I’m behind on my book reviews, so I’m once again going to forego the mini-reviews and instead post the books’ descriptions with an accompanying video.
Annie McKee, How to Be Happy at Work: The Power of Purpose, Hope, and Friendship (Harvard Business Review Press, 2017): “”I’m working harder than I ever have, and I don’t know if it’s worth it anymore.” If you’re a manager or leader, these words have probably run through your mind. So many of us are feeling fed up, burned out, and unhappy at work: the constant pressure and stress, the unending changes, the politics—people feel as though they can’t give much more, and performance is suffering. But it’s work, after all, right? Should we even expect to be fulfilled and happy at work? Yes, we should, says Annie McKee, coauthor of the bestselling Primal Leadership. In her new transformative book, she makes the most compelling case yet that happiness―and the full engagement that comes with it―is more important than ever in today’s workplace, and she sheds new light on the powerful relationship of happiness to individual, team, and organizational success. Based on extensive research and decades of experience with leaders, this book reveals that people must have three essential elements in order to be happy at work: A sense of purpose and the chance to contribute to something bigger than themselves; A vision that is powerful and personal, creating a real sense of hope; Resonant, friendly relationships. With vivid and moving real-life stories, the book shows how leaders can use these powerful pillars to create and sustain happiness even when they’re under pressure. By emphasizing purpose, hope, and friendships they can also ensure a healthy, positive climate for their teams and throughout the organization. How to Be Happy at Work deepens our understanding of what it means to be truly fulfilled and effective at work and provides clear, practical advice and instruction for how to get there—no matter what job you have” (Amazon).
Steven L. Peck, A Short Stay in Hell (Strange Violin Editions, 2012): “As a faithful Mormon, Soren Johansson has always believed he’ll be reunited with his loved ones in an eternal hereafter. Then, he dies. Soren wakes to find himself cast by a God he has never heard of into a Hell whose dimensions he can barely grasp: a vast library he can only escape from by finding the book that contains the story of his life. In this haunting existential novella, author, philosopher, and ecologist Steven L. Peck explores a subversive vision of eternity, taking the reader on a journey through the afterlife of a world where everything everyone believed in turns out to be wrong” (Amazon).
Terryl L. Givens, Fiona Givens, The Christ Who Heals: How God Restored the Truth That Saves Us (Deseret Books, 2017): “In a world increasingly prone to doubt, a foundation in Christ is the only sure basis of a durable discipleship. And for Latter-day Saints, the Jesus Christ revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith is, in some very significant ways, a different kind of Christ than the Jesus of modern Christianity. The Christ of the restored gospel collaborated with Heavenly Parents for our salvation even before the foundation of the world, “does not anything” save it be for our benefit (2 Nephi 26:24), and is determined to patiently guide and nurture every one of God’s children into an eternal heavenly family. Most significantly, this Christ does not rescue us from a condition of original sin or depravity. Rather, He is primarily a healer of the wounds incident to a long-planned sojourn, one intended to immerse us in the trials, pains, and soul-stretching of this mortal schoolroom. He is not only the most remarkable being in the history of religious thought; He is, in fact, The Christ Who Heals” (Amazon).
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Donald Goldsmith, Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution (W.W. Norton & Co., 2004): “Our true origins are not just human, or even terrestrial, but in fact cosmic. Drawing on recent scientific breakthroughs and the current cross-pollination among geology, biology, astrophysics, and cosmology, Origins explains the soul-stirring leaps in our understanding of the cosmos. From the first image of a galaxy birth to Spirit Rover’s exploration of Mars, to the discovery of water on one of Jupiter’s moons, coauthors Neil deGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith conduct a galvanizing tour of the cosmos with clarity and exuberance” (Amazon).
The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal About Mormon History, ed. Matthew J. Grow, R. Eric Smith (BYU Religious Studies Center, Deseret Book, 2017): “Three months before his death, Joseph Smith established the Council of Fifty, a confidential group that he believed would protect the Latter-day Saints in their political rights and one day serve as the government of the kingdom of God. The Council of Fifty operated under the leadership of Joseph Smith and then Brigham Young, playing a key role in Joseph Smith’s presidential campaign and in preparing for the Mormon exodus to the West. The council’s minutes had never been available until they were published by the Joseph Smith Papers in September 2016, meaning that the council has been the subject of intense speculation for 170 years. In this book of short essays, fifteen leading Mormon scholars explore how the newly available minutes alter and enhance our understanding of Mormon history. The scholars narrate and analyze the contributions of the records of the council to key questions, such as Joseph Smith’s views of earthly and heavenly governments; the presidential campaign; Mormon relationships with American Indians; explorations of possible settlements sites, such as Texas and California; the “lost teachings” of Latter-day Saint leaders of that era; and the leadership style of Brigham Young” (Amazon).
Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (HarperOne, 2012): “In Did Jesus Exist? historian and Bible expert Bart Ehrman confronts the question, “Did Jesus exist at all?” Ehrman vigorously defends the historical Jesus, identifies the most historically reliable sources for best understanding Jesus’ mission and message, and offers a compelling portrait of the person at the heart of the Christian tradition. Known as a master explainer with deep knowledge of the field, Bart Ehrman methodically demolishes both the scholarly and popular “mythicist” arguments against the existence of Jesus. Marshaling evidence from within the Bible and the wider historical record of the ancient world, Ehrman tackles the key issues that surround the mythologies associated with Jesus and the early Christian movement. In Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, Ehrman establishes the criterion for any genuine historical investigation and provides a robust defense of the methods required to discover the Jesus of history” (Amazon).
Eli J. Finkel, The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work (Dutton, 2017): “Eli J. Finkel’s insightful and ground-breaking investigation of marriage clearly shows that the best marriages today are better than the best marriages of earlier eras. Indeed, they are the best marriages the world has ever known. He presents his findings here for the first time in this lucid, inspiring guide to modern marital bliss. The All-or-Nothing Marriage reverse engineers fulfilling marriages—from the “traditional” to the utterly nontraditional—and shows how any marriage can be better. The primary function of marriage from 1620 to 1850 was food, shelter, and protection from violence; from 1850 to 1965, the purpose revolved around love and companionship. But today, a new kind of marraige has emerged, one oriented toward self-discover, self-esteem, and personal growth. Finkel combines cutting-edge scientific research with practical advice; he considers paths to better communication and responsiveness; he offers guidance on when to recalibrate our expectations; and he even introduces a set of must-try “lovehacks.” This is a book for the newlywed to the empty nester, for those thinking about getting married or remarried, and for anyone looking for illuminating advice that will make a real difference to getting the most out of marriage today” (Amazon).
Darrin M. McMahon, Divine Fury: A History of Genius (Basic Books, 2013): “Genius. With hints of madness and mystery, moral license and visionary force, the word suggests an almost otherworldly power: the power to create, to divine the secrets of the universe, even to destroy. Yet the notion of genius has been diluted in recent times. Today, rock stars, football coaches, and entrepreneurs are labeled ‘geniuses,’ and the word is applied so widely that it has obscured the sense of special election and superhuman authority that long accompanied it. As acclaimed historian Darrin M. McMahon explains, the concept of genius has roots in antiquity, when men of prodigious insight were thought to possess—or to be possessed by—demons and gods. Adapted in the centuries that followed and applied to a variety of religious figures, including prophets, apostles, sorcerers, and saints, abiding notions of transcendent human power were invoked at the time of the Renaissance to explain the miraculous creativity of men like Leonardo and Michelangelo. Yet it was only in the eighteenth century that the genius was truly born, idolized as a new model of the highest human type. Assuming prominence in figures as varied as Newton and Napoleon, the modern genius emerged in tension with a growing belief in human equality. Contesting the notion that all are created equal, geniuses served to dramatize the exception of extraordinary individuals not governed by ordinary laws. The phenomenon of genius drew scientific scrutiny and extensive public commentary into the 20th century, but it also drew religious and political longings that could be abused. In the genius cult of the Nazis and the outpouring of reverence for the redemptive figure of Einstein, genius achieved both its apotheosis and its Armageddon. The first comprehensive history of this elusive concept, Divine Fury follows the fortunes of genius and geniuses through the ages down to the present day, showing how—despite its many permutations and recent democratization—genius remains a potent force in our lives, reflecting modern needs, hopes, and fears” (Amazon).
Paul Bloom, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion (HarperCollins, 2016): “We often think of our capacity to experience the suffering of others as the ultimate source of goodness. Many of our wisest policy-makers, activists, scientists, and philosophers agree that the only problem with empathy is that we don’t have enough of it. Nothing could be farther from the truth, argues Yale researcher Paul Bloom. In AGAINST EMPATHY, Bloom reveals empathy to be one of the leading motivators of inequality and immorality in society. Far from helping us to improve the lives of others, empathy is a capricious and irrational emotion that appeals to our narrow prejudices. It muddles our judgment and, ironically, often leads to cruelty. We are at our best when we are smart enough not to rely on it, but to draw instead upon a more distanced compassion. Basing his argument on groundbreaking scientific findings, Bloom makes the case that some of the worst decisions made by individuals and nations—who to give money to, when to go to war, how to respond to climate change, and who to imprison—are too often motivated by honest, yet misplaced, emotions. With precision and wit, he demonstrates how empathy distorts our judgment in every aspect of our lives, from philanthropy and charity to the justice system; from medical care and education to parenting and marriage. Without empathy, Bloom insists, our decisions would be clearer, fairer, and—yes—ultimately more moral. Brilliantly argued, urgent and humane, AGAINST EMPATHY shows us that, when it comes to both major policy decisions and the choices we make in our everyday lives, limiting our impulse toward empathy is often the most compassionate choice we can make” (Amazon).
So, I’m way behind on my book posts (much like I was behind on my TV/movies posts). So, I’m going to forego the mini-reviews and instead post the books’ descriptions with an accompanying video.
Daniel J. Siegel, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation (Bantam Books, 2010): “This groundbreaking book, from one of the global innovators in the integration of brain science with psychotherapy, offers an extraordinary guide to the practice of “mindsight,” the potent skill that is the basis for both emotional and social intelligence. From anxiety to depression and feelings of shame and inadequacy, from mood swings to addictions, OCD, and traumatic memories, most of us have a mental “trap” that causes recurring conflict in our lives and relationships. Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and co-director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, shows us how to use mindsight to escape these traps. Through his synthesis of a broad range of scientific research with applications to everyday life, Dr. Siegel has developed novel approaches that have helped hundreds of patients free themselves from obstacles blocking their happiness. By cultivating mindsight, all of us can effect positive, lasting changes in our brains—and our lives. A book as inspiring as it is profound, Mindsight can help us master our emotions, heal our relationships, and reach our fullest potential” (Amazon).
John Gottman, Nan Silver, What Makes Love Last?: How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal (Simon & Schuster, 2012): “In this insightful book, celebrated research psychologist and couples counselor John Gottman plumbs the mysteries of love and shares the results of his famous “Love Lab”: Where does love come from? Why does some love last, and why does some fade? And how can we keep it alive? Based on laboratory findings, this book shows readers how to identify signs, behaviors, and attitudes that indicate a fraying relationship and provides strategies for repairing what may seem lost or broken” (Amazon).
Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History (Modern Library, 2002): “No religion in the modern world is as feared and misunderstood as Islam. It haunts the popular Western imagination as an extreme faith that promotes authoritarian government, female oppression, civil war, and terrorism. Karen Armstrong’s short history offers a vital corrective to this narrow view. The distillation of years of thinking and writing about Islam, it demonstrates that the world’s fastest-growing faith is a much richer and more complex phenomenon than its modern fundamentalist strain might suggest. Islam: A Short History begins with the flight of Muhammad and his family from Medina in the seventh century and the subsequent founding of the first mosques. It recounts the origins of the split between Shii and Sunni Muslims, and the emergence of Sufi mysticism; the spread of Islam throughout North Africa, the Levant, and Asia; the shattering effect on the Muslim world of the Crusades; the flowering of imperial Islam in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries into the world’s greatest and most sophisticated power; and the origins and impact of revolutionary Islam. It concludes with an assessment of Islam today and its challenges” (Amazon).
Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters (Oxford University Press, 2017): “People are now exposed to more information than ever before, provided both by technology and by increasing access to every level of education. These societal gains, however, have also helped fuel a surge in narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism that has crippled informed debates on any number of issues. Today, everyone knows everything: with only a quick trip through WebMD or Wikipedia, average citizens believe themselves to be on an equal intellectual footing with doctors and diplomats. All voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism. As Tom Nichols shows in The Death of Expertise, this rejection of experts has occurred for many reasons, including the openness of the internet, the emergence of a customer satisfaction model in higher education, and the transformation of the news industry into a 24-hour entertainment machine. Paradoxically, the increasingly democratic dissemination of information, rather than producing an educated public, has instead created an army of ill-informed and angry citizens who denounce intellectual achievement. Nichols has deeper concerns than the current rejection of expertise and learning, noting that when ordinary citizens believe that no one knows more than anyone else, democratic institutions themselves are in danger of falling either to populism or to technocracy-or in the worst case, a combination of both. The Death of Expertise is not only an exploration of a dangerous phenomenon but also a warning about the stability and survival of modern democracy in the Information Age” (Amazon).
Angus Deaton, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality (Princeton University Press, 2013): “The world is a better place than it used to be. People are healthier, wealthier, and live longer. Yet the escapes from destitution by so many has left gaping inequalities between people and nations. In The Great Escape, Angus Deaton–one of the foremost experts on economic development and on poverty–tells the remarkable story of how, beginning 250 years ago, some parts of the world experienced sustained progress, opening up gaps and setting the stage for today’s disproportionately unequal world. Deaton takes an in-depth look at the historical and ongoing patterns behind the health and wealth of nations, and addresses what needs to be done to help those left behind. Deaton describes vast innovations and wrenching setbacks: the successes of antibiotics, pest control, vaccinations, and clean water on the one hand, and disastrous famines and the HIV/AIDS epidemic on the other. He examines the United States, a nation that has prospered but is today experiencing slower growth and increasing inequality. He also considers how economic growth in India and China has improved the lives of more than a billion people. Deaton argues that international aid has been ineffective and even harmful. He suggests alternative efforts–including reforming incentives to drug companies and lifting trade restrictions–that will allow the developing world to bring about its own Great Escape” (Amazon).
Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger, Mark A. McDaniel, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014): “To most of us, learning something “the hard way” implies wasted time and effort. Good teaching, we believe, should be creatively tailored to the different learning styles of students and should use strategies that make learning easier. Make It Stick turns fashionable ideas like these on their head. Drawing on recent discoveries in cognitive psychology and other disciplines, the authors offer concrete techniques for becoming more productive learners. Memory plays a central role in our ability to carry out complex cognitive tasks, such as applying knowledge to problems never before encountered and drawing inferences from facts already known. New insights into how memory is encoded, consolidated, and later retrieved have led to a better understanding of how we learn. Grappling with the impediments that make learning challenging leads both to more complex mastery and better retention of what was learned. Many common study habits and practice routines turn out to be counterproductive. Underlining and highlighting, rereading, cramming, and single-minded repetition of new skills create the illusion of mastery, but gains fade quickly. More complex and durable learning come from self-testing, introducing certain difficulties in practice, waiting to re-study new material until a little forgetting has set in, and interleaving the practice of one skill or topic with another. Speaking most urgently to students, teachers, trainers, and athletes, Make It Stick will appeal to all those interested in the challenge of lifelong learning and self-improvement” (Amazon).
Dan Ariely, Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations (TED Books, 2016): “Every day we work hard to motivate ourselves, the people we live with, the people who work for and do business with us. In this way, much of what we do can be defined as being “motivators.” From the boardroom to the living room, our role as motivators is complex, and the more we try to motivate partners and children, friends and coworkers, the clearer it becomes that the story of motivation is far more intricate and fascinating than we’ve assumed. Payoff investigates the true nature of motivation, our partial blindness to the way it works, and how we can bridge this gap. With studies that range from Intel to a kindergarten classroom, Ariely digs deep to find the root of motivation—how it works and how we can use this knowledge to approach important choices in our own lives. Along the way, he explores intriguing questions such as: Can giving employees bonuses harm productivity? Why is trust so crucial for successful motivation? What are our misconceptions about how to value our work? How does your sense of your mortality impact your motivation?” (Amazon).
Monica C. Worline, Jane E. Dutton, Awakening Compassion at Work: The Quiet Power That Elevates People and Organizations (Berrett-Koehler, 2017): “Suffering in the workplace can rob our colleagues and coworkers of humanity, dignity, and motivation and is an unrecognized and costly drain on organizational potential. Marshaling evidence from two decades of field research, scholars and consultants Monica Worline and Jane Dutton show that alleviating such suffering confers measurable competitive advantages in areas like innovation, collaboration, service quality, and talent attraction and retention. They outline four steps for meeting suffering with compassion and show how to build a capacity for compassion into the structures and practices of an organization—because ultimately, as they write, “Compassion is an irreplaceable dimension of excellence for any organization that wants to make the most of its human capabilities”” (Amazon).
Deirdre N. McCloskey, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (University of Chicago Press, 2006): “For a century and a half, the artists and intellectuals of Europe have scorned the bourgeoisie. And for a millennium and a half, the philosophers and theologians of Europe have scorned the marketplace. The bourgeois life, capitalism, Mencken’s “booboisie” and David Brooks’s “bobos”—all have been, and still are, framed as being responsible for everything from financial to moral poverty, world wars, and spiritual desuetude. Countering these centuries of assumptions and unexamined thinking is Deirdre McCloskey’s The Bourgeois Virtues, a magnum opus that offers a radical view: capitalism is good for us. McCloskey’s sweeping, charming, and even humorous survey of ethical thought and economic realities—from Plato to Barbara Ehrenreich—overturns every assumption we have about being bourgeois. Can you be virtuous and bourgeois? Do markets improve ethics? Has capitalism made us better as well as richer? Yes, yes, and yes, argues McCloskey, who takes on centuries of capitalism’s critics with her erudition and sheer scope of knowledge. Applying a new tradition of “virtue ethics” to our lives in modern economies, she affirms American capitalism without ignoring its faults and celebrates the bourgeois lives we actually live, without supposing that they must be lives without ethical foundations” (Amazon).
Thomas Nagel, Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False (Oxford University Press, 2012): “The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology. Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history, either. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such. Nagel’s skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative. In Mind and Cosmos, he does suggest that if the materialist account is wrong, then principles of a different kind may also be at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic. In spite of the great achievements of the physical sciences, reductive materialism is a world view ripe for displacement. Nagel shows that to recognize its limits is the first step in looking for alternatives, or at least in being open to their possibility” (Amazon).
Christopher H. Achen, Larry M. Bartels, Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government (Princeton University Press, 2016): “Democracy for Realists assails the romantic folk-theory at the heart of contemporary thinking about democratic politics and government, and offers a provocative alternative view grounded in the actual human nature of democratic citizens. Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels deploy a wealth of social-scientific evidence, including ingenious original analyses of topics ranging from abortion politics and budget deficits to the Great Depression and shark attacks, to show that the familiar ideal of thoughtful citizens steering the ship of state from the voting booth is fundamentally misguided. They demonstrate that voters―even those who are well informed and politically engaged―mostly choose parties and candidates on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not political issues. They also show that voters adjust their policy views and even their perceptions of basic matters of fact to match those loyalties. When parties are roughly evenly matched, elections often turn on irrelevant or misleading considerations such as economic spurts or downturns beyond the incumbents’ control; the outcomes are essentially random. Thus, voters do not control the course of public policy, even indirectly. Achen and Bartels argue that democratic theory needs to be founded on identity groups and political parties, not on the preferences of individual voters. Now with new analysis of the 2016 elections, Democracy for Realists provides a powerful challenge to conventional thinking, pointing the way toward a fundamentally different understanding of the realities and potential of democratic government” (Amazon).
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are (HarperCollins, 2017): “By the end of an average day in the early twenty-first century, human beings searching the internet will amass eight trillion gigabytes of data. This staggering amount of information—unprecedented in history—can tell us a great deal about who we are—the fears, desires, and behaviors that drive us, and the conscious and unconscious decisions we make. From the profound to the mundane, we can gain astonishing knowledge about the human psyche that less than twenty years ago, seemed unfathomable. Everybody Lies offers fascinating, surprising, and sometimes laugh-out-loud insights into everything from economics to ethics to sports to race to sex, gender and more, all drawn from the world of big data. What percentage of white voters didn’t vote for Barack Obama because he’s black? Does where you go to school effect how successful you are in life? Do parents secretly favor boy children over girls? Do violent films affect the crime rate? Can you beat the stock market? How regularly do we lie about our sex lives and who’s more self-conscious about sex, men or women Investigating these questions and a host of others, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz offers revelations that can help us understand ourselves and our lives better. Drawing on studies and experiments on how we really live and think, he demonstrates in fascinating and often funny ways the extent to which all the world is indeed a lab. With conclusions ranging from strange-but-true to thought-provoking to disturbing, he explores the power of this digital truth serum and its deeper potential—revealing biases deeply embedded within us, information we can use to change our culture, and the questions we’re afraid to ask that might be essential to our health—both emotional and physical. All of us are touched by big data everyday, and its influence is multiplying. Everybody Lies challenges us to think differently about how we see it and the world” (Amazon).
Terryl L. Givens, Feeding the Flock: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Church and Praxis (Oxford University Press, 2017): “Feeding the Flock, the second volume of Terryl L. Givens’s landmark study of the foundations of Mormon thought and practice, traces the essential contours of Mormon practice as it developed from Joseph Smith to the present. Despite the stigmatizing fascination with its social innovations (polygamy, communalism), its stark supernaturalism (angels, gold plates, and seer stones), and its most esoteric aspects (a New World Garden of Eden, sacred undergarments), as well as its long-standing outlier status among American Protestants, Givens reminds us that Mormonism remains the most enduring-and thriving-product of the nineteenth-century’s religious upheavals and innovations. Because Mormonism is founded on a radically unconventional cosmology, based on unusual doctrines of human nature, deity, and soteriology, a history of its development cannot use conventional theological categories. Givens has structured these volumes in a way that recognizes the implicit logic of Mormon thought. The first book, Wrestling the Angel, centered on the theoretical foundations of Mormon thought and doctrine regarding God, humans, and salvation. Feeding the Flock considers Mormon practice, the authority of the institution of the church and its priesthood, forms of worship, and the function and nature of spiritual gifts in the church’s history, revealing that Mormonism is still a tradition very much in the process of formation. At once original and provocative, engaging and learned, Givens offers the most sustained account of Mormon thought and practice yet written” (Amazon).
David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss (Yale University Press, 2013): “Despite the recent ferocious public debate about belief, the concept most central to the discussion—God—frequently remains vaguely and obscurely described. Are those engaged in these arguments even talking about the same thing? In a wide-ranging response to this confusion, esteemed scholar David Bentley Hart pursues a clarification of how the word “God” functions in the world’s great theistic faiths. Ranging broadly across Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Vedantic and Bhaktic Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, Hart explores how these great intellectual traditions treat humanity’s knowledge of the divine mysteries. Constructing his argument around three principal metaphysical “moments”—being, consciousness, and bliss—the author demonstrates an essential continuity between our fundamental experience of reality and the ultimate reality to which that experience inevitably points. Thoroughly dismissing such blatant misconceptions as the deists’ concept of God, as well as the fundamentalist view of the Bible as an objective historical record, Hart provides a welcome antidote to simplistic manifestoes. In doing so, he plumbs the depths of humanity’s experience of the world as powerful evidence for the reality of God and captures the beauty and poetry of traditional reflection upon the divine” (Amazon).
Charles Duhigg, Smarter, Faster, Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity (Random House, 2016): “At the core of Smarter Faster Better are eight key productivity concepts—from motivation and goal setting to focus and decision making—that explain why some people and companies get so much done. Drawing on the latest findings in neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics—as well as the experiences of CEOs, educational reformers, four-star generals, FBI agents, airplane pilots, and Broadway songwriters—this painstakingly researched book explains that the most productive people, companies, and organizations don’t merely act differently. They view the world, and their choices, in profoundly different ways…What do these people have in common? They know that productivity relies on making certain choices. The way we frame our daily decisions; the big ambitions we embrace and the easy goals we ignore; the cultures we establish as leaders to drive innovation; the way we interact with data: These are the things that separate the merely busy from the genuinely productive. In The Power of Habit, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Charles Duhigg explained why we do what we do. In Smarter Faster Better, he applies the same relentless curiosity, deep reporting, and rich storytelling to explain how we can improve at the things we do. It’s a groundbreaking exploration of the science of productivity, one that can help anyone learn to succeed with less stress and struggle, and to get more done without sacrificing what we care about most—to become smarter, faster, and better at everything we do” (Amazon).
Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (Oxford University Press, 2011): “This book is a long-awaited major statement by a pre-eminent analytic philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, on one of our biggest debates — the compatibility of science and religion. The last twenty years has seen a cottage industry of books on this divide, but with little consensus emerging. Plantinga, as a top philosopher but also a proponent of the rationality of religious belief, has a unique contribution to make. His theme in this short book is that the conflict between science and theistic religion is actually superficial, and that at a deeper level they are in concord. Plantinga examines where this conflict is supposed to exist — evolution, evolutionary psychology, analysis of scripture, scientific study of religion — as well as claims by Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Philip Kitcher that evolution and theistic belief cannot co-exist. Plantinga makes a case that their arguments are not only inconclusive but that the supposed conflicts themselves are superficial, due to the methodological naturalism used by science. On the other hand, science can actually offer support to theistic doctrines, and Plantinga uses the notion of biological and cosmological “fine-tuning” in support of this idea. Plantinga argues that we might think about arguments in science and religion in a new way — as different forms of discourse that try to persuade people to look at questions from a perspective such that they can see that something is true. In this way, there is a deep and massive consonance between theism and the scientific enterprise” (Amazon).
Paul Bloom, Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil (Crown, 2013): “From John Locke to Sigmund Freud, philosophers and psychologists have long believed that we begin life as blank moral slates. Many of us take for granted that babies are born selfish and that it is the role of society—and especially parents—to transform them from little sociopaths into civilized beings. In Just Babies, Paul Bloom argues that humans are in fact hardwired with a sense of morality. Drawing on groundbreaking research at Yale, Bloom demonstrates that, even before they can speak or walk, babies judge the goodness and badness of others’ actions; feel empathy and compassion; act to soothe those in distress; and have a rudimentary sense of justice. Still, this innate morality is limited, sometimes tragically. We are naturally hostile to strangers, prone to parochialism and bigotry. Bringing together insights from psychology, behavioral economics, evolutionary biology, and philosophy, Bloom explores how we have come to surpass these limitations. Along the way, he examines the morality of chimpanzees, violent psychopaths, religious extremists, and Ivy League professors, and explores our often puzzling moral feelings about sex, politics, religion, and race. In his analysis of the morality of children and adults, Bloom rejects the fashionable view that our moral decisions are driven mainly by gut feelings and unconscious biases. Just as reason has driven our great scientific discoveries, he argues, it is reason and deliberation that makes possible our moral discoveries, such as the wrongness of slavery. Ultimately, it is through our imagination, our compassion, and our uniquely human capacity for rational thought that we can transcend the primitive sense of morality we were born with, becoming more than just babies” (Amazon).
Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (Random House, 2017): “Social scientist Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, has sparked a global conversation about the experiences that bring meaning to our lives—experiences of courage, vulnerability, love, belonging, shame, and empathy. In Braving the Wilderness, Brown redefines what it means to truly belong in an age of increased polarization. With her trademark mix of research, storytelling, and honesty, Brown will again change the cultural conversation while mapping a clear path to true belonging. Brown argues that we’re experiencing a spiritual crisis of disconnection, and introduces four practices of true belonging that challenge everything we believe about ourselves and each other. She writes, “True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness both in being a part of something and in standing alone when necessary. But in a culture that’s rife with perfectionism and pleasing, and with the erosion of civility, it’s easy to stay quiet, hide in our ideological bunkers, or fit in rather than show up as our true selves and brave the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism. But true belonging is not something we negotiate or accomplish with others; it’s a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity. It’s a personal commitment that we carry in our hearts.” Brown offers us the clarity and courage we need to find our way back to ourselves and to each other. And that path cuts right through the wilderness. Brown writes, “The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand”” (Amazon).
Brian C. Hales, Laura H. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding (Greg Kofford Books, 2015): “In the last several years a wealth of information has been published on Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. For some who were already well aware of this aspect of early Mormon history, the availability of new research and discovered documents has been a wellspring of further insight and knowledge into this topic. For others who are learning of Joseph’s marriages to other women for the first time, these books and online publications (including the LDS Church’s recent Gospel Topics essays on the subject) can be both an information overload and a challenge to one’s faith. In this short volume, Brian C. Hales (author of the 3-volume Joseph Smith’s Polygamy set) and Laura H. Hales wade through the murky waters of history to help bring some clarity to this episode of Mormonism’s past, examining both the theological explanations of the practice and the accounts of those who experienced it first hand. As this episode of Mormon history involved more than just Joseph and his first wife Emma, this volume also includes short biographies of the 36 women who were married to the Prophet but whose stories of faith, struggle, and courage have been largely forgotten and ignored over time. While we may never fully understand the details and reasons surrounding this practice, Brian and Laura Hales provide readers with an accessible, forthright, and faithful look into this challenging topic so that we can at least come toward a better understanding” (Amazon).
I kept thinking of the above research as I was reading through Mark E. Peterson’s October 1971 talk on honesty. What is so troubling about Dan Ariely’s research is the fact that most people are dishonest in small, incremental ways, yet still think of themselves as good, honest people. As Peterson states, “Honesty is a principle of salvation in the kingdom of God. Without it there can be no salvation. Just as no man or woman can be saved without baptism, so no one can be saved without honesty. As we cannot advance in the kingdom of heaven without a resurrection, so we cannot move into celestial realms without honesty. As God condemns immorality, so he denounces hypocrisy, which is one of the worst forms of dishonesty.” The list he provides next is thought-provoking:
The lie of the drug peddler that tempts a child to indulge.
The lie of the seducer that persuades a girl to surrender her virtue
The lie of the shyster that traps his victim in the fraudulent deal.
The lie of the tax evader that puts him behind bars.
The lie of the student that turns him into a cheat at school.
The lie of the child—and too often also of the parent—that creates the generation gap.
The lie of the shoddy workman that hides a faulty repair.
The lie of a husband or wife that leads to infidelity.
The lie of the embezzler that makes him falsify his books.
The desire to lie and cheat that turns a mother into a shoplifter.
The child who assists her into a potential criminal.
The lie on the lips of the neighborhood gossip that brings character assassination to many innocent victims.
The dishonest one who seeks to take advantage of or to humiliate or to deliberately injure a fellow human being.
It is dishonesty in a householder that persuades him to cheat a little newsboy out of his collections for delivering his newspapers.
The lie of a clergyman teaching premarital sex as a type of trial marriage that persuades a girl to lose her virtue.
The lie of the hypocrite who berates his wife and belittles his children and is a beast in the home that persuades him to assume a pious role on Sunday and sing in the choir and partake of the sacred emblems of the Lord’s supper.
The lie of the infatuated girl who deceives her parents as she enters a life of sin with a boy who would only drag her down.
Honesty is an act of vulnerability, humility, and love. According to Peterson, “Dishonesty is directly related to selfishness, which is its origin and source. Selfishness is at the root of nearly all the disorders that afflict us, and man’s inhumanity to man continues to make countless thousands mourn. If all mankind were honest, we could have heaven here on earth. We would have no need for armies or navies, nor even a policeman in the smallest community, for there would be no crime, no invasion of other people’s rights, no violence of one person against another. There would be no grounds for divorce, nor would we have errant husbands or unfaithful wives. Conflict between children and parents would disappear, and juvenile delinquency would come to an end.” Think about the list above. While there is greed and enmity involved, there is also shame and disconnection. How many cheat in school or work out of fear of not being enough? How many gossip with others in an attempt to create connection, no matter how counterfeit? How many crimes are committed in hopes of gaining acceptance, through status and the like? The sad thing is that dishonesty erodes trust and trust is vital to deep, lasting relationships. This is why no one is saved without honesty because no one is saved in isolation. Dishonesty is a form of betrayal. Psychologist John Gottman, one of the foremost experts on relationships and marriage, has emphasized the importance of trust in relationships. He uses the acronym ATTUNE:
Awareness of your partner’s emotion;
Turning toward the emotion;
Tolerance of two different viewpoints;
trying to Understand your partner;
Non-defensive responses to your partner;
and responding with Empathy.
He shares a personal story to demonstrate what he means:
But how do you build trust? What I’ve found through research is that trust is built in very small moments, which I call “sliding door” moments, after the movie Sliding Doors. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner. Let me give you an example of that from my own relationship. One night, I really wanted to finish a mystery novel. I thought I knew who the killer was, but I was anxious to find out. At one point in the night, I put the novel on my bedside and walked into the bathroom.As I passed the mirror, I saw my wife’s face in the reflection, and she looked sad, brushing her hair. There was a sliding door moment. I had a choice. I could sneak out of the bathroom and think, “I don’t want to deal with her sadness tonight, I want to read my novel.” But instead, because I’m a sensitive researcher of relationships, I decided to go into the bathroom. I took the brush from her hair and asked, “What’s the matter, baby?” And she told me why she was sad. Now, at that moment, I was building trust; I was there for her. I was connecting with her rather than choosing to think only about what I wanted. These are the moments, we’ve discovered, that build trust. One such moment is not that important, but if you’re always choosing to turn away, then trust erodes in a relationship—very gradually, very slowly…By contrast, the atom of betrayal is not just turning away—not just turning away from my wife’s sadness in that moment—but doing what Caryl Rusbult called a “CL-ALT,” which stands for “comparison level for alternatives.” What that means is I not only turn away from her sadness, but I think to myself, “I can do better. Who needs this crap? I’m always dealing with her negativity. I can do better.” Once you start thinking that you can do better, then you begin a cascade of not committing to the relationship; of trashing your partner instead of cherishing your partner; of building resentment rather than gratitude; of lowering your investment in the relationship; of not sacrificing for the relationship; and of escalating conflicts.
To ignore his wife’s sadness and avert his eyes would not have been a lack of awareness, but an act of dishonesty. It is within these small moments that we lie the most and thus miss out on the chance for connection. To love and reach out is one of the most vulnerable and honest things you can do. “In the most emphatic and urgent meaning of the word,” write Terryl and Fiona Givens, “love reveals truth. It does not create the impression of truth; love does not merely endow something with a subjective truth–love is the only position or emotional disposition from which we become fully aware of the already present reality of the other person as more than a mere object among other objects in a crowded universe. Love alone reveals the full reality and value of the other person.” Peterson notes that Christ “knows that the sinful life is the costly and miserable life, and that wickedness never was happiness. He invites us to bear a lighter burden, one of joy, relief, and deep satisfaction[.]”
And this joy, relief, and satisfaction comes through honest, vulnerable, loving relationships.
I thought it would be fun to have the DR Editors pick their best reads from 2014. I’m glad I did! Looking through the lists of books and the reviews was really interesting, and it definitely shows what a diverse set of readers we have here at Difficult Run. Without further ado, here are the lists they sent in the order in which they were received.
Monica emailed me to say “I think I only read 5 or so books in 2014 anyway, and none of them were really remarkable to me. :-/.” Fair enough, and let us all wish Monica better luck in picking books to read in 2015!
Mindy Kaling gives a voice to all lady craziness. If Tina Fey is my best friend because Liz Lemon is my spirit animal, and if Amy Poehler is my best friend because she’s all girl power, then Mindy Kaling is my best friend because she is a girly-girl (not me, but I appreciate), anxious (me), school nerd (me). This book definitely has a particular audience which is 30-ish females who dare to be non-academic (even if some of them still get straight A’s). Mindy Kaling is a comedian whose voice carries over entirely to the book, something I haven’t found in other comedian memoirs. Also, can Mindy Kaling PLEASE write a YA vampire romance series?!
I guess I find “Jack and Diane” a little disgusting…I wish there was a song called “Nguyen and Ari,” a little ditty about a hardworking Vietnamese girl who helps her parents with the franchised Holiday Inn they run and does homework in the lobby, and Ari, a hardworking Jewish boy who does volunteer work at his grandmother’s old-age home, and they meet after school at the Princeton Review. They help each other study for the SATs and different AP courses, and then after months of studying, and mountains of flashcards, they kiss chastely upon hearing the news that they both got into their top college choices.”
I love Southern fiction and I love crazy people, and this book is all about crazy Southern people. This is the kind of quirky Southern fiction that will make you think “I have to stop reading Southern fiction because nothing can ever possibly compare.” There are deep sadnesses, great triumphs, secret collaborations, hilarious anecdotes, kooky characters, ridiculous names, inspiring loves and most of all loyal friendships. Love.
“By the way, Boots died and Opal says she hopes you’re satisfied.
This is a great read for any female in graduate school (but if you’re not in graduate school, it’s still great). Not only is it a mystery/adventure beach read (with a hint of science fiction), but it really explores the mentor-student relationship in all of its (possible) horror. The story is a modern, feminine retelling of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. If you hated that book in high school, you will still like this book. The most interesting things I found with Patchett’s writing are her ability to convey the emotion of a scene through dialogue, and her great use of flashback intertwined with the current moment. I could not put this book down!!
The Givenses’ most recent work is, as Adam Miller put it, “a nearly perfect book.” Many books have been written on the nature of faith and doubt, but none (that I’m aware of) tackle it from a purely Mormon perspective. The LDS faith produces a number of somewhat unique angles and situations for doubt due to its history and theological claims. These include but are not limited to modern prophetic authority and the temptation of hero worship, the Church’s doctrines in relation to other traditions and sources of truth, and the actual role the LDS Church as an organization plays in the world today and in God’s eternal plan. The Givenses provide deep insights, workable paradigms, and new language by which to articulate the messiness of lived religion. In a culture and tradition that paradoxically teaches both progressive learning and religious certainty, this book provides a method of faithful doubting. Questions, as noted recently by President Ucthdorf, led to the Restoration. I hope that this book will begin to erode the cultural stigma toward doubt and help reestablish a culture of consistent seeking.
Neylan McBaine’s book is both important and timely, offering wisdom and insight for both LDS leaders and lay members. Neylan’s ability to carefully navigate the rather heated and sensitive topic of gender roles within the LDS Church is awe-inspiring. She avoids painting women as victims or overusing buzzwords like “patriarchy,” while still pointedly addressing the sexism that is sometimes (often unintentionally) bred in Mormon culture. Her choice of stories—several from non-American settings–paints a more vivid, diverse picture of the LDS Church and the men and women within it. Neylan’s empathic take on both traditional and more critical LDS views is an excellent example of bridge building and readers will likely be influenced to adopt a more charitable approach to those they disagree with. She largely avoids the theological entanglements of gender essentialism and the like, instead relying on business-oriented studies and material to provide a realistic framework in which actual improvements can be made. The end product is inspiring, thoughtful, and often paradigm-shifting. Every LDS member, as well as outsiders looking in, would benefit from reading it.
This book is one that, surprisingly, both LDS and non-LDS alike can benefit from. The book is written as less of an argument (even if the evidence presented within it could be used to bolster an impressive one), but as an invitation. The first five chapters focus on the Documentary Hypothesis, breaking it down in a highly accessible way. The final five focus specifically on Latter-day Saints and their holy books (i.e. the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and the Book of Mormon), providing readers with an informative paradigm by which to approach scripture, revelation, and “translation.” A secularist can find value in Bokovoy’s description of the Book of Moses and Book of Abraham as modern pseudepigrapha, while an apologist will find plenty of material for ancient origins. While there is room for debate regarding David’s approach to restoration scriptures (I tend to take an eclectic approach, seeing it as a mix of pseudepigrapha, midrash, targum, history, and iconotropy), that’s the point: to think critically about these texts. Bokovoy does not offer his view as the final word, but as a possible paradigm. And it is a valuable one at that. David and Greg Kofford Books have done Latter-day Saints a great service with this publication. I hope to see its influence in future Sunday School, Institute, and Seminary classes Church wide.
I greatly admire the Rav Kook, arguably among the most original and radical religious thinkers of all time, a man who tried to find the spark of holiness in everyone, even in his opponents. Yehuda Mirsky’s new biography traces Kook’s life from his beginnings in the traditional, conservative world of Jewish Eastern Europe to his move to Palestine in 1904 where he attempted to build bridges between that world and the young, free-thinking Zionists. Then came the horrors of the First World War, which Kook saw in starkly religious terms. The rest of the book is taken up with Kook’s return to Palestine under the British, where he became chief rabbi. Mirsky shows how Kook could be theologically bold and psychologically incisive, yet remained politically naïve. At his best, Rabbi Kook could bridge the traditional and modern worlds in a unique, visionary way, and this biography is an excellent introduction to his pivotal impact on Judaism and the Middle East.
Skip James is my favorite bluesman. He was also a pretty appalling individual. What particularly fascinates me is how similar blues culture was to rap culture in many ways. Pimping, getting rich quick, clubbing, and violence, it is all there in the life of Skip James, so he feels surprisingly modern. Stephen Calt was one of the few people whom James considered a friend, and he shared with him many (contradictory) details of his life. Calt traces James’ life from the early 20th century to his rediscovery by white fans in the 1960s. He does so critically, so there is no getting around the fact that despite being gifted, James was also proud, paranoid, and unloving. Calt really has little patience for myth or romanticism. Calt also accepts that not all blues music was good, and shows James’ limitations as a musician. There is also a wealth of historical detail about the south, its dialects, culture and religion. Ultimately, the book is the tragic portrait of an intelligent, undeniably talented man who at the end of his life had nothing to be proud of except performing a song better than Cream’s cover version.
Menachem Begin, Israel’s sixth prime minister, was nothing if not controversial. Begin led the armed insurgency against the British in 1940s Palestine, and was considered by them terrorist No. 1. Begin was publicly denounced by Einstein, and constantly vilified by Ben-Gurion. As prime minister, Begin launched the attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor, and initiated the First Lebanese War. Yet he also signed the peace treaty with Egypt, and he took in Vietnamese refugees when no one else did. Daniel Gordis does a superb job of putting Begin in context, highlighting how Begin’s profound attachment to his Jewish identity shaped his life and political vision. Gordis brings nuances to the moral dilemmas that Begin faced, and it is hard to walk away from this biography without gaining appreciation for Begin as a person. He made tough decisions, but did not throw anyone under the bus if things went wrong. Given his reputation, it is surprising to learn that he attempted to minimize bloodshed, and was determined to avoid a civil war among the various Jewish factions. Despite his unyielding devotion to the Jewish cause, he also believed in a universal humanism. Gordis’ biography makes it hard to accept the common wisdom which holds that religion and nationalism inevitably have a negative impact on politics. The truth is always far messier and complex.
I think people are rightfully calling Tim Keller the new C.S. Lewis. The pastor of a New York Presbyterian Church, he writes in a simple and short yet deeply insightful manner. His book clocks in at 250 pages, but they read easily, and every page has value. His book is broken down into two main parts. First, he covers the arguments against Christianity such as there can’t be one true religion, how a good God could allow suffering, and how science has disproved Christianity. Keller then follows up with reasons for believing in Christianity, such as the famous argument from desire, the clues to God in the human mind and the natural world, the meaning of sin, and much more. He uses citations amply, which provide both credibility and additional reading. Overall, a great book which I can’t do justice to in a short review. Go read it yourself!
Gereon Goldmann recalls his harrowing years up to and during WW2 as a Catholic priest-in-training who was drafted into the SS as a medic before he could finish his theological training. His autobiography paints a picture of one man, trusting in God, trying to stay alive and faithful to his beliefs through the trials of World War 2. The book reads like ‘based on a true story’ and yet *is* a true story. Goldmann defies the SS straight to their face. He meets with Pope Pius XII during the war and become a priest despite lacking years of training. He carries the Eucharist throughout the war, ministering to the fearful and dying, and at one point wades across a river above his head with only the Eucharist above water in his hand, hoping nearby British sentries don’t notice the mysterious Eucharist container moving across the river. He ends up in a French prison camp in the middle of the desert after the war with a bunch of Nazis who refuse to give up, and through faithful dedication overthrows their de facto ownership of the camp despite attempts on his life. Goldmann survives all of these ordeals and ultimately becomes a missionary to Japan! I truly have found few biographies more inspiring than Father Goldmann’s.
Saint Liguori set out in the mid 1700s to write a book for the poor and uneducated of Italy about the love of Jesus Christ. I love this book precisely because it is written for the simple and uneducated. I want to be taught as one would teach a peasant, starting with the simplest concepts, because I have found often that in simplicity there is the genuine love of Christ so often lacking in complex treatises. Saint Liguori pulls liberally from scripture and from other Catholic saints to teach us how much Jesus has done for us, and in return how we can best love Jesus. “For my part, I know of no other perfection than that of loving God with all the heart, because without love all the other virtues are nothing but a pile of stones.”
I read a lot of books in 2014 (more than 60), so picking just the top three is going to be tricky. Here we go.
I put off reading The Righteous Mind for a while not because I wasn’t sure if it would be good or not, but because I was sure that it would be good. I was already familiar from interviews, articles, and videos with both Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory and its basic political implications. I thought it was fascinating and compelling theory, and I assumed that this book–like so many popular non-fiction books–would be a couple of hundred pages of fluff around a core idea that could be expressed in 70 pages or less. When I actually read the book, however, I was shocked and surprised to see how wrong I’d been.
There’s a lot more going on in this book than Moral Foundations Theory. There is MFT, of course, but it’s very interesting to see Jonathan Haidt put it in its historical context by writing of his own coming-of-age (as a researcher) narrative. Then, going far beyond MFT, there’s just a lot of really, really excellent discussion of the basics of human nature. There are two core ideas, and both of them are starkly post-post-modern (as N. T. Wright would say). The first critiques the model of human nature that pictures us as more or less rational and more or less monolithic. Instead, Haidt uses the metaphor of an elephant (our emotional and psychological behaviors) with a rider perched on top (our rational mind) where the rider has very limited control over the elephant and acts more as a PR firm to justify what the elephant does rather than an expert consultant to guide its behavior. The second critiques the idea of human individualism, pointing out that we are (as Haidt metaphorically puts it) 90% chimp and 10% honeybee. We have a “hive switch” that, when activated by various group religious, cultural, or military behaviors, turns a bunch of individuals into a single, cohesive whole. Taken together, these two ideas constitute one of the most important attacks on the core Enlightenment philosophical tenets that have survived into modernity, although that observation goes beyond what Haidt himself has to say. The book is fascinating, compelling, and deeply relevant to our world today.
This is one of those books that has had a tremendous amount of positive buzz, and I was really happy that it lived up to all the good rumors I’d heard. I classify this as a work of genuinely literary sci-fi, along with books like Never Let Me Go or The Handmaid’s Tale: they come from outside the stable of authors traditionally considered to be genre writers in the sci-fi tradition, but they are books that absolutely couldn’t exist without the concepts and tropes popularized by sci-fi genre writers. They are sort of the best of both worlds: more emphasis on prose and characterization than you sometimes get from books shelved in the sci-fi section, but with that genuine spark of inquisitiveness and analysis that is the hallmark of “the literature of ideas.” In particular, The Road is a literary take on the post-apocalyptic sub-genre that simultaneously uses the apocalypse as a backdrop for an introspective father/son story (sort of a mirror image coming-of-age story, where the boy comes of age almost without the father realizing what is happening) but at the same time treats the backdrop seriously and as more than a mere prop. This is why, I think, it can satisfy both hard core sci-fi fans and also those who have never really gotten into the genre. I will add that I couldn’t fully enjoy the book as I read it through the first time because ever since I’ve had kids of my own I can’t really deal with traumatic things happening to children in fiction, and I wasn’t sure how dark this book was going to get. I won’t give any spoilers other than to say the ending wasn’t what I expected, but it worked fantastically. I want to reread this one again some day.
On one level, this is a book-length exposition of McWhorter’s theory of where the English language came from, written for a layperson to understand. But with this book, the journey is at least as valuable as the destination. By the time he got to his big reveal at the end, I had completely forgotten that that was the point of the book. I was simply too fascinated by his explanation of the linguistic history of English, especially as it related to the political and cultural history of Europe. But then when he did pull it all together in the end, I was excited by his theory, too. It gave the book the feel of an exciting techno-mystery where there’s some ancient, unexplained clue that–once it is unraveled–gives us fresh insight into the past. I’m definitely a huge fan of McWhorter, and I have to stress that if you’re not listening to the audiobook versions of his books (which he narrates himself), you’re missing out. With linguistics as with no other subject, there is really no substitute for the spoken word.
Journalism is the art of translating abysmal ignorance into execrable prose. At least, that is its purest and most minimal essence. There are, of course, practitioners of the trade who possess talents of a higher order—the rare ability, say, to produce complex sentences and coherent paragraphs—and they tend to occupy the more elevated caste of “intellectual journalists.” These, however, are rather like “whores with hearts of gold”: more misty figments of tender fantasy than concrete objects of empirical experience. Most journalism of ideas is little more than a form of empty garrulousness, incessant gossip about half-heard rumors and half-formed opinions, an intense specialization in diffuse generalizations. It is something we all do at social gatherings—creating ephemeral connections with strangers by chattering vacuously about things of which we know nothing—miraculously transformed into a vocation.
So begins philosopher David Bentley Hart’s ripping of journalist Adam Gopnik’s musings on theism. He makes it clear that his comments are “no particular reflection on Gopnik’s intelligence—he is bright enough, surely—but only on that atmosphere of complacent ignorance that seems to be the native element of so many of today’s cultured unbelievers…Not only do convinced secularists no longer understand what the issue is; they are incapable of even suspecting that they do not understand, or of caring whether they do…[T]here is now—where questions of the divine, the supernatural, or the religious are concerned—only a kind of habitual intellectual listlessness. ” Because to this, critics like Gopnik never grasp the metaphysics of “pure “classical theism,” as found in the Cappadocians, Augustine, Denys, Thomas Aquinas, Ibn Sina, Mulla Sadra, Ibn Arabi, Shankara, Ramanuja, Philo, Moses Maimonides . . . well, basically, just about every significant theistic philosopher in human history. (Not to get too recherché here, but one can find most of it in the Roman Catholic catechism.)” Instead, they claim a certain kind of materialism as having “exclusive ownership of scientific knowledge” and “assert rights here denied to Galileo, Kepler, and Newton[.] Or to Arthur Eddington, Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger, Paul Dirac, Anthony Zee, John Barrow, Freeman Dyson, Owen Gingerich, John Polkinghorne, Paul Davies, Stephen Barr, Francis Collins, Simon Conway Morris, and (yes) Albert Einstein[.]”
Hart’s concluding words have much to teach not only unbelievers, but believers as well:
The current vogue in atheism is probably reducible to three rather sordidly ordinary realities: the mechanistic metaphysics inherited from the seventeenth century, the banal voluntarism that is the inevitable concomitant of late capitalist consumerism, and the quiet fascism of Western cultural supremacism (that is, the assumption that all cultures that do not consent to the late modern Western vision of reality are merely retrograde, unenlightened, and in need of intellectual correction and many more Blu-ray players)…Principled unbelief was once a philosophical passion and moral adventure, with which it was worthwhile to contend. Now, perhaps, it is only so much bad intellectual journalism, which is to say, gossip, fashion, theatrics, trifling prejudice. Perhaps this really is the way the argument ends—not with a bang but a whimper.
Unfortunately, I think this captures the culture of believers and non-believers alike. This is why Terryl and Fiona Givens find that “militant atheism” and “fervent theism” are “both just as likely to serve as a dogmatic point of departure, as they are to be a thoughtful and considered end point in one’s journey toward understanding…[N]either the new believer nor the new doubter has necessarily progressed or reached enlightenment.” Both theists and atheists should reengage in this “philosophical passion and moral adventure” for the bettering of each other.
In all seriousness, and at the risk of sounding sappy, I am extremely proud of the work that both my mum and dad do. They are the best. (And I generalize from a comic about my dad to both of my parents because I know how much my mum has been there every step of the way, even if she didn’t come out and coauthor a book until quite recently.)
Terryl and Fiona Givens (Nathaniel’s parents) were here in Texas this past weekend at the invitation of the Miller Eccles Study Group and the Genesis Group. Their presentations were based on their books The God Who Weeps and the upcoming The Crucible of Doubt. I’ve written up a brief commentary at Worlds Without End on their Saturday presentation (based largely on Crucible), sprinkling it with a bit of neuroscience.
There appear to be at least three principle positions with regard to women and malepriesthood. Most Latter-day Saint women support the status quo. The latest Pew Study “finds little support for the notion that women should be eligible for the Mormon priesthood. Only one in ten Mormons (11%) believe that women should be ordained to the priesthood of their church, whereas 87% think the priesthood should be open only to males. Large majorities of both men and women express this view.” Surprisingly, perhaps, “women [are] somewhat more likely than men to say the priesthood should be open only to males (90% vs. 84%).”
Nine in ten women, in other words, do not wish to see the male priesthood shared by both genders. However, recently a minority of women have recently garnered headlines for their efforts to move the church leadership to make ordination to the priesthood available to all worthy members, including women.
Presumably, a third group would consist of those who are undecided; who, when questioned, indicate a predisposition to support or oppose the present policy, but with reservations. My remarks are directed to all three constituencies. I want to express my solidarity with those who find present practice to be in harmony with the Lord’s will, and a cause for celebration rather than lament. I want to suggest to those who agitate for change that, while I respect their choice, there may be alternatives to the stark deprivation vs. equality rhetoric than sometimes accompanies their world-view. And I hope most of all to encourage the undecided of the middle ground to consider more nuanced ways of thinking about ministry in the kingdom, the priesthood, and Relief Society that can, hopefully, move us all in the direction of a more unified Zion community.
Ministering vs. administering
It is important at the outset to clarify what I have in mind in talking about priesthood. Jesus Christ was and is the Great High Priest. His exemplification of priestly conduct was three-fold: a lifetime of service to the marginalized, the vulnerable, and the solitary individual; a paradigmatic enactment of meek and selfless devotion to serving rather than supervising (when He washed his disciples feet); and His culminating self-effacing gesture whereby, in Bonhöffer’s words, He drew men to Him through his weakness rather than strength, his surrender rather than triumph (His sacrificial death). The world equates greatness with mastery, success with power, and status with hierarchy. But priesthood is rightly predicated on a model that turns worldly paradigms upside down. If this radical model was largely lost to the Christian tradition, Joseph restored it in section 121. Priesthood is there emphatically, unambiguously, and dramatically severed—completely dissociated—from contemporary versions of power structures. “No power or influence, can or ought to be maintained, by virtue of the priesthood.” In other words, any seeking for priesthood—by men or women—who are even partially motivated or inspired by a desire for influence or control, is anathema to the spirit of Christ. This is not reading between the lines. This is the clear and explicit warning that is this section’s essence. (Note that when Abraham sought the Priesthood, it was to become “a greater follower of righteousness”. He was not seeking for power.
In Mormonism, culture often insinuates itself into the church in corrosive ways. Mormons too often talk of “priesthood advancement,” aspiring missionaries aim to be APs, as later in life they plot their rise to the office of GA. The Lord seems to indicate that most Mormons will fail the test of purity in priesthood service. “It is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little power, as they suppose, that they immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” “Almost all” fail the test. All too often priesthood is equated with influence, control, status, power, honor, or visibility. And people seek priesthood for the power it gives them to administer, rather than to minister. Those may all be reasonable motives, and in the political world at large, equal access to the corridors of power and influence is a fine agenda. I am simply asserting that the Lord has pleaded with His people not to apply the standards and aspirations of the world to service in His kingdom, because His kingdom is to be constituted differently, with an agenda the world cannot understand or appreciate.
Because D&C 121 reads: “it is in the nature and disposition of almost all men” to abuse power one might speculate that priesthood is given to men to foster an inclination to service for which they are not naturally inclined. And, indeed, LDS women by and large leave men digesting dust when it comes to ministering to the Lord’s family. We had dinner with an LDS couple last night. In answer to a casual question, the wife summarized some of her activities, with one child still at home and another at university. Beth works as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for Henrico County. She also volunteers at a Title 1 elementary school in the City of Richmond as a mentor, Reader’s Cafe Discussion Leader, and “Room Mom” for a 4th grade classroom. In addition, Beth has lunch with a group of four 4th grade girls once a week during lunch where they read a book and discuss it. She also organizes the holiday parties for a 4th grade teacher. (Beth herself has no children at this school). She learned of this opportunity to serve these children through a friend who belonged to the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, which Beth was required to join in order to volunteer in this capacity.
Beth’s involved and time-consuming service is not atypical. The following is an email that was recently sent by my ward Relief Society President:
“Dear Sisters, I want to thank you so very much for so willingly signing up to help care for Alice [who is not a member of our church]. You all did a remarkable job over the past 3 months of taking meals to her, helping feed her, doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, changing her diaper, rubbing lotion on her back and legs, sorting through her bills and just visiting with her and being her friend. I know she appreciated all of you. And the Lord is pleased with our service. You are a wonderful group of ladies that I am privileged to call my Relief Society sisters. The next door neighbor, Jennifer is recovered from her knee surgery and assumed care of Alice on Sunday. Even though we are not running a RS schedule to care for her, you can stop by and visit or take a meal anytime you just want to. The Relief Society Presidency will continue to give her a bath periodically. Thanks again for your love and kindness towards each other.
Please let me be clear about what I am, and am not saying. I am not saying that women have enough to do making quilts for orphaned babies, so let the men get on with running the church. Neither am I saying that women are incapable of abusing power. I am saying that the discrepancy between men’s ways of serving and administering, and women’s ways of ministering and administering, deserves to be examined in terms other than exclusion and deprivation. With the progressive organization of the church, the democratization of the male priesthood became more hierarchically driven. What began early on as a virtual priesthood of all (male) believers, became increasingly ordered into quorums, and then into quorums situated in a hierarchy. To this day, men talk of priesthood lines of authority, file leaders, stewardships and keys. The incredible detail and orderliness and structure of male priesthood is one of its strengths—but it comes at a cost. Male priesthood lines of authority are great in communicating and addressing critical needs for disaster relief when they occur. However, the corporate nature of priesthood administration has a tendency to stifle initiative, consume one’s time, distract from the work of ministry proper, and instill jealousy, covetousness, and unrighteous dominion. The Lord counters the predilection to priesthood abuse by encouraging men (and women) to be agents unto themselves, to take righteousness in their hands, not to wait to be commanded in all things, not to let the weightier matters be overwhelmed by the minutiae, to serve with purity of heart, and not to aspire to the honors of men.
It seems to me that disburdened of the hierarchical structure of male priesthood women are more easily able to take righteousness into their own hands when it comes to ministering in the kingdom. What the examples of my friend and Relief Society President suggest to me, is not a gender on the peripheries doing the inconsequential. As these two sisters powerfully illustrate—women are free to work and serve without restraint or confinement, without the distractions of status or the straightjacket of supervision, seeking service rather than approval, discipleship in a horizontal sisterhood rather than advancement in a pecking order. In my mind’s eye, I see male priesthood holders as all too often imprisoned in an Eiffel Tower of “return and report” up and down a priesthood chain; myself and my sisters I see as ranging freely over a large and spacious field, like the Savior, going about and doing good, without being instructed as to where to do that good, as agents unto ourselves. This is also the key to understanding, as far as I can see, the other Pew finding: “The belief that women should be ordained to the [male] priesthood is less common among those who exhibit the highest levels of religious commitment than among those with lower levels of commitment.” When I asked a number of stake and ward relief society presidents as well as other very engaged Mormon women whether they would be open to the possibility of male priesthood, they laughed. They informed me that they already had too much on their plates without adding men’s issues or aspirations to them.
Priesthood Power and Priesthood Authority
What much of the conversation about women and the priesthood comes down to is priesthood as administration, versus priesthood as ministry. I think it is unfortunate to dichotomize the two. While I feel it is imperative that people feel free to be anxiously engaged in a good cause of their own free will and choice, there are some instances in which administration and organization greatly enhance the effectiveness of ministry. For example, starting on September 4, 2010 Christchurch (New Zealand) was submitted to a barrage of 8,000 quakes and aftershocks (the largest of which measured 7.1) over a period of 18 months. While the LDS Church in Christchurch responded immediately to the call for help, it was the Relief Society who organized water distribution around the city in the first few days and continued to provide nutritional and emotional support to the victims as well as working with the Civil Defense to provide people with financial and other pertinent advice. In response to parliamentarian Nicky Wagner’s tribute to the heroic services rendered by the sisters of the church to the community of Christchurch and the exceptional organizational skills employed by the Christchurch Relief Society sisters, the Relief Society president replied: “It is just something we naturally do in Relief Society.” Women and men who have been to the Temple have both been endowed with power from on high with the keys to minister and administer in the Lord’s kingdom. In an August 2012 address given at BYU Education Week Elder Ballard stated: “When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which by definition is priesthood power.”
During the organization of the The Female Relief Society, Sister Cleveland stipulated: “we design to act in the name of the Lord—to relieve the wants of the distressed and do all the good we can” Sister Snow followed with: “as daughters of Zion, we should set an example for all the world, rather than confine ourselves to the course which had heretofore pursued.” Presidentess Smith added “we are going to do something extraordinary…we expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls.”
Priesthood power is a wide umbrella. I would like to suggest that women also have access through that priesthood power to priesthood authority and the keys to administer in a branch separate but parallel to the men who function within the Melchizedek Priesthood (more properly called “The Holy Priesthood After the Order of the Son of God”). According to the Old Testament, Prophets and judges could be women but the priesthood was reserved for men only. Even in the New Testament, while it is true that the Saviour surrounded Himself with women, there is no clear textual evidence that women were ever initiated into the prevailing male priesthood. This is not to say that Christ did not initiate women into a separate female priesthood or into the male priesthood for that matter. There is no compelling textual evidence that He did so, however. The Book of Mormon is even more stark in its male-centeredness. There are no prophets or judges let alone priests who were women according to that text. And there is no alluring Apocrypha attached to that text—not yet, at least.
The precedent, therefore, to which we must look for female priesthood authority is to our own restoration scripture and history and, specifically, to the organization of the Nauvoo Relief Society. America allowed for the greatest religious innovation, not being bound by ingrained religious tradition. New churches were sprouting up like mushrooms all over the place. Yet, of all the religious innovators of the time, it was Joseph Smith, the leader of the Mormons whom Harold Bloom called “A true American genius.” Brother Joseph felt no compunction to stay within any boundaries at all—social or religious. It was he who pushed the boundaries of priesthood access further than anyone had done since the coming of Christ. Not only does Joseph democratize priesthood to such an extent that ethnic minorities were originally included, the access to priesthood power and authority was greatly expanded in restoration scripture to include all worthy women as well as all worthy males.
As Elder Ballard stipulated, both men and women receive “priesthood power” in the Temple. Therefore, women who receive their endowment are ordained with the same power as men, and are “ordained after this manner—being called with a holy calling, and ordained with a holy ordinance, and [taken] upon them the high priesthood of the holy order, which calling, and ordinance, and high priesthood, is without beginning or end–/Thus they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth…./. And now I say unto you that this is the order after which I am called, yea, to preach unto my beloved brethren, yea, and every one that dwelleth in the land; yea, to preach unto all…. “[F]or he [the Lord]…inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him…”
For Mormons the journey to the temple is the most sacred for it is there that we all are “endued with power from on high” irrespective of gender. “The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the Church–/To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant”
Indeed Joseph explained to the nascent Relief Society organization that “the institution they were forming had ‘existed in the church anciently…When the Priesthood was taken from the earth, this institution as well as every other appendage to the true order of the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth, became extinct, and had never been restored until’” now. The original Relief Society Minutes show that Joseph considered himself to be authorizing the women of the church to form an institution equal in authority to that of the male priesthood he had organized earlier. It is important to note that the organization of the The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo took place during the same period as the organization of the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge . Indeed, the first meeting of The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo took place in the Masonic Lodge Room right above the Red Brick Store. Joseph was heavily influenced by Masonry and considered its founding tenets: Truth, Friendship and Relief to be in total harmony with the Gospel of Jesus Christ
After convening the women’s meeting, President Smith, together with Elders Taylor and Richards, “withdrew” while the sisters decided as to whom should be admitted into the society. In other words, the men left while the women organized themselves. When the gentlemen returned, Joseph expressed the hope that “the Society of Sisters might provoke the men to good works in looking to the wants of the poor— searching after objects of charity, and in administering to their wants”, concurring with section 121 that men were unable to fulfill the Divine mandate without the sisters’ encouragement and support.
In addition the sisters were “to assist” the male priesthood “by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the female community, and save the Elders the trouble of rebuking; that they may give their time to other duties &c. in their public teaching.” This suggests, to my mind at any rate, that women were to be responsible for the moral education of the sisters of the church, including young women, thereby divesting male priesthood holders from so doing. The idea has recently been entertained that Relief Society Presidents rather than Bishops nurture the virtues of all of the women in her stewardship—young and older. Brother Joseph’s words appear to support that move.
Joseph also “propos’d that the Sisters elect a presiding officer to preside over them, and let that presiding officer choose two Counsellors to assist in the duties of her Office—that he would ordain them to preside over the Society—and let them preside just as the presidency preside over the church.” In other words, the sisters and not the brethren would be responsible for calling their organization’s officers. And the Relief Society President would be ordained to preside over the Relief Society and, I would suggest, the Relief Society auxiliaries—Young Women and Primary. It is quite obvious that Joseph intended for the Relief Society to have status equal to the male priesthood. Relief Society is the female equivalent of male priesthood. Or, in the words of President Taylor “this Institution was organiz’d according to the law of Heaven—according to a revelation previously given to Mrs E. Smith, appointing her to this important calling–[with]…all things moving forward in…a glorious manner.”
In addition, Joseph, did not presume to dictate to the sisters how they should run their organization or how they should preside: “if” the sisters needed the prophet’s instruction—“ask him [and] he will give it.” Joseph expected the sisters to be fully capable of running their own organization with no help from the male branch of the priesthood unless they asked for it. He also did not presume to organize the Relief Society according to male priesthood rankings. He suggested that if the sisters wished to pattern their organization after the male priesthood they were at liberty to do so: “If (emphasis mine) any Officers are wanted to carry out the designs of the Institution, let them be appointed and set apart, as Deacons Teachers &c. are among us.” Again, Joseph is reiterating the power and authority of the women to organize as the Spirit moves upon them rather than in obedience to male priesthood, emphasizing the equality of the women’s organization to that of the men’s. It is significant that Emma Smith, the first Relief Society President, chose not to model her organization on the hierarchical structure of the male priesthood.
The naming of the female branch of Christ’s Priesthood was also the organizers’ prerogative. The Brethren had suggested the name “The Nauvoo Female Benevolent Society,” which the sisters rejected in favour of “The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.” The name “Relief Society” is no coincidence to my mind. Relief is one of the fundamental principles of Masonry, together with truth and friendship. As female organizations of the Masonic order had been founded in the US, it is more than likely that the founding members of the Relief Society were very much aware of the significance of the term they chose.
Their branch of the priesthood would be linked to that of the male branch in “friendship” and “truth”—hence the designation “The Female Relief Society.” In other words, both branches of the Melchizedek Priesthood would work together in mutual support, encouraging each other and meeting together in council to deliberate upon the affairs and future direction of the church as well as to expound truth. In turning the keys to Emma to found the female priesthood, Joseph encouraged Emma to “be a pattern of virtue; and possess all the qualifications necessary for her to stand and preside and dignify her Office, to teach the females those principles requisite for their future usefulness.”
As Maxine Hanks has pointed out, the structure of the RS Presidency is identical to that of the male priesthood: a president and two counsellors and when one looks at the structure of the male and female organizations of the church they also follow the same but parallel patterns: President, two counsellors and a board or a quorum or council.
It is also apparent to Joseph that just as he had been called by God to be Prophet, Emma had been called by God to be the first Relief Society President. In setting apart Mrs. Cleveland as counsellor to Emma, John Taylor refers to the new president as “the Elect Lady.” The title, “presidentess.” further validates Emma’s authority to preside over an autonomous organization and to share responsibilities equally with that of the male priesthood. To emphasize this point, Joseph re-read Doctrine and Covenants section 25 “and stated that [Emma] was ordain’d at the time, the Revelation was given to expound the scriptures to all [the church]; and to teach the female part of the community, that not she alone, but others, may attain to the same blessing.” Like Joseph, therefore, Emma was not ordained of man but of God to her calling as was the organization she was called to lead. This was her work as Joseph’s was to be prophet. The Relief Society was to foster the building of a “kingdom of priests” among the women in the church just as the male branch of the priesthood fostered the same among men. A paper by Don Bradley demonstrates that Emma’s office of elect lady was intended to be a female office equivalent to Joseph’s office of presiding elder.
The Lord frequently uses marriage as a synonym for unity and mutual service. Eve is a help “meet” or equal to Adam. As were the roles of Adam and Eve equal but complementary, so too are the roles of Relief Society and Male Priesthood to be equal but complementary. The historical and spiritual record show that Emma (Presidentess) and Joseph (President) were to preside over their respective branches of the priesthood as the High Priestess, Eve, and the High Priest, Adam, were called to preside in the ancient church. As husband and wife, the two branches of the The Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God (female and male) are to support and sustain each other and to prepare those belonging to their organizations to become priestesses and priests unto the Most High God. Joseph clearly saw the Relief Society organization as an institution destined for the creation of “priests”—a kingdom of them, in fact. The Relief Society and its male equivalent are to co-operate in their respective responsibilities to build a society of mutual respect, love, unity and understanding in which the King of Kings may take up His residence.
The “provoking” to good works should be mutually edifying and beneficial. Only the female and male priesthoods working independently as well as conjointly have the power to create Zion. Historically speaking, the women’s sphere of primary influence is that of other women—particularly during pregnancy, labour and childbirth as well. The education of young women in the virtues has also always been the purview of women as well as the protection and education of children and other vulnerable members of society. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the current governing body of the church has recently moved all of the organizations presided over by women to conference together rather than separately. The Relief Society and her two auxiliaries shall have their own meeting. Originally, the office of the Relief Society President was adjacent to the office of the prophet but was moved upon the completion of the new church office building. All that is needed are a few furniture movers to restore the Relief Society Presidentess to her original and rightful place next to that of the Prophet. On the other hand, the Relief Society President may prefer to remain in her own quarters with her counsellors and quorum close at hand.
Together with the restoration to parallel but equal standing in the priesthood, we might hope to one day see returned the Temple priesthood powers to offer healing blessings and other blessings in behalf of family members and all those who fall within the purview of the Relief Society Priesthood, which would be a great boon to those sisters, for whom the responsibility for raising their families in the Gospel rests squarely and unrelentingly on their shoulders. Perhaps someday we might see the stewardship returned to the Relief Society Presidency for the disbursement of funds for its own organization and that of her auxiliaries. With luck, so too will The Relief Society and auxiliaries once again have the oversight for the writing and distribution of RS, YW and Primary manuals. And maybe the future will see the mandate given to Emma “to make a selection of sacred hymns” for the edification of the global church and the “delight” of the Lord restored to the purview of the Relief Society.
Only men and women working collaboratively, calling down the powers of Heaven with the priesthood power and authority with which they have been endowed in the Temple can face down the deluge of evil that is now upon us. Such is my belief. That being said the minutes record that “Whatsoever the majority of the house [Relief Society] decide upon becomes a law unto the Society.” In other words, no changes should be made to the Relief Society organization without the assent of the majority of the sisters in the Church.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has two General Conferences every year (one in spring and one in fall) where the leadership of the Church address the members in a series of 2-hours sessions that are broadcast live around most of the world. In the most recent conference (just last week) Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke with compassion and honesty about the struggles many Mormons have with doubts about their faith. Uchtdorf is the Second Counselor in the Church’s governing Presidency (sort of like a vice-vice-president), and his conciliatory tone has created a big reaction among the membership of the Church.
This NYT article discusses the impact of Uchtdorf’s words and quotes several Mormon scholars, including my parents Terryl and Fiona. The text of the speech, called “Come, Join Us” is available as here (or watch or listen to it here.)
My own impression: I like Uchtdorf’s comments quite a lot. I think they lend significant credibility (though no official support, of course) to my parents’ efforts at The Temple and Observatory Group, which is a non-profit focused on addressing the doubts and concerns of Mormons. I think it’s a mistake to see any grand change in policy, however. (Dallin H. Oaks’ rather hard-hitting No Other Gods, which was given the next day, makes that pretty clear.)
The tone reflects a response to the expectations and concerns of members, but there wasn’t a single word that was new doctrine. Many people have told me in the past that the Mormonism described by me or by my parents is one they would love, but not one they recognize from their own upbringing or congregation. Uchtdorf’s “talk” (that’s Mormon for “sermon”, basically) makes it much more prominent, but it’s always been there.
Jonathan Langford over at A Motley Vision gave an insightful review of Terryl and Fiona Givens’ The God Who Weeps, perhaps the best book I read this past year (and which quickly leapt up to my all-time favorites list). Check it out by clicking here.