Blog Archives

Friends in Strange Places

August 10, 2007 | 20 comments
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It is surely one of the more unexpected voices to go to bat for Joseph Smith: Harold Bloom in his 1992 book The American Religion, which gave serious (if unconventional) consideration to Joseph Smith’s role as a religious figure and which famously described him as a “religious genius.” As sort of a post-script, in the March 2007 issue of Sunstone there was a two-page essay by Bloom entitled “Perspectivism and Joseph Smith.” I can’t say I follow every remark in the essay, but I do appreciate his continued interest in Joseph Smith. Here are a few points Bloom makes... Read more »

Myths for the Modern World

August 4, 2007 | 29 comments
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I just finished finished reading Karen Armstrong’s A Short History of Myth (2005). Almost everyone loves myth from a distance, as a conceptual springboard or reference, as long as it doesn’t get too close to one’s own beliefs or worldview. This book helps put myth in a more useful perspective, which I’d like to explore. But rather than spend several paragraphs defining or explaining what myths are or are not, I’ll just settle for a one-sentence definition [myths are stories about the world with cosmic significance, that talk about birth and death, love and pain, good and evil, earth... Read more »

Rescued From the Dustbin of History

July 19, 2007 | 19 comments
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And just where is the dustbin of history these days, you ask? It’s at Amazon, where the pitiless laws of supply and demand are on full display in the “used books” queue attached to every book title. That’s where I rescued a like-new copy of Claudia and Richard Bushman’s Building the Kingdom of God: A History of Mormons in America (OUP, 2001) for the price of $0.03. Read more »

Missing Essentials

July 11, 2007 | 75 comments
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Once upon a time, there was a book called Essentials in Church History. It was first published in 1922 and authored by Joseph Fielding Smith, who was made Assistant Church Historian in 1906 and an Apostle in 1910 (then President of the LDS Church from 1970 to 1972). For many years, this book (in one of its many successive editions) was part of every ward library and was found in most LDS homes. It was sort of expected that Mormons would read the book and know their history. It may have been faith-promoting history, but at least it spent... Read more »

Ph.D. versus Sci-Fi

June 30, 2007 | 13 comments
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Beliefnet is hosting an online debate of sorts on the topic (and I’m sure you’ve never seen this one before) “Are Mormons Christian?” Albert Mohler, who holds a Ph.D. (in systematic and historical theology) and is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, titles his post “Mormonism Is Not Christianity.” Orson Scott Card, an award-winning science fiction writer and an active Latter-day Saint, replies with “Who Gets to Define ‘Christian’?” I’ll take one paragraph to talk about Mohler, one paragraph to talk about Card, and one paragraph to talk about the mixed bag of comments to Card’s post. Read more »

Who Owns That Church?

June 28, 2007 | 52 comments
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There’s always an owner, of course — there are few concepts more disfavored in the law than real property without an owner. But when it comes to chapels and church buildings, the question of just who owns them can get messy. The latest example: a congregation in Orange County that is trying to leave the Episcopal fold and take its building with it. The congregation just lost the latest round in a fight with the national Episcopal Church and its Los Angeles Diocese over who owns the congregation’s building. [Hat tip: the Religion Clause; see also the Orange County... Read more »

A Mormon Narrative for the 21st Century

June 23, 2007 | 98 comments
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Historians don’t just catalog events, they assemble events into stories or “historical narratives.” But to really be relevant or worth reading, a given historical narrative has to tap into a bigger theme or “grand narrative” (using the term rather loosely). I’m going to flesh out that concept a bit, then float some observations on the emerging grand narrative that might frame Mormon history in the 21st century. Read more »

Biographies of a New World Man

June 21, 2007 | 31 comments
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Joseph Smith, it’s fair to say, was a rebel and a runner and a restless young man. That, plus his many religious accomplishments, makes him an attractive subject for biographers both in and out of the Church, who have responded by writing dozens of Joseph Smith biographies. In fact, I think that when it comes to history, Mormons are spoiled without generally knowing it. Pull down a denominational history or the biography of any other 19th-century religious figure from the shelf of your local library and you’re likely to get a snoozer. By comparison, early LDS history and the... Read more »