On the church’s uniqueness

…Sometimes, these blog entries just take too much time to set up…anyway, I was reading Mormon Matters and getting into the discussion there, and Bruce had said something that I found intriguing:

…John Dehlin suggested that it was a mistake for modern Mormons to down play what he calls “19th century doctrines” (as he interprets this, this means teachings about how Jesus was conceived, locations of the garden of Eden, belief in a large geography model for Lamanites, belief in 19th century views of the universe, etc.) He believed this is part of what makes Mormons “special.” (his word ) )I had a similar conversation with John Hamer that was almost exactly the same via an email exchange.

Interestingly, neither of these gentleman believe in any of those doctrines personally. They also are ardent critics of some/many current Church teachings, anything from being “the one true Church” to the Church’s stance against gay marriage.

I guess I was left with the impression that they were selective in what they felt Mormons should emphasize and what Mormons should give up. Old disproven teachings that have no modern value were looked upon positively, core theology like “one true church” not so much.

Later in the conversation, it came to pass that perhaps it wasn’t John Dehlin or John Hamer who had said or believed these things (or perhaps once they had, but now they had a more complex view). Well, that part bored me and I didn’t want to bore you, so I didn’t link to those comments. Aren’t I so nice?

But I didn’t think the ideas of the above quote were all that outlandish. I kinda like the aspects of the church’s unique doctrine in a kind of love/hate relationship. I wrote about that later down the page too. It’s not something that I seriously entertain of course, and the critical part is as Bruce mentions — I don’t believe in any of these doctrines personally. In fact, some of them make me just a bit embarrassed. But that’s the kind of tradition we have, so I half think the church shouldn’t sterilize it. I feel bad because people ask me things like, “Would these changes make you believe in the church?” and I must say, “They’d be in a good step, but you’d have to change history to make me believe.” Oops! I’ve just wasted their time.

Bruce had a later comment that made me think though.

What I mean is, it’s a problem for someone that doesn’t believe any of it to explain to someone that actually does or wishes to: “You should look at it this way. You should believe this, but not that.”…I suppose I’m sensitive on this subject precisely because I’ve seen some “liberal Mormons” (probably the wrong term here) really push hard on believing Mormons about what they should or shouldn’t believe but never even take the time or have the desire for feedback on why their suggestions will or won’t work.

I’ve been there. I think I’ve said a lot about how I feel the church should change its policies toward gay members, among other things. But it made me realize that I have two kinds of modes for thinking about the church…one of which is a practical one and one which is an aesthetic or anthropological mode. So I don’t necessarily think that a fondness for obscure church doctrines (even if I don’t believe in them and they are kinda weird) is meant to be taken seriously. It’s just an artistic quality of history and tradition. Meanwhile, when I think about the church in a modern and practical sense, I am glad that they are more streamlined and sterilized, but wish that they’d become more accepting…

Caveat! The comments for this article have evolved organically away from the nuts and bolts of the topic message, and some comments are quite lengthy. For comments that are central(ish) to the topic, read 1-14, 16, 18-26, 32-33, 35 below the starred demarcation, 37-38, 40, 45, 46, 49, and then skip alll the way to 69, 71 after the all caps, and then for the rest of the comments after that, we are back on schedule.

Andrew S

Andrew S grew up in a military family, but apparently, that didn't make much of an impression upon him because he has since forgotten all of his French and all of his Hangungmal (but he does mispronounce the past tense of "win" like the Korean currency and thinks that English needs to get it together!) Andrew is currently a student at Texas A&M who loves tax accounting, the social sciences, fencing (epee), typography, presentation design, and public speaking, smartphones, linux, and nonparallel structured lists.

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97 Responses

  1. Bruce Nielson says:


    I really appreciate this discussion, especially your insights.

    Would it be fair to summarize your point in post #47 as “it’s impossible for any real dialog to happen if we refused to suspend our narratives about other people’s beliefs and not take their as a starting point?”

    If so, this seems to me to be exactly what I said in #36: “But if I don’t get to speak for what’s in my own head or for the community I am a part of, I’m not sure there is any basis for dialog in the first place and we might as well wall ourselves off from each other.”

    In other words, if I understood you correctly, then I completely agree.

    To some degree, you have to decide if your conversation is private and I’m intruding, or if it’s intended as a dialog.

  2. Bruce Nielson says:


    I have to strongly disagree with you on one thing. You basically blame me for coming out swinging in #12. Forgive me but I must disagree with this. I do not believe #12 could ever be called a “swing” based on your own explanation in #41.

    Please note that you went on in #41 to be on the only one to really answer that challenge. And what was your answer? It was that it was assumed because it’s a personal belief or narrative that fits the whole belief or narrative of the individual, and that’s okay.

    I agree. It’s not because there is some objective reality by which we can truly determine that this is the most likely or best answer.

    Andrew, I have spent a life time making variants of this argument or issue that challenge. You are the first and only person to give a truly honest answer to it (in #41). The usual response, as we’d probably expect, is to further justify why our narrative is superior to all others and (sometimes) anyone that disagrees with us is obviously bias or an idiot. (Not accusing anyone here of that second part.)

    I bow to your ability to not get angry at being challenged (beter than me) and to give such a introspective (is that the right word?) answer.

  3. Andrew S says:

    re 50: it’s probably e-divine retribution for my megalithic comments (a tradition I will probably now continue). v_v

    re 51:

    It’s half of what I’m saying, but half doesn’t make me feel comfortable. There is, I think, a distinction of when we should suspend our narratives and when we should move forth boldly with our narratives.

    When we actually discuss, our discussion *must* be based on our own narratives. If we’re discussing something that we don’t like about the church, then we *must* discuss that from our own narratives. There would be no dialog if, for example, Chanson or I had said, “I don’t like the way the church is (in my opinion) moving towards being more palatable to Evangelicals…BUT REALLY, MY OPINION IS NOT WHAT THE CHURCH OR MEMBERS VIEW ITS ACTIONS AS SO MY OPINION IS KINDA SILLY AND HAS LITTLE MERIT IN THE REAL WORLD~”

    In this case, we can talk all we want, but we are now just role playing out of politeness. Imagine if we talked to people of all religions suspending our narratives and adopting theirs (I use this example because you did write about this once…True Religion: Why There can only be one). We’d be super polite and all, but secretly and publicly, we wouldn’t get anything done. We’d still (on the inside) believe OUR religion is right, and instead of pressing the issue by pressing the narrative and possibly getting something new for our narratives, we would have a polite, sterile, meaningless conversation.

    So, that’s like where this conversation began. It is not private and you’re not intruding. It’s just that people are eschewing super politeness for pressing conversation that could change views (even subtly and maybe only privately).

    However, where I accept that there must be narrative suspension is when we set the stage…before we get into the heat of discussion (and what we think “backstage”, so to speak). I can’t characterize everything you do and all of your motives in *my* narrative, even if I might feel inclined to do so. If I feel you are being disingenuous, arrogant, deceptive (or perhaps deceived), that is when there can be no conversation. I have to accept (if I truly want conversation), even if I disagree with the house of cards that are your ideas, that you build those with the intentions you say you build them with.

    I think the distinction is in something like this. If I believed someone to be “brainwashed” (which is something that gets lobbed surprisingly often [but not by me, i hope]) or someone believed I was “rationalizing sin,” then conversation could not happen. That’s where we should suspend narratives. However, when it actually comes to the discussion, it makes no sense for me to suspend a narrative that I don’t believe what you believe or you don’t believe what I believe. I can accept your intentions are what you say they are but still come to a disagreement in the end about the beliefs if the substance of your argument is unconvincing.

  4. Bruce Nielson says:

    Andrew, one more thing. You said: “it just seems to me that in comments like this one, you think that Chanson has equated her thoughts on “the Church” [as amorphous and shadowy a metonymy it is] for what you as a member believe…and I don’t think that’s so.”

    I apologize if I left that impression. I tried to avoid that impression as best I could. What I actually said was “The truth is that I am representing myself and my community and the rest of you are also representing me and my community in this dialog.”

    It helps to realize that by “my community” I mean specifically “believing Mormons.”

    Here is the problem I see with what you are saying, Andrew. You are starting with the assumption that if CHanson (or whoever) didn’t aim the attack specifically at me, but rather at an amorphous group — that I happen to be a part of and frankly highly representative of in my mind — that I shouldn’t in any way take it personally. Balderdash! There is no such thing as an amorphous group of people. They are always a collection of individuals.

    If I were to say to someone here “I find that most atheists are closed minded” or “generally ex-Mormons are sinners and that’s why they left the Church” or “generally DAMUs are bitter and it shows” you better believe people who think of themselves as atheists/ex-Mormons/DAMUs etc would take it personally. Of course my objection of “no, I didn’t mean you personally, necessarily,” would be pretty meaningless. (Also note, I picked the above examples because I’ve seen those groups complain about how immoral it is when believing Mormons type cast them in such ways.)

    You see, we all have many identities. I have a self identify that cannot be separated from my group identity as a believing Mormon. Thus I feel it’s unfair for you to try to hold me to a standard of “it’s not aimed at you” (very true) while yourself potentially getting angry if the shoe were on the other foot. (Maybe not you, Andrew, but you would be an exception, not a rule.)

    But keep in mind, I was explaining something specific here. I wasn’t saying, please apologize to me, for you have intentionally wounded me. I was merely explaining why I was, just like Chanson, likely feeling unsympathetic to what was being said because of my perception of strong bias against people holding my point of view and an unwillingness to even validate that I at least had a valid way of looking at things too. Heck, there wasn’t even an acknowledgement that I was right that it couldn’t be all one explanation or another. That was probably the single easiest thing to admit.

    So this was just an explanation of how I find dialog difficult because it’s always personal. I did not mean to hurt or harm Chanson any more than she meant it to me.

    Take Hellmut’s comment about BY’s “date rape” doctrine. This comment signals to me just how disinterested he is in dialog on this subject. He wants to say something negative and he’s saying it. He’s framing it in a way where it’s not open for discussion.

    Now of course BY didn’t see it that way. How could he? So actually, we *objectively* know that Hellmut is wrong here. Hellmut knows he is too, of course.

    Of course BY would have seen this more like the “once a person dies and goes to heaven their spouse is free to remarry” doctrine (with the Father being in heaven being effectively the same from BY’s point of view.)

    As you pointed out, Hellmut is saying it this way because it’s HIS chosen narrative. But unless Hellmut is REALLY dense (I don’t believe that) then I am right to assume he is choosing to talk about this as offensively to believing Mormons as possible. (Even when he knows for sure he’s in dialog with one, apparently.)

    A fair question is if I should or shouldn’t feel offended over the fact that he is, apparently, trying to say offensive things to me in front of me.

    I think that is the wrong question. I think the right question is, “will many people not be able to help it but be offended and thus start saying offensive things back, maybe even unintentionally?” This being true, are we promoting dialog, or are we just taking a swing while trying to shut it down.

  5. Andrew S says:

    Re 52: I have to ask something first, just to clear things up.

    Did you write 12 with the belief that the conversation up to that point was implying that Mormons (or even just you) believe that what they/you do is to to appease Evangelicals? Did you write 12 believing that Chanson believed that you yourself fit such a pattern — even if you’re “unaware” of it? I moreso sensed it in later posts (18, for example)

    Yet “liberal Mormons” (or atheist as the case might be), like yourself often accuse me of pandering to Evagelicals in my theology.

    If so (or even worse, if Chanson actually did mean such things), then either of these would suggest the kind of thing I mean that I’ve been trying to qualify my comments in 41 with — the thing that would justify a suspension of narrative. I think conversation would fail if Chanson truly asserted something like “Bruce is pandering to Evangelicals even if he says he isn’t” or if you asserted “Chanson believes I’m pandering to Evangelicals regardless of what I say about it.” Either of you would be swinging early on if these things were true (but later on, you guys definitely start swinging…no offense and no blame). There is no offense and no blame…

    Really, my point in 41 was…kinda shattered (and I’ve been picking up the pieces) in 47…I realized that while I answered in 41 in a way that seemed to work in *some instances* (as I’ve elaborated in 53)…I can see that Dan’s actions were “bad” because of violation of what I think should be a more refined ethical prime (treat others as they would like to be treated).

    See, in the end, Dan does have the…I dunno…right…to trust his own narrative…after all, that’s why and how we discern things. In the end, we need not be in perfect agreement (especially since there are some incompatibilities). I feel Dan can present his narrative alone because Jill’s narrative, in the end, did not convince him. But in discussion with Jill, I think he owes her just a bit more respect to at least *begin* from a slate that is open to Jill’s position regardless of his narrative on the issue.

  6. Bruce Nielson says:


    Andrew, I COMPLETELY AGREE with what you are saying. However, I am not sure I think you are being consistent here.

    Yes, just avoiding saying what I really believe would be pointless. Yes, failing to assume the person I am in dialog with is telling the truth about themselves (i.e. assuming they really believe the narrative they claim to believe) is equally pointless.

    Yet, if I see CHanson give a narrative that I completely disagree with and I decide to challenge part of it — in this case just “why are you assuming that when there could be other interpretations?” you still feel like *I* am coming out swinging and Chanson wasn’t.

    This, I do not understand. You are placing a value judgement on this that I am failing to see at all.

    As part of a whole dialog, each part here was needed. Chanson said what she really believed. She did so with a great deal of certainty, because that is how she felt. I responded in kind. Both very understandable.

    Then we both got offended at some point. That is also understandable, actually.

    Then she suggested to me how I could have said it better and I accepted the criticism. Then I suggested how she could have handled it better. She isn’t here to respond, but probably will.

    It would seem to me that this, at least so far, really is a dialog between us with the usual give and take that must happen.

    Hopefully there is a learning experience here on how to word things better… but if not, at least hopefully we can talk past it now and in the future and not get so upset over differing opinions that we shut down dialog entirely.

  7. chanson says:

    In other words, she got angry or was at least unreceptive and unsympathetic over my explanation of HER beliefs and HER community. Right or wrong, it’s hard for her to pay attention to what I am saying if I am going to represent or speak for her community/beliefs and not let her speak for herself.

    That’s really not the point I was making. I just meant that — if your goal is to get people to listen to you and take your points into consideration — some approaches are more effective than others.

    The truth is that I am representing myself and my community and the rest of you are also representing me and my community in this dialog. We can’t skip over this point because it matters.

    I disagree. I think all of this meta-discussion of everyone’s biases is a huge distraction from the substance of the question at hand.

    Everyone here is aware that all people have biases, and that we’re coming from different belief positions. Thus, I think you could explain your position and arguments more succinctly without tacking on unhelpful and uninteresting remarks about how everyone’s conclusions are colored by their biases.

    I think you’ve made some interesting and original points on this thread, yet, in all sincerity, I’m having difficulty wading through all of this meta-narrative about who’s misrepresenting whom in order to tease them out.

  8. Andrew S says:

    re 54:

    getting at it out of order, yes, I take such an assumption that Chanson didn’t aim at you, but at an amorphous group. But that is partially because that is the foundation of her narrative as well (e.g., regardless of if I believe her or disbeliever her on this position, I accept her intentions to be true in that she’s addressing “some Mormons,” or “how the Church seems,” or “Mormons” [generalized], etc.,)

    So, to highlight a position that I have been retooling since 47 and I think I got it in 53…let me try to present it as I would try to see it. It seems to me that if someone were referring to atheists or liberal Mormons or Cultural Mormons or whatever, and they claimed to be just talking about a generalized group (and not me in particular), but I felt, as a representative of these groups, personally addressed…then where my suspension of narrative would have to be is in assuming that they do this to directly address me (even though they say they don’t). I would have to suspend my narrative long enough to accept — even if just for the purposes of the conversation — that perhaps they are referring to just some amorphous, generalized group (then again, I guess the nature of the liberal/ex/cultural/former/post/wafhdsfoh Mormons is just a touch more amorphous ^_^).

    Where does my point in 41 (and the other half of 53 about defending your narrative come into play)? Well, I think that the true dialog would come when I can converse accepting my opposition’s narrative that they are referring to an amorphous group, but then my goal is to use *my* narrative to show how *my* narrative, that I am a representative of a group and they don’t have things completely correct, can more convincingly describe the group than the other person’s.

    In the end, my goal might not be fully reached. Dan, even after his conversation with Jill, was unconvinced about Jill’s side. And I reserve the right for that to happen — and when that happens, I reserve Dan’s right to continue in his narrative.

    If you were to say “I find most atheists are closeminded,” then my goal shouldn’t be to get mad or think that you’re brainwashed or have ulterior motives or whatever (even though my narrative might incline me to that). Really, if I want to communicate (if I can’t suspend my narrative, then perhaps I shouldn’t want to communicate), then I should accept — even if just for the duration of the conversation — that you’d be saying this from honest intentions, but try to show from my narrative that mine is a more convincing one to see things from on this issue. It might even mean that I need to show by example that I am not closeminded, I am not bitter, (or that I don’t show it :D). Heck, I’ll be the first to admit as a DAMU that DAMUs need to stop being so bitter XD.

    Those are the things I would do. I mean, I’m not perfect, but I’ve found in my life that that kind of stuff leads to better results than other things I could potentially do.

    Regarding Hellmut, I’m not going to directly talk about him because I can see that there are other reasons why he (and other seeming axe-wound-cases — haha, sorry, my Dear axe-wound-cases) seems bitter or vitroilic. But I would say that, regardless of *actual* ill will or not, I think the question isn’t necessarily “should I be offended” but really “even if I am offended, what kind of things will lead to an improved situation?” That second question you ask is good, but then I would answer that one of the things the church did teach me is that just because I think people do have the tendency to be offended and act on that, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to improve from that.

    I dunno. I’m not a mediator. I think that killing people with kindness is surprisingly effective, and more particularly more effective and satisfying than acting out of offense, whether perceived or real (because…hey…I can admit that in the DAMU community there most certainly is real offense.)

    I’ve written though, previously, about how sometimes I think dialog, in the end, is futile, for some of the things you talk about. But something stubborn in me keeps wanting to be resilient and hopeful.

  9. Bruce Nielson says:


    Good questions, but I’m having a hard time following you now.

    I think you are saying, did I see it as a personal attack at that point? No. Did I see it as an attack on “beleving Mormons” (i.e. the Church), absolutely. She explains in #21 what she really meant, and I still believe that to be the case even after reading her clarifications. Actually, especially after reading her clairifications.

    I have been personally accused of pandering to Evangelicals, just as you suggest, but not be chanson. And, yes, it shuts off dialog completely.

    Andrew, I have to still somewhat disagree with what you are saying… no that isn’t right. I think what you are saying here is true: “Dan does have the…I dunno…right…to trust his own narrative…after all, that’s why and how we discern things. In the end, we need not be in perfect agreement (especially since there are some incompatibilities). I feel Dan can present his narrative alone because Jill’s narrative, in the end, did not convince him. But in discussion with Jill, I think he owes her just a bit more respect to at least *begin* from a slate that is open to Jill’s position regardless of his narrative on the issue.”

    But I think this really does miss the point of my original article, even though it’s true.

    The point of my article was the potential for damage to someone elses life through intentional misrepresentation even if it’s a valid narrative to you.

    If we are going to start with the assumption that “it’s my narrative, thus it’s the truth TO ME” then, with all due respect, give me a single example of a “misrepresentation” that doesn’t pass your test with flying colors.

    Look at my offensive examples in #54. Let’s take the idea that most or all ex-Mormons left the Church because they couldn’t keep the commandments.

    I have seen a LOT of pain the in the NOM community on Mormon Matters over this, in their words, intolerant misrepresentation/lie/bearing false witness of other people.

    I COMPLETELY agree with them. I think this narrative is sick and wrong and intolerant. I correct believing Mormons that say it.

    But this is, to those that say it, a “true narrartive to them.”

    Do you see a moral ethical issue with me seeing believing Mormons saying this and saying to meself “ah, well, they are entitled to their narrative, and they are just talking amongst themselves, so there isn’t any real dialog going on, so who cares… let them believe what they believe.”

    Or do I have an ethical issue to say, “that’s judging others, you shouldn’t do that. I haven’t found this to always be the case, though I’m sure sometimes it is. But we don’t get to decide who this isn’t or isn’t true for.”

    I see it as I need to do the later. If what you are saying is true that ethics has no meaning over our personal narratives other than when in dialog, I just have to agree to disagree with you.

    (None of this is related to any of the dialog here. Let me make that very clear.)

  10. Bruce Nielson says:


    I can appreciate what you are saying in #57. I sense in your words (perhaps wrongly) an accusation against me.

    I am sorry, but I am teasing this out with Andrew because it’s obvious we both want to. You don’t have to participate and probably shouldn’t because it really is besides the point, as you say. And it’s clearly off topic now.

    Also, saying you got angry is probably not the right wording. Saying it turned you off to the discussion is probably right. With that in mind, understand that I didn’t “get angry” with you either. I just meant it was probably as hard for me to want to listen as it was for you and for the very same reasons.

    I actually think a) you did listen, and b) so did I.

  11. Andrew S says:

    re 56:

    it’s because of things that you have said in later comments, rather than things specifically in 12. Remember — I completely misunderstood what you meant in 12 the first few times I read it, and it only started getting more context as I read further in the conversation. But you see, as I wrote in 55, I’m not certain. I’m wondering if my own narrative fallacies are in the way…so when I say things like “you started swinging in 12,” I realize that too might have been a slip up in fallacy (that I think I can catch…even if it’s after I’ve opened mouth, inserted foot).

    And I’m not necessarily saying that Chanson wasn’t swinging. I know from other conversations (sorry C!) that Hell hath no fury like Chanson on a roll 🙂 (I’m really going to get pulverized for that one…)

    I don’t think I’m placing value judgment either. I meant what I said earlier when I said I placed no blame and saw no offense. I’m not saying, “AHA I KNOW FOR A FACT…” I’m saying “I dunno…it seems.”

    Re 57: I think that a flexible discussion, even if it is a meta-discussion, can be meaningful. I wouldn’t recommend anyone who hasn’t been keeping up wades through all of it (hmm…perhaps I should make a caveat in the article >_>), but I’m definitely going to continue this thread in another article in the near future…

  12. Bruce Nielson says:

    “Well, I think that the true dialog would come when I can converse accepting my opposition’s narrative that they are referring to an amorphous group, but then my goal is to use *my* narrative to show how *my* narrative, that I am a representative of a group and they don’t have things completely correct, can more convincingly describe the group than the other person’s.”

    Yes! That’s it! That’s what I was trying to say in #18!

    We have arrived!!!! 😛

  13. Bruce Nielson says:


    Since chanson is back, let us stop using hyperbole and thus risk chanson wrath (on me at least) further and let me admit that I DO NOT believe she “came out swining.” Those are very subjective terms that could mean anything from “she made a point I disagreed with” (true) to “she was trying to be offensive to me” (not true) to “she was trying to personally attack me” (not true) to “she was trying to be unfair to the Church intentionally” (unfair, in my opinion yes, but certainly not intentionally. It’s her narrative, of course.)

    Andrew, please take a look at my point about ethics with Dan. I feel like I am in agrement with everything you are saying now except possibly: “In the end, my goal might not be fully reached. Dan, even after his conversation with Jill, was unconvinced about Jill’s side. And I reserve the right for that to happen — and when that happens, I reserve Dan’s right to continue in his narrative.”

    Let’s nuance this a bit further.

    Certainly Dan ALWAYS has the right to continue is narrative if we are talking in a legal sense, well unless it’s pure slander or libel, of course.

    But do you *really* mean there is no potential moral issue here?

    What I have in mind is that Dan goes around telling everyone “Jill is a polytheist” and this is contextually assumed to be a) offensive to Jill, b) will make Jill look bad to her peers because “polytheist” has a specific meaning to them that is different than why Dan actually means, and perhaps do real harm to her socially (maybe no one will elect her as president.

    I just can’t agree that Dan doesn’t have a moral obligation to Jill, even if she is not present, so at least say “Jill is a polytheist even though she thinks of herself as a monotheist” or something to in some way clarify that she is only a polytheist, even in Dan’s own narrative in a distinctly different way than how most people understand that term.

    Heck, I think it would be better for him to just say “her beliefs don’t make sense and are contradictory.”

    If you really don’t agree with me on this, we can, of course, agree to disagree. But I think this is an important point because I believe Dan would be the first to be offended if the shoe were on the other foot. We all get offended by misrepresentation like this. Thus if we expect different behavior, to me that means we also owe different behavior.

  14. Andrew S says:

    Re 59: I guess my own bias gets in way now, because although I can conceive of a way her clarifications in 21 and beyond could be a continued attack, I just don’t see it as the principal meaning. But then again, I can extrapolate it enough to make the connection (e.g., by attacking the church or the GAs — even in a generalized aspect, you in extension reach down to all the believing Mormons, regardless of your intention, precisely because of the connection between faithful believing member and these symbols of their faith.)

    Regarding the “exMormons leave because they couldn’t keep the commandments,” that some believing Mormons believe a “sick and wrong and intolerant” narrative isn’t in and of itself why it is acceptable or unacceptable.

    Here is unacceptable: “I’m going to assume that exMormons leave because they couldn’t keep the commandments and rationalize any explanation or anything to the contrary so that it fits in this. I will go into conversation with exMormons with this already decided.”

    Here is acceptable: “Even though I feel that exMormons leave because they couldn’t keep the commandments, I’m going to trust this exMormon that I meet’s narrative and see if he can convince me to adjust my narrative by the strength of his. I will go into conversation with exMormons with caution — after all, I have my beliefs — but openness.”

    It is the duty of exmormons to 1) live in a way that can reconcile their narratives with those who believe or 2) to broaden the narratives of those who believe.

    So, no I don’t say, “Well, it’s my narrative, and it’s true for me so that’s that!” No, narratives are scrutinized and evaluated and reconsidered, and we need people in our lives who can help us scrutinize and evaluate and reconsider them. But I’m not going to become some atheist or cultural mormon missionary in this task.

    It’s complex. I have to deal with stereotype every day, and I recognize that even though there are ugly stereotypes, the only way I can defeat them is by presenting a more convincing narrative. If I can’t do that, then they most *certainly* will (and I can’t blame them) continue as they will. Regardless of any objective right or wrong. They can be wrong as two left feet but how could I expect them to get a right food if I or anyone else can’t convince through the strength of our narratives the other side?

  15. Bruce Nielson says:

    “I wouldn’t recommend anyone who hasn’t been keeping up wades through all of it (hmm…perhaps I should make a caveat in the article.”

    Yeah, better put a warning. If #57 is any indication, people are going to be annoyed (and specifically at me, due to the circumstances and group ids involved) that I “took the discussion off course” so to speak. So give them a fair warning.

    Chanson, let me just say again, I appreciate what you had to say very much. It may not seem like it because I went off on this tangent with Andrew and used you as an example. But I actually meant it in a positive way. We both, naturally, were a bit put off with the way the other worded things, but we were able to work through it and it still turned into a dialog. (If you think I’m making this up now, this is what I also said in #56.)

    Andrew, very interesting discussion. Most people really dislike discussions like this, so I’m amazed how much on the same or similar wave length we are.

  16. Andrew S says:


    If Jill cannot convince Dan that she is not polytheist (whether by broadening Dan’s idea of monotheism in a convincing way or convincing him that his current model of monotheism can fit her), then really, that is her problem. Now, I have already allowed an exception — if Dan enters the conversation already expecting certain things about Jill or expecting certain things about the terms of use (and I think that’s more likely the case) — then obviously, that’s how we see that Dan has issues. But even in that case, we can come to this moral position where Dan is at fault, but we really can’t expect him to change based on it, unfortunately.

    Jill would be offended. Of course. And of course, Dan would be offended if the shoe were on the other foot — I’m not saying he wouldn’t be. But then Dan has the same onus…to convince Jill or broaden her outlook.

    That Jill’s reputation is wrecked is unfortunate, But any victim of stereotyping faces this — and there’s even a overriding advertising problem with this — because remember, if everyone is so convinced by Dan’s words, then that means his narrative is also convincing to all of them. So now, Jill not only has failed to convince Dan, but Dan has the upper hand because he’s convincing in other ways. It’s a cold world, but without convincing counterarguments (and what is convincing to an individual could be particularly tricky to find), I can’t really expect anyone who harbors a stereotype to someone drop it. I can’t expect to see myself as “enlightened” if I can’t even show this by my actions and words.

    For example, let’s look at Jill’s position. What if Dan told everyone that she was monotheist. Well, her monotheism is just as unconventional as the polytheism that Dan was previously talking about. So Jill still has her work cut out for her.

  17. Matt says:

    Funny all this talk of ‘Chanson’s wrath’, etc. Never seen it. Never.

    As for this thread? Yeah, time to sign-up for therapy and do it in private. 🙂 The post topic was a good one but all the rest of us are totally drowning in this merciless threadjack.

  18. Bruce Nielson says:


    Andrew, I am not going to argue with the point you make about the difference in the two ways you layout the narrative of ex-Mormons all (or mostly) leave the Church due to sin.

    I am just going to clarify, that the objection — and I have heard it MANY times with very strong terms — is always a case of two believing Mormons talking to each other and they over hear it, usually because they never identified themselves as unbelieving, or because it happened back when they were active.

    So while you are saying how you personally look at it (and I agree with you to some degree) there is more here. There is a real fear of being stereotyped and the real damage that can come from such stereotypes. So I see this as a bonefide moral issue worthy of discussion.

    You then go on to essentially address that very point. You are right. There may be (I am saying there is) an objective right or wrong here. But in the end, all we can do is address it as best we can.

    Getting back to my original article, I was addressing to a general audience the potential moral problem of us deciding to always just go with our own narratives and not even try to nuance it or to avoid obvious misunderstandings through poor word choice (i.e. most people don’t consider the Trinity doctrine anything similar at all to polytheism which is something distinctly different.)

    I was hoping some people that currently “trust their own narratives” while “objecting to the morality of others trusting their own” might start to scrutinize their own a bit more and learn to be a bit more nuanced. I was probably wasting my time, but, hey, it got me to think my own point of view through better on what I feel is right and wrong.

    You are right that the choice is theirs. You are right that all we can do personally is choose how we’ll react or try to help them deal with it.

    Also, while I think we should all try to go out and challenge our personal narratives, I think we have to be realistic that we often don’t and other people don’t either. Coming up with ways to help us all break out of that complacency – by perhaps trying to write about it — is not a straightforward thing to do. I am not claiming the article is or was effective, only that it explained my personal point of view.

  19. chanson says:

    Bruce — okay, I’m done with the meta-debate — you can continue it with Andrew if you like — but I’d like to go back to some of your other points.

    The central point here is “mainstreaming”: the idea that the LDS church has modified its public image (and possibly also its doctrine and practices) in order to appear more mainstream.

    You argue that “mainstreaming” has not occurred — there is no mainstreaming, it’s just a mistaken impression. Do you agree that that is an accurate assessment of your position?


    On a tangential side-note, your point about Hinckley is interesting and novel. So (I gather) you’re saying that he wasn’t saying he wasn’t sure whether God was once a man, merely leaving the door open for the possibility that he was a perfect (Jesus-like) man rather than an ordinary mortal like the rest of us.

    So I saw as the main problems with the question as a sound bite problem: I saw no way for Hinckley to give a full nuanced response of “well, we believe this because Joseph said it, but we don’t necessarily see it as a non-divine man, but some people speculate that it was, but there is no revelation behind it, so even this is just a well qualified opinion, but we do widely teach it because it an opinion that came from Joseph Smith, but we don’t teach it very often because we aren’t sure what to make of it and we let people form their own opinions.”

    Of course a fully truthful and nuanced answer like that would have been confusing and seemed like more the dodge then even the answer he gave.

    I still think he could have said “Yes, we believe that God was once a man, but we’re not sure how accurate it is to say he was an ordinary man like us,” (or something like that) and skip the confusing part about how that was just a couplet. However, I’m not going to make any further assumptions about Hinckley’s motivations. Let’s just say he was on the spot in an interview, and perhaps could have come up with better answers if he’d had time to compose them carefully.

    However, I do think that — whatever Hinckley’s motivations — ordinary members were justifiably distressed.

    I found this transcript (I’m not sure if it’s the infamous interview or another), and I think some people thought that as prophet, having inherited the mantle of Joseph Smith, he should be receiving clear revelations and know the actual answer to such questions. Instead, he says this:

    Let me say first that we have a great body of revelation, the vast majority of which came from the prophet Joseph Smith. We don’t need much revelation. We need to pay more attention to the revelation we’ve already received.

    Now, if a problem should arise on which we don’t have an answer, we pray about it, we may fast about it, and it comes. Quietly. Usually no voice of any kind, but just a perception in the mind. I liken it to Elijah’s experience. When he sought the Lord, there was a great wind, and the Lord was not in the wind. And there was an earthquake, and the Lord was not in the earthquake. And a fire, and the Lord was not in the fire. But in a still, small voice. Now that’s the way it works.

    However, I’ll grant that it’s perhaps not “mainstreaming” so much as a clarification that those people who thought that the prophet literally talks to Jesus in the holy of holies were mistaken.

  20. Bruce Nielson says:

    #68: I think we’ve arrived at the end. We are disagreeing now. The world isn’t a moral place, per se, so of course it is what it is. (I think this is your point.)

    But there is a moral issue here and you hit it on the head: Dan is behaving in a way Dan would abhor and call out if it was happening to him. He just doesn’t realize it at this time.

    One more thing to consider. You said: “then that means his narrative is also convincing to all of them.”

    True enough for this contrived example. But perhaps a better example would be if there were 100 Dan’s on campus that all hated Jill and were doing it to hurt her and only one Jill. Jill’s argument may be better or more convincing, but she has no real hope of overcoming the sheer numbers.

    This, then, is getting into the idea of stereotyping a minority group and the real reason it’s damaging to that minority. It’s a rigged fight from the outset, so it’s not really a matter of “what is more convincing.”

  21. Andrew S says:

    getting to 70:

    It’s a rigged fight, yet that’s how things are. You really don’t get any handicaps…but I would still say that a more convincing argument (and this really hinges on what I think a convincing argument is — a convincing argument *must* pierce through to the other person’s metanarrative…otherwise, it isn’t convincing OR the other person isn’t beginning the conversation with narrative suspension. And I *do* think we have a duty to begin conversation with as much of that as possible) depends not on numbers.

    In the end, when you say like in 68, “I think we have to be realistic that we often don’t and other people don’t either. Coming up with ways to help us all break out of that complacency – by perhaps trying to write about it — is not a straightforward thing to do. I am not claiming the article is or was effective, only that it explained my personal point of view.”

    well, that’s really where my moral issue comes into play. Regardless of realism, we personally do have a duty, regardless of dogma, regardless of religion, regardless of personal association, race, creed, etc., to come to an understanding that this is something we *have* to work on.


    re 69:

    I think I can agree, without conjecturing as to why or wherefore it happens, that there is mainstreaming. If we take all the narratives into play (just to shake out the remnants of that, sorry), I don’t think that they are incompatible with such a view. After all, even if we DON’T look at it as “delete delete delete” and we INSTEAD look at it as “refine refine refine,” this can work well in a context of mainstreaming.

  22. Bruce Nielson says:


    Actually, I am going to agree with you that the Church has intentionally “mainstreamed” it’s image, in at least some sense of that word. So I’m not going to argue with you over that.

    I took only exception to the idea that they did it because they wanted to “seem less weird to Evangelical Christians.”

    Concering Hinckley, I actually agree with you. I think his answer was not as good as it could have been because he was on the spot. (I grow tired of people claiming it’s obviously a lie and I’m stupid for not seeing it. This was more or less an argument made to me by someone you know.)

    I should probably clarify though, that I don’t like your suggested answer either and feel it misrepresents Mormonism. (Not intentionally.)

    Here is that answer I believe he should have given that still fits into a sound bite:

    When asked if we can become Gods, I’d answer.

    “We teach we can become like God is. We believe that just as Jesus was fully a man that fully inherited all that His Father had, that as literal joint heirs with Christ, we will too.”

    When asked if God was once a man, I’d answer:

    “We have, in the past, taught that God was once a man, at least in the same sense Jesus was a man. But that isn’t actually believed to be more than a speculation, not a scriptural doctrine. So there is room for multiple opinions on this subject and we don’t have an official “doctrine” per se on the subject modernly.”

    Here are some ways that I believe the Church is VERY MUCH mainstreaming, though not to Evangelicals in particular:

    1. We are getting MUCH better are rewording our doctrines to not be so specific to Mormon lingo. Telling people “We believe we can become Gods” is true, but misleading because that word simply means something different to us then to other religions. (I learned this the hard way.) My answer above is an honest attempt to “mainstream” the explanation of our belief without modifying it at all.

    2. We are learning to not speculate in a modern media environment. In the 19th century, there wasn’t really any specific doctrine on a lot of subjects. BY taught one thing, OP taught another. But they never had to worry about unfriendly people picking over their words, finding contradictions, taking it out of context, showing they changed their mind over decades, etc. And they never had to worry about how they phrased it because the only people that heard it would already have a Mormon view point.

    That just isn’t true today. So we really have to watch out what is really said in our scriptures vs. how we *interpret* the scriptures. And we are getting very good at downplaying the interpretations and letting people believe whatever they want if it wasn’t really clear in the scriptures in the first place. I see this as a very positive move just in terms of our religious pluralism, but it is also a form of mainstreaming.

    3. We are mainstreaming in that we are starting to catch up on some of the more difficult areas of our history. This is a topic too big to get into. So let’s admit that we have been too one sided for too long (though maybe it’s not as bad as DAMUs and Antis claim) and let’s move towards greater openness slowly but surely. Doing this all at once is impossible. But we’re well on our way.

    4. We are re-emphasizing the Book of Mormon, which does have more in common with other Christian religions, albeit always with a uniquely Mormon twist, and has allowed us to feel like we can legitimately build on common ground that was always there but being ignored.

    We fought too much in the past. Someone would say “you believe in salvation by works” and we’d say “oh yeah, well you believe you can just confess Jesus and then go murder some one.” Neither was true and the conversation wouldn’t go much further.

    Now, I can say “no, actually, I do believe in salvation by grace alone, I’m just not sure I understand those words in quite the same way you do, let’s talk about how we might differ and where we might be the same.” (Then I launch into my normal subversive attempt to help said Evangelical understand that they have a wacked view of the phrase “grace alone”)

    5. We are getting away from our long time unofficial doctrine of papal infallibility that was always denied, but also always believed. Again, too much to say here. But you gave a perfect example of this.

    6. We are emphasizing the real core of the source of our “faith: — answers to prayers — over trying to “prove” we’re right out of the Bible like Evangelicals believe you are supposed to do.

    This is, really, a return to our roots. But we’ve been working on proving ourselves true for a very long time and this is dying slowly. On the other hand, it won’t and shouldn’t die out entirely, I’m not suggesting that. But it should always be secondary, I guess I mean.

    I do not doubt that all of these moves are a form of “mainstreaming” our beliefs. I do not doubt this is happening, should happen, and is correct. I do not doubt it’s been very positive for the church, at least in general. I do not doubt that while we were at it, we sometimes went too far and are trying to correct ourselves now (For example, trying to emphasize Jesus from the Bible rather than from Joseph Smith’s revelations.)

    But I personally believe that such mistakes have been generally few and far between and that the list I gave above is the true explanation of what is going on.

  23. Bruce Nielson says:

    Andrew in #71 just said what I was saying. We are mainstreaming for sure. But this isn’t the same as what you said in #1 in my opinion.

    I see “mainstreaming” as a very positive thing so long as we are still true to our beliefs.

    We can argue all day if we were true to our beliefs or not. But all I can really say is that we are true to how I, as a believing Mormon, see our beliefs — even historically. And that I ultimately have no intentions of being true to how someone that is not a believing Mormon sees our beliefs.

  24. Bruce Nielson says:

    Well, I’m off to bed.

    I can’t spend this much time on this blog any more for a while. I didn’t get enough work done (right during layoffs! Yikes!) and I really need to concentrate on work and avoid blogging over the weekend for my wife’s sake. She’s been very understanding.

    So I’m sorry, but I can’t promise to respond to anyone else. Chanson, I feel like I owe you at least one more reply… so tomorrow, I’ll read anything you say past #73 and give you one final reply. Then I have to be done.

    I can’t promise to respond to Rebecca unfortunately, but then we’ve buried that conversation 5,000 comments ago, so she can’t possibly catch up now.

    I would still like to hear from Rebecca if my further clarification helped or not, but oh well, if she doesn’t want to. I’ll understand.

    Matt, by the time I read your comment about never having seen chanson’s wrath, I had already written a post saying it was just hyperbole. I haven’t either.

    I would go get counseling, but I’m too busy blogging to take a break for it. Besides, Andrew was already in with the counselor ahead of me. 😛

    Andrew, I really enjoyed our discussion, very much. I still think there is a moral issue here, but I perceive you agree, but are just saying it differently.

    I’m emphasizing the moral issue as a starting point for discussion, your emphasizing the reality that right and wrong don’t matter as much as effectiveness. But of course casting things in a moral light is part of effectiveness. i.e. If Jill can make Dan look like a jerk (which we all agree he is if we define “jerk” as behaving differently then you want others to behave towards you) Jill wins. Thus this IS part of how one makes their narrative effective.

    This should be obvious as everything in life get put into a moral narrative for exactly this reason.

  25. Matt says:

    Sweet dreams, Bruce.

  26. chanson says:

    We are emphasizing the real core of the source of our “faith: — answers to prayers — over trying to “prove” we’re right out of the Bible like Evangelicals believe you are supposed to do.

    Strangely enough, I’ve made almost exactly this same point before — that Christians should be aware (when Bible-bashing with Mormon) that Mormons don’t base their authority on the Bible in quite the same way protestants do. Unfortunately, I can’t find the reference to the precise post I’m thinking of, but I’ve covered this point a bit in the fictionalization.

    And you seem to agree that the church is now more P.R. conscious, and concerned with how it presents itself.

    I’m trying to pin down the crux of our point of disagreement, and it appears to be a dispute over whether there exist critics (inside the church, outside the church, and on the fringes) who applaud mainstreaming because they think the LDS church should be more “Christian” on principle, where “Christian” is assumed to mean “like modern mainstream Protestants”.

    I contend that such people exist, even if you’re not among them. Keep in mind, I spend more time in DAMU-space than on the Bloggernacle, so I’m including the DAMU/exmo Christians who really do think that anything the Mormons do to be more like mainstream Christianity is an improvement. One DAMU Christian in particular told me in a private conversation that there are influential (wealthy) Mormons who are trying to move Mormonism towards more mainstream Christian doctrines (though that may well have been wishful thinking on his part). I’m also talking about cases I’ve read on the Bloggernacle when people complain that the LDS church should do more for Easter (like other Christian churches) and complain about the J.S. nativity for “Smithmas” since it makes Mormons seem like they’re not really Christian.

  27. chanson says:

    p.s. It was clearly a mistake for me to have used the term “Evangelical” here. It shouldn’t be a slur, and yet I feel like it has negative connotations — as though it’s much worse to suggest Mormons are doing something for the Evangelicals’ benefit, as opposed to suggesting they’re thinking of mainstream Christians in general.

    But, really, I didn’t have a good reason to specify Evangelicals in my original comment, except for the fact that they’re the most common type of Christian I’ve encountered in Mormon/Christian internet discussions.

  28. rebecca says:

    Bruce – I did indeed catch up (though I skimmed the comments that were all meta). First I want to address something you said somewhere in the 70s:

    “So we really have to watch out what is really said in our scriptures vs. how we *interpret* the scriptures.”

    Yes. BUT. There is very little text (ANY text, not just scriptural), if any, that isn’t open for interpretation. Even a seemingly concrete proclamation like, “Thou shalt not kill” is open for interpretation. Kill what? Only humans? And is there any justification, ever? What about self-defense? War?

    Those are rhetorical questions, but I think you can see what I mean – even things that seem *obvious* may mean something different, yet equally obvious, to someone else. How the LDS Church chooses to interpret things is important because that *can* be a conscious or subconscious attempt at mainstreaming.

    As for what you wrote to me, specifically: Sigh. I am apparently coming across as the Bitch of All Time on blogs lately. You may not believe me, but I was actually trying to make my comment sound civil (obviously did not succeed). I did NOT take offense to your use of the general “you” – you pointed out that’s what you were using, and in my comment I wrote, “(or anyone – I’m not taking it personally or taking offense to that)” to show that I understood that.

    I didn’t actually realize there was any need to, as you put it, “clear the air” between us. I kind of want to apologize for you feeling “abused” by my comments, but reading through them, I’m really not sorry for anything I said and I don’t think it’s in any way insulting. And I think “abused” is an awfully strong word to use in a fairly amicable discussion such as this one (here I feel like I ought to insert an emoticon to indicate that I’m not meaning this in a nasty or overly serious way, but I can’t think of what emoticon would suffice, so I’m just explaining it instead – since apparently I am incapable of wording things without coming across as harsh).

    When I said I didn’t need to clarify what I believed because you didn’t care: I just meant that you’d SAID you weren’t really interested in what people believed, but more in how they discussed it. Take what I wrote literally – there’s really no subtext there. I wasn’t offended (just slightly irritated that we’d gotten so off topic – and annoyed at myself for addressing it. Which is how I kind of feel right now).

    As for what I believe: I have no idea if Mormons are *trying* to mainstream. It seems to me that there’s a real tension in modern Mormonism between going more mainstream, and going more fundamentally Mormon. Sometimes it seems to me that they’re trying hard to go one way, sometimes the other. And then there’s still more tension between those who think Mormonism is valid without taking much of it literally (liberal or New Order Mormons), and those who believe that letter-of-the-law literality is the only right way. So I guess what I believe is that there’s a lot of tension in modern Mormonism between different factions that interpret things differently.

  29. rebecca says:

    Chanson, I always thought it was so odd that at BYU we didn’t get any time off for Easter. Secular schools get Spring Break, but we, a supposedly Christ-centered school (it is, after all, the Lord’s University!) didn’t recognize it at all.

  30. Hellmut says:

    Take Hellmut’s comment about BY’s “date rape” doctrine. This comment signals to me just how disinterested he is in dialog on this subject. He wants to say something negative and he’s saying it. He’s framing it in a way where it’s not open for discussion.

    Now of course BY didn’t see it that way. How could he? So actually, we *objectively* know that Hellmut is wrong here. Hellmut knows he is too, of course.

    I can understand why you would be saying this but the point that I did want to make is that theology matters and has far reaching consequences. In a number of instances, the authority of the proponent tends to mask implications that no Latter-day Saint would accept if the same statements had been advanced by a gentile.

    Whether Brigham Young meant it or not, his account of Mary’s conception is about patriarchal domination. When believers apply the values communicated by Brigham Young’s narrative, it will probably result in female subjugation.

    The date rape language is highlighting the ethical implications of a narrative that believers would not accept if it were not for the authority of the narrator.

    Mormons are wonderful. Unfortunately, we are prone to participate in unethical conduct when authorities demand it.

    Only recently, we have seen Mormons, such as Jay Bybee and Kyle Sampson, undermining the rule of law, for example. I need not remind you of similar instances where good people committed unspeakable cruelty to satisfy the requirements of obedience.

    If members had been less reliant on borrowed light then we would have hurt less African Americans before 1978 because some of us might have permitted themselves to recognize the humanity of our neighbors.

    Because members act on the words of church leaders, it is important to identify the ethical content of statements by Mormon authorities such as Brigham Young.

  31. Bruce Nielson says:

    Chanson said: “I’m trying to pin down the crux of our point of disagreement, and it appears to be a dispute over whether there exist critics (inside the church, outside the church, and on the fringes) who applaud mainstreaming because they think the LDS church should be more “Christian” on principle, where “Christian” is assumed to mean “like modern mainstream Protestants”.”

    I don’t disagree with this. I think the use of “Evangelical” left a specific impression that, we have to admit, HAS been used by others intentionally as a knock the on the LDS church, thus I saw it in that light. Also the context was “trying to avoid seeming weird because their teachings are less weird.” I simply do not agree with this.

    When you clarify that you mean Mormons are “mainstreaming” we are now using a neutral word that I can agree with. I’m not sure if I agree that means “mainstream Christianity” so much as “culturally more mainstream.” But, of course, there will be overlap between the two.

    chanson, I realize heuristics affect us largely. If you are “hanging out” with ex-Mos who do indeed want to see Mormonism become another Protestant denomination (using one of your examples), that WOULD color the way you see the situation, and I can see that.

    I don’t hang out with the same people, so I don’t really think of it or see it. And, of course, they are ex-Mos, so even if I did, I wouldn’t consider their opinion of what another (my) community should be doing and I wouldn’t consider it in my understanding of what the Mormon community is trying to do.

    Chanson, I feel like we are ,you know, sort of agreeing at this point. 🙂

  32. Bruce Nielson says:

    Rebecca, I stand corrected again. I can see that your tone might have been different then the way I read it.

    While you make a good point that *everything* is interpretable (very very true) I think this misses the point of what I was saying.

    At a general level, I agree with what you are saying. At a specific level, I don’t.

    Some arguements are harder or easier to make out of scripture. Some things, while possibly argubable, simply are never argued because there is literally a 100% agreement.

    The specific example is Hinckley: he affired that we can become Gods in Mormon theology, but refused to affirm God was once a man.

    He may not have said it in the best way, but he was correct to do so. The first of those is overwhelming found in Mormon scripture (though we could argue what it really MEANS we can’t argue that it’s there). The second isn’t found anywhere at all in scripture. We can argue over whether or not Joseph Smith’s sermons count as scripture or not, but as far as the standard works go, you can’t find any reference to it all. So these two points shouldn’t be treated as equal in Mormon theology if we start with the assumption that Mormon scripture has higher authority than other things said.

    Yes, we can find counter examples and argue them, but let’s just at least accept that this is a general principle strived for. If we can’t agree on that, we’re on different planets and it doesn’t matter anyhow.

    So while I agree with your point in general, it does miss the point that it is still very possible to use the scriptures as a basis (at least as a starting point?) for how we understand the authority of sayings.

    I hope we can at least agree on that much.

  33. Bruce Nielson says:

    Hellmut, your comment to me is based on a set of assumptions I do not share with you.

    I can’t really take the time to argue with youj point for point here, but here are the assumptions you seem to be building your argument on that I don’t agree with:

    1. We know for certain what BY really meant.
    2. That view has a moral composition that can be evaluated seperately from what the person saying it really meant.
    3. That moral composition is, by everyone not currently under the sway of BY’s authority, easily viewable as immoral in an objective sense. (Note: My example of how BY might have seen it proves this isn’t the case.)

    Since I disagree with you on these assumptions, the rest of your logical argument, while sound, comes to a conclusion I can’t agree with.

    This argument smacks to me of the growing popularity of non-theistic people (don’t know if that includes you or not) to claim that theism is dangerous due to, for example, authority.

    But I don’t consider this a proven proposition any more than I consider it’s reverse true: that atheists are more dangerous because they don’t see themselves as accountable to a higher power. (I see this as untrue as several levels, though there may be specific instances where it is true, just like there may be specific instances of the reverse being true.)

    I’m sorry I can’t respond further on this subject at this time. I hope you’ll understand. We can agree to disagree on your point here.

  34. Bruce Nielson says:

    Hellmut, one more thing. In my last post I should have said something more like “it seems to me you are building your argument on these assumptions” rather than saying “these are your assumptions.”

    Feel free to correct me, that that is the way I honestly read what you were saying.

  35. Bruce Nielson says:


    I feel I do owe you one explanation.

    I DO NOT agree with BY on this (assuming we are reading him correctly, what I find questionable, but likely.)

    However, I also DO NOT agree with your assessment and find it “offensive” (I don’t mean I’m offended here) in that you are taking a teaching of a group of 19th century people OUT of the context of their full beliefs and OF COURSE it looks bad when you do that.

    I feel I very much do understand how 19th century Mormons would look at something like this. It’s very straightforward.

    1. Mary willingly chose to marry the Father
    2. She willingly chose to have a baby with her husband.
    3. That husband then left the earth and was, from a mortal perspective, the same as any first husband no longer on the earth — she was free to re-marry.
    4. Joseph was, then, her second husband. The one she was not sealed to, but only for time.

    Again, I DO NOT believe any of this. But I also find it utterly un-offensive when it is understood how they understood it rather then the way you are choosing to portray it.

  36. Hellmut says:

    Actually, my assumption is that we can know what Brigham Young’s words imply.

    It is, of course, possible that speakers do not fully appreciate the meaning of their words. Therefore I do not claim that I know what Brigham Young meant.

    But I do know what he said and we can investigate what will happen when people act on his words.

  37. Let me admit that I haven’t read all of the discussion and meta-discussion about the discussion. (I suppose this counts as meta-meta discussion. (And this is meta-meta-meta …)) So what I’m about to say has probably already been covered, but here goes.

    As a member, especially as a returned missionary, I was quite aware of how strange/unique Mormon teachings were. As a missionary, I was trained to offer milk before meat to those unfamiliar with the church. I would avoid discussing meaty topics in public meetings for fear of suffocating a budding testimony. The same is true of official materials from the church. The assumption is that they will eventually be introduced to the meat in all due time.

    Contrary to that assumption, it’s been said often that this ethic has translated into a always-milk-never-meat church experience (until perhaps the temple if you count that as a doctrinal exposition (I don’t)). I think this has big consequences, one of which is that over time, we de-emphasize the strange/unique doctrines if for no other reason than because we forget what they are. They stop being part of our communal discourse, so they lose mind share. Eventually, these meaty ideas die through atrophy because even lifelong members have never been fed the meat.

    So the intent wasn’t necessarily to mainstream or to lose religious identity or to consciously emphasize the Book of Mormon religion (notice that the extra-scriptural temple tradition shows no sign of being de-emphasized) or to repudiate former teachings as speculative. This results from the tension that has been mentioned earlier between unique doctrines and wanting to convert outsiders. Perhaps the church and its members have prioritized number of converts over some of the more peculiar doctrines. Life is a trade off.

    Judaism is probably a good example of the opposite ethic. They have peculiar ideas and customs. They believe that they are God’s chosen. They do not particularly care if you become a Jew or not. This has given them less pressure to assimilate Jewishness to popular tastes. Consequently, Jewish identity is still strong and distinct.

    I dub this the meat-to-milk drift theory.

  38. In case I didn’t emphasize this enough, the drift happens largely because we forget. The lack of public discourse also forces us to create a public theology in contrast to the confidential theology. If the public theology becomes strong enough, the confidential can be supplanted and forgotten without too much disturbance.

  39. Andrew S says:

    Very interesting Jonathan, I could see how that happens unwittingly (but then I imagine…haha, purely speculation) that when people become general authorities they get taken aside and entreated to all of the things that might have been emphasized throughout the rest of the church experience. I mean that in the best of intentions, of course.

    And although I can see how the opposite might be true for Judaism, is this more for certain traditions of Judaism (e.g., moreso for Orthodox than Reform or Conservative)…because I can also see too how there are many Jewish people who I’d look at and think, “Wow, I’d never know you were Jewish if you hadn’t told me.”

    So, in these cases, is there still the possibility of forgetting as public theology is most expressed and confidential theology rarely shows (maybe…I’m just hanging out with unrepresentative people >_>)?

  40. chanson says:

    This results from the tension that has been mentioned earlier between unique doctrines and wanting to convert outsiders. Perhaps the church and its members have prioritized number of converts over some of the more peculiar doctrines.

    This is a very good point. I feel like I learned a fair amount of “meat” because of the fact that my mom was a multi-generational Mormon, but my experience isn’t everyone’s, and what looks to me as “stuff we knew as kids” may look to others as “Wha…? I never heard about that at all…”

    Regarding your point about tailoring the message to converts, this is very close to what I was saying in Standing up for Your (Former) Beliefs.

  41. chanson says:

    Chanson, I feel like we are ,you know, sort of agreeing at this point. 🙂

    Yeah. I think my intended original point was more that I don’t want Mormons to merge their unique identity with mainstream Christianity. So if you come along and say “Well, they’re not doing that!” then, well, good. It makes the procedure of not doing that that much simpler. 😉

    In general, I agree with Rebecca that Mormon culture has a very strong pull towards conformity and at the same time it has a very strong pull towards peculiarity. I have a great fondness for the latter and I despise the former, perhaps as a result of my upbringing. So I tend to be biased against any kind of “mainstreaming” (though I recognize that term can have a host of different meanings). For more detail on my peculiar perspective, see Family history: we’re different and my deconversion, part 1.

  42. Matt says:

    Injecting another thought into this stew of really interesting ideas (and doing so with my own meta intro ’cause it’s fashionable) …

    I have heard that JS had some anxiety about the way that non-unified faith within families was a threat to family cohesion. That part of his motivation was to unite his family under as single faith which naturally extended to the community and then to all of humanity and then to all of time and creation. This anxiety seems to me to permeate the soul of the LDS church. The drive for unity (conformity) and peculiarity (distinction) are the tell-tells of this anxiety.

  43. Matt says:

    Oh, and unlike Judaism, the drive for (and firm belief in) worldwide conversion as an affirmation and anxiety reducer. Could be that popularity MUST win out over peculiarity though it seems to me a fatal flaw.

  44. Hellmut says:

    Bruce, I don’t mind authority, by the way. However, people who claim power incur an obligation of accountability.

    With respect to the substantive argument, I actually agree with you that Brigham Young and his believers imagined Mary as God’s willing concubine. However, I am not sure that choice has much meaning after a person has been overpowered by something like the holy ghost.

    More disturbingly, Brigham Young exercised power in ways that rendered concepts such as choice and will meaningless and were logically analogous to date rape scenarios. If he asked you to marry a plural wife, for example, and you refused, you might have found yourself locked up, your wife and your children might have been boycotted by “the community,” and might have been compelled to seek refuge on Indian reservations where federal agents would shield them from suggestions to exercise their “free will.”

    Brigham Young conducted himself like anyone else who holds unaccountable power. He did not respect the freedom of people who disagreed with him. That’s only human.

    Whatever Young might have meant with his conception story, clearly, it justifies his authoritarian behavior invoking divine authority. It seems to me that one has to consider Young’s relationship to power to close the hermeneutic cycle that renders the conception account meaningful.

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