The Biologist and Her Baptism

The Friday before classes start this semester, my wife Lyndee and I attended a dinner at the college president’s house for first year faculty.

We always enjoy low-cost dates. That night, as things were widing down, I got up to get a drink and one of the other first year faculty, a biologist named Kelsey, sat next to my wife on the couch and started chatting. I had chatted with Kelsey during our earlier meetings. After all, I am Facebook friends with Steve Peck…I know biology.

When I returned, Kelsey asked, “So, what ward are you in?” Huh? This is not something we get asked often by non-members. But Kelsey is in the same department as Brother Brown, who happens to be on the stake high council. He was also heavily involved in the redrawing of the ward boundaries within the stake. Maybe she had heard of this and had picked up some Mormon lingo.

“Evert outed you as a Mormon,” she said. I sometimes sit with them in college-wide meetings and I had done so earlier in the week. Maybe Brother Brown had explained how we knew each other.

“I am getting baptized tomorrow.” I was floored. She had started taking the discussions around Christmas and this was the night before her baptism. I had no idea. But I was thrilled that somebody like her was joining our religious community.

Evert, Kelsey, and I had chatted evolution before. They are both die-hard evolutionary theorist. We have even poked fun at anti-evolution forces. Good times.

Kelsey told my wife and I that one of the things that caught her eye about Mormonism was that it is open and friendly towards evolution and science in general. I am not sure if she would have taken a closer look had it not.

My wife warned her, in a nice tone, that amongst Mormons you will find a range of people when it comes to such issues. I told her that one of the nicest people I have ever met is an evolutionary biologist at BYU.

That Saturday, Lyndee and I took the kids to watch Kelsey be baptized. Evert performed the baptism. Bishop Jacobs of Kelsey’s new ward presided over the meeting. He is a math professor at our college. I also turns out that Ben from the English department is in her ward. This was a pleasant surprise. Ben is friendly…and he also looks like a skater dude with long curly hair. I never peg the guy with the long hair as a Mormon.

After the baptism, our family went to Pizza Hut. It was a good place for finishing up our cheesy Mormon day (I had also done hospital visits earlier in the day). I told Lyndee that at that moment, I was the happiest as a Mormon that I had been in a long time. I am glad that Kelsey told us about her baptism.

The Dumbing Down of Mormon Books, Made Easy!

A recent book review of Eric Shuster and Charles Sale’s The Biblical Roots of Mormonism describes the book as “a 258-page overview of about 350 Latter-day Saint beliefs referenced in the Old and New Testament.” On the face of it, the book sounds like an extended exercise in proof-texting. I’ve talked about a few potential problems with such easy “likening” elsewhere but I haven’t read this particular book myself, so I can’t comment on its quality. Instead, I want to focus on the rhetorical approach of the book as described in the review. The book is an example of a larger trend in the marketing of recent LDS books generally: the marketing of stuff “made easier.”

Continue reading “The Dumbing Down of Mormon Books, Made Easy!”

Scriptural Authority, Normativity, and Hermeneutics: Women and the Priesthood

Introduction [1]

The Bible often privileges men as normative for what it means to be human, frequently considers women as inferior to men, and presents God in overwhelmingly male terms. For the contemporary believer who is committed to the full equality of men and women the problem is not simply one of reconciling isolated patriarchal, sexist, or misogynistic biblical passages with an egalitarian or feminist perspective, but the revelatory nature of the biblical text itself.  “How can a text that contains so much that is damaging to women function authoritatively in the Christian community as normative of faith and life?” (36). A theology of Scripture that takes this problem seriously must reject the traditional understanding of Scripture as divinely revealed in verbal form to its ancient authors lest the pervasive androcentrism, patriarchalism, and sexism of the biblical text be understood as divinely revealed.  1) What then does it mean for Scripture to be the “Word of God”? 2) How can the Bible function authoritatively for the Church? 3) And is the Bible materially normative for modern faith and practice? Continue reading “Scriptural Authority, Normativity, and Hermeneutics: Women and the Priesthood”

Textual Criticism

Recent comments around the blogosphere on the publication of the new NIV reminded me of my first encounter with biblical textual criticism at age 14. Curt Bench,1 my youth Sunday school teacher at the time, took me aside as Ammaron of old and gave me a bible. “Son,” he said, “You are a sober youth of sound mind and so I give you this.” It was a hardbound NIV. “This is not the King James version, but it is a new translation made by believing Christians and not godless heathens.” My sentiments must have been something akin to what Tom Sawyer felt as he claimed his own prize Bible. I was grateful to have been so favored and entrusted. So much so that I’m presently wondering if sending a thank-you note 14 years late might not be too tacky.

Continue reading “Textual Criticism”

Research and Responsibility

Recent discussions about the influence a vague entity called “Correlation” has on various Bloggernaclers got me thinking about the problem of responsibility in research. I admit I’m personally less likely to blog about certain sensitive LDS issues. For example, there are elements of temple ritual I feel comfortable writing about and other elements I don’t. I personally don’t feel like my reticence is due to being trapped in the Panopticon. I admit I’m less likely to be flippant or brash about topics that may be particularly challenging to the faith of other Latter-day Saints, and beyond that, to the general faith of other believers as well (except for the new atheists. I wouldn’t mind trying to burst bubbles there; perhaps I should be more careful). The question I am confronting is the responsibility I have to the effects of the research I create, participate in, or disseminate.

I’d like to hear reactions to an assertion made back in 1929 by sociologist George Lundberg:

“It is not the business of a chemist who invents a high explosive to be influenced in his[!] task by considerations as to whether his product will be used to blow up cathedrals or to build tunnels through the mountains” (quoted in John Durham Peters, “The Part Played by Gentiles in the Flow of Mass Communications: On the Ethnic Utopia of Personal Influence,” ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, November 2006, 100).

I disagree with Lundberg’s vision of a social scientist’s business. What if we extend the scope from social scientists to historians, theologians, philosophers, political scientists, etc.? Should these people allow considerations of effects to influence what they write or the way they write it? What undergirds the attitude  that “truth will always win out”?  Are there potential downsides to the desire to “let the chips fall where they may”? Of course, the question is not always whether a particular sticky subject is handled, it can also involve how it is handled. But is it our business to even consider such things when researching and writing?

Give Me Proof of Eternity…

You probably shouldn’t even read this post unless you have a poetic soul.

…but if you do, you might have these strange melancholy moods, where you read sad poetry for days, and don’t eat.  When I’m in this mood, I read my main man Algernon Charles Swinburne, Victorian poet.  I discovered Charles when I read his poem The Garden of Proserpine. You’ll probably recognize it–especially the last two stanzas which hauntingly embrace the inevitability of death. Continue reading “Give Me Proof of Eternity…”

Lesson #5: Have Faith

I have lost my faith. Quite the challenge when you blog at Faith-Promoting Rumor.

However, Tuesday I awoke and read the following comment by Ronan over at BCC:

This week we read Job 19:25: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth”. We spent perhaps an hour discussing this one verse: what does Job mean? A Christian reading is clear—he is appealing to the intercession of the future Messiah, Jesus Christ. But such an interpretation will not do for a secular biblical program [for reasons Kevin has explained].

As a scholar pursuing a PhD in Near Eastern Studies, I am bound by certain rules. Objective, secular scholarship demands that I reject the notion that this passage refers to Jesus. I would not write it or suggest it, and if I were teaching a class on it I would criticise any student who raised the idea. Why? Because the only way to make this passage refer to Christ requires an injection of religious faith, which cannot be allowed to color our judgements of history, theology or literature. This is the creed of secular scholars, whose number, whilst I am being paid by a secular university, I am among. In short, I am required to see the Bible as a completely different book than the Bible I read on Sunday.

But in my other world, this passage clearly refers to Christ! Even as I sat in class I felt a strong, personal feeling towards the Saviour. Job’s trial is immense and his hope is gone, so he appeals for a redeemer, a “go’el”, who in Hebrew law was often the kinsmen who bailed you out of trouble. Is this not Jesus, our own brother who satisfies justice on our behalf? Indeed it is. But is it exactly what Job is referring to here? I don’t know and frankly, I don’t care. Jewish rabbis realised long ago that the greatest boon of the Hebrew Bible is that it lent itself to contemporary interpretation i.e. we can “liken the scriptures to ourselves.” Which is what I do as I try to balance the demands of scholarship (of which I am an an advocate) and the mysteries of religious faith (of which I am a believer). I’m not Job and I didn’t write his book, but “I know that my Redeemer lives”.

The thing which touched me most about Ronan’s comment was not what he had to say about Job, but his feelings about Jesus Christ. As I sat in bed reading this comment…I felt the spirit. My heart was pricked. I am not sure if I have felt the spirit in a meaningful way in years.

My relationship with the Church has been a positive one externally, but internally it has been rocky. After  working 5 years at CES Institutions, I have grown tired of the institutional church. However, I think that as I have grown tired of the institutional church, I have allowed my faith to suffer, even die, amongst the frustration. Now this is not so much because of anything about the Church, but more the result of not being a very good company man.

Tuesday night, I went with my family to the movie Nanny McPhee Returns. It was a cute and fun show. Nanny McPhee comes in and teaches the struggling family five lessons. These include “not fighting,” and “sharing.”

At the very end of the movie, we find out that the final lesson is: have faith. As the credits started to roll, I realized that while I have little to no faith…I desire to have faith. Many of the people who I know that have abandoned faith, act as though they have overcome faith. However, faith has never been something that I have not wanted, it is just not something I am good at. Part of this is because depression has heavily clouded my head in many ways.

Now, I have decided to have faith. Not sure what that really means. I have decided that I will start by praying for more faith in Christ.  We will see where that takes me.

Either way, between Ronan and Emma Thompson, I will have to thank the British for getting me back on the path.

Church Stance on Birth Control, Public and “Private”

Deseret Mutual Benefit Administrators (DMBA), the Church’s insurance company, does not cover prescriptive contraception, for any reason that relates to (“voluntary”) contraception. That is, any Church employee or covered spouse (including BYU employees) that wants contraception requiring a prescription must pay for it entirely out of pocket. The only exceptions for this relate to the physical (not mental) health of the woman: endometriosis, ovarian cysts, etc. Postpartum depression is not a valid medical issue that would result in an exception to this exclusion. This is clearly not an economically motivated decision.

This is not a post meant to criticize the Church; rather it is to ask about the extent to which public discourse matches the “private” (that is, non-Church-wide) practices controlled directly by the Church. Continue reading “Church Stance on Birth Control, Public and “Private””

The Good Samaritan as The Other

The parable of the Good Samaritan is well known and much beloved. The image of the caring Samaritan tending to the bruised and bleeding traveler speaks to the goodness of mankind; despite the self-love of the world.

I have noticed that this parable often shows up in secular moral theory as an example of an acceptable religious concept for the public square (See “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited” by John Rawls). It is also used in a number of ways that…well…few Mormons might expect (see section 6 of Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “A Defense of Abortion”). [Author’s Note: I will be revisiting both of these at a future date]

What strikes me most about this parable is not so much the story itself, but Christ’s use of a Samarian as the protagonist. Not only do the Levite and the Priest fall short of their neighborly obligation, but the one who is the good example is from a despised people. Continue reading “The Good Samaritan as The Other”