421–423: Examining Mormon Apologetics, Neo-Apologetics, and Informational Obligations to Church Members and Investigators

In this, the second installment in a series of co-hosted and co-released shows related to Mormon Apologetics, Mormon Matters and Mormon Stories hosts Dan Wotherspoon and John Dehlin interview and engage with two wonderful, bright, and articulate voices in Mormon Studies: Loyd Isao Ericson, from Greg Kofford Books and co-editor of the volume Perspectives in Mormon Theology: Apologetics, and Bert Fuller, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto and a former editor at both BYU’s Religious Studies Center and the Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.

The podcast begins with an examination of the apologetic endeavor itself, with special attention to the arguments that it is a flawed enterprise from the start as it involves a confusion over what is being defended. It centers on the question of whether religious claims (spiritual claims and experiences that drive religious conversion and growth) can be defended or proven by the tools of scholarship. If the answer is no, if these are two quite different arenas or (in Wittgenstein’s terms, “language games”), then apologists play into and further the category mistakes inherent in the very activity itself. It also challenges common ways in which claims in one arena are said to be probative or at least should be considered in the other one.

In the final two sections, the conversations move more toward the personal experiences of those who become troubled when various truth claims they’ve held tightly to begin to crack and show their limits. Life choices have been made out of one understanding of the world, it’s purposes, and God’s will for the person, so it’s very natural that she or he should feel lost, upset, and even angry, especially if they feel that important information that provides wider contexts for the claims or actual challenges to them have been known by top church leaders and yet withheld (or worse, as in the case of excommunicating or smearing the reputations of those who alert people to these issues). Out of that discussion emerges reflections once more on the role of those who John Dehlin has labeled “neo-apologists” (those who seem to him and others to be becoming somewhat relied upon by the church to stem the tide of defections or calm troubled souls who are in faith crisis or are loved ones of those in such shifting relationship to the church and their previous beliefs) should be, as well as their obligations for full disclosure in the articles and books they write and firesides and public appearances they make of the troubling issues and counter-claims to key LDS teachings.

It’s a three-hour (!) discussion, but it never runs out of energy and models great respect for all in the conversation, whether it is fellow panelists or apologists/neo-apologists or listeners and people for whom these worldview and faith crises are very, very real.

Please listen and then share your reactions in the comments section below!

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Link:
Blair G. Van Dyke and Loyd Isao Ericson, eds, Perspectives in Mormon Theology: Apologetics (Greg Kofford Books, 2017)

Comments

comments

7 comments for “421–423: Examining Mormon Apologetics, Neo-Apologetics, and Informational Obligations to Church Members and Investigators

  1. October 28, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    One thing I think is interesting is that I think for some group of people (including not just John Dehlin but several other folks who eventually have faith crises and abandon religion), it won’t ever make sense to engage with religion outside of the “secular” claims, effects, and impacts. I think that’s why that keeps coming up.

    …But I think this can be worked with to try to synthesize something with what Loyd and Dan are trying to say.

    I think John’s basic argument is that we can’t get away from the secular claims, effects, and impacts of religion because (as he sees it), people join religions because of “secular” claims, effects, and impacts. People make fundamentally life-altering decisions because of those secular claims, effects, and impacts. John’s contention is that without those secular claims, effects, and impacts, Mormonism in specific (or religion in general) would be less appealing.

    So, for both Loyd and Dan, who wish to assert that there’s something to religion (religious claims, effects, and impacts) that have merit that is separate and distinct from the secular, and persist despite whatever is going on in the secular (to use the extreme example…if we concede the worst of the secular accusations against Joseph, we could concede that maybe he should have been jailed…but he could still be a prophet at the same time), the question is whether or not that religious value could persist even in full disclosure of secular issues.

    It seems John’s answer is a strong: “no”. To use the modified Old Car Zion analogy with Loyd’s quick response, people won’t care how comfy the seats are if the car doesn’t isn’t an ambiturner. People will not spend the price of a car for comfy seats, but they will spend the price of a car if they think the car can take them places (and can turn both ways, etc.,)

    However…I’m not sure that the church itself, Loyd, or even Dan actually think the answer to that question is “Yes”.

    Here’s my breakdown:

    1) The church continues to promulgate a narrative that includes secular claims. Institutionally, for whatever reasons, the church is still committed to that. (Maybe it’s because, as Loyd discusses, the church has fallen prey to its own conceptual confusion. But I suspect this conceptual confusion is so thoroughgoing precisely because it helps the church institutionally — it helps them persuade people to join.)

    2) For Loyd, the argument is a little less strong, but I took Loyd’s comments about myths not being “self-conscious” to imply that there is value to not be forthright about the fictitious nature of mythic events. That is, even if myths have value while not having literally occurred, that value can be obscured or destroyed if one goes around saying, “Now, this didn’t happen, but….”

    3) For Dan, there seems to be a component of “living into” religiosity. The problem is that this takes time and it’s difficult to accomplish. Even if Mormonism “points outside of itself,” it’s not easy to ascertain that truth (which also probably supports why the conceptual confusion has become so prominent in the first place). The higher truths of religion may be incredibly valuable, but they are also incredibly difficult to access (all that pesky ineffability)), and you generally can’t directly impart that value. So, myths are inculcated as scaffolding to covertly prepare people to live with the religion long enough to prime them for the those higher truths.

  2. EDiL13
    November 3, 2017 at 11:52 am

    I enjoyed the analogy about the manufacturers of the faulty car, and I thought about how they often blame the driver instead of the car. If it doesn’t work for you, then your didn’t read the owner’s manual and you’re not using it properly. In other words, read your scriptures, follow the prophet, etc. And if the airbags might injure you, then just make sure you don’t bump into anything hard enough to make the airbags deploy (don’t read the CES letter, don’t listen to John Dehlin’s podcasts because he’s an apostate, etc). The connotations of the idea of always turning “right” and never turning “left” were particularly interesting.

    But maybe it’s not the apologists who blame the drivers for any problems they have with the car — their job is probably more to justify keeping the cars on the road. Telling the drivers that if it doesn’t work for them, then they must not be doing it right, is probably more the job of bishops and stake presidents who remind people to “pray, pay, and obey” and everything will work out somehow, even if if their “car” breaks down…

    If I understand correctly, Andrew has a point about the difference between admitting that something is a fiction or a myth, pretending that it’s true and behaving accordingly, and believing that it’s actual fact. That’s been one of my beefs with the LDS church — I can participate in the narrative and talk about Nephi and Alma and Moroni as if they’re real people, just like I can talk about Frodo and Gandalf and Harry Potter, and I can derive wonderful life lessons from all of these stories, but at the end of the day it does matter to me whether or not these were actual historical people and not just fictional figures invented by the authors to illustrate a principle, or as one of my Unitarian Universalist ministers used to call it, “fact” versus “truth”. What bothers me is that this doesn’t seem to be good enough — the Mormon church still seems to expect its members to believe that everything in the Book or Mormon is historically factually true, but I have to wonder how many of them are really still able to believe that unequivocally when it comes right down to it — how much scientific evidence can you put on your “shelf” before it collapses…

    Wonderful lively debate, guys — all of you. Thanks for doing what you do.

  3. Paul
    November 9, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    Wonderful guys….this was an excellent discussion–authentic, transparent, vulnerable with sincerity, pure intent and keen intellect.

    The one additional topic that is would love to see you all address more is the question of how truly open and authentic these scholars and neo-apologists can be. As one who continues to try to make the church work though it is getting less and less delicious, smaller and smaller and not very expansive, I am finding myself less and less patient with the idea that our leaders at all levels have to be so careful about what they say as they have to protect the church and make sure the members’ faith is not challenged. The church is becoming incredibly vanilla and uninspiring because of this. As I get older, I am less and less interested in spending time with any people or groups who must maintain the varnish. As the leader of a company, I find my authentic influence goes up as I engage authentically and transparently and outline my real thoughts and feelings, including my “lack of having the answers”, certainly increases my credibility. I find it quite disturbing that our leaders come across like they encourage questions in these broadcasts and conferences when we all know all these questions are always screened and vetted. They are answering questions that people are not asking. It feels like the purpose of protecting the institution has trumped the purpose of fostering authentic growth.

    The other feeling I had while listening, which may be autobiographical, was the understatement of the impact of the faulty vehicle on peoples’ lives. We default to LGBT suicides as the source of pain but for those of us who relied on the literal narrative that is “not true” as the basis for the thousands of decisions that we made to “live the Mormon way” seems to be summarily dismissed by our leaders. I see no evidence or at least very very little evidence that any senior leader of our church really has any empathy for what this means to people and how disrupting it is. It seems like the collateral losses (leaving the church) of so many authentic truth seekers, just seems acceptable or a lesser evil. It is somewhat mind-boggling to me that there appears to be so little (or none on some of their part) empathy and what kind of pain and suffering discovering reality actually means to people. It is really something for me to see these leaders affirm their love and empathy and how in touch they are and how they seem to want to help and support but seem so willing to let so many just become collateral loss with no discussion or authentic dialogue and rather they leave this “pastoral” work up to scholars and others. As as leader, I always try to avoid relying on my “formal authority” and always try to earn it with how I work and treat others (with a lot of failing along the way); I find it hard to provide much patience for these men with such apparent obtuse empathy. “Stay in the boat”….”give Brother Joseph a break”…….”have faith that we have revelation….” on and on.

    All this said, if they want to protect the institution, I think they are doing it just as they should. I just don’t think this is the ministry.

    • Terri
      November 10, 2017 at 8:29 am

      Paul, Thank you so much for you comment. I couldn’t agree more. There are many of your “flock” LDS brethren leaders who are struggling/have struggled and if the best empathy you can can give in conference is we love you, stay in the boat, because, uh, that is what’s, uh, required.. that falls short.

      I appreciate these discussions and look forward to more, but at the end of the day I think it boils down to one’s approach to these topics. Dan seems to come at it with a more philosophical approach, while, John’s meeting these issues with a more practical one. I relate well because I’ve had and can often have this same inner debate come up within my own head/heart. While in theory, I may tend to view religion through Dan’s lens–something happened in the grove- we need not know what happened and we need not necessarily know the particulars of how the BOM or any text originates. If it moves and inspires us, its from God.

      In practicality and with regard to Mormonism in particular, I seem to share John’s view- you teach me that JS translates gold plates from a person who lived thousands of years ago. Person is now an Angel. I go on a mission, testify and teach this. I hear this “testimony” over and over and hear others bear the same “testimony” I wake up in 2017 and everyone (except my leaders) is talking about how,well, no it may not , well, in fact probably didn’t really happen. No plates. No angel. No person. No translation. Still from God though. How do we know that part- the God part -is true when everything else isn’t? Cause, well, the book still moves us. It inspires us. Dude. I was inspired by the movie Hair spray. I suddenly have zero footing here.Hard to have the philosophical view at this point. Could have started out with it maybe. Much harder to do it now.

      Allow me to add one more thing. My disappointment and anger at our church leaders for opting out of the arena. What I mean is this. There is so much discussion on podcasts, boards, forums, et al with regard to this idea of the nuanced approach to Mormonism. This meaning that you can still be fully active and not believe in the historicity if the book of Mormon, in essence not believing JS really translated gold plates or that everything our leaders has said or says (Brigham and current LGBT policy) is inspired and/or revelation directly from God.

      Whether this nuanced approach can or can’t be, etc. is not at issue. What is frustrating is that our leaders are sitting back while all of these topics are being hashed out. While the Givenses, Patrick Mason and others are giving firesides, while John and Dan are doing these fireside, while these things are being discussed, they printed the essays quietly without calling any attention whatsoever and other than that don’t weigh in. I fell like they will sit back until both sides are bloodied and see who emerges the victor , step up, side with the victor and somehow spin it to say ” see this is the Lords will.”

  4. Terri
    November 10, 2017 at 8:39 am

    Paul, Thank you so much for you comment. I couldn’t agree more. There are many of your “flock” LDS brethren leaders who are struggling/have struggled and if the best empathy you can can give in conference is we love you, stay in the boat, because, uh, that is what’s, uh, required.. that falls short.

    I appreciate these discussions and look forward to more, but at the end of the day I think it boils down to one’s approach to these topics. Dan seems to come at it with a more philosophical approach, while, John’s meeting these issues with a more practical one. I relate well because I’ve had and can often have this same inner debate come up within my own head/heart. While in theory, I may tend to view religion through Dan’s lens–something happened in the grove- we need not know what happened and we need not necessarily know the particulars of how the BOM or any text originates. If it moves and inspires us, its from God.

    In practicality and with regard to Mormonism in particular, I seem to share John’s view- you teach me that JS translates gold plates from a person who lived thousands of years ago. Person is now an Angel. I go on a mission, testify and teach this. I hear this “testimony” over and over and hear others bear the same “testimony” I wake up in 2017 and everyone (except my leaders) is talking about how,well, no it may not , well, in fact probably didn’t really happen. No plates. No angel. No person. No translation. Still from God though. How do we know that part- the God part -is true when everything else isn’t? Cause, well, the book still moves us. It inspires us. Dude. I was inspired by the movie Hair spray. I suddenly have zero footing here.Hard to have the philosophical view at this point. Could have started out with it maybe. Much harder to do it now.

    Allow me to add one more thing. My disappointment and anger at our church leaders for opting out of the arena. What I mean is this. There is so much discussion on podcasts, boards, forums, et al with regard to this idea of the nuanced approach to Mormonism. This meaning that you can still be fully active and not believe in the historicity of the book of Mormon, in essence not believing JS really translated gold plates or that everything our leaders has said or says (Brigham and current LGBT policy) is inspired and/or revelation directly from God.

    Whether this nuanced approach can or can’t be, etc. is not at issue. What is frustrating is that our leaders are sitting back while all of these topics are being hashed out. While the Givenses, Patrick Mason and others are giving firesides, while John and Dan, Bill Reel and others are doing pidcasts on these issues, while these things are being discussed on forums, leaders are allowing scholars or apologists to do their talking. They are God’s mouthpiece though?!

    Forget standing on the wall, they had a more nuanced approach I guess when they decided to publish the essays quietly on lds.org without calling any attention whatsoever. Other than that, they don’t weigh in to the debate.

    I feel like they will sit back until both sides are bloodied and see who emerges the victor. Then, they will step up, side with the victor and somehow spin it to say ” see this is the Lords will.” This leaves me feeling angry and disappointed in men I once held as leaders and even representatives of God.

  5. Larry
    November 12, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    It bothers me that Dan insists there is a deeper spiritual state to be gained by remaining and engaging with mormonism. Pressuposing there is a path or purpose. If completely honest I think he should change the framing of his journey from one of progression to one of values. We make a mistake to assume just because different stages of faith can be observed that they therefore imply a progression. When really all we can imply is what a person values at any particular time. Is Dans current “spiritual” state an advanced stage of spiritual progression as he clearly sees it himself and talks as though it is or is it a craving to return to familiarity and comfort. To answer either way would be an overstatement. Dan finds value and doesnt want to or cant leave his “spirtual” home, nothing more. Dressing it up and pretending its anything more than that is very distatesful. Id love to see some humanity and humility from Dan and other neo apologists and that is that they like all of us have our delusions and that sadly in the end they maybe nothing more than that no matter how powerful or “spiritual” they may be. Extrapolating knowledge beyond placing value in a “spiritual” feeling especially in the face of counter evidence to that knowldge is decietful and lacks self awareness. So please stop constantly overstating your position.

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