Morality, Religion and Politics: Pt. 3

March 14, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 12:50 pm   Category: Ethics,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Politics,Theology,Universalism

In the first part of this series, I discussed Koselleck’s claim that absolute monarchism had solved the civil/religious wars by placing “reasons of state” above all moral and religious reproach, both of these being relegated to the status of “private opinion”. The second post dealt with, what Koselleck calls, the “hypocrisy of the Enlightenment” wherein moral society came to exert influence and power through a suspicious combination of public claims to universality and neutrality, on the one hand, and particularistic, political influence through secret societies, on the other.  This third post will deal with the tensions which emerged during the Enlightenment between moral reason and sovereign decision-making (both political and religious) and the ways in which “[t]he divine, heretofore impervious, plan of salvation was … transformed into the morally just and rational planning of the future by the new elite.” (pg. 10)

Central to Koselleck’s account is that the (French) Enlightenment was not solely or even primarily a movement among intellectuals – hence his focus upon the crucial role played by secret societies.  Rather, it was a heterogeneous coalition among the anti-absolutist nobility, creditor bourgeoisie, pro-British emigres, philosophes and bureaucrats who were all united around little more than their shared objection to religious and political sovereignty.  These purely negative values around which these groups and interests were temporarily aligned had various forms of practical relevance:

  • They supported the illusion of political impotence and impartiality claimed by the Republic of Letters.
  • They greatly incentivized the criticism of all against all – this being the logic around which moral society became outwardly structured.
  • They strongly dis-incentivized transparency with respect to political decision-making within (secret) societies.
  • It made sub-groups within this coalition see one another as the new enemy to truth/freedom/etc. after the overthrow of absolutist monarchism.

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Feast and Famine and a sacrament meeting talk

March 12, 2016    By: Matt W. @ 9:55 pm   Category: Life

I am speaking in church tomorrow. Special thanks to Joe Spencer for many of the ideas here.

I have been asked to speak about “feasting upon the words of Christ”. This snippet of scripture comes from 2 Nephi 31 verse 20. Since we are discussing “feasting upon the words of Christ”, here are some of my favorite words of Christ.

“the”, “fox”, “business”

And I say these words in the name of…

Just like it doesn’t make much sense to cherry pick a single word from the scriptures out of context, We cannot appreciate the imperative to “Feast upon the words of Christ” without context.

(more…)

Morality, Religion and Politics: Pt. 2

March 7, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 1:09 pm   Category: Ethics,Politics,Universalism

The strange thing about the enlightenment was that the better policies and institutions worked, the more people took them for granted and criticized them for their imperfections.  (This tendency is still very much with us.) Koselleck thus argues, in Crisis and Critique, that the Enlightenment was an inevitably hypocritical process in which various societies – both secret and formal as well as public and informal – attacked absolute monarchism by willfully ignoring the concrete historical problems to which it was a solution.  Absolute monarchism had ended the civil and religious wars by placing a strong division between politics and morality/religion, and it was only within such a context of relative peace that Enlightenment criticisms were able to maintain an air of plausibility.

Thus, while Hobbes saw the authoritarian state as protecting our very lives within a civil war of all against all, 38 years later, Locke would argue that the state was a mechanism for protecting property and happiness within an otherwise peaceful environment populated by people who were both rational and tolerant.  Locke had thus fallen into the traditionally British snare of taking the peace and tolerance which he then observed in his own society as timeless, natural and thus in little need of vigilant safe-guarding when it had actually been the historical product of authoritarian state control.  The historical transition from a Hobbesian to a Lockean idea of the state thus lies at the heart of Koselleck’s argument, it being the antidote to such timeless and quintessentially British thinking. (more…)

Morality, Religion and Politics: Pt. 1

March 3, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 2:51 pm   Category: Ethics,Politics,Universalism

About a year and a half ago I wrote a small series of posts in which I discussed Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere as a basic outline for different ways in which we can understand the various manifestations of the gospel. Within this post I would like to discuss another book which approach almost the same topic and material from a very different political angle: Reinhart Koselleck’s Critique and Crises: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society. The difference between the two is the whereas Habermas traces his roots back through the Frankfurt School to Kant and Rousseau, Koselleck intellectual heritage traces back through Carl Schmitt to Hobbes. Thus, whereas the former thinks that the “public sphere” is the best thing that can happen within and lead a society, the latter is much more suspicious and cynical about the idea that inter-subjective criticism can deliver on its rather utopian promises. (more…)

Repression, Confession and Human Sexuality

February 16, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 1:54 pm   Category: Ethics,Modesty,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Truth

The deep disagreements between the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School and Foucault can be summarized in the question: Freud or Nietzsche? The German Critical Theorists thought that the scientific analytics of both Marx and Freud could liberate us from the dual domination of ideology and repression. Being the Nietzschean that he was, Foucault’s response to all such hopes was a pointed “tu quoque”: the Marxist and Freudian disciplines merely replace one form of domination with another of their own making. Thus, while Habermas frames his own social theory in terms of a collective (Kohlbergian) moral development over which we gradually acquire greater control through discursive enlightenment, Foucault sees social history in terms of an unguided, almost Darwinian reconfiguration of (rather than liberation from) power relations. It is for this reason that Habermas dismisses all such Nietzscheans as “young conservatives”.

(more…)

Discipline and Punish; Mercy and Justice

February 9, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 11:43 am   Category: Atonement & Soteriology,Calvinism,orthodox,Scriptures,Theology

The modern mind struggles to make sense of the atonement. At least mine does. The Book of Mormon insists that because of the atonement, mercy can potentially be extended to us sinners without compromising the demands of justice. In my experience, most attempts at clarifying what this means amount to little more than free-wheeling metaphors… not that I have done any better. In this post I would like to summarize Michel Foucault’s three different models of criminal justice described in his classic work: Discipline and Punish. It is my hope that his historical method might shed some light on the subject. (more…)

Suggested Reading

February 1, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 1:41 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Reader Questions

In this thread I would like commenters to list (at most) 5 books that other people should read in order to understand your perspective better.  You don’t have to agree with everything or even anything in the book, so long as it helps us understand the ways in which you see things differently.  Some might have trouble coming up with 5 books.  It’s okay if you don’t.  Others will have trouble limiting things to 5 books.  It’s not okay if you don’t.  Finally, the less intellectual baggage the book presupposes, the better. (This helped me choose some authors over others.)

Here’s my (very tentative) list:

  1. Daniel Dennett: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea – Evolution and the Meanings of Life
  2. Richard Rorty: Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers
  3. Jurgen Habermas: The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere – An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society
  4. Alvin Gouldner: The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class
  5. Isaiah Berlin: Freedom and its Betrayal – Six Enemies of Human Liberty

Honor, Dignity and Victimhood

January 20, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 5:19 pm   Category: Ethics,Evolutionary psychology,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Truth,Universalism

This post that consists of three parts:  First, I will give a brief review of Jonathan Haidt and his publications – this section is optional and can be skipped if you like.  Second, I will summarize “Microaggression and Moral Cultures,” an article by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning concerning the nature of microaggressions and the emergence of “victimhood” culture – this is the main meat of the post.  Finally, I will use Nietzsche’s master/slave moralities to apply Campbell and Manning’s paper to the differences between victimhood culture and the gospel.

(more…)

“By Common Consent”

January 16, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 1:32 pm   Category: Apologetics,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Personal Revelation

Consent can mean an awful lot of things.  Many people today are inclined to think that doing all things by common consent means a unanimous vote within an idealized process of democratic legislation.  When people object to the claim that “the church is not a democracy” with their own appeals to “common consent” they definitely have such a reading in mind.

The idea of consent, however, was originally much more rooted in a republican than it was in a democratic tradition.  The strongest modern exponents of government by consent can be traced to the British social contract theorists: Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.  These men were not, however, strong advocates of government by the people – an idea that is much more associated with the Frenchman Jean Jacques Rousseau and his notion of the “general will.”   (more…)

The Problem of Interpreting Revelation

January 15, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 5:38 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Theology,Truth

This is a post that I’ve wanted to write for a very long time.  Since I basically posted its main thesis over at BCC, I thought I’d finally elaborate a little.

Throughout the bloggernacle, I often come across some version of “the problem of interpretation” (PoI).  The basic jist – heavily influenced by literary theory – is that the cultural conditioning and biases of the prophets act as a kind of barrier or interference between them and God.  In other words, we can never be sure that they are interpreting God’s message correctly, thus giving us just enough wiggle room to pick and choose which of their teachings we will accept and which we will write off as “human fallibility.”  Not only does this theory reinforce a “critical distance” between us and the prophets, it does this by inserting literary theorists and other such academics inside that distance, thus, intentionally or not, turning them into the semi-official interpreters of the living prophets.  It should go without saying that this entire model runs counter to the gospel found within the scriptures. (more…)

A Social History of “Just Asking Questions”

December 14, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 5:14 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Theology,Truth

“The man whom we believe is necessarily, in the things concerning which we believe him, our leader and director.”

– Adam Smith, A Theory of Moral Sentiments

This post is a summary of the first chapter in Steven Shapin’s A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England.  While Shapin’s book is largely about the sociological origins of scientific truth, his account easily generalizes to a discussion of truth, trust and dissent within religious communities.

Shapin is a leading figure in the “strong programme” of the sociology of knowledge associated, primarily, with the University of Edinburgh.  This school largely defines itself in terms of its claim that the truth-value of a claim does not causally explain it.  Thus, claims that are true must be causally explained in a way that is “symmetrical” to false claims… which is exactly what makes many people on the other side of the science wars more than a little nervous.  Thus, Shapin says:

“There is a massive mismatch between dominant characterizations of the sources of our factual knowledge and the ways in which we actually secure that knowledge.  Both seventeenth-century and present-day ‘moderns’ widely advertise direct experience as the surest grounds for factual knowledge, just as they identify reliance upon the testimony of others as an insecure warrant for such knowledge.  Similarly, both sets of ‘moderns’ celebrate proper science as a culture which had indeed rectified knowledge by rejecting what others tell us and seeking direct individual experience.   In contrast, I argue that no practice has accomplished the rejection of testimony and authority and that no cultural practice recognizable as such could do so.” (xxv) (more…)

Shifting Standards within the Mormon Archipelago

November 23, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 11:06 am   Category: Bloggernacle

Some of you will recall that I have been a participant within the Bloggernacle almost since it’s very beginning.  My blog “Issues in Mormon Doctrine” was one of the original “Islands of the Sea” when the Mormon Archipelago aggregator went online in 2005.

What few, if any of you will remember is how my blog was yanked from the Archipelago the very same day that I announced my departure from the church.  This stands is considerable contrast to the tolerance that similar posts are now met with in that very same forum.
What explains this apparent inconsistency?  Here are a few possibilities:
  1. I was more of a threat to readers’ faith than the currently disaffected.
  2. Mine was a solo blog while theirs is a group blog that cannot be banned as a collective whole.
  3. Bigger, less expendable personalities from more popular blogs became disaffected, thus shifting the standards.
  4. The Archipelago moderators got lazy/moved onto other things in their personal lives.

I’m open to other explanations…..

Scientists and Seers: Infalliblity and Autonomy

November 18, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 11:42 am   Category: Ethics,orthodox,Truth

The infallibility (or lack thereof) that can be attributed to priesthood leaders is not different from that which can be attributed to scientists or any other community that pretends to cultural authority.  (This would include political parties, activist groups, nations, ethnic minorities, social identities, etc.)  In both cases, the party in question fully acknowledges that they are imperfect and completely open to critical review.  Neither party claims absolute and unyielding certainty.

While each community is open to critical review of its imperfect claims, they also insist, however, that such critical review must come from WITHIN their own community – through processes that they recognize as legitimate.  This inevitably places the community beyond the scope of “outside” criticism.  Indeed, within our modern, liberal society such communities will tend to moralize any such external criticism as an illegitimate or oppressive interference with their autonomy or academic/religious freedom within their “rightful” stewardship or domain.  (Non-modern moralize such interference in different moral terms – moral pollution, etc.)  Each community is thus fully open to correction, but only through the rules, means, techniques, values, persons and truths that define, structure and differentiate it from other communities.   (more…)

When will the Millennials take over the Quorum of the 12 and First Presidency of the church?

November 16, 2015    By: Matt W. @ 11:49 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Life

The Youngest Apostle Currently Was Born in 1952, the Oldest in 1924. Today I was reading on Pew Forums about generational gaps in public opinion (here) on social issues, and this got me thinking about the generational makeup of the Q12+FP (hereafter Q15) and what the implications would be when there are generational shifts in these Quorums. Basically, I asked the question: When will millennials take over the Q15?

So I calculated it. My calculations are not nearly as robust as Ziff’s, but I was merely aiming for directional correctness. To keep it simple I took the 75th percentile for age of death of the last 11 Apostles who died (I chose 11 arbitrarily because that got me back to President Hinckley and because I love that guy, that’s why). The 75th percentile for age at death is 92 years. I chose to use the 75th percentile over the median (87 years) on the base assumption that medical advancements are happening, etc. I then took the median age an apostle is currently called (61 years*) and began calculating what generation the next apostles would be from. I used the generational matrix that pew uses, which is as follows:

pre-silent generation before 1928
silent generation 1928-1946
baby boomers 1946-1965
Gen X 1965-1981
Millennials 1981-1996
post-millennial 1997 on

Anyway, taking a base snapshot of the generational drift of the apostles by decade, I get the following. (more…)

Reductio ad Infallibilum

November 9, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 1:40 pm   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle,orthodox

(I do not even pretend to know Latin, so correct me if my title isn’t quite right.)

Over at Times and Seasons, I mentioned the passage of the New Testament where Jesus says:

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” -Matt 23: 2-3

This is an incredibly powerful claim on Jesus’ part in that he is saying that even though the scribes and Pharisees were unrighteous men, because of the priesthood offices that they held, their teachings should still be obeyed!  This, I suggested, strongly undermines the common tendency to dismiss any argument that even remotely resembles prophetic infallibility.  After all, these priesthood leaders were not only imperfect in the typical cognitive sense (not unlike every other mortal), but they were also flawed in a deeply moral sense…. And yet the apostles were still told to obey what these immoral men taught!

To be honest, I’m not sure that I’m willing to go all the way down this path, nor is it clear to me that Jesus himself goes all the way down it.  What is clear, however, is that he makes the moral and intellectual fallibility of priesthood leader totally irrelevant to our obedience to their teachings.  (At no point within gospel teachings is our obedience to priesthood leaders conditioned upon their being infallible, certain, morally or intellectually pure, etc…. which is the primary point of this post.)

While the KJV above is the official version for the church, a commenter named “perturbed” did point out that Joseph Smith’s version of that passage reads differently (note* This is found not in the JST, but in the “Inspired Version” that is not officially endorsed by the LDS church):

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:  All, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, *that they will make you observe and do*; for they are ministers of the law, and they make themselves your judges. But do not ye after their works:; for they say, and do not.”

Notice, however, that while the reading is different, it does not contradict what the KJV version (the version that the church takes to be official) says.  Thus, it could be argued that this is not an open and shut case in either direction.

It was at this point in the thread, however, that BradL, who I’ve interacted with before, chimed in with the rather cliche accusation that I was preaching “blind obedience” or “prophetic infallibility”.  I finally challenged BradL to find any place where I have suggested that priesthood leaders are never (let alone incapable of being) wrong or that I have suggested that we ought to obey our priesthood leader no matter what.  Indeed, I challenged him to find ANYBODY who has taught these things, a standing challenge that I offer to all readers.

To be sure, one can easily find statements that we should not publicly oppose or correct priesthood leader, or that we should not trust our own reasoning/understanding over the teachings of priesthood leaders, but I have never heard of anybody ever teaching that you should obey priesthood leaders even if God Himself tells you otherwise.  This is what “blind obedience” or “prophetic infallibility” amounts to and nobody ever teaches it.  It is a bugbear of the intellectuals’ own making.

I do admit, however, that it may be the case that somebody, somewhere actually has taught one or both of these things.  There are lot’s of people who have said lot’s of pretty incredible things, so I can’t be 100% sure on this point.  What I can be sure of, however, is that the vast majority of church members or bloggernacle participants who have ever been accused of teaching these things have not, in fact, done so.  The closest that I have ever found to somebody actually teaching these things is Jesus Himself in the passage above.

I thus propose the following as a new rule that I will call “Reductio ad Infallibilum”:

Whenever an LDS blogger accuses another LDS blogger of preaching “blind obedience” or “prophetic infalliblity” within some debate, they have automatically lost the debate in question.  Such a person has used the sloppiest of human reasoning to defend a trust in human reasoning and is thus no longer worth reasoning with.

To be sure, there may well be exceptions to this rule (just as there are to any rule) in that it may be the case that a person actually has insisted that priesthood leaders are incapable of error or that we ought to obey what they say no matter what.  It is possible that such people do exist.  I, however, have never found such a person.

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