The Discourse of Orthodoxy

The struggle over religious authority, who is right and who is wrong, and more importantly, what counts as a convincing argument is particularly pronounced in monotheistic faiths. When you have one God, one prophet, one Law, there must be one way.

In many ways, this problem is more pronounced in young religions who are less stable and have more at stake in unity, and lack the maturity of critical reflection. Early Christianity is a great case study (and in many ways is fruitfully contrasted with Rabbinic Judaism, for whom disagreement within certain bounds is foundational to the way the faith is practiced).

In the second century, Christianity faced a crisis of authority, wherein many groups sought to consolidate authority, create consistency of belief and practice, and root out “heretics”. Such contests of authority have become standard in Christianity until today, along with the discourses that regulate them.

The methods for rooting out heretics followed a predictable pattern. First, they claimed to possess unbroken continuity of teachings directly from the apostles, and discredit rival claims. Second, they emphasized the “unity” of teachings of the “church,” which was also the very unity which their arguments were trying to produce. Third, they associated their opponents with “outside” influences that corrupted the “purity” of the church, such as too much Judaism or Greek philosophy. Such interpretations are contrasted with the “interpretation-free” message of the church. Fourth, the opponents were seen as new introductions to the previously harmonious faith. There are others, but these are the most common in prenicene Christianity.

Importantly, such claims are rhetorical, and represent a particular interpretation of the past. But what they reveal are what made an argument convincing. Being old was good, being unmixed was good, and being united was good. If one could lay rhetorical hold upon these claims, one could win the argument. (Of course, their Christian opponents made all of the same claims, and in some cases with greater cause). At the end of the day, such assumptions about what is good are arbitrary and culturally specific.

The point here is that the discourse of orthodoxy and heresy follows it’s own logic. What requires critical investigation is not the accuracy of claims to authority, but the discourse itself. What are the principles on which it is based? How does one successfully convince others by deploying these rhetorical methods?

These discourses have been marshalled against Mormons from the beginning, and we see many Mormons use them to regulate the church internally and to decide who should be listened to and who should be ignored. But I wonder whether there are any unique features to this discourse as it operates in Mormonism, or are we simply uncritically recycling this discourse from ages past?

29 Replies to “The Discourse of Orthodoxy”

  1. I think that we do it quite differently inside the church. Our appeal to authority is unique. In the church we tend to value Joseph Smith and the Current 15 apostles, priority being given to the current Prophet (appeals to things JS said don’t seem to trump the authority of the current 15, were there to be disharmony). In the Mormon Paradigm authority is inherently present in the Prophet, which alters the discourse significantly. There is little room to claim direct authority from the original 12 Apostles or the scriptures as the basis for dissent in our church. In the larger Christian worldview, as you noted, I think we are very much doing what has always been done though.

  2. Building upon what Trevor said, we (as a Church) also have a quiet filtering process over time, which includes authority. Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith and Elder Bruce R. McConkie no longer have the same dominant authority they did 40+ years ago when I joined the Church; many of the Apostles and other General Authorities frequently quoted back then are by and large unknown to the general Church membership today.

    It is also interesting to note that we give very little doctrinal authority to the original 12 Apostles of the LDS Church — probably because several of them left the Church :-). Likewise, we don’t give much doctrinal authority to any of the 19th Century Apostles (except when trying to prove an historical point by citing one of them from the JofD). There’s a small cluster of Apostles in the early 20th Century whom we tend to cite on a regular basis, starting with James E. Talmage, but we still tend to pass silently over those from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and even 70s (again, Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie being the main exceptions; note that Smith is almost always cited for statements made as an Apostle, not as President of the Church).

    FWIW, YMMV. ..bruce..

  3. And should we not seek to recycle the orthodox argumentation of scripture, TT? (and even the unorthodox is not really new)

    Isn’t the wine not diluted with water in Isaiah, the best, the most exquisite taste?

    I want to taste and savor the Lord unmixed.

    And you properly assess monotheism – there is only one way for all.

  4. Since Bryce Hammond over at TempleStudy has posted a bit on these matters, and since his latest post on the importance of orthodoxy in LDS life was posted without the option for comments, I have invited him to comment here.

    My comment is “in moderation” at the moment, but I am sure that it will soon come to his attention.

  5. Bryce Haymond, of late, has seemed to take a turn toward the likes of Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Epiphanius. I would enjoy seeing his comments on this thread since this post concerns the rhetorical presentation of ortho- and heterdoxy and his latest posts are most certainly rhetorical! Perhaps one of the luminaries of this blog could perform a brief rhetorical analysis of Bryce Haymond’s last few posts in order to provide a demonstration to the readership of what rhetorical tools and tropes are used by someone arguing from the vantage point of orthodoxy. Then Bryce Haymond could respond by explaining why he utilized such tropes and what he hoped to accomplish by his usage. This could be a grand little study in authorship, rhetoric, audience, reception, and hermeneutics. Hot dog!

  6. Thanks to everyone for the great comments! I have a lot to say, but I am currently on vacation and typing everything, including the entire post from my iPhone while watching Pride and Prejudice. I will respond more fully when I get back but I just want to say that this post is not a shot accross Bryce’s bow. When I am at my best, I stick to what I do best, which is staying at the level of discourse analysis and method.

  7. In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, he spoke of hearing divisions among the saints, where “every one of you saith I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ”. Every one of these except Christ himself was a recognized servant or minister of the Gospel, and yet the members argued and disputed over differences in doctrines. Paul attempted to settle the dispute by pointng to the supremacy of Christ, and possibly made reference to the content and practice of Greek philosophy and Jewish rabbinism, (both of which relied heavily on rhetoric and dispute). Instead of these, he pointed to a third way, the Spirit of God.

    Paul’s counsel went unappreciated and unheeded. As is evident from the wrings of the Church Fathers of the second and third centuries, the tendency to pick a favorite authority and dispute details of doctrine ran unchecked. Then the methods TT refers to came into use.

    The tendency to turn every disagreement into a contest, where you must _compel_ your opponent by appeals to reason, authority, tradition, and when those fail, sarcasm and abuse, to _concede_ that _you_ are _right_ is practically universal. Furthermore, since every such contest tends to feed one’s own pride, it isn’t long before the tendencey to dispute even the authorities, all the way up to and including God, manifests itself.

    But we can cease to try to compel agreement, win overwhelming intellectual victories, and press points home, resist the temptation to be sarcastic or abusive, and be willing to grant others our permission for them to be wrong

    If we are not to uncritically recycle the discourse from the past, these are the things we must learn to do.

  8. Confutus,

    I think you are missing the point of this post–it is not to establish the truth of orthodoxy or the true gospel or whatever, but how the arguments about such things are formulated (at times in a formulaic manner). This is a valuable exercise because it can demonstrate the patterns individuals and institutions follow in dealing with others and other points of view. TT is not attacking, Mogget is not attacking, and Bryce Haymond should not feel threatened nor respond defensively or counter-attack. This is fine opportunity to marshal argument, evidence, and rhetoric and then analyze these from the varying points of view. The hope is that through discourse, as TT rightly asserts, the issues surrounding concepts of orthodoxy and heterodoxy can be better understood. When everyone is back from vacation let the discussion commence!

  9. You bring up some good questions, TT. Allow me to make some more.

    What should be the method for “rooting out heretics,” or at least identifying them, in the Church be? By the second century, Christianity had already apostatized, or was well on its way. It was the blind leading the blind at that point, and no concensus was going to be reached, but the methods that they tried to use to detect heretics likely were passed down from an earlier tradition while the Church was still intact. Are these methods therefore fallacious, or were they the same methods that existed in the original Church while the apostles still presided? I think there is much evidence in the scriptures that they were the same.

    Should we not claim a continuity of teachings from the prophets and apostles? Should we not emphasize a unity of doctrine in the Church? Should we not be concerned with the encroachments of Babylon into the Church and its effects? Should those who criticize the prophets and apostles not been seen as disruptive to the harmony and unity which should exist in Zion? Moses 7:18 teaches, “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” How do we achieve this unity of heart and mind so that we may dwell in righteousness and build up Zion?

  10. Bryce Haymond,

    The question is not “what should the method be,” as though we are trying to learn to be heresiologists, but what are the methods used by the apologists of the second and third centuries. Again, the post is not about seeking truth or establishing orthodoxy, but how different camps engage in doing this.

    This is not to sound chippy, but by citing scripture in an evangelizing way, you are not engaging the question at hand and you are injecting your beliefs into the question of how heterodoxy/orthodoxy claims are presented and discussed. The post is about method not about belief. Perhaps you can focus your comments on the methods by which you approach, engage, and discuss the isse of heterodoxy/orthodoxy.

    Also, will you provide more discussion (sources, dates, theological issues, etc.) about what you mean by “by the second century, Christianity had already apostatized, or was well on its way.” Obviously the second century was a pivotal era for Christianity(ies) and needs to be dealt with carefully. Thanks and I look forward to your further comments.

  11. Should we not claim a continuity of teachings from the prophets and apostles? Should we not emphasize a unity of doctrine in the Church?

    Why should we, they don’t. There are major discontinuities between what has been taught in the past and what is taught now. Continuity of authority is what is emphasized in the LDS church, not continuity of teachings or doctrine. That’s why Joseph Smith could drink wine and I can’t. He as prophet said he could and Thomas S. Monson says I can’t.

  12. The problem of this whole broo-haha between Bryce and the mormoliberalblogocrats is in the assumptions.

    Bryce believes there is a truth, a right way, an authorized priesthood, and authorized prophet, and we should listen to him. Bryce quotes prophetic statments to that end. Bryce assumes that he is pointing out truth that each person should use to evaluate themselves (and those who they read) to determine if they are drawing closer to God the way God has outlined.

    Those against Bryce, assume that Bryce does not have a right to post on the internet. They believe that the internet is only open for the promogulation of “religiously liberal” beliefs. They assume it is OK to put words in Bryce’s mouth that he did not say. They see nothing wrong with being dishonest in this way (even if they sincerely believe this is what Bryce meant, it is NOT what he said, and to describe it as such is always dishonest). Bryce’s detractors misquote him to detract people from the real issues. Instead of focusing on what Bryce actually quotes and says, they change it so that everyone else argues about the point of view that they want argued (like TT and John C.). In normal liberal fashion, they demand the silence of those they disagree with. Read John C.’s daily demand of “BAN HIM. BAN HIM.” I disagree with him and cannot bear to listen to him any longer. Sad, really.

  13. NOYDMB,

    John C. is joking when he says “BAN HIM.” (Or is he mocking). Reading between the lines is useful sometimes. John C. has regularly defended his right to speak and has encouraged civility. John C. is a better man than I. Though I knew that before ever blogging.

    mormoliberalblogocrats…wow, that is almost as clever as femi-nazi. I will use it now to describe myself, though I am more of a mormosocialistblogocrat. Let me know if you have some sort of copyright.

  14. Christ H.
    I would never copyright something so useful. Feel free to use it as you wish.
    I have no problem with anyone reading between the lines when it is done in an appropriate spirit, but in this whole offensefest against Bryce (and in personal emails with some of the offended parties) offense is being created, and true understanding is not occuring. Incidentally, the idea of censoring those with whom we do not agree belongs to neither political party, nor to either side of the “religiously liberal” or “religiously conservative.” Yet when either side uses it, it really pisses me off. Fine if someone believes that one needs no set beliefs or practices to consider themselves a believing Mormon. Fine if I consider that someone an apostate trying to lead others astray. We cannot simply stick up for the person who says they don’t need to believe as others do without also sticking up for the condemner.

    Mormo: Adhering to Mormonism at least in name if not in believe.
    Liberal (Socialist). Self Explanatory.
    Blogo. Again, self explanatory.
    Crats. The truth is decided by the majority of the people who blog, in liberal groups, and who violently (intellectually) persecute and silence dissent.
    Not really a name to be proud of, really…

  15. NOYDMB

    I am a disciple of Christ and a member of the LDS Church is good standing, so the the Mormo part it not a problem. I thought the crat part was about being a Democrat. I am not a small “d” democrat (a more radical idea). I thought we decided things is secret meetings:)

    Chris H.

  16. NOYDMB and JJ Rousseau,

    Please allow this thread to engage the issue proposed in the original post. Some of the readership would sincerely like to read what Bryce Haymond has to say and to hear how others as interlocutors wish to respond. The topic is about the method and rhetoric of engaging in discussions of heterodoxy and orthodoxy. Thanks.

  17. NOYDMB,
    I would be happy to provide a context for my weekly calls to BAN and my aversion to religious diatribes online. Please feel free to write me at hpsoandsos [at] gmail [dot] com if you would like to discuss it further. Also, for the record, I have never said that Bryce should never speak, write, blog, or use the internet again and I firmly believe that the bloggernacle would be a worse place without him. While I disagree with his rhetoric and the manner in which he draws lines, he is perfectly okay in so doing, just as I am perfectly okay in questioning how he does it. If we are all on the same page, please proceed to discuss TT’s post.

  18. Bryce (15),

    In reading in Church History, I’ve noticed the ones who pursue criticizing the GA’s find their own way out of the Church w/out having to be pushed or prodded by the general membership.

    In my Ward(s) I’ve been in, their was always a group of people not liking what the leadership stated, doctrinally or others, and found fault with all aspects of their lives; for the most part, they either “come to terms” (repent?) with their issues, or stop coming to Church, stating they feel “offended”.

    Personally, I think the Gospel application is so tremendously personal. With that said, I would think the best way to establish Zion is to live the commandments as best as I can on a personal level. I’ve found that “living the commandments” does not est. Zion, but it is the personal preparation that is achieved only by “living the commandments” that establishes Zion. Does that make sense? It follows as I am more apt to allow the Spirit to guide my life, I am more able to be a better influence by the Spirit in helping fellow travellers est. Zion. I think the key part of est. Zion is guidance by the Spirit.

    What does “NOYDMB” stand for? I’m bad with acronyms.

  19. Again, great comments to all. I want to respond to a selection here:
    Trevor and bfwebster,
    I agree completely that there is a different kind of authority involved in LDS appeals to orthodoxy in that modern apostles (and bfwebster correctly notes that not all are as authoritative as they once were) serve as the standard rather that the ancient apostles. I think that this causes me to modify my original claim to refer to an appeal to some perceived undisputed authority as the structural similarity in claims to orthodoxy. While this may be the Bible for some Christians, and the LDS apostles and prophets for us, or the Church Fathers for Catholics, the same principle is at work.

    All Comments On Bryce: While I suppose that Bryce in some ways inspired this post when I noticed the similarity between his arguments, anti-Mormon arguments, and other polemical claims to orthodoxy, this post is not about Bryce in any specific sense. Though he called me “naive” and “truly blind” I have no real quarrel with him. I wish him the best on his blog and I hope that as he learns more and becomes more familiar with the subject matter he is treating that I will someday find his posts more accurate, interesting, and ready to grapple with the issues. Until then, I won’t be reading him.

    I am not really interested in answering your rhetorical questions, especially since you did not attempt to deal in any way with the topic of this post or consider the implications of my questions.

    I think that you bring up some interesting issues, and they cause me to clarify what I am doing here a bit more. First, Paul is engaged in a different kind of discourse about “orthodoxy.” He sees himself as the authority, not the 12, he is not dealing with the issue of “Judaism” as an abstract set of principles that can be mobilized rhetorically (well, that is worth discussing more, but it is definitely different from what is going on in the Gentile church of the second century). His rhetorical claims to establish his authority in Corinth are discussed really well by Antoinette Clark Wire in _The Corinithian Women Prophets_, which shows how his authority was in question and had to be produced, though we take it for granted today. Second, this is still a “discourse,” and exists only at the level of language. For me, language produces reality, not the other way around, so I have to consider Paul’s claims about Christ and unity as a way of establishing authority, not reflecting some objective reality.

    I am not sure I am following your specific accusation as it applies to me, and since you admitted in the other thread that you haven’t actually read the exchange between Bryce and the members of this blog, I have little reason to trust your assessment of the issues. Further, since your comment here has absolutely nothing to do with anything related to the post, and your grasp of the the issues you do raise is minimal at best, I appreciate that you have voluntarily ended your comments on this thread.

    As a postscript: for me, the issue of a shared discourse of orthodoxy and heresy raises the question of how one is supposed to evaluate competing claims to orthodoxy. All of these claims follow a similar pattern, which is based on a rhetorical framing of the “evidence,” but which takes for granted many of its conclusions. For instance, the argument that an authority must be obeyed relies on the assumption that that authority is authoritative in a particular way. Or further, the argument that something is too much “of the world” produces the very distinction between “the world” and “the church” which it takes for granted. The argument for orthodoxy produces orthodoxy, leaving its own assumptions unarticulated and unargued. This is the reason that anti-Mormon arguments and apologetic arguments are structurally identical, and why they largely fail to convince their opponents. It is also the reason that there are competing, legitimate claims to LDS orthodoxy. Doesn’t then the very structure of these arguments require critique?

  20. What are the principles on which it is based?

    I’m not too familiar with the history of Christianity, but I know in other religious traditions often times heresy is constructed as the extremes of orthodoxy, so the orthodox position is one that is neither removed from society nor so fully enveloped in society that one loses sense of the uniqueness or importance of the self. Rather it’s somewhere right in the middle.

    I wonder if something like this couldn’t be said about the rhetoric some employ of ‘liberal and fundamentalist’–LDS orthodoxy is right in between “all religions have equal amounts of truth” and “only our religion has truth”. The interesting part about the implementation of such language is that the ‘middle ground’ can effectively be labeled ‘conservative’ (sometimes self-labeled). Hence ‘liberal’ Mormons are heretics, and ‘fundamentalists’ are just as bad, but there’s nothing wrong with styling oneself a ‘conservative Mormon’. Granted this isn’t the way many people use these terms, but of course we’re speaking here about the discourse of heresy and orthodoxy.

  21. TT;
    You and I have such different views of the relationship between language and meaning that discourse would probably be relatively unproductive.
    For me, to borrowing a phrase from general semantics, language is the map, not the territory, and incompletely and imperfectly describes a reality perceptible to the senses, which themselves have an incomplete and imperfect connection to all reality.
    All the avalable methods of discourse and rhetoric were applied throughout the late middle ages to analyzed nature, for instance, and yet no progress was made until natural philosphers turned to observation and experimentation.
    In a similar manner, I view God and the spiritual realm as real in the same sense that the monitor on the desk in front of me is real
    However, in contrast to the natural world, which is perceptible to everyone, God can only be known as He chooses to reveal Himself. The reality of God cannot be created, destroyed, or altered by linguistic, philosophical, or theological discourse.
    As Hugh Nibley argues, in “The World and the Prophets”, the prophets from earliest record have based their claims to authority, not on methods of discourse, but on direct experience with God, i.e. “I heard”, “I saw”.
    Likewise, Joseph Smith claimed authority in religioous matters based on continuing direct personal experience with God, described methods by which others could gain such experience, and gave rules for distinguishing true revelation from spurious claims. Hence, for most Latter Day Saints, the methods of scholarship and discourse have at best a distinctly limited role in establishing what is authoritative. Any orthodoxy established with the aid of scholarly methods can always be revised by new revelation, just as scientific orthodoxy can always be revised by new observations.

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