(I took the header picture of a Common Loon resting on a pond in Utah on its way north in June of 2015. It was in transition from winter to summer plumage.)

Translate - I dare you. Then make a comment on the funny errors the translator made.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Good post over at Faith-Promoting Rumor

Another Mormon blogger has written this essay about historical context in the New Testament and the lack thereof in the Book of Mormon.

I think I have to plead guilty to some of his charges right now. When I was a young missionary I read the entire New Testament and loved it. I enjoyed studying the New Testament in a class dedicated to it at BYU. But since then I haven't read it much. The Book of Mormon has been more important to me than any other scripture for the past few years, especially since I've been combing thru it with politically-tinted glasses.

Some of the comments following the linked essay deal with the attempts by various people to locate Book of Mormon events in various places, predominantly in Mesoamerica. Personally, I've found most of that sort of thing more an entertaining diversion than a real help in understanding what the book might tell us about ourselves here and now, and about human nature thruout time and space. I think I have been more satisfied with investigations of the book's internal contexts in comparison with similar cultures or with the cultures that the Book of Mormon peoples came from.

I find it interesting that Nephi himself seemed almost to deliberately erase the context of Isaiah for his people, preferring instead to invite them to apply the words to their own situation, and giving them a lot of prophetic commentary (1 Ne 19:23-24; 2 Ne 25:1-7). I may be overstating the case here, but I do think that people are similar enough that we can get the most important messages from the Book of Mormon without ever being sure exactly where the events took place. I also think that Mormon and Moroni were in some ways indifferent to what the modern historically-minded reader might think important - and in some cases, deliberately withheld historical information in order to keep the focus of the book sharp, as well as to try the faith of its readers.

On a semi-related tangent: every dramatization or depiction I've seen so far of Book of Mormon events or characters seems to be trying to look authentic or accurate according to what's widely known or believed about the geography and material culture - although the Arnold Friberg paintings have demonstrable inaccuracies, such as commented on here.

I say: if you're going to sacrifice accuracy for aesthetics (such as preferring to paint your prophets clean-shaven) , why hold back and still try to put in wishfully authentic details like furs, headbands, Peruvian hats, Mayan pyramids, etc? Why not go all-out? I would like to see paintings, plays, movies portraying Book of Mormon characters wearing suits and ties, jeans and t-shirts, military uniforms; in office buildings and on sidewalks, maybe even driving cars and carrying guns. I know full well that technology drastically changes a culture and that the events in the book would not have happened the same way if they had had cars or guns, etc. but it would be an interesting challenge to work with these changes in setting. I think it could help people look for the principles beyond the trappings. It could even free more readers to form their own images of the events if we had more variety of depictions. I try not to look too much at the common, semi-official depictions for that very reason.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Short thoughts on technology

Back from Spring Break, from a whole week spent away from computers (ok, except for a brief internet log-on in a hotel) - someone organized a shutdown day on the 24th, but I've gotta say, a shutdown week is even better!

I don't have internet access at home - I have to use bits of spare time while using the equipment at my work. For that reason, I'll probably only be able to post about once a week in the future, now that I've put up most of the stuff I had previously written.

So far I'm glad not to have the internet at home, because I already feel dependent enough on it as it is. And I don't ever want to lose sight of the fact that the "democratizing" internet is still a privilege only available to people who have the resources it requires: the democratizing effects of this medium are only available to a small portion of the world's population. But among those, it seems too easy to fall into the same trap set by every technology: the attitude (often unconscious) that those of us who use this technology are the people that matter, and those who don't are irrelevant. Think of phones (not even cell phones): tell me with a straight face that you won't instinctively flinch somehow if someone tells you they don't even have an old-fashioned rotary phone in their house: what's wrong with them?

Think of cars: you may know someone who doesn't have their own and who relies on others for transportation. If so, you probably have sensed the embarrassment that surrounds such a situation, whether felt by the person who doesn't have a car (what's wrong with them?) or those who have to be bothered to shuttle them around.

Technology is never neutral. A tool might be "neutral" in that it could conceivably be used in any number of ways, but the overwhelming pattern in human history is that tools are used not as tools but as technologies: instead of a tool being wielded by humans in human/humanistic/humane systems, the technology shapes or creates the new system that the flesh-and-blood humans are expected, if not compelled, to adapt themselves to.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The liberation of "morality"

I wish for the growth of a truer and wiser use of some phrases and concepts by Mormons.

For example, the word "morality". If you're LDS, you're likely to think of this or to hear it used as a euphemism for sexual purity. But since "sex" still sounds shocking to many church-going ears, "morality" has been taken as a substitute.

Of course, in the process, the word "morality" has been stripped - pun absolutely intended - of many of its meanings and therefore made not only poorer, but by being pressed into service to cover for the more troubling "sex", it has taken on some of the psycho-semantic mud that made "sex" so dirty, so that I have heard young people in the Church utter the word "immorality" with the same blushing timidity that one might expect from uttering that dread syllable "sex" in an atmosphere of churchiness.

Morality as a concept deserves better than this: there is plenty more to it than just scrupulous maintenance of one's pants. Our good God-given brains and spirits deserve better than to be shamed out of solid understandings of "knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come" (Doc&Cov 93:24). Making euphemisms eventually just leads to the euphemism becoming taboo itself. This is why I cheer inwardly whenever I hear someone unafraid to talk about sexual sin or purity over the pulpit without shrinking. Even Jacob the brother of Nephi, when aware of the shocking effect his words might have on his audience (and they probably were more shocking in the original language than in the abbreviated translation we have) went ahead and delivered them anyway, holding out to his faithful listeners the promise of comfort (Jacob 3:1-2).