Saturday, February 27, 2010

They don’t look identical to me

Serious question: Where did the sacrament=baptism thing originate? I mean, i don’t see where the covenants involved line up (aside from the way that all covenants line up)—so why do we talk about the sacrament being the renewal of our baptismal covenants?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What if it’s entirely legal?

Here’s an honest question: Are Peruvian Mormons allowed to use marijuana?

Peruvian law, as i understand it, allows the possession of up to a certain amount of marijuana for personal use. This means there’s no illegality involved if an individual grows their own (as opposed to purchasing it from someone who presumably has a larger amount available, since that would introduce some illegality into the process). However, the Word of Wisdom, by relatively recent tradition, includes a prohibition on illegal (or illicit) drugs. If it’s not illegal, is it allowed?

(And yes, i know that the prohibition is sometimes described as forbidding “harmful” drugs, but i haven’t seen that ever get defined rigorously anywhere—not to mention that there’s an open question on how dangerous, by whatever definition, marijuana-laced brownies might be in comparison with something like, say, overeating.)

Anyway, i suspect the answer is (a very firm) no, but i’m curious what the basis for it would be.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

God be with ye

When i was a full-time missionary in southern Germany and western Austria, a lot of the members of the church (and nearly all of the full-time missionaries) there took issue with a part of the local culture: the common greeting Grüß Gott!

The main issue was the use of Gott ‘God’ in the greeting—it was perceived as a violation of the commandment not to take the name of God in vain.

I never really bought into that, though, particularly since i recognized it for what it actually means—it’s a wish for God’s blessing to come on the one being greeted.

Do i think that everyone who used this greeting meant precisely that? No. But am i going to urge people not to say it even if they mean it? Also no.

But then again, i also use Goodbye! even though it’s at least as much a use of the word God as Grüß Gott! is,* so i guess it’s not something i care to worry about very much.

* Yep.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Admitting mistakes

Recent news: The church has announced that the Ogden temple is going to be getting a complete makeover, both an interior but more so an exterior one.

How extensive is this makeover going to be? Well, the current exterior looks like

and the new exterior will look like

Or, in other words, the temple department of the church is finally admitting that the Provo and Ogden temples were the sad, sad architectural errors* that they were.

* At least they had the “pillar of fire by night, cloud by day” symbolism thing going—but even that disappeared when they repainted the spires white, and it was too opaque of a bit of symbolism for anybody to be able to get anyway.

UPDATE 5 June 2011: I changed what the “before” picture links to, since the church changed its picture of the “old” Ogden temple to a picture of the new version. Sadly, i couldn’t find a picture of the real old version of the Ogden temple (with the orangegolden-red spire and no angel on top), but you have to go with what you’ve got available, you know?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Where we fit

Not too terribly long ago i had an extended discussion with another member of the church about whether Mormonism is more Xian, Confucian, Taoist, or Zoroastrian. We decided the answer was Zoroastrian, but we also figured that saying that out loud would get us some really weird looks (firstly, from those who had never heard that word before…)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Learning from others

Back when we lived in Florida we learned about the Society of St. Andrew, a mainstream Xian group that does “gleaning”: going into already-picked fields to pick leftover fruits and vegetables and donating what's picked to food banks. We signed up to help a group pick sweet corn that was about to be plowed under at a farm about thirty miles away from our house.

By the end of the day our little group of twenty people, including a half-dozen children, had picked enough corn to fill half of the back of a delivery truck—about 4,000 pounds!

As we left, the man who was there from the food bank said to me “God bless you”—and he meant it. It struck me that lots of times we say things like that to each other, but it’s just a perfunctory thing—but he meant it sincerely, and I could feel the blessing of God wash over me. It was a powerful moment.

Anyway, just saying that it’s cool to be taught important spiritual lessons from someone of another faith—which is only to be expected, of course, since we Mormons may claim a monopoly on divine authority, but we oughtn’t ever claim to hold a monopoly on divine power.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A couple of thoughts on the gift of healing

Some people have the gift of healing, that’s a given. But it’s worth noting that there’s an often-unacknowledged flip side to this, in that there’s also a gift of faith to be healed.

The thing that i think is most excellent about this is that, even if someone doesn't have the faith to be healed, the book of Doctrine and Covenants commands (in the section sometimes called “the Law of the Church”, no less!) us not to criticize said person, but rather to do what we can to comfort them.

Just noting this because people often talk about one or the other of these gifts without taking into account the fact that both are involved in a delicate balance, and also because some people seem to imply that a lack of the faith to be healed or the faith to heal is a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing, it's just a difference between each of us as people.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The office of misfit dudes

Ward clerk: The last remaining significant administrative calling in the church where iconoclasm (and maybe even downright cultural oddballness) is perfectly okay.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Identifying a debate

Having written about Mormon culture and its practice the last couple posts, it occurs to me that a lot of the contention between Mormons about little pieces of Mormonism (you know, stuff like whether one may drink caffeinated soft drinks, whether it’s okay to for an endowed member to wear one’s swimsuit during the drive to the beach or not, and so on) comes down to one question: Which is more important in Mormonism—orthodoxy or orthopraxy?

(Of course, this simplifies the picture a bit—for example, there’s a small number of Mormons who wish current doctrine and practice were done away with or at least radically changed. I’m limiting this discussion to those who Mormons who approve of the Mormon church as it now is, though.)

I’d suggest that Mormons as a whole, by what seems to me to be a slim majority, seem to view the practice of religion as more important than the belief of religion. I’m very firmly on the other side—i tend to view belief as much, much more important than action. (There are deeper things that these different points of view lead to, as well—for example, do works lead more naturally to faith or does faith lead more naturally to works?)

To someone who views orthopraxy as more important than orthodoxy, certain issues of behavior are central—for example, the question of whether or not one gets tattoos is a vital part of the religion, and that’s precisely the issue to be addressed: Should one get tattooed or not? To someone like me who views orthodoxy as more important than orthopraxy, the question is quite different: Why would one get a tattoo, and is that an acceptable reason?

I strongly suspect that one of the hidden but huge fault lines within Mormon culture is this orthopraxy vs. orthodoxy thing.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Explaining Utah

Another thought stemming from going through papers and such relating to my time living in Utah…

As anyone who’s known me for a while (whether online or in Real Life™) can attest, i’m not a fan of pretty much any part of Utah Mormon* culture except for my admiration of raspberry lemonade made with real raspberries, but that’s more a Western thing than a Utah thing anyway.

Anyway, there are definite differences between Mormonism in Utah and Mormonism elsewhere, but what’s important for the moment isn’t what those differences might be, but rather why they exist at all. I suspect that most of the differences stem from two factors:

  1. Utah Mormons are part of a majority subculture.
  2. Utah is located in the Intermountain West.

Factor (1) results in a bit of a normative cultural trend, making appearances highly important. After all, as has been pointed out in some of the work on Mormons done by researchers in the sociology of religion, Utah Mormons don’t need each and every Mormon in the area to make Mormonism work, and therefore there tends to be less tolerance for significant deviation from Mormon orthodoxy and orthopraxy than in places where there is a lower concentration of Mormons—and since orthopraxy is easier to perceive than orthodoxy, that tends to lead to a lot of normative pressure regarding religious externalities.

Factor (2) is important because the Intermountain West tends to be a very socially conservative region of the United States—and under the strong reading of Bowie's Inequality Constant*** (i’ve gotta write a blog post on that thing one day), one would expect Mormons from the Intermountain West (and, therefore, Mormons from Utah) to be more socially conservative than Mormons from, say, Maryland or Ontario or Germany or some other not-as-socially-conservative place.

These working together mean that there’s a strong social pressure toward socially conservative behavior for Utah Mormons, and it’s stronger than places where Mormons are more widely scattered through the local population. (Happily, though, it’s not all blandness.)

* Really, the boundaries of Utah Mormon culture can’t be claimed to be fully coincident with the borders of Utah—southern Idaho, maybe eastern Arizona, other bits of nearby areas are all part of what i’m calling “Utah Mormon” here. Sociologists call the region the “Mormon Dominance Area”, which is more descriptive and precise but has the drawback of not annoying people from Utah, so i’ll stick with the name i’ve used.**

** There is, though, a much more fun label that i use occasionally—the “jello belt”. I only wish i were creative enough that it was original with me.

*** Utah ≠ Mormon, if you’re unfamiliar with it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A worrisome ratio

Going through some old papers and such, i came across some things from my exile in Utah. We lived in a tiny little town near the south end of the Wasatch Front, and there was one particular difference between my ward there and the wards i’ve been in in the eastern US that fascinated (and, arguably, continues to fascinate) me. (I’m also curious whether this ward is representative of the Wasatch Front, or even Utah County—i have no way of knowing.)

When we arrived in our ward in that town, there were seventeen full-time missionaries out from the ward (that was their peak, but it stayed around a dozen during the years we were there). Two of them were an older couple, so that means there were fifteen young-person full-time missionaries from the ward—a number any bishop could consider a success. However, only one of the fifteen was female. I can’t imagine one of my bishops from the eastern states being happy if, for every fourteen male full-time missionaries his ward sent out, there was only one female full-time missionary—it’d be obvious proof that the young women’s program in the ward was having some serious problems.

Interestingly, though, my ward and stake leaders when i lived there talked quite a bit—more than i’ve heard in other wards and stakes i’ve lived in, before or since—about how great it is for young women to serve as full-time missionaries. My conclusion from this is that it wasn’t institutional (in the sense of coming from the church) pressures that kept the relative number of female full-time missionaries low, but rather that it was social pressures.

For the record, as the parents of girls, that frightened Jeanne and me, and it’s one of the main reasons we moved away from there.

Friday, February 5, 2010

More reasons to dislike the 70s

Anybody here ever gone back and read copies of the Ensign from the mid- and late 1970s? Absolutely amazing—and that’s not a good amazing. I’m not a fan of conflating culture and doctrine (that’s pretty much the definition of mingling the doctrines of men with scripture, isn’t it?), and it was all over the place back then.

I’m actually really glad that i wasn’t old enough to be fully aware of such things at that point in time—had i been a bit older then instead of later, i might have ended up pushing even further away from the whole concept of faith and Faith than i did in my teens.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Big dumb guys

You know, the story of Samson really is the ultimate big dumb strong guy story, isn’t it?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Modesty, again

Calling the wearing of “immodest” clothing (that’s immodest in the pop-Mormon, not the real, sense) a sin annoys me. Isn’t it sort of a shift of the blame from where it really should lie, with the person who’s not controlling their thoughts?

(Not to mention that it seems less than half a step from that to “She was askin’ for it, wearin’ that miniskirt and all.”)