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Religious cross pressure in a secular world

One of the big terms in Mormon disaffection circles is the concept of “cognitive dissonance.” The idea (at least when talking about religious disaffection) is that one faces two alternative narratives — a narrative one was raised with in the LDS church, and a narrative that increasingly seems more supported through secular evidence standards that contradicts the church’s narrative. This dissonance is uncomfortable, so people seek to resolve it, by figuring out which narrative is true, and then making changes to their lives accordingly.

This way of explaining things seems a bit too simple, though. Lots of people have written about it, but today, I wanted to link to churchistrue’s blog post on the subject, and a variety of other related topics. As he writes:

I want to do more study on Charles Taylor’s work here that Sam is riffing on.  And especially the commentary James K. A. Smith has done on that.  I highly recommend the interview Blair Hodges did with Jamie Smith.  The idea here is that secularism is not bad.  Through it, we are extending life, solving many of the world’s mysteries, and increasing quality of life.  But it doesn’t answer everything.  Humans still have a God itch.  We seek for higher meaning.  We understand intellectually the traditional, literal narratives of world religions don’t make sense.  But we also feel secularism is inadequate in addressing our spiritual needs.  That conflict is a cross pressure.  We need to find new religious narratives that can balance the two.

I like the term cross pressure better than cognitive dissonance.  Cognitive dissonance implies to me that there’s a right and a wrong, I’m doing the “wrong” and I’m feeling the underlying dissonance of the “right”.  Exmormons use this to describe the uncomfortable feeling of disbelief before testimony is shattered, sometimes only seeing two options belief or disbelief in a literal narrative.  I love the term cross pressure which seems more agnostic on the morality or priority of the two competing ideas.  There’s something important about the modern message of secularism.  And there’s something important about the non-modern message I’m getting each week in church.

There’s a lot of stuff in this blog post that I should read more into. First, I should probably read more Samuel Brown. I should also read more Charles Taylor/Secular Age stuff (although I have read articles about A Secular Age, such as hawkgrrl’s summary of a book about the book A Secular Age and Rachael Givens Johnson’s multi-part series.

But, since that probably won’t happen soon, I’ll just riff based off the blog posts I have read.

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Why traditional Christians think Mormons are heretics (part I)

These are definitely the same thing, right?

I’ve written another post at Wheat & Tares…this one is on why traditional Christians think Mormons are heretics. As the title implies, it is just the first of a series.

I’ve actually been wanting to write a series like this for a while, addressing stuff I didn’t fully appreciate about traditional Christianity while as a Mormon. (I have a running list of articles I wanted to write, and even as I go through that list now, I am amazed at some of the things I’ve learned recently that I would have had no clue about traditional Christians when I was growing up.)

Anyway, what finally pushed me to write this post series was seeing one of the Mormon Leaks document — it was a leaked document providing guidance on how LDS church leaders and Public Affairs should address common questions. The main issue I see is that many of the answers utterly fail to engage in critical points to the questions. For this first part of the series, I have started with just addressing where there are differences in Mormonism’s understanding of Godhead vs traditional Christian understanding of the trinity. Next post will go a lot deeper in things such as the relationship between God and man, and so on.

On symbolic and racial whiteness in scripture

Over at Wheat & Tares, I wrote an article discussing the inclusion of a song “White” in the 2017 LDS Mutual themed album. The song first came to my attention through tweets by Janan Graham-Russell about the lack of racial awareness implied by the song’s sponsorship by the church.

I quickly realized that the song was meant to be a reference to Isaiah 1:18, and that got me thinking about how faithfully the song captured Isaiah 1:18, and whether Isaiah 1:18 could be interpreted in any racial way (and Mary Ann’s comments on the context have changed my understanding a bit). I definitely encourage reading the post, but the short summary would be that I have no doubt that the composer of this song (who apparently is a 17-year-old Asian American young woman) had no thoughts about race when composing. But, at the same time, I do not think it should be at all controversial to say that the legacy of Mormonism conflating symbolic whiteness (that is, “purity” or “cleanliness”) and racial whiteness (skin color) should keep everyone in the church on constant guard — and this song isn’t careful.

Well, it turns out that the church has removed the song from the LDS Mutual Album, as Peggy Fletcher Stack reports in the Salt Lake Tribune. And, you may note, I am quoted through my blog. So, I guess these are my 15 minutes of internet fame?

One of the biggest challenges in the comments section to my post was the notion that people who take issue with this song are just being oversensitive. I wanted to comment just a few things about that here.

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Nominalism, Christianity, and Donald Trump


With the election of Donald Trump, there’s a lot of discussion on who has been living in a bubble. The surprise of so many Democrats has resulted in so many thinkpieces contending that coastal, city-dwelling Democrats are just elites that are out of touch with the real America. (Interestingly, I have also seen posts to argue that it’s just the opposite — predominantly white midwestern rural communities are out of touch, which could fuel their otherization of minority concerns.)

There have been thinkpieces discussing the role of social media in this. Isn’t it well known that Facebook tends to show you what it thinks you’ll engage with (with your attention, likes, and shares)? And, even if Facebook didn’t do this (but protip: it definitely does), it’s easier to block someone or unfriend someone if they keep posting stuff you don’t like than it is to customize one’s offline relationships.

I do not unfriend or block people on Facebook. Yet, I know because of my chosen circles (such as fringe Mormon and disaffected Mormon communities), I self-select to more liberal crowds. But…I also grew up in Oklahoma. I went to school to Texas A&M. I still try to read blogs of conservative Mormons, evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox, and so on. These are not bastions of liberalism.

So, I thought that when I read the thoughtful lamentations of conservative, evangelical friends about the state of politics that I was getting something “real” from “the other side”. These were people who couldn’t stand Hillary Clinton or the Democrats — but who also couldn’t abide Trump, because to them, he did not match their Christian or even conservative values.

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What is the point of life from a Christian perspective?

Free will

The other day, I was reading some conversation on the Problem of Evil. As usually happens, one of the responses was that evil exists because of human free will that defies God’s completely good plan, but human free will itself is something God wanted, so that’s why he allowed for it.

This led me to think about a series of questions, beginning with: what is the point of this life (with our free will and fallen natures and the risk that so many of us will end up in Hell for [possibly] eternity) from a traditional Christian perspective?

I know the basic way to answer this question from a Mormon perspective. In Mormonism, mortality is a proving ground — it is necessary for development, and such development gives one the possibility to advance to Godhood. In Mormonism, the fall isn’t entirely a bad thing…it’s a necessary part of the plan. In Mormonism as well, however, God has a more limited role in terms of creating the universe — he is more of an organizer who’s already part in the process, and we — rather than being created ex nihilo — are eternal intelligences organized to create our more corporeal selves.

But I don’t have to be an exmormon to realize that you can’t assume this answer will work for traditional Christianity. So, based on what I have learned about traditional Christianity, that led me to a series of questions and explorations.

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Contrasting traditional Christian and LDS conceptions of God

Over at Wheat & Tares, my latest post is on contrasting LDS and traditional Christian conceptions of God.

Part of my experience growing up Mormonism was learning that Mormonism had answers to things traditional Christians could only call mysteries. So, I was raised to think that the traditional Christian concept of the trinity was amorphous at best, incoherent at worst, but that Mormonism had restored the truth of the physicality of God.

And oh what implications that physicality have for Mormons! Gender roles are such a big deal in Mormonism because they represent realities about the lives that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother’s embodied existence.

However, for many folks (and including me), these explanations ended up causing more issues than they supposedly resolved. I’ll leave y’all to read the full post at Wheat & Tares.

Thoughts on Elder Christofferson & conditional love

I have a new post up at Wheat & Tares…this one is on Elder Christofferson’s recent conference remarks on God’s supposedly conditional love.

After disaffecting from Mormonism, I’ve tried to look at various concepts from the perspectives of other denominations. It has been enlightening, although I don’t know if I’m just falling into different heresies. On this point, I’m more and more inclined to think that it’s not that God’s love is conditional, but rather that we still have the choice to accept or reject. Adam Miller pointed out that we should see God’s grace as not just about the Atonement, but also about the Creation and Fall as well — in this sense, we expand our view of what is so freely given. It’s not just salvation, but also our very bodies, our planet, the universe, existence itself.

Yet we are radically free with what we do with these gifts, and because they overwhelm us, we reject them or misuse them. That was the fall, but that is also sin. At least, as far as I am thinking now.

I didn’t get a chance to post this at Wheat & Tares, but I am thinking that when we talk about sin in its various forms, we are ultimately talking about a couple of things. The first is in rejecting the gift itself: rejecting the piano or our piano teacher or our lessons or our ears or our hands (to use the analogy from Brad Wilcox’s His Grace is Sufficient). But the second is in misunderstanding the gift as a gift — which can either happen because we think we have to earn the piano or live up to our piano teacher or deserve the lessons (and so we run away from these things, thinking we haven’t done enough to deserve any of it), or because, to the contrary, we think we already have earned our skills and ability (and thus, we are where we are because of our character strengths, and those less fortunate or less skilled are where they are because of their character flaws.)

Pragmatism, Mormonism, and Expedience

Over at Wheat & Tares I have quite a lengthy post on the emphasis of “expedience” in the scriptures, and my discovery in high school that that term isn’t associated with moral principle. Since I wrote a lot there, I won’t write so much here, except to say that the main point I wanted to discuss is that these things point out that Mormonism has a way of thinking about the world that is simply different than how other modern secular philosophies think about it. Whether we agree with the “expedient” Mormon pragmatism or not, we should at least recognize when we are judging Mormonism according to its own criteria, or when we are rejecting Mormon criteria for secular criteria.

Accepting Hell

Over at Wheat & Tares (where we’ve had a facelift, if you hadn’t noticed), I have decided to write a new post on accepting the possibility of going to Hell. Check it out here.

This post has been inspired by several things I’ve read over the years, but very recently, on the Christianity sub-reddit, someone asked the question of whether someone could be a Calvinist who wasn’t part of the elect. This intrigued me greatly, since…if you’ve paid attention to the title of this entire blog, then you might have guessed that I’ve thought about that idea a lot. As I wrote back:

Although I don’t think I have similar experiences to you (I don’t want to brag or anything, but I feel pretty “OK” with my life), I do think it’s possible to be a Calvinist that is not one of the Elect. To me, Calvinism appeals to me because I am not really convinced in libertarian free will, and the Calvinist conception makes sense to me instead.

OTOH, I accept that I don’t feel persuaded to believe in God; I don’t find the arguments in favor of God convincing, don’t see evidence the same way Christians talk about it, etc., etc., etc., At best, I feel that if God exists, he basically doesn’t want to have anything to do with me (and I feel OK with this. I don’t feel “desperate” to discover God or anything, and I think that is consistent with the idea of reprobation. In other words, I feel the idea of God is “irrelevant”.)

So yeah, the idea of a non-elect Calvinist makes sense to me, at least.

A Calvinist believer found that to be a very interesting position for an atheist to have, so they asked for some followup information. And so I responded:

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Responding to thoughts about spiritual disconnection

At Zelophehad’s Daughters, Lynnette had a personal post regarding her experience of spiritual disconnection. In the post, she discusses several possibilities she’s considered for what could be the cause of the disconnection (as well as the reasons she doesn’t think those are the case). But there was one thing she posted that was particularly interesting to me:

Maybe I’m learning some empathy from this. I realize that many people go through longer dry spells than I’ve been experiencing. And I can only imagine what it’s like for members of the church who simply don’t have spiritual experiences. I’ve talked to people who say that that’s the case for them, and this gives me a glimpse of what it’s like to be in that situation, in a church that is so focused on personal revelation.

This sort of sentiment came through from certain commenters as well:

I can totally relate to this. I went through a long “dry spell” several years ago when it felt to me like God just didn’t care about me anymore. The first time I had an identifiable spiritual experience after all that silence is one of the sweetest memories of my life. And I definitely feel like the dry spell helped me understand and feel compassion for people who are going through what I went through. Hang in there. I hope the light returns soon for you.

These thoughts are interesting to me because they are entirely foreign to my experience. It’s tough for me to even say if I know what it’s like to feel spiritually disconnected because I can’t say I’ve ever felt anything that I would feel comfortable describing as spiritually “connected.” I have nothing to compare my normal experience to, and therefore no sense of disappointment or anxiety or malaise from the difference.

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