Ralph C. Hancock Says My Brain is Rotting

Ordinarily I don’t like to give publicity to the Meridian Magazine.  However, the recent article by Ralph C. Hancock, professor of political science at Brigham Young University, is just plain bizarre.  So I will break my own unstated rule.

Hancock’s premise is that “progressivism” (a strong belief in progress) is rotting our brains (and soon our souls).  Since I consider myself a techno-progressive and transhumanist, his thesis caught my attention.  So my brain is rotting (and I suppose my boss would agree).  Hancock has several colorful phrases to describe what is happening in my head including “seductive incoherence,” “spiritual-intellectual rot,” “hollowing out of the cognitive fiber,” and “insidious cognitive decomposition.”  And what is to blame:  “intellectual-media elite pressure.”  (Sounds like something Rush Limbaugh might say.)  I haven’t heard anything so silly since then-VEEP Spiro Agnew called intellectuals “an effete corps of impudent snobs.”

While Hancock’s article is largely complaining about those in the LDS Church who advocate for same-sex marriage and greater participation by women in church leadership roles, he sure beats around the bush getting there.

Anyway, what Hancock doesn’t seem to grasp is that the world is changing.  And everything in the world in changing, including the LDS Church.  President Dieter F. Uchtdorf gets it:

Today, I would like to propose a question to all of us who hold God’s priesthood:  are you sleeping through the Restoration?

Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us. . .  In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now.  It includes “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,” and the “many great and important things” that “He will yet reveal.”

This is one of the most remarkable periods of the world’s history!  Ancient prophets yearned to see our day.

Of course, the LDS Church is changing.  Hancock lightly glosses over the change of “extending the priesthood to male members of black-African descent.”  That change is still occurring.  We are now learning that the priesthood ban had nothing to do with Cain or Ham, or a biblical curse.  (It seems we are about to admit that the black policy/doctrine was a product of Brigham Young’s prejudice.)  Pre-1978, what about all the members who felt that the Church’s black policy/doctrine was not right?  Were their brains rotting?

Some of us feel that the LGBT community has rights and that the biblical justification for non-equality is weak.  We also feel that the role of women in society has matured since the time of Christ and Joseph Smith.  It’s time for the LDS Church to rethink its organizational structure.  Does that mean my brain is rotting?  You decide.

Hancock needlessly worries that the Church of our progeny will be “unrecognizable.”  I don’t, the Restoration is still going on.

Posted in mormonism, Organizational Dynamics, Religion, Social Justice, Technology, transhumanism | Leave a comment

What Can the LDS Church Learn from Harley-Davidson?

I’ve always had a peripheral interest in the evolving dynamics of organizations.  I guess that’s one of the reasons why I was a history major as an undergraduate at Brigham Young University.

In a recent edition of Time magazine (30 Jun 2014), there was an interesting discussion concerning the motorcycle company Harley-Davidson.  The company leadership has decided to move beyond the big, noisy hog:

Harley is in the midst of a complete reimagining as it increasingly tries to appeal to African Americans, Hispanics and women, not to mention riders in China and India, all of whom have become target customers.  Global demographics–more people with less money to spend–are forging big changes at the iconic firm.  Harley still sells the rebellious, hell-raising, American free-spirit ideal that it rode to fame in the 1950s and ’60s.  But that isn’t a strategy for running a company in 2014.

Harley-Davidson's Electro Glide in Blue

Harley-Davidson’s Electro Glide in Blue

One innovation, Harley is introducing an electric motorcycle.  But the question still remains:  Can a battery-powered hog help the famed cyclemaker grow beyond aging boomers?

Harley currently suffers from its past success because its historic success didn’t come with a dynamic vision of the future and game plan on how to get there.  As the world changed, Harley didn’t change with it.  Is it too late for the American icon to catch up?  We will see.

I currently work for an aging Federal agency that refuses to move into the 21st century.  Its principal view of the future is obsessing over its past.  The agency recently cut its planning budget down to practically nothing, and its research and development structure is so over-institutionalized that it is almost useless.  Change is almost impossible because of an ossified bureaucracy, and stakeholders who feel they are entitled.  Is there a need for the organization?  Yes, there is a very definite need, but not in its current structure.  Does it have a battery-powered motorcycle in its future?  Probably not.

Harley-Davidson's LiveWire Prototype Electric Motorcycle

Harley-Davidson’s LiveWire Prototype Electric Motorcycle

That brings me to the LDS Church.  I don’t believe that the leadership knows where it wants to go.  To be perfectly blunt, it is led by aging professionals and business men, and it infrastructure is way too complex.  The institution is too cumbersome to deal with rapidly changing realities.

The Church’s growth is being fueled by conversions (many short-lived) in developing countries.  But, there is an increasing restlessness and ennui with members in developed countries (the tithe payers).  The LDS Church’s mission seems more focused on the dead than on the living.  And with so many new members in developing countries, I don’t think this current model works.  We need to do more for members and their neighbors living south of the equator.  Does the LDS Church have a battery-powered motorcycle in its future?  I hope so, but I fear that it doesn’t.

Posted in mormonism, Organizational Dynamics, Personal Essays, Religion, Social Justice | Leave a comment

Another Important Mormon Missionary Memoir

This blog has encouraged more reality in Mormon missionary stories.  And I have attempted to highlight some of the quirkier and humorous aspects of Mormon missions.  Along that line I would like to promote a book recently published by Craig Harline, a BYU professor of European history.

His book is titled Way Below the Angels:  The Pretty Clearly Troubled but Not even Close to Tragic Confessions of a Real Live Mormon Missionary.   It’s the author’s remembrances about an event that occurred nearly 40 years ago.  According to the publisher’s promotion:

When Craig Harline set off on his two-year Mormon mission to Belgium [Flemish area] in the 1970s, he had big dreams of doing miracles, converting the masses, and coming home a hero.  What he found instead was a lot of rain and cold, one sentence conversations with irritated people, and silly squabbles with fellow missionaries.

Not Too Many Family Discussions in Flanders

Not Too Many Family Discussions in Flanders

I have not read the book, but I plan to.  I served a mission in the Franco-Belgian Mission [French area] in the mid-1960s.  And my experiences would seem to mirror those of Harline’s.  The book has received excellent reviews:

We’ve been blessed in recent years with a lot of fine and increasingly honest scholarship in the church; it’s wonderful to see that same maturity on display in the arena of personal memoir.  This is a great book.  You won’t see it sold anytime soon in the MTC, I suspect, which is unfortunate–but that just means you can give it to future missionaries in your life yourself.

Thank you Craig Harline for writing this book.

Posted in Books, Mormon Mission Experiences, mormonism, Religion | 1 Comment

Waldensian Movement, a Precursor to Mormonism?

Lia McClanahan wrote the following in the June 2014 Ensign:

In 1849, Elder Lorenzo Snow (1814-1901) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was called to establish a mission to Italy.  As he was contemplating where to commence, he learned about the Waldensians, a religious community in the Piedmont mountains of northwestern Italy.

The Waldensians had endured extreme persecutions over seven centuries because of their beliefs.  Predating the Protestant Reformation by several hundred years, they preached that Christ’s early Church had fallen into apostasy.  They separated themselves from the Roman Catholic Church and were declared heretics, driven from cities, tortured, and slaughtered.  Rather than renounce their faith, they fled to the upper mountains.

“A flood of light seemed to burst upon my mind when I thought about [the Waldensians],” recorded Elder Snow.  In a letter he wrote, “I believe that the Lord has there hidden up a people amid the Alpine mountains.”

These three paragraphs peeked by interest.  I studied medieval history as an under graduate at BYU, and have a vague memory of discussing the movement.  As Snow noted, there are some similarities between the Waldensian movement and Mormonism, but the comparison isn’t a particularly good one.

In point of fact, the Waldensians seem to share more with Franciscan Order (Catholic) than they do with Mormonism.  According to legend, movement-founder Peter Waldo renounced his wealth and decided to preach.  Because of the shunning of wealth, particularly that of the Roman Catholic clergy, the movement was early known as the “Poor of Lyon.”  In the beginning, the Waldensian movement was characterized by lay preaching, voluntary poverty, and strict adherence to the Bible.  Between 1175 and 1185, Waldo was involved in a project to translate the Bible into the local vernacular.

Peter Waldo Statue on the Luther Memorial in Worms, Germany

Peter Waldo Statue on the Luther Memorial in Worms, Germany

Seen by the Catholic Church as unorthodox, the Waldensians were formally declared heretics in 1184 and again in 1215.  In 1211, more than 80 adherents were burned as heretics in Strawsbourg, beginning several centuries of persecution that nearly destroyed the movement.  During the Reformation, they ultimately adapted their beliefs to those of the Reform Church.

In 1848, after many centuries of harsh persecution, the Waldensians acquired legal religious freedom in the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia in present-day northern Italy.  Subsequently, the Waldensian Evangelical Church developed and spread throughout the Italian peninsula.

According to a short paper by Diane Stokoe titled:  “The Mormon Waldensians”:

But of the 21,000 Waldensians living in the Protestant Valleys [northern Italy] in 1850, only 187 joined the Mormon Church.  During the 16-year period the Italian Mission remained open, 74 of the group were excommunicated, 72 emigrated to Utah (primarily as members of 12 families), and the remaining converts drifted into inactivity or returned to their faith.

The Waldensian experience as Mormon converts [in Utah] mirrored the experiences of other ethnic groups:  first there was contact with the Mormon elders in their homeland, next came conversion, then immigration and settlement, followed by amalgamation into the larger Mormon society.

Posted in catholicism, mormonism, Religion | Leave a comment

Inexpensive, Semi-permanent Housing for Developing Countries

According to a recent article in Time magazine (7 Jul 2014):

“So many people don’t own the land they’re living on,” say veteran architect Doug Sharp of the millions living around the world squatting in informal settlements like refugee camps.  They don’t build permanent living spaces partly because they know they may eventually be displaced.  But what it their homes could go with them?

Such was the thought process behind the Abod (pronounced Adobe), a versatile housing structure that Sharp conceived for people who can’t afford to settle.  It’s sturdy and affordable (one unit costs $2,400, though some of that may be subsidized), and can be constructed in one day.  Sharp has constructed 20 Abods in Limpopo, South Africa.

Abod Homes in South Africa

Abod Homes in South Africa

The homes are currently manufactured in Bondurant, Iowa and in South Africa, and can be shipped anywhere in the world.  The weight of one home is approximately 3,000 lbs.

Inside an Abod Unit:  The Loft Can be Used for a Two-person Bed.

Inside an Abod Unit: The Loft Can be Used for a Two-person Bed.

Unfortunately, Abod’s are not recommended for colder climates.  There is very little that can be done to insulate because of the materials that are used.

Posted in Engineers Without Borders, Housing, Social Justice, uganda | Leave a comment

Power, Water and Shade for Navajo Country

Over the last few years, my colleagues and I have constructed a wide variety of water harvesting systems in the Navajo Nations.  The majority of these have been installed for families living in remote locations where they have no piped water and no line power.

For power, we have been installing stand-along solar systems.  For water, we’ve been constructing carport-type structures that have gutters attached to large water storage tanks.  It was assumed that the recipients could use the physical structure for either equipment or animal storage.

Water Harvesting Unit Installed near Navajo Mountain

Water Harvesting Unit Installed near Navajo Mountain

However, as we have worked on the reservation, it has occurred to us that the roof of the carports could be used for solar panels and that the underneath part could be used for shade; the desert portions of the reservation are uncomfortably hot and sunny during the summer.

The shade and solar-panel idea has already been exploited by southwestern entrepreneurs.  All that is left is to add gutters and water storage into their systems.  Sharing the shady area under the solar panels would be a water storage tank and perhaps either benches or outdoor recreation equipment.  Of course, the structure could still be used as a carport or barn.

Lumos Solarscape:  Just Add a Gutter and Water Storage Tank

Lumos Solarscape: Just Add a Gutter and Water Storage Tank

Posted in Engineers Without Borders, Playground, Social Justice, Technology | 1 Comment

Mormonism Needs a Liberation Theology

With the recent election of a new Catholic Pope, who has taken the name Francis, there is a renewed interest in a Catholic movement that was popular in the 1960s and ’70s called “liberation theology.”

Liberation theology arose as a Catholic response to the leftist movements that fought Latin America’s military dictatorships.  It criticized the church’s close relationships, including often overt support, for the often repressive regimes.

Liberation theology proposed that, rather than just focusing on seeking salvation in the afterlife, Catholics should act in the present against unjust conditions that breed poverty and need.

In his seminal book A Theology of Liberation, Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and scholar who is considered the founder of liberation theology, argued that the church  should have a “preferential option for the poor.”  That the church should follow the example of Christ and choose to live more closely with the poor.

Pope Francis, the first pope from Latin America, has taken up the mantel of highlighting the needs of  the marginalized.  He has called for “a poor church for the poor” and recently met with Rev. Gutierrez.  This is a major about-face for a church that at one time tried to stamp out the movement.

So why should Mormons have an interest in liberation theology?

Most of the LDS Church’s recent growth has come south of the Equator.  Soon over half of the Church’s members will be in developing countries.  And the new converts look nothing like the Church’s ruling body and most of the members in the USA, Canada, and Western Europe.

Additionally, Christ’s church was one of caring for the poor and marginalized.  That is the crowd that he hung out with, and they were  the ones he cared for most.

According to Mormon Jeremiah Stoddard’s call to action,

The modern American Mormon has constructed for himself a self-serving theology.  Apart from the occasional, mostly symbolic, “service project,” worship of God has been relegated to a handful of rituals dealing with the afterlife.  Serve others, sure.  Help out Brother Joe who’s moving in, or donate a can of food at Christmas.  But don’t bother trying to make any significant impact in the world.

The LDS Church appears to be headed in the right direction.  In 2009, it added “care for the poor and needy” to its long-standing “threefold mission” (now four-fold mission).  And LDS Humanitarian Services seems to be taking a more proactive approach.

But this is not nearly enough.  The LDS Church needs to take a much more radical and pronounced approach to the problems of the poor, wherever they are.  We need a “liberation theology” if we are going to be really Christ-like.

Posted in Books, catholicism, humanism, mormonism, Religion, Social Justice | 6 Comments