Contrasting Dan Wotherspoon and John Dehlin in 2 Quotes
My last post discussed the first two of a four-part episode series of interview between Dan Wotherspoon and John Dehlin co-published at Mormon Matters and Mormon Stories. In that last post, I focused on John’s interview of Dan, and in particular Dan’s closing comments.
I am now listening to Dan’s interview of John, and as many people on the various Facebook groups have noted, the perspectives are drastically different. I have seen several group posts asking: are you a Dan or a John? Just from reading the very different comments at Mormon Stories and Mormon Matters, the contrast in audiences is stark.
Anyway, the difference in perspectives — especially on perspectives on pursuing spirituality in flawed religious institutions — came out to me in something John said that heavily contrasted what Dan had said in his interview. In the second part of Dan’s interview of John, around 1 hour in, John says:
It’s not just these isolated positive emotional experiences that I had, that you have had, that others have had…it’s the fact that those are tied to an institution that brings vulnerable people — and I will say vulnerable, whether it’s investigators that are ignorant to many of these things, or young children that are brought up in it and then…get…you know…the young kid who masturbates and then is shamed or the gay person or whatever…they then get confronted with really difficult, sometimes toxic, and even life-ending situations because the book and the spiritual experiences are tied so tightly — before you’re able to become Dan Wotherspoon when you’re 40 with a Ph.D. and throw nuance at everything, you may have tried reparative therapy and committed suicide; you may have entered into a marriage where you then don’t believe anymore and the wife is taking the kids away; you may have, instead of pursuing a Ph.D. as a female, you may have married some guy and had five kids and now the future that you really would have chosen wasn’t really made available to you. And for me, the connection with the institution make full disclosure and the stakes of difficulty much more significant.
But if you can give full disclosure and blunt the negative impact of the institution, then yes, then at that point, it’s all about what good comes from your reading the text. How does it enlighten you? How does it expand you? But for me, I can’t turn a blind eye to those other things in this narcissistic rapture of that wonderful emotional experience I had as a teen…I’m not going to sit and marinate in the rapture of my spiritual thrill if it comes at the expense of all these other things; to me, they are all tied together.
(I’ll note that during the interview, Dan takes exception to John’s classifying the experience he had as “emotional”. As I have discussed elsewhere, Dan’s perspective seems to hinge on people having experiences that are “more real” than can be reduced to emotional/psychology/confirmation bias/etc., However, that’s not why I have picked this quote.)
Let’s contrast with a part of Dan’s comment from the earlier post:
From there, one thing in particular struck me:
When church is bad, relationships are bad…sometimes I reject it outright and say, “Eff [ed note: yes, Dan says the letter f] you, universe…Eff you, you know, God or whatever…I don’t want to deal with you right now. I don’t want to feel better about this. I want to be mad, I want to be upset, and I want to feel my pain…But somehow I was blessed to have a sensitivity to spiritual trailings…and that’s how I do it.
Whatever peace I’ve achieved here is because I have that connection and I feel it.
If we say that John has had similar experiences to Dan (which I don’t know if one can even compare those, especially since Dan would be adamantly against describing such experiences as emotional, while John is very comfortable with doing so), then it seems the difference is that John still reserves the right to be mad, to be upset, to feel his pain and the pain and others…whereas for Dan, the spiritual sense that gives him the sense of peace allows him to move forward constructively with the church even as he recognizes those things. (EDIT: originally, that last line said that the sense of peace “overcomes” those things.)