Blog Archives

Privilege and the Family

March 30, 2015 | 81 comments
932 - Dom Viol Chart

In a post at By Common Consent over the weekend (What has two thumbs and doesn’t give a crap about the Family?), Rebecca J writes that “If I’m not currently standing up for the Family, it’s… really just that I don’t care enough about the Family. I don’t think I care at all.” She goes on to write: I’m really not sure what they mean. I mean, it can’t mean that I’m supposed to be speaking out against divorce or same-sex marriage or unwed parenthood because if it did, they would just come out and say that,... Read more »

When Symbolism isn’t Symbolic

February 16, 2015 | 11 comments
969 - Batman Featured Image

A few weeks ago I listened to an episode of This American Life with an unfortunate title: Batman. The title, which really doesn’t set the right tone for the episode to follow, refers to Daniel Kish, a blind man who taught himself to echolocate as a child. He gets around the world relatively unaided (including, for example, riding a bike) by clicking and then listening to the echoes. This ability has made him world famous, but it really shouldn’t be so unusual. And perhaps the most chilling thing is the fact that most blind kids will intuitively start clicking or snapping or stamping... Read more »

On Reading Scripture and Being Human

February 2, 2015 | 39 comments
Darwin's Monkey - Square

About three weeks ago, David Bokovoy wrote an interesting blog post on historicity in the scripture in which he argued that questions of historicity are unhelpful anachronisms that tend to miss the point of scripture: It’s important for modern readers of the Bible to recognize that biblical historians were not motivated to write their accounts out of antiquarian interest. The past was far too important a tool for these authors to simply recount what really happened. Instead, biblical authors used history as a tool to convey themes concerning the God of Israel and his relationship to his chosen people.... Read more »

Announcing the 2nd Annual Wheatley “Faith Seeking Understanding” Summer Seminar

January 19, 2015 | one comment
2015 01 19 Wheatley Institution Header

The 2nd Annual Wheatley “Faith Seeking Understanding” Summer Seminar will be held from June 22 – July 10, 2015 under the direction of Professor Terryl Givens. Here’s the seminar description: What are the general contours of Christianity’s efforts to find a marriage of belief and intellect? Does Mormonism face the same challenges as the broader Christian tradition? What are the contributions of Mormon theology to current debates in the political and cultural realms? How reasonable are LDS positions on the family, marriage, pro-life and end of life issues? Is the Mormon theological tradition an asset or a handicap in... Read more »

Reconciling Shame and Guilt

January 5, 2015 | 19 comments

Last year was my first year teaching the Old Testament in Gospel Doctrine, and I benefited a ton from Ben Spackman’s Patheos blog. So I’m starting off this year by reading some of his recommended books for teaching the New Testament (list continues here and here). First up? Misreading the Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. The point of Misreading the Scripture is that the Biblical authors left certain cultural assumptions unspoken because they took them for granted. When we read the Bible today, we fill in those gaps with our own cultural... Read more »

Hypersensitivity and Trolls: A Codependent Dysfunction

December 8, 2014 | 23 comments
2014-12-08 Troll-No-Powers

Introduction My first posts at Times and Seasons were about epistemic humility, which is the awareness of the limits of knowledge. One of the common responses I got at the time was to ask how conviction was compatible with such an emphasis on uncertainty. The quote I led with (“The wise man doubts often, and changes his mind.”) seemed like a perfect setup for the ominous lines from Yeats’ The Second Coming: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” The answer is that even if one accepts the adage that “all models... Read more »

When to Disobey

November 24, 2014 | 110 comments
2014-11-24 Naughty Dog

I’ve been having some interesting conversations about the high cost of membership in the Church. We believe, in general, that the cost of being a Mormon is high and that this is a good thing. Sacrifice leads to faith. We pour a lot of time and a lot of energy into the Church, and this helps us value our membership more than if the Church asked less of us. But it can be taken to extremes. There are reasons to say “no” to something our leaders ask of us, and foremost among those is the sake of our families.... Read more »

Announcing the BYU & Maxwell Institute 2015 Summer Seminar

November 20, 2014 | no comments
Maxwell Institute Logo

UPDATED: The original version of this post didn’t include the link to the application form. That link was added on Dec 10, 2014. In the summer of 2015, the Neal A Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, with support from the Mormon Scholars Foundation, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students, CES educators,  and other qualified individuals, on “ORGANIZING THE KINGDOM: PRIESTHOOD, CHURCH GOVERNMENT, AND THE FORMS OF LDS WORSHIP.” The seminar continues the series of seminars on Mormon culture begun in the summer of 1997. This iteration will be conducted by Terryl Givens, Professor of Literature and... Read more »

I Need My Kids

November 10, 2014 | 32 comments
Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter in "Raising Arizona".

Last month, my friend Betsy VanDenBerghe wrote a piece for Real Clear Religion inspired alternately by Pope Francis and the Coen brothers’ 1987 comedy Raising Arizona about Why Children Are Better Than Pets. Her central question was: What would a society of adults skewed toward childlessness, like the perpetually barren Time magazine beach couple, look and act like without having acquired the altruism, personal growth, and wisdom that bringing up children generally bequeaths on those who undergo parenthood? Her piece really resonated with me. My life has not gone at all as planned over the last several years. Without going into... Read more »

Our Prayers and God’s Messy Plans

October 13, 2014 | 9 comments
The Council of Gods, Giovanni Lanfranco (From Wikimedia Commons)

I taught lesson 35 today, which covers Amos and Joel. As usual, I benefitted a great deal from Ben Spackman’s Patheos posts, and in particular his discussion of Amos 3:6 and Amos 3:7. The latter, of course, is the famous scripture we all learn in seminary: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” Ben included a short paper about the meaning of the word “sod” (“secret”) and its relation to the idea of a divine council. The word refers to both private discussion and the product of such discussions.... Read more »

Magic and Mechanisms

September 29, 2014 | 81 comments
2014-09-29 Magic and Mechanisms

In her talk “The Evolutionary Roots of Religious Adaptation” for the Mormon Transhumanist Association, Chelsea Strayer hit on one of the fundamental sources of tension between devout and academic perspectives on faith: the distinction between process and purpose. She gave the example of evolution, emphasizing that when she teaches evolution it is fundamentally a discussion of process rather than purpose. Despite this, however, she recounts that: Every time I teach an evolution class… I have one student walk away and say, “Hey, you just told me that God doesn’t exist. You just proved that.” And I’ll have student... Read more »

Temple and Observatory Group Event in Minnesota

September 23, 2014 | 7 comments

The Temple and Observatory Group, which has sponsored other events in Utah, Virginia and New York, is offering a seminar for those in the midst of a faith transition or crisis in the Minnesota area. The event features Terryl and Fiona Givens and Spencer Fluhman. Come listen to the three speak about negotiating LDS history, faith challenges and transitions on Saturday, September 27th from 10:30am – 3:30pm at 6125 Shingle Creek Pkwy, Brooklyn Center, MN 55430 (library). Lunch will be provided. Please sign up on the Facebook page as seating is limited. Note: there are no tickets for this... Read more »

My Experiment with Five Minute Prayers

September 15, 2014 | 27 comments
2014-09-15 Prayer 01

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been setting a timer every time I say my evening prayers. This might sound like an absolutely terrible idea and, in some ways I guess it is. So before I tell you how that has worked out for me, let me explain why I would even consider such an idea in the first place. It starts with the idea of the curse of success. I first encountered this concept in Milton and Rose Friedman’s Free to Choose. They wrote that when a policy or technology becomes successful, it can be known more... Read more »

Truth and Contradiction in Religious Communities

September 2, 2014 | 9 comments
Guru Nanak with Bhai Bala and Bhai Mardana and Sikh Gurus. (Wikimedia)

A couple of weeks ago I listened to the audiobook of Sikhism: A Very Short Introduction. As that was the first thing I’ve read on the topic (other than a multitude of Wikipedia entries) I by no means consider myself some kind of expert, but I was struck by several parallels and differences between Sikhism and Mormonism. The little I have learned has already helped me to see my own faith in new ways. In terms of similarities, Mormonism and Sikhism are both relatively new religions that arguably constitute a culture or a people (in addition to a religion)... Read more »

We Are Made to Suffer

August 18, 2014 | 46 comments
2014-08-18 Guernica

In centuries gone by the best you could hope for in the case of an aching tooth would be that someone would yank it out, but thanks to modern medicine we can detect cavities and fill them before they start to cause any pain at all. Of course, the drilling of the tooth itself is painful, so you can have your tooth numbed with an injection. Someone jabbing a sharp needle into your gums isn’t a walk in the park either, so you can have some topical gel applied before the shot. Just to recap: you get a numbing... Read more »

Comfort Those That Stand in Need

June 30, 2014 | 20 comments
2014-06-30 Waters of Mormon

Behold, here are the waters of Mormon and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort… Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord? (Mosiah 18:8-10) This passage has been on my mind a lot over the past couple... Read more »

Scriptural Meanderings

June 16, 2014 | 4 comments
2014-06-16 Lehi Prophecies

Last week I started reading the Book of Mormon again from the beginning. The first day, I made it through 1 Nephi 1. The second day, I made it through 1 Nephi 2:1. For behold, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto my father, yea, even in a dream, and said unto him: Blessed art thou Lehi, because of the things which thou hast done; and because thou hast been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee, behold, they seek to take away thy life (1 Nephi 2:1) “Behold,” says The Lord,... Read more »

False Choices and Fence Holes

June 2, 2014 | 117 comments
2014-06-02 The Good Shepherd

It is very common in the Bloggernaccle to talk about an exodus of members from the Church. These members are usually described as a cohesive demographic. The two examples I’ve seen most frequently are (1) young Millennials who are disillusioned by the discrepancy between real history and CES whitewashing and (2) good women whose contributions and perspectives are devalued and rejected by the institution at large. I don’t have any insider or objective data on these concerns, and so I couldn’t say where they fall on the spectrum from urban legend to imminent crisis, but I suspect the problem... Read more »

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

April 28, 2014 | 14 comments
2014-04-28 Dresdenfiles Quote

This post is a follow up to my two previous posts As Much As I Know Anything and What It Would Take To Not Believe. I have to start out by clarifying something that I didn’t define well enough in a previous post. I made the statement that we cannot not believe, but that depends on a definition of belief that isn’t universal and that I should have made more clear. Obviously we can choose to not believe in lots of things individually. But when I think about belief I have something more holistic and systemic in mind. Our... Read more »

What It Would Take to Not Believe

April 14, 2014 | 47 comments
2014-04-14 Karl Popper

There was one question in response to my last post that I particularly wanted to answer, but wasn’t able to at the time. This is the question, which was posed by Sebastian Dick: “What would it take to convince you that (in as much as you know anything) propositions such as God exists or the BoM is historical are false? Or do you consider such propositions unfalsifiable?” This post is my answer. It is not a trite cliché that everyone has to believe in something. It is the literal truth. When your life has ended and you look back... Read more »

As Much As I Know Anything

March 31, 2014 | 28 comments
2014-03-31 Before the Pulpit

“Out of curiosity, what makes you believe in Mormonism? Or God for that matter?” This is a question I got from a close friend, more or less out of the blue, the Wednesday before last in a Facebook conversation that had been—up to that point—mostly about how much I love Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. It’s not like it’s the first time I’ve been asked that, but it’s a question I’ve struggled unsuccessfully to answer in the past. I’ve tried on more than one occasion to sit down and write out my reasons, but I always failed. Eventually I gave... Read more »

Human Evolution: Problems and Possibilities

March 17, 2014 | 35 comments
2014-03-17 Sun Over Earth

I agree with Jonathan Green’s description of how most Mormons tend to think about evolution vs. creation. To recap, we tend to: Affirm an active role for God in the creation of human beings Accept basic science as it relates to genetics, natural selection, geology, etc. Reject attempts to force an either/or choice between points 1 and 2. As a general rule, Mormons are happy to embrace science and religion, and do not see a necessary conflict between the two. When it comes to the usual hullaballoo over religion vs. science, this is certainly correct. There just isn’t any... Read more »

Fallibility, Trust, and Commercial Development

March 10, 2014 | 108 comments
2014-03-10 Philly Dev Site

I’ve written about the fallibility of our leaders before (here, here, and here) because I think it’s important for us as members to develop greater spiritual independence and because the unrealistic expectations held for the leaders (as often by the critics as by the devout) set people up for unnecessary disappointment. But the concept of fallibility, like the even trendier concept of doubt, can be overplayed. Leaders are fallible, yes, but that doesn’t preclude room for trust. The proximate cause of my ruminations was the announcement of the Church’s addition of a chapel and a commercial apartment tower next... Read more »

Thanking God’s Advocates, the Promoters of the Cause

February 24, 2014 | 27 comments
2014-02-23 John_Martin_-_Sodom_and_Gomorrah

Today in Gospel Doctrine I played the role of Devil’s advocate. I spent the last 10 or 15 minutes leading a discussion about the children who died when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, when God sent the Flood, when Christ died on the cross and Nephite cities were burned, buried, and sunk, and when Alma and Amulek watched as women and children were burned to death before their eyes. Several of the commenters sought to defend God’s justice using familiar arguments (like the idea that there are some things worse than death) or evasions (like the idea that maybe... Read more »