Author: Stephen C

Stephen Cranney is a Washington DC-based data scientist and Non-Resident Fellow at Baylor’s Institute for the Studies of Religion. He has produced seven children and almost 30 peer-reviewed articles. His research interests center on fertility intentions, sexuality, and the social psychology of religion.

Recent AI Updates, Scripture Study, and Church-Related Research

I was just granted access to the latest version of GPT-4 that allows for uploads of longer and a greater variety of files. A few thoughts. The take-home essay is history. It’s all blue books and oral quizzes now. A weaker version of GPT-4 can now upload books 300 pages long. Even if it’s not in the training set people can upload a PDF of a book and get it to write a B-level book report. (And no, AI detectors don’t work, they give a lot of false positives).  But enough inside undergraduate baseball, what implications does this have for gospel topics? We were already at the stage where you could upload a general conference talk and create an EQ lesson in seconds. These updates allow people to upload longer content. When I was doing the Maxwell Institute seminar with the Bushmans when I was in graduate school I spent an afternoon command+Fing through the Journal of Discourses to find pronatalist rhetoric of early Church leaders.  Of course, the problem with that is that you can have pronatalist rhetoric that doesn’t mention the word “child,” and you can have a lot of mentions of the word “child” that doesn’t have pronatalist rhetoric, so it was a lot of time, and to catch the really nuanced discussion and themes that didn’t have keyword triggers I’d have to schlog through the entire Journal of Discourses. (Indeed, while reading Michael Quinn’s work I was…

Is Elder Uchtdorf More Liberal?

A common belief in pop Salt Lake City Vaticanology is that Elder Uchtdorf is one of the more progressive members of the Quorum of the 12. This may be true, but for being such conventional wisdom there is very little hard data to back it up, which is the case for most speculations about the inner-workings of the Quorum of the 12 and First Presidency. While the mid-level Church Office Building leaks like a colander at times, very little verifiable information about the inner workings and personalities of the Quorum of the 12 and the First Presidency makes it to the public. They run a pretty tight ship.  This means speculation is based on tea leaves more than anything else. As far as I can tell, the belief that he’s more progressive is based on the data points of: He’s Western European. This seems to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Americans sometimes have this image of Europe as like us but all Coastal Democrat, when that’s not the case at all. In some ways Europe is more “conservative” than Rupert Murdoch’s wildest dreams. Cases in point: while the draft tore American society apart, many European countries with no discernible external security threats still required service in the military until fairly recently, various European governments pay religions directly out of tax money, and if I’m remembering correctly Iceland had some real legislative momentum towards banning pornography recently. Of course, what’s…

Temple Architectural Heritages: Los Angeles

The Los Angeles is an example of a “modern single spired design” like the Bern, Switzerland Temple and the London, England temple. It is also one of eight temples that have an assembly room. Being in the priesthood assembly hall–a large, cavernous room in the bright, holy context of a temple–is a special experience that I was able to have during the Washington DC temple rededication.

“Angels and Seerstones” and Latter-day Saint Folklore

Midjourney: Mormon missionaries and a dark spirit, in the style of Greg Olsen. (Because why not.) My memories of childhood “I swear my uncle heard that…” fantastic stories are still fresh enough in my memory for me to associate folklore and urban legends with a sort of enchanting nostalgia of a more magical time before devices where we’d gather around the campfire to share stories. Where my friend said it happened to his uncle, and my friend wouldn’t lie, so ipso facto of course Bloody Mary is going to crawl out of the mirror to try to rip out my eyes. While I’m uncomfortable with people conflating Mormon cultural tidbits with the gospel of Jesus Christ, at the end of the day it is my culture, and missions in particular seem like a perfect little laboratory for folklore development. Like Darwin’s finches, each variation of an urban legend becomes quasi-isolated within the mission boundaries and adds local flavor and variation. Mormon folklorist is one of (many) things I would absolutely love to do full-time in a parallel life if I didn’t have a large family and had to buy an awful lot of cheddar, and the chances of obtaining an R1 TT anthropology position wasn’t akin to being drafted into the NFL (if you think through the numbers involved you’ll find I’m not exaggerating). Still, BYU faculty couple Christine and Christopher Blythe have pulled it off, and have started a…

Pope Francis, Mid-Level Management, and Fruits

Lately the Catholic world has been abuzz about a Vatican-sponsored Synod where, according to the media, Pope Francis is challenging deeply held teachings. Of course, if one actually reads what Pope Francis is saying it’s more complicated, and a lot of the more sensational takes are just click bait. Pope Francis is not a throat slitter, and he’s treading carefully here. I’ve been confused at times by conservative Catholics taking issue with Pope Francis, since his statements have been more or less party line. He’s not, say, calling for female ordination or formally loosening up the Catholic Church’s restrictions on abortion or birth control, for example. However, I’ve learned the concern is not what he is saying–again, he is careful–but rather his actions, promotions, and decision-making. While he might not say the quiet part out loud in regards to changing the Catholic Church’s position on gender, sex, celibacy, and authority the people he’s been promoting in the US Church and elsewhere most certainly have, and it’s happening enough that it’s pretty clear to Vatican watchers where his sympathies lie; his official, carefully crafted statements notwithstanding. This got me thinking about our own situation. Years ago I was at a lecture sponsored by a Church-adjacent organization. One of its leaders was fairly well known for being of a certain ideologica/theological bent, and during the discussion somebody of another ideological bent but higher up on the org chart  walked in (but not that high,…

Near Death Experiences and the Gospel

When people refer to “Near Death Experiences” in a spiritual context they are generally referencing a phenomenon that happens across cultural, religious, and social contexts where people who are close to death experience some sort of numinous experience. What exactly an NDE consists of varies from experience to experience, but there are some common themes:  A feeling of overwhelming peace and love A bright light The sensation of being lifted out of their body Meeting loved ones Meeting some kind of a divine being who reviews their life The themes match up enough with Latter-day Saint thought that I’m open to there being something there. People who have undergone NDEs often experience major positive changes to their life outlook and priorities afterwards, valuing relationships and spiritual matters more than this-worldly concerns. For a small minority their purported glimpses of the other side are darker.  NDEs are common and well-established enough that they are one of those extremely rare spiritual experiences that lend themselves to empirical investigation and are considered legitimate and real by scientists (and not in the same way that you can find a handful of scientists willing to take ESP seriously, for example).  NDEs are a real thing, now what they are is what divides the believers from the naturalists, with more naturalistically inclined people attributing them to some explosion of chemicals that might happen near death, and more spiritually inclined people attributing them to more spirit than…

Temple Architectural Heritages: Manti

From Wikipedia: The Manti Temple is “Castellated Gothic.” From the Church website: “A castellated style reflects construction influences of Gothic Revival, French Renaissance Revival, French Second Empire and colonial architecture.”

Temple Architectural Heritages: Cardston

I’ve always had a sort of passing interest in temple architectural history and design, so I thought I’d get Chat-GPT-V’s take on the possible architectural influences of different temples by uploading an image, asking it to “explain the architectural influences of this building and provide examples of buildings typifying these influences. Discuss non-LDS-specific architectural themes.” I hand-added images of the example buildings.I make no claim as to what exactly inspired the architect in each particular case. From Wikipedia: It is one of eight temples that does not have an angel Moroni statue, and one of six without spires, similar to Solomon’s Temple. It is also one of only two temples the church built in the shape of a cross, the other being the Laie Hawaii Temple. [STC: It is worth noting that Catholic and other Christian churches are often built in the shapes of crosses]. STC Addendum: Commenters below noted Frank Lloyd Write’s influence on the Cardston temple, specifically his Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois. From the picture below, the resemblance is pretty clear.  This building showcases an intriguing mix of architectural styles, but certain key characteristics stand out: 1. **Art Deco**: The emphasis on vertical lines, stylized and geometric decorative elements, and the layering and stepping of the building’s profile are reminiscent of Art Deco. This architectural style, which gained popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, is known for its combination of modern styles with fine craftsmanship and luxurious materials. 2.…

BYU and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

Apparently in about a week BYU will host a “Women’s Empowerment Event” that is a local variation of similar such events that are being held around the country. Looking at the invites and speakers for the most part it looks like a pretty typical DEI-type event with a bunch of corporate sponsors and speakers such as the Utah Women and Leadership Project, the United Way, and BYU Women’s Services. That’s fine.  The surprising detail is that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit appears to be one of the primary participants, with their models keynoting one of the two panels.  Now, I would love to see a public, BYU-sponsored panel where the Relief Society President had, say, a dialogic, back-and-forth discussion/debate with an SI model about the nature of female empowerment in society, and the fact that somebody is an SI model does not make them unqualified to speak on such a subject.  However, this does not appear to be one of those types of events, but rather a more generic “ra ra girl power, brought to you by Maybelline” type conference. As such, the involvement of SI models alongside famously sexually conservative BYU and Church leaders is a clear case of reputation laundering, as seen on Sports Illustrated’s website where they make sure to state that “numerous senior members of BYU athletics and Church of Latter Day Saints [give them a break, given the state of journalism today they probably can’t afford a copy editor] will…

Temple Architectural Heritages: Kirtland

I was just given access to Chat-GPT’s image upload functionality. I’ve always had a sort of passing interest in temple architectural history and design, so I thought I’d get Chat-GPT’s take on the possible architectural influences of different temples, asking it to “explain the architectural influences of this building and provide examples of buildings typifying these influences. Discuss non-LDS-specific architectural themes.” I hand-added images of the example buildings.I make no claim as to what exactly inspired the architect in each particular case. Colonial Revival: The symmetry of the building, the arrangement of windows in a regular pattern, and the classical gable on the central portion of the facade are reminiscent of the Colonial Revival style. This style was popular in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and sought to revive elements of American colonial architecture. Examples include the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and numerous homes and buildings throughout New England. Federal Style: The arched windows and the decorative detailing around them are reminiscent of the Federal style, which was prevalent in the United States between 1780 and 1830. The style is characterized by its use of symmetry and classical motifs. The Octagon House in Washington, D.C., is a prime example of this style. Gothic Revival: The building’s pointed arch windows on the upper floor and the tower are reminiscent of Gothic Revival, a style that was popular in the 19th century and inspired by medieval…

Temple Architectural Heritages: Provo

I was just given access to Chat-GPT’s image functionality. Now you can upload images and have it answer questions about it. (Yes, I know, but bear with me, after this I think it will be a while before we have anything fundamentally new in the AI space, so this might be my last AI series for a while).  I’ve always had a sort of passing interest in temple architectural history and design, so I thought I’d get Chat-GPT’s take on the possible architectural influences of different temples, asking it to “explain the architectural influences of this building and provide examples of buildings typifying these influences. Discuss non-LDS-specific architectural themes.” I hand-added images of the example buildings. I’m not an expert, but it appears to have basically gotten it right, although I make no claim as to what exactly inspired the architect in each particular case. 1. **Modernism**: The building’s clean lines, large flat surfaces, and minimal ornamentation are indicative of modernist architecture. Modernism emerged in the early 20th century and was a response to ornate Victorian and Edwardian styles, emphasizing function and the use of new construction technologies. – *Example*: The Villa Savoye in France by Le Corbusier is a prime example of modernist architecture with its emphasis on functionalism and the use of reinforced concrete. 2. **Classicism**: The building shows simplified elements of classical architecture. Symmetry, proportion, and the use of columns or pilasters are reminiscent of ancient Greek and Roman buildings. –…

Latter-day Saint College Students Are Very Republican

I think I have mentioned before that I am a huge Ryan Burge fan. Ryan Burge is an Associate Professor of something or another at some college or another, but the point is that he is the preeminent go-to for journalists on data visualizations and insights into the sociology of religion in the United States. He recently posted a graph from the very large FIRE survey of college students showing political partisanship by religion, and it looks like our college students are the most Republican of any other religious group. Now, a few things. First, he didn’t formally report the significance for every pairwise comparison, so strictly speaking it’s unclear if we can say that we are #1, but still, the sample size is large enough that I think we’re okay assuming that we’re highly Republican. Second, he groups all “Protestants” together, but it would be interesting to see how we land when compared to, say, self-identified evangelicals or Southern Baptists, etc. However, since the FIRE survey isn’t focused on religion I doubt they got that granular. Still, overall I’m surprised since I thought that some of our rumored anti-Trumpism (relatively speaking, as a traditionally conservative religion) would hedge our Republican identification somewhat, but I suspect that, for all the problems pushing us away from the Republican Party, it’s not like there aren’t any barriers to Latter-day Saints flocking to the political left either.    

The New Pornography… and Everybody Has a Personal Language Tutor Now

The ideal husband, according to Midjourney In the movie “Her” the Joaquin Phoenix character develops a relationship with an AI during a messy divorce. Released about a decade ago, the movie addresses philosophical themes about personhood and relationships that at the time seemed interesting in a philosophy class thought experiment way, but not really relevant to our day-to-day.  Well, I just got access to Chat-GPT’s new voice function, and we’re there now. Admittedly, it does still pause before answering, but besides that there’s very little that would distinguish it from a real human being. The staccato-like speech that characterized previous computer speech is completely gone, and you can all-too-easily forget that you’re talking to an AI. Today while washing dishes I talked to it about what I would need to do logistically to pull off an Arctic trip I’ve always wanted to go on, earlier this week I did missionary “door approaches” on it, and later we had a ten minute conversation in Spanish. Overnight most of the world got access to a personal language tutor in whatever language they want, and Star Trek’s universal translator is now a reality.  But in the aggregate I am more concerned than anything, especially as the father of sons I want to raise to live a gospel-patterned life. In the same way that pornography can displace real sexual relationships, AI chatbots have the potential to displace real emotional relationships, aggravating the personal relationship…

Some of my Best Friends Are…, or Representation in our Wards

I thought it would be interesting to run some basic numbers on how many people from different groups we could expect in our wards and other associations if they were representative. There are a number of takeaways here. First, if there aren’t this many people in your ward, Elder’s Quorum, or what have you, then your Church experience is non-representative of the US and that should be acknowledged. Second, in the case of demographics that aren’t as easily visible or selective by religion these numbers give a reasonable estimate of how many of these different groups are in your wards and quorums, whether you’re aware of them or not. I’m looking at several tiers of associations. First, from cursory Googling around it looks like the average American has about four close friends. So for the “some of my best friends” line you have four shots on average. Second, the median number of Facebook friends is about 200, this is close to Dunbar’s Number, which speculative evolutionary psychology suggests is the standard number of people we have the cognitive bandwidth to maintain social associations with. Third, I’m assuming an average ward (again with wide variation, I might be off, I’ve never been a ward membership clerk) has about 100 consistent sacrament meeting attenders. I’m also looking at several tiers of probabilities. Of course, in putting, say, racial or sexual minorities next to people with mental health or crime histories I’m not…

OUR, Tim Ballard, and the Church

Like many I’ve been recently drawn to the hard-to-look-away car crash that is the Tim Ballard/OUR saga. I am very disconnected from the conservative Utah zeitgeist that’s given rise to this debacle, and I haven’t done a deep dive into the particulars, but in a sense that makes my perspective not worthless on a meta-level in terms of messaging, since I think my experience mirrors that of most members on the street who only have a casual familiarity with what’s going on.   A few things can be true at once, as much as people try to pigeonhole these types of things into a grand confirmation of their ideological identities and repudiation of their enemies’. There are a handful of people who are so patently scheisters in the Mormon space that you don’t have to have a lot of discernment to see them for what they are, but evidently a lot of people don’t pass even that minimal bar. On the right there are certain former Utah politicians, and on the left there are certain thought leader types in the current and former Mormon communities. From the little bit that I have seen and heard of Tim Ballard there’s something off about him personally.   However, there is some validity to complaints about the Church spokesperson vaguely alluding to some sin without due process or concrete specifics, and I wonder if some among the Church professionals feel like they can take the…

Do People “Follow the Prophet” When it Goes Against Their Ideology? A Quantitative Analysis of Vaccines in Utah

I’ve had a sense for a while now that people tend to exaggerate the influence of the Church on Latter-day Saint and Utah politics. Its influence is important to be sure, but some have this image that half of Utah is ready to jump when 50 North Temple Street says jump, and I’ve always thought it’s more complicated than that. Case in point, was there a discernible bump in vaccinations in Utah after the Church officially endorsed getting the COVID vaccine? I looked at the total number of vaccinations administered by state across time in Utah and nearby, non-LDS states (Colorado, Utah, Kansas, New Mexico, and Montana) from the CDC data. I looked at two dates in particular: when President Nelson received the vaccine and posted about it on Facebook (January 9, 2021), and when the First Presidency officially endorsed receiving the COVID vaccination (August 12, 2021). The first date was so close to the beginning of the data (and at a time when vaccinations were not very available anyway) that I’m not putting a lot of weight on that one. Also, I’m on the record as being very anti Utah=LDS, but in this case we simply don’t have vaccination status/affiliation time-trend data that I’m aware of, so the other half of Utah may be watering down an LDS effect. In the graph below (apologies for its size. For some reason the JPEG isn’t playing nice with WordPress so I had to…

Top Gospel-Related Songs and Some Top Renditions

Orchestra of Angels I’m not a musical person. I was started on the classical guitar quite early and became decently proficient at it by the time I was in Jr. High, but I just didn’t have the fire to practice for hours like many in the music world have. I enjoy a good tune, but I can’t tell the difference between, say, Mozart and something a graduate student would write (I actually wonder if musicologists couldn’t without pre-existing knowledge of Mozart’s musical corpus and it’s emperors with no clothes all the way down, but I digress).  However, there is some music whose greatness is self-evident, and you don’t need musical training to recognize and appreciate how spiritually moving it is. Below is my own list, along with examples of moving renditions Come Thou Font The classic rendition of this we always listened to growing up, which is still my favorite, is the version in the BYU Choir’s Thanksgiving of American Folk Hymns way back when. This was in the hymn book, but was taken out, and I hope the new one will have it in again.  Ode to Joy Piano Guys did a fun version of this, but it’s also worth listening to the full orchestral version. Hallelujah Chorus The Church put together the largest virtual Hallelujah Chorus of all time. Traditionally one stands for the Hallelujah Chorus. I heard it was because a king stood out of respect when it…

Latter-day Saint Book Review: Saqiyuq, Stories from the Lives of Three Inuit Women

Saqiyuq is an oral history of three generations of Inuit women who lived on Baffin Island near Greenland. Of particular interest to me was the grandmother matriarch’s history, since, born in 1931, she provided a first-hand account of the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle where people starved or not depending on the ebb and flow of the caribou herds, all the way to snowmobiles and state schools. A few observations/excerpts apropos to this blog: 1) Apphia, the grandmother matriarch, provided an account of the competition between the Anglican and Catholic missionaries for Inuit converts, with nearly all the non-Inuit in their lives being missionaries.  One side effect of Latter-day Saint missionary work tending to go through the front door legally, and of always having so many more accessible people than we have missionaries for, is that for the most we haven’t been part of the race to find, contact, and convert indigenous peoples with no previous knowledge of Christianity. There’s a whole culture that grew up around missionary bushwacking with a machete in one hand and a bible in the other that we just haven’t been a part of. For the most part we haven’t been the first ones to introduce Christianity to a people, and there wasn’t much of a chance of a missionary companionship being assigned to Sentinel Island  or to The Man in the Hole. 2) How to be respectful of indigenous traditions while proselytizing is a…

Meditation and the Gospel

The Listener, by James Christensen Meditation is one of those practices with religious roots that has managed to become popular even in very secular, non-believing spaces, but I haven’t really caught the meditation bug. I’ve done a few guided meditations and have enjoyed them, but in terms of stress release I’d rather just get a massage or play soccer. On a recent podcast I listened to the guest mention that he had tried the floating tank fad and “just got bored.” It was one of those moments when you hear somebody confirm something you haven’t been able to admit to yourself or articulate and you realize that you’re not alone.   However, I realize I probably haven’t given real, substantive meditation a chance. In my comparative religion class at BYU, the great Roger Keller put the class through a guided meditation session, and his account of his own meditation retreat at a Buddhist monastery where he spent days clearing his mind was intriguing. According to him and other accounts I’ve heard, because we’ve swum in a monkey-mind world for so long we don’t even understand what a calm, focused, composed mind feels like (and this was before Twitter), and it takes a lot of intentional meditation time to really do a thorough, Marie Kondo cognitive housecleaning.   Could I become more sensitive to the whisperings of the spirit if I cleared out the detritus in my mind? I’m open to it, and look…

Cutting Edge Latter-day Saint Research, August 2023

A monthly piece summarizing all recent, peer-reviewed scholarly articles and books published on Latter-day Saints.  Bushman, Richard Lyman. Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates: A Cultural History. Oxford University Press, 2023. The venerable Richard Bushman’s latest; a cultural history on the golden plates as artifacts. He’s been working on this for years. “Bushman examines how the plates have been imagined by both believers and critics—and by treasure-seekers, novelists, artists, scholars, and others—from Smith’s first encounter with them to the present. Why have they been remembered, and how have they been used? And why do they remain objects of fascination to this day?” Fenton, Elizabeth. “The Book of Mormon and Book History.” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 32 (2023): 74-96. It’s paywalled, so it’s hard to know what it’s about.  Oman, Nathan B. “Property and the Latter-day Saint Tradition.” William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. Forthcoming (2023). Theological and historical exploration of Mormon perceptions of property and their ambiguities.   Oman, Nathan B. “‘A Welding Link of Some Kind’: A Minimalist Theology of Same-Sex Marriage Sealings.” Nathan B. Oman, Law and the Restoration: Law and Latter-day Saint History, Thought, and Scripture (Salt Lake City, Utah: Kofford Books, Forthcoming) (2023). Theological exploration of the possibility of same-sex sealings. “This essay canvases the history of Latter-day Saint sealing rules and practices and argues that when viewed in their entirety, it is difficult to map these practices on to a particular model of…

Pascal’s Wager and the Restored Gospel

Hell to Heaven We Latter-day Saints hold to a rather benign form of hell. I think this a feature, with traditional hell being the ultimate bug. However, one implication of our benign afterlife of second chances is that arguably this-worldly religious decisions have less “import.” If your decision to not be baptized leads to you burning in traditional hell for all eternity, that’s different then if you spend some time in spiritual prison while you are instructed and spiritually sensitized in preparation for receiving eternal ordinances.  While the Latter-day Saint framework makes more sense to me in terms of mercy and reason, it does attenuate Pascal’s Wager for us. (Pascal’s Wager is the idea that everybody should be a religious believer because the cost of being wrong [hell] is eternally greater than the cost of being wrong in a universe without God). Pascal’s Wager smells funny and smacks of spiritual blackmail, but logically it seems pretty airtight.  As a child I remember brooding on the issue before I ran across it formally (in saying this I’m not claiming I’m some Pascal–I’d wager many if not most thought experiments or theoretical concepts have been thought up by many random children before some 19th century white guy was the first one to put it in a book in a particular part of the world and have the concept forever attached to his name. Besides, Pascal is Pascal for much more than this…

Will Nobody Think of the Children! Hypocrisy and the November Policy

Pearls Being Clutched I vaguely recall when I was younger learning about the special restrictions put in place in regards to Church membership for people from a polygamous background. I could think of a few narrow cases where I didn’t think the restrictions were necessary, but they would have been such a small portion of everything that goes on that I didn’t give it more than a passing thought.  Fast forward to November 2015. The Church very explicitly connected the November Policy of Consistency to the long-standing policy regarding polygamous children. Again, I had had some reservations about the latter, but if that was going to be the policy I didn’t see why the rationales wouldn’t have also applied to children of same-sex couples given the unique intersectional issues at play.  Now, some could argue that there are fundamental differences-in-kind vis-a-vis our 2023 doctrine between polygamous and same-sex couples, and there might be, but I just don’t care. They’re simply irrelevant to the argument that was being invoked by the policy’s detractors, which hinged on the idea that the children were being punished for the sins of their parents.  This argument always smelled a little of bad faith since a lot of the people making it clearly did not believe that the parents were, in fact, in a state of sin, but the bad faith became even more clear when the polygamy policy that the rule was based on seemed…

Latter-day Saint Book Review: Seizing Power, The Strategic Logic of Military Coups

  Seizing Power by political scientist Naunihal Singh is the preeminent scholarly work on coups d’etat. In it, Singh pairs in-depth investigations of coup attempts in Africa and Russia with a quantitative analysis of correlates of successful coups worldwide. He finds that coups can largely be characterized as coordination games, where military commanders often join the side that they think will win. If they choose correctly their power increases, if they choose wrongly they will probably be executed or imprisoned, so perception becomes everything and both sides of a coup have an incentive to exaggerate their level of support within the state apparatus. This is all fascinating but, to paraphrase Elder Uchtdorf, “what does this have to do with the Church?”  Below are several episodes in Church history where the themes discussed in Singh’s work were at play. As a disclaimer, I am NOT comparing Spencer W. Kimball or (most of) the others in this list to military coup leaders, and I do not want to overdraw the comparison between the Church and an unstable government. Rather, the point here is the principles involved even if the contexts are vastly different.  Attempted Take Over of the Kirtland Temple  With that disclaimer, this episode is the one that could probably be accurately described as an attempted coup. During the Kirtland Safety Society debacle, The Martin Harris/Waren Parish splinter group literally tried to occupy the Kirtland temple with weapons. Singh discusses how…

Latter-day Saint Book Review: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

Regrets of the Dying The Top Five Regrets of the Dying was a bestselling book by a palliative care nurse who spent a lot of time with patients as they were passing away. I’m not going to recommend it as a book; the writing isn’t the best and it gets kind of repetitious, but the idea sparked an interest in me on taking an end-of-life perspective, which seems like one of the more accurate lenses through which to view things big picture. Here I’ll go through each regret with commentary on how it interrelates with the gospel and gospel living. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This one is common in leaving Mormonism narratives, and it definitely has something to it. I’m an orthodox member, but for adults who simply don’t believe but are ensconced in heavily Latter-day Saint circles I totally get it. I do feel like the pressures are much less now with the great opening up of the world with the Internet. Patent non-believers typically don’t go on missions anymore, for example, when that wasn’t unheard of, say, 20 years ago. For believers, a purely distilled deathbed faith, stripped of any concern whatsoever of what Bishop, President, or Elder so and so thinks of us seems like the ideal to strive for in our day to day walk with God. However, the single-minded focus…

Early Utah Was Relatively Egalitarian

In partnership with the Church, IPUMS (Integrated Public Use Microdata Series) has recently made the entire 1850-1890 set of census data available in tabular (spreadsheet) form for analysis. While individual records have been available for some time, as has a 1% sample of the quantitative data, this new development allows us to download all of the census responses for the 19th century at once. As you can imagine, this is a fairly large file, but if you subset Utah it is much more manageable. The wonderful IPUMS folks have harmonized the different questions asked across time so that you can make comparisons across decennial censuses. In a previous post I discussed race in early Utah. In this post I’ll discuss what the Census Bureau data has to say about inequality (or equality, as we’ll see) in early Utah. As far as I can tell, the IPUMS data doesn’t have much in way of economic variables that extend all the way from the 19th into the 20th centuries. The exceptions are occupation scores, these are numeric socioeconomic scores that are assigned to particular occupations based on 1950s data. Here we use the Duncan Socioeconomic Index in particular. There is some controversy about these measures that I’m not terribly well read up on, but I see them enough that I assume they have some validity. I’m sure cross-century comparisons also complicate some things, so here I’m including various additional states as a…

The Active Afterlife of the Restored Gospel

Vietnamese depiction of the Pure Land, the Mahayana Buddhist paradisiacal afterlife Egyptian depiction of the Field of Reeds, the ancient Egyptian paradisiacal afterlife While I’m open to the idea of “sacred envy,” where we see things in other faith traditions and communities that we wish we had, that shouldn’t prevent us from recognizing places where we feel our own faith gets it right where most don’t; it is the faith we have chosen after all. Some of the big ones here for me are: Heavenly Mother, collapsing the ontological distance between divinity and humanity, and an active afterlife.   I have a casual interest in artistic, cultural, and religious depictions of the afterlife and paradise (and, as a related note, in the fact that Near Death Experiences often tap into the person’s religion-dependent version of the afterlife, but another post for another day). They can be genuinely inspiring; for example, Gladiator’s depiction of the Elysian fields or The Northman’s depiction of Valhalla and yes, Touched by an Angel. A defining characteristic running through the paradisiacal depictions of classical faiths is largely one of rest, and I get it. In societies where the vast majority of the population is scrapping by along the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, having ground that brings forth fruit spontaneously without weeds makes sense as the most ideal existence imaginable, and a long time of blissful rest especially makes sense when I think of people I know who…

Weaponizing Church Titles Against the Church, and Passive Aggressive Clichés

Recently I’ve done a series of posts explicitly identifying different rhetorical strategies used in social media spaces around Church topics (One on apologizing for others, and one on disingenuously citing prophets and invoking one’s church heritage). I didn’t mean for it to be an ongoing series, but I’ve just been noticing these more and more, so if you’ll indulge me for two more (for now)… First, On social media spaces it has been common for people (often outwardly very Mormon-y) to communicate commonsensical truisms as if they are somehow deep or controversial as opposed to just reminding us of the basics. While the message themselves are indeed important, implying that the message is somehow edgy is kind of passive aggressively jerk-ish towards the community towards which it is directed.   “Jesus would have loved LGBTQ members, and our wards should too” then to top it off they sometimes do that super annoying little hands prayer emoji.  Midjourney’s depiction of “an insincere looking Mormon who smiles too much” Of course this statement is true, but that’s exactly the point. Even the most obnoxiously conservative high priest agrees with it, so implying that it’s going to rock our world is actually rather insulting in a mean-spirited way, and just raises the question of what they are actually trying to say (Again, this isn’t directed towards people emphasizing the basics for their own sake.)  Sometimes one senses that they are trying to do a…