Tuesday, August 4, 2015

On Deliberate Obtuseness

Someone sent me the following link where an individual going under the name of jonathan3d (apparently Jonathan Neville) takes issue about something I published in 1998. At the time I stated:
Biographies like the book under review are deliberate, intentional acts; they do not occur by accident. Ferguson is largely unknown to the vast majority of Latter-day Saints; his impact on Book of Mormon studies in minimal. So, of all the lives that could be celebrated, why hold up that of a "double-acting sour-puss?"  . . .

With the deliberate inclusion of this material and the deliberate suppression of the fuller picture of Ferguson, [the author] demonstrates an interest in fashioning propaganda. With this book [the author] advocates (perhaps unintentionally) the view that Latter-day Saint doubters should mouth pieties in public and do as they please in private, and, most particularly, that they should covertly seek to undermine the faith of the weak and faltering. I am not convinced that this is unintentional, since [the author] (1) attempts to marshal as many reasons to create doubt as he can, (2) introduces controversies and arguments brought forth after Ferguson's death, and (3) consistently misrepresents the arguments of supporters of the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham. In an attempt to subvert the weak, weigh down the hands that hang down, and weaken the feeble knees, [the author] has carefully fashioned the hagiography of a hypocrite.
(John Gee, "The Hagiography of Doubting Thomas," FARMS Review of Books 10/2 (1998): 159-60. At the time of writing this entire issue is missing from the Maxwell Institute website http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/periodicals/jbms/ ).
I included a footnote to explain what I meant by Ferguson being largely unknown, noting that the Comprehensive Annotated Book of Mormon Bibliography "lists four books and four articles by Ferguson out of 6,338 items published before 1994." I was addressing the issue of why write a biography of Ferguson and emphasize his Book of Mormon work since Ferguson was not exactly a Book of Mormon heavy-weight.

Our pseudonymous author (Jonathan Neville(?)) wrenches one sentence out of context and complains:
Finally, Gee asserts Ferguson's impact has been minimal, a claim that is easily rebutted by a simple Internet search where the Ferguson case is frequently cited by former, inactive, and anti-Mormons. (I realize Gee referred to the "vast majority of Latter-day Saints," but the "vast majority" is hardly synonymous with "active." Many former/inactive LDS have followed the same trajectory as Ferguson but have not remained in the Church after concluding the archaeological evidence in Mesoamerica does not substantiate the Book of Mormon. It's an ongoing and unnecessary tragedy when there is such an abundance of evidence in North America that does substantiate the Book of Mormon.
When I wrote the passage jonathan3d complains about Google did not yet exist, so his complaint is misplaced.

jonathan3d seems to think that Ferguson is the acme of Mesoamericanist Book of Mormon scholars. He was not. Both jonathan3d and Ferguson seem to me to have naive understandings of the Book of Mormon and what it means to situate the Book of Momon in Mesoamerica. But really if jonathan 3d thinks that North America is a better fit than Mesoamerica or a hemispheric model, he should state his case rather than take statements out of context to take pot-shots at others. After all, he claims:
I'd rather focus on the information and the logic of the arguments than the personalities.
If that is where he would rather focus, he is welcome to do so and doing so would certainly be welcome.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Time to Choose:
Adults would do well to distinguish between our secular accomplishments and our spiritual commitments. The former is subject to question—as a possibly atrophying "arm of flesh"—while the latter is both what we most cherish and what gives us certitude. A simultaneous defense of the American economic system and the reality of modern revelation is unwise even when we believe in both, because the one is changing and managed by frail mortals while the other is unchanging and managed by God.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A More Excellent Way (1967):
In almost every leadership situation we are working against the clock—in terms of time as well as facts and feelings. Joseph in Egypt knew through divine revelation that food must be stored for the years of famine. He was ready, and Egypt was ready, when the famine struck. He worked against the clock and finished his work on time. In just as real a sense—though on a smaller scale—a bishop who is striving to get a young man ready for a mission faces a chronological deadline even though it may not be a formal deadline or a stated deadline. A Scoutmaster, too, is facing a psychological clock, when he is preparing young men to receive their Eagle Scout awards. For the statistical evidence is plain, the Eagle award is almost always achieved by a certain age, or not at all. A commitment to temple marriage is usually made by young people in advance of their serious courting, or not at all. Not all leadership situations have this kind of time pressure but this is increasingly true in our kind of mobile society.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Parental Role in the Loss of Faith in Youth

A few months ago, I looked at the sociological data from the National Survey of Youth and Religion (NSYR) on the loss of faith in youth:
By request, here I am going to look at one area where parents help bring about the loss of faith in youth. This is not to say that parents are the only factor, just where they are one factor.

The NSYR used qualitative comparative analysis to look at "combinations of causal factors most likely shifting the more highly religious teenagers into the least religious emerging adult religious groups within five years" (Smith and Snell, Souls in Transition, 230). They found three different combinations of factors (or pathways) to loss of faith.

The first combination of factors is:
  • lower parental religious service attendance and importance of faith
  • lower importance of religious faith for the teen
  •  the teen prays and reads scriptures less frequently
  • the teen has some doubts about their faith
  • the teen has few adults in the congregation to whom he or she can turn for help
The second pathway is:
  • lower parental religious service attendance and importance of faith
  • lower importance of religious faith for the teen
  • the teen has fewer personal religious experiences 
  • teen prays and reads scriptures frequently
  • the teen has many adults in the congregation to whom he or she can turn for help
The third combination of factors is:
  • lower parental religious service attendance and importance of faith
  • lower importance of religious faith for the teen
  • the teen has fewer personal religious experiences
  • the teen prays and reads scriptures less frequently
  • the teen has no doubts about their faith
(Smith and Snell, Souls in Transition, 230.)
The NSYR notes:
Altogether, 60 percent of teens who experienced one of these three combinations of factors ended up as emerging adults in the low religious categories. And 56 percent of all those higher religious teenagers who did end up as emerging adults in a low religion category got there by following one of these three paths.
(Smith and Snell, Souls in Transition, 230.)
Two factors appear in all pathways: (1) religion and church attendance is not that important to the parents, and (2) it is not all that important to the teen. The two factors are probably related.

My concern is with what parents do or can do for their youth. What does it mean for parents to have lower religious service attendance and importance of faith? In a Latter-day Saint context it might be manifest by the following (not an exhaustive list by any means):
  • Using Stake or General Conference as an excuse for a vacation.

  • Giving athletic events a higher priority than attendance at a young men's or young women's activity.

  • Not holding family home evening if it is not convenient.

  • Treating Youth Conference as an optional activity.
This is not to say that there might not be legitimate reasons to miss Stake Conference or family home evening, or a young women's meeting. But when it becomes a regular occurrence, parents might ask themselves what sort of message they are sending to their children. Elder Jeffery R. Holland gave another example in a General Conference talk in 2003:
Parents simply cannot flirt with skepticism or cynicism, then be surprised when their children expand that flirtation into full-blown romance. If in matters of faith and belief children are at risk of being swept downstream by this intellectual current or that cultural rapid, we as their parents must be more certain than ever to hold to anchored, unmistakable moorings clearly recognizable to those of our own household. It won’t help anyone if we go over the edge with them, explaining through the roar of the falls all the way down that we really did know the Church was true and that the keys of the priesthood really were lodged there but we just didn’t want to stifle anyone’s freedom to think otherwise. No, we can hardly expect the children to get to shore safely if the parents don’t seem to know where to anchor their own boat. Isaiah once used a variation on such imagery when he said of unbelievers, “[Their] tacklings are loosed; they could not … strengthen their mast, they could not spread the sail.”
I think some parents may not understand that even when they feel secure in their own minds regarding matters of personal testimony, they can nevertheless make that faith too difficult for their children to detect. We can be reasonably active, meeting-going Latter-day Saints, but if we do not live lives of gospel integrity and convey to our children powerful heartfelt convictions regarding the truthfulness of the Restoration and the divine guidance of the Church from the First Vision to this very hour, then those children may, to our regret but not surprise, turn out not to be visibly active, meeting-going Latter-day Saints or sometimes anything close to it.
Not long ago Sister Holland and I met a fine young man who came in contact with us after he had been roaming around through the occult and sorting through a variety of Eastern religions, all in an attempt to find religious faith. His father, he admitted, believed in nothing whatsoever. But his grandfather, he said, was actually a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “But he didn’t do much with it,” the young man said. “He was always pretty cynical about the Church.” From a grandfather who is cynical to a son who is agnostic to a grandson who is now looking desperately for what God had already once given his family! What a classic example of the warning Elder Richard L. Evans once gave.
Said he: “Sometimes some parents mistakenly feel that they can relax a little as to conduct and conformity or take perhaps a so called liberal view of basic and fundamental things—thinking that a little laxness or indulgence won’t matter—or they may fail to teach or to attend Church, or may voice critical views. Some parents … seem to feel that they can ease up a little on the fundamentals without affecting their family or their family’s future. But,” he observed, “if a parent goes a little off course, the children are likely to exceed the parent’s example.”
To lead a child (or anyone else!), even inadvertently, away from faithfulness, away from loyalty and bedrock belief simply because we want to be clever or independent is license no parent nor any other person has ever been given. In matters of religion a skeptical mind is not a higher manifestation of virtue than is a believing heart, and analytical deconstruction in the field of, say, literary fiction can be just plain old-fashioned destruction when transferred to families yearning for faith at home. And such a deviation from the true course can be deceptively slow and subtle in its impact
Now, this covers a majority of the cases, but forty percent do not follow the three pathways. What factors were present in those cases, the NSYR did not specify; we cannot know whether or not parental attendance at Church was a factor; but in at least three out of five cases it was. Parents would be foolish not to take it into consideration.

This brings to mind the famous quote of William Law:
If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A More Excellent Way (1967), 63:
We need to give much more attention than we now do to those individual differences which produce what Harry Emerson Fosdick called the second form of hypocrisy, the situation in which we let ourselves appear worse than we are. This form of hypocrisy is just as insidious (and may be more wide spread) than the other form of hypocrisy—the situation in which we let ourselves appear better than we are. The second form of hypocrisy is apt to be a heightened challenge because of the growing uniqueness and size of the Church; it will be increasingly tempting for members of the Church to play down their convictions and commitment—to appear less committed than they really are.

Friday, July 10, 2015

General Orders

Every so often some ancient letters bring a particular matter into focus. A set of three letters by the general Piankh is one such group of documents. The first letter runs as follows:
Pharaoh's general to the necropolis scribe Tjaroy, saying: I heard every thing about which you sent me, what you said about this matter of the two policemen, how they are talking about these matters. Get together with Nudjmet and Payshuweben. Send and have these two policemen brought in to the house. Get to the bottom of things quickly. If you find out that what they say is true then put them in a couple of baskets and dump them in the river at night, but don't let anyone find out about it at all.

On another matter: How is Pharaoh going to attack this land? Who is Pharaoh still the boss of? Three months ago I sent a barge but you have not sent me a single tiban of gold or a single tiban of silver. It is okay. Don't worry about it. As soon as this letter reaches you scrounge up a tiban of gold and one of silver and send it to me on a barge.

(P. Berlin 10487 = LRL 21)
We have another letter that deals with this scandal:
Pharaoh's general to the agent Payshuweben, saying: I heard every thing about which you sent me, what you said about this matter of the two policemen, how they are talking about these matters. Get together with Nudjmet and Tjaroy. Send and have these two policemen brought to my house. Get to the bottom of things quickly. Kill them and dump them into the river at night, but don't let anyone find out about it at all.

(P. Berlin 10488 = LRL 34)
The two letters are almost identical for a bit but differ in places. So Payshuweben was to do the actual killing, while Tjaroy was to bring some baskets to dump the bodies into the Nile.

But three people were involved and we have the third letter as well:
Pharaoh's general to the chief of the harem of Amonrasonter Nudjmet in life, prosperity and health, and the favor of Amonrasonter. I ask every god and goddess whom I pass by that you may live and be healthy and I may see you when I return and fill my eyes every day with the sight of you.

I heard every thing about which you sent me, what you said about this matter of the two policemen which you said. They are talking. Get together with Payshuweben and that scribe Tjaroy. Send and have these two policemen brought to my house. Get to the bottom of things quickly. Have them killed and dumped into the river at night.

Write to me about how you are doing. Be well. Be healthy.

(P. Berlin 10489 = LRL 35)
This last letter has the same author and subject matter as the other two letters but is much more polite. It begins with the standard niceties. If anything, it contains more of them than the typical letter of the time. It also ends with pleasantries that seem sincere.

What accounts for the difference? The recipient of the third letter is a woman and the recipients of the other two are men. That accounts for some of the difference. Piankh does not have a woman get her hands dirty with any of the nasty business that he has the other men do. From her title, Nudjmet has a high position in the religious hierarchy. But this does not explain everything. As it so happens, we know from other records that Nudjmet is Piankh's mother. The other two are Piankh's subordinates. As a general he is used to giving orders and so he does.

All three letters ended up in the archive of Tjaroy. So the three individuals apparently did get together.

In an interesting twist, Nudjmet's copy of the Book of the Dead mostly survives split between three museums: P. BM EA 10541 + P. Louvre E.6258 + P. München ÄS 825. (The portion in the Munich museum was destroyed during World War II.) In Nudjmet's negative confession she includes the passages "I have not slain; I have not ordered a murder" (BD 125 A 14-15) and "I have not slain any person" (BD 125 B 5).

We sometimes wonder if the ideals of ancient Egyptian religion actually had an impact on the actual actions of individuals. In some cases it is clear that they did. In this case, we can see that they apparently did not or at least Piankh did not think they should.

And yet, if we wanted to make a case that Piankh was simply irreligious, we might make a case from the first two letters but not the third. In the third letter, Piankh certainly expresses the normal pieties. A few year later, Piankh became the High Priest of Amun and even received an oracle from the god.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Time to Choose (1972), 1:
The world of today's disciples—particularly of the young—reflects a great human ambivalence about many things: about authority, about freedom, and about science and technology. The sense of perplexity is not unlike Dostoevsky's words. An avalanche of apocalyptic advice from secular prophets swirls about young and old alike; there is an abundance of earnest Paul Reveres who warn us about what is coming, or is already here.

The disciple—one who has committed himself to Christ—is not insulated from the realities of such an unsettled world, yet he will see it differently:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Ancient Importance of Letter Writing

The Late Egyptian Miscellanies are a group of seventeen documents which were used for scribal education in New Kingdom Egypt. The texts in the first five scrolls include:
  • 35 model letters
  • 8 hymns
  • 5 prayers  
  • 2 lists of people
  • 1 praise of the scribal profession
  • 1 building description
  • 1 list of titles
  • 1 list of good wishes
  • 1 account entry
  • 1 journal entry
  • 1 didactic text
  • 1 practice dating protocol
  • 3 unclear texts
This list reflects the scope of Egyptian scribal activities. As is clear from the list, letter writing played a large role in ancient scribal practice. Much of what they will have had to do was keeping journals and account, writing tax lists, writing dates on documents, writing hymns and prayers, and writing letters. Letter writing was hugely important in scribal education.

The variety of model letters is also striking. The model letters include letters of complaint, letters of report, letters of praise, letters to kings, letters to underlings. I simple glance at the historical documentation of the ancient world shows that a significant proportion of it was letters. There are thousands of letters from the ancient Near East and they provide an important window on life in ancient times. A look at scribal copy books shows that the ancients realized this too.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A More Excellent Way (1967), 30.
Focusing on the mechanics of leadership, which are certainly necessary, could ignore the underlying skills and traits that rest on fundamental concepts without which no system of techniques, procedures, mechanics, and follow-up can possibly work. It does very little good, for instance, to develop elaborate organizational and flow charts if the people who inhabit the real world symbolized by these charts do not trust each other or really communicate with each other. It does little good to strive to achieve goals if we allow ourselves, as leaders, to be too much at the mercy of our moods so that we are experienced by followers as ambivalent administrators whom others find unpredictable or capricious concerning the goals we espouse.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sin and Resurrection in Second Maccabees

Occasionally it is suggested that Christianity's concern with the resurrection is an idiosyncratic phenomenon. Although many Jews of the Second Temple period did not believe in the resurrection, some did. Some even argued for it. Here is an example of it:

After a fierce battle, Judas and his army gathered the dead for burial:
εὗρον δὲ ἑκάστου τῶν τεθνηκότων ὑπὸ τοὺς χιτῶνας ἱερώματα τῶν ἀπὸ ιαμνείας εἰδώλων ἀφ' ὧν ὁ νόμος ἀπείργει τοὺς ιουδαίους

They found under the tunics of each of the dead things sacred to the idols of the Iamnites, which are forbidden to the Jews by the Law. (2 Maccabees 12:40)
This, of course was both something of a scandal and an obvious cause for their ill fate in battle.
ποιησάμενός τε κατ' ἀνδρολογίαν εἰς ἀργυρίου δραχμὰς δισχιλίας ἀπέστειλεν εἰς ιεροσόλυμα προσαγαγεῖν περὶ ἁμαρτίας θυσίαν πάνυ καλῶς καὶ ἀστείως πράττων ὑπὲρ ἀναστάσεως διαλογιζόμενος

εἰ μὴ γὰρ τοὺς προπεπτωκότας ἀναστῆναι προσεδόκα περισσὸν καὶ ληρῶδες ὑπὲρ νεκρῶν εὔχεσθαι

εἶτε' ἐμβλέπων τοῖς μετ' εὐσεβείας κοιμωμένοις κάλλιστον ἀποκείμενον χαριστήριον ὁσία καὶ εὐσεβὴς ἡ ἐπίνοια ὅθεν περὶ τῶν τεθνηκότων τὸν ἐξιλασμὸν ἐποιήσατο τῆς ἁμαρτίας ἀπολυθῆναι

After he made a collection of two thousand drachmas, he set it to Jerusalem to offer an offering for sin doing well and honestly because he considered the resurrection, for if he had not expected that those who had fallen to rise again it would have been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. Also since he saw that those who died piously had great favor laid up--the thought was holy and pious--so he made an atonement to do away with the sins of the dead. (2 Maccabees 12:43–45)
There is a clear thought that action in mortality can have some effect on those who have left mortality (and one can trace such ideas in Egypt back at least as far as the Middle Kingdom). The expression in 2 Maccabees where one can pray on behalf of the dead (ὑπὲρ νεκρῶν) is echoed in Paul where he notes that one could be baptized on behalf of the dead (ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν, 1 Corinthians 15:29). Both cases reflect the desire of the living to do something on behalf of those who have died that they can no longer do for themselves.