Intellectuals and Priesthood Authority (Intellectuals and Mormonism, pt. 3)

December 17, 2013    By: Jeff G @ 3:28 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Personal Revelation,Scriptures,Theology,Truth

(P)recap.  The purpose of this series on intellectuals within Mormonism is bring the analytic tools of intellectualism against itself so as to help Mormon intellectuals recognize and perhaps second guess the choices that they actively make when they unnecessarily place themselves at odds with the church leadership.  To review, the first post identified the specific kind of intellectualism which the scriptures warn us against.  Briefly, the intellectual will be the person who holds that:

Any speech act can legitimately be called into question by any person, at any time and that a legitimate answer to that question cannot invoke any person’s position within society.

In the second post I articulated the ways in which Mormon intellectuals will not only tolerate, but actively embrace prophecy within their worldview.  In summary, the Mormon intellectual has no trouble negotiating a kind of compatibility between their intellectualism and their prophetic religion, since all doctrines can still be called into question and subsequently (dis)confirmed by God at any time.  In this way, the position which priesthood leaders have taken on any given issue becomes largely irrelevant to the position which Mormon intellectuals will take on the same issue.

While the Mormon intellectual can fully embrace the first leg upon which Mormonism stands (prophecy), he will have serious difficulties embracing the other leg: priesthood authority.  In this post I want to articulate the tensions that exist between intellectualism and priesthood authority, for I believe it is these that are the primary source of contention between the former and Mormonism.

Priesthood Authority Defined.  In order to better nail down the tension between intellectualism (as I have defined it above) and Mormonism as a culture imbued with priesthood authority it will be essential to describe the latter in similar terms as the former.  We will, therefore, not attempt to give a complete description or theory of priesthood authority, but will instead focus on those aspects of it that most illuminate its tensions with intellectualism.  Thus, Mormonism as a priesthood organization holds that:

Speech acts that have been legitimized by priesthood authority cannot legitimately be called into question by some persons, at some times and that invoking a person’s priesthood position within Mormon society is a legitimate answer to any such question.

In other words, a person’s priesthood authority just is a legitimate answer to some questions and as such is in direct contradiction to the values of intellectualism.  On the one hand, intellectualism is largely defined by every person’s ability to legitimately keep debate open on any subject.  On the other hand, priesthood authority is largely defined by the ability of a uniquely chosen few to legitimately end debate on some positions and policies.

While this ability to have the last word within the various contexts is precisely what sets the priesthood holder apart from his peers and is what makes him the leader that the rest of us are supposed to follow, this “setting apart” is also that which the intellectual finds so offensive about such authority.  It is the priesthood, then, and not prophecy which most scandalizes the intellectual, for it is at the very core of the intellectuals’ culture to resist anything and everything which says that certain questions, answers and other speech acts belong exclusively to a small subset of uniquely authorized individuals within any larger group.

Other Authority Figures.  This definition of priesthood authority may sound somewhat harsh and heavy-handed when phrased in these intellectual terms, but it is not too difficult to unpack the role of other authority figures in similar terms.  Consider the roles of parent, judge, military officer, king, boss or coach.  In each case, a person is uniquely authorized to end debate regarding certain positions and policies for some larger group.  If you question/criticize a coach, you will sit on the bench and if question/criticize a military officer, you will be peeling a lot of potatoes.  If you question/criticize a judge you will merely be held in contempt, but if you question/criticize your king you can sometimes be convicted of treason.  Questioning/criticizing your boss is called insubordination and what parent or guardian hasn’t eventually fallen back on “because I said so” as a way of dissuading insolence?  It may be that the intellectual reader sees many of these positions of authority as being crass or in some sense beneath the higher ways which God wants for His church.  In reply, I would remind such a reader that God has often described Himself in these very same terms and positions of authority.

By way of contrast, let us consider some non-hierarchical communities which banish positions of authority in favor of an organization which is more compatible with the values of the intellectual.  The salons of the Enlightenment, reading groups, letters to the editor, blogging communities and to a limited degree academia would all be models according to which the intellectual would rather conceptualize the Lord’s church.  Unfortunately, such communities bear a far more striking resemblance to Protestant churches, churches which are based in their rejection of priesthood authority, than they do to the Mormon Church.  The opening section of Joseph Smith’s History clearly articulates the Lord’s feelings regarding such communities.

Prophecy and Priesthood.  In the last post, I argued that the intellectual was able to fully embrace prophecy since the tension between it and intellectualism are practical rather than principled in nature.  In principle, we all have access to the same natural and supernatural experiences which in turn makes us all equally capable and qualified to ask and answer certain questions.  From a believing intellectual’s perspective, both prophecy and intellectualism reinforce their belief that social position is irrelevant to the (dis)confirmation of any position or policy.

Whereas the tension between intellectualism and prophecy can be dissolved within the practical difficulties of vetting speech acts, the deeper tension which exists between intellectualism and priesthood authority lies in the fact that these are two very different and incompatible ways of vetting or constraining speech acts.  While the former tension can be dissolved, in principle, by somehow overcoming various practical constraints, the latter tension cannot be resolved by any amount of practical effort.  This is due to the fact that while the relationship between intellectualism and prophecy is a question of how we are to practically go about vetting statements according to agreed-upon rules, the relationship between intellectualism and priesthood is a question about which rules are to be those according to which we must properly vet such statements.  One is a question about how to practically apply accepted standards, while the other is about which standards we are to accept.

I hope that I have not given the impression that I am calling the Mormon intellectual’s testimony into question.   I really do mean it when I say that the believing intellectual fully accepts the prophecy of Mormonism as legitimate.  It is for this reason that the Mormon intellectual will struggle so much with and actively repress or disguise the dissonance that they feel with the church as a priesthood organization.  This strong faith in prophecy is precisely what sets the Mormon intellectuals apart from their uncomprehending non-Mormon peers.

Priesthood and Credibility.  One of the ways in which the Mormon intellectual will commonly gloss or even actively repress the dissonance that they feel with the church is through a shift in the meanings of various words and concepts.  An important example would be that while the intellectuals and the scriptures will speak of “authorities” on this or that subject, the meaning of this word differs drastically between these traditions.  For the intellectual, it is the abilities and ideas of a speaker rather than their ordination or social position that qualify somebody as an authority.  Within Mormonism, however, it is the ordination and social position of the speaker rather than their abilities or ideas than legitimate them as an authority.

The intellectual will commonly speak of various authorities which they accept on various subjects and it is because of that person’s credibility regarding such subjects that they will do so.  In other words, the intellectual authority is competent enough to be treated as a useful default position in some subject.  It must be acknowledged, however, that the real authority here lies not in the person or their social position, but in the ideas and words that they able to speak as answers to certain questions.  This is unsurprising since our definition of intellectualism insists that all questions must ultimately be answered without invoking a person’s social position in any way.

Whereas intellectualism accepts a person’s authority because of their credibility, Mormonism reverses this by accepting the credibility of somebody on some subject because of their authority.  In other words, the priesthood leader’s ordination confers legitimacy to their speech acts with little regard for their competence on the relevant subject.  This tradition sees things exactly opposite of intellectualism in that a priesthood leader’s words carry authority because of who is speaking rather than the other way around.  Furthermore, since invoking the priesthood leader’s social position is sufficient to answer questions, and since their social position is typically beyond question, the non-intellectual Mormon sees little, if any legitimate space to call the priesthood leader’s speech acts into question.

These differences in what it means to be an authority also shift the relationship between the discovery of and the justification for various positions and policies.  The intellectual draws a sharp distinction between the discovery of and the justification for a position.  From their perspective, even though a person cannot play any role whatsoever in the process of justification, they can still be treated as an authority figure in the process of discovery.  The Mormon Church, however, sees no important difference between the discovery of and the justification for a position in that the very fact that an idea came from the proper priesthood authority itself constitutes a valid justification for that idea.

Priesthood and Loyalty.  (A big hat tip to LDSPhilosopher throughout most of this post, but especially in this section.)  The very different ways in which each mindset goes about legitimizing various speech acts also suggests that the loyalties of each group also lie in different places.  The loyalty of the intellectual is not so much to individual persons, but to the abstract ideas/doctrines which constitute a legitimate answer to some question.  From their perspective, we should be loyal to priesthood leaders only to the degree that the proper doctrine legitimizes such loyalty.  Within this mindset, the arguments by which doctrines are related to each other and to us are very important and will usually take the form of universal and necessary principles to which there are no exceptions.

The loyalty of the non-intellectual Mormon, however, is not so much to any abstract idea or doctrine, but to the priesthood position of those who authoritatively endorse such things.  In direct opposition to the intellectual, they insist that we should advocate and defend various positions and policies only to the degree that the proper priesthood leaders have legitimized them.  Within this mindset it is not timeless arguments, but the lineage/genealogy of any position and the priesthood authority that backs it along with how these relate to us that is of the utmost import.  In this way, it is not universal and necessary principles, but particular and contingent events which confer legitimacy to positions and policies.

These differences can readily be seen in various speech patterns throughout the bloggernacle.  On the one hand, the intellectual shows their intense loyalty to universal doctrines by encouraging objectivity and following the arguments wherever they may lead.  They are, however, rather suspicious of loyalty to priesthood leaders in their condemnation of credulity and blind obedience.  On the other side of this same coin, the non-intellectual Mormon shows their loyalty to priesthood holders by singing the praises of obedience and testimony affirmation while remaining suspicious of abstract ideas, doctrines and other such philosophies of men.  One side accuses the other of falling on the wrong side of the Euthyphro dilemma by arbitrarily placing the loyalty to a particular man above that to doctrine.  The other accuses the other of falling on the wrong side of that same dilemma by placing the loyalty to particular doctrines above that to the universal priesthood authority.  Put another way, one side sees the fallibility of our leaders in terms of their imperfect relationship to various doctrines and believing too little or too much while the other side sees this fallibility in terms of their imperfect relationship to the rest of the church by giving too little or too much direction.

Apostasy Defined.  Given that the intellectual Mormons’ true loyalties lie with various doctrines while the non-intellectual Mormons’ lie with their priesthood leaders, it is natural to think that the former sees apostasy as disloyalty to certain doctrines which are to govern certain aspects of our lives while the latter sees it as disloyalty to certain persons which have been properly authorized to govern certain aspects of our lives.  This latter disloyalty to the authority of social position is not altogether different from rebellion to hierarchical authorities in other contexts: insubordination, contempt, insolence, treason, etc.  In all such cases, “because He/She/I said so” is not being treated as the legitimate reason for compliance that it is supposed to be.  Such cases stand is stark contrast to the case of Adam who we are told was compliant for no reason other than that the Lord had commanded it.  That was good enough for him.

There are, however, two subtle ways in which intellectual Mormons unwittingly tend to apostatize by consistently rebelling against priesthood authority.  The first would be asking for or expecting the reason or justification for a position or policy, something which should not to be confused with merely receiving any such reason or justification which has been freely offered by our priesthood leaders of their own accord.  On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with a priesthood leader explaining some position or policy to us in order to help us do our jobs properly.  On the other hand, when we ask for or require a reason or justification for some position or policy – something Adam clearly did not do – we tacitly acknowledge that the priesthood authority does not, in fact, legitimize such positions and policies on its own.  To be sure, the ideal model for all authority figures will certainly give us some reasons or justifications as they see fit, but to require a king, judge, boss, parent, coach, military officer, etc. to explain themselves to our own satisfaction clearly betrays a contempt for their authority.

The second way in which the intellectual can unknowing engage in apostasy (a way which will be met with even greater resistance) consists in going over their priesthood leader’s head in a way which delegitimizes that leader’s authority.  This is obviously the wrong thing to do within the work place or in a military context, and there are few things more annoying than having one’s kids go to the other parent after receiving an answer that they did not like from the first parent.  In all such situations there are ways to legitimately appeal positions and policies that we are struggling with and the Mormon Church is no different.  Going about it, however, in a way which pits two authority figures against each other, thereby undermining the authority of at least one of them shows a marked disloyalty to priesthood authority and thus is a form of apostasy.

Personal Revelation.  By far, the most common way in which Mormon intellectuals subtly undermine priesthood authority is under the guise of personal revelation – that aspect of Mormonism which they fully embrace.  This usually happens when an intellectual disagrees with a priesthood leader and then seeks personal revelation in a way which pits God/truth against that priesthood leader.  Rest assured, this strategy has played a central role in all too many apostates’ departure from the church and is, again, based in a subtle shift in meaning.

Because of the Mormon intellectuals’ hostility toward all authority of social position, they find themselves compelled to construe personal revelation as a one-on-one relationship between God/intellectual.  At the heart of this view of personal revelation is the notion that ideas are the true source of legitimacy and that God and only God has full and perfect access to all true ideas.  All other priesthood leaders only have imperfect access to some of these true ideas and are thus less credible and therefore less authoritatively binding on the intellectual.  Thus priesthood leaders can thus be safely ignored or at least temporarily sidelined in the intellectuals’ quest for truth.

The nonintellectual, by contrast, refuses to undermine the authority of their priesthood leaders and thus sees personal revelation as an attempt to triangulate, negotiate and harmonize the three relationships which exist between God/himself, himself/priesthood-leaders and priesthood-leaders/God.  The non-intellectual Mormon will thus seek guidance and direction in their lives in a way which does not undermine the relationships which exist between himself/priesthood leaders and priesthood leaders/God.  This is very different from the intellectuals who take little notice, let alone responsibility for these other relationships.

Recap.  The tensions which exist between intellectualism and the church as a priesthood organization are deep-seated and unavoidable.  There can be no harmonizing compatibility between the two mindsets since each one just is a contradiction of the other.  Priesthood authority consists in the ability of a uniquely ordained few to have the last word on various subjects, while intellectualism consists in a strong rejection of this very ability.  Whereas the non-intellectual Mormon will construe credibility, loyalty, fallibility and apostasy in terms of the genealogies and relationships which exist between people, the intellectual Mormon will see such things in terms of the arguments and logical consistencies which exist between ideas and principles.  Because of the different meanings which each mindset brings to these terms, the intellectual Mormon will often find themselves being accused by non-intellectuals of apostasy for words and actions that are praised within intellectual circles.  In order to avoid this censure which will always come from the priesthood organization, the intellectual Mormon has a strong incentive to repress or disguise all such shifts in meaning.


  1. Well done yet again. I have looked forward to these. I think you have laid out the two approaches quite well.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — December 17, 2013 @ 6:34 pm

  2. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church…Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past (by it’s priesthood leaders with limited understanding) that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

    Isn’t this fiasco what you would expect to occur when the body of the church follows priesthood leaders who have limited understanding without questioning where we are headed or why?

    Without the intellectual questioning you oppose here can’t this kind of thing happen again?

    Comment by Howard — December 17, 2013 @ 9:12 pm

  3. Fascinating. I.’m not sure that you’re meaning to, but you lay out the nihilistic nature of divine command theory very well.

    Comment by Nate W. — December 17, 2013 @ 10:26 pm

  4. A few questions

    1. If a priesthood leader asks a person to break a commandment should they do it?

    2. In lds tradition children are taught to choose the right and let the Holy Spirit guide. Are you saying that “right” is not a universal abstract principle but rather means obey the priesthood authority?

    3. You use analogies to coaching, the military and business leadership. If these are good analogies for priesthood authority why are so few of them advocating loving their enemies?

    4. What did satan’s plan add to blind obedience that made it different from what you describe?

    5. And lastly, why does your writing not seem at all similar to lds conference talks? If you are following tradition and authority why does it not read like a priesthood leader’s words?

    Comment by Troyp — December 18, 2013 @ 7:36 am

  5. Ok, I get that the mormon church differs from intellectuals in not believing that reason determines legitimacy and that everything is open to critique.

    What I don’t understand is the belief that righteousness doesn’t constrain tradition and authority.

    It seems so much at odds with LDS tradition and authority. The priesthood does not consider itself a mafia or a military where loyalty trumps righteous.

    This seems clear to me from several aspects of mormonism. The belief that God is constrained by truth and law. The belief in the light of Christ and individual conscience. The denigration of compulsion and coercion in the gospel. The teachings of love, patience and long-suffering in using the priesthood.

    I’m just not seeing where mormonism’s tradition of authority is at all like how you are describing it. What parts of your presentation would explain to me why I’m not following Priesthood authority to believe that priesthood authority is constrained by righteousness in the abstract?

    Comment by Troyp — December 18, 2013 @ 9:22 am

  6. I’m surprised that through three lengthy posts there has been no reference to, much less a discussion of, D&C Section 121. That is a critical omission as Section 121 establishes (i) that it is the nature of most all priesthood leaders to exercise unrighteous dominion, (ii) that when a priesthood leader exercises unrighteous dominion he does so without priesthood power even though he may have a priesthood office, and (iii) crucially, the way members can know that a priesthood leader is operating with priesthood power, and not simply priesthood office, is that he (or she) works through persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness and meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, and pure knowledge.

    Priesthood power never works by compulsion regardless of the priesthood holder’s office. Members are not obligated to follow a leader simply because of his/her office. They are only under obligation to follow when he/she exercises righteous priesthood power, which the member alone judges through their interaction with the spirit. It is the spirit that is perfect and therefore creates obligations. Never fallible man.

    To put this in layman’s terms, just because someone has a driver’s license, it doesn’t mean I’m going to get in a car with them at the wheel.

    Comment by Dave K — December 18, 2013 @ 9:55 am

  7. Dave K,

    I didn’t bring it up because of the concern it may be considered a “proof text” so I referred to the tradition of which DC 121 is a part.

    It seems to me that rather than mormonism falling away from a blind obedience hierarchy found in other organizations like the military, business and coaching. The military, Ceo’s are coaches are moving towards mormonism with more recognition of the advantages of independently thinking employees and soldiers and
    the concept of a leader as a servant of those below him or her.

    Comment by TroyP — December 18, 2013 @ 10:41 am

  8. Jeff G,

    I’ve been asking a lot of questions to understand your thought better.

    One area where I think I agree with you completely is not understanding people who profess a belief in mormonism but not in the authority of its leaders over doctrine and practices of the church.

    When I disagree with leaders, I think that I recognize that I’m disagreeing with the church and am responsible for any sins that come from that disagreement.

    Comment by TroyP — December 18, 2013 @ 10:50 am

  9. A lot of resistance, but I feel like most of these replies beg the question at hand.

    Howard, you are exactly right in that things like that most definitely will happen with priesthood organizations. But the whole point is that from a non-intellectual standpoint, this isn’t a bad thing in any way at all. So many intellectuals are dissatisfied with the recent church release about race and the priesthood because it doesn’t go far enough in confessing the church’s betrayal of universal principles. What these intellectuals have a hard time seeing is that priesthood organizations like the church never claimed any loyalty to such universal principles. From this perspective, there is no sin to confess since they never compromised on their true loyalties.

    Nate, it was largely intentional since the non-intellectual mentality does look nihilistic from an intellectual perspective since they claim no allegiance to any kind of universal and necessary principles. To claim, however, that this non-intellectual perspective has no values worthy of the name would be a serious mistake. The whole point of my post is to try and help the intellectual see that the difference in values is not one of degree but kind.

    Dave, I simply do not see how section 121 contributes anything to the point I am making. My point is that each mindset will read those passages very differently, and the fact that people keep trying to use it as a proof-text only shows how poorly I’m doing. One of my central theses is that the scriptures are largely written in a premodern, non-intellectual language that intellectual have systematically misconstrued. I never said anything at all about compulsion or not being patient. That passage was written to priesthood leaders, teaching them how to do their jobs well, not to intellectuals who could then use their understanding to delegitimize the leaders that they happen to take issue with.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 18, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

  10. Troy,

    1. This question betrays an intellectual mentality, for commandments just are things that come from priesthood leaders. The idea that a priesthood leader can legitimately command us to disobey a legitimate command is confused from the start. If, on the other hand, you are asking whether priesthood authorities might command different things at different times, the answer seems to be a clear “yes” to me. But again, a premodern mentality would allow the answer to this very question to change according to context!

    2. Again, you try to contrast what is right from what is commanded by priesthood authority. The point of the post is that each mindset defines that which is right in different ways. The intellectual will see the rightness of some act as being totally independent of who does or does not endorse it (even God). This way of thinking is totally foreign to a priesthood organization.

    3. I see lot’s of authority figures teaching some form of love for others. I don’t see any reason why these teachings should vary a bit across social context and authority figure.

    4. Like Dave, you can’t help but read blind obedience and compulsion into my account, even though it should be clear that this is merely the way that the intellectual will see things. In their mind, if obedience is not constrained by universal principles, then there must not be any constraints at all. This is totally bogus. Here’s a bit more on that subject:

    5. Mine is clearly not a non-intellectual, priesthood authorized account of anything. There are lot’s of bloggers out there that are packaging these ideas in non-intellectual language, but I think we’ll both agree that the intellectuals have a difficult time wrapping their minds around that language. These posts are supposed to help intellectuals finally come to understand and sympathize with non-intellectuals. I write these posts in the language of the intellectuals for the same reason that an intro class to Spanish is taught in English.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 18, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

  11. Jeff G.

    I’m pretty sure now that you are not serious but I’m not completely sure.

    I’ll give it one more chance.

    I think most non-intellectual LDS would agree that it is a commandment to not have sexual relations outside of marriage. If a priesthood authority instructs a person to perform a sex act outside of marriage, should the person submit to that authority and perform the sex act?

    If you answer yes, I don’t need to ask anymore questions.

    If you answer no, then by what means does a person tell that the request was not based on a legitimate priesthood authority?

    Comment by TroyP — December 18, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

  12. You said “These posts are supposed to help intellectuals finally come to understand and sympathize with non-intellectuals.”

    How many intellectuals have seen the light?

    One comment from my pre-modern values. Authority comes from courage and noble acts, not a hierarchy. When the leaders have the title but not the courage and nobility it means disaster for a culture.

    Thanks for your exposition brother Jeff.

    Comment by TroyP — December 18, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

  13. I can only assume that you’d think I’m joking because I said something that just seems absurd? Either way, I completely meant what I said. If you asked a priesthood authority whether they could legitimately command me to do something contrary to what has been commanded in other places, my intellectual perspective holds that the answer could very well change without either answer being false from a premodern perspective. Isn’t this exactly what we see in the early history of the church with Joseph Smith and Brigham Young? Isn’t this exactly what Bruce R. McConkie’s position was regarding the priesthood ban – that the answers and reasons can change?

    While there is no independent standard against which to measure each mindset, I believe that I can say that church history and the scriptures are far more consistent and coherent from a non-intellectual perspective. There is no shortage of intellectuals trying their best to harmonize the inconsistencies which they see in the scriptures, but maybe they’re just measuring consistency by the wrong standards?

    As for how many people I have helped make peace between their intellectualism and their faith (which is really what I’m trying to do), I think you’d be surprised at some of the emails I get.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 18, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

  14. Jeff G,

    Ok I’ll take your word for it, its what my LDS religion teaches me to do.

    So, I don’t think you are seeing my point. Its not from an intellectual perspective its from a non-intellectual LDS perspective.

    One of the things that the non-intellectual LDS have in common is a rejection of pragmatic definitions of truth and of values that are not universal. “God’s truth doesn’t change”, even God is subject to the moral law, etc. I don’t know an LDS person ( I don’t know you, I don’t think) intellectual or non-intellectual that would agree that the truth of something depends on whether it is commanded by an authority.

    They will say, “I’m going with the Lord” or “I trust our leaders” or some other variant, but never, ever, its true because our leaders said it because we have a premodern definition of truth where truth is legitimated by tradition and authority.

    Furthermore, they are very, very reluctant to give up the power in the modern culture of equating fact-truth with value-truth.

    BTW, your emails may be from people who Richard Bushman describes as being atheist but finding that it makes them unhappy. Like he said, tough place to be in.

    Comment by TroyP — December 18, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

  15. Of course a non-intellectual would not answer that question the way I did, because that would simply be a ridiculous or even false question from their perspective. Again, my answers resemble that of an intro Spanish class teacher, not a fluent Spanish speaker who doesn’t even know how to speak English.

    I would also emphasize (as I somewhat did in the 1st post of the series) that I’m not really asking you to give up any any particular beliefs. Rather, I trying to get the reader to see how contingent their intellectual values are in order to undermine the hegemony of those values. It should be clear from my posts, that I sure haven’t given up the mental tools of intellectualism and I would never expect any other intellectual to do so either. Rather, I simply want them to follow me in seeing such mental tools as being a mere subset of the mental tools that are available to us.

    On a different note, I’m not too impressed with your going from the fact that I receive nice feedback on my posts by way of email to some rather negative generalizations about those people.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 18, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

  16. Regarding “I’m not too impressed with your going from the fact that I receive nice feedback on my posts by way of email to some rather negative generalizations about those people.”

    I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to disparage the people or their positive comments to your posts. I meant to express sympathy for people who recognize that reason gives them no hope but instead keeps them from easily taking their faith on faith.

    I am curious what type of intellectual you find Denver Snuffer to be. It seems like it would be easy for you to see him as someone who doesn’t understand authority. On the other hand his appeal seems to be to people who appreciate tradition and authority. I don’t know his work at all, just a few glosses.

    Comment by TroyP — December 18, 2013 @ 4:44 pm

  17. I’m probably in the same boat as you on this one. I’ve heard his name, but that’s about all I can say about him.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 18, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

  18. Jeff G.:

    1. Re your response to Dave K, is it your position that his statement that “Members are only under obligation to follow [a priesthood holder] when he/she exercises righteous priesthood power, which the member alone judges through their interaction with the spirit” is incorrect? If so, is it incorrect because the member lacks competency to make that judgment, because the member lacks authority to make the judgment, or for some other reason?

    2. Re your response to TroyP, in which you say “Again, you try to contrast what is right from what is commanded by priesthood authority. The point of the post is that each mindset defines that which is right in different ways. The intellectual will see the rightness of some act as being totally independent of who does or does not endorse it (even God). This way of thinking is totally foreign to a priesthood organization”–is it your position that (a) a command from priesthood authority is inherently right by virtue of its source, (b) even if a command from priesthood authority may be wrong, the person to whom the command is directed lacks either the competence or the authority to question the rightness of the authority and so his or her only obligation is to obey, or (c) neither of the above?

    Comment by Nate W. — December 18, 2013 @ 5:07 pm

  19. Just to test my own understanding, I think he I saying the premise in b makes no sense to a non intellectual, wrong has no meaning outside priesthood authority, it would just not occur to think that way.

    Comment by Troyp — December 18, 2013 @ 5:33 pm

  20. OK–after reading this and stewing on it for a while, I have finally pinned down where I have heard the philosophy it appears that Jeff G. appears to be advocating:

    The apostles entrusted the “Sacred deposit” of the faith (the depositum fidei), contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church. “By adhering to [this heritage] the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. So, in maintaining, practising and professing the faith that has been handed on, there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful.”

    “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church, 84-85

    Comment by Nate W. — December 18, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

  21. Jeff G wrote: But the whole point is that from a non-intellectual standpoint, this isn’t a bad thing in any way at all.

    So, if there is no right or efficient path or important destination what is the point of following blind prophets as they fumble around and priesthood leaders who are loyally obedient to blind prophets?

    The Jews wandered for 40 years in the wilderness because they were a stiff necked people but I don’t think that can say that about LDS Mormons, they tend to go overboard in blind obedience some even living (in their own minds) a higher law by going beyond the statutes and avoiding Coke for instance. It seems as a church we are stuck on obedience with is just a beginning gospel lesson, it’s time to move on!

    Comment by Howard — December 18, 2013 @ 7:07 pm

  22. Troy’s response is very close to what I would say. The fact that my take on priesthood closely resembles the catholic position does not escape me either. On the other hand, I think the catholic tradition absorbed far too much of the intellectualism which I decry here. In fact, I’m tempted to say that this absorption just was the great apostasy.

    I hope this doesn’t strike you as me back-peddling (because I’m not), but I’m not totally convinced that priesthood position is always a trump card against all other sources of legitimacy (nobody believes that). Rather, my point is that priesthood position is intrinsically a source of legitimacy, something that the intellectual cannot acknowledge. To be sure, priesthood authority is no different from other values in being constrained and balanced with other values. In the end, the fact that a priesthood leader commands something is itself a good reason to believe, but this does not entail that it is the only reason at play.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 18, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

  23. Howard,

    I’m more sympathetic to your position than you probably think. It’s so easy for educated people such as ourselves to poo-poo on these people and get more than a little frustrated that they don’t seem to share or even understand our perspective. These posts are my attempt to show us intellectuals why they and not us are probably closer to the right path than we are. At any rate, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the non-intellectuals tend to understand us better than we do them.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 18, 2013 @ 7:25 pm

  24. Jeff G.:

    I think the catholic tradition absorbed far too much of the intellectualism which I decry here.

    Would that be a reference to scholasticism?

    Maybe it’s just the “intellectual” in me, but as I read your post, the thing that keeps coming to mind is the parable of the Grand Inquisitor…

    Comment by Nate W. — December 18, 2013 @ 8:25 pm

  25. Not just scholasticism, but Greek thought in general.

    I’m guessing I’m not alone in being unfamiliar. Care to give a recap or should we just Wikipedia it?

    Comment by Jeff G — December 18, 2013 @ 10:23 pm

  26. Jeff G. I think you are over-thinking the typical Mormon “non-intellectual” as you call them and giving them too much philosophical credit for their position.

    I think they suffer from either a vague somewhat laudable but very misplaced belief that God actually micromanages the church through TSM and the other brethren (evidence such as the ban on blacks fiasco refutes this) and God’s direction rolls downhill from SLC to the local leadership OR they just have I don’t careitis.

    Many members see themselves as having a leg up with regard getting through the pearly gates, their obviously admirable performance in their first estate set them up for spiritual good fortune in this life and the life to come in a self fulfilling prophesy of ego gratification provided they endure (obey) to the end. This belief quells their insecurities. They see blessings as quid pro quo payment for obedience similar to the child anticipating the Santa Clause checking his list and sending them on to the celestial kingdom.

    They dislike intellectual discussion about these topics because it threatens to expose these subconscious childish beliefs to their very own conscious causing considerable dissonance for them so they would prefer we just shut up about it! However i suspect they are more than willing to allow you to continue as their apologist since they really haven’t thought through a plausible rationalization themselves.

    In short they blindly obey because that’s what they were trained to do and they haven’t introspectively examined themselves nor do they want to or plan to!

    Comment by Howard — December 18, 2013 @ 10:58 pm

  27. Regarding Dostoyevsky’s parable of the Grand Inquisitor, there are several copies of the text available online as well as countless summaries and analyses. It’s probably just easier to link to Wikipedia as a starting point:

    There is a lot there and my point may not be crystal clear, so I will stick around to engage you about why your post reminded me of it. However, it’s such a good piece of literature that I don’t want to cabin off your consideration of its themes to the point I want to emphasize—I’ll give you time to read and contemplate it before explaining my thoughts.

    Comment by Nate W. — December 19, 2013 @ 10:12 am

  28. Jeff G.

    For the non-itellectual, what function does the canon and the process of canonization serve? Does the canon establish boundaries for priesthood authority? If the canon is irrelevant to priesthood authority why has it been a practice of priesthood authority to maintain one? If office alone provides sufficient justification to all commands regardless of said commands’ harmonization (or lack thereof) with the canon then what motivates priesthood authorities to maintain a canon?

    You reference Adam’s obedience above being attributable exclusively to “because God so commanded” and I agree. But when visited by messengers sent from God, Adam first required evidence of proof from those purporting to be messengers sent from God before heeding any of the messengers’ words. God Himself had provided Adam with signs and tokens to be presented by anyone professing to speak in His name. The canon is replete with similar injunctions to would-be followers of Christ. The counsel of “by their fruits you shall know them” is in this vein. So, in the absence of absolute authority outside of priesthood office, by what standard should would-be followers of Christ identify true messengers of God? Is it your position that priesthood office alone constitutes sufficient evidence that the office-holder is a true messenger of God?

    Comment by PaulM — December 19, 2013 @ 1:05 pm

  29. Jeff G.,

    How do you reconcile the Garden narrative with the non-intellectual view of authority? Specifically, how do you reconcile the Fall? Adam was presented with two equally authoritative commands and was forced to choose between the two. In a paradigm where authority of office is paramount how does Adam decide which if the more forceful command?

    Comment by PaulM — December 19, 2013 @ 1:10 pm

  30. Here is another line of questions.

    One of the reasons modern is not premodern is increasing contact across cultures. How is it possible for an lds missionary to convince someone from another tradition of the truth of their teachings if they conflict with the other tradition?

    Why would the person from a nonchristian or polytheistic culture accept their authority?

    Aren’t people encouraged to seek a witness directly from God?

    Why should this be limited to new converts?

    Here is another question. It would seem like the word cult for you is just an insult people use for authorities they don’t like.

    Why do lds resist being labeled a cult? If they believe truth is just tradition and authority shouldn’t they be happy to be the one true cult?

    Comment by Troyp — December 19, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

  31. Howard,

    I think you are being at least as close-minded towards these non-intellectuals as they are being toward you. I don’t expect you to ever become one of these people, but I at least hope you could try to understand and maybe even appreciate their perspective in a way that keeps you from demonizing them so much. I know that similar things could be said about them, but we both know that such people would have very little interest in this conversation.


    I’m a bit busy for the foreseeable future (’tis the season, right?), but I’ll definitely give your link a read.

    Paul and Troy,

    It seems perfectly clear to me that there is some serious misunderstanding on at least one side of this conversation…. And since it’s my post, I’m guessing most of the fault lies with me. The last thing I want to do is waste all of our time interpreting every single little test case that can be brought against me. Let’s see if I can’t get to the heart of our misunderstandings without going about it in such a round about way.

    The scriptural canon just is a collection of those statements which have varying degree of priesthood backing. It is for this exact reason that the canon not only can, but ought to change over time. The intellectual (following the protestant rejection of authority) would be more inclined to see the priesthood authority of their leaders as being derived from and therefore constrained by the scriptural canon rather than the other way around. Come to think of it, I think this puts a rather interesting spin on the JS-translation, but I’ll have to chase that rabbit some other time.

    I think both of you raise an interesting issue regarding the ways in which we come to accept some authorities rather than others as legitimate. Honestly, I haven’t thought this through too much (and I think it does deserve a post of its own), but let me just wing-it for now.

    The most obvious answer would be typical appeal to personal revelation. I should emphasize that I have not downplayed the importance or legitimacy of PR at all, but have instead attempted to show how intellectuals construe PR in ways which are foreign to a non-intellectual mindset. Whereas the intellectual is looking for information, data or some other form of true ideas, (Is such and such a true prophet?), the non-intellectual will ask for true guidance or direction regarding their relationships with some potential authority figure.

    In the non-intellectual mindset, our sustaining prophets is a very important practice wherein we freely acknowledge the legitimacy of some person’s authority over us. We are always welcome to not sustain such figures and be on our way, but the intellectual practice of sustaining a priesthood leader while at the same time rejecting the intrinsic legitimacy of their teachings simply does not make sense to the non-intellectual.

    I’m also very suspicious of the intellectuals’ attempt at pretending as if they can step out of the social situation in which they happen to find themselves. There is no way for us to critically distance ourselves from all sources of legitimacy without begging the question at hand. As we speak, we all accept and enforce certain rules regarding beliefs and speech acts, but there is no reason to think that we cannot learn to accept and enforce other rules or sources of legitimacy.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 19, 2013 @ 5:29 pm

  32. Jeff G,

    Thanks for your efforts.

    I think some of my misunderstanding has to do with the fact that you are focusing on legitimacy and speech acts of non-intellectuals and I am considering how non-intellectuals think and talk.

    One of my main points is that I believe non-intellectuals, even more than intellectuals believe that truth is about what is and that all kinds of truth function the same way. There is a fact of the matter and it doesn’t depend on how or what believes it is just is.

    I’ve never met a non-intellectual that thinks that if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it that it doesn’t make a sound. Some intellectuals do, but not the non-intellectuals. Your theory of legitimacy (and truth) seems very much like if there is no authority and tradition then there is non truth.

    Non-intellectuals tend to be concrete, sense-oriented literal people and so it seems strange to think that their own senses are as influenced by authority and tradition as you say.

    I’ve never met a non-intellectual that was a social constructionist. If they are social constructionists with respect to authority why do they hate social constructionist’s descriptions?

    Comment by TroyP — December 19, 2013 @ 6:01 pm

  33. Nate, I hold no ill will, it’s my interest in human behavior and experience as a life coach that drives my comments. It’s not a new concept:

    The unexamined life is not worth living

    Why would he say that and why is it still repeated today?

    Comment by Howard — December 19, 2013 @ 6:43 pm

  34. Well written post. I think in the future you want to flesh out what you mean by apostasy a little more. Earlier in the post you’ve acknowledged that intellectuals can have genuine testimonies, but later on, you essentially argue that these testimony-bearing intellectuals are also guilty of apostasy. I’m not sure many people would see how someone can be a faithful believer and an apostate at the same time.

    I think this is your best post on the topic.

    Comment by DavidF — December 19, 2013 @ 7:00 pm

  35. And by on the topic, I mean on the broad topic of intellectualism and Mormonism.

    Comment by DavidF — December 19, 2013 @ 7:01 pm

  36. Thanks David. It just occurred to me that I completely forgot to acknowledge the influence that the ldsphilosopher had on many of the thoughts presented in this post. Especially in helping me frame the contrast between loyalty to men vs loyalty to abstract principles.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 19, 2013 @ 10:38 pm

  37. I would like to take a stab at expressing my take on the topic. I think one of the reasons that i have liked the posts here is that I am somewhat in-between.

    For me, Mormonism is what its priesthood leaders say it is. Essentially be definition. One may choose to believe it or not, but it is what they say it is. Intellectuals may talk about Mormonism, and what they say may be interesting, but it is not necessarily Mormonism. It may be about Mormonism, or based on Mormonism, but that is as far as it can go.

    However, Mormonism as it is, is not necessarily absolute truth. It seems God intends for us to operate on partial information. So there is room for additional truth. But such truth does not become Mormonism by majority vote, or pressure from protesters. It only becomes Mormonism when the priesthood leaders say so.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — December 20, 2013 @ 5:17 am

  38. Eric,

    “For me, Mormonism is what its priesthood leaders say it is.”

    Jeff doesn’t think that how words acquire meaning matters to his argument, but I think it does in critical ways.

    If the only source of legitimacy is tradition and authority, we don’t have any way of knowing if we are understanding what the leaders are saying.

    Let’s say priesthood leaders say we should be guided by the spirit. How do we know what “spirit” is without appealing to something other than the sound they are making?

    Their words can’t legitimate their own meaning. It gets circular just like dictionary definitions.

    The paradox is that even if a person is trying to follow someone else’s authority, the meaning of words is part of his own mind. There is no way to give over to someone else your mind’s role in creating meaning.

    A person has to create their own meanings before they can engage in speech acts.

    So, mormonism can’t be what LDS leaders say it is, without the cooperation of others in creating the meaning of words.

    One way of looking at this is the act of translating what LDS leaders say about mormonism into languages not spoken by LDS leaders.

    The people who translate their words, play a large role in what those leaders “say” in other languages.

    You can’t say that there is any tradition\authority on the first translation into a new language.

    I think Jeff might think that this supports his point, that all words are just cultural products with no reference to reason or sense experiences independent of authority.

    He also doesn’t like to follow up specific questions. But how would we ever know whether or not protests are the way God makes revelation to church leaders. Why would we think church leaders are aware of the way ideas occur to them or what influences their unconscious?

    Comment by TroyP — December 20, 2013 @ 9:26 am

  39. Ultimately, I think our religious beliefs can be nothing more than subjective. Authentically looking within and following the internal, personal, subjective experiences that we have. Like whether or not to believe what religious leaders say.

    For much of the rest of your comment, I am not sure I am up to engaging with it. And I suspect it would not be practical.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — December 20, 2013 @ 10:05 am

  40. The Scriptures very nearly describe nothing but people who lived before any exposure to intellectualism and these people understood their leaders just fine. The fact that intellectualism is a late comer is what leads me to think that the question is irrelevant.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 20, 2013 @ 10:14 am

  41. Isn’t that the thrust of the point? That intellectuals rely almost completely on objective thinking, where non-intellectuals recognize other sources of knowledge?

    Though I’m sure intellectuals wouldn’t like to think of it that way, or admit that true objectivity is an illusion.

    Comment by SilverRain — December 20, 2013 @ 10:42 am

  42. Silverrain,

    “That intellectuals rely almost completely on objective thinking, where non-intellectuals recognize other sources of knowledge?”

    Then why do conservatives so often criticize liberals as prioritizing feeling over objective thinking?

    This whole line of reasoning strikes me as a trojan horse that there is no objective evidence that the LDS is a God of flesh and bones. I’m arguing as a non-intellectual. Tradition and authority are firmly in the camp that God is an objective presence independent of the priesthood.

    But where are the statements from priesthood leaders(the source of legitimacy invoked here) that anyone but an intellectual ever thought that objectivity was an illusion?

    Where is the evidence that appeals to reason and experience are modern?

    There was certainly much sin in pre-modern times and for the most part those sinners wanted sense experience of God. Where is the evidence that the righteous of the past were more non-intellectual than the unrighteous of the past?

    All I’m hearing is old bottles and not much about new wine.

    Comment by TroyP — December 20, 2013 @ 11:45 am

  43. At this point it seems like you have abandoned the definitions that I tried so hard to nail down in order to exploit the ambiguity in terms that Mormon intellectuals so often rely upon in order dissolve the tensions between their the two mind sets.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 20, 2013 @ 11:58 am

  44. I’m trying to find a good way out of this.

    I will agree with your argument based on your definition of intellectuals.

    However, I don’t believe there exist more than a few “mormon intellectuals” that is believing mormons that think everything should be open to criticism based on reason, nor do I believe there exist more than a few “non-intellectual mormons” that is people who determine legitimacy based on respect for tradition/authority in a way that overrides their personal sense of experience and reason about a reality independent of priesthood authority.

    I already agreed that mormons who put reason above authority are in a state of contradiction.

    I just believe that legitimate authority is always consistent with reason and objective reality. For example, the tradition points out that their is no conflict between scientific belief and LDS religion.

    Comment by Troyp — December 20, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

  45. Take the duck dynasty flap and Phil’s comments. He’s not mormon but his language strikes me as typical of non-intellectual mormons, in that he blends personal experience, objective reality and the authority of tradition.

    He compares the sexual anatomy of a male and female (appeal to objective sense), he states homosexuality just isn’t logical (appeal to reason) and he also appeals to religious text and deity.

    This seems altogether typical in the way all of these run together, so much so that ijust don’t think its possible to be a non-intellectual by your definition.

    Comment by Troyp — December 20, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

  46. TroyP, you are a very confusing individual.

    It seems from a 3rd-party perspective that you are changing Jeff’s definitions and statements, and then disagreeing with them.

    How tiresome.

    “Non-intellectual Mormons” in my experience are far more involved with serving and doing than they are with rationalizing everything. The non-intellectual Mormon just like Phil from Duck Dynasty is a straw man so thin it’s transparent. Though I don’t doubt he is similar to the imaginary non-intellectual Mormon in your own mind.

    Comment by SilverRain — December 20, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

  47. SilverRain,

    If Jeff would have said non-intellectuals are those that value deed over word and don’t waste time with speculation, I wouldn’t have commented.

    Instead, he is defining non-intellectual as someone who thinks invoking Priesthood authority is an answer to questions doubting legitimate speech acts of church leaders.

    I don’t see any connection between an attitude “What does it matter, let’s just get our home teaching done?” and the attitude “its right because a priesthood leader said it.”

    If Phil is a straw man then I made a bad choice. He clearly seems popular with many people with traditional values, so I thought it would be noncontroversial.

    “It seems from a 3rd-party perspective that you are changing Jeff’s definitions and statements, and then disagreeing with them. How tiresome.”

    Tiresome for me because that sounds like I’m keeping up both sides of the argument! :)

    Comment by TroyP — December 20, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

  48. Troy,

    If what you say in #44 is true, then I guess that’s why I don’t have too much to say about the questions you raise. I never had any intention of describing a pure personification of either side. If anything, my posts suggest that each member in the church has a pure personification of each mentality on each of their shoulders and are then left to choose which personification they will listen to in any given case.

    The main points I wish to highlight is that 1) there can never be a comfortable harmony between these two angels (if I can call them such), which means that 2) a choice must be made as to which one we will listen to.

    Another helpful metaphor would be that each mindset is a compartment within our mental toolboxes. Each compartment contains mental tools that are very useful for different tasks. Most importantly, it is a free choice which we make when we decide which mental tools we are to bring to each task we are confronted with.

    In these ways, I want to accentuate the fact that reason, evidence, logic, contradictions, etc. are not just “out there” in any deep way that forces them upon us or to which we owe any kind of obedience. They are the products of choices that we have made, so when the intellectuals distance themselves it is something that they are actively doing and therefore are to be held accountable for.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 20, 2013 @ 5:26 pm

  49. David,

    I just remembered that I forgot to address your issue about whether Mormon intellectuals are apostates or not – and this is a question that is certainly worth addressing.

    Of course the obvious answer would be that it depends upon who’s perspective we are speaking from. The intellectuals’ behavior is clearly condemned within the authoritative mindset of the priesthood. When framed in the proper way (one which does not use the word “apostasy”) then I think the intellectual would probably agree with this.

    I think Howard, for example, acknowledges that the church leaders think its his duty to be loyal to them and he openly admits that he is not. A non-intellectual would say this disloyalty to the leaders just is apostasy, but he would disagree with this. As a way of defending himself against the charge of apostasy, he would appeal to his testimony in prophecy and a certain set of doctrines. In this way, we expresses his belief that apostasy consists in a disloyalty to certain beliefs rather than to certain people and is, therefore, not an apostate in the relevant sense.

    In this post I am largely following the priesthood leaders in that I do not deny for a second that Howard has a strong testimony in a number of doctrines and beliefs. That is the testimony of the intellectual that is not being called into question. They really do believe in Christ, etc. and anybody who attempts to say otherwise is just wrong.

    However, they really are apostatizing from the church as a priesthood organization. They will dislike people using the word that way, but that’s not a very compelling defense.

    One of the most annoying things about this is that every time a non-intellectual Mormon accuses an intellectual of apostasy, the latter can’t help but think that their testimony in Christ is being called into question. It’s not. My primary objective in these posts is to help the intellectual see this and internalize the calls to repentance which are constantly being sent their way.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 20, 2013 @ 7:14 pm

  50. Jeff G wrote: However, they really are apostatizing from the church as a priesthood organization.

    No, that’s not right. I see it as a issue of practice rather than principle, I don’t question the authority of the church or the priesthood or the brethren or local leaders. Their authority remains very much in tact in my mind but in practice it is quite obvious even by by a simpleton’s non-intellectual comparison that the power of God as once enjoyed and experienced by Joseph and many others in the early restored church is now very diluted within the church hierarchy by comparison and “thus saith the Lord” revelation which is far more of God than man is no longer a part of the church’s direct communication with the divine being replaced instead with group inspiration which is without question far more of man than it is of God. So it is the reduction in access to God’s power that causes the church to wander not the loss of authority.

    However if you truly have God’s power implicate in that power is his authority, is it not? But if you have God’s authority but not his power what do you actually have?

    I think what you have in authority is an invitation to engage his power and I wish they would because I have a very strong testimony that the heavens can be opened.

    Comment by Howard — December 20, 2013 @ 10:57 pm

  51. By what authority do you attribute all those evil behaviors to intellectuals? Do you have studies, data, anything hard to back you up, or are you simply creating straw men that you can easily swat down?

    Comment by don — December 21, 2013 @ 6:32 am

  52. Howard, I think your comment largely confirmed my point, but in a way that I haven’t had fully addressed yet.

    Don, in my experience the charge of straw man is itself the biggest straw man of them all since it assumes 1) that you understand my position at least as well as I understand intellectuals and 2) that you understand intellectuals better than I do. Would you care to elaborate?

    Comment by Jeff G — December 21, 2013 @ 10:18 am

  53. Howard #50. Sounds like the position of Denver Snuffer.

    Comment by Miskky — December 23, 2013 @ 1:01 am

  54. Jeff G.
    I must need to hear this, I just read the other day – by accident – The Mormon Intellectual’s Trojan Horse (elsewhere) and now this very astute restatement. There is something very hard to articulate, but undeniably right here that is worth struggling to say correctly and to understand well. I am not sure I have much to contribute, except to observe with you how stunning it is that some readers think you must be kidding; that has got to be some evidence of how difficult the assumptions that underlie the “divide” (if you will) are to detect in ourselves. I have sensed it myself, but had not put my finger on it…I kind of thought that being a disciple just required patience and faith. My friends (and there have been many of them) who bail on the Church mostly had excellent reasons to do so. But I could not help but feel that the reasons, while good, were not adequate ones. I wished they would hold on, hang in there, struggle with it. Recieving the word with patience and faith as if from His own mouth.
    I do not always understand my Beloved. But love is more than understanding. It is holding on faithfully.
    I want to do that with Mormonism.
    Thanks for helping.

    Comment by Mark A. Clifford — December 23, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

  55. Miskky,
    Perhaps but I don’t follow Denver.

    Comment by Howard — December 23, 2013 @ 7:54 pm

  56. Thanks for that, Mark. Comments like those are my main motivation for these posts.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 24, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

  57. Your point about the inherent and unavoidable tension between “intellectualism and the church as a priesthood organization” seems pretty straight forward and sound, Jeff. I am not sure why anyone finds it objectionable.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 25, 2013 @ 11:56 pm

  58. Jeff G,

    If I didn’t see Howard elsewhere I would think you were also Howard playing out your own Socratic Dialogue to guilefully illustrate your point.

    Comment by Riley — December 27, 2013 @ 9:11 pm

  59. That’s good, Riley. Real good.

    It’s not entirely a coincidence, since I very much had Howard in mind when I wrote these posts. The fact that he doesn’t fully identify with the intellectual portrait I paint bothers me, since I really want to articulate their perspective in a way that will really resonate with them. Helping us all become self-conscious about the contingent values by which we distance ourselves from the prophets is my primary objective and I’m not having the success that I think is possible.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 27, 2013 @ 9:35 pm

  60. I get that our ways are not God’s ways, that we often do not understand his frame of reference and as a result his position can seen illogical to us. This creates a risk if we hold tightly to our “logical” view without considering his position or his lesson for us so we must study it out and ask. I also get that Joseph’s “thus saith the Lord” revelation has become very watered down so today what passes for “revelation” in the church is actually group inspiration.

    I enjoy easy access to the Spirit and often receive profound personal revelation. I employ this divine two way communication via D&C 9:8 by studying it out in my mind and asking. This method is very useful for parsing God’s will from the philosophy of men or parsing general advice to the church from specific guidance for myself or my family. Is there something wrong with this approach? Do you really believe that blind obedience to authority is somehow superior?

    Comment by Howard — December 28, 2013 @ 11:59 am

  61. I don’t see the problem with identifying with the Intellectual in Jeff’s posts. I know I do. I always privilege my own personal revelations over the revelations of others. Always. I mean, how would I even know who to follow as a prophet if it weren’t for my own personal revelation telling me?

    So my pattern is follow my own personal revelations and in the absence of personal revelation on a subject (which is very often) follow that prophets that God already told me are real prophets.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 28, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

  62. I’m not necessarily saying that blind obedience is superior to non-blind obedience. Rather, I’m saying that framing the issue in terms of blindness is itself inferior to other ways of framing things. I’m not saying that your approach straightforwardly denies the scriptures so much as it systematically reinterprets them until they agree with various philosophers. While you accuse others of blindly (unreflexively) obeying their priesthood leaders, they are just as able to accuse you of blindly (unreflexively) following various philosophers.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 28, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

  63. Nice to be in agreement with Geoff J!

    …framing the issue in terms of blindness is itself inferior to other ways of framing things.

    Well we know that the church’s position changes on many things and in the case of blacks and the priesthood it’s position was diametrically reversed twice! Unreflexively following your priesthood leaders takes one through these course reversals. Can both positions be right? Given BRM’s we spoke with limited understanding (isn’t this blindness?) mea culpa it is very difficult to argue without mental gymnastics that God put the church through these course reversals! So, how do you frame this problem in some superior way?

    Comment by Howard — December 28, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

  64. I address these issues in more detail within the post, but the main point is that there is always a trade off. Shall we be more loyal to priesthood leaders or to a position? The mindset of loyalty to positions is that of the intellectual and loyalty to the priesthood is not.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 28, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

  65. I would also point out that these posts are very much meant to be attacks on premises that the old Jeff G and Geoff J agreed upon. He and I staunchly disagreed on quite a few issues, but I think it was some points that we agreed upon that were really wrong.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 28, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

  66. there is always a trade off
    Indeed! Sometimes these trade offs seem trivial, other times not. My g-g-great grandfather was completely loyal to his priesthood leaders but it cost his life and the lives of two of his children in the Willie handcart company.

    Comment by Howard — December 28, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

  67. I wouldn’t argue with anything you said. The values you bring up are hardly intellectual in nature and as such lie well beyond anything I’m arguing against. My point is that the intellectual values themselves are a trade off. In my experience, it’s easy to acknowledge that point, but difficult to think in those terms.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 28, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

  68. The values you bring up are hardly intellectual in nature…

    Yes, I know that’s exactly why I brought them up! The reason I don’t fit your intellectual only model is that I am not intellectual only. So your model is either about someone else or your model doesn’t actually exist.

    Comment by Howard — December 28, 2013 @ 5:26 pm

  69. Jeff G,

    I’m trying to understand your writings once again.

    Is there any part of your thought that explains why authority is preferable to non-authority?

    As best I can tell all you are saying is that the LDS church is an authority institution, so if you believe in the church, you believe in authority. Is there more to it that that?

    Comment by TroyP — December 29, 2013 @ 4:50 pm

  70. You’re right that I haven’t provided any kind of impersonal argument for that since such a thing would entirely beg the question, if not amount to a performative contradiction. There certainly has, however been an unspoken assumption that authority is better because the prophets say so, and they are legitimate authorities. This also begs the question, but at minimum there isn’t any contradiction that I can see.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 30, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

  71. Jeff: There certainly has, however been an unspoken assumption that authority is better because the prophets say so, and they are legitimate authorities. This also begs the question

    Yep. That’s the rub.

    Also, how are we instructed to discover who true prophets are? Via personal revelation. So in the end personal revelation is the ultimate authority in Mormonism, right? I posted on that subject some time ago.

    I think your argument works well against reasoning against prophets. But the personal revelation card you complain about in this post is another matter entirely.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 30, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

  72. Geoff,

    I don’t have time right now to say why, but I’m arguing primarily and explicitly against the position you just stated.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 30, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

  73. You mean you are arguing against my position in that post I linked to?

    Comment by Geoff J — December 30, 2013 @ 9:04 pm

  74. That’s exactly right Geoff. I’m still running pretty busy, but use finitely plan on getting to your comment.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 2, 2014 @ 1:14 pm

  75. Jeff G,

    The whole concept of legitimate authority rests on authorities speaking in unambiguous ways.

    Obviously people that want to find cherry picked quotes can find what they are looking for, but even people who are honestly trying to understand the direction of authority understand messages very differently.

    In some sense this helps your objective for intellectuals who are just looking for a way to let their reason allow them to follow authority.

    However, for people who think their reason is supported by authority even though others don’t think they are following it, you don’t really have any way to tell who is better under standing the voice of authority.

    In your analogies to business, military and coaching, it is specific feedback from the authorities (playing time, pay, insubordination charges) that let’s people know if they are understanding church authorities. Except in extremely obvious cases authorities do not provide this type of direct feedback.

    Comment by TroyP — January 3, 2014 @ 7:23 pm

  76. Howard “I don’t question the authority of the church or the priesthood or the brethren or local leaders. Their authority remains very much in tact in my mind”

    Which is, of course, why you place yourself in a position of judgement over them repeatedly and consistently.

    SR “Though I’m sure intellectuals wouldn’t like to think of it that way, or admit that true objectivity is an illusion.”

    I think the truth is even more intellectually hopeless than that. It is not true objectivity that is an illusion, it is our idea that we as humans have a vague chance of apprehending it in mortality. The very usefulness of intellectualism relies on this conceit, which is so easy to fall into because ultimately it must be possible if we are to become like God is.

    The pride of the world is that it thinks it can (or maybe even *has*) a) discover(ed) the universal principles and then b) judge(d) all past, present and future persons, groups and gods by those principles.

    Comment by Fraggle — January 6, 2014 @ 3:57 pm

  77. Awesome comment, Fraggle!

    Comment by Steve — January 6, 2014 @ 7:22 pm

  78. Fraggle wrote “The pride of the world is that it thinks it can (or maybe even *has*) a) discover(ed) the universal principles and then b) judge(d) all past, present and future persons, groups and gods by those principles.”

    Fraggle, I assume you include in the pride of the world, people who think God’s law is the universal principle and that all people will be judged under God’s law.

    I see way more intellectuals assuming that we can’t understand the meaning of life in mortality and so we shouldn’t even try.

    Furthermore, one firmly a person believes they know right form wrong seems to me to be pretty much independent from both intellectualism and and from intelligence. Doubt and humility seem independent personality traits from intellectualism. Pride is wide.

    Comment by TroyP — January 9, 2014 @ 10:12 am

  79. Perhaps surprisingly, I think I’m with Troy on this one… kind of. Fraggle merely rejects any intellectual’s pretensions to “true” objectivity which to me gives far too much to the intellectual. I see this position as agreeing with the intellectual that theirs is the most (and/or only?) important game to be played, even if the intellectual will never be as good at that game as God is. My rejection of intellectual is a bit deeper than that, and I think SR was getting right at the point.

    Intellectuals will sometimes pretend that they can step out of all games by way of some attempt at objectivity in order to judge all games. But this is impossible, since stepping out of all (other) games just is itself a move within a games. In other words, the move toward objectivity is an attempt to silently redirect all attention and criticism at all games except that one which the intellectual is playing.

    Thus, I’m not satisfied with merely saying that no man can be as good at the intellectual games as God is. Rather, I want to say that God isn’t terribly concerned about whether we play the intellectual game or not. This, then, leads me to conclude that objectivity is not a virtue which God values all that much. Thus, it’s not that we should forever strive to achieve that objectivity which is always just out of reach, but that we should commit too much of our time and energy to striving for objectivity.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 9, 2014 @ 10:36 am

  80. TroyP “Fraggle, I assume you include in the pride of the world, people who think God’s law is the universal principle and that all people will be judged under God’s law.”

    In a manner of speaking, but maybe not in the way you think. I include in the pride of the world those who think they *know* God’s law in its entirety and that all people will be judged under that particular version of God’s law.

    “I see way more intellectuals assuming that we can’t understand the meaning of life in mortality and so we shouldn’t even try.”

    But that very quickly *becomes* the “ultimate objectivity” (ie you cannot find the meaning of life in mortality ergo anyone who claims they have and any morality that comes out of it must be false). It’s a kind of faithless agnosticism.

    JeffG “Thus, it’s not that we should forever strive to achieve that objectivity which is always just out of reach, but that we should commit too much of our time and energy to striving for objectivity.”

    If by ‘should commit’ you meant ‘shouldn’t commit’, then I wholeheartedly agree, and that’s what I was originally trying to say. (Otherwise, I’m not sure how to read that sentence! :) )

    To clairfy, I believe:

    1) There is such a thing as ‘true objectivity’
    2) You will not comprehend or attain ‘true objectivity’ unless it is revealed to you by one who already has it. Any other method will ultimately mislead, and flagrantly so.

    Jeff, are you saying 1) is false, or are you saying it is a tactical error to state it, as it reinforces the intellectual mindset? or are you saying something else?

    Comment by Fraggle — January 9, 2014 @ 6:23 pm

  81. Fragile,

    You’re right about that sentence reading “shouldn’t”.

    That’s basically what I’m saying, although I’m a little more nuanced about it. I don’t want to reject objectivity so much as expose the origins of the concept and the uses to which it is put by the intellectual. The prophets never mention objectivity, so I feel comfortable severely downgrading its importance in my life.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 9, 2014 @ 10:16 pm

  82. Jeff,

    Makes sense, although the pedantic nit-picker in me would quibble with the idea that the prophets have *never* mentioned objectivity (my definition of ‘true objectivity’ would come from D&C 93:24-25), but agreed that they see it veeeeeery differently to what we in the world expect.

    Comment by Fraggle — January 10, 2014 @ 2:46 pm

  83. Yeah, I definitely see such passages as referring to something very different than the intellectuals’ objectivity. I would suggest that the Lord has little to no interest in any supposedly unbiased perspective. Indeed, He wants us to be biased.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 10, 2014 @ 4:26 pm