A Publication I Would Like to See (but won’t…)

July 24, 2006 | 37 comments
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There are two “religious” magazines that I like to read fairly regularly. Neither is Mormon. The first is First Things, which “is published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.” The other is Commentary, a Jewish journal of public life. Both of these publications are vaguely “neoconservative” and hence are likely to be demonized today, but on the whole they are bastions of well-written and thoughtful commentary on culture and public affairs. Both of them are religious in some sense. Both are identifiably Christian and Jewish respectively. Yet they are not really about religion. Many of the articles have no religious voice at all, and they are largely unconcerned with “inside baseball” religious questions, except to the extent that internal conversations have some relevance to broader public discussions. Furthermore, both journals regularly publish articles by non-Christians and non-Jews (including the odd Mormon). There are ideological limits on contributors but no religious ones.

I would love to see a Mormon version of First Things or Commentary, but for a number of reasons I don’t think that this will happen. The biggest problem is that Mormons are too interested in themselves. In some sense, I think that the early Sunstone-istas had a vision of Sunstone along these lines: a magazine of Mormon thought capaciously defined to include not simply intellectual discussions of Mormonism but Mormonly intellectual discussions of the world. To be sure, such articles make their way into the pages of Sunstone and other Mormon publications from time to time, but on the whole such fora are generally all inside baseball all the the time.

The second problem, sadly, is the intellectual shallowness of the Mormon pond. We simply don’t have a lot of top flight Mormon intellectuals who have interesting things to say about public life. The result is that Mormon attempts along these lines fall into two patterns. First, one hears repeatedly from the same voices, which have a few good insights but one ends up hearing the same good insight over and over again. Second — and much more often — one simply gets mainstream opinion at second-hand. Such things are not on the cutting edge of mainstream opinion. They don’t move that conversation forward. Yet neither are they strongly Mormon enough to move forward some intellectually Mormon discussion. My own reaction is “Eh? I think that I would rather read Commentary.”

The third problem is bringing in the outsiders as both authors and readers. For most intellectuals Mormons and Mormonism are still a joke a best, an odd religious artifact of the American West. For others Mormons are either a threatening cell within the Religious Right or else a heretical cult that must be defended against. Virtually no non-Mormons think of Mormons and Mormonism as interesting or valuable interlocutors. The result is that I doubt that non-Mormons would pick up a Mormon version of Commentary expecting an interesting discussion, and non-Mormon writers are not going to publish in such a journal with the expectation that they are participating in the national dialogue. Their assumption — if they could even be found — would be that in writing for this magazine they are talking to Mormons, not the broader reading public. Both of these factors, however, will push the magazine toward insular, Mormon discussions.

Still, perhaps I am too pessimistic. Perhaps a high-quality Mormon journal of culture and public life will emerge where neither the subject matter nor the audience is exclusively (or even predominantly) Mormon. If it shows up, I’ll subscribe, but I’m not holding my breath…

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37 Responses to A Publication I Would Like to See (but won’t…)

  1. Adam Greenwood on July 24, 2006 at 10:58 am

    I’m with you all the way. I’d love to see a magazine viewing the world through the lens of Mormonism, instead of the usual seeing Mormonism through the lens of the world or seeing Mormonism through the lens of Mormonism. But it ain’t gonna happen.

    Maybe you and I need to devote our brainpower, such as it is, to converting more people and our kids can be the editors of Eternal Things

  2. s on July 24, 2006 at 11:32 am

    I think before such a thing happens, a few things will have to change:

    1. Mormons (especially Mormon intellectuals) will need to be willing to engage in real dialogue (i.e. not proselytizing or apologetics) with others in the public and academic spheres.

    2. Mormons need to be more welcoming toward intellectuals in their own midst that don’t fit the apologetics mold. We need a less hostile environment for Mormon intellectuals of all shapes and sizes.

  3. Mark Butler on July 24, 2006 at 11:33 am

    I would really like a Mormon version of FIRST THINGS. However, as a regular reader of the latter I think it does an amazingly good job of covering the issues of the intersection between religion and public life in a way that is relevant to Mormon readers.

    It should be mentioned that though FIRST THINGS in non-denominational, it has very heavy Catholic overtones, including occasional articles specifically focused on the Catholic theology and philosophy. Likewise for Commentary, except much less religious and more secular, but with Jewish overtones nonetheless, in the same way that National Review has a vaguely Catholic overtone, by my impression at any rate.

    However, I think the main reason why such a journal would struggle is economics – i.e. the audience isn’t large enough. As a secondary matter, I do not think that Mormon metaphysics (not the weblog), by and large, has advanced to any significant degree since the days of B.H. Roberts, in fact it seems to have gone backwards, toward a more explicitly magical world view that either despairs of ever explaining the world of the spirit, or does not believe that such an explanation is possible, in principle.

    Because of that, Mormon theological discussions tend to lack the grounding that makes Catholic or Protestant world view so definitive. We would definitely have to agree that the latter are based on vast oversimplications, the implication being that the true metaphysics of the spirit are much more sophisticated, but nonetheless it is very difficult for a true Mormon scholarship of anything remotely secular to advance without the vaguest consensus on metaphysical principles. The lack of any sort of consensus makes us particular vulnerable to philosophical and scientific criticism.

    That doesn’t mean that they are right, just that virtually no work has been done to develop the metaphysical tools to defend our position since the days of B.H. Roberts, and before him, Orson and Parley Pratt. And is is widely recognized, Orson Pratt’s metaphysics are more than a little out of date. These days, so far as I can see, we have a division between LDS scientists who rarely if ever bother to account for the metaphysics of the spirit, even in the most hypothetical terms, and LDS philosophers who do not believe that the spirit can be accounted for according to any sort of natural law or analytical description whatsoever.

    That would make a much more interesting topic for a book entitled “How Wide the Divide?” than the differences between neo-absolutist LDS and Protestant theology. In short, our failure to engage the division, amounts to intellectual poverty, so far as secular scholarship is concerned, We cannot possibly have anything to characteristically Mormon to say to an outside scholar or academic without a Mormon metaphysics, however hypothetical.

  4. DKL on July 24, 2006 at 11:59 am

    In fairness, Nate, it’s not like Episcopalians, Baptists, or Methodists have magazines like Commentary either.

    The conventional wisdom is that Mormonism has a strong current of anti-intellectualism, but I don’t tend to agree with that. Many leaders do place an emphasis on faith-promoting pursuits over “worldly” pursuits, and many Mormons absorb this approach. But, by and large, I think that the reactions that most intellectuals get among Mormons is just standard reaction that most people have to snottiness in general.

    The problem, as I see it, is how we define the term Mormon. You can have atheist Jews, secular Jews and reconstructed Jews and so forth. English speaking Christians tend to see a broader Judeo-Christian tradition. As Mormons, we tend to think in terms of active Mormons, inactive Mormons, and several categories of ex-Mormons–a provincial taxonomy, to be sure, and one that does not have a lot to offer outsiders. I’m not even sure that there is such a thing as an ex-Jew.

    In sum, I think that before we can be more welcoming to the views of educated outsiders, we (as a people) must become more comfortable with the views of educated insiders who fall outside the outside the scope of our orthodoxy.

  5. Clair on July 24, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    The prophets warned Judah to stay out of international politics, rather than seek an alliance with Egypt. Jesus drew a line between what was Caesar’s and what was God’s, and told Pilate his kingdom is not of this world. The early saints sought their own kindgom, rather than a place in worldly kingdoms or republics. The scriptures foretell the abolition of all earthly kingdoms, and none too soon.

    Outside of that view, which is really a non-view, is there a Mormon view of world events that the world would want to hear?

  6. Russell Arben Fox on July 24, 2006 at 12:02 pm

    Nate, as you know from when we discussed this topic a while back, I’m completely on board with you and Adam. However, why did you elide one of the obvious obstacles to putting together such a publication, one that we explicitly talked about before: the fact that Mormonism (institutionally and culturally) still has figured out what it wants from, or if it wants anything from, polemics? As any reader of FT or Commentary figures out very quickly, these are journals of opinion. They are not neutral or open-minded about what they think their respective, religiously informed, views of how to go about “ordering society” imply; on the contrary, they are both quite emphatic on what is and what isn’t properly implied by their shared orientations. The personalities behind these publications have, for the most part, shared polemical intentions: they pretty much know exactly what they believe Catholics and Jews and their ideological fellow-travelers ought to want out of economics, politics, social and foreign policy, cultural matters, etc., or at least they definitely know what they don’t believe in regards to such matters. This is, of course, what makes them great reading for people who want to argue about various public opinions; they always have plenty, and you know they are going to be fiercely defended.

    I am not certain either the leaders of the LDS church, or indeed the LDS membership at large, is really interested in or willing to sustain (financially or ecclesiastically) a group of intellectuals–even obviously faithful and orthodox ones–who make it their business to figure out what Mormon thinking properly implies in regards to the income tax, the war in Iraq, the salvation of the unbaptized, intelligent design, global warming, immigration, missionary work in the Islamic world, home schooling, the Endangered Species Act, presidential endorsements, the ecumenical power of ordinances, etc. Mind you, I think the we will have made a tremendous step forward in terms of our cultural confidence, and our appreciation of the broadness and social importance of the gospel, when (or if) we get to the point where such such thinking is appreciated for its vitality, and is no longer seen as a threat to or distraction from the ordinary business of believing and obeying. The emergence of a distinct intellectual/polemical tradition is by no means the greatest or best accomplishment a culture can strive for, but it’s a valid one just the same. However, like you, I’m pessimistic; I’m doubtful that we’ve gotten to the point that such a publication wouldn’t be, however unjustly, seen as muddying waters that the semi-annual conference issue of The Ensign is supposed to have all to itself.

  7. Adam Greenwood on July 24, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    To add to what Russell Fox says:

    Catholics and Jews have been advocating sophisticated views of political and economic life for centuries, so having two journals in America today that take a strong political and economic stance from those two perspectives isn’t threatening. But a Mormon journal, whether neo-con or pragmatic progressivist or whatever would be working in a vacuum and thus would be a threat because it would have an undeserved authority.

  8. DKL on July 24, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    Adam, it will only appear to have “undeserved authority” in the event that it is populated with fairly faith-strong Mormons. If it were included the views of many ex-Mormons, it would be considered to stand of shaky ground and would likely be eschewed by many Mormons. This is part and parcel of the problem that I point to in my earlier comment about Mormons applying a taxonomy of the term Mormonism that is entirely inadequate for such an enterprise.

  9. Adam Greenwood on July 24, 2006 at 12:59 pm

    Why would it want to include the views of ex-Mormons, specifically? If I get you right, you’re saying that its impossible to have a magazine with a particular political, cultural, and economic take from a defined religious perspective, and it should be an ethnic perspective instead, like Commentary. I don’t think you’re exactly right about Commentary–its open to atheists Jews, sure, but it does have a muted religious sensibility. But First Things has a pretty clear religious perspective, Catholic and Nicene Christian. Around that core perspective it includes articles from Jews and Mormons and for all I know atheists but only in ways that are broadly compatible with their perspective. A Mormon intellectual magazine would of course want to attract gentile contributors (if you read Nate O’s post you see he says that), including former Mormons, but I don’t see why it would be particularly needful to seek the former Mormons out, or to compromise its core perspective to appeal to them.

  10. Russell Arben Fox on July 24, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    DKL, I think you and Adam are basically saying much the same thing. Catholics and Jews (to continue with these two examples) have had centuries to observe and internalize the variety of things people can argue for, and the variety of ways in which people can argue for things, from the perspective of Catholicism and Judaism. We, on the other hand, have been around for less than 200 years, and, as a religious body, we’ve only really started to be able to think productively outside the Utah/American West box (not that we should do so; I’m just thinking in terms of raw intellectual capacity) over the past 40 or so. In other words, there hasn’t been the time or opportunity (or the ecclesiastical support, for that matter) to develop internally recognized “markers” beyond the ones you mention: “active,” “inactive,” etc. There are others out there, to be sure: “Liahona” vs. “Iron Rod,” “Utah Mormon,” etc. But those are all pretty thin stuff–very “inside baseball” in the sense Nate uses the term, not much use in connecting to larger positions and polemics, and thus easily assimilated back into the active/inactive, good-Mormon/bad-Mormon continuum.

    Now, I think it is a fascinating question whether Mormon sociality or political theology actually permits markers beyond those: I think it’s entirely possible that a “Mormon public philosophy” would be, in some sense, by definition an apostate intellectual construct. (Of course, it would be hard to argue out the truth or falsehood of this possibility without a critical/polemical tradition within which we could do so!)

  11. Nate Oman on July 24, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    RAF: In a sense I agree with you about the problem of the intellectual immaturity of Mormonism. Contrary to s., I think the problem has less to do with institutional or social anti-intellectualism that with simple intellectual failure. The real problem that would-be Mormon intellectuals face (and I place myself in this category) is not that we are the victims of crushing repression or social ostracism. Rather, the problem is that we really don’t have all that much to say. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Cassius, the fault is not in the stars of Mormonism but in ourselves that we are underlings.

    I do think that the economics of such a journal are a real problem. Who pays for it? Who buys it?

    All of those disclaimers aside, RAF is right in that coming up with a Mormon polemic on this or that issue of public concern is difficult until we have done a better job of spelling out what the implications of Mormonism might be. I do think that here the problem still is more that no one with the chops to do a good job has done the hard intellectual work yet, rather than with institutional suspicions per se.

    I wonder, however, to what extent it is a mistake to see the progression of ideas from theory to polemic. If I understand RAF right, he is saying that you can’t get political commentary until you have political theory. I wonder, however, if it might be better to simply start in the middle of things with a polemic, and then gradually build a theory out from there. It is all well and good to look at Catholicism and say, “Of course they can do FT, they have Summa Theologica to work from.” On the other hand, Summa Theologica came at the end of a long story of intellectual development, much of which was polemical. Augustine, for example, wrote many of his works in the context of local fights within the Church and between the Church and pagans. It was only later that something like Augustinianism emerged. In other words, it might be best to simply start in, making things up as you go along, and then hope that the summa’s emerge later.

  12. William Morris on July 24, 2006 at 1:39 pm

    Yes.

    To pull from my own arena — much of the best Mormon literary criticism so far has come out of polemical debates about specific works.

    I think we should be looking more to the intellectual climate of some of the emerging national cultures of the mid to late 19th century as much as to the forms and debates of contemporary culture and politics.

    Indeed, this idea is what underlies much of the two projects I’m enaged in: A Motley Vision and Popcorn Popping.

    Of course, cultural polemics and political polemics are different breeds. And it’s still not entirely clear to me how either is really going to have much of an effect on Mormon theology.

  13. Russell Arben Fox on July 24, 2006 at 1:39 pm

    “RAF is right in that coming up with a Mormon polemic on this or that issue of public concern is difficult until we have done a better job of spelling out what the implications of Mormonism might be. I do think that here the problem still is more that no one with the chops to do a good job has done the hard intellectual work yet, rather than with institutional suspicions per se.”

    Could be. I’m not convinced though; I maintain that institutional and social pressures and confusions–is this “faithful” or not? or, more relevantly, who will think that it is “faithful,” and who won’t?–do more to dissuade or distract potential Mormon polemicists than the hard work involved.

    “If I understand RAF right, he is saying that you can’t get political commentary until you have political theory. I wonder, however, if it might be better to simply start in the middle of things with a polemic, and then gradually build a theory out from there.”

    I don’t think I meant to say that, but it’s an interesting question. I suppose I am suggesting that at least one way to clear the path towards a Mormon polemical publication would be to have the prophet point to some text or some variety of texts and annoint them “a good example of Mormon political theory”; as soon as that might happen, then a bunch of folks could springboard off of that, confident that they have a grasp in where Mormon thought at least legitimately begins. But I wouldn’t wait for such to happen, because very few intellectual advances or revolutions are ever top-down in that way. More likely, Nate is correct: begin in the middle of things, trying out various polemical arguments here and there (what else is this blog, after all?), and hoping that, eventually, enough of those arguments will stick together so as to form a foundation of sorts.

    Either way, it sure ain’t going to happen on Deseret Books’s dime.

  14. Eric James Stone on July 24, 2006 at 1:39 pm

    When the Mormon intellectual tradition has been around as long as the Jewish and Catholic intellectual traditions, I\’m sure we\’ll have something equivalent to Commentary and First Things.

  15. s on July 24, 2006 at 1:53 pm

    Nate, I think you are right to point to the ways in which Mormon intellectuals have difficulties producing at a level that other intellectuals do. I remember seeing a study (maybe published in Sunstone?) where the authors theorized on how Mormon intellectuals seemed to be held back in the intellectual sphere because of their dedication to other aspects of their lives (family, church callings, etc).

    At the same time, I think there’s also a strain of anti-intellectualism in our culture. Of course, I think that it very rarely takes the forms of “crushing repression” or “social ostracism”–instead, it seems to me to be more of a suspicion or very mild hostility. I think a lot of this has to do with the differences between intellectual truth-seeking and Mormon truth-seeking. Intellectuals are generally encouraged to question the status quo, seek out new ways of solving problems, etc. While Mormon theology encourages gaining individual testimony/truth, it’s highly suspicious of any kind of questioning or truth-seeking that in any way questions or undermines the status quo, church authority, etc. I can certainly understand that suspicion, but it think it’s something that exists, and that affects Mormon intellectuals (it’s affected me). Of course, it could be that I’m just responding to the general suspicion towards my (feminist, liberal) political views, but I’m inclined to think it’s more than that.

    And I like what Russell says about how this is partially a byproduct of a lack of history–we don’t have accepted markers that would indicate where particular Mormon intellectuals “fit” within our community.

  16. DKL on July 24, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    Adam, I don’t believe that you’d need to seek them out. I think that their involvement would be inevitable. Moreover, I think that Mormons would view that involvement as somehow compromising the enterprise. For all the talk of Mormonism as a “global” religion, Mormonism remains a culture too insular for the kind of broad reaching analysis provided by Commentary.

    It’s also worth noting that Commentary does not represent what appears to be the majority of Jewish political opinions. As Nate notes, Podhoretz tends toward neo-conservativism. Jews are predominantly Democrats.

  17. Mark N. on July 24, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    The most intellectual thing I think I’ve ever read from a member of the Church is Nibley’s “parable of the eschatological man”. Any member of the Church who takes the gospel seriously finds himself in the shoes of the eschatological man, and by definition no longer takes the things of the world seriously. What can an eschatological Mormon say to any non-member that would be taken seriously at all?

    I think that Mormons don’t have much of anything “intellectual” to say about this world because we’re not focused on this world. We’re focused on the next one.

  18. Mark Butler on July 24, 2006 at 3:14 pm

    Mark N,

    I think that is a false dichotomy. A better statement would be to say that Mormons do not understand the next world, because they fail to understand how the Lord works with mankind in this one.

    DKL,

    The last thing the Mormon world needs is a journal that publishes intellectual attacks on the fundamental doctrines of the Church. FIRST THINGS is not such a journal, it is not the “loyal opposition”, it is unabashedly pro-Catholic, defenders of the faith, not opponents thereof. That doesn’t mean that scholars should fear departing from “orthodoxy” in relatively minor ways where there are good arguments to be had, but an anti-spiritual, secularist “Mormon” world view isn’t worth the paper it is printed on.

    The goal of Mormon scholarship should be to understand the principles of divine law and ordinance better, especially in terms of their relation to natural law and their application to the world at large, not to return fire against anyone who says there is such a thing as divine law and ordinance, which seems to be the practice of the most prominent self-proclaimed “Mormon” “intellectuals”.

  19. Mark Butler on July 24, 2006 at 3:30 pm

    Mormons used to be predominantly democrats too, until a large segment defected from left ot right about the same time as many Jewish and Catholic neo-conservatives did, when the Democrats took a sharp turn to the left in the early seventies. The Democrats cannot possibly gain a ruling majority by ostracizing anyone who believes abortion is wrong, for example.

  20. DKL on July 24, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    Russell, I agree with you that Adam and I seem to be in basic agreement.

    Mark Butler, I don’t think that ex-mormon contributions or non-mormon contributions would need to be anti-Mormon any more than the fact that Commentary needs to be anti-Jewish by accepting contributions from non-Jews.

    To take a simple example, Michael Quinn may be the type of person who could contribute to such a publication. Since his membership status with the LDS church took a turn for the worse, I’ve heard Mormons (a great many of them) disparage everything he ever published and even his teaching career. Any contribution by someone like Quinn would not likely be judged on its merits by a great many readers–even if it didn’t have anything to do with Mormonism. If such a publication can’t even appeal to Mormon readers, there’s not much of a point in casting a wider net.

    The fact is, there are some very bright ex-Mormon scholars. (Moreover, it might be said that there was a time that the Church did quite a bit to ensure that there were some very bright, ex-Mormon scholars. But that’s a separate issue.)

  21. Clark on July 24, 2006 at 4:18 pm

    DKL, wouldn’t you agree though that Quinn’s writings have veered into the political at times and it is often that political stance that is in opposition to some mainstream LDS views?

    That’s the problem with an LDS First Things. What is a Mormon view and what do we do when it runs into dominant views of Apostles or even pretty forceful Church political activities? The gay marriage issue seems an obvious example. But women and the priesthood is an other. Like it or not but any magazine that engages these issues in a fashion that is perhaps contrary to these political actions of the church will be seen by many members as out of harmony.

    It isn’t simply enough to be pro-Mormon since in our church that tends to entail sustaining the actions of the church, whether one necessarily agrees with them or not. (As a practical matter)

  22. Clark on July 24, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    To add, in case it didn’t come across. I don’t mean the above in a negative fashion. (The way I suspect some might if they said the same thing) Rather I think that “sustaining” action is appropriate and has to be taken into consideration.

    To give an example, I can’t really think of much by way of strong reason to ban homosexual marriage. I don’t feel particularly strong on the issue one way or an other. But precisely because of the Church’s actions and the views of the Apostles I’m opposed to gay marriage. There are some reasons I can (and have) given that are logical. But I ultimately find them rather weak and I don’t mind saying my position is purely one of sustaining.

    Yet I know that such a view is in dramatic opposition to how many intellectuals approach the issue.

  23. elizabeth on July 24, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    You know one time in the ’80′s Wilfried Decoo published a magazine called HORIZON for the members of Holland and Belgium.
    It was really a good magazine and very populair. This publication wasn’t sponsered by the church and it did not claim to represent the church.
    Everybody loved it. And there was a big dicline in memberships of the church official magazine’s.

    Afther a year the Horizon stopped. It was said due to church pressure, so that the members would rejoin the churches official magazine.

    So what I gather from this is that the church is not really looking for other magazines beside their own.

    Elizabeth ( from Holland)

  24. Mark Butler on July 24, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    DKL, I completely agree that non-Mormons and even ex-Mormons can contribute as long as what they have to say is relevant and does not contest the fundamental doctrines of the Church. For somebody like Quinn, that probably means closely reviewed and edited historical articles, with themes that a super-majority of well educated Latter-Day Saints can agree with. The problem is he has poisoned the well, seemingly going out of his way to make every faithful member of the Church his enemy.

    There are also articles on some topics that I would like to see, and even have merit, but touch on theological disputes so controversial, that no mainstream Mormon journal wishing to remain in good standing could publish them.

    For example, I think that Genesis 1 is correct, and Genesis 2-3 is allegorical poppycock, and there is extensive theological, literary, and scientific evidence to back that proposition up. No mainstream journal in their right mind is going to publish an article making that argument, or any argument that in a sufficiently public, formal forum would likely subject the author (if not the publishers) to Church discipline for at a minimum, doing more harm than good.

    And I am a person who believes that the Lord interacts directly with almost every person on earth, every day and every hour. I don’t see why a Mormon journal should publish any arguments that do not treat the testimony of the scriptures serious, or that have such a hyper-naturalistic world view as to deny the power of God or the world of the spirit, or promote any theology or philosophy facially incompatible with the restored gospel, or at extreme variance with the Mormon tradition.

  25. Mark Butler on July 24, 2006 at 7:12 pm

    Elizabeth, we are not talking of a Church sponsored or published magazine here. There are many leaders in the Church who would welcome a financially viable and reasonably orthodox and faithful counterpart of First Things. (I suspect of course that they would strongly prefer such a journal to be more faithful and orthodox than many of the current occupiers of the space).

    Once upon a time Elder Bruce C. Hafen was on the editorial advisory board of the First Things. You can see him on the left in the first photograph in their photo gallery here:

    http://www.firstthings.com/menus/gallery.html

  26. Clark on July 24, 2006 at 8:40 pm

    Interesting. I didn’t know that Mark.

    I’d add to Elizabeth’s anecdote that it isn’t clear who “the Church” is in this. Was it an over-eager Bishop or Stake President? Some bureaucrat somewhere concerned about people reading the Ensign? I’d be loath to read to much into it. I rather doubt it was President Hinkley.

    I’d be sympathetic had I much sympathy to the current state of the Church magazines. I think they were pretty good in the late 80′s and early 90′s but I hope I won’t offend anyone if I say I think they are quite useless now. All the key articles (i.e. the First Presidency message) are available at lds.org. Further lds.org lets me read hundreds of talks by General Authorities rather that unknown writers. In my opinion lds.org makes the magazines largely obsolete. (Unless one has a craving for a new Mormonad each month in the New Era — they still do those, right?)

    I think in the past there was a good reason to want Church magazines read simply to ensure that talks by the GAs were transmitted. That’s less of an issue now.

    (Important Caveat: It’s been years since I last read the Ensign, so they may have improved things since lds.org got going)

  27. Mike A. on July 25, 2006 at 2:15 am

    Although First Things is indeed pro-Catholic I don’t think that it tries to present everything through THE Catholic worldview, simply through A Catholic worldview. And the views expressed within aren’t always consistent with one another or with the overall theme or view of First Things as a publication. There are other publications that are Catholic in nature, or are made up largely of Catholics and influenced by an American Catholic worldview.

    Although there is some anti-intelectualism within the LDS community- I don’t think that means there aren’t enough tallented people to run a publication of this sort. I think that with an LDS First Things the bigger problem in establishing a voice and determining the expanse is in finding an audiance and I think this is where orthodoxy and or anti-intelectualism could interfere. (as DKL and Clark mention, most members would feel that anything coming from someone like Quinn would by nature be anti-mormon)

    And what type of publication would it really be? While not an academic journal, I am assuming it would examine and occasionally publish (or republish) academic material. How much would this overlap with something clearly not academic like Meridian? I think to some extent those decisions would also determine the content and the view of the publication.

  28. Toby on July 25, 2006 at 8:42 am

    Good point. By their silence, Mormons do not appear to be engaged in the broader world or broader community. To outsiders, we only hang with each other. We all think alike, we all vote alike, we have nothing to say. And the idea that Mormons could take opposing sides of a major world issue…forget about it. How many Mormons, for example, can argue intelligently the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the view point of the Palestinians? I know one, but then he is Palestinian.

  29. Matt Evans on July 25, 2006 at 11:06 am

    Nate, the market for such a periodical would be too small to justify its distribution in hardcopy. The web is your only hope. It seems that Meridian Magazine aspires to be the Mormon First Things, and if that’s right, then our problem would appear to be that there aren’t enough Mormons to produce and support the number of intellectuals necessary to produce and support a periodical of that quality.

  30. Clark on July 25, 2006 at 3:14 pm

    I think the mention of Meridian is apt. While there are some columnists there I cringe at (some of Pratt’s pseudo-science) there have also been very good summaries of current apologetic work as well as thoughtful political columns. It’s clearly not aimed at quite the intellectual audience that First Things is. But then I’m not sure the intellectual audience interested in more academic essays in a Mormon venue is large. There are a lot of Catholics for First Things to target and further a lot of non-Catholics (including probably a lot reading this) read First Things.

    As Matt says, the market is just too small. Look at how Sunstone and Dialog struggle.

    I would disagree with Matt in that I don’t think Meridian attempts to be a First Things. It’s clearly aimed at a different target audience. The editorial choices are just very different. It’s more aiming at something in between First Things and say that of LDS Living.

  31. Clark on July 25, 2006 at 5:20 pm

    To add, and I believe Wittgenstein made this point as well, often we find ourselves playing games where we aren’t sure at all what the game is nor what the rules are. In such a case, can we say we ought follow the rules of the game? Can we say we ought play the game? Can we even tell what is a breaking of the rules or a change of game?

  32. Michael Umphrey on July 25, 2006 at 10:57 pm

    First Things publishes intelligent religious thinking–not always narrowly “Catholic.” Have any Mormon writers been published there? It seems to me that Father Neuhaus has moderated a once fairly hostile attitude toward Mormonism. Have any of you attempted to publish there?

  33. Ben H on July 26, 2006 at 2:07 am

    As it happens, Nate, Richard Bushman said pretty much the same thing today at a brown bag lunch at BYU–why don’t we have a Mormon First Things? and at least one BYU faculty member chimed in with feeling. Perhaps we can start inching in that direction.

    Nate said, The real problem that would-be Mormon intellectuals face (and I place myself in this category) is not that we are the victims of crushing repression or social ostracism. Rather, the problem is that we really don’t have all that much to say. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Cassius, the fault is not in the stars of Mormonism but in ourselves that we are underlings

    I think this is the main problem right now. This is why the “inside baseball” discussion you talk about are so unappealing, not the fact that they are “inside baseball”, but that they are just so uninsightful so much of the time. We rather need more of these “inside baseball” discussions so that we can get used to dealing constructively with disagreement, and build a corps of people with a shared sense of what Mormonism means for the wider world.

    I don’t think institutional discouragement or apathy (by, say, BYU or the church) are the main problem in a direct sense, but I think if we ever want to develop a corps of thinkers with the horsepower to carry off such a magazine we need to have more institutional support for education, the kind of education that will produce such people. Even for that it is hard to say whether we have the intellectual horsepower among us at the moment. But there are a couple of things happening to support and nourish young people with an interest in the life of the mind.

    Why isn’t Times and Seasons the Mormon First Things? It is the closest thing we have, isn’t it?

  34. Mark Butler on July 26, 2006 at 2:53 am

    Three cheers for better (more rigorous) education, especially in Seminary and Institute!

    I think there are two schools of thought – Those that think CES should be largely devotional plus a handful of basic doctrines, and those that agree that the Spirit must be there, but that no one or no society can be saved any faster than he or they gain and implement knowledge of the celestial order of things. That requires a lot more study and pondering than the informal catechism of the Church.

  35. MLU on July 26, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    A good magazine–or website–can also be a powerful educational tool.

    What keeps bringing me back to First Things is the way writers there frequently take up issues in the public square, then discuss them from a Christian perspective. Their erudition is engaged in a conversation about important questions of the day.

    I would like to see Times and Seasons posts that critique culture and politics from a Mormon perspective. I’m a recent and thus far intermittent reader, so maybe more of that has happened than I’m aware of. . .

  36. queuno on July 26, 2006 at 7:52 pm

    I am not certain … the LDS membership at large, is really interested in or willing to sustain (financially or ecclesiastically) a group of intellectuals–even obviously faithful and orthodox ones–who make it their business to figure out what Mormon thinking properly implies in regards to the income tax, the war in Iraq, the salvation of the unbaptized, intelligent design, global warming, immigration, missionary work in the Islamic world, home schooling, the Endangered Species Act, presidential endorsements, the ecumenical power of ordinances, etc.

    This is part of the problem, in my opinion. Meridian caters to its band of faithful, the Sunstone/Dialogue/BCC set caters to its band of faithful on its own set of hot-button issues, and so forth. With the relatively small size of the English-speaking Mormon population (as compared to First Things readership), it’s just unsustainable. What’s the percentage of the Catholic or Jewish communities that subscribe to First Things or Commentary? Probably not that great. It’s a numbers things.

    At any rate, I think that at present, the Bloggernacle fills this space at present. What’s the size of the active Bloggernacle community, with respect to the English-speaking active LDS community?

    “Mormon intellectual” is commonly defined as “intellectual willing to discuss Mormonism” as opposed to “intellectual who is Mormon”. The problem with saying that there aren’t enough “Mormon intellectuals” is that the count only includes the first kind. I assure you that there are plenty of baptized-Mormon, intellectuals who can contribute to the discussion but are turned off by Dialogue/Sunstone and don’t “get” the Bloggernacle. How do you get those people to come in from the cold? A great deal of them would willing, able, and capable of discussing First Things-ish topics within a Mormon community, but are uncomfortable with the “Mormon intellectual” litmus tests. Sadly, I find many of them migrating toward Meridian.

    I think it boils down to a numbers thing.

  37. elizabeth on July 29, 2006 at 7:52 am

    Hey Clark,
    it is very importand for people in other countries to gett the official magazine’s of the church since many do not have access to computers.
    Just to remind you that you are not alone in this big world!!!!!!

    To come back on my earlier remark.
    Yesterday I was at my lds friends place and saw that they had a subcription to a magazine called LDS LIVING.
    Maybe some of you know it.

    WEll someting like that in the ’80′s wasn’t allowed by the local Frankfurt ( the churches headquarters in Europe) offices, because of the decline of memberships of the official magazines.

    The Horizon of Wilfried Decoo was a magazine like LDSLIVING and very adapted at the dutch/flemish live of lds members. Futuring acticles of members who they got involved wiht the church. Translations of lds authors etc etc.

    Over here in Europe we gett dictate’s from Frankfurt offices now names are mention just said “Frankfurt dicided that……” YOu need to obbey that just like if something comes from Salt Lake.

    Ofcourse the church cannot stop a privat run magazine like brother Decoo was doing at the time.
    But I am sure that they have talked with him and the good person he is I am sure he listen.

    If any doubt this . Brother Decoo is premanat blogger on this site and you reach as such.

    Here in Holland or Europe there is still to much focus on Utah and all the experts overthere.
    There is no mormon art in any for or fashion or a libarated think thank.
    Such things are not promoted or sponsered or devalloped.

    So yes It could be that I understand everything you all write about not good, but I see a big big gap here in Holland.
    I am sure if I would to start a magazine like the sunstone or something like that and people would start to read I will be called to the stakepres office and in worscase scenario be excumunicated.

    This last fear of mine has stopped me over the years to devallop my writing talent, but now I am in the phase of my live that I do not care about it anymore. And yes in the fall I will be starting my first writing course.

    Elizabeth

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