Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Joe Vogel and Free Speech 101
Select Smart

Is That Logical?

A online conversation I had with two other chaps about the 'logicality' of Mormon doctrine (click here).
"Few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation, or creed."-Bertrand Russell
Mormons Talk
Mormon and Evangelical Conversations

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"Approaching Mormon Doctrine"

The Church has released a new official statement providing guidelines in the establishment of what is in fact Mormon doctrine. It is kind of vague, but given all the complicating factors surrounding issues of doctrine in the LDS Church, I suppose that's to be expected. Anyway, I think it's a good starting point for discussion.

Mormons and Mitt in Time

Just wanted to put down some thoughts on a couple of articles in the May 21, 2007 issue of Time magazine. Now the cover story is on Mitt Romney and his quest for the presidency. A compare and contrast is presented between Mitt and his father George, a fellow businessman and Republican Governor of a Democratic leaning state (in seniors case Michigan). George Romney was the early front runner for the 1968 Republican nomination, but he was 'dethroned' as it were, but some poorly worded comments on Vietnam, and his refusal to toe the line of the newly emerging conservative base. Mitt on the other hand is known as much for his 'flip-flopping' on the issues, as for the fact that he is a Latter-day Saint. Non-the-less I still think Willard Mitt Romney comes across as an extremely capable, and more then nice enough man. However I'm bothered by the seeming expediency and pandering of his position changes over the last few years. Yes there are fine hair arguments to justify those shifts and say that the ex-Governor of Massachusetts didn't change the essence of his internal points of view, but I find that argumentation wanting.

The article that really peaked my curiosity though, immediately followed the Romney feature, and asked the question of 'is it simply bigoted to say you won't vote for someone based on his religion?' My short answer to this would be to say yes, however I think questions of the way a candidate might apply his faith to governing could be legitimate. For example, you don't hear a lot of people complaining about Harry Reid taking orders from Salt Lake City, or Ted Kennedy or John Kerry taking them from the Vatican. I doubt a president Romney would take say, Iraq War policy talking points that originate from the Church Administrative Block, because there are none. There is little in official LDS social policy that is not already part of the base Republican view points on those issues (i.e. pro-life, anti gay-marriage), so I don't see anymore of a conflict there then exists with say Huckabee and Brownbeck. Anyway, when a member of one of the countries largest church's, that has been around for nearly one hundred and eighty years, and already has numerous members in positions of governmental power, decides to run for the oval office, I don't see how it should raise much concern be he Latter-day Saint or Cumberland Presbyterian.

Finally, why do major news magazines have such a hard time when it comes to captioning the pictures in articles about the LDS Church? For example a couple of years ago U.S. News used a picture of Joseph F. Smith from the 1910's, and identified it as the Joseph Smith that died in the 1840's. In this issue of Time we get the following caption for a picture of a General Conference session in the Salt Lake Tabernacle: "Mormons attend their annual conference in their largest church, the Salt Lake Temple, above." Well where do I begin to point out where they got that one wrong? I'm hopping that the person who writes the captions is not the same as the person who writes the articles, or else I'll be real concerned about there accuracy (which is usually not much of a problem with the actual texts of the associated pieces). The caption quoted should probably read something like this: "LDS Church members attend a session of their semi-annual conference in the Salt Lake Tabernacle." You could even add the word "historic" if you really felt the need. I'm thinking about writing a letter to Time's editor about this.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Every man must have the right fearlessly to think independently and not merely to express with slightly different variation the opinions which have been inculcated in him."- Mstislav Rostropovich

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Jehovah's Witnesses on PBS

Coming less then a month after the airing of 'The Mormons' documentary on PBS, I thought I would include this post on the film 'Knocking', which was broadcast tonight as an episode of 'Independent Lenses'. This post comes from my movie blog, 'His Other Band'.

Knocking (2006)

I found Joel Engardio's concise little documentary on the Jehovah's Witnesses to be very enlightening. I know relatively little about the faith, despite having some contact with members of various Kingdom Hall's on my mission. Often Witnesses I meet knocking doors would be very prepared to share their faith with us missionary's, and somehow get us to go away with a pamphlet. At other times I enjoyed swapping stories of how people had been rude to us when we showed up at their doors. Sometimes we LDS missionary's where mistaken for Jehovah's Witnesses (you really have to know pretty little about either group to make that mistake, in my opinion), and the general impression I got from these and other occurrences, was that the average southerner found Mormons to be more blasphemous, but Jehovah's Witnesses to be more annoying, or more aggressive proselytisers. In general I really think they disliked the JW's more then the Mormons, and I'm not entirely sure why, though it might have something to do with their lack of patriotism (as traditionally understood).

The documentary covers briefly the history of the Jehovah's Witnesses, including important civil liberty's cases they where involved in (mostly involving the right to proselytize), as well as some of their more distinctive doctrines and practices. Mostly however the film follows two families, one a Jewish Holocaust survivor who converted to the faith, and his children both Jewish and JW. The other a family of converts whose oldest son suffers from a degenerative liver condition, one that is typically treated by a transplant that involves blood transfusion, with the latter aspect of the surgery being expressly forbidden by the Witnesses beliefs. Both families are engaging, and offer opportunity's to look at important aspects of the Witnesses faith as a whole.

So far as the family with the (twenty-something) child with the liver condition goes, we get to explore both the impact of strict adherence to the beliefs about blood on the family's handling of a health crises (they eventually have a successful bloodless liver transplant performed at a Los Anglos area hospital, an advancement that will be equally helpful to members of all faiths), and the impact of the faith on non-Jehovah's Witness family members. The mother-in-law thinks going through the bloodless surgery is too dangerous for her grandchild, and resents the family's non-participation in Christmas and other holiday actives, a practice (or lack there of) dictated by their faith. That mother-in-law reminds me of many friends and relatives to LDS people, convinced that that seemingly alien faith is keeping them from fully embracing loved ones who do not prescribe to its precepts. In both the Jehovah's Witness and Latter-day Saint cases, I think it is often the 'non-member' parties who place the biggest distance between adherents and non, often based on mistaken our stereotyped understandings of the faith in question, and reading non-participation in certain activities as a personal rejection (i.e. JW's not showing up for Christmas dinner, and non-Mormons not being allowed to attend LDS temple marriages).

Of course the concept of family strain is also more then evident in the story of the Jewish convert. When the old man comes to tale the tale of his Holocaust experience at a local school, his Jewish daughter seems somewhat uncomfortable when he begins to speak of the imprisoned Jehovah's Witness that so inspired him as a boy. The whole story of the Jehovah's Witness in Europe during the second World War (and I suppose even in America, where they were sometimes beaten on grounds of unpatriotism) is a very interesting one to me. I wouldn't mind seeing a documentary on only that, so any JW reading this should feel free to leave a message if they know of a way that I might receive one. I admit part of this fascination is rooted in a kind of spiritual envy, most Latter-day Saints in Germany and environs during the war cooperated with the Nazi's (probably not important, but I think there were fewer Mormons in Europe at that time the Jehovah's Witnesses). I think that its a kind of manifestation of spiritual guilt that so much exposure has been given in the past decade to the story of a teenage Mormon resistance fighter who was killed by the Nazi's during the war ( I forgot his name, some Mormon could probably help me out on this). I mean what he did was brave and all, but he was the exception not the rule. In fact the Nazi's were big fans of Mormon genealogical recording keeping, thinking it a fine tool for confirming or denying racial purity. The one real negative thing I came away with from this doc, was that Jehovah's Witness sure seem to excommunicate a lot of people, roughly 30,000 a year out of a membership of about 7 million.

Anyway I liked this documentary and the people in it, wouldn't mind talking about what I learned. However I live with other people and JW's would not be welcome at my house, so let's keep it to an online chat, an open invitations to any Jehovah's Witness who might happen upon this blog.

Non-Mormons Respond to 'The Mormons' on PBS

I found this blog entry on 'The Striaght and Narrow Blog' which provides a good overview of non-LDS (though generally not conservative Christain) responses to the recent PBS documentary on the Church.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A View of the Hebrews

This 19th Century text has been claimed by some to be the primary source material from which the Book of Mormon was derived. I haven't read this myself, only recently found it available online, and from a source I'm sure many mainstream Mormons would not approve of. However I have plans to start taking a closer look at the material in the near future. I did read the Spaulding manuscript (another propertied Book of Mormon source material) some years ago, and with that reading have dismissed it as a possible origin source. Spaulding's story has only a few parallels to the Book of Mormon story (all of them superficial) and depicts an ancient American society quite unlike that found in the Book of Mormon. I honestly anticipate finding more of the same here.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Are Mormons More Cliquish then Jews?

Last week on televisions Glenn Beck program, Mr. Beck interviewed famed interviewer Larry King. As Mr. Beck is (of course) a Mormon, and Mr. King is famously (to Mormons) married to one, the topic of Mormonism came up. Larry King praised the Church's emphasis on the family, which is probably the favorite thing about the faith to 90% of unbelievers who are familiar with it, but Mr. King went a step further. Larry (who is Jewish), made that point that he finds Latter-day Saints to be even more intersteary then Jews. What that means is that while Jews are technically members of a tribe, Mormons often come across as even more tribal. Often, when a large LDS support network is available, members of the Church interact and socialize almost exclusively within that group, saving for say school and work settings. I actually would have to agree with that statement by Mr. King, we keep to ourselves often excessively. I mean I arguably have no real close associations outside of the Church, and frankly I don't like that. But in LDS culture, it's often difficult to sustain such relationships with those outside the faith for any prolonged period of time. Granted our national cultures general move in the 'bowling alone' direction exacerbates that, but still I"m pretty sure its worse being Mormon. I won't rule out the 'fear of conversion efforts' factor though on the non-LDS side of the equation. Anyway, if anybody actually reads this blog, any comments on this whole subject matter?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Rev. Jerry Falwell: 1933-2007

The Reverend Jerry Falwell passed away unexpectedly today in his hometown of Lynchburg Virgina, the suspected cause was cardiac arrhythmia. The founder of 'the Moral Majority' and an important voice in the infusion of conservative Christian political clout into the Republican party, starting in the late 1970's, he was a man much loved and hated. Senator John McCain once called him an agent of intolerance, and even evil, before changing his tune in an effort to court the Evangelical base that failed him during his 2000 campaign for the presidency. Once time Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater was known to detest the man, saying that every good Christian should kick him in the ass. These are Republican voices, those on the left criticized Falwell for his long time support for South African apartheid, strong stances against homosexuals, and comments linking the 9/11 attacks to divine punishment for decaying American moral values, among other things.

Of course Falwell was well loved on the right, and received much praise there for his efforts in supporting Reagan, and the 1994 GOP sweep of congress, not to mention George W. Bush. Though firm in his orthodox Evangelical interpretation of the Bible, he was willing to work with other groups, including Mormons, in advocacy of generally shared social issue goals. He also, in my opinion, came off better in interviews then the stereotype might lead you to expect. Anyway his death was surprising, and it will be interesting to see if it comes up in tonight's Republican presidential debate.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

"I hope that you will develop the questing spirit. Be unafraid of new ideas for they are the stepping stones of progress. You will of course respect the opinions of others but be unafraid to dissent—if you are informed.

"Now I have mentioned freedom to express your thoughts, but I caution you that your thoughts and expressions must meet competition in the market place of thought, and in that competition truth will emerge triumphant. Only error needs to fear freedom of expression. Seek truth in all fields, and in that search you will need at least three virtues; courage, zest, and modesty. The ancients put that thought in the form of a prayer. They said, 'From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth, from the laziness that is content with half truth, from the arrogance that thinks it has all truth—O God of truth deliver us'."- Hugh B. Brown, 1958

Mormons Respond to 'The Mormons' on PBS

I always find it interesting to see how member of the Church respond to its portal in the media. I found Helen Whitney's documentary 'The Mormons' to be a well balanced and respectful presentation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even the Church's official response to the program seems to reflect that sentiment. However much of the grass-roots Mormon community who viewed PBS's recent offering apparently felt differently (click here). This was brought home to me in my ward sacrament meeting the Sunday following the broadcast. It was fast & testimony meeting so members of the congregation could come up to the podium and speak there minds about the faith (at least in theory). About 3 0r 4 people mentioned the documentary in their testimony's, each time it was referenced negatively. The general consensus among those who spoke on the topic, seemed to be that it missed the point (or the heart) of the LDS message, namely its literal trueness and exclusive hold on all things divine. Some even went so far as to suggestion the program intentionally mis-lead viewers and was thus potently destructive to their salvation.

I find this frustrating. I can understand their arguments to an extent, but would couch them in very different terms. It is unfortunate that most of my fellow Mormons have come to view any presentation of material related to the Church in a dualistic way. Either it is pro-Mormon, meaning it embraces the present orthodox or mainstream views within the LDS Church, or it anti-Mormon, meaning it is in any way critical (i.e. less then glowing) about the Mormon experience or the institutional church. In other words there can be only propaganda pro-or-con (with the pro side being divinely sanctioned), and no middle journalistic ground. This is false. Things simply aren't that simple.

As with most things there is a wide spectrum of views on the Church that can be legitimately held, with no underling malice necessary. We have a complicated history, lot's of doctrine, tradition, and folk lore, as well a diverse body of lived experience by those with-in the LDS orbit. Jan Shipps, the Ostlings, Van Hale, and others present information which is ambiguous, journalistic, or scholarly. It is not propaganda, it is not (necessarily) left or right. It just is. We need to deal with what 'just is', it is how we can grow and develop. Dismissing things (for which there is great evidence) just because we don't like them, is a bit like poking our heads in the sand. It accomplishes nothing but the illusion of safety. It is merly denial. Only by engaging what concerns us do we have the hope of arriving at some answers. We may have to change our views on some of the details, but if were confident in a 'core truth' why should that concern us? We Mormons tend to dismiss our critics as unable to digest all of the gospel truths that we have found, but might not we ourselves be forsaking some truths because we find them hard to bare, or pose the risks for loss that any transition can offer. I suggest that we try to be stronger, that we be fair in evaluating what information comes or way, even if we might rather not. I mean we expect those investing our Church to confront a similar risk, and possible paradigm shift when exploring our faith, is it not hypocritical for use to avoid doing the same. "I never said it would be easy" doesn't only apply to 'the other'.

I hope we as a faith can grow to understand that not everyone's out to get us, there are legitimate questions raised by our faith and practice, past and present, and we should treat those who raise these issues with the respect that we collectively feel Joseph was denied by the establishment of his own day. If we are confident that we are guided by the truth, what have we to fear?

'The Mormons' on PBS

(originally published on 'His Other Band' Saturday, May 5, 2007)

The Mormons (2007)
PBS Site

Joint production of Frontline and The American Experience by religious documentarian Helen Whitney. I was impressed on several levels, both aesthetically and in terms of content. In the aesthetics department I liked the look of the thing, especially the lighting of the interview subjects, it seemed to re-enforce that twilight quality that I think the church occupies in the minds of most Americans (meaning the difficulty Mormonism presents in terms of classification, it's neither day nor night). Also I enjoyed a mostly new set of talking heads, as opposed to those featured in PBS's several Mormon themed documentaries of the late 1990's. The music was very moving at times, reminds me of Phillip Glass if he did prelude music for church devotionals.

In terms of content, I think the Church was treated very fairly, with real class. That seems to be the hang up of most Mormons when dealing with any presentation of the Church outside of official 'correlated' control, 'how do we look?'. The treatment falls in line with the so-called new Mormon history, the good points are highlighted, but the controversial topics are not glossed over in return. I know any talk about polygamy, mountain meadows, women's depression, homosexuals, the temple, etc., makes some orthodox Mormons uncomfortable. Many Mormons are okay with some limited discussion about these issues, but feel the need for it to always come around at the end to a reinforcement of orthodox positions, and more consumer friendly aspects of church doctrine and history. I on the other hand think we should probably talk about these 'fringe' issues more. We need to deal with them, because not dealing with them is denial, and denial is seldom healthy.

I'd be hard pressed to come up with something said in the documentary that is in any way outrageous, or intentionally offensive. People can and will disagree on matters central to the Mormon faith and experience, lets air all sides and hope were confident enough in our own position to not take offense and live with it. I'd like to heap some praise on Marlin K. Jensen, I know were not suppose to be rooting for future appointments to the apostleship, but I've had my eye on him since a talk he gave in General Conference back in 2000. Elder Jensen expresses positions on the subjects he is asked about that are safely within the LDS mainstream, but you always get the feeling that he really understands, even respects the other side on these matters. This is something sadly that I can't say for everyone in leadership. Again I gulp a little when Elder Oaks says that we shouldn't voice any criticism of the leadership, even when it may be true. Really my differences with the 'establishment' are mostly matters of style, and I've come to live with that. However everything I know tells me that a lack of criticism and oversight of any group or any person (including myself) leads to abuses.

There were a few places in this documentary where I was really moved, inspired, or felt like I made some kind of spiritual connection I never had before. For instance I never fully understood the Mormon obsession with dancing. I just kind of assumed this was a holdover of frontier entertainment from the 19th century. However when they spoke of dancing as a Mormon celebration of the body, and of joy in physicality (with some beautiful footage of graceful performance dance played as B roll) I nearly broke down. What a beautiful aspect of my faith that I had never appreciated, what a wonderful contribution to and extension of theology into the mortal sphere. But mostly I just appreciated the respectful honesty of all who were interviewed. I highly recommend The Mormons as a time saving substitute for any of a number of wonderful general overview books written on the Church.
The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congragations
A Bunch of Quaker Links

Battlefield Romney

Check out Ken Jennings amusing post on Mitt Romney's selection of Battlefield Earth as his favorite novel, and the age old questions of the candidates tastes in literature.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Candidates: Some Brash Reflections on Mitt Romeny

Thought I would provide this link to a recent post I did about Mitt Romney on my old blog (The Dredge Report), as I will probably attempt to continue the Candidates series here on The Great Accommodation. I should point out that in the week pulse since I originally composed this, my view's on Mr. Mitt have softened somewhat. What I present here may be more about my own issues of locating myself in the relgio-political spectrum, then about the gentleman from Massachusetts (actually he's from Michigan).

The Great Accommodation

Well it looks like I never will be able to make it back into The Dredge Report, so I've decided that I will now maintaining two separate blogs. His Other Band will focus on entertainment and movie reviews, while The Great Accommodation will explore issues of Mormonism and politices. Expect some real postings in the near future.