The Western University and the Secular Compromise: Some Implications for Literature

This afternoon one of my students met with me about his next paper, which he wants to write refuting The Da Vinci Code and defending the divinity of Jesus Christ. I found myself struggling to explain to him why he can’t write such a paper to fulfill a university assignment. I tried to help him think about possible lines of argument he could pursue that would allow him to discuss his beliefs in intellectual and secular terms. It is my pleasant responsibility to help him master the norms of the university, and that means learning to speak, think, and write about religion in terms accessible to public consideration, in the terms of rational argument and empirical analysis. On the one hand, I deeply respect those terms; I’ve chosen with great joy to spend my six-day-a-week life examining the world in them. And learning to think about one’s beliefs in intellectual terms can be a vital and invigorating experience, although there are far too few spaces in the borderlands between the university and the church where believing students can bring the disparate pieces of their lives together; as a believing scholar, I long for more such spaces. But on the other hand, perhaps we secular educators (among whom I must count myself, insofar as I teach a secular subject in a secular context) sometimes rush too quickly over the losses incurred in the secular environment. The most essential expressions of religious belief are generally precluded by secular norms; in an important sense we allow every possible discussion of religion except what it most essentially is. Read More

What would the church say about making polygamy legal?

I was reading this article about laws that are no longer really enforced, of which anti-polygamy laws are one. I’ve read about this other places, too. The only time anti-polygamy laws are prosecuted is when someone is being prosecuted for something else (i.e. they’re prosecuted for enabling statutory or other rape, or for misusing the welfare system, or something, and since they’re also a polygamist, that charge gets tacked on, too). No one really wants to prosecute anyone for having more than one spouse unless they’re doing other things we don’t approve of. And the next logical step to our society’s acceptance of polygamy as a valid life choice (even if most people don’t want to participate in it) is to make it legal to make that choice.

What do you think the church would do/say if there was a push to get anti-polygamy laws off the books? Read More

Secrecy and the Economics of Religious Devotion

Religious secrecy is nothing new; ancient mystery religions enjoyed a long history and vital following, and even some early Christian groups apparently did not reveal key doctrines to catechumens until after baptism. A number of instantiations of institutional secrecy in the Church can be identified, among them the veil over the handbook of instructions and the lack of public information on how tithing dollars are spent. But what interests me here is the significance to community dynamics of the conducting of secret ceremonies. Read More

Why I Love Poetry

This semester I’m taking a course in French phonetics in mild defiance of my department’s new stricter graduation timelines; I’ve already fulfilled the language requirement, and I simply want to improve my pronunciation. It’s fascinating. As I told Lynnette enthusiastically over the phone last weekend, “We’re learning all about where in the mouth you say the different vowels!” Not being one of the family’s language nuts, she said, affectionately and dryly, “How boring!” (Acid criticism from a woman who teaches Thomas Aquinas to grad students.) And we both had a good laugh. Read More

General Conference Poll

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How many of the four general sessions of General Conference do you typically listen to, watch, or attend?
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How frequently do you attend or watch the Relief Society or Priesthood session?
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What is your favorite way of experiencing General Conference?
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Who among current Church leadership is your favorite General Conference speaker?
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And here are a few free-response questions that you can answer in the comments.

Who is your all-time favorite General Conference speaker?

What is your favorite topic of General Conference talks?

What is your least favorite topic?