Philosophy of Religion: Perfect Being Theology

This is the first in a series of posts on the philosophy of religion. For an introduction to the series, see here: 



Thomas Morris, “The Concept of God,” a chapter from his book, Our Idea of God[1]

From pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Xenophanes to psycho-analyst and philosopher Sigmund Freud, many have thought through the ages that we create God or the gods in our own images. Religious believers, of course, prefer to think that any knowledge of God’s nature comes from divine revelation coupled with reason. Nevertheless, for the believer there is always the danger that we present God too much in our own likeness, according to our own concerns and ways of seeing the world. [Read more…]

Introducing Philosophy of Religion

I teach a course on an Introduction to Philosophy of Religion. For that course, our main text is Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, edited by Louis Pojman and Michael Rea. As a primer, it’s an excellent introduction to the subject, with over 70 foundational and contemporary articles on various aspects of philosophy of religion. I’ve decided to post about the various articles in this volume, as well as provide some thoughts on how these themes might interact with Mormon theology (usually one post per article; we’ll see how far I get). [Read more…]

Wandering In His Traces

“The god appears, then is gone; and the abandoned soul must spend years wandering in his traces.”

–Stephen Mitchell, Foreword to Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies


This is what it is like to be unable to disbelieve, to be unable to hide from God even (especially) in the midst of the suffering fire or the endless depths. No different, really, than being unable to escape the traces of the lover or the eternal friend who has departed but left behind remnants and fragments that never fully disappear, but continue to mark out the contours of your world. We are left to reckon with and breathe in the traces of an absent presence. Lovers, friends, God–they have begun the song or the poem, but we are left to finish it. In the traces we begin to understand how we can come to see the faces of the lover, the friend, the very face of God in the faces of others. But also–only in this sense can howling and mourning become a terrible poetry.

How to Silence a(n LDS) Woman: You’re Doing It Wrong

Wear Pants to Church Day has come and gone. Many women did wear pants to church (most significantly, this includes women who would not have done so if not for the Pants movement) and many women did not, including otherwise supportive women. Many men wore purple ties in solidarity. By all accounts, Sunday appears to have come and gone without word of  trousered women disrupting the taking of the sacrament or calling undue attention to themselves. Their quiet and dignified comportment was no surprise, not even, I think, to detractors. In fact, looking back to Sunday, many might now dismiss it as much ado about nothing after all. But there is a significance, I think, underlying this whole phenomenon, which I know has already been discussed and debated and gnashed on ad nauseum, but a significance  that has been more or less overlooked. It’s not my intent here to provide an overview or some kind of a philosophical sum-up of the import of what occurred. You can find much more eloquent and incisive essays of that type than I could ever write all over the Bloggernacle. Here, if you have room for one more, I just want to analyze what I see as some curious parallels between the massively vitriolic response to the Pants movement (particularly on Facebook) and the experiences of the woman in the above video, Anita Sarkeesian.

[Read more…]

All Eternity Shakes: Mormonism’s Weeping God

Originally, I had set out to do a series of posts on Terryl and Fiona Givens’ The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, one post for every chapter of the book. Equal parts narcissism and unfounded optimism informed me that this was a good idea, but in the end the extremities of my work and other issues prevented me from doing this.

Instead, I had intended to do one more post addressing the depiction of God in the book. I may one day write that post. But today, there was a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. An elementary school. Children died, almost 20 of them, from what I can gather from conflicting reports. Several adults as well, likely their teachers. By the time you read this, we’ll probably know the number. We’ll eventually know the names of the victims, and the identity of the shooter. [Read more…]

Women Wearing Pants At Church BINGO

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Recently there’s been quite a hullabaloo over women wearing pants to church, sparked initially by a Mormon feminist movement pegging this upcoming Sunday as “Wear Your Pants to Church Day.” This has in turned prompted a (cough) counter-protest movement on Facebook, Mormons Against Women Wearing Pants to Church, a well-organized grassroots campaign mobilized to stop the madness. In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions we offer this informative yet entertaining game to play with your crazy pants-wearing feminist, as well as your down-to-earth, covenant-keeping friends.

I should note that nearly all of the squares were culled from actual conversations we’ve observed in response to these events.

Have fun!

Shunning Your Fellow Saints: You’re Doing it Wrong.

So a new family has just moved into the ward. They’re a little different. Okay, really, they’re quite a bit different, don’t you think? She seems more than a bit socially awkward, and his comments in Sunday School that first Sunday were way off-script. And their kids–talk about unruly, and you should know because your own have been pretty out of control at times. But nothing compared to this. It was like a realistic re-enactment of the Arab Spring in sacrament meeting last Sunday. “Look, in this ward, we kind of want to keep the Spirit here. Take your kid out for Pete’s sake.” [Read more…]

Creation Out of Givenness

So often we get caught up in the illusion that there is something just beyond our reach that would bring us happiness, a better family situation, a better financial situation, or the end of a challenging trial. The older we get, the more we look back and realize that external circumstances don’t really matter or determine our happiness. We do matter. We determine our happiness. You and I are ultimately in charge of our own happiness.

–President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Of Regrets and Resolutions,” General Conference, 2012. [Read more…]

Mormon Thought and Hindu Thought

I teach philosophy and philosophy of religion at BYU. Since I often use anthologies of philosophy of religion in my classes, I occasionally send away for forthcoming or very recent anthologies by various publishers. The latest of these is The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion, 2nd Edition. Unlike other philosophy of religion anthologies, this one has a section on the philosophical thought of various world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, African religions, Chinese religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam. These aren’t just overviews of these religions but comparative engagements with these religions and philosophical (western) thought.  [Read more…]

Acts of Mourning

Following the devastating destruction of his livelihood and the deaths of his children, Job tears his robe and shaves his head. Falling on the ground, he worshipfully insists that what was the Lord’s always to give must by that same token be the Lord’s to take away. Soon, he is afflicted with painful sores all over his body. Now, he collapses in a pile of ashes, heavy with lamentation and grief. [Read more…]

Living in the Shadow of the Apocalypse

In James Faulconer’s “Re-thinking Theology: The Shadow of the Apocalypse,”[1] the Apocalypse is already here. Or rather, the revelation of God’s kingdom, which constitutes the Apocalypse scripturally (rather, than, say, physically or cosmologically) is alive and present. [Read more…]

Whatever Happened to Steve Evans?

I’ve been a member of the BCC community for only about a year, but unfortunately for me, unlike the majority of my fellow bloggers here, most of that time has not included the heretofore ubiquitous, all-encompassing presence of Steve Evans.

[Read more…]

Review of “The God Who Weeps,” Part 1: The Longing Soul

The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, Introduction, pp. 1-7. 


However much we study and investigate and explore and sing and paint and write the world, the world always transcends us, escapes us, overwhelms us. No one person, group, or institution can tell the whole story or encapsulate the entire human landscape. This is, in part, because of the infinitely complex creatures we are as human beings; where we seek clarity about the world and feel comfort in the ordinariness we experience, borne out of long familiarity with the microcosmic slivers of it that we call home, this eventually gives way to awe in the face of its vast mystery and wonder. But this, in turn, is short-lived and we are hungry again for clarity and the intimacy of the familiar. Never fully content with what we have received, our souls are in a constant state of longing. [Read more…]

A Roundabout Response to Rosalynde Welch’s “Shame, Stigma, and Social Engineering”

It would seem that in most religious communities governed by Christian social and religious norms there is a tension between what might be called “natural law” or “eternal principles” and the Judeo-Christian injunction to love God and neighbor. In other words, there is a general understanding that there are certain laws or principles that universally govern these communities (chastity, health codes, rules of conduct, etc). [Read more…]

A Review of the “The God Who Weeps”: Introduction

On February 16, 2012 Terryl Givens, University of Richmond professor of literature and well-known expositor of Mormon thought, published a short piece in Sightings, the blog of the Martin Marty Center For the Advanced Study of Religion, entitled, “Romney, Mormonism, and the American Compromise.” Ostensibly a response to the the furor surrounding the practice of baptism for the dead at the beginning of the year, the piece was perhaps more importantly the first portent of Givens’ new project (with his wife Fiona Givens) of overt engagement in constructive (Mormon) theology. This passage from that article in particular is significant in this regard: [Read more…]

Fiona and Terryl Givens at Deseret Book

This Friday, October 19th, from 11:30 to 1:30, Fiona and Terryl Givens will be at Deseret Book’s flagship store in downtown Salt Lake City to discuss their recently released book The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life

See this link for more details.

Consider the Theologian: A Periphrastic Response to Adam Miller’s “Rube Goldberg Machines”


adjective /ˌperəˈfrastik/

  1. (of speech or writing) Indirect and circumlocutory
    • – the periphrastic nature of legal syntax
  2. (of a case or tense) Formed by a combination of words rather than by inflection (such as did go and of the people rather than went and the people’s)

The following is a paper I wrote for the 9th Annual Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology conference, held over the weekend in Logan, Utah. I was ultimately unable to attend and our own Blair Hodges graciously agreed to lend his sonorous voice to present it for me.

The paper was part of a panel dedicated to Adam Miller’s recent Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon TheologyRosalynde Welch, George Handley and Joseph Spencer also presented papers addressing various aspects of Adam’s groundbreaking book (unfortunately, since I wasn’t in attendance I can’t comment on these, though I understand they were superb; hopefully they make their papers available as well).  [Read more…]

Beauty and Unbearableness in Charlotte’s Web

I recently purchased Charlotte’s Web for one of my daughters. Her school teacher has been recounting various episodes from the book and she wants to read the book for herself now (God bless enthusiastic and inspiring teachers). I read it myself when I was a child, though like many of us of a slightly younger generation (I suspect) I have more vivid memories of the 1973 film version. 

The particular book I purchased is the 60th anniversary edition, and it contains a foreword written by Kate DiCamillo [1]. It’s a brief, beautiful, and poignant meditation not only on the text itself, but also  on the complex unbearableness and joy of the world we live in. I wanted to share this excerpt in particular: [Read more…]

A Historical Note on “Unorthodox Mormonism”

In a shamelessly obvious attempt to become a perma blogger at BCC, juvenile instructor Ben Park has written the following guest post. Have a heart and give him a read. 

There has been a lot of discussion about the label “Unorthodox Mormon” recently—what it means, how long this idea has been around, and what their role (if any) a “Cultural Mormon” would/should have within the LDS tradition. Most discussions seem to assume a few points concerning the concept: it entails a member of the Mormon Church who does not believe in all “mainstream” beliefs or follows every dictate from the Brethren, it is a recent phenomenon attached to Mormonism’s transition into modernity, and that individuals who fall within its parameters are forced to the margins of Mormon culture. This is an especially salient topic in online discussion, as discussion groups, podcast communities, and even several books in recent years have coalesced around supposedly “unorthodox” Mormonism. [Read more…]

From the Unfamiliar to the Impossible: Some Thoughts about Children and Grace

As a child grows up, she leaves the world of the familiar and unfamiliar and enters the world of the possible and the impossible.

I remember watching a children’s program on television when I was a child. I vividly recall a scene with a door inside a doorframe, standing alone as if supported on each side by an invisible wall, in the middle of a mountain pass. A man opened the door and you could see inside to a large carpeted room populated with furniture, a fireplace, and several other items (think something like the Wardrobe in the Chronicles of Narnia). The man pulled back from the doorframe to look on the other side of the door–nothing, just the door. He shook his head in amazement and entered the room. [Read more…]

Liveblogging Joanna Brooks on the Daily Show

[Read more…]

A New Nibley: An(Other) Approach to the Book of Mormon

In 1957 Hugh Nibley’s An Approach to the Book of Mormon appeared on the scene, the Melchizedek Priesthood manual for that year (cue the sighs of bittersweet longing for the manuals of yesteryear). In retrospect the book was an earthquake, shattering the intellectual and religious landscapes on which the Book of Mormon had been erected and creating new vistas and pinnacles from which to see and receive the book anew. It inarguably helped to shape the entire Mormon academic enterprise, a catalyst in spawning an industry of textual Mormon comparative/historical scholarship. The book signaled the beginning of a new era of academic inquiry and interest in Mormon scripture–one that is still largely with us–and scholarly investigations of Mormon texts will always be indebted to it. [Read more…]

Mormonism at the Crossroads of Philosophy and Theology: Essays in Honor of David L. Paulsen

Claremont’s Sacred Grove

[See here for detailed information about this volume as well as some early reviews]

In early 2007 I was in my second semester of a Master’s program in Religion at Claremont School of Theology (now part of a multi-religious consortium, Claremont Lincoln University). By now I had become acquainted with several other LDS graduate students who had made the unusual decision to professionally study and teach religion. We had varying interests: New Testament, Hebrew Bible, Ethics, American religious history, Philosophy of Religion, Theology. Some of us attended the School of Theology and others attended the School of Religion at Claremont Graduate University down the street (where I would eventually pursue a doctorate degree myself). Naturally, however, our shared faith brought us together as friends and colleagues, and we began meeting socially every week in what would come to be known among us as the “Sacred Grove”, in the shadow of the Kresge Chapel on campus. Some of the best and most honest discussions about faith, religion, doubt, family, scholarship, politics, and ethics I have ever had or, frankly, ever hope to have again, were held in Claremont’s Sacred Grove (sacred, indeed). [Read more…]

Apologetics. Part III.

Part II here.

What can Mormons take away from Kierkegaard and Marion? I have been suggesting that Marion (a Catholic theologian) and Kierkegaard (a Protestant philosopher) are two distinct though not totally opposed poles within which to imaginatively consider the situation in which Mormon thought and apologetics operates. These are not one-to-one correspondences of course, and I hope the differences between Mormonism and Marion and Kierkegaard are obvious. In fact, Mormonism itself could charitably criticize both thinkers on various points. I want to suggest however, that there are some interesting readings of Mormonism that Marion and Kierkegaard might productively contribute to. [Read more…]

They Lay Down Beside Her and Wept

A handful of years ago her 17 month old baby boy died. She had several other children, the oldest of whom was only nine. Her Relief Society sisters did not deliberate long. Three of them simply showed up with faces full of concern and began to clean. Sitting on the stairs, she watched them, not really comprehending why they were there. She hadn’t processed it yet, what she had just been through, what had just occurred. All of a sudden it hit her like a wave, all of it at once, and she fled upstairs to her room, collapsing on her bed in uncontrollable sobs of despair. It wasn’t long before all the cleaning tools were found abandoned. The women had made their way upstairs and all lay down on the bed beside her, silently weeping with her and holding her close.

A woman in my ward related this story today. Her story of personal salvation. The body of Christ, in all its beauty, majesty, and glory.

Apologetics. Part II.

First Part here.

In many ways Kierkegaard and Jean-Luc Marion couldn’t be more different. Kierkegaard, the protestant’s Protestant (19th century no less) and Marion, the Catholic theologian par excellence, and who rarely makes any sort of reference to Kierkegaard whatever in his voluminous writings. However, on some topics their thought converges from different locations (one of these is the concept of love, a main theme in both Kiekegaard and Marion). Apologetics is another. Mormonism, while we cannot accurately characterize it as either strictly Protestant or Catholic, is in some ways an amalgamation of both, with its established magisterium (the priesthood hierarchy) and its Resortationist/Protesant roots and structures. (It is also, of course, much more than than a reduction of American Christianity alone). And while Kierkegaard leans closer to the descriptive in his writings and Marion to the prescriptive, there is, I’m arguing here, significant value in understanding how they as well as others have conceived the relationship of philosophy, theology, and apologetics within a Church. I began with Kierkegaard, here I’ll outline Marion’s approach, and in the third and final installment I’ll make some tentative suggestions as to how they apply to specifically Mormon paradigms. [Read more…]

On Loving Both FARMS and the Maxwell Institute

By Joseph Spencer

Few, if any, of the voices assessing the stakes of the “shake-up” at the Maxwell Institute (MI) issue from individuals with a vested interest in promoting serious academic study of Mormon scripture. I find this a bit baffling. The only reason to care about what’s happened at the Mormon Studies Review—except for those seriously committed to a certain style of apologetics—is because the MI, as the heir of FARMS, is ostensibly the only place in the academic study of Mormonism that at least claims to give priority to scripture. The “new direction” of the MI, if there is such a thing (and I’m skeptical), is neither to move in a secular direction (apologetics is already, by its very nature, emphatically secular) nor to cast its lot with Mormon history (the sort of apologetics that are being curtailed are, remember, those focused more on history and culture than on scripture). What’s the future of the MI? Scripture, at last. [Read more…]

Apologetics. Part I.

Over the last few days there has been a shakeup in the Mormon scholarly community. See here here here and several here for the details, of which I am uninterested in discussing in this post. (Maybe in some future post). I have since heard these current events likened to Trekkies arguing over Klingon verb conjugation–the reaction by some has been so intense because the stakes are so low. It actually wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that less than 1% of all Mormons even know of the existence of the Maxwell Institute, FARMS, and FAIR, and that even less than that have any genuine interest in any of them. However, I think it’s inaccurate to say that the stakes are abysmally low or astronomically high, largely because I think we often (all of us) misunderstand the potential purpose and place of religious apologetics. [Read more…]

Golden Tablets, Butch Cassidy, Mormon Women’s Sex Lives: Mormonism in/by the Academy

At Thomas C. Terry, an associate professor of Mass Communication at Idaho State University has written a column decrying the treatment of Mormons in the academy, or more specifically academics’ negative views about the Mormon faith. This is, of course, an interesting and valuable subject for discussion and Terry’s overall treatment of the subject matter here is positive and in defense of Mormons. But I was particularly interested in his display of his own knowledge of Mormonism and Mormons. A few highlights that amused me:

“Yes, Mormons do not embrace the cross as a symbol of Christianity, but it is because they consider it representing state-sanctioned execution and intense suffering.”

“Mormons are excoriated in popular culture (see: “The Simpsons”) for the way their church was created by someone who was kind of a con man. And the translation of the Book of Mormon was accomplished with a hat. And the Golden Tablets have been lost.”

“Mormon women are more likely to be employed in professional occupations than Catholic or Protestant women (similar to Jewish women) and more likely to graduate from college than Catholic or Protestant women (but less than Jewish women). One survey indicated Mormon women experience more orgasms and are more satisfied with their married lives than non-Mormons.”

“Glenn Beck is a Mormon, but so is Harry Reid. Other famous Mormons are or were: Harmon Killebrew, Jack Dempsey, J. W. Marriott, Gladys Knight, the Osmonds, Butch Cassidy, and Eldridge Cleaver. What does that tell you about Mormonism? Absolutely nothing.”

“At about 13 million members, Mormons are a pretty large cult. So what is so bad about this “cult?” And a cult growing at almost exactly the same rate, decade by decade, as the original Christian church in the 1st and 2nd centuries. It makes no sense, but then bigotry doesn’t. Who wouldn’t want to be on those lists? Seems like good things to be, even if you can’t drink coffee and beer, wear more than one earring per ear, grow a beard (frowned upon only if you want to move up the church hierarchy), and show lots of cleavage. You can have as much hot chocolate and ice cream as you want, though, and I have embraced this provision enthusiastically.”


Deaths and (Re)births Part 5: The Ascent

Part 5 of 5. 

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

 Deaths and (Re)births Part 5: The Ascent

In the end, time–which had colluded with the physical world in our slow march toward death–also eventually served as an invaluable ally, and we slowly and gradually climbed out of the deep hole into which we had been buried. No dramatic rescue, no earth-shattering event on an epic scale. A series of small, grace-filled events helped keep us afloat. We were blessed to eventually move into a much larger and newer apartment. My Logic professor unexpectedly, at the last moment, decided to change the format of the class final to a written essay (which I easily produced) instead of a series of symbolic logic proofs (which I would have failed). The twins eventually graduated from their heart monitors and oxygen lines and we began to take them out after many months, first on walks, then to restaurants and malls. Gradually, we began to sleep again. Though it seemed an eternity at the time, the agonizingly slow but steady return to semi-functionality (of which I’ve been able to relate only the hundredth part) had lasted about 2 years. [Read more…]


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