I thought my readers might be interested to know why I blog.
Back in January 2007 Damon Linker wrote an article in The New Republic called “The Big Test.” In it he asserted that “Mormonism will remain a theologically unstable, and thus politically perilous, religion” and “To this day, the Mormon church teaches genuine respect for reason only when it operates within the narrow limits set for it by LDS prophecy,” and so forth.
This article really ticked me off so I started a blog called Response to Damon Linker. As the Romney campaign developed I followed what Linker wrote and said about Mormonism, venting my disapproval of his assertions. Whenever I came across something that bothered me I would write a response to it.
But properly addressing what Linker wrote and said required background knowledge of Mormon history and beliefs. I wanted my blog to be heavily referenced and provide easy access to important historical documents. So, for example, I found and copied the text for the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, the Edmunds Act, and the Edmunds-Tucker Act to another blog which I used as a reference for my Linker blog. There are also many great online sources. Google books has just about every 19th Century anti-Mormon book ever written. BYU has the entire Deseret News from the 19th Century, as well as other church magazines and the Journal of Discourses. Also available are the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Journal of Mormon History, BYU Studies, Journal of Mormon Studies, Sunstone, BYU Law Review, Element, FAIR Foundation, and BYU has made all of their Masters and Doctoral works relating to Mormonism freely available online. This meant that in quite a few instances I could reference a journal article, newspaper article, or magazine directly. No one would have to take my word for it.
Properly understanding our beliefs was important, but I needed explanations written with an apologetic angle. So I started writing on doctrinal subjects such as Creation Ex Nihilo, How are Mormon Beliefs Established?, and Blacks and the Priesthood, and I would refer to these in my responses. If someone else attacked the church I would also craft a response. Examples are Are Satan and Jesus Brothers? in response to a comment by Mike Huckabee, and Was Mormonism Ever Pro Slavery? as a response to Lawrence O’Donnell’s rant about Mormons on the McLaughlin Group, and Polygamy versus Democracy as a response to an article written by Stanley Kurtz.
After the Romney campaign ended I shifted away from Response to Damon Linker and focused on my other blog, Some Mormon Stuff, which has become my principle blog. In it I focus on Mormon history and beliefs, as well as engage in the usual apologetics.
While I was serving my mission I found I could deflect most anti-Mormon attacks by simply listening to what “opponents” had to say and then simply explain our doctrine. That approach was very successful. But after my mission I yearned for deeper doctrinal understanding, but to my disappointment found that few to none were available. For example, our doctrine of the fall of man had a fundamental question that needed resolving. How could God want Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and then command them not to eat it? That is a huge question. If there is no good answer then our doctrine is flat-out phony. But I told myself that Mormonism was over 150 years old and there are lots of brilliant LDS scholars so somebody must have formalized the doctrine and found a good defense for it. I searched Dialogue, BYU Studies, Element, Sunstone, Journal of Discourses, Doctrines of Salvation, Mormon Doctrine, and every search pattern I could think of in my LDS Library software (which has over 1,000 books by LDS authors and leaders). Surely someone had crafted an explanation. All I needed was to find it. But the more I searched the greater my apprehension grew. Finally, I was forced to conclude that after 150 years and despite there being hundreds of brilliant Mormon scholars the most anyone had done was rough out a few ideas. I felt disillusioned. Even a little betrayed. I thought, “Come on, someone must have done it!” But no one had. In my frustration I crafted my own explanation which I think is pretty good (see Fall of Man Part II). But why did I, a nobody, have to do this? Someone else should have done it a long time ago! I am still a little flabbergasted by it.
One thing that research has taught me is that by doing research one finds more questions. (I am currently finishing my Ph.D. dissertation in Physics.) As I studied and wrote more I wanted more. Since there were only a few serious books on Mormon doctrine I started to read Protestant material to find out what they had written about subjects like justification, sanctification, theosis, the Godhead, the Trinity, etc. I became an avid reader of their literature. From it I got tools and ideas with which I could better express my own Mormon beliefs. Even though I engage in some theological speculation, it is only insofar as I feel is necessary to reinforce and defend Mormon orthodoxy. I am what some people call a “genetic” Mormon, a true blue believer with deep ancestral roots. What can I say? I’m very seriously religious, and conservative.
I have come to realize that in many ways Mormon theology is a surface theology. It looks great on the surface but deeper explanations are lacking. For most people of any denomination having only a basic understanding is not a problem. Most people are looking for a theology they can connect with on a very personal level, and Mormonism has that in spades. But there isn’t much more. Mormons have never seriously engaged in theological systematics. On the other hand most Protestants and Catholics don’t know the deeper theological underpinnings of their own religious beliefs either. But if they want more it’s available. Mormons don’t have that. So part of my writing focuses on deeper doctrinal research, but again, only in ways that harmonize and reinforce traditional Mormon beliefs.
I wanted my posts to be easily accessible and not too long, so I focused on what I call “middle knowledge.” If one wants to be a popular author they have to be general enough to reach a wide audience and sell lots of books—for example C.S. Lewis. If they want scholarly respect they have to be highly specific and technical. Consequently, quite of lot of literature either doesn’t have enough information to be interesting or too much detail to deal with. Middle knowledge is for people who want more than the “popular” stuff but don’t want to dive through the journal articles and books—you won’t have met many people who’ve read the Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition. So I write about Mormonism with this in mind. My blog is more specific than the usual popular stuff, but heavily referenced to provide credibility and verifiability. I have even done some original research. There is no fame or money in it, but I love it and find it immensely rewarding. It has also improved my writing.
Apologetics is one of my goals. My blog as a reference source is handy. If someone attacks the church and a thorough explanation would be difficult I can refer them to a blog article. In other words, “Take it to the blog.” If they want more, the posts are cross referenced and heavily footnoted. I also hope it is useful to other people. For example, one person left this comment.
Hey thanks for this, I really needed an answer on Brigham and Slavery, our paper wrote that he did have slaves himself. I really needed an answer for a friend. It seemed like people would only find the bad that was said and would leave out the good with it. I am glad someone wasn’t afraid to tell the whole story. I admire you whoever you are. Thanks! (Was Mormonism Ever Pro Slavery)
Mormonism’s atheological tendencies are changing. The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology was organized in 2003 by a group of Mormon scholars and intellectuals. They hold yearly conferences and have an annual magazine, Element. It’s pretty good and I’m sure it will get even better. Still, to my knowledge this is the first time any such society was ever organized.
Most Mormons are familiar with the folklore of Mormonism. One often hears things like, “I heard the Word of Wisdom wasn’t always a requirement,” “I heard that so-and-so was a Mormon,” “I heard there is a secret vault in Cumorah,” “I heard there would be 200 million Mormons by the year 2100.” There are lots of those kinds of questions and ideas floating around. Most of them have some kind of basis in history and I wanted to explore them and find out where they came from.
Each topic is a mini-research project. Some posts take only a week or two to write. But I’ve spent several months to over a year researching several. But this would be on and off, not continuously. I try to post at least once a month, but lately because of dissertation pressure I haven’t been able to keep up with that goal. Hopefully I’ll eventually be able to resume my regular pace. Mormonism is such a big subject that I don’t think I’ll ever run out of things to write about; I suspect this will be my life-long hobby.
Thanks for reading.