Lord, it is I

I am a sinner. [Read more...]

What do you know about the Mormon Job? Would you like to know more?

Over on the blog Peculiar People, Joe Spencer has taken Michael Austin’s recent book Re-Reading Job to task for promising, and then not providing, a “Mormon Job.” Instead, as he notes, Michael Austin draws from the reception history and secular investigation of Job to provide a helpful overview of this very difficult work, with some devotional content. Austin does spend quite a bit of time critiquing the Sunday School manual’s approach (read the first two chapters and the last, with a couple of other verses thrown in), deconstructing the most common Mormon approach, but he doesn’t offer a Mormon approach to replace it. Or does he?
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Sloughs: of Despond or otherwise

This is a relatively good path in the swamp

This is a relatively good path in the swamp

A slough is a bog or mire, a great, sucking, sticky, consuming pool of mud, muck, or worse. As such, it is a handy metaphor. It can stand in for addiction, sin, bad habits, anything that we feel sucks us in and that we find hard to move beyond. Every step in a slough is a drudgery. Every motion requires far too much energy. It’s all just such a drag, man. A drag.
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The Distance: A Review of Letters to a Young Mormon by Adam Miller

We do not live the life we think we do. We think that we are the star of our own show or, sometimes, the villain. We think that what we do matters, because we are doing it; our acts are windows into the soul or the building blocks of our character. We assume, though we claim to be disciples, though we claim to be saints, that we are the most important actors in our salvation play. I’m not certain that we are entirely wrong, but we are definitely not entirely right. [Read more...]

Killing Narfi: Skyrim and the problem of evil

As Mormons, we have a pervasive, if not terribly well-attributed, belief that, in the next life, if we turned out to be good enough, we’ll get to make our own planets. Folks, why wait? There are a wealth of world-building strategy and role-playing games available right now. One has me in its web right now and it is causing me to consider the creation of a moral universe. [Read more...]

An email to a friend, struggling with disbelief

Recently, some close friends wrote to me regarding faith in the church. My friends are members and have been for their entire life. These friends have recently come across some anti-Mormon material on the internet and, for all that they understood it as anti in origin, it caused them to start to question their belief. There was nothing particularly new in the information, but it was new to them. They know I’ve been writing blog posts for a while and assumed I had answers that might help. My response, such as it is, is below. I think they found it helpful, hopefully it might be of help to someone else.

First thing to understand: There is nothing I or anybody else can say that is going to make most of this make sense, seem less than crazy, or “make it better.” [Read more...]

Real People sin

I was reminded recently that there is a folk belief amongst us Saints that I find particularly pernicious. It isn’t something that comes up all that frequently in Sunday School, but I’ve encountered it in more than one Mormon forum, usually whispered to emphasize the sacred and deep-doctrine status of said belief. I’m also hesitant to bring it up here, because it relies on temple language for its authority. But it occurred to me that people might want to use it to comfort or counsel people who are upset with the gender imbalance in the church. I’m convinced that it will only make things worse if used for this purpose.

The belief is this: Women are automatically saved to the celestial kingdom by divine decree. [Read more...]

Judging Righteous Judgement: Part 1, “Lord, whom can I safely hate?”

Eons ago in internet time, I wrote a post about the inevitability (and possible positives) of human discrimination. Whatever you may think of our origins, humans dominate the planet because of our superior pattern-recognition skills. Often these skills lead us to conclude things like “garbage spontaneously generates maggots”, but occasionally we come up with Newtonian laws and so forth. Discrimination is a necessary step in any rational inquiry. We have to determine which solutions to pursue, which beliefs to leave unquestioned, and the rationale behind both. It has made us pretty powerful, but, like all powers, it is frequently misused.

There is nothing interesting or new in the above, except this: we so easily identify others’ misuse of discrimination and justify our own use of it, that it calls into question the idea of righteous judgement entirely. But it must exist. Even if humans are incapable of righteous judgement, God will separate us at the judgement bar, which is the ultimate discrimination. His ways are not our ways, but is there any way that we can better emulate him in judgement? I don’t know, but I think it is worthwhile to make the attempt. What we find will be determined by what we are looking for, so first we must set a goal. In this case, I’ve chosen definition as the initial goal. What, exactly, is righteous judgement? [Read more...]

Actually reading Nephi

There has been some discussion lately about closely reading the Book of Mormon in relation to the YW PP manual controversy. I am always one to encourage a close reading. What I am doing below is not a close reading, but rather a quick note about the perils of casual reading and eisegesis. But please, read closely. It’s a rewarding book.

Frequently, we misread the purpose of Nephi’s slaying of Laban. [Read more...]

The Quest for a Clear Conscience as a Potential Sin

My wife has been reading the book, Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer. Unless you are either growing/slaughtering all your food yourself or, at minimum, a locavore vegan, reading it will cause you to examine your eating habits and find yourself wanting. By which I don’t mean that you will feel like you need to eat better, or more healthily at the end of the book; I mean that you will question your ability to consider yourself a good person if you continue to eat the way you do. [Read more...]

Do you have to lose your faith to find it?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about faith, specifically about what a trial of faith might consist of. I don’t know that I’ve ever really had a trial of faith. I’ve experienced no great tragedy (knock on wood) and, while I’m excellent at self-sabotage and self-pity, I’ve had no real obstacles to overcome. My father has always been kind to me, so I’ve never had any trouble imagining a loving Heavenly Father who wants the best for us. I’ve never really had cause or need to question my faith in any significant sense. I worry that this has made me lazy. [Read more...]

“This is my favorite thing.”

Hushpuppy and the girls (photo from collider.com)

In his Sunday Afternoon Conference Talk, Elder D. Todd Christofferson focused on the Redemptive power of the Atonement in our lives. While it is historically accurate and theologically legitimate to discuss a redemptive power and an understanding of Atonement tied to a redemption of humanity from some great debt, I feel like it can interfere with our understanding of the Atonement’s purpose.
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Unequal equalities

It strikes me that a lot of our disagreement over feminist issues in the church comes from one variation or another of straw-man argumentation. It is much easier to disagree with a caricature of our intellectual opponent’s argument than with the real thing.  I’m going to talk about a particular type of caricature here today; Alison Moore Smith provided several last week. It is useful to note these things, because, hopefully, they will help us move past superfluous and irrelevant grandstanding and focus on the important arguments in any debate. Also, world peace might spring up. [Read more...]

The last place you should look for advice

I don’t know about you, but I was an idiot as a teen. [Read more...]

A darn shame

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that my gay friends investigate the church. [Read more...]

Gospel Doctrine Lesson #6: “I Will Tell You in Your Mind and in Your Heart, by the Holy Ghost”

Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.

This covers much the same material as the last lesson, historically and thematically.  The emphasis continues to be on Oliver Cowdery’s experiences translating the Book of Mormon and, specifically, his attempts to recognize the spirit of revelation in his own life.  While the emphasis of last week’s lesson was more on preparing yourself to receive revelation, this week’s lesson has more to do with recognizing what on earth is going on when it happens.

First of all, go to the new Revelations in Context resource at lds.org and read the article by Jeffrey Cannon on Oliver Cowdery’s Gift.  While you are hopping around, go to Robin Jensen’s post on last week’s lesson and read that as well.  Now return to this post and feel bad; I’m neither as knowledgeable, nor as good a writer as those guys. Oh well.

If there is one message to take from all of the sections being covered this week (and last week) it is this: revelation is not easy work. [Read more...]

The Priesthood is not a superpower

I ordained my son a deacon a couple of weeks ago.  The first thing he did when we got home was to facetiously wave his hands toward a chair and attempt to move it with the power of his mind and/or Priesthood.  I immediately told him, “The Priesthood is not a superpower.”  It is something that, I suppose, bears repeating. [Read more...]

Pride: How the motivation for most sins has (thusfar) kept me from apostasy

I was recently listening to the Mormon Stories podcast with Ralph Hancock.  I haven’t really been enjoying it, because I don’t really enjoy listening to either Brother Hancock or Brother Dehlin (for varied reasons) and my irritation with both frequently spikes into fantasies about throwing my mp3 player across the room.  I’m sure that if I sat down with either in a room alone I would get along with them just fine (in fact, I did meet Dehlin in a social setting once and he was nice and soft-spoken).  But their public personas frequently get under my skin and, whenever I do listen, I frequently wonder why I’m listening, when I could obviously do it all much better.

This is, of course, it’s own sort of fantasy. [Read more...]

Duck Beach to Eternity

You won’t learn much about Mormonism from watching Duck Beach to Eternity, but you will learn a lot about how Mormonism intersects with current-era, white, upper-middle-class privilege. [Read more...]

Thursday/Friday Theological Poll: Family Futures Edition

What do you think is the most likely fate of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”?

Vote above; comment below.

A request for philosophical insight

I am not really a philosopher.  I once taught in a philosophy department, but it was always a sort of ad hoc arrangement.  I’ve never taken a philosophy course and my initial graduate program was not particularly interested in critical theory. So, whatever I’ve picked up, I’ve picked up along the way.  I note this initially, because I’m going to say some things with a bit of authority below that I haven’t actually earned.  Skepticism on your part may be necessary.  If nothing else, my title is sincere.

As I understand it, Divine Command Theory is a form of Moral Relativism. [Read more...]

The black hole, part two

I’m a big fan of cracked.com, particularly the writings of David Wong there.  I recently read a post by him that strikes me as the beginning of a more effective path to teaching our young men and women about sex (Warning: in the article, there is graphic language and some discussion of arousal and sex).  In the interest of sparing our more sensitive readers, I’m going to summarize the keys points of the article and then explain why I think they relate to us.

The title of the article is “5 Ways Modern Men are Trained to Hate Women[Read more...]

Thursday Theological Poll: Death-bed repentance, maybe, sorta?

We don’t know much about Omni.  In fact, the following is what we know:

1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Omni, being commanded by my father, Jarom, that I should write somewhat upon these plates, to preserve our genealogy—
2 Wherefore, in my days, I would that ye should know that I fought much with the sword to preserve my people, the Nephites, from falling into the hands of their enemies, the Lamanites. But behold, I of myself am a wicked man, and I have not kept the statutes and the commandments of the Lord as I ought to have done.
3 And it came to pass that two hundred and seventy and six years had passed away, and we had many seasons of peace; and we had many seasons of serious war and bloodshed. Yea, and in fine, two hundred and eighty and two years had passed away, and I had kept these plates according to the commandments of my fathers; and I conferred them upon my son Amaron. And I make an end. (Omni 1:1-3)

So the question is, do you think he is repentant as he writes this?  If so, what do you think is the effect of that? [Read more...]

Is our emphasis on temple worthiness counter-productive?

In his recent General Conference address, Elder Donald L. Hallstrom made the following observation:

“Some have come to think of activity in the Church as the ultimate goal. Therein lies a danger. It is possible to be active in the Church and less active in the gospel. Let me stress: activity in the Church is a highly desirable goal; however, it is insufficient. Activity in the Church is an outward indication of our spiritual desire. If we attend our meetings, hold and fulfill Church responsibilities, and serve others, it is publicly observed.”

In the same conference, Elder Robert D. Hales said the following:

“Worthiness to hold a temple recommend gives us the strength to keep our temple covenants. How do we personally gain that strength? We strive to obtain a testimony of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, the reality of the Atonement, and the truthfulness of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Restoration. We sustain our leaders, treat our families with kindness, stand as a witness of the Lord’s true Church, attend our Church meetings, honor our covenants, fulfill parental obligations, and live a virtuous life. You may say that sounds like just being a faithful Latter-day Saint! You are right. The standard for temple recommend holders is not too high for us to achieve. It is simply to faithfully live the gospel and follow the prophets.”

Now, these two quotes aren’t in direct contradiction, but they illustrate two trends within the church that I think need to be addressed. [Read more...]

I am not qualified to write this post: A response to Ralph Hancock’s response to a critique of his review of a book I’ve never read

Ralph Hancock recently wrote a post in which his main point is that people were so interested in his obsession with Joanna Brooks that they never addressed his argument.  I’ve not read Sister Brooks’s book, nor have I read Brother Hancock’s initial responses to it, primarily because I don’t care.  I like Joanna’s online persona well enough; I don’t particularly like Ralph’s, but that’s not terribly important (to each their own).  So why respond?  Because Brother Hancock felt it was appropriate to defame me (by means of defaming this here blog) in the larger process of explaining why his response to Joanna was appropriate.  He appears upset that no-one is taking him seriously enough. So, because I aim to please, I will herein attempt a response to Brother Hancock.  We’ll see how it goes. [Read more...]

The Smugger-Murmur-H8er-Snigger-nacle and Me

People sometimes wonder why I bother. By which I mean bother writing blog posts or thinking about the church obsessively or trying to interact with people with whom I hold strong disagreements. In some cases, I’ve had to stop because folks were just driving me crazy (Hi, M*). So why bother? Does being involved in this community give me joy or not?
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Three apologies and a rule or “How I learned to stop worrying and love Mormon racism”

First of all, I’m sorry for writing this post at all. I’m sure you all are sick to death of the discussion of race and of Professor Bott’s reported views thereon. I know I am and I’ve only followed the situation peripherally.

Second of all, I’m sorry for oversharing, as I’ll undoubtedly do over the course of this post. There is a reason behind it, I think, but I’ve noticed that all of my posts tend to be heavy on confession and probably you all don’t care.

Third, and probably most importantly, I’m sorry because I’m going to accuse every single one of you of being racist or, at least, prejudiced.

I’m from the South. [Read more...]

The gospel isn’t an IQ test

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” ― Anne Lamott

Recently, I was involved in an online discussion regarding the usefulness of the Church Educational System, which was really about the usefulness of how we teach things in the church, which is, as you may know, a topic I think about. Part of the conversation involved speculation regarding how many people would leave the church if the bowdlerized version of church history that we currently receive stopped. To some degree, this is a moot point; the internet has rendered attempts to sanitize history for widespread internal consumption counter-productive. Certainly, there are umpteen thousand exit narratives online where ex-members express their sense of betrayal and frustration when they learn x, y, and z about the church (note: umpteen thousand is an exaggeration; there cannot really be more than a gajillion out there (note: I’m not trying to get you to go looking either; I’ve pretty much summed up every single one with this sentence here)).

Some people would argue that we won’t lose that many people if we start teaching history using the Richard Bushman model (or some such). What they are actually saying is we won’t lose many of the right people if we change our teaching model. [Read more...]

Travelers

My Grandmother died this past year. So did Kim Jong-Il, Sarah Jane Smith, Christopher Hitchens, Vaclav Havel, Anne MacCaffrey, Muammar Gaddafi, Al Davis, Steve Jobs, Tom Wilson, Cliff Robertson, many Russian Hockey players, and Betty Ford. Also, my friends Giuli and Rich had their first baby a couple of weeks ago. They named him Christopher. He is named, of course, after Saint Christopher. Do you know the legend behind the saint?

According to Wikipedia, Christopher was a big, tough guy, who wanted to serve the most powerful king. So, he found the most powerful human in the world and served him, until he saw the king cross himself at the thought of the devil. So, Christopher went to serve the devil (who was obviously more powerful). But then, one day, the devil shuddered at the invocation of the name of Christ. So, Christopher left his service to devote himself to Christ.

He stationed himself at the side of a wide and treacherous river. When folks needed to cross it, he’d carry them along on his back. One day, a babe (somehow) came to him and (somehow) requested passage. Christopher picked up the child, who has quite a bit heavier than he seemed. He placed him on his back and strode into the waters. With each step, the child grew heavier. Christopher grew worried that he wouldn’t be able to complete the journey, because the burden of the child was overwhelming. Finally, with the last of his strength, he made it to the far side. He asked the child its name. It was, it turned out, the Christ child. It is from this legend that Christopher became the patron saint of travelers (it is also likely the origin of his name, which means Christ-bearer).

The Book of Mormon also tells the story of a group of travelers (several of them, actually). [Read more...]

Thursday Late-Afternoon-because-I’m-in-a-mood-poll: Faith-altering edition

How does learning that “the Brethren” aren’t perfect affect your approach to God and/or the church?

Vote above; comment below.

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