RE: I left the church because I found out all the history that they never taught.

Apologetics History Jesus Christ Mission

This post, by Ardis E. Parshall, has gotten some play recently, here at MSP and elsewhere. Since numerous people linked to it, I thought I’d stop by to see what all the fuss was. Basically she talks about her awful mission experience and then concludes that there is nothing that can convince her that the LDS Church is NOT true, because those are all failings of men, not the gospel. After reading the post, I wrote up a response, which I attempted to add to the discussion. There is no indication when you attempt to comment that comments are screened and correlated. But my comment was correlated out of existence and here’s her response to my (never posted) comment. So, I figured I’d post it here:

Ardis,
First, it’s awful what happened to you on your mission. Truly awful.
Second, it sounds like what you are saying despite that is that there is nothing, nothing that could ever get you to stop believing the LDS Church is true and that there is a god. If that is what you believe, your position is irrational. Daniel Dennett makes this point quite clear in his book, Breaking the Spell. Let me see if I can illustrate this with a hypothetical scenario. If you really are saying that nothing can change your position, then:
If two supernatural entities descended from the sky one bright, beautiful morning while you were outside on a walk with several people you trust and care about; and if they glowed with supernatural brilliance and had all of the stereotypical characteristics attributed to god the father and jesus christ (you know, male, beards, long hair, white-skin, etc.); and if they descended right in front of you, hovering mid-air, and began to speak, “Ardis, your mission president was an evil man. He was not called of god. The LDS Church is in apostasy. We are here to call you to start a new religion. One that represents our true desires.”; and if they then proceeded to ordain you as the next prophet(ess) and detail their plans for you; and if the visit lasts several hours; and the people with you, whom you trust, are there to witness it, would you deny that it occurred?
Based on your earlier suggestion that there is nothing that can dissuade you from your “knowledge” that the LDS Church and its gospel are true, your response to this supernatural visitation would be to dismiss it and deny it. After all, it didn’t go through the proper priesthood channels. It was not correlated. And it runs counter to current Mormon teaching that women cannot hold the priesthood. Ergo, it must not be god and jesus christ.
As an apostate and now atheist, if this happened to me and those who were with me were credible witnesses, I’d at least have to consider it as genuine. Why wouldn’t you? If you wouldn’t, your belief is irrational. If you’re okay with that, there isn’t much else to say. If you don’t think it’s irrational, please explain why.
Of course, the obvious follow-up to this is: Yes, this is extreme, but if you would reconsider your beliefs for this extreme event, why wouldn’t you for something less extreme, like Joseph Smith’s philandering or Brigham Young’s false doctrine? It’s just a matter of degree. Yet, you dismiss that as irrelevant. That is irrational.
Just my two bits…

I’m doubting Ardis will sully herself by stopping by MSP to respond, but you never know.

21 thoughts on “RE: I left the church because I found out all the history that they never taught.

  1. LOL, profxm, so you were the guy Ardis was referring to as the “amateur philosopher” with the “purple people eaters from outer space”?

    But seriously, I’m glad you picked up on what I had picked up. The way she described her experience with respect to her testimony, the sneaking suspicion I got was exactly as I wrote, her testimony is “built upon a solid foundation of simple facts that it seems impervious to erosion.” The simple facts: God exists, no matter what. The church is God’s church, no matter what.

    From here, any disconfirming evidence cannot touch these facts. Because they are highly irrelevant to the testimony.

    The link Ardis posted (I don’t have a testimony of the history of the church) was intriguing. Because therein, Bitton too also admits that his testimony is carefully divided from his historical scholarship. His testimony (and I suppose Ardis’s too, since she strongly advocated for the article) is based on a gray zone (e.g., claims that are subject to historical analysis, but which are not “subject to proof or disproof by historians.”)

    Apparently, there are no legitimate issues with church history anyway. Anything that seems bad is just an “anti-Mormon” delusion…a soundbyte that other historians or apologists have debunked time and time again. Because there are historians who remain faithful, Bitton would have us believe, that means we can take on faith that there are no historical issues that should concern any member.

    I know historians tend to have the most deflated historiographies, because history as an endeavor is pretty lame and ineffectual…but it always disappoints me nevertheless to see people kick history down another peg (these historical evidences wouldn’t stand up in a court of law, blah blah) in order to inject more gray area for faith into it.

    But you’re ultimately wrong, profxm. As Ardis replied, there would be a way for her to change her testimony. It’s just that since her testimony wasn’t founded on history, history isn’t that way. What does it say when she says her testimony could be shaken from other directions, especially emotional ones?

  2. Yep, I’m “amateur philosopher” guy (which I consider a compliment considering my very limited training in philosophy).

    I tried to frame my hypothetical in such a way that it wasn’t about history. It would be a current event that she would be unable to reconcile with church policy and doctrine. I’m not surprised she dismissed it and didn’t even address it. Why would she when there is no way for her to respond to my comment without looking bad?

    If yes, she’d accepts it as an authentic, legitimate experience = church doctrine could be wrong.

    If no, she’d rejects it as inauthentic and illegitimate = she’d deny verifiable supernatural events to support her emotion-based testimony.

    That’s the beauty of the hypothetical scenario: either way Ardis looks bad. So, use the “spam filter” to screen out the scenario and don’t answer it; et voila, problem solved.

    So, Ardis is willing to change her testimony, but only if she were to have the experience I outlined, then go home and pray to the very god she just spoke with and wait for an emotional response. Um… Okay. Idiotic. But, her prerogative.

  3. But profxm,

    I think she did, in a way, address it. “But Im as vulnerable as anybody else to attacks on my faith from other directions, especially emotional ones. I still have to guard against weaknesses that I know I have.”

    The question is whether, if such a hypothetical situation occurred to her, it would register as an emotional attack on her faith. Whether she would feel emotionally compelled to believe the two figures or whether her faith would be just as impervious to erosion with them as to whatever historical paradigm.

    Since I don’t think her position was, “Church doctrine cannot be wrong,” I don’t think it would make her look bad if something happened that convinced her church doctrine would be wrong. She’s just saying that *history* is not something that would ever convince her of such.

  4. I think that Ardis Parshall and others have a point. The brethren cannot possibly be perfect, neither can the COB. Therefore, it is unreasonable to expect them to be perfect for the Church to be true.

    However, if we take that line, you can excuse anything: not only competing religions such as Judaism and Catholicism but also organizations and crimes where we would all have to admit that they are pretty distasteful.

    Lenin might have been a man but he had the one true way to understand history.

    Let me suggest a synthesis of the two positions. The Church need not be perfect but it ought to be able to deal with human imperfection responsibly.

    Since the renaissance, we have discovered and rediscovered a number of ways to do that. The founding fathers of America, for example, have written about that.

    If Mormonism would only learn the lessons of modern governance, it would become a much healthier place for its adherents and their neighbors.

    The problem with Mormonism is not that its leaders are imperfect. The problem with Brighamite Mormonism is that we idolize our leaders and never hold them accountable for their mistakes.

  5. Hellmut,

    I agree. The thing I don’t get is…let’s say we don’t even say that Mormonism fails to deal with human imperfection *at least as well as* other secular organizations…well, even if it’s on the same level, the question is: why would we call such an organization inspired, divine, spiritual, etc.,

    I’m completely OK with discussing the church in the context of imperfect people. I just wonder, then, why I’m then asked to privilege the church as “true,” or “inspired,” or “in connection with God.”

    I think Steve Jobs is doing some great things with Apple. I think Apple has some problems too. But I don’t ever think to say, “Steve Jobs must be divinely inspired!”

  6. Andrew, I see your point. I agree, she did kind of address it. But lets dig a little deeper…

    When I was a missionary in the 1990s using the second set of missionary discussions, we taught the correlated version of the First Vision to “investigators.” We also taught them about the Book of Mormon. We then asked them to pray to god and ask him if these things were “true.” The First Vision and the Book of Mormon both claim to be historical records. For at least 20 years (1980s through the early 2000s), praying about the veracity of historical events was the method used by the church to arrive at a testimony.

    Now Ardis is saying that history has no bearing on her testimony. If that is true, then I’m forced to ask: Then what is her testimony of? Does she have a testimony of her non-contemporary, Jesus? Does she have a testimony of her non-contemporary, Joseph Smith? Does she have a testimony of the Bible, which is a pretty awful historical document? Or is her testimony a testimony of: (1) the current LDS Church and (2) her current version of god? If so, fine. But what does that make her? That seems more like a deistic acolyte of bureaucracy then a Mormon.

  7. profxm,

    You answered your own question! “We then asked them to pray to god and ask him if these things were “true.”

    You did not ask them to look through historical documents and figure out if these things were true. You asked them to pray to God and ask if those things were true.

    The testimony isn’t of history. It isn’t of today’s modern historiographical methods. It is of a spiritual confirmation that has been reinforced (as Ardis mentions in later comments) by lived experience in the church.

    All of the non-contemporary things are gray areas. Today’s modern historiography cannot touch these decisively (they can’t prove or disprove)…so one either has faith in modern historiography or in spiritual confirmation. As for Ardis and her house, she will follow the Lord. You choose fickle modern historiography when you say the Bible is a “pretty awful historical document,” but clearly, Faithful Historians Who Know do not take such a high view of history or modern historiography.

  8. Andrew, it depends on what inspired means. In Brighamite Mormonism inspiration implies divine authority and superhuman power claims.

    That does not need to be the case. First of all, Beethoven was inspired, much more so than any Mormon that I have ever heard of. And yet he did not lay claim to power.

    Second, even Joseph Smith admitted that there are good and bad inspirations. If we stuck to that, like the Community of Christ, and left it to the Saints then Brighamite Mormonism would be able to deal with power in a more responsible way.

    Apparently, Elder Oaks said something to the effect that individual Mormons are responsible to confirm leaders’ revelations, which is a step in the right direction. However, inspiration ought to be a matter not only of leaders and members but also of the community.

    If Mormons could discuss their questions in the community, church would be more fun and less oppressive.

  9. Since the brethren can’t figure this out, it is clear, Ardis, that their capacity for inspiration is more limited than almost anyone else’s. We are being led by people who are less inspired than the average human being.

  10. Hellmut, duly noted. But since we are referring to Brighamite Mormonism, oughtn’t we use its definitions?

    This sounds like a NOM discussion…where a NOM will say, “Even though I understand many TBMs will interpret what I say to mean this…I’m going to continue to say I “believe” x even though I believe it in a very different way.” Are they lying? Well, if they understand that someone will interpret their statements in a way they do not intend…but still they say it that way (to fit in)…?

  11. So, Ardis has a testimony (emotional confirmation) of a testimony (someone claiming something happened). Basically, all she has is “second-order” beliefs, confirmed by first order emotions. She believes in historical events, not because she has examined the evidence for them, but because she “feels” like they occurred. What Ardis should say, in effect, is that she has a testimony of emotion, not of the veracity of anything else. I can buy that.

    Do you think we could get her to admit openly that she doesn’t actually believe in any of the history, just in her emotional confirmations of the history? I know she kind of did in her post, but really what she said was that history was irrelevant to her testimony.

  12. profxm,

    More like, “So, Ardis has a testimony (spiritual confirmation) of direct encounters with the divine (that’s why the testimony is spiritual!). She believes in encounters with the divine…that just happened to claim something happened.

    So, she believes in historical events, not just because she has received spiritual confirmation for them, but because the evidence for and against those historical events is inconclusive. It neither proves or disproves the historical event, but leaves gray area for faith. There is no smoking gun for or against the church, but she has the smoking gun of a personal spiritual confirmation.

    You err in saying Ardis has not examined the evidence (that is, the evidence that modern historiography has scraped together). As a historian, Ardis has probably examined the evidence more than you have (or at least, she thinks she has). And she certainly recognizes that there are faithful historians who definitely have examined the evidence more than you have, and continue to believe. And what she and other historians say is this: the evidence (from the modern historiographical paradigm) isn’t enough to pass muster in a court of law. So why have faith in sand when you can have faith in the rock of spiritual experience?

    So no, I don’t think we could get her to admit openly that she doesn’t actually believe in any of the history. She seems adamant instead that the history is a perpetual unknown or unreliable quantity, and that therefore the gaps in reliability offer ample room for faith.

    That isn’t QUITE the same thing as saying she doesn’t believe in any of the history. But she clearly does not base her testimony off of modern historiographical conclusions.

  13. I hope that I understand you correctly, Andrew. To me, it’s not about playing a subversive game with orthodox Mormons. Inspiration matters only because the brethren use it to justify their power claims.

    So the relevant categories are power and accountability. With respect to inspiration, accountability has to include some sort of assessment of whether a proposal, a program, a policy, or a precept is a good or a bad idea.

    How do you like that alliteration, Neal Maxwell?

  14. That’s why I am confronting them. It does not make much of a difference, does it? But it’s not about me and as a community, I do think that we have made a difference.

  15. I do not have nearly as much confidence.

    What I’ve seen is that people become quicker to peg someone as “anti” or whatever and then tune them out.

  16. I had a historical run-in with Ms. Parshall about an ancestor of mine who has the best case for being blood-atoned by Brigham Young. She flat out refused to accept historical documents from non-Mormon sources or even perfectly fine Mormons that painted the Prophet in a bad light. She’s not a historian, she’s a full-on apologist.

    I have serious connections to the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers and remember hearing someone (when I was with my Mom) bragging about destroying primary sources that weren’t faith promoting. Even though I was like 10, I was horrified. Hello, Ardis. What have you destroyed lately?

  17. Just wanted to say, I personally don’t care what Ardis believes or wouldn’t believe. I have a hard time arguing that other people’s beliefs impact my life, except in the case of prop. 8-or other legislation like prop. 8. If someone wants to believe rhe earth is flat, I might not agree with them, but that’s their right.

  18. This comment of mine above was harsh, cruel, and without any factual basis –Hello, Ardis. What have you destroyed lately?—I am deeply sorry and I take it all back. And I feel very bad, not that it really matters

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