Monday, April 17, 2006

Mormon Studies

Hiram Page's wrote an excellent analysis about the relationship of Mormon Studies and the LDS Church.


Blogger annegb said...

Hellmut, I will answer Hiram's question here, as I see it. I do not believe that God has a problem with your questions. The general authorities might.

But I believe the onus is on you, not them. I believe that your patience will be rewarded, that God is in His heaven, and He is going to make things right.

I also wonder if perhaps you are not so inclined to criticize that you can't give the church any benefit of the doubt as it negotiates its way with this problem of growth and truth. I think the general authorities are finding it difficult, and that they will eventually choose the right way.

Bumps in the road do not mean one is not going the right way. But I would also, if I were in authority, give "intellectuals" or you, personally, the benefit of the doubt caused by these inevitable bumps. It goes both ways.

Blogger Hiram Page said...

"But I believe the onus is on you, not them..."

I apologize for sounding cynical here, but this refrain is so commonly used in LDS circles that it is quickly losing credibility. In a culture that focuses so much on self-improvement, it is always true to a certain degree. One always has a responsibility with regards to one's attitudes and actions.

What bothers me is the degree to which it becomes the faithful member's shield to protect Church leadership from *any* responsibility. I don't assume that you are a faithful member. I only point to the most common source of it in my experience.

Why should we not expect more from the LDS leadership? Are they not claiming to be prophets, seers, and revelators? If they indeed do claim such, it is their job to persuade us of the grounds for such serious claims. Fear of individual expression, frankly, is not very persuasive.

I am not saying that the trust of LDS people in their leaders is violated in every respect, but where it touches on the matters I raise in my post, they have a horrible record. To simply trust in such a situation is to abdicate personal moral responsibility, when one believes passionately in the necessity of intellectual inquiry and freedom of expression.

What I do have some optimism about is the ability of the Academy to avoid the complete control of these chairs by the Mormon Church and its agents. I think that in the end, things will probably work out fine. But it will be the Academy, not the LDS Church, that makes the right adjustments. The Academy is too large and diverse to imagine some kind of Mormon takeover of chairs in Mormon Studies.

Blogger annegb said...

I don't know, Hiram, I'm pretty much the iconoclast of my ward, but I've had to accept that change comes a lot more slowly than I would like. And in the meantime, I have to have faith in the big picture, not focus on the problem.

I'm not familiar with the academy you speak of.

But I will say this, I don't know you well, I'm new to this blog, and yours, but I believe that dissent is good. I'm one who is not uncomfortable with contention. I believe, for instance, in the two party system, firmly believe. I think this sort of discussion brings problems up and in the end, brings improvement. I don't think we should stand calmly by.

On the other hand, staying true when our leaders are far less than perfect can be a good thing, too.

I would like to hear about something done right in our church as well as the constant harping on mistakes.

Blogger Hellmut said...

I appreciate your point of view, Anne. The problem is not that our leaders are wrong but that they are abusive.

In the 1993 issue of Dialogue, Lavina Anderson documented over one hundred cases of priesthood leaders bullying scholars for their research. If we have an obligation to extend patience and indulgence to our fellow human beings then surely, the victims have to take precedence over the perpetrators.

Blogger Hiram Page said...

"I don't know, Hiram, I'm pretty much the iconoclast of my ward, but I've had to accept that change comes a lot more slowly than I would like."

It sounds like you are coming from the position of one who really wants to be reconciled, at least in some way, with Mormonism. This is not to say that you do not stand on your own, but your overriding desire is to find your place in the LDS Church. Is this correct?

"I'm not familiar with the academy you speak of."

I was referring to the world of university education and scholarship.

Let me be really open here. I am not exactly sure what purpose my carping does serve. At the moment it serves a very selfish purpose. I see things that morally infuriate me, and I write about them in order to express my thoughts and feelings.

I hope that people who need to hear that others see what they see--that they are not alone in their thoughts and feelings, and that these are valid--will find what I write and take some solace in it. I doubt that people who are really optimistic about Mormonism will like what I have to say. More often than not, I find that the faithful and the optimists misconstrue what I have to say--a problem I ran into repeatedly at FAIR.

So, I can't say that I am writing for these folks.

What I hope is to bring a different, and (cross my fingers) useful perspective. I generally only write when I find I have something to say that has not been said, or said in a certain way. I am not optimistic. But I see that the Mormon problems I struggle with are common to human institutions. I am not sure what to do with that yet. For the moment I just write.

Blogger annegb said...

Hirum, I'm trying to find my place in the world. At 53, less stridently so, I'm tired and I care less.

I live in the heart of southern Utah and find it hard to separate the social aspects of church life from doctrine. It can be oppressive, especially for a woman who does not conform.

I don't think I feel the need to be reconciled. Every religion has crap. Every one. If there's a God, if I exist, I believe in Mormonism, warts included. Where I have trouble is the jerks in the church.

I'm not familiar with FAIR, I think I've been there a few times.

I am not educated, often I don't have a context for these discussions involving Mormon Studies, etc. I wonder, are other religions more open to criticism like this?

Blogger Hiram Page said...


Thanks for sharing something about yourself.

You ask whether other religions are more open to criticism. I don't think any society is particularly open to direct challenges. I participate in liberal discussion groups where people have little tolerance for conservatives attacking them incessantly. Every society has its terms and limits for participation.

Having said that, I think there are groups in which the idea of discussion is much better tolerated. Consider, for example, the openness of Judaism to discussion of its scriptures and oral tradition. The discussion, without the sense of expecting a definitive conclusion, seems to me to be at the heart of that religion.

Other religions and churches are also less hierarchically organized and less authoritarian. In such communities there is less insistence on obedience to authority figures, and less fear that average, individual members cannot be trusted. Other churches also function more democratically.

None of what we see in the LDS Church today is necessarily set in stone, but power has been increasingly concentrated in the hands of the First Presidency and Twelve through Correlation, etc. Such developments have made it more difficult for the members to behave independently. Independent thought and action is not always a bad thing!

Blogger Cynthia E. Bagley said...

This was an interesting discussion... personally, I think the onus is too much on the individual to fit in... and not on the church to tell the truth.

When I first decided that I could never fit into the church, it was a scary time. Now, I am happy and fulfilled. However, I do not live in Utah... that little fact has made all the difference.

Blogger annegb said...

And let me tell you something, Dahlink, living in Utah is a whole different way of fitting in.

I don't. I stick out like a red flag or whatever sticks out. but I am faithful and I have a conforming husband and I don't take no crap, so for the most part, people accept me.

This is what I'm saying, though, is it doctrine, or is it the social deal? Because they're different. Way different. Especially in Utah.

Blogger Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Annegb... my husband believes it is social... I am sorry to see you in this situation. I had a hard time when I was living in Utah.

My parents still live in Utah.

Blogger Hiram Page said...

Burden on the LDS Church to tell the truth? LOL. I wish!

In my opinion most large organizations, but religions especially, are amoral. They do what it takes to survive and thrive while maintaining a certain appearance of goodness. They convince themselves of their goodness by committing a small amount of their efforts and money to helping the poor. Past that, every human organization is about the rightness of exercising power. Each one believes that it is the one that is chosen, that it is the one that will do things God's way. In every case, this belief is a shared delusion.

Blogger annegb said...

No, Hiram, I disagree. I will defend to the death your right to believe that, but I disagree.

Perhaps when they become huge organizations, something takes on a life of its own, but our leaders are not amoral. I do not believe that.

Blogger Hiram Page said...

Allow me to clarify. I did not say that the LDS leadership is amoral. I said that large organizations are, or at least tend to be, amoral. It is the primacy of the organization in the minds of its leaders and members that allows them to allow themselves to bend or break the rules for the sake of that organization.

For example, it is deemed by some to be OK to spy on members and orchestrate excommunications from the top (and then lie about it to boot) when one is rooting out the enemies of the Lord's Church. What one would not ordinarily do *because* one is otherwise quite moral, becomes admissable for the sake of the organization. It was also deemed OK to pretend that President Benson was still cognizant and at the helm of the Church to preserve the security and trust of the members. Some would call that lying, but when one is "lying for the Lord" (i.e. the Church), it becomes OK.

"Lying for the Lord" has a long history in Mormonism. It begins at the very least with Joseph Smith lying about his plural marriages. Polygamy provides another excellent example--the leaders of the Church lying to the government and to each other about the discontinuation of polygamy after the Manifesto. Such selective ethics practiced in the name of God are in my view not so much evidence of mass Mormon amorality as the principle that I am arguing in favor of. Today we might call it the "Enron Principle".

Blogger annegb said...

Well, power is an aphrodisiac, however you spell it. I personally use my power in my calling as a visiting teacher supervisor. Whoever pisses me off gets one of two women, the two that everyone dreads coming to their house.

I used to use my power more fully, but it came back to bite me too many times. For awhile it was fun.

I think I understand, Hiram. And the truth is, I don't care all that much if people leave the church, either for them or the church, because I don't think God cares all that much. I think if you are a good person, things are going to work out for the best. I just do.

And at the same time, I have an extremely cynical view of life and the choice I made of being born. Life is very hard.

All the rest is just treading water until it's over. I just don't think God nitpicks.


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