Three Models of Church Membership

September 5, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 2:52 pm   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Theology,Truth

(This is the 3rd post in my series “The Bloggernacle as Public Sphere”.)

In this post I would like to use Jürgen Habermas’ Transformation of the Public Sphere to distinguish between three different types of active members which we find in the church today.  Roughly following Habermas, I will call these three kinds of church membership the feudal, critical and consumer models of church membership.  I say “roughly” because Habermas’ account leaves the reader with the impression that there are only two models – feudal and critical – since the consumer type of society just is its re-feudalization.  Although he does not explicitly equate feudal and the consumer societies with each other, I think his failure to explicitly disentangle the two is not just an incidental shortcoming of his book, but a strategic move aimed at furthering his own critical perspective.  I would also suggest that many people within the bloggernacle (myself included) do the exact same thing.

The table below briefly describes the differences between these 3 models:


To recap, Habermas largely defines the public sphere in terms of three conditions: 1) anybody can be included in the critical discussions that are to govern society, 2) all people within any such discussion are to be treated as equal, and 3) no topic is beyond critical discussion.  To the degree that a society does not live up to, or at least strive for these ideals, it is not democratic (critical) but feudal (regressive) in nature.  By these lights, consumer society certainly is the re-feudalization of society.  There are, however, significant differences between feudal and consumer societies, and these differences are directly relevant to the differing conceptions of church membership that we find in the bloggernacle.

The Feudal Model

The feudal model of society is that which is found within most traditional and scriptural settings.  It is a society that is based in the authority of lordship, royalty or some such divine investiture that is independent of skill, competence or experience.  The closest thing to a qualification for such authority figures is personal righteousness. Within a feudal society, the will of the righteous authority figure unabashedly rules over the people in that the latter are morally obligated to actively acclaim and obey that which the former commands them from his pulpit.  If I ask, “Why should I obey my lord?” the prompt and satisfactory answer is “Because he is my lord.”  The policy making procedure within such a society is neither inclusive, nor egalitarian and openly so:  If you love your ordained ruler, keep their commandments.  Many forms of censorship are not only tolerated, but morally obligatory as in the case of blasphemy, etc.

The Critical Model

The critical model of society is, according to Habermas, at the very heart of democratic society.  The moral foundation of this society lies not in the will of authorized persons, but in reasoned principles and laws that can be articulated and endorsed by all.  Authority, within such a society, is simply shorthand for and thus limited to the expertise that a person has with regard to the relevant principles and laws.  Within a critical society the ruling authorities are no different than any other person in that they too must obey the principles that we, the people, actively agree to in round-table discussions and debates.  If I ask, “Why should I obey this principle?” a legitimate answer will make reference to impersonal principles and laws rather than to mine or anybody else’s position within society.  The inclusivity and egalitarian nature of critical society are aimed at a mutual love in which there are no asymmetries of power.  Unsurprisingly, censorship is totally out of bounds, thereby diluting the sin of blasphemy.

The Consumer Model

Unlike the models above, the consumer model of society is based in the satisficing of wants and needs, and as such has little if any moral grounding.  Whether a person has authority – be it sacred or profane – is totally irrelevant so long as the person gives us a sense of complacent satisfaction.  This lack of moral obligation to any authority or principle frees people up to “shop around” for the authority figures and principles that suit them best.  There is, however, a very duplicitous nature at the heart of consumer society.  In it, the people are actively manipulated by a powerful and elite minority who also seek their own private interests and thus use various forms of advertising media in order to disguise the asymmetries of power that actually exist.  In order to satisfy their own desires and needs, the rulers of consumer society present a false image of the world as inclusive, egalitarian and free of censorship – like unto a critical society – an image that stands in stark contrast to the exclusive, inegalitarian and censor-laden reality in which the people actually live – like unto a feudal society.  The ruling elite merely claim to obey and serve the people rather than the other way around.  Their use of advertising and public relations leads people to think that they are freely making their own decisions in pursuit of their own interests, when they are actually being manipulated into choosing a rather limited set of options which has been pre-determined by the interests of the ruling elite.  Love means something akin to “I’ll be there for you as long as it works for me.”  Censorship is not a moral principle, but is instead a gloss for the strategic manipulation of the consuming public by the ruling elites.

The Church and the Bloggernacle

Within the church we find examples of all three models as they apply to church membership.  Although I think most within the bloggernacle would agree that the consumer model of church membership is wrong, I do not, in this post, want to argue about the merits and demerits of each.  Rather, I would like to focus on the tendency of those within the feudal and critical models of membership to actively and systematically neglect the differences which exist between the other camp and the tacitly maligned consumer model of church membership.  This tendency is all too acute within the bloggernacle due to the underrepresentation of the consumer model within the ‘nacle.  I would further suggest that it is the relative lack of moral foundation at the core of the consumer model which is not only responsible for its underrepresentation within the bloggernacle (why blog and argue about individual consumption?), but also for the aforementioned tendency to associate all who disagree with it.

Progressive Bloggers

Progressives within the bloggernacle, I suggest, most closely approximate the critical model of church membership and as such see asymmetries in power as an immorality which ought to be fought against.  Like Habermas, they see little difference between such asymmetries as they exist within a feudal or a consumer mindset.  Accordingly, progressives are tempted characterize the differences between the other two models as one of degree rather than kind.  Yes, there are differences in degree, but there are also differences in kind which ought to be acknowledged.

Unlike the consumer model, there most definitely is a moral foundation of sacred authority that is openly advocated within the feudal model of church membership.  This stands in contrast to the manipulative disguise of authority figures within the consumer model.  Whereas the feudal member intentionally obeys authority figures out of a moral duty to the Lord and those who speak for and represent Him, the consumer member accidentally obeys authority figures out of a kind of misinformed self-interest.  The former encourages the conscious discipleship to and public acclamation of church authorities, the latter passively absorbs those teachings and directives that square well with them as they perceive their situation.  The former openly accepts the transformation of official statements as being for the good of the general membership, while the latter is suspicious of any such manipulations since they further the interests of the church leaders rather than the average member.  While neither the feudal nor the consumer model of church membership critically constrains its ruling elite, only the latter can be said to blindly follow and obey since the former consciously and willfully follows and obeys.

Conservative Bloggers

Conservative members within the bloggernacle, I suggest, most closely approximate the feudal model of church membership and as such see disloyalty within the church to their sacred authorities as an immorality which ought to be fought against.  While this perspective alone encourages the feudal member to lump the critical and consumer models together – since neither one of these is based in a loyalty to church leaders – there is another more politically motivated reason for lumping the two together.  Unfortunately, the right-wing politics of the free market also tempts conservative members to dismiss critical members as dissatisfied consumers who “ought” to pursue their religious wants and needs elsewhere.  This move allows the conservative members to not only fault the critical members for the lack of loyalty that they share with the consumer members, but also to further fault them for their lack of the consumer rationality that they believe “ought” to characterize such a lack of loyalty.  Consequently, the conservative members are more able to sympathize with a disloyalty to sacred authorities in the pursuit of personal preference than they are with a disloyalty in spite of personal preference.

In the same way that lumping the feudal and consumer models together ignores significant moral differences, so too, lumping the critical and consumer models together also ignores very similar differences.  The critical members do not seek their own individual wants and needs, but instead seek what they believe to be best for us all – a complete symmetry in power relations.  Thus, they seek to cut through the advertising and public relations used to disguise the private exercise of fallible power within the church in order to make room for the publicly shared and therefore impersonal truths and principles of the gospel.  Similarly, the critical model of church membership is based in the active agreement and common consent of the general membership rather than the passive absorption that characterizes the mere lack of objection at the heart of the consumer model.  Thus, while neither the critical nor the consumer members pretend to be absolutely loyally to or satisfied with the church authorities, strictly speaking, only the latter can be said to lack any concern for the well-being of the church and its membership since the former is very much morally motivated by a sense of love and devotion.


There are at least three distinct models by which we can understand church membership: feudal, critical and consumer.  The differences that set these models apart from each other are not only matters of degree but differences of kind in that each model structures the goodness and rightness of behavior differently.  Because there are three rather than two models, any attempt to lump “the other kind” together, will result in confusion and misrepresentation.  The critical and feudal members are both wrong to characterize the other as the blindly manipulated or dissatisfied consumers of the church leaders’ words.  Neither side can be characterized in terms of the consumer model and for the same reason: each one has an active morality at its heart that sets it apart from the passive and individualistic non-morality of the consumer model.  The only reason why each side is tempted to construe the other in consumer terms is due to each type’s failure to live up the moral standards of the other.  The truth is, however, that neither side is necessarily less moral, per se – only differently moral.

This forces us to confront a more pressing question: Which morality (feudal, critical or consumer) mostly closely models God’s morality?  Hopefully, any disagreement with my predictable answer to this question will not distract from the argument presented within this particular post.


  1. I think the models are intriguing. I thought about your final question. What if none of the three is given preferred treatment by God? I say this because we can see examples of at least the feudal and critical models in the scriptures and in the talks given by Church authorities. I am also unwilling to criticize the third, though it seems to lack a firm philosophical basis, but it seems to be supported by some Church activities. I suspect that my own faithfulness has at times been based on each of your models. It may cycle through each in the future. I may feel superior to other members based on my current model of active membership, but I am sure that is not what God wants.

    Comment by DD — September 5, 2014 @ 5:20 pm

  2. I agree that the consumer model does have a strong presence within the church but not in the bloggernacle. I think the church does push the “look what the church can do for you” angle, but I also think that the church also teaches that such a consumption based testimony does not have the roots to weather the storm. Of course, the feudal and critical models interpret the “roots” differently.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 5, 2014 @ 6:04 pm

  3. While I like this trichotomy, I do worry that we have a tendancy to demonize any “other” with which we disagree as the “consumer” model. ie- people in either the conservative or progressive group who have a picadillo they are debating see the party they are up against as selfish, manipulative, disguised, false, etc. Thus, I wonder if the consumer model is actually the straw man model which the other two create towards one another.

    example: Gay Marriage

    Those for it lambast those against it as uninformed, selfish sheeple trying to manipulate the masses toward their self interest in the name of God.

    Those against it lambast those for it as uninformed, selfish non-conformists trying to manipulate the masses toward their self interest in the name of love.

    I think when we see someone in the “consumer” model, this should be a wake up call for us to check ourselves.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 5, 2014 @ 9:02 pm

  4. That is exactly the lesson I hoped readers would take from my post! Thanks for that, Matt.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 5, 2014 @ 9:12 pm

  5. I see myself as highly feudal, and so I would likely say God’s morality is also feudal.

    But as I read this post I felt that in terms of politics, I am afraid I am somewhat a consumer. I am not sure what that says about me, but I assume the worst.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 6, 2014 @ 2:03 pm

  6. Interesting point. Precisely because I agree with you so much, I might have to revise part of the post:

    It’s not that consumer members are not found within the bloggernacle. Rather, it is that because the consumer model has little to no moral content at its heart, it makes for a very poor model to argue from. Thus, even if there are consumer members in the ‘nacle, we would not expect the argument and perspectives that constitute the ‘nacle to be framed in this way.

    Another idea would be that consumer members dress up their language in feudal or critical language in order to disguise, or at least down play the consumer nature of their membership.

    Both of these seem to match up pretty well with my idea of human nature.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 6, 2014 @ 2:49 pm

  7. Jeff,

    I am not sure you were addressing me or not, but I thing your explanation in 6 is why I hardly ever talk or argue politics. I know that there are no deep moral convictions behind my political preferences, I just perceive some self interests and vote that way. But with no real conviction.

    It makes me think the consumers will often be apathetic rather than passionate.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 6, 2014 @ 5:41 pm

  8. Which I think you would agree using words like neutral, passive, unnecessary, etc., in your third column.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 6, 2014 @ 5:42 pm

  9. The critical model is a fallacy. Nothing like it has ever existed, and in fact, probably cannot exist.

    In actual democratic societies, the “reasoned principles and laws” upon which the society if founded are articulated by a very small number of elites; the laws especially are designed to keep these elites, and only these elites, in their positions of power. In American society, there are in fact two sets of principles– subtly different– which are endorsed by each of the two major parties; the two parties collude only to keep themselves, and no competitors, in power. These principles are not agreed upon by all– not even 50%– of the population. In truth, vast numbers are ethically and emotionally disenfranchised: they do not vote because they have nothing to vote for,

    Comment by John Roberts — September 8, 2014 @ 5:31 am

  10. *Unfortunately, the right-wing politics of the free market also tempts conservative members to dismiss critical members as dissatisfied consumers who “ought” to pursue their religious wants and needs elsewhere. This move allows the conservative members to not only fault the critical members for the lack of loyalty that they share with the consumer members, but to further fault them for their lack of the consumer rationality that they believe “ought” to characterize such a lack of loyalty.*

    Jeff G., this section gets us conservatives wrong in important ways. I think you’ll find that across a wide range of institutions, conservatives think that resigning and going into exile is the only way to keep faith when someone finds themselves irretrievably at odds with a prior allegiance. Obviously, where we believe the allegiance is fundamental, as with the church or marriage, we insist that people not find themselves irretrievably at odds with the allegiance. But we conservatives have a tragic vision of life and recognize that what should not happen will still happens sometimes. Because of that tragic vision, we also recognize that there are multiple allegiances, even important allegiances, that are going to come into conflict with each other. When these tragedies happen, the solutions have to be makeshift. Very often, the best makeshift that honor can devise is to go into exile. Entryism is filthy. Grima Wormtongue is a villain. Exit isn’t consumerism. It’s what left of honor.

    Using your feudal terms, we are faced with a situation where a samurai has already broken his oath in his heart–whether it is his fault or his lord’s or both is immaterial–but he no longer is faithful. Is it better that he openly break his oath once and for all by becoming a masterless man, or that he break the oath continually by living as a traitor within his lord’s grace? The conservative honor perspective does not really praise the ronin, but sees him as not altogether dead to honor either, unlike the traitor, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the snake in the grass.

    A literary example is the Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe of detective fiction. They are often called tarnished knights, but it wasn’t until reading your draft essay that I figured out what their tarnish was. Their tarnish and their knighthood is that they are masterless men. They are disaffected but still trying to be honorable, so they are on their own.

    From a conservative perspective, when liberals make it clear that they no longer keep faith with the Kingdom and we tell them to leave, we are not telling them to become consumers. We are telling them that if they can’t put on the bright armor of God anymore they ought at least to put on the rusty armor of being true to their disaffection. If they can’t join the heavenly choir anymore, we are telling them to stop pretending that they can. We are telling them to sing a broken hallelujah.

    Comment by Adam G. — September 8, 2014 @ 11:09 am

  11. Great comments all!


    Yes, that comment was addressed to you. I think your perspective is a decent generalization of the typical member. Somewhat related, I feel like there is more compatibility and thus more mixing between the feudal and consumer models which parallels the right wing mix of classical liberals (consumer) and conservatives (feudal). I suspect that as long as the feudal authorities are the ruling elite of the consumer members, they don’t object too much to that model even though they are not at all the same. I also think there is also some “consumer-ness” to the critical model since dissatisfaction in consumption can fuel, if not constitute the alienation which the critical model fights against so hard.


    You are exactly right, and many thinkers have brought that exact criticism against Habermas’ critical model, as I have called it. Habermas’ response – and I endorse it – is that we are not describing any particular person or society that actually does or has existed. In fact, he strongly rejects the idea that democratic societies today embody the virtues of a critical society. Rather, what we are discussing is the logical structure of the values according to which people criticize and justify various positions and actions. Habermas does not say that modern democratic societies are marked by their symmetries in power. Rather, he is saying to democratic values point us toward such a symmetry in power in that such a “utopian society” is what critical members would strive for. Thus, we can construe and understand the attacks and defenses of the critical members within the bloggernacle in terms of (a)symmetries of power. Hopefully such models will allow us to understand and predict those with whom we disagree in the ‘nacle.

    I can’t tell if we actually disagree or whether my unclear writing has led us to misunderstand each other. In the paragraph you quoted, I think it would be better to replace my “conservative” with “right-wing leaning”. Like I wrote to Eric above, I would largely equate consumer society with classical liberalism in that neither society sees things in terms of morally binding allegiances. Thus, what I meant to say was that right-wing classical liberals will fault critical members for their lack of rationality. If, however, we are thinking of conservative right wingers, which I think most closely approximate the feudal member of society, then I think your comments are spot on.

    This does not, however, clear me of all charges just yet for the simple fact that a consumer member of society is not necessarily a consumer member of the church. Within the ‘nacle, I see a few feudal members who are quite obviously endorse classical liberalism. I also see these same members allow their classical liberalism seep over into their religious discourse in that they too often say things like “if you don’t like the church, then why don’t you just leave.” That is clearly consumer thinking and I think it encourages the tendency of critical members to equate feudal and consumer thinking among members – a confusions which doesn’t help anybody.

    I apologize if I didn’t make clear the difference between membership in society vs membership in the church. Same for the difference between the two ideologies in right-wing politics. Are these clarifications an adequate response to your comment, or is there a point of disagreement that I’m not appreciating?

    Comment by Jeff G — September 8, 2014 @ 12:35 pm

  12. I should also state that my depiction of consumer membership isn’t all that charitable. I more affirmative depiction would focus on individual freedom as the primary virtue of consumer society. Thus, a dissatisfied consumer of the church is free to leave just as the church leaders are free to say and do whatever they want within this voluntary – or free – organization. It is this freedom which allows both for the duplicitous nature of consumer society as well as almost seamless mix with and transition to feudal society.

    My depiction of consumer society was less than flattering since the primary aim of the post was to disassociate the critical and feudal models from common criticisms of consumer society.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 8, 2014 @ 1:08 pm

  13. Jeff G.,
    I’m not sure if we still disagree, because I don’t understand your response.

    another thought: even if feudalists do say ‘if you don’t like it, leave it,’ that isn’t necessarily unfeudal, because feudalism doesn’t have a universal Kantian rationalism. My loyalty is to the church, so if encouraging the agitator to leave would benefit the church, there is nothing particularly wrong to do so or in using effective consumerist rationales to achieve it.

    Comment by Adam G. — September 8, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

  14. But it seems to me that in such a case the consumerist rationale would be disingenuous wouldn’t it? Such a person would be saying “if you don’t like it, then you ought to leave it” when in reality the “ought” that they really appeal to has nothing to do with whether you like it or not. This point is especially poignant if we have a feudal member criticizing a critical member long these lines, since neither one of these people actually believes that consumer dissatisfaction constitutes a morally compelling reason to leave the church.

    The feudal member would actually believe something along the lines of “you ought to realign yourself with the church leaders, and if you can’t then it would be better for the church if you left.” At no point does the member’s satisfaction with the leaders become relevant.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 8, 2014 @ 2:41 pm

  15. The G’s (Adam and Jeff),

    Feudalism is so dead that its death is not even tragic any more.

    Comment by Martin James — September 8, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

  16. As far as membership in the worlds societies I absolutely agree. But that’s not what this post is about. I think the feudal model of church membership is alive and well, for better or worse.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 8, 2014 @ 7:11 pm

  17. Jeff G.,
    I’m saying that its really only disingenuous from a non-feudal standpoint where one has an obligation to argue from the values that oneself accepts.

    Comment by Jeff G. — September 9, 2014 @ 6:19 am

  18. If I understand you right, you are saying that the idea that a person must endorse the premises of an argument that they themselves put forward is itself not a part of the feudal model. Within a feudal model, so long as the conclusion matches or reinforces the values from which you argue, the premises aren’t really that important. In our example, even though the feudal member rejects the premise that personal satisfaction is morally relevant in any strong sense, this does not prevent him from using the premise to reinforce a conclusion which he is committed to: that disloyal members ought to seek membership elsewhere. Is that about it?

    I don’t think I’m willing to push back too hard on that objection, if only because I don’t see it as necessarily pushing back against my post. If anything, I think you might be right and that your example probably illustrates the utility of my 3 model approach:

    The actual argument being put forward by such a feudal member is, in and of itself, consumer in nature. But this post is more about the members themselves rather than the impersonal arguments that they advocate. Thus, I think we both agree that the feudal member is not necessarily committed to that particular argument, per se. On one level, such arguing without endorsing on the feudal member’s part is a kind of unprincipled and evasive of word game. On another level, however, the feudal member’s argument is a principled move within a worldview that is morally structured differently. The feudal member puts forth that argument, not because they are fully committed to its premises and conclusions in any universal sense, but because they are so committed to the Lord and His representatives. Thus, the feudal member puts the forth the argument because doing so in that context is perceived to reinforce the legitimacy of the Lord and His representatives.

    In other words, what my post is trying to argue is that the proper response to this feudal member is not to show how staying in the church really is in my best interest, nor is it to show how my staying in the church really is in the interest of us members. A feudal member simply doesn’t see these propositions as being all that relevant. Rather, the proper response to the feudal member invitation for me to leave the church if I’m not happy is to show that my staying somehow reinforces the legitimacy of the Lord and His representatives. The problem for most critical members in the bloggernacle is that not only is this a difficult argument for them to make, but it is also difficult for them to see that they ought to make such a argument in any sense. After all, it’s near impossible to reinforce the legitimacy of the Lord’s representatives while at the same time undermine all asymmetries in power.

    Finally, getting back to the paragraph that you objected to, I will concede that feudal members might use the language of right-wing consumer politics without necessarily endorsing a consumer model of church membership. Point taken. I do see some problems with feudal members doing this, however:
    1) It’s not clear to me that the church member isn’t being consumer after all. It’s difficult not to see the feudal member as simply carrying over their right-wing consumer politics into the church. At the very least, the genealogy of the argument is suspicious.
    2) It’s not clear to me that the church member is being feudal after all. It’s far from obvious that the argument really does reinforce the legitimacy of the Lord and His representatives.
    3) Even if such an argument is not merely lifted from right-wing consumer politics, and even if it does reinforce the legitimacy of the Lord and His servants, the argument almost certainly will fall on deaf ears. The whole point of my post was to allow the different kinds of members to anticipate those arguments that will produce heat rather than light by clearly violating the moral values that structure the “other side” of the debate. Thus, I think the feudal member in this case is largely wasting their time by saying “if you don’t like it, leave.”

    Comment by Jeff G — September 9, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

  19. I think, more to the point, that your so-called feudal member perceives happiness as irrelevant to membership. They see that the mere act of debating, wresting authority into serving the people, is a consumer model. If they were to act that way regarding the Church, it certainly would be.

    They are not advocating leaving the Church, or even suggesting it. They are 1) trying to put themselves in the shoes of the critic, albeit while carrying some assumptions, and 2) pushing back against an attempt to change a church that, at least on some level, is working for them. They see a cost in the proposed changes that undermine their own purpose for membership.

    In essence, they are saying, “If you are going to judge your religion on how it meets your needs, why are you not simply finding a church that does meet your needs? There are several of them. Why are you trying to force change in this Church? I need and want a church that doesn’t always do what I want it to, because I believe that is necessary for a church that intends to mold its people into God’s people. If it has the potential to act according to the people’s will, it is less likely to be acting according to the Lord’s will, which makes it useless to me. Why are you trying to ruin my church and make it like all the other options out there?”

    I suspect that, deep inside, your “critical members” believe the same thing. Their problem is that they also believe so strongly in other principles, they assume those principles are the most important ones in God’s mind, and (more importantly) their way of addressing those principles is also in line with God’s will. Therefore, they only have two choices. Either they misunderstand God’s will, in which case they don’t want to worship God any more, or the leaders misunderstand God’s will, in which case they need to be convinced of their error.

    Their zealotry to certain principles destroys their flexibility in obedience to God’s will. The same thing is often true of your “feudal members” which causes them great difficulty when certain changes are made which they have perceived as being pressured by outside sources. You end up with splinter polygamist groups.

    Living responsive to the Spirit, but respecting of authority, is a frightening way to live, because it means you don’t have any real answers, and can’t completely predict what will be asked of you. Yet, as in all things divine, balancing the principles is key.

    Comment by SilverRain — September 10, 2014 @ 4:34 am

  20. Jeff,

    Here is another try at why I think these historical analogies are meaningless. Historically moral universalism was a stick used against local authorities. There are many, many strands of Mormonism that are morally universalistic, particularly that god will judge all and that his grace is open to all, etc.

    Now there is some tension there with the covenant people idea and a voluntary church and all that, but the church seems so fundamentally universal that trying to conceptualize it any other way is so contorted as to be non describable.

    Now you try to recognize this somewhat with conceptualizing the church as voluntary, but the voluntariness doesn’t go so far as to unbind anyone from god’s judgements. It’s just universal to the core. The consumer model doesn’t fit because god’s law is like death and taxes, one can’t really opt out of them.

    You are trying to go all meta on universalism and make it universalist within a box and universalism just doesn’t work that way.

    That’s the theoretical side. On the practical side, I don’t think compartmental mentalities and vocabularies can long exist in one’s mind. Ways of thinking don’t stay constrained to one side of life.

    Comment by Martin James — September 10, 2014 @ 9:49 am

  21. SR,

    I think we are pretty close to each other. The only point of difference that I see is that I still disagree with that feudal member’s line of reasoning. By their lights, the entire world owes their allegiance to the Lord and His representatives whether any person likes it or not. That is the crucial difference between the feudal and consumer models. For this reason, I understand why that feudal member would appropriate such a consumer argument to his feudal ends. But that doesn’t change the non-feudal nature of the argument.

    I too think that in practice, most members balance some combination of these models. I’m not totally convinced that this is what we are supposed to do, however. Even if we are, I’m not sure that it’s obvious what that balance ought to be.


    All of these models are universalistic in some sense. That is the point. I’m trying to disentangle the different ways in which the exact same moral terms can and are used in order to clear up the tease apart the systematic miscommunications that plague our conversation in the ‘nacle. You don’t have to agree with the distinctions I draw between these ambiguities, but simply ignoring my distinctions and reasserting the very same ambiguous terms that I’ve tried to clarify is hardly a convincing objection.

    “the voluntariness doesn’t go so far as to unbind anyone from god’s judgements”

    This was one of the major points of the post. Voluntariness only unbinds people in one of the three models which is exactly why we cannot conflate them. But both the feudal and the critical model are universal to the core, but in a different and incompatible sense.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 10, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

  22. Jeff,

    Ok, but I think it’s something of a pose. For me the distinctions don’t represent real choices and so they aren’t that interesting or descriptive.

    There’s always too much wishful thinking in all of them.

    There’s a necrophilosophilia to all this feudal talk that I just don’t get.

    Comment by Martin James — September 10, 2014 @ 5:41 pm

  23. While I would certainly grant that there is a lot of idealization in the posts, I wouldn’t call it wishful thinking. Quite frankly, I don’t much care which model looks good or bad. While I’m certainly convinced that there is a structured difference between these models, I’m not too personally invested in this claim. The idealization that I make are for the sake of clarity, the same kind of idealizations that we are constantly forced to make in our use of language.

    I get that you reject my idea that there is more than one interpretation that we can bring to various morals and values. I just don’t think you’ve given a very good reason for believing that the other two are somehow less real in any helpful sense. You have tried to argue that one of the models can do the trick, but this doesn’t mean that none of the others can’t do it as well. It is not universality but exclusivity that is the relevant stalking horse here.

    Of course you aren’t under any kind of obligation to answer to me, but unless you do the objections sound an awful lot like “I don’t get it”: true but noncontributing.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 10, 2014 @ 6:07 pm

  24. Ok, one specific comment I would have is that in my experience people tend to use versions of these depending on the content and context. So it doesn’t seem to be useful to me to structure things in these buckets when people don’t stick to them unless it supports a position that they arrived at by other means.

    Comment by Martin James — September 10, 2014 @ 6:50 pm

  25. I don’t disagree. But isn’t that exactly what makes an analysis like this useful in that it allows us to cut through the shell game that such people try to trap us in? I do think that the people in the ‘nacle are a little more principled than you let on, but I agree that these same people do tend to shift their models when it suits their purposes. I do not, however, think that these people shift their purposes in the same way, and that these analyses are useful for nailing down what purposes those are.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 10, 2014 @ 7:53 pm

  26. The main problem that I have with your invocation of Habermas in analyzing church culture is that Habermas was talking about society on the whole, in which members have no choice but to balance power, not just a section of it. The church isn’t a government. Its members don’t have to necessarily balance power against each other to live. It is a voluntary organization where you participate if you want. It has no right to detain or fine those who do not choose to participate. It can invite them back, but cannot force them. There is no public sphere in the LDS church. It is strictly private.

    Comment by Steve Smith — September 11, 2014 @ 5:23 am

  27. Steve,

    But one of the interesting thing about religions is that they claim public scale for private beliefs. It’s an uneasy tension in today’s world with a tradition of plurality and religion as private but with many religions including Mormonism with god as the true leader of the world in a public way. The public private distinction is always contested as for example in the Texas polygamist communities versus the state executive agencies.

    Comment by Martin James — September 11, 2014 @ 7:57 am

  28. Steve,

    The tardiness of my response has forced me to reconsider your point a bit. Let me barf out a few chaotic responses and see if anything coheres within my own mind by the time I finish:

    1) While it is clear that Habermas most definitely is discussing society at large, I don’t see any reason why it cannot also be applied to sub-groups within the society. The only conditions that he lists as essential to a public sphere are inclusivity, equality and a lack of censorship – not unlike the bloggernacle.
    2) I have pointed out that one’s moral model of society at large need not be the same as our model of lds society. Of course we would say that association with the church is voluntary while association with society at large is not… but I’m not sure this is totally correct any more. I think the difference is that the costs of voluntarily disassociating from the larger society in which you find yourself is more costly than disassociating with the church. This is a difference in degree rather than kind which suggests to me that the models can be scaled along various dimensions.
    3) Your account of what the church can and cannot do does not seem right to me. We can say what the church ought or ought not do or what it can and can’t do without punishment – but these questions throw us right back into the issue at hand: by which model will we decide what church authorities ought and ought not do? Your comment seems to tacitly endorse a consumer model in that what happens in the church is up to the church and if you don’t like it you’re free to leave.
    4) The church most definitely does govern its members. At the present time the church does not enforce its jurisdiction by physical force (thank heavens!), but this need not be the case. I do agree that there isn’t a strong public sphere within the church as it relates to church government, but I think the bloggernacle, sunstone symposia and other such groups do strive to be such a sphere. The question is whether a public sphere is supposed to exist within LDS society or not? It is this question that this series has been aimed at exploring.
    5) Further thought on your comment has led me to second guess, or at least reconstrue some of what I said in (2). It’s not clear to me that a feudal acceptance of church authorities does not generalize to a feudal model of society at large. In other words, a feudal acceptance of church authorities suggests a feudal acceptance of these same church authorities in society at large. This does not, however, contradict a critical or consumer acceptance of secular and political authorities, though, and I think this is the point I was getting at in (2).

    Conclusion: I do agree that there is a difference between Habermas’ models as they apply to the political world at large and as they apply to the kingdom of God. I personally think the relatively low costs (in this life) of disassociating with the church is a good thing since it negates most of the unsavory features of the feudal model as it applies to the church. I do not, however, see how these differences are fatal to my analysis.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 12, 2014 @ 11:41 am

  29. Martin,

    I think your comment is pretty spot on. I’m not so sure that a feudal model allows for a strict separation between private and public, especially when feudal authorities have jurisdiction of the world. It certainly doesn’t seem to strongly endorse such a distinction. Habermas says some interesting things regarding the private sphere as it relates to the critical and consumer models. He sees the consumer model as a way in which corporate authorities colonize the private sphere by way of mass media and advertising. It is this colonization that he thinks re-feudalizes society. He seems to think that a critical society upholds the private sphere of individuals, but I have my doubts. After all, it is only by monitoring and infiltrating the private sphere of potentially powerful persons and organizations that the critical society is able to neutralize the asymmetries in power that are at play.

    I guess I don’t have any strong opinions on this subject yet.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 12, 2014 @ 11:49 am

  30. I think what Habermas thinks needs to happen in order to reinforce the distinction between public and private is not that we invade and restrict the behavior of private persons, but instead organize and promote legitimate public spheres by which we can properly guide our private lives and make decisions in our own interest. In other words, rather than tear down the those forms of media by which private interests rule over us, we instead should create an alternative and public media that will compete with and beat out the media of private interests. It is only as we guide our lives informed by this public sphere that asymmetries in power will dissolve.

    Of course, most will find this vision more than a little utopian.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 12, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

  31. Jeff G.,
    that’s pretty much what I had in mind. Well-expressed.

    Two wrinkles, though. First, even if the consumer argument doesn’t cause the malcontent to leave, it’s still arguably effective because these days the malcontents most effective argument is that the church makes them unhappy and needs to change to better accommodate their needs. So ‘if you don’t like it, leave’ is an effective rebuttal.
    Second, everyone instinctively tries to enact their values even when it won’t accomplish anything. But of the three world views you’ve stated, only the ‘feudal’ worldview explicitly recognizes that expressions of fealty are worthwhile whether they are utilitarian or not. So defending the Church is valuable even if it doesn’t succeed.

    Comment by Adam G. — September 22, 2014 @ 9:24 am

  32. Hmmmm. I think your 1st wrinkle might be exploiting an ambiguity that lies in the idea of happiness. One the one hand, the consumer malcontents are motivated by a kind of personal dissatisfaction that one can certainly call unhappiness. The unhappiness of the critical malcontents, however, is very different in nature being closer to righteous indignation than to costumer dissatisfaction. In fact, I’m not even sure that this moral indignation of the critical member is at all tied to the happiness of a person at all. After all, a lot of the critical members say that they stay at church because in spite of the injustices that they perceive in the church, it still makes them happy in the consumer sense.

    This transitions nicely into my disagreements with your second wrinkle, for I think that the critical member also recognizes expressions of fealty as being worthwhile even if they do not succeed. The difference lies in to who they are loyal. The critical members think that the church leaders’ loyalty to the members is at least as important as the members’ loyalty to the leaders. This is in keeping with their idea that those who most deserve our attention and loyalty are those who lack authority and power. Thus, they see defending the members that they perceive to be alienated as being valuable even if it doesn’t succeed.

    In many ways, I think the critical and feudal models are the equal and opposite of each other.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 22, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

  33. Jeff G.,
    Of course I agree that critical members also believe that expressions of fealty are worthwhile in themselves. That’s why I said that ‘everyone instinctively tries to enact their values even when it won’t accomplish anything.’ What I see as the main difference between feudalists and criticalists with respect to loyalty is that feudalists recognize that loyalty is one of their ultimate values, while criticalists don’t. They come up with increasingly implausible accounts of how their contention is going to have some kind of double bankshot utilitarian benefit.

    In short, I am increasingly persuaded that the criticalist-rationalist project is effectively a religion, inside the Church and outside of it, and I am also increasingly persuaded that denying that it is a religion is essential to it. The contradiction is built in.

    Comment by Adam G. — September 26, 2014 @ 9:30 am

  34. I agree with pretty much everything you just said, Adam. Of course, many will quibble about the definition of “religion”, but the main point stands either way.

    Comment by Jeff G — October 1, 2014 @ 11:14 am