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…)
If you have not done so already, I strongly recommend that anybody interested in social or political thinking go and read Isaiah Berlin’s classic: Two Concepts of Liberty. Within this paper he lists 4 premises by which modern thinking can and at times has transformed into the very opposite of freedom. I will then state my views regarding the (in)compatibility of these premises with the religious tradition found in the scriptures. (more…)
[Jesus’ cures for medical illnesses] are all miraculous, and the same power was granted to the apostles—”power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.” And more than this, not only the blind received their sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, but even the dead were raised up. No question of the mandate. He who went about doing good was a physician of the body as well as of the soul, and could the rich promises of the Gospel have been fulfilled, there would have been no need of a new dispensation of science.
-William Osler, The Evolution of Modern Medicine
When I speak of “drawing valid inferences” or “making legal moves” in a language game, you should not automatically think that these inferences and moves could simply be made by anyone in the linguistic community. For example, in Foucault’s scenario, the patient’s submission to the psychiatrist’s authority is by no means enhanced by his ability to reason exactly as the psychiatrist would about his condition. On the contrary, such “simulations” of rational discourse would tend to underscore the depth and complexity of the patient’s mental disorder. Thus, not only must a psychiatric diagnosis be articulated according to a fixed set of rules, but it must also be articulated by someone who has been authorized to issue a diagnosis of that kind. And so, it is crucial to the patient’s having submitted to the psychiatrist’s authority that he remain silent while the psychiatrist speaks on his behalf.
-Steve Fuller, Social Epistemology
The first passage above illustrates the historical, zero-sum displacement of religious authority by science with regards to how we ought to behave and to whom we ought to look for such instruction. The second passage above illustrates the asymmetrical nature of scientific authority as it exists within society today. Before continuing I first must say that 1) I think and hope that we all treat modern medicine with the amount of respect that it has clearly earned and 2) I have no intention of pitting medical science against scriptural religion. I do, however, want to use our modern deference to the authority of medical science to illustrate the nature of priesthood authority. (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.
In this post I wanted to briefly sketch out some of my own thoughts and taxonomies regarding how we go about legitimizing claims and positions. I realize that the distinctions I make aren’t all that fine grained, but I prefer to sacrifice a certain amount of complexity for the sake of clarity. When somebody calls some belief, position or claim into question there are, I submit, 4 primary ways in which we legitimate such things:
- They look “up” to authority, office or some other person who is set apart to answer such questions
- They look “out” to nature through observation, experiment, measurement, etc.
- They look “inward” to feelings, promptings, instincts and passions, etc.
- They look “back” to the past in traditions, customs, sacred texts and other things that have stood the test of time.
“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.
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…)
My wife recently made waves by adding “temporary tattoos” to the plans for an upcoming youth activity. There was already a face painting booth planned and she added temporary tattoos to that booth to increase the variety. Predictably, someone objected to having temporary tattoos as part of a church sponsored event. Not the sort of thing I would get my panties in a bunch about, but nonetheless something that I understand. (more…)
(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…)
In this post I would like to briefly outline 5 reasons for why we should believe our authorized priesthood leaders over our own reasoning. The purpose of this post, in contrast to many of my prior posts, is not to convince the reader that they ought to so prioritize the church leaders’ beliefs over their own. Rather, it is more to provide a taxonomy of sorts for such reasons, if only for the purpose of clarification. Commenters are encouraged to specify which reasons they do and do not endorse as well as provide and categorize any reasons that I might have missed. (more…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
“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…)
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.