Five Questions for Ralph Hancock

Ralph, you’ve gotten into a bad spot with fellow LDS intellectuals from a lot of different fronts.  My concern with your recent editorializing is that while you claim to appeal to “reason” and to contradict the “fundamental assumptions” of “liberal Mormons,” I don’t see anything substantive in your arguments that amounts to anything more than 1) appeal to prophetic and “majority” authority and 2) vague assertions about what a fictionalized anthropologist might say about the value of normative sex roles.  With respect to #2, suffice it to say that your assertion reflects a misunderstanding of how anthropologists deal with gender norms (anthropologists are more likely the “relativists” you condemn than offering a defense of the kinds of assertions you’re making).  With respect to #1, certainly appeals to authority are important for certain kinds of claims, but they should not be confused with the appeals to “reason” that you assert you are making.  One could certainly argue that Mormons should accept the authority of a particular, even dominant strain of Mormonism, but if such an argument is to arise beyond an appeal to the “authority” of that strain, arguments from reason should be given.  Perhaps you really have real arguments about the problems of equal status for women and non-heterosexual individuals, but so far you have been coy.  Overall, I find your assertions about feminism to be, lets say, shallow in the extreme, but perhaps there is more than what appears to be only a passing familiarity with stereotypes about feminist criticism.  In an effort to draw out your arguments from “reason” in favor of differential treatment, I would like to see you answer a few questions:

1. You insist that men and women should be treated differently, raised differently, and be afforded different opportunities because men and women are “different.”  What are the differences between men and women?   If applicable, in what sense are men and women not different?  That is, are the differences between males and females absolute or relative?


2. If there are differences between men and women, why do those identified differences entail different treatment with respect to some things (e.g., priesthood, responsibilities being primarily in the public or private sphere) but not with respect to other things (e.g., education, work, voting, teaching or speaking in church)?  What is it about femaleness that requires exclusion from the priesthood, but not exclusion from being President of the United States?  That is, how does one determine legally or ecclesiastically or normatively which of the various spheres men and women should jointly occupy, which men alone should occupy, and which women alone should occupy?  Are there arguments from “reason” that allow us to clearly determine normative “sex roles”?


3. What is your understanding of the status of homosexual identity?  Is a person mistaken?  Can they change?  Will they change in the resurrection?  On a related note, you admit that there is a lot that you don’t know about sexuality in the afterlife.  In your admitted ignorance on this topic, on what basis do you assert that sexuality in the afterlife is necessarily heterosexual?


4. What are the specific social or ecclesiastical harms that you see resulting from the so-called “extreme tolerance” of women being ordained in the priesthood or homosexuals being sealed in the temple?


5. It is evident that you do not think that society or the Church should condone marriages between people of the same biological sex because it poses some harm to society.  If homosexual marriage should not be permitted by society, on what basis should homosexual sex or relationships also be legal, if at all?  What should society do about homosexuals who form long term relationships independent of the institution of marriage?  Does the existence of these homosexual relationships (independent of marriage) constitute the same threat, a different kind of threat, or no threat to heterosexual marriages?



  • Cynthia L.

    Related to #5, on what basis should homosexual status and relationships be afforded protections in housing, employment, hospital visitation, etc? These are not things that liberalism has imposed on society and which the church and its members patiently tolerate/endure, but things the church has actively advocated for in the public square. Do you believe that advocacy can be reconciled with the gospel, and if so, how? If not, then the brethren erred in advocating for those things, so my next question would be, on what basis can we determine when the brethren are erring and when their proclamations are authoritative and reflecting true/eternal principles?

  • Bored in Vernal

    Love how these questions tease out some important considerations in Ralph Hancock’s divisive remarks.

    Cynthia, good points! I would also be interested in discussing whether the consensus of Church members has the Church position on homosexuality changing and softening over time. I, myself, see a trend of greater acceptance, and wonder what this means in regard to prophetic authority. It makes me want to wait awhile before I throw my support behind any one polemic position taken by current leaders..

  • Cogs

    I suspect that were he to respond he would simply repeat the assertions he has already made and insist he’s already answered each question. The first rule of tautology club is the first rule of tautology club…

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  • MikeInWeHo

    He will never answer these questions explicitly.

  • Robert C.

    TT, I like how you’ve advanced the discussion with these 5 additional questions, and summarized two of the key assumptions Ralph’s arguments is based on. This part of your post is productive, I think, and I’m glad to see it (I’ve read so many posts regarding Ralph vs. Joanna that I don’t see as advancing the discussion theologically, that I was near despair!).

    A couple of arguments that I think Ralph makes which I haven’t found good liberal responses to are as follows (and, note, I’m not really trying to advocate Ralph’s position here; rather, I just want to advance the theological discussion). Sorry in advance for the length (I don’t think my post here is really appropriate to put up at the Feast blog, and I’m not really involved at any other blog, though I’ll cross-post this at the lds-herm listserv for others to comment on there).

    1. Regarding authority, I think you are right that this is a key part of the challenge that Ralph is posing to liberals. So, he explicitly leans on the authority of the Proclamation on the Family (PF), and he uses the term “faithful” from time to time in a way that I think amounts to something like the following syllogism: if (1) the PF is taken as an authoritative document that faithful members wish to adhere to; and, since (2) the PF seems to assert gender difference and a division of labor regarding the family roles; then, (3) faithful Mormons should support a division of labor regarding family roles which challenges a central claim of most brands of feminism.

    Now, Nate Oman has made arguments in various essays that I think amount to something like support for premise (1). Also, someone like Charles Taylor might be looked to for an even more robust way of thinking about the link between secularism, liberalism and authority (I seem to recall arguments somewhat in this vein in A Secular Age). Regarding premise (2), I haven’t seen a lot of people challenging this premise, so I’ll skip commenting more on it. Regarding premise (3), Ralph has, I think, effectively plead guilty about using the term “feminism” in a vague way; nevertheless, I think one interesting vein of thought would be to, at least for the sake of argument, accept both premises (1) and (2) and see whether some thick version of feminist Mormon theology could in fact be developed. Until this is done, I think there is some warrant to Ralph’s underlying claim on this point: it’s reasonable to think think that most feminists would bristle at premise (2)….

    But, I’d love to see not just a thick feminist Mormon theology seriously engaging these issues, but any Mormon theology seriously engaging these issues! It seems to me that all of these discussions regarding Ralpha and Joanna are severely hampered by the fact that Mormon theology is an area of intellectual inquiry that is still in its infancy. In fact, if I’m biased toward a sympathetic reading of Ralph’s arguments, it’s because he has actually read Joanna’s book, whereas I have not come across any defender of Joanna’s book that seems to have read Ralph’s book. Although Ralph’s book may be deeply flawed, he has at least taken the time to write a serious, book-length account of his own political and philosophical views. I think one of the most productive yet-to-be-written (hopefully) essays in Mormon political thought would to be a scathing critique of Ralph’s book. Until someone steps up to do something lke that, I’m afraid accusations that Ralph is taking a condescending tone seem a bit hollow because no one else can really show any sign that they are thinking as seriously as he is (and, it is in this sense that I take the call for people to donate to feminist scholarship in Ralph’s name as a rather seriously minded response to Ralph, and of course his ability to write the book is deeply related to the fact that he is white, male, and holds a privileged position as a faculty member at BYU…). I see his book as practically begging for someone, anyone, to rip it apart. But all Ralph gets in response are rather thin and flimsy blog-post-length criticisms that, rather ironically, effectively criticize him for not taking a more scholarly tone.

    2. Also, regarding gender difference and societal roles, you ask in Question 5 about the harm that committed homosexual couples would pose to society. If Ralph doesn’t respond explicitly, I think it would nevertheless be useful to advance the discussion by guessing how an argument supporting Ralph’s position might proceed (I’m guessing conservative thinkers like Harvey Mansfield and Robert George have made arguments roughly like this, so they might be good sources to consider). My sense is that most of the supporters of these kind of arguments draw on pre-modern philosophy, Aristotle in particular, and talk in terms of virtue or the common good. This is different than the more modern (and liberal, in the philosophical sense) way of framing questions which tends to draw on the harm principle, as you’ve done.

    So, I think one natural way to respond to your Question 5 would be to say that you have framed the question in a way that presupposes a faulty, modern/liberal framework. A better approach, the defenders would argue, would be to start by talking about the role of the family in promoting virtue and the common good, and then ask what part heterosexual relationships play in all of this. One argument here might be that heterosexual partners are the ideal because of essential gender differences. This of course reopens the can of worms pertaining to gender difference itself.

    Now, the best argument I can think of (there are likely better arguments out there, somewhere, to consider…) in support of gender difference, that does not simply revert to a claim of authority (like I mentioned above), is that the biological relationship between a mother and her child supports the common good. Therefore, it should be promoted and protected. Therefore, there are reasons to support social institutions and practices that protect this mother-child bond/relationship. Therefore, one way to interpret the PF is to see it as calling for a gendered division of labor to effectively comprise somethinkg like a coordinating-social-norm that helps promote the mother-child relationship (which I think is an esp. appropriate idea to reflect on given that today is Mother’s Day eve…).

    Anyway, that’s just a sketch of how an argument might proceed, and I offer it in sincere hopes that you, or some other careful Mormon thinker, will — following the academic principle of charity — consider it, or some better version of this kind of argument and move the Mormon theological discussion forward.

  • Kristine

    Robert–sacralizing the mother-child bond may make a convenient excuse for excluding women from certain kinds of economic and ecclesiastical participation, but it’s no theological silver bullet–indeed, it would require pretty radical rethinking of a theology that (so far) barely acknowledges the possibility of a Heavenly Mother, and relies entirely on the trope of a nurturing Father’s relationship with His human children.

    Moreover, since the Proclamation has been pointedly denied the force of revelation, it seems like a better bet to base the theological discussion on the scriptures, which nowhere even nod towards the primacy of a sentimentalized biological warrant for the economic and social privations inflicted on women by these “traditions of our fathers.”

  • Kristine

    Also, if the mother-child bond promotes the common good, we should logically be arguing for all children to be raised in lesbian communes, to maximize this effect :)

  • John C.

    Robert, which of Ralph’s books do you have in mind? And is it possible for a layman to understand it?

  • Robert C.

    Kristine, good point about Heavenly Mother. One might argue in response that it is the embodied relationship that really matters, not the mental conception of the relationship, or perhaps that the Heavenly Mother exclusion is an inheritance from 2 millenia of exclusion. But these are very weak responses, and I can’t think of better ones, esp. since there has been such continued resistance to discuss Heavenly Mother….

    Also, good point about the Proclamation not really being a revelation, and the lack of biological warrant in the scriptures. It’s not that I think Ralph’s arguments are wholly defensible that’s bothering me. Rather, it’s that these kind of easily-imagined counter-arguments are seldom acknowledged or addressed. But this just helps me understand how much my own frustrations stems from the op-ed-like nature of typical blog writing where polemical points sharply made are valued, rather than a more nuanced and complete analysis addressing the best counter-points the other side might make. In this sense, I think my arguments in my comment above make a kind of category error that doesn’t appreciate the difference and limitations of blog writing vs. more academic-styled article writing. I guess what I’m ultimately hoping for would be a few good Dialogue articles or something that really worked through each of the core issues quite carefully (and respectfully/charitably) or, as I mentioned, a carefully argued criticism of Ralph’s book. But this kind of writing that I have in mind serves (and understandably so) a different purpose than blog posts.

    John, I have Ralph’s book The Responsibility of Reason in mind. It’s an academic book, but I think it’s reasonably accessible. I’ve only read parts of it myself. I do have some vague guesses as to how I’m likely to end up disagreeing with Ralph, but I don’t think I’ll get a chance to really read the book very carefully for at least another year (this summer is too busy, then school starts when I doubt I’ll find time, though the following summer is possible…). But, if no one else has written the kind of careful (and critical) response to Ralph by then that I think he deserves (and the issues themselves deserve), including a connection between his arguments in that book and his criticisms of Joanna (and, feminism, homosexuality, etc. more generally), I wouldn’t mind trying myself. However, for various reasons I’d probably end up being more sympathetically critical, whereas it’d probably be better if a more sharply critical review were written (for the sake of advancing the long-term Mormon theological enterprise…).

  • Chris H.

    I have not read Joanna’s book. I am not interested in doing so. While I applaud much of what she has done as a public intellectual and voice of liberal Mormonism, I have little interest in Open Mormonism.

    I have not read Ralph’s book. I likely will never read it. I love Ralph. I am much more likely to read political philosophy than memoirs about Mormonism. However, I am as likely to read Straussian political philosophy as Ralph is to read the latest Rawlsian work by Thomas Pogge or Samuel Freeman.

    I do not agree with Ralph on much of anything. I am the very liberal he is talking about. I am a Rawlsian. I trace my liberalism back to that evil Rousseau fellow. I am pretty sure that Ralph thinks that I am misguided…if not a fool.

    Ralph’s attacks on Joanna sadden me for a number of reasons. However, I think that the thing that frustrates me most is that there needs to be a critique of what Joanna writes. Instead, this has become tribal. In many ways this has caused me to give up on Mormon theology and philosophy.

  • Robert C.

    Chris, I’d be quite interested in hearing more about your own Rawlsian views regarding the Church’s stance on issues regarding homosexuality and feminism. My own sense is that there is a pretty deep tension between a Rawlsian outlook/framework and the position the Church has taken on both of these gender-based issues. These issues are, in my view, ones that call for some sort of philosophizing or theologizing to make sense of (and by “make sense of” I’m happy to include the argument that the Church’s policies are, ultimately, mistaken, as I think the so-called liberal view being suggested by TT and Kristine seems to imply — I just think that the best arguments for each of the various positions should be presented and explored, even if they are ultimately rejected…).

  • TT

    Folks, some great points for discussion here! I don’t have time to blog on the weekends and tomorrow is busy soon. I will try to address these points very soon! Feel free to tackle them, anyone who wants to.

  • Kristine

    “I guess what I’m ultimately hoping for would be a few good Dialogue articles or something that really worked through each of the core issues quite carefully (and respectfully/charitably) or, as I mentioned, a carefully argued criticism of Ralph’s book. ”

    I wouldn’t mind that, either, but I wonder if you see the irony of insisting that his work be treated this way when he began the discussion with an extremely uncharitable polemic. (And if you say it wasn’t uncharitable, I will punch you in the nose–that’s how us primitive bloggers roll ;))

  • Chris H.


    Here is a post that addresses this tension:“love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin”/

    I am not trying to resolve it. The tension is just part of me.

    One reason that I am okay with this tension is that as a Rawlsian, I am mostly worried about economic and political institutions. I figure if I pass on my sense of irony to my children they will survive Mormon and enjoy it as I do.

    Now Ralph doesn’t think one can really be a hard-core liberal like me and be a good Mormon. I actually think he is right. I have authority issues. However, I pay my tithing. I magnify my callings. I attend church every Sunday. I have daily scripture study (mostly the Book of Mormon).

    I even have a framed copy of The Proclamation on the Family hanging in my house. It has a cute border of pictures of my family.

    Of course, I think the The Proclamation is a relic of the American cultures. It lacks merit from a sociological, theological, or philosophical perspective. It relies almost completely on an appeal to authority.

  • Chris H.

    “relic of the American culture wars”

  • Robert C.

    Good point about the irony, Kristine. And, despite my now-obvious-to-me condescending tone to blogging, I actually think it’s an extremely valuable writing form, and I envy those with talent at doing it. I sometimes get frustrated with certain discussions, esp. when I’m impatiently working through the issues myself, but that doesn’t take away from the value and importance of blogging as a venue for public discourse and its role in cultural formation. (My wife is a journalist, although on hiatus as a full-time mother, and she is always more than happy to disabuse me of the importance of academic writing relative to more journalistic kinds of writing…!)

    Chris, thanks for the link to the post — a great read. I hope that you will continue to be an outspoken Kantian Mormon, and that you don’t get too disallusioned with Mormon theology and philosophy to cease writing. I also think that much of Mormonism is an outgrowth of (mostly American) culture, and I think discussing these issues in philosophically informed ways can have a tremendous impact on the future of Mormonism. Although I do in fact have a few opinions of my own, I am ambivalent enough that I really genuinely enjoy hearing people discuss different ideas and different viewpoints. I’m not even sure I know why, though at some gut level I really think these kinds of discussions are an extremely good thing for Mormonism, esp. right now…. (I’m anxious to read your latest post, by the way, on Rawls and dependency, since I think that’s a good way to get a some of my own concerns about Rawlsian liberalism.)

  • Robert C.

    (Chris, to add one more thought: I think the kind of tension you mention in your other post, which I think is closely related to the kind of tension being enacted between Ralph’s criticisms of Joanna and Ralph’s critics, is something that is admirable to embrace. It raises some fascinating questions for how to think about authority in Mormonism, but I think its very admirable and justifiable — intellectually and spiritually — to love many things about Mormonism, but not buy into everything hook line and sinker. This is a nice way to describe some of my own wrestling with the Church’s stance on homosexuality. Simply put, I think I’m representative of many members in saying I don’t like the Church’s stance on homosexuality, but I like the Church, and have a testimony of the Church. So, I try to make sense of the Church’s policies the best I know how, but that doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily come to satisfying intellectual answers, and that leaves me in a kind of moral dilemma about how much of a ruckus to make about the issues I either can’t make sense of or feel strongly opposed to. In these kind of situations, I think different responses are admirable in their own way. Anyway, thanks again for the stimulating thoughts and discussion.)

  • TT

    Robert C. #5,
    Thank you for your excellent questions. I regret to say that as I began composing a response, I could not give adequate attention to each of the claims made here. I made some strategic decisions about what I saw as the most important. If there is something crucial that I have overlooked, it is an error in judgment, not an attempt to ignore some key point. Please feel free to raise it again if you see it as necessary.

    1. On authority, I think that this is a key issue, perhaps the key issue. I don’t claim to have resolved this question definitively in my numerous posts on criticism, perhaps because it cannot be resolved, but must exist forever in tension. The problem with critiques of authority is that they start from unequal ground. The authority can always simply reassert itself without having to engage the critique at all. Defining ground where both faithfulness and critique is possible is incredibly tricky (e.g.,

    I do have a few thoughts about authority that I think are relevant here:
    a. I don’t think that assertions of authority of the kind Hancock advances pay sufficient attention to competing authorities. For instance, Brooks seems to suggest that there are other scriptures, even Mormon warrants for her theological perspectives. To assert that the POF, or some other “authority” trumps it is not really an argument, but an assertion. The fact is that all traditions are made up of competing authoritative claims. Givens calls these “paradoxes,” but I think tensions is more accurate. There is no univocal tradition, only the mythical attempt to normatively enforce one.

    b. Even the POF is not free from internal tensions, some may even say irreconcilable contradictions. That is, the document must still be interpreted. An interpreted text or speech (as the nature of all texts and speech) is open to resignification. There is no ‘interpretation-free’ claim to authority. For instance, Hancock seems to believe that the POF’s claim that there are two “genders” entails an argument against women holding the priesthood. Now, this text says absolutely nothing about the priesthood, and is only used in an argument against the priesthood through a series of complicated hermeneutical moves. In fact, almost all of the claims about what the text says, or what kinds of things it excludes, rely on a subtext about what the text is about, including its call to political action, rather than any explicit prohibition in the text itself. But on the text itself, let’s consider some of the various ways that the POF may be evaluated:
    -It is bad doctrine- incoherent terms, bad history. (“fathers preside and equal parnters,” “gender,” forgets polygamy, not transhistorical description of family, etc)
    -It is wrong or unjust doctrine- competing authorities of religious texts (Bible and BoM, “there is no male and female,” “all are alike before God”)
    -It is doctrine that can accommodate religious, feminist claims- “equal partners,” there are exceptions granted to the universal claims the text makes earlier). 

    That is, the critiques of the PoF are not simply “outside” ideas that are creeping in to some pure Mormonism where all questions are already answered. Rather, the text itself is already in conflict with itself and with other authoritative texts, traditions, and experiences. There are no rules for how one resolves these tensions, so to assert the authority of the text is to assert a particular reading and understanding of the text, one that requires that other authoritative texts be ignored, reconciled, or superseded.

    That is, what is lacking from the assertion that a particular understanding of the PoF is authoritative is a hermeneutics of suspicion, a too easy acceptance of authoritative claims which benefit one group over other groups and individuals, especially when the claim is made that the well-being of one group is dependent upon the sacrifices made by the others. An acceptance of unmediated “claims of God” which are outside of human interpretation masks the human from those claims, and closes those claims off from critical inquiry, either from ethics or theology or even revelation. I am suggesting a kind of way that one can be faithful to those claims, while also leaving them open to critique.

    c. Finally, I think that we need to consider what it means to say something is authoritative. The authority of anything derives not from it’s claim to be authoritative, but from its ability to persuade its audience to take it as authority. Indeed, one could argue that the very foundation of Mormon claims to authority is persuasion itself. That which is not persuasive cannot be authoritative. That is, there must be something persuasive about a claim in order for its authority to be established. Otherwise it is the establishing of authority by force.

    This understanding of authority as rooted in an ability to persuade is something that needs to be seriously considered in the exercise of authority. If the church’s teachings on gender hierarchy or the value of homosexual marriage cease to be convincing to those in the church (much as say, anti-evolution or racial biology, or even the monarchical authority of church leaders), these ideas cease to be authoritative. If they fail to be persuasive, there is nothing they can to be authoritative. In this sense, one cannot simply assert that the PoF is authoritative without also establishing a framework in which it is persuasively so. For some, that persuasion may reside solely in the source of the claim, but for others, the command to test all things might be the grounds for authority based on persuasion. (Even the rules of what makes something persuasive must be negotiated.) This is why we can later call things “folklore” or dismiss earlier authoritative statements, because they are simply not convincing within the intellectual frameworks in which we operate as modern Mormons. This is because meaning is given to authoritative texts, not deriving from it. If there is some other persuasive way of understanding something, that way will be authoritative (for instance, equal partners seems to be emphasized more than fathers presiding, suggesting that equality in marriages is become the dominant way of reading the PoF). This is the hermeneutical point, that the foundation is shifting. That doesn’t mean sheer relativism as Ralph supposes. It just means that one builds from a different, more persuasive foundation. 

    2. Re: virtue and the common good. Hancock’s defense of “the way things are” is not something that has somehow escaped the view of feminists. I’m not sure that there has been some failure of feminist critiques to tackle the philosophical arguments that, “start by talking about the role of the family in promoting virtue and the common good, and then ask what part heterosexual relationships play in all of this.” Rather, I think it fair to say that this has been precisely what has been the object of inquiry in feminist thought since the first wave. The argument that women’s roles are to stay at home have been the primary arguments for excluding women from voting, being educated, working, working for equal pay, and of course ecclesiastical leadership. The problem with such arguments about the “common good” is that “common” seems to exclude the people that are harmed by such a good. Presumably, Hancock accepts that women should be able to vote and work in protected environments. My question above is why he accepts these (assuming he does, which is a big assumption given some of his rhetoric) and not those, namely, what about excluding women from the priesthood uniquely disrupts either a divine responsibility toward children in ways that they others (suffrage, callings in church, work) do not?

    As for the hypothetical defense of such a view:
    “the biological relationship between a mother and her child supports the common good. Therefore, it should be promoted and protected.” I realize that you are just spit balling here, but I must admit that this sentence means almost nothing to me, where nearly every word lacks any foundation. What is the “biological relationship between a mother and her child”? That they are biologically related? That there is some biological connection between mother and child? Is there some evidence that such a relationship exists uniquely between mother and child? Does it not exist been adopted children and their mothers? Do fathers not also have a “biological relationship”? What about adopted children for whom there is only a social obligation, not a “biological” one? Should those relationships be treated differently? Further, what do we do with mothers who kill their children, or who feel no particular attachment to their child? What is this evidence of? What work is the term “biological” doing here? If biology is so strong, could this relationship ever be disrupted? Is this a way of smuggling “nature” and “natural” into the argument?
    What do we mean by “supports the common good”? What is the “common good” and how do we know that it is supporting it? It seems to me that even conceding that such a thing exists fails to answer the more serious question about what to do for non-conforming families. How should this “common good” be measured? Test scores? Psychological well-being? The number of heterosexual individuals that are produced? If one mother is so good, why not allow two mothers to raise a child to maximize the common good? Is there a quantifiable difference to the common good between mothers who work and those who don’t? What about mothers with different educational backgrounds, or from different ethnic or cultural contexts? Is “mother” a universal category that is understood transculturally and transhistorically?
    With respect to the common good, why should the goods of homosexuals or women be excluded from the common good? Whose common good are the talking about here? What if we found that some ethnic groups do not contribute to the common good because they use different kinship practices? Should we adopt policies which make it harder for those kinship practices to exist?

    “It should be promoted.” What does it mean to “promote” something? Is there a zero-sum game where if we also say that women may choose to live their lives in other ways that we have ceased to promote “biological relationship between a mother and her child”? Are there ways that we can “promote” this while simultaneously allowing for the existence of, say, families who have lost a mother? Does the existence of families where no “biological relationship between mother and child” exists for what ever reason constitute a threat to the common good? Does “promoting” something like heterosexual marriage and making gay marriage illegal lead to the net result of more heterosexual marriages? Should we restrict our frame of reference for thinking about promoting some relationship between mother and child to the existence of families without mothers (or too many mothers), and not focus on, say, being the last industrialized country without a policy that actually allows for working mothers to spend significant time with their young children without also having to sacrifice their careers? We have created the crisis where women must choose between working and staying at home, not out of necessity, but because we seem to believe that there is more significance in forcing a decision.

    It seems to me that when asking a particular group of society to bear the burdens of the “common good,” that the burden of proof is on those doing the asking to demonstrate the necessity.

    Finally, I agree that someone should undertake a more serious critique of Hancock’s book which argues against “late liberal” epistemologies of “extreme rationalism”, but I’m not convinced that he has to offer some ideas that undo reasoned thought by religious folk, at least not contemporary Mormons who could hardly be categorized as the kind of atheist reasoners he critiques in his book. He seems to be arguing against a clear division between religion and politics, a point that may be conceded, but hardly seems relevant to the question of whether or not women should get the priesthood or homosexuals should marry in the temple. As a question that is thoroughly internal to Mormonism, and one that appeals to Mormon sources of authority, it is not evident that his work is especially relevant on this topic. The case would need to be made that such a work is relevant to these questions before a critic is implored to respond to it. And I would add that his attempts to make it relevant by accusing his opponents of the kind of secular reasoning he critiques in his book are unconvincing, and the way he has done it has hardly made anyone want to engage him seriously.

    That said, on my reading of chapter one of his book, the real problem that I see with Hancock’s efforts is that he seems to not only point to the blurry line between theological and political reasoning, but that he wants to subvert it. This is why I am not quite sure what to make of his easy traversing of the lines between the what should be binding on Mormons and what should be binding on non-Mormons. His suspicions of democracy and secularism in favor of theocratic reasoning might work in a context as diverse as the BYU faculty, but it is not clear to me that he has considered seriously at all the problems that pluralism poses to public reason (nor am I reassured that his appeals to 18th c. political thought will adequately address the modern problem, nor does his appropriation of the Christian understandings of transcendence and immanence strike me as sufficient for articulating Mormonism).

    Frankly, I think that Hancock could benefit by reading some feminist theory, especially of the postmodern variety. They are not the slavish modernists who believe in the autonomous subject as he seems to think they are, where self-actualization and maximizing “freedom” are the unquestioned goods. And neither do the religious feminists or religious homosexuals that he is critiquing.

  • Cynthia L.

    “The problem with such arguments about the “common good” is that “common” seems to exclude the people that are harmed by such a good.”

    I <3 TT. (And that pitiful text-generation expression is quite unworthy of the prose it is responding to!) Really though, the whole comment was excellent. I hope Hancock responds.

  • Brad Kramer

    Should “promoting” the religion “ordained of God” (Mormonism) mean making illegal all other religions (i.e. apostate religions, religions whose creeds are an abomination in his sight)?

  • BHodges

    Too bad Ralph doesn’t actually engage directly with people rather than just posting on his JohnAdamsCensure blog.

  • Robert C.

    Fantastic response, TT — very nice!

  • TT