Why Equality is a Feeling

March 7, 2014 | 103 comments
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This is a little long. Bear with me. “Equality is not a feeling” has emerged as something of a slogan among some Mormon feminists. It’s offered as a reply to those who insist that many (most?) Mormon women feel loved and valued within the Church, aren’t pushing for radical reforms, or the like. These women don’t feel unequal. But, equality is not a feeling.

What might it mean to say that equality isn’t a feeling? It seems to me that there are two possible ways of understanding this claim. The first is that equality is an objective, empirical judgment rather than a normative or psychological judgment. This strikes me as wrong. Equality always involves normative judgment. To say that things are equal is not to say that they are the same. Rather it is to say that like things are being treated alike. We must make judgments, however, as to what makes two things alike. In doing this we pick out some characteristics as relevant and some as irrelevant. As Peter Westen noted more than thirty years ago in the context of constitutional adjudication, in arguments over equality it is our normative judgments about what to include and what to exclude – rather than the idea of equality or any brute empirical fact – that does all of the work.*

The second way of understanding the claim that “equality isn’t a feeling” is to say that it is a normative judgment, but one that does not depend on psychology. The Church treats women unequally because it conditions access to positions of power and influence on gender and this is unjust. The Church thus fails a criterion of legitimacy for social institutions. This is an objective judgment based on certain normative premises – it is unjust to condition access to positions of power and influence on immutable and unchosen characteristics; social institutions must act justly; etc. – that do not depend on anyone’s psychological reaction. Accordingly, the Church ought to change so that it behaves more justly toward its members.

This second way of understanding “equality is not a feeling” strikes me as far more defensible but I ultimately do not find it persuasive. Embedded within this argument is a liberal idea of justice and institutional legitimacy. As it happens, I am a big fan of liberalism. The ideas about liberty, equality, and their relationship to social and political institutions first developed in the 17th century and elaborated in terms of both philosophy and political and legal practice have been very good for society.

I do not believe, however, that the Church is or should be a liberal institution in anything other than an ad hoc way. Broadly speaking, we can think of liberalism as resting on one of two bases. On one hand, we could see liberalism as a response to the brute fact of moral pluralism. Historically, it arose in response to the post-Reformation wars of religion and the fact that western society was never going to return to the moral and spiritual unity of the middle-ages.** The response was to divorce public life from ultimate questions of meaning and identity. In the public sphere we would all have a thin, civic identity and only this thin civic identity could be considered by socially legitimate institutions. On the other hand, liberalism can be understood as itself making a comprehensive and universal claim. It reveals our true identity as free and equal agents deserving of a proper liberal respect regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves. The “thin” civic self, far from being a pragmatic response to moral pluralism in effect is our real self and rival conceptions of the self are simply mistaken.

The Church is not and should not be liberal on either of these senses. The problem with the first conception is that the value of the Church comes precisely from the thick stories of identity and the good life that it offers. Whatever the virtues of thin civic identities in our political lives or perhaps our economic lives, they lack the substance to provide us a meaningful account of our identity and place in the world. We need ideas like sin, redemption, soul, premortality, covenant, faith, suffering, doubt, despair, hope, and Zion. They are what the Church provides us. In the thin public space imagined by liberalism, however, they are supposed to be irrelevant. The problem with the second, more universal version of liberalism is its conceptual imperialism. It sets up claims of ultimate moral authority. It seems to me that to grant such claims is to run the risk of idolatry and apostasy. Authority lies with God and his revelation.

One way out of this conundrum is to argue that the gospel is itself a kind of liberalism in which human freedom and equality are valued above all else. The Book of Mormon provides some familiar proof texts for this approach:

[The Lord] inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” (2 Ne. 27:33)

and

Wherefore men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. (2 Ne. 2:27)

Equality and liberty. It looks as though the core values of liberalism are embedded right within the gospel itself. There is certain some truth to this claim. Indeed, a short time ago I was at a conference on religious legal theory, and John Witte, one of the leading scholars of law and Christianity in the United States, when asked about Christianity’s contribution to the law insisted that it consisted of the legacy of universal human rights.

I fear, however, that simply identifying the philosophical tenets of liberalism with the core of the gospel is problematic. First, such a reading of the gospel strikes me as radically incomplete. It offers us no insights into the working of the soul, the problems of sin and temptation, redemption and repentance. It also obscures the working of community and Zion. It tends to confuse the Christian idea of love with the liberal ideal of respect in ways that tend to obscure the workings of the former by viewing it through the prism of the latter. Viewing the gospel as a species of liberalism also leaves us with a rather desiccated view of its possibilities. Rather than offering us unique visions of the eternities, it offers us a kind of confused and second-hand version of human rights. At its worst, this approach reduces the language and ideas of the Restoration to little more than a set of rhetorical tools to be employed within the odd subculture of Mormonism in pursuit of the broader moral ambitions of liberalism. At some point, one wonders what’s the point.

After the philosophical detour, I return to the original point. “Equality is not a feeling.” Mormon women are in fact excluded from positions of authority and influence in our community because of gender. This, I believe, presents problems. The problem does not arise, however, because it marks a failure of the Church as an institution to meet an objective criterion of legitimacy. It is a problem because it creates real pain and hardship in the lives of concrete individuals. This pain and hardship comes in two forms. The first is simply a matter of practical social organization. Even well meaning men will make many errors, avoidable errors, because they are not women and lack the perspective that would come from having the kinds of experiences that women have. The result will be administrative gaffs and worse, actions that cause pain that could be mitigated, I believe, if women had greater administrative authority. My conclusion, however, is contingent and empirical. I assume that women are also capable of errors, gaffs, and worse. I have no reason to suppose that a Church in which women had greater administrative control would be transformed dramatically for the better. Still, I think that it would ameliorate a number of problems.

Second, there are many women and men who, regardless of their personal experiences, feel a great sense of alienation from the Church because of its current structure. The source of this alienation lies precisely in the cognitive dissonance created between their allegiance to liberal notions of justice and their attachment to the Church. The failure of the latter to conform to the former, especially when one’s convictions about liberal justice are deeply and sincerely held, cause pain. One needn’t have any beliefs at all about the ultimate merits, structure, and limits of liberal conceptions of justice to acknowledge this fact. One needn’t concede the universalist claims of liberalism in its most aggressive formulations to acknowledge the reality of pain. And pain, especially the pain of fellow Saints, ought to matter. We have covenanted to comfort those that stand in need of comfort. We are supposed to minister to those that find themselves bleeding on the side of the road. Ultimately, what moves me in feminist criticisms of the Church are not the claims of abstract equality. It is the honest stories of pain felt and suffered. What matters about inequality is the feelings. One implication of this reaction is that if no one suffers pain, I care less.

This response suggests that both our conceptions of equality and justice and the Gospel are more local than we assume. From my perspective the pain and alienation of liberal Mormons results from the particular historical accident of their births and biography, the fact that they live in a liberal society and have imbibed its ethos. This is not to deny the validity of liberal ideals of justice, only to point out the intensity of our reaction to those ideals is historically and personally contingent. This is likely to offend those who see in their own psychological fervor allegiance to universal ideals of justice rather than accidents of history. There have been, however, many good and wise people who have not thought or felt as we think and feel.

Pain, however, even historically and culturally contingent pain is real and it ought to make claims on us, including claims for how we organize the Church and teach the gospel. We should, in so far as possible, be all things to all people. Paul wrote:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews, I became like a Jew, to win Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Cor. 9:19-22 NIV)

I have written elsewhere about the problems of a local faith. I think that in our eagerness to stand for principle and seek for truth, we are often embarrassed by a faith that in the specifics of how it is lived and organized is also a matter of historical accidents, of accommodations to the world in which we live. I think that the Church ought in so far as possible to accommodate the liberal sensibilities of its members for the same reason that I think that the gospel should be taught to me in English rather than Chinese. It is not that English is in some sense more cosmically true than Chinese. It’s simply that I speak and understand English but not Chinese. The problem, as Santanya put it, is that it is impossible to speak a language that is not a particular language. My suspicion of liberalism and in particular of liberal interpretations of the gospel is that they create the risk of identifying our particular ideological idiom with cosmic truth. The problem is that to the extent that cosmic truth comes to us, it always comes in some ideological idiom or another. All that we can hope for is sufficient charity and distance from the idioms of our time that we remain open to something unexpected from the Lord. This is also part of what the Church should do.

In part it is because I want to maintain that openness and in part because amidst the abstractions of justice and truth pain seems so much more real to me than principle, that I think that equality and inequality are feelings. It is those feelings, rather than an abstract standard of justice that matter.

* See Peter Westen, “The Empty Idea of Equality,” 95 Harv. L. Rev. 537 (1982).
** This is the historical story that liberal philosophers tend to tell. Historians are skeptical that the middle ages actually hosted the unified society imagined by the philosophers.

103 Responses to Why Equality is a Feeling

  1. Chris Henrichsen on March 7, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    “To say that things are equal is not to say that they are the same. Rather it is to say that like things are being treated alike.”

    I think many liberal egalitarian thinkers, myself included, agree with this. As would many post-liberal feminist theorists.

    That said, I am looking forward to the firestorm.

  2. Chris Henrichsen on March 7, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    Additionally, “equality is not a feeling” is such an over-simplification of the liberal democratic claim to equality, even the liberal feminist claim to equality, that I think it misses the point of that very equality. I agree that such claims have are different normative weight against nation-state than they do voluntary associations.

  3. Nate Oman on March 7, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Chris: I don’t think that any serious thinker about equality would claim that it is a brute empirical fact rather than a normative judgment. However, I think that many, many people in ordinary discussion talk in ways that assume it is somehow an empirical claim. I also think that once one takes seriously the judgements inherent in claims of equality and inequality, it turns out that equality is a normative concept that does far less work than many assume.

  4. Nate Oman on March 7, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Chris: I want to resist the neat distinctions between public and private, government and voluntary, or between basic structures and everything else because they keep everything a bit too neat. I want to keep open the possibility for a kind of radically unprincipled liberalism that affirms various liberal practices and institutions on largely ad hoc, historically contingent grounds. I want to resist the grinding force of the Rawlsian system builders.

  5. Chris Henrichsen on March 7, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    I do not view anything as neat. Anyways, my point is to say I agree with many of your main points, even though I am coming from a different philosophical perspective (though my approach to Mormonism is likely more postmodern that liberal).

  6. mtnmarty on March 7, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Is tithing a feeling?

  7. Chris Henrichsen on March 7, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    Tithing is a program. Equality is a complex and abstract concept.

  8. Howard on March 7, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Equality is the wrong word and the wrong issue. The problem is the men running the church lack awareness of the breadth of female perspectives. I offer “forgetting” to invite women to pray in GC for a mere 182 years as evidence of this insensitive lack of awareness. With regard to hierarchal power women are one-down but the majority of active women either don’t care or are obediant and compliant or they enjoy privlige amoung women due to their position and don’t want it changed. This leaves a minority of women some of whom find it painful to attend. It would be nice if the brethren took the view of these women into consideration and made changes to include them but given the 182 years that passed on the GC prayer issue before they bowed to agitation the more lasting self correction is to give women voice by including them in the leadership at all levels including the top. It’s sad that the brethren lack awareness and even sadder that a majority of sisters are willing to allow a minority of sisters to suffer from this insensitivity.

  9. mtnmarty on March 7, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    Nate said ” To say that things are equal is not to say that they are the same. Rather it is to say that like things are being treated alike.”

    It would seem to me that equality, even as a normative term, has been about what counts as “like” not as much about treating things that everyone already agrees are alike as alike.

    For example, under your statement above, treating people different based on a status (slave, property owner, monarch, female, etc.) is equal treatment because those statuses make people different. Using equality normatively seems mainly to be about erasing a certain type of status as a legitimate criteria for different treatment not about equal treatment within a class.

    It seems a very roundabout way to say that you don’t think equality is that important. You could say “equality isn’t THAT feeling” but in the end your point does not seem to be about what equality is but how it should or should not be normative.

  10. mtnmarty on March 7, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Chris “Equality is a complex and abstract concept.”

    So, you don’t agree with Nate that its a feeling? Or do you think complex and abstract concepts are feelings?

  11. mtnmarty on March 7, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Chris,

    Can inequality be a program?

  12. Katie on March 7, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    I’ve tried to bring this point up in another forum but they all ignored me. Hoping someone will consider it here.

    It occurs to me that in a world and religion ever ruled by man that men may not realize how much discourse they have teaching, showing them who they are and who they are meant to become. Women, on the other hand, have comparatively little to give a clear sense of identity. In a world where identity and value are measured and thought of in terms of man it should be no surprise that some women recognize something is off and seek to regain balance according to the only terms recognized.

    My personal feeling is that won’t solve the problem because it’s not about woman needing to be identical to man but for woman to have a clear understanding of what woman actually is. And between history where man has always defined woman as he chooses and men generally not actually caring about what doesn’t apply to them, it’s also no surprise that this imbalance is barely starting to register.

  13. Kristine on March 7, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    So, I think I may be guilty of nudiging that phrase into wide circulation (see here: http://mormonmatters.org/2013/09/21/193-ordain-women-and-renewed-conversations-about-priesthood/#comment-1054468978). It was an off-hand response to something Mormon feminists hear from Mormon non-feminists–”I feel perfectly equal in the Church.” I meant something like the problematic liberal idea you outline, but I was objecting mostly to the framing of what is right and just as a matter of Church practice in terms of women’s emotional responses. I think it’s a mistake either to discuss change in the Church as a way of responding to the pain some feminists feel, or to defend the status quo in terms of the majority’s contentment. There aren’t (m)any other questions where we think a referendum of how people feel about doctrine or practice is an appropriate way to determine God’s will.

  14. mtnmarty on March 7, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    Kristine,

    What are you suggesting be used as the appropriate way to determine God’s will in matters of what is right and just in church practice?

  15. Howard on March 7, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    I don’t think specific church practice generally has much to do with God’s will. The practice status quo can be changed considerably to accommodate the currently marginalized without affecting God’s will. For example women enjoyed more latitude under Joseph than Brigaham and they have even less today. There is a pattern of taking power and participation away from women since Joseph that could be reversed likely without affecting God’s will.

  16. Chris Henrichsen on March 7, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    mtnmarty,

    Did you read the post?

    Katie,

    I think you make a number of great points and are on to something. It is something that may psychoanalytical feminists has tried to addressed. The question of the self and how we self-conceptualize our place in the world (or church or family) is complex but also fascinating.

  17. Kristine on March 7, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    Oh, I dunno, mtnmarty–maybe reasoning from scriptural precedent and precept? Or something radical like continuing revelation?

  18. Chris Henrichsen on March 7, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    “For example women enjoyed more latitude under Joseph than Brigaham and they have even less today.” That would only be true if the Church function is complete isolations from the outside world. It does not.

  19. Chris Henrichsen on March 7, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    * That would only be true if the Church functioned in complete isolations from the outside world.

  20. Kristine on March 7, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    It’s just weird that the only time women’s opinions or feelings matter are when they support what the hierarchy wants to do anyway. And (obviously) it makes some women’s opinions and feelings matter less for apparently arbitrary reasons, which is divisive and inflicts even more pain on the minority who express discontent with the status quo. If we were actually serious about addressing the pain felt by people in the minority in Mormon culture in other contexts, I’d be a lot more sanguine aout Nate’s reasoning here.

  21. mtnmarty on March 7, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    Katie,

    I would like to consider your position. I’m a bit confused by it for the following reasons. I have no problem seeing situations where women are treated differently or less than men, but there still seems to be plenty of identity given to women. If fact, I thought the problem was that the identity was so specific that it caused feminists grief by the specific limits it created not by a lack of definition.

    So for example,

    member of church
    child of God
    immortal soul
    wife
    mother
    nurturer
    harlot
    virgin

    are all candidates for identity. What are some examples of identities that you think men have based on what a man really is that have unspecified equivalents in terms of what a woman really is?

  22. Nate on March 7, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Kristine: I don’t know why responding to pain isn’t a matter of implimenting doctrine and revelation. My point is that we should be careful about glibbly identifying these with liberal theories of justice. Pain isn’t the only thing we should consider but to me it is more compelling than appeals to liberal ideals of institutional legitimacy.

  23. Howard on March 7, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Chris wrote:For example women enjoyed more latitude under Joseph than Brigaham and they have even less today.” That would only be true if the Church function is complete isolations from the outside world. It does not.

    Sorry, I don’t understand your comment Chris. Please explain.

  24. mtnmarty on March 7, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    Kristine,

    Both of your approaches seem very unfriendly to feminist concerns. Not completely unfriendly, as there is a case ot be made through general principles for instance, but if a person says “I’ll be a feminist when a scripture or revelation says its a sin not to be one” how would you respond?

  25. Jeff G on March 7, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    *slow clap*

    Well done, Nate. Well done.

  26. Jared vdH on March 7, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    mtnmarty,

    Your question was not directed at me, but I would respond with, “What does scripture or revelation have to do with labels, political associations, or whatever it is you mean by ‘feminist’? There is no scripture or revelation that says it is a sin to not be a Democrat/Republican/Whatever political ideology you happen to subscribe to.”

  27. Katie on March 7, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    @mtnmarty

    I’m not sure I understand your question. I’ll try to clarify my meaning with the biggest example I can. Hoping it will help.

    Specific to church, men have numerous case studies and direction showing what God has in mind for them. The scriptures teach us who God is and give the perfect example of manhood in Christ. Prophets from both hemispheres, ancient and modem add to this discourse of man’s eternal identity.

    Being Mormon, we know there is a Heavenly Mother, but a woman’s concept of the meaning of mother has been shaped and distorted by a male-dominant history. Woman is historically subservient. But I strongly suspect Heavenly Mother’s role matches the confinements that women are still struggling out from under. Without a relative discourse on what divine womanhood looks like, free from the faulty perceptions and repressions of history, women are left with far less to work with in trying to understand, let alone reach her potential. The problem isn’t that identities have been applied to women. The problem is who is applying it and the biases that have bled through and muddied the picture.

    Does that make more sense?

  28. Katie on March 7, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Correction. I strongly suspect Heavenly Mother’s role DOES NOT MATCH the confinements of understanding regarding the modern woman.

  29. wondering on March 7, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Would this analysis all apply to the pre-1978 “inequality” as well?

  30. mtnmarty on March 7, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    I’m just trying to see if I can “feel” inequality and equality.

    Inequality often feels pretty good when one is treated better. I mean Joseph was pretty happy about that coat and all. And being a chosen people never really seemed to make people sad.

    I’m just not feelin’ it. Don’t you have a feeling about inequality and equality rather than the feeling being inequality? I’ve heard of people feeling “made less than others” but is the feeling the actual being made less than.

    Subtle these feelings be.

  31. Katie on March 7, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    Ultimately, this means that the ‘equality’ issue is ultimately about an identity crisis due to said imbalance in divine discourse. The agitation for priesthood and leadership positions is simply a misapplied attempt to correct that imbalance through the only terms deemed valid in this world: through terms of man since those are the only terms she has ever been measured with.

    I can see some potential for correction of this imbalance should more come to see the issue for what it actually is. Whether that happens before the Millennium or not is anyone’s guess. I just think that people are polarizing arguments and adding to contention when the core of the issue isn’t even being recognized. A form of looking beyond the mark, it would seem.

  32. mtnmarty on March 7, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    Katie,

    I may not be a good person to engage your question but I try to engage when I can.

    The reason I don’t think I’m very good to respond is that almost nothing that I care about depends on male and female roles. Take the Sermon on the Mount. When I talk to men and women about what it means there doesn’t seem to be much difference for men and women. Take the temple recommend questions -how different are they for men and women? I find them very much the same for both.

    If someone told me that Jesus was a women I wouldn’t feel differently about anything that I can think of. Now, this may be just trying to fit women into a male dominated view of the world, you may be right that women have a unique role that is underspecified, but for me personally, I don’t see how Jesus was a male role model. He didn’t have to deal with work\life balance or daughters who wanted the priesthood or what it means to be a man in the 21st century, so all those scriptural stories about men don’t seem to provide a clear identity either.

    I guess I’d just say look on the bright side, a female identity is whatever you want it to be.

  33. Kristine on March 7, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    mtnmarty–I’d say “great!” Because the scriptures are already very, very clear that feminism is not only allowed, but required of people of faith.

  34. Kristine on March 7, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Nate, I agree with you in principle–it would be great if Mormons were actually more interested in reducing human pain than in articulating general principles of justice and righteousness. But we just aren’t, so it seems odd to make that the basis of addressing (or not addressing) feminist concerns.

  35. Mtnmarty on March 7, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    Katie,

    Here is a thought experiment. Let’s say that there was a revelation tomorrow that the genders were actually reversed and that all the males and females need to be reversed and that “bore a child and conceived and with child and provided suck and circumcised were all misunderstood because they apply to the opposite gender.

    Does this really change how you see your identity? If Noah and Abraham were women and eve was a man it just doesn’t change my identity at all. Maybe that’s why I don’t care much about these issues either way. What is this core issue of identity for you? How are the measuring sticks of the gospel gendered?

  36. Mtnmarty on March 7, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    Kristine,

    I knew I was a feminist!

  37. Bryan G. on March 7, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    Kristine: You wrote:

    “it would be great if Mormons were actually more interested in reducing human pain than in articulating general principles of justice and righteousness. But we just aren’t, so it seems odd to make that the basis of addressing (or not addressing) feminist concerns.”

    Do you mind expounding that for me? I’m interested in what you mean. I’m reading it as, “Reducing human pain is a higher value than general principles of justice and righteousness. But because Mormons focus on the latter, feminists focus on it as well.” Do I have that right?

  38. Nate on March 7, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    “it would be great if Mormons were actually more interested in reducing human pain than in articulating general principles of justice and righteousness.”

    Kristine, with all due respect, I find this claim bizarre. I have read lots of writers who have tried to articulate general principles of justice, and with one or two exceptions I can’t think of any Mormon writing or sermonizing that it is even in this genre. It seems to me that mainly we tell stories that have a homiletic rather than a theological goal. (Do you listen to President Monson’s sermons?!) Then we spend a lot of time organizing practices, many of which are aimed at welcoming, strengthening, serving, etc. Your image of Mormons as indifferent to suffering and focused on abstract theologizing just strikes me as weird.

    As for scripture, doctrine, and revelation, I am all for it. There is some good feminist theology, and I even find some of it persuasive. I think that a lot of the arguments are pretty weak and boil down to an assumption that God must endorse liberal ideas of justice and then a bit of proof texting to that effect. My point is that within Mormonism I find pastoral appeals to the reality of pain more compelling than appeals to liberal ideals of justice. It isn’t as though I am advocating that we jettison doctrine, authority, or institutions before every cry of psychological distress, only that in a historically embedded and pastoral church cries of psychological distress have a claim on me, even if I think that they may at times be philosophically muddled.

  39. Kristine on March 7, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    What about the constant insistence that “we preach general principles and let the exceptions work themselves out.” It seems to me that women who are pained by inequality in the Church are definitely regarded as exceptions, not to be catered to by consideration from the hierarchy. I’d love to be wrong.

  40. Katie on March 7, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    Mtnmarty

    Thank you for engaging!

    Mostly I follow and agree with your points. I think they define in a large part the reason why many women of the church aren’t up in arms about it. If there’s more to our role, we’ll find out when it’s time. I suspect it is those who are most sensitive to the distortions of womanhood by society who may need such additional discourse.

    As to the thought experiment, it was a bit unclear. In the sudden gender swap, do you mean it to include the whole development from birth to adult so only one side is ever comprehended? Or swap as adult with only original understanding? Or swap with full original understanding plus full comprehension of what it is to be born, raised as the other? Honestly, I can only see value in the third option as the first two don’t allow for comparative analysis. And I think you would be greatly surprised at the difference of perspective. A pattern I have seen in many places is that those who dominate have no need to understand those who don’t while those who don’t must understand those who do simply to survive. Random example of that idea: those who legislate from above don’t have to figure out how to implement and meet demands, they just expect to get the results they demand. The world has always run according to the rules of man, in the favor of men. Many men are good and value women, but that does not mean they easily see what it is to be woman.

    Personally, I only put this much thought into all this because I try to understand why people do, act as they do. Feeling no need for men’s priesthood myself, the OW movement always seemed left field to me. Having pondered the issue and recognizing the identity crisis signs, though, I confess to great anticipation for the time when we get to see what being a woman means to God.

    1 Corinthians 13:12
    For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

  41. Nate on March 7, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    It seems to me that the question of whether Mormon women pained by inequality are an exception is an empirical question. The answer will shift from place to place and time to time, and constitutes a proper response will also be — at least in part — empirically contingent. I suspect that compared to you
    I think that more of our action is and ought to be structured by prudence and kindness rather than justice and principle.

  42. Kristine on March 7, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    I’ll agree with your assessment of our difference on the “is,” but not the “ought to be” :)

  43. Nate on March 7, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    Good. That means you’re only half wrong :-)…

  44. hkobeal on March 8, 2014 at 1:25 am

    Reading this with my anthropologist hat on …

  45. mtnmarty on March 8, 2014 at 2:19 am

    ““it would be great if Mormons were actually more interested in reducing human pain than in articulating general principles of justice and righteousness.”

    Kristine, with all due respect, I find this claim bizarre.”

    Nate seems to be talking about elite mormon opinion but from an everyday mormon’s point of view I think there are lots of examples of thinking that is not centered on human pain but on abstract or rigid principles.

    Word for word sacrament prayer standards for poor readers.
    Temple marriage ceremonies excluding family members who are non-memebers or those without recommends.
    The idea that ordinances play a fundamental roles in differentiating the LDS church from others.

    Now, I can see where a person could make a case that each of these is an example of specific human practice to deal with our own unique pain, but I think it would be a weak case because many people when they explain these practices invoke “God’s law or hwo God created the world or the church” and these seem to be abstract principles. Rarely are they explained as a cost/benefit trade-off of relative pain.

    if I had a nickel for every time I heard a mormon say liberals feel instead of think about correct principles and paid a dollar for every time I heard the opposite, I’d still be way to rich to get into heaven.

  46. mtnmarty on March 8, 2014 at 2:35 am

    Katie,

    You wrote “The world has always run according to the rules of man, in the favor of men.”

    I think it would be much more accurate to say “Some men”, in favor of some men and women. Would you rather have had the political rights of a Southern white women or a black male? A male native american or female pioneer? A female german or a male Jew?
    We certainly have no trouble creating laws that put men in jail at much higher rates than women. That hardly seems in their favor.

    Many, many males believe that women have great power in family and social situations. John the Baptist’s decapitation would seem to be a confirmation that this has been going on for a long time.

    I agree that males don’t appreciate female perspective but I’m not convinced that female perspective has been so radically deformed by lesser power that we don’t even know what it is. I do admit that if its as thoroughly male-dominated world as you think, it would be very hard to tell what a female-centric world would be like.

    My own personal life experience is much more filled with powerful women telling men what to do. They don’t seem to at all be lacking identity.

  47. Katie on March 8, 2014 at 6:14 am

    Mtnmarty

    I can see ere you are coming from. I realized after reading a different post that there is very much an element of individual circumstance in my position on this that many others’ experience does not match. Having pointed out that the identity need is already a point for such women, it would follow that their experiences show a different perspective as well.

    For example, a comment on the other post listed many far more open roles of women at church than I have seen and therefore never knew could be considered. This is more representative of having grown up in an abusive home with no one at church noticing and therefore no one to counter the faulty messages taught there. I survived with faith intact so that’s not as harmful as it could have been.

    People with more healthy backgrounds hear of what shakes those without and have trouble understanding why it would matter so much. But for those who did not get those vaccinations, the protection of perspective is much harder to gain.

  48. anonymousguy on March 8, 2014 at 6:32 am

    As a father I tend to view things through that perspective and when I think about equality in terms of my daughters, how they feel or will feel as adults is only part of the analysis. I also care that they reach their potential and grow up to be psychologically healthy individuals. Whether they understand that their self esteem issues stem from modesty teachings that are argued from doctrinal perspectives doesn’t really matter. From the perspective of the OP these self esteem issues caused by modesty rhetoric can be viewed as pain and therefore a good reason to support feminist equality notions.

    When people argue that equality is not a feeling, I think they are trying to argue that just because some women don’t recognize or see the pain, doesn’t mean the pain or problems that produced the pain don’t exist or aren’t worth solving.

    It is a difficult position to take from an advocacy standpoint. “I think the church causes you harm, but I don’t think you have allowed yourself to see and therefore accept the arguments for how the church has caused you pain.” is hard to make without coming across as condescending and dismissive of an individuals life experience. But I think that is an accurate view of how I think about the issue.

    When I see a young woman who wants to major in elementary education, but only until she finds a husband, I do question how much of that is her true desired life path and how much of that is encultured into her and question whether she wouldn’t feel more fulfilled had she been raised in a Mormonism with a different set of embedded values regarding women’s roles. We tend to rationalize our life choices into being good for us, so sometimes we are not the best judge of whether we have experienced pain, because we have difficulty making an honest comparison to the alternatives.

    I’m reminded of how a deaf woman valued deaf culture so much that she had in vitro to have a deaf child and celebrated when the child tested as deaf. Just as I can disagree with that woman’s values whether or not the child grows up to be happy and love her deafness, I can disagree with women who value current Mormon culture over, in my judgment, a better Mormonism that includes the ideas of equality that we are talking about.

  49. Nate on March 8, 2014 at 9:47 am

    Anonymousguy: it sounds condescending and dismissive because it is condescending and dismissive. That id the nature of false consciousness arguments.

  50. Howard on March 8, 2014 at 10:25 am

    “I think the church causes you harm, but I don’t think you have allowed yourself to see and therefore accept the arguments for how the church has caused you pain.”

    This doesn’t work because these issues do not universally cause harm, but bloggernacle comments testify that they do cause harm to some people and that harm could be reduced by simply changing the podium rhetoric. I find it amazing people oppose making that minor change!

  51. anonymousguy on March 8, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Nate, I don’t think it is a false consciousness argument. If I lie in a reference to en employer and you don’t get a job. You were harmed by that lie, even if you never find out about it or recognize it,. So you think we are wrong to judge the deaf parent if her kid grows up and says she loves being deaf? I think we are arguing from a utilitarian/consequencialist ethical framework. But those ethical frameworks don’t speak to the values of what we think are good outcomes which are external to those systems. My point is that how individuals feel about the outcome is only one part of how we judge the outcome. My different set of values from mainstream mormonism leads me to make different judgments about the outcome than they do. That may be condescending, but I don’t think it’s dismissive when I do think I have considered there viewpoint having grown up in the culture and look at my own past viewpoints through the same lens and used to make the same arguments that I am now dismissive of.

    Howard, Just because my argument isn’t universal doesn’t make it invalid. To the extent that it sometimes happens should be weighed into the judgement. To the extent harm is caused, that should be considered, and it should be considered regardless of whether those who are harmed understand it. Whether and how much people are harmed is a reasonable topic of debate. My point is that sometimes people are harmed and don’t recognize or acknowledge it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still make judgments about it.

  52. Nate on March 8, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    anonymousguy (if that is your real name): I think it is entirely possible for people to make decisions that they later regret, decisions that make them unhappy. I think it’s entirely possible for people to make such decisions because they are given bad advice, which they then believe. I understood you, however, to be saying something more than this. I thought you were claimng that the young woman who studies elementary education and then becomes a stay at home mother suffers some hurt because her decision is not authentic but merely the result of the cultural circumstances in which she finds herself. She suffers the hurt even if she expresses happiness or contentment with her life.

    If I have understood you correctly, my objection goes something like this. Imagine that instead of growing in a cultural environment that led the young woman to study elementary education and become a stay at home mother, she’d had parents that valued higher education and professional accomplishment. As a result of these environmental influences, the young woman studied at an elite university, gained professional accomplishments, eventually married a well-educated and professionally accomplished young man with whom she began a family of daughters raised to pursue a similar life of educational and professional success. Would we say that this young woman is also a pawn of her cultural environment, bereft of authentic choice over her life and mistaken with regard to her supposed happiness and contentment. I would assume that you would say no. (I hope that you would say no.)

    My hypothetical young woman, just like your elementary education major, just like every other human being is in some sense a product her cultural environment, an environment that in part — but only in part — constructs her desires and choices. This fact does not make choices illegitimate or inauthentic. So then what is your objection to the young woman who studies elementary education and then becomes a stay at home mother. It can’t be a procedural objection as to the means by which her desires and choices are made. The same is true of the well-educated and professionally successful young woman. It seems to me that the objection must be substantive. It is not how she made her choices, but the choices that she made that arouses your pity for the young woman studying elementary education and then becoming a stay and home mother. The problem is that these actions are less worthy of our admiration or esteem. It is this judgment that strikes me as condescending and dismissive.

    Some people in fact live happy, contented, productive, and praiseworthy lives pursuing the kind of course that you dismiss. Some people might be unhappy and unfulfilled pursuing such a course. It seems to me that the differences here are going to be highly contingent on personality, biography, and circumstances. Accordingly, it seems that our approbation or pity ought to depend on these accidents as opposed to grand ideological narratives about culture etc. that tend to reduce the young woman studying elementary education into a passive object of pity because within elite educational, professional, and cultural circles majoring in elementary education and becoming a stay-at-home mother are negative status markers.

  53. Howard on March 8, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    anonymousguy wrote: My point is that sometimes people are harmed and don’t recognize or acknowledge it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still make judgments about it.

    Sure but my point is we don’t necessarily know who was harmed so we should be careful in those assertions. I know a psychologist who is studying post traumatic heartiness. That is a small number of people emerge from the same situations that produced a lot of post tramutic stress disorder cases more hearty than they were before they were exposed to the trauma. Personal psychology has a big role in the outcome. So while some who disagree are simply naive, indifferent or in denial others understand the concept well but disagree that it affects THEM negatively and may superimpose their personal finding on others as you seem to be doing.

  54. anonymousguy on March 8, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    In your hypothetical the person is absolutely just as much a product of their culture as the woman in my hypothetical was of hers. How then do we judge which culture is better, assuming that woman is the same person in alternative realities. We can’t judge them only based on how they feel, because both version of this woman would say they lived a happy fulfilling life. We have to apply an external sense of values and what we are really arguing is which sets of values are correct. But how people feel within the cultural environments is only part of that story. I don’t claim these are easy questions to answer. I also don’t dismiss everyone who chooses the stay at home mom lifestyle as illegitimate or inauthentic (I live it, but from the male perspective and I think we are happy.) I hope the culture doesn’t box my daughters into feeling that that is their only choice, but if they do choose that I will honor and value that journey as authentic.

    I wish the culture allowed for and presented the alternatives to the stay at home mom lifestyles as a legitimate option with the benefits and risks presented in a complete way and that what is best for an individual requires understanding the individual and that we should allow more room for people to use their agency to make those choices without imposing artificial social costs or questioning their spirituality.. I think for the to happen we need more diversity of voices in the church. I don’t claim that those advocating the stay at home lifestyle are categorically wrong or their views are illegitimate, but I think we need to change the culture to get the same respect for alternative viewpoints, because institutionally we do call alternative views as illegitimate and inauthentic.

    When Oaks spoke of moral cowards I think he was arguing that people in the church who have different values argue from a position of bad faith and are therefore illegitimate. We consistently go to rhetorical examples of Korihor to dismiss liberal voices (at least in my local experience). I am not a political liberal, but I think the diversity of having their voice in the conversation improves outcomes from my current set of values (values that are still evolving and will the rest of my life). As my values have evolved over time I respect that others values may be different than mine and I allow for the possibility that they are right and that mine will evolve to be closer to their views, just as I also hope theirs will evolve to what I currently view as more correct.

    Thanks for taking the time to substantively look at what I am saying. Sorry for being anonymous, but I think alternative voices pay a social cost and it is a cost I am not currently willing to pay. I pray the culture changes so that isn’t always the case.

  55. anonymousguy on March 8, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    Howard,

    I don’t disagree with what you are saying. I don’t think you are taking me at face value when I say I question whether a lifestyle choice was best for someone. That isn’t a statement saying I deem that choice illegitimate. I do think I am judging the culture, but I distinguish that from judging the individuals within it. If anything my negative judgment of the culture makes me more empathetic to individuals within it, because i judge their choices within that context.

    If x number of Mormons fall into my hypothetical and we conclude that for x% of them it wasn’t harmful even though they don’t yet recognize it, That can be used as an argument to change the culture, even if we don’t or can’t know which people specific all represent x on an individual level. I understand and recognize as legitimate the argument that without being able to quantify it you can’t use it in an argument, but my position is that we make the best judgments we can with insufficient knowledge all the time.

  56. Mtnmarty on March 8, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    The heart of the question to me is whether grand principles or a specific an localized ethic of pain reduction is more conducive to cooperation, social solidarity and coalition building for those that share my values. I use both techniques. I despise rigid, bureaucratic rules but am very reluctant to give up equality, liberty and freedom as abstract rallying cries for my coalition. The absence of free agency on your list of religious terms that give life meaning made me wonder how important the chance to do ourselves harm is to your view of Mormonism.. The war in heaven is more Mormon to me than the atonement which is shared with more versions of Christianity.

  57. Chris Henrichsen on March 8, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    “The war in heaven is more Mormon to me than the atonement which is shared with more versions of Christianity.”

    That might be the most depressing thing that I have heard about Mormonism in a long time. That is not to say that it is not true.

    I am not opposed to appeals to equality, liberty, and freedom. It is sort of what I do. But it has limits. My issue with “equality is not a feeling” is not with equality but with a watering down of a complex concept. But of my issue is mental on my part since critics of egalitarian principle are usually the ones dismissing equality as simple mathematical equality.

    One thing feminist philosophy has taught me is a suspicion of hypotheticals. We do not need them when considering actual lived experience. In philosophy, we use them but very few people are good at it. I think it is part of why we come back the some over and over again (see Plato’s Republics or Judith Jarvis Thomson on abortion).

  58. Naismith on March 8, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Very thoughtful stuff here.

    I just wanted to address,
    “From my perspective the pain and alienation of liberal Mormons results from the particular historical accident of their births and biography, the fact that they live in a liberal society and have imbibed its ethos.”

    While I don’t dispute that reality and I agree that biography plays a key role, there are a lot of us living outside Utah who are also influenced by birth and biography but because our story is different, we don’t experience that same type of pain. Valerie Hudson is one of the most well known of those voices actively embracing LDS gender roles as a convert, but I share much of her viewpoint.

    I wasn’t born into the church and never lived in Utah except a few years on campus at BYU. So I wasn’t much exposed to the old YW manual overzealousness of various leaders. When I was called to a stake role while my youngest was a toddler and I was a few months into the first paid job in a new field that would turn into a profession, the reaction of the stake leaders was to give me a blessing so that I could fulfill all my functions, not to discourage me from employment.

    When I read the recent NYT article, I found it interesting, but was amazed at how much of it was not in my frame of reference. When my husband and I spoke in Sacrament a few weeks ago, he went first and introduced the family, then I gave the closing entirely doctrinal talk. My girls went on great high adventure trips as Laurels, the last was whitewater rafting two states away; they also did stuff like archery and midnight canoeing with the young men. My friend was a seminary teacher when she had a baby right before Christmas break, and returned to teaching in January.

    I was attracted to Mormonism because of the true equality that I saw here, that seemed to fill the need that my affiliation with feminist groups did not seem to “get,” that was not male-normative but rather also valued motherhood. My non-LDS mom-friends hadmired that my husband saw my contributions of gestation and lactation as equal to his of providing. And since most of my friends are non-LDS, I’ve seen the struggles to keep men engaged in church when women could and do handle all the work.

    The liberal society in which I live inflicts pain frequently, as I have struggled to maintain a work-life balance that fits my particular situation. I am sick of liberals that are quick to tell others how many (few!) children they should have, that dismiss homemaking as “not working.” I agree that the church promotes full-time motherhood, but what I’ve heard presents it as a viable option (which it is not in the town I live), rather than declaring it the only way to mother.

    So how do we have policies that ease the pain of some without hurting others?

    I think there are a lot of issues on which many points of view agree. Nobody should feel like an exception. The church is a mosaic, not a melting pot. We don’t have to give up our uniqueness; there are many ways to be a faithful disciple. Because of our belief in personal revelation, Mormons should be the most tolerant of people.

  59. Josh Smith on March 8, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Am I the only one who thinks anonymousguy isn’t too anonymous? His comments read just like …

    I have just a couple of thoughts:

    Another form of equality is the equal application of a set of rules to a group. I’m not sure what the term is, maybe “procedural equality”? We see it in athletics, litigation, politics, driving, etc. It requires a set of rules, an arbiter, and a group of participants who agree to be equally bound by the rules.

    Is procedural equality a “feeling”? On its best days, no. Procedural equality is not a feeling. In order for the rule to apply equally we try to mitigate the psychological factors as much as possible–the court doesn’t allow video cameras, the game has instant replay, the traffic cops give out tickets that specify which rule was allegedly broken, etc. Procedural equality should be passionless.

  60. dgl on March 8, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Nate, very interesting post. While I don’t want this question to be a thread-jack, I’m curious how you see your argument applying to same-sex marriage, where many of its opponents (including the church) appeal to an abstract concept of traditional marriage while proponents for SSM appeal to the great pain and sense of discrimination that many same-sex couples feel?

  61. Howard on March 8, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    So how do we have policies that ease the pain of some without hurting others? We move over and make space for them in the pews and stop pretending that we are in some zero sum game. Their painless presence doesn’t imply your expulsion or your loss.

  62. Howard on March 8, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    anonymousguy,
    I think we agree. I thought your comment before the last was very well expressed.

  63. rameumptom on March 8, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    Nate, great thoughts and discussion. here’s a thought that somewhat ties into this. I agree that it is an issue of emotion, probably on both liberal and conservative sides of the issue. I recognize that some feel pain because of the status quo. What happens if we radically change the status quo (give women the priesthood, etc), and we cause the 90% conservative women to now experience pain? How do we then handle the reverse situation? Because, while much of this issue is produced by a male led organization, it is also strongly supported by a strong conservative female force. How do we cause change without creating greater pain than we alleviate?

  64. Kristine on March 8, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    Supporting whatever the Brethren decide seems to be the most important motivation for defenders of the status quo. I really don’t think you’d have a majority of Mormon women being deeply pained if it were announced that they would now be ordained to priesthood office. It would be really interesting to repeat the Pew survey with the question revised to something like “Would you support a decision by the Church to start ordaining women?”

  65. Howard on March 8, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    Women like choice, make female priesthood optional.

  66. anonymousguy on March 8, 2014 at 11:59 pm

    Who am I being compared to?

  67. ZD Eve on March 9, 2014 at 12:10 am

    Still considering your arguments, Nate, but on first reading I’m struck by the asymmetry between your account of liberalism, which you historicize and distance from the ways of God, and your account of pain and its alleviation, which you don’t historicize at all. Surely our contemporary understanding of pain and our obligation to relieve it, conditioned by utilitarianism, for example, is just as historically contingent as liberal concepts of equality are. Relieving pain is of course what we all ought to be doing, but I don’t see either how relieving pain is more transhistorical–and therefore more divine–than administering justice, or how the two can be separated.

    I’m also unpersuaded that feminist pain results from being contradictorily constituted both as liberal subjects and as Mormons.

  68. ZD Eve on March 9, 2014 at 12:18 am

    …in short, I feel in my heart that you are wrong.

  69. Howard on March 9, 2014 at 8:40 am

    Christ incarnate as Jesus was clearly progressive, clearly not conservative. If the church is currently led by Christ himself as many testify, how does one reconcile Christ’s change in political bent from progressive to conservative? Did he somehow see the light postmortem? The church wasn’t always conservative but today it is held in conservative hands in a pharisaical form that Jesus opposed. So is the church managed by Christ? More likely it’s managed by conservative men who apparently don’t want to share. This is understandable though as there are few remaining conservative bastions and conservatives generally prefer to exclude. But is that Christlike? Who did Jesus exclude?

  70. Nate Oman on March 9, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    ZD Eve: I don’t know why you think I don’t historicize pain. My whole point is that the pain that we suffer is a result of historical accidents. I am sure that the concern with pain can be historically situated, but I don’t think that I am moved on this point because of some Benthamite legacy. You will notice, for example, that I don’t claim that the avoidance of pain is some kind of master criterion of moral action, ie I don’t take a Benthamite position. (My ideas about human flourishing tend more toward Aristotle than Bentham.) I actually think that we have all sorts of normative constraints that limit the extent to which we can properly respond to the pain of others. For example, I think it would be wrong to grant the priesthood to women simply to reduce feminist pain. My point is the more modest one that pain makes SOME moral claims on us and that one ought to respond to pain sincerely felt even if one doesn’t buy into all of the philosophical assumptions that in part underlie and structure that pain.

    I suppose then there is a sense in which I do think that pain is phenomenologically more primal that something as abstract as injustice. I agree however that our experience of the world is inevitably historically situated, which is more or less the point I was trying to make. As for feminist pain, I am not quite sure how to precisely cash it out but I simply don’t find it plausible to claim that it has nothing to do with a sense of suffering injustice and that the sense of justice invoked is fundamentally liberal.

  71. Nate Oman on March 9, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Howard: Your last comment is so remarkably silly and offensive, that I would appreciate it if you would just go away.

  72. Nate Oman on March 9, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    ZD Eve: By the way, I don’t think that concern for pain ultimately collapses into some kind of idea of justice. For example, I think that we ought to succor the victim of pain justly inflicted.

  73. Howard on March 9, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    I will depart this thread as you requested Nate but I disagree with your assessment of the comment and hope you would consider it food for thought when you’re finished being offended.

  74. ZD Eve on March 9, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    “As for feminist pain, I am not quite sure how to precisely cash it out but I simply don’t find it plausible to claim that it has nothing to do with a sense of suffering injustice and that the sense of justice invoked is fundamentally liberal.”

    No, I wouldn’t (and didn’t) claim that feminist pain has nothing whatsoever to do with liberal conceptions of justice; I simply doubt that it can be reduced to such conceptions. That formulation strikes me as deeply inadequate, but I’d have to think more about why.

    I agree that concern for pain isn’t reducible to justice, but as a reader of Job I also tend to doubt that pain can be meaningfully addressed in the absence of some conception of justice. I would be interested in considering alternatives to liberal conceptions, but I’m doubtful that you’re going to escape abstract conceptions by appealing to feelings–which is, after all, what your historicizing argument demonstrates, and what you repeat above: that our experience of pain is bound up with our philosophical legacy.

  75. Kristine on March 9, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    “No, I wouldn’t (and didn’t) claim that feminist pain has nothing whatsoever to do with liberal conceptions of justice; I simply doubt that it can be reduced to such conceptions. That formulation strikes me as deeply inadequate, but I’d have to think more about why.”

    It might be that we worship a God who is just, and has given His children the light of Christ to help them recognize right and wrong, so we innately and intuitively are pained by injustice. I know not all feminists have this experience, but I had feminist sensibilities as a very young child, long before (I think) I could have been discomfited by the clash of my liberal ideals with an authoritative church culture.

    I could probably think of some philosopher to namedrop here, but I think I’m more indebted to the Primary curriculum for these ideas.

  76. Chris Henrichsen on March 9, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    “I could probably think of some philosopher to namedrop here, but I think I’m more indebted to the Primary curriculum for these ideas.”

    Awesome.

  77. Nate Oman on March 9, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    ZD Eve: For what it’s worth, in the OP I claimed only that liberal conceptions of justice are one reason for feminist pain. I also suggested that pain might result from more concrete experiences. I do think that pain can be separated from justice, Job notwithstanding. Obviously, there are ways of conceptualizing the experience of pain where it doesn’t call for a moral response. I think that most of these conceptualizations are substantively mistaken. I do want to resist the post modern urge to turn every experience into a text that can be historicized and infinitely reinterpreted. I’m not quite sure how to articulate my objection other than to say that this strikes me as a rather glib and shallow use of philosophy.

  78. mtnmarty on March 9, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    I don’t understand why this is being conceptualized as pain or equality or justice.

    Isn’t it just about power?

    Power is not a feeling.

  79. CRW on March 9, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    What a weird couple of posts (and comment threads, especially) on priesthood for women. What I hear the “no” folks saying is, men and women are not equal, and shouldn’t be treated equally as regards the priesthood. The compassionate side then says, “but we know some women are hurt by this, so we should figure out how to help them not feels so bad about it.” Is that right?

  80. nate on March 9, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    Kristine: Why would we suppose that the ideas of justice the very young get in our society — including in Primary — are anything other than liberal? Remember I am not rejecting liberalism as false or mistaken. I am only denying that its moral sufficiency or the idea that its satisfaction is a necessary condition for all institutional legitimacy.

  81. Elcee on March 10, 2014 at 2:47 am

    thank you all for sharing so many viewpoints.
    It is so helpful to see the differing ways of understanding these issues.

  82. Naismith on March 10, 2014 at 10:47 am

    “What I hear the “no” folks saying is, men and women are not equal,”

    Hmmmn. I have never heard anyone say that men and women are not equal. Only that men and women are not currently treated the SAME regarding the priesthood. Which is not the only way of being treated equally.

    But then, I don’t hang out with people who are opposed to women having the priesthood. I and most of the folks I know are in the middle group that Kristine described, who would be fine with whatever the church decides. And I can see advantages and disadvantages on all sides.

    Another point that has not been mentioned is that ours is a worldwide church nowadays, and some of the observations in the OP do not apply to societies that are not particularly liberal. My family spends time in a Muslim country where the church recently made a second stake. The women there feel much more empowered and respected than many of their neighbors and compared to situations outside of church.

  83. ZD Eve on March 10, 2014 at 11:22 am

    Nate: I can agree with much of your comment above, but at this point

    “I do want to resist the post modern urge to turn every experience into a text that can be historicized and infinitely reinterpreted. I’m not quite sure how to articulate my objection other than to say that this strikes me as a rather glib and shallow use of philosophy.”

    I’m not sure what precisely you’re objecting to, since I see no postmodern urges to infinitely reinterpret anywhere in this discussion, except insofar as such urges are endemic to, and indeed constitute, the blogging genre.

  84. Kristine on March 10, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Nate–do you think kids don’t have any ideas except the ones they pick up in Primary (or from parents, etc.)? Any sort of innate moral compass? (I’m happy to follow you into constructivist la-la land to argue, just sincerely wondering whether this is your sense of ethical episteme)

  85. Dave on March 10, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Equality is a convenient banner to raise when agitating for social or institutional change, but I think it is the wrong argument. “Equality is a feeling” seems as misguided as the forced response “equality is not a feeling.” Fairness, kindness, even social utility or institutional efficiency seem like better reference points.

    Women prayed in Conference when the question “Why shouldn’t women offer prayers in Conference?” became a live question for senior leaders, and the response seems to have been, “Well, there really is no good reason they shouldn’t.” Once upon a time in the Church senior leaders had a variety of reasons that men of African descent should not hold the LDS priesthood. Only in recent years have senior leaders been willing to publicly state (in the response to the Bott Affair and in the recent Gospel Topics essay) that there is now no good reason to be given why they shouldn’t hold the LDS priesthood and no LDS leader or teacher should attempt produce such reasons. I don’t see “equality” as driving either of these positive developments.

    Why shouldn’t an LDS woman be able to serve as Sunday School President? Why shouldn’t an LDS sister missionary be able to serve as a Zone Leader? Why shouldn’t an LDS woman be eligible for full-time teaching positions in CES? I think these policies will change not under the universal banner of “equality” but rather as LDS culture and church governance evolves to the point where good reasons can no longer be given to sustain the practice or exclusion. I’m not really advocating for that kind of change, but that seems like a more productive way for those who do to approach it.

  86. Kristine on March 10, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    And to whom, exactly, should those who would like to see those sorts of changes address their questions to make them “live”? Waiting around until someone in the hierarchy realizes “hey! there’s no reason for the way we’ve always done things” doesn’t seem very productive. And bureaucracies are only too ready to answer such questions with “because we’ve always done it that way” unless there is some perceived urgency to the question. Mormon women don’t really have any way to invoke that sense of urgency, even if, for some of them, it is of salvific importance to have either change or more satisfying answers to the question of why not change.

  87. mtnmarty on March 10, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Kristine,

    Any sort of innate moral compass?

    I don’t know if compass is the right metaphor but in terms of development the compass seems to point first to me first, then mine, then people who agree with me and more universal fairness later.

    Submission to greater power seems pretty innate.

  88. mtnmarty on March 10, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    What has changed is not just or even primarily the perception of some liberal fairness. Its the changing perception of the power to make change that is the real driving force. Women want more power. Priesthood power, economic power, discursive power.

  89. Fabio008 on March 10, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    I agree that Equality is in fact a feeling. I get that feeling every Sunday when I go to church and interact with girls, boys, women, and men. Comes from the Holy Ghost.

  90. Hedgehog on March 10, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    “submission to greater power seems pretty innate”
    Ha! Not so! My daughter was born assertive and determined, submit she did not as a baby, or through the primary years. As a teenager she can be reasoned with, but she demands respect let me tell you.

  91. mtnmarty on March 10, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Hedgehog,

    She’s just more powerful than you, that’s all! :)

  92. mtnmarty on March 10, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    I should have said the relative propensity to submit to greater power is pretty innate. Your comment seems to support that her assertiveness was more nature than nurture. Agree?

  93. Hedgehog on March 10, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    I’m no pushover mtnmarty. Even our then stake president remarked he’d never seen a child so determined (he was a teacher), when I took her out of sacrament meeting at about 18 months, screaming as she pulled my hair, beat her fists on my back etc. I was taking her out of the meeting until she was nearly 8. We had to teach her to choose her battles, since she seemed to be born fighting. Photos of her as a toddler are almost unnerving, given the almost manic expression in her eyes. Yes, nature. She’s great.

  94. Nate on March 10, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    Kristine: I suspect that children have certain structures of moral thought that are inherent, like the concept of normativity, the capacity for sympathy and resentment. I rather doubt that ideas of social equality are inherent. I am honestly not sure how I’d reconcile with the theology of the light of Christ. I am not a social constructivist in the sense of seeing all human responses as socially contingent and essentially maleable. I believe that it makes sense to talk about human nature, especially in terms of aggregate tendencies and basic conceptual structures. That said, I tend to be Burkean. I think habit and prejudices are hugely important.

    ZD Eve: That comment is mainly directed at me.

  95. Kristine on March 10, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    Nate: maybe you’re right; or not. Hard to test.

    I was a Burkean until I met my first child.

  96. Jeff G on March 10, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    “I was a Burkean until I met my first child.”

    Would you mind unpacking this a bit for me? Being a moderately strong Burkean myself, you’ve piqued my interest.

  97. mtnmarty on March 11, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Nate; I rather doubt that ideas of social equality are inherent.

    How about the concept of hypocrisy as asymmetrical application of a rule or practice as a rudimentary form of the concept of social equality? Might that be inherent?

  98. Hedgehog on March 11, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    Very young children don’t see different treatment of boys and girls as fair IME.
    Even animals have been found to have an innate sense of fairness.

  99. Josh Smith on March 11, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Hedgehog (#98): “Even animals have been found to have an innate sense of fairness.”

    Fairness is probably an overstatement. Many animals recognize inequality. Maybe we could call it reciprocity.

    [neither here nor there]

    Just for the record, in nature it is almost always the female that makes the choices about which male genetics will get passed on. It is the female that draws distinctions between the various male suitors, and based on female choices over generations, males develop the attributes that the females desire. Birds are an excellent example. Male birds have all kinds of adornment because females have been selective over many, many generations. To our untrained eye, there is little or no distinction, but the female eye can perceive inequalities.

    Just sayin’

  100. mtnmarty on March 11, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    “Just for the record, in nature it is almost always the female that makes the choices about which male genetics will get passed on.”

    Choices is probably an overstatement.

  101. Josh Smith on March 11, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Exhibit A: Look what the female bowerbird has managed to produce. I recommend David Attenborough’s short bowerbird video.

    :-)

  102. Smith on April 2, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Feminists really get into serious problems with their obsession with justice. Yet, the Gospel is antithetical to a need for justice. We are all commanded to forgive even when justice is not served (i.e turn the cheek). Justice would cause us to be condemned by our sins forever were it not for Christ. Rather that worrying about justice I think they would be better off focusing on something much better such as mercy.

    The source of pain comes from the vices of envy or ignorance. They are deceived into thinking that it is unjust that they don’t hold the priesthood and because they don’t have the priesthood they are denied some blessing. Because of this, they are blinded to the fact that they have the same access to all of God’s greatest blessings as any priesthood holder. Remove this deception and the pain will go away.

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