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  1. Great Discussion! I really appreciate the positive nature of all of your experiences and feelings. Refreshing to hear so much positive and constructive dialogue (esp. in the last half) among all of you! <3

  2. I think John’s question hit it right on the head. Assuming the literal foundations of the Church are false, why should someone still want to be a member? The answers that were given work well for people who have already been lifelong members, but they don’t seem to work as well for children of non-traditional Mormons or potential members. While I do like Joanna’s comparisons to the Jewish religion, the comparison doesn’t seem fair (to them). Jewish history is much, much longer than Mormonism’s. The Enlightenment happened at a relatively late time period in their heritage, let alone the Holocaust, which was only 65 years ago. The Jewish religion/culture already had thousands of years of literal belief as the tradition. Mormonism, being so young and with such faulty foundations, seems easy to just simply step over since we’re only 180’ish years into it.

    This was a really good discussion. I also listened to the Mormon Expression podcast today on objectivity. Both were great! These are the kinds of conversations that have to happen if there is going to be any kind of evolution within the church. Oh, and I want to hear the rest of the interview between John and Joanna now!

  3. I hope this is not too far off topic, but as the podcast was wrapping up there was a bit of conversation about the YW program and my ears perked up. I think something was missed, however. Brian came close to approximating what the YW experience is like for YW today as he discussed his own daughters not finding the material relevant. I agree on point that the curriculum is off the mark for the young woman interested in college, graduate school, a career AND a family. I think it goes beyond this, however.

    I have four daughters myself, three of which are in the YW program right now and what I observe and what they flat out express in no uncertain terms is simple: Boredom. The program has become completely irrelevant, as Brian pointed out, but moreover it has become entirely “un cool”. Not that church has to be fun and games all the time, but the appeal of the program is entirely lost on my girls. They are bored, they find it lame, and the draw to attend does NOT go beyond the social, which for my girls is not a draw at all since their friends our largely outside the boundaries of our ward. Combine the lameness of the program with the beat-down of modesty and chastity, (Hells bells! They get it already – after hearing about it every other week), and they are simply tired of the routine. Personal progress is particularly hated in my household.

    Joanna talked, (and John too), about the draw of the faith tradition. How to provide that appeal so that people want to participate and are not there out of obligation or orthodoxy. I had a great experience in the YM and scouting programs, but the church simply feels differently today for the youth and I accept that it may be all in my perspective and perception. But my wife asks the same question of our daughters all the time: “Why don’t you like going to YW and firesides and such? I LOVED going when I was your age!” They dread program, the message and are not engaged by it. The appeal seems to be fading, big time.

    1. James,
      You make great points. Another slant on the relevancy issue for YW… When I asked my 16 yr old daughter why she doesn’t like attending YW or seminary, she replied that all the emphasis on what clothes to wear, or how many earrings you can have etc. etc. feels so judgmental to her. Her actual life experience tells her that these things are not a good measure of a person’s worth and so she has little faith in, and questions the other messages she hears at church.

  4. Thanks again, Dan, Joanna, Brian, and John, for another excellent discussion. I have been struggling with some of the fundamental questions that John raised about validity vs. utility. At least for the time being, I feel that I have the personality traits that reflect the responses of the other three to John’s thoughts on whether it is really worth the pain and effort if it is not “true.”

    I think it has a lot to do with perspective (and I am not trying to say one perspective is better than another, but here is one). I have had numerous conversations with those close to me, most of which believe firmly that the gospel is true. I have sort of worn them down to the extent that when they don’t necessarily have all the answers to some of my queries, they just simply say something to the effect of, “Well, if it isn’t true, it should be.” Some of these people are lifelong, active, important-position-holding, members of the church. While I get no satisfaction in sort of exploiting the doubts that are manifest in each of these individuals, it is my way of confirming that even most of those who say “I know” probably don’t know any more than I think I know. There is still plenty of doubt, and plenty of room for faith. I understand that faith over “fact” is not an acceptable choice for some, but I understand the need, and I understand why some choose faith, and some choose fact. I guess I am here to try to somehow not choose just one or the other, but to try to grapple with both. Maybe it’s an impossibility, but I’m a stubborn guy.

    I loved Joanna’s thoughts on her husband’s faith. It was all just so good. 80 minutes just wasn’t long enough on this one. I also loved at the end how you let John know that no matter what he does, he is still one of us. 🙂 Keep up the good work, all. I am getting to the point that I am really looking forward to these each week.

  5. Thank you for another great discussion. I am feeling more and more fulfillment at church these days, and I credit your exploration of these issues.

  6. One of our problems here is how we, in and out of the church and everywhere in between, have all aloud the greater discussion to be framed by the brethren. This is one of the reason Dan many of us get to the point that it is hard to see the Mormon church as a big tent. I believe how we allow the conversation be framed for us starts at testimony meeting. I see the pattern set at testimony meeting so entrenched in us that the framing anywhere I see Mormonism discussed by anyone that is or ever has been Mormon.

    How useful is it to say “Know the church is true”? This give us no information about what some one believes. I would say every one who says this on fast Sunday believes something different about the church. I would say that there are not two members of the 12 that believe the same things about the church, yet this is how we frame all of our discussions.

    We either are talking about why the church is true or why it is not true. Even here, Mormon stories, and places like Mormon expression we seem to have a need to preface ever thing by saying whether we are a true believer or not. What the hell does that even mean? Even if you go to the ex-Mormon foundation I would venture to say that no one their could honestly say the disbelieve every single thing about the church, so how useful is it for them to even say I know longer believe the church is true?

    In Jewish, Catholic, or Lutheran circles no one seems have a need to try to quantify or announce their relative level of belief. Why do we continue to allow the to frame our conversation? Obviously we all find Mormonism as hugely interesting and we want to talk about it, but framing the conversation this way limits our conversation and even how we think about ourselves and our world. Can we broaden our thought a little bit and frame our own conversation?

    I also see the farther I step out of the church the less my active friends and family can tolerate discussing anything to do with the church without just baring their testimony to me, because they see anything I do and say as being framed as this is why I see the church is untrue.

  7. I won’t have time to listen to the entire podcast — just wanted to disagree with Joanna’s blog entry, a bit.

    David Brooks strikes me as a very thoughtful guy; his book The Social Animal looks like a valuable purchase for me someday as a readable summary of the literature on how to be happy in a complex world.

    Several months ago, Brooks went out of his way to praise Clay Christensen and label him as an exemplary Christian. Most conservatives would never have gone out on that limb. So if Joanna doesn’t like Bill Maher and Lawrence O’Donnell bashing sacred aspects of the faith, wouldn’t she be more credible by praising people who go out on a limb to say nice things about the faith?

    And now in the podcast, we learn that only Joe has seen the musical?! Shouldn’t Joanna have waited to see the musical before commenting on Brooks’ column, or perhaps read his book first to get into his head first?

    I’m feeling a little creeped out listening to the podcast with four people defending the Mormon empire against any discussion at all; feels too much like Provo in the early 1980s…

    Glad to learn that the podcast exists, though.

  8. What are the expenses of running a podcast. I tunes account? Domain name? R the guests paid? Just curious cuz I was thinking of shooting u twenty bucks.

    1. William – The biggest cost is my time. I’m in graduate school, and this is
      how I’m trying to make it through school. I use the $$ primarily to pay for
      health insurance for my family. Thanks for asking!

      1. This makes sense to me and thanks for being honest. It’s about money. Dialouge…Sunstone…Mormon matters…get some money out of the confusion that simply goes away as Packham states when one realizes it’s all man made.

  9. Podcast Made me wanna laugh cry contemplate deliberate leave the church stay in the church and start my own church all in one.

    However one thing struck me. The church does not prepare women for life in 2011 rather it prepares them for life in 1888

    1. Hi William,

      Glad you’re enjoying the podcast and regularly participating here on the blog discussions!

      Re your thought on women: As a preview of a coming attraction, our upcoming episode is a panel discussing the recent Washington Post piece by the Church’s head of public affairs asserting women’s equality within Mormonism. I can’t wait to have this discussion this week and share it.

  10. Thanks all for this presentation. It was very interesting.

    Someone, was it John, mentioned men of faith flying planes into buildings as an example of black-and-white religious thinking gone astray. Perhaps you could have explored that some more. No doubt about it, “religious” people do horrific things sometimes using God’s name. Mormon’s have their Mountain Meadows Massacre, Muslims have their 911 and bomb-strapped children, Christians have their Crusades, witch burnings, and the Catholics have their IRA bombings.

    I served a LDS mission in Ireland just before the Londonderry uprising and saw first hand the tension between the IRA and the Protestants in Belfast. Both sides invoked the name of God and talked about how God was behind their cause. Some called it a religious civil war, but it was a political war that had been going on for centuries. The IRA would plant and detonate bombs in pubs frequented by Protestants and the Orangemen, a Protestant fraternal order, would respond in kind. As missionaries, we met members of both the IRA and the Orange Lodge. However, in all my experience, I never met one actively practicing Catholic or Protestant who I knew that was involved in any of these atrocities, either directly or indirectly. Most of it was politics. It was black-and-white at a superficial level, but most were using God’s name to further their political aims. I also think that it is the same with Muslims. Most practicing Muslims would condemn bomb-strapped children and 911. However, obedience to perceived authority, politics, the “us against them”, and the “result justifies the means” mentality have plagued mankind from the very beginning. The non-religious use black-and-white thinking of their respective faiths to justify atrocities, but most true black-and-white believers do not participate. Contrary to popular belief, Christianity and Islam are religions of peace. It is only when politics, power, peer pressure, and revenge comes into play do these acts get God’s name attached to them. In the case of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, it had a lot to do with revenge, obedience to authority (religious and political), physical threat and peer pressure. Their are parallels between 911 and the Mountain Meadows Massacre for those same reasons. The real story in both cases: Was there anyone who didn’t participate because of their religious convictions?

    Thanks again for these podcasts. They challenge the status quo. I hope that these discussions will help all us understand the dynamics of our heritage. Perhaps it might have been discussions like these that would have put doubts into “believers” to question those who would have proposed atrocities in the name of religion.

  11. Great podcast. One of my favorite discussions I have heard in a long time. The question of what to do once you have come to grips with a non literal church is, perhaps, the most important decision we have to struggle with.
    I will admit I wondered exactly what church some of you went to that allows you to actively participate? I have had worse than no luck expressing even the smallest hint of non literal belief. You must belong to some uber liberal wards because the church I know would not be a place for a non literal believer to do anything except sit on his hands and nod his head.

    1. BO,

      Thanks for the chance to discuss more about this. But let me say first that in no way is my ward uber-liberal, nor do I think I’ve ever lived in one that is that way. All pretty normal mix, I think.

      The first thing that popped into my head about how to express even a bit of non-literal belief is to mention that so much of my LDS church experience doesn’t happen during the official Sunday lesson times but in the hallways, during home teaching, during get-togethers in others’ homes, etc. Once a friendship is rolling, it’s all much easier, I’ve found. AND, as I think I mentioned in this episode, some of my best friends who I have the most animated discussions with and who know a ton of my heresies, are folks who sound awfully literalistic and closed off to nuance when you hear them speak from the pulpit or in class discussions. Just a bit of time with them outside the formal structures, though, and great openings very often appear.

      I’ve also had good luck in classes or from the pulpit from time to time. Some really easy ones to get heads nodding or at least leaning in interest is to talk about Job and/or Jonah as non-literal. Plenty of people are relieved to hear that option. Some great chats after classes on those and some of the other stories that are far more powerful as allegory. Other ways that often take bad moments into great conversations are to say, “You know, the gospel also contains a different angle on that” and then share it. Some of this type I’ve talked about with good results are things like the gospel also having the idea that we are actually not fundamentally sinners who are broken and need fixing and being told what to do in order to protect us but rather divine beings who have forgotten who we are and are primarily in need of being reminded. From this point you can go into a lot of positive directions, including the Atonement being more about reconciling ourselves with our true natures as beings with divine potential rather than being about debts, ransoms, satisfactions of honor or law, healing of a rift between justice and mercy, etc.. Another one that comes up decently often is a chance to tone down imminent Second Coming and “God will come and fix it all” rhetoric with BY’s idea of our needing to first build a Zion society before Christ will come back. I can go on and on. In short though, there are, I have found, ennobling Gospel ideals for nearly every ugly and closed off claim I have found. The key is to simply speak up, especially when you can speak from within the gospel framework. When you can When you can raise a counter or a widening idea within the gospel framework rather than getting your idea from outside sources and trying to graft them in, you open yourself and others for good things to happen. Often, I admit, I get my ideas from outside sources initially but then when I allow them to percolate, connections from this idea to things within the Gospel start revealing themselves. That’s my experience anyway.

      1. Dan, Would you be willing to share any of those outside sources that have been helpful to you? If I stay in the church, I’m needed to to pitch in and teach, but I have a difficult time doing so with a feeling of integrity. Thank you so much for all you are doing.

  12. About half an hour into the podcast Dan really focuses on the question of the messengers. Some people indict the “Brethren” for dominating and dictating the Mormon discussion, but I don’t see it. I’m not saying they don’t sometimes preach the idealized Mormonism, but it’s their job. They also do present you with ideas that make you search your own convictions, but mainly they are concerned with personal conduct.

    The absolutism that causes people to be so shocked by Joseph’s polygamy that they leave the Church comes from parents and teachers, who present this “Disneyesque” picture-perfect Mormonism where everything is only good; and if it’s nuanced or heterodox, it’s totally apostate. I’ve seen that rhetoric in some teachers/priesthood leaders, but I’ve never bought it. And I wonder if it isn’t a lack of curiosity that makes people swallow these one-dimensional pictures whole.

    So yes, I do think that we should teach kids the “broad and deep” Mormonism that leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but excites one’s imagination and awakes curiosity.

  13. And from the emotional side, as it came out in the podcast, you need to have a community experience.

    I’m not sure our youth programs are building that right now? Like, for our kids it seemed tough, because our family was, I guess, way more liberal than other Mormon families, although it seems we did concentrate more on why we believe this is good, and trying to transfer that to our kids. But we also did support our leaders–but we didn’t seem to have megalomaniac leaders or “career” people, who were counting on becoming something big.

    Joseph Smith could have been a criminal, or whatever, but his theology opens up ideas to me that I love to pursue… If there is a God (and I strongly believe that there is), I think Joseph was connected…

    And I start ranting every time I hear someone saying something like “how can he come to Church smelling of cigarettes?” For me WOW is something that sets us apart, but I also think you can participate without…

    1. Thank you, Velska, for your comments here and in discussions of some of the other episodes. Your big spirit shines through your words, and I hope we’ll continue to get regular doses.

  14. I love Joanna Brooks. She owns the trifecta of liberal Mormonism: intelligence, wit, and beauty. Just wanted to comment on Joanna’s promotion of an experiential basis for belief in Mormonism. I so often find others baffled by my choice to stay in the Church despite some of the doubts I have, intellectually, with the Church. I have been thinking about this issue a lot since I read Richard Lyman Bushman’s companion book to Rough Stone Rolling, On the Road With Joseph Smith: An Author’s Diary. In the book, Bushman states the following in response to a colleague’s incredulity at how he can actually believe Mormonism:

    “You must remember that within the walls of Mormonism all sorts of reasonable, functioning, educated people believe the Book of Mormon. That of course helps a Mormon remain sane. It is also why many Mormons like myself have a post-modern turn to their minds. We, more than most others, recognize how socially constructed truth is. It really is what people agree to believe–or what methods of ascertaining truth they concur in.”

    At first reading, this quote really troubled me–until I dissected it into what I think Bushman means. I think Bushman likens what Mormons call “feeling the spirit” to a “post-modern turn to their minds.” Feeling the Spirit is the means whereby we, as a Church, have “agreed” to ascertain the “truth.” I know this sounds cult like, but I think this explains the reason that so many brilliant, free-thinking individuals “believe” in the Church despite obvious issues with historicity, doctrine, etc. In other words, we place A LOT of credence on experiences that allow us to feel what we recognize as “the spirit” (e.g., burning in the bosom, warmth, peace, etc.). We in turn allow these “experiential” emotions and feelings to take precedence over our intellectual issues with the religion. Not saying that it works for everyone, nor that it will last in the long term; however, I think it explains why we still have people like Joanna who remain active in the Church.

    1. aw shucks, “this is crazy28.” thanks for listening. i appreciate you and everyone who reads, listens, agrees, disagrees. you are all part of a wonderful, crazy, mind-bending, sustaining lifelong adventure in Mormonism for me.

  15. I hate it when uncorrelated Mormons and post-Mormons use the integrity argument against each other to explain their choice to stay or leave the LDS institution. Both sides generally do it out of integrity. It has taken me a long time to see this because I took it so personally. When I say I left because my integrity required it, this does not mean that anyone who decides to say doesn’t have integrity. We should stop this judgemental cycle. Everyone has a different background, different circumstances, and a different future ahead. Who is to judge whether it takes more integrity to stay or to leave?

    I have for a long time been fascinated by people like Dan and Joanna that can stay comfortably in the church. I think John helped explain it. I was never much of a spiritual Mormon. I was very much an analytical and literal Mormon. I wasn’t converted by some personal emotional experience. I was mostly drawn to the comprehensiveness and beauty of the doctrines and theology. It just made sense to me as a rational person. I never appreciated much the beauty of symbolism. I was more concerned about the validity and not the utility. When I decided it was not literally true, I felt I didn’t have any choice but to leave and protect my children from falling under the same deception I had.

    How amazing and different it must be to be raised by parents who stand on their principles independent of the institution. Dan, John, and Joanna mush be spectacular parents to their learning and growing teenagers. I guess my parents were so concerned about loyalty to the institution that I never detected any deviation they might have from it. To me they were one and the same and always in agreement. That’s is a family relationship where it is very difficult to leave the church. Now at least I know I am not alone. Thanks guys.

  16. I’ve listened to literally hundreds of hours of Mormon Stories, Mormon Expression, and Mormon Matters podcasts. This episode was one of my favorite. Amazing. You hit on so many issues/questions perfectly relevant to my life right now…

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