John Dehlin’s Comprehensive List of Reasons He Doesn’t Believe in the LDS Church

John Dehlin“Doubt those who encourage you to doubt your doubts” — John Dehlin on his Facebook page, attacking President Uchtdorf’s talk. Mar 25, 2014

John Dehlin recently put together a comprehensive list of what he sees as all the issues with the LDS Church. He of course titled it “A Comprehensive List of Reasons Why People Leave or Stop Believing in the LDS Church” so as to position it as a helpful attempt to teach the Church how to stop people from leaving. However, as I read through the list, it’s not really clear to me how this document could ever be helpful in that regard since it makes no helpful suggestions at all and simply reads like an anti-Mormon tract.

Consistent with my policy of not advancing anti-Mormon tracts – intended or otherwise – like this, I am not going to be linking with it. Normally I make an exception for John because I at least believe he is well intended in what I see as a desire to reduce pain in the church through reduced ‘exclusion.’ (I am intentionally using that term the way John uses it – which really means fewer people feeling uncomfortable and therefore making their own adult choice to no longer participate with the LDS church.) But I’m still not really in favor of collecting every potential faith-breaking issue all in one place like this. I do, after all, still believe in the importance of belief itself when it comes to religion.

Does John Encourage Disbelieving the LDS Church?

I know John claims he is not trying to get people to disbelieve. I think this is true in limited a sense. If you really want to believe, I have no doubt John will not push you personally towards disbelief. And I think John doesn’t really see belief as in-and-of-itself some sort of evil.

John has also claimed he is at least “minimally invested” in the LDS Church’s truth claims, and I think there is strong reason to believe that this just isn’t true. The above quote itself proves this isn’t the case.

John seems to have a preference away from literal beliefs and in favor of a more cultural approach to religion. His podcasts and writings have overwhelming favored discussions about doubt over discussions about belief. And I have no significant doubt that John is fully aware of this fact and prefers this approach precisely because he honestly believes that his cultural approach will preserve all the good of Mormonism (i.e. the community, the spirituality, the rituals) while removing the bad from Mormonism (i.e. loss of beliefs leads to hurtful divorces, many aren’t ‘included’, bigotry, etc).

This is, I think, the main thing that separates me from John Dehlin. I believe we started down the same path at nearly the same time but came to nearly polar opposite conclusions based on this one difference.

My personal feeling is that John has an inaccurate model of religion in his mind and that he is working off this false model towards what he sees as a good goal – namely shaping the LDS Church into something more like, say, Judaism where belief is optional since some people (i.e. “Uncorrelated Mormons” or “Thinking Mormons” as John calls them) won’t be able to make the leap. On the surface this makes sense. Why not include those that wish to believe while also making ‘room’ for those that don’t believe literally?

But this really is an inaccurate model of religion, I’m afraid, and given that bad model, I do believe John Dehlin does a lot of unnecessary harm. I think he does a lot of good too. In fact I know he does. But I also know he does a lot of harm.

What Is the Balance on John’s Pain Ledger?

In fact, I think its very likely that John rather symmetrically [1] could plausibly be linked to broken families, divorces, or of vilifying people and thereby increasing bigotry and hate in the world. Or in other words, I think there is strong reason to believe that John causes the very problems he sets out to fix. After all, if someone has these things happen after hearing information from John, is it really possible to just claim the Church has 100% responsiblity and John has none?

And frankly, as far as I can see, there is no way around that if you care to advance any moral worldview that is at odds with someone else’s — which is probably all moral worldviews. [2] Human beings are inherently ideological and John’s ideas are really an ideology, no matter how he chooses to spin it. And it is the clash of ideologies that is the real cause of these problems, not one side or the other.

And as an ideology, it does battle with competing ideologies for mindshare. I think this is because what we call “ideologies” are really the means by which we obtain meaning out of life. So when two people have competing ideologies, both are in a dangerous zone where they are at risk of losing all meaning from their life. This is a dilemma that exists that there is no solution for. This is why hurt will often — maybe usually — ensue.

Removing that hurt is terribly difficult because to try to do so is really just to advance a new type of ideology with its own potential hurts. So you not only have to eliminate some hurts that currently exist through use of your new ideology, you also have to introduce fewer new hurts than you stopped. As far as I can see, John doesn’t even understand that this is the case and largely just blames the Church when he introduces new hurts based on assumptions such as “it wouldn’t have happened had the Church been more transparent” or the like. So there is serious potential that John does more harm than good and just doesn’t realize it because he’s rather humanly shifting the responsibility elsewhere in his mind or is avoiding situations where he might find out the true consequences of what he’s doing.

Why John Publishes Materials Covering Reasons to Doubt

Right or wrong, John has a view of how the Church should be and how it will be better than it currently is. He has a plan on how to help move towards that goal. A huge part of that goal is to publish material about issues with the Church. He does this for a very different reason than why an Evangelical anti-Mormon publishes such material.

John’s public goal isn’t so much to cause people to disbelieve (though if that does happen he doesn’t necessarily see it as a problem — his official stance is that he does not judge people if they choose to stay or leave) but rather to help members of the LDS Church realize that they need to be more compassionate and kinder towards those that do have doubts because those doubts are, in John’s view, justified rationally. If you don’t believe that, says John, see my “Comprehensive List of Reasons Why People Leave or Stop Believing in the LDS Church.”

But I personally believe I detect in John a private goal of actually encouraging reduced belief and a move towards a cultural church. To me it seems John is not so much pushing this as an alternative to being a ‘believing Mormon’ (i.e. what John uncharitably calls “correlated Mormons” or he implies are “Unthinking Mormons”) but is actually pushing his ideology as a superior way. How else do you explain John’s huge bias towards doubt to the point of wanting to collect all possible reasons to doubt in one document and not offer a single helpful suggestion on how to help people past these issues? Or his attack on President Uchtdorf’s rather excellent talk that actually was trying to address the very problems John Dehlin claims he cares about? This is not the behavior of someone with even a minimal investment in LDS truth claims.

Having said that, I am aware that John heavily denies having this goal. And I’m also aware that, if I’m right, I’d expect him to heavily deny having this goal. At a minimum, I think this goal exists in his subconsious. Neutrality is rarely possible and people that claim it are selling you something. So I think John is not neutral and that he has a preference for disbelief.

John’s Model of Religion

In any case, I believe John is mistaken that the Church can truly ever embrace a cultural approach as he wishes it would – even in the more benign publicly stated form where people can choose to believe or not, yet still feel ‘included’. I think John’s fooling himself based on the false model of religion in his head that falsely suggests that this can work when in fact it can’t. And I think the evidence against him is scientific, fact-based, and not that hard to find. Yet I think John needs to believe he’s right so badly — for if he’s wrong, he’d lose all meaning from his life — that he finds reasons to ignore the science on the subject and pushes forward anyhow with complete faith it will somehow all work out.

John often points to the Jewish religion or the Catholic religion as good examples of where he’d like to see Mormonism go. In both of these cases there are believing Jews and Catholics, but there is also an easy accommodation (or so goes the explanation) of those that are interested in these religions more for the culture and community than for the truth claims and beliefs. But this suggestion has caused me to ask the following questions:

  1. Is John right that Catholicism and Judaism have in fact improved their ability grow and thrive due to their more lenient views on religion as culture and practice?
  2. Is John right that you can take the LDS church and use the Catholic and Jewish model for it at all?
  3. Is John right that a person that leave the church do so primarily due to the items on his list?
  4. John makes the truth claim that the idea that people leave the church due to sin is false. Is he correct about this? What has our science said about this?
  5. Do religions that are more ‘inclusive’ in fact grow and thrive better because more people stay? Or do they reduce their effectiveness or die out? Or in other words, does John’s “inclusive” approach “include” or “exclude” more people?

I think the above questions are pretty obvious question and drive to the heart of the validity of John’s own ideology, beliefs, faith, and truth claims.

Is John a Competitor to the LDS Church?

But there is one more question I would like to ask that I think most people have not thought to ask. And this question is the single most significant question in my opinion.

A while back I wrote some posts about how religions are cultural units of transmission — sometimes called ‘memes’ for those that like the term. You can ignore the term ‘meme’ if you dislike it and yet religions will continue to replicate themselves culturally. [3] It is this idea of cultural replication that I find the most significant question that must be asked about John Dehlin. The question is:

Is John Dehlin replicating the same meme as the LDS church?

It turns out that this last question is of extreme significance. I explained why in a previous post, found here. The issues is that when beliefs replicate they do so following the same laws as genes. That was why Richard Dawkins invented the word “memes” to sound like “genes.” Both are in fact a form of replication of information.

And as I explained in this post if John is replicating the same meme as the LDS church (spreading LDS beliefs), then he is in symbiosis with the LDS church. But if he is replicating something different from the LDS church that is mutually exclusive to it — or at least hinders its ability to replicate its beliefs in any way — then John is actually in competition with the LDS church rather than helping it. And as I explained in that post, the closer two memes are the more they are competitors for the same reason the chief competitor to an organism is other organisms of the same species.

Also note that this can be true even if John is “helping” the church “by keeping people in it.” Go look at the equivalent genetic example in that post. The fluke is a parasite that actually “helps” a snail by making its shell stronger, yet at a cost to the snails ability to replicate its genes. So it is a parasite precisely because it hurts the ability for the snail to reproduce all while doing something that seems to be helping the snail itself.

Put simply, if John is helping people stay in the Church but they do so with a desire to reduce replication of belief (e.g. they are against missionary work, want to push the Church towards not proselytizing other religions, or maybe just make the Church less compeling because literal believe turns out to be more compeling than non-literal belief) then John truly is at odds with the current purpose of the Church and is in competition with it — regardless of whether or not he is keeping people in the church. This is because the church is the means, not the ends.

In fact, unlike Evangelicals who are after the hearts and minds of roughly the same group of people as Mormons, John only cares about Mormons. Strange as this may seem, this makes John’s chosen ideology the LDS Church’s chief competitor in many ways.

So what do you think? How would you answer the above questions about John’s movement? And is John in symbiosis or in competition to replication of LDS memes — our beliefs? (As outlined in this post)


[1] symmetrically: As quoted from this post, “…the idea that we all have a lot more in common then we claim we do because we use similar techniques but disguise from ourselves that we’re doing the very same thing we complained about in ‘that other community.’ So it’s easy to complain “The Mormon Church shuts people out” while also shutting people out in your own community and just not being aware that you’re doing it too.”

For that matter, it’s pretty darn easy to call for transparency of those you disagree with but a lot harder to offer it for yourself, as in the case of Ordain Women. We humans are inherently hypocritical according to Jonathan Haidt. Even a moment on the Bloggernacle makes it clear that everyone demands of everyone else that which they will not give.

[2] …as far as I can see, there is no way around that if you care to advance any moral worldview that is at odds with someone else’s. Someday I suspect someone is going to start a “John Dehlin Stories” podcast that simply goes around and interviews people that feel John has hurt them by unnecessarily driving a wedge between them and someone else or because John’s podcasts created bigotry towards believing Mormons by vilifying them – not unlike what John currently complains about the LDS church doing to people today.

The podcast creators can even mimic the appears of fairness by having people come on to the show to defend John Dehlin against all sort of real or trumped up charges against him. No matter how much or well they defend John, the charges are still being discussed, so its ultimately a losing proposition for John no matter what. Then the creators of the podcast can just claim that they are not saying they agree with the charges, they are just producing ‘dialogue’ about it.

John’s approach to the LDS church make absolutely anything look bad — including John’s own ideologies. An approach that is guarenteed to make the object of inspection look bad is not a very scientific approach.

In fact, when it comes down to it, it is not clear to me why – if someone discovered the Church isn’t true (as John believes) from John’s podcasts and problems ensue — John is somehow less responsible than the LDS Church for the fallout.

The current excuse, used by people that hold John’s opinions that I’ve talked to, seems to be that Truth is the moral arbiter and the fact that John is factually correct and the LDS church is not correct is therefore how we know it’s not John’s fault and it is the LDS Church’s fault. But of course the LDS Church uses the same argument in reverse, does it not?

And frankly, if there is no God, it seems like the idea that Truth is a moral arbiter is itself a rationally questionable position that any true skeptic would want some rational justification for before they’d be willing to believe it. Heck, you can’t rationally justify morality at itself without reference to the supernatural. Indeed, belief in morality pretty much is a belief in Something-Like-God. (“Something-Like-God” is further explained here.)

And if the world is a bad enough place, I have little reason at all to believe that delusion might not be a good thing in some cases and truth might hold lower utility in such cases. Scientist Jonathan Haidt has made the compelling case that it is not at all likely that the world would be a better place without religion even if all of it is factually false. In other words, if John is right that the LDS church is not true and his material brings this out to people, I still have no reason to believe that what John is doing is somehow morally correct. Is it really morally okay to make sure people are aware of all the issues with their religion and therefore risk or even encourage them to lose their religion? Even when I apply this question to religions I do not believe in, the answer never seems to me to come up “Yup!”

[3] Memes: For those that hate the word “meme” or find it “vapid” please, by all means, make up your own word or phrase that labels information that is culturally replicated outside the information replicated in our genes. Whenever I use the word “meme” please insert your own word or phrase in its place. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, “meme” is the only word in existence to label this sort of non-genetic information that is culturally replicated. So I have a hard time understanding why people dismiss the term outright.

I suppose, to be fair, the term “meme” has been ruined a bit because it has been taken to refer to pithy little phrases that people add to the bottom of emails. And, since this is such a new field, there is an awful lot of bad science surrounding it, such as strange claims that a person is really a set of memes. (Well… I suppose if I really stretch terms I can find some way to make that claim true.) But it might be useful to learn to separate a valid concept from the bad science surrounding it and the bad uses of the concept itself.

Of course religions replicate themselves culturally! If you are an active LDS parent you send your children to Primary right off the bat to teach them your beliefs. You do a lot more than that. You hold Family Home Evening, send them to seminary, possibly send them on a mission, maybe even send them to a Church owned university. As a parent you have no delusions that you are doing this in hopes that your child will grow up believing in the LDS religion. You are literally ‘replicating’ the religion from one generation to another. And so what? You are offering the best of yourself and there is nothing wrong with that, despite the Dehlin-sphere insistence on calling this ‘indoctrination’ or worse ‘brain washing.’ Any guesses as to if they are talking their own moral worldview and trying to replicate it to their children?

And what is missionary work? Why it’s an attempt to take our LDS beliefs and practices and ‘replicate’ them over to people that are not LDS.

Call it ‘memes’ or don’t, the underlying concept is still of some importance.


106 thoughts on “John Dehlin’s Comprehensive List of Reasons He Doesn’t Believe in the LDS Church

  1. Bruce, I think there are some relevant issues to discuss here. The first is that Dehlin recently posted on his Facebook page the following quotation from himself: “Doubt those who encourage you to doubt your doubts.”

    This is a direct attack on Elder Uchtdorf, who in October 2013 Conference directly encourage members to “first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.”

    Dehlin is setting himself up as more inspired than Elder Uchtdorf and is directly attacking a member of the first presidency of the Church.

    Anybody interested in the truth regarding Dehlin’s claims should read the following:

  2. In a wild conincidence, I noticed this quote about the same time you did and was working on adding it to the post since it first the subject of the post so completely.

  3. You have some formatting issues that are not ruinous, but still bothersome. Sorry for the tangent. Great work here, but I’m afraid our discussions aren’t getting out to the people who really need them.

  4. In a wild conincidence, I noticed the formatting errors and finished fixing them 5 or 10 minutes before you commented. Do you still see them?

  5. I’m content to leave the final judgement on all souls to God.

    I’m content to allow all people to make their own decisions.

    Of course there are a thousand reasons to leave the Church, if you’re not converted.

    If you’re converted but willing to doubt your conversion, then staring at the list of a thousand reasons could someday cause you to claim you are not converted.

    If you’re converted and certain of God, then the list of a thousand reasons gives you a starting point for reconciling knowledge and faith to rebut the thousand reasons.

    But, again, all people make their own decisions. So even when the faithful find good, solid, faith-engendering explanations for the thousand reasons, there will be those who are already spiritually (or actually) dead and beyond recovery.

  6. Bruce, yes I still see them. It starts with “In fact, unlike Evangelicals . . .” and especially the whole notes section. There are smaller or larger fonts for no recognizable reasons, larger than needed headings, and uneven spacings.

  7. It seems to have reinserted some of the formating. Check again now that I’ve removed it twice.

  8. I think that this is an interesting and important topic and I think Meg makes a great point in her comment above and I would care to expand on it. The difference between Dehlin’s apparent goals in reforming the Church, and the actual goals and mission of the Church itself are in stark contrast. Giving Dehlin all of the benefit of the doubt, it seems that he wants the Church to be a big happy family where we all get along and don’t step on each other’s toes and where there is room for any kind of worldview at all. However, the Church’s sole proclaimed reason for existence is to assist in the very real work of salvation and exaltation of as many souls as possible. The Church is not primarily a service club, or a fraternity of like-minded individuals, it is a tool in the hand of God to accomplish His work.

    Having said that, John’s suggestion that Catholicism and Judaism have in fact improved their ability grow and thrive due to their more lenient views on religion as culture and practice is entirely irrelevant. The Church isn’t some kind of business attempting to gain market share at any cost. If we lose the essence of adherence to the saving ordinances and practices, then we are no different from Catholicism and Judaism and we certainly would lose Heaven’s support.

    As a result, John is not right that you can take the LDS church and use the Catholic and Jewish model for it. The LDS Church would cease to be what the LDS Church is today if we abandoned the core truth claims. It could survive perhaps as a source of good in this world, but it would be of limited utility for the next.

    Again, I like what Megan said about whether John is right that a person that leave the church do so primarily due to the items on his list? While it might be overly simplistic to say that people leave the Church because of sin, sin does have a corrosive effect on one’s testimony. As an individual drives away the Holy Ghost through sins of commission, and neglects it’s influence through sins of omission, the end result is the same. Your friend may not leave the Church because he wants to be able to drink bear, but he certainly has lost some sort of testimony which doesn’t happen absent sin or a failure to do as guided in Alma 32.

    Finally, I would suggest that it is irrelevant whether John’s “inclusive” approach “includes” or “excludes” more people. We can’t do the things he suggests in order to include the people he suggests that we include without doing violence to what the Church is actually about, that being a place in which the saving ordinances and the attendant priesthood keys can be found and a place where the essentials of the Gospel are taught in their purity. If we fail at that primary goal, then what good is any of it?

  9. Michael, without a doubt yours is the correct answer from a believing view point.

    I suppose I am asking this question: If we take John’s starting assumption that the Church isn’t true as a given, does it then follow that his program to fix it is rational and effective?

    So much of John’s approach is built on this idea that the Mormon world is split into two groups, Thinking Mormons like him that don’t believe and Unthinking Ones that believe. (To be fair, I suspect John would say that some believers are in fact Thinking Mormons too.) I am wondering if John has really gotten to where he is at via “thinking” and “being rational.” I’m not so sure he has.

  10. Bruce, again, you’ve done so much work, and taken so much time, thank you for that. Ah, Dehlin … I don’t know what to think about what he is doing anymore. I feel sorry for him and that he feels the need to drag down so many. I am angry and frustrated with his mutually exclusive view that you can’t be faithful and compassionate. You can, it’s just that the commandments are the commandments and no amount of God’s love excuses us from following them. Sadly, I have several friends and family members who have bought into his way of thinking and no longer have testimonies, or are teetering on the brink. Instead of building up, he tears down, and that is the ultimate tragedy.

  11. That was a snoozefest. Someone put me out of my misery for having spent the time reading that blog post.

  12. Bruce, I was going to get to answering your question but my comment was getting long and I had to get back to work …

    If we make the assumption that the Church is not true, the question you raise is highly dependent on whether or not a majority of the membership believe it to be true. Any changes made to the Church in order to make it more accommodating to the constituencies that Dehlin is most concerned with will cause some percentage of the true believers to question whether or Church continues to be in line with what they hold is true. Those that don’t hold the Church as “true” in the first place won’t be bothered by this, but that’s a relatively small group among active LDS.

  13. I am a ‘thinking person’ who loves the Restored Gospel and the LDS church. Even if it weren’t true it is the best plan for a happy life. Those who try to spread distrust of the leadership and make pathetic attempts at remodeling the Church and the Gospel in their own image will persist and gain the hearts and minds of a few but as for me and the thoughtful, highly intelligent members of my house, we choose the Lord and the marvelous truth of his atonement and the ongoing miracle of the Restoration.

  14. Jeff, interesting point. I was trying to address that with the idea of ‘replication.’ There are several commenters here on M* that do not feel the church is 100% true, yet they are so obviously interested in it spreading. So they want to see it replicate and grow, even at the expense of other religions. So I’m suggesting ‘belief’, while highly correlating with ‘desire to see the Church grow’ (through missionary work, in particular) it isn’t a perfect match either. But if someone wants to see the Church grow and, for some reason, didn’t believe in any of it, the simple truth is that they are not in competition and in fact in a true symbiosis with the Church.

  15. I think this article is much more about the author’s personal fears and insecurities than it is about John Dehlin. John Dehlin has publicly said again and again that it is not his intention to bring people away from the church.

    The question of whether it is morally correct to give people information about the Mormon Church which they can not obtain from the church itself is not the important question. That is a MUCH smaller question than whether the church itself can claim to be morally correct, when it asks people — long-time members and converts alike — to commit their time, talents and money without being open about its history, doctrine, and finances.

    John Dehlin has shone a light into areas the church would rather remain darkened. And he has done so in a way that simply provides information, and allows a person to exercise their free agency. There is nothing wrong with that, morally or otherwise.

  16. Bruce N, a link went up somewhere. Prepare to get bloggernacled by Dehlinites. They appear to have a testimony that John Dehlin is True. Or something.

  17. There you have it, folks. John Dehlin has said he doesn’t want people to leave the Church. So, clearly, he doesn’t!

    In other news–if you like your health care, you can keep your health care; etc.

  18. I hereby publicly state that everything I do is from the best possible motives. The best possible impeccable motives. The best possible impeccable and admirable motives. Yea, verily, my motives are the Mahatma Gandhi, they are the Napoleon Brandy, they are the tops.

    But don’t let that stop anyone from criticizing me. Obviously their criticism would be wrong, given how humdingylingy my announced motives are. But there still is some value in letting them reveal their personal fears and insecurities.

  19. Bruce N.,
    thanks for simply providing information about John Dehlin. It’s true you’ve shone a light on some areas of his conclave that he would rather keep dark. But people deserve to know that in the exercise of their free agency.

  20. Geoff,
    Just means more people in the audience that needs to see this actualy see it.

    Russ, I did admit to various things being my opinion. But come back for my up coming posts and I’ll bet I can offer up evidence that will force you to respond with nothing but obviously lame arguments and personal attacks! 🙂 Consider that a challenge.

    Also, Russ, you said this: “…whether the church itself can claim to be morally correct, when it asks people — long-time members and converts alike — to commit their time, talents and money without being open about its history, doctrine, and finances.”

    Honestly, you have to now tell me what you believe about God if you want dialogue to take place. Because if you don’t believe in God or if you believe God rejects all religions then it seems to me that you’ve basically just said all religions are unethical if they exist because there is no God, so none can be entirely open with the truth. I find that a bit hard to believe, personally. You’ll need a better argument than this to get past this skeptic.

    On the other hand, if you actually believe in a religion that is open and transparent in the way you claim is required for the religion to be moral, I’d like to know what it is and let’s discuss.

    While we are at it, you can also explain to me how any organization that is voluntary and “asks people” to do something could ever actually be doing something as profoundly immoral as your insisting. I’m pretty skeptical of your argument here.

  21. Russ: “That is a MUCH smaller question than whether the church itself can claim to be morally correct, when it asks people — long-time members and converts alike — to commit their time, talents and money without being open about its history, doctrine, and finances.”

    That’s a fundamentally warped view of the purpose and nature of the church. As Michael so adroitly put it above, “However, the Church’s sole proclaimed reason for existence is to assist in the very real work of salvation and exaltation of as many souls as possible. The Church is not primarily a service club, or a fraternity of like-minded individuals, it is a tool in the hand of God to accomplish His work.”

    Commitment to the church, for most members, has nothing to do with whether or not the church adequately facilitates scholarly inquiry about itself among the general population, it’s based on whether the church’s claims about “supernatural” issues–its divine authority to officiate ordinances of authentic salvation primarily among them–are literally accurate.

    That’s why I’m an active member. If it weren’t true, I wouldn’t be here. I think that’s true of most believing members–if our spiritual seeking (as per Alma 32 and Moroni 10, e.g.) did not result in an ongoing witness of truth, we wouldn’t be here. The attractiveness, palatability, or any other appeal of the institutional church has nothing to do with it.

    But if the church IS true, then it only makes sense to trust its leaders and live the law of consecration. Anything less, frankly, would be intellectually dishonest or illogical.

    “John Dehlin has shone a light into areas the church would rather remain darkened.”

    Hardly! The church not advertising any and every possible fact and resource about itself is not at all the same thing as actively seeking to censor those things and punish those who advertise them.

    This goes back to Michael’s observation about the mission of the church. Its investment of time and resources must be devoted to things that advance that project, and which do so most effectively. So focusing on missionary work, gospel instruction, temple work, etc. makes perfect sense.

    Things that are related to the major goals to a lesser degree get some but proportionally lesser attention–healthy living advocacy, employment training, journaling, etc.

    Some things which might be good but which are not directly beneficial to the church’s goals, or are related to those goals in such small degrees that they would only yield minute results–personal artistic development, Mesoamerican exploration, encouraging family reunions, facilitating scholarly inquiry about itself among the general population, for example–are ignored or all but ignored. Time, money, and people being finite, this is how it has to be. The church simply cannot do all things for all people all the time. It has to prioritize.

    Doesn’t it do this prioritizing quite well? If anyone wants to suggest a significant change in this, by adding a new priority, then what current priority should be scaled back? Should we assertively foster more objective scholarship by reducing the effort we put into baptisms for the dead, for example?

    The church’s Institute manual about itself–Church History in the Fulness of Times–is already nearly 700 pages long. How much longer do you want it to be?

    The very fact that so many people *do* have so much information about the church that they feel the church doesn’t like or doesn’t want them to know is proof that the church *doesn’t* oppose individual investigation. If anything, the church’s approach here is pretty libertarian; the only exception being if one uses their findings to then influence others in ways that will jeopardize their salvation, because, as this reply has so laboriously attempted to explain…that’s the church’s job.

  22. Wow! To claim that John Dehlin has caused suicide and divorce with absolutely no evidence to back that up is incredibly disingenuous.
    This demonstrates the fundamental problem with promoting belief above truth.

  23. Adam, you obviously misunderstood what I intended. This might be my own fault. But to make it very clear, here is the pertinent line:

    In fact, when it comes down to it, it is not clear to me why – if someone discovered the Church isn’t true (as John believes) from John’s podcasts and problems ensue — John is somehow less responsible than the LDS Church for the fallout.

    My real point is that the true cause of such problems is a conflict of ideologies rather than *the Church* or *John Dehlin*. You can’t really assign blame in the way John does. Blame can’t truly be punctuated like that.

    I don’t believe John is doing anything unethical, or if he is, its certainly no different that just about every person and organization that advances an ideology. No person or organization is ever transparent in the way John insists on, not even John.

    To help people not misunderstand my intent, I’ll try to make it more clear in the OP that I’m not actually accusing John of anything other than ‘advancing his own views’ (as we all do) and that the very act of doing so always leads to both some helps and some hurts. The question is the balance between the hurts and helps. And that is unknown at this time.

  24. Adam (not Greenwood), my next door neighbor had to choose between leaving the Church or losing his wife as a direct result of her involvement with John Dehlin’s ministries. I was ward clerk at the time that they requested that there names be removed from the records of the Church. No suicide there, and no divorce, but one was threatened.

  25. Pingback: “John Dehlin’s comprehensive list of reasons he doesn’t believe in the LDS Church”

  26. But of course the woman would have claimed it was the Church’s fault. That’s the whole point.

    The real question is this, has John truly lowered pain in the church? Because his approach is likely to cause it as well. We don’t know the answer to that question and merely collecting succesful examples and assigning all blame to the Church of bad examples isn’t really a way to measure John’s success for failures on this front.

    In all honesty, I simply don’t know if John has made things better or worse. Niether does John. No one does yet.

  27. The real question is this, has John truly lowered pain in the church? Because his approach is likely to cause it as well.

    Let’s say the church bends to some of John’s ideas and information. The changes reduce pain and dissonance for a small but significant % of active but questioning members and retention rates begin to rise slightly. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. Doesn’t it reduce the overall problem?

  28. By the way, I just recently started communication with a woman that had posted an article supporting John Dehlin and was headed in his direction. When I talked to her and helped her find what I personally feel is a more productive approach with her faith questions, she admited to me later that she was starting to get scared that her path might lead to a divorce or even effect her mental well-being and cause serious depression. She even did use the S-word.

    Again, can you really assign blame the way John does here? Who is to blame? I doubt it’s truly any person’s fault per se. Again, it’s really the clash of ideologies that is the problem.

  29. Yes, of course meaning is derived in the interplay among ideas, and we’ll all reach and own different conclusions. John’s work has been a blessing to my spouse and to me. No, it doesn’t resonate with everyone, but it fills a certain lack, in my experience.

  30. Howard, you are a smart man. I was getting to this in a future post. Yes, this is a realistic possibility, though I have no idea if it has or will take place. But its certainly consistent with my personal worldview of the value of criticism.

    Okay, so let me ask you a question now. Let’s say John bends to some of my ideas and information. The changes reduce pain and dissonance for a small but significant % of active but questioning members and retention rates begin to rise slightly. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. Doesn’t it reduce the overall problem too?

    Who Watches the Watchers?

    I really have no doubt that criticism of the Church from the outside can lead to improvements — and does. (I don’t know in the specific case of John, but if you just think of general outside changes to society, it’s obvious. Whether John improves this natural dialogue with the rest of the culture or not is an open question in my mind.) I also have no doubt that criticism of John can improve John.

  31. Joanne, I believe you. If you take a look at my post here, you’ll see that I agree that a John Dehlin site I was blogging on has a real purpose and filled a niche.

    I have an upcoming post where I’ll make suggestions as to how John might, in theory, go about accomplishing what he wants to accomplish with significantly reduced risk of creating the very situations that got him headed in his direction in the first place.

  32. Who Watches the Watchers?

    I really have no doubt that criticism of the Church from the outside can lead to improvements…I also have no doubt that criticism of John can improve John.

    So, you’ve answered your own question and in doing so verified that both the criticism and the conversation is potentially healthy and desirable. If it weren’t you would be arguing that the sweetspot had already been reached and I was hopping that wasn’t your assertion!

  33. I make no claims that the sweet spot has been reached.

    My personal feeling is that I have considerable fears that John is making things worse, though I admit I don’t know that for sure. But I can offer up a variety of reasons why I suspect that is the case. I don’t think the thought has yet occured to John that he really and truly might be causing more pain than he fixes. And I’m hoping critical posts like this will help make him aware of such possibilities and cause him to move more cautiously on many fronts.

    I think the *potential* for John to make things better certainly exist and I’d like to make suggestions on how this can be reached. I also want to eventually write about why a slew of fairly obvious things John could improve on are not likely to ever be improved precisely because John is subject to pretty much all the same laws that drive any ideologically driven person.

  34. Making things better or worse is a result of the interplay of all the players. Often things have to get worse before they get better.

  35. To label this as “John Dehlin’s Comprehensive List of Reasons He Doesn’t Believe in the LDS Church” is either misinformed, dishonest, or a lie. The PDF in question isn’t a list of why John Dehlin doesn’t believe the LDS church. He asked people for their reasons and he put them in a list. I don’t know if he’s doing it for himself, research, or someone at church HQ.

    The author of this “analysis” of Dehlin’s work fails to keep emotional distance and enters personal attack territory several times (just as Dehlin did with Uchtdorf). You speculate wildly about Dehlin’s personal thoughts and motives without sufficient evidence or necessity (other than poisoning the well).

  36. The most interesting of his interviews was with the Rabbi. The Rabbi was defending the Joseph Smith the prophet model via consistency with Old Testament prophets as John continued to hammer away. Fascinating.

  37. MarkG, this isn’t even trying to pretend to be an “analysis” of John Dehlin. It’s clearly an opinion piece. So it’s expressing opinions and asking questions that haven’t been asked. But never makes the statement that John is doing anything immoral or unethical. It doesn’t even make the claim that John is doing more harm than good other than to point out that the question of which he does more of is the correct question that needs to be asked.

    And I’m curious why you think John choosing to ask others for a list and then choosing to put it together and publish it doesn’t itself constitute a fairly obvious bias and desire to advance a certain world view.

    I suppose the very fact that I have an opinion that John prefers disbelief could be construed as a personal attack. But is it really? Other than that, I’m not sure I know what you are talking about.

  38. Wyoming, that sounds like a cool interview. Send a link please. My favorite was the Richard Bushman interviews. Well done.

  39. One thing I find interesting is that the very fact that I express an opinion that John favors disbelief — heck I even state that it could just an an subconscious bias — is seen as so threatening by people that like John to the point that they see personal attacks, claims that John is evil, etc.

    Honestly, is it so difficult to believe that despite John’s statements that he doesn’t want to deconvert people that at some level he does have that preference? In fact, wouldn’t that be a pretty normal human response if you are in John’s position? Is anyone really that neutral ever?

    And the whole argument that Mark (and others) make is that I should express such an opinion unless I have facts — specifically facts as to what is going on in John’s head, apparently. Somehow this seems like an unrealistic request to me. In fact, it seems like a pretty lame argument to this skeptic. Because I’m thinking that is probably an impossible standard to pass.

    Furthermore, if John does have such a preference, what is exactly wrong with that? Doesn’t the LDS church prefer people do believe? What’s wrong with having such a preference? I just can’t see it.

  40. I think that at the beginning John’s intentions was to have an even handed discussion. Have one critical podcast then two or three positive responses. However, for a while it has long since been that way. Now there is less of a urge for transparency and faithful discussion and more of an urge to promote a cultural religion, promote positively the ordain women movement, and eventually temple sealings for same sex eternal marriage.

    I realize that all of the podcasts of his that I really like: Terril Givens, Richard Bushman, and Daniel Peterson were a long time ago. Now the balance has shifted. Personally I like some of the newer stuff purely because I am interested in apostasy, but it is a shame the more faithful approach from 2007 has long been lost.

  41. While I do not think this discussion is exactly a waste of time, it is definately a divisive issue and a distraction. I do believe a similar question was answered adequately thousands of years ago during the ministry of Paul, in one of the basic missionary scriptures I learned 40 years ago. Far be it from me to presume to speak as Paul, but the scripture is instructive.

    Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.

    Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

    1 Corinthinans 1:12-13

    Perhaps those who worry about this discussion just need to ask themselves, “Were ye baptized in the name of Dehlin?”

  42. Bruce, if the church is true but not 100% true, what is not true and how has that become apparent? If the church is true but not 100%, how do we claim it to be true?

  43. Jeff, that’s a post in an of itself. I suppose the short answer is — that’s how science works already. None of our theories are 100% true. For example, it’s well know that our two most powerful theories ever — General Relativity and Quantum Physics — are known to be in contradiction. So they can’t both be right. And in fact, probably neither is once we have a better theory to replace both.

    What makes this more interesting is that there is absolutely no way whatsoever to know what parts of a theory are correct and what parts aren’t.

    I have written about epistemology quite a bit precisely because it applies to religion in much the same way. As it turns out, a theory or explanation is useful if it is any degree of approximately true and the real question isn’t “what isn’t true?’ or “how do we know?” but only “given two theories, which is the most true?” And this we can determine.

    I do not agree with people that try to throw out random bits of an explanation but don’t try to replace it with a workable alterantive explanation. This is what I perceive most liberals religionists as doing. They just declare parts false but haven’t the foggiest idea how to reconnect it all back up into a useful religious explanation that is actually useful to real life people. So they become Rejectionists.

  44. This article has at its core the mentality that belief is good. The fundamental problem with promoting belief over truth ia that when a person holds to the idea that belief is more important than truth, that person is likely to reject truth when it comes into conflict with their beliefs.

    John Dehlin and the Mormon Stories podcast does cause people to question LDS claims and attitudes. He is doing so by addressing legitimate issues like Joseph Smith’s polyandry, anachronisms in the Book of Mormon and cultural mentalities that are often bigoted and paranoid.

    If you think that doubt of beliefs is bad, than of course what John is doing is bad. But if you place truth above belief, than the questions that John influences people to ask and the information that Mormon Stories provides allows people to see a wider range of information than is ever provided by the church. Those who seek truth, some of whom have left the Church and some of whom have stayed, laud John Dehlin as a courageous and thoughtful man. Those who advocate belief see John as a threat to those beliefs.

    What Bruce is doing in this article is at best attacking John for exposing truth and legitimate questions, because he doesn’t like that people question their beliefs in light of John’s work. Again, that assumes that questioning is wrong. At worst, he is trying to paint John as a threat to otherwise faithful people, as a modern Korihor. Let’s hope that those who agree with Bruce do not treat John in the same way the people of the Book of Mormon treated Korihor (saying this tongue and cheek). That would be wrong, right? (But not according to the Book of Mormon.)

  45. It is a truly destructive list. Regardless of Dehlin’s motivations the motivations of most those commenting on the list (and submitting additional reasons in the comments) is very apparent. They want to “prove” that the reason they left the Church is “valid” and they want to make sure that their very own special pet peeve is on the list.

    Personally I would not ever choose to be responsible for such a list.

    Further, a great many of the “reasons” are simply laughable in my opinion. Note: I’m not saying that someone doesn’t think they are important, just that I find them so lacking in substance as to be laughable.

  46. Adam,

    You read in a lot I don’t say. But aren’t I doing the same thing to John when I express my opinions? Guess that’s legimtiate in your eyes. I’d have to agree. I doubt it’s possible to have a dialogue with out some reading in. After all, don’t people in real life have motives that are hidden, and often even hidden from themselves to some degree?

    Do I really start with the assumption that belief is good? It seems to me that I don’t. It looks more to me like I asked a question: “Is the assumption that belief is bad if it’s not true actually in fact a true belief?” I do not answer the question in any sort of general manner equivalent to your reading in of me.

    Interestingly you end up agreeing with me on this:

    “John Dehlin and the Mormon Stories podcast does cause people to question LDS claims and attitudes.”

    There is a difficult set of questions here when we talk about belief and truth, if we’re assuming (as you clearly are) that they do not match. To follow Howard’s line of logic, you seem utterly convinced John’s already in his sweet spot on this so any criticism in his approach is therefore bad. I find that an improbable belief on your part and I’m interested in seeking the truth on that question.

    If you perceive me as “at best attacking John for exposing truth and legitimate questions” then it probably won’t surpise you that I perceive you as attacking me for exposing truth and legimtate questions as well.

    Excellent examples of symmetry by the way! It’s truly difficult to not reintroduce the very problem you are trying to solve.

  47. John is not steadying the ark, he is in the crows nest looking for icebergs while we rest in our unsinkable ship. We are too proud to think we might need a rudder. It is the egocentrism that he is trying to warn us about. It is our inability to do unto others, the grand summary of The Gospel that we don’t exercise, or seem to understand.

    John is not attacking you, he is trying to help save us from ourselves.

    To quote Oliver Cromwell: I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.

  48. Bruce, I understand the point you’re making with respect to symmetry, but I think you give John too much credit here. While his premise is that there are legitimate reasons to doubt the Mormon faith, he preaches that clearly there is much of Mormonism that can’t be right and therefore it can’t be what it claims to be. Furthermore, his metric of morality is whether something causes pain, and anything that the church teaches that causes someone pain must therefore be wrong. You’re attempting to show that’s he’s probably causing as much pain, and therefore is suspect by his own metric. Fair enough, but when it comes to faith, I feel that whole discussion misses the mark. Using pain as a metric, there’s no way to argue that God even exists, because there is so much of it on the earth and God doesn’t seem to intervene to any measurable extent. I think even John on his worst mood swing would argue there must be a God, so at some point I think “pain” has to be dismissed as the ultimate metric for evaluating everything, including him.

  49. Good points, Martin. I would tend to agree. It does seem pain is by itself a pretty poor metric. And that is my point. The problem is that you can then simply select which pains to advertise and create an illusion of a desperate need to fix things. It is a choice to create a heuristics error and to rely on ancedotal data.

    However, it is not an accident that I make no faith based arguments in this post and never even assume the Church to be true. So if I were to make a faith-based argument, I think your approach would probably be it. It is interesting, though, that John’s defenders here have yet to even realize I’ve made a purely secular argument. And, yes, I think purely secular arguments will proof sufficient to call many of John’s approaches into serious question — but will also offer ways for him to improve and do a better job at meeting his own goals.

    “I think even John on his worst mood swing would argue there must be a God”

    Would he? I’m not even sure. Has he said this somewhere? I’m honestly curious. I do remember him saying he did believe in a God, but it was a sort of force of morality in the world. Is that what you mean? Because I’m not really fully clear if that is literal theism or non-literal theism, since everyone believes in morality thanks to biology — including all atheists. I would need more information to get a real sense for what John actually does believe about the existence of God. No accusations here. Just honestly curious if you know something.

  50. I am a pure rationalist, so I think faith is a waste of resources, but if I were a believer in the Nazarene, I’d see John as a blessed peacemaker.

    I tend to agree with you however. I think life is about competing ideologies and sides need to be chosen. The millennials are beginning the long needed move away from faith and I’m hoping that in the next three or four generations, we’ll finally stop wasting our energies on supernatural hypotheses and finally start funneling our considerable resources into solving poverty, corruption, and other ills which are now bulwarked by religion.

    John is going int the right direction. He just needs to see, as you do, that we stubborn humans will likely only change by taking sides and getting the younger generations to see more clearly. Most everyone here and other older, indoctrinated types are a lost cause. It’s better to be efficient and spend energy where it can be most effective. The church knows this and invests a lot of energy trying to gather the youth to Zion. Fortunately, the internet and social media is laying bare the inherent “lying for the lord” which accompanies faithful strategies.

    The kids are picking sides and it’s not looking good for Mormons, Scientologists, or any other irrational orgs.

  51. Smart people who think they can solve poverty and plan a utopia by their own merits are far more dangerous than humble people who know they don’t have all the answers but look to God for wisdom while following the path of Christian discipleship. Sorry Dave, if uoir prophecy ever comes to pass civilization as we know and desire it will be doomed to the tryranny of the few who impose the greater good on the many.

  52. Hey Chris,

    Unfortunately, there’s no one but us to solve these problems. Believing otherwise is a dangerous fairytale we have been telling ourselves for millennia. Understanding this fact does not imply hubris, it means that we have to stop thinking that the answers are have or will come from supernatural revelation, and get about the humble and practical work of taking FULL responsibility ourselves.

    We can start by not calling ourselves arrogant for accepting the fact that there’s no god who can or will solve our problems. Until we surrender to that reality, we will continue to waste billions or trillions on churches, missions, tracts, books, and the times of our lives on ultimately wasteful pursuits.

    I don’t expect you to see this. You’re probably beyond saving. My hope is in the rising generation.

  53. Interesting comparison with (American) Catholicism and Judaism. Recently I read Christian Smith’s book Soul Searching, which relied on the studies done as part of the 2002-2003 National Survey of Youth and Religion. Across the board, they found that many of the very social benefits of religion that Dehlin claims to want to preserve, are considerably less prevalent among Catholic and Jewish youth than among the two groups that are doing the best at passing on those social benefits: Conservative Protestants and Latter-day Saints. Could it just perhaps be – ah, how shocking! – that there might be a serious innate connection between “literal belief” and those social benefits?

    Bruce, I think you raise some fascinating points about Dehlin’s views being the real ideological competitor to the Church’s standard approach. Speaking as an Evangelical outsider, I think that you’re largely right: We want to go after many of the same prospective converts, and often pursue one another, but we use some of the same general models of religiosity in doing so. To use one image, at least we’re the other team that wants to meet on the field; Dehlin’s the guy trying to break up the team and convince them to devote themselves to the art of flower arrangement instead. The Church’s current model may not have quite the robustness I’d like to see, but it’s certainly far more interesting than Dehlin’s mutation of the Church could ever aspire to be.

  54. Dave,

    Forgive me, but people that claim to be “pure rationalists” set off major alarm bells for me because they are almost always the least rational people. A true “extra rational” would never make such a claim.

    You then proceed to play your irrational hand. You think, for example, that a very short trend in the millennials signals a definitive long term trend — though you offer no evidence as to why. The thought never even occurs to you that it might be anything different or that you can’t make long term predictions based on such incredibly short term information. And why? Because you *want* to believe this so badly that you are prepare to believe it on the flimsiest of evidence.


    If you’d like a more realistic view of the future, I would recommend atheist E.O. Wilson in “On Human Nature” and atheist Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind” and “The Happiness Hypothesis”

    Both completely disbelieve in the existence of God, but both were eventually forced by science to accept a number of things that you have yet to realize. Here are a few one or the other brings up:

    1. Religion is innate and an evolutionary adaption. It and human morality grew up together and can’t really be easily seperated.
    2. Science simply is incapable of addressing very real concerns — the most important of concerns — that human’s will always have. (Wilson cites the rather obvious concerns over death. There are far more than this, however.)
    3. Religion is, statistically speaking, fairly consistently shown to be a net positive in the very areas you think will improve once we shuck religion. For example, religious people overwhelming are the givers of charity compared to atheists or secular individuals on a person by person basis. This is true even if you factor out “internal giving” (i.e. giving to their own community). Though as Haidt points out, why would you factor that out? Its still selfless giving?
    4. You cannot improve ethics by teaching it directly. The people that discuss and think about ethics the most in a purely secular way — ethical philosophers — were actually shown in a scientific study to be less ethical than the overall population.
    5. Humans are responsive to religious ethics not because they teach ethics more — that does nothing — but because they do it in a framework of beliefs, rituatals, and community such as to flip the human “super organism” switch and thereby causing humans to become less selfish because they are now identifying with a larger community instead of as only an individual.
    6. Since atheists and other seculars do not expose themselves to this, that is the real reason they statistically are wimps compare to religious types when it comes to selflessnes.

    Great primer here to get you started on your road to a scientific rational view of humanity and religion:

    Of course religion is not all peaches and roses to be sure — no one is arguing thiat — though neither is atheism or secularism. But it is interesting that Haidt started out life as a liberal ideologue that was convince religion was bad and his slow exploration of science and facts forced him to change his mind. He is now convinced religion — though factually false in his opinion — is a net positive and is glad humans have it. Indeed, he’s convinced its been a necessity and is even probably directly related to how we evolved morality in the first place.

    I also note that millennials overwhelmingly still belief in God, but are more questioning organized religion. Your assumption of trends makes the rather wild assumption that organized religion won’t adapt to this and reclaim many of them through their lives or into future generations. Your ‘rational approach’ is a little like watching the stock market fall and claimig “That’s it! the stock market will never come up again! See! There’s a trend to prove it!”

    If our best science turns out to be correct on this subject, then its very unlikely that we are actually experiencing the long term trend away from religious belief that you imagined and in fact you only imagined it due to your own irrational faith-based biases. But, time will tell. Science is not perfect. So who knows, you might be correct.

  55. On the other hand, Dave, I think this is pretty astute: “He just needs to see, as you do, that we stubborn humans will likely only change by taking sides and getting the younger generations to see more clearly”

    My memetic approach to religion above matches this precisely. It’s all about being able to replicate. And the next generation is the most important type of replication usually.

  56. Bruce:

    Life needs to be a self-correcting exercise, so I do accept that I might be mistaken. I believe it is fundamental to authentic human experience to be able to admit error. In this wise, we do not suffer from the kind of arrogance or ignorance we have been warned of in the past.

  57. Dean,

    I so rarely get someone that asks a question like that who can honestly apply it to themselves as well. Congratulations.

  58. There are three basic paths to a testimony with the potential to actually convert: 1) the spirit 2) line upon line 3) logical conclusion. However science has advanced to the point that scriptural line upon line can no longer be taken literally by thinking people without considerable dissonance or compartmentalizing. People have advanced as well, many recognize seeing is no longer believing and nuance often substitutes for simple black and white thinking that was once accepted without much question. The main problem is LDS truth claims and LDS theology haven’t keep pace with these important changes.

    Generally scripture and revelation need to be viewed allegorically but that change is going to be very difficult because there is another type of testimony that many in the church have today, for now I’ll call it a facsimile testimony. It is the appearance of a testimony without much substance to it. It it the baseball baptism of testimonies. It is quickly manufactured through the use of psychological techniques such as peer pressure and finding a testimony in the bearing of one. This is a fragile belief and can easily be upset or overturned by discovering OMG! Santa Clause isn’t real! Others are closing their eyes, putting their hands over their ears and humming in order to remain active. How long can this Pollyanna denial work?

    Those with more substance to their testimonies aren’t nearly as threatened by their internet discoveries and soon find a way to digest the controversy or at least coexist with it. But what should we do with these baseball baptism testimonies? Shall we continue on as the only true church that literally believes in Santa Clause in order to protect them? Will we become the Santa Clause Amish? Aren’t we already?

  59. I see that if I would be commented on, I should be more confrontational.

    I posted a piece about the many men and women engaging in illicit intercourse in 1841-1842 Nauvoo, and hardly anyone said boo. Apologies to those who did say boo.

    In my opinion, a majority of the dissillusionment about the Church and Joseph Smith stems from the idea that Joseph was a rampantly and coersively sexual guy.

    When members think this is the case, it causes them to act in bizarre ways, like obfuscating history or turning off their minds because they can’t allow their rationale selves to think too hard about the past. Or worse, they model their own behavior on what they think our founding prophet did.

    If, instead, Joseph was a conduit for revelation but (as the Prices argue) was reluctant to obey regarding the plural marriage footnote related to the New and Everlasting Covenant, then we have a Joseph who was perhaps engaging in ceremonial marriages, but not being sexual. John C. Bennett happens, with an insanely pervasive “infection” of sexual exploitation. Joseph investigates, initially fearing long-time friends and family were the instigators (e.g., brother and apostle William, friend and bishop Vinson Knight, the sons of Judge Higbee). The widows, orphans, and new converts being sexually exploited are rescued while the sting is going on. These later characterize being taught and covenanting to embrace the New and Everlasting Covenant as marriages. Children engendered by Bennett and his Strikers are born as the children of other, faithful men, who subsequently (after Joseph’s death) embrace the women as true wives under Brigham’s leadership.

    This whole situation is hidden, because there is a desire to prevent replication of the “infection” by imitators, and so many infected by Bennett’s practices wish to repent. Joseph and Brigham had the grace to not publish these names and pillory the men and women who had been seduced into the path of gross sexual sin.

    But odd patterns of silence could not be avoided. By the time we got to Joseph F. Smith, the Church leadership no longer even knew what had happened in Nauvoo. There was no chance for later leaders to learn of the terrible things that had been done. And as isolated isotopes, the individual memories and records of wrong were unable to form a critical mass.

    Enter scholarly investigation. The initial investigations were guided by a reasonable desire to include all that appeared to be factual. Many of the anti-Mormon records, on reflection, appeared to actually correspond to fact in some aspects. Without proof of Joseph’s forbearance and the deeply hidden knowledge about the evil penitents had abandoned, the scholars came up with a partial story that paints Joseph in a terrible light. Now both anti-Mormons and faithful scholars are combining to tell a damning tale about our founding leader.

    Now enter the internet. A casual search on Joseph Smith brings up all manner of sordid information. And this information is not just “anti” ravings, it is coming from numerous respected scholars. There is nothing to counter this sordid information, other than sweet reassurances asking us to doubt our doubts. Those so assuring us aren’t promising a resolution, because finding the resolution isn’t something they were given to do. Or perhaps it could have been given them to do, but the amount of doubt required to find the truth was something they didn’t have time to nurture.

    I, on the other hand, woman that I am, engineer that I am, had plenty of time to examine my doubts, turn them over, talk with God about them, wonder how He could be reassuring me when the evidence looked so bleak. And then, as I continued to turn over the evidence, I found the correlations, the factoids, the tragedy, that the long-held silence had kept hidden.

    It is a terrible story. Joseph tried so hard to redeem his people and protect both the innocent and the penitent. But mere silence, sufficient to the needs of the 19th century, is not longer sufficient in our day.

    John Dehlin appears to presume that the doubts and troubles he has helped enumerate are fundamentally valid.

    Allow yourself to look at the matter and consider a possibility that was so horrible Joseph and the Church were willing to make themselves appear pariah rather than expose the fallen who they loved. They attempted to hide this corruption of their loved ones who had repented, they took it to their graves undocumented. They did all in their power to create a world for their children in which the evil was never known, never realizing the stumbling block the silence would be for their descendants over 100 years later.

    Non sequitur, Brigham once had a question that bothered him, relating to the “doctrine” of adoption. During this time of turmoil, Brigham had a dream of Joseph. After Brigham spent an inordinate amount of time telling Joseph how much Brigham missed him, Brigham asked about adoption. The dream Joseph replied, telling Brigham to ask the people to listen to the Holy Spirit. That the Holy Spirit would, in time, guide them to all that they needed to know.

    Is the Church 100% true, in the sense that every teaching and every more and every folkway practiced by every member is always perfectly aligned with the will of God? Of course not. Such an expectation is ludicrous.

    Is the Church true in that it is the organ by which God will redeem all His children who ultimately desire to be redeemed, throughout the world and beyond the veil of death? Absolutely. We, the imperfect, are the humble (as in inadequate) actors who, if faithful even in a small degree, will help this perfect work to be accomplished.

    What I’ve learned from the Holy Spirit is that every individual born or unborn is precious to God. God wants all of us back. But just as He couldn’t allow His child, the son of the morning, to pervert the proper manner of things, He similarly requires that we align ourselves with the proper manner of things. His love is unconditional, but that does not mean that the path to Heaven is open to those unwilling to seek it.

    Second non-sequitur. I happen to know Pat Chiu. So I will tell a story on her that is germane to this discussion. One day in her youth, Pat was walking behind some women, mothers of Pat’s peers at Church. The women got to talking about the different girls that their daughters knew. When they started discussing Pat, their conclusion was “She too intelligent. She’ll leave the Church.” This would have been after Fawn Brodie wrote No Man Knows my History, but before the internet. So these ladies presumed that “smart” people would find documents that would damage their testimony and prove fatal to faith.

    I am pleased to have had the privilege of knowing Pat. She has consistently looked at the 1000 reasons to doubt the Church, and throughout her life has dedicated mental energy to understanding the weakness of those attacks on faith. If I have been able to find something new and paradigm-changing in the history of Nauvoo, it is in large part due to Pat’s example of faithful intelligence.

  60. Howard,

    You say a lot of interesting things that I’d love to follow up on with you more to figure out where you are coming from.

    One thing I find interesting is that you say this: “Shall we continue on as the only true church that literally believes in Santa Clause in order to protect them?”

    What I’m curious about is if you are refering to the Church as the only true church as a joke — you don’t believe it is, that’s just one of the many allegorical truths (???) that the Church teaches — or if you specifically say it because you believe it?

    In our last conversation, you said things — can’t remember them off the top of my head — that to me suggested you believe that the Chruch is in fact the only true Church. But in this context — with all the mention of Santa Clause and Amish — it left me thinking you were really just pointing out that it was rediculous.

    Not sure if this makes sense or not… but I would love to understand where you are coming from.

    The whole question of literal vs. non-literal is a difficult one that I’ve pondered quite a bit. You state: “Generally scripture and revelation need to be viewed allegorically…” but honestly, this is a huge thing for you to say that sends massive ripples through everything within the LDS doctrinal explanation structure. You can’t just say it without a lot of explanation and expect to be taken seriously.

    But, of course, if you do have some good way to fit this belief into LDS Doctrine — including the idea that its the only true church — I guess I’d expect it to be complicated and not something you can just explain in a comment either.

    So help me out. Do you have some links to general posts that attempt to explain your worldview in a way that isn’t just “Rejectionist”, by which I mean simply pointing out the current issues and then claiming it must be that what you believe true instead since it obviously can’t be true.

    You are more well thought out then most, so that is why I’m asking you serious questions like this. You aren’t doing what most have done — simply rip into me for daring to have (rather mild) opinions about John.

  61. Meg, yeah, you don’t get high comments without a track wreck.

    Tell you what, though. I have no issue with you putting your last post (or next post) right above mine and you can hopefully get this audience to notice it more.

    And I think most people commenting here will find Meg’s historical approach very interesting, even if they don’t agree with her. Having everything you think you know suddenly mean something else is a surreal experience and well worth the read.

  62. By the way, Howard, I can definitely respect the fact that you are the sole and only person on this thread to make a pro-Dehlin argument (other than like “hey it works for me!” or “I like some of his stuff” which is of course impossible to argue with) that I wasn’t able to easily demonstate was symmetrical and was as strong an argument against themselves.

    My hats off to you on that and is part of the reason I am asking you more questions now and am curious where you are coming from. Frankly, it’s just so rare people are able to make non-symmetrical arguments at all. I write posts like this knowing full well that I’m more or less setting bait for people to throw symmetrical arguments my way and I get to have fun batting it back at them as a way of demonstrating my point. I don’t normally get non-symmetrical arguments I have to agree with, like yours.

  63. In the age of information, contact with doctrine-challenging information is inevitable. Years before I ever heard of John Dehlin, I encountered challenging information from plenty of other sources, and I didn’t have to go looking for it. For me, it was secular news and history sources, as well as scientific studies, not to mention my own study of scriptures, etc. which revealed all kinds of things that might challenge someone’s faith. So, the challenge of clashing “ideologies” is going to happen with or without John Dehlin. There is no doubt about that. The question is really, “will there be anything or anyone at the point of collision to soften the blow, or help people recover from that blow?” I think that is what John Dehlin and others are trying to do. And this is an incredibly helpful service to many people.

    You are right, the purpose of the “list of reasons people leave” is to counteract the many uncharitable assumptions Members often make about people who have a faith crisis. The purpose is to show that there are legitimate concerns, so, perhaps unfortunately, there is not a link to an apologetic answer to every issue that is raised. However, on the podcast, John and his guests routinely model helpful ways of navigating the tough issues. His guests are often “thoughtful” and “believing” members who are experts in whatever subject is being discussed. I don’t find Mormon Stories to be hostile to faith or believing in the way this blog describes. It may be critical of uninformed belief. But it also explicitly celebrates “a thoughtful faith.”

    I wonder what this blog hopes to accomplish by characterizing Dehlin and the like as “parasites” and as being “in competition” with the Church. It doesn’t strike me as a very constructive outlook. It seems like a return to the “if your not with us, you’re against us” kind of rhetoric that pushes many people away, rather than nurturing them and embracing them in their time of need. It’s a good way to alienate those who want to be your friends and allies even though they might not be just like you in every way.

  64. If we followed John Dehlin’s concerns and made the changes in the LDS Church, what would we have? Something akin to the Community of Christ. They still have some semblance of Mormonism, however believing Joseph Smith to be a prophet is optional, believing in the Book of Mormon is optional, women in the priesthood so they do not feel hurt, gays fully embraced so they do not feel excluded, etc. No longer do you have an inspired program to provide salvation and exaltation to people, but a social club.

    If John were truly sincere, he would offer not only a laundry list of things that are wrong (in his opinion) with the Church, but also a laundry list of what is currently right with the Church. He would not only show the things that throw doubt on the Book of Mormon, but also those that encourage faith. In this way, people can have a real thoughtful discussion that doesn’t seem so one-sided. Most of these issues are very complex, and there is evidence on both sides. Dehlin seems to think we should be “transparent” about the doubtful things, and yet does not encourage showing those things that increase faith. IOW, his is not a balanced approach, and his biases are showing.

    An example of this was when he interviewed Michael Coe, a Mayan expert. Coe used old information in his discussion on why the BoM would not match up with pre-Classic Mayan concepts. John Sorenson wrote an extensive letter regarding Coe’s mistakes. That Dehlin never bothered to ask for any scholarly rebuttals to the comments shows that he is NOT as transparent as he insists others be.

    Bruce, I agree that Dehlin does seek to be a competitor, and he is very good at what he does. He seems to have caught the hearts of some LDS scholars, including perhaps some at BYU. That we now have groups that are openly opposing the Brethren on many fronts, and Dehlin notes their issues in his list, shows that if he is not leading towards apostasy, he is definitely a collaborator with apostates.

  65. RE: meg Stout
    “I see that if I would be commented on, I should be more confrontational.

    I posted a piece about the many men and women engaging in illicit intercourse in 1841-1842 Nauvoo, and hardly anyone said boo. Apologies to those who did say boo.”

    Meg, sorry to have not commented more on your amazing posts regarding Joseph Smith and polygamy. I find that I am in the: “understand what she is saying” mode rather than a commenting mode. I am finding your explanation and evidence to be very compelling. I admit I am not totally convinced (mainly because of how completely the idea of consummated/functional polygamy was eventually embraced in the following decades by those who learned it from Joseph Smith) but I am convinced your explanation is a viable and supportable one.

  66. “It’s a good way to alienate those who want to be your friends and allies even though they might not be just like you in every way.”

    Honestly, it sounds to me like you’re saying that if I’m not with you, I’m against you. I can not agree with this point of view and I reject it.

    Second, you’re the first one to characterize John as a parasite, not me. I used a
    parasite as an example of how its possible to help the Church but harm the meme. Not sure how else I could have explained that without such an example. It sounds like you are trying to say I can’t explain a concept like this because you presonally find it offensive because you personally see it as characterizing John as a parasite. This doesn’t seem like a very good argument to me.

    I do agree with you that the clash of ideologies was always there. And I think John’s approach can soften the blow and can also cause the blow to happen when it wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Thus my question about the pain ledger. You do not address this.

  67. Without taking away from people’s comments, I would like to say that I don’t generally use terms like “apostate” except in cases such as Greg Rockwell who calls himself an apostate precisely because he’s trying to give it a better name.

    The terms do tend to be too loaded for my ‘secular’ approach to this issue. I also avoid “wolf in sheeps clothing” and the like. That’s why I merely ask if John is in memetic competition. I am trying to ask the question without religiously loaded terms or labels. It should be obvious that this is a fair question and that it has possible consquences for both the LDS church and for John. Perhaps the correct answer to this question is “it’s complicated.” So don’t asssume I am implying a straightforward answer. (And did not my response to Howard not make this entirely utterly clear already?)

    There is a fair question here, though, about terms like “apostate”. I feel like John’s supporters don’t ask fairly obvious questions about this. Why would some people call him that, what are they refering to, and might there be a way to change his behavior to come across less threatening to these people so that they no longer see him in this way?

    I think it’s unfair to simply try to lay the full blame at those that so label him and say “they are merely being uncharitable.” The frank truth is that there are some pretty rational reasons to believe John’s memes may well be in competition with the LDS Church memes. And I suspect that people who refer to “apostate” mean something along those lines if you were to really nail them down about what they are getting at. In other words, loaded terms aside, they may be trying to convey information useful to John.

    I believe I can offer advice to John on how to reduce his apparently hostility and thus change those perceptions, and hope to do this in future posts.

  68. Meg, I love learning about Polygamy in your series. I don’t comment much, because there is so much to absorb and ponder.

    I think that being isolated in Utah allowed the early Saints to hide many skeletons in the closet, including the many speculations of Brigham Young, Joseph F and Joseph Fielding, etc. Teachings back then encouraged members to believe that prophets were not only infallible, but also knew everything. This in itself is a flaw that still affects us today, though I praise the Church for making the various changes and pronouncements it has over the last few years.

    Still, Dehlin only sees the problem of Joseph and Polygamy. He does not look under the veneer at the possible reasons, such as Meg’s detailed story of John C Bennett’s spiritual wifery. In only offering the problem, he leaves many thinking there are NO answers or solutions at all. He does the very opposite of what Joseph F Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith did in their fashioning Joseph Smith into a perfect being.Neither depiction is helpful. In fact, both methods are harmful and deny the truth, which lies somewhere in the middle.

  69. Meg. I enjoy your posts as well, though I find it ironic that we’re discussing it over here?

  70. Your title is false. These are not reasons John Dehlin personally has for not believing. These reasons are from data he collected about why others stopped believing and your denial and character assassination and name calling of John Dehlin is not going to change the fact that people are leaving over these issues. When people try to defend the church by attacking an honest researcher who is trying to find out why people are leaving or stop believing, as “anti-Mormon” you only make the church look very bad. You should rethink how you say things because this type of article is not constructive nor helpful for anyone going through a faith crisis, nor is this kind of mud slinging good for the church.

  71. I am interested to know the methodological basis for John’s research. What I’ve seen in the report he originally produced and the survey he subsequently put out was that he himself states this is not scientific. The survey respondents are self-selected, which adds unknown bias to the results.

    As someone with modest training in ethnography, it is not clear to me that John is following best practices in “research.”

    I mention the polygamy thing here because I think the hidden history of Nauvoo polygamy has influenced many of the 1000 reasons people have for leaving the church, even if they themselves don’t cite polygamy as a primary reason.

  72. Bruce,
    I enjoy gnosis (via many personal supernatural experiences) that the gospel and the restoration by Joseph are of God and that God wants this church to continue. So, that is my goal. I used that language rather than common Mormon lingo in order to be clear. To call an organization true of false is gross mislabeling. Any organization is a mixture of both true and false depending on the metric applied and since religion itself is the mortalization of spirituality many approximations are involved with any religion. The church has morphed into something different that it began. I think many who self-identify as faithful members would argue that this is the result of continuing revelation and the church is exactly (or close) to the way God wants it. But after studying SWK’s opinions and experiences regarding the difficulty he had obtaining OD2. And after comparing the prolific revelations Joseph received (D&C +) to what little has been received and canonized since I think there is little evidence of continuing revelation being the reason for church changes. However I think a strong case can be made for continuing inspiration and I do believe today’s church retains restored priesthood authority. But inspiration is more man than God and group inspiration is more men than God. But, true revelation is more God than man. So while I believe LDS leaders to be both well intended and inspired considerable course drift and pharisaical rules have crept in changing what was originally given. Isn’t that what happened with banning blacks and wasn’t OD2 a course correction? I hope we’re due for another course correction and that conversations like these contribute.

    “I know the church is true.” this is common LDS shorthand but it conflates the church and the gospel and for many I think it dilutes or misrepresents the meaning of know.

    When I said “Shall we continue on as the only true church that literally believes in Santa Clause…” I was using the LDS shorthand meaning to juxtapose the absurdity of a true church that holds Santa Clause like beliefs.

    literal vs. non-literal…sends massive ripples through everything within the LDS doctrinal explanation structure. Really, it’s just re-framing. People find it threatening because they are too mortally literal, they haven’t seriously explored their own spirituality. Those who have are not threatened but letting go of the literal. From the spiritual perspective literal is just an illusion. This is one of the problems of the church we tend to worship the rule, the ordinance, the apostle. Don’t confuse the finger pointing toward the moon with the moon. The church itself is symbolic.

    To you second comment question:
    When I read this post I thought, Bruce is too logical and complete to believe this because what was presented was a just static model, a snapshot in time. So I decided to play out the dynamic model and that is what led to my first comment. I’m not here to defend John, I don’t even know John, but he appears more than capable of defending himself. I do believe John is an important player in an important conversation that is helping to shape the future of the church.

  73. Howard, that was enough to whet my appetite for further conversation. I can appreciate the non-dodge in your answer.

    And very clever to see through me like that. I really hope I have the strength to try to present a fuller view of where I think John fits in. I don’t really believe there is an easy or simple answer here. I find that in many of these conversations, everyone is right and they are just talking past each other.

  74. There’s a story told in Quinn’s biography of J. Reuben Clark that when Brodie’s “No Man Knows My History” came out, Clark was asked what he thought, and he said:

    “While the book seems popularly to be appraised as a chronicle of new and hitherto unpublished documents giving a true picture of the Prophet Joseph, the fact is it is almost wholly a rehash of charges against the Prophet that began to be made over a hundred years ago, which, being then discarded, were buried as base falsehoods. Since then they have from time to time been dug up and paraded again, only to be reburied because again found false. They are now dug up again and re-paraded from motives that are quite apparent from the book itself. … There is very little material used or cited that has not been already published.”

    I feel the same way about Dehlin. I know he thinks he’s bringing out what’s been hidden or obscured, but I’ve never really heard or read anything from him that hasn’t already readily available for public consumption for decades (or even a century). And I get that not everyone else already knows about some of the more difficult parts of church history like many here do. But even with that said, I can’t understand why anyone would go to Dehlin to hear about them for the first time; there are far better treatments of these issues from far better sources. And that includes, in almost every case, good and reputable sources who are not affiliated with the church and have no investment in our “truth claims.”

    In short, if you want to learn about Church history, Dehlin is not the person to go talk to. And if you want to leave the church (or go “new order mormon” or whatever) over something in church history, for heaven sake’s, at least leave over good history told by good historians who do this professionally. Not some latter-day Godbeite with a web site and an over-inflated sense of importance.

  75. @Jimbob. If these pieces of church history have been “hidden or obscured,” then it stands to reason that many people have joined the church and spent possibly their entire lives in it without ever having heard or read about these things. (The majority of members have never picked up a Sunstone or Dialogue and honestly don’t even know what they are.)

    Then, suppose you are one of these members who gets hit w/this “hidden” history and are asked by a friend, family member, or colleague to defend the church in light of these things that – while not new – are new to you.

    You don’t think there’s a bit of a shock for that person once he starts digging? Often the person goes through a grieving process, not unlike that of losing a loved one, when s/he realizes that many of the things s/he believed for decades didn’t actually happen the way s/he had been taught. People in that situation often desperately *want* to believe but find they need a supportive group of people who understand their predicament. That’s the environment John provides. The alternative is the all-or-nothing approach… just suck it up & stick with it, or leave & get out. Often, people will choose the latter b/c they find no listening ear within the flock. It’s my experience that John actually helps people find a middle ground and stay with the church when they ordinarily would have just left straightaway.

  76. Tina, I think the first two paragraphs of your post are definitely valid. I have seen it happen with my own family members, and I am sure other readers would concur. However, I don’t think John provides the supportive environment you describe. If he did, I don’t think this post would ever have been written. John, who clearly wants a different LDS church than the one we have today, provides reasons to agitate against what the Church is and uses his attempts to “keep people in the Church” as a cover. But his primary goal is to turn the LDS church into the Community of Christ, which may be fine for some people but certainly not for others (and certainly ignores the role of prophetic guidance for the Church). He constantly focuses — obsessively — on the supposed errors and problems with the Church while almost never discussing the positives. The goal is to keep people in a church different church than the one we actually have.

  77. “People in that situation often desperately *want* to believe but find they need a supportive group of people who understand their predicament. That’s the environment John provides. The alternative is the all-or-nothing approach… just suck it up stick with it, or leave & get out. Often, people will choose the latter b/c they find no listening ear within the flock. It’s my experience that John actually helps people find a middle ground and stay with the church when they ordinarily would have just left straightaway.”

    Tina, I have no doubt that the truth or falsehood (or in between?) of this view you express is what is in question and turns out to be the final important point.

  78. Tina, I think you present a false dichotomy:

    1. John Dehlin’s way
    2. All-or-nothing.

    or maybe a false trichotomy(?) 1. Dehlin, vs. 2. All, vs. 3. Nothing.

    Dehlin disbelieves in the founding claims of the church. That finally came out in the open, but he had lost his belief before he started his online project.

    The problems I have with Dehlin is that he doesn’t do anything to _resolve_ people’s doubts, he doesn’t explain how the founding claims can be true _even while_ some “bad things” or whatever problems happened along the way, whether it’s revising recorded revelations, or Sidney’s “salt speech”, or the Kirtland bank failure, or Nauvoo Polygamy, or Porter Rockwell’s killings, or the organizational chaos and missionary shenanigans he witnessed on his mission, the church can still be God’s “official church” with REAL priesthood power and REAL authority to perform saving ordinances.

    Dehlin’s message seems to be : “hey, you don’t have to believe the truth claims of the church, just hang around for the cultural benefits. There are a lot of people in church who don’t believe either (and neither do I).”

    So in effect, Dehlin is _confirming doubt_ of the church’s founding claims. His “helping keep people in the church” schtick is a tactical cover story for spreading and confirming members’ disbelief in the truthfulness or officialness of the church.

  79. Geoff: “uses his attempts to “keep people in the Church” as a cover.”


  80. howard, re: “I know the church is true.”

    I don’t hold that phrase against people when they use it. I don’t assume they intend “true” to mean “perfect” or “100% accurate.”

    I take it to mean that they know, via a confirmation of the Holy Ghost, ie. personal revelation, that the foundational claims of the church are true.

    The first time a member bore testimony to me he said “It’s God’s ‘official’ church.” He didn’t even use the preface “I know”.

    And I like that word ‘official’. It doesn’t carry the implication that the church is perfect or 100% accurate in all the details. “Official” also means “authorized”. I believe the church’s claim to sole authority. While other churches can be nice, and teach mostly correct doctrine (ie, faith, repentance, baptism, atonement, resurrection, etc.) and can accomplish much good, produce upstanding people, take care of poor/need/sick, etc., they are at best what I like to term as “God’s fan clubs”.

    (In fact, in terms of volume of “good produced”, Catholic relief agencies and orphanages often put LDS humanitarian efforts to shame.)

    In the scriptures, in every dispensation of the gospel, from Adam on down, the authorized church was always imperfect. Adam, the first prophet and mortal head of the church had a son who was a murderer.

    The Old Testament is replete with the people of God, even many priests, screwing up. Aaron made an idol (the golden calf) for the people to worship. The people who worshipped it were executed, but Aaron was not.

    Two of Aaron’s sons were killed by the Lord for transgressions.

    The high priest Eli’s sons were wicked.

    The prophet Samuel’s sons were wicked.

    David messed up big time. Solomon messed up big time, and didn’t properly prepare his successor.

    The New Testament church, as described in Acts, had lots of contention and confusion. Paul had problems getting along with his missionary companions. Most of the epistles were written to address problems in various churches.

    The Nephites constantly had problems, and flip-flopped frequently. The only time things seemed “perfect” was in the 200 years after the Lord’s visit, but that may be just because Mormon glossed over that period and didn’t give much detail. But even if things were perfect in that period, that is the only piece of scriptural history I know of where things were hunky-dory.

    So yeah, Mormon history has been messy, and lots of people, including some leaders, screwed up. But the history of God’s church and God’s people has _always_ been messy, from the very beginning.

  81. Bookslinger,
    I don’t hold it against people either. That’s why I called it shorthand. But I think it a poor practice for people who actually know the difference, just as rote prayer phrases often convey little useful meaning.

    The messy history of Mormonism is less of a problem than is presenting it as not messy and later the audience discovers that it was messy! Like Watergate it’s the coverup that brought the administration down not the break in.

  82. I suppose there will always be somebody claiming to be unhappy about the mainstream Church presentation of history.

    Having engaged in conversation a while back with a young BYU student who claimed to be aggrieved about this, I learned that one of his objections was to Arnold Frieberg paintings that had been included for a time in official publications of the Book of Mormon. He argued that because of this he had been deceived by the Church into believing that the artwork had some sort of doctrinal provenance, and when he later learned that paintings did not quite constitute photographic evidence of the veracity of the Book of Mormon, he became disenchanted and disaffected.

    I have seen posters on Facebook which purport to compare different artistic renderings of Joseph Smith translating, with the inference that one of them represents deliberate distortion by the Church.

    It is fairly consistent in these kinds of complaints to imagine Church-driven duplicity. But to my mind, they seldom seem to offer a viable alternative. If I have any rational discernemt, I must choose to hate the Church as they seem to do. Or continue in blissful ignorance, deceived by false artists conspiracies into complacent obedience.

    I remain unapologetic that I choose to do neither.

    At some early point in my own Church experience I realized that representing history is just not that simple. I found out for myself that the people who were part of the historical record were remarkably similar in their imperfections to the current body of Church members. The message the Church seems to be intent on delivering, rather than focusing on every specific demonstration of an imperfect world, is instead intended to bring out the Gospel message. Not every historical truth is judged to be of the same level of importance or relevance in fulfilling that mission.

    As a personal insight, I used one of my ancestor’s personal journal accounts to find out how many times he mentioned having to relieve himself while crossing the plains on the journey to Salt Lake. I found not a single instance in that record. Should I now assume that these people suffered from chronic constipation, or that they were just blessed by the Lord to not be burdened with normal bodily functions during the trek, or should I just infer that they chose not to emphasize such mundane and common details?

    This is a function of intentional focus, not conspiratorial obfuscation. Anyone who wishes to dig deeper with that purpose can uncover some really smelly historical details. And to what end? There is no question that such things happened then, as they do now. As a one somewhat infomed about the historical record, I choose to appreciate the inspirational stories and more compelling messages instead.

    No cover-ups intended – except for that which is best fit for disposal. Just seeking what is good and useful. I am convinced that this is the right thing to do.

  83. Jim, following up on your observations, I wanted to add something else. There is no way we could ever cover *all* controversial aspects of the Church in any church setting in a way that would ever satisfy the critics. Did Joseph Smith translate behind a curtain or looking in a hat or simply by concentrating really hard? Well, the historical record is contradictory. The sad history of the many early church leaders who later apostatized would take months to recount. Yes, some of the accounts of Thomas Marsh’s apostasy are simplified and exaggerated. And then we get to polygamy, which Meg is spending literally hundreds of hours studying and discussing, and then blacks in the priesthood, the Mountain Meadows Massacre and on and on.

    Now notice that the people who want more “transparency” are the same people who are opposed to correlation, so somehow (without correlation) we are supposed to discuss all of these controversial topics and still have Sacrament, Sunday School, Priesthood, Relief Society, Primary, YM, YW, etc, etc. For liberal Mormons, I guess, church should be eight hours a day on Sunday with special emphasis on studying the controversial aspects of Church history (again, without any correlation).

    And if after eight hours a day of church on Sunday, if there is *any possible detail* that we have left out about *any possible subject* then of course it is still the fault of orthodox Mormons who are still hiding something about church history.

    It is obvious to me that the critics have adopted a complete absurd position in which the Church is always wrong no matter what it does. If this is the case, we may as well concentrate on the Savior and on the basics of the Gospel.

  84. Well you might think of discussing all of these controversial topics as inoculation which has the potential to both eliminate the feeling of betrayal that often accompanies naive discovery and also significantly improve retention.

  85. Howard,

    I think you have to take Geoff’s comments in full context. He is not against discussion issues and being more transparent. It’s just that, like me, he’s pretty skeptical that this is going to do anything to silence the critics who really will (I predict) turn out to be implacable on this issue. He’s outlining why, no matter what, there will always be plenty of room for the charge that there is still lack of transparency.

  86. The difference between inoculation and straight up infecting somebody lies is how strong the sickness is when introduced to the patient. Fair, I think, qualifies as inoculation. Dehlin, not so much.

    Personally, I strongly disagree with the idea that we are in any sense supposed to seek after these hidden things or that the church is under any obligation to be more transparent about them. The doctrine of continuing revelation guarantees that as some doctrines and principles come to the forefront of our attention, others will fade, as they are supposed to. There is no reason to think that all past revelation and policy should have anything to do with us at all.

  87. Howard,

    Ever since our discussion way back with the whole Open Letter post, I started writing a post that was specificaly aimed at you and your comments asking questions, making various points, etc.

    I never published in part because I never finished it and in part because I wasn’t yet sure if you’d like that sort of attention or not.

    But as we’ve talked, I’m thinknig maybe you’d relish the challenge. Do you mind? (Whether or not you mind, I may still choose to pubish it if I decide it has some sort of needed value, but if you do not mind, I’m certain I’ll publish it.)

  88. I don’t mind Bruce as long as I’m allowed reasonable voice here to address it and I would appreciate some advance notice of publication so I can make time for it.

  89. If I’m going to right it, the whole point would be to give you a chance to respond back so that I can see how you are viewing the world differently from me.

    I will try to give you notice of participation. Can I just comment here and you’ll get an email? Or do I need to directly email you? (using whatever email you are using here.)

  90. Its strange to read the letters of so many LDS both TBM and some less orthodox.I left the LDS faith of principally the Book of Abraham, an issue John Dehlin deals with in one of his podcasts. I think the articles that appeared in Dialogue in 1968 by Egyptologists like Baer convinced me the book was false. Since then futher reading of the apologetics of Gee and the critique have not given me any different view.
    When you guys talk about testimony and “burning in the bosem”what is that like. I hear so many times a Pentecostal member will say “God talked to me”. I watch some of the LDS conference talks and some are interesting. They do do lesss crying maybe.
    As a former insider now outsider I find Mormonism fascinating and I studying with equal interest the Evangelicals (debate about the bible historicity), the SDAs (the role of Ellen G White) and the Pentecostals (prosperity preachers, miracles).

  91. Noel, I answered a similar question to yours elsewhere, so I thought I’d copy and paste here with a few edits. Hope it helps.

    I am one of those that feels a distinct burning in the bosom, but it’s funny I had a preconceived notion of what that was supposed to mean and for some time believed I never had felt that specific feeling. It was only after it became stronger within me that I realized what it was and that I had been feeling it long before I consciously recognized it. So I’ll attempt to put it in my own words so that maybe it can help someone else recognize it in themselves. I believe there are many people sincerely trying to be/do good who experience this burning in the bosom and several other descriptions found in the D&C, even if many of them do not recognize it.

    For me it comes with a great calm and peace (imagine something like meditating in the morning and feeling the clear sunbeams shining and resting on your skin from a nearby window). At this moment, I begin recognizing something that was probably already there within me to a degree, but only now it is heightened and I have a greater awareness to recognize it. It feels like there is a heat source swelling / calmly emanating from my upper chest that I can feel up my neck and depending on the strength might extend through my upper arms and even down into my stomach area. But it also comes simultaneously with several other effects, it feels as though my mind becomes more clear as if mental arteries are being unclogged, and my eyes feel lighter and more open/awake (almost as if I can see my thoughts better as I contemplate), and the air suddenly seems more crisp as my breathing becomes calmer and more steady, and I am more aware of the flow in and out. In short, my body enters a heightened peacefulness and at the same time a greater awareness of my body and surroundings. Or even more succinctly, I feel like I’m becoming more awake. All these things go together, and while feeling the calm and peace, it becomes easier to recognizing this peaceful heat emanating out of me from within, and my mind begins understanding and comprehending at a higher level and at greater speeds, yet it almost feels effortless. What I am thinking of feels right, I know it is right, and when an idea is not right the stupor of thought is clear to me and I can recognize it and work through it to find what is right. This state feels more natural than my regular sate, as if this is the way it’s always supposed to be.

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