Program for the Mormon Scholars Foundation Summer Seminar Symposium, July 8, 2010

Thanks to Jared at Juvenille Instructor and Terryl Givens for posting the information:

As one of the participants I repost the information and urge everyone that can to attend. I will be speaking about the fall of the earth, its plan of salvation and the role of Zion in reclaiming paradisical glory.

Program for the Mormon Scholars Foundation Summer Seminar Symposium, July 8, 2010
The Mormon Scholars Foundation Summer Seminar, hosted by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute, under the direction of Richard Bushman and taught by Terryl Givens, will present the quasi-annual MSF Symposium.

Date: Thursday, July 8.

Location: Auditorium of the McKay Building, BYU Campus

Time: 9:30-12:00 and 2:00-4:30

Symposium Theme: The Foundations of Mormon Theology

Ten seminar students from around the country will present the results of their research into the formative years of LDS theology. Presented topics will range from Eliza Snow’s theological poetry to racial amalgamation in early LDS thought to Joseph Smith’s appropriation of Johannine language. A ten minute Q&A will follow each 20 minute presentation. The public and BYU community are cordially invited.


9:30 Amanda Hendrix-Komoto

10:00 Dallin Lewis

10:30 Jared Tamez

11:00 Justin White

11:30 Daniel Ortner

12:00 Lunch/Break

2:00 Dave Golding

2:30 Elizabeth Pinborough

3:00 Jacob Rennaker

3:30 Blair Hodges

4:00 Nick Frederick


Is the Limited Geography Model a late invention?

Is the Limited Geography Model a late invention?

Critics of the church will often assert that our understanding that the Book of Mormon describes only a limited geography and population among other New World inhabitants is of recent invention and only a justification for the failures of our scholarship. While it is true that many church leaders have held the view that all Nephites, Jaredites and Lamanites formed the total population of the continent, this has not been a universally held view.

I found this tantalizing example while reading through The Evening and Morning Star. It is found in an article entitled Good Proof in Issue 13 ( June 1833)

“No people that have lived on this continent, since the flood, understood many of the arts and sciences better than the Jaredites and Nephites, whose brief history is sketched in the Book of Mormon. The Facts following, from the star in the West, is not only proof of their skill, but it is good proof, to those that want evidence, that the book of Mormon, IS TRUE.”

It is the first sentence that is significant here. This phraseology clearly implies that not only could other people have lived on the American continent aside from the Jaredites and the Nephites, but that they may have had a grasp of the Arts and Sciences ( Although not as much of a grasp as the Nephites and Jaredites). This is significant because people of the time viewed Native Americans as savages and could not imagine that they had ever had a civilized culture. Church members were able to early on imagine the possibility of mighty civilizations in the northern and southern hemisphere because of the Book of Mormon. One did not have to necessarily believe that all came from the Jaredites or the Nephites.

Glenn Beck and salvation

Glenn Beck and Salvation

(My views on this topic have changed since my mission and in light of President Monson’s words in the October 2010 conference quoting Brigham Young

No temptation, no pressure, no enticing can overcome us unless we allow such. If we make the wrong choice, we have no one to blame but ourselves. President Brigham Young once expressed this truth by relating it to himself. Said he: “If Brother Brigham shall take a wrong track, and be shut out of the Kingdom of heaven, no person will be to blame but Brother Brigham. I am the only being in heaven, earth, or hell, that can be blamed.” He continued: “This will equally apply to every Latter-day Saint. Salvation is an individual operation.” (2010 October General Conference, The Three Rs of Choice, Priesthood Session – Thomas S. Monson)

I also recommend Salvation and Exaltation by Elder Nelson on this topic.

Though a have gotten much more conservative since my mission I still do believe that it is very important to remember that we are all brothers and sisters and have a shared responsibility to ensure the temporal and spiritual well-being of one another)

See my follow up post here

While working as a Real Estate agent in Boston I spent a lot of time in my car and therefore listened to the radio. I like to alternate between NPR and Conservative Talk radio in order to feel well informed about what both sides of the political spectrum are arguing. I’ve gotten to listen to the Glenn Beck Program a few times now and have had a mix of reactions. Often, Glenn Beck’s values shine through and he encourages his listeners towards “Faith, Hope and Charity” in a pretty beautiful fashion. On the other hand, Beck often says things that are utterly shocking and clearly meant to be offensive. For instance, he recently suggested that putting the common good first would lead to another holocaust (Did I mention that this was his response to a letter that the leader of Jewish Funds For Justice Penned to him). At other moments, listening to Beck is merely exacerbating.

Last week, Glenn Beck went on a rant about the individual nature of salvation that left me positively infuriated. The link is to a similar statement made on his television program, as I can not find the radio transcript anywhere. The remarks on the radio were even more extreme continuing with several statement about how we need to only focus on our own well being and salvation and not others:

“It’s individual salvation. The Lord doesn’t call us up, review our salvation and go, ‘Ok now hang on just a second. Now serving group number 10!’ It’s individual. Your church is either for socialist government or the living of the gospel. It’s either about God or government. Tonight you’re going to find out which is which,” said Beck.

I was shocked because this thought goes so counter to what I believe as a fellow member of Brother Beck’s church. Given our focus on temple work and geneology, Mormons should be the last of all to say that salvation is an individual enterprise.

Just to give a few examples

The Family: A Proclamation to the World

In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshiped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize his or her divine destiny as an heir of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.

James E Talmage Conference Report April 1912, pg. 126

‘The temple-building spirit manifested among the Latter-day Saints is the spirit of absolute unselfishness; it is the spirit of Elijah, the spirit by which the feelings of the children are turned toward the fathers, and the feelings of the fathers are directed toward the children; for no man stands upon this earth alone.’ (Quote found here)

Hebrews 11:40 40 aGod having bprovided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made cperfect.

“If you do not these [baptisms for the dead] … ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord.” 21

In our church it I pretty clear that we are NOT saved back alone. We do not hold to a gospel of every man for himself. Indeed, it is clear that the very plan of salvation involved Christ taking upon himself the collective sins of the world. We are very clearly not in an individualistic enterprise of merit but instead in a plan of communal grace.

I hope that Brother Beck is filled with the spirit of compassion which permeates this church and that it helps him to come to realize that he alone can not and will not achieve salvation without us.

Review: Brady Udall The Lonely Polygamist

Review: Brady Udall The Lonely Polygamist

One of the benefits of spending the summer doing research rather than working in Real Estate 70 hours a week is that I have a lot more spare time for reading. Having seen all of the hype about The Lonely Polygamist as a potential ‘Great Mormon Novel’ I felt that it would be a worthy start of summer read.  I devoured the book reading voraciously and finished it after only two days of reading. I found it to be very good literature bordering on great. Udall masterfully weaves themes of isolation and  failed expectations throughout the tale. Udall is great at understanding character motivation and WHY certain characters act in mysterious or disappointing ways. He touches at the fault line between outer appearance and inner pain in a profound fashion. He is able to channel humor in a way that also invokes thought and empathy.

I’ve heard comparisons for the novel between East of Eden and other classics, but in a way the novel most reminded me of Death of A Salesman in the way that it plays with an ideal and shows how the failure to live up to said ideal can be crippling.

Golden Richards is the husband of four fives and father of 28 children. He is constantly being pressured by Uncle Chick the prophet of his small Fundamentalist Latter Day Saint Congregation to take a fifth wife despite the chaos that goes on among him. Things are falling apart both emotionally and financially and yet Golden is merely urged to work harder and to try to to do more to live up to his patriarchal obligations. Yet, this decision is seemingly beyond his control as first wife Beverly suggests that they are not thrilling “Because we’re not living the principle as it should be lived. We’ve become selfish” (Kindle location 3,589-98). Golden was expected to be the One Mighty and Strong and yet has disappointed everyone. Golden is constantly falling short of his obligation as a father and patriarch and fails to provide physical or emotional satisfaction for his wives. Even though he has four wives and is urged to get another one, he can not provide for them emotionally and end up falling for a prostitute as an avenue for an external emotional connection. Golden has been unable to draw close to any of his children except for one daughter whom tragically dies under his watch.

Likewise, Fourth Wife Trish is expected to bring new life into the family in order to expand it. Yet, she miscarriages every time she becomes pregnant. Her one daughter is a bit of an odd ball and she is isolated from the rest of the family. She blames her lack of emotional connection with her husband and their lack of sexual intimacy on her failures to carry out her maternal duties.

Rusty the troublemaking son should be surrounded by love in his enormous family. Instead, he is exchanged by his mother and hardly sees her. His siblings do not like him and his outrageous attempts at getting attention only generate more scorn.

The ending of this book is powerful in that Rusty’s increasingly dangerous attempts for attention finally and tragically transform the family and bring them together. In a twisted way, he finally gets the attention he sought for so long. Likewise, Golden finally takes charge and ultimately begins to resemble the patriarch that he has long been expected to be. The book ends with a wedding, yet Udall resists the temptation to play to our sentiments and give us a sappy conclusion. Instead, the wedding leaves us wondering if the changes we notice are a true breaking of a cycle or merely temporary reflections of a more hopeful past.

For a book about Latter Day Saints (Of the fundamentalist strain), the book is at times oddly secular. Pages and pages go by without any mention of spirituality and religiosity. Yet, at the same time by the novel’s end you realize how religious motivation permeates throughout the novel. Most poignantly, Golden reflects on how his deceased daughter provided him motivation to resist temptation in one of the most poignant passages of the novel.

“It was Glory, and nothing else. Since the day of her death, he had wanted to give up or let loose, to get drunk or throw some kind of existential tantrum as a way of showing what he thought of a God who allowed innocent children to come into the world to suffer and then die early and horrible deaths, but the possibility that all things might be restored to him, that the tragedies of this existence might be made right somehow, that Glory might be waiting on the other side, had kept him, as they said so often in church, holding fast to the iron rod. His faith in God and heaven had always been weak, but he believed in them now, if for no other reason than belief in them offered the possibility to be with his daughter again; he believed because to do otherwise would be to consign her to oblivion.”

I could relate to this passage so deeply. When my mother died and I lost my faith in deity it seemed to make her vanish from realty. One of the chief reasons that I WANT to believe is that it brings her back to life in a real sense. The desire to reunite is a powerful motivation that shapes the course of lives.

Ultimately, the book is a powerful and challenging work. I can only begin to hint at some of its beautiful thematic expressions. Characters are rich and well realized and the book is much more humorous than my brief review suggests. Some scenes are a bit explicit and the book does contain some profane language so more sensitive readers may want to be careful. Still, I wholeheartedly recommend this book and it is one that I will linger on for quite a while.

Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology 2010: Early Mormon Theology

Joseph Smith Summer Seminar 2010: Early Mormon Theology

I am a participant in the 2010 Summer Seminar at the Maxwell Institute. Several other more notable bloggers are involved in the program including Blair Hodges from Life On Gold Plates and Elizabeth and Jared from Juvenile Instructor. I am a bit behind in starting to blog about the seminar, but I certainly plan on sharing insights from the experience over the next few weeks.

It’s thus far been a real pleasure to be able to meet so many more experienced and extraordinarily talented Mormon Scholars. I am humbled by their knowledge of the bibliographical works and their expertise. I have been especially inspired as I’ve been able to listen to Terryl Givens and soak up his remarkable insights.

The chief theme that has impressed itself upon me this past week is how exciting the field of Mormon Studies is today. I don’t think I grasped the full breadth of high quality works being picked up by large scale publishing companies such as Oxford Press. Our seminar meets at the Maxwell Institute and so I’ve been exposed to the breadth of their publications as well. We visited the Church History Library this week and I was also amazed by the dedication to scholarship that I saw there.

I feel overwhelmed as a contemplate making my own tentative first contributions of the field.  I am between a couple of prospective topics at the moment for the symposium that will be in Provo on July 8th: I may either write about the concept of providential history versus agency, theodicy and explanations for suffering or on the concept of certainty and revelatory truth versus fact based intellectual knowledge in the early church.

Any guidance or insights on any of these topics would of course be immensely appreciated.