Review: Dime Novel Mormons

Ardis Parshall and Michael (Mike) Austin give us Dime Novel Mormonsa new delight in The Mormon Image in Literature series, published by Greg Kofford Books.

I’ve been head down in other things, but when I’ve come up for air, it’s been refreshing to contemplate the forgotten art of “books” that could be purchased for mere pennies. “Dime novels,” as they were called even when even less expensive, were sweeping adventures. They were something like comic books without pictures, making reading accessible to everyone. They were the Instagram of their day.

Not all dime novels featured Mormons. In fact, Ardis and Mike indicate the number of dime novels that included Mormons as characters probably made up less than 0.1% of all dime novels published. However these dime novels presented Mormonism to those who had no other concept of Mormons and their beliefs and practices.

The tropes we see in the dime novels included in this volume were repeated in other, more prestigious, forms of entertainment.

  • Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, features malevolent Mormons abducting a fair maiden who then dies of despair. Continue reading

175 Years of Awesome!

This coming week is 17/3/17, the 175th anniversary of the formation of Relief Society.

Throughout the world local Relief Societies are holding celebrations, often focused on service, though I’ve been to some parties where belly laughs were the fare of the night.

Whatever the women in these celebrations will do, it is a celebration of womanhood and sisterhood.

For this anniversary, I will be at the Women’s Retreat in Nauvoo participating in two days of great activity, along with re-enactments of Relief Society’s founding at the Red Brick Store.

The formal Relief Society organization went into hiatus as a formal Church-wide organization between 1844 and 1880. However even during that hiatus, the sisterhood formed in Nauvoo continued to bring women together to do good and strengthen one another.

Membership in Relief Society, during 1842, could be seen as virtue signaling, but it was a time when signaling was desperately needed. There were those in the community participating in gross iniquity, because they had been pressured into believing it was acceptable. These individuals needed to be rescued, and the Relief Society rose to the task.

On March 25 I will be reprising a bit of Relief Society celebration, celebrating in brief conversations with my Stake sisters the life of Jane Nyman. She was the first to act as a proxy in providing a deceased relative the ordinance of baptism. It was her anguish over the matter that had prompted Joseph Smith’s revelation that proxy baptism was the way in which salvation (as decreed by the Bible) could be offered to all mankind. Yet her daughters, and possibly she herself, became embroiled in the illicit intercourse scandal of 1841-1842. When she attempted to join Relief Society in Nauvoo, she was refused because of her association with or involvement in illicit intercourse. Yet the Relief Society did provide Jane needed support because she was a widow, even though refusing her formal membership.

Yet charity would cover knowledge of many of these sins. Even those instances that would be published in newspapers in 1844 were largely dropped from collective memory. Not that those who had lived through the terrible events of 1841-1842 had forgotten, but because they valued one another as children of God. No matter what sins had been committed, repentance could wipe the slate clean.

After arriving in Utah, Jane Nyman was selected to serve as Relief Society President in her congregation in Beaver. She who had been refused entry during a time of heresy had repented, and was now fully acceptable to lead her sisters in doing good.

While it isn’t directly related to Relief Society, I am delighted by William W. Phelps. He is rightly honored as one of the stalwarts of the initial Mormon movement. Yet he was excommunicated twice. The first excommunication was related to his betrayal of Joseph Smith in Missouri. At that time he briefly believed it was right that Joseph die. But in 1840 Phelps begged to be allowed to return to fellowship in the Mormon faith.

In 1850 Phelps again found himself on the wrong side of the prophet, this time for entering into plural marriage without proper authorization while serving a mission to England. But Phelps accepted the correction and moved forward in faith.

So as I celebrate the 175th anniversary of Relief Society, I will celebrate the charity that sees all as children of God, willing to help and support independent of whether the child of God in question is “worthy,” seeing all as able to someday receive all that the Father hath.

Elder Oaks’ recent talk was NOT about climate change or Trump

Elder Oaks gave a commencement address at BYU-Hawaii on Feb. 25, 2017.  The title of the talk was:  “Push Back Against the World.”

The anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune’s headline was “Mormon leader Dallin Oaks points to ‘aggressive’ Trump, climate change as ‘big worries’.”

I am going to shock you, I know, but guess what:  the talk was not about Trump or climate change.  Not even remotely.

I have seen this talk celebrated throughout the liberal Mormon on-line world.  At last, an apostle who is willing to accept the reality of climate change and who hates Trump!  “Hurrah!”

Except that was not the subject of the talk.  Keep on dreaming, liberal Mormons, but if you actually read the entire talk it is pretty standard social conservative fare.  And there is even a paragraph that will certainly disappoint the left (if they are paying attention):

We hear much about cleaning up the physical environment—air, water, and other essentials that are being polluted in a way that is poisoning the physical environment for all of us. We may choose to join in such efforts. But we who are responsible to push back against the world should be at least equally concerned about forces that are poisoning the moral environment. I refer to such moral pollutions as pornography. I also refer to language that pollutes public communications with profanity, vulgarity, and morally degrading coarseness. Push back against these kinds of pollutions also.

I am going to ask readers to read the entire talk.  I will be going through some key points of the talk, but it would be helpful for readers to read it themselves.  Done?  Ok, let’s move on.

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Mormon Studies in the 21st Century

Historian, author, and educator Patrick Mason tells his students that Mormon studies is just a really fun place to play. It gets to the heart of the questions we have in 21st century society.

By studying Mormonism, we can learn more about the world we live in as it touches on the following:

  • Minority/majority relations;
  • How we can organize a democratic society;
  • The role of religion in the public sphere;
  • Gender issues;
  • Marriage; and
  • Family.

Mormonism, Mormon history, Mormon theology usually has something to say about these foundational issues.

Host Russell Stevenson of LDS Perspectives Podcast interviews Patrick Mason about how the way historians do their business has changed over the last 100 years. In the 19th century, history tended to be bipolar with anti-Mormons on one end and church leaders, members, and historians offering their version from a faith-promoting perspective that acknowledged God’s involvement in affairs.

By the late 20th century, historians began to weigh truth claims in a more dispassionate manner. Their goals were less polemic and more directed toward enhancing understanding–wherever that may lead.

Please join us for this interesting discussion.

Outrage, virtue signaling and the Sermon on the Mount

I remember with special clarity the moment I accepted Christianity.  I was in my 30s and I was reading the Bible all the way through for the first time.  And I came to this passage:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (NIV version Matthew 6:1-4).

For various reasons, this is what I needed to read at that time.  Over the next few days, I read and re-read the Sermon on the Mount, and it just seemed true to me in ways unlike anything else I had ever read.  And imagine my surprise when I finally read the Book of Mormon that the Savior also rehearsed the Sermon on the Mount to the people in the Americas.

I now, almost two decades later, have a printed out copy of the Sermon on the Mount on my desk that I read all the time.  I find it comforting and encouraging.

But I also am constantly reminded how often our modern-day culture seems to directly contradict the advice in the Sermon on the Mount.  The tone of forgiveness, gentle discussion, sincerity and lack of guile seems to be the exact opposite of the behavior of so many people today.  This especially applies to our outrage culture, which I find linked at the hip to the evil of virtue signaling.

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