Store-Front Diplomas and the Countercult


Groucho Marx as Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff in “Horse Feathers” (1932)


Over the years, though not recently, I’ve had a few tough exchanges (some of them actually a bit testy), including (along with my colleague Bill Hamblin) a broadcast radio debate, with the zealous Calvinist countercult speaker, writer, and debater James White.


Mr. White, who is based in the Phoenix area, has traditionally focused his fire on Mormonism, Catholicism, and (I’m more comfortable with this) King-James-only fundamentalists.  More recently, I think he’s added Islam to his list of targets.  (Frankly, I haven’t paid any attention to his activities for quite a while.)


Although very often wrong, Mr. White is a bright fellow, and I remember his telling me many years ago that he was working on a doctorate in, I think, Reformation history at — if I remember correctly — Arizona State University.  I reckoned that this was good, and actually thought to myself that his fierce take-no-prisoners partisanship might be moderated a bit by exposure to graduate research and academic discussion.


Unfortunately, Mr. White eventually chose to earn his doctorates — he now claims two — at a rather dubious, certainly non-traditional, “seminary” currently located in Buckley, Washington.  (I think that, when last I heard of the thing, it was in Portland, Oregon.)


I’m not sure why he decided to do that.  I certainly think that he has the intelligence to have done a mainstream academic doctorate.  (Perhaps it’s a matter of temperament, or, even more likely, of priorities.)  Such behavior follows, though, in the unfortunate footsteps of such earlier countercultists and anti-Mormons as Dr. Deejay Nelson, Dr. Walter Martin, Dr. Richard Fales, Dr. John Ankerberg, and Dr. Dr. John Weldon.  (Particularly on the latter two, see my comments here and here).


Anyhow, Mr. White and his degrees come to my mind again because of something sent to me this morning by my friend Stan Barker.  It seems that others besides the evil Mormons have also noticed the shaky provenance of James White’s doctorates.


I honestly don’t understand the need for doubtful doctorates.  There’s no shame in not having a doctorate, nor even in receiving one from the University of Southern California.  (While I was a graduate student at UCLA, somebody carefully installed a small brass plaque above the toilet-paper dispenser in one of the men’s restrooms in the University Research Library.  “USC diplomas,” it read.  “Free.  Take one.”)


But there’s shame in claiming a bogus doctorate.  And I just can’t see why people like Mr. White — who are controversial and, by design, very much in the public eye — would want to come within light years of such a thing.  It provides critics with a target that’s simply too easy and too tempting.


Posted from Park City, Utah



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  • ColoradoRob

    Well, one thing most box-top doctorate earners can do, is form a coherent sentence. I remember my experience with chatrooms and masters degree folks:

    oedipus38 (9:50:11 AM): muslim older
    oedipus38 (9:50:27 AM): they are the oldest civilizations
    Me (9:52:01 AM): How can Islam be older than christ if Mohhamed and the Koran didn’t exist before 600 ad?
    oedipus38 (9:53:08 AM): if adam and eve were real we would all be hadicapped
    Me (9:53:12 AM): How can Islam be older than christ if Mohhamed and the Koran didn’t exist before 600 ad?
    oedipus38 (9:53:14 AM): the gene pool
    oedipus38 (9:53:19 AM): u are mislead
    oedipus38 (9:53:28 AM): i have masters in religion
    Me (9:53:41 AM): Okay, Mr. Masters in Religion, answer my question. How can Islam be older than christ if Mohhamed and the Koran didn’t exist before 600 ad?
    oedipus38 (9:54:06 AM): budda has been around longer than koran, jesus
    Me (9:54:23 AM): <– notices you are not answering my question…
    oedipus38 (9:54:38 AM): they did exist
    oedipus38 (9:54:43 AM): who says they didnt

    • DanielPeterson

      Good grief.

  • Loran

    I corresponded with Mr. White very briefly, around 1992 or so (during the construction of the Orlando Temple) and actually spoke to him on the phone on one occasion. He offered to come by my home and sit down with me in the future as we was planning to show up for the opening of the Temple, and discuss things with me. I accepted, but he never showed up, and another letter to him was not responded to. I demonstration of some kind was planned for the opening but, apparently, didn’t pan out. The opening was dark and drizzly, and there were perhaps three people there, including one guy with a sign that said simply, if I recall, “Mormonism is a cult.”

    My stepson brought home a pamphlet by White he had been given at school, and I wrote a point-by-point response and mailed it to him. After our one phone conversation, he broke contact (I called his office one more time, and asked him to respond, but he never did).

    I notice this on his website:

    “A FARMS publication shows that nothing has changed at BYU: falsehoods
    remain standard fare.”

    Sounds very much like some people I know in a certain trailer park with old blankets hung in the windows and grumbling, dented AC units festooning rows of shabby trailers inhabited by armchair intellectuals and Ph.Ds.