A New Age of Mormon Doubt

Pioneer Day is a time for Mormons to reflect on the contributions and sacrifices their forebears have offered to the faith and the building of Zion. In Utah, fireworks flood the skies with brilliant flowers of light in remembrance of the pioneers’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. This year fireworks of a different kind have lit up online news sources and discussion boards too. The story of these fireworks is one of tension between two communities of Mormons: doubters and the staunchly faithful.

On July 21, the New York Times published an about Hans Mattsson, former member of the Third Quorum of the Seventy and Area Authority, who, after his stint in church leadership, began investigating in earnest the questions members had addressed to him in his role as a leader. His curiosity was piqued when, according to his report, a visiting apostle claimed to have a manuscript containing all the answers to difficult questions, which subsequently failed to appear. Mattsson alleges that his inquiry into the manuscript’s fate was met with a curt rebuke.

Mattsson became active in an unofficial community where doubting members could gather to discuss their questions. In 2010, another seventy, Marlin K. Jensen, and Church historian Richard Turley (co-author of Massacre at Mountain Meadows) traveled to Sweden to answer these members’ questions. Yet another seventy, Elder Kopischke, was reportedly present to challenge the doubters to reconcile with the LDS Church or resign their membership after some soul-searching. A handful of disillusioned members chose to resign. Mattsson, shocked and hurt by the apparent ultimatum, said that he was not prepared to make a final decision.

These events have sparked a great deal of discussion online and elsewhere. The core issues of this discussion concern the role of community and education in fostering faith. In the 1980s and ‘90s, the LDS Church experienced a period of explosive growth, placing unprecedented demands on a faith that had long been primarily American and English speaking. Church educational materials were standardized and simplified in an attempt to accommodate large numbers of new converts across the world. Soon, these educational materials looked more like missionary lessons covering the bare essentials of a faith that has many distinctive teachings and a colorful early history.

The uncomfortable contrast between the missionary efforts of Mormonism and the insider’s experience of the community, however, is not a new thing. Indeed, even the insider’s experience of the Church has varied by time and place. Nineteenth-century European converts were sometimes shocked to find upon immigrating to Utah that saints in America were practicing polygamy. Not a few of these converts left their new faith once they confronted this unexpected revelation. Brigham Young, Mormonism’s second prophet, taught esoteric doctrines about Adam and God, still poorly understood today, which were generally omitted from contemporary discussions with outsiders. These esoteric doctrines also found uneven application in Mormonism’s temple rituals. Some temples featured the so-called “Adam-God doctrine” in the endowment ritual, others did not.

In the twentieth century, an effort to streamline Church organization and functions in line with the structure of Mormonism’s priesthood—called Correlation—brought greater consistency to the official teachings of the Church. Myriad questions regarding the history and doctrines of the faith, however, have not received the kind of systematic official treatment older religious traditions have cultivated over centuries. There is no official Mormon catechism or creed. There are no “Church Fathers” whose teachings provide meat for the bones of the scriptural canon. On the whole, LDS Church leaders are drawn from the ranks of professionals and successful businessmen, not academics, philosophers, and theologians.

Depending on individual personality, this lack of systematic doctrinal definition can be liberating or confusing. The authority vested in the Church’s hierarchy naturally prompts members to ask leaders for clarification on intellectual and religious issues, but the faith’s traditional aversion toward creedal statements and catechisms results in the Church’s resistance to providing such clarification. The LDS Church instead prefers to promulgate the basic message of salvation and provide access to authorized sacred ordinances. Members are free to formulate personal views according to their own spiritual understanding so long as they do not publicly contradict the basic teachings of the Church or challenge the authority of its leadership structure.

Regardless of how one rates the success of Mormon education in the faith, at present some sense a growing crisis of faith in the LDS community. The precise meaning and seriousness of this crisis is difficult to gauge, but it is hard to deny that something significant is happening in regards to the Mormon faith’s definition of community and doctrine. Efforts of a few Church authorities and scholars to reach out to a small but significant number of doubters attest to an official awareness of the problem. The disillusioned see a church in freefall. Defenders see one more of a long series of buffetings that date back to the Church’s earliest years—just another bump in the road in a history with an upward trajectory.

The difference now, if such is to be identified, is one of both timing and technology. Not only do Mormons have easier access to information about the Church’s past and the arguments of its critics, but this is all occurring in the context of a rise in vocal secular criticism of religion in general, which has come in backlash against a visible religious fundamentalism and extremism in the global community. The last decade has seen sometimes humorous (e.g., South Park), but often ignorant (Christopher Hitchens), bigoted (Bill Maher), and sometimes even unsettlingly angry (Lawrence O’Donnell) criticisms of the Mormon faith in popular books, films, and television media. The leadership of the LDS Church itself was surprised by the level of popular anti-Mormon sentiment in response to the candidacy of Mitt Romney.

For LDS people, the most crucial factor in dealing with doubt and criticism, as anthropologist David Knowlton points out, is community. The strength of Mormonism has long been its emphasis on community. In recent times, however, the Church has sought to cultivate members’ allegiance primarily through individual faith commitments. Knowlton further observes that, while Correlation enabled the Church to organize its operations on a massive scale, the resulting systemization may have come at the cost of the strength of local bonds between members. Standardization of everything from teaching materials to building codes and even congregational recreation has perhaps eaten away at the fostering of local initiative and sense of community.

Still, the staunchly faithful continue to express their allegiance to the religion in traditional ways. One way to express allegiance to the Mormon community is through personal statements of loyalty to the Church’s founder, Joseph Smith, its current leaders, and, for some, pioneer ancestors. When LDS author Juli Caldwell to the NYT’s article on Mattsson in the online periodical Meridian Magazine on Pioneer Day, she wrote passionately about the sacrifices of early Mormons for their faith. Her spirited expression of loyalty and pride in the face of continuing media scrutiny is understandable, but it also stands as an example of how the contemporary LDS community sometimes falls short in its efforts at reaching out to those who doubt.

Particularly striking is the fact that Hans Mattsson and his fellow Swedes are completely absent from Caldwell’s response to the Times piece, which was largely about Swedish members’ struggles with doubt. Instead, Caldwell recounts the history and sacrifices of the nineteenth-century pioneers who settled Utah and soldiered on in the face of outsiders’ ignorance and bigotry. Caldwell’s narrative arc is one of persecution that begins with forced migrations and massacres, and ends in the most recent example of Goodstein’s Times article. For Caldwell, the persecutions of old continue today in the mainstream media’s war against the Mormon faith. In this war, the Mormon faithful are unjustly assaulted by “accusations” of polygamy, racism, and violence.

Goodstein might be surprised by Caldwell’s characterization of her article, since its apparent purpose was to report on the questions of Swedish Mormons like Mattsson who doubt their faith. Goodstein was not writing in any detail about Mormon polygamy, racism, or violence, although these topics were listed as sources of doubt. Caldwell, however, seems intent upon demonstrating her knowledge of Mormon history in order to put the lie to what she sees as the Times’ depiction of Mormons as ignorant lemmings who follow their leaders blindly. Caldwell’s characterization the NYT article is debatable, and the nature of her response raises its own questions.

One might fairly ask: Does Caldwell’s knowledge and faith invalidate Mattsson’s unawareness and doubt? Is the disparity between these two Mormons in knowledge and comfort regarding Mormon history and doctrine simply the result of differences in personal effort and faithfulness, or are there other factors involved? Do today’s Mormon faithful stand with Mormon doubters as much as they stand against external critics, or are doubters lumped in with external critics? While history plays an indisputably important role in the Mormon religion, what kind of history ought to be taught in such a community of faith?

I do not intend to scold or make an example of Juli Caldwell. Her upset is certainly understandable. I think, however, that her response does represent one facet of a complex phenomenon in this age of Mormon doubt, wherein a memory of past wrongs and external enemies can overshadow the struggles of fellow Mormons. According to Caldwell’s brief bio at Meridian Magazine, she “lives on the shores of the Great Salt Lake.” While I do not know her personally or know her genealogy—presumably she is a Hiatt who married a Caldwell—the information she provides evokes an image of generations-old commitment to Mormonism. I will now say something about this image and the demographic behind it, understanding that it does not necessarily define the person behind the authorial profile.

Caldwell is an old Mormon name. Caldwells came across the plains in some of the most trying circumstances imaginable. There were Caldwells in the Willie handcart company, which was caught in harsh winter weather and lost numerous of its members to exposure to the elements. Some of my ancestors came across the plains in the Martin handcart company and endured similar trials during their trek to Zion.

The Martin and Willie handcart companies experienced tragedy in no small part because of failures of leadership. Leaders make mistakes. The faith and community of the members of the handcart companies, combined with the efforts of Church leaders in Salt Lake, thankfully prevented complete disaster (otherwise, I would not be here). Were it not for the efforts of all, the loss of life would have been much higher than the unacceptable losses that did occur. In the midst of the crisis, recriminations or blaming past persecutors would have done nothing to prevent a greater tragedy.

In my opinion, the experience of these handcart companies contains important lessons for the perceived crisis of the present. The hundreds who died in the frozen weather of the plains did not cause the LDS Church as a whole to perish, but the lives of these dead were no less precious than those of the survivors. Those who did survive managed to do so because of the united efforts of pioneers (survivors and deceased alike) and leaders. Many of the members of these handcart companies were not at Kirtland or Haun’s Mill, and they did not enter into polygamy, but the sacrifice of these pioneers is honored all the same.

The current wave of doubt and disaffection in the LDS Church requires the same combined effort and sense of community that brought past generations of Mormons together and kept them together. It is necessary to find ways to address these challenges that speak to all Mormons, not just those who read voraciously, have pioneer ancestry, or remain completely loyal in the face of every challenge. The survival of Mormonism itself may or may not depend on the response to this present crisis, but the state of the community’s soul certainly does.


Comments

A New Age of Mormon Doubt — 38 Comments

  1. Thank you for those thoughts on the situation. It seems a bit more productive than the initial urge – on both sides – to find someone to blame, without actually trying to solve the problem.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Seth. Much should and ought to be written about what could be done to meet the challenges facing the LDS Church and its members. Some of it has to be done by the LDS Church itself, but I think there is room for a good deal of productive intellectual work that might put things in a different light. And, I agree with Knowlton when he argues that historical problems are probably not the root problem, although they are a contributing factor. I look forward to reading others’ contributions on these issues.

  3. I agree the present crisis requires a united effort to address. In fact, sign me up for the bucket brigade! I think Maxine Hanks’ response to David Knowlton demonstrates the generosity of spirit that we all, both liberals and conservatives, must somehow muster. I hope my probably discursive point here doesn’t distract from that.

    But yesterday Newsroom published an excellent editorial about “the relevance of religion.” I read it and was shocked at its perceptiveness about the drivers of religious disaffiliation. It almost seemed to me a response to the NY Times article, saying, “Really, this is not just about whitewashed history.” Of course, it just hits the tops of select issues, and is not an academic discussion, but it shows self-awareness that the church is caught in larger currents of religious change. Religion is becoming more personal and less institutional.

    Also, and better said, religious institutions (to stick with that term) are becoming increasingly smaller and informal. This blog is a religious micro-institution, and here I am, making a Sunday School comment, waiting to see if I’m welcomed or rejected, trying to figure out what “joining” might mean for me, etc. In the religious institution marketplace, the church has to compete successfully against outside competitors, of course, but much more seriously, against the micro-institutions like this blog that its own members are setting up against correlated Mormonism. Members like the Mattssons don’t leave the church so much as just transfer their membership records to an unauthorized congregation within it (the Internet Mormon Ward).

    I’m just saying (as many, many others have noted) that far more problematic than shocks over historical discontinuities is the near-zero transactional cost of group formation that the current communications revolution has brought about (see: social media, this blog, the Meridian Magazine community, etc.). The church history dept. and correlation can’t address that, as least directly. History will always just be written and rewritten to serve institutional needs. It’s inherently political speech. I like us rewriting Mormon history to serve today’s internet Mormons, but it’s too inevitable to be exciting in concept. Digital-age dynamics of community formation–now, THAT’s exciting. I’d love to see us spend more time debating Clay Shirky and less time debating how to write our history.

    I think probably a lot of people at the COB get this and the Newsroom story shows it. Might we be on the cusp of moving beyond “I’m a Mormon” mainstreaming initiatives to a “local religious communities and churches still matter” campaign? And to policies that let them matter even more?

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/relevance-religion

  4. Thank you for the rich response, Carl. There is quite a bit there to chew on. First of all, however, I would like to link people to David Knowlton’s blog, so others can read his piece in its entirety and also Maxine Hanks’ thought-provoking comments:

    http://stormsandpower.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-contemporary-crisis-in-mormon-faith.html

    It seems to me that Correlation, no matter its impact on Mormon community, was never intended to, nor could it have achieved, full control over the LDS Church on every level. LDS folk have always been very proactive in doing good. Mormon discussion groups and blogs sprang up in great abundance over night, creating these micro-communities you broach. The Church itself has not been on the vanguard of every technological innovation, but it has embraced some new technologies fairly rapidly. Blogs and discussion groups, however, can develop (and have developed) in directions that the Church does not desire. I recall some disciplinary action over blogs a while ago, but I have not seen anything of that sort in a little while. My guess is that everyone from top leader to individual member is learning how to avoid excommunication because it is probably not the best outcome for anyone concerned.

    Does the newsroom piece you link to suggest a move to policies that allow local communities or micro-communities to spring up and flourish? I hope so.

    Whether the Church does facilitate such communities or not, however, these unauthorized congregations will continue. Speaking of my personal experience, in times of complete detachment from the LDS Church, I have remained active in online discussions of Mormonism, and that has kept me connected. While the nature and quality of that connection is something others will debate, it has been an important part of my Mormon identity and I would argue that this online connection has been a good thing.

    Thanks for bringing Clay Shirky to my attention. I was sadly uninformed about his work. It will be good to dive in and bring you my questions.

  5. I hate to bring something as simplistic as Wikipedia to the discussion, but their entry on Clay Shirky contains an idea that I think applies well to the current discussion:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clay_Shirky#Institutions_vs_collaboration

    “Shirky states that since many social systems follow the Pareto principle wherein 20% of contributors account for 80% of contributions, traditional institutions lose out of the long tail of contributors by turning only the few that dominate the distribution into employees. The cooperative infrastructure model escapes having to lose this resource. Shirky presents an institution as enabler and institution as obstacle concept. For the few, high-volume contributors, they can be assimilated, as employees, into the old-style corporate model thus can live in an “institution-as-enabler world”. The long tail of contributors, however, who make few and infrequent contributions, see institutions as an obstacle as they would never have been hired, therefore, disenfranchised. Shirky argues that an idea or contribution may be infrequent and significant. Furthermore, all of the long tail contributors, taken in aggregate, can be substantial. One pitfall of the “mass amateurs” creating their own groups is that not all niches that are filled will be positive ones; Shirky presents pro-ana groups as an example. Shirky closes by stating that the migration from institutions to self-organizing, collaborative groups will not be a complete migration and will not end in a utopian society. Rather chaos will follow as the printing press before it created and that this period of transition will last roughly fifty years.”

    So, perhaps those LDS people who prefer to contribute online are a resource the LDS Church would lose were it not for the blogosphere and the discussion boards. And, it is true that I have encountered a number of volunteer apologists who do not attend services regularly.

  6. Also, and better said, religious institutions (to stick with that term) are becoming increasingly smaller and informal. This blog is a religious micro-institution, and here I am, making a Sunday School comment, waiting to see if I’m welcomed or rejected, trying to figure out what “joining” might mean for me, etc.

    Carl, I loved your comment. Welcome to our religious micro-institution. It was wonderful to hear from you; please come again and don’t be afraid to speak up in the WWE Sunday School! :)

  7. Excellent post, Trevor, and thoughtful comments in response. You covered a lot of ground, but this jumped out at me as especially perceptive:

    “Not only do Mormons have easier access to information about the Church’s past and the arguments of its critics, but this is all occurring in the context of a rise in vocal secular criticism of religion in general, which has come in backlash against a visible religious fundamentalism and extremism in the global community. The last decade has seen sometimes humorous (e.g., South Park), but often ignorant (Christopher Hitchens), bigoted (Bill Maher), and sometimes even unsettlingly angry (Lawrence O’Donnell) criticisms of the Mormon faith in popular books, films, and television media.”

    It’s really not just about the fact that church members have access to a lot more unvarnished information about the church and its history–it is indeed significant that the church is facing a qualitatively different sort of criticism than what it has faced in the past. The criticisms come not from wild-eyed evangelicals proof-texting from the Bible to prove Mormonism is a non-Christian cult; they come from people applying science and reason to the claims of the church and finding them wanting. The church has been caught completely flat-footed, and is still focusing its institutional response to counter the “Mormons aren’t Christian” line of attack. Church leaders, especially Presidents Hinckley and Monson, spent decades reaching out to conservative Christians to find common ground, only to get outflanked by the secular ground troops. One nit to pick: you mention the humorous, ignorant, bigoted, and angry critics. But I think there have been plenty of level-headed, accurate, calm and rational critics of the church establishing an Internet presence over the last decade or so, and LDS church leadership hasn’t had a clue as to how to deal with them. The church is still trying to fight the Ed Deckers of the world, and that has only exacerbated the problem.

  8. @Christopher – Thanks. This is all waaay more interesting than my other, non-virtual Sunday School class.

    @Trevor – Shirky really understands how disruptive the internet is and how unpredictable the outcomes will continue to be. Most people want to think they can understand this; Shirky knows nobody can, even himself. But he narrates brilliantly the forces at work, and gives great commentary on the unraveling of the old information power structures and the rise of new. It’s very hard to see these new structures because, Shirky says, only history can delineate them. But he has great eyes for near-field history.

    I’m not sure internet Mormonism can ever be any kind of a usable resource for the church. In fact, it’s developed precisely to facilitate collaboration, exchange, etc., that the church has (and least implicitly) rejected as non-useful. Also, institutions can only use a resource they can manage. Typically, entirely new institutions are being created to crowd-source, deriving a value from disorganized activity that is independent of its exact content. It can’t be otherwise. The crowd decides what it does and can’t be managed. Facebook can’t determine what you post, etc., but the content of Facebook is irrelevant to its success. It was created around this irrelevancy; just the activity of posting to Facebook creates value for Facebook. But the content of internet Mormonism is not irrelevant to the church’s success, at least as it has always constructed success. And what kind of management structure could organize it towards planned institution outcomes?

    Since anything that can’t be managed can’t be institutionalized, Meridian Magazine is as big a problem for the church as MormonThink. The church knows this. The internet really is breaking everything. The church knows this, too, by now. And I’ll stop with that since I’m derailing your OP.

    @Eric – I think external criticism is good and even necessary for religious movements. Criticism defines boundaries and hence community. An institution would never reach out to any critic that is filling that useful purpose. (Though of course individuals within it might.) The problem with “level-headed, accurate, calm and rational critics” is we agree with them, or we would not admit any of those validating adjectives. In that case–and this is internet Mormonism–there’s nobody to fight but yourself. That’s the crux the church faces and there is no possible (managed) institutional solution.

    At some vague but recent point, internet Mormonism reached that critical mass where it became too large to disown. It’s now a borough of the church. I’m certain that cannot and will not change. How the church will change to accommodate this disruption is unguessable. Which is what makes this all so interesting.

  9. Very nice post. Having been in a position much like those in the article I found myself facing either continued membership or falling away. I realized that after awhile I had placed my rational mind over my spiritual. I cannot answer the obvious problems with Mormon origins no more than I can answer the equally obvious problems with any religious origins. What remains is only belief.

  10. @ Eric S.- It is true that Mormonism has been on the receiving end of stiff criticism from atheists. That issue opens up a Pandora’s box of problems that I was unable to address in the OP. I know that Daniel Peterson and others have acknowledged this challenge and have written some about it, but I would agree with you that the religious struggle in their attempts to answer new atheist criticism. I would attribute it to the fact that both the atheists and the religionists are so illiterate on the topic of religion that they have little worthwhile to say to each other.

    @ Carl – Thanks for the clarifications. I suppose I was thinking more along the lines of how the Church can indirectly benefit by the chatter about Mormonism online. You are right that the Church cannot control or use online communities as it will. But, it seems to me that the existence of places where interesting discussion about Mormonism can occur is useful in that such discussion picks up the Church’s slack. As things currently stand, the LDS Church does not seem to be able to foster rich discussions of Mormonism within the chapel. At best, one has Maxwell Institute as a place to publish Mormon Studies. Church services don’t engage on that level of discussion, and study groups are still frowned upon (or at least they still bear too much of a stigma).

    @ Ron- Thanks for your response and kind words. I hope more people can productively discuss your strategy for dealing with this issue.

  11. Pingback: Mormon Doubt: A Personal Observation | Tired Road Warrior

  12. The doubt that will continue to plague Mormonism, and will continues to grow, is not just related to Mormon-specific issues vis’a’vis the internet or to new admissions by the Mormon church regarding its own history.

    In 1830 it was not totally unreasonable for the masses to believe that the Bible was reliable history and the word of a god. The success of Joseph Smith was highly dependent on a culture and a population that uncritically accepted those premises. That remains true for Mormonism today.

    The only ways in which virtually anybody enters into Christianity in the first place are either thru childhood indoctrination or else in a state of rather profound ignorance of the Bible itself. (If you can find an exception, it proves the rule. Find a handful, and it’s damnation by faint praise.)

    Look around: every GA in the history of the Mormon church, every member of the BYU faculty, every Mormon apologist at BYU-Neal Maxwell or FAIR, every person at “mormonscholarstestify” (and even every pope for that matter)… virtually all of them entered into Christianity that way. Why?

    Virtually nobody enters into Christianity based on the conclusions of honest, serious, critical study of the Bible. Why? Why does true, critical study and knowledge of the Bible so heavily prejudice people against converting from Unbelief to Belief? Why does such study lead to so many people de-converting away from Christianity?

    What critical study, for instance, supports Genesis as reliable history and the word of a god more than it does any other Bronze-Age myth, story and religion?

    There’s a reason why Mormonism has shifted its missionary emphasis to the developing world where such ignorance of the Bible is endemic. Even for a contact who can cite the entire Bible verbatim from memory. The Mormon missionaries, perhaps satisfactory at scripture chase, are just as ignorant. Most adult Mormons today, including their GA’s, share this same basic and rather profound ignorance of the Bible. (And they all entered into their Christianity in the first place in the same two ways.)

    How could it be otherwise? For instance, concerning Judaism and Hebrew scripture, almost the only things that most missionaries or contacts or adult members know is what they’ve learned from over the Christian pulpit, from the NT, and from out of Christian translations and interpretation of Hebrew scripture. That doesn’t say whether a belief is true or false but it guarantees the basic, background ignorance.

    Consider the embarrassingly insipid KBYU scripture class by the so-called “professors of ancient scripture.” It’s probably true that they have a deeper, critical understanding of the Bible but they, themselves, are obviously bored silly with the pablum discussion that they (are forced?) to present. How else could they be so uninspiring, disinterested and boring? Is it possible this is the same level of academic Bible scholarship that they teach in the BYU classroom?

    In the end, ultimately, Mormonism reduces to childhood indoctrination, ignorance of the Bible, and interpreting common, routine religious or spiritual experiences as a ghost bearing gifts. (Once you’re in, of course, one can, indeed, become a legitimate Bible scholar, but that’s a totally different story.)

    Nothing the Mormon hierarchy can do can change that because there is nothing specifically Mormon at the root of Mormonism’s biggest problem: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God” (whether or translated correctly) because Joseph Smith (or mommy & daddy) told us that we do.

  13. Actually, I know several individuals with post-grad educations who converted to Christianity FROM atheism in adulthood.

    But glad to see you admitting Shelma, that “everyone is doing it” is considered a form of reasonable moral argument in atheist circles.

    Were you trying to advertise the juvenile popularity contest that modern atheism has devolved into? Or is this your roundabout way of telling us that morality is whatever a lot of people happen to like?

  14. Seth, R., are you saying that they converted based on the conclusions of serious, honest, critical study of the Bible?

    If not, your answer is simply a non sequitur.

  15. Seth, R., comments about morality, atheism and “everyone is doing it” are even less relevant. Although, I would venture that a morality based on empathy, altruism, a sense of fairness & sharing, cooperative social living, and the nurture, education and the protection of the live-born young is anything but “anything goes…everyone is doing it.”

    Traits, by the way, seen to one degree of another in not a few social mammals and not just in primates. And they don’t need to be delivered by divine fiat. Indeed, they are totally silent about the existence or non-existence of a god.

    I have to admit, I generally seen responses more apropos to the original comments .

  16. Well, it certainly appears that the only way you seem capable of figuring out the question of the correctness of a movement is whether it is popular or not.

    That sort of moral compass could have taken you to all sorts of interesting destinations in the 1930s, depending on where you lived.

  17. Actually, one of my good friends in France left the LDS Church in his twenties over a lot of the usual atheist objections, not just to Mormonism, but to the Bible in general. He spent a lot of time as a regular over amongst the Dawkins crowd beating the wardrum.

    Then he grew out of the phase – realized the stupidity and shallowness of the modern atheist movement (and its self-contradictory foundations) and became a Catholic.

    He still thinks Mormonism’s claims are not legitimate. Nice guy, I keep in touch with him a lot.

    But really Shelama – you honestly think I haven’t heard and read this critical information about the Bible you keep referring to?

    You probably do.

    New atheists tend to think they are the only educated people in the room. It’s one of their most ridiculous defining features.

  18. Like I said, self-observation isn’t one of the strong suits in the New Atheist crowd.

    I imagine you aren’t even aware that nice big word you discovered applies more to comment #12 than any post on this thread.

  19. You should try some intellectual-sounding prattle about Occam’s Razor next.

    That’s sure to wow your message board friends.

  20. Actually, there was an Evangelical once who recognized the truth to those observations of how virtually everybody who enters into Christianity place does so in the first place… “Yes, that’s true,” she told me, “but so what”?

    That’s really the only necessary and meaningful answer.

    It’s interesting. Stephen Smoot of FAIR goes so far as to admit that it’s totally rational to conclude from the evidence that the BOA and the BOM and Mormonism and Christianity are all man-made.

    Like you, though, he has difficulty dealing honestly with what it is, then, that makes or leads people to enter into Christianity anyway.

    (I’ll use the word as long as you oblige and keep making it appropriate… as you just did again. You, on the other hand, can’t point to a single example in #12.)

  21. Shelma, I must have missed the part where I was trying to lead you into Christianity.

    Can you point that out for me?

    Also, am I correct in deducing from your assessment that you think there’s a 50-50 chance Christianity is correct then?

  22. Seth, that’s even further out in left field than anything else you’ve said. Virtually none of which has been relevant to #12.

    I neither said nor implied nor suggested anything about *YOU* “trying to lead me (or anybody else) into Christianity.” How you arrived there is a mystery.

    No, you are not correct in your deduction at all. I think there’s somewhat less than a 50-50 chance that there’s a deity who cares one way or another about Homo sapiens sapiens.

    I have to chuckle. This place was referred to me as a cut above many other Mormon sites, whether academic & scholarly, apologetic, or simple love-fest.

    I have to think now that she was pulling my leg.

    =====================================

    Seth R_ “Actually, I know several individuals with post-grad educations who converted to Christianity FROM atheism in adulthood. “

    – Irrelevant to anything said in #12.

    ———–

    Seth R_ “Well, it certainly appears that the only way you seem capable of figuring out the question of the correctness of a movement is whether it is popular or not.”

    – That might be related to something, somewhere, but I don’t know what. Help me out. I simply made observations (which your examples don’t contradict) and asked questions. To which you became hyper-defensive and then wandered into digression.

    ———–

    “Actually, one of my good friends in France left the LDS Church in his twenties over a lot of the usual atheist objections, not just to Mormonism, but to the Bible in general. He spent a lot of time as a regular over amongst the Dawkins crowd beating the wardroom.”

    – Again, that might be related to something, somewhere but I don’t know what. Help me out.

    ———–

    SethR_ “Then he grew out of the phase – realized the stupidity and shallowness of the modern atheist movement (and its self-contradictory foundations) and became a Catholic.”

    – The relevance to what?

    ———–

    Seth R_ “That sort of moral compass could have taken you to all sorts of interesting destinations”

    – A morality rooted in empathy, altruism, cooperative social living, a sense of fairness & sharing, and the nurture, protection and education of the live-born young can lead to “all sorts of destinations”? Hmmm… BAD destinations? Example, please? Thanking you in advance.

    ———–

    Seth R_ “But really Shelama – you honestly think I haven’t heard and read this critical information about the Bible you keep referring to?”

    – Whether you’ve heard or read about something in the period after you entered into your Christianity is totally irrelevant to anything said in #12. Sorry.

    ———–

    Seth R_ “…realized the stupidity and shallowness of the modern atheist movement… He spent a lot of time as a regular over amongst the Dawkins crowd beating the wardroom…. New atheists tend to think they are the only educated people in the room. ”

    – I never mentioned or promoted either atheism or Dawkins. Both of them are irrelevant. These seem rather like straw-men.

    ——————

    The reality is that you’ve not meaningfully addressed anything even said in #12.

  23. Well Shelama, this place generally is.

    But not when the refugees from Dawkins.net come over to crow about how superior atheism is, and how obviously people are only in Christianity because they are deluded tools.

    You want to act like a jackass? Then expect sub-par responses.

  24. I usually try to be pretty polite to people who don’t pull the usual tiresome “atheists are superior” routine.

  25. You’ll note the other commenters here didn’t even bother to respond to you. Wish I’d followed their lead.

  26. Your references to “superior,” atheists, atheism and Dawkins are all non sequitur. Again.

    As is an attribution to me that people are only in Christianity “because they are deluded tools.”

    What, within Mormonism, merits “acts like jackass”?

    Maybe their lead was simply their way of avoiding having to say, “Yes, that’s true, but so what?”

    Having read all of their bios I’m doubtful any of them would have embarrassed themselves by taking your tack. (I also didn’t see anyone who fell outside of the observation of how people enter into Christianity in the first place. For you, of course, it went without saying.)

    Unassailable observations and comments and questions and you went all to pieces.

    Interesting.

  27. No, I don’t think any of them would have taken my tack. They’re all a cut above me. I have no problem acknowledging that.

    But none of them would have taken your tack either.

    “The only ways in which virtually anybody enters into Christianity in the first place are either thru childhood indoctrination or else in a state of rather profound ignorance of the Bible itself.”

    Can you really not see the little narrative you were trying to construct there?

    You were basically trying to say that thinking observant people don’t stay in Mormonism. Or that thinking observant people don’t accept Mormonism’s faith claims.

    Are you even remotely aware of how arrogant and superior you came off as in that comment?

    Then you just pick up the shovel and start digging:

    “Virtually nobody enters into Christianity based on the conclusions of honest, serious, critical study of the Bible.”

    “What critical study, for instance, supports Genesis as reliable history and the word of a god more than it does any other Bronze-Age myth, story and religion?”

    “There’s a reason why Mormonism has shifted its missionary emphasis to the developing world where such ignorance of the Bible is endemic.”

    “In the end, ultimately, Mormonism reduces to childhood indoctrination, ignorance of the Bible, and interpreting common, routine religious or spiritual experiences as a ghost bearing gifts.”

    ““We believe the Bible to be the word of God” (whether or translated correctly) because Joseph Smith (or mommy & daddy) told us that we do.”

    Yeah. Please point to me why I should regard you as different from any other self-righteous, smugly superior atheist I’ve encountered who thinks atheists are inherently more honest, mentally capable, and enlightened than religious people.

    This ought to be good.

  28. You might do better if you ceased trying to impute to me characteristics or traits or motives (or the construction of a narrative) and simply dealt honestly with the observations and the questions.

    If you’re not able, that’s fine.

    If a BYU prof gave you a blue-book test with those as the Assertions and the task was for you respond to them intelligently and thoughtfully and factually, what would you do?

    (How you personally regard me is up to you. It’s also irrelevant to the issue. I personally couldn’t care less.)

  29. If a professor tried to pull those kind of leading and presumptive questions, I’d have a lower opinion of her professionalism. Probably try to answer them anyway as a part of my grade requirements.

    Alright…. I stand by my assertion that you are basely judging an entire group of people and trying to set your side up as superior. But you’ve been civil, so I’ll address your points in a general sense.

    The problem with your bullet points here is that they aren’t adequate to establish the implied thesis. That the only way you can be a faithful Christian (i.e. believe in the Bible in any sense) is in spite of true facts and evidence. You’ve asserted some general cultural problems with Mormon ignorance, shallowly-learned missionaries, and a BYU seminar that didn’t go well (I didn’t think it went well either, for the record).

    If your thesis had been – “Mormon culture needs more intellectual and critical depth, and has done an inadequate job of schooling its followers” I might have had a few nitpicks, but I probably would have let it go without comment, since I tend to feel the same way and have said so before. I wouldn’t have had a problem with that.

    However, you tried to turn these limited assertions, a couple anecdotes, and broad generalizations into the rather strikingly ambitious claim that its impossible to have faith in the Bible once you’ve been informed enough. With the clear assertion that the only decent Biblical scholars are those who’ve gotten over believing in it. You tried to assert a Mormon culture of anti-intellectualism, with the clear implication that they were inherently less intellectual than your crowd, or perhaps other secular demographics in places like the United States.

    For this, your evidence is woefully inadequate. Mainly for two reasons:

    1. You haven’t established a wide enough study group. You haven’t presented enough anecdotes to be convincing. Furthermore, you haven’t really presented any hard data on the intellectual state of Mormons, let alone Christians in general (in fact, you didn’t even present any data at all from the Evangelical, Catholic, and other Christian spheres).

    2. You have no control group whatsoever. You didn’t bother to examine or demonstrate how Mormon deficiencies stack up against the deficiencies found in any other culture in the first world. How are we to conclude from your remarks that Mormons are more anti-intellectual than American atheists when you give no basis for comparison?

    What we are left with is nothing more than bare assertion from you that Mormons are less intellectual than atheists, and the only way you’d be a faithful Mormon and a faithful Christian is in direct contravention of fact and evidence.

    And you wonder why the response wasn’t high quality?

  30. That response was worse, and just as laden with non-sequiturs, mis-statements, straw-men, digressions, distractions and avoidances as anything you’ve offered.

    Btw, the BYU prof was playing the devil’s advocate with you, just to see how well, and how honestly, you could think and respond.

    You failed his test.

  31. Btw, I talked to her again. She laughed and, while she didn’t admit to pulling my leg about this site, she didn’t deny it.

    btw2, I never wondered why your response, by your own admission, “wasn’t high quality.”

  32. Pingback: Volume 2.30 (July 22-28) « The Nightstand @ Weightier Matters of the Law

  33. Shelama: Your post here and responses to Seth R. have been over-the-top arrogant and failing to acknowledge the kind and responsive answer when given. Your argument that no one enters into Christianity by studying the Bible is true for a lot of folks, not everyone. It is merely a function of the fact that Christianity has been ubiquitous so that there must be a naive phase, a critical encounter and an resolution of the critical information. Paul Ricour has written a great deal about first order and second order naivte as hermeneutic response.

    That said, there are numerous atheists who have returned such as the famous C. S. Lewis. Anyone who served in the Far East could give story after story of conversion to Christianity. More importantly, there are many — many — like myself who have studied critical biblical scholarship and assess our belief structures in light of new information.

    However, I cannot let your arrogance and condescending tone in #12 pass. It is so typical of those who think they know better than anyone who is a believer (a self-absorbed arrogance) and then pontificate that no intelligent person could look at the same evidence and reach a different conclusion. No, it is rather you who lack both imagination and charity. I’ll put my knowledge of critical biblical scholarship (and the base languages that are important to that study) up against yours.

    The fact is that it is not only possible but quite common for folks to pass from a first order naivte to a second order critical stance and then to a third order of reconciliation and faith. Yes, I believe in God and angels and life after death. I also believe in a mind that is not fully explained by brain activity, moral principles that cannot be reduced to matter or some equation of social benefit based on evolution and free will that cannot be reduced to a causal past. Such a view does not entail that I am credulous or uninformed as your tone and assertions here portend. A little charity on all sides would go a long way.

  34. “There’s a reason why Mormonism has shifted its missionary emphasis to the developing world where such ignorance of the Bible is endemic. Even for a contact who can cite the entire Bible verbatim from memory. The Mormon missionaries, perhaps satisfactory at scripture chase, are just as ignorant. Most adult Mormons today, including their GA’s, share this same basic and rather profound ignorance of the Bible. (And they all entered into their Christianity in the first place in the same two ways.)”

    That must be why I served my mission in a country that was once officially atheist.

  35. I served in Japan – which is functionally atheist in many ways.

    That paragraph you quoted Allen is typical New Atheist posturing. They like to bandy about figures about how atheists are better educated, have lower crime rates, and all that as a group.

    I like simply pointing out that this indicates that atheism is a luxury good – and largely the province of bored first world spoiled brats (who also tend to have a rich mommy and daddy to fund their degree, and a lower crime rate).

    It’s a grossly unfair statement on my part of course. But it’s richly deserved by the New Atheists who like to spout self-serving refuse like this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>