Apologetics. Part II.

First Part here.

In many ways Kierkegaard and Jean-Luc Marion couldn’t be more different. Kierkegaard, the protestant’s Protestant (19th century no less) and Marion, the Catholic theologian par excellence, and who rarely makes any sort of reference to Kierkegaard whatever in his voluminous writings. However, on some topics their thought converges from different locations (one of these is the concept of love, a main theme in both Kiekegaard and Marion). Apologetics is another. Mormonism, while we cannot accurately characterize it as either strictly Protestant or Catholic, is in some ways an amalgamation of both, with its established magisterium (the priesthood hierarchy) and its Resortationist/Protesant roots and structures. (It is also, of course, much more than than a reduction of American Christianity alone). And while Kierkegaard leans closer to the descriptive in his writings and Marion to the prescriptive, there is, I’m arguing here, significant value in understanding how they as well as others have conceived the relationship of philosophy, theology, and apologetics within a Church. I began with Kierkegaard, here I’ll outline Marion’s approach, and in the third and final installment I’ll make some tentative suggestions as to how they apply to specifically Mormon paradigms. [Read more…]

On Loving Both FARMS and the Maxwell Institute

By Joseph Spencer

Few, if any, of the voices assessing the stakes of the “shake-up” at the Maxwell Institute (MI) issue from individuals with a vested interest in promoting serious academic study of Mormon scripture. I find this a bit baffling. The only reason to care about what’s happened at the Mormon Studies Review—except for those seriously committed to a certain style of apologetics—is because the MI, as the heir of FARMS, is ostensibly the only place in the academic study of Mormonism that at least claims to give priority to scripture. The “new direction” of the MI, if there is such a thing (and I’m skeptical), is neither to move in a secular direction (apologetics is already, by its very nature, emphatically secular) nor to cast its lot with Mormon history (the sort of apologetics that are being curtailed are, remember, those focused more on history and culture than on scripture). What’s the future of the MI? Scripture, at last. [Read more…]

Apologetics. Part I.

Over the last few days there has been a shakeup in the Mormon scholarly community. See here here here and several here for the details, of which I am uninterested in discussing in this post. (Maybe in some future post). I have since heard these current events likened to Trekkies arguing over Klingon verb conjugation–the reaction by some has been so intense because the stakes are so low. It actually wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that less than 1% of all Mormons even know of the existence of the Maxwell Institute, FARMS, and FAIR, and that even less than that have any genuine interest in any of them. However, I think it’s inaccurate to say that the stakes are abysmally low or astronomically high, largely because I think we often (all of us) misunderstand the potential purpose and place of religious apologetics. [Read more…]

Golden Tablets, Butch Cassidy, Mormon Women’s Sex Lives: Mormonism in/by the Academy

At InsideHigherEd.com Thomas C. Terry, an associate professor of Mass Communication at Idaho State University has written a column decrying the treatment of Mormons in the academy, or more specifically academics’ negative views about the Mormon faith. This is, of course, an interesting and valuable subject for discussion and Terry’s overall treatment of the subject matter here is positive and in defense of Mormons. But I was particularly interested in his display of his own knowledge of Mormonism and Mormons. A few highlights that amused me:

“Yes, Mormons do not embrace the cross as a symbol of Christianity, but it is because they consider it representing state-sanctioned execution and intense suffering.”

“Mormons are excoriated in popular culture (see: “The Simpsons”) for the way their church was created by someone who was kind of a con man. And the translation of the Book of Mormon was accomplished with a hat. And the Golden Tablets have been lost.”

“Mormon women are more likely to be employed in professional occupations than Catholic or Protestant women (similar to Jewish women) and more likely to graduate from college than Catholic or Protestant women (but less than Jewish women). One survey indicated Mormon women experience more orgasms and are more satisfied with their married lives than non-Mormons.”

“Glenn Beck is a Mormon, but so is Harry Reid. Other famous Mormons are or were: Harmon Killebrew, Jack Dempsey, J. W. Marriott, Gladys Knight, the Osmonds, Butch Cassidy, and Eldridge Cleaver. What does that tell you about Mormonism? Absolutely nothing.”

“At about 13 million members, Mormons are a pretty large cult. So what is so bad about this “cult?” And a cult growing at almost exactly the same rate, decade by decade, as the original Christian church in the 1st and 2nd centuries. It makes no sense, but then bigotry doesn’t. Who wouldn’t want to be on those lists? Seems like good things to be, even if you can’t drink coffee and beer, wear more than one earring per ear, grow a beard (frowned upon only if you want to move up the church hierarchy), and show lots of cleavage. You can have as much hot chocolate and ice cream as you want, though, and I have embraced this provision enthusiastically.”


Deaths and (Re)births Part 5: The Ascent

Part 5 of 5. 

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

 Deaths and (Re)births Part 5: The Ascent

In the end, time–which had colluded with the physical world in our slow march toward death–also eventually served as an invaluable ally, and we slowly and gradually climbed out of the deep hole into which we had been buried. No dramatic rescue, no earth-shattering event on an epic scale. A series of small, grace-filled events helped keep us afloat. We were blessed to eventually move into a much larger and newer apartment. My Logic professor unexpectedly, at the last moment, decided to change the format of the class final to a written essay (which I easily produced) instead of a series of symbolic logic proofs (which I would have failed). The twins eventually graduated from their heart monitors and oxygen lines and we began to take them out after many months, first on walks, then to restaurants and malls. Gradually, we began to sleep again. Though it seemed an eternity at the time, the agonizingly slow but steady return to semi-functionality (of which I’ve been able to relate only the hundredth part) had lasted about 2 years. [Read more…]

Deaths and (Re)births Part 4: The Reckoning

Part 4 of 5.

Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here

Deaths and (Re)births Part 4: The Reckoning

At some point, stumbling around in the darkness, I had stopped even attempting to do homework. Some of my classes didn’t make attendance part of the final grade; I stopped attending these classes altogether. I initially told some of my professors about our plight but received no quarter. My Logic professor responded curtly, “Huh. My son and his wife had triplets.” Despite the round the clock assistance his son’s family was receiving from his extended family and his ward, having triplets was apparently much harder under any circumstances, so I had nothing to complain about.

[Read more…]

Deaths and (Re)births Part 3: The Landing

Part 3 of 5. 

Part 1 here. Part 2 here

Deaths and (Re)births Part 3: The Landing

I was not going to graduate.

I was nearing the end of my final semester at BYU, approximately 14 or 15 months after the twins’ birth. Predicate logic. It was predicate logic that was finally going to close the lid on my academic coffin. To this point I had been able to skate by in my other classes; a “B” in a relatively easy Marriage and Family course, a “C” in a more difficult philosophy class; even a “D+” in Personal Finance, which I almost never attended—I probably should have failed that course outright. But Predicate Logic was a required course for my chosen Major, Philosophy, and you couldn’t get anything lower than a “C” for a Major class. Once you dropped below a “C” you would have to retake the class. I was well below a “C,” and scheduled to graduate the following month. If I didn’t produce that “C” I would not graduate. [Read more…]

Deaths and (Re)births Part 2: The Fall

Part 2 of 5. First part here.

 Deaths and (Re)births Part 2: The Fall

“Well, I have good news for the two of you. First, it’s a boy. Second—he has a sister.”

All it took was one perfectly timed and perfectly worded sentence from our ultrasound technician to cause my appetite to disappear completely for 48 hours. Twins. It was unimaginable. During that period I experienced varying waves of total euphoria and mind-numbing fear. Admittedly, it was mostly euphoria. The bragging rights were, after all, unparalleled. Not only naturally conceived twins on our first excursion into replenishing the earth, but opposite sex twins as well. Apollo and Artemis, just like that.

Surely, we were gods. [Read more…]

Deaths and (Re)births, Part 1: The Descent

About a year ago I read Kathryn Lynard Soper’s The Year My Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-DiscoveryThe book is one of those precious cerebral volumes whose penetrating insights do so much more than simply relate and describe their subject matter accurately. Instead, they engage in a new retelling of the central human drama of birth, death, and rebirth. (A BCC review of the book by Steve P. is here).*  Indeed, human life can be perceived phenomenologically as a series of births, deaths, and rebirths, in which the thick, palpable materiality of some of our experiences destroy us, but then resurrect us to live again as beings who have undergone a metamorphosis. Inspired by Kathryn’s memoir to tell my own story of death and rebirth–how I found myself inserted into the Great Human Story–I’ve (crudely and clumsily) written an essay about one transformative and worldview-altering experience in my life, divided into 5 heart-on-my-sleeve parts. The first part is below. I’ll likely publish the parts each day over the course of the next week or so.  [Read more…]

Some Thoughts On the War For the Heart and Soul of Mormonism

In recent years there has been a significant amount of academic literature that argues, in essence, that political orientation is largely determined by social, cultural, and psychological factors, rather than the initial or continued imposition of the will upon political belief. [1] In other words, we are largely predisposed one way or another toward political belief and that any talk of free creative production with regard to political orientation, or positive or negative political assent only makes sense within that context. In still other words, I cannot simply choose to authentically train myself to think conservatively if I am more prone to liberal political thinking and vice versa. [Read more…]

The Astonishment of Redemption

We were late once again to Sacrament Meeting this past Sunday. The usual hangups of getting 4 children 8 and younger  (including 1 grumpy, teething 15 month old) fed and ready for church. Like every other Sunday we were cursing ourselves for not beginning the process earlier, but also like every other Sunday the process included unanticipated surprises like having to change a messy diaper at the last moment, forgetting until we were nearly out the door a key component of the “care package” we take every Sunday to distract our children at least long enough to take the sacrament. It’s always something. Every Sunday. And like every other Sunday for the past several months I was struggling to scrape together enough desire to go in the first place. Our youngest was enough of a handful at this point that any sort of meaningful experience on any level was going to be unlikely. I had probably squeezed every drop of meaningfulness out of being a Hall Wanderer I could, but since neither of us had callings, we could devote all of our time to developing a method of reading scripture while chasing a baby around the building. “Scripture Chase,” I would call it. It has a certain ring to it….. [Read more…]

Liveblogging “Mormonism and the Internet” at Utah Valley University, Day Two

Livestream Feed Here.  Conference begins at 8:30 a.m., MDT.

Liveblogging in the comments below.

(Also, Kristine has declared that she will sing part of her presentation, followed by an interpretive dance that translates homemaking into performance art . Stay tuned for that). [Read more…]

Liveblogging “Mormonism and the Internet” at Utah Valley University, Day One

Mormonism and the Internet Livestream Feed

Schedule of events here.

List of participants here.

Readings and Resources here.

The conference kicks off today at 8:30 a.m. MDT

Liveblogging in the comments below.

Conference: Mormonism and the Internet, Utah Valley University

Schedule of Events

Wednesday, March 28th in SC 213a
12:00-1:00 p.m. ~ Author Readings (sponsored by the UVU English Department)
Joanna Brooks
Jana Reiss
[Read more…]

Review: Reading Alma 32, Part I: A New Vision for Mormon Theology

Title: An Experiment on the Word: Reading Alma 32
Editor: Adam S. Miller
Publisher: Salt Press
Genre: Religion/Philosophy
Year: 2011
Pages: 98
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 978-0983963608
Price: $12.95

One particular question within the realm of Mormon studies that has stubbornly persisted for the last several years is the question of how theology is “done” in Mormonism. In other words, how does Mormon theological discourse proceed? How should it proceed? How do Mormons talk about their theology, and is this same as how Mormons should go about their theology? In lived Mormonism, because of the emphasis on how Mormonism is or should be practiced or experienced (instead of how it is or should be thought), and, therefore, in the absence of an officially recognized system of doctrines, this is a question that remains presently relevant in unique ways, in comparison to other Christian(ish) theologies. [Read more…]


“Oh look, they’re selling Girl Scout cookies. Turn around up here.”

En route to home after a full day of running errands, my wife had spotted an awning on the street corner to our left, surrounded by several girls in uniform and a woman seated at a table in the middle. I immediately turned around to enter the parking lot adjacent to their location. As we entered the lot we noticed a man on the side of the street with a sign, “Homeless. Any help appreciated.” His appearance–ragged clothes that looked lived-in for weeks, long scraggly beard–was typical of the many homeless we often see in Provo/Orem, usually on busy street corners or near bustling commercial centers. We pulled past him into an empty parking space and my wife exited the van to purchase some boxes of cookies. I couldn’t help, of course, gazing over at the man with the sign. We all do that, I think, when confronted with members of our societies that seem out of place, homeless and otherwise. They seem to exist, to echo Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, somewhere within the bare existence of refugees and the utterly Stateless. They seem out of place in our presence, ghosts that fade in and out of existence, rootless, without any real identity that ties them, even loosely, to the rest of the citizenry. And we can’t look away, either out of compassion, or sadness, or fear, or disgust, or anger, or unease. [Read more…]

Generational Translation and Work for the Dead

Near the end of his magnum opus on Christian love, Works of LoveSoren Kierkegaard includes a curious little meditation on loving those who are dead. Entitled “The Work of Love in Recollecting One Who Is Dead,” Kierkegaard considers how our love for the deceased may reveal more about our own ability to love than anything else. This is because those I love in life “cover over” certain parts of me, influencing me so profoundly that I cannot fully see myself as I really am. Even more significantly, in my love for those I prefer to love, I cannot see how I truly love and constantly deceive myself that my love is authentic and sufficient. This is because in the presence of the Other I am almost always tempted to not disclose everything, to hold something back, not be fully honest and sincere. But when I try to relate to one who is dead, there is really only one person in such a relationship: me. Only the one who is living is fully disclosed. The dead person cannot speak, change, disclose herself to me, or reciprocate my love. The dead person is a withdrawn object, the occasion for my own full self-disclosure. Nevertheless, following Kierkegaard’s insistence throughout the book that the Christian is charged with the daunting task of loving all the people we see (everyone we see is or should be our neighbor in the Christian worldview), we have a particular duty to recollect (as opposed to remember) our own dead (heroic baptizers of the departed famous, baptizing outside of family lines, take note). [Read more…]

A Prophet Is a Prophet Only

….when acting as such.

Well now that’s a fascinating tidbit of information concerning what a prophet is. (I wonder what Isaiah would have thought about it?)

Those of us familiar with this quotation from Joseph Smith are likely accustomed to seeing it deployed in defense of the view that those holding the calling of “prophet” do not always speak in an official capacity, thereby staving off criticism that everything a prophet says must be official and binding church doctrine. Further, this statement is said to illustrate that prophets are fallible human beings, “just like the rest of us.”  [Read more…]

The Face of Zion

I’ve been in well over 20 wards in my relatively short lifetime. Some I remember fondly, others…….not so fondly. The last two wards in which my family and I have resided have been eye-opening experiences for my wife. She’s had strongly (though not exclusively) negative experiences with ward members. I’m sure most of you are familiar with these in some way or another; they are unfortunately not exceptional: purposive exclusion, gossip, derisive comments, biting criticism, cold indifference, etc. We’ve experienced the same to varying degrees in other wards, but in these two cases she has had the opportunity for the first time to become a member of communities of women outside of the Church. What she found, for her, was astonishing; these women were welcoming of her in ways that so many women in our wards had not been. When they discovered she was a Mormon (a point she did not readily volunteer at first, fearing a backlash), there was mostly just curiosity, though occasionally peppered with fascinating conversations with the Christian women in these groups about shared and cherished values and beliefs. [Read more…]

Poll: Best Worst Christmas Movie

The best of the worst Christmas-related movies (impossible to refer to them as “films.”) The primary rule here: Christmas movies that are truly awful abominations, but are awful in a way that elevates them to must-see cult status and/or near universal condemnation in the public consciousness (if they exist there at all), something along the lines of this list. Feel free to contribute any abominations that should have been included.

[Read more…]


A Christmas memory: At some point in my teenage years my mother purchased a new nativity set, a Fontanini. I didn’t eagerly await the unwrapping of the nativity scene in the same way I did the Dickens Village; it was a tradition each year for my parents to purchase one new piece for the village. Possibly my favorite Christmas memories consisted of watching the village grow year after year. When I finally left home the Village had become quite substantial. But the preparations for the traditions into which we spoke and enacted every Christmas were not complete until the Nativity had been unwrapped and carefully and lovingly arranged on the table. The placement of the Nativity allowed the celebration to officially commence.

[Read more…]

“For the god wants to know himself in you”

Take your practiced powers and stretch them out until they span the chasm between two contradictions…For the god wants to know himself in you. 

–Rainer Maria Rilke

When we say that God loves all of his children I don’t think we entirely unpack what this could mean. I recently overheard someone in my ward opine that when we say that God must love all of his children, this means that he loves them individually, not en masse. It’s easy to agree with this, but consider what this potentially means. I think of my own children. In a sense I love all of them equally. I cannot consider each of them in turn and affirm that I love him or her less than the others. Nevertheless, my relationship with each of them is unique, based on real experiences and real relational exchanges. What I specifically love in one of my sons I do not love equally in one of my daughters, and vice versa. Similarly, my children do not love me for the same reasons. One loves me for this, another for that. Dissonances and disharmonies in our relationships also arise in the same manner. Being the biological paternal organism called “Dad” is not sufficient for enduring, transformative love, nor for abiding loathing and spite. Authentic love is based on temporal, responsive interchanges, the real stuff of relationships–conversations, time spent together, developing trust and affection, etc. More generally, we are called (in some way) by those whom we encounter and we respond (in some way). We also call to those we encounter and they respond. It’s a nice thought that we could love (or hate) all of humanity abstractly, as one total mass of faceless human beings. But I don’t think this is love. If we love at all, we love the people we see. [Read more…]

The Enduring Fragility of Love

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

Christian love is not romance, affection, and sentimentality.  It is transgressive, a love that disturbs and destabilizes as much as it binds and connects. Slavoj Zizek calls Christian love an unplugging or uncoupling [1] Love unplugs us from our original organic communities (families, circles of chosen intimate friends) in order to inscribe us within a larger community. Not that it severs all familial ties, but that it severs us from the belief that there must only be familial ties, or better: That familial ties must increase and expand, and do so exponentially. Love does this through re-orienting the ways in which we value and interact with knowledge.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  [Read more…]

Sexual Transgression and Dwelling Together in Love

This is a guest post from Jacob Baker. Jacob is a doctoral student in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate University and an instructor at BYU and UVU. And he still finds time to post funny things about Mormon life on Facebook.

I remember the first ward my wife and I moved into after we were married. One Sunday in Sacrament Meeting the bishop (a man who was as plain-spoken as any bishop I’ve ever seen) got up and pleaded for us to be less judgmental of one another, to have compassion on each other, for there were many dealing with heavy burdens in our ward. He said that within our ward boundaries alone there were people dealing with illegal drugs, adultery, pornography, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and many other problems. He was especially terribly saddened at having to counsel and try to provide help for women who were victims of rape, one within her own marriage. He then stated that statistically speaking, for other wards and branches about the same size as our ward anywhere in the country, the same sorts of problems were occurring at the same or greater rate, but the problems and violations of a sexual nature were both more widespread and more damaging. Studies, of course, have generally long borne this out. One recent study shows that nearly 1/5 of boys and nearly 1/3 of girls in the United States have had a sexual encounter of some kind with an adult by the time they reach high school. The rates are much higher in less developed countries. [Read more…]