Category: News and Politics

Politics – Current Events – Media

Against Civic Religion

Some time ago, Russell and Adam challenged me to explain what was wrong with cyrpto-protestant prayers in the public schools. What follows is my response along with some general thoughts on civic religion.

LDS Fiction Writers

Below we are discussing books in the Mormon Studies genre, but one of our readers — Sid Sharma from Ann Arbor — emailed me to inquire about LDS authors who write “modern, literary fiction.” Good question. Who are some LDS authors we really love to read? Anyone care to share a review of a favorite LDS author?

Why Marriage Deserves Constitutional Protection

Maggie Gallagher’s response to conservatives who have expressed qualms about amending the constitution to define marriage is superb. She approaches the issue from two angles. First, on the federalism argument, she points out mundane matters that are part of the constitution, and wonders why these topics merit nationwide uniformity, rather than state-by-state experimentation, but that the fundamental institution of society is beneath the constitution. Second, she makes a passionate argument about the importance of marriage to civilization, and the devastating effects weakened marriage has and will have on our culture. Read the whole essay. By reminding me how high the stakes of the marriage debate are, she’s struck me with fear for our country.

The Federal Government as Public Nuisance

I think that most Mormons are aware of that during the last half of the nineteenth century relations between the Church and the federal government were often chilly at best. Most Mormons, however, are unaware of the some the creative legal tactics employed by their nineteenth-century coreligionists.

Sex and Censorship at NYU

I just have a millisecond to blog today, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to link this story about the (gasp!) despicable censorship at NYU, that well-known bastion of conservative thought. Apparently they are refusing to let a film student film actual sex for her film project.

…And Now The Movie

Of course we always knew it would happen, but we didn’t think that it would happen so quickly: Times & Seasons has been made into a movie, with Helen Hunt and George Clooney, no less. At anyrate, the script has been written. Check it out here

What if Davis v Locke arose in Utah?

As I read Dahlia Lithwick’s coverage of the Davis v Locke oral argument, I wondered what approach the court and press would have taken had the case originated in Utah. Dahlia writes: [Justice Kennedy was] bothered by the fact that Davey had his scholarship revoked simply because he’d declared a double major in pastoral ministries and business administration. According to Kennedy, Davey could have just declared the business major, taken theology courses, and kept his funding. Kennedy asks, over and over, “What is the state interest in denying him funding simply because he declared a double major?” Finally Ruth Bader Ginsburg has to answer him: “I thought the interest was the state doesn’t want to fund the training of clergymen.” Lithwick clearly thought Ginsburg’s comment responsive to Kennedy’s concern. The Utah Wrinkle About 95% of Utah’s state legislature are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

The Utah Domination Clause

Under the Utah Constitution, “[t]here shall be no union of Church and State, nor shall any church dominate the State or interfere with its functions.” The interesting part of this is the Domination and Interference Clauses. What might they mean?

Passion Redux

My entry below about Mel Gibson’s forthcoming film Passion generated some very thoughtful comments that I had overlooked until now. Rather than responding way down there, I thought it best to bring this topic to the top, as it is bound to generate more interest. The focus of the comments — a mini-debate really, between Brent and Taylor — is the historical record of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Mormon Images

There is a strange schizophrenia about popular images of Mormons. On one hand, we get stereotyped as shinny, well-scrubbed, conservative, paragons of middle American virtues circa 1955. On the other hand, we get stereotyped as dangerous, homicidal, polygamist fanatics. As Gordon points out in his post the latter stereotype popped up recently in Law & Order: Criminal Intent, but that is hardly the only place one sees it. Remember that the religious bomber in the movie Contact was from Prowan, Utah. At the same time, Mormons pop up in Tom Clancy novels as shining examples of American decency. As I pointed out in an earlier post, this second stereotype also has a dark side in the eyes of some. For example, the English spy novelist John La Carre has dropped Mormon characters into his novels, where they serve as the personification of the naive and slightly frightening earnest true believers of the American national security state. It seems to me that the problem with all of these images is that at bottom they are not really about Mormons.

Passion

Have you seen the trailor for Mel Gibson’s film about the last 12 hours of Christ’s life? This has been the subject of much debate, as Jewish leaders raise concerns about anti-Semitism and others respond. Here are some responses from people who have actually seen a rough cut at the behest of the New York Post, which apparently bootlegged a copy (the uniform reaction — except from the “Post reader” — was that the film unfairly portrayed Jews). Amitai Etzioni, who has been blogging regularly on this topic, had an interesting take on this flap way back in September: Those who will wrap themselves in the First Amendment should note that no one is arguing that the government should ban the movie — only that it is morally not right. There are many things we can say about African Americans, Jews, and for that matter about Catholics, which best remain unsaid. While I suspect that there will be no uniform Mormon response to this film, my inclination is to agree with Etzioni.

Law & Order: Criminal Intent

I just saw what was perhaps the most offensive portrayal of the Church that I have ever seen on network television. In an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent that originally ran on November 16, a young man (almost 18) is cast as a Manson-like figure. He assembles of group of three young women disaffected by the depraved behavior of their high school peers. The young man preaches a different gospel, one informed by Siddhartha (Hesse’s novel). When the young girls kill three male classmates and then some parents at his command, Detective Goren is on the case. As he closes on his suspect, he finds the clinching clue: the young man has been reading books on Mormonism, including the Book of Mormon! He then concludes that the young man fancies himself a prophet and has made plans to flee to Utah with the girls (can you say polygamy?). Wow! What a shock! This plot twist was wholly gratuitous. Manson (a pretty clear allusion) had no connection with the Church. Nor does Siddhartha. The connection between Mormon doctrine and the actions of the characters was completely unexplained (and unexplainable!). Ultimately, the plans to go to Utah figured not at all in the resolution of the crime. It made me wonder if the writers had read Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, the point of which appears to be to portray the Lafferty brothers as…

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…

ANGELS (AND MORMONS) IN AMERICA

Andrew Sullivan has a take down here of recent crooning at the New York Times about HBOs forthcoming production of Tony Kurshner’s Angels in America. Angles is a play that chronicles the AIDS epedemic in the 1980s, and won a Pulitzer Prize in the 1990s. What is interesting to me is that the play has a Mormon character (to be played on HBO by Patrick Wilson) — a closet homosexual — who in one scene appears on stage in a homosexual encounter wearing temple garments. Kurchner clearly doesn’t really know anything about Mormons or at least about temple garments. (Although he may have known how offensive Mormons would find such a staging.) His Mormon character utters some strange gibberish about the meaning of the garment that is suppose to sound very, uh, Mormon. For example he refers to the garment as “a second skin,” an image that to my knowledge no Mormon has ever used in discussing the garment. Thus, Angels‘ Mormon is not a real Mormon, but a sort of stand-in stereotype for repressed religiously conservative sexuality. Mormons are kind of straight straight guy, if you will, and Angels plays off of this image by making its Mormon homosexual. I don’t know if HBO is planning on having the garment scene in their production. (I hope not.) However, it is interesting to see that Mormon stereotypes have come full circle. We started out in the 19th century as the…

Sacred and Profane

In the spirit of getting some content on this site, I offer the following from the archives of A Good Oman: A thought on First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake v. Salt Lake City Corporation, 308 F.3d 1114 (2002), the Salt Lake City Main Street case: In his wonderful book The Sacred and the Profane, Eliade discusses the idea of sacred space. According to Eliade one of the things that religion does is orient the believer in the cosmos. It does this by interrupting the normal flow of space with sacred places — shrines, temples, etc. — that mark points of reference for man’s relationship to the divine and his place in the world. Mormon thinkers such as Hugh Nibley have used this concept to understand the place of the temple in Mormon theology and religious experience. It is the place where human beings ritually ascend into the presence of God, and thus marks the place where the sacred interrupts the plane of profane space. The temple then acts as an axis mundi, providing an orienting point within that profane space. (Think of the way that all of the streets in the towns of Mormondom are measured from either the temple or the tabernacle.) When the LDS Church purchased Main Street in Salt Lake City, it turned it into a plaza and broke down the wall that separated the Salt Lake Temple (arguably the most sacred structure in Mormonism) from…