Mormon News Report: 12 April 2017 [BLOGS]
So here’s the deal: It’s been a packed 5 days in Mormonism, so the News Report is massive. I personally don’t have an issue with a XXL-sized version of the Report, but others might not have the same level of obsession that I do. Therefore, the News Report will be split in two emails – this is the Blogs, and the News went out last night.
“Worthiness is a very big deal in Mormonism, of course. While you’re not required to be perfect to participate in ordinances, you do have to be “worthy.” I have to admit that growing up as a somewhat neurotic Mormon, I was probably overly prone to conflate the two. But I do think it’s a legitimate concern to observe that the strong emphasis on worthiness in LDS teachings can lead to perfectionism and excessive self-doubt. The key question here, of course, is what does it mean to be “worthy?” Ask a random group of Latter-day Saints about this, and I imagine that you’d get a whole lot of different answers—though probably many of them would be along the lines of “doing your best” or “trying to keep the commandments,” which seem to be, at least in contemporary LDS popular culture and discourse, the go-to phrases when it comes to what’s needed as far as human actions that complement that work of grace. But people definitely vary when it comes to, say, the question of when you should or shouldn’t take the sacrament…And all the well-meaning talk about how what matters isn’t ultimately what you’re doing, but that your heart is in the right place—a valiant attempt to shoot down at least one strand of perfectionism—fell flat for me, because my heart never seemed to be in the right place.”
This whole piece was awesome. You all should read it. “Seriously. I don’t mean this as some kind of Swiftian modest proposal. I’m completely serious about it. Maybe it’s my background as an attorney, but I believe that disagreement—that the airing of conflicting viewpoints—helps us discover truth. And Truth. I mean, we don’t know everything yet; that’s literally an article of our faith. And it’s not just a matter of finding truth (or Truth). We don’t have to fully think through our beliefs when we just assert them, especially if everybody nods in assent. Assertion is easy, and allows us to be lazy in constructing our beliefs. When we have to defend our assertions, we see the weaknesses, the places we need to study more, the places we need to look for further revelation. Putting our ideas into the stream of discourse helps us improve and increase our understanding.”
The hits keep on coming: “Lack of disagreement is most often a sign of repression or disengagement. The most tightly controlled, predictable environments are the most fragile. And I don’t know about you, but the Gospel Doctrine classes I’ve been attending are pretty doggone predictable, and thanks to correlation–very controlled. Since the inception of the bloggernacle I’ve heard (and experienced firsthand) that teachers who use non-correlated materials or ask too many off-script questions are often removed from teaching assignments. We prefer to ask the same questions and get the same answers, over and over, every 4 years, lather, rinse, repeat. It’s not always like that; some wards are better than others at bringing questions to the surface, but the correlated curriculum is particularly designed to ask the questions it wants answered, not the questions people might ask in a more direct engagement with the text. And when we suppress that engagement, we are creating fragility.”
mhaycock looks at the popular illustration of Joseph Smith translating the golden plates using his finger, and dives deep: “After all, religion is more than history. Kathleen Flake, chair of Mormon studies at the University of Virginia, says that reduction of faith to history is harmful to the former: “No religion I know of would want to turn its founding stories into history, at least as history is understood today in a scientific sense. Faith is not about fact; nor about fiction, for that matter. It’s certainly not a question of sophistication, at all, but of religious sense.” In agreement with Flake, I believe that an obsession with historical verisimilitude  has often hobbled Mormon illustration and, in consequence, contracted the Mormon imagination. I would even argue that the obsession with historical literality, ostensibly dispensing with all unhelpful (conscious) interpretive lenses, has contributed significantly to some of today’s faith crises. Had Mormon art not been billed as communicating visions of past as it really was, fewer people would have been disappointed when they discovered that their mental movies were somewhat off.”
mhaycock on Mormon illustrations, the deux: “To exhibit the analytical richness artistic diversity can encourage, I present From the Dust, a graphic novel project based on the Book of Mormon. There’s a major difference, however, from all previous illustrations of the Book of Mormon: in From the Dust there are no humans. That’s right: as in Zootopia, all the characters in From the Dust are bipedal, clothed animals— from Lehi, a hyena, to Nebuchadrezzar, a literal dragon. The settings make no pretension of historical accuracy: fanciful towers spiral up into the sky of ancient Jerusalem and Babylon. The beasts of burden look more like banthas than camels. And again as in Zootopia, divorcing the story from familiar human images allows us to approach the Book of Mormon from unaccustomed perspectives.”
One of the smartest people I know, and someone I always stop to read: “Last week at General Conference, President Burton delivered a talk titled “Certain Women.” She began by referencing two passages in Luke: 8:1-3 (which refers to “certain women” who ministered to Jesus) and then 24:22-23 (which concerns “certain women” who went to Jesus’ tomb)…The Greek word translated as “certain” in these two passages is the indefinite pronoun, so the meaning is “some,” which is how virtually all modern translations translate it. It’s hard to know what precisely President Burton had in mind: the speech itself implies that “convinced” is a synonym for “certain” in this context, although it also suggests that they are synonyms for just “one meaning” of the word.” A great analysis of the text, and President Burton’s talk.
“A House Full of Females” is my favorite Mormon book of 2017, and we are only 4 months in. I’m glad Meg felt the same way: “I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in either LDS history or women’s history. However I was disappointed that Professor Ulrich does not attempt to say anything new about Joseph, Eliza, and John Bennett. Professor Ulrich does suggest that sexual activity was far less prevalent than is typically presumed. She also gives us information that is wholly consistent with the hypothesis of an illicit intercourse heresy. But all too often she repeats the standard scholarly viewpoint that Joseph Smith was responsible for the rumors of inappropriate behavior, or that his rejection of spiritual wifery and illicit intercourse was not genuine.”
Warning – nerdy data analysis incoming: “Again, the church is still growing substantially, but appears to be doing so at a decreasing rate. Percent growth is a slightly more complicated statistic to interpret. If the church added the same number of members every year, the percent growth would still decrease geometrically as the base membership increases. The recent decrease in percent growth should be interpreted with this in mind. The growth of 1.59% in 2016 was the lowest single-year growth since 1937, and thus the slowest rate of growth in the lifetimes of nine of the fifteen apostles. It was the fifth slowest growth rate since 1900.”
“This is a discussion primarily about walking with our friends and family who are struggling with their faith. It’s not directed to those who are currently working through doubt themselves. My expertise is entirely informal and personal: I’m not a therapist or a social worker; I’m a scholar of theology and philosophy. But I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the intellectual issues that trouble some Mormons; I have many friends and family members who have decided to part ways with the church; and I’ve had the privilege of deep conversation with some of them. My experience has left me with a lot of hope that our relationships can survive big faith transitions in one or both of the parties.”
Kevin is awesome, as always: “My point is that the Church’s instincts to try to protect faith by these kinds of actions and policies have turned out (in my view) to be counterproductive. And while I applaud the Church’s efforts to bring its policies into the 21st century, it hasn’t been enough, not by a long shot. We still haven’t quite figured out that these kinds of things are now only a click away, and the way to preserve faith is not to bury them in the back yard but to engage them responsibly.”
This is an excerpt from Meilissa’s very cool play “Little Happy Secrets,” about Clarie, returning to BYU after her mission. Once again roomated with her best friend Brennan, Claire realizes the feelings she has for Brennan go beyond friendship.
Ardis returns from my favorite series of posts last week to debrief the FIRM Foundation Expo: “My few hours at the FIRM Foundation Expo were a distressing mix of intellectual dismay at the continuous denial of the scientific method, and profound depression at the misuse of scripture – the misleading of Latter-day Saints by Latter-day Saints – that I could not bear any more of it. Supporters of the views of the FIRM Foundation may perhaps justly criticize me for sampling such a small part of their offerings and drawing my conclusions from them, but from listening to presentations, observing audience members, reading the schedule and presenter descriptions, and familiarity with a few of the upcoming speakers, I could see no hope of substantially modifying the impressions of those first hours. The deadening, depressing effect on my spirit would not be lifted by hearing more.”
How to Help Future Missionaries Serve Strong But Stay Sane | An Interview With Gary Taylor (Kurt Francom, Leading LDS)
This is more of a podcast than a blog post, but Kurt identifies some of the highlights (if this interests you): “10 common reasons why missionaries struggle: 1.) Having unrealistic expectations, 2.) Failing to see the big picture – why they’re there and what it’s really about, 3.) Worry about things that are beyond the missionary’s control, 4.) Be wary in thinking and speaking in absolutes, or “all or none” thinking, 5.) Going overboard with “good things” to the point where they cause stress and/or illness, 6.) Letting anger and fear get out of control.”
Indiana Jones Is The Avatar Of Mormonism’s Intellectual Golden Age (Megan Harris & Matt B, By Common Consent)
HOT TAKE: “Thesis: We would like to remind you all that Indiana Jones is definitely Mormon. Probably a jack-Mormon, but definitely a Mormon. In fact, to understand Indiana Jones is to understand post-Brigham Young, pre-David O. McKay Mormonism: the era sometimes called the golden age of Mormon intellectual life.”
“In any situation in which there is an expectation of secrecy and you are wondering about its legitimacy, whether in a family or a church or other social institution or the workings of a government agency, I propose that the crucial question to ask is this: exactly who or what is this secrecy protecting? If we’re talking about a therapy relationship, for example, it’s clear that the built-in confidentiality requirement, in which the therapist is tasked with keeping the secrets of the client, is aimed at protecting the client, and that seems quite legitimate and defensible. On the other hand, if the secrecy in an institution appears to be primarily protecting the people running the institution, while causing harm to some of its more vulnerable members, I think we need to ask some hard questions.”
2017 Association for Mormon Letters Conference Program (Scott Hales, Association for Mormon Letters)
The 2017 Association for Mormon Letters Conference will take place on April 21 and 22. Friday, April 21 will feature a keynote from Phyllis Barber at Writ & Vision in Provo, and Saturday, April 22 will feature a full day of panels and presentations at Utah Valley University.
Apr 11, 1897
[George Q. Cannon]
… I went to the Tabernacle, and Brother J. E. Talmage was called upon to speak, which he did for about half an hour. I was disappointed in his effort. Brother Talmage did not seem to have the spirit he has had, probably due to the fact that he is out of practice and his mind has been more devoted to scientific matters. …
my brother David … said there was a discussion in the streets of St. George among a number of brethren over the [former apostle Moses] Thatcher affair, and there were some five or six who were avowed Thatcher men, and who considered that he had been harshly dealt with. Some one or more of them said that they would not pay tithing and would not give means to help the First Presidency to carry out their projects. …
[Source: The Journal of George Q. Cannon, Church Historian’s Press, https://churchhistorianspress.org/george-q-cannon]