Growing up Mormon in Britain

by: Hedgehog

August 1, 2013

The London Temple

Since Hans Mattson interview in the NYT was published there have been numerous discussions taking place. Many commenters lay the blame with Bro. Mattson himself for his predicament, yet have little or no knowledge of his environment. In Bro Mattson I see mirrored every humble, hard-working, diligent, dedicated, obedient and faithful church leader I have had the opportunity to observe here in Britain. To read statements so judgemental, criticising or vilifying him, feels for me, like a stab in the gut. So I appreciated this comment by a fellow Brit over on a post at BCC:

“I refer to what might be called the “Correlation Rule,” which is that if you want to see the Mormonism that SLC would create if it had a relative tabula rasa, look at first world, non-American Mormonism. We have the institutions and the programmes and a cultural ear for Mormonism but because we in Europe are largely the fruit of post-war conversions, we have little inkling of the Mormon intellectual world and have no historical Mormon memory. Our Mormonism is the Mormonism inculcated almost entirely by Correlation.

And we are Elder Mattson as a result. Virtually every English Mormon I know shares his ignorance.”

[my response here]

Picture, if you will, a world away from Utah, away from the US, where the majority of information available about the church is the correlated material published by the church. Where we mostly don’t know what is happening locally in Utah or the US. Where polygamy in early Utah is known about, but mostly not discussed, and the reasons given are care of widows and children, and where we constantly have tell others, that no, we don’t practice polygamy. Where General Authorities descend for stake conference, are mostly benign, but sometimes demand the shaving of beards in a general session of stake conference. Where the culture is one of obedience; trying to run the church right, trying to follow the programs. Where wards are divided as soon as there are the minimum necessary number of Melchizedek Priesthood holders, so that everybody who will has at least one calling, sometimes as many as three. Where leaders are young, and rarely get to attend their Sunday School classes. Where there are full-time CES coordinators pushing the wards to get students enrolled, but your seminary and institute teachers are untrained volunteers relying solely on material provided by CES, and who haven’t grown up living and breathing church history. And in a small village close to the temple nestles as bookshop, your only source for uncorrelated information. Prices are high, because these books are imports, and it isn’t as though there is any competition. And emphasis is on books by and about GA’s. Devout members own a copy of Mormon Doctrine, but no-one’s heard of Richard Bushman, Dialogue or Sunstone. You won’t find anything at all in your local library, and the local Christian bookshop might stock some form of virulent anti-Mormon literature you have been warned to avoid (as a student I once bought what there was; it was laughable rather than dangerous).

My parents joined the church as teens in the 1960s, in the English Midlands. They married and were sealed in the temple. They were, and are, dedicated, hard-working, diligent church members. They did everything they’d been taught: we had family prayers morning and evening; family scripture study daily (we read the entire standard works, Song of Solomon excepting); family home evening every week. They attend(ed) the temple regularly. They did (and still do) their home and visiting teaching, and fulfil(led) their callings diligently. Always paid (and pay) their tithes and offerings. They were not wealthy, far from it, yet I saw them practically empty their meagre savings account back in the day when budget was a separate donation, and the ward had bills to meet. This is my background.

The bookstore in Godstone

I am my parents’ first child. By the time I was 7 I had 4 younger siblings. I first became aware of the difference of my religion in a family home evening lesson, about the Restoration, which began with the question ‘Why do we walk 3 miles to church and back twice every Sunday instead of going to the church just down the road?’ Good question! We didn’t own a car. It was a long trek. I can’t have been very old. And then there was the tea we kept to serve my grandparents, but didn’t drink ourselves; the Word of Wisdom. When I was 8 I had a wonderful Junior Sunday School teacher, the curriculum was church history. I lapped up those lessons, and repeated them almost verbatim in my exercise book at school on Monday morning, to the alarm of my teacher. It was when I’d written the lesson on the Word of Wisdom that I was sent to the head of year with my exercise book. What did she think he could do about my religion? He was as baffled as I was. Still, that was my first inkling that not everyone was happy about Mormons.

Back before the consolidated program I also attended primary, which some years was on a Tuesday evening, and others on a Saturday. I remember one good primary teacher, and a lesson about Wilford Woodruff being a Marvellous Missionary – I think that was the Targeteer curriculum about the latter-day prophets. It’s those early history lessons in Primary and Junior Sunday School that have stuck with me, and which were never surpassed by later teaching as a youth in YW, Sunday School or Seminary.

The year up until I turned 9 (77/78) I began to be aware of race issues at church. We had black members in our ward. Some of those sons were of the age for the Blazer Boys class in primary; the priesthood preparation lessons. It was a time of dissonance. My parents treated everyone equally, and I couldn’t understand how it was okay to go to a church that didn’t. Sometimes the subject came up in class, and one student mentioned Cain. I hated it. It wasn’t fair. The 1978 revelation was a cause of celebration in our ward.

The school teacher I had at age 10 decided his crusade was to save me from my religion. I think he was surprised to find I had my own copy of the Bible, in addition to the Book of Mormon. I learnt early on to defend my religion.

And throughout we had ward activities: road-shows; a summer fête where we had to dress as pioneers, and a native American missionary complete with feathered head-dress performed a rain dance!

By the time I was 12 I had 6 younger siblings. The YW curriculum leant heavily towards motherhood. I determined I didn’t want children, and whenever the opportunity arose asked for clarification of the church position on birth control. But still, the messages seeped in somehow.

I went away to university in 1987. Because of the proximity to the Hyde Park Chapel, and because there were several member students studying there, the Institute director held a weekly lunch-time discussion group for a couple of years. There I became acquainted with some of the more troubling aspects of church history. The director had clearly taken the opportunity of his position to do some research. I was given a copy of Mormon Enigma to read, though it wasn’t discussed. I heard of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. I heard of multiple first vision accounts. Perhaps this was his campaign of inoculation. I don’t know. BYU Studies sat on the shelves of the library (probably the only Institute library in the country). I learnt there were aspects of masonry in the temple;  a member who was also a Mason  defending Masons against accusations of gadianton robber-like organisations. London seemed to be a special case for Institute. Younger siblings attending elsewhere had a very different experience.

And then in the early 1990s something happened. Whilst I was bogged down in my PhD research, ping-ponging across the globe, independent study groups were apparently banned. That was how we heard it. We knew nothing of symposia or Sunstone. Members who had been getting together to study and talk about doctrine and other church related subjects stopped doing so. From now on, only the correlated programs were the appropriate place for that kind of thing.

I feel for Hans Mattson and all others who find themselves in his position. You can hear his own account here.

  • How did you feel when you read about Hans Mattson?
  • Do you think it helps to consider differing perspectives?
  • How do your experiences differ?

Discuss.

 

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20 Responses to Growing up Mormon in Britain

  1. MH on August 1, 2013 at 3:59 PM

    Hedgehog,

    It is very interesting to hear your perspective. For a long time, the Church has been able to create a “perfect” form of correlated Mormonism by removing the “opposition in all things” discussed in the BoM. I think Hans Mattson highlights the problem of trying to hide unflattering aspects of church history. I hope that lessons are learned, but I have a feeling that these things are cyclical. We don’t always learn from our history.

    One thing that Mattson mentioned in the Dehlin interview was that in 1838 there was a great apostasy. Half of the apostles were excommunicated in Kirtland, and Oliver Cowdery and the Whitmers were soon excommunicated in Missouri. How did Joseph respond? He called a bunch of new missionaries. As we approach this internet age with many people falling away, how is the church responding? By lowering the mission age, many more missionaries are being called. It is a very interesting parallel.

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  2. jks on August 1, 2013 at 4:47 PM

    I spend many of my growing up years in England. Fun to read your account since I understood it so well.

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  3. Syphax on August 1, 2013 at 9:10 PM

    I am one of those who had great difficulty being sympathetic to those who never knew the troubling aspects of Church history. Though I’ve tried to cure myself of this attitude, it didn’t “click” for me until I read this. Thanks for writing this. I am a younger-ish person who grew up awash in the information age, where really no information was ever held back from me. I am not sensitive enough to those whose cultural experience was different than mine. I repent!

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  4. hawkgrrrl on August 1, 2013 at 10:15 PM

    This is a very helpful recap. I have said elsewhere that we need to quit calling these men “authorities” since they don’t seem to know anything. But I at least see why from your recap.

    My own experience was growing up in the northeastern US. I had lots of exposure to the early church sites, some of which are not operated by the LDS church. I also had constant exposure to anti-Mormon pamphlets, some of which made really poor arguments, but a few had valid points. When I was in high school, the other sects got together and showed the Godmakers to warn people not to talk to the missionaries. Pretty much my entire graduating class saw this and came armed to the teeth with questions the next day, although most of them were skeptical about the motives of their pastors in ganging up on the Mormons.

    Additionally, my home ward was not very obedience focused. Many of our ward leaders were professors at a local liberal arts college and loved to encourage questioning and dialogue. There were no Utah transplants until I was a senior in high school. Before that, I had never really met any church members from Utah. I found church members in Utah to be far more sheltered and lacking in awareness of the thorny issues than people where I was from. Perhaps it was the proximity to church sites or the relentless attacks from other faiths. It’s hard to say why.

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  5. Fromage on August 2, 2013 at 2:57 AM

    I live in France, far from Paris, in a small ward. As far as I know, only two European members of the ward spend time reading in English. Many members can get by in conversational English, but would not be comfortable reading academic history. Except for correlated manuals and the scriptures, there are approximately 10 books available in French. You have Jesus the Christ, Truth Restored, and the Miracle of Forgiveness available from the church, as well as the 7 books that have been unofficially translated. The unofficial translations can be bought at the following website.

    http://www.livrelds.fr/nos-produits-livres-ref3203.html

    Some may consider Truth Restored to be a correlated manual, but because it is sold as a book, I listed it as a book. There is a biography of a 19th century socialist revolutionary who converted, and a book by Parley P. Pratt. So 3 of the 10 books are histories, but none deals with the issues that concerned Hans Mattson. The correlated material obviously doesn’t.

    It is hard not to have lots of sympathy for Brother Mattson and the Swedish saints. I don’t blame him at all for feeling shocked once he started to do more research.

    Perhaps the native cynicism of the French will serve them well when they find out how they have been treated like stupid children. Many of them already clearly distinguish between “The Church of Jesus Christ”, which is composed of faithful, spiritually alive members and the institutional church, which they mostly disapprove of.

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  6. Jeff Spector on August 2, 2013 at 3:30 AM

    Wow, I happen to be in London as we speak.

    Since I joined the Church in my later 20’s, I was already curious about a lot of Church history. I exposed myself to the anti-Mormon literature in a pre-internet mailing list in the mid 80’s and I set out to find out all I could about the so-called troubling issues. I even went to the COB and talked to the public relations department at one point about a particular issue , which was actually quite easily explained.

    And while I do have quite a bit of sympathy for Bro Mattson (I listened to the MS interviews on my trip over), I know from my own experience, I recognized that the Church’s presentation was, for me, a summary of key events in its history and not a comprehensive study of it. If I was interested, I usually did the additional research to find out as much as I could. I amassed a pretty massive collection of books and materials from my travels, shopping in DI and used book stores for Church books and books about the Church. I have a great deal of materials critical of the Church (some is even half-way accurate). But it served as a jumping off point for my research.

    Without a doubt, the Church has presented a sanitized version of events, but then again, doesn’t most organizations do that? I experienced the same thing studying US history. I had a teacher who was willing to expose the class to seeder version of our history here with regard to slavery, the native Americans, the Panama Canal, Spanish-American war, etc.

    It is hard for me to say that the Church has “hidden” its true history because the additional materials are pretty available, if you were interested. But I would agree that in the last 30 years, the correlation has created a sanitized version of things such that those with limited access to the other materials might never know the “rest of the story.”

    OTHO, Bro. Mattson’s issues are pretty much the standard laundry list that come up. Where I get concerned is where someone like him is willing to negate all the positive experiences he had (and spiritual experiences that he said filled 3 full pages) for these issues. What did the Spirit tell him about the Book of Mormon prior to finding out that Joseph used a seer stone in a hat, for example? Now that he knows that, it is not a historical book?

    And, in the final analysis, what is really the message of the Church, it’s history or it’s mission to bring the word to Christ? Could any organization pass the same test?

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  7. Fromage on August 2, 2013 at 4:00 AM

    Hi Jeff, I am glad you have found a healthy way through these questions. Maybe they could put you on tour with Brother Turley. :)

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  8. Jeff Spector on August 2, 2013 at 4:40 AM

    I could do that….. I’m a normal guy, not a total history geek…. I can relate to most members. Where do I sign up?

    OK, I am off to the British Museum.

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  9. Geoff - A on August 2, 2013 at 7:46 AM

    From a conservative part of Australia, support all you say hedgehog. Would add that we get the version supplied by the Area Presidency, who invariably come with conservative Utah culture, and choose as leaders those who have a culture of not questioning just obeying. So not the enquiring types.

    Our Stake President reported that a recent Stake Presidents training meeting was about how the church, and religion in general, are under attack in America, and of course the family is under attack, code for Gay Marriage coming. To my mind this is a conservative view of life.

    Could these subjects really have been the most important things to teach our SPs?

    It seems that what is important to learn is conservative Utah/ church view.

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  10. Heber13 on August 2, 2013 at 4:51 PM

    “Study groups were banned” and also Elder Mattson talks of the culture of it being disrespectful to raise questions and put leaders in awkward positions to answer things on the spot…both examples of why limited information on some topics would result in cognitive dissonance in the outter stakes of Zion.

    It seems a culture was created early on of drinking the Kook-Aid and reward those that accept what leaders teach with steadfastness and exactness.

    I wonder if in foreign countries like Europe and Australia and other places, if it was even easier to accept teachings on complete faith because it was events in America, not their home country. We find pride in clinging to doctrines that make us feel “peculiar”, and embracing an America-cultured church in a foreign country does provide that.

    Could this be why leaders like Bro Mattson questioned less and accepted a very literal and limited view of historical events for these three reasons:
    1. Taught not to question things from Salt Lake?
    2. Removed from America history of things like polygamy, American Indians and other things the church doesn’t include in correlated materials?
    3. Being a peculiar people helps us be OK with some things that don’t make sense…we take it on faith instead of figure out why we’re peculiar?

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  11. Hedgehog on August 3, 2013 at 12:55 AM

    MH #1, I heard that about increasing the number of missionaries in the interview too, and thought it interesting. I did wonder whether the purpose was to strengthen the individual by the act of doing missionary work, or to get the missionaries away from the influence of those who’d been excommunicated (then) or the disaffected (now). I guess it could be both. And also wondered how that might apply to the current situation.

    jks #2, Do you have fond memories, or were you glad to get away?

    Syphax #3, I’m glad it helped. I do think it’s a good thing that we have now greater access to information

    Hawkgrrrl #4, Sounds like you had a very different environment, and a refreshing one at that. I’m inclined to agree on the use of ‘authority’. Perhaps it’s meant in terms of ecclesiastical authority rather than knowledge, though really, it’d be good if the two could go hand in hand. I do envy other denominations the theological and pastoral training of their leaders.
    I did see a showing of ‘the Godmakers’ while a student, I think the proximity to the Hyde Park Chapel boosted the opposition from the other Christian groups. I was the only member who showed up to watch it though, and thought it rather hysterical (as in hysteria) in tone.

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  12. Hedgehog on August 3, 2013 at 1:19 AM

    Fromage #5&7, Thanks for commenting. It’s great to read a French perspective. I like the distinction you make between the Church of Christ and the institutional church. I see a little of that Gallic cynicism in some people in Britain (mainly the few very long-standing members of more than half a century funnily enough, who probably remember the days before correlation got such stranglehold on things), but very many people seem to idolise the institution still.

    Jeff #6&8, My family and I were in London ourselves on Thursday, though I doubt our paths crossed. I think the experience of someone joining the church in their 20s already with lots of questions is probably worlds apart from someone raised in the church environment. Not that I didn’t ask questions, myself. But it’s also becoming aware of where questions need to be asked as well. I do envy your easier access to information pre-internet days. I agree primary school history is very much a simplified version, but come secondary school, at least here, we are expected to think more widely, and consider tricky questions. The seminary course didn’t build on anything more than I had learned in Junior Sunday School, and certainly didn’t encourage nuanced thinking about church history. I gather from listening to the podcast, that Bro Mattson is still a member of and attends the church, so I think you are a little harsh to suggest that he was ‘willing to negate all the positive experiences he had (and spiritual experiences that he said filled 3 full pages) for these issues.’ I think part of the problem for him was not only the issues themselves, but the way the senior church leaders then dealt with the fact that people were having a problem. I wasn’t too impressed with that myself.

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  13. Hedgehog on August 3, 2013 at 1:41 AM

    Geoff #9, I hear what you say about Utah influence. We got a lot of that over the years. In the last decade we have had more Europeans and Brits on the Area Presidency. The Europeans have tended to be a moderating influence, I think. Not so sure about the Brits however. I know what you mean about the conservative view. It sometimes feels to me the church has concentrated too much on trying to cosy up to the Christian right in the US, though I can’t fathom why they’d want to.

    Heber #10, Well ‘obedience with exactness’ certainly seems to be an admired trait in church members in this country. Our 4th Sunday lesson last week was based on President Monson’s conference talk about obedience. I tried to suggest that if he had gone to his parents and discussed what he was trying to do in clearing the weeds etc., he could have had a useful discussion and learnt something about how fire spreads without having to have lit the fire. No-one wanted to go down that trail of thought. Nope, simply that he should have obeyed his parents about the matches, and all would have been fine…
    You might be right about that element of a prophet not being honoured in his own country (and thus more readily accepted outside). Utah is pretty distant. And the good of being a ‘peculiar people’ was certainly hammered home in Seminary as I recall. Still there is something of an anti-US sentiment in Britain too (as a result of all those wars you – the US – keep getting us involved in…).

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  14. Jared on August 3, 2013 at 11:47 AM

    In July of this year I began my 7th year as a commenter and blogger in the ‘nacle. During this time it has been my pleasure to learn about “faith”. I’m referring to the faith of church members.

    I read about Rosalynde Welch’s address at FAIR this morning and felt she put into words some of the lessons I’ve learned (link is below) about the varieties of faith manifest by church members in our day. Her particular kind of faith is interesting to me. She said:

    Flashes of spiritual knowledge, conviction that prayers are heard and answered, moments of confirmation, these are rare experiences for me. It isn’t that I don’t “feel” the Spirit. Sometimes I feel the emotion, chills, joy, but these don’t self-interpret for me as manifestations of the Spirit. I’m more inclined to feel lucky than blessed… I am religious but not spiritual. I am classic Mormon, return missionary, temple marriage, active, raising kids in the church, etc. Maybe I failed to train my spiritual perception properly.

    To me, this kind of faith seems to be to an emerging faith, a new faith that more and more members are comfortable with.

    I wonder if this is the kind of faith Hans Mattson possesses.

    A faith that is grounded in a different part of the vineyard than mine, therefore, I have a difficult time understanding his predicament.

    I wonder how it is possible for a man who has been so faithful and devoted to be devastated when exposed to uncorrelated church history. I can understand how he could be troubled, even deeply troubled, but not subject to losing his testimony.

    How is it that he served as a Bishop, Stake President, and Area 70 GA that like Jacob in the Book of Mormon, the depth of his Spiritual experiences was such that he could not be shaken when faced with opposition.

    I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that there is something missing in his spiritual development. Maybe the faith crisis he is currently facing will be the source of a break through for him. I hope he finds the strength to turn to Heavenly Father with sufficient energy of heart to acquire a knowledge by experience with the things of the Spirit so that he can’t be shaken by the opposition of this world.

    http://www.maxwellinstituteblog.org/liveblogging-the-fair-conference-part-2/

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  15. Hedgehog on August 4, 2013 at 12:42 AM

    Hi Jared, Thank you for commenting and for the link. 7 years is a long time. I’ve been around online about 15 months, so I can imagine you’ve read a lot of different experiences. Your comments interest me:
    “To me, this kind of faith seems to be to an emerging faith, a new faith that more and more members are comfortable with….
    …I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that there is something missing in his spiritual development.”
    Perhaps this is simply the kind of faith that results being raised with the correlated programs, and the 3 points Heber raised (#10), combined with a world where we now expect to be given all the information and allowed to make our own decisions. In my comment on BCC I linked above I mention the paternalism of earlier times, that is distrusted today. I think our current leaders often expect paternalism to still work, and as I mentioned in my reply to Jeff, I think the response of the senior leaders to the issues raised was as much a problem for Bro. Mattson as the issues themselves.

    “…so that he can’t be shaken by the opposition of this world.”
    This is another issue to me (although I realise I may be reading it not quite as you meant it here). In a world where members get to the read/see the news, have greater access to world history etc. Much of the rhetoric coming from church leaders about the ever-worsening world comes across as quite hyperbolic, even hysterical. It isn’t something we recognise when we look around us. As a woman there’s no way I’d have preferred to live in an earlier time or different country.

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  16. […] of the dumbed-down “correlated” curriculum (which members have no say on), but actively preventing open discussion from going beyond […]

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  17. Jeff on August 5, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    I’m from Salt Lake and was in my early thirties before I learned much about the troubling aspects of Church history. The internet makes it more easily found now than it was then, but it’s not just members in Europe who are unaware of Mormonism’s past.

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  18. Musings on Milk and Meat | Wheat and Tares on February 13, 2014 at 8:12 AM

    […] up at a distance from the uncorrelated meats available to many Utah and US members (see my post Growing Up Mormon in Britain), I feel a great deal of sympathy for those now encountering new information widely available on […]

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  19. naomiewini on February 14, 2014 at 11:44 AM

    This is another pingback from the Milk and Meat post – I grew up in England and moved to the US when I was 18, to attend BYU. I’ve been back home for various lengths of time and watched my home ward explode into a split-stake due to people moving into the area. After having lived in the US (Utah, and for the past few years the East Coast) it’s been very odd to watch such a Utahn correlated system emerge in the middle of the UK. Aside from my brilliant seminary teacher/employer/bishop-during-my-youth, no one knew of Sunstone, Dialogue, none of that, and I completely agree that what you get in the UK is a direct product of correlation. I also was frustrated when people jumped on Hans Mattson as if he was lazy for not knowing certain things about Mormonism.

    The point I wanted to make with regard to this topic, is that I’m distinctly bothered by the lack of cultural-universality in Mormonism, a global religion; Utahn paradigms upheld as global ensigns for religious practice. There should be no cultural root or context for revelations from a non-earthly God, yet much of the church’s statutes, revelations, and doctrinal shifts coincide with American tradition, Utahn politics, and sociocultural shifts pertinent to the Mountain West. I never noticed this one bit, growing up (why would I have?), but after moving to the US, I was quite blindsided by the relationship I saw.

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  20. Hedgehog on February 15, 2014 at 3:39 AM

    naomie, thanks for the comment. I’m with you on the lack of cultural universality, which got some discussion in my post here (http://www.wheatandtares.org/13395/bringing-the-good/), and a great paper I discovered afterwards by Prof Wilfried Decoo (he linked it in a discussion on the Times & Seasons blog), a member in Europe, on the same subject:
    (http://ijmsonline.org/wp-content/uploads/IJMS/2013-6/Wilfried%20Decoo%20IJMS%202013.pdf).

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