Blog Archives

Joseph Fielding McConkie and the Lens of Literalism

March 30, 2010
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In a recently published book ‘Between the Lines: Unlocking Scripture with Timeless Principles’ (2009), Joseph Fielding McConkie tries to deal with the issue of discerning between what is ‘Literal’ and what is ‘Figurative’ in the scriptures. I think there are large problems in his brief account and I want to try and deal with them here. These problems arise because he (inadvertently?) wants to establish a particular set of orthodox readings for two different groups of readers.

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Mormon Myths as Transferable Charisma

March 23, 2010
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Richard Bushman has recently given a presentation on ‘Joseph Smith and the Routinization of Charisma’. One of Bushman’s arguments seems to be that Charisma was located in the office rather than the person. That these divine or supernatural powers were transferred to whoever held a particular office.  Moreover, it was through this coupling of bureaucracy and charisma that Joseph led the early Church and through which it was transferred to Brigham Young. Yet, as the bureaucracy and membership grew it would seem that the ability of both members and leaders to draw upon or demonstrate this office-based charisma became more limited.…

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A Marital Confession

March 16, 2010
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A recent visit at FMH and John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories interview with fmhLisa (Butterworth) has made me realise something about myself that I am not very proud of.  Therefore, in the spirit of a post I wrote for another blog, I want to confess something.  I am sexist.

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Prophets, Seers and Bureaucrats

March 8, 2010
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I listened recently to a Mormon Expression podcast with John Dehlin, in which he comments upon the difficult position the Church leaders face.  He observes that their are times when they make particular decisions based upon a legalistic-bureaucratic framework that sometimes seem incomprehensible, even unchristian but that these decision are understandable. I would like to ask this question: Is there an alternative?

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Memorialising the Holocaust: Post-memory and the Latter-Day Saints

February 28, 2010
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Memorialising the Holocaust: Post-memory and the Latter-Day Saints

According to Arrington and Bitton, “most individual responses of modern Mormons involve a kind of tie with the past”[1] . History is central to the Latter-day Saint faith. Stories from Latter-day Saint history reverberate out from their local settings and have a global impact in the lives of many, for both good and ill. How and/or why does this happen?

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Bad, Worse and Worst

February 25, 2010
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I would like to use Genesis 12 (and an interesting post by Aaron B from BCC) to examine the inverse of Elder Oak’s famous talk ‘Good, Better and Best’.  Simply stated Abraham was married to Sarai (who was apparently pretty hot!) and Pharoah was going to want to marry her.  His choice: either die as her husband and have his wife forced into marriage (in effect raped) or live as her ‘brother’ and have his wife forced into marriage (and in effect raped).  What to do?

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Self-Esteem and Sexuality: Another approach to Chastity

February 22, 2010
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I want to take a lead from Hawgrrrl, who recently posted on the value of Sex Education in trying to reduce the rate of unwanted pregnancies and instil values of chastity in young people, but approach it from a different avenue.  I recently attended a seminar which presented results from an investigation into the relationship between self-esteem and sexual activity for people in their teens.  Her results showed that having high self-esteem (perhaps to the point of being arrogant) actually serves a protective function against having sexual activity.  Simply stated: having high self-esteem means that you are more likely to have sex later in…

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‘God is not an enemy of Human Appetite’: The Church, the Lord and the M-Word

February 14, 2010
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Disclaimer: This post, as you might expect, does contain some overtly sexual references to specific parts of the body that are prominent in human sexuality. If you think this might offend you then please do not continue to read. My title is taken from Levi Peterson, who has famously written about masturbation in his book the ‘Backslider’.  Additionally, in his interview with John Dehlin, he states that ‘I just don’t think God cares that much about it’.  Contrastingly, on January 5th 1965, Elder Spencer W. Kimball said, ‘Masturbation, a rather common indiscretion, is not approved of the Lord nor of…

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The Sacred Made Real: Mormonism, Iconography and the Passion of Christ

February 9, 2010
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The Sacred Made Real: Mormonism, Iconography and the Passion of Christ

A few weeks ago I attended an exhibition entitled ‘The Sacred made Real’ at the National Gallery in London. The collection was focussed on Spanish hyper-realism (painting and sculpture) between 1600-1700. Some of the more famous artists included in this collection were: Velazquez, Zurburan and de Mena. The intent of these artists was to provide life-like depictions of the suffering of Christ in order to invoke feelings of sympathy and awe in the observers. These artists wanted to create a form of spiritual devotion through the simulated presence of the Passion. I was surprised at my own response.

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Church Growth and the Tendency toward Liberalism

January 31, 2010
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Some time ago, as a guest I wrote a post entitled ‘Academic freedom in the Church‘ which tried to explore some of liberalizing tendencies seen in LDS culture since the September Six, but particularly over the last decade.  Having recently read an excellent (as usual) article by D. Michael Quinn on the development of the ‘Sacral Power Structure‘ of Mormonism, I wanted to re-visit this issue as a result of some of the reasons he gives for the increasing authoritarianism and conservatism in the Church.  Quinn argues that the expansive growth of the Church during the 1950-1970′s led the hierarchy to…

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Committing Spiritual Murder: Analysing Alma 39

January 26, 2010
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Michael Ash in a Sunstone article entitled ‘The Sin “Next to Murder”’ has argued that Alma’s exhortation to his son Corianton (who had ran off with an woman of ill-repute), that ‘these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost’ (see Al 39:5), is not speaking about breaking the law of Chastity.  Ash argues that Corianton’s sin is ‘causing the spiritual death of others’[1].  Aside from this being an interesting article, it raises the question of what is spiritual…

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On Failed Patriarchal Blessings

January 17, 2010
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Some time ago I spoke to someone I knew about a Patriarchal blessing they had received which seemed to have failed to come to pass.  We discussed it at some length and I then asked them if I could have some time to think about the issue more.  I tried to find reasons to explain the failure and then we discussed each one according to their circumstances, but I raised all as possibilities.  I admit that I was trying to be both comforting and honest, which in this situation was not easy.  The possible reasons I gave the person, as I wrote them down…

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On Being an Apostle but not in the Quorum

January 11, 2010
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On Being an Apostle but not in the Quorum

‘In 1866, at the age of only twenty-seven, Joseph F. Smith was ordained an Apostle by President Brigham Young, and served briefly as one of his special additional counselors. When a vacancy occurred in the Twelve the following year, Elder Smith was sustained as a member of that quorum’ [1].  The date was Oct 8, 1867.  This means Joseph F. Smith was an Apostle a year before he joined the Quorum of the twelve.  Moreover, BY ordained Joseph F. Smith spontaneously without consultation of all members of the First presidency [2].  Lest we think this is just another aberration of the…

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Dialogue Subscribers and Book of Mormon Historicity?

January 7, 2010
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In 2005 Dialogue conducted research among it’s subscribers.  There was over a 1,000 responses which (assuming that everyone answered every question) is a fairly good sized sample to infer what the population of subscribers might think.  One interesting tidbit is that nearly half of the subscribers were over 61 and that 40% had a doctoral degree.  They asked a range of qustions but one that interested me was: ‘What way is the Book of Mormon Authentic?’  I thought before showing the results that our readers should answer the same question:

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Richard Dawkins, God and Santa Claus: Belief as a Form of Abuse

January 3, 2010
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Between Christmas and New Year I had the opportunity to meet with some friends and at one point during the evening we began discussing the role of Santa Claus in raising children.  As I was thinking about what was said on the way home I recalled an article I had read in the ‘New Scientist’ which discussed whether teaching children about Santa Claus is a ‘harmless fantasy’ or whether it is a ‘cruel deception’ [1].  This then led me to consider whether believing in God is a similar relationship?

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The Word of Wisdom and the Temple: Personal, Political and Prophetic Dimensions

December 28, 2009
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The Word of Wisdom and the Temple: Personal, Political and Prophetic Dimensions

Obedience to the Word of Wisdom, it is commonly known, was not always a requirement for entering the Temple or advancement in the Priesthood.  What is less clear from the historicl record is when this principle moved to become a requirement.  President Joseph Fielding Smith believed the change occurred in 1851, but an excellent article by McCue has shown this cannot be the case [1].  Others have argued that it occurred under the Joseph F. Smith administration (he seems to have been the first to have said it was a commandment – but it was only made a test of fellowship in…

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Gregory House and Emmanuel Levinas: Finding Meaning in Suffering: Part 2

December 21, 2009
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Gregory House and Emmanuel Levinas: Finding Meaning in Suffering: Part 2

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on suffering.  Resulting from a thoughtful critique of that post, by Andrew S, and a recommendation (in the following discussion) to read Emmanuel Levinas’ essay on ‘Useless Suffering’, I have decided to present a re-formulated version of my comments; because my thinking has moved on.  I hope that this is not redundant, it certainly has not been for me.  I actually hope to write a third post based on a more detailed survey of Levinas’ arguments but that will be in the future.

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‘Christmas’ or ‘Winter Festival’: I’m not sure I care!

December 14, 2009
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‘Christmas’ or ‘Winter Festival’: I’m not sure I care!

This must be the the third year that I have heard people bemoan government plans to change the name of Christmas to ‘Winter Festival’ or some such other variant.  A little research shows that this is unfounded, in most cases, and seems linked to a gentleman named Bill O’Reilly, but there has been some rumours bubbling in the UK.  But is this really a big deal?

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Have you ever received a Christmas card from the First Presidency?

December 10, 2009
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Have you ever received a Christmas card from the First Presidency?

This year I received a Christmas card from the First Presidency.  I have heard that Church employees get one, but it has not been my experience so far.  Nor did it occur to me that I would get one.  I received it with a DVD for the youth of our ward.  I cannot tell whether it was to accompany the DVD or whether Bishops get Christmas cards every year (this is my first Christmas as a Bishop).  

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Really Elder McConkie? You think Education is Worship!

December 8, 2009
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From an outsiders perspective, Mormon worship services may be perceived as lacking actual worship.  We spend two and a half  of our three hours in classes or listening to sermons.  We have (maybe) half an hour of singing (most of it – in my ward at least – resembles a death march) and ordinances.  Even our public prayers center around the teacher and the student receiving the Spirit.  Where is our Worship?  In a BYU devotional entitled ‘Lord, Increase our Faith’ Bruce R. McConkie taught that he believed that the highest form of worship is when someone spoke by the spirit…

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