When it comes to personal revelation, I’m a believer; I really do think that there have been moments in my life when I’ve been on the receiving end of divine communication. I like that the doctrine plays such a central role in LDS thought; I love the idea that you can go directly to God for answers and help, that we believe in a God who is interested in us as individuals and who will interact with us personally.
Yet at the same time, I have to admit to a certain degree of skepticism when it comes to the use of revelation as a means of discerning truth. Read More
Lately I’ve been thinking (yet again) about depression, and particularly about the ways in which it gets discussed. I periodically run into disputes between those who are convinced that depression is at its core a biological illness, and those who are convinced that it’s a spiritual one. I find myself uncomfortable with both positions, because they both arise from a dualist understanding of the human, one in which spirit and body are qualitatively different things and not really connected to each other. If you take this perspective, you’re likely to conceptualize depression as either a spiritual problem or a physical one–and I’m not crazy about either version. Read More
I have two friends in particular, one Catholic and one Protestant, with whom I find it remarkably easy to have religious conversations. In terms of explicit doctrinal teachings, we’re often coming from quite different places. Yet somehow we seem to be on the same wavelength religiously. I’ve also met numerous Mormons whom I don’t seem to connect with at all, and in talking to such people I’m not always sure what exactly it means that we’re in the same religion, because we seem to be worlds apart in our religious views. Read More
When I was a teenager, one of my good friends omitted the use of an article when talking about the bishop: for example, “I’m going to talk to bishop” as opposed to “I’m going to talk to the bishop.” I figured it was simply a language quirk of her family (and since I come from a family where people use “clo” for the singular of “clothes,” and have invented verbs like “loonify,” I’m hardly in a position to judge anyone else’s use of language as strange.) Read More
I have to confess that I’ve never been terribly interested in eschatology (the study of “last things.”) I remember being anxious about the Second Coming when I was younger, but by the time I was attending Seminary, I found the extended discussion of “signs of the times” and detailed speculations about events described in the book of Revelation to be, quite frankly, boring. The first time you hear that the world is about to end it’s a bit thrilling, but for me at least, it didn’t take much repetition for the excitement to wear off. (The “imminent end of the world” thing also loses a bit of its punch when you realize for just how many years people have been making that claim.) And I found many of the doctrines related to the Second Coming to be so bizarre-sounding that it was difficult to see them as having any significance for my actual life. Read More
Commenting on a recent FMH thread (see #85), Sonnet raises some good questions:
When we call something “cultural,” then we allow ourselves to think of that thing as peripheral, perhaps silly, and certainly not required for salvation. But who gets to decide what is doctrine and what is culture? . . . I would be willing to bet that everyone’s configurations of doctrine and culture are different: How do you decide what is doctrine and what is not? Do you believe that someone else can tell you? Why is this distinction a useful one to make?
I’ve been wondering the same thing. This separation is frequently proposed as a way to deal with aspects of the Church that a person finds difficult. Once something gets labeled “culture,” as Sonnet observes, it’s easy to dismiss it; in fact, “culture” at times seems to simply be shorthand for “something I don’t like/believe.” However, I’m finding myself more and more skeptical about any clear-cut distinction between the two. Read More
One of my less pleasant memories is that of the oral exam I had to take at the end of my master’s program in theology. Mostly what I remember is sitting in a room and staring blankly at three professors who were valiantly attempting to coax me into saying something coherent. At one point I recall one of them saying, “I know you know this–you gave a class presentation on it just a few weeks ago.” Unfortunately, my brain seemed to have temporarily shut down, and I had difficulty coming up with even basic theological terms. Read More
One of my Catholic professors once wryly observed that ten seemed to be the magic number for official Catholic pronouncements: after a new teaching had been repeated ten times, documents would begin with the phrase, “as the Church has always taught . . .” The comment made me laugh, because it reminded me of the LDS tendency to assert that every current notion in the Church must have existed in antiquity. Like other religious traditions, we are confronted with the challenge of theologically accounting for change while maintaining continuity with the past. Read More
I’ve been in Utah for the last several weeks, and yesterday I was able to attend a couple of Sunstone sessions, including the panel on Mormon Feminist Bloggers. It was really fun to put faces with some familiar names. I’m a little behind on sleep–it’s been a bit of a crazy week, and I’m about to leave to drive back to California. But here are some of my hopefully not too incoherent notes on what was said. Read More
The neoscholastics saw grace as something entirely outside the realm of human consciousness. One participated in the sacraments of the church to receive grace, but this grace was essentially alien and separate from human awareness. This view was sharply critiqued by 20th century theologians who noted that under this framework, it was difficult to see why grace would really matter to anyone. Such an extrinsic understanding of grace, they noted, left people with the view that religious practice was something basically foreign and unconnected to the rest of their lives. Why, if it’s not making any discernable difference in your experience of life, would anyone have any sustained interest in religion? Read More
Mormons, I frequently hear, reject the doctrine of original sin. Yet I am not convinced that the concept has no place whatsoever in LDS theology. I suspect that the Mormon claim that we don’t believe in original sin is frequently no more than an assertion that 1) individuals are not held personally accountable for the choices of Adam and Eve, and 2) unbaptized infants should not be seen as guilty of sin, and will not be eternally doomed should they die in their unbaptized state. If original sin is understood not in terms of personal guilt, but as some kind of negative effect on human nature resulting from the fall, I think it might actually be compatible with LDS teachings. Read More
A couple of years ago, I asked a question in Sunday School about why we need the priesthood to do things like healings if such miracles can also be performed by faith. I brought it up because I think it’s an interesting issue, and I wanted to hear how other people thought about it. A few people shared their take on the subject, and then the discussion moved on. Nothing out of the ordinary. But the reason I remember this incident is because after class, the bishop came over to me and expressed his hope that my concern had been successfully resolved. I was a bit taken aback, as I hadn’t really expected to hear a definitive answer in the course of a five or ten minute discussion in Gospel Doctrine; I’d simply been curious about how other people saw the issue.
I’m not sure that “resolving concerns” is always the most helpful approach to take when people have questions and difficulties. Read More
The set of scriptures which I regularly take to church and read out of is one of those little quads, the kind that are convenient to carry around but which my mother complains have such small text as to be unreadable. I’ve had it for over a decade, but there isn’t a single mark in it–no highlighting, no underlining, no comments in the margins. People sometimes look at it and question whether I ever read my scriptures.
I’ve always been uneasy with writing in books; I find it both distracting and aesthetically unappealing. I remember cringing in Seminary when we were told to write things in our scriptures. I dutifully went along with the writing and underlining and even gluing in of little quotes, but I’ve never since used those scriptures. Read More
Growing up, I somehow picked up the idea that I wasn’t really supposed to feel certain things: anger, jealousy, fear, resentment, despair. Of course, I felt them anyway, but I interpreted that as evidence of some horrible character flaw. This was reinforced by the Gospel of Positive Thinking so often preached at church, as well as the cultural expectation that women in particular ought to be “nice.” I was so convinced that such feelings were unacceptable that I remember being too scared to confide even in close friends when I felt intense jealousy over a particular situation. I was sure people would think less of me for having such a reaction, that I’d be judged as selfish and not sufficiently loving. Often my response to a problematic emotion was to try to banish it as quickly as possible, sometimes to not admit even to myself that it was ever there. Read More
A couple of recent threads have gotten me thinking about the merits of staying in the church and hoping for change (as opposed to staying in the church and trying to accept the way things are, or simply leaving the church). I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope that the church will change; our ever evolving history provides an obvious basis for such an outlook. It’s because of things like blacks finally getting the priesthood and the temple ceremony getting toned down over the years that I’m able to cling to the hope that the aspects of the church which most bother me aren’t necessarily eternal. Yet I can also see potential problems with this way of thinking. Read More
I’ve been a legal adult for more than a decade now. However, as a single woman without children, in a church context I often feel relegated to a kind of pre-adult status. Don’t get me wrong: I’m perfectly willing to concede that there are quite likely unique life lessons and experiences involved in marriage and parenting that can’t be gained elsewhere, and I’m not out to downplay the value of those things. Nonetheless, I’d like to find a way to talk about adulthood which didn’t assume that it necessarily included those elements. Read More
In 1 Timothy 2:4, God is described as one “who will have men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” The assertion that God has a universal salvific will, that he desires the salvation of every person, poses problems for any theological claim that only a certain group of people (e.g. Christians) are eligible for salvation. Augustine, who saw the majority of humanity as a “lump of sin” headed for perdition, resolved the dilemma by re-interpreting the scripture to mean that God wants salvation not for all people, but for all whom he has predestined. In the 20th century, by contrast, many have taken this verse quite seriously and re-thought the exclusive claims of Christianity in its light. Read More
As Christians, we talk a lot about the imitation of Christ; Jesus, we are told, provided us not only with teachings, but also with the example of his life to follow. However, I find that putting this into practice is often more difficult than questions along the lines of “what would Jesus do?” might make it appear. Since few people would argue that we are all required to be itinerant miracle-workers and die excruciating deaths, it’s clear that at least to some extent, we have to make judgment calls about just which aspects of Christ’s life we are expected to imitate. Read More
In the year 1373, at the age of 30, Julian of Norwich had a series of visions, published as the Revelations of Divine Love. I’ve read the work a couple of times, and I find it good medicine for the overly neurotic soul. While I might not accept all the details of Julian’s theology, I love her picture of a God who is approachable, who is infinitely kind, who isn’t nearly as troubled by our constant failings and mistakes as we are. Read More
Okay, I was actually born in California, but my family moved to Utah the summer I was five years old, and I don’t remember much before that time. (I do recall wondering how we would attend church after the move, as I’d gleaned from Primary that we were the “one true church,” which I took to refer to the physical building we attended. Little did I know that there would be “true churches” on every block.) I lived in Utah County for the next eighteen years, from the time I started kindergarten to the time I completed my undergraduate education at BYU. Read More