Ralph Hancock recently wrote a post in which his main point is that people were so interested in his obsession with Joanna Brooks that they never addressed his argument. I’ve not read Sister Brooks’s book, nor have I read Brother Hancock’s initial responses to it, primarily because I don’t care. I like Joanna’s online persona well enough; I don’t particularly like Ralph’s, but that’s not terribly important (to each their own). So why respond? Because Brother Hancock felt it was appropriate to defame me (by means of defaming this here blog) in the larger process of explaining why his response to Joanna was appropriate. He appears upset that no-one is taking him seriously enough. So, because I aim to please, I will herein attempt a response to Brother Hancock. We’ll see how it goes.
On a side note: I’m going to quote most of Ralph’s blog post here. You can read it in its original setting, of course, but you don’t necessarily have to, since it will be here, too. So, decide for yourself if you want to drive traffic to his corner of the internet.
“When I chose recently, in articles posted at Meridian Magazine, to engage critically what I called “Mormonism Lite,” I knew I was likely to stir up considerable heat, but I was hoping the light might be worth it. To judge from all the anger I have provoked at numerous LDS or quasi-LDS blogs, it would seem heat is a clear winner at this point. Herewith another attempt at light.”
First of all, attempting to engage anything critically at Meridian is strange. It’s like writing an academic essay and submitting it to US Weekly. If critical argument was your goal, there are plenty of actual critical venues of which to avail yourself (BYU Studies, Dialogue, Irreantum, ogs-blay). Any of them would have been a more appropriate venue for critical argument. Know your audience, Brother Hancock.
“I am neither surprised nor offended to have elicited disagreement — in fact, I’m sorry there wasn’t more actual, substantive, disagreement, as opposed to indignant complaints about my tone, my manner, my masculinity, my employer, etc. Here I propose to restate the main stakes of my argument without reference to any persons, and so clearly that those who pretend to be open to rational discussion will have no possible excuse for avoiding the questions I’m raising.”
Brother Hancock, while I don’t agree with all your ideas (and don’t know them, not having read the original posts), I’d submit that if people are objecting to the tone the most, that is because they find the tone the most disagreeable aspect of the critique. Perhaps we all aren’t as far apart as you believe, you big lug.
“In particular, I frankly challenge faithful LDS bloggers at what I had taken on the whole to be faithful LDS blogs (Times & Seasons, By Common Consent, Wheat & Tares, for example) to distinguish themselves — if they wish, that is — from voices on their sites that seem to reject out of hand any attempt (such as mine) to limit the absorption of LDS belief into what I will call “lifestyle liberalism” or “extreme tolerance.””
We’re going to stop right here for a moment. Please define your terms. “Lifestyle liberalism” and “extreme tolerance” are meaningless phrases; good for dog-whistling, light on meaning.
“I have to say I had hoped for more substantive discussion from such sites; but my recent experience suggests that, although surely not all principals on these blogs are fully committed lifestyle liberals, they are not at all inclined (or equipped?) to risk the wrath of the “hard left” among their associates and readers. I am reminded of the slogan of the French Popular Front of the 1930s: “Pas d’ennemi à gauche” — that is, no enemy on the left. The effective rule seems to be: we intellectuals of the Mormon Blogosphere will speak no evil of anyone advocating more “tolerance,” more inclusiveness, more concessions to secular culture and politics, more criticism of “orthodoxy” — in fact, we will not even presume to contradict their arguments. But anyone perceived to be more “conservative” is fair game for the harshest and most personal attacks. (It is not surprising then, that people who agree with me, sometimes enthusiastically, find it necessary to communicate privately, choosing not to brave the bullying of the “open-minded” blogs.) I am looking for evidence to contradict this characterization of the LDS Blogs; so far I haven’t found much. But I’m willing to keep looking: hence this invitation.”
This is a falsehood of one sort or another. Either you haven’t looked terribly hard or you’re misremembering what you’ve found. Brad Kramer’s comment on your blog demonstrates this amply and I’ll quote the relevant passages here:
“Both [T&S & BCC] have long histories of criticizing attacks coming from what for lack of a less loaded terminology I will join you in calling “the left.” BCC has featured a number of posts critical, for example, of John Dehlin’s ongoing project, and our comment moderation policy applies itself much more regularly to secular and/or post-Mormon criticisms than to orthodox ones. I do think it would be accurate (at least in the case of BCC) to say that at times we are more tolerant of rudeness from liberal than from conservative commenters (in the sense that we sometimes allow liberal commenters to mistreat conservative ones but are less likely to tolerate the former), but I think that’s more a function of the demographics of blog readership and the nature of communities of shared interest (we are more likely to tolerate bad behavior from our friends and to publicly stand up for them, and more of BCC’s regular commenters are liberal than conservative, and very often conservative criticism comes in the form of drive-by comments by non-regulars), than of any ideological commitment to tolerating bad behavior from the left as opposed to the right. And Daymon Smith has been judged every bit as harshly as you have by the bloggernacle (including and especially these two sites but also Faith Promoting Rumor), not just for tone problems (though they have played an important role—he is routinely perceived as bullying those he criticizes) but for his generally highly critical descriptions of Church administration and of Mormon Studies.”
Back to you
“I thank the appreciative readers who have posted at Meridian and particularly the brave readers who dared share a bit of my infamy by posting comments favorable or at least respectful of my arguments at the more, shall we say intellectually ambitious sites such as Times and Seasons or By Common Consent, as well as those women and men who have communicated to me privately their thanks for saying things they felt were important to say. And I also wish to thank and compliment those few writers unfavorable to my views who actually carefully read and directly engaged my arguments in some way.
A particularly notable attempt to address my arguments was by Lynette at Zelophehad’s Daughters (reposted at Feminist Mormon Housewives). I have attempted to address Lynette’s main points in the general response below, but let me say in advance that the main thrust of her vigorous objection to my review is that I dare to take exception to Brooks’ positions — in a word, that I dare to argue that Brooks is wrong or misguided about certain things, which in itself makes me “authoritarian” or “condescending,” and which is apparently particularly unseemly because Brooks is a woman and I am not. It is hard to know how to respond to such an objection, except to say that I do not honor the sexist principle that a woman cannot make an argument that a man is allowed to answer, and to point out that anyone who makes an argument generally makes it because he (or she) is proposing the possibility that he is right and thus that whoever disagrees with him is wrong on the point in question. I am not an exception to this rule, but then neither is Lynette or Joanna: they think they are right, and they too, I must say, address the world with some confidence.”
I’m going to interrupt this train of thought for a moment because it is my one chance to address tone. While I didn’t read the two reviews at Meridian, I have read all the monthly blog reviews made at the John Adams Center blog. Sister Brooks is the only person mentioned in every single of these (excepting the latest, written after criticism of your continually talking about Joanna became more widespread). Context matters, Brother Hancock. I assume you wrote all those blog reviews (admittedly, I may be mistaken). The fact that you’ve been writing about Sister Brooks in particular for months makes it appear that she is some sort of special case for you. Obviously, she is in the news (a top religion blogger or some such) and that might explain it, but a condescending tone (which you seem to admit in this passage) just makes it creepy. That’s not necessarily the case, but appearances matter (as a political philosopher, you should know this). You should have probably recused yourself from writing about Joanna’s book at all. Give it a break; let the other conservative Mormon intellectuals (Nate Oman, Rosalynde Welch) take up the mantle for a bit. It will be more productive.
“Like many who prosper in the Mormon blogosphere these days, my respondents are simply not accustomed to having someone contradict their fundamental assumptions. It adds to my sin, I suppose, that I do so rather straightforwardly, which I think is as much for the sake of clarity as it is a sign of confidence. In any case, it would be more useful to respond to my arguments by answering them rather than by complaining that I think I am right.”
Ralph, you can’t say that you want to generate more light than heat and then call your conversational partners whiners. That path does not substantive discourse generate (check out the comments on your post for further confirmation of this principle).
“It would be quixotic in the extreme to undertake to address any significant sample of the objections, not to say spirited attacks, that have been leveled against my essay, and in fact against me as a thinker, a teacher, a person. It is clear in fact that both sides in this “conversation” find it easy to feel viscerally that they or their friends are victims of the most unjust personal attacks. Here I think President Uchtdorf’s recent observation is very acute and very important:
“But when it comes to our own prejudices and grievances, we too often justify our anger as righteous and our judgment as reliable and only appropriate. Though we cannot look into another’s heart, we assume that we know a bad motive or even a bad person when we see one. We make exceptions when it comes to our own bitterness because we feel that, in our case, we have all the information we need to hold someone else in contempt.
If, then, we find it impossible to imagine ourselves into the shoes of those with whom we disagree, I think it just best to suspend the question of motives and to attend to arguments with as much serenity as possible, ready to forget and even to forgive offenses.”"
Hear, hear. More of this. No objection (said as someone who is attacked in the post I’m substantively responding to).
“Overlooking or forgiving offenses is one thing, but judging ideas and arguments and intellectual-political projects is another matter, though, isn’t it? Can this responsibility for intellectual judgment be avoided — without, that is, abandoning the good we find and the greater good we hope for in dialectical exchange about the theory and practice of our faith? To savor spiritual goods “in the tangle of our minds” requires that we reason together, and this in turn requires that we judge as best we can of what is true and false, well-reasoned and not. And how can faithful and responsible reasoning in this area avoid the effort (however hazardous) of taking account of and critiquing ideological paradigms that may well seep into our religious opinions? That, you will have noticed, is what I see myself doing, and one key area where I think I can make a contribution to our reasoning together about our faith.”
Well, obviously I’m not going to disagree with this. This is what all the blogging and what-not is about.
“Now, of course, an obvious objection arises here: but you, Hancock, have your own ideology (“conservative,” I suppose the objector would say), and you are just responding to those you disagree with from that point of view! To be sure this risk is always present. All we can do is beware of the risk, and muster both the virtue and the insight necessary to suspend our ideological inclinations and think around them and through them. The alternative is clearly unacceptable: to accept the relativist premise that our reasoning faculty is enslaved to ideologies or interests from the outset, and so that we are locked in a conflict with no issue, in fact no conceivable issue. This would be a closed world, a cave of all heated conflict and darkness, and I cannot accept that.”
If I’m following you here (remember, non-PhD, non-Ivy-League, non-philosopher), you seem to be saying that there must be a truth out there and someone in an argument must be closer to it. Arguments should take into account the presuppositions of those who wield them, and be willing to accept that we may be arguing from a place of comfort, rather than rationality. If I’m reading you correctly, again, no objections. This seems self-evident. There is a slight chance that you are arguing (or you think I think you’re arguing) that because you are saying there is a truth out there, that I must assume you are wrong because the truth is unknowable. But that would be a bit silly. It paints your opponent into a metaphysical corner, on the scale of Korihor arguing that an angel told him there is no God. Surely, you’re not going to build a strawman, similar in a superficial way to the arguments of your conversational partners, but not nearly as well thought out, and then destroy that, declaring victory? Well, let’s keep going and see.
“So judge we must, trying our best to sort ideology from the possibility of Truth [John: love that capital T], and I do my best with the powers and knowledge I have. And here I might begin to respond to questions that were frequently raised regarding my competence, given my academic discipline, to address a personal memoire such as. I’m not sure the question of credentials is really very important, since the quality of a piece of writing should speak for itself, and the critique of professional credentials is a distraction, and hardly normative in the blogosphere. So I’ll just say this: Political Philosophy, my line of work, is a way of doing philosophy and of thinking about the task of thinking in relation to moral, political and religious claims. The intersection of religion and political ideology is very much a part of this task. And I see no reason for abstaining from critique when this intersection is addressed in the form of a personal memoire, especially when it fairly leaps to the eye that this memoire is no less informed by a public purpose than were Rousseau’s famous Confessions — indeed, more obviously, militantly so. I would have been happy if others, especially women, had stepped in to raise the kinds of questions I thought needed to be raised, but I did not see this happening. I have to rest content with the gratitude and endorsement a number have confided in me privately.”
If Joanna publishes something, it should be up for critique. No objection there. Of course, some critiques are more appropriate to a particular genre than others. Truth and memoir are in a strange relationship. But I’ve not read your reviews and can’t speak to their appropriateness, so I won’t.
“I take Rousseau as a kind of founding master of the personal memoire as political strategy. Rousseau aims to weaken traditional moral and religious restraints by exposing his life in all its lurid vicissitudes in order to argue, or to convey the sentiment, that, underneath all the foibles and the miscues, Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his heart of hearts is as innocent as can be. In doing this he proposes himself as an exemplar of the natural goodness of human beings, in opposition to the traditional doctrine of the Fall of Man and to the restrictions and commandments and punishments associated with this doctrine. The implicit lesson is that it is not obedience to divine commands or some traditional conception of virtue but rather authenticity, that is, simply and sincerely being who one is, that is the key to a fully human existence. Similarly (not identically, of course), the Mormon memoire in question bravely exposes a woman’s personal struggles, weakness and foibles (nowhere near as lurid as Jean-Jacques, it should be noted) in order to present her own authentic, sincere personal existence as an alternative to an old-fashioned regard for commandments and for the authority (in her view often hypocritical and even cruel) of those who teach and, in certain cases, verify conformity to these commandments. As in Rousseau’s case, the personal life is advanced as a public lesson, a standard of personal authenticity proposed as a model for other brave souls.”
This is an interesting point. Rousseau and Sister Brooks are both making points about the authoritarian forces in their time (I assume, not having read either). Certainly many authority figures do their best to provide useful instruction and careful guidance to their charges. And, of course, all of them are hypocrites, because we’re all hypocrites. Authority can’t come solely from behavior, because we all fail to live up to our principles (excepting One). So finding other means of granting authority (like placing hands on heads) has become a means for legitimizing that authoritarian role publicly in the church. Of course, hands on heads doesn’t necessarily change any hearts. Joseph Smith (and God) warned us about unrighteous dominion and the human (male) lust for power. I’m not certain that Joanna’s experiences with what she considered to be abuse of power should be dismissed. If God and Joseph Smith thought it could happen, I don’t know why it should be unimaginable in Southern California. As to Joanna using her personal experiences to make her point, I, like you, am a big believer in “big T” Truth. If Joanna is being honest about what happened and how she felt about it (always a question in memoir), then I see no reason to object to her points or argue for her misunderstanding. It’s just more Truth to add to that one great whole.
“As I pointed out at the beginning of my Part Two, feminists often stake their claims by making the personal political. Apparently many believe that this strategy should make an author immune from criticism, but this would be implicitly to accept the reduction of the religious life to the cultivation of personal authenticity. I have no interest in engaging a discussion of anyone’s personal life (or of their Church membership status), but I do not see why I should shrink from a discussion that has more general religious and political stakes.
Thus I do not in fact accept the imperative to allow an author “ to be authoritative on her own experience.” We are not — certainly not automatically and always — the supreme authorities on the meaning of our own experience. That is what religious authority is for – to help us get ourselves right and to let us know when we are wrong, even or especially wrong about ourselves. I do not presume to exercise religious authority; I am simply using rational argument defend a certain view of the meaning of religious authority and therefore, necessarily, to criticize the view that personal “authenticity” is the be-all and end-all of human meaning.”
I’m not sure what you are objecting to here. I agree that humans are terrible at identifying personal authenticity and the “true” meaning of their own experiences. I agree that the ultimate authority on the meaning of our lives is God (at least, that’s what I read you as implying). I don’t know if Joanna she would disagree, but I doubt it. She strikes me as religious rather than agnostic or atheistic. Making the personal political doesn’t grant immunity from criticism and shouldn’t (if you don’t want people to talk about your life, don’t publish about your life). I think that, unless you are arguing against strawmen that I haven’t encountered (but that might be out there (maybe in Joanna’s book)), this argument is just stating an obvious thing.
“It is not true, then, that I presumed to “excommunicate” Joanna Brooks. I have made it as clear as can be that I hope she will remain in the Church. I was quoted by Jamie Reno in the Daily Beast as saying that “Joanna’s position on gay marriage is irreconcilable with the church.” This statement of mine, quoted (I have to trust) from a good hour’s wandering discussion with the reporter, was taken by some to mean that I believed Joanna should be excommunicated because she disagreed with me on the political question of the definition of marriage. This is not my position, and I take some responsibility for not being clearer in this sentence in distinguishing between the political and the theological question.”
“I did go on immediately to say that I find it “hard to conceive of calling anything Mormon that relinquishes the importance of sexual difference and procreation in the big, eternal scheme of things.” My primary concern is not with the political question of the civil definition of marriage (though this is an important disagreement I have with Brooks), but with the properly religious question of the place of sexuality in eternity. I believe, following the Church’s Proclamation to the World on the Family, in heterosexuality as an eternal reality and thus an eternal norm. (And thus I think our country is better off reflecting the goodness of the man-woman union in law and policy.) I understand Brooks’ interpretation of the principle that “all are alike unto God” to imply that homosexuality should enjoy all the rights of heterosexuality in this life and in the next — or, perhaps that sexual difference is irrelevant in the next life. In any case, the tendency of her political rhetoric has certainly been to undermine the normativity of heterosexuality, and this is what I oppose, and find incompatible with Church teaching. I have no interest in raising the question of excommunication, but, just as she has a right to argue for a certain understanding of Mormonism, I have a right, and, I think, a duty to point out where I think she is wrong.”
I, like you, think that changes in our approach to homosexuality will require changes in how we envision the afterlife and its meaning. However, unlike you, I think those changes are likely coming. I would also tend to privilege “all are alike unto God” (which is canonized scripture) over the Proclamation (which, as President Packer recently inadvertently demonstrated, is not). I also don’t see homosexuality becoming normative, because most people aren’t homosexual and being more tolerant of it isn’t going to alter the number of homosexuals in the world (except in ways that we’d like (fewer suicides, maybe)). It may become a more legitimate option for some people, but I don’t believe we’ll soon see a mass exodus from family life or marriage by making it easier for more people to legally engage in those activities. That said, I agree with you that the current approach of the church is to frown upon gay marriage, to be ambivalent toward civil unions, and to generally, quietly support other legal pathways for gay folk to create legal family structures.
“My problem, then, with liberalism and feminism as a frame of LDS belief does not finally concern specifically political questions. What concerns me is a strong tendency for liberalism to migrate from politics and to penetrate and reshape religious understandings. Thus I argued, based upon evidence from her book, that Joanna Brooks tends very much to make a liberal principle of toleration or non-discrimination (which she hears in the scriptural teaching “all are alike unto God”) into the most fundamental touchstone of religious truth.”
If this is what Sister Brooks believes, then I agree with you that it is a wrong-headed belief. The most fundamental touchstone of religious truth in our particular neck of the ecclesiastical woods is, I believe, also the first Great Commandment. Her’s is best understood as the second Great Commandment (high, but not quite that high).
“This accords at a deep level with the tendency of her personal confession and of her defenders’ pleas to make every person, and in particular every woman, the best, most authentic judge of her own experience. On this view, to be truly religious is to be compassionate, and to be compassionate is to acknowledge the legitimacy of each individual’s view of her own good, that is, with moral relativism or an ethic that gives final authority to personal self-expression. For example, since all are alike, then, on this lifestyle-liberal view, not only does God love homosexuals as much as heterosexuals, but he loves homosexuality as much as heterosexuality. Thus “all are alike unto God” is understood to mean that every individual has a sovereign right to define his own good.”
See, I don’t know if this is what Joanna is arguing, but if it is, I disagree with her. I do, however, think that since that final authority is God, it is really hard for the rest of us to understand other people’s good (or bad). Less judgment all around is probably a good thing. I wouldn’t presume to know where somebody stands with God exactly. I’ll guess and live with the consequences of that guess, because I’m just as petty or protective as the next guy, but I don’t pretend to myself that I’m necessarily right (usually).
“This formulation of equality of lifestyles under God will no doubt strike some liberal readers as unproblematic, even as obviously sound. And that is exactly my point.”
Well, then your point is a strawman. Nobody is arguing that all lives are equally good. I would argue that nobody is Good but God, but then I’d be being snotty. But if the blogs, in particular, held to this idea, then we wouldn’t talk about the vast majority of the things we do. I worry that, if you think that this is what people are arguing, you must really think we’re stupid.
“Over the last generation liberalism has broadened and absolutized its claims, making equality of worldviews and lifestyles and thus absolute Toleration the only truth, and many political liberals have begun to interpret their religion according to this extreme liberalism, especially where sexual and familial norms are concerned. It seems a large number, even a preponderant number on the more “intellectual” blogs, have convinced themselves that this liberalism is the underlying, latent truth of Mormonism.”
Again. This is a strawman (and a rather odd one). I can’t come up with a counterpoint, because I don’t believe the argument that is being ascribed to me. So no response possible.
“Such a view is seductive in many ways, including the fact that it seems to justify one’s own or one’s loved one’s behavior, and also that it removes of a vexing obstacle to full membership in the prestigious liberal intelligentsia.”
Wha? In Mormonism? Where is this prestigious liberal intelligentsia of which you speak? Obviously, I aspire to it; the very fact of this response demonstrates such. But there is none such in Mormonism, and I am a Mormon first, a sorta liberal (sometimes) second.
“And here I come along saying, no, I think not. I state candidly and plainly my view, a view I am confident is shared by the great majority of faithful LDS who are aware of such questions, that there are fundamental differences at the level of basic and essential beliefs between LDS teaching and this boundless late-liberal “toleration.” I confess this seems rather obvious to me, and so I state it straightforwardly, and with some confidence. I have to ask whether you liberal intellectual bloggers really believe, for example, that any of the General Authorities you presumably sustain a few times a year would disagree with this proposition. Understandably, many who have constructed for themselves a different , more “open” view of Mormonism are offended, and find me arrogant, bullying, condescending, etc. I am not sure there would have been any way to raise the questions I’m raising without offending those who are committed to the new, liberal Mormonism.”
Again. Strawman. I agree that there is a difference between “boundless toleration” and LDS teaching and I prefer LDS teaching. Nor do I think that the General Authorities would find that troubling. Brother Hancock, you’re arguing against something that nobody (that I’ve read) is arguing. Maybe Sister Brooks does it, but I’m skeptical, because she doesn’t strike me as being crazy stupid. However, stranger things…
“The problem we confront today, and that Joanna Brooks represents in an increasingly popular form, was clearly in evidence in a conversation a friend reported he had had with several liberal Mormon intellectual acquaintances. This person had dared openly to doubt whether Mormonism could survive full acceptance of gay marriages. They attacked him for questioning one of their articles of faith. Their attitude toward matters of gender does not only include an acceptance of continuing revelation and of the possibility that the Church could someday give women the priesthood and perform same-sex temple marriages; instead, they are convinced that the Church WILL do those things, and this has become part of their testimony. Given this state of affairs, anyone contradicting such liberalized testimony, even in a most moderate and reasonable tone, can only be perceived by the liberal blogosphere as threatening, and thus as arrogant, condescending, and, of course, inevitably,“snarky.””
As someone who believes that the Church will probably do those things, I don’t quite know what to say. I have my reasons (the Church has altered its positions on many doctrines considered fundamental several times already; why not this?), but my testimony isn’t based on it. I could be wrong. My testimony is based on the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the power of the priesthood and revelation. My testimony has nothing to do with whether or not gay couples will one day get temple married. Why would you have a testimony of that? It boggles the mind. In any case, strawman (you’re not even talking about a blog here). Also, with our tendency toward obedience, is it really that hard to believe the membership would fall in line behind a shift on gay marriage? Sure, people left over the 1978 revelation, the end of polygamy, and the original succession crisis, but many more stayed. I just don’t see it.
“This tendency of a late-liberal conception of justice, and the corresponding virtues of toleration and compassion, to become theologically foundational for a significant number of Mormon believers, especially among those who consider themselves intellectually accomplished, goes far towards explaining a profound imbalance or asymmetry that one finds in the LDS blogosphere. It is remarkable how rare and mild are any objections, even among the more moderate bloggers, to more radical claims to personal freedom and to borderless definitions of Mormonism.”
I’m going to again refer you to Brad’s comment above, you bad searcher you.
“In such cases, an ethic of sympathetic understanding and inclusiveness reigns supreme. On the other hand, as I have found by hard experience, anyone who dares affirm a more … what shall I call it? “traditional” or “conservative” understanding of the faith,”
Oh good gravy! you’ve been calling it that all this time already, I’m sure you can continue.
“especially where feminism and sexuality are concerned, is likely immediately to be classified as offensive, uncaring, beyond the pale, especially if this person happens to bear the burden of a Y chromosome. This is the structural asymmetry I referred to above that results effectively in the “pas d’ennemi à gauche” policy. This is the “openness” that seems for the most part to characterize even what I had not long ago taken to be the more faithful, moderate and responsible Bloggernacle. To be sure, this attitude may be applied in perfect sincerity, since openness to a diversity of views and practices does not operate as a formal principle of deliberation — a way of considering questions —but as a substantive principle, as the answer we know in advance. However sincere, though, such a frame of discussion can only lead more and more bloggers and their readers further away from the distinctive, substantive commitments of the Church.”
Prove it. I’m serious. Prove it. You’re making an assertion here and I don’t believe you. I’ve been doing this for a while and I’m still firmly embedded in the Church. I’m as flawed, broken, and imperfect as ever I was, but I’m still here. If you’re going to argue this, you better have some stats or something more than your credentials to back up the statement.
“It has been objected, reasonably, to my critique of Brooks that I use the term “feminism” rather loosely and attribute to her positions that she nowhere articulates. Fair enough. The problem is that, for all her insistence on her feminism, Brooks herself gives us precious little help in defining what the term means. In any case, this, I find, is a common problem in engaging feminists: they tend to use the term broadly and vaguely to be as inclusive as possible (“Mormon women matter”), and when one objects to some application or implication, they deny that it applies to their understanding of feminism.”
From someone who likes to drop terms like “lifestyle liberalism” without further explanation, this is an interesting complaint. But, then again, maybe you’ve defined it somewhere else, so let’s just let this pass. Also, being frustrated that people don’t fit your stereotypes is the common internet-human condition.
“Despite almost infinite variations in the precise meaning of “feminism,” there is clearly a strong tendency towards the ideal (explicit or implicit) of a gender-neutral society – that is, a society in which family roles, careers and positions and in principle all desirable social outcomes are equally available to men and women, and thus in which men and women are equally represented in all careers and public positions. This may appear unobjectionable on its face, but it begs the question who will devote most time to the direct care of children. To the chagrin, apparently, of many “progressive” LDS bloggers, The Family Proclamation does not shrink from taking a position on this controversial topic:”
This may or may not be an ideal. Without evidence, it is terribly hard to judge. It is, however, a wonderful windmill to tilt at.
“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.
Here is a marvelously clear and concise statement of sex roles that are equally esteemed, but also clearly differentiated. Church leaders wisely allow for families’ adaptation to particular circumstance, but they also consistently warn women against putting careers above their distinctive role in the nurturing of children. (Notably, a recent General Conference address counseled members against judging women who work outside the home.) But the Proclamation’s unmistakable endorsement of motherhood is vital counsel, I think, at a time when many full-time mothers and home-makers feel disdained by society in general and by more visibly “successful” women in particular. Now, there is no doubt that motherhood is very important to Joanna Brooks, but I wonder whether she and her feminist defenders fully embrace the role differentiation and emphasis on children that are clearly reflected in the Proclamation?”
Fair enough, Brother Hancock. If this is marvelously clear and concise, define “preside” in a manner that doesn’t contradict the last sentence of the paragraph. I agree that both parents should care about the children (I assume you intend the non-nurturing father to somehow approximate devotion to his children’s welfare beyond physical support and well-being). Let me ask you, what would a woman who fully embraced “the role differentiation and emphasis on children that are clearly reflected in the Proclamation” look like? For that matter, what do you think Sister Brooks’s ideal Mormon sister would look like? What are the outcomes you are preventing or supporting here? (Note: I don’t think that I identify any particular traits as embodying the ideal Mormon woman as opposed to the ideal Mormon man, but I’m open to your input on that front).
“Whatever, exactly, is meant by feminism, according to its various versions, a common theme is certainly the objection to certain possibilities being open to men that are not open, or less open, to women.”
“Is it not a universal feature of feminism to claim for women certain privileges or opportunities or positions that have been reserved or mostly reserved to men, and to measure progress by the standard of equal (at least) statistical representation of women?”
Maybe to claim that the possibility should be available. I don’t think anyone is arguing for the unqualified or the unfit to get positions or social status unearned.
“Does this not imply a vision of a gender-neutral society, and tend practically in that direction? Please, feminists, take this as an honest question, and show me where my assumptions or my logic is mistaken.”
That depends on what you mean by gender here. Obviously sex and such will still be around. Babies and children will be forthcoming. If by gender you mean prescribed gender roles, then I agree some of them will become less important. But I still don’t see a gender-less world on the horizon. Humans aren’t wired that way. We find and exploit distinctions. More likely gender roles will be less likely to be assigned at birth and they will be more likely to be assumed over time by individuals. That’s not a gender-neutral society; it is an empowered one. Gender, like every other social role on this mortal realm, can be and should be negotiable.
“In any case, it is clear that Joanna Brooks felt slighted as a girl by differences in the way boys and girls were treated – most notably in respect to the Priesthood – and that she continues to chafe at such differences. In my review, I indulged some anthropological speculations about male and female acculturation, only to illustrate the rather obvious possibility that there are good reasons to raise boys (and thus to motivate them by honoring and rewarding them) in different ways from girls. In fact, the differentiation of boys from girls may be essential, it seems to me (and not only to me), to the formation of a productive and responsible male identity. But the argument was necessarily merely illustrative and incomplete. I stand only on the main point that there is no compelling reason, apart from feminist ideology, to assume that boys and girls should be treated the same in every respect.”
If Joanna Brooks’s argument is that boys and girls should be treated the same in every respect, that would be a stupid argument. However, I doubt that is what she is saying or what she is getting at (in part, because I doubt she is stupid). So, with no proof, I’m going to assume that this is a strawman. That said, it’s possible that Ralph is arguing that something about the way that boys are raised in the Church helps them achieve a potential greater than they would be capable of outside of that upbringing and that this something is tied into priesthood exclusivity (and that the same is true of girls, with their potential unlocked by not bearing the priesthood, I suppose). If this is the case in his reviews, someone tell me and I might go read them; if this isn’t the case in his reviews, then he needs to provide a lot of support and specificity to what strikes me as a vague and tenuous argument.
“In any case, Joanna Brooks, like so many other Mormon feminists, is very much preoccupied, not only with social inequities in this world, but also or especially with what she regards as eternal inequalities that, in Mormon teaching, limit women’s possibilities and show favoritism towards men: that men hold the Priesthood, and that women bear children.”
Wait…what? How is saying that men hold the priesthood and women bear children demonstrating an inequality? That’s like saying men fly kites and women go to spelling bees, therefore they are unequal. The source of the inequality in the church isn’t that women have to bear children, it’s that they don’t get to bear the priesthood. Arguably other inequities come to women because they are tasked with child rearing in the wake of childbirth, but those are common to the wider Western world. If we’re talking about the church, let’s stick to the matter at hand: who gets to be a priesthood bearer.
“She is worried, notably, about the eternal burden that pregnancy and child-bearing, essential natural characteristics of femininity, seem to put upon God’s female children, and seems to feel slighted that our Mother in Heaven does not get as much public recognition as our Father.”
“Seem” to put upon God’s female children? Really? Pregnancy only appears to be a burden? Childbirth is only apparently dangerous? While perhaps risking one’s own life in order to give live to another may indeed be less eternally significant than sitting through endless priesthood training meetings and occasionally having to hum a hymn to oneself to get an improper thought out of the mind, I still feel like you may be underplaying slightly the risks involved (also underplayed: the ratio of information about God to information about his wife). But perhaps I’m leaning too much on that one turn of phrase. Let’s continue.
“Here we are at the heart, I think, of the liberal feminists’ discomfort with basic Mormon teaching. This discomfort arises from what they perceive as an eternal inequity regarding women that is grounded in the conventional or mainstream understanding of the role of sexual difference in the eternities.”
Stop. What is the conventional or mainstream understanding of the role of sexual difference in the eternities? Aside from having families, do we know anything? Is there something in Gospel Principles that I’ve missed? What are you referring to, exactly?
“It is hard to see how this feeling of inequity, this implicit claim to equality as gender neutrality, might be assuaged without sacrificing something essential in the LDS understanding of the corporeality of divinity and the centrality of fecundity to eternal lives.”
Again, equality = gender neutrality is a strawman. But beyond that, what on earth are you talking about? What is essential in LDS understanding of corporeality and fecundity that would worry a feminist? Be explicit, dude.
“Is this understanding “fair” to women? Can any understanding satisfy modern claims of fairness as long as it differentiates between male and female roles, either in this world or the next?”
I don’t think this is some impossible task. Why do you?
“Here, when speculating about the eternities, it is particularly appropriate to acknowledge the extreme limitations of our knowledge. I certainly do not know the meaning of all things: I do not claim to understand the eternal operation of the priesthood in relation to manhood and fatherhood on the one hand and womanhood and motherhood on the other; I am taught that exalted beings are embodied, but I do not know how parenthood works in celestial spheres — whether or how often, for example, a celestial mother’s belly swells with new life as my mother’s did with mine. Nor do I know in what way an Eternal Queen might defer to her King, or in what way she might yet rule his heart.”
Well, I agree. We don’t know this. So why assume we do? That last sentence is very strange though and it is possibly offensive. As if men can’t rule via love or defer righteously to their spouses.
“I do not know just how the mysterious and life-giving equality in difference that obtains between the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve is lived and understood by those exalted to celestial spheres. I do not know just how it is that, through the power of the Atonement, “everlasting dominion” can be exercised “without compulsory means,” or just how this dominion can be articulated into male and female spheres without diminishing either dominion. But I trust it is so, would strive to prove worthy, in partnership with my wife, to enjoy the fruits of such righteous and non-compulsory dominion.”
Well, now you’re just like the rest of us.
“I do know that when we claim a certain status as a “right” — not as part of a covenant the terms of which are set by God, but on our own terms, and thus by envious comparison with the “rights” we see others as enjoying — I know that such claims can never bring us goods that transcend our worldly demands, goods that surprise us, that delight us, that enrich us with eternal lives.”
There is a lot of syntax in this sentence and I’m not sure I follow. What status do you have in mind here, Brother Hancock? It seems like you are saying that Joanna Brooks and other Mormon feminists are motivated primarily by envy of the Priesthood and a desire to bear it. I don’t think that is quite the case (which would make this argument a strawman). If one is systematically excluded from a particular type of position, one can feel the injustice of that exclusion without desiring to hold the position. Slaves can consider their position unjust without desiring to become masters.
“And I am confident and grateful that, when we see as we are seen, we will be truly equal in the only way that matters, and therefore in no way concerned with equality as measured by the competitive vanity of this world.”
What sort of equal do you have in mind, exactly? Fools before God?
“And I worry that, if we do not learn to subordinate our notions of political and social equality to the promise of the distinct eternal blessings of manhood and womanhood, if we spend this time of probation envying the perceived privileges of the other sex, then the earth, as far as we are concerned, will be “utterly wasted at His coming.””
What exactly are the distinct eternal blessings of manhood and womanhood that you have in mind? Do you really envy women childbirth (a comparison you brought up)? Because I don’t. I want no part of the burdensome aspects of labor and pregnancy, thank you very much. I love the children, but have no desire for the pain and suffering involved in bringing them here. Again, I think you are wrong about the envying (and being kind of petty, actually). Finally, I don’t think that verse you are quoting means what you think it means. At least not in this context. But, frankly, it is so wrenched from its original context in this frame that I’ve no idea what you mean by this.
Now, I want to be clear. This is not a substantive response. This is a reaction. To some degree, it is to point out that a substantive response to your blog post is impossible because you argued there against a series of strawmen. I don’t want to or intend to defend arguments I’m not making. You also, in this particular post, rely on a series of assertions that are either meaningless or unexplained. I can’t respond. However, I am preparing a substantive response. I’ll have it up in a week or so. It will be an attempt to grapple with some of the issues you raise in a positive manner. We’ll see if I succeed. My best to you, Brother Hancock. Live long and prosper.