Academic approaches to scripture sometimes arouse suspicion in LDS circles, especially when they include the Higher Criticism (“Moses didn’t write the five books of Moses?”) or reading the Bible as literature (“So you think this is a work of fiction?”). People using or advocating these approaches often draw charges of privileging the intellectual ways of the world over the pure spiritual truth of God, of trusting in the arm of flesh, or of kowtowing to secular disbelief in the interest of seeming more acceptable.
Letter to a Man in the Fire* is a brief meditation on the question of God’s existence and God’s goodness in the face of inexplicable suffering in the world. (Really brief. I read it in about two hours.) Reynolds Price’s letter, written in response to a young man dying of cancer, is suffused with an unusual mix of uncertainty and devotion. Price spends a lot of time agonizing over whether it’s appropriate to even write a letter recommending the existence and—in some sense—the goodness of a Creator to someone whose present suffering directly calls those views into question. Price’s reluctance is appropriate especially because so many people who write answers to theodicy questions forge ahead with affirmations of God’s goodness without dwelling long with the sufferer in their very real pain. He wants neither to “diminish for an instant my sense of the grinding wheel you’re presently under” by offering weak platitudes, nor “burden you further with darker thoughts than you’re otherwise bearing”—a frighteningly acute description of the strange negotiations comforters must make as they go along trying to “mourn with those that mourn” as well as “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (80; Mosiah 18:9). [Read more...]
Last week, popular Christian evangelist Ravi Zacharias returned to Salt Lake City to address Mormons and other Christians from the Tabernacle pulpit. Back in 2004, Zacharias’s historic Tabernacle address was overshadowed in the news by Richard Mouw’s controversial introductory remarks. Mouw, president of the Fuller Theological Seminary, issued an apology to Mormons on behalf of evangelicals who he said had sinned against Mormonism by misrepresenting their beliefs and practices. Over the past decade, the evangelical (Calvinist) Christian has continued to dialog with various Mormons in order to promote better interfaith relationships. During the last two presidential elections he became one of the many go-to sources for news outlets seeking soundbites on evangelical views of Mormonism. He’s taken a lot of heat for this within his religious community–early on being told that he didn’t know Mormons well enough and so would easily be deceived by them, later being told he had become too close to Mormons to have a clear view of their dangerous heresies.
His new book Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals is an effort to educate the evangelical community about his ongoing work with Mormonism. [Read more...]
I just finished reading a fascinating book a couple months ago called To Mormons, With Love by Chrisy Ross. She blogs here and gives a quick overview of her book here. You can buy her book on Kindle here. Chrisy and her family are nondenominational Christians who live (voluntarily, not because of Witness Relocation or anything like that) in Utah County – and even enjoy it mostly! I’m not sure I know many Mormons for whom I could say the same, but I might live in the opposite of a Mormon bubble. [Read more...]
Title: Falling in Love with Joseph Smith: My Search for the Real Prophet
Author: Jane Barnes
Price: $25.95 (or $10 on Amazon)
In this quirky autobiographical biography of Joseph Smith the Mormon prophet, writer Jane Barnes offers an overview of Smith’s life intertwined with her own life experiences of love, loss and death. [Read more...]
Title: Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology
Author: Adam S. Miller
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
[Note: Adam Miller is co-founder of Salt Press, an independent publishing outfit whose books were recently brought into the Maxwell Institute at BYU where I work. This book isn't a Salt title, but I thought I'd mention the connection anyway.]
I watched Groundhog Day the other night. I’ve owned the DVD for years but never tore the plastic wrapping until Adam Miller put a bug in my ear via one of his theological essays. (It was just as good as I remembered it!) Miller, the theological film critic. I laughed when Phil, Bill Murray’s character, punched Ned Ryerson in the face at a busy intersection and I teared up as he fruitlessly pummeled the chest of a dying homeless man in a freezing alleyway. “Come on, pops, come on pops, don’t die on me.” Watching Phil struggle through incomprehension, laugh at absurdity, and find joy in relationships, reminded me a lot of reading Miller’s book. I’d already read great reviews of it, I couldn’t wait to get a copy. But I hit many more brick walls than I anticipated. This deceptively thin volume will take much more of your time than you might think. It felt at times like the alarm clock kept hitting 6:00 AM, February 2, and I was in for another round of difficulty. Not that all the essays were the same, but that they were each difficult in their own way. It’s way above my level to feel confident in doing this, but my review is an attempt to help readers like me have a better chance at making it through the book. [Read more...]
Q&A with Kevin B. Jones, author of
What Doctors Cannot Tell You: Clarity, Confidence and Uncertainty in Medicine (Book website)
[I have known Kevin since college and have always admired his kindness, wisdom, poetry, and intelligence. He has written a thoughtful book about uncertainty and confidence in medicine, and I'm honored to have him participate in a Q&A for BCC.]
Q: Why did you write What Doctors Cannot Tell You?
Title: The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith
Author: Joanna Brooks
Publisher: Self published (but not for long…)
Rumor has it Joanna Brooks’s self-published memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl has been picked up by Free Press/Simon & Schuster for national publication this August with an expanded chapter-and-a-half. We’ve seen a lot of chatter about her book online recently, so I thought I’d venture a review. I hope you’ll excuse my decision to kick things off with an observation based on personal experience. (The Book of Mormon Girl is, after all, a personal memoir!) My own undergraduate years were spent writing and editing articles for a variety of small Utah newspapers. I remember how daunting it felt to be assigned an article on a subject I knew next-to-nothing about, like computer animation, mechanical engineering, or say, feminism. Oh, how comforting to a journalist is that friendly, articulate insider willing to endure the inane questions of—and likely later misrepresentation by—the stammering cub reporter! [Read more...]
Today brings yet another piece by Ralph Hancock about Joanna Brooks, this time in the Deseret News (no, I will not support that piece by sending link traffic). I have been profoundly troubled by Hancock’s self-appointed and bitingly personal quest to defame and humiliate Brooks at every opportunity (and then some). I feel pained–as a sister, as a woman, as a Mormon, as a feminist, as someone who, like Brooks, has assumed certain risks in choosing to use my voice to speak publicly on issues that matter deeply to me. Until now, I haven’t felt the strength to really respond to Hancock. My hurt and anger has prevented me from being confident that I could speak out in a way that would be as effective in denouncing Hancock’s behavior as I felt the seriousness of the repeated offenses warranted. Today, the imperative to stand firm and proud with someone I am honored to know, Joanna Brooks, has overcome. I am taking up her suggestion and embarking on a fabulous feminist fundraiser in honor of Ralph Hancock. The more he attacks, the more money goes to the Mormon feminist cause.
Title: The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age
Author: Randall J. Stephens and Karl W. Giberson
Publisher: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press
If the word “Evangelical” popped up in a word association game, hair-trigger responses might include words like “Republican,” “anti-evolution,” “Jerry Falwell,” or “fundamentalist.” Word association games aren’t usually the best way to understand religion. (When it comes to Mormons, “polygamy” usually tops the list.) Numbering an estimated one hundred million people—sixteen million in the Southern Baptist Convention alone (7, 187)—the American evangelical community is actually more diverse than these labels can hope to communicate. Politically, the spectrum ranges from conservative to liberal (though perhaps heavily weighted toward the former), all bound loosely together by a common commitment to the necessity of being “born again” through Jesus Christ. Such Christians have no central authoritative body and no single all-encompassing creed. But the open marketplace of religion in the United States has provided space for an evangelical “parallel culture,” complete with its own schools, publishing houses, music industry, summer camps, school accreditation agencies, historians, scientists, and family counselors. [Read more...]
Title: The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith
Author: Matthew Bowman
Publisher: Random House
Hallelujah! The world needed an accessible, neutral, brief, birth-to-present history of Mormonism, and it needed it right now. Matthew Bowman has written that book. Including every relevant moment from the boy Joseph’s leg operation to Twilight, and from suffragist Emmeline Wells to Broadway’s Elder Price, all in a slim 253 pages (plus several appendices), Bowman works a space-packing miracle reminiscent of Dr. Who’s TARDIS or Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. Opinion makers in the media, politics, and academia who want to join the conversation about Mormons will be well prepared by this brisk and rigorous overview, and I imagine many keeping a heavily Post-It-noted copy near at hand in the coming months and years. Bowman’s work shines most brightly in its detailed rendering of the uniquely fertile soil for religious innovation in the time and place of young Joseph Smith’s America, and its painstakingly balanced study of the early origins of the church. Interested outsiders will also find, in Chapter 8, an excellent portrait of daily life for “an active, committed Mormon family” today, including the rhythms of weekly meetings and activities, and private devotional life such as Family Home Evening.
The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith
Queenbee Industries, 2012
Amazon Kindle Edition, 243 KB (page count as yet unknown, print release slated for February, preorder info here)
But mostly in a good way. That’s how I felt finishing Joanna Brooks’ memoir The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith. I found many of her descriptions eerily parallel to my own growing up as a Mormon girl with the differences being that I grew up on a farm in Utah instead of in the orange groves of California and I came around ten years later. I think it was both by design and due to her talent as a writer that I so easily felt pulled by the threads of similarity that my own Mormon girl story started interweaving with Joanna’s.
Title: Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives
Author: Davis Bitton
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Price: $19.95 (Kindle, $9.95)
The fluidity of personality; the fallibility of perception; ambiguous memory construction; the happenstance instances of recording; the ravages of time. Just a few minor things to consider when trying to recall important events in my own life. And if I face such challenges regarding the things I’ve personally witnessed, how much more cautious should I be when dealing with history? With a particular historical figure? Named Joseph Smith. Who was he? So many different Josephs to choose from.
This is the general lesson LDS historian Davis Bitton hoped to convey in his book, Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2011). [Read more...]
Title: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
Author: Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker strongly disagrees with the Beatles. Love, he argues, is certainly not “all you need.” At least, not if you’re interested in decreasing human violence (592). But judging by Pinker’s latest book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, he’s also not a cynical pessimist. He’d more likely sing along with another Beatles classic:
It’s getting better all the time…
Better, Better, Better.
It’s getting better all the time…
Better Better Better.
Getting so much better all the time!
Better Angels is physically and intellectually thick, but it’s actually tackling a few very basic things like anger, love, empathy, and reason. Are humans inherently good or evil? Rather than presenting a history of human thought on that question, Pinker makes his own case that human violence has decreased alongside an increase in human intelligence. [Read more...]
In this special Halloween episode, Scott B. and Steve Evans play host to BCC’s long-time friend and Juvenile Instructor blogger Matt Bowman, who thrills the children with tales of Cain, Bigfoot, and secret UFO societies. Later, recent BCC guest blogger Theric (Eric Jepson) gives us an update on the soon-to-be-released anthology “Monsters and Mormons.”
And if that lineup isn’t sufficient, our very own Kristine Haglund checks in to help the ladies design Halloween costumes depicting famous Mormon women.
Episode Content Guide (below the fold) [Read more...]
In conjunction with Jana Reiss’ new book, Flunking Sainthood, we’re pleased to offer a new contest: storytelling. We want to hear your stories of when you’ve been honest about who you really are at Church. Says Jana, “I would like our contest to be for people to tell stories of times they allowed themselves to be really vulnerable and candid in a church setting — both positive and negative stories.” [Read more...]
Title: Conversions: Two Family Stories From the Reformation and Modern America
Author: Craig Harline
Publisher: Yale University Press
Pages: xi, 320
“The human intellect demands accuracy
while the soul craves meaning.
History ministers to both with stories.”1
Conversions, a new book by Craig Harline, presents exactly what the subtitle suggests: Two Family Stories From the Reformation and Modern America. In one story, Jacob Rolandus cuts himself off from his Reformed family by converting to Catholicism in 1654. In the other, the pseudonymous Michael Sunbloom converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the late 1970s, devastating his Evangelical Christian parents.
By juxtaposing these two narratives, Harline foregrounds a perennial question about the importance of historical scholarship: “So what?” This is the “relevance” question. Congratulations, Mr. Harline; while you’ve been digging around in dusty old archives or kicking back in your ivory tower, we’ve been out here creating jobs and doing other Important Things.
This is an attitude many historians are familiar with, as Harline himself candidly acknowledges: [Read more...]
Title: Let the Earth Bring Forth: Evolution and Scripture
Author: Howard C. Stutz
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Pages: xvi, 87
Price: $15.95 ($9.95, Kindle)
“One of the greatest tragedies in recent times has been the extensive promulgation of creeds that have created chasms between science and religion. At no time in the history of humankind has science provided a more comprehensible panorama of the universe in which we live. Nor has there ever been a time when God has more clearly revealed Himself and His purposes to His children. Why then should there be so much apparent conflict between science and religion?” (xix).
Let the Earth Bring Forth is the culminating testimony of a man who spent his life successfully exploring the realms of faith and science. In addition to earning a Ph.D in genetics at UC Berkeley and teaching at Brigham Young University, Howard C. Stutz (b. 1918) served in various church callings from bishop, to high councilor, to stake patriarch. In university and church settings he interacted with students who were unsure of how to make sense of evolution from a faithful perspective. Shortly before passing away in 2010, Stutz completed his manuscript to “point out the harmony which exists between the theory of speciation by organic evolution and revealed truths contained in hold scriptures” (xv).
Stutz repeatedly emphasizes a few guiding principles throughout the book: [Read more...]
Title: Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today
Author: N. T. Wright
N.T. Wright has been called “the C.S. Lewis for our time.” Like Lewis, Wright is Anglican. Like Lewis, Wright’s overriding purpose is to demonstrate Christianity’s relevance for our times (Lewis with modernism, Wright with postmodernism). Lewis wrote Surprised by Joy, Wright wrote Surprised by Hope. Like Lewis, Wright’s style is cleverly engaging. This particular similarity is evident from the first line of Wright’s latest publication:
“Writing a book about the Bible is like building a sandcastle in front of the Matterhorn. The best you can hope to do is to catch the eye of those who are looking down instead of up, or those who are so familiar with the skyline that they have stopped noticing its peculiar beauty” (ix).
Odds are, if you’ve enjoyed Lewis’s theological or devotional writings, you’ll enjoy Wright’s. Some differences between the two deserve attention. Unlike Lewis, who was content to remain a lay Anglican, Wright once served as Bishop of Durham, and sat in the UK’s House of Lords. Unlike Lewis, who was an armchair theologian and literary critic whose fiction largely outranks his non-fiction, Wright is a distinguished Bible scholar who takes higher criticism much more seriously than Lewis could have. Lewis still serves as a safe source for many Mormons who are pleased to find similar theological ground in the works of a non-LDS author. Wright can easily serve a similar purpose for Mormons in regards to contemporary biblical scholarship.1 He has a knack for making complex academic discussions comprehensible to regular folk like me. It is with this in mind that I recommend his latest book, Scripture and the Authority of God.2 It’s a lot thicker than its 224 pages appear at first glance as evinced by this over-long, chapter-by-chapter review, but at least the prose is almost always accessible and the analogies creative! [Read more...]
About a month ago a publicist wrote in to the BCC Admin address trying to get me a copy of a new book, Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage, by Joe, Alina, Vicki and Valerie Darger, with Brooke Adams (New York: HarperOne, 2011). I have to admit, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it at first. I had never heard of the Dargers or their book, and I assumed it was sort of a self-published thing that would be poorly written. But what the heck, I thought, I’ll take a flyer on it. I wrote back and told the woman she could send me a copy. [Read more...]
Title: The Fob Bible
Editors: Eric W Jepson, B.G. Christensen, Sarah E. Jenkins, Danny Nelson
Publisher: Peculiar Pages
Binding: Various ebook, Paperback, Hardcover
During the Sunday morning session of General Conference, Elder Tad R. Callister used an illustration I remember from my mission. It was a dot, representing the Bible, with a bunch of lines running through it in all directions. The lines represented a slew of biblical interpretations. In the face of so many perspectives, a stabilizing way to approach the text might seem welcome.
A second dot is added, representing the Book of Mormon. Callister pointed out, by connecting the two dots, the Book of Mormon is understood as a clarifying tool for the Bible. His illustration is a simple way of saying that, for Mormons, the Book of Mormon is a useful hermeneutical device, not a replacement for, the Bible.
Without disagreeing with that general principle, dissecting the illustration uncovers interesting assumptions and possibilities. [Read more...]
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...]
In this episode, Scott B. listens in as John C. outlines his hopes for the upcoming General Conference (Hint: 2-hour block!), BHodges talks with long-time BCC friend Ken Jennings about Ken’s new book “Maphead,” and Mormon blogging legend GST makes an appearance to tell the world what it feels like to be humiliated on national TV. And if that lineup isn’t sufficient, we also have the sound of our very own Kristine Haglund listening to songs by Michael McLean.
Episode Content Guide (below the fold) [Read more...]
Title: Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks
Author: Ken Jennings
“I think that the constant study of maps is apt to disturb men’s reasoning powers,” Lord Salisbury, p. 207.
You have to wonder if Ken Jennings’s parents realized their son was a different sort of fellow when he chose to sleep with a World Atlas next to his pillow, rather than your average child’s teddy bear. As far back as he can remember he’s loved maps. While researching for his new book, Maphead, Jennings discovered he wasn’t alone. “Cartophilia” is alive and well, and Jennings hopes to spread the love: “If you never open a map until you’re lost,” he insists, “you’re missing out on all the fun” (120). [Read more...]
Italo Calvino’s If on a winter night a traveler is a novel of starts with no stops. Calvino explores language and the relationship between texts and readers. I happened to be reading it at the same time I was going through Brant A. Gardner’s new book The Gift and the Power: Translating the Book of Mormon. I’ll post my full review of Gardner tomorrow, but here’s an excerpt from Calvino to ponder in the meantime. [Read more...]
Theric rides again!
You know how sex makes me sad? I tell you how sex makes me sad. Sex makes me sad when people are talking about it and don’t think to invite me. What is that all about? Man alive. I’m an artist! Of course I want to talk about sex!
The problem is, no one wants to talk with me. In a 2009 issue of Irreantum, Bruce Jorgensen wrote a tired retread titled “Reading About Sex in Mormon Fiction — If We Can Read” which basically was the for-idiots version of his much better 1987 Dialogdue article on the topic. On Thutopia, I wrote a response to that article as part of my LDS Eros series (I’ve also written about the 1987 article) in which I pretended that Jorgensen should be reading my blog and know all about the interesting and scintillating and crazy-sexy things I’d been saying. In fact, as far as I know, I’ve had exactly one BYU professor read my blog exactly once. And if memory serves, he wasn’t interested in fictional-sex advice. So even if I am opening new doors and not just revisiting tired antiroach arguments, it doesn’t matter because I’m not part of the conversation. [Read more...]
First, let me recognize that not all Mormons who know how to read went to Brigham Young University*, but we certainly have enough alumni to agree that readers of BYU Magazine are not an insignificant number of reading Saints (~215,000). [Read more...]
Rosalynde Welch, with her characteristic intelligence, has laid down a concise, cogent, and challenging explanation of why American Mormon authors tend to congregate in “genre” categories, like science-fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, or some combination thereof, rather than pursue “serious literary fiction”: [Read more...]