Review: Matthew Bowman, “The Mormon People”

The Mormon People (cover)Title: The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith
Author: Matthew Bowman
Publisher: Random House
Genre: History
Year: 2012
Pages: 352
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0679644903
Price: $26.00

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.
[Read more…]

Review: Joanna Brooks’ The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith

Our own Matsby illuminates Joanna’s life with this swe-eet (like as in uniquely AWESOME mixed with “aw, the sweetness of Mormon life”) cover art.

The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith
Joanna Brooks
Queenbee Industries, 2012
Amazon Kindle Edition, 243 KB (page count as yet unknown, print release slated for February, preorder info here)

Discomfited.

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.

[Read more…]

Review: Davis Bitton, “Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives”

Title: Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives 
Author: Davis Bitton
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Genre: Biography
Year: 2011
Pages: 197
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 978-1-58958-123-4
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…]

Review: Steven Pinker, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined”

Title: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
Author: Steven Pinker
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Science/Philosophy
Year: 2011
Pages: 832
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 9780670022953
Price: $40

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…]

BCC Zeitcast 74: Matt Bowman, Bigfoot, Monsters, & Mormons

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…]

New Flunking Sainthood Contest

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…]

Review: Craig Harline, “Conversions”

Title: Conversions: Two Family Stories From the Reformation and Modern America
Author: Craig Harline
Publisher: Yale University Press
Genre: History/Narrative
Year: 2011
Pages: xi, 320
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 9780300167016
Price: $27.50

“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…]

Review: Howard C. Stutz, “Let the Earth Bring Forth: Evolution and Scripture”

Title: Let the Earth Bring Forth: Evolution and Scripture
Author: Howard C. Stutz
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Genre: Evolution/Religion
Year: 2011
Pages: xvi, 87
Binding: Softcover
ISBN13: 978-1-58958-126-5
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…]

Review: N.T. Wright, “Scripture and the Authority of God”

Title: Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today
Author: N. T. Wright
Publisher: HarperOne
Genre: Bible
Year: 2011
Pages: 224
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 9780062011954
Price: $25.99

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…]

Meet the Dargers

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…]

Review: Eric W Jepson, et.al., “The Fob Bible”

Title: The Fob Bible
Editors: Eric W Jepson, B.G. Christensen, Sarah E. Jenkins, Danny Nelson
Publisher: Peculiar Pages
Genre: Bible
Year: 2009
Pages: 263
Binding: Various ebook, Paperback, Hardcover
ISBN13: 978-0-9817696-8-4
Price: $3.99-$27.99

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…]

Review: Ethics and the Old Testament

Ethics and the Old TestamentEthics and the Old Testament by John Barton

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…]

BCC Zeitcast 73: Ken Jennings vs. GST

BCC’s beloved podcast returns! It’s been months since the last podcast, but we hope the new episodes are worth the wait.

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…]

Review: Ken Jennings, “Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks”

Title: Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks
Author: Ken Jennings
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: Geography
Year: 2011
Pages: 276
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 978-1-4391-6717-5
Price: $25

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…]

“The scribe’s collaboration was necessary to Allah”

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…]

Thex makes me thad

Theric rides again!

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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…]

Theric wants to know: Who will be our Richard Cracroft, now that our Richard Cracroft is gone?

Theric continues his reign of terror as BCC’s guest-post extravaganza continues unabated. 
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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 Defines Mormon Art

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…]

The Seeker: KJ Bible finds new life in Mormon Church

Beginning in 1604, 54 scholars labored for seven years under the sponsorship of King James I to produce a new translation of the Bible. While the influence of that text over the past 400 years is unquestioned, what is the place of that venerable old version in the actual life of the church today? [Read more…]

Faux Books (what books do you imagine you are reading?)

Ok, it’s been rainy and snowy when I can’t go outside and play I turn to the world of my imaginary friends. Since some of my best friends are books, I turn to imaginary books. [Read more…]

Theft at Church

I stole today…during church…in the church building…in front of the young men I was about to teach a lesson to.

Our stake is collecting donations for a rummage sale/street fair that we do every year, and the donated stuff is sitting in the room where the young men meet for priesthood meeting.

Sitting right on top of the pile this morning was D. Michael Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. I figured it was an odd choice for a donation, and an even odder thing for our stake to sell for 50 cents to some guy munching on a funnel cake.

[Read more…]

David Holland’s Sacred Borders

Review of David F. Holland, Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 275pp. + index

Sacred Borders represents a rigorous and compelling consideration of traditions about the state of the biblical canon in American religion. For bookish Latter-day Saints, this volume will provide much-needed context for early Mormon beliefs about their open canon as well as a subtle and sympathetic view of both sides of the debate over the closed canon. While the style is highly accessible, given the complexity of the subject matter a reader may benefit from having digested a book like Brooks Holifield’s Theology in America (Yale 2005) or perhaps the survey by Jon Butler, Grant Wacker, and Randall Balmer, Religion in American Life (Oxford 2003). Many of Holland’s arguments will make more sense when the reader recognizes some of the actors, concepts, and traditions involved. Even so, I believe that Sacred Borders will be useful even to non-specialist audiences. I apologize that this review is as long as it is: the length of the review reflects the extensive insights of the book as well as the scope of the topic it treats. For expository clarity, I have divided the review into three sections. [Read more…]

Review: The Mormon Menace

Patrick Q. Mason, The Mormon Menace (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). 264 pages; 6-1/8 x 9-1/4. Hardcover: $29.95. ISBN13: 978-0-19-974002-4

Patrick Mason, of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, wrote a dissertation in which he examined violence against religious minorities and outsiders in the post-bellum American South. This book builds upon that research, and while limiting itself to Mormonism, it also expands the narrative to include the legal, theological, and cultural objections to Mormonism in the Old Confederacy in the generation following the Civil War and Reconstruction.

[Read more…]

Technology, Humanity, and Jeopardy

The inevitable future, as depicted by Matsby

All the hubbub around IBM’s new Jeopardy champ has stirred up talk in pop-futurist circles of the coming Singularity—the idea that one day humankind will create a machine that is intelligent enough to build an improved version of itself, which will then replicate and improve itself in the next generation, and so on until eventually humans are rendered obsolete.

Another vision of the Singularity is that human consciousness will somehow be “loaded” onto machines, freeing us from the bonds of biology and anatomy.

Both are fun theories to think about, and form the basis of lots and lots of bad sci-fi stories and a few good ones.

[Read more…]

Joseph and the Book of the Dead

The Egyptian Book of the Dead is a large body of writings, used from the New Kingdom to the Ptolemaic Period, that is meant to help one obtain a place in the afterlife among the gods. In July of 1835, Joseph and several others purchased a collection of Egyptian antiquities, including four mummies and a number of papyri. Joseph soon announced that among this papyri was a Book of Abraham, which he eventually would translate, publish in the Times and Seasons, which would be printed as part of the British Mission pamphlet A Pearl of Great Price, which would be canonized as scripture in 1880. Interest in the JS Papyri has focused on the papyri thought to relate in some way to the Abraham text, namely the Hor Book of Breathings and the Sheshonq Hypocephalus. But this little collection also included three Ptolemaic era copies of the Book of the Dead. The most extensive fragments are from a Book of the Dead belonging to someone named Tshemmin; one fragment belonged to a woman named Neferirnub. (The third Book of the Dead belonged to someone named Amenhotep, but has not survived.) [Read more…]

Female healing article now available

The last six years have been a lot of fun, and I count myself very fortunate to have been able to work on this project and to work on it with Kristine. Honestly, there were moments in the Church History Library when I thought to myself, “If I never have the opportunity to see anything else or work on another project, I will still be full.” We owe many friends and institutions much for their support. Thank you.
[Read more…]

Unity and the KJV, part 3

Part one, part two.

Unity with Mormon Christology

Despite the complaints of some Christians, Mormon beliefs regarding Christ are in many ways very traditional, so it was no surprise that Clark (and others) were worried about the RSV’s use of “young woman” rather than “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14. [Read more…]

Unity and the KJV, part 2.

For part one, see here.

Unity with the Brethren

For Latter-day Saints, the route to truth is through revelation, available to the individual through the Holy Spirit but at all times to be guided by those authorised to reveal doctrine to the church (= the Brethren and their institutions, e.g. Correlation). [Read more…]

Unity and the KJV, part one.

People might rightly ask why Anglophone Latter-day Saints still use the King James (Authorized) Version of the Bible when there are new translations available which better represent the ancient sources and their languages.

The purpose of this series of posts is not to offer a defence of the KJV nor to criticise its use. Rather, I wish to try to explain, particularly for a non-Mormon audience, why Mormons use the KJV, or to state it differently, what the use of the KJV says about the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In short, I believe that the use of the KJV underlines the importance of unity to the LDS Church: unity with Joseph Smith and the Restoration, unity with the Brethren, and unity with traditional Mormon Christology. [Read more…]

Pre-Review Survey: Is Parenting Easy and Fun?

Bryan Caplan, an economist, blogger, and owner of the world’s ugliest website, has written a new parenting book (Parenting ideas! From an economist!) called Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. The book is available for pre-order on Amazon.com here, and will be released in mid-April.

I plan on getting a copy and doing a full review later, but before doing so, I am curious to see what the gut reaction of BCC’s readers is to the simple statements found in the title: Parenting is a) less work and b) more fun than conventional wisdom indicates. As a father of two children, I struggled all weekend in trying to decide if I agree or disagree with either statement, and am still not sure of myself. If forced to make an unqualified, un-nitpicky decision, I would probably say that a) is false and b) is true in my experience.

If you have children, are these statements true for your experience? What were your expectations of the hardships and enjoyment of parenting before children? Has your perception of these things changed with time? Do you think that your religiosity affects your perception of how easy/enjoyable parenting is? [Read more…]

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