Most Liked Conference Talks (Now with better data!)

I wrote a post last year in which I tried to assess which Conference talks were most liked by Church members. The method I used was very much a kludge: I looked at the change in Facebook likes for each speaker during the session in which he or she gave a talk. Fortunately, a friend pointed out to me that there’s a much simpler way to measure this. The individual web pages for each Conference talk have a count of how many people liked the talk itself on Facebook. So of course this was data that I was interested in going back to look at.

The Facebook like buttons were added to all Conference talks, going back to 1971. Beyond a couple of years ago, of course, there aren’t many likes since most old Conference talks (other than a few classics) probably aren’t referred to all that often. I might go back later and look at the older talks, but for now I was just interested in the Conferences recent enough that someone could hear a talk in Conference, and then later in the week look it up on lds.org and click like, so I limited myself to 2012 through 2014–the last six Conferences.

There are three things to note about the data. First, I got the like counts a couple of days ago, so they’re already out of date. Second, for like counts over 1,000, the like button shows a count in thousands. I got exact counts by querying Graph Search directly. (I found this on stackoverflow somewhere, but now can’t recall where. The method is to point your browser to the URL http://graph.facebook.com/?id=<URL of talk>.) Third, the like counts for the most recent Conference are lower than for previous Conferences, probably because it has only been a few weeks since Conference occurred, and people haven’t had lots of chances to re-read or re-hear a talk and go back and like it.

Here are the ten most liked talks from the past six Conferences.

top 10 talks by likes

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The Problem of Evil, Church Edition

The classic formulation is of the problem of evil is that (1) God is all-powerful, (2) God is good, and (3) evil exists. How is it possible that (3) is the case if both (1) and (2) are true? Mormons, I think, tend to question (1), to posit a God who is not all-powerful, and to emphasize that humans have genuine agency and God rarely appears to override it. (Some also seem to move in the direction of questioning (3), saying things like “everything happens for a reason” or framing everything, including the negatives of life, as engineered by God, and thus essentially making evil illusory. I think this is hugely problematic, but that’s a tangent.)

I’m generally sympathetic to the move to make divine omnipotence limited (whether inherently, or because God chooses to make space for agency.) But here I want to consider the question in a context I find particularly challenging: the church. How do we make sense of it that God seems to be allowing all kinds of problems in the church? Just to clarify, I’m not talking about the kind of problems that arise in any human community, as flawed people with different temperaments and opinions do their best to work together. I’m talking about problems in the structure, in teachings and practices, in the scriptures and prophetic statements—the things that, if you take the church at its word, God is directly engineering. Read More

Feminism, Pain, and the Atonement

I’ve recently come across the troubling accusation that LDS feminists deny the atonement, expressed both in this post, and in comments in various places. A few thoughts in response.

First of all, I note that this discussion primarily focuses on negative encounters with individuals. LDS feminists are upset, it is so often assumed, because they’ve had negative experiences with priesthood holders. Obviously, this happens. But two points about this:

1) There are so, so many ways you can encounter painful aspects of the church—in scriptures where females barely appear, in a prohibition on prayer to Heavenly Mother, in temple covenants which differ by gender, in the historical and possibly eternal practice of polygamy, in the denial of priesthood to women, in the depressing fact that women are an “auxiliary” and not ecclesiastically necessary. The problems are much deeper than simply having a bad experience with one’s bishop.

2) Negative encounters with priesthood leaders always take place within a broader setting of structural inequality. They wouldn’t be nearly so fraught if this weren’t the case.
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The Correlated Story of Zelophehad’s Daughters

It has come to the attention of the Church Correlation Department that many of the stories told in the Bible have not passed Correlation review prior to being included in the scriptural canon. Rather than go through a lengthy and complex process of decanonization, the Correlation Department has undertaken to simply rewrite the unreviewed stories to smooth off the rough edges. The resulting stories will preserve the gospel truths present in the original, but will remove the false philosophies of men that have been inserted by evil and conspiring scribes.

Our first rewritten scripture story comes from Numbers 27.

Then came the daughters of Zelophehad to petition Moses. For their father died in the wilderness, and had no sons. They desired that Moses bring their cause before the Lord, that perhaps the inheritance of their father might pass unto them. And these are the names of the daughters of Zelophehad: Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah.

But Nadab spake unto them, saying, Surely Moses shall not consider such a small matter. And he turned them away.

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Tuesday’s Twice-Baked ZD: Please, Don’t Love Me

In today’s edition of that good ol’ Bloggernacle comfort food, Twice-Baked ZD, Lynnette makes the startling assertion that she doesn’t want to be loved.

I’ve had various encounters throughout my life with anti-Mormons who were out to save me from this terrible cult in which I am a member. Needless to say, this is an attitude I find extremely off-putting—in fact, as an unorthodox Mormon who engages in plenty of my own critiques of the Church, there are fewer things that rekindle my loyalty and connection to it more than encountering people on a mission to rescue Mormons from their delusions. But this is the thing that really gets to me. That if you ask these people why they’re behaving this way, often they say that it’s out of love. That they love Mormons. All I can say is, please oh please save me from this version of love. Read More

Temple talk trends

Over at fMh yesterday, Sara Katherine Staheli Hanks introduced a new series, “When the Temple Hurts.” I was particularly interested in a point she made in the post about how often we discuss the temple in lessons and talks at church:

The temple is a regular focus of meetings, lessons, talks, and discussions in church settings. I’d estimate that, in my experience, 1 out of every 4-5 Sundays in my adult life as a church member has included a talk or lesson where the temple was a primary focus.

I’ve been teaching primary now for a couple of years, and my memory of adult classes is maybe suffering from a bit of haziness, but Sara’s numbers sound good to me. This would mean an average of at least one temple-related lesson or talk per month, with of course lots of variation where there is a cluster of them, and then maybe no mentions for a longer period of time.

I would be interested to know how well that matches up with other people’s experience. It seems like this would be a difficult thing to measure well. Sure, we have correlated lesson manuals, but we also have locally chosen topics for things like sacrament meetings, first Sunday meetings in RS and priesthood quorums, and Teachings for Our Time lessons. And for that matter, even how correlated lessons are taught varies a lot from ward to ward and from teacher to teacher (much to the frustration of the Correlation people, I’m sure).

So I thought I would look at a related question that’s easier for me to answer, which is whether talk about the temple at the general level of the Church has been increasing or decreasing over time. If there’s a noticeable change over time, this is probably felt by people in their local experiences, as general-level material like Conference talks are not only used directly in the preparation of lessons and talks, but they also likely help drive local leaders’ perceptions of what topics are important at the moment.

I used the ever-wonderful Corpus of General Conference Talks to look at how often the word temple has been used in Conference since 1900. This graph shows the result. The dark purple line is the 10-year moving average, and the faded purple line shows the year-to-year rates.

temple refs in conference 1900-2013 Read More