Utah, Mormons and Bankruptcy

Utah has the dubious honor of leading the nation in personal bankruptcy rates. According to the Salt Lake Tribune 1 in 37 households in Utah is insolvent. I suspect that this high level of bankruptcy filings may be what has been behind some recent words on debt in general conference. In 1998, President Hinckley counseled: I urge you, brethren, to look to the condition of your finances. I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage. More recently, he said: We have been counseled again and again concerning self-reliance, concerning debt, concerning thrift. So many of our people are heavily in debt for things that are not entirely necessary. When I was a young man, my father counseled me to build a modest home, sufficient for the needs of my family, and make it beautiful and attractive and pleasant and secure. He counseled me to pay off the mortgage as quickly as I could so that, come what may, there would be a roof over the heads of my wife and children. I was reared on that kind of doctrine. I urge you as members of this Church to get free of debt where possible and to have a little laid aside against a rainy day. Obviously, there is a great deal of truth to…

A Whole Lot More on Natural Law

In a mad attempt to throw together Kaimi’s post on the “Christian Right” and Nate’s post on natural law, while also tossing in a bit about Catholic and Protestant theology… A few years ago I dug a little into a group called the World Congress of Families. It, like United Families International, has its roots in a loose network of politically conservative churches that saw the United Nations as beholden to an anti-traditionalist agenda. This is hardly a new complaint; it dates back to the 1960s and 70s, where you can find old John Birch Society stuff warning against the “unisex” and collectivist designs of the U.N. But it really seems to have picked up steam in the 1990s, perhaps because the weight of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic hierarchy really began to be added to the agenda (especially in regards to the role of U.N. agencies in promoting birth control and “family planning” (i.e., abortion rights)). Whatever the reason, a lot of groups joined the bandwagon. At some point in there, some LDS lawyers began participating, setting up their own parallel organizations and writing and publishing a lot on the anti-traditionalism implicit in the evolving international law regime. (Bruce Hafen gave a big speech at one of their conferences in Europe on the “natural” role of mothers and how the main U.N. documents of women’s rights is either oblivious or hostile to that role.) Of course, with the…

Noel Reynolds, Natural Law, and the Personalized Good

One of my favorite former professors, Noel Reynolds, dropped by and left some very interesting comments on natural law. He begins by faulting the Thomistic natural law tradition for beginning its analysis with Aristotelianism rather than the scriptures, noting that in the scriptures it is either God’s command or our covenant with him that provides moral direction, not nature. Noel goes on to ask: And yet, the plan of salvation does presume the necessity of some disposition within us to seek after good or evil. And our salvation depends on the choice we will make. Or is that already a hellenized way of putting it? For other scriptures pose this alternative as choosing to obey the Father or the devil. So is God pursuing the Good, or is he laboring to build a universe committed to doing what he believes is good? Whatever might lie behind it, the latter seems to be the view provided by him to mortals. I tend to be suspicious about abstractions like the Good, particularity when we posit them as what “really” lies behind God’s actions. The basic solution of the Christian tradition to this problem has been to identify God with the Good, but this has had a tendency to lead to the sorts of metaphysical definitions of God that Mormons (and others) have historically found problematic. (Note Noel’s hesitancy about hellenization). However, I wonder if it might still be possible to solve the…

Should Mormons consider the “Christian Right” as friends?

It seems to me that church members are becoming enamored of the political groups which are often identified “Christian Right” — politically powerful, vocally conservative groups like the Family Research Council, American Family Association, and Focus on the Family. I receive many e-mail messages from family members, forwarding petitions or other communiques from such groups. Matt Evans, of our blog and other blogs’ fame, has written about positive experiences he has had in communicating with one such group. I can certainly see why Mormons are drawn to these groups. Such organizations are well-organized and able to wield political power. They appear to be “on our side” in the perceived culture wars. And if such groups disagree on doctrinal matters — things like the nature of the Book of Mormon or of Joseph Smith — well, those are little things which can be ignored for now. Right? Despite these similarities, I am deeply doubtful that much good can come from these groups. It appears to me that, if such groups are prepared to send gays out of town on the first train — a goal many church members would probably support — that the groups are nevertheless also ready to send Mormons out on the second train. For example, Professor Eric Rasmussen at Indiana caught a lot of flack for his suggestion that homosexuals not be permitted to teach. Christian groups weighed in supporting Rasmussen, and many Mormons may have felt…

My (Mormon) Hang-up with (Opposition to) Gay Marriage

Hello all. My thanks for Nate for inviting me (if only for a while) to participate in this blog, and thanks for the introduction Kaimi. Speaking of such, I notice that Times and Seasons started off without any general explanations or identifying comments. Is that a policy, or just because it was assumed that most everyone who might read this blog would know who all the participants are? Either way, I feel foolish jumping into a conversation without doing a little of the usual sacrament-meeting-“let me tell you a little bit about myself”-routine. So anyway…my name’s Russell Arben Fox; I’m married to Melissa Madsen Fox; we have two daughters, with a third due in about two weeks. I live in Jonesboro, AR, and teach political philosophy and other stuff at Arkansas State University. I’m originally from Spokane, WA; my wife is from Ann Arbor, MI; we met and married while students at BYU, which I attended from 1987-1994, with a break in there for a mission to South Korea. We’ve lived in the southern U.S. for either 2 1/2 or 8 1/2 years now, depending on if you include the Virginia suburbs of D.C. (where we lived while I worked on my Ph.D. at Catholic University of America) in “the South.” Everything else you might want to know about me or my family can be found at either of the links Kaimi provided. Ok, that’s enough. Kaimi’s post on gay…

Race, History, and Teaching in the Church

I had an experience today related to Kaimi’s discussion of race and hymns. I am the new Elders’ Quorum Instructor in our ward, which like Kaimi’s includes a substantial number of recent, African-American converts. I was teaching from the first chapter of the John Taylor manual, and during my preparation, I decided to pull the full text of the sermons that are quoted in that chapter. It turns out the bulk of the chapter is taken from a really wonderful sermon given by John Taylor in 1860. One of my pet peeves is the way in which we tend to take full sermons and chop them up into paragraph sized thoughts in our lesson manuals. In particular, John Taylor was a lucid and organized thinker and you lose something by not reading the full text of his sermon. Thus, I was excited to find that most of chapter one comes from a single sermon and that the sermon is short enough that at least some people would read it and appreciate it. I decided to make a copy of the sermon and distribute as a hand out in my class. The problem comes in the last paragraph, where Elder Taylor is rebuking the Latter-day Saints for their swearing and drinking. He said: There is nothing smart about all of this. A negro, a Hottentot, or an Indian can do that. There is nothing in these practices that bespeaks an intelligent…

Another post about hymns

Greg’s recent post about hymns made me think again about an issue I’ve been reminded of every several months for the past two years. I live in the Bronx, and my ward has somewhat unusual demographics. It is probably 60% African-American, including the Bishop and First Counselor, which I had never seen in a U.S. ward before. It is also very much a mission-field ward, with maybe a third of its members having belonged to the church for more than four or five years. With the ward’s demographic mix and the members’ relative lack of church experience, subjects like Blacks and the priesthood are particularly sensitive. Two years ago, I was sitting in General Conference (priesthood session, as I recall) and we turned to page 59 to sing that old standard, “Come, O Thou King of Kings.” I had probably sung it dozens of times before, never really paying much attention. We sang along up to verse four. Suddenly the text seemed to jump out of the page at me. I was sitting next to a newly-baptized African-American member, and hoped that he would be paying little attention, as we sang: Hail! Prince of life and peace! Thrice welcome to thy throne While all the chosen race Their Lord and Savior own The heathen nations bow the knee And ev’ry tongue sounds praise to thee. The new member said nothing, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Nevertheless, I was…

Response to Nate on the Plurality of Divinity

I don’t see it. You view Paulsen’s position as a “rejection of the idea that God the Father had a father who then had a father and so on ad infinitum,” but nothing in the excerpts you have quoted seems inconsistent with that notion. Perhaps you are resting on this statement: “There is only one … fount of divinity.” Obviously, Paulsen is attempting to respond to the idea that Mormons are polytheistic — a most grievous sin in the eyes of some so-called Christians. But whether God the Father is Himself part of a larger plan does not seem to be addressed at all by this statement. For our purposes, He is the sole “fount of divinity.” If there are other founts of divinity for other people not within our realm is irrelevant to me, which is why, I suppose, we do not have more information about that possibility.