Saturday, January 31, 2015

Is the Church "Burying" the Gospel Topics Essays?

A phenomenon I've observed with some critics of the Church on the Internet is the propensity to "move the goalposts" when confronted with evidence that contradicts their arguments. For those who aren't familiar with this metaphor, moving the goalposts occurs when someone in a debate "change[s] the criterion (goal) of a process or competition while still in progress, in such a way that the new goal offers one side an intentional advantage or disadvantage."

To illustrate this, let's take a look at the reaction seen on some corners of the web to the Gospel Topics essays on sensitive or controversial issues. For years, I've heard the complaint that the Church isn't doing anything to address such controversies as the early Mormon practice of plural marriage, the translation method of the Book of Mormon, the issues surrounding the Book of Abraham and the Joseph Smith Papyri, etc. When the Church began releasing the Gospel Topics essays in 2013 that did address these very issues, I noticed that while many critics were pleased by this (if only because it fulfilled some fantasy of theirs that past dissidents had finally been vindicated), still many others (unwilling to cede any ground) merely shifted the goalposts. "Well, that's all fine and good," they said, "but the essays don't have the names of the authors. Nor the names of any of the members of the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles." In response to this, some (such as myself) pointed out the fact that the Church made public that the essays were vetted by the First Presidency before being published. Whether any names appeared on the essays or not is pointless.* They're as official as anything can be, having gained approval by the highest levels of Church authority. (Incidentally, Elder Steven E. Snow once related to me in a conversation not too long ago that, in some instances, the Brethren undertook line by line revisions and edits before approving the essay for publication. That gives you an idea of both how serious they are about this stuff, as well as how informed they are on the content of the essays.)

Was that good enough for the critics? Of course not. "Well, okay, so the First Presidency and the Twelve are cool with the essays," the critics said. "But instead of talking about them in Conference and publishing them in the Ensign, they just buried the essays on LDS.org. You see, they still don't want members reading the articles!"

"Buried." That's the word I've read the most. Right next to "hidden" or "suppressed." The authors at MormonThink, for example, assert, "The essays are not advertised in the Ensign, discussed in Conference or prominently mentioned on the Church's website. They are merely listed in the topics section buried in the LDS.org website."

The criticism has thus morphed from:

Church isn't addressing the issues ==> Essays don't have the respective names of the authors and/or the names of the First Presidency and Twelve ==> Essays are "buried" on LDS.org. 

(If one is so inclined, one could follow the route of this ex-Mormon and shift the goalposts further by complaining that the essays only appear in English, which of course just goes to show how little the Church cares for members outside of English-speaking countries.)

Do you see how the goalposts have shifted? Not willing to grant the Church any good faith or credit (because, remember, it's just a soulless corporation masquerading as a church), these critics devise ad hoc justifications for why the Church still isn't doing enough for them. The Church, no matter what, can never be good enough. It will always be in the wrong. I bet the Church could release a new copy of Preach my Gospel with the Gospel Topics essays appended at the back, could run them in every copy of the Ensign from now until the Second Coming, could preach them from every General Conference, and could devote entire Sunday School classes to members copying them by hand, and the critics would still complain that the Church isn't doing enough.

It honestly reminds me of a child complaining for ice cream, and when the parent finally gives the child the ice cream, the child then complains that they wanted ice cream with sprinkles. When the parent gives them rainbow sprinkles, the child then complains they wanted chocolate sprinkles.

But let's return to the claim by MormonThink that the essays are "buried" on LDS.org. To test this claim, I decided to use the basic search engine on the homepage of LDS.org to see how long it would take me to find them. Below are the results.

(Click on the images to enlarge)



















I guess MormonThink has a point, if by "buried" it means "pop up in the first 1-4 hits when using the homepage search engine." 

But let's suppose you're unable to use the search engine on the LDS.org homepage because . . . reasons . . . and want to instead go straight to the Gospel Topics page. Here is what you'll be greeted with.


Ah ha! See, the essays are nowhere to be found! You have to use the search engine or browse article by article to find them! 

Oh, wait. That's the bottom half of the page. The top half looks like this.


Notice what's lined up there on the righthand side of the page?

At this point, though, let's assume that you don't even know how to access the Gospel Topics website. Besides simply using Google, which brings up this . . . 







. . .  you could also just go to the LDS.org homepage, click on "teachings" (for if you want to, say, look up General Conference addresses) and find this.


You'll see that the Church has literally "buried" the Gospel Topics pages two clicks deep into LDS.org. 

But what if you didn't know to look under the "teachings" tab, and can't be bothered to spend 30 seconds to hunt down the link to the Gospel Topics page under said tab? No problem. The Church has you covered.



Last of all, as a nice dollop of whipped cream on the coco, is this article on the Church's Newsroom page, which reports the names of the Gospel Topics essays and the date of their publication.  



Is the Church "burying" the Gospel Topics articles? Hardly! Unless if you literally have no idea how a search engine works, or can't be bothered to make two easy clicks on the LDS.org homepage, or can't be bothered to type in the three words "gospel topics essays" in a Google search, the essays are easily accessible.


*A tangent to this point that I've encountered from some critics is to argue, "The Brethren don't want to put their names on the essays because they're cowards who (A) know the essays are bogus and/or (B) want plausible deniability when the real experts disprove all that apologetic nonsense." Needless to say, both points are little more than mind-reading and question begging, and, lacking any evidence, can be dismissed out of hand.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Didn't You Know? BYU Is a Laughingstock!

Pictured: The Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University. I'm told there was even a book inside there once! 

I have encountered, on a number of occasions, the claim that my alma mater, Brigham Young University, is a laughingstock and an international joke. Outside of the Mormon Bubble, I'm told, nobody takes BYU or its academic and student programs seriously. The faculty at BYU, it's said, is little more than a pack deranged pseudo-scholars who unquestioningly take their marching orders from the Mormon hierarchy, and wouldn't stand a chance in real academia. (This, presumably, includes my Belgian non-Mormon physics professor.) The students don't fare much better, as they are poor, wretched creatures who are being brainwashed into never thinking critically about the world.

In short, nobody in the academic or professional world takes BYU seriously.

(Not infrequently these claims come from ex-/anti-Mormons who wish to delegitimize anything associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)

Imagine my shock when I discovered this article.

U.S. News and World Report: BYU is ranked "No. 62 out of 201 (tied with Clemson University, Purdue University-West Lafayette, University of Georgia, University of Maryland-College Park and University of Pittsburgh)."

Forbes: "BYU . . . ranks on other college lists produced by Forbes, including No. 14 in the West, No. 40 in research universities and No. 66 in private colleges. The major financial publication gave BYU a financial grade of A."

Business Insider: BYU is No. 1 out of 25 in the "Colleges where students are both hot and smart" category. "Just in case being smart wasn't already a valued trait for BYU students to have, they're good-looking and attractive too. The university's Honor Code, clean-shaven and well-groomed guys, modestly dressed girls, friendliness, a rampant dating scene and a focus on marriage mixed with a strong academic program and good professors basically make the Mormon-affiliated university the perfect school, beating out sister school BYU-Idaho, Yale University, UCLA, USC and Stanford University."

Forbes: BYU is ranked No. 1 out of 25 in top universities to work for. "Why should one work for BYU? Gentle and gracious people to work with, a clean campus, excellent working conditions, fulfilling and interesting work, flexible schedules and learning new things from your colleagues."

The Princeton Review via The Huffington Post: The Harold B. Lee Library is ranked No. 3 out of 10. "The sleek and modern Harold B. Lee Library, located in the center of campus, is not only a great place to study hard and hit the books, but also features what the students really want in a library: a snack zone, a music floor, plenty of outlets for all of your electronic devices, comfortable chairs and even a 3-D printer where you can create whatever your heart desires."

U.S. News and World Report: BYU is No. 6 out of 25 in efficient colleges. "The criteria for schools to make this list were that they had to efficiently utilize their limited resources and still produce the highest possible educational quality. The amount that BYU spends to achieve one point in its overall score on U.S. News and World Report's list is $457.29."

U.S. News and World Report: BYU's accounting program is No. 7 out of 30. "The accounting MBA program at BYU's business school, the Marriott School of Management, is by far one of the most challenging academic programs on campus."

Time Money: BYU is No. 9 out of 25 in best private universities. "The private, LDS Church-owned university was chosen as one of the best private institutions to attend last year, and it wasn't that far behind other high-ranking schools on the list, including M.I.T., Stanford University and Ivy Leagues Princeton University and Harvard University."

Time Money: BYU is No. 9 out of 50 in best colleges of 2014. "BYU was on the top 10 of Time's best colleges list last year for a reason — BYU graduates report earning $50,000 a year on average within five years. With tuition being $5,000 per year for undergraduates, that sounds like a great deal."

Forbes: BYU is No. 17 out of 70 in best business schools. "Named after J. Willard Marriott of the Marriott International chain of hotels and located at the Tanner Building on campus, the BYU Marriott School of Management offers five undergraduate degrees and six graduate degrees, including one of the best accounting MBA programs in the entire country. The total five-year MBA gain for a Marriott graduate is $64,100."

Of course, I'm sure Forbes, Time Money, the Princeton Review, and the U.S. News and World Report are just stocked with Mormon writers who are manipulating the results of these surveys. Either that, Or LD$, Inc. just paid off the editors to pretend like BYU has any kind of respectability. My insider sources, which I promise exist, even tell me that TSCC was willing to pay to have BYU placed at No. 1 in all the categories, but for some mysterious reason that never happened.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"Why John Dehlin Faces Church Discipline"

This new item from Nathaniel Givens is worth reading.

This paragraph, especially, is right on target.
In sum, Dehlin has openly repudiated core teachings of the Mormon faith, condoned the work and opinions of anti-Mormons, and been instrumental (in his own estimation) in leading “many more people” to leave than to stay, and—while he has cannily refused to publicly state his desire to lead Mormons out of the Church—he has been so successful at doing it that he has a positive reputation among many in the post- and ex-Mormon community as an undercover anti-Mormon. One commenter, for example, wrote that that although “he does not make it crystal clear he isn’t a Mormon… everyone knows Dehlin is a mole in the Mormon church.”
In other news, Elder Quentin L. Cook spoke at a fireside in Logan last Sunday and gave some very timely counsel.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

John Dehlin and Double Speak: Spinning Too Much Will Make You Dizzy

[The following was written by a friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous. It is posted here with my friend's permission.]

John Dehlin continues to spin his narrative that his support for same-sex marriage and ordain women are the central issues in his excommunication. Ironically, he explicitly denies this while simultaneously defending it. On his public Facebook profile, he writes:
1) I don't believe that I've ever claimed that SSM and OW were the only reasons, or even the two predominant reasons, that a DC has been called. If I have made that claim, I would be happy to make a correction. 
Then, his very next statement reads:
2) I feel COMPLETELY justified in claiming that my support for OW and SSM were main causes for the DC, mostly because my stake president specifically listed OW and my support for SSM as problems when we were discussing his 3rd point on the letter (re: apostate groups).
So, first we have an explicit denial that he ever even claimed those were the primary causes for the disciplinary action, then we have strong statement that at least implicitly accepts that he has been claiming those as the primary causes, and that he feels entirely justified in so doing. The remainder of the post is spent trying to argue that same-sex marriage and Ordain Women were key parts of the pending disciplinary action. One of his arguments is that nothing else has changed in the last year.
4) What changed over the past year? I can tell you one thing that changed. I gave a TEDx talk in November that made very explicit and public my support for SSM. Then, in Jan/Feb, (I forget the date) I released my OW profile.
But are we really to believe that until about a year ago, John didn’t support same-sex marriage and giving women the priesthood, and that this support was not well known? Let’s be serious. Nothing has changed over the past year, and that is exactly the point. Church discipline is about repentance, and repentance is literally change. So the issue is not that something has changed, but that nothing has. John’s been given more than enough time to repent without disciplinary action, and has not. I suppose one thing that has changed in the last year is that he made it explicitly clear that he has absolutely no intentions of repenting. So, necessary action is being taken.

Getting back to the main point, it is clear that Dehlin wants to both appear to be honestly acknowledging the complexity of issues involved while simultaneously defending his simplistic persecution narrative. So I’ve got just one question for him: Which is it, John? Are SSM and OW primary causes of the disciplinary action taken against you, or not?  You say you are happy to make a correction, so please set the record straight here. Of course, you are well aware that making a “correction” now is going to make little difference to the narrative you have already set in motion, aren’t you? If you are sincere in wanting to set the record straight, I would ask you to please contact the New York Times and other major media outlets and ask them to publish a retraction of the claim that your support for same-sex marriage and Ordain Women are the primary reasons for your disciplinary hearing. And it would be ideal if you could do so without the double speak. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Satan and Satire: On the Narratives of Excommunication and 'Persecution'"

My friend, fellow Mormon blogger, and apparently heartless jerk who likes to compare people he disagrees with to Satan Neal Rappleye has written an excellent piece on his blog titled "Satan and Satire: On the Narratives of Excommunication and “Persecution”.

I strongly recommend you read it. I heartily endorse what Neal said.

Just one comment from me.

Neal quotes one of Dehlin's supporters as follows:
John Dehlin has never said others should believe what he believes. When asked, he has honestly stated from time to time what he currently believes or does not believe about the church. He has also repeatedly stated that he supports people, regardless of what they believe about the church.
I read a commenter on my own blog recently say the same thing. Dehlin is not really trying to promote his opinions that run contrary to the Church's teachings, you see. He's just throwing them out there for people to accept or reject without actually trying to influence anyone. So to call Dehlin some kind of "teacher" isn't accurate.

Sorry, but to me this sounds like the cop out of all cop outs.

Why on earth does anyone share an opinion, especially an unsolicited opinion, other than out of hope that somehow his or her opinion will be influential on others? People usually share their opinions because they feel they have something meaningful or important to say and want others to hear it. That's why they do things like publish books, go on TV, and write blogs. Or start podcasts. Am I to seriously believe that Dehlin has no motivation whatsoever to be an influence or guide for others in any manner? That he's spent hours and hours interviewing others, writing blog posts, and "liking" material on Facebook with no intention to have this stuff influence my or someone else's opinion? That his therapy practice helping people in a "faith transition," or whatever it's called these days, is in no way meant to change peoples' behavior or beliefs?

I simply don't buy it. It's clear to me, after listening to many of his dreadfully verbose podcasts and wading through many his tedious Facebook posts, that Dehlin is trying to make himself heard, and that he's consciously promoting certain views over others in an attempt to influence what people think about the Church, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, etc.

But even if Dehlin doesn't mean to purposefully influence others by sharing his opinions, which I find very hard to believe, the fact is that he has influenced others. In my own life I have friends and extended family who have, either in part or entirely, accepted Dehlin's narrative about Mormonism. As a volunteer with FairMormon I have read dozens of emails from people who either themselves have been influenced by Dehlin or have loved ones who have been influenced by Dehlin and want further information to counter his narrative.

This is why President King was wise to insist that Dehlin, if he wants to remain a member of the Church, immediately take down and otherwise renounce his Internet material. Dehlin is influencing plenty of people, for better or for worse, and is making an impact on the public discourse on Mormonism. I think it's clear he's doing it on purpose, and to claim otherwise is highly naïve.

But enough of my rambling. Go read Neal's excellent post.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

William Whiston was a Fraud!

Flavius Josephus, in the opening lines of his autobiography (probably written in the last decade of the 1st century AD), provides his genealogy in an apparent attempt to legitimize himself before his Roman audience. After describing his ancestry, Josephus concludes:  
Thus have I set down the genealogy of my family as I have found it described in the public records, and so bid adieu to those who calumniate me [as of a lower original]. (Life 1.6)
Wait a minute! Did I just read that correctly? Did a text purporting to be written by an ancient Jew just use a French word? Well, clearly this text is a fraud, since everyone knows 1st century Jews didn't speak French!

William Whiston, the alleged 18th century "translator" of this fraudulent text, should've known better. The game is up for Whiston. Clearly his "translation" is bogus.

Friday, January 16, 2015

While We're At It

I suppose now is as good a time as any to draw attention to Greg Smith's “Dubious ‘Mormon’ Stories.”

The coverage of this issue by the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune is also not bad. At the very least, these sources recognize what Dehlin is: a "Mormon critic" and a "podcaster" (and not a "Mormon scholar" as the Guardian amusingly put it.)

Fair warning for this next link: do not read this satirical piece if you are seriously humor impaired.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

For the Record

For the record, this is the letter sent to John Dehlin by his Stake President Bryan C. King on August 7, 2014. In this letter, President King makes it clear why Dehlin was being placed on disciplinary probation and what Dehlin had to do to ensure he didn't face a disciplinary council.

(Click to images to enlarge.)




Notice carefully why Dehlin was being placed on probation. Was it for questioning? Was it for having doubts? Was it even for disagreeing with the Brethren? No. It was because Dehlin had "broadly disseminated" views "not in harmony with the revealed doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Dehlin had also "provided a forum for others to criticize the Church and to disseminate their views." There's a word for what Dehlin has been up to. That word is "apostasy."

But what views got Dehlin in trouble? Let's see.

1. Promoting atheism/agnosticism.
2. Denying or doubting the divinity of Jesus and the reality of the Atonement.
3. Denying the Restoration of the Gospel.
4. Denying the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
5. Denying the inspired calling of Church leaders.
6. Being ordained a minister in another faith.

Notice too this: "I acknowledge that you have the right to speak your mind and to criticize the Church and its doctrines if you so choose. It is just that you do not have the right to do so while remaining a member of the Church in good standing."

This is the crux of the entire matter. No rational, sensible person could find this stance from President King objectionable. If you're going to openly and repeatedly criticize a group or organization you belong to, you can claim no special protection or exemption from losing your membership with said group or organization. Contrary to the caricature I'm seeing online (mainly amongst Dehlin's supporters), this issue is not about an oppressive hierarchy restricting freedom of expression or thought. Nobody is stopping Dehlin from expressing his criticisms of the Church. He's free to do so as he pleases. It's rather all about the fact that the Church has a right to disassociate itself from those whom it deems unfit for membership. It has the right to establish the terms on what kind of behavior is and isn't acceptable for individuals who want to claim membership. Dehlin has been informed that his behavior, in the eyes of the Church (or at least his ecclesiastical leaders), is unacceptable, and constitutes apostasy, and has been given the opportunity to change his behavior. If Dehlin refuses the terms offered to him, which it appears he has, then he himself is responsible for the consequences.

So I don't want to hear any indignant cries that Dehlin is being persecuted or punished for merely having questions. This is not about Dehlin's doubts or concerns. It's not even about Dehlin publicly announcing his doubts or concerns. Instead, it is all about Dehlin's actions. He has been exhibiting apostate behavior and promoting apostate views for some time. He has been given the opportunity to recant and repent, and has refused that opportunity. President King's actions are entirely reasonable and justified given the facts of Dehlin's behavior. So I must ask: why all of the outrage over Dehlin's disciplinary council? It is truly baffling to me.

Here now is President King's letter from January 8, 2015.

(Click the image to enlarge.)



Notice carefully that President King based his decision to call a disciplinary council for Dehlin after he had observed Dehlin's "activities" on his "social media sites," his "response to my requests" in his previous letter, and his "recent public declarations."

Again, this is not an issue of punishing Dehlin for having doubts or questions. It is a matter of preventing Dehlin from using his membership in the Church to in any way leverage his apostate views or actions. In short, President King, in summoning Dehlin to a disciplinary council, is merely following the Church's teaching laid out in D&C 134.  
We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship. (D&C 134:10)
Can anyone with a straight face tell me that Dehlin is in "jeopardy of either life or limb" or at risk of "physical punishment"? Of course he isn't. He is merely being called to account for his disorderly conduct and his opposition to the Church.

By the way, before anyone accuses me of using harsh language for calling Dehlin's actions "apostate," allow me to remind the reader of how the First Presidency recently defined "apostasy."
Simply asking questions has never constituted apostasy. Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.
I honestly cannot think of anybody right now to whom this applies more than John Dehlin.

To conclude, the most succinct summary of why Dehlin is facing his disciplinary council comes from this part of President King's August letter: "I acknowledge that you have the right to speak your mind and to criticize the Church and its doctrines if you so choose. It is just that you do not have the right to do so while remaining a member of the Church in good standing."

And to think that Dehlin was almost named "Mormon of the Year" at Times and Seasons. (Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and the award went to some individuals truly worthy of the title.)

John Dehlin Faces Excommunication

A scene from John Dehlin's upcoming disciplinary council, probably.

After years of palling around with anti-Mormon apostates (e.g. Tom Phillips, Simon Southerton, Brent Metcalfe, Jeremy Runnells, Grant Palmer, etc.), systematically undermining Church teachings on the law of chastity and the role of the priesthood, flaunting his disdain and contempt for the Brethren, openly deriding the Prophet, condescendingly talking down to Church members and scholars who remain faithful, and using asinine "monsonhasdimentia[sic]" hashtags, John Dehlin is finally facing a disciplinary council.

I am not a prophet, but I don't think it takes any powers of clairvoyance to predict what the outcome will be.

Frankly, it couldn't come too soon.

Sorry, but you're not going to see any crocodile tears from me on this. It's no secret that I have been openly critical of Dehlin's frequently baldfaced attacks on the Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the Brethren. Dehlin is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a snake in the grass, and has been responsible for leading many people out of the Church with his silver-tongued flatteries and deceptions. Seeing as how he shows no signs of contrition or intention to change his apostate behavior, I think it is long overdue for him to either A) grow a spine and withdraw his membership from the church he no longer believes in, or B) lose his church membership that he's exploiting to gain additional unsuspecting followers.

One thing I can guarantee is that Dehlin will milk the free publicity for all it's worth. Expect snappy soundbites and memes from Dehlin and his followers in the press and online, which will all basically end with "Church bad. Dehlin good." Expect rallies, protests, petitions, etc. (I won't be surprised if we even see a "mass resignation" or two involving a cadre of Dehlin's followers.) Expect a vigil on the night of Dehlin's court hearing. (Why else would Dehlin provide his supporters the time and location of his council?) Expect tedious, lugubrious, and melodramatic posts at Feminist Mormon Housewives and Rational Faiths on how Dehlin's excommunication just proves the Church despises truth, goodness, decency, and puppies. Expect op-eds from Joanna Brooks, Jana Riess, and Peggy Fletcher Stack on how Dehlin's excommunication signals how intolerant the Church is. (Because, remember, in our post-post-modern "big tent Mormonism" world if you don't accept everyone, even people trying to fundamentally destroy the Church from the inside out, you're a bigot.) Expect an unabashedly pro-Dehlin interview with Dehlin on RadioWest. In short, expect Dehlin to go down in a blaze of PR glory.

Of course, none of this is new. Any student of Mormon history will know the name William S. Godbe. He was the founder of the so-called Godbeites, a 19th century Mormon splinter group. Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton characterized the movement this way.
[T]he most serious threat to the Mormons in the 1860s came from divisions within their own ranks. In 1869 William S. Godbe and a number of disaffected Mormon businessmen and intellectuals . . . urged the church to adapt to the new era by participating in mining and trading. Godbe and his friends were disillusioned with several aspects of Mormonism, especially the "interference" with what they regarded as private concerns. They dabbled in spiritualism and criticized the frank materialism and authoritarian leadership style of Brigham Young. When Godbe and his associates were expelled from the church, they established the New Movement, often known as the Godbeites. As a religion the movement soon floundered, but its periodical, Utah Magazine, continued and later, as the Salt Lake City Daily Tribune, became the most effective organ of the territory's Gentiles.
(Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints [University of Illinois Press, 1992], 176.)

John Dehlin is another sad example in the long line of defectors and dissidents who have tried, and failed, to steer the Church away from its divinely mandated mission. The Dramatis personae and the scenery might change, but more often than not the tactics, aims, and criticisms of these apostates are the same. So, too, is the outcome. Dehlin, like his apostate forerunners, has followed "after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol." It was only a matter of time before he be called to account for his actions, as this idol "waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall" (D&C 1:16).

[Note: Because there's some misunderstanding, allow me to clarify the picture above. As I commented, "The image is a joke. I'm using it sarcastically. It's meant to undermine or make fun of the fanciful caricature people sometimes have of disciplinary councils as something like the Spanish Inquisition." I am NOT mocking Dehlin. I am mocking the misunderstanding many people (especially non-members) have about the nature of disciplinary councils. As another poster said, "We have to have a sense of humor about how the world misunderstands us."]

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"'How I lost and regained my faith': LDS man shares 18 lessons he learned"

The Deseret News has published the touching story of Rich Millar, a man who lost his faith in the Church and then regained it.

It's worth a few minutes of your time to read Rich's story and watch the accompanying video.

Here are the lessons Rich shared with his readers.

Lesson No. 1: Cynicism creates a numbness toward life

Lesson No. 2: We are not alone

Lesson No. 3: Instant gratification is counterfeit happiness

Lesson No. 4: Commandments/laws/rules help you learn

Lesson No. 5: You’re not the exception to the rule

Lesson No. 6: It’s the daily little decisions in life that determine your destiny

Lesson No. 7: You can be guilt-free and clean of your past mistakes

Lesson No. 8: Surprise! Everyone who goes to church is not yet perfect

Lesson No. 9: "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - Aristotle

Lesson No. 10: You get as much out of something as you put in

Lesson No. 11: The Book of Mormon will help you come unto Christ

Lesson No. 12: Weird is a relative term, and often things are only weird to us when we don’t understand them

Lesson No. 13: LDS members don’t think they’re better than everyone

Lesson No. 14: Working in the Lord’s vineyard is awesome

Lesson No. 15: Listen to wise advice and learn from others

Lesson No. 16: Don't let what you don't know keep you from following what you do know

Lesson No. 17: Listen to your conscience

Lesson No. 18: I want to share my happiness with others

There are some, like John Dehlin, who push the cynical and statistically unsupported narrative that the real reason people leave the Church is because they discover damning "facts" about Church history and can no longer believe the Church's claims.[1] While I have no doubt that there are individuals who leave the Church for being unable to reconcile their faith with what they suppose is the truth about the Church's fraudulent or hypocritical nature, my own experience is that for many individuals it's much more complicated. I've seen friends and extended family members leave the Church entirely, or at least stop attending Church, over "intellectual" issues as well as personal issues (e.g. wanting to live a lifestyle at odds with Church standards, a general "burned out" feeling with religion, disruptions in life or family, etc.), and some who leave because of a combination of both. Anecdotally I've heard it reported from others about similar experiences with their friends who've left the Church.

Regardless of why someone leaves the Church, it is always important to show love and patience to those who leave. This is easier said than done, of course, since personal feelings are often very tightly wrapped up in leaving or staying in a religious tradition, and passions are often hot on both sides. But it is a Christ-like ideal to strive for at least.

At this point I should also mention that the Christ-like call to love those who leave the Church does not mean those who stay in the Church should timidly surrender when ex-members turn around and attack their former faith or those still in it. We can love those who leave the Church even while defending our own faith and decision to remain in the Church.

Also, although it may be hard, I think hope, even small hope, for a loved one who's left the Church to eventually return should always be kindled. Maybe that return will only happen on the other side of the veil. Nevertheless, there's always the hope that it will happen some day. After all, I'm sure there were those who felt Alma the Younger was totally a lost cause, and that his family should never have expected him to return. But we all know how that turned out in the end.

In any event, make sure you check out Rich's story!

[1]: Be careful in attaching too much weight to Dehlin's "Why Mormons Question" survey floating out there on the Internet. I'm not a statistician, but I remember enough from my high school AP Stats class and my Math 100 class at BYU to know the following is a big problem. "As the survey sample was not random, the [sic] we make no claim of representativeness or statistical significance in the sample. This survey reflects the views of these self-selected respondents only, although we feel that many points of this analysis reflect the experiences of many people in the Church who pass through a crisis of faith and adjust their beliefs." ("Understanding Mormon Disbelief: Why do some Mormons lose their testimony, and what happens to them when they do?" 4.)

A Follow-Up and Correction

In my post here I stated that I essentially agreed with a comment made by David Bokovoy on the nature of biblical historiography.
Biblical authors were not historians, at least not in the modern sense of the term. They were storytellers. Their accounts were certainly sacred, but they were also entertaining, and sometimes even political and crude. Biblical stories tell us something about the way their respective authors understood the past, but they don’t always tell us something about “the” past. The original authors who produced the Bible created stories about prophets, kings, and heroic warriors that were carefully crafted to teach valuable ideas concerning divinity and its relationship to humanity, especially the family of Israel. 
In fact, I must now qualify my previous statement of agreement with Bokovoy in light of this post by John Gee. Gee has reminded me that the biblical authors were more historian-like in their compositions than we might suppose. I was of course aware of this data from the Hebrew Bible (having written a paper on the use of sources in Kings and Chronicles) but was hasty in my last post. I am glad that Gee has drawn attention to this important information as we consider the nature of the historiography of the biblical authors.

Specifically, this comment by Gee is important.
So the records left by ancient Israel show that they have some sense of history comparable to the modern sense of history. They kept historical records and referenced them to compile accounts of what actually happened in the past. They may have been biased and tendentious, and maybe even inaccurate at times, but they were historical. They meant to preserve a record of the past for their own and future generations. Ancient Israelites viewed the Bible (or at least significant portions of it) as historical records of actual historical events.
If I had to fashion my own statement based on the two views above (Gee and Bokovoy), it would read thusly:
Biblical authors were not exactly historians, at least not in the modern sense of the term. The records left by ancient Israel show that they had some sense of history comparable to the modern sense of history, though not entirely. Their accounts were more than mere "history," but also stories that were sacred, as well entertaining, frequently highly political, and sometimes even crude or shocking. The biblical authors kept historical records and referenced them to compile accounts of what they thought actually happened in the past, although they may have been biased and tendentious and maybe even inaccurate at times in their reconstructions. The original authors who produced the Bible created stories about prophets, kings, and heroic warriors that were carefully crafted to teach valuable ideas concerning divinity and its relationship to humanity, especially the family of Israel. At the same time, the biblical authors meant to preserve some kind of a record of the past for their own and future generations. Ancient Israelites viewed the Bible (or at least significant portions of it) as historical records of actual historical events, even if they took liberties in how they crafted their accounts.* 
I hope my redaction of the B(okovoy) and G(ee) sources makes sense. In any case, this is the closest articulation of my view of both the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon.



* I wish I could hop into a time machine, travel 2600 years in the future, and present this stand-alone paragraph for source critics to parse the B and G sources and attempt to detect where the SR (Smoot-Redactor) brought them together.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Does FairMormon Agree with Jeremy Runnells?

In his "Debunking FairMormon's Debunking," Jeremy Runnells provides a donut chart that shows FairMormon supposedly agreeing with 79% of his "Letter to a CES Director."


According to Runnells, "The above donut chart shows percentages of the entire Letter to a CES Director that FairMormon is in agreement, disagreement, and neutral on. If one assumes that FairMormon's undisputed silence is acceptance of the facts, FairMormon agrees with 79% of Letter to a CES Director."

This has turned into a popular meme with many ex-Mormons, who triumphantly proclaim that Runnells is so sharp that FairMormon has conceded to him on 79% of his claims. With such a damning statistic, Runnells' supporters have crowed throughout the Internet that their patron saint has stopped those pathetic Mormon apologists dead in their tracks! Runnells' letter is the long-awaited silver bullet that will finally take down Mormonism. After all, even the Church's best and brightest at FairMormon could only refute 20% of Runnells' claims!

First of all, let's address Runnells' assumption that FairMormon's silence on a topic means it agrees with him. This is a common fallacy that essentially automatically assumes that in a debate silence equals consent. In fact, silence does not always equal consent or agreement. Basically, what Runnells has done is get trapped in Warnock's dilemma.
The problem with no response is that there are five possible
interpretations:
1) The post is correct, well-written information that needs no
follow-up commentary.  There's nothing more to say except "Yeah, what
he said."
2) The post is complete and utter nonsense, and no one wants to waste
the energy or bandwidth to even point this out.
3) No one read the post, for whatever reason.
4) No one understood the post, but won't ask for clarification, for
whatever reason.
5) No one cares about the post, for whatever reason.
Warnock's dilemma can easily be applied to this situation. Runnells has simply assumed number 1 above. However, this assumption is unfounded. Besides the fact that Runnells offers no justification for this assumption, FairMormon has, it turns out, officially responded to this claim, making it very clear where it stands on this matter.

Click to enlarge
Jeremy Runnells has claimed that FairMormon has agreed with him on a large percentage of various claims he has made, even going so far as to claim agreement on items that FairMormon did not respond to. With regard to historical facts, Mr. Runnells's citations are sometimes incorrect and his interpretations, even of correctly cited historical facts, are unwarranted. In short, FairMormon disagrees entirely with the conclusions reached by Jeremy Runnells.
Pretty straightforward, right? But why, then, has this ex-Mormon claim persisted despite the fact that FairMormon official disavows any such alleged agreement with Runnells, 79% or otherwise? If I had to wager, I'd bet it has something to do with the fact that FairMormon didn't couch its response in the form of a snarky meme or cute little graphic. Since Runnells and many of his followers have the intellectual sophistication and maturity of a high school sophomore, it isn't surprising that they'd miss something that wasn't first created on memegenerator.net.

More to the point, I think I know why Runnells and his supporters are confused. You see, narrative history is more than simply collecting raw historical data and presenting it an organized fashion. This might describe documentary history, such as the work of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, but the kind of history that most people enjoy reading and debating about, and the kind of history Runnells (poorly) attempts to do in his anti-Mormon tract, is more involved than that. Writing in his introduction to Herodotus' Histories, Donald Lateiner of Ohio Wesleyan University explains,
Every historian selects, omits, and organizes his or her data. It cannot be avoided. Every historian assesses the accuracy of what s/he hears and tries to present the accepted residue and explanations for it in a coherent, unified narrative. Every historian interprets that narrative by intrusive evaluations and hypothetical alternatives to what happened. Better historians "torture their evidence" (Thucydides' vivid image) to produce a substantial package in a convincing and lucid manner.
(Donald Lateiner, "Introduction," in The Histories [New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2004], xxix.)

What FairMormon fundamentally disagrees with Runnells 100% on is the narrative about Joseph Smith and Church history that he's constructed based on the historical data he has selected and presented. Of course FairMormon agrees with Runnells that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage, for example. What FairMormon disagrees with Runnells on are the implications of Joseph Smith's plural marriage for his moral character and the narrative that is used to describe or present this information to a secondary audience.

But it's actually deeper than that. Besides disagreeing with Runnells 100% on the conclusions he reaches, FairMormon is also critical of Runnells for his misuse of the historical sources. There are so many examples of this that I can only encourage readers to look for themselves at FairMormon's wiki. Suffice it to say for now that Runnells' problem runs deeper than merely constructing a faulty historical narrative.

As an aside, it is naïve in the extreme to suppose one can be completely "objective" in crafting historical narratives. As human beings we all have our own biases and ideological blinders that make any such "objectivity" (in the positivist sense of the word) in historiography next to impossible. We are also finite beings who are hampered by cultural and linguistic barriers that separate us from the objects of our study. This is explained well by Rick Duerden.
[The] combination of language and history complicates our notions of history just as it complicates our notions of language. Thus, because language is not a simple and transparent medium, our statements about the past are not clear windows on history, nor are they perfect mirrors, direct reflections of a past world; histories we write are constructs, shaped by what we take from old texts and by what we decide to put into the new texts we ourselves write. Histories are the way we choose to represent the past to ourselves. Like our own memories, they are not storehouses of objective fact, but the images and fictions which we choose to believe. We all color our memories somewhat; I select and retell to make the past explain the present, to make my memory justify my current consciousness. In the same way, the biases and ideology of the historian become part of the story. New historicism requires a fervent self-consciousness about our own commitments and prejudices. The critic is not outside history and language, calmly and objectively commenting; the critic too is located in history, in a culture, with an ideology that makes some things invisible, some things important.
(Rick Duerden, "Cultural Poetics: The New Historicism," in The Critical Experience: Literary Reading, Writing, and Criticism, ed. David Cowles, 2nd ed. [Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing, 1994], 247.)

As much as the Runnellites like to claim that they're simply showing people the cold, hard facts about Joseph Smith's fraud and amorality, they are, in fact, merely participating in a historiographical culture with a specific ideology that leads them to "represent the past to [themselves]" in such a way to reinforce their decision to stop believing in the claims of the Church. Now, to be fair, I readily acknowledge that I too participate in my own historiographical culture with its own ideological baggage. I claim no special powers of "objectivity" when it comes to analyzing Mormon history. However, I try to be as honest as I can when confronting issues in Church history that may conflict with my paradigm. I can also honestly say that I think the cynical, Joseph-Smith-as-a-huckster-and-immoral-fraud narrative perpetuated by Runnells is, at its core, bogus, and not sustained by the best critical reading of the historical evidence.

To bring this all home, when Runnells and his supporters claim that FairMormon agrees with him on 79% of the claims in the "Letter to a CES Director," they are misleading others into thinking this implies agreement with his conclusions and the narrative he has created to present the historical data. I will charitably assume that this stems from ignorance, and not from any kind of malice. Be that as it may, it is simply irresponsible for Runnellites to claim that FairMormon whimperingly agrees with 79% of the "Letter to a CES Director." This myth, while perhaps serviceable for sustaining ex-Mormon cognitive dissonance, should be exposed for what it is: a lazy attempt to score cheap rhetorical points and nothing more.   

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Historicity and Scripture Revisited

Nephi – 6th century BC Judahite author or 19th century AD fictional character?
[Note: Be sure to check out my follow-up to this post here.]

David Bokovoy very recently has posted an article on the subject of historicity and scripture. If I understand his post correctly, Bokovoy approvingly cites Joseph Spencer and Adam Miller in support of the position that one can transcend debates about "historicity" when it comes to matters of scripture, since scripture pertains to eternal truths that are above mere questions of the historical past.

Bill Hamblin has already posted the first of what appears to be a future series of questions for Bokovoy on this matter. Hamblin asks:
Does historicity ever matter in scripture?  Is it important that there be some ontological connection between religious claims and reality.  More specifically, does the historicity of Jesus matter?  Are the gospels just as meaningful and important if Jesus didn’t exist (as the Jesus-myth crowd believes)?  Or, if Jesus did exist, does it matter if he really rose from the dead, or if his disciples were just hallucinating?
I myself have weighed in on this matter, specifically with regards to what I call the imperative for a historical Book of Mormon. If you want to know my position on this topic, at least as it applies to the Book of Mormon, I would refer you to my paper.

For the record, lest there is any possible misunderstanding:

1. I do not believe the necessity for the Book of Mormon's historicity is the same as any necessity for inerrancy. I am not a fundamentalist, and I reject scriptural inerrancy and infallibility for any work in the canon. I wholeheartedly agree with Brother Brigham on this point.
I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities. ("The Kingdom Of God," [8 July 1855] Journal of Discourses 2:314)
2. I agree in essence with what Bokovoy said in the beginning of his post.
Biblical authors were not historians, at least not in the modern sense of the term. They were storytellers. Their accounts were certainly sacred, but they were also entertaining, and sometimes even political and crude. Biblical stories tell us something about the way their respective authors understood the past, but they don’t always tell us something about “the” past. The original authors who produced the Bible created stories about prophets, kings, and heroic warriors that were carefully crafted to teach valuable ideas concerning divinity and its relationship to humanity, especially the family of Israel.
I believe this is equally the case with the Book of Mormon. As such, I do not equate the Book of Mormon's historicity with its absolute "literalness." While I accept the basic historicity of the Book of Mormon (i.e. the historical reality of the Lehite, Mulekite, and Jaredite migrations, the appearance of a resurrected Jesus to the Nephites, Moroni depositing the plates in upstate New York, etc.), I am totally comfortable with embellishments, narrative liberties, redactions, literary crafting, etc., in the text by the authors. In fact, I would be surprised if this didn't happen in the text. I therefore do not believe that the historicity the scriptures and the literary crafting of the scriptures are mutually exclusive, much less with the Nephite scriptural record.

3. Although I strongly disagree with attempts to turn the Book of Mormon into inspired fiction, and have yet to encounter a coherent explanation for the Inspired Fiction Theory, I do not question the sincerity or faithfulness of individual members of the Church who may subscribe to said theory. I only question their attempts to reconcile such a belief with the foundational claims of the Church, as well as their reasons for subscribing to such a theory.

I hope this clears things up as to my position. I look forward to any future exchanges between Bokovoy and Hamblin on this topic.

Elder George A. Smith on Muhammad

In light of the recent tragedy in Paris, I found these words of Elder George A. Smith, delivered in 1855, to be very important.
Mahomet continued preaching; there was nothing in his religion to license iniquity or corruption; he preached the moral doctrines which the Savior taught; viz., to do as they would be done by; and not to do violence to any man, nor to render evil for evil; and to worship one God. ("The History of Mahomedanism," Journal of Discourses 3:31.)
Elder Smith, a non-Muslim, evidently understood something crucial about Islam that the men who attacked Charlie Hebdo, ostensibly devout followers of Muhammad, don't.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Das Evangelium nach Lukas

Last night I was reading the Gospel of Luke in the Einheitsübersetzung when I came across this commentary.
Die Sonderüberlieferungen des Lukas stehen im Dienst seiner theologischen Aussagen. Er zeigt in Jesus den Heiland der Verlorenen, der sozial Entrechteten, der Frauen, der Zöllner und Sünder. Jesus offenbarte die Menschenliebe Gottes auf bezwingende Weise. Alle Christen müssen daher ebenso wie Jesus handeln. Wo jemand sich dem Wort Jesu öffnet, wird er zu einem guten und edlen Menschen. Das Leben des Christen hat seine Mitte in der dienenden Liebe, die auch Einstellung zu Reichtum und Besitz bewähren muss. Jesus zeigt im Leben und im Sterben, wie sich ein Mensch gut und richtig verhalten soll.
This is precisely what President Henry B. Eyring has taught us about Jesus here. As Latter-day Saints we don't do good works to try to earn heavenly favor, but because we want to live like Jesus did. That is what makes one a Christian. Not so much what you think or believe (cf. James 2:19), but how you act and how you live your faith in Jesus. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35).

Friday, January 2, 2015

The State of the Bloggernacle

Who are you to deny this poor boat the ability to "self-identify" as a train?

We're through the looking-glass, ladies and gentlemen.

Right now at the Times and Seasons blog there is a vote going on for "Mormon of the Year."

Some of the candidates include Mia Love, Brandon Flowers, Neylan McBaine, Fiona & Terryl Givens, and plenty of other worthy candidates.

Do you want to guess who is leading the poll by a wide margin?

If you guessed an excommunicant and two anti-Mormons, you'd be right!

Yes, Kate Kelly, who was excommunicated for apostasy, Jeremy Runnells, the petulant cult leader of the ex-Mormon reddit whose calling in life is to make as many ex-Mormons as possible, and John Dehlin, who makes his bread and butter by therapizing people into openly flaunting the commandments and standards of the Church (that is, if they bother staying in the Church at all after consulting with him), are (as of this posting) ahead of the pack in first, second, and third place, respectively.

Lovely.

The apparent designer of the poll (or at least the guy who posted it), in responding to the obvious and sensible complaint that these individuals hardly qualify as "Mormons" in any meaningful sense, responded thusly.
We don’t define “Mormon” by their activity level or membership status in the LDS Church. We define Mormon by how they have identified themselves and by their heritage.
Right. Because it's just silly to define someone as a "Mormon" based on their membership, activity, and belief in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka the Mormon Church, aka the Mormons.

More importantly, though, is how dreadfully flimsy these criteria are in defining someone as "Mormon." You self-identify as one and have "Mormon" heritage? That's good enough!

Based on this, what's to stop me from running for Briton of the Year? I mean, I can self-identify as British (even though I'm not a UK citizen and have been to the UK exactly twice in my entire life and don't particularly care for British culture or customs) and have British "heritage" in the form of some great-great-great grandparents. Isn't that all that counts? Self-identity and heritage?

The bizarreness of this whole affair is only compounded with comments like this (also from the poster): "THE WINNER OF THE ONLINE VOTE IS NOT NECESSARILY THE MORMON OF THE YEAR!!!" So if the person voted "Mormon of the Year" isn't really "Mormon of the Year," then what the heck is the point of this poll in the first place?

But the reason I bring up this poll isn't just to point out the obvious fact that calling Kate Kelly or Jeremy Runnells the "Mormon of the Year" is meaningless, and is a heinous slap in the face to actual Mormons who actually did make very important contributions to the world (like Tim Ballard), but also to point out the sad state of the Bloggernacle these days.

You see, stuff like this is further indication that the Bloggernacle has become, in the words of one acquaintance of mine, "little more than a haven for anti-Mormon rhetoric and whining." Some Bloggernacle sites are worse than others, to be sure. But the pervasive Zeitgeist of the Bloggernacle these days is one of gripey disaffection to outright antagonism. And voting for Kelly, Runnells, or Dehlin, currently the three living avatars of the gripey, antagonistic, disaffected "Mormon," as "Mormon of the Year" certainly doesn't help. I'm especially disappointed that this sort of stuff is happening on the Times and Seasons blog, since it was one of the few Bloggernacle sites I actually cared for.

But such is the Internet these days, where people voted "Mormon of the Year" aren't really "Mormon of the Year," and Kate Kelly, Jeremy Runnells, and John Dehlin are viable candidates.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015: New Year, New Blog, New Everything!

All three of my readers will notice that Mr. So-and-So's Mormon Blog has undergone something of a facelift. I have redesigned the blog and, with the power of Internet wizardry and the help of my tech-guru roommate, have created a new website URL.

In case you didn't catch it, the new URL to my blog is:

http://www.plonialmonimormon.com

Did you catch that? Are you sure? Okay, good. Moving on.

I'm looking forward to 2015, and hope to accomplish the following (i.e. these are my New Year resolutions):

1. Graduate from BYU. Should be easy enough. Come April I'll finally have that damn piece of paper that says I can go to grad school to get another piece of paper that says I'll be able to get a job . . . in five years . . . if I'm lucky.

2. Finish my book. I am writing a book trilogy and am nearly done with the first volume. The other two volumes are cooking up in my noggin, but I need to take this one thing at a time.

3. Read more. This may sound funny to those of you who know me, but I have been slacking recently in my reading. I need to spend less times on video games and more time getting to the bottom of my reading list.

4. Get in shape-ish. I know, I know, everyone lists this as a New Years resolution. But I would like to get into better shape-ish. I say "ish" because it's not like I am morbidly out of shape or anything, but I could do a little better. (I have a little muffin top and some pudge I'd like to see go away, if nothing else.) I plan on cutting out soda, except for rare occasions, and snacks and be more strict with my portions. I've tried exercising regularly before, but honestly I just get so bored so quickly while I work out that I'm not that excited to try it again. I figure watching my diet and staying active is half the battle, right?

5. Less Interwebs. I've wasted too much time mindlessly browsing the Internet. Time to cut down. 

In other news, today marks my one year anniversary of being a vegetarian. I became a vegetarian on January 1, 2014 and have been going strong since. Honestly, I really don't miss meat. I occasionally crave a Five Guys burger, but that's about it. I guess my smug sense of being a better person than all of murderous carnivores sustains me! 

In all seriousness, though, I am very pleased at how well it's been going for me. I've occasionally cheated by having sushi with some friends once in a blue moon. But I guess it's not that bad, since, after all:

So here's to another meat-free year!