Blog Archives

Leaders are Fallible (No, Really)

December 30, 2013 | 78 comments
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Nephi saw the Tree of Life only because he believed, but was not satisfied.

The changes at the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org (which I wrote about two weeks ago) and especially the Church’s new Race and the Priesthood article have rekindled questions about the fallibility of Church leaders. After all, the Church’s current position completely disavows the past practice of denying the priesthood to blacks and all but explicitly states that the practice was an error from the start. Chalk it up with Adam-God and blood atonement and poor Brother Brigham seems to be batting 0.000 at theological innovation. It’s difficult to reconcile such grave errors with the statement, canonized in Official Declaration 1, that “The... Read more »

This Is War Like You Ain’t Seen

December 23, 2013 | one comment
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dustinkensrue

I’m spending time moving my family into our new home and getting ready for Christmas, so here’s a song from Dustin Kensrue’s Christmas album This Good Night Is Still Everywhere. It’s not the usual sound, but that’s part of why I like it so much. (And now I’m going to get some Mannheim Steamroller going…) Read more »

Gospel Topics at LDS.org, A Change of Direction?

December 16, 2013 | 27 comments
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Gospel Topics at LDS.org, A Change of Direction?

I told my Gospel Doctrine class yesterday afternoon that since we had run out of lesson manual for the year we were going to go rogue. Then I proceeded to give the first lesson I’ve ever given (I think) in which I exclusively used officially-approved Church materials.  I could pick anything I wanted to teach about, and I choose to cite three videos and four articles from the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org. And yet I did feel like there was something quietly revolutionary about the material we covered in the lesson. The article that has riveted the Bloggernaccle and even... Read more »

Zion, Mortal Loneliness, and The Hall of Records

December 9, 2013 | 21 comments
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Zion, Mortal Loneliness, and The Hall of Records

In my imagination there is a hall of records in the future Celestial Zion where anyone can review the mortal life of any other person as seen from their perspective. It is an imposing structure in its own right, one part great library and one part museum, but it lies in the shadow of grander and more glorious edifices. The business of Zion will be eternal progression, and so the hall of records receives fewer visitors than the other communal spaces of learning. It is vast and solitary place. A person could enter and spend an entire day walking... Read more »

The Fourth Point: Caring for the Poor and Needy

December 2, 2013 | 52 comments
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2013-12-02 Pres Kimball

In 2009 the “threefold mission” of the Church was extended to include a fourth point: “to care for the poor and needy.” Obviously practical charity is not a new concept for Mormonism. The very same chapter that included the famous “If any of you lack wisdom…” verse that led ultimately to the First Vision also contains this emphatic assertion: Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27) This New Testament precedent was echoed in modern revelations. For... Read more »

Religious and Secular Authority: Frying Pans and Fires

November 25, 2013 | 3 comments
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Who cares if you're probably gonna sink? Get out of the boat anyway.

Dave Banack wrote just two weeks ago–here at Times And Seasons–about the atheological atonement. His two conclusions were first, that the Church doesn’t have a specific theory of the atonement and second, that this is  probably a good thing: The Church’s prior forays into theology have produced questionable results. Silence on the subject gives LDS thinkers leeway to publish their own helpful speculative discussions. In any case, it’s the atonement that will save you, not a theory of the atonement or even the one true theory of the atonement. I definitely agree with the general wariness of formal theology... Read more »

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Business and Theology

November 18, 2013 | 20 comments
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2013-11-18 The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

The study of management—of human beings going about their ordinary business of making a living—is one of the richest and most profound venues for the study of theology. Once you’ve considered the idea, it seems obvious. But of course, most of us don’t consider that idea. I never did, until very recently. What could be more antithetical to spiritual reality than the world of business? Even if I thought Hugh Nibley’s critiques on business were a disappointingly infantile digression from an otherwise heroic figure, the idea that the world of mammon could actually be a source of spiritual insight... Read more »

The Missing Mormon Literary Renaissance

November 11, 2013 | 96 comments
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2013-11-11 Kurt Vonnegut

Mark Oppenheimer wants to know why there are no great Mormon writers. More specifically: In the United States, Jews, blacks and South Asians, while they have produced no Milton or Shakespeare — who has, lately? — have all had literary renaissances. Mormons are more likely to produce work that gets shelved in niche sections of the bookstore. And as it turns out, Mormon authors themselves wonder if their culture militates against more highbrow writing. They have a range of possible explanations. Now, before we get to the question of why there are no great Mormon writers, I have to... Read more »

Beware Instrumental Beliefs

November 4, 2013 | 66 comments
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2013-11-03 Evolution

Back in 2009, Pew Research released a research package on public opinions about evolution in honor of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. Just last month, a friend on Facebook posted the headlining chart from that package, and a lively debate ensued. The tone of the folks posting this chart (I saw it on several walls) was one of exaggerated dismay, e.g. “A depressing — but unsurprising — revelation about Mormons.” The fact that the result fit so neatly alongside myriad preexisting cultural skirmishes should have been a major indicator that the results were unreliable, however. Lots of... Read more »

Children Like Ender

October 28, 2013 | 12 comments
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Children Like Ender

As a friend of mine living in Germany informed me, Ender’s Game has already started to play in some markets, and the United States release is coming up this week. With that in mind, I thought I’d return to the novel once more. In the days before The Hunger Games and Battle Royale made the idea of children murdering each other part of mainstream entertainment, the combination of very young characters and serious violence was one of the more provocative and controversial elements of Ender’s Game. Young Ender Wiggin is only six years old when he beats another child to death, and... Read more »

The Metaphysics of Sealing

October 21, 2013 | 74 comments
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2013-10-21 SLC Temple

As Mormons, we practice a faith full of ritual ordinances. We are taught in scripture that some of these ordinances, like baptism, are necessary for salvation. We are also given very specific instructions for performing these ordinances, and failure to execute them properly seems to nullify their efficacy. Taken together, the precise instructions for carrying out ordinances and their eternal significance seem dischordant. When we are immersed during baptism, does the water actually do something? If not, why is it so strictly required? I know of three three conventional attitudes to this problem. The most straight-forward is to believe that... Read more »

Does God Help Find Car Keys?

October 14, 2013 | 47 comments
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Does God Help Find Car Keys?

I remember reading a story in the Ensign while I was on my mission. The story was about a police officer who had been searching for a toddler who had been lost when his mother’s car was stolen while the child was still in the back. The mother was desperate to be reunited with her child, and time was running out. The police officer prayed, he followed a hunch, and the child was found and returned to his parents safe and sound. The story bothered me. It wasn’t the story itself. I have had miraculous experiences in my own... Read more »

Peter Wiggin as Lucifer

October 7, 2013 | 4 comments
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2013-10-07 Some Family You Fight Against

(This post is the second in a series on Ender’s Game. Read the first here.) Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a Third. This means that he is the third child in a family which–in the strictly population controlled United States described in Ender’s Game violates both the law and social taboo. Ender’s oldest sibling is Peter, a sociopathic genius who takes to torturing small animals when his favorite target, Ender, is shipped to Battle School. Peter himself was rejected because the military concluded he “had the soul of a jackal.” After Peter, his parents had Valentine. Although just as intelligent as Peter, she... Read more »

Ender as the Everyman

September 30, 2013 | 22 comments
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The cover art for the YA version of Ender's Game.

With very few exceptions, everyone loves the Harry Potter books. (The exceptions consist of people who cannot read and people who have no soul.) The appeal is fairly straightforward, with themes of magical escapism, coming-of-age, and friendship woven directly and beautifully throughout the narrative. Ender’s Game is also a very popular book. Although of course it’s not as widely read as Harry Potter (very little is, after all), it’s one of the best-selling and most-awarded science fiction novels of all time. The most interesting contrast between the two, however, is that whereas everyone seems to be on the same... Read more »

Aspirational Obedience: Obedience is a Process

September 23, 2013 | 14 comments
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2013-09-23 Obedience

Our Mormon faith places a great deal of emphasis on obedience, and to great (and mostly positive) effect. It’s quite common, especially in the Bloggernaccle, to fault the Church and its members for being too conformist, and as I’ve written there is some legitimacy to those complaints. But I’ve also been struck in my life–more and more as I get older–that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as it exists in practical reality does a pretty darn good job of making decent folk and/or making folk decent. There’s a culture of practical service that is easy to... Read more »

Paradigms and Stumbling Blocks

September 16, 2013 | 72 comments
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2013-09-23 Tipping Point Graph

I started thinking about the phrase “stumbling block” recently. It’s such a common phrase that it’s easy to take its significance for granted. And maybe miss its meaning and current relevance. The literal meaning of the words is obvious, and “stumbling block” is in that sense basically the same phrase as “tripping rock”. But “tripping rock” is fresh and so it forces you to take a look at what the words actually mean: a stone that causes people who are walking somewhere to fall. Why should such an apparently innocuous concept be so deeply ingrained in scripture that it... Read more »

Temple and Observatory Group At NYC

September 9, 2013 | no comments
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TOGVerticalSmallRGB

The Temple and Observatory Group, which sponsored an event in July in Provo featuring Richard Bushman, Fiona Givens, and Terryl Givens is bringing the same lineup to New York City. Come listen to the three speak about negotiating LDS history and faith challenges on Saturday, September 28th from 10am – 3:30pm at 390 Broadway 3rd floor in Manhattan. (Here’s a copy of the official flyer.) Additional events are being planned for the East Coast in coming months including Washington, D.C. (October 19) and Boston (November 9). You can visit the website to keep informed (and learn about the groups’... Read more »

A Game Theoretic View of the Atonement

September 9, 2013 | 13 comments
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2013-09-09 John Forbes Nash

The Prisoner’s Dilemma came up in the comments to a post of mine from about a month ago. I outlined my thoughts very briefly there (see comment #12), but I’d like to return to them in more depth today. The Prisoner’s Dilemma is perhaps the most important scenario studied in game theory, and “it shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so.” To understand the analysis, however, I’ll need to back up and give a very brief game theory primer.   In game theory, a game is a situation... Read more »

The Abyss of Nothing and Everything

September 2, 2013 | 17 comments
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2013-09-02 The_Scream

I often heard, growing up, that teenagers think they are immortal. I always thought this applied to other teenagers. For the most part I didn’t get into the sorts of shenanigans that make adolescence famous. I felt I had a perfectly rational aversion to death and dying that manifest itself in, among other things, a general trepidation about learning to drive. Passing other cars at a cumulative speed of 100mph with only a few inches and some yellow lines as separation is still a kind of scary thing, I think, if you stop and consider it. It wasn’t until I... Read more »

We Are All the Work of Thy Hand

August 26, 2013 | 12 comments
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2013-08-26 We Are All The Work Of Thy Hand WITH TEXT

A number of years ago, a friend wrote me an email that included this reminiscence: Friday was my last day of spring break. I had worked all through the break, and really wanted to do something fun, something indulgent. I immediately thought of the only thing I have ever done when I wanted to be indulgent in past years– go to Barnes and Noble. I have always been haunted by a trip to the temple 20 or 30 years ago, and an old mission friend was along. We went to the book store, and he just loaded up with... Read more »

Maybe We’re All Right

August 12, 2013 | 25 comments
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2013-08-11 Blind Monks Elephant smaller

The story of the blind men and the elephant is as useful as it is widespread. It features in Jain, Buddhist, Sufi and Hindu lore and has also  been applied in modern physics and biology. In case you haven’t heard it before, the essence of the story is that a few blind men each touch a different part of an elephant (like the tail or ear or leg or tusk) and each conclude that the elephant is like the part that they see (brush, fan, pot, or spear). Depending on the version of the story, they either cooperate to understand... Read more »

Further Thoughts on Sin

August 5, 2013 | 32 comments
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Further Thoughts on Sin

Last week I wrote about the conflict between a basic axiom of human behavior (we tend to see ourselves as heroes in our own stories and rationalize our behavior accordingly) and the requirement that sinful actions be in some sense deliberate in order to be sinful. I did this primarily by suggesting that, while the original commission of a sinful act often occurs under duress of some sort (thus mitigating against it’s nature as a deliberate choice), we frequently compound that sin by subsequently trying to rationalize it. I’d like to conclude (for now, anyway) my posts on this subject... Read more »

Some Thoughts on Sin

July 29, 2013 | 20 comments
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2013-07-29 Milgram

The textbook definition of sin is doing something that you know to be wrong. And yet, as has been frequently noted in fiction, villains (almost) never think to themselves, “Gee, I’m doing something wrong now.” We each live out narratives in which we star as the protagonist. We are the heroes of our own stories. How can we reconcile these two notions: first, that sin requires a knowledge that what we are doing is wrong and second, that no one really believes what they are doing is wrong at the time that they do it? I’m going to rely... Read more »

Faithful Obedience or Malicious Compliance?

July 22, 2013 | 50 comments
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2013-07-22 Wheels Within Wheels

Malicious compliance is the idea of using the letter of the law to intentionally violate the spirit of the law. It is perfect obedience. It is also sabotage. Since so much trouble seems to arise from the gap between the letter and spirit of the law, we might reasonably ask: why not close the gap? Why not just write down the spirit of the law in the first place? I think the answer is at least in part that whatever is written down and then read and interpreted by a human being is necessarily going to fall short of the... Read more »