Outsourcing theological problems to the pre- and post-mortal life

Part 1 of my series, “Intellectual disability in Mormon thought…”
See also parts 23, 4, 5, 6, 78, and 9.

The Plan of Salvation is one of Mormonism’s chief selling points. Douglas J. Davies argues that its power resides in the fact that it is presented as a sweeping narrative, and narrative “is of the essence of humanity.”1 According to Davies, shifting Mormon emphases on certain elements of the Plan are good indicators of Mormonism’s creative adaptation to changing historical circumstances. Mormon theology is influenced by the wider culture in which it participates, even as it influences believers. Such influence can be detected in the sort of theological questions Mormons confront, the language used to confront it, and the ways Mormons draw on LDS scripture and tradition to resolve theological problems.

One of the chief uses to which the Plan of Salvation has been put over the years is to confront the problem of suffering/evil/tragedy. In this post I’ll quickly discuss only two instances when the Plan has been used to account for difficulties in the Mormon experience. [Read more…]

“The Dawning of a Brighter Day,” a sacrament meeting talk on the Restoration

Originally delivered on 29 July 29 2012.

[the cosmos]

If you open that green hymnal resting in the back of the pews and turn to the first hymn you’ll find a song Parley P. Pratt published in England in 1840, ten years after the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

The morning breaks; the shadows flee;
Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled!
The dawning of a brighter day
Majestic rises on the world.

Parley wrote of the Restoration of the gospel. But his song calls to my mind a much older morning—the morning of God’s initial creation. Perhaps this ancient morning is the one physicists say happened about 13.75 billion years ago. Most refer to it as “the Big Bang,” but some have suggested it would be more appropriate to call it the “Flaring Forth.”1 According to Joseph Smith, you and I perhaps were there, perhaps angelic assistants in the creation of this world. A world as a place of progression for God’s family, a home for the family of God. This puts a different spin on Parley’s concluding verse: [Read more…]

Review: Stephen C. Taysom, “Dimensions of Faith: A Mormon Studies Reader”

Title: Dimensions of Faith: A Mormon Studies Reader
Author: Stephen C. Taysom
Publisher: Signature Books
Genre: Religious Studies
Year: 2011
Pages: 500
Binding: Softcover
ISBN13: 978-1-56085-212-4
Price: $28.95

Back when he was a doctoral student in religious studies, Stephen C. Taysom wished he had a collection of “fine scholarship” he could use to show professors and others “who expressed skepticism about the fitness of Mormonism as an object of serious academic study” what they were missing (vii). Now Taysom is a professor of religious studies at Cleveland State University. His reworked dissertation, Shakers, Mormons, and Religious Worlds: Conflicting Visions, Contested Boundaries, was published in 2011 by Indiana University Press. Enough has changed within the academy (and within Taysom’s own circles) over the past few years to turn his professors’ skepticism into inquiry: “I have received requests from colleagues for a selection of readings that might be used profitably in courses dealing with Mormonism,” Taysom reports in Dimensions of Faith: A Mormon Studies Reader (xi). The reader is a collection of fifteen essays analyzing Mormonism through literary, ritual, film, gender, folklore, and other studies. Taysom argues that the collection’s very existence bears witness that “Mormonism is a rich field of inquiry into which theories and methods of a vast array of disciplines are being widely and skillfully integrated” (viii). Rather than describing a few of the papers Taysom selected and giving them a thumbs up or down, I’d like to use the book as a way to examine a few key issues being debated—or not—in discussions of Mormon studies today. [Read more…]

Here a Smith, there a Smith, everywhere a Smith, Smith

“Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” by Richard W Linford

…Or, a few thoughts on a recent missionary experience
and the ritualistic invocation of Joseph Smith’s First Vision

When I was a missionary I knew I was surrounded by a million Joseph Smiths. Every day I’d anticipate meeting Joseph all around me–on the bus, at a front porch, on the street. When I found a Joseph I was sure all she or he would need is to hear me read James 1:5, hear me recite Joseph Smith’s words, “I saw a pillar of light…” and BLAM! the Holy Ghost would whack them in the heart with feelings of peace, love, joy, and the other fruits of the Spirit. I was even familiar with the folklore which told me that the adversary would certainly try to interrupt me just as I recited Joseph’s words–a phone ring, a visiting neighbor, a barking dog. If only these Joseph Smiths would just recognize that they were Joseph Smiths!

I had the chance to join my local elders the other day for their first appointment with a woman from Nigeria who was visiting a family on my street. The elders tenaciously stuck to their script, I recognized it from the last pair of elders I went along with. The woman we were teaching was very bright and inquisitive, but also cautious, a good combination, I think. At the outset she was chiefly interested in the Book of Mormon. What is this book? How does it compare to the Bible? What is it about?

The elders had other plans. [Read more…]

Reading Moses 1 as an invitation to greater ecological awareness

In June of 1830 Joseph Smith recorded a strange revelation proffering the beginnings of a stunning cosmology. Smith was working on a project he referred to as his “translation of Scriptures,” whereby he read through the biblical text and recorded suggested changes, adaptations, and additions to the text, some thought to be original to the ancient documents, others understood to be inspired expansions lost to time. Some Mormon scholars have compared Smith’s new scripture to “midrashic commentary, much like the targumin…and pesharim “attested amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls.”1 One of the longest of such additions audaciously serves as a sort of new preface to the Hebrew scripture, expanding upon on the traditional Genesis narrative, now part of the official Mormon canon of scripture (try to avoid the tendency to skip the verses even though you’ve read them before):

The words of God, which he spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain. And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence. And God spake unto Moses, saying:

“Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name…And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease….And now, behold, this one thing I show unto thee, Moses, my son, for thou art in the world…” [Read more…]

Review: Bringhurst and Foster, eds., “The Persistence of Polygamy”

Title: The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy
Editors: Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster
Publisher: John Whitmer Books
Genre: History
Year: 2010
Pages: 306
Binding: Softcover
ISBN13: 978-1-934901-13-7
Price: $24.95

We usually just want the unvarnished truth. Tell us the facts. Drop the spin. Lay it all out on the table. State your case objectively and we’ll decide to believe you or to reject your views. Give us some easy bullet points, a quick overview, a succinct argument, and the jury will return shortly with the verdict. The problem is that we all too often forget we’re all incapable of constructing, let alone judging between, contrasting claims about our past in an “objective” way. This is my non-comprehensive way of explaining our persistent interest in history, of course. “History speaks not only of the past but also of the present.”1

So it is with books about polygamy, one of the most debated subjects within the history of Mormonism. Not merely about Mormonism, but within it. [Read more…]

Review: Steven L. Peck, “The Quickend Chronicles: The Rifts of Rime”

Title: Quickend Chronicles: The Rifts of Rime
Author: Steven L. Peck
Publisher: Cedar Fort
Genre: Fantasy
Year: 2012
Pages: 263
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 978-1-59955-967-4
Price: $14.99

C.S. Lewis was underwhelmed by “namby-pamby” Christian children’s books. Such books, he felt, were “calculated to nauseate any child worth his salt” with weak symbolism and lame platitudes.1 He was both “grieved and amused” that few reviewers recognized the Christian overtones in his science fiction series Out of the Silent Planet, but he became confident that “any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under cover of romance without their knowing it.”2 If his Narnia series can be criticized today for its rather overt symbolism, it is perhaps as much due to our knowledge of Lewis as a Christian as it is with his series’s obvious symbolism. Despite his cover being blown, I think Narnia holds up today because of Lewis’s willingness to place his theological ideas within a fiercely imaginative world containing moral ambiguity, death, doubt, and redemption. And above all, despite sneaking Christian doctrine into fiction, Lewis insisted that the “first business of a story is to be a GOOD STORY.”3

Steven L. Peck’s new novel for young adults, The Rifts of Rime, succeeds in precisely Lewis’s prescribed way: it’s a “good story” first and foremost, even while weaving theological ideas from Mormonism into a tale of moral ambiguity, death, doubt, and the hope of redemption. [Read more…]

Review: N.T. Wright, “How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels”

TitleHow God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels
Author: N. T. Wright
Publisher: HarperOne
Genre: New Testament
Year: 2012
Pages: 282
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 978-0-06-173057-3
Price: $25.99

The crux of Anglican scholar N.T. Wright’s latest book, How God Became King, can be summed up quite easily, if quite dramatically: “most of Western Christianity has simply forgotten what the gospels are really about” (ix). According to a dominant Christian view today, God created the world and called Israel to be His people, and upon their failure he sent down Plan B, Jesus, to fix everything up and take us away to heaven (84). This is all wrong, Wright says, and reflects an over-emphasis of the early creeds on one hand and problematic Reformation additions or over-reliance on critical scholarship on the other, more than it reflects the stories or purposes of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John: [Read more…]

Critique the preface from Spencer’s new book, “An Other Testament”

As promised, here’s the preface to Joseph Spencer’s new book, An Other Testament. The book, which offers a fresh “typological” reading of the Book of Mormon, is available for free in .pdf form here, or in hardcover here[Read more…]

A sample from Spencer’s new book, “An Other Testament”

I believe Salt Press is at the cutting edge of Mormon scripture studies not merely because of the fresh ideas they spread and the methods of study they enact, but also because of the way the press itself actually operates. They follow an “open access publishing” model, which means all of their work is available for free online. But they also publish physical copies for folks like me who prefer to read away from the tyranny of digital pixels.

Over the past month I had the privilege of reading, reviewing, and recommending a few of their recent publications, including a new book about the Book of Mormon by Joseph Spencer called An Other Testament. Adam Miller, one of Salt Press’s managing editors, wrote the forward for Spencer’s book, which we offer for your consideration to give you a sense of what the book offers. Next week we’ll follow up by posting Spencer’s own preface. It’s an exciting book and I hope it generates some conversation.  [Read more…]

Review: John Dominic Crossan, “The Power of Parable: How Fiction By Jesus Became Fiction About Jesus”

Title: The Power of Parable: How Fiction By Jesus Became Fiction About Jesus
Author: John Dominic Crossan
Publisher: HarperOne
Genre: New Testament
Year: 2012
Pages: 259
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 978-0-06-187569-4
Price: $25.99

Jesus was so meta. In his famed parable of the Sower “the word” is compared to seed being cast onto the ground where it might grow or perish. And the word “parable” itself comes from the Greek—para (“with” or “alongside”) and ballein (“to put” or “to throw”). As popular biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan observes in his latest book: “Jesus was not trying to improve the agricultural yield of lower Galilee.” The activity of sowing is “cast alongside and compared with” the dissemination of the word; this is essentially a parable using parable as parable (10).

Crossan explores this manner of teaching in his provocatively-titled The Power of Parable: How Fiction By Jesus Became Fiction About Jesus. [Read more…]

Review: Paul C. Gutjahr, “The Book of Mormon: A Biography”

Title: The Book of Mormon: A Biography
Editor: Paul C. Gutjahr
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Genre: Religious Studies
Year: 2012
Pages: xix, 255
Binding: Cloth with jacket
ISBN13: 978-0-691-14480-1
Price: $24.95

The Book of Mormon, that curious text said to be dug from a hill in upstate New York and translated by the gift and power of God, has been reincarnated over its 180-plus year lifespan into an interesting variety of bodies: from its various print editions, to films in silent black-and-white and full color, as children’s editions and comic books, even inspiring an award-winning Broadway musical. It’s spawned paintings, cartoon show episodes, and action figures. Since its birth in 1830 the Book of Mormon has been argued over and analyzed in print—approaches ranging from polemical to academic and any mix of the two. Most significantly, it has served as a key religious devotional text within the still-growing branches of Mormonism, the most prominent being the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has shepherded the text through translation into 109 world languages from Afrikaans to Zulu, with more on the way.1 All of this and other interesting elements of its impressive life are explored in Paul C. Gutjahr’s The Book of Mormon: A Biography, part of Princeton University Press’s impressive new “Lives of Great Religious Books” series—handsome little clothbound volumes short enough to get through in one or two sittings. [Read more…]

Review: Joseph M. Spencer, “An Other Testament: On Typology”

Title: An Other Testament: On Typology
Author: Joseph M. Spencer
Publisher: Salt Press
Genre: Scriptural Exegesis
Year: 2012
Pages: 193
Binding: Cloth (or .pdf)
ISBN13: 978-0-9839636-2-2
Price: $18.95 (or free, but the clothbound volume really is quite handsome! And if that ain’t the coolest looking cover I’ve seen in a while…)

What’s that you say, Joseph M. Spencer, graduate student of philosophy at UNM? You’re just out offering a radical new textually-based interpretation of the entire Book of Mormon in your spare time, hmm? Radical and new. Sounds like a nice little project you got there, yes. Wait, what?! [Read more…]

Teaching Chapter 10, “The Scriptures, the Most Valuable Library in the World”

George Albert Smith repeatedly referred to the scriptures as “the greatest library in the world” (TPC:GAS, chapter 10). During his October 1917 conference address he stood before the congregation and read the entire first section of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Read: D&C 1:37-39.

“Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record, and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever. Amen” (TPC:GAS, 106).

This was actually not an easy task for President Smith. His reading an entire section is particularly significant considering what “The Life and Ministry of George Albert Smith” chapter describes regarding his health: [Read more…]

Review: Joanna Brooks, “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith”

Title: The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith
Author: Joanna Brooks
Publisher: Self published (but not for long…)
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2012
Pages: 204
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 9780615593449
Price: $11.99

Rumor has it Joanna Brooks’s self-published memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl has been picked up by Free Press/Simon & Schuster for national publication this August with an expanded chapter-and-a-half. We’ve seen a lot of chatter about her book online recently, so I thought I’d venture a review. I hope you’ll excuse my decision to kick things off with an observation based on personal experience. (The Book of Mormon Girl is, after all, a personal memoir!) My own undergraduate years were spent writing and editing articles for a variety of small Utah newspapers. I remember how daunting it felt to be assigned an article on a subject I knew next-to-nothing about, like computer animation, mechanical engineering, or say, feminism. Oh, how comforting to a journalist is that friendly, articulate insider willing to endure the inane questions of—and likely later misrepresentation by—the stammering cub reporter! [Read more…]

Review: Salt Press, “Experimenting on the Word” and “Reading Nephi Reading Isaiah”

Adam S. Miller, ed., An Experiment on the Word: Reading Alma 32 (Salem: Salt Press, 2011) ISBN: 978-0-9839636-0-8; Paperback; $12.95; 99 pages, and Joseph M. Spencer and Jenny Webb, eds., Reading Nephi Reading Isaiah: Reading 2 Nephi 26-27 (Salem: Salt Press, 2011) ISBN: 978-0-9839636-1-5; Paperback; $12.95; 158 pages.

At one time, Ts’ui Pen must have said; ‘I am going into seclusion to write a book,’ and at another, ‘I am retiring to construct a maze.’ Everyone assumed these were separate activities. No one realized that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same.…[And] I kept asking myself how a book could be infinite.” –Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (New York: Grove Press, 1962), 96-7.

The Book of Mormon is a curiously self-referential book. Perhaps its greatest conceit is the fact that it just can’t quit talking about itself. OK, books don’t talk, but the scribes who kept the original records from which the BoM was constructed seem unable to avoid writing about their project in their project. How many books have you read that focus so intently on their own production? So here we have a book that contains scattered pieces of its own interpretive instruction manual—a manual which has largely been overlooked in the hundred-and-eighty-plus years since its original publication. [The cheerful reader asks, “Overlooked?”]

Yes. [Read more…]

Tips for Teachers: “Outsourcing”


From my ongoing “tips for teachers” series especially for Sunday School, RS and PH instructors. See here, here, here, here, here

The teacher-to-student talk ratio is tough to navigate. The manual repeatedly reminds teachers that if they are taking up most of the time they’re doing it wrong. Chapter 6’sTeaching help” says carefully listening to questions and comments is an “expression of love.” Chapter 9’sTeaching help” says teachers ought to refrain from being the “star of the show” by putting the pupil “into action.” Chapter 16 says skilled teachers ask themselves “What will my students do in class today” rather than “What shall I do in class today.” And I’m particularly fond of Pres. Packer’s quote, the “Teaching help,” in chapter 2:

“Quite a bit of teaching that is done in the Church is done so rigidly, it’s lecture. We don’t respond to lectures too well in classrooms….teaching can be two-way so that you can ask questions. You can sponsor questions easily in a class.” [Read more…]

A Response to Matt Bowman on Beards and Correlation (p.3 of 3)

This 3-part series is a response to Matthew Bowman’s excellent Slate article, “Saturday’s Warriors: How Mormons went from beard-wearing radicals to clean-cut conformists.” I’m going over my three quibbles/expanded analyses: First, the article paints a flatter evolutionary model of LDS history than I believe Bowman himself advances in his book. Second, as a result, Bowman glosses over some important distinctions between Mormon pop-culture and correlated materials. Finally, Bowman also might have drawn attention to how the shifts he describes directly relates to the present discussions of “official doctrine.” Expansion #3:

III. (Un)Official

So there’s been plenty of chatter lately about what does and doesn’t count as “official Church doctrine.” The LDS Newsroom has published statements on the subject–one perhaps a response to Romney’s last campaign effort, the other a response to Bott-gate–and a member of the Quorum of the 12 addressed the issue explicitly in Conference. There are various motives for advancing this distinction, but here I’d like to make one quick comparison which, like Bowman’s column, can be mercilessly nit-picked due to its terseness. [Read more…]

A Response to Matt Bowman on Beards and Correlation (p.2 of 3)

This 3-part series is a response to Matthew Bowman’s excellent Slate article, “Saturday’s Warriors: How Mormons went from beard-wearing radicals to clean-cut conformists.”

I’m going over my three quibbles: First, the article paints a flatter evolutionary model of LDS history than I believe Bowman himself advances in his book. Second, as a result, Bowman glosses over some important distinctions between Mormon pop-culture and correlated materials. Finally, Bowman also might have drawn attention to how the shifts he describes directly relates to the present discussions of “official doctrine.” Nitpick #2:

II. Glossing Correlation and Broader Mormon Culture [Read more…]

A Response to Bowman on Beards and Correlation (p.1 of 3)

A few weeks ago a friend posted an article on Mormonism written by a former member of the Church which, for the most part, did a fine job of describing Mormonism for outsiders. After I “Like”‘d the link and responded with some clarifications another guy replied “BHodges would quibble with the angel Moroni himself.” Well, if not the Angel Moroni, I’m quibbling here with one of the most notable academic angels of present Mormon Studies, Matthew Bowman. I recently did a podcast with Bowman, author of a great new book from Random House called The Mormon People, which I pitch to you now.

The prolific Bowman has yet another article out this week in Slate called “Saturday’s Warriors: How Mormons went from beard-wearing radicals to clean-cut conformists.” It’s another specimen of Bowman’s typically fun, frank, and insightful analysis. But I think the piece requires a bit of quibbling, as such popular columns always do, and I’m feeling a bit audacious today, so here goes nothing. [Read more…]

Updating the RS/PH Manual Mid-Year?

Last night I noticed a change on lds.org. I’m not sure when it happened, but a new page has been added called “Common Questions for Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, 2012.” (Notice the site dates the GAS manual itself as 2010, so this is evidently quite new.) Only one link appears in the list, pointing to chapter 6, “Sustaining Those Whom the Lord Sustains.” The new info has its own page, but also appears in the sidebar of the lesson itself under a section called “Applying the Lesson to Our Time”: [Read more…]

Tips for Teachers: “Confronting Manual Balrogs”

You, brave teacher, are like unto Gandalf the Grey, Mithrandir, gatekeeper of the manual. Suddenly, just as you and your Hobbits are enjoying the recitation of a quality quote, a Balrog rears its head.  The most recent manual has a fair number of one particular Balrog I’ve come to fear on my journey to Mount Doom: “The World.”

Yes, that mystical and mythical entity we’ve heard much about but never seen. “The World” is everything we’re not. When we say “potato,” the world says “deadly napalm sandwich with a side of war on religion.” In chapter one alone I encountered five references to “The World,” about one every other page (TPC:GAS, 3, 5, 6, 7). What to do?


[Read more…]

Teaching Lesson 7, “The Immortality of the Soul”

In this post I highlight a few excerpts from chapter seven of the George Albert Smith manual and offer some suggestions for class discussion.

1) Eternal Life in the Present

The introduction to this lesson proposes an interesting, if not unique, conceptual shift for the term “eternity”:

He frequently reminded the Saints that “we are living eternal lives”—that eternity doesn’t begin after this life but that mortality is a crucial part of eternity (67). [Read more…]

Bulgakov’s “Pontius Pilate”

The Pilate Stone (apx. 26–37 CE) is the only universally accepted archaeological find with an inscription mentioning the name "Pontius Pilatus" to date.

If you’re looking for a way to spice up your Easter festivities with some unusual literature, this post is for you. Historical fiction isn’t my cup of tea, with very few exceptions, such as Mikhail Bulgakov’s Pontius Pilate, a novel-within-a-novel which recounts the trial and execution of Yeshua Ha-Nozri under the direction of the famous Roman procurator. Pontius Pilate is supposed to be the magnum opus of a Russian author who becomes bitter when the Russian literati reject it, leading him to burn the manuscript and move into an insane asylum. Chapters from the story are scattered within Bulgakov’s stunning work of Russian magical realism, The Master and Margarita.

Pontius Pilate plays on the idea that the gospels as we have them today are unreliable, but are nevertheless based on actual historical circumstances obscured over time. The story begins on Good Friday as a prisoner is brought before Pilate, the Roman procurator, after being accused of inciting the people to destroy the temple and teaching that the rule of Caesar would come to an end. As in the New Testament account, the Sanhedrin has sentenced him to death and the procurator must sign off.  [Read more…]

Sealing slaves to masters, and other proxy problems

After the recent “Bottgate” hullabaloo and opposition to proxy baptisms of Shoah victims, we might have expected a bit of a break. But a new Slate column has again called our attention to skeletons in our communal closet. The column’s author, Max Mueller, is a Ph.D. candidate in religious history at Harvard University and specialist in early Mormon history and race relations. (See my recent podcast interview with him on blacks and the priesthood here.) He writes about the discovery that Thomas Jefferson’s slave Sally Hemings has been sealed by proxy to him. He relates several other troubling historical examples of proxy sealing in a balanced, informative, and sensitive approach that deserves our careful attention. I look forward to other forthcoming responses from those who are more familiar than I am with all of the historical nuances. In this post I’d like to call attention to two specific theological tools Mormons might use to help mitigate these problems. [Read more…]

Muslims, Christians, and shifting from scientific to cultural arguments regarding evolution

Nadia Yassine is a Muslim intellectual/activist from Morocco. She doesn’t embody the sort of “above the fray” intellectual, detached from untidy personal connections and political motives. Instead, her combination of roles reflects a recent trend in Islamic thought aiming to rehabilitate a religious tradition through local and international activism. In the US we’re more likely to hear about “radical” Muslims who might train with al-Qaeda than about people like Yassine. Such folks make for better newscopy than intellectuals, after all. But she offers much food for thought in her book Full Sails Ahead by taking aim at the West, and critiquing elements of Islamic culture, modernization, and globalization. In a disenchanted modern/post-modern world she hopes Islam can provide a moral compass to guide humanity’s great ship, the sail of which is represented by hijab, or the veil worn by many Muslim women. She’s an eminently snappy author, and while the book is a translation from her French original, I don’t believe much of her sarcasm, wit, puns, or jokes were lost in translation. Is this a common French intellectual style? It felt very Nietzschean to me. Fun, thought-provoking, and aggravating by turns.

What I find particularly interesting for discussion here is the similar way she shifts discussion of Darwin away from scientific claims toward cultural assertions–a move also made by certain Young Earth Creationist Christians in the US. Mormons aren’t the only ones who’ve sadly outsourced views on evolution to fundamentalist Christians. [Read more…]

Teaching Lesson 6, “Sustaining Those Whom the Lord Sustains” p.2

See part 1 here.

In this post I’ll highlight a few excerpts from chapter six, “Sustaining Those Whom the Lord Sustains,”  and offer some suggested questions for discussion. As the manual’s introduction suggests, “You could also develop your own questions especially for those you are teaching” (vi). There’s plenty here and more to fill up the time. If your class is anything like mine much of the discussion will actually come from the seats in answers to good questions.

I’m interested to hear your feedback on how this lesson is structured and on the content itself. You’ll notice most of the questions lead into the next quote or talking point but I tried to keep the overall structure flexible enough to allow for skipping around if class members bring up points from later in the lesson. How did your teachers share this lesson? Also feel free to suggest your own favorite scriptures/anecdotes/quotes for use in this lesson.  [Read more…]

Teaching Lesson 6, “Sustaining Those Whom the Lord Sustains” p.1

Here’s a post to ponder while preparing for the upcoming RS/PH lesson, Chapter 6: “Sustaining Those Whom the Lord Sustains,” whether ye be a teacher at the front of the class or a teacher from the seats.

I noticed an interesting trend while preparing for this lesson. Seventeen of the twenty-one quotes in the chapter predate George Albert Smith’s serving in the office of President of the Church. Following the manual’s selection, quotes given from before he was president tend to emphasize the importance of sustaining the President of the Church whereas quotes after his sustaining tend to focus on his own weaknesses and desire to serve.

Quotes while serving as President:

Two of the four quotes related after he was sustained as president in 1945 refer directly to the office of President, and they are excerpts from his first General Conference addresses as President. His emphasis is on his own weakness and his need for sustaining from the membership.1

“I thank you for the confidence that has been manifested…in hoping that I may succeed, and promising as some of you have, that you will help me to succeed, because I am only a man, one of the humblest among you…I will need the help of every man and every woman and every child, not for my blessing, but for your blessing, and for the blessing of the children of men wherever they may be. That is not my responsibility, that is our responsibility” (TPC:GAS, 57, italics in the manual, not noted whether in original).

[Read more…]

What has the “Joseph Smith Papers Project” to do with Islam?

Or, “an ode to invested Latter-day Saint history”*

Yesterday, various bloggers and writers were invited to a meeting
with the editors of the most recent volume of the Joseph Smith Papers
Project to discuss the new “Histories” volume. This post is partially
a reflection on that event, and you can expect other blog posts and reviews to come.

In a revelation dictated on the day of his church’s founding, Smith reported God’s command: “there shall be a record kept among you.”1 And so it was; with various fits and starts the early Saints strove to fulfill what they took to be a divine mandate. Mormon history, from the very beginning, was invested. It was Mormon history. Much of our earliest material was recorded under the dictation, direction or influence of Joseph Smith. It doesn’t take a genius or a meticulous historian to recognize that such records will carry deeply impressed fingerprints of the personalities, prejudices, and perspectives of those doing the recording. And such records are invested.

You might sense a problem with this. We want people to simply tell it like it is, enough cheerleading, tell the truth, lay everything bare. However, I’m suggesting that those who complain loudest about the obviously-partisan nature of official accounts might find it more fruitful to deeply consider the initial impulses behind the records Mormons kept. Why did they record this and not that? What are they focusing on, and what seems to escape their gaze altogether? Invested history won’t often provide distanced, dry, meticulous, disconnected accounts though the stuff from which it is crafted might very well seem less-than-exciting. I’m asking you instead to conceive of our earliest historical accounts with close attention to their context. Such accounts include personal witnesses of spiritual experiences (visions of the heavens, visitations from heavenly beings), shot through with political, economic, and social concerns. Words like “bias” and “objectivity” should give way to words like “perspective” and “values.”

Perhaps this is the grand secret of understanding Mormon history! [Read more…]

Review: Justin L. Barrett, “Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Beliefs”

Title: Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Beliefs
Author: Justin L. Barrett
Publisher: Free Press
Genre: Religion/Science
Year: 2012
Pages: 336
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 9781439196540
Price: $26.00

Belief in God is childish. So reports Justin L. Barrett, an Oxford University professor who studies the cognitive science of religion, in his new book Born Believers. [Read more…]


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