Cafeteria Mormonism – The Opium of the Heterodox

This is a guest post from Jeff G.
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cafeteria

With the publication by the church of two essays that touch on feminist topics, the response within some parts of the bloggernacle has been the rather predictable mongering of contradictions. One post sought to show how different words from different leaders “compete” with one another on the subject. Another argued that church policy and church doctrine are in contradiction with one another. The conclusion for which all such posts obviously push is that, no matter what living prophets tell you on these subjects, you are completely justified in rejecting such teachings. It is this attitude of picking and choosing which doctrines and policies of the living church leaders to accept (as if the church were a cafeteria of sorts) that I want to expose and subvert.

Within the church, there are various teachings/doctrines/policies that we are under a moral obligation to accept. An uncontroversial example of this would be a testimony that Jesus is the Christ. Let’s call these teachings “true.” There are also, within the church, various teachings/doctrines/policies that we are under a moral obligation to reject. Within the current church, a full-blown, un-nuanced advocacy of polygamy falls under this category. Let’s call these teachings “false.” In addition to these two groups of teachings, there are also various teachings/doctrines/policies that we are free to accept or reject according to our individual contexts and righteous desires. One’s views regarding Book of Mormon geography almost certainly falls in this category. Let’s call these teachings “open.”

I do not claim that the boundaries that separate and define these groups are clear, universal or timeless. Indeed, I strongly believe that these lines are sometimes blurry, contextual and historical in nature – polygamy being a perfect example. Sometimes the boundaries surrounding truth and falsehood shrink, opening up more space for exploration and pluralism, while other times they grow, bringing with them a more hard-lined orthodoxy. Within some contexts, my being open to some teachings will prevent me from being a Sunday school teacher, rejecting other teachings will prevent me from holding a temple recommend, and advocating other teachings will prevent me from being a member of good standing. We have, however, little – if any – reason to assume that a rejection of the exact same beliefs will receive the exact same punishment/acceptance from all church leaders at all times and in all places. This is the entire point of continuing revelation operating within a bounded stewardship! That said, however transitional and ambiguous these boundaries between truth, falsehood and “open” can sometimes be, they most certainly DO exist. We absolutely do have moral obligations to accept and reject various teachings.

There is, however, a fourth kind of teachings/doctrines/policies that many of the more heterodox within the church wrongly claim to exist. These are the teachings that individual church members (supposedly) have a moral obligation to both accept and reject. These teachings are sometimes called “cafeteria” doctrines in that, precisely because church members have an obligation to both accept and reject them, the only option that we really have is to “pick and choose” which of these conflicting commandments we will disobey with an appeal to some external, secular standard.

Despite their prima facie similarity, cafeteria teachings are NOT to be confused with open teachings. Open teachings are those to which we have no moral obligation to accept or reject. There is, then, no moral obligation or church standard that is being transgressed by our accepting or rejecting open teachings. Cafeteria teachings, by contrast, are those to which we not only have a moral obligation to accept, but we also have a second, incompatible moral obligation to reject as well. It is precisely the existence of these conflicting moral obligations that sets cafeteria teachings from open teachings, for it is this condition which automatically entails a transgression of moral obligations and/or church standards. The perceived unavoidability of transgressing some church standard or another is exactly what gives the heterodox intellectual an incentive to paint as much of their own unorthodoxy as “cafeterial” in nature as they possibly can. This, I suggest, is the primary incentive for the intellectual pitting of one church teaching against another that we often find within the bloggernacle today.

Ever on the defense, such heterodox members are not content to merely paint some of their own beliefs as cafeterial in nature, since this still sets them apart from the orthodox whose beliefs are not so infected with cafeteriality. In order to disguise this moral distinction between hetero- and ortho-doxy, these intellectuals go on to insist that ALL members have no choice but to be cafeteria Mormons. In this vein, a moral inversion takes place such that the difference between hetero- and orthro-doxy has been replaced with the difference between those members who are conscious of their own (unavoidable) cafeteriality and those who are not so conscious of theirs. A robust understanding of church history, these heterodox intellectuals claim, makes it perfectly obvious that the contradictory teachings of cafeteria Mormonism do objectively exist. Thus, no matter what any and every member of the church actually believes and teaches, they inevitably violate some moral obligation or another. This, I insist, is completely and totally false.

The argument for cafeteria Mormonism is based in an entirely false understanding of prophetic authority and looks something like the following:

P1) Some (all?) prophetic authorities (living or dead) are equally authorized to declare truth/falsehood.
P2) Some authorities have declared some teachings to be true while other authorities have declared those same teachings to be false.
P3) We cannot live up to our moral obligation to both accept and reject the same teaching.
P4) We must, therefore, pick and choose which of these teachings we will accept or reject according to how consistent they are with some external, secular standard (science, politics, etc.).

By this confused line of reasoning, our secular teachers are tacitly placed on the same level as (perhaps higher than) the prophetic authorities in question. This is what makes the “cafeteria Mormon” such an appealing category to the more intellectual church members whose Enlightenment values resist their being in tutelage to traditional church authorities. (As a side note, it is for this very reason that I myself am so suspicious of those members who prescribe as much of an overlapping consistency between science and religion as possible. It’s not that I am hostile to a robust overlap as such, only to the ways in which this overlap can be illegitimately leveraged against prophetic authorities and lead us down false paths.)
Note well that most such intellectuals typically do not spell out P1 when they argue for or appeal to the “cafeterial” nature of Mormonism. This first premise is necessary, however, if P2 is ever to gain any traction, for if the differing authorities are not actually equal in authority, then there is no need to appeal to an external, secular standard. Instead, such intellectuals busily go about illustrating P2 by multiplying differences in church teachings and giving them the illicit appearance of contradiction.

If, however, no two prophetic authorities are ever equal to each other, then the fact that different authorities have declared one and the same teaching to be both true and false is morally irrelevant. Here is how such a counter-argument runs:

P1)* No two prophetic authorities are ever equally authorized to declare truth/falsehood to one and the same person at one and the same time. One authority always supersedes another.
P2)* Different prophetic authorities are supposed to teach different and even inconsistent things to the different people that fall within their differing stewardships.
P3)* When different prophetic authorities pronounce the same teaching to be both true and false, we only have a moral obligation to follow the one who has higher authority over us.
P4)* To pick and choose teachings by an appeal to any external, secular standard just is to (wrongly) treat that secular standard as if it were the higher prophetic authority.

The heterodox member’s basic argument for cafeteria Mormonism was to say that since church authorities contradict each other and thus cannot be trusted, we will, therefore, rely on those secular authorities that we can trust – “You think the prophets say this, I think they say that… So we’ll let science be the higher judge and break the tie.” But this just is to make unauthorized, false prophets out of scientists, even when these typically do not pretend to such authority. This, however, is exactly what follows from Cafeteria Mormonism. The correct view, by contrast, is to say that since there never was and never will be any tie to break between prophetic authorities, we simply have no need for any appeal to external, secular standards. For this is exactly what appeals to cafeteria Mormonism are supposed to do: give the appearance of legitimacy to the heterodox member’s allegiance to external and secular standards/values/politics over the living church leaders.

To anticipate what I think is the most potent objection, it could very well be the case that this counter-argument does not cover every single tension that might exist within one and the same church authority. I am not totally uncomfortable with this objection, however, if only because it tacitly grants my proposal to sideline all contradictions between different authorities – this being the primary tactic of the heterodox members in question. I would also suggest that since we do not have a full and equal moral obligation to accept every single teaching of any particular living authority, I suspect that most such disagreements are merely “open” in nature. If the heterodox still insist that there are genuinely cafeteria teachings within the church such that the same living church authority has placed one and the same person under a moral obligation to both accept and reject one and the same teaching at the same time in the person’s life, then I would simply state that this rather high burden of proof has not been unambiguously met. Not by a long shot.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

108 thoughts on “Cafeteria Mormonism – The Opium of the Heterodox

  1. How do you distinguish this from the moral relativism that is commonly denounced from our pulpits? Or, are you arguing that moral relativism is necessary?

  2. What would you do for the heterodox who have a P4 that goes something like: Therefore, I have to rely on the Spirit to tell me what to do. I see comments like “well, the GAs are contradicting themselves once again, I’ll just have to go by the spirit here” (though, in those cases, the “Spirit” usually sounds like some progressive party platform) quite often on the more “heterodox” blogs.

  3. Ivan,

    If such people want to flat out reject all mortal authorities, then that is their prerogative. The thing about Mormon doctrine is that we are all priesthood authorities only with different stewardships. Thus, such people are fully entitled to follow their promptings while acknowledging that they don’t have the authority to trump anybody else.

    DD,

    This isn’t moral relativism. It’s follow the Lord’s will and His prophets.

  4. When I go out to eat at a cafeteria, it’s all about what I want. When a gracious host invites me to a feast, it’s also all about what I want. However, the food tastes better at the feast.

  5. I’m in total agreement with your appeal to church authority as the ultimate arbiter of current church doctrine and policy. And anyone who takes it upon themselves to challenge that authority within the church, is clearly out of harmony with the structure God has set up to govern the church and keep it in a strait and narrow way.

    But you also concede (by recognising the existence of “open” Mormonism) that one cannot always appeal to church authority as the ultimate arbiter of ALL questions relating to truth and the complicated decisions and beliefs we must confront in life.

    So are you suggesting that it’s OK to reject some church teaching or policy in an “open” way, as long as you don’t challenge the church’s authority to have the final say? Or by appealing to church authority, are you suggesting, as many orthodox members do, that what the authority says, should always be regarded categorically as absolute truth by faithful members?

  6. No. I am saying that the church doesn’t care either way about each and every belief you might have. Consider the current position regarding birth control. Each couple is allowed to live according to their own, prayerfully considered position on the issue. The very openness of the issue makes it worthless to argue about with other people.

  7. But my question was if you consider the authorised teachings of the living prophets to be categorical absolute truth, or if it morally acceptable to disagree with some teachings the church does seem to care about, as long as you don’t challenge their authority to teach it as such.

  8. “If you claim that truth and right depend on the time and place, that’s moral relativism.”

    Says who? I’ve never read that scriptural passage. Why allow secular authorities to define the terms of such debates? Instead, I read that certain laws (that of Moses) is historically replaced by others and…

    “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.'”

    If this is moral relativism, then the prophets do not preach against it.

  9. “If you claim that truth and right depend on the time and place, that’s moral relativism.”

    No.

    At one time God said “thou shalt not kill.” Yet at another time he commanded Nephi to kill an unconscious man, and another time God commanded the Israelites to destroy another people completely and utterly. Does this mean that the moral truth had changed? No.

    Ultimately Moral truth is unchanging. However, only God truly understands what that truth is. There are times when our past understanding of the truth does not fit into the situation we find ourselves in, and so God gives us new guidelines better adapted to our day and age. And that is why we need to pay close attention to today’s prophets and apostles.

    When God told the prophets thou shalt not kill, that was the bar that the people were held accountable to. When God told the prophets thou shall utterly destroy, that was the bar that the people were held accountable to.

    So when the prophet and apostles of our day say something, that is the bar we are measured against. It doesn’t matter what the prophets of yesterday or tomorrow say, as God holds us responsible for obeying the stewards of our day.

  10. Living the gospel is like jumping rope.

    The position of the rope is a real thing. It is true. Yet it cannot be understood only in a positional sense. It is necessary to understand the temporal movement of the rope to comprehend the true reality of the rope.

    In God’s efforts to bring us home to Him, He will shift as required to get us to the single, unchanging goal of eternal life. Thus the list of things in the set “required” will change (the set Jeff calls “true”), as will the list of things that were formerly in the set “forbidden,” (the set Jeff calls “false”). Then there is the much more expansive list of things in the “I don’t care, use your own judgement” (the set Jeff calls “open”).

    Right now same gender conjugal relationships are sufficiently prevalent that God (if one presumes, as I do, that the LDS position reflects God’s intent) has decided He has to formally list that in the “forbidden” set. Previously it could safely reside in the “why would anyone want to do that?!?” set.

    Thus I see Jeff’s cafeteria conundrum to be those who hear the Church formally listing something as being in God’s “forbidden” set and deciding that it isn’t really forbidden, since they presume that at some future time a more right-thinking prophet will remove it from the “forbidden” set.

    Similarly these folks look at what the Church lists as being in God’s “required” set and suppose that these things aren’t really required, since the thing is hard and similar things have previously moved off the “required” set, sometimes into the “forbidden” set. This would be a bit like the high school student who doesn’t understand why they have to complete a college application before a deadline, since there wasn’t ever previously a need to complete a college application, and they don’t know any adults who are completing college applications.

  11. By the way, it’s really funny to see Mormons quoting the letter Bennett alleges was written to Nancy Rigdon as God’s truth. I actually rather like that letter, but it was widely denounced as not being a letter from Joseph Smith at the time.

  12. As an exercise in contrast, one can read Smallaxe’s recent post at FPR where (s)he argues for almost the exactly opposite of what I advocate. It will be up to the reader to decide which of our models is more closely aligned with the gospel values found within the scriptures.

  13. FPR = Faith Promoting Rumors?

    Just a guess, don’t really know. I do think that smallaxe has posted here before, though.

  14. This post, in my opinion focuses on authority, truth, and the church. I like the distinction about

    different stewardships that leaders (and individuals) in the church have, and I think I can accept

    that there are no two leaders that have the same stewardship at the same time. That makes sense.

    One way I see the church as effective in revealing truth is not to have us rely on authority only, but on truth. Most truth, admittedly, about important things, such as that there is a God, and his character, and the proper ordinances, etc. comes to us through authority of one kind or another (often we read the scriptures to learn these things, written by prophets who had priesthood
    authority). When w pay attention to the prophets and heed their counsel, we can become knowledgeable of some of the truth, just as they are knowledgeable in that truth that they taught us. (As the scripture in Alma 32:34 speaks of faith being dormant and knowledge being perfect in
    a particular thing). I believe our moral obligation is to the truth, and part of the truth is that listening to the prophets and following them leads us to the truth.

    As the only true and living church, led by Jesus Christ, there are authorities called which teach truth. It is the truth that we are enjoined to accept.

    The connection between us and the prophets is strengthened as we strengthen our commitment to truth, and as our commitment to truth grows, we will turn more to the prophets and understand their counsel better.

  15. So what I see smallaxe saying is:

    “OMG, those nutty Mormons obey their leaders! I think they’d even commit acts of terrorism if their leaders asked them to!”

    When I pointed out that the likelihood of a leader asking anyone to commit acts of terrorism is non-existent, smallaxe responded that this isn’t the point, that it’s the fact that leaders cultivate a “must obey” attitude that would allow them to command lethal levels of obedience.

    As for me, I think the ablative layer of the Church is being asked to ablate.

    Reminds me of the story of the Israelites at the river, first asking those who wanted to leave to do so, then deciding that it was only those few who didn’t drink on all fours like dogs that would be part of God’s force.

  16. Jared,

    Once we acknowledge God as yet another authority figure, I’m not sure what this “truth” is that stands apart from authority.

    Meg,

    Yeah. I would comment there, but I refuse to place disqus’s (the worst comment platform of all time) pig-headed mind games! Smallaxe’s thought presuppose a VERY meager faith in revelation on the part of both leaders and members. The scriptures have several examples of people who have been expect to kill on authority. The religious constraint to an abuse of this authority is personal revelation, not the liberal moral theory by which (s)he seeks to evaluate the prophets.

  17. Yeah, I suppose responding to trolls isn’t really worthy of my time. But sometimes I get bored.

    I was amused at alphabet soup man claiming that as a woman there are things that of which I am unaware.

    Yeah sure.

  18. Mercifully, none of my internet-connected devices is letting me comment on smallaxe’s post anymore, nor to the silly people dredging up soundbites to imply that only Mormon history has stories of stupid.

  19. What the smallaxes likely don’t realize is that Nephi _knew_ who was commanding him to kill Laban. It was not merely an idea that popped into his head, or a mere prompting or impression. Before that incident, i think Nephi had had plenty of experience with personal revelation and testimony.

    When doubters say that the Brethren aren’t inspired or being led by God when the Brethren state that they are, (or imply it by giving a united message over the pulpit at GC or by formal letter or policy) then the doubters are tacitly admitting that they themselves (the doubters) are not receiving revelation. Because if you receive revelation in regards to your callings/sphere of influence, then you know that those in authority over you receive revelation. Either that, or you don’t believe that the hierarchy of the church has divine authority. If the latter, then you don’t believe the foundational truth claims of the church anyway.

    Sometimes I have marveled, even cringed, when the Spirit made something known to me, “poured pure knowledge into me”, or plainly or forcefully told me to do something. “Constrained” was a good word choice by Nephi, or the translator; it does not mean forced or compelled, but a degree of pressure was applied. Sometimes when I later pondered those instances, I wonder how much _more_ revelations, knowledge and directions that actual leaders of the church must receive, the bishops, SPs, GAs and the Brethren.

    If the Spirit can tell me “turn left at the next light”, and make it understandable to me, what is He telling the GAs and the Brethren? How much more obvious is spiritual communication to people who are so much closer to God than I am?

    This is what makes me think that the doubters who we’re talking about, who publicly criticize the Brethren, saying they are wrong in their formal and united decisions, either don’t receive personal revelation, and likely don’t believe the church is true, or don’t understand the big picture of what it means for the church to be true.

    Laman thought his father was crazy, and that Nephi was crazy for believing their father. But Nephi didn’t _just_ believe, he went and got his own testimony of what Lehi was saying.

    To paraphrase Nephi, the doubters either have not read the scriptures, or they don’t understand the scriptures, or they don’t believe the scriptures.

  20. The vast majority of revelation we receive is personal, i.e., do this to help in your calling, here is what you can do to help an inactive person, you really should find a way to go to the temple this weekend, why don’t you help your spouse do the dishes, etc. I would venture to guess if we sat down and added it up it would approach 99.9 percent of the total revelation we receive on a daily basis. We know it is revelation because it helps builds up God’s kingdom and build our love for Christ and our fellow man, and the more receptive we are to that revelation on a daily basis the more receptive we are to revelation in general. So, if you listen to the Holy Ghost on a daily basis for your personal revelation your will is more likely to be aligned to be able to accept revelation from your Church leaders.

    People like smallaxe love to build straw men arguments to justify their opposition to the Church so they invent worst case scenarios that have nothing to do with the realities of everyday Mormons’ lives. A person who is in tune to the daily revelation I describe above is able to detect false prophets pretty easily. And the proof of this is that we have done a pretty good job on this blog over time of detecting and blocking the many Bloggernacle false prophets who preach the doctrines of the world, mingled with scriptures (and sometimes not even mingled with scriptures).

  21. I’ve commented here for over a decade, and have been banned/blocked several times. I leave the comment below as the start of a conversation, but if that conversation is going to lead to me being silenced I don’t want to waste my time. My being banned seems to be based more on ideology than disrespecting the people here or the gospel, as those doing the banning cannot point to a single comment I’ve made here (and I’ve made hundreds) that violates principles of civil dialogue.

    As an exercise in contrast, one can read Smallaxe’s recent post at FPR where (s)he argues for almost the exactly opposite of what I advocate. It will be up to the reader to decide which of our models is more closely aligned with the gospel values found within the scriptures.

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by opposite, but the point of my post was not that some prophets teach X and some teach Y, therefore let’s use an external standard to adjudicate between them. Rather, my point is that proper balance between the tendencies is the best resolution.

  22. Hi SmallAxe,

    I wasn’t asked to moderate your comment, so it appears you’re not on the list of people whose comments should always be looked at before being posted.

    Since I was the one who posted Jeff G.’s essay, I used my normal moderation rules. That is, I don’t moderate comments unless there’s some reason that something should be retracted. If some commentor has been put on M*’s list of automatically moderated people, then I’ll get an email telling me that I need to moderate a comment.

    I’m glad you came over here, because I couldn’t for the life of me get any of my devices to let me back into your comments at Patheos.

    The trolls here at M* tend to be relatively well-behaved, when they bother posting here at all. Like Perplexed, posting regarding the ARC to my book, Reluctant Polygamist. A simple admonition for Perplexed to stop being a troll and read the book, like a grown up, were all it took for that individual to stop being obnoxious. Lest someone imagine that I put Perplexed on moderation. If Perplexed is on moderation, then it would have been done by someone else, and I would have gotten an e-mail with their attempted comments.

  23. Smallaxe,

    You’re right that my post was not specifically aimed at yours. (I actually wrote this a couple weeks ago). I’m actually a little disappointed that the conversation has been more about your post than mine, but be that as it may.

    When I said that your post was the opposite of mine is that mine is specifically aimed at undermining many of the values that are either presupposed or explicitly advocated in your post. (I fully acknowledge that yours was not really about cafeteria mormonism, although I would be shocked if you didn’t endorse such a mentality all the same.) Your post was aimed at bringing in non-authorized revelation to constrain/adjudicate authorized claims to revelation. My post is aimed at undermining such attempts.

    Like Meg, the disqus comment software you guys use at FPR is the only reason why I didn’t engage you there. (I really do hate it.) Please don’t think that I was trying to appropriate home-court advantage and the powers of censorship that come with it.

  24. Hi SmallAxe,

    I expect there are some lazy Mormons who abnegate their responsibility to know a command is right before obeying. One could assert that this occurred during the Equal Rights Amendment opposition activities, as well as the Proposition 8 campaigning.

    However I belong to a family where we digest the guidance from our leaders, make it our own, and then act.

    There are times when guidance from the leaders turns out to be silly. For example, there was one stake conference session where a leader suggested that there was no reason for a mother to work, that she should be provided for. At the time I was in the midst of divorce and had a young child, so that pronouncement initially made me rather happy. Then as I thought about it over the next few seconds, I realized that particular leader was just being silly, as he hadn’t indicated what Church leader a single mother like myself might apply to for the financial support I would have needed if I stopped working. Thus (to use Jeff G.’s parlance), the statement of this leader was “false” if reflecting a “true” principle (that when possible a parent, preferably the female parent, remain in the home setting to nurture minor children).

    Your assertion that Mormons you know would commit terrorist acts if commanded to do so could only be true for those who are neither lazy nor intelligent. Meanwhile, those around the situation who were either lazy or intelligent would be calling the police or FBI or whoever else was appropriate to put both the errant leader and their proactive but stupid follower in jail.

  25. Hi Jeff G.,

    Sorry for following your lead in looking at the terrorism post at Patheos.

    It’s just more fun to talk about terrorism than Venn diagrams.

  26. For the sake of keeping on the topic of this OP, which does relate my post, here’s a couple of of thoughts.

    I’m confused as to whether your argument is that a) conflicting obligations do not exist in a gospel context; b) we ought not use a secular mode of reasoning in adjudicating conflicting obligations; c) heterodox Mormons ought not believe that all members should do a and/or b; d) some or all of the above.

    Your P1)* – P3)* suggests that you do not think conflicting obligations exist in a gospel context. “Open” situations are not conflicts since either course would be right (or at least acceptable). (I should also note that a distinction between obligations and beliefs might be important.) If this is the case, then do you think conflicting obligations exist outside of a gospel context (e.g., “I ought to be honest” can come into conflict with “I ought to watch out for the best interests of others.”)? If you do think obligations can conflict, even in a gospel context, then perhaps your real issue is with b.

    In thinking about b I’m not persuaded that a Mormon form of moral reasoning exists that is not at least partially secular; nor that any form of moral reasoning that is not at least partially secular can adequately account for the variety of conflicting obligations/values one could confront throughout one’s life. (Defining “reasoning” broadly enough to account for “following the Spirit” and other kinds of LDS discourses.) Unfortunately, I can’t really say more without you providing some kind of definition of secular vs. spiritual. If you want to go down that route, I’m happy to follow along.

  27. The religious constraint to an abuse of this authority is personal revelation, not the liberal moral theory by which (s)he seeks to evaluate the prophets.

    I’m not seeking to eliminate personal revelation in these cases; but rather to expand the room with which one might object to authority, which certainly could be done on the basis of personal revelation.

  28. What the smallaxes likely don’t realize is that Nephi _knew_ who was commanding him to kill Laban. It was not merely an idea that popped into his head, or a mere prompting or impression.

    Right, but the Spirit didn’t say, “Go kill Laban because I am giving you personal revelation from God to do it”; instead he provide Nephi with reasons. Big difference.

  29. People like smallaxe love to build straw men arguments to justify their opposition to the Church so they invent worst case scenarios that have nothing to do with the realities of everyday Mormons’ lives.

    Except for the fact that my “straw man” came from this very blog. And if you haven’t watched the news lately, people killing others in the name of God is the reality of the world we live in. The fact that our leaders aren’t commanding it, has little to do with the fact that they wield authority that could command it. The existence of this kind of authority is the purpose of my critique. Do I think the leaders of our Church would ever make these kinds of requests? Absolutely not. But do I think the existence of this kind of authority is problematic? Absolutely.

  30. “I’m confused as to whether your argument is that a) conflicting obligations do not exist in a gospel context; b) we ought not use a secular mode of reasoning in adjudicating conflicting obligations; c) heterodox Mormons ought not believe that all members should do a and/or b; d) some or all of the above.”

    Let’s see if I can’t clear things up a bit.

    a) I wouldn’t go so far as to say that conflicts do not exist. Rather I’m trying to replace one mechanism for adjudicating conflicts (by looking at how abstract and timeless ideas hang together) with another (by looking at how actual people hang together)… It actually be more accurate to say that I’m trying to *prevent* the former from replacing the latter, thus making my position reactionary, not revolutionary.

    b) Once we figured out who is in a position to trump who (God being the highest authority figure with a universal stewardship), there is simply *no need* to bring in arguments, evidence, critique, personal preference, etc. Cafeteria Mormonism, by contrast, actively tries to suppress in the hierarchy among speakers in order to preserve conflict among them, thus creating an *artificial need* for an analysis of their ideas.

    c) Not really sure what you means here. If I took a guess, I would response by say that secular reasoning (the analysis of teachings independent of the bounded stewardship of each teacher) is perfectly fine, so long as it is always subservient to revelation structured according to stewardship. Put differently, I would probably relegate most of secular reasoning to “open” such that you can think whatever you want so long as it doesn’t interfere with your obligations to accept the “truths” and reject “falsehoods” that are defined by authoritative revelation.

  31. “I’m not seeking to eliminate personal revelation in these cases; but rather to expand the room with which one might object to authority, which certainly could be done on the basis of personal revelation.”

    This is exactly where the Cafeteria Mormons go wrong in that they think that people are able to receive personal revelation beyond their stewardship. This is the only way in which one revelation can ever be held in conflict with another. Since I never have any authority to receive revelation for the church, my personal revelation can never be brought to bear on how it is run.

  32. “Do I think the leaders of our Church would ever make these kinds of requests? Absolutely not. But do I think the existence of this kind of authority is problematic? Absolutely.”

    Smallaxe, that very comment shows that your argument is indeed a straw man. If you want to be taken seriously, why don’t you use arguments that might actually have something to do with real Mormons’ lives? A better example might be, what if a stake president says in his stake that most married women should stay at home to take care of kids? I can actually see a stake president saying this and some working women being upset about it. Such a situation would show how people work through revelation. Personally, I think most people would see if it applies to them and they would have a variety of different responses, including a response for some women to quit their jobs. The point I am trying to make is that no faithful Mormon contemplate a situation where they might be asked to kill somebody, so your post goes in the wrong direction right from the beginning.

  33. “Since I never have any authority to receive revelation for the church, my personal revelation can never be brought to bear on how it is run.”

    Jeff G has hit the nail on the head right here.

  34. I’ll get to the more relevant comment in a bit; but for now:

    This is exactly where the Cafeteria Mormons go wrong in that they think that people are able to receive personal revelation beyond their stewardship. This is the only way in which one revelation can ever be held in conflict with another. Since I never have any authority to receive revelation for the church, my personal revelation can never be brought to bear on how it is run.

    Authority as the only check on itself is a recipe for unhealthy situations.

  35. “Authority as the only check on itself is a recipe for unhealthy situations.”

    What authority taught you this? When it comes to morals, what other source of information is there? It’s not like we can simply read any of this off of the world through a microscope. On the other hand, when I pray to see if something is right or wrong, I am simply appealing to God as an authority. The same can be said for reading the scriptures personal feelings, moral theorists, general consensus, etc.

    An appeal to some authority or another is inevitable… the question, then, becomes who we will allow to be an authority over us. God and his living prophets tell us that killing our children is wrong. THAT is why we object to it. (I would suggest that the living prophets object to our be openly willing to do so as well.) If a living prophet tells me to do such a thing, my immediate thought is that God says otherwise. Thus, I would have to be VERY sure that God agrees with such a command before I would be willing to go along with this. Again, my rejection to the prophets is by an appeal to authority!

  36. Actual situation. A bishop I must have known was interviewing a woman in the ward in some capacity. During the interview, the bishop suggested that it might be a good idea for this woman to cease bearing children. It was general knowledge that childbirth was life-threatening in her case. At any rate, he also indicated that this would help improve reverence in the ward.

    I only know of this conversation because the woman told me about the situation. But her response was that it was not his stewardship to instruct her regarding her own marriage and procreation. And she continued to have children. And it didn’t end up killing her after all.

    In my experience, Mormons are very clear on the limits of authority. It isn’t just that the higher ups have stewardship over the underlings. It is that there are limits to all authority. The Prophet directs the Church, but it is not his right to come in and tell an individual member how to live their life except in broad terms (such as ‘avoid marriage that is fundamentally non-procreative’).

  37. Another true situation, this time Kazakhstan. There were ten families who were members of the Church and all but one family lived in the capital city. The family that was isolated had young children, no local supports, and had lost the job they’d relied on. The local leaders invited them to join the others in the capital city, so they could be supported and helped.

    But the young couple responded that they felt they needed to stay where they were. They didn’t know why.

    The Church was applying for formal recognition. And when the local leader (Paul Pieper, now a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy) went in for the final interview, he was asked if all the members lived in the capital city. He could have lied. He certainly thought the fact this family did not live in the capital was potentially going to prevent official approval for the Church. But he told the truth, that there was a family living in the other major Kazakh city.

    The government official huffed and shuffled the papers. He explained that the papers had been prepared to grant recognition in the capital city, but since there were members of the Church in other parts of Kazakhstan, he would have to amend the recognition to apply throughout the entire country. So he made the pen and ink changes and signed the recognition.

    These are the kinds of things that cause us to suspect that God is ultimately in charge, rather than you or me or leader so and so. And it is due to these kinds of experiences that we don’t get freaked out about authority.

  38. “Right, but the Spirit didn’t say, “Go kill Laban because I am giving you personal revelation from God to do it”; instead he provide Nephi with reasons. Big difference.”

    Looking closer, the reasons came after Nephi shrank from obeying. The reasons did not preface the command.

    Nephi hadn’t shed blood before. He was a kid. He was taking the law into his own hands. He was not authorized to be a judge or executioner by any recognized earthly or human authority (magistrate, council, king or priest). No earthly or human authority had passed judgement upon Laban and sentenced him to die.

    I think the reasons mentioned were to assist Nephi in overcoming his natural reluctance. The reasons alone were not justification, in the eyes of the law, for the execution of Laban. The justification for killing Laban lied solely in the fact that it was commanded of God.

    _God_ judged Laban and found him worthy of death, and communicated that to Nephi by revelation.

    _God_ authorized and _assigned_ Nephi to be Laban’s executioner, and communicated that fact by revelation. (God could have killed Laban himself, but for some unstated reason He assigned Nephi to do it.)

    Therefore, revelation was the primary justification and motivation for Nephi.

    Moreover, the reasoning that the Spirit gave also came by revelation themselves. It took discernment, understanding, and trust/faith on the part of Nephi for that part as it did for the “Slay him” part.

    Nephi had to _know_ who/what was talking to him, or the source of the spiritual voice in his mind. If the voice telling him to kill someone was actually Satan, and lying, then the “reasons” part would also have been lies.

    Therefore, the process did not hinge on analyzing or accepting the validity of the reasons; the process hinged on knowing who was commanding/talking to him in the first place. Nephi had the ability to receive, recognize, and trust revelation. Laman and Lemuel did not.

  39. Jeff G.,

    Given your response to a, it seems that your primary objection is in adjudicating conflicting obligations. We ought not use a secular mode of adjudication. A gospel mode of adjudication entails finding out “who trumps who,” or P1)* – P3)*, which I’ll reproduce for convenience:

    P1)* No two prophetic authorities are ever equally authorized to declare truth/falsehood to one and the same person at one and the same time. One authority always supersedes another.
    P2)* Different prophetic authorities are supposed to teach different and even inconsistent things to the different people that fall within their differing stewardships.
    P3)* When different prophetic authorities pronounce the same teaching to be both true and false, we only have a moral obligation to follow the one who has higher authority over us.

    By secular you mean “the analysis of teachings independent of the bounded stewardship of each teacher,” which I take to mean that x could trump y’s reasoning solely on the basis that x has priesthood stewardship over y.

    So the model looks something like this: the President trumps a bishop; the living President trumps the dead ones; a statement made by the President in General Conference trumps a statement made by the President over the dinner table; A statement the President makes at my stake conference trumps a statement he makes at another stake conference (at least for me).

    Given all of this, there’s no need for a secular form of reasoning.

    Let me make two primary objections to this:

    1) This mode of reasoning does not appear as clear as you make it out to be. How do the scriptures fit in, for instance?

    2) The mode of reasoning you advocate cannot separate itself from a secular form of reasoning. This is because those receiving revelation are creatures embedded in cultural contexts that inform their interpretations of revelations. Revelation is always mediated by culture.

    While 1 seems more germane to your argument, I suspect that 2 is also a motivating factor in what you are calling Cafeteria Mormonism. In other words, the claim may not simply be that there are conflicting views among Church leaders, but that the conflicts themselves are products of the fact of mediation. Of, even if there are no conflicts among the Brethren, there is still no way of establishing the claim that their revelations fully transcend the secular.

    Put differently, I would probably relegate most of secular reasoning to “open” such that you can think whatever you want so long as it doesn’t interfere with your obligations to accept the “truths” and reject “falsehoods” that are defined by authoritative revelation.

    Let me also make two objections here.

    3) The fact that secular forms of moral reasoning can inform the “open” suggests that the open may not be as open as you claim. Just because revelation is silent on an issue does not mean that secular forms of reasoning provide a plethora of equally viable options (unless you’re assuming that secular simply means relativism, which I don’t agree with).

    4) The line between the categories of open and obligatory are not as clear as you seem to believe. What am I under obligation to believe with regard to the BoM? That every word was revealed to JS? A loose theory of translation? An expansion theory? That it’s the most correct book on the earth? That there are errors in it (as stated in the title page)? That every person mentioned in it is historical, but the details of the their lives and conversations is ad-libbed? Can I believe that JS was a prophet (and thereby pass my temple recommend interview) and believe the BoM is fiction? I’m not sure this is as clear cut as you make it out to be, and further, when it comes to these historical kinds of questions, I’m not sure you can as easily exclude “secular reasoning” as when talking about ethical issues.

  40. Therefore, the process did not hinge on analyzing or accepting the validity of the reasons; the process hinged on knowing who was commanding/talking to him in the first place.

    You contradict yourself when you say “the reasons mentioned were to assist Nephi in overcoming his natural reluctance.” Without the reasons he wouldn’t have done it. The reasons didn’t provide legal justification, they provided moral justification. He was given a straightforward consequentialist argument–the ends justify the means.

  41. Again, my rejection to the prophets is by an appeal to authority!

    Let me note a couple of things here:

    1) You’re limiting the authority of the prophets, just like me. This contradicts the kinds of statements that prophets have made about their authority as I mention in my post.

    2) You might say that you are limiting the authority of the prophets on the grounds of revelation, and I am doing it on secular grounds. This might the case (at least for some of the 6 points I mention in my post), however your appeal to personal revelation is problematic for the following reason: there is no way to adjudicate personal revelation within our community. Let’s say that in your ward a member tells you that he’s loved his wife for as long as they’ve known each other, but at the last trip to the temple he had a revelatory experience and he knows he’s supposed to leave his wife. On what grounds do you object? A more sticky case: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/595079489/1984-Lafferty-case-still-haunts.html?pg=all You have no stewardship over these people, and nothing can trump personal revelation; so on what grounds do you object? This is to say nothing of the fact that we live in a society with non-members, and claims of personal revelation have no sway in larger society.

  42. SmallAxe suggested: Let’s say that in your ward a member tells you that he’s loved his wife for as long as they’ve known each other, but at the last trip to the temple he had a revelatory experience and he knows he’s supposed to leave his wife.

    As a bishop or other authority, I’d be in a position to tell them that is contrary to the order of God, and urge them to reconsider.

    As not an authority, I’d ask “So what’s the name of this revelatory experience? Sounds like she’s hot…”

    I had a revelatory experience telling me to leave my first husband, but I argued with God about that one, since I wasn’t going to be the first one in any family line to give up on a marriage. Despite the beatings and adultery. Oh, and the revelatory experience was just a suggestion from God, not a commandment.

  43. Smallaxe,

    Thank you for the engaging response!

    You’ve mostly got me right, except that you left out the most important and highest authority figure of them all: God Himself! Whatever He tells you in your stewardship trumps all others. Without this element of universal access to the highest authority, scary things would indeed follow. But it is precisely because 1) we are all prophets for ourselves and 2) not compelled to obey mortal authorities that mortal authority is legitimately constrained. I fully acknowledge that personal revelation can lead us away from the church and its leaders, but this in no way authorizes us to actively guide the church or its leaders in any way.

    1) The scriptures: Living prophets decide which writings are binding scripture and in what sense they are. A good example would be JS translation that made no attempt to restore some original meaning, but instead told his living followers was scripture was for them at that time. In other words, the scriptures are shared tools by which the living prophets lead us.

    2) “This is because those receiving revelation are creatures embedded in cultural contexts that inform their interpretations of revelations.” I don’t see the problem here. Cultural biases, like scripture, are the tools by which prophets lead us, not some obstacle to it. Priesthood leaders are SUPPOSED to be culturally biased and lead us according to those biases. That is what they are called to do.

    3) “Just because revelation is silent on an issue does not mean that secular forms of reasoning provide a plethora of equally viable options” I would probably agree with this. I think the idea that revelation exhausts all moral obligation is almost certainly too strong…. but I think the strong overlap is useful for the purpose of exposition. (When scientific intellectuals tell me that I have a moral obligation to accept Darwinian evolution, for example, I can’t help but roll my eyes. Strong claims like these – that I have a moral obligation above and beyond my preferences/opinions – are what I am pushing against.)

    4) “The line between the categories of open and obligatory are not as clear as you seem to believe.” I acknowledged that in the post. This blurriness is irrelevant to the point that is really at issue, namely whether we have an obligation to both accept and reject one and the same teaching at one and the same time. This, I reject. Showing that other saints have, at other times, been taught to believe ~X says precious little about whether I am bound to believe the living authorities when they teach X. What matters is what that authority, and the authorities above him all the way up to God think about it right here and now. Digging through church history and archived letters accomplishes nothing on this front.

  44. “1) You’re limiting the authority of the prophets, just like me. This contradicts the kinds of statements that prophets have made about their authority as I mention in my post.”

    Too true! At no point has anybody ever claimed that prophets are unbounded by anything or anyone at all. To read any of them as saying this is getting far too legalistic with their words. Instead, they should all be read as saying “you, the audience, are in no position to publicly contradict what the leaders say.” This is not to say that the audience is not free to leave that leadership, or that nobody is able to contradict them at all.

    “2) there is no way to adjudicate personal revelation within our community.” The whole point of the post is that ordination and setting apart takes care of all such cases. I have no grounds to trump somebody’s else revelation unless they try to take it beyond their stewardship. I can scream scriptural passages at them til I’m blue in the face and I will never have more authority than what God Himself has told them. I can receive revelation for how I ought to treat them, the same as how their bishop can receive revelation to discipline them (the original man has no authority to judge the bishop’s revelation either). At no point does an argument become necessary here.

  45. An addendum to my 1) above:

    I would say that those prophets have insisted that you are not justified in disobeying them based in what you, yourself think. You are, however, justified in disobeying them based in what God has told you. You are not, however, ever justified in publicly correcting or otherwise legislating what the prophets teach. Since you are not authorized to receive such revelation you must be using what you yourself think, and your own understanding is never good enough.

  46. I think much more interesting complication (counter-example?) to my model would be that between Abraham and Isaac. Abraham’s personal revelation told him to kill Isaac. But what was Isaac’s personal revelation on the matter? Abraham almost certainly had the authority to receive revelation to Isaac, while Isaac did not have such an authority over Abraham.

    While the story isn’t at all clear what went through Isaac’s mind, I would suggest that it is entirely possible that Isaac could have been inspired to run away or defend himself. And Abraham’s priesthood leader (Melchizedek?) could have been inspired to intervene and jail Abraham. While I do not think that all three of these messages were actually sent out, they could have been. In other words, there is no reason to assume that all divine inspiration must be fully consistent across all persons, times and places.

  47. Of course there is the scary aspect, where someone who isn’t grounded in reality could go off doing whacky stuff. There’s a paper I’ve read about some poor dude who basically murdered his daughter because he thought God was telling him to do so, then called the Bishop to ask him to resurrect the girl. Wacky stuff can happen. But that is obviously not unique to Mormonism, to look at the violence that is about in the word (e.g., Sandy Hook).

  48. “Without the reasons he wouldn’t have done it.”

    That’s irrelevant. (And it’s not explicitly stated.) The reasons that the Spirit gave came to Nephi via revelation just as the command to slay did. The take-away is that without revelation, recognizing it, and trusting it, the whole conversation, he wouldn’t have done it.

    Actually, I think the giving reasons part of the slaying of Laban is an exception to the pattern of revelatory commands in scripture. Most times, explicit why’s aren’t given. Such commands, especially ones out of the norm, or ones that seem to contradict other commandments, are often used as a test of faith.

  49. All the talk about Abraham sacrificing his son strictly as a test of obedience to authority are missing something important. Abraham desired the blessings of the fathers (fullness of priesthood power and authority); which is that of endless posterity. God essentially said, if you want to become like me and have endless seed, you have to be prepared to sacrifice your son, as I will do. Abraham passed that test.

    We can all wonder whether or not we someday will be in the same position as the Father or if that’s covered for us through the atonement. But the sacrifice of the son was clearly not just a test to see if he’d obey, but rather a real foreshadowing of the sacrifice that accompanies Eternal Fatherhood.

    So when someone wonders how church members would respond to God commanding his prophet to tell us we ought to go out and suddenly become terrorists, it’s so completely foreign to the gospel. It’s disconnected. There’s no path to exaltation by killing your neighbor. It’s far more likely that God will tell us through the prophet to get on our knees and let ourselves be slaughtered by terrorists.

    There’s the real test for those of you with a small axe to grind against your fellow brothers and sisters. If you want to persist in these silly questions, a much weightier question is to ask how many latter-day saints would follow in the footsteps of the people of Ammon and be willing to not kill an invader at the prophets command, but fall on their knees and do nothing will the slaughter takes place in their midst.

    Your disdain for obedience to authority is then turned on it’s head entirely.

  50. So Jeff G. is saying there are those who are giving themselves a pass on obeying things required by today’s leaders because they believe that either past leaders have or future leaders will say these things aren’t “required.”

    SmallAxe is saying Mormons are so conditioned to obey that they would blindly obey an illegal order. In support of that position, SmallAxe and others cite past events that would arguably be illegal in our modern word, such as Abraham’s intended sacrifice of Isaac, Nephi’s killing of Laban, etc. Mountain Meadows and Danites are two examples where lower-level leaders weren’t adequately informed of the intent of the standing prophet. In the case of Mountain Meadows, Brigham Young did not want the wagon train harmed, though he had given the order to refrain from interaction, meaning wagon companies couldn’t get needed supplies. In the case of the Danites circa 1838, Joseph Smith rebuked Carter and the others for planning to harm Oliver Cowdery and other dissidents.

    I think Jeff G. sees the Mormon glass being not quite full, with some wishing to claim the policies regarding (pick a subject, say children in families practicing polygamy or same gender marriage) need not be obeyed.

    On the other hand, SmallAxe sees the Mormon glass containing fluid, with some members of the faith willing to give heed to the policies regarding (pick a subject, say children in families practicing polygamy or same gender marriage). Thus seeing a willingness to obey something so contrary to the current Zeitgeist is seen as tantamount to agreeing to commit terrorist acts.

  51. The Lord’s prophet in today’s pastoral church doesn’t command anyone to do anything. He teaches and encourages, and he administers the outward organization, but he makes no claim to command individual members. Any discussion about the Prophet commanding members to become terrorists is absurd, and those taking up that line are stupid or dishonest, or both. The leaders of the Church work by gentleness, persuasion, love unfeigned, and so forth — there are no commands or compulsion (at least, no righteous commands or compulsion). As a member, I endeavor to sustain and support, but every decision I make is my own. God asks for (but does not compel) my obedience to His commandments, but does not require that I “obey” my neighbors who are called as church leaders — however, he does expect me to hearken to and sustain them.

  52. “Without the reasons he wouldn’t have done it.”

    That’s irrelevant. (And it’s not explicitly stated.)

    If it’s irrelevant, I’m not sure why it’s in the text. Further, my interpretation was based off of yours: “the reasons mentioned were to assist Nephi in overcoming his natural reluctance.”

    Here are the passages:

    10 And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.

    11 And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property.

    12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;

    13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

    14 And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words, I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness, saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise.

    15 Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.

    16 And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass.

    17 And again, I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause—that I might obtain the records according to his commandments.

    18 Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.

  53. Your disdain for obedience to authority is then turned on it’s head entirely.

    Except apparently even pacifism is dependent on authority: “a much weightier question is to ask how many latter-day saints would follow in the footsteps of the people of Ammon and be willing to not kill an invader at the prophets command , but fall on their knees….”

    And the fact that the scriptures have numerous examples of God supposedly commanding acts as heinous as terrorism.

  54. SmallAxe suggested: Let’s say that in your ward a member tells you that he’s loved his wife for as long as they’ve known each other, but at the last trip to the temple he had a revelatory experience and he knows he’s supposed to leave his wife.

    As a bishop or other authority, I’d be in a position to tell them that is contrary to the order of God, and urge them to reconsider.

    As not an authority, I’d ask “So what’s the name of this revelatory experience? Sounds like she’s hot…”

    And he’d probably respond, “There’s no other woman in the picture.” Without recourse to supposedly secular ethics there’s no way to create an ethic that goes beyond the subjective experiences of the individual.

  55. As not an authority, I’d ask “So what’s the name of this revelatory experience? Sounds like she’s hot…”

    And he’d probably respond, “There’s no other woman in the picture.”

    As not an authority, I’d continue “So… Sounds like he’s hot…”

    “Seriously, dude. You need to talk to someone. Bishop. Marriage counselor. Lawyer. You made a covenant. You have kids. Better make sure that revelation isn’t just coming from your man parts or an upset stomach.

  56. SmallAxe sees the Mormon glass containing fluid, with some members of the faith willing to give heed to the policies regarding (pick a subject, say children in families practicing polygamy or same gender marriage). Thus seeing a willingness to obey something so contrary to the current Zeitgeist is seen as tantamount to agreeing to commit terrorist acts.

    This isn’t an issue of blind faith leading to terrorism; and I do not see a willingness to obey something like the SSM as tantamount to agreeing to commit acts of terrorism. Rather, if our system of ethics cannot exclude terrorism except for the fact that God isn’t asking for it, I’d say that talking about the SSM policy is moot. If authority is not limited to killing innocent others, how would it be limited in the case of SSM? Further, I’m not trying to eliminate authority (not that you suggested I am), but rather keep it in proper bounds.

  57. “Seriously, dude. You need to talk to someone. Bishop. Marriage counselor. Lawyer. You made a covenant. You have kids. Better make sure that revelation isn’t just coming from your man parts or an upset stomach.

    My reaction as well, but if personal revelation trumps all, then there’s no way we ought to expect these arguments to hold sway.

  58. Jeff G.,

    I’ll respond more later today, but I did want to respond to this since it seems to be more central: I fully acknowledge that personal revelation can lead us away from the church and its leaders, but this in no way authorizes us to actively guide the church or its leaders in any way.

    I’m not sure what kind of version of “the right” you’re left with in this situation (i.e., what is right vs. what is wrong). For a less politicized issue, let’s take the Church’s position on physician assisted death (PAD) (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/official-statement/euthanasia-and-prolonging-life), which in parts says, “Ending a life in such a manner is a violation of the commandments of God.” If I receive a revelation saying that it is permissible for me, then on what grounds is the Church policy still right for others? I’m not saying that one should lead a campaign against the Church’s policy, but both positions cannot be right (i.e., this is not a part of your “open” category).

    Coincidentally, the Church’s statement goes on to talk about “removing a patient from artificial means of life support,” which is seen as being in a different category from PAD. In this case, “These judgments are best made by family members after receiving wise and competent medical advice and seeking divine guidance through fasting and prayer.”

    Now, the latter case (stopping life support) is explicitly a part of your open category; members can pray about it and make an individual decision. PAD, however, is explicitly not in that category. To claim that I’ve received my own revelation about it being permissible for me could make two statements:

    a) PAD is actually in the open category. We should make our own decision about this.

    b) PAD is right for everyone.

    Either case claims that the Church’s position is wrong. While we have no stewardship to guide the Church, we’re still saying that the Church’s stance is wrong. With a, the Church is making a category mistake; and with b, the Church is perhaps making an even more serious error. Either way though, we are right, the Church is wrong. And if we have an obligation to what is right, we have an obligation to change the Church.

  59. Ah, Physician-assisted death.

    This is one of those odd things, like any number of other technologically assisted alterations to life and life processes, where you can just go back and say if I had been living in a natural world, what would my options have been.

    My personal experience with physician assisted death is that it’s not so much the physician assisting the death as it is regular people deciding that if it’s allowed for a physician to come and do it, then they’ll just overdose inconvenient relative with too much morphine, because it’s compassionate.

    That is how my grandmother died, aLbeit possibly only a few hours before she would have naturally departed. In response to that Dass, various members of my family have had the opportunity to make it extremely clear that they will under no circumstance be open to somebody deciding to hasten their death. This is in a very different category from keeping somebody alive using technology past any reasonable hope that the person would be able to get better and actually be anything other than a vegetable plugged into a wall.

    The church asks us to carefully consider. If we take it upon ourselves to act in some manner inconsistent with the churches guidance, then it’s upon our heads. If you honestly feel that you have God’s permission to act in a way that is contrary to the general policy, then you get to be the one talking to God at the last day about your decision. You then are the responsible party.

  60. Smallaxe,

    Your objection presupposes the very allegiance to timeless and abstract principles that I am trying to undermine. Such an allegiance follows from Greek religion, not Hebrew religion.

    That is the conclusion that I take from the following JS quotes:

    “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.’”

    Plus…

    “We do not consider ourselves bound to receive any revelation from any one man or woman without his being legally constituted and ordained to that authority, and giving sufficient proof of it… It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instructions for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them; but if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction; for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom.”

    Basically, my approach is to take these two quote and run as far as I can with them. The first one makes us follow people instead of abstract principles and the second one tells us which people we can safely ignore.

  61. 1) The scriptures: Living prophets decide which writings are binding scripture and in what sense they are.

    So if I’m following you correctly, the line of authority goes something like this:

    God > Prophet > Q 12 > past prophets and Q 12 > canonized scripture > other GAs > Area Authorities > Stake Authorities > Ward Authorities > Self (except self can trump any of these with revelation from God). We should also take into account context such as whether someone is speaking over the pulpit or informally; as well as audience–is he speaking to the saints in Brazil or the US? But where do less formal statements fit in? Is something a GA says over dinner more authoritative than something my bishop says over the pulpit? Or a GA speaking in a fireside more authoritative that what my stake president says at stake conference? And what about Church magazines? Stuff published by Des Bk? BYU devotionals? Temple dedications? Newsroom statements? Gospel topics essays? The handbooks? Is all canonized scripture equal unless updated by a prophet or one of the 12? I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Are you really saying that there’s no conflict between any of these?

    3) “Just because revelation is silent on an issue does not mean that secular forms of reasoning provide a plethora of equally viable options” I would probably agree with this. I think the idea that revelation exhausts all moral obligation is almost certainly too strong…. but I think the strong overlap is useful for the purpose of exposition. (When scientific intellectuals tell me that I have a moral obligation to accept Darwinian evolution, for example, I can’t help but roll my eyes. Strong claims like these – that I have a moral obligation above and beyond my preferences/opinions – are what I am pushing against.)

    I’m going to mention this first, since I think it will frame how I understand your response to #2 (and 4). I’m not sure what you mean here. What is the relationship between secular and revelatory forms of moral reasoning? After you clarify that, I think I can address your responses to 2 and 4.

    Regarding your other comments, I think the discussion of PAD gets us caught up there. My primary objection is that what you’re arguing for provides no way of adjudicating between two people who effectively say, “I’ve received a revelation about this”; and that receiving revelation about something entails knowing that it is right in a more general sense (which you address in your last comment). I’d like to hear you weigh in on the example about a friend saying he’s had a revelation in the temple that tells him he’s supposed to leave his wife. How does one respond if personal revelation trumps all?

    Also, are there quotes from the living prophet (or someone up the chain of stewardship) that endorses the idea that personal revelation should trump even their revelation? I perhaps read the JS quote differently than you do. The line “but if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction” doesn’t seem to endorse trumping the authority of anyone with more stewardship than oneself, but rather acting in the “open” category you mention in the OP.

    Your objection presupposes the very allegiance to timeless and abstract principles that I am trying to undermine.

    I’m not sure it does, or I’m not sure you can free yourself from them the way you think you are (and I’m not sure the current Church would accept the idea of no allegiance to timeless and abstract principles, but perhaps that’s another discussion). The JS quote you provide explains that context matters; what’s wrong in one context is right in another. That doesn’t seem to be a problem. It doesn’t say, however, that multiple and contradictory rights exist in the same context. If the Church says that PAD is wrong, by JS’s logic it could say in another generation that it’s right, or, as in the case of cremation, move it to the “open” category. It doesn’t say, though, that one can say “PAD is right for me” while at the same time allowing the Church to also be right in saying that PAD is wrong for everyone. The statement, “Ending a life in such a manner is a violation of the commandments of God” is an obligatory statement. That’s different, in my opinion, from an abstract statement. An abstract statement is one that corresponds to some kind of ultimate truth that does not change; whereas an obligatory statement is one that applies to people in a given context. The right, it seems, is meant to be flexible; not contradictory.

  62. One more quick thought. The right, in my opinion, need not be abstract (or universal), but it does have to be sharable. If all I’m left with when a friend says he’s going to leave his wife over a revelation he’s had in the temple is “well, I guess he’s found what’s right for him,” then I’m not sure what kind of an ethic we actually have.

  63. Smallaxe, we read the same things with very different lenses.

    If you believe the foundational truth claims of the church (Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling, his divine commission to found the modern church, the BoM, Pres Monson as legitimate successor to JS, etc), then there is some fundamental paradigm or model of how God operates and deals with man that you are missing or misunderstanding.

    If that’s the case, I sincerely hope you can get your mind wrapped around how God interracts with man, at least to the point where you can fully sustain today’s Brethren. I hope you keep seeking out faithful members, especially your local leaders and your local faithful gospel scholars who can put things in terms to help you understand. i hope you read the scriptures daily and ponder them, and seek the guidance in them. But, and this is just my opinion, you are currently operating under or with some assumptions/givens/postulates/paradigms that are incompatible with how God actually operates. The God you seem to picture in your mind does not appear to have the characteristics of the God that the scriptures and the Brethren describe.

    In other words, the main reason why you can’t seem to make sense of certain things is that those things don,t mesh with your underlying assumptions/outlook/paradigms.

    Therefore, the resolution of what appears to you to be contradictions lies not in logical arguments based on your assumptions/paradigm, it will entail reworking some of your underlying assumptions/paradigm. And you seem unwilling or reluctant or resistive to doing that.

    In other words, you will likely (in my opinion) need to step back and question some of your very core assumptions/beliefs/etc. if you don’t open yourself to the possibility of having to modify basic underlying “givens”, then you’re never going to “get it” and resolves the contradictions you see in what is generally referred to as Mormonism.

    If you don’t believe the foundational truth claims of the church, then that is the basic underlying part that you need to seek personal revelation about; and all this challenging of various topics, doctrine versus policy versus personal revelation is moot and nothing but distraction.

    If you’ve concluded that the church _can’t_ be true, and have determined not to revisit that decision, then you’re wasting your time and ours.

  64. Bookslinger,

    Since being of age to have a temple recommend, I have never not held one. I’ve never not had a calling, or turned down a calling. Rarely do I miss church; as a matter of fact, I taught Sunday school and elder’s quorum last week. So I find your comment a little more than a bit offensive. So we disagree as to whether or not the reasons that Nephi was given (or gave) were instrumental in his killing Laban. No reason to question my faith. Perhaps you’re your lashing out because you’re unable to actually engage the argument at hand?

  65. Smallaxe,

    The weekend is fast approaching, so I’ll keep my response (too) brief (and almost surely unsatisfactory).

    Imagine the old story of a man to tries to defend himself in court with an appeal to causal determinism: “I had no choice, so you can’t punish me.” The judge’s reply was that the same causal determinism that compelled the man’s crime, similarly compels his guilty verdict.

    In the same way that saying all our actions are fully determined doesn’t really adjudicate either way in moral cases like this, the fact that all our actions might be inspired doesn’t really matter either. Man A: I am inspired to leave my wife. Man B: I am inspired to distance myself from you anyways.

    Similarly, you might be fully inspired to disobey a leader…. while the leader is fully inspired to punish you anyways. Who are we to say that God would never do such a thing? It is only our ideological commitments to rule by mutually recognized law that makes us think otherwise.

    What all such cases need is some socially shared and public mechanism that cannot be applied to each and every action. One mechanism is the largely timeless and abstract rule of law which was largely popularized as a way of constraining authoritative decision making. (See Carl Schmitt) Another mechanism is when particular people are set apart to decide the issues in question. The first mechanism sets some decisions/actions out of bounds while the other sets certain deciders/actors out of bounds. These two mechanism have both been implemented widely at various times and are both viable options, but they are totally incompatible with each other.

    As for you long list of questions, dilemma mongering only leads to an obnoxiously long and legalistic list of distinctions and exceptions when it is law rather than authoritative decisions that rule. The response to all of your questions is: find the most immediate living authority whose place it is to answer the question. If you don’t like their answer, you can always take it to a higher authority. If you do not like the Highest Authority’s decision, then you’re just out of luck.

    Thus, when you say, “My primary objection is that what you’re arguing for provides no way of adjudicating between two people.” my reply is that you wrongly assume that it is our place to adjudicate such differences. There is no way for me to do so precisely because I was never meant to do so.

    One further correction: the individual is NEVER justified in legislating those above him. Authoritative legislation comes always and only from above. It is God alone who trumps authority through personal and therefore private revelation. Thus, the individual is right to obey God rather than any man, but this never includes legislating those above us.

  66. I understand your distinction between abstract rule of law vs. reliance on people set apart to make decisions. You advocate the latter. No problem there. This doesn’t disavow you, however, from providing a coherent account of how such a system works. Providing a coherent account need not, in my opinion, involve recourse to abstract laws/rules. It also need not answer every question. It should, however, meet some simple criteria in terms of avoiding relativism and explaining contradictions. Not all rules are abstract, for instance. Some can function as a rule of thumb, such as “Look both ways before crossing the street.” In this system of relying on people/authority, there may in fact be rules involved (and it certainly seems that way in the scriptures and the contemporary church), even if these rules are not timeless. And, of course, you need not invoke rules at all in explaining how your system works; but your explanations must go beyond facile descriptions of how we ought to look for the next authority up the chain (additionally, there seems to be a whole epistemology at play in recognizing authority).

    You say, “What all such cases need is some socially shared and public mechanism that cannot be applied to each and every action.” Yes, I’m with you on this. My point, however, about the way in which you advocate personal revelation, renders your ethic neither shared nor public.You haven’t really dealt with the question of the brother who claims to received personal revelation to leave his wife and family. This is problematic for your paradigm for at least two reasons:

    1) It stretches your claim about appealing to personal revelation to be the ultimate arbiter of what is right. Without recourse to some form of secular moral reasoning or a system of authority that does not recognize personal revelation as being right, you can’t generate a shared ethic. There’s no way to say anything other than, “I guess it’s right for him.”

    2) Your conception of what is right is muddled. You argue for a situational understanding of what is right. That’s fine, but again you have you explain your situationalism. A situation where what is right changes with the times is easier to defend than your notion that what is right comes down to individual experience and does not exist beyond an individual; thereby allowing for contradictory claims in the same situation. A property of being right seems to be that an action is right for anyone in that same circumstance; and inasmuch as we share circumstances there is a communal notion of what is right. This isn’t to make a claim about an absolute or abstract law; rather a claim about shared circumstances. In that regard, the Church’s stance on PAD explicitly includes me in its circumstance. To make the claim that PAD is right for me cannot but invalidate the Church’s claim inasmuch as it should at least move PAD to the open category. Either way the Church’s claim is right or wrong for an individual included in its circumstance; but if wrong, it simply makes a category error that very well might be worth arguing against.

    Lastly, your vision of the self as individually determined, able to personally trump the revelations of another, and deeming what is right as solely a personal affair seems oddly in line with the Enlightenment values you see as problematic. The self comes out looking much more individualistic than in Biblical literature; much more modern.

  67. I think at least one of us just isn’t understanding the other very well. I feel like I’ve answered those questions already, but apparently either I’m not seeing the real question or your not seeing the real answer.

    Maybe we’ll just have pick up the topic some other time after I’ve had a little more time to internalize the disconnect.

  68. Sure. There’s no hurry in this conversation.

    Here’s a quote I thought you might find interesting, which relates to my question earlier as to whether or not you could find something from a contemporary LDS source saying that personal revelation can trump even that of the prophet (at least for the individual person).

    “Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical
    authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be
    obeyed before all else; if necessary even against the requirement of
    ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose
    conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, as
    one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social
    groups, even of the official Church, also establishes a principle in
    opposition to increasing totalitarianism.”

    Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, (His Holiness, Benedict XVI)
    Gaudium et Spes, n. 16

  69. Just realized I didn’t paste the full citation for that quote:

    Joseph Ratzinger, Gaudium et Spes, n. 16 in _Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II_, Volume 5, ed. Herbert Vorgrimler, New York, Herder and Herder, 1969,134.

  70. Hi Smallaxe,

    God trumps all. But in as much as God is consistent with himself at the highest level, it is relatively unlikely that he would inspire an individual to do something that is completely in opposition to the generic guidance given to the entire church.

    There’s a certain rigidity of thought that persuades me you really want everything locked down in firm categories. I’ve been reminded several times of a statement where someone said every time you open an oven the temperature is reduced 25°

    I found that incredibly amusing, and I will often joke that apparently it is possible to achieve Absolute zero with respect to temperature merely by opening the oven door frequently enough.

    Obviously the 25° rule is very specific about the temperature of the oven and the temperature outside the oven. Obviously I can’t achieve absolute zero merely by opening the oven door a bunch of times.

    And yet the rule of thumb has some validity.

    In a similar manner, there are many rules of thumb regarding revelation and how it all works. What I perceive you doing is asking us to describe in great detail what his been referred to as the dance of the Gospel. You want to know exactly where do the right foot in the left foot go and what is the equation that can be used to determine the position of the right and the left foot for the entirety of the dance.

    However there is not a concise set of instructions that can result in a proper definition of the dance. If you don’t know how to do the dance, if you cannot hear the music, then it will be impossible to concisely explain it.

  71. It’s “the music of the gospel,” not the dance of the gospel, from a talk by Wilford W. Andersen.

    Second, as I review smallaxe’s comments, he noted that “it need not answer every question,” but should “avoid relativism”, explain contradictions, “go beyond facile descriptions” of climbing levels of authority, and be shared and public. I am not at all sure that this is a requirement to explore “the entirety of the dance” as you have suggested. In my experience, attempts to explain these kinds of things are pretty much part of the discourse, although they may be difficult.

  72. I’ve not chimed in here, although I made a few comments at FPR. I do differ with Jeff over that I think authority provides a burden of proof rather than a trump. How much that matters I’ll leave for others to decide. The two of us has debated it at Jeff’s blog many times.

    I think it’s pretty clear that the church don’t think anything goes in obedience/authority. Even the quotes that suggest obedience in everything are clealry applying to the typical situations we find ourselves in and not addressing extreme and unusual situations like Mountain Meadows Massacre. Now the question might be whether someone could grow up without learning that kind of implicit set of caveats. I suspect it’s possible although I’m *very* skeptical in practice. This is why I just don’t think the extreme cases really apply in the discussion.

  73. Smallaxe (9:54) I think you are conflating whether there is a right versus whether the right has to always be known. I don’t think we have to have a theory on meta-ethics to make ethical claims for instance. I’ve no idea what makes something right and tend to see the issue in terms of responsibility, demands and risk. I’m not sure we need a shared ethic beyond the practical level where it seems we typically agree upon a lot regardless of why we belief. Even if we could appeal to the secular I’m not sure it’d help since philosophers famously don’t agree upon ethics.

    I think Jeff is inspired by Richard Rorty’s notion of solidarity in terms of determining truth. It’s our solidarity with a community that ultimately matters. I don’t want to portray it as if that’s his only influence or that he agrees with Rorty in everything. He doesn’t. Now Rorty’s view moves towards relativism IMO. I don’t think Jeff does since he’s more addressing things from our perspective as having very little knowledge. I think he’d be fine saying God has far better reasons. I think there are ways around this, mind you. (I think Rorty misused Dewey to come up with his views and that the pragmatists Dewey and Peirce offer a way out of the relativist trap Rorty puts himself in)

    What I think Jeff’s position comes down to is that we don’t have enough information from empirical studies to make ethical decisions. At best we can make critiques about internal consistency. God does know and can tell us. Barring God telling us (and our having reasons to trust him) we just should trust the people it appears God either does tell or at least gives authority to act. The trump to these authorities is God but only God.

    While the most interesting problems with Jeff’s position are the extreme positions one finds in the early church or Old Testament I tend to agree that they don’t matter too much in practice. The more troubling positions are the practical more minor evils we can imagine lower tier leaders doing where the individual affected doesn’t have personal revelation. It’s there that I think the things become complex and that Jeff doesn’t have good answers for. (It’s also there that I think people like the Toscano’s have more a case with their wish for political “checks and balances” — although I ultimately strongly disagree with them)

  74. Smallaxe (9:54) Oh, to the muddle of “right and wrong” I think the issue is far less muddled than you suggest. Some ethical systems focus on particulars less than others. (Obvious contrast is between consequentialist meta-ethics like Utilitarianism versus de-ontological meta-ethics like Kant’s) However in practice things get trickier since an Utilitarian will worry not just about expediency but the social effects of allowing that expediency. Likewise the Kantian might want broad ethical laws applicable to all yet still recognize those are affected by context and that laws often are in tension with each other in a particular case.

    Effectively Jeff’s just saying that context matters for what is right in practice as opposed to more universal questions. That’s hardly controversial nor problematic. Typically relativism is seems as ethical truths being indexed to the individual or community’s beliefs. People might shorten that to situational ethics, but in practical all ethical calculations are situational. The question is much more how they are context aware.

    Certainly tying ethics to the individual level tends to make Kantian styled ethicists more concerned. Utilitarians of course are fine with that. (Except for certain species of rule-utilitarians) However there are lots of other ethical groups. I’d argue that virtue ethics is a much better fit for Mormonism although one needn’t adopt Aristotle’s virtue ethics. In that case the community notion is less what’s right about a particular act than agreement on certain habits of ethics: the virtues.

    My sense is that you’re judging Jeff from a broadly Kantian stance which just seems problematic without first arguing for that particular meta-ethics. Maybe I’m wrong in that.

    I do agree BTW that Jeff’s view of revelation ends up being very individualistic. Although the significance of that is muted some what since the typical case is non-individualistic.

  75. It isn’t really all that difficult. The Savior calls certain men to lead His church, and guides them through inspiration (revelation). The leaders of the Church teach correct principles as best they can. Church members govern themselves.

    If Smallaxe receives a revelation to abandon his or her marriage and family and to enter into a homosexual marriage, then he or she should first ask where the revelation came from — some revelation comes from unauthorized sources, after all. But if he or she feels convinced, then he or she is free to follow the revelation. However, his or her revelation does not compel the Church to change. The Church might seek to excommunicate Smallaxe for his or her apostasy, if revelation to leaders of the Church so suggests. So then, everyone is happy. Smallaxe has his or her homosexual marriage according to his or her own free will and choice and revelation, and the Church has honored its commitment to upholding its values and protecting the flock according to its policy and revelation.

  76. Well, everyone isn’t happy. Smallaxe might be with his or her homosexual companion, but his or her abandoned family isn’t happy. And the Church isn’t happy at the excommunication. And the Savior isn’t happy with sin. But everyone allows him or her do choose his or her own path.

  77. For the record, I totally reject utilitarianism and Kantian ethics. Nobody has ever lived according to these theories and they themselves were only motivated by the late 18th early 19th century desires to systematize the constitutions that were emerging throughout the western world. If, however, we are talking about a non-constitutional community, I see no reason at all for universalistic ethics on that stripe.

  78. I was reflecting on the ethics we can infer from ordinances.

    By baptism we take upon ourselves Christ’s ethic. This is huge, with millennia of Judeo-Christian history on what that ethic is and is not.

    By confirmation we are given the gift of the Holy Ghost to assist us in determining what is most right. We ignore the Holy Ghost to our spiritual peril.

    In the temple (my synopsis) we are urged to obey, that we might understand, sacrifice for God’s cause that we might show a broken heart (broken the way a tamed horse is broken), be faithful to our lawful spouse that we may continue the eternal chain binding families, and actively call upon God to know His will and seek His help.

    This the obedience decried by some is seen as a foundational enabler to accessing the power and protection of God in pursuit of God’s goals.

    Obedience is not for the purpose of letting leaders run roughshod over us.

    Regarding the fellow who hypothetically received revelation to leave wife and children, that is not in accordance with the moral code I infer from LDS ordinances. Ultimately, this hypothetical man is answerable to God, and his rightness in the eyes of God will be determined by God.

  79. To elaborate a bit:

    I am not conjuring up hypothetical ways in which an imaginary community might be organized. Rather, I am pointing to ways in which actual communities have already been organized. Thus, if you want to see how any of those moral dilemmas play out, we can simply take a look at how those communities actually have done so. I simply see no need to invent ways in which such hierarchical communities might deal with a million different test cases.

    Almost all such objections to my model are based in the assumption that all people are supposed to be able to rationally assent to any given decision such that there won’t be any disagreements. But this just begs the question since such an assumption is exactly what I am trying to sideline – just as it did not play any role in numerous hierarchical communities.

  80. Jeff, I’m not sure it’s correct to say no one lived according to those principles. Lots of people think about ethics in those ways. Arguably a lot of the big ethical advances such as women’s rights developed from J. S. Mill. Likewise say what one will but liberal ethics of the late 20th century were deeply informed by the type of Kantian considerations that Rawls made.

    Now if you mean in practice no one calculates all these things, of course you’re right. However typically the general rules they follow and how they sort them is deeply informed by these things for various groups. It informs a lot of ethical disagreements.

    While I tend to regularly disparage formal ethics, I’d never go so far as to say they don’t matter in practice in the sense of having a big influence. Of course I’d also say that typically people just adopt the normative behaviors of their peers with the associated ethical presumptions.

  81. Clark,

    I think the finding of Jonathan Haidt and his group of social psychologists have provided strong evidence that moral intuition is largely untheoretical in nature.

    Bentham actually went around from country to country trying to get monarchs and parliaments to implement his utilitarian constitutions (it was actually a political movement in that time) and was quite put off when nobody was interested. While Kant’s ideals do seem a bit more realistic, the entire school of Critical Theory has arisen in response to every community’s failure to actually implement Kantian ethics. No community has ever agreed to or really attempted to live according to either of these theories.

    If all you’re saying is that people say things that sound utilitarian or Kantian when they go about morally evaluating persons and actions, I agree. If, however, you’re suggesting that people are leveraging entire moral theories according to which they expect others to play out their lives, I quite strongly disagree.

  82. So getting back to the whole cafeteria concept, there are things (teachings, actions) that are right or moral or true.

    Then there are things (teachings, actions) that are wrong or immoral or false.

    Thirdly there are things that are neither right nor wrong neither moral or immoral neither true nor false.

    Context must be considered when determining whether a particular teaching or action is true or false. For example having sex with Jane could be true if one were married to Jane. It would be false or immoral if one were not married to Jane.

    The cafeteria category shows up because there is that which is deemed true or moral by the majority who are contemporary, while the individual has found some historic reference that allows them to claim that an opposite teaching or action is actually the one that is true or moral. Therefore they want to have license to be a goat and do what they think is “right” even though it flies in the face of the rest of the community consensus.

    By the way, my use of the term goat is not pejorative. In my family we know that goats and sheep are equally intelligent. It is just that sheep will try really hard to do with the other sheep are doing. While goats take great delight in not doing what the rest are doing.

    My son-in-law is a sheep. My eldest daughter is a goat. Apparently I am also a goat. I think my youngest daughter is one of those rare creatures that needs not be a sheep but has no particular need to be a goat either. She is just herself and she is sweet and intelligent and good.

    By the way, if Mill was such the originator of female rights, how is it that Mormon women were actually voting in 1870, when Mill only makes his first comments about women being allowed to vote in 1866?

  83. Meg,

    You’ve got it basically right with one exception: It’s not that these individuals pit historical counterexamples against the consensus within a community, but that they do so against the duly ordained authority figure. (My model resists the idea that sovereignty is grounded in the consensus of the people since the heterodox love to leverage the group consensus against authority figures as well.)

    What they are trying to do, then, is pit authority figures against themselves in order to show how confused, contradictory and thus safely ignored they actually are. Such people think that if they can show that the prophets do not unambiguously point people in any single direction, they should not be treated as directors of people in any unambiguous sense.

  84. In other words, the heterodox think that the group consensus within the church should be established by finding some kind of consistency across all authority figures, living and dead. This is totally wrong. Group consensus is established through all members following – or at least not publicly contradicting – their duly ordained leader, not through some rational adjudication of disparate historical sources and statements.

  85. Jeff, I think there’s no doubt that some ethical stances are instinctual. That was well known before Haidt. (Say studies of babies) To say elements of our ethics are instinctual and likely rooted in evolution is not to say all are. If you are saying everyone’s thinking is ruled only by some calculus then of course it isn’t. If you are asking whether on points of dispute groups appeals to such principles to decide, then I think that’s undeniable.

  86. Whoa! I thought this conversation had died down. Guess I stopped following it too soon. I’ll be traveling for the holidays, so I probably won’t have a chance to respond; but I will try to come back to it once things settle down.

  87. Smallaxe, you’ll never be able to effectively engage your correspondents here (Jeff, Meg, Clark, etc) because your underlying assumptions/givens/postulates/paradigm of God and His relationship to and dealings with His children is fundamentally at odds with what modern prophets from JS onward have taught, In other words there are too many underlying and unstated _basics_ with which you are either unaware of, or consciously disagree with.

    To think that God’s assignment for Nephi to kill Laban was a matter of “the ends justify the means” shows that there are underlying truths that you don’t understand.

    To claim that God’s command to the Israelites (to destroy the Canaanites, I presume) was terrorism shows there are things you “don’t get”. For crying out loud, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant theologians have answered those matters (along with innocent babies dying in the flood), for centuries. If you don’t know the standard responses to those things, you haven’t done your homework.

    I’m not looking for a loyalty oath (a la Catch 22) before I’ll pass you the salt. But your challenges here, your squishy answer to me, and your last post at FPR show that either you do not believe JS was an honest-to-God prophet, OR you don’t understand the “and therefore….” stuff that comes from having an honest-to-God prophet.

    Your FPR post came across as subversive, as if you did not believe the foundational truth claims of the church, or that you think the prophets went wrong somewhere and are currently off track.

    At best, I think one of Jeff’s analyses may be correct, that you are operating under a Greek paradigm of religion, not Hebrew/Abrahamic.

    As I mentioned before, you’re just not going to get any answer that satisfies you as long as you maintain your current basic underlying assumptions of how God is “supposed” to interact with man, both through prophets and through individual revelation.

    You’re not going to be happy with the church or the brethren until you rethink some basics, and change whatever incorrect paradigm you are using. All of your comments and questions on this thread are too high on the hierarchy of ideas. My suggestion is to back up, and re-approach on a more basic level of how God works and interacts with man and those kind of fundamental relationships.

    Given that some of your cobloggers at FPR no longer support the Brethren (and at least one openly opposes), I think it does matter that you give a non-squishy response as to whether or not you believe the foundational truth claims.

    And given the recent Ted (or was it Tedx?) talk by someone who openly opposes the Brethren and admittedly wants to change the church from the inside, and given Dehlin’s years of acting as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, I think it reasonable to ask of people who make such challenges as you do, whether they believe the foundational truth claims of the church. The answer to that does, or should, frame the discussion.

  88. For better or worse, I brought this discussion to Sunday School, where we were talking about Revelations.

    I mentioned that we are a Church that believes in revelation from God, and that individuals can also receive revelation. But, I said, inasmuch as God is the same being, it is relatively unlikely that someone getting revelation to go into the desert and dance naked is receiving revelation from the same God as the rest of us.

    After realizing that I had, in the chapel, talked about people dancing naked in the desert, I gave the specific of one aspect of that silliness. My mother and an aunt were good friends of Bruce and Rachel Longo back in the 1960s. Then Bruce Longo decided he was Immanuel David. In 1978, learning he was under investigation by the FBI, Longo called Rachel and asked her to bring their seven children and meet him in heaven. Longo committed suicide in the desert. Rachel made sure all her children went out an 11-story window before she followed, plunging to her death. One child survived and as of April 2000 still believed her father is God, according to an article in the April 9, 2000 Spokane Spokesman-Review.

    Longo was the “desert” part of my comment. The naked part had to do with a fellow who used to help write instructional material for the Church when I was a baby, then decided he had to follow his muse, and eventually ended up alienated from the Church, performing as a nude dancer in homoerotic productions. Or at least, this was the story I got from my grandmother, who had been his friend.

    We are all free to choose what we will believe. Inasmuch as God is constant, He will guide us in ways that are synergistic with His overarching goal, should we choose to follow His lead. If we choose to not follow His lead, then we will have the opportunity to answer for how our wanderings impacted ourselves and others. Or at least, that appears to be a major function of the promised final judgement.

  89. Jeff G,

    Smallaxe finishes his recent FPR post with:

    “Authority, in many respects, is our sacred cow, or perhaps our golden calf. It must be domesticated if our religious tradition is to remain an integral part of more members’ lives. The problem that authority presents, in this context, is that it crowds out room for careful thinking, which is the very room necessary for members to choose to trust in the revelations of those in authority.”

    His phrase “careful thinking” reminds me of your post on “critical analysis” if I got the words right. But I can’t seem to find that post. Your above OP (this post of yours) reminds me of that post. Would you please post a link to it in the comments here? It seems appropriate.

    ——-

    Smallaxe, your recent post at FPR reminds me of this social justice warrior giving a Ted talk about trying to change the church from within:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/chelsea_shields_how_i_m_working_for_change_inside_my_church

    Though your last comment to me effectively states that you are an ortho_prax_ Mormon, I remain doubtful that you actually believe the truth claims of the church, based on your line of questioning in this thread, and your recent FPR post.

    The T&S blog used to have big discussions about orthopraxy (correct practice) versus orthodoxy (correct belief), and which was more important to salvation/exaltation. But the bigger picture, I think, is whether people are encouraging us to better hearken unto the Lord’s chosen servants, or are trying to turn us away from the Lord’s servants.

    We are not to judge each other in terms of assigning any eternal destination. However, when we read things or hear people, we -must- judge/decide whether we emulate and follow the writer/speaker, or ignore/avoid the writer/speaker. This is one of the essential choices, “emulate versus avoid”, or “believe versus disbelieve” that is part and parcel of human communication and interaction.

    Whenever I read Geoff B, Meg Stout, Rameumptom, etc, I must decide to believe or disbelieve, to emulate or avoid. Even if I merely “file it away” in my mind, i must eventually decide how that tidbit is to influence me. That tidbit cannot be un-seen or un-read.

    Memory tidbits eventually attach themselves to other things in our mind and have an influence.

    If we don’t make a conscious decision to emulate or avoid the things we read, see, and hear, then there is a default action that the mental tidbit will have on us, which is amplified by repetition of the thing, and the natural tendency to follow the crowd of others who are emulating or avoiding that thing.

    Part of that decision-making/judgement is discerning the motivations of the writer/actor/speaker, and figuring out “where they are coming from”.

    So, after reading your final paragraph in your recent FPR post, in which you come across as unsupportive of the Brethren, it seems logical to ask of you, “Do you really believe JS was an authorized prophet, and that Pres Monson holds the same God-given authority and keys today that JS had?”

    That paragrah at FPR comes across as “protestant”, trying to do to the LDS church what Martin Luther and the reformers did to the Catholic church. (And frankly, I believe Luther and the reformers were in the right.) But the LDS church is not off-track, and is not in need of reforming at the head. The true prophetic and apostolic authority resides in the FP+Q12.

    70’s, SPs, Bishops, and EQPs all derive their subset authorities from the FP+Q12 who hold the keys. If anything, it’s you and I (and especially I) and our peers who need reforming.

    Geoff, Meg, and Ram, and Jeff G, seem to want us to do a better job of following the prophet’s counsel, which includes going to the Lord in prayer, and seeking confirmation, and guidance, and wisdom to resolve any perceived conflicts.

    You state that authority in the church (you were unclear as to what level of authority) is in opposition to (“crowds out” was your word choice) “careful thinking.” Is “careful thinking” the same as “critical analysis”? Is it “man’s reasoning”? I happen to believe the Bible where it says things like spiritual discernment and revelation trump man’s reasoning.

    I also take exception to your stated purpose of “domesticating” (your word) church authority being: “if our religious tradition is to remain an integral part of more members’ lives.” That sounds like you want to “tame” the prophets so more people stay in the church. That’s not my take on how God and the prophets operate in the Bible and BoM.

    That whole post seems to me a “change the church from within” thing, along the lines of social justice warrior Chelsea Shields.

    So I’m going to try to “emulate” Jeff G on the topic of his OP here.

  90. I am reminded of what Mr. Beaver said about Aslan:

    “He’ll be coming and going. One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down – and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

    Our God is not a tame God. Therefore His authority can not be properly tamed in the lives of those who would acknowledge Him as Lord.

    Now, if you are talking about people wanting to go dance naked in the desert, then I would submit it’s possible they aren’t listening to God.

    Though God is not tame, His ferocious omnipotent power is motivated by love. He will ask unimaginable things of us, but all these will be in service of His vision of how the world ought be loved.

    In my view, that is why He forced Joseph Smith to restore knowledge that family could mean something beyond mere monogamous unions. This is why He refused to allow John Taylor to cast off the New and Everlasting Covenant (which Pres. Taylor thought was synonymous with plural marriage). This is why He speaks to the loving leaders of the modern Church telling them they must let go of those who attack the Church, even when the ones let go are friends or even when the ones let go threaten to destroy.

    In God’s untamed love, He will do all that is necessary to save all of us who desire to be saved.

  91. Bookslinger hit the nail on the head. There are many in the church who would like to reform the church and leadership like the early protestants of the reformation. Equally, there are many that view themselves as John the Baptists (or as Jesus) in the wilderness decrying the pharisees who run the church.

    The apply entirely the wrong lens to view the church. Their perspective would be correct if the church leadership was in apostasy with regard to priesthood authority. But that’s clearly not the case.

  92. But inasmuch as the Church doesn’t suit them, they would rather reform the Church than consider reforming themselves.

    I’m reminded of something Jesus said about blind guides…

  93. Jeff, yes, that was it. Thx. I believe that post to be a very appropriate rejoinder to smallaxe’s recent FPR post, and to his questions that he asked in his comments on this post.

  94. I still can’t type well, but I wanted to add one comment. I know I’m late to the game by far:

    Jeff G says: “You’ve [SmallAxe] mostly got me right, except that you left out the most important and highest authority figure of them all: God Himself! Whatever He tells you in your stewardship trumps all others.”

    Jeff, I commend you on this post. I think you clearly understand the church’s teachings about itself on this subject. The church makes certain claims about itself and you’ve nailed them.

    But I think you are misunderstanding SmallAxe here. In the post SM is responding to that started the thread jack, it was in response to my post (and Rame’s comment.)

    Back then, I attempted to pin SM down on whether or not he *does* consider God the ultimate authority by asking what he’d do if God — and he knew it was God — commanded him (and he knew he understood the command) to kill his own son.

    SM avoided answering the question for a considerable time (by claiming he could never know it was God for sure or know that he understood God’s intent for sure) before finally saying he would not follow God in such a circumstance and would fall back to his personal morality of not harming people.

    Therefore, you now need to recompute based on this fact. You can figure it out from there where you’re talking past each other.

    Here is the original thread in question:
    https://www.millennialstar.org/liberals-and-orthodox-on-the-faith-of-abraham/

    I suspect SmallAxe will say I’m misinterpreting him. But I think I am not. If I’m right – and maybe I’m not — I think would think it would be hard for SM to come to accept that this is in fact the difference between liberals and non-liberals and not some mere fetish with authority that can be corrected by ‘getting authority right’. In fact, I think this issue is what specifically defines religious liberalism into existence compared to non-liberal religion.

    I think this would be a very hard point for liberals to ‘comprehend about themselves’ and I think M* commentators need to cut liberals considerable slack on this point. They aren’t being intentionally obtuse at all when they misunderstand what the church teaches on this subject. I think sometimes we falsely think they are just being difficult.

    Keep in mind that the church’s teachings here are in part what led to my faith crisis about God’s existence. The church’s teachings about revelation are hard teachings for many modern western minds – including my own. So if I’m right that there is a liberal defensive mechanism going on here — I’ve blogged about this possibility in the past — it should probably be respected and not treated like they are just building strawmen to be difficult.

    If I am right about this (and perhaps I’m not), then SM really and truly is going to struggle to understand the church’s actual teachings on this subject because they are more incompatible with his own beliefs than he realizes. And his attempts to find (probably non-existent) compatibilities have probably saved him from my fate, so I’m not sure his way is ‘bad’.

    If I’m right, what he’s really trying to do is find a way to merge his personal beliefs with the church’s teachings about the nature of revelation when in fact the two positions are (at least currently) wholly incompatible. I think this is Jeff G’s actual point. Again, I would not expect SM to agree with me on this. And who knows, maybe I am in fact wrong. But I’d also not expect him to agree with me on this if I’m right either. But in any case, I offer this up as what I believe the true difficulty between liberal and non-liberal religionists actually is. Doesn’t it make sense that faced with two wholly incompatible belief systems – both of which one desires to believe – it would be easier to accept that the “TBMs” are just failing to understand a few quibbling points?

    Also, if I’m right that there is a defensive mechanism going on, note that this implies liberals are actually engaged in a genuine attempt to merge their personal beliefs with those of the church, but because this is impossible (at least currently) they subtly re-imagine the church’s teachings to something that can be reconciled. Hardly a point unworthy of respect since it boils down to genuine desire to believe in the church as much as possible.

    SmallAxe, I commend you too. Believe it or not, we’re not so different. You might think of me as a straight TBM, but everyone else here knows I’m not. Sometime we should talk on the phone where it’s easier for me. You’d find that we agree on much.

    And I think you’ve handled yourself very well here and you are excellent at dialogue at an emotional level. (Highest of possible compliments to you.) Meg, please don’t censor him at all in this discussion if at all possible. We need comments from people like SmallAxe, IMO. In fact, he’s the perfect audience for Jeff’s post.

    Also, SM, I admit I might be wrong on all this. If necessary, think of this as me explaining my own biased views more clearly than the past so you can respond to me better.

  95. Hi Bruce (and SmallAxe),

    I haven’t moderated anything on this post (unlike the Star Wars post where I removed two comments I thought contained spoilers, including one of my own comments).

    So if I’ve got you right here, you are saying that the Church is giving itself wholly to trusting God, and trusting that God has been properly heard and understood. In conflict with this we have the heterodox (if usually orthoprax) who says “I don’t trust that it is possible to properly hear and understand God if God is asking for something so foreign to human mores and folkways. Therefore I will err on the side of following human mores and folkways if I find that the God the Church is following is too far off course.”

    This heterodox (but often orthoprax) individual will look to history and find instances where they believe it is clear the Church leaders were not properly hearing and understanding God. They will cite Nauvoo polygamy. They will cite the history of the priesthood ban. They will cite the end of polygamy. They will cite the time their local bishop did [insert something that isn’t correct]. And thus they will feel justified in ignoring hard teachings and advocating for change where they believe change must happen “for the good of the Church.”

    Unfortunately, it isn’t often possible for them to honestly reimagine history with the alterations they think would have made things “right.”

    I don’t have to reimagine history with things changed, because I trust that God has appropriately responded to whatever crap occurred, and I trust Him that I don’t need to know the details at this time.

    It is for the person who dares steady the ark to explain why there is no danger in so doing. We who trust God and don’t attempt to steady the ark can simply continue to trust, reserving our energies for responding to dangers coming from the outside, rather than spending our time fearing corruption from within.

  96. Consider SmallAxe’s ‘limitations’ on authority. They are a fantastic example of the ‘speaking past’ liberals are doing constantly with the TBM community (and vice versa too). Its such a persistent problem, that it begs explanation.

    SA says: In directly addressing the question of limits, I propose the following limitations to authority:
    1, When those in authority demand actions that seem unethical, and at the same time preclude an arena for questioning the action, authority has gone too far.
    2. When those in authority provide reasons for policy, they cannot revert to justifying the policy on the basis of authority when the reasons are questioned. Reasons are by nature publicly accessible and open for investigation.
    3. Authority cannot trump what is right solely for the sake of maintaining authority.
    When those in authority entirely control the parameters of scrutinizing authority, authority has gone too far.
    4. When those in authority do not believe their authority is informed by those over whom they have authority, authority has gone too far.
    5. When only those in authority can suggest limits to authority, authority has gone too far.

    These are, by even TBM standards, great and fantastic rules when applied to any sort of authority on earth – including church leaders. (Jeff G makes this very clear in this very thread. Personal revelation trumps all. But only applies to you.) That’s the mislead liberals are counting on.

    The liberal convinces himself he’s just applying general and obviously rational limits on absolutely any “authority” therefore they tell themselves they are making merely a rational argument.

    But go try to apply those rules to God directly. Seriously, go try. That’s the very first thing a “TBM” (The Brethren Aligned Mormons) go do. And is likely the only thing they actually see in SA’s post from that point forward, even though its not such a bad post at all if you are seeing it as applying to anyone but God.

    The reason I pushed SmallAxe so hard last time was precisely this reason. I gave him carte blanche to imagine any scenario at all in which he could conceive of himself obeying God’s command to kill his son. He claimed he could not. Realistically this was a huge problem in SM’s argument to me because its so dang easy to imagine such circumstances.

    We can, as just one easy example, imagine God demonstrating 1000 times first to SM that by ‘killing’ people God then raises them instantly to Eternal life right before his eyes and SM can see no real harm was done. This is no more morally objectionable then slicing someone with a knife for surgery. SM had to limit his imagination to maintain his position at the time precisely because it wasn’t a sustainable position rationally. (But we all want to “win the argument’ so maybe that is why he didn’t realize at the time how easy it is to come up with a scenario like this.)

    But if you look at the above list, SM is acknowledging an obvious exception (which he makes clear via the Nephi and Laban example in this very thread) that seems to over come his original objection entirely: namely if God gives him a good reason to kill (presumably that he agrees with) he’d be open to it.

    This was my original point to SM that I couldn’t get him to acknowledge, that at some level, he’s quite open to killing his own son at God’s command. No sane person wouldn’t be if they had a good reason that they could agree with.

    I think what SM is really saying then (though I never got it out of him) is that his issue with the Abraham story is that God gives no reason and SA believes he should be allowed to consider the reason for himself. Therefore God owes him a reason and one he agrees with before he’ll kill his own son.

    This makes a great deal of sense — agree or disagree — and rescues SM’s original argument (all the obvious examples that SA was refusing to imagine implicitly include God giving a good reason, as does my example above) while also explaining his true discomfort with the Abraham story. This was what I was hoping he’d eventually say at the time so we could get on with the actual discussion.

    Key Point: TBMs don’t believe they need a reason given if they believe they know it comes from God. Liberals believe even God needs to give a reason. This is the true core difference between the two views.

    The Abraham story very specifically supports the TBM position in a graphic way that leaves no doubt that scripture sides with the TBMs on this. This is the real reason why Liberals do not accept the Abraham story and try to explain it away. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the various arguments Mormon Heretic nor Small Axe were using at the time. Those were all just misleads to avoid discussing the true issue. There is a bonafide issue here that needs no bad bible scholarship arguments to back it up. (As I accused MH of at the time.) Asking “why do the scriptures teach God owes us no reason?” is a COMPLETELY valid question that I have no answer for and I’m not sure the scriptures answer the question in a way I’m fully satisfied with.

    The problem Mormon Heretic (and SM) bump into is now that I’ve stated it outright, we have a huge problem between the two groups that I doubt even can be resolved. There is no common ground between the two views on this point to build on. I believe that is why its so much easier to instead make the sort of irrelevant side arguments that liberals keep making. So we waste considerable effort discussing biblical arguments (MH) or stating rules to limit authority without first explaining that the key issue is whether or not those rules apply to God Himself (SA).

    And now that we understand the actual difference, there is still nothing else to argue about because we now understand the complete futility in trying to reconcile the two positions. So one side must convert the other, end of story.

    You now all understand the true difference (if I’m right) between liberals and TBMs in the church.

  97. In light of the excellent analysis you’ve laid out above, I was amused to see peteolcott comment on Ralph Hancock’s recent post regarding alleged “secret information” about the Church stance on homosexuality:

    peteolcott: “You don’t realize that the prophet is never even in the ball park of infallibility, no human ever is, not even when their words have been canonized.”

    Apparently this individual has also come up with “a form of mathematics that allows myself and others that understand it to eliminate all gaps in reasoning, thus providing a limited sense of actual infallibility.”

    As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

  98. Bruce, I think you leave some things unsaid.

    The type of Liberal mormons that you describe either:

    1. Don’t believe in God. Or
    2. Don’t believe that the scriptures describe the real God. Or
    3. Don’t believe the scriptures. Or
    4. Don’t understand the scriptures. Or
    5. Don’t believe that LDS prophets are legitimate authorized representatives of God. Or
    6. some combination of the above.

    I tend to think of religious liberals/leftists/progressives in two broad categories:
    1. Those who think leftism/socialism is a legitimate political system to implement gospel principles in a society.
    2. Those who use leftism/socialism/pc-ism to destroy the good.

    I think the first group actually believes in God. I think the second group are those who don’t actually believe in God, or they don’t believe in the God of the scriptures.

    Dr. Bruce Charlton nails it in his book “Thought Prison.”
    http://thoughtprison-pc.blogspot.com/
    Also available in print at Amazon.

  99. SmallAxe,

    Concerning a friend that says they received revelation that they should divorce their wife: From within church teachings, personal revelation is personal. Your friend had no right to even bring it up to you in the first place and you have no way to know if its a true revelation or not. So you can ignore it entirely and proceed as if he hadn’t said that. In fact, you have no choice. That’s all you can do anyhow. So there is no real issue here.

    I see what you’re getting at, I think, however. You seem to want a rule by which to adjudicate between when we must follow revelation or not. But of course this can never work at all because you have to receive revelation (i.e. a testimony) in the first place to even believe in prophets and revelation in in the first place. (Making the whole thing inherently circular, just like you pointed out in your post.)

    Also, I have serious doubts its possible to adjudicate between any types of moral reasoning, which are themselves effectively personal revelation (i.e. our moral intuitions) and only interact with the ‘rational’ / ‘factual’ world once we first on faith accept the existence of our moral intuitions (i.e. personal revelations) as objectively pointing to something objective and real.

    So morality itself is inherently circular, just like your post points out concerning LDS “TBM” moral reasoning. What you missed is that its true of all moral reasoning, even your own ‘liberal’ reasoning. Its profoundly rooted in personal revelation.

    What’s wrong with your (hypothetical?) friend divorcing his wife? Clearly you are raising this example because you feel this is wrong in some way. But why in this particular case? Is divorce inherently harmful? Is it situation specific? (i.e. you fear our friend is jumping off the deep end?) What specifically about this situation makes you feel that way? Is it because marriage is sacred? There is too much missing here to even make sense of it as a question. But even if you had given all the necessary data, it would still come down to an appeal to our moral intuitions because there is no possible set of facts or principles of reason that can adjudicate this one way or the other. (If you think otherwise, I’d invite you to try and let me play devil’s advocate. I do not think you’ll get far.)

    From a purely factual stand point, clearly the choice to divorce is by nature entirely personal and thus “to each their own” must to some degree be true. And yet you are right that this is pretty much identical to having no ethics at all. But that is all the ‘rational’ world leaves us without first injecting it with revelation as a means of adjudicate between what facts should matter in a case like this.

    You want a principle by which to judge moral revelation via reason, but in fact reason provides no possible way to do that without first appealing to moral intuition — which is just itself a form of personal revelation. So your argument is entirely backwards. Reason can’t help us adjudicate revelation, only revelation can help us adjudicate reason. The problem to solve then is this: why do we not all have the same moral intuitions? (i.e. receive the same personal revelations?)

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