Friday, April 07, 2006

Those So-Called Intellectuals and Why the Mormons Excommunicate Them

Hopefully the link above will come through. It's to an article in the Wall Street Journal about D. Michael Quinn. If you want authoritative, complete history of the so-called church (TSCC) then you simply must read Quinn's books. I also encourage you to read the publications of TSCC and its apologists. You be the judge of who is giving you the straight story.

Anyway, Quinn and several others (the September 6) were excommunicated in 1993 because they insisted on publishing articles and books that the church didn't like. The correctness of their writings were never in question. The issue was their failure to obey the church leaders who had told them to stop because they cast the church in a bad light or simply because the leaders didn't like what they were saying.

Since that time the church has frequently use the term "so-called intellectuals" to refer to thoughtful people who disagree with the church based on logic and evidence. I think that the "so-called" epithet is meant to imply that they can 't really be very intellectual if they disagree with the prophet and his minions. After all, we all know how recognized Gordon Hinckley (as a sign of protest and disrespect I refuse to use his middle initial as is common practice in the church), Thomas Monson, James Faust, and Boyd Packer are for their intellectuality and academic accomplishments.

One reason they were excommunicated was to keep the church ideologically pure and in line with orthhodoxy established by its Salt Lake City headquarters. The church's leaders don't claim inerrancy in anything, which is a good thing since they've been shown to be wrong so often in the past. But, they expect the members to act as if they are inerrant. Members can disagree as long as they keep it to themselves. The church has drawn a clear line that cannot be crossed: if you disagree publicly then you will be excommunicated. They feel that if they don't do so it will appear that they condone the disagreement. They can also point to the secret oath taken in the temple to not speak evil the Lord's annointed. I guess disagreement, even based on good evidence and reason, is speaking evil. Unfortunately, many (most?) members agree with this. The prophet, and to a lesser extent all church leaders, are held in such high esteem that to question them openly is seen as a great sin.

The real reason is to besmirch the credibility of the excommunicant. To outsiders he will have an obvious axe to grind. After all, how impartial can a historian be if he is an excommunicated member? Where there's smoke, there's fire. To those inside the church the implication is much greater. They believe that non-members lack the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide their lives and aid them in the quest for truth. Apostates and excommunicants are even worse since they've had the "truth" and the Holy Ghost and have now been cut off from the divine to wallow in spiritual darkness. Any former member has been left to the buffetings of Satan and is obviously not a credible source. So, if a member sees someone reading Quinn, the next question will be, "Did you know he was excommunicated? I heard he is gay. How can you trust an openly gay, apostate, excommunicated member?" One member seriously criticized my approach to church history for even reading Quinn's books. An official in the church put in nicely.
W. Rolfe Kerr, commissioner of education for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the faith's formal name, said Mr. Quinn is "highly regarded in his discipline" and the church would not "campaign against him" for any academic post. However, Mr. Kerr said, "there may be a perception" of Mr. Quinn in the Mormon community "that would cause him, in the eyes of some, to be less acceptable."
Where did that perception come from? Perhaps from the church that forced him out from BYU and then excommunicated him? What further campaigning would they need to do? They have branded him with the church's scarlet I: Intellectual, so-called.

Take this quote for why he was not hired at the University of Utah:
"There was a concern by several of us in the department that Mike was not the right person to head up any kind of Mormon history or Mormon studies program given the fact he's very publicly excommunicated. There would be quite a number of people in the Mormon community who would look unfavorably on that. That gave me pause."
It seems that the excommunication achieved its purpose. Nothing more was necessary to destroy a scholar's reputation and ability to find employment. Note that his credentials and scholarly accomplishments were not questioned. In fact, this same person notes that Quinn is the second best LDS historian behind Bushman (and I would swap the order). The decision was based solely on the actions of the church toward Dr. Quinn.

Why is the church so worried? Straight from the horse's mouth:
Boyd Packer, one of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that helps rule the church, declared in a 1981 speech that writing and teaching about church history "may be a faith destroyer."
I wonder why that would be?

How sad that this ignorance extends to even non-Mormon institutions.

So what have the consequences been for Quinn crossing the church?
Mr. Quinn says his only significant income since leaving Yale was a $40,000 bequest from a Los Angeles doctor, contingent on his writing a biography of his late benefactor. So far, he has received $15,000, with the balance to come when the book is finished.
This has a chilling effect on academics who write about Mormonism whether they belong to the faith or not. I'll close with a telling quote that should cause you to read literature on Mormonism with a grain of salt:
"If you want to succeed in Mormon studies you have to make compromises and you have to tread gently," says Colleen McDannell, a professor of American religions at the University of Utah. "Michael would not do that."
And that is why most writing about Mormonism skims over its many problems if it addresses them at all.

I'm sure that the church is proud of itself. Mission accomplished. One man ruined to save the faith. And people wonder why former Mormons are sometimes angry and bitter.



lma said...

Thanks for the link.

One thing that stood out in the article was a comment from Professor DeConcini, of Emory University. He said that Claremont Graduate Univeristy's practice of having advisor councils of believers having a hand in hiring for endowed chairs in particular faiths "is potentially fraught with difficulties for academic freedom."

Well, yeah. But then again, the Mormon Church doesn't believe in academic freedom. I remember, back in the late 70s/early 80s, taking an institute class in the Book of Mormon. The first unit of study emphasized one thing, and one thing only: that there is no place for academic freedom in the church. I can't remember all the ins and outs of the arguement that was presented (that was a long time ago, after all), but I recall the lesson being smugly superior about not needing academic freedom when you have the "truth". I recall being shocked by that, and I also recall the institute director being shocked that I was shocked. He acted as if was a completely normal position to take.

At any rate, the whole incident was one of the first things that made me start realizing why the church made me so uncomfortable.


Rat's Arse said...

hmmmm, I guess this explains the inability or unwillingness of many Mormons, who I have met online, to be willing to discuss the church in a forthright manner. I have been an atheist for many years and enjoy talking with people about their faith. Particularly, what I see are illogical manefestations. The LDS seem particularly adept at responding to such questions with 3-4 pages responses from the church's official site. All I am looking for is what they personally believe.
Some churches do not actively discourage intellectual freedom. If it were not for the desire of the Franciscans to train free-thiners, I would still be a Catholic.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

I have heard that the CHURCH likes to go after intellectuals. ... We were in Salt Lake City to a family reunion and my husband showed the propaganda about certain writers from the Salt Lake Tribune. He found it funny and disgusting. I was sick and on high dosages of prednisone, so I don't even remember who was involved. I just thought more of the same. LOl

Matt said...

We are not angroy and bitter!

Oh... Hang on... yes we bloody well are! ;o)

And if not, we should be...

Sideon said...

I found D. Michael Quinn in my undergrad years. At the time, I never heard about (okay - I didn't pay attention to) any of the "purging" of the intellectuals. I was doing research on Henry James and the whole love letters to other men routine, before he started getting "outed."

Two very good books of Quinn: "Same-Sex Dynamics Among 19th Century Americans: A Mormon Example" and "The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power."

I hope Quinn is getting royalties on his books. That man needs a major donor. It's sad he can't get a job. Talk about blacklisting!

polarpaul said...

I think Quinn's being blackballed from academia is typical of the universities who now try to reflect the position of their financial backers and extends beyond religious studies. Acadamic freedom is no longer free it comes with a price tag. The LDS church certainly has a large political and economic influence which it isn't shy about using to promote its agenda.