Doubting Our Doubters

We have a problem with doubt. More specifically, we, LDSs, have a problem with how we conceptualize doubt and how we treat those who doubt. The short story is that we tend to employ an ambiguous notion of doubt and that we treat those with anything resembling doubt as insincere, as prideful, and as involved in sin. A prime example of this is the article entitled “When Doubts and Questions Arise” in the March 2015 EnsignContinue reading “Doubting Our Doubters”

How to Start a Culture War

  1. Hold strong opinions about a few issues. The more people that care about the issues, the better. These opinions need not be informed opinions; conviction is the key. (Note, one issue is usually insufficient to start a culture war, but don’t choose too many because then you’ll dilute the message and make it difficult to recruit soldiers.)
  2. Use the frame of war to interpret all disagreements over these issues. This includes using some, but preferably all, of the following language: enemy, fight, battle, attack, threat, defend, the fallen, and death. It also helps to draw analogies to historical wars. World War II is useful for this. Liken those you disagree with to Nazis, the Gestapo, Hitler, and Stalin. You can also mix things up once in a while by using Mao and the Junta. The key to doing this is removing all nuance from discussion. Remember, in war there is no middle ground. (And here’s a tip: when encountering those who wish to nuance the discussion, liken them to enemy spies. Works like a charm;>)
  3. Create enemies. If you are fortunate, you will find several people who disagree with you and already see the disagreement in terms of war. If so, rally the troops and commence battle. If not, use the following steps to create enemies:
    • Make public statements that are provocative but leave you with sufficient plausible deniability to avoid charges of nastiness. (Note: these provocative statements should be as vague as possible. Providing actual evidence for your claims will only work against you.)
    • When people ask what you mean by these provocative statements accuse them of mal-intent. They never came to have a civil discussion, of course. Instead, they’re hiding their sword behind their back waiting for the right moment to strike. Doing things such as questioning their ability to read or recognize their own biases work wonders.
    • When they respond with anger, play the victim. This will serve as not only evidence for your reluctance to enter the war, but also serve to further upset the enemy—creating a vicious (but effective) circle of provocative statement –> inquiry –> anger. Before long your enemies will skip the inquiry stage and go straight to expressing their anger.
    • This step is key. You must use these exchanges as evidence that this war is real and that you did not start it. The “right” side of the fight is always the side defending itself. Make this your mantra: We do not want the culture wars; they want us!
  4. Rally the troops. Find individuals who largely agree with your opinions on said issues. Use the information generated in point 3 as evidence for the reality of the enemy. Remind your troops that the stakes are high and that they must choose which side they are on.
  5. Commence battle. Use everything at your disposal to put your ideas out there. This includes blogs, facebook, online magazines, newspaper columns, etc. Media where comments are allowed is a plus since the enemy will respond and you can use this to rally the troops (see point 4). Do not try to publish in any academic venues. Not only will it take so long for your work to appear that fewer people will care about the issue, but the peer review process will likely weed out the war rhetoric and lack of evidence.
  6. Declare victory and defeat. This step may sound odd, but you need both elements to keep the war going. Victory raises the morale of your troops, but defeat reinforces the need to fight. Don’t declare both at once though (this will only complicate matters, see the point about nuance above); instead use a ratio of roughly 3:1. Victory-victory-victory-defeat. Adjust as necessary.
  7. A note on civil war. Regrettably, soldiers turn on each other. You must be ready at any time to use these steps against your soldiers. When doing this, traitor imagery is an advantage: these people are wolves in sheep’s clothing, Judas, or moles. You must show the loyal soldiers that the worst kind of enemy is a so-called friend.

I hope this helps in all your endeavors.

Have fun storming the castle,

Carl “Smallaxe” von Clausewitz

Hamblin’s Misreading

I should begin by noting that if anyone wants to intelligently comment on the latest issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, please read it first. It’s available here (I hope the MI will make the article under discussion available free some time soon).

Bill Hamblin has posted a critique of an article by B. Park, which has generated quite a bit of discussion on Dan Peterson’s blog. I’m going to respond to Hamblin here on FPR because Hamblin has refused to post my comments on his blog in the past (and this comment is long enough to merit its own thread). I do not know if Hamblin will actually respond to this post. He has not responded to other efforts in the past (see here, for instance). However, I am taking the time to respond to Hamblin primarily for the reason that Hamblin is misreading Park, and (more importantly) I fear that other people trust Hamblin as a good interpreter in this instance. I hope this post will be useful for those people.

As a preliminary comment, Park’s article is a book review (he reviews David Holland’s Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America and Eran Shalev’s American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War). A book review usually summarizes the argument(s) of the book, situates those arguments in a field of research, and evaluates the argument. Continue reading “Hamblin’s Misreading”

Our Dirty Hands

In 1973 Michael Walzer wrote an article entitled “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands.” In the article, Walzer argued that involvement in politics entails confronting difficult situations where values conflict. Adjudicating between values requires making compromises; and while most compromises can be understood in terms of mutual concessions interested parties make in order to further some common good, other situations are more extreme. These situations call for compromise in the sense of harming or demeaning something valuable. Walzer explains these “dirty hands” situations, using the example of a politician making a backroom deal with a dishonest ward boss:  Continue reading “Our Dirty Hands”

Principles for Dialogue and Mutual Edification

I recently concluded my 8th year as a blogger with FPR (or its earlier affiliate). In reflecting on the various debates and discussions I’ve seen or been involved in during this time, I started thinking about how these discussions modeled good and bad principles of dialogue. In a new year’s resolution of sorts, I’ve tried to identify a few principles of good dialogue. Here’s what I’ve come up with: Continue reading “Principles for Dialogue and Mutual Edification”

On Feeling Betrayed by the Church

This is for all those who say things like “I can’t understand how [polygamy] is such a stunning revelation for any long-time members” or “the only way not to be introduced to polygamy as a member is to not pay any attention” or “People are going to need to be responsible for their own study and stop asking ‘why didn’t the Church teach me these things’.” Let me help you understand not how members of the Church might be “stunned,” but whyContinue reading “On Feeling Betrayed by the Church”

Religious Education for the Modern World

The situation regarding the new CES/Religious Education curriculum at BYU has got me thinking about the purpose of religious education at BYU (and throughout CES generally). The instructors and professors have the difficult task of ensuring that students acquire an understanding of Mormonism in a context of faith. One place where I think the current approach falls short is in preparing LDS students to think about (and live) our faith in a broader context. Students ought to understand what it means to be Mormon in a global intellectual and cultural world. This got me thinking, if I were to redo the curriculum for Religious Education (and perhaps CES), how would I take this into account? In that light, I put forth the following. Continue reading “Religious Education for the Modern World”

Religious Education’s New Curriculum: A Tale of Two Authorities

The Church has decided to revamp the curriculum for the Church Educational System, which includes Institute programs and (more relevant for this post) BYU’s schools of Religious Education. Whereas the previous curriculum required four courses—two courses on the Book of Mormon, one course on the Doctrine and Covenants, and one course on the New Testament; the new curriculum will require four courses with the following titles: Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel, Teachings and Doctrines of the Book of Mormon, Foundations of the Restoration, and The Eternal Family.

The letter from RelEd’s administration spells out a timeline for putting these new courses together, and mentions several “institutional options,” which are meant to introduce some flexibility in implementing the new curriculum across different institutions. In the case of BYU, current course offerings can replace parts of the new requirements. For instance, the current offering of two Book of Mormon courses can replace the Teachings and Doctrines of the Book of Mormon course. Continue reading “Religious Education’s New Curriculum: A Tale of Two Authorities”

An Apologetics of Care

When people leave the church over intellectual issues, I believe that part of what this means is that people leave the church because of the feelings associated with confronting these issues. In other words, when a LDS learns that Joseph Smith engaged in polyandry, for instance, it usually occurs in a context that induces fear and loneliness, which eventually leads to frustration and anger. Such a person may not be literally alone when he or she discovers Joseph’s polyandry (although he may be; finding the information online, for instance), but he or she likely feels alone in the sense of not knowing anyone with whom he can relate. Hiding such loneliness can give way to not only frustration, but also detachment from fellow LDSs as one seeks to render oneself invulnerable to the pain associated with loneliness. After a while, frustration enables anger, and the distance one has created between oneself and other LDSs via detachment makes “flight” (rather than “fight”) the easiest response to a difficult situation. In other words, some people leave the church because of frustration, fear, and anger.  Continue reading “An Apologetics of Care”

Wheat and Tares Apologetics: A Case Study

In a previous post I provided a general description of one kind of apologetics that, in my opinion, is not fit for an academic institution or even for discussions aiming to debate ideas or intellectual positions. In this post I would like to revisit the notion of Wheat and Tares Apologetics by looking at a specific case: Bill Hamblins’ (BH) exchange with David Bokovoy (DB).

My thesis is quite simple: Wheat and tares apologetics is not an appropriate form of discourse for intellectual debate because its primary purpose is to delegitimate some person or group as a reliable source of Mormonism (in this case) over and above engaging their ideas. In other words, wheat and tares apologetics is focused first and foremost on boundary maintenance—on establishing the authority of the apologist as a gatekeeper or protector of orthodoxy while dismantling the authority of those who disagree with the apologist. It is more an exercise in reframing the good guys and bad guys than an exercise in debating the merits and demerits of a position. It serves to poison the metaphorical well so that the intended audience does not trust some person again.

On that note, BH is a practitioner of wheat and tares apologetics.

Continue reading “Wheat and Tares Apologetics: A Case Study”