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…)
Talk Prepared for July 27, 2014
Having moved in just two weeks ago, we have been slightly in shock at how freakishly organized this ward is. In our two weeks, we’ve already been visited by the Elder’s Quorum Presidency, the Relief Society Presidency, and the Bishopric. The icing on the cake was the multi-paragraph email we received with this assignment to speak. I think my wife’s words were “Is there such a thing as so ideal and organized that it’s weird”? That letter asked that I speak on Faith in Jesus Christ and to take some time to introduce you to our family and tell you a bit about us. (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…)
Over at Wheat and Tares, Hawkgrrrl wrote an interesting post on the difference between obedience and self-sufficiency. She mentioned how pretty much everybody teaches both perspectives to their children, but if push came to shove and they could only teach one, religious people would teach obedience while secular families would choose self-sufficiency.
In the comments to that post I pretty much rehearsed the reasoning behind my post, “The False Prophets We Follow”, wherein I suggest that self-sufficiency in the sense of not following or obeying what anybody else teaches us is a myth which serves to reinforce secular values at the expense of religious values. Our thoughts and values have almost entirely been taught us by other people and/or spirits. Thus, the question is not whether we or our children will obey or be self-sufficient (this is not exactly the question that Hawkgrrl was asking); the question is whether we or our children will construe the choices we make in our lives in terms of obedience or self-sufficiency. (more…)
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…)
“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…)
When Adam was told to sacrifice the first born of his flock, when Abraham was told to sacrifice his only son and when Joseph Smith was told to sacrifice his monogamous relationship with his wife, they were not given any kind of reason or justification. Rather, their response was along the lines of “I know not [why], save that the Lord hath commanded.” They were expected to comply even though they did not know and thus could give no reason to anybody who might ask, “Why?” – and we have every reason to believe that other people definitely did so ask. (more…)
Strangers In Zion is a grass roots movement for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are requesting to subject themselves to church discipline in solidarity for other wrongfully excommunicated and otherwised [sic] disciplined Latter-day Saints.
Well alrightee then.
Why just fade into inactivity in the church when you can try to leave the with a bang? I guess I can see the appeal on some level.
Of course folks will probably end up surprised by how hard it really is to get excommunicated from this church.
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.
(I originally posted this – my one and only post which directly addresses OW – back in September of last year before either of their two attempts to attend the Priesthood Sessions of General Conference. I was thinking of writing another post in which I would address the events of the past week or so, but rather than pretty much re-writing this exact same post all over again, I decided to re-publish it. It is left to the reader to decide how well the last 9 months have confirmed or falsified my analysis.)
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…)
“All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it…”
I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instructions for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them; but if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction; for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom.
-History of Church 7 Vols. 1:338, 339
Consider the not unusual case in which two people who, having searched, pondered and prayed in all faithfulness and earnestness, come to two different conclusions regarding how they ought to believe, speak and/or act. The first way of resolving this disagreement would be with an appeal to priesthood authority in which one side acquiesces to the presiding authority of the other. The second way would be with an appeal to inter-personal reasoning in which, very roughly speaking, the less persuasive side acquiesces to the more persuasive side. The chart below summarizes many of the central differences which underlie these two mechanisms for resolving differences in prayerfully considered positions. (more…)
Rather than taking the time to put the finishing touches on one of the many posts that I have half-written up, I thought I’d draw a little bit of attention to a fantastic website that launched today: http://www.discussingmarriage.org/
Here’s a little bit from their mission statement:
“We support traditional marriage, and believe that traditional marriage norms should be reflected in civil law. Our goal is simple: we want to compile all of the strongest arguments in favor of traditional marriage, and summarize them for a lay audience. “
I would especially recommend watching the youtube videos that they made as they contain interesting information and perspectives which should be of interest to both sides of the debate.
(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.
The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday on whether for-profit businesses have religious freedom. More specifically, whether two corporations run by Christian families could be exempt of the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that businesses that insure their employees provide free contraceptive to female workers. Importantly, religious groups already have the exemption, but what about businesses directed and influenced by their religiously minded bosses or shareholders? Should they be forced to run their businesses in ways that go against their religious values?
The two companies are Hobby Lobby, and Conestoga Wood Specialties (ran by a family of Mennonite Christians). The family that runs Hobby Lobby opposes the obligation to give their female employees any contraceptives that prematurely end a possible life, such as the morning after pill. The family that runs Conestoga oppose any medical procedures that prevent a possible life, and thus all contraceptives.
So who will win, the government or the businesses? Importantly, the Supreme Court doesn’t just weigh both sides equally and decides which deserves a win more. The Court relies on longstanding judicial procedure to determine outcomes. Most know that in criminal cases, an accused can only be convicted if the are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases generally, the the plaintiff wins if they have a preponderance of the evidence on their side; that is, there’s better reason to believe they should win than reason for them to lose. However, when a person sues the federal government claiming that the government has infringed upon his or her rights, the Court goes through a more complicated procedure.
Leading up to the 1930s, the Supreme Court regularly struck down laws that regulated how business owners can run their businesses. These decisions allowed employers to set harmfully long work weeks with extremely low wages. In one case, the court passively allowed the continuation of child labor. In 1938, after the Court had struck down several New Deal laws, the court flipped. Decades of judicial activism ended. The new standard that developed out of 1938 was this: if the government wants to achieve a legitimate government interest–that is, seeks to protect public health, safety, welfare or morals/criminal laws–then its action/regulation need only be rationally related to achieving that goal. So if a business owner wants to set his employees’ 40 hour workweek wages below minimum wage claiming that the government law against that hurts his business (more specifically, claiming that the government infringes upon his rights of due process or just compensation), the government need only show that the hour/wage laws rationally protect the employees health or safety, which they can of course do. In other words, as long as Congress acts within its constitutional limitations, any law that protects the government objectives I mentioned above will get upheld. (more…)
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…)