Your Friday Firestorm #10

We counsel you, young men, not to pollute your minds with such degrading matter, for the mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterwards. Don’t see R-rated movies or vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic. Don’t listen to music that is degrading.

Ezra Taft Benson, “To the ‘Youth of the Noble Birthright'”, Ensign, May 1986 (reporting the proceedings of Priesthood Session, 156th Annual General Conference)


Sorting out a story on faith

Talmage in his Articles on Faith tells the story of a scientist who “proved to his own satisfaction, by chemical and microscopical tests, that the water supply was infected” with cholera then, in a momentary lapse, drank the infected water and died. The moral of the story is that the unsophisticated masses believed and were spared death by cholera, while the intellectual scientist did not have faith sufficient to protect himself. It’s not quite clear to whom he was alluding historically. The most natural suspects are John Snow, parent of modern epidemiology, who famously associated cholera with contaminated water, or Robert Koch, parent of modern microbiology, who isolated the cholera bacillus. Snow died of a stroke, while Koch died of a heart attack.

Does anyone know the source of this Talmage story? Was he merging a broader morality tale with the history of Snow or Koch?

The story is pp 101-2 of the original edition.

Invoking the name of the Lord, a quantitative history

Invoking the name of the Lord is common in Mormon parlance. Whether prayer, testimony or discourse, terminating one’s words with the phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen” or a variation thereof is standard practice. This practice as currently employed is, however, a relatively recent innovation in the Mormon tradition. [Read more…]

Can Sunstone ever become legitimate?

I was talking with some friends the other day about mormon journals (1), and in particular the legitimacy divide between ‘mainstream’ or ‘sanctioned’ publications such as BYU Studies and ‘independent’ or ‘fringe’ publications such as Sunstone. The question arose as to whether Sunstone could ever be accepted as a mainstream publication by members of the Church. (2) [Read more…]

Inspired Errors

Jared* the scientific guest blogger continues his reign of terror! Earlier posts here and here.

A little over a week ago I was reading Stephen J. Gould’s essay, “Bathybius and Eozoon,” which appears along with others of his essays in The Panda’s Thumb, and came across an interesting passage. The quick background is that bathybius and eozoon were both scientific discoveries that initially appeared to help solve the problem of the origin of life, but were ultimately found to be mistaken and cast into the trash bin of scientific history. As in several of his other essays, Gould shows sympathy for wrong discoveries and their discoverers: [Read more…]


Well, now, Brother William, when the house of Israel begin to come into the glorious mysteries of the kingdom, and find that Jesus Christ, whose goings forth, as the prophets said, have been from of old, from eternity; and that eternity, agreeably to the records found in the catacombs of Egypt, has been going on in this system almost two thousand five hundred and fifty five millions of years…

[Read more…]

The Great White Head

The restored Gadfield Elm chapel in England — site of the 1840s United Brethren conversions — has recently been given a pedagogical makeover by the Church History Department. Clean, professional displays tell the story of the chapel, the United Brethren, and the mission of Wilford Woodruff in the area. At a later date I might post a photo-tour of the chapel, as I think its status as a historical site on the Mormon fringe is interesting indeed.*

Walking through the door, visitors are greeted by this bust of Christ: [Read more…]

A note on apologia and conviction

Puritan divine Thomas Shepard (1604-1649), describing his youthful struggles with skepticism, observed that

strength of reason would commonly convince my understanding that there was a God, but I felt it utterly insufficient to perswade my will of it unlesse it was by fits.

The Sheep and the Goats – Another View

Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 18:235 [Read more…]

Elder McConkie’s Other List of Heresies

Jared* graces us again with his presence. Earlier post here.

On June 1, 1980, Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave his speech, “The Seven Deadly Heresies,” which became famous (or infamous, depending on the point of view) for his denunciation of–among other issues–organic evolution. The speech was the source of controversy and after consultation with President Spencer W. Kimball, the printed version was modified to soften the tone [1]. A little over a year later, Elder McConkie gave another speech, titled “The Foolishness of Teaching,” that was printed by the Church as a pamphlet. In the speech, Elder McConkie listed some “doctrines that damn” [2,3]. [Read more…]

Top Ten Scary Things….

…that have happened to me while doing something church-related. [Read more…]

The Prophet’s Shelf

Sometimes in the church we encounter teachings or practices we don’t understand. We deal with them by choosing not to deal with them, at least for the present time, and we call this process “putting it on the shelf”. The hope is that in the future, after we gain insight and experience, the things on our shelves will begin to make sense to us. I was interested to find out that Brigham Young employed that same approach. [Read more…]

Your Home Teacher Tortures Inmates.

This July Vanity Fair article outlines the use of pseudo-psychiatric techniques and the reverse engineering of the military’s SERE program to use as tools in taking apart the psyche of detainees and suspected terrorists. The currently used methods of waterboarding and other forms of duress were determined permissible on the basis of a memo written (at least in part) by Jay Bybee, a mormon judge now sitting on the Ninth Circuit. The memo’s introduction read (in part):

For purely mental pain or suffering to amount to torture under Section 2340 [that section of the U.S. Code implementing the UN Convention Against Torture]… physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death…it must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.

Unfortunately, not only did a mormon help provide the legal underpinnings of Abu Ghraib and CIA black site prisons, mormons also developed the very interrogation techniques used on those held in these locations. [Read more…]

Faithful Science

Jared*, of LDS Science Review fame, stops by to visit for a couple of weeks. Welcome Jared*!

Thanks to the BCC folks for inviting me to contribute as a guest for a couple of weeks. I was born and raised in the Church, served a mission in the U.S., graduated from BYU, completed a Ph.D. in microbiology, and am now a postdoctoral researcher. Yes, and I have a family too. I spend more time than I should thinking about science and religion, and I record some of my thoughts at LDS Science Review.

Although I have almost certainly read more about LDS history than the average American Mormon, I am by no means a historian and I do not keep close tabs on academic debates over Church history. However, I have read enough to know that there is a running discussion–decades long–about how historians should tell the history of the Church. My understanding is that so-called ‘faithful history’ has emerged as a kind of compromise position for historians who wish to remain members in good standing, not raise the ire of Church headquarters, and maintain readers among believing Latter-day Saints. This approach aims to lay out all pertinent facts and arguments without challenging the authenticity of the foundational miracles of the Church or its divine guidance and authority. It is ‘warts and all’ history that is ultimately faith affirming. In a recent FARMS Review essay, Richard Sherlock argued that the ‘faithful history’ concept should be applied to science. After drawing the connection he wrote: [Read more…]

Differences in Zion

And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind…

Moses 7:18 [Read more…]

MSH: A Blogletter

George Handley is President of Mormon Scholars in the Humanities.

Let’s face it: LDS scholars in the Humanities are a strange breed. [Read more…]

Feel Marginalized? Me Too!

There must be something buried deep in Mormon DNA that causes us to see persecution all around us. When an outsider fails to recognize our unique specialness, we hold it against him. Helen Whitney does everything but blow kisses at us, and yet many of us think her work at PBS should be classified right down there with The Nauvoo Expositor. In the past two weeks, I’ve encountered members who believe any criticism of Mitt’s political positions constitutes anti-Mormon propaganda. If anyone speaks of us in anything but the most laudatory of terms, we see Jackson county and Haun’s Mill all over again. Does that seem healthy to you? [Read more…]

Your Friday Firestorm #9

And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man— Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving. Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine. All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth; And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

(D&C 89:10-15)


Nauvoo is for the Birds!

By David Howlett. Thanks for being our guest at BCC, David!


In early June, I drove to Nauvoo, Illinois to teach an intensive three-week history course to the Community of Christ summer guides at the Joseph Smith Historic Sites. I soon made the acquaintance of an angry resident who lived near Joseph Smith’s Mansion House on Water Street. Walking from my apartment in the William Marks’ residence to the Community of Christ Visitor’s Center, I felt my hair brushed by what I thought was a large insect. To my surprise, I was being buzzed by a rather upset black and red-orange bird. Twice it buzzed me as I walked past its roost in a tree standing in the Mansion House yard. My experience was not unique. As I ventured into the visitor’s center, I found that my feathered pursuer had done the same to every one of the staff who venture to walk past its roost. The bird did not simply pick on lone wanderers like myself; it also attacked tour guests in large groups. [Read more…]

Quote of the Day

“I’m puzzled–I don’t understand why I can’t have everything I want.”(1) [Read more…]

Call for Essays on Same-Sex Attraction

I am posting the following call for papers on behalf of Ty Mansfield. (Those of you who attended the recent Sunstone Symposium saw an extract of his interview with Helen Whitney.) [Read more…]

Mormon-Muslim Relations

In this post I am soliciting help for a woman named Rachel Sage, who is a grad student at Georgetown’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and is working on a thesis on Mormon-Muslim relations. [Read more…]

Sacred City

Last week, business took me to rural Iowa, where after meetings I drove through fields of corn and beans, wending my way back home. Living in a highly developed area of country, I forget how much open space there really is. I drove north for hours and the topography changed while the local vocations remained the same. One thought struck me particularly forcefully as I remembered the words of one pioneer missionary-widow (“Winter Quarters has quite the appearance of a City. and I never saw the Ladys dress half so well in Nauvoo as they do here. we have a firstrate Mill here and in fact it is quite a business City”[1]): Mormonism is essential urban. [Read more…]

A Spontaneous People or a Prepared People?

This is another post from our guest, David Howlett.

Literary scholar Lori Branch argues that by the end of the eighteenth century in England, “a broad-based cultural sense had coalesced that located spontaneity–an unpremediated emotional freshness coveted in phenomena as disparate as poetic effusion, enthusiastic worship, romantic attraction, and consumer desire–at the heart of meaningful human experience” (Rituals of Spontaneity: Sentiment and Secularism from Free Prayer to Wordsworth, Baylor UP, 2006, p. 2). In America, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century evangelical Christians epitomized the ideal of spontaneity; often such religious seekers derided prepared prayers and prepared sermons. Preparation was too reminiscent of. . . well. . . Catholicism (boo-hiss! our ancestors would have cried). [Read more…]

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith

The following post is the contribution of Tom, one of our regular commenters.

I am pleased to report that next year’s Relief Society/Priesthood manual has been released: Joseph Smith. This is a good book; I would argue that for those who may have found faults with previous manuals will find, upon a quick glance, much to be pleased with. In my own opinion, this is the best manual to be released by correlation. [Read more…]

Kolob and Kokaubeam

The Pearl of Great Price is one of the most wonderful and perplexing books of scripture in all Mormondom. Its origins are confusing! Its translation is a mystery! Its applicability is tentative! And yet from it, from the Book of Abraham in particular, we derive and flesh out some of our most interesting concepts: the Pre-existence, the War in Heaven, the nature of Godhood and more.

It’s also where we learn about Kolob. [Read more…]

Teenagers and Mormon friends

We now have one Mormon kid in our high school (out of 150). He’s in the tenth grade and although I don’t teach him, he dropped by for a chat on the first day of school. He just moved here from the west coast of the US and has a great attitude, the kind one hopes for in an expat teenager. He’s understandably anxious about being in such a small school with high academic expectations, and of course being the only Mormon. Then he said something that surprised me: ‘Back home, all my friends were members.’ [Read more…]

The Church of Bloggernacle Saints?

It was with some regret that I made the decision to not attend the Sunstone Symposium snacker this last Friday. First of all, I had publicly said that I would attend. Second, I really wanted to (I do so love to sit around and gossip with other ‘Nacle people). Third, there were a load of people in attendance that I really wanted to meet (Kristine, Kevin, Aaron, Kaimi, Russell, fmhLisa, BiV, Ann, and a host of others). Also, I really wanted to attend the Bloggernacle session and I am grateful for the notes taken by McQ. However, my ward had a campout and I don’t spend enough time with my kids as it is, so I chose that (don’t worry, the irony that, if there hadn’t been a campout, I would have likely blown off hanging with my kids has not escaped me).

That said, the session kind of disturbs me. The question asked was, “How well does the Bloggernacle represent Mormonism?” and the various ‘Nacle representatives sought, in their presentations, to answer this question. To judge by McQ’s notes, they decided that it didn’t. [Read more…]

Q & A – The Community of Christ and Latter-day Saints

By Common Consent has invited David Howlett, a believer in the Restoration and a religious scholar, to be a guest blogger. We have started with a question and answer format to help our readers understand how the CofC and LDS communities are similar and how they are different. Please welcome David to BCC. [Read more…]

Why We Go

Church was good today. [Read more…]