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Breaking 2 Analogies for More Accepting Mormonism

Over at Clean Cut, Spencer showcased Scott Hales’ strip of the Garden of Enid that expounded on a more accepting Mormonism as being more like an expanding grid than a big tent.

Expanding Grid Mormonism

Per the comic, the big problem with “big tent Mormonism” is that eventually, you do have walls. (I don’t necessarily think this is a problem — many folks criticize liberal Mormons by saying that if the definition of Mormonism isn’t limited, then it is meaningless. But my feeling is that liberal Mormons aren’t saying that Mormonism means anything, but that the current barriers so often perceived or enforced are the incorrect barriers.)

In a similar vein, Spencer addressed in an earlier post an analogy from Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin likening the church to an orchestra:

“Some are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.

“The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.”

I don’t want to be so cynical on Clean Cut’s blog, so I’ll be cynical here…even if the big tent analogy can be broken, these other two analogies can be broken just the same.

Read more…

President Henry B. Eyring at the Vatican Summit on Marriage

Two weeks ago, it was announced that LDS First Counselor of the First Presidency Henry B. Eyring would speak at a colloquium on marriage and the family held by the Vatican. Like some others, I wasn’t inclined to be all that optimistic about this colloquium, as its subject — the complementarity of man and woman in marriage — excludes many folks from the get-go.

Per Pope Francis, this conference is needed because:

“In our day, marriage and the family are in crisis.” The “culture of the temporary” has led many people to give up on marriage as a public commitment. “This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.” The Pope said that the crisis in the family has produced a crisis “of human ecology,” similar to the crisis that affects the natural environment. “Although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.”

To do that, the Pope said, “It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods.” He noted that the family is the foundation of society, and that children have the right to grow up in a family with a mother and a father “capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

OK. I can theoretically be on board with this (although I suspect that really, what’s happening is that our economic and socio-political reality is evolving, and our ideals about social constructs to support this reality is lagging behind). So, what about President Eyring’s comments? Well, the transcript is now up on the Mormon Newsroom. Read more…

Modal, Model, Mormonism

In the wake of all of the essays being released concerning Joseph Smith’s polygamy, Kristine Haglund has offered a confession and an apology over at By Common Consent.

From the post, it seems there is backstory that I am missing (since I don’t find Kristine to be a particularly offensive or dismissive person), but the basic gist of the apology is this: in the past, she has dismissed certain others who felt betrayed by the church when they found out certain facts about church history. As she puts it:

I have been one of the people who has thought and said that it’s unreasonable for members of the Church to feel betrayed when they discover facts about Church history that they hadn’t encountered in the official curriculum. I’ve thought that such ignorance reflected intellectual laziness for not having done a little bit of homework to learn about our history, and/or emotional immaturity for “flying off the handle” in the face of the belated discovery.

I was wrong and I am sorry.

Having (for once) been smart enough to sit back and watch the reactions to the new essays on polygamy rather than diving into the discussion right away, I think I may have finally understood something that I had managed to miss for a few decades. Despite the Church’s monumental effort and achievement of Correlation, lived Mormonism is largely undomesticated. It changes in both temporal and geographical iteration.

(I think it’s worth pointing out that the response for which Kristine now apologizes — thinking that ignorance reflects intellectual laziness — is alive and well at conservative blogs like Millennial Star. But that is not the point of my post.)

This post is instead about a sentiment that I have been hearing hints of from several liberal or progressive Mormons. I don’t think Kristine carries this sentiment (in fact, a followup comment suggests she doesn’t), but still, here was the part that gave me pause:

We all assume that our experience is normal, and since we so often hear “the Church is the same everywhere you go,” we are quick to generalize from our experience of “normal” to a prescription for what should be normative for everyone. When we are wounded by a policy or its ham-handed implementation, we extrapolate the certain wrongness of the policy for all times and all places. When, on the other hand, the Church has helped us to flourish, we readily believe that all good-hearted and right-thinking Saints will flourish similarly.

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4 Spiritual Practices for An Atheist Ex-Mormon

One of the reasons I often hear/read people give for being religious is that religion gives them opportunities to become better people. In fact, arguendo, religion in some ways demands that we become better people by prioritizing service, community responsibility, and so forth in a theological narrative. No longer is it just something “nice to do”, but it is an obligation. A calling.

And so, even if the factual claims that any religion (but especially Mormonism) preaches don’t necessarily check out, that’s ok because people can say that they have become a better person by being religious.

This argument doesn’t even have to apply to any religion in specific. In more general terms, it can be phrased in terms of maintaining connection with spirituality. (I am reminded of a thought I had a long time ago: it seems like ecumenism can easily become, “Well, we’ll put aside our religious differences, because at least we aren’t atheists.”) From a long conversation online with Dan Wotherspoon (first in the comments to my “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtains~!” but then it migrated to the comments of his podcast on negotiating adult faith within a developing institution), there was something in particular that struck me. I was trying to express to Dan (and pastoral apologist types in general) that there are many reasons why many folks don’t necessarily want to stick with the Mormonism — especially if they don’t think it’s true. Dan wrote the following:

…More than anything, I’m not overly stressed when anyone decides to leave Mormonism if they still are open to spiritual journeying and exploring themselves beyond just the sorts of things that our senses and rational minds can work with.

Dan recognizes that leaving Mormonism might not be the end of the world…if an individual is still open to spiritual journeying.

Read more…

The crux of the pastoral Mormon testimony

My last post was a critique of Adam Miller’s thoughts in “Mormonism is not Mormonism” — but also a larger critique of something I’ve seen more and more often that has sometimes been called “pastoral apologetics.” Unfortunately, Adam’s last post got picked up in the disaffectosphere, so many disaffected Mormons also gave their criticism. Adam has written a post that I guess addresses the criticism, entitled “Mormon Weakness.”

There’s one part I want to discuss (emphasis added)

If my position on Mormonism takes its own weakness as a virtue, then it is only fair that my honest working assumption should be that this position is, plain and simple, an act of self-deception. I’m too scared or too comfortable or too privileged or too lazy or too invested to come clean and see the truth. Self-deceived, I adopt a slave morality and then rationalize like crazy from there.

Now, granted, this may well be true. Certainly, it’s the simplest explanation. And, certainly, it’s most soundly in keeping with what I know about myself: I am, myself, weak and afraid. I should have gotten off the bus with Nietzsche but didn’t because I was chicken. And now I’m tangled up in escalating feedback loops of dubious, pseudo-philosophical, paper-thin rationalization. The emperor has got no clothes.

This may well be true. Even likely.

In fact, it may well be true because it feels false (even to me) to think that, of the two options, my position is weak because that weakness is (surprise!) actually a virtue in disguise.

It’s too convenient by half. It smells like dead fish.

But still.


If I sit still and I’m really trying to be honest, I would also have to say that it would feel even more false to deny that something bigger than me, something truer than me, something better than me, is at work here in all this Mormon weakness: in all this Jello, all these manuals, all this hypocrisy, all this self-congratulation, all this politics, all this confusion, all these pews, all these meetings, all these visits, all these faith promoting rumors, all these bureaucracies, all these failures, all these scriptures.

At least in my case, denying this weakness, denying that this weakness is in fact exactly what Paul claims that it is — the power of God made manifest — smells even fishier. Denying it would be even less honest.

The smell of self-deception is, while pungent in the first case, even stronger in the second.

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Pay no attention to the man behind the curtains~! Lived and Living Mormonism

There is something fairly remarkable occurring that I don’t quite know how to put my finger on. It has something to do with pastoral apologetics, and how pastoral apologetics is seeking to override base facts. But let me back up.

If I were to summarize the history of Mormon apologetics, I would broadly describe it in two phases. The first phase was the phase of traditional apologetics. This is your FAIR (at least, your old FAIR) and your FARMS. This phase was about showing how the objective claims of the LDS religion were factual (or at least factually possible, given certain interpretations.) This phase was about showing how various strikes against the church were not factual (or that, even if they were factual in part, that critics missed important details or distorted the facts — that there was missing context.)

The basic problem with the traditional apologetic approach is that it’s trying to play a secular epistemological game by secular rules and it simply is not doing (can not do?) this well.

So, some time, we moved into a different phase. And maybe it isn’t correct to describe it as a phase, seeing as its proponents have been around as long as the traditional apologists have. But maybe it’s safer to say that this form is entering ascendancy?

This is the apologetics of care or pastoral apologetics. Read more…

Is the LDS Church even the body of Christ?

Adam Miller has an interesting post at Times and Seasons that discusses moving away from the question “Is the church true?” to a question like “Is the church the body of Christ”.

I like that Adam is addressing how the sort of question like “Is the church true?” creates the all-or-nothing mentality that so often drives people out of it. As he says:

In this respect, it doesn’t have the feel of a question that’s meant to be used as a question. It feels, instead, like the kind of question you’re meant to ask when you already know the answer. It feels inherently rhetorical. It feels like the kind of question a missionary is supposed to ask Mr. Brown, a Boolean question meant to force a binary response.

The problem with these vast institutional machines of deduction and inference is that they tend to be super fragile. One cog comes loose, the whole thing groans and grinds to a halt. The wagered “all” of its “all or nothing!” risks, without further consideration, simply returning “nothing.”

It’s in this sense especially that the question seems to me to be much too thin to dependably accomplish real religious work.

Instead, he advocates a different set of questions that are thick enough to accomplish said “real religious work”:

Ask the thick question: “Is this the body of Christ?” Is Christ manifest here? Is this thing alive? Does it bleed?

This is a load-bearing question. This is a question properly fitted, by Christ himself, to address the existential burn that compels its asking.

This is a question that is big enough to not only address issues of veridicality, but the whole of the head and the whole of the heart. And not just these, but the arms, legs, feet, fingers, toes, spleen, bowels, and loins. The body of Christ includes them all. It includes the beautiful and the ugly, the public and the private, the desirable and the foul, the lost and the found.

Inquire into the body of Christ itself.

And then say:

“Though I may not even know what it means to ask if the church is true, I’d stake my life (and the lives of my children) on the fact that Christ’s body is manifest here and that we are its members.”

Very well, Mr. Miller. The only problem is…what does it even mean for the church to be the body of Christ?

Read more…

How do you even apply the atonement in your life?

The other day, John C had what I believe is a really great, heartfelt post at By Common Consent: Lord, it is I. I think what I like most about it is its visceral personal nature — it’s not an intellectual post but words from John’s soul. From the post:

Actually, if God won’t save me in my sins, what is the point? I’ll never not sin. Sometimes I experience the remission of sin, where I genuinely don’t want to sin anymore, but then I get tired, my family won’t listen, a co-worker irritates me, and Amen to that remission. I’m right back off the wagon, wishing ill and hardening my heart.

Which is, of course, the worst bit. Even if I manage to somehow, via willpower and a higher power, quit my bad habits and to not start new bad habits, I am as prone as anyone to pride and judgment. I might hold my tongue, but in my heart I am likely to think ill of the broken and the straying. Charity for those who offend me, who are not my enemy but whom I would not have as a friend, requires effort and I am frequently lazy.

So, I’m familiar with my sins. Being kind of lame, I take a bit of pride in this as well. I may not be perfect, but at least I know I’m not perfect (unlike some people I could name, but won’t). I’m probably better for admitting my sins (vaguely, with no specifics) than all those sanctimonious people out there. Moral superiority through sinning; who knew?

It is nice to hear, as President Uchtdorf told us in Priesthood session, “Brethren, we must put aside our pride, see beyond our vanity, and in humility ask, “Lord, is it I?”,” but I know it is I. I am the cause of most of my own problems, without a doubt. The question is, what do I do about it?

I could change I suppose, but I don’t know how. I’m relatively old now and I am almost certainly who I am going to be. That I disappoint myself doesn’t really reveal anything; who doesn’t? As if to demonstrate what a cliché I am, the scripture is replete with prophetic self-recrimination. Isaiah says, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Nephi says, “O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.”Alma says, “I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.” If even the prophets aren’t satisfied with their effort, how am I ever to be with mine?

Part of me was thinking that what John C was coming against is Mormonism’s tendency toward works righteousness…but the big question is whether or not we can actually ever work hard enough to be righteous.

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Don’t get your hopes up: Conservative arguments against liberal activism in Mormonism

I’ve seen this argument a few times in Mormon discussions about certain movements perceived to be liberal, progressive, etc., For a version of this argument stated plainly, moderate, as-a-matter-of-course by Hawkgrrrl, on Mormon Heretic’s recent post asking people to chime in on their thoughts of Ordain Women’s most recent General Conference (to attend the Priesthood session at their local stake centers) action:

…First of all, trying to attend another church meeting is definitely not my style. Second, sisters attending locally had a few different outcomes: 1) some few attended with little fanfare, 2) some attended after a bit of browbeating at the door (being asked why they wouldn’t follow the prophet), and 3) some were reportedly blocked from attending by men at the doors so their womanly taint would not disrupt the meeting. IOW, it’s a reflection of local leadership how the women were treated.

Those who were treated shabbily will probably be gone within a year, along with their families. Maybe that would have happened anyway. Some people seem to care about that more than others.

Emphasis added. Read more…

Addressing Shane Hayes on Agnosticism, Atheism, and Choosing to Believe

The End of Unbelief: A New Approach to the Question of God, by Shane Hayes

A week ago, Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) featured an excerpt from Shane Hayes’ new book The End of Unbelief: A new approach to the question of GodI only found out about that post because of Hemant’s tweet about a followup from Shane where he addressed a few of the comments in the first thread and provided additional explanation. Shane is part of the collection of formerly-atheist Christians who claim to have new methods for converting atheism as a result of their own conversion. However, like most formerly-atheist Christians, Shane ultimately shows that apparently, not all people experience atheism similarly, so one person’s reasons for converting won’t appeal to another. (Maybe if I become a theist I can write my own book, though?)

That being said, even if I wasn’t convinced by Shane’s thinking, I give him some credit for being willing to walk into the proverbial lion’s den. Also (and the main reason for this post), I also did find the excerpt interesting for its unexpected Mormon parallels (because I doubt Shane is familiar with the Mormon thinking on the subject.) Read more…


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