Studying or Muddying?

I got an interesting email from the proprietor of Study It Out, inviting me to check out his site, which is an assortment of links on LDS topics, grouped by category. After trading a couple of emails, the proprietor finally divulged some biographical details, claiming to be an ordinary member of the Church and occasional reader of Sunstone and Dialogue rather than (as I suspected from the selection of links at the site) a Christian with an agenda. [And you know what I think of Christian do-gooders who fling their misguided zeal my way.] You can make your own judgment about the site; here is the site’s “About” page. If you visit, you might submit a few links; a variety of axe-grinders seem overrepresented in the present mix of links, although there are a number of good links (on both sides of the issues) to helpful LDS material and to articles by dissenting scholars.

Comments

  1. Julie in Austin says:

    Not to get all Freudian on you, but anyone who lists ‘amateurs’ before ‘organizations’ under apologetics and ‘polygamy’ before ‘first vision’ under history is probably not playing for our team.

    P.S.–“Ordinary member[s] of the Church” neither know nor use the phrase “post-mormon.”

    P.P.S.–His IP address resolves to Kinderhook, Inc.

  2. I got the same email and admit to being quite skeptical…do you really think this is a Mormon that is trying to be helpful?

  3. Looks like Julie in Austin beat me to the skeptical punch.

  4. Howdy, Scott from Studyitout.com here. Thanks for the mention, Dave. Catchy title. :)

    In an effort to expand the site and make it more balanced, I’ve sent email to a number of LDS bloggers soliciting help in adding your favorite sites. There’s just too much stuff out there for me to track it all down personally. When I say I’m an ordinary member, that doesn’t mean I’ve never heard of Fanny Alger. It means I’m not posing as some sort of church representative, I don’t belong to any special Mormon groups, etc.

    Julie: You needn’t read anything sinister into the category placement; they seem to be listed pretty much randomly. I’ll see what I can do about getting them to list them alphabetically. I don’t see myself as playing for either “team,” per se. I really do want the site to provide the best content both apologists and critics have to offer. Those who have submitted links so far have been overwhelmingly on the critical side. Hence, I am asking for your help.

    P.S. Unless you were just kidding around, I have no idea what your remark about “Kinderhook, Inc.” is about. It’s a simple matter to look up where the site is really being hosted.

  5. Tony Loyal says:

    I think what Julie means (and is far too polite to say)is that you are an Anti-Mormon phony baloney…Don’t feed the troll!

    I’m a recent convert and even I know that members seldom use the terms “mormonism”, “all things Mormon”, etc. as you did on your “About” page.

    “They lie in wait…”

  6. Jonathan Green says:

    Sorry, Scott. The optics of your site are all wrong. Nothing on the surface tells us your own perspective on Mormonism, which is weird. Are you interested in the topic because your’re a Mormon? Interested because you can’t stand Mormons? Come clean and tell it like it is, because no one’s buying the claim of cool objectivity. The mix of topics and links are not giving me good vibes, by the way. The pro-LDS links seem rather official and superficial, the kind of thing anyone could find with Google, while the anti- links seem to be not just in the majority, but to show a more thorough knowledge of the material. Some of the oppo links are interesting, and I can accept the fact that you want to provide them, if that’s your aim, but you have to make it clear–or rather, stop trying to obscure–where it is you stand.

  7. Am I alone in thinking it doesn’t matter that much what the stance of the people who created this site is? They’ve provided a reasonably clean and useable interface for finding a wide range of mostly-critical materials. So, if you’re looking for critical materials, this is a good place to start. If, on the other hand, you’re not interested in critial information and arguments, then the site isn’t for you. All of this is true whether Scott sits in sacrament meeting every week or not, isn’t it?

  8. RT- I don’t think anyone cares where Scott sits on Sunday, the concern is rather that he is being disingenuous.

  9. Mike, the guy who owns the domain name, has stated elsewhere on the web that he was raised LDS, went on a mission, was married in the temple, and no longer believes. I can’t be 100% certain who Scott is, but if my best guess is correct then he is also an apostate Mormon.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course (I’m an apostate Mormon myself), but I do think they ought to be upfront about it. Scott and Mike’s beliefs have no bearing on the validity of the content they link to, but it’s just good etiquette to let your readers know where you stand.

  10. C. Jones, I know the concern is that he’s being disingenuous. My point is that I’m not sure I see why that matters. Can’t anyone see within 30 seconds that the links are primarily critical? So I’m just not sure if the mild deception matters.

    Wm. Jas.’s claim that it’s good etiquette to let readers know where you stand seems hard to decide. What would etiquette require that we disclose? Are religious opinions enough, or must we also disclose our politics? Our sexual orientation? Our ethnicity? Or do we imagine that those factors somehow play less of a role in shaping the way we think?

  11. I think that knowing an author’s stance often is important. It lets people have an idea of what is being left out. I don’t think it necessarily says much about what is said. But unless one is already reasonably well read in the field in question then it’s hard to know how to evaluate things without some idea of the author’s stance.

  12. I agree with what Clark says in #11. Those who have been around LDS blogging for a long time will be able to judge Scott’s site in 30 seconds. Some of us who are new might not. I think Scott probably knows that and is counting on it to draw some in who may not be looking for what he offers. So his stance does matter to me…

  13. RT, I’d say that what we should disclose depends on what we’re writing about — anything that presents issues of bias or conflict of interest. Their site is about Mormonism, so their Mormon background and current beliefs are relevant. If they had a site about affirmative action, religion would be irrelevant but it would be a good idea to disclose their ethnicity, and so on.

  14. Hi, this is Mike, Scott’s partner in crime. I am the designer of the site in question and as mentioned before I am a former believing Mormon. However, as also mentioned above, I hope that fact will be as irrelevant as possible to the actual content of the site. That’s why Scott’s been soliciting contributed links from people like you: so we can get as much balance as possible. Yes, the “pro” links are sparse and probably a little unexciting to you people, but that’s the reason we’re asking for your help.

    I have no axe to grind and couldn’t care less whether any of you go to church next Sunday or not. I can’t speak directly for Scott (who wrote the about page) but I think his main motivation in leaving out details about either of us is precisely that it shouldn’t matter who we are. My experience with Mormons (and I’ve been one so I know what I’m talking about) is that saying “I’m an exMormon” on your FAQ page will only drive them away, which would further starve the site of “pro” links.

    However, perhaps it is good etiquette to give more details about ourselves. We’ll talk about it.

  15. What would etiquette require that we disclose?

    Since Scott appears to be a salesman, etiquette requires that he divulge such instead of pretending to just be a fellow shopper. It is false advertising and dirty marketing to do otherwise (both staples of anti-Mormons).

  16. Um, neither Scott nor I are salesmen of anything. I’m not sure where that idea would have arisen.

    Really, folks, we’re just a couple of guys who’ve learned to love free thought and open study. It’s ironic that at every turn we’re accused of being anti-Mormon Christian do-gooders, especially considering that we long ago agreed that one kind of link we are unwilling to accept is evangelical “accept the True Jesus” pages.

    Thank you for the suggestions you’ve given so far.

  17. Geoff, I disagree that people with an opinion are necessarily salespeople; if so, there are no shoppers, since everyone has an opinon…

  18. Mike wrote:

    “Um, neither Scott nor I are salesmen of anything. I’m not sure where that idea would have arisen . . . we’re just a couple of guys who’ve learned to love free thought and open study”

    Perhaps the impression is that you are selling your brand of “free thought” and “open study” under the brand name “Study it Out” The site does lean toward the negative regarding LDS issues, just from sheer numbers of negative vs. positive links. The lack of disclousre about the site’s owners speaks for itself.

  19. Mike wrote:

    “Um, neither Scott nor I are salesmen of anything. I’m not sure where that idea would have arisen . . . we’re just a couple of guys who’ve learned to love free thought and open study”

    Perhaps the impression is that you are selling your brand of “free thought” and “open study” under the brand name “Study it Out” The site does lean toward the negative regarding LDS issues, just from sheer numbers of negative vs. positive links. The lack of disclousre about the site’s owners speaks for itself.

  20. Scott and Mike, I’m willing to believe that you are acting in good faith (as you point out, your solicitations for suggestions here and elsewhere in the bloggernacle seem to bear this out). The problem with not disclosing your relationship to the church is that the discerning reader will want to know, and a very little digging around will lead one to the conclusion that you are not currently believing members, which subsequently casts suspicion on the entire site.

    In other words, it looks like you’re trying to hide something. If you’re not, it doesn’t matter, as long as people believe that you are.

  21. Mike wrote:

    “Um, neither Scott nor I are salesmen of anything. I’m not sure where that idea would have arisen . . . we’re just a couple of guys who’ve learned to love free thought and open study”

    Perhaps the impression is that you are selling your brand of “free thought” and “open study” under the brand name “Study it Out” The site does lean toward the negative regarding LDS issues, just from sheer numbers of negative vs. positive links. The lack of disclousre about the site’s owners speaks for itself.

  22. I guess what doesn’t jive is that mike and scott are adept enough to design a site and also be lover’s of “free thought”, yet they don’t have the capacity to go to FAIR and link to the relevent pages. If you are going to build a site that offers an intellectual smack down…then do your homework *first*.

  23. If I’m trying to be a “salesman” with this site, I really better not quit my day job! But I am glad to see people taking an interest.

    I agree that the site currently links predominantly to critical sites. My point is, that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case. The purpose of Studyitout is to let the marketplace of ideas do its job. You know, “the truth is out there” and all that. If you feel like there’s presently a dearth of good pro-Mormon content, I’ll be the first to agree with you. That’s why I’m asking for your help. If you think the site is actually structured in such a way as to prevent the faithful LDS view from being represented (i.e., you can think of categories that should be added or taken away) then send me an email and chances are you’ll get your wish (within reason.) One of my original concepts for the site was to make it a sort of Wikipedia, where literally anyone could add or remove content, but I quickly realized that a topic like this is far too volatile to open up for general editing. I’ve already had a few dozen links sent in for the usual array of “medical” products, “free iPods,” etc.

    As far as my personal views go, I share RoastedTomatoes’ line of thought. I’ve explained my intentions for the site on the About page. Maybe I will go ahead and expand that page a bit, but really, what are you afraid of? You’re going to spend an entire 5 minutes of your time contributing a few links from your bookmark file, and then I’m going to refuse to post them? As long as you submit something of interest to Mormon studies (and not “JimBob’s Page of Hymns Sung in the Style of Billy Ray Cyrus Accompanied by Ukulele”) I’ll post it. Try me!

    If you just can’t bear the suspense about the status of my membership, you can think of me as a “faithful nonbeliever.” (See Peggy Rogers’ essay. In a nutshell, active in the church but have some serious misgivings about the doctrine.) I think its reasonable for people to study the good, the bad, and the ugly about their religion. I’ve been reading both apologetic and critical stuff on the internet for a few years now, and I’ve often thought it would be nice if someone could bring it all together in one place. The Google of Mormon issues, if you will. No one has done that (that I’m aware of), so we’re doing it. Mike and I pay for the site out of our own pockets. We think Ed Decker is an idiot. We rarely kill kittens. Any other questions?

  24. J. Stapely: perhaps you missed this section of the About page and its accompanying link:

    “If it seems that some categories are a little slim on apologetic links, its probably because FAIR has created an excellent topical guide for apologetic responses and we don’t feel it necessary to re-create it.”

  25. apologies for the duplicative posts . . .server problems

  26. If it seems that some categories are a little slim on apologetic links, its probably because FAIR has created an excellent topical guide for apologetic responses and we don’t feel it necessary to re-create it.

    Ah, go ahead. I think it will be worth it!

  27. Jonathan Green says:

    Scott, Mike, thanks for the additional words of explanation. Invoking the marketplace of ideas is fine, but you are also a competitor in that market, not just a platform for it. Why should people contribute links to your site, rather than spend their leisure hours on the wit and wisdom of sites such as this one? That’s not meant to sound negative, rather, it should help you think about your market niche.

    A market platform for all perspectives on the church needs to reek of seriousness and responsibility. As a new site, you haven’t built up that reputation yet. Pro-LDS submitters need to feel comfortable with the site, and there seems to be a need for some work on that aspect.

    What I’d prefer to see, though, is some more value added on your part. If you’re going to be the site’s editors, then edit. Annotate your bibliography. Life is too short for an unsorted list of links. Subcategorize the links as pro or contra (Yahoo does this, or used to), and then tell us which of each category you think are the strongest. If you say, for example, that a page transcribed out of “Mormon Doctrine” is the single best pro-Mormon statement about blacks and the priesthood, I’m sure you’ll get more than a few responses of suggested better sources. And really, you should deep-link to the FAIR articles if you do the same for the contra-sites.

  28. You make good points, Jonathan, but you also haven’t thought through the dilemmas a ranking system would raise. How are we supposed to objectively judge whether any given article is pro or con? Some are straightforward enough, but most are not. A couple of examples come to mind (and there are hundreds like this): Are FARMS articles about the limited geography theory pro or con? Are the church heirarchy books by Michael Quinn pro or con? To you, they may be obviously pro and con, respectively. But some people consider FARMS articles to be hostile to faith, because they uproot previously held ideas, seem to contradict what previous prophets have said, etc. On the other hand, some people think Michael Quinn’s books are quite “pro,” because he frequently gives Mormon leaders the benefit of the doubt, when they would prefer to see him “move in for the kill.” Who’s right? I can see both sides. Especially think about the publications that originate from Dialogue or Sunstone. Heck, there are probably people who think this very blog is a den of apostasy.

    My feeling is that making the information available is all I can really do. I also don’t want to answer 20 angry emails a day about “Why did you list article X as pro, you anti-Momon jerk!” and such. I say let people make up their own minds as to whether a given issue strengthens or damages faith.

    The other issue you raise, relevance of links, is another tough one. Right now we are tracking each link by the number of hits it receives. Users can also choose to order the links according to Name, Date, Title, and Author. Again, the problem of us choosing the “best” page would be entirely subjective. Best for whom? Best for what purpose? Best as in: most complete, most read, most faith-affirming, most faith-damaging, most clever title? Again, what you think is “good” or “best” depends entirely upon what you are looking for. But if you have any concrete ideas about how to go about implementing a better system of relevancy, I’m all ears.

    And you may be right about deep-linking FAIR’s site. My perception was that they have SO many articles (literally thousands) that it would completely bury everything else on the site and yet offer nothing new. We’re trying to offer something that isn’t found elsewhere. FAIR already has a complete topical guide set up for their articles. Maybe it would be best for us to include a few of the “best” (heh heh) articles for each category, though. Thanks for the suggestion.

  29. “Heck, there are probably…”

    Scott, you’re lying again. You are a good, active Mormon.

  30. If your site is supposed to be a one-stop portal for Mormon-related content on the Web, then FAIR really is a glaring omission. If you think there are just too many articles for you to deep-link them all, then at the very least you could include links to the relevant pages in the FAIR topical guide (i.e., link the FAIR BoA page in your BoA section, etc.). And it’s not like FAIR is alone in having literally thousands of articles; the same could be said for lds-mormon.com and several other “anti” sites.

    Also, I think it would be very helpful to have a brief description of each site you link. Sometimes the title alone doesn’t tell you too much.

  31. a former believing Mormon that is a strange choice of terms.

    Note: active Mormon, devout Catholic, observant Jew,. .. etc.

  32. Stephen M, you’re right the terminology is tricky, but “active Mormon” and “believing Mormon” are not synonymous. Scott noted above in no. 23 that he is an active but not believing (ABNB) Mormon, an odd combination but that’s just where some people end up. I agree that “former believing Mormon” gives the wrong impression, but I don’t know of an accepted term that does the job. And it’s interesting to contrast ABNB Mormons with believing but not active (BBNA) Mormons. Almost by definition, you see a lot more ABNBs at church on Sunday than you see BBNAs (along with a host of active *and* believing Mormons, of course).

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