The Great Hawaiian Cat Massacre and Joseph F. Smith

Talking of kindness to animals – this post from Amanda at the Juvenile Inspector seemed appropriate:

This year, I am planning on flying to Honolulu to do research on Mormon communities such as Laie and Lahaina.  Hawai’i’s official tourism website assures me that I will enjoy the “clear, blue waters of Kailua beach,” “the metropolitan cityscapes of Honolulu,” and “the historic architecture of Iolani Palace.” (  Had I traveled there in the nineteenth century, however, I would have found myself surrounded not by luxurious hotels and volleyball courts but a multitude of half-fed, half-wild dogs and cats.

When William Root Bliss visited the city in 1873, he discovered that what should have been a quiet port city had been transformed into a noisy, yowling place by the pets of its residents.  “Every family,” he reported, “keeps at least one dog; every native family a brace of cats.”  In addition to these beloved pets, there were five thousand homeless animals and a gaggle of cocks and chickens for cockfighting.  As soon as dusk hit, a single crow would caw, asking how Bliss liked “Hoo-ner-loo-loo.”  It wasn’t long before a dozen of his compatriots had joined in.  The dogs would then begin to howl, joined by the cats who protest with “every vowel sound in the Hawaiian language.”  It was impossible, he wrote, for him to sleep.  Although Mark Twain did not comment on his ability to sleep in Honolulu, he wrote in Roughing It that when he arrived in Honolulu, he saw a profusion of cats – “Tom cats, Mary Ann cats, long-tailed cats, bob-tailed cats, one-eyed cats, wall-eyed cats, cross-eyed cats, gray cats, black cats, white cats, yellow cats, spotted cats, tame cats, wild cats, individual cats, groups of cats, platoons of cats, companies of cats, regiments of cats, armies of cats, multitudes of cats, millions of cats, and all of them sleek, fat, lazy and sound asleep.” Nor was it simply travelers who noted the massive number of animals in Honolulu.  Even local newspapers sometimes opined the infestation.  On March 19, 1875, for example, The Islander reported that a young girl passing through the island had simply said “O I saw plenteo dogs!” when asked to describe Honolulu.  The newspaper then told its audience that the description was “a brief and truthful description” of the city in its “salient points.”  The number of dogs had been increasing in the city in spite of the attempts of the government to control the population.

Although the earliest Mormon missionaries arrived nearly twenty years before these reports were printed, they too noted the prevalence of animals in the city – the numerous, dogs, cats, hogs, and chickens that seemed to swell the streets.  Joseph F. Smith, in particular, noted their presence in his diaries.  He found their ubiquity within the homes of native Hawaiians disturbing.  With few exceptions, he wrote in his July 4th, 1856 journal entry, “hoges, doges, cates and they live together.”  The animals he saw were not the clean pets that he had envisioned in Utah.  He saw “doges particularly besides other animals, compleately covered with the itch so that there have had all left their bodies in a scale.”  What disturbed him most was the close contact such animals had with his food.  In one Hawaiian home, he complained, he had seen a dog “its eyes and mouth… drolling,” its body more skin than bones, and its flesh covered with “running sores and scabs” standing over the “calabash of poi” that he was to eat.

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Posted by on April 11, 2012 in History


Mormonism’s Forgotten Conscience (re: Animals)

A post of the treatment of animals from Claudia, and the Doves and Serpents blog.

A few years ago, I came across a gem of a little book which I wish would be a standard work in the book collection of any Mormon.

Kindness to Animals and Caring for the Earthcompiled by Richard D. Stratton, “contains over 200 statements and stories on kindness to animals and caring for the earth from leaders, scholars, scientists, astronauts, historians, and frontiersmen of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Approximately ninety percent of the passages are from prophets and apostles, including excerpts from nearly every President of the Church.  Each share their opinions, stories, or heartfelt expressions on kindness to animals and respect and admiration for the natural world.”

George Q. Cannon, counsellor in the First Presidency under Brigham Young and editor of the Juvenile Instructor, probably wrote more concerning the humane treatment of animals than any member of the Church. In 1868 he began writing editorials advocating kindness to animals by 1897 had founded the Sunday School-sponsored “Humane Day” (aka “Mercy Day”), an annual event dedicated to animal welfare.  In addition to Humane Day, the LDS Church held “Bird Day” from 1913-1915, where a certain day was appointed for Sunday Schools to teach about the preservation of birds locally.

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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in History


The Prophet Amos and the City Creek Mall

Jana Reiss, at Flunking Sainthood, had some timely thoughts on the opening of the new LDS Church mall:

On March 22, the LDS prophet and his counselors were among the dignitaries cutting the ribbon for the controversial new City Creek Mall in Salt Lake City, leading an enthusiastic crowd in a chant of “Let’s go shopping!”

Since then, I have read and heard a great deal of mall-related murmuring in some Mormon quarters. But there was so much disagreement about even the basic facts of this new mall (how much it cost, what funds the Church used to pay for it, etc.) that I didn’t want to raise any concerns until I had done some research.

Last week I had the chance to see the mall for myself. I was in Utah for a conference, so I made a point of stopping by when I had my requisite lunch at the Lion House Pantry in the neighborhood (Best. Rolls. EVER.)

In the mall I saw Michael Kors, Porsche Design, Coach, Sephora, Brooks Brothers, Nordstrom, and a host of other luxury stores. The point of this mall is to be blingy, not quotidian; its upscale ambience is repeatedly mentioned in promo literature as a source of pride. Its retractable roof is the envy of other outdoor malls. Its fountains are beautiful, its skybridge convenient. The mall is a class act in every way.

Religion & Ethics Newsweekly put the cost for the new mall at $1.5 billion. Because the funds came from the Church’s development arm, which oversees its international investments, members’ tithing money was not used to pay for it, and the Church can expect to recoup at least some of its costs over the years through the sale of condos and the posh rents for more than 900,000 feet of retail space.  Moreover, such profits are tax-exempt.

There’s been grumbling that the Church has invested too much money in a dying retail breed—the shopping mall. I don’t know enough about the future of retail stores to comment on that. (Well, I know something about bookstores, and thirteen years in the book industry have taught me that bookstores are in deep caca.) I also don’t know enough facts about the anecdotal rumors I hear that the Church is currently cutting back on its assistance to some Welfare recipients. That may not be true at all, and even if it is true there may be very good reasons for it. I have no way of knowing. It is certainly true that the LDS Church has done some good things for poor people in Salt Lake City. And I’m trying to be positive about what the Church has emphasized about the importance of revitalizing SLC’s downtown.

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Posted by on April 6, 2012 in Money


City Creek Center & Rolexes

Professor Brent Beal gave the following commentary on the LDS Church’s new City Creek Center:

I’m sure the new City Creek Center is amazing. According to the Deseret News, thousands flocked to the new development this past conference weekend. The church reportedly invested $1.5 billion in the project.

If I’m in Salt Lake, I’ll go see it. I’m sure it will be as grand as advertised. I’ll walk around for a while, mesmerized by the scale and luster of it, and then I’ll remember that the development—everything, including the fountains, the retractable roof, and the $20k Rolexes—is a physical manifestation of my religion, and the dissonance will start to eat away at the shine of it.  I wonder how different things would be if we could fuel a bonfire with our collective vanity and let the heat forge it into something else—something else more worthy of our humanity and our spiritual aspirations.

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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Money


Polygamy Numbers

Ben Park shared this critique of the popular misconception that only 3% of Mormons practiced polygamy:

[In early August], FAIR went live with their Mormon Defense League website.[1] Among the “false claims” the website seeks to debunk concern the LDS Church’s current relationship to polygamy. In an effort to distinguish the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from polygamous groups in the western United States, the MDL emphasized that plural marriage was a limited practice that had been officially stopped over a century ago. (Including perpetuating the unfortunate rhetorical battle over the label “Mormon”–a battle of deep irony when considering our frustration of others refusing us the label “Christian.”) To answer the question of the number of Mormons who practiced polygamy, it replied that “modern estimates of LDS members practicing polygamy prior to 1904 range between 2% and 20%.” While the website does admit that it is tough to get an accurate number, and that it depends on who you count within the statistics, their final number (2% to 20%) is unfortunate in that it is not only false but misleading.

The MDL shouldn’t be blamed as the first organization to present this number. The 2% figure, which has been perpetuated for over a century through many sources, probably originated with the Utah Commission in the mid 1880s, which in turn was probably received from the LDS Church itself in hopes to downplay the practice of polygamy in the era of federal prosecution. It was then echoed in the Reed Smoot Trials from 1904-1907 as the Church sought to distance itself from its polygamist past. The figure appeared in many public venues–most notably LDS-owned newspapers–in the 1930s as LDS Leaders worked to put distance between themselves and the growing fundamentalist organizations. It still crops up today, most notably in President Hinckley’s interview with Larry King where it was presented that “between two percent and five percent of our people were involved in [polygamy].”[2] If only 2% of Mormons practiced polygamy, this reasoning tends to argue, then it wasn’t nearly as bit a role within the Church as detractors would like to claim.[3]

The biggest problem with this number is that it is demonstrably wrong. Demographical work done by Kathryn Daynes and others that shows that the number of Mormon individuals living in polygamous households was closer to 20 to 30%, with variations over time and region.[4] One would have to take some seriously narrow parameters to get anything close to 2%, and some very optimistic framing to have a top number of 20%. Granted, there were decades and areas that had lower percentages, but there were plenty of times and periods that made up for it.

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Posted by on October 24, 2011 in History, Marriage


We Are A Warlike People

President Kimball’s Sobering Assessment Illuminated by the Case of the Mormons in the Third Reich.

By Alan Keele, Professor Emeritus of German Studies, Brigham Young University

I begin with some words of President Spencer W. Kimball from the Ensign of June, 1976. His article commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and is entitled: “The False Gods We Worship.” President Kimball wrote:

We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel … and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”(Matthew 5:44-45) … What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? … Our assignment is affirmative: … to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.

President Kimball had similar things to say in the First Presidency Statement on the Basing of the MX missile five years later, in 1981, as well as in his Christmas and Easter Messages around that same time. (The remarkable revelation on the Priesthood in June of 1978 fell directly between these pronouncements.)

President Kimball’s inspired words of 1976, 1978, and 1981 were unprecedented and courageous. Anyone alive at that time will remember clearly how much fear and hatred had been generated by the Cold War and the policy called Mutually Assured Destruction, appropriately abbreviated MAD. I recall people I otherwise considered sane seriously advocating a preemptive nuclear first strike on the Soviet Union.

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Posted by on September 19, 2011 in History


On Earth to Learn to Play “Simon Says”?

Lynette shares her views on obedience:

I’ve never quite understood the idea that we’re primarily here on earth to learn obedience. It’s the kind of thing that you’d think we could have practiced to boring but pristine perfection in the pre-mortal life. Ahh, you say, but the difference is that here we have to learn to obey even when God isn’t explicitly around. So now you get the added twist of having to figure out what’s really coming from God. This, I have to say, sounds disturbingly like a game of “Simon Says.” Your primary aim is to learn the skill of figuring out which commands are coming from Simon, and then to obey them as quickly as possible. And even more troubling, Simon’s voice is often unclear, but you risk eternal consequences if you get it wrong.

And what does this create? A lot of people who are good at playing Simon Says (though of course they can’t stop arguing about what really came from Simon and calling to repentance those whom they think are playing the game incorrectly). But while Nute Gunray and the Trade Federation might want to build droid armies, in the context of LDS teachings, I can’t say I really understand why God would want one.

So what’s up with this idea that obedience is the first law of heaven? In the New Testament, Jesus says that the first great commandment is to love God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength. And while some might interpret that as simply a fluffier way of saying, “obey God,” that doesn’t work for me. In fact, I would say that conflating love and obedience is a dangerous move–at the very least, it’s certainly not something we would advocate in any mortal relationship. Someone who proclaims, “if you love me, you’ll do what I say,” should probably raise our suspicions.
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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in History