My Facebook feed lit up today with links to media reports of an article just published in the online journal Social Neuroscience, “Reward, salience, and attentional networks are activated by religions experience in devout Mormons.” You can guess why I’m linking to the actual article rather than the media reports. Fake news, real news, it all sounds like junk news. Just read the article.
The Mormon Newsroom just posted a new think-y piece titled “The Quest for a Common Moral Framework.” A few years back the Newsroom posted a number of these reflective essays, such as “Approaching Mormon Doctrine“, but not so much recently. So this one is worth taking a look at. It seems like a spinoff from the intensive Religious Freedom initiative.
Like many of you, I am deeply disappointed with news of the crushing election defeat: the San Diego stadium measure failed badly. This is almost tragic. It’s kind of like Football Brexit, a sudden tear in the social fabric. Who can imagine San Diego without the Chargers? The fabled franchise history that includes Dan Fouts, Junior Seau, and now Philip Rivers will likely be brutally disrupted within a year or two. St. Louis Chargers? The London Chargers? It would be nice to keep the suddenly resurgent AFC West intact. The Portland Chargers? If Salt Lake can host the Olympics, why not the Chargers?
Happy birthday, Policy, you are one year old today. In January I posted “Policy or Revelation?” which outlined the public timeline of the messy initial release of the Policy, along with links to relevant documents. Time for an update on the Policy. Maybe I’ll do one every year until it dies.
I’ve read several books and essays in the science versus religion genre, some by secular scientists or philosophers (such as Stephen Jay Gould’s Nonoverlapping Magisteria essay) and some by Christian scientists (such as Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution). I recently found a refreshing new perspective within the genre: The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning (Schocken Books, 2011) by Jonathan Sacks, a prominent Jewish scholar and rabbi. It offers a more relaxed, more pragmatic treatment of the topic than other books I have read. A one-sentence summary: Science and religion are complementary: science is about explanation and religion is about meaning, but individuals and societies that push religion aside and fully secularize are almost guaranteed to gradually adopt some form of nihilism and lose their way.
The recently announced LDS doctrine of conditional divine love comes from President Nelson’s 2003 Ensign article “Divine Love,” in which he stated: “While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional.” No additional commentary was added until the October 2016 General Conference, when two apostles, citing President Nelson’s article, restated the doctrine. It is rather more nuanced than it first appears and I expect some local leaders and members will misconstrue and misapply this new doctrine in unfortunate ways. So pay attention. This is important.
The Maxwell Institute just posted a call for applicants for its next summer seminar. The topic is Mormonism Confronts the World: How the LDS Church has Responded to Developments in Science, Culture, and Religion. The seminar runs June 26 through August 3, 2017. Plenty of time to find a topic and clear out six weeks of your schedule. Anyone with a topic to suggest is free to share it in the comments.
This is a review of and a response to Adam Miller’s recent book, Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2016). This book and others like it are part of the solution to one of the biggest problems facing 21st-century Mormonism: it’s shallow. It’s boring. It’s too programmed. There’s no meat in the sandwich. Miller puts some postmodern philosophical meat in the Mormon sandwich.
The LDS Sunday School General President posted this short article at LDS.org (in the Church News section). Here is his observation about LDS classroom discussion: [W]e hear of many inspired classroom discussions. Occasionally, however, we hear of discussions that are open and lively, but at the conclusion there has been little, if any, doctrinal focus or emphasis. In essence, there have been some therapeutic conversations or a sharing of experiences, but little connection to doctrine.
Strange thing: Simply by working to accomplish their primary mission, large institutions develop skills and capacities somewhat or even entirely unrelated to that primary mission. So, for example, the US Army is very good at education, because it has to teach thousands of average (or less) students how to do complicated tasks like repairing a tank or hitting the right sequence of buttons to fire an advanced weapons system. Now the LDS Church is a very large and well-funded organization that has developed a number of institutional skills or capacities largely unrelated to its primary religious mission. The more you think about that, the longer the list becomes. But first, some background.
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. (Ex. 22:18) I recently read Peter Charles Hoffer’s The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History (Univ. Press of Kansas, 1997). How could a bunch of dedicated Christians become convinced that their neighbors, some of whom were acknowledged to be fine citizens and exemplary Christians, were actually in active league with the devil to inflict harm on others? How could trials conducted by leading men of the colony solemnly conclude that dozens of men and women were in fact witches, then haul them a mile or two out of town and hang them? Right here in America? These remain troubling yet fascinating questions for most Americans, with new books on the topic coming out every year. Mormons in particular can learn something from Salem.
A couple of weeks ago I taught Lesson #12 in the Howard W. Hunter manual, titled Come Back and Feast at the Table of the Lord. The title comes from Pres. Hunter’s remarks at the press conference given the day after he became President of the Church in 1994. I want to point out that he was well ahead of his time. He gave these remarks years before “faith crisis” became a thing in the Church and years before Pres. Monson’s theme of The Rescue became emphasized. As he is quoted in the manual: To those who have transgressed or been offended, we say, come back. To those who are hurt and struggling and afraid, we say, let us stand with you and dry your tears. To those who are confused and assailed by error on every side, we say, come to the God of all truth and the Church of continuing revelation. Come back. Stand with us. Carry on. Be believing. All is well, and all will be well. Feast at the table laid before you in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and strive to follow the Good Shepherd who has provided it. Have hope, exert faith, receive—and give—charity, the pure love of Christ.
Patrick Q. Mason’s Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (2015) is the latest entry in the New Mormon Apologetics field. From the credits page: “This book is the result of a joint publishing effort by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and Deseret Book Company.” That is a promising partnership. The broad and inclusive message of the book is badly needed by the general membership of the Church and by local leadership. Having the book on the shelves at Deseret Book (or hopefully on a display table up front) is the best way to get there, short of an apostle mentioning the book by name in General Conference. I am going to give short comments on three topics of interest, then invite readers to post their own impressions of the book.
Sunday night, Elder Richard J. Maynes, of the Presidency of the Seventy, delivered a CES Devotional on the First Vision. In particular, he made explicit reference to the four first-person accounts of the First Vision authored by Joseph Smith that we have. [See the text of the four accounts at this handy page at the JSPP site.] He also referenced the Gospel Topics essay “First Vision Accounts.” It is encouraging to see senior LDS leaders incorporate the essays and the scholarship coming out of the Church History Department into their talks and recommend this material to the general membership. This post is about a very new resource that Elder Maynes referenced in his talk: A harmonized narrative of the First Vision posted at the Church History site (within LDS.org) incorporating details from all four primary sources. It was posted there only about a week ago. Wow. It’s not everyday that the Church restates the narrative of its founding event and posts it online.
The most interesting talk at UVU’s just-completed Mormonism and the Art of Boundary Maintenance Conference was by Jana Riess: “Mormon Millennials: Assimilation or Retrenchment?” Jana gave a preliminary report of research she is doing for a new book on the subject. She defined the Millennial generation as those born in the 80s or 90s. Others define it as those born between 1982 and 2004. Are you a Millennial? Glad you’re here. Hope you stay.
After a turbulent six months, many were expecting some bold declarations at this weekend’s General Conference. That did not come to pass. Just a few weeks ago, Elder Ballard directed CES teachers to stop teaching folklore, stop evading tough questions from students, and start reading publications by faithful LDS scholars. In his Saturday afternoon Conference talk, Elder Ballard talked about … family councils. Late last year, President Nelson announced that what has become known as “the Exclusion Policy” was not a policy, it was a revelation and is here to stay. In his Priesthood session talk, President Nelson talked about … the role of men in the Church. Elder Steven E. Snow, the Church Historian, talked not about one of the Gospel Topics essays that addresses a key issue in LDS history but about the LDS hymnal and humility. The theme for this Conference seems to be: Don’t rock the boat. Nothing controversial here. Perhaps it is a good time for a quiet, reflective Conference.
I enjoyed reading Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings (OUP, 2016), a 300-page collection of articles and essays on Mormon feminism spanning the 1970s to the present. That I enjoyed it says a lot, as feminism isn’t really my thing. The editors (Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright) did a great job not only selecting the articles and essays to include in the volume but also paring down the size of the excerpts of longer articles so more pieces could be included in the volume. They also penned very helpful introductions to each piece. Consequently, a reader like myself who has not really lived the LDS feminist drama of the last two generation or two can still appreciate the context and contribution of each of the 60 or so articles. Joanna’s 20-page introduction heading the volume also helps bring every reader up to speed. This is truly a volume that everyone should read — this issue is going to be around for another century (my sense of how long it will take the Church to catch up with the rest of society) and you want to be one of the informed people, not one of the blissfully ignorant.
In October 2014, Elder Ballard delivered his “Stay in the Boat” talk at General Conference, highlighting “faith crisis” as an emerging problem for members of the Church and likening it to white-water rapids. In October 2015, he followed up with “God Is at the Helm,” extending his metaphor and providing sage advice for how to stay in the Old Ship Zion. Most recently, he delivered a talk to CES religious educators on February 26, 2016, now posted at LDS.org under the rather bland title “The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century.” I think he should have stuck with his winning theme and called it: “Building a Better Boat.” Highlights Everyone ought to read it. Twice. He announced that business as usual in CES just isn’t working anymore: “Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue.” The problem is the Internet, which gives students [and all Church members] “instant access to virtually everything about the Church from every possible point of view.” In a rather dramatic departure from business as usual, Elder Ballard directed CES teachers to “understand the doctrinal and historical content and context of the scriptures and our history” by accessing “the best LDS scholarship available.” He specifically told CES teachers to get familiar with the Gospel Topics Essays at LDS.org: “It is important that you…
A chatty post at the This Week in Mormons site, “Americanisms in a Global Mormon Church,” recounts a few of those Americanisms: Scouting, patriotic music in the LDS hymnal, women wearing (or not) pants to church. At a deeper level, the LDS Church has self-consciously embedded itself in the American myth. Consider “The Divinely Inspired Constitution” by Elder Oaks (1992) or “The Constitution: A Glorious Standard” by Elder Benson (1976). The notion that only in the USA could the gospel of Jesus Christ have possibly been restored is part of the Restoration story. Few American Saints really notice the extent to which the Church has Americanized the gospel of Jesus Christ, but non-American Latter-day Saints certainly do. Quietly filtering out overtly American elements of the gospel that just don’t work in a foreign land and culture may solve some of the inevitable difficulties. Is that enough?
Once upon a time, the topic of inoculation was all the rage in the Bloggernacle. Too late for that now; the epidemic is upon us and its primary symptom, doubt, has become a standard feature of LDS discourse. The latest discussion is Patrick Mason’s new book Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt, co-published by the Maxwell Institute and Deseret Book. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, so instead I’m going to point you to Boyd Peterson’s post “What To Do If Someone You Know Is Going Through A Faith Crisis.”