On “Mormon Stories”

 

A peaceful scene in the Alps

 

The long-awaited and much discussed paper from Dr. Gregory L. Smith, “Dubious ‘Mormon’ Stories,” is now online, accompanied by a second article, “The Return of the Unread Review,” which follows it at the same location.

 

A whirlwind of criticism has swirled around the first of the two articles for roughly a year now.  It’s been somewhat bizarre criticism, since virtually none of the critics have seen the article before now.  Yet that seemingly relevant fact hasn’t rendered their criticism any less harsh, or any less dogmatic.

 

The first article has been through the customary editorial process, but is otherwise substantially unchanged from the form in which it was submitted to the late Mormon Studies Review, a periodical that once appeared twice annually from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University.  (Dr. Gregory L. Smith, its author, was, until his dismissal in June 2012, an associate editor of the Review.)  Some will claim that it has been “sanitized,” but it has not.

 

The second article is a sequel that chronicles some of the developments that ensued in the wake of the first article’s suppression.

 

We’re putting these articles online now, a bit sooner than we had intended, because it seems that selected quotations from the first article have already been posted without the author’s permission, and because it seems inevitable that unauthorized publication of the full essay will follow soon.  Whether such unauthorized publication is illegal is perhaps unclear, and I don’t claim to be a lawyer.  That it is unethical, because it effectively constitutes theft of someone else’s intellectual property, seems to me beyond reasonable dispute.

 

Publication of the official American paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings was delayed for a very long time, and eager readers grew impatient.  Accordingly, exploiting a convenient loophole in US copyright law, a company called Ace Books brought out an unauthorized paperback version. Eventually, though, when the authorized edition appeared, it did so with J. R. R. Tolkien’s stern message attached: “Those who approve of courtesy (at least) to living authors will purchase it and no other.”

 

I well remember seeing that message in the first copies of The Lord of the Rings that I bought, and I strongly agree that respecting the rights of an author is, at the very least, proper “courtesy.”

 

But never mind.

 

This posting is done with the full permission and cooperation of the author of the essays.  We want to make these materials public so that others will have an accurate understanding of their nature and, more importantly, of what they say.  Since they’re being posted somewhat earlier than we had expected, before the final editing is complete, they’ll probably be changed a bit over the next few days.

 

 

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

    Hey Dan,

    About 1/2 way through the paper. Very interesting so far. Just a quick bit of info … I may be messing around with my site and so a better and more permanent location for the paper Greg cites is here:

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1959555

    Seth

    • danpeterson

      Thanks. I’ll notify Greg.

  • http://sixteensmallstones.org J. Max Wilson

    I just finished reading all 98 pages of the PDF (I skipped most of the copious notes).

    Just weeks ago John Dehlin had another special podcast interview in which he apparently said something about becoming more active and believing. In response, many of his disaffected supporters felt betrayed and donations to Mormon Stories dropped.

    Now having read Smith’s criticism, I wonder if John’s actions might have been a preemptive response to this impending publication.

  • http://writingderrick.com Derrick Clements

    One important aspect of Internet/NOM/MS Mormonism that Smith distorts is the fact that podcasts and blogs do not necessarily participate in the same academic standards as a scholarly journal. This, as Smith duly notes, has its problems; accuracy sometimes falls aside. But Smith quotes Dehlin’s personal (public) Facebook page as if it were written with the intention of being peer-reviewed. Mormon Stories has always had the feel of amateur scholarship, but that’s a contract entered in by the listeners. We get that. And if Mormon Stories has fallen occasionally short of academic professionalism, Mormon Studies has certainly fallen short of “the point,” getting lost in its academic form and missing entirely the important questions being investigated in the Mormon Stories community. If academic tools are to be of any use, they need to stay grounded in what matters to people, and too often I have found Mormon Studies shutting down important, difficult questions in service of reaffirming faith.

    • http://bethandherspinrad.blogspot.com Beth

      Oh, I don’t know. I think since Dehlin is setting himself up as a kind of visionary, and because he has gained so much of a following, his facebook page and podcasts are fair game. The point of Mormon apologetics is to refuse to allow misrepresentations being passed off as truth. If Dehlin is doing that anywhere, I think it’s all right for Smith to confront it.

  • kore kosmou

    I’ve blocked two or three of this character’s posts from appearing over the past couple of days, and will probably block more of them in the immediate future and beyond. But, once in a while, I’ll let one through for the amusement of my readers:

    Dr. Peterson,

    As I explained to you in an email back in November, my minions are hard at work and the destruction of Mormonism will continue to accelerate at an accelerated acceleration (wow, that’s like the fourth moment of acceleration, but you wouldn’t understand that because you are too “dumb-[obscenity deleted]” to understand math). Prepare yourself, Dr. Peterson, act 2 is nearly completed and when act 3 commences, after a week-long intermission of course, you’re life will begin to take on much more “lulz”.

    Anyway, I know you’ll see this post and I know that you are too “hurt inside” to post it. I also know that given your stupidity that by my saying that you won’t post this comment you might very well post this comment in order to prove that you are of “higher character” than the anti-Mormon bullies.

    Remember, at the end of the day, I’m better than you in the following ways:

    1. I’m brilliant … well, what I mean is that I’m [obscenity deleted] brilliant
    2. I’m better looking than you; that is, I don’t look like a walrus
    3. I’m more popular than you are (yes, I appeal to the “teenage” insults … why is that? Well as it turns out, humans, no matter how “old and wise” they become will never forget the torments and sufferings of the teenage years; basically … you were hated in high school and much of your “vengeance-laden hatred” toward others is a result of you being shunned by your peers as a teenager–I’m surprised that Mother Nature didn’t oust your failed genetic combination that is you … your very existence makes me question the validity of evolution–if natural selection holds true then you would have never been born)

    Incidentally, for what little it’s worth, I was elected president of the student body in high school. This guy’s obviously done his homework.

    • Lucy Mcgee

      As a reader of Dr. Peterson’s words, and as a listener of Mormon Stories, to me, it seems, that both Dr. Peterson and John Dehlin are continually adding valuable insights to the sphere of public knowledge and thought. Despite the toll taken on both men by politics and the sometimes mean spirited attacks circulating around cyberspace, I for one am glad we live in a nation where such dialogue isn’t stifled. Stephen Covey wrote that one should first seek to understand. I appreciate that both Dr. Peterson and John Dehlin are willing to thoughtfully interact with not only those who agree, but also with those who do not. The musings of the “kore kosmou’s” of the world are but an easily overlooked annoyance which add little or nothing to any substantive dialogue.

    • Brian Kissell

      What a weird comment! (That of Kore Kosmou) I do not envy the amount of strange and rude messages that must be sent to you Dan Peterson.

  • Bob Oliverio

    Beth,

    If the need for Mormon apologetics is so necessary why is this need not endorsed/supported by BYU or The Church?  Has there been a change of opinion since this effort was contained within BYU/the Church at the MI?  It really raises the question: “Is Mormon Apologetics, similar to this Dehlin piece, helping or hurting the Church?”  If it helps why won’t the Church, or BYU, now, at a minimum, continue to support the effort?

    I doubt President Samuelson acts in isolation from those he answers to.

    • troll hunter

      Feed the trolls! Tuppance a bag!

    • danpeterson

      “If the need for Mormon apologetics is so necessary why is this need not endorsed/supported by BYU or The Church?”

      There’s no reason why it should be. However, if the Church opposed what I do, I would not have a regular weekly column entitled “Defending the Faith” in the Church’s daily newspaper.

      “Has there been a change of opinion since this effort was contained within BYU/the Church at the MI?”

      Not, so far as I can tell, among the leadership of the Church.

      “It really raises the question: ‘Is Mormon Apologetics, similar to this Dehlin piece, helping or hurting the Church?’” If it helps why won’t the Church, or BYU, now, at a minimum, continue to support the effort?”

      I have no reason to believe that the Church has any concerns about this kind of thing.

      “I doubt President Samuelson acts in isolation from those he answers to.”

      There is no reason, so far as I know, to believe that my dismissal from the Maxwell Institute was initiated by President Samuelson. And I have the strongest possible direct reason to know that it wasn’t initiated by the presiding quorums of the Church.

  • James

    The papers are fascinating.

    Indeed, Smith was clear that he was not reviewing a scholarly, peer-reviewed publication. In fact, he convincingly demonstrated that Dehlin is mostly (and admittedly) ill-prepared to deal with topics he addresses—presenting completely unfounded assertions while seemingly totally oblivious to long-standing, thoroughly developed refutations produced by the very apologists he so obviously disdains. Smith makes you wonder if Dehlin ever actually reads any of the material they produce. Know thy enemy?

    Smith makes a fair case that by choosing to ignore those he (vehemently) disagrees with, he is doing his audience a huge disservice. (At least the truly searching portion… not necessarily the percentage that have already made up their minds against the truth-claims of the Church.)

    Mormon Stories doesn’t “occasionally” fall short of academic professionalism, Smith shows it consistently fails in that aspect.

    While the review (draft) could use some polish in a few areas, it makes plain that the need for sound apologetics is as vital as ever.

    And, pray, why must faithful apologetics be Church sponsored to be valid, useful, etc? FARMS was doing quite well producing quality, credible, informative, scholarly material years before the invitation to join BYU.

  • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

    Having read the piece, to me the biggest puzzle is why Dehlin felt like he needed to suppress it. The obvious explanation is that, as the piece alleges, he tried to suppress it before reading it.

    The piece doesn’t leave you angry at Dehlin, it leaves feeling sorry for him.

    • Brian Kissell

      Dehlin gives a good explanation of why he tried to supress it in this interview. http://mormonstories.org/john-dehlin-and-faith-reconstruction/

      • Slow

        Brian,

        Thank you for the link to John Dehlin’s podcast. It has been very helpful to hear his point of view. For those interested, “part 2″ from 0:37 to ~12:15 addresses Dubious Mormon Stories.

        In his podcast, Mr. Dehlin defends his attempted suppression of the “hit piece” with the following arguments:

        1- He was not given an opportunity to respond to the article, never having read it.
        2- He was trying to defend his listeners, BYU, and the LDS Church as a whole.
        3- Daniel Peterson refused to be interviewed on Mr. Dehlin’s podcast “for years.”
        4- Louis Midgley yelled at him, threatened to report him to his bishop, and hurt his feelings.

        I’ll address these in turn.

        1- Having never been published myself, I feel presumptuous offering Mr. Dehlin any advice about responding to criticism of one’s work. Nonetheless, I suggest the following for his consideration:

        Step 1: Read the article (i.e., after publication).

        Step 2: Post a response to the Internet.

        Step 2 would be the most difficult for me, since I don’t even have a blog (much less one that people read). But for a man with a self-reported podcast audience of 26,000 this should be trivial. It’s possible I’m missing something here, but how could Daniel Peterson or anyone else prevent Mr. Dehlin from responding to the “hit piece”? Not having read the article undermines, rather than supports an argument to suppress it.

        2- During the interview, Mr. Dehlin repeatedly voiced concern that the article, if published, would –

        a- “be devastating to BYU”

        b- damage the LDS Church

        c- diminish the faith of at least some of his 26,000 listeners

        — “especially if they’re just gonna tell a bunch of lies.” [sic] (at 9:35-6) It is extraordinary that he was able make this evaluation of the article without reading it. This is, to me, the most disturbing argument Mr. Dehlin makes: that publications should be censored due to rumors of the contents alone.

        Even granting for the sake of argument that the article consists of ad hominem character assassination, it is not clear how a, b and c would follow. If it is merely the latest in the torrent of FARMS-manufactured libel, how would Dubious Mormon Stories “be devastating to BYU” or damage the Church?

        Mr. Dehlin states in the interview that besmirching his reputation would lead many of his listeners away from their faith (presumably in Christ), despite a previous podcast where he opines that Jesus never existed. How this would occur was was not revealed.

        3 and 4- During the interview, Mr. Dehlin asserts that — among other things — certain actions of one Daniel Peterson and one Louis Midgley compelled him to censor the “hit piece”. His argument, in syllogisms, would look something like this:

        i- Daniel Peterson refused to be interviewed on Mormon Stories “for years”.

        ii- Louis Midgley yelled at Mr. Dehlin, thus making him uncomfortable.

        iii- Louis Midgley also threatened to report Mr. Dehlin to his bishop.

        iv- Therefore, Mr. Dehlin justifiable censored the “hit piece”.

        Do i, ii and iii really prove (or even suggest) iv? Mr. Dehlin’s argument wouldn’t make sense even if these two had written the article. Furthermore, the idea that Louis Midgley could intimidate Mr. Dehlin by threatening to inform on him to his bishop is absurd; one could more easily blackmail Harry Reid by threatening to expose him as a Democrat. Mr. Dehlin broadcasts his words worldwide and reports an audience of tens of thousands, not to mention his numerous public speaking engagements. Did he really think his opinions were a secret?

        As Mr. Dehlin tells it, he used his special connections to high-ranking church officials to quash an article, set for printing in a church publication, merely rumored to insult him personally. And this is his defense of censorship.

        • danpeterson

          Nice analysis.

    • http://crymightily.blogspot.com log

      The papers forcefully reminded me of this verse.

      O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?

  • Brian Kissell

    I am a fan of both Dan Peterson and of John Dehlin, and I also feel that they have both positively contributed to my faith development. I do not agree with everything that Delhin says or does, but I do feel that his interviews have provided a strongly productive resource to help me engage difficult questions and to work towards a happier life and faith. As faith has always been important to me, I believe that I was able to salvage my faith because of the wonderful things that Mormon Stories has provided to me. Particularly it helped introduce me to wonderfully thoughtful and faithful members of the church, including Peterson, Wootherspoon, Hardy, Givens, Bushman, Anderson, Hales, Brookes, etc. These people’s writings have strongly impacted me and I do not believe that I would have given them a chance had I not first had a place to be in crisis. I never felt pressured in any way towards leaving; even during the days that john was probably the most negative towards the church. I spoke with him about my desire to reconstruct my faith and to become more active, and I felt nothing but acceptance and desire for me to be happy. I am so grateful for Dehlin’s impact on my life, and although he is not perfect, I have never doubted his intentions, I have been following him since the beginning of his podcasts.
    The review reminds me of an argument that Peterson uses to defend Joseph Smith, which is if you have a friend who you know well, who has a rumor spread about him, you want to give him the benefit of the doubt. The review on Dehlin was less polemical than I assumed it would be, and I do not believe this was an attack piece, however it does not seem to accurately capture why people like Dehlin so much. As I said before the review was released, it is easy to make Joseph Smith look bad, as incredible as he was, and thus of course it would be easy to write a piece making Dehlin look bad. The review seems to categorize Dehlin as an exit counselor, which I agree that can and has played that role, but again, I feel strongly that I was able to retain and save my faith because of him. I do not believe that I would be alone in this sentiment. Sometimes because of articles like this review, it feels that I am not wanted within this church. It sometimes feels like different apologist, and members, do not want those who do not have it all figured out around. I know this may not be true, but it certainly feels like it when some are so threatened by those who are trying to figure things out that they attempt to delegitimize them; particularly someone like Dehlin who I feel obviously wants to help people, although he may not be perfect at that. This may be an unfair criticism, but it is how it feels to me.

  • Bob Oliverio

    Dan, 

    My reply to Beth was not about you.  It was about the need for Mormon Apologetics and the value both BYU and the Church place on it as compared to the value current apologists place on it.  It seems obvious that BYU and the Church do not find pieces like this Dehlin work as very useful to either the mission of BYU or the Church based on their decision of last year. Nor do they seem to find value in similar works of the original FARMS group any more or they would not, again, made the changes they did.  I’m not debating your assessment of the value but merely observing it is not held by the Church or BYU.

    And I believe I have it on very strong input that President Samuelson consulted those above him in this change.

    But I believe you and this new group have every right to fill the demand for whatever niche group exists that finds value in these types of works.

    • danpeterson

      “It seems obvious that BYU and the Church do not find pieces like this Dehlin work as very useful to either the mission of BYU or the Church based on their decision of last year.”

      Quite literally, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

      Anyway, the leadership of the Church had nothing to do with the Maxwell Institute purge last year. That coup was not initiated from Salt Lake City.

      “I believe I have it on very strong input that President Samuelson consulted those above him in this change.”

      It’s extremely unlikely — extremely unlikely — that your source on the question is better positioned to know about that than is mine. (I would calculate the odds as roughly one in a billion, but they’re arguably even less than that.)

  • Lucy Mcgee

    If I were going to base my spiritual life on a book which outlined the history of a native people, set in central America, I would most certainly be inclined to try and understand the history of that culture.

    If I were seeking to set up an interview with a Mesoamerican archaeologist, anthropologist, epigrapher, author and all around worldly human, Dr. Michael Coe would be atop the list as he is regarded as one of the foremost scholars on the Maya civilization.

    John Dehlin was fortunate to conduct a fascinating three plus hour interview with this man. For anyone interested in gaining insight into that ancient world, Dr. Coe storied his own knowledge and experience, but also mentioned other scholars, who have worked to uncover this amazing history. That Dr. Coe does not believe the Book of Mormon history fits in the ancient Mesoamerican world, shouldn’t be a distraction from what this interview offers, but should excite the mind that such an amazing history exists on our continent.

    As an aside, Dr. Coe’s family was heir to one of the largest fortunes in the U.S. For that story, you’ll have to read more about Dr. Coe. in his book “Final Report”. Dr. Coe has written ten books and he engages in fly fishing on vacation. Fun.

    When reading “On Mormon Stories”, I was taken aback by the effort of those involved in picking apart the works of John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories and his process. Although the paper is heavily footnoted, it seems somewhat tabloid with a variety of personal quotes taken from discussion boards to paint this man and his work into something not quite legitimate. To me that this paper lacks balance since it seems to rely on a variety of negative statements pulled from online media and emphasized. John Dehlin was not interviewed or asked to respond.

    To an outsider, there seems to be much going on here which involves the testimonies of those questioning their Mormon faith. Could it be that the Church feels a threat is being propagated by venues such as Mormon Stories? For an outsider, it seems that power will be forever challenged in our digital world. We witness today, the most powerful church on the planet rocked by scandal and people just won’t stop asking questions. This is more than a minor irritant. It’ll be an interesting decade.

    For this religious non-believer, I’m constantly amazed at the amount of energy spent defending belief. Granted, hundreds of billions of dollars are involved as well as the livelihoods of those professing knowledge most don’t possess. To discredit John Dehlin of Mormon Stories speaks volumes about both the surety, and lack thereof within the story of faith.

    • danpeterson

      I don’t see anything particularly odd or unusual about reviewing the publications of John Dehlin. He doesn’t write books, it’s true — he says he’s not much inclined to read them, either — but, in this digital age, surely we recognize that publications can appear in non-print form.

      Dehlin has gained a considerable following, and it seems entirely appropriate to analyze the thinking of the man leading the group, as expressed in his public statements.

      • Brian Kissell

        I do not see a problem with reviewing his publications. I guess what I dislike is the attitude which seems to exist, that those who have differing opinions are dangerous, and thus need to be delegitimized. I have no problem with criticisms, and I have plenty of most people, particularly Dehlin. However when one allows themself to only focus on the negative, it is easy to arrive at a characterization and not the real thing. I see this all the time when people criticize you, Dr. Peterson, which I also feel is inappropriate. It is easy for people to say that you are overly snarky and mean, and thus miss what I think is so great about you. Again I have no problem with writing a review about anyone, especially someone as popular as Dehlin, but if they are merely trying to show his flaws, I feel they will misrepresent the truth of who he is, as well as the contribution he is making to Mormonism. I guess I merely think the review should have been more balanced.

        • Brian Kissell

          I hope I am not misunderstood. I do think whenever there are points that one agrees with, people should be free to attempt to argue for their opinion. If one does feel that those, whose beliefs which are similar to Dehlin’s, are dangerous, than I guess it is fair to argue for that, but If they are going to make such a strong assumption they need to be willing to look at and present both sides of the argument. For example, provide some facebook comments where Dehlin is speaking about the importance of faith, or where he is trying to help someone understand and come to grips with doubts. Again, my experience with him was very positive, and thus I know those types of posts are available.

        • danpeterson

          I suppose the question of “balance” can be discussed and differed about by decent people. (Where one comes down on it probably depends, to a large degree, on what one thinks was the purpose of the article.) But please don’t imagine that Dr. Smith and I believe in attacking people simply because they disagree with us. I have plenty of friends with whom I disagree on many issues, both peripheral and important.


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