Bigger than Life Prophet: Review of John Turner’s B.Y. Biography

BYPPDuring his life, Brigham Young was among the most hated and feared men. Even some of those who supported him didn’t always get along with his irascible personality. National newspapers often portrayed him as a portly womanizer on the verge of destroying the progress of a modernizing civilization. International opinion agreed, although they saw him as the result of an upstart and untamed United States. The Mormons, along with Brigham Young, were seen as a force to be reckoned with or an unspecified moral doom would be the result. Many generations later he is still mocked and derided with the same images started in Eastern newspapers. Among current Mormons his image is rough, but strong as his statues in Utah. Both believers and detractors have made him into an legendary icon of opposing saint and sinner visions.

The biographer John G. Turner hoped with his book to slice through the competing images of a man who was either a hero who built half the Western U.S., or committed every crime imaginable. Like most things Mormon it wouldn’t be an easy task. Turner believed Stanley P. Hirshson’s The Lion of the Lord relied too heavily on Eastern newspaper accounts, and Leonard J. Arrington’s Brigham Young: American Moses slanted too positive as a loyal follower of the religion. He wanted to use more first hand accounts and reminiscences to build a better biography that accepted both the good and the bad about the man. With some reservations the book succeeded.

Stylistically it reads almost like a companion to Richard L. Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by giving the participants benefit of the doubt through their own words. Nothing seems to have been written to try and undermine or explain away spiritual experiences. There are some differences in subject treatment. Turner doesn’t focus as much on the theological developments and teachings, except where there is a direct connection to events. He uses theology to try and understand why Brigham Young or his followers behaved a certain way, while Bushman sometimes went off on a theological or philosophical tangent. In no way does this take away from the whole of the book, but sometimes it can feel like unexplored gaps remain. Considering that the biographer is a non-Mormon it probably is for the best. Even if he has a decent and mostly unobjectionable understanding of Mormon theology. Very few Mormon readers should be offended by doctrinal treatments, although certainly have a few disagreements with interpretations. Continue reading

The Mormon Case Against Gun Control

2ndAmendmentAll over the Internet has been talk of gun control and the current President’s executive order to extend background checks for those selling firearms. He and his supporters believe that too many guns have created a deadly culture of violence. Counter arguments have sprung up that all the crimes used to back laws for more gun restrictions would not have been avoided. No lives would have been saved by background checks because criminals don’t follow the laws anyway. The other concern is that making it harder to obtain and carry guns puts handicaps self-defense and puts innocent lives at risk. Many believe the underlying problems of mental illness and unchecked illegal immigration are ignored or worse. Mormon scripture and history contains evidence that blocking people from having weapons is a death sentence when up against the hearts of murderers.

History has examples of government or hostile forces restricting or taking guns away from people and then attacking them. The Ottoman Empire in 1911 passed a law banning guns, and within a few years started what is known as the Armenian Holocaust with 1.2 million deaths. Armenian soldiers fighting for the same side as the Ottomans in WWI were disarmed and killed after placed in labor camps. Of course, Nazi Germany is the most famous example with a law in 1938 banning all guns for Jews while deregulating for almost everyone else. He also stated in 1942, “The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty.” (Hitler’s Table-Talk at the Fuhrer’s Headquarters 1941-1942, Dr. Henry Picker, ed. Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, 1951). In other words, he taught those with the guns controlled those who didn’t have them. The American frontier proved this many times with the U.S Government treatment of Indians. Most of the military raids were to disarm the Native Americans and drive them from their homelands or outright kill them. Custard’s last stand represents what happens when armed resistance is possible against a hostile force. In the end one battle didn’t matter against the tide of Western American history, but that day would have seen an Indian massacre instead.

As a matter of consideration, the true Gospel is one of peace and avoidance of violence. Jesus Christ who came to offer Salvation to humanity is known as “The Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6) preaching love. His greatest sermon proclaims, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9). The faithful are required to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,” (Matt. 5:44) because its easy to love those who already show love. It is much harder to do the same for people that are seen as an opposition.One of the stated reasons for the Great Flood was the constant violence (Gen. 6:11) that filled the Earth. Continue reading

Contemplating the Reason for the Season

nativity-scene-mary-joseph-baby-jesus-1326846-wallpaperEvery year around Christmas we are told by many different voices to “remember the reason for the season.” This call for perspective is understandable. Much time and thought is spent dressing up homes with lights, trees with ornamentation, and buying gifts as a matter of consumerism rather than true charity. No wonder religious people worry why a time that should bring spiritual renewal and contemplation ends up seeming like a secular celebration.

worse still is how soon a religious holiday is advertised for sale in stores a month or more before December where Christmas lands. Some of this is a personal dislike of bypassing some holidays, like Thanksgiving, with overexposure to others. Familiarity can breed contempt the saying goes. The celebration can go on for so long that the main focus becomes blurred. It isn’t even a constant enlightening celebration, but a burst of materialism centered on fun and spectacle. Too many Christians have turned over their religion to marketing campaigns and department stores.

Those who call for remembering the reason for the season are preaching to an inattentive choir. Most people understand perfectly well that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior. Even the non-religious recognize this fact, and simply ignore it or fight against it by seeking to suppress recognition. The war on Christmas is real. Often times those who participate in the celebration are their own enemies giving in to secular practices. Continue reading

Review of BYU Joan of Arc Docudrama

Jeanne d'Arc, An artist's c. 1485 interpretation.

Jeanne d’Arc, An artist’s c. 1485 interpretation.

She is one of the greatest women in history, with the most documentation of any Medieval personality, but perhaps the least understood. Secularists can’t deny her importance to history, but have a hard time evaluating the spiritual claims. The miracles attributed to her gave her the status of Saint after a lengthy trial ending in burning as an heretic. France has given her a hero’s honor for saving the nation, but even past enemies celebrate the strength and convictions of an unlikely leader. It is no wonder that BYU picked Joan of Arc for the recent annual holiday spiritual docudrama series.

Unlike the offerings in the past, the story of Joan of Arc is much more epic. It covers what is known as 100 years war between two powerful nations. There is a lot of history and territory to cover for a small production. For the most part the docudrama succeeds as a primer, explaining how events in the past contributed to England taking over most of France. Anyone who wants to learn a more detailed historical context will be disappointed. Hints of a more complex narrative are dropped throughout the story. As an example, it never explains how a young girl from the bottom of society could be the fulfilment of prophecy. What the prophecy is or how she fits in was quietly passed over without comment. Despite a lack of the deeper contextualization, the narration has a logical flow that allows those less familiar with the history to follow along. Continue reading

Myth of God’s Changing Mind

Whenever a controversial position is held by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, detractors point to what they see as changes made in its history as evidence pressure tactics can work. They believe if there is enough “agitation” from without, with help from within, that doctrines become malleable. All it takes is for the prophet to “get a revelation and God’s mind will change on a dime.” Get the government involved, such as threatening tax exemption, and its a sure thing. Views like this are understandable for non-Mormons who have tentative grasp of Mormon history and doctrine. Members who believe this have no excuse other than blind devotion to personal presumptions. They set themselves up as wiser than the Prophets and Apostles chosen by God to be His representatives. Looking closer at the end of polygamy and Priesthood ban used as examples to prove LDS doctrine can easily be changed, it becomes less obvious there really was much of a difference.

Revelation is the foundation of the Gospel. This is not in dispute. A belief in prophets opens up the possibility of new understanding and the changes that can come with greater knowledge. To study the Doctrine and Covenants is to learn of doctrinal and procedural growth and expansion. Priesthood did not come out of whole cloth, but line upon line as the membership increased requiring new needs. Even up to the late 20th Century Priesthood organization was transformed as one set of positions were discontinued and another developed. Theological changes are not outside the realm of possibility, with questions about the afterlife following a pattern of questioning and then learning more. Damnation to an eternal lake of fire is transformed into a period of punishment and refinement before the final judgement. Heaven has multi-layered meaning with the traditional dichotomies of the soul’s fate a temporary condition. Too many mistake learning more as a sort of repudiation of former beliefs. The two most abused examples don’t prove this notion. Continue reading