My Way or the Highway

I recently helped the Internet fill the measure of its creation by making an ass of myself in a public forum.

Blogs are open to all and allow anyone to participate, but with a religious blog, how do we deal with claims of authority?  It appears that we are unable to settle on a way to engage productively that doesn’t leave somebody out, and that is one of my recuring frustrations with this medium.  Elder Maxwell said:

Great care must be exercised so that we do not pass off our personal preferences as the Lord’s program; we must not confuse our personal religious hobbies with His orthodoxy. Nor must we ever pass off a personal obsession as a spiritual impression.

Here is how I understand that advice: My opinions are orthodox. The rest of you are nuts. A quick glance around the bloggernacle indicates that most of you are in the same boat with me. Can somebody show us a way out of this mess? I really am interested in getting past this.



  1. Steve Evans says:

    Aw Mark, I love ya.

  2. BAN HIM!!! BAN HIM!!!

  3. I think that the older we are, the more authority we have. I believe I am older even than Arids. Older than Kevin Barney. Mark B is SLIGHTLY older than I am, but does not live in Utah, which disqualifies him as an authority. I think I’m it.

  4. Reach for common ground. Orthodoxy seeks to understand things that we DO agree on, not on the differences between us. Is is an unusual talent to bring that out through comments, while encouraging others to see your point of view. To quote Han Solo, “That’s the real trick, isn’t it?”

  5. I haven’t been following comments anywhere for a while, so I’ve missed this public ass-making, Mark. A link?

    It has really helped me in the past to recognize that what I say is not important and nobody cares what I think. It’s just the internet, and if you don’t make an ass of yourself on an occasional basis (at least) then you aren’t fully participating.

    Oh, and I agree with Steve. You’re wonderful.

  6. Margaret thinks of me when the subjects are age and public-ass-making. I’m so proud.

    Mark does have it right, though. My opinions *are* orthodox, and the rest of you *are* nuts. Thank heavens you’re generally such tolerant nuts that you permit me to hang around.

  7. See, Mark? If you hadn’t admitted it, none of us would ever have known. Now I am determined to spend the rest of my Sunday afternoon trying to find where you made an ass of yourself. Inquiring minds want to know.

    As for orthodoxy, I just figure whenever I agree with Ardis, my opinions are orthodox. The rest of the time, I am beyond hope.

    Really, though, this is a great thought-question. There used to be a question in the temple posed by the Satan figure regarding orthodoxy that should give some of us pause about whether it is orthodoxy that is indeed important. (You may not remember this unless you are as old seasoned as Margaret, Mark, Ardis, or me.)

  8. I’m guessing that Mark is talking about this.

  9. To answer your question with another one: Would it really be a good idea to change the nature of the ‘nacle like that? Sounds boring to me.

  10. Actually, Margaret, in the bloggernacle, not living in Utah gives props, and therefore I am the final authority.

    Besides, I have a long history of being the boss, so it’s a natural fit for me.

  11. Mark B., you may think you are the boss, but you are not The Boss.

  12. Is Orthodoxy close to God? Joseph Smith said that we can learn from other religions. That can be a hard message to really hear.

    But I think we have a role model to exemplify that understanding — God.

    I’ve personally known Buddhists who’ve seen Buddhist deities after days of prayer in the forest. I’ve known Catholics and Protestants who have met Angels confirming their faith. I’ve met several people (all professionals) who have described encounters with Aliens. And of course, there are the many Mormons with miraculous experiences.

    And I won’t even begin to describe my own experiences.

    On one hand, it is obvious that Truths exist outside and beyond the Book of Mormon. At the same time, my impression is that most Mormons forget this and keep themselves distant from God.


  13. To paraphrase an old Quaker saying, Mark, “I think all the world is unorthodox, except me and thee (and some times I wonder about thee).”

  14. Mark, I think apologizing is a good start. “Can somebody show us a way out of this mess?” I hope this doesn’t come across as a trite, but I’m thinking about the “somebody” we all say we are following: How did Jesus respond when he was “falsely accused” of heresy?

  15. Latter-day Guy says:

    Unfortunately, this seems to be something of a fool’s errand. Determining what is orthodox or doctrinal in Mormonism is a real problem. We have shifting tides of opinion within the body of the general authorities, doctrinal fashions, if you like. And it has been so for some time. We like to think that our understandings go through a process of polishing and refinement over time, so that what we teach as doctrine today is always slightly more accurate than what we taught yesterday, but I am not convinced that is the case. Different is not necessarily better; sometimes, it’s just different. (I recommend the narrator’s recent paper on this subject.)

    Luckily, even pretty serious differences in doctrine don’t tend to give anyone an inside track on how to be more Christlike. I don’t think there is a “way out of this mess.”

    The only way to win is not to play. (Or at least not to put too much money/time/effort on any single hand of doctrinal Texas Hold ‘Em. Just enjoy the game.)

  16. “Can somebody show us a way out of this mess? I really am interested in getting past this.”

    The only thing I know is to go into every post and every discussion with the idea that there is *something* in it that can teach me *something*. Only after focusing on what I can learn do I worry about what I can teach. If I am doing it to learn, rather than to teach, I find I generally do learn something – and I usually don’t have any time left to complain. When I don’t follow that pattern, I tend to end up arguing about the eternal implications of a popular movie.

    (e.g., Elder Maxwell’s quote is a great reminder, since most of us tend to be sure that some of our beliefs really are Truth – and that those who don’t see it the same way just need to study and/or pray more diligently. That is the natural reaction, and it is very easy to take that tack.)

  17. Steve: Likewise, I’m sure.


    Margaret: Actually, I think I’m the oldest one of the bunch you mentioned by a few months. That makes me the Patriarch, which starts with ‘P’ and rhymes with ‘riesthood’.

    Tim: Thanks, I think we should make the seeking of common ground a priority. However, do you think we could achieve a consensus with a very big group that common ground seeking is a working definition of orthodoxy? At any rate, you are right that eliciting good comments is a skill. Yours is a very good one, and I wish I could take credit for it.

    Ann: You’re right, ultimately, our conversations here probably aren’t that important. On the other hand, if we didn’t have them, we’d be missing out on some friendships.

    Ardis: Sometimes the bloggernacle actually does resemble a nuthouse, doesn’t it? But you’re right, it is often a very congenial nuthouse.

    BiV: Ooooh, good point. I had forgotten about that, and you’re right, if you remember it, it makes you “a person of a certain age”.

  18. MCQ: Yeah, I’ve wondered if it is desireable or if it is even possible. I dunno.

    TonyD: Thanks for your comment. I have a co-worker who is some sort of unaffiliated Christian. She has a rich spiritual life, prays multiple times a day, and does good works. If the measure of orthodoxy is if we do the will of the Father, she is more orthodox than I.

    DavidH: Good one! Thanks for the laugh, and same to you!

    BrianJ: That’s the thing. I don’t know what anybody else ought to do, but I know for me, the process involves some reoentance. I’m counting on y’all to help keep me sober.

    LD Guy: I understand the frustration people experience when they try to understand our beliefs, because you’re right, sometimes we have a hard time spelling them out clearly and cleanly. I plan to keep participating, but I’m going to leave the winning and losing to others.

    Ray: An excellent point. It is good for a compulsive like me to take the learner’s approach. I’ve found that also works well when listening to HC talks in sacrament meeting. I kid, I kid!

    All: Thank you all for the good comments and good spirits. I’ll make this a Maxwell menmonic memorial by giving another quote:

    In a church established, among other reasons, for the perfecting of the Saints – an ongoing process – it is naive to expect, and certainly unfair to demand, perfection in our peers. A brief self-inventory is wise before we “cast the first stone.” Possessing a few rocks in our own heads, it is especially dangerous to have rocks too ready in our hands.

  19. Marjorie Conder says:

    Re. #3 and #6
    I am all put positive I Am the oldest person on the bloggernacle. I have also been the “final authority on EVERYTHING” for two generations (just ask my kids and grandkids). AND I have lived in Utah my whole life. So there! (smiley face–if I knew how to do it.)

  20. Sorry, Marjorie, but you are missing that capital P.

    (Great line, Mark.)

  21. Researcher says:

    Sounds like it’s Old Folks Day on BCC.

  22. merrybits says:

    Isn’t public ass-making one of those eternal truths? I’ve seen it happen in testimony meetings.

  23. I testify that public-assifying is a true principle. Give a person a microphone and watch the ears and tail pop right out, a la Pinocchio. If I grab a mirror, I can watch it happen to me.

  24. “I’ve found that also works well when listening to HC talks in sacrament meeting.”

    I’ll try to listen more closely and learn something the next time I hear a HC talk – but it will be hard. :)

  25. Kidding aside, Paul talked a little about this.

    In Ephesians 4 he wrote about giving heed to the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, who were given for the very purpose of helping the Saints come to a unity in Christ.
    Then, in 4:14, he told the Saints to grow up, so to speak, and be “no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine”.
    (Yes, I know, this is an old missionary scripture. That means that it’s been recited so often that hardly anybody thinks about what it means anymore).

    So, how do we “grow up”? What is our anchor? In our attempts to be open-minded, accomodating, and reasonable, where do we recognize that the opposition is implacable, stand our ground and say “no farther”?
    I’m not trying to say what that point should be, but I do think that if there isn’t some point, the trolls and enemies of the Church will dominate and take over the discussion and the faithful members of the Church will depart.

    Paul also had some words (in 1 Cor 1) about those who picked their favorite authorities and then picked quarrels with other Saints over differences in their teaching. A little reading of the early church fathers of Christianity shows that Paul’s teaching mostly went unheeded. Before long, this kind of quarrel led to riots, mobbings, and even murders over points of doctrine which had been extrapolated and developed far beyond what the scriptures actally said.

  26. Jared has a great quote from Elder Dallin Oaks on his blog:

    “I find some wisdom in liberalism, some wisdom in conservatism, and much truth in intellectualism-but I find no salvation in any of them.”

  27. Who is the “we” in Elder Maxwell’s quotation? Does that include everyone?

  28. Yeah, I scanned the other thread.
    It’s strange, but I think you brought more attention to it by posting over here.
    Still, I’ve always thought of you as one of my top 3 favorite male commenter/posters in the ‘nacle, so it’s actually refreshing to see you make an ass of yourself.
    You generally do so well at being friendly, clever and funny.
    And, the apology thing was really cool. You’ve set a good example for me.

  29. #27 – Who would it not include?

  30. FWIW, Mark, I actually think you’re being way too hard on yourself. At most, you were guilty of overreacting. But when one is confronted with a passive-aggressive attack launched by someone who refuses to take responsibility for his actions, it’s easy to overreact. The fact is, given the context, you were probably right about his motives.

  31. I wonder who was giving the greater offense. Was it Bryce, for digging up President’s Lee’s address and endorsing it by quoting it, bolding those parts he thought pertinent, and directing it specifically at “New Order Mormons”?. That is what he did, but since just about everyone who quotes any authority is doing something similar, it’s hardly criminal behavior. “I was just quoting” does seem a pretty lame defese, but going after someone personally because you don’t like something he quoted is a pretty cheap attack. No glory to either side on that one.
    Or was it President Lee for giving the conference address in the first place? Because President Lee was indeed delivering a pointed rebuke towards certain of those who considered themselves “liberal” in the religious sense in 1971: “Smug” is not an approving description. There looks like a rather obvious allusion to, if not a direct quote from whatever article started the “Iron Rod” versus “Liahona” saints debate.

    It appears there was still enough sting in it to send Mark into flaming outrage. What stung, and why? Was it the message, the messanger, or something else?

  32. Peter LLC says:

    What stung, and why?

    A net was cast, a catch was landed.

  33. Marjorie: I’ll bow to your seniority and wisdom. :-)

    Merrybits/Jami: Do you want to know what makes me proud? Fifty years from now, my grandkids will be able to google “public assifying” and find a reference to their grandfather.

    Howard: Thank you for that statement and reference to Jared’s blog.

    Jessawhy: Thanks. One of these years when we are in Arizona, I’ll drop you an email. I really admire both you and your husband for the way you are raising your sons.

    Confutus: My reaction came from my sense (which I still believe was correct) that points were being scored by taking a church leaders words and twisting them. Whatever Pres. Lee meant by the term liberal Mromon, it doesn’t mean the same thing now, since we have liberal Mromon SPs, MPs, and GAs. Due to this blog’s affiliation with Dialogue magazine, it is somewhat self-serving to continually point out that its subscribers are active and believing members, at a rate of 88% activity by the church’s own definition.

    If I had an ax to grind about Mormons who live in California, I could make a post entitled “A warning to Mormons in California – You’re all going to hell”, and then quote Brigham Young, verbatim. When the first irate commenter from California asked me who in the flippin’ heck I think I am, I could respond by saying “Ah. I see. You persecute me for simply quoting the words of a prophet. What does this say about you?” The thread would then descend into even further idiocy. I regret not only my participation there, but also the way I participated.

  34. Mark said, “Can somebody show us a way out of this mess?”

    There is no way out of it. One man’s personal religious hobby is another man’s orthodoxy, and vice versa. One man’s personal obsession is another man’s spiritual impression, and vice versa.

    Without some semblance of boundary (i.e. orthodoxy), religious institutions would quickly fall into chaos. But the more rigid you draw those boundaries, the more people you wall out (on the outside), or spiritually stifle (on the inside). It’s a balancing act for the institution, and for the individual.

    So there is no way out of “the mess”… if “out of it” means coming to an end-all-be-all final answer that is not “42”. The only way is through it, which works best if armed with an Open Mind and a healthy dose of Mutual Respect.

    And frankly, I think the Bloggernacle does a better job of managing the journey through the mess than does the church, so I wouldn’t be too hard on the bloggernacle.

  35. Mark,
    I roomed with a self-righeous troll type for a cople of years. The whole internet is infested with them, as I’m sure you’re well aware. I can usually recognize them, and Bryce doesn’t write anything like one.
    I think Bryce expected to draw some fire by quoting President Lee’s characterization of those openly doubt, disdain, or deride the leadership, practices, or teachings of the Church as less than fully faithful. So, what happened? As if right on cue, you of all people then went into high dudgeon that he would have the brazen nerve to dredge this up to criticize your in-group, walked over to his blog, and busted him in the chops. As Mr. Spock might say, lifting an eyebrow, “Fascinating”.
    Nobody had to say another word.

  36. Confutus,

    I’ll repeat again, not only do I regret the way I participated, I regret that I even participated at all.

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