Dave's Mormon Inquiry Weblog
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  Wednesday, March 10, 2004

I'm now in the process of moving this site to a new location: Dave's Mormon Inquiry at Typepad.  Change is good.  With the new platform I will be able to add fun things like comments, nice clean links that light up when you touch them, and other fancy Movable Type features.  I will be posting new blog entries at the new site now, but this site will stay up through roughly August 2004. Over time I'll copy my archived posts from this site to the new site. 10:07:03 PM      

Interesting story on Religious views on homosexuality and gay marriage from the Religion News Blog.  Here are a few of the denominations listed in the article, along with a sentence from their short summarized statements:
  • Assembly of God:  Homosexual orientation is not genetically determined. Ministers and psychologists are successfully treating homosexuality with success.
  • Southern Baptist:  Homosexuality is not a valid alternative lifestyle and is a sin, but a forgivable sin.
  • Roman Catholic Church:  The cause of homosexuality is unexplained. Members are asked to accept homosexuals with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Discrimination is to be avoided.
  • Episcopal Church:  The church is committed to continuing discussions about homosexuality and recognition of committed relationships between members of the same sex.
  • LDS Church:  Members are encouraged to love homosexuals as sons and daughters of God. If homosexuals violate the law of chastity and the moral standards of the church, then they are subject to the discipline of the church. Church is actively opposed to same-sex marriage.
  • International Church of the Foursquare Gospel:  Homosexuality is considered an abomination that excludes someone from the Kingdom of God. Homosexuality is a personal choice. Church members are to encourage homosexuals to cease those practices. Marriage is only between a man and a woman.

Interesting variety of opinion here--I'm kind of stunned that the LDS position is in the middle of the pack.  Of course, it's really marvelous that Assembly of God ministers and psychologists are successfully treating homosexuality with success.  That explains all the ex-gay Pentecostals we see in society, proclaiming how prayer and Christian ministerial guidance cured them.  And the Church of the Foursquare is certain homosexuality is a personal choice--that's defininitely an easier position for the ICFG  to adopt than to have to explain why God would allow some people to be born gay, isn't it?  Somehow, I think such an explanation is a little beyond their powers of imagination. 12:00:51 AM      

  Monday, March 08, 2004

Gripping news story about an author who courageously told the story of her childhood kidnapping [link from LDS Newsline].  But what really touched me was the personal security provided by Bikers Against Child Abuse--no joke, they're for real, and they really do go the extra mile, as noted in the story.  Let's hear it for a bunch of tough guys who work at making people feel safer.

Here's from their website (love the sound effects):  We're part of a National organization that was started in 1995 in Utah by a licensed child therapist who saw a need for a group like BACA to help the innocent victims overcome the trauma of what they had been through and to be able to face their abuser in court. 8:50:59 PM      

  Thursday, March 04, 2004

That's the headline from a recent Deseret News story.  I'm pleased to report they are referring to the movie, leaving first place in the other category to some other, more deserving denomination. 8:02:07 PM      

This was reported on the LDS Newsline on February 24.  Well no wonder those Haitians are so upset!  I wouldn't have thought they were such a sensitive bunch. 7:57:21 PM      

No, it's not what you're thinking.  The sons of Levi have not finally offered up an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.  Different kind of offering. 7:53:07 PM      

That's the title of a Deseret News article reporting Elder Boyd K. Packer's remarks to a bunch of lawyers down at the BYU Law School.  I had to read it twice to make sure it wasn't Lawyers Spiraling Down, World Told.  Whew, what a relief.  He talked about the devil, sin in all its varieties, and read a list of 21 vices Paul said would beset men and women in the last days and noted [each] with "check" as he read them off.  Thus to the 7 Deadly Sins modern revelation adds a few more, giving us the 21 Modern Vices.  He exhorted LDS attorneys to be defenders of the faith and to extend their lawerly services to members and ordinary people who need your professional protection. 7:47:32 PM      

Today's story in the SL Trib editorializes a bit on the failure of Mormon Studies to flourish (or even limp along) at Utah's flagship public university.  You would think a bunch of bright professors would be able to figure out how to study something so central to their geographical location without descending into ugly religious strife (which seems to be the straw man they hold up everytime someone suggests they get on the bandwagon). 7:25:35 PM      

  Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Thomas Jefferson may have been the best educated American of his generation, which informed the quality of his prose and the depth of his observations.  Notes on Virginia (1787), his only book, makes clear what a fine observer he really was, guided by his broad education and clear thinking.  In Query XI, he provides A description of the Indians.

He first notes the Barrows, of which many are to be found all over this country.  These were also called Mounds, and gave rise to the myth of the Moundbuilders, a now-disappeared civilization of non-Indians who built the many sizeable earthen structures scattered all over the country.  It couldn't possibly have been the ancestors of the Indians, early Americans figured.  Jefferson didn't figure -- he dug.  A hundred years before archaeologists standardized stratigraphical analysis, Jefferson headed out to a nearby "barrow" of about 40 feet in diameter and dug a trench clear through it, confirming it was a burial structure that contained a large assemblage of jumbled bones.  They were seen to be in layers: a strata of bones, covered by stones and a deposit of dirt, then another layer of bones, and so on.  He estimated about one thousand skeletons in total in the barrow.  The bones nearest the surface were least decayed, and he noted this militate[s] against the opinion, that [the barrow] covered the bones only of persons fallen in battle.  Jefferson noted no artifacts in his dig, but many mounds did yield copper ornaments and stone implements, as noted at this Minnesota State University museum site.  He also noted the connection between the barrow he dug, the abandoned Indian village nearby, and living Indian groups he had observed reverently visiting the barrow.

Jefferson then addressed the key question: From whence came those aboriginal inhabitants of America?  I quote his response:

Discoveries, long ago made, were sufficient to shew that a passage from Europe to America was always practicable, even to the imperfect navigation of ancient times. In going from Norway to Iceland, from Iceland to Groenland, from Groenland to Labrador, the first traject is the widest: and this having been practised from the earliest times of which we have any account of that part of the earth, it is not difficult to suppose that the subsequent trajects may have been sometimes passed. Again, the late discoveries of Captain Cook, coasting from Kamschatka to California, have proved that, if the two continents of Asia and America be separated at all, it is only by a narrow streight. So that from this side also, inhabitants may have passed into America: and the resemblance between the Indians of America and the Eastern inhabitants of Asia, would induce us to conjecture, that the former are the descendants of the latter, or the latter of the former: excepting indeed the Eskimaux, who, from the same circumstance of resemblance, and from identity of language, must be derived from the Groenlanders, and these probably from some of the northern parts of the old continent. A knowledge of their several languages would be the most certain evidence of their derivation which could be produced.

He then notes the great diversity of Indian languages, reasons that language dialects diverge over time, and concludes that A greater number of those radical changes of language having taken place among the red men of America, proves them of greater antiquity than those of Asia.

Summing up, twenty years before Joseph Smith was even born, Jefferson determined that there had been no "Moundbuilders," that it was the "aboriginal Americans," ancestors of the then-living Indians rather than an ancient white race or wandering Israelites, who constructed the Mounds.  Furthermore, he used linguistic reasoning to correctly infer the deep antiquity of the Native American presence on the continent, sketched the two now-accepted routes of migration by which humans first came to the Americas, and surmised that Asia was the more likely direction from whence they came.  What's amazing isn't just his thoroughly scientific approach to this question, but that he also laid out an entirely natural (as opposed to supernatural) explanation to what remained for many years a real puzzle to most Americans and to many scholars.  All this in twelve pages of a book he wrote while taking a break in the countryside from his real job as a Founding Father (Governor of Virginia until 1781; afterwards delegate to Congress, Minister to France, Secretary of State, and President).  Well done, Mr. Jefferson. 9:27:18 PM      

  Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Selections in a post at A Soft Answer from a review of Prof. Kathleen Flake's new book The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle (UNC Press, 2004).  She argues that the whole affair was a chapter in American religious history, and that Reed Smoot was the central figure in a key incident in the growth of religious tolerance in the United States.  I don't imagine he felt that way at the time, but it's a nice way to look at things. 11:48:43 PM      

Interesting post with this title at Christus Victor, linking to an article of that name by Stanley Kurtz.  It suggests a link between the decline of conventional marriage in Scandanavia and liberalized marriage laws there, including same-sex marriage.  Sample: The lesson of the Scandanavian experience is that even de facto same-sex marriage undermines marriage.  Interesting reading, appealing to a natural (or unnatural, depending on your point of view) experiment.  Kind of nice to see an empirical context for an argument on this topic. 11:24:15 PM      

Cronaca has a short post entitled Early California Seafarers.  Based on evidence from the Channel Islands (off the California coast), people in North America were voyaging by sea some 8,000 years ago, boosting a theory that some of the continent's first settlers arrived there by boat.  Too early for Nephites, though, even Jaredites (besides, these early Californians travelled on top of the water).  Ancient people knew boats and water travel, but navigation was always a problem.  That's why they hugged the coast, navigating by familiar landmarks.  They were always coasters, not ocean voyagers.  Except the Polynesians, who followed island chains using wind, waves, and stars. 10:56:50 PM      

Yes, it's even worse with pictures--go see Apes, Lies, and Ms. Henn, a little comic strip trying to teach grade school kids they know more than their science teachers (thanks to Pharyngula, a biology blog, for the link).  Okay, I'll admit the cream of the science class doesn't end up teaching fifth graders and some of the kids probably DO know more than their teachers, but it's a nice showcase for the Creation Science mentality that fights its real battles contaminating high school curricula and hoodwinking believing college students.  Let's hear it for BYU, a Christian university that doesn't teach Creation Science.  At least until FARMS finds it lurking in some ancient piece of Egyptian papyrus.

Pharyngula also linked to this Creation Science spoof site that's so good you really have to read to catch it.  Somebody put a lot of work into this one. 9:57:43 PM      

An interesting post with this title at Movable Theoblogical (link on my sidebar), talking about how right-wing Evangelical and fundamentalist religion, which has come to define Christianity in America, has alienated the Democratic half of the country, at least to the extent of avoiding Christian associations in public discourse.  Environmentally minded Dems especially seem to feel no connection. 9:38:33 PM      

  Monday, March 01, 2004

There are some detailed comments and samples of several reviews of the movie in this story at Christianity Today.  The Christian world is abuzz over the movie; perhaps it's a sign of the times that this generation's cinematic treatment of Jesus is steeped in violent scenes.  Comment on Mormon blogs touches on the problematic fact that the film is rated R, and Latter-day Saints have been counseled to avoid R-rated movies.  This blog posting at Times and Seasons, with links and comments, is a sample of the mixed reactions Mormons are having.  This Deseret News story covers the rating problem, along with some hearteningly reasonable comments by Prof. Millet of BYU.  For me, it's the violence, not the rating, that bothers me; haven't seen it yet, don't plan to anytime soon.

Prof. Tom Smith at The Right Coast made comments that come closest to my feelings about the movie: To call the movie violent is a ridiculous understatement. It should have been rated NC-17, not R. . . .  [T]here is a sense in which the crucifixion is meant to be contemplated in private, not shown on a screen, or so it seems to me. I felt a little violated by the movie.  I know some Christians view the violence of crucifixion as integral to the Atonement, but I don't.  I see the whole Jewish sacrificial parallel (Lamb of God, spotless offering to God stuff) as metaphor, and one which was most meaningful to the first generation of Jewish Christians.  If Jesus had been made to drink the hemlock with his disciples gathered round him, would he have been any less The Christ?  It hardly makes sense that the particular mode of execution employed by the pagan Romans played any necessary or soteriological role; if true, this suggests the violence truly is gratuitous and incidental rather than integral to the story.  Besides, tens of thousands of people suffered crucifixion by the Romans, there was nothing unique or even exceptional about it.  In that world, violence was common, not exceptional.  We forget that, I think.  After this movie, we'll forget it less, perhaps. 10:23:32 PM      

The US Supreme Court issued its opinion in Locke v. Davey, a Free Exercise Clause (FEC) case, on February 25; for a shorter summary, see the synopsis here.  The path of Religious Clause jurisprudence has taken lots of zigs and zags the last fifty years, but Locke v. Davey seemed like a fairly straightforward case of facial discrimination (in the distribution of state scholarship grants to Washington State college students) on the basis of religious belief (expressed by a decision to major in theology at the college of their choice).  This seemed to follow from Smith and Lukumi Babalu Aye without too much difficulty.

Yet, the Court ruled against the student and in favor of Washington (surprise no. 1) and it wasn't even a close case, decided 7-2 with only Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas in dissent.  In doing so, it reversed the Ninth Circuit, which had earlier held that the state's exclusion of theology students violated the FEC.  How often does the Ninth Circuit support an FEC claim, only to have the Supreme Court including three of the conservative justices reverse them? (surprise no. 2).

To simplify what could be lengthy comments, just see Tim's Freespace here and here (with several good links) for comments and analysis I'll generally second--that Smith was correctly decided but that Locke was wrongly decided, and why.  To me, Locke seems to establish something like a "permissible de minimus infringement" exception, the latest zag for Free Exercise reasoning.  It's like the Court sees whatever personal rights the FEC bestows through a 14th Amendment lens: since individuals who raise such claims are not insular minorities, they only get watered down protection from the FEC, not heightened protection like other personal rights, hence "permissible de minimus infringements."  I'd like to think that over time, as state and local governments take the Locke decision and run with it, the Court will have the opportunity to revisit this decision under different facts. 8:59:18 PM      

A short article entitled The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach is online at Scientific American.  Three recent books examining the best present scientific understanding of consciousness are reviewed.  The article is also a short introduction to the field of evolutionary psychology, a young field that merges brain science and psychology in a firmly evolutionary approach to consciousness.  When the researchers in this field iron out the wrinkles in their theory, it will revolutionize more than psychology.

Consider how central altered states of consciousness are to religion generally and to Mormonism (as one example and as the primary topic of this weblog).  Dreams and visions, demon possession and exorcism, feeling overcome by the Spirit or sorely tempted of the devil, even simple prayer confirmations--all these phenomena are amenable to study under the general banner "altered states of consciousness."  The visions and other conscious sensory phenomena that often accompany epilepsy and even migraine attacks are a simple example of the link between the brain, consciousness, and sensory stimuli.  The problem, of course, is that not all apparent sensory stimuli correspond to objective real-world objects or causes--the brain sometimes creates its own stimuli (e.g., dreams or psychotic perceptions) but as individuals we may have difficulty distinguishing authentic from self-generated sensory experience.  As data and theory continue to advance, the range of experiences explainable by this field will continue to expand.  As research and theory confirmation in this field move into the mainstream over the next couple of decades, expect as much religious push-back as was (and is) directed at organic evolution.

For a hands-on introduction to the field, go to the Center for Evolutionary Psychology website, including their Evolutionary Psychology Primer. 12:28:09 AM      

  Thursday, February 26, 2004

If there is a passage in Nephi's chronicle with an authentic, personal feel to it, Nephi's Psalm is probably it.  In 2 Nephi 4:12, Nephi's father Lehi "died, and was buried."  Not a word on funeral observances, a bit surprising.  Then, after a falling out with his brothers, Nephi resolves to leave the group, taking with him those of the party who sympathized with him.  The following verses represent his 'cri de coeur' at this difficult juncture, borrowing various biblical phrases, but touching, nonetheless (2 Nephi 4:17-35, selections with slight edits):

O wretched man that I am!
     My heart sorroweth because of my flesh,
          my soul grieveth because of my iniquities.
     When I desire to rejoice,
          my heart groaneth because of my sins,
     Yet I know in whom I have trusted.

Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin.
            Rejoice, my heart! Give place no more for the enemy of my soul.
O Lord, wilt Thou encircle me around in the robe of Thy righteousness!
            Wilt Thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies!
            Wilt Thou make my path straight before me!
O Lord, I have trusted in Thee, and I will trust in Thee forever.
            I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh.
            My voice shall forever ascend up to Thee, 
                        my Rock and everlasting God.

10:41:18 PM      

  Wednesday, February 25, 2004

  The Play's the Thing

There was an interesting discussion over at Times and Seasons a couple of months ago asking (more or less) why there aren't more Mormon superstars in the arts and sciences?  Given the LDS stress on education and achievement, one might expect a bit more, although in certain fields -- business, law, sports, politics -- Mormons do seem to be well represented.

There's a nice article on this theme by John and Kirsten Rector over at Dialogue, entitled What is the Challenge for LDS Scholars and Artists?  (There was a link to this in the earlier T&S post, but I missed it.)  I thought the Dialogue article is a nice, balanced consideration of the question.  The top three reasons they give for the alleged shortage are the LDS insistence on spending time with spouse and family; the LDS dedication to "conventionality, orthodoxy, and adherence to authority"; and the LDS weakness (not unique) for dogmatic thinking.   I would add that these same factors go far toward explaining LDS success in the other areas I mentioned above.  A conservative mindset stressing family, orthodoxy, deference to authority, and focused thinking will take you a long way on the road to success in business, politics, law, and sports.  Nor does it hurt if you're interested in climbing the LDS priesthood leadership ladder, not generally known for elevating creative thinkers or iconoclasts.

On the other hand, how many of us would trade the average anonymous-but-happy Mormon life (first spouse and four kids in three-bedroom home with two-car garage) for one of academic or artistic celebrity (fourth spouse and one step-kid in two-bedroom condo three blocks from campus or studio)?  Okay, you can fiddle with the numbers if you like, but stereotypes aside, I can't say I'd change my lifestyle choices, conventional though they may be, if some magic genie dangled before me the prospect of becoming a bona fide footnote to history.  I have some sense of what one gives up to get there and I just don't think that's a choice I would make.  I know where we all go in the long run, and I'm quite content to get there by my own little path.  Anyway, here's a sample paragraph from the Dialogue essay:

To be sure, we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not have the market cornered on dogmatism or close-mindedness. Just as there can be dogmatic Mormons, there can be dogmatic philosophers, scientists, atheists, liberals, conservatives, and so forth. But because there is so much in the storehouse of insights the restored gospel provides, we as members of the church can easily be lulled into believing that we have all the significant answers. We may not feel any need to question or re-examine our viewpoints, nor approach the world around us in an open, self-questioning, inquisitive way. To the extent that we are dogmatic, we limit ourselves as artists and scholars. 10:35:14 PM      

  Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Albert Mohler has an editorial on the emerging Post-Evangelical movement -- and he doesn't like it.  Taking its cue from post-modernism, the new movement openly embrace this new worldview. Post-evangelicals . . . "are more comfortable with the mysteries, ambiguities, and paradoxes of faith," notes Dave Tomlinson, an Anglican pastor and author of The Post-Evangelical (Zondervan, 2003).

The publisher's blurb on the book makes Post-Evangelicals sound a lot like liberal Mormons.  If you like the sound of the Post-E stuff, you might go have a look at Post-Mormons (nice photos) or possibly New Order Mormons.  The NOM boards just kicked off an unofficial membership drive so they would no doubt welcome a few new faces.  It would seem some of the energy that was once directed to community boards is now channelled to blogging.  But I can't help thinking group blogs, which are springing up all over the place, are a sort of small, elitist bulletin board, with glass windows (you can watch the talking heads talk amongst themselves) and sometimes a public comment box.  Not that there's anything wrong with that . . . 10:15:25 PM      

  Part of the Isaiah Scroll

The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles has this short article about the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit currently on display at the Los Angeles Temple Visitor's Center.  As noted in the article, Mormons have a particular affinity for the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Yes, the Church is always eager to associate authentically ancient manuscripts with the Book of Mormon.  The exhibit contains a model of the Qumran community, models of the urns that the scrolls were found in and facsimiles of the scrolls themselves, including 24-foot long replica of the Isaiah Scroll, the largest of all the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Sounds like it is worth a visit if you live near the City of Angels. 9:26:12 PM      

As reported recently in the Deseret News, Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone continues his recovery from an automobile accident he was involved in earlier this month in Wyoming when his car struck two horses on a dark stretch of highway.  A later story notes that he is now at home, having been discharged from the hospital on or about February 16th. 9:15:42 PM      

According to today's story in the San Francisco Chronicle, these guys did -- a small but experienced organ-building firm located in downtown San Francisco.  This is not the first big project for these fellows, and they are proud of their big organs.  "No two organs are the same," of course, so projects are time intensive.  But popular: "the waiting list for a new organ starts in 2008."  Interestingly, these organs are first set up at the builder's workshop, in what is known as "the erecting room."  After testing, it is then shipped and reassembled at the desired site.  The Conference Center organ was the biggest they have handled thus far. 9:07:55 PM      

  Monday, February 23, 2004

Avraham Gileadi authored a short article on Isaiah over at the always entertaining Meridian Magazine.  He was one of the September Six, and went through a roller coaster ride with the Church (up then down now up again).  It's nice he's back and enjoying communion with the Saints.  Interestingly, the short bio with the article notes that Hugh Nibley was the chair of his PhD dissertation committee.  This lends support to my personal view that Hugh Nibley was "grandfathered in."  If he were a young scholar trying to do today what he did 50 years ago, he would be a target instead of a venerable icon.  What do you think would happen to a BYU prof who published a piece of social criticism like Zeal Without Knowledge today?  Gone in 60 seconds, faster than you can say "faithful history."  The five o'clockers now run the show.

Here's a memorable quote (from ZWK, not the Isaiah article):  We think it more commendable to get up at five A.M. to write a bad book than to get up at nine o'clock to write a good one—that is pure zeal that tends to breed a race of insufferable, self-righteous prigs and barren minds. One has only to consider the present outpouring of "inspirational" books in the Church that bring little new in the way of knowledge: truisms and platitudes, kitsch, and cliches have become our everyday diet. 10:29:49 PM      

Headline of Christianity Today interview of Mel Gibson about his movie, The Passion of The Christ.  Lots of blog chatter about this movie, but I have no plans to see it.  No qualms about the R rating, I've just never been interested in commercial religion films.  I never saw the Exorcist; I never saw the Damien flicks; I started but couldn't finish End of Days.  So I think I'll just pass on this one.  I have never gotten the good karma some Christians seem to draw from depictions of the Crucifixion.  Perhaps my early positive connection of the term "Passion Play" with the Jethro Tull album of the same name, only belatedly expanded to include the orthodox meaning, explains my lack of ardor. 10:04:44 PM      

This is the headline on a BYU NewsNet article reporting the latest events in this lingering story.  A lawsuit is threatened, alleging the 1995 agreement by which the Church agreed to cease posthumous baptisms of Jews may have been breached.  The story also has interesting comments from a New York talk radio Rabbi friendly to the LDS perspective. 9:45:36 PM      

  Saturday, February 21, 2004

A Salt Lake Tribune article notes that university presses involved in publishing LDS history include the U of Illinois and USU.  Why is it that neither the press at the University of Utah nor its counterpart at BYU is a major player in this field?  The U went so far as to cancel its Mormon Studies series in 1994, but has recently reversed course, according to the article. 11:52:25 AM      

There's another interesting Salt Lake Tribune article on Mormon Studies, Utah colleges lagging on LDS history.   This article relates how several major universities have Mormon Studies programs or professorships, but Utah universities, especially the U, have studiously avoided moving in that direction, even in Mormon history, and cites the recent decision not to hire D. Michael Quinn as illustrating the reluctance of Utah colleges to be active in the field.  The Y hasn't done much better.  Thus UVSC, the upstart state college in Utah County, seems to be more supportive of the religious studies approach to Mormonism than any institution of higher learning in the state of Utah (caveat: the article mentions that USU has a small program in Mormon Studies).

Sample from the article which might explain this:  Mormon students have an especially tough time being objective, says Kathleen Flake, an LDS professor who teaches American religious history at Vanderbilt University. Flake says many LDS students are primed to review any class on Mormonism through an "are-they-for-us-or-against-us" lens.  "Unlike a lot of undergrads who are taking religious studies to understand the faith of their parents, Mormon students come to the class thinking they already know it and are prepared to debate the class material and defend the church from perceived attacks," Flake says.  Is this a failure of objectivity or a simple case of know-it-all hubris on the part of Mormon students?  And it is probably unfair to limit the scope of the problem to the approach taken by students, who after all tend to reflect what they've been taught. 11:40:05 AM      

I recently came across a Papal encyclical on marriage (Encyclical Arcanum Divinae Sapientiae, meaning "God's wise secret") that covers much of the same ground as the recent LDS pseudo-revelation on the family (The Family: A Proclamation to the World).  The Catholic encyclical was issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1880.  It provides a nice contrast in style with the LDS document.  The Catholic encyclical contains 45 lengthy paragraphs, with 56 footnotes referencing scriptural texts, Church Fathers, and prior pronouncements of Catholic leaders.  The LDS proclamation contains 9 short paragraphs with no footnotes, no references to prior pronouncements, and one scriptural reference (to Psalms 127:3).  Here are short excerpts from the Catholic encyclical:

[Jesus Christ] bore witness to the Jews and to His Apostles that marriage, from its institution, should exist between two only, that is, between one man and one woman; that of two they are made, so to say, one flesh; and that the marriage bond is by the will of God so closely and strongly made fast that no man may dissolve it or render it asunder (Paragraph 5).  The LDS proclamation reads "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God."

Marriage was gradually corrupted, however:  [A] common custom was gradually introduced, by which it was accounted as lawful for a man to have more than one wife. . . .  Moreover, plurality of wives and husbands, as well as divorce, caused the nuptial bond to be relaxed exceedingly. . . .  When the licentiousness of a husband thus showed itself, nothing could be more piteous than the wife, sunk so low as to be all but reckoned as a means for the gratification of passion, or for the production of offspring (Paragraphs 6, 7).  The LDS proclamation, on the other hand, is actually very careful not to condemn plural marriage.  It says "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God," but does not say marriage between a man and several women is not ordained of God.  Elsewhere, it uses the phrase "marriage between man and woman," generic terms that admit of a plurality as well as the singular.  Of course, Mormons distinguish plural marriage from group marriage: while several women were all married to one Mormon patriarch, that did not mean that the plural wives were also married to each other, somehow legitimating relations between them. 

Again, in the very beginning of the Christian Church were repulsed and defeated, with the like unremitting determination, the efforts of many who aimed at the destruction of Christian marriage, such as the Gnostics, Manichaeans, and Montanists; and in our own time Mormons, St. Simonians, phalansterians, and communists (Paragraph 13).  Recall that this encyclical issued in 1880, whereas the mainstream LDS Church did not renounce the practice of plural marriage until 1890.  Still, I imagine it's a bit of a surprise for most to see Mormons described as having "aimed at the destruction of Christian marriage."

Marriage, moreover, is a sacrament, because it is a holy sign which gives grace, showing forth an image of the mystical nuptials of Christ with the Church. But the form and image of these nuptials is shown precisely by the very bond of that most close union in which man and woman are bound together in one; which bond is nothing else but the marriage itself (Paragraph 24).  Monogamous marriage is a symbol of Christ's mystical union with His Church; this mystical and symbolic view of marriage derives from the Bible and is is well established.  Ironically, the LDS doctrine of plural marriage, from this perspective, becomes an implicit ratification of God's endorsement of tolerance and religious diversity, and a repudiation of the "one true church" approach to Christianity.  That's the nicest take on plural marriage I've ever encountered.

Care also must be taken that they do not easily enter into marriage with those who are not Catholics; for, when minds do not agree as to the observances of religion, it is scarcely possible to hope for agreement in other things. Other reasons also proving that persons should turn with dread from such marriages are chiefly these: that they give occasion to forbidden association and communion in religious matters; endanger the faith of the Catholic partner; are a hindrance to the proper education of the children; and often lead to a mixing up of truth and falsehood, and to the belief that all religions are equally good (Paragraph 43).  Like modern Mormons, the Pope here opposed mixed-religion marriages, for many of the same reasons.  His Holiness understandably opposes the chartiable and tolerant "belief that all religions are equally good."   Funny how religious tolerance, so often held out as one of the finer achievements of "the West" and emblematic of the personal freedoms we enjoy, is a product of the godless secular state.  Godless secularism isn't such a bad thing, perhaps. 9:13:01 AM      

  Friday, February 20, 2004

The few verses in the Book of Mormon that provide details of plants, animals, and natural resources used or encountered by the Nephites are of considerable interest.  One such verse follows immediately on arriving in what one assumes to be the New World: [W]e did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of man (1 Nephi 18:25).

Note these were "found," not introduced.  And as "this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations" (2 Nephi 1:8), they weren't introduced by other visitors from the Old World.  Recall as well that all of North America was covered by the waters of the Great Flood (Ether 13:2), so all animals would seemingly have to have been introduced post-Flood (following the text here, of course, not the accepted natural history of the Americas based on real-world evidence).

The term "forests" suggests North America, as do the terms "land of many waters" (Mosiah 8:8) and similar references (e.g., Mosiah 18).  Two Nephite locations identified by Joseph Smith were the Hill Cumorah in New York and the grave of Zelph, "a white Lamanite," discovered in a mound near the Illinois River in the Midwest.  The Zelph references have Joseph referring to Nephites spread from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains.  So the text, confirmed by Joseph Smith, gives clear indications the setting of the Book of Mormon narrative is North America.  Attempts to argue for a limited geography setting in some corner of Mesoamerica appear to be in direct conflict with Joseph Smith's beliefs, a difficulty not generally discussed by proponents of the limited geography model. 

Given a North American setting, one might expect references to bison (or buffalo) or deer in the book, but no mention of either of these are found.  On the other hand, the reference to "horse" in 1 Nephi 18:25 is puzzling, as the standard account has native North American horses dying out in the Pleistocene megafaunal extinction before 8000 BC and being reintroduced to the Americas only later by the Spaniards.

This just scratches the surface of an interesting topic by way of one verse, 1 Nephi 18:25.  Interestingly, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism contains no articles on the botany, zoology, or natural history of the Americas according to the Book of Mormon -- incidental references in the articles on "Economy and Technology," "Archaeology," and "Geography" are as close as it gets.  Good articles defending the mention of horses include Book of Mormon Anachronisms (explaining them) by Michael Ash at FAIR, and a short, unsigned article Horses in the Book of Mormon at FARMS.  An interesting article showing what purports to be the Smithsonian's form letter given in response to inquiries on the Book of Mormon along with comments by BYU anthropologist John L. Sorenson is here. 8:27:52 PM      

  Thursday, February 19, 2004

The use of the term "cult" to denigrate non-mainstream Christian denominations like Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and Latter-day Saints was popularized in the 1960s.  Yet when real religious cults like the People's Temple (Jonestown) and the Branch Davidians (Waco) emerged in America, they were led by Christian ministers and were populated by what can only be termed fundamentalist Christians.  The irony seems lost on Christian apologists, who show a remarkable inability to draw the obvious conclusion, still thinking the term "cult" applies to everyone but themselves -- how convenient, how self-serving, how hypocritical.  Since the term "cult" is here to stay, what we really need is a defensible definition and exposition of what a cult or cult behavior is, to counter the inaccurate, perjorative use perpetuated by Christian apologists.

Enter Arthur Deikman, a practicing psychiatrist and academic, who in 1990 published The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in American Society (my short summary and review is posted here on this site, with a permanent link on the sidebar).  I stumbled across it at my local library.  Wrong Way Home is the first discussion of "cults" I have encountered that succeeds in defining the phenomenon objectively and considers the degree to which it is reflected in institutions of all types in American society.  Corporations, the government, the military, religious denominations or congregations -- all these groups might reflect cult behavior.  Per Deikman, "cult behavior" is a particular type of group dynamic to which any group or institution may succumb, characterized by a strong emphasis on group compliance, dependence on a leader, devaluing outsiders, and avoiding dissent.  Knowledge is power; understanding Deikman's discussion of cult behavior will allow you to recognize it in the institutions you affiliate with and avoid some of its deleterious effects.  Go read my review, then find the book and read it too.

You may be the kind of person (and there's nothing wrong with this) who is comfortable in hierarchical organizations, who likes clear lines of authority, and who favors defined rules and clear directives.  If so, this book will raise your awareness of how those exercising power in such organizations might unwittingly (or perhaps quite wittingly) lead their department, division, agency, congregation, or denomination to adopt these modes of behavior and conduct.  Forewarned is forearmed; if you don't know what to look for and recognize, you are vulnerable.  If you are informed, you can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem in your favorite corporate entity.

On the other hand, you may be the kind of person (and there's nothing wrong with this either) who has never been comfortable in corporate settings, whether that be in business corporations, the military, bureacracies of any sort, or corporate religions.  If so, this book will help you understand why you are not comfortable in those organizations.  Maybe you don't have "a problem with authority," maybe you aren't an incurable non-conformist, maybe you haven't simply succumbed to the wiles of the adversary.  It is possible you simply have a naturally heightened sensitivity to the attributes of cult behavior in organizations and are uncomfortable in such settings.  This book will help you understand why you are running an arts and crafts shop in Newport Beach instead of following Dad's footsteps up the corporate ladder.  Or maybe why your uncle quit his Mormon mission after three months.  Or maybe why you feel a little nauseous after every weekly department meeting.  You could really learn something from this book. 11:35:49 AM      

The latest FLDS report on the Religion News Blog is entitled 'We fear another Waco'.   It begins: With the authorities in hot pursuit, a Mormon 'Prophet', Warren Jeffs, has gone to ground with his 70 wives - and enough ammo for Armageddon. Andrew Gumbel reports from a community in fear.  I don't see a happy ending to this situation, which seems to be spiraling toward some sort of confrontation between the FLDS guru and state authorities. 8:32:34 AM      

  Monday, February 16, 2004

There are different approaches to blogging -- group versus solo, comments enabled or not, long posts versus short ones, links to other posts versus one's own thoughts or reflections, themed or general.  On these attributes, I map out as solo, no comments, tending to longer posts and my own reflections on Mormon life, culture, and history.  But reading The Norton Book of Personal Essays, edited by noted essayist Joseph Epstein (WW Norton, 1997), helped me realize that my template for an ideal blog post is an abbreviated personal essay.  One might even think of the entire essay genre as kind of a precursor to blogging.

In his introductory essay The Personal Essay: A Form of Discovery, Joseph Epstein notes that at bottom, the true subject is the author of the essay, which, if done properly, gives the personal essay both its charm and its intimacy.  And, pleasantly, mediocre essays . . . are never as boring as mediocre fiction (quoting Rosallen Brown).    Honesty in writing (accurate and truthful reporting of feelings, tougher than it sounds) is essential, for in literature only the truth is finally persuasive and persuasiveness is at the same time the measure of truth.  The essayist can be interesting (1) by telling readers what they already know in their hearts but have never been able to formulate by themselves, or (2) by telling them things they do not know and perhaps have never even imagined.  This all sounds like a fair description of what I aspire to in my more thoughtful posts.

History offers several outstanding essayists, those who would have made fine bloggers: Montaigne, Emerson, Mark Twain, George Orwell, and I suppose Joseph Epstein himself (he may actually have a blog; if not, here's an interesting link).  If you like these writers, I guess you're a natural for the weblog circuit. 10:16:23 PM      

A trackback link from the Faith Brings Crickets weblog led me to the LDS Women's site, complete with an announcements board, a homeschooling forum, and a scripture discussion board.  It also sponsors an LDS Women's blog ring which might be of interest to some readers, who should nevertheless be aware of the following rules for the ring, which I quote in full:

1. Sites must not contain pornography or adult images, adult, or crude images or language.
2. Sites must not contain racial, religious, personal, or other forms of intolerance.
3. Sites must be owned by an LDS woman or women and therefore be supportive of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and its teachings.
4. Sites must not contain material that in any manner demeans, questions, challenges, or is skeptical of LDS doctrine, values, leadership, history, or principles. They may also not link to other sites that do.
5. Sites must be supportive of the LDS church leaders on all levels.
6. If you are an LDS woman who has a faith based in Christ and His teachings and believe in the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ then more than likely your site will be accepted, [but email if you have any questions.]
7:56:39 PM      

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