Blog Archives

Don’t Debate the Trinity

June 10, 2013 | 63 comments
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Detail of a manuscript illustration depicting a knight carrying the "Shield of the Trinity." (Wikpedia)

Against my better judgment, and to the detriment of my workday, I allowed myself to be temporarily pulled into a Facebook debate on Friday about Mormonism and orthodox Christianity. This went about as well as could be expected, of course. The word “cult” was used in earnest, the Tanners were quoted, and all in all it was a horrifying flashback to my high school days as an Internet messageboard crusader. (Thank goodness those days are over!) I eventually came to my senses and retreated like Luke Skywalker fleeing the Mos Eisley Cantina. I did, however, gain some insight into... Read more »

Review: The Fading Flower & Swallow the Sun

May 21, 2013 | 20 comments
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2013-05-20 Fading Flower And Swallow the Sun

Mahonri Stewart recently released two of his plays–The Fading Flower and Swallow the Sun–together in a single volume. I found both of them to be so compelling, that I’m truly sad that no productions have been put on or are scheduled within 1,000 miles of where I live on the East Coast. More than just enjoyable, however, I found that they presented a strong and compellingly Mormon artistic perspective. While there is no doubt that the subject matter of both plays is Mormon, what really struck me was less the viewed and more the viewpoint. The Fading Flower centers... Read more »

Another Post about Mormons and Science Fiction

April 29, 2013 | 42 comments
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2013-04-29 The Host

The topic of Mormons and science fiction seems to crop up with decent regularity every couple of years, and with the recent release of the film adaptation of The Host and the impending release (finally!) of the film adaptation of Ender’s Game, we’re probably about due for another round. This is a topic that I particularly love because it involves two of my greatest passions. I’ve read lots of really good ideas about what it is that makes so many Mormons write science fiction, why Mormons ought to write “fairy-tales”, and of course the caveat that Mormons might not actually... Read more »

An Ensign Is Not A Roadmap

April 15, 2013 | 40 comments
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Goal-setting is a perennial, and for some perennially frustrating, part of Mormonism. I count myself among the frustrated. I have been setting weekly goals for myself since I was a teenager, and I don’t think I’ve ever achieved them all for a single week. I’m getting closer, however. Although I believe that goals are positive and necessary, the costs–especially if expectations are misaligned–can be high. Something to keep in mind is that Church leaders of our generation are selected from a group of very high-achieving professionals. Add to this the willing Mormon tendency towards hagiography, and it’s easy to... Read more »

Sifting the Sacred from the Mundane

April 8, 2013 | 24 comments
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2013-04-08 Panning for Gold

Of all the deaths in Harry Potter, Dobby’s strikes many people the hardest. It did me. There was absolutely no way I could have kept my eyes dry. If John Locke is right, if actions are the best interpreters of mens thoughts, does this mean that my grief was, in the moment, real? Did I believe, at some level, that Dobby had really lived, and then really died? Did I believe the events of the book were true? Obviously I’m not confused about whether house elves do in fact exist, let alone whether or not Harry Potter is fact... Read more »

Giving Up On The Feminine Divine

March 25, 2013 | 57 comments
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An Asherah figurine.

Not long ago I wrote a piece about mommy blogs, feminism, and the publishing industry. My basic thesis was that if you believe in the reality of historical oppression of women, you ought to be deeply skeptical of the current trend to define gender equality as equal representation of men and women in institutions which are inextricably connected to the historical oppression. To the extent that women have to conform to the expectations of those institutions, our haste to create a better world for women may in some cases be doing the exact opposite. I realize that part of... Read more »

Theology, Worship, and Children’s Games

March 18, 2013 | 24 comments
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Theology, Worship, and Children’s Games

I believe in theology as a kind of worship. To spend time and effort in the attempt to reason out the philosophical context for and implications of Mormon doctrine is an affirmation of the authenticity with which we embrace that doctrine. Intellectually wrestling with the angels is thus properly seen as an individual responsibility rather than an institutional prerogative. Theology can never take the place of other forms of worship–from music to service–but it can and should exist alongside them. One of the important things to note about this conception of theology is that, in this as in all... Read more »

What the Church Is Not For

March 11, 2013 | 39 comments
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2013 03 11 The Prodigal son

The hardest time of my mission, and one of the hardest time of my life, was serving as an office elder. The job was incredibly stressful. I had days that started at 4 AM and did not end until after 10 PM. The worst part of the job, however, was that there was no teaching. Neither the office elders nor the AP’s had had a teaching pool in the memory of anyone in the mission. In the 6 months that I served in the office, I had time to go tracting exactly once. I vividly remember getting on my knees one Saturday evening, and telling... Read more »

Mormonism and Secularism: Fiery Trials and Surprises

March 4, 2013 | 73 comments
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Mormonism and Secularism: Fiery Trials and Surprises

Over the last two posts I’ve outlined a view that a religion is a system of beliefs and institutions that serves to help people find meaning and make sense of the world, and that in modernity a secular religion has emerged. (I used the “scientism”, but Alvin Plantinga uses “naturalism”, that’s probably better.) I also argued that all religions come in essentially two varieties. Authentic religion emphasizes the struggle to respond to life’s questions. Inauthentic religion promises relief from the struggle with easily attained answers. It effectively outsources our existential struggle: to an inerrant Bible, to an inerrant Church... Read more »

Authentic Religion, Authentic Science

February 25, 2013 | 35 comments
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Authentic Religion, Authentic Science

My previous post centered on the special place religious institutions have historically held in human society. I argued that since religions couldn’t reliably provide public, objectively observable miracles or verify any of their claims about an afterlife, the only plausible explanation for their social capital was their ability to bridge the gap between deeply rooted human longing for meaning and the world’s absurdity. Suppose we fix that as our definition of religion. Any belief system (with accompanying formal and informal social institutions) that attempts to aid us in our quest for meaning is a religion. The interesting thing about... Read more »

Mormonism and the New Religion of Secularism

February 18, 2013 | 68 comments
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Mormonism and the New Religion of Secularism

Secularism is a new religion that threatens to overwhelm traditional faiths in much the same way that Christianity and Manichaeism swept away traditional local cults almost two thousand years ago. Mormonism is far from immune to this process, but it is particularly well-suited (theologically) to adapt (culturally) and remain relevant and vibrant. If changes are made. The ship must be turned to face the wave head-on. Since secularism is defined in opposition to religion, either I don’t understand what religion is or the secularists that I have in mind don’t understand what religion is. I’ll argue why it is the... Read more »

Why I Listen to Screamo

January 7, 2013 | 14 comments
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So here’s a piece about multidimensional optimization algorithms, a genre of music named after and including a lot of primal screaming, and my mission. Several examples of said musical genre, screamo, are included so I hope you have a broad audial palette. I’ll start with a short story from my Mormon youth. On one particular day I remember being in the backseat of a minivan full of my fellow teenage Mormons as we drove to or from some weekday church activity. We were listening to the radio when Bullet with Buttefly Wings by The Smashing Pumpkins came on and I... Read more »

The Opposite of Epistemic Humility

December 19, 2012 | 14 comments
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The Opposite of Epistemic Humility

In my first three pieces I’ve spent an awful lot of time talking about epistemic humility. Now I’m going to talk about what I consider to be the antithesis of epistemic humility: extremism. My definition of the term is non-standard, but I believe it both fits as the antithesis of epistemic humility and matches our intuition that there’s something to extremism that is more than merely being far removed from the mainstream. After all, if you live in a society where child sacrifice is the norm and you... Read more »

On Learning from False Models

December 18, 2012 | 21 comments
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On Learning from False Models

In this post I want to present a secular example of epistemic humility. As with the religious example, I hope that this one will also provide some intrinsically interesting ideas. I also plan on reusing these ideas in the next couple of posts. Like my first example, the second highlights the fertility that arises from knowingly maintaining contradictory views. In this case the conflict is between the highly stylized model of human behavior used by economists (homo economicus or the rational agent) and real, live human beings.... Read more »

Faith is a Work in Progress

December 14, 2012 | 12 comments
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I appreciate the kind welcome to T&S and all the good comments and questions. I know I haven’t responded to some of them yet, and I’ll try to rectify that soon, but I wanted to make sure I had this post ready to go. My goal is to live up to my promise to walk through a religious example of epistemic humility in action. At the end of the last post, I suggested that one of the dangers we face when our beliefs conflict with each other is... Read more »

The Wise Man Doubts Often, And Changes His Mind

December 12, 2012 | 20 comments
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I’m happy to have a chance to do a guest stint here at Times and Seasons, and over the next two weeks I want to use my borrowed soap box to talk about epistemic humility. Epistemic humility is an awareness of the limits of our ability to know. It is an admission that we are ignorant of things that are true and that we accept as true things which are not. Hence the title, which comes from a longer saying of Akhenaten: “The wise man... Read more »