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



  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.


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


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…]

Before we watched #ldsconf, we were still Mormons

Mormons in my neck of the woods first saw live General Conference broadcasts around 1993. A few members of the church had satellite receivers powerful enough to pick up a very poor reception of conference. It got better over the next few years. By the end of the 90s, most stake centres had dishes. Now everyone watches it on the internet.

Prior to the 90s, conference here was not a big thing at all. Sometimes we watched taped versions but without a huge amount of zeal. There was, of course, the printed version in the Ensign.

We knew that there were prophets leading the church but they were distant. The big stuff got through — like President Benson’s talks on pride and the Book of Mormon — but mostly the leaders who mattered were local. No-one hung on every jot and tittle of every word of every speaker of conference as if it were all big stuff. This was ok. We were still Mormons.

President Uchtdorf: Charity and Pride–Love Across Boundaries #ldsconf

President Uchtdorf’s address in the general priesthood meeting follows a pattern he introduced some years ago: it addresses both men and women and families of all sorts.

“. . . the same principles apply for our dear sisters.”

“These principles of saving relationships apply to all of us, regardless of whether we are married, divorced, widowed, or single. We all can be saviors of strong families.”
[Read more…]

Ski Lessons with E. Stevenson #ldsconf

Dude, Where’s My Car Keys?

Elder Stevenson starts his talk by sharing a rather banal incident of getting back to the car after a day of skiing to find the keys to the car missing.  He then describes his hypothermia-induced hallucination about the priesthood keys.  Well, not exactly.  Actually, at first I thought this was going to be another story about finding lost keys.  I mean, that’s practically a rite of passage for Mormons in our spiritual journey.  Who among us has not had an experience when we lost our keys, we prayed, and then we found our keys?  It’s practically like shave and a haircut. [1] [Read more…]

Sister Durham

“How do we as parents increase the spiritual capacity of our little ones?”  I love that Sister Durham posed this question.  As a mother with children who are still so young, but also so capable of entering that space where they see, hear, feel and know through the spirit, I’ve thought a lot about how I can nourish their curiosity and help them develop a love for the spiritual exploration. [Read more…]

Elder Russell M. Nelson: Power #ldsconf

It is a rare thing for a church leader to describe something so personal. [Read more…]

Elder Neil L. Andersen: When Life Doesn’t Look Like the Pictures #ldsconf

“We will continue to teach the Lord’s pattern for families, but now with millions of members, and the diversity we have in the children of the Church, we need to be even more thoughtful and sensitive. Our church culture and vernacular is at times unique. The primary children are not going to stop singing, ‘Families can be together forever,’ but when they sing ‘I’m so glad when daddy comes home,’ or ‘with father and mother leading the way,’ not all children will be singing about their own family”—Elder Neil L. Andersen

imgresYou know that whole thing about the Church being a hospital for the sick and not a museum of the Saints? It’s relevant here. Very relevant. In his Saturday afternoon talk, Elder Neil L. Andersen reminds us that a big part of running a hospital is that we have to be comfortable being around sick people. [Read more…]

Elder Donald Hallstrom: All are Children of God. #ldsconf

“In real life, we face actual, no imagined hardships.” Elder Hallstrom noted that there is real pain in life, physical, mental, spiritual pain. There are heartbreaks, when circumstances are different from what we anticipate. Social and personal injustice and it can be disorienting. There can be times of questioning, when doctrine or history is beyond our understanding at present.
[Read more…]

Elder Duncan’s Empathy Ointment #ldsconf

Elder Kevin R. Duncan’s conference address was a highlight of the Saturday morning conference for me. Opening with a metaphor about a painful splinter he carried in his hand for years, he was finally rid of it when he took the time to daily apply ointment that softened the skin enough for the bit of wood to work its way out. His hand is no longer sore, and the splinter left no mark—just the lesson that there was no need to have carried that pain with him for so long. [Read more…]

How I feel about #ldsconf

Some random thoughts as I get ready for Conference. It’s not that what comes out of Conference is unimportant; it is important. From the authorities of the Church we get new policies, new doctrines. The counsel from Conference is wise and often poignant. It means a lot. But Conference often feels abstract, distant to me; it is an image of authority and uniformity. It feels sometimes like a simulacrum of my faith, not my actual one that I live day to day. As such I want to think about what General Conference actually means. [Read more…]

On Unnecessary Transitions

Eliza N. is an editor who lives and works in Salt Lake City. She grew up in the Midwest and misses the cornfields. When she’s not working, reading, or watching Netflix, she enjoys running, playing volleyball, and hanging out with her dog.

I am a 31-year-old single Mormon. Upon my 31st birthday at the end of last October, I had until the next general conference to transition to either a family ward or a mid single adult ward. (Mid singles wards, if you didn’t know, are cesspools you wouldn’t wish on anyone.) I’ve had a lot of time to consider how much this transition was going to suck, and suck it did. I attended my new (family) ward last Sunday, and as expected, there were many tears and new-kid jitters.

As someone who spent twelve and a half years attending young single adult wards, I feel qualified to make this statement: The best thing we can do for single adult members of the Church is get rid of the singles wards programs. [Read more…]

Reminder: #ldsconf

Hey, just remember that we’re not live covering Conference, because we’re watching it (or doing something awesome). But we’re providing some more in-depth coverage as we go. If you want a live thread or live tweeting, sorry. Just watch Conference instead. You might enjoy it more that way.

Saturday’s Warrior 2016, a Guest Review

Jenny Garrard is a Utah Mormon, born and raised, but she’s not a fan of Jello and doesn’t sell anything on Etsy. She suffers from RBF, which you probably shouldn’t Google, but it’s nothing a dirty soda can’t fix. Jenny is married to an Idaho farm boy, and together they have 3 sons.

This is a review of the new Saturday’s Warrior film, directed by Michael Buster, produced by Lex de Azevedo, which opens April 1, 2016. [Read more…]

Reading Complexity: The Problems and Possibilities of Mosiah 9-22 #BOM 2016

Mosiah 9-22

Let’s start with the great Arabic text, One Thousand and One Nights, compiled throughout the Golden Age of Islamic culture. I have always found this to be one of the best places to start any discussion of narrative complexity. The entire collection is set in the compelling frame tale of Scheherazade, the daughter of the Grand Vizier who must save her life one night at a time by telling stories to  the love-wounded Sultan who  has vowed to take a new wife every day and execute her the next morning. But Scheherazade does not tell stories in the traditional fashion, for to do so would risk ending too soon. Rather, she embeds stories within stories, adding the layers complexity that have made the collection so famous. Just keeping the layers straight exercises cognitive muscles that we rarely get to use. [Read more…]

Groundwork: An Other Testament

AOTThe new edition of Joseph Spencer’s An Other Testament: On Typology is the second book to be published in our Maxwell Institute series Groundwork: Studies in Theory and Scripture.

In addition to paperback and Kindle editions, An Other Testament is available for free on the Maxwell Institute Website for digital subscribers. Digital subscriptions are just $10 and also give subscribers access to all three of the Institute’s periodicals (Mormon Studies Review, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, and Studies in the Bible and Antiquity) and access to current and future volumes in the Proceedings of the Mormon Theology Seminar series.

I’ll address in more detail some of An Other Testament‘s content in future posts but to set the stage I’ve been given permission to reproduce here my own foreword to the book.


This book is a plow—it breaks ground and its furrow is wide and deep. The future of Mormon studies will be shaped by what is planted in its wake.

Spencer’s field is the Book of Mormon and in order to get his plow to bite, he invents, de novo, his own genre of scholarship—a humbling, meticulous, polymathic blend of history, philosophy, literary analysis, biblical studies, and, above all, theological speculation. In this book, Spencer invents Mormon theology as a speculative, scriptural discipline. [Read more…]

Reading The Book of Mormon in the Anthropocene

The Book of Mormon was written for our time. The Anthropocene. Human influence dominates Earth’s biosphere. The name ‘Antropocene’ was proposed as a scientific geological era recently in Science Magazine because in the mid-20th Century striking differences appear in the lithosphere and ice core data that suggests that we have entered a different geological era from the Holocene, the previous era. [Read more…]

Temple annulments and temple divorces

Current policies around temple divorce can add more hurt to an already difficult situation; but it does so, I believe, because the church wants to recognise the persistence, the continuing redemptive force, of commitments made during the sealing ceremony. [Read more…]

Acknowledging the Judas Reality

Rebecca Moore has been our guest before. She regularly blogs here and is a tall NASA enthusiast.

As I sat watching Interstellar last Sunday with my roommate, as I often do, I turned to her toward and said, “Isn’t this such a great analogy for Heavenly Father? Whatever screw ups well intentioned men may have committed, he’ll come back. He will still come find us. He’ll fix it.” She nodded and smiled politely, but I’m not sure if she was in the mood for me to go off about the failings of General Authorities, so I left it at that. But the analogy none the less stuck with me. [Read more…]


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