Monday, October 31, 2011

Mormon Halloween

So who am I kidding? This blog has become a mormon blog. As such, here are some quotes from past Mormon General Conferences on a Halloween theme. From funny to scary, from serious to fairy-tale, here are a few samples:

Apparently quite serious:
Some people do not believe that there are any devils. There are thousands of evil spirits that are just as ugly as evil can make them. The wicked die, and their spirits remain not far from where their tabernacles are. When I was in England, twenty-eight years ago next June, I saw more devils than there are persons here to-day; they came upon me with an intention to destroy me; they are the spirits of wicked men who, while in the flesh, were opposed to God and his purposes. I saw them with what we call the spiritual eyes 
-Heber C Kimball 1865

This one also serious and referring to rappers in the 19th century:
Let the Rappers go ahead, then, for it is not possible for them to deceive the elect of God; and let the witch of Endor, and all other witches and wizards, with the prince and power of the air at their head, do their best, if we keep the commandments of God we shall continually soar far above their power and influence. 
-Jebediah M Grant 1854

A home-teaching joke:
I remember a question someone once asked at a stake conference. A man said, " Brother Howard, do you know why we can never get more than 83 percent home teaching in the Church? " I said, " No, why? " He said, " Because no one wants to go on Halloween and New Year's Eve. " 
-F Burton Howard 1996

Seemingly harsh and real story:
In the bishops' meeting last evening in this hall, Bishop M. O. Ashton told two stories that deeply impressed me. Each story was about a bishop and some boys. In the first one, a group of boys engaged in some Halloween pranks of a rather serious, provocative nature. The bishop secured the names of the boys and charged them to come to the sacrament meeting and publicly ask forgiveness for engaging in the pranks committed, on pain of excommunication for failure to do so. In consequence there are in that community today a number of families that grew up outside of the Church.
-Joseph F Merill 1945

Scary that this was said straight faced in general conference:
To look upon a man who is deformed or maimed for life, -- a dislocated jaw, a broken nose or an eye knocked out -- is naturally revolting. How unsightly and ugly! 
-Rulon S Wells 1929*

Scary cautionary tales:
We ourselves are the creators, in a large measure, of our troubles. Once, so the old story goes, a medical student determined to build a monster out of the cemetery and dissecting rooms. He did so, and the thing assumed life. This horrible monster killed the student's bride and strangled his best friend. Is there a lesson in this for us? 
-Charles A Callis 1935
Robert Louis Stevenson captured this constant struggle between good and evil in the classic novel about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The story tells us that in the beginning " Dr. Jekyll is a highly respected London physician, a good and kindly man, who in his youth had showed inclinations toward evil which, however, he succeeded in suppressing. Interested in drugs, the doctor now chances upon one which enables him to change his external form to that of a repulsive dwarf, the very embodiment of evil, whom he calls Mr. Hyde. A similar dose permits him to return to the form and personality of the benevolent doctor. Many times the doctor becomes Mr. Hyde, thereby giving this side of his nature more and more power. Jekyll finds it increasingly difficult to regain his virtuous entity and also finds himself occasionally becoming Hyde without the use of the drug... " 
-James E Faust 2000

And finally, a calming tale on Halloween:
I want to tell you a story. I call it " Night and Shadows. " " Once upon a time, a little girl wandered through a dense forest on her way home. It was very dark. She was frightened and began to cry. The tears rolled down her face, as she timidly crept along. Suddenly an elf appeared before her.' Are you frightened' asked the elf.' Yes, I'm scared,' answered the little girl, glad to show her fear,' Ain't you?' "' Not a bit,' answered the elf. "' Well then you don't see the ghosts and goblins running around the trees, and the funny looking eyes up there in the branches, and the bats and ugly things flying through the air, and the scary noises, can't you hear them?' " And the elf said:' I don't blame you for being scared, I'd be scared too if I saw all those ugly things. You see that when little girls have tears in their eyes, they can't see things as they really are.' "' Just let the tears dry in your eyes, and then we shall take a good look at these ghosts and goblins, and ugly things. See those terrible eyes in the branches of the trees? Why they are just the stars trying to light up your pathway so that you can find your way home; and the big moon is trying to help them. And those big things aren't ghosts, they are just the shadows of the trees. And what you thought were ugly bats and ugly things are just the leaves falling on your pathway, making the path soft for your tired feet. And the noises. Why, that's the wind blowing through the branches, and the trees are trying to sing a song to make you happy as you go along'. 
-Levi Edgar Young 1932

Happy Halloween!

* Here's the quote in context (not that it helps):
But says one: I have no faith in God and no hope in a future life. How unnatural! How such a one must have resisted every natural impulse of the heart to have fallen into such an abnormal state of mind! No faith, no hope. Spiritual deformities. To look upon a man who is deformed or maimed for life, -- a dislocated jaw, a broken nose or an eye knocked out -- is naturally revolting. How unsightly and ugly! But not half so hideous or so repulsive is he who is thus physically deformed as he who is spiritually deformed, wanting in these Christian qualities so inherent and natural to all mankind. No faith: he does not ask and hence does not receive; he does not seek and hence he does not find; he does not knock an therefore the door is not opened unto him. No hope. How unnatural! -Rulon S Wells 1929

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mormons #OccupyWallStreet. #occupy

"THE EXPERIENCE OF MANKIND has shown that the
people of communities and nations among whom wealth
is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree
of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression
and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice... One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals. The very liberties for which our fathers contended so steadfastly and courageously, and which they bequeathed to us as a priceless legacy, are endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations. By its seductive influence results are accomplished which, were it equally distributed, would be impossible under our form of government. It threatens to give shape to the legislation, both state and national, of the entire country. If this evil should not be checked, and measures not taken to prevent the continued enormous growth of riches among the class already rich, and the painful increase of destitution and want among the poor, the nation is likely to be overtaken by disaster; for, according to history, such a tendency among nations once powerful was the sure precursor of ruin." -Brigham Young, the First Presidency of the Church, and the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, July 1875 (click here for a fun compilation of quotes from this circular)

Although that quote from an apostolic circular in 1875 was talking about the vital importance of the mormons' participation in ZCMI, the statement rings just as true today. In the past few decades we've seen much of this statement occur before our very eyes. I chose this to start a series of posts on #OccupyWallStreet, with particular focus on what Mormonism has to say about the concepts and ideas behind the movement.

Maybe it's just me and my ADD, but it seems to me that the ideal format of a blogpost is short and sweet. I plan on addressing several things later on in this series:

  • What is and isn't #OccupyWallStreet all about?
  • What virtues does the left see in the movement, and what virtues does the right see? (Can both sides come together?)
  • What aspects of Mormonism back the views of the Left and the Right in this movement?
  • Could the venom between the Left and Right blind us to greater problems?

PS: As fate would have it, as I was looking for a nice picture to use for this post, I found this excellent post at the Mormon Worker, which addresses several of these items and had some awesome graphics, one of which I'm using above. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Digital Humanities and Mormon Studies

Well, researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed an algorithm to detect differences in writing style to detect different authorship, specifically in the Torah. I'm sure many of you have heard of the documentary hypothesis. In summary it is a theory that based on content and word choice, one can see four distinct "authors" or earlier sources which were compiled into the Torah. These have been sorted almost exclusively by content. This digital humanities approach will look at grammar sorted by the algorithm. From the press release:
[T]he software searches for and compares details that human scholars might have difficulty detecting, such as the frequency of the use of "function" words and synonyms. Such details have little bearing on the meaning of the text itself, but each author or source often has his own style. This could be as innocuous as an author's preference for using the word "said" versus "spoke."
To test the validity of their method, the researchers randomly mixed passages from the two Hebrew books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and asked the computer to separate them. By searching for and categorizing chapters by synonym preference, and then looking at usage of common words, the computer program was able to separate the passages with 99 percent accuracy. The software was also able to distinguish between "priestly" materials -- those dealing with issues such as religious ritual -- and "non-priestly" material in the Torah, a categorization that is widely used by Bible scholars.
While the algorithm is not yet advanced enough to give the researchers a precise number of probable authors involved in the writing of the individual books of the Bible, Prof. Dershowitz says that it can help to identify transition points within the text where a source changes, potentially shedding new light on age-old debates.
I'm extremely excited to see what comes from the research. I'm also intrigued by the idea of applying such an algorithm on the Book of Mormon. It would also be quite interesting. The Book of Mormon itself claims that it was compiled by one editor from several sources. It would be interesting to see the similarities and differences, particularly to see how closely it matches the content/author changes. Is anyone in any Mormon Studies programs pursuing a digital humanities approach to Book of Mormon analysis?

Saturday, October 8, 2011


There has been a wide array of opinions within Mormon thought on the size/extent of people who will be saved/exalted. I find myself more and more on the universalist end of the spectrum. In that vein, here is a portion of a talk from President Lorenzo Snow given in General Conference, the morning of October 6th, 1893.
God has fulfilled His promises to us, and our prospects are grand and glorious. Yes, in the next life we will have our wives, and our sons and daughters. If we do not get them all at once, we will have them some time, for every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is the Christ. You that are mourning about your children straying away will have your sons and your daughters. If you succeed in passing through these trials and afflictions and receive a resurrection, you will, by the power of the Priesthood, work and labor, as the Son of God has, until you get all your sons and daughters in the path of exaltation and glory. This is just as sure as that the sun rose this morning over yonder mountains. Therefore, mourn not because all your sons and daughters do not follow in the path that you have marked out to them, or give heed to your counsels. Inasmuch as we succeed in securing eternal glory, and stand as saviors, and as kings and priests to our God, we will save our posterity. When Jesus went through that terrible torture on the cross, He saw what would be accomplished by it; He saw that His brethren and sisters -- the sons and daughters of God -- would be gathered in, with but few exceptions -- those who committed the unpardonable sin. That sacrifice of the divine Being was effectual to destroy the powers of Satan. I believe that every man and woman who comes into this life and passes through it, that life will be a success in the end. It may not be in this life. It was not with the antedeluvians. They passed through troubles and afflictions; 2,500 years after that, when Jesus went to preach to them, the dead heard the voice of the Son of God and they lived. They found after all that it was a very good thing that they had conformed to the will of God in leaving the spiritual life and passing through this world. God will have His own way in His own time, and He will accomplish His purposes in the salvation of His sons and daughters. 
So to those of you who feel you're not doing enough, you're not good enough, or you're losing hope, I'll close with the words of William Clayton:
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
    Our God will never us forsake;
And soon well have this tale to tell-
    All is well! All is well!