Nathaniel Givens’ latest post at Times and Seasons addresses the question that many critics of Mormonism often ask of Mormons — what would it take not to believe in the LDS church? Typically, the person asking this question wants the Mormon in question to either admit the weak point of their faith (where they will then try to attack it), or to admit that their faith is unconditionally held.
Nathaniel doesn’t answer that nothing could sway his faith, but rather proposes that in order not to believe, he would have to be presented with a better alternative:
…everyone has to believe something. You don’t get to opt out. As long as freedom is inevitable (which it is), choice is inevitable. And as long as choice is inevitable we will make purposeful decisions that reveal our preferences and also our beliefs. The only possible alternative is to engage in purposeless, random action. But even if that were possible over a long period of time (which I doubt) it is a kind of belief that has a name: nihilism. Therefore: That we will believe is not in question. The question is whatwe will believe in and, even more importantly, why.
Some critics of Mormonism or religion in general seem to discount the inevitability of belief and therefore miss these two key points. Rather than criticize religion in comparison to some competing belief, which is rational, they sometimes engage in purely negative attacks with no alternative belief specified, which is not. This implies that they believe some degree of error in a person’s belief is sufficient to abandon that belief. In favor of what alternative? Some never say, or at least not until they have first attempted to get you to discard your current belief.
But all beliefs are flawed by definition because we, who conceive and hold those beliefs, are flawed. Belief is a model of the world, of what is relevant and what is true, and we know axiomatically all models are wrong. I read somewhere that it is not only banal but vulgar to criticize a model for being wrong, and though I’ve been unable to find the original source I passionately agree with the sentiment. The question is never between erroneous belief and pure, unsullied truth. It is always between different sets of competing erroneous beliefs. Don’t just try and tell me that what I believe is wrong. Tell me what I should believe that is better.
Someone could probably write several posts about just this idea in the post (whether directly challenging whether there aren’t better models than Mormonism or indirectly challenging the idea that because all beliefs are flawed, then somehow there is some sort of equivalence between them all.) But instead, I found another part of the post to be more interesting. In talking about beliefs, Nathaniel raised revealed preference theory. As Nathaniel describes:
…When your life has ended and you look back and see the decisions that you have made along the way, the pattern of choices will imply a corresponding constellation of beliefs. Those facts and principles that you affirm as relevant and true because they are made logically necessary by your actions are the things that you believe.
This perspective is a generalization of the economic theory of revealed preferences, so we can call it the theory of revealed beliefs. It eschews subjective feelings about what is true for the simple reason that we often do not know our own feelings. We sometimes think that we believe in something, but then behave in ways that contradicts that belief. These instrumental or fictitious beliefs are not, in my mind, the genuine article.
For the same reason, Paul Samuelson (who invented the theory of revealed preferences in 1938 and became the first American to win the Nobel Prize in economics in 1970) didn’t hand out surveys to ask people about their preferences. In his quest to provide an empirical basis for the concept of utility, he determined that the best route was to allow folks to reveal their preferences through their choices. These revealed preferences could then be represented by utility functions, and the rest of the discipline could chug along on top of this new foundation more or less as before.
According to the theory of revealed beliefs, preferences are just one of a variety of beliefs that we reveal (or perhaps create) as we make choices in our lives. The challenging decisions and sacrifices we face in life are there by design to force us to reveal/create our beliefs in a more granular way. If you’re rich enough, then paying tithing doesn’t force you to differentiate between obedience and material comforts. Scarcity of time and resources force us to make meaningful choices, and these reveal what we really believe.
One consequence of the theory of revealed beliefs is that it makes sense to talk about a person’s beliefs independently of that person’s opinion about his or her own beliefs. As long as a person acts in a purposeful way, then the collection of principles required to rationalize their behavior constitute their beliefs.
I was personally very intrigued by this theory because in my mind, beliefs are absolutely about subjective feelings about what is true. Read more…
Last week, I published my article, 3 Changes that Mormons Against Women’s Ordination Ought to Support. Now that General Conference has come and passed, I wanted to post a few responses to the post that I got.
An ex-Mormon giving advice on how Mormons should do things? Please. That right there is why so many don’t trust the so-called OW movement. They claim “insider” status, but talk like and have the leadership of outsiders. I hear that the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) has a great equality organization.
Also, a comment from Facebook:
So this is how some would have the Church be led: The ‘enlightened one’s’ create blogs critical of Church Doctrine and Church leaders. They then provide solutions to Church leader’s who listen and agree. They in turn pass such wisdom on to the Prophet, who relays it to God, who then feeds it back to the Prophet in the form of modern day revelation. My oh my, how ‘special’ is that?
It ultimately turns out that I have apparently not been doing these Mormon internets for long enough, because I was not prepared for the entire post to be dismissed simply as exmormons exmorm-ing.
My mom posted an article about a DC teen who is now sought after by five of the Ivy League schools (unfortunately, this guy who was accepted into all Ivies overshadowed him [I will also note here that I have one friend who was accepted into all Ivies years ago who is now highly upset that there is a news article about this event]). I congratulate this guy for all of his accomplishments and his successes — and hope that he has continued success, but there was a part of the article that saddened me:
The local Fox affiliate recently asked this remarkable young man what he wants to do next.
“I guess probably the CEO of an investment (or management consulting) firm. I guess pretty much overseeing acquisitions or transactions between large companies. Hopefully, Fortune 500 companies,” he said.
I posted that this quote, and my sadness, on Facebook, and one of my friends responded:
Why does this make you sad? Some kid is stating a dream.
What does it mean when people dream of investing or consulting?
Last week, World Vision, one of the top Christian charitable organizations in the world, announced that it would no longer discriminate against Christians in gay relationships in its hiring. Per a news article discussing the decision (which I won’t link now, because I don’t want to spoil what happened next):
World Vision’s American branch will no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman.
Abstinence outside of marriage remains a rule. But a policy change announced Monday [March 24] will now permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed at one of America’s largest Christian charities.
If you keep up with conservative Christian issues at all, then what happened next shouldn’t really be a surprise. Conservative Christians put their money where their mouths were, with around 5,000 sponsors canceling. These conservative Christians spoke loudly and clearly — they will support organizations that stand for their values, and if an organization wants to be known as Christian, it better follow Christianity the way in which evangelicals understand it. And so, just two days after the announcement…
Last week, World Vision, one of the top Christian charitable organizations in the world, reversed its course and announced that it would continue to discriminate against Christians in gay relationships in its hiring.
On Facebook and elsewhere, conservative Christians have attempted en masse to show that this series of actions doesn’t represent evangelical Christians announcing to the entire world that they view charity as less important than political and social views (or at the least that they view charity as being contingent upon certain political and social views). One main argument that I’ve seen in several places is that most likely, the sponsors who canceled their sponsorships with World Vision simply transferred those sponsorships elsewhere…so they are still helping kids, just with organizations that better reflect their views.
Frequently, people opposed to ideals of women’s equality will argue that the proponents of women’s equality incorrectly assume that equality means sameness. For a recent Mormon take on this trope, see this Deseret News post from Linda and Richard Eyre on Women and the Priesthood in Mormon theology. As they write:
But there is one problem that pervades the feminism culture and that is actually working against the ultimate and worthy goal of total equality. It is the notion that equality means sameness. In actuality, striving for sameness will never produce equality, because there will always be small variants and no two people will ever be the same.
True equality comes only when we realize that two very different things can be precisely equal in importance, in beauty and in ultimate potential.
Julie M. Smith had a great post at Times & Seasons (not written directly in response to this article, but it reads as if it could have been…that is how common the equality=/=sameness trope goes) on this issue. Stepping aside Julie’s comments on the problem with the “separate but equal” conceit (which I agree with Julie on this point, but for now, I’m just stepping over this), here’s something Julie pointed out through a comparison of young women’s roles vs. young men’s roles in sacrament meetings:
So we are assuming that the Young Women don’t need to be treated the same (that is, ordained to the Aaronic priesthood and given a chance to prepare, bless, and pass the sacrament) to be equal. But they do need something. What recognition are they receiving in sacrament meeting? (The pathology of publicly praising our sons as a community every single week in the context of worship while never doing that for our daughters as a group is a very deep one. Imagine a family where the son was praised weekly and the daughter never mentioned: no one would think that this is acceptable parenting.) What sense of purpose are they developing? What is motivating them to attend sacrament meeting? What spiritual opportunities are they given? How will they grow?
Feel free to ignore me as a heretic apostate (but hopefully you’ll pay more attention to Julie who is not a heretic apostate), but I would like to give three suggestions for how Mormons who happen to be against women’s ordination can still be empathetic to women’s equality, and thus be seen as more sympathetic.
What Can Mormons Do to Talk the Talk about Equality Without Advocating Sameness?
I stumbled upon Jana Riess’s excellent article, “Where do smart, sexy, single Mormon thirty-somethings fit in the Church?” — a question that many folks unfortunately happen to be answering with: “they don’t.” This post went up a while ago, so there have already been comments — mostly from smart, sexy (not that I’m making a personal comment on ladies’ sexiness), single Mormon (or not so Mormon anymore) thirty-somethings. There were also posts from those who wanted to push back and challenge the narrative. But I have to say that the comment that took the cake was this one:
The Church is the greatest organization for womens rights that has ever existed on the face of the earth and I think that rather than calling the Church out for how its members handle single women, the writer of the article should take a step back and start blaming government for its overreach and wicked use of law against the Church’s past marriage practice of polygamy. After temples and property were threatened with seizure, the Lord said that He would fight the churches battles.
The blame placed on the Church for it’s inability to effectively help single women (that want marriage) when it was the governments actions of limiting mariages to one man and one woman is just another example of blaming the victims yet again. The above article is a great example of the “blame the victim” culture of which it came out of.
I seek to persuade the writer of the article that rather than spending time blaming the Church and its’ people in any form, find a solution to get government out of the Church’s way.
Church=victim. Women=victim. Church members=victim. Government=bad laws.
Given the recent series of posts about Ordain Women, calling the status quo church the “greatest organization for womens rights that has ever existed on the face of the earth” is already worthy of being Internet Comment of The Day material, but finding the source of the problem to being that pesky government? Pure genius.
I don’t know how better to say it. I’ve tried to say it specifically with respect to Ordain Women here on this blog, and I tried to generalize it at Wheat & Tares (but the conversation derailed into 1) a discussion on whether Kate Kelly had “gone too far” and 2) a discussion about the moderation policies of W&T), but I don’t think the message is coming out as distilled as it could be.
I think the basic message is this:
Religious conservatives can either go for relevance and growth OR ideological purity.
They can pick one of the two options. But as religious conservatives remain true to ideological traditions that are increasingly seen as draconian, out of step with modern values, and so on, people will determine that those religions are irrelevant at best, or actively harmful at worst.
The thing that has surprised me most is the extent to which people’s responses have basically proven my point. For example, when someone says:
Personally, I’ve embraced God’s injustice.
That is a non-starter for me. To be fair, they say that they have embraced God’s injustice out of a response to a call to the divine. But many folks simply don’t get that, and don’t find it compelling if they do.
It reminds me of the Millennial Star post that argued that yes, God is a child-sacrificing misogynist and racist bigot.
What reason have I to actually follow said deity?
For whatever it’s worth, I totally get that we shouldn’t expect a deity to be a mirror reflection of the political/social thought espoused by, say, ThinkProgress. I am totally aware that even though we might think we are doing a good job going forward morally (and not regressing), those in the future may look at us with extreme horror at the prejudices that were commonplace.
However, it just strikes me that f0r religion to cling to the prejudices of yesteryear that we have collectively decided in secular society are simply not OK…this is a non-starter.
If you think of yourself as someone who keeps up with progressive Mormon issues and you haven’t heard of Ordain Women, then I’m not sure how much time I can afford to spend to catch you up to speed. So, instead, I’ll assume that you already know of them, and will just dive in to one of the latest items to hit the progressive, liberal, and uncorrelated Mormon scene – the LDS Church’s Public Affairs Department letter to Ordain Women. Jeff Spector at Wheat & Tares wrote a summary of the letter and its contents, and the question on many people’s minds has been: what will Ordain Women do next?
There have been several blog posts from those sympathetic to Ordain Women, many of which have lamented that the Ordain Women supporters were compared to regular anti-Mormon hecklers at General Conference. Even when the image of the OW movement’s faithfulness is a sensitive issue, those who don’t believe are also writing in support of the OW movement ideals.
However, what has driven me to write this post is a comment that Jeff made to his own post at Wheat & Tares:
There will still be hurt feelings.While this probably will generate more publicity for them, If the Lord wants them to have the Priesthood, it will happen in His own way in His own time, maybe never.
Remember, it is THY will be done, not my will. Even Jesus respected that. this is clearly a matter of pride, the wrong kind, IMO.
There was something about this that rubbed me the wrong way. The thing is…I just don’t know which way the wrong rubbing was.
I’m sure that Dan Wotherspoon’s latest podcast episode, Preserving and Strengthening Relationships During Faith Transitions, will be far more polite and erudite and deeper diving than what I have to say on the subject, but I just wanted to make a few quick comments about some behavior I’ve noticed from some disaffected Mormons on the internet.
See, if you begin a topic about prayer with:
The best thing about prayer is you can make God’s answer be whatever you want it to be.
This isn’t going to be received very well by folks who believe prayer has value.
If someone gently questions you by pointing this out:
Can you see how posting topics like this makes the group inhospitable to anyone who may personally value prayer?
And even throws you a bone by offering another secular framework that you missed in your secular dismissal of prayer
Not only that, but if you’re going to go a secular route, you’re also just downplaying or ignoring how much socialization plays a role in these things.
And someone responds:
Can you see how defending prayer makes a community inhospitable to reasonable people, and even reason itself?
Then can you see how this statement also isn’t going to be well-received by anyone who believes in the value of prayer (now that they have been excluded from the entire population of “reasonable people”)?
Have you ever wondered why disaffected, ex-, post and former Mormons often are such neurotic people with miserable lives? After leaving the church, many of their marriages fall apart. Many lose all sense of morality, but what’s even worse, they aren’t even good at being non-Mormons. They do not have the basic competencies of adult functioning.
In fact, if you look at the skills that post-Mormons often must learn after leaving the church, it may strike you that the adult ex-Mormon actually seems like a child. Most recently, Newsweek had an article discussing what happens When the Saints Go Marching Out. However, this has not been an isolated phenomenon. People have written articles in national publications (such as Nicole Hardy’s Single, Female, Mormon, Alone in the New York Times)…articles that have enough content to be stretched into books reviewed by national publications, even, about their infantile state as a Mormon (or not-quite-so-Mormon-anymore) adult.
What could be the reasons for this debilitation? Although one could theorize many contributing factors, I will analyze the Newsweek article (since it is the most recent documentation of this phenomenon) and offer the top reason.