Mormon Thought

Doctrine – Theology – Philosophy

Faith versus Proof

February 2, 2004 | 27 comments

One thing that has always fascinated me is the tension in the church between faith and proof. We tell people they should pray about the Book of Mormon and receive a testimony of its truth and of the prophet Joseph Smith. And then we spend lots of time and energy trying to prove that they are true. What do we use as proof? The Lehi stone. Chiasm. The health benefits of the Word of Wisdom. The Civil War beginning in South Carolina. And a thousand whispered rumors like the idea that the Dead Sea scrolls contain the prophecies of... Read more »

It (Still) Seems So BIG

January 27, 2004 | 5 comments

What first caught my attention with respect to the Gospel was the sheer size of it. For my first ten or fifteen years of consciousness, growing up in a semi-active part-LDS home, the Church, to me, represented boring meetings, lackluster hymn-singing, and little more. Other things in 1960s California seemed much more exciting, and, frankly, there was little home pressure to think otherwise. Read more »

1 Nephi 13

January 26, 2004 | 30 comments

I don’t get to attend Sunday School often, but yesterday I was able to attend an interesting lesson taught by Logan. The major topic was the great and abominable church. The discussion made me wonder about one thing (which we discussed briefly in class). The scripture talks about removal of plain and precious things from the Book of the Lamb (which appears to be the Bible). I was wondering — how exactly did / does this occur? Read more »

Original sin

January 19, 2004 | 23 comments

Kristine pointed out the other day that if we want to understand the Protestant concept of grace, we have to understand their concept of original sin. That got me to thinking. Sometimes when Latter-day Saints speak of the Fall, we deny original sin, However, we also say that, because of Adam?s transgression, we inherit a fallen nature. It is not clear what the difference is between inheriting a fallen nature or disposition and original sin. Without intending to, we may sometimes be teaching something that is difficult to distinguish from the doctrine of original sin. Read more »

Does God Need Us?

January 17, 2004 | 8 comments

In some circles, just asking this question requires some serious chutzpah. The “man is nothing” crowd would find the mere suggestion that God needs us offensive. Nevertheless, we have several indications in Mormon doctrine that God needs His children. Perhaps most important is Moses 1:39: “this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” The notion of mutual interdependence is pervasive in the Gospel. For example, we believe that individuals (families) are bound together in the eternities, and that “he dead are not perfect without us, neither are we... Read more »

Confused About Grace and Works

January 16, 2004 | 22 comments

I recently had a conversation with a self-described Christian, who was eager to teach me about the doctrine of grace. When I quoted 2 Nephi 25:23 (“We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”), my companion scoffed. He said this was similar to saying, “We fly from India to the United States on an airplane, after all we can do.” In other words, Jesus does so much and we do so little that our part is not worth mentioning. Read more »

The Ascendancy of the Book of Mormon

January 16, 2004 | 18 comments

I just finished Terryl Givens’s _By the Hand of Mormon_. Its a fun read, though a bit more polemical than I assumed it would be. I think it does make a solid contribution to Book of Mormon studies in its final chapters. Most interesting to me, though, was the summary it provided of Church’s attitude toward and utilization of the Book of Mormon over the past 175 years or so. Givens gives statistics for how often the BofM was cited in church talks, church magazines, etc., before Pres. Benson’s landmark addresses on the topic, and they are astonishing to... Read more »

T&S Has Been Excommunicated!

January 14, 2004 | 59 comments

At least from the blogrolls over at and Hugh Roper. Both Hugh and cite to a talk by Elder Glenn L. Pace condemning “excessive intellectualism.” Read more »

A Mormon on the Nihil Obstat

January 14, 2004 | 19 comments

I like books. I own lots of them. Far too many of them in fact. Most of my books are on law, philosophy, or history. I also dabble just a bit in biblical criticism. By and large, I can’t stand Mormon commentaries. They tend to be a vacuous collection of GA quotes largely unrelated to the text they are purportedly commenting on. So I have turned elsewhere. Read more »

Essential Scholarly Papers

January 9, 2004 | 7 comments

Due to popular demand, I invite nominations for the Times & Seasons Essential Scholarly Papers in Mormon Studies list. Double credit awarded for links to the article. Read more »

Essential Texts Again

January 8, 2004 | 24 comments

In December Greg posted the very interesting question of what the five essential texts in Mormon studies are. The thread generated a lot of comments. A follow-up thread also got some comments. I just went through and tallied votes thus far. The results are interesting. Besides being a potential catalog of essential texts, the results also illustrate the broad range of ideas that people consider “Mormon studies”. A total of eight (sort of) texts received more than one vote. Read more »

Writing Our Lives

January 8, 2004 | 12 comments

Every day for the year of 2003 I read a diary entry by Samuel Pepys, the incomparable 17th century English diarist. The ten-year Pepys diary is being put online a day at a time by Phil Gyford, a British computer person, ( and the international community that has gathered and comments on the daily entries is similar to this, a tight ingrown, but very learned and witty group. Read more »

Examining Moroni’s Promise

January 5, 2004 | 19 comments

Moroni’s Promise has had increasing use in missionary work and in the church generally, starting with (I believe) President Benson’s emphasis on using it to show that the Book of Mormon is true. Now, in a recent blog entry, Dave critiques Moroni’s Promise as essentially being an unfair test, which allows church members to accept positive results but disregard any negative results. Dave writes: There’s an ugly side to Moroni’s Promise if you don’t play along with the Mormon script. “f ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the... Read more »

Chieko Okasaki on women in the Church – 9.22.01

January 5, 2004 | 49 comments

Less than two weeks after the attacks of September 11, Sister Chieko Okasaki spoke at the Manhattan Stake Priesthood Leadership meeting. She delivered what I thought was a thoughtful, courageous, and provocative sermon. The reaction afterward was striking: some men lined up at the podium to thank her; others lined up to object to stake leaders. Today I just happened to come across my notes from that meeting, and I thought it would be worthwhile to post them here, for posterity if nothing else. So here they are, without editorializing (and with apologies for their limitations): Read more »

Has Mormon History Taught Us Anything?

January 5, 2004 | 52 comments

Since the publication of Leonard Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdon, the writing of Mormon history has largely been professionalized. The major players in the field are no longer autodidacts like B.H. Roberts or Joseph Fielding Smith. Rather, they are by and large university trained historians, generally with an emphasis on 19th century American history. So here is my question, if we think of ourselves not as Mormons but as students of history, has the “New Mormon History” (if I may use that now loaded phrase) taught us anything? My answer: Not much. Read more »

Condercet, Brigham, and Succession to the Presidency

January 3, 2004 | 16 comments

Condercet was a French social theorist in the opening decades of the 19th century and is credited with first discovering a paradox of majority voting that bears his name. Here is the paradox: Imagine that you have a group of three people (A,B, and C) who are voting on three different alternatives (X, Y, and Z). A prefers X to Y and Y to Z. B prefers Y to Z and Z to X. C prefers Z to X and X to Y. If X is paired in a vote with Y, then X wins (A and C against... Read more »

Most Influential Essay

December 31, 2003 | 20 comments

Without question, the following essay has shaped my world view more than any other. I’ve spent so much time turning the ideas in my head that I can no longer tell where they stop and where mine began. One of my favorite priesthood or Institute lessons is to pass copies to everyone in the class, read it, then lead a discussion. It never fails to make an impact. Several people have later told me it changed their whole perspective on life, as it did mine. I strongly recommend doing the same thing for your class or family. Here’s the... Read more »

Consecration: A Practical Suggestion

December 30, 2003 | 2 comments

One of my pet peeves is the comment, often heard in Sunday School, that “the Lord has not asked us to live the law of consecration.” Those who have been to the temple should know better. The more pressing question for me is how to implement this relatively simple law. This seems to be the current topic of conversation under the Material Prosperity thread below, which, like the Eveready Bunny, just keeps on going. In this post, I want to propose a practical way of thinking about consecration. Read more »


December 30, 2003 | 19 comments

At Nate refers to an ancient blog entry he wrote: Though the discussion in question was baptism for the dead and some objections by non-LDS to the practice, Nate made a very good point in passing: we don’t really believe in damnation except for those who are LDS. Read more »

Mormon Doctrine: The Legacy

December 29, 2003 | 21 comments

A few years ago, another law professor asked me what I thought of Richard Posner’s legacy with respect to law and economics. For those of you who do not inhabit this world, Posner is generally credited with popularizing the economic analysis of law, partly through his articles, but largely through the influence of his book, Economic Analysis of Law, now in its sixth edition. At first blush, discussion of his legacy might seem silly. Surely, the great Richard Posner had a salutary influence on the so-called Law & Economics Movement. But we wondered whether Posner’s proclivity for overreaching and... Read more »

“Goodly Parents”

December 29, 2003 | 15 comments

Jim reminds us that next week begins a change in the Gospel Doctrine curriculum. This year’s course of study is, without a doubt, my favorite book in the world, The Book of Mormon. I hope to see a vigorous discussion of Jim’s provocative study questions, but I am going to anticipate him by a week or two with a post about the first verse of the Book of Mormon: “I, NEPHI, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father.” In my humble opinion, this verse does not mean what... Read more »

The Foreknowledge of God

December 24, 2003 | 3 comments

I just fulfilled a longstanding promise to myself: I finally read the Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov. I have had many false starts on this project over the years. Asimov was not a great stylist, though he had many interesting ideas. The Foundation books are animated by one such idea: psychohistory. For those who haven’t read the books, I would describe psychohistory as the use of history, psychology, sociology, and mathematics to examine the behavior of large groups of people. While individual behavior cannot be predicted, psychohistory can (more or less) accurately predict the fate of millions. Is this... Read more »

Mere Mormonism

December 23, 2003 | 16 comments

A while back, Russell suggested the possibility of a Mormon holiday to celebrate Joseph Smith’s birthday. Last Sunday, I took at least part of his suggestion to heart in my Elders’ Quorum lesson Read more »

The Lord’s Prayer

December 22, 2003 | 6 comments

I’ve been thinking about prayer lately and would be interested in other’s ideas about some questions that have been part of that thinking. Specifically these question have to do with the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:5-15; Luke 7:1-4; 3 Nephi 13:5-14). Here are the verses in question (from Matthew, the longest version, with the differences from the version in Alma marked by underline), each verse followed by a few questions for thought. I’m interested in your thoughts on my questions as well as your own questions. Read more »