This week was ward conference in our ward, so no teacher improvement this week. In lieu of that, I wanted to point out an old book on the atonement and some points it raises that I found interesting. The book is “The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life’s Experiences” by Bruce C. Hafen. (more…)
First, here is the BYU-Idaho video that has apparently caused a small stir this week:
It is a video warning about the dangers of pornography addiction. The dangers of pornography addiction are well documented and opposition to pornography is certainly not only a Mormon thing.
So here’s a question for you: How many times did you hear the word “masturbation” used in that video?
If you answered “none times” that means you are brighter than numerous writers and bloggers across the country who railed against what they called an “anti-masturbation” video. Here are some of the headlines from these clowns:
The Daily Beast: “BYU to Undergrads: Self-Love Is A Battlefield — The Mormon university is urging its students to narc on chronic masturbators, whose fight against self-pleasure is like rescuing a fallen soldier during war.”
The Stir: “College Wages ‘War’ on Masturbation With Video That Offends Soldiers”
The Daily Caller: “War-themed BYU video implores students to rat out masturbating roommates”
Look, I realize that people who view porn often masturbate too. But this particular video is not about masturbation. How is that hard to comprehend?
I am a little baffled by these stories. They actually link to the video and write entire posts saying it is about masturbation when it never even broaches the topic of masturbation. Is this just a copycat situation from writers not bright enough to comprehend the video? Were these writers too lazy to actually watch it? Or is the concept that pornography addiction itself might be a bad thing so foreign to these writers that they miss it entirely?
At any rate, the ridiculousness of the articles irritated me enough to get me to post about it. Feel free to sound off in the comments.
This Lesson is a little more unfocused than prior lessons as my main goal here is the transfer of information. The basic design of the lesson is going to be to go over some general information then to allow the class to determine which age groups they would like to focus on.
I spent most of my preparation time this week debating whether I should teach this lesson next or teach lessons on pedagogy and age specific needs next. I went with this lesson, but could totally imagine the other order being better. This is a combination of lessons 5 and 10 from teaching-no greater calling.
Today my guiding principles for the lesson are a contrast to one another:
First- “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” D&C 38:30
Second “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Helmuth von Moltke (more…)
Laban’s execution ranks among the most troubling stories in Mormonism. It’s often used as a story to show that obeying God is more important than what we think is right. Alternatively, it’s used as an example to show how we should question commandments. It’s been explained away as a justifiable action under Jewish law. It’s been entertained as a possible example of Satan’s power to deceive (Nephi in this instance). Nephi and Laban have been compared to Abraham and Isaac, and David and Goliath. Critics cite it to discredit Mormonism, and apologists use it to bolster Mormonism. What makes Laban’s execution so interesting is not only what it tells us about Nephi, but what it tells us about God.
Laban’s execution takes us through three stages in Nephi’s mind. When Nephi discovers Laban stumbling through the dark Jerusalem streets, God prompts him to kill the defenseless drunk. Nephi refuses to obey God because killing, ironically enough, is against God’s commandments. God again commands Nephi to kill Laban. The second time, Nephi pauses to come up with a reason to justify what God has asked him to do. Nephi contemplates Laban’s offenses. Just earlier that night Laban took all of Nephi’s family’s possessions and tried to kill Nephi and his brothers; he had disobeyed God. The rationalization may be compelling for some, but Nephi evidently couldn’t convince himself. So God commands Nephi a third time to take Laban’s life. But this time, God explains why Nephi should obey his commandment. God points out “It is better that [Laban] should perish than that [the future Nephite civilization] should dwindle and perish in unbelief.” God has Nephi weigh the literal death of one man against the spiritual death of a whole nation. Put in modern parlance, God gives Nephi a utilitarian reason for executing Laban. Nephi then obeys.
It would be easy to draw some harmful lessons from this story. Presumably, Nephi did the right thing by refusing to obey until God gave him a reason to obey. Should we adopt Nephi’s unwillingness when we face tough commandments? Probably not. The Book of Mormon itself contains other stories where people took the leap of faith before knowing fully what would happen. Nephi had just declared, one chapter earlier, that he’d obey whatever God told him to do. Laban’s execution gives us the rare look at how a prophet, and how God, works through a situation where two commandments clearly contradict each other. And while Nephi tries to obey the more newest one, he waits for God’s approval before acting. There was simply no third way for Nephi, and I suspect that most people would rarely be put in Nephi’s position. But at least one modern prophet faced a similar situation.
Wilford Woodruff had a dilemma. God commanded the Saints to practice plural marriage. But had they continued, the United States would imprison church leaders, close the temples, and confiscate many of the Saints’ property; the church would, in effect, perish. Woodruff couldn’t obey one commandment (plural marriage) without failing on the other (preserving the church).
Woodruff’s decision is sometimes taken as evidence that Mormonism is not what it claims. If God really was in charge, He would have found a way to allow plural marriage to continue and the church to go on as it had. Instead, he didn’t intervene, and he made Woodruff and the Saints abandon an immensely important commandment. Clearly then, the argument goes, God doesn’t lead the Church.
The story of Laban’s execution offers an alternative conclusion.
|Choice 1: Kill Laban, save the church||End plural marriage, save the church|
|Choice 2: Not kill Laban, church perishes||Not end plural marriage, church suffers/perishes|
|Decision: Applies the greater good||Applies the greater good|
Laban’s execution shows that God will sometimes entertain a utilitarian judgment over directly intervening in some way to avoid the utilitarian solution. Why? The answer may be related to the answer to another, similar question: Why does God have imperfect people lead His church? Perhaps it’s because the greater good is served by having people work together to improve an imperfect church rather than by having God so directly involved. Sometimes God drops a Liahona in the sand, sometimes he commands his prophet to make do with the best of two bad choices.
 As an aside, some people have other problems with Laban’s execution. Why couldn’t Nephi have just knocked Laban out, or what about all of the blood on Laban’s clothes that Nephi had adorned? These aren’t criticisms of the story as it is told, but elements that Nephi didn’t explain. I imagine that if Nephi anticipated these criticisms, he might have offered more detail on how the events unfolded. For all we know, Nephi stole Laban’s clothes, Laban recognized him, and Nephi just recounted the order of events in reverse. Stranger things have happened.
 The same argument I’ve offered here might also apply to Eve’s choice in the Garden of Eden. However, it’s not entirely clear that Eve was thinking in utilitarian terms about her decision to eat the forbidden fruit and have children.
My Lesson has a few guiding principles. The first comes from this quote from Jeffrey R. Holland from the April 1998 General Conference:
We must revitalize and reenthrone superior teaching in the Church—at home, from the pulpit, in our administrative meetings, and surely in the classroom. Inspired teaching must never become a lost art in the Church, and we must make certain our quest for it does not become a lost tradition.
I use this quote as a reminder of the prior lesson that our objective is to be the best we can be and that great teachers want to be great teachers, are passionate about what they are learning and love those they teach.
So I have been asked to teach a church teacher improvement course over the next six weeks at church. Since I was surprised to not find one laid out online at Feast Upon the Word or T&S, I thought I would post my lessons plans here and invite your input and help over the next 6 weeks. Think of every question as an invitation to discuss.
I start simply, with the following statement I nabbed from greatschools.com (more…)
(P)recap. The purpose of this series on intellectuals within Mormonism is bring the analytic tools of intellectualism against itself so as to help Mormon intellectuals recognize and perhaps second guess the choices that they actively make when they unnecessarily place themselves at odds with the church leadership. To review, the first post identified the specific kind of intellectualism which the scriptures warn us against. Briefly, the intellectual will be the person who holds that:
Any speech act can legitimately be called into question by any person, at any time and that a legitimate answer to that question cannot invoke any person’s position within society.
In the second post I articulated the ways in which Mormon intellectuals will not only tolerate, but actively embrace prophecy within their worldview. In summary, the Mormon intellectual has no trouble negotiating a kind of compatibility between their intellectualism and their prophetic religion, since all doctrines can still be called into question and subsequently (dis)confirmed by God at any time. In this way, the position which priesthood leaders have taken on any given issue becomes largely irrelevant to the position which Mormon intellectuals will take on the same issue.
While the Mormon intellectual can fully embrace the first leg upon which Mormonism stands (prophecy), he will have serious difficulties embracing the other leg: priesthood authority. In this post I want to articulate the tensions that exist between intellectualism and priesthood authority, for I believe it is these that are the primary source of contention between the former and Mormonism. (more…)
In the Catholic Advent cycle, today is the “pink candle” Sunday, where in preparation for Christ’s coming we rejoice rather than repent. In fact, Gaudete is Latin for Rejoice and comes from Phillipians 4:4-5:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.
5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
In the Catholic tradition, Gaudete Sunday follows the typical parameters of service, with two readings (Isaiah and James, both focusing on the nearness of the messiah who comes with healing in the wings) and a Gospel reading. The Gospel reading is Matthew 11:2-11, which features Christ’s praise of John the Baptist as more than a prophet, but also something else.
In these verses, John is in prison, and is very aware that he is about to be killed. He calls out to Jesus “Art thou the Christ or do we wait for another?” Or in other words, John, in his moment of darkness and need, calls out to Christ in doubt and uncertainty. We can not be certain if this is because John’s expectation of the Messiah was that he would be a conqueror sent by God who came to overthrow those people who now held John captive or if John merely were asking for assurance that all his suffering was not in vain. In either case, here is John, who was “more than a prophet” but who is in many ways “the prophet”, having weakness and doubt. Christ sends assurance to John and asks him to “take no offense in me”, but does not release him from his allotted punishment, as we all know. John dies, his head put on a platter, and Christ marches forward toward Calvary and beyond.
I find it very interesting that in this service of rejoicing at the nearness of Christ, the central story is one of the greatest of all people doubting and Christ pleading that he not take offense in him. In many ways, on the Christian path, our expectations of God and the way things should be are set, either by our reasoning or traditions, and can become stumbling blocks to us. In my life as a member of the Church I have seen many struggle. Most recently, a newly baptized couple read headlines about women being denied access to the priesthood session and haven’t been back to church since. Before that, I saw a couple struggle with how the church spends money on temples instead of caring for the poor and needy. I have known many who struggle with God’s allowance of Polygamy and the long period when Blacks were denied the priesthood. I have also struggled with all these things.
To these issues, I think Gaudete Sunday is a response. Christ, in the moment asks our forgiveness telling us we are blessed if we take no offense. If the greatest prophet of all could struggle, and later on the Cross, Christ could struggle (eloi lama sabacthanai), so must we struggle. Life paints an unexpected and confusing picture of God, which is ever changing and breaking the rules we try to contain it in. It is faith and faith only which allows us to have hope for the end to be good from where we stand, though all of our expectations of the end and our understandings of the now are tested. Even though we see through a glass darkly, We can still stand together as one, and thank God for the nearness of the Lord and his goodness. We can rejoice.
Last post I tried to disentangle and nail down the type of intellectualism which is not compatible with Mormonism. Briefly, Mormonism is not against us being good at using our intellect nor is it against us enjoying using our intellect for various purposes. What Mormonism is against, however, is us believing, speaking or acting as if our intellect were the universal and indispensable judge of what we ought to believe, say or do. Whereas the intellectual holds that the unexamined life is not worth living, the faithful Mormon places little importance in knowing the reasons for doing some things, save the Lord hath commanded it. Having articulated a Mormon perspective on intellectualism, I would now like to switch gears and articulate the intellectual perspective on Mormonism. While I will eventually argue in future posts that intellectualism fiercely rejects priesthood authority, in this post I want to show the compatibility of intellectualism with prophecy. (more…)
I think we can all agree that within Mormonism there is a certain kind of ambivalence toward intellectualism, even if we aren’t quite able to put our finger on it. On the one hand, it seems clear that Mormonism embraces intelligence as such, going so far as to equate it with the Glory of God. Along these lines we are also told to seek truth and knowledge from the best books and counseled that to be learned is good so long as we don’t abandon the faith. On the other hand, there are at least as many passages which warn us of the learned and scholarly who preach the philosophies of men according to the understanding of the flesh. These tensions within the scriptures leave one wondering what place, if any, is to be found for intellectuals within the church. (more…)
Psychology Today’s latest issue discusses the double edged nature of virtues. Sometimes a virtue, either taken to excess or cherished too dearly, warps into a vice. The article gives several examples.
Fairness is a virtue. But it’s easy to become obsessive about fairness, especially when it plays in our favor. The article references a father who told his daughter he would miss her birthday because he had a business opportunity. “When she dried her tears, she told him it was OK—as long as he missed her sister’s birthday, too.” Of course, the daughter could have been thinking more selfishly than fairly, but even if the father had made this call himself, it’s hard to say he was acting virtuously. In fact, I imagine with some thought, we could come up with some other reasons why fairness should be tempered (the justice/mercy problem springs to mind).
Another example from the article is agreeableness or niceness, which in more religious terms we could call meekness. Being really nice is good, but when it overtakes being assertive, we can not only harm ourselves, but others as well. As the article points out, people who are agreeable tend to have lower salaries and get fewer promotions, and in some cases can strain romantic relationships because they’re too dependent and clingy.
While the virtues listed in the article serve mainly in the corporate context, Mormonism prizes several virtues that didn’t make this list, such as obedience, faith, and charity. Perhaps these virtues can also morph into vices. Can we become obsessively obedient? Does an excessive reliance on faith corrupt it? Can the compulsive pursuit of charity become a vice?
A lot of elders on my mission liked saying, “If you’re 99% obedient, you’re disobedient.” Not only do I worry about the psychological ramifications of this statement (as, apparently, does Elder Holland), but I wonder if the statement excuses obsessive obedience.
The pharisees are the classic example of over-obedient followers. Not only did they obey the law, but they hedged the law with non-divine rules just to be extra careful. Ironically, as Jesus pointed out, their law hedging made them disobedient, because they became so focused on superfluous details that they lost sight of the actual law itself. Furthermore, their obsessive obedience made them intensely judgmental. (more…)
The vast majority of members – especially females – oppose the priesthood ordination of women. Which means that if the church were a democracy women would not be ordained. But the church is not a democracy such that orders come from the top-down rather than from the bottom-up, and the top says “no” to the priesthood ordination of women as well. In spite of this, the Ordain Women movement presses forward, urging the church to give women the priesthood without any regard for what the rest of the church wants or thinks. This state of affairs cries out for explanation: How can a movement which is so strongly committed to emancipation and social justice (and I see no reason to doubt their sincerity) try to force people to be free? (more…)
Consider the following (and somewhat lengthy) sociological analysis of those tendencies toward dogmatism which we associate with correlation:
“The dogmatism which subsequently mushrooms among Mormons is thus already half-prepared by the stasis of critical thought inherent in doctrinal form; but this is only a potential for dogmatism which Mormonism shares even with conventional normal science. If Mormon dogmatism is not a development alien to science itself but a potential it shares with it, why does this potentiality blossom so fully in Mormonism?… (more…)