A while back, Morgan over at BCC wrote a fantastic post about Galileo and his immense influence on modern science. While the post was fantastic and well worth reading, it was somewhat tangential to the interests that I have in the “Galileo event”. Yes, Galileo was a major figure in promoting heliocentrism, and the mathematization of natural philosophy, and a theory of gravity, etc. and, NO, I am not interested in defending the Catholic Church in any way or getting into the historical details and political intrigue surrounding the inquisition. I am, however, very interested in using him as an example of the ways in which reason and science can come into conflict with religious authority. I’m not sure that the case gives us clear advice on how to negotiate such tensions, but it does give us a clearer map of the terrain. (more…)
Which is worse, false revelations being accepted as true or true revelations being rejected as false? This question, I think, gets very close to the heart of the debate between reason and authority. This issue can be framed historically in terms of the Enlightenment battle between revelation to authority figures and reasons and laws which are accessible to and binding upon everybody.
The Mormon tradition believes the Catholic Church to have become illegitimate (if not in terms of revelation, then definitely in terms of authority) by the time of the Enlightenment. Thus, we praise the Protestant reformers and other secular thinkers that cast away the shadows of the “Dark Ages” (so called) for their resistance to that apostate church.
The problem, however, is that the metaphors, values and concepts that these Enlightenment thinkers created in order to subvert and overthrow the authority of the Catholic Church were weapons that were meant to subvert any and all appeals to revelation to authority figures without any regard for the legitimacy of these claims. Indeed, the whole point of the Enlightenment was that such appeals to revelation given to authority are intrinsically illegitimate.
This forces a confrontation of sorts between Mormonism and reason. After all, while the Mormon tradition dismisses the illegitimate authority of the Catholic Church, it also stands apart from Protestantism in not wanting a Reformation in which authority is universalized/dissolved, but in wanting a Restoration of legitimate claims to revelation from authority figures. This, however, is exactly what Enlightenment reason was created in opposition to. We cannot fully embrace both traditions at the same time.
The question then becomes, in what way can we prevent the abuses of illegitimate authority without also closing the door on legitimate authority that we simply happen to not like? The Enlightenment answer – universal reason – seems to have done a decent job in preventing the former, but has unfortunately closed the door on the latter as well. We see various versions of this same Enlightenment answer within the bloggernacle in which we attempt to bind priesthood leaders to strict rules that universally apply world-wide and without exception, hold the book of scripture to the standards of the book of nature, judge living prophets by those of the past or future, etc.
These attempts at blocking claims to revelation from authority figures are motivated by the fear that false revelation might be accepted as true. This seems like a perfectly reasonable fear. From the other side of these same debates we find claims motivated by the fear that true revelation might be rejected as false. This too seems like a perfectly reasonable fear. The fact is that both dangers are very real and always present with the Mormon tradition, and it’s a little disingenuous to pretend that only one or the other is where the “real” danger lies.
Perhaps, it might be worth considering the possibility that universal reason is not the only protection we have, or must inevitably have against false revelation and abuses of authority.
34 Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
35 Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—
36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.
39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
It has become all too common within the bloggernacle for those who see any and all appeals to priesthood authority as intrinsically immoral to misrepresent their relationship to the church with an inaccurate reading of the passage above. Accordingly, I think it will be helpful to disentangle some issues that have consistently and perhaps intentionally been run together. (more…)
No doubt most readers have, at one time or another, come across Nietzsche’s famous declaration that God is dead. By this, he did not intend any argument for atheism or sacrilege. On the contrary, he meant to expose the pre-existing albeit unacknowledged atheism and sacrilege that he found both around and within himself. The tendency that Nietzsche was trying diagnose was how people in his time no longer employed the concept of God within their lives. Even if people still professed to believe in Him – in some sense – the simple fact of the matter was that they never explained things in terms of Him, they never expected things from Him, He was no longer the foundation or ultimate justification for anything and, accordingly, they saw a world around them in which He was totally absent. This famous passage is always worth a read: (more…)
The gospel is universal in that all people, be they black or white, bond or free, male or female, Jew or Gentile are to accept it by coming unto Christ. It is not, however, objective. (more…)
Neo-pragmatism (at least as Richard Rorty understands it) is committed to the position that, in some sense, the earth did not exist until there was a community of people to conceptualize and categorize it as such. To be sure, there are obviously ways of reading this which do not do justice to the neo-pragmatists. The main point at issue lies in the question, “In what sense did the earth not exist until relatively recently?” I think this question is especially interesting within the context of a Mormon worldview that – in some sense – believes in a very young earth. In this post I want to sketch out some (very) rough interpretations and possibilities of how neo-pragmatism might(!) link up with LDS claims. (Warning: rampant speculation ahead!) (more…)
My wife recently made waves by adding “temporary tattoos” to the plans for an upcoming youth activity. There was already a face painting booth planned and she added temporary tattoos to that booth to increase the variety. Predictably, someone objected to having temporary tattoos as part of a church sponsored event. Not the sort of thing I would get my panties in a bunch about, but nonetheless something that I understand. (more…)
BYU is about to be the focus of a new protest. It’s called Bike for Beards. Students, and perhaps some alumni, will bike from Provo City Library on over to the administration building and ask to have the beard ban removed by presenting a list of printed comments from their website to the administration. While I am not affiliated in any way with this group, I did submit my own argument for changing the policy. Since this is an issue that virtually every BYU alumnus/alumna could have an opinion on, I’ve reproduced my submission here. Most of what I wrote actually came from a memo I intended to send the administration while I was a student, but alas procrastination won out.
The BYU honor code standard against beards deserves critical review as it has outlasted its purpose. As a recent alumni, I am still troubled by this outmoded and unchanged policy.
As others have undoubtedly noted, wearing beards was not an honor code violation in BYU’s early history. When Elder Oaks became president of the university in 1971, he discussed the reason for the no-beard policy in his commencement address (on the topic of the honor code generally):
In the minds of most people at this time, the beard and long hair are associated with protest, revolution, and rebellion against authority. They are also symbols of the hippie and drug culture. Persons who wear beards or long hair, whether they desire it or not, may identify themselves with or emulate and honor the drug culture or the extreme practices of those who have made slovenly appearance a badge of protest and dissent.
The beard wasn’t just a beard in the 60s and 70s; it was a symbol of political and cultural dissent closely associated with the hippie culture and deteriorating social norms. In light of that culture, a beard ban made perfect sense. Elder Oaks even recognized that the ban was not meant to outlast its intended purpose:
Unlike modesty, which is an eternal value in the sense of rightness or wrongness in the eyes of God, our rules against beards and long hair are contemporary and pragmatic. They are responsive to conditions and attitudes in our own society at this particular point in time. Historical precedents are worthless in this area. The rules are subject to change, and I would be surprised if they were not changed at some time in the future.
Elder Oaks explained that the ban could outlast its intended purpose, which I and many others would argue is exactly what has now happened.
The beard has lost its political symbolism. It has no lasting stigma among white-collar professionals such as doctors, lawyers, professors, and engineers. Liberals are no more likely to wear beards than are conservatives. Only in the business world are beards still stigmatized. And while that should weigh as an important consideration, one professional sector’s preferences should not dictate the dress code where other professional sectors are indifferent.
In the spirit of Elder Oaks’ remarks, tattoos, multiple piercings, and outrageous hair color should all still remain suspect violations of the honor code. These symbols remain part of America’s anti-professional counterculture. The beard has moved on.
Naturally, some beards are outrageous and certainly taboo in the professional world. Brigham Young’s beard would simply have no place among white-color professionals. The honor code should not open the door to all facial hair. Just as the honor code allows hair without permitting outrageous hairstyles, so too should it allow for beards without outrageous beard styles. A possible modification could read: “Beards should be well kempt and decorous,” with some latitude in enforcement of this standard. Such a standard would be keeping up with the times and capture the spirit of Elder Oaks’ policy reasons for the beard ban.
Finally, as a note about the need for occasional policy changes: In Elder Oaks address, he reiterated the then-current prohibition on women wearing jeans or sweatshirts as appropriate enforcements of the honor code. Those prohibitions have since been dropped. The honor code has always followed what society recognizes as reasonable dress and grooming standards. Far from prohibiting women’s sweatshirts, the campus store sells women’s sweatshirts to students! Occasional modifications to the honor code have always been appropriate. In that vein, the beard has gone from social pariah to a reasonable grooming standard among professionals. The honor code should reflect that change.
When Joseph Smith ordered the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, he was quite clearly participating in the censorship of others. Whether he was commanded by God to do this or not is largely irrelevant for the purposes of this post. Rather, I would like to focus on the continuity which exists between this case and other scriptural examples of censoring or compelling speech. With this continuity in mind we should be able to better conceptualize the tensions between apostasy and censorship that we see in the bloggernacle today. (more…)
(This is the 3rd post in my series “The Bloggernacle as Public Sphere”.)
In this post I would like to use Jürgen Habermas’ Transformation of the Public Sphere to distinguish between three different types of active members which we find in the church today. Roughly following Habermas, I will call these three kinds of church membership the feudal, critical and consumer models of church membership. I say “roughly” because Habermas’ account leaves the reader with the impression that there are only two models – feudal and critical – since the consumer type of society just is its re-feudalization. Although he does not explicitly equate feudal and the consumer societies with each other, I think his failure to explicitly disentangle the two is not just an incidental shortcoming of his book, but a strategic move aimed at furthering his own critical perspective. I would also suggest that many people within the bloggernacle (myself included) do the exact same thing. (more…)
A great friend and I were discussing “Big Tent” Mormonism over the weekend and it was a great conversation. Alas the school year has begun and he’s a teacher. So I am hoping we can continue the conversation here. Let me restate some of the discussion, and also carry it forward a bit. (more…)
In this post I would like to briefly outline 5 reasons for why we should believe our authorized priesthood leaders over our own reasoning. The purpose of this post, in contrast to many of my prior posts, is not to convince the reader that they ought to so prioritize the church leaders’ beliefs over their own. Rather, it is more to provide a taxonomy of sorts for such reasons, if only for the purpose of clarification. Commenters are encouraged to specify which reasons they do and do not endorse as well as provide and categorize any reasons that I might have missed. (more…)
What are the elements within our Faith’s conception of the atonement which are unique to it? Here I will attempt to name a few. (more…)
How many of us have had repeated bloggernacle interactions with some person that felt a little too much like this:
While I think we can all easily identify with and understand Phil’s perspective and his reaction to Ned, it probably takes a little more mental effort for any of us to identify with Ned. This partially has to do with the fact that Groundhog Day is told from Phil’s perspective, but I think it also has to do with the fact that Ned is just plain annoying. It is for similar reasons, I suggest, that we so easily see ourselves being trolled by others in the bloggernacle but rarely if ever see ourselves as doing the trolling. We each see bloggernacle interactions from our own perspective and, not without reason, see their one-note repetitions as annoying. Indeed, not unlike Phil’s second encounter with Ned, we tend to assume that in such interactions we are the victims of a shell-game or some other misdirective scheme on the other’s part. Like Phil, we have a difficult time believing that Ned is truly being sincere in his on-note repetitions. (more…)
Alright, the title is partially tongue in cheek since the method I describe below has more than a few caveats to it.
Ziff over at Zelophehad’s Daughters put up a post shows the distribution of Facebook likes which readers of each blog in the bloggernacle have for each member of the 15 apostles. Keep in mind that by “reader of a blog” I mean a person who has liked that blog on Facebook. Thus, Ziff’s data compares this distribution against the distribution which exists for the total FB likes to Q15 members. I find this comparison interesting, but incomplete. (Newcoolthang does not have a Facebook page, but this is not the incompleteness to which I am referring.)
Luckily, Ziff was nice enough to also publish his raw data in the post, thereby allowing me to analyze the data along different lines. Whereas Ziff was concerned about the distribution of likes among Q15 members for each blogs readership, I want to analyze how much support there is for each Q15 member within each blogs readership. By “support” I mean this: out of all the people that “like” a particular blog, how many of those people also like each Q15 member? Here are the result of my analysis: (more…)