Link: “On Doubting Nephi’s Break Between 1 and 2 Nephi”

One significant thing I cover in my thesis (now submitted, and hopefully en route to my viva) is that quite a few scholars get the tone of the Book of Mormon work: there’s a tendency in some quarters to treat it as if it is engaging in some gentle academic discussion, which understates the ultimate authority it claims and the forcefulness with which it states its demands for its readers to change their lives and repent.

One facet of this is touched upon by this interesting article by Noel B. Reynolds, which has just been posted on The Interpreter. Reynolds is responding, amongst other things, to certain claims made by Joseph Spencer in his An Other Testament: On typology (a work, I confess, I’m not a fan of), particularly the division Spencer suggests in Nephi’s writings. One compelling point Reynolds raises in his article is proposed claims result in the characterisation of Nephi as an esoteric writer, something which fits uneasily with Nephi’s own explicit enthusiasm for ‘plainness’.

The article is available via On Doubting Nephi’s Break Between 1 and 2 Nephi: A Critique of Joseph Spencer’s An Other Testament: On typology | The Interpreter Foundation

“Reclaiming Jacob” | The Interpreter Foundation

Duane Boyce has written an excellent article at The Interpreter, responding to what I thought was a rather unconvincing and poor reading of Jacob 7 by Adam Miller, but which what at least some seemed to have feel was rather deep.

I thought the following points were particularly good:

  1. That we have two major witnesses as to Sherem’s character and conduct other than Jacob himself: Sherem, and the Lord.
  2. Laman and Lemuel were not somehow sincere and pious, as some people keep suggesting (I respond to the same claim here).
  3. That our definition of what constitutes Christlike conduct has to be based on the actual words and actions of Christ himself, rather than the rather selective image people use which would actually exclude the real Christ (again, a subject I’ve briefly touched on too). Boyce happens to quote one of my favourite quotes of Jesus to make this point (“Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”, Matthew 23:33), but also makes the excellent point that – since he’s presumably the Lord here – it’s Christ who actually strikes Sherem dead!
  4. The problems we face when we place a “lens” over our reading scripture (again – sorry! – something I mention here). I think Duane Boyce does a thorough job of showing precisely how that has happened here.
  5. We should be very cautious in attempting moral evaluations of prophets, and run very real risks. I think that should be especially the case when we’re charging them of being judgemental and “un-Christlike”.
  6. “An unconventional reading of scripture is not equivalent to a deep reading of scripture”.

Read the whole thing here: Reclaiming Jacob | The Interpreter Foundation

“Love Wins,” and Charity Loses

A great article has been put online, first presented by Ralph Hancock (a professor of political science at BYU) at the 2016 FAIRMormon conference in which he discusses the modern ideology of “love” and the confusion some have had between such concepts and the ideal of charity, and the consequent belief that obedience towards God is less or unimportant. Read it here: “Love Wins,” and Charity Loses – FairMormon (link courtesy of Daniel Peterson’s blog here).

Personally I am reminded of Matthew 22:35-40:

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Love is certainly central to Christ’s teachings, but it should never be forgotten that loving God comes first.

Linked article: “The Ammonites Were Not Pacifists”

There’s an excellent article at the Interpreter website on the Ammonites and the question as to whether or not they were pacifists. I think it’s not only a good article on its subject, but also a good example of the sort of thing I’d like to see more of: it’s not just about some niche area that may be interesting from a historical or cultural perspective, but rather about something which has important implications for what the Book of Mormon is trying to teach us (in this case on the topic of just war).

“The Visions of Joseph Smith”

I ran across the following devotional after being asked a question about the first vision and thought it was interesting enough to share. Several snippets:

Visions can take various forms. Personal visitations or appearances of deity, angels, or even Satan and his emissaries certainly come under the heading of visions. Visions can also include seeing vivid images where the veil is lifted from an individual’s mind in order to see and comprehend the things of God. Certain dreams could be considered visions, particularly when heavenly or spiritual messages are conveyed. Finally, certain revelations received through the Urim and Thummim mediums such as the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone may also be classified as visions.

While the visions received by Joseph Smith were also revelatory experiences, revelations were not always visionary. Hence, in researching Joseph Smith’s visions, I attempted to distinguish between visions and other kinds of inspiration or revelation. More often than not, when a vision was involved, the wording of the source material indicated that a vision–not a more general “revelation”–had been received. However, in some instances, the visual nature of the experience was not quite clear.

Three major points became apparent as I researched Joseph Smith’s visions. First, and perhaps most remarkable, is the sheer number of visions the Prophet received. The majority of these visions are not found in the standard works but pervade the Prophet’s own history and the records kept by contemporaries who were present when a vision was received or when Joseph Smith spoke about his sacred communications. As I began collecting the accounts of the visions, I realized that any attempt to total the number of visions would risk excluding some, since evidence of visions relies upon documentation, and some visions may have been purposely unrecorded. Of one vision Joseph remarked, “I could explain a hundred fold more that I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them.”

Second, the Prophet was privileged to receive so many visions that is appears they became almost commonplace experiences for him. For example, in 1843 he said, “It is my meditation all the day, and more than my meat and drink, to know how I shall make the Saints of God comprehend the visions that roll like an overflowing surge before my mind.” Perhaps because his visionary experiences were so frequent, he often left out details or failed to record certain events altogether.

Finally, in a number of instances, others witnessed Joseph Smith’s visionary experiences or were present when the Prophet had visions, often seeing the manifestation with him. The recorded statements of these witnesses and co-participants give additional testimony and credibility to the reality of the Prophet’s seeric experiences.

The remainder can be found at the BYU Hawaii website at “The Visions of Joseph Smith” | Devotionals and Speeches

Fantasy, morality and “the Tao”

Stories can be powerful things. I think it is no accident that much of our scriptures come in the form of stories; God, if he’d wanted to, could have chosen instead to give us an inspired Gospel Principles manual… but he didn’t. And in many instance I believe that – while it is important to know that such events took place (particularly with things like Christ’s resurrection) – in many instances there are messages we can learn from those stories that go far beyond the simple fact that such events took place. And I’m not alone in that: Paul writing to the Corinthians states the scriptural events  “happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition” (1 Corinthians 10:11) while Alma looks upon the account of Lehi and Nephi’s journeys through the wilderness as a “type” of our journey through mortality (Alma 37:38-45).

Fiction too can teach powerful things. While fiction can’t serve the same purpose as, say, Christ’s ministry in 3 Nephi (where the text’s ability to serve as a witness depends very much on it having actually happened), I think fiction can teach of true things. I personally enjoy quite a bit of both fantasy and science fiction, for instance, but I’ve long been persuaded that – while talking of quite unreal things – they can teach of really true things like courage, justice, duty, humility and many other things. Balrogs and magic rings may not exist, but the seductive appeal of power and its corrupting effects seen in The Lord of the Rings does.

I occasionally have a desire to write some stories that have been on my mind for a long while, so I think of this sort of thing occasionally. In the last couple of years, my attention has been drawn to more recent fictional franchises, and as it has I’ve become a little more aware, and slightly disturbed, by the “moral universes” depicted in those works. What I mean by that is the morality and the moral consequences displayed in those works. This has been justified as “more realistic” or more “gritty”. But they are not. Even a godless world would be simply amoral, yet in these created worlds fate itself bends so that evil triumphs, even when said perpetrators of evil have behaved in a stupid, reckless or short-sighted manner. The accusation is that works in which good wins because it is good are naive. In some cases it is. But what then are we to make of works in which evil wins simply because it is evil? I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the postulated moral landscape of some of these universes are not godless worlds; they have a god, and he is the devil. A world in which chance itself reliably rewards the most outrageous performer of evil is one based on a thoroughly unpleasant calculus. What sort of world is that imagining? What can that inspire or teach?

So I was very interested to come across the following article by some chap called Tom Simon, who explores this whole issue in fantasy in some depth drawing upon C.S Lewis’s concept of “the Tao“. The whole thing is worth a read, but a couple of highlights:

When I turn from real life to fiction, I find a curious difference. In the stories of the past – in nearly all fiction before, say, the late nineteenth century, and all popular fiction until a much later date – the Tao is taken for granted; only there is a class of people who do not observe the Tao. These people are called criminals, or outlaws, or villains. In the older kind of fiction, the villain upsets the Tao to take advantage of a weaker party, and the hero restores the Tao by avenging the victim.

He then covers some of the directions that fantasy literature has taken, including anti-heroes such as a Conan, the supposed “simplistic” Tolkien (a critique he neatly dismantles) and then the more recent “full-throated reaction against the Tao” seen in things like Game of Thrones and Sin City. And he goes into both why such works caricature reality and why they may be so popular today as they cater “to a thoroughly jaded and desensitized audience”

However, I particularly like how he finishes. His essay is not a counsel of despair, but rather a call for “superversive fiction”:

…But people want stories about violence and criminality? Very well; let us tell them. But let us tell the whole story, with the post-mortems and the blood feuds and the vengeance. And let us contrast it with some instances of actual heroism…

There does, I believe, come a revulsion; a point where people are no longer content to be fifteen-year-old rebels even in their fantasies, but want more sustaining food for their imaginations. Let us be there to give it to them. We can produce better effects – better conflicts – with chiaroscuro, with darkness and light, than the nihilists can ever produce by layering darkness upon darkness.

I highly recommend reading it all.


Paul McHugh, MD: “Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme | Public Discourse”

I’ve written before about contradictions in modern Western viewpoints such as the view that sexual orientation is innate and cannot be changed, but that sex isn’t innate, and can be changed. As I discussed, such views tend to lead to the public denial of self-evident truths, something I find pretty worrying. But there’s also the human cost to consider, an aspect taken up by this article on transgenderism by Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist in chief at John Hopkins Hospital. Some particularly relevant snippets below:

At Johns Hopkins, after pioneering sex-change surgery, we demonstrated that the practice brought no important benefits. As a result, we stopped offering that form of treatment in the 1970s. Our efforts, though, had little influence on the emergence of this new idea about sex, or upon the expansion of the number of “transgendered” among young and old.

First, though, let us address the basic assumption of the contemporary parade: the idea that exchange of one’s sex is possible. It, like the storied Emperor, is starkly, nakedly false. Transgendered men do not become women, nor do transgendered women become men. All (including Bruce Jenner) become feminized men or masculinized women, counterfeits or impersonators of the sex with which they “identify.” In that lies their problematic future.

When “the tumult and shouting dies,” it proves not easy nor wise to live in a counterfeit sexual garb. The most thorough follow-up of sex-reassigned people—extending over thirty years and conducted in Sweden, where the culture is strongly supportive of the transgendered—documents their lifelong mental unrest. Ten to fifteen years after surgical reassignment, the suicide rate of those who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery rose to twenty times that of comparable peers.

There are several reasons for this absence of coherence in our mental health system. Important among them is the fact that both the state and federal governments are actively seeking to block any treatments that can be construed as challenging the assumptions and choices of transgendered youngsters. “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama.

In two states, a doctor who would look into the psychological history of a transgendered boy or girl in search of a resolvable conflict could lose his or her license to practice medicine. By contrast, such a physician would not be penalized if he or she started such a patient on hormones that would block puberty and might stunt growth.

What is needed now is public clamor for coherent science—biological and therapeutic science—examining the real effects of these efforts to “support” transgendering. Although much is made of a rare “intersex” individual, no evidence supports the claim that people such as Bruce Jenner have a biological source for their transgender assumptions. Plenty of evidence demonstrates that with him and most others, transgendering is a psychological rather than a biological matter.

In fact, gender dysphoria—the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be of the opposite sex—belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychosocial conflicts provoking it. With youngsters, this is best done in family therapy.

via Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme | Public Discourse. (my emphasises)

Regrettably I imagine McHugh’s comments will simply be dismissed or shouted down as “bigotry”, and that the state and health systems will continue to push “treatments” that end up mutilating the body and increasing the likelihood of suicide.

“Elias” as a “forerunner” in LDS Scripture

The use of the name Elias (in the New Testament a version of the name Elijah) in the Doctrine and Covenants, where it refers in several passages to at least one other individual than Elijah, has been an interesting puzzle for me for many years. A very interesting article by Robert Boylan, sheds light on this matter, including on Joseph Smith’s understanding of the term in the NT and its possible meaning(s) in the D&C:

This post is not meant to be exhaust all the arguments and responses to this issue. However, it should be clear to the reader that (1) Joseph Smith knew that OT Elijah and NT Elias were the same person; (2) contemporaries of Joseph Smith used NT Elias to denote a forerunner in the same way that the prophet did and, in light of these facts (3) the claim that this is a “blunder” on Joseph Smith’s behalf is without warrant.

via “Elias” as a “forerunner” in LDS Scripture.

Meeting the Challenges of Today – Neal A. Maxwell

But make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters; in the months and years ahead, events will require of each member that he or she decide whether or not he or she will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions (see 1 Kings 18:21).

It may well be, as our time comes to “suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41), that some of this special stress will grow out of that portion of discipleship which involves citizenship. Remember that, as Nephi and Jacob said, we must learn to endure “the crosses of the world” (2 Nephi 9:18) and yet to despise “the shame of [it]” (Jacob 1:8). To go on clinging to the iron rod in spite of the mockery and scorn that flow at us from the multitudes in that great and spacious building seen by Father Lehi, which is the “pride of the world,” is to disregard the shame of the world (1 Nephi 8:26–27, 33; 11:35–36). Parenthetically, why—really why—do the disbelievers who line that spacious building watch so intently what the believers are doing? Surely there must be other things for the scorners to do—unless, deep within their seeming disinterest, there is interest.

Thus foreordination is clearly no excuse for fatalism or arrogance or the abuse of agency. It is not, however, a doctrine that can simply be ignored because it is difficult. Indeed, deep inside the hardest doctrines are some of the pearls of greatest price. The doctrine pertains not only to the foreordination of the prophets, but to each of us. God—in his precise assessment, beforehand, as to those who will respond to the words of the Savior and the prophets—is a part of the plan. From the Savior’s own lips came these words: “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine” (John 10:14). Similarly the Savior said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). And further in this dispensation, he declared, “And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts” (D&C 29:7).

It does no violence even to our frail human logic to observe that there cannot be a grand plan of salvation for all mankind, unless there is also a plan for each individual. The salvational sum will reflect all its parts. Once the believer acknowledges that the past, present, and future are before God simultaneously—even though we do not understand how—then the doctrine of foreordination may be seen somewhat more clearly.

There are clearly special cases of individuals in mortality who have special limitations in life, which conditions we mortals cannot now fully fathom. For all we now know, the seeming limitations may have been an agreed-upon spur to achievement—a “thorn in the flesh.” Like him who was blind from birth, some come to bring glory to God (John 9:1–3). We must be exceedingly careful about imputing either wrong causes or wrong rewards to all in such circumstances. They are in the Lord’s hands, and he loves them perfectly. Indeed, some of those who have required much waiting upon in this life may be waited upon again by the rest of us in the next world—but for the highest of reasons.

Properly humbled and instructed concerning the great privileges that are ours, we can cope with what seem to be very dark days and difficult developments, because we will have a true perspective about “things as they really are,” and we can see in them a great chance to contribute. Churchill, in trying to rally his countrymen in an address at Harrow School in October of 1941, said to them:

Do not let us speak of darker days; let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days: these are great days

Full talk found here. Link thanks to Daniel Peterson’s blog here.