Choices, Choices

I’ve been reflecting a lot on E. Quentin Cook’s talk called “Choose Wisely.”  This was the opening talk of the Priesthood session, so I suppose that makes me not the target audience, and yet it’s clearly a talk with universal application. [1]  I won’t let that stop me.

E. Cook begins by talking about the problems when we rationalize our failures to act heroically.  He uses the example of Lucy not catching the ball in the Peanuts comic strips.

While always humorous, Lucy’s excuses were rationalizations; they were untrue reasons for her failure to catch the ball.

He then goes on to talk about the eternal ramifications when we rationalize our failure to prepare for our eternal goals. [Read more...]

Are We Not All Beggars?

blind beggar“…look to the poor and needy and administer to their relief, that they shall not suffer.” Now note the imperative verb in that passage: “They SHALL not suffer.” That is language God uses when he means business.

On Saturday afternoon, Jeffrey R. Holland stood at the podium delivered a gut-wrenching punch to all Latter-day Saints on what it means to actually live as a Christian. Being a follower of the Savior means acknowledging very real commandments, not mere suggestions, on what it means to dedicate our lives to following the Son of Man. [Read more...]

An Economic Explanation for BYU-I’s Dress Standards(?)

Ashton Kutcher couldn't walk around BYU-I like that.

Ashton Kutcher couldn’t walk around BYU-I like that.

As Steve highlighted earlier today,[fn1] the BYU-Idaho dress and grooming standards are arbitrary and relatively absurd. I mean, seriously, as a born-and-raised Californian, I can’t comprehend a dress code that bans flip-flops.[fn2] The dress and grooming standards can’t be all about modesty, because ankles and toes and beards, oh my! And if all they’re about is obedience, well, that’s stupid. There’s no spiritual value to obeying arbitrary rules.[fn3]

But maybe their actual function isn’t modesty. Or obedience. May it’s economics.  [Read more...]

The Myth of Traditional Marriage

Ooh, baby.

According to the song, love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.  But when it comes to the history of marriage, pairing marriage with love is putting the cart before the horse.  If we look at why people used to get married, traditionally, we’ll quickly see why marriages today are less stable.  And why that may not be a terrible thing.

The phrase “traditional marriage” [1] is currently in vogue to describe opponents of gay marriage.  Just what does marriage look like over time?  Why do people marry and why is marriage changing so much? [Read more...]

Germany’s Church Tax

A couple days ago, the Wall Street Journal highlighted (subscription required[fn1]) the accelerating loss of members certain churches in Germany are facing. The popular press is placing the blame at least partly on the new administration of Germany’s Church Tax.

What? you ask. A church tax? What’s that?

So glad you asked. [Read more...]

Church Finances, 1947-Style

In April 1959, the Church published its last financial report. The last here is important, though, because, for almost half a century leading up to that report, the Church presented a relatively detailed financial report in each April General Conference.

Until a couple months ago, though, I’d never seen the financial reports that the Church issued. In the course of his reading and research, J. Stapley came across the Church’s 1947 financial report, and offered to let me blog it. I jumped at the chance, and the disclosure turns out, in many ways, to be as fascinating as I’d hoped.  [Read more...]

In Which I Unpack a Finance-Based Atonement Parable (or Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Work on Wall Street)

Understanding the Atonement is tough.[fn1] To try to understand it, theologians have come up with theories to describe the whys and hows of the Atonement, and stories to illustrate how the Atonement works.

We’ve got a handful of favorite illustrative stories in Mormonism, including bicycles and lickings. I was recently reading chapter 12 of the Gospel Principles manual, and I came across an Atonement story that I haven’t seen in a while: a parable of a debtor and a creditor. What follows are my thoughts as I reread it:[fn2]  [Read more...]

Some Tax Benefits Are Just for Churches

(I originally wanted to call this “Pastoral Housing, Take 2″[fn1] but, it turns out, pastoral housing is only one small aspect of the case.)

Last week, a federal court in Kentucky issued a decision in a lawsuit that could have far-reaching ramifications for churches.[fn2] In broad strokes, American Atheists, Inc., Atheists of Northern Indiana, Inc., and Atheist Archives of Kentucky, Inc. sued the IRS, arguing that certain tax provisions applicable solely to churches were unconstitutionally discriminatory. [Read more...]

A Day of Fasting and Prayer

Nicolas Kristof has done us a great service in bringing to the nation’s (and world’s) attention the depraved and cowardly kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian girls by the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram. Boko Haram means “Western education is a sin” in the Hausa language. All that “secular” learning. Boko Haram would rather conflate religion and the state, ensuring that women have no voice in society, confined to whatever influence their husbands allow them in their homes in the forced marriages into which they are sold in their early or mid-teens. [Read more...]

“Celestial Kingdom Jurisdiction” and Tax Protesters

In 1999, Jimmie Duane Ross got $840,000 from his former employer, the result of an arbitration hearing. I don’t know what Ross did with that money; I do know, however, one thing he didn’t do: pay his taxes.[fn1]

Which is wrong, of course, but not by itself newsworthy. Lots of people don’t pay their taxes.[fn2] So why blog this? Two reasons: first, today is April 15th.[fn3] Second, in addition to standard tax protester arguments for why he didn’t need to pay his taxes, Ross made some expressly Mormon arguments.  [Read more...]

Taxing the Temple

10439537According to yesterday’s news, the Church lost an appeal in the European Court of Human Rights and, as a result, will have to pay property taxes on the Preston, England temple.

Of course, the decision raises a number of questions, not the least of which is how a property tax dispute gets to the European Court of Human Rights in the first place. Other fair questions include whether this evinces European prejudice against the Mormon church and what ramifications this decision will have for the Church.  [Read more...]

Hunger Banquet 2014

BYU Hunger Banquet 2014, Co-hosted by The Kennedy Center for International Studies at BYU (source: http://tinyurl.com/lfz42t3)

BYU Hunger Banquet 2014, Co-hosted by The Kennedy Center for International Studies at BYU (source: http://tinyurl.com/lfz42t3)

BYU’s 24th annual Hunger Banquet yesterday was a perfect way to welcome in Fast Sunday and as a prelude to the upcoming season of Lent beginning this week. The Hunger Banquet was a wonderful success, as it has been in past years, and I would like to express my thanks to the students from various initiatives across campus and the Kennedy Center for their work in continuing this important experience for the community. Fasting today on the food I received as someone assigned to the “developing world” in last night’s events has directed my mind to the less fortunate even more starkly than on a normal Fast Sunday. [Read more...]

Polygamous Tax Evasion

In the litany of evils perpetrated by polygamists, one evil stands out above the rest: tax evasion. Feel the chill? Yes, tax evasion.

O RLY? you might ask. [Read more...]

Mormon Marriage Equality

Are men and women partners or competitors?  What about in marriage?  Do men feel threatened by wives with successful careers?

Are Mormon marriages more equal or less equal than other marriages?  Do Mormon women feel that they are taken seriously and treated as equals by their husbands?  Are they encouraged to follow their dreams?  Do they find their work (whether at home or in the workplace) meaningful and rewarding?  In the give and take of marriage, are men and women giving and taking fairly?

I recently finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In.  In the book, she talks about several things we can do to help women achieve their potential and to help men and women feel more equal and personally satisfied, within their personal lives and in the workplace.  This list includes things like: [Read more...]

Is It Time to Reduce the BYU Subsidy?

Enter to learn; go forth to toil in obscurity.

My son was recently admitted to BYU for the upcoming fall semester.  Here are some things about BYU we discovered in the application process:

  • BYU is mind-blowingly cheap.  It is about a tenth the cost of other universities he applied for and twice what we would have to pay for an in-state tuition assuming we could somehow qualify as residents having lived abroad for two and a half years.  When room & board and other incidental costs are included, that gap is narrowed a little so that other schools were only 4 times the cost of BYU. [Read more...]

The Implications of Encouraging Early Marriage in a Global Church

This is the first of a two part response to Elaine Dalton’s recent BYU Devotional speech.

Globally, early marriage is inextricably linked to development and human rights concerns. I believe that the words of a general officer of our worldwide church should be considered from a worldwide perspective. In this light, some of her conclusions are troubling. [Read more...]

Gas Prices and the Mormon Commute

The average cost of a litre of petrol in the UK right now is £1.39. That is $2.23 per litre, which is $8.42 per gallon.

Yes, ouch. This post is about the cost in fuel of being an active Mormon in the United Kingdom. [Read more...]

Poor Rich People

Hawkgrrl returns to grace us with her words.

This has been a crappy few years to be rich.  There have been a few jerks who’ve really given wealth a bad name:   Wall Streeters who traded in junk bonds, pyramid schemer Bernie Madoff, and “hot rabbit” and accused maid molester DSK.  Many rich people are under water on their mortgage(s).  Add to that a Democrat government that is unapologetically tone-deaf to rich people and their needs.  As Jesus said, “The poor ye have always with you.” Meaning, it’s always going to suck to be poor, but being rich is supposed to be awesome, right?  Yet, thanks to a few bad apples and a little global economic peril, rich people are vilified and reviled, mocked openly for their very riches.  There’s something wrong when 99% of people can threaten the well-being of the overwhelming minority, the 1%.  It’s a good thing the rich can afford personal security and to serve in government.

And the hits keep coming.  A recent study shows that (I am not making this up) rich people are more likely to take candy from babies.

First of all, depending on how old the babies are and the type of candy, babies should not be eating candy.  It’s unsafe.  Babies’ teeth may not be well developed enough for a nougat or a crunchy Heath bar.  Another problem with babies eating candy is that they are often very messy with it.  I have known a baby to take a caramel out of his drooling mouth multiple times before ultimately leaving it in the carpet, resulting in property damage.  Should we really reward that kind of behavior?  Also, with the childhood obesity problem in the US, the rich people may be providing a valuable service in preventing babies from becoming addicted to low-nutrition foods.  Of course, the article did not make any of these valid points, instead implying that rich people are selfish bastards. [Read more...]

Providing In The Lord’s Way, Part 2

Part 1 is here.
In this part, I want to explore some of the reasons we like the LDS welfare system and examine our assumptions, first to see if they are accurate and, second, to see if they could be applied more generally.

[Read more...]

Providing In The Lord’s Way, Part 1

“The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age…” [1]

This post and the one which will follow are an attempt to think along with Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his sermon in the priesthood meeting at the recent general conference.

He begins by expressing his profound gratitude for the Deseret brand canned peaches and clothing which were donated by latter-day saints in the United States and which blessed his boyhood home in Germany in the aftermath of World War II.  He then goes to our canon of scripture and grounds his sermon in three texts:

“If thou lovest me … thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support” (D&C 52:40)

“Remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple” (D&C 104:18)

“If any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.” (Matthew 22:36-40) [Read more...]

Depressing Discoveries About My Libertarianism, Part 4

This is the final entry in a 4-part series. Previous entries are found here, here, and here.

I can make an argument that I’m a libertarian because I’m a Mormon. I can also make a separate argument that I’m a libertarian because of my background in economics. Lastly, I can make the argument that I am a libertarian because I believe that individual liberty is vital to economic and social prosperity. But none of these arguments feel very honest to me.

Total honesty, then? [Read more...]

Depressing Discoveries About My Libertarianism, Part 3

Welcome back to this depressing series of posts.

In Part 1, I confessed that I’m not very charitable. In Part 2, I talked about how I don’t get along with would-be/should-be political allies–other LDS libertarians. The impetus for today’s Depressing Discovery came when an overseas-coblogger recently asked for my thoughts on some of the Presidential candidates’ views, and I had to admit that I didn’t know a single thing about any of their views.

To understand why this is the case, it is important to understand that my particular flavor of libertarianism flows not just from a belief in the importance of individual liberty relative to other objectives, but also from a profound cynicism towards government, politicians, and political processes. Put simply, I don’t have a shred of faith in politicians, individually or collectively, to a) properly identify a problem, b) properly identify a solution, or c) properly apply the solution to the problem.[1] The logical outcome of this lack of faith, therefore, is a lack of interest in what politicians are saying. Since I have no confidence that anyone is going to “get it right,” I can’t be bothered to educate myself on what actually would be right, or devote any energy to supporting it. [Read more...]

Resource Constraints & Shifts In Religious Behavior Patterns

The recent issue of BYU Studies contains a paper written by my co-blogger Jonathan Stapley regarding the Relief Society’s burial services the early 1900’s.  The paper addresses a decline in Relief Society burial preparations, and largely attributes this decline to the Relief Society’s inability to compete with professional burial service providers. I think this is reasonable, but found it somewhat incomplete when I looked at the data.  In particular, I was curious about the speed of the decline in burial preparations over time, and wondered if there might be more to the story than an inability to provide equally good burial services. In any case, it seemed like an excellent opportunity for rampant speculation. [Read more...]

Radical Homemaking, Radical Enrichment

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

I first heard about Shannon Hayes work through Laura McKenna’s blog nearly two years ago. I was already disposed to like the sorts of localist, agrarian, and traditional causes that Hayes urges us to consider when I first read about her (after all, Melissa and I vaguely aspire to that sort of lifestyle ourselves), but it was Laura’s concluding line–“There is absolutely no reason that feminism should mean a devotion to capitalism”–that really pulled me in. When I finally got a copy of Hayes’s book, Radical Homemakers, I confess it wasn’t what I expected–rather than a serious, theoretically grounded critique of consumer culture, family life, and the structural obstacles that often stand in the way of adopting a simpler, more communal lifestyle, I found an often sloppily researched but nonetheless impassioned instruction manual-cum-rallying cry. A cry and a manual for what? Very simply, for rejecting the economic demands which insist of dual-income households (p. 17), for relearning how to grow and preserve your own food (pp. 78-83), and for refusing the economically and environmentally devastating materialism of modern American life (pp. 93-94). And I thought to myself: now, wouldn’t this make for a great Relief Society lesson?

[Read more...]

Tuesday Afternoon Poetry

Harbor Hills Ward: Newport Beach

You emerge from your car, laughing.
“I forgot to tie my dress,” you say,
turning your back to me, and I do it for you.
And I think I understand how Cinderella felt
once, that early afternoon,
when the ball was still imaginary:

Standing there,
in her wrinkled black polyester,
grasping Drusilla’s sash,
her callused fingertips
not fathoming the silk,
it’s that fine, bluer than
Gatsby’s shirts, softer,
wealth slipping through her fingers,
fluttering, catching on a hangnail–
Cinderella hopes she doesn’t smell of onions
as she ties a lopsided bow
on her sister.

[Read more...]

Does the charitable deduction make sense for Mormons?

This year, Mormons will likely be disproportionate beneficiaries of the charitable deduction as they deduct money paid for tithing. The issue is whether allowing Mormons this deduction makes economic sense. [Read more...]

Comparative Advantage, or, Get Your Hands Off My Former Bishop

Many people assume that Father Adam was the author of the theory of comparative advantage, but this is incorrect; Smith was the driving force behind its predecessor–absolute advantage. It would be another 40 years or so before Torrens and Ricardo would demonstrate that, while Adam was a prophet, he was not infallible.
[Read more...]

Roosts and Nests

I have twice been mistaken for a homeless person. Once was funny, the other devastating. Both happened in college. The first time, I was wandering from my dormitory to the Student Union for breakfast, when a pleasant middle-aged woman started chatting with me about the Boston area. After several minutes of gentle circumlocution that left me uncertain what she wanted, she revealed that she needed advice on where best to solicit donations (“panhandle”). I was so delighted that she had thought I was homeless and been such a pleasant companion on my walk, that I tried to take her out to breakfast (she was embarrassed despite my reassurances, so I brought her breakfast outside the Union).

The second experience was devastating. [Read more...]

Ill-Gotten Gains & Illegal Immigration

I hope that Kevin Barney will forgive me for slicing the lunch meat deli-thin by using his post on tithing practices as a springboard for this related post. In my defense, I’ve been meaning to write something like this for months, but just haven’t gotten around to it until I saw a comment from reader Martin in Kevin’s thread and feared my window was closing quickly.

According to Scott Trotter, a spokesman for the Church, the LDS Church has “a long-standing policy of not profiting from alleged ill-gotten gains.” In general, this means that the Church does not knowingly accept tithing or other donations which come through unclean hands. What exactly “unclean hands” means in this context is a subject we could probably spend days talking about, but there is (likely) at least some level of common agreement about what would constitute ill-gotten gains among Latter-day Saints. For example, I doubt that many would dispute the ill-gotten nature of funds received through a bank robbery or street-mugging, and most of us would certainly be uncomfortable with the idea of building a temple, distributing welfare care, or sending humanitarian aid to disaster areas with funds that were obtained through such channels. However, those examples aren’t particularly useful to the average Mormon in the pews, since most of us are a) not bank robbers/thugs and b) most of us don’t really even know anyone who is. Thus, our chances for glaring judgmentally and wagging our fingers in disapproval at our neighbors are horribly diminished unless we expand our definition of ill-gotten gains. [Read more...]

Can a Good Mormon Make Over $100,000 a Year?

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

This post is, in a sense, a sequel to two older posts: “Can a Good Mormon be a Meritocrat?” and “Can a Good Mormon be a Socialist?” In case you can’t be bothered to read until the end, the answers to the three questions are: “Probably not,” “Yes,” and “Sometimes, maybe, but seriously, why would you want to take that risk anyway?” [Read more...]

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