Saturday, January 31, 2009

Church belatedly reports additional proposition 8 expenditures,0,4854351.story
From the Los Angeles Times

Mormon church reports spending $180,000 on Proposition 8

Jessica Garrison

6:48 AM PST, January 31, 2009

Top officials with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints filed reports Friday indicating that they donated more than $180,000 in in-kind contributions to Proposition 8, the November ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California.

The contributions included tens of thousands of dollars for expenses such as airline tickets, hotel and restaurant bills and car-rental bills for top church officials such as L. Whitney Clayton, along with $96,849.31 worth of "compensated staff time" for church employees.

The church said the expenditures took place between July 1 and the end of the year. The church's involvement has been a major issue in the campaign and its aftermath. Individual Mormon families donated millions -- by some estimates more than $20 million -- of their own money to the campaign.

On top of that, some Prop. 8 opponents say church officials violated election law by failing to file campaign disclosure reports outlining church funds being spent on the campaign. Fred Karger, who filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission after the election alleging that church officials had not properly disclosed their involvement, said he thought today's filing proves that his complaint has merit.

"They said they reported all their travel ... now, when there is a [complaint filed] they disclose 25 Southwest tickets just in October," he said. "They were required to report this" in an earlier filing, he said. Church officials could not be reached for comment this evening.

Friday, January 30, 2009

BYU Studies: Mountain Meadows

Volume 47, no. 3, © 2008

This special issue of BYU Studies contains selections from two collections of documents that Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley Jr., and Glen M. Leonard used as primary sources in writing Massacre at Mountain Meadows, recently published by Oxford University Press. Some of these documents are available here for the first time to researchers and other interested readers. The entire Andrew Jenson and David H. Morris collections will be published by BYU Studies in the forthcoming Mountain Meadows Massacre Documents.

In addition to the documents and transcripts, this issue contains brief histories of the Andrew Jenson and David H. Morris collections, detailing how they originated, how they came into the Church's possession, and where they have been archived. These histories also give biographical information about the various individuals who were interviewed in the 1890s by Jenson, an employee in the Church Historian's Office, and those who gave statements a decade later to Morris, an attorney and judge in St. George, Utah.

More Signature Books coming online

Signature Books is adding more  excellent titles to their online library.  The text and photos of these books will be put online. Signature Books should be applauded for making the text such resources accessible and free to the public. 

Here is a schedule of what books should appear online in the near future. 


Letters from Exile: The Correspondence of Martha Hughes Cannon
Strangers in Paradox: Explorations in Mormon Theology


Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History
Lucy's Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir
On the Potter's Wheel: The Diaries of Heber C. Kimball


Haste: Poems
Leaving the Fold: Candid Conversations with Inactive Mormons
Multiply and Replenish: Mormon Essays on Sex and Family
Sarah M. Kimball


Church, State, and Politics: The Diaries of John Henry Smith
Early Patriarchal Blessings of the LDS Church
Religion, Feminism, and Freedom of Conscience
The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture


Imagination Comes to Breakfast: Poems
The Lost Plates of Laman
A Ministry of Meetings: The Apostolic Diaries of Rudger Clawson
Twelve Mormon Homes Visited in Succession … through Utah


Bright Angels and Familiears: Contemporary Mormon Stories
God the Mother and Other Theological Essays
"Soul-Butter and Hogwash" and Other Essays on the American West


An Army Wife on the Frontier: Alice Blackwood Baldwin
The Canyons of Grace: Stories
Stone Spirits: Poems


A Book of Mormons
Culture Clash and Accommodation: Public Schooling in Utah
Seeing Salt Lake City: The Legacy of the Shipler Photographers


"In Our Lovely Deseret": Mormon Fictions
Oh My Heck! A Pretty, Great Cartoon Book
Various Atmospheres: Poems and Drawings


Of All Things! A Nibley Quote Book
The Last Chance Canal Company
"A Time to Kill": Reflections on War


Black Saints in a White Church: African American Mormons
Under the Cottonwoods and Other Mormon Stories
What Do Ducks Do in Winter? and Other Western Stories


A Biography of Ezra Thompson Clark
The Genteel Gentile: Letters of Elizabeth Cumming
Saintspeak: The Mormon Dictionary

Maxwell Institute Journals

Excerpts from New Maxwell Institute Journals by Kevin Barney

The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship has reorganized its scripture study journals.

For many years it has published the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. Originally that was a 6×9 text only scholarly journal. At some point the decision was made to make it an 8-1/2×11 glossy with lots of illustrations.  The narrow focus on the Book of Mormon meant that there was no outlet for studies on other Mormon scripture.

The Journal has been expanded and renamed the Journal of Book of Mormon & Restoration Scripture. The long time editor, S. Kent Brown has retired, so the new editor is Andrew Hedges.

There is also a new journal, which is not out yet but should first appear this year: Studies in the Bible and Antiquity. The editor is Brian Hauglid,  assisted by Carl Griffin.

Academic Conferences

From Today in the Bloggernacle By Emily W. Jensen

Calling scholars: Sharpen your minds and your pencils to prepare for some of the upcoming Mormon academic conferences. Are you a European Mormon scholar? Then click over to European Mormon Studies Association "2009 Conference, Call for Papers." Or maybe you want to study the paradoxes found in Mormon literature and film. Then check out the "AML Conference Call for Papers."  Or if you're in the western United States, find out more about the "Sunstone West 2009 -- Call for Papers." Or if you can't wait for any of these conferences, check out the schedule to the upcoming "Conference: Preserving Latter-day Saint History" at BYU!

Mormon Country last holdout of republicanism

Excerpts from an article by Just Five Red States Left?

Gallup is in the midst of releasing a series of data from the more than 350,000 interviews that it conducted over the course of its daily tracking in 2008. The first data they've released, on partisan affiliation, contains some sobering news for Republicans:

That's right: just five states, collectively containing about 2 percent of the American population, have statistically significant pluralities of adults identifying themselves as Republicans. These are the "Mormon Belt" states of Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, plus Nebraska, plus Alaska. By contrast, 35 states are plurality Democratic, and 10 states are too close to call.

Still, for things like gubernatorial elections and elections to the Congress, the Democrats' upside is very high, particularly if the party is smart enough to tolerate and accommodate a diversity of opinions within its umbrella. If party affiliation stays close to what it was in 2008, then giving the seats that are up for election, Democrats could very easily pick up another another 5-7 Senate seats in 2010, giving them not just a filibuster-proof majority but also a nearly veto-proof one. Party affiliation probably will not remain that way -- there is typically a shift back to the non-incumbent party after the Presidency changes hands -- but if it does we'll have a very blue Senate. In the House, by contrast, Democratic upside is limited by the presence of hugely Democratic urban and majority-minority districts, which suck up Democrats from the surrounding areas. The real fight in the House may be the redistricting that takes place after 2010 and not the 2010 election itself.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

More McLellin material found

A notebook apparently owned by former Mormon Apostle William McLellin has been obtained by Mormon document collector Brent Ashworth.  The "McLellin Collection" has had an interesting history starting with Mark Hoffman's claims to have obtained the collection.  Since then, some of it was  uncovered in the 1st Presidency's vault and published by BYU Studies.  Signature Books has also published some of the McLellin materials.  Now a 3rd document has come to light.

Excerpt from Early LDS Church apostle's journal bought by Provo collector by Cody Clark - of the Daily Herald

Ashworth said the notebook is inscribed by Hanson, an RLDS apostle, and was handed down to his descendants. Following the death of its most recent owner, the family wanted to sell it. "It kind of walked in the door" at his Provo store, B. Ashworth's, Ashworth said. A friend who'd helped him locate rare items in the past tipped him off, and Ashworth paid what he said was a substantial sum to acquire it.

Excerpts from McLellin journal finally is located by Local Book Dealer - Brent Ashworth , a Deseret News article by Michael De Groote

There was a record of two partial pages of one McLellin notebook. Those pages had been photographed probably in the 1920s. An excerpt from those same pages appeared in an RLDS Church newspaper in 1929. But by the time "The William E. McLellin Papers" was published it was thought the notebook was "not extant."

Ashworth, however, was always on the lookout for McLellin materials and hoped to find the lost notebook. After about 20 years he finally did so.

The notebook is about 6 by 8 inches and 266 pages long. It is filled from binding to page edges with the fine and clear handwriting of a teacher of penmanship. McLellin wrote in it in 1871 and 1872. The notebook has a detailed index of the many subjects it contains.

"My opinion is he was trying to write a book. And this is written with more care than some of his other notebooks. I think he was actually trying to put a book together," Ashworth said.

Another surprise is McLellin's description of Joseph Smith as a student in McLellin's "High school" he taught during the winter of 1834. McLellin wrote: "I learned the strength of his mind as to the study and principles of science. … And I here say that he had one of the strongest and well-balanced, penetrating and retentive minds of any man with whom I ever formed an acquaintance."

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Church News

The LDS Church News is now online at  It also appears to have archives going back 20 years.

Tom Hanks clarification

Tom Hanks is rethinking his comments about Mormons who supported Proposition 8.

Last week, the star, who is an executive producer for HBO's controversial series Big Love about a group of polygamist Mormons, spoke out about the religious group's involvement in passing the California law, which bans same-sex marriage.

"The truth is a lot of Mormons gave a lot of money to the church to make Prop-8 happen," Hanks told at the show's premiere in Los Angeles last Wednesday. "There are a lot of people who feel that is un-American, and I am one of them."

A spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Kim Farah, took offense at Hanks's comments, telling FOX News, "Expressing an opinion in a free and democratic society is as American as it gets."

Now, in a exclusive statement to PEOPLE through his representative Leslee Dart, Hanks is softening his stance.

Last week, I labeled members of the Mormon church who supported California's Proposition 8 as "un-American." I believe Proposition 8 is counter to the promise of our Constitution; it is codified discrimination. But everyone has a right to vote their conscience – nothing could be more American. To say members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who contributed to Proposition 8 are "un-American" creates more division when the time calls for respectful disagreement. No one should use "un- American" lightly or in haste. I did. I should not have.
Tom Hanks.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Midlife Coffee And Tea Drinking May Protect Against Late-life Dementia

ScienceDaily for January 15, 2009 reported on midlife coffee and tea drinking and protection againsty Dementia.
"We aimed to study the association between coffee and tea consumption at midlife and dementia/AD risk in late-life, because the long-term impact of caffeine on the central nervous system was still unknown, and as the pathologic processes leading to Alzheimer's disease may start decades before the clinical manifestation of the disease," says lead researcher, associate professor Miia Kivipelto, from the University of Kuopio, Finland and Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Tom Hanks on LDS involvement in Prop8

Tom Hanks Says Mormon Supporters of Prop-8 "Un-American"

Tom Hanks, an Executive Producer for HBO's controversial polygamist
series "Big Love," made his feelings toward the Mormon Church's
involvement in California's Prop 8 (which prohibits gay marriage) very
clear at the show's premiere party on Wednesday night.

"The truth is this takes place in Utah, the truth is these people are
some bizarre offshoot of the Mormon Church, and the truth is a lot of
Mormons gave a lot of money to the church to make Prop-8 happen," he
told Tarts. "There are a lot of people who feel that is un-American,
and I am one of them. I do not like to see any discrimination codified
on any piece of paper, any of the 50 states in America, but here's
what happens now. A little bit of light can be shed, and people can
see who's responsible, and that can motivate the next go around of our
self correcting Constitution, and hopefully we can move forward
instead of backwards. So let's have faith in not only the American,
but Californian, constitutional process."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Black Jews of Africa. History, Religion, Identity

Mormonism is founded in large part on the idea of Israelite decedents in America.  All American Indians (or recently "some," due to DNA findings) are supposed to be descended from Israelite ancestors. 

Similar religious movements exist in Africa claiming Jewish ancestry.  Massimo Introvigne reviews a new book  by Edith Bruder, The Black Jews of Africa. History, Religion, Identity (Oxford University Press, New York 2008).  Here are a few interest excerpts from his review:

Black Jewish movements in Africa ... claim to descend either from the Lost Tribes or from an early immigration of Jewish tribes from Arabia or North Africa chased southwards by Islam. 
The Lembas, a tribe of some 70,000 members in South Africa, also largely covered in literature about Jewish identity since DNA research published in reputable journals lent some credibility to the claim that they do indeed descend from Jewish tribes from Arabia.

Local prophets started comparing the sufferings of Israel with the sufferings of Africa

Bruder concludes that some claims of African groups to have Jews among their ancestors are not absurd.

[There are claims] that the Igbos, the third-largest ethnic group in Nigeria, descend from Jewish ancestors. This does not prevent some 30,000 Igbo to congregate in more than twenty-five synagogues, although some claim to be, precisely as descendants of the Lost Tribes,

The House of Israel in Ghana, a movement with some 800 member headquartered in Sefwi Wiaso [have] origins [that] lie in a vision by Aaron Ahotre Toakiyarafa.

In South Africa, Jewish ancestors are claimed by the members of several "Zionist" African-initiated churches who are, however, Christian. Some regard themselves as Jewish.

Other groups claiming Jewish decent are listed.  The entire review can be read here.

Eccles Fellowship in Mormon Studies

The Tanner Humanities Center is pleased to announce it has been awarded a grant from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation for $36,000 to establish the Eccles Fellowship in Mormon Studies. The award has been designated to support two doctoral students in researching and writing their dissertations ($18,000 stipend for each), one in 2009 and one in 2010. This fellowship targets Ph.D. candidates across the United States and the world who are researching the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its members, and Mormon culture in the fields of History, Anthropology, Sociology, Education, Economics, Business, Political Science, Religion, or Literature. Through publications, work in the classroom, and in public forums, these future academics, writers, and teachers will have an impact on the study of Mormonism and on students and the general population.

This fellowship is the first in the United States and the world to focus specifically on Mormon Studies. In offering this opportunity at the University of Utah, the Center recognizes the important and unrivaled archival resources for research located in Salt Lake City and Utah. It also begins to redress the imbalance of opportunities facing those who choose to study Mormonism as opposed to Judaism, Catholicism, or Islam. This fellowship will also enhance the recent trend that seeks to raise Mormon Studies to a new standard of academic excellence.

For application forms and requirements please visit

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Doctrine & Covenants History & Doctrine

Mormon Miscellaneous Talk Show
Van Hale
Sunday, 18 January 2009

Doctrine & Covenants History & Doctrine

I will present an overview of the history of the D&C from 1828 to 1981 dicussing some additions, deletions, modifications, historical situations and doctrinal points.

I have a selection of notecards from my notecard collection I will be reading. It is Notecard Selection #7. I will email it to those who email me their request to 


5:00 - 7:00 pm MST


Van Hale

Radio Station:

KTKK 630 AM, Salt Lake City

Live Internet Streaming Audio

can be accessed at:

or mms://

Friday, January 16, 2009

Prop 8 & Video clips

Sean Penn was at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, where his portrayal of gay icon Harvey Milk won the Best Actor Awar.  He was asked about the passage of Proposition 8.

"The Proposition 8 thing was a fiasco in California. Mormon movement should be ashamed of itself, the black constituency that supported Prop 8 should be ashamed of itself." Penn was less certain of whether or not a pre-election day release of Milk would have helped beat Prop 8.

Video of the interview here.

This has been hitting the news - a video by the American News Project raising questions about the church's disclosure of financial investment in the proposition-8 campaign, particularly along the lines of educational aids, call centers, web sites, satellite feeds, etc.

Monday, January 12, 2009

LDS-Church-History Blog

A while back I announced the blog/group  Mormon-Church-History, which presents a detailed look at church history through a daily post of about a dozen chronological church history events.  It is based on a collection of over 70 chronologies regarding church history and is aimed at those who want to look at church history in-depth.

I've created an alternative blog/group called LDS-Church-History.  It  is based on a smaller set of chronologies (less than half the size), does not contain controversial material, and should be more readable, yet still offers a fairly detailed look at church history.  I will try to adjust posts to LDS-Church-History to roughly correspond with the Gospel Doctrine lessons on Church History/Doctrine & Covenants this year.  It will take about one year to traverse the history of the church based on about a dozen entries per day.

I wanted to create LDS-Church-History as an alternative for those who may not be interested in reading occasional controversial material, or who are not looking for such a detailed approach.  If this appeals to you (or others you know who have an interest in church history) I hope you'll sign up.

Friday, January 09, 2009

National Organion for Marriage trys to remove public donor records

Excerpts of Calif. gay marriage foes want donors anonymous by STEVE LAWRENCE, Associated Press Writer

Supporters of the ballot measure that banned gay marriage in California have filed a lawsuit seeking to block their campaign finance records from public view, saying the reports have led to the harassment of donors.

"No one should have to worry about getting a death threat because of the way he or she votes," said James Bopp Jr., an attorney representing two groups that supported Proposition 8, Protect and the National Organization for Marriage California. "This lawsuit will protect the right of all people to help support causes they agree with, without having to worry about harassment or threats."

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Sacramento, asks the court to order the secretary of state's office to remove all donations for the proposition from its Web site.

It also asks the court to relieve the two groups and "all similarly situated persons" from having to meet the state's campaign disclosure requirements. That would include having to file a final report on Proposition 8 contributions at the end of January, as well as reports for any future campaigns the groups undertake.

Supporters of the gay marriage ban fear the donor backlash will hurt their efforts to raise money in the future, perhaps to fight an initiative seeking to overturn the ban.

California's Political Reform Act, which voters approved in 1974, established disclosure requirements for candidates and campaign committees.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Kenn Starr attacks CA Attorney General over Prop 8

Prop. 8 backers blast Calif. Attorney General    
Sponsors of California's voter-approved gay marriage ban accused Attorney General Jerry Brown on Monday of advancing a far-fetched legal theory to justify overturning it.  In papers submitted to the state Supreme Court, lawyers for the Protect Marriage coalition argued that Brown had "invented an entirely new theory" by asking the justices to trump the electorate, which approved Proposition 8 to amend the state Constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman.

"We will not mince words. The attorney general is inviting this court to declare a constitutional revolution," reads the brief co-written by Kenneth Starr, dean of Pepperdine University's law school and former independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton.

Black support for Prop. 8 called exaggeration

Black support for Prop. 8 called exaggeration

Reports of overwhelming African American support for Proposition 8's ban on same-sex marriage were exaggerated in exit polls, a new look at the November election results has found. "Party identification, age, religiosity and political view had much bigger effects than race, gender or having gay and lesbian family and friends," said Patrick Egan of New York University, who wrote the report with Kenneth Sherrill of Hunter College of New York for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Exit polls found that 70 percent of black voters backed Prop. 8 on Nov. 4, even as they overwhelmingly supported Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, who opposed the same-sex marriage ban.  But an analysis of precinct-level voting data on Prop. 8 from Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco counties, which are home to nearly two-thirds of California's black voters, suggested that African American support for Prop. 8 was more likely about 58 percent.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Christian Century review of Massacre at Mountain Meadows

Excerpts from the review Mormon Ghosts by Matthew Avery Sutton.  It appears that Sutton is unaware of plans to write a 2nd volume regarding the cover-up of the massacre.  I don't own a copy of the book, so I'm not sure if the planned volume is mentioned in the book.

In recent years the story of the massacre has received a lot of attention from authors, filmmakers, journalists and even the descendants of the migrants, forcing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to address the event. After years of silence and evasion, three Mormon scholars with close links to the church have tackled the story in Massacre at Mountain Meadows. Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley and Glen M. Leonard faced a number of challenges from the outset. How do you tell a story of mass murder when it involves your own religious community? How do you speak after a century and a half of silence? And most important, can you honestly deal with the fact that your church's own prophet may have been an accessory to murder—or at the very least likely covered up a violent crime?

Ever since [the massacre], scholars and laypeople alike, both Mormon and gentile, have sought to understand how this horrific event could have happened and who was responsible. Some point to evidence suggesting that Young may have ordered the massacre; others believe that he was an accessory after the fact who shielded the killers. Although dozens of people were involved in the tragic event, only a few faced grand jury indictments, and only John D. Lee was punished. He was tried and found guilty almost 20 years after the massacre and was executed by the U.S. Army in 1877 at Mountain Meadows.

Lee was the scapegoat in 1877, and he has reprised that role in Walker, Turley and Leonard's telling of the story.  These scholars left their own skipping pattern behind as well. I had hoped that they would take on some of the recent scholarship on the massacre.

Massacre at Mountain Meadows provides a good narrative of the events leading up to September 11, 1857, and makes a compelling case that Young did not order the massacre. But it does not delve into the Mormon response to the massacre and how that response should impact our understanding of Young, Mormon leaders or the Saints' understanding of their own difficult history.

Despite my disappointment, I do sympathize with the authors. Like most scholars of religion who study their own traditions, they found themselves in an impossible situation. They are certainly good historians, but they are also faithful Mormons. They probably could not find any way to tell the rest of the story without sacrificing one of these two commitments—either they would compromise historical integrity or they would anger their church.

Scholars of religion constantly have to make difficult choices. They are often drawn to studying their own faiths, and they often write much better histories than do outsiders since they understand their own traditions better than anyone else. Yet they also have to struggle far more than outsiders with the most negative aspects of their religion, especially since church leaders never make it easy for such scholars to explore the dark sides of faith. Massacre at Mountain Meadows had the potential to chart a new path in Mormon history by dealing honestly with the past—all of it—but it did not. This is unfortunate for readers and for Mormons themselves, because if Walker, Turley and Leonard cannot tell us the entire story, we are forced to rely on the scathing accounts written by skeptics. As a result, everybody loses.

Religion and Self Control

Excerpts of For Good Self-Control, Try Getting Religious About It By JOHN TIERNEY, New York Times
Michael McCullough, (in the upcoming issue of the Psychological Bulletin)  and a fellow psychologist at the University of Miami, Brian Willoughby, have reviewed eight decades of research and concluded that religious belief and piety promote self-control.

His professional interest arose from a desire to understand why religion evolved and why it seems to help so many people. Researchers around the world have repeatedly found that devoutly religious people tend to do better in school, live longer, have more satisfying marriages and be generally happier.

These results have been ascribed to the rules imposed on believers and to the social support they receive from fellow worshipers, but these external factors didn't account for all the benefits. In the new paper, the Miami psychologists surveyed the literature to test the proposition that religion gives people internal strength.

"We simply asked if there was good evidence that people who are more religious have more self-control," Dr. McCullough. "For a long time it wasn't cool for social scientists to study religion, but some researchers were quietly chugging along for decades. When you add it all up, it turns out there are remarkably consistent findings that religiosity correlates with higher self-control."

As early as the 1920s, researchers found that students who spent more time in Sunday school did better at laboratory tests measuring their self-discipline. Subsequent studies showed that religiously devout children were rated relatively low in impulsiveness by both parents and teachers, and that religiosity repeatedly correlated with higher self-control among adults. Devout people were found to be more likely than others to wear seat belts, go to the dentist and take vitamins.

But which came first, the religious devotion or the self-control? It takes self-discipline to sit through Sunday school or services at a temple or mosque, so people who start out with low self-control are presumably less likely to keep attending. But even after taking that self-selection bias into account, Dr. McCullough said there is still reason to believe that religion has a strong influence.

"Brain-scan studies have shown that when people pray or meditate, there's a lot of activity in two parts of brain that are important for self-regulation and control of attention and emotion," he said. "The rituals that religions have been encouraging for thousands of years seem to be a kind of anaerobic workout for self-control."

In a study published by the University of Maryland in 2003, students who were subliminally exposed to religious words (like God, prayer or bible) were slower to recognize words associated with temptations (like drugs or premarital sex). Conversely, when they were primed with the temptation words, they were quicker to recognize the religious words.

"It looks as if people come to associate religion with tamping down these temptations," Dr. McCullough said. "When temptations cross their minds in daily life, they quickly use religion to dispel them from their minds."

In one personality study, strongly religious people were compared with people who subscribed to more general spiritual notions, like the idea that their lives were "directed by a spiritual force greater than any human being" or that they felt "a spiritual connection to other people." The religious people scored relatively high in conscientiousness and self-control, whereas the spiritual people tended to score relatively low.

"Thinking about the oneness of humanity and the unity of nature doesn't seem to be related to self-control," Dr. McCullough said. "The self-control effect seems to come from being engaged in religious institutions and behaviors."

Personality studies have identified a difference between true believers and others who attend services for extrinsic reasons, like wanting to impress people or make social connections. The intrinsically religious people have higher self-control, but the extrinsically religious do not.

So what's a heathen to do in 2009? Dr. McCullough's advice is to try replicating some of the religious mechanisms that seem to improve self-control, like private meditation or public involvement with an organization that has strong ideals.

Religious people, he said, are self-controlled not simply because they fear God's wrath, but because they've absorbed the ideals of their religion into their own system of values, and have thereby given their personal goals an aura of sacredness.

"Sacred values come prefabricated for religious believers," Dr. McCullough said. "The belief that God has preferences for how you behave and the goals you set for yourself has to be the granddaddy of all psychological devices for encouraging people to follow through with their goals. That may help to explain why belief in God has been so persistent through the ages."

Friday, January 02, 2009

Album "Mountain Meadows" gets rave reviews

Excerpts of "New Sounds - Elliot Brood" by Eden Munro

Elliott Brood 
Mountain Meadows
(Six Shooter)

Toronto-based band Elliott Brood—there is no single Elliott in the band, the Brood being a shadowy figure constructed out of vocalist/guitarist/ukulele- and banjo-picker Mark Sasso, guitarist/vocalist/ukulele-picker Casey LaForet and drummer Steve Pitkin—has a way of sounding like a ghost from the past while remaining firmly rooted in the modern times. It's like a traveller—someone part preacher/part snake-oil salesman—rolled his covered wagon right out of the 19th century and parked it in the 21st.
There's a tendency to approach Elliott Brood's music like this, with a sort of literary reach that fills in the blanks that the band leaves in its songs. Maybe that's because the band draws ideas from the past—Mountain Meadows references the Mountain Meadows massacre, the slaughter of 120 emigrants by a Mormon miltia in 1857—but than lets the narratives find their own way rather than forcing a historical storyline into the songs. 
It's hard to pull exact details from the album—it's more like snapshots of various characters and places that come together in the listener's mind to construct a tale that no doubt shifts and changes between different people, and sometimes likely even for an individual listening for a second, third or fourth time.