The Future of Mormon Thinking – Part 3, “The Subjective”

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Say we grant that Mormonism is profoundly threatened by the claim that our religion is just in our heads.

Say we grant that Mormonism is threatened by the claim that, at best, Mormonism is a subjective pastiche of wishful thinking, soggy reasoning, willful self-deception, DIY clichés, middle management kitsch, and rose-tinted history that, as a whole, not only lacks objective reality but actively suppresses it.

What follows? What follows is that fearless Mormon thinking ought to occupy this position. It ought to adopt this critique as God’s own truth and find out how much water it can actually hold.

This enemy is too big a threat for fearless Mormon thinking to do anything other than love it with a whole heart. [Read more…]

Defending the family by exploring changing gender roles

Recently, at the General Women’s Session of April Conference, several talks where given on the theme of “defending the family.” There have been a number of responses to this session already (including two very good ones here at BCC), so we can safely say that this is a topic that has been covered. So, why bother talking about it some more? Because I think that I have found, hiding inside President Bonnie Oscarson’s talk, a message regarding marriage and family that is practically progressive in its outlook. [Read more…]

You Missed the Teenagers!

Two vignettes illustrating what is arguably our best shot to keep our youth actively engaged in the faith: [Read more…]

Nineteenth-Century Mormon Materialism and the Cold Bloodedness of Science

Matthew Taylor (“Ghost-Humanism,” J19 1, no.2 (2013): 416ff) begins his interesting take on ghosts and nineteenth-century science with this quote from William Gilmore Simms: “we can no longer get a ghost story” because “the materialists” have made “the world . . . monstrous matter-of-fact in latter days.” Taylor writes that Simms’s corollary that the “cold-blooded demon called Science has taken the place of all the other demons” is telling in this regard, but more indicative is the era’s endless fascination with ghostology, or the attempt to identify “a scientific theory . . . reconciling ghosts and natural phenomena.”
[Read more…]

Mormonism in the American Mind (4): Those Funny, Funny Mormons

f070b614501f92c2ce93bbd33b5a5f52Judged by the standards of the rest of the world, Mormons are pretty funny. Trust me on this; we’re a freaking riot. Funny underwear, Jackson County, Kolob. None of the punch lines in the Book of Mormon musical had to be forced or wrenched from context. It was all there just waiting for a clever satirist to do some clever satire. That’s pretty much how clever satire works.

It turns out that Mormons have always been pretty funny. Gold plates and peep stones are funny. Polygamy, when situated in the proper narrative, can be hilarious. And those beards! This is why Mormons have been a fixture of American satire since they came of age together a hundred and fifty years ago. This means Mark Twain, of course, but that’s just for starters. Dozens of nineteenth century humorists spoke and wrote regularly about the Mormons. It was, like, a thing.
[Read more…]

The Shortest Ending of Mark

Last weekend, I taught the 12-13 year olds all about the longer and shorter endings of Mark.  Bible nerds out there are nodding appreciatively, but for the rest of us, here’s the concept.  Imagine that Mark 16 (the end of Mark) concludes with this verse:

And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

No Mary Magdalene, no snake handling, no injunction to go out into the world and preach to every creature.  Nobody sees the risen Christ. [Read more…]

The Future of Mormon Thinking – Part 2, “The Secular”

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Say we grant the claim that secularism is, today, the enemy of Mormonism. What follows?

What follows is that secularism ought to be first in line for Mormon love and Mormon thinking. Secularism ought to be greeted fearlessly. No one should be thinking harder or better about secularism than Mormonism. And no one should be doing more to rethink truths from the secular position than Mormonism.

Now, again, a fearless extension of the truth to the secular position doesn’t amount to either an adoption or a rejection of that position. Rather, the work of thinking must transfigure that position.

It must proceed as an occupation that simultaneously transfigures all three elements involved: the enemy, Mormonism, and the truth. If our fearless thinking doesn’t transfigure all three, then, whatever else was managed, truth will fail. [Read more…]

Even beauty queens are more than just their looks

Not Ms. Virginia–just a simple girl in a modest bathing suit.

Yesterday a friend drew my attention to this Deseret News article about Bekah Pence, the newly-crowned Ms. Virginia United States. A good portion of the article is devoted to Bekah’s efforts to remain modest while competing in the pageant. For example, she was the only contestant to wear a one-piece suit during the swimsuit competition. (And she still won! #GuardiansOfVirtue) She describes how important it was to her to stay true to the church’s standards of dress.

“I’m a firm believer in not just being modest, but you can also be absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, not just beautiful,” she said. “I feel like girls don’t feel that way. They think that it’s a step down if you’re modest. They don’t think you can be absolutely gorgeous, but I felt that way. I felt like, ‘You know what? This dress is amazing, and I feel gorgeous in it — and I’m modest.”

Pence not only learned this for herself, but she was also able to explain her choices to the other contestants.

“I was the only one with a one-piece,” she said about the swimming suit portion of the pageant. “They would make a comment like, ‘That’s cute,’ and I would just say simply, ‘Yeah, I really wanted to wear a one-piece. I like to be modest,’ and it was cool that they thought it was cool.”

[Read more…]

The Future of Mormon Thinking – Part 1, “Thinking”

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

What follows is not a description or a prediction, but an invitation.

In the future, Mormon thinking will be fearless. It will be fearless in the truth. And the only way to hold a truth fearlessly is, as John says, to hold it with perfect love. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18). Only love is fearless. And only the fearless see the truth. If we fail to love, fear will cloud our eyes and skew our judgment.

In order for thinking itself to be fearless, that thinking must be conducted as an act of love. And in order to be conducted as an act of love, we must do as Jesus says: we must love our enemies. [Read more…]

Mormonism in the Internal Revenue Code

taxWhenever possible on April 15, I like to put together a quick post about some Mormon-related trivia from the tax world. This year’s edition: church financial disclosure.

In brief: tax-exempt organizations by definition don’t pay taxes. Prior to 1943, they also didn’t file any tax returns—they were pretty much entirely outside of the tax regime. That changed with the Revenue Act of 1943, which required tax-exempt organizations to file annual information returns. Broadly speaking, those returns lay out the sources of the organization’s income and where it spends that money.[fn1]

The return-filing requirement continues today, in largely (though not entirely) the same form. And, in marked contrast with most tax returns, the law requires tax-exempt organizations’ returns to be made available for public inspection. (If you want to inspect some, sign up for a free account here and have at it.)  [Read more…]

New blogger: Adam Miller

We’re extremely excited to announce that Adam Miller has agreed to join BCC as a regular permablogger. Adam’s thoughts on grace have been fantastic and we’re looking forward to much more. Please join me in welcoming Adam aboard!

Of One Body: The State of Mormon Singledom

We’re pleased to promote this event planned by friends of the blog Sharon Harris and Matt Bowman (bios below), and featuring our own Kristine Haglund.

smaller title

This is not your regular singles conference. While singles conferences have adopted more educational, service-oriented, and think-tank approaches in recent years—with Silicon Valley, Boston, and Northern Virginia singles conferences as notable examples—most of the time the idea of a singles conference conjures up either the spring break vibe of hundreds of singles scoping each other out at Duck Beach or the awkwardness of singles getting together in a gym to try to meet a special someone while dancing and drinking fruit punch. Basically, singles conferences revolve around creating situations in which singles are encouraged to meet, flirt, and date, and that underlying motive often seeps into all the other activities. [Read more…]

Things That Can Be Explained In The Following Six Important Principles, Ranked

Over the past few years, it seems like there are a lot of talks in GC in which the speaker introduces some specific challenge to living the gospel and then proposes a numbered list of principles to help explain how we can overcome said challenge. Steve and I were talking about this and concluded that there are still some things that need to be explained in this fashion.

First

As always, these rankings are authoritative.
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Christian Discipleship in the Age of the Superfan

JCFan“Jesus wants disciples; he doesn’t need a fan club.”

That line came from a Catholic priest, Father Greg Boyle, who has spent much of his life working with gang members in Los Angeles. Father Boyle was speaking to a packed auditorium at Newman University, where we had invited him to lecture on his book, Tattoos on the Heart. He said this in response to a question from the audience. The question was, “why don’t you teach these young men to be good Catholics?”

Father Boyle didn’t elaborate. He let us work out the implications ourselves, but they were pretty clear. It is the fan club member, not the disciple, who worries about who is (and who is not) a “good Catholic” (or a “good Christian,” or a “good Mormon”). These are not the sorts of questions that disciples ask because they are not the sorts of problems that disciples worry about. [Read more…]

The Bloggers’ Tale #Canpilgrim

Day Five: Canterbury to Dover

(Peter) We made it. The first 18 miles or so of the Via Francigena have been trodden by MSSJ pilgrim feet, with we hope many more to come in the next two years. Today we saw sun and rain, a bad fall, a good lunch and the bittersweet conclusion of our short but sweet pilgrimage. Before we scattered to the winds, we met on Dover’s beach, and two of us braved the cold channel waters to finish the trip in a fitting manner.

While plans are still very preliminary, we’re thinking St. Bernard’s pass in Switzerland next year and Rome the year after. Stay tuned to BCC for further details as plans crystallize.

For now I’m off to spend the night in an airport. Safe travels, everyone; I hope to see you soon.

[Read more…]

Called to Teach

teach

In my post O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion I mentioned in the comments that I had conveyed the gist of that post (to the effect that the herald of Isaiah 40:9 may have been a woman) to my GD class and that the idea was well received. A commenter then asked the following question:

Thought-provoking post, thanks! It leads me to ask, though, for those of you who are discussing the Divine Council and the gender of heralds during your SS classes, how much do you ever adhere to the GD manual? I’m still trying to get my class situated with basic historical context, but it usually involves major deviation from the stated lesson objectives and I’m starting to question the value spiritually.

I gave a short response in that thread, but I’d like to take a shot at a longer explanation here. [Read more…]

Review: Volume 23 of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies

JBMScoverFINAL_FullThere’s a huge, but underexplored, problem with the Book of Mormon: it don’t get no respect.

Richard Bushman bemoans the fact that the Book of Mormon can’t get a toehold in cultural history classes or the Harvard Divinity School, because the world outside of Mormonism gets stuck on its origins. The angelic delivery, the miraculous translation, heck, the gold plates mean must be a hoax. And, as a hoax, they don’t even get to the point where they confront the text.[fn1]  [Read more…]

Things the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Should Not Wear, Ranked

Our coverage of General Conference has been spectacular over the past week, though definitely a bit different than the open threads we’ve hosted in years past. Admittedly, Steve and I found ourselves actually missing the commentary on the outfit selections for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that were usually found in our GC open threads. Fortunately, we used this as our inspiration for this week’s rankings.

MoTab

As always, these rankings are authoritative.
[Read more…]

General Conference All-Session Recap #LDSconf

23A lot went down this weekend at the semi-annual LDS General Conference. In our decision to not live-blog conference (this time, still experimenting, subject to change) the BCC bloggers were able to listen in ways not possible when typing and tweeting furiously. It’s seriously a marathon, folks- no time to even breathe. Guest blogger Kacy Faulconer beautifully encapsulated what contributed to our decision to try something different. Now, after the dust has settled, we’ve got some interesting and thoughtful post-analysis to go along with some of the stellar talks given in the 185th General Conference. [Read more…]

Q&A With Paul Reeve on Race in the Church

Back for more!

W. Paul Reeve is Associate Professor of History and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Utah where he teaches Utah history, Mormon history, and the history of the US West. Paul is the author of Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness. He was our guest a couple of weeks ago, and has agreed to answer some of the questions that came up in the comments to that earlier post.

Bro. Jones: So are you defining “ordained by Joseph Smith” as “literally had Joseph lay his hands upon Elijah Abel and ordain him to the priesthood”? For what it’s worth, while this interpretation is new to me, I don’t suppose I’d assumed that Joseph was necessarily the man who personally ordained Brother Abel to the priesthood, but rather that Joseph supported and was aware of the event. But this is a valuable, scholarly basis to make that assumption.

[Read more…]

Religious Freedom and Religious Comfort #ldsconf

As we walk the path of spiritual liberty in these last days, we must understand that the faithful use of our agency depends upon our having religious freedom.—Elder Robert D. Hales, “Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom

Growing up as one of the few Mormon kids in a very un-Mormon part of Oklahoma, I had plenty of chances to feel uncomfortable. Usually this discomfort had something to do with my religious belief, so I gave it a much grander name than it deserved. I called it “persecution.”
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A General Theory of Grace #ldsconf

Adam S. Miller is a professor of philosophy at Collin College in McKinney, Texas and the author of several books. He earned a BA in Comparative Literature from Brigham Young University and a MA and PhD in Philosophy from Villanova University. His most recent book, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan, is just awesome.

I am, by profession, a theoretician of grace. I’ve proposed both a general phenomenology of grace and a metaphysical pluralism that reads grace as a fundamental feature of the real.

In short, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about grace and, for my part, President Uchtdorf’s Sunday morning talk, “The Gift of Grace,” couldn’t have been more welcome. [Read more…]

The Genesis Fall Stories #ldsconf

In his conference talk, Elder Holland set out to preach Jesus as one who can save us from the Fall. I was very grateful to hear such a sermon on Easter Sunday. To make his point about Jesus, Elder Holland insisted on the need to believe in a literal Adam and Eve who fell in the Garden of Eden so that Jesus could become, as Paul would have him, a second Adam who brings life after the first brought death. I’m not going to argue about whether we need to take the story of Adam and Eve literally or not (even though I don’t think we do); rather, I aim to show how Genesis offers a second perspective on the Fall, one in addition to the familiar story of Adam and Eve. [Read more…]

Waiting for the Prodigal: Nielson #LDSconf

prodigal

We heard two talks on Sunday morning that spoke in beneficial and direct ways about issues confronting many church members: faith and doubt. As I’ve pondered both talks, by Sister Wixom and by Elder Nielson, I keep circling back around to the tender place where my love for my brothers and sisters lives, and where my own journey has taken me, repeatedly…

Faith and doubt are not a binary system. [Read more…]

How We See the Preaching of Past Eras – Joseph Smith’s Sermons. A Thought.

I gave fair warning that I would dump semi-discarded bits from my attempts to write an introduction to the Sermon Book. Since we’ve just been through a lot of preaching over the past weekend, now seems a good time to continue the torture. I think this may be applicable to the individual sermons we heard over the weekend in several senses. You may judge.

The cultural gulf that separates current Mormonism from an understanding and appreciation of its past is deep, and just as in any faith tradition, fully bridging that chasm is impossible. In the end, we can only see the past through the lens of the present. However, this does not require us to be satisfied with unexamined expression, terminology and epistemology. To understand early Mormonism is a much wider problem than understanding Joseph Smith or his momentary expressions on a Sunday morning. It is to understand the larger picture of idea, reason, belief, and the cloud of concerns that attended a life nearly two centuries ago in America. On the other hand, few people understand themselves in such broad terms even at their most introspective (something that usually means dwelling on regrets, incomplete tasks, missed opportunities or other “what ifs”). The events and perceptions of a life are packed with the immediate pressures of the day and the intrusion of memories triggered by those events.
[Read more…]

Eight Hideously Bad Mormon Novels You Should Read Because Perfect Awfulness Is Its Own Kind of Good

SecretService-BradysAmongMormons-issue239-1903Aug21-cover-shows-hooded-mormons

2 Nephi 2:11 makes it clear. There must needs be a list of awful Mormon novels to balance the earlier list of great ones. God has spoken, and middling awfulness just won’t do. So I went in search of the worst novels in the English language ever to deal with Mormonism—paying special care to include all different kinds of awfulness because one just won’t do. [Read more…]

A Short Response to President Wixom: My Return to Faith

I know I’m not the only one for whom President Wixom’s talk resonated strongly, but let me add my testimony to the chorus. [Read more…]

Easter Evening: Changed Hearts, Spiritually Begotten

Felix Mendelssohn, Psalm 114 Op. 51, “Da Israel aus Ägypten Zog” (1839)[1]

* * *

The Resurrected Christ brought this universal message to the people described in The Book of Mormon:

9 Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.

10 Behold, I have given unto you the commandments; therefore keep my commandments. And this is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me.

[Read more…]

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations: E. Cook #ldsconf

The Vulcan IDIC symbol in Star Trek lore symbolizes the basic Vulcan philosophy:  infinite diversity in infinite combinations, referring to the vast array of variables in the universe.

Much ado has been made of E. Cook’s statement that the church has never been stronger and that there are not more resignations now than at other times, although he may only be referring to formal resignations.  Setting that point aside, the majority of his talk is about the importance of diversity in our congregations while recognizing the need for unity.  He talks about the inherent diversity in our wards and the value of that diversity. [Read more…]

Using Social Media to Come to Christ: José A. Teixeira at #LDSConf

Social media is one of the most transformative, most disruptive, and potentially destructive technologies facing us as modern humans (as are other technologies, like television, the internet, artificial intelligence, nuclear power, and Dippin Dots).

In his Sunday morning conference talk, José A. Teixeira of the First Quorum of the Seventy discussed the potential of social media to bring people to Christ (good), or to shut out the real world around us (bad).

Before we get to the good, let me testify of the bad. Social media has the power to include, but it is just as often a tool of exclusion, whether wittingly or unwittingly. FOMO (fear of missing out) is real–it’s that isolated feeling you get on Instagram, or Twitter , or Facebook, as you see people sharing photos of parties and playdates you weren’t invited to, or of concerts you didn’t attend, or vacations you couldn’t afford. It damages friendships, sparks jealousy, and can reinforce social cliques within our wards and stakes.

[Read more…]

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