A Social History of “Just Asking Questions”

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

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

– Adam Smith, A Theory of Moral Sentiments

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

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

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

Whereas Shapin writes specifically with regards to the roles that truth-claims play within scientific practice, the ways in which they generalize to religious practice should be relatively straight forward.  Indeed, it is the degree to which the strong programme places science so close to religion in this respect is the primary motivation for their oppositions.  Thus,

“[M]uch modern epistemology has systematically argued that legitimate knowledge is defined precisely by its rejection of trust.  If we are heard to say that we know something on the basis of trust, we are understood to say that we do not possess genuine knowledge at all.  It is unwise to take the world on trust…
“Knowledge is supposed to be the product of a sovereign individual confronting the world; reliance upon the views of others produces error.” (16-17)

(Notice how politically oriented this individualistic view of knowledge is, such that the liberal bourgeoisie of the 18th century were more than happy to align themselves with and dedicate resources to such a worldview.)

This is not to say, however, that Shapin sees no difference between how truth claims operate within a premodern, religious context and how they operate within a modern context that is largely defined around scientific practices as well as a division of intellectual and manual labor.

“In the past we made judgments of other people; now we are obliged to trust in impersonal systems, for the cost of doing otherwise is unbearable.” (15)

Thus, while a trust in explicitly designated, centralized individuals has been largely replaced with a much more diffuse division of intellectual labor, the amount of trust that is involved in the evaluation of and dependence upon truth claims has not changed at all.  Relationships of trust in authority figures have not been dissolved, only re-distributed.  This, I suggest, is a point which is actively repressed within a lot of discourse surrounding those who are currently leaving the church for political and intellectual reasons.  Such dissenters (as I myself once was) describe their experience as a largely passive disenchantment with religious authorities, rather than an active replacement of trust in one set of authorities by another.

It is important that we do not underestimate how deeply our trust in intellectual authorities runs.  Shapin’s primary point is that there is no escape from such an intellectual tutelage to others.  Not even direct, empirical investigation or an inward introspection provides us with a release from this tutelage:

“When we have experience, we recognize it as experience-of-a-certain-sort only by virtue of a system of trust through which our existing state of knowledge has been built up… It is incorrect to say that we can ever have experience outside a nexus of trust of some kind.  Such skepticism as we choose to exercise is not a stepping outside of trust; it is, instead, the attempted calibration of one dubiously trustworthy source by others assumed to be trustworthy.” (21)

A similar point is made when we attempt to leverage our judgments of factual or moral plausibility against church leaders:

“Our schemes of plausibility, which become so naturalized that they appear wholly independent of trust, were themselves built up by crediting the relations of trusted sources.  The appearance of plausibility as an independent criterion is the result of a massively consequential evaluation, splitting judgments of what is the case from the everyday relations by which knowledge is made, sustained, and transmitted.  Plausibility incorporates judgments of trustworthiness at a remove.  It is trust institutionalized.” (22)

While Shapin is mostly concerned about empirical investigations, this point is even more applicable to any inward appeal to moral feelings and intuitions.  Many dissenters from the church have allowed political ideologues, activist organizations and social media to calibrate their trust in the church leaders rather than the other way around.

Since, “[t]he distribution of trust is therefore coextensive with the community, and its boundaries are the community’s boundaries,” (36) it should not come as a surprise when frequent expressions of distrust in the community’s authority figures results in expulsion from that community.  Again, while Shapin is specifically speaking about expulsion from a scientific community, this applies at least as well to one’s standing within the church.

“It is at least uncivil, and perhaps terminally so, to decline to take knowledge from authoritative sources… Skeptics run the real risk of being ejected from the practical communities of which they are members.  Their skepticism expresses an uncooperativeness which invites uncooperativeness from others.  Persistent distrust, therefore, has a moral terminus: expulsion from the community.” (20)

Despite frequent, and very naïve claims to the contrary, there is no community that can tolerate the repeated questioning or doubting of its authoritative sources by any of its members.  To be sure, different communities have different rules surrounding which questions can and cannot be asked, but every community allows its members to question the competing authority of outsiders and no community allows its member to fully call its own, internal authorities into question.  I challenge any member of OW to frequently and aggressively question its leaders’ decisions and statements in order to see this process in action.  The same can be said for commenting on any blog.  There will always be some amount or kind of “just asking questions” that will get any person banned from each and every community although the kind amount and kind will, obviously, be unique to each individual community.  (One can find no better example of this than in how Socrates’ dialectical method led directly to his own death.)

With regards to the ease according to which the order of civil human relationships can break down, merely as a result of “just asking questions” Shapin references Garfinkel’s classic Studies in Ethnomethodology.  Within these studies, people were asked to express a tacit distrust by way of questioning some person with which they interact on a casual, day-to-day basis.  One person started “just asking questions” to their bus-driver about whether they would really arrive where they wanted.  Another “just asked questions” to her husband when he came home late from work that day.  In all such instances, these “innocent” questions quickly unraveled the civility of the relationship, a civility that was not easily re-established even after it was revealed that this was merely a sociological experiment.  Shapin’s conclusion was that

“since … order is disrupted with such spectacular ease … everyday order is maintained by a complex set of practices that motivated actors use to constitute ‘interpretative trust.’ These practices notably include trusting as a routine, not inquiring too far or too much, not seeking to go too deeply beyond the ‘face value’ of things, letting the quality of knowledge be ‘sufficient unto the day.’” (35)

When dissenters justify their expressions of obvious distrust in terms of “just asking questions” they are either being overly naïve or flat out disingenuous.

Before concluding, I would like to briefly summarize Shapin’s discussion of the mechanisms by which we attempt to tolerate civil disagreement within a community.  Within scientific communities, practitioners operate with the commonly shared and morally regulated assumption (he calls it the ‘natural attitude’) “that accounts of the world will not be significantly discrepant.”  The science wars were themselves an example of the uncivility that can erupt when this natural attitude is openly called into question.  By contrast, Shapin insists that within science, there are 4 ways in which discrepant accounts of the world are morally tolerated without ever calling the natural attitude itself into question:

  1. We attribute discrepancies to a difference in perspective (abnormal lighting, ambient noise or some other kind of external interference).
  2. If such differences in perspective cannot account for these discrepancies, we fall back upon a difference in interpretation of the phenomena (the color of that dress, duck/rabbits, double entendres, etc.).
  3. If the perspectives and their interpretations cannot account for these discrepancies, we fall back on the different ways in which the interpretations have be described (It was poorly worded, etc.).
  4. If differences in perspective, interpretation and description are not enough, we fall back upon uncertainty (I could be wrong, etc.). (31-32)

These are all the non-empirical, indeed, fully moral mechanisms by which scientists prevent the “natural attitude” from being called into question.  (Habermas insists that this natural attitude is 1) pragmatically justified and 2) the defining feature of the project of modernity.  I largely agree with both of these claims.)

As a final thought, I would like to question the ease with which many church members import these same mechanisms in order to adjudicate our different views of doctrine and policy.  The “natural attitude” is aimed at a thoroughly naturalized world that has – to the extent that it can – cleansed all facts of any moral value.  The natural attitude is a moral assumption aimed at sidelining all discussion regarding things that are not public in a deeply non-subjective sense.  Thus, appeals to the utter privacy of transcendent experiences and moral rules are totally sidelined for the sake of preserving the (in this case scientific) community.

A classic example of this natural attitude at work can be found in how Hobbes was not allowed admission to the Royal Society specifically because he rejected the idea that natural experiments could answer any question with finality.  (Shapin’s most famous book, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life, deal with this episode in great detail.) The Royal Society was an intellectual community that followed on the heels of the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries.  It thus sought to 1) avoid the extremely uncivil disputes that had erupted as a result of differences in political/religious views and 2) avoid the political and religious censors/inquisitions that had also emerged in response to the violence caused by these disagreements.  Thus, this intellectual community found itself practically forced to depend upon a rather Baconian view of crucial experiments as a means of settling disputes that could safely isolate itself from sectarian morals, doctrines and politics.  (Our modern views regarding the objectivity of science and the fact/value distinction are very much the products of these pragmatic decisions.)

Hobbes, by contrast, thought that the results of every experiment are always open to different interpretations and as such could never resolve any question at all with finality.  “Just asking questions” was always an option in Hobbes’ mind, and for this he was banned from the Royal Society.  It is also worth noting that Hobbes’ rejection of experimentalism lead quite seamlessly to his own solution to the problem of the religious and civil wars: the decision of the sovereign.   Since natural experiments were not capable of singling out one interpretation as final, the best we could do was single out a person whose interpretation would thus be final in a morally decisive sense.  In this way, Hobbes was much more upfront about the ways in which scientific practice inevitably involved a particular allocation of trust.  It was this allocation of trust in some authority or another that the Royal Society actively sought to repress for the sake of its continued existence as a community.

The problem with importing the natural attitude into Mormonism is that we have no intention of sidelining questions of moral and religious authority.  We thus have very little interest in the “objective” phenomena upon which the Royal Society exclusively focused and the mechanisms by which they morally enforced their exclusive appeal to experimentalism.  Revelation is far more concerned with questions of moral direction which can, and often do change from person to person and across different contexts:

“That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.’” (Teachings of Joseph Smith)



  1. Note that a lot of this develops due to Descartes and the idea of certainty arising from certain kinds of undoubtable foundational knowledge. Of course the idea of certainty has a long heritage going back especially to the Platonists and knowledge by intuition.

    Once you reject foundationalism and see knowledge as essentially mediated then the whole process of foundationalism, whether the Cartesian scheme of clearing away uncertainty with doubt or other forms, becomes problematic. Doubt as practiced becomes a kind of paper doubt or pretending to doubt where we think we should. It often becomes a social norm tied to the peer group one is attempting to please. (Consciously or unconsciously)

    That said I do think we can rescue doubt and belief epistemologically. Peirce does this by focusing in on inquiry more than idealized conditions of justification. So we do our duty of inquiry and what we believe we belief and what we doubt we doubt.

    The problem, as some of your examples note, is that inquiry can be a perilous endeavor – often open to misunderstanding if we’re not careful. Further there are what one would have to call economic questions of how we spend our precious supply of time in terms of where we inquire.

    Comment by Clark — December 15, 2015 @ 9:55 am

  2. Well, Shapin and the strong programme are definitely hunting much bigger fish than Cartesian foundationalism. The prey they are stalking holds that,

    “truth is not supposed to change over time – to have a history – neither is it supposed to have a sociology. Whatever bears the marks of collective production cannot be truth and honored as such, and few cultural-historical topics are more pervasive than the equation between truth, solitude, passivity and impersonality.”

    To be sure, certainty did play a large role in the case of Hobbes, but 1) Shapin is more concerned about Descartes’ individualism than his quest for certainty, 2) the quest for certainty was exactly what motivated so many of the practices and assumptions that the mainstream academics still bring to truth, and 3) the idea that “just asking questions” is innocent is very closely integrated with these practices.

    Once we accept that truth production is a collective and institutionalized practice, then questioning such institutions becomes very threatening to those organizations upon which truth is based. Thus, a sociological reading of the Royal Society, for example, is an illustration of how certainty is something that is collectively imposed upon a subject, rather than something that any individual can passively read off of it. When somebody goes about asking questions about something which an institution has declared certain – just like Hobbes did – they unavoidably threaten the institution as well.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 15, 2015 @ 11:33 am

  3. Well that issue of how truth relates to context is a tad more complex. Certainly that idea can be treated in a fashion that’s highly problematic and relativist. It can also be treated in a fashion that recognizes the implications of Quine-Dunham holism such that our presentations of the truth are always indexed to theories.

    Foundationalists of course deny anything smacking of holism in at least certain ways since knowledge can always be reduced to certain key pieces of data that are known absolutely. Although in practice even those who held to such reductions had various issues. (Again the evolution of the classic logical positivists in the 50’s and 60’s is illustrative)

    I think pragmatists like Peirce but moreso Dewey have a lot to say here. Although I think one can read Dewey without the issues that the neopragmatists like the early Putnam and Rorty had. (Both tended to move away from their early positions later in life)

    Dewey is probably the source to go to here since for him the system of thought we use to understand changes with inquiry. In some ways he anticipates Kuhn, although in other ways he’s offering a different solution. Hildebrand’s book which I’ve mentioned many times on the pragmatists is excellent here.

    Comment by Clark — December 15, 2015 @ 12:21 pm

  4. To add, a big knock against Rorty from a more Peircean perspective is that Rorty’s solidarity ends up avoiding inquiry into standards of evidence. It’s that critical stance to the very process of inquiry that is so important to Peirce. That is science itself should always be under a process of reformation and questioning.

    Comment by Clark — December 15, 2015 @ 12:26 pm

  5. Shapin does speak place pragmatists outside the scope of his criticism while at the same time acknowledging that they have an unfortunate tendency to sideline the moral obligations that can be (always are?) built into truth. The most obvious example is James’ will to believe.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 15, 2015 @ 12:32 pm

  6. AHHHH!!! I’d already bought the book a few months ago and then you drop the pdf on me!?! :)

    Comment by Jeff G — December 15, 2015 @ 1:06 pm

  7. Well as you know I tend to find James problematic for a slew of reasons. The ethics of inquiry is something that Peirce didn’t address terribly well although his approach does I think include that concern. (Effectively inquiry is wrapped up in ethics as its ground) Further his small c conservatism tend to entail certain ethical concerns regarding inquiry. (There’s a burden of proof setup for him due to what he calls common sense being extremely well tested by a community in particular ways)

    The place where Peirce’s conception tends to bother people is that he thinks the quest for truth should be de-sentimentalized. This is roughly his form of objectivity. Instead of anything like a gods eye view you have a dispassionate inquiry as the goal. Now of course we all recognize that in practice that never happens. And Peirce among all recognized that well due to his own unfortunate circumstance of being brought into abject poverty due to inflamed passions about him at Harvard and other universities. The idea is that our passions tend to bias our inquiry in various ways.

    Other moral obligations get trickier. I tend to discount your own approach of how religious obligation trumps inquiry, yet clearly there are places where we have ethical obligations that affect our inquiry. There’s the whole issue of doing harm obviously. We look at many medical experiments done even by Americans in the 1950’s with horror for instance, not to mention Japanese experiments in WWII. When I used to work at Los Alamos there were obviously huge limits on how inquiry took place due to so much of the work being classified. And at the time (and to a degree even today) there was big debate about whether scientists working under these limits were doing good science from an ethical standpoint. That is some felt such limits were intrinsically anti-science. And others felt that work that was even indirectly tied to weaponry was anti-science.

    So I think anyone who makes science at odds with ethics simply isn’t paying attention to the 20th century practice of science in the United States at minimum. How that affects our ultimate analysis is a little less clear though.

    Comment by Clark — December 15, 2015 @ 1:39 pm

  8. I should probably note that since Peirce often made dismissive statements about ethics that the key period is the late 1890’s when he was relatively old. That’s when he grounds logic on ethics. His statements on ethics earlier probably has more to do with ethics as presented in philosophy generally – especially in the Hellenistic and medieval eras. It’s hard to fault him there.

    On the other hand his values of free inquiry tended to be distrustful of the type of conservatism that put such ethics at such a level that it impeded inquiry in unjustifiable ways. (This seems odd as he ends up having a kind of small c conservatism yet he adopts this as a burden of proof rather than a block against inquiry) To Peirce the issue is what experience teaches us. So…

    If a proposition is to be applied to action, it has to be embraced, or believed without reservation. There is no room for doubt, which can only paralyze action. But the scienti c spirit requires a man to be at all times ready to dump his whole cart-load of beliefs, the moment experience is against them. (CP 1.55, 1896)

    This seems about right to me but may be too much if you want certain ethical assumptions to block inquiry.

    Comment by Clark — December 15, 2015 @ 1:49 pm

  9. I’m still not entirely clear on what these non-ethical rules of inquiry are supposed to be. If they are enforced in any way, then they just are ethical. And if they are not ethical, then I see no reason why they should be protected in any sense whatsoever from ethical constraints.

    I’m perfectly okay with ethical dilemmas arising between the ethics of inquiry and the ethics of applications (or some other such set of ethical rules). This is what I have argued for. But it seems like Pierce wants to say that the rules of inquiry ought to be obeyed but are not ethical in nature. I simply have no clue what third option remains.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 15, 2015 @ 3:41 pm

  10. Well for Peirce any normative rules should always be under investigation. I’m not sure enforcement entails ethicality though. After all ethics can be conceived of in terms of rules, ends, demands or virtues with large schools adopting each approach.

    So I don’t think I used the term “rule of inquiry.” To the degree it even makes sense to talk about rules the only one I can think of is “don’t cut off inquiry.” But that’s so broad and general that it avoids questions of balance as well as economic decisions of where to put ones resources into conducting inquiry.

    Comment by Clark — December 16, 2015 @ 12:35 pm

  11. “I’m not sure enforcement entails ethicality though.”

    Here’s where I get confused. What exactly are we enforcing if not an ethical imperative of some kind? And what is inquiry if not a social practice structured according to various imperatives such as the rules of logic, avoiding fallacies, etc.?

    If I say that 2+2=5, by what right do you publicly correct me or tell others that I am wrong/irrational? If a means/ends instrumentality is all that is at play here, then why tell others about it? What do my ineffective beliefs have to do with them?

    If inquiry is a private endeavor, then why is Pierce writing it down for other people to read? If, however, and to the extent that it is a public endeavor (and I insist it is) then it unavoidably becomes moral in nature – with its unavoidable allocation of trust and authority, both of which are moral categories in the fullest sense. This is what I take Shapin to be arguing.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 16, 2015 @ 2:17 pm

  12. I agree that some things are quasi-ethical such as logical or mathematical proofs. (This is a key point in the mature Peirce)

    But I’m not sure “enforce” is quite the right term here. Getting math wrong seems a fundamentally different situation than say murdering someone.

    Further it seems we have some laws we enforce that we don’t see as fundamental ethical and of course things that are legal that are seen as unethical. Consider driving 70 in a 65 mph zone for the former.

    Peirce sees inquiry ultimately as social although clearly there’s also individual inquiry. I just don’t see why the social is inherently moral. Surely something can be useful without being ethical.

    Comment by Clark — December 16, 2015 @ 9:38 pm

  13. “But I’m not sure “enforce” is quite the right term here. Getting math wrong seems a fundamentally different situation than say murdering someone.”

    Again, I’m at a loss as to what this third option is. Of course there is a difference in the degree of moral enforcement, but that’s not very interesting.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 17, 2015 @ 8:17 am

  14. Well to me enforce involves force. I suppose we can broaden the term so my not accepting someone’s math because it’s done poorly is force. However when disbelief is a type of enforcement I think we’ve lost the sense of the term. It becomes the “when you’re a hammer everything is a nail” problem that you see when bad hedonists make arguments. (And occasionally with bad Foucault styled social force commentary that we unfortunately see in certain “disciplines.”)

    Comment by Clark — December 17, 2015 @ 9:41 am

  15. Questioners are a cancer that should be removed, lest they destroy the whole body.

    The Gospel is simple and the purpose of life is clear: find the prophet. Once you’ve found the prophet, the thinking is done. Just do 100% of what he says. No more and no less. And then you’re home free.

    Comment by lemuel — December 17, 2015 @ 10:16 am

  16. Isn’t that position self-refuting since the prophets emphasize learning to live by personal revelation?

    Comment by Clark — December 17, 2015 @ 12:40 pm

  17. I think I’m closer to Clark on this one. “Follow the prophets 100%… unless God tells you otherwise.”

    Comment by Jeff G — December 17, 2015 @ 4:10 pm

  18. Great post Jeff, one of my favorites.

    “When dissenters justify their expressions of obvious distrust in terms of “just asking questions” they are either being overly naïve”

    I agree with most of this analysis but have a very different interpretation. What you refer to as naive, I think is the way of being childlike nature the Christ talks about. What you call community, I call worldliness. The expulsion from communities is being persecuted for Christ’s sake. The analogical equivalent of empirical evidence is “ye shall know them by their fruits”.

    Comment by Martin James — December 18, 2015 @ 11:47 am

  19. I can’t tell whether you’re pushing for an over the top individualism – which is exactly what this post argues against – or whether you’re talking about all communities *except* the kingdom of God/church. Remember that this post is about being expelled from Christ’s community!

    Comment by Jeff G — December 18, 2015 @ 12:08 pm

  20. I’m pretty sure the manipulative tactic of cloaking distrust in a skin of innocence is not one of the “childlike” qualities Christ espoused.

    Comment by Silver Rain — December 18, 2015 @ 1:09 pm

  21. Jeff G,

    We only have worldly tools to talk with. You are making analogies to worldly communities using worldly thinking tools.

    To be more pointed, do you think that “just asking questions” meets any of the 5 definitions of apostasy? I don’t think they do unless they are “teachings” or “clear, open, and deliberate public opposition.

    The people I am concerned about are not the people people trying to use manipulative tactics.

    I am talking about the naivete that is in the story of the emperor with no clothes. I still believe the moral is not to avoid “just asking questions” to fit the prevailing community moral order, but rather that the naive questions are often closer to the truth.

    It is never so simple as just conform to the group and its leaders, particularly with at least 15 different seers. I find it significant that prophets and seers are correlated with teachings that only reveal themselves over time and in ways different from what was thought originally.

    Comment by Martin James — December 18, 2015 @ 3:03 pm

  22. On a more personal, less religious level, I can’t but feel these history studies like my first reaction to Kuhn and that is that it makes the tremendous discoveries and changes in science that have often come in from the creation of a new community by an outsider or eccentric as all the more miraculous. There is just nothing interesting about Royal Society politics and “ordinary truth”. Almost everything good comes from the bursts of creative energy. Yes, those can only happen within a structure that is based on a community that polices its boundaries but the structure itself is the canvas not the painting.
    The church structure and authority are only made useful by the “over the top individuality of an intelligence”. There is a reason that our founding myths are about a personal savior. What could be a more over the top individuality than the atonement?

    Comment by Martin James — December 18, 2015 @ 3:38 pm

  23. Martin,

    1) You act like these 5 definitions just dropped down out of heaven rather than being written, distribution and reproduced by living authority figures. Events in the last year or so have made it clear that there is a limit to the amount of “just asking questions” that they are willing to tolerate…. just like any community.

    2) It doesn’t really matter what the person’s intentions are. No individual gets the privilege of fully determining what the meaning of their own actions are. The entire point of this post is that too much questioning, even if it is fully sincere questioning, is a cause from expulsion from any and every community… no exceptions.

    3) “rather that the naive questions are often closer to the truth” Again, you’re assuming that there is something called truth that exists outside of all communities and institutions by which such a thing is expressed, reproduced and distributed. The whole point of the strong programme is that it is meaningless to speak of such a thing. To quote Shapin, to be “closer to the truth” just is to try to calibrate one less esteemed authority in terms of another more esteemed authority.

    4) A sociological model of truth does not entail a static model of truth. No sure what point you’re trying to make, but to the point that some supposed “truth” never becomes social, it simply becomes irrelevant to our lives – if only because (unless we invent it ourselves) we never come in contact with it.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 18, 2015 @ 5:07 pm

  24. I guess I’m having a hard time seeing how you agree with “most of the analysis” when you contradict almost every step of it.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 18, 2015 @ 5:23 pm

  25. I agree that institutions do this and that is what is meant by worldliness and it is a bad thing. I guess to say it in your terms, i think the kind of truth and meaning you are talking about is is a bad thing.

    Comment by Martin James — December 18, 2015 @ 9:58 pm

  26. BTW – found an other full book as a PDF you might find interesting Nancy Cartwright’s Philosophy of Science. It’s a bunch of essays about Cartwright (one of my favorite contemporary philosophers and more or less a pragmatist) with responses by her.

    Comment by Clark — December 18, 2015 @ 10:29 pm

  27. So are you such a believer in the strong program that you think that the existence of God is a social phenomenon?

    Comment by Martin James — December 18, 2015 @ 10:42 pm

  28. “Just asking questions” ceases to be innocent when the answers, or the ways to get answers, have been defined.

    Innocent people ask questions. They don’t protest, “I’m just asking questions” when they aren’t answered to their own satisfaction.

    Even children know the difference between genuinely, humbly asking and asking for a purpose. Even your own point that such questions are closer to the truth betrays an agenda in asking them.

    Using questions to further an agenda is not innocent, it is manipulative. Questions are meant for the education of the asker, if they are genuine.

    Your example presupposes two things: that the person asking is indeed innocent, and that the emperor has no clothes, in truth. The point of the story changes completely if the child asking the question was trying to embarrass the emperor on purpose. It also changes altogether if the tailors hadn’t lied.

    The emperor’s clothes is a story meant to illuminate what happens when we let other people take advantage of us in our own insecurities….when we undertake to cover our own sins.

    That is a moral that cuts both ways, when applied to the situation between the leadership of the Church and those who wish to correct them.

    Comment by SilverRain — December 19, 2015 @ 6:52 am

  29. Clark,

    I actually read parts of her book for a class in undergrad. I don’t remember all that much and my views and radically changed since then.


    Of course not. Instead, I add one more, really powerful person to the community that the SP is not allowed to acknowledge. This doesn’t change any of their conclusions. For the record, I most definitely endorse a social epistemology of some kind (not the analytic version advocated by Goldman), but I do not totally align myself with the SP either. I do, however, completely agree with their critiques of individualistic epistemology.


    I agree with what you say, but Shapin’s point is that even if we do ask questions like a little (sometimes annoying) child, this will be enough to incur censure from a community. What Martin is trying to do is say that all non-manipulative questioning is still good – while my point is that this is pure ideology. Questions are not purely innocent by default and it requires a certain amount of socialization into a group to appreciate when too much is too much. I just don’t think there is any way of defining when is too much in any predetermined or universalistic sense.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 19, 2015 @ 8:12 am

  30. I think there is a way to define it….or ought to be. When a question is truly seeking knowledge or understanding–which is what an “innocent question” is–the question itself cannot be too much. Unless there is some circumstantial effect….such as if members of a group are not confident in their beliefs, or the time and place is wrong.

    In other words, the only time it’s too much is when it’s not truly innocent, it’s at an inappropriate time or in an inappropriate manner, or if it threatens the group somehow.

    But maybe your “socialization” is to address those last two….?

    Either way, those last two could be fairly accurately reasoned in most cases, if not predetermined.

    Comment by SilverRain — December 19, 2015 @ 10:25 am

  31. I’m still not sure that I agree.

    There is no reason to assume that the interests of any community will ever be fully consistent with sincere curiosity. There will always be occasions when one interferes with the other and in such cases the community is specifically designed towards satisfying its own interests, not some person’s curiosity. Simply put, a community will only encourage and tolerate sincere questioning to the extent that it is in the communities interest to do so.

    The idea that curiosity should be totally unconstrained by any and all institutions was an ideal that emerged in the 18th century as an attempt at marshaling as broad of a moral coalition as possible against very specific forms of political (Monarchical) and religious (Catholic) censorship. It was no long, however, before this coalition began censoring each other, sending those whose questions demonstrated a lack of commitment to the revolution to the guillotine.

    Organization necessarily entails some degree of (at least potential) censorship. That’s just the nature of the beast.

    To be sure, PC culture often takes this in directions that think are far too extreme. Perhaps an example that we would all accept would be a daycare employee who honestly asks his/her coworkers if and why pedophilia (the attraction not the the practice) is really wrong. Does it really matter that the person is sincere? Indeed, the more sincere this question is, the more it bothers us. Such an example shows that at least some forms of honest questioning are unacceptable. What I would suggest is that any honest and sincere questioning of the values that most define any community necessarily provoke a negative reaction from it. The more sincere the questioning, the worse the reaction, not the better.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 19, 2015 @ 11:47 am

  32. I would argue that your wisdom HAS an agenda…to make other people look at themselves and their assumptions. I didn’t mean sincere as in “I really want you to prove you can explain it,” but sincere as in “I really want to understand.”

    In the case you mention, the question should certainly be answered, and the person probably removed from child care until they understand and accept the answer. But does this mean other childcare workers should shun them? Bully and mock them? Because that is the way I often see outrage at questions expressed.

    But I think I see your point… “will,” certainly not. But “should,” definitely. Complete expulsion from a community shouldn’t rest only on asking questions, but on accepting answers. When it comes to faith, I think we should be a little more open than we are.

    There is so much “unwritten order of things” in the Church, it drives me batty. It makes conversion a steep battle for some of us, even if we were born into the Church. Some things should be questioned, even disingenuously, especially unwritten things.

    But this is probably why I’ll never really belong in the Church, despite my genealogical creds.

    Comment by SilverRain — December 20, 2015 @ 7:32 am

  33. Your question, not your wisdom. Sorry.

    Comment by SilverRain — December 20, 2015 @ 7:33 am

  34. In response to the pithy summary of modern Mormonism offered by Lemuel, Clark asks: “Isn’t that position self-refuting since the prophets emphasize learning to live by personal revelation?”

    I’m not sure which prophets Clark’s been listening to, but the ones I’ve been listening to have said these things recently.

    1. Whenever the top 15 agree, they’re always right and cannot lead the Church astray. – President Nelson, October 2014 Conference, Sunday morning session.

    2. You should assume they’re always right in everything they say or do. – Elder Oaks, Fundamental to Our Faith

    3. You are to confirm their teachings through prayer. – Elder Oaks, Fundamental to Our Faith

    4. If they are ever wrong, you are never to say so. – Elder Oaks, interview with PBS

    Only why would anyone ever ask for confirmation, given #2, especially since the answer is held to be predetermined in the affirmative (#1, #3)? And if, heaven forbid, the answer from God is they are wrong (as was apparently the case for blacks + priesthood), you invite scorn and mockery and disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion, even as they who said the Emperor was naked – you are a deluded fool who cannot perceive our greatness and glory (#4). And we can’t suffer fools who are “just asking questions,” can we? It’s not like we know what we’re talking about – after all, if we did, we could answer the questions instead of excommunicating the questioners. But, then, the value of the Priesthood of the LDS Church is as the ultimate appeal to authority for some, from which there cannot be further appeals in any argument: once the Prophet (or top 15) has spoken, the thinking has been done. Right, Jeff G?

    Get in line, get out, or be silent: that’s how it goes when authority determines truth, rather than truth determining authority.

    How do these teachings by sitting prophets, in combination, differ in any significant, practical way from the pithy summary Lemuel offered?

    It’s the same doctrine the Church landed in hot PR water for back in the ’40s which, while garnering a carefully worded denial at the time, was not actually repudiated. And it wasn’t repudiated because there’s just no other way things can be, is there?

    So, if Clark is sincere in thinking the pithy summary Lemuel offered is self-contradictory, or conflicts with the teachings of the prophets, then perhaps he really ought to be looking a wee bit more closely at the teachings of the prophets. Is God the author of self-contradiction?

    Just asking questions!

    Comment by etz — December 27, 2015 @ 3:10 am

  35. If one could answer questioners, undoubtedly one would answer them. God, after all, gives to all men liberally and upbraideth not, or so it is written – is his Church too good to do likewise? Or is it that she lacks the ability to get the answers from God that she reaches for the banhammer?

    Banning, silencing, excommunicating, stoning, and killing questioners (and trolls) has historically been a sign that one doesn’t know what one is talking about and is seeking instead to preserve one’s own authority and power base among men.

    I wonder why we’re justifying the attitudes and values of them that cast out, stoned, and slew the prophets and Jesus anciently; those that did so likewise took authority for truth rather than truth for authority, and were seeking to preserve their own authority and power among men.

    Just asking questions!

    Comment by etz — December 27, 2015 @ 3:45 am

  36. In fact, for a shorter and more pointed version of the OP, listen to Puscifer’s “The Remedy.”

    The wind of the Zeitgeist is blowing in a familiar direction – “can ye not discern the signs of the times?”

    Comment by etz — December 27, 2015 @ 4:13 am

  37. Forgive the declase “4th consecutive comment” but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that when President Nelson told us all that when we raise our hands to support and sustain the Prophet, we are making an oath-like indication that we will make his prophetic priorities our own priorities.

    That’s pretty much “do 100% of what he says.”

    Comment by etz — December 27, 2015 @ 9:55 am

  38. Etz, I think when there’s unanimity the church won’t be led astray meaning into apostasy. But there’s a big gap between being led astray and everything being correct. The brethren never equate being led astray with inerrancy.

    As to your other points nothing there argues against what I said. If I have a revelation that an apostle is making a mistake I keep it to myself because I don’t have authority to receive revelation for the whole church, only myself. Again this is a long standing teaching.

    The point is that the brethren constantly emphasize personal revelation which does refute what Lemuel suggested. Elder Oaks in particular has given numerous speeches on this.

    To your other point, God can answer anyone but often the answer is “I’m not answering that question.” (At least it often has been to me) As to the brethren, I think God can answer them although as was often the case with Joseph’s questions the answers are either “not now” or an answer fairly ambiguous (such as Joseph’s answer to when Jesus would return). Even if they receive an answer it doesn’t follow that the answer would be given to the community. Again a constant teaching is that not everything is given publicly. Taught in many places but Alma 12:9-11 is my favorite. Note the end about why the public doesn’t get all the word.

    Comment by Clark — December 28, 2015 @ 2:10 pm

  39. Etz, I think sustaining a leader entails sustaining their actions and priorities. I don’t see that as controversial in the least. I’m not sure that means “do 100% of what he says.” Again, were that true I’d expect more people to be doing their callings better – especially home teaching and visiting teaching. So even if someone thinks that intellectually they clearly few believe it in practice.

    Comment by Clark — December 28, 2015 @ 2:12 pm

  40. Clark,

    The Brethren obviously do not constantly emphasize personal revelation, as the teachings I cite imply – logically – personal revelation is irrelevant in any area the teachings or actions of the Brethren are concerned. Any revelation on any of those topics can only be confirmed. It is your privilege to do so, anyways. It seems there is no other privilege mentioned in connection with your revelation and their teachings and actions; only that you shall make their priorities your own.

    I appreciate you acknowledge that the leader principle, what Brigham called “Patriarchal Government,” and what the Germans called “Der Führerprinzip” is the long standing teaching of, and functional philosophy of leadership within, Mormonism and you are a follower of that teaching.

    However, even if you deny the accuracy of Lemuel’s pithy summary of Mormonism in the face of the teachings of the Brethren I have cited, Mormonism is what it is – and it does not differ in any significant, practical way from Lemuel’s description (which was the answer to the question I asked, which you understandably declined to answer).

    Comment by etz — December 28, 2015 @ 3:17 pm

  41. Etz, I think you are conflating several separate issues.

    1. do the brethren emphasize personal revelation
    2. do the brethren think they are correct
    3. does sustaining mean accepting values and emphasis on a practical level even when you think them wrong
    4. do the brethren think they might be wrong

    Of course if the brethren think they are right they don’t think personal revelation will give a different answer. That follows logically from their thinking they are correct. However it’s completely logical to think oneself right and yet accept intellectually that one might be wrong.

    So to say that the brethren don’t emphasize personal revelation simply because they think themselves correct and think there are stewardship limits seems just plain incorrect. Certainly it’s not a sound argument. Second it’s just demonstrably false in that nearly every general conference there’s a talk dealing with personal revelation. Now you might think this is inconsistent but that doesn’t mean they aren’t saying it. Even a quick look at LDS.org shows lots of talks on it. To claim that it can only confirm is just plain wrong.

    Now if you think you are correct you will obviously think true revelation will just confirm what you believe because that’s just what believing you’re right means.

    To say that what I outline doesn’t differ in any practical way from what Lemuel says just seems incorrect. Likewise you and he neglect talks like President Uchtdorf’s where he says the brethren make mistakes. And then makes an emphasis of personal revelation. It seems he addresses the issues you raise rather well.

    Portraying this all as if personal revelation only consists of confirmation just is plain wrong. That’s an important part of it of course, but if you think that’s how Mormons view it you’ve missed something pretty fundamental in our theology.

    Comment by Clark — December 28, 2015 @ 10:32 pm

  42. An other good talk on this is Pres. Maxwell’s from several years back.

    Comment by Clark — December 28, 2015 @ 10:34 pm

  43. Clark,

    I have conflated nothing. My claims were limited and documented. I appreciate your rhetorically laboring to make it appear otherwise.

    And, since you brought up the sop Uchtdorf’s thrown to you, may I only say “mistakes were made” is very much my all-time favorite non-apology apology. Uchtdorf’s “admission” is of that class of statements.

    And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.

    There is no indication that he is allowing for the possibility that the United 15 Apostles can ever be wrong whenever they agree (that is, that the doctrine of vox apostoli, vox dei can possibly be false). There is no indication that we ought not presume they are inspired in all that they teach and do. There is no indication that personal revelation may disconfirm either their actions or their teachings, and there is no indication that we are ever to mention their errors. Not only that, he’s not even giving us room to have other priorities than the Prophet’s Prophetic Priorities.

    But more!

    If the Lectures on Faith is scripture – and the Church, by common consent agreed that it was, and accepted it as canon – Uchtdorf’s directive (which we must presume is inspired, per Elder Oaks, and if we find out otherwise, must never mention that fact) that we doubt our doubts before we doubt our faith contradicts the Lectures on Faith. Doubt and faith cannot coexist in the same person at the same time, said Joseph.

    I guess that committee that surreptitiously tossed the LoF from the canon down the memory hole without asking the Church’s permission or consent acted prophetically. They are, after all, always right.

    You know, 1984 was intended to be a warning, not a manual.

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 12:07 am

  44. You see, Clark, it doesn’t matter what the Brethren of yesterday said. All that matters is what they say today; they are prophets the same as the ones that wrote the scripture. If The United 15 Apostles (peace be upon them) declare that alcohol consumption is contrary to the law of God – and, in fact, The United 15 Apostles declared exactly that recently – then that’s revelation. That’s God talking to you. That’s scripture to you. If that means Jesus was a sinner, being an acknowledged consumer and producer of alcoholic beverages and therefore breaker of the law of God, so be it, the atonement be damned.

    What’s your alternative?

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 12:18 am

  45. Etz,

    While it’s obvious that you disagree with the OP I haven’t seen you actually engage the OP. The whole point is that every organization must place limitations upon question asking and the church is no exception. Yet you pretend that I’m singling out the church.

    As for Lemuel’s (and Elder Oak’s) descriptions: they are pretty accurate as far an one line descriptions go. But obviously, any such one line description must be understood within a much larger and much more complex context.

    None of your quotes say that any consensus for the 15 just is an everlasting truth, timelessly unchanging and unquestionable for everybody, everywhere – publicly or privately – and totally beyond the corrigibility of personal revelation. Nobody has ever taught this. And yet this is exactly what your comments presuppose.

    Like all people that I have been criticizing for the past few years, you completely ignore the spatio-temporal limitations of stewardship. Once these limitations are built into the core of gospel doctrine rather than treated as peripheral bureaucracy, almost all of your counter-examples and concerns evaporate. Yes, other concerns do arise, but at least we stop saying childish things like “the answer from God is they are wrong (as was apparently the case for blacks + priesthood).”

    Comment by Jeff G — December 29, 2015 @ 8:55 am

  46. Jeff G,

    I do not, in fact, disagree with the OP – there’s nothing to disagree with. It is a plain fact that to maintain power, coercive measures are deployed within authoritarian power structures, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Such as this blog.

    Any hierarchical organization (re: “Patriarchal Government,” “Der Fuhrerprinzip”) where people ask questions which cannot be answered because the ability to generate answers is missing, you will find people silencing them in order to maintain power. Truth, you see, is not the goal of banning, silencing, excommunicating, casting out, stoning, and slaying questioners. Protecting lies and the resultant power they give among men is the goal.

    Your OP is just a wordier version of Puscifer’s “The Remedy.” I hope you get around to listening to it.

    As an aside, the idea that the law of God can change presupposes a changeable God (Moroni 8:18), for Jesus said he was himself the law (3 Nephi 15:9).

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 9:57 am

  47. Hmmmm,

    I think you’re assuming that truth and power are two separate things such that the latter necessarily excludes the former. I find little support for this assumption.

    I am a fan of Puscifer, so I’ll have to check that out.

    I also think that you’re building way too many assumptions into your interpretation of God’s “inability” to change. God changes his mind all the time in the OT and I strongly agree with JS’s statement:

    “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.”

    If we follow the OP in understanding truth in terms of an institutionalized ethics of speech acts rather as an individualistic matching of mental states with the world, then this statement becomes very relevant.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 29, 2015 @ 10:14 am

  48. Disagreeing with the OP would be akin to denying that hammers are deployed to apply greater force to smaller areas than could be achieved by not using them.

    Some tools have but a single use, and when we see people deploy tools, we may infer the use of the tool is to gain the advantage offered by the tool.

    That’s what people use tools for, after all.

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 10:18 am

  49. God doesn’t punish questioning (James 1:5); neither do God’s priests (D&C 121:41-46). Usurpers, hypocrites, and fakers, however, are prone to (D&C 121:34-40).

    The reason is simple – the usurpers, hypocrites, and fakers can’t answer, and fear to lie outright lest they be caught. That leaves silencing the irritating trolls.

    Some tools have but a single use.

    I’m not entirely sure, as an aside, that Joseph Smith, and, say, not John C. Bennett, wrote that quote you cite.

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 10:27 am

  50. Etz, I don’t think Uchtdorf was apologizing but explaining things in a general way.

    Certainly any formal system will have ways of enforcing various norms to varying degrees. I don’t think that’s controversial and I think both Jeff and I would agree with that.

    Certainly excommunication and the like aren’t merely concerned with truth. Effectively they are political acts. Again I don’t think Jeff or I would disagree with you there. Perhaps we just differ in that we don’t see that as a bad thing.

    With Jeff I’d question your apparent separation between truth and power. I don’t mean in some facile Foucalt way. But I think that truth is truth because it’s what the universe in acting leads to us thinking.

    Perhaps I’m just not understanding your critique though. I personally don’t think the brethren have a problem with questioning at all. How people use questioning politically can be a problem. Likewise it can be a problem for them personally. All acts have an ethical component. To judge something as inappropriate in one setting is not to say it is inappropriate in all settings.

    If you could perhaps unpack what it is you are arguing a little better perhaps we could respond better.

    Comment by Clark — December 29, 2015 @ 10:27 am

  51. If the Brethren don’t have a problem with questioning, they have very odd ways of showing it. They act precisely as those act who have a problem with questioning. “Apostate,” after all, in an LDS context simply means “traitor;” truth is treason in an empire of lies. And there have been multiple excommunications at the behest of The United 15 Apostles recently – not for any stated errors or sins, but for speaking unanswerable truths. Some tools have but a single purpose.

    As you said, you guys don’t have a problem with ex’ing for “just asking questions.” Even if such ex’ing is an implicit admission of bankruptcy, both in truth and in authority as such is accounted with God (re: D&C 121). Such things have as their sole purpose the preservation of power among men.

    Ipse dixit.

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 12:09 pm

  52. Again, you have simply assumed that ex’ing for question asking is an admission of bankruptcy. Oh sure, you’ve inserted scriptural references, but these hardly establish what you’re trying to claim.

    You also assume that the preservation of power among men is necessarily a bad thing. Also not true.

    Take my example of the baby sitter who honestly asks what is wrong with pedophilia. Whether I can give a fully convincing answer to this question or not, I am completely justified in firing that baby sitter. This has nothing to do with moral bankruptcy or an illicit power grab on my part. The very fact that the baby sitter is questioning and thus not fully committed to the organizations foundational values just is a good reason for that person not to be accepted as a member of that organization.

    I would also point out that whether that quote is JS or JCB, the facts that are described are verifiably true. Within the scriptures, sometimes God says do X and other times do not do X. Sometimes we are supposed to offer blood sacrifices. Other times live the united order. Other times plural marriage. Sometimes the priesthood is restricted to Levites. Other times to non-black people. Sometimes Gentiles are not allowed in the Kingdom. And on and on.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 29, 2015 @ 2:38 pm

  53. Jeff G,

    All you’re saying is you don’t value what I value. I figured that by the OP. And if you like things the way they are, well, you get to keep them. It’s your society you are building up. I’m not sure I like it.

    As to whether power among men is a bad thing, well, that’s a value judgement you are free to come to on your own. I kinda think God has a take on it.

    Nephi 6:15
    15 Now the cause of this iniquity of the people was this—Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world.

    Iniquity is kind a mix of injustice and inequality. Like bringing people upon unequal grounds.

    Alma 30:7
    7 Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds.

    Or hierarchy – after all, if ye are not one, ye are not mine (D&C 38, Matt 23:8).

    I recall it was the Zoramites, with their fast and testimony meetings and strict dress code, who tossed out people for misbelieving – the word of God destroyed their craft, which, to me, implies they were committing priestcraft, even as Nehor taught.

    Alma 1:3
    3 And he had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God, bearing down against the church; declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people.

    Man, that sounds familiar.

    Anyways, I guess my point is if you like inequality, hierarchy, leadership, iniquity, injustice, casting out the misbelievers, and the like, you’re welcome to it. However, such things are indeed a declaration of bankruptcy. Such things go far, I think, to discrediting the idea that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has much, if anything, to do with her titular husband.

    Once again, see Puscifer’s “The Remedy.” I don’t think I like that society. Do you, really? Is that what you want, worlds without end? Because that’s what you’re justifying and building up.

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 4:14 pm

  54. Again, you are reading all of your values into the verses you cite.

    I am not for any of those things as such. If anything, I think those things are largely unavoidable. The question then becomes which hierarchy/leadership will we choose to follow among the many available to us. You, apparently, choose to follow to Puscifer rather than the LDS church. That’s fine, but don’t pretend that that isn’t itself a form of authority and hierarchy that is attempting to exclude and silence other voices that believe differently.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 29, 2015 @ 4:42 pm

  55. Jeff G,

    That’s interesting. From my end, it seems the LDS Church employs “The Remedy,” with you cheerleading for it – that was, after all, the point of your OP. And that means, by definition, excluding and silencing voices that believe differently. But you’re all for that.

    Me, I haven’t power to silence anyone. Even when I prove something as tightly as logic allows, people yet deny the conclusions.

    Silencing and punishing people for expressing their beliefs breaks the law of God, after all – and if the Church isn’t following the law of God, and if you think the Church breaking the law of God is both necessary and unavoidable, then it is unclear in what sense you think the Church has anything to do with God.

    Zion, as it is written, must be established upon the law of the Celestial Kingdom, or God cannot receive her unto himself (D&C 105:5).

    It’s tough to deploy the argumentum tu quoque when accusing the powerless of abusing power, isn’t it?

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 6:04 pm

  56. We must choose a hierarchy to follow, a team too root for, a king to follow. We’re either patriots or terrorists. Saints or apostates.

    Comment by lemuel — December 29, 2015 @ 6:04 pm

  57. From OP: “Despite frequent, and very naïve claims to the contrary, there is no community that can tolerate the repeated questioning or doubting of its authoritative sources by any of its members. To be sure, different communities have different rules surrounding which questions can and cannot be asked, but every community allows its members to question the competing authority of outsiders and no community allows its member to fully call its own, internal authorities into question.”

    And as the greatest community on earth, whoever questions its authorities is questioning the one who gives it authority. As such, the competing authority of outsiders is not even worthy of questioning–only contempt; any questioning of internal authority is not simply questioning–only treason.

    Comment by lemuel — December 29, 2015 @ 6:13 pm

  58. etz–it’s different because we’re right. This isn’t Shiz vs Coriantmur–it’s good vs evil.

    Without submitting to the proper authority, no reason or logic can save them. No good deeds can save them.

    Their virtues are really vices, their virginity carnality, their reason unreason, their patience in persecution mere insolence; any cruelty shown them is not really cruelty but kindness.

    Comment by lemuel — December 29, 2015 @ 6:23 pm

  59. True. This is Dar al-Islam (house of submission [to God]) vs. Dar al-harb (house of war [against God]). Our righteousness before God baptizes our actions in his holiness such that what would otherwise be sin if we were on the wrong side instead counts as Godliness.

    The time cometh that he that killeth you shall think he doeth God a service… but we really are doing God a service! Right? I mean, it’s not our fruits that reveal us, but our teams!

    The Inquisition was bad, but Strengthening Church Members is good!

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 6:44 pm

  60. Etz,

    You’re conflating power with legitimacy. The church clearly delegitimizes various choices, but it does not disempower them in any strong sense. In this sense, you and Maynard James Keenan are no different than the church. Your arguments in this thread have been explicitly aimed to delegitimizing various positions no matter how unable or unwilling to are to censor such things by force.

    “Silencing and punishing people for expressing their beliefs breaks the law of God, after all”

    Depends on what you mean here. The law of God is absolutely aimed at delegitimizing various voices through exclusion, etc. Which is exactly what the church does. In no sense does it silence and punish them through state sponsored compulsion (or some other form of coercion) since this would violate God’s law. The first is unavoidable by any organized group, not the second.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 29, 2015 @ 6:54 pm

  61. If we are doing everything our enemies are doing, making the same types of claims they are, and for the same reasons, with the differences being the labels we attach to things, then we are our enemies. There is no principled difference between us. The distinguishing characteristic is simply what flag we fly, what colors we wear: Christ vs. Islam, Catholics vs. Mormons, Red Sox vs. Yankees.

    Shiz vs. Coriantumr, indeed. Things are held to be true or false merely upon whether they undermine or establish the Church; and not all truth is useful, as Elder Packer pointedly told the CES teachers and Church historians, therefore what doesn’t reflect favorably upon us is to be suppressed. And whatever survives the Sieve of Packer by reflecting favorably on The Party must be baptized in the faith claim that God directed it. Only then may it be presented for consumption.

    Don’t you love Big Brother?

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 6:57 pm

  62. “The Inquisition was bad, but Strengthening Church Members is good!”

    The fact that you see no difference between the two is the problem. The first sought to fully disempower dissent by violently silencing it. The second merely seeks to fully delegitimize it by condemning and excluding voices from their optional and voluntary membership. HUGE difference.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 29, 2015 @ 6:58 pm

  63. Jeff, if you’re in support of the org suppressing viewpoints, you are the apologist for “The Remedy.” It is incredible – literally so – to me that this point has escaped you, therefore I infer you are deliberately avoiding it and seeking to stick your own attitudes and opinions, as given in the OP, to me.

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 6:59 pm

  64. Your refusal to recognize even the most basic and obvious of nuances baffles me. If you really think that I am advocating burning heretics in the town square, then I simply do not know what to say. If you don’t think this about me, then how about dropping all these references to “the inquisition” and “the Remedy”?

    Comment by Jeff G — December 29, 2015 @ 7:21 pm

  65. Jeff G, the sole difference between the Inquisition and Strengthening Church Members is a matter of degree, not principle.

    I am addressing principles, not degrees.

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 7:39 pm

  66. Okay, and my whole point is that the difference between what you are doing and the strengthening church members does is also a matter of degree. The same principles apply to you!

    Comment by Jeff G — December 29, 2015 @ 7:48 pm

  67. I’m not deploying coercive means to eject someone from the org, nor justifying the deployment of coercive means to silence anyone, nor am I deploying coercive means to silence anyone.

    As Joseph said: If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

    And also as Joseph said: 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 tramelled.

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 7:57 pm

  68. etz–Joseph isn’t running this church now. President Thomas S. Monson is. If He says it, then it matters. If He doesn’t say it, then it doesn’t matter.

    Comment by lemuel — December 29, 2015 @ 8:19 pm

  69. Etz, again I don’t think those they label apostate are merely questioning.

    I also think that perhaps there’s an equivocation over how we are using the word question. In one sense it’s asking sincere questions. In an other it’s questioning in the sense of undermining. i.e. more questioning as strong skepticism without sincere questions.

    To give an example I suspect we’ll disagree upon I don’t think the protestors going to general conference questioning about expanding the priesthood were sincere. That is their questioning was not merely sincere questioning but something more – a type of advocacy and undermining of the authority of the brethren.

    Now as to “coercive means to eject someone from the organization” I’m not sure what you mean. Surely an organization has the right to say who they wish to associate with. If simply deciding not to associate with someone is coercive then so be it. But that seems a weak form of coercion. I’d simply add that this is part and parcel of scriptures as well. D&C 134:10 seems the obvious one for one in the Mormon tradition. For those not in that tradition one need only search for “cut off” in the Old Testament or Pauls numerous warnings about false teachers in the NT such as 2 Thess 3:6.

    As for church, no one cares what you believe except perhaps as a requirement for a calling or temple recommend. Causing disruption or attempting to undermine the church is an other matter.

    Comment by Clark — December 29, 2015 @ 8:27 pm

  70. Lemuel, you do realize that Joseph Smith excommunicated quite a few people. Right? Often for things they said.

    Comment by Clark — December 29, 2015 @ 8:30 pm

  71. Clark, they deserved it too.

    Comment by lemuel — December 29, 2015 @ 8:31 pm

  72. Clark,

    I’m glad you’re not pretending we have authority in our ordinances to cut someone off from eternal life. It’s refreshing, since usually when someone is convinced that the Brethren have the keys, they understand how significant a threat the power over one’s eternal existence is.

    I don’t recall where the Lord said we get to judge if a question is “sincere” or not. But it doesn’t matter, since if you had the answers, you would answer. It’s when you both do not have the answers and no plausible way to generate them that you reach for coercion to shut someone up.

    I suppose, Clark, your expressed smugness on how strong or weak expulsion from one’s community comes from never having been ejected from a society based on your viewpoints.

    Well. As long as you admit it’s coercive, that’s all that really matters.

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 8:43 pm

  73. And whether one deploys coercive tactics only matters if one is keen on being chosen, instead of merely called (D&C 121).

    Many settle for being called teachers, priests, elders, presidents, apostles, prophets, seers, and revelators. Their tactics – the way they relate to their fellow humans – however, say interesting things.

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 8:47 pm

  74. But in your comments you are trying to silence those who would support the org. Otherwise, why comment? That places you under the same “principle” that you have placed the church and the inquisition.

    Your entire objection relies upon expanding the definition of “coercive” such that it includes almost everything. The war in heaven? Coercive. Excommunication? Coercive. Banning a commenter on a blog? Coercive. What Jesus did to the Pharisees? Coercive. Political correctness? Coercive. And so on.

    The whole point of the post is that, yes, we are all coercive by this overly inflated definition…. but that doesn’t make us all bad. Instead, we must look at the standards and violence according to which we “coerce” others in this trivial manner.

    The church completely allows people to question and criticize to their hearts delight, but not without the standing of good membership within it. At no point is state-endorse censorship, imprisonment or violence even considered. Calling this broad minded tolerance “the remedy” takes all the moral punch out of the term.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 29, 2015 @ 9:40 pm

  75. I am trying to silence those who would support the org? You’re accusing me of magical thinking then – asserting that I am trying to employ causes materially insufficient to produce the effect desired.

    That’s not an honest claim on your part – not one that I can take seriously as a sincere statement from you, anyways.

    I comment because I am trying to communicate.

    You coerce me when when you threaten me to gain my compliance to your will.

    Jesus did not threaten the Pharisees to gain their compliance to his will.

    Jeff, it is not tolerance when, after I have killed you, I let you rot to your heart’s content.

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 10:05 pm

  76. Likewise, it is not tolerance when, after they have cut someone off, the Church allows someone to say whatever they want.

    They have not got power to prevent it.

    I think we must be glad we don’t live in the middle ages, when the Church had power to take temporal life as well as eternal life for offending her.

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 10:13 pm

  77. And, to clarify, I was not threatening to kill you in #25. If that wasn’t clear.

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 10:18 pm

  78. 1. I wish people would impose negative sanctions upon me for asking questions or expressing my viewpoint.

    2. I wish people would not impose negative sanctions upon me for asking questions or expressing my viewpoint.

    Depending on which of these two statements most accurately characterizes your personal feelings, what then would the golden rule imply about how you should treat others when they ask questions or express their viewpoints?

    And if you break the golden rule, do you not sin? For sin is transgression of the law (1 John 3:4), and the golden rule is the law (3 Nephi 14:12).

    Comment by etz — December 29, 2015 @ 10:32 pm

  79. Do you not see the inconsistency?

    1) The church is guilty of coercion since the only thing that prevents them from being worse is their lack of power.

    2) You are innocent of coercion since you lack the power to engage in coercion.

    So which is it? Is a lack of power a sign of guilt or innocence? Either the church is innocent or you are guilty.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 29, 2015 @ 11:41 pm

  80. If the Church lacks power over an excommunicated individual, it is the church’s choice to relinquish that power. In which case, excommunication is actually the opposite of coercion.

    The only person who would define membership in the Church and excommunication as coercion is someone who has never experienced true coercion.

    “I can’t label myself however I please while acting however I please” is not the same thing as “my life, freedom, or livelihood will be taken from me if I don’t comply.”

    Comment by SilverRain — December 30, 2015 @ 5:11 am

  81. Jeff G,

    There is no inconsistency in my behavior. I neither threaten to gain compliance, nor execute my non-existent threats if you do not comply.

    There is, however, inconsistency between what you advocate – coercion – which is what the Church executes – and the Law of God.

    That’s the point.

    You can’t have it both ways if the Church has the keys she claims to have. Maybe you don’t believe she really is damning the excommunicant eternally unless they come grovelling back, which might account for your cavalier attitude – except that’s not consistent with your self-reported reason for returning to the Church. Maybe when you left the Church, you didn’t value your relationships therein all that highly – others do.

    But whatever. It’s your playground. Do whatever you want with your own ball.

    Comment by etz — December 30, 2015 @ 8:49 am

  82. “There is, however, inconsistency between what you advocate – coercion – which is what the Church executes – and the Law of God.”

    This is where your argument really bogs down. The scriptures are absolutely full of “coercion” as you define it.

    The war in heaven was a battle in which coercive Lucifer was cast out by force! If this is coercive, then it’s not against God’s law. If this isn’t coercive, then what the church does is not either. QED.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 30, 2015 @ 11:05 am

  83. Jeff, do you know why not all the comments are showing?

    Etz, why do you think there is inconsistency between any form of “coercion” (to which you include threat of not associating) and the law of God given that the scriptures are replete with just such commands and dictates?

    It seems you are carefully avoiding the central question of what counts as coercion, when coercion is justified, and whether it is commanded.

    Regarding eternal salvation, a blessing that is revoked can always be restored. That’s church doctrine. However if one has ones blessings revoked for due cause and one does not change it is very unlikely ones blessings would be restored in the future.

    Lemuel, is your position then that it’s fine if people deserve it and you just disagree about who deserves it? I can’t read back to your earlier comments due to them not appearing. But I thought you were arguing something much stronger than that as Etz is.

    Comment by Clark — December 30, 2015 @ 11:05 am

  84. Etz “I don’t recall where the Lord said we get to judge if a question is “sincere” or not. But it doesn’t matter, since if you had the answers, you would answer. It’s when you both do not have the answers and no plausible way to generate them that you reach for coercion to shut someone up.

    I suppose, Clark, your expressed smugness on how strong or weak expulsion from one’s community comes from never having been ejected from a society based on your viewpoints.”

    I think the issue is whether they are merely asking a question. As I’ve repeatedly said (and you’ve repeatedly ducked) I am very skeptical about whether people claiming it was just about questions are representing things fairly. I can’t think of a single example where excommunication was just for asking questions. I’m not saying there might not be one out there. Just that I’m extremely skeptical when someone says they were excommunicated for asking questions.

    Comment by Clark — December 30, 2015 @ 11:09 am

  85. Not a clue about the comments. For some reason it started over after we reached 50. I don’t know if Geoff programmed it this way or not, but I don’t have access to any of those settings. If it’s a problem, one of us can shoot Geoff an email.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 30, 2015 @ 11:30 am

  86. “I am very skeptical about whether people claiming it was just about questions are representing things fairly. I can’t think of a single example where excommunication was just for asking questions. I’m not saying there might not be one out there.”

    I pretty much agree with Clark here. The OP was aimed at showing that people can rightly be expelled from a community for asking sincere and honest questions. This is not to say, however, that any of the people who have actually be disciplined by the church were actually sincere and honest in their behavior. As far as authoritarian churches go, the LDS is really quite tolerant.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 30, 2015 @ 11:33 am

  87. Just to be clear this is much more a linguistic issue as I understand it. When I do something with words, even when I’m making a performative act, I rarely do just one thing. This is caught up with Searle’s notions of illocutionary acts and perlocutionary acts. The former is the formal doing such as ordering, questioning, etc. The latter is the actual effects whether intended or not. It’s that latter aspect that I think matters a great deal especially to formal institutions.

    To give a great example of that consider Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve. Ignoring for now whether the controversy was justified or not, it seemed clear that one big criticism was that Murray wasn’t just raising questions. Rather the meaning of the text couldn’t be separated from many other issues. That is its perlocutionary role (recognizing it’s not a simple speech act) in terms of what it does had a political aspect to it. That political aspect was the main (although not only) point of criticism.

    In raising this example I’m not taking a position on the book – merely pointing it to a great example of the phenomena I’m talking about. That is to assert we are only questioning is typically incorrect. We have to look at many aspects of our actions.

    Comment by Clark — December 30, 2015 @ 12:54 pm