Do Relationships Make the Church True and False?

I have a theory that I’d like to test about the sociology of knowledge and activity in the church. The well-worn cliche in an exit story about one day discovering something about church history that had been “hidden,” and thereby being thrown into a tailspin has some valence. I think there was a paper delivered at some point that these narratives are structurally the same as LDS “conversion” narratives. Just as many LDS conversions perhaps occur too quickly, this “rebellion” upon coming to realize that one’s parents (the church) are not in fact perfect too often leads to drastic actions. With time, one may reach an understanding that one can love and get along with one’s parents in later years in spite of their imperfections. Of course, maybe the parents really are so terrible that a complete break is needed. Or, maybe this is short sighted. What conditions in one’s life inform how that decision is made?

My hypothesis is that the decision to stay or leave the LDS church ultimately has very little to do with any particular knowledge about the past or present, but has much more to do with whether or not one finds community with those inside or outside. When people discover something and leave, it is more the feeling of lonliness and betrayal inside the church than the discovery itself. The shared experiences are often found with others who’ve felt similarly alone and betrayed. Finding a community with whom one can relate inside the church helps to reestablish the sense of trust for other members helps many who have been shaken. When people stay, it is often the community of the saints which makes the experience of testimony possible. When people leave, it is the community of un-testimony, the parallel practice to the LDS testimony of the “exit narrative.” Both sets of practices are nearly structurally identical.

In this theory, knowledge has a sociology, a context which makes certain ways of knowing and understanding possible. Truth only appears to be such based on the understanding that is made possible within a given situation. The kinds of truths that one can accept (or not) is determined not by some objective set of “facts,” but by the conditions in one’s life that make that truth possible (or not). In this view, knowledge and truth are historically contingent and socially determined, at least at the level of “meaning” (hopefully that satisfies the analytic philosophers). It also suggests that those who leave and those who stay have everything in common. Does my theory have any merit?

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  • Andrew S.

    Have you ever read Philip D. Kenneson’s “There’s No Such Thing as Objective Truth, and It’s a Good Thing, Too”? The main text of it can be found here: , although the footnotes, citations, etc., in the complete version are only found in the book in which it was published (Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World.)

    Now, I’m now all that smart or edumacated, so please don’t hurt me, but it seemed to me that the community-based or relationship-based sociology of knowledge here had something in common with Kenneson’s argument…

    Of course, maybe I’m just making loose and wild connections based on just a few words or whatever.

  • Paul

    I think there’s a lot of validity in what you say. If “truth” is not influenced by the sociology, then perhaps at least our reaction to it is. One might decide to wait more patiently for resolution to a question of doctrine or history if the right relationship is there.

  • Harold Dwyer

    This maps pretty well onto Fowler’s stages of faith.

  • Heather

    Sorry, but I don’t believe so. I am a severely testimony challenged member of the church. There are so many things in church history that bother me to the verge of atheism. I’m surrounded by a community of faithful good friends who support me and have very strong testimonies of the church. Whether or not I choose to stay has little to do with them and everything to do with whether or not I choose to believe the teachings of the church.

    I also have a few friends who have left the church on the basis of faith destroying discoveries. These are people I’ve known my entire life… who were 100% active in the church and were also surrounded by a faithful community. Additionally, the parents of one of my friends were leaders in the Spanish speaking branch of their town. They discovered things in church history and left the church within the week. They’d been active, happy, extremely supportive members for over 40 years before that discovery.

    Obviously these stories are anecdotal. But I cannot think of a single example of the opposite occurring.

    Also, I simply don’t think that people can be cajoled into being a part of something that they feel has betrayed them (the church) simply because they have a good rapport with their congregation.

  • oudenos


    I think that perhaps you are not giving the OP a fair reading. It seems to me that TT is suggesting not that “a faithful community” keeps a person in the church, but a community of like minded people or people with similar issues of faith and doubt. For example, if a person is troubled to verge of exiting the church based upon the authorship issue of James but finds a group of LDS who likewise are troubled by the church’s acceptance of traditional authorship but who nevertheless have found a way to navigate the waters of being troubled while yet remaining within the greater community of the church, there may a greater likelihood for the person to forgo exiting.

    I don’t think that TT’s theory has anything to do with cajoling, it has to do with therapizing through communication of doubt or belief or hope of belief.

    Heather, you say that you are a “severely testimony challenged member of the church” on “the verge of atheism.” The point of the post, as I understand it, is to say that your exiting because of this struggle is not a foregone conclusion. Rather, there are others who are near atheists who, should you find them or they you, may be able to bring to you a venue wherein your beliefs and non-beliefs have meaning and create bonds of inclusion rather than draw lines of exclusion which you may sense that the larger community of members is inflicting upon you.

  • g.wesley

    i know i am a one trick pony, but plato’s analogy of the suppositious child (republic 538a) would appear to have some relevance.

    if i understand you both, tt, you and socrates may feel the same about the imprudence of leaving quickly. and i think that is a very important point. what’s the rush?

  • g.wesley

    and well said oudenos.

  • ed42

    A similar problem is finding the ‘hidden’ and having nobody with which to discuss this event that bothers one. Are you comfortable talking about X in EQ? In SS? with the EQP (huh?, what the heck you talking about) or the BP? (don’t want my T.R. yanked just yet, no thanks), HT’s? So one turns to the webs and also learns about Y and Z.

  • stef

    Ex-mormon here. I think my path out started during a period of alienation I felt from my bishop. At the time, we were in a ward in the mid-west where there were only two children in the ward–mine. I had just come from living in Utah, so I couldn’t understand all the hard feelings my bishop had toward my kids who were 2 and 1 and who made noise in sacrament meeting. His poor approach got me started thinking, well maybe I need to find out what I’m really doing here. After that I researched the church–that’s when I actually found the ammunition to leave. In sum, lack of community started me on the path, but the cold hard facts secured my exit.

    And could you be more specific in your claim that ex-mormons and mormons have parallel testimony/untestimony things? I’d like to hear more about that.

  • Kristine

    If TT is remembering a paper from somewhere, I’ve probably unwittingly stolen it, but I did write a little about the structural parallels between conversion/exit narratives here:

    Two other interesting pieces to consider are Ethan Yorgason’s interview with John Durham Peters (, and Mario Properzi’s piece from the 2007 Faith and Knowledge conference (which you have to subscribe to see–bwahahahaha).

  • Andrew S.

    I thought that TT might be referring to something done by Seth Payne. (links from there)

  • Kristine

    Ah–thanks Andrew. I’m so vain, I probably thought this post was about me ;)

  • Andrew S.

    Of course, I’m not TT. TT could probably have been referring to your post. Even if not, great minds think alike.

  • Kevin Barney

    I think TT is definitely onto something. Interesting that people are seeing various antecedents in the OP; the one I saw was a paper by John Charles-Duffy that made an argument very much along these lines. I probably perceive the Church through the lens of an intellectual believer because many of my closest friends are themselves some stripe of intellectual believer. It makes sense to me that our attitudes toward the Church are in many ways socially conditioned and mediated.

  • Andrew S.

    oh wow, now this is exciting. TT should come back and vindicate one of us (that is, if any of us are on to it.)

  • annegb

    Yes, your theory defintely has merit. Very good thoughtful analysis.

  • David Clark

    FWIW, I think you are partially right. I don’t think you analysis for why people leave the church is correct, but that your proposed mechanism for keeping people in has merit.

    But, I actually hope for the church’s sake that you are wrong about this. Let’s just suppose that knowledge is embedded in a particular social context, and that if people find themselves in the social context you describe they are likely to stay inside the church. Fine and dandy. The problem is that the church’s mechanisms for social control and direction (the way it socializes people) actively work against this. Thus, your proposed solution to people exiting the church is foreclosed by the social structures by which the church organizes itself.

    Consider what would be the ideal social context for this to occur in. I would say that people would need to organically form groups based on shared interests, goals, and understanding. Instead the church segregates people into geographic units based on proximity and not on the ability of people to form a community of understanding. One would want people to choose leaders who are qualified to address and understand their problems. Instead people (such as bishops) are called based on a vague notion of inspiration by a small set of persons with little input from outsiders and no continuing input as these leaders do their job (i.e. you can’t fire an unhelpful bishop). One would want group instruction and interaction to be driven from within so that topics, times, and interests could be addressed in ways helpful to the group. Instead people are given a generic manual and are told to stick to it. Finally, you would want this social context to allow a robust exchange of ideas where information is not feared. Instead most church interaction is based on superficial and predetermined patterns for fear of steadying the ark or offending anyone. I could go on, but you get the picture.

    Of course no congregation in any denomination creates this perfect community. But I would submit that LDS congregations do worse at this than most. I understand that many of these problems can be directly traced to the exigencies of having a lay untrained clergy, but there are always tradeoffs, and the tradeoff is that the kind of community you envision will rarely happen.

    I would imagine that the vast majority of these helpful communities of understanding that do help people stay in the church are informal networks of friends formed on missions or at BYU and exist outside of church socialization. In other words if you find yourself in one of these communities of understanding it’s pure luck because it happened in spite of, not because of, church social structures.

    And that’s why I hope you are wrong for the church’s sake. Because if you are right the church really can do nothing about people leaving until it massively overhauls how it runs itself.

  • Chris H.

    David Clark,

    Good to see you.

  • Chris H.

    “My hypothesis is that the decision to stay or leave the LDS church ultimately has very little to do with any particular knowledge about the past or present, but has much more to do with whether or not one finds community with those inside or outside.”

    I am starting to like this sociology stuff.

    This explains much of why I have stayed (in a very active sense). It also explains why I am currently is crisis.

    TT, would you say that this applies to many other forms of religious experience. While I tend to think that ours is unique, I am more and more finding that it is not as unique as we typically think.

    Awesome post.

  • Mark D.

    I think a lot of people with relatively strong belief go inactive if the relationships with others in their ward aren’t very strong, but a person who loses his or her testimony completely in such an event arguably never had one at all, but rather was just along for the ride. The Holy Ghost doesn’t quit influencing people just because they don’t go to church on a regular basis.

  • djinn

    TT, respectfully, I think you are wrong. Why? Because in my experience, and in the experience of friends who have also gone through the close-to-suicidal wrench of leaving the church we were forced to choose between being true to ourselves and leaving those relationships you (and the rest of us) consider the end-all-be-all or staying and living a lie.

    It’s a no-win situation, but living a lie becomes impossible for anyone with a moral sense. So, leaving is the only real choice.

  • Andrew S.


    again, I’m not TT, but I don’t think that your criticism is necessarily a refutation of what TT was saying.

    The issue is that we don’t have subcommunities in the LDS church where we can be true to ourselves as doubters or disbelievers…but if we had, wouldn’t things be different? If there were such communities and these communities were accepted, then the church would surely be quite different than the one we have already (so that’s why it seems like what TT is saying is impossible, or incorrect), but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be the case.

  • Chris H.


    If our faith or church becomes a life or death issue, there are far deeper and greater problems than religion at play.

    (Hi, I hope we are still friends).

    In a sense, I do not think that “living a lie” is the way to think of it, it was have a more nuanced grip on the concept of truth…or the sociology of knowledge.

  • Chris H.


    “again, I’m not TT,”

    You have no idea how often I say this with a sigh on almost a daily basis.

    “The issue is that we don’t have subcommunities in the LDS church where we can be true to ourselves as doubters or disbelievers…”

    Again, if being true to ourselves requires us to view truth in some Platonic sense, then we might not find TT’s concept to be helpful. However, I think that Platonic truth is destructive to the believer and the doubter alike.

  • djinn

    “The issue is that we don’t have subcommunities in the LDS church where we can be true to ourselves as doubters or disbelievers” Andrew S., you nailed it. I was always (and still am) jealous of my Jewish friends because you don’t have to believe to be part of a synagogue, even a Conservative one. You just have to keep the rules. In Mormonism, belief is the end-all-be-all. You cannot participate if you do not believe without lying.

  • djinn

    Wow, Chris H., thanks a huge amount for calling me a friend, if I understood correctly. I thought you hated me.

  • Mark D.

    With the exception of what one might call “bare facts”, “coincidence”, and “contingency”, “non-Platonic truth” is a contradiction in terms. “Subjective truth” is an oxymoron.

  • Andrew S.

    Chris H,

    Since I am woefully a-philosophical, you lost me with the idea of truth in a Platonic sense. I’ll assume from context clues that it relates to the idea of objective, ultimate truth. So here goes nothin:

    I think that we can still work TT’s concept with truth in some Platonic sense.

    After all, the idea of truth in some kind of Platonic sense *is* historically contingent and socially determined (we believe this is how the truth is because of our culture, society, etc.,). It’s just that different social groups posit different “ultimate truths” (e.g., we can’t really say it’s “the world” that is positing truth and the church that isn’t…or vice versa)…so the different communities are at odds there. What TT really needs is a way to make a sociological idea of truth more popular or enticing than a correspondence theory of truth (without risking being called a relativist) or find a way for groups WITHIN the church to cater to this idea that is ever-present outside the church (popular ideas about archeology, etc.,).

    (hope I avoided saying something completely ignorant there)


    Of course, I ultimately fear that this kind of community wouldn’t be possible in an LDS context. I think many believers want to (understandably) preserve the idea and purity of faith and belief. We unbelievers are a taint.

  • Robin Bishop

    Albert Bandura’s social learning theory and social cognitive theory stipulates at a basic level what you are proposing… that ex-Mormons and Mormons have parallel testimonies/un-testimonies.” He claims quite accurately that we each construct our own knowledge and truth through something as simple as observation of the actions of others. If people observe positive, desired outcomes in the observed behavior, then they are more likely to model, imitate, and adopt the behavior themselves.”

    Social learning theory outlines three requirements for people to learn and model behaviour include attention: retention (remembering what one observed), reproduction (ability to reproduce the behaviour), and motivation (good reason) to want to adopt the behaviour.” (wikipedia). These relate very well to the appeal in scripture to “remember” in order not to become lost. But, frankly, I rather am inclined to believe those who leave whatever they formerly believe do so without feeling lost..there certainly is truth in that they may not feel good at leaving, but they would feel worse in remaining.

  • Thomas Parkin

    Probably not. I had a real testimony when I left the church. I left the church partly due to the reaction to my first divorce and partly because I felt called to leave the church for a while. I retained my ‘testimony’ after leaving, though it altered, as presumably it would have had I remained in the church. But the social reactions to me in the church have always been strong both in ways I experience as affirming and distancing. I’ve always experienced _the larger part of_ myself as an outsider in the church – but the fact didn’t stop me from returning to the church. I sometimes find that distance somewhat painful, but never decisive.

    What I hope to find in the community of Mormons is not a community of belief, in any comprehensive way, but a community of shared purpose; that is, the creation of an emerging wholeness in myself and others, through application of the gospel, and the eventual realization of Zion amongst those who hold that purpose. Of course I don’t always find that as a commonly held purpose – most Mormons are more concerned with preservation of something they feel is being lost,- a deeply conservative sensibility that I trust but do not share,- than in becoming anything. But within the community I can retain my purpose, even alone – and that, for me, is sufficient as far as community goes. ~

  • TT

    Wow, everyone! Thanks for the great discussion so far. I don’t blog on the weekends (so why exactly did I put up a post on Friday afternoon), so this is going to be short.

    Thanks especially to Andrew and oudenos for explaining my position and answering some criticisms on my behalf. I fully endorse your answers.

    Just a few quick points of clarification: 1) by “community,” I do not mean to confuse that with wards. Rather, I have a much broader understanding that includes family networks, networks of friends both inside and outside, online communities, mentors, etc. 2) This is not a theory of “why people leave” per se. I am not seeking to point out the “failures” of the church, but rather to explain the conditions which make possible both leaving and staying. Now, as a person who has chosen to stay, I have opinions about why I think people should, and it is possible that those feelings have seeped through into this post. Nevertheless, I am not trying to privilege one choice over the other hear, but to explain both.

    There are epistemological claims to why people stay or leave, such as “if they only knew [spiritual principle X]” or “if they only knew [embarrassing secret Y]” they would choose differently. The problem with these explanations is that there are plenty of people who know X and leave or Y and stay, so I find the epistemological explanation faulty. Instead, I offer a sociological explanation that situates notions of “truth” and intellectual issues within social contexts, rather than independent variables.

    To get a bit too philosophical here, my understanding of the sociology of knowledge is heavily influenced by Foucault, and inheritors of Foucault like Butler. Admittedly, one major problem with these theories is the ability to account for “change” within them since “agency” is a condition produced within larger social structures. Now, there are sophisticated answers to this (which I happen to find persuasive at the level of historical change), but accounting for individual changes, such as how one person could join or leave something like Mormonism remains a challenge. “Behavioralist” or other forms of social conditioning theories only complicate it since they don’t have any robust theory of human agency at all. Ultimately, I find Bourdieu to offer a good account of agency, within certain constraints of what is possible.

    okay, so that was all very vague, but i don’t have a lot of time!

  • TT

    Kristine and Andrew–
    It was Mauro’s paper and Seth’s paper that I was conflating in my head. Rereading your post K was a treat and I highly recommend it. Thanks to everyone for putting up the links to such interesting discussions!

  • Robin Bishop

    TT remarks: ““Behavioralist” or other forms of social conditioning theories only complicate it since they don’t have any robust theory of human agency at all.”

    This is a false presumption unless you are merely relating tests for salivation in dogs. When writing so generally as associated with “human agency”, you should appreciate that all knowledge learned must have a social context and (surprise) changing knowledge comes from changing comrades.

    After all, it has already been determined here that the same information that cause some to reject the church may be that which strengthens others. The difference is the process of construction. Such is not entirely behavioral, but a great deal cognitive in nature.

  • Chris H.

    “With the exception of what one might call “bare facts”, “coincidence”, and “contingency”, “non-Platonic truth” is a contradiction in terms. “Subjective truth” is an oxymoron.”

    Mark D.,

    While I am tempted to just dismiss your comment, I am curious as to what you mean.


    Well done. Sorry for getting carried away in jargon. I do not think that TT is arguing (or, at least, I am not) that this is how the church should view these things because I think the theory outlined here is descriptive and not normative. So, this is more a way of understanding why people leave and less about trying to keep people from leaving.

  • Andrew S.


    1) by “community,” I do not mean to confuse that with wards. Rather, I have a much broader understanding that includes family networks, networks of friends both inside and outside, online communities, mentors, etc.

    OK, I can see this, but at the same time, it seems that the ward is the central part of the LDS community. Let’s say someone doesn’t attend church, but has a network of Mormon friends, participates in the bloggernacle or Sunstone or whatever, etc., Is this person “staying” in the church? I guess that I am thinking along the lines of David’s comment (17).


    I can see that TT’s theory is descriptive and not normative. But in my mind, I think a couple of things. 1) that as a descriptive theory, it obviously has merit, so there’s not much to talk about. (So I want to hear more opposition, I guess?) 2) I think that the church (at least in some sense) does have a goal of trying to keep people from leaving, so I think it’s fun to look at things in a normative sense. What *should* the church do *if* one of its goals is to keep membership?

  • SmallAxe

    I want to hear more opposition, I guess

    Let me push back on the OP a bit.

    My hypothesis is that the decision to stay or leave the LDS church ultimately has very little to do with any particular knowledge about the past or present, but has much more to do with whether or not one finds community with those inside or outside.

    IMO we should probably refine a bit the notion of “staying” in contrast to “conversion”. Staying, in many–but not all–regards, is dependent on finding a community to (re)construct knowledge. Conversion, in many–but not all–cases, is about leaving a community behind without the assurance that a new community will construct modes of knowledge that will keep them in the community.

    It seems to me that there has to be some kind of liminal space, which I would call conversion, where the process of socialization into the LDS Church is less dependent on community than it would be after a person has found friends, has a responsibility, etc. The Church tries to minimize this space by making sure that investigators have friends in the ward attending their discussions, etc. At the same time, the transience of missionaries works against this minimization. This is perhaps also why those usually labeled ‘anti-Mormon’ try to work in the big issues first–Adam God, polygamy, etc.

    To use a mundane example, if I discovered most of my peers joined Facebook, and they wanted me to join, I might want to be a part of this community to keep up with friends, network with others that share similar professional interests, etc. I might even go to Facebook to see what the excitement is all about. I might even find a long lost friend who I’ve wanted to contact, but I can’t access their contact information without joining. Indeed, after going to Facebook and feeling its allure, I might want to join. However, when I discover that Facebook’s privacy policy does not adequately protect me, it might squelch the initial excitement I felt, and so I won’t join. On the other hand, if I was already a member of Facebook and learned about their privacy policy, but was enjoying the benefits of the community, I might advocate for some kind of reform, and maybe even remove some of my personal info, but I’d stay in the group.

  • Robin Bishop

    What *should* the church do *if* one of its goals is to keep membership?</i?

    Considering our retention rate appears no better than the Roman Catholic Church (70%), are we no more friendly and mutually supportive than they? Are our truths no more valuable than theirs? Or, is it likely that LDS retention requires a spiritual fitness to swim upstream as compared to them?

  • John Doe

    I would say that your theroy has no merrit. based on the fact that in your hypothsis you say that staying in the church is based on relationships. And i do not think thats why people stay in the church. i went to a ward in california where people didnt like me and started rumors with me. so by your theory as well as i can understand it that should mean i should go throu the process of “un-testomny” should have applied to me. but to that good sir i say it has not. and before someone says well you didnt have anyfriends that wernt part of the church to that is false aswell. most of my friends were less active or non members. i chose to stay in cause of what i know. not because of what i relationships i may have inside and out. your theory works for some and not for others it is an unproveable theory and therefore it is flawed

  • Chris H.

    John Doe,

    Welcome to the world of the social sciences.

  • Therese

    My sense is that your theory is a rationalization of the Church’s essential falsity. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but I want to call a spade a spade here. What ever happened to people simply caring whether something is literally the case or not? I think plenty of people can put their warm fuzzy feelings or cold pricklies aside where the Church is concerned, and just think: Are these claims likely to match up with reality? And they don’t. They just don’t. Sorry. That’s why I left the Church. I had resigned myself to feeling isolated and different within the Church. It wasn’t fun, but I was determined not to be a wimp about. But the more I studied and learned stuff about the Church, the more clear it became to me that it just wasn’t (factually, objectively) likely to be true. I still *wanted* to believe, having invested so much of my self and life into it, but at some point the scales tipped, and wanting to believe couldn’t balance out the improbability of its being true anymore.

  • Therese

    Ooh, I just thought of a somewhat more snappy response. “Community” might make Mormonism “true” for some people in the same way “community” could make it possible for people to ooh and ah over the emperor’s new clothes. But the emperor still is just in his underwear, and anyone who’s honest and has intellectual integrity will break with the community if necessary in order to acknowledge it.

  • Chris H.

    Snappy? This is a post dealing with rather deep sociological theory. Not sure what snappy has to do with it (or whether it was achieved).

    “But the emperor still is just in his underwear, and anyone who’s honest and has intellectual integrity will break with the community if necessary in order to acknowledge it.”


    Good to have that off my chest. I hold very un-orthodox views. My bishop has not been at all pushy, but I have encountered quite a few pushy exmos lately.

  • Therese

    My dear Chris H.,

    The word “snappy” was meant humorously. I am sorry if I was not respectful enough in the presence of Deep Sociological Theory. I hold it in the utmost reverence, rest assured.

    In what sense are you a fraud? I know you meant it as a sarcastic comeback (although surely not a snappy one), but are you saying you do actually hold unorthodox views (and this makes you fraudulent, because I’ve mistaken you for a conventional orthodox true believer)? Just was a bit confused there.

    Is it “pushy” to point out that the emperor really is standing there in just his garms and nothing else, Deep Sociological Theory notwithstanding?

    Cheers, T.

  • Andrew S.

    I think what Chris H was saying is pushy is the way that you insist that “anyone who’s honest and has intellectual integrity will break with the community if necessary to acknowledge [the emperor's nakedness].”

    Chris is pointing out that he has heterodox or unorthodox beliefs, yet this doesn’t prevent him from associating with the community. As he says, his bishop certainly doesn’t have the demands that you have, such as calling people out to “simply care about whether something is literally the case or not.” The people who are more likely to make such a claim are (for better or for worse) exmos who cannot stand people who know x fact or y part of history and yet remain in the church.

  • Chris H.


    According to your scenario, I am a fraud. I reject your paradigm, and therefore do not really consider myself a fraud. So I was claiming to be a fraud in response to you as a form of middle-finger-type gesture.

    I actually reject the idea of truth in an absolute sense. I guess this makes me a postmodern in a sense (boy was that painful to write). Sure there are facts, but the idea of eternal truth or the truthfullness of a church or religion is dealing with things far beyond fact. Sure, maybe if I wasn’t so stupid I would reject it all, but instead I reject all of you. I choose happiness over truth.

  • Therese

    Andrew S.,

    “As [Chris H.] says, his bishop certainly doesn’t have the demands that you have, such as calling people out to “simply care about whether something is literally the case or not.” The people who are more likely to make such a claim are (for better or for worse) exmos who cannot stand people who know x fact or y part of history and yet remain in the church.”

    That’s a really interesting way of framing it. So, if it’s in the bishop’s interest that an unorthodox member not think too hard about whether the Church’s truth-claims are truthful or not, sure, of *course* the bishop is not going to be “pushy” like me. Because there’s a power-relation there, too (hints of Foucault!), and the bishop retains more power by not encouraging any wrestling with hard questions of whether x and y are true in the conventional sense.

    However, I’m not motivated by any dislike of people knowing x fact or y part of history and yet remaining in the church. I think that under certain conditions, it is possible to believe unlikely things and still retain intellectual integrity: namely, as long as one honestly acknowledges to oneself that one is fully aware of the improbability of what one believes and yet chooses to give it the benefit of the doubt.

    (E.g., one realizes that it looks an awful lot as though the emperor is wearing no clothes, but one wishes to give the tailor the benefit of the doubt, out of kindness or love and a willingness to take a risk and gamble on the tailor’s trustworthiness. That seems honorable to me, as long as one fully acknowledges the risks one has taken upon oneself. And in such a situation, if someone shouts out “The emperor has no clothes,” the proper response is not, “My you are awfully pushy about that whole clothes issue,” but “Yes, it looks like that to me, too, so I can see how you’d say that, but I personally love the tailor and so I’m choosing to give him the benefit of the doubt, out of kindness.”

    I think when intellectual integrity gets lost is when people stop caring about whether they have intellectual integrity or not. And that’s what I object to. And that’s where I’m perfectly willing (indeed, feel obligated) to be “pushy.” Integrity is worth pushing for.

    Chris H.,

    I fear your position comes perilously close to simply jettisoning any effort at having intellectual integrity. Can you tell me how it doesn’t?

    I can see saying that the truths of religion are not just about facts. Arguably, the truths of religion have to do not with the correspondence of words with states of affairs, but rather with truth as trustworthiness, an ethical quality in lived relationships between persons or between persons and institutions. If the Church is kind to you in some sense, if the Church and the community you find in it make you happy, and do so trustworthily, they are true to you, where the sense of being true is *ethical*. (As in “I am true to my friends.”)

    However, true friends, people with whom one is in an ethical relationship of truthfulness and trustworthiness, *do not tell lies.* And this is where the argument about alternative truth-concepts in defense of the Church break down.

    In the end, there is no truth more categorically imperative than truthfulness towards yourself. It may not bring you happiness. It’s there to be loved for it’s own sake, not for what it gets you. It’s an end in itself, not a means to the end (happiness).

    Am I being at all clear, and does any of that make any sense to you?


  • Andrew S.


    I think all of this hinges on whatever model you use for determining intellectual integrity too. For example, if you insist upon a correspondence idea of truth and knowledge, then what you have said about “caring about whether something literally is the case” or not is crucial.

    However, this is not the only methodology for forming truth and knowledge. So it is entirely possible to say something is true WITHOUT using the criteria of “this is the [objectively] the case” or “this corresponds to how things are “out there””.

    In this case, your brandishing such a view of truth and knowledge is not a foregone conclusion…but its own dogma. To be sure, I think this is a dogma that the church itself ALSO engages in frequently (for example, I think that most members WOULD say that the “orthodox” position is to believe that the BoM is a historical event and that historical event aligns with some facts “out there”…even if we haven’t discovered them), but I think you’re just ignoring the very different model that Chris is trying to present here.

    Chris is saying: “Can there be a sociological way of “knowing” things instead of a correspondence way?”

    And you’re replying: “No. We must be faithful to the correspondence way. if not, we are intellectually dishonest. Integrity is worth pushing for.”

    (actually, I think your response to Chris H below mine already gets this, in a sense. But even as you chew over such a “community trustworthiness” model, you reject that the church could fit that, because “true friends do not tell lies.” So, everything goes back and is grounded by the correspondence ideal. But this is the problem — you’re taking the correspondence ideal for granted, and begging the question in your consideration of anything else.)

  • Chris H.

    “So, if it’s in the bishop’s interest that an unorthodox member not think too hard about whether the Church’s truth-claims are truthful or not, sure, of *course* the bishop is not going to be “pushy” like me. ”

    You have no idea who I am. It helps that my bishop is an English teacher. Of course, since I do not agree with you, I haven’t thought about this stuff enough. Must try harder.

    “In the end, there is no truth more categorically imperative than truthfulness towards yourself.”

    Ummm, do you write self-help books? If you decide what being true to myself means, I would be true to you and not myself. You do not get to decide that.

    “And this is where the argument about alternative truth-concepts in defense of the Church break down. ”

    Where have I defended the Church?

    If staying in the Church is my sin against truth, we are all under far greater condemnation for staying in the United States, an entity which has caused the world far greater harm and injustice than the LDS Church.

    I tend to agree with Rousseau: If sticking to some abstract truth creates unhappiness and misery, well, such a pursuit is freaking stupid. This applies to the religious as well and the secular.

    Damn, I think that I have been postmod and rather utilitarian all in one thread. My Rawlsian recommend is so going to get revoked.

    Andrew S,

    Thanks for trying to work through all of this. Not sure if I am following it that well myself.

  • TT

    Dear all,
    I apologize that I’ve been absent a bit on this thread. Andrew and Chris are right that this post is about suggesting a different theory of the way that truth come to be established. This theory of truth does not constitute either a defense or an attack on the church. It suggests that both those who accept the truth of the church and those who accept some other truth do so because of the ways that truth comes to be established.

  • Therese


    If we contrast, on the one hand, the “ethical”/community type of truth as truthfulness-qua-trustworthiness, and on the other hand, the objective/fact-based/conventional/correspondence theory type of truth, then when I talk about intellectual integrity, I am talking about having that first, ethical type of truthfulness in one’s own relationship with oneself. However, I think one of the many things this ethical/community truth concept implies is the intent to be truthful in the correspondence theory type sense. You could say that telling the literal truth is a subset of truthful/trustworthy behaviors.

    But it’s true that I’ve gotten off-track of what TT was originally talking about, and my idea of personal-relational truthfulness is not the same as what he is talking about, the idea of truth as sociologically constructed. Although they probably share some elements.

    Yes, I do think there can be a sociological (i.e. intersubjective) way of knowing things. We know the sky is blue because everyone else knows the sky is blue and our common language has evolved with the word “blue,” which we define by pointing to the sky. And if you grow up in a Mormon framework, you “know” the Church is true because everyone in your Church community knows the Church is true.

    And yet it’s not quite the same as the sky being blue, is it? The one is noncontroversial, while the other is obviously disputed. So what makes the difference? It’s an interesting question I’ll have to think more about.

    If I understand it, TT’s original theory was that when a Church member decides s/he doesn’t “know” the Church is true after all, it’s because s/he has switched sides and gone over to a different community. Which would seem to imply that when I left the Church, it wasn’t over a worry about literal truth, but just because I wanted a different community. But I really don’t think that was true in my case. When I left the Church, I felt I had zero in common with the unbelieving community. It would even be fair to say I had an active sense of disgust for it. For me it was all about questions of literal truth. And I feel like there’s an argument to made (even if I haven’t done a great job of making it), that it *should* be about the literal truth, and not about sticking with the socially constructed knowledge that’s been handed to us come what may.

  • Therese

    Chris H.,

    I don’t feel like this conversation with you is very constructive. You’ve been really rude and unpleasant, and it’s clear you’re not interested in carrying on a sincere conversation.

  • Andrew S.


    This’ll be a long comment, but I don’t think what you say in the first paragraph is necessarily the case. As Kenneson writes in the link I posted in the first comment:

    What, for example, happens if one begins with a view of all knowledge as rooted in trust? First, certain question become central that were previously bracketed, such as: Who should be trusted?

    Kenneson’s entire point, however, is that such a centering of knowledge in trust is a way to *escape* the correspondence theory…so it can’t be that his idea of trust (and his answer to the question “Who should be trusted?”) is dependent on it.

    He actually continues to provide models of trustworthiness:

    …Moreover, within this new paradigm beliefs are no longer mental states which may or may not correspond to reality; instead, beliefs and convictions are understood as habits of acting. For example, take my deeply held conviction that our twenty-year-old daughter is trustworthy. On the correspondence model this has to be a belief or conviction, because there is no neutral test to check to see if the proposition “My daughter is trustworthy” hooks up to reality, which is what I would need in order to say, “I know that my daughter is trustworthy.” On such a view, my conviction is actually considered a kind of wishful thinking: “I hope my daughter is trustworthy.” But if we drop the old paradigm and begin to consider believes and convictions as habits of action, an interesting shift takes place. My conviction about my daughter’s trustworthiness becomes a kind of explanation for why I do and don’t do certain things. For example, I don’t check up on her all the time to see if she’s doing what she’s supposed to be doing. Notice that on this model it would be incoherent to say that my actions routinely contradict my deeply held beliefs, because such beliefs are themselves nothing other than habits of action. In other words, it wouldn’t make any sense to say that I believe my daughter is trustworthy and yet find myself checking up on her every hour. But notice that under the old model there’s nothing necessarily incoherent about my beliefs not being embodies in my actions. Believing that a certain proposition hooks up with the way the world really is does not require one to action any certain way.

    With regard to the relationship between truth and belief within this new paradigm, truth becomes internal to a web of beliefs; there is no standard of truth independent of a set of beliefs and practices.

    (I personally think this gets us back on track with what TT was saying too…because then you have a “set of beliefs and practices” that tie closely to a community.)

    I think you’re taking TT’s idea of communities too literally…the allusion to “switching sides” doesn’t have to mean going to an actual hub of an unbelieving community. But it can simply mean being a part of one intellectual tradition. So you didn’t need a community of unbelievers so much as you needed (and had) a community and tradition of believing in “literal” truth. THIS community allows you to begin to speak about literal truth in the way that you do.

    I think this is an issue is that many members of the church are part of this very same community. So, people often join the church over belief that is “objectively true”…and if those facts are disturbed, they can keep their same knowledge framework, but simply say, “Welp! Looks like the church is false because of x facts.”

    What TT is saying, though, is that if we were in a community that raised within us a different way of looking at knowledge, then we might be able to say, “So what?” to x fact or y piece of history — as many members can do. We wouldn’t view this as “intellectually dishonest” because we wouldn’t be part of that community.

  • TT

    Thanks for your constructive comments and your willingness to engage. Sorry that things escalated. Feel free to contribute seriously and you’ll be treated seriously.

  • Chris H.

    “Sorry that things escalated.”

    TT has to apologize for me quite often.

  • Therese

    TT – I wanted to respond a bit to your comment #31 above. You write:

    “There are epistemological claims to why people stay or leave, such as “if they only knew [spiritual principle X]” or “if they only knew [embarrassing secret Y]” they would choose differently. The problem with these explanations is that there are plenty of people who know X and leave or Y and stay, so I find the epistemological explanation faulty. Instead, I offer a sociological explanation that situates notions of “truth” and intellectual issues within social contexts, rather than independent variables.”

    Epistemological problems, as you point out, do not appear to be a sufficient condition for explaining why people leave or stay, nor do they seem to be a necessary condition. All the same, I don’t think this means one should just chuck them as an explanation and run after a conceptual framework that attempts to discount the importance of your average person’s Cartesian anxieties about objective truth. Rather, I think a more realistic (if theoretically unexciting) model for understanding why people leave or stay in the Church is that those anxieties tend to combine with a broader array of social conditioning issues, power struggles, and individual psychological histories and needs.

    Anyway, thanks for the post and discussion!

  • Therese


    I can think of another reason why it might not be the case that truth-qua-ethical behavior necessarily embraces objective truthfulness. Namely, those cases where one might lie to someone for their own good. (E.g., “If I tell senile Great Aunt Mabel her dog has passed away, she’ll die of a heart attack, so I’ll tell her Ms. Poodle is still fine.”)

    I read through Kenneson’s article, and must admit I didn’t much like it. I can’t help but be suspicious about the underlying *motivations* for wanting to get so radically far away from “common-sense” notions like beliefs having propositional content independently of actions, and so on. It’s almost like an implicit acknowledgment that the propositional content of certain religious belief systems is very unlikely to be “true” in the old-fashioned conventional sense, therefore “um … let’s just redefine truth into something we *can* do, like providing a community through which people can define themselves, or providing a nice system of ethical practices.”

    You wrote:

    “What TT is saying, though, is that if we were in a community that raised within us a different way of looking at knowledge, then we might be able to say, “So what?” to x fact or y piece of history — as many members can do. We wouldn’t view this as “intellectually dishonest” because we wouldn’t be part of that community.”

    I just don’t think there is any way of fully escaping the community that cares about objective truth (or has Cartesian anxieties about it) – because that caring, or the normative rule that one ought to care, is an element of the broader community all of us are born and socialized into, the community of modernity you might say. As an (American) Mormon, you’re sort of born into a community within that broader community, which is why I think serious cognitive dissonance tends to arise when Church members try to cordon themselves off from worries about whether truth claims are true and create an alternative community. Then, in a way, you’re torn between two worlds.

    I don’t know, what do you think?

  • Andrew S.


    I can understand reasons to dislike Kenneson’s formulations (but not necessarily for his motivations. Again, I think that you’re taking “common sense” to mean “right.” That is begging the question.)

    For example, notice your argument against it. You argue we cannot fully escape this kind of anxiety (which, actually, I’d probably agree with you.) But your argument of why we cannot is NOT that it is just “common sense” — but rather that THAT is how the broader community around us thinks — and we do not easily escape the broader community. But with very robust studies into all sorts of postmodernism — ripping the very fabric of things that once commonly grounded things (e.g., think of Nietzsche’s “God is dead.” Although it wasn’t so much from postmodernism, but it’s the same idea) or into history to show that other cultures (and even our past culture) had very different ways of looking at things, or into sociology to give us an understanding that what often seems “common sensical” to us is ethnocentrism, I think this kind of thinking isn’t AS entrenched as you’d think.

    I think the REAL reason why cognitive dissonance is popular on this sort of thing is because the church ITSELF buys into the conventional idea of truth. You can have those two worlds within one church (e.g., if someone gave a testimony of the church being true in a non-literal, non-correspondence sort of way, what would happen to that person after that testimony?)

    So, I don’t think you argue against Kenneson’s (or, somewhat differently, TT’s) point. You have a community that you openly acknowledge allows you to believe certain things about truth. If you had a different kind of community to identify with, then you would have different capabilities to believe things.

  • Therese

    I feel like I am running this argument into the ground … But just for the record, I am not taking “common sense” to mean “right” –hence the square quotes. My point is more that if one is going to depart from “common sense” (which I’ll slapdashly define as precepts accepted by most people in ordinary everyday discourse, regardless of whether they are right), it helps to have good, persuasive reasons for doing so. E.g., if switching conceptual frameworks helps invent some life-saving technology. As when switching from a view of disease as caused by vapors to the germ model enabled the invention of vaccines.

    I don’t see good, persuasive reasons in Kenneson, but of course my judgment on that is subjective! For others, saving Christianity from the perils of Cartesian anxieties may seem an eminently worthy cause for rejecting “common sense” concepts of truth and belief.

  • Andrew S.

    re 58:

    Therese, so what do you think about the idea, “Some things that are true are not useful”? Is this kind of appeal to utility worth it, or doesn’t truth have its own value?

    I agree that “persuasive” is a subjective judgment, but it seems to me that when Kenneson relies on individuals like Rorty, the persuasiveness they offer is not just in saving Christianity from the perils of Cartesian anxieties, but saving everything and everyone from these anxieties. The issue is that postmodernism introduced these anxieties to everyone and everything. Kenneson is pointing out that when people reject relativism, they aren’t going far enough.

  • Therese

    I hadn’t actually heard that quote before, but just looked it up online – fascinating! (Boyd K. Packer: “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.”)

    The idea of truth needing to be useful takes on a sinister tone in that context. It’s reminiscent of Leninism/Stalinism, where truth is subordinated to power.

    Yes, I definitely think truth has its own value! That was what I was on about earlier (comment #46) about it being an end in itself.

    I haven’t read Rorty, so I’m quickly getting out of my depth here, but I have my doubts about whether being “saved” from Cartesian anxieties is all that it’s cracked up to be … anyway, those anxieties have served me well in some respects, and I would be sorry to see them go … :-)

  • Chris H.


    Sorry for being a jerk yesterday. I get defensive about these type of things. Thanks for not letting my run you away. These people are good people.

  • Therese

    Chris H.,

    Apology accepted – pax. :) And sorry if I came across as harsh, I can get pretty impassioned about these things too.

  • Chris H.

    I even edited 61 to include a fully-spelled “sorry.”

    My senior seminar at the Univ of Utah was on the poltical theory and ethics of authenticity. While I have not pursued the topic much in my political theory, I have found Rorty’s treatment of truth to be very helpful in my personal life.

    For pragmatists, truth does not need to be useful…but those things that are useful are true.

  • Chris H.

    Given your interest in being true to self, you may also find Charles Taylor’s Ethics of Authenticity to be of interest. Taylor presents a very social conception of the self. For me, that social component of existence is of far greater meaning (or worth) than any metaphysical conception of truth.

  • Andrew S.

    I’ll have to check that out.