Faith, Scholarship, and Teaching at BYU Series

For the series announcement and the question to which I am replying, see here.

I believe that the dichotomy between the “intellectual” and the “spiritual” in religious education is a false one. Instead, I would prefer to appropriate for my approach to this important issue the German adjective geistlich (or Hebrew ruchi): a word that sees the spiritual and the intellectual as part of a synthetic whole that also includes an appreciation for the aesthetic. I believe that by adopting this perspective one may more fully comprehend, and so more successfully fulfill, the scriptural injunction to seek God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind (Mark 12:30). Moreover, this approach attempts to eliminate the dualistic impulse that tries to separate the spirit from the material, an impulse which I believe Mormonism confronts and rejects (D&C 88:15; 131:7).

Of course, one could easily recall numerous Mormon axioms for the importance of the life of the mind, including, “The glory of is intelligence” (D&C 93:36), and the divine command to obtain out of the “best books words of wisdom” and to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118; cf. D&C 90:15; 109:7, 14). But I believe that perhaps the best argument from a Mormon perspective for the organic integration of what is sometimes artificially conceptualized as a division between the “mind/intellect” and the “spirit/soul” is the Prophet Joseph Smith himself. Here Mormons have an authoritative religious example who valued and who aspired to combine truths of personal experience, divine revelation, and academic study. He was brave enough to question and to study things out in his mind (cf. D&C 9:8), while also being humble enough to seek out answers from both God and the collective wisdom and learning of other peoples, faiths, and traditions. He truly was an example of learning “by study and also by faith,” someone who fully believed that Mormonism could bravely accept all truth, whatever its source.

Although requiring methodological rigor and pedagogical sensitivity, I genuinely believe that Mormonism has nothing to fear in studying or honestly teaching the methods and results of modern academic disciplines. Indeed, I maintain that such geistliche Studien in fact are a divine obligation that will only enrich an already wealthy tradition that I deeply love and cherish. And, finally, I believe that such engagement is crucial if Mormonism wishes to retain and nourish its rising generations in this ever-increasingly globalized world, and also if it wishes to make an even greater contribution in the next century to that broader world it is called to serve.

TYD

Faith-Promoting [Not] History

Several weeks ago we had a sacrament meeting talk that remains on my mind. The gentleman who concluded the meeting used most of his time to read a story that he frankly admitted came from his mother, who “got it from Google.” If you are thinking that the word “Google” is a bad sign in this context, your spidey sense is doing well.

The narrative he read was the highly embellished story of Gertrude Specht. You can read the Google version here and Jonathan Green’s research here. The bottom line is that the reality and the internet myth share only three points of contact: both talk about a German, both talk about a woman, and both indicate that the woman had at least one doctorate. Otherwise, the story appears to be what we will charitably call a fabrication in order to avoid offending any tender sensibilities with scatological references.

I must admit that I find it disturbing to hear this sort of thing in church – you want to think that what you hear in church can genuinely be called “worship.” But I must report that the irony runs even deeper. For the major emphasis behind the fabrication was an effort to make poor Dr. Specht, a housewife with a dissy in economics, into an expert who could affirm in detail the historicity of the complex of ideas we group under the term “Great Apostasy.” Yes indeedy, it was an unhistorical narrative contrived to lend the highest scholarly authority to the historicity of the LDS version of early Christianity.

 

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Ten Tidbits About the Ten Commandments

1. Although commonly referred to as the “Ten Commandments,” in the Hebrew Bible itself they are not so called; rather, they are referred to as the “ten words/sayings” (Exod 34:28; Deut 4:13; 10:4). Thus a better designation perhaps is that derived from the ancient Greek translation of the Bible, known as the Septuagint (LXX), from the 3rd or 2ndcentury B.C.E: the “Decalogue.”  The word “Decalogue” comes into English via French and Old Latin from the Greek, deka meaning “ten,” and logos (pl. logoi), meaning “word, saying.” There are at least two versions of the Decalogue in the Hebrew Bible: Exod 20:2–17 and Deut 5:6–21. Continue reading “Ten Tidbits About the Ten Commandments”

A Dearth of Understanding Mormon Freemasonry in Nauvoo

A Freemason’s Critique of Sam Brown
by Guest Poster Joe Steve Swick III

Joe Swick is a longtime student of the history and dogmas of Mormonism and Freemasonry. He received his Endowment in 1982 and was raised a Master Mason in 1995. He is twice Past Master of his local lodge, and twice Past High Priest of his Royal Arch Chapter, receiving the Masonic Order of High Priesthood in 2004.

I recently attended a lecture by Samuel M. Brown on the subject of Mormon Masonry, which was a brief summary of chapters from his new book, In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death,[i] particularly the chapter, “Negotiating Death and Afterlife in Nauvoo.”[ii] As a Freemason who has also received the LDS Temple Endowment, this topic is of particular interest to me. Unfortunately, there were several significant problems with the presentation of the subject of Mormonism and Freemasonry in Nauvoo, particularly as it touches the central themes of his book. Due to space constraints, I’d like to briefly look at just one of these troubling areas. Continue reading “A Dearth of Understanding Mormon Freemasonry in Nauvoo”

Turning Wine into Water

In a rather strange opening miracle, the author of the Gospel of John depicts Jesus as working a familiar Dionysian miracle of turning water into wine.  Mormons have undone this entirely, turning wine into water.  The modern sacrament prayers go so far as to change the wording of the revealed prayers, substituting “water” for “wine.”  This wasn’t always so.

In the early days of the Church, LDS followers drank wine from a common cup.  The founding church order given in April 1830, revised in 1833 and again in 1835 declares that wine should be used (D&C 20).  Around the end of 1832 and beginning of 1833, wine is again referenced as the drink that is used in the sacrament.

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Now Reading… Bad Religion

Published this AM, by Ross Douthout.  Amazing what Kindle can do, no?

So the “problem,” so far, is the loss the great orthodox Christian center.   And this means heretics, among whom Douthout places us.  He writes:

Heretics are often stereotyped as wild mystics, but they’re just as likely to be problem solvers and logic choppers, well-intentioned seekers after a more reasonable version of Christianity than orthodoxy supplies.  They tend to see themselves, not irrationally, as rescuers rather than enemies of Christianity–saving the faith from self-contradiction and cultural irrelevance” (335).

Looks like that shoe fits, no?  Makes me think about all the denunciations of Trinitarianism as a “mass of confusion.”   I wonder, though, did JS really produce a more rational or reasonable version of Christianity?

Well, we shall have to see where Douthout takes his ideas…

Mogs

 

 

B.H. Roberts and the Mormon Political Left by Chris Smith

FPR would like to thank Christopher Carroll Smith for this guest post. Chris is an emerging Mormon Studies scholar out of Claremont Graduate University, in the tradition of Jan Shipps.

B. H. Roberts, a member of the First Council of the Seventy, is better known for his efforts as an apologist than as a politician, but this is a man who was regarded by some of his contemporaries as the most prominent Democratic orator in the state of Utah. Roberts, in fact, was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1898, but the House refused to seat him because he was a practicing polygamist. Roberts also played an important role in shaping the state constitution when Utah was admitted to the Union.

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Lincoln and the Easter of Democracy

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Few words are more well known. I love the speeches of Lincoln. While this speech may not be his greatest, I think that in many ways encapsulates what made Lincoln great.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

This speech takes place November 19, 1863 (exactly 113 years to the day be for my birth). In January of 1863, Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation. Both of these events were part of an active attempt by Lincoln to make the war about slavery. In doing so, he would claim the moral high ground and keep the British out of the war.

We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

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Knowledge For the Strong and the Weak

In 1 Cor 8, Paul give some advice to the “strong” who know something that the “weak” do not know.  He argues that even though the strong are in the right, and that what they know is fully true, they should keep such knowledge to themselves.  The reason is that, “by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died might be destroyed” (1 Cor 8:11).  Paul suggests that one’s primary duty is to good of the community as a whole, not to the truth.  It even seems that Paul is saying that the liberal, more open minded people should cede ground to the more close minded precisely because they are more capable of handling the disparity.

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Apologetics Into Doctrine: Romney’s Impact

It appears that Andrew Sullivan published something on Mormons yesterday.  How do I know this without reading Sullivan?  Because there’s a zillion Mormons responding to his comments at sites far removed.  In fact, there’s a bumper crop of Mormon apologetics springing up all over the place and I’m detecting a bit of a common theme.  It is, I think, something of a South Park approach.

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