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…]


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.

FHE @ Casa RJH

  • Read a “Food Rule”: #37 – “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.” [Read more…]

Jesus = Everyman

In assembly yesterday I talked about how we can learn from Israeli grandmothers and treat others how we would wish to be treated. The Golden Rule is an ethical universal but so very difficult to do.

I want to take this idea further. Listen to this strange tale from the New Testament (Luke 24: 13-16): [Read more…]

Yom Kippur

On Saturday, Jews across the world celebrated the high holiday of Yom Kippur. Known in English as the Day of Atonement, Jews fast and pray on Yom Kippur as an atonement — or penance — for the previous year’s sins and misdeeds. [Read more…]

On these three things hangs my testimony

Mormon testimonies tend to be small-t trinitarian:

1. I know that God lives.

2. I know that Jesus is the Christ.

3. I know that the Church is true. [Read more…]

Collapsing the sacred distance between man and man

A few months ago my family visited Picardy in northern France. From the cathedral city of Amiens we drove to Albert and entered a rolling countryside so beautiful now but so full of blood and horror almost a century ago. Despite our distance from the First World War, “Somme” still invokes a feeling of dread in the British, images of trenches and mud and mutilated bodies passed to us through a vivid national memory. We were not there but somehow we know it was uniquely awful. [Read more…]

Cowdery, Ostler, and the Assyrian king

Reposted, and edited, in light of the use of the ephod in 1 Sam 23 (part of the Gospel Doctrine reading)

The Book of Mormon translation mechanism is surrounded in mystery. [Read more…]

World Cup Group Stages Open Thread

And so it begins!


BCC World Cup Predictor

BCC’s World Cup festivities begin here, starting with a World Cup Predictor:

Go to the BBC predictor and tell us who you have in the final and who will win.

I have Argentina beating Brazil in the final. Of course, what I really want to happen is for England to win a second star. First we need to beat the Yanks on Saturday.

More events to follow…

BCC Papers 5/2: Smith, ‘Suspensive’ Historiography

Is “Suspensive” Historiography the Only Legitimate Kind?

Christopher C. Smith*


I am a PhD student at Claremont Graduate University, doing History of Religions in North America, with a particular focus on Mormon Studies.  I also happen not to be a Mormon.  I have never been a Mormon.  My interest in Mormonism is academic, and I’m especially interested in Joseph Smith.  Joseph Smith is a fascinating puzzle to me, and I have struggled to make sense of who he was and what motivated him to do the things he did.

That of course puts me in a difficult position, because here at Claremont I am surrounded by believing Mormons, and so I’m constantly aware of the risk that the way I make sense of Joseph Smith and the Mormon movement may be offensive to some of my friends and colleagues here.

As a result, I’ve thought a lot about this question of whether it’s legitimate for me as a scholar and a historian to talk about LDS truth claims.  Is it legitimate for me to express views about Joseph Smith that fly in the face of what Mormons believe?  Will this be perceived as an attack?  Will I be considered biased and anti-Mormon by my colleagues?

My Mormon colleagues here at CGU face a similar problem, but from the opposite direction.  If they speak as faithful Mormons from a position of belief in the Church, they run the risk of alienating non-Mormons, of being labeled biased apologists, and of being seen as non-academic and perhaps even unemployable by secular universities. [Read more…]

Review: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

My rating: 2/5

Here’s the story: Mary has twins — Jesus, a religious weirdo, and Christ, the politician. Encouraged by a mysterious stranger, Christ makes plans to turn Jesus’ provincial message in to a world religion.

I sort of wanted to like this book, if only so I could resist the holy religious outrage which often accompanies anything written by the pop atheists nowadays. Religions would most of the time be better off confronting the abuses of faith that are pilloried by people such as Pullman, rather than pretending they don’t exist. [Read more…]


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