Have you seen Greg Smith’s review of Mormon Stories?
It has arrived.
For like, a year (I have not kept up with the timeline, so that’s just a guess), the shadow of the supposed “hit piece” on John Dehlin has hovered over the Mormon Stories and FARMS/Mormon Studies Review apologetics communities.
And now, it is here in two articles…first the article that Greg Smith had originally written, and with a follow-up article to discuss the meta-events surrounding it.
I am only 8 pages into the first article, so I’m not going to comment so much on that, but I will say a few things, very disjointed as they are.
1) The site for the Mormon Interpreter is absolutely gorgeous. I wish that Greg Smith’s articles were on there, rather than being a PDF linked to from there.
2) I have to admit that I’m not 100% sure of what FARMS and Mormon Studies Review’s purpose was — since I try to stay out of apologetics stuff for the most part — but it seems to me that a lot of the meta-conversation surrounding this controversy was about why a group that is ostensibly designed around reviewing books and articles written about Mormonism and the Book of Mormon would be writing a piece about John Dehlin…who hasn’t written any scholarly books at all. Just from reading the first few pages of Greg Smith’s article, it seems that he was trying to do something pretty interesting: take the concept of a review of scholarly books and articles to the 21st century analog of reviewing Facebook statuses, podcasts, and message board posts. One Facebook commenter put it like this:
[Smith's article] is innovative in its use of personal Facebook posts and comments. I have never seen that in an academic study.
It is groundbreaking in possibly being the first academic article to test the proposition of whether you can trust something on the internet. Most just take that as a self-evident fact; but Smith really wants to test the theory. Soon I suppose there will be a whole cottage industry of academics investigating, e.g., the claims of Wikipedia articles.
I don’t think it’s like this. I think this is somewhat of an oversimplification — it’s not like people are saying that you can trust anything you read on the internet. But really, it’s about the boundaries – plenty of people (especially Armand Mauss) have pointed out that many online media (such as blogs) come with a lamentable lack of historical memory — people don’t do the research that they ought to by going through the archives of Dialogue and so their blog posts tend to rehash issues that have already been thoughtfully covered. But just the same, blogs and other online media don’t usually try to be academically rigorous.
…so what do you do when you have someone who is decidedly not an academic, yet who is seen as being familiar with intellectual matters and frames his discussion in terms of intellectual matters. This is where John Dehlin is, for the most part. Mormon Stories is no Dialogue. Yet, in his interview on A Thoughtful Faith, he describes that much of his Mormon Stories experience (which he is trying to move from) was in privileging the intellectual over the emotional and spiritual. In a Facebook discussion about that interview, one of my FB friends remarked that the problem he found with much of Mormon Stories is that it decidedly is not intellectual. It’s almost all emotional coverage, without enough intellectual rigor to try to put some context to the discussion.
And so…a lot of the criticism of Smith’s article that I’ve seen is that he is trying to take non-rigorous statements from Dehlin as if they can create a rigorous philosophical corpus to critique Dehlin. But maybe the case might be — why not conduct this review, since many people who listen to Dehlin are going to take his non-rigorous statements as if they were sufficiently informed, researched statements.
So, that is my second point.
3) Throughout all of this, I am glad that I am so profoundly insignificant, inconsequential, and invisible to avoid attracting any of this controversy. In my opinion, all of this leaves a bad taste in my mouth. This is not an indictment of one side or the other — all sides are tainted. I guess some people might suggest that you can’t be neutral — you have to pick a side. I’m not saying I’m trying to be neutral, because I definitely have thoughts on most of these topics, but it seems to me that the goal should be not to cleanly fit into to any one category, but instead to forge a path between and around the gaps.