J Max Wilson recently wrote a post comparing modern liberal Mormons to the more ancient Pharisees. (See Having A Form of Godliness : Modern Mormon Pharisees)
J Max decided to not cross post this post on M*, probably because he predicted it would cause a stir and he wanted to make it clear he took the full credit for what he was writing.
I’m not one to pull parallels between modern and ancient pharisees. However, I do confess that I enjoyed the article because it got me thinking. I was not aware of some of the parallels he lays out and I sort of agree with Ardis Parshall on this: “What I appreciate most about your post is that it caused me to work back and forth between modern Pharisees and what I’ve learned about New Testament-era Pharisees, helping to clarify other reading I’ve done.”
But I think any sort of parallel like this is limited at best.
Unfortunately, the ‘Bloggernacle’ didn’t respond well to the post. BCC immediately put up a nasty named link to the post. Since they took it down, I won’t repeat it. Unfortunately, one of my homes — Wheat and Tares — put up a link entitled “So, are YOU a hypocritical, orthoprax Mormon pharisee?”
Considering the fact that J Max didn’t mention anyone in particular, it bothers me that the Bloggernacle’s main response was mockery. J Max actually left considerable room for individual’s imperfections:
We all fall into the kind of hypocrisy where our private actions conflict with our public statements. This is often a hypocrisy of weakness, where our actions do not always conform to our verbal statements of belief; not because our belief is not sincere, but because in our imperfection we fall short of that sincere belief.
Moreover, his main point seems to be concern over deception.
But those who advocate “orthopraxy” as a mask for unbelief are endorsing a systematic hypocrisy in which they knowingly go through the motions of belief before men, to give the appearance of belief, when they do not in fact believe.
Shouldn’t it be an easy point of agreement that deception is morally questionable? Sure, I’d be the first to admit that not all deceptions are immoral. If I were hiding Jews in World War II Germany, I’d feel it was my moral duty to lie. But J Max is hardly talking about a morally justifiable form of deception here.
If anything, I think the main concern I personally have with J Max’s post is that this group he is concerned about is probably relatively small. A ‘bad apple in the bunch’ sort of phenomenon.
I would assume – no, I believe – that the majority of people I’ve met on the Bloggernacle are relatively straightforward in what they say they believe. In many cases, their beliefs are straight up LDS beliefs but with some interesting nuances. Other times they aren’t LDS in their beliefs, but at least they are honest about that fact, openly comparing and contrasting how they differ from the teachings of the LDS Church. In either case, I see no problem because there is no deception.
So I was glad when I noticed that Wheat and Tares had produced this respectful response from Andrew S to make up for the bad link. And, just as I would have expected of Andrew S, he actually understood and acknowledged that J Max’s post seemed to be primarily about deception and therefore had a point worthy of consideration.
I avoid some of his criticisms and fears. As a cultural Mormon, I don’t necessary want to give the impression that I’m a believer (especially if I know I don’t believe in the way people will interpret a belief statement in.) As a result of the former, as a cultural Mormon, I wouldn’t want to “infiltrate” areas of the religion that are predicated on belief (being a Bishop or some other calling like that, attending the temple, and so on). Nevertheless, it is true that I wouldn’t be a “seeker.”
Now I can’t speak for J Max here. Maybe he is uncomfortable with a ‘Cultural LDS’ openly participating with Believing LDS members. But I am not. (And I doubt J Max is either.) In fact, I want Cultural LDS to participate as far as they are comfortable and wish to – so long as they don’t try to ruin it for the Believers that is.
And this is where my own concerns lie. I don’t really care if this is called Phariseeism or not. I don’t care if the analogy is apt or not. I don’t even care if we call it hypocrisy or not. And personally, I don’t care if you do or don’t believe.
I honestly don’t care about anything in J Max posts except this one really good point: if you are being deceptive that means you are doing something morally questionable.
As it turns out, dishonesty has consequences and it always does. Even if I were to lie in Hilter’s Germany, the SS (once they caught me) would be right to assume I can’t be trusted by them. That would be a natural consequence of my action. (One I’d hopefully gladly take.)
So why couldn’t the Bloggernacle at least take that part of the post – the main point – seriously? Can’t we at least all, conservative or liberal (whatever that means), agree that deception is problematic and has consequences?
J Max gives several examples of this and I guess this is why it hits home for me – because I’ve actually seen several of these deceptions used. It’s tempting to actually put links next to the ones I’ve seen, but Geoff will kill me, so I’ll refrain.
- Technically, they believe the Book of Mormon is “inspired” because “inspired” means something more nuanced than what most believers mean…;
- technically they believe Joseph Smith is a prophet, because a prophet is something more broad than most believers understand;
- technically they believe the church is “true” in the sense that…
- they gave about 10% directly to a charity of their choosing instead of the church, so technically they are a “full tithe payer”;
- since the Word of Wisdom says people should eat meat sparingly, and people who eat a lot of meat answer the temple recommend question about obeying the Word of Wisdom in the affirmative even though they clearly don’t obey all of what it says, they also technically can say they obey the Word of Wisdom, even though they regularly drink coffee or alcohol; technically,
- Faith is the same thing as Doubt because Faith means that you don’t know for sure, and not knowing is technically doubting….
- Oh, and let’s not forget claiming Elder Holland’s quote meant the Church is moving away from Book of Mormon historicity, so its okay to claim that anyone having a discussion on how the Church does in fact teach that The Book of Mormon is historical is really going against LDS Church teachings.
Goodness! Let’s admit it. If you are speaking in this Clinton-esque sort of way, you’re misleading people. They will think you meant one thing and really you meant something else, nearly the opposite in some cases.
I have expressed elsewhere some sympathy to the idea that for a temple recommend there should be a level of personal interpretation. But I virtually lost that argument with my more conservative friends when I actually had some ‘liberal Mormons’ (whatever that means) publicly claim that since so-and-so had a temple recommend that meant they were eligible to be Bishop even if they didn’t make their differences in belief known to those making the call.
Say what!? From personal to public in one sweep, apparently, and none nary the wiser.
Let’s call a spade a spade. The fact is that the above really is deceptive and potentially quite hurtful to others. If you let people think that you mean one thing when you actually mean another there are consequences, big or small, that will follow and you are now morally responsible for them.
This point, above all others, seems like a viable point of discussion that was worthy of more than mere mockery. And in so far as J Max helped people stop and think about that point, if only for a moment to try to argue with it, then I applaud J Max for his post.
 I mean no offense here, I’m just using it in the technical sense of someone that is LDS and also “believes” in most or all of the defining truth claims of the LDS Church. As I recently told John C, I fully recognize that the word “believing” can have many senses. But that’s not an excuse to not mean what you say and say what you mean. For better or worse, the vast majority of people in the English speaking world still understand “Believing [Religion]” to mean someone that believes the defining beliefs of [Religion]. If you wish to use the phrase in a less standard way, go for it, but remember that it’s up to you to communicate this difference to your audience to avoid being deceptive.