Making Your Opponent’s Case

If you have to ban somebody over religious differences, it is probably a good idea to wait until the debate about what constitutes a bad religion is over.

When you argue that religion provides a special path to the truth, you are not helping yourself by prohibiting your rhetorical opponent’s speech. You see, people who have a measure of truth can defend their position on the merit of the argument.

So when you shut them up with prohibitions, you demonstrate your ignorance more conclusively than any advocate ever could.

I appreciate your frustration. When Ronan dangled the carrot of “reasonable” religious “truth” in front of you, you got all excited at the prospect of an intellectual justification of religious truth claims. It is unfortunate this expectation had to be disappointed because Ronan misinterpreted the work of Peter Vardy, which rests on Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. I was the proverbial bearer of bad news who assumed that his Christian friends were tougher.

I regret that you banned me because I like those of you that I know and it pains me that you would embarrass yourselves and our community in that way.

It is doubly unfortunate since I found out about your ban when I posted the following comment that now languishes in your moderation cue:

The Book of Mormon is actually a lot stronger than the Vardy of this post.

One can reasonably argue that something like the light of Christ empowers our imagination to capture the noumenon but that is something quite different from experience.

The light of Christ would be a rational asset that makes properly sense of our observations.

Mormonism has considerable resources to be a force for good. We don’t need to misread Peter Vardis to find them.

For my part, I will continue to consider you friends, although I must admit that that would be easier if your actions would not contradict your words quite so obviously.

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245 Responses

  1. Chino Blanco says:

    I remember catching Monty Python at a midnight movie as a BYU student. Oddly enough, I don’t recall any outrage among the Mormons in attendance as The Pythons mocked, mocked, and mocked some more.

    Wow, do Mormons really have such little respect for Christianity? Otherwise, they should’ve been picketing, not applauding, right?


    “He knows, as all the cleverest ones do, that no human being is so interesting that he can’t make himself more interesting still by acting retarded at random intervals.” Walter Kirn, 2009 X-Mormon of the Year

  2. Chris H. says:

    The Church does not give a crap about MSP, Hellmut, or Chino. The only ones being mocked are the stupid ones like me who come by this rathole. My fault.

    I love BCC.

  3. Chino Blanco says:

    And BCC loves Matsby.

    What’s your point?

  4. Hellmut says:

    To me, the most important argument of John F. is that proselytizing is a burden. That principle can become a linkage to the problems that Holly identifies.

    If you tell people to live like yourself, you better have something better to offer.

    When Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught Sunday school at Abyssinian Baptist Church, his students report that he did not lecture but listened.

    Likewise, every organizer learns that an organizing conversation, for example with the goal for a worker to sign a pledge card, begins with listening to find out what the potential recruit needs.

    Listening would improve the commitment pattern a lot. Instead, we skip listening and begin with establishing a relationship of trust. Because in Mormonism, we already know what people need and that’s all they are going to get.

    It’s a system where good intentions are writ large but empathy plays only a minor role, just like correlation.

    If we felt a burden to actually investigate who has what to offer to whom instead of simply assuming that we are superior, paradoxically, the missionary program might then be revitalized.

  5. kuri says:

    Oh please. Seriously, you’re being mocked? You personally?

    And BCC never mocks other religions?

  6. chanson says:


    OK, first of all, Kuri is right that MSP would be happy to welcome a TBM perma who is interested in furthering civil discussion. The thing is that we’ve had some difficulty attracting and keeping any kind of permas. For several years, MSP was a bit of a lonely backwater, and it’s only recently that had a big growth spurt, and apparently we’re having some growing pains.

    I’m glad we’re having a dialog (sort of) with more of the ‘nacclers, but I’d just as soon it didn’t include so much flame-throwing.

    If the FSM-first-vision banner is provoking fights, then let’s stop worrying about it and take it down (along with possibly the two Friburg lol-cats). They’re funny, but we’ve all seen them plenty of times and had our chuckle, so let’s just say they’ve run their course.

  7. Chris H. says:

    Good luck finding a TBM, or hell, a liberal Mormon who can tolerate Chino or Kuri. Kaimi sounds like he might be open.

    Chino is back, this means I should exit. Good luck to you all.

  8. Chino Blanco says:

    Hey, in all seriousness, if my stepping away would result in a real TBM perma stepping up, I’d do it, Chris H.

    At the same time, in all seriousness, BCC hosts images that are just as blasphemous as anything on MSP, so pls stop feigning outrage. Or have you not seen this?

    But none of that matters now. I second chanson’s motion to pull the FSM and Friburg banners.

  9. Hellmut says:

    You dont get banned from BCC for being pro or anti LDS, or even for being right or wrong about some arcane point. You get banned at BCC for being an ass.

    I am afraid that this statement is merely declaratory and therefore not particularly meaningful. If the problem is that somebody is mean spirited then you have been given a considerable rhetorical advantage that ought to be exploited in the debate.

    Banning an opponent in that situation surrenders this advantage and is therefore not particularly smart, which brings us back to the topic of this thread.

    I will admit that my corrections were not kind but figuring out how to read a text is not a particularly personal issue. If I had known that people would have been so sensitive, I might have been nicer about it. Perhaps, I overestimated your intellectual fortitude but even that would have been a compliment that people might be able to recognize in hindsight.

    Intellectuals ought to be able to deal with rigorous criticism, which is a free gift, and assimilate counter-arguments insofar as they are valid and improve the quality of their own argument.

  10. chanson says:

    But none of that matters now. I second chansons motion to pull the FSM and Friburg banners.

    Thanks, Chino. I find that the rumors of your supposed dificultness to be greatly exaggerated.

  11. chanson says:

    As far as the rest of the flame war is concerned, I don’t think it would be useful for me to go back and comment on individual posts. However, I’d like to remind everyone of this part of our welcome:

    Remember that weve been pretty successful at having a civil discussion across belief lines here for several years now, so if you wont/cant make your point in a clear and reasonable way, then it only makes your own position look, well, questionable.

    I hope I can doubly count on the folks on the less-believing side of the aisle — who care about the community — to help keep this true. The last thing I want is to see us “making our opponents’ case” (so to speak). No matter what the believers come here and accuse us of, let’s try to keep our collective cool (me included), and steer the discussion in a rational, constructive direction.

  12. Hellmut says:

    In this case, when Hellmut made an apology from Ronan a matter of personal honor (in blog comments!!! Srsly!!!) I think he crossed over into public assification. Lord knows Ive done it, and been banned for it, too.

    I appreciate your self-critical conclusion, Mark.

    I am not quite sure what you are referring to because I cannot figure out how your complaint can possibly fit the time line.

    I am also not quite sure why you would complain about publicity, which is perhaps a function of my disorientation. Principally, public insults require public apologies.

    It’s called commensurability, which is an essential aspect of honor.

  13. Seth R. says:

    Hellmut, let me summarize your point in #196:

    “The LDS Church acted like a bunch of dicks, so that makes it okey-dokey for us to act like dicks too on an unrelated issue.”

  14. Seth R. says:

    Incidentally, I don’t think throwing Chino under the bus, or pulling your banner ads are going to automatically result in a TBM perma (heck even I wouldn’t sign on if I thought I was going to be referred to as “the TBM perma”). Desirous as a token TBM might be, I don’t think you should do these things for that reason.

    No, you should pull the banners and throw Chino under the bus because it’s the right thing to do.

    (I’m totally kidding, BTW… about the bus…)

  15. chanson says:

    Seth @213, As I said above, I don’t want to pick through all the details of the above thread, but this is exactly the attitude that I want to turn around. “The other guys did X (or worse)” is simply not a valid excuse. When you do that, you get a shouting match where the only difference between the two teams is the color of their shirts.

    So, if you don’t like “TBM Perma”, what title would you like?

  16. kuri says:


    As long as we’re summarizing, how’s about I summarize your #213 as equating making fun of a couple of cheesy pictures with depriving thousands of people of a fundamental human right? Sound fair?

    Anyway, I don’t think making fun of religions is necessarily dickish. I think all ideas and institutions should be made fun of. The more seriously they take themselves, the more they should be made fun of. There’s no reason religions should get a free pass. Especially since a) they tend to take themselves very seriously and b) their ideas are a lot sillier than many.

  17. chanson says:

    Anyway, I dont think making fun of religions is necessarily dickish. I think all ideas and institutions should be made fun of. The more seriously they take themselves, the more they should be made fun of. Theres no reason religions should get a free pass. Especially since a) they tend to take themselves very seriously and b) their ideas are a lot sillier than many.

    Very true. I think the humor is one of the best parts of the exmo community (and non-believing community in general). I don’t want mocking religion to be off-limits here — quite the opposite. I’m just saying that the banner kind of sets the tone of the whole discussion, and a lot of our other banners fit the tone of MSP better than the handful that got complaints.

    Personally, I would rather be a servant to this community rather than a dictator, which is why I opened Ronan and Jack’s question to public discussion rather than just emailing the other permas about it (which now I kind of regret). But a couple of banners are a small thing, and you can see how it makes it more difficult for me to answer angry Mormons who swing by.

  18. Seth R. says:

    I’ll settle for “the Dark Lord” or “he who must not be named” Chanson.

    Sure Kuri – if anyone in California actually had lost a fundamental human right.

    Which no one did.

    Prop 8 was fundamentally unfair, but you guys are waaay over-dramatizing what it actually did.

    But I imagine I’m going to get flamed for saying this – since the Prop 8 issue seems to be one of “those” issues that makes everyone inexplicably chuck their brains in the food processor.

  19. chanson says:

    Prop 8 was fundamentally unfair, but you guys are waaay over-dramatizing what it actually did.

    This is an extremely complicated question that I doubt we’ll make any reasonable progress on if we try to discuss it on the tail-end of the thread of flame.

  20. Chino Blanco says:

    Dear Members,

    Let’s give a hearty welcome to renowned culture warrior, the Most Rev. Timothy M. Dolan, who’s agreed to lead our ragtag rightwing cadre:


    Bishop H. David Burton
    Presiding Bishop
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

    P.S. The Archbishop promises to spend your tithing wisely.

  21. Chino Blanco says:

    Sorry for the tangent, but srsly, follow that link and notice that LDS Presiding Bishop Burton (who sits on the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes) has placed his name side-by-side that of Bishop Harry Jackson.

    Here’s a little backgrounder on Bishop Harry Jackson courtesy of the SPLC.

    The Mormon leadership continues to work together with groups that are not only anti-marriage equality but unequivocally anti-gay. And I suspect the rank and file haven’t a clue.

  22. Prudence McPrude says:

    I just want you all to know that the God I believe in will one day thrust you all down to Hell. There you shall endure the purifying flames that will cleanse you of your sins. For some of you, the post-inferno outcome isn’t likely to be pretty, since you consist of nothing but sin. Perdition awaits, bitches. Read your Bruce R McConkie.

  23. Chino Blanco says:

    Cut it out, Kaimi.

  24. Chino Blanco says:

    My last comment here and then I’m determined to leave this thread for good:

    Another By Common Consent blogger ponders why Mormons are leaving their church behind.

    Seems like a brave post and maybe a chance to let folks finish an earlier discussion that was abruptly cut short.

  25. Hellmut says:

    Seth #213, I have already conceded that my argument about the banners is not sustainable. However, I did not advocate a tit-for-tat argument.

    Rather Regardless, my argument fails because the ridicule also affects innocent people, most of whom who are bearing a greater burden than me in the civil rights struggle.

    For what it is worth, I neither designed nor approved the banners but I am responsible as a team member, of course, and for failing to recognize the injustice to Mormon supporters of gay rights.

    I still agree with Holly that religiously motivated abuse requires rigorous and incisive criticism of religion. In light of what we know about the nature of sexuality, the position of the First Presidency and NOM is absurd, which is unfortunate because it puts their prestige on the line and requires that we investigate and criticize claims of inspiration.

  26. Hellmut says:

    Prop 8 was fundamentally unfair, but you guys are waaay over-dramatizing what it actually did.

    Thanks for your support, Seth. If you put yourself into the place of a gay Mormon teenager who loves the church and his family, who wants to be good and who wants to serve the Lord, it would be very difficult to over-dramatize the effects of Prop 8.

    Those kids are devastated.

    I give the First Presidency credit for trying to address that issue but, ultimately, their attitudes about sexuality remain poorly informed and continue to put those of our children who believe them into harm’s way. Faith should not be dangerous to children.

    This could be easily remedied if the brethren had the humility to submit their opinions to logic and evidence in accordance with D&C 9 and acquired a more realistic view of sexuality.

  27. Holly says:

    I still agree with Holly that religiously motivated abuse requires rigorous and incisive criticism of religion.

    I don’t think I’ve said that here, Hellmut, but it is indeed a position I hold.

    Kuri@216: Anyway, I dont think making fun of religions is necessarily dickish. I think all ideas and institutions should be made fun of. The more seriously they take themselves, the more they should be made fun of. Theres no reason religions should get a free pass. Especially since a) they tend to take themselves very seriously and b) their ideas are a lot sillier than many.

    I completely agree with this. I was involved with the Sugar Beet, a website of Mormon satire, back when it was active, around 2002-2003. I was the only person on the staff who wasn’t active, though at least one other writer still attended church though he had completely lost his faith (and is now active on ex-Mo sites) and another doesn’t have much faith to speak of, though he still goes to church…. And one somehow went from being an ultra-conservative, ultra-orthodox hard-liner to being a nudist who has nothing to do with the church. But several remain hard-core, faithful, testimony-having, temple-recommend-holding, celestial-kingdom-seeking Latter-day Saints. And I don’t think they’d have one single problem asserting or admitting that mocking and respect–or even veneration–can co-exist.

    We mocked all sorts of things. There was an ad for a men’s cologne called “Patriarchy,” with a picture of a jowly, sweaty, fat old man in a suit and a tag line something like “because you love the smell of power” or some such thing. Somebody wrote a piece about Terry Tempest Williams having “erotic” experiences with deserts other than the ones in Utah.

    You can find limited archives here.

    One piece you won’t find archived is the one below one by me, because when it was published, a couple of people couldn’t see why I had such a problem with the church’s stance on gay people (“I’m not homophobic,” one guy said to me, “because I don’t actually fear homosexuals. I just don’t see why we should pretend that what they’re doing isn’t evil”) and others (including the guy who now runs around naked and writes about illicit sex) freaked out that I dared to mention the Proclamation on the Family in anything but a flattering light. But if ever an LDS document deserved ridicule, it’s that one.

    Church Condemns Homophobia on National Coming Out Day

    (Salt Lake City, UT) October 11 was “National Coming Out” day, a day on which gays and lesbians admit their sexual identity to themselves and others. In a show of support for the day, the Church issued a statement condemning homophobia. “Homophobia is un-Christlike,” a spokesperson for the Church said. “We can’t tolerate or condone violence against so-called gays and lesbians, even when they do something so heinous and disgusting as to insist that their perverse desires are actual parts of their eternal, god-given identities.”

    The spokesperson went on to say, “Remember, these people are sons and daughters of God, and are welcome as members of the church, as long as they do not imagine that they have any right to find happiness and companionship in a relationship with someone of their same sex, as God finds that utterly repugnant. We must do all we can to help these unfortunate people see that they are violating their divine natures, as well as the divine decrees of God, by ever imagining that there is nothing grotesque, obscene and evil about same-sex relationships. And pistol-whipping them and leaving them to die by the side of the road doesn’t really help in that mission.”

    The mention of pistol-whipping was a reference to Matthew Wayne Shepard, a 21-year-old openly gay student at the University of Wyoming. On the night of October 6,1998, Shepard was beaten, tied to a fence on a remote highway in Wyoming, and left to die by several young people, one of whom, Russell Henderson, was LDS. Shepard died of his injuries on October 12, 1998. Henderson did not deny that he kidnapped, robbed and beat Shepard, or that he pretended to be gay in order to lure Shepard into leaving with him; his defense was that he intended only to kidnap, rob and beat Shepard, not to kill him. Henderson eventually pleaded guilty to kidnapping and murder and was convicted. He received visits from home teachers up until the conviction.

    Many members of the Church responded with support for the statement. “We shouldn’t kill those ‘so-called gays and lesbians,’ to use a phrase you hear at Church, even though it would do the world a lot of good to get rid of them once and for all,” said Marjorie Kimball, 34, of Walnut Creek, California. “Have you ever walked down Castro Street in San Francisco? It’s disgusting. But taking a gun and cleaning out the whole area really isn’t what God intends, since he can just wait until they all die of AIDS and then send them straight to hell.”

    Mark Jefferson, 42, of Madison, Wisconsin, stated, “In a really liberal place like Madison, where you can end up being friends with people who are gay or lesbian and kind of grow to care about them before you even know certain things about them, it can be hard to keep in mind how wrong homosexuality really is. It’s a good thing we have the Proclamation on the Family up in our house, to remind me ‘that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.’ It’s kind of weird to realize that all the terrorist attacks and the impending war in Iraq are a result of efforts in Hawaii and California and Vermont to legalize gay marriage. But even though these people are bringing about Armageddon, we have to try to forgive them anyway and hope they go straight before it’s too late.”

  28. SLK in SF says:

    If you put yourself into the place of a gay Mormon teenager who loves the church and his family, who wants to be good and who wants to serve the Lord, it would be very difficult to over-dramatize the effects of Prop 8.

    Those kids are devastated.

    Absolutely right. I would only add that parents, siblings, and those co-religionists who are close to the affected family can also be devastated or at least wounded. (I speak from personal experience here, as well as from attentive observation of the ‘bigger picture.’)

  29. Ms. Jack says:

    Hellmut ~ Chris H. and Seth have beat me to it. I would say that if you want to get back at the LDS church for its role in Prop 8, maybe banners mocking its role in Prop 8 would be the best way to do that, rather than mocking the general beliefs of Mormons?

    Chino Blanco ~ That letter sort of reminds me of the Manhattan Declaration. Gotta love how, out of 28 signatures, only one of them is a woman. /eyeroll

  30. profxm says:

    FSM/First Vision and Friberg banners have been removed.

    FWIW, I liked them, but I can see the rationale in letting them go.

  31. Ms. Jack says:

    profxm, Hellmut, chanson ~ Thanks for listening.

  32. Hellmut says:

    Thank you for contributing, Ms. Jack. It was an excellent discussion that makes all of us better.

  33. Seth R. says:

    I’m well aware that Prop 8 became the focal point of just about every resentment or injustice the gay community feels about society in general – whether they are related to each other, or related to Prop 8 or not. It’s a rallying cry issue.

    And like most rallying-cries – it paints with far too broad a brush, and oversimplifies the issues.

    The idea that your typical gay LDS teenager is more likely to be suicidal than any other gay teenager is not something I’ve ever seen actually backed up – only asserted. And the notion that such a teenager is likely to be more suicidal because of a boring political campaign several states away than he otherwise would have been is something I find unlikely.

    Prop 8 is a focal point for a lot of unrelated resentments. And the issue has been blown out of proportion I think.

    Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if half the online resentment out there over Prop 8 is more due to the high unemployment rate and uncertain national future, than anything the LDS Church did. People get angry and irrational when times are economically bad.

  34. Hellmut says:

    Hellmut ~ Chris H. and Seth have beat me to it. I would say that if you want to get back at the LDS church for its role in Prop 8, maybe banners mocking its role in Prop 8 would be the best way to do that, rather than mocking the general beliefs of Mormons?

    I agree with you that there is a better way to go about it, Ms. Jack. I have gone to great lengths to argue against the discrimination of gays using Mormon principles and values.

    The problem is that Prop. 8 has little to go for it except for tradition and faith. There is no rational justification for excluding gays from marriage.

    The proponents of discrimination have been dislodged from the field of reason and are entrenching behind tradition, definition, and their religion. That is unfortunate.

    Unless we were willing to submit to discrimination, we have to hash out the religious arguments. Things would be a lot easier if believers and their leaders were taking seriously what the life and social sciences have to say about sexuality.

    Then people could privately believe what they want and all of us could go about our lives unharmed.

  35. Hellmut says:

    OK. Things are getting a little too personal here. We have not posted one comment and I will delete another one.

    I will talk to the authors off-line. Disagree with each other but, please, be civil.

    John F., for example, does it very well. He asserts his opinion clearly and without hedges but sticks to the substance of the argument.

  36. Seth R. says:

    I’ll drop the Prop 8 issue Hellmut because I doubt it will go anywhere useful from this point, and it’s only tangentially related to the original post anyway. People can leave whatever responses they want, I won’t respond on the issue further.

  37. Hellmut says:

    Thanks, Seth. You are very gracious.
    I was not talking about you. We talked to the people directly but wanted to let people the audience know why two posts vanished.

  38. chanson says:

    Folks, earlier in this thread I saw some people commenting on how much they like MSP’s policy of not banning/censoring people. Well, I have done everything in my power to keep it that way, but this policy requires a good faith effort to keep things constructive in order not the have flame wars turning this into the scorched Earth blog.

    I’m sorry. I posted a snitty/angry comment last night and then wandered off even though I knew there was a problem. Well, what the hell did I think was going to happen??! This is clearly on-the-job training for all of us, and I apologize for losing my cool and setting the wrong tone.

    That said, there are plenty of people (not pointing fingers at anyone here) who would love to see MSP go up in flames. Absolutely love it. So I am going to repeat my request from earlier today:

    People — especially those who care about this community — make a double effort to keep it civil!! If someone picks a fight with you, don’t rise to the bait, and for heaven’s sake don’t go out of your way to pick fights here!!! If you ignore this and go on flaming, then you are saying that you don’t care about this community, and you will have me to answer to.

  39. wry says:

    I’m a perma and no one ever emails *me* about anything, nor do I get to wield the bossy mod stick. /gratuitously pouty

    I’m guessing, however, that this is due to my self-awarded emeritus status…and lack of ever posting anything except non-value-add comments. Such as this one.

    I like this thread though. And I’m glad Chino reconsidered. And I don’t want our humorous banners to get trashed just because believers won’t be amused by them. Personally, I think changing who you are to try and accommodate others is just a path to losing your identity entirely…and pleasing no one anyhow.

    And I FULLY don’t care if we EVER have a believing perma here. Why would we need that? We don’t have to justify our existence by whether/how many believers dig MSP (or not). They regularly dismiss us all as DAMU trolls and anti-mormons and ban us for saying anything even remotely provocative. They don’t WANT to be friends with us or talk to us, and us bending over backward to try and change that is not ever going to work.

    And finally, why is it that “believers” always get their eff-word on when they venture outside the ‘nacle? I am obviously not offended…merely amused, bemused, and confused.

  40. chanson says:

    Im a perma and no one ever emails *me* about anything, nor do I get to wield the bossy mod stick. /gratuitously pouty

    What??? I emailed you hours ago for advice on the situation, and I’ve been waiting for your reply.

  41. wry says:

    Technology foiled us! Chanson really did email me (ME!!!?) for advice, but her email never went through. It’s probably for the best, I’d likely recommend something that would be inflammatory. 😉

    But srsly, I think this thread is great. The discussion has been awesome and interesting and occasionally blood-pressure-spiking. THAT IS GOOD BLOGGING, MY FRIENDS!!

  42. Kaimi says:

    Just a quick note that the Prudence comment was not me. I don’t comment under that handle.

  43. Hellmut says:

    I am glad to hear it, Kaimi.

  44. chanson says:

    Kaimi — Just a quick clarification: When Chino made comment #223, I assumed that it was obvious to everyone that he was joking (and that Prudence was not you — the comment was clearly not your style). I didn’t add a mod comment because I assumed you’d find the joke funny. If it had been directed at someone who I thought would take it badly, I would have said something.

    My apologies if I misjudged the appropriateness of the joke. And thanks for clarifying, in case anyone had thought Chino’s remark was serious (based on IP addresses, etc.).

  45. Chino Blanco says:

    It’s totally my fault for not making it clear that I was kidding around in my 223 – sincere apologies, Kaimi. Sorry!

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