OK, so there have been no posts for basically a year and very light posting for about two years. But I think we’re back. I’m rusty since I’ve been so busy the past few years I’ve read basically no philosophy at all. Other than the occasional reply on LDS-Herm I’ve pretty well been on a sabbatical from philosophical thinking the past while. Which means of course it’s the perfect time to go back and rethink my positions if only to remember what they even were. That’s the one thing about technical topics. You become very rusty regarding them amazingly quick. So I’ve got my pile of books beside the bed now appended with e-books. That means I’ve no shortage of topics in the short term.
A few years back there was an interesting book called Mormonism in Dialogue with Contemporary Christian Theologies. It was edited by Donald Musser and David Paulsen and was a fantastic book. With a few exceptions it managed to transcend the traditional battles between mainstream Christian theologians and Mormons — avoiding some of the combativeness especially found in Mormon apologetic writing. While I think apologetics often gets an unfair rap it’s also true that building on common ground produces more light rather than focusing on misunderstanding and differences.
What I loved best about the book was how it brought many different types of theology into focus. Many were types of theology I had very little experience with such as liberation theology or feminist theology. Even when I had grave differences with these other views I still found myself noticing new things about my own tradition I had never noticed. That, to me, is the ideal function of a great book.
It’s been five years since Mormonism in Dialogue came out. I think it fair to say that the landscape of writing on Mormon theology was transformed by that book. Now there is a new book in honor of the editor of Mormonism in Dialogue: David Paulsen. This new book takes up some of the same drives that the earlier book did. As such I think it is a fitting tribute to Dr. Paulsen and his transformative work on Mormon Theology. The book is Mormonism at the Crossroads of Philosophy and Theology.
I really enjoyed Adam Miller’s Rube Goldberg Machines. I stick with my view that it’s the most important work of Mormon theology in some time. However now that many months have passed since I read it I thought it might be useful to reflect upon Adam’s work a bit more.
First off if we were to do a short one or two sentence summary of what Adam’s project consists of, what would it be? I think the best way to put it is that Adam is very concerned with theology as musement.
The SMPT Conference is in two weeks up in Logan at Utah State University. It’s on Theology and the Book of Mormon and runs from September 20-22. The detailed schedule isn’t up yet but should be up soon. I’ll let you know when it’s up along with what building it is in.
Just a heads up to — especially to people with small children. Whooping Cough is going around. There was a recent breakout in Washington State. Initially everyone assumed it was the Jenny McCarthy effect of people not vaccinating. However it turns out only 2% of the people exposed there were unvaccinated. Apparently it is a problem with the current vaccine. They changed the vaccine several years ago from a full cell vaccine into one that just had molecular fragments. It appears that with this strain of pertussis the vaccine simply isn’t as effective as the prior vaccine. That means probably your children under around 10 are at much higher risk. But many people in Washington who came down with the disease had been vaccinated as children.
You shouldn’t downplay the illness. Up until around the 1950′s this was apparently the leading cause of death in children. It is, today, very treatable with antibiotics. However the symptoms where you have uncontrollable coughing occurs from the toxins left behind by the bacteria rather than the bacteria proper. Also the symptoms typically occur towards the end of the illness and remain after the bacteria is gone. (Untreated whooping cough can last 10 weeks with the symptoms) In small children the coughing can cause apnea (stopping breathing) and babies in particular are at risk of death
If you like some of those often cast under the existentialist net you probably should follow @KimKierkegaard which is a hilarious mashup of tweets by Kim Kardashian and Søren Kierkegaard. A few examples:
I’ve been half-wondering if I should write anything on that Businessweek story that’s been the topic of so much discussion the past few days. By far the best thing written on it is Alan Hurst’s post over at Patheos. Others have written on it including Kaimi Wenger’s post about a basically erroneous claim in the piece. Sarah Bailey had a post up at GetReligion that noted how the editors were framing the story. (With an emphasis on the cover which I’ve reprinted here)
Alan’s post is the one you really should go to. I think he gets at why I think the piece is basically a misleading hit piece on Mormons. Allow me a quote from Alan’s post.
What does it mean for investing in a merchandise store to be spiritual? Winter interprets it as a religious version of America’s “secular faith in money.” Quoting Quinn again, she writes that “in the Mormon [leadership’s] worldview, it’s as spiritual to give alms to the poor . . . as it is to make a million dollars.” Winter implies that to Mormons, financial success is spiritual success.
A few weeks back there was a seminar at UVU on B. H. Roberts. I uploaded some of the video. I think the rest of the video was uploaded but can’t be sure.
For those interested here’s the video of Jim Faulconer and Blake Ostler. I’m sad I missed it. I had planned to be there, but had an emergency come up that morning.
Richard Posner had a controversial interview on NPR recently that engendered quite a bit of discussion.
Judge Richard Posner, a conservative on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, has long been one of the nation’s most respected and admired legal thinkers on the right. But in an interview with NPR, he expressed exasperation at the modern Republican Party, and confessed that he has become “less conservative” as a result.
I’m not entirely sure what Posner means by this. One would hope that someone doesn’t adopt a contrary position merely because populists adopt a particular view. That is one would hope we’d be academically rigorous and clear in our thinking.
That said some of the responses attacking Posner also troubled me. One by Stephen Bainbridge in particular bothered me.
So the whole FARMS – Maxwell Institute “controversy” has been discussed ad nauseum of late. I don’t want to chime in too much on it. My personal opinion is that too much has been made of it, regardless of how one might feel about the particulars. This is primarily a change of editor which is hardly uncommon in academic journals. It’s actually rare to have the same editor for so long. Further this is frankly a journal few read and that I doubt hardly any Mormons are aware of. So let’s not make more of it than it deserves.
That said I think FARMS/MI hasn’t really captured the interest in Mormon studies for quite some time. Back in the early 90′s their work was discussed a lot. (As well, unfortunately as their polemics — that was the heyday of the FARMS – Signature battles) Yet you just don’t hear much discussed anymore. I think good research was still being done but the public perception definitely changed. I also think that in some ways the best work is being done outside the Maxwell Institute.
I promise a lot more posts are coming. I actually have a lot of stuff written.
In the meantime I wanted to mention a great seminar with not a lot of notice. SMPT isn’t having a conference this year from what I can tell. However they are having a seminar this month at Utah Valley University on B. H. Robert’s Seventy’s Course in Theology. That’s just a couple of blocks from where I work. I can’t justify taking the whole day off but I’m going to try and make it to some of the sessions. The link at the SMPT site lists the topics and even gives readings so you can come prepared for discussion.
I’m not a huge fan of B. H. Roberts theology although there are some things I like. More importantly he’s a useful place to think through the common Mormon conception of an eternity of a personal and robust personality. This is actually a pretty radical idea and one not found in many other religions. If any other at all — I’m not aware of others with the notion although you have some somewhat similar notions is some veins of medieval Jewish thought. The common parallel brought up of Platonic conceptions of a pre-existence of the soul tend to be problematic in that what is eternal is pretty unlike what Mormons conceive of. That is having a kind of existence somewhat like our personal existence now.
A lot of either unique Mormon ideas or ideas common within early American Christiandom (such as the question of agency) can really be explored via Roberts thought. In many ways Roberts set the general tone for Mormon conceptions for most of the 20th century.
Last week there was quite a discussion of a recent study claiming to show how the difference between intuitive thought and analytic thought affects religious faith. I’ve wanted to comment on it but haven’t had a lot of time. You’ve all probably seen articles about the study but if you haven’t here’s one example. Sadly most accounts haven’t been as careful as Science. For instance Scientific American led the story with the headline “How Critical Thinkers Lose Their Faith in God” which is overstating things quite a bit. (IMO) Although they do qualify things a bit more in the text.
The study itself is pretty compelling. The researchers came up with ways to prime whether you were primarily thinking in an analytic way or a more intuitive way. They then tested self-reported religious belief. This though leads to some obvious limitations on the study.
Sorry for all the delays. I kept saying I was making this a higher priority and then never did. A combination of work and my first real vacation in a couple of years did that in. Here’s hoping there’s more coming.
There are two main approaches to theology.
The first, and historically the most popular in Mormon writing, is the positive theology. This takes an easy to state claim about something religious and defends it. Often this defense comes about by first portraying alternative views and where they fall short. Then typically one marshals arguments for why one should believe the author’s claim.
The second seems quite a bit rarer among Mormon writings. It is less about answers and positive claims than it is about thinking through theology. It is more about reading and less about a theoretical conclusion. I think Adam’s book fits into this latter category and is arguable one of the best examples of this type in Mormonism right now. You can get a taste for Adam’s approach by reading some of his posts over at the blog Times and Seasons.
Now I should admit up front that I’ve long liked Adam’s writings. How much of that is the power of Adam’s writings and how much of that is that he seems to be the person who comes closest to my own views I can’t say. I’d like to think I read critically enough so as to say it is Adam’s ability at writing. Certainly I wish I could write half so well. And this particular book shows off many completely different styles of writing. Some are critical readings of scripture and are extremely easy to follow. Others are a bit more self-reflexive in that post-modern style that a few might find off putting.
If you are the sort off put by the philosophical I hope you still pickup this book. There’s plenty here to learn from. However you should be aware that probably about half the essays are the sort that are much easier to read if you have at least a superficial reading of Continental thought. I worry that those for whom that demands too much might never continue reading to the later essays that are more approachable. Nonetheless it is in those earlier essays that I think Adam is at his strongest. There we find not merely adopting philosophy to look at Mormon thought but using Mormon thought to unlock traditional ways of thinking of problems.
So you probably noticed the blog going up and down a bit. It’s a problem with my server. For some reason some process goes out of control and takes over the machine. It’s happened on and off over the past year but recently started to get worse. Despite many attempts to figure out what process is doing this I’ve had little luck. (Admittedly I’ve not had time to dedicate to really working on it hard) I’m just going to do a clean install on the server to fix the problem. I’m overdue for this anyway since it’s a real pain to upgrade Linux remotely.
By mid next week I should have a clean build of the latest Linux and will just restore my mail and web stuff from backups.
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