A Plea to the Writers of Seminary Manuals

We’re studying the Book of Mormon again in seminary, and the current manual includes the following quotation from Joseph Fielding Smith (Lesson 5, “Overview of the Book of Mormon”):

There were bound to be some typographical errors in the first edition [of the Book of Mormon], and perhaps an omission of a word or two. Those who have published books under the most careful and favorable circumstances, have, to their dismay, found errors, typographical and mechanical, some of which occurred after the final examination of proof has been made.

… A careful check of the list of changes … shows there is not one change or addition that is not in full harmony with the original text. Changes have been made in punctuation and a few other minor matters that needed correction, but never has any alteration or addition changed a single original thought. As it appears to us, the changes … are such that make the text clearer and indicate that they were omitted. I am sure that the mistakes or omissions in the first edition were in large measure the fault of the compositor or the printer. Many of these mistakes which were in the first proofs were caught by the Prophet Joseph Smith himself, and he made the corrections (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. [1958], 2:199–200; italics in original).

The problem is that the second paragraph is almost entirely false. We can now compare the extant original manuscript and printer’s manuscript with the 1830 edition, and there are indeed several changes that make a difference in meaning, that modified more than “a single original thought.” Not all the changes made the text clearer. Joseph Smith did not catch many mistakes since he was living elsewhere and rarely interacted with the printer. And most importantly, mistakes and omissions are not to be blamed on the compositor or the printer.

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A Meek Suggestion

BYU faculty have been admonished again this week that BYU must be a great university but not after the manner of the worldly universities. This morning’s leaked video of BYU football players who have clearly had too much of their own entitlement to drink brings into sharp focus an area where there is room for immediate improvement. Clearly BYU’s fixation on winning and garnering lucrative ESPN contracts is not producing results that benefit the cause of moral superiority to which it so incongruously aspires. Perhaps BYU would be better off if it were to repent entirely—and in all meekness, thank you Elder Bednar—of its glory-seeking NCAA competition teams.

Religion and Mental Health

Dr. Scott Braithwaite’s recent Education Week talk has gotten me thinking about what psychology can teach me about my own mental health as an active Mormon. I was interested to learn from psychological research that being religious can have a highly polarizing effect on my mental wellness. Religiosity either supports or detracts from my mental health, depending on who I am and what situation I find myself in. Being religious is related to lower depression and greater life satisfaction, and religious communities can prevent psychological distress by strengthening families, improving our coping skills, and offering support during times of crisis. Religious communities also have the capacity to overcome traditional healthcare access issues by delivering holistic support directly to their members. In addition, religious populations experience lower counts of substance abuse, live longer, and have lower levels of suicide and divorce. Continue reading “Religion and Mental Health”

Correlation Kettle Meet Snuffer Pot

Yesterday’s document drop in Mormon WikiLeaks included a letter titled “Report from Stake President on Individual Remnant Believer.”  Along with this letter from a stake president to a member of the Seventy was an attachment written by someone who serves in the Correlation Department.  This last gentleman had been asked to read a book written by the “Remnant Believer,” presumably to comment on its coherence with “correlated” LDS doctrine or lack thereof.  Among his conclusions was the following point:

I’m afraid that his book is another effort to broaden his recruiting efforts.  He is very good at arguing his point of view, he will use scriptures and statements of the brethren out of context to prove his point.  For many whose understanding is limited he sounds very persuasive.

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Duane Boyce and the Interpreter: A Step in the Wrong Direction

Do prophets make mistakes? When prophets speak do they always speak the word of God? These are important questions facing Latter-day Saints who encounter examples of prophetic error in Mormon history, policy, and scripture.

In recent years, these challenging theological questions have been addressed by LDS scholars, several of whom have hoped to present a way for Latter-day Saints to accept the implications of critical historical and scriptural analysis while still retaining belief in the authority of Mormon prophets. These efforts have led to a variety of significant scholarly essays and books that have drawn considerable attention in the emerging field of Mormon Studies. Continue reading “Duane Boyce and the Interpreter: A Step in the Wrong Direction”

We’re Moving!

Over the course of the next week or so we are going to move back to our old domain, faithpromotingrumor.com.

Thanks for your support here at Patheos and we hope to see you at the new site in a few days.

Mogs

On Cruises, Cash, and BYU Religious Education

Guest post from a friend of the blog. I should also point out that the behavior criticized by the author is not illegal nor even necessarily disingenuous:

It is no secret that a remunerative relationship exists between BYU Religious Education faculty and various LDS publishing houses, most notably Deseret Book. This is categorically different than your average professor writing a textbook and trade book. The physics prof doesn’t make the rounds speaking at EFY, Women’s Conference, Education Week, Time Out for Women, etc. They are not invited to speak at various local church functions (ward, stake, seminary, institute). I doubt many of these Rel Ed profs are openly hawking their publications at the latter venues, but you can see how opportunity presents itself to mention one’s latest book during one’s talk. It’s a bit of a gray area when it comes to Mormon concepts of priestcraft (see 2 Ne 26:29).

This brings me to something I have only recently noticed: BYU Religious Education faculty and cruises. There is a Utah County business called Cruise Lady that offers LDS themed cruises and tours (e.g. Alaska, Europe, “The Book of Mormon Lands”) headlined by local LDS celebrities (e.g. Michael Ballam, Michael McLean, some Osmonds). But a little under half of the sixty or so headlining celebrities are or have been professors or have taught in BYU’s College of Religious Education. This feels unseemly. If it does not to you, consider this standard Headliner Bio:

“Alonzo L. Gaskill is a professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University, where his primary teaching focus is World Religions. Brother Gaskill converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–from Greek Orthodoxy–in November of 1984. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the temple, symbolism, and world religions. He and his wife, Lori, are the parents of five children.”

It’s all there. BYU Religious Education cred? Check. Appearance of legit academic chops? Check. Interesting back story? Check. LDS cred (i.e. large family)? Check. But Gaskill is not the most egregious case of trading on one’s official and unofficial standing in the LDS community for free cruises and extra income. There are current and former deans of BYU Religious Education headlining these junkets. Current Dean Brent Top, former Dean Terry Ball, and former Dean Robert Millet all offer tours. Associate Deans (Kent Jackson), department chairs (Camille Fronk Olson), and directors of BYU’s Ancient Near Eastern Studies program (Eric Huntsman) are also featured. It is one thing to write and profit from books for the Rel Ed/Deseret Book/Ed Week nexus. At least that has some sheen of respectability for egalitarian spreading of the good news. But cruises and cash? I’m sure they figure it’s no different than business profs doing some consulting on the side. But of course, rather than advice on strategic planning or marketing, the Rel Ed Deans and profs are providing gospel tidbits for the entertainment of wealthy Latter-day Saints. This is no longer a gray area.

But maybe you still feel OK about this. What do you say to former BYU Rel Ed professor George Durrant? Here is his Headliner Bio in full:

“Current sealer at the Mt. Timpanogos Temple; author of more than 50 books including the popular Love at Home—Starring Father and Don’t Forget the Star; has taught religion at BYU; worked in many capacities for the Church Education System; and also served as director of Priesthood Genealogy. He served as president of the Kentucky Tennessee Mission, president of the Missionary Training Center in Provo, UT and recently in the Nauvoo Illinois Temple.”

If that does not strike you as disagreeable or well past the gray area, you can reserve an Ocean View room for you and your spouse to hear Prof Durrant and Prof Susan Easton Black co-headline a cruise to Hawaii this September for $2,878.50, not including airfare, excursions, gratuities, and, of course, drinks. The Junior Suite will run you a hair under $5,000.00.

Some Sources for [More] Serious Study

One of the comments added to the last post asked about sources that might help someone get a start on the Bible. So, I thought I’d toss some ideas out here, and my colleagues will probably add things as questions or comments spark them.

The best part of studying the Bible is conversation with other folks who are likewise interested – Christianity is meant to be lived in and thru a community. The fastest way to get started is thru a class with a teacher who can guide you to good sources and respond to questions. If the opportunity presents itself, take a class at a local seminary, community college, public library or whatever.

In any case, the first thing you’ll need is an ecumenical study Bible. That’s a Bible that, at least in theory, doesn’t favor any confessional perspective thru its explanatory footnotes. AND YOU REALLY, REALLY WANT THOSE FOOTNOTES. Why not find one in a library and see what they look like?

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4 Puds With a Prooftext

Down below is a YouTube presentation of Revelation 12 done by a couple of BYU professors who style themselves as “Four Guys With Ties.” Before you have a look, however, read this:

In context, Revelation 12 explains the source of the evil and suffering experienced by John’s seven churches. The characterization of the participants, a pregnant woman, a dragon and eventually a baby, is drawn from the world of the ANE combat myth and so resists simplistic decoding.  Its use, however, is fortuitous for John’s purposes because it would be intelligible, even familiar, to both Jewish and Gentile Christians.

The first thing John sees, which he describes as a “great portent,” is a woman.  She is the Cosmic Woman, and as she is pregnant she is many motherly figures from the mythological past: Eve, Isis, Leto and Mary, at least. Most immediately, however, she is Lady Zion, whose travail gave Israel its Messiah (Isa 66:8), and her fragility is itself a fragile illusion because she is crowned, clothed and standing on the greatest glories of God’s creation.

The Cosmic Woman’s opponent is the Dragon. His aggressive power is symbolized by his ten horns and his ability to dislodge significant numbers of stars with a flick of his tail. The seven crowns indicate that he wishes to rule. Mythologically, he is the cunning serpent of Eden and the Python at Delphi, as well as YHWH’S opponents, Rahab and Leviathan. In this context, however, his foremost identity is that of Satan, the great opponent of God from the Second Temple period. He therefore stands before the woman, fully expecting to devour her child when she and the baby are weakest.

Continue reading “4 Puds With a Prooftext”