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.