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How to Stay LDS: Review and Response, Part VI

August 20, 2009

This is the sixth and final part of a series about John Dehlin’s How to Stay in the LDS Church After a Major Challenge to Your Faith. Part I is here; Part II is here; Part III is here; Part IV is here, and Part V is here.



So we approach the end. This time, I think I’ll wrap up by expressing all of the things I enjoyed from Dehlin’s essay.

First and foremost, I appreciate the approach to reaching out to people, especially those who are struggling. I see frequently (not just in the church, but with anything) that it’s too easy to treat people who have issues like contagious lepers. And I can vouch that it really sucks when you’re trying to find assistance and everyone else is treating you as a pariah — that can be the final straw if nothing else is, because it disabuses you of who you thought your real friends were.

So even if I think that Dehlin’s end result (that is, to help people stay as members in the church) is flawed, I do think that it’s a better effort than those on either side who do nothing but watch (or even criticize and pity).

I appreciate that John isn’t an apologist and isn’t taking the apologists’ way. Some would disagree, but I’ve never been able to understand this disagreement. Some people will say that John secretly hopes that all who read his essay will progress to full activity, full fellowship, and full tithepaying status within the church and as such he’s committed to the apologist’s cause “to preserve the lies” (or whatever), but it seems to me that in actuality, he’s about helping people find what’s best for them. He simply believes that the church may be what’s best…if only given a second or third try).

I like the undertones of John’s approach: to try to change Mormonism. I don’t mean this in a sneaky, “Destroy the church from within,” kind of way. Rather, this change is to make the church the best it possibly be (I guess if you happen to believe there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the church now, then that is subversive). So, in a way, one of the strongest points for staying is that only through staying can we be a part of the “body” of Christ, and only as part of that body can we most effectively hope to improve that body.

This powerful message ends up providing a radically idealist, hopeful counter against many criticisms of his method. “Why should someone stay and pay money to an organization they disagree with and which they perceive causes damage in the world?” Not only will this effort cultivate empathy, virtue, patience in you (see Dehlin’s loved essay from Eugene England: Why the church is as true as gospel), but it is only through walking side by side with our Mormon brethren that we can gain the cultural capital to hope to make an impact. “What’s the likelihood of changing anything?” I don’t know, but is such a hope, even if utterly idealistic and optimistic, a crime? I’d like to think it noble. “Why not just let the ship sink and create change outside?” Because I still cannot deny that my tribe is my own, so instinctively, I want to preserve it. When my family does ill, I do not abandon my name. rather, I seek, through my actions, to restore prestige to a tarnished name.

So, this kind of message has a triumphal, perhaps quixotic quality to it. (I don’t think Dehlin does himself many favors when he waxes practical…his analysis of the practical reasons for the way the General Authorities act, for example, seems to paint them as corporate, unsavory individuals.) The allure of Dehlin’s path is about pursuing heroism that previously has only been mythological and literary. This heroism often gets trampled in “ordinary” heroics (at best), or the base defeatism and cynicism of modernity (at worst).

But imagine…what kind of paradox…what kind of character cultivation and scrutinization must it take to face something that has hurt you, something that you find to be evil, wrong or untruthful, yet still confront it and try to mine for the goodness within and magnify it until it purifies the sludge? Normally, we try to shrink from, avoid, destroy, cast away, revile things, but what would it take for us to confront things head on and ask for pain to make us stronger?

I’m not sure if I’m personally convinced, even now. I don’t even go to the gym regularly, (my motto these days is: “No pain…no pain!”) And I still am quite cynical — about the efficacy or even validity of Dehlin’s idea of middle-way Mormonism…about the probability of actually achieving change from within vs. trying to achieve change from outside…about the healthiness of subjecting oneself to so much stress in the hopes of building muscles of transcendent flesh.

I guess the question would be if you believe “drawing blood from a stone” describes attempting to do that which is impossible or simply that which is very, very unlikely.

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  1. I think the best evidence that John has found the “middle way”, as it were, is that both angry ex-Mormons and zealous believers accuse him of trying to sway people to the other side.

    I appreciate John’s approach and I know that he has helped a lot of people.

    I also appreciate your insightful analysis of John’s essay.


  2. Seth, I actually agree for the same reason that you mention. I was rather surprised to find such opposition on both sides, which is what made me try to dig deeper in the first place.

    While I found some things (well, six essays’ worth of things) that could make me not follow such a path, I found nothing in the end that led me to believe that Dehlin is “traitorous” or “a sellout to the apologists” or other things I’ve heard.

    how funny you should come at just such a time. you might want to stick around for my next post :3

  3. To quote Wayne’s World…. “[I’m] unworthy!” for all the analysis.

    Thanks for taking the time, Andrew. Let’s have lunch sometime soon, k? I’d love to talk about your ideas.

  4. well, again, I probably won’t be in Utah anytime soon, but if you’re in Texas, maybe we can work something out…

  5. Sofal permalink

    I see John’s approach as helpful to those who have more to lose by leaving the church than to gain. My parents are very orthodox and I have many siblings whose weddings I have yet to attend and for whom I am still the crown example, the pride and joy of my parents. My dad would probably see John Dehlin as an agent of Satan. My dad is still currently the stronghold for ideology among my young siblings, and so for me to leave the church would be as if I had brought a curse upon the family. I would become a subject of sorrow among them all. I of course love them all and I value their opinion of me (and I need to make this clear: valuing their opinion of me is not the same thing as judging myself based on their opinion).

    I don’t feel abused at all by the church. On the contrary, I believe the church has done great things for my family and my life. So some periodic cognitive dissonance and a continuation of the WoW and tithing isn’t really a big sacrifice for me compared to what I would have to give up in order to leave.

    John’s approach helps by showing how and why you can take the middle way without feeling like you’re some kind of disgusting hypocrite. I don’t see very many parts of your analysis that I feel like he would disagree with.

  6. I think there’s a lot to what you say, Sofal…it seems to me that John doesn’t really provide the reasons to stay (rather, the expectation is that those reasons are already there — as you say, “more to lose to leave than to gain.”)…but John’s essay is about normalizing the path and option (I guess that should have been obvious to me from the title…it’s “how” to stay in the LDS church…not “why”)

    I just wonder how many people would also have “more to lose to leave than to gain”

  7. I’ve read John’s “Stay LDS” article and watched his similarly named YouTube video, and I’ve read as a good bit of discussion and analysis of it as well. I think your analysis here is a good one.

    I guess this paints me as a “black and white” thinker or as having unrealistic expectations, but the church itself has historically and continues to this day to set its own standard, and that is Truth with a capital “T.” They beat that drum of capital “T” Truth as the most important thing in the entire world. That’s what the church itself teaches over and over again.

    The Church is made up primarily of very conservative people who believe strongly in holding people accountable to their own actions and words. I think it is then fair for the Church to be held accountable to its own actions and words.

    The Church makes numerous “fact claims” in various fields of endeavor that can and have been proven false by outside experts in the field.

    I don’t think that PostMormons have unreasonably high expectations regarding “Truth.” I think the Church and its apologists (which I believe in some ways includes John) act dishonestly when they claim capital “T” Truth and speak in very absolutist ways in F&T Meeting, but then come to the Internet and speak of a need for lowered expectations involving truth. I think many of their Chapel Mormon friends would be very confused to read what these Internet Mormons write.

    I think John’s approach is fundamentally dishonest. For example, if John doesn’t believe in an anthropomorphic God (and he has said multiple times he doesn’t) then the answer to the question “Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, . . . ” would be “No” and John wouldn’t have a temple recommend.

    His rationalization that he can in his mind think “I don’t believe in a literal, physical, human form father-type figure . . .” that he does not state directly to his bishop/stake president is intentionally lying because no shared meaning has taken place.

    John and everyone else would say I was a liar if asked “Andrew, are you 12 feet tall?” and I answered “Yes” because I redefined the meaning of the “12 feet” in my mind to “5 foot 9” and didn’t explain that I had “changed the meaning” of “12 feet” in order to be able to answer “truthfully” that I was in fact 12 feet tall.

    Communication requires shared meaning.

  8. Andrew,

    I still think your initial arguments (e.g., since the church emphasizes capital T truth, and many members believe strongly in holding people accountable to their own words and actions, then the church should be held to its own words and actions) are inadequate. Not because the church shouldn’t be held to its own words and actions, but because members can easily justify these words and actions.

    For example, Dehlin’s comments about the “Brethren’s dilemma” make sense — as stewards of the church, they are more obligated to keep the church growing or stable…the propaganda and marketing (whether they believe in it or not) is all a part of that. For members like Dehlin, who recognize that it’s propaganda and marketing that’s relevant for a second purpose (that is, it’s not important that you buy the beliefs hook, line and sinker…just that you remain a part of the Mormon community and don’t lead others out), they simply do this. See my article posted shortly after this one “Finding divinity within mythology” — I think it shows a similar approach of radical reform of the religion to stay in the community while coming to a different understanding of the claims.

    That being said, I think that your latter argument has more merit, although I’m not quite sure if your argument would have merit within the framework of the liberal Mormon belief. The thing I have always been wary of is what you say: when someone says they are “Mormon” or even “theist,” people get a mental image in their head…a mental “first impression” that gives a “nod” to a certain construct. So, someone who claims to be “Mormon” or “theistic,” even though their belief is idiosyncratic and not readily recognized by people who use the term, are supporting the mental first impression.

    BUT I also realize that this only matters in our context. Remember, for John and others, this already is a bit of a game of appearances. So, the brethren and GAs begin the game with propaganda and marketing that CAN be interpreted at face value but shouldn’t be (in other words, the GAs are the one who is saying “12 foot,” and members have to eventually figure out it’s not what they say…it’s only 5’9″…) For people in a literalistic framework, they find out 12′ is not 12′ and leave (and I can’t blame them/us). But for other people, they begin to realize that 12′ was never supposed to be taken literally…but 5’9″ is an “instrument” or “model” representing 12′ (and which they find, in their lives, helps them to understand 12′)

  9. I think I understand what you are saying, but at least immediately, I can’t say I agree. I still come away believing that if you Andrew S. say to me that your love interest is the most beautiful person in the world, I can give you as much latitude as necessary in defining “beautiful.” If, however, you say your love interest is the most honest and truthful person in the world AND that you have objective proof that indeed proves your significant other’s honesty and truthfulness, that’s a completely different thing. If I happened to have caught your SO in the act of stealing from me, and then I attended the subsequent trial where your SO repeatedly lied under oath (badly) and was convicted, I will know your SO is not truthful and honest. Your justifications that your SO’s desire or need to be beautiful somehow justifies dishonesty seems as lame to me as John’s “Brother’s Dilemma.” The solution to this is a simple one. If capital “T” Truth is not your big thing, then stop saying it is. If Beauty or Growth is your big thing, then say that.

    And then there’s the whole duplicity and double standard issue, the 5-foot-9 GA’s are 12-feet tall now, but if I only pay $1 a year in tithing when I live in a mansion and drive a Rolls Royce, I might be hard pressed to get a temple recommend as a full tithe payer.

    And, again, if none of it is supposed to be taken literally, then stop saying IT MUST BE TAKEN LITERALLY, IT’S ALL TRUE OR IT’S ALL FALSE, etc.

    I don’t think the Church’s intention is to somehow teach people to understand metaphor by insisting on literal interpretation, but rather I think the Church’s intention is to get people to pay tithing, and they believe the LITERAL, black and white teachings are the best way to bring that money in the door.

    I find that mostly Internet Mormons “embrace the mysticism” and glory in uncertainty and doubt. This is the church that claims it has THE answers, THE prophet and is THE only one directly led by Jesus Christ. There should be no need for mysticism, uncertainty or doubt in such a church. Internet Mormons know that, but also know that the church DOESN’T have THE answers, THE prophet, etc. . . .

    In any event. Thank you for your thoughtful analysis on John’s writings. I’m still trying to figure them out, but I can’t get past the idea that if you intentionally cause someone to think something that isn’t true, you have not been honest and truthful. How can a society really work if everyone is free to deceive others freely and without repercussion. Anarchy would ensue. John isn’t really arguing for this, of course, he supports a “limited deception” with the goals to keep you attending church, accepting callings, and paying tithing.

    And the argument I’ve posted elsewhere is “How honest will your teenage children be with you if you have taught them to give highly nuanced answers to authority figures?”

  10. Andrew(s),

    You make very valid points. I won’t dare to presume to speak for John but what I advocate is that people be Mormon on their own terms. Personally, I don’t attend the temple or even ask for a recommend. I make it very clear to my local leaders, in no uncertain terms, that my views are heterodox, that I am not at Church because I believe it is the truth with a capital T, but that I choose to be involved in the Ward because I enjoy the fellowship and enjoy the company of my fellow Mormons. I am also very upfront about the fact that I am not an advocate for my views. My beliefs are my own and I would not presume to sway orthodox believers into my camp, as it were.

    If I had to be Mormon on someone else’s terms I could not do it. I’m not willing to sacrifice my personal views on the altar of conformity, nor am I willing to pretend I believe things that I do not believe. When the Elders or the local leaders come over, the wine rack and cigar humidor stay right where they are — out for everyone to see.

    Of course I’m not naive. I recognize that members of my ward, my family, and local leaders all want me to become heterodox; to shake off my apostate beliefs. I suppose part of me is being stubborn. Members often assume that when you become an apostate you begin to hate the Church, its leaders etc…. I think it throws many Mormons who know me, for a loop when they hear me ardently defend the Church against absurd criticism and unfair attack. At the same time, they also wonder how I can harshly critisize the Church’s anti-SSM political moves and still want to be a member. I suppose the arrogant part of me wants to be the living proof that the black/white , true/false, all or nothing, dichotomy that is preached by the Church is absurd.


  11. t.n. trap permalink

    My main criticism of Dehlin’s middle way (and likewise, some of New Order Mormonism) is that it defers to a third party in defining the individual’s relationship with God. A fundamental aspect of Mormonism, as I have always seen it, is that spirituality, the path one takes in life, is between the individual and God. If anything, the Church is a resource for developing the relationship between the individual and God. From that perspective, there are only two ways (follow the path that you believe God wants you to follow, or don’t).

    From that perspective, the middle way, I think, suggests something defective about the individual who can’t live “the Church way” and feeds into all of the “if only” comments made by apologists and true believers (if only they read their scriptures more; if only they would just choose to believe the way we do.) The middle way has always seemed to me as what happens when someone failed to live the Church way and in the end, I think that the middle way is complete b.s.

    This may sound like just a problem of semantics but I think the words used in this situation can have a profound psychological effect and can make it harder for one to have confidence and make mature decisions when having a crisis of ways. The Church says “my way or the highway” and I think the language of “the middle way” plays too much into that mindset, gives too much authority to Church culture and idealized dogma instead of recognizing the authority of God (if you are God-believing) and especially the authority of the individual to the be authors of their lives. Living as you believe you should be living is not a middle way. It is The Way.

    Along with some thoughts in the series and some comments along the way, what I find useful in what Dehlin has done is practical advice on how to live in or be reconciled to the Church [culture] when one has found that their true way in life has veered significantly from traditional Church culture; finding a way to be honest with one’s self without making a mess of their life and relationships. Along with many others, I have found what he has done to be very helpful and I think he deserves accolades for his efforts, especially because he has received so much criticism from all sides of the issue.

  12. re Andrew C:

    (warning long comment haha)

    Well, if you don’t buy it, then I’m not blaming you. Remember, I don’t buy it either, and I don’t believe Dehlin provides the persuasive reason to buy it (but then again, it’s not “Why to stay LDS…just “how.”). At the same time, I think that the counterargument is still ineffective because it still evaluates the situation from a framework that the believing member (especially one who “survives” a crisis and stays in the church) isn’t using. So, you’re speaking past each other.

    Let’s say someone is saying their SO is “honest and truthful”…but what they really mean from this is a conclusion that’s something like, “She’s true in her profound beauty, etc.,” Instead of setting the two ideas against each other, as you have, the member links the two. Now, I agree with you that the link from one to the other personally is not persuasive to me (and wouldn’t be persuasive for a second to me in a court of law — especially if she had robbed me). However, I would still have to realize that for this person, clearly, capital T truth means something conceptually different than what it means for me. Even if I think they are being disingenuous to use it in such a way, I cannot really deny (without trampling over their integrity as experiencing human beings) that for the way they are using it, they may certainly be (subjectively) justified.

    For example, what if capital T truth represents truth in the philosophic concepts? Then factuality (e.g., how well it relates to history), even though it may be an important “stepping stone” to get ‘the uninitiated’ to listen to it to begin with (and that’s where the Brethren’s dilemma is), is not the same as, nor relevant to capital T truth. However, for people who say, philosophically, that Jesus has improved their lives, living the gospel principles has improved their lives, then they would argue that these things are a higher proof of the church’s Truthfulness. Even if they have idiosyncratic beliefs about which principles are True (so they give “preference” for lesser publicized concepts and pay less attention to bigger, hairier doctrines they may not like), they would easily have justified their idea of Truth for themselves.

    I agree with you that the church institution makes certain aspects of “middle-way” Mormonism extremely difficult, or perhaps even forbidden…the tithing for temple recommend issue is one.

    Again, even if it isn’t supposed to be taken literally, All or Nothing may be an important “stepping stone” (either to attract initially or for some other purpose.)

    Regarding your interpretation of the church or of its goals…let me ask…do you think that General Authorities really believe in what they are offering? I’m not asking if you think they believe it’s historical or whatever…but do you think that GAs truly believe that Mormonism has helped them and can help others?

    I think whatever your answer is will in turn determine how everything else will be looked at. Someone like John would say that they don’t buy that there’s a “massive conspiracy.” The reason the GAs are “maintaining the mantle” is because they believe in the priesthood mantle. So, I think that having people stick in the church is important to them because of this reason. However they can attract (black-and-white) and however they can maintain (being permissive of “internet mormons” like many apologists, liberal Mormons, etc.,) them.

    Again, I think that any liberal member would sidestep your criticism about uncertainty vs. having your answers by *linking* them instead of setting them at variance. The uncertainty is a tool for finding better answers. Sacrifice is a tool for building a better person. Paradoxical, but not impossible.

    I can’t get past the idea that if you intentionally cause someone to think something that isn’t true, you have not been honest and truthful.

    Whatever will all the authors and musicians and other people in the media do…the lot of liars?! The entire point is that some things’ factuality or counterfactuality may not matter. (I’m not saying I buy it for religion, especially in the conditions the LDS church has, but this really is the deal. It misses the point to place truth on *so high* a pedestal…) I would imagine the counterargument would be: how can a society really work without lies and deception…where everyone is bluntly, bluntly honest at all times? When cultural myths and cultural identities — the glue of the community — are ripped to shreds because of their mythic and fabled qualities? If you argue against the value of myths that masquerade as more truthful than they are, then that’s one thing, but you simply won’t be seeing eye to eye to people who are vitalized by the myths.

  13. re Seth:

    Good point. The thing I realized was that John’s paper is “How” to stay LDS, not “Why,”…so it really does depend on someone having a pre-existing motive for the why. This would include a pre-existing motive for why they will do *anything* in the church. John simply provides the how, I think…the clockwork mechanics of how one might want to look at tithing, temple recommends, the very concept of “making one’s own Mormonism.”

    Unfortunately, this is where I feel some of Andrew C’s arguments have merit (even though I try to explain them out). For example, how valid is the Mormonism that one “makes his own.” As much as Dehlin tries to justify buffet Mormonism, I can’t help but feel as if no one’s buying the 5’9″ guy trying to be 12′. Alternatively stated, when you say, “If I had to be Mormon on somebody else’s terms I could not do it,” I think, “But Mormonism *is* legitimately defined on someone else’s terms! That of the GAs! That of the scriptures! etc.,”

    This is why I think the “middle way” should be outside of the church. If you are *not in the church*, well…there isn’t an institution that says how non-Mormons should act or what part of the paycheck should go to what. So, you can be as Mormon as you’d like — recognizing your culture — without the oppressive (and justified…since the GAs *do* lead the church) “standards” of what Mormonism legitimately is.

    See, I understand what you want your goal to be. But I believe this goal is just as valuable outside the church. Because apostate to me means disaffiliating (in whatever way, not just a sent letter) from the church. So, I also try to show that apostate doesn’t mean “hate the church.” It doesn’t mean I can’t defend believers or the church sometimes. It simply means it doesn’t work for me, so I recognize this dysfunction and eliminate it by leaving instead of by trying to forge an illegitimate (as far as the GAs are concerned) identity within.

  14. re t.n. trap:

    Actually, my problem with middle-way/liberal/NOM Mormonism is a bit of the opposite of yours…it’s that it doesn’t defer to a third party (at least, not enough) when it should. If you are Mormon, then you “should” defer to a third party. If you are not, *then* you don’t have that obligation.

    I see Mormonism not really as about individual belief (although I understand the undercurrents). I see it more in the tradition of a straight and narrow path that individuals must work to understand and get on by recognizing and holding on to the rod. If you no longer fully trust the rod (the church, the scriptures, the GA), then you should separate.

    But I like what you say: Living as you believe you should be living is not a middle way. It is The Way. I just can’t help but feel it’s not 100% justified by the scriptures (not just the LDS scriptures, but also NT, OT…while one can find undercurrents of a “follow your path…” there’s also much about the specific things you must do..)

    I agree with your final paragraph.

  15. I admit to my black-and-whiteness about this. In the example John has given on more than one occasion, he does not believe that God is an anthropomorphic being. When asked the first Temple Recommend question “Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father . . . .” he answers “Yes” because he has some vague general sense that goodness pervades the universe, and that is “close enough.”

    After setting this example for his children, will he be happy if he finds out that his teenage children have been drinking and smoking pot at a party AFTER they swore to him that they had not been drinking alcohol or using drugs? (You see, they felt comfortable telling him “No” and they weren’t lying, because they had “redfined” the wine coolers they were drinking to “fruit juice” because they do have elements of fruit in them, and they weren’t doing “drugs” plural, because they only smoked pot–one drug. So, they were honest.)

    What parent would accept these rationalizations? This is very much like saying “Yes, I’m a full tithe payer” when you pay 4 percent.

    In your original analysis you commented on the “practical” nature of the advice John is giving. I think it is unsound and dangerous on many levels.

    But, then, in our home as my children were growing up, the standard of honesty as unambiguous as we could make it. Any intentional deception or even allowing an incorrect perception was unacceptable.

    I believe it is honesty and trust that makes society really work, not lies and deception. I’m not advocating that one must be so honest that they MUST tell Aunt Sadie that she smells bad. I am, however, stating my opinion that churches should at least meet the minimum standards of honesty we expect from corporations, and I would hope that especially churches that feel so inspired to speak out publicly on moral issues would have HIGHER standards of honesty than society in general, not lower.

    And, directly to your point, I do think the CoJCoLDS does significantly more harm than good. And, I believe that General Authorities understand that the priesthood gives them no special powers of discernment, healing, etc. I believe that they use it to control the members, because by controlling the members they can continue to benefit personally. I believe they know how harmful the church is to many, many people, and they just don’t care.

  16. Let’s go through the two scenarios (temple recommend interview vs. kids after crazy party) and then compare spirit of the law vs. letter of the law. In the first scenario, you’re complaining because John’s answer doesn’t follow the letter of what theism supposedly entails…even if it follows the spirit of what it entails. In the second scenario, the teenagers are not following the letter of their oath, but in doing so, they are also not following the spirit of the oath.

    The question is…what is the spirit of things, as opposed to the letter of things? The letter of tithing is 10%. But is that gross, or net? Taxes? 401k deferrals? What counts?

    So, I guess your children grew up without an idea of Santa Claus, and they quickly (and to the chagrin of other parents in the community) disabused other children of Santa, eh?

    Why stop honesty at telling Aunt Sadie she smells bad? It seems like you’re making a judgment here about when truth would cease providing more benefit than harm…but couldn’t someone make the judgment elsewhere (obviously, you note that you think the church provides more harm than good…John would disagree)? The thing that gets me is…you say we should expect the same standards as we expect from corporations…but we don’t expect such standards of honesty from corporations. In fact, we expect much less honesty from corporations, and “anticipate” this by setting out counteracting forces (auditors, lawyers, regulations, etc.,), and then we reason that religions must follow a higher standard because they claim to be deciders of morality.

    Even *I* don’t place such standards on corporations. However, that is why I argue that one should remain untied and unattached to the church…because even if I support a corporation’s products, I recognize that I do this ONLY to the extend that their products are good. If their products degrade in quality, I have no qualms jumping ship or making my own alternatives if I can. I recognize that by this criteria, many can still feel that the LDS church has a good “product,” though. That’s a corporate standard.

    I simply don’t see the church in as cynical a viewpoint as you do, even if I also don’t see the church in as optimistic a viewpoint that John does. I don’t think they are about “control” and “benefiting personally,” but that they really believe their product is worthwhile (even if it may not be for all), and its price is worthwhile.

  17. Thank you, Andrew.
    I understand that people can just see things differently. I believe that in both scenarios the (party and tithing) because lies were told, because in both cases the person hearing the question knew that the person asking really meant. In both cases they intentionally answered in a way that deceived. John’s been in the church his entire life. I was only in 20 years, but I heard dozens of talks and lessons explaining tithing and hundreds of talks explaining who Heaven Father is. I find it blatantly dishonest to pretend that we don’t know what question is really being asked.

    If I visit your city and someone recognizes me from my picture here on your blog and walks up to me on the street, tells me they read your blog and saw my picture, and asks me if I’m Andrew Callahan from Nebraska and I say “No” I’m being dishonest. It doesn’t matter if I consider myself to be “from” Illinois because I was born there, I know what the person is asking.

    Dishonesty is intentionally misrepresenting or causing (or attempting to cause) someone to believe something false.

    John knows what the questions mean in his Temple Recommend interview but intentionally and unilaterally redefines the questions so he can feel comfortable with his own fudged answers.

    I’d be much more comfortable if his “How To Stay LDS . . .” paper simply said “If you want a temple recommend, just give the answers you know they want to hear, regardless of how you feel about the questions.” I think that’s what is happening anyway (with far more people than just John) but again the entire culture of dishonesty and keeping up appearances in the church just won’t tolerate honesty when “appearances” are more important.

    And, probably not surprisingly, I feel my cynicism of the church stems largely from the realization that I was lied to repeatedly and I see the church (and its agents) continuing the practice.

    Lie to some people and you turn them off and they stop trusting you. Lie to other people and you teach them to lie and be just like you.

  18. If I visit your city and someone recognizes me from my picture here on your blog and walks up to me on the street, tells me they read your blog and saw my picture, and asks me if I’m Andrew Callahan from Nebraska and I say “No” I’m being dishonest. It doesn’t matter if I consider myself to be “from” Illinois because I was born there, I know what the person is asking.

    I completely disagree here. You have no obligation to give the answer that you “know what the person is asking” for. In fact, you don’t even have to “explain yourself” or “justify yourself” in case the other person realizes you are the same person they know and now they’re mad because you didn’t answer in the same way they expected you to. Their assumption was their problem, not yours.

    I could maybe see your point if you had never lived in Illinois, or maybe if you really have no reason to believe (even in your heart) that your formative experiences should lie there…but still, this is very much a self-determined thing. Deception is determined with respect to yourself and your knowledge, not the impact of others.

    So, seeing as you factually were born in Illinois (well, let’s say you were), then there is no intentional misrepresentation here (unless you’re trying to argue that your period in Illinois wasn’t enough to define you). Seeing as John actually believes in his concept of God, then, there is no intentional misrepresentation there. If his bishop or whomever assumes where he ought not, then that’s his problem, not John’s.

    The reason John’s answer isn’t, “Just give the answers you know they want to hear,” is because that’s not the point behind John’s answer. Tons of people just answer what they think the Bishop wants to hear, and precisely because they ignore their feelings, this is where they err (because their feelings betray that they are deceptive to themselves). John’s saying, “Answer in a way that’s honest to yourself, so you can drop the guilt.” It’s a process that puts things inward: if you personally do not feel right about saying you’re from Illinois, then don’t say it. But if you do feel you’re from Illinois, don’t worry about the guy who insists you must say you’re from Nebraska. You run your own ship.

    Really…I think the better criticism against John (if any) is that if a person admits he runs his own ship, then he cannot serve two masters. He should leave the church, not because he disagrees with the church’s expectations, but rather because the very relationship with church is defined with expectations in mind. So, in the case of the guy who says you must say you’re from Nebraska…he has NO authority whatsoever. But one PRESUMABLY gives the church authority to define God (or if one starts chipping away at that foundation…the question is why stay?)

  19. MY point was that if I just say “No” I’m not being honest. I may have reasons or justifications for being dishonest, but to say “No” is dishonest. A “nuanced” non-yes/no answer such as, “I’m from Illinois” might get the questioner to go away and leave me alone, but might also confuse him and thus generate the question: “Are you the Andrew Callahan who posted several times on Andrew S’s Irresistible DisGrace blog on August 24 and 25, 2009?” How should I then answer THAT question negatively while still being honest?

    I think society functions on honesty and don’t believe the only way to get that honesty is by composing intricate detailed questions such as a prosecutor would prepare when questioning a defendant on trial.

    You and John both know that the questions asked in the TR interview are essentially designed for you to answer according to the concepts taught by the church and not according to the “dictates of your own conscience.” Further, when I was in the bishopric I was instructed to remind everyone I interviewed that they should answer the questions as if they were speaking to the Savior himself. The intent is clear. It isn’t ambiguous. To pretend there is ambiguity to make oneself feel better is dishonest to my black and white way of thinking.

    There may be reasons for dishonesty, but that does not change dishonesty into honesty.

    And, it is particularly disturbing to me that those who defend dishonesty on the church’s part or on the part of church surrogates are frequently the most vicious attackers of perceived dishonesty in those questioning the church.

    You see, in the personal, one-on-one, face-to-face meetings I have had with Thomas S. Monson, Boyd K. Packer, Gordon B. Hinckley and Heber J. Grant, they have all agreed with my perception of honesty. What? You don’t believe I had sit-down meetings with each of those guys right here in my office and discussed this exact thing? Well, you must just not have the same understanding I have of what a sit-down, face-to-face, one-on-one meeting is. I, of course, don’t have to explain or justify myself to you on this point. Monson, Packer, Hinckley, and Grant are on my side on this issue – they told me personally in PPI’s today. Do you question my honesty? You can’t prove they weren’t here, and you certainly weren’t here. Generally accepted definitions don’t apply in this situation, and I don’t have to explain why to you.

    I think allowing one side of a conversation to unilaterally “redefine” terms doesn’t lead to “shared understanding” and “shared understanding” is the purpose of communicating in the first place.

    I have enjoyed chatting with you, Andrew, and I’m not saying I’m bailing on this one, but I actually have paying work that I’m neglecting and I need to get to it.

    You obviously have a keen analytical mind, and I have occasionally read, contemplated and enjoyed your posts in the Bloggernacle.

    I haven’t been arguing for the sake of arguing on this one. I do understand the need for nuance and color in the world, but I also understand the value of black and white.

    Best wishes.

  20. You and John both know that the questions asked in the TR interview are essentially designed for you to answer according to the concepts taught by the church and not according to the “dictates of your own conscience.”

    I disagree. That’s your interpretation of the questions. John has written out why he doesn’t believe this is the intention of the questions — so at the very least you *know* that John sees the questions asked in the TR interview in a different light.

    The fact is that is the way John would answer to the Saviour himself. The guilt trip that the Bishop may try to use simply doesn’t work against John, because he doesn’t buy into that model — so John doesn’t feel guilt or any lie. According to *his* model, God and Jesus and everyone who matters (in his opinion) would be pleased to hear his answer. Furthermore, God, Jesus, etc., (who John would probably say he’s truly accountable to, not man) would presumably know the contents of his heart, so there would be no deception.

    Simply put, your argument simply will not fly for someone who does not use the same framework as you do. And I’m sure you believe others should use your framework (for the sake of a functional society or whatever else), but that doesn’t mean you’ve quite justified that case. Your framework places literalistic honesty as one of the highest value. Clearly, many people find that literalistic honesty is irrelevant, and go for more abstract and metaphoric values.

    Taking your logic experiment with your discussion with the various GAs…if I don’t believe you on your account, because I reject your framework, then by my framework, naturally I will not be able to see eye to eye. However, the only one this affects is me. I can’t convince you of anything (especially that your framework is wrong) by bludgeoning you with my framework (which you already don’t accept). At the end of the day, you will happily go home believing Monson, Packer, etc., agree with you, by the framework you use (even if you “advertise” it in such a way that seems to be testable under my framework.)

    To compare with this situation, you’re trying to demonstrate that John’s way is “wrong,” but you are using a framework he does not accept. You are trying to show that he does actually use this framework elsewhere, and so it is hypocritical for him not to use it with the church…but you haven’t succeeded in this. Several of your analogies and counterarguments produce differing responses than what you would expect, so I don’t think it would be going out on a limb to say that the frameworks people use aren’t really the same as your framework.

    I mean, it’s hard for me to argue, because in many ways, I understand your framework. But at the same time, I recognize that even your framework seems too unrealistic for me (and I also do not think society places such a premium on honesty as you think it does…and so I think that many people, even if they disagreed with John’s position, would also disagree with yours and go for an average.)

    I appreciate your coming by here — you don’t need to apologize for having other things to do.

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