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 Post subject: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 11:44 am 
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It is with some surprise that I find myself in an area of general agreement with Mr. Smoot.

His fable may be two-dimensional, but arguing that as if it were a refutation is to miss the point of fables in general: to illustrate a moral that is rooted in general experience, not a description of particular circumstances. If the personalities and psychological and social particulars of Sue and Jim are sublimated beneath Smoot's fable, it doesn't deny the general validity of the fable or the moral lesson it seeks to impart.

Smoot is attacking a narrative, and to deny that, indeed, there is a narrative that "ex-Mormons" begin to tell each other about themselves—the so-called "faith crisis"—is to deny what is stiflingly evident. I have seen, heard, or read this same tiring narrative played out, rehearsed, recited, written up, and performed on podcasts and blogs and message boards and reddit and in discussions with family members hundreds of times for nearly a decade and with little variation. It does follow some general patterns—or rather, it is articulated and described in ways that follow a general pattern—though obviously a general pattern is not a general law of nature. Dehlin couldn't have kept his shtick going as long as has if there really were such a wide range of narrative articulations among online ex-Mormons (note the qualifier). That the term "faith crisis" exists as a shorthand for it is one indication of just how readily understandable and communicable it is. It is a kind of shibboleth. It's become a tired cliché consisting of allusive lists that are casually recited and that you can hear on practically any of Dehlin's interviews over the past few years: "So I had my faith crisis; Book of Abraham, polygamy; CES letter—all that stuff." To anyone not familiar with the narrative, the phrases in quotations are meaningless, as is the syntax of the sentence, but if you understand them and can follow the chain of reasoning in that sentence, then you can congratulate yourself on being a part of community bounded by a kind of myth (in the sociological sense).

The "faith crisis" myth exists and persists partly because, like all genuine myths, it is a very convenient way of orienting oneself in a confusing world because it is universal, not particular, and thereby makes it possible to relate with and communicate with other people. That is why it lends itself so well to a fable. It helps you process experience by offering ready-made answers. It is the mirror-image of the "testimony" myth—"I prayed and the Spirit witnessed to me that this Church is true"—and in fact arises out of it, since every "testimony" (all of which are similarly stereotyped, complete with public performance and ritualized language) is predicated on a faith crisis—what else is praying to know that "these words are true" if not a crisis of faith? The only difference on this level is that ex-Mormons eventually get a different answer.

As a myth, it is perfectly natural and, to that extent, justifiable—and that is one area where Smoot reveals his own partisanship, because he doesn't see that he, too, is following some pretty typical patterns and thinking in terms of a myth. For Jim's father (who is obviously by extension Mr. Smoot) in the fable is also part of a myth: the mentoring sage who has weathered the "faith crisis" and who has come out whole on the other side. He may own a lot of books and may even have read some of them, but that too is a role that people play in this myth. I'm perfectly willing to accept that such people sincerely have investigated things that were problems to them and answered them to their satisfaction, but there is always some guy (always a male) like that in every ward. And their answers, like their reading lists, are always predictable, which is not exactly an indication of original thought. These guys are all cliché. They are so cliché that you can just go to a website to see their collection of ready-made answers for whatever question you might have. The thinking has been done!

Smoot is not wrong, I think, in attacking this ex-Mormon cliché because to my mind and to my experience (I never had anything like a "faith crisis") it has had the effect of obscuring the reality of what's really happening in the Church: most ex-Mormons don't know or care that they are ex-Mormons, have never had a "faith crisis," and simply got bored with an institution that doesn't serve their needs, so they quit going. But internet Mormons and those who give their testimony also find it boring. For them, the Book of Abraham and polygamy only matter as issues because allegiance to the Church hangs on the imagined charisma of an infallible clergy and the magical aura surrounding Joseph Smith the Prophet. When the infallibility is gone, the charisma vanishes; when the magic dissipates, only a farmer from nineteenth-century Vermont is left. That is not much to hang your allegiance on, so they become online ex-Mormons who go to reddit and other places.

Now, as I have argued here countless times, I think the "faith crisis" narrative doesn't fit most ex-Mormons. Most never found the leaders infallible or charismatic, and while they may have accepted Joseph Smith's status in the Church, it didn't mean much to them. Apologists struggle to attack these people because they do not form a self-conscious group, and the most that can be said is that they never really had a testimony in the traditional sense—and that is probably true and many would feel no shame in saying so. I freely admit that I never had a testimony and I also never had a faith crisis. From my earliest years I saw testimony-bearing as a performance, but the problem was that the performers didn't see it that way: they used words like "I know," and that in turn invited me to wonder whether I knew that angels talk to farmers and tell them where golden books are buried in the woods. I didn't even have to wonder very long, because of course that sort of thing doesn't happen. Like just about everyone else who quit the Church ("left the Church" would imply too much for too many), I could not discover any charisma in the old sleepy men, and I believe magic is an entertaining illusion. Only a very small core of Mormons have ever been able to think otherwise (some with PhDs, of course) and it is from this small core that online ex-Mormons descend. Neither of my siblings, despite being raised in the Church, even knows who Russell Nelson is, whereas everyone on the ex-Mormon reddit undoubtedly does.

But of course this distinction is not why Smoot is attacking this myth because he doesn't know or care about the mass of the un-testimonied. He is attacking the myth because he really doesn't believe its adherents have really had a genuine faith crisis—he might be right—and he wants them to.

And yet, the response seems mostly to be one of self-justification. Perhaps I shouldn't expect anything else, but it seems to me not altogether the best response. I can understand why some of online ex-Mormons see themselves as victims, and there are instances in general where I think that word applies (e.g. the MTC is the one area where the Church allows itself to behave quite openly like a religious cult), while obviously there are some pretty egregious individual cases. But from my arrogant perch, I think many online ex-Mormons were and still are the victims of their own delusions, even if they were victims of the Church in some sense.

Come on, now—did you ever once in your life see an angel? Did you ever trust the sanity of someone who claimed to? People stop trusting their parents when they enter their teens, and certainly by 19 years old you are responsible for your own beliefs, certainly for acting on them. But that is all in the past for anyone reading this—how about now? Perhaps your "faith crisis" wasn't really a crisis. That is ultimately what Smoot is saying here, and I am inclined to agree with him. Not only do most ex-Mormons never have a "faith crisis" because they were never the testimony-type, but anyone who can shake off a whole religious tradition a few months after reading something as amateurish as the CES letter cannot have been in a very severe crisis. I don't mean to diminish the CES letter, but it's not Spinoza or Hume, for god's sake. My own view is that "faith crisis" is something that caught on largely because of podcasts and Facebook groups in the first decade and half of this century, media which exploit the fact that human beings absorb ideas faster than they can think about them (a meme in Dawkins's sense), and the advantage that "faith crisis" had is that it was already narratively embedded in the minds of believers as the "testimony." But even devout believers have been giving up Mormonism without much of a mental crisis since about 1830.

The proper response to Smoot, then, is not to accuse him of "gaslighting" and "victim-blaming," because that is to fight it out on the ground he wants you to fight it out on: the field of the Testimony. His claim is: "you really haven't given this enough thought." You can only be a victim of that accusation if you accept its premises.

So what's wrong with agreeing with that you haven't given it all more thought? It seems to me the best response must contain the point that any religious group that needs contorted reasoning about historical evidence just to remain as a nominal member is really not worth it. No one would travel on a road trip in a car with a wooden wheel, no doors, a smoking engine, and a broken windshield with bits of ragged glass threatening to blow in your face, and if your friend, the driver, were to answer your second-thoughts by telling you that you need to read several books about the history of cars, or that people with PhDs ride in his car just fine, or that you really need to just think more about the destination because all these problems you see are just apparent and not real—well, you'd be even more suspicious, wouldn't you? The response should be: "This is not really worth thinking about."

(as a footnote: I emphasize "historical" evidence because Mormon apologetics is really all about history, not reason. That is why I hesitate even to call them "apologists" in the classical Christian sense, because fidens quaerens intellectum has to do with the application of human reason to the Christian faith. It has not generally been about the interpretation of historical evidence but instead about philosophical problems that really aren't solvable through empirical evidence. By contrast, Mormons apologistics [my preferred term] is highly suspicious of applying human reason to the Mormon faith—that is the practical difference between the new and the old Maxwell Institutes—and instead is an endless and pointless argument about bits of historical data: NHM, Book of Mormon geography, scroll length, etc. These really have nothing to do with faith in the traditionally Christian sense, or at least they should not.)

The proper response should also clarify for Mr. Smoot that the real crisis is a social crisis—relationships with family and friends and especially spouses and children—and for that the Church really does have a share of blame to accept. If Jim's father is going to be an asshole, then that is his failing, and no matter of book-reading by Jim and Sue is going to correct the father's flaws.

That crisis is the only one that matters. It seems to me that too often the "faith crisis" is simply a metonym for the real problem, and it is telling as I review some of the comments how quickly some go from mentioning a "faith crisis" to problems with the family. For the Church, this has led them to waste time and effort on silly essays rather than looking for ways to make itself less a corporation with a religious ethos and more a network of communities that I hear it once was—or at any rate something that provides discernible benefits to people who don't have time or interest to read shelves of 19th century history books and learned treatises on Egyptian ink.

I am told that one should always fight an enemy on the territory of one's choosing, not the territory that one's enemy wants, and setting up favorable territory for his argument is what Smoot, intentionally or not, appears to be doing here. The apologists want this to be about faith crises because that is understandable to them—it's just a testimony that didn't get the right answer—and relatively easy to attack. It may not win them any friends but they're not trying to win friends; they're trying to defeat enemies.

I wonder whether the Church also benefits from the "faith crisis" narrative for reasons that are not unrelated: making it a crisis of your faith means that it's a problem that you are facing and that you need to resolve, and thus any social problems that arise from your new opinion about, say, "enish-go-on-dosh" and "kli-flos-is-es" are your fault in some ways. The problem of what the Church teaches about social relations and how those teachings are institutionalized is the only problem that counts. I suspect that most Mormons would go on being as indifferent as they ever were about "enish-go-on-dosh" if the Church were an institution that had means of helping its members become better people in more stable families other than social intimidation. Perhaps they'd rather write essays because, in fact, how you deal with "enish-go-on-dosh" and the rest of the Book of Abraham is really a test of how committed you are. In short, it is meant to induce a crisis, social relations be damned. "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."

From that angle, the only sensible response to Smoot and to the anyone trying to foist a crisis on you is simply not to accept it, and to say: "It's true: I didn't read enough books. Explain why I should have to. Why is this Church worth that sort of time?"

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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 12:28 pm 
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I like it.

Do you have a link to whatever it was that Smoot said for context?

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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 12:35 pm 
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Sorry. See here. My post is also responding to the general tenor of my comments on Dr. Moore's thread.

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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 12:56 pm 
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Symmachus wrote:
Sorry. See here. My post is also responding to the general tenor of my comments on Dr. Moore's thread.

Thanks, yeah, Smoot's story reads a lot like the story I have told myself about my "faith crisis" except for the obvious stupid point he makes about Sue and Jim not wanting to read apologetics. Apologists are the ones who confirmed that the issues were real for me. Reading apologist explanations were what actually killed my faith. :lol: I'm sure I'm not alone or even in the minority.

But you hit on the the truth of the nature of the "crisis." I was ecstatic that I lost my belief. There was no faith crisis. I always dreaded being called as a bishop, which I was sure would eventually happen. Church was a boring and miserable experience. Being EQP already had made me wish I was dead. I was happy to lose my belief.

It was a crisis because all my friends and family were LDS and I knew that they would never view or treat me like a full human being again. I knew there would be severe negative social consequences with my friends, parents, wife, and kids. My #1 worry at that moment was whether my wife would leave me if she knew. Others have to worry that they will be cut off by their parents or kicked out of school if they simply voice their honest beliefs. It is definitely way worse than deciding you don't want to do CrossFit anymore.

The church is really good at making some mean sons-of-bitches who will lash out in all sorts of awful ways if they perceive you as a threat. Not everybody or even a majority in my experience, but enough to ruin your day over and over for sure.

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Last edited by fetchface on Wed Sep 11, 2019 12:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 12:58 pm 
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Greetings, Symmachus. This is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking response to our reaction to Smoot's ex-Mo allegory. My first reaction to your piece is that the social and faith-oriented aspects of Mormonism have been conflated from the beginning, and in ways that almost always favor the Church over the individual member. Hence we see accusations of the disenchanted Mormon "being offended" and bogus historical anecdotes about milk strippings and the like.

You might say it's a kind of improvement, although perhaps a Pyrrhic victory, to acknowledge history as a legitimate bone of contention here. Yes, it does play to the special Mopologetic skillset of endless polemics and scholarly obscurantism, but as others have pointed out here, the Mopologists are often the ones who end up looking very bad in the process.

I don't see how Smoot's little myth helps move the Mopologetic ball forward. It's really more of the same and must be considered yet one more attempt at maintaining a small purchase on legitimacy in the LDS sphere. At the end of the day, he continues to look like a vain, petty asshole because his narrative does a wonderful job of revealing him to be such. Yeah, I get that people kinda fall into the trap of taking the narrative personally, and that he undoubtedly finds that chuckle-worthy. But, really, who gives a ____ what this guy thinks anyway? DCP? Midgley?

I also understand that there is a stereotypical ex-Mormon narrative that has evolved over the past decade+, and that it is arguably more annoying than a stereotypical F&T testimony. Smoot thinks he is attacking it, albeit ineptly, I would argue. And you are right to point out that only a limited number of ex-Mos match that profile reasonably well. That, I think, is the strongest observation in your post. You see, I wasn't offended by Smoot's post at all, because I really don't resemble any character in his story. It does not appeal to me as something that helps me think through my situation; it intrigues me only to the extent that I see his narrative as perpetuating a tempest in a teapot in a new way. But, it's still a tempest in a teapot, and I don't have anything riding on the outcome.

My bottom line here is that I don't see the concept of a social crisis as superior leverage to a faith crisis. I don't see this move working out particularly well. Mormonism's communitarian past always provided a cover for assholes to be assholes under the mask of righteousness, priesthood power, and the weak faith of the offended soul. Discovering that there is a simple factual problem in Mormonism's historical claims may not satisfy the Mopologists or those who continue to be oblivious of the facts, but thus far it has been pretty effective in liberating unhappy Mormons from the social crisis you describe.

You see, I think you are dead right about the underlying social crisis. Unfortunately making it overt has never, to my knowledge, really gotten people anywhere. Maybe times are changing. Maybe you are right. From where I sit the Mopologists have been given a blank check to behave badly, and the only appeal that has partly worked, as far as I can see, is to attack their priesthood right to do what they do, and the Christian effectiveness of their methods. We see what happened as a result. Maxwell Institute shuffled them out, and they happily continue to behave poorly toward their fellow members with impunity, albeit in a less conspicuous way. I still consider that a victory.

Getting out of Mormonism is going to be worth it for many people with or without an appropriate response to Smoot. The Smoots of the world are thankfully a small, idiosyncratic group of cranks, whose primary contribution to a faith crisis is to provide some sharp edges to help cut the social bonds between the Church and the wandering doubter. There is a real social cost for the ex-Mormon and their family and friends. But as long as the basic terms of the relationship remain in place, I don't see how we get around those costs. My guess is that social and political issues like gay marriage will do more to reshape that landscape than anything we do in regard to Smoot's sadistic fantasies.


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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 2:50 pm 
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Tropes of conversion or de-conversion are patterns to which I guess a lot of people make their own stories conform. Even when we tell our own stories we like them to conform to an appropriate genre. Frost's famous "road less traveled" poem doesn't actually say that he took the road less traveled. It says that when he tells the story in future years, he won't be able to resist telling it that way, even though in fact the two roads were the same.

Still I figure there must be a reason for this. Why have these particular tropes become popular? I have no personal insight into this, but I'm quite interested in these apparently dramatic changes of view, so let me toss up a couple of clay pigeons. I've made them up from ignorance so by all means shoot them down.

One reason that seems like an obvious possibility to list is that the tropes neatly capture something that many people do experience. Conforming to the trope suppresses the individual details of people's actual stories but this isn't important because the trope expresses the essential points so well. Replacing one's own story with the trope would thus be kind of like buying a McDonald's franchise instead of opening one's own independent restaurant because McDonald's has really nailed fast food.

My impression is that Mormon belief depends entirely on believing that Joseph Smith was a prophet, but that the step from seeing Smith as a prophet to seeing him as a crook is unusually short for a religious founder. So, "Suddenly it became obvious that Smith was a con man and then the whole thing collapsed irretrievably" might really be the crucial realization that most ex-Mormons share—the "Clear Cognition" of ex-Mormonism, so to speak.

Another possible reason is the one that I think Symmachus may be suggesting: that the tropes are a conveniently acceptable cover story that many ex-Mormons are glad to adopt because the truth about their deconversion is somehow embarrassing. I'm not sure what exactly the embarrassing truth might be. They never had a testimony at all? They wanted to sin?

On this theory the details of the trope are arbitrary. It just happened to become recognized as an acceptable cover story at a time when there were few competitors in that market, and then it became the one dominant cover story just because it was the one that everyone knew. Reliably unquestioned acceptability is the killer feature in a cover story.

Conceivably both theories are true. Perhaps the collapse of Mormonism's thin intellectual walls is a similar experience for many, but so is the embarrassing realization that the collapse was not really a surprise. Telling the story as if it was all about the CES letter might then be both concisely describing a common experience and also concealing a common embarrassment.


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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:38 pm 
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Fetchface wrote:
Being EQP already had made me wish I was dead. I was happy to lose my belief.


This really stands out to me. It is actually quite sad. Participating in the Church at that level can bring someone thoughts of death? Even if it is an exaggeration, it is an exaggeration with a point: it is terribly unpleasant to be a Mormon for most people. Belief in the claim of the Church justifies participation but hardly makes it tolerable.

I don't think, to Physic Guy's reading of me, that "the tropes are a conveniently acceptable cover story that many ex-Mormons are glad to adopt because the truth about their deconversion is somehow embarrassing." At least not for that relatively small group of ex-Mormons who enact their new status online (the large mass of former Mormons, as I say, simply don't care and probably never did all that much). I think the "faith crisis" narrative does reflect something genuine and typical of the moment of realization that very little of what the Church is says is true, but I doubt that it is all that more traumatic than finding out that Santa is a fiction (sadly, I lived in chimney-less apartments as a child, so maybe I am generalizing my own experience too much). But my point is that what it reflects is actually a very small and quite temporary problem, and it is not really the one that makes ex-Mormons seem so bitter or gives them reason to be. It's one thing to change your view about the Book of Abraham or Joseph Smith or whoever the President of the Church happens to be; it is something else when that changed view suddenly allows you to admit how miserable being a Mormon is, and, worst of all, the feeling of being trapped in the misery by the expectations of one's social relations (spouse, parents, children). How to get out of this: that is the real crisis. Apologists have nothing to say about it (nor does the Church) and would much rather redirect the issue back to faith.

Our esteemed Reverend, the noble Kishkumen, has put it very well:

Kishkumen wrote:
social and faith-oriented aspects of Mormonism have been conflated from the beginning, and in ways that almost always favor the Church over the individual member.


It certainly makes it hard to get out, but defining the problem is at least a first step, and in my view that means decoupling the minor event that is a "faith crisis" from the major consequences that follow. I think the unending emphasis on "faith crisis" narrative among ex-Mormons continues that conflation, because it's basic point is to create a justification for leaving Mormonism. This is why everyone on John Dehlin's podcast must at some point establish their credibility through the recital of allusive lists that mean something to people who put value on the "faith crisis" but nothing to people who aren't part of this whole process: "polygamy, Book of Abraham, Mountain Meadows"...and so on.

In general I have a conservative (not in the political sense) attitude towards most things in life: don't disturb what you don't understand; if it ain't broke, don't fix it; etc. But it's a temperament, not a dogma, so when something is in fact broke, you should fix it. You could hardly find a set of religious claims that are more broke than Mormonism's, so the question when looking at it should be: "why should I keep doing this." What I think the Church does and what the "faith-crisis" narratives continues is that it puts the question the other way around: "why should you stop doing this?" The endless rehearsal and discussion of the problems with the Church is basically an answer to that question. I think it is the wrong question.

What I see in the responses to Smoot mostly align with each other in putting the question that way and thus approach Mormonism's claims from a position of weakness, which I think needlessly creates a sense of victimization or obscures the way in which one might be a victim. The whole apologistic bent is to zero in on lack and attack it as a weakness ("you don't have a Ph.D." or "you don't know Egyptian" or "you haven't read the apologetic claims"). Yet, even their ur-argument and in fact the only argument that they have ever made and which lurks behind every apologetic word they've ever written—the argument that "Joseph Smith could not have known this"—is a complete non sequitur. Suppose that Nahuatl is descended from a Semitic-Egyptian hybrid—so what? Suppose we find an inscription with the name "Nephi, son of Lehi" in Mexico City—what would that prove about the claims of the Russell M. Nelson as a prophet in 2019? It would certainly lend credibility to Joseph Smith's 1829 claims, but that means little for just one branch of the Church descended from the one he set up after the Book of Mormon and now 200 years distant. Even a rube like David Whitmer could see there was no logical connection. The apologists are the ones with the weakness here—tell me again about the angel and the golden book!—and I think it will do a great deal of good for one's psychological well-being to realize that. Warmly own the fact that you haven't read all the apologetic material, that you don't have a Ph.D. in Egyptology, and that you haven't looked into NHM all that much—and then ask them to explain why you should do any of that. What difference does any of this stuff make in terms of deciding whether to be a Mormon or not?

Kishkumen wrote:
My bottom line here is that I don't see the concept of a social crisis as superior leverage to a faith crisis. I don't see this move working out particularly well. Mormonism's communitarian past always provided a cover for assholes to be assholes under the mask of righteousness, priesthood power, and the weak faith of the offended soul. Discovering that there is a simple factual problem in Mormonism's historical claims may not satisfy the Mopologists or those who continue to be oblivious of the facts, but thus far it has been pretty effective in liberating unhappy Mormons from the social crisis you describe.


I'm really wrestling with this here. On the one hand, the historical facts—the truth, let us say—has had a liberating effect; you are right about that beyond dispute. On the other hand, I'm not sure that I am seeing this in terms of "leverage." I think "faith-crisis" is simply overblown and is exploited by people like Smoot and by the Church as a well, not necessarily with intention but certainly with the effect of putting the social pressure on the nascent non-believer to get to the right answer on the testimony flow chart. That only works if the nascent non-believer also magnifies the importance of these new facts. But I'm not sure it does always help, at least not in the way most people talk about it here and other places. I mean, if I were ever called like Jeremy Runnells into an excommunication whatever-it's-called, I wouldn't bring a list of problems with the Church in order to justify my position. Why the hell would I have to justify anything to them? If I were even to go, I would simply ask them to justify theirs: "why should I?" is only slightly less powerful a phrase than "no, thank you," which usually follows it in any case. It is, anyway, what the silent mass of ex-Mormons, who live without the burden of caring about any of this, asked themselves at some point with a sincere heart and real intent.

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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:46 pm 
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Speaking of embarrassment, I’ll never forget my first viewing of South Park’s rendition of the Lost 116 pages. Matt and Trey did a fabulous job of clearly constructing a persuasive portrait of Smith as flimflam artist. Having grown up with the baffling and nonsensical LDS version of the story, I felt a mixture of relief, vindication, and slight embarrassment. I recall puzzling over the story as a child and feeling like it made no sense. Eventually it became clear why. But watching Stone and Parker’s straightforward send-up of the episode crystallized the whole thing.

South Park is not giving us history, of course, but it humorously provides us room to, or license to, accept our own suppressed skepticism. The LDS Church bent over backwards to keep us from reaching the kind of conclusion South Park lightheartedly dramatized for us. I found the whole thing cathartic, and on reflection I think this is exactly the kind of episode of emotional resolution that an ex-Mormon identity may be built on. It is easily caricatured by someone like Smoot, but I would defend the value of that South Park experience.


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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:47 pm 
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I wonder how many people would still convert to Mormonism if they were forced to read Smoot style appologetics before baptism..? He can complain all he wants about those who do not study enough before leaving faith, but it's meaningless unless and until they require the same effort before conversion. If we encourage people to join Mormonisn based on nothing more than feelings, how can we complain when they leave because they no longer have that feeling?

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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:01 pm 
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Physics Guy wrote:
Another possible reason is the one that I think Symmachus may be suggesting: that the tropes are a conveniently acceptable cover story that many ex-Mormons are glad to adopt because the truth about their deconversion is somehow embarrassing. I'm not sure what exactly the embarrassing truth might be. They never had a testimony at all? They wanted to sin?

I think you are on to something here. I have told the story about my loss of faith and there are certain details that I think I felt pressure to force into my own story. For example, the part at the beginning where I have to give a lengthy monologue about how I was a faithful believer to establish my previous faithful bona fides. I'm not sure if Smoot covers this in his version, but it features prominently in pretty much every John Dehlin interview out there and is definitely part of the typical exmormon narrative trope.

But the truth is that it doesn't really fit my story. I was always skeptical of the LDS truth claims, even when I believed it. I just thought that the chances were good that it was true. Later I changed my mind. Why did I feel the need to embellish my narrative when sharing it? I think that the LDS church does a good job at giving skepticism a negative social connotation. I was taught from a very young age to be afraid of being skeptical of the truth claims of my religion, that it was very bad. It was embarrassing at first to admit that I was happy to lose my belief, so I did tell people that I tried to fight for my belief even though that isn't really true.

Also, I feel like I had an idea that I had to purchase my right to disbelieve by saying certain things to rebut the typical narratives of apostasy as resulting from laziness or offense that are told in the church. I felt like I had to explain that I had considered every side in order be a legitimate unbeliever in the eyes of my friends. But the truth is, this doesn't work. You can never consider so many arguments that an LDS believer will consider your unbelief reasonable. The truth is that Facsimile 3 is evidence enough to drop the whole of Mormonism. It alone is an undisputable smoking gun that Joseph Smith was a fraud. Polygamy is the same. You only have to scratch the surface to see it for the fraud that it is. Considering all of the arguments lends the belief system credibility that it doesn't deserve. Admitting that I decided that I didn't believe it after an hour or so of internet research was sort of embarrassing to tell my church friends, but it shouldn't have been.

So I think it is some peculiar social pressures in Mormonism that shape some elements of this typical "ex-mormon narrative" and can even get people to conform their own story to elements that don't really fit their own story when they tell it, like I did.

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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:08 pm 
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Symmachus,

Smoot should be elated that you, a Ph.D., not to mention one that has lived abroad for scholarly reasons, gave his work the time of day. You write so convincingly, that I read along as if you're speaking what I've always believed, rather than taking issue with what I wrote somewhere, and so forgive me if I'm not spotting the mainline disagreements. It never occurred to me until reading your post that ex-Mormonism could "go viral", where people leave the church in droves with the depth of Trump support. I might rub my hands together with glee if that's what's happening, as Rusty the Tin Man himself is trying so hard to make basic discipleship "go viral". I assume we both believe that a testimony, or a faith crisis, could be both valid and cliché at the same time. For instance, God really could send the Holy Ghost to zap a person every time they read Moroni 10:3-5, even if it gets cliché listening to how wonderful the experience is. On testimony, I have always rejected both that the HG is involved, or that even deceptive feelings are involved; I believe testimony for 99% of those who claim to have one, is sheer fabrication in the sense of self-deception, or outright faking. However, whether or not one specifically believes they have a testimony, the Joseph Smith narrative may be the cornerstone of the belief that is there. People who have come up to me and admitted lack of testimony might be frightfully devout followers, it's just that lying doesn't come naturally for them, like it does the narcissists prone to leadership. I really do believe some of these issues regarding Joseph Smith can make for a faith crisis. However, it's very possible that not everyone who has responded to the cliché in meme format has actually underwent a crisis. So starting here:

Symm wrote:
He is attacking the myth because he really doesn't believe its adherents have really had a genuine faith crisis—he might be right—and he wants them to.

I think what you mean, is that he believes these folks are simply being swept by a meme, and not really thinking it through. Because of this, he has no chance for a scholarly response, he wants to get the battle on his territory, which is historical issues FARMS took up back in the day.

This is the point I'm not sure I agree, mainly because it seemed to me he was saying that they were having a faith crisis, but Chapel Mormons and their stupid "testimonies" are just the kind you'd expect not to be able to figure it out. If they were to look at the issues seriously, and Steve was able to show them where they were wrong, then that means 10's of thousands of people are smart enough to understand the work of FARMS. What then, would feed his superiority complex? If everyone filled their bookshelves with Nibley and could understand it, where does that leave him?

I'll admit this part wasn't explicitly stated, but my feeling is that he wants a church of intellectual inferiors, where they go wrong isn't in neglecting the library, but failing to acknowledge he and his buddies as an intellectual fortress the critics can't breech. His fundamental problem with the couple slurping down root-beer floats isn't that they aren't learning Egyptian instead, what a threat that would be! His issue is they don't recognize him as their intellectual superior, who has read the Egyptian, settled the thinking, and offered their accolades. He wants them to pick up a book written by him (Nibley) nearly have a heart attack and faint because it's so dense, and then tell their friends, "Oh, it was so difficult to understand! I put it down, but boy, I'm going to get everyone this book as a stocking stuffer this year. What an amazing mind he has, if people like him believe, then no way am I going to question anything." The first time Smoot hears that conversation between Chapel Mormons splitting a root-beer float, his relationship to Chapel Mormonism will change entirely. They become innocent and endearing, and worthy of his intellectual protection.

As an aside, the parts I laughed the hardest at:

Quote:
or that people with PhDs ride in his car just fine

Quote:
For Jim's father (who is obviously by extension Mr. Smoot) in the fable is also part of a myth: the mentoring sage who has weathered the "faith crisis" and who has come out whole on the other side.

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FARMS refuted:

"...supporters of Billy Meier still point to the very clear photos of Pleiadian beam ships flying over his farm. They argue that for the photos to be fakes, we have to believe that a one-armed man who had no knowledge of Photoshop or other digital photography programs could have made such realistic photos and films..." -- D. R. Prothero


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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:11 pm 
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Hi Symmachus,

I think you make some excellent points here.

If I may share my own narrative, my life as a Mormon was dominated by internal tension. On the one hand, the church was teaching me to think and act in very specific ways. I wanted to please others and belong, so I endeavored to figure out what I needed to say and do in order to be accepted by the group. One of the things the Church taught me, ironically, is that it is important to figure out what is really true and then embrace that reality. But if you happen to be inclined to actually think about it rather than passively be socialized, you can’t help but notice the incongruency with reality. Further, some of it was excruciatingly boring. And some of it was degrading (e.g. pompous men solemnly assessing my worthiness to be, for example, ordained a deacon so I could remain with my friend group? Wtf??). In the end, I was able to hang on until my mid-20’s because despite the absurdity of it, having faith is what you are supposed to do. It’s all part of the test, right? At least that is what you are supposed to say.

In the late 90’s, well before the invention of things like Facebook, podcasts, and even blogs, the world-wide-web was just starting to burst. That is when I stumbled across the nascent exmormon.org website, read a few stories there, and realized a couple of things. First, I realized that leaving was an option. More importantly, I realized that for many, Mormonism is an awful experience. Especially for some women. Including my wife. As soon as that clicked with me, I had an honest conversation with her and we were out the door. That decision reduced some inner tension regarding intellectual integrity, but led to other tension in the form of strained and even severed relationships with family and friends.

With that as my background, I agree with your point that in a lot of ways Smoot’s fable is on target. Faith-crisis narratives are often similar. Not nearly as similar as testimony narratives, but still often similar. But as others have pointed out, it really does reveal that Smoot has as much disdain for simple members who don’t follow John Sorenson, John Gee, John Tvedtnes, and John Welch as for former members who do follow John Dehlin. Beyond pointing that out, is there anything in his fable worth responding to?

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Last edited by Analytics on Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:25 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:14 pm 
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Symmachus wrote:
Fetchface wrote:
Being EQP already had made me wish I was dead. I was happy to lose my belief.


This really stands out to me. It is actually quite sad. Participating in the Church at that level can bring someone thoughts of death? Even if it is an exaggeration, it is an exaggeration with a point: it is terribly unpleasant to be a Mormon for most people. Belief in the claim of the Church justifies participation but hardly makes it tolerable.

Unfortunately, not an exaggeration to make a point. I had been called as EQP with three toddlers and an infant at home and been given all of the most demanding home teaching assignments in the ward. I would be driving my motorcycle home and think, "if someone pulled out in front of me and I slammed into them and died, I would be able to rest."

But for a while I did find this hard to admit to my LDS family/friends. It took a while to deprogram to the point where I could say without shame that the church experience sucks and I'm happy to not be a part of it. I don't think everybody has to go through that, but I don't think I'm alone in it either.

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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:20 pm 
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Symmachus wrote:
I freely admit that I never had a testimony and I also never had a faith crisis. From my earliest years I saw testimony-bearing as a performance, but the problem was that the performers didn't see it that way: they used words like "I know," and that in turn invited me to wonder whether I knew that angels talk to farmers and tell them where golden books are buried in the woods. I didn't even have to wonder very long, because of course that sort of thing doesn't happen.


If you don't mind me asking, how were you so sure at an early age that angels didn't exist along with gold plates and that any narrative involving those elements was untrue by default? This, of course, would explain why you never had a faith crisis. There was never anything to hang it on, right?

One further question. I don't think I remember you mentioning this in your post. At the time in your youth that you determined that angels and golden plates don't/can't exist had you already shucked belief in God? Is that the reason angels and gold plates weren't on your reality/possibility list'?

By the way, I enjoy your posts. Very thoughtful and articulate. You're a very intelligent fellow. I suppose that may be why you had it all figured out at such an early age?

Regards,
MG


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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:29 pm 
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mentalgymnast wrote:
You're a very intelligent fellow. I suppose that may be why you had it all figured out at such an early age?


It takes exactly as much intelligence to realize Santa isn't real as it takes to realize angels aren't real. Belief is driven by psychology, not intelligence.

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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 6:11 pm 
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Analytics wrote:
mentalgymnast wrote:
You're a very intelligent fellow. I suppose that may be why you had it all figured out at such an early age?

It takes exactly as much intelligence to realize Santa isn't real as it takes to realize angels aren't real. Belief is driven by psychology, not intelligence.

This response is signature line worthy!!!

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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 6:33 pm 
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What a great thread!

I think the main problem I see with what Smoot says is that my knowledge is not as good as his because he has read these authors (he drops about a dozen LDS scholars names, an easy enough feat) and therefore my knowledge is different and inferior.

But, I HAVE read all those authors, and I still don't believe the Mormon narrative anymore. His assumption appears to me to be well you aren't as well read as I am and if you were you couldn't have a faith crisis! But, I HAVE read as much as he has, and I still ended up not believing, so now what is he to do? The issue for me is, I can now turn around and say, not only have I read easily, very easily as much as you have in Mormon apologetics, but I have serious doubts that you (Steve Smoot) have read as much as I have in the atheist arguments which entirely undermine everything about Mormonism, such as any kind of possible faith or belief in the God named Elohim in Mormonism including the other God Jehovah. So who has the best knowledge now and from the only two most important sides there are?

But again, I have no doubt this doesn't work either (witness the discussion with MG, who simply tosses off anything that might mar his testimony) so I'm not trying to naïvely say everyone has to read as much as I do.

No, I agree and think the stronger point in all this is that I also see no reason to simply continue in Mormonism. Even if Joseph Smith was right about everything about the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham, I see no point in continuing with Mormonism in faith. Why? Because of this one critical feature, at least for me.

Mormonism insinuates itself between God and myself, and I honestly don't see the point for me. I don't put anyone between me and my children, but I love and enjoy having direct company with them whether in person or talking on the phone. The thought has honestly never ever even entered my mind to have one of my friends be an in-between me and my children and NEVER talk directly myself to them or spend time with them or phone them and talk. That is truly just stupid. Stupid in reality and stupid in religion. I don't care WHY God does this, I only care that He/She/It does so. It just doesn't work and doesn't satisfy me. And since, in Mormonism, that is the only way, it has no appeal to me anymore. I am finding magnificent hints in Alan Watts, among others, that there really is a better way to have a splendid spiritual life, and a delightfully fulfilling and happy physical life, and Mormonism simply does not, and I suspect, cannot provide that.

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Is Midgely serious? Peterson's blog is a patty-cake, surface only, all too frequently plagiarized bit of ephemeral nonsense. Why would anyone suppose avatars must be real? Midgley has lost his tiny little mind. Maybe he can go over to never-neverland and harass Peter Pan for not really knowing how to fly. -Lemmie-


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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 7:29 pm 
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fetchface wrote:
I think you are on to something here. I have told the story about my loss of faith and there are certain details that I think I felt pressure to force into my own story. For example, the part at the beginning where I have to give a lengthy monologue about how I was a faithful believer to establish my previous faithful bona fides. I'm not sure if Smoot covers this in his version, but it features prominently in pretty much every John Dehlin interview out there and is definitely part of the typical exmormon narrative trope.


A fantastic point. I think it compliments what Symm is saying. My main question with Symm here is whether he's really representing Smoot's point or not.

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FARMS refuted:

"...supporters of Billy Meier still point to the very clear photos of Pleiadian beam ships flying over his farm. They argue that for the photos to be fakes, we have to believe that a one-armed man who had no knowledge of Photoshop or other digital photography programs could have made such realistic photos and films..." -- D. R. Prothero


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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 7:43 pm 
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Symmachus,

So many wonderful themes and sub themes in your comment. Thank you. I am more informed and a better human thanks to your thoughtfulness.

Your meta point about the main crisis being a social one, not a historical one, cannot be understated.

Said differently, the church today, led by its illuminated leaders, simply is not creating the kinds of outcomes for individuals and families that sensibility demands, and this makes the history-driven "faith crisis" an easy scapegoat. The contrast is particularly stark along the lines of social justice issues, such as LGBTQ+, but that is only one of today's icebergs.

Whether the church once succeeded in fact, or not, is a matter of opinion but even this is irrelevant. The church today is not succeeding in consistently producing the comforting outcomes that care not for origin myths. As a result, members -- even faithful, informed members with Ph.D. degrees -- are looking to the origin of the myth for answers. And the answers are not helpful, not one bit. That is an existential crisis that no amount of shame, fear, threats of damnation, appeal to authority, or even untold tens of billions in Ensign Peak can solve.

Symmachus wrote:
Now, as I have argued here countless times, I think the "faith crisis" narrative doesn't fit most ex-Mormons. Most never found the leaders infallible or charismatic, and while they may have accepted Joseph Smith's status in the Church, it didn't mean much to them. Apologists struggle to attack these people because they do not form a self-conscious group, and the most that can be said is that they never really had a testimony in the traditional sense—and that is probably true and many would feel no shame in saying so.


This is overwhelmingly evident in the data and in my personal observation.

Of my grandparents' posterity of 4 children and 51 grandchildren, 8 individuals have quit the church. Of those 8, only 1 did so after a so-called faith crisis. The remaining 7 quit between the ages of 14 and 22 never developed an interest in the church or its teachings, and are so disinterested in the topic today that they would sooner leave the room than enjoin conversation about the Gospel Topics Essays or the CES Letter.

Rough numbers, there are 10 million living inactive Mormons, to say nothing of the smaller number of "ex-Mormons." If all, or most, or even just 10%of those individuals reached their current status with respect to Mormonism via a faith crisis, we would expect to see significantly more -- as in, at least an order of magnitude more -- members /r/exmormon, not to mention boards like this one.

Symmachus wrote:
It seems to me the best response must contain the point that any religious group that needs contorted reasoning about historical evidence just to remain as a nominal member is really not worth it. No one would travel on a road trip in a car with a wooden wheel, no doors, a smoking engine, and a broken windshield with bits of ragged glass threatening to blow in your face, and if your friend, the driver, were to answer your second-thoughts by telling you that you need to read several books about the history of cars, or that people with PhDs ride in his car just fine, or that you really need to just think more about the destination because all these problems you see are just apparent and not real—well, you'd be even more suspicious, wouldn't you? The response should be: "This is not really worth thinking about."


Gold, pure gold.

Symmachus wrote:
I wonder whether the Church also benefits from the "faith crisis" narrative for reasons that are not unrelated: making it a crisis of your faith means that it's a problem that you are facing and that you need to resolve, and thus any social problems that arise from your new opinion about, say, "enish-go-on-dosh" and "kli-flos-is-es" are your fault in some ways.


Perhaps my sterile Ph.D., having never been used to procreate new PhDs, or even to produce additional post-PhD peer reviewed academic articles, renders me undeservedly overconfident, but I do not wonder whether the church benefits from the faith crisis narrative. It is abundantly evident from the record. The institution is exceedingly efficient in solving for the one inviolable and irrevocable truth that matters: that being the authority of current leaders to speak and act for God. To the point that even God will be made the bad guy.


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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 8:08 pm 
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How I rejoice to read your well reasoned comments, dear consul. I suppose that, for me, it was important to reach the conclusion that Mormonism’s claims did not need to be disproved when their facticity had never been established in the first place. It is a point so simple, so fundamental, and yet so easily overlooked that it often passes without comment.

Maybe it’s just less fun not to respond to one more irrelevant protestation that a critic does not read Mayan or some such. But, of course, the complaint means absolutely nothing. I have no obligation to read Egyptian hieroglyphics or know the nuances of Margaret Barker’s oeuvre in order to conclude justifiably that Mormons have failed to establish the antiquity of Joseph Smith’s scriptural compositions. If they are unable to argue the case cogently and convincingly—and they have not to date—then why waste my time acquiring partial expertise in several esoteric disciplines just to wrangle with LDS apologists?

When I spent some time applying my narrow expertise to Gee’s Greek translations of EC authors, the results did not look good for him.

In any case, I like what you say about the term “faith-crisis.” I smile when I see it replaced by the Church’s “truth-crisis” because the realization that the facts are not aligning in favor of the Church’s claims is a big factor for some people. And I don’t think it is at all surprising. “I know the Church is true” is one of the most poorly examined mantras in the lives of most Mormons. The full significance of it is something that remains opaque to most even after they leave. One is not to be blamed for mistaking the declaration-assertion for a statement of fact. And so it is altogether predictable that learning the Church is not true should follow an investigation of the facts. Only then is the ex-Mormon chastised for not understanding what a testimony allegedly “really is.”

As painful as painful and unappealing as it may be, the stereotypical new ex-Mo narrative is an unwinding of a particular type of Mormon experience. It does not apply to everyone. Many or most people won’t go through it. Those who do will tangle with apologists and will be lampooned for their perceived shortcomings. I don’t know how one gets around it. If your experience as a Mormon had a certain significance to you because you are a certain kind of person, then I would guess that Smoot’s narrative feels pretty familiar to you, and there is nothing at all wrong with it. Isn’t that what Turner was writing about?

But my understanding is that you did not have that kind of experience, dear consul, and finding your situation less fraught and awkward than that of a Dehlin-style ex-Mormon, you would recommend your path over theirs. It’s a position that has its virtues, no doubt, but some folks will just want to take their lumps because they feel they need them. I may not be a Dehlin-style apostate, but I am also not a Symmachus-style one either. I just stumble along my own path as well as I can.


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 Post subject: Re: Smoot is Not Wholly Wrong: A Plea for a Proper Response
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 8:23 pm 
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Kishkumen,

What a shame that, among his many gifts, Joseph wasn't also born with your gift for writing.

Recently, in a moment of unrealistic wistfulness, I imagined one day joining the distinguished faculty at Cassius University. What folly! If I have learned one thing from your comments, and those of Dean Robbers and Doctor Scratch, it is that my ambition far exceeds my ability. Evidently, in the pursuit of money and corporate status, all of the potential I once possessed during my Ph.D. studies has atrophied to barely that of a pimply sophomoric teenager. I hope you will begrudge me a bit of hope that, with diligence and study, there may be an opportunity to fill an adjunct position. Perhaps out of the core, away from the best and brightest, such as remedial statistics or a brief historical survey of pre-Java computer programming languages?

Kishkumen wrote:
You might say it's a kind of improvement, although perhaps a Pyrrhic victory, to acknowledge history as a legitimate bone of contention here. Yes, it does play to the special Mopologetic skillset of endless polemics and scholarly obscurantism, but as others have pointed out here, the Mopologists are often the ones who end up looking very bad in the process.


To the uninitiated in the corpus of Mopologetic studies, this point was so blindingly obvious, I thought I had stumbled into a rogue splinter faction (true story!).

Kishkumen wrote:
You see, I wasn't offended by Smoot's post at all, because I really don't resemble any character in his story. It does not appeal to me as something that helps me think through my situation; it intrigues me only to the extent that I see his narrative as perpetuating a tempest in a teapot in a new way.


Consider yourself lucky. The teapot is real, and so is the tempest. But Smoot does a disservice to all thinking Mormons who struggle sincerely and eventually leave. And this is where his allegory fails, relative to my experience. While I have had a number of personal charismatic experiences, promptings, overwhelming feelings, none of those existed without persistent doubts. In fact, it was the existence of my doubts that made the experiences meaningful!

I can honestly say that the CES Letter had no bearing on my faith crisis or questioning, but I did read it and it did fuel some of my interest in getting to the bottom of things. And boy have I been reading a lot since then. Anyway, like young Joseph, it was through exploring my doubts -- in an effort to express faith, no less! -- that I eventually gave myself permission to question everything Mormon church leaders say, and have said, with an open mind. With that permission, I allowed myself to question my own experiences in the context of an organization that claims to own those experiences for its own furtherance. And with that permission, I have been able to claim, for myself, the right to decide what is right and what is wrong.

The challenge is aptly compared in Riskas' Deconstucting Mormonism, to being in a box with instructions for exiting the box posted on the outside of the box. Perhaps the CES Letter creates weak faith crises, but what Smoot utterly fails to see is the transience of that state of being. Perhaps some folks express the anger stage of grieving by reveling in immature memes and sniping of GA quotes, but I'd wager that the majority of /r/exmormon members come and go like triage guests in the emergency room. It serves a purpose, for a while, and then it's unhelpful.


Last edited by Dr Moore on Wed Sep 11, 2019 8:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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