Duane Boyce and the Interpreter: A Step in the Wrong Direction

Do prophets make mistakes? When prophets speak do they always speak the word of God? These are important questions facing Latter-day Saints who encounter examples of prophetic error in Mormon history, policy, and scripture.

In recent years, these challenging theological questions have been addressed by LDS scholars, several of whom have hoped to present a way for Latter-day Saints to accept the implications of critical historical and scriptural analysis while still retaining belief in the authority of Mormon prophets. These efforts have led to a variety of significant scholarly essays and books that have drawn considerable attention in the emerging field of Mormon Studies. Continue reading “Duane Boyce and the Interpreter: A Step in the Wrong Direction”

Tips for the future LDS grad school applicant

It’s grad school application season and students are anxious over GRE, letters of rec, personal statements, GPA etc. It’s a stressful time, we at FPR have been there. We sympathize. Many of us are now on the other side of the portfolio, whether for MA or PhD programs. I don’t speak for us all, but let me say a few things that might be generally true.

If you are LDS and are serious about doing graduate work in Religious Studies (broadly conceived), the Ancient Near East, Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Early Christian Lit., Late Antique, Patristics, etc., please know that admissions committees have and will continue to be concerned about whether you will be ready to handle their programs. Their concern is not just about your intellectual aptitude, but about the nature of your religious commitments. And it’s not really even so much about your religious commitments as your orientation to the world outside of you and whether you are capable of engaging your area of study dispassionately while honoring multiple points of view. If you are or have been interested in or involved in LDS apologetics, and if you have an online trail of this you are making your chances for admission slimmer than they need be. Look, there are lots and lots of LDS people in graduate programs in these fields and so you know that being LDS or being a BYU grad is not something that is hurting people in most circumstances. That being said, overly partisan or strident public expressions defending X historical point or attacking Y practical point or engaging Dr. Z can become an issue for admissions committees regardless of whether a candidate is religious or non-religious. Grad programs are communities and communities are people, people from all sorts of backgrounds.

I am not talking about liking the latest LDS meme on Facebook or (re)posting an inspirational quote from the last General Conference (depending on the circumstances, you may want to limit this as well). I am talking about blogging and publishing papers that are specifically apologetic. Let me give some examples and assess them for you, ballpark assessment of course. I will gear this towards BYU undergrads since numerically they are the largest group of LDS people to matriculate to graduate school annually.

1.You publish a paper in Studia Antiqua, a student run journal at BYU that sometimes trends apologetic or at least a little tone deaf to audiences beyond the LDS world: mild risk. I would avoid it, but it is pretty harmless.

2. You work as a research assistant with a Religious Education faculty member who only publishes in Deseret Book or equivalent venues and who is willing to grant you co-authorship or is willing to include your name in a prominent way in publications or presentations: strong risk. Avoid this.

3. You work as a RA with a RelEd faculty member who largely publishes in peer reviewed venues outside of the LDS world and is willing to name you as co-author or significant contributor: little or no risk. DO THIS.

4. You start a personal blog to defend the faith. Sometimes you end up belittling or attacking those outside your faith or those within your faith whose views differ from yours or whose place on the LDS spectrum is polar from yours: Serious risk, DO NOT DO THIS.

5. You are asked by FAIR or Interpreter to author or co-author papers, write book reviews, or otherwise attach your name to something these organizations do: Serious risk, DO NOT DO THIS. Do not do this no matter how flattering, how exciting, how faith re-affirming, how methodologically sound you feel it to be. These are big red flags to grad school admission committees. They are even red flags to graduate programs at BYU from what I hear from colleagues there. Again, it is not your religious commitments, it is your orientation to the world of ideas, religion more generally, and other people that are of concern to committee members.

6. You are asked by LDS or BYU professors who are local celebrities and long-time names in apologetics to work with them on their latest project on something that only deals with LDS matters or to rebut the latest faith-attacking thing from whatever source: Serious risk. DO NOT DO THIS unless you really, really need the job.

Listen, friends, we know that you want to help your faith community, we know that these various opportunities and venues are incredibly enticing (and let’s be honest, flattering), but if you are applying or will be applying to grad school, you simply must watch out for number one. You are number one. Not the big name apologist, not the security of your faith community (it will be just fine!), not anyone else but you.

Here are some criteria to help you assess whether something is to your benefit this application season.

1. Has the person you are working with/for on their latest apologetic project published in a peer reviewed venue or presented on something outside of LDS matters in the last year? If not, beware.

2. Does the person you are working with/for have connections to the broader academy, who can vouch for your abilities and help you gain admission? If not, beware. If this person only does things in the local, LDS scene, they cannot really assist you in the bigger world of the academy.

3. Does the person you working with/for have your best professional interest at heart? Does s/he/they offer you direct criticism to your ideas, assumptions, writing? Do they make you interact with the major trends of scholarship in your field? If not, beware.

4. Will this person treat you like a traitor if you go to grad school and decide that apologetics or a largely LDS focus is not best for you? If yes, beware.

5. Does this person badmouth the academy at large? Does this person have more grudges than relationships and friendships in the academy at large? If yes, beware.

6. Does this person have a proven track record of mentoring/helping students into grad programs? If not, beware.

Please be cautious and discerning, friends. We want to see you succeed. We want you as colleagues and conversation partners trained at great programs. We have been where you are and we speak with some collective wisdom, uncomfortable though it might seem to you right now.

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”

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”

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”

Bill Hamblin on the Documentary Hypothesis

Bill Hamblin has done a great service in providing a detailed outsider’s critique, repeating some of the frequent objections to the Documentary Hypothesis that gives us a chance to discuss and hopefully to reach greater clarity on the issue. Since Hamblin has shut down and deleted comments for anyone whose names don’t seem real enough to him, and (more important) since his 20-part attempted takedown of the Documentary Hypothesis (the theory that the first 5 books of the OT are the result of the combination of 4 independent documents) is too unwieldy to treat all at once on his blog, I thought I could summarize the points here and treat it as a whole while providing an open forum where all of Jupiter’s children who behave themselves are welcome to participate—even, and especially, Bill Hamblin (if that is even his real name).

I will also reiterate here my invitation to host a roundtable looking at specific texts so that we are not just sending volleys of assertions about what the theory is and isn’t or does or doesn’t claim. Of course, anyone remotely interested in this topic should consult first Joel Baden’s excellent and eminently readable The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis (Yale 2012), which does both of these things, giving an overview of the method and then walking the reader through specific texts to illustrate it. One can see similar ideas treated here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

First off, I think there have been some misunderstandings about what the DH is, which have led to some of Bill’s attacks, and I will try to clear those up. Even with these clarified I imagine Bill and I will still disagree, but it might get us closer to a conversation about key issues instead of red herrings. Below I try to summarize Bill’s posts in a couple of sentences and then react to each claim. There are so far 20 posts, so this will be an inordinately long treatment to digest in one sitting. For those sane ones of you who don’t want to wade through each post and reaction, I will summarize my critique here (for details on any one of these, see the individual treatments below the general summary):

Continue reading “Bill Hamblin on the Documentary Hypothesis”

FAIR and “These Are Our Sisters”

We’ve written quite a bit about apologetics in the past couple of years. Some of it has been quite critical, and some of it constructive.

FAIR is one of the prominent LDS apologetic organizations, and it has occassionally been the object of our criticism. The recent post on FAIR’s blog, “These Are Our Sisters,” however, deserves further attention; and a whole lot of praise.

Doubt and the Dangers of Reading Alone

A lot has already been said about the Hans Mattsson article in the NYT. One issue, however, that I feel needs further exploration is how crises of faith might be approached from a more therapeutic or pastoral angle. Below are some excerpts from a sacrament talk I delivered at the beginning of this year. I hope it might contribute to the recent discussions of doubt and faith crises in Mormonism.

This invitation to speak coincided with a presentation I attended on Islam. The presenter studied Muslims who had experienced what we might call a crisis of faith within their community. Some Muslims found ways of remaining within Islam and others decided to leave. One of the interesting things the presenter noted is that many of the Muslims he encountered had their initial crisis of faith when they were “reading alone.” In other words, these Muslims explained that their doubts about Islam began when they came across information that challenged their faith. They felt that they encountered, or at least, studied this information alone. While in this context, “alone” could be taken literally, to mean that they confronted this information by themselves—reading it in the privacy of their own homes, perhaps, either in a book or on a computer—but instead we can take it more broadly to mean that they felt alone when going through some crisis of faith. They were alone in the sense of feeling that no one within their community could sympathize with their struggles.  Continue reading “Doubt and the Dangers of Reading Alone”