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CES Letter Mormonism and Pastoral Apologetics

In 2013, Seth Payne presented at the FAIR Mormon conference on the rise of “pastoral apologetics.” A lot of people (including me, inevitably) have written about pastoral apologetics, but since I’m too lazy to link to great articles, I’ll just summarize the key points here: This pastoral apologetics is often contrasted against the traditional apologetics of defeating the claims of LDS church critics (showing that the criticisms are incorrect or inaccurate, or that the critics are untrustworthy), in that it usually accepts many of the claims that critics makes, but instead bases its defense of Mormonism on a recontextualization or reconstruction of the narrative that underpins Mormonism (and its relationship to history, scripture, translation, and so forth).

So, for example, to the extent that traditional apologetics and pastoral apologetics are coherent distinctions (which can’t be taken for granted…really), an example gloss of the differences might be to say that traditional apologetics might be most concerned with establishing that the Book of Mormon is historical (and identifying potential locations that it might have occurred, defeating arguments to anachronisms, and so forth), whereas pastoral apologetics is not as concerned with those points (even if the pastoral apologist does believe the Book of Mormon to be historical) and instead focuses on developing a model of scripture that would allow Mormons to view texts as scripture regardless of the debate of historicity (in other words, that God’s inspiration and communication to humanity need not work via secular methodologies of history, archeological findings, and so on.)

Even though Seth Payne ultimately announced his resignation from the church in November of 2015 (and the date alone should give you clues as to why), it was in, I think, a decidedly pastoral rather than traditional way. It wasn’t a crisis of history, but a crisis of the sort of community that the LDS church is or that the institution promotes.

Dealing with the messiness of LDS history is one thing…but what happens when one comes to think that the LDS church is simply a hostile community for oneself, one’s family, or one’s friends? It’s the latter that threatens the pastoral model — not just that the claims of the LDS church aren’t true, but that its way of life and community environment may not be good.

Still, I think pastoral apologetics is a welcome new trend in the LDS apologetic space, because it helps increase the likelihood that the LDS church experience will be good for more people, and there are certainly other writers and speakers who are taking this approach. Today’s article actually focuses on Patrick Mason’s remarks at the 2016 FAIRMormon Conference — The Courage of Our Convictions: Embracing Mormonism in a Secular Age.

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4 Olympics related searches that tell you everything you need to know about Twitter

Maybe you haven’t really kept up with Twitter, but you should probably know that Twitter doesn’t have the greatest reputation regarding civility and harassment. I don’t want to go into all of the stories of people being harassed on Twitter, but instead I’ll just point out what happened when I clicked on a few Olympics-related Twitter trending topics.

First, let’s look at Michael Phelps:


If you look to the left here, you’ll see “Related searches.” I assume that Twitter generates these based on data of what people have searched for before. So, presumably, it thinks that a lot people are interested in his race and in his race time and in his time. Seems reasonably.

But of course, some people are also interested in his wife, and some are interested in his marijuana appreciation.

But this is fairly tame.

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Camouflage and Invisibility as super powers

My dreams frequently share a consistent plot line, universe, and characters. In one series of dreams, I have the power to become hidden or invisible by holding my breath. I cannot do much from this state (because I can still expose myself by making too much noise, and if I exert myself too much, I will have to breathe, thus becoming visible again), but I have come to believe that hiddenness, camouflage, and invisibility is a tremendous super power.

Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison Invisible Man

When I was in 10th grade, my English teacher split the class into a three or four groups, so that each group would read a different American novel and then present to the class about the plot, themes, and so on. (It was a great way to cover 3-4 novels in the same time frame as 1, haha). I was assigned Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

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Speaking the truth in obnoxious, insufferable love


By now, within certain segments of the population, it is almost entirely assumed that anyone who opposes same-sex relationships does so out of hatred or fear. I asked some people whether they thought there could be any non-homophobic (that is, non-fear-based or hate-based) sexual ethics that opposed same-sex relationships, and one of the responses I received back was very interesting: this respondent commented that arguments against same-sex marriage were almost always based in fear…fear of negative consequences to society…fear of negative consequences to the participants or their children…and so on.

This was very intriguing to me. I normally don’t associate evaluation of consequences (positive vs negative, pros vs cons) as a fear-based sort of activity…however, from looking at this perspective, I could see how, if one thought that, then pretty much any evaluation in terms of avoiding negative consequences could be deemed fear-based.

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Undertale is…Mormon?


Fallen human? How did I not see it before?

Over at Peculiar People is a review of the indie game Undertale (one I love sooooo much, and I have arranged and recorded several covers of songs from the game’s OST) from a Mormon perspective. Just the first paragraph:

In the game Undertale, your adventure begins when you fall into the underworld—a sort of hell that turns out to be quite Mormon. [1] That is to say: it is not the typical Christian hell of punishment and torment, fire and brimstone. The underground’s inhabitants, monsters banished and trapped there by humans defeated them in an ancient war, are instead afflicted by stagnation, regret, and alienation.


Thoughts from the middle of vacation travels

For this Independence Day, my boyfriend convinced me to go on a trip. We flew in to Montreal, Quebec just in time for Canada Day, and then we met up with his aunt and drove down to Vermont.

Both Old Montreal and Vermont are quite different from one another, and each has been very different from Texas. Old Montreal was all historic streets and buildings, people walking and biking, and steep hills and cathedrals and things like that.

I know I probably shouldn’t judge all of Montreal by Old Montreal, but as we traveled through, I couldn’t help but think that it would be rather treacherous to try to drive through that city on my own. Even though Houston can feel somewhat unlivable if you don’t have a car, I’ve come to appreciate that if you do have a car, it’s very easy to get from A to B. In contrast, for Old Montreal, you might as well park far away and take advantage of the metro or with walking, because you’ll certainly be able to get around better that way.

Maybe that’s the point? It definitely is healthier than driving.

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Hope, False Hope, and Belief

Vjack of the Atheist Revolution blog and twitter just reposted an article from 2015 about hope and false hope. In this article, he discusses that the practicality of things that may be false — such as the practicality of the hope that religiosity can bring to someone who believes that hope to be false. As a snippet:

…is false hope necessarily bad because it is false?

For those of us who want to believe true things and not false ones, the answer may seem obvious. At the same time, I think that one could argue that the sort of comfort, sense of peace, reassurance, or whatever else you want to label it that hope provides might be more important to some people in some circumstances than whether the hope is based in reality. Could false hope provide one with the sort of benefits that might make it worthwhile?

…consider the example of a young Christian father with a critically ill child who is able to sustain the effort required to get out of bed each day and take his child to the many necessary medical appointments based, at least in part, on his faith. On one hand, this is the very definition of false hope. This man has misplaced his faith in something that doesn’t exist. On the other hand, is it so difficult to imagine how this sort of false hope might make a crucial difference for him? I realize it probably wouldn’t cut it for you or I, but can we reasonably insist that it couldn’t be worthwhile for him? Perhaps his false hope motivates his positive actions, persistence, effort like our college student’s legitimate hope. Perhaps his false hope also provides comfort and reassurance in the hard times in much the same way her real hope did.

I am a fan of pragmatism, so my inclination is to say that the practical effects of hope are more important than whether that hope is based in something real or not. The subjective experience and motivation of hope is what is crucial, in other words.

But, one thing that vjack didn’t discuss that I wish he had was the following question: what if someone cannot force themselves to believe in that hope?

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Adam Miller’s Paraphrases – renewing old scriptures

Adam Miller

Adam Miller is filling up my book list. I have already read his “Grace is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans,” but since then, he’s come out with several other works, such as The Gospel According to David Foster WallaceNothing New Under the Sun: A Blunt Paraphrase of Ecclesiastes, and Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology.

There is a common theme I’ve noticed in Adam’s works (at least, from the reviews and what little I’ve read directly of him) — and I suspect that reading Future Mormon will confirm my thoughts.

Adam takes scriptures, concepts, theologies that we normally view as well established and set in stone…and then he retranslates them for a modern audience, often in unexpected ways. I have been reading posts on Making Sense of Christianity about viewing Christianity as an antifragile heuristic rather than as a fragile set of theories, and I wanted to write a post about whether Mormonism has “antifragile” elements (especially since the growing number of online communities dedicated to faith crises suggest that there’s definitely fragile elements to the religion.) That post has been on hold because I wanted to have some concrete “heuristics” for an anti-fragile Mormonism. (It would be easy to conclude that Mormonism just is fragile, but I didn’t want to go for the easy route.)

I’ll have to read to confirm, but I suspect that Adam’s growing body of work is honing on on one possible heuristic: translation.

Mormonism’s history with translation

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Telling the truth but telling it slant

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
~Emily Dickinson

If you talk to many Mormons undergoing faith crisis or transition (are those terms synonymous?), you will usually find a preoccupation with truth, honesty, and authenticity. Most discussions of a “middle way” will grapple with a tension between maintaining appearances to avoid alienation on the one hand, and being straightforward and honest about their doubts and disbeliefs. I typically see very strong claims that honesty must be open and forthright — it is not only telling falsehoods but omitting relevant truths, or presenting truths in ways you know could be misinterpreted, that is deceptive. (See more discussion about truth and lies at Wheat & Tares.)

Are parables deceptive?

With that as context, I want to transition to another issue I’ve been thinking about since I wrote my last article here. Agellius commented on my post on grace with the Parable of the Sower, and although I was already familiar with this parable, I opened up Matthew and read further. Right after that parable, the disciples pull Jesus aside and ask him a question that I still think is quite relevant: what is the deal with parables, anyway?

More importantly, from the perspective that truth-telling requires forthrightness, are parables deceptive?

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Talent vs. practice; grace vs. work

Man playing guitar in nature: is he talented or just a hard worker?

Man playing guitar in nature: is he talented or just a hard worker?

In my drafts, I have an essay that has been collecting dust. This essay is my way of trying to wrap my mind around the concept of grace from a Christian spiritual perspective — but more importantly, I’m trying to understand the interplay of grace and works, especially since it seems like that is one area where Mormons feel they’ve gotten a major improvement over Christianity (and yet non-LDS Christians feel that Mormons have gone horribly astray).

The catch: I have tried to talk about it from a secular perspective. Maybe that very effort is doomed from the beginning, but I can’t really say I grok a lot of the God-talk, and so there we have it.

Still, as I mentioned, the essay has been collecting dust. Part of that is because I don’t think I’ve quite gotten it figured out. Maybe that’s fundamental.

However, recently I was listening to a podcast by some YouTube musicians (specializing in covers of video game music, as is my niche). This episode was on the myth of talent. While the entire episode is only 18 minutes (blessedly shorter than some other podcasts I could point to), I think some of the major relevant comments start 14 minutes in on the discussion about “child prodigies” vs. hard work.

For those who don’t want to listen, I’ll summarize the basic contention here:

Many artists/musicians/creative folks of various stripes really dislike being praised for their talent or being recognized as prodigies, because these compliments minimize the hard work that they have invested.

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