Mormon Thought

Doctrine – Theology – Philosophy

Institute Report: Genesis, Week 1

January 16, 2012 | 19 comments
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Institute Report: Genesis, Week 1

If there’s sufficient interest,  I will post some general notes, handouts and materials here instead of mailing out everything to my class. Handouts are pdf format and have live links embedded. I felt the first week went well; in contrast to the last time I taught this, few students had a science background, and only 1-2 had previous experience with me. I introduced myself and established some formal bona fides. The more important informal trust that comes from personal experience and knowing someone will come over time, I hope. I had students introduce themselves, give a bit of their... Read more »

The Book of Mormon: What has it done for you lately?

January 12, 2012 | 29 comments
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Julie is posting detailed commentary and Kent is providing literary reflection; I’m afraid all I have to offer on the Book of Mormon is general observations. This week let’s talk about situating the book as a whole, not so much in terms of content and form (which I’ll address in later posts) but in terms of function and use. How does the Church use the Book of Mormon? How do you use the Book of Mormon? Read more »

Scripture Unchained: A New York Institute Announcement

January 7, 2012 | 13 comments
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Scripture Unchained: A New York Institute Announcement

After taking off 18 months or so, I’m returning to teaching Institute in my free time. Beginning January 12, 8 PM in the Union Square chapel of Manhattan, I’ll be teaching a class called “Genesis, with an Introduction to Studying the Bible in Hebrew.” The Institute Director added the last part, but I don’t mind one bit. I’m quite looking forward to it. Institute can really be a breath of fresh air, especially for those who are looking for a deeper exploration of the scriptures than Sunday School allows. After all, there’s no schedule to follow, no manual to... Read more »

Which Book of Mormon?

January 5, 2012 | 18 comments
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The flurry of posts at T&S and elsewhere around the Bloggernacle is a reminder that 2012 is Book of Mormon year in Gospel Doctrine class. Which Book of Mormon are you going to read? Read more »

Under the tree: LDS Beliefs

December 22, 2011 | 12 comments
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Under the tree: LDS Beliefs

The latest book to digest Mormon doctrine for the popular LDS audience is LDS Beliefs: A Doctrinal Reference (Deseret, 2011), by four BYU religion professors: Robert L. Millet, Camille Fronk Olson, Andrew C. Skinner, and Brent L. Top. Entries are alphabetical, with authorship and cited sources listed following each and every entry. It’s out just in time for Christmas and will no doubt find its way under the tree in many LDS homes, as well it should. The best way to summarize the strengths of this one-volume reference work is to compare and contrast it with other modern attempts... Read more »

Interest Never Sleeps

December 9, 2011 | 18 comments
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Hypothetical: Alex and Pat both want a Kindle Fire. Alex goes to the local brick-and-mortar Amazon store, pays $200 cash, and takes a Kindle Fire home. Pat goes to the bank, gets a loan for $200, goes to the local brick-and-mortar Amazon store, pays the $200, and takes a Kindle Fire home. Who made the better decision? *** In the Church, we’re suspicious of debt. Sure, we get a pass on student loans, a modest house, a first car, but, as a general rule, our leaders discourage incurring consumer debt, and celebrate those who have escaped debt’s clutches. Having... Read more »

Quotes of Note- Elder Holland on Boats and Struggling Swimmers

December 7, 2011 | 9 comments
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Quotes of Note- Elder Holland on Boats and Struggling Swimmers

Unfortunately inspired by a personal experience related to me recently, I present a rebuke of sorts  and a call for more Christ-like compassion by Elder Holland. “When a battered, weary swimmer tries valiantly to get back to shore, after having fought strong winds and rough waves which he should never have challenged in the first place, those of us who might have had better judgment, or perhaps just better luck, ought not to row out to his side, beat him with our oars, and shove his head back underwater. That’s not what boats were made for. But some of... Read more »

Boston’s Mormon women’s organization, 1844

December 5, 2011 | 12 comments
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Nauvoo had its Relief Society, but the “society of sisters” in Boston was instead the “Sewing and Penny Society,” or so the Church’s New York City newspaper reported. Despite all that the Relief Society has become in the nearly 170 years since it was founded, it apparently only existed in Nauvoo. In other areas, women were left to their own devices. Read more »

Harold Bloom, the Byrds, and Me

November 30, 2011 | 16 comments
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About a week ago, James posted a reflection on Harold Bloom’s (frankly awful) New York Times op-ed. Rather than directly responding, though (other than expressing his rightful disappointment), James engaged with Dr. Bloom’s allegation that Mormonism and Protestantism are converging. Though concerned about such a convergence, James ultimately (and rightly, I believe) doesn’t think we’re headed inexorably down that path. That said, Dr. Bloom is right that the Church has changed a lot between 1844 and 2011. Change is inevitable and, as Ecclesiastes tells us, is to be expected. And, frankly, there have been a number of changes that,... Read more »

Why Bloom, et al are wrong

November 22, 2011 | 12 comments
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Why Bloom, et al are wrong

Harold Bloom’s recent NY Times article on Mormonism & politics was tremendously disappointing. The sheer volume of poorly (or dishonestly) researched writing on Mormonism this season is exhausting; and to get this sort of long worn-out, conspiracy minded expression of clichés from someone as well educated as Bloom is downright disheartening (though to be fair, we’ve gotten a good deal of serious journalism as well). But I’m actually not much interested in that side of Bloom’s article. Let me quickly bring up two other points from the article. First, Bloom states this: The founding prophet Joseph Smith…highly original revelation... Read more »

Quotes of Note- McKay on Running the Church

November 21, 2011 | 38 comments
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Quotes of Note- McKay on Running the Church

“Men must learn that in presiding over the Church we are dealing with human hearts, that individual rights are sacred, and the human soul is tender. We cannot run the Church like a business.”-David O. McKay Diaries, May 17, 1962, as quoted in “David O. McKay and the Twin Sisters’: Free Agency and Tolerance” by Gregory Prince, Dialogue 33:4 (Winter 2000):13. I read this as saying, we need to be sensitive to other people; we cannot make hard decisions and simply say, “this is business, not personal” as if real people were not involved. I wish we had more... Read more »

Finally, Family Scripture Study that Works for Us

November 17, 2011 | 24 comments
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Finally, Family Scripture Study that Works for Us

My family is not very large (C and, uh, me. Not even a cat), so schedules aren’t hard to coordinate. We’re both active in the Church, and bibliophiles who regularly read and study our own scriptures,  and yet we’ve never been able to have productive scripture study together. I am largely to blame for that, since our questions and interests tend to not overlap very much and mine are too arcane and rabbit-hole-ish to be productive for her. In spite of trying several times, it’s never lasted long. I have memories of my teens, bleary-eyed hot breakfast at 5:15,... Read more »

Politics and Members of the Church

November 11, 2011 | 19 comments
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The Catholic church, that is. Read more »

John Wesley on the Pride Cycle

November 9, 2011 | 11 comments
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Re-reading the second half of Paul Johnson’s A History of Christianity last week, I ran across this interesting commentary penned by John Wesley. Here’s what he wrote sometime in the late 18th century (quoted at page 368; emphasis added): Read more »

Mormons and Muslims

October 24, 2011 | 62 comments
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Mormons and Muslims

I had a university professor who lived in Iran and ran a television program dedicated to classical Persian music prior to the Islamic revolution. He spent a lot of time during the seventies crossing sketchy borders into various ‘Stans. One of his tools for successful border crossing (not to mention survival) was a pamphlet he wrote himself, highlighting similarities between Mormons and Muslims; things like a founding prophet, directly revealed scripture, fasting, and polygamy. I was intrigued by his comparisons, and this class was one of the many things that prompted me to study Arabic and learn more about Islam.... Read more »

Is the ‘Mormon Moment’ larger outside the U.S.?

October 17, 2011 | 18 comments
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Is the ‘Mormon Moment’ larger outside the U.S.?

I’ve been looking at Google’s ngram viewer this weekend, at the instigation of my fellow blogger, Wilfried Decoo, and what I came across implies that the “Mormon Moment,” starting in this case with Mitt Romney’s first run for the presidency, may have had a larger impact in places outside of the U.S. than it has had in the U.S. Read more »

Making Mormon Documents Available

October 12, 2011 | 23 comments
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Making Mormon Documents Available

Following each General Conference I prepare a list of “Conference Books”—the works cited by speakers in the printed version of their talks. The list is always fascinating. But this time I noticed something that led me to rethink one aspect of the Church’s manuals: availability. Read more »

Beyond Translation: Job and Isaiah at Ugarit? Part 2

October 12, 2011 | 17 comments
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Beyond Translation: Job and Isaiah at Ugarit? Part 2

In Part 1, I promised some Biblical examples of where translation alone fails to convey all the meaning an Israelite would have grasped. I’ve broken these examples into three fuzzy categories. 1) Israel is often described in the Torah as a “land flowing with milk and honey.” We probably all have milk and honey in our kitchen, yet not quite what is described here. In the Old Testament, milk doesn’t usually come from cows, and honey doesn’t come from bees. Cattle were primarily used for beef, while milk came primarily from goats, only rarely from cattle. Israelites didn’t raise... Read more »

Elder Cook and Theodicy

October 10, 2011 | 25 comments
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My last year at BYU, I sat through an Elders Quorum lesson where the teacher discussed the etymology of “atonement.” I was skeptical that it actually derived from “at-one-ment,” and, immediately after church ended, I walked across campus to the Writing Center, keyed in my code, and pulled out the Center’s OED. And, to my surprise, I learned that, although it looks suspiciously convenient, atonement does come from “at-one-ment.” Fast-forward a decade or more. I continue to be skeptical of stories that seem a little too pat and convenient, including Elder Cook’s story of the missionaries who didn’t board... Read more »

Sister Beck and Daughters in My Kingdom

October 9, 2011 | 7 comments
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Sister Beck and Daughters in My Kingdom

Having spent the past eight months in Tunisia, where our tiny L.D.S. group had very little formal structure, I had almost forgotten what it was like to go to a Church meeting without husband and children in tow. Attending the General Relief Society Meeting with a few friends was like a welcome home. I had found the new Daughters in My Kingdom book at my parents’ house when I arrived a few days before the General Relief Society Meeting, and somehow gotten the idea that it had come out months ago and was more or less required reading before... Read more »

LDS Men Aren’t Incredible

September 22, 2011 | 110 comments
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Wheat & Tares ran a fun post earlier this week titled LDS Men Are Incredible … although the URL string shows that the original draft title of the post was “Why Men Suck.” That kind of marks off the two ends of the spectrum, doesn’t it? That’s a nice lead-in for the question: What remarks are going to be directed at LDS men in next week’s General Conference? Read more »

Desert and a Just Society

September 18, 2011 | 99 comments
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The 2010 poverty level in the U.S., we learned on Tuesday, is the highest it has been since 1993. In 2010, about one in six Americans lived below the poverty line. In June, 14.6% of Americans received food stamps. To some extent, the high poverty rate is probably related to the high unemployment rate, which was 9.1% in August. I throw out all of these numbers to suggest that, as a society, we have a problem. That problem needs to be fixed. And we, as Mormons, undoubtedly have something that we can bring to the discussion of how to... Read more »

Creationism and LDS Seminary

September 15, 2011 | 66 comments
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Creationism and LDS Seminary

It’s late September and LDS high school students really should be back at school … and back at seminary. This year’s course of study is the Old Testament, which covers (or has already covered) Genesis 1 and the Creation. I hope LDS seminary teachers can teach Creation without teaching Creationism. But I fear some LDS teachers won’t or can’t make that distinction, so it is likely some LDS seminary students are going to go home this week thinking Creationism is the LDS view about Creation. That is very sad and sets up LDS kids to have a bad experience... Read more »

Mormonism and Social Justice

September 12, 2011 | 64 comments
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Recently, we’ve seen some distrust of religions that advocate social justice, from sources as diverse as the political punditry and lay Mormons. The criticism is unfounded, of course, and strikes me as ahistorical and anti-Catholic. The term “social justice” comes from 1840, when the Jesuit scholar Luigi Taparelli as he worked through the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. As you look at Jesuit schools’ mission statements, you begin to understand how central social justice is to the Jesuit identity. I teach at a Jesuit law school. Part of our mission is to “prepare graduates who will be ethical advocates for justice and... Read more »