Book Reviews

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Reading Zion

May 10, 2011 | 9 comments
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Zion is the world ajar. Zion is the world set on a double hinge. God gives a push, the door goes swinging, and the world opens wide. Read more »

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: True Believer

March 15, 2011 | 9 comments
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Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: True Believer

It’s unlikely that I believe the right things about God, Jesus, the gospel, or the Church. It’s even less likely that I could express my beliefs in a coherent and justifiable way. I used to think that, because my ideas were clever, I was at least closer to being right than most. This I took as a consolation. But cleverness isn’t much to live on. God, I think, has been working to pry this cleverness from my cold, dead hands. I have felt God more than once pushing me to echo Meister Eckhart’s deeply orthodox prayer: “I pray to God to... Read more »

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Secular Mormons

February 25, 2011 | 25 comments
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Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Secular Mormons

The irony of religious fundamentalism is that it is a profoundly modern and profoundly secular phenomenon. This is perhaps especially true of the scriptural literalism that often accompanies it. The result is that many of the most conservative Mormons are, in point of fact, also the most secular. Few Mormons are more secular than Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie. Why is fundamentalism so profoundly secular? Because it cedes the field of truth wholly and without contestation to secular models of truth – and then tries to combat, contest, and outdo the secularists at their own game. Is... Read more »

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: The Call

February 11, 2011 | 19 comments
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Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: The Call

It is a commonplace in Zen that three things are necessary for liberation. If you want to wake up from the slumber of self-absorption, if you want to live your life outside the suffocating confines of that mason jar that is your own head, you need (1) great faith, (2) great doubt, and (3) great effort. As Mormons, we’re famous for valorizing the third. We’re also often good at promoting the first. But when was the last time you heard a talk extolling the need to cultivate great doubt? The Zen masters were likely right to see all three... Read more »

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Pagan Faith

February 1, 2011 | 21 comments
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Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Pagan Faith

Mormons are metaphysical heretics, backward pagans, country bumpkins, who claim that the world, rather than being one, is fundamentally many. We’re metaphysical pluralists and so break with the creeds. Unity is a product, not a starting point. God the Son is not God the Father and (moreover!) all intelligences are uncreated and co-eternal with God. As a result, rather than being reassuringly antedated by the simplicity of a Divine Will or the uniformity of a Providential Reason, we’re preceded by the mystery of a material plurality that is always already given. In this scenario, faith is a different kind of thing.... Read more »

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Memory

January 18, 2011 | 8 comments
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Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Memory

Say someone asks if you know the time. You say yes and then look at your watch. Did you really know the time? Say someone asks you how to get downtown to the museum. You say yes. They ask you to write down directions. You can’t, but you offer to drive them there instead. If you can see the landmarks, then you’ll know where to turn. Did you really know how to get there? Say that, walking past a bakery, you’re struck by the smell of a pastry and then vividly recall a time when, six years-old, you made those same... Read more »

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: A Typology of Readers

January 5, 2011 | 18 comments
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Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: A Typology of Readers

In the introduction to his Faith, Philosophy, Scripture (Neal A Maxwell Institute, 2010), Jim Faulconer gives us a kind of typology of religious subjects. Imagining the different kinds of responses he might get to the difficulty of his philosophically inclined essays, he picks out four basic types. I. Typology 1. Those who enjoy a kind of childish naivete. Those with childish faith will find what I say difficult because it makes the obvious difficult. They are likely to be bored or, at best, indulgent of me, and their reaction is the right reaction. I have nothing to say to those who are... Read more »

Home Waters: Recompense

December 27, 2010 | 9 comments
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Home Waters: Recompense

Of his awakening, Dogen says, “I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers, the great wide earth, the sun, the moon, the stars.” Tinged with enlightenment, you see what Dogen saw: that life is borrowed and that mind itself is mooched. Every day you’ll need something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Mind borrows mountains and rivers, earth, sun, and sky. But you can’t just keep these things forever. Even if they weren’t quite what you wanted, they gave what they had and now some compensation is needed, some recompense is... Read more »

Home Waters: Gene/ecology

December 20, 2010 | 3 comments
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Home Waters: Gene/ecology

Earth is stratified time. Use some wind, water, and pressure. Sift it, layer it, and fold it. Add an inhuman number of years. Stack and buckle these planes of rock into mountains of frozen time. Use a river to cleave that mountain in two. Hide hundreds of millions of purloined years in plain, simultaneous sight as a single massive bluff. It’s a good trick. Bodies, made of earth, are just the same: in my face, unchosen, generations of people are stratified in plain, simultaneous sight. My father’s nose, my grandfather’s ears, my mother’s wink, the lines my kids have... Read more »

Home Waters: Soul as Watershed

December 8, 2010 | 17 comments
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Home Waters: Soul as Watershed

Spurred by Handley’s Home Waters, I’ve been reading Wallace Stegner. Like Handley, Stegner is interested in the tight twine of body, place, and genealogy that makes a life. On my account, Handley and Stegner share the same thesis: if the body is a river, then the soul is a watershed. Like a shirt pulled off over your head, this thesis leaves the soul inside-out and exposed. You thought your soul was a kernel of atomic interiority, your most secret secret – but shirt in hand, everyone can see your navel. Stegner’s novel, Angle of Repose, opens with the narrator’s own... Read more »

Home Waters: Overview

December 7, 2010 | 4 comments
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Home Waters: Overview

George Handley’s Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River (University of Utah Press, 2010) practices theology like a doctor practices CPR: not as secondhand theory but as a chest-cracking, lung-inflating, life-saving intervention. Home Waters models what, on my account, good theology ought to do: it is experimental, it is grounded in the details of lived experience, and it takes charity – that pure love of Christ – as the only real justification for its having been written. It is not afraid to guess, it is not afraid to question, it is not afraid to cry repentance,... Read more »

Review: Losing My Religion

May 15, 2010 | 22 comments
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I admit that when approaching William Lobdell’s Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America — and Found Unexpected Peace (HarperCollins, 2009), I expected the standard debunking treatment that is so familiar in news and entertainment media these days. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find a balanced and engaging narrative that mixes accounts of the stories Lobell covered while a religion reporter for the Los Angeles Times with details of his own journey into, then out of, faith. Lobdell’s journey and reporting Lobdell’s journey began in his late twenties, when he first attended... Read more »

Mormons and Prosperity

February 8, 2010 | 51 comments
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Mormons and Prosperity

The Prosperity Gospel (which the linked Wikipedia article defines as “the notion that God provides material prosperity for those he favors”) is often associated with Evangelical megapreachers. But we all know there is a Mormon variation of the Prosperity Gospel lurking behind the ubiquitous references to blessings and how to earn them that populate LDS books, sermons, and discourse. So when I started reading my review copy of What the Scriptures Teach Us About Prosperity (Deseret Book, 2010) by S. Michael Wilcox, I was hoping that at some point the author would distinguish the Mormon view of... Read more »

Royal Skousen’s 12 questions — The Critical Text Version

October 3, 2009 | one comment
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Last month we posted Royal Skousen’s discussion of his work on recovering the earliest version of the Book of Mormon, along with some updates.  Unfortunately, that post garnered some annoying formatting problems — mostly due to the new format T&S adopted this year.  We’re happy to now present to you mark III of Royal Skousen’s 12 questions interview.  Royal Skousen’s book, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, was published last month by Yale University Press and yes, you can order  it at Amazon. Read more »

Divine Comedy, Divine Tragedy

September 24, 2009 | 12 comments
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The Bible, as we have received it, sets out the drama of salvation with its wrenching fall and crucifixion, but joyous resurrection and exaltation. Though its compilation is in many ways ad hoc, there is a satisfyingly comedic structure to the whole. As Terryl Givens puts it in his The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction, just out from Oxford University Press, “There is a neat symmetry . . . Primordial creation is balanced by apocalypse and heavenly postscript . . . All tears are wiped away, and the primal fall and alienation are remedied by reunion under... Read more »

Some Notes on the New Spanish LDS Bible

September 18, 2009 | 24 comments
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My copy of the new LDS edition of the Bible in Spanish arrived yesterday, one of the 750,000 copies printed recently (according to a contact I have in the Church department that prints these materials). So I thought I would pass on my impressions. Read more »

12 Questions and a Book by Royal Skousen

September 6, 2009 | 68 comments
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5 years ago we published one of my favorite “12 Questions” posts, in which Royal Skousen discussed in some depth what he has learned from his extensive work on the earliest editions of the Book of Mormon.  His book, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, is being published in September by Yale University Press (and yes, you can order  it at Amazon right now).  To mark this milestone, Royal was kind enough to update his “12 questions” discussion, which we have posted below, for the benefit of those who did not catch it the first time.   Enjoy! Read more »

Four sources of the Apocalypse

April 27, 2009 | 46 comments
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With the past two months, I have read — for various reasons — four different novels laying out apocalyptic events within the United States. Here are the novels, in the order I read (or re-read) them, and with the reasons why I read them: – Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (1977): a comet fragments and strikes the Earth in numerous places, collapsing much of world civilization, including the United States. I’ve read this several times before; I saw it cited on a blog (Samizdata) in a discussion on “the best end-of-the-world novels”  and decided to dig... Read more »

A New Book for the Mormon Canon

February 22, 2009 | 7 comments
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There are a number of Mormon pamphlets and books that have achieved a kind of semi-canonical status within Mormon studies. Everyone agrees, for example, that Parley P. Pratt’s Key to the Science of Theology or John Taylor’s Mediation and Atonement are key texts for understanding nineteenth Mormon thought. If any evidence is needed, both texts, I believe, are still in print. At the very least both have produced modern reprints. I have a proposed addition to the canon, George Q. Cannon’s A Review of the Decision of the Supreme Court in the Case of Geo. Reynolds v. the United... Read more »

Now a glorious dawn is breaking

November 19, 2008 | 20 comments
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What will it be like for a marriage to continue past death into the eternities? What does it mean to have a perfected body, or to love an eternal being? Stephenie Meyer has an answer. Breaking Dawn, the last novel in her Twilight series, presents a sustained and vividly imagined view of one of the core elements of Mormon personal salvation. Read more »

“Mormonism”: A Perfect Storm

September 30, 2008 | 13 comments
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Library Journal this month ran an interesting article offering a big-picture perspective on the world of LDS and LDS-related publishing, highlighting close to 40 books on doctrine, history, sociology, comparative theology and devotional topics, as well as periodicals, video, and internet resources. The article’s aim is to help librarians choose recent, reliable books about Mormonism, whether they work in a public or small academic library. Read more »

Meet Your Inner Fish

July 31, 2008 | 9 comments
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I recently read Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion Year History of the Human Body (Pantheon Books, 2008) by Neil Shubin, a paleotologist and professor of anatomy at the University of Chicago. By coincidence, Jared at LDS Science Review had posted the same book in his “Currently Reading” list. Here is our conversation about this interesting book. Read more »

Book Review: The Host

July 20, 2008 | 8 comments
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by Stephenie Meyers (Little, Brown, 2008). 617 pp. WARNING: major spoilers Stephenie Meyer’s foray into science fiction is a well-deserved best seller, and a great piece of Mormon literature. The romantic interaction between Bella and Edward and Jacob—wait, I mean between Jared and Melanie/Wanderer and Ian—uh, hold on a second… Read more »

Book Reviews: Juvenile Non-Fiction

July 7, 2006 | 11 comments
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Book Reviews:  Juvenile Non-Fiction

If you are an adult, inevitability comes in the form of death and taxes. If you are a child, it comes as the middle school research project. Read more »