Review: The Mormon Jesus: A Biography

Mormon JesusJohn G. Turner, The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (Cambridge: Harvard UP 2016).

Just this month, Turner followed up his excellent biography of Brigham Young with something almost entirely different: an intellectual history of Mormonism’s approach to Jesus. And, just so that I don’t bury the lede here: you need to read this book.

Turner approaches the Mormon Jesus thematically and relatively comprehensively (or, at least, as comprehensively as he can in a 350-page book). He spends the bulk of his words on 19th-century Mormonism, but he touches on events as recent as Denver Snuffer’s claim to have seen and spoken with Jesus (83-84) and as ancient as Clement of Alexandria’s view in the late second century that “the gospel had abrogated polygamy, not monogamous marriage) (220).  [Read more…]

No, George Washington Didn’t Believe in the Mormon God

WashingtonWe live in an age and a country where intellectual authority is validated through an appeal to the “founders.” Even if one doesn’t believe in the extreme, and wrong-headed, philosophy of “originalism”–where we pretended all the men who crafted America’s foundational documents believed the same ideas, that those ideas could be objectively reconstructed today, and that those reconstructed ideas could serve as arbiters for modern society’s issues–it is still typical to couch our arguments in a way that adds historical heft. (On this modern dilemma, see these two recent and excellent volumes.) It just makes you feel good to know, in the words of #Hamiltunes, that “Washington is on your side.”
[Read more…]

Rape and The Miracle of Forgiveness

Today’s Guest Post is by Chris Kimball.

Although nobody accuses me, every time the (now out-of-print) The Miracle of Forgiveness comes up, I cringe and feel guilty. It’s really not my work and I know that. But the author is my grandfather Spencer Kimball and somehow I feel responsible in a vague but troubling way.

Rape is a difficult and touchy subject, yet I want to contribute to the discussion. I offer this as my personal opinion (I certainly cannot and would never claim to channel Spencer Kimball.) [Read more…]

More Love

It has been a hard week. It can’t be wrong to repost this.

 

More love, more love!

The heavens are blessing,
the angels are calling.
O Zion, more love, more love.

If ye love not each other in daily communion,
how can you love God whom you have not seen?

More love, more love,
O Zion, more love.

2016 Mormon History Association Annual Conference – Early Bird Registration

The Mormon History Association is the single best source for information about Mormon history and to engage in Mormon studies. Every year the association holds a conference where professional scholars, engaged non-professionals, and interested observers gather to present and interact with the latest research on topics ranging from Pioneers to Race, and from Liturgy to Gender. This year the conference will be held on June 9 through 12, at Snowbird, Utah. And to be fair it isn’t the cheapest thing in the world, but it is absolutely worth it. Discounted early bird registration is open until May 7. I encourage you to join us.
[Read more…]

Can You Be Good WITH Religion?

I am not a fan of the so-called “New Atheists”—Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christipher Hitchens. I find their rhetoric to be little more than religious fundamentalism disguised as rational argument, and I think that they intentionally misunderstand the difference between religion as something that makes people do bad things and religion as something that bad people know how to use to do bad things. Don’t get me started on this; I can go on all day.

But I do respect the fact that these thinkers have shifted our discourse from the question, “Can you be good without religion?” to  what I see as the much more important question,“Can you be good WITH religion?” I believe that the answer to both questions is “yes.” [Read more…]

A quick note to the new Newsroom

ilovethisjobAs the Church Newsroom undergoes leadership changes, I have some completely unsolicited advice for the PR team:

Stop talking so much. Please. The kingdom of God on the Earth already has mouthpieces, called Prophets and Apostles. You are not the face or the voice of the Church, they are! Help them be effective in their role.

God wouldn’t have called them to be Prophets and Apostles if He didn’t trust them to speak in public. Set them up with the biggest possible platforms on which to speak for our Savior.

I would love to read their columns in newspapers. I’d love to see them on TV more. I’d love to follow an actual Twitter feed from an actual Apostle. Enough with the canned quotes. It doesn’t have to be that hard…

“I had a fresh insight during scripture study this morning…”

“The Wasatch Front looks beautiful in the Spring.”

“We sang ‘Abide with Me’ in Sacrament Meeting today—my mother loved this hymn.”

[Read more…]

On KUER: Sexual Assault in the Mormon Context

This morning I appeared on KUER’s Radio West with Doug Fabrizio, alongside Erin Alberty of the Salt Lake Tribune and Prof. Andrea Radke-Moss of BYU-I. We discussed sexual assault in the Mormon context. You can listen to a podcast on KUER’s website, and I welcome further discussion of the issue here.

KUER: Sexual Assault in the Mormon Context

This month, The Salt Lake Tribune has been following the story of BYU students who say they’ve been punished under the school’s honor code because they reported sexual assaults. Some of the questions these women are facing have been experienced around the country: will they be believed, shamed or blamed for being a victim? Tuesday, we’re asking how LDS culture and theology of chastity complicates this, and if there are lessons from the Mormon experience that might help challenge assumptions about rape in America.

 

 

Nephites and Judges and Kings (Oh My) #BOM2016

xti_9946_large

At the end of the Book of Mosiah, the Nephite’s governmental structure changes from kings to judges, bringing a full circle to the transition from judges to kings that occurred nearly a thousand years earlier in Israel (1 Samuel 8-11). In a very real way, the Book of Mormon walks back one of the most controversial political passages in the entire Bible—and it does so through a process of almost complete narrative inversion. [Read more…]

Fulfill All Righteousness

Out in the wilderness, John cries: repent! And so people come to be baptized. And then (surprise!) Jesus also answers John’s call.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. (Matthew 3:13-15)

Jesus fulfills all righteousness by ritually performing repentance even when he’s not culpable. He enacts a willingness to be responsible even when he’s not guilty. With this gesture of repentance, Jesus shoulders a responsibility that exceeds what can be demanded by the law or defined by guilt.

This is what love looks like.

It’s obvious, of course, that the law cannot be fulfilled by way of obedience because the end of the law is love. Only love can fulfill the law. And love, unlike obedience, can’t be demanded.

In this same way, it’s also obvious that only repentance can fulfill all righteousness—even if, repenting, one is not culpable. Love exercises responsibility beyond the bounds of culpability.

Jesus’ baptism exemplifies this Christian posture. Jesus is God revealed: life, penitent but guiltless.

No one repents more (or better) than God.

Christian life, individually and institutionally, looks the same. Christian life is repentance performed as a way of life—not as a gesture meant to assuage personal culpability, but as a kind of love that has put down the lawful burden of culpability to bear instead, with Jesus, that broader and deeper yoke of shared responsibility.

Disrupting the patterns of our storytelling

A few weeks ago at a writing conference I went to a panel about writing the LGBTQ narrative.  While I am not LGBTQ myself, I wanted to know what the panelists felt about writing their stories, often for the first time, and often to audiences they fear do not understand them.  Those 90 minutes were some of the most useful and enlightening minutes of the conference for me.  My empathy and love for the LGBTQ story grew, but also, an empathy and gratitude for my own story felt very real.  In some ways, I felt like the five panelists could have been replaced by any particular group of people who are concerned with the idea of telling stories that are bursting at the seams of the box they have long been kept in. My Mormon self, my female self, my mothering self, connected with what they said.
[Read more…]

Putting Women on a Pedestal (Nephite Edition)

ea20c9d157257c175b0367fcb5b73988

So I’m reading Mosiah 1-3 to prepare for tomorrow’s lesson on King Benjamin’s speech. Recall from Mosiah 2:5 that it was not just men present; it was also their wives, their daughters, their granddaughters who were there. [Read more…]

A few words about Prince

tumblr_n9qvk8570x1r3s3a3o1_500There are so many threads to this complicated human being. The blend of committed spirituality and enthusiastic sexuality (which, tbh, Mormons have no right to be offended about). His intense introversion and control issues, paired with bright-as-the-sun charisma and onstage courage. The way he flouted social conventions about gender, race, even geography. (Can there any cool thing come out of Minnesota? Yup.)

He could have been any age. He could sing in every register. He could expertly play every instrument.

From what I can tell, Prince applied that creativity and flexibility to everything he did. Beyond being a musical genius, he was a business genius and a technological genius. He hacked and reimagined existing structures to fit his needs (he basically broke the radio promotion and metrics system). He incorporate new technologies into his work (he was always the first to incorporate new sounds, new instruments, and digital tools). And he completely rejected industry trends that he felt compromised his work.

That combination of big abstract creativity + systems thinking is crazy to me.

[Read more…]

On the Routinization, Bureaucratization, and Correlation of Charisma: Max Weber and the Mormons

The Theory of Social and Economic OrganizationIf somebody asked me to name ten books that would help them understand modern Mormonism, I wouldn’t be able to do it. There are too many to choose from, and I could never narrow it down. However, if somebody asked me to name a single book that would tell them more about modern Mormonism than any other, I wouldn’t even have to think about it twice—even though the book I have in mind uses the word “Mormon” only once. That book is Max Weber’s The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, where the great sociologist develops the concept he calls “the routinization of charisma.” [Read more…]

Chalk circles and honor

Thanks to Google image search, I now know there's a band that goes by this name. From Wikipedia.

Thanks to Google image search, I now know about this band. From Wikipedia.

Karl G. Maeser was a pretty cool German. He was a Latter-day Saint convert, a key figure in establishing what became Brigham Young University. He believed in the importance of education and refused to disconnect it from moral formation. I think he was right about that. There’s an old story about Maeser that used to inspire me:

I have been asked what I mean by ‘word of honor.’ I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls–walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground–there is a possibility that in some way or another I may escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of the circle? No. Never! I’d die first!

The underlying principle here is laudable. Our word of honor should mean something. We shouldn’t give it flippantly. We should do the utmost to keep it. Trust is a key ingredient in human relationships.

So far so good. But the story can also be seen as absurd—even potentially insidious—if taken the wrong way.  [Read more…]

Weirdcore

The DestructivesAs a philosopher, as a theologian, and as a human being, I’m interested in a very specific set of problems. The tensions that interest me all intersect right here, in this brilliantly framed passage from Matthew De Abaitua’s seriously brilliant sci-fi novel The Destructives

The book’s protagonist, Theodore, is, among other things, a “weirdcore” addict and, in this passage, he describes his initial exposure to the drug:

He first took weirdcore just because it was there, another obstacle to traverse in the assault course of narcotic experimentation. The drug had been designed to combine the mood-leveling benefits of tranqs with the neurological novelty of tryptamines. The effects were profoundly different. The user does not comedown after a weirdcore shift. Comedown implies descent from a height. The user deepens. The weirdcore shift is from the depth of ordinary being, the familiar z axis of emotional states, memory and philosophical and moral abstractions, to an intoxicating shallowing. The user becomes an x axis of surface. Weirdcore flattened him and then joined him up to the surrounding surfaces; during the ritual, the scarring of his face was nothing more than the marks of a knife on a chopping board.

It was as if there was a level of consciousness in all things. A much shallower consciousness than attained by the human mind, but the capacity to experience existed nonetheless, not merely in animals and other living beings but in rivers and rocks. Weirdcore reduced the complexity of the user so that they existed on a comparable level to the dregs of all things.

[Read more…]

Councils, Ranked

We’re going to give you a peek into The Process today: How stuff gets ranked. I’m going to lift the veil of secrecy and show the names of who lists what, and how we hash out our differences, with time stamps and everything. You won’t be disappointed.

As always, these rankings are authoritative. [Read more…]

David Foster Wallace’s gospel according to Adam Miller

miller-dfw[The conclusion of my Adam Miller 2-part post extravaganza. Here’s part 1.]

I was surprised to meet the same epistlatory voice Miller used in Letters to a Young Mormon in his latest book, The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace. The books are very similar and very different. Both are made up of a series of short, topic-focused chapters written in a friendly style. But rather than excavating Mormon scripture and thought as in Letters, he’s identifying a “gospel” within the writings of David Foster Wallace, author of one of the best novels of our time, Infinite Jest.

Those who are familiar with Miller’s theology (and perhaps Latour’s too, as I outlined in a previous post) will understand why he’s comfortable using the word “gospel” in his Wallace book when there isn’t a trace of Jesus—except maybe for that one typo where he calls DFW’s character Chris Fogle “Christ Fogle” (page 79; just squeezing Adam’s shoes here).  [Read more…]

The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: A Glossary

If you’re reading Adam Miller’s The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction (review forthcoming!), you’ll see terms repeat themselves in the book. Remember that you’re reading Adam Miller on DFW, which is like reading Adam Miller on Paul: you’re looking at the original author through a lens, not necessarily an unfaithful lens but one that will magnify and bring things to your mind in new ways. That’s my way of saying that Miller’s DFW Gospel is better in some ways than reading DFW. It’s both much shorter (curse you, Infinite Jest!) and more direct. Miller uses some words — words that DFW uses — and he uses them ostensibly the same way DFW uses, but it’s worth looking at these words closely. [Read more…]

Exhibit A: Why So Few Women Report Sexual Assault

The recent announcement that BYU will study Title IX reporting structures is extremely encouraging. If conducted correctly, such a study should give administrators the opportunity to listen to the stories of women who have been silenced by the threat of honor code investigations or forced to defend their own actions at a time when the school should have been helping them heal. All of this will move the Church’s flagship university towards full compliance with the post-2011 directives for enforcing Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments.

Just a bit of background: on April 4, 2011, all Colleges and Universities in the United States received what is now known as the “Dear Colleague Letter” from Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The letter announced major changes in Title IX enforcement procedures that made schools more responsible for investigating and punishing sexual assault on their campuses. The OCR stepped in to this issue for clear and compelling reasons:  sexual assault has become an epidemic in higher education, and most assaults are going unreported. The new Title IX directives require that colleges and universities clean up the viper’s nests that they have allowed their campuses to become. [Read more…]

Happy Tax Day! (Unless You Live in MA or ME)

Brigham Young, c. 1870

Brigham Young, c. 1870

Most years (at least when I remember), I like to do a Tax Day post.[fn1] (And yes, I get that Tax Day statutorily falls on April 15 for calendar year taxpayers, and I get that April 15 was Friday. But Friday was also the observation of Emancipation Day in D.C., which pushed Tax Day to today. Except in Massachusetts and Maine, where today is apparently Patriots’ Day, which means Tax Day is tomorrow.)

For this year’s Mormon-y Tax Day celebration, we’re going back to the Civil War-era income tax. It only lasted a decade, from 1861-1871, but, in that time, it managed to ensnare itself with the Mormons out in Utah.  [Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special: Grow up, Superboy

Way back in the deeps of time, I was sitting on the bank of an irrigation canal. It was the end of summer, and the weedy bank was playing hide and seek with some bright afternoon sunlight trying its best to filter through the leaves of an old elm tree.

When I say “end of summer,” I mean school was about to start—five more days of freedom. The thing is, I was stuck in a crevice of time. My friends, the kids I had found a place with, were all a bit younger. Those kids were still in elementary (primary) school, whereas I was starting middle school (in fact, junior high school). A trick of birthdays and school deadlines put me in the way of a buzzsaw that would inevitably cut my friendships asunder. Not only that, the grade school had a different start date than my new fief of educational thralldom. They were already suited up in the new jeans and stiff-keep-your-shirt-tucked-in button up the center first day of school clothing prisons.
[Read more…]

Reviews in Brief: The Mormoness and Mormonism and American Politics

Just because these reviews are brief and the books are small, don’t take that to mean that they aren’t weighty or worth your time. There is a lot packed into these two microtomes. [Read more…]

Nehor’s Universalism Problem—and Ours #BOM2016

Alma 1

nehorSherem, Nehor, and Korihor—Mormon scripture’s three most famous anti-Christs—constitute one of the most obvious recurring type-scenes in the Book of Mormon. Of the three, the middle child, Nehor, is clearly the most disruptive. Long after he receives the just desserts traditional for his ilk (Alma 1: 15), Nehorism pops up as the principle religion of most of the other bad guys in the Book of Alma (see Alma 14:4-8, Alma 21:4, Alma 24:28). Only Gadianton can claim a similarly evil influence on the Nephite people.

But there is a huge difference between the signature heresies of Nehor and those of Gadianton. The latter taught that it was possible to murder and get gain—hardly an original insight in the world, but an extremely disruptive one nonetheless. [Read more…]

Sampa

ipiranga-saojoao-575x431Last week, as I waited in the car to pick my daughter up from school, I heard an All Things Considered review of the recently-released album from Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. And, as these things do, it got me thinking about my mission.

When I got my call to the Brazil São Paulo East mission, I knew three things about Brazil: first, it was in South America. Second, they spoke Portuguese there. And third, it was the home of Bossa Nova.  [Read more…]

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…]

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