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Saturday, July 31, 2004

Elder Haight Passes 

by Mathew
Elder Haight passed away this morning of causes related to old age. When I mentioned his death to my mother she asked me if I was sure he wasn't just taken up. I will remember him for his soothing demeanor, his sense or humor and his frequent references to Ruby.

In his last conference talk he had the following to say:

I understand the power of prayer and of faith and of devotion, and I acknowledge precious witnesses from heaven. And so I stand here today just to bear my testimony and say hello to you. I'm hoping that by another conference I'll be totally healed and able to do what I'm asked to do.

I will miss this gentle servant of God.

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Friday, July 30, 2004

Fun Friday Poll! 

by NA
Because you were looking for something fun to do on a Friday afternoon.



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Thursday, July 29, 2004

A Special Welcome to Our Rumspringa Friends 

by NA
An increasing portion of our traffic here at BCC has been via Google searches that include the term "rumspringa."  For example, a search for "rumspringa amish biography" shows BCC solidly in fifth place.  I would like to extend a special greeting to those seeking further knowledge of our Amish teenage friends, running free in their early adulthood.  This is doubtlessly the result of the upcoming UPN reality show, "Amish in the City."  Perhaps you have come seeking a tie to your own personal rumspringa days.  Perhaps you have come seeking photos of amish girls gone wild.  No matter: we welcome you!  Take this opportunity to learn more about liberal mormons while you're here, and ask all the questions you like.  Perhaps you'd be interested in reading the mormon equivalent of Amish in the City.

p.s. a special thanks to Aaron B. and to Jeremy for spearheading BCC's rumspringa-thon.  I promise this wasn't an intentional googlebombing attempt, unlike others I've seen.



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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Tempus Fugit, or Why I Don't Do Scrapbooks 

by Kristine
Lots of Mormon women make nifty scrapbooks of their kids', their family's lives. I don't. Sometimes I feel bad about that, worry that my kids will feel deprived if all the events of their young lives are not recorded in carefully cropped snapshots, with cute die-cut figures and fancy paper borders. For a long time I thought my resistance to scrapbooking was just mild anti-Mollyism combined with a lack of time (oh, yeah, and resentment of turning nouns like "scrapbook" into verbs). But now I have a few minutes in my days, and I could, if I really wanted to, get around to making those scrapbooks. But I still haven't.

Here's why--I don't think they work. I think people make scrapbooks because they are trying to keep time from slipping through their fingers. Having a child makes you conscious of time in an acute and often painful way. When I was 26, it was easy for me to think that I was pretty much the same as I had been at 21. But even if I can sometimes think, at 34, that I am pretty much the same as I was when I was 27 (just a *little* fatter and more wrinkled, really!), there is this hulking 60 lb. 7-year-old next to me, who was just a 7 lb. lump of funny sounds and smells when I was 27. (OK, yeah, he still sounds and smells funny a lot of the time, but...)

I remember when we were leaving the hospital, being sad that he was 2 whole days old and it didn't make sense to give his age in hours anymore. And I shocked myself with a bout of strenuous weeping when he was a month old and I had to pack away the tiniest t-shirts. At every stage, along with the joy of new discovery, there is the nagging grief of never again--look! he's eating cereal (someday soon he'll be weaned), look! he's crawling (someday he will walk away from me), look! he's going to school (he'll learn things I don't teach him), look! he can read (the world is his; he is escaping the home I have so carefully made). And always the aching knowledge that he and I will not be here, in this minute, together again. A scrapbook is not enough to assuage that grief--it will not bring me back the sweet 20-lb. six-month-old who made my arms hurt with his delicious chubbiness, it will not smell like the back of his baby neck, or his grassy 3-year-old sweat, it will not really hold the awkward 1-gigantic-permanent-tooth cyclops grin that makes it so hard for me to yell at him today. A scrapbook will only be a cruel tease.

The other reason I think scrapbooks have such appeal to Mormons, of course, is our focus on our posterity, and our hope that our lives will be rich with lessons for our descendants. I'm not convinced that this is so, either. I have as storied a family as anyone, I think; my paternal grandparents, especially, have conscientiously recorded and retold as much of the family history as we can discover. And I love those stories, and I am glad to know them, and I learn from them, but it's still hard to be convinced of their significance, their weightiness, their *heft.* Despite my post-modernish academic training, I'm still attracted by the old Great Man historiography, and deep down I think that truly important lives will manage to make their mark despite being unchronicled by the people who live them. I intend to creep quietly into a plainly marked grave, and leave the digging through boxes of photographs to journalists and historians eager for baby pictures of my accomplished and celebrated offspring. Newspaper pictures and biography covers do not have pretty borders.
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Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Another Round: DNA, Zelph, and the Book of Mormon 

by John H
Patty Henetz of the Associated Press has written an article on DNA and the Book of Mormon, focusing on geneticist Simon Southerton and his forthcoming book, Losing a Lost Tribe. Although DNA and the Book of Mormon has probably made the rounds through the bloggernacle, I suspect it’s a story that won’t go away for a while. I find the DNA issue to be fascinating, though hardly the death knell for the Book of Mormon that some portray it as. But I had an experience sometime ago that both troubled me and helped me resolve many of these issues, albeit perhaps unsatisfactorily for most members.

After hearing about the Zelph story here and there, and remembering it when I read History of the Church on my mission, I decided to do some digging. As a quick reminder, the Zelph story goes as follows: While on Zion’s camp, some bones are unearthed on top of a small mound. Joseph Smith declares that the man was Zelph, a white Lamanite and a righteous man.

I expected to hear that the Zelph story couldn't be taken seriously as an actual event - it was just a rumor. It turns out at least 7 or 8 people present at the camp reported on Zelph, including Wilford Woodruff. President Woodruff recorded in his journal that Joseph had a revelation, and that he learned that Zelph was a warrior under the great Prophet Onandagus. After doing my reading, I came away pretty convinced that the Zelph episode did in fact take place.

The first problem with this story is immediately evident. If Joseph had a revelation about Zelph, what does that mean for the limited geography theory? If the Book of Mormon took place, as we’re now told, in a small area in Mesoamerica, how did Zelph’s bones end up on a mound in Illinois? For whatever reason, that didn’t affect me too much. What surprised me, to the point where I had what might be called an epiphany, was reading about this great Prophet “Onandagus” that Zelph served under. I served my mission in upstate New York - just slightly east of Palmyra. One of the areas I served in was Onandaga County, one county over from where Joseph Smith lived. Coincidence? I think not.

I know it probably seems silly, but this information struck me hard. Rarely have a felt so sure of something: Joseph Smith was making stuff up. I’d always been able to negotiate my doubts and my faith without making scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon, a casualty. It seemed now I couldn’t even keep the most basic parts of my faith safe from my Sunstone side. Since this experience, I’ve calmed down, chilled out - relaxed a bit, if you will. The reality is I don’t know what the Zelph story means. I see several possibilities:

1. The Zelph affair never happened. One or two men saw Joseph looking at the bones on a mound, told some of the other men, a story got cooked up and passed on as truth. Or, Joseph speculated a bit, and it was reported as revelation. (For the record, I think this is highly unlikely. The consistency and specifics with which the men report the event are impressive.)

2. The Zelph affair did happen, and Joseph did have a revelation. The limited geography theory is simply wrong, or flawed, and Lamanites and Nephites did live in what is now Illinois, despite what current research and science suggests.

3. The Zelph affair did happen, and Joseph did have a revelation. However, the bones were actually not that of Zelph, but this event was a way for God to strengthen those who were in his service in Zion’s camp. They may have been feeling down and out, and this boosted their spirits. The theological implications of God revealing something that isn’t true are problematic, but I also think this possibility need remain open.

4. The Zelph affair did happen, but Joseph received no revelation. Instead, he made it up to boost the men’s spirits and remind them of the divinity of their mission. This does not necessarily invalidate the Book of Mormon, but suggests that Joseph was willing to lie to help people.

5. The Zelph affair did happen, but Joseph received no revelation. He not only made this story up, but made the entire Book of Mormon up. He was, as Dan Vogel might suggest, a pious fraud.

I’ll confess I’m partial to number 4. (I’ve left off a few other variations on these possibilities, such as Joseph was delusional.) What this experience forced me to do, for the first time, was look at what I valued in the scriptures. I was guilty of what a lot of us are guilty of - I paid lip service to things I didn’t really believe. We say that we don’t try and prove the Book of Mormon true, because we’re really only interested in its spiritual message and witness of Christ. But how do we react when it’s veracity as a historical book is challenged? FARMS, for example, will spend one paragraph in a book saying that the spiritual witness the Book of Mormon provides is what’s important, and that we can’t prove it to be true, then they spend the rest of the entire book trying to do just that.

We’ve tied so much into the Book of Mormon (if it’s true, then Joseph’s a prophet, and if he’s a prophet, then Mormonism is true, yada, yada, yada.) For my part, I’m learning to appreciate the book as a wonderful spiritual guide, regardless of its origins. I find I enjoy the New Testament a bit more (as if that doesn’t have its own historical dilemmas), but for the first time in a while, I’ve learned to read the Book of Mormon without the baggage we’ve attached to it. It’s really quite remarkable.

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Kay Whitmore, 1932-2004 

by Grimshizzle
I read in the Rochester and Democrat and Chronicle this afternoon that prominent businessman and devout Mormon Kay Whitmore passed away last night after a struggle with leukemia. It's only by chance that I read it in the paper before I heard it over the phone; he happened to be a member of my ward.

I can't say I knew him very well. When we moved here he and his wife were serving in a singles ward in the next stake over, and they subsequently only attended our ward for a short time before they got restless and left on a mission (their second; previously they had overseen a mission in England) to southern California. They were simply too busy doing good things for me to run into him very often.

I did see him about a month ago, however, around the time of his diagnosis, and the circumstances of the meeting speak concisely to his character as citizen and saint: this former CEO of Kodak--the board of which, incidentally, forced him into retirement in 1993 because they wanted to trim more employees from the company than he was willing to fire--was sweeping up the gym floor after the boy scout pancake breakfast.

(Cross-posted at OT)



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Saturday, July 24, 2004

Reality TV and Mormon Dating: Outback Jack goes to my Singles' Ward 

by Karen
I realize that in the company of the intellectual giants in the bloggernacle, this next confession may forever peg me as a lightweight (if my previous posts have not already pegged me as such...) I watch reality dating shows. Not the serious ones like the Bachelor, no, I prefer the gimicky rip off shows. (My personal favorite moment was when the preening queen from Average Joe Hawaii dumped the average guy for the hottie, then was in turn dumped by him on their post-production vacation because she admitted that she once dated Fabio. Ladies and Gentlemen, TV does not get better than that...)

I have, until now however, been unable to explain my illogical attraction to the gimicky dating shows. Outback Jack changed all that. I have entered a level of higher consciousness and now choose to share it with you. Outback Jack goes to my Singles' Ward. Let me clarify, the Outback Jack syndrome has infected the Mormon Singles Scene. And let's just say it does not bring with it a wave of dignity and charity.

For the uninitiated. Outback Jack is a fairly hot, but strangely small man, full of testosterone and Australian good sense. A nice guy--certainly more sincere than his American counterparts. He seems well-meaning, and apparently naieve enough to agree to be on American television. The deal had its perks for him. The producers dropped 12 pampered, phenomenally gorgeous women in his lap, and every few days he gets to pick which ones will "continue on this journey" with him. He started out extremely kind, if a bit overwhelmed. However, as the show goes on, and these women continue to throw themselves at him, his attitude is slowly changing. Let me illustrate: On the last episode, as he was about to eliminate one of the pouting blonds, he voiced over "Ah, I'm about to break one of these sheila's hearts. That's so hard for me, I'm not a cruel person." About to "break a heart?" Come on. And once again, we witness the fact that power begets hubris. And hubris begets stupid voice-overs.

So it finally hit me. Single LDS men are by and large in an Outback Jack kind of "reality." I have attended my fair share of singles wards, and by the mid to late twenties, on average, the women are ahead of the men in both quantity and accomplishment. Now, I'm not trying to toot my own horn here. I'm quite sure I'm the woman that pulls the average down for the rest of my talented and beautiful sisters, but I am an observer, and I'm not the only one making this observation. The women outnumber the men, and by and large, therefore, there are MANY more "on the ball" women competing for a few really great men and a quite a few average joes. Sounds crass? It feels crass and undignified. And breeds very bad behavior, both in women and men.

In fact it breeds the kind of behavior seen on reality t.v. Women who act with charity in any other situation can be pouty and catty, and then feel both guilt and social ostracization. The men get an overinflated sense of self and start behaving badly--manipulating women they are not interested in for ego gratification, and dating friends simultaneously, lying to both of them, just because they can get away with it. (Incidentally these things happened to friends of mine, just this past week...I'm not being hypothetical here.)

The result? More and more women are dating outside the church, and finding ironically, that their non-Mormon boyfriends treat them better than the men in the church. I find it fascinating that women in the church are waiting for moral men to marry in the temple, then find that non-Mormon men handle the dating scene with a greater sense of morality. Which is sad, because for the most part, I like the single Mormon guys I know. I think they're trying to do their best to navigate a really horribly awkward situation, and are caught up in it. I can't say with certainty that I would behave differently if put in the same situation. But the fact of the matter is, the demographics powerfully skew the social situation, and that situation skews behavior.

So, I'm willing to admit that I could be caught in the flames of indignation on behalf of my friends who are continually hurt by others' bad behavior, and also so socially awkward, that I can't manage to navigate the waters of single mormoness without looking like an idiot most of the time. However, I think this brings up some really serious questions about single womens' expectations for a temple marriage. Fed up with the indignity of our situation, should we just give up, and cobble together families and happiness in the best way we can? Or is the ideal (that we haven't tasted yet) worth the intervening social torture? How are we supposed to act when faced with this kind of manipulative behavior? What's a single gal to do?



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Friday, July 23, 2004

By the sweat of thy brow... 

by NA
As you may know, I'm a lawyer, and draft contracts and other arrangements for a living.  Another way of looking at this is to say that I'm a bottom-feeder, and my job would not exist if people were honest with each other.  Either way, lawyers spin no cloth and till no fields.  My work, as with most modern office work, is heavily decontextualized, and I find myself far removed from any actual product or fruit of labor.  This didn't bother me very much -- when I was younger my office jobs and grunt-work were frequently detached from the real world.  This is a complaint of most modern office workers.  But lately, I've been working long hours, slaving over documents that few people will ever read, and otherwise questioning my chosen profession.  A part of this questioning has involved thoughts about being closer to people, working in a more hands-on way, and creating a more direct link between my efforts and an end product in the hands of the public.  This may not be possible for a lawyer, or for anyone else raised and trapped in an "Office Space" world.  I find myself wistfully thinking of becoming a tradesperson, such as a plumber or contractor, if only to witness the work of my own hands (this is, of course, total delusion -- I have no skills for working with my hands and my home improvements thus far have been met with limited success).

Is this a typically Mormon thought process, or an American one, for that matter?  I'm tempted to trace this kind of thinking back to puritan ethics and agrarian work culture, both of which are a part of LDS traditions.   Lesson manuals are filled with missives about "The Value of Work" and how noble it is to truly earn your money (pay close attention, investment bankers and arbitrageurs!).  These discussions seem inescapably tied to notions of a day's work for a day's pay and other concepts of work that somehow fall short of describing most modern professions.  As a result of this (perceived?) inadequacy I'd like to try and establish a framework for evaluating work in God's Plan to see if there are any rules or notions we can isolate as cultural relics, while identifying those divine gems that remain.  Not an easy task, but here are some initial thoughts:

I'm not sure where that leaves me, or what these ideas say about working in the modern world.  Even worse, these principles lead me to perform value judgments on professions in ways I'm not comfortable with (i.e., most modern office jobs are bad for us).  I also find myself unable to come to conclusions about the separation between workers and end-products (which seems to be the essence of work in modern society).  Is there something I'm missing here?  Let me know where I need to go from here, and I'll continue in future posts.



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A very important and serious policy debate between the candidates 

by Kaimi
is available here.  Not a bad tune, either.

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Thursday, July 22, 2004

Elder Maxwell dies 

by NA
As noted on the LDS.org site, Elder Maxwell passed away last night.  I will miss him, as one of the most thoughtful and well-spoken apostles in recent memory.  His thoughts on the meaning of discipleship, the hallmark of his tenure as apostle, were of personal importance to me and to many others.  Our thoughts are with wife and children.

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Um, uh--the LP version 

by Kristine
Steve asked what I'm going to say on the Sunstone panel. I really don't quite know; I *told* Dan Wotherspoon that I wasn't sure I had much to offer, so they've been forewarned. (I'll try to at least wear something interesting, so I can be decorative). But here's my hypothesis, such as it is:

I think that there isn't really much difference between "Internet Mormons" and "Chapel Mormons." I think Internet apologetic battles may sway a few people around the margins, but I don't think there's any real effect on what's going on in the pews and in Sunday School. People self-select on the internet, just as they do with print media. People who only read the Ensign and Deseret Books stuff will not stray from lds.org. People who would read the stuff thrust into their hands on Temple Square will take a peek at the Tanners' website just out of curiosity. People who like FARMS will hang out at fairlds.org. People who like Dialogue and Sunstone will probably glance at timesandseasons from time to time. People look for code words that make them feel comfortable.

I'm sure I'm missing something--I'm a bit of a Luddite and I don't get out much :) So all of you smart people please fill me in!!
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Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Shameless Plug  

by John H
The annual Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium is three weeks away, so it's time I started spreading the word. I'll just mention a few things:

1. The program is online in pdf format at www.sunstoneonline.com. Do check it out. Note that students with a valid ID can attend for free and first time attenders are $50 for the whole conference. (Make sure to look over the workshops - Linda King Newell teaching a writing biography workshop - not too shabby!)

2. One panel in particular I'll mention is session 233 - Internet Mormons vs. Chapel Mormons. Kristine Haglund Harris will join others on this panel that discusses if there is a disconnect between those Mormons who are familiar with online forums, and those who are not. For example, those familiar with Internet forums and websites will tend to accept a much smaller body of canon (ie, not everything said or written by Church leaders is doctrine) - do those unfamiliar with online forums agree?

3. Dallas Robbins, at his website here, outlines some criticisms of the symposium. I'd be curious to hear what others think of his criticisms and if they have suggestions for improvement. I've posted some followup questions on his site and would love ideas from all places.

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Monday, July 19, 2004

Zeezrom revisited 

by Aaron B
Once upon a time, I politely suggested we change the name of this site to "Zeezrom and the Kori-Whores."  I was callously and rudely rebuffed by my cruel, heartless co-bloggers here at BCC. (sniff!)
 
Well, I've got a new argument to add to the pile:  If we keep our name, we might get confused with the official newsletter of the Mormon Alliance!
 
Solution:  Take my original advice ... or perhaps invite Lavina Fielding Anderson and/or Janice Allred to guest-blog?
 
Aaron B 

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Friday, July 16, 2004

The Perils of Religious Voting 

by Dave
I stumbled across an interesting set of directives to Catholic voters entitled A Brief Catechism for Catholic Voters. It's written by a Catholic clergyman with a PhD and it's posted on a website that looks pretty darned Catholic, so I'll take it as a fair expression of conservative Catholic thinking on this tricky issue of church and state. Mormons, too, like to mix religion with their politics, but sometimes we see our own difficulties more clearly by viewing someone else's. So here are some highlights (quotes in italics, my comments afterwards) from the fourteen numbered paragraphs in the article.

3. If a political candidate supported abortion, or any other moral evil, such as assisted suicide and euthanasia, for that matter, it would not be morally permissible for you to vote for that person. This is because, in voting for such a person, you would become an accomplice in the moral evil at issue. No, voting for a pro-abortion candidate is not morally equivalent to choosing or assisting with an abortion. If it were, then so would a lot of things be too: fixing the car of a pro-abortion person, selling a house to a pro-abortion person, coaching their kids in Little League, even just saying "Good morning" as opposed to "One day you will burn in hell" or some similar benediction could be "assisting." Making abortion a controlling litmus test for voting debases voting and undermines the polity.

7. A candidate for office who says that he is personally opposed to abortion but actually votes in favor of it is either fooling himself or trying to fool you. . . . If you vote for such a candidate, you would be an accomplice in advancing the moral evil of abortion. Therefore, it is not morally permissible to vote for such a candidate for office. This attempts to deny Catholic politicians the possibility of separating their political sense of duty from their personal sense of religious obligation. Didn't Catholics figure this out with Kennedy in 1960? He said (in no uncertain terms) that as President he wouldn't take orders from the Vatican--would he have been elected if he had said the contrary? We expect politicians to represent all voters and act with an eye to the diverse views of their constituents and the public good, not simply enact their own personal moral agenda.

In paragraph 10, the author opines that if the choice is between two (or several) candidates who are all pro-abortion, one need not withhold one's vote, but should instead vote for the candidate who "would do the least moral harm." That seems like a better and more general principle to follow in every case: vote for the guy who will do the least (moral) harm. In paragraph 14, the author holds out that knowingly voting for a pro-abortion candidate is a mortal sin (in Catholic theology, a sin which kills the spiritual life of the soul and deprives a person of salvation, unless he repents). All this Catholic angst over voting is a reminder of how authoritarian and how thoroughly opposed to political liberalism was Catholicism in the 19th century. Echoes persist.

So are there any pitfalls here that LDS leaders and voters can avoid? I'll note that LDS leaders have consistently worked hard to avoid endorsing specific candidates or getting embroiled in political disputes. Yet, it feels like the Church is becoming more politicized recently. The times they are a-changing. What think ye?
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Thursday, July 15, 2004

Full Faith and Credit 

by Mathew
After the Federal Marriage Amendment failed to gather enough support to put it to a vote, Senator Hatch had the following to say:

"If Massachusetts starts honoring gay marriage, that means a state like my home state that doesn't want to have gay marriage has to honor them," said Hatch. "Virtually every constitutional authority I know of thinks the full faith and credit clause [in the Constitution] will require recognition of gay marriages."

I'm not sure that this "spooky" view of the full faith and credit clause is so widerly held as Hatch says he believes. (That's right--I don't think he really believes it.) Yale law professor Lea Brilmayer certainly doesn't think so--her views on the matter can be found in a March 9 op-ed piece that originally ran in the Wall Street Journal. You can read it here.

The National Review has a nifty piece that responds to Professor Brilmayer here.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Losing Perspective 

by Aaron B
Over at the Evil Blog, those raving, intellectual apostates have finally gone too far. Brace yourselves … Russell has had the audacity to promote khaki pants for missionaries! Scandalous! Outrageous! I’m not sure I can visit T&S anymore. Steve, remove the heathens from our blogroll, forthwith!

What Russell obviously doesn’t know is that non-black and non-navy pants aren’t just prohibited in many missions… they are downright evil. How do I know this? Because one of my mission presidents never ceased to remind me of it. Every couple of zone conferences, President “B” would grill into the elders’ heads the moral distinctions between black/blue and green (O.K., not khaki, but close enough). Elders who wore dark pants were “dignos de ser representantes de Cristo.” Elders who wore green pants were most definitely NOT “dignos de ser representantes de Cristo.” The moral dividing line between the colors was completely black and white (green).

Why did he do this? Well, presumably President B figured the mission needed a rule regarding pants colors. This makes sense. After all, if you don’t have a rule of some kind, some elder in the mission is bound to wear something outrageous. (Remember Elder D from the MTC? He bought himself a pair of Argentine leather pants, and I shudder to think how often he would have worn them without this rule). But couldn’t President B have just explained the rule as a necessary, albeit somewhat arbitrary, act of line-drawing?

“Elders,” he could have said, “You need to dress in a relatively standardized fashion, so that you are recognizable as missionaries. You also need to dress in such a way as to not draw undue attention to yourselves. Therefore, I’ve decided to implement a mission rule regarding pants colors. From now on, you can wear blue pants and black pants, but not green or khaki pants. There’s nothing wrong with these colors, per se, but we need to draw the line somewhere, and this seems a fairly easy place to draw it.”

But President B didn’t say this. Instead, we got treated to a fire and brimstone lecture (I exaggerate, but not by much) meant to inculcate the strongest of taboos regarding the color green. You could’ve been forgiven for thinking that Christ himself was offended at the color. Of course, you can predict the reaction of the elders. Many embraced this teaching fully, while others quietly scoffed at the silliness and consequently had a difficult time taking President B seriously on any number of other topics.

I wonder if President B’s decision isn’t representative of a tendency in the Church more generally, whether in the mission field, within wards (think Bishops instructing the Youth), within families, or wherever: If you want a rule, a norm, or a taboo to be taken seriously, blow its importance way out of proportion and you’ll be sure to get higher levels of compliance. And the result, inevitably, is that a certain portion of your listeners have a really hard time taking anything you say seriously.

When every little mundane, trivial decision in the Church is imputed with cosmic significance, we may be able to better ensure norm compliance among a certain portion of the membership. But I wonder if this doesn’t consistently come at the cost of alienating another portion, or at least diluting the effect of other norms that really are important. Maybe, just maybe, we ought to be open and up front about the nature of our rules, and keep in perspective the relative importance they have in the grand scheme of things. Or am I the one that’s losing perspective?

Aaron B

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Sunday, July 11, 2004

My Naïvete 

by John H
I'm starting to think I'm extremely naïve. There's something I believe that seems like it ought to be the most obvious fact on the planet. "Two plus two equals four" or "the sky is blue" kind of obvious - the sort of thing everyone ought to know.

But it turns out not everyone does know it. And the many people that do know it have long ago made peace with it - it's just not the issue to them that it is to me. I bring it up online or in group discussions, thinking I'm somehow shining some light in the world. In reality, I'm starting to think I'm embarrassing myself, playing the role of the "master of the obvious." So, with that in mind, here goes.

It seems to me that something that ought be understood by all religious people, something that ought to be as plain as the nose on one's face, is that religious beliefs aren't facts. They're called "beliefs" for a reason. We don't really know that the Bible is the word of God - we believe it is. We don't have a scrap of proof or evidence to back us up. We believe God is out there, we don't know God is out there.

Yes, people have spiritual, supernatural, or other-wordly experiences that seem to confirm the truth of these sorts of things. But these experiences, when taken from across the religious spectrum, are so diverse, so numerous, and so contradictory as to make them almost useless in determining truth. Not that individual experiences are worthless, but that using them to compile an idea of what truth is strikes me as pointless. For example, I've had some remarkable experiences in paying tithing. I've experienced things that I label as blessings, and I assign those blessings as having come from the Mormon concept of God. Those experiences are very real to me and I hope people will respect them. But that tells me that I have to respect the experiences of others. If someone else experiences blessings and traces those blessings to Vishnu, how on earth can I tell them they are wrong and that their blessings really come from my concept of what God is.

I remain entirely amazed at what people will do in the name of their religious beliefs, given that there is no way of proving they are somehow "right." Beyond one's own religious tradition, how does one choose Christ over Buddha, for example? Perhaps one tradition will ring truer with one's personal experiences, but it isn't like someone can demonstrate that Christ is the true way, while Buddha isn't.

This "fact" seems so obvious to me, and so very important. If understood by all, it means the guys won't fly the plane into the buildings. In short, it means (at least as I see it) that people don't need to mistreat other people over religion, because they realize we're talking about ideas and beliefs, not truth. Because when someone thinks they have the truth, they can justify anything - everything from religious violence to just being plain mean. Lonnie Persifall (an anti-Mormon preacher in Salt Lake) can call Mormon women "whores of babylon" while professing to love them, because he has "the truth."

But few others seem interested in this "obvious idea". When brought up among true believers, I'm usually seen as weird or even influenced by Satan (this logic is exactly the kind Satan would use to fight the truth, they reason). When brought up among the more intellectually minded (for lack of a better term), I seem to be regarded like the little kid who just figured out something obvious. They've dealt with this issue, and have decided to live their lives following their own faith. And yet I continue to contend that this kind of understanding essential to a peaceful, tolerant religious community.

For what it's worth, I'm not trying to make belief a morally relativistic place where truth is everywhere yet nowhere. I believe in exercising faith - acting on one's belief. That's why I go to Church, obey the commandments as best I can, etc. Belief isn't worth a lot unless it has action to back it up.

Am I being naïve in feeling this way? Am I watering down religion to nothing (and making it boring along the way)?
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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

More MTC Antics 

by Aaron B
In the comments at my recent post at Sons of Mosiah, Grasshopper shared his fond memories of “streaking” through the halls of the MTC with nothing on but a shower cap, and the accompanying brush with ecclesiastical authority that ensued. He says he learned some lessons that have served him well. Not to be outdone, I also have an MTC experience that involves a ruckus through the MTC halls and an ecclesiastical confrontation, although it contains no nudity (alas!). (I hope all you Mormon liberals don't mind my longwindedness ...)

It is safe to say that my district was the most rambunctious in our building. Evenings were often punctuated by shaving cream fights or other high energy/high volume antics. About half of the district down the hall was similarly inclined, so our inter-district rivalry reached an intensity that warranted complaints to the authorities by elders on adjacent floors, no less.

About 7 weeks into our MTC experience, my companions and I became acquainted with another district of kindred spirits. “Where have you been all these weeks?” was a common question we would put to each other. Both districts enjoyed each other's company immensely. One evening, right before we left the MTC, this other district decided to throw us a “party.” This entailed our hanging out in their building and shooting the breeze – nothing scandalous. As 9:00 pm rolled around, it was almost time to return to our own rooms before curfew, and we really didn’t want to go. But alas, the rules are the rules.

Suddenly, a voice made an announcement over the MTC-wide loudspeaker: “Please set your clocks back one hour this evening because of Daylight Savings Time.” And then it hit me. I proclaimed, “Hey elders! The voice over the loudspeaker says to set your clocks back one hour. So it isn’t really 9:00 pm! It’s only 8:00 pm!” Everyone was quick to agree with my conclusion, and we spent the next hour leisurely shooting the breeze and goofing around.

As 9:00 pm (really 10:00 pm) came upon us, we decided we had probably better return home. Certain other elders on the floor realized we were “foreign” to the building and threatened to call the authorities on us, given the hour. We quickly exited the building, but not before a brief powwow concerning how we would make it back safely without getting caught. We were quite confident that if we proceeded with enough stealth, we could do so without being apprehended.

We guessed wrong. We were confronted no less than 3 times on the way home, each time by a caustic MTC official that demanded to know what we were doing out past bedtime. Each time I spoke on behalf of the group, insisting that the voice over the loudspeaker had told us to set our clocks back, and we had promptly complied … perhaps a little too promptly, but then we were just being obedient to instruction after all. :) I really didn’t expect this line to work, but it did! Every single time!! Each interloper accepted my explanation and we made it back through our building doors. Safe at last! (Or so we thought).

What we didn’t know at the time (but soon would) was that this particular evening happened to coincide with THE biggest drag-down, knock-out, shaving cream/random substance/pillow fight that our building had ever seen. It was started by the district next to ours – our long-time adversaries – and spread to the entire floor. Had we been present that evening, there is no question that we would have been active participants. How ironic that the one evening full-scale WAR breaks out was the one we happened to be “absent.” Anyway, apparently 5 different MTC branch presidents were called, and they converged on our floor. The imminent confrontation and chastisement was a long time in coming, and there was going to be hell to pay. However, someone apparently got wind of the presidents' arrival, and all the elders on the floor quickly sprinted to their rooms, shut their doors, and pretended to be asleep. Many elders were called out of their rooms to take the blame for the chaos, but nobody took responsibility. Apparently, everyone had been just “trying to sleep,” despite the ruckus, and nobody knew who the real culprits were. :) The branch presidents were pissed.

Ignorant of the evening’s drama, my district and I briskly climbed the stairs to our floor. On the way up, a fuming branch president confronted us. Irate at the evening’s antics, and even more upset that he didn’t arrive in time to bust the perpetrators, he accosted us in a measured, angry tone:

“There has been a problem on the floor this evening, elders. And I think I’m looking at the source of the problem RIGHT HERE!”

“Um, actually, no – we don’t know what you’re talking about,” I replied non-chalantly. “We haven’t even been here this evening. We’ve been over at another building, because we mistakenly thought that, given the announcement about setting our clocks back …”

The look on the branch president’s face was classic. He was not expecting such a calm, creative, perhaps even semi-plausible reply. I can’t claim to read minds, but his face seemed to say “This isn’t supposed to be happening. I really need to bust some elders, and this group is my only chance. But they are claiming they weren’t here, and I can’t prove they’re lying. Aargh!!” (I think the president was so dead-set on finding those responsible for the pillow fight, he didn’t even bother to evaluate the appropriateness of our not being in the building on time).

“I think I’m looking at the source of the problem RIGHT HERE,” the branch president repeated (rather lamely, since he’d already said that).

I stood my ground. “No, actually, like I just said, we weren’t here this evening. We just got back from another building because we mistakenly thought that it was 8:00 rather than 9:00 because …”

What was the branch president going to say next? Nothing, it turns out – he just stood there fuming and speechless. So we quickly finished climbing the stairs and went to our rooms, passing several other indignant branch presidents along the way, and throwing them a few words of explanation. At the end of the day, nobody in my district got punished, or even yelled at, for anything that went on that night. And just as well too, since we were totally innocent.

What is the moral of the story here? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s “If you’re going to misbehave regularly, make sure that on the day you’re most likely to get caught, you’re misbehaving in some other fashion somewhere else, so you won’t get in trouble for your regular misbehavior.” Or maybe it’s “Don’t obey certain rules and you’ll be less likely to disobey other rules.” Or maybe it’s “Rationalize your actions calmly, with a straight face, and you’re sure to win over your superiors.” I really don’t know. But I am sure that whatever the moral, it can’t be found in the White Bible.

Aaron B

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The worth of souls is...about $1,418. 

by NA
You've probably read about this elsewhere, but the U.S. Air Force pilot who killed four and wounded at least eight Canadians in Afghanistan has been fined $5,672. This article provides a fairly good summary of the decision. Personally, I'm disgusted that criminal charges against him were dropped, and that all he gets is the 'maximum' administrative penalty of about a month's pay, along with a reprimand. The behavior of this pilot was outrageous, but even more troubling is the idea of a military institution capable of generating such self-justifying attitudes in the face of acts that are clearly wrong... One more reason I'm beginning to believe that all war is bad.

Ranting aside, this news has made me question LDS theories of atonement and "paying for our sins." We speak of restitution and atonement as though we have two separate processes working contemporaneously: you repent of your sins, and you also give back the apple you stole or fix the fence you drove through. This seems to me to be erroneous, at least if we're concerned exclusively with personal forgiveness. What payment would've been enough for this pilot? If we reject the notion of an eye for an eye, why do we require payment at all? Is the idea of payment generated out of the needs of the individual, or out of the demands of the community at large? For example, if God decides that an administrative reprimand is enough temporal suffering for this pilot to endure in order to be forgiven, does the community have any right to demand payment beyond that reprimand?

UPDATE: You can read the full text of the reprimand here.

UPDATE #2: ABC News has an older but still interesting article on how the U.S. military engages in relative soul valuation. You can view the article here.
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A poll to bring back those good ol' days 

by Kaimi
Don't worry, we won't tell your old AP what your reply was . . .


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Saturday, July 03, 2004

A Difference in Values 

by John H
Most of the time, I feel right at home in the Church. I love the people, the theology, the leaders, and especially the history. The thought of somehow not being a Mormon is beyond my comprehension.

On occasion, however, I feel very out of place at Church. When I hear comments that seem to be espousing Mormon values, whether uttered in Sacrament meeting, Sunday school, or even General Conference, I frankly find they are often different than my own values.

Just two examples: I’m not always thrilled with the direction of the media – the amount of sex and violence portrayed on television and movies is truly staggering. Yet I can’t seem to get worked up about it the way those around me seem to. Not a week goes by in my ward when someone in Sacrament, Priesthood, or Sunday school (or all three) doesn’t take the opportunity to point out just how evil and despicable the media is. I’ve often said it’s the thing Mormons love to hate.

The big issue right now is gay marriage. I certainly don’t expect the Church to embrace the notion with open arms and encourage gay couples to get sealed in the Temple. But I don’t believe it should be illegal, and I’m simply not that distraught over it. Three different gay couples live within five houses of me – my own marriage has yet to crumble in the face of this terrible threat to traditional marriage . But in my ward, there are plenty of people who can’t go a week without bringing it up. A few in particular get visibly angry as they continue to go on and on about how horrible gays are.

There are other issues mentioned frequently in my own ward that I either do not care about or that I disagree with: school prayer, Word of Wisdom (I obey it, but certainly don’t consider alcohol to be the incendiary evil others seem to), Sunday activities (shopping, etc.), politics – including war in Iraq, etc. And while these and other topics are a constant in my ward, many of the things that matter to me are never, ever mentioned. Just one example: I’m astounded, absolutely flabbergasted that people will die today because they don’t have enough food to eat. It’s simply beyond my comprehension. Yet I’ve never heard someone express outrage over that in Church. They’re horrified that Janet Jackson’s boob appeared during the Super Bowl for a split second (and they’re equally horrified that people would watch TV on Sunday), but they don’t seem perturbed (or if they are, they’re not speaking up) that people starve to death everyday.

Am I barking up the wrong tree yet again? (It is a specialty of mine.) I don’t expect Sunday school to be an hour-long commiseration on starvation. I do recognize that many of the Mormon values I mention above are issues of personal morality, whereas world hunger is a bit different of a problem. But would it hurt to hear it mentioned just once or twice? If I can hear about the evils of coffee week in and week out, can’t we make room for something like that once in a while?

Am I wrong in thinking that arguments about Coke and R rated movies are stupid waste of time? Should I be ignoring these differences and focusing on the things that unite me with my fellow Saints?

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A Simple Question 

by Kristine
So here's a simple question, for which I failed to come up with a satisfactory answer during 8 weeks of several-times-daily hikes to the top of the stairs in the Lee Library last summer(I thought that if I took the elevator, people would realize more quickly that I was pushing a matronly 35 and not a bouncy coed... women can be silly that way):

Doctrine & Covenants 88:118 is prefaced with "And as all have not faith..." This is nowhere explained, as far as I can tell, nor is it condemned; it's just tossed off as a dependent clause describing conditions on the ground. The solution? Books! Is this a suggestion that some fraction of the membership of the church is destined to be/remain faithless intellectuals? Is that OK? Is it part of the plan?

Help!
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Thursday, July 01, 2004

Bush enlists churchs' support, icky suspicions ensue 

by Karen
This article printed in today's Washington Post outlines the Bush/Cheney election team's attempt to mobilize its religious base. The article outlines strategies sent to Bush supporters to help those supporters involve their congregations in the Bush campaign. The suggested "goals" include turning over membership lists to the campaign, organizing voter registration drives, and hosting partisan pot-luck dinners.

The Post explores the possibility that these activities could put the churchs' tax exempt status at risk. The Bush team counters that all the suggested activities fall well within election laws.

So, like a good Democrat, I got a little fussed when I read the article. Let's explore why.

1. It could be that I'm hopelessly partisan, and that anything Bush/Cheney does, including walk, talk, and breathe annoys me. I don't know, I'm certainly annoyed with the administration, but I'd like to think I have my logical reasons. However, I'm willing to accept any and all suspicion to the contrary and think about it before dismissing it as wrong.

2. I have an active pot-lucking life, and don't want to be suspicious at every invitation I receive; i.e. perhaps I resent Republican encroachment into my social life.

3. I don't want my ward list forwarded to the Bush campaign. Now, I know that kind of behavior is prohibited by the bi-annual reading of "the letter." (My favorite moment in sacrament meeting when the church reaffirms its non-partisan status, and everyone in the congregation thinks the letter is aimed at everyone but themselves.) But let's face it, there's a reason "the letter" is re-read so often.

4. The whole tax exempt thing is a problem. That's one church/state line of separation that I'd like to keep separate. For many reasons, including my tithing-boosted personal income tax refund.

5. I really dislike the implication that the Republican party is home of church-goers and the Democratic party home of sinners. I dislike the assumption that every person on those church lists would welcome inclusion on the Bush/Cheney supporters list. I resent the implication that I cannot be a person of deep faith, and disagree with a majority of the tenets of the Republican party.

So what do you all think...I'm I in the middle of an over-reacting snit, or do we have a problem here....
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New Poll! 

by NA
OK, let's settle this once and for all.


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