Damn It, Sucked Right In Again

September 25, 2012

I feel kind of stupid for letting myself get sucked back into the pointless bickering between apologists and critics of the LDS church. I’m not going to do that again.

Back when I was an “apologist” on the old alt.religion.mormon page and the FAIR/MAD board, I learned some valuable lessons. First and foremost is that there are good, honest, intelligent people on both sides of the divide, and I made friends among serious apologists and hardcore apostates alike. The second thing I learned is that, despite the rhetoric, it’s not an important battle over the souls of men. It’s just a bunch of opinionated people arguing over a message board.

The odd thing is that I’m usually not involved in these disputes anymore. I just don’t care enough. I have never contributed to MormonThink, and I rarely read anything from the FAIR/FARMS/MI crowd. It’s just not an important part of my life anymore. And yet I let myself get worked up over a silly essay from someone I already knew was a bit of a crank, and I instinctively sided with the apostate in a dispute with the church. In all honesty, I don’t really know if David Twede was trying to get people out of the church. I take his word for it, but I’m so far removed from the issue I can’t say anything definitive.

I don’t know Lou Midgley (though I saw him once in the lobby of the Maxwell Institute), nor do I know Scott Gordon. But I said a few unkind things because I was upset about things that happened. I stand by my analysis of Midgley’s attack on C.L. Hanson, but I think she handled it with far more grace than I did by just making light of it. I hope David Twede can work things out to his satisfaction. I don’t know his motivations, but I do know that the information he has provided on MormonThink is accurate and honest.

As for our visitors from FAIR, this is the first time I’ve had any interaction with Allen Wyatt, and I didn’t think his comments were “mean” or anything like that; I’ve known Steve Smoot for several years, and though I rarely agree with him, I’ve never had any hostile or unpleasant interactions with him. I hope that my responses did not come across as heated or angry, as they were not.

In the end, arguing over Mormonism is all “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” There’s no point.

Top Ten New Revelations

September 25, 2012

According to blogger DenverSnuffer, apostle Russell Nelson has told several stake presidents that there will be a major revelation announced at general conference next week.  As the blogger put it, “President Thomas M. Monson has received a revelation that will affect every man, woman, and child in the church.”

If true, this could be big news. Of course, rumors of new revelations crop up every few conferences, and nothing much happens. That said, at the request of a good friend, I have inquired of my sources and have been given a list of recent revelations. Perhaps one of these may be announced in conference:

10.  And again, Fry Sauce is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is a blight on the land and to be used in the destruction of thine enemies with judgment and skill.

9. The righteous in Utah County will all be lifted up to heaven–both of them.

8. But this generation shall have my word through press releases from the Public Affairs department.

7. He may be a dodo, after all.

6. CTR rings to be replaced by LGS (Let’s go shopping!) rings, available exclusively at City Creek mall.

5. New Church Historian: Brandon Flowers.

4. The sun borrows its light from Dieter Uchtdorf’s tan.

3. The anti-Christ is a mild-mannered blogger who lives in Provo, Utah.

2. BYU really did lose last week because you tampered with your “little factory.”

1. God is voting for Obama.

Hypocrisy and Personal Attack

September 25, 2012

I admit it. I’m sometimes unkind, perhaps occasionally mean. Take, for example, my snotty remarks about Scott Gordon on my top ten list.

Note: I do not know Scott Gordon and have never interacted with him. My understanding was that he claimed to have been involved in “outing” David Twede. Scott Gordon may be a lovely person. I wouldn’t know, but if he really did what he is said to have claimed, yeah, that’s pretty crappy.

Is it hypocritical of me to decry Louis Midgley’s attack on C.L. Hanson, given my occasional “nastiness”? No, not really. I kind of expect bitter ad hominem from Midgley, but I expect substance, not distortions, along with the vitriol. What made Midgley’s attack so egregious wasn’t that he went looking for dirt or that he presumed to judge the intellectual content of her personal blog, though both of these actions had nothing to do with what she had written. The bigger problem is that Midgley did not engage her essay at all. In fact, the only times he even mentioned what she had written was to dismiss her as arrogant and insincere.

Allen Wyatt suggested that Midgley’s blog post was an academic paper subject to academic standards. When I was teaching English composition, expected my students’ papers to have something to do with the topic at hand. It’s bad enough that Midgley ignored her essay, but he repeatedly attacked her character.

I’m sorry, but I can’t be hypocritical here because I have never written a “review” of anything that was not only unrelated to the literature I was reviewing, but was nothing but ad hominem. Perhaps the folks at FAIR and Mormon Interpreter approve of such tactics, but I don’t. I may be snarky on occasion–or maybe more often than that–but I try to deal with issues.  I certainly don’t go fishing for dirt.

Top Ten Reasons for David Twede’s Church Discipline

September 24, 2012

10. “MormonThink”? The name alone sounds subversive and evil.

9. Since the Brigham City Temple was dedicated, Boyd K. Packer has a lot of time on his hands.

8. Anything to take people’s attention away from Mitt Romney’s imploding campaign.

7. Scott Gordon was worried that his reputation as an underhanded douchebag was slipping.

6.  Having solved the masturbation problems in his stake, President Pratt figured he’d start working on the apostates.

5. The church had determined that the site was doubleplustrue.

4.  John Lynch thought that drawing attention to a website with accurate information would make the church look even better than its already stellar image.

3. The voices in Thomas Monson’s head told him to ex Brother Twede.

2. President Pratt mistakenly thought that getting rid of MormonThink would stop those pornographic pop-ups from showing up on his computer.

1. Twede sent a doubting member to the most faith-destroying web site of them all: FAIRLDS.org.

Lou Midgley Gives Two Tens for a Five

September 21, 2012

Lou Costello was a genius, in my book. Here, for example, Costello explains how 7X13=28. The logic is brilliant, even if it doesn’t work without some serious fudging. But Costello also had routines in which he was flustered by his inability to outsmart his straight man, Bud Abbott, such as in the “Two Tens for a Five” bit.

Mormon apologetics is a lot like an Abbott and Costello routine. The usual fare on the FAIR site and others involves some strained attempt to make a connection between Mormon truth claims and real history. Most of the time it sort of makes sense until you examine the logic and the evidence–then it’s almost always found wanting. At other times, some apologists seem to realize that they’ve been outsmarted, and they get flustered and lash out at the church’s critics. This latter approach, which I’ll call “Two Tens for a Five” is exemplified by an essay by another Lou (Midgley) on the newly minted “Mormon Interpreter” apologetics site.

I won’t go into detail about the history of the new site. Suffice it to say that after the recent shake-up at BYU’s Maxwell Institute, some of the exiled have started an independent apologetic site. The first article, by David Bokovoy, seemed to signal that the Interpreter would focus on scholarly approaches to Mormon beliefs, rather than on snarky and mean-spirited attacks on critics. Unfortunately, Midgley’s September 7, 2012, post proves that my initial impression was wrong.

Ostensibly, Midgley is responding to a series of seven essays on Mormonism in the November 2011 issue of  Free Inquiry, a journal discussing secular humanism. You may be wondering why Midgley is responding nearly a year after the issue’s publication. Until July or so, Midgley was a regular contributor and major figure in the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. The Maxwell Institute, formerly known as the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon, or FARMS), had as its mission:

By furthering religious scholarship through the study of scripture and other texts, Brigham Young University’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship seeks to deepen understanding and nurture discipleship among Latter-day Saints while promoting mutual respect and goodwill among people of all faiths.

As part of this mission they published apologetic books about Mormon topics and a journal called the FARMS Review, which over the years gained a reputation for polemical and mean-spirited attacks on those who questioned or criticized Mormonism. For example, one issue (volume 15, issue 2) contained 5 “reviews” of Grant Palmer’s An Insider’s View of Mormon Originsmost of which focus on Palmer’s character, or lack thereof, with various authors labeling him as one who has “lived a life of deceit for many years” (258) and who “still clings tenaciously, if irrationally, to a thread of faith in revelation” (301), with Louis Midgley adding the final insult to Palmer’s Christian faith: “Palmer appears to have filled the empty space generated by his cynicism with sentimentality about Jesus” (397).

But I digress. Sometime over the summer, the old guard at the Maxwell Institute was relieved of its duties, and the new leadership renamed the Review to the Mormon Studies Review and suspended publication until they can determine how “to better position the new Mormon Studies Review within its academic discipline” (“A New Beginning …“). Some former Review contributors have reported that issues had been delayed or canceled because they continued in that aggressive stance, notably a purported “hit piece” on John Dehlin that was quashed. Presumably, then, Midgley’s article-length post was intended for publication in the Review but was delayed or rejected. No longer constrained by the Maxwell Institute, Midgley has published it on the Interpreter.

I’ve read Midgley’s entire article, and it’s a stem-winder, but I am particularly interested in his discussion of my friend C.L. Hanson’s essay, “Building on a Religious Background.” Ms. Hanson has been a good friend of mine for several years. We first encountered each other when I first started blogging in 2005 or so. I became a fan of her Letters from a Broad blog, which discussed her life as a Java programmer, mother, and former Mormon. She also runs Main Street Plaza, which is mostly an aggregate of several LDS-related bloggers; her contribution is mostly limited to “Sunday in Outer Blogness,” a roundup of the week’s LDS-related blogging, pro and con. She is a delightful person who has helped me a great deal by encouraging my writing, reviewing and publicizing my book, and inviting me to participate in a panel and book-signing at this year’s Sunstone conference. I am honored that she is my friend, so it is a little difficult to write objectively about Midgley’s response to her essay.

The essay in question encourages former believers to build bridges with the faith communities they grew up with. She writes:

Atheists who were raised in other religions can form the same sorts of bridges with their own communities. I encourage them to do so. It makes sense that — within the atheist community — secular Jews should take the lead when discussing Israel, and people raised Muslim should take the lead in discussions about problems in Muslim countries, for example. They have added perspective on the subject, plus they can be trusted not to be biased by racism against their group nor by believing that their group is doing God’s will. Being raised in religion isn’t better or worse than being raised without it. But I believe that those of us who were raised in religious communities have a special role to play, and we should step up and play it.

This is hardly controversial, but it is nice for someone to be arguing that we do have a role to play in healing wounds and discussing problems within our former religions and communities. But here’s how Midgley sees it:

Ms. Hanson proclaims that she is an atheist but “grew up Mormon” (p. 40). She can presumably “translate between [the] two communities” (p. 40). Why? Her once having been LDS makes her, she imagines, sort of “bilingual.” She is ready and willing, she claims, to correct “those who believe the usual stereotypes about atheists” because she knows that they are not really “amoral nihilists, or whatever.” She can, she claims, also correct mistakes that atheists make about the faith of Latter-day Saints. She does these things “sometimes on the Bloggernacle (network of faithful-Mormon blogs).”

She pictures herself as “a mild mannered mom” who posts up a storm on the Internet promoting what she calls “the middle ground where ‘nice,’ tactful atheism can occur” (p. 41). Her blogs—Main Street Plaza and Letters from a Broad—strike me as a bit raunchy and as lacking intellectual content. Hanson needs a sense of solidarity with Latter-day Saints, even though her own nice “atheist community” (p. 41) should take care of her emotional needs by providing her with friends, a sense of [Page 135] meaning, and an identity. She believes that “atheists who were raised in other religions can form the same sort of bridges with their own communities” (p. 41).

The fact is, however, that both substance and civility are in rather short supply on lists, boards, and blogs, where the most violent and uninformed are free to opine up a storm. And this goes, unfortunately, for both Latter-day Saints as well as their critics.

Some of Hanson’s remarks, however, actually almost seem to address Tom Flynn’s desires for an answer to the question of how atheists and Latter-day Saints can have something “to say to one another” (p. 21), presumably in addition to bashing each other on blogs. Unfortunately, she does not address the two questions—“Why did Mormonism grow?” and “Why does it endure?”—that constitute the subtitle of Tom Flynn’s introduction. This fact highlights a problem with the seven items in Free Inquiry.

Where to begin with this diatribe? Why not the beginning? The first paragraph discusses Ms. Hanson’s call for people like her (and me) to build bridges between believers and nonbelievers because, in some ways, we are “bilingual” because we understand what it’s like to believe and not believe. Midgley seems to think she is being both arrogant and disingenuous, as she “claims” she can help correct misunderstandings and stereotypes believers and nonbelievers have about each other (I have seen her do this many times). Why is this a suspect claim for Lou? Because she sometimes posts on the Bloggernacle, an aggregate blog of mostly believing Mormons. What does Midgley have against the bloggernacle?

The second paragraph is so silly and presumptuous that I need to unpack it a little at a time.

She pictures herself as “a mild mannered mom” who posts up a storm on the Internet promoting what she calls “the middle ground where ‘nice,’ tactful atheism can occur” (p. 41).

First, she is a “mild mannered mom,” as anyone who reads her blogs can see and as those of us who have spent time with her know. But she doesn’t “post up a storm on the Internet”; she’s busy, and as I mentioned, her contributions include the Sunday news roundup and an occasional article. Her personal blog is, well, a personal blog. I do wonder why Midgley is hostile to niceness and tact; I suppose atheists should be more genuine about their evil intentions. In some ways I understand Midgley’s fear of the nice and tactful; I’ve been told I’m one of the worst types of anti-Mormons because I try to be kind and fair. Apparently, my behavior is a ruse to ensnare the unwitting in the devil’s clutches. Perhaps Midgley disdains her efforts at promoting civility precisely because he has no need for it himself.

Her blogs—Main Street Plaza and Letters from a Broad—strike me as a bit raunchy and as lacking intellectual content.

As I mentioned, MSP is simply a collecting point for a number of blogs and bloggers, and LFAB is a personal blog (here’s a representative post). By “raunchy” Midgley apparently means that she speaks more frankly about sexuality than he deems proper (here’s her Vagina Testimony, for example). In a footnote, he expands his scolding of her wanton crudeness by pointing to footnotes to a post from 2006(!):

For example, it really is ludicrous for Hanson to describe her teenage efforts to seduce boys or to describe what she claims to have managed in the library at BYU. See http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/2006/07/my-deconversion-part-3-tipping-point.html, including the comments for one of many similar examples of childish rubbish.

It’s stunning to me that someone can read a moving account of one’s loss of faith and focus only on a tongue-in-cheek paragraph that explains why she chose to fictionalize her conversation with a non-Mormon the way she did:

However, in real life I did have a few non-member boyfriends at the time that I was in the process of trying to hustle into the bedroom as quickly as I could, with varying degrees of success. So if you’d like to tell yourself that my epiphany was motivated by my ferocious teenage hormones that wanted an open field to “sin,” go ahead.

That’s one of the things I admire about C.L. Hanson’s writing, the casual tone and humor. I’m sorry Brother Midgley considers someone’s humorous personal blog “childish rubbish.” I wonder what he’d say if I reviewed his personal journal.

Next we read:

Hanson needs a sense of solidarity with Latter-day Saints, even though her own nice “atheist community” (p. 41) should take care of her emotional needs by providing her with friends, a sense of [Page 135] meaning, and an identity.

I have no idea where this is coming from, and C.L. is equally mystified, as she writes in a response to Midgley on her blog, “This is the bit that most makes me go ‘WTF?’” She continues:

Midgley seems to be implying that I’m some sort of lonely, emotionally-needy person who clings to the faithful Mormon community due to some inadequacy in the atheist community. Not only is that not true, but there’s really nothing in my article to suggest it. Allow me to explain that the point of the article was to convince atheists of the value of engaging in constructive dialog about religion.

The need to portray Ms. Hanson negatively is part of it, but there is a larger reason Midgley says this about atheism being a community that “should take care of her emotional needs by providing her with friends, a sense of meaning, and an identity.” Midgley’s essay is titled “Atheist Piety: A Religion of Dogmatic Dubiety.” His thesis is that all the essays in the Free Inquiry issue, including Ms. Hanson’s, are broadsides on Mormonism from the perspective of a dogmatic, militant atheism. After deriding some of the essays for their “nonscholarly” attacks on the church, he writes:

Others complain that the faith of the Saints tends to meet emotional needs or that their religious community has various ways of reinforcing their own moral demands. In no instance do these authors see their own deeply held ideology as serving similar personal and community-sustaining religious functions.

In short, Midgley tries the age-old tactic of insisting that atheism is actually a religion, and a dogmatic and intolerant religion at that. Of course, it won’t do when an author like Ms. Hanson calls for bridge-building and reconciliation; he needs her to have a “deeply held ideology” that gives her the same support as “religious functions.” Because she hasn’t actually said anything like this in her essay, Midgley simply asserts that she has. She’s clearly thrown the good professor for a loop because, no matter how many times he gives her two tens, she’s giving back a five; she won’t fit in his neat little apostate box because she wasn’t there in the first place.  So, lacking any justification, Dr. Midgley tells us she believes that the atheist community is supposed to take care of her. And just like that, a conciliatory essay is of a piece with the other essays, which he says

reflect a fashionable, dogmatic, naive, and deeply religious enmity toward the faith of Latter-day Saints. The essays are also shown to be instances of a modern militant atheism, which is contrasted with earlier and much less bold and aggressive doubts about divine things.

If nothing, Ms. Hanson writes about her religious upbringing with affection and sympathy, even though much of what she experienced was painful. But facts be damned, Midgley has a thesis to prove, so C.L. Hanson must be a militant atheist with nothing but enmity and contempt for Mormonism and Mormons.

In the next sentence, Midgley makes casual mention of Hanson’s main point:

She believes that “atheists who were raised in other religions can form the same sort of bridges with their own communities” (p. 41).

But he quickly dismisses this as mere posturing:

The fact is, however, that both substance and civility are in rather short supply on lists, boards, and blogs, where the most violent and uninformed are free to opine up a storm. And this goes, unfortunately, for both Latter-day Saints as well as their critics.

Well, no kidding. Anyone who has been around Mormon discussions anywhere on the Internet knows there is a lot of rancor on both sides. That’s why C.L. Hanson wrote the article. But Midgley doesn’t care about her thesis. He simply wants to lump her in with the “violent and uninformed.” Certainly, those Mormons who read Midgley’s piece without actually reading the essays he attacks–er, reviews–will come away uninformed and probably a little angry.

Then he makes a backhanded concession:

Some of Hanson’s remarks, however, actually almost seem to address Tom Flynn’s desires for an answer to the question of how atheists and Latter-day Saints can have something “to say to one another” (p. 21), presumably in addition to bashing each other on blogs.

That’s a neat trick, isn’t it? He takes her entire thesis and reduces it to just “some of [her] remarks,” as if her calls for conciliation were an intentional distraction from her true goal: “bashing each other on blogs.”

His final complaint is this:

Unfortunately, she does not address the two questions—“Why did Mormonism grow?” and “Why does it endure?”—that constitute the subtitle of Tom Flynn’s introduction.

That’s probably because neither question was pertinent to her subject. It’s quite ironic for someone who has systematically misrepresented another person’s article to then complain that she didn’t talk about what he wanted her to talk about.

Another footnote is instructive:

Hanson is an atheist housewife who blogs from Zurich, Switzerland (at Letters from a Broad andMain Street Plaza). She self-published in 2006 a novel entitled Ex Mormon.

He can’t even get her occupation right. She’s a Java programmer, which he should have figured out when he was scouring her personal blog for “raunchy” material.  (What kind of perv does that, anyway?)

Thus, having portrayed my friend as a committed–and depraved–atheist, just like the other essayists, he moves in for the kill:

This is not, of course, to say that what Paul called atheos—being “without God in the world”—is not common when people see no necessity for God since they have the welfare state to support themselves, electronic toys to entertain themselves, or drugs to pleasure themselves. All of these, and many more similar things, are commonly worshipped. Idolatry has not disappeared, even among militant atheists. The reason is that there are many whose “hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god” (2 Nephi 9:30).

There is another wonderful passage in our scriptures that describes atheos. In the preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, we learn that there are those who “seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol” (D&C 1:16).

So, now she’s a militant atheist idolater who worships drugs, electronic toys, and the welfare state(!). The sad part of all this is that she has offered the hand of friendship to people like Midgley, and he has slapped it away angrily. I applaud C.L. Hanson for attempting to build bridges, but I suspect she will have to look beyond people like Midgley, who are too busy planting dynamite around the footings to be bothered with kindness.

A Message from David Twede

September 20, 2012

I don’t think David will mind my posting this here, as I just want to show my support. What a courageous man to stand firm for truth.

Hello All.

I believe many of you have heard my name this past few days. Since last Sunday I have both been in contact with the press and have also attempted to reach out to the LDS church to make a compromise. My philosophy on that is written in a blog, which can be found again from the link on the MormonThink site under “What’s New”.

As I have indicated on the Tuesday entry, I tried to work with the church, and my leaders have completely ignored me. Thus, I’m taking my fight to the media, and there, hope to encourage the LDS church to repeal their decision to discipline me over my free speech.

MormonThink will stay put. And if I can help it, I will remain a member of record as managing editor. I hope the LDS church can open the tent bigger. A diverse view of its history, doctrines and foundation will serve it better than a narrowly defined, regimented policy against thinking persons. After all, it itself cannot even decide where it stands officially on why it denied the priesthood to the blacks, whether or not the entire or any single group of Amerindians are Lamanites or just the other race that was here already. If they can change their press releases and Book of Mormon introductions to reflect their own lack of understanding (a.k.a ignorance) then I believe the membership tent can be widened to include members who contribute to sites like MormonThink. We really aren’t any more threat to them than FARMS or Richard Bushman who acknowledge many of the same issues. We just don’t get a royalty or paycheck for doing it.

I have simultaneously posted to MormonDiscussions, RfM, StayLDS, Postmormon and LDS.NET forums, for completeness.

Official Word from MormonThink

September 20, 2012

MormonThink has issued the following press release:

“Last week, on September 11, 13 and 15, David [name deleted] the managing editor of MormonThink.com posted a series of articles on the political history of the LDS Church, as it relates to Mitt Romney’s campaign and his stubbornness of keeping his tax forms secret.

“As managing editor, David is a life-long, fifth-generation Mormon in good standing.

“Then on September 16, his LDS Bishop, LDS Stake President and two Church executives brought David into [name of state deleted] Mormon Church offices at the [name of city deleted]-based congregation and interrogated him about his writings, telling him ‘Cease and desist, Brother [last name deleted’.’ In a letter they scheduled an excommunication “for apostasy” on September 30 at 7:30am, to remove David from the LDS church.

“During the interrogation, LDS leaders questioned David for not publishing his full name and hiding his identity. To the leaders, David insisted that, ‘In my heart I believe I am championing truth as I know it as managing editor of MormonThink.’

“The next question from them was: ‘Who are the other individuals you work with on MormonThink?’ They denied that they are on–in their word–‘a witch hunt’ but they continued demanding that David answer, ‘If people are truly interested in truth, as you say they are, then why would they hide their name or who they are?’

“Many of us have seen the harm openly raising doubts can cause with family, friends and community in the Mormon culture. David asked them why now, and how did they come up with his name so fast after posting the articles. They would only say they were ‘inspired.’ He’s since heard that a Mormon apologist tied to the BYU affiliated FAIR alerted leaders in Salt Lake City, with David’s identity.

“The quick action is being kept quiet by the LDS Church. Despite the harm it may cause him with his family and friends, David has decided that the public should be aware of what is happening within the walls of the Mormon Church to those that dissent during this ‘Mormon Moment.'”

I don’t have much to add other than to repeat that from what I’ve seen, MormonThink has been scrupulously accurate and fair in their discussions of LDS history and doctrine.