Wheat and Tares Apologetics

Apologetics has obviously been on my mind recently. In previous posts I discussed how certain kinds of apologetics might be pursued at places such as BYU. Indeed, I believe that religious institutions such as BYU should produce apologetics in the sense of scholarship that explains, explores, and defends the truth claims of Mormonism. I also believe that this scholarship should be fit for a university, meaning that it should largely meet the criteria of scholarship within the broader academic community.

In this post, I’d like to discuss one kind of apologetics. An apologetics represented in pieces such as Greg Smith’s review of Mormon Stories. This kind of apologetics is one part of the classic FARMS approach to apologetics. And unlike other parts of the classic FARMS approach, this approach is inappropriate for places such as BYU. I might even go so far as to venture that a determination to pursue this approach, despite its shortcomings, is largely responsible for the desire to replace some of the leadership at the Maxwell Institute.

The kind of apologetics I want to discuss is what I call Wheat and Tares Apologetics. Wheat and Tares Apologetics is aimed at sifting the good guys from the bad guys. It aims to answer the basic question–is This Person/Organization a trusted source for learning about Mormonism? Or, more broadly, should LDSs trust This Person/Organization? Since apologetics tends to be done in defense of a perceived threat, most of Wheat and Tares Apologetics is geared toward showing why some individual or organization is a “tare” rather than a “wheat.”

Wheat and Tares Apologetics is a legitimate academic exercise in the sense that authors who employ this approach take up a thesis and provide reasons for the thesis. There are, however, a number of drawbacks, limitations, or dangers of this approach as it tends to be practiced. And I believe as it’s currently practiced, these downsides render it not only inappropriate for a place such as BYU, but also a less than effective approach to apologetics in the long run. At the same time, I believe that it is possible to reform it.

The drawbacks, limitations, or dangers of Wheat and Tares Apologetics are as follows:

  1. Because its primary purpose is to deligitimate someone as an authority on Mormonism, it does not provide a nuanced account of the person or movement under observation. It is not a study or an exercise in understanding. While evidence gathering and organizing is always a selective process where our own biases come into play, Wheat and Tares Apologetics tends to neglect evidence that might complicate the thesis the author is attempting to argue.
  2. Wheat and Tares Apologetics employs a kind of consequentialist methodology where the ends justify the means. It does not need to aim for a holistic description of an individual or organization because its goal is to get its readers to no longer view the individual or organization as a legitimate authority on Mormonism. Because this is its goal, things such as study, nuanced description, and all other methodologies are subject to this end. For more on consequentialism in this sense see my previous post here. (As a tenuously related example, notice how The Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture goes beyond its stated aim in publishing things not about Mormon Scripture. What we see here, I believe, is a commitment to a consequentialist methodology aimed at strengthening faith which exceeds a commitment to the less consequentialist goal of interpreting scripture. Although I may certainly be wrong.)
  3. Wheat and Tares Apologetics tends to draw too clear of a line in terms of how one is a wheat or tare.
  4. Because of number 3, it creates the opportunity to demonize the tares. The tares are anti-Mormons, a regime, the junta, etc. Because many of those engaged in Wheat and Tares Apologetics also employ a “war” motif, the tares are the enemy, those we are at war with, and in some sense these Tares become less than human.
  5. It sets up those who employ Wheat and Tares Apologetics as the gatekeepers of orthodoxy. They determine who is in and who is out. This gives them a de facto status in the LDS community, not simply as distributors of faithful information, but more as guardians at the door. The community can look to them to find out who is safe and who is not safe. This is given the further air of authority when this kind of apologetics is attached to BYU since BYU is so closely affiliated with the Church. IMO, this is one reason why appeals to authority have been so prevalent in the whole John Dehlin debacle–Wheat and Tares Apologists have set themselves up as the gatekeepers, so the only solution for the other side is to appeal to the authority above the gatekeepers; in this case, the General Authorities of the Church.
  6. Wheat and Tares Apologetics can foster feelings of distrust when people realize that issues are more complicated than they have been portrayed by Wheat and Tares Apologists. When people come to realize that a Tare is not all bad, and even has some relevant things to say, it might end up undermining the credibility of Wheat and Tare Apologists; but since their status as gatekeeper defines orthodoxy, people who make this discovery are then put into a position of becoming a Tare themselves since to disagree with the gatekeepers is to be heterodox and opposed to the Church.
  7. Wheat and Tares Apologetics neglects or obscures the larger issues at play by focusing on a person or organization. So in the case of John Dehlin, issues such as why many LDSs have found Mormon Stories appealing and how we deal with faith crises are neglected, or at least put on the back-burner, for the sake of discrediting Dehlin.

Now, several of these issues are reformable; and not all are equally serious; but I’ll stop here and open it up for discussion.

 

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/approachingjustice/ Chris Henrichsen

    Wow. Awesome. I must admit that I have guilty of doing this. It was definitely a major flaw in my own attacks on Dehlin.

  • DavidH

    An interesting perspective. I agree that it is implied ad hominism that puts me off on both sides of the apologetics-on-steroids on one hand, and many hostile exmormons on the other. I don’t think the apologetics part of FARMS has been particularly ad hominem, I actually think most of it was pretty scholarly, but unquestionably, at least to me, there was a wiff of what you critique.

    I also think that perhaps the apologetic wing described has sort of the taken the place of BRM, JFS and others in attempting to define orthodoxy. Since current apologetics allow belief in evolution, and advocates more bare boned candor on church history, I would rather have that gate keeper than just have individual “loose cannon” general authorities play that role as in the past. Mormon Doctrine was a handy book though, because it defined the uberorthodoxy–as long as one was no more liberal than BRM on a position, one was safe from any challenge whatsoever from the right wing of the Church. Perhaps at least the apologetic wing will play that role too–as long as I hew to a no more liberal position than apologetics, I should be safe from challenge.

  • Howard

    Brilliant! Very well done!

  • JohnH

    Perhaps if you didn’t phrase this as an attack on a particular article and journal you might have been able to make a point and claim something about nuance that has meaning. As it is it is clear that the person at “war” here is you, not those trying to defend the faith from hit pieces. You have taken upon yourself to be the gatekeeper of what is legitimate apologetic that belong at BYU and what is not; You have defined a group that is trying their best to explain the faith as being a illegitimate source.

    Why don’t you try and take a holistic approach and understand the nuances of those that rightly point out that the Coe interview was a hit piece? If you would have those that defend the historic truthfulness of the Book of Mormon listen to you then perhaps it would be a good idea to listen to them, find out what they are trying to say and why, instead of treating them as an enemy with which you are at war and as a ruling junta. In other words try to apply what you say to yourself first, and then when you engage in a conversation make it very clear what beliefs you actually do hold, why you hold them, and try to logically follow where those beliefs lead or change your beliefs.

  • smallaxe

    DavidH,

    Thank you for weighing in.

    I should probably clarify that I do not believe that the Wheat and Tares approach to apologetics is necessarily ad hominem. It does not say, “This Person’s character is bad, therefore his argument is bad.” That would be ad hominem. Rather, it tackles arguments and includes character in as much as the perceived threat relies on character to establish his authority.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor jupiterschild

    JohnH, is that a critique of the content of the post? Do you disagree with the concept of “Wheat and Tares Apologetics” and approaches?

  • RT

    JohnH: Your remarks are ridiculous. Try and calm down and note that Smallaxe actually believes a significant amount of Classic Farms apologetics was totally appropriate and necessary.

  • RT

    “At the same time, I believe that it is possible to reform it.”

    The question is, how? As JohnH’s comment suggests, there are a wide range of interpretations of what truth claims are necessary to defend. He sees the historicity of scripture as fundamental and thus categorizes those who argue against historicity as “hit pieces”, whereas I don’t see historicity as having anywhere near the same importance .

  • g.wesley

    the perfect metaphor and great insight.

  • JohnH

    jupiterschild,
    yes it is a critique of the content of this piece, which this piece is itself engaging in exactly what is claimed to be in the Interpreter piece. Regardless of ones thoughts of the necessity of the historicity of the Book of Mormon if one is going to critique such then they need to be actually addressing what that claim is instead of attacking the historicity of the Book of Mormon without even knowing what is being claimed either internally in the Book or by whatever current scholarship is saying. Since the Coe interview was built on such false premises and since the article in question exposed in clear terms the same things I thought when listening to that interview previously then I don’t know how one can say that the Coe interview was done in good faith and was not designed as a hit piece.

    I disagree with people acting with veiled beliefs and motivations, and I applaud those that point out the veiled beliefs and motivations to a perhaps unsuspecting audience. We are commanded to be on the look out for wolves in sheep’s clothing and to mark those that cause divisions and act contrary to the doctrine and which “serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” Since, unlike other churches, apologetics have no actual authority in the church then each of us are free to listen to those that claim that someone is not acting in accordance to the doctrine or not according to our own feelings, though it is completely within the authority and duties of the presiding officers of the church (and in ones own ward and stake) to call members to repentance and strike their names from the church if they do not as in Alma 5 and 6; If one is listening to groups of people who have their names stricken, are perhaps proud of that fact, or are attempting to both not have their names stricken and continue what they have been warned about then maybe we should rethink where we are getting our information, obviously no one has to listen to me but I am just saying that if a wolf declares itself a wolf and no longer a sheep and we still follow the wolf then if we get eaten it is our own fault.

  • smallaxe

    JohnH,

    Here is why I am not a hypocrite:

    As it is it is clear that the person at “war” here is you….

    What gives you the idea that I am at war? There’s a difference between being in a rhetorical war with others and offering criticism. As I mentioned in the OP, I believe that FARMS has done some great things. Further, I actually think quite highly of those I am criticizing.

    You have taken upon yourself to be the gatekeeper of what is legitimate apologetic that belong at BYU and what is not….

    There is a difference between being the gatekeeper of orthodoxy for the Church and the gatekeeper of scholarship in academia (or at BYU). Not that anyone would actually respect me as the latter, but I’m fine making a modified claim of this sort. IMO, anyone who makes an argument, makes some kind of claim to authority. I recognize that; but I do not think acting as an evaluator of scholarship is inappropriate, whereas I do think acting as a gatekeeper for the Church is.

    In other words try to apply what you say to yourself first, and then when you engage in a conversation make it very clear what beliefs you actually do hold, why you hold them, and try to logically follow where those beliefs lead or change your beliefs.

    One, this is a blog post (and unaffiliated with any academis institution); so I’m not claiming this is necessarily a scholarly project the way that many have claimed reviews such as Greg Smith’s are (if you’d like to see these claims go here: http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/60134-greg-smiths-review-of-dehlins-mormon-stories-is-now-available/); although I do believe I strive to avoid the problems I lay out. Two, you can find over five years of posts I’ve done on this blog, many of which develop my arguments in various ways.

    We are commanded to be on the look out for wolves in sheep’s clothing and to mark those that cause divisions and act contrary to the doctrine and which “serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” Since, unlike other churches, apologetics have no actual authority in the church then each of us are free to listen to those that claim that someone is not acting in accordance to the doctrine or not according to our own feelings, though it is completely within the authority and duties of the presiding officers of the church (and in ones own ward and stake) to call members to repentance and strike their names from the church if they do not….

    Perhaps we should leave it to the Church to police its own boundaries.

  • RT

    JohnH: Do you realize that you are almost perfectly exemplifying Wheat and Tares Apologetics, the subject of the OP?

  • JohnH

    RT,
    I think you are taking my statements out of context and not understanding the deep nuances of meaning, you fail to see the holistic approach of my view point and are stripping them from their rich contextual environment and so on and so forth.

  • Howard

    JohnH,
    Is the faithful position really so weak that they must resort to discrediting the speaker rather than the merit of what the speaker is saying?

  • TT

    Let me take a crack at putting this issue succinctly. No one is saying that defending, disagreeing, or critiquing is inappropriate. Rather, the argument here is that there are better and worse forms of disagreeing.

  • SmallAxe

    JohnH,

    I get it. You think we are guilty of doing what we accuse others of. Assuming that’s the case, how does it invalidate anything I’ve said in the OP? Is you logic: “Smallaxe, you are guilty of the same, therefore your argument is wrong”?

  • JohnH

    Howard,
    Since the OP is attempting to discredit the article/journal rather then address the actual article then and that is exactly the point I was bringing up then I don’t know what you are trying to say. Everything that I addressed to “You” are taken from the OP and reworded back at the writer of the OP. The OP never address the article in question but makes unsubstantiated claims about how it is written and the motivation behind it and the journal that published it.

  • TT

    JohnH, do you not think that SmallAxe accurately describes what the article is doing?

  • Kevin Barney

    smallaxe, that is a brilliant metaphor. I’ve struggled for along time trying to think of a way to articulate what it is about this particular style of apologetics that so many people have a problem with, and I simply have been unable to put my finger on it. This comes closer than anything else I’ve seen to explaining the dynamic. Thanks.

  • JohnH

    No, The article in question does provide a nuanced approach of Mormon Stories, maybe not with the nuance that the author of the OP or of Mormon Stories would like but that is the stated point of the article, to show that Mormon Stories as it attempts to present itself is not the only way of viewing it; it actually increases the nuances in so far as the word nuance actually has meaning.

    Given the number of direct citations which can be accessed by anyone then I think the author has done a good deal of study in the article, it contains a detail study of Mormon Stories around a central thesis, which is that they aren’t what they present themselves to be. To claim that this is ends justifying the means then the OP should have attempted to refute that thesis rather then attacking the article/journal as it did. Rather then claiming that a “Holistic” view is lacking the other side should be presented as otherwise “holistic” is meaningless and the claims are unsubstantiated attacks.

    Three has nothing behind it except the authors personal preference, no explanation is given as to why or how this is wrong, just a statement as though it were an axiom. In the context of the article and journal in question there isn’t even any example of where the article has done this.

    4 is even worse as it is dependent on 3 as well as dependent on not recognizing that there are in fact anti-mormons and even recent examples in the news of atheists attempting to pass themselves off as LDS in order to gain legitimacy in their attempts to influence Latter Day Saints. It further makes the completely unsupported claim that the other side is seen as being less then human.

    5 is interesting because no apologetic organization has any authority within the church. They are not the inquisition or similar groups among Protestants last century but everyday members of the church in equal standing as anyone else that have taken an interest in defending the faith in some way or another. I am not at all familiar with the Mormon apologetic community but I was under the impression that BYU invited them to be part of BYU, but I could be wrong on that. As to appeals to authority, I could wish that the authorities would actually clarify such instead of so many accusations being thrown around but I doubt it is forthcoming.

    6. has a point in the first half, the second half also has a point but one that isn’t always true. If someone is coming from a position that it is okay to ignore the doctrines and morality and leadership of the church and that promotes exit narratives then I think it is perfectly acceptable for other members to point out that they don’t think that is correct and explain why.

    7. I can’t comment on, as I don’t find Mormon Stories appealing, I know no one personally that does, and I obviously don’t hang around the write discussion boards either apologetic or otherwise to be able to really comment. Extending to something different that I have run across personally and online then 7 does have a point.

  • RT

    JohnH: You’re right that smallaxe makes no attempt to substantiate his understanding that Greg Smith’s article is a form of Wheat and Tare apologetics. But that doesn’t mean his claim is baseless. Anyone familiar with Mormon Stories would know that describing it as anti-Mormon or that “they aren’t what they present themselves to be” is a highly prejudicial misrepresentation.

    I personally support Mormon Stories and find an immense amount of good in it. Sure, sometimes Dehlin’s tactics and rhetoric have been overly aggressive and I can understand why certain interviews or statements have been received negatively by traditional or orthodox members. But focusing on Dehlin’s occasional mistakes really fails to appreciate the phenomenon as a whole.

    Here’s another assessment of the article from someone who is no longer a member (and obviously as an ax to grind) but who, I think, accurately describes its Wheat and Tare ideology:

    In the aftermath of the release of the two hit pieces Greg L. Smith wrote about John Dehlin, I have given a lot of thought to the motivations and methods of the apologists, as well as the motivations and methods of John Dehlin himself. In the end, I have concluded that no matter how shallow John Dehlin’s understanding of Church history and doctrine might be, and how unsteady his testimony was, he has effectively shown that he is twice the scholar any one of the apologists who attacked him is, and has probably done more good for the LDS Church than any single one of them.

    “Wait,” you say, “didn’t John Dehlin have a real shaky understanding of the atonement? Didn’t he openly doubt the truth claims of the gospel and gather fellow discontent and wavering saints together so they could all leave Mormonism in a mass exodus to a life of wife-swapping and pot smoking?” Well, no, not exactly, but I understand why you think that. All you have to do to arrive there is do exactly what Greg Smith has done, which is cobble together a bunch of cherry-picked quotes to make John what you need him to be in order to make your point.

    The trouble is, this is not what real scholarship is about. Real scholarship, even scholarship from a particular viewpoint, should take account of a fair sample of all of the evidence. What Greg Smith did was selectively pick out certain snippets of John Dehlin’s oeuvre that almost anyone could have predicted would yield the kind of negative information Greg Smith went looking for in order to pursue his agenda, which was to delegitimize Dehlin’s voice. Unlike a scholar, who seeks to understand and describe accurately a set of data, albeit from a certain bias, Greg Smith has not so much understood Mormon Stories and John Dehlin as found a narrative that met his preconceived bias against John Dehlin and Mormon Stories and made his John Dehlin fit that.

    What drove that narrative? Interestingly, it seems that apologists are central to the story. Greg Smith opines that John Dehlin turned apologists into “folk devils” so that he would have an opponent to focus his group’s anger on and thus strengthen his own ranks. In other words, if one were to read Smith uncritically, she or he could very easily come away with the impression that John Dehlin had deliberately lit upon this nifty new strategy to lead people away from Mormonism, as though the apologists themselves were central to the LDS Church.

    Of course, we know that the antagonism between apologists and liberal or doubting Mormons goes back decades. At times the disagreement was expressed more civilly, as when Nibley debated Sterling McMurrin. At times it has heated up considerably, as it did when the FARMS crew over-reviewed the hell out of Michael Quinn’s book Early Mormonism and the Magic World View and Quinn shot back with a terribly over-bloated second edition in which he called FARMS’ scholars “polemicists.” So, Dehlin did not come up with a brilliant strategy to lead members out of the Church. Rather, he is a prominent member of a new generation of liberal or doubting Mormons who squared off with more conservative or fundamentalist members of the faith in a rather predictable pattern.

    So, there are big questions about Greg Smith’s methodology and choice of theories. Since he freely admits that he was only exposed to a small set of data that was deliberately chosen to yield the kind of evidence that would back up his preconceived ideas about Dehlin, there was no way that he could hope to understand the Mormon Stories phenomenon. There was no way he could hope to represent accurately the man who was so central to the movement’s existence. Anyone with access to John Dehlin’s full oeuvre can find the positive interviews and positive statements about the LDS Church that Greg Smith neglected or omitted. They didn’t serve his purpose.

    You can read the rest at: http://mormondiscussions.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=28494

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    I’m an attorney. I’m a litigator. My job is the science of persuasion. I work with world-class jury analysts to determine where a potential juror is before we ever get to the Courthouse. I know once I know the make-up of the jury very likely how the case will be adjudicated before I put on the evidence — very accurately. I know how Supreme Court Justices will vote about 98% of the time just knowing the issue to be decided. So I know that the biases and preconceived paradigms will dictate which issues are trenchant and the outcome of the judgments offered.

    It is largely the same with Mormon Stories. With Dehlin I know that I am going to get a shallow treatment aimed at legitimizing the doubts of those on their way out or wondering if they should stay. I know that I am going to be getting this kind of condescending assumption about how ignorant everyone else at church really is and those in the know cannot be real believers or they are just dishonest — especially when the discussion is with an ex- or non-member. I know that what I am going to get is a narrative that the Church is always in question, always charged with all kinds of cover-ups. So I know that the Church starts out as presumed to be a misleading fraud in many respects, lead by old guys just out of touch, populated by uninformed sheep and in need of reform lead by liberals and scholars.

    It is useful to know the biases and purposes of whoever is presenting a position. To that end, I believe that Greg Smith’s article is useful – and accurate. It is also important to know if someone is not quite what they claim to be. If someone is actually politically invested in defeating or overturning church doctrines and views that is important to know. It is extremely important to know if someone is using purported status as a member in good standing to garner credibility that they do not deserve or to cull favor with the press that seems to always be looking for a juicy expose. It seems that Dehlin has done that — or maybe he just changes his mind a lot and is one kind of person with ex- and non-members and another kind when speaking with a member who still values membership and faith in what the Church teaches.

    On the Mormon Stories blog I know that I am going to get a bunch of victim stories and folks mad as he** at the Church because they did not hear all of the problems that now plague them in seminary and at church.

    However, I suggest avoiding like the plague anything that can be interpreted as an ad hominem at all and focusing on the issues. It can only lead to charges and counter-charges of unfairness. Even if everything said is accurate, such arguments are too tendentious to be useful. What Dehlin thinks does not interest me since I am pretty sure that from day to day he does not know what he thinks. He seems to be tossed to and fro by every whim.

    That said, when it comes to Wheat and Tares, I would be happy if we actually had any apologetics from those who criticize FARMS and FAIR as somehow being inappropriate apologetics. I would be happy with any attempt to explore or support the historicity of the Books of Mormon or Abraham, anything to support the truth-claims of the church. I just haven’t seen any out of them. I suspect that is because they do not accept the basic truth-claims of the Restoration. The Church would not survive long in their hands I am afraid. I have no interest in a church that teaches useful myths as historical truth and I doubt that many do.

  • JohnH

    RT,
    I have spent way too much time on Mormon Stories in the last few hours. I have come to the conclusion that the Article in question was (and in some sense still is) largely correct but that it is also dated and I see evidence that the site has definitely improved since the Coe interview (which was the only thing I had listened to previously, and was a hit piece). There are certainly still issues, I went from being convinced that the article was right, to wrong, to right, to wrong, to somewhat dated but still somewhat accurate.

    I literally have well over a thousand word response but I doubt anyone wants to hear it, and were I to finish it it would probably double or triple in size, were I to finish it and provide examples and sources it would be even longer, it is not about Mormon Stories the site per se.

    I think the originator of the site is still working through his own issues, as I feel is very clear in the podcast on the survey mentioned.

    I certainly understand where some poorly informed comments that I have seen recently have come from.

    Mormon Stories still is not what they present themselves to be, but they are getting there perhaps, and will probably grow even bigger and more popular as they become better. And I will probably continue ignoring them as I ignore so many other trends and sites. I would suggest that the church fund them but the church has a tendency to sanitize way too much, something I detail in my huge response, and would probably not have links to any of the sites currently linked to so independent is better. Also, I doubt the church would allow for modern day equivalents to W.W. Phelps or the Three Witnesses to continue on the site while in periods of questioning and/or being outside the church, but I think having a decent representation of non-hostile members who may or may not eventually come back to church and/or be re-baptized would be necessary for the site to work as I think it could. If we are experiencing a modern day Kirtland type event (which seems plausible-ish) then learning from that past (and how to do better then that past) would be a very good idea and expecting both better and worse to come in the near future seems prudent.

  • JohnH

    “What Dehlin thinks does not interest me since I am pretty sure that from day to day he does not know what he thinks. He seems to be tossed to and fro by every whim.”

    This is a good description of what I found .

  • Howard

    Blake,
    How would you characterize the biases of the church? The church’s apologists and wannabe apologists? Since bias so highly predicts outcome how does the conserative vs liberal church issue go or end? How will the Sepreme Court rule on gay marriage?

  • Howard

    Blake,
    What is wrong with useful myth if it happens to be revealed or inspired by God. Isn’t God’s word God’s word, fact or fiction? Why can’t God use fiction as a great teaching medium? Why can’t fiction be even better than fact as a teaching medium?

  • SmallAxe

    I’m not sure how much time I have today to respond, but I am following the conversation. I hope it stays focused. I should also note that while RT’s quote from MormonDiscussion.com is helpful in illustrating his point, I take issue with more things on that website than with any of the things I’ve noted in Wheat and Tares Apologetics.

  • Alter Idem

    Smallaxe, I believe you are well-intentioned, but I have to point this out;
    From your article;
    “Because many of those engaged in Wheat and Tares Apologetics also employ a “war” motif, the tares are the enemy, those we are at war with, and in some sense these Tares become less than human”.

    From what I’ve read on LDS message boards, those who are critical of LDS apologists, seem to have the same perceptions. The ‘Tares’ perceive the ‘wheat’ as enemies–those they are at war with and a group they view as less human as well. It seems that change must happen on their side as well, otherwise, the ‘war’ you perceive, will continue.
    I look forward to reading the suggestions and instructions you’ll offer those on the other side of the argument and then maybe you can broker a truce.

  • RT

    Blake: I agree with you that Mormon Stories basically starts from the presumption that there are real problems in the church–legitimate reasons for members to struggle and have faith crises–so in that sense it would be wrong to regard it as a neutral or objective source on any of the issues that it treats. As far as I can tell, Dehlin basically believes that because there are legitimate reasons for having doubts/concerns about various aspects of church belief or culture that people should be able to freely explore these issues and hear from all sides, even those who may be considered by some to be anti-Mormon.

    I actually think this is mostly a good thing. It is really only in having multiple view aired and allowing for a kind of dialogic back and forth that people come to understand how they want to deal with their doubts. Some may indeed leave the church as a result of access to new information. However, on the other hand, if Mormonism is true in the way you believe it is, it will withstand the challenge, and be all the better for it. And mostly, I think Mormon Stories is a worthwhile cause because it seeks to validate doubt and concerns while making a real effort not to push people into inactivity, but actually to help them find a way to stay in the church if that is what they desire.

    It is understandable that you feel Dehlin’s approach to be shallow, condescending, and self-interested. Deeply negative feelings between some orthodox members and Dehlin are bound to occur when they have such divergent views about what is true about the church and what is not true about the church. I don’t see these differences going away anytime soon, though both sides could do a much better job communicating to one another.

    If you want to know the biases or prejudices of a person, I would suggest that the best way to figure that out is just to listen to them–for a while. I believe every honest person is capable of doing that. It’s the same principle that we adopt with our LDS missionaries–just listen to them, you will be able to tell whether they have good intent and are trying in their own way to speak the truth, irrespective of how extensive or strong their knowledge is about that truth.

    Systems that try to maintain or reinforce a closed information system are eventually self-defeating, in my opinion.

    “It is extremely important to know if someone is using purported status as a member in good standing to garner credibility that they do not deserve or to cull favor with the press that seems to always be looking for a juicy expose.”

    I think this is exactly where you have gone wrong in your analysis of Dehlin and need to read the OP again. Dehlin is obviously someone with very strong spiritual, cultural, and emotional ties to Mormonism and is simply a normal Latter-day Saint (though better educated than most) who has made his faith struggles public in order to help others with the same struggles. I for one am grateful for that. I think the church as an institution and culture has done quite a miserable job of helping members who struggle with doctrinal, historical, and cultural issues. If someone has real doubts that the BoM or PofGP is historical or that church teachings on this or that subject reflect a divine origin, then cultural dynamics over the last thirty years within the church have tended to produce a divisive either or proposition, your either in or your out. You either accept the status quo as divinely ordained or you leave. I think this is a real tragedy, for all involved, for those on the inside and those shoved to the margins.

    “I have no interest in a church that teaches useful myths as historical truth and I doubt that many do.”

    But Blake, what you don’t realize (and I know that you will consider me as arrogant and simple-minded for saying this) is that this is what has been happening all along.:)

  • RT

    Alter Idem: smallaxe is not defending anyone on any LDS message boards. He is merely trying to describe the negative byproducts of a certain form of apologetics that we would all do well to consider.

  • Tharls

    Seems to me that anyone who sees no value in a church that teaches historical myths as truth probably ought to be irreligious. I mean, look at the big argument a lot of New Atheist types always make? “A lot of that religion stuff is just empirically false, so why cling to any of it?” The first half of that statement is often correct. And I’ve gotta say if you’re basing your religious worldview on the presumption of strict historicity then the anti-religionists stand on vastly firmer empirical ground. I suppose that’s the problem I have with many folks who have the apologetics mindset; i.e. folks who tend to stand up as defenders of apologetics (apologetics apologists?; the inability to recognize that. But that’s a generalization; it’s definitely possible to do good, nuanced apologetics, so I guess my complaint is more with second-hand apologists, ones who prefer to consume and regurgitate apologetics on the internet, often destroying a lot of nuance in the process.

  • Howard

    Black and white thinking is immature thinking; that is it is the thinking of a child and in an adult it is dysfunctional. In practice it polarizes and divides forcing some form of rounding to take place in the process of selecting either black or white. The “church” has long been a big conflated ball of gospel, doctrine, BoM, “prophets, seers and revelators” (who typically don’t actually do much of this) folklore, false doctrine (see ban on blacks), Christ directing everything (including minutia?) that we are told is either total truth of fraud! This is comforting to literalist and very uncomfortable for people who live in neaunce. How many people literally believe Eve encountered a talking snake? So some gray must exist and much of this disagreement is about being able to discuss shades of gray. Once shades of gray are “allowed” more people will be able to stay LDS and fewer of those who leave will consider TBMs dysfunctional blind believers.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: I agree that the Church itself has done a poor job of responding to faith crisis issues — but I doubt that I ever expected it to. In fact, I think it has done such a poor job because it never took the job in the first place. Bishops couldn’t possibly be called to be the intellectual resource for all historical, theological, philosophical, sociological and political questions. I just chuckle to myself when I hear or read someone who thinks that they had some divine right to have their bishop answer all their questions and solve their faith issues for them. Poor guys, they hardly have time to be with their own families after staying up all night with the widow who just lost her husband. Do you think that the Church ought to have some magisterium on apologetics? What, something like an official calling of “person ordained to know answers” to faith issues?

    The Church has wisely left that job up to its members who are sometimes qualified to address such issues. There are lots of reasons that is the best decision. Now the quarrel is with the way some members go about defending the faith. I myself has never done an article aimed at another individual and whether he or she is faithful and worthy of trust. I don’t find much use in such articles because I believe that if a person talks or writes long enough (just as you say) they reveal their heart. But whether they are a good person or a charlatan purporting to be a good saint I think we ought to focus on the issues that trouble. However, I do think it is worthwhile noting that a person has an agenda and what that agenda appears to be — and I think that everyone who has commented here has recognized that. In that sense, and to that extent Greg Smith’s article is useful in exposing the agenda and biases of the Mormon Stories.

    You know that I disagree with you regarding whether the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham are historical in the sense that there really were Nephites. So when you say that I just don’t realize that the Church has always taught mere myth as historical fact, are you suggesting that I am just indisputably wrong and you have the better of the issue so I ought to just give up? You also know that I have presented what I consider very substantial evidence that in my view is better explained on Joseph Smith’s account than on yours. You disagree. But yes, unless you were just joking or being flippant (ok if you were) I think your dismissal of the significant evidence to the contrary to be arrogant. However, all that I think an apologist has to accomplish is that there is enough there for folks to keep an open mind about these issues — and allow faith and personal revelation take care of the rest.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Howard # 25 – If you will just give me a retainer for my usual hourly fee, I will be happy to answer all of your questions.

  • Howard

    What, something like an official calling of “person ordained to know answers” to faith issues? Hmmm that isn’t a Prophet or Apostle’s job?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    tharls #31 – anyone who has read my stuff knows that I have a high tolerance for ambiguity and issues that are disputed — and a nuanced view of historicity. However, if all that a church offered were false claims, if it were merely one big fib, I think we would be much better off recognizing it out loud and jumping ship. I am happy to debate the evidence regarding the Church’s truth claims — and I consider them to be more than defensible. However, I would agree that they are not proven or established by empirical evidence — and that is what a lot of folks seem to expect. That is the more immature view in my opinion.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Howard # 35: If that is what you think a prophet’s job is, then I would say you are sadly and tragically mistaken. I would also say that is a really ridiculous view of prophets.

  • Howard

    I don’t know Blake, where did we get scriptures that deal with faith issues if not from the words of Prophets?

  • RT

    “In fact, I think it has done such a poor job because it never took the job in the first place. Bishops couldn’t possibly be called to be the intellectual resource for all historical, theological, philosophical, sociological and political questions. I just chuckle to myself when I hear or read someone who thinks that they had some divine right to have their bishop answer all their questions and solve their faith issues for them. Poor guys, they hardly have time to be with their own families after staying up all night with the widow who just lost her husband. Do you think that the Church ought to have some magisterium on apologetics? What, something like an official calling of “person ordained to know answers” to faith issues?”

    Your argument is a distraction. As long as the church is going to make a big deal about its historical and religious claims, and see them as necessary for maintaining orthodoxy, it needs to have a means of dealing with and responding to these sorts of concerns. Yes, death, illness, poverty, broken families, and defenseless widows are all huge issues that local church leaders must devote a significant amount of time to. But intellectual, spiritual, and religious-historical concerns are also important, especially if they impinge on the development and status of someone’s faith and relationship to the church (which you obviously agree with, since you devote so much time to debating these issue).

    I’m not saying specifically how the church needs to allocate resources and institutionally choose to deal with the phenomenon of faith crises, but much more could be done at all levels of the current church organization. Local leaders could be taught to be more well informed, and to avoid giving answers and authoritative responses that only worsen the situation. Leaders in the hierarchy could convey a rhetoric that is more sensitive to doubt, and open themselves up to multiple perspectives on these issues (which I think they have begun to do more of).

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: “I think Mormon Stories is a worthwhile cause because it seeks to validate doubt and concerns while making a real effort not to push people into inactivity, but actually to help them find a way to stay in the church if that is what they desire.”

    I don’t believe that this is accurate. Dehlin has quite recently stated to anti-Momron ex-mos that this used to be his goal but clearly no longer is — and if you had read Greg Smith’s article carefully I think you would be aware of that. Dehlin no longer urges a person to stay, no longer seeks to find a way to reconcile, and seeks to reform the church, to get it to change as he would like it. He has an admitted political agenda as well that is usually shared by associated with more liberal leanings.

    I think that FARMS, FAIR and other apologetics has a very similar purpose to the one you [I believe mistakenly] believe that Mormon Stories has — to acknowledge the sincerity of doubts and that they are an inevitable part of the examined life while suggesting a faithful response and way to deal with the doubts to remain in the church while remaining true to one’s self and others. Do you see that as worthwhile?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: No my argument is no mere abstraction nor is a diversion from an important issue. It is a pragmatic recognition that at the local level we will not have folks who have the kind of time necessary to be fully informed on all of the relevant issues — even if they have the intellectual acumen to do so. It is a plea to give up ridiculously unrealistic expectations.

    I agree that at the institutional level it would help if leaders were at least advised of the issues and to be pastorally sensitive to them. As you say, I think that has already happened. But they will never have the time, and rarely the background education necessary, to address the issues competently. But I doubt that mere rhetoric even begins to address the issues. We need apologists to do so.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: “As long as the church is going to make a big deal about its historical and religious claims, and see them as necessary for maintaining orthodoxy, it needs to have a means of dealing with and responding to these sorts of concerns.”

    Here is the rub. I take it that you do not believe that the Church ought to make such a “big deal” and I believe that you assert that it cannot faithfully and honestly make a big deal about its historical and religious claims. Do you believe it ought to capitulate and as softly as possible admit that Joseph Smith was either a charlatan or sincerely mistaken about his truth claims, and we can just create a church without the claim that the Book of Mormon tells the story of a people that actually existed and all of those angels were interesting psychological phenomenon? If that is your agenda, then I will oppose it.

  • Howard

    But a Prophet could answer many of these issues for the church and the world.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Howard # 43: YOU ARE RIGHT. and he has, the world is just not listening.

  • SmallAxe

    “At the same time, I believe that it is possible to reform it.”

    The question is, how?

    There’s much more that I can say about this, but I’ll point out two things for now.

    A) Stop using the war motif. It has a tendency to dehumanize those one writes about and draws party lines too simplistically. This includes refraining from using terms such as junta, regime, detractors, enemies, and (perhaps) anti-Mormon (I’m a bit ambivalent on this last one). All of these labels do more than they say. They’re meant to tell the reader that so-and-so should be seen as the enemy rather than giving good reasons for why they are wrong. I also think that the war motif enables a kind of war mentality where certain things are permitted that are normally not permitted. In war-time, for instance, it’s okay to kill someone for reasons other than self-defense, a different kind of morality comes into play. Similarly, I think the war motif enables depictions of people that we normally would not tolerate. Think of the difference between the way in which some apologists write for their academic field (Islamic studies, in the case of Dan Peterson), and the way they sometimes write as apologists.

    B) In addition to the critical project of pointing out the problems of someone’s argument, focus on the larger issues that in the long run are probably more significant. So in the case of Mormon Stories, it raises interesting questions about why some LDSs find it compelling, and how we (LDSs) treat issues related to faith crises. These kinds of circumstances seem to provide good opportunities for communal introspection, and thinking about how or why we do what we do, and how we might do it better.

  • SmallAxe

    JohnH,

    I’m a bit confused about your shift in views from post #20 to #23. Would you still like me to respond to anything in #20?

  • SmallAxe

    From what I’ve read on LDS message boards, those who are critical of LDS apologists, seem to have the same perceptions. The ‘Tares’ perceive the ‘wheat’ as enemies–those they are at war with and a group they view as less human as well. It seems that change must happen on their side as well, otherwise, the ‘war’ you perceive, will continue.

    Alter Idem, I think you’re right about many of those who are critical of LDS apologists. I’ve seen some truly unfortunate things said on their part, and I can see how this is hurtful, frustrating, and even maddening for the objects of their ire. I don’t think there’s a need to “retaliate” though. I’ve gotten readers reports of articles I’ve written that violate what I consider the norms of academic criticism (i.e., they’re just plain insulting). All you can do is try to see the legitimate points they make that demonstrate where you’ve gone wrong and ignore the attitude (or in conversation acknowledge the anger and ask what makes them so mad). In the case of apologetics, I think it’s reasonable to ask why those people that despise the apologists are so mad? Have we unintentionally contributed to their anger? Also, we should ask, are these people raising legitimate concerns or making good points? Are people we care about believing their arguments? If not, let them be.

  • SmallAxe

    Blake (#22),

    I haven’t read past you comment at #22, but by and large I agree with you.

    I believe that Greg Smith’s article is useful – and accurate.

    I agree with you that it’s useful, and useful isn’t always bad; but it’s limitations should be taken into account (this relates back to my point in the OP about consequentialism). I would also say that it’s accurate in a certain sense (see my point 1 in the OP).

    That said, when it comes to Wheat and Tares, I would be happy if we actually had any apologetics from those who criticize FARMS and FAIR as somehow being inappropriate apologetics.

    I should probably stress this again. I’m not saying that FARMS and/or FAIR are inappropriate apologetics. I’m saying that Wheat and Tares Apologetics is inappropriate for an academic institution, and, IMO, a less effective form of apologetics in the long run. I think Wheat and Tares Apologetics is one kind of apologetics FARMS (and perhaps FAIR) has been involved in. FARMS was never monolythic, and even apologists who employ a Wheat and Tares tactic in one piece may not employ it in another.

  • RT

    Blake: I didn’t say that Dehlin was trying to get people to stay in the church, just that he’s not trying to urge people into inactivity.

    “and seeks to reform the church, to get it to change as he would like it. He has an admitted political agenda as well that is usually shared by associated with more liberal leanings.”

    So believing that there are things in the church in need of reform and seeking to reform those things from the inside is wrong or evil? As long as one is sincere in this attempt and believes in the core spiritual validity of the LDS faith, I don’t see a problem with this. In fact, in my view, it is simply a fact of life. We are all political animals that constantly make choices about what elements of church belief and culture that we will support or not support. Some of us are more vocal, explicit, or conscious about that, but we all do it.

    In my conversations with my own bishop, he was asking me to serve in a position that I had real concerns or qualms about, and in the course of our discussion he invited me to do so because I would be able to work for the change I seek from within the present church structure. Though a pretty conservative guy in some ways, he thought there were legitimate reasons for seeking to change the church in ways that would be uncomfortable to other more orthodox members.

    “I think that FARMS, FAIR and other apologetics has a very similar purpose to the one you [I believe mistakenly] believe that Mormon Stories has — to acknowledge the sincerity of doubts and that they are an inevitable part of the examined life while suggesting a faithful response and way to deal with the doubts to remain in the church while remaining true to one’s self and others. Do you see that as worthwhile?”

    I think some of what FARMS and FAIR have done is worthwhile, but I have a significantly less positive impression of their overall agenda, ideological framework, and spiritual and theological value based on the content that I’m familiar with. And I would have to disagree strongly with your insinuation that their purpose has been help members live with a significant amount of ambiguity.

    “But they will never have the time, and rarely the background education necessary, to address the issues competently. But I doubt that mere rhetoric even begins to address the issues. We need apologists to do so.”

    We’re talking past each other. It’s not about local leaders having the competence or education to address these issues. I’ll admit that my bishop will never be able to resolve any of my concerns about the present church structure or its policies toward women or its anti-intellectualism/fundamentalism etc. But there is still much that could be done to help leaders become sensitive rather than obtuse to these concerns. Heaven knows that the church has enough training meetings that could devote a small amount of time trying to help leaders become aware of such concerns, to encourage them to be compassionate rather than reactionary. Channels could become more formalized for allowing these concerns to get outside of merely the local level bubble. And perhaps most importantly, in my opinion, the church hierarchy could show by their rhetoric at Gen Conference that multiple perspectives on a variety of salient issues, even if only slightly nuanced differently from one another, are ok, that the church is not ideologically monolithic and that we shouldn’t be ideologically monolithic. Theology needs to evolve to retain its vitality.

  • Howard

    Blake #44,
    The thing is after reading about the effort President Kimball had go through to receive the OD2 revelation and given the error it implies of many of those who preceeded him and the minuta that we receive today in place of answers to difficult often faith destroying questions I see little evidence that your assertion is true.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: I value our dialogue and look forward to your responses. I never said what you say I said. [I love that banter]. Perhaps I misunderstood you. You said: “Mormon Stories [Dehlin] is a worthwhile cause because it seeks . . . actually to help them find a way to stay in the church if that is what they desire.” So when you said that his purpose is to help people to stay in the church if they so desire, perhaps really you meant that he was only trying to help people to stay in the church if they wanted to while helping them to not want to. Or maybe he just wants people to do whatever they choose to do – which would make his entire endeavor superfluous because that is what people always do [ipso facto]. Or perhaps you meant to say that he was helping people to stay while helping them also to leave. When Dehlin said he had abandoned his endeavor to assist folks to stay in the church if that is what they desire, I took him to be saying that he wanted to change their desires so that they want to leave.

    Smallaxe: I agree that Wheat & Tares apologetics is fraught with danger. It usually devolves into so much refusal to take personal accountability and refusal to view one’s dialogue partner charitably. Heaven knows that the apologists lose if they are uncharitable — but there are no real rules for the secular ex and antis. Anything goes and no one ever calls them out. So this type of apologetics is inherently an un-level playing filed where an apologist’s human foibles prove he or she is not worthy of being called a saint. In contrast, when a secular ex or anti is uncivil it proves the background assumptions about the origins of humanity and how unfettered the freed sap now is to be a jerk without the shackles of Mormonism.

    RT: Could you define what you mean by “believes in the core spiritual validity of the LDS faith”? I take what you call the “big deal” to actually be the big deal about Mormonism. If would be very interested in what you take this core to be.

  • Howard

    Blake,
    Btw, what is your hourly fee?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Howard: $325 an hour for in-state and $500 an hour for out of state and $500,o00 for blogging questions.

  • Howard

    I don’t blame you!

  • Alter Idem

    “All you can do is try to see the legitimate points they make that demonstrate where you’ve gone wrong and ignore the attitude (or in conversation acknowledge the anger and ask what makes them so mad)”
    Smallaxe, I agree completely that this is the best way to deal with criticism, but unfortunately, ego and pride usually make it difficult for most to temper their response. If one can follow your example, this is the ideal and what apologists should strive for each time they engage in discussion. However, it does seem that only one side is held to any standard. I agree with Blake’s comments regarding the un-level playing field where apologists are constantly derided for being mean, unchristlike or driving members with doubts away with their responses; yet, at the same time, Apologists’ critics seem to have no standard to which they must adhere–and no one seems to ever question their motives or their efforts at ‘helping’ members out of the faith.
    Given the mixed reviews which existed regarding Mormon Stories, it was a legitimate subject for an apologist to research. It was necessary and important for the author to try to establish what Dehlin’s beliefs, motivations and methods were, since this could help determine whether it is more damaging than helpful for LDS members with doubts to visit his sites or listen to his podcasts. From the strong negative reactions of Apologists’ critics, it seems that even attempting to identify Dehlin’s motivations and beliefs is perceived as an attack on him. Given that the job of an Apologist is to defend the faith, I expect that the critics will always be unhappy with the efforts of Apologists. I think we also must recognize that the hardened critics’ desire is to silence LDS apologists. I believe there is a wide spectrum of defenders and critics–I don’t expect to see any movement or change from those who occupy the extreme ends, but hopefully the dialogue for those more toward the middle can be mutually respectful and useful in building consensus.

  • Howard

    The LDS apologist typically lays claim to “high ground” by choice therefore it is hypocritical for them to resort conduct unbecoming a saint! It also typically costs them the argument and in more extreme cases their jobs! The opposer is often arguing that the church is hypocritical by deception and/or unsupported claim given it’s claim to be God’s spokesperson. Is the faithful argument so weak it cannot prevail without behaving like children?

  • noel

    I find both Blake’s and Maklen’s tone online as off -putting, something of bullyboys. I found Dehlin’s interview with philosopher, Chris Foster so compelling and honest that I was having doubts about my doubts. So John did some good.

  • Howard

    I don’t believe a historical BoM is a creditable or defensible claim and I enjoy easy access to the Spirit and profound personal revelation. But I can and do bear testimony that it is inspired fiction! The Joseph Smith story is entirely explainable but few are willing to accept the answer – Joseph was an enlightened man in the Eastern sense of the word and a shaman. When you understand shamanism the JS story falls nicely into place warts BoM inconsistancies and all!

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Noel: Your post is a true ad hominem of the kind this post aims to dispel — a drive by shooting of sorts. How does one respond to that? However, we share your admiration for Chris Foster.

  • Howard

    Things fall apart quickly after Joseph as men take over the helm from a truly great Prophet, since the we have lived with mostly Presidents and GAs with an occational prophet now and again. The truth is the church is adrift as evidenced by the ban on blacks debacle that was hailed as great revelation in 1978. I believe the church retains the authority of the restitution and I pray that the brethern will seek a reopening of the heavens to reconnect to the power the church once enjoyed, God’s power!

  • Howard

    Restoration.

  • DavidF

    Terrific post! I like the analogy. I don’t much go for wheat and tares apologetics. What good it accomplishes in analysis it loses in its hostile overtones. I think it’s worthwhile discussing the motives and biases of a guy like Dehlin, but that kind of analysis is best written with measured judgment. When it’s the main topic of a paper, the line is crossed.

  • smallaxe

    Alter Idem,

    I believe we share similar sentiments. Given the popularity of Mormon Stories, I think it probably merited some kind of focused critique.

    As for one of your other points, I’m not so sure that the playing field is as uneven as some make it out to be. People can be quite uncharitable in the things they say, but I think to be taken seriously they must either mix in some kind of legitimate point, or face obsoleteness. I think pure rhetorical nastiness can largely be ignored.

    Dehlin, as Greg Smith points out, has been inconsistent in his ideas, has said some less than charitable things about apologists, and has also made pretenses to objectivity. These are some of the reasons I’ve never taken his ideas very seriously; but I think his experience, and the fact that many LDSs seem to share similar experiences with their crises of faith, deserves an ear and further reflection.

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