Milgram: A Sociological Perspective

May 23, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 12:28 pm   Category: Ethics,orthodox

I assume all of our readers here are familiar with the Stanley Milgram experiment.  (If not, I strongly recommend that you plug it into a google search and watch the numerous fascinating articles, summaries and (especially) youtube videos.  I guarantee that it will not be a waste of your time.)  Essentially every reference made to this experiment within the bloggernacle uses it as a sort of smoking gun for the dangerous possibilities to be had in “blind” obedience to our priesthood leaders.  I want to push back, not so much against this specific application of the experiment (such dangers do exist), but against the worldview that motivates such an application.

For starters, the Milgram’s was a psychological experiment in that it was meant to speak to our shared human nature and our (unfortunate?) inclination toward trusting authority figures with moral decisions that are rightly ours.  It is  this psychological interpretation that justified its generalization to our obedience to and trust of authority figures that simply happen to lie within the church’s priesthood structure.

The problem is that the experiment did NOT involve religious authorities.  Instead, it was an experiment regarding our obedience to and trust in scientific authorities of a fully secular stripe.  A more sociological interpretation of the Milgram experiment would thus not be that human beings are (unfortunately?) naturally inclined to defer to authority figures, but rather than us Westerners have (unfortunately?) been taught to defer to scientific authorities and that this trust in lab coats is far more dangerous than we often assume.

Indeed, even if one were to generalize the experiment to religious authorities, one can only do so by equating scientific authorities in religious authorities in some important sense.  I am fully on board with this, but it has interesting implications and contradictions for those who would appeal to the scientific authority of Milgram in order to critically examine appeals to religious authority.  Since the Milgram experiment is more relevant to science than it is to religion, it is likely the case that such people are cutting off their own noses to spite their faces.


Against Natural Theology

May 22, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 2:33 pm   Category: Apologetics,orthodox,Scriptures,Theology,Truth,Universalism

“Of course it was not given to mortal reason to decipher the hieroglyph of the universe in detail; but the important fact is that this was the fundamental aim of all wisdom and learning, coloring the whole intellectual life and all but excluding any interest in prediction and control, in “natural science” as we know it. From this follows the intense faith in the intelligibility of the world that makes the medieval scholar, whether mystic seeking wisdom by intuition and vision, or rationalist seeking it by dialectic, reject our modern agnosticisms and romanticisms…
“Whether the mystic sought symbolism in nature or in history, or the scholastic sought the form and end of all things, there was this same hierarchical order of importance leading up to God, supreme reality, supreme end, supreme genus. And since such was the use of learning, it mattered little, after all, whether nature be exactly described or history accurately written…
“Indeed, a knowledge of natural history for its own sake would have been regarded as almost blasphemous, taking men’s thoughts away from its essential meaning for man.”

                                        – John Herman Randall, Jr., The Making of the Modern Mind, pg. 35

“…all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.”

                                        -Alma 30:44


Science: Demarcation and Democracy

May 9, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 2:31 pm   Category: Truth

At the heart of the debate surrounding the teaching of creationism in schools lies two issues that each side wants the other to focus upon.  On the anti-creationism debate lies the “problem of demarcation” as it has been called wherein we wish to determine what is and is not science.  On the pro-creationism side lies the issue of democracy wherein we wish to determine who does and does not have a say in what children are taught in schools.  This post will discuss the relationship between science, education and democracy. (more…)

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.

The ongoing enabling power of the atonement

April 11, 2015    By: Matt W. @ 5:14 pm   Category: Life

The below is a work in progress in my continuing effort to articulate a theory of the atonement. Feedback needed and welcome.

I remember it well. What had once been one of the most powerful doctrines of the Gospel for me had become now a challenging open sore through which doubt flowed into me. If God was loving and good, why would he punish his son for our sins? Why would he require such a punishment? It had been my faulty assumption, based on the idea that Christ acted as a substitution for the penalty affixed by God, which had led to my hurt and my doubt. It had created distance between myself and God and undermined the power and efficacy of the atonement in my life.

That’s not to say I had not felt the power of the atonement before then, but as my perception of how the atonement worked was shaped, I began to confine it to certain parameters within which it could be utilized, and thus boxed it in. Further, when I had inevitably thought through some of the implications of my misconceptions, it left me troubled and eroded my faith. However, because I persevered and studied and prayed and took it to the Lord with fasting and prayer and a leap of faith, I believe I came to a better understanding of the atonement and became more empowered to feel its power in my life.

This is why I think it is important to have a clear understanding of the atonement and to study beyond the basic assumption that it is penal substitution. I believe we study the atonement because we yearn to better apply it to the challenges of life and to make Christ and Heavenly Father more accessible. The risk, of course, is that in studying the atonement, we end up with a conception formed by man, and miss experiencing the event itself.


Capitalism and Consecration

March 12, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 12:45 pm   Category: Ethics,Money and getting gain,orthodox

Most Mormons in this country vote conservative and there is a good reason for the harmony between these two stances.  I’m not saying that these good reasons are the actual reasons why most Mormons vote the way they do.  I can’t help but agree with the many criticisms and suspicions from left-leaning Mormons bring against this strong correlation.  While I do not wish to reduce all the political differences between each side to economic issues, the case of private property makes for a very generalize-able example.

I have no doubt that, in practice, many right-wing Mormons do indeed vote Republican because they are against the redistribution of wealth.  I have no doubt that there is some selfishness at play here.  I’m also convinced that many right-wing Mormons are against it because they honestly believe that a free market wherein the individual rights to private property are strongly enforced are either better for society overall, or simply the morally right social arrangement.  None of these reasons account for the harmony that I see between conservatism and Mormonism.

The reason why Mormons ought to be against the compensation of property by the state for the sake of redistribution is because that property belongs to the Lord and His kingdom to which we have consecrated it.  Right-wing Mormons want to limit the secular state as much as possible since that state is not the sovereign in which they have placed their faith.  It is the church and not the state that Mormons think ought to redistribute property.  In other words, right-wing Mormons ought not to privilege their individual rights, but those of the Lord and His kingdom over the state.

While this is clearly a criticism of some left-wing claims, I think this also functions as a badly needed criticism of many right-wing claims from within the church membership.  To the extent that they presuppose and endorse the individualism of capitalism and classical liberalism they also depart from the collectivism of Mormonism to that same extent.  Of course the individualism of capitalism, while not ideal, is still much more harmonious with the voluntary collectivism of the church than the compulsory collectivism of the state ever could be, practically speaking.


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…)

Galileo and the Book of Nature

January 22, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 2:05 pm   Category: orthodox,Scriptures,Truth

A while back, Morgan over at BCC wrote a fantastic post about Galileo and his immense influence on modern science.  While the post was fantastic and well worth reading, it was somewhat tangential to the interests that I have in the “Galileo event”.  Yes, Galileo was a major figure in promoting heliocentrism, and the mathematization of natural philosophy, and a theory of gravity, etc. and, NO, I am not interested in defending the Catholic Church in any way or getting into the historical details and political intrigue surrounding the inquisition.  I am, however, very interested in using him as an example of the ways in which reason and science can come into conflict with religious authority.  I’m not sure that the case gives us clear advice on how to negotiate such tensions, but it does give us a clearer map of the terrain. (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.

“Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.”

November 17, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 5:59 pm   Category: Apologetics,orthodox

34 Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?

35 Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—

36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.

39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.

-D&C 121

It has become all too common within the bloggernacle for those who see any and all appeals to priesthood authority as intrinsically immoral to misrepresent their relationship to the church with an inaccurate reading of the passage above.  Accordingly, I think it will be helpful to disentangle some issues that have consistently and perhaps intentionally been run together. (more…)

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…)

The Lord’s Truth: Universal but not Objective

October 14, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 3:53 pm   Category: Apologetics,Truth,Universalism

The gospel is universal in that all people, be they black or white, bond or free, male or female, Jew or Gentile are to accept it by coming unto Christ.  It is not, however, objective. (more…)

Neo-Pragmatism and a Young Earth

September 30, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 12:27 pm   Category: Before Abraham,Determinism vs. free will,spirit birth

Neo-pragmatism (at least as Richard Rorty understands it) is committed to the position that, in some sense, the earth did not exist until there was a community of people to conceptualize and categorize it as such.  To be sure, there are obviously ways of reading this which do not do justice to the neo-pragmatists.  The main point at issue lies in the question, “In what sense did the earth not exist until relatively recently?”  I think this question is especially interesting within the context of a Mormon worldview that – in some sense – believes in a very young earth.  In this post I want to sketch out some (very) rough interpretations and possibilities of how neo-pragmatism might(!) link up with LDS claims.  (Warning: rampant speculation ahead!) (more…)

Choose the Right Tattoo

September 26, 2014    By: Jacob J @ 4:47 pm   Category: Life,Mormon Culture/Practices

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…)

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