Thursday, January 3, 2013

My responses to an apologist

You probably know by now that I don't think much of apologetics.  I had some conflicts with a noted LDS apologist last month, for which I regret some of my reaction to his antics.  I lowered myself to his level, and that's a bit embarrassing. So I need to leave these things aside. I apologized on webpages I can no longer access, he refused to acknowledge it, so that is life.

Yet this apologist continues to blog about me -- I think it must be a bit of an obsession for him to have someone who tries to live a faithful Middle Way -- it does not compute in his worldview. Here is his post:
I ran across [sic] the following pseudonymous comment on a Mormon-focused message board dominated by formerly active members of the Church who are now atheists and agnostics. It comes from an outspokenly atheist former Mormon — an exceptionally bright one, though one who is seldom fair in his remarks — and is addressed (sincerely, I think) to another pseudonymous poster who had been wondering, given her own unbelief (I’m simplifying here; her position is somewhat obscure and perhaps incoherent), whether she still belongs in a church in which nasty people like me insist so firmly on the literal deity of Christ, his physical resurrection from the dead, and the literality of Joseph Smith’s First Vision and of the visits from Moroni. I’ve corrected the punctuation very slightly:

The Church just got rid of its official apologetics outlet and turned it into a Mormon Studies outlet. Mormon studies allows anything, from creative apologetics to existentialism and atheism, and is a huge win for people like you. They [Mormon apologists, specifically including me] know this, blog quite openly about it, and now have even more reason to make you the enemy, so why are you so disheartened? Today is the day for you, my friend. The field is ripe.

Worthy of reflection, I think, even though the Church, as such, played no role whatever in the recent purge.
I responded as follows:
In doing a little research on your post here, I believe I am the "pseudonymous poster..." you refer to above.

I love the Gospel of John. In it, a well-educated, rational Jew named Nicodemus interprets Christ's words literally that we must be born again. He asks, "How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?" After which Jesus explains that there is a difference between heavenly things and earthly things, and that spiritual things are equally real even if not physically so. That's why Jesus taught in parables -- the truth is the normative value of the story, not the physical literalism thereof. ."

Nicodemus continued to be caught in a literalist mindset, so Jesus asks, "Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?"."

I have stated that it is possible to be a fully faithful member of the Church in good standing and not have a literal belief in certain claims. Faith is distinct from belief, in that faith recognizes explicitly the difference between knowing something, and hoping for and acting on something while not knowing it is true. Belief is passive, faith is active. Belief does not recognize the difference between knowing and not knowing, but simply claims to know. Belief does not distinguish whether something is true or not: faith in something not true, by Alma's definition is not faith at all. ."

To recognize that someone can have faith in something without knowing it is true seems to be entirely consistent with Alma 32's definition of faith. This is and has been my position. I hold this position because by not anchoring on the literal, my faith can withstanding the knowledge, for example, that the Book of Abraham was not a translation of the Papyrus as Joseph Smith claimed, or that the Book of Mormon is not a literal history of the native americans as a whole as prophets have claimed up until recently. ."

To be specific, I do not know that Jesus physically resurrected from the dead -- I neither believe it nor disbelieve it -- there is no *reason* to believe it -- meaning that it defies logical proof ("reason") -- yet I know through personal experience and testimony that He lives. How is an honest self-appraisal of the lack of valid empirical evidence for something an obscure or incoherent position? Yet you and others "insist so firmly on the literal", implying that those who are honest and sincere about their lack of knowledge are somehow lesser Mormons than you. Your colleagues have gone so far as to call those who don't believe 'anti-christs', and having asked you to repudiate this, you have firmly stood behind it.."

I consider you, Dr. Peterson, a master of Mormon Israel. How is it that you do not know these things?
I am not surprised, but my response did not survive his moderation. His terms of "dialog" are always to do so in a safe environment where he can have his say without thoughtful response...

At the same time as I posted -- knowing he was responding to other comments, I noted that this apologist saw "Les Miserables", being grateful that it promotes "religious faith".  I responded as follows:

Like you, I find the message of Les Miserables sublime and clearly faith promoting.  I'm not sure I would agree that such faith is 'religious' per se.  The message of forgiveness, of redemption, and of walking the right path is clearly in common among many religious and non-religious.

To me, the lesson of Javert is an extraordinarily important one.  Javert represented the best of righteousness and justice - his integrity was impeccable.  Yet, Javert could not accept that there was another way to be acceptable to god other than through the exactness of obedience: Justice must be served.  He could not accept that Jean Valjean was a redeemed person, that although they may have believed differently with respect to the law and justice, that both were indeed good and righteous people.

This is the beauty and irony of Javert: perfect goodness can also be perfectly evil.

We find in the Church today many who believe in a very specific and rigid definition of mormonism.  They claim that anyone who believes differently, particularly those who have a non-literal belief, to be "anti-christ", citing specifc scriptures out of context.  These are the "Javerts" of the church -- their testimony is strong, their righteousness is unquestionable, their integrity the highest of all -- yet because they fail to understand the real principle behind "atonement" -- that is, "If ye are not one ye are not mine" -- they lose track of the "more excellent way" of Godly love.

"Take my hand, and lead me to salvation,
Take my love, for love is everlasting,
And remember the truth that once was spoken:
To love another person is to see the face of God."

It is my hope and prayer that in this new year, we can lay aside the conflicts of the past and embrace one another in full fellowship.  That, to me, is to love another person.  That, to me, is what Jesus asks us when he says, "I say unto you 'be one', and if ye are not one, ye are not mine."  That, to me, is to see the face of god as we welcome diversity of spiritual gifts without judgment and exclusion.

Can we walk this Way together?
I'm not sure this will have any effect. I doubt it will survive his moderation. But it truly is my hope that such 'defense of mormonism' that causes such antipathy be done away.

And in another post, this same blogger quotes Bertrand Russell out of context claiming that the atheist worldview provides no comfort to mourners. He fails to recognize the purpose of Russell's charge to focus on the present rather than on a powerful god that is supposed to make things right, because in Russell's view, the universe doesn't seem to care in the least about humans. Instead, he charges us to make the most of today -- a very different message than the caricature of Russell's beliefs by quoting Russell out of context. Here is what I wrote:

By quoting Bertrand Russell out of context, it certainly paints a bleak picture. But the title of the article is "A Free Man's Worship", and while he certainly paints a bleak picture of death, his purpose is to enhance the free man's ability to make the most of the present -- to establish morality and goodness amidst what he views as the cruelty of the omnipotent universe. This is what Russell's point was:

"Let us learn, then, that energy of faith which enables us to live constantly in the vision of the good; and let us descend, in action, into the world of fact, with that vision always before us."

I would hardly think this charge to have faith in a way that leads to action for good is a message at odds with what we as LDS believe. To seek a world of 'fact' is to embrace the gospel as it was meant to be taught: all truth is circumscribed into one whole, to have faith in something proven to be not true is no faith at all.
Well, this is often the Way of apologetics -- to defend one's beliefs regardless of the truth or objectivity of the matter. I always liked the late Rodney King's response to all the polemics following his beating by the LA police: "Why can't we just get along?"

Update: Our "Apologist" has posted his response onto Mormon Dialogue and on his own blog. Evidently, his blog server lost all three of my entries above, or so he claims. Uh-huh...right.


  1. You speak well. How have you become a writer who speaks eloquently AND thoroughly?
    I spent the last hour listening to videos and audios of Bertrand Russell on YouTube. As of this moment, I am his newest fan. What a admirable thinker. Thank you for sharing this conversation. I'm sure many of us out here share moments of frustration when our dialogue with another becomes encumbered by defensive postures around dogma. Good wishes to you.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I'm not sure I would put Bertrand Russell as my 'favorite', but I certainly respect his mind. He was a bit of a militant atheist, publishing a book, "Why I am not a Christian"...and in my impression, this is entirely too far into the mode of rejecting religion entirely.

    I've tried that model -- there is too much good in the community of saints that does not get replaced in a life of rejecting.

  3. Well, I hope some day to exhibit the equanimity you do with regard to religion, but I seem to react to my experience with it as if it were traumatic.
    Even though I don't know you, it appears that you maintain a type of faith that is beneficent. I feel like I have scar tissue that interferes with faith's ability to breathe.
    And seriously, I really admire your writing ability. I imagine you've disciplined your skill, and I'm wondering how. :)

  4. I have a question....? Under the terms of faith as outlined by your example of Alma 32, is it even possible to accept anything as literal truth once the test has been executed? Is the result actual literal "proof" or is it left for individual interpretations, that the light found is still not a perfect knowledge, but that the Way is actually what is the literal proof? What I mean is that it may be that the test itself is the ly literal truth you can discern from, not the end result.

    A few questions in there that I would like your thoughts on.