False dichotomies and Easter: a quick post, sorta

Quick, use up one of your twenty pageviews and read this article by David Brooks. Then go read this response by Andrew Sullivan.

We all back? Good. Brooks is right that most of the folks in Africa (and elsewhere) who join religious movements join because of the creeds promoted, not in spite of them. Sullivan, on the other hand, is correct that we apply our human reason to any particular set of creeds, using that act to determine if they are appropriate for our belief (There is a reason folks go church shopping). So, while I believe that they are both right, I also believe that they are both wrong. They are setting up a false choice between rational and miraculous belief. As a Mormon, I get to believe in both types. We believe that God tells us the truth via our hearts and our minds. So, while both Brooks and Sullivan appear to believe that casual dismissal of Mormonism is de rigueur, Mormonism actually resolves the false dilemma their two approaches create.

Why on Easter? Because we, as Mormons, actually believe that Christ did something rationally impossible. He rose from the dead on the third day, ascended to His Father, and created the means for our return. That doesn’t make us unique (plenty of Christians believe the same), but it does mean that our faith derives from some miraculous moment (in our own experience and in historical experience). At the same time, we derive further meaning from that moment (and many like it) to determine how to live on earth. The derivation of law from experience is the very heart of rationalism. There is no contradiction, really, between the two, or rather, they exist in apparent contradiction, but aren’t, really. We have a Moebius strip of a religion, folks. That’s what gives it power and that is what allows it to appeal to the rational, the irrational, the conservative, the liberal, the fundamentalist, and the revisionist. Christ’s message is to all people; He died & He is Risen.

Amen.

Do Be Do Be Doooooo…

On the internet, identity is an obsession. Because we are primarily only acquainted with one another through words, there is an opportunity (and, perhaps, a tendency) to mislead others about ourselves. Our facebook pictures are from the most flattering angles; our political and religious tendencies more firm. Knowing this about ourselves, we tend to also be suspicious of others. Praise and sarcasm are easily distinguished in real life; online you never really know. Therefore, we try to establish a context for what is written online by establishing a relationship with other participants or, failing that, by trying to discern where they are coming from. Are they Libertarian, Progressive, Indie Rock, Country Strong, Molly Mormon, or Andy Anti? Establishing these identities can allow us to create the body language, tone of voice, and other non-verbal aspects of language that are absent in online communication, allowing us to create a context for interpreting comments.

This is dangerous. [Read more…]

Why being a “Guardian of Virtue” is a terrible metaphor

I know it has been a couple of weeks, but I only just now read the talk given by President Elaine Dalton of the General Young Women’s Presidency in their annual meeting. The talk boils down to an admonition to be chaste and virtuous, both of which are good things. So, I am not here today to tell you the message of the talk is bad; I am here today to tell you that the way in which that message is conveyed is bad, distorting the message itself. [Read more…]

Leaping to conclusions or asking rational questions?

So last week, I started listening to a new podcast. Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast features three sports reporters and their topic last week was, amongst other things, the Brandon Davies situation (already much discussed elsewhere at BCC). I’d like you to follow the link and listen to the Davis segment before continuing onward; don’t worry, I’m patient. [Read more…]

Cave Dwellers

I’ve recently been reading Room by Emma Donoghue, which has harrowing subject matter and the cutest little narrator ever.Room by Emma Donoghue Specifically, it is told from the viewpoint of a 5 year old boy who has lived in one room all his life (I won’t say why, you can read the book for that). He’s with his mother and he has access to television and books, but he has never left the room.

Every object in the room is capitalized and, according to the boy, is particular. In other words, he doesn’t use a dresser or walk on the rug; he puts his clothes in Dresser and he walks on Rug. The constant contact gives him a hyper-real sense of these objects, treating them as if they are the only ones in the world. He knows a bit about the outside world (he does have a television after all), but none of it approaches the immediacy of Room (and the near-rhyme with “womb” (especially in a child’s voice) must be intentional). [Read more…]

Remembering the captivity of our fathers: A Rant

Today was High Council Sunday in our sacrament meeting. Our ward is going on trek come summer. If you know me, you know that I am not a fan of trek, but that I generally just ignore it.

The high councilor’s speaking companion said, “I know that those noble pioneers suffered what they went through in order to inspire the youth of today.” Martyrdom ain’t what it used to be, folks! [Read more…]

Exercise and its discontent

I run. Intermittently, but I do run. I ran a marathon a few years ago and I’m training to run another one in June (Utah Valley Marathon, if you are interested). I’m not always certain that this is a good thing. [Read more…]

Elder Holland and the Adversity Gap: A Modesty Proposal

Recently, I read Elder Holland’s talk from the October 2010 General Conference. Entitled “Because of Your Faith,” Elder Holland describes the sacrifices and support that has been offered to him personally and to the Church generally and says thank you. It is a heart-felt act of gratitude for the many people who serve in the church; specifically, gratitude for the many people who serve in the church in the Mormon corridor today and therein lies the rub. [Read more…]

The Value of Shame in Mormonism

First of all, go and read a short article at the New York Times. You can find it here.

All done? Good. Here is my question:

Whom should this article shame? [Read more…]

The point is…?

Earlier today, someone asked me to sum up what the meaning of the Old Testament is for Mormons. Okay, he didn’t just ask me, but I was included (I think). Anyhoo, I wrote this:

God is complicated. Way more complicated than you think. Sometimes he makes requests that seem morally wrong. We don’t know why. Sometimes he has humans do seemingly ridiculous and useless things. We don’t know why. Sometimes he intervenes in human events and sometimes he doesn’t. We don’t know why. The one thing that we can know with certainty is that God loves us (we don’t know why).

This, of course, leads me to ask you the same question. Oh BCC readers, what do you think the meaning of the Old Testament is for Mormons? You’ve been sitting through classes on it for a year now, so I assume you have some notion of what it said to you. Please share below. If I like your answers, I’ll write my post about why Scott is wrong about everything. There’s your incentive there.

God does not particularly care about your civil liberties

I’ve recently been embroiled in a debate regarding the value of the thoughts of Cleon Skousen. My debate partner, citing the endorsement that President McKay gave Bro. Skousen’s work, The Naked Communist, in the Friday session of the 1959 General Conference (I’d post a direct link to the address, but the only place I can find it without loads of commentary is at scriptures.byu.edu and I can’t link directly to it there), feels that Bro. Skousen and his works should be given a modicum of respect. Not that they should be treated as scripture or anything, but things that the Brethren mention positively should be paid attention to. I, on the other hand, think Skousen was crazy and can, therefore, be safely ignored. [Read more…]

Thanks were given: The Sneaky Genius of Thomas Spencer Monson and Kung Fu Panda

My very first post at By Common Consent was a half-serious, half-satiric analysis of a talk by President Monson (newly appointed). In it I posited that there is a method to the madness of President Monson’s talks, that the seemingly random stories and aphorisms are carefully chosen for the mood that they convey, rather than for their content. I stand by that analysis; but I have also personally regressed from it. To be honest, I have had a hard time being inspired by President Monson, because he has often seemed out-of-touch to me.

Take the most recent Conference. President Eyring begins the Sunday Morning session with a call for faith in troubled times. Elder Packer calls for moral clarity and repentance in troubling times. Excellent talks follow regarding following the Spirit and working the Gospel into your daily walk. Elder Oaks tries to describe the differences between ecclesiastical and personal revelation. And, after a lot of doctrine and controversy to chew on, President Monson asks us to remember our pleases and thank yous. I, personally, deflated a bit when his topic became clear, thinking “what? This again?” This is because I am a spiritual midget, of course, but also because I didn’t know what to listen for. [Read more…]

Subversion at General Conference

It has been a month and I have yet to see the most controversial talk at General Conference discussed. I suppose it falls to me. [Read more…]

Missing It

A brief list of things that I missed because I was on a mission from 1994-1996:

* Steve Young (and the 49ers) winning the Superbowl.

* The Atlanta Braves winning the World Series (this has made me indifferent to baseball, when I used to be passionate about the Braves)

* The University of Florida football team becoming National Champions under Steve Spurrier (note: these were my three favorite sports franchises at the time of my mission)

* The Arrival of Jim Carrey (I missed the first Ace Ventura movie, Dumb and Dumber, and the Mask)

* The Death of Grunge Music (I heard Nevermind, Ten, a couple more singles and that’s about it)

* The entire O.J. Simpson trial (I heard about the day he was chased and the day he was acquitted, nothing else)

* Laserblast *snif*

For a while, when I got home I felt a real need to catch up on pop culture. I watched Apollo 13 and Forrest Gump in one sitting. But some holes got filled in whether I investigated them or not. I now know who Judge Ito and Kato Kaelin are. However, when I’ve watched the early Jim Carrey stuff, it’s never caught on. Maybe you had to see it with friends in a theater for it to make an indelible impression.

So, what did you miss? Do you feel the lack? How did you catch up?

Tuesday Morning Lived Mormonism Poll: The Blame Game

Consider yourself and your fellow church members. When something is wrong in our local society (define it however you choose), who do we tend to blame for the problem?

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The Big Three

I don’t think that I like the notion of “Sunday School Answers.” Which isn’t to say that I don’t like prayer, scripture, and church attendance (the clear winner of last week’s poll), but rather I worry that the too frequent repetition of that triptych turns it into vain recitation, rather than a sincere attempt to seek and know the word of God. [Read more…]

Tuesday Morning Lived Mormonism Poll: Anti-Christ du jour poll

In keeping with the current Negative Nellie atmosphere amongst the Bloggernaclites, I give you the following poll. Who is your ward’s preferred scriptural Anti-Christ (note: neither Glenn Beck nor Barack Obama is an option).

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Monday Late Night Lived Mormonism Poll: Third Answer Edition

We are all familiar with the “Sunday School” answers. They are prayer, reading the scriptures, and…

It seems to me that we all have the same first two answers, but that there is some variation on the third. So, what do you think is the third Sunday School answer? I’ve come up with some possibilities, but feel free to chose and post a different answer in the comments. Or feel free to object to my saying that the first two are always the same. You’d be wrong, of course, but I can live with that.

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Movies, Mormonism, and Meaning

I’m going to start this off with a couple of Nike commercials that I watch on Youtube when I am trying to motivate myself. No endorsement of Nike (or YouTube) is implied. [Read more…]

Monday Night Lived Mormonism Poll: R-rated Movie Spirituality Edition

If yes, can you provide specific examples? If no, what specifically leads you to believe that this is the case?

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Talking with God: A Review

Robert Millet’s recent book Talking with God: Divine Conversations that Transform Daily Life is about the practice of prayer. He is encouraging sincere daily prayer because he believes that it is key to increasing the spirituality, faith, and charity of the saints.

Bro. Millet is proselytizing for “dialogic revelation” in prayer. As Terryl Givens has pointed out, Mormons have a long tradition of approaching prayer as a kind of conversation with God. Prayer, understood in this manner, is not just a matter of reporting our thanks for the day’s good events and requesting comfort, forgiveness, and blessings to make up for the day’s lacks. [Read more…]

A Public Service Announcement, by me

Just a quick note for all of you folks out there jumping on the anti-secularism bandwagon (you know who you are). Calling atheism or secularism a religion renders religion meaningless. You might as well sincerely call football, accountancy, or being involved with a political party religion. It’s a useless, tired attempt at a metaphor and, ultimately, it doesn’t mean anything. So, just don’t. Thanks in advance.

Repentance, Insurance, and What I think is wrong with President Obama’s approach to the BP Oil Spill

I tend to think that, as a church, we don’t understand repentance very well. We have the 5 Rs down, but we still have the wrong attitude regarding it. It is viewed too often as distasteful or as unfortunate, instead of taking on the role that I think it has in the scriptures and in the Gospel. That role being the engine of the Atonement in our lives; the primary means for our becoming like the Father. I think that the reasons that we see repentance primarily in a negative light are, first, that we are ashamed of our sins (and we should be) and, second, we just don’t think repentance is powerful enough. My purpose today is to argue that the second of these reasons is based on unrealistic and unscriptural ideas about what repentance can do.

The comparison between insurance and repentance is a problematic one, but I’m going to make it anyway. [Read more…]

Doubt as a Hobby

I was recently reminded of a blog where I used to participate. While there, I wrote this, which I think is pretty good (except for the ending, which I’ve changed).

On a whole, I think that Latter-day Saints fail to appreciate the power of doubt. It may be natural; we are a movement that demands faith and demands acts that indicate our possession thereof. At the same time, we say that it is good to have questions. We seem to approach doubt as a hobby; something that we keep working on in the basement level of our mind; something which we always work on when something more important isn’t pressing; something that fundamentally only the individual is interested in and which, therefore, ought not to be widely shared; something that can always be set aside and returned to after an appropriate interval. There is much talk in and out of the church about compartmentalization and cognitive dissonance, both of which seem to accept the hobby form of doubt as the only legitimate form. People often push us to bring the doubts up from the basement; saying that there is nothing wrong with doing it. However, there is a persistent sense that, in so doing, one will become a freak, a stamp-collector or D&D player, unfit for normal company and consigned to only finding like-minded, acne-faced peers at symposia and conventions. The public airing of our hobbies risks real public consequences. [Read more…]

Lust, Pornography, and the LDS approach to Sexuality

Sex is complicated. Why we engage in it is a matter of emotion, psychology, hormones, genetics, pop culture, high culture, low culture, spirituality, love, lust, and destiny (or not). I tend to be skeptical that there is one true approach to it, but I can think of several unhealthy approaches (heck, I embody at least a couple). In our church, where belief in something like celestial sex is common (even though it is of murky doctrinal origin), I tend to think it is even more complicated. The traditional Christian approach of general disapproval of sex is more consistent, as is the modern amoral outlook. It’s appropriate (even necessary) for us to argue for and to seek a position between those two, but church members tend to adopt aspects of those approaches instead of figuring out our own path. Generally speaking, we tend to approach sexuality as if it is the most important thing on earth and, therefore, we should know as little about it as possible.

Over conference, there were two talks that focused on issues of sexual immorality in particular. Elder Holland’s Saturday afternoon address and President Monson’s Saturday evening address both referenced pornography and both offered advice regarding controlling lust (along with subsidiary issues). What I write today is going to draw on both talks, but my purpose is to get one point across that neither addressed directly. As I’ve said before, I think our discourse on sexuality is drowning in useless euphemism and misdirected effort. So, I’m going to be blunt and explain what neither of these great men were explicitly stated (although it is implied in both talks): Orgasm is not the end of your creation. [Read more…]

Zombies and evil: An Easter Post

This Easter morning, I was riding a train to Salt Lake, snow-covered mountains, bathed in sunlight while their tops are erased by the cloud cover. It was a beautiful scene, reminiscent of the fickle nature of spring along the Wasatch. This visual combination of the light and the dark, the warm and the cold, winter and summer, and the living and the dead seemed especially appropriate for Easter. And, because I am who I am, so did contemplation of zombies. [Read more…]

The Magic Words

A couple of weeks ago, I encountered something I never expected during the Sacrament: politesse. [Read more…]

The Emperor Ming Bitter Awards [A Winner is Declared!]

Now that it has been confirmed that I will not be receiving a Niblet this year, it’s time to shift from the official BCC stance of indifference to my personal position of outright hatred. I hate you all. With the power of 1000 suns my rage burns within! I will crush you all, by means of blogpoll. [Read more…]

The Black Hole

This post will likely make you uncomfortable. I know that I am going to be uncomfortable writing it. [Read more…]

Everything that is wrong with LDS Gospel Teaching, Part Three: Organics are better for you

This is the third in a series of three posts. In the first post, I mostly whine about Sunday School and Gospel Teaching. In the second post, I’ll get more specific about what I think the problem is. In this post, I actually propose a possible solution.

Ok. So now I’ve blathered on for two long posts about how horrible everything is and why it is so horrible. “That’s great, Whiny McWhinikins!” you should be saying, “Where are these solutions you promised us?”

Um…pay no attention to the man behind the curtain… [Read more…]

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