One Mormon’s reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden

Even my post title is loaded.

By referring to the situation as “the death of,” I cast a judgment. I didn’t call it “the murder of” or the “slaughter of” or the “unfortunate demise of.” (I made the mistake last night of clicking a link containing an image of his body on a foreign website. What word to use?) I had to call it something, just to get my thoughts out. Blog posts have titles and “death” is the word I went with. I guess its ambivalence reflects my feelings right now.

I suppose the reason is because I have a hard time emotionally not feeling a sense of peace and justice when I realize what a remarkable thing the group of Navy SEALs did yesterday, the fruits of a long search. I watched the news last night and saw people in New York celebrating. Some of them were families of victims who died on 9/11. They seemed relieved, subdued. The crowds more boisterous. That’s when I became a little unsettled. I know people burned American flags overseas after 9/11, but when CNN showed crowds outside the White House and I could hear them singing “Na na na na…Hey, Hey, Goodbye!” I got a little bit of a sick feeling. I heard chants of “USA! USA!” It felt almost sports event-like. (The chanting I heard at an actual sports event probably fed into that perception, but I didn’t see the Philly reaction until a bit later.) I felt weird. Indulge my hand-wringing because there’s ringing in my ears.  [Read more...]

Mormon Birthers Holler Back!

After several years of silliness the President has released his long form birth certificate, putting to rest (but probably not really, as today’s poll suggests) the rumors that he was not born a US citizen and thus is not eligible for the office of President. I’ve been fortunate enough not to know any birthers personally, but I’m curious if anyone reading this post had to deal with any.

Meantime, enjoy my Matsby-esque MSPaint tribute to the death of a conspiracy movement.

Exclusive newly discovered primary source depicts the difficulty of establishing “Mormon doctrine”

An interesting and newly discovered primary source on Mormonism has fallen into the hands of the bloggers here at FPR,and I was duly selected to analyze it for publication. A rare document like this might rightfully belong in the Journal of Mormon History, or perhaps BYU Studies, which occasionally publishes interesting newly discovered documents. Nevertheless, the rise of popularity regarding the Bloggernacle and the intense competition amongst various blogs to provide the best and most interesting coverage has led me to squander the opportunity for print publication in order to bring it to you, the reader’s, attention as quickly as possible. First, a little background. [Read more...]

Early Mormon Responses to the BoM Musical

The “early” in this post title is intended to modify the word “responses,” not “Mormon.” I apologize to anyone who saw the post title and mistakenly thought I had discovered some sort of prophetic statement from the olden days regarding the new musical.

I’ve been watching the various reviews and responses to the new Book of Mormon Musical with interest. I enjoyed Ken Jennings’s “to each his own” response, which interestingly compared the structure of the musical’s plot to the Book of Mormon in a way that made connections I’m sure the authors of the musical never intended or realized. Michael Otterson (the Church’s head of Public Affairs) published his own interesting response column today.  [Read more...]

Earth to Elna Baker: God doesn’t live on Kolob

Don’t get me wrong, I actually personally want to see the new Broadway musical The Book of Mormon. And I admit this is a super nit-picky observation, but I’ve seen multiple Mormons mention the Kolob joke when they talk about how great the new musical is/will be. The latest was Elna Baker, the funny Mormon author of The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance. Here’s part of her reaction to the new musical from an NPR story:

“There’s a line where they say, ‘I believe that God lives on a planet named Kolob,’ ” Baker says. “That is an actual Mormon belief. We do believe that. But taken out of context — or in context — you do not want anyone to know you actually believe it.” (Robert Smith, “On Broadway, A ‘Mormon’ Swipe At … Everything,” All Things Considered, 24 March 2011.)

Any Mormons who believe God lives on a planet called Kolob need to look more closely at their Book of Abraham (might I recommend Brian Hauglid’s new textual history of the BoA?). Again, this will seem silly and nit-picky to plenty of folks, but according to the scripture in question:

1. Kolob isn’t necessarily a planet.
2. God doesn’t live there even if it is.

Check it.

Sure, what the scripture really says still sounds a bit weird. Let’s at least be more accurate in our eccentricities!

Break a leg.

Living with a “vastly increased awareness of global suffering”

I witnessed suffering this week. You did too. I didn’t witness it in person, and not even as graphically as a better view might have afforded. Someone in Japan filmed their chilling sight of an earthquake-instigated tsunami taking over the city of Kesennuma in slightly over six minutes.

In a FAIR Podcast episode with John Durham Peters last year we discussed the communal opportunities afforded to Church members by General Conference broadcasts. Peters, a professor of communications studies at the University of Iowa, mentioned how the miracles of radio, satellite, and the Internet facilitate a worldwide ritual gathering of Saints with greater numbers than ever before.

At the same time, such wide access underscores difficulties exacerbated by such awareness-at-a-distance. Peters talked about ethical problems we face when seeing tragedies around the world. I was reminded of his comments as I watched that video above:

BHodges: Back to the topic of the Haiti earthquake. We had broadcasts almost, within the hour, the Church had trucks being sent out really quickly, you had people sitting at home watching celebrities sing on TV and donating money and these things, and it can all happen very quickly. That kind of increases that burden of obligation to a global community.

John Durham Peters: Yeah, it does. But it’s complicated, because if there’s a flood in Iowa city, which there was two and a half years ago, I’m easily mobilized. I know what I can do, I can go sandbag. If there’s an earthquake in Haiti what I can do is complicated by the pure fact of distance. And there’s a really interesting book by this French sociologist called Suffering at a Distance, and he suggested that essentially all we can do in a world of mediated suffering, televisual suffering, photo-journalistic suffering is to donate, or to speak out. And that seems, a kind of meager menu of options, and certainly I’m glad the Church does humanitarian on the ground work. But I remember people saying in the Haiti earthquake [coverage], “you do-gooders, stop coming down here, you’re mucking up the infrastructure. We can’t support all these people coming in who don’t know what they’re doing.”

And so, I don’t know. In the world of television and of journalism more generally—this goes back to the nineteenth century—in the modern world we live in a world of vastly increased awareness of global suffering without a concomitant or parallel growth in the means to help global suffering. Obviously we have the rise of philanthropy and of all kinds of really great humanitarian organizations. But, in the end suffering is intractable, you can’t fix it. My mother-in-law recently died just almost three weeks ago, sometimes when you watch the Haiti thing you say “if only I were there I could do something,” but sometimes you are there and you still can’t do anything besides, you know, I guess President Eyring talked about this in Conference, he wanted to see the master lesson in how you administer to suffering. President Kimball comes in, talks to his dad, just hangs out, doesn’t do anything. And I think sometimes admitting our impossibility to do anything except just be there  is maybe the most profound testimony of care or of love that we can bear, and so I’m a big believer in showing up…

-FAIR Podcast, Episode 5: John Durham Peters p.1 (33:40-36:30)

Hauglid’s new critical text of the Book of Abraham manuscripts

Brian M. Hauglid’s A Textual History of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions is the latest volume in the Studies in the Book of Abraham Series from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. A full review is available here, and my podcast interview with Hauglid is available here. In this post I briefly compare Hauglid’s project to Royal Skousen’s project on the Book of Mormon manuscripts.

A few differences between his project and Hauglid’s are immediately apparent. [Read more...]

BYU’s honor code, implications of racism, and journalistic rhetorical structures

I don’t really follow college sports, but I couldn’t help but notice the attention BYU has been receiving in the national media this year. I kept hearing about this fellow named “Jimmer,” who, evidently, is quite a fine basketball player. (He’s looking to surpass Danny Ainge as BYU’s top scorer of all time, for example.) BYU was surging ahead in the rankings, a system which I don’t understand in the least, but is supposed to be a big deal. BYU ranked #3 in the nation, something like that.

With all this hype BYU was poised to make some noise during March Madness. Then they announced the suspension of a key player. A lot of national media coverage was positive, praising BYU for their integrity in suspending a player despite the risk of ruining one of BYU’s finest basketball seasons ever.

I have some mixed feelings about the circumstances but I wanted to take a look at a report from NPR’s “All Things Considered,” which plays nationally, not just locally in Utah. Michele (Mee-shell) Norris is interviewing an NPR sports analyst Stefan Fatsis: [Read more...]

(Past Due) – an uncorrelated hymn

I believe in uncorrelated hymns. This post is a personal reflection about one of my favorites.

February is the Year’s obituary in my life, which seems strange, given that my own birthday falls on the first of that month. Of course, I celebrate the death of the old year and birth of the new between December 31 and January 1 with the rest of the Gregorian collective. But every year it seems like I personally feel the real death in February.

[Read more...]

Edward Tullidge’s Miltonian “Gathering of the Grand Council of Hell”

In 1858 Edward Tullidge wrote to Brigham Young to volunteer himself as the epic chronicler of the Restoration. The off-and-on again British convert to Mormonism enthusiasticaly described his fifteen-thousand-line epic style biography of Joseph Smith, “The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century.” He compared his work to Homer and John Milton and promised more to come.1 Evidently, Tullidge never completed the project.2 Fortunately, however, one chapter was published in The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star in January 1858. I located a scanned image via Google Books,3 but since I couldn’t find a reliable transcription online I decided to furnish one for your reading, copying, and pasting enjoyment. I numbered the lines for easier reference. For this post I put together a quick comparison between Tullidge’s chapter and Milton’s Paradise Lost. [Read more...]