Standard of Perfection

The catch-all forum for general topics and debates. Minimal moderation. Rated PG to PG-13.
Post Reply
User avatar
Water Dog
Posts: 1797
Joined: Mon Dec 09, 2013 1:10 am

Standard of Perfection

Post by Water Dog »

John Dehlin has a reddit post discussing "neo-apologists" and their pseudo-philosophical arguments for staying in the church even though it's not literally true.

John Dehlin wrote:As of late, I have been spending some time studying the core arguments of several Mormon neo-apologists including Richard Bushman, Terryl and Fiona Givens, Patrick Mason, Thomas McConkie, Spencer Fluhman, Adam Miller, and Phil Barlow.

In an attempt to understand their arguments better, and to distill their arguments into a single document, I have made the following notes.

Why I Remain an Active Member of the Church:

1) The LDS Church is imperfect, but all organizations are imperfect. If your standard is perfection, you will never be a member of any organization. Some people expect the church to be 99% divine and 1% human. In reality, the opposite is true. The church is 99% human/flawed.


I want to discuss his first bullet point. I generally agree with the sentiments about the church being imperfect. The problem, however, is that it's not me, or the members, who are demanding perfection - it's the church. It would be one thing if the church openly admitted that it lacked answers and allowed people the freedom to develop their own spiritual conscience. It does the opposite. It claims perfect authority. It claims perfect, "one true," knowledge. The church does not operate in the grey, but is a rigidly binary institution with answers to everything.

It's not just that they have answers to offer, either, but culturally and theologically, having the answers is seen as essential. While many religions embrace mystery and see it as opportunity for exploration and growth, Mormonism is uncomfortable with the unknown. It has to have an answer for everything. Where we came from. Why we're here. Where we're going. What to do while we're here. Prophets. Restoration. Revelation. Theologically, the church is all about having an answer to every single question. In cases where it doesn't have an answer already written down somewhere, like what street to drive down on the way to work, or where did my car keys go, it provides a mechanism for obtaining an answer. One true gift of the holy ghost. Personal revelation. And if you didn't get an answer, it has an answer for that too, because you did something wrong that caused the spirit to withdraw, you were past feeling, etc. Culturally members cannot even speak in terms of belief, but must profess "knowledge" of the church and its claims and leadership. To not speak in such terms is perceived as a weakness.

This standard of perfection is imposed by the church, from the top down, not the other way around. And that is what makes these men, the neo-apologists, dishonest in my view. Because they know the truth. Namely that the church isn't true, will even admit that publicly, but rather than criticizing leadership in any way, twist the situation into blaming the victim and produce sophisticated works of manipulation dressed up as philosophy to shame people into staying. They are the intellectual and spiritual equivalent of an Uncle Tom.

Their motives are purely selfish, from their jobs and literal livelihood to social status in the Mormon community, or their LDS families and other relations. They act in the interests of themselves, not in the interests of the greater good, and certainly not in the interest of the individual Mormon who is affected by their work. They are in a position which affords extraordinary privilege and with that bears great responsibility. Their actions serve to enjoy the privilege while shirking the responsibility, at the expense of the peons in the community who suffer the cost.

When I stopped going to church you know how many copies of Crucible of Doubt I was given? A book that, incidentally, I had already purchased and read. But I had three additional people give me copies of the book! And other people gave me different books as well, like God Who Weeps and Shaken Faith Syndrome. And here's the rub, the people who gave me these books, they had already read them! How would they even know about the book otherwise? And why? Because they were having some struggles themselves and needed a little encouragement to stay.

Then, when it becomes known that I'm having troubles, these people proceed to bombard me. Instead of respecting me, and taking the time to listen and understand, real empathy, their reaction is to manipulate me. Their reaction is to protect themselves. They want me to make the same choice they made, because then it will reinforce that choice for them. Ultimately, they are feeling insecure about their own choice. They were able to overcome their troubles, these manipulative books helped them, so it should work for me too. And if I don't accept the same reasoning, it's almost like I'm insulting them personally.

User avatar
Dr Exiled
Posts: 3345
Joined: Tue Sep 29, 2015 9:48 pm

Re: Standard of Perfection

Post by Dr Exiled »

It's definitely frustrating dealing with the denials. Obviously, the leaders want everyone to believe their counsel and leadership is perfert or at least very close, in the present and future. It also obviously isn't, so the many glaring mistakes of the past that make the church look man-made should be forgiven and forgotten, yet one should still view the church as perfect going forward, even though it isn't. It's utter nonsense.
"Religion is about providing human community in the guise of solving problems that don’t exist or failing to solve problems that do and seeking to reconcile these contradictions and conceal the failures in bogus explanations otherwise known as theology." - Kishkumen 

User avatar
Posts: 5417
Joined: Tue Mar 03, 2009 5:38 pm

Re: Standard of Perfection

Post by DarkHelmet »

I read the whole list. Interesting look into the strange thinking of apologists. But regarding this first item, the problem is it can be used to prove any church is the one true church. If the one true church can be 99% flawed, and those flaws can be blamed on human error, then any church can be the one true church. I declare Scientology to be the one true church. Ignore the flaws, because it's 99% human. I pledge to watch every Tom Cruise movie ever made.
"We have taken up arms in defense of our liberty, our property, our wives, and our children; we are determined to preserve them, or die."
- Captain Moroni - 'Address to the Inhabitants of Canada' 1775

User avatar
Seedy Academician
Posts: 21004
Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2008 4:00 pm

Re: Standard of Perfection

Post by Kishkumen »

It is difficult to have to make personal decisions about religious affiliation in the midst of an obvious time of transformation like this. Back in the Bronze Age, rulers employed religion as a binding mechanism in a world where community had eclipsed family as the locus of social and political power. The god’s support for the ruler stood in for the watching eye of the ancestors. If the god upheld the ruler, who were you to question? What was this authority deriving from, the message of the god in a bird’s flight? Tossed knuckle bones? A shamanic hallucination? Whatever it was masses of people accepted it more or less and went along.

Although thousands of years have passed, I am not sure we have moved past this. Mormonism to me looks like a last ditch effort to save that way of doing things from the rising tides of science, democracy, etc. On the one hand it is easy to say that Mormonism is backward in its uncomfortable and perhaps futile efforts to struggle against and try to survive alongside these changes, but that is perhaps arrogant. What holds people together in large groups? It may be that the god is more compelling and successful as an answer than ideology. So, those who claim to know better may look down on the masses but in the end it may be that the majority of people respond better to myths and extravagant promises than philosophy and technology.

How does this bear on the issue of neo-apologetics in Mormonism? Maybe one can sympathize with their attempt to square the circle. They may genuinely believe that there is real substance behind Mormonism’s extravagant claims. At the same time they are not unaware of the fact that many people find these claims untenable or ridiculous. They also know that the authorities buttressed by these claims have little tolerance for those who appear to be disavowing the very things that support their authority. What do you do as a neo-apologist? You look for incremental ways to move forward. You can’t look naïve, and you really aren’t, but you also can’t undermine the fundamentals that make the community work.

For those who see exactly how untenable Mormon claims are, the neo-apologist’s approach is especially maddening. The way the neo-apologist writes and speaks signals some recognition that the traditional narrative no longer works, but she or he fights hard to preserve the authority it supports. They are looking for a new narrative, just as they did 1978, ca. 1905, 1845, 1837, and 1830. It’s like those historic frame houses that are repaired and restored to the point that hardly anything of the original home remains. The home is a simulacrum around which memories and narratives congeal to bind a community guided by leaders.

If you threaten to bulldoze the house on the grounds that it really isn’t the house, you challenge the power and awaken the ire of the community. If you replace a board here, uncover a theory about the original shape of the kitchen over there, or illuminate something about the existing structure, you can make incremental progress.
“God came to me in a dream last night and showed me the future. He took me to heaven and I saw Donald Trump seated at the right hand of our Lord.” ~ Pat Robertson
“He says he has eyes to see things that are not . . . and that the angel of the Lord . . . has put him in possession of great wealth, gold, silver, precious stones.” ~ Jesse Smith

Posts: 1864
Joined: Mon Apr 17, 2017 7:00 pm

Re: Standard of Perfection

Post by Meadowchik »

The first untenable claim is that God speaks through a man or some men to all the rest of us, that we're expected to subordinate any of our own notions of truth to a man's claims.

I think something like Quakers have more integrity in the institution: gather and share.

Claiming divine authority like Joseph Smith did and the church still does, is essentially denying another person's experience with God . Might that be a type of blasphemy?

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Bing [Bot], Google [Bot], msnobody, QuestionEverything and 13 guests