The Mormon Un-Moment and Its Consequences

Let’s face it, the “Mormon Moment” is rubbish. First off, I sort of doubt that it actually exists beyond a small segment of the chatterati. And even if it does exist, it is basically a miserable little thing, based on a politician nobody likes and a musical that rowdily takes the mick. So, yes, if that’s your Mormon Moment, it’s rubbish. [Read more...]

What I want from a Nativity film

I find most Bible films to be unsatisfying. Here’s what I would like to see in a Nativity film:

1. Authentic-looking actors. I realise that a film is by its very nature make believe, but any attempt to reproduce the biblical world has to look and sound right. [Read more...]

To be called by one’s true name

A story from old Prague: [Read more...]

Towards a theology of taxation

My sense is that modern Mormons, particularly those who identify with the American right, tend to prioritise the nuclear relationship over all others. Who doesn’t? It is an entirely natural way of living in the world and represents the conservative view that we should protect the goodness that humans already have rather than force them into social utopias unflective of human reality. As a Conservative voter myself, I tend to sympathise with policies which give individuals and families the room to flourish.

We cannot escape the fact, however, that God’s plan has never been solely about the welfare of the family, nor the individual within it. God’s personal covenant with Abraham was also a national one; in Christ, individuals become a people, part of his body. Thus we should be concerned with relationships that go beyond our walls. The food crisis in Africa, to take one example, demands that we see the sufferers as ourselves. Helping such people becomes an imperative. [Read more...]

Remembrance Talk

As cathedral bells toll remembrance in Worcester, I thought I’d repost these thoughts on war for 11/11/11.

For Christians, Remembrance Sunday can stir mixed emotions. Today we remember the fallen of war and regret that war seems to be the natural condition of man. We weep along with God who, when surveying the war and murder that polluted his earth said, “I gave them commandment that they should love one another, but they are without affection, and they hate their own blood. As a result misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them . . . ; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?” (Moses 7:37).

The observance of Armistice Day — the 11th Day of the 11th month — was originally intended to ensure that never again would the nation commit to the slaughter and evil that have become synonymous with words such as “Somme” and “Flanders Fields.”
[Read more...]

Disdain

I generally don’t have much truck with Mormon notions of persecution. When you have sucked from the marrow of western capitalism as well as Mormons have, there isn’t a lot to complain about.

Except . . . this video showing a love-in between atheist provocateur Bill Maher and anti-Mormon zealot Robert Jeffress  makes me feel miserable as all hell. [Read more...]

Review: Ethics and the Old Testament

Ethics and the Old TestamentEthics and the Old Testament by John Barton

Having had a go myself, I am always keen on efforts to talk sensibly about Old Testament ethics. Oxford professor John Barton’s slim volume offers a collection of his own lectures on biblical morality and does a very good job moving the conversation beyond simple caricatures of the text. [Read more...]

A Life in Pearl Jam

I am, and will always be, a child of the 90s, a member of Generation X, an unrepentant bore who still believes that Nirvana’s Nevermind was, just short of the fall of the Berlin Wall, about the most important socio-cultural event this side of Sergeant Pepper.

I say this aware that the kool kids will — clutching their vinyl copies of old Mudhoney records  — no doubt sigh at such ‘MTV’ sensibilities.

Rubbish. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ changed the world. But Kurt is dead and so we look to others to help us reconnect with those splendid days when Mariah Carey and her evil minions were dumped from the charts. Enter Pearl Jam, whose biographer in the new movie Pearl Jam 20 seems to have benefited from the Mormon injunction that we record everything for posterity. Cameron Crowe’s film gives us amazing and encyclopaedic  glimpses of Seattle circa 1991 when out of the ashes of Mother Love Bone, Eddie Vedder and co. arose.

It will sound melodramatic to call Pearl Jam’s music the soundtrack to my life, but watching the film follow Pearl Jam over the last two decades I kept being reminded of who I was at the time of each song. Here are a few highlights: [Read more...]

Creation and Collaboration

A sacrament meeting talk given in the Loughborough Ward, Leicester England Stake on 12th June 2011.

I remember the first time I felt the Spirit. I was a young boy watching a recording of the crew of Apollo 8 reading from Genesis 1 as they looked back at the beautiful blue orb we call home. I began to believe then, as I still do now, that God is the creator of this earth. The words, so wonderfully rendered by the King James translators, still resonate:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

[Read more...]

Cultural Learnings from Provo

Some reflections on a recent week spent in Provo: [Read more...]

Preaching America without offending the world

Our pal Aaron R has noted that while “the D&C teaches that the [US] Constitution is inspired,” such rhetoric is “conspicuously absent in British Mormon religious discourse.” He further notes that Armand Mauss has recently argued that “it these types of doctrines which inhibit Church growth in some areas and he subsequently calls for reinterpretations of these doctrines.”

I have had my own run-ins with hyper American patriotism in what is supposed to be an international church. Nonetheless, I do not believe there is a need for Mormonism to downplay the inspired nature of the Constitution. The mistake is in making it Exhibit A in American exceptionalism, as if because the American founding was inspired, nothing else comes close. There is a way to proclaim 1776 without alienating the world, and President Obama on his visit to London just nailed it. Witness: [Read more...]

On the Royal Wedding

I have before me the souvenir issue of the Daily Telegraph, awash with the colour and joy that was the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. For me, a favourite image is not the balcony kiss or that dress, iconic though they already are; rather, it is the image of the mass of people on the Mall. In all its massive yet polite reverie, this image offers a strong contrast with another scene from yesterday’s news, namely that of angry Syrians tearing down a poster of President Assad.

And so I am led to wonder: what is the secret of peaceful, consensual government? Part of it may be chronological. Where once English kings were reviled and even beheaded, the centuries have led us kindly to this happy place. The Syrian Arab Republic has existed for not much longer than Queen Elizabeth has been on the British throne. Still, the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom does seem to be a singular, remarkably robust thing. Let us explore what all this means. [Read more...]

Heroic

In case you miss it in the sidebar, here’s the video of the most interesting thing to happen in the COB for years: [Read more...]

In praise of the handbooks

When the new church handbooks were released last year, our stake president advised us to “press the reset button” on the way we administer the kingdom. Like everyone else, Mormons are susceptible to cultural accretions which soon take on the patina of gospel truth. For all the great questions of life (e.g. should we sit or stand for the intermediate hymn?), someone could point to some instruction by some visiting authority or something some leader heard when visiting some relative in Salt Lake or some such. [Read more...]

By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and owned slaves

Biblical texts from around the time of the Babylonian exile assert that Judeans were slaves in Babylonia. The book of Lamentations cries that “Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude” (1:3) with a “yoke on [their] necks” (5:5), their “boys stagger[ing] under loads of wood” (5:13). Babylon thus became the biblical motif for a place of captivity, to be contrasted with the joyous freedom that accompanied the return under Cyrus. [Read more...]

EMSA 2011

The European Mormon Studies Association
Annual Conference

Durham University, England

4–5 August 2011 [Read more...]

A Shinto Prayer

With all the respect from the depth of our hearts we ask that the gods hear us, such as the spirit that hears our intent together with the spirits of the Sky and the Land. Take the evil, disasters and sins and purify all.

Kimigayo wa
Chiyo ni yachiyo ni
Sazare-ishi no
Iwao to narite
Koke no musu made.

Missions and the British Mormon Male

Armand Mauss has recently written on the costs of membership in the Mormon Church for European Mormons. They are high. Read any of Wilfried’s old T&S posts and you will have this view confirmed. I would like to note another way in which European Mormons shoulder a heavier burden than do their American co-religionists generally: missionary service.

My insight is largely anecdotal and Britain-specific. It may not elicit any sympathy (after all, Zion is a city of sacrifice). However, some realisation of the specific challenges of international Mormons is useful for an American audience, I hope. [Read more...]

Speaking of ghosts…

Let’s hear your ghost stories. Here’s mine: [Read more...]

Unity and the KJV, part 3

Part one, part two.

Unity with Mormon Christology

Despite the complaints of some Christians, Mormon beliefs regarding Christ are in many ways very traditional, so it was no surprise that Clark (and others) were worried about the RSV’s use of “young woman” rather than “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14. [Read more...]

Unity and the KJV, part 2.

For part one, see here.

Unity with the Brethren

For Latter-day Saints, the route to truth is through revelation, available to the individual through the Holy Spirit but at all times to be guided by those authorised to reveal doctrine to the church (= the Brethren and their institutions, e.g. Correlation). [Read more...]

Unity and the KJV, part one.

People might rightly ask why Anglophone Latter-day Saints still use the King James (Authorized) Version of the Bible when there are new translations available which better represent the ancient sources and their languages.

The purpose of this series of posts is not to offer a defence of the KJV nor to criticise its use. Rather, I wish to try to explain, particularly for a non-Mormon audience, why Mormons use the KJV, or to state it differently, what the use of the KJV says about the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In short, I believe that the use of the KJV underlines the importance of unity to the LDS Church: unity with Joseph Smith and the Restoration, unity with the Brethren, and unity with traditional Mormon Christology. [Read more...]

Bad Religion, Finale

This is the final installment in a review of Peter Vardy’s book Good and Bad Religion (London: SCM, 2010).

Let’s recap:

Vardy would have us ignore truth claims in our appraisal of religion, fraught as they are with epistemological headaches and what not. Do not judge Scientology on the credibility of Xenu but by the behaviours and ideologies which Scientology promotes. [Read more...]

Bad Religion, 5.

This is the next installment in a review of Peter Vardy’s book Good and Bad Religion (London: SCM, 2010).

Having decided that “good” religion leads to human flourishing via the Aristotelian virtues, Vardy goes on to identify three ways in which “bad” religion limits the same. [Read more...]

Bad Religion, 4

This is the next installment in a review of Peter Vardy’s book Good and Bad Religion (London: SCM, 2010).

So, to Aristotle we turn — to the notion of human flourishing, to the alignment with God’s natural law which will enable the same, and to the virtues which characterise this alignment. So far, so Aquinas. [Read more...]

Boggs-Doniphan Award 2010

Kent’s feature at T&S serves again as a reminder that it’s time to offer nominations for the Boggs-Doniphan Award (Gentile of the Year). Who is the non-Mormon who has had the greatest impact on Mormonism for good (Doniphan) or bad (Boggs) in 2010? Previous winners were Mike Huckabee and Stephen Colbert. I nominate Barack Obama for paving the way for the Mormons to save the Constitution.

Bad Religion, 3.

Having established that “truth” is not relevant to “good” and “bad” religion, Vardy goes on to discuss the problem of otherwise determining the morality of religious behaviour. In this he cites Plato’s Euthyphro Dilemma — is something good because God commands it or does God command that which is good? Religion has traditionally followed divine command theory in ethics: good can be judged as good because God commanded it and he is good. The circularity is obvious and thus Vardy rejects it, noting along the way that this thinking as led to a depressingly long list of religious crimes. [Read more...]

Bad Religion, 2.

Our next question is that of “truth.” Vardy discusses the assault of the popular atheists on the notion of religious truth, namely that it is both lightweight and dangerous, a “virus” to use Dawkins’ term. Vardy disagrees, obviously, championing the idea of knowledge beyond the empirical realm. In doing so, he rubbishes Ayer’s view that the unverifiable is worthless. Kant suggested that though we are confined to the phenomenal world, this does not preclude the existence of the noumenal. On occasion, Vardy argues, the noumenal can make itself known to us through something other than the normal senses, perhaps through aesthetic experience. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to believe. [Read more...]

Bad Religion, 1.

The title is partly for my punk buddy John Fowles, but also because I intend to spend a few posts reviewing a new book by Peter Vardy, Good and Bad Religion (London: SCM, 2010). [Read more...]

Theravada Monk Week

I’m currently teaching Buddhism to a group of educated, but distinctly non-Buddhist young men. Last week we talked about Buddhist food rituals and I told them that many Theravada monks fast after noon. For boys (and their teacher) who enjoy their food, this seems like an impossible practice.

It also had them asking “why? — what’s so beneficial about not eating past lunch?” One witters on about self-control blah-de-blah, but I’ve decided that it would be better to try it for a week and see. The experiment is somewhat (completely?) artificial because I’m neither a Buddhist nor a monk and so the spiritual element is likely to be missing, but having floated the idea at dinner today, I’m now committed to it. You see, my youngest son told me I couldn’t do it — “dad, you’re too greedy” — and my wife is dubious that I will be able to eschew the 9pm Marmite-on-toast. Gauntlet, dropped.

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