Monday, July 27, 2015


I took a Native American literature and culture class. It was the first time I really tried to understand another culture, and it changed me. I loved the books Ceremony, Black Elk Speaks, House Made of Dawn, and other poems and stories we read. I cried again and again as I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. But I also went to a pow-wow. I loved watching the dancing, and went out as a stranger to join the common dances. I went again the next year, and the MC asked all of their white brothers and sisters to come do a dance. I did my best to imitate what I had watched, and it was exciting and embarrassing. Then they said they were giving prizes to the best male and female dancers! The judge started to select me, but was informed that we had to do one more dance. He lost sight of me in the crowd, and selected another man similar in appearance who was also dancing ok--but lots of people recognized it was wrong, including the judge who just seemed a little overwhelmed by the situation. I learned a little more about pow-wow culture as three people tried to rectify the error. They came up to me and put dollar bills in my hand. I have been given $10 for my dancing. I was embarrassed, but since have been delighted. I wore the T-shirt I purchased with the money for years. Now it's part of a T-shirt quilt that sometimes finds its way onto our bed. Here's the poem that came from the experiences.


He dances wrapped in himself
His brothers beat the drum
His family watches on
His ancestors voice the songs they made.
Alone in his circle,
Tied to the flowing web of life
Spinning himself
Spinning the web
His dance spreads outward
The community grows and binds itself
His feet press the earth humbly
His breast weighs him down with desire
His shoulders spread with the faith of his ancestors
His eyes watch the earth, watch the sky, seeing no one,
But his mind hears the drum, hears the voices,
Hears his brothers, feels their feet
Press the earth.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Cricible of Doubt: book summary and some reflections

I have loved Terryl and Fiona Givens's books and podcast interviews, so I was pleased my parents sent me a copy of The Crucible of Doubt. It is filled with beautifully written messages and guidance to help pursue one's personal journey of faith through times of doubt. My life has been substantially improved by messages like these. This post is more a topic summary from my own understanding with a few comments at the end about my thoughts on the context of this book--a public record of my thoughts where I'm at now more than a reflection of the quality or importance of the book.

Paradigms and Premises: starting off on the wrong foot

"Great Christian thinkers of the past have operated with assumptions--some of them deeply ingrained, sanctioned by long tradition, by ecclesiastical authority, and by scripture--that made answers difficult or impossible to obtain. At the least, such assumptions can delay prayerful responses to earnest questions, even by decades." p.4

". . . the mystery . . . could unfold no faster than she was willing to let go of her premises. That can be a wrenching process, requiring much time--and much humility." p. 6

B. H. Roberts couldn't let go of the whole Americas model of the Book of Mormon, so he couldn't find a good explanation for certain measurable phenomena like the diversity of languages among Native Americans (it didn't take DNA evidence for LDS scholars to face this problem).

"If a devout visionary and an ordained Seventy can ask the wrong questions [and he was the church expert on the topic at the time], it is likely that many of us do as well. We are all prisoners of our preconceptions and faulty models." p.9 One contributing factor in faith crises is the lack of corporate ownership of this idea--individuals are flawed, but the Church is perfect.

"To be open to truth, we must invest in the effort to free ourselves from our own conditioning and expectations." This means asking questions that involve risk.

I love the messages of this introduction. Understanding is hard, takes a lot of work, and can be prevented due to mistaken assumptions even by the best, most informed, sincerely seeking expert on a subject. This really is a call to use perseverance and humility in the quest to take personal responsibility for one's own learning and moral code.
Of Method and Maps: the use and abuse of reason
There are real limits to reason and measurement. These faculties should be used appropriately and not stretched beyond their practical bounds. Emotion is real and important and has a valuable place in the world. This should be accounted for in our use of reason and measurement. When you doubt your past experiences and your emotions, be careful not to swing to the extreme of dismissing them, or of thinking that reason is all.

On Provocation and Peace: of life's fundamental incompleteness

A life of engaged faith is a life of courage, not a cowardly retreat from the challenges of this world and life.

There will always be big things that are beyond your understanding. We have to embrace this even as we go forward perpetually trying to understand and grow in wisdom.
Of Sadducees and Sacraments: the role and function of the church
Religion is inseparably tied to fallible human agents.

Geographical community in our wards has a profound impact on Mormon culture. The ward functions socially much more like family relationships than non-geographic associations [for good or ill].

What is the purpose of ordinances? "Heaven is not a location to which good people are assigned, and salvation is not a simple condition of perfect righteousness." We are to become Gods, and God exists in engaged relationships. Ordinances formalize our relationships in powerful, ritual ways that have consequences [individually and corporately] beyond simple intellectual or emotional assent. "Religion without those institutional forms [ordinances] that give us the means to formalize, to concretize, and to strengthen our bonds with each other and with loving Heavenly Parents would be only an alluring promise devoid of substance.

[I note that this fits with many of my feelings about ordinances and ritual right now. There are powerful reasons for and benefits from ritual related to community and their effect on our relationship with the divine, but there is no reason given why LDS rituals are of particular importance beyond the LDS community. The Givenses may believe there is unique importance to LDS ritual, and I'm ok with that being a possibility because of the universal access to LDS ritual over time, but I can't defend the claim of uniquely important authority (which is different from unique authority), and the Givenses don't provide an argument for it.]

Of Canons and Cannons: the use and abuse of scripture

Scripture is wonderful and powerful and important, but don't idolize it by presuming either inerrancy or anyone's ability to interpret it inerrantly. You have to develop your own connection with God.

On Prophecy and Prophets: the perils of hero worship

Church leaders are wonderful in many ways, but as with scripture don't make idols out of them. Listen because they have taught and done wise and good things, and sustain them with the prayer of faith, but you have to develop your own connection with God and trust in that.

On Delegation and Discipleship: the ring of Pharaoh

"God really means it when He delegates His authority to men and women--and expects them to use their wisdom and judgment in executing His will." [except He doesn't delegate very much to women.]

I like how they quote an unpublished manuscript from their son. It's a good quote, too. He says pretty clearly that God expects us to figure out for ourselves what is right for us to do. This doesn't imply that we do it in a vacuum, but anytime you use arguments about scriptural or prophetic inerrancy, or that the prophet won't lead us astray, or otherwise turn your moral authority over to someone else, you are making an idol and not doing the hard work God expects of us.

We can't be saved without doing the personal, hard work of knowing what is right for ourselves. It is work that never ends and that never has a final word. But the Atonement is there all the time giving us grace in all our strivings. That is what the Atonement is about, not about fixing things after they go wrong or after we complete some repentance checklist. We can participate in it as we are generous with our own attempts to serve and minister, and with our leaders attempts to do the same.

Mormons and Monopolies: holy persons "ye know not of"

Mormonism doesn't have a monopoly on holiness or salvation. Mormon leaders have repeatedly taught as much. [They pretty much ignore the lines of thought that have also been preached in Mormonism that are much less Universalist. I'm with them on that, although they teach the universalism in the context of temple work providing ordinances for all. I believe that could be true--it won't really be that hard to do for a few billion people if it is truly necessary--one person can do a lot of ordinances, even if Mormons (and other "true Christians") only constitute 1 in several thousand through the history of humanity. Yet while I understand and even embrace the particular value of LDS ordinances, I find it hard to preach their universal value--a belief that the Givenses seem more ready to entertain even though they don't clearly state a personal testimony of such a belief.]

Spirituality and Self-Sufficiency: find your watering place

We need to take a lot more personal responsibility for our own development spiritually and in our families and communities. The efficiency of the church providing solutions for everything comes at a real spiritual cost. Participation is valuable, but conformity must be always in tension with agency.
The Too-Tender Heart: rethinking being "overcome with evil"
Being "overcome with evil" is not about falling into sin, but about letting evil in the world turn us away from faith and hope and solace. In seeking and remembering good and comforting things, we can keep from losing our hope in the midst of doubt.

Of Silence and Solitude: "speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth"

There are numerous ways to hear God other than the few we may think of when we think or speak of revelation. Even in the midst of doubt, trust that you are connected to God, even if it is just in everyday experiences that you never thought of as spiritual before. Listen to the goodness in the world and in your life. God isn't gone even if He seems silent in the ways you used to think He was speaking.

To the Godless and Guileless: belief as risk

There are different models we can believe in for God or the absence of God. "A third alternative is the one proposed by Joseph Smith. A scenario in which an intelligence not absolutely and utterly dissimilar from our own--possibly even the result of cosmic evolution spanning eons of time--presides over our world." [Yes, this is what I think the true Mormon alternative is. You can see why I like their thinking. But it implies a connection of God with the measurable and the mundane, and that is disturbing for many for a great variety of reasons.] Our choices to believe and what to believe are truly and deeply ambiguous, and carry real physical, spiritual, and emotional risks. But actively choosing to seek, to do good, and to believe are risks worth taking.

Epilogue: Doubt and Discipleship

The Givenses have experienced the power of the LDS gospel to transform human life. They have experienced its goodness.

My Depressed Thoughts

Most of my thoughts are depressed now, so take them with a grain of salt. This is a fantastic book. An easy read. A clear read. A substantial read. I have over the last several years learned through my own personal experience and study eight of the nine lessons they share. Some of them I have learned joyfully, and others quite painfully. I'm still looking for a thirst-quenching watering hole, but drinks from others' fountains have kept me from dying of thirst. I'm sure that learning these lessons and my own experience of the gospel to change lives are part of why I love Mormonism as intensely as I do. But while this book has important messages for anyone to learn, it is really best for a Mormon audience. It is best for doubters who doubt intellectually. It is best for LDSs who wish to understand and value their doubting family and friends. It is best for young people seeking guidance on how to live a life of seeking and doubt. It is not a book for those who have left Mormonism. It is not a call to come back and repent. It is not a book for those who have been hurt by the LDS church. It is not for the young feminist who has had her self worth destroyed by messages that her only value is through her impact on men. It is not for the member who has been ostracized by his ward for whatever reason. Yes, it can help those people understand those who stay and those who believe, but this book of advice to the individual cannot protect the individual from real harms that happen because of institutional structures and culturally ingrained ills. So Mormons, read the book. But read it for you. It's written for you. It's written for me. It's not written to fix anyone else.

The Crucible of Doubt is a call to take personal responsibility, and it is a call that may not lead where you want it to or think it should. Terryl and Fiona Givens have written a book of ideas that are at the foundation of subversion. They are ideas that can lead to real change in our lives, our church, and the world. But they have written it in such a way that it feels unthreatening to most Latter-day Saints, and probably to most people anywhere. They have questioned and even contradicted many commonly held LDS beliefs, but in ways that could be easily ignored or overlooked. Perhaps because of this their ideas will percolate and have a profound impact on a generation of Mormons. I hope so. God knows we need room for doubt and for change.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Family Policy Musings

I've been thinking a little about what types of societal and governmental policies or norms I would like to see to best support healthy families--which I believe best support our growing children. What would I focus on to help the most children, both now and long term? I'm not a practiced or informed strategic planner on this, but here are some things on my wish list:
  • Do everything possible to reduce childhood poverty, illness, and malnutrition.
  • Create workforce support and expectations for parents (particularly of young children) to be involved with their children more--both mothers and fathers.
  • Support the autonomy and health of mothers throughout their lives.
I guess that's my list. I see lots of programs aimed at the first, but many of them also put pressures on parents to be away from their children in order to pay for the programs.

I don't see the second happening anywhere, really. Parenting takes second place to moneymaking in pretty much every economic policy I've seen--even the ones that require mandatory time off work for new parents. Those primarily exist in the same countries that have big incentives for both parents to work--no ideal of stay at home moms or dads. The current norm is workforce pressures for parents of young children to be away from their children, since early career typically accompanies young children and also greater time demands and anxiety--that is at least for (potentially) middle class and upper class jobs and job training. Many other jobs simply don't leave time, energy, or resources for parents to ever spend large amounts of involved, waking time with their young children. I hope we can head in this direction as we move further from a scarcity economy to an abundance economy.

I had a couple of friends recently say that they would ideally go back and get rid of no fault divorce laws--friends who differed significantly on other views regarding family law. I would have agreed with them just a couple of years ago. It seems from some pretty big studies I've perused that intact families are good for kids (at least as long as the parents are faithful to each other) even if the parents aren't happy together. But then I read Sex and World Peace and Poor Women in Rich Countries, and another book I'd rather forget, and I understood that family law has long privileged men--not children, and especially not women. This has functioned pretty well for humanity for millennia, but besides the fact that I think it is failing in several ways as we advance technologically, I can't stomach it. We can protect (and empower to do good) women and children without protecting the rights of fathers to rule--just like we now know how to protect citizens without protecting the rights of kings. So now I think no fault divorce, while it can be painted as irresponsible parenting, primarily has functioned to empower women that in the past would have been forced by law to remain in oppressive relationships. I don't like all the negatives that have correlated with changes toward more personal liberty in family law, but I don't think I want to go backwards. I'm all for new solutions that focus more specifically on what we value. I suspect the ideal will have lots of shifting compromises between the conservative and the radical without either dominating completely.

I value my marriage staying together. I want to make choices that foster that. I value children being cared for. I value working through difficulties rather than running from them--even if the law permits running. I hope we can find ever improved solutions to care for children and to help people form and maintain healthy, happy, family bonds. I'm not so sure what all our choices should be in this regard, but I'm inclined to see many of the changes in how I and my fellow humans are understanding family as fumbling progress--not a fall from grace.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Gift and Power meets Stylometry

The Audience and an Overview

I think it would be a mistake to read The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon, by Brant Gardner, as an apologetic work. Gardner certainly takes up, and to an extent takes on, many of the reasons people give for rejecting the ancient, historical setting for the Book of Mormon. He even spends the first third of the book setting the stage for how we can understand Joseph Smith as a translator. He lays out such issues as what the frontier mindset was, what magic meant in Joseph's time, how magic and science and religion are not really so far separated in history, and how people tell stories to find meaning. Perhaps the most interesting thing to me, from this first part of the book, was to notice that the earliest written account we have of Book of Mormon translation--written third hand, but from the 1830s--already contained elements we now are quite sure are incorrect or mythical. Despite spending considerable time treating these topics, especially criticisms of the Book of Mormon text that relate to translation, Gardner's book is written to best influence believers.

As a book for believers, The Gift and Power has potential to change an entire culture. I'm not claiming that Gardner could singlehandedly change Mormonism. The effectiveness of the book comes in large part from how it synthesizes the work of many others. Gardner's views, like many of mine, are strongly shaped by naturalistic explanations of events, while still believing in God and in naturally (typically humanly) mediated divine intervention. He has tried very conscientiously to take what evidence is there and create a model that encompasses it all. The result of this exercise is a model where prophets and translators speak from their own experience and understanding. It's a model of revelation where all the biases and errors of prophets are preserved right along side those profound moments of inspiration. It's a model that requires, for those prepared to hear, the hard work of continually seeking and owning one's moral actions. Prophets are striving guides, but they are ruled as much as any of us by the exigencies of mortality.

At the same time, Gardner's obvious underlying faith and faithfulness to the LDS church, combined with the manifold evidences seeming to justify Joseph's story of divine translation, could easily allow a believer looking only for apologetic ammunition to overlook or ignore the ways the book challenges his or her assumptions about revelation, the role of prophets, the absolute correctness of scripture, and other similar foundational religious beliefs. On the flip side, the fact that Gardner has targeted the book principally at an audience that believes in Book of Mormon historicity could easily cause a reader who believes the Book of Mormon is a 19th century creation, by focusing on the weakness of details in Gardner's arguments, to overlook the explanatory strength of the pattern Gardner has painted.

Linguistic/Historical Analysis and Stylometry

Perhaps the biggest reason I like The Gift and Power is that it confirms so many of my own beliefs. I know there is danger in this, and that it is even predictable (nearly everything ends up confirming our own prejudices), but I'd like to spend some time discussing the convergent evidence to show why I think the confirmation is more than superficial.

Based on stylometric evidence that I have discussed previously and at length (I'm going to be lazy and not find all the old links), I determined that there are a few multiply attested facts regarding authorship of the Book of Mormon--attested by the methods and results employed by both critics and supporters of Joseph Smith's translation story. These are:
  • The Book of Mormon is written in the religious language of Joseph Smith's time and place, namely, 19th century pseudo-biblical English.
  • The King James Version of the Bible is both quoted and imitated throughout the Book of Mormon--not just where there are formal quotations.
  • The Book of Mormon was written by multiple authors, even after controlling for confounding factors like genre shifts. A conservative minimum number is 4 authors, with more being likely and nothing in the data contradicting the possibility of as many named authors as the Book of Mormon text presents.
  • None of the styles of proposed 19th century authors (Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Solomon Spalding, and even others who have never been proposed as authors) match the authorial styles of the Book of Mormon--not even Joseph's style when writing the Doctrine and Covenants (by some measures it is closer, but still distinct), and probably not the Book of Abraham.
  • Authorial styles are (in at least two kinds of translation--academic and machine) preserved sufficiently through translation to be identifiable by stylometric techniques.
  • If there weren't historical and religious pressures to claim Joseph Smith as the sole author (or plagiarizing creator) of the Book of Mormon, no computational linguist would think of questioning multiple authorship of the Book of Mormon. They would instead be placing the burden of proof on anyone wanting to claim single authorship. The degree of variation in style contained in the Book of Mormon would be truly unique--not simply unusual--among single authored works.
These observations best support, to my mind, a very ordinary picture of translation of the Book of Mormon text. I see a translator reading the text, thinking through how best to say things in his own language, saying it as best he can, even though he doesn't always perfectly understand the words of the original text, and mimicking religious language because he was steeped in it and thought that's how scripture should sound--even new scripture. By doing his best to faithfully reproduce the original text without losing its meaning, he maintained many of the noncontextual speech patterns of the different authors, of course transformed into English equivalents (although not always grammatical ones). That's the model best justified by stylometry, I think, even though one has to substitute "looking in a hat" for "reading", and "relying on divine inspiration" for "using personal knowledge of a foreign language" as the historical mechanisms for the translation. And as best I can tell, it is the model Brant Gardner presents in his book.

I think there are only a few specific evidences that favor my (and I'll say Brant's, since I think they are the same) model of translation with very little ambiguity. The real strength of this model lies in how broad and detailed its explanatory power is compared to other models, but to get a clear picture of that you may have to read (and possibly reread) all my posts on stylometry, and more than one of Brant Gardner's books. To restate the model using Gardner's language, functionally equivalent translation means you translate as closely to the original as you can, maintaining the meaning of words, phrases, and sentences by reproducing them with English words and idioms that will be understood by your audience. You want to faithfully reproduce the language and feel/style of the original text, but not at the expense of your audience missing the meaning of the original author, so the English text represents a continual compromise between idiomatic translation and attempts to match the original language. On relatively rare occasions, where there is compelling reason and evidence, the translator must insert a truly literal translation (as in the letter by letter spelling of names), or some loose, explanatory material (as when the context of the original text is completely uninterpretable for the intended audience). Otherwise, the translation is one of functional equivalence, or what we usually think of as ordinary translation. We know word for word translations don't work, and too conceptual a translation we would be more inclined to call a reworking of, or commentary on, or inspired by the original text. In addition to the stylometric evidence of unknown, multiple authorship, I want to highlight what I think is a very short list of evidences strongly pointing to translation over 19th century creation. As I mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph, I think there aren't many to be found. Most are only suggestive, and their strength is in the near completeness of the model. This is why Gardner has also written a multi-volume commentary on the Book of Mormon placing it in a Mesoamerican historical context--the pattern is powerful even though the details are individually weak. Here are the few, strongest details from Gardner's book:
  • Royal Skousen's detailed observations that names were spelled out. Only the case where Emma said Joseph didn't even know how to pronounce some names, and the ones where he apparently gave a pronunciation and then subsequently corrected the spelling to an awkward English spelling (e.g. Coriantumr) are somewhat strong evidences of translation. (chapter 15, The Process of Translating Names)
  • The number of non-biblical names which have been discovered to authentically belong in the ancient Near East (and not 19th Century New England, e.g. Nahom, Hermounts, etc.). (chapter 15)
  • Strong, extended, meaningful chiasmus, and a few other carefully constructed literary parallelisms. (chapter 17)
  • Book names that follow the ruling lineage rather than the author, as opposed to the Bible which names books by author, or other modern ways in which we name books. (chapter 17)
  • Chapter breaks that follow a non-modern sensibility, but still a clearly identifiable logic. These unusual breaks were employed consistently even in the Isaiah chapters, and were only "fixed" when Orson Pratt went through and changed them to match the biblical breaks. (chapter 17)
  • Consistent logic to the division of paragraphs with "and now" vs. "and it came to pass". "And now" ties lists or topic changes. "And it came to pass" indicates sequences of events. This logic is disguised in current versions because of the numbers of these phrases that have been removed for readability. (chapter 17)
That's it. With Gardner, I dismiss most apparent Hebraisms (and perhaps all) as artifacts of Joseph's translation--evidence of biblical influence, not antiquity. Other evidences seem easily explained by multiple hypotheses and give weight to functionally equivalent translation because it explains more details with more meaning, fewer assumptions, and fewer contradictions than other hypotheses. If God, angels, and gold plates are within the realm of possible realities for you, then I haven't seen another understanding of translation that comes close to the explanatory power of functional equivalence.

If instead you first prioritize the likelihood of Joseph's story and relegate the Book of Mormon text to second place, once you have largely made up your mind about Joseph (or God), then I can understand favoring other hypotheses. They may be tenuous when it comes to explaining parts of the extant text. I may even question the validity of your reasons, but I acknowledge that invoking angels and disappearing plates to explain the text source is dubiously scientific, however much better functionally equivalent translation (and the implied, authentic source) explains the text than other more or less naturalistic hypotheses. I weight the text as the hardest evidence and don't mind some unexplained craziness floating around the things we can't see. We don't have the source text. I can't look at the plates to prove anything about them. I can believe the witnesses or not. We can't see through Joseph's mind what he saw when looking in the hat. We can reconstruct much of Joseph's world, but only with significant ambiguities. What is not missing, not lost to history, and not dependent on shifting personal accounts, is the Book of Mormon text itself. So when it looks like a translation, that's where I start. All other opinions I have must deal with that set of facts. Gardner is writing mostly to people like me. People who see the Book of Mormon as a translation, and people who are ready to start from there to better understand prophets, revelation, personal moral authority, and how the hand of God reveals itself in our very human world.

Friday, July 3, 2015

No City of Enoch for Us

Why silence on Zion?

I love the idea of Zion. The pure in heart. A people of one heart. No rich or poor among them. Trusting God to be their protector rather than in armies. A place where the just, and those who want peace, can gather to be spared the evils of the world. But even as a teenager I wondered why the scriptures tell us so little about it? I thought, maybe evil people didn't want the story of Enoch in the Old Testament, so they took it almost completely out. But Joseph Smith restored that story, and we still know almost nothing about the city of Enoch. Then there are the Book of Mormon peoples after Christ's visit. It seems that tons of records survived from the 100 years before that visit, and at least a few thousand words from the visit, so why is there only one chapter about almost 200 years of Zion? Why not tell us how Zion works?

Some answers

Made by individual righteousness

I've imagined a few answers. I don't remember how I got the first, but I think it is common. People have to be righteous and obeying all the commandments, and then Zion will happen--or God will show us how at that time--and everything will be great (except for the world outside trying to destroy us because they can't stand righteousness). Divested of the illogic of the extremes, I can still believe this to a degree. People must choose to be part of Zion. No one can be compelled there or it won't work, and perhaps it is true that any political, economic, or social system will work great if all the members are such just people. But I'm not certain. I suspect that many of the same principles that we know help our current societies function well will be needed to make a Zion society function well.

We've been told

A second answer is that we already have been told. The old scriptures may have been incomplete, but with all that Joseph restored, we have a complete blueprint for building Zion. Reinstitute the United Order, Joseph's city planning, and the other fun stuff Joseph started and we will be Zion. I believed this for a long time, but my recent reflections make me doubt. It appears to me that Joseph kept changing the rules. Mormonism was a perpetual work in progress--an eternal progression rather than a fixed goal. Joseph was putting us on the path to Zion, not laying out a paint with numbers image in the sky.

Zion never happened

A third possibility that has occurred to me is that Zion never really happened. It's easy enough to doubt the reality of a city that was carried up into heaven. This is from the same book and the same time that gave us the universal flood and a boat that carried every animal on the planet. At the very least, the reports of Zion may be exaggerated. The same might be said of the people of 4th Nephi. Mormon may have had some understandable nostalgia. He lived a life full of war, and while Captain Moroni may have been his hero, he longed for the peace of his childhood stories. The reality could be that the peace of the first 200 years ACE was the result of massive depopulation, destruction of large power structures and civilization, and a consequent lack of competition for anything. There were no rich because no one had enough power to abuse their neighbors and take their labor. There were no poor because the land was empty and fertile. Zion was a geological and sociological accident.

While I believe this may be the case, I find it no less wonderful in some regards. There is a lot to envy in a society where hard work really is enough to care for your family, and where you don't have to fear war and violence. I could pick at some other things. The scriptures suggest some characteristics of the 4th Nephi society that many of us today might consider less than ideal, but that's beside my point. My point is, why do I really think the scriptures are almost silent about Zion?

Today isn't yesterday

I want Zion, but I don't want it as the result of a supervolcano depopulating North America. I don't want it as the result of barricading ourselves against a world trying to conquer us--an us versus them coming together.

I now see an interplay between the structures of society and the righteousness of people. Righteous people improve social structures, but well designed social structures also make people better. That's the whole point of meeting in our churches. We believe that the things we do in church make us better than we would be if we tried to do it all alone. So why, when it comes to Zion, did I think we had to fix the people first? It's pretty clear we need to fix people and social structures simultaneously--there is no separating the two.

With this background in my head, what hit me seemed obvious. Zion must be built in context. The Zion of Enoch cannot be the Zion of today. It's possible that the Zion of then and the Zion of now would be socially identical, and only the paths to Zion of then and now are different, but I think it unlikely. To build a local Zion is a different beast than building a global Zion. And that will be different than a Zion that spans universes. To build a stone and bronze age Zion is likely incomparable to the task of building a space and information age Zion.

So why do we know so little of Zion? Perhaps the Zion we are to build and the Zions of the past are only the same in a few key essentials. If we knew too much of the past, we would be striving toward practices that are not right for our time. We would be trying to live as the small Zion people of 2nd century ACE Mesoamerica instead of facing squarely the challenges and opportunities of today. We would cling to Joseph's incomplete image of Zion rather than becoming the prophets he taught us to be, bringing about Zion in an ever-changing world. Perhaps it is enough guidance for us to focus on those few key indicators of a Zion people and that will lead us forward. We will shape our societies to be pure in heart and one in heart, free of poverty, and refuges from war, and we will do it despite the challenges and with the tools of the world we live in today.

Measuring Zion

Often in our religious discussions we focus on the "pure in heart" part of Zion, and we assume that being "of one heart" means sameness of belief. We look to judge purity of heart through conformity to a measurable set of rules, although we know that we can't know people's hearts in this way. We also know that Zion will welcome all just people, not only those who believe like us, so unity in Zion has to include diversity of belief, and even diversity of religious (and areligious) practice. For me, and for now, I'll judge our success in building Zion by how we uplift the poor and create refuges from war. Most people can agree pretty well on the presence of poverty and war, and while they are still among us, Zion isn't here yet. By any measure, we've got a ways to go. But I trust God that Zion is within our reach.