Nothing to Apologize For (Part II)

July 25, 2012 | 63 comments
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[Times & Seasons welcomes the second in a pair of posts from Ralph Hancock this week, who previously guested with us in 2010]

I argued in Part I that the move from “apologetics” to “Mormon Studies” requires a bracketing of truth claims that may serve legitimate scholarly purposes, but that carries with it certain significant risks.  The New Mormon Studies presents orthodoxy as stifling and itself as intellectually liberating, but it risks purveying a more subtle and powerful conformism, the conformism of secular academic prestige and careerism.  This is intended, not as a condemnation, but as an alert.  We ought to embrace opportunities for rich and productive dialogue with those who do not share our Answers, but we ought not set aside our interest in Answers and thus in effect elevate human (especially professional) “dialogue” itself to the highest status. On with the bracketing, I say, but let us beware of the definitive brackets, those that will not allow themselves to be bracketed.   The questions of Eternity should be the ultimate frame of reference to which we continually return to ponder the results of our bracketing, rather than succumbing to enticements to reduce our eternal concerns to the categories of professional scholarship.  Of course thoughtless conformism is a danger inherent in our humanity, and one from which the pious are by no means exempt.  But “traditional” believers have a certain advantage over professional bracketers in that they confess the existence of a truth higher than any human construction, including that of the most prestigious academics.   In our modern world and our modern academy, believing one is in full possession of the Answers is a less subtle and powerful impediment to the pursuit of truth than stipulating in advance that there are no Answers — or perhaps simply embracing the convention that the really smart people are not concerned with such things, at least not in public.

At this point we can see a link between the question of the style or “tone” of Mormon apologetics, which critics have often raised, and often very reasonably, and the problem of the secular bracketing of fundamental questions.  Judgments in this area are notoriously subjective, as I have learned from recent and hard experience.  So much depends upon audience, context, expectations of genre, etc.  Still, I am struck by the fact that a rhetorical posture (mine or a friend’s let’s say) that may seem to me very respectful, if sometimes, shall we say, straightforward and firm, appears to others as patently offensive, outrageously aggressive.  Naturally those of us who have tried our hands at criticizing critics of the Church are often dismayed, if not surprised, at the aggressive responses to our perceived aggression.  No doubt we can all be more careful about our tone, especially when addressing unfamiliar audiences.  Still, I believe there is a real, substantive issue that often lies behind this stylistic question.  Those who have accepted the definitive bracketing of fundamental questions, and the presumption of the primacy of personal authenticity that it protects, may find it immediately offensive that others, such as myself, do not respect such bracketing.  Although we more traditional “apologists” strive to respect individuals, we do not respect the presumption that every individual is the infallible judge of the ultimate meaning of his or her own experience; we respect personal choice, but we do not regard it as the ultimate arbiter of all meaning.  As I have had occasion to write elsewhere, if personal “authenticity” were the last word, then religious authority (or any moral authority, including reason) would have no purpose, no standing.  Thus it seems likely to me that, whatever rhetorical improvements might be made in the practice of apologetics, those who have accepted the definitive bracketing and thus the dismissal of questions of moral and religious truth will inevitably find arguments that straightforwardly question that bracketing offensive.

Another common critique of traditional apologetics is that it sometimes claims too much for the role of reason, or, more particularly, of “evidence,” in the quest for religious truth.  As far as I know, however, LDS apologists who deal with empirical, historical and textual evidence have taken every occasion to remind readers that there can be no question of providing a full and final rational demonstration of religious claims.  Rather, the apologetic approach has seemed to me consonant with the aim, associated with C.S. Lewis and endorsed by Elder Maxwell, of cultivating a climate hospitable to faith by countering arguments that purport to demonstrate its incompatibility with reason.  Apologetics defends the possibility of being simultaneously faithful and reasonable.  Someone (help me remember) has recently proposed in one of the blog discussions of these questions that we distinguish a modest form of Mormon apologetics that merely attempts to hold open the possibility that core beliefs are not demonstrably irrational from a more ambitious form that aims to establish by rational evidence the probability of core beliefs.  I would say that I might well be satisfied with the more modest conception of apologetics, as long as it is understood as fulfilling the purpose of maintaining a cultural and intellectual climate in which belief is respected.  The problem with the dismissal of arguments for probability, though, is that such dismissal seems to be based on the assumption that there are universally accepted standards of “rational evidence” that can impartially arbitrate among ultimate spiritual or existential claims.  But there is no way to demonstrate impartially that the commitment to some “secular” way of life is more “rational” than one guided by the possibility of divine guidance.  If incontrovertible demonstration is to be our standard, then all our life choices are radically “improbable.”

Terryl Givens made some searching remarks on the problem of evidence in regards to religious faith in a BYU Forum address a few years ago.

“The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true, and to have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing them to be true. I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice more truly a choice—and, therefore, the more deliberate and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. The option to believe must appear on our personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension. One is, it would seem, always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance.

“…There is, as with the ass of Buridan, nothing to compel an individual’s preference for one over the other. But in the case of us mortals, there is something to tip the scale. There is something to predispose us to a life of faith or a life of unbelief. There is a heart that in these conditions of equilibrium and balance—and only in these conditions of equilibrium and balance, equally “enticed by the one or the other” (2 Nephi 2:16)—is truly free to choose belief or cynicism, faith or faithlessness.

“Why, then, is there more merit—given this perfect balance—in believing in the Christ (and His gospel and prophets) than believing in a false deity or in nothing at all? Perhaps because there is nothing in the universe—or in any possible universe—more perfectly good, absolutely beautiful, and worthy of adoration and emulation than this Christ. A gesture of belief in that direction, a will manifesting itself as a desire to acknowledge His virtues as the paramount qualities of a divided universe, is a response to the best in us, the best and noblest of which the human soul is capable. For we do indeed create gods after our own image—or potential image. And that is an activity endowed with incalculable moral significance.”

Professor Givens suggests a tension between our LDS “culture of certainty” and this understanding of the ultimacy of moral choice.  I would be inclined to say, rather, that the certainty we seek is not of the scientific kind, ostensibly detached from human meaning and morally neutral; it is rather the certainty that emerges, that progressively defines our very being, as we participate in the choice of eternal life by which we are attuned to what is best and most powerful in the cosmos.  In any case, Givens has eloquently expressed the inherently moral dimension of all authentic truth seeking.

And this brings me back to reflections on the appeal of “Mormon Studies” as distinct from “Apologetics.”  I have so far adumbrated certain social and professional enticements to the suppression of the question of ultimate truth, but this is to ignore a moral dimension of the problem that might be obvious, but that has been suppressed even more resolutely than the intellectual dimension I have been discussing.   When, in The City of God Augustine was critiquing the pagan philosophers (along with the rest of the City of Man), he made a kind of exception for the Platonists, because (on his view), they considered moral purification and intellectual insight to be inseparable.  Mormons are neither Platonists nor Augustinians (I think we can agree), but we share with Augustine’s Platonists the conviction that true knowledge is not attainable by the methods of study alone, by techniques available to persons regardless of moral character or spiritual desire, but only by obedient faith, by the investment of the whole soul, by a consecration that requires the sacrifice of many desires, the cleansing of the inner vessel.  Seeking understanding is inseparable from seeking righteousness; to talk the talk concerning ultimate things it is necessary to walk the walk, a walk we do not ourselves prescribe.  Of course we wisely leave to each person the responsibility for moral purity, (except where parental or ecclesiastical authority, or the privilege of counseling close friends, come into play), but we recognize that the cultivation of an uplifting moral environment, where greed and lust, for example, are held in check, if not overcome, is a necessary condition for the most important kind of learning.

Need I state that this is now an unpopular idea, and nowhere more unmentionable than in the modern, secular academy?   For the secular bracketing of the intellectual question of “the Good” is also and inseparably a bracketing of the moral question “how should I live?”  The great power and appeal of this modern bracketing lies precisely in its dismissal of vexing moral questions, which allows us to make collective progress in a kind of knowledge (technological science and its analogues) that has been methodically separated from such questions.   The separation of scientific or scholarly questions from “personal” matters of “private” morality is not an accidental feature of our general cultural landscape, or of our secular academic culture in particular.  And of course we are now beginning to reap the full harvest of this separation in the more and more aggressive assertion of the right to define one’s own morality, without any respect to the authority of religion or tradition, particularly where sexuality is concerned.

This moral question may seem to be an odd tangent to my discussion of Mormon Studies, but I think that, however awkward, it is central to the problem of the interface between Latter-day Saints and the broader culture, especially the secular vanguard of the academy.  Our intellectual culture has in many precincts become fairly easy-going, in a kind of postmodern way, regarding speculative theological beliefs: we believe in as many or as few gods as we like without having our scholarly status questioned..  Historical claims may be a little more troublesome, especially if they involve more recent history, but even here considerable eccentricity may be indulged in the name of tolerance and diversity.  But there is another kind of foundational commitment that may not be questioned, and where dissent from the academic mainstream is unlikely to be tolerated: that is, the absolute moral authority of lifestyle liberation, especially where sex is concerned.   To question the moral principle of the equal right of all lifestyles (especially, of course, the most transgressive) is to set oneself against the most sacred truth of the dominant intellectual class, and one in which its members have more than an intellectual interest.   Thus today it may cost a young and aspiring scholar little or nothing to believe in a corporeal God, and may be just a little embarrassing to believe in an angel delivering gold plates.  But to pronounce publicly in favor of chastity and traditional marriage might be professionally suicidal.  As the Church’s opposition to the secular culture on questions concerning the meaning and purpose of our sexuality becomes ever more apparent, sometimes to the point of direct political activism, academics and others seeking success within the mainstream will be more and more tempted to bracket fundamental teachings in this area.

Allow me then a question you may find strange and even (though I hope not) offensive, but that seems to be altogether pertinent to the question of the tenor of “Mormon Studies”:  how many of the rising or established practitioners of Mormon Studies supported or were comfortable with Church’s  support for Proposition 8 in California?  How many, on the contrary, believe or hope that the Church will “progress” towards a full respect for the homosexual lifestyle, and support for homosexual marriage, even temple marriage? How many see the Family Proclamation as relative to a certain time that is rapidly passing, a quaint view to be indulged with patience while an older generation of leadership passes from the scene?  If you are inclined to such hope or expectation, I simply invite you to consider, whether your expectation or hope arises from a consecrated pursuit of truth or whether it is conditioned, rather, by the enticements of the “mainstream” of professional and cultural respectability.[1]



[1] It is relevant to notice, in this connection, that the venerable journal Dialogue, arguably a leading forum of “Mormon Studies” has recently honored as its “article of the year” Taylor Petrey’s venturesome and learned “Towards a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology.”  The article manifestly deserves careful attention, which I hope eventually to give it, but for now I propose the question:  why would we want to move “towards” such a vision?  Does such a question simply emerge from the faithful exploration of our theological possibilities, or is it imposed upon us by the academic and cultural mainstream whose acceptance we crave?  See this thoughtful response by Joe Spencer.  As Spencer notes, a key premise of Petrey’s seems to be that “gender cannot be both inherent and taught.”  Nothing, I dare say, could be less evident.  Aristotle already thought that our very humanity is both natural and political – that is, a potentiality given by nature but dependent upon cultivation in a given political culture.

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63 Responses to Nothing to Apologize For (Part II)

  1. Adam G. on July 25, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    I think you have implicitly hit on one of the major impulses behind the move from apologetics to Mormon Studies. In Mormon Studies, the faith commitment of the scholar doesn’t matter as much, so awkward questions like yours on Proposition 8 don’t arise.

    I think its no coincidence that the recent FARMS Affair was touched off by an article (which I haven’t read) that reportedly points out that John Dehlin denies Christ and is probably an atheist.

  2. Jake Heninger on July 25, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    “I simply invite you to consider, whether your expectation or hope arises from a consecrated pursuit of truth or whether it is conditioned, rather, by the enticements of the “mainstream” of professional and cultural respectability.”

    Since the “pursuit of truth” IS the goal of “secular academic culture” I fail to see why this is an either or. The things taught to me by my parents and the members of my ward about gay people (things like gay people shouldn’t be allowed to be scout leaders because they are more inclined to pedophilia) simply aren’t true. My college professors, unconstrained as I was by the need to validate prejudices when mouthed by prophets, helped me to see that truth. For that I am thankful to God each day. To me, revelation (such as Jesus’ teaching that we ought to treat others as we would want to be treated) comports with the “mainstream” (although not majority) belief that gay people ought to be entitled to the equal protection of the laws.

    You have set up a false dichotomy.

  3. Steve Smith on July 25, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    I find it kind of funny that you end your post on the topic of gay marriage, as if that issue it is at the crux of our religious debate, when in reality it is actually quite a peripheral issue.

    My stance on gay marriage (I support it and would hope that the church support it as well) is driven by a quest to find truth, morality, and justice, as I would believe is the case with Joanna Brooks and John Dehlin. In fact in the environment I am in, I am actually under more social pressure to hold a more conservative view on gay marriage.

    But I’m not on a mission to get the church to accept gay marriage. I merely want it to avoid all political involvement in the issue and tolerate its members who openly express their support of gay marriage much as they tolerate members who are members of the Democratic party.

  4. Jacob on July 25, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Ok, bracketing truth….apologetics…..Mormon Studies….pursuit of the Good, yes, secularism, yes, so far good, the possibility of a reasoned, level-headed discussion still in place….Ah. There it is. Homosexual lifestyle. Bingo. Props, I guess, for putting the non sequitur at the very end of the post instead of the beginning. Might I suggest your final paragraph needs, at minimum, to be a separate post, and if not you need a couple paragraphs before it in order to make the connections between what you’ve reasonably said in the first 3/4ths of the post and this regrettable final paragraph. Issues regarding secularism, truth claims, how to study Mormonism, how the Good might be pursued and recognized, all need urgent and frankly constant discussion and normally i would say that someone of your capabilities is more than up for the task. But. Whether that would have ever happened is up for debate; your posts carry the merit of so often bringing out the worst of both sides. Now, you’ve virtually destroyed the possibility of discussing the above in ways that won’t occasion waves of vitriol from all over the map (More than happy for the discussion to prove me wrong). Of course, this is the Bloggernacle. Par for the course, right? But then, you knew that.

  5. Steve Smith on July 25, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    I also object to the idea that there is some secular bracketing of “the Good” as if secularism recognizes neither good nor evil, moral nor immoral. I have always found secularism to have a strong sense of morality and “the Good.” Secularism, at least in the case of the US and much of Western Europe, appears to have a strong commitment to the rule of law and legal codes that, although often influenced influenced by religious codes, blend different human understandings of the “the Moral” and the “the Just.” That to me is evidence of the morality of secularism.

    It is somewhat paradoxical that Mormonism owes its existence to secularism which forbade the preeminence of a state religion and allowed groups the freedom of assembly. Mormonism would have been hard pressed to flourish in most other sociopolitical environments of the time.

  6. Quickmere Graham on July 25, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Having read this 2-part series, and having closely followed many of the developments in the sub-field of Mormon studies over the past several years as well as elements spanning back to the 60s I can confidently say I don’t think Ralph Hancock knows much about Mormon studies. He never gives a definition, he only points to one specific person (Petrey). Neither of these posts appear to touch on the substance of what constitutes Mormon studies, and the interesting questions Hancock almost raises get lost in his litmus test regarding Proposition 8.

  7. fred smith on July 25, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    This post effectively summarizes what has turned a lot of people against Farms style apologetics. Your tying of morality and knowledge is the inherent approach that underlies a lot of the FARMS book reviews, for example. Ignore the propositions by the book, or at least sidestep them, but just attack the author. Because, if you believe that morality precedes knowledge, then discrediting morality undermines the credibility of the opponents morality. This, Mr. Hancock, was also the tone of your piece on Joanna Brook’s. Her suppositions weren’t to be trusted because her morality was in question.

    The irony of this is that FARMS and FAIR have spent so much of their time arguing against this in regards to church leaders. This is a primary form of attack on Joseph Smith–surely he can’t be a prophet of God, one who possessed / received knowledge, because of his moral flaws. The FARMS response is, typically, that prophets are human and the Lord reveals knowledge to imperfect people. Keep an open mind that a flawed Joseph Smith may possess great knowledge, but your opponents moral flaws (which, aren’t even proven, but just implied by basis of heterodox viewpoints) render them completely devoid of knowledge.

    Historically speaking, there were good members of the church, even members of the Quorum of the 12, who hoped for change on the church’s “policy” on blacks holding the priesthood decades before 1978.

    I think we always need to be in constant self-examination for our motives. But, that goes all around. As a professor at BYU, have you examined whether your public stances on certain issues because of love of Christ, or because there are professional advantages within your place of employment for doing so? Those who oppose gays on a certain issues need to self-examine whether they are doing so out of charity, or just cultural bias. In the church, we often say “love the sinner, hate the sin”, but on most sins that church members find unacceptable, we are much, much better at hating the sin than we are at loving the sinner. Self examination is as much necessary for those with so-called conservative beliefs on a topic as for those who hold so-called liberal beliefs on a topic.

    The reality is that we are all sinners, and it is as much vanity to say that your morality earns you knowledge as it is to say that your good works earns you salvation.

  8. Dave on July 25, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    Let’s simplify the discussion a bit in a way that points towards common ground. We often hear the counsel that, as Latter-day Saints or more generally as Christians, we must live in the world but not of the world. Few people object to that counsel. What does it mean? While there are the usual temptations to be “of the world” that are common to all people, there are also more refined avenues for being “of the world” that come with each career or profession.

    It seems like in the two essays Ralph Hancock has posted here at T&S he is conceding that temporary methodological bracketing is part of the academic tool kit, but he is arguing that allowing those brackets to become permanent is (using my terminology) “of the world.” In what way? Because those who fully internalize the brackets then use that frame to question the Church’s moral positions and perhaps anyone’s moral positions. Permanent bracketing is the refined “of the world” path for academics.

    That no doubt oversimplifies the issue. But we do all live in the world and must make some compromises as we go through life, yet if we are willing to compromise on every issue, if nothing is sacred, then we are living “of the world.” What compromises won’t we make? Whether taking a contrary position on Prop 8 is the proper litmus test for evidence of a fatal compromise is a separate issue. Once upon a time supporting the practice of plural marriage was such a litmus test. Such tests turn out to be strangely impermanent. But if belief in God or membership in the Church has any meaning, it must be the case that we can point to some choices or positions and see a compromise we will not make. Relativizing all truth claims (permanent brackets) seems like such a compromise.

  9. Casey on July 25, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Setting aside the use of “homosexual lifestyle” (actually, not: Really? It’s the equivalent of saying “those people” when talking about race relations), I’m not sure pressure to conform with norms of “secular academia” (whatever exactly that means) can adequately explain the liberal bent of modern Mormon Studies as broadly outlined here (“liberal” isn’t a perfect designation but I think it sums up the gist of what the post is discussing well enough). I don’t think secular academia accounts for the variety of liberal LDS communities that have sprung up online, even ones that are tied closely with various aspects of Mormon Studies. However you account for the growth of “liberal mormonism” (hopefully without the dripping contempt shown elsewhere), it’s certainly not restricted to the academy. If Prop 8 must be a litmus test, you’ll learn more by asking why any Mormon opposed it rather than focusing solely on academics.

  10. Kristine on July 25, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    Who is Professor Hancock talking about? I go to a fair number of Mormon Studies conferences every year, and I know a lot of scholars who are doing terrific work in their fields. The conversation in the hallways is about reconciling faith and scholarship, the difficulty of being a believer who is “out of the closet” in the academy, fulfilling callings, parenting, devotional insights into the scriptures… I just don’t know where these flaming secularists are.

    Is the only measure of excessive bracketing whether one supported Proposition 8?

  11. fred smith on July 25, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    @dave(8) – Most Church members that I know who support gay marriage don’t view themselves as compromising, but living their conscience.

    For some, “relativizing all truth claims” isn’t a compromise, but a concession to a recognition or belief that their understanding is flawed. Given things that I thought I previously “knew” in life, I recognize that my understanding of many things is inherently problematic. As much as I’d like to say “I know”, I don’t have a level of comfort that I can feel honest to say “I know”–whether it is because it is not given to me to know (ie D&C 46) or for other reasons, it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t have a level of certainty to stand in judgement of others, dealing out doom, disfellowship, ostracisation, and excommunication to those who, based on their life experience and according to the dictates of their conscience, act differently than I would act and understand church teachings differently than I would understand them.

    At the end of the day, litmus tests–even if based on what most members would agree are the more basic tenants of Mormonism as “atonement of Christ” or “historiocity of the Book of Mormon, are wrong. While there may be reasons to believe, we should also recognize that there are enough reasons to justify disbelief that, as the Church itself teaches, it takes a spiritual awakening to confirm the truth of these things. If someone loves the teachings of Christ, but just can’t accept the atonement, or makes compromises about the historicity of the book of Mormon in order to still find it readable, is that a call for ostracisation or condemnation? Or, rather, is it a call to keep them in the community where, if the church is true, that they can have those experiences that bring about a change of heart.

    I find the idea that we ostracise people who haven’t yet had that spiritual awakening not just a lack of faith in individuals, but also a lack of faith in God. Just because he hasn’t yet given someone that knowledge does not mean that he won’t and certainly doesn’t mean that He can’t.

    As much as R. Hancock rails against those who would advise the brethren, I find that his articles often attempt to do the same. We are not judges in Zion over these people, and so, if we are to be Christians, it is our duty to follow the commandment of Christ and not judge.

  12. Taylor P on July 25, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    SInce my name is invoked here in ways that are not entirely clear to me as the apparent epitome of secular bracketing, in spite of the fact that my article constitues an explicitly non-secular discourse, namely, theology, I thought it worth pointing out that I have actually said something about the moral implications of the academic study of religion. Suffice it to say that the caricature of the study of religion offerd in this post bares little resemblance to anything that I believe.
    http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/secularism-and-religious-education-part-1/

    With that said, I eagerly look forward to robust engagements with my Dialogue article. I only hope that they will not be dependent upon meaningless stereotypes like “homosexual lifestyle.”

  13. christine on July 25, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    if someone has not yet had their spiritual awakening they might be more ostracized by the chuch’s culture of absolute truth declarations than by a niche style scholarly debate about aspects within the church that might invite investigation.

    prop 8 i would like to think has less to do with religion and more to do with legal entitlements which gay partners are now since 2010 again permitted to share since they will be able to receive the legal status of spouse in california.

    i do not see how sexual preferences and orientation should be under the auspices of the church, of course many churches have tried…maybe the most unsuccessful one being the RC who warmed and probably still warms a bunch ofsnakes at their breasts, in other words countless homosexual pedophiles RC priesthood etc.while maintaining that the bible declares gay people as violating natural laws. I was told that a man who chooses gender reassignment will be denied priesthood in LDS..otherwise I was told there is no discrimination. I do not have a gay couple in my ward so no idea. too new at this. is it a dont ask dont tell scenario so gay couples cannot openly be couples when active in LDS church ?

  14. Taylor P on July 25, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    That should be “bear” a resemblance.

    Also, I hope that the answer to my article will also give me the credit and respect of not psychoanalyzing me as “craving acceptance by the academic and cultural mainstream.”

  15. BHodges on July 25, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    Shortly after I wrote a review of Joanna Brooks’s book, a book which Hancock heavily criticized, he wrote a blog post which said he had too many projects going on to continue the discussion, but that he would continue later. Is this the continued effort? Because it entirely avoids any of the points I raised in that review.

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2012/05/17/review-joanna-brooks-the-book-of-mormon-girl-stories-from-an-american-faith-2/

  16. Adam G. on July 25, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    The wounded tribalism and general pile-on in the comments goes far to persuading me that Hancock must be on to something.

  17. BHodges on July 25, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    Adam G.: The avoidance of dealing with substantive questions/responses goes far to persuading me you’re onto something, too. That “something” which you’re onto seems to be an avoidance of substantive discussion.

    Let’s leave the cheap tricks to the magicians.

  18. christine on July 25, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    yes which tribe does everyone belong to ? i thought mormons were milque toast middle class non confrontational and now i realize i joined a tribal church populated by atheists, Apologists, homosexuals, New Order Mormons and people who do not know what they are nor what they are doing here. haha ! I LOVE IT

  19. BHodges on July 25, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    PS- Adam: what you read as “tribalism” I read as different people objecting to Hancock’s inaccurate categorizations.

  20. MDKing on July 25, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    Who is Professor Hancock talking about? I go to a fair number of Mormon Studies conferences every year, and I know a lot of scholars who are doing terrific work in their fields. The conversation in the hallways is about reconciling faith and scholarship, the difficulty of being a believer who is “out of the closet” in the academy, fulfilling callings, parenting, devotional insights into the scriptures… I just don’t know where these flaming secularists are.

    Ironically the only person he mentions specifically is also one of the organizers of the Faith and Knowledge conferences put on by Richard Bushman for LDS graduate students in religious studies, and hosted at Yale, Duke, and Harvard–Hancock’s alma mater (http://www.faithandknowledge.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3&Itemid=5). These are conferences put on by the older generation of Mormon Studies scholars, hosted at academic institutions, and centered on navigating faith and scholarship.

  21. Lucy on July 26, 2012 at 12:08 am

    What is “mormon studies”?

  22. Cynthia L. on July 26, 2012 at 1:50 am

    “I simply invite you to consider, whether your expectation or hope arises from a consecrated pursuit of truth or whether it is conditioned, rather, by the enticements of the “mainstream” of professional and cultural respectability.”

    The former; thanks for asking!

  23. nate on July 26, 2012 at 2:01 am

    A very insightful article Bro. Hancock, quite compelling, particularly your invitation to consider the motivations regarding Prop. 8.

    The kind of bracketing of truths claims I do, is to bracket them around my own personal spiritual experiences and knowledge, in order to protect others from my judgement of them by standards they have not received. I have made covenants to obey certain peculiar standards, but do I insist that Gentiles obey those peculiarities even without the covenant or commandment to do so? No. I know what God has given to me, and I know that God commanded me not to judge others for what He has given them.

    Prop. 8 was not an invitation to obey the LDS covenant. It was not in the in the spirit of “come follow me.” It was a crusade. Political and financial force was mobilized to participate in the culture wars of the Gentiles, to march behind banners and fight, man to man, for the kingdom of God. Like all crusades, it backfired, for Jesus said, “my kingdom is not of this world, for if my kingdom were of this world then would my servants fight….he who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword”

    True, our prophets commanded us to march in this crusade. But will they again? Was Prop. 8 initially part of a policy focused on the peripheral mission of “being good neighbors” which got out of hand because of over-zealous local leadership, anxious, as Saints have always been, to fight for the Kingdom of God?

  24. Mark Brown on July 26, 2012 at 3:20 am

    Nate, I need to offer a correction. The church issued a written statement saying that a member’s position on prop 8 was specifically NOT a worthiness issue, and should have no bearing on callings or temple recommends.

    The worst kind of bracketing going on here is the way Hancock sets aside the words and example of the Brethren in favor of pursuing his career as a culture warrior.

    It is also troubling that this post constitutes an implicit criticism of Pres. Samuelsen and BYU’s board in the handling of the recent changes at FARMS. I call upon Ralph, Adam, and others to set aside their wounded tribalism on these issues and follow the Brethren.

  25. Mark Brown on July 26, 2012 at 3:28 am

    In other words, the issue of bracketing is a non-issue. It has to do with motes and beams, not Mormon Studies.

  26. Stan Beale on July 26, 2012 at 3:57 am

    I would like to draw three analogies to this discussion. Each deals with public perception in one way or another.

    In the late 70′s Saturday Night Live did a take off on the news. What one thing do people remember about those skits? Dan Akroyd turning to Jane Curtain and saying, “Jane, you ignorant slut.” I am afraid instead of the good work done by FARMS, many of us remember the “Jane, you ignorant slut” examples and thus the quesiness about it.

    Professor Hancock with his sesquipedalian fixation and “guilt by association” (Prop 8) techniques represnts this problem. I believe that many of his positions are worth consideration, but because of the way he clouds them with soft invective, it is very easy to reject them out of hand.

    Hancock also reminds me of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Richard Rovere explained that Eisenhower in writing his memoirs would provide a list of reasons for doing something. The first words were the “politically correct” things to say, the last was the real explanation for his actions. Especially in Part I where Hancock begins by saying nice things about people, then. . .

    Finally he reminds me of Frank Luntz. Luntz is the Republican pollster who uses focal groups to determine what words or phrases that will have the strongest connotations in support of a position. For example, Death Taxes instead of Inheritance Tax, Democrat Party instead of Democratic Party. Hancock’s use of “secular” and “homosexual lifestyle” will reach the audience he wants, the uber TBM.

    In sum, I am not really sure how effective his type of argumentation is. It can certainly excite the erudite true believers, but, others I just do not know. A political consultant I knew called different communities “one syllable, two syllable or three syllable.” The idea was to use the sophistication of words that matched who you were trying to communicate with. Hancock seems to be a four syllable guy in a three syllable world.

    I know it isn’t fair, but I just finished re-reading “Of Booker T. Washington and Others by W.E.B. DuBois and the comparison to Hancock was just jaw dropping. If someone of that skill wrote his post, might some of us had a different reaction?

  27. Ugly Mahana on July 26, 2012 at 6:16 am

    “über tbm.”

    This is why I object to the term “tbm.” It is usually defined as someone who is faithful to LDS teachings, but, as shown here, it usually connotes acceptance of political (or sometimes cultural) traits that the user dislikes. It equates righteousness and faithfulness with contemptible phariseeism nearly every time it is used. it is an epithet that has no purpose in civil dialogue.

  28. Peter LLC on July 26, 2012 at 7:39 am

    It is also troubling that this post constitutes an implicit criticism of Pres. Samuelsen and BYU’s board in the handling of the recent changes at FARMS.

    Indeed. To listen to the most ardent defenders of old school apologetics you’d think the fate of FARMS was uninspired.

  29. Snyderman on July 26, 2012 at 8:34 am

    “Mormons are neither Platonists nor Augustinians (I think we can agree), but we share with Augustine’s Platonists the conviction that true knowledge is not attainable by the methods of study alone, by techniques available to persons regardless of moral character or spiritual desire, but only by obedient faith, by the investment of the whole soul, by a consecration that requires the sacrifice of many desires, the cleansing of the inner vessel.”

    Though you set this up to be a reason against the turn towards Mormon Studies, this quite aptly explains exactly why I think that turn is good. If you’re right, and living (righteously) is the only way to come to true knowledge, then I think the framework of the discussion needs to be in narrative form. And as I stated in my comment to Part 1, I think Mormon Studies focuses more on narratives than Apologetics does.

    @fred smith, #7: Well said. I like your explanation of the problems with the “morality precedes knowledge” assertion.

  30. Quickmere Graham on July 26, 2012 at 10:17 am

    What can we do with a person who asks questions but avoids answering any? Are we to expect a “sorry, too busy to keep this up, I’ll be back later” post over at the johnadamscenter blog? I recognize Hancock may be busy, but it seems 30 comments are slim enough for your average professor, let alone a Harvard graduate, to get through in about an hour.

  31. christine on July 26, 2012 at 11:02 am

    snyderman, why is a narrative per se non-apologetics?

  32. fred smith on July 26, 2012 at 11:07 am

    @28 (Peter) It’s only a sin to counsel the brethren from the left, not from the right.

  33. European Saint on July 26, 2012 at 11:15 am

    Mr. Graham (#30): Perhaps you failed to read Hancock’s reply to the comments on Post 1. I am confident he will again reply to Post 2 comments. A little patience would do you good (even brilliant Harvard professors can have busy lives, or so I hear).

  34. Snyderman on July 26, 2012 at 11:17 am

    I don’t think narratives belong to (or don’t belong to) any field of study, nor is it correct to say they do. And I don’t. I didn’t say that narratives are non-Apologetics, I only said that I think Mormon Studies focuses on and includes narratives more than Apologetics does.

  35. Ralph Hancock on July 26, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    I appreciate some genuine attempts to engage my arguments. Some respondents are pretty quick to attribute to me views I have not in fact defended, but let us set aside any hurt feelings and see if we can come to see more clearly just where we disagree. If we are fated to disagree, let’s at be clear on what is at stake, and not go away thinking we disagree more than we really do.
    First, there is no reason to conclude that my overall view of Mormon Studies is negative. I think I am pretty clear that I find much done under that rubric to be good. I do raise some questions and point up some risks. I do not say they define the whole field and everyone who works in it. My views are based upon a long, but by no means comprehensive, acquaintance with scholarship on Mormon themes, but also on recent discussions with people in the discipline, and on statements on blogs by people who see themselves as in Mormon Studies and who have expressed their sense of its commitments and directions. Also, I have been involved in higher education for 30+ years, and have studied and written about philosophical issues fundamental to higher education, and this study and experienced also shapes my concerns. From these sources I have learned to be concerned about certain tendencies, and I write from those concerns. I make no comprehensive claims about everything or everyone associated with Mormon Studies.
    I do venture some generalizations which are certainly contestable, but I think not unreasonable, or beyond the pale of productive discussion. I once again invite calm discussion of these propositions.
    Am I wrong that stipulating in advance that there are no Answers (to religious-existential questions) may be a more subtle and powerful impediment to the pursuit of Truth than plain-old over-confidence in one’s Answers?
    Am I wrong that appeals to personal authenticity are one way in which the pursuit of Truth beyond personal preferences or inclinations is short-circuited.
    Am I wrong that truly authentic Truth-seeking can never be contained within an academic discipline because such seeking is inseparable from the pursuit of moral purification?
    Am I wrong that “the absolute moral authority of lifestyle liberation, especially where sex is concerned” is at least a strong commitment in, let’s say, many prestigious precinct of the modern academy? That “today it may cost a young and aspiring scholar little or nothing to believe in a corporeal God, and may be just a little embarrassing to believe in an angel delivering gold plates. But to pronounce publicly in favor of chastity and traditional marriage might be professionally suicidal.” For those of you in the academy, I put this to you as a genuine question. Consider it my little unscientific survey. I do not assume it is everywhere obviously true, but I think it is a fair and good question.
    I do not mean to make support for Prop 8 a litmus test, though I do support it, indeed would have supported it without any Church encouragement. Still, I think it is an interesting empirical question how many Mormon-Studies-non-apologetics types supported it – just another empirical question, for my unscientific survey. But leave that aside if you wish, and consider the questions that follow re. expectations of Church “progress” beyond the Family Proclamation. This I do in fact regard as pivotal issue that I can see separating many intellectually ambitious LDS from the firmly held beliefs of their fellow saints. I think this relativizing of the Family Proclamation is a huge mistake. I realize I haven’t proved it, and so I admit it is something that merits more discussion. But let’s start with being clear: do you, reader, or do you not “bracket” the Family Proclamation, which anchors heterosexual marriage more deeply in our beliefs than in any other faith I can think of. If I and the Proclamation are wrong about this, then say so, explain why, discuss. (Taylor Petrey deserves credit for relativizing the Proclamation in a deep and learned way, and his argument indeed deserves a careful treatment. But let’s start by recognizing that is what he is doing.)
    I hope the foregoing will shed some light on my more particular responses:
    2,5. “Truth” is not univocal. I think secular academic culture tends to define truth in a way that separates it from ultimate purposes and thus from certain kinds of moral demands. Of course secularism has its own morality – that’s my point. It’s not a morality that attaches any intrinsic importance (to say the least) to sexual restraint or sexual boundaries (with the interesting exception of children, as Joe Paterno learned too late).
    3,4,6,23. We might wish that gay marriage and other politically charged issues were peripheral to our religious concerns, but I have provided a clear argument that they are not. We may not be interested in the culture wars, but they will remain interested in us. It’s not my fault these are divisive issues. You may have found my transition to these issues abrupt, but in fact an argument connects them to the main concerns of the post.
    7. I have attacked no one. Do you deny the link between morality and knowledge? Yes, I see you do. Using the blacks/priesthood issue as a grid for every other issue is a little tiresome. If you imagine that my career at BYU is enhanced because I raise the questions I raise, this shows how little you understood BYU, and the degree to which it is part of the secular academic mainstream. Have I expressed hatred towards any sinner? Denied the universal imperative of self-examination?
    8. Thanks, very reasonable and helpful. You make very important point in saying that recognition that the Church has been wrong must not lead us to relativize everything.
    9. Sure, OK, but I’m writing here about the academy, where a certain “liberalism” is especially pronounced and influential.
    10. Glad to hear it, really, and not surprised. But the difficulty of being “out of the closet” is just my point. The scholars you’re talking about seem to be alert to the risks I mean to highlight. Good.
    11. See 8. And where did I call for ostracism or condemnation? Have I “railed”? (Why so touchy?) Or is that equivalent to calling attention to what I regard as a mistake?
    12,14. Thanks, Taylor. See direct questions re-iterated above, if you don’t mind. Wear only shoes that fit. We could the relation of theological discourse to “secular” discourse. It’s true the category is much too crude. I think much depends on the relation of a discourse to moral-religious authority. To pursue.
    13. Openly gay couples “active” in LDS church (eg full fellowship)? That this question needs to be asked is an example of what concerns me.
    15. I haven’t forgotten. If I weren’t doing this, I would be doing that.
    20. Yes, of course the generational trope has only very limited application. And I’m not the one who introduced it.
    22. Good. Are those enticements insignificant?
    23, 28, 32. You have an exaggerated view of how closely involved “Pres. Samuelson and BYU’s board” was in the Maxwell Institute changes. A joke, right? Or do we need to apply the blacks/priesthood narrative to relativize this “inspiration.” An interesting appeal to revealed authority. See my post at johnadamscenter.com

  36. Snyderman on July 26, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    “Am I wrong that stipulating in advance that there are no Answers (to religious-existential questions) may be a more subtle and powerful impediment to the pursuit of Truth than plain-old over-confidence in one’s Answers?”

    I think this may get at one of the core reasons why we disagree, because I’m guessing we have different definitions of “Truth.” For me, Truth is not found in propositions, but in embodiment. For example, for me, “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the Gospel” is not Truth; a life built on Faith in the Lord is. For me, Truth is a lived life, not a principle. Truth is the embodiment–the living–of virtues; which is why Christ is *the* Truth, because He is the perfect embodiment–the perfect living–of virtues.

    And I think this may be why I’m less comfortable with your “bracketing” description, because I’m not sure that it’s the right one. I think for many engaged in Mormon Studies, their pursuit of Truth could be best summarized as their attempts to come into contact with Christ, the ultimate Truth. Thus as they try unorthodox things, as they wonder about things such as gay marriage, they are not “bracketing” Truth, but rather trying to figure out what course of action brings them into closest contact with Christ.

    Which is not to say that there aren’t limits on what is acceptable. I would be incredibly skeptical of anyone claiming that they came into closest contact with Christ while engaging in frequent, meaningless sex, to use a somewhat extreme example. But I think any honest pursuer of Truth who gives living a moral, honest, faithful life a chance would never be able to say that.

    If that makes sense. Also, as always, this is simply my understanding, which may not be accurate.

  37. European Saint on July 26, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    After reading both parts of this piece, every comment and, finally, Hancock’s replies, I am convinced that far too many who accuse Hancock of ad hominem do so in an attempt to draw attention away from the strength of his arguments or, at the very least, from the importance of the questions he is raising (a recent post at JI appeared to epitomize this, in my view). I once again seem to be in the minority in my views here at T&S (at least among those electing to post their views; perhaps the closeted/hidden reader world is different), but I nevertheless feel overwhemingly more persuaded by the arguments Hancock is making than the (often emotional and sometimes immature, from my vantage point) stabs made by his detractors. Can we not disagree without being disagreeable? Meanwhile, to highlight one point in particular that Hancock makes: “I think secular academic culture tends to define truth in a way that separates it from ultimate purposes and thus from certain kinds of moral demands. Of course secularism has its own morality – that’s my point.” This seems a foreign concept to some posters here, which surprised/surprises me greatly. Do some of you truly view the “secular academic culture” as removed from (or, worse yet, “above”) questions of morality? If so, I am sincerely interested in learning why.

  38. Mark Brown on July 26, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    Not a joke at all, Ralph. At lelast 2 general authorities were directly involved, and their action has at least the tacit approval of the board, since it has allowed the action to stand. In what sense is that a joke?

  39. European Saint on July 26, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Mark, from what I understand of the matter, I am afraid there are things Hancock knows about the MI MSR shake-up that he is simply not at liberty (or advised, rather) to publish at this time. I would submit that your understanding of the GA’s involvement is inaccurate, but unfortunately I cannot elaborate further (and I am sure this will somewhat irk you and “prove” that I am wrong, in your eyes). All in due time…

  40. Mark Brown on July 26, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    “and I am sure this will somewhat irk you and “prove” that I am wrong, in your eyes”

    Not irked at all, European Saint. I’m happy to extend the benefit of the doubt.

  41. Peter LLC on July 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    I’m happy to extend the benefit of the doubt.

    Aha! A bracketer!

  42. Steve Smith on July 26, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    “Am I wrong that “the absolute moral authority of lifestyle liberation, especially where sex is concerned” is at least a strong commitment in, let’s say, many prestigious precinct of the modern academy? That “today it may cost a young and aspiring scholar little or nothing to believe in a corporeal God, and may be just a little embarrassing to believe in an angel delivering gold plates. But to pronounce publicly in favor of chastity and traditional marriage might be professionally suicidal.” For those of you in the academy, I put this to you as a genuine question.”

    Yes you’re dead wrong on two levels. First many LDS arrived at their support for gay marriage on the sheer morality of the argument not because of social pressure to accept gay marriage. Also there are many conservative Muslims, Orthodox Jews, and traditional Catholics who openly voice their opposition to gay marriage in the academy and aren’t committing professional suicide by doing so. It almost seems that the academy is far more tolerant of people who are not in favor of gay marriage than many religious institutions are of those who favor gay marriage.

    Second you are creating a straw man as to the moral authority of lifestyle liberation in secular academia. People not only frown on Joe Paterno, but also on general unfaithfulness to commitments. For instance it seems that people (religious or not) generally look down on those who sleep around behind their partner’s back (married or not), unless they have established an agreement otherwise. Likewise with a whole host of other contractual commitments and agreements.

    I find it hypocritical of you to accuse, ever so implicitly, those who question the LDS church’s stances on a number of issues as succumbing to social pressure–that they did so out of fear of embarrassment or committing “professional suicide”–when so many of those like yourself who stridently uphold the official narrative of the LDS church also often do so because of social pressures from your families and LDS community. In fact I feel much more social pressure from the LDS community to believe a certain way than I do from the academy.

  43. Steve Smith on July 26, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    “The wounded tribalism and general pile-on in the comments goes far to persuading me that Hancock must be on to something.”

    As if there existence of tribalism among the questioning and doubting Mormons is greater than the tribalism of the staunch conservative “Iron Rod” (for lack of a better term) Mormons. There is much more diversity among the former than the latter, who owe much of the cohesiveness of their community to an almost tribal sense of group feeling. In fact it is almost as if Hancock is encouraging a strong sense of tribalism among the LDS, especially in the academy.

  44. Steve Smith on July 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Dave, (#8) I suppose that I can sympathize with your attempt to find a common ground with Hancock. Of course the point that in order for Mormonism to have some meaning it must have some ground that it does not compromise on, but that is stating the obvious. But Hancock implicitly creates a straw man of progressive Mormons and those who favor permanently bracketing some issues as if they are some sort of moral and historical relativists who advocate the idea the post-modernistic idea that nothing can be known for sure. That is simply not true. He grossly misrepresents progressives of today’s world and does not appear to have a solid understanding of who they even are. I think that it is the hope of many progressive Mormons that the church not necessarily throw the baby out with the bathwater, but simply discontinue its militancy on some rather hot-button issues, especially gay marriage. I think that its programs for youth and families are quite good as well as a number of its other standards and doctrines.

    But I need to ask: why are you featuring ideas on T&S such as those of Ralph Hancock? I just find it odd because the timbre of the many of the arguments on T&S are more sympathetic to the more progressive believing Mormons. Yet Hancock has a well-established track record as a staunch critic of progressives, curiously enough especially ones who don’t support the church’s involvement in Prop 8. There is ample space in the bloggernacle and the world of Mormonism for his views to be aired.

  45. lucy on July 26, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    This debate revolves around the tension between truth and tolerance. Many influential people, including academics, practice and preach moral relativism, an enticing philosophy that is shaping the attitudes of the rising generation. Besides the absolute truth that God lives and loves all of his children, I am hard pressed to identify anything more worth promoting at home and in the public square than religious freedom and those truths contained in “The Living Christ”, and “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”.

  46. Snyderman on July 26, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    Just as a follow-up to my #36 comment that might give a little more explanation as to what I’m trying to get at, I’ll share my personal experience with Prop 8.

    So I was attending BYU when Prop 8 came on California’s ballot, and there were multiple phone banks organized in order to campaign for it. Furthermore, there was the directive from the General Authorities to support Prop 8. Given all of this, I couldn’t really ignore it. It’s not like I lived in an area where I couldn’t do anything about it even if I wanted to and there was a clear directive from a Priesthood leader what to do.

    Of course there’s another side to this story, otherwise I wouldn’t be telling it. The other side is this: My brother is gay. So I was left there wondering what to do. On the one hand my Priesthood leader was asking me to do something as God’s representative. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to look my brother in the eye if I did vote for it. I really had no idea what to do. So I did what I had been taught to do since before I can remember: I prayed. Oh did I pray.

    I’m sure most of you are already guessing what my answer was. But before I give it, let me just say that I re-asked this same question at least once a day (usually 4-5 times) for the next 6 months. And at least once every other day for the 6 months after that. Because the answer I got was to not do what my Priesthood leader was asking me to do, which as far as my understanding was at the time, was the answer less in line with what the scriptures and the modern-day prophets taught me.

    Looking back now, however, I am far more sure that my actions were the correct actions for me. They were the actions that allowed me to act the most Christlike and thus come into contact with Christ more fully.

    This is what I mean when I say that Truth is a lived life and that I try to assess each situation separately and try to figure out what course of action will bring me closest to Christ. This is also why I’m not a huge fan of your characterization for why someone might oppose Prop 8.

  47. Christopher on July 26, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    I am convinced that far too many who accuse Hancock of ad hominem do so in an attempt to draw attention away from the strength of his arguments or, at the very least, from the importance of the questions he is raising (a recent post at JI appeared to epitomize this, in my view).

    European Saint (37): let me repeat this for the 4th time. My post at JI was in response to much, much more than Hancock’s first post. Also, I find it curious that you consider said post to “accuse Hancock of ad hominem” when it did not do so and I find it even more curious that you think I was “attempt[ing] to draw attention away … from the importance of the questions he is raising” when I specifically said in the post that “we [do not] think such discussions [are] pointless or not worthy of our time. Several of the most insightful and thoughtful discussions I’ve read on the subject of bracketing come, appropriately, from historians.”

  48. christine on July 26, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    european saint (49) if Ralph Hancock nows more about the MI thingy then he is not the only one and – maybe someone could say when or whether there will come a time that the rest of the turnip eaters such as myself will get some info.

  49. Dave on July 26, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Steve (#44), we feature guests like Ralph Hancock because we welcome speakers from across the LDS spectrum who have something interesting to share as long as they are taking an essentially believing perspective on the LDS Church. And we welcome commenters from across the spectrum as well.

    Spending too much time on the Bloggernacle can sometimes skew one’s perception of reality. Not only is it the case that a clear majority of Mormons oppose gay marriage, but at present a clear majority of US voters oppose gay marriage — it fails every time it goes up for a popular vote. I say that just to remind you that those opposing Prop 8 or gay marriage in general are not a fringe group: they are the majority.

    It’s unfortunate, perhaps, that Hancock’s last paragraph sort of directed comment discussion to the gay marriage issue or gay marriage as a litmus test of LDS orthodoxy. I think the discussion comparing and contrasting LDS apologetics and Mormon Studies deserves more attention. There ought to be some discussion of the generational difference: there was the LDS apologetics generation in the wake of Nibley, then there was a lost generation of a couple of decades where bright young LDS scholars largely avoided the entire topic of Mormonism, and now a third generation that is coming back to Mormonism under the banner of Mormon Studies rather than LDS apologetics. Are they doing essentially the same thing under a different label and maybe with different packaging? Or is this third generation actually pursuing a different scholarly project? At least with apologetics you knew where the scholars stood vis-a-vis the LDS Church. It’s much less clear with the new Mormon Studies generation.

  50. John C. on July 26, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    I don’t think that Apologetics and *insert notion* Studies are the same thing or are ever equivalent. Apologetics, by definition, are reactive. *Insert notion* studies does not have an inherent mission to defend. Both attempt to explain, but Apologetics is more like to reject explanations that place the movement or object defend in a poor light and *insert notion* Studies is more likely reject non-secular answers. There is nothing inherently wrong with either approach. That younger scholars are more attracted to one than the other is more a matter of taste than any sort of larger shift in the church (in my opinion). I think it is obvious that the *insert notion* Studies crowd is doing something different from Apologetics and that is just fine.

  51. John C. on July 26, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    lucy,
    As ever, it is like you are a clearer and more lucid Ralph.

    European Saint,
    Your defense of Ralph, clearly an important mentor for you, is admirable.

  52. christine on July 27, 2012 at 3:01 am

    Dave “doing something different” is darn vague

  53. BHodges on July 27, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    Ralph, happy to see your response. It seems you keep bringing up your concern that certain people (unnamed, other than Petrey) are allowing their politics to shape their religious beliefs. In response to your criticism of Joanna Brooks, which is in line with your present posts, I noted:

    Hancock reiterated his concern that Brooks’s political tail was wagging the religious dog: “What concerns me is a strong tendency for liberalism to migrate from politics and to penetrate and reshape religious understandings.”8 Of course, Hancock is unfairly and inaccurately stacking the deck by attributing this phenomenon only to “liberalism.” The underlying impulse he describes regards the extent to which our political and religious convictions inform each other. And to be sure, such admixture is a problem well-worth considering, although Brooks doesn’t take time in her memoir to do so and Hancock wrongly assumes he hasn’t done so. Arguing from an ostensible position of orthodoxy, Hancock concludes her book is incompatible with “the Gospel,” most especially because it is grounded in her personal experience—a memoir, a personal testimony. Hancock:

    “We are not — certainly not automatically and always — the supreme authorities on the meaning of our own experience. That is what religious authority is for – to help us get ourselves right and to let us know when we are wrong, even or especially wrong about ourselves.”

    The fault line between Brooks and Hancock runs along the tectonic plates of personal conscience and hierarchical instruction. “We believe in living prophets,” we Mormons say, and what good are prophets if you can dismiss anything they say that runs contrary to your current beliefs? On the other hand, what good is personal revelation if it only serves to rubber-stamp whatever church leaders have instructed?

    In my view, the crucial two-fold question which both of them maddeningly dance around without explicitly articulating is whether one’s personal conscience/personal revelation might ever run counter to the teachings of a church leader (Brooks implies yes, Hancock implies no), and what to do if such a circumstance arises. Hancock avoids the sticky question of whether church leaders are fallible, stating Mormons must simply follow the prophet because that is what “religious authority is for.” Conversely, Brooks avoids the sticky question about how much Mormons should yield their personal (and admittedly limited) views to such leaders…

  54. Taryn Fox on July 27, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    In my personal experience, Mormon apologists seem to crave attention and respectability, while LGBT rights advocates want to help people they care about whose hurt they have personally seen.

    I feel it takes a selective blindness — or willful desire to mischaracterize — to ignore people’s stories and pain so much.

  55. Ralph Hancock on July 28, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    BHodges,
    Thanks for the favor of another reply. I think we are making some progress, if not towards agreement, then at least towards seeing more clearly the nature of our differences. It turns out I have been preparing a reply to critics at johnadamscenter.com, some of which directly applies here, I think:

    “I do not argue for Church infallibility or that personal revelation can only “rubber stamp” authoritative views. I do think it is a mistake to set “personal conscience” and “hierarchical instruction” at odds. I sympathize with circumstances in which the most sincere and faithful personal conscience and even testimony might encounter difficulty in understanding and accepting an authoritative position. But I think JB’s “conscience” is manifestly conditioned by a progressive liberal ideology whose authority she never shows any sign of questioning. I think she is imagining a conflict between rational conscience and religious authority that does not need to exist. I take the trouble of addressing her ideological project in personal narrative form because I don’t want others to accept the assumption that “personal conscience” must lead away from LDS teaching concerning the family, in particular. In any case, finally, there is no point in having a church if we do not in some way defer to its authority, withholding judgment when we cannot manage authentic assent.

    That said, I have no reason to question JB being, not only a nice and engaging person, but a good, Christian person.”

    Of course, BHodges, I am well aware of the powerful tendency for religious and political views to interpenetrate. (In fact this is a central theme of my Responsibility of Reason. To be critically aware of this tendency is the beginning of wisdom, I think, in both religion and politics. There is no evidence that “I wrongly assume” my religious and political beliefs are not connected — the only question is one of critical and responsible awareness. What I contest relentlessly, tirelessly (surely tiresomely to many, but I can’t help that), is the progressive assumption that reason/conscience must always oppose traditional structuring of sex and reproduction. See my squaretwo.org essay: “When Following the Prophet is Too Easy.” I am arguing that reason/conscience and following the prophet may well coincide in defending “traditional family, and that progressives ought at least to consider this possibility. I don’t say there could never, in principle, be any tension between rational conscience and (our) religious authority, I just think it’s a pity to insist upon a radical conflict that does not exist. Just how individual conscience and Church authority are to be reconciled more generally is obviously a deep question: either you have arrived by study and by faith at a conviction that God guides our prophets, or you haven’t. If you have, you’ll likely give the prophets the benefit of any doubt that may arise.

    It’s a little careless, I think, to say that I hold that Brooks’ views are wrong because “grounded in personal experience.” No, I object to her argument, or her implicit argument, because it seems to assume that every “personal experience” is it’s own authority. I have a personal experience of the search for a truth that can guide and inform my personal experience.

    I hope this much has been helpful.

    Taryn, your assumption that people who support traditional morality and definitions of marriage somehow do not care about people who struggle with difficulties in this area is mind-boggling, but all too common. Do you imagine that my life has been untouched by such challenges faced by loved one? The argument that only lifestyle liberals care is, frankly, ridiculously naive and, yes, offensive. I don’t blame you, because it’s so common in “smart” circles, you probably thought it was smart. But think some more about it.

  56. BHodges on July 28, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Thanks for the response, Ralph.

    I do think it is a mistake to set “personal conscience” and “hierarchical instruction” at odds. I sympathize with circumstances in which the most sincere and faithful personal conscience and even testimony might encounter difficulty in understanding and accepting an authoritative position. But I think JB’s “conscience” is manifestly conditioned by a progressive liberal ideology whose authority she never shows any sign of questioning.

    Response: this rhetorically assumes infallibility, or at least, assumes that one should be obedient even when the council given was fallible (ie, mistaken in some way.)

    But I think JB’s “conscience” is manifestly conditioned by a progressive liberal ideology whose authority she never shows any sign of questioning.

    One could easily say “I think RH’s adherence to ecclesiastical authority is conditioned by his own political ideology. (Notice this is rhetorically intended to be taken as a negative thing.) You invoke “liberal political ideology” as a catch-all descriptor and you seem to assume that the gospel automatically does not comport with it, which begs all questions. And your continued lumping of folks in the “liberal” camp is, in my view, a somewhat annoying transfer of present American culture wars into the realm of a discussion where it serves as much to obscure and stereotype as it does to enlighten.

    I think she is imagining a conflict between rational conscience and religious authority that does not need to exist.

    This seems like a weak claim, because I could as easily say I think you are imagining that she is imagining a conflict between rational conscience and religious authority that does not need to exist, but she is not imagining it.

    In any case, finally, there is no point in having a church if we do not in some way defer to its authority, withholding judgment when we cannot manage authentic assent.

    Why? It seems you believe that deference to authority is the necessary and sufficient qualification for a church. But this isn’t really how our church operates on the ground. I’m of the opinion that protests, pickets, petitions, and other such attempts to sway church leadership on various positions are not likely to lead to desired change, and that such desired change may even be against the will of God. At the same time, I recognize historical instances of development in church belief and practice, with input or pressure from outside groups and governments, and inside opinions and desires. Revelation is more often something that occurs in community within Mormonism, sometimes in utterly surprising ways.

    You want people to withhold judgment, I prefer to encourage discernment. Discernment with due recognition of one’s own fallibility, with charity, and with wisdom in how one goes about acting on such discernment. You say you don’t believe in rubber-stamp revelation, but it seems to me you leave no other option on the table for a church member.

    There is no evidence that “I wrongly assume” my religious and political beliefs are not connected — the only question is one of critical and responsible awareness.

    I believe there is evidence, albeit subjective evidence, in the way you have critiqued Joanna Brooks, and in your comments on other matters, though I haven’t read your “Responsibility” piece. The evidence I speak of is the way you rhetorically leverage a connection between Brooks’s “progressive liberal ideology” and her religious beliefs, while you argue from a position of assumed orthodoxy which automatically serves to undercut her position without fully engaging in it or differentiating it from your own mingling of the philosophies of men with scripture. (Don’t worry, I don’t use that as a pejorative accusation, I don’t believe anyone is exempt from it.)

    What I contest relentlessly, tirelessly (surely tiresomely to many, but I can’t help that), is the progressive assumption that reason/conscience must always oppose traditional structuring of sex and reproduction.

    I don’t know what “progressive assumption” you’re referring to, and again, this is part of my confusion in the way you’ve approached the present discussion which was originally supposed to be about apologetics and Mormon Studies. You seek to propose a sort of litmus test by which a given scholar can verify that they don’t allow their liberal tail to wag their religious dog: gay marriage. Accept it and you’re out, oppose it and you’re in. Easy peasy. (Except it seems completely bizarre to me to make this the litmus test, and it fails to actually describe what Mormon studies even is.)

    I don’t say there could never, in principle, be any tension between rational conscience and (our) religious authority, I just think it’s a pity to insist upon a radical conflict that does not exist.

    Joanna Brooks, to my knowledge, doesn’t propose such a “radical conflict.” She believes conflicts can arise, but they don’t always arise on any given issue for any given individual. Who is making such a claim? It’s not, to my knowledge at least, prevalent among Mormon studies folks.

    Just how individual conscience and Church authority are to be reconciled more generally is obviously a deep question:

    Well, I think it is the question in terms of your disagreement with Brooks, and you beg the question entirely when you add:

    either you have arrived by study and by faith at a conviction that God guides our prophets, or you haven’t. If you have, you’ll likely give the prophets the benefit of any doubt that may arise.

    Either you agree with Ralph, or you haven’t arrived by study and faith at the correct conclusion (Ralph’s conclusion).

    This is simply begging the question, or if you would rather, it is your own personal statement of faith, and it fails to recognize or account for what I believe are other viable options for honest, believing Mormons.

  57. Lucy on July 28, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Individual conscience and desire may be greatly nourished, educated, and inspired by the Holy Ghost through Church authority, primarily the Savior and his mortal representatives. The Savior, the only one with a sinless individual conscience, meekly submitted to the authority and will of his Father, descending below all things in Gethsemane and on the cross. The first presidency and quorum of the twelve apostles strive to submit to the Savior’s authority and will. Elder Oaks, for example, recently addressed this very topic in General Conference:

    http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2010/10/two-lines-of-communication?lang=eng&query=elder+two+channels+(name%3a%22Dallin+H.+Oaks%22)

  58. Daniel Peterson on July 28, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    I’ve just noticed this discussion, and haven’t had time yet to thoroughly read it through. But I would like to respond to two items that I’ve noticed during a hasty skim:

    1.

    fred smith, above, identifies “the inherent approach that underlies a lot of the FARMS book reviews” as “Ignore the propositions by the book, or at least sidestep them, but just attack the author.”

    I encounter this accusation fairly frequently. I would like to see very specific examples of it. I believe that it has seldom, if ever, been true.

    2.

    Someone else, further down in the comments, says that apologetics is intrinsically “reactive.”

    This is inaccurate.

    “Negative apologetics,” responding to criticism of a position, IS intrinsically reactive. It can’t be otherwise. But this doesn’t mean that it’s bad. The “apology” of Socrates, for example, and the responses to objections in St. Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica,” and Ibn Rushd’s (Averroës’s) replies to al-Ghazali are among the high points of human intellectual achievement.

    However, “positive apologetics” — that is to say, arguments affirmatively advocating a position — aren’t intrinsically reactive at ALL. Quite the contrary, in fact.

  59. Daniel Peterson on July 28, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Oh. One more thing. Mark Brown, above, says that at least two General Authorities were “involved.” If he’s referring to involvement in my dismissal as editor of the “Mormon Studies Review,” then I have to say that he knows more about it than I do, because I’m unaware of ANY General Authority involvement in my dismissal, and I have good reason to believe that there WAS none — including, most recently, the word of a General Authority.

    I have to say that I really do resent this kind of rumor.

  60. christine on July 28, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Daniel Peterson, spot on.Specific examples are not given and names are not named….I am still waiting too !

  61. Mark Brown on July 29, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Daniel,

    While your resentment is understandable, you have absolutely no standing to complain, given your ongoing defamation of Gerald Bradford in every venue you can find.

  62. christine on July 29, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Mark I cannot find a lot of stuff published by Gerald Bradford so I am wondering what Daniel is supposed to be dragging through the mud. If you do not mind telling the where and when.

  63. European Saint on July 30, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Hancock has now posted some thoughtful replies to past posts here: http://www.johnadamscenter.com/2012/07/liberal-authenticity-responses/.