Twilight of the Conservative Mormon Group Blogs

Things are out of balance. While one side of the socio-political (and faithfully orthodox) divide waxes ever more prominent in the online Mormon world, the other side wanes, wasting away, evaporating into nothing.

Consider the position of some of the most notable conservative Mormon group blogs from recent years:

  • Real Intent launched in 2012 with more than two dozen great bloggers, including some widely known names, and produced some intriguing and even powerful posts. However, after publishing a total of seven items in the years 2015 and 2016 combined, they have yet to post anything since then.
  • Orson Scott Card created Nauvoo Times and seemed to have hit on an easy success formula: not only did it also have a roster of admirable authors, many of the posts were merely reprints from the authors’ home blogs–constant content should have been a simple thing. But this site also failed and folded, though archives are still online.
  • The great standard bearer of this group is undoubtedly the Millennial Star, but even that’s not immune from these doldrums. Frequency of posts declined sharply several years ago, and at the end of 2013, they brought in Meg Stout to apparently fill the void and keep their product fresh. Meg’s writing is thoughtful, lucid, and original, bringing views and concerns to the table that would otherwise be largely absent. But most importantly–and most relevantly for this post–she’s productive. Of the last fifty posts at Millennial Star as of 5/5/18, Meg has written 21 of them–nearly half. That’s as many as the three next most frequent contributors combined. This isn’t to criticize Meg or anyone else at M*–again, she brings a lot of quality to the table, but the point is that M* isn’t really much of a group blog right now, at least not to the degree it once was. It’s become more like Jr. Ganymede, a great personal blog that sometimes features other voices.

Meanwhile, how many of the socially/politically liberal Mormon group blogs have expired or declined? The only one I can think of is Mormon Matters, which didn’t really die so much as it evolved into something else.

Is no one else worried by this trend? Where have all the great voices–faithful to the church, dissenting from the world’s culture–gone?

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An Origin of Apostasy

It seems like there’s a pretty standard path to apostasy that some believers follow:

Step 1: “I have an idea about something mysterious or controversial in the gospel.”  Not dangerous–this is a natural result of study and reflection, and undoubtedly happens often.

Step 2: “This idea makes sense to me.  I find it useful.”  Getting a little risky here–it’s so easy to be seduced by our own imagination, hence the ample warnings against such in the scriptures.

Step 3: “Since I find my theory reasonable and attractive, I think that it is true.”  Patently fallacious.  Reason and attractiveness do not make ideas true; these criteria are arbitrary, not naturally corresponding to fact.  Plenty of things could be reasonable and attractive but not true–hence the prophetic warnings against the “philosophies of men.”  At this step, one is rapidly approaching apostasy, if not already there.

Step 4: “I will now enlighten the world with my valuable discoveries.”  At this point, someone is very likely in a state of apostasy.

The lesson is clear: beware of pride.  We must keep a very tight rein on our vain imaginations.  This is important for bloggers–including me–to always remember.

Official Bible Verses of This Blog?

Deuteronomy 10:1

At that time the Lord said unto me, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto me into the mount, and make thee an ark of wood.


1 Chronicles 22:2

And David commanded to gather together the strangers that were in the land of Israel; and he set masons to hew wrought stones to build the house of God.


I like the context in these–the stone being hewed is for the ten commandments and the temple.  Alas, if only Moses and the masons had been instructed to do their hewing gently…my blog could have the perfect verses!


Evolving Media

Watching an old silent movie this week inspired an analogy.  In the early decades of film, the acting was exaggerated because the actors were trained for the stage–they were playing to the back row of a theater.  It wasn’t until we adjusted to the nature of the new medium that people started to use it in a more productive manner (thank you, Marlon Brando). 

Is writing undergoing a similar metamorphosis?  We still generally compose electronically online with the same basic rules we’ve always used for print writing, but obviously an evolution is underway: the writing that we do for screens is getting shorter, more flexible, and more casual.

But print-based writing won’t disappear.  Just as movies didn’t destroy theater, but simply evolved in their own direction from the parent art, online writing will likely develop in its own unique way, and traditional writing will thrive as it ever has.  Consider that, while Hollywood grew, that distinctly American genre of musical theater likewise developed into the wonderful subspecies it is today.  Despite the near-ubiquity of film, people still see plays of all kinds, and I’m sure that there will always be plenty of people who write and read traditional, standard English, too. 

What’s most surprising about the explosion of a uniquely online style of writing, though, is just how many technology boosters themselves are alarmed by it.  Continue reading

An Anti-Teacher Witch Hunt

News outlets reported on Thursday that Natalie Munroe, a teacher in Pennsylvania, had been suspended, pending termination, for writing critical comments about her students on her blog. 

According to the articles (such as here and here), she had written that her students were “lazy” and “whiners,” among other things.  My initial thought was to ask if she had directed comments at any certain students, or called them by name.  It appears that she hadn’t.  She did, however, use profanity on the blog; while it is unclear from the reports if it was directed at the students, it probably was, and that would be wrong–abusive language is never appropriate.  She also seems to have made comments about children’s physical appearances, and written things like, “I hate your kid.”  Yes, that’s over the line.

But the headlines, the complaints against her, and the comments on articles I’ve read mostly excoriate her for criticising students in general, not for the inappropriate content itself.  Parents and students at the school are outraged that a teacher could write about frustrations over poor student performance. 

Really?  Have any of the offended parties here bothered to consider what merit the criticisms might have?  Is it really so awful to suggest that maybe, just maybe, some teens actually are lazy whiners? 

Before anyone goes crying “Blasphemy!” and prepares to storm my castle with pitchforks and torches, can you see the irony of the situation?  If the teacher here was saying that her students and their parents are self-absorbed and entitled, how exactly is their response proving her wrong? 

About a year and a half ago, a report was released which studied 30,000 American teens and found that a third of teens are thieves, two thirds are cheaters, and about 80% lie to their parents.  Fully 93%, however, said that they are proud of their good character.  Wow. 

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Why I Blog

There are four main things that keep me going here.  In order of their importance to me:

1.  Journaling.  I began this blog primarily as a novel way to juice up my journaling habit.  Though I rarely include here the kind of overtly personal information we associate with journals, I usually do write about things that are related to my life, and events that are important to me at the time.  Looking back over my entries, this has really been a very effective way to chronicle my own history. 

2.  The Joy of Composition.  The popularity of blogging has dropped in general because it’s a lot of work.  For me, it’s never been a chore.  I love trying to form the perfect combination of words to present an idea and get it across clearly and memorably.  Blogging is a stress-relief hobby; the very act of writing is fun for me, whether or not it reaches anybody else’s eyes, though I do enjoy having an appreciative audience.  Which leads to my next reason:

3.  The Great ConversationContinue reading

A Scriptural Warning Against Navel Gazing and Hand Wringing

In our Sunday School class today, the parable of the nobleman and the olive trees in Doctrine and Covenants 101:43-62 was brought to our attention to help teach about following the prophets.  I hadn’t paid much attention to this story before, but it strongly underscores some things on my mind lately. 

This parable is meant, in the strictest context, to illustrate to the early Latter-day Saints the importance of helping to gather and establish Zion, as opposed to their general reluctance to do so previously.  The story has a nobleman with a field of olive trees, which he gives to the care of a staff of servants who are charged with building hedges and towers around it for security.  The servants promptly overanalyze their orders, debating its merits; after all, they say, this is a time of peace, and couldn’t the money be better spent on humanitarian projects (D&C 101:47-49)?  While they discoursed with each other, an enemy did come in and destroy the trees. 

Like all parables, this one would seem to have a broader application, as well.  If the Lord’s intention in telling this story was to impress upon us his “will concerning the redemption of Zion,” we could extend this to mean Zion in general, as in each of our families, wards, stakes, and the church’s spiritual condition overall.

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Cleansing the Bloggernacle Vessel

My first introduction to the bloggernacle–before it was even called that–was several years ago when Jeff Lindsay started his Mormanity blog.  I’ve always followed that and have branched out to many other blogs since then.  I’ve seen many interesting, faith-promoting, stimulating, and Christ-centered things online.  I’ve been kindly invited to write at two of the big group blogs (though I have yet to decently follow up on the more recent invitation).  My spiritual life has definitely been enriched by blogs.

But I haven’t seen much good for a long while.  Though it keeps growing in size, readership, and prominence, the overall spiritual worth of the bloggernacle has taken a sharp nose dive recently. 

I’ve been thinking about this all year.  Both in quality and quantity, the parts of the bloggernacle which I frequent have been increasingly disappointing.  New posts come up less often, the material that does get published is less spiritual and less faithful, and more of the links are to things that are practically anti-Mormon.  Comments from people who aren’t regulars tend to be received with quick rudeness and little grace.  Authors who I used to look forward to seem to have disappeared.  I see a drastically growing trend to implicitly impugn our leaders online, and that just isn’t acceptable. 

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Hilary Hahn Can Write

I’ve praised virtuoso violinist Hilary Hahn here before, but in this post I want to applaud her for another great artistic skill: her writing.

Hahn keeps a journal on her website, where she blogs about touring and concerts, the classical music industry, travel, and some odd and obscure observations about the minute details of life she sees from her unique vantage point.

She is a very excellent writer.  I always enjoy checking out her little essays when I get a chance; my only complaint is that she doesn’t write more often (I’ve often been disappointed to see months at a time lag by without new material).  Her prose is a whimsical joy, her buoyant focus with the keyboard as evident as it is with string instruments.  Truly, talents tend to cluster, and Hahn is generously blessed with gifts in at least these two arts. 

Consider this excerpt from an August post:

I got a little carried away, I suppose, because I didn’t notice the microphone suspended overhead until the tip of my bow halted as if I had hit a wall. I knew immediately what had happened; I practically leaped back, shocked both at the bow suddenly jamming into my hand and at the crack that I heard from the speakers beyond the stage.

The next morning, in the paper, the review mentioned the airborne flock with the equivalent of a literary wink but griped that the burst of fireworks heard from across the park during my opening solo might have been better saved for another day.

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Blogjet d’art

The infancy of the electronic age has been accompanied by instant and ubiquitous prognosticating about the inevitable advent of online art.  What I wonder is this: when will the first great work of literature first appear online?  When scholars and schools of the future look back on the 21st century and study our contribution to the canon, will the early works of earthshattering, breathtaking prose have been things that appeared self-published online, or in an e-zine, or even, dare I wonder, on a blog?

When will a generation of writers break new ground in marrying the form of the medium to its content as, say, Dickens did with his serialized works, or Cervantes did when he wrote a second part to Don Quixote responding to unauthorized “sequels,” or Joyce did by integrating news headlines into Ulysses?  What will it look like when someone starts finding the perfect marriage of the World Wide Web’s visual layout and the untapped abilities of text that it might uncover?  When will we see a powerful vision of HTML and prosody commingled?  Will it be a cheap novelty at first?  Will it be scorned–or ignored–by the establishment, only to be appreciated by our grandchildren? 

Is it already out there?  Or will it somehow never be?  No, sooner or later, the Great American Blog will surface.  (Perhaps the Great American Text Message?  Or even the Great American Tweet?  OK, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.) 

I’ve seen some wonderful writing online, but nothing that wouldn’t work just as well, or even better, on the printed page.  I don’t know exactly what I’m wishing for, but it’s more than just text in a fancy font or with some jazzy animation or backgrounds.  I guess that’s the thing about watershed events: you just can’t predict them until some genius has actually done it.  If you could, then it would already be done. 

So I’ll continue to wade through the Slough of Des-blog, seeking a great new work of literary achievement.  Until then, I can always read Shakespeare.

The Commonplace Blog

As I finish planning for the fourth quarter of the school year today, I found among my materials from last year my directions for a summative project I made up called “The Commonplace Blog.” 

First, I review with students what a “commonplace” was.  This is especially relevant in American Lit:

“Commonplacing is the act of selecting important phrases, lines, and/or passages from texts and writing them down; the commonplace book is the notebook in which a reader has collected quotations from works s/he has read. Commonplace books can also include comments and notes from the reader; they are frequently indexed so that the reader can classify important themes and locate quotations related to particular topics or authors.”


“Students with literary tastes, in days when books were hard to come by, kept ‘commonplace’ or notebooks into which they copied out verses or prose extracts that particularly appealed to them.” The Intellectual Life of Colonial New England, by Samuel Eliot Morison (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1965; reprint of the 2nd ed., 1956): p. 49.


“An early practitioner of reflective journaling was Thomas Jefferson. He would synopsize and capture the key points of his readings and add his own reflections, recording them in a journal which he called his ‘commonplace book.’ One of his biographers quoted Jefferson as saying ‘I was in the habit of abridging and commonplacing what I read meriting it, and of sometimes mixing my own reflections on the subject’ (Cunningham, 1987, p. 9). His tutor, James Maury, commended the practice as a means ‘to reflect, and remark on, and digest what you read’ (Wilson, 1989, p. 7).”-Herman W. Hughes, Dialogic Reflection: A New Face on an Old Pedagogy


So, it’s a very old tradition of keeping clips of writing you like in a sort of scrapbook.  For more about commonplace books, and especially to see how important they were in the early American tradition, see this article from Yale.


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