On the CES Letter

A handful of people have asked me over the last few months about the infamous CES Letter, which is purportedly responsible for assisting thousands of people to leave the LDS Church. What do I think about it? How would I answer every one of the issues it addresses? I haven’t left the Church so how would I refute it? Enough people have inquired privately about this, that I decided to sit down and write a response, which depending on your point of view might not be worth the two cents I paid for it, but it is what it is.

First, I hope it’s obvious that no one is under any moral or intellectual obligation to somehow become aware of and then exhaustively analyze every possible supposed defense of or attack on their faith or community or even their beliefs about ostensibly non-religious issues. I’m unaware of any compelling argument that requires me to read this or that in order to “make the right decision” about anything.

However, I have perused this particular document, and having been involved in Mormon studies and (graduate studies in general) for several years, I’ve seen enough to recognize it as more or less founded in the same quasi-scientific and point-by-point framework as much of FARMS and FAIR. The CES Letter and FARMS/FAIR are two sides of the same coin. If you set your religious thinking within that kind of framework, then the Letter might have an equal chance to satisfy or devastate or enrage you. There are many members (and leaders) of the church who see the world in this way.

But this isn’t the only way to see the world or religion, and if you are familiar with sophisticated writings by philosophers, theologians, and historians in other faiths (and in some cases in the Mormon faith), you know this is the case, one of the best fruits of an education in the humanities and in theology. I’ve long inhabited this forbidden middle zone where I’m often not considered faithful enough or even dangerous by conservatives and an academic who engages in mental gymnastics to hide the truth from myself by certain progressive Mormons and former Mormons. I’ve come to a fairly peaceful place with all that and see both those sides as equally boring. I like the imagination and creativity and hard work and uncertainty of being in the middle (and yes, that means that the common sin of the other two sides is an aggressive lack of imagination and creativity). I don’t find it to be a frustrating or depressing place. On the contrary I usually find it both intellectually and spiritually exhilarating and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s also an all-too privileged sphere, whose primary sin is its exclusive elitism. That absolutely needs to change, and I’m an advocate for throwing the doors open to any who want to live here and help us figure it out, as well as providing the tools and education to do so. (For the record, I think it’s clear that academic institutions are both a gift and a curse in this regard, and are in need of serious reform).

Anyway. I’m not impressed or angered or dismayed or empowered by the CES Letter, except that it’s a kind of sobering sign and symptom of where we ended up as a culture. I have no reason to disbelieve those who decided it was too painful to remain with the Church, or use the Letter as their exit assist, because I find it painful on a regular basis, so much so that having some kind of painful relationship to institutional Mormonism has almost become a kind of Mormon catechism, embedded in the life of the Mormon who can’t or won’t conform to the kind of persona that contemporary Mormonism has come to demand.

In that sense I find the CES Letter to be a kind of dead scarecrow, planted in a field of mourning and suffering, something like a symbol and a warning for where things have shifted for large numbers of people on no small account (but not exlusively) because of our religion’s fraught and often poorly handled encounter with secular culture. I get that, I live there, too, even if I see the world differently. Does it finally give voice to something I’ve long thought but found hard to articulate? No. I find plenty of things in the Mormon past and present difficult to accept, but for effective communication, and genuine dialogue, form matters as much as content, and the ways in which FARMS/FAIR and then the CES Letter have long sought to illustrate the significance of our religion and set up the stakes for debate I do not find compelling at all, and in many cases I see as unnecessarily detrimental.

This coin, of which FARMs and the Letter are two sides is meant to make things easier, either to stay or to leave. Just drop it in the vending machine slot and out pops a pretty little package full of reasons to help you justify and better articulate your already-held assumptions. But there is a crucial (Kierkegaardian) sense in which the spiritual life is to be made harder, in which both staying and leaving are meant to be difficult and fraught. Not unbearable, of course. Not miserable. But also, not comforting to the point of numbness or willful naivete of internal and external challenges. Whether one stays or leaves, the life of the spirit as well as the intellectual life is meant to be challenging, constantly re-inventing, and paradigm-undermining.

To paraphrase Tom Waits: The Church–and religion in general–can be a hellish place for some and a celestial place for others, but bad writing and thinking are destroying the quality of both our suffering and our joy by obscuring the deeper difficulties and the deeper significance of things that are meant to make leaving or staying much more meaningful and much much more challenging and invigorating.

Comments

  1. Aaron Brown says:

    So, you’re saying you really believe there were two Elijah Ables.

    Lovely.

  2. trevorprice924 says:

    Good thoughts, Jacob. I think you accurately explain where the CES letter (and FAIR) are effective and where they aren’t.

    The middle road can be hard, but it’s certainly more rewarding.

  3. This is so good. Thank you.

  4. An Anon Nom says:

    I pretty much agree, but why don’t I hear things like this at church, or at GC, or in church pubs?

  5. You’re just hanging out in the wrong church pubs.

    (Yes, the church owns a chain of Irish pubs. Somebody add that to the CES letter.)

  6. JeannineL says:

    I want to go to a church pub.

  7. There’s a church pub in Abita Springs, Louisiana. They serve a great gyro, and the shrimp salad is also excellent.

  8. An Anon Nom says:

    Wow, cool. I guess I should have asked why I’m not hearing about church pubs in church publications. Maybe my assumptions are all wrong–I seem to be discovering new things all the time! ;)

    But why don’t I hear things like the original post at church, or at general conference, or in church publications?

  9. Mary Lythgoe Bradford says:

    Where can I read this letter??

  10. I don’t mean to be only flippant. This is a wonderful post, and describes the tension in the middle wonderfully.

  11. Thank you so much. I loathe the CES letter just as much as I loathe institutional apologetics, and this post covers a lot of what I feel but didn’t quite have the right words for – that the CES letter and FAIR etc. represent a kind of thinking that is simply alien to me. I lack the education necessary to know the formal words to describe it, but it feels like all of those arguments are built on assumptions. They seem to think their houses are built on rocks, but to me those rocks are just styrofoam.

  12. Church publications, conference talks, etc. fortunately seem to be either oblivious of the CES Letter or think it’s not worth mud wrestling with it. I couldn’t agree more with the church’s approach to ignore it.

  13. “I hope it’s obvious that no one is under any moral or intellectual obligation to somehow become aware of and then exhaustively analyze every possible supposed defense of or attack on their faith or community or even their beliefs about ostensibly non-religious issues. I’m unaware of any compelling argument that requires me to read this or that in order to “make the right decision” about anything.”

    From The Ethics of Belief by William Kingdon Clifford:

    Inquiry into the evidence of a doctrine is not to be made once for all, and then taken as finally settled. It is never lawful to stifle a doubt; for either it can be honestly answered by means of the inquiry already made, or else it proves that the inquiry was not complete.

    ‘“But,” says one, “I am a busy man; I have no time for the long course of study which would be necessary to make me in any degree a competent judge of certain questions, or even able to understand the nature of the arguments.” Then he should have no time to believe.

  14. You had me at Kierkegaard.

  15. John Mansfield says:

    For a couple years I had an office at UCLA in a building called Engineering IV, a much nicer building than the utilitarian name might imply. My office and those of most I dealt with were on the fourth floor, but many mornings I would first ride the elevator up to the fifth floor to look out a large floor-to-ceiling window toward the southwest. Now and then the haze was light enough that I could see the ocean. There were no classrooms or lecture halls in this building, only offices and lab space, but it was a public building on a public university campus, so the hallways were open to the public, and we were told not to kick any strange people out, just call campus security if there was a problem.

    I never saw any strange members of the public in the building, but one day I came upon a manifesto of sorts pinned to a bulletin board. Someone had done the favor of laying out in a dozen typed pages of Descartes-like reason and observation that we academics in our ivory tower were all wrong about thermodynamics. Work-heat equivalence, second law of thermodynamics, heat conduction? A bunch of fables passed along from teacher to student since Joule, Carnot, and Fourier.

    I made a copy for myself, thinking it would be an interesting exercise sometime to identify where the errors were that led to such conclusions, but I never found the necessary conjunction of time and interest to dig into it. It’s probably still lying in a box in the attic packed when we left Los Angeles fifteen years ago. I still think it would be a mildly worthwhile intellectual exercise to analysis it, but I strongly doubt there would have been any value at all in debating its author, for either myself or him.

    Pulling up the 84-page CES letter, I find its author did not once invoke Galileo, so it has that going for it.

  16. “Momo, come back!”

  17. Momo, even if I accept Clifford as correct (which I don’t think is necessary), I don’t think there’s anything wrong with declining to take a position of belief or disbelief as to any given doctrine. Nor is there anything wrong with choosing the course of one’s own analysis rather than letting others assign that course by way of attacks on what one may or may not even believe in the first place. I don’t see any reason to let the the FAIR/FARMS/Runnells approach steer my own inquiry. That approach is tiresome and, in my estimation, kind of dumb.

  18. I don’t know about this letter and it’s hard to make sense of this blog post without the context for what inspired it. Please link since Aaron’s comment about Elijah Abel spiked my interest.

  19. J. Stapley says:

    Jacob, I haven’t been involved in FAIR/FARMS as you put it enough to know if your characterization is fair. I’ve skimmed through the CES letter, and your comments make sense to me there, but I know folks involved with FAIR and the Maxwell Institute that don’t conform to that type of binary.

  20. J. Stapley says:

    Rulon, Aaron was just trolling. The letter is basically a laundry list of everything that positivists have gotten wound up about.

  21. Do you think the institution itself has played a role in encouraging this point-by-point framework that persists in the FAIR/CES LETTER debate? My feeling, having grown up in the church, is the framework is a result of the way we approach teaching… Line upon line and precept upon precept feels very much like point by point. It’s all true or it’s all a fraud. So even if someone in the church wants to approach discipleship and worship in a more sophisticated way, they are continually reminded that the institution sees things as black and white and seems to want its members to fall into that paradigm. And that makes it difficult, because if we’re going to approach it point-by-point, it often feels like the critics have more points.

  22. An Anon Nom says:

    Greg, precisely.

    Again, I agree with most of the comments here. But (again), why don’t I hear these kinds of insightful comments, the kind of thoughtful and nuanced words of the original post, in my transactions with the church–attending weekly meetings, watching general conference, and reading church publications?

  23. This I the pr equivalent of “We’re not going to comment on frivolous litigation,” which of course comments on it while pretending not to.

    If you’re going to ignore it, ignore it. If you’re going to say something, respond to the specifics. But responding with this sort of annoyed, dismissive tone of “well read people aren’t convinced by big lists” has to be the most BCC post ever.

    It just reeks of Mormon academic insecurity: I don’t have time to explain to small minds why I believe in magic rocks and sword yielding angels commanding adultery because I enjoy the struggle of believing. Now you’ll have to excuse me while I get back to writing a paper about how the guarded optimism of Camus is both similar to, and different from, Moroni’s.

  24. Josh Smith says:

    Forbidden middle zone …

    The “forbidden middle zone” is where I’m at, but I don’t have it quite figured out, yet. Something is off in my approach. I can feel it. I have moments where I’m excited about new ideas, where I read, where I feel greater compassion for others. I guess, where I really feel alive.

    But my constant fight in the “forbidden middle zone” is apathy. So often I just don’t give a damn.

    Assume my problem isn’t biochemical (which it almost certainly is to some degree), but assume that it isn’t. What have others of you folks out in the “forbidden middle zone” done to keep it exciting?

  25. Jacob: Excellent. I may agree with every word (which is unheard of for me!) I read or infer that you would agree that the CES letter (that kind of thinking, anyway) is or can be damaging to a certain kind of religious thinking, to a certain view of the Church. Is that fair? Your response is not to ‘answer’ the CES letter, but to change the frame, to move to the middle.

    Mary Bradford and others: I’m not inclined to post a link or copy of the CES letter, but note that the letter, as well as other commentary, comes right up on the first page of a (Google) search on “CES letter”.

  26. The CES Letter makes specific claims. FairMormon (the name under which they’ve operated now for more than two years, BTW) has responded, showing where many of those claims are either false, misleading, or don’t tell the entire story.

    Is it your argument, Jacob, that both sides are equally right and/or equally wrong? That facts are so open to interpretation that they effectively stop being facts and are only opinions? That no response should be made to charges that LDS leaders have been and still are engaging in deception and falsehood on a massive scale? That Latter-day Saints should just shrug their shoulders and admit that the CES Letter is “one way to see it, I suppose”? And how does all of this fit into the temple covenant to sustain and defend the kingdom of God, or the instructions given by Joseph Smith in D&C 123?

    I’m genuinely interested in your thoughts on these questions.

  27. An Anon Nom says:

    Mike P, I don’t think the original post satisfies the types of issues you bring up of defending church and leaders. It’s more along the lines of a golden rule, other cheek, basic christianity sort of thing, mixed with a healthy dose of liberal mormon pragmatism.

  28. The CES Letter is one disaffected 20-something. FARMS and FAIR have had literally hundreds of different authors, editors, and contributors for decades. Equating the two as opposite sides of the same coin simply doesn’t work.

  29. I admit I have a hard time relating to Jacob’s rarified position in the middle, and I guess I don’t understand half of what he said. What’s virtuous about being in the middle? Why is a state of constant pain in one’s relationship to Mormonism a good thing? What is wrong with explicitly listing one’s specific questions/doubts/testimonies or citing evidences in hopes to arrive at a preponderance? I read this piece and it’s as though it’s meant to come from a position above the fray, but it doesn’t seem to have any superior wisdom to offer. It just finds the conflict tiresome and irrelevant, and doesn’t explain to me why.

  30. Not sure what letter everyone is talking about. Can someone send a link?

  31. @Ben S, The CES Letter just gave a platform to the hundreds of different authors, editors, and contributors. It was a megaphone for the side opposite of FARMS and FAIR.

  32. I think Jacob’s saying less that he’s in the middle of arguments between the CES Letter folk and FAIR than that the argument between the two doesn’t have much to do with why he’s religious. It’s a bit like an argument about whether the invention of the CD player proves jazz untrue.

  33. Martin and Adam, Jacob’s not finding the conflict tiresome and irrelevant, and not making a no-comment comment.

    Instead, he’s arguing that the binary positions staked out (notably in the letter, but also in a fair amount of apologetic work) ask the wrong questions. Or maybe not the wrong questions, but a type of question he finds to misapprehend religion generally, and Mormonism specifically.

    And he’s absolutely right (in fact, if this is the most BCC post ever, I’m totally glad to be associated with BCC, though I have to up my game). Basically, Jacob’s saying that the writer of the CES letter has framed the letter in a way that isn’t entirely valuable, and he suggests an alternative approach to religion that is at once messier, more painful, and more enlightening than the version the CES letter would confine us to.

  34. I have read the CES letter and found it mostly irrelevant to my faith. Many of the issues it raises have been well-answered or found wanting in some way long ago, but that’s not why I choose to ignore it. I ignore it because my faith is not based on whether each of those issues is legitimate, or whether each has been adequately answered. It is based on real answers I get now or got in the past to real-life questions I have wrestled with during prayer. Oddly, few to none of those questions had anything to do with historical oddities in church history or scriptural historicity. I suspect that whether I am in this church or not, that place is where my faith will always reside.

  35. David Day says:

    For those asking to see the letter, just google Jeremy Runnells CES Letter. I must be one of the people who see the world in a FARMS/Letter framework. I enjoy a point by point framework. To me, these questions are crucially important. Was Joseph what he said he was, or was he a clever con man? How do you know? I apparently have not read sophisticated philosophy or theology. We do all see the world differently. For me, it’s enormously helpful for me to read and wrestle with much of the information put out both by FARMS et al and also the Runnells side of the coin. I also personally regard the Runnells letter as being a pretty good summary of the current issues with which many people are struggling and/or the reasons why many people leave.

  36. Many have asked why the balanced and open-minded approach advocated by Jacob is missing from church sermons, publications and manuals. I have an explanation.

    Once upon a time, about 100 years ago, there was some semblance of intellectual and political balance within the church hierarchy. Scholars like B.H. Roberts and John Widtsoe co-existed, though not always peacefully, with the more conservative brethren. Their differences of opinion were often well known and publicized, but were generally viewed by most members as honest disagreements regarding matters where the scriptures and other sources provide no definitive answers.

    Over time, however, the conservative wing won out and took steps to ensure that only those of like mind would fill vacancies in church leadership positions. As a result, I do not think we will ever again see the likes of Leonard Arrington, Hugh B. Brown or J. Reuben Clark in positions of authority.

    So, if you’re looking for an explanation for “our religion’s fraught and often poorly handled encounters with secular culture,” to use Jacob’s phraseology, look no further than the supreme emphasis placed today on conformity within the church and its unwillingness grant admission to the inner sanctum to anyone with heterodox views.

  37. I think Jacob is correct that neither FAIR/FARMS nor the CES letter are significant for their prose or philosophical sophistication and it is also the case that both tend to assume that a symbolic or pragmatic approach to the LDS faith is not only intellectually untenable but undesirable. Still, I think it’s important that we not insinuate somehow that historical thinking per se, which is the primary driver of both FAIR/FARMS and the CES letter, represents in any way “bad thinking.” History can be done badly, can be done apologetically or tendentiously, ignoring one’s own presuppositions and interpretive perspective, but history as a mode of inquiry is crucially important for anyone interested in understanding the origin, development, and even meaning of his/her faith, beliefs, cultural practice, etc.

    So by portraying FAIR/FARMS and the CES letter as simply mirror images of each other, equally quasi-scientific, reductionistic, or myopic, I think it may obscure what they are actually trying to do, whether thinking historically about traditional faith claims is something worthwhile, and if one of these general interpretations succeeds purely on historical grounds more than the other.

  38. FarSide: fair, though I don’t know I’d call J Reuben Clark a fellow traveller of Arrington or Brown.

  39. matt b. and Sam Brunson describe my position well.

  40. “Was Joseph what he said he was, or was he a clever con man?”

    You can’t think of any other options??

  41. I am not sure if this fits the sentiment you are describing, but reading your post made me think of this quote, which sums up my feelings on the whole CES letter & FAIR back and forth:

    “My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don’t really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn’t exist, and there are some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care.”

    ― Donald Miller

  42. @Kristine: “You can’t think of any other options??” General Authorities repeatedly confirm that “what he said he was” vs. “clever con man” is precisely the binary question we’re supposed to answer.

  43. Jake, they may. That doesn’t make it any more valuable a binary question; if you can’t think of anything between the two, that says more about you than it does about Joseph Smith.

  44. The CES Letter and FARMS/FAIR are not the same; Even FARMS and FAIR are quite different from one another. But in my view (and I’m far from alone in this) they are near mirror opposites that occupy the same methdological and epistemological world. It’s a world in which most people are either enemies or allies, the tools of analysis are the tools of scientific modernism and neopositivism, and apologetics and the disaffected engine have become enterprises unto themselves rather than something that points people to Christ (or a greater Good, perhaps, in the case of the Letter and post-Mormons). The language of defense is the language of war; the language of proof is the language of science, but not science per se, but the metaphysical use of scientific discourse as a weapon. This is not the language of community, and certainly not the language of Zion.

    There are few things more contentious than this in online Mormonism, so passionate disagreement on both sides and in the middle is to be expected (which doesn’t of course, by itself, show that my position is “true.”) I’ve seen individual contributors to FAIR and FARMS speak and write differently (though certainly not all), but as organizations, they have institutionally been brought to bear in this manner.

    Many if not most participants in apologetic organizations feel that these organizations help people (and no less themselves) to keep covenants of supporting the Church or defending the Kingdom. If this is true, I can find no universally prescriptive source for this injunction. One can serve or “build up” the kingdom in myriad ways.

  45. Jake, that still doesn’t make it a good question, let alone an interesting one.

  46. Clark Goble says:

    FarSide, I’m not sure that’s correct. You have some pretty well known figures with a lot of influence like Dalin Oaks. If anything the era of the backlash to Widstoe, Roberts etc. died out in the 90’s. There’s still a little bit persisting, but not that much. Further the amount of knowledge had today is just astronomically more than was held by Roberts and company. I’m not saying there aren’t remaining issues. There are. But I think the state of affairs is greatly exaggerated.

    Kristine, while there are other choices than con man or prophet, there aren’t that many. Especially once you start reading his history. There was some kind of plate Joseph had. It had to come from somewhere. While it’s possible he was either self-deceived or deceived by someone else, it’s hard to come up with a compelling narrative in which that makes much sense.

  47. I think Adam Miller did a pretty good job during his Mormon Stories interview of articulating that this kind of approach can also be found outside of an “intellectual” one, and that it is even to be found in the basic teachings of Mormonism. In fact, I remember that it took Dehlin by surprise because he just wasn’t use to thinking about religion this way. While it may be true that these kind of simple “truths” are easy to overlook and may not always even emphasized by most members and leaders but if you start to scratch the surface you’ll find them. I do think reading intellectual/philosophical/theological books are helpful for many in that they assist one in being able to see them with new eyes, but there others those that able to discern them that don’t necessarily need that.

  48. “‘Was Joseph what he said he was, or was he a clever con man?’
    “You can’t think of any other options??”

    I honestly can’t, Kristine. Joseph Smith made very specific claims about himself, his mission, and what he experienced. People associated with him made very specific claims about who he was and what they experienced in connection with him. Those claims are either true or they are false. Joseph Smith was either a prophet who spoke with God, was visited by angels, and received divine revelation, or he was a deluding or delusional individual who made fraudulent claims to suit some hidden agenda.

    The antipathy some of the bloggerati have toward defending the truth claims of the restored gospel simply baffles me. LDS beliefs are, by their very nature, polarizing. One cannot be a Latter-day Saint without coming into conflict with the beliefs and standards of other faiths and the world at large. We can, of course, handle those conflicts with grace and charity, and avoid contention (and we most definitely should do that), but we’re also called repeatedly in scripture, in the temple, and by Church leaders to stand up for what we believe, to defend the kingdom of God, and to bear testimony of the truths we have received.

    If Jeremy Runnells is right, then we should all abandon the Mormon faith and seek something different. If he’s wrong, then we are bound by duty and principle to point out (charitably) where and why he is wrong. I don’t see why that simple idea bothers some people. And I don’t see Jacob can seriously compare Runnells’ letter to the response of FairMormon and other believing Latter-day Saints.

  49. Clark Goble says:

    Jacob, first off I think it incorrect to say FARMS (or presumably now The Interpreter) are only using scientific modernism and neopositivism. For one, there was a rather sustained set of attacks on neopositivism by FARMS. (Alan Goff is one of the prime examples such as in “Uncritical Theory and Thin Description: The Resistance to History” but there are quite a few who adopt a very careful and conscious focus on hermeneutics) Certainly there’s been a bit of a recent divide between the Maxwell Institute which focuses more in questions of hermeneutics via close textual readings and The Interpreter crowd who prefer the tools of science. But for one the divide between these two is almost certainly overstated (despite some bad blood between some individuals). Even going beyond that though I’m not sure one could possibly really separate the two that much.

    Now I’m a big science guy, my background is physics, and I tend to think a scientific approach is the wisest of all. But it doesn’t take much to realize one quickly reaches limits when dealing with a text like the Book of Mormon (the amount of redaction and editing by people of very diverse eras, languages and cultures is staggering when just considering what the text claims). The main scientific issues (metals, swords, horses) have some explanations but of course they’re not satisfactory to everyone. Further the explanations are themselves made on the basis of textual hermeneutics and language rather than science as such.

    So I just find this opposition set up with FARMS kind of odd. There’s no doubt FARMS, Fair and others have published bad apologetics at times. It continually strikes me as odd how often it seems like that’s all that is looked at.

  50. “General Authorities repeatedly confirm that “what he said he was” vs. “clever con man” is precisely the binary question we’re supposed to answer.”

    To me, the answer to that question depends on what particular thing he said. Usually I think the leaders who have put forward this binary choice are indicating that he was either a con man or a prophet.

    So the question then becomes, what is a prophet?

    If you believe prophets are perfect or close to it, then you have two very extreme versions of what type of man Joseph Smith was. If you believe that prophets are imperfect, and just have to be good enough to be able receive spiritual revelation and follow it, then the options of what type of man Joseph was are wide and varied.

    I think anyone who has ever had a calling can see that the Lord gives inspiration to sinners. Otherwise He could not do any work at all. To me (and I certainly am no expert) the main difference between a prophet and a primary teacher is that a prophet has the authority to access revelation for more people. It does not necessarily mean the prophet is more charitable, saintly, or anything else.

  51. Marc:

    I don’t think anyone here has claimed prophetic infallibility. Certainly the individuals connected with the late FARMS organization and today’s FairMormon have never done so.

    Your argument is irrelevant, therefore. His personal imperfections granted, was Joseph Smith a prophet, or wasn’t he? That’s a binary that deserves an answer. Situating one’s self in the “middle” (whatever that means) doesn’t answer the question; it merely avoids dealing with the personal discomfort some appear to have with messy questions that set people of good will at odds with each other.

  52. Josh Smith says:

    “Situating one’s self in the “middle” (whatever that means) doesn’t answer the question; it merely avoids dealing with the personal discomfort some appear to have with messy questions that set people of good will at odds with each other.”

    Right. And?

  53. Josh,

    “And,” that’s fine: If one has a personal discomfort with defending the truth claims of the gospel, one is free to not engage in the debate. Most people in the Church are in this camp, I’d argue.

    But it isn’t right for those who believe — and who have made covenants to defend the kingdom of God and who presumably take D&C 123 seriously — to equate those who attack the restored gospel with those who defend against those attacks. Facts are facts, and either Jeremy Runnells’ facts are facts or they are not. If they are not, then they deserve a response.

  54. Mike, I’m not sure that I understand your point either. But I think that’s what Jacob was getting at in his original post with his Kierkegaard reference. At some point we all need to take a leap of faith despite the personal discomfort.

    And I wasn’t suggesting prophet infallibility. There is a range of options between infallibility and con artist.

  55. Clark Goble says:

    Not a fan of Kierkegaardian leaps of faith since they justify leaps of faith to falsehood nearly as much as any other kind IMO. That’s not to say we don’t have to take risk and make leaps. We do in nearly every aspect of our life. However hopefully we do so in an informed way and look over our life to see when assumptions are wrong.

    Certainly it’s quite possible to bracket many questions and proceed onward. People do that all the time. How wise that is depends upon the circumstance. I tend to think that evidence should matter a great deal in our actions. I know that’s not what Jacob meant, but I can think of plenty of times people put their head in the sand and avoid critical issues. Maybe it’s because they’re boring. Maybe it’s because they seem risky. Maybe it’s because they don’t want the responsibility that comes with the knowledge. (It’s hard not to make ties to many contentious issues on the borderline of science and politics, but I’ll avoid making an already passionate debate more passionate)

  56. Actually, with reference to Kierkegaard I was referring to his inclination to make things harder for complacent or all too certain and comfortable Christians rather than easier, Jim Faulconer’s “Book of Mormon Made Harder” series vs. David Ridge’s “Book of Mormon Made Easier.”

  57. I like Jacob’s approach. Practically speaking, however, I view church activity in a cost-benefit analysis. All the CES letters and ponder-izing aside, if church activity makes you on the whole better off, then you should keep on keeping on. My church activity made me – on the whole- worse off, so I left. After an incredibly painful transition period, the levels of happiness and peace in my life increased dramatically. You don’t have to try so hard. If it’s not working, it’s not working. Heavenly Father understands and loves you regardless.

  58. “First, I hope it’s obvious that no one is under any moral or intellectual obligation to somehow become aware of and then exhaustively analyze every possible supposed defense of or attack on their faith or community or even their beliefs about ostensibly non-religious issues.”

    So much this. So. Much. I’m not required to read the latest ex-Mo blog post that “everyone should like and share!!!!” to determine my feelings about Mormonism anymore than I should be required to read about the intricacies of steel and jet fuel to determine my feelings about 9/11 Truthers.

  59. John Mansfield says:

    “He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people, except for those in some middle zone who would be far less simplistic about it.”

  60. was Joseph Smith a prophet, or wasn’t he? That’s a binary that deserves an answer.

    Or a baggage-laden leading question.

  61. If FairMormon and the CES Letter are two sides of the same coin, then that coin is called “the LDS Church lives or dies on the reality of certain historical events and theological claims”. It actually matters whether or not priesthood authority was restored to Joseph and Oliver, or whether they made that part up. It actually matters whether Joseph was God’s prophet, or whether he was a crook, crazy, deeply misguided, or otherwise not a recognized servant of God. It actually matters whether modern LDS leaders are carriers of God’s priesthood keys, or just wise old men.

    The alternative coin, as I have understood it described in this post and across numerous other posts and discussions, is called “it’s all about community and struggle”. These are rather ethereal concepts that provide excellent opportunities for the intelligentsia to wax poetic, but they hardly speak to the issues that formed this community in the first place. It comes dangerously close to looking more and more like a mere “Community of Christ”.

    When the rubber hits the road and a mother is concerned about her son who is struggling over, say, Book of Mormon historicity, FairMormon is going to have a lot more to offer her than the friendly bloggernacle. In terms of concrete, digestible, and valid ways of (A) interpreting all the data, (B) adjusting paradigms, (C) not abandoning those fundamentals that make us what we are, and (D) fortifying faith, FairMormon is a treasure (apparently the brethren think similarly, as they sent/allowed Michael Otterson to present at the FairMormon Conference). It needs to be supported by all faithful Latter-day Saints.

  62. Clark Goble says:

    John, I think there has to be a kind of “economic” decision about where we place our efforts at inquiry. Clearly we can’t read all written on the subject. Nor should we. The ultimate place of inquiry has to be on personal revelation. Once we have a strong enough witness then not knowing the answers to some questions shouldn’t bother us. Hearing about polygamy, racism or horses in the Book of Mormon won’t disturb us.

    That said though, hopefully we are aware enough of the issues to know that perhaps all our religious assumptions aren’t correct. That we have to continue to keep learning. Honestly I’d be happy if the average member would just prayerfully read the scriptures regularly.

    So I hope no one thinks I’m arguing all the nuance of debate matters. It doesn’t. And frankly no one could be informed enough to be able to judge them all. I enjoy reading the debates about a mesoAmerican setting for instance. However I’m not versed enough to tell when Sorenson or Gardner are making an egregious error. At best I can analyze the arguments, assuming the given evidence is accurate on its own terms and then read the counterarguments. But it’s unrealistic to expect the typical member to do that.

    However I do think it important to discover whether Joseph really was a prophet and ask oneself what that means. It’s that basic truth that I think matters.

    The analogy I often make is from my own field of physics. There’s a ton of evidence for Quantum Mechanics and a ton of evidence for General Relativity. But in some narrow ways the are incompatible. Greater minds than mine have been arguing about grand unified theories. I can’t even understand the math of superstring theory let alone argue with someone where it got wrong. I know there are problems and lots of conundrums. But I know enough to know that for what I deal with QM and GR are correct, regardless of the contradictions.

    To me that’s the situation we have in the gospel. I may not be able to satisfactorily explain the Book of Mormon’s references to steel, horses, or swords. But I know enough to know that whatever the answer is, it won’t invalidate the Book of Mormon.

  63. Post summary: I’m smart, and smart people view things in a nuanced way and don’t care what the actual history of the church is. If you don’t see things my way you must be stupid, uneducated, or both. Also, I kinda sorta know of this guy from Denmark. I’ll reference him for credibility.

  64. James, then you didn’t understand the post.

    That’s fine if you see the world in black and white, perfect prophet or perfect fraud. But why is your limited worldview binding on my understanding? If you understand Jacob to say it doesn’t matter if there was a priesthood restoration, you misunderstand Jacob, to your detriment. If you understand him as saying he doesn’t care whether Joseph was a prophet, you misunderstand him.

    If, however, you understand him to reject your approach that either Joseph was a blameless, agency-less vessel of God’s will or an evil fraud, well, there I suspect you understand him. So frame religion as you will, but don’t think your framing is either necessary or normative.

  65. Seems to me you’re misreading James as much as he (you say) is misreading Jacob. One hardly has to be embrace a binary worldview to think truth claims matter. The CES/FARMS/FAIR debate is precisely about those truth claims, and take that general framework and say “this isn’t the only way to see the world or religion” “there is a middle ground” sounds far too much like a complete rejection of the validity of those claims, not merely another way of viewing them. I suppose there are many different “middle ways” depending on what you think the endpoints of any particular spectrum are, but that term’s been largley poisoned by John Dehlin’s “middle ground” of rejecting all truth claims, but still (at least in the past) wanting to embrace the Church for social or moral reasons.
    So it’s hardly surprising to find people misreading the post.

  66. Clark Goble says:

    Jacob, I obviously am very influenced by Jim. I definitely do have issues with Kierkegaard I admit. (Keith Lane keeps trying to convert me to the K fold) Personally I find Kierkegaard to be a distraction rather than a help for Mormonism. But I know some people like Keith get a ton out of him. And I don’t want to reject him entirely. There are key aspects of some of my favorite philosophers like Heidegger which come out of Kierkegaard.

    To me though what’s key is that if I take a leap of faith I also take up a kind of responsibility. For risk to be risk demands that I take a responsibility such that I have to pay attention to failure. I think when Jim takes up Kierkegaard with regards to religious commitment it’s a Kierkegaard very much transformed by Heidegger and Levinas. So the anxiety we face is this taking up of Kierkegaard. And you’re right that Kierkegaard done right entails these risks. It’s just that there’s a received K which is perhaps oversimplified. To me though this moment of authenticity in Heidegger where you break out of das man makes demands on me. Ethical demands (which is where Levinas gets at a phenomena Heidegger doesn’t address as well – although I think elements of it are in Heidegger’s notion of resoluteness)

    With regards to Mormon thought though this implies an ethical demand to know. The things themselves made a demand on me. (I’d argue the things make this demand ala Alma 32, but other might disagree) To turn aside to a middle ground is intrinsically to renounce this ethical demand that the religious phenomena makes. Intrinsically religion is often set up with this demand, although particular religious often repress this demand such that conformity to society is preferred. So the idea of Christ rising from the dead is radical and impossible to reconcile to current scientific understanding. It makes a demand upon us precisely because we can’t know and we have to inquire. Yet that inquiry brings more demands. I think the same thing happens with Mormonism precisely because Christ rising is such a part of our culture that it gets covered over precisely by being familiar.

    It seems to me that the Joseph Smith story makes this ethical demand precisely because it presents a story that can’t easily be explained. Critics of course have a lot of good arguments. But you’re left with this young fairly uneducated and ridiculously poor kid somehow writing this complicated book and having these heavy metal plates. It’s not perfect, so there’s always essentially room for critics to raise doubt. But that very ability to raise doubt is what enables the ethical demand. We’re at a point were there are doubts for both positions yet a truth which seems very significant. Neither side can provide a convincing explanation in terms of the everyday discussions we have. It’s something that intrinsically stands out from everydayness. That demand then can be taken up or explicitly rejected.

    What I’m saying is that regardless of the particular minutiae that critics or defenders raise, in terms of every day evidence they can’t provide a satisfactory narrative. You either take up the demand, decide the evidence against is sufficient to not worry about the rest or go the other direction. However if one takes up that demand then one has to make the personal risk of making that decision. Now the Mormon says this is resolvable through private experience – revelation. The critic will discount this by challenging the idea of revelation or making the problems seem large enough so as to preclude trying revelation.

    It’s that element of risk and demand which I worry is lost in the middle ground you espouse.

  67. I submit to you, Sam Brunson, that you didn’t correctly read my characterization of the issue. I certainly don’t believe that Joseph was a “perfect prophet or perfect fraud” or “a blameless, agency-less vessel of God’s will or an evil fraud”. In fact, I took pains to help the careful reader understand that that isn’t my contention in the slightest.

    My contention is that the reality of certain historical and theological claims do, in fact, matter. They form the foundation of faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Without them, we become something other than what we have always claimed to be, and what has drawn converts far and wide into our covenant community. You can’t jettison them and not lose what makes us special, or, what makes us “the only true and living church”.

    If that is true, then the work that FairMormon does is important. It is not black and white thinking, except for the simple question of whether or not Joseph was a prophet or not (and no, that doesn’t necessitate that he was *always* a prophet). If it is true, it makes what Jeremy Runnells does all the more dangerous to our faith, and makes a well-reasoned response all the more necessary. These are things we should agree on.

  68. peterllc wrote::

    “was Joseph Smith a prophet, or wasn’t he? That’s a binary that deserves an answer.”
    Or a baggage-laden leading question.

    I’m genuinely interested to know if you would consider the opening questions asked in the temple recommend interview “baggage-laden” and “leading.”

    (I’m not trying to be snarky. That’s a sincere query.)

  69. Look folks, nobody’s telling you that you *must* take the middle road if you’re a smart, educated, sophisticated person. Nobody’s saying the fact that some take a middle road means the more black-and-white paths should be threatened.

    Some people view the world differently than you. It doesn’t have to represent a threat. I personally don’t understand the black-and-white view probably in the same way many of them don’t understand my view.

  70. “Post summary: I’m smart, and smart people view things in a nuanced way and don’t care what the actual history of the church is. If you don’t see things my way you must be stupid, uneducated, or both. Also, I kinda sorta know of this guy from Denmark. I’ll reference him for credibility.”

    If only he had referenced this guy from Königsberg, then the post would be perfect.

  71. I agree that FairMormon is great for the reasons that James S. lists. But there is also immense value in being outside of that tit-for-tat paradigm altogether, acknowledging that many answers don’t exist or aren’t possible and/or that perhaps the particular hedges we’ve built around the Gospel aren’t necessary and cause us to view some things in our history as unnecessarily scary.

    This is one reason why I personally felt that Adam Miller’s Letters to a Young Mormon was in many respects the perfect “response” to the “Letter to a CES Director.” It pushes past all the minutia in the “Letter to a CES Director” and addresses the foundations of a simple Mormon faith. In doing so, it rekindles the joy of that faith and shows how to avoid both the perplexities of the CES Letter and the “struggles” or “misery” that people who don’t conform with Utah cultural standards often experience in Mormon congregations.

  72. Clark Goble says:

    If I mention the guy from Königsberg and say I don’t like him much more than the guy from Denmark do I win a prize? I’m more of the opinion the guy who should be mentioned is the guy from Arisbe.

  73. If we are doing Pragmatists, I prefer the man from Burlington, Vermont. :) There are no points. This is the battle for truth and righteousness! Not really.

    I few CES-Letter-types and FairMormon-types as battling Platonists. I have no use for their conception of truth. That said, they are most involved in peeing matches than any serious debate about truth-claims of metaphysics.

  74. *I view CES-Letter-types and FairMormon-types as battling Platonists. I have no use for their conception of truth. That said, they are mostly involved in peeing matches than any serious debate about truth-claims or metaphysics.

  75. “If we are doing Pragmatists, I prefer the man from Burlington, Vermont. :)”

    Great call!

  76. Clark Goble says:

    I like a lot from the Burlington guy. He even had a vacation home in Nova Scotia! It does seem odd to call the battle a battle among Platonists though since they are debating in terms of what public evidence does or doesn’t say. Seems quite the opposite to a platonist who always seem distrustful of empiricism.

  77. Yeah, not really Platonism. But it is a simpleton’s form of Platonistic metaphysics. I am making this up at this point. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.

  78. Josh Smith says:

    “I am making this up at this point. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.”

    There’s the solution right there folks. There’s not enough of this going on.

    My understanding of the “forbidden middle road” is that agnostics are free to wander along it. Hopefully I read that right. And my understanding is that they may wander along it for as long as they please, regardless of the hue and cry from those on other paths. And furthermore, it is my understanding that these agnostic travelers may now and again enjoy a certain iced beverage that begins with “f” and ends with “rappuccino.” That’s what I read.

  79. John F.,

    I agree with your comments here. I think you will find that most of those involved in FairMormon (I speak from firsthand experience) are very interested in the approaches to the gospel that you have mentioned. They are a fairly open-minded bunch, more than willing to call a spade a spade when necessary (even if that means going against the grain of traditional Mormon ways of thinking). They are genuinely interested in musings such as Adam Miller’s.

    Those approaches are not and should not be in contention with the ugly but necessary tit-for-tat world of apologetics. When an apologist digs in and does the hard but necessary work of engaging influential critics, let us not mistake him or her for someone who doesn’t also have an interest in more introspective and mediation-based theological explorations. I love the endless possibilities of the gospel and the theological flexibility it affords us.

    However, a line must be drawn somewhere. Some here may disagree with this notion, but it is imperative that at some point we do not bend in regard to certain basic historical and theological claims. It is up to those with the stomach for it to defend that line. Let us not disparage them, but rather thank them.

  80. So many false dichotomies.

  81. I was impressed by the recent outpouring of adulation showered on The Pope by Mormons during his recent visit, but a bit perplexed by how much was left inside. Mormons believe theirs is The Restored Church, restored after the apostasy. If Catholics can trace their claimed priesthood power all the way back to Peter and Christ, well, it’s fairly clear the implication is that it was the Catholics who apostatized. I don’t see any middle ground in that claim, and in that sense all of the particulars of The Restoration which may be considered minutia become paramount.

    Christ was a master of pedagogy and certainly knew his intended audience well. We tend to forget his audience was not the educated, the elite, the powerful, or the affluent. Christ spoke to those on the margins, the outcasts, the sick, the poor, and the downtrodden. To see His message turned into a philosophical exercise in dealing with cognitive dissonance misses the point entirely.

  82. And maybe the Lord needs the Pope to be a moral leader for the world’s nearly 1 billion Catholics and he has been called to fill that role — regardless of whether the priesthood power eventually disappeared and politics encroached on the religious office of bishop in the second or third century BCE.

    I’m willing to acknowledge the Pope’s moral leadership even if he does not belong to the same denomination as I do. The Kingdom of God is bigger than just our Church but encompasses all disciples of Jesus Christ who follow him in faith.

  83. Josh, you don’t know what I am talking about. Hush.

  84. James S., regarding your last paragraph, I have only this to say:

    Son, we live in a world that has religious truth claims. And those truth claims have to be guarded by men with scriptures and laptops. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, BCC bloggers? FairMormon has a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Runnells and you curse the Maxwell Institute. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: That Runnells’ departure from the church, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves testimonies! You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want FairMormon on the internet. You need FairMormon on the internet. We use words like “true,” “know,” “testimony.” We use those words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain Mormon apologetics to a man who goes to church meetings every Sunday under the tabernacle of the very freedom that those apologists provide, and then questions the manner in which they provide it! I would rather you just said “thank you” and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a keyboard and start writing FairMormon topic pages. Either way, I don’t give a dang what you think you are entitled to!

  85. I’d like to bear my testimony, I know The Evidence is true. I know that The Evidence will teach us right from wrong, and that without The Evidence we’d be stumbling darkness. I’m so grateful that The Evidence has been revealed in these latter days, and that by the power of The Evidence we can know all things. Amen.

  86. Doesn’t help the conversation, guys. Nor perceptions of you.

  87. I’m genuinely interested to know if you would consider the opening questions asked in the temple recommend interview “baggage-laden” and “leading.”

    The temple recommend questions aren’t aimed at settling facts like the binary formulation of “Joseph Smith was a prophet–yes or no” but in ascertaining beliefs. To me, these are two entirely different endeavors. But of course the temple recommend interview didn’t arise in a vacuum, and the questions have evolved with changing circumstances, so in that sense, sure, they are baggage-laden. As for whether the questions are leading, I probably should have characterized your binary as a loaded rather than leading question, since it assumes the definition of prophet.

  88. What Ben said. I agree with Jacob but we can do a better job of acknowledging how this letter presents real issues for many.

  89. Josh Smith says:

    Yikes. I’m out. Best of luck folks.

  90. Jacob – For folks who have encountered the CES letter and are struggling with its claims, your “middle” laissez-faire approach isn’t helpful. After all, you didn’t really address a single point made in the CES letter; rather, you dismissed it as not interesting or inspiring to you and therefore, you have attached a “label” to the letter without even addressing the content. I have seen other apologists take this same tact — but the problem here is that you come across as not willing, or worse, not able to answer the questions. There is a reason that the CES letter has gained so much traction — because it lays out facts in an easy to understand way, without the spin and whitewash from the LDS church. Unfortunately, your post comes off as another “there’s nothing to see here, just move along!” tactic that is popular among FAIR and FARMS.

  91. I agree with Jacob in many ways, but this post seems like a bit of a dismissal of those that are struggling with the CES letter. His thoughts, however, remind me of a new poem Mary Oliver is revealing on Facebook. Only the first few lines have appeared so far, but they seem to be heading in the same direction as Jacob’s thoughts. I am looking forward to reading the rest but here is a teaser. It is called The World I Live in:

    I have refused to live
    locked in the orderly house of
    reasons and proofs
    The world I live in and believe in
    is wider than that. And anyway,
    what’s wrong with maybe?

  92. Yes. I had a little in there for everyone to love and hate. Church leadership absolutely and unnecessarily engenders this kind of black and white thinking on a regular basis. It should come as no surprise that so many of its progeny follow suit. The issues broached by the Letter and addressed by apologetics at various times are legitimate, and the pain people feel should not be dismissed. It is the conceptual framework that I utterly reject for reasons already stated. Academics are by definition elitists and should work to be more egalitarian and open. I am an academic and make no apology for it, but the enterprise is in constant need of reform. And in a sense, this thread has largely been a performance of the very conclusions I tried to articulate in the post.

    One final thought, which perhaps gets at the heart of what I dislike so much about traditional apologetics and post-Mormon thinking, and which strengthens the bond between them. And then I have to bow out, at least for tonight. Both apologists and so many progressive post-Mormons often demand that you reach a particular conclusion that supports their collective ideology, and this names you as a member or enemy of their tribe. Here is historical evidence about Joseph Smith, for example. *What this amounts to* is that he is a prophet of God and must be accepted as such. Do you or don’t you accept him as a prophet based on this and other possible factors? Or, here is historical evidence about Joseph Smith. *What this amounts to* is that he is a liar and a child abuser and must be seen as such. Do you or don’t you accept him as a liar and child abuser? If you are nodding along to one of these scenarios, then you precisely represent the problem I am trying to describe. So often, institutional apologetics and what is becoming a kind of institutional post-Mormonism are not solely in the business of simply providing evidence for analysis, they’re also in the business of providing the only acceptable conclusions for such evidence, which are ultimately tests of tribal loyalty. If that’s the case–and there are plenty who agree and disagree–then that’s a serious problem.

  93. “I’m willing to acknowledge the Pope’s moral leadership even if he does not belong to the same denomination as I do. The Kingdom of God is bigger than just our Church but encompasses all disciples of Jesus Christ who follow him in faith.”

    That may very well be true, but it doesn’t negate the supposed fact they possess no priesthood authority and that they perform rituals, ceremonies, and ordinances which are not recognized by God, nor are they binding. It really is an extraordinary claim devoid of middle ground, one that needs explaining as well as defending.

  94. OneMoreLuckyGuy says:

    SGNM,

    I made a few changes to your comment. What do you think?

    “Son, we live in a world that has (evil). And (our freedoms) have to be guarded by men with (guns) and (bombs). Who’s gonna do it? You? You, (nansy pansy lady boys)? (The American Soldier) has a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for (Charlie) and you curse the (Military). You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: That (our war in Vietnam), while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves (American lives)! You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want (the military) (in Vietnam). You need (the military) (in Vietnam). We use (things) like (bullets), (bombs) and (agent orange). We use those (tools) as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain (American freedom) to a man who goes to (McDonalds) every Sunday under the (flag) of the very freedom that those (soldiers) provide, and then questions the manner in which they provide it! I would rather you just said “thank you” and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a (rifle) and start (shooting charlie/brownies yourself). Either way, I don’t give a dang what you think you are entitled to!”

  95. It’s Colonel Jessup’s speech from A Few Good Men, so the original already has the military terminology in it. Sorry for the derail.

    There are some fantastic comments here, and I would echo Ben, Steve, Jacob, and others who have approached the subject matter of the post thoughtfully and with respect both to Jacob’s reasonable, well-stated response to the CES letter and to those who do not share that approach and who find the CES letter a more compelling piece than Jacob or others might.

  96. I don’t get it. All those words to essentially say nothing. So you are a border lander. Okay, that’s fine. Why start your article with the fact that you often get questions that you essentially aren’t going to comment on? You could have answered their questions in 15 words. “I’m somewhere in the middle and I have no comment on any of the details”. Enough said.

  97. thallewell says:

    Ahh! So it was intended to sound like a military speech. Makes sense. Here I was thinking you were just a guy that worked at FAIR that had a bit of a complex. Thanks for clarifying!

  98. I think your characterization of FARMS is unfair. While the Farms Review, specifically, might be relevant to your point, the organization itself and its various publications are not interested in apologetics as much as they are in doing really good Book of Mormon (and other scriptural) scholarship. If finding context and engaging the text’s offerings through academic methodologies is apologetics, then everything is apologetics.

  99. thallewell, it was a joke based on James S’ comment that ended with basically the same idea as the Jessup speech. Alas, it fell flat.

  100. Dan wrote:

    The problem here is that you come across as not willing, or worse, not able to answer the questions. There is a reason that the CES letter has gained so much traction — because it lays out facts in an easy to understand way, without the spin and whitewash from the LDS church. Unfortunately, your post comes off as another “there’s nothing to see here, just move along!” tactic that is popular among FAIR and FARMS.

    I just about choked on my Dr Pepper at that last line. “Nothing to see here; move along” is expressly not the approach the FARMS took or FairMormon takes. If anything, the page after page after page of direct rebuttal to the arguments in Runnells’ Letter on the FairMormon web site is evidence of that.

    Not germane to the overall direction of this conversation, but I thought I’d note Dan’s odd comment before we move along.

  101. I want to thank SGNM for giving me the mental image of Jack Nicholson passionately arguing for the existence of FAIR.

    Most members live in an area away from the point-by-point assertions of both the CES Letter and FARMS/FAIR. There are times in many people’s lives, though, when those historical issues suddenly seem very important to a personal testimony. In those times, both sides of the coin are critical. If nothing else, someone needs to know that other people have been bugged enough by a historical issue to warrant investigation.

    The most common response to the polygamy essays I saw from mainstream members was, “It doesn’t matter. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet so I don’t need to know the details.” The OP may claim that being “above the fray” is a trait of intellectuals in the middle road, but most people honestly don’t think the fray is worthwhile once they’ve made the decision to become members. It is, in fact, a minority of the members who want to engage in the details. Those detail-oriented people tend to want to talk with others about the details, which is why the bloggernacle exists.

  102. Both apologists and so many progressive post-Mormons often demand that you reach a particular conclusion that supports their collective ideology, and this names you as a member or enemy of their tribe.

    And if you would just read this one thing (such as the CES Letter) you will definitely come to the correct predetermined conclusion and if you don’t you are willfully ignorant, scared, cowardly, etc. Shock: people can be aware of the same information and reach different conclusions.

  103. Thank you for this post. I had not run into the CES letter nor the FAIR response. I had to read the CES letter and than when I re-read this post it all made more sense. Enjoy your blog, stumbled on it through Twitter a year ago. Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading more.

  104. Having heard so much about the CES letter, and how persuasive and mic-dropping it was, I was disappointed to read it and find that it’s just a collection of the same trifling nitpicks I’ve been seeing in anti-Mormon literature since my mission (LOL horses in Book of Mormon land??!?!?!, etc.).

  105. My experience with the CES letter was also “Not so much of anything new here, so why waste the time?” I guess I found it trite and a huge time sink, when most of it was all stuff I had come to terms with along the way. I’ll admit that there are messy things in our history, and for those who see the church/world in a binary manner, then there is a huge chance that the CES letter can shatter your paradigm.

    I am also not a big fan of institutional apologetics. The middle ground for me is that I have had enough spiritual experiences to convince me there is something here that there may not be anywhere else, and if there are faults in the church, they are the “faults of men.” I am willing to put up with those, as I know that I am also quite fault-ridden myself, trying to do the best I can in a confusing and never quite clear space. Faith is not for the weak-hearted, as in “Yea Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.” . Reason can help and is not the only answer, but can be a valuable supplement For those interested in polemics, there is always Facebook and its meme wars. Now there is a solution for you.

  106. To paraphrase Tom Waits?

  107. kellywsmith says:

    Elder Neil L Anderson said on the Priesthood Session of this last General Conference several things that will help resolve some of these issues. Here is part of what he said:

    “Faith never demands an answer to every question but seeks the assurance and courage to move forward, sometimes acknowledging, “I don’t know everything, but I do know enough to continue on the path of discipleship.

    “Immersing oneself in persistent doubt, fueled by answers from the faithless and the unfaithful, weakens one’s faith in Jesus Christ and the Restoration. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him.

    “For example, questions concerning the Prophet Joseph Smith are not new. They have been hurled by his critics since this work began. To those of faith who, looking through the colored glasses of the 21st century, honestly question events or statements of the Prophet Joseph from nearly 200 years ago, may I share some friendly advice: For now, give Brother Joseph a break! In a future day, you will have 100 times more information than from all of today’s search engines combined, and it will come from our all-knowing Father in Heaven. Consider the totality of Joseph’s life—born in poverty and given little formal education, he translated the Book of Mormon in less than 90 days. Tens of thousands of honest, devoted men and women embraced the cause of the Restoration. At age 38, Joseph sealed his witness with his blood. I testify that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Settle this in your mind, and move forward!”

    To this I say, Amen.

  108. Kelly, sort of? I guess? I agree with Elder Anderson but Jacob’s take here is making a different point.

  109. Learning Mormon history from the Runnells/FAIR exchange is like learning macroeconomics from a US presidential debate.

  110. Written sentences and essays all have binary limitations, but the upside is they can be faithfully communicated via digital encoding.

  111. Communications via digital encoding are at their core binary.

  112. “Equating the two as opposite sides of the same coin simply doesn’t work.”

    They are opposites sides of the same coin in the sense that they are only convincing depending upon the way you lean. CES letter is only convincing to those that are inclined to disbelief the church. FAIR is only convincing to those that believe the church.

  113. Is everyone similarly dismissive of Talmage’s “The Great Apostasy,” because it too fails to recognize the middle way of viewing and practicing Catholicism?

    Be fair. It’s just a list. It’s a rough sketch outline of a Talmage-like assessment turned against Mormonism. Several items are strained. But most are things that an objective investigator would consider material disclosures.

    It does not purport to be thorough treatment of the items bullet-pointed. But, be honest, more scholarly treatments do substantiate most of the synopses in the letter.

    Importantly, it does not argue that a person can’t or shouldn’t find a fulfilling, middle-way to live Mormonism.

  114. Bryan S. wins the thread.

  115. Jack of Hearts says:

    “Is everyone similarly dismissive of Talmage’s “The Great Apostasy,” because it too fails to recognize the middle way of viewing and practicing Catholicism?”
    I doubt everyone, but I hope we’re getting to that point. The book is very interesting as a piece of historiography, but I hope that we can move away from the polemics of it. Like you note, Joel, Talmage’s technique can be turned against the Church quite easily.

  116. I have been on both sides of the coin on issues/arguments like the ones found in the CES letter.

    For most of my adult life I found acceptable arguments to discount criticisms of my mormon faith and I didn’t feel compelled to keep coming back to them. And many times, I would not think too deeply on the questions and mainly rely upon the abundance of spiritual experiences that I had and can still have to this day.

    However, for me, I recognized I really wasn’t engaging in the conversation honestly. I typically had a preconceived answer to any question or criticism and as soon as I found enough evidence or logical answers to satisfy me, I would declare victory and move on.

    It wasn’t until the past 6 years that I recognized my logical shortcomings. Which I haven’t fully overcome. But I was practicing a healthy dose of confirmation bias to maintain my faith and based upon my spiritual experiences.

    It wasn’t until I took the position of being willing to be open to either a positive or a negative answer to any question or criticism, that I have felt that I am truly getting closer to a truthful answer.

    Maybe all of you here are not subject to confirmation bias and you truly approach your faith journey’s with true intent. Only you can be the judge.

    But when I hear of glib dismissals of arguments or criticisms of ones faith it reminds me of me prior to 6 years ago.

    All the best in the journey. Only you know if you really have real intent. Or if you are a mormon like I used to be with an armful of confirmation bias and spiritual experiences. But not necessarily a lot of truth.

  117. 7mormonquestions,

    We’re humans.

    Like any criminal-defense attorney, the defenders of a religion will take evidence that is intuitively faith-diminishing and poke holes in its authenticity, explain it away with context or contend that it’s trivial. The goal: to preserve the “shadow of a doubt.” And, of course, the benefit of any doubt goes to the defender’s religion.

    Non-interested parties don’t see the world that way. That’s why a jury will convict even while the defense attorney is convinced that he successfully deflected the evidence. The jury is employing common sense that the defense attorney lost sight of. Rarely, the defendant will be acquitted because the evidence actually is crap.

    I’m sure there’s an army of Jesuit academics and apologists who believe that everything in Talmage’s “The Great Apostasy” (for example) is just stale, anti-Catholic drivel that has been “dealt with” for centuries. They smugly roll their eyes whenever someone raises the issues. And, yet, there are a billion non-Catholic Christians who remain persuaded. Indeed, that alleged apostasy is our raison d’etre, it necessitated a restoration.

  118. Some of the things in the CES letter actually deserve a glib dismissal. There is a lot of spin, a lot of effort to connect dots that don’t quite go together, a lot of uncharitable harping on human frailty, and a lot of stuff that a group like FAIR can actually address pretty convincingly. Runnells treats everything pro-Mormon as suspect, and yet he also presents recorded accounts from sources of wildly different reliability levels (hostile newspapers, odd journal entries, church publications, private letters, etc) as simple fact. He makes no effort to distinguish between “confirmed by a dozen sources, definitely true” and “appears in one or two sources, plausibly true.” Runnells is not (and to his credit does not claim to be) a sophisticated scholar.

    But… at the end of the day the big issues remain: polyandry, Abraham, OT barbarism, priesthood ban, and a general sense that the whole thing could have been made up. Whatever his faults, Runnells raises a number of key issues that are simply there. The church essays give them a bit of context. But at the end of the day, the issues are simply there. If you try, you can think of dozens of apologetic explanations (it’s actually pretty easy) but they’re all a little odd and you won’t know which if any of these explanations is correct. So the issues are there.

    And yet…. even so… there always remains the possibility that this messy, imperfect, plausibly-made-up-seeming, magical-world-view-influenced, easily made-fun-of religion is precisely the vehicle God has chosen for revealing truth. It may seem odd that God would speak to us in this particular way…. and yet, the more you think about it, the more it actually makes a kind of sense… and feels kind of right… One can even rejoice in the messiness, if one is thus inclined. Perhaps the very outlandishness argues in favor of the divine explanation… because a simple con man would have been more cautious….

    So… we block out the noise and think… and most of us end up back in the gospel, thinking mostly about the myriad positive aspects of the gospel and living our lives. But some of us leave.

    All part of the plan perhaps.

  119. BCC Followee says:

    I finally read this, and liked it a lot. I don’t like Apologetics much, and bitter ex-Mormons are even more unpleasant (I’ve considered myself in both camps at times). 1 thing: Many of the authors and readers here are brilliant, very-well educated thinkers, who can intelligently navigate the nuances of a gray world of Mormonism and find goodness in the end. As much as I love to read and engage with this crowd, it’s the 1%ish of Mormonism. For the rest of humanity-they latch onto bad arguments (for or against the Church) and maybe will do that forever. So hundreds of thousands (millions even?) will flock to the CES Letter, to the “A KID DREW PICTURES OF ANGELS W/ PRES MONSON” and shows like “Friends.” In order to properly understand and contextualize Church history, you shouldn’t need a PhD. But this historical challenges seems to be either dismissed (by Mormons at large), or dramatized and used to flee the Church in a second, Am I wrong?

  120. Douglas Taylor says:

    It seems a false comparison is being presented: CES Letter vs. FAIR, FARMS, etc. It was a letter to the LDS Church Educational System leadership, which Runnels was invited to inquire too. The only response has been from apologists, not the CES.

  121. Friends??? Things are dire indeed.

  122. What CES letter?

  123. SGNM,

    There is nothing inherently wrong with choosing one’s own course of analysis, but it might be wrong if the chosen course of analysis is faulty. Not all courses of analysis are created equal.

    It doesn’t matter what the person believes or doesn’t believe when attacking (or questioning, or scrutinizing, or whatever word you want to use) a particular doctrine. Bias should not be ignored, and belief can influence bias, but the critical analysis is the doctrine in question, not what anyone believes or doesn’t believe about it.

    Any approach (whether it be FAIR, FARMS, Runnells, your neighbors, your best friend, your enemy, etc) should only be followed to the extent it is sound.

  124. Clark Goble says:

    Momo, I think the problem is assuming there is a single approach within those groups.

  125. Clark, I don’t assume there is. To dismiss any approach out-of-hand (whether it be the FAIR/FARMS/Runnells/etc approach) is faulty because an approach most likely gets some things right and some things wrong. So to say “I don’t like the FAIR/FARMS/Runnells/etc approach,” begs the questions: why?; how is it faulty?; what does it get wrong?

    I understood SGNM’s comment to mean that he dismissed the FAIR/FARMS/Runnells approach because they, in SGNM’s estimation, attacked what they may or may not even believe in the first place. I don’t think this is a sound reason to reject their approach because it doesn’t matter (other than to the limited extent to consider bias) what FAIR/FARMS/Runnells believe or don’t when they attack or defend any particular thing.

  126. The problem with FAIR, FARMS, and all apologetics is that they are not intellectually honest. They start with the desired conclusion and then contrive the best argument they can come up with to defend it. They define success as presenting a logically possible explanation which often, upon even modest scrutiny, is actually quite improbable. (Admittedly, some church critics do likewise.)

    The biggest problem with Mormon apologetics is that they start from the premise that the church must be defended at all times, no matter how indefensible the actions or implausible the doctrine in question. In their minds, they are compelled to adopt this stance because the organization, at various times, has laid claim to being : (i) the only true church, (ii) a perfect church, (iii) an organization personally led by the Savior who calls all the shots every step of the way, which, means that church leaders are incapable of leading the members astray, (iv) that the doctrines it teaches never change and are identical to the doctrines taught in all prior dispensations, and (v) the scriptures are literal and accurate historical accounts of the events they describe.

    Though the church has been compelled to retreat from some of these positions, they still pose an almost insurmountable challenge for Mormon apologetics, which are loathe to admit that the church or its senior leadership have ever made serious mistakes. For many, such an admission would create an intolerable level of cognitive dissonance, so much so that their personal house of cards would collapse. Until they can get past this, it will be hard for people to take them seriously.

  127. “The problem with FAIR, FARMS, and all apologetics is that they are not intellectually honest.”

    As an apologist [1], I take umbrage at that remark!

    [1] Just ask John Dehlin.

  128. Steve, you can’t be an apologist because Nathaniel Givens describes you and Chris Henrichsen as “two of Dehlin’s fellow liberal Mormons.” Besides, I like your stuff (most of the time anyway), and I don’t like apologists. Case closed.

  129. Clark Goble says:

    Momo, I wasn’t really referring to your comment as doing that. Just that people who decide on a purported “method” tend to reduce a fairly diverse intellectually group to one or two papers. The opposite happens to with various naturalistic critics, many of whom are quite diverse as well. The whole “there they go again” response to critics is also unfair. So I was more taking your comments as a jumping off point. Sorry about that. I should be clearer when I’m going down a tangent. I’ll try and do better in the future.

    Also even those following a general method we might disagree with often can make very good points. For instance I disagree quite strongly with the so called neopositivist approach to history, but it’d be silly to ignore all the arguments made by people like Vogel. Even if I disagree strongly with him on most critical points, I think he raises lots of good arguments that need dealt with. Put an other way, while there are sloppy often amateur critics and apologists, a lot of people are putting forth serious arguments on both sides. Even people who might have made one or two bad arguments or even sloppy ones might have other papers that are quite solid.

    FarSide, I don’t think that’s true in the least. For one among apologists there are big disputes on various points. Perhaps in the big picture (is Mormonism true in some strong sense) you might be right. But I don’t think that means they are being intellectually dishonest. Often there the issue is what counts as evidence. Typically critics discount all private spiritual evidence while believers see it as crucial. As to the claims of say particular texts, I think apologists (broadly speaking) are trying to be as fair as possible in understanding the text. It’s true they are discounting the “it’s all fiction” view. But I don’t think they are doing so from an intellectually dishonest approach. To make that claim is generally to fundamentally misunderstand their arguments. They may be wrong of course. But one can be intellectually honest and wrong.

    I also think you’re just completely wrong about apologists defending the church at all times and in all things. I can’t think of a single major figure I’m familiar with who does that. If anything most of them condemn the members for not living their theology. Most also seem pretty open about mistakes in the past the church has done ranging from the Kirtland bank through racism. However to dispute that portrayals of mistakes are as critics portray them (often themselves exaggerated) is not to deny problems. Heck, the major stereotypical FARMS folks hated BYU taking over FARMS and see that as a mistake by the church (broadly speaking).

  130. Clark, though some apologists may be more intellectually honest than others, they all suffer from the same fatal flaw: they start with the objective of defending a given premise instead of simply articulating a hypothesis and then testing it to ascertain its veracity. This inevitably produces biased results, ones that are easily disparaged and debunked.

    Yes, every scholar and researcher brings his own biases and baggage to the table, but the good ones do not prejudge the outcome before they even begin. And when their work reveals inconvenient or unpopular truths or facts that fly in the face of the received orthodoxy, they don’t attempt to conceal them or offer a pathetic explanation such as: “Well, maybe something will be discovered or revealed in the future that will prove the church right on this issue.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that one from the pulpit.

    We all must decide where our primary loyalty lies: with the truth or with an ecclesiastical organization. Apologists have chosen the latter; I prefer the former.

  131. John Mansfield says:

    FarSide, I was reading Richard Hamming this morning on “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics”:

    “The idea that theorems follow from the postulates does not correspond to simple observation. If the Pythagorean theorem were found to not follow from the postulates, we would again search for a way to alter the postulates until it was true. Euclid’s postulates came from the Pythagorean theorem, not the other way. For over thirty years I have been making the remark that if you came into my office and showed me a proof that Cauchy’s theorem was false I would be very interested, but I believe that in the final analysis we would alter the assumptions until the theorem was true. Thus there are many results in mathematics that are independent of the assumptions and the proof.”

    Excellent, honest work is done most often by pursuing a predetermined end. If the end is incorrect and unattainable, then the seeking comes up empty.

  132. “Steve, you can’t be an apologist because Nathaniel Givens describes you and Chris Henrichsen as ‘two of Dehlin’s fellow liberal Mormons.”

    Good times. Good times.

  133. John Mansfield, for centuries that same approach was used to sustain the theory that the earth is the center of the universe and that the orbits of the planets are circular instead of elliptical. Any time evidence to the contrary reared its ugly head, the assumptions were tweaked so as to preserve the divine origins of the geocentric model and the celestial sphere model. (Either that, or the head of the person who uttered these heresies was lopped off so no one had to listen to him anymore.)

    If your point is that apologists often use the same techniques, I wholeheartedly agree. They frequently insist upon postulates that conform to their “simple observations.” The notion that they may not be observing things correctly in the first instance often never crosses their mind. And they seemingly are never deterred when their “seeking comes up empty.”

  134. Mary Lythgoe Bradford says:

    Now I need to lie down with a cold compress!!

  135. Mary, it is always great to see your name pop up here.

    My wife and I were in the Arlington Ward from 1977-1980 while I was attending law school at Georgetown, which was when your husband, Chic, was bishop and you were spearheading Dialogue. I had such great admiration and respect for both of you, feelings that have only grown over the years as I have admired your work from a distance.

  136. John Mansfield says:

    Farside, you are mixing up the theorems and the postulates. Hamming says the theorems don’t change, but the proofs and underlying postulates do as needed. In my first comment on this CES letter I wrote that its author did not once invoke Galileo, so it has that going for it. But since head-lopping astronomical heresy is now being brought into things, Hamming also considers Galileo, Newton, and Einstein’s work as examples of conclusions leading to reasoning to support it.

  137. John Mansfield says:

    I take it back, you are saying that apologists pick postulates as needed to support what they want to. I should have read more carefully.

  138. Your blogs was one of the inspirations for approach in writing my review of the CES Letter. http://www.churchistrue.com/blog/ces-letter/

  139. What I find most interesting in regards to the comments above is this; multiple examples of people saying I haven’t read the letter, I’ve briefly examined it, or I have perused it, etc. If this is your answer, and you proceed to say “well I believe regardless” then you are completely missing the point of the letter and its thought provoking challenges. I quote: “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”J. Reuben Clark, D. Michael Quinn: The Church Years. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1983, p. 24

    Jeremy Runnels investigated the truth as many others have, and came to the same conclusion the Smithsonian and the National Geographic society did which is to say there are zero pieces of evidence to support the archeological claims of the Book of Mormon. Eric Snider said above and I again quote; “the same trifling nitpicks I’ve been seeing in anti-Mormon literature since my mission (LOL horses in Book of Mormon land??!?!?!, etc.).” These my friend are not trifling pieces of anti-Mormon literature; they are FACTS widely accepted by academia at every level. Occam’s Razor teaches us “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.” Facts are not assumed; no horses, chariots, grapes, mining, steel, etc. have EVER been found and no apologist straw man arguments will ever deflect from these facts. Multiple times these issues have been brought up in a point by point manner; and almost every time they have been dismissed rather than challenged… Why is this?

    When you examine both sides of a debate, you must look for layered risk; i.e. how many red flags are you willing to tolerate before you take a step back and say “hey wait a minute, I’m fine with 1, 2 or 3 things being brought into question, when it’s 40 or 50… now we have a problem” When there are this many glaring issues with the Book of Mormon (King James version), Joseph Smith’s character questions (multiple 1st vision accounts, marrying women who were sealed to other men, etc.), the church’s white washing of (the rock in a hat translation which some Mormons don’t even know about) or almost every Brigham Young statement that didn’t fit to their message it becomes overwhelming and demands some type of accountability. It is as simple as the legal poisoned fruit argument; if the message was disseminated down from men who have been discovered to have questionable motives, pasts, actions; these questions cannot be ignored, unless you actively choose to ignore them. This is not an attack on all Mormons; it is simply an accounting for all of the half-truths, whitewashing, and outright denials from the Church that have now come to light with the information age. If you are courageous enough to seek out the truth and put in the work to research each individual issue you may be surprised by what you find; and no, not every differing opinion or thought is “anti” no matter how hard the Church or members try to paint it.

  140. Fred,

    You noted that all of these issues should be investigated in a point by point manner. Very well. I invite you to investigate the original statements made by the Smithsonian and National Geographic. Take a look at what they say and what they don’t actually say. Then have a look at who made those statements, what their credentials are, and whether they are at all familiar with the vast body of relevant scholarship. Then have a look at LDS apologetic and other scholarly publications on this topic.

    Like you said, we should investigate these things point by point. Let’s not confuse a Google search for actual research.

  141. James, the burden of truth falls not on the ex-members, academia, or disillusioned current members; the burden of truth falls squarely on the Church and the apologists who support it. I say this because the amount of evidence AGAINST the claims made in the Book of Mormon and by Joseph Smith is far and away greater than anything produced by the Church or apologists to date. Every apologist I have ever talked with has said the same exact thing; “you need to provide, you need to research”… sorry that answer doesn’t hold water anymore… the burden is now fully on the Church and its members due to the overwhelming amount of evidence against.

  142. Fred,

    You noted that pleas to do actual research into these topics don’t “hold water anymore”. Got it. Thanks. No research necessary, Runnells has got you covered there (and Reddit).

  143. Fred, I think what James is trying to say is that “apologists” and others have addressed the Runnells issues point by point. He is expressing frustration that Runnells and others who repeat the criticisms never seem to address these “apologist” responses (often merely on the basis that the responses come from “apologists” and therefore do not merit consideration). An overwhelming amount of ink has been spilled responding to and addressing these criticisms and concerns over the years. It is true that many explanations might not be particularly satisfactory for some who have these concerns, but very often these “apologist” responses at the very least show that the case that critics are making isn’t as strong as they are claiming.

    It seems reasonable to expect one to apply the same level of rigorous critical review to claims against the Church’s narratives as one is willing to apply to the Church’s narratives.

  144. Semantics and deflection… straight out of the “anti” playbook. I’ve already point by point addressed a few items: no horses, chariots, grapes, mining, steel, etc. have EVER been found dating to the periods discussed in the Book of Mormon. The Smithsonian is a un-biased entity who has no reason to defraud anyone academically when it comes to discussing the Book of Mormon and the claims made within. When we consider the source, what do we find? Apologists who will deny or ignore, rather than objectively examine the evidence presented under the guise that maybe, just maybe the Church was founded by a con-man. If you are incapable of at least admitting that as a possibility; you cannot have meaningful conversation/debate.

  145. Burden of truth? You modernists need to get a grip.

  146. Chris, if by modernists you mean people who question and investigate discrepancies because they now have access to information they didn’t prior to the information age… yup those darn pesky kids! The Mormon Church is under seige for one major reason; the arrogance in thinking no one would ever question all of these issues. Prior to the information age, the Church made its living off of whitewashing unsavory incidents in their history; that is no longer possible because they can’t control the flow of information.

  147. Nope, I am a referring to a metaphysical outlook shared by both yourself and apologists.

    There is no siege.

    Also, yawn.

  148. Deflection and denial. The anti playbook again on full display; attack the messenger rather than the message.

  149. If you had not said “Deflection and denial” I would have been sooooooooo disappointed. It is almost a circus trick. Also, was that attacking you? Man, I have gotten soft.

  150. Clark Goble says:

    Chris, honest question. What metaphysical outlook do apologists share? Seems like there’s a big diversity of views among those loosely in the apologist camp. Nibley was more or less a platonist. There are lots of more empiricists/positivists of the usual camps. There’s a bunch of people broadly in the postmodern camp. I’m not sure where I’d fit but I’d probably be in the apologist camp myself.

    Fred, it’s not at all clear to me why apologists or members have the burden of proof. I think all apologists would agree that in terms of public information and evidence there’s nothing that would make the historical Book of Mormon the top interpretation or conclusion. They’re usually pretty forthright about this. Now most also say that once you include private evidence that how one interprets the evidence changes a great deal such that the interpretations and conclusions change.

    It seems to me that the issue of burden of proof is significant. However I think logically prior to the burden of proof is the burden of inquiry. It’s sort of like a climate denialist saying people who believe in human caused warming have the burden of proof but refuse to honestly investigate the issue. The point apologists and typically Mormons in general make is that one has to be willing to inquire along personal grounds by asking God directly. Now if the very possibility of answers (or being open to recognizing them) is discounted from the start then that burden of inquiry pretty well precludes the burden of proof from being met.

  151. Seriously uninterested you guys. Fred, move along to any one of the countless sites who are interested in the CES letter. Chris H., I thought we banned you?

    Next.