Deseret Book

Sojourner in the Lone and Dreary World: Two Years Among the Apostates

My first foray into the online Mormon world occurred when I was 18 years old.  As a young clean-cut Mormon getting ready to go on a mission, I was looking for anything about Mormons my own age, and people who could understand not only why I was choosing to live the way I did, but why I was choosing to go to Korea for two years. Mormons from highly-populated Mormon areas seemed to be living in the “promised land,” the land of “milk and honey.” I never thought my initial journey on that now-defunct message board would lead me here.
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Towards A Mormon “Hall of Fame” of Books

Reading has always been in my blood. I can distinctly remember being 9 years old, losing feeling in my arm, being propped up on my elbow while underneath the covers with a flashlight and a book, and quickly turning the light off and switching positions any time I heard my parents walking outside my bedroom door. I have vivid memories of blasting through the first 4 books of the Harry Potter series on vacation when I was 16 years old, a stack of John Grisham books when I was 17 (and on vacation), and countless others.

Reading is what also got me into a more intellectual/scholarly based look at religion, and Mormonism in general. I realized when I was on my mission that the correlated Deseret Book published books and materials just weren’t whetting my whistle. I wanted something with a bit more substance, a bit more meat, something to help me understand my religion a bit better. After I returned home, I took a break to decompress from my mission, but as I returned to college, I was excited to experience BYU-level religion classes. Little did I know that my classes would be glorified CES Institute classes, with the same milk-type lessons and stories I had heard from my youth.

As I explored the bloggernacle, I realized there were people out there looking for a similar dialogue. I found the main Mormon periodicals, and I started expanding my library aside from the “bestselling” Deseret Book items that left me wanting more.  My time in the online Mormon world has shown me that I’m not the only one that feels this sense of yearning for what is considered to be a “good” book for Mormon research. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked through blogs or Google with the search string “Essential Mormon Books,” or something along those lines.

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What’s Wrong With The Mormon Church?

Martin Luther hanging the Ninety-Five Theses

Martin Luther hanging the Ninety-Five Theses

Introduction:
Today is October 31st, “Reformation Day”.  It was on this day 494 years ago that Martin Luther nailed “The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” (commonly known as “The Ninety-Five Theses”) unto the door of The Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. “The Ninety-Five Theses” is widely regarded as the primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

And while readily acknowledging that I’m no Martin Luther, it is with a hopeful spirit for reformation in our lifetime that I offer these Ninety-Five Theses to a modern church that, in my opinion (as well as in the opinion of many others) is badly in need of it. More

Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration – my review, part 1

This past weekend I was in Utah with my family for a sealing.  On Saturday I found myself in the new and very worldly-appearing Deseret Book store across from Temple Square with a $50 gift card still left over from Christmas.  I sometimes wish I could just walk into a store and ask the clerk to give me $50 in exchange for the gift card so I could actually go buy something I actually wanted somewhere other than Deseret Book.  But I picked out a few things for the kids here and there, and eventually was able to be done with that Christmas gift money spending.  Among the purchases, I decided to buy a new Doctrine and Covenants DVD set that includes, among thousands of other goodies and gems (and only for $4.50 for a limited time!!), the video of “Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration” that has been shown in the Legacy Theater for several years now. More

Nothing to Challenge and a Great Deal to Abet

I heard this phrase the other day while listening to a discussion on NPR. The author, who used the phrase, was discussing the current state of affairs inside the Republican party. Currently, the extreme right via the Tea Party is driving much of the Republican agenda. However, the majority of members of the party are more centrist and find many of the views of the right wing of the party to be alien. But their centrist position has been co-opted and their influence lessened.

The author was arguing that the complacency of the main stream of the Republican party was enabling the ultra-conservative agenda. He held that the majority centrists of the party did “nothing to challenge” the extremist views and did “a great deal to abet” the views by allowing for them to take the stage and otherwise use the already established vessels of Republican communication. Thus the whole party becomes complicit in its implied support of the right wing.

My mind immediately turned to the LDS Church and how this describes the current state of affairs within the Church. Some would suggest that the Church is a big tent organization accepting a wide range of thought concerning politics and doctrine. But what the Church actually does not “challenge” and what it seems to “abet” portrays a different picture. The Church chooses to emphasize its political neutrality and at times insists it is not tied to one political party or agenda, but the truth of the matter is that it supports implicit acceptance or promotion of an extremist view. These actions are transparent and only convincing to insiders.

Operationally, the Church vigorously patrols all organizations it controls. Multiple instances of the Church’s tight control over publishing avenues such as Deseret Book or BYU have been documented. It is clear that every work published under the Church’s label or sold in its bookstore is carefully scrutinized. Thus every work that appears in Deseret Book has a tacit seal of approval given the rigor with which some works have been rooted out and censored. The case of God’s Army is illustrative.

Richard Dutcher’s film God’s Army, a completely positive take on Mormonism and missionary work was pulled from Deseret Book upon Dutcher’s disaffection with the Church. Although this film was entirely supportive of LDS leadership and doctrine, had been heavily promoted by the Church, and is still loved by the membership, it and all of Dutcher’s other works were pulled from Deseret Book’s shelves after Dutcher became dissatisfied with his personal religious involvement.

Dutcher’s purging from Deseret Book can stand in stark contrast to other offerings at the store. Of course, Glenn Becks books are available. Somewhat jarring for me was to see Glenn’s Work “Arguing with Idiots” which, in addition to the inflammatory title, appears with with Glenn wearing a Nazi-esque uniform. This ironically juxtaposed with all of the images of smiling Jesuses looking on from the walls. Lest one think it is just Beck’s Mormon roots, works by Sean Hannity are also sold at the religious bookstore. Likewise, Church owned radio stations in the Salt Lake market have long run right wing radio pundits almost exclusively.

So when one looks at the actual messages that are endorsed, sanctioned and tolerated, a clear picture of right wing political and cultural promotion emerges. Likewise, works in Mormon studies stocked and promoted by the Deseret Book present a view of Mormon beliefs even more conservative than that pushed in conference.

The Church will never be a “big tent” operation as along as it systematically purges, ignores or undermines the more liberal views of the left–even if those views are as compatible with the “gospel” as views from the right. Principles of the left, such as social responsibility, aid to the poor, state funded education and the like are routinely mocked and ridiculed among some LDS thinkers, but there is nothing inherit in these ideas that puts them at odds with traditional Christian ethics or modern Mormon morals. Nevertheless, a clear view of the Church’s political outlook can be had by any