Apologetics: “Don’t we have Anything Else to Talk About?”

 The title for this post comes from the (slightly altered) title of a presentation given at a conference at Yale for Latter-day Saint students (doing work in religion). The presenter, a Yale Div School student, argued for moving beyond apologetics, except in certain circumstances. I would like to further examine the circumstances which make apologetics appropriate.

In particular I’ve been reading “An Apology for Apologetics” by Paul Griffths, an Anglican who spent most of his career studying Buddhism. Griffiths positions himself against those who claim that the sole purpose of inter-religious dialogue is understanding, and that value judgments have no part in dialogue. He speaks of the “necessity” of apologetics and lays out his thesis as follows:

“If representative intellectuals belonging to some specific religious community come to judge at a particular time that some or all of their own doctrine-expressing sentences are incompatible with some alien religious claim(s), then they should feel obliged to engage in both positive and negative apologetics vis-a-vas these alien religious claim(s) and their promulgators.” (pp. 3)

 One of the comments in response to the paper mentioned above, was that the avoidance of apologetics leaves a vacuum usually filled by bad apologetics. I tend like to think of myself as someone who is not very “apologetic”, but at the same time I do feel “obliged” as Griffiths mentions. Do we, as Mormons, have the responsibility to do apologetics? If so, what is “good” apologetics? Are FARMS and FAIR models of good apologetics? Or can we develop better models?

  • lxxluthor

    As Mormons would should be more open to value judgments than many other faiths due to our “we’ll take truth from any source” credo. But in practice we aren’t very good at looking in those other sources sometimes or at accepting truth from other faiths, especially Christian ones. Which is too bad.

    I don’t know enough to decide what good and bad apologetics look like. I’ve often heard the accusation that FARMS and FAIR are not good models of apologetics but I don’t know why this is said. Having looked at both FARMS and FAIR I think that there are probably better models (not that I actually know any but I imagine they exist) but I’m not convinced we can develop them. The Church is too squishy on certain doctrines, and too embarrassed to discuss others in public, to get officially down and dirty with apologetics. And anyone pushing the envelope beyond where it is already probably runs the risk of the Church officially denouncing that work.

    It seems to me that the natural end of apologetics is to solidify positions on all possible doctrines; a very slippery thing in a Church with ongoing revelation and thus open ended theology. And I’m not sure that nailing ourselves down to one view of an issue is always a good idea. The kick in the face about new revelation is that it usually forces us to openly admit that we were horribly wrong about something basic and vital. On top of all the backpedaling and rethinking that new revelation usually entails, apologetics would tend to multiply this, possibly by many times. It’s pretty humbling to have to go back and remit a doctrine that you have been staunchly defending. It may also have the effect of entrenching some people into certain views so deeply that when the doctrine is turned over for a new one that they can’t cope and leave the Church. Which is the lesser of the two evils?

  • Nitsav

    I made that comment at the conference, and I would have liked a clear definition of apologetics from that presenter. In my experiences, many of the people who criticize LDS apologetics have very little actual familiarity with them. FAIR, for example, an explicitly apologetic organization (it’s in the title) does *no dialogue at all* with those who write against the church. Its writings are for those members who have been adversely affected by information that is new to them.

    By apologetics, do we mean simple defense of the faith, with LDS (not opponents) the audience? Are LDS scholars whose fields give them skills that are useful in defending the faith bound to use them?

    Or do we mean that LDS scholars whose field is NT should be writing LDS material on the NT for an LDS audience, not just scholarly papers?

  • klbarney

    I was going to make the same comment Nitsav just made. Apologetics can mean different things, and so a discussion of apologetics needs to identify specifically what one is talking about. I am involved with FAIR, and Nitsav is correct that our aim is to engage in irenic, educative apologetics. Say, for example, an ordinary Saint surfing the net to prepare a talk learns that Joseph translated the BoM with a seerstone in his hat. She has never heard this before; is it true? And if so, how does one absorb this information while retaining faith?

    Where does she go for help? Odds are no one in her ward is prepared to help her come to grips with this information, which is brand new and perhaps shocking to her, but is old hat [pun intended] to LDS scholars. We respond to literally dozens of questions like this every month.

    If FAIR did not exist, maybe she would be lucky and would know a Mormon with sufficiently scholarly interests she could talk to about this. But odds are she wouldn’t, and she would be on her own. She might be able to come to grips with this on her own; she might not.

    I personally believe that apologetics in that sense are very much needed.

  • smallaxe

    It seems to me that the natural end of apologetics is to solidify positions on all possible doctrines; a very slippery thing in a Church with ongoing revelation and thus open ended theology.

    There are perhaps three fundamental questions central to this discussion: What is apologetics? What is “good” apologetics? and What purpose does good apologetics serve? I really haven’t looked into this issue very much, so I have to admit that I’m using this as an opportunity to think through these questions. I would be happy to hear what people have to say.

    Personally, I don’t think apologetics must serve to solidify positions on possible doctrines. I look at the term more along the lines of “justifying” a particular position. I don’t think this necessarily precludes other positions, and so as far as this relates to Mormonism, there could be a multifude of viable interpretations. In other words, apolgetics to me does not assume that there is only one right answer to a given question. Some questions may only have one right answer, and some questions may in fact have better (and worse) answers, but it is also possible that more than one answer could be equally valid.

    I made that comment at the conference, and I would have liked a clear definition of apologetics from that presenter.

    Amen.

    FAIR, for example, an explicitly apologetic organization (it’s in the title) does *no dialogue at all* with those who write against the church. Its writings are for those members who have been adversely affected by information that is new to them.

    That’s interesting. This may be something similar to what Griffiths has in mind with “negative” and “positive” apologetics. I certainly see the role for an internalist dialogue, but I can’t help but feel that too much of a reliance on this type of discourse could lead to the more pejorative meanings of apologetics in terms of insularity, and a refusal to find value outside of one’s own tradition.

    I am involved with FAIR, and Nitsav is correct that our aim is to engage in irenic, educative apologetics. Say, for example, an ordinary Saint surfing the net to prepare a talk learns that Joseph translated the BoM with a seerstone in his hat. She has never heard this before; is it true? And if so, how does one absorb this information while retaining faith?

    I very much believe that FAIR (and FARMS) does a lot of good for many members of the church. I’m wondering if you can explain what “irenic” means in this context. I know it has something to do with conciliatory or peaceful, but I’m wondering with whom this is implied, given that the audience are believing LDSs and not those they are writing in opposition to.

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    they should feel obliged to engage in both positive and negative apologetics

    I think that I’d have to soften the word “obliged.” Two strands of thought lie behind this. First, I’d not want to get trapped into a form of scholarship dominated by apologetic interests. This might lead to a situation in which external forces set the agenda of LDS scholarship.

    The second strand is more personal and might be characterized as a profound weariness of apologetics. Once again, reflection suggests two issues. First, bad apologetic efforts have definitely left a sour taste. Second, there are aspects of the way LDS history is presented that actually create a need for apologetics. As with any self-inflicte wound there is a need for attention but we might want to also put down the weapon at some point.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Are FAIR and FARMS good models of apologetics? I think the question is not answerable. There are good and bad models of apologetics in both camps. Both groups have supported and published the kind of scorched-earth, all-or-nothing apologetics that makes virtue a lie by using the Savior’s name and His gospel to do the work of personal destruction, hatred, and evil. Both groups have also supported and published well-reasoned, careful, moderate apologetics that inform and enlighten without degrading. So the answer isn’t that these groups are either good or bad models of apologetics; the answer is that they are both/and. This mixture shouldn’t surprise us; well-intentioned people sometimes make mistakes, and poorly-intentioned people sometimes have moments of virtue and goodness.

    I feel inclined to disagree, though, with Kevin Barney’s description of FAIR as irenic apologetics. The irenic mode is one that, in my view, has been largely neglected in Mormon apologetics — although moments such as Hinckley’s statement that we respect the truth others have and want to see if we can add something more are an open invitation to such work. In most of FAIR’s discussions, I see polemical apologetics in which the opposing view is clear and specific, although typically not explicitly named.

  • smallaxe

    So the answer isn’t that these groups are either good or bad models of apologetics; the answer is that they are both/and.

    I agree, but this also doesn’t really tell us what “good” apologetics is, either.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Smallaxe, I think it’s a tricky question; that’s why I picked the narrower one.

    In my view, good apologetics approaches the dialogue between faith and reason with (1) respect for the insights of all kinds of believers; (2) a sense of the scope of uncertainty, weakness, and possible misconception in one’s own ideas about religious truth; (3) a recognition of the joint roles of experience and rationality in sustaining religious belief, and a willingness to seriously consider experiences other than one’s own; (4) a generous vision of orthodoxy, not limiting the scope of defensible belief to one’s own interpretations; (5) a charitable interpretation of the motives and religiosity of people in opposing camps; and (6) a willingness to be convinced that you are wrong in intellectual matters. Probably I’m a hypocrite in setting forth these criteria, since I don’t always meet them when I discuss the interplay between faith and reason. But hypocrisy is a lesser vice.

  • bodhi

    I think RoastedTomatoes has basically given a summary of the values of liberal academic discourse, values I hold most dear, but I’m not sure they map over directly to “good apologetics,” if by “good” one means also “effective.” Some of these values certainly apply, but not all. Apologetics, lexically and in common usage, is a defense, and I would think any defense of religious doctrine that admits “uncertainty, weakness, and possible misconception in one’s own ideas about religious truth” is inherently compromised. I think all these values are more directly applicable to ecumenical dialog, which has very different aims and goals. I’ve long puzzled over how to reconcile apologetics and ecumenism, since they seem inimical, but I have yet to see an example of religious discourse that effectively does both at the same time. To defend your own beliefs inherently requires the repudiation of competing beliefs.

    I think apologetics is fundamentally fides quaerens intellectum, and basic to all theological discourse. One theology prof I had said simply, “All theology works under an apologetic imperative.” It may be overt or inherent, but theology is defined by contradistinction.

    Somewhat along these lines, FARMS very often cites the observation of Austin Farrer (on C.S. Lewis): “Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.” I don’t know that neatly defines “apologetics,” but I think that is what FARMS is trying to achieve, and probably most apologists generally.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    I would think any defense of religious doctrine that admits “uncertainty, weakness, and possible misconception in one’s own ideas about religious truth” is inherently compromised.

    I think this is a common notion, but I also think it’s unfortunate. In particular, it seems to me that any defense of any idea whatsoever which doesn’t structure itself around a central admission of “uncertainty, weakness, and possible misconception in one’s own ideas” is inherently broken. In fact, the kind of discourse that fails to do this is usually persuasive only to the already persuaded.

  • bodhi

    I’d be very interested to have you unpack your reasoning a bit further. Why is a defense necessarily broken unless bracketed by self-doubt? Do you see it as a formal necessity for rational argument? Or is it just the post-modern necessity to caveat everything (due to the contingency of culture, perception, etc.), lest one appear naive? Or is it to leave polite room for the opposite party be be correct? I can see how, with regard to the latter two, it might be rhetorically desirable in certain contexts, but I cannot imagine how it could be a formal necessity.

    In any case, by my definition of apologetics, its purpose is precisely to better persuade the already persuaded, by giving rational ground to received faith. To assert in one’s argument that the community’s faith position on the contested point may in fact be wrong greatly weakens its power to convict and persuade those who do believe or who wish to, and likely places you outside of your community of readers. Sympathetic outsiders can write appreciations, or make probabilistic arguments in favor of given position, but only convicted insiders can write apologetics. It is not just a forensic exercise, but an expression of conviction.

  • Nitsav

    “In most of FAIR’s discussions…”

    Could you provide some concrete examples of such “scorched-earth, all-or-nothing apologetics that makes virtue a lie by using the Savior’s name and His gospel to do the work of personal destruction, hatred, and evil”?

    Many extreme (and inaccurate, IMO) comments like this one about FAIR are actually about the boards FAIR used to host, and recently divested themselves of (now http://www.mormonapologetics.org) Many people thought the FAIR boards WERE FAIR, when in reality, very few FAIR people participated on them.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Bodhi, it seems to me that the already-persuaded are not really the primary audience for apologetics. Rather, such material seems primarily to appeal to the until-recently-persuaded. Those who don’t doubt are often surprisingly uninterested in learning the reasons why they shouldn’t worry about something they aren’t worried about.

    On the other hand, for those who find themselves entering the terrain of doubt, discourse written from a presupposition of certainty has as a premise the assumption that the doubter’s initial state of mind is a place that reasonable thinkers can never visit. The kind of foreclosed discourse this produces may batter the reader into submission to the authority of the writer’s assumptions (an undesirable outcome from any reasonable — or faithful Mormon — perspective), but by foreclosing the primary audience’s initial position as a hypothesis to be seriously considered, this kind of discourse all but eliminates the possibility of persuasion.

    Your goal for apologetics, constructing rational ground for faith, makes it inherently different from the prophetic role of declaring truth with conviction. Rational discourse is not characterized by the forcefulness of its emotion, but by the persuasiveness of its argument. And, in the psychological lab, persuasion has been shown to be enabled by an expression of the possibility of being incorrect. Self-presumptions of infallibility, by contrast, have a strongly discrediting effect for most audiences that aren’t already convinced of the speaker’s claims.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Nitsav #12, I’m going to resist the invitation to provide specific examples because I don’t want to accuse specific authors and start a big fight. Let me simply state that I’ve never read the FAIR boards; I only read the FAIR white papers, almost all of which are of a controversial — as opposed to irenic — apologetic mode in my view. Irenics builds common ground, while controversial or polemical apologetics defends a predefined view of orthodoxy; the FAIR discussions are overwhelmingly in the latter camp, I think.

    However, the more extremely bad FAIR presentations reflected in your quote are certainly in the small minority. I’d never claim otherwise; most FAIR papers are not especially hurtful. Just a few are.

  • Kevin Barney

    By “irenic” as applied to FAIR I meant that FAIR as an organization does not engage in debates with critics. We do not address critics specifically at all (including to denigrate them); our audience is specifically members and investigators of the Church. Perhaps that is a negative definition of what we don’t do, but in the world of apologetics I think it is significant.

    John Charles-Duffy appropriately noted this aspect of FAIR, with approval, in his lengthy Sunstone article on LDS apologetics. This is a big part of the reason I am involved; I have no interest in having message board flame war chicken scratch debates with critics, but I am very interested in using scholarship to try to translate for the uninitiated why some factoid he or she discovers should not necessarily result in a loss of faith.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Kevin, fair enough. We just have different definitions of “irenic,” then. From Wikipedia, irenism involves “removing conflicts between different Christian creeds by way of mediation and gradual amalgamation of theological differences.” FAIR addresses critical arguments without typically naming the critics; I think that’s good and tends to diffuse the uglies aspects of polemical apologetics. But there’s a difference between that and the use of apologetic reasoning to build explicit bridges between belief systems.

  • Nitsav

    “Irenics builds common ground, while controversial or polemical apologetics defends a predefined view of orthodoxy;” Certainly an idiomatic definition, and one that seems to assume that FAIR is talking to its non-LDS critics.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Nitsav, FAIR is inevitably — and ubiquitously, if you read their papers — responding to the arguments of both LDS and non-LDS critics. It just does so without naming them.

  • Nitsav

    Yes, but the papers are not addressed to the critics. No one at FAIR writes with the intention of converting or convincing Alpha and Omega Ministries of the errors of their ways, for example.

    I have read many FAIR papers. Your characterization of it, its purpose, and its audience is simply not consistant with my personal knowledge and involvement.

  • Nitsav

    My apologies for being baited by RT’s FAIR comments. It’s been a diversion from the more general topic.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Nitsav, for what it’s worth, I think that you’ve either misread my comments about FAIR or I’ve failed to communicate effectively.

    I’m not at all claiming that FAIR is or should be trying to convert the Alpha and Omega Ministries. Indeed, I don’t understand how that idea came up. I think FAIR’s primary audience is rank-and-file members who have just stumbled onto information that has unsettled them and led them to develop localized doubts. FAIR’s goal as I understand it is to refute (usually without attribution) interpretations of such information that lead to doubt and to offer alternative interpretations that are faith-compatible. This is usually but not always done in a non-confrontational way. I’m saddened when this goal is not met, as I am when any religious discourse breaks down — but that’s life, etc.

    The purpose of my remarks about irenics is simply to point out that there are other options in Mormon apologetics that have been inadequately explored. In addition to more irenic work, I’d love to see Mormon experiential apologetics or a Mormon apologetic along the lines of Pascal’s apologetic work. But please note that signaling unexplored possibilities doesn’t at all mean that I reject the goal of refuting faith-destructive arguments. Instead, it’s a call for more of a diversity of approaches than we currently have.

    Nitsav, I’d really like to work this through with you — although perhaps not in public, as you note. Please email me if this comment doesn’t help clarify our conversation here. And my apologies if I’ve spoken in ways that rubbed you wrong.

  • Nitsav

    That’s a useful clarification, thanks.

    Retracting claws now :)

  • bodhi

    RT: On your first point, I’m not sure how to demonstrate to whom apologetics “appeals,” except circumstantially. For example, the FARMS Review is purchased almost exclusively by FARMS subscribers, the overwhelming majority of whom (we might safely assume) are believers. There may be a large and hidden readership of until-recently-persuaded, but even the publishers, who wish desperately that such were the case, don’t think that’s at all likely (so I’m told). That’s not to say none of that group ever reads this material, or that it is not intended for them, but they are a tiny minority of readers. Most Mormon apologists are part of a small and tight-knit group who are mainly motivated to write by and for each other, and especially by and for the faithful and engaged believers who read and praise their work. I believe that is whom every Christian apologist since Paul has fundamentally written for. Dan Peterson does not fly, almost weekly, all over the world speaking to crowds of the lapsed, but rather to stake centers packed with the faithful. I work with apologists here at BYU, and this is my perception, but I may be totally wrong. No, really, I’m not just saying that because I should :-).

    RoastedTomatoes: On the other hand, for those who find themselves entering the terrain of doubt, discourse written from a presupposition of certainty has as a premise the assumption that the doubter’s initial state of mind is a place that reasonable thinkers can never visit. The kind of foreclosed discourse this produces may batter the reader into submission to the authority of the writer’s assumptions (an undesirable outcome from any reasonable — or faithful Mormon — perspective), but by foreclosing the primary audience’s initial position as a hypothesis to be seriously considered, this kind of discourse all but eliminates the possibility of persuasion.

    Could you provide an example of this sort of “battery by authority”? This is simply not the rhetorical posture of apologetic literature in general, and certainly not of good and effective apologetic. Bad apologetic literature may assume such (examples?), and I agree completely such a position would be counter-productive. But it makes no real sense and is not typical. The apologist is not starting, after all, from a particular empirical and rational certitude to which the evidence has inexorably led, but from a faith claim which has been revealed through revelation. Usually apologetics starts (or even, is forced to start) from the position that a contrary position is certainly empirically and rationally plausible, but ultimately incorrect, and apologists may even make sympathetic appeals to readers who have accepted arguments or assumptions that, after all, anyone would believe unless they understood all the evidence, etc. They do not impute to the reader stupidity. That would hardly serve its ends. They may impute to critics stupidity, or perfidy, but as Nitsav said of FAIR, “the papers are not addressed to the critics.”

    Finally, I agree completely that “self-presumptions of infallibility . . . have a strongly discrediting effect for most audiences that aren’t already convinced of the speaker’s claims.” See my definition of the audience. The assumption of infallibility is fundamental to religious claims and is everywhere evident in religious discourse, especially Mormon religious discourse. If Mormon apologists professed only the mild the belief, for example, that GBH was maybe, even very likely, a prophet, but that only he could say for sure and he may in fact be wrong, I just can’t see how that would make them more convincing, either to the already-persuaded or anyone else. Apologetics may set out to construct a rational ground for faith, but it cannot strengthen that faith by placing it fundamentally in doubt. As I said, religious apologetics is not forensics. Rather it’s the employment of rational argument, usually in highly prejudicial fashion, to bolster faith.

    Feel free to respond, but I’ll stop here. I think it likely we are just differently-minded. If you could provide some examples (by your lights) of good apologetics to assess, that would be helpful. For myself, I would forward something like Orthodox theologian David Hart’s recent and popular theodicy, The Doors of the Sea. Brilliant. I wish I could provide a Mormon example, but I don’t really read the Mormon stuff.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Bodhi,

    We probably do have different perspectives, but there are also disagreements on the evidence. For example, the FARMS Review is overwhelmingly read on the web by non-subscribers, not in paper by subscribers — if you get one of the publicly-available estimates of FARMS web traffic, you’ll see that it dwarfs FARMS subscribership. Any notion on the part of apologists that they’re writing to each other is probably incorrect.

    Likewise, the perception that the audience is totally lacking in doubt is probably false. Plenty of members are totally lacking in doubt, and they generally pay little attention to arguments for why they don’t need to doubt. Rather, these people seem to often be totally unaware of the issues that are the central focus of apologetic discourse. This doesn’t mean that consumers of apologetics are lapsed; rather, it means that they have localized areas of uncertainty that they’re trying to figure out how to handle. If not, why bother reading the stuff? People don’t typically expend that kind of cognitive effort for nothing.

    I’m not going to provide negative examples because I don’t want to single people out, but I really think that if you can’t find at least a few instances in which the rhetorical posture of a Mormon apologist is one of battery by authority, credentials, or sheer polemical force, you aren’t looking in a spirit of genuine inquiry. Such things are not by any means the norm, but they aren’t exactly secret or obscure, either.

    I disagree completely with the claim that apologists are starting “from a faith claim which has been revealed through revelation,” rather than from the posture of a rational hypothesis. Revelation only becomes a faith claim that can be evaluated in light of evidence and reasoned about when it’s combined with an interpretation — which is a rational hypothesis based on human reason. Revelation doesn’t interpret itself. Furthermore, specific interpretations of revelation can be, and often are, entirely incorrect — and many, many more are disputed or at least possibly incorrect. For example, when you claim that “the assumption of infallibility is fundamental to religious claims,” you’re offering an interpretation that I think would turn out to be remarkably unpopular if you shared it with the community of Mormon apologists at BYU. Arguments about the fallibility of scripture, prophets, etc. are central to modern Mormon apologetics. These arguments offer the most intelligible, faith-compatible explanation for Joseph Smith’s prophesies that didn’t come true, for the racially denigrating claims in the Book of Mormon, for problematic descriptions of plants, animals, and technology in the Book of Mormon, etc. If we had to defend infallibility in the Book of Mormon’s production, the simple evidence of changes in the Book of Mormon between the first and second editions would be enough to disprove our hypothesis. Luckily, many or most Mormon thinkers feel that infallibility has no real place in Mormonism; inspiration and revelation are available, but not infallibility.

    If Mormon apologists professed only the mild the belief, for example, that GBH was maybe, even very likely, a prophet, but that only he could say for sure and he may in fact be wrong, I just can’t see how that would make them more convincing, either to the already-persuaded or anyone else.

    This seems to be built around a confusion between the apologetic and the prophetic mission. We may, as believers, testify that GBH is a prophet. As apologists, though, testimony is not our role. Rather, our job is to clarify hypotheses about what it might mean to say that someone is a prophet, to use evidence to weed out unsustainable hypotheses, to clarify when critics of the faith are using evidence that applies to the wrong hypothesis about what a prophet is, and occasionally to demonstrate that some of the evidence presented for or against a specific hypothesis is false or incomplete. Testimony provides a motive for this work, but the conviction of testimony is not legitimately transferred to conviction in favor of a specific hypothesis about or interpretation of the meaning of the idea that we affirm as testimony. Those specifics are intellectual, human constructs, and are therefore probably incorrect or incomplete. That’s why we do the intellectual work, after all.

  • smallaxe

    To assert in one’s argument that the community’s faith position on the contested point may in fact be wrong greatly weakens its power to convict and persuade those who do believe or who wish to, and likely places you outside of your community of readers.

    I should first start by thanking RT for sticking his neck out to provide a definition of good apologetics. That said, perhaps I can offer some of my thoughts. The way I read his phrase, “a sense of the scope of uncertainty, weakness, and possible misconception in one’s own ideas about religious truth”, was not in the light of, “I must admit that I could be wrong”, but more in the vain of, “I must admit that even I do not fully understand my own truth claims.” Now, if that is not what RT is claiming, my appologies, this then is my position and not his. I do not see this as antithetical to Mormon belief, and in some respects is a position held by many members on many issues.

    By “irenic” as applied to FAIR I meant that FAIR as an organization does not engage in debates with critics.

    I don’t see how that is irenic; but I am also unaware of the use of the word in the history of apologetics.

    The apologist is not starting, after all, from a particular empirical and rational certitude to which the evidence has inexorably led, but from a faith claim which has been revealed through revelation.

    I’m not sure exactly how to parse the term “apologetics” distinct from the more general argumentative posture of “taking up a position and defending it”. IMO “good” apologetics blurs the line between “faith claims” and “rational certitude”. I may be treading in deep water here (in other words I am not as aware as I would like to be of this discourse), but I don’t think there is a clear “rationality” that creates the type of objectivity that an “empirical” position claims. (In short I’m not pursuaded that a Kantian epistemology has won the day). In my interaction with others, it seems that if they can at at least understand my position (and understand that one can rationally–broadly understood–hold such a position) this becomes the first step at seeing my position as potentially persuasive.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Smallaxe, thanks for clarifying my statement regarding “uncertainty, weakness,” etc. I think your position is similar to my own, and the way you’ve expressed it may help resolve some misunderstandings that I think I didn’t see clearly. At the same time, I can’t help but note that the difference between “I must admit that I could be wrong” and “I must admit that even I do not fully understand my own truth claims” is sometimes one of degree rather than kind. Discovering new meanings of our truth claims can sometimes become such an extensive transformation of faith that it is difficult to distinguish from concluding that the initial faith claim was wrong. Some would argue that non-traditional Mormons occasionally cross that line.

    Nonetheless, and notwithstanding my self-destructive impulse to unsettle all distinctions, my intended meaning had to do with recognizing our own uncertainty regarding the ultimate meaning of our truth claims. I tried, somewhat awkwardly, to make this point in my comment #24, by distinguishing between revelation and interpretation.

  • smallaxe

    I guess I should add, as Mormons I often wonder if we’ve even “understood” what many others are saying before putting forth our position (maybe here I’m advocating a certain type of apologetics). IMO, we cannot fully appreciate Mormonism until we appreciate it in the context of other religions. This is not to say that we must conceive of it as one option among many, with all equally viable; but often comprehending an “other” provides moments of reflection on who we are.


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