I saw a blog titled “The Alarming Truth Behind Anti-Mormonism” by Dustin Phelps this morning. I assumed it would be the kind of close minded, fundamentalistic religious thinking that I really don’t like. I will address those parts. But I think there were some decent points in this article too, which I’ll point out.
First, a general comment on the concept of “Anti-Mormonism”. Earlier this year, one of my heroes, the Mormon Apologist I look up to the most, Grant Hardy, encouraged us to retire the term “Anti-Mormon”, and I am trying to follow that example. It’s usually not a very useful term. There are Anti-Mormons. And there is true Anti-Mormonism. But generally, we overuse that term, and we apply it to anything that’s critical towards the church. You might point out a problem in American society or politics today, but that doesn’t make you an Anti-American. And the very use of that term tends to move things away from logical discussion and escalate the emotion of the argument.
Additionally, I read a recent facebook comment talking about the church, which I think is very useful. The discussion was centered around the church’s motives and intentions in how they were rolling out the Gospel Topics Essays. ie whether the motives were pure in honestly trying to be more transparent with church history or whether the motives were more cynical, ie they’re doing the bare minimum but also trying to bury and hide the essays even while publishing them. Evidence was discussed that potentially supported either side. The comment I thought that was very useful was this: “it might be helpful not to view the church as a monolith. There may be church leaders who have pure motives. And there may be church leaders that are fearful and don’t have transparency as a motive.”
So, my overall thoughts on the article are to be very careful at labeling “Anti-Mormonism” and addressing it as a whole. The author is likely combining elements of arguments from a variety of individuals and picking and choosing to create a composite view that likely may not even exist. The outcome is that you beat up a straw man and no one is really helped and a lot of people are needlessly offended in the process.
OK, so to the article. The article points out four flaws in the “Anti-Mormon” argument. And though I have spent time telling you about how this is a straw man argument, I actually think the author makes some decent points I’d like to pick out.
1. There’s Only One Credible Alternative to the Restored Gospel
The point the author is making here is that many of the arguments against the LDS church, also go against Christianity or even all religion in general. I agree, in the strict sense if you are talking about fundamentalistic religion. When we look at historical truth claims of the LDS church, such as BOM historicity, the literalness of the 1838 First Vision account*, the claims that a prophet provides God-breathed instructions from God to man (either today, or in Joseph Smith’s day, or Old Testament times), Bible literalness (Genesis creation, Tower of Babel, and even New Testament literal inerrancy).
Fundamentalistic claims like this, with rigid definitions of what exactly God did and how he did it, which are tied to events that should come with historical and scientific evidence, these are highly problematic in every religion. This is why you have progressive views evolving in most religions: Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. And now Mormonism. For these Progressives, faith in God and living a religious life does not require historical accuracy in the origins in these religions.
So, the issue is in the fundamentalism. Some claim that Mormonism has no value if the 1838 First vision account* is not word for word historically accurate. Some claim that Christianity has no value if many verses in the New Testament have dubious provenance. Some claim that Christianity and Judaism have no value if man evolved from apes. Some claim that Hinduism has no value if it could be proven the River Ganga was not created from the drops of Shiva’s hair.
So, Dustin bemoans the lack of alternatives to Mormonism, once this world view is shattered. But it’s a false premise. What is shattered here is not the veracity of all religion. What is shattered here is fundamentalistic religion. Which is a good thing. We don’t need it. Let’s bomb it and get rid of it. True religion is not about the historicity or scientific veracity of its origin claims.
* Note on my comment of the literalness of the 1838 First Vision account. As we are about to find out, if our Gospel Doctrine teachers take the brethren’s mandate to discuss the Gospel Topics Essay when they teach this this lesson, the 1838 account, while accepted as the official, canonized version, should be considered a theological statement, and not the best understanding at what actually/historically/factually occurred. That does not discredit the First Vision. There is very, very strong evidence for the First Vision. But many of the aspects of the official 1838 account are likely later add-ons to the actual historical event.
2. Crises of Faith in LDS Communities Are Really Just a Symptom of a Larger Problem
Here, the author shows evidence that religion in USA and other industrialized nations is suffering in general not just Mormonism. I agree.
No, crises of faith aren’t a Mormon problem. They’re a Humankind problem, a civilizational problem. Faith itself is weakening in Western society.
I’d like to explore why faith itself is weakening, and see if the Church can learn something from it. Bill Reel recently did a piece on this that was enlightening. I think there are three reasons.
1. Religions are promoting world views that are anti-science that educated people are finding out dated. Mormonism certainly is vulnerable in this area. We have more truth claims and they are more recent, so they are more difficult to defend, and easier for critics to point out.
2. Attitudes toward LGBT community. Many of the large religions in the US have declared war on the LGBT community. This was OK up until a few years ago, but the tide has shifted dramatically. The approval for gay marriage in the US is increasing at a very rapid rate, and among millennials, it’s very, very high. Even within the LDS church. Very simple, if religions (including Mormonism) want to survive, they need to figure out how to get everyone else in the world to hate gays again, or they need to move with society in accepting that it’s just not cool to do that. My suggestion would be the latter not the former.
3. People just aren’t connecting with the value proposition. They’re not understanding what they can get out of religion. As the proposition value switches from absolute truth to the benefits of living a religious life, outside of absolute truth, religions aren’t successfully messaging that new value proposition. The recent #lighttheworld campaign, in my opinion, was a huge example of the Church doing just that. Good job! More of that, please. Let’s focus on how we can enrich and spiritually sustain the lives of members. The message can’t be “do it because you’re going to Hell if you don’t” anymore. That message isn’t resonating. The message needs to be, come and see how how this can bless your life, today, this week.
3. Post-Modern Atheism Is Paving the Way for a New and Destructive Moral Order
From the article:
To be clear, people who become Atheists don’t suddenly become moral monsters. Their moral views shift, but they probably have more in common with the moral beliefs of their religious friends than they have in contrast.
However, one of the problems with the rise of Atheism is that it comes with delayed consequences. Like the frog in the pot of water who doesn’t jump out because the heat only gradually rises, most Atheists are unaware of where their belief system will lead society.
My Progmo and Exmo friends may not like me for this, but I kind of agree here. It’s more of a “soft agree”, but I think there’s a critical aspect to think about for those considering leaving the church, that they will lose that community, which has following Jesus Christ in serving and loving others as its primary goal. That community is not easy to replace. I don’t think I’d be a bad person without religion. But I think my focus over a lifetime would have been a little different, and I think I’m a better person for Mormonism. I wrote in the days leading up to Christmas about how Mormonism is about creating George Baileys. I don’t think it’s required to be religious or Christian or Mormon to become a George Bailey. But I think it helps.
4. The Book of Mormon Powerfully Responds to This Mindset
I love the Book of Mormon but don’t really agree with what this section is trying to accomplish. ie show that the BOM prophecies opposition to the church and defines “anti-Mormonism” as that opposition.
The author concludes acknowledging that all people doubt but selling us all on the fruits of Mormonism. I can’t disagree with that approach.
In summary, I think the blog article was good for illustrating some good, practical reasons for religion and Mormonism that are outside its origin claims.
But the article failed in a couple major ways: 1) lumping anti-Mormonism together as a monolith 2) not understanding the real enemy of this brand of “anti-Mormonism” is not Mormonism in general but more narrowly what I’ve referred to here as fundamentalistic Mormonism which Patrick Mason calls “unsustainable Mormonism”.