The Mirage of Self-Understanding

What if I’m wrong about myself? What if I’m wrong, in fundamental ways, about who and what I am? What if—beyond the limits of whatever kinds of willful self-deception surely warp my self-understanding—there are structural and perspectival constraints that simply prevent me from ever seeing enough of me to grasp myself accurately? Or, more, what if my own self-understanding is so irreparably local that, from a God’s-eye-view, it will never be more than a gross misrepresentation?

For my part, all of the above seems not only possible but practically inevitable.

I will have been wrong about myself.

But if I’m wrong about myself—even fundamentally wrong about myself—does this automatically mean that my life won’t have been worth living?

I think the answer to this is no. [Read more…]

Church Historian’s Press releases George Q. Cannon journal online

The original GQ.

The original GQ.

This morning, the Church Historian’s Press (CHP) announced the online publication of George Q. Cannon’s diaries, 1855–1875. Along with the online publication of The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, this represents a major new era for church publication efforts. The George Q. Cannon (GQC) diaries are significant for many reasons, and have already been used to produce the Gospel Topics essay on the Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage and Jed Woodworth used them for his “Revelations in Context” essay entitled “The Messenger and the Manifesto,” both high priority reading. The CHP is also soliciting feedback about how these materials are being used and what they can do to make content more helpful and accessible.

Regular contributors WVS and J. Stapley discuss the news below:
[Read more…]

Reading the Book of Mormon in the Anthropocene: 1 Nephi 1:1 (In part)

AVmarlin(For this project I’m using, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text1).

1 Nephi 1:1

I Nephi

lectio

Nephi opens the first chapter of The Book of Mormon identifying himself as the author of what follows, establishing who it is that writes and credentials the books of Nephi. The ‘I’ signals a first person account and confirms that an ‘I,’ a single individual, a unique self, will provide the viewpoint from which the text will be positioned. This account will be from Nephi’s perspective. [Read more…]

What’s Adam Miller up to in Letters to a Young Mormon?

cover-miller-lettersLetters to a Young Mormon came out in 2013. It kicked off the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship’s Living Faith book series. I was the greenie at BYU’s Institute and it was thrilling to work on such an engaging and unique manuscript. We’ve published three more Living Faith books since then (I edit the series) and Miller kept on writing, too. His latest book is called The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction. It’s a nice foil to Letters, so I’ll risk spoiling some of the magic by dissecting it a bit here.

[Read more…]

Alma, the Dunbar Number, and the Waters of Mormon First Ward #BOM2016

Mosiah 18

And after this manner he did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon; and they were in number about two hundred and four souls; yea, and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God.—Mosiah 18:16

waters-of-mormonOver the last eight years, my family has belonged to three different wards. We didn’t move; the ward boundaries moved around us, but we had very different experiences in each ward, which I am convinced had something to do with the size of each congregation. The narrative arc follows, albeit not sequentially, the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: one ward was too big, one was too small, and one was just right. [Read more…]

Clara Barton

Clara Barton hated nothing more than feeling useless, and it was this impulse that led her to become a very effective schoolteacher, an intrepid Civil War nurse, an important early feminist, and ultimately the founder of the American Red Cross. She was genuinely heroic: amidst a civil war that, like the one in Mormon’s time, spread blood and carnage throughout all the face of the land, she fought to get close enough to the action to do some good, dodging bullets at Antietam as she rescued wounded soldiers from the field. Efforts to do the same during the Franco-Prussian War brought her into contact with the Red Cross, recently founded in Switzerland. Barton’s engagement was so strenuous that from time to time she’d collapse in exhaustion, her heart stricken and withered like grass. [Read more…]

Variable fallibilities and church leadership

It is well known, at least among Mormons, that Mormons don’t worship their prophets. We don’t pray to Joseph Smith. We are not expected to blindly follow every dictum that comes from President Thomas S. Monson. We test the commandments (in prayer or by trial) and choose the ones whose fruits are most godly. And yet, we frequently hear the refrain that God would never allow the church to be led astray by a false prophet. Whether it is God’s word or the word of his servants, it is the same. The path of safety is to treat the Brethren like they are infallible, even though we know they aren’t, because maybe they are, even when we think they aren’t.
[Read more…]

Q&A With Sam Brown: Death, Dying, and Living

Dominic Moore is a pediatric palliative care physician, singer songwriter, and member of the mega-super group “the Lower Lights”. He graciously agreed to ask some questions of Sam Brown, who is an ICU physician, medical researcher, and historian (most notably, of In Heaven as It Is on Earth and First Principles and Ordinances). Sam’s new book, while not about LDS beliefs, talks to some of our deepest feelings about death and caring for the dying.

Sam is throwing a book launch party at King’s English in Salt Lake on Thursday, April 14, at 7pm and for those in Utah Valley, Writ & Vision in Provo is holding a panel featuring Sam, Sierra Debenham, and George Handley on Tuesday, April 19, at 7pm.”

It was my pleasure to have a conversation with Sam Brown about his latest book, “Through the Valley of Shadows: Living Wills, Intensive Care, and Making Medicine Human”. In examining death and our relationship to being seriously ill, along with legal and medical tools that have developed over time, Sam lays out some of the most difficult challenges of our day. I recommend “Through the Valley of Shadows” highly and consider it crucial to the discussions we need to have as a society.

Sam’s criticism of living wills is well founded but also pretty revolutionary (some might even say heretical). [Read more…]

The best way to prove people who leave the Church wrong

imgladshesgoneI get a message every other month or so from a friend or relative who knows someone who isn’t merely struggling with their faith but who has announced they’re past that point. They are leaving the church. Their exit narratives, like our monthly testimony meetings, often follow a similar formula including a list of problems they’ve discovered in church history, belief, or practice.

I got another message today. Chances are good you’ve received one at some point, too.  [Read more…]

Restoring Harmony

isaac-and-elizabeth-hale-home-brent-walton

I had heard that the Church was restoring some of the historic sites in Harmony Township, Pennsylvania (now Oakland Township), but I hadn’t heard any of the details. Well, yesterday I received my BYU Religious Education Review (Winter 2016), which features two articles that give details on this project. [Read more…]

The Least Degree of Allowance

BYU held its first ever Rape Awareness conference this week. At the conference, representatives of BYU’s administration spoke regarding the role of the Honor Code Office with respect to both sexual offenders and victims. In the event of a report of sexual assault, the BYU police department reviews the report and then may provide that report to the Honor Code Office, depending in part upon the activities of the survivor in the event. BYU representatives reportedly made it clear that the Honor Code remains a primary rule of conduct at the university, and “we do not apologize for that.”

If this recounting is accurate, when victims of sexual violence at BYU report their attack, they potentially put their academic future at risk. If you’ve been raped while in your boyfriend’s bedroom, you’re in trouble. If you were drinking at a party and were raped, you’re in trouble. If you were fondling a partner who then raped you, you’re in trouble. There are many more Honor Code rules which may apply. The trouble is both ecclesiastical and academic. The Honor Code Office will report to and coordinate with the bishop of the student. A woman who has been sexually assaulted may find herself penalized, suspended, even expelled for the circumstances of her attack.
[Read more…]

Sympathy for the Devil

 

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So if you manage to make it through the Allegory of the Olive Tree, you’ll come to the story of Sherem in Jacob 7. [Read more…]

What is the most important thing we can do in our lives?

Like many of you, we’ve been moved by the Church’s efforts, launched by President Burton, to aid refugees. We plan on continuing to highlight these efforts. Please visit I Was A Stranger and prayerfully consider how you can help.

Maryan Myres Shumway is currently an expat, living in the Middle East. She plays cello in the Doha Community Orchestra, and chronicles her travels and thoughts at trekingonward.blogspot.com.

With the recent announcements from the First Presidency and Sister Linda K. Burton, General Relief Society president, to launch an effort to serve refugees, my heart leapt with joy. In the 1980’s I worked in three different refugee camps–in Thailand, the Philippines, and for a short time in Palestine/Israel. Their faces, sometimes bewildered, but often times surprisingly happy, still reverberate within me. Many of their examples and stories continue to tutor me when my heart needs to be mentored or turned. Sister Linda K. Burton voiced her plea to help those who are displaced in the world when she asked us to reflect, “What if their story was my story?” [Read more…]

Alma the Younger on the Road to Damascus: How the Book of Mormon Reads and Re-reads the Bible #BOM2016

Mosiah 27/Alma 36

conversion-of-st-paulThe Bible is full of type scenes that give a sense of narrative unity to its very diverse collection of texts. Type scenes can connect two characters within a single book, as the two “woman at the well” betrothal scenes in Genesis do. But they work their connective magic when they work across texts–and especially when they occur between the Old and New Testaments–consider the “King-Orders-the-Deaths-of-All-Male-Babies” scenes that begin both Exodus and Matthew. Such parallel scenes give a powerful boost to the argument that the Old and New Testaments testify of the same things. [Read more…]

Belgian Theodicy

God rarely infringes on the agency of any of His children by intervening against some for the relief of others. But He does ease the burdens of our afflictions and strengthen us to bear them, as He did for Alma’s people in the land of Helam (see Mosiah 24:13–15). He does not prevent all disasters, but He does answer our prayers to turn them aside, as He did with the uniquely powerful cyclone that threatened to prevent the dedication of the temple in Fiji; or He does blunt their effects, as He did with the terrorist bombing that took so many lives in the Brussels airport but only injured our four missionaries.

-Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Opposition In All Things, April 2016 General Conference [Read more…]

Things About Candy That Make Me Mad, Ranked

It’s been a long time since we ranked stuff! I apologize for that! With our ranking muscles kind of flabby, Steve and I had a pretty hard time ranking stuff today. Here are some of our failed efforts before we finally found our stride today:

  • Things That I’m Stressed About, Ranked

[Read more…]

A Must-Have Missionary Book

Roger Terry is editorial director at BYU Studies and is the author of books (both fiction and nonfiction), articles, essays, short stories, book reviews, and newspaper editorials. He blogs at mormonomics & mormonethics.

A few weeks ago, BYU Studies held an annual meeting for some our supporters. This year we invited a rather unusual speaker. His name is Robert Lively, dean emeritus and former professor of religion at the University of Maine at Farmington. Rob is not LDS. So why would we invite a nonmember to speak at our annual meeting? Because of the book he self-published in late 2015. It is titled The Mormon Missionary: Who Is That Knocking at My Door? [Read more…]

The Struggle for Goodness, Truth, and Belonging in a Haunted Age

Contents

 

  1. Part One: Ecclesial Secularism, New Atheism, and the Supposed Impossibility of Religious Moderate

           1.1 Ecclesial Secularism

           1.2 New Atheism

           1.3 The Impossible Moderate?

      2. Part Two: Hermeneutics, Humanism, and the Theological Foundations of Secularism

           2.1 Hermeneutics and Contexts of Understanding

           2.2 The (Necessary) Invention of Humanism

           2.3 The Theological Foundations of Secularism

      3. Part Three: Mormonism, Purity, and the Conditions of Truth

           3.1 Ecclesial Secularism, Fundamentalism, and Authoritarianism

           3.2 The Enchantment and Disenchantment of Religious Modernism

           3.3 Cross-Pressure and Diversities of Truth Processes

           3.4 Tribes within Tribes

           3.5 Truth-Formation and the Correspondence Logic of Purity

           3.6 Logics of Different Worlds

           3.7 Truth and Belonging

Full article in PDF format: The Struggle for Goodness, Truth, and Belonging in a Haunted Age

Preface [Read more…]

Groundwork: An Other Testament II

AOTSpencer’s thesis in An Other Testament: On Typology is, like many powerful ideas, deceptively simple. “This book is about how the Book of Mormon teaches us to read the Book of Mormon” (xix).

The issue at stake here is a perennial bone of contention in Mormon Studies: how should the Book of Mormon be read? Answers vary according to discipline, audience, and temperament, but I’ve never seen anyone else do what Spencer suggests. I’ve never seen anyone else ask: okay, but what does the Book of Mormon itself say about how we should read the Book of Mormon?

I don’t want to spoil the book for you, but the answer is also easy to summarize (see the subtitle): the Book of Mormon teaches us to read the Book of Mormon typologically. [Read more…]

Evening with an Author—John G. Turner, Mormon Jesus: A Biography

From our friends at Benchmark Books, 3269 S. Main St., Ste. 250 in Salt Lake City.

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We are excited to announce that John G. Turner, author of The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), will be here on Wednesday, April 6 to speak about and sign copies of his book. He will be here from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and will speak at 6:00 and will answer questions and sign books before and after that time. We hope you will be able to make it that night but, if not, we can mail a signed copy or hold one here at the store for pick-up. To RSVP on Facebook, click here. [Read more…]

Why Food Stamps and Free Tuition Don’t Have Anything to Do with Satan’s Plan

Now that the political campaigns are in full swing, American Mormons are having their quadrennial debate on whether or not social programs like Pell Grants, food stamps, and subsidized housing are tools of the devil. According to one common philosophy (which has been kind of dominant on my Facebook feed recently), this kind of income redistribution FORCES us to give to the poor, thus TAKING AWAY OUR AGENCY and denying us the blessings that would come if we CHOSE to give to the poor like God wants us to. You can use persuasion to convince people to be charitable, but don’t use compulsion, BECAUSE THAT’S SATAN’S PLAN!!!!!

This is poppycock and piffle! The argument assumes that the purpose of social programs is to benefit the soul of the giver—to compel us to do righteous things like feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. It is not. The purpose of food-assistance programs is to give people food; it has nothing to do with the condition of your soul. [Read more…]

Elder Holland: We Get Credit For Trying #ldsconf

Back when I was in high school, I was warned not to guess if I didn’t know the answer to an SAT question. It’s been years, so my memory may be off, but I believe the test awarded points for correct answers, no points for blank answers, and took away points for wrong answers. If you weren’t at least reasonably certain that you were right, not answering the question was better than risking choosing a wrong answer, and losing points.[fn1]

As of last month, apparently, that changed: wrong answers still won’t get students points, but they also won’t cost students points. Where before, students had a strong incentive to refrain from participating, now the incentives have changed.  [Read more…]

Elder Kearon On Service To Refugees

I remember so distinctly last summer when the Pope made the call for every parish across Europe to take in a refugee family and help them in the ways that they needed.  I remember this because I longed for the same explicit message in regards to specific service we can and should give in the world.  [Read more…]

President Uchtdorf’s Theology of Grace

I mean this post to complement Tracy M’s reflections on the same talk. Go read them if you haven’t already.

I hope that President Uchtdorf’s Sunday Morning sermon becomes a landmark, because of the smart way that it approaches the fraught theological territory surrounding works and grace. The point here isn’t the theological smarts, but the potential for pastoral comfort. We talk sometimes as though the intellectual and the spiritual can’t coexist, but I think that they inevitably do. And, as someone who believes that being critical about our God-talk matters, I’m persuaded that bringing our minds fully to bear on spiritual matters can be of great pastoral benefit, which is why I am praising this sermon. [Read more…]

Oscarson: Do I Believe? #ldsconf

President Oscarson has been the Young Women’s president since 2013, and is the first female member of the Church’s Missionary Executive Council. While she was born in Utah, she has lived outside of the state for many years (notably in Sweden, Missouri, and Texas). She returned to school 35 years after her initial studies to finish her degree. President Oscarson brings a good deal of experience to the table. As YW president, she has been immensely concerned with the activity level of our youth and the statistically increasing drop off of teens as they transition to adulthood within the Church. Her view is that the influence of the “great and spacious building” is the greatest challenge our youth face today. President Oscarson is intensely focused on retaining those youth despite that influence; she rightfully notes that “To believe, we need to get the gospel from our heads into our hearts!” How, then, do we go from that state of complacent ‘knowledge’ of what is right towards an active, believing heart? [Read more…]

President Uchtdorf and Why I Stay #ldsconf

Frauenkirche-Dresden-650x488-870a9fa117b86abb

Dresden Frauenkirche

Recently, a friend contacted me with some questions about the church. She is married, has a son, and is thinking of becoming Mormon. She had some questions she didn’t feel the missionaries could understand, and she turned to me. I hope I was helpful, and I answered her questions— both logistical and spiritual— as honestly as possible. As often happens when we think we are helping someone else, something important distilled and formed that was meant for me. She asked me if I had any regrets… [Read more…]

Mormon Mysticism and #ldsconf

Given the way that Mormonism often seems to privilege certainty, I was intrigued to notice hints of mysticism in several of Saturday’s talks. The vein of mysticism I’m talking about involves apophatic or negative theology, which means defining things by what they are not rather than what they are. Such theology draws attention to the limits of human understanding and encourages ascetic practices, often centered on prayer, designed to bring worshipers toward experiences of the divine that transcend rational description—or at least the usual categories of certainty. Mystics are people who experience God’s “dazzling darkness” in this way.
[Read more…]

Christopher Waddell: Sometimes it’s just hard to think about Jesus #ldsconf

Bishop Waddell tells us that we must not expect our faith to protect us from sorrow. But peace of mind can be present during the storms of life. The key is to keep our focus on the Christ.
[Read more…]

Elder Snow’s Talk on Humility and Reflections on Certainty #ldsconf

Nearly every day I have occasion to cross the busiest street in the city. Given its eight lanes, I usually chose to do so at a convenient crosswalk that is regulated by a traffic light. As is the case with most of Vienna’s 1,286 traffic lights, this one is controlled by a timer. It also features an audio and tactile system for guiding visually impaired persons over the street. Basically this system consists of raised lines on the sidewalk and across the street for guiding the tip of a cane  and a box about a meter off the ground that has a raised pictogram of the number of lanes to be crossed and, hidden from plain view, a button that can be depressed to activate an audio signal that sounds while the light is green.This is important–the box pictured below does not turn the light green or in any other way influence the timer; it simply activates an audio signal whenever pedestrians are given the right of way according to preprogrammed intervals. [Read more…]

The 10 Conference Commandments

For all you Hamilton and/or Biggie fans, some #LDSConf hip-hop action… (and btw, that Biggie link is NOT safe for Mormons (sfm):

 

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9…
It’s the 10 Conference Commandments

Number 1:
The challenge: Stay woke for two hours,
With nothing to look at but some podium flowers.

Number 2:
If you don’t, that’s alright, people doze,
Sometimes that’s the way the AM session goes.

This is commonplace, ‘specially on a soft couch,
So grab a place to sit where you won’t zone out.

Number 3:
Pick a snack, something easy to make,
Skip the first talk if there’s baked goods to be baked. [Read more…]

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