Notes Toward an Understanding of the Fourth Question in the Temple Recommend Interview

Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?

1. Note, first, the “and” in the first sentence. This is where we should begin. “Priesthood” and “prophethood” are not the same thing, and if we are to fully grasp the function of each we need to understand the distinction. Scripturally speaking, “prophet” is not an ecclesiastical office. No one is ordained to be a prophet, and nor does the role necessarily confer ecclesiastical authority (that is, governing responsibility in a religious hierarchy). On the other hand, in the LDS tradition men are ordained to priesthood, and the role bears with it ecclesiastical responsibility and authority. Insofar as Mormons use the term “prophet” to mean “the man in charge of the church” (a colloquial usage that developed in the mid-twentieth century), they are conflating a distinction that exists in the Bible, in Latter-day Saint scripture, and in this question. [Read more…]

Ted Chiang, “Arrival,” Mormons, Science Fiction, Angels, Time Travel, Sex, Free Will, The Tower of Babel, and the Secular: A Roundtable

You probably heard of, and might have seen, last year’s Best Picture nominee Arrival. I did, and liked it, and so eventually picked up Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others, the collection that features “Story of Your Life,” the short tale of alien contact and the ways in which it upends how humans think about language and time that the movie is based on. The collection’s other stories roam far beyond the hard sci-fi of Arrival: one, set in what appears to be roughly the same world as Disney’s Aladdin, explores the traditional problems of time travel (What if, like Marty McFly, you stop your parents from falling in love? That sort of thing, more or less) by insisting upon a sort of humanist determinism. We cannot change anything but ourselves, but over our own lives we have the powers of atonement and forgiveness. Another, “Tower of Babylon,” posits that the cosmology of the compositors of the Book of Genesis – a flat world encompassed by a firmament holding back great waters – is in fact correct, and examines how, given that world, the Tower of Babel might have worked. A third imagines a Victorian England in which Jewish gemetria, the mystical power embedded in the numerical value of letters, is a real force that might be industrialized. In short, Chiang’s work is simultaneously powerfully imaginative, in that he thinks through the logical ramifications of worldviews that we moderns have dismissed – and in some ways powerfully secular. There is little room for the mystical or the transcendent in his vision: in the story “Hell is the Absence of God,” which many of the below readers think through, God is simultaneously an empirical, demonstrable reality – angels regularly appear to humanity; souls ascending to Heaven are visible as they fly through the air; Hell can be perceived within the great cracks of the earth – and completely inscrutable, because his intentions, purposes, and the reasons he sends angels to proclaim his glory while simultaneously calling massive traffic accidents and the like are quite opaque.

In an odd way, Chiang’s world bears some resemblance and some divergence to that of Mormonism: his cosmos is rational, which many defenders of Mormonism assert is a great virtue of their own theology, but also a-modern, defiant against the colonizing power of the ways we think we know the world works. Mormons believe that God is discoverable; Mormons would recoil, though, at this God’s resistance to interpretation.

Given these provocations, I asked some smart people to read the book and think through some of these ideas out loud. Below are their reactions.

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Indiana Jones Is The Avatar Of Mormonism’s Intellectual Golden Age

By Megan Harris & Matt B


Thesis: We would like to remind you all that Indiana Jones is definitely Mormon. Probably a jack-Mormon, but definitely a Mormon.  In fact, to understand Indiana Jones is to understand post-Brigham Young, pre-David O. McKay Mormonism: the era sometimes called the golden age of Mormon intellectual life.

Postulate: The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles do not exist.


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Mary, Thomas, and the body, broken

John 20:11-29

11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. [Read more…]

The Cross on the Tombstone


To reach B.H. Roberts’s grave in the Centerville City Cemetery you have to pass through those areas of southern Davis County where Utah still feels very much like the small town it was when Roberts settled here as a youth. Grass runs up to the asphalt of the road, the homes are as frequently generations-old brick cubes as they are modern miniature mansions, and every few lots even those give way to the rows of a garden or orchard, tended still by hand. There are few buildings higher than two floors, and the mountains loom only a stone’s throw behind. At night the deer edge warily into the flower beds.

The graveyard likewise draws you back to the near borders of frontier Mormonism. There are rows upon rows of McKays and Bensons and Pratts, and other families formed through plural marriage whose children still bring their dead here, and rarely must come far. Roberts’s grave is at the top of the cemetery, on a gentle rise, next to that of his first wife Sarah Louisa Smith and near his second, Celia Dibble. There is a budded cross graven on his tombstone. [1]

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Zane Grey, Arthur Conan Doyle, the Associated Press, and the Resuscitation of the Avenging Angels


If there’s anything that, in comparison, might normalize polygamy to that vast majority of Americans for whom Mormons are but cultural curiosities, it’s probably blood atonement.  I’ve earlier written in this space about the ways in which representations of Mormonism in HBO’s Big Love reflect a certain religious ethos on the part of the producers; the show is in a lot of ways a leap forward in the cultural normalization of Mormonism precisely because it is capable of imagining its Mormon (and by ‘Mormon’ I mean followers of Joseph Smith; this strikes me as a more useful definition of the term than any other) characters as basically normal people, who take their SUVs to the hardware store and have kids with part time jobs. And indeed, this normalization of people in previously exotic marriage relationships is in all likelihood the producers’ agenda. If their ratings are any indication, they may be succeeding; indeed, it appears that members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, can come into the very heart of their adversary, to the shadows of the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, and garner sympathy.[1] Religious freedom and all that. [Read more…]

Big Love: Res Publica


Last week, for probably the first time in history, TV Guide broke controversial news. And this week, it came to pass; Big Love showed a portion of the LDS temple ceremony; specifically, a fraction of a prayer circle and a portion – probably the most sensitive portion – of the veil ceremony. The consequent and rather predictable Mormon uproar has taken the form of a rally to protect the temple; tiresome email petitions and facebook groups and YouTube videos abound. But what, beneath the surface, is this debate really about? Big Love is a complicated show, and deserves an interpretation that scratches below the surface. [Read more…]

On relics


Two stories:

First –
I moved to the DC area about two years ago. Early on, I attended services with an uncle and aunt in their Northern Virginia ward. When I walked down the hallway, I did a double take. There’s a piece of wood from the Joseph Smith Palmyra cabin hanging from the wall. It’s framed. I noticed a group of Primary kids filing down the wall. As they passed, each reached up and touched it. [Read more…]

If ye are not one . . .

Matt Bowman continues as a guest blogger at BCC.

Over at the Thang, Geoff is interested in your experience with “prospering.” In response, Eric raised what I think is an interesting point — that he had always understood scriptural promises of prosperity as collective, rather than individual. [Read more…]

Our heritage


My first (and so far, only) sacrament meeting talk came when I was about eleven.  I was allotted five minutes on a hot Sunday afternoon in late July to talk about my ancestors.  I was baffled.  I was eleven; I didn’t know anything about my ancestors.  How was I to make such a seemingly esoteric topic relevant to a group of people who, in my eleven-year-old mind, couldn’t have cared less that (as my confused inquiries with relatives taught me) one of my maternal great grandfathers was once Davis County Commissioner of Education?  After grappling for weeks to find terms that would make these people fit into what I dimly perceived to be the parameters of Mormon discourse, I stepped to the podium and said, “I’d like to tell a story about modern-day pioneers.”

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Thoughts on Mormon art and the impending production of The Book of Mormon Movie Volume II: Zarahemla.

Matt Bowman continues as a guest blogger at BCC.

Or, as I like to call it, TBOMM-VII:Z. The first movie -The Book of Mormon Movie — Volume I: The Journey (or TBOMM-VI:TJ) -was, as Rod Kimball would say, “all heart.” (Then he said something else which I won’t repeat here.) I saw the thing twice in theatres and bought it on DVD, partly because I fell in love with the absolute earnestness and sincerity that dripped off of every frame. It had the sort of passion and holy-crow-we’re-making-a-movie energy that only first time projects really do. I could easily picture the sort of pep circle that you see in the locker room tunnel before NBA playoff games happening on the set every morning. It was also a good example of a tendency I’ve noticed in much of Mormon art. [Read more…]

Rock and Roll and the Holy Spirit


In Cameron Crowe’s brilliant movie Almost Famous, a sage rock guru (played with boozy slyness by Philip Seymour Hoffman) offers the young William Miller, high school student cum aspiring rock journalist, a fifteen-year-old about to embark upon a decidedly atypical coming of age journey, a profound piece of advice.

“You cannot make friends with the rock stars.”

Would that we all needed this advice. [Read more…]

Southern Virginia University: Mormonism and the liberal arts experience

Matt Bowman appears to be the new guest blogger at BCC. He has a masters’ in history from the University of Utah and is currently preparing to take PhD exams in American history at Georgetown. He occasionally presents papers on things like Bigfoot at MHA. Thanks to Ronan for the invitation to appear in this space.

This school is bound into the web of my family. My sister attended and two cousins graduated. I have relatives both on the board and active in the alumni association. Additionally, a couple of friends from graduate school have held positions on the faculty.

The reports I have received are mixed. [Read more…]