The Bloggernacle as Public Sphere – pt. 2

July 29, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 7:55 pm   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Theology,Truth

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.

Thomas Hobbes declared, “Authority, not truth, makes law.”  Jurgen Habermas insists on the exact opposite, “Truth, not authority, makes law.” (p. 82) In these two men we have two rationally articulated perspectives on authority that could not be more different from each other.  This alone should make us think twice about our own interpretations and evaluations of authority and its relationship to law.  In this post I would like to make these choices – for this is exactly what such interpretations and evaluations are – even more difficult.  To do this I will summarize Habermas’ account of the various intermediate perspectives on authority and law that were taught throughout the process of Enlightenment during which feudal authority was gradually rationalized and then delegitimized.  The subtle differences in these perspectives will allow us to see how slippery the slope that leads from discussing the church and its leaders to critiquing the church and its leaders really is.

As we review each of these perspectives there are a few questions that I think are worth raising within our own minds.  In what ways is this perspective like the church as it actually is?  In what ways is this perspective like the church as it ought to be?  What relevance does this perspective have for itself as a publicly reasoned argument?  What relevance does this perspective have for your own publicly reasoned arguments within the bloggernacle?

Thomas Hobbes advocated – as you probably already guessed – the absolute sovereignty of the monarchy.  Without such a governing authority, conflicts of interests and opinions would dissolve society into a contentious state of violence, fear and misery.  He thought that people should be left to believe whatever they want, but that they were to keep these tentative opinions to themselves.  He thought there ought to be no organizations outside of state authority which debated government.

John Locke thought that an individual’s opinions and interests both influenced and were, in turn, influenced by the opinions and interests of others.  This inter-personal influence served as an unofficial mechanism for checking and balancing the individuals that constituted society.  He did not, however, see this reciprocal influence as itself constituting a public opinion, let alone having much relevance or grounding law or sovereignty.

The Physiocrats argued that public debate served to purify opinion into reason and that this reason served to inform the sovereign who alone wields authority.  Make no mistake, however, because even though these men thought that public debate served a positive function they still insisted that the state authorities and nobody else was in a position to wield sovereign power.  Public debate could serve to inform the ruling authority, but was in no way supposed to constrain or usurp the decisions of that authority.  This was absolutism with critical debate.

Jean Jacques Rousseau was almost the exact opposite in that he advocated democracy without public debate.  In his view, public debate did not serve to purify opinion into reason, but instead allowed the more educated, eloquent or otherwise influential to corrupt or control the otherwise pristine opinions of others.  Instead, he thought that laws ought to be grounded in the general will – by which he meant the mores, customs and especially opinions – of untutored persons.

Immanuel Kant was the one who finally combined the Physiocrats’ view of public debate with Rousseau’s view regarding democracy.  He argued that public debate purified untutored opinion which in turn was to be the foundation for legitimate legislation.  Thus, critical debate and public reason were the source of both enlightenment and legitimate legal order.  He saw the non-universal will of the authority figures as a kind of domination that ought to be subjugated by reason – it being that which all people can simultaneously and consistently will together.   Habermas takes something like this to be the epitome of the public sphere and the very heart of democratic theory.

G. W. F. Hegel rejected the idea that public opinion can ever constitute purified reason.  Instead, he saw the public opinion and debate as a kind of common sense infected with “penurious rabble.”  Furthermore, this rabble is marked not by unity and truth but by anarchic and antagonistic prejudices and subjective opining.  For this reason he saw the public as a place in which the state (which represented the truth of the age) educated the public rather than the other way around.

Karl Marx totally rejected the idea that the public sphere was a source of liberation from authority seeing such ideas as an ill-intended farce.  This false consciousness was promoted by the bourgeoisie who were merely trying to mask their own ascendancy to power by way of manipulating public debate to their own ends.  Since the public sphere was not a liberation from ruling authorities but was instead a mere exchange of ruling authorities, power relations still thwarted any hopes at the purification of opinion by way of public debate.

John Stuart Mill thought that the universality that the public sphere pretended to actually served to undermine its unity.  As more people entered the literate sphere of public debate there inevitably arose conflicts of interests among differing sub-groups of various size and influence.  This meant that public opinion was nothing but the majority opinion by which the mediocre many wielded power over the opinions and interests of the few.  Thus, the public sphere became not a means of dissolving power, but of limiting and balancing it between the state, bourgeoisie and majority opinion.

There are others that we could have considered, but this gives us enough to appreciate the wide spectrum of views that very intelligent and moralistic people can and have had regarding authority and law.  It also serves to highlight some recurring themes which I think are especially relevant to our views of the church and what it means to sustain our leaders:  Is public debate a means of liberation from or subjugation to human imperfection?  Is it a path or an obstacle to group unity?  Can there ever be both equality and unity on a large scale and if not, which one ought we compromise?  Do we naturally know what’s right and wrong, or do we need to be taught right and wrong?  If so, who is supposed to teach us?  Does public debate dissolve or merely transfer power from one ruler to another?  Are our answers to these questions the same ones that modern prophets have given?  Which view would Joseph Smith have held when he dictated our modern scriptures?

I’m guessing that there will be many, many different answers to these questions to be found in the bloggernacle… and that is exactly what I’m afraid of.  All these perspectives just are the various stepping stones along the path by which “a public sphere in which the [priesthood authority is] merely represented before the people [becomes] a sphere in which [church] authority [is] publicly monitored through informed and critical discourse by the people.”  Taken individually, these questions seems fairly innocent and mostly inconsequential, but they are the baby-steps by which many have walked right out of the church.  To be sure, these are not the only or even the most typical reasons for why people leave the church.  I do, however, think that these are the primary reasons for those who leave the church for moral reasons.  Even though I am not a Habermasian by any stretch of the imagination, I do think that he is absolutely right in seeing these historically situated morals – the same morals that are leading many people out of the church – as being essentially democratic in nature


  1. Which view would Joseph Smith have held? Well Joseph said: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” and he also said “It feels so good not to be trammeled.” so I think he held a view far beyond what you’ve presented here and far beyond the church’s practice today.

    Comment by Howard — July 30, 2014 @ 6:48 am

  2. A couple ideas.

    1. You don’t have a control group of non-bloggernacle mormons for comparison, so I think you may be over-estimating the effect of the bloggernacle on leaving the church.

    For example, if you start with a group of active mormons, over time the group will have fewer active mormons in it because the activity level of that group can only stay the same or go down. Likely it will go down even if the bloggernacle was a positive influence.

    2. You might want to think more about the difference between democratic and individual values and systems. They aren’t the same thing. With democratic values the majority has authority. In individual values, the individual has authority.

    3. I don’t think an historical concept of authority is possible as a way of being in the world. In your summary of philosophers, its always new and different. Even when people rediscover prior thinkers – say Aquinas and Aristotle, it is always adapted and modified.

    4. In particular, I think that mormons trying to maintain or move to an authoritarian understanding, narrow their worldview in a way that is inconsistent with mormonism. For example, the move to focus on values and morals rather than totalizing views of the world that include all of our experience. Medicine and psychology are examples. Mormonism isn’t Christian Science, our leaders don’t claim authority over those spheres, but many members, adapt a folk-psychology based on their understanding of their leaders view of psychology. Its an unsustainable hash. Part giving over authority to secular authorities but part discomfort with what has been given over.

    Your answer is that Christ is leading the church, but the theology would have Christ has secular understanding not just religious authority. You can’t keep the worlds separate.

    As much as some people are leaving the church, the church is also contracting in the authority it claims.

    Comment by Martin James — July 30, 2014 @ 9:58 am

  3. Howard,

    The reason why people hate non-contextual proof texts is that they gave be used to give credibility to any absurd idea. For example, the idea the Joseph Smith did not lay out a system of government and law within the church is absolutely absurd.

    However, as noted in the previous thread, the fact that association with the church is totally voluntary makes things very different than these cases in which state sovereignty is hardly voluntary. But again, I think this is exactly what justifies the church non-democratic nature.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 10:12 am

  4. …the idea the Joseph Smith did not lay out a system of government and law within the church is absolutely absurd.

    Of course it’s absurd! So why did you bring it up?

    I wasn’t making that point rather within a system of church government and law Joseph prefers to teach them correct principles (rather than bright-line rules), and they govern themselves. So what happened to those goals of the founder? Since Joseph we’ve seen principles eroded to a codified system of bright-line rules, the problem being much is lost in the translation from nuanced and flexible principles into black & white rules and governing themselves has become: be quite, pray, pay and obey.

    Comment by Howard — July 30, 2014 @ 10:43 am

  5. Martin,

    1) I agree that my argument is more anecdotal than it is data driven. But again, I’m not trying to convict or convince, so much as warn.

    2) I’m not exactly sure what you’re getting at here. Democratic values – as Habermas understands them – would be closest to what Kant says in that each person is able to freely assent to the same policy at the same time. (Rawls says something similar.) In this view of democratic values (which are different than how democracy actually function in practice) individual autonomy is fundamental.

    3) If you’re saying that we can never understand these terms *exactly* how people did in the past without any relation to the contemporary interpretation, then you might be right, but I don’t see how this is all that significant. It sounds a lot like saying that since I am a native English speaker, I can never understand Spanish words exactly like a native Spanish speaker does. Even if this is true, it is still possible for me to learn to speak Spanish just as fluently as the native Spanish speaker.

    4) Again, I’m confused as to what this has to do with the post. This post hardly seems to be a case of narrowing one’s worldview.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 10:48 am

  6. Howard,

    It’s a little frustrating when you do a drive-by proof text with little to no explanation and then object when people aren’t able to understand your point of view.

    For example, it now seems that your comment has little if anything to do with the actual post. Whether rules are bright-lined or general advice has nothing to do with public debate and authoritative legislation within the church.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 10:57 am

  7. Jeff G. That’s pretty dismissive, I think it’s very clear in comment #1 that I was addressing your OP question Which view would Joseph Smith have held? my answer is “I think he held a view far beyond what you’ve presented here and far beyond the church’s practice today.” and I offer the JS quotes in support of that answer.

    Whether rules are bright-lined or general advice has nothing to do with public debate and authoritative legislation within the church. Well, principles are much broader than bright-line rules inviting more interpretation and adaptation. Trammeled means to restrain or deprive of freedom of action. So Joseph supported a more open milieu than the trammeling you are arguing for. Sorry if that wasn’t obvious.

    Comment by Howard — July 30, 2014 @ 11:13 am

  8. “I’m guessing that there will be many, many different answers to these questions to be found in the bloggernacle… and that is exactly what I’m afraid of. All these perspectives just are the various stepping stones along the path by which “a public sphere in which the [priesthood authority is] merely represented before the people [becomes] a sphere in which [church] authority [is] publicly monitored through informed and critical discourse by the people.””

    OK, and what can you do about it? Unless you propose creating a sort of theocracy like unto Joseph Smith’s Zion or Brigham Young’s State of Deseret, or proposing legislation that curbs people’s freedoms of speech (for instance legislation that would bar members of the LDS church from challenging the LDS leaders’ spiritual authority), I don’t think that there is anything that you can do. Well, I guess you are in essence doing something, which is criticizing members who question the validity and legitimacy of the church leaders’ authority and advocating an almost unquestioning obedience to priesthood leaders. The problem is that religious authority is simply different from government authority. In areas and times in which religion is allied with the state (such as post-revoluationary Iran), religious authority is much closer to government authority. But in the US, in which religion and state are kept separate, religious authority really only applies to God’s government. And God is the sovereign in LDS church doctrine, not the priesthood leaders. Furthermore God’s kingdom is not of this world. So by virtue of LDS doctrine, the church is to be expressly apolitical.

    One last point is the fact the LDS church touts 15+ million members worldwide, the majority of which are inactive. So even if you want to try to edge a lot of middle pathers out of the church, you can’t, for the church will consider them members unless they voluntarily resign their membership or they can find some way to justify excommunicating them. So by virtue of LDS church policy and doctrine, you are forced to acknowledge the membership of liberal Mormons, questioning and doubting Mormons, and moderately ‘sinning’ Mormons. But hey, no one’s perfect.

    Comment by Steve Smith — July 30, 2014 @ 11:25 am

  9. Okay, but saying that Joseph Smith didn’t fall squarely into any of these (and I think we all agree with that) isn’t the same thing as showing exactly what he would agree and disagree with.

    I might also mention that that statement by Joseph Smith was never put to writing until decades after his death.

    Either way, it sounds an awful lot like Hegel’s position if you ask me…. A position which I think isn’t too far off of how the church works.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 11:27 am

  10. I’m saying its impossible to be mormon today in a non-Habermasian way.

    Comment by Martin James — July 30, 2014 @ 11:27 am

  11. Jeff G,
    You and Joseph are very, very far apart.

    I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine. It looks too much like Methodism and not like Latter-day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It don’t prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.

    The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 184 (edited out of TPJS at page 288).

    Comment by Howard — July 30, 2014 @ 11:34 am

  12. Steve,

    I’m not sure that you’ve understood me… Either that or I’m not understanding you. Again, here is my basic model:

    Human Reason (Public Sphere) < Priesthood Authority < Personal Revelation = Private

    Thus, nobody is arguing that the church ought to determine state politics or compel anybody to do anything. Nobody is saying that there shouldn’t be freedom of speech within society at large. Nobody is saying that people shouldn’t be able to freely disassociate from the church. Similarly, nobody is saying that the church shouldn’t be free to disassociate itself with whomever it sees fit.

    Thus, my posts are aimed at two things:
    1) Persuading people to not freely disassociate themselves from the church.
    2) Persuading people to not do things which compel the church to freely disassociate itself from these people.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 11:47 am

  13. Howard,

    Once again, I have no clue what you are trying to say with your drive-by proof text.


    That’s a bold claim. Care to back it up?

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 11:48 am

  14. Jeff G,
    In the #11 quote, is it likely Joseph was talking about being “called up” or “trammeled” for unspoken private thoughts? Clearly not! It wouldn’t fit this context at all would it? Joseph is saying he wants us to not be called out or kicked out or trammeled for our (expressed) beliefs even when they are in error because that is Latter-day Saintism.

    Comment by Howard — July 30, 2014 @ 12:06 pm

  15. That’s a little better. Even though you’re clearly sidelining quite a few nuances, I can at least see what you’re trying to say.

    1) Even though I agree that it’s speaking about expressed beliefs, I don’t think it’s undeniably clear.
    2) There is a difference between expressing beliefs and teaching beliefs.
    3) There is a difference between trying a man and correcting him.
    4) There is a difference between erring in doctrine and refusing to accept church council.

    And so on.

    In the end, I think your quote is a good reason for rejecting a fairly heavy handed version of the Hobbesian perspective. But that’s about all it accomplishes.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 12:16 pm

  16. Howard,

    Now that I think about it, I think the general guidelines vs hardlined rules distinction that you draw might be more relevant than I thought… although I think I’ll have to address it in a different post. Here is the basic jist (this is especially relevant to Kant’s view):

    There is a tension between will and law. The will of a person in power is exactly what law is supposed to constrain. Thus, the public sphere (as Kant saw it) was supposed to totally dissolve the will of the individual authorities (which was thought to be nothing less than dominion) by grounding all legislation in universal reason.

    This brings us back to general guidelines vs hard-lined rules. General guidelines, as you seems to understand them, is basically a rule which allows for some degree of individual will. But this just is an opening to some degree of dominion at the intermediate levels is it not? (Whether this dominion is righteous or not is a different question.)

    Thus, a tolerance or insistence on general rules or hard-lined laws seems to be the exact opposite of what the public sphere was supposed to accomplish.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 1:21 pm

  17. Joseph opposed creeds and measuring men against them. So Joseph favored a fairly loose and uncorrelated doctrine. This left a lot of wiggle/breathing room between doctrine and false doctrine and between belief and discipline and provided more space for the member to fit themselves to doctrine and doctrine to them. Plus there was a lot less pesky science back then to inject reason into unreasonable assertions.

    Today members need a outlet for the substantial dissonance created from the unceasing increasing tightening in who you are expected to mold yourself into and the unceasing decreasing in headroom and foot room allowed for it. Yet you argue for censoring and silencing them!

    If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.

    J. Reuben Clark, D. Michael Quinn (1983). The Church Years, p 24. Provo (UT): Brigham Young University Press

    Comment by Howard — July 30, 2014 @ 1:27 pm

  18. Joseph also excommunicated people for apostasy. Again, there is a lot of nuance that you are intentionally avoiding so as to advance your own ideal of how the church ought to be run.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 1:42 pm

  19. But this just is an opening to some degree of dominion at the intermediate levels is it not?


    I don’t think you actually understand the difference between principals and rules when the rules were derived from principals. It is not the same as general guidelines vs specific rules.

    Love one another =/= thou shalt not commit murder.
    Love one another =/= the 10 commandments even taken in total.

    You see much is lost in translation when one attempts to convert the principle of Love one another into bright-line rules. And this is what we have lost by being a pharisaical Mosaic church rather than a Christian beatitude church.

    There is a tension between will and law. The will of a person in power is exactly what law is supposed to constrain. Thus, the public sphere (as Kant saw it) was supposed to totally dissolve the will of the individual authorities (which was thought to be nothing less than dominion) by grounding all legislation in universal reason.

    This is a useful comment. Please substitute bias and potential unrighteous domain for will and I think we have a good LDS model. The problem is revelation is very infrequent and bias operates 24/7. An example of unrighteous domain can be when bias reigns. A lack of check and balance can result in a Mountain Meadow Massacre or a ban on blacks or a ban on beer or something as mundane but insane as a boycott on Coke. Open public debate can help keep the ship on course.

    Comment by Howard — July 30, 2014 @ 1:47 pm

  20. Joseph also excommunicated people for apostasy. Yes of course.

    Again, there is a lot of nuance that you are intentionally avoiding so as to advance your own ideal of how the church ought to be run. Sure to advance it here in your mind so it becomes clear what I’m talking about but not to obscure the facts, there are plenty of readers here more than happy to point that out if you fail to. Everyone knows what happened to the Navoo Expositor so obviously it was possible to go too far in his mind to. But how do we look at that was he right to destroy the printing press? Can we debate it or are we obligated to censor ourselves?

    Comment by Howard — July 30, 2014 @ 1:55 pm

  21. What would an example of righteous dominion look like then?

    Why is it that JS’s destroying the press was him going too far, but the non-scriptural quote is not? Again, I think your simply measuring the importance of these examples according to how well they square with your own views. This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for this:

    An example of unrighteous domain can be when bias reigns.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 2:13 pm

  22. What would an example of righteous dominion look like then? Revelation.

    By “too far in his mind” I meant too much free press. Joseph may (or may not) have been doing what God commanded but if the Navoo Expositor printed just the facts there was going to be a big problem. So was the destruction of the press righteous or unrighteous dominion? It requires debate because it depends on what you believe about Joseph’s motivations. Here the public square offers relief over suppression.

    Comment by Howard — July 30, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

  23. Jeff,

    Basically I believe it to be impossible because of my beliefs about the connection between moral concepts, linguistic concepts and being-in-the-world.

    It might be possible to have an LDS church that is non-Habermasian but it wouldn’t be mormonism anymore because mormonism is historical situated in American adaptations of theological and moral terms that only have meaning within a very habermasian framework.

    This connects with my statement about a narrowing of worldviews because I see many young mormons trying to compartmentalize mormonism to moral issues and value judgments as a way of avoiding cognitize dissonance. That isn’t in the tradition of mormonism. For example, a symptom of this movement away from mormonism in an attempt at authoritarianism is the affinity of many young mormon philosophers with catholic thinkers. This is clearly a sign of moving away from mormonism which was always at pains to distinguish itself from catholicism.

    Comment by Martin James — July 30, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

  24. Howard,

    I misunderstood you then. It looks like you agree that sometimes priesthood authority can legitimately restrict the public sphere. While we surely disagree about the when and how often, would you agree with that?


    I think we see Habermas differently. He that the Kantian conception of the public sphere was an ideal that we should continue striving for and to the same extent that we do fail we are also not a democratic society. This is why Chris said that Habermas did not believe that this world is democratic.

    I would also point out that about half of these thinkers published their most important works after the 1st vision. Which means that their perspectives and interpretations of these things are very relevant. I would especially pay attention to Locke and Mill (who saw things very similarly to Tocqueville) since these two both contributed to and responded most to the early American interpretation of authority of which Joseph Smith would have been a part.

    (Btw, I have a hard time not objecting to the idea that one’s religion is “compartmentalized” as if it were a subset with the “real” truth of science. Why can’t science be the one that is a subset within the real truth of religion? More neutrally, why can’t science and religion simply be different sets of mental tools which are better suited to different tasks? I don’t see any kind of deep or objectionable fragmentation in such a view.

    Anyways, I know that you arent’ the one responsible for the metaphor…. I just had to get it off my chest.)

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 3:45 pm

  25. I think we’re close but “priesthood authority” is simply a license and a stewardship, nothing more, no power is implied by it, the power arrives independent of ordining and sustaining. However, when God has spoken, for me the thinking is done! Should the current President of the church announce clear revelation well, you can opt in or out but God has spoken.

    Comment by Howard — July 30, 2014 @ 3:54 pm

  26. Why can’t science be the one that is a subset within the real truth of religion?

    It is in real mormonism. I think its not in the “hyper-authority” version you are suggesting.

    I would have much less concern about your approach (which I would view as keeping a certain type of person in the church) if I didn’t see so much change in how mormons speak about the world. Many of the mormons I know have increasingly politicized views of the world where there is a pretty strict dichotomy between approaches not based on religious authority but political identity based on secular understandings of authority. For example, the church doesn’t have a doctrine about climate change but how people think about it seems overly political rather than being based on any knowledge or lack of knowledge. That holds true for both sides.

    I know its a vague concern not something I can argue against specifically in your posts but they strike me as reducing the sphere of independent thought towards collective authority seeking. Your position seems to be that in the religious sphere (however we define it) there is no such thing as a fallacious appeal to authority. My experience is that those most inclined to this view (not yourself but on average) are also those most likely to extrapolate from authority and to reason from that authority in ways that go beyond that authority.

    One example, might be shunning or criticism. Rebuke from authority does not authorize those practices which would need to be authorized separately.

    In terms of the different tools, what tool is best used to determine the causes of a persons action and what changes human behavior? Are drug induced spiritual experiences important and valid spiritual experiences from a mormon point of view? Do we use secular or religious tools or both in determining the optimal role of pharmaceuticals in our life?

    It seems to be an area where everybody is a bit confused and inconsistent.

    Comment by Martin James — July 30, 2014 @ 4:35 pm

  27. Jeff G.,

    I’m doing a poor job of explaining my position but I’ll give it another try. Let’s take honesty. Is that a democratic value and what difference does it make?

    I don’t think a person leaving the church because they don’t find the leaders to be honest has much to do with your historical distinctions. Its mormonism itself that has promoted the value of honesty. To attempt to define honesty as “what agrees with authority” is the kind of thing that I think is impossible and the kind of thing that you seem to be advocating.

    That is where I think we are hopelessly linguistically tied to evolving notions of honesty that involve, say transparency or public dialogue.

    Comment by Martin James — July 30, 2014 @ 4:49 pm

  28. Howard,

    I’m surprised to hear you say that, since Joseph never claimed any kind of revelation leading him to destroy that press. I can’t help but think that if the current church leaders did something similar you would not be so charitable.

    I think the biggest problem that I have with your view, it seems, is that because you allow all people to not only equally communicate with God about all issues but to also speak with each other about these communications. But this just is the public sphere.

    What if, for example, William Law and the other Nauvoo Expositors had personal revelation for the issue that they were about to release? Would this change your mind about Joseph’s actions?

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 5:09 pm

  29. Joseph had a track record of revelation after revelation after revelation and he restored the gospel and the priesthood received the BoM and setup the church all in 25 years. It was quite a spiritual run! But not without some failures, although it isn’t always easy telling which was which even today.

    Contrast this with 170 years – only a couple of official (a vision and a wordless) “revelations” that were largely responses to outside pressure. However, the 170 years also included some colossal failures.

    So who deserves more latitude? Who earned it?

    Comment by Howard — July 30, 2014 @ 5:25 pm

  30. Martin,

    I actually agree with almost everything you said in 26. There are some points that I would rather correct:

    1) I don’t see my position as hyper-authority at all since personal revelation is always superior to it. The position that I am arguing against, however, I would describe as hyper-anti-authority since the only thing I am arguing is that authority has some amount of intrinsic binding-ness to it. How much there is, is a question that I think varies by time, place and people.

    2) I see no reason why we would ever reduce all independent thought to public authority. Our leaders (thankfully) do not take strong positions on all that many issues which allows for quite a bit of free thought and speech. It is for this reason that I don’t think it’s too unreasonable for us to stand strong with our leaders on those issues that they do take a stand on.

    3) Of course I think there are illegitimate appeals to authority if only because they are appeals to illegitimate authority. Where I differ from most is that I insist that legitimate authority (a relatively rare thing indeed) produces legitimate speech whereas the secular world disguises their subtle rejection of authority by saying the exact opposite: legitimate speech produces legitimate authority. But this is to place the authority in positions and principles rather than in people.

    4) I do not think that honesty is the same within the democratic and scriptural traditions. The democratic tradition sees honesty as the non-teleological and objective representation of the world. The scriptures, I suggest, do have a teleology built into them which is totally at odds with the secular definition. To be sure, the every day man and woman typically have no need of drawing this distinction and as such get along just fine without this distinction between the two views, accepting both without any problem at all. It is those who are most intellectual in nature who have been taught that only one of these is the true definition of honesty. It is for this reason that my attack is aimed at this intellectual audience.

    That said, I agree with a lot of the unfortunate tendencies that we both see in a lot of church members where they take authority a little too far. In the bloggernacle, however, I think we see the opposite tendency in that too many think authority doesn’t take us anywhere at all. It is for this reason that I keep these kinds of thoughts here in the ‘nacle where (hopefully) they’ll do the most good.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 5:28 pm

  31. Howard,

    Is latitude something that is earned? I think its something that only God can give us.

    This takes us back to the model I advocate. Latitude and credit for our priesthood leaders is not a reasoned conclusion that we come to after surveying the appropriate data, but is instead something that comes from the only thing that trumps priesthood authority: personal revelation.

    If you don’t think that the current church leaders deserve or have earned latitude I can’t help but wonder how it is that you sustain them as prophets, seers and revelators? This isn’t meant as a personal attack so much as a way of high-lighting what I think it the prime difference between us.

    Whereas I believe: human reasoning < priesthood authority < personal revelation = private You seem to believe: all authority < human reasoning < personal revelation = public

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 5:36 pm

  32. Jeff G,
    Well sorry but generally they are not prophets, seers and revelators, are they? What revelations have they received? So no one can sustain them as such except as a formality, it’s an honorary title. They by their own admission are limited to Oliver type revelations.

    I believe all authority < human reasoning plus personal revelation which may be made public depending on the audience and reason.

    Comment by Howard — July 30, 2014 @ 5:47 pm

  33. Hey, at least I got something right!

    I simply cannot see how sustaining somebody can be merely honorary. The way I see it is that to sustain them as PS&R just is to give them latitude, credit, the benefit of the doubt, legitimacy or whatever else you want to call it.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 6:18 pm

  34. I simply cannot see how sustaining somebody can be merely honorary.

    So you see them as functioning prophets, seers and revelators? God speaks through them frequently and the most important thing he has to say to the world recently is LDS missionaries should be younger? I find a conclusion in that ballpark that very unsettling, very unsatisfying. I would love to hear about your belief as it applies here.

    Comment by Howard — July 30, 2014 @ 9:08 pm

  35. I think that if a person doesn’t believe that then there is little reason for them or their priesthood leaders to consider that person a fully faithful member. I don’t mean that in an insulting way, it’s just that the worthiness interview becomes disingenuous at best when we honorarily live up to the standards. Of course, sustaining the leaders is hardly the only worthiness question that this applies to.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 9:50 pm

  36. If you think all that has been revealed to them is about missionary age, your listening ears need a bit of work.

    Most people through the ages failed to listen to prophets for that same reason: the revelation and prophecy just weren’t the kinds they wanted to hear.

    Nothing new to that.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 31, 2014 @ 4:38 am

  37. That dodge didn’t come close to answering my question Jeff G.

    SR rather than criticize please share your list of the most important recent revelations.

    Comment by Howard — July 31, 2014 @ 6:14 am

  38. Howard, rather than trying to make me into your personal Holy Ghost, why don’t you try asking Him?

    I have found much revelation given by the Apostles. You haven’t. but you can’t pretend to sustain them when you claim their only “revelation” was a change in missionary age. You don’t sustain them, whatever you tell yourself.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 31, 2014 @ 7:43 am

  39. Thanks for sharing SR.

    Comment by Howard — July 31, 2014 @ 7:46 am

  40. Howard,

    I’ve made in clear in many posts that my return to the church is a work in progress. As such, I make no claims to be a card-carrying, temple-worthy member. I struggle and these posts are an expression of that struggle. My posts are more geared at attacking the reasons for my departure than paving the path for my return since the whole point I’m advocating is that human reason should not have been able to lead me in either direction.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 31, 2014 @ 11:04 am

  41. Howard: no problem!

    Jeff: I have one question for you. As I’ve read your posts, I’ve taken them as addressing a very specific point (attacking human reason as THE reliable basis to make spiritual decisions.) Some of the philosophical points are beyond me a bit, of course, but I enjoy hearing them even if I don’t have the context. This is why I feel like I generally agree with you, even though there are specifics I would approach differently.

    With that in mind, what role do you see human reason playing in the spiritual sphere? None? Just something to be trumped by other sources of information? A source of confusion? Can “human reason” even be lumped together enough to categorize its usefulness at all?

    Comment by SilverRain — July 31, 2014 @ 11:27 am

  42. …the whole point I’m advocating is that human reason should not have been able to lead me in either direction. Why not?

    Comment by Howard — July 31, 2014 @ 11:48 am

  43. Let me answer that by saying the same thing in several different ways:

    1) I accept that human reason can be put to pretty much any useful purpose, so long as it remains a slave rather than a master to priesthood authority and personal revelation.

    2) I accept that reason CAN be put to any purpose, but that doesn’t mean that it OUGHT to be so put.

    3) I accept reason, but not Reason.

    4) David Hume taught that reason is – and ought to be – the salve to human passion. Jonathan Haidt says that moral reasoning is at attempt to justify the moral emotions which we automatically and pre-rationally form. Dan Sperber argues that reason is aimed at persuading others rather than getting at truth. Whether these theories are right or not (and I suspect they more or less are), I think they ought to be models for how human reason functions in a subordinate role to priesthood authority and personal revelation.

    5) I see reason not as a way of organizing accurate reflections of the world, but as a way of organizing humans and human actions. As such, human reasoning is set of moral rules that – like all other moral rules – sometimes comes in conflict with and can be trumped by other moral rules.

    Again, these are all attempts at saying the same thing in different ways.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 31, 2014 @ 12:06 pm

  44. I’m guessing that there will be many, many different answers to these questions to be found in the bloggernacle…

    Or in any ward. Revelation and authority just aren’t ever as neatly monolithic and univocal as you seem to need them to be. (If they were, we wouldn’t have, presumably, members of the 12 with different theories of atonement, to take an obvious and significant example.)

    Comment by Kristine — July 31, 2014 @ 12:07 pm

  45. That last post was meant for SR, not Howard…. although I guess it answers his question too.

    More to Howard’s question, all of my posts have been my very long winded answer to that question. Basically, it comes down to trusting revelation (whether its given to me or His servants) over my own thinking.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 31, 2014 @ 12:15 pm

  46. Kristine,

    I think you are right…. to a certain extent. So long as we are all human, I don’t think there will ever be absolute and total agreement at any level of the church regarding how authority ought to and actually does relate to any kind of public sphere. Nevertheless, I think there is way more agreement and harmony on this matter the higher up in the church organization we look. Of course there are different possible explanations for this, but I think it’s there all the same. Furthermore, I would argue that a great many of the views on this matter that we find in the ‘nacle are explicitly and directly in conflict with this harmony at the higher levels. This is problem that I see.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 31, 2014 @ 12:21 pm

  47. Basically, it comes down to trusting revelation (whether its given to me or His servants) over my own thinking.

    So how is that kind of trust established and what role does reason play in establishing and maintaining that trust?

    Comment by Howard — July 31, 2014 @ 12:27 pm

  48. It’s ultimately grounded in personal revelation, of course. That’s why it trumps everything else in my view. Reason cannot provide the foundation necessary for that kind of trust. It can do a lot of things, but establish and maintain a testimony it cannot.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 31, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

  49. I agree with that and I will add that I used reason as a tool to test personal revelation until I came to trust it and sometimes my trust was increased because reason (as I understood it) was exceeded by the spirit. But even as I have been overwhelmed by the fruits of the spirit I continue to be underwhelmed by the modern fruits of LDS revelation.

    Comment by Howard — July 31, 2014 @ 12:53 pm

  50. I know you feel that way.

    I think your comment also might betray another area where we might see things differently. Modern reason very much encourages the idea that the default belief is skepticism regarding EVERYTHING – expect, apparently, the idea that we should be skeptical about everything. This conception would then require us to build up to a trust in personal or institutional revelation from ground level using – at least in the beginning – nothing but reason.

    I totally reject this entire idea and I hope its pretty obvious how its nothing but a strategic ploy to re-position reason as being in some sense more foundational, more basic or in some sense non-negotiable.

    I see no reason why I must go to some position of universal skepticism – or pretend to go there – before I can move forward in terms of truth? Why should I strip down all my beliefs except those that constitute human reason?

    Anyways, whether you actually accept such a view of things or not, your account of how you used reason to get to personal revelation sounds an awful lot like something that this way of seeing things would lead to.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 31, 2014 @ 1:06 pm

  51. So how do you trust?

    Comment by Howard — July 31, 2014 @ 1:31 pm

  52. I don’t pretend that I can or ought to place myself into a mental state that I’m not already in. Trusting something or someone necessarily built into our social beings.

    The only way I could doubt and distance myself from any belief that I have at any given point is by trusting that skeptical doubt is a good thing and that such and such processes could legitimately get me out of such a state of mind. There is no such thing as doubting everything at once. It just can’t be done.

    Thus, when I was raised in the church I was taught to trust personal revelation and priesthood authority. I was also taught (mostly in school) to trust various rules of reason. In that state of mind as I actually was, there occasionally arose tension between all of these, but there was nothing deep or necessary that said I that when these tensions arose it is reason that is more fundamental or non-negotiable. That was a choice that I freely made.

    I other words, I learned to trust all these things from my parents, church leaders, school teachers, authors of books etc.

    There never was and never will be a time in anybodies life in which they doubt everything all at once and then learn to trust one particular set of rules over another. That is a story which reason tells us in order to get us to doubt everything except reason – since the starting point they endorse does not call it into question. Reason tries to make it seem like we can’t really start to truly trust until we put ourselves in some “true” starting point. Poppycok!!! The only thing we can do is start wherever we actually find ourselves now thanks to our individual histories.

    In other words, I learn to trust personal revelation and priesthood authority in the same way I learned to trust reason…. Through practice.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 31, 2014 @ 2:16 pm

  53. So you see it as a colleague of spirituality? (Or is that oversimplifying?)

    Basically, an analogous paradigm that sometimes conflicts with a spiritual one?

    The reason I’m asking is because I’m wondering how the “mind and heart” nature of revelation fits into your discussion. I’ve wondered it, myself. Sometimes I’ve received cerebral revelation, sometimes emotional, but in order to be true revelation, it has always done both: made sense and felt right.

    But maybe “making sense” is not the meaning of your “reason” and I’m losing myself.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 31, 2014 @ 2:23 pm

  54. Wouldn’t the same be true if you were brought up Amish? Does LDS = Amish?

    Comment by Howard — July 31, 2014 @ 2:26 pm

  55. “But maybe “making sense” is not the meaning of your “reason” and I’m losing myself.”

    Sadly, I think this is it.

    I disagree with the idea that mental activity and coherence = human reason.

    Instead, I see human reason as one particular tradition or set of rules by which we measure and justify mental activity.

    In other words, its not the content of the mind, but rather one particular way of evaluating and justifying mental content.

    Thus, when I say that human reason isn’t all that important to spirituality, I’m not at all saying that whatever we think and believe isn’t important. On the contrary I think it is very important – but importance can only be measured with respect to some standard. Logic, evidence and other aspects of human reason as it is taught in school are but one particular standard.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 31, 2014 @ 2:31 pm

  56. Howard,

    It is absolutely true that no person, LDS, Amish or anybody else, can never pretend to start over from scratch by doubting everything. We can only doubt any belief by way of trusting the other beliefs that we bring against it. The beliefs and rules which constitute human reason are no different.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 31, 2014 @ 2:33 pm

  57. Aha! That’s the difference between you’re Reason and reason. Got it.

    I think.

    Yeah, the scientific method can be applied to spiritual things (Alma’s test the seed method.) But I have found it less than universally useful.

    The biggest problem with science (aka. logic/evidence) is that it is still affected by bias. Good scientists know that you can’t utterly remove bias, only try to minimize it. Which is pretty much what you’re driving at.

    Only I think that in spiritual matters, bias isn’t something to be minimized, it is an intrinsic and necessary element of the experience.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 31, 2014 @ 2:45 pm

  58. *your

    Can’t type or spell. Is it Friday yet?

    Comment by SilverRain — July 31, 2014 @ 2:45 pm

  59. We can only doubt any belief by way of trusting the other beliefs that we bring against it. Well this is logical a method of comparing competing beliefs. But you oppose logic as a means to determine these things and it seems to me that you are implying that one should stay with what they know. Would that be true if you were brought up in a false religion? How would you know if it were false and if it were false how would you go about changing religions?

    Comment by Howard — July 31, 2014 @ 2:49 pm

  60. SR,

    I agree. Mental activity is a messy messy business.

    For me, human reason is not something that we are internally programmed to do as if we were individual computers. Rather, it is an inherently social phenomena wherein we hold other people as well as ourselves to one particular set of standards and rules, in effect saying, “This you ought to believe and that you ought not.”

    Human reason is one way among way by which we can connect different beliefs together. And the scriptures tell us, I suggest, that we shouldn’t is the average man tells us to connect beliefs differently than a priesthood authority tells us, we ought to accept the latter… unless God tells us to connect those same beliefs differently, in which case we obviously accept His direction.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 31, 2014 @ 3:37 pm

  61. Howard,

    The whole point is that there is no ultimate foundation upon which all other beliefs and rules rest. All beliefs and rules can, in principle, be put into question by the other beliefs and rules and it is according to this latter set that the former set are to be measured. Thus, deductive logic is itself one of those beliefs that can be put into question by the standards of some other standard.

    Thus, I’m not at all saying that people should stay where they are. What I am saying is that human reason is in no special position to tell me where I ought to go (mentally speaking) before I can properly evaluate and justify my beliefs. That would be to say that human reason is, in the end, the one and only true set of beliefs – something which is totally incompatible with the gospel.

    Thus, I am doing justice to the fact that each person sees their particular set of beliefs as THE true one. But I am also saying that the set of belief that we so endorse is a CHOICE that we freely make and human reason is no exception.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 31, 2014 @ 3:43 pm

  62. So what compares favorably to reason?

    Comment by Howard — July 31, 2014 @ 3:50 pm

  63. I’m not sure what you’re asking. I think we both agree that personal revelation is better than reason.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 31, 2014 @ 4:34 pm

  64. Jeff G.

    I’m interested in what you make of Descartes. You say that one count doubt everything, but what exactly is the flaw in Descartes argument that we can doubt everything but our experience of being a thinking thing?

    I have a hard time understanding what difference you are making between Reason and reason and between thinking and believing and between language and thought.

    What is revelation revealed to if not our reason?

    What word do you use for the process of understanding words and using them to decide on actions?

    I’m trying to convince you that revelation and deference to authority are hopelessly embedded in a culture that is both democratic and rapidly changing.

    I’m calling that process of thinking and deciding experience. You seem to have a folk psychology of beliefs and judgments that separate revelation and Reason and respect for authority in a way that I either can’t follow or believe to be so oversimplified as to be useless.

    So, for example, I can understanding saying that authority provides moral axioms (God is good) or constraints (a conclusion that says I don’t pay tithing is wrong) but I can’t make any sense of saying that I can rely on authority or revelation in a way that doesn’t involve reason.

    You say you aren’t against reason but I can’t make any sense of reason<authority< revelation when for me reason is always used to understand authority and revelation. It might make some sense to me if you said sense data< authority< personal revelation but even that has problems because sense is involved in the communication that authority and revelation come to us.

    SO, I think what you seeing in the bloggernaclites leaving the church is not so much them choosing reason over authority that's just a symptom.

    Its that we (and I mean the big We , all human cultures) are at such a complete loss as to how to understand consciousness that all authority – both human reason and religious authority are suspect and/or useless.

    They can't tell us why drugs change how we feel for example. Now, the usual answer of the non-bloggernaclites or orthodox bloggerninnies is that this is all so much over-intellectualized BS and we all know what chastity and service and prayer are and an excuse for moral lassitude.

    I don't believe that and the easiest way to see why is the missionary program and social services. In both of these areas, mormon culture adapts the same way as everyone else to the complexity of the world and change – with caution and perplexity.

    Again, I'm not so much disagreeing with you as pointing out that the issue is engagement with the world not just who to believe. Its so obvious that everyone is wrong, that we have to think God has something very new and different in store.

    Comment by Martin James — July 31, 2014 @ 5:40 pm

  65. Personal revelation is better than reason because it is God’s reason custom tailored to fit us.

    Comment by Howard — July 31, 2014 @ 5:49 pm

  66. I’m pretty busy, but here’s something for Martin’s question.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 31, 2014 @ 6:10 pm

  67. Revelation via the President of the church is God’s reasoning for the church in general, filtered through the President’s own bias, your specific mileage may vary.

    The problem is in the last 170 years this has been very rare and OD2 was a simple wordless confirmation so what additional information did it carry besides yes, ordain blacks? None.

    The more common Q15 study it out and ask type of inspiration amounts to the brethren’s reason rubber stamped by God.

    So by turning off your reason and “following the prophet” with very rare exception you are choosing to follow the reasoning of a committee of old Utah men who are far better administrators and businessmen than they are prophets. The weight of their biases can easily be seen in the failure of policy regarding blacks. That policy has since been corrected but the underlying problems that led to it remain today.

    Comment by Howard — July 31, 2014 @ 6:19 pm

  68. You seem to think that reason is a kind of universal and timeless monolith. This simply isn’t true. Reason is something which evolves over time and as such admits to quite a bit of variety across space and time.

    Some Alasdair MacIntyre would do you good:

    Comment by Jeff G — August 1, 2014 @ 10:14 am

  69. No really but I’m not trying to reinvent epistemology either. You allowed We can only doubt any belief by way of trusting the other beliefs that we bring against it. This is a comparison. #67 is also a comparison.

    Comment by Howard — August 1, 2014 @ 10:30 am

  70. Jeff G.,

    Thanks for the Descartes link. I’m still curious about the positive aspects of you views and not just the critique of prior historical views.

    I think your position is some people arguing in the public sphere are lead out of the church and they would not do so if they had an alternative (better) understanding of how authority and justification work.

    My position is that the issues are much more internal to mormonism and that your approach either doens’t address these issues, or addresses them in a way that narrows and changes mormonism significantly.

    So let’s take some examples.

    Say, gender roles or sexual liberation in general. I’m completely with you that authority speaks about those issues and I don’t have any problem saying that authority should trump reason in those types of cases.

    But I don’t think that’s a particularly significant case. I want to get back to honesty. I want to know how much different you think the standard for honesty is for people at different authority levels.

    Can a parent be dishonest with a child under the scope of their authority? For example, if a parent says “if you steal, your fingers will stink” when the parent doesn’t think the fingers will stink, is that dishonest or just their way of making a point?

    Does the end always justify the means in terms of honesty?

    Then, are leaders due to their authority in the same position, where there position is such that they can say statements that they don’t believe to be true but do believe to be useful and be completely honest because we have defined honesty such that there is no appeal to anything outside of authority to determine honesty?

    You seem to think that intellectuals and democratic impulses outside of mormonism are the forces with concerns here and not the common man simple standard. I’m not at all convinced of that.

    In your chain of command examples, the standard of telling the truth is completely separate from the standard to follow commands.

    I just think you very much discount how internally inconsistent what authority has said can be and also how many interpretations authoritative words can take.

    In summary, I agree with you that authority doesn’t need to give reasons. I don’t agree with you that authorities being inconsistent or dishonest can never be a problem.

    Comment by Martin James — August 1, 2014 @ 11:02 am

  71. Nevertheless, I think there is way more agreement and harmony on this matter the higher up in the church organization we look.

    On what do you base this belief?

    Comment by Kristine — August 2, 2014 @ 2:48 pm

  72. In a podcast Tom Phillips said “I’ve seen the bitter infighting which goes on – even in the Quorum of the Twelve – you know – this is not a united or warm and fuzzy…now you have you put on the front…but you know, you have to call it as you see it sometimes [laughs]anyway…they’ve got whatever it is turf to defend”

    Comment by Howard — August 3, 2014 @ 8:02 am

  73. Kristine,

    I think that’s pretty much the case with all hierarchical organizations. Don’t you? The people who toe the ideological line are those that are most likely to be promoted within the organization. I think this tends to be true, whether it is God or man that is doing the promoting.


    I’m not saying that the 12 always or even usually agree. I do, however, think that there is a larger overlap in their views regarding their relationship to the general church than there is in the general membership – especially the bloggernacle.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 5, 2014 @ 11:11 am

  74. Martin,

    “I think your position is some people arguing in the public sphere are lead out of the church and they would not do so if they had an alternative (better) understanding of how authority and justification work.”

    That’s pretty close. For the time being, however, I’m much more concerned about attacking the reason why people leave than providing any kind of theory for why people ought to stay. You’re right about that. I think if people realized how historically contingent the values which motivate such departures are, then they wouldn’t feel so inescapably bound (epistemologically speaking) to leave like I did.

    Thus, while I do have my own particular postive account, I don’t feel totally married to it, nor do I think that it is a model which anybody else is under an obligation to accept. If anything, I see my model as a useful tool for conceptualizing things which leaves open the possibility that 1) it won’t be useful for all contexts and 2) that other models might be better suited to the task which mine is good for.

    This is why I’ve never argued just how binding authority ought to be. I just argue that, contra modern, liberal democratic values, priesthood authority is to some extent intrinsically binding. For this reason I can’t help but do anything other than roll my eyes when somebody dismisses my position as “authority worship.” This seems like a rather desperate attempt at dodging an issue that is by no means obvious.

    It is also the reason why I don’t have that strong of an opinion when it comes to parents being honest with their children. I do think that we have come to equate honest with accurately describing reality… I don’t think it’s the straight forward or simple at all. I think a much closer definition would be saying the right thing within a particular context. Going back to my posts a year or two ago, I was arguing that true speech is is simply a verbal subset of moral behavior. Just as we praise or blame certain types of actions and thus call them right or wrong, so too we praise or blame certain types of speech acts and call them true or false. This is how I would unpack honesty in a way which does not have modern values pre-built into it.

    Does authority always trump reason? I doubt it. Do the ends always justify the means? Again, I doubt it. Are democratic values the only or even the primary forces which drive most people out of the church? I doubt that too. I don’t see any reason to accept any such extreme positions. While I’m at it, however, I should mention that saying that reason always trumps authority or that the ends never justify the means or that democratic values do not lead people out of the church are all just as extreme positions and ought to be rejected. I haven’t dismissed my opponents with labels of “reason or democracy worship” even though I think this fits them better than “authority worship” fits me.

    In the end, good speech is just like good behavior: a messy, messy business in which various rules often contradict and come in conflict with each other. I’m not sure if I’ve addressed any of your issues, but I hope it’s clear that I do not believe that “authorities being inconsistent or dishonest can never be a problem.”

    Comment by Jeff G — August 5, 2014 @ 11:44 am

  75. Here’s as good a place as any to actually give my own opinions regarding the various positions discussed in the OP – since it seems that nobody else plans to.

    A Hobbesian model of the church is a little too extreme, I think, in that he sees communication as flowing only downward. I do not agree with this. I think that doubts and questions are to be kept utterly private.

    A Lockean model is accurate in its depiction of members unofficially influencing each other. I’m not sure that I would call this checking and balancing process a good thing. I think interpersonal discussion is supposed to be aimed more at unifying rather than checking and balancing each other. It is for this reason that I do agree that these unofficial and general opinions should not constitute church doctrine or policy. However, the model is incomplete since it doesn’t say too much more than that.

    The Physiocratic model does not work for the church since the reasoning of man is a corrupter rather than a purifier of the gospel. Nevertheless, I do like the idea of general opinion informing authority figures without any attempt at being a source of legitimization. I worry, however, that such a position is unstable in practice.

    A Rousseauian sort of captures some aspects of gospel discussion at the level of the general membership pretty well. I don’t think we believe that man is born good and that his natural opinions are good or have any legitimizing power. I also think that public debate is the way in which the world conquers the church rather than the other way around. We do accept, however, that every person has the light of Christ to guide them. But I see no reason whatsoever to think that this personal guidance must match or ground church doctrine or policy.

    It’s funny that while Habermas sees the public sphere as being grounded in the critical debate of the Physiocrats and the democracy of Rousseau, I see the church as being grounded in Rousseau’s lack of critical debate and the Physiocrats’ lack of democracy.

    As such, I think a Kantian model of church government is flat out wrong and for the exact reasons that I mention above. Public debate does not purify the gospel nor is the gospel to be grounded in what the average member believes.

    I think a Hegelian model comes closest to an accurate model of church government, although I don’t think I would dismiss all gospel discussion as contentious rabble. I think most of the bloggernacle comes close to that, though. I think his insistence that authority figures teach the general membership the spirit of the time rather than the other way around is spot on, though.

    I agree with a rather heterodox version of Marx in that public discussion is a transfer of rather than a liberation from domination. In the general membership, I would probably agree that this new form of domination is – to some extent – bourgeois class and its ideologies. Within the bloggernacle, however, I think the primary form of domination is to the new class of intellectuals and its ideologies. In fact, I think these two worldly masters are respectively the greatest ideological threats to members of the political right and political left.

    A Millian/Tocquevillian model is descriptively right, but perscriptively wrong for church government. Gospel discussion within a larger public sphere such as the bloggernacle is a source of division rather than unity – which is a big part of why I’m suspicious of it. I also agree that majority rule is a serious threat within the church, but for different reasons. Within a democracy, the only worse than a majority rule is a minority rule. Within the church, however, a minority is indeed supposed to rule so long as it is the duly set apart minority. It is for this reason that legitimate authority was never meant to be balanced or checked by popular opinion.

    While this thread is almost dead, I wouldn’t mind some feedback on this particular comment. Which model do you agree or disagree with and why?

    Comment by Jeff G — August 5, 2014 @ 12:21 pm

  76. Public debate does not purify the gospel nor is the gospel to be grounded in what the average member believes.

    Public debate makes no attempt to “purify the gospel” it’s mostly about practice. Practice =/= gospel. In pracrice there have been many versions of “the only true church”. If that is true those versions had little to do with gospel essence which means practice can vary greatly without adversely affecting the gospel.

    Comment by Howard — August 7, 2014 @ 8:14 am

  77. I’m not sure that I follow what you’re saying. Care to elaborate?

    Comment by Jeff G — August 7, 2014 @ 10:33 am

  78. Thanks Jeff for the comments and I will try to respond. It will be a bit of a grab bag but at least its a response.

    What do you posts lose if you prefaced them with,

    “Here is one way I reconciled myself to the church by realizing the historically contingent nature of values that appear opposed to church authority.” (or even with Howard’s addendum: your mileage may vary.)

    Anything more seems to me both counterproductive and inconsistent because otherwise you are placing yourself in authority. You are not keeping your opinions to yourself and the more you present your analysis as something that should convince other’s the more your are one more divisive force in the bloggernacle.

    Here is a a rapid assortment of ideas to round out or extend your thinking.

    What do you think the moral of the Emperor with no clothes is from a mormon perspective? Is it a story of democratic values undermining authority or is it a story of the “right” thing to say being the factually descriptive thing rather than the socially presumed thing to say?

    Its because of questions like this that I don’t see it as a live option for people to be mormon and also have pre-modern values. For example, what is the status of secular authorities? What compartmentalizes what Honesty means in a secular context from a religious context. Can we really turn on and off our deference for authority and our understanding of authority by context?

    I’m not saying you are unique in your reason for leaving the church, but I see the concern being much more a matter of integrity for people. There is a tradition of Sunday School and Priesthood meetings and visiting teachings and ward activities that depend on local bottom up narratives that just seem very different from the dichotomy of “who rules” that you seem to see things in.

    Setting aside the issue of authority, can you at least see that from the point of view of the members but not attending or the prospective members of the church that the missionaries are seeking, that without vigorous social discussion the Gospel becomes just words at best or vain repetitions at worst. It has to connect with today’s world even if the values are not of today’s world.

    The way you describe things always strikes me as so narrow that its confined to the prescribed language rituals (like the sacrament prayer) or else it let’s in a lot of rationality, small r reason and “democratic values” concepts and vocabulary that I can’t see how you aren’t using what you say you are opposing. The “keep the doubts to yourself” just leads to hollow discussions in my experience. It comes to be experienced as a loss of integrity.

    Why are there no existentialists or skeptics in your philosophical summaries? In your version people leave because they are bound logically to do so, but isn’t doubt usually sown by doubt? The skeptics are ancient and democratic values despises skeptics at least as much as authority ever did.

    If I concede that you’ve done what need to for everyone that’s like you, do you have a narrative for the many others that aren’t concerned with authority being wrong, but just being vague and inadequate to the situation? I find the bloggernacle much more full of people who want answers to questions that are not on the table as compared to those that want their answers to triumph over the answers of authority, but maybe I’m generalizing too much from my own case. In that we are probably in the same boat.

    Comment by Martin James — August 7, 2014 @ 11:22 am

  79. Martin,

    You raise some great questions, if only because they allow me to clarify where I feel like I keep being misunderstood.

    1 – On the disclaimer issue, I’m a bit torn. On the one hand, I am absolutely on board with the idea that I am not in any position to tell others where the proper balance between authority and reason is. In this sense, mileage most definitely will vary. However, I have never even tried to nail down that issue – although I definitely admit that many things I say do give that impression. Again, my argument is that priesthood authority does have at least some intrinsic legitimacy which does – to some degree – trump reason. Reason with a big “R” says that authority carries no legitimacy whatsoever to trump reason since authority is really just a short-hand for whoever has the most reason and is therefore most qualified to speak on some subject. I am saying that the mileage of priesthood authority may vary, while democratic values say that priesthood authority is a car that doesn’t even run. As such, there really is to grey area between these two positions, since one position just is the rejection of greyness.

    2 – To be honest, I don’t much care if I divide the bloggernacle, so long as I’m influencing people toward the right side of that divide. Christ said that He came to bring a sword to divide people. I don’t want to say that I’m necessarily doing Christ’s work (I’m trying, but that’s what everybody says, right?), but I do want to reject the idea that unity in the bloggernacle is something that we ought to aim for. What I am aiming for is to help people unify themselves to the church rather than various parts of the bloggernacle.

    3 – I think the Emperor with no clothes is pretty tough to apply to the church. First, the church, unlike an empire, is a voluntary organization and as such greatly deflates our moral responsibility to publicly critique it. Second, the legitimacy for the church is grounded in the privacy of personal revelation rather than the publicity of empirical data. Thus, it’s possible for some to see clothes on the emperor and others not. If you don’t see any clothes, you are free to simply leave. But to actively try to persuade others that he has no clothes or to try to put the clothes that you deem appropriate on the emperor is hubris to say the least.

    4 – People already vary what they take honesty to mean according to context…. The same with countless other words. The ideal of one word/one meaning and its consequent rejection is one of the many things that marked the abandonment of logical positivism in favor of ordinary language philosophy.

    5 – Again, I am fully on board to reason so long as it does not set itself up as a judge of priesthood authority. For this reason I have no idea why gospel discussions would be a vain repetition of anything. I certainly don’t think that my posts have vainly repeated anything, nor do I think I have set myself up as a judge of priesthood authority in them.

    6 – There is a world of difference between “keeping your doubts to yourself” and “not leveraging your doubts against priesthood authorities.” That is why I rejected the Hobbesian model. Again, the whole point is that discussion can very seamlessly transform into critique if we are not careful. So let’s just be careful.

    7 – In this post I was simply using Habermas’ summary of various political thinkers and their positions regarding public opinion and authority. There is a quite Kierkegaardian, and therefore existentialist undertone to my position (his 3 forms of life), but I disagree with him and pretty much all other existentialists and skeptics who automatically take the individual and their reasons/preferences as trumping all other social influences. More to your point, doubting is an activity which we choose to engage in, and it is an activity which is always pointed away from itself. This, I think, is what Elder Holland meant by doubting our doubts first of all. If Descartes had started his process of systematic doubt by doubting that very process, he would not have gotten very far.

    8 – I was once one of those bloggers who just wanted answers to questions. But again, asking such questions is a practice which is itself structured by so many values and pre-suppositions. What counts as a good answer? What counts as a good way of framing the question? Who can legitimately ask such questions? Who can legitimately answer such questions? And so on. Here is a fantastic post which deals with bloggernacle pretenses to asking questions. Again, this the point of this post was that the slide from genuinely discussing our doubts and leveraging our doubts against the church is a very slippery one. I know that I did not realize how much I was slipping as I asked my individually innocent questions.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 7, 2014 @ 1:06 pm

  80. The more I agree with you the less I think your point applies to LDS bloggers. It applies to some commenters on LDS blogs but people who don’t give any weight to authority have long since left the church and have little use for the bloggernacle.

    What Mormon bloggers don’t attempt to get at least some scripture and leaders behind their position? Precious few.

    The story about the emperor with no clothes was not about the church or it’s leaders as emperor it was about what honesty means. Someone who was so under the influence of the social situation would be honest in saying the emperor saw clothes but someone who said they saw them to fit in would be lying and being dishonest.

    To me most of the questions are about perceived conflict of teachings or areas where the voice of authority is vague so I don’t think reccognizing authority as authoritative is really very contested. I mean Howard has been restricted on some well known sites, right? He’s not a typical bloggernacle blogger.

    I think one reason you are misunderstood is that you are trying to use reason to undermine Reason. Why not just say the spirit told me that the church leaders are legitimate authorities. Why all the backstory?

    I think I want to trade in my term doubt for perplexity. Doubt may be a choice but if it is it’s not what I have in mind. I mean an involuntary confusion or perplexity about what something is or means. If you experience that as a choice then we experience the world differently.

    At root I am saying that staying silent about what one believes will help people under the gospel as one understands it is good faith and you are saying that if it appears to conflict with authority then expressing it is bad faith.

    Comment by Martin James — August 7, 2014 @ 6:54 pm

  81. I was missing a not before silent in that last sentence.

    Comment by Martin James — August 7, 2014 @ 7:10 pm