Fair Green England, Essential for the Restored Gospel

July 31, 2005

As Ronan has noted, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has referred to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a “quintessentially American faith”. My initial response to the issue was in a comment over at United Brethren, but I want to address it further here.

Ronan uses this reference as an opportunity to emphasize that reference to the Church in conjunction with its country of founding is or can be alienating to “international” members of the Church (meaning, in Ronan’s usage, non-USA American Latter-day Saints). He states

But where does that leave me and the many millions of other non-American Latter-day Saints? Do we really belong to an American religion? Is this something that missionaries would teach? (In France?!) If I were running for Prime Minister of the UK, could I say that my religion was “American?” Not likely.

Ronan also goes further to ask a follow-up question to some of his opinions expressed in an earlier argument on being an “international” member:

Is it time to remove the Stars and Stripes from Temple Square and remind ourselves that the Ensign to the Nations is not a Tricolour, a Jack, or a Star Spangled Banner?[1]

I agree with Ronan that the Ensign to the Nations is not the flag of a particular country. I think, however, that zeal to remove the flag from Temple Square is misplaced. Personally, I don’t care if it there or not, but its presence there only means that that particular temple is located in the United States.

Anyway, I have been reflecting on the essentiality of England for the Restored Church lately and this seems a good opportunity to bring it up and contextualize[2] it. The “quintessentially American” aspect of the Church could, in theory, be eclipsed by the quintessentially English nature of the Church, and not only in the sense of which Nate Oman has theorized. This dual quintessentiality testifies to the hand of Providence in establishing the Church and bringing it forth out of obscurity.

On the one hand, according to what we know and believe about the circumstances of the founding of the Church, we can posit that the Church needed the political climate, constitutional system, and demographic make-up of early nineteenth-century frontier America to be founded. Thus, America and the English language can be described as “destined” for the Restoration of the Gospel.

On the other hand, however, the history of the Church indicates the central role of England in the survival of the nascent Church. Although it may have needed America as a place to be founded, it needed England as a place to seek out its life blood in stalwart converts looking for that exact restoration. At a time when Joseph Smith could have desperately used the assistance and leadership of key figures in the Quorum of Twelve Apostles at home, he was commanded by God to send them abroad, including to England. While in England, the Apostles, notably Wilford Woodruff, baptized approximately 8000 people in the first year of their labors there, at least 1000 of which emigrated to America that very year. The Apostles readily found converts in England because of a confluence of factors that was just as specified as the conditions existing in America that allowed the Church to be established in the first place. Thus, for example, the beginnings of industrialization were combining with the rigid class system to form a hybrid that signaled deepened misery, despair, and hopelessness for a large number of people. This problem would continue to grow worse throughout the age of Victorianism that dawned a little later in the century and whose deprivations Brigham Young very clearly disparaged.

But that was later. In the late 1830s and early 1840s, the poor were only beginning to slip into the wretched hopelessness that characterized the deep age of industrialization (with all its exploitative child labor in the mines, mills, factories, and the crowded slums with their effects). This set of conditions, along with myriad others made England essential for the survival of the Church. Only in England at the time could this exact mix be found that made the fields so ripe and ready to harvest for the Apostles and other missionaries of those early days. Their harvest included some of my own ancestors (one of them the son of a woman who was convicted of pawning laundry customers’ clothes to buy food for her children and sent to Australia on a convict ship with only one of her children, the others, including my ancestor being separated from her and left behind in England). Their harvest also stocked the Church with choice converts, the presence of whom, ironically in light of Ronan’s post and Mitt Romney’s statement, lent the impression to the rest of the America of the day that the Church was a fundamentally foreign, non-American religion.

I, for one, am grateful that the Church is as quintessentially an English religion as it is an American one. At least that is what the blood in my veins tells me.

[1] I always find Ronan’s attitude on this very curious. He and I sat together at a Stake Conference in Reading, England in 2000 when the Stake Choir sang about establishing Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land and yet he repeatedly states around the blogs that they never sing patriotic songs in England or participate in such patriotic excercises as praying for the victims of suicide bombers.

[2] Substitute your own word here if you share a certain blogger’s loathing of any perfectly legitimate English word that ends in -ize (or -ise if you are an “international” Latter-day Saint).

By the Way

July 31, 2005

I really like the relatively new look of Our Thoughts. (I say relatively new because it has already had this new look for a while now, so this is a late heads-up.) The Canadian theme is very refreshing, and makes me think of Autumn. Also, check out Kim’s new blog dedicated to keeping up on all the different Bloggernacle gatherings. (Sorry Danithew, but the term “Bloggersnacker” just has to go.)

Finally, Fewer Mormons, or Happy 24th of July Weekend!

July 27, 2005

There are very few Mormons in the world. There are also very few Mormons in Utah.

Now that a faithful Latter-day Saint has admitted this, everyone can be happy, can’t they? If not, why not?

From the Bloggernacle, e.g. here and here, to talk radio with Doug Fabrizio (Radio West on 7/26 and 7/27), people have been discussing the “real” number of Latter-day Saints in the world. This discussion comes on the heels of the 24th of July weekend[1] over which the Salt Lake Tribune ran its series of articles[2] on the declining numbers of Latter-day Saints in their geographical homeland, Utah.

Matt Canham and Will Bagley were on Doug Fabrizio’s show today (7/27) discussing the Tribune’s series of articles celebrating the decline of LDS numbers in Utah. Will Bagley went on at length about how it has long been the LDS strategy to inflate membership numbers, claiming that it dates to Brigham Young trying to exaggerate the number of Mormons[3] to lure more converts from England to Utah so that he could become a powerful state governor or theocratic leader of a strong independent country. (No chance that the heavy focus on missionary work and conversion in England and other places in the mid 1800s was motivated by a sincere belief that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was God’s true restored Church and desire to share that message with others so that they could also enjoy that truth.) Bagley also turned the figures on decline into a lecture of sorts on the secrecy of Church finances and how the Church Office Building is known to be rife with corruption–on anecdotal evidence, of course.

These numbers, however, are less positive than one might think. After sharing the hard data on Church numbers, the Tribune also shares the scientific observation that “[e]ven in the least LDS county, it is easier for Mormons to find a sense of community than it is for non-Mormons in the most LDS county.” (See “Steadily Shrinking”). In a series of articles rich in numberrs and abounding in hard data, no numbers were needed to substantiate that one, apparently; after all, that should be merely intuitive, sort of a universally known and accepted truth, right?

[1] The 24th of July is when Latter-day Saints in Utah celebrate the temporal salvation of their literal and spiritual ancestors in finding a homeland of their own where they could build a community of their choosing and worship and live as they chose without fear of reprisals, persecution, molestation, or extermination.

[2] Keeping members a challenge for LDS church (7/26) (“And most telling, the number of Latter-day Saints who are considered active churchgoers is only about a third of the total, or 4 million in the pews every Sunday, researchers say. . . . The CUNY survey reported the church’s net growth was zero percent.”).
Unintended consequence of church’s ‘raising the bar’ (7/26) (“But two years after that speech, the church’s global missionary force has dropped from near 62,000 to about 51,000, a fact that may have contributed to the declining number of new LDS converts from around 300,000 to 241,000 in 2004.”).
LDS future may be divined from Grand County experience (7/25) (“In 2004, 28 percent of Grand County residents were LDS, according to church numbers. . . . The Knutsons as Utah Mormons and religious minorities may be somewhat of a novelty now, but they also serve as a window on the future, as some of Utah’s most populous counties become non-Mormon majorities during the next few decades.”).
Mormons in the mix (7/25) (“If these trends continue, Mormons will make up less than 50 percent of southern Utah residents between 2015 and 2020 – about 10 years faster than the state as a whole.”).
Avenues wards continue to lose members (7/24) (“The Avenues wards continued to lose members despite the continuous prayers from those like Wentworth, Spencer and Mower. . . . Salt Lake County, the most populous of Utah’s 29 counties, has recorded a net decrease in Mormon residents in four of the past six years, according to an analysis of LDS membership data by The Salt Lake Tribune. In the past 15 years, the percentage of LDS residents in Salt Lake County has dropped from 63.2 percent to 53.3 percent.”).
Mormon portion of Utah population steadily shrinking (7/24) (“According to the 2004 count, Utah is now 62.4 percent LDS with every county showing a decrease. . . . If that’s true, then, at most, 41.6 percent of Utahns are church-going Mormons.”).

[3] Somehow, it was also very important to Bagley to point out that Latter-day Saints were actually a minority in Utah for much of its early history because of the Native Americans living there. Bagley also seemed to feel that it was highly relevant to point out that, of course, LDS Utah was among the last states to grant Native Americans the right to vote.

For the 24th, Feet Upon the Mountains

July 19, 2005

I remember as a kid thinking that the following verse was a little weird:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! (Isaiah 52:7)

I recognized that it was poetic and felt the Spirit when pondering it, but it still seemed an odd teaching.

I have been thinking a lot about feet lately. Last week, I took a load of books over to the house of a widow in the ward for my wife when she was out of town. I almost choked up when this woman opened the door, bent with age and able to move only with great difficulty. I had to keep from staring at her ankles and feet, swollen grotesquely at the ankles, shriveled at the toes, and shaking as she leaned heavily on the door frame. I thought about my own wife’s feet, and all that they do in furthering righteousness and virtue in this world, and in procuring salvation on a daily basis for this little family — literally. Thinking about the myriad sacrifices made by the enduring feet of that LDS widow standing in the doorway invited a sense of profound gratitude for the heritage of this people, and for the sacrifices of their feet.

The foot works as a powerful literary metaphor for Enlightenment or action. This is how Kant used the metaphor in his 1784 article “Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung? (“An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”), published in the Berlinische Monatsschrift:

Dogmas and formulaic ideas . . . are the shackles on the feet of an eternal immaturity. . . . Thus, there are only a few who have succeeded, through the excercise of their own minds, to emerge forth from such immaturity, and nevertheless to take sure steps. [“Satzungen und Formeln . . . sind die Fußschellen einer immerwährended Unmündigkeit . . . . Daher gibt es nur wenige, denen es gelungen ist, durch eigene Bearbeitung ihres Geistes sich aus der Unmündigkeit herauszuentwickeln, und dennoch einen sicheren Gang zu tun.”]

It takes conscious decision to get up and move anywhere. It certainly takes conscious choice to engage one’s feet in publishing peace and the message to Zion that its God reigns even amidst its trials. “Voting with one’s feet” was taken very literally by our own ancestors in the faith, who took the steps necessary to ensure themselves the basic human rights of religious freedom that they should have been able to find in their own country by leaving their country with profound sadness and wandering into the wilderness in search for their new Zion.

Our stake recently had a trek activity for the youth, which has been in preparation for over a year. I participated on the committee level, behind the scenes, in making arrangements for the trek to happen successfully. Unfortunately, obligations at work prevented me from participating in the trek itself. But the day after the youth and other participants of the trek returned from Wyoming, where they followed in the footsteps of the Martin and Willie Handcart companies, our ward had a wonderful testimony meeting in which many who participated bore testimony of their thoughts and feelings as they did so.

The mother of one of the youth participants, who also participated as the “ma” of a company during the trek, bore her testimony and talked about feet — an important topic of all who had made the trek over the last few days. She told of the severe blisters that she herself got and how those blisters turned her mind painfully to the experience of one particular woman in the Martin Handcart Company, who suffered from severely frozen feet on the journey in 1856. Alice Strong Walsh’s feet froze so severely that, as she recalled later, “at one time in taking off [her shoes], some of the skin and flesh came off with them. Some of the bones of my feet were left bare and my hands were severely frozen.” (November 1856, Alice Strong Walsh Account, quoted in Stewart E. Glazier and Robert S. Clark, eds., Journal of the Trail [3d ed. 2005], 89.)

Soon after this testimony including this experience from Alice Walsh, the meeting came to an end and, since it was the weekend after the Fourth of July, we sang “America the Beautiful” and the second verse stood out profoundly in that context:

Oh, beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

Although this verse most certainly is not meant to describe the LDS pioneers in their search for liberty in law, this verse speaks presciently to the experience of the Latter-day Saints in traversing the wilderness in search of a thoroughfare of freedom where they could worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience without the persecution, derision, or trampling of their human and political rights under the feet of their neighbors. Their establishment in their Zion of Salt Lake City, a green town created out of desert wasteland, much like their previous home of Nauvoo was a lush town created out of fetid swampland, was a miracle for them that allowed them to live in the community of their choosing and their own creation. They were also blessed in the strength of the Everlasting Hills for their sacrifices:

And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb; and whoso shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be. (1 Nephi 13:37)

It is hard not to be nostalgic for the day when such a “Great Basin Kingdom” of Zion actually existed. I find myself mourning it periodically on the streets of this city I now call home.

Happy Bastille Day

July 14, 2005

Happy Bastille Day to all Frenchies out there. Anyone doing anything to celebrate?

Today two minutes of silence in many countries around Europe to commemorate the victims of the recent terror in London might put somewhat of a damper on things.

I always think about the French Revolution in comparison to the American Revolution. Sorry if that is politically incorrect or somehow culturally egocentric. The two revolutions do seem to provide an interesting case study in opposites.

Goethe and Schiller were both appalled at the terror and insanity of the French Revolution. The wholesale slaughter of people by virtue alone of the circumstances into which they were born was something that even the Storm-and-Stress genius Schiller couldn’t stomach, despite his frequent calls for freedom from tyranny and corruption in his earlier literature. Goethe disdained the French Revolution, not so much because of his aristocratic ties as because its method was truly repugnant to him. He firmly believed in the improvement and education of humanity through a harmonious evolutionary–and aesthetic–process, and not through a bloodlust-inspired reign of terror that replaces a tyranny of birth with a tyranny of ideology.

The murderous totalitarianism of the early years of the French Revolution fortunately do not live on in the latest French Republic. Life is very pleasant, and liberty reigns in many aspects of life in modern-day France. But some vestiges of the French Revolution’s paranoia remain, such as the misguided concept of laïcité, or the secular humanism that directs France’s policy toward religious freedom and the separation of Church and State, a policy that is openly hostile against rather than neutral toward religion and which disparately impacts religions other than Catholicism and mainstream Protestantism.

France, like Belgium, proclaims constitutional doctrines of religious freedom and state neutrality toward religion while at the same time maintaining official state-run lists of “dangerous cults” on which perfectly benign religions such as Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, Hare Krishnas, and literally hundreds of others, find themselves. Religious freedom in France is similar to religious freedom in the Ukraine where that doctrine means you are free to belong to the Orthodox religion, otherwise you are guaranteed state persecution. In France, you are free to be atheist, Catholic, or perhaps Protestant, but if you belong to virtually any other religion, you will have to resign yourself to perpetual official religious persecution perpetrated by the state, any neutrality rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding.

So Happy Bastille Day, everyone.

esse is percipi, or All the Pretty Flowers

July 11, 2005

Last week, even after quite a long conversation that ranged from Kantian categories to Gödel’s second incompleteness theorum, a good friend of mine, whose identity shall remain undisclosed, still returned, somewhat stumped, to Berkeley’s question, “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I never usually get hung up on that one but encountered perhaps a different iteration of the question as I sat in church yesterday. I have occasionally pondered variations on this question in the field of aesthetics and so as I sat in church looking at a “pretty” barrette decorated with a large white gerbera daisy replica flower in the hair of a girl sitting in front of me, I began thinking about that flower and our common perception of it. More specifically, I thought of all flowers as a class. I think it is safe to say that many (most? 90%? or even more?) people simply perceive flowers to be “pretty.” Of course, one’s taste will vary as to which kind of flowers one finds the prettiest, but I think it can be fairly generalized for the class of flowers that most people find them “pretty.” Why is this? Indeed, how can this even be? Is it just because most people are taught from early on that flowers are supposed to be pretty and so they just grow up taking that for granted, i.e. they are socialized into thinking flowers are pretty? Or could it be that flowers are actually pretty in and of themselves, objectively, outside of any transmission of standard tastes from one generation to another? If the latter, why would that be so hard to believe? Is it because the idea of it has some kind of inevitable, eventual political implications? Does that really have to be the case? Whatever the case may be, people will continue to perceive flowers to be “pretty.”

New Bombing Close to “Home”

July 7, 2005

This latest terrorist attack, although in a different country, has oddly hit me closer to “home” than the attack in New York. That is because I know the area where the explosions happened relatively well.

This is a London Times graphic showing the location of the blasts. Prominently displayed is the Moorgate station, which was my station when working in London at the law firm of Devonshires Solicitors in 2002. I also often used the Liverpool Street station to commute to and from work in my daily commute.

This map shows the location of the Devonshires Solicitors offices at the Salisbury House in London Wall and Finsbury Circus.

The Salisbury House, shown in this picture, is a beautiful building as is this whole area of the City. To get to Moorgate and the Salisbury House, I would pass through the Edgware Road station, which was also a site of one of the blasts, to and from work on my daily commute on the Tube.

In addition to my own experience working in London and enjoying the charms of that magnificent city, my cousin currently lives and works in London. He works right across the street from St. Paul’s Cathedral. This hits him very close to home as well, since the blasts were close to that area.

Finally, as a graduate student of German literature, I attended lectures at the English Goethe Society, which is located at 29 Russell Square, near where one of the blasts occured (the bus that was exploded).

I offer my condolences to those who have lost loved ones and my outrage at the perpetrators. I ask with Ronan Head, where’s their outrage at this cowardly act against civilians? Yes, some Muslim clerics have condemned the attacks. The Times of London reports condemnation by Muslim clerics:

Muslims in the UK also joined in condemning the attacks. The British Muslim Forum said: “Our hearts go out to all those who have been affected and we express our sympathy to their families and friends.

“This is clearly a day of great disappointment coming after a day of great joy as our city of London only yesterday won the bid for hosting the Olympics 2012.

“We wholeheartedly support, congratulate and appreciate the efforts of the authorities that are currently dealing with the situation.”

Ahmed Versi, editor of The Muslim News, said: “We unequivocally condemn these terrorist attacks. We express our deep condolences to the families, relatives and friends of the victims.”

It is hard to take this statement at face value especially in light of the loudness of other clerics who are constantly calling for jihad, even in London. I am inclined to say that “real Islam” doesn’t condone this sort of thing, but is that really true? What about selections in the Qur’an that condone the killing of “infidels,” even be they innocents, such as women or children? Hasn’t Islam traditionally been an aggressive and violent religion? From the early Islamic conquest of Spain or the activity of the Ottoman Turks at the gates of Vienna to today’s London bombings, does the evidence really suggest that Islam is a religion of peace? Of course, pre-Restoration Christianity saw many wars with Christianity as a pretext, from the Crusades to the devastating Thirty Years War. Ultimately, this line of questioning quickly becomes Krakauer-esque in its paranoia that religion is merely a means to barbarism. This is certainly not the case. My hope is that the majority of Muslims in this world seriously condemn such terrorist acts and that they aren’t just giving lip-service to such condemnation while secretly thinking, “good for Bin-Laden, he and his followers are the only ones committed enough to practice true Islam in slaughtering the innocents among the infidels.”