It appears that Andrew Sullivan published something on Mormons yesterday. How do I know this without reading Sullivan? Because there’s a zillion Mormons responding to his comments at sites far removed. In fact, there’s a bumper crop of Mormon apologetics springing up all over the place and I’m detecting a bit of a common theme. It is, I think, something of a South Park approach.
Here is the relevant dialogue from the Southpark episode “All About Mormons:”
Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that’s stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you’re so high and mighty you couldn’t look past my religion and just be my friend back. You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. S*ck my b*lls.
Now most of the apologetic arguments don’t end with as much pungency but the gist is much the same: exemplary behavior is a better indication of discipleship than theological orthodoxy. And to be sure, if orthopraxy were ever to actually catch on it would revolutionize Christianity. However, since it’s much easier to recite creeds than to love your crankypants, neighbor, my hopes in this respect are not high.
To bring this into a more distinctly LDS focus, let me show you something said by James Barr in the 1991 Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh. His immediate context was a wider examination of the conflict between Emil Brunner and Karl Barth over natural theology, but I think I can lift out this section without damage:
…argument of the apologetic type, if it is allowed at all, may not only support faith but may also exercise upon it a critical function: it may say, well, yes, we believe and faith is justifiable, but it will be more easily justifiable if we keep it within certain bounds. We can demonstrate the reality of God, but only if our faith in God remains fairly close to the sort of God whose reality we can demonstrate. Science may leave room for divine creation, but not if we insist that divine creation took place in one week in 4004 BCE and in the exact sequence described in Genesis. Historical study may leave room for divine action in history, but only if that divine action is seen in a less crude and more sophisticated way… Thus, the apologetic functions…do not only support faith but they also tend to act critically upon faith, to correct it, to guide it into certain channels. (emph. in the original)
I think there’s something to Barr’s point. In the LDS context we claim to be led by revelation and we usually mean specifically that revelation given to a small group of men. But in a practical sense some limits are set simply by what we’re willing to defend in public, regardless of how the gentlemen in question understood their own pronouncements. IOW, we are led by revelation but it’s not limited to the revelation experienced by leaders. We defend LDS revelation based on our own revelation and experience.
In the current situation I think I’m seeing, for example, more and more people who, as they rise to defend the LDS religion, do so by advocating the LDS lifestyle. There are also many more explicit statements that turn away from defending some heretofore key points. For example, the historicity of the origins of the BoM is not important to some commenters because what is important is the life into which the text has led them.
And so I wonder how we are all going to be changed by Romney’s foray into national politics. If Barr is right, I expect less emphasis on doctrine and particularly the more esoteric aspects, except where we can establish that these doctrines contribute to a lifestyle that compares favorably with the wider Christian world. In particular, I wonder if we will see a softening of stance on the historicity of the BoM. We shall see.