Last post I discussed Weber’s attempts to develop a taxonomy of communities and cultures in terms of the distinctions which each community draws between legitimate/righteous dominion and illegitimate/unrighteous dominion. The ways in which righteous dominion is set apart from unrighteous dominion are not at all limited to intellectual playthings or logical puzzles to be toyed with, since such standards strongly constrain the ways in which we understand and organize our social behavior. Why should we obey what social services or medical professionals tell us? When is a command issued by a priesthood leader – or God Himself – to sacrifice all that I have or am an (il)legitimate command (one thinks of Abraham’s son)? By what standards do we tell others that they should or should not obey even their own commands within their own lives (a very modern idea that wasn’t at all obvious until rather recently)? (more…)
“Scientism” is a slippery category, thus making it ideally suited for charges and accusations that are difficult to refute. For those who are more familiar with my views, it should come as no surprise that I accuse almost all intellectuals within the Bloggernacle of advocating “scientism”, a label which they strongly – and with some reason – reject. Their idea of “scientism” is a much more localized and extreme group of people from which most such intellectuals seek to distance themselves. As such, these people are strong advocates of “epistemological humility” – as defined by the distinction that they wish to emphasize between themselves and those more extreme advocates of scientism. By disentangling the 5 different levels of legitimacy that we might attribute to science I wish to clarify why I stand by my accusing so many others of scientism and why I am so dismissive of their pretensions to “epistemic humility”.
To anticipate a bit, the 5 levels are as follows:
- Science is king and you are its subjects.
- You are king and science is your only adviser.
- You are king and science is your most important adviser, above all others.
- You are king and science is one among many advisers.
- You are king and science is your subject.
(Edit: Like Abraham of old, we are sometimes required by the Lord or His messengers to do utterly immoral things. In other words, sometimes we have an obligation to act immorally. This post is aimed at explaining why this sounds like a contradiction in terms to our modern ears.)
Democracy is horrible and Aristocracy is fantastic. While there is much to disagree with in this claim of Nietzsche’s (he has nothing but condemnation to say regarding all forms of inter-personal obligations and authority), there is also a great deal of truth that we Mormons would do well to address. After all, the secular world clearly exalts the values and morality of the former while the church is quite obviously an Aristocracy (of sorts) that repeatedly insists that it is not a democracy in which “the people” rule. What are the tensions between these two moralities and to what extent to these tension manifest themselves within the modern, Mormon mind?
Nietzsche sees stratification as a normal and health aspect of life which Democrats, Moderns, Utilitarians, Kantians, Socialists, Classical Liberals, Capitalists, Proletariats, Materialists, Christians and a whole slew of others conspire against. Whereas Kierkegaard objected to the ways in which these various movements where making faith cheap, easy and weak, Nietzsche rejects them since they make life itself cheap, easy and weak. Both of these men had nothing but contempt for “the world” and it just so happened that “the world” at their time was largely Christian. When framed in these terms, that Mormons might also harbor a similar contempt for the now less-Christian world that we see around us. (more…)
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time… But I say unto you..”
“Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment… For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name.”
Passages like those above seriously call into question the idea that “eternal laws” are ahistorical, self-existent or totally independent of God’s creative will. Indeed, scriptural support for such a claim becomes nigh impossible once we acknowledge that
- the council of the gods might be the source of any allegedly external laws, or
- the Lord, as a flawless self-legislator, is subject to the laws that He gives Himself, or
- calling a law “endless” or “eternal” does not necessarily entail their timeless ahistoricity.
It is within such a perspective – that rejects any timeless, self-existent laws before which each and every god must bow – that revelation becomes a process of – to borrow Joseph Schumpeter’s term – creative destruction. Nietzsche’s term for the person who embodies creative destruction is the “overman” – a man who is able to overcome the moral commands of those around and before him/her. In this post I will defend the idea that the church is itself (or ought to be) a collective overman of sorts. (more…)
“He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”
“For, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get … praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.”
This should be the final post in the series – at least for a while. Whereas the previous post was a Bourdieuian indictment of us who read, lurk and comment within the Bloggernacle, this post is more aimed at those of us who engage in the writing and publishing of posts within our little online community. To do this, I will provide a Bourdieuian account of the relationship and struggles between two fields of cultural production: the LDS church and the Bloggernacle. (All pages refer to Bourdieu’s The Field of Cultural Production, chapters of which can be found here and here.)
And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches… And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up. – 3 Ne. 6:12, 14
Distinction is based upon a massive survey which Bourdieu and his assistants administered in Paris during the 1960’s regarding the impact of people’s economic and educational backgrounds upon their tastes in kinds of food, quantity of food, table manners, dress, posture, vocabulary, accents, stores, furniture, wall décor, entertainment, singers, instruments, reading material, politics, etc. This amount of empirical research sets him apart from most other critical theorists with which he tends to be associated. That said, the specific context in which this data was gathered does place certain limitations upon the extent to which his results can be generalized to today’s American culture in which I currently find myself. Indeed, Bourdieu fully acknowledges that aesthetic tastes evolve across time and place in never-ending quest for distinction. (more…)
Pierre Bourdieu’s book, Distinction: A Social Critique of Judgement and Taste, is one of those exciting page-turners that transforms the very way that you look at the world around you. Over the next few weeks I plan on posting a small series dealing with a Bourdieuian (I think that’s the most vowels that I’ve ever typed in a row) perspective on the Bloggernacle as a form of cultural production and consumption. In this preliminary post, I only want to give a small feel for Bourdieu and his understanding of language use. To this end, I will (very briefly) describe his relationships with Marx, Foucault and Gouldner. Unfortunately, I will not attempt to draw any direct religious implications within this post. (more…)
In this thread I would like commenters to list (at most) 5 books that other people should read in order to understand your perspective better. You don’t have to agree with everything or even anything in the book, so long as it helps us understand the ways in which you see things differently. Some might have trouble coming up with 5 books. It’s okay if you don’t. Others will have trouble limiting things to 5 books. It’s not okay if you don’t. Finally, the less intellectual baggage the book presupposes, the better. (This helped me choose some authors over others.)
Here’s my (very tentative) list:
- Daniel Dennett: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea – Evolution and the Meanings of Life
- Richard Rorty: Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers
- Jurgen Habermas: The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere – An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society
- Alvin Gouldner: The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class
- Isaiah Berlin: Freedom and its Betrayal – Six Enemies of Human Liberty
“The man whom we believe is necessarily, in the things concerning which we believe him, our leader and director.”
– Adam Smith, A Theory of Moral Sentiments
This post is a summary of the first chapter in Steven Shapin’s A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England. While Shapin’s book is largely about the sociological origins of scientific truth, his account easily generalizes to a discussion of truth, trust and dissent within religious communities.
Shapin is a leading figure in the “strong programme” of the sociology of knowledge associated, primarily, with the University of Edinburgh. This school largely defines itself in terms of its claim that the truth-value of a claim does not causally explain it. Thus, claims that are true must be causally explained in a way that is “symmetrical” to false claims… which is exactly what makes many people on the other side of the science wars more than a little nervous. Thus, Shapin says:
“There is a massive mismatch between dominant characterizations of the sources of our factual knowledge and the ways in which we actually secure that knowledge. Both seventeenth-century and present-day ‘moderns’ widely advertise direct experience as the surest grounds for factual knowledge, just as they identify reliance upon the testimony of others as an insecure warrant for such knowledge. Similarly, both sets of ‘moderns’ celebrate proper science as a culture which had indeed rectified knowledge by rejecting what others tell us and seeking direct individual experience. In contrast, I argue that no practice has accomplished the rejection of testimony and authority and that no cultural practice recognizable as such could do so.” (xxv) (more…)
Some of you will recall that I have been a participant within the Bloggernacle almost since it’s very beginning. My blog “Issues in Mormon Doctrine” was one of the original “Islands of the Sea” when the Mormon Archipelago aggregator went online in 2005.
- I was more of a threat to readers’ faith than the currently disaffected.
- Mine was a solo blog while theirs is a group blog that cannot be banned as a collective whole.
- Bigger, less expendable personalities from more popular blogs became disaffected, thus shifting the standards.
- The Archipelago moderators got lazy/moved onto other things in their personal lives.
I’m open to other explanations…..
The Youngest Apostle Currently Was Born in 1952, the Oldest in 1924. Today I was reading on Pew Forums about generational gaps in public opinion (here) on social issues, and this got me thinking about the generational makeup of the Q12+FP (hereafter Q15) and what the implications would be when there are generational shifts in these Quorums. Basically, I asked the question: When will millennials take over the Q15?
So I calculated it. My calculations are not nearly as robust as Ziff’s, but I was merely aiming for directional correctness. To keep it simple I took the 75th percentile for age of death of the last 11 Apostles who died (I chose 11 arbitrarily because that got me back to President Hinckley and because I love that guy, that’s why). The 75th percentile for age at death is 92 years. I chose to use the 75th percentile over the median (87 years) on the base assumption that medical advancements are happening, etc. I then took the median age an apostle is currently called (61 years*) and began calculating what generation the next apostles would be from. I used the generational matrix that pew uses, which is as follows:
pre-silent generation before 1928
silent generation 1928-1946
baby boomers 1946-1965
Gen X 1965-1981
post-millennial 1997 on
Anyway, taking a base snapshot of the generational drift of the apostles by decade, I get the following. (more…)
(I do not even pretend to know Latin, so correct me if my title isn’t quite right.)
Over at Times and Seasons, I mentioned the passage of the New Testament where Jesus says:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” -Matt 23: 2-3
This is an incredibly powerful claim on Jesus’ part in that he is saying that even though the scribes and Pharisees were unrighteous men, because of the priesthood offices that they held, their teachings should still be obeyed! This, I suggested, strongly undermines the common tendency to dismiss any argument that even remotely resembles prophetic infallibility. After all, these priesthood leaders were not only imperfect in the typical cognitive sense (not unlike every other mortal), but they were also flawed in a deeply moral sense…. And yet the apostles were still told to obey what these immoral men taught!
To be honest, I’m not sure that I’m willing to go all the way down this path, nor is it clear to me that Jesus himself goes all the way down it. What is clear, however, is that he makes the moral and intellectual fallibility of priesthood leader totally irrelevant to our obedience to their teachings. (At no point within gospel teachings is our obedience to priesthood leaders conditioned upon their being infallible, certain, morally or intellectually pure, etc…. which is the primary point of this post.)
While the KJV above is the official version for the church, a commenter named “perturbed” did point out that Joseph Smith’s version of that passage reads differently (note* This is found not in the JST, but in the “Inspired Version” that is not officially endorsed by the LDS church):
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, *that they will make you observe and do*; for they are ministers of the law, and they make themselves your judges. But do not ye after their works:; for they say, and do not.”
Notice, however, that while the reading is different, it does not contradict what the KJV version (the version that the church takes to be official) says. Thus, it could be argued that this is not an open and shut case in either direction.
It was at this point in the thread, however, that BradL, who I’ve interacted with before, chimed in with the rather cliche accusation that I was preaching “blind obedience” or “prophetic infallibility”. I finally challenged BradL to find any place where I have suggested that priesthood leaders are never (let alone incapable of being) wrong or that I have suggested that we ought to obey our priesthood leader no matter what. Indeed, I challenged him to find ANYBODY who has taught these things, a standing challenge that I offer to all readers.
To be sure, one can easily find statements that we should not publicly oppose or correct priesthood leader, or that we should not trust our own reasoning/understanding over the teachings of priesthood leaders, but I have never heard of anybody ever teaching that you should obey priesthood leaders even if God Himself tells you otherwise. This is what “blind obedience” or “prophetic infallibility” amounts to and nobody ever teaches it. It is a bugbear of the intellectuals’ own making.
I do admit, however, that it may be the case that somebody, somewhere actually has taught one or both of these things. There are lot’s of people who have said lot’s of pretty incredible things, so I can’t be 100% sure on this point. What I can be sure of, however, is that the vast majority of church members or bloggernacle participants who have ever been accused of teaching these things have not, in fact, done so. The closest that I have ever found to somebody actually teaching these things is Jesus Himself in the passage above.
I thus propose the following as a new rule that I will call “Reductio ad Infallibilum”:
Whenever an LDS blogger accuses another LDS blogger of preaching “blind obedience” or “prophetic infalliblity” within some debate, they have automatically lost the debate in question. Such a person has used the sloppiest of human reasoning to defend a trust in human reasoning and is thus no longer worth reasoning with.
To be sure, there may well be exceptions to this rule (just as there are to any rule) in that it may be the case that a person actually has insisted that priesthood leaders are incapable of error or that we ought to obey what they say no matter what. It is possible that such people do exist. I, however, have never found such a person.
Within the famous novel/film a mother, Sophie, is forced to choose which of her two children she will save from the gas chambers at Auschwitz. In a certain sense, the most gut wrenching aspect of the story is not that she chooses her son over her daughter in order to prevent them both from being killed. The most gut wrenching aspect is not which child she choose, but that she had to choose at all. She loved both of her children, which is exactly what made her choice so horrible. (more…)
While this claim does make perfect sense to our modern ears, the scriptures tell a very different story. In the Bible, for example, God promises to visit with vengeance various people and the generations that come after them when the latter clearly did not have any choice in the matter. (Adam and Eve are the most obvious, although not the only example.) We also read of Jesus cursing a tree for not giving fruit when it was not in season. (It was Voltaire, I believe that thought this proved Christianity was absurd.) Indeed, we might say that the whole problem of theodicy is that we cannot understand why some people are allowed to suffer when they have seemingly done nothing wrong. (Both Job and Joseph Smith were great examples.) The fact of the matter is that even if something is not anybody’s choice, this does not mean that God is pleased with it or that we should be perfectly accepting of it. Claims to the contrary are of modern and quite secular origin.
This is not, however, a straight forward argument for or against the acceptance of SSM within the church. If anything, mine is an argument that arguments should play no role in deciding the issue, and if the church fully accepted SSM tomorrow my point would still remain the same. My fear is not SSM but that arguments like those at BBC and W&T are attempts to domesticate and constrain the church through science (showing SSA to be innate or not) and human reason (people should or should not be punished for what is innate). No matter what science says, or what makes sense to our modern sense of morality, we should follow the Lord’s righteous prophets in whatever it is that they say the church should or should not do.
“[After Newton t]he universe is one great harmonious order; not, as for Thomas and the Middle Ages, an ascending hierarchy of purposes, but a uniform mathematical system…
“Nature was through and through orderly and rational; hence what was natural was easily identified with what was rational, and conversely, whatever, particularly in human society, seemed to an intelligent man reasonable, was regarded as natural, as somehow rooted in the very nature of things. So Nature and the Natural easily became the ideal of man and of human society and were interpreted as Reason and the Reasonable. The great object of human endeavor was to discover what in every field was natural and reasonable, and to brush aside the accretions irrational tradition that Reason and Nature might the more easily be free to display its harmonious order.”
John Herman Randall Jr., The Making of the Modern Mind, p. 260,76
Within the scriptures we find very little, if any mention of some “problem” with interpreting (personal) revelation. While we do find numerous example of how problems arise from interpreting scriptures (JS-History), we also find that revelation is always the clarifying solution to such problems of interpretation. Why is it, then, that the interpretation of revelation is mentioned so often within the bloggeracle? What assumptions and values must be in place for interpretation to be construed as a problem and what was the historical emergence of these assumptions and values? In order to approach the “problem” of interpretation I will first draw a conceptual trichotomy and will then draw a brief historical sketch of how the problem of interpretation was invented. (more…)