Subject: Adventures in Ex-Mormonism: How should we regard FARMS writers now?
Date: Apr 01 06:26 2005
Author: Tal Bachman
Many of us on here went through a period where we struggled to make sense of what appeared to be barely sensible, or fantastically nonsensical, or even disingenuous, defense arguments drawn up by FARMS and others. This has left many of us with strong feelings of disdain toward apologetic writers (I know all about this firsthand!).
I'm wondering, though, if the wisest approach is to relinquish disdain for the writers themselves, and view them and their motives as charitably as possible, merely being content to recognize how apologetic arguments (in nearly every case of which I am aware) simply fail.
It seems that to fail to make a distinction between recognizing an argument to be defective or even unwittingly corroborative of the very point it is trying to argue against, and concluding that the writer is innately stupid or consciously dishonest, is to place ourselves in much the same kind of mental state that apologetic writers themselves seem to exist in. If there is any doubt about this, I suggest that readers go on to an apologetic bulletin board and begin raising questions about certain apologetic arguments. S/he will then be exposed to all sorts of insinuations about personal misdeeds, wicked motives, or accusations that pointing out defects in an argument is tantamount to judging its writer to be a "liar" or an imbecile, etc.
What I mean is, in the world of rational discourse, which has as its goal the apprehension of truth, we operate under this rule: "'we' are not necessarily our 'arguments'". If we think we see that an argument contains a logical misstep, we don't respond by calling the arguer an idiot or evil. We merely point out the misstep, fully conscious that we are all fallible, that we make mistakes sometimes, and that a mental error is not necessarily an indication of moral depravity, imbecility, or insanity. This is one reason why irrelevant ad hominem responses are considered unconvincing: they don't actually address the argument itself.
This is a pitfall in our search for truth, because as even Brigham Young acknowledged, truth may be found in the oddest of places, and be advanced by even the most disgusting of sources. To reject Heidegger's existentialism merely because he joined the Nazi party would be a mistake (though it wouldn't be a mistake to try to recognize how his thought allowed or even led to that affiliation).
But ideological fervor makes us blind to all this. We can no longer distinguish between an argument which raises questions about what we believe, and AN ENEMY, a MORTAL FOE which must be neutralized personally, motives impugned, silenced, etc. We become incapable of rational discourse. This means that we have largely insulated ourselves from gaining more truth than we currently have. We may not be innately unintelligent, but we are putting ourselves in a position in which the faculties of our intelligence cannot work as they might.
An example of this blindness to the distinction between the worth of an argument and the worth of the person making it was displayed on this board a couple of months ago. I wrote a little note noting the apologetic instinct to attack messengers because they don't like their messages. Someone, * I think, then posted what to him no doubt was an unanswerable slam-dunk of a retort: "can you explain how your criticism of apologetic ad hominem attacks isn't itself an ad hominem attack?" This really was the perfect example of the blindness I was trying to pin down and explain: a man who sees the statements
"Apologetic writers make ad hominem attacks; ad hominem attacks strike me as ineffective counter-arguments; therefore, I find the apologists in this respect ineffective defenders of the church"
"John Doe Apologist is evil and stupid"
as pretty much the same statement. I in effect made the first statement - but what *, or not *, heard was the second. But I didn't mean the second. I meant the first. These statements in reality are not the same. But the lens through which we view reality while in the throes of ideological obsession (me up to last year, at least) prohibits us from seeing this.
I've shot my mouth off a lot on here about how defective apologetic arguments tend to be, but I'm not sure that that means those making them are overall as human beings, irrational. Certain things in defense arguments tend to be left out that demand to be included, but I'm not sure that that means the writers are "liars", i.e., consciously deceptive, or "bad". (While I ended up feeling forced to think that Hugh Nibley had in some cases been consciously deceptive, I am not certain that he was...).
Arthur Conan Doyle believed devoutly in fairies - was he innately stupid? Sartre was an apologist for communism - was he stupid? We all used to believe the same ideas defended by apologists - were we innately stupid? I always knew more of the "controversial" stuff than most other members did, but didn't include that in lessons I taught. Was I a liar?
My own experience suggests to me that the human mind possesses a high degree of plasticity. It suggests to me that our unconscious minds take their cues for what to include in the conceptual model of reality we are conscious of, from our previous emotional commitments, or on how much pain a particular inclusion might cause us, etc.
I sometimes would apprehend something that seemed disturbing, and then just as quickly chase it back across the dividing line into the realms of forgetfulness. I could just vaguely know a little something, and then manage to sort of put it in my mental delete file, and then (for all practical purposes) kind of forget I'd "known" it (for a while I could, anyway). I could take the most absurd of possible solutions to a "problem", and then, if I thought about it long enough, make it seem almost plausible, then probable, then a slam-dunk answer to all the church's "enemies". And yet, in reality, it was just as absurd as when I had begun.
There are even greater levels of mental chicanery, or to be more charitable, creativity, we can experience, in order to keep ourselves going.
Imagine that we are employed by the church as defenders. We are 45 or 50. We have solid academic credentials, but we have spent the last 20 years publishing articles in church-run magazines which others in the academic community find "problematic", "laughable", or even worse, beneath even the dignity of either criticism or notice. We haven't published actively in scholarly journals for ages. It seems, in other words, doubtful that we could ever be hired at another university at this point. Defending the church is not only our job, but maybe, the best job we could ever hope for now.
All our friends are members. Our wives and children look up to us. Eager young men idolize us. We belong to an elite group, one which enjoys a privileged view of all important things. We have answers to questions that perplex others. We have status, almost a kind of fame. Living inside of the very antithesis of an "open society" (since there is by definition no room for debate on the ultimate conclusion of our research: "the church is true!") we are spared having to deal with the hurt or embarrassment of seeing a theory which we have nursed to fruition dismantled by logic or facts.
Some criticize us, but smart non-Mormons have cast doubt even on the whole prospect of ascertaining reality. And when push comes to shove (we might think), don't we have as much right to OUR "paradigm", as anyone else does to theirs?
Whether converts or BIC, we at this point in our lives might have no ability to conceive ourselves - our own existence - without reference to "the church". We have no ability to conceive even of reality without reference to it. It's impossible. This isn't because we are evil or mental defectives - it is simply that we, like so many others, have become so used to our conceptual models of reality being generated by and through "the ideology" that the two things have become fused: there no longer IS any difference between our consciousness and the ideology. We once observed the church; but now, it is the means by which we observe everything else. We sense at some level that it is indispensable for our cognitive functioning.
We have literally lost the ability to imagine that things could ever be anything other than how we perceive them to be (the historicist fallacy). We could very sincerely say, "without the church, NOTHING would make sense". (And the reality is - that would be absolutely the truth. Nothing would make sense for us right then, if in one fell swoop the ideology were ripped from us). Reality would be nothing but a terrifying, bewildering void.
Our defense of the church, then, is a defense of our lives, all our thoughts and feelings and the validity of our spiritual experiences (the validity really of ourselves), our families, our feelings, our self-image, our status, our friendships, our answers...even if we are not conscious of it as such in the slightest. But to "lose our testimony" would be, literally, beyond cataclysmic. The safest psychological state to be in, we know intuitively, is one in which doubt no longer is capable of entering.
Now, imagine this...despite all that, in quiet moments, sometimes when all are asleep, and we're lying in bed, we wonder...even though we can't really imagine any way we could perceive reality without "the church", we perhaps wonder to ourselves if somehow, somewhere, we might have missed something...we wonder how our lives might have turned out if we didn't have the church...we imagine that we might be drunks, or divorced, miserable, without a family that has loads of fun together...who knows? But maybe, for a split second or two, we think this:
"All around me I see creation, and so I infer a creator - a God. And from what I can tell, the church I have devoted my life to is his only true church. But...in the crazy chance it isn't, I think I would still have to believe in God, and believe that he is just. And if he is just, after my death he can only reward me for fighting as hard as I could for my whole life to defend what I thought was his one, true way - supposing the nearly unfathomable chance that it isn't. So, I have no reason to relent. Indeed, I never will have such reason. I have made my decision - and it is irrevocable. I could find a signed confession from Joseph, and I would still defend him with all my might..."
"Besides, no one can PROVE that Joseph didn't see God. Not even a signed confession, which might have been forced, can prove that. Until someone proves he didn't see God, which is impossible, there is no reason not to stick with the church. And look at all the good things I have in my life because of it. How could it be a fraud anyway?"
"If nothing else, from what I can tell I am as happy as I could be, as is my family, so this is a great way to live...what really is the downside to being a Mormon, even if there were no plates?"
"No....in the end, there is really no way to show that the church is not what it claims; therefore, anything which seems to, I already know, doesn't. It obviously is 'irrelevant' to what is really the 'core of the gospel', which is: the church is true. The real burden of proof is on the critics - and they thus are losing this battle. I will continue to fight and endure to the end".
It might be easy for us to see all sorts of problems with this distorted version of Pascal's wager; but at the same time, it should be pretty easy to see it making a kind of sense to us at certain moments of our lives. I don't see these thoughts as the thoughts of a "liar" or someone wholly irrational.
All I mean to suggest is that it seems to be going too far to say that apologetic writers should be definitively judged "liars", or constitutionally incapable of reason (even if their church defense arguments fall down even on their own terms). Who knows how conscious they are of certain things? Who knows what (unconscious) pressures affect what they see? And if we were once as muddled or unaware, why shouldn't they be still? And who is to say that we are not missing important things even now, with regards to our families, or politics, or religion, or anything else?
No man can be judge in his own case; all the more reason it seems to me for us to try to maintain some ability to converse, by maintaining charity towards church apologetic writers personally (as difficult as that might be in light of their own often uncharitable pronouncements about others' motives), and to not allow the bleak history of defective apologetic arguments to lead us to mentally eliminate the possibility that some day, someone over there might really have some great insights which we could all benefit from.
As far as I know, the boys over at BYU/FARMS (or out in cyberspace) are great dads, great husbands, funny guys, even smart guys in many ways; the aspersions they cast on others personally I think strike them as fair play. I think they judge what to others seem like insults, to be very much justified, like Christ's designation of certain folks as "vipers". When Jesus - supposedly the first Mormon (no comment) - uses this kind of language, why shouldn't the defenders of his only true church? Jesus is the one who sat down and methodically fashioned a whip, and then (I suppose) beat the hell out of the money changers and smashed all their stuff up. And if someone who raises a question about a church claim can be seen now as much a "profaner of the sacred" as a money changer, why wouldn't you go nuts, if you were a defender? In war - holy war (even merely verbal) - we would find sanctification, wouldn't we?
But more probably, they view the ad hominem remarks as solid, very relevant arguments. That means their motives aren't consciously "bad". It also means that many will find their "arguments" ineffective. And somehow, at this point in my life, I feel content to just leave it at that - they might all be great guys doing what they think is right, but their arguments fail even on their own terms; and the church, however much we might wish it to be, cannot possibly be what it claims - the end. Fortunately, there is much more to be excited about and inspired by outside than in, and for me, I feel a kind of peace about the whole thing that I never could feel while I was a devout TBM. Who knew?
I know this sounds like I'm preaching, but let's call it an exmo editorial! ;-)
If I'm wrong about this, please post.
Subject: Okay, sounds good.
Date: Apr 01 06:49
I agree with you. I don't believe that Daniel C. Peterson is a liar or an imbecile. I don't think John Gee is stupid. I don't think Davis Bitton is aligned with Hitler or Satan (I only mention Bitton because I am fascinated at the ideas he comes up with; I know he isn't necessarily a professional apologist).
So what am I supposed to think about these guys? I think they're probably all really nice guys. I assume from their training that they are actually very studious and accomplished. I have seen nothing in their behavior or writing that suggests they are lying about anything.
But then again, that is exactly what I really think it takes to maintain a testimony. Those men are not liars in the strict sense; they are not actively scheming to mislead anyone. But from my experience as a TBM, I know that the mechanism that sustains an LDS testimony amounts to lying to yourself. Just read Packer's "Candle of the Lord" sermon. Or recent sermons from Monson and Nelson, in which they tell you that doubt should be driven completely out of your mind. If anything in your mind or heart tells you something is wrong with Mormonism, forget about it, tell yourself that it is true, and continue believing. If you lie to yourself enough, anything can be true and your heart will testify to it.
I just think that the FARMS and FAIR crowd, for all their efforts, are simply caught up in the same human tendencies to which all humans are prone; they have been drawn into that mental state in which everything confirms their heartfelt beliefs. The lens of their belief taints every life experience with the hue of confirmation. They will see the very face of God in every cloud. They will hear the voice of God in every GA sermon. They will read the word of God in anything that makes them feel warm inside.
Once you've entered that mental state, chances are slim that you'll ever get out. Especially when you've been led to believe that only sinners exit that mental state.
That doesn't make them liars or bad men. They're exactly where we were; seeing God in every shadow in the corner of our eyes. Such an endless search for God is compelling and sacred (at least to them). I can't really blame them.
The one last question they have yet to ask is, "How would I know if the church wasn't true? I am so caught up in it, would I really know if this all turned out to be a fraud? After all, I am willing to dismiss literally anything that disconfirms my faith. How would I even know if that dismissal was given too generously?"
Subject: Jarrod, authoritarianism, and self-deception
Date: Apr 01 07:56
Author: Tal Bachman
It might be kind of cool to make a list of every error in thinking we tend to commit - the genetic fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc, etc. - and then start flying up examples of each from apologetic writings.
As for your comments on the necessity of self-deception in order to maintain faith, they are hard to argue with. I remember reading "The Candle of the Lord" years ago and thinking, "something doesn't seem right here", but not really being able to put into focus what it was that I was thinking or feeling.
As for doubt, it is a weak system of belief which cannot tolerate it. The most confident tolerate doubt about itself (liberal democracy, for example); the weakest demand a devout and seething intolerance to it. It is difficult to regard this now as anything other than an admission by proponents of that system of belief that it will not withstand any kind of rational scrutiny. (And this alone would seem to be enough to raise the question of whether it could be all it claimed to be, which is inevitably, the one true explanation of reality.)
It is here where we enter the thorny thickets of authoritarianism; for any ideology or worldview which demands acceptance while demanding at the same time that it not be evaluated critically has no argument in its favor other than "superior authority" (by definition an argument made without any acknowledgement that it bears the onus of justifying itself by recourse to any rational criteria).
To accept that demand of submission means we have waived our right to think critically, and this means that we have in a way rejected our "selves", since those selves - if we were to evaluate everything critically - seem to pass as many tests of "authority" for interpreting reality as does the worldview demanding our allegiance. (Is our batting average for predicting the future any different than any LDS prophet's? If anything, non-Mormons have a better batting average...).
There is a real attraction here. Granting authority over ourselves to some other party relieves us of the hard work of trying to figure out answers to very difficult questions - what are my moral obligations in this situation? Did I do wrong? How should I handle this particular situation?
Once we agree to submit to another party claiming moral authority over us (which again means we have waived our right to critical evaluation of the justification for that claim), anything and everything becomes possible. The requirements of logic could no longer ever really constrain our belief. Neither could the requirements of facts. We could utilize one mode of reasoning to justify one demand of the ideology, then a contradictory mode to justify another, and then reproach ourselves for noticing the contradiction there. We could even self-jutifyingly ignore every fact which raises questions about the authority's claims/our "beliefs".
Once we commit to the proposition that an ideology, or the institution which claims to embody it, has superior authority over us than we or any other consideration does (like facts and logic), we have surrendered a large part of our own humanity - at least that part which was wired precisely to recognize facts and help us discover truth. That facet of ourselves becomes the enemy. It must be eradicated. And since it is the ultimate triumph of reason that it can doubt itself, but since doubt itself is now verboten, that means we must over and over again cede all rights to credit our own reason above the demands, no matter how seemingly contradictory or arbitrary, of the authority. We go on as we have started.
Yet, this battle is pretty difficult. One enduring feature of it is that as we recognize, in spite of ourselves, features of reality which definitely conflict with "the only standard for official church doctrine, the standard works", we play a trick on ourselves (this is what I think you were referring to). We become able to tell ourselves that the item of doctrine, previously unquestioned and credited as very relevant to the gospel, is (we now know) not relevant at all. We keep shifting the goalposts. We keep re-defining words.
We could read through the standard works and find numerous scriptures explaining that Adam and Eve were the sole progenitors of the human race as it now exists, a mere 2800 years or so prior to Homer's composition of The Iliad - but then make the story of Adam and Eve "irrelevant", saying "it's not necessary to my salvation" and that "the church has never taken an official position about the origins of human life" or whatever. Same with dozens of other things.
And yet, the scriptures haven't changed, have they? They continue to say what they always said: that these ideas (which always were considered relevant until facts popped up telling us they were not rooted in fact) are relevant. But we must - must - make them irrelevant. We must disbelieve in the scriptures to keep believing in them, but all without noticing any contradiction there. We must perpetually shrink what we think of as "the gospel", all the while convincing ourselves that "the gospel doesn't change", and not notice.
We wind up at war with ourselves - our minds on the one hand apprehending reality, and on the other trying restlessly to keep adjusting its model of the ideology we have already committed to believing to the end. And when we can't do it, we convince ourselves that the ideology isn't really what we used to think it was, and so change it again. It is no wonder we wind up, in so many ways, as two different people, compartmentalizing all sorts of things, shutting off dialogue not only between ourselves and those who try to point out where our ideas are flawed, but between different portions of our OWN PSYCHE!
This story isn't just the story of surviving within Mormonism; it is the story of every human who has ever found himself within an authoritarianism, whether subsidized by the arms of civil power or not, who has not yet been able to realize that he is trapped within a circular maze....the story of us while we were still unaware that once, we made a mistake.
Subject: I think this attitude should be extended to rank and file LDS
Date: Apr 01 10:40
Author: Chuck Fistian
I see a lot of nasty criticism of believing Mormons on this board, which seems ironic to me, given the fact that many of these criticism come from people who were, 3 months or so ago, exactly what they criticize today with such venom.
Mormons aren't really any different from the vast majority of Americans. 50% don't even believe in evolution, for Christ's sake. If Mormons live in a fantasy world of internal contradiction and irrationality, they fit right in with the 80% of Americans who believe Jesus is the son of God.
Can we really be so hard on Mormons when our entire society suffers from the same illness of irrationality? Can we really thumb our noses at the naiveté of Mormons while the rest of the country still honestly believes Noah put two of every animal on a big boat?
Subject: There are two kinds of TBM writers
Date: Apr 01 10:44
I hear where you're coming from, but I'm not there yet. I've been deeply offended by some of the Mormon apologetic writers. You seem to argue here that I'm now in a similar psychological state as they are. If so, it's something I need to consider.
There seems to be two kinds of TBM writers, those that search for the truth and those that defend the church. In this first category I would put D. Michael Quinn (or how he was several years ago, I'm currently reading his book 'Early Mormonism and the Magic World View'. I know he was exceed, but that occurred long after many of his writings). He is refreshingly honest and truthful. He tells you in his introduction exactly where he stands. His goal appears to be an honest search for truth. Somehow he still maintains a testimony in the process. I appreciate and admire him, even if I don't agree with him, because I know we have the same goal.
On the other hand, there are those that seek only to defend the church like Nibley and DP. Facts and data are only a means to an end. In order to defend the church they need only create a seed of doubt in the minds of the readers to reinforce their world views. Ad hominems do this well, as well as focusing on trivial errors, etc.
After finally breaking free of the church, why am I offended at them but not Quinn? Because the church defenders were not being honest to me. They were using me to protect their own interests. I was not on the same side of the table, a seeker of truth, but I was a pawn to be manipulated and used.
I would like to pretend that I'm not angry at them, but I am. Your argument is a great one for not taking it personally - they were in a psychological state that may easily explain their actions. But I trusted them, and they deceived me. They could have put it all on the table, but instead they chose to skew the facts substantially not necessarily to help me find truth, but to keep me in their church.
There's something wrong with that. Your explanation explains why they do it, but why should that make it OK? They've still done something that is wrong, it affected me, and I'm angry about it. Am I wrong for feeling this way? I don't think so.
These are the same people that persecuted Copernicus and locked up Galileo. These are the people that think that the world is flat and that they are the center of the universe. There are thousands of researchers around the world legitimately looking into our origins and there are half a dozen guys at FAIR/FARMS defending the ‘truth’. They speak to an audience consisting of their inner circle and their captive audience. Their ‘scholarship’ never gets past the walls of the Zion Curtain, but bounces back and is amplified by others within their bubble. It is an echo chamber of nonsense that nobody cares about outside of their world. They think they are the chosen few standing against the countless minions of Satan. But in reality they are an anachronism of times that have long since passed.
I can’t bring myself to feel much in the way of respect, understanding, or sympathy for these people. After the emotion of anger for having been mislead by them has passed, pity is the only emotion left I can conjure. Perhaps I’ll feel differently in the future, but isn’t that what the recovery board is for in the first place?
Subject: Tal? Please write a book looking at the Mormon condition from this "3rs person" aspect...
Date: Apr 01 10:47
This might be the most valuable thing for everyone.
There is one thing I might add, however. That is the issue of LDS leaders hiding key facts. They know WHY they hide those things. It's not innocent. It's deceitful.
The never hid favorable things, do they?
Subject: Re: Adventures in Ex-Mormonism: How should we regard FARMS writers now?
Date: Apr 02 03:17
Perhaps the motives of John Doyle Lee at MM were not "consciously bad" either. Should those of us who place significant value on religious truth tolerate character assassination from those who aren't "consciously bad", any more than we should ignore the murders committed by TBM Mormons of the Nineteenth Century because the murderers were not "consciously bad". After all, were they not just defending the only true church?
I do not tolerate TBM apologists' unconscious behavior, it continues to pull Mormon families apart. I Know! I regret how a few of them might consciously gloat over the success they have had with my TBM wife.
I believe you are trying to put too much whipped cream on the horse pucky.
Subject: Thanks for the comments: my response
Date: Apr 02 08:01
Author: Tal Bachman
Feeling of Freedom, reading your response almost choked me up a bit, since I felt all those same things. I've mentioned on here before the many hours I spent reading and re-reading defense "arguments", trying to understand how they could really make as much sense as they were reputed to by their authors...but time and time again, things seemed irrelevant, arguments seemed to break down, or seemed to rely on criteria that, if applied in another case, would torpedo a different church claim.
All the while, there is an insinuation in those writings that you ought to defer to "the experts"; that is, if things aren't making sense, then YOU don't get it, and you ought to just rest content that people "more educated than you" are still in - that means there is no problem. Every kind of attempt to prey on your own insecurities seems to be made, whether they are made consciously or not...and meanwhile, the pressure to not notice problems - to turn down the wattage of your own consciousness vis-ŕ-vis the church - is overwhelming, for all the reasons I noted in my first post.
But more and more, you get to a point where you can't help but see that apologetic arguments simply cannot be what they claim to be. They adopt the stylings of earnest attempts at discerning reality, but they do not abide by any of the reliable criteria for doing so. When you raise this objection, they say, "well, we are biased, like everyone is biased". But the problem with this silly retort is that while the discernment of reality might always take place with reference to some working hypothesis about reality (what apologists refer to as "bias"), what is really going on is that a conscientious search for truth always requires the concession that the working hypotheses or theories of reality used in that search are theoretically falsifiable, either wholly or in part; whereas church defenders will not - cannot - concede this. "Bias" is perhaps then a mistaken adjective; the real difference is between a theory-generating-and-falsifying open psychological state (to me, very obviously the most reliable), and a hermetically closed psychological state ("no problem on the BoA- let's just redefine the word 'translation'"). But our own immersion in the ideology makes this difference hard to recognize - even a sin to recognize.
If this description of apologetic "research" is accurate, then we might justifiably refer to it as fraudulent, not "research" by any usable definition of the word at all. But fraudulent implies consciousness of fraud, and there we get into the realm of presuming to mind read the practitioners of the fraud. One of my points was that while we probably have a right to be frustrated or even angry that things are made to appear to be what they are not, and that we have born the costs of that, that it is quite another thing to condemn apologetic writers personally. Given a few different quirks of genetics or childhood environment, might we have been similarly incapable of seeing what we now see?
The natural extension of my argument, as was pointed out, is that we ought not to personally, morally condemn either those who massacred, under flag of truce, those at Mountain Meadows. I accept that. I think it makes sense to condemn the action, and I think it also makes sense to punish those who break the law even if their motives were "well-intentioned" not least so that they do not repeat their actions, and so that others are deterred. But after that, things get fuzzy for me. I'm not sure we need to go any farther. To what end? There's no anger, nothing cankerous to ourselves, that way.
One reason things get fuzzy for me here is that I would have killed members of the Fancher party myself. Had I lived in Brigham Young's Utah, hearing sermons fairly often that countenanced the righteous shedding of blood, and having sworn an oath to "obey the prophet whether right or wrong", as John D. Lee had as a Danite, and sworn an oath to "avenge the blood of the prophets", Joseph and Hyrum, and hearing that the Fancher party had consented to their slayings, and being assured by my SP that Pres. Young himself had authorized that action - to refuse would have been to condemn myself, renege on all my most sacred vows of consecration and obedience, give up exaltation and eternity with my family, etc. Of course I would have killed them all. Would my actions have been evil? Of course, as evil as were the Lafferty brothers' actions. But would I have been evil, in the sense of having wished consciously to perpetrate evil?
Let's not forget - there is no provision, within the psychological dynamics of Mormonism (which by the way have not changed since the Mountain Meadows Massacre), for "righteous" dissent from the priesthood line. This is the one constant of Mormonism: total submission, the transference of our wills, even our consciences, to "God" - which means in practice (rehearsing Joseph's argument in his letter to Nancy Rigdon) to "the prophet"/priesthood file leaders.
Once we become involved in a situation like this, which of necessity requires dimmed consciousness, we (in terms of our own personal morality) in a weird way seem to bear all blame, and no blame, all fault, and no fault, and acquire as much right to be condemned as to be exonerated. It seems best to me, then, to drastically lower in priority the question of an offender's personal moral culpability (his degree of consciousness that what he was doing was wrong), and concentrate in fact on whether the actions themselves are bad; and if they are, then I would say, (nearly) regardless of one's motives or personal moral consciousness, let the sword of justice fall. Who cares if Jeffrey Dahmer really thought what he was doing was okay? He murdered, and as far as I'm concerned, that alone - not an exploration of the guy's psychological state - is all we need to execute.
With FARMS, though, we're not talking about murder. We might be talking about pedantic pseudoscience, or character assassination, but people (rightly) don't get put in jail for that kind of thing. Besides, the credibility of FARMS is so very low that it is hard to imagination getting justifiably much more upset at being targeted by them than by the Nation of Islam or the John Birch Society.
Sure, they've done and said things that most human beings would regard as at the least low and coarse, and at most profoundly immoral...but I'm thinking we just let it go. Who cares? These kinds of behaviors go without saying in closed societies (I won't say cult). When you've got Josh Josephson I mean Jesus of Nazareth calling the Pharisees "vipers" and "adulterers", Paul saying covenant breakers are worthy of death, Joseph Smith calling truth-tellers "perjurers", and Dallin Oaks calling those who regard the BOM as a 19th century production satanic, what do you expect from the FARMS guys, who appear about as starry-eyed when viewing the legacy of Joseph, as sincere RM's do when thinking of John Sorenson's groundbreaking work in Mesoamerican archaeology that only anti-Mormon bias keeps the world from lauding? You end up all taking your cues from each other, and trying to impress each other. Things get nuts.
At worst, it becomes almost a game of one upsmanship. Who is the fiercest defender of the church? Who can think of the worst thing to say about an "enemy"? We see sometimes the same dynamic on here. It's pretty normal. I just don't know if it's really in our best interests to get, or at least stay, all freaked out and upset and stuff. Apologetic arguments suck, the church isn't what it claims, we wound up in a - ahem - "closed society", the end.
I'm not saying that we're doing something "sinful" or something if we feel hurt or angry. I would say that it seems that the more we understand about our own experience, though, the less anger we tend to feel; and the less anger we tend to feel, the less likely it is that we commit the same mistakes of perception that got us into trouble in the first place, including the conclusion that others still in church are innately stupid or evil; and the less we think that way, the more at peace we seem to be within ourselves.
This is one use of boards like this one. At some point, learning how to live with the reality that the church we devoted our lives to is not what it claims, for most people requires understanding how we came to immerse ourselves in it in the first place, to the point where I would have put a bullet through the head of some innocent woman clutching an infant 150 years ago, standing under a WHITE FLAG, PLEADING FOR MERCY. How can I be more angry at someone else, than I should be at my (former) self, when I was just as sincere but deceived as they are? Again, to what end?
I might be wrong, but to me, that substitution of brotherly understanding and even love (regardless of the personal insults of those still in) and I'm not saying I'm there yet), for hurt and anger and our urge to condemn those who we feel wronged us, is what recovery - and life - is all about.
Subject: Tal, please remember, however, that there WHERE men who refused to participate...
Date: Apr 02 08:39
at Mountain Meadows! Wil Bagley talks of one man who had to be tied to a wagon wheel to keep him from INTERFERING with the massacre!
How can you really be sure you might not have been that man?
That man put all the others in their true place and today he enables us to measure human evil by contrast. He wasn't alone either. The men who resisted should be counted among the greatest HEROES of the west! They risked their lives by not going along! But they're almost totally forgotten. Their names are on no plaques that I know of.
Those many who went along -- or those few who resisted -- whom should we sympathize with first?
That goes for courageous scholars too.
Subject: Re: Thanks for the comments: my response
Date: Apr 02 13:50
Author: Michael Pace
I appreciate your thoughts. Sorry, I don't think, as a former Mormon, I could have faithfully tagged along with you to participate in the massacre at MM.
In my teens, I tried to be one of those silly "Mormon hobbyists" who thought perfection was mandatory. A popular L.D.S. book, in the 1960s and before, was titled "The Way to Perfection". Is it any wonder that "perfection" might have seemed important, not just a silly "hobby"? Even though I wanted to do what was right, I was never sold on the idea that I would/could do everything a Mormon prophet would order me to do in the name of God. I remember having heard in church settings that we would not be held responsible by God for whatever wrongful act we might commit, as long as we were following the instructions of the "Prophet". This idea seems to contradict another Mormon folly that the "Prophet" cannot lead the saints astray. It was my incipient streak of rebellion that eventually got me to study my way out of Mormonism. I could not have left in any other way, short of outright ex-communication. My original goal was to study my way into a real, fact-filled testimony, without dependence on psychological feelings.
My TBM father once told me that he, also, would have killed members of the Fancher-Baker Party, had he been there. I was shocked. I said, "Dad, that would have made you a murderer!...I'm surprised you said that". He did not respond. Your explanation helps me to understand what my father (deceased) might have meant.
Perhaps I was never a bona fide TBM. At least that is how I am described now; that I never did have a testimony.
I thank you for your interesting posts and responses. I look forward to reading more. By the way, my name was "Auntie" in my first response. I am new to the Board.
Subject: Michael, on what grounds...
Date: Apr 07 12:02
Author: Tal Bachman
could you have "in righteousness" not participated in the MMM? Even into modern times GA's say that we should obey our priesthood file leaders, and if what they ask is wrong, then they will bear responsibility for it; but our duty is to obey. How could any TBM have refused to participate without in effect falling into apostasy?
Subject: Re: Michael, on what grounds...
Date: Apr 08 19:16
Author: Michael Pace
Thanks again for your response.
I would have preferred death for myself than to obey such a command, to be involved in murdering mostly women and children, who were left unprotected, under a white flag. I find it difficult to excuse the participants for whatever motive is suggested. However, only "God" can know our "hearts".
My inability to know those men, and their personal reasons for what they did, makes it impossible for me to judge their actions in a religious sense. How could I ever correctly judge their religious motives, or my own, had I been a participant?
I do appreciate your frankness, and I assume you are genuinely honest and decent. I am not so sure about my own status before "God", but I do know my limits. I have enough to handle without participating in murder on behalf of anyone who claims to possess special powers of authority from the Almighty.
Besides, I seldom thought it possible, as a Mormon, that I could ever please "God", no matter how hard I tried. I believe I would have disobeyed any orders to shoot, slash, and bludgeon defenseless pioneers in the name of the "loving God" I was trying to obey.
For me, I think repenting for disobedience in this case (had I not been blood-atoned) would have been a lot easier than trying to live with the false belief that this crime was justified.
Subject: True Believer Syndrome
Date: Apr 07 12:30
I was impressed with your earlier essay on the idea that apologists are actually following the "true" Mormonism, as practiced by Joseph Smith - that survival of the religion is paramount, and anything, including past teachings and practices, can be abandoned for that goal. I think that is perceptive.
In regards to this particular post, I think apologists are suffering from True Believer Syndrome. While I suspect some may dispute the existence of this syndrome as a psychological disorder, there is no doubt "it" exists.
This description was in regards to people who continued to believe in a "psychic" even after the "psychic" admitted to fraud, but I think it applies to LDS apologists.
Keene believes that "the true-believer syndrome is the greatest thing phony mediums have going for them" because "no amount of logic can shatter a faith consciously based on a lie." That those suffering from true-believer syndrome are consciously lying to themselves hardly seems likely, however. Perhaps from the viewpoint of a fraud and hoaxer, the mark who is told the truth but who continues to have faith in you must seem to believe what he knows is a lie. Yet, this type of self-deception need not involve lying to oneself. To lie to oneself would require admission that one believes what one knows is false. This does not seem logically possible. One can't believe or disbelieve what one knows. (Belief is distinct from belief in, which is a matter of trust rather than belief.) Belief and disbelief entail the possibility of error; knowledge implies that error is beyond reasonable probability. I may have overwhelming evidence that a "psychic" is a phony, yet still believe that paranormal events occur. I may be deceiving myself in such a case, but I don't think it is correct to say I am lying to myself. It is possible that those suffering from true-believer syndrome simply do not believe that the weight of the evidence before them revealing fraud is sufficient to overpower the weight of all those many cases of supportive evidence from the past. The fact that the supportive evidence was largely supplied by the same person exposed as a fraud is suppressed. There is always the hope that no matter how many frauds are exposed, at least one of the experiences might have been genuine. No one can prove that all psychic "miracles" have been frauds; therefore, the true believer may well reason that he or she is justified in keeping hope alive. Such thinking is not completely illogical, though it may seem pathological to the one admitting the fraud.
Joseph Smith never admitted his fraud, yet the evidence is clear, except to those who "know" the church is true. I remember hearing how one apologist - I think it was Nibley, but I may be wrong - who said that it would be damning for the church is evidence of JS being tried for being a glass looker were ever found. Guess what - it was. And even that person (Nibley?) continued to believe.
Reasonable people could conclude that it would be damning for the church were the actual papyri from which the BoA was translated were found, and proved that the "translation" was bogus. Guess what - it was. And people continued to believe.
Certainly some people stop believing in those cases. I was a fervent believer, I "knew", yet I stopped believing after a point. There is some reason apologists - many of who know these issues as well as we do - do not stop believing. Yes, I believe sometimes they are knowingly faking it, but that's probably a small percentage. I think the rest are suffering from True Believer Syndrome.
Now as to what pushes one over into that camp - of True Believer rather than former believer - is probably highly variable and impossible to pinpoint. I believe Eric Hoffer chalks it up to psychological issues, the need to belong, the need to feel right. (but I haven't read his book yet so can't be certain on that point) I do think it is more complicated than one's livelihood being tied up in the church, though. Probably many factors join together to create the True Believer Syndrome
Anyway, while it's admirable to try and avoid ad hom attacks in debates with apologists, and to wish they would avoid them as well, in practice that is next to impossible. People - including us, unbelievers - tend to not notice their own ad homs while noticing those of the opponents. You'd have to be a saint to never indulge. These are heated topics with lots of emotions involved. There is a reason polite people avoid discussing religion and politics. ;)
Subject: Like many I went to FARMS first.
Date: Apr 07 13:45
Like many I know who come across difficulties with the reliability of what they knew about the church I went to FARMS expecting easy answers. As a educated member with a strong testimony we expect the critics to be easily dismissed.
I poured over all the details FARMS could offer and moved on to the second tier apologetics of FAIR/SHEILDS and others like Jeff Lindsay. The hard part is that you may arrive with one doctrinal issue unanswered but in the search you stumble across dozens more. It's only after the thousand or so hours I've spent on the subjects that I know longer feel any animosity to their perceived deception.
I see them in two camps of faith:
1.)The honest believers who feel like any quasi intellectual argument for the smallest coincidence or most difficulty explanation is still enough to believe.
2.) Those in such strong denial about their doubts that they active attack those that they see as threatening their desire beliefs. It reminds me of the angry homophobes who are over compensating for latent attractions.
Subject: To me the bottom line will always be PEER REVIEW...
Date: Apr 07 14:39
I will never know enough to be a good, fully effective judge of things. I may have strong suspicions of course, but I also know my limitations.
What I DO know is that FARMS doesn't have the conviction or the ammunition to take their claims, explanations, defenses etc. to the world's scholarly courts.
If they really had the goods - and knew it - they'd be published in every respected journal possible. Until then, they will have little credibility with me.
And this has NOTHING to do with personalities one way or the other.
Subject: I find them morally and ethically corrupt as they will attack people personally.
Date: Apr 07 15:31
They claim the only true church, only true right way to live, then go about making comments contrary to their own claims of some kind of righteousness.
It takes a certain kind of mind to be an "apologists" for Mormonism as it seems to require a love of and great skill at game-playing, twisting information, dissembling, making insignificant points that don't mean anything while feigning some kind of spiritual conquest.
There seems to be some kind of thrill for a Mormon "apologist" at being able to get people to believe them (just like Joseph Smith Jr did) while making claims they can't back up except by twisting and turning like a pretzel.
It's as if they say, while snickering:
" I just got a bunch of religiously gullible robots to believe a total line of bologna again, and thank me and praise me for it."
It is a kind of game of one-up-man-ship with each of them trying to see who can outdo the other one with their laborious, long, wordy, creative mis-directive writing!
Strange. Just plain odd.
Subject: An argument for why FARMSistas merit our scorn and that of society
Date: Apr 07 16:52
Author: Mojo Jojo
Tal, I agree with your premise that FARMSistas are basically decent men (any women among them?) who are, in their minds, acting nobly and honorably to defend a just cause. I imagine that, on average, they are every bit as decent, moral, and upstanding as us. I do not fool myself that I am a better person than they. We all have our human foibles, and God forbid that others hold any of us to strict, formalistic notions of morality, for I suspect most of us would measure up poorly to such high-mined and rigorous standards.
A few things, however, really irk me about the FARMSistas that, I believe, merit our censure, not because they necessarily indicate they are bad people, per se, but more because they use their obvious intellectual and rhetorical powers to defend otherwise immoral beliefs and practices. I am not talking here about beliefs and practices condemned to be immoral by a fringe of society, but those which a broad cross-section of society have deemed to be immoral.
Let me add at the outset that I also believe that the FARMSistas persistent resort to ad homenein attacks also raises legitimate questions about their moral character. I believe that attacking one’s character merely to score debating points qualifies as unethical, or, if you will, immoral. We all resort to ad homenein to a degree, but FARMSistas have elevated it to high art, and it is a primary weapon in its rhetorical arsenal. I’m not talking about light-hearted ad homenein that everyone recognized to be offered in collegial good nature, but mean-spirited ad homenein meant to belittle, demean, and impugn. I believe that such tactics diminish their claim to any moral high ground.
Now to the main point. Broad cross-sections of Western society today recognize the following practices to be immoral, or at least of questionable morality:
3. Homophobia (for lack of a better word)
4. Lying or purposively misrepresenting/omitting material information so as to induce somebody to consume a product or service.
5. Adultery (though still widely practiced)
6. Sexual relations with underage minors.
7. Exploiting power relationships for sex.
8. Soliciting charitable contributions and refusing to account for how the money is spent.
9. Murder, and particularly mass murder.
Yes, we find FARMSistas consistently defending such practices by current and past Mormon leaders as well as doctrines in Mormon scriptures that provide a rationale for such practices.
One suspects that were such behavior exhibited or such doctrines taught by anyone else that the FARMSistas would find such morally offensive. Thus in their single-minded zeal to defend Mormonism, they end up defending, excusing, rationalizing away immoral practices and beliefs and by doing so make themselves party to them. I suspect, moreover, than FARMSistas themselves are at times morally offended, yet that never appears to dampen their ardor to malign the character of others who are willing to vocalize their moral repugnance to such practices and beliefs.
If the FARMSistas had the moral courage to, at least occasionally, call out Mormon leaders for their moral failings or to acknowledge the immorality of certain doctrines or scriptures, then they’d merit less disdain. But their willingness to accept prima facie immoral behaviors and practice in service of the institutional church makes them legitimate targets for the scorn of ex-Mo’s and non-Mo’s alike.
Subject: My brother in law writes for FARMS and teaches at the Y....
Date: Apr 07 19:27
He is one keystroke from putting on an aluminum foil hat while whistling "Come, come, ye saints."
It is absolutely IMPOSSIBLE to have a normal conversation with him, about anything. He randomly comes up with stuff at family parties, like "I'm theorizing that Michael is Melchezidek". Silent stares ensue. He is seriously Mork from and Ork, and not of this planet. I think that even if I tried to have the type of "I'm not my argument" conversation with him, he would implode. He IS his argument, and his research. All wrapped, taped and a gold bow on top. And safely placed in his little corner of the planet FARMS.
Subject: Re: Your last line. Is it really a matter of "right and wrong?"
Date: Apr 08 17:58
I stand in sincere awe of your posts. They are at once informative and logical.
You may not even read this because I'm such an a-hole (I think Bob M has finally written me off) but I have a different perspective that I think is as valuable as the "live and let live" or at least the "apologist is not the apologetic argument" tack.
I personally never challenged the church while a member and never read the anti-Mormon stuff. When confronted by a soft-sell non-Mormon or one of the most antagonistic ilk I pretty much just ignored them. Quickly and quietly I just moved on.
Any "truth" I confronted that was contrary to my beliefs was easily dismissed with "I know the crutch is true."
I guess my point here, if I can stop the slobbering long enough to try to make it and I can remember what it was by the time I finish typing this rather lengthy sub clause, is that there are different types of people who may respond to different forms of encounters with exmos.
I am so very annoyed with myself that I never challenged any of the garbage in the crutch that I wish someone would have shaken me up a little bit more much, much earlier in my life.
As it was, my life drifted away from the crutch when I began to finally see the leaders as just people. Nothing special. No inspiration at all. Just simple, normal, average people.
Nothing sucked the illusions of truth out of my testimonkey like seeing the inhabitants of this world for what they really were: people.
For what it's worth.
Subject: That's one reason I feel a bit out of place sometimes on here, Brian...
Date: Apr 08 21:33
Author: Tal Bachman
A lot of other folks on here say things like, "it always bothered me that..." or "I just didn't agree with what Pres. So and So said...", and my experience as a church member was a lot different. With almost no exceptions, I was undiscriminating. I didn't have any complaints. I didn't leave because I didn't like church, or because someone offended me, or I didn't agree with someone's politics or something. To do so would have been to commit apostasy, so I never allowed that. I think it is true that I figured out the church was a fraud while maintaining the strictest mental orthodoxy.
Like you, I swallowed everything, and always thought the Mormon Democrats and feminists and grousers and Margaret Toscano types were nuts. Now I'm wondering what the matter with me was. I feel like I would have been Adolf Eichmann or something, John D. Lee, or like the guy in the Milgram experiment that turns the knob up to "XXX" and fries the guy.
What's the matter with us? Maybe it was that we just believed it more than others, I don't know; because if you believe that the prophet really IS the only oracle, what wouldn't you do? I'd have blown myself up, cracked heads with all the coldness of a Hosea Stout.
Subject: Wow Tal! (Part Deux) (And Admins, archive this thread!)
Date: Apr 08 22:56
This is the 2nd thread I've read tonight started by you! I absolutely appreciate everything that you said. It really puts a lot of personal thoughts into perspective. I'm still really new at being out of the church, and still have a lot to learn, but I am so grateful that you posted on this topic. I'm still really at the beginning of my journey of truth-seeking, and I will definitely keep what you've said in mind when I attempt to read apologist's arguments--only because what you've stated is logical, fair and something that I recognize as truth about the entire subject that you have posted on.
Thanks again for a really awesome read!
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