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Lying for the Lego Lord Business

January 2, 2015

In case you haven’t read my earlier posts on pastoral apologetics, here’s another chance to see it in action. Over at Rational Faiths, James Patterson has written an article on his realization and subsequent conclusion that Mormonism may be made up…but it’s still true. As he alludes in his post, he had been undergoing a faith crisis for some time, primarily due to LDS.org’s essay on Race and the Priesthood. But what was it that got him out of the crisis? Well, per him, it was the Lego Movie.

Definitely check out his post for more details, since I’m not going to quote everything line-for-line.

I for one am happy that James is at a good place with respect to the church. In some ways, I regret writing each of these articles, because, by and far, the pastoral apologists are the good ones. (Not saying that all non-pastoral apologists aren’t good, but there are definitely worse positions to take.) I am not prima facie opposed to to pastoral apologetics. In fact, as I have said before, I think that if more people had that approach — and if it were supported institutionally, Mormonism would probably be a lot better for a lot of people.

My problem, as I have stated before numerous times, is that I don’t think a lot of Mormons have this approach, and I don’t think it is institutionally supported, so I don’t think a lot of people can make pastoral apologetics work. And I don’t think that pastoral apologists fully appreciate the precariousness or the privilege of the situation they are in when and if they can make it work.

Let’s take a part of the piece that relates directly to Mormonism:

It’s time for me to get comfortable with the idea that a lot of scripture is likely mostly “made up.”

Made up by well-intentioned people doing their best at grasping toward this thing we call “God” and attempting to put it in relatable, human language. People who have the audacity to reach up toward the moon and the stars to try to touch the hand of God. Trying to bring a piece of the divine down closer to within our grasp. And writing most times in a completely different social, political and religious context than our post-modern minds can relate to.

Embracing the notion that Mormonism is made up actually helps me makes more sense of history, not less. It helps me feel more comfortable with Mormonism. It gives me more hope and less anxiety. Can you believe that?

This is a concept hermeneutics calls “breaking the myth.” The loss of literal/historical belief in something (such as scripture) or doesn’t have to necessarily mean we must or even should abandon all value in that thing. I can still find great value in the Book of Abraham, even though I may come to the conclusion that Joseph Smith created it out of whole cloth. Just as I find great value in the story of the Good Samaritan, even when I can accept the fact that it most likely has little to no historical value. In that way, it remains “true.” Myths, while not fully historically accurate, can still hold great value in our lives.

The funny thing is, this isn’t just true of Mormonism. Or even religion. This is a process humans continually go through. We place value in things we find to be literally true. Then we find out they are not literally true. We can either abandon them and give up on the value they can have in our lives, or we can re-work them and retain the values that ring true to us.

Again, I don’t have any problem with these sorts of statements at first glace (although I will have a caveat later in this article.)

But.

I wonder what would happen if James made all of these statements in fast and testimony meeting rather than on Rational Faiths?

I am aware that in some wards, nothing would happen. No one would bat an eye. All would be well with the world, and I think that’s great, to the extent it happens…As I said before, if that happened in more places, it would be better for Mormons (although I understand why many folks disagree.)

But how many wards are “some wards”?

Several times, James concedes that his position might not fit well with how other Mormons practice their faith. For example, immediately after the part I quoted, he says:

While some — especially Mormons who fall on the more literal end of the spectrum — might see this approach as an affront or threat to faith, it has actually strengthened my testimony.

Even later, he addresses several criticisms more explicitly:

You can call that new-age, touchy feely or even “pastoral apologetics.” It may even not make Mormonism as “unique” as it used to seem. You can say “well that’s not the way the church sees it.” You see my truth as a double-decker couch. A silly idea that lacks in both functionality and utility.

You might look around with your view and see a mess.

For you, that mess may be too much to make sense of. It may not be worth trying. It may even be too painful to try and pick up the pieces.

But for me, for now, I look at that double-decker couch and I see the one thing that could just save me.

I think it’s great that he recognizes from where some potential criticisms may arise…but if you notice, he doesn’t actually address these criticisms.

Like, he understands that some people will respond that this is “not the way the church sees it,” but he doesn’t have a response for that. It’s noted, then never referred to again.

There is another problem that I have with the pastoral apologetic approach, though. I don’t think those who practice it fully appreciate the extent to which Mormonism is not so great to some people.

I have no problem with James rejoicing in what he finds to be good in Mormonism, but Mormonism isn’t good for everyone.

I honestly don’t know how to put it, especially to someone who self-admits that his “shelf completely collapsed under the weight of the Race and the Priesthood essay and [his] acceptance of real, tangible, demonstrable prophetic infallibility [sic…I think he meant “fallibility”].”

It seems that his crisis was realizing that prophets aren’t fallible, yet I for one think that given the facts of the priesthood ban…or even worse, the narrative now promulgated around polygamy, that prophetic infallibility is more of a faith breaker — I still cannot comprehend how one is supposed to salvage faith in a religion where people actually say that God would force polygamy at sword-point.

But back to this race point…maybe I’m reading him wrong, but it seems to me that his shelf broke over realizing prophets are fallible (and not being able to deal with that until the Lego Movie gave him a way to contextualize), rather than realizing that yes, whether God-ordained or simply implemented by people, Mormonism is definitely a religion that has been on the wrong side on race, has attributed that wrongness to God, and can’t tell the difference. Look…whether made-up or historical, someone thought that race was a big enough deal to explicitly write into the Book of Mormon.

And these are not just things that happened in the past. Even today, people aren’t sure whether the race essay actually denounces the ban itself as being racist (rather than just the explanations). You might think it’s obvious, but again, on the polygamy essays, we have one point in favor of “totally divinely inspired.” And it’s not just race. Whether it is socially constructed or ordained by God, Mormonism is a place where heterosexism is claimed to be divinely inspired. I mean, in 2014, the highest profile excommunication was a woman who wanted the priesthood.

As I quoted earlier, James wants to say that a lot of scripture is “made up by well-intentioned people doing their best at grasping toward this thing we call “God” and attempting to put it in relatable, human language.” That’s well and good, but we have to come to grips with the reality that Mormonism and Mormon scripture are well-intentioned people who seem to believe that this thing they call “God” may actually use race with respect to righteousness, may use sexual orientation as a challenge to be resisted in this life, and so on. James may not personally think this, but I know, without a doubt, that there are plenty of places I could post this article where people would vehemently argue *in the year of our Lord 2015* (happy new year y’all)* that the priesthood ban was of God, that the LDS theological status quo on LGBT issues is of God, that the status quo on women and priesthood is of God. I know too they will have the tools within Mormonism, within Mormon scripture, within prophetic and apostolic statements, to make the case for these points.

I get that Mormonism means a lot to people — even people who do not believe — because of how ingrained it is. I get it because I feel similarly a lot of times. That’s why I too think about how Mormonism has influenced my own thoughts on race. But James is going to have to break things down further if he wants to claim that Mormonism is true (even in a non-literal sense. in terms of concepts or ideas, rather than fact claims) just because it is his language and culture.

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4 Comments
  1. James permalink

    “It seems that his crisis was realizing that prophets aren’t fallible, yet I for one think that given the facts of the priesthood ban…or even worse, the narrative now promulgated around polygamy, that prophetic infallibility is more of a faith breaker — I still cannot comprehend how one is supposed to salvage faith in a religion where people actually say that God would force polygamy at sword-point.”

    George, there are people in America who still believe that the south will rise again and that MORE guns are the solution to violence. For some, this makes being an American unpalatable, and I respect those who feel this way.

    But I also respect those who are working hard to work toward change, trying to push our country in a better direction. Those who choose to “stay in the struggle.”

    Perhaps the main fault of my post, as you point out, is that I didn’t carve out enough space for acknowledging that, as you said, Mormonism just doesn’t work for some people. I fully acknowledge that.

    But, like our country, I also think there are those of us on the inside who believe that we can effect change, even with people in the pews around us who put their faith in flaming-sword rhetoric.

  2. James,

    I am well aware of people who believe the south will rise again, etc., I do my part by challenging these people in whatever way I can, staying out of their way to the extent I recognize that *I* would be threatened by them (since, you know, that is a real consideration for people who look like me). I would not say that what they believe in is “true”.

    Two questions:

    1) Do you think that being in a religion (any religion) is obligatory?

    2) Do you think that citizenship/residence in a country equates to an acceptance that that country is “true” (in terms of its myths, constructs, leadership, policies, etc.,)?

    I think the comparison to citizenship/fellow citizens who believe/do unpalatable things has a couple crucial weaknesses: citizenship is obligatory…firstly, you have to be a citizen *somewhere*, and secondly, your citizenship doesn’t actually require you to claim anything about your country of residence/citizenship is “true”.

    The citizenship analogy would work to the extent that you think being in a religion is obligatory, but it wouldn’t really speak of your faith. It would at best speak of your being trapped in a situation (e.g., the obligation to have a religion) while not necessarily agreeing with what happens.

  3. Holly permalink

    To me, pastoral apologetics is sort of like saying, “Hey, the emperor has no clothes! Don’t you love his jacket?”

    Uh….

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