Mormons and the FBI – A Bleg

The Associated Press reported in the early 1980s that “The CIA does some of its most successful recruiting in predominantly LDS Utah.”[1]  … [Read more...]

The Decline of Something Called “Religion”

Stories of Decline Perry Miller’s exhaustive intellectual histories of Puritan theology were published back in the 1930s and 1940s, and did a lot to revitalize and rehabilitate the Puritans (what? You didn’t know that Puritans have been rehabilitated?).  One of Miller’s primary narrative structures – one he shared, interestingly enough, with his subjects - was the declension narrative: that is, early Puritanism of the 1620s and 1630s shared, as Miller put it, “almost unbroken allegia … [Read more...]

God Gives US TV Sets To Please Our Eyes and Gladden Our Hearts: Two Mormon Views of the Prosperity Gospel

Here's a brief transcript from a filmstrip intended for Mormon audiences, "The Lord's Laws of Prosperity." It's undated, but the LDS Church Library places it in the mid-1960s. Narrator: Certainly it is within the province of the Lord to bring prosperity to anyone he considered worthy of it....Man: Is he talking about spiritual prosperity or temporal prosperity?Narrator: (Chuckle) I’d say both.  He says The good things of the earth.”  I’m sure the Lord requires that we acknowledge his han … [Read more...]

Mormons as Christians; Christians as Mormons

In the nineteenth sixties and seventies, an "anti-cult" movement emerged in America, assailing religious movements like Krishna Consciousness and the Children of God and Jim Jones's Peoples Temple with the word "cult."  The anti-cult movement was secular, and as such attacked these movements in secular language: it popularized concepts like 'brainwashing' and 'deprogramming,' warned that such religious movements were not really religious but rather elaborate means of self-gratification erected … [Read more...]

Ghost Stories

I'm revisiting Judith Richardson's Possessions: the history and uses of haunting in the Hudson Valley as I start thinking about nineteenth century spiritualism for a new book project, and this time I've been struck by her emphasis on place.  The tangled and broken landscape of the Hudson Valley, full of cliffs and culverts and sharp bends in the river, makes for an ideal habitat for the unquiet dead. But just as powerful is the cultural landscape, marked since the seventeenth century with the … [Read more...]

Review: Russell Banks, Cloudsplitter: a novel.

Partway through Cloudsplitter, Russell Banks's ambitious fictional account of John Brown's adult life, our narrator, John's third son Owen, reflects that his relationship to his father is analogous to Job's relationship with God.  That is, God is, well, God, just like John Brown was John Brown, and the status entitles this looming divine presence to behave as he will, and Job or Owen must simply follow, because one does not question the divine.   As Job says, in chapter 42:I have uttered wh … [Read more...]

The Pope’s Conservative Reasons for Saying Nice Things about Atheists

 Every Wednesday morning, the pope celebrates a Mass and holds a public audience.   It is routine for popes to offer a homily at these occasions – a brief exhortation to his audience that normally follows uncontroversial and tedious paths: do good, attend Mass, or so forth.  We had little reason to suspect that Pope Francis would be all that different.  After all, he was widely reported to be a theological conservative, a “conventional choice” for the papacy, not that different from his … [Read more...]

Lev Grossman’s _The Magicians_ and the Spiritual Longing of America’s Young

The Magicians Lev Grossman Viking, 2009Yes, you get a book review of a four year old book.  But, it's free.  Spoilers.  What you need to know: the  magicians of the title are a handful of America's bright but directionless teenagers, lifted from their daily lives and transported to Brakebills, a college for magicians in upstate New York. There they fight, drink, sleep around, moan about how directionless they are in the way most of America's generation Y and millennials seem to, and eve … [Read more...]


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