There is no contradiction here

May 6, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 9:28 am   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Theology

“If the [Holy] Spirit guides me in a way that involves these multitude of documents,” he asked the bishop, “who am I to resist the enticing of the Spirit?”

The bishop replied, according to Dawson, “The Spirit is telling me to tell you not to use those documents.”

Let’s just assume that this is an accurate representation of what happened and let’s also sideline the politically charged topic that that “multitude of documents” was about.  There is still no contradiction here.  A contradiction only emergence if we see the truth of revelation as logically consistent, factual information rather than value-laden counsel that is adapted to the recipient’s stewardship.

Of course the whole point of the Protestant Reformation and the Scientific Revolution was an attempt to sideline the asymmetries of stewardship altogether by a focus on sola scriptura and the book of nature, respectively.  But this is exactly why Mormons cannot fully embrace either of those movements.  We do not believe in reformation or revolution but in the *restoration* of those same asymmetries of stewardship that the former were specifically meant to reform or revolt against.

A Genealogy of the Tall and Spacious Building

May 2, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 4:31 pm   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle,orthodox,Theology,Truth

A three step identification of and response to disloyal criticisms of the church:

  1. The values and premises that motivate the criticism are not universal, timeless or necessary.  They arose through a specific historical process.  They are not “just there” to be recognized.
  2. These values and premises historically arose outside of the legitimate priesthood channels and as such are not binding revelation.  They are the philosophies of (wo)men.
  3. These values and premises were specifically designed to either sideline or undermine priesthood channels as such, and were never aimed exclusively at the priesthood authorities of some other church.  The proper constraint upon unrighteous priesthood authority is the restoration of righteous priesthood authority, not a reformation through critique and reason.

A faithful criticism, by contrast, would be rooted in values and premises that 1) at some point in history were 2) either received or endorsed by the proper priesthood channels and 3) does not sideline or undermine priesthood authority as such.  Exposing the hidden personal unrighteousness of a leader would be a perfect example.  Exposing how that leader’s policies or teachings are incompatible with premises and values that go back 300 years to a philosopher who was fighting against “traditional” authorities is not.

10 Years in the Bloggernacle

January 30, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 3:22 pm   Category: Bloggernacle

10 years ago, give or take a few days, I started my first Mormon blog: Issues in Mormon Doctrine.  A week or two prior, I had happened upon Jared’s blog (which was also brand new at the time), and realized that I had finally found a forum in which I could discuss the many issues that had been stewing in my head.  While I shared with Jared an intense curiosity regarding the relationship between science (especially of the Darwinian stripe) and religion (of the Mormon stripe) my blog focused more on the tensions and contradictions that I saw in Mormon doctrine, as I understood it.  It was a couple months later that Jared, Christian and I started Mormons and Evolution: A Quest for Reconciliation.  (It was Christian who would eventually accuse me of playing Aaron Cox in the Banner of Heaven hoax, a part which he, in fact, played himself.)

Looking back on my first few years in the bloggernacle I feel a strange mix of embarrassment and nostalgia.  On the one hand, I (thankfully) deleted Issues in Mormon Doctrine and can hardly stomach my posts that remain at Mormons and Evolution (it looks like Christian has since taken down the 2nd iteration of the site).  My “issues” and “reconciliations” all seem so naive and unpolished in retrospect.  Of course, I was putting out about 2 posts a day at the time, so I consciously sacrificed form for the sake of content – or so I imagined.  Perhaps the high water mark at Issues in Mormon Doctrine was a long essay dedicated to the distinction between revelation and inspiration and why we as members were only bound to the former.  This essay was later presented to and well received by a mid-sized Sunstone audience that included an approving D. Michael Quinn.  It was not long after this presentation that I posted another long essay on my blog in which I announced my disbelief in God and the church.  This was a very, very sad time in my life that I will not dwell much upon it. (more…)

The Dangers and Blessings of Reason and Revelation

January 17, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 1:58 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Scriptures,Theology

Which is worse, false revelations being accepted as true or true revelations being rejected as false?  This question, I think, gets very close to the heart of the debate between reason and authority.  This issue can be framed historically in terms of the Enlightenment battle between revelation to authority figures and reasons and laws which are accessible to and binding upon everybody.

The Mormon tradition believes the Catholic Church to have become illegitimate (if not in terms of revelation, then definitely in terms of authority) by the time of the Enlightenment.  Thus, we praise the Protestant reformers and other secular thinkers that cast away the shadows of the “Dark Ages” (so called) for their resistance to that apostate church.

The problem, however, is that the metaphors, values and concepts that these Enlightenment thinkers created in order to subvert and overthrow the authority of the Catholic Church were weapons that were meant to subvert any and all appeals to revelation to authority figures without any regard for the legitimacy of these claims.  Indeed, the whole point of the Enlightenment was that such appeals to revelation given to authority are intrinsically illegitimate.

This forces a confrontation of sorts between Mormonism and reason.  After all, while the Mormon tradition dismisses the illegitimate authority of the Catholic Church, it also stands apart from Protestantism in not wanting a Reformation in which authority is universalized/dissolved, but in wanting a Restoration of legitimate claims to revelation from authority figures.  This, however, is exactly what Enlightenment reason was created in opposition to.  We cannot fully embrace both traditions at the same time.

The question then becomes, in what way can we prevent the abuses of illegitimate authority without also closing the door on legitimate authority that we simply happen to not like?  The Enlightenment answer – universal reason – seems to have done a decent job in preventing the former, but has unfortunately closed the door on the latter as well.  We see various versions of this same Enlightenment answer within the bloggernacle in which we attempt to bind priesthood leaders to strict rules that universally apply world-wide and without exception, hold the book of scripture to the standards of the book of nature, judge living prophets by those of the past or future, etc.

These attempts at blocking claims to revelation from authority figures are motivated by the fear that false revelation might be accepted as true.  This seems like a perfectly reasonable fear.  From the other side of these same debates we find claims motivated by the fear that true revelation might be rejected as false.  This too seems like a perfectly reasonable fear.  The fact is that both dangers are very real and always present with the Mormon tradition, and it’s a little disingenuous to pretend that only one or the other is where the “real” danger lies.

Perhaps, it might be worth considering the possibility that universal reason is not the only protection we have, or must inevitably have against false revelation and abuses of authority.

The Church as a Tomb and Sepulcher for the Mormon God

October 28, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 1:06 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox

No doubt most readers have, at one time or another, come across Nietzsche’s famous declaration that God is dead.  By this, he did not intend any argument for atheism or sacrilege.  On the contrary, he meant to expose the pre-existing albeit unacknowledged atheism and sacrilege that he found both around and within himself.  The tendency that Nietzsche was trying diagnose was how people in his time no longer employed the concept of God within their lives.  Even if people still professed to believe in Him – in some sense – the simple fact of the matter was that they never explained things in terms of Him, they never expected things from Him, He was no longer the foundation or ultimate justification for anything and, accordingly, they saw a world around them in which He was totally absent.  This famous passage is always worth a read: (more…)

Blasphemy, Censorship and Doubt

September 10, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 5:22 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,orthodox,Truth

When Joseph Smith ordered the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, he was quite clearly participating in the censorship of others.  Whether he was commanded by God to do this or not is largely irrelevant for the purposes of this post.  Rather, I would like to focus on the continuity which exists between this case and other scriptural examples of censoring or compelling speech.  With this continuity in mind we should be able to better conceptualize the tensions between apostasy and censorship that we see in the bloggernacle today. (more…)

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. (more…)

Boundaries and Maintenance in Big Tent Mormonism

August 26, 2014    By: Matt W. @ 7:19 am   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle

A great friend and I were discussing “Big Tent” Mormonism over the weekend and it was a great conversation. Alas the school year has begun and he’s a teacher. So I am hoping we can continue the conversation here. Let me restate some of the discussion, and also carry it forward a bit. (more…)

Internet Trolling and Needlenose Ned

August 20, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 2:27 pm   Category: Bloggernacle

How many of us have had repeated bloggernacle interactions with some person that felt a little too much like this:

While I think we can all easily identify with and understand Phil’s perspective and his reaction to Ned, it probably takes a little more mental effort for any of us to identify with Ned.  This partially has to do with the fact that Groundhog Day is told from Phil’s perspective, but I think it also has to do with the fact that Ned is just plain annoying.  It is for similar reasons, I suggest, that we so easily see ourselves being trolled by others in the bloggernacle but rarely if ever see ourselves as doing the trolling.  We each see bloggernacle interactions from our own perspective and, not without reason, see their one-note repetitions as annoying.  Indeed, not unlike Phil’s second encounter with Ned, we tend to assume that in such interactions we are the victims of a shell-game or some other misdirective scheme on the other’s part.  Like Phil, we have a difficult time believing that Ned is truly being sincere in his on-note repetitions. (more…)

Measuring the Faithfulness of a Blog….

August 7, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 1:39 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,orthodox,Survey Results

Alright, the title is partially tongue in cheek since the method I describe below has more than a few caveats to it.

Ziff over at Zelophehad’s Daughters put up a post shows the distribution of Facebook likes which readers of each blog in the bloggernacle have for each member of the 15 apostles.  Keep in mind that by “reader of a blog” I mean a person who has liked that blog on Facebook.  Thus, Ziff’s data compares this distribution against the distribution which exists for the total FB likes to Q15 members.  I find this comparison interesting, but incomplete.  (Newcoolthang does not have a Facebook page, but this is not the incompleteness to which I am referring.)

Luckily, Ziff was nice enough to also publish his raw data in the post, thereby allowing me to analyze the data along different lines.  Whereas Ziff was concerned about the distribution of likes among Q15 members for each blogs readership, I want to analyze how much support there is for each Q15 member within each blogs readership.  By “support” I mean this: out of all the people that “like” a particular blog, how many of those people also like each Q15 member?  Here are the result of my analysis: (more…)

The Bloggernacle as Public Sphere – pt. 2

July 29, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 7:55 pm   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Theology,Truth

In my last post I introduced Jurgen Habermas’ book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and argued that it is very relevant to us in the bloggernacle.  More specifically, I argued that just as how during the Enlightenment independent people came together in a public forum so as to engage in critical debate which eventually served to erode the perceived legitimacy of their state authorities, so too us within the bloggernacle come together as independent persons in this public forum so as to engage in critical debate which can – if we are not careful – erode the perceived legitimacy of our church authorities.  The bloggernacle is largely characterized by the same three traits that structured the public sphere which Habermas sees at the center of democratic politics:  Open accessibility to all, equality amongst interlocutors and all topics are open to critical discussion.  My point in that post was not to accuse anybody in particular of undermining the authority of our leaders so much as it was to warn us all how easy it is to seamlessly and unnoticeably slide from “a public sphere in which the [priesthood authority is] merely represented before the people [to] a sphere in which [church] authority [is] publicly monitored through informed and critical discourse by the people.” (p. xi)   In this post I want to articulate the subtle steps by which this transition can happen. (more…)

The Bloggernacle as Public Sphere – pt. 1

July 22, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 2:57 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Truth

I worry that the bloggernacle is a crucial cog within a cultural machine that takes prophetic religions and transforms them into secular and therefore apostate institutions.  I worry that the same mechanisms by which modern intellectuals overthrew feudal society are also attempting to secularize the church today.  (I have a strong suspicion that a very similar process characterized the transition from apostles and prophets to theologians and state authorities in the early church.)  I will follow Jurgen Habermas in calling this mechanism, “the public sphere.”  Let me first give a very brief description of the role that the public sphere played in the overthrow of feudal society before I articulate the rather obvious parallels which I see in the bloggernacle.  (All references are from The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Jurgen Habermas) (more…)

Reason < Authority < Revelation

July 15, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 7:11 pm   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Theology

Human reasoning is pretty much indispensable in our daily lives as human beings.  Not only are we allowed to engage in human reasoning, but we are actively encouraged to do it…. Unless it contradicts the teachings of our priesthood leaders.  Priesthood authority trumps human reason.

“We feel very sure that you understand well the doctrines of the Church. They are either true or not true. Our testimony is that they are true. Under these circumstances we may not permit ourselves to be too much impressed by the reasonings of men however well-founded they may seem to be. We should like to say this to you in all kindness and in all sincerity that you are too fine a man to permit yourself to be led off from the principles of the Gospel by worldly learning. You have too much of a potentiality for doing good and we therefore prayerfully hope that you can reorient your thinking and bring it in line with the revealed word of God.”

-12 November 1947 Letter to Lowry Nelson, First Presidency, Archive.org (more…)

The False Prophets We Follow

July 8, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 5:42 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Mormon Culture/Practices,Personal Revelation,Truth

“And behold, others he flattereth away … and he saith unto them: I am no [prophet], for there is none.” (2 Nephi 28:21)

“When we reject the counsel which comes from God, we do not choose to be independent of outside influence. We choose another influence… Rather than the right to choose to be free of influence, it is the inalienable right to submit ourselves to whichever of those powers we choose.” (Henry B. Eyring, Ensign, May 1997, p. 25)

Discipleship and Euthryphro’s Dilemma.  At one point in His ministry, Jesus taught a doctrine which seemed patently absurd to his disciples – so absurd, in fact, that many of them turned away from Him at that point.  In so doing they were using their trust in doctrine to constrain their trust in a prophet.  Jesus then turned to the Apostles and asked if they too would leave to which they responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life.”  In so doing they were using their trust in a prophet to constrain their trust in doctrine.  We all must also pick and choose who or what we follow in our lives.  By picking a ‘who’, we necessarily also choose a ‘what’ and by picking a ‘what’, we inevitably also choose a ‘who.’  Many times we frame the decisions we make in terms of ‘what’ so as to occlude, disguise or otherwise repress the ‘who’ which necessarily accompanies any such choices.  While I am willing to concede that our motives for doing this are not always so sinister in nature, I do want to suggest that – contra Euthyphro’s dilemma – there is no deep, intrinsically binding or non-question begging reason for prioritizing doctrines over prophets in our lives. (more…)

One Does Not Simply Lose One’s Testimony – A Heartfelt Plea

June 20, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 12:33 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Life,Mormon Culture/Practices,Truth

This is THE lesson that I have learned regarding my misguided departure from the church.  I had worked myself into a position where the values and standards of the gospel had become a second language to me – second to the values and standards of liberal democracy.  The latter had taken the place of the former as my default mindset, the habitual patterns in which I automatically and uncritically thought, spoke and acted.  Through years of training and practice, I had come to evaluate and measure the church and its values according to those of liberal democracy at a deeply intuitive and emotional level rather than the other way around.  I had come to feel more repugnance, offense and moral indignation at the thought of somebody violating my liberal democratic values than if they had violated those of my Mormon upbringing.

But this is not how I experienced it at the time.  Precisely because of the way in which I had internalized the values of liberal democracy I uncritically experienced these values as given and beyond question.  The values of liberal democracy were just “obviously” good and true.  Thus, when I decided to measure the truth of the church by the values of liberal democracy, I simply experienced this process as asking “is the church true?” – an honest and innocent question.  When I evaluated church policies and doctrine by the standards of liberal democracy, I very genuinely felt that I was asking “is this position right?”  Similarly, when a person violated the rules of liberal democracy they were a bad person, but when another person violated the rules of Mormonism they merely had a different perspective on what was right.  The very act of internalizing the rules of liberal democracy had also repressed them and the more strongly I endorsed them the more I placed them beyond question or constraint.  Liberal democracy, in my mind, was not simply a tradition or perspective, but universal and timeless truth – a standing which should have been reserved for God and His church.

With hindsight, I can say with absolute conviction that one does not simply lose one’s testimony, even if it genuinely feels as if that is what is happening.  Rather, one actively – albeit uncritically – beats down and erodes one’s testimony.   Through training and practice, we gradually chip away at our testimonies with the hammer of the liberal democratic values we are taught in school, on t.v. and in internet forums.  As we choose to evaluate and navigate the world around us by the tools of liberal democracy rather than those of the gospel, the latter not only atrophy from disuse, but are purposefully displaced by the former in their relentless take-over and re-programming of our minds.  I cannot say it emphatically enough: the tradition of liberal democracy is not neutral, passive or benign when it comes to our religious convictions or any other set of competing values.  It is a god which is no less jealous or hungry for the souls of men (or women) than any other.

As people in the bloggernacle critically evaluate and take inventory on their testimonies, I sincerely hope that they do not fall into the same trap I did.  Our testimonies do not lose their power, except in their struggle against some other power – typically that of liberal democracy.  If some such issue is placing your testimony of the church at risk, why not critically evaluate and take inventory on your testimony of that issue?  I know that it can be difficult and counter-intuitive to do, but instead of judging the church for it’s lack of concern for feminist issues or it’s lack of appreciation or tolerance for open debate or some other way of measuring the church by liberal democratic standards, let’s instead measure such movements, values and institutions by those of the Lord and His prophets.  To paraphrase Jacob, to be a liberal democrat is good, so long as these values and standards are constrained by the counsels of God and His prophets rather than the other way around.

 

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