One observer’s take on the changes at the Maxwell Institute

 

The Nauvoo Temple

 

I ran across the following pseudonymous comment on a Mormon-focused message board dominated by formerly active members of the Church who are now atheists and agnostics.  It comes from an outspokenly atheist former Mormon — an exceptionally bright one, though one who is seldom fair in his remarks — and is addressed (sincerely, I think) to another pseudonymous poster who had been wondering, given her own unbelief (I’m simplifying here; her position is somewhat obscure and perhaps incoherent), whether she still belongs in a church in which nasty people like me insist so firmly on the literal deity of Christ, his physical resurrection from the dead, and the literality of Joseph Smith’s First Vision and of the visits from Moroni.  I’ve corrected the punctuation very slightly:

 

The Church just got rid of its official apologetics outlet and turned it into a Mormon Studies outlet. Mormon studies allows anything, from creative apologetics to existentialism and atheism, and is a huge win for people like you. They [Mormon apologists, specifically including me] know this, blog quite openly about it, and now have even more reason to make you the enemy, so why are you so disheartened? Today is the day for you, my friend. The field is ripe.

 

Worthy of reflection, I think, even though the Church, as such, played no role whatever in the recent purge.

 

 

 

  • http://www.sethpayne.com Seth Payne

    Hi Dan,

    Just a couple of quick comments:

    1. I think MDB is a bit more diverse than you let on here. I, for example, am an unapologetic Christian theist. I know many prominent posters at MDB are theists as well (in various forms).

    2. Apologetics can, and should be, a very important part of Mormon Studies. At the last Faith & Knowledge conference at Duke we had panel of non-Mormon scholars who discussed, among other things, what they needed from believing Latter-day Saints. The answer was clear: articulate and intellectually rigorous confessions of faith and narratives regarding faith.

    I’m not sure what your position is but I think apologetics must be a part of Mormon Studies generally as it supplies a necessary perspective. The less believing Mormons contribute to Mormon Studies, the less valuable Mormon Studies becomes, IMO.

    As a side note, I think your piece on Asherah is a great example of where apologetics and Mormon Studies meet. Both believer and non-believer walk away from that article with a much better understanding of the Book of Mormon. This was my experience in grad school as well. My professors *really* enjoyed when I brought the Book of Mormon into wider discussions about theology, doctrine, ethics, etc… I heard more than once something like: “I had no idea the Book of Mormon was so intellectually and spiritually rich.”

    Anyway, I don’t know if you are intentionally setting up a dichotomy between MS and apologetics but I think you are severely limiting the scope/effectiveness of apologetics if you limit it to venues primarily only believers will read.

    Seth

    • danpeterson

      Seth:

      Thanks for your note. I doubt that we’re very far apart on this.

      “I think MDB is a bit more diverse than you let on here.”

      Yes, I was oversimplifying. I know that there are theists there. But the loudest and most dominant voices (some of them intelligent, most of them generally sneering, nonsubstantive, and uninteresting) tend to be atheistic.

      “Apologetics can, and should be, a very important part of Mormon Studies.”

      I couldn’t agree more. That’s one of the things that mystified me about the Maxwell Institute purge. I have absolutely nothing against Mormon studies, and expressly said so whenever the topic came up. And I believe that apologetics is a legitimate part of religious studies generally. I still don’t see why it had to be an either/or.

      “I’m not sure what your position is but I think apologetics must be a part of Mormon Studies generally as it supplies a necessary perspective. The less believing Mormons contribute to Mormon Studies, the less valuable Mormon Studies becomes, IMO.”

      Again, that’s my position.

      “As a side note, I think your piece on Asherah is a great example of where apologetics and Mormon Studies meet. Both believer and non-believer walk away from that article with a much better understanding of the Book of Mormon.”

      Thank you.

      “This was my experience in grad school as well. My professors *really* enjoyed when I brought the Book of Mormon into wider discussions about theology, doctrine, ethics, etc… I heard more than once something like: ‘I had no idea the Book of Mormon was so intellectually and spiritually rich.’”

      One of my central goals has always been to bring Mormonism into the broader religious discussion. Unfortunately, the Maxwell purge was a major setback on that front (as well as on others), because it deprived me — in ways that I’m still discovering — of institutional support for engaging in such discussions. So I’m having to develop other means. Which is, on the whole, a waste of time. It shouldn’t have been necessary.

      “Anyway, I don’t know if you are intentionally setting up a dichotomy between MS and apologetics.”

      That’s absolutely the opposite of my view and my intent.

      “but I think you are severely limiting the scope/effectiveness of apologetics if you limit it to venues primarily only believers will read.”

      Ironically, I beat the drum for years at the Maxwell Institute for getting more articles and books to non-Mormon publishers.

  • Stephen Smoot

    If you’re getting tired of the atheist spin on the situation, you might be interested in the evangelical anti-Mormon spin put on this story by the Mormonism Research Ministry over at their blog “Mormon Coffee”. It is posted under the title “Of Mice and . . . Egos” or something like that. It was posted just a few weeks ago. I’d post the link but I don’t want to drive up their internet traffic. :-)

    • http://www.sethpayne.com Seth Payne

      Stephen,

      Don’t you think that EV anti-Mormonism is pretty much a non-issue these days? On my mission I can’t think of a single EV that took sincere interest in learning about the Church. They were set on “witnessing” to my companion and me. When I studied ex-Mormonism back in 2007 I was amazed at how few ex-Mormons reported converting to other Christian faiths. Granted, my study was hardly scientific but don’t you get that impression as well? Secularism has done more to deconvert Mormons than the Tanners could have ever hoped to do.

      Seth

      • danpeterson

        I’ve long thought that secularism is the more serious and potent threat — and, far and away, the more interesting. Run of the mill evangelical anti-Mormonism has bored me for years.

      • Stephen Smoot

        Seth -

        Evangelical anti-Mormonism is very much still alive and kicking. But with an increase in what I like to call “pop atheism” in recent years I’ve seen a much more atheistic anti-Mormonism rearing its ugly head. During Romney’s campaign you had some fundamentalist Christian goons like Robert Jeffress snickering about Mormonism as a cult, but it was the Bill Mahers and Lawrence O’Donnells of the Left who were the most vocal and militant.

        But this is what we should expect to see from evangelistic atheists like Richard Dawkins, who guffawed on his Twitter account on how Mormonism is “barking mad”, or Christopher Hitchens, who pontificated in Slate and elsewhere on the perniciousness of Mormonism. With the public increasingly getting its news from Facebook and Twitter, anti-Mormonism, especially atheistic anti-Mormonism, has gone viral.

        • Lucy Mcgee

          What I find interesting is that the web sites which call into question the truthfulness of the foundations of Mormonism were not created by the likes of Hitchens, or Dawkins, but rather by people who once lived the Mormon faith, some apparently for decades and some coming from a long lineage of Mormon believers. These disaffected people unite at ex-Mormon conventions, and take part in recovery from Mormonism online discussion areas, etc. They post videos on YouTube.

          It is clear to me Mr. Smoot, that despite Mr. Midgley’s assertion that the non religious belief is actually a religion, I have yet to attend any organized group proclaiming such affiliation nor have my non-believing friends or family members. In fact, while you can find plenty of “recovery from xyz religion” on the internet, you will not find such venues for the non-believing because there is nothing to recover from, as it were.

          I’m not certain if you realize this but there are millions of people living in Scandinavian countries who enjoy very low rates of violent crime and corruption, as well as excellent educational systems, strong and stable economies, well supported arts, free health care, and very egalitarian social policies. For this they pay higher taxes which by consensus is worthwhile. The income distribution levels among its citizens are far closer than in other developed nations. And, they are the least religious people on the planet. Such data are very much worth considering, wouldn’t you agree?

      • nealqr

        Seth (and others):

        I tend to agree that Evangelical anti-Mormonism is long past its heyday. But that doesn’t mean it does not hold influence on the minds of some, and that we should therefore ignore it. (Though I, like DCP, tend to find it quite boring myself.)

        Also, I’m not sure where you served your mission, but in Virginia from 2006-2008, the vast majority of investigators and converts were coming from conservative protestant and evangelical backgrounds, and many raised the kinds of concerns raised in EV anti-Mormonism. I was twice invited to watch anti-Mormon videos, both times they were movies from an EV perspective. When I got home from my mission, I got involved in apologetics because of this experience and was mainly interested in EV anti-Momron arguments. It took a while before I began to realize that the secular arguments are both more interesting and more dangerous.

        • danpeterson

          I agree that evangelical Protestant anti-Mormonism is still a potent force and can’t be neglected. Our enemies come from various angles, and it would be unwise to leave any of those angles completely undefended.

        • http://www.sethpayne.com Seth Payne

          I served in Arizona and the only EVs I talked to were trying to “witness” to me. Converts to the Church generally came from those who believed in God/Christ but who were looking for something more.

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