The Mormon Intellectuals’ Trojan Horses

[The Millennial Star is pleased to welcome Jeff G. as a guest blogger with a fantastic post that should be shared and read widely.]

“When the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions…

“Those professors were all corrupt… “they draw near to [God] with their lips, but their hearts are far from [Him], they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts [source]

Personal Intro

As many of you in the bloggernacle might remember, about 8 years ago I left the church for intellectual reasons. While the exact arguments for my departure are not terribly important to this particular essay what is important is that I had gradually built up and reinforced several intellectual principles and values to a point where intellectual arguments could undermine my faith. I felt, at the time, that I was doing the right thing in following the arguments where they clearly (or so they seemed to me) led, all the while being upfront, honest and clear about my reasons for leaving. I have since realized, however, that my decision was a mistake which I will unfortunately never be able to take back. Furthermore, I can now see with the relative clarity of hindsight many of the ways in which I subconsciously allowed intellectual values to infect, transform and eventually undermine my faith. My deconversion was similar to a chess match wherein earlier, seemingly innocuous moves are later seen to be crucial stage-setting for a masterful killing stroke. In this essay I wish to expose some of these seemingly innocuous, stage-setting moves – these intellectual Trojan Horses, as I will call them – for what they are.

Before continuing, I want to acknowledge up front that just like my former self, the intellectuals of which I speak are not bad people or even bad members of the church. They really do mean well and are doing the very best that they can to negotiate a kind of coexistence within themselves between a culture of critical discourse – which I will equate with intellectualism – and their faith in Mormonism – a faith which I will not call into question. Indeed, these intellectuals honestly see themselves as consecrating their mental gifts toward the building up of Zion, a perspective that not only tolerates, but actively encourages intellectualism within the church. To this, I respond as did the Trojan priest to the original wooden horse: “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” To repeat, my purpose here is not to condemn intellectuals within the church so much as articulate some of the troubling tendencies which they will surely recognize in their close peers if not in themselves.

The Intellectuals

Let me be a little clearer about my definition of an intellectual which I will equate with someone who is imbued with the culture of critical discourse (CCD).  I hope the definition below makes it clear that most all of us in the bloggernacle have been indoctrinated with CCD to some degree and that, as a consequence, these criticisms will likely apply to all of us bloggers to that same degree:

“[CCD] insists that any assertion – about anything, by anyone – is open to criticism and that, if challenged, no assertion can be defended by invoking someone’s authority.  It forbids a reference to a speaker’s position in society (or reliance upon his personal character) in order to justify or refute his claims… Under the scrutiny of the culture of critical discourse, all claims to truth are in principle now equal, and traditional authorities are now stripped of their special right to define social reality…  The CCD … demands the right to sit in judgment over all claims, regardless of who makes them…

“CCD requires that all speakers must be treated as sociologically equal in evaluating their speech.  Considerations of race, class, sex, creed, wealth, or power in society may not be taken into account in judging a speaker’s contentions and a special effort is made to guard against their intrusion on critical judgment.  The CCD, then, suspects that all traditional social differentiations may be subversive of reason and critical judgment and thus facilitate a critical examination of establishment claims.  It distances intellectuals from them and prevents elite views from becoming an unchallenged, conventional wisdom.” (Against Fragmentation: The Origins of Marxism and the Sociology of Intellectuals, 30-31)

The first thing to notice about this depiction of intellectualism is that it focuses on the vetting process by which speech acts are either legitimized or weeded out – a process which we might loosely equate with “critique” or “peer review”. The second thing to notice about this depiction is that it is broad enough to accommodate a wide range of professions, hobbies and interests including physicists, biologists, sociologists, journalists, lawyers, bloggers, protesters, etc. My definition of intellectualism, then, is a very mixed bag indeed, to the point that there is nothing in it that is flagrantly hostile to a belief in or access to a supernatural realm – phenomena which I will lump under the label “prophecy”.

From the perspective of a Mormon intellectual, then, I would suggest that prophecy is not much of a scandal except that it makes many claims practically difficult to vet. From the perspective of an intellectual within the church, prophecy is no different from the many other unique but unambiguously natural events which CCD is able to tolerate or accept within their worldview. So long as there is nothing which in principle prevents prophecy from being vetted or constrained by some kind of peer review process, no matter how informal, the intellectual Mormon can rather easily accommodate it within their faith. Indeed, this thought process is especially seducing within certain strands of Mormonism which see is no ontological distinction between the natural and supernatural, maintaining that all perceived miracles can ultimately be cached out in terms of the practical difficulties in the vetting process. Prophecy is thus not the primary source of tension between intellectualism and Mormonism that it is often taken to be.

The Priesthood

The primary source for the tension between intellectualism and Mormonism lies not in prophecy but in priesthood. Whereas the tension between intellectualism and prophecy can be dissolved within the practical difficulties of vetting speech acts, the deeper tension which exists between intellectualism and priesthood lies in the fact that these are two very different and incompatible ways of vetting or legitimizing speech acts. While the former tension can be dissolved, in principle, by somehow overcoming various practical constraints, the latter tension cannot be resolved by any amount of practical effort. This is due to the fact that while the former is a question of how we are to practically go about vetting statements according to agreed upon rules, the latter is a question about which rules are to be those according to which we are, in principle, to vet such statements. One is a question about how to practically apply accepted standards, while the other is about which standards we are to accept.

I hope it is clear that whatever culture the quoted definition above might be describing, it clearly isn’t one governed by the priesthood. Communities which embrace or strive to approach the ideals of the CCD would be the salons of the Enlightenment, reading groups, letters to the editor, blogging communities, and – to a limited degree – academia. Communities which clearly do not embrace or strive to approach the ideals of CCD would include the military, court rooms, most work environments and traditional church organizations. Whereas the whole point of CCD within the former egalitarian groups is that debate and argument are in principle to be kept open at any time by any person for any reason, all of these latter organizations embrace some form of authority which is in principle meant to distinguish those who are allowed to have the last word from those who are not – the leaders from the followers.

It is this principled distinction, this setting apart of certain individuals from their peers that is deeply hostile to CCD. Whereas intellectuals embrace criticism as a tool which is to be applied by everyone to everyone about everything, the priesthood, by contrast, is a tool which is specifically aimed at stifling criticism by certain people against certain people about certain things. It is the priesthood, then, and not prophecy which most scandalizes the intellectual, for it is at the very core of their culture to resist anything and everything which says that certain questions, answers and other speech acts belong exclusively to uniquely authorized individuals which have been set apart from their peers. It is the authority of priesthood, then, and not the supernaturalism of prophecy that intellectuals within the church will find themselves compelled to ignore, reinterpret or otherwise repress.

This deep-seated tension within the faithful intellectuals of the church produces strong motives (be they conscious or not) to do two things: first, to ignore, reinterpret or otherwise repress sacerdotal social distinctions within the church in order to maintain their ties with CCD and second, to ignore, reinterpret or otherwise repress the first desire in order to maintain their ties with the church. The combination of these two motives creates a situation wherein faithful intellectuals undermine priesthood authority in a way which is disguised, even from themselves. From their perspective, they are faithfully pursuing a peaceful coexistence between the two cultures, but unfortunately many of these pursuits only create the misleading appearance of reconciliation, an illusion which usually masks a subtle transfer of legitimacy from priesthood leaders to intellectuals. This is exactly what happened to me as I publicly strove to reconcile these two cultures on my former blogs: Issues in Mormon Doctrine and Mormons and Evolution.

Some of the strategies by which reconciliation is ostensibly sought, the intellectual Trojan Horses which serve to mask rather than resolve the tensions between Mormonism and intellectualism include, but are not limited to:

  1. Overemphasizing the importance of personal revelation.
  2. Overemphasizing the importance of “thus saith the Lord”.
  3. Overemphasizing the importance of church history.
  4. Overemphasizing the fallibility of prophets.

It will be noted that all of these things which are overemphasized or reinterpreted by the intellectuals are in and of themselves supported by church leaders.   This is exactly what makes them such effective Trojan Horses which provide shelter for intellectual values within the church.  The mistake of the Mormon intellectual will thus lie not in his values per se, but in the way he interprets and prioritizes them.

Overemphasizing the importance of personal revelation

As noted above, the intellectual is able to accommodate prophecy within the mind frame of CCD by stressing the practical difficulties which serve as an obstacle to peer review and mutual criticism. Without these latter constraints, the intellectual fears that the church will thus become a theocracy in the worst sense of the term wherein the members all blindly trust and obey those who claim private access to the prophecy in question. Accordingly, the intellectual within the church emphasizes how we are all able to overcome the practical difficulties of vetting prophecy by democratizing it in the form of personal revelation. Furthermore, since we all have access to the same “celestial data” – in principle if not in practice – we are still able to tentatively hold the prophecy of priesthood leaders at a safe and critical distance through the peer review process of personal revelation.

While personal revelation clearly is a mechanism which can serve as a check and balance against autocratic rule within the church, the overemphasis on personal revelation by the intellectual also serves other less savory purposes. In particular, an overemphatic focus on personal revelation tacitly encourages members to question and (dis)confirm the decisions made by their priesthood leaders, forgetting that it is supposed to be the antidote to rather than the inspiration for questions and doubt. Personal revelation can thus serve to erode rather than strengthen solidarity within the church. For example we’ve all come across bloggers who use personal revelation as a way of shoring up their own position – one which is contrary to that of priesthood leaders – in order to continue articulating and defending that position in various public forums. Their reasons for doing this are not difficult to surmise: since the blogger has access to the same celestial data set as the priesthood leader, there is no longer any reason why the latter should have the final word on the subject. In this way, authoritative revelation from priesthood leaders comes to be seen as just one more kind of personal revelation thereby making room for the intellectual virtues of critique and peer review. By thus leveling the authoritative playing field, personal revelation is used to further rather than terminate debate within the church, thereby undermining the prerogative of those who are uniquely authorized to end such debates.

The intellectuals’ view of personal revelation, then, marginalizes – indeed makes no reference whatsoever to priesthood authority within the church, having subtly replaced it with a prophetic form of peer review. Yes, the intellectual is correct in believing that personal revelation is a very poor mechanism for publicly resolving debates – as the intellectual well knows – but this is not the task for which it was intended. Personal revelation is meant to be taken as counsel, not evidence and as such was intended to undermine public debate by privatizing the issue at hand in a way which does not interfere with priesthood authority rather than facilitating public debate by becoming a data point from which to publicly engage and debate others. Indeed, rather than being construed as public access to an objective data set in the celestial realm, personal revelation was meant to be construed as subjective access to personal guidance in our individual lives – something which has little if any bearing on public debate. In short, personal revelation was meant to be a compliment to rather than a substitute for priesthood authority. It is in this sense, then, that once our priesthood leaders have spoken, the debate is over: not because these leaders are necessarily right on the issue, but because the (previously public) debate has officially been privatized. Ironically enough, then, while the priesthood leader agrees with the intellectual in wanting to publicly discuss and support the process of personal revelation, he differs from the intellectual in refusing to publicly discuss and support the content of personal revelation.

Overemphasizing the importance of “thus saith the Lord”

The second of the intellectual Trojan Horses involves fetishizing “thus saith the Lord” statements within scripture and church history or – as this fetish manifested itself in my own deconversion – obsessing over the perceived differences between inspiration and revelation. This Trojan Horse invites the intellectual to construe those prophetic statements which claim “thus saith the Lord” as a kind of citation within peer reviewed literature to the Most Competent of Scholars. It is in this way that we can know whether the received content comes (or is claimed to come) from the Lord’s or merely from a mortal, and therefore limited perspective. The intellectual thus sees prophetic authority as being purely derivative in nature in that the prophet can and ought to be trusted only insofar as he has truly had access to and has correctly interpreted this access to the celestial dataset. In this way, the intellectual attempts to remake God in his own image (although he is hardly unique in doing so), inadvertently construing the prophets as secondary sources which merely cite, quote, comment or build upon the Primary Source above. This, in turn, tacitly invites the general membership, of which the intellectual is a part, to use personal revelation to peer review these citations along with those statements which are supposed to logically follow from them. Under such a view, the prophets are secondary sources in the exact same sense that every person is (supposed to be) a secondary source to that same Primary Source by means of personal revelation.

It is worth noting that treating God as a kind of Super-Scholar that can be treated as the Primary Source to some celestial dataset finds its clearest articulation in the book-of-revelation/book-of-nature metaphor which was originally created by intellectuals within the Catholic Church but was later used by intellectuals to subvert church authority by implying that revelation, like nature is a book which we are all equally authorized to read for ourselves. Similarly, an exaggerated focus on “thus saith the Lord” statements inadvertently serves to marginalize the manner in which priesthood leaders are specifically set apart from their peers, becoming uniquely and exclusively authorized to read certain books of revelation, so to speak. It also serves to deemphasize those priesthood decisions and speech acts which are not prophetically stamped as such, construing them as the mere policies and statements of imperfect and bureaucratic men. This, in turn, opens up a space in which these men and their man-made policies are subjected to the criticism of peer review, a process which unnecessarily highlights the biases and prejudices that the priesthood leader may or may not share with their “peers”. Consequently, the intellectual tacitly stamps all such statements with “thus saith a mere mortal”, thereby setting aside the question of who spoke and proceeding to subject what was spoken to an analysis and critique centered on the intellectual virtues of empirical and logical coherence.

No less dangerous than construing revelation as access to the celestial dataset is the idea of construing “thus saith the Lord” statements as citations of the Primary Source of this dataset. Revelation is not meant to be objective data which fills in our mental maps of world so that we can more efficiently and instrumentally guide ourselves to whatever destination we see fit. Rather, revelation is meant to be subjective guidance which leads us down paths that the Lord sees fit for us. The fact that it is unclear that the Lord is speaking in some instances does not change the fact that it is clear who is speaking: a uniquely authorized priesthood leader. The fact that a priesthood leader does not cite the Lord gives us no reason to think that he is now our peer which we are free to review or criticize in any way. In other words, the fact that a statement does not explicitly claim to be a revelation does not in any way make that statement less authoritative or official. The authority of the speaker comes not from the accuracy of his access to the celestial dataset but from lineage of his priesthood ordination. Indeed, only an intellectual trained in CCD would ever think that the priesthood leader is in any sense obligated to cite his sources when he speaks for or to the church. If we are ever unsure about what our priesthood leaders say, we are not to ask for supporting data in the form of celestial citations, but are instead invited to privately take the issue to the Lord.

Overemphasizing the importance of church history.

The third Trojan Horse by which intellectuals are able to infiltrate and undermine priesthood authority is through an overemphasis on the extra-canonical history and teachings of the church and its leaders. Since all truth is one, it is argued, the distinctions between official and unofficial or private and public sources of truth lose their relevance, giving way to a warts-and-all genealogy of the church and its doctrines. As such, all aspects of the prophets’ social milieu, including their biases and prejudices, are brought to bear on the systematic study of church history. All such sources are thus construed as value-free data points which instrumentally serve to paint a clearer map of the world around us by which we can now guide ourselves to whatever destination we see fit.

There are a number of dangers that this exaggerated focus on church history brings with it. First, it serves to subvert priesthood statements – a system of rules and information over which the intellectual has no control – to a system of interpretive rules which he can control. This process in which the historical context is filled in according to the rules of CCD thus allows the intellectuals to tacitly present themselves as the secular mouthpieces through which what the Lord’s spokesmen (or worse, the Lord Himself) really meant ought to be heard. This in turn allows them to act as an alternative source of prophetic information without ever claiming or requiring prophetic responsibility or priesthood authority. The distinction between official and unofficial sources of church history and doctrine becomes blurred and marginalized.

On the other hand, at the center of the priesthood authority to speak on certain issues is the distinction which is drawn between official and unofficial statements, those speech acts that are backed by the priesthood holder’s position and authority to end public debate and those that are not. This distinction gives us no reason to assume that a personal letter privately written by one priesthood leader to his son should be imbued with any kind of special authority to any who happen upon it. This mistaken mentality naturally follows from the tendency to view the Source of the prophet’s information rather than the Source of his calling as authoritatively binding. By construing both official and unofficial statements regarding church history and doctrine as data points, the intellectual treats the priesthood leaders as being merely epistemologically useful in practice rather than authoritatively binding in principle. This, however, is the exact purpose for which priesthood leaders are set apart from their peers: while church historians, etc. are epistemologically useful in practice the priesthood leaders have been ordained and set apart to be authoritatively binding in principle. Yes, church members are told that it is good to have information vetted by intellectual historians, but only so long as this does not conflict in any way with the guiding truths which have been vetted by priesthood leaders. In a deep affront to CCD, Mormonism requires that its faithful members allow their priesthood leaders to vet the intellectuals and not the other way around.

Overemphasizing the fallibility of prophets

The final Trojan Horse by which intellectuals inadvertently compromise the legitimacy of the priesthood to the benefit of their own culture is by overemphasizing the fallibility of prophets. That the intellectual is prone to bring up the fallibility of priesthood leaders should come as no surprise to us: the fallibility of all men and women carries a great deal of importance in CCD since it is this fallibility which encourages criticism and debate while blocking appeals to authority. This particular strategy for reconciling intellectualism and Mormonism thus serves to level the playing field, so to speak, by making our priesthood leaders fallible “peers” which we can, or even ought to “review”. Once again, the fallibility of priesthood leaders is thus used by intellectuals as a means to keeping open disputes and arguments which priesthood authority was specifically intended to close down.

This disproportionate focus on the fallibility of priesthood leaders distracts us from the question of who is uniquely authorized to speak (the prophets) and who is not (the intellectuals) in a rather straightforward way. First, CCD does acknowledge a certain kind of authority within some limited field which is based in qualifications such as competence, familiarity, frequency of citations, and other measures of having passed peer review. In other words, any person’s authority (even God’s?) is exclusively derived from their familiarity and competence with the relevant data, qualifications which can be called into question at any time, by anyone and are thus fully compatible with CCD. This construal of authority as competence serves to connect the question of infallibility with the question of authority in a way which is utterly foreign to the restored church. The intellectuals’ focus on fallibility serves to draw attention away from the calling and ordination of the priesthood leader – things which are not at all compatible with CCD – and refocus them instead on the priesthood leader’s familiarity and competence with the relevant information. It is this view of authority as familiarity and competence, then, that is a major source of malcontent regarding who can and cannot hold the priesthood in the church.

Whether we like it or not – and CCD most definitely does not like it – priesthood authority is not based in the competence or familiarity of the ordained and the fact that our priesthood leaders are fallible does not change the fact that it is their job to speak on certain issues and it is church members’ job to trust and support them. Yes, the prophets are fallible, but their supposed infallibility was never the reason we were supposed to listen to them in the first place. The reasons why we are to follow rather than lead the prophets are the exact things that CCD is designed to dissolve: namely that their social position which they have been set apart to allows them and no others to speak on certain issues regardless of their perceived familiarity or competence on the subject. It is for this reason that while the fallibility of those who carry social standing is of the utmost importance in CCD, the fallibility of priesthood leaders is of marginal importance within a Mormon tradition that does not see competent familiarity with the relevant information as a source of authority. Within a tradition in which people are not authorized to publicly vet prophetic statements regardless of the competence or qualifications of either party, fallibility simply isn’t that pressing of an issue and therefore is rarely mentioned.


In review, it is worth repeating that Mormonism clearly does not deny the importance of personal revelation, the distinction between when God and man speak, the importance of church history or the fallibility of prophets. All these things are certainly taught within the Mormon tradition. They are, however, interpreted and prioritized very differently within the Mormon tradition of prophecy/priesthood than they are within the intellectual tradition of CCD. Within the publications and speeches given from the podium within each tradition we clearly find a far greater reference to and reliance upon these things in the intellectual than we do in the Mormon tradition. This difference in the frequency with which these themes are mentioned reflects the very different and incompatible meanings which they carry within the two traditions.

In their attempts to reconcile Mormonism (a culture which appeals strongly to social standing) with the culture of critical discourse (a culture which forbids any such appeal to social standing), intellectuals find themselves compelled to systematically downplay or reconstrue priesthood authority in many ways. They will keep revelation but they will make it a democratized and personal kind of revelation. They will keep prophetic statements but only as a secondary source to the celestial dataset which we all have access to. They will keep the canonical scriptures but will insist that the books be interpreted in light of their own historical findings. They will keep their priesthood leaders as long as they are fallible, just like everybody else. All of these things serve to shift attention away from the social standing of who is speaking and toward the content of what is spoken in order to keep debates and arguments open rather than close them down. Additionally, just as intellectuals within the church find themselves compelled to systematically downplay or reconstrue priesthood authority, they also find themselves compelled to systematically downplay or reconstrue their efforts at doing so.

In stark contrast to the well-meaning but ultimately misguided intellectuals such as I was 8 years ago, let us remember that the whole point of the restoration was to restore the holy priesthood of God by way of ordination and to disown the impotent and illegitimate reformations that claimed no higher authority that their familiarity and competence with celestial information. No amount of celestial information to any man – not even Joseph Smith – was ever sufficient to restore or lead the Lord’s church. The lesson which the boy Joseph took from the First Vision was not that all other churches happened to be working with incorrect information and for this reason could not end any of their debates, but that none of the churches had the proper authority to end such debates. The problem was not that the churches were practically unable to implement the principles by which they might reach consensus, but that they sought consensus by the wrong principles. Neither the first vision, nor the gold plates – the ultimate experiences as far as personal revelation goes – were sufficient to authoritatively end any debate, even in principle. What was needed was priesthood leaders who were uniquely set apart from their peers by way of ordination.

80 thoughts on “The Mormon Intellectuals’ Trojan Horses

  1. Brilliant! Spot on analysis. Question: can the Mormon intellectual question the direction the priesthood sets, while still honoring and sustaining that priesthood?

  2. Amazing essay. I think I’ll be coming back to it again and again. It’s just really, really tough to be in the world and not of it. Impossibly tough, really. Thank God for repentance and second chances, and for the wise providence of wake-up calls.

  3. So, I definitely like it. I think.

    Maybe part of my problem is that the post stays in the theoretical realm. This is important because it prevents the reader from becoming bogged down in the details of a specific example. At the same time, I’m going to have to re-read more thoroughly and try to find real-life examples before I can agree or disagree.

  4. Good analysis. If only self-proclaimed intellectuals would search the scriptures they would perhaps come to realize that modern prophets are the true intellectuals, and even ancient prophets such as Jacob, Son of Lehi and brother of Nephi, were the true intellectuals of their time: “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. / But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” (2 Ne. 9:28-29)

  5. Jeff G, I think this is very well-done. It really helps explain why Mormon questioning intellectuals and Mormon orthodox intellectuals always seem to be talking past each other, a phenomenon I have been observing since my baptism more than 16 year ago.

    In addition, it makes very clear to me why Joseph Smith received the revelations he did right from the beginning, and it explains why Church history rolled out the way it did. The key test, right from the beginning, was: “will you follow the prophet and the priesthood?” This is the central issue, and questioning intellectuals have a massive problem with this issue ever since.

  6. Great stuff.

    Nate, my own reluctant but heartfelt answer to your question is No.

    But I may be reading too much into the question. There are appropriate channels for members to express concerns to readers. However, they aren’t public channels.

  7. Thank you for this article! I have been struggling the last few years with questions about church doctrine and my testimony, especially since reading blogs such as Alan Rock Waterman’s ‘Pure Mormonism’ and this article has given me another perspective from which to look at things. I grew up in the church and never doubted my ‘testimony’ of the church until the last few years. I found myself wanting to investigate even those sacred cows which I always took for granted because I want to know the TRUTH, even if the truth meant I would have to let go of some of those things I had always believed without question. This questioning has led me on a path where my testimony has been severely shaken and now I find myself very lost and not sure where to turn for answers. This article helped some in that regard.

  8. Thank you so much for this article, Jeff. It sums up what I’ve been trying to articulate for myself for many months. Also glad to hear your journey has led you back to the gospel.

  9. Aaron, worldly truth will always be subjective. And some “truths” are not really important to the big picture. It is my experience that people who have their faith shaken tend to focus on one or two things while pushing aside all of the many positive truths that would help build up their faith. My suggestion is to put doubts or difficult questions “on a shelf” for a while. Revisit those issues later in your life. You may find that the doubts or questions are not as important to you as they once were.

    When I was going through my conversion I received a very lengthy well-researched email from an atheist friend who raises about a dozen questions that I could not answer. These were the days before FAIR and other web sites were very active. I spent several agonizing weeks concentrating on all of these minor issues, pushing aside all of the positive experiences I had had with the Holy Ghost. I found myself obsessed with these issues to the extent that they literally pushed the Spirit out. And I became very sad. Finally, after many hours of research, I found an explanation for one issue, and then another and another and suddenly in a few days all of my doubts melted away and I felt the Spirit again. The lesson I have learned since then is: put your doubts on a shelf and revisit them later.

  10. Vader, apart from publicly criticizing the Brethren, can we disagree with them while still sustaining them. I’m thinking of devout Catholics, none of whom agree with all the policies the authorities of their church espouse, but who nevertheless revere their authority, and see no contradiction in this position.

  11. Jeff:

    I particularly like this part of your article: ” It is the priesthood, then, and not prophecy which most scandalizes the intellectual, for it is at the very core of their culture to resist anything and everything which says that certain questions, answers and other speech acts belong exclusively to uniquely authorized individuals which have been set apart from their peers.”

    In an interview with Mormon Stories, ( D Michael Quinn referred to this, I think, as a form of spiritual arrogance, where some think that only those in the Mormon hierarchy have strong enough testimonies to study the less flattering aspects of Mormon history, and that it should thus be kept more or less hidden from the general LDS Church membership. I agree with Quinn (and I guess with you?) that this is a very unhealthy way to look at it. I also agree, as Quinn said in the Mormon Stories interview that there is no reason that a lay member of the Church can’t have as strong a testimony of the truth of the gospel as a general leader can.

  12. Jeff, great to have you back on our side! Great analysis.

    One thing that jumped out to me when Maxine Hanks described her apostasy was she stopped looking at the GAs as her equals, and more as inferior to herself. I think that it becomes a huge danger for intellectuals when they begin to think they know everything, or at least more than the GAs – who, like us, are fallible.

  13. “Vader, apart from publicly criticizing the Brethren, can we disagree with them while still sustaining them.”

    Nate, you can do whatever you want. You do have agency. I would say that it depends on whether the policy you disagree with is absolutely essential to the Church’s doctrine on something or it is a peripheral issue. Let me give you a few examples. President Grant absolutely hated FDR and urged latter-day Saints to vote against him. But Utah elected FDR every time. Were they all apostates? Obviously not. It is OK to disagree with President Grant on an issue that is not central to the Gospel. President Hinckley seemed to endorse the Iraq war in 2003. I know plenty of faithful latter-day Saints who disagreed with him. These days, it seems clear to me, that on social issues the Church is taking a stand and warning people that they should not take the world’s side on these issues. I am referencing SSM, women and the priesthood, etc. I think people who disagree with these core doctrines are going the wrong direction. Can they still be faithful members? Of course. As I say, you can do whatever you want. But I think the Church’s message is: be careful, disagreeing on these issues can, and very likely may, take you in the direction of apostasy. Remember: you need the Church but the Church will keep on going whether you are a member or not. The pressure should be on you to get in line with the Church rather than the Church to get in line with you.

  14. Jeff, I am glad you are back. Have you recounted the story of your return, your and God’s rebuilding of your testimony, your thought processes and the like anywhere we can read them?

  15. Alright, pretty good comments so far.

    nate, I think the question isn’t whether or not people can doubt/question/etc., but how people are supposed to go about it. The intellectual and the priesthood embrace very different ways of going about these things.

    Adam G, I really like that way of putting it. If anything, the intellectual could see my essay as a manifesto for why the priesthood is bad. I think the most neutral way of putting it would be that being formally educated and faithful is very difficult.

    Kevin L, I did keep it pretty theoretical, but I was afraid of going even longer than I already did. I think it’s pretty easy to identify most of the things I’m describing once we know what to look for.

    Xenophon, I don’t want to limit my analysis only to those who identify with the label “intellectual”. This essay has very little to do with whose smarter in any way at all. Rather, it’s about incompatible ways of vetting and validating speech acts. I think this approach is far more inclusive and direct.

    Geoff B, Thanks a bunch. I definitely saw myself as hunting some pretty big game with this post.

    Aaron Sellars, Thank you so much for sharing. People like you are the exact people that I am trying to reach. I don’t think that my post will make or break anybody’s testimony, but I definitely want to help people see their decisions for what they are.

    Medford, Rameumptom, and DavidH, While I would definitely count myself on “your side” I don’t want to misrepresent myelf: I’m still not the mainstream Mormon that I wish I had remained. I’m doing my best and I still struggle with my faith, but I think I have a pretty clear idea of where I went wrong. I just hope that I can help other people avoid the pitfalls that I fell for.

  16. Jeff,

    Well written, thank you for voicing what I have been trying to articulate for several weeks.


  17. An emphasis on fallibility may actually help to protect the faith in the Brethren’s authority. In the corrolated gospel, there is practically no discussion of fallibility. Pres. Uchtdorf’s talk is a rare, but very timely exception. When seen as too perfect, when dissonances arise, it may become too much to bear if the Brethren are expected to be so very near perfection. The orthodox revere the Brethren with such worshipful awe, that they are libel to fall, as Simon Ryder, when his name is misspelled. Faithful intellectuals who emphasize fallibility often do so, not to introduce doubt, but as an apologetic defense of authority in spite of shortcomings.

    The fact that the Brethren have been slowly embracing some of the more “pro-intellectual” approaches (JSPapers, less apologetics, Elder Oaks’ “content to have a draw,” and tacit approval of Rough Stone Rolling), shows that the Brethren are coming to value the role of the intellectual in the church, as long as they ultimately sustain authority. Intellectualism is an important strain of church culture from its earliest days, and as long as the tail doesn’t wag the dog, everything is great, and intellectuals play an important role.

  18. I’ve always thought that Elders McConkie, Maxwell and Oaks were intellectuals. And if not intellectuals in the purist sense, they at least highly valued scholarship, knowledge, and intelligence. I’ll have to listen to more of Elder Bednar, but I think he’s up there too.

  19. nate,

    There’s a reason why fallibility receives little, if any mention in correlated doctrine: because it doesn’t matter. The authority of priesthood leaders comes not from their qualifications or abilities but from their ordination. Only the intellectual treats a person as an authority only to the extend that they are qualified (the degree to which they are (in)fallible) within some field. The priesthood sees these men as authorities regardless of how qualified or fallible they are, so that discussion is entirely beside the point.

  20. Bookslinger,

    McConkie and Oaks are clearly NOT intellectuals in the sense that I use the word. Again, my definition has nothing to do with mental prowess, intelligence or any kind of penchant for learning. Rather, my post is about how speech acts are vetted and justified.

  21. Jeff,

    Could you share with us some of your writing from 8 years ago when you were an intellectual stepping back from the church? Among many exmormons who have confronted the challenging issues in church history and who have been labeled ‘intellectuals’ it is inconceivable that someone could return to the faith. Your story would be particularly interesting and notable in this regard. If we could see to what extent your intellectualism had reached at the ‘depth of your descent’ so to speak as well as the major milestones that led to your return it would provide valuable insight and perspective

  22. Geoff B, Love everything about your comment above (October 21, 2013 at 11:59).

    Jeff, I think you and nate are talking past each other and basically agree. What I take away from nate’s comment is exactly what you said: “fallibility…doesn’t matter. The authority of priesthood leaders comes not from their qualifications or abilities but from their ordination.” The problem that I think nate was pointing out, which I agree is a problem, is when some church members are so overzealous in their attempts to deny or hide flaws that they are effectively implying that infallibility does matter (or else why would they bother defending the infallibility?). I see the shouting flaws from the rooftops people and the shouting down those who do that people as two sides of the same wrong-headed coin that says that fallibility matters. It doesn’t. We should neither dwell on nor deny unflattering things. We can choose to be open and honest but in the end just get on with our lives enjoying the good fruits of the gospel that bring joy and happiness, as Geoff said so well in his comment.

  23. Thanks CBL.

    Nate and other readers,
    I think it is worth pointing out that Jeff G is not condemning all intellectuals, nor is he saying people should not study things and or even consider themselves intellectuals. He is simply warning about a common *intellectual process* that *some people* use to deny priesthood authority. The Church from the time of Joseph Smith has encouraged learning and study. Jeff G is aware of this, as are all orthodox Mormons.

  24. Pingback: Simple vs. Intellectual Mormonism - Mormon Basics

  25. As I was reading the section about church history, it recalled some thoughts I have been having recently.

    Not everything that is true should be shared. There are some things in church history that are true, but should not be shared openly (written up in books/blogs, talked about in speeches, etc.). The reason being is that some things, that are true, could potentially cause another person to lose their testimony or not be willing to investigate the church at all. The overriding need is for people to come unto Christ and endure to the end. Once they endure to the end they have all of eternity to learn about true church history, but, I assume, they will then have a better perspective to understand true church history without falling away (or never coming to Christ to begin with).

    One of the worst things I can imagine is doing or saying something that causes someone else to not come unto Christ or to move away from Him. If I know something is true that happened in church history, but I also know that fact could affect another person’s testimony then I just don’t share it. There is enough time in the eternities for all truth to be learned, but any truth that could undermine a person’s ability to reach their highest potential in the eternities shouldn’t be shared openly.

    In other words, sometimes I hear complaints that the church is white-washing it’s history. I think that is fine since the church’s mission to bring souls to Christ and anything that could keep people from coming unto Christ, even if true, should be set aside until after this life.

  26. Cynthia,

    Maybe I’m alone, but I can’t recall a single person defending the infallibility of the prophets.Not a single one. Yes, they say that we should trust and follow the prophets, but that has nothing to do with infallibility.

  27. Again (this is mostly, but not entirely aimed at moderated comments) anybody who reads my entire post/comments and still think that I’m talking about mental ability (intelligence, smarts, etc.) or mental activity (studying, reading, writing, etc.) simply must have an agenda. My post is NOT about any of those things.

  28. I think that one of the things that complicates this is that when we are operating inside a council environment, from the First Prediency and 12 down through, Stake High Councils, PEC, Ward Council, quorum and Axiliary presidencies and meetings, and familly councils the importance of expertese and familiarity is suposed to take greater importance.
    consider the direction from Handbook 2 on Ward Councils.
    “Council members are encouraged to speak honestly, both from their personal experience and from their positions as organization leaders. Both men and women should feel that their comments are valued as full participants. The bishop seeks input from Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary leaders in all matters considered by the ward council. The viewpoint of women is sometimes different from that of men, and it adds essential perspective to understanding and responding to members’ needs.”

    Or Elder Ballards discription of the operation of the Quorum of the Twelve
    “For the past eight and one-half years I have served as a member of a council of twelve men. We come from different backgrounds, and we bring to the Council of the Twelve Apostles a diverse assortment of experiences in the Church and in the world. In our meetings, we do not just sit around and wait for President Howard W. Hunter to tell us what to do. We counsel openly with each other, and we listen to each other with profound respect for the abilities and experiences our brethren bring to the council. We discuss a wide variety of issues, from Church administration to world events, and we do so frankly and openly. Sometimes we discuss issues for weeks before reaching a decision. We do not always agree during our discussions. But once a decision is made, we are always both united and determined.”

  29. Okay… so … Were you arguing that it was a bad thing that the early protestants wanted to read the scriptures for themselves and that Tyndale had issues cuz he sought to disregard the priesthood standing of the clergy?

    My next question would then be about juxtaposing teachings of cannon vs teaching of the 12.

    Elder Nelson said in his latest address,

    “In our day civil governments have a vested interest in protecting marriage because strong families constitute the best way of providing for the health, education, welfare, and prosperity of rising generations.”

    This teaching while true is called an unjust principle in cannon

    D&C 134:9 “We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.”

    Upholding the right true and good religious sacrament of marriage through the violent force of government is unacceptable. Laws regarding marriage such as the Edmund Tucker act are obvious infringements on the 1st amendment. Such marriage laws were constituted specifically to persecute the Church and imprison her leaders.

    You can see why I am hesitant to accept your dissertation on the subject. I however do have a testimony the President of the church acting as a mouthpiece of God.

    Your essay makes the mistake of assuming the leaders are always in harmony with God, Each other, Cannon, and spirit. In the early christian church we look no further than Peter Paul and James (Brother of Jesus) to see conflicting views. Paul rails against James when he teaches in Galations 1:8 to not believe the missionaries sent from James to persecute the devout men.

    This essay does a good job describing many of the issues withing the intellectually critical community. While at the same time presenting the information in such a way that make members think their personal revelation is unimportant. (as the Catholics squashed the Montanists as declaring that there is no more revelation)

    In the same way this article implies the Prophet, like the pope, can not lapsi.

    Men are imperfect. I have seen no reason to leave the church over prophets squabbling about opinion. Christ lives and has restored his church. That is enough for me. I however do not accept the view of Elder Nelson over the spirit, personal revelation, President Benson, Joseph Smith jr. and cannon.

    And I think that is okay.

  30. Jeff says, “The authority of priesthood leaders comes not from their qualifications or abilities but from their ordination.” To me this seems like an intellectual statement, not one presented by the current priesthood. In the correlated gospel, prophets are chosen before they were born, because of their superior righteousness in the pre-existance.

    Your idea of separating authority from quality is, I believe, important, true, and essential, but it is not one that I’ve ever heard expounded at General Conference.

    Jeff says, responding to Cythia. “Maybe I’m alone, but I can’t recall a single person defending the infallibility of the prophets. Not a single one.” This isn’t the point Cythia was making. Of course everyone knows and preaches that the prophets are infallible in theory. But in practice, the only sin Joseph Smith ever committed as presented in the correlated material is that he was guilty of “levity” thanks to his “cheery native temperment,” and gave the manuscript to Martin Harris. This makes him practically perfect compared to the rest of us mortals, and since “no man has done more save Jesus for the redemption of mankind,” Joseph Smith is assumed to basically be 2nd to Jesus in his perfection.

    This is great for people weak in faith, who need to believe in a practically perfect religious figure, but it can become dangerous for those who are exposed to a very different uncorrolated history. It puts undue pressure on apologists to account for the inspired nature of every decision and authoritative statement made in church history, and thus puts us on a constant defensive posture. Anti-Mormon quotations from Journal of Discourses are wrongly assumed by the faithful to have been taken “out of context” or “lies,” and when confronted with the error of their assumptions, they loose faith.

    Current Priesthood authority has decided that in the correlated material, errors and complexities in church history are not going to be presented. I respect that as an authoritative and inspired decision. This is the way the present themselves to “the whole,” to investigators, the lowest common denomonator, the milk, rather than the meat. But I’m sure that at least some of those in the priesthood value the role intellectuals play in presenting a less idealised view of the gospel for those who need to hear it.

  31. Sorry for all the short responses, but this is a very busy week for me.

    Joseph M, I don’t see how any of that complicates anything. I never said that only priesthood leaders get to speak, only that they are uniquely qualified to end certain conversations.

    Before Adam, “Your essay makes the mistake of assuming the leaders are always in harmony with God, Each other, Cannon, and spirit.”

    You make the mistake of assuming that there is only one way of measuring and resolving harmony. Who says they aren’t in harmony, the CCD or the priesthood? Who’s rules are supposed to resolve this supposed disharmony?

    “presenting the information in such a way that make members think their personal revelation is unimportant”

    Personal revelation is totally and completely unimportant to anybody except that person. Personal revelation has zero public relevance and counts as zero evidence for any position because it was never meant to be evidence at all.

    Nate, to be sure, I am speaking the language of the intellectuals in that I am not anybody’s priesthood leader nor do I have any fancy credentials. The fact that any person took the time to read (or write!) my essay means that they are very much a part of the CCD and are thus a target of criticism.

    But this doesn’t mean that you get to pick and choose when you’re embracing priesthood principles and when you are choosing those of CCD. If you take CCD seriously (and if you read my entire post you certainly do), then I’ve presented the dangers of it. If you don’t take CCD seriously, then you don’t need to read my post and, quite frankly, you never will read it.

    You’re upset that correlated material doesn’t present JS in his warts and all entirety. But which culture thinks that such a thing is necessary or preferable? Again, you are letting CCD vet the priesthood rather than the other way around, and that’s a dangerous position to be in. To be sure, there are trade-offs in what and how much is presented in correlated material, but us bloggers are neither qualified nor authorized to analyze or weigh these trade-offs in church material.

    I should also note that my essay undermines apologetic to a large degree as well. I’m not putting pressure on them to step up their game, but rather to stop playing the game of the intellectuals.

  32. “Personal revelation is totally and completely unimportant to anybody except that person. Personal revelation has zero public relevance and counts as zero evidence for any position because it was never meant to be evidence at all.”

    Personal revelation is the fruit of faith. Without a personal testimony of Christ through the power of the holy ghost the whole gospel is meaningless.

    This is not to say anyone can receive revelation for the whole of the church. things must be done in order. Hence the reason for elimination prayer circles and endowed women from administering to sick women and children. Things were being done out of order and the priesthood keys were used to help stop the confusion.

    Personal revelation is the only empirical evidence any theist ever has. it is not meant as evidence to convert a national dislodge. but is evidence enough to persuade others to experiment upon the word.

    You tell me how the dispute between Paul and James was fixed or decided.

    It wasn’t God allowed his church to crumble into apostasy.

    The only evidence ever given to any individual member of the church comes through direct revelation. The church teaches that in order to be true revelation it cannot be contrary to doctrine. they way we can know if that is true is through personal revelation.

    The gospel is noting without the spirit of Christ.

    the gospel is this
    God is the Eternal father, His son Jesus Christ is our savior, The Holy spirit testifies of this (see A of F)
    everything else in the gospel is an appendage to this teaching.

    To this message hang all the doctrines and principals of the church.

  33. I think you just unintentionally proved my point more than you refuted it. You can’t resist seeing personal revelation as evidence – as some kind of data point from which to argue. Personal revelation is not objective data, but subjective guidance. That’s why it is utterly irrelevant to everybody else.

  34. It is not only irrelevant to everyone else.

    it is also the only thing of any personal relevance.

    Everything in the church is irrelevant to the individual without personal revelation.

    Which is why I am okay with elder Nelson and elder Oaks high horse on the subject of marriage and family. Because I have a testimony of D&C 134 so i don’t allow their subjective view of the doctrine blind my view of the cannon and the prophet. (higher sources for revelation than apostle)

    Your argument that individuals with priesthood keys set through divine policy objective truth and reality is not only flawed but enough to turn more people off of the gospel than onto it.

    The essay is rooted in Mormon culture instead of doctrine and makes the assumption that the 12-15 always agree.

    The doctrines of Christ and simple and plain. Repent and be saved.

    The gospel of Christ and the words of the prophets themselves tell us not to trust in the arm of flesh. My testimony is not rooted in Joseph Smith or Thomas Monson. but in Christ. His name is the name i can come to God by. none other.

  35. in short my contention with this dissertation is that it argues that the testimony and point of the church are found in the keys, the bureaucracy, and hierarchy. Not the spirit and the Son of God.

    The spirit testifies of truth. It will testify of cannon and prophets and Christ. It seeks takes away from us the personal revelation we are ENTITLED to as children of God. God is no respecter of persons. not government leaders, nor church leaders. You are as entitled to the same conforming revelation as Tomas Monson is. Just as Nephi was entitled to see his fathers dream. all he had to do was ask.

  36. Jeff, I think you misinterpreted my comment. I am not upset at Priesthood correlation, nor do I question the wisdom of the Brethren in presenting an idealized version of their history. I don’t pick and choose, I accept it for what it is, and for what it isn’t. Correlation is narrow in interpretation by definition, and the fact that the Brethren have decided that the strait and narrow path should be even more strait and narrow is their right, as they have the authority to make such decisions, an authority I sustain.

    But apart from the very peculiar, and narrow correlated path the Brethren present as it’s orthodoxy, there is a richness of doctrine, history, interpretation, and wisdom, which is not off limits, nor undesirable, within the broader church culture, including aspects of CCD. Were all of these seen as evil, the church would loose many more members than they currently are. If everyone who engaged in CCD were seen as apostate, this would be a much smaller church. This larger intellectual culture is keeping many people IN the church, who would wilt away if they thought that only corrolated orthodoxy and perspective had any place in their spiritual life.

    I agree that CCD has all the dangers you note. It is a secular philosophy. It has great potential for questioning authority. But it is not black and white. It has an important place. I believe that some of the Brethren also believe it to have an important place, and that they are also influenced by innovations that occur in the CCD sphere.

    There is an authority. That authority governs the performance of essential ordinances, and is responsible for creating, and protecting a basic structural dogma. But that is NOT all there is to the church. That is only the beginning, only the bare framework in which the Spirit works in it’s diversity of ways. I’m not suggesting we question or abandon the Priesthood and the peculiar decisions it makes. But I don’t see it as a box we have to crawl into. Rather, I see it as a tether to keep us from going too far off the beaten path.

  37. “Everything in the church is irrelevant to the individual without personal revelation.”

    Again, you are proving my point by overemphasizing personal revelation. Why would you ever hold such an extreme position? We have priesthood leaders and living prophets regardless of one’s personal revelation on the subject. Again, personal revelation was meant to be a cure for doubt when it arises, not a ubiquitous source of doubt and independent waywardness.

    “Your argument that individuals with priesthood keys set through divine policy objective truth and reality”

    I never said any such thing. Prophets aren’t interested in any kind of objective data points, for this is the game of intellectuals, not priesthood leaders. Revelation, both personal and otherwise, is meant as contextual guidance, not data from which to argue. Once we acknowledge this, supposed disharmonies become far less disconcerting. But again, you can’t help but think of things in terms of evidence, data, objectivity and other such intellectual categories.

  38. “in short my contention with this dissertation is that it argues that the testimony and point of the church are found in the keys, the bureaucracy, and hierarchy. Not the spirit and the Son of God.”

    You have found the recipe for reformation, but not for restoration.

  39. “I agree that CCD has all the dangers you note. It is a secular philosophy. It has great potential for questioning authority. But it is not black and white. It has an important place. I believe that some of the Brethren also believe it to have an important place, and that they are also influenced by innovations that occur in the CCD sphere.”

    I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I think that we both agree with this assertion. On the other hand, I worry that your emphasis on this assertion masks the irresolvable tensions which do exist between CCD and priesthood. Does social position/office matter? Do certain people have the exclusive privilege to terminate certain conversations? These are question which each tradition must answer differently and so much follows from this fact that I’m a little hesitant to go along with the typical “yeah but CCD is still important” line of reasoning.

  40. “Again, personal revelation was meant to be a cure for doubt when it arises, not a ubiquitous source of doubt and independent waywardness.”

    Let me unpack this a bit. I am saying nothing about the amount of personal revelation which a person is to seek in their private life. Rather, I am describing two different defaults against which personal revelation can be sought.

    In CCD the default is skepticism, doubt and criticism, in that everything ought to be questioned. Within this mindset, personal revelation is construed as a means of (dis)confirming hypotheses which are always (potentially) in question.

    In the priesthood, however, the default is what the priesthood leaders say. We don’t doubt everything nor do we strive to, for doubt, skepticism and criticism are never praised in the scriptures. There are no hypotheses or theories which are to be (dis)confirmed, only courses of actions to be followed. It is for this reason that many times we are encouraged to follow the prophets – even if we aren’t sure – in order to obtain blessings.

    To repeat, personal revelation in the two traditions is not different in terms of degree but in terms of the default against which it is sought. In one tradition, personal revelation is meant to overcome the doubt which is ubiquitously forced upon us within that tradition. In the other, personal revelation is meant as a way of supporting the priesthood leaders and the church.

  41. “The essay is rooted in Mormon culture instead of doctrine and makes the assumption that the 12-15 always agree. ”

    As you don’t seem to believe them even when they *do* agree, I don’t see what difference it makes whether this assumption is true (or even made) or not.

    “in short my contention with this dissertation is that it argues that the testimony and point of the church are found in the keys, the bureaucracy, and hierarchy. Not the spirit and the Son of God.”

    The testimony and in indeed the point of the church *is* the priesthood and the keys that govern it. If there were no need for the priesthood, there would be no need for a church, as just the gospel (the testimony and point of which is the Spirit and the Son of God) would be sufficient.

    But the gospel *itself* relies on the priesthood, and without the ordinances and *authority* of the priesthood the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh.

    The overarching question this post invites is “What difference does the existence of priesthood keys make to my personal spiritual life?” The answer from the paradigm of CCD is a resounding “None at all!”

  42. Fantastic comment, Fraggle. The main thrust of this post is that intellectuals will use various forms of prophecy (which is not incompatible with CCD) to subvert the priesthood (which is incompatible with CCD).

  43. “I should also note that my essay undermines apologetic to a large degree as well. I’m not putting pressure on them to step up their game, but rather to stop playing the game of the intellectuals.”

    I like this comment. It’s interesting – I am a CCD type of guy, I have a PhD in English and the CCD paradigm you state is similar to what I do everyday in my teaching job (more so than some others who teach at a university, were there are certain “prophets” of academia who are considered untouchable and unquestionable, at least for a time). Yet when it comes to the gospel and the church, I tend to leave that paradigm at the door. This may explain part of the reason that while I sometimes enjoy reading apologetics, I have never felt the desire to engage in it myself. Every time I’ve tried, it just feels “off” to me; likely because I don’t “play the game” when it comes to the gospel.

    This post also helps explain (along with your posts over at NCT that I just read a few of) why people in the Ordain Women movement or other more “liberal” blogs seem to refer to the degrees of their leaders, which always struck me as odd. I don’t think it matters that I’m a “Dr.” (of English, though) when it comes to debates about who get the priesthood or what marriage means, but those on the less orthodox side seem to find that really important (if you agree with them, of course).

    Not that I don’t have my own Trojan horses from other areas of my life, but they’re not the ones in this post.

  44. Jeff,

    How do you reconcile the portions of the canon that seem to support a CCD approach to the gospel?

    Let me provide some examples.

    D&C 121:34-46. This passage seems to directly support CCD as you have described it. Priesthood leaders are specifically discouraged from employing appeals to priesthood authority in exercising their keys. It seems to clearly recognize that the exercise of priesthood keys constitutes a process over time—that persuasion and longsuffering are part of the process, part of a back and forth. Others in the comments have alluded to the back-and-forth among the Quorum of the Twelve but none of them, individually, hold authority over any of the others. It is a discussion among peers. The real test of this passage is back and forth between superiors and subordinates in the Church hierarchy—and who is to say whether or not there is as much influence exerted from the bottom up as there is from the top down.

    Moroni 10:3-9 (and its analogues where the Lord invites the hearer to “prove me herewith”). This passage seems to specifically invite the reader to approach the BoM from a critical perspective. We are encouraged to read and ponder (def. to consider something deeply and thoroughly) the subject matter and then when we are ready to ultimately pray about it. Studying the canon takes time. Pondering it even more so. I find it hard to fathom a process of deeply and thoroughly considering a subject that does not apply CCD.

    3 Nephi 14:16-21 (and its analogues). Christ here specifically instructs His followers to evaluate the product of any who purport to speak or act for Him—clearly an invitation to CCD.

    The Canon in general. The BoM covers a thousand year period with somewhere around 40 named prophets/contributors. There are about 270k words in the BoM which means that only 270 words per year made it into the canon. We know that Mormon and Moroni performed a serious amount of editing. I’m sure their predecessors did the same producing edits upon edits. Edits require one to take a critical approach to every word in deciding what goes into the final record. The crucible of time will serve to refine any attempt at creating a cohesive doctrine of practice. Even current counsel regarding what to consider as “doctrine” encourages people to look for repeated patterns of discourse in determining doctrine. On this blog I think the permas have taken this counsel to its extreme by applying a very worldly view of time by using a decade or two of history as a standard rather than centuries or millennia (a bit ironic given the title of the blog).

    Jeff, I agree with you that taken to the extremes CCD can be poisonous to one’s own testimony as well as to others’. But I think that CCD is actually the approach the Lord invites us to take.

  45. Finally a few minutes to process and respond. Reading through the unfolding conversation in the comments has clarified some of my questions, but I’ll respond to the initial essay first.

    Problem 1) I had a hard time accepting the denouncement of personal revelation. It seems like the personal experience of the Spirit confirming truth is central to the epistemology of the restored gospel. However, when you wrote that “It is in this sense, then, that once our priesthood leaders have spoken, the debate is over: not because these leaders are necessarily right on the issue, but because the (previously public) debate has officially been privatized.” I’m TOTALLY cool with that! I really value that insight.

    Problem 2) In some ways it seems like your points 2 and 3 conflict each other. On the one hand, we have to accept everything said by an authority whether or not they state that they are acting within that authority. Then you say that we must be able to overlook those situations in which an authority speaks or acts as a human. I understand that in a sense 2 and 3 set the upper and lower bounds of the same continuum. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always turn out to be as clear-cut as some would like to pretend which statements are authoritative and which are not.

    Problem 3) The infallibility issue seems to be muddled (which also comes up in the comments). It seems to confuse personal fallibility with authoritative fallibility. Of course Priesthood leaders are imperfect, but their authoritative statements always are. How can we know if an authoritative statement is, in fact, made in harmony with the authority of God? If it is made by an authority, naturally. One authoritative statement is later contradicted by another authoritative statement? Nonsense! Authority cannot be mistaken. Personal fallibility has no bearing on the authority of a statement. However, authoritative fallibility-mistaking personal feelings for Divine instruction-seems to be an impossibility.

    From the comments: Regarding personal revelation, it seems contradictory that we accept the claims to authority of some individuals unquestioningly while simultaneously rejecting other individuals’ claims to authority out of hand. There must be a basis on which we decide which authority claims we will accept. I think the CCD does not so much reject authority, but as you state, sets a new criteria for authority. I believe that each individual must fall back on personal spiritual experience when deciding which authority to heed. Anything less is an abdication of personal responsibility.

    “Personal revelation is totally and completely unimportant to anybody except that person. Personal revelation has zero public relevance and counts as zero evidence for any position because it was never meant to be evidence at all.”

    Then what is this “personal testimony” that we are supposed to share often with others?

    Finally, I have to agree with Paul M. in his inclusion of D&C 121 in the discussion of authority. It seems that claims to authority are a proof against that very authority. In their conference talks, I love that the speakers bear their personal testimony and convictions, using persuasion, not simply falling back on their priesthood authority as justification.

    Ultimately I do not see CCD and Priesthood Authority as inherently conflicted. However, that might be more because I don’t see CCD as being all that unique. In the end, individuals end up placing a great deal of faith in the authority of the peer-review process based on limited personal experience. Claims to scientific objectivity don’t do much to persuade me. It’s still a belief system.

  46. Jeff, can I gently suggest that maybe some of these problems are not problems for most “intellectuals,” but reflect your own personal difficulties more than a general pattern? The vast majority of Dialogue readers, who, I assume, you would expect to be most likely to fall prey to CCD are actually active Church members, and remain so throughout their lives. It just isn’t clear to me that critical thinking about the gospel is as poisonous as you suggest in the absence of other spiritual problems.

  47. Paul M. & Kevin L.

    Regarding D&C 121, I don’t think it refers to the same thing that Jeff is talking about. As I read that section, the focus seems to be how priesthood leaders should act; how they can/cannot use their authority and that an authoritarian leader is not the kind of leader God approves of.

    But if I read Jeff correctly, he is talking about the kind of followers we should be in the church. Do we heed the counsel of priesthood leaders? Or do we apply CCD to whatever they say?

  48. Here is another approach to what I think is the same topic that everyone is talking about here.

    First off, Church unity is a virtue in and of itself. God is pleased when His people are willing to humbly work together. God also seems quite keen on obedience both to Him and to his chosen servants. So if an intellectual approach to the gospel has negatively impacted your obedience or unity with your fellow saints you are in the difficult position of having to decidewhether your particular style of truth seeking is more valuable than the unity you are sacrificing.

    And I believe that obedience and unity are actually more valuable and more important than being intellectually or even factually correct in our beliefs and actions.

    After all, if the Church is working together but towards the wrong goal God can easily rectify this by chastising the prophets and giving them new direction, a pattern seen quite often in the scriptures. But if the Church is disunited and spends most of its time second guessing priesthood leadership then God is limited in how much he can direct the Church. He could still give revelation to the prophets but the Church, obsessed with over thinking everything, would be slow to listen and perhaps wrongly conclude that this particular revelation was not as important as God meant it to be.

    Which ironically suggests that it is entirely possible that insisting upon intellectually dissecting every piece of doctrine and prophetic council is actually slowing down the rate at which we could be receiving revelation for the questions we are asking.

  49. “The vast majority of Dialogue readers, who, I assume, you would expect to be most likely to fall prey to CCD are actually active Church members, and remain so throughout their lives.”

    I don’t think just being “active Church members” necessarily cuts the mustard.

  50. Paul M,

    Re: Prove me now herewith. Every instance of this that I’m aware of is a call to *action*, and more importantly *obedience*. The Lord doesn’t typically try to get us to obey his voice by citing the results of his double-blind trials. He instead asks us to conduct our own study by doing his will, with the promise that we shall then know of the doctrine. He says “Trust me”.

    Re: By their fruits. Following this instruction requires that there is a pre-existing benchmark by which to judge those fruits, which just brings us right back to the inherent tension Jeff mentioned in the OP over what that benchmark is.

    Kevin L, I think the apparent contradiciton between points 2 & 3 falls away when we consider the bounds (or rather, domain) of a given leader’s authority. The Elisha/Naaman experience springs to mind. Having misunderstood Elisha’s purposes, Naaman initially refused his instructions based on his rejection of Elisha as an authority on the relative cleanliness of rivers, while Elisha was giving counsel as an authorised servant of God to one seeking divine intervention.

    [“It is not my general practice to counsel the sisters to disobey their husbands, but my counsel is—obey your husbands; and I am sanguine and most emphatic on that subject. But I never counselled a woman to follow her husband to the Devil” – Brigham Young. (He that hath ears…etc…etc….)]

  51. Lol – I forgot to actually finish my post properly, and even worse, I’ve forgotten why this discussion made me think of that Brigham Young quote, so it shall have to remain without context! 😀

  52. Sorry about the delay guys. If anybody is still paying attention, I’ll give a few brief comments. (I do plan on making the post into a series over at where hopefully I’ll be able to unpack the points in a little more detail.

    Ivan, I really like your perspective on apologetics. I kind of feel like doing apologetics is a lot like when Jordan thought he could go pro in baseball or golf, in that there is no reason to think that just because Mormonism does so well in the religion game is no reason to think that it can or ought to perform well in the intellectual game.

    Paul, I don’t see any of those passages as supporting CCD. Again, CCD says that any claim about anything can be called into question at any time, by anybody and appeals to social position are totally out of bounds. In other words, in a certain sense the author is dead – or at least disappears – as far as speech acts go, since it is the speech act itself rather than the speaker which must stand or fall. I don’t see any of those passages supporting anything like this worldview. I might also list the number of passages which are clearly anti-intellectual in my sense of the word and wonder how you reconcile them.

    Kevin L, 1) I think you now see how I am not anti-personal revelation in any sense at all. Rather, I’m against the way in which intellectual’s use the tool of personal revelation to support CCD rather than the priesthood. 2) I also never said that you should accept everything that a priesthood leader says. They are not authorized – or at least in practice do not close all public conversations. They have very little to say regarding most academic subjects, and that’s probably for the best. 3) Again, you are trying to minimize the speaker by asking whether what is spoken is authorized by God. Only intellectuals try to change the subject in this way, for regardless of what they say, priesthood leaders have been duly ordained and authorized to speak on certain subjects. No statement was ever ordained with the priesthood. 4) Yes, there is a way in which we publicly decide which authorities we are to accept: baptism, the sacrament and other such ordinances. What the intellectual tries so hard to establish is that they are the keepers of the only set of truly binding standards by which all speech acts must be measured. Once you realize that there are different sets of rules and that CCD is merely one among many such sets, the tension between intellectualism and priesthood becomes quite obvious really. 5) To be sure, if a priesthood leader said “I am your bishop therefore you must obey me” I would be more than a little uncomfortable. The church has provided a number of ways for us to deal with situations like this, so the CCD is never needed. But seriously, how many times has a priesthood leader actually done this?

    Kristine, Your comment places a finger on a certain ambiguity in my post which I apparently did not clear up as well as I’d hoped. These Trojan Horses are not testimony slayers, but rather are seemingly innocuous moves which serve to subtly delegimitize priesthood authority. In other words, this posts isn’t about me or anybody else losing their testimony. Rather, it’s about how we reinterpret the gospel in a way which undermines the priesthood which sets Mormonism apart from other churches. It’s also worth pointing out that I claim these Trojan Horses to be ubiquitous in the ‘nacle. Many of the comments in this very post are perfect examples of intellectual Trojan Horses.

    Michael P, Very well said. I’m not talking about how priesthood leader are supposed to act, but how we are supposed to act toward our priesthood leaders.

    JSG, I like your comment, but I don’t think it’s giving the intellectuals their due. There is certainly a kind of unity which exists among intellectuals within the church (isn’t that why we are all in the ‘nacle?). What I try to do in this post is show how there is a tension between the unity within the CCD and that within the priesthood, and how strong solidarity within both communities is very, very difficult if not impossible. In other words, when the priesthood culture accuses intellectuals of sowing disunity, they simply don’t see it that way since they are critiquing speech acts rather than speakers, doctrines rather than behaviors, positions rather than testimonies.

    And Fraggle, very well put again.

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  54. Jeff. G, there’s a lot of meat here and I’m not sure I’ve taken it all in. But one pressing question I keep coming back to is about the make up of authoritative statements themselves. Or in other words, I hear apostles and other priesthood leaders use intellectual arguments to argue in favor of their (and others) authoritative statements. For example, I don’t have as much a problem with apostles saying that homosexuality is a sin because of scripture or because that’s what Jesus told them as a special witness. But as soon as they start intellectualizing that claim, it becomes a part of the CCD. And it happens frequently. In GC. In the Ensign.

  55. When I hear people claim that we shouldn’t analyze and even question *intellectual statements* from the Brethren, its sound a lot like – “don’t take it too seriously”.

  56. I don’t think intellectualizing or not is the difference here. We are supposed to use our minds and our hearts to determine truth. The fine difference is to what you give ultimate authority. Are you willing to admit that your judgment/reason may not be the ultimate authority, or are you convinced that your mind can comprehend all things better than any other source? Are you able to submit humbly, recognize an authority greater than your own, or not? Do you use scripture to justify your reason, or are you able to make your reason serve God’s chosen vessels of authority?

    Trojan horses in this sense are seemingly righteous principles, hollowed out and filled with self justification. My only reservation on this post is that I don’t believe they are limited to intellectuals. Everyone has a tendency to clothe their preconceptions in righteous outer shells, to disguise philosophies of man as the will of God.

  57. Christian, like many people in this thread, you have misunderstood who an intellectual is in this post. An intellectual, for the sake of this post, is not somebody who is smart, well-read or articulate. Yes, the priesthood leaders use very intelligent words sometimes, but they never suggest that any claim can be called into question by any person and any time. Thus, they are not the intellectuals to which I am referring.

    Again, the intellectual find himself compelled to change the subject away from the person and toward the speech act. The reason for this is obvious. Social distinctions reside in the person rather than the speech, so the intellectual represses the speaker in order to repress social distinctions. On the other hand, priesthood authority resides in the speaker rather than the speech act, so Mormonism places an immense amount of focus on the speaker. Is it not telling that so many of the people who disagree with my analysis can’t help but phrase the point in terms of the speech rather than the speaker?

    SilverRain, I can’t tell if you are responding to the post or to Christian. Either way, you’re absolutely right in thinking that intellectualizing is not the problem, since that is not what my post is about. Intellectualism, as I use it, does not describe a mental attribute or a mental activity. Rather it is simply being imbued with a culture in which social position holds no justificatory power whatsoever.

    (It is becoming pretty obvious to me what parts of the post could really use some expansion for future reference.)

  58. Jeff, I may have not been clear. I’m not saying the problem lies in Church leaders using intelligent language – of course not. I’m saying that a Church leader can use secular/academic/intellectual methods of argument to teach a principle (reason, data etc.) – instead of appealing to scripture or revelation. And sometimes those arguments fall flat for me. And sometimes I don’t think they make any sense – after repeated attempts to understand them.

    You seem to be saying that the actual words coming out of their mouths don’t matter much at all. At least not in determining whether or not to follow the counsel. And if that is the case, I wonder why our leaders bother to persuade us with words at all. Why not just stand – state a policy or revelation – declare it from God and sit down?

    I appreciate your post and am sincere in my effort to understand what you’re saying.

  59. Hmm, I think that at least one of us is misunderstanding the other. Since I’m the original author, that means it’s my fault either way.

    My post has very little to do with how the priesthood leaders (ought to) speak or act. Rather, it is about how we bloggers are supposed speak and act. I’m talking about how we treat authority and social standing. So yeah, as far as the point I’m making goes, the language that priesthood leaders use is pretty much beside the point.

  60. I don’t disagree with the post or the main thrust of its intent. However, I wonder how much a Brigham Young or Joseph Smith would agree with the thought that what matters most is the speaker’s authority, rather than the truth which comes from the speaker. (I could see them coming down on both sides depending on the situation)

    I think the answer then must be “both”. What the person in authority is saying must “speak” truth to my soul, which we’d generally say is through the power of the Holy Ghost. In other words, I can’t imagine Brigham Young practicing a nonsensical religion merely because so-and-so said to do such non-sense. But at the same time, I can imagine him doing what seems as non-sense to the world because God or Joseph Smith told him to.

    At the end of it all, it’s not the language used or even the speakers authority, in abstract. But to me it’s the witness of the spirit.

    I’d say, quite unabashedly, even though I know it causes confrontation in some circles, that the reason why what the Apostles speak seems uninspired comes down to the degree to which an individual is sanctified for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. I’ve sensed this in myself at times where I was more fully consecrating myself and I was less disagreeable, for lack of a better word, with the counsel and talks being given.

  61. “So yeah, as far as the point I’m making goes, the language that priesthood leaders use is pretty much beside the point.”

    Jeff, thanks for clearing that up. I have to wonder again though, why do apostles (for example) make a very concerted effort to make detailed arguments of persuasion? Why have GC at all?

  62. I guess I just don’t see any tension between the two things here. Why would ordaining some people with the exclusive authority to close some public discussions preclude persuasion or GC?

  63. Chris, your comment presupposes that we have access to truth which is independent of justification and legitimacy, something which is difficult for me to imagine. The point I’m trying to get at is that we can only get at truth through some path or another and the priesthood and CCD are two different and in many ways incompatible paths. Thus, the tension isn’t between priesthood position and truth, but between priesthood and CCD as ways of getting at the truth.

    I’m not sure what to think of your appeal to the holy ghost, since I pointed out how differently each tradition treats personal revelation. Each side says that confirmation of the holy spirit is of the utmost importance, but to what end? In one tradition the holy ghost is used to help people overcome doubts and decide whether or not they sustain the priesthood leader. There are no public arguments or debates to be had since the holy ghost is providing personal guidance, not objective data. The intellectual thinks that the holy ghost is a kind of empirical test of the priesthood leaders after which the results are construed as objective data which can potentially and publicly correct or even falsify the priesthood leader.

    Thus, an appeal to the holy ghost is a bit of a cop-out here, since the intellectual uses such appeals in a way which subverts priesthood authority.

  64. I think one issue that is not being addressed is what members are to do with statements that are seemingly idiosyncratic or even contradictory. Maybe the author will argue this does not happen very often. But several apostles have said in recent years that the doctrine of the church is not found in what an isolated authority says but in that which is held by the body of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Furthermore, there has been considerable attention from these very authorities that our doctrine is found in the teachings of the living prophets and in the standard works (and not in their *own* interpretations of the standard works!). In other words, our authorities seem to be contradicting your view that sources aside from prophetic statements do not matter; they clearly do. (See for example.)

    So (in jest) I’ll raise the ante: our authorities have spoken but you haven’t accepted what they have to say! They say the sources are important and you disagree!

  65. Sorry for the ambiguity, Jeff. The first paragraph of my comment was directed towards the comments, the second to your original post.

    To comments above: I don’t think many if you ate getting it. I do not hear Jeff saying that the words prophets speak don’t matter at all, but that they don’t matter each time to judge the authority of a leader.

    In other words, when someone is called to an authoritative position, of course you listen to their words, pray, and determine by the spirit if they are truly called of God.

    But, if you have already received that witness, using their words to continually measure their continuation of authority should not be the default. If you have a testimony of the Church as God’s, and if you have a testimony of the prophets’ divine callings and authority, spiritual confirmation of what they say should primarily be used to change YOURSELF, not THEM.

    The doctrinal Trojan Horses come when people teach that authority from God is meaningful only insofar as it supports the individual’s notions of what is doctrinal. It clothes itself in seeming exactly like the true doctrine of agency, but it hides the potential to entirely undermine the doctrine of authority from God. In reality, these two doctrines exist in continual tension on a personal level. But just because a leader says something you do not feel is right does not mean s/he is not speaking by divine command. It is more likely you who are outside of the norm.

    I agree with Jeff, and have found that true in my life many times as I’ve humbled myself enough to apply my mind to understanding, rather than refuting, the counsel of authority.

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