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…)

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.

 

Drawbacks to Ordaining Women

April 9, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 11:16 am   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Mormon Culture/Practices

(Note:  This post was written almost entirely before Elder Oaks’ talk regarding the nature of priesthood.  Sadly, I have not given much thought to the relevance which that talk has to my own thoughts on this subject.)

This post is not about the Ordain Women movement.  Quite some time ago, I posted a critique of the Ordain Women organization wherein I suggested that even though the movement is about faithful LDS women, that does not mean that it is actually for faithful LDS women.  Rather, I suggested, the movement is actually by and for humanistic intellectuals.  In that post, I repeated what has become almost a cliché for those who aren’t fully on board with OW:  It’s not that I am against women being ordained to the priesthood, it’s just that I object to the OW organization and the tactics they employ.  In that way, I attempted to sideline the inevitable accusations of misogyny which such a post provokes so as to look at the conflict that OW presents between intellectuals and priesthood authority (patriarchal or otherwise).  In this post, however, I wish to do the exact opposite: I wish to sideline any thoughts or preferences concerning the nature of the Ordain Women in order to focus exclusively on the ordainability of women.

(more…)

Speech, Speakers and Privilege

March 22, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 2:06 pm   Category: Ethics,Mormon Culture/Practices

Within the bloggernacle we are confronted with a strange mix of intellectualism and faith-based non-intellectualism (I’ll just call this “faith” for short).  On the one hand, the anonymity and lack of ecclesiastical or jurisdictional boundaries within this online forum essentially guarantee that no blogger is able to justify their own ideas or policies with an appeal to their own position or authority within society.  This is very close to the defining rule of intellectualism that no claim can ever be justified by any appeal to any person’s position within society.  On the other hand, the tacit acknowledgement of various priesthood authorities by nearly all participants provides a clear and rather anti-intellectual exception to this rule in that the position of some quoted speakers within society can legitimately justify their quoted speech.  There simply isn’t much argument to be had between those who do and those who do not accept the non-jurisdictional priesthood of General Authorities.  Thus, the bloggernacle is not quite like a church meeting since there are no presiding officials, but it is not like the Salons of the Enlightenment where every person that has ever lived has equal standing either. (more…)

Laban’s Execution and the Manifesto on Plural Marriage

January 21, 2014    By: DavidF @ 6:31 pm   Category: Ethics,Personal Revelation,Theology

Laban’s execution ranks among the most troubling stories in Mormonism.  It’s often used as a story to show that obeying God is more important than what we think is right.  Alternatively, it’s used as an example to show how we should question commandments.  It’s been explained away as a justifiable action under Jewish law.  It’s been entertained as a possible example of Satan’s power to deceive (Nephi in this instance).  Nephi and Laban have been compared to Abraham and Isaac, and David and Goliath.  Critics cite it to discredit Mormonism, and apologists use it to bolster Mormonism.  What makes Laban’s execution so interesting is not only what it tells us about Nephi, but what it tells us about God.

Laban’s execution takes us through three stages in Nephi’s mind.  When Nephi discovers Laban stumbling through the dark Jerusalem streets, God prompts him to kill the defenseless drunk.[1]  Nephi refuses to obey God because killing, ironically enough, is against God’s commandments.  God again commands Nephi to kill Laban.  The second time, Nephi pauses to come up with a reason to justify what God has asked him to do.  Nephi contemplates Laban’s offenses.  Just earlier that night Laban took all of Nephi’s family’s possessions and tried to kill Nephi and his brothers; he had disobeyed God.  The rationalization may be compelling for some, but Nephi evidently couldn’t convince himself.  So God commands Nephi a third time to take Laban’s life.  But this time, God explains why Nephi should obey his commandment.  God points out “It is better that [Laban] should perish than that [the future Nephite civilization] should dwindle and perish in unbelief.”  God has Nephi weigh the literal death of one man against the spiritual death of a whole nation.  Put in modern parlance, God gives Nephi a utilitarian reason for executing Laban.  Nephi then obeys.

It would be easy to draw some harmful lessons from this story.  Presumably, Nephi did the right thing by refusing to obey until God gave him a reason to obey.  Should we adopt Nephi’s unwillingness when we face tough commandments?  Probably not.  The Book of Mormon itself contains other stories where people took the leap of faith before knowing fully what would happen.  Nephi had just declared, one chapter earlier, that he’d obey whatever God told him to do.  Laban’s execution gives us the rare look at how a prophet, and how God, works through a situation where two commandments clearly contradict each other.  And while Nephi tries to obey the more newest one, he waits for God’s approval before acting.  There was simply no third way for Nephi, and I suspect that most people would rarely be put in Nephi’s position.  But at least one modern prophet faced a similar situation.

Wilford Woodruff had a dilemma.  God commanded the Saints to practice plural marriage.  But had they continued, the United States would imprison church leaders, close the temples, and confiscate many of the Saints’ property; the church would, in effect, perish.  Woodruff couldn’t obey one commandment (plural marriage) without failing on the other  (preserving the church).

Woodruff’s decision is sometimes taken as evidence that Mormonism is not what it claims.  If God really was in charge, He would have found a way to allow plural marriage to continue and the church to go on as it had.  Instead, he didn’t intervene, and he made Woodruff and the Saints abandon an immensely important commandment.  Clearly then, the argument goes, God doesn’t lead the Church.

The story of Laban’s execution offers an alternative conclusion.

Nephi

Wilford Woodruff

Choice 1: Kill Laban, save the church End plural marriage, save the church
Choice 2: Not kill Laban, church perishes Not end plural marriage, church suffers/perishes
Decision: Applies the greater good Applies the greater good

Laban’s execution shows that God will sometimes entertain a utilitarian judgment over directly intervening in some way to avoid the utilitarian solution.  Why?  The answer may be related to the answer to another, similar question: Why does God have imperfect people lead His church?  Perhaps it’s because the greater good is served by having people work together to improve an imperfect church rather than by having God so directly involved.  Sometimes God drops a Liahona in the sand, sometimes he commands his prophet to make do with the best of two bad choices.[2]

_______

[1] As an aside, some people have other problems with Laban’s execution.  Why couldn’t Nephi have just knocked Laban out, or what about all of the blood on Laban’s clothes that Nephi had adorned?  These aren’t criticisms of the story as it is told, but elements that Nephi didn’t explain.  I imagine that if Nephi anticipated these criticisms, he might have offered more detail on how the events unfolded.  For all we know, Nephi stole Laban’s clothes, Laban recognized him, and Nephi just recounted the order of events in reverse.  Stranger things have happened.

[2] The same argument I’ve offered here might also apply to Eve’s choice in the Garden of Eden.  However, it’s not entirely clear that Eve was thinking in utilitarian terms about her decision to eat the forbidden fruit and have children.

Extreme Mormon Virtues

October 28, 2013    By: DavidF @ 10:21 am   Category: Ethics,Theology

Psychology Today’s latest issue discusses the double edged nature of virtues.  Sometimes a virtue, either taken to excess or cherished too dearly, warps into a vice.  The article gives several examples.

Fairness is a virtue.  But it’s easy to become obsessive about fairness, especially when it plays in our favor.  The article references a father who told his daughter he would miss her birthday because he had a business opportunity.  “When she dried her tears, she told him it was OK—as long as he missed her sister’s birthday, too.”  Of course, the daughter could have been thinking more selfishly than fairly, but even if the father had made this call himself, it’s hard to say he was acting virtuously.  In fact, I imagine with some thought, we could come up with some other reasons why fairness should be tempered (the justice/mercy problem springs to mind).

Another example from the article is agreeableness or niceness, which in more religious terms we could call meekness.  Being really nice is good, but when it overtakes being assertive, we can not only harm ourselves, but others as well.  As the article points out, people who are agreeable tend to have lower salaries and get fewer promotions, and in some cases can strain romantic relationships because they’re too dependent and clingy.

While the virtues listed in the article serve mainly in the corporate context, Mormonism prizes several virtues that didn’t make this list, such as obedience,  faith, and charity.  Perhaps these virtues can also morph into vices.  Can we become obsessively obedient?  Does an excessive reliance on faith corrupt it?  Can the compulsive pursuit of charity become a vice?

Obedience

A lot of elders on my mission liked saying, “If you’re 99% obedient, you’re disobedient.”  Not only do I worry about the psychological ramifications of this statement (as, apparently, does Elder Holland), but I wonder if the statement excuses obsessive obedience.

The pharisees are the classic example of over-obedient followers.  Not only did they obey the law, but they hedged the law with non-divine rules just to be extra careful.  Ironically, as Jesus pointed out, their law hedging made them disobedient, because they became so focused on superfluous details that they lost sight of the actual law itself.  Furthermore, their obsessive obedience made them intensely judgmental. (more…)

Ordain Women: Whose Movement Is It?

September 26, 2013    By: Jeff G @ 9:57 pm   Category: Ethics,Happiness,Life,Mormon Culture/Practices

The vast majority of members – especially females – oppose the priesthood ordination of women.  Which means that if the church were a democracy women would not be ordained.  But the church is not a democracy such that orders come from the top-down rather than from the bottom-up, and the top says “no” to the priesthood ordination of women as well.   In spite of this, the Ordain Women movement presses forward, urging the church to give women the priesthood without any regard for what the rest of the church wants or thinks.  This state of affairs cries out for explanation: How can a movement which is so strongly committed to emancipation and social justice (and I see no reason to doubt their sincerity) try to force people to be free? (more…)

Blindness and Obedience

September 16, 2013    By: Jeff G @ 11:46 am   Category: Ethics,Personal Revelation,Scriptures

A basic distinction which I draw  in my attempts to undermine intellectualism, a distinction which I think serves to highlight the contingent nature of the intellectual’s values, is between a pre-modern/religious worldview and a modern/secular worldview.  Very briefly, the ways in which statements and actions are justified within a pre-modern, religious worldview include appeals to authority, tradition and revelation.   By contrast, within a modern-secular worldview statements and actions are justified by appeals to egalitarianism, logical coherence and empirical data.  So many of the debates in the bloggernacle can profitably be construed as a competition as to which of these worldviews is the uniquely right way to view some phenomenon.

Uncovering Feminine Modesty – New Approach to Modesty Series

July 3, 2013    By: DavidF @ 9:27 pm   Category: Ethics,Life,Modesty,Mormon Culture/Practices

This is the second post in the New Approach to Modesty series.  For post one click here.

Getting ready for a Mutual activity, Chelsea Anderson casually put on a pair of short shorts. “It never occurred to me that they were inappropriate.”  She sat down in one of the few remaining seats, prepared for a lesson from the missionaries.  With the last couple of remaining seats to her side, Chelsea overheard the missionaries’ whispered argument over who would have to sit next to her.  Although she didn’t hear why they argued, Chelsea figured her immodest shorts caused the argument.  “I realized that I was making virtuous young men feel uncomfortable.”  Thereafter Chelsea dressed modestly.

While her story is unique, Chelsea didn’t have to look far for council to mirror.

Young women, respect your body and help others, particularly young men, maintain virtuous thoughts and actions. (Dress and Appearance: Let the Holy Spirit Guide)

Not only does this sort of council make young women responsible for young men’s actions, but it signals an even greater problem with current modesty rhetoric.  But before getting there, we first have to establish what modesty means today.  To begin with, modesty rhetoric rarely refers to men.  When it does, speakers implore men to dress appropriately for sacred ordinances and meetings, leaving references to virtue virtually nonexistent.

Part of why male modesty rarely focuses on male sexuality could be because male leaders don’t find men sexually alluring.

(hottie?)

If leaders applied the sexuality standard equally, perhaps the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet would read a little differently:

Do not engage in any activity that might build a visible “six pack.”  As soon as you are able, grow a beard.

(not-ie)
(more…)

A New Approach to Modesty 1/7: The Generation of Modesty Rhetoric

June 25, 2013    By: DavidF @ 11:55 am   Category: Ethics,Modesty

Why are so many bloggers talking about modesty recently?  Prepare to know.

As a young man writing about human nature David Hume analyzed several common virtues.  When he got to modesty and chastity he ran into a problem.  On the one hand, society needs healthy families, but on the other, men have a lot of reasons to avoid being good husbands and fathers.  What happens when a man finds out the child he thinks is his isn’t?  That’s a problem.  Hume saw that men won’t be good fathers if they don’t feel reasonably confident that their mouths-to-feed have a biological connection to them (leaving adoption aside).  Men need a guarantee.  So how do we rest their fears?  Hume’s solution is modesty.

Well, chastity really solves the issue.  If women stay virtuous, there won’t be any problems (since women always know who they gave birth to, unchaste men won’t cause them confusion).  But Hume was a practical man.  People have sex in private.  He knew that society can’t constrain lascivious acts done behind closed doors.  Hume advised that society should shame women into modesty so that they’ll be more chaste.  As modesty increases men will feel more assured that their wives stay faithful.  The men will then believe they sired the children the women produce, and the great wheel of social order will continue.  No joke.

Let’s not crucify Hume for such an uneven approach to modesty.  While blunt, Hume hardly broke new ground.  In fact, some readers might applaud Hume’s insight.   They shouldn’t.  Using modesty to curtail chastity issues creates other serious problems, which I will come back to later.  We can do better with both virtues by unhinging them and reimaging them.  In this series I’ll present how.

This discussion couldn’t be timelier.  Mormon modesty rhetoric has exploded in the last decade.[1]  In the 1990s only three General Conference speakers discussed modesty.  In the 2000s that number shot up to twenty-one.  The next highest decade after the 2000s was the 60s, with only eight speakers discussing modesty.  BYU devotionals show the same trend.  Nearly as many speakers discussed modesty in the last decade as the three previous decades combined (ten and eleven respectively).  There are also more articles in the church magazines now more than ever before, especially The Friend.  Almost every speaker focused on female modesty, and most of them linked it to sexual purity as Hume did.

Church leaders have connected female modesty to they way they dress for decades.  Brigham Young may have been the first to link the two.  Here is a selection of his that modern leaders sometimes quote: (more…)

Moral Rightness and the Same Sex Marriage Debate

March 26, 2013    By: Administrator @ 10:41 pm   Category: Ethics

This guest post was submitted by NCT regular commenter, DavidF

Hot off the presses, you can listen to the oral arguments over the Same Sex marriage debate before the Supreme Court. I highly recommend it.

I want to bring up some of the highlights by comparing the competing value structures that the two sides rely on to make their case. So you’re getting a philosophical post and a political post for the price of one. But why the philosophy? Because the moral values both sides bring to the debate rest at the very heart of how they justify their positions. This is a useful tool to get at the bias inherent to each side’s argument.

Consequentialism and Deontology Crash Course

There are two moral systems colliding in this debate: consequentialism and deontology. The conservatives rely mainly on deontological arguments and the liberals rely mainly on consequentialist arguments. What’s the difference?
(more…)

Guest Post: A Mormon Moral Paradox-Gettier Style

February 6, 2013    By: Administrator @ 11:04 pm   Category: Ethics

The following guest post was submitted to us by DavidF:

Suppose you are sitting at home reading a book. You glance at your watch. It reads 5:23. So you go back to reading now knowing the time. But unbeknownst to you, the battery in your watch died yesterday. By sheer coincidence it stopped at 5:23. It turns out your belief that it’s 5:23 is correct, but only by accident.

This is a Gettier problem. Gettier invented problems like this one to challenge the foundational claims of epistemology, that knowledge is justified true belief. In this scenario, the watch-reader would have a true belief and think it is justified. In reality, the justification is wrong, but the belief is still true. Gettier came up with the first problems in 1963; they vex epistomologists to this day. Gettier’s paradoxes are interesting in their own right. But what happens when you turn an epistemological paradox into a moral one? And what happens when you make it a specifically Mormon one? Let’s see. (more…)

Why You Can’t Agree With R. Gary

April 22, 2012    By: Jeff G @ 1:02 am   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Truth

(Love ya, Gary!)

It’s not terribly difficult to guess ahead of time which bloggernacle threads Gary (of NDBF fame) will comment in and roughly what his position will be therein.  This is due to a number of factors:  his overall consistency, the forthright, no-nonsense articulation of his views and (most of all) his staunch adherence to positions which tend to drive intellectuals crazy.  Gary is by no means alone in proudly flaunting these traits as a badge of honor but to me he serves as the perfect poster-boy for all Iron-Rodders if only because he is one of the most patient and likeable of the bunch.

First, I’ll give a little history regarding our interactions in the ‘nacle.  Those who have known me for a while are well aware that I take science fairly seriously and have always had a particular interest in Darwinian evolution.  I’m sure you are also well aware that Gary has always been quite unimpressed by both, to put it mildly.  After many frustrating exchanges between us in which I frequently allowed sarcasm and mockery to take the place of patience and charity I finally thought that I had figured out what Gary’s core argument really was.  (more…)

This post contradicts itself… wait, no it doesn’t.

April 1, 2012    By: Jeff G @ 10:12 pm   Category: Ethics

The following thought experiment can be taken in a number of ways.  For some, it will be a fun little logic game.  For others, it will be yet further proof that philosophers are annoying people who ought to be avoided at parties.  And for others still, it illustrates a broad class of scenarios in which we might actually find ourselves.  So, without further delay…

Suppose we live in a world in which the following things are clearly true:

  1.  There are exactly two viable moral theories: duty-based ethics and consequence-based ethics. (It’s not at all important what these theories say, only that they are clearly incompatible with each other.)
  2. Whichever moral theory we believe in also dictates what we ought to believe.
  3. Duty-based ethics clearly dictates that we ought to believe in consequence-based ethics.
  4. Consequence-based ethics clearly dictates that we ought to believe in duty-based ethics.

In such a world, what ought we to believe and how do we go about justifying our beliefs to others?

Loyalty Is Not a Virtue

June 29, 2010    By: Geoff J @ 11:13 pm   Category: Ethics

The subject of loyalty came up over at a recent Bloggernacle Times thread. Jacob J stirred the pot a little by saying the following:

I think loyalty is vastly overrated. In all the cases when loyalty is cited as the motivation for virtuous behavior that same behavior could/should have been motivated by a less problematic virtue like fairmindedness or kindness. In plenty of cases, loyalty is a name for going against your better judgment to do something wrong, covering something up, or sticking up for a person who is in the wrong.

This comment was met with resistance but Jacob is entirely correct. Loyalty is a useful motivational tool to be sure but is hardly a virtue itself.
(more…)

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