approaches

Some of you have followed my odyssey in writing a book on Joseph Smith’s funeral addresses. The project has evolved over time to cover ten sermons, all connected in some sense and speaking for, to, and about, the dead.
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BYU, Religious Freedom (or its Lack), and Beards

Used subject to Creative Commons license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

Photo by Adam Jones.

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the New York Times’s article on BYU and beards at least dozens of times in your Facebook feed.

Clearly, BYU’s anti-beard rule is stupid. It just is. That said, stupid isn’t necessarily an affirmative reason to do away with it: plenty of institutions have plenty of stupid rules, and, on the list of stupid rules in the world, the beard prohibition isn’t terribly high.[fn1] For the most part, it’s stupid, but not malicious.

Unfortunately, I learned from the Times article, there’s one situation where it is malicious, hypocritical, immoral, and damaging. BYU no longer offers a religious exemption from its no-beard policy. And that needs to change.[fn2] [Read more...]

Beaches and Footprints

Sam Brown is an historian, scholar, author and medical doctor. His latest work, First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith In Light of the Temple is now available, and is a publication of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. We published an excerpt from the book a couple of weeks ago and are happy to offer another now.

We often remind our adolescents and young adults that they will need to stand on their own, that they will need a testimony that can withstand separation from their parents. And it’s true that our attachment to Church and gospel must be stronger than the vagaries of young adulthood. There must be within us something more than just conformity to whatever people around us say. But we must not believe that our walk of faith is solitary. We must be able to experience commitment to true principles and to the people of Zion that can resist mocking voices or temptations of the flesh. But we should not thereby forget that God and the Holy Ghost generally speak to us in the context of our relationships with the Saints. Our lives are deeply blessed by the people who carry the Spirit to us at times of great sadness or anxiety. [Read more...]

Pastors’ Housing, Take 2

ParsonageHarpersLast week, almost a year after a district court in Wisconsin declared the parsonage exemption unconstitutional, the Seventh Circuit has reversed her decision. And thus ends a (brief) chapter in the religious culture wars.

Or not . . . [Read more...]

Mormons and the American Liberal Order

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics is a superb work of social science. David Campbell, John Green, and Quin Monson make exhaustive use of numerous recent surveys conducted by the Pew Forum and Gallup, and a half-dozen surveys which they designed themselves, to produce about as detailed and revealing a look at the political preferences and peculiarities of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in America as probably any group of scholars ever could. While some of the information which the authors make use of has already been reported in American Grace (a blockbuster in the sociology of religion in America which Campbell co-authored with Robert Putnam), here that information is packaged alongside numerous historic observations and other scholarly insights, resulting in something which stands entirely on its own. Of course, as with any academic study that depends largely upon survey research and the self-reporting of those interviewed, the compiled results need to be recognized for what they are: namely, the best conclusions that correlational and regression analysis allows. Still, I think it is fair to say that just as all serious discussions of actual religious practices and behaviors in the U.S. need to take Putnam and Campbell’s work into consideration, this book by Campbell, Green, and Monson is indisputably the new starting point for all serious conversations about American Mormons and politics from here on out. [Read more...]

Are baby blessings like dedicatory prayers or priesthood blessings?

In the last few weeks I have been to a couple of baby blessings and specific differences between the two prompted a question: are baby blessings more like dedicatory prayers or priesthood blessings? [Read more...]

Queries toward Zion in the Wake of the Polygamy Essays

Reactions to the recent Gospel Topics essays on polygamy (here and here) have been widely varied, running on a spectrum from “WHAT?!” to *yawn*. The fact of this diversity raises some interesting questions, especially in light of Jesus’ statement “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.” The point isn’t that we all should have had the same reaction (although there has been commentary to that effect); rather, the urgent question is whether we as members of the Church can come together in the face of such diversity—and if so, how.

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Sunday thought: Family history

2nd Sunday before Advent

In five days I have gone from little interest in family history (or better put, feeling I had no time to prioritise it) to burning the midnight oil trawling through old censuses and BMD records. Tolkien once said that all cosmic music — even the bad — will eventually bend to God’s harmony; in the case of the evils of the Great War it seems that one small positive is a renewed interest in family history in Britain. This was my conversion: I went to a talk on Remembrance Day about the battle of Gheluvelt fought in 1914 by my local regiment (the Worcestershires). My interest piqued — and being a Worcestershire man — I typed some family names into Family Search and became aware of the service of a number of g-grand uncles.  One was badly injured at Ypres in 1917 and reading his medical records was a grim experience. My aunt remembers he had a dent in his skull; now we know why. It’s compelling stuff.

Why do we do family history? [Read more...]

Your Sunday Brunch Special: Temple Dedication

I served a mission during the Vietnam War. This was a problematic thing on several levels. For one, the Church had wrangled selective service deferments and parsed them out to wards so that two ward members could be in the mission field at any one time, more or less. Our ward’s quota was in play, so that when I decided I wanted to try mission before war, there wasn’t much chance of doing so. After high school, I became a ski bum for a year, working in a ski shop, installing bindings, making adjustments, fixing skis, etc. As my 19th birthday approached, the bishop informed me that another ward had a free slot, and it was mine if I wanted it. I said yes.
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RIP Glen A. Larson

TV writer and producer Glen A. Larson passed away from esophageal cancer on Friday in Los Angeles.  He is survived by his wife and nine children.

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Any Lunatic Who Pretends to be a Prophet

So I’m preparing GD lesson 42 for tomorrow, which is the second lesson on Jeremiah. Chapter 29 begins with a transcription of a letter that Jeremiah sent to the exiles in Babylon, basically advising them to settle in for the long haul, build houses, marry, have children, and so forth (things the LORD specifically commanded Jeremiah back in Judah not to do), because the Exile would not be over quickly, despite the prophecies of a quick return being circulated by the (false) prophets among the exiles. [Read more...]

Visualizing Conference, October 2014

Full GC

What stood out for you at the most recent General Conference? [Read more...]

The Joseph Smith Papers Project: A Dilettante’s Guide to Documents Vol I & II

The great thing about Mormonism is that you can call yourself an LDS historian without actually having any training in the matter.  Some of my best friends are LDS historians; a few of them actually have degrees in history, and of them there are a couple that actually studied LDS history.  The barriers to entry are low, friends, and it pays dividends to amass a library of your own and start passing yourself off as an ‘amateur LDS historian’.  As a friend of amateur LDS historians, let me provide a review of Documents, Volume I and II from the Joseph Smith Papers Project.  My aim here is to (1) provide a layman’s review of the books, (2) explain their value to amateur LDS historians, and (3) to explain why, even if the only LDS history you know is by authors whose last name ends in “ousen”, these volumes are worth owning. [Read more...]

Brigham Young’s Couplet

We’re pleased to feature this guest post from John G. Turner, associate professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University and author of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet, in addition to other writings about Mormonism.

Terryl Givens ends his lucid and immensely informative Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought with a long chapter on theosis, the idea that human beings can progress toward and achieve godhood.

Givens presents Mormon thought as a recovery of “a Christian road not taken,” paths explored by early thinkers such as Origen and Pelagius and then rejected by subsequent definers and defenders of Christian orthodoxy. Mormonism as explicated by Givens insists upon human potentiality, freedom, responsibility, and affinity with the divine. Human beings, the spirit children of heavenly parents, embrace mortality as an ascent — sometimes a very difficult and gradual ascent — toward an exalted return to a heavenly family. [Read more...]

What Happens When Prison Is Over?

A few years ago, a Welsh professional footballer playing for Sheffield United FC in England was having a banner year. In addition to scoring goals by the truckload, he also represented his country on the Welsh national team and was named to the League’s Team of the Year. How good he was, or could have been, is unclear–lots of players are stars in lower divisions but fail to transition successfully to more competitive leagues.[1] Still, his standout performance was naturally attracting some attention from clubs in higher divisions of English football, including the top tier Premier League. Even if that interest never materialized, he was still a professional footballer, was making decent money, and could have maintained that level of income for a number of years–perhaps more than a decade, barring injuries.

Then, just before the end of the season, he was arrested on charges of rape, found guilty at trial by a jury, and sent to prison.
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Polygamy as Discussed in the Church Today

Plural marriage is in the news again thanks to the Church’s new Gospel Topics essays. National news organizations have picked up the story and the Church responded with a note of clarification from the Newsroom. The basic idea is this: some news outlets are reporting this as though the Church was somehow denying that Joseph Smith instituted or practiced polygamy. I can’t recall when I first learned that Joseph instituted and practiced polygamy, but it was sometime before my mission. As Kristine just wrote about, some church members, even life-longers, report that they never heard about it, and the new essays come as a surprise to them. It’s worth taking a look at the Church’s handling of polygamy in its official materials to get a sense of why some members never knew about Joseph’s polygamy until this week.

If you don’t have time to read the whole post, let me summarize first:

The Church has not removed all information regarding plural marriage and Joseph Smith’s involvement from its manuals. At the same time, polygamy has clearly not played a prominent role in official LDS literature, sermons, and lessons. It has been discussed much more in “unofficial” writing including Dialogue and even BYU Studies, which has published a few articles about plural marriage over the past few decades, as have other non-official LDS publications such as Sunstone, the Journal of Mormon History, Utah Historical Quarterly, etc. Many active members of the Church do not have a full grasp of polygamy, the extent to which it was practiced, how it began, the sacrifices involved, and the reasons participants themselves—actual women and men—gave for living “the principle.” The new essays are not a new “admission” by the LDS Church as to the existence of polygamy pre-Brigham Young. They are the culmination of a number of historical studies and initiatives by historians who were sometimes seen as enemies of the Church, and now a new effort on the part of the Church to be more transparent when dealing with LDS history.

Now that the conclusion is out of the way, let’s look at the details. [Read more...]

A Confession and an Apology

Please forgive a self-indulgent post.

I have been one of the people who has thought and said that it’s unreasonable for members of the Church to feel betrayed when they discover facts about Church history that they hadn’t encountered in the official curriculum. I’ve thought that such ignorance reflected intellectual laziness for not having done a little bit of homework to learn about our history, and/or emotional immaturity for “flying off the handle” in the face of the belated discovery.

I was wrong and I am sorry.

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Grappling with the End of Life

P1030496

My mother was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in 2001. This was devastating news, but thanks to a combination of excellent doctors, groundbreaking medicine and resolute determination buoyed by an abiding faith in God, my mother survived and was able to enjoy a relatively high quality of life for over a decade despite several recurrences.

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Event: “Beholding the Tree of Life” book signings, 12-13 Nov.

Bradley J. Kramer has a new book—Beholding the Tree of Life: A Rabbinic Approach to the Book of Mormoncoming out this week from Greg Kofford Books. Zion’s Books at 274 W. Center St. in Provo will be hosting a book launch and roundtable discussion this Wednesday, 12 November, at 7pm. The roundtable will include responses to the book from Jack Welch, Richard D. Rust, and Delys Snyder. Kramer will also be signing copies of the book at noon on Thursday 13 November at Benchmark Books, 3269 South Main St–Suite 250 in Salt Lake. I’ve read the book and find that it offers an enriching way of approaching the Book of Mormon as a literary and religious text, so I encourage readers of BCC to take advantage of these opportunities to meet its author.

Disambiguation: Bradley J. Kramer is not the same as the Brad Kramer familiar to readers of this blog.

Sunday thought: Remembrance and reconciliation

3rd Sunday before Advent; Remembrance Sunday

Amos 5:18-24

Today marks Remembrance Sunday across the Commonwealth, the Sunday before Armistice Day. The focal point of the commemoration is London’s Whitehall, where the Queen and other senior royal, political, and military figures laid wreaths at the Cenotaph. For the first time since 1946, the Republic of Ireland has played an official role, with the Irish ambassador laying a wreath in memory of the 30,000 Irish who died in the Great War. [Read more...]

Ancient Prophets

Something to think about as you lie awake in bed tonight:

Twenty years from now, David A. Bednar’s only going to be 82. Dieter F. Uchtdorf will only be 94. L. Tom Perry will be 112.

By 2034 standards, it’s possible that those men will no longer be considered that old.

[Read more...]

Your Friday Firestorm: Is a Fetus a Person?

In England there is something called the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). If I am injured as a result of a criminal act I can claim for compensation from CICA. This is possible because I am classified as a “person” according to the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861.

A girl is currently seeking compensation from CICA because of what her lawyers believe were criminal injuries inflicted on her by her mother . . . when she was a foetus. Her mother drank half a bottle of vodka and eight cans of strong lager a day during pregnancy. The girl’s injuries are on the spectrum of foetal alcohol disorder.

The High Court is currently having to decide whether:

A. A fetus is a person; and

B. Whether drinking excessive alcohol in pregnancy constitutes a criminal act.

The ramifications for the legal status of a foetus (and its implications for abortion law) and the potential criminalisation of pregnant woman who abuse alcohol or drugs are potentially very interesting. How would you rule?

Messy, Redux

I’ve removed my earlier post in which I linked to an incendiary and insulting piece. [Read more...]

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