Mormons

Medium wants to know: Can Mormon transhumanists revitalize the Latter-day Saints?

Medium wants to know: Can Mormon transhumanists revitalize the Latter-day Saints?

When Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, decided to tell the world that the National Enquirer was blackmailing him with nude photos, he turned to the blog platform Medium to tell the world about it.

Everyone, from Mashable to USA Today asked why someone worth $150 billion would self-publish not in the Washington Post, which he owns.

Instead, he turned to a humble (but neutral) place that’s accessible to everyone and anyone. I joined Medium a month ago — after perusing it for over a year — because the writing was about unusual topics with unique angles. There isn’t an army of editors going over the prose; what you see is raw copy straight from the writer’s laptop.

As it turns out, I’m not writing about Bezos, but I am writing about a recent piece on Medium about Mormon transhumanists, whatever they may be. Fellow GetReligionista Dick Ostling has written about them before, but some things bear repeating.

Mormons are the opposite of cafeteria Catholics. Instead of a pick-and-choose religion of faith du jour, they inhabit a closed system with a unique holy book and scriptures; certain beliefs that only they own and a place as the preeminent American-founded religion. Its legends and history are uniquely that of the Western hemisphere.

Before we start, please note the author isn’t just any old pajama-clad writer wannabe. Erin Clare Brown has worked for the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. although her stint with the Times lasted only seven months. Whatever. (See here for a piece on Nordic Mormons she wrote for the WSJ three years ago). Her Linked-In account mentions she is a former Mormon missionary to the Russia, which explains her insight into these folks.

The piece starts with an anecdote by Michaelann Bradley, a young woman who was having a crisis of faith and had drifted from her Latter-day Saint roots.

In 2013, Bradley met her future husband, Don, at an academic scripture study group. He was a thoughtful historian 18 years her senior whose own faith in the LDS Church had been shaken years before. Many of their early dates were to “Mormon-adjacent gatherings,” Bradley said, so she hardly batted an eye when Don invited her to a meeting of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. He billed it as a group of thoughtful folks tackling slightly different ideas about Mormonism. “I thought he meant ‘transcendentalist,’” Bradley told me. “I came prepared to talk about Thoreau.”

The meeting was as far from Walden as the moon or a terraformed Mars. Held in a local tech entrepreneur’s basement, it was a philosophical free-for-all of ideas that were closer to science fiction than scripture. The 10 other attendees — all male, all white, all in their 20s and 30s, and mostly with backgrounds in computer science or the tech world — batted around theories that reframed deeply held Mormon beliefs, like the notion that “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become,” in terms of cryonics and the singularity. They quoted futurists in the same breath as Latter-day Saint Apostles and Carl Sagan. They asked whether we could become like God through technology — could we live forever now and not just after we die?

Taking certain Mormon beliefs to their logical conclusion, I’m guessing.

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A Hindu story of garlic and onions, and what it means for our "tribal" religious divisions in 2019

A Hindu story of garlic and onions, and what it means for our "tribal" religious divisions in 2019

Onions and garlic, slowly simmered with tomatoes and olive oil.

Does that make you hungry? It leaves me salivating. Pour it -- generously, if you don't mind -- over a heaping plate of pasta and I'm your best friend.

Perhaps that’s why I found this story out of India (first sent my way by a friend, N.K.) so interesting. It's about Hindus who reject eating onions and garlic for religiously ascribed health and spiritual reasons.

Moreover, given that it’s the end of the year, I’m also inclined to offer up this story as a metaphor for the world of religion, and its concurrent global political and social machinations, as 2019 prepares to dawn.

But first, here’s a bit of the gastronomical Hindu brouhaha story, courtesy of the liberal-leaning, India-focused news site Scroll.in.

(So you understand: In the Indian numerical system, a lakh equals 100,000; Karnataka is a state in southwest India, and ISKCON is the official name for what Westerners tend to call Hare Krishnas, a modern iteration of an ancient Hindu school of religious thought. Additionally, Ayurveda is an Indian dietary and health care system rooted in early Hindu scripture.)

The Akshaya Patra Foundation, which has been providing mid-day meals to 4.43 lakh school children in Karnataka, has refused to sign a memorandum for 2018-’19 following a directive by the state government to include onions and garlic in the food prepared for the meal, based on recommendations from the State Food Commission.

This is not the first time that the foundation has refused to follow recommended nutritional guidelines in the government scheme. The NGO had earlier refused to provide eggs in the meal saying it can only provide a satvik diet – a diet based on Ayurveda and yoga literature.

The foundation, an initiative of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness or ISKCON, has a religious prerogative of “advocating a lacto-vegetarian diet, strictly avoiding meat, fish and eggs” and considers onions and garlic in food as “lower modes of nature which inhibit spiritual advancement”.

Akshaya Patra, which claims to supply mid-day meals to 1.76 million children from 14,702 schools across 12 states in India, has flouted these norms from the beginning of its contract, failing to cater to children from disadvantaged communities, almost all of whom eat eggs and are culturally accustomed to garlic and onion in food.

But why onions and garlic? What do members of this Hindus sub-group know that the cooks of so many other global cuisines don’t or don’t care about? Even Western and natural medicine practitioners say that onions and garlic are particularly good for our health.

So what’s up?

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Have most Protestants in the United States gone soft on drinking alcohol?

Have most Protestants in the United States gone soft on drinking alcohol?

THE QUESTION:

What do today’s U.S. Protestants believe about the use of alcoholic beverages? Have attitudes softened?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Yes, without question. And there’s been a bit of soul-searching about this in America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. Its press service reports ongoing concern especially about teen alcohol abuse has increased somewhat since recent Senate testimony about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Catholic prep school experience.

Further, just afterward USA Today reported a study showing from 2007 to 2017 U.S. deaths attributed to alcohol increased 35 percent, and 67 percent among women (while teen deaths declined 16 percent). These fatalities well outnumber those from opioid overdoses that have roused such public concern.

Not so long ago, total abstinence predominated among many or most Protestants, who effectively mandated this for clergy and expected the same from lay members. (Other faith groups such as Muslims and Mormons elevate abstinence into a divine commandment.)

In a 2007 survey of Southern Baptists, only 3 percent of pastors and 29 percent of lay members said they drink alcoholic beverages. This survey showed that across other U.S. Protestant denominations 25 percent of pastors and 42 percent of lay members said they drink.

A 2016 Barna Group poll showed 60 percent of adults who are active churchgoers (both Protestants and Catholics) said they drink, compared with 67 percent for the over-all U.S. population. Among evangelicals there was a nearly even split with 46 percent who drink. (Barna defines “evangelicals” by conservative beliefs, not the loose self-identification political polls use.) Only 2 percent of evangelicals admitted they sometimes over-indulge.

Otherwise, Barna found, regular churchgoers consume smaller amounts on average than others. Asked why they don’t drink, 10 percent of abstainers acknowledged it’s because they are addicts in recovery. Notably, 41 percent of the population said alcohol causes trouble for their families.

The Bible does not teach total abstinence, and says wine can be a blessing (Psalm 104:15) and helpful medicine (Proverbs 31:6 or 1 Timothy 5:23).

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Nix 'Mormon' talk in news! How can media handle major faith’s unreasonable plea?

Nix 'Mormon' talk in news! How can media handle major faith’s unreasonable plea?

The venerable Mormon Tabernacle Choir has announced that it is now named “The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.” (Will newswriters trim that to “Tabernacle Choir”?)

Reason: President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has declared that “the importance of the name” that God “revealed for His Church,” means believers and outsiders must drop “Mormon” and use that full nine-word name. (Copyreaders will note: definite article with capital T, hyphen, lower-case d.)

Church scriptures say this name was given to founder Joseph Smith, Jr., on April 26, 1838, the same day God granted him “the keys of this kingdom.”

Nelson, a former surgeon who became Smith’s successor as prophet in January, even asserts that use of “Mormon” is "a major victory for Satan." He admits “it’s going to be a challenge to undo tradition of more than 100 years,” but change is “non-negotiable”  because “the Lord wants it that way.” 

The faith will lose something, because the “Mormon” people have long built up respect for their nickname through upright and neighborly living. Indeed, the church spent serious money on an image-boosting “Meet the Mormons” movie and “I’m a Mormon” ads.

The name game is a blame game that puts the media in a bind, as news executives said after Nelson’s August edict, so The Religion Guy adds some guidance to GetReligion’s prior article and this tmatt interview with an LDS journalism professor.

Obviously, The Guy gave this perennial problem considerable thought in co-authoring the book “Mormon America” with his late wife Joan.

The Associated Press Stylebook deems the long-ingrained “Mormon” label acceptable — although it originated with 19th Century antagonists — and was only gradually adopted by the believers themselves.

Since “Mormon” is no slur for 21st Century audiences, what’s going on here?

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Salt Lake Tribune explores how Mormon leaders claim to hear directly from God

Salt Lake Tribune explores how Mormon leaders claim to hear directly from God

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning up my back yard in the Seattle suburb where I live when two Mormon missionaries walked up. Of course they wanted to talk.

I didn’t agree with their theology, nor did I want start a discussion of the Mother God and other doctrinal clashes between Trinitarian Christianity and their faith.

How could I, I wondered, engage them as human beings? It was getting on in the evening and they were clearly tired.

An idea occurred to me. I mentioned how the Pentecostal and charismatic movement is the world’s fastest-growing kind of Christianity and how it shares something in common with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Prophecy, I explained, is a current reality with both groups. The missionaries clearly perked up and we had a good talk.

Now, what would this look like in the news?

It was unusual to see Tuesday’s story in the Salt Lake Tribune about how the prophetic gift actually works. Veteran religion reporter Peggy Stack began the piece this way:

By his own account, Russell M. Nelson speaks often to God, or, rather, God speaks often to him.

Nelson, the 94-year-old president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said recently that he was awakened at 2 a.m. with a distinct impression that he should go to the Dominican Republic.

Within days, the Church News reported, the energetic nonagenarian was on a plane to that Caribbean nation.

This is an “era of unprecedented revelation,” Nelson told the missionaries gathered to hear him there Sept. 1.

Indeed, in his first nearly nine months as the Utah-based faith’s top “prophet, seer and revelator," Nelson has used the term “revelation” again and again to describe his motivation for initiatives and changes.

Few of his predecessors were so open –- or blatant –- about claiming that God personally revealed truths to them as Nelson has been ever since he took over headship of the church in January.

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Editors: Try to imagine using 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' in all those headlines

Editors: Try to imagine using 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' in all those headlines

Any journalist who has ever worked on a newspaper copy desk knows the following to be true, when it comes to religion news.

It would be absolutely impossible to write headlines about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- especially dramatic, one-column headlines in big type -- without using the word "Mormon" or the abbreviation "LDS."

Well, we're about to find out if journalists are willing to develop some new "work around" to address that style issue. Here is last week's big news out of Utah, care of The Salt Lake City Tribune:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really, truly, absolutely wants to be known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Not the LDS Church. Not the Mormon church.

It made that clear Thursday -- even though the last attempt to eradicate those nicknames for the Utah-based faith flopped. The new push came from God to President Russell M. Nelson, the church said in a news release Thursday.

“The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name he has revealed for his church,” Nelson is quoted as saying, “even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Attention members of the Associated Press Stylebook committee: Here is that new release from on high. You need to see this, before we get to an interesting think piece on the implications of this change, care of a thoughtful journalism professor at Brigham Young University.

The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will.

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And yet another #ChurchToo scandal, this time from the Mormons

And yet another #ChurchToo scandal, this time from the Mormons

In a week that’s been a continuous wave of #ChurchToo revelations –- including a massive investigation of Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church and yesterday’s news about Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page –- I wanted to draw your attention to a related debate and quasi-scandal occurring in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Long-time Salt Lake Tribune religion reporter Peggy Stack, along with education reporter Benjamin Wood, came out with a story Monday about a church decision to allow a second adult in the room while bishops question teenagers about their sexual sins.

Say what? This is a fascinating look at Latter-day Saints’ lives that one wouldn’t know unless you were in a culture where your bishop can ask you pointed questions about whether you’ve been chaste.

It's not easy writing about sexual matters in a PG-rated fashion fit for a daily newspaper, but these reporters did a pretty good job at it. The key: The reporters have provide enough background to help outsiders, but not overstate the obvious for regular readers in Mormon country.

For more, read here:

Amid a grass-roots outcry about sexually explicit interviews with children and sexual assault allegations leveled at a former Mormon mission leader, the LDS Church’s governing First Presidency unveiled revised guidelines Monday for one-on-one meetings between members and local lay leaders while emphasizing that most abuse allegations are “true and should be taken seriously.”
In a document titled “Preventing and Responding to Abuse,” congregational leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to invite a parent or other adult to sit in an adjoining room when meeting with women and children.

The Deseret News also had a piece on the document here

Those of you who’ve been following the various accusations leveled at evangelical Protestant ministers in recent weeks may have missed a bombshell that broke last week in Utah.

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Gaps abound in articles on new female mayor in polygamous Mormon town

Gaps abound in articles on new female mayor in polygamous Mormon town

The story of how a polygamous sect rules the sister towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., has fascinated journalists and law enforcement for years.

I’ve previously written about the sect for GetReligion here. The latest news has been how an influx of new residents into the area is slowly loosening the FLDS’ grip.

One’s worst enemies are always from within, as the Associated Press told us last week. It turns out that Hildale’s new mayor, who is stirring up things, knows the ins and outs of the sect only too well.  

The new mayor of a mostly polygamous town on the Utah-Arizona border is finishing off a complete overhaul of municipal staff and boards after mass resignations when she took office in January to become the first woman and first non-member of the polygamous sect to hold the seat.
Six of the seven Hildale, Utah, town workers quit after Mayor Donia Jessop was elected and took charge of the local government run by the sect for more than a century. They were joined by nine members of various town boards, including utility board chairman Jacob N. Jessop. All were members of the sect, the mayor said.
Jacob Jessop said his religious beliefs prevented him from working for a woman and with people who are not sect members, according to resignation letters obtained Thursday by The Associated Press through a public records request. The mayor’s husband is distantly related to Jessop in the town of about 3,000 people where many have that last name.

Most are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an offshoot of Mormonism that continues polygamy more than a century after mainstream Mormons ceased doing so.

What’s really interesting is the nature of the new mayor herself:

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Taking the perennial creation debate beyond those familiar evangelicals and fundamentalists

Taking the perennial creation debate beyond those familiar evangelicals and fundamentalists

U.S. evangelicals and fundamentalists have vigorously debated when to date the origin of planet Earth and of the human species, whether God as Creator employed Darwin-type evolution and, more recently, whether the Bible requires belief in a literal Adam and Eve.

Reporters should be acquainted with Ken Ham’s strict “young earth”  creationists, Hugh Ross’s “old earth” creationists, pro-evolution evangelicals at BioLogos (founded by Francis Collins, an evangelical and world-class geneticist), the Intelligent Design researchers at the Discovery Institute and discussions within the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of Bible-believing  professionals in science.

Though conservative Protestants have dominated news coverage, there’s a good  story angle in other religious groups that likewise struggle over evolution. In recent weeks, both Islam and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. LDS or Mormon) have won some media attention on themes other writers could explore in further depth.

Islam’s creation account in the Koran parallels the longer version in the Jewish and Christian Bible. On scriptural grounds, Muslim authorities insist on a literal Adam and Eve (the latter is unnamed in the Koran but cited in recognized Hadith texts).

More broadly, “The Oxford Dictionary of Islam,” edited by Georgetown University expert John Esposito, states that evolution “is denounced by most Muslim scholars” as “a refutation of Koranic theories of creation.” Evolutionary ideas are excluded from school textbooks in nations like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. However, a recent beliefnet.com column by Stephanie Hertzenberg sketches a more complicated, three-sided debate.  

First, many Muslims do believe any form of evolution is incompatible with their faith, a la Protestant creationists. Hertzenberg notes that in such traditional  interpretations of the Quran, Adam “had no parents and was a fully formed human being” when created, and other species also stem from the “sudden creation of complete modern organisms” without evolution. A prominent exponent of this stance is Turkish neurosurgeon Oktar Babuna, who has taught at three U.S. universities.

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