“As far as we have any right to give.” A Note about Abraham Facsimile 2

The re-use of characters from JSP IX on Facsimile 2 doesn’t mean that the marginal characters in Abraham manuscripts A-C weren’t used in the translation. I think it actually makes it more likely that they were. Before I unpack what this means, you might want to read the published version of Tim Barker’s 2020 FAIR presentation or Jeff Lindsay’s summary.

Wilford Woodruff and Adoption Sealings

Wilford Woodruff was hugely important in the development of temple work as we understand it today. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, Jennifer Mackley (the executive director and CEO of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation) discussed some of the influence that Presisent Woodruff had on temple work. The interview covers a lot of ground, so this co-post is going to zoom in on one specific aspect–Priesthood Adoption Sealings.

Cowboy songs about Mormons?

Many people have said there’s a gigantic hole in Western US studies/histories. Outside of the realm of “Mormon Studies” very few scholars or historians want to touch Latter-day Saints (except for polemical reasons – Jon Krakauer and Sally Denton have tackled “Mormons”, but for polemical and intellectually suspect reasons). I’ve noticed this as well.  In a book I reviewed for the AML many years ago Class and Race in the Frontier Army, the only real mention of Utah was the Salt Lake Tribune objecting to a Black army officer on fairly racist grounds.  “Mormons” as such are barely acknowledged. Similarly, there are few Cowboy or Western songs about Mormons; “The Mormon Cowboy” is one happy exception.  However, I have recently discovered an artist that does fill this gap: Stan Bronson (a chance find – I bought a copy of his CD “Songs of Old San Juan” at Deseret Industries). 

What Would a Mormon Tarantino Be Like? AI and Mormon Fiction and Cinema

Library in the Eternities Note: I fully support President Nelson’s shift towards using the formal, Christ-centered name of the Church when discussing members of the Church and the institution. However, for specific references to artistic, culture-specific things I think “Mormon” is appropriate and is keeping in the spirit of the new direction. I hope nobody faults me for not using the name of the Savior when talking about horror cinema or seedy urban legends.    Sorry for another AI post, but I feel like aliens landed in the Rose Garden and only half the country is talking about it, so readers will have to bear with my preoccupation for a bit longer. One of the use cases of AI I’ve seen bantered about is as an idea generator, and I wanted to see how well it did in regards to Mormon fiction and cinema. Of course, ideas are cheap, and any author or moviemaker worth their salt has hundreds of ideas in their head, it’s getting the ideas to sing that is the hard part. Still, I wanted to see if GPT-4 just spat out cliched plot lines or was really capable of creativity. It looks like it’s mostly the former. Specifically, it looks like a pastiche of common tropes mashed together with Mormon themes. Still, the bar for novelty these days is quite low, and there are some gems that are intriguing, so in theory this could be useful for idea…

An MTC Experience

This excerpt comes from Under the Long White Cloud: A Missionary Memoir of New Zealand by Miles Farnsworth. It tells the story of a two-year Latter-day Saint mission, starting with President Thomas S. Monson’s historic policy announcement lowering the age of service for young men and women. The book is more a travelogue and coming-of-age story than doctrinal exegesis and explores the highs, lows, and emotional labor of serving a mission, as well as the culture of New Zealand. Note: Guest posts can be submitted by e-mailing us at [email protected].

Dear Non-Mormons, “Soaking” is Not a Thing

A homage to a past Mormon sexual urban legend I wrote earlier about the mythological practice of “soaking” in a post about faith demoting, sexual urban legends about Mormonism. Basically, “soaking” is a supposed practice where people have premarital sexual intercourse without thrusting, thus supposedly circumventing Latter-day Saint chastity regulations.  While on the Joe Rogan podcast (one of the most if not the most popular podcast in the world) recently, comedian Ari Shafir made reference to the Mormon practice of soaking. Intrigued that this myth hadn’t died down yet, I did a quick search and saw that there was a whole Wikipedia article on the subject (started by an anonymous account), and that this practice has been referred to in several television programs.  So just to be clear and on the record, this is not a thing in Mormon culture. The closest thing to an actual verified account of this that I’m aware of is Albert Carrington way back in 1885, who tried to use a similar chastity loophole at his disciplinary court (he was excommunicated anyway, obviously).   I previously took a nuanced, magnanimous approach to this issue,  but now I’m just going to be direct: anybody, Mormon or not, who thinks that not thrusting during coitus is some loophole in Mormon chastity rules is stupid, and anybody that thinks that this is an actual thing in Mormon culture is being similarly stupid.  That is all. 

Latter-day Saint Book Review: Merchants in the Temple; Inside Pope Francis’s Secret Battle Against Corruption in the Vatican

The story of the Vatican Bank and Vatican finances in general is a bit of a wild ride, the kind of thing can get you lost down Wikipedia rabbit holes for hours. I suspect the fact that the Vatican is its own state, combined with the fact that it’s managed by a coterie of clergy that don’t have much in the way of financial training, makes the Vatican Bank a place ripe for waste, mismanagement, and sometimes outright corruption. Sometimes people (including me) gripe about how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s leadership is disproportionately drawn from the managerial class, as if that’s the only skillset the Kingdom needs in its leadership. The managerial class come with their own problems (I doubt any cardinal would seriously float the idea of gutting St. Peter’s and destroying its art to make the celebration of Mass more efficient). However, it does have its own benefits, and the Vatican’s finances is perhaps a peek at what might happen if we put lifetime CES employees (or Maxwell Institute employees, if you prefer) in charge of running a multi-billion dollar operation.  In this book Nuzzi (the journalist who published the material from Pope Benedict’s butler’s papers) shows in detail how bad the situation is. It’s not even that they are running chronic deficits; it’s that they don’t even know how large the deficits are because the accounting is so bad. Various accounts (including personal…

Camille Fronk Olson on Women in the New Testament

The Bible is “the bedrock of all Christianity” and women play some very key roles in the stories that it shares. Camille Fronk Olson has worked to highlight these female Bible characters as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Olson discussed some of what she has learned about the women of the New Testament through her studies and work in writing Women of the New Testament. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

Mercy, kindness, and caring – a Sunday Sermon

At one point in his ministry, “an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.” He wanted to see what Jesus would answer, asking him: “Teacher … what must I do to inherit eternal life?” To this, Jesus responded with a question of his own: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” As an expert in the Law of Moses, the lawyer quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, saying: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.” To this, Jesus responded: “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” The lawyer wasn’t fully satisfied with the answer, however, and “wanting to vindicate himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Rather than responding with a question, this time Jesus responded with a parable: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and took off, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came upon him, and when he saw him he was moved with…

An Ode to Large Families

Preface: Why It’s Okay to Talk About Family Size Family size is one of those hyper-sensitive issues that people gingerly tip toe around in the Church, and with good reason. First, it abuts with the kind of cultural touchstone gender role issues that the Church has kind of soft preferences around but has generally avoided hard positioning on.  Second, it is directly tied to other highly personal areas such as mental and physical health, infertility, relationship quality, sex lives, and wealth. At an individual level, questioning why somebody has as few children as they do is a recipe for all sorts of interpersonal awkwardness and drama.  However, while it would be completely inappropriate to critique any individual’s family size, commentary about the average number of children in a society or community is fair game. Each of the above variables vary from individual to individual, but it’s arguable to what extent they have changed across time for society. At the end of the day you can’t attribute the decline in family size in the Church to a rash of infertility, and while people are often quick to blame the economic situation, research on child incentives show that they at most have a marginal effect of childbearing, and fertility has declined among high-income families as well. No, it is clear that the preferences for family size themselves have changed. Church members simply don’t want to have ten kids anymore, even if they…

The Princess Bride (As You Wish)

The Princess Bride’s relationship to the scriptures. Bear with me here.  This is not one of those “William Goldman [the author of the book and screenwriter for the movie] was LDS” things (like “Yoda is President Kimball” or whatever from other franchises). When I first read the book (which came before the movie), it shocked me.  I did not expect what I found. Almost everything from the movie was in there (although often in different ways – the famous “life is pain” quote comes from Fezzik’s parents in passing during a flashback, for example), but there was so much more.  There was a lot on “his” [scare quotes on purpose] dysfunctional family life, his career, his childhood, and a lot more plot in the actual tale of Buttercup.

Vengeance Is Mine

The story goes that J. Golden Kimball was once preaching to a crowd in the South and became concerned when he noticed that only men were present. As he opened his mouth to talk, however, All at once something came over me and I opened my mouth and said, . . . ‘Gentlemen, you have not come here to listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. . . . You have come to find out about the Mountain Meadows Massacre and polygamy, and God being my helper I will tell you the truth.’ And I did. I talked to them for one hour. When the meeting was out you could hear a pin drop. The Mountain Meadows Massacre is a topic that tends to have that effect, and a long-anticipated book on the topic is about to come out. Vengeance Is Mine: The Mountain Meadows Massacre and Its Aftermath by Richard E. Turley Jr. and Barbara Jones Brown is an exceptional and highly-recommended book that delves deep into the aftermath of the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre. The authors have done a remarkable job in presenting a comprehensive and detailed account of the massacre and its cover-up. The book is a follow-up to the 2008 publication Massacre at Mountain Meadows and takes readers on a journey through the aftermath of the gruesome massacre. It examines the attempts of the local southern Utah leaders to conceal their crime by suppressing witnesses and disseminating lies. Government…

The Decline in Latter-day Saint Fertility Over the Past Decade

While members of the Church are known for our large families, anecdotally it has seemed that Latter-day Saint childbearing has been cratering and that we’ve been losing a lot of our fertility advantage. The problem is, getting robust, current childbearing metrics requires a fairly large sample size because it requires capturing enough women who have had a child in the past year to get reliable numbers, and surveys that ask about religion aren’t even close to being large enough. So here I use Census Bureau data. Specifically, I’m assuming that if Latter-day Saint fertility (quick aside, for non-medical demography “fertility” means childbearing, not the ability to bear children) has been catering we’d see it in the numbers of Utah County and Madison County, Idaho (the county where BYU-Idaho is). Here I look at changes in the Total Fertility Rate. Without going into too much of the math, the TFR is the number of children across her lifetime a woman would have if she was exposed to all of the age-specific childbearing rates of that given year. In other words, if she lived her entire life in a setting like the year 2021, that’s how many children she would have. Here I use the ACS 5-year estimates for 2021, 2016, and 2011 for TFR. (My calculated US TFR is just a hair above the published estimates. I’m not sure, but I suspect that this is because I’m including the 45-50 age…

The Mountain Meadows Massacre Aftermath

One of the most significant books in Mormon studies being published this year is Rick Turley and Barbara Jones Brown’s Vengeance Is Mine: The Mountain Meadows Massacre and Its Aftermath. It’s been years coming, but is worth the wait. I’ll probably publish my own review next week, but wanted to highlight that Turley and Brown recently shared some about the book and the Mountain Meadows Massacre in an interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

Is the Church Too Popular?

Fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee; While the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous, shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under thy hand. Ye are…a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. And it came to pass that I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few, As a marginal religious minority we tend to crave a sort of mainstream acceptability that is always just beyond our grasp (or at some points in our history much, much farther than our grasp). However, a case can be made that this sort of outsider status is a feature, not a bug.  In the sociology of religion there’s a “strict churches are strong” hypothesis that suggests that, paradoxically, churches that are more strict are actually more vibrant, as demanding more from members winnows out less committed freeriding members. I sometimes wonder if there’s a “less popular Churches are stronger” effect for much the same reason.   When an institution carries a lot of cachet is attracts ambition, people who want to piggy back off the institution for their own personal glory, usually subsuming the missions and goals of the institution under their own personal desire for honors. The most obvious case in our own history is John C. Bennett…

Sherlock Holmes, “Mormons”, and Canon

The only other “And Philosophy” essay of mine that mentions the Church is in Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy, though I don’t discuss the obvious thing: the second half of “A Study in Scarlet” where evil Mormons use Danites to terrorize women in marriages with lecherous older men (incidentally, when a young’un, I read a version of “A Study in Scarlet” that cut out the “Mormon” bits as unnecessary, and – at the time – I didn’t even notice they were missing; it wasn’t until much later in life I found out about the evil Mormon/Danite section).

Is the Church Overbuilding Temples?

Growing up in the 90s, Church growth was conceptually tied to temple building, with announcements of additional temples assumed to be a proxy for the growth in temple attending members.  While we aren’t privy to the more precise numbers that would be required to know the true state of Church growth like the number of temple attenders broken down by age and year, from both inside and outside numbers we do have access to it’s clear that Church growth is not matching the growth in temples. I threw a graph together that looks at the number of temples and stakes relative to the base year of 1978. Temple growth up until the late 90s more or less tracked stake growth, then we see a huge jump near the end of the 90s. Better historians than I would have a better idea about this, but I assume the late-90s bump is from the shift to smaller temples, and the slope after the introduction of smaller temples was commensurately higher compared to stake growth.   Everything after 2022 for temples is speculative assuming three years for all temples under construction to be dedicated and assuming 6 years for all temples announced to be dedicated. Obviously it will be smoother, and I’m a little fuzzy on how long it actually takes to  build temples, but regardless of the particulars if you look at the sheer number of temples in the announced queue, there will…

Rebaptism in the Church

One of the interesting aspects of how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints approaches the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is that it is seen as a renewal of covenants. What may not be as widely known is that the idea of renewing covenants may have originally emerged in the Church in connection with the practice of rebaptism. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history and theology blog From the Desk, historians Jonathan Stapley and David Grua discussed Latter Day Saint rebaptism. What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

Scams in Zion, Part III: Utah is Indeed the Ponzi Scheme Capital of the US

It’s been a long time coming, but this is part III of a series on “Scams in Zion,” with part I (showing that Latter-day Saint-heavy counties have less fraud) here, and part II discussing our multilevel marketing problem here.    Here I’m directly addressing a particular kind of affinity fraud we’re known for: Ponzi schemes. I ran across a site where a financial lawyer fairly exhaustively tracks all known Ponzi schemes in the US over one million dollars and provides a helpful database. I went ahead and downloaded his file, pulled the number of people in each state from the Census Bureau, and created a “number of people per Ponzi Schemes” metric. (Nitty gritty, wonkish disclaimer: It’s slightly apples and oranges because I’m pulling the number of people from the most recent ACS 5-year estimates, whereas the Ponzi scheme database goes back to 2008, but for all practical purposes it doesn’t matter because the amount of variation within states across time is nothing compared to the variation between states).  According to this metric Utah is by far the highest state per capita for Ponzi schemes at one per 70,247, with the next highest being Nevada at one per 117,663.  I generated a map to show the variation across the country. Some of the very low Ponzi scheme states drown out a lot of the others, so to make it show more variation I quickly and simply set the very low…

Voice of the Saints in Mongolia

Voice of the Saints in Mongolia by Po Nien (Felipe) Chou and Petra Chou is an informative account of the establishment and growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mongolia. As the first comprehensive history of the Church in Mongolia, the book breaks historical ground and provides valuable insights into the challenges and blessings of bringing the gospel to a rugged, harsh climate and a people with deeply rooted (non-Christian) beliefs and traditions.

(Almost) Everyone Gets Battlestar Galactica Wrong….

The most cited article I’ve ever written was also my first professional publication: “Why Your Mormon Neighbor Knows More About This Shows Than You Do” in Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy from Open Court Press (not to be confused with the Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy from Blackwell Press). One reason I wrote that article was that while there were a few scattered articles, websites, and other venues that acknowledged LDS/Mormon influence on the original show (and the faint traces of it in the more recent version), nearly all of them got something wrong – often egregiously so.

“Oh God, Where Art Thou? (!)” On Anger at God

I had a season in my life when I was angry at God and it was more than a passing blip that was quickly buried under fear of getting struck by lightning. Anger at God is in some ways the summun malum of sin. Having moments of weakness that lead to poor decisions is one thing, but an act of conscious rebellion is rightfully put into a whole other category.  It was a dark season when it felt like we had a target on our back: financially we were sinking deeper into the red while it seemed like virtually everything that could go wrong with a house and car was going wrong, and then finally we had a severe medical emergency (retinal detachment) when we were waiting for health insurance to come in and were faced with risking permanent disability by waiting or destroying ourselves financially by having an uninsured surgery. There were other facets I won’t go into about being hurt by bad-faith actors, but suffice it to say there was definitely a “no good deed goes unpunished” aspect to this as well. I wasn’t actively, openly rebellious, but rather resigned and sort of passive-aggressively so.   In D&C 121 God conditions Joseph Smith’s benefits from his troubles on “endur[ing] it well.” For the most part I did not “endure it well.” However, a few points from this time in my life.      “Praying the hate away” is hard…