Around the blogs: Mormon Stories and Bridge Building

Mormon Stories is no longer “open, honest, respectful”; however, they are now “building bridges.” In the new tagline, that is. In any case, I thought I would highlight John’s interesting post on the topic.

John writes: “Anti’s force the church to be open, honest, and accurate. Anti’s help inspire change within the church. Apologists force the anti’s to be credible, accurate, and thoughtful. They keep anti’s on top of their game, so to speak. In the end, I believe that they are all both fighting for very similar things, and almost united in a common cause.”

An unorthodox view, to be sure, but not an uninteresting one; John’s is a post that should be interesting to anyone involved in apologetics. (However, I have to warn that about one glaring weakness in the post — John mentions Lou Midgley prominently, but does not elaborate on whether there was fondue.)

32 comments for “Around the blogs: Mormon Stories and Bridge Building

  1. August 7, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    An unorthodox view, to be sure, but not an uninteresting one.

    Nor one likely based in fact either.

  2. DKL
    August 7, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    Come on, Kaimi. John’s failure to mention the fondue story is unfortunate, but I don’t think that it can seriously be taken to impugne his views about the role of antis and of apologists.

    John isn’t doing the usual recital of pro or anti positions, and by talking about the roles of each, I think that he’s helping advance the dialogue beyond where it currently sits (which, I think everybody has to agree, is in a pretty poor place). Anyway, here’s a cartoon that is tangentially related to this kind of thing, insofar as it has to do with viewing old material with new eyes.

  3. Ronan
    August 7, 2006 at 4:02 pm

    I’m not quite sure what John means by “anti”? Are we in Ed Decker territory? Or does he have in mind writers like Dan Vogel?

    I can think of one instance where it could be argued that scholars helped in some way to “inspire change” in the Church: Mauss’s and Bush’s writings on blacks and the priesthood. But I wouldn’t call them “antis” in a million years (quite the opposite in fact). So who are these “antis” who have “inspired change” in the Church?

  4. Seth R.
    August 7, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    I just posted this response over at the “Mormons and Catholics” blog (with slight editing):


    “Mormon apologetics has been a bit spoiled throughout the twentieth century.

    Thus far, the only people who have bothered to respond to the Mormon position, are amateurs, ideologues, and dedicated counter-cultists.

    Their work has always been sloppy, inflamatory, and often gets its facts completely wrong (or blatantly distorts them). It has been a simple matter for FARMS and other Mormon apologetics to discredit them. The result is that Mormons have a false sense of cockiness about the strength of their theological and historical position.

    Like a victorious fifth-grader who gets cocky after he successfully fights an obnoxious first-grader who challenged him to an after-school fight.

    I do hope that my religious community gets more opportunities to engage and debate with the truly serious scholars of Roman Catholicism, Evangelism, and others. So far, such luminaries have either failed to notice Mormonism, or have considered it unworthy of engagement. It’s a loss for all of us. ”

    [end quote]

    Dig in.

  5. Costanza
    August 7, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    I think you nailed it Seth.

  6. Kaimi Wenger
    August 7, 2006 at 5:32 pm

    That’s the thing, Ronan. John applies the term “anti” to folks like Metcalfe, Vogel, Quinn, and so forth.

    Now, in some ways that’s probably reflective of the average church-member’s view. However, I don’t think that the many of the T&S readers and participants — Nate Oman, Clark Goble, J. Stapley, etc — would consider folks like Quinn or Metcalfe to be anti-Mormons. I may be misjudging, but I think that many nacle participants are comfortable with the idea of a group of post-Mormon scholars who discuss Mormonism in sometimes critical ways but who are not anti-Mormons in the classic sense (driven by the agenda that everything the church does is bad), and who are more interested in a scholarly examination.

    Peoples’ classificatory schemes are going to differ. We can probably agree on the poles. Decker and God-Makers are anti by anyone’s definition. Todd Compton probably (hopefully) isn’t. Or if we have to go further for a definitely-not-anti pole, Richard Bushman.

    Some of the in-between spots are going to include Metcalfe and Vogel and Quinn and the Toscanos and Lavina Fielding Anderson, and so forth.

  7. August 7, 2006 at 5:45 pm

    Yep kaimi, not anti’s at all.

  8. Ben
    August 7, 2006 at 6:27 pm

    Seth, what of Mosser, Owen, and the rest of the EV New Mormon Challenge crew?

  9. Scotth
    August 7, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    So what you are saying, Kaimi, is that there needs must to be opposition in every thing (or something like that)? I agree. I’ve often thought that the church gets some of its best revelations when receiving outside, or “anti”, opposition, ie ending polygamy and racial discrimination in the priesthood.

  10. Mark Butler
    August 7, 2006 at 7:42 pm

    2 Nephi 2:11 is almost certainly one of the most misinterpreted scriptures in the Mormon world:

    For it must needs be, that *there is* an opposition in all things.

    Note that the scripture does *not* say:

    “For it must needs be, that *there should be* an opposition in all things.”

    The first statement is in the land of metaphysical possibility, what possibilities must exist in order for existence to make sense. The second statement is a moral statement, implying that if we do not have a manifiest opposition, we should go create one, to restore balance to the force, or something like that.

    The first statement is perfectly consistent with the scriptures. The second statement makes God the author of sin.

  11. pjj
    August 7, 2006 at 9:53 pm

    I’m not sure that John considers Quinn to be “anti”. I’m also very uncomfortable with ANYONE labelling other people as apostate, anti, whatever.

  12. heironymous potter
    August 7, 2006 at 10:52 pm

    Aren\’t the Sunnis and Shiias building bridges in the Middle East? They\’ve been around a lot longer than the Mormon apologists and the anti\’s, and boy do the Shiia\’s and the Sunni\’s keep each other on there toes.

  13. August 8, 2006 at 1:33 am

    Hey all!

    A couple of clarifications…

    –No fondue, dang it. The best we could muster was bread sticks w/ marinara sauce. I will say though, that Lou has some AMAZING stories. The guy knew folks like Henry Moyle, etc. Wow.

    –I must confess that I used the term anti rather sloppily. What I meant was…the opposite of a TBM, whatever that is. Non-believer maybe? What is the right term for someone who does lots of LDS history from the standpoint that that none of these things likely are what TBMs believe them to be?

  14. DKL
    August 8, 2006 at 1:40 am

    Mark Butler, you don’t need that statement to make God the author of sin. The reason people are still taking stabs at the problem of evil is because nobody has succeeded in solving it. Moreover, since Kant discovered that recognizing a moral authority involves a moral judgment that is anterior to that authority, there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable way to make God the author of righteousness in any meaningful, non-tautological sense. Thus, we have a worst-of-both worlds type of situation: God creates everything that we consider evil, but he’s only good insofar as our own moral judgment esteems him to be.

    Given the basic inability to make any sense at all of these problems within the theological framework of Mormonism, the only thing that can really be said is that God doesn’t do us one bit of good when it comes to choosing right vs. wrong. (This is, for example, in contrast to the way that manners work in England relative to the Queen. The Queen actually gives the English something meaningful to go on. Not so with God.)

  15. Mark Butler
    August 8, 2006 at 9:51 am

    DKL, I think youe argument is based on an insufficiently subtle either/or type of argument. It is true that no one can solve the problem of evil under such premises. However, those premises are wrong, because they are unnecessarily totalizing.

    The first principle of morality is what Joseph Smith taught regarding the eternality of spirit-intelligences in the King Follett Discourse – namely that personal, concious spirits are uncreate and uncreateable – That we have been souls with intelligence, perception, and free will for all eternity.

    The second principle is that suffering is unavoidable aspect of personal existence. This is implied by, among other things the necessity of a suffering atonement in order to accomplish the Lord’s purposes in salvation.

    These two principles alone are sufficient to establish a natural law of morality along the lines of Thomas Hobbes, not a natural law of the first type, a law that cannot be violated, but a natural law of the second, a natural standard that though not self-enforcing, is recognized by all intelligent beings as being manifest in the very nature of existence, once one accepts the principle that suffering ahould be minimized.

    Now the problem here is two fold – first, natural law of the second type is not self enforcing, and second, the natural law of morality is not very specific – there are numerous possibilities for a rational social order that seeks to maximize peace and happiness, and it is not at all obvious, especially prior to the body, which one is to be preferred.

    And that is where the plan of salvation comes in – salvation meaning that plan authored by God and sustained by common consent that is prepared to lay the foundation for lasting peace and joy of all mankind. It is much more specific than any natural law of morality could ever be – in other words it is an ordinate law, not a natural law. However, no ordinate law could possibly succeed while flouting the natural law of morality, e.g.salvation is impossible on a principle of hate. The basis of the law of love is a natural law, not an ordinate law. However, the obligation to love God with all ones heart, might, mind, and strength is an ordinate law that goes far beyond anything implied in the natural law, while consistent with the same.

    The irony of course about even the natural law of morality, is that despite being obvious, the natural man is characterized more in the abeyance of natural law of morality than in the fulfilment thereof. All moral laws require effort to fulfil. So one might say simply that divine law is an expanded implementation of the natural law of morality – a law that exists only in the mind prior to effort to implement the same.

    So the problem of evil is trivial – spirit-intelligences have free will, and the most probable state for an ensemble of souls is for every one to seek his own will, without regard for the will of others. It is like the prisoner’s dilemma – the principles of greater success are available to reason, but do not implement themselves. We must freely choose to follow a higher law, first the natural (obvious) law of morality, and then the divine law of morality – both laws which are ultimately followed for the same reasons – that greater peace and happiness are available in unity and cooperation than in division and dissent.

    So there is an natural good, and a divine good, and a natural evil, and a divinely defined evil. A natural evil is the transgression of the natural (obvious) law of morality. A divine evil is the transgression of the divinely ordained law of morality. Both are properly called sin, for sin is the transgression of the law.

    The natural law of morality is sufficiently flexible that a divine law may temporarily override it to fulfil a recognized higher good, but no divine law can be established in complete apathy to the natural law.

    I see no problem at all in the schema I have just outlined. Am I missing something?

  16. pjj
    August 8, 2006 at 10:42 am

    John, I’m not sure that you should see this as a dichotomy– TBMs and whatever else. I’d say there are at least three positions on the spectrum, and probably more like four. If I’m listing 4– and here I am labelling– I’d say:
    Polemicists– which included some of FAIR and other apologists (This kind of stuff would not be publishable in a referred journal.
    Scholars of LDS history/culture etc who are faithful members of the church and would not publish anything that reflected badly on the church, even if they knew about it. Other apologists fit here. (Some of this kind of writing would make it into a referred journal of something like western history.)
    Scholars of LDS history/culture etc who might or might not be members of the church, and who work from the perspective of trying to acurately write about the history and doctrine, no matter whether it’s “faith-promoting” or not. I think that this group has a bit more tendency to see us in the larger world, not at the center of the world. This group is probably the most likely to be publishable in a scholarly journal.
    People who write about Mormon history in a way designed to tear down the church. Probably wouldn’t publish anything positive even if they found it. Some of it is accurate, much is probably exagerrated. Definitely wouldn’t make it into a referreed scholarly journal.

  17. Lulu
    August 8, 2006 at 10:47 am

    “I must confess that I used the term anti rather sloppily. What I meant was…the opposite of a TBM, whatever that is. Non-believer maybe? What is the right term for someone who does lots of LDS history from the standpoint that that none of these things likely are what TBMs believe them to be?\”

    The term you\’re looking for, John, is simply \”scholar.\”

  18. DKL
    August 8, 2006 at 10:48 am

    Mark: I don’t think I understand what you’re talking about with natural laws. I take these to be generalized descriptions of individual events, generally taking the form of a formula or a function–the kind of thing that a classicaly impericist would say is arrived at by induction. Though we call them “laws,” they’re not legislated (much less “ordained” in any sense). I don’t think its’ altogether sensible to say that we can “override” these descriptions or “transgress” them.

    I’ll grant that there is a very crude sense in which Mormons use the term “law” to mean “commandment,” but that doesn’t make the “Law of Chastity” into a natural law. It’s still just a commandment. If not, who can we petition to get it repealed? (Wouldn’t that be nice…)

    Even so, I’m always confused to hear people claim that the doctrine of eternal intelligences somehow solves the problem of evil. It doesn’t. When God banished Satan from Heaven, why didn’t he banish him to someplace where he wouldn’t have access to mortals on earth?

  19. Mark Butler
    August 8, 2006 at 12:13 pm


    There are natural laws of two sorts. The first is that which is self-enforcing, and inevitable in effect. The second is ideal, non-self enforcing, and rather evitable in temporality. This is not some new thing that I invented. The discussion of natural law of the second sort has been a hallmark of philosophy since the beginning, only recently suffering neglect due to the denial of free will, which is the only thing that gives natural law of the second sort (or morality, period) any sort of meaning.

    Free will is the only principle by which the possibility of a distinction between “ought” and “is” can be maintained. Natural law of the first sort is an “is”. Natural law of the second is an “ought”. Divine law is an implementation of natural law of “ought”.

    I understand the answer to the last question being roughly that Satan (as a person) is not the root of all evil. The father of all lies is sort of an honorary title. We are more than capable of sinning without external temptation:

    But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
    (James 1:14-15)

    In short we do not need Satan at all. The world would be nearly as evil without him. The belief to the contrary is enormously naive in my opinion.

  20. Mark Butler
    August 8, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    Here is a nice little paper that outlines the tension of natural law vs. positive law:

    Miroslav Ivanovic, Socrates’ Last Error, ICSR

    Thomas Aquinas, the founder of the school of natural law, thought that there was a difference between man-made, (i.e., positive and imperfect) laws and the unchangeable and unamendable natural law. Consequently, there could not be any automatic moral obligation in respect to positive, man-made laws. In fact, only just laws could command our respect:

    “Therefore, an order has the force of law only when it is just. And in the realm of human acts something can be considered as just when it is governed by the rule of reason. But the first rule of reason is the law of nature… Consequently, every human law has just so much of the nature of law as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it departs from the law of nature it is no longer a law but a perversion of law”

    This statement implies that a law must be based on correct reasoning and natural law. Otherwise, we are not dealing with a law but with its perversion. The school of natural law tended to deny the status of laws to unjust laws, …

  21. DKL
    August 8, 2006 at 1:08 pm

    Mark, I don’t think that has anything to do with it. The “Law of Chastity” is simply a commandment, and has nothing to do with Aquinas’s notion of natural laws.

    In any case, I’m not talking about positive, man-made laws. I’m talking about natural laws. Natural laws are simply descriptions of observed regularities. You may posit something “real” beyond them, but this “real” thing can’t possibly be anything more than some regularity that the description aims to capture. There’s no meaningful way to attach a moral obligation to a natural regularity alone. It’s a category mistake to say of a natural law that it’s just or unjust. It just is.

    And whether or not the world would be as nearly as evil with or without Satan is beside the point. If Satan adds one iota of evil to this world, then God is the author of that evil. That’s all that’s required to foil any proposed solution to the problem of evil.

    Free will has nothing to do with natural law. Free will is just a framework that we use to ascribe blame and credit for actions.

    But just so we’re clear what you’re talking about, please give an example of a natural law that is not merely a commandment, and explain how it can be violated.

  22. Mark Butler
    August 8, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    DKL, Aquinas would beg to differ. He would say that God created man to be chaste, and that it is a corruption of his nature for him not to be.

    I would say something slightly differemt, based on the idea of a first order natural law independent of God, that gives rise to a second order natural law according to natural reason, that gave rise to the plan of salvation, the divine design of the body, and commandments for the natural fulfilment of that plan. However, chastity must resolve to a natural good, or God is strictly arbitrary, and we would have no means of distinguishing God from the devil. That is the rock that medieval theology foundered upon – they simply could not deal with the idea of absolute power in God. Neither can we, and that is why the notion of a natural law of morality is a necessity. Absolute power in temporality is a bottomless pit.

    Now at this point, I think we are on a threadjack to a threadjack. My original complaint was that the idea that we need to actualize a moral opposition is in fact immoral. We do not need atheists to keep the theists honest, for example.

    In my opinion, what we need are more perceptive theists who pursue the consequences of their belief, proving contraries that truth may be manifest, not just throwing anything out they cannot understand. I don’t see how religion makes sense without free will, and the world of the spirit. Denying the latter as a matter of principle seems to be the end of religion, not the salvation thereof.

    Can Mormonism mean anything without a God in heaven who ministers unto us in explicit terms in this day and age? What is the objective of those non-anti-Mormons who deny the miracles of the spirit? Is it not to politely hijack the moral capital of Mormonism to build some ethical system of man made origin, contrary to the intent of the founders?

    Those are not anti-Mormons of the sort who would like to see us wither on the vine, but seemingly they are of the sort who see a rather different long term prospect than the true believers, more like a super social movement, rather than a restoration of a divine order of things.

  23. DKL
    August 8, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    I’m still not clear about what your proposed natural law is. It appears to be that unchaste behavior corrupts mans nature. Absent a moral judgment that such corruption is bad, that has no normative content at all. Any such moral judgment must be anterior to God’s own moral system, and therefore independent of it (as I mentioned earlier, refering to Kant).

    Anti-mormons have changed church policy for the better, and people who say otherwise are simply blind. Time was, the church kept every embarrasing document under lock and key. Long before they started their long career of editorializing against church doctrines and having fondue with George Smith, the Tanners first started out publishing “sensitive” documents that were leaked to them from within the church archives and other collections. Don’t kid yourself: if antis hadn’t have published all the stuff that they did, the church probably would have never taken a more open stance towards its collections. In fact, to this day, I think that it’s safe to say that the primary motivation the church has to publish sensitive historical documents is to avoid embarrasment if they are leaked. Everyone interested in serious history owes the antis a their gratitude in this regard.

    I also think that you have to take a pretty revisionist view of history to suppose that the criticism of the church’s policy on blacks had no impact at all on the decision to give them the priesthood.

  24. Mark Butler
    August 8, 2006 at 4:39 pm

    I suspect neutral academic scholarship would have brought all of this into the open without any help from the diehard antis like the Tanners. Bringing facts out is one thing, spinning them to paint the worst possible picture is quite another.

    I grant of course that anyone who with a proper degree of restraint, and through channels that are available to them (including the press if no others are available) make reasonable and rational critiques of unsound policies or doctrines. The risk is, however that such criticism is from the perspective of mortal men, and not from the perspective of God. How can we be sure that something that doesn’t make any sense to us doesn’t have a perfectly good reason from an eternal perspective?

    Now I consider the denial of priesthood to males of black descent to be bad theology – because it denies the doctrine of adoption and the precedent of patrilineality as well. After all, Ham was a son of Noah, so presumably all the sons of Ham are potentially natural heirs to the priesthood, and not just adoptive heirs, assuming of course that Ham is the patrilineal ancestor in question.

    Now on the question of natural law, I agree that from any perspective a natural law only makes sense if it is atemporal. Ockham and others made such a distinction. I know of no classical Mormon theologies that do not have any concept of natural law independent of God. It is a leading doctrine of the Book of Mormon – otherwise the necessity of a suffering Atonement in the context of God’s purposes in salvation makes no sense. That is why the Atonement makes no sense to most Christians – they cannot conceive why God should suffer, let alone require suffering on the part of anyone else. It is a first class mystery even to those that verily maintain that Christ did indeed suffer beyond comprehension.

  25. manaen
    August 8, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    Back to Kaimi’s original posting:

    I read an interesting photo booklet about martial arts. It contained the observation that your opponent is, in a way, your best friend because he is the most diligent in finding and showing you your remaining deficiencies to cure. This also can be true with an Anti opponent, with the notable difference that a martial artist is limited to exposing true deficiencies but I know Antis do not recognize this limitation.

    If one is willing to learn and to grow from these experiences, the process is similar to Eth 12:27, And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

  26. Mark Butler
    August 8, 2006 at 6:42 pm

    Hopefully, however, your martial arts opponent is not trying to kill you.

  27. Kaimi Wenger
    August 8, 2006 at 6:46 pm


    I Kant understand a word you’re saying.

  28. Mark Butler
    August 8, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    DKL (#23),

    Anterior to God in fundamentals, yes. I am advocating a principle by which divine law must be consistent with natural law in virtually the same sense that Aquinas was saying that a human law must be consistent with natural law, to carry the force of law (be morally obligatory) at all.

    I further say that it is contrary, not just to divine law, but to natural law for an individual to seek to tear down and destroy the civil work of others. God has that kind of last resort authority, of course, for the same reason that government has that kind of authority. However, we do not endorse those who write anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, or anti-Islamic screeds, for example – it is both uncivil and un-Christian.

  29. DKL
    August 8, 2006 at 7:31 pm

    Mark, even if natural law worked the way that you claim it does, it hasn’t the slightest impact on the problem of evil. God is the author of evil no matter how you cut it.

    What you’re saying about the church’s policy for documents and disclosure is just plain false. In fact, the church has repeatedly out-and-out lied about history in order to preserve appearances. For example, before Wesley Walters (an anti-Mormon) discovered the court records in 1969 that proved that Joseph was found guilty of glass-looking, the church denied that Joseph was arrested (though the evidence was overwhelming even before this document was uncovered when considered from a dispassinoate poiont of view). If I recall correctly, Nibley goes to great pains in his silly little pamphlet to try to discredit Brodie’s (correct) story about Joseph’s trial. And then there’s the Mountain Meadows Massacre. You’ve got a naive view of the Church’s history department if you think that their primary concern isn’t PR.

    Kaimi, I can understand where you’re coming from. It strikes me as odd that if I were Immanuel Kant, then this sentence would be about me.

  30. Mark Butler
    August 8, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    DKL, I do not recall making any statements about Church historical policy in this thread. I do not find what you say remarkable – though I do not approve.

    If we had another forum, I would like to hear your explanation for how God is the author of evil. I radically disagree, except in the sense that God often influences the outcome of the work of evil doers so as to best serve his own ends, e.g. influencing them to wreak havoc upon the wicked instead of the righteous, or even on the righteous when they actually deserve it. But in that sense he is the differential author of good, not a true contributor to evil, where good and evil are defined properly (long run not short), that is.

  31. manaen
    August 8, 2006 at 8:11 pm

    25. Oops — “I know Antis do not recognize this limitation” should read, “I know Antis who do not recognize this limitation”

    26. MB: ;->

  32. August 9, 2006 at 4:58 am

    Okay, Mark and DKL, I’m inviting you to continue your discussion over at Purim if you’d like. I’d like to hear more of it and have written a post to call home if you will: “The Lucifer-God Theory

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