Traditions of the Fathers

The first 50 pages of Brant Gardner’s new book Traditions of the Fathers is available at Kofford Books. Brant wrote what I take to be the best commentary on the Book of Mormon as well as the best discussion of the theory of the translation of the book.

This seems more in depth about the history of the Book of Mormon. So much of what’s written about the history takes the narrative as straightforward. It seems like Gardner reads it via more of what I’d call a hermeneutics of suspicion. I don’t necessarily mean he reads it through a Ricouerian lens. Just that he thinks the text is written and transmitted by finite flawed ignorant human beings rather than be “objective history.” That’s important to how we read the text. He also follows Sorenson in trying to apply a more mesoamerican lens to how we read the text.

I’m really looking forward to this book. So check it out. 

Weird LDS Songs on Apple Music

So like many of you I’ve been trying out the new Apple Music service.1 I’d had a few LDS oriented radio stations I’d created under iTunes Match. But now with Music I have access to a lot more stuff for Sunday mornings. In looking around around though I discovered some interesting stuff. Click the links if you have the new Music service in iTunes or iOS. (I know it’s coming for Android but don’t know if it’s available yet) For albums it unfortunately brings up a web page where you can play previews if you don’t have iTunes. Click on “View in iTunes” to open it up.

First up there’s LDS Scriptures Rock that has interesting rock songs about various verses of scripture. Surely helpful for kids trying to memorize scriptures but kind of unusual to say the least.

There the full broadway soundtrack of The Book of Mormon. I suggest not playing this while getting ready for church.

Next is Come Come Ye Saints done as kind of upbeat lounge blues cover. Can’t really describe this one. You have to hear it.

Lehi’s Blues I just can’t even do justice to. This must have started off as a roadshow somewhere. Lehi’s Lament manages to be a bluesy disco version of Lehi. Yeah. Really. I’m not kidding.

Sadly no New York Dolls version of Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief from the film New York Doll (which is a fantastic movie you should see).

I’m sure I’ll manage to find some interesting songs over the next while. Feel free to chime in with your must listen hits.

  1. For a quick review see my comments at my tech blog.

Why Kids Avoid Literature

Good article I came across on Twitter about why college kids are avoiding literature. It’s not the books, it’s the teachers. Key paragraph is this one that is hard to argue with.

If a book has a point, and the point can be briefly summarized, why not just read the summary? If a teacher cannot give a coherent reason why such a shortcut simply won’t do, then why should the student assume anything important is left out?

This is a big problem especially for those who argue for truth in a text. If the text is about truth then why not just state the truths? What does literature give us. Needless to say I’m rather skeptical of those who see truth in literature, film, plays or the like. It’s not that truths can’t be communicated but emphasizing this completely neuters what’s important about texts as compared to straightforward philosophical arguments.

Read the whole article. It gets at the distinction between truth claims and inquiry I often make.

Adjudicating Disagreements

I wanted to get back to my religion & epistemology posts again. Back in March I asked the question of what truth does. Especially in academics and policy truth is hugely important. It’s worth thinking through why that is. I tied our concern with truth as an issue with our practices of asserting, the virtue of honesty, the ethics of belief, and related issues. That is I think each of us wants to believe true things and disbelieve false things. I think we have a duty of develop these virtues.

Now philosophers have notoriously disagreed over what truth means. Last time I mentioned Descartes but I don’t want to get too sidetracked into theories of truth. Rather I want to stay focused on what’s behind our concern with truth. A large concern I didn’t mention last time was our social interactions. That is how do we adjudicate disagreements? I think truth (or something like it) ends up being quite important in our making judgments and resolving disagreements. Even those philosophical movements that reject more traditional senses of truth tend to still hold to the value of adjudicating disagreements. So for example Richard Rorty who rejects most senses of truth still substitutes for it an intersubjective agreement among the members of a community. While he rejects any notion of absolute truth, that function of intersubjective adjudication remains.

This is why I’m not sure theories of truth matter that much ultimately. What really counts is how a community resolves disagreements.

Continue reading Adjudicating Disagreements

Pew Mormon Retention

I wanted to touch on one more thing in the recent Pew data. Retention. Now the 2007 Pew survey  found that Mormons had a retention rate for those raised Mormon of 70% with 15% converting to an other religion and 14% going to the Nones. The recent Pew survey found that the rate was 64%. How much of this is due to sampling (Mormons made up only 1.6% of the sample and thus were around 500 people) and how much is an actual retention drop isn’t clear. The rate joining the Nones is higher too rising from 14% to 21%.

The Mormon retention rate roughly matches Evangelicalism (where they mean still self-identifying as Evangelical and not a switch to an other Christian group). Black protestants are higher at 70%. Non-Christian groups had the highest retention with Jews at 75%, Muslims at 77% and Hindus at 80%. All those groups primarily lose member to the Nones.

Continue reading Pew Mormon Retention

Phenomenology of Religion

Over on a thread at T&S we had a tangent on the discussion of myth and the Book of Mormon. John Lundwall mentioned a forthcoming book on myth. I noted some parallels to early 20th century structuralist forms of myth. While he differentiated himself from that the underlying context is probably worth discussing. It touches on a lot of phenomenological topics that I discuss here a lot. I tend to be rather skeptical of phenomenology of religion due to the problems of structuralism. I’m much more sympathetic to Ricouer than Eliade. That said I also think a few of Eliade’s books should be required reading for anyone planning on going to an LDS temple. They would do far more to prepare people than the typically temple prep class taught at Church. Eliade comes out of that general phenomenology of religion movement. 

Without delving too deep into the topic I found a fantastic little introduction to the topic that goes over the issues and the main figures. It’s well worth reading and gets at the relationship to Husserl. (It doesn’t really address much the later movements such as Ricouer or Derrida’s deconstruction)

Atonement Theories Part 1

Ronan had up a couple of good posts about the substitutionary atonement theory. (Here and here) I think the key point is this:

That is the problem with the substitutionary atonement model. We moderns don’t believe in it in principle. This is why the various parables out there that try to explain the atonement are so poor.

His posts belong to my favorite class of blog post. You may not agree with it but it forces you to rethink through things. So I’ve really been thinking through my suppositions in all this the past few week. As such it’s been amazingly fruitful.

I think Ronan is onto something. The way we conceive of the world is radically different from what it once was. Most of the underlying metaphors used by the scriptures don’t make a lot of sense to us. When we do understand it, it tends to be through a series of symbolic moves. We don’t “get it” at a gut level. The discussions fit into a kind of political world that no longer holds. Worse, the political environment where they made sense seems unarguably bad.1 We no longer think someone’s child should pay for their mistakes, for instance. We don’t think we should have slaves. And on and on. So trying to explain our relationship with God in terms of these metaphors is pretty problematic if only because it tends to require pushing a political economy to God that is inherently unjust thereby making God unjust.

The most common example of the unjust or weak view of God entailed by these theories is the typical view of atonement. Often the atonement seems created to deal with a Kafkaesque complexity of laws where mercy can’t rob justice, but justice is arbitrary and perverse. In order to cut the gordian knot of this nearly Monty Python entrapment from sin, God sends his son in such a way that all these perverse laws are satisfied. The problem is that if God is God, surely he can cut the gordian knot the simple way – much like Alexander did the real knot. The problem with these views, is that law becomes a rube goldberg machine that lost its designer under which God is as much a victim as any of Kafka’s protagonists.2

Continue reading Atonement Theories Part 1

  1. I emphasize seems. I think our assumptions about the ancient world often are wrong. Sometimes we overly romanticize the primitive world and sometimes we unduly castigate it as unredeemable brutal and unsalvageable. I think reality often is more complex than those competitive moves. Both these moves owe a lot to Hobbe’s Leviathan where the state of nature was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” In reaction to Hobbes, often tied to romanticism, rose the myth of the nobel savage. Now somehow primitive people were more authentic and closer in an ethical way to nature. Both views clearly are distorting.
  2. This conception of God in a confusing mess where everything does its part actually can be seen in the climax to Time Bandits where God and the devil literally are in a confusing Monty Python mess.

Religious Equilibrium

I promise to ease up a bit on the demographics posts. Still they are quite interesting though with lots of new data coming out. Today was no exception with an interesting analysis of religious equilibrium at Five Thirty Eight. It basically looks a churn of religions (inflow and outflow) combined with birth rate information to get an idea of what the future equilibrium of religion will be. 

Now as a model this is a little problematic if only because I think the rise of the Nones demonstrates some broader social changes at play. So it’s almost certain that this equilibrium is a bit misleading. Still it shows a bit of what given current conditions is going on.

Continue reading Religious Equilibrium

Mormon Demographics: Canadian Edition

I was discussing my post on the recent Pew data with a friend on ADN today. He thought that the United States was religiously moving towards the rest of the rich world and perhaps becoming more like Canada. I thought it was an interesting question both because Canada is in some ways very much like the US and in other ways much more like Europe. Plus I’m a Canadian ex-pat myself so I was a little curious about what the numbers regarding Mormonism and religion in Canada are. Much to my surprise, Canada is far more like the US than most might expect.

Continue reading Mormon Demographics: Canadian Edition

Pew: Sharp Drop in Christians

Pew has up a new story with recent data on the decline of self-identifying Christians. It’s not that different from my recent discussions but it does have more recent data which confirms the most trends of the past are continuing. From 2007 to 2014 using Pew data self-identifying Christians went from 78.4% to 70.6%. Evangelicals went from 26.3% to 25.4% although their absolute numbers increased. Unaffiliated (i.e. the Nones) went from 16.1% to a staggering 22.8%. That’s not that surprising when you see how high the rates are among the young. The believers are simply dying off. Mainline protestants are dying off fast. It went from 18.1% to 14.7%. Catholics dropped much more than I would have expected given immigration. This is the first real drops in Catholics who have been rather stable while Protestants were suffering the most loses. It went from 23.9% to 20.8%.

They have Mormons with a slight drop of 1.7 to 1.6% but looking at their other numbers that’s not statistically significant. (Their figures for other movements are around ±1.5 million so with a small Mormon population the figures aren’t too accurate) Pew always had Mormons as a bigger population than ARIS did.1

Continue reading Pew: Sharp Drop in Christians

  1. I should note that I’ve always had trouble with Pew’s Mormon data both for giving what seem non-sensical answers for certain questions but also for population sizes. ARIS in 2008 had Mormons as 1.4% – the same as in 1990. I tend to trust the ARIS data more than Pew. It’ll be interesting to see what ARIS has us at in their next study.

Musings on Science, Religion, Phenomenology and More