BY COMMON CONSENT
VOLUME 11, NO. 2 April 2005
April Conference Critique
The semi-annual conference critique sponsored by the Mormon Alliance will convene Monday, April 5, 6:30-8:30 p.m. in Room A, level 1, of the Salt Lake Public Library mall, 210 East 400 South. This room is not in the library proper but is on the lower level of the mall, on the north side.
Take the elevator from the parking terrace to the open-air plaza, go through the glass doors to your right into the library building, then immediately take the elevator on your right down one floor. (Or take the main staircase down one floor.) Donít walk to the west end of the building and enter the library.
As traditional, Janice Allred will chair the discussion of topics, trends, and interpretations and give us her ever-popular classification of numbers of talks in the categories of doctrine, Christian living, and organizational behavior.
The Logic of Salvation,
Integrity, and Power
In disfellowshipping or excommunicating scholars (like Michael Quinn, Grant Palmer, and others) Church leaders create a theological paradox. Assuming that such actions are eternally binding implies that, regardless of researchersí choices, it becomes impossible for them to obtain the benefits of the Saviorís atonement.
The threatened punishment of their leaders leaves researchers with the choice of denying their findings or disobeying their leaders. Denying oneís insights is lying. Lying is a sin. And sinners are damned.
If researchers choose to be truthful, then their priesthood leaders will deny them the sacrament and exclude them from the temple, both very serious punishments. From the point of view of LDS leaders, the researchers will be damned. Thus, according to Mormon theology, the researcher cannot enjoy salvation. It is important to realize that repentant liars will not escape damnation either, because their leaders would see the act of repentance (telling the truth) again as cause for excommunication. Short of legitimizing dishonesty, claims of inspiration or divine authority cannot resolve this paradox. Whatever researchers do, they will be damned.
This official act of making it impossible for faithful individuals to meet the requirements for salvation means that, on the face of it, ecclesiastical discipline of researchers is abusive. For the same reason, disciplining researchers implies the negation of Christís atonement, which is a doctrinal perversion.
Consider the recent case of Grant Palmer, disfellowshipped in December 2004 for the alleged heretical statements in his book, An Insiderís Look at Mormon Origins. In the context of this argument, it is irrelevant what particular statements Grant Palmer may have made. I have never read his book. Even in the unlikely case that Palmer is entirely wrong, his freedom to pursue inquiries would still be beneficial to the Saints and to society.
Jesus Christ has promised us that we can know the truth and that the truth shall make us free (John 8:32-34). As Christians we value truth. Those who want to regulate research outcomes say, in essence, "What should not be, cannot be." Such an attitude may not negate the existence of truth, but it makes it impossible for the truth to set us free from preconceptions and prejudices.
Research is valuable, but not because it is always correct. Even Albert Einstein recognized that, in the long run, he would be proven wrong. Research is valuable because the pursuit of truth results in progress. Research findings challenging our understanding of the gospel are a learning opportunity. The work of Grant Palmer and other researchers is valuable to Saints and society because rational investigation of the world will bring us closer to the truth.
Tolerance for research is a testimony to our faith. Religion and science share a commitment to the truth. The authoritarian approach undermines the scientific enterprise and violates the prohibition against lying, which is a more central principle in the Christian value system than allegiance to leaders.
Of course, the LDS Church ought to enjoy the freedom of organization. That includes setting its rules and standards for determining membership qualifications. This argument is, however, not germane to the discussion because the research-authority paradox follows from Christian premises that LDS leaders share.
The point is not that LDS leaders subscribe to the wrong values but that they apply their values in a manner that leads to contradiction and abuse. The Catholic Church faced similar problems during the Renaissance and slowly learned how to avoid the research-authority paradox: contest research on the merits, not with institutional coercion.
The truth-authority paradox can only be resolved in two ways. First, LDS authorities can emulate the Catholic example and repent from pressuring people to deny their insights. Defending and refining their positions, they would exercise the option of participating in the scientific process instead. Second, onlookers may determine that God may not hold researchers accountable for matters that are beyond their control. Insofar as the actions of our leaders suggest that conclusion, they should consider that their behavior during the last twelve years increasingly undermines their claims to divine authority.
It is Grant Palmerís obligation to justify his truth claims with reason and evidence. Those who believe that Palmer is wrong have a duty to advance their arguments with reason and evidence instead of attacking the character of the researcher. Personal judgments in academic and Church forums will harm the aggressors more than they can ever hurt Grant Palmer.
As a Christian, I have an obligation to stand with the oppressed. I believe Grant Palmer to be a man who pursues the truth to the best of his abilities. The LDS hierarchy that confronts him controls far greater academic, financial, and political resources than Palmer. Nonetheless, LDS leaders resort to the argument of power--excluding critics from society by denying Palmer and researchers like him good standing in the Church. Waylaid in their pursuit of truth, researchers require the aid of Good Samaritans. Christians who take the parable of the Good Samaritan seriously should have no difficulty determining where they need to stand.
The Book of Mormonís
View of Intellectuals
As I attend sacrament meeting and Sunday School each week, I am often troubled by the anti-intellectualism I hear expressed in testimonies and talks and in discussions in the gospel doctrine class. Again and again, I hear people speak of the intellect being in opposition to faith, the mind in opposition to the spirit and heart. These people seem to see evidence as being unnecessary, even detrimental, to the development of faith.
I find this anti-intellectualism in Mormon Church culture ironic as well as disturbing. The scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, have a positive view of the intellect. The purpose of revelation in the Book of Mormon is to enlighten the understanding. Nephi says, "For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding" (2 Ne. 31:3).
Abinadi chastises the priests of King Noah for not seeking to understand the scriptures. He says, "Ye have not applied your hearts to understanding; therefore ye have not been wise" (Mosiah 12:27). The sons of Mosiah are praised for being "strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God."
The value of possessing the scriptures and records is a recurring theme. King Benjamin says to his sons, "I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at the present time, not knowing the mysteries of God (Mosiah 1:3)." Jacobís words, "O . . . the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise," often quoted as a disparagement of learning, is actually a lament about humanityís pride. "But to be learned is good," he continues, "if they hearken unto the counsels of God" (2 Ne. 9:28-29).
Jacob assumes that wisdom is good. Learning is not the same as wisdom. If people think that their learning makes it unnecessary for them to listen to counsel or seek understanding, they are foolishly proud. But learning can be a resource for wisdom if people hearken to the counsels of God, meaning that they seek and remain open to receiving more light and knowledge from all good sources.
The story of Korihor, the man who taught that there would be no Christ, is often used as a cautionary tale about the dangers of following the intellect rather than faith. Korihor is clearly a bad guy, but is he an intellectual? The text gives no evidence that he desired knowledge or that he applied himself to learning. He teaches facts that he doesnít bother to verify empirically. He accuses the priests of glutting themselves on the labors of the people, an accusation which has no basis in fact, as Alma points out. In his discussion with Korihor, Alma uses evidence, witnesses, and reason to refute Korihorís doctrine. He never says that his teachings must simply be accepted on faith. Korihor gives no evidence for his opinions and finally admits that he was simply repeating the words that the devil had taught him to say.
There are many Book of Mormon good guys who qualify as intellectuals. Nephi was taught in the learning of the Jews and understood their manner of prophesying, which was difficult to understand. He loved the scriptures, studied them diligently, and pondered their meaning. He desired to understand the mysteries and revelations of God, prayed for answers to his questions, and pondered the revelations he received.
Lehiís discourse on the atonement and opposition in all things is profound and shows the work of a great intellect. Abinadiís preaching to the priests of King Noah shows a knowledge of the scriptures and a deep understanding of their meaning. He is a master of irony and his discourse is beautifully organized. Almaís sermons and writings reveal a questioning mind and an ability to reason well, to organize ideas, and to analyze meanings.
Many Church members seem to be unaware of this positive view of the intellect contained in the scriptures. But perhaps there is another irony. Although the Church does encourage members to read and study the scriptures, the anti-intellectualism of Church culture discourages a thoughtful, questioning approach to scripture study. Such an approach might lead people to conclusions that do not support current orthodoxies. Such an approach might lead members to hearken to the counsels of God rather than the counsels of leaders.
Based on an excerpt from "Are We Good Guys or Bad Guys? The Significance of the Book of Mormon," a paper given at the 2004 Sunstone Symposium
Religion of the Sword,
Religion of the Shield
Since the election of George W. Bush (2000), the description of the country as divided between conservative ("red") sectors and liberal ("blue") sectors has become commonplace. In my view, this division is neither superficial nor entirely political. Its roots are theological. The division in the country rests on polar opposite assumptions about good and evil, about God and humanity.
In the Old Testament, we are presented with the view of God as powerful, strict, and controlling. He defines good and evil in terms of obedience, which is rewarded, and disobedience which is punished. In America, this Old Testament view is manifest in what I call the Religion of the Sword, willing to employ force and even violence against what it perceives as the dominion of evil.
In the New Testament, we are presented with Jesus as God incarnateócompassionate and paradoxical, obedient to the spirit not the letter of the law, blurring the distinction between good and evil by focusing on the intent of the heart and by requiring the love of oneís enemies and the forgiveness of sins. He promises the renewal of both spirit and body, thus according them equal value.
In America, this New Testament view is manifest in what I call the Religion of the Shield, eschewing force and violence (except in the most extreme cases) and employing love and patience. It calls for forgiveness and repentance, and an end to hypocrisy and self-righteousness.
In America today, these rival religious ideas about God and humanity underlie the assumptions that inform the polarized red and blue sectors of our country.
A person inclined to view humans as untrustworthy or bad will be inclined to believe in a powerful, strict, and controlling deity who demands and rewards obedience and forbids and punishes disobedience. Likewise, such a person will be inclined, politically, to favor restrictions on individual liberty and the maximization of institutional power to keep human nature in check in order to promote security, prosperity, tranquillity, and traditional values. This is the red view, both the religion and politics of the sword.
A person inclined to view humans as trustworthy or good will be inclined to believe in a compassionate and paradoxical deity who emphasizes the intent of the heart and requires love, forgiveness, equality. Likewise, such a person will be inclined, politically, to favor restrictions on institutional power to maximize individual choice in order to prevent the corruption of human nature and the destruction of the environment. This is the blue view, both the religion and politics of the shield.
The red view wants leaders like George W. Bush, who reflect the attributes of the Old Testament God--powerful, strict, controlling, and ready to mete out punishments to the disobedient and rewards to the obedient.
The blue view wants leaders like Bill Clinton, who reflect the attributes of the New Testament God--compassionate, paradoxical, and forgiving, who focus on the intent of the heart rather than on outward shows of purity.
The red view sees the greatest threat as individual immorality and indecency. The blue view sees the greatest threat as institutional impropriety and insatiability. The red sector believes the nation can be contaminated by abortions, drug addiction, and homosexual behavior, particularly among men, the traditional guardians and managers of state, church, military, industry, academy, and home, in whom any suggestion of passivity, femininity, or weakness seems intolerable.
Blues, on the other hand, believe the nation is more likely to be contaminated by governmental interference with civil liberties and individual choice, by institutional corruption and corporate greed, resulting as it often does in damage to the environment, in war, in the criminalization of the normative behaviors of the poor, and in the economic exploitation of the lower classes.
Both reds and blues see law as a solution. Each wishes to use governmental power to dethrone its opposition. Both fall prey to legislation by outrage. Each resorts to political maneuvering to cripple the other. There is little listening, little dialogue across the blue/red continental divide. Each is prisoner to its own perceptions, to its own propaganda. There is little middle ground. In the land of the red, white, and blue, the predominantly white culture has staked out red and blue battle zones with little consideration for other colors of the rainbow. If you find yourself agreeing with parts of each perspective, then you are likely a citizen of a different color.
These rival views of the religion of the sword and religion of the shield assumptions (arrived at either thoughtfully or as a knee-jerk reaction) are usually based on personal experiences that are then generalized and that give rise to different concepts of ethics, power, order, destiny, and identity.
When it comes to ethics, reds, because they are suspicious of human nature (a view appealing to those who trust in a benevolent divine nature), see morality in terms of personal decency that must be fortified and even enforced by institutional or group power. Blues, because they are more trusting of human nature (a view appealing to those who doubt the existence of a benevolent deity), see morality in terms of equality of condition, power and privilegeóbenefits that must be guaranteed to individuals and even enforced by institutional power.
When it comes to power, reds tend to favor a hierarchical approach; blues, a conciliar approach. Reds are more likely to vest authority in a practical and moral elite; blues, in an intellectual and egalitarian elite.
When it comes to order, reds question reason; blues question authority. Reds favor conformity; blues, diversity. Reds tend to resolve conflict by separation and segregation; blues, by unification and integration. Reds trust the morality of the group; blues trust the morality of the individual. Reds, however, stress the economic self-reliance of the individual, while blues promote the economic interdependence of the community.
When it comes to human destiny, reds see the past as ideal and the future as dark, but believe that the obedient will ultimately be redeemed by God. Blues see the past as dark and the future as progressive and promising, but believe that all will end in oblivion when the cosmos grows cold.
When it comes to personal identity, the religion of the sword and the religion of the shield each identifies itself as good. Each sees its rival as bad. What to blues are their own positive virtues, reds see as damning sins. What to reds are their own positive virtues, blues see as disastrous folly. Each seeks to demonize the other. Each attempts to maintain its purity by exclusion. The identity of each seems, in large measure, to be defined more by what it rejects than what it accepts. Neither the religious notion of forgiveness nor the political notion of tolerance has done much to ameliorate this polarity.
I believe the only solution to the clash of red and blue is tolerance and respect. Truth is elusive. What we know are partial perceptions of truth, not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. For this reason, a wise government should promote even-handed tolerance of the perceptions of its citizens rather than a preference for any single, favored ideology. By the same token, religions should promote faith, not certainty. Certainty is the enemy of humility and can make snobs out of seekers of truth, whether theists or otherwise. Both reds and blues hanker for certainty, whether based on revelation or empirical evidence.
I view accommodation as the most promising resolution to the gridlock of red and blue because it is predicated on a principle of perspective that defies settled certainties. That principle is irony. I do not mean by this either sarcasm or flippancy. By irony I mean the ability to see multiple meanings in a single utterance. I mean the ability to see oneself and oneís ideology from the perspective of oneís opposition and, consequently, to accord to oneís opposition the same dignity one expects for oneself and oneís belief structure. Accommodation means that we, as citizens of a pluralistic democracy, agree steadfastly to refuse to claim for ourselves what we will not accord to others and to resolutely resist burdening others with what we will not bear ourselves. Such a policy of accommodation will undoubtedly entail compromises that actually ache and sting, and that require those accustomed to control to surrender elements of personal power, pleasure, and privilege.
On a global level, where we are witnessing something of a clash of cultures reminiscent of past religious warfare, without a willingness to accommodate, to tolerate, to respect, to shift perspectives, to see through ever-changing frames of reference, I fear that the Christianity of the Shield and the commitment to pluralistic democracy it inspired may be headed for an ice age of totalism of which terrorism is but the first telltale blizzard.