Many of you no doubt recall that there was a recent shake-up in the Mormon Apologetics community. I don’t have all the details (mostly because I don’t find apologetics to be a terribly interesting topic), but in a nutshell, it was this:
The Maxwell Institute (which is perhaps? affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) was publishing an apologetics journal in conjunction with the Mormon Apologetics organization FARMS. The FARMS guys have something of a reputation for using personal attacks as one of their favorite debate strategies (see here for example). An extensive piece criticizing John Dehlin was axed from their journal at the last minute before press time, and, shortly after that, the Maxwell Institute decided to clean house — and fired the FARMS guys (here are some links to more discussion and details about the incident).
Anyway, apparently the FARMS guys regrouped and formed a new journal: The Mormon Interpreter. And guess who they decided to go after in their inaugural issue? Me!! (Among other people, of course.)
Now, it’s probably undignified of me to acknowledge and respond to this piece, but to hell with dignity. The piece is actually kind of funny, and as I said at Sunstone I don’t want to take myself too seriously. For reference, the Mormon Interpreter article is a response to Free Inquiry‘s Mormon issue from last year. My article from that issue was posted here. Thanks also to this Mormon Discussions thread for further information about the Mormon Interpreter article (notably for pointing out that a version of the same article was published in another venue shortly after the issue of Free Inquiry came out last year). And thanks to Badger for calling the article to my attention.
Let’s start at the top, with the title: “Atheist Piety: A Religion of Dogmatic Dubiety,” by Louis C. Midgley. As usual, they try to zing the atheists by calling atheism a religion. If that’s the best (or worst) epithet you can come up with dismiss atheism, then atheism has already won. Moving on:
Ms. Hanson proclaims that she is an atheist but grew up Mormon (p. 40). She can presumably translate between [the] two communities (p. 40). Why? Her once having been LDS makes her, she imagines, sort of bilingual. She is ready and willing, she claims, to correct those who believe the usual stereotypes about atheists because she knows that they are not really amoral nihilists, or whatever. She can, she claims, also correct mistakes that atheists make about the faith of Latter-day Saints. She does these things sometimes on the Bloggernacle (network of faithful-Mormon blogs).
OK, true enough so far. Though I’ve recently learned that there are non-Bloggernacle-affiliated faithful Mormon blogging networks.
She pictures herself as a mild mannered mom who posts up a storm on the Internet promoting what she calls the middle ground where nice, tactful atheism can occur (p. 41).
Sadly, this is not as true as I would like it to be. I really don’t “post up a storm on the Internet” anymore. I wish I did have more time to blog like I used to back in the early days of my blog. Now — as you guys can attest — it seems like every other post is me apologizing for not making any progress on Mormon Alumni Association books. I’d rather be actually making progress than apologizing, but between my job and my kids and my other hobbies, it’s hard. My kids are getting a little older and more independent though, and I’m hoping to ramp up my Internet activities again over the next few years.
Her blogsMain Street Plaza and Letters from a Broadstrike me as a bit raunchy and as lacking intellectual content.
As for the “raunchy” part, again I have to admit that it’s not as true as I’d like it to be. I enjoy writing about sex, but here’s my problem: I’m happily, monogamously married, and have been for more than a decade. My husband has asked me to respect his privacy by not discussing our sex life on the Internet (a request I find totally reasonable) — but this leaves me short on material. If you check out the sexuality tag on my blog, you’ll see that the raunchiest articles are many years old — except for my Vagina Testimony, which was posted after the Mormon Interpreter article was written. (And as I said to my Sunstone friends, I was really happy to be invited to write that piece which kind of sums up what I’ve been saying about sexuality and Mormonism since the beginning of my blog.)
As for the claim that my blogs are “lacking intellectual content” — well, let me quote this response from Bob Loblaw on the Mormon Discussion thread:
Her blog is a personal blog without pretensions to “intellectual content,” though her insightful posts are a hell of a lot more intellectually solid that Midgley’s s****y post.
Neither my personal blog nor “Main Street Plaza” are intended to be academic journals. (I probably don’t have to tell anyone here, but) MSP is mostly conversation about Mormon-interest topics, and my personal blog is about me posting random thoughts and stuff about my life. That said, I do discuss serious topics, and I hope I have some interesting insights to offer. Maybe instead of going for the sex posts, you might look at my series on A future for everyone’s favorite species?, or tags like economics, philosophy, racism, etc. (But whatever you do, avoid the Minecraft, Legos, Star Trek tags. )
That sentence has a footnote:
For example, it really is ludicrous for Hanson to describe her teenage efforts to seduce boys or to describe what she claims to have managed in the library at BYU. See http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/2006/07/my-deconversion-part-3-tipping-point.html, including the comments for one of many similar examples of childish rubbish.
I mentioned — but didn’t actually describe — my teenage efforts to seduce boys (and my BYU library story), but I could have described them. My personal blog is intended to be about my life, including lots of memoirs.
As Doctor Scratch of Mormon Discussions pointed out, it’s perhaps a little pervy of this guy to have tracked down sex-in-the-BYU-library story (which — at the time the Mormon Interpreter article was first written — was only told in the comments section of some really old posts deep in the archives of my blog).
However, I suspect the BYU library reference was less a question of perviness and more a question of the fact that painting a woman as a slut is a way to discredit her, especially to a Mormon audience. But, as I explained in my Vagina Testimony, one of my goals is to show that a woman can be normal, healthy, happy — even interesting! — and also be sexy. So go ahead and bring up the BYU library story or my sex on the first date post all you want.
Then I noticed that there was an earlier footnote about me:
Hanson is an atheist housewife who blogs from Zurich, Switzerland (at Letters from a Broad and Main Street Plaza). She self-published in 2006 a novel entitled ExMormon. The issue of Free Inquiry under review has a half-page advertisement for her novel and one of her blogs (p. 24) in which she asks others to join her in what she calls the Mormon Alumni Association: Gone for Good.
Mostly true, except… I’m not a housewife. Sheesh, they can do enough sleuthing on my blog to find the sexy stuff, but not quite enough to discover my occupation. Allow me to direct you to the blog tag/category called my real job. Then there’s this:
Hanson needs a sense of solidarity with Latter-day Saints, even though her own nice atheist community (p. 41) should take care of her emotional needs by providing her with friends, a sense of [Page 135]meaning, and an identity.
This is the bit that most makes me go “WTF?”
Midgley seems to be implying that I’m some sort of lonely, emotionally-needy person who clings to the faithful Mormon community due to some inadequacy in the atheist community. Not only is that not true, but there’s really nothing in my article to suggest it. Allow me to explain that the point of the article was to convince atheists of the value of engaging in constructive dialog about religion. You can go read my whole article, but let me just quote the conclusion to give you the idea of what my article is like:
Atheists who were raised in other religions can form the same sorts of bridges with their own communities. I encourage them to do so. It makes sense that within the atheist community secular Jews should take the lead when discussing Israel, and people raised Muslim should take the lead in discussions about problems in Muslim countries, for example. They have added perspective on the subject, plus they can be trusted not to be biased by racism against their group nor by believing that their group is doing Gods will. Being raised in religion isnt better or worse than being raised without it. But I believe that those of us who were raised in religious communities have a special role to play, and we should step up and play it.
Then Midgley says:
The fact is, however, that both substance and civility are in rather short supply on lists, boards, and blogs, where the most violent and uninformed are free to opine up a storm. And this goes, unfortunately, for both Latter-day Saints as well as their critics.
Yes, exactly — that’s the challenge. There is tremendous polarization between the members of the church and the former members. And this polarization needlessly tears apart families and friendships. It is not at all an easy task to try to have any kind of civil dialog across belief lines. Yet, some things that are hard are worth doing.
I have a hard time believing that Midgely finds the polarization unfortunate. I wrote an article encouraging atheists to build bridges of constructive dialog with their former faith community, and Midgley responds to this by calling my personal blog “childish rubbish.” I can’t help but read that as meaning that he’s in favor of the polarization.
Then I worry that maybe I’m encouraging polarization myself by calling more attention to his article. But this isn’t an “us vs. them” post because I am not at all suggesting that his article is typical of faithful Mormon tactics. Quite the contrary, I think most faithful Mormons would agree with me that his posting gratuitous insults in response to my article is both unhelpful and uncalled-for.
Then he says:
Some of Hansons remarks, however, actually almost seem to address Tom Flynns desires for an answer to the question of how atheists and Latter-day Saints can have something to say to one another (p. 21), presumably in addition to bashing each other on blogs.
Yes. My remarks “actually almost seem to address the question” of how atheists and believers can have something to say to one another because that was one of the main topics of my article. If he would replace “in addition to bashing each other on blogs” with “instead of bashing each other on blogs” then I do believe that he read my article and mostly understood it.
Unfortunately, she does not address the two questionsWhy did Mormonism grow? and Why does it endure?that constitute the subtitle of Tom Flynns introduction.
Right, because those were not the topic of my article.
Actually, I didn’t read Tom Flynns introduction (nor any of the other pieces) until I received my print copy of the magazine. Tom Flynn didn’t tell me to answer any particular questions — he simply contacted me to tell me that the magazine Free Inquiry was doing a special issue on Mormonism and asked me to contribute an article. So I submitted an article that I thought would be interesting and relevant. (After it was accepted, I also placed the ad mentioned above for my book and for Main Street Plaza.)
That said, I agree that the questions of what’s interesting and special about Mormonism, and what are the reasons for its growth/attrition, are very interesting topics. We discuss them frequently here on Main Street Plaza.
Anyway, I’m glad to have a new excuse to discuss civil discourse and building bridges of understanding with current members of our former faith. It’s a challenge, but I don’t think it’s a lost cause. KThxBi.