Thursday, August 21, 2008

I'm an Ignorant Dumbass

I wound up on an apologetic blog reading a post about a fireside by Bushman, author of Rough Stone Rolling. Bushman stated how he was amazed at how many members were unaware of Smith's polygamy. I commented to the effect that it really isn't a wonder since the church does a good job of concealing the fact. Of course, I was courteously responded to with lengthy quotations and links to articles on FARMS, FAIR, etc. about polygamy as well as links to institute manuals and church books on the topic. I guess it was a polite way of saying, "Sir, you are an ignorant dumbass." After all, there is so much information out there that the church can hardly be accused of hiding its history.

They have a point.

And yet...

I was active in the church from birth to age 40. I rarely missed any meetings: priesthood, sunday school, sacrament meeting, ward conferences, stake conferences, general conferences, mutual, early morning seminary, institute, etc. I went to BYU for 4 years and took religion classes as required there. I served an honorable full time mission in Bolivia. I taught early morning seminary for three years. I read all of the church's standard works multiple times as well as the missionary bookshelf, and many church books such as Doctrines of Salvation, Mormon Doctrine, Comprehensive History of the Church, etc. I literally have stacks of LDS books that I read over the years. Yet somehow I didn't know that
  • Joseph Smith had an affair with married Fanny Alger.
  • Joseph Smith married a 14 year old girl
  • Joseph Smith married other men's wives
  • Joseph Smith arranged sham marriages to hide his polygamy
  • Joseph Smith married sisters living in his house for whom he was the legal guardian while spending their inheritance
  • Joseph Smith lied about his polygamy and hid it from his wife
  • Joseph Smith destroyed the Nauvoo Expositor because it exposed his practice of polygamy
  • Joseph Smith may have been tarred and feathered because he tried to have improper relations with a teenage girl living in the house where he was living as a guest. He later married this woman while she was married to another man.
  • Joseph Smith ruined the reputation of the wife of an apostle who rejected his polygamous proposal and then threatened to expose him.
  • Joseph Smith excommunicated his first counselor in the First Presidency when he tried to expose the polygamy.
There's more, but isn't that enough?

Okay. You can go to FARMS and FAIR and apologetic web sites and find this information. But the only reason you can find it is because the apologists have been forced to respond to the critics and historians who have brought the facts to light. However, good luck finding this information over at lds.org. I invite you to go look.

I'm sorry, but I may be simple minded, but I had problem accepting Joseph Smith as a prophet once I had all of the facts.

This is just one topic. There are many others where after a lifetime of membership I was completely ignorant of the rest of the story. I suspect I'm not the only active member of the church that didn't know those things. I don't remember those facts ever being presented to me. I think I would have remembered.

So the question for Bushman and the apologists really needs to be: How can a lifelong, active member not know these things? I guess they would argue that it's really not important and that if I wanted to I could have found the answers.

So, I'll accept the criticism of the defenders of the faith. I was an ignorant dumbass. But I'm not ignorant any more and I suspect therein lies the rub. As soon as I discovered the truth my eyes were opened and Joseph Smith no longer seemed like such a swell guy and I saw the church for what it is. I suspect the reality is that the church doesn't want its members to have a complete knowledge of the facts. And, to me, that is fundamentally dishonest; witholding information because you know it will cause people to reach conclusions you don't want.

Oh, the other reason I'm a dumbass is for even trying to comment on that blog. The patronizing, insulting responses made my blood boil. What the heck do I have to be defensive about? As I pointed out above it's not like I wasn't trying to read and know my religion. My only problem is that I never ventured into the realm of anti-Mormon literature and apologetics where the real information comes out.

16 comments:

erlybird said...

Bull...this is such a great post. I know that it has been said over and over and over about how frustrating it is to deal with people who, in order to have you included in a discussion, require that you begin from a level of belief, a benchmark, if you will, that is completely untenable....but you have hit the nature of the feeling right on the head.

I suggest that you swallow whatever blood boil it causes and extend this out into a full length book focusing on the second part "I was active in the church from..."

This post made me chuckle for one more reason...

My dear sister, her loving husband and their three youngest children, having lost the oldest, my nephew, to mission and subsequent marriage to his 20 yr-old first post-mission girlfriend, made a pilgrimage to the early historical sites of the Church this summer. You know, Palmyra, Kirkland, Nauvoo, etc. When they went to Chicago she, my sister, had to call another, more worldly sister of ours to find out how much to tip the valet at the hotel because she simply had no clue at all. But as I read your post, I just thought of all of them prayerfully considering the Sacred Grove and the Temple site in Nauvoo with the Prophet Joseph in their minds, his trials...his imprisonment...but none of his pedophilia...none of his shadiness. I don't like to think of my sister as an ignorant sap but there ya go.

Thanks for the post.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Oh, the other reason I'm a dumbass is for even trying to comment on that blog. The patronizing, insulting responses made my blood boil. What the heck do I have to be defensive about? As I pointed out above it's not like I wasn't trying to read and know my religion.

With all due respect, Bull, I don't feel you represented our exchange on my blog, (or even my subsequent post about plural marriage and how it is currently discussed in the church), as forthrightly as I would prefer. I didn't intend any of my responses to be patronizing, and I certainly didn't intend to imply anyone is a "dumbass."

I created a lengthy post on your comment that the Church has removed "all information" about polygamy from the manuals, etc. and said the following:

I argue that the Church has not "removed all information" regarding plural marriage and Joseph Smith from its manuals, but that it has not played anything like a prominent role in official LDS literature, and has been discussed much more in unofficial writing. The concern of the commentator does not arise from thin air, however. Many active members of the Church do not have a full grasp of polygamy, the extent to which it was practiced, how it began, the sacrifices involved, and the reasons participants gave for living "the principle."


Near the conclusion I stated Either way, I would like more explicit and specific Church-released materials dealing with plural marriage. I believe a comprehensive, academic, rigorous, and thorough study on its implementation, practice, and cessation, would do much to clear the air on the Church's standpoint regarding plural marriage. It would give average members, media personnel, Sunday school, seminary, and institute teachers a reference point. I believe we are currently seeing a trend in Church scholarship that seems more willing than the recent past to confront this difficult issue which still flies in the face of our moral sensibilities. Perhaps work on the Joseph Smith Papers project can help get a book in the works.

The entire post can be read here:
http://tinyurl.com/6k3dt7

In your desire for forthrightness in Church materials I would hope that you would likewise be more forthright in your blog post. I say this with all due respect and hope you are not offended by my so saying.

Thanks for commenting on my blog; I do appreciate it.

-BHodges

Bull said...

Life: I apologize for not providing a link to your blog. It was simply a matter of working on two computers and not having the link handy.

In communication there is the sender and the receiver. I'll take your word that you didn't intend your reply to be received the way it was. However, respectfully, I felt the way I wrote. That the way it was received. I'll acknowledge that perhaps the fault is mine.

I'm sure you didn't intend to be patronizing, but that's the way it came across to me. I think part of the point Bushman was trying to make in being "pastoral" and Petersen in "humble apologetics" is to try to understand and acknowledge the feelings of those who feel they've been deceived their whole life.

The point of my original comment was and continues to be that I didn't know and most members don't know much about polygamy because the church is not forthcoming about it and you seem to acknowledge that, but only after providing a torrent or information seeming to say otherwise.

I've read FARMS and FAIR articles on the subject. I simply didn't find the apologetics even minimally persuasive. There's a reason why you do and I don't and it has a lot to do with a willingness to answer 2 simple questions:

1) If the church isn't true, would you want to know?

2) What evidence would you accept that would convince you that the church isn't true?

I pretty much refuse to discuss Mormonism with my father and apologists unless they can answer those questions. After all, if the beginning and end of the discussion is a foregone conclusion (the church is true, and nothing can convince me otherwise) then what's the point.

Care to respond to those questions?

LifeOnaPlate said...

I think part of the point Bushman was trying to make in being "pastoral" and Petersen in "humble apologetics" is to try to understand and acknowledge the feelings of those who feel they've been deceived their whole life.

I totally agree with that pastoral approach. I completely favor it. That's why I honestly acknowledge that something more could be done in the Church to get certain information out. Your post led to me looking into the subject because I was interested to see how often plural marriage really was still included in manuals. I found it is in a considerable number of them. I promised you a follow-up post, which I created that same week despite other projects. In doing so I also hoped to give some reasons why members don't know certain things. In my subsequent post I discussed several reasons, among them the fact that the Church needs to put out some definitive statement on plural marriage, preferably even a book, to explain the practice from a theological, cultural and social standpoint. I would applaud something like that.

At the same time, I am also a stickler for accuracy (as far as I can be. That's a completely other subject.) So if I read that the Church has literally removed all references to polygamy from its materials and then find out that isn't the case I will try to be kindly forthright in correcting the false information. But I hoped to do so in a way that didn't say "see? EVERYONE should know about this." If you take the time to read my subsequent post on plural marriage you'll see what I mean.

Lastly, I've seen a lack of humility in my writing at times, and sometimes in the writing of FAIR or FARMS. (By the way, I'm not aware of much material on polygamy from FARMS at all.) This lack of humility can lead to an overly defensive tone. The irony is that those whom FARMS of FAIR may offend often turn and return in kind with offensive responses or finger-pointing. The very charity they long to feel is not demonstrated from some critics, either, even those who ask for more charity.

I hope you can take the time to read my subsequent post and see what you think. Thanks for your honest thoughts.

LifeOnaPlate said...

The point of my original comment was and continues to be that I didn't know and most members don't know much about polygamy because the church is not forthcoming about it and you seem to acknowledge that, but only after providing a torrent or information seeming to say otherwise.

I couldn't tell you how many do or don't know about polygamy. I've given reasons why it isn't a primary focus right now in the Church (far from it) and offered some viable solutions. I feel this is a good approach, rather than just pointing out a problem.


1) If the church isn't true, would you want to know?

I favor intellectual honesty. This question, frankly, can seem offensive, which is why I assume your relatives etc. aren't fond of it. I've been asked these questions by many critics, it seems to be a popular sticking point, especially for those who lean towards agnosticism and atheism. The answer is "of course."

2) What evidence would you accept that would convince you that the church isn't true?

I would accept solid, incontrovertible, decisive, evidence.

And what evidence could prove to you that the Church is what it claims to be?

LifeOnaPlate said...

Lastly, as far as you regretting posting a response, I can assure you I am also not really a fan of posting responses to undocumented assertions (true or false) in a list like the one you provided in this post. It means a lot more homework for me. I wish some critics were much more thorough and accurate ;)

Bull said...

Life, thanks for the comments and I'll be sure to read your follow up posts.

Perhaps my comment would have been more accurate if I'd said that they'd removed all of the embarrassing details. I've been thinking about this quite a bit over the last couple of days and I'll follow up with some examples of what I consider misleading practices by the church with regard to the limited space it does devote to polygamy.

But as far as being a stickler, you are correct. They do have regular references throughout the manuals to polygamy. It's just that those references don't begin to give an honest impression of the reality and in fact, intentionally or not, lead to incorrect inferences by the members.

Now, WRT to my 2 questions.

1) What is even remotely offensive about the question? It's simply asking if the person is intellectually honest and capable of considering whether or not they might be wrong. Turn the question around on my and I won't even begin to take offense. I am where I am because my answer to that question is yes. If I'm wrong about something I truly want to know. If my logic or reasoning is bad, I want the flaws pointed out to me. I've gone from being a smart ass kid to a much humbler adult who is much less prone to making definitive statements about anything.

2) The standard of "solid, incontrovertible, decisive, evidence" would seem to be an impossible standard for a belief system predicated on faith. I wouldn't even insist on that as proof that the church is true. But surely you see the problem. In the same way I can't provide that to you, you can't provide it to me either. The best that I've been able to find is systematic factual errors and deception on the part of the church and a large body of evidence that calls its fundamental claims into question.

Am I 100% sure the church is false? Nope. But my standard is more one of likelihood and preponderance of evidence. I haven't found any facts that can't be more reasonably explained in a naturalistic way than by the supernatural.

Finally, I'm not a historian nor an apologist so you won't find any footnotes in my posts. I'm pretty sure that the list is correct and the only item that is not fact is the tar and feather incident and you'll note I used the word "may" to indicate such. The rest are pretty well documented. If you aren't aware of them you are welcome to research the issue more. But, if they are true, what more is there to be said?

This really goes back to the second of the two questions. To me that list is pretty clear, incontrovertible evidence that Joseph Smith was at best a fallen prophet who was using his position of authority and power to do what many men do when they reach such positions.

Anonymous said...

Bull I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog. I will read it from start to finish. I appreciate your sense of humor. I am on the fringe to leave the Church, for the same reason you did. Did you ever Resign Officially? Or do you still leave a backdoor open?

I also like Life on plates blog. And I think he is fairminded, compared to many other mormons, who brand us doubters and seekers of truth - apostates.

I apologize for been anonymous, but I am still scared to come out.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Perhaps my comment would have been more accurate if I'd said that they'd removed all of the embarrassing details. I've been thinking about this quite a bit over the last couple of days and I'll follow up with some examples of what I consider misleading practices by the church with regard to the limited space it does devote to polygamy.


I would agree that the current manuals spend very little time on the subject, and do not provide the intimate details of the practice. Richard Bushman's RSR is a good attempt, and members can pick it up at Deseret Book. This is a good step forward, imo, though there is more to be done, as I mention in my post on polygamy.

1) What is even remotely offensive about the question? It's simply asking if the person is intellectually honest and capable of considering whether or not they might be wrong. Turn the question around on my and I won't even begin to take offense. I am where I am because my answer to that question is yes. If I'm wrong about something I truly want to know. If my logic or reasoning is bad, I want the flaws pointed out to me. I've gone from being a smart ass kid to a much humbler adult who is much less prone to making definitive statements about anything.

I honestly don't know many people who would say they wouldn't want to know if the Church actually wasn't what it claims to be. The question comes across as assuming that the questioned is operating in bad faith, and that can be offensive. I just find it annoying.


2) The standard of "solid, incontrovertible, decisive, evidence" would seem to be an impossible standard for a belief system predicated on faith. I wouldn't even insist on that as proof that the church is true. But surely you see the problem. In the same way I can't provide that to you, you can't provide it to me either. The best that I've been able to find is systematic factual errors and deception on the part of the church and a large body of evidence that calls its fundamental claims into question.

Am I 100% sure the church is false? Nope. But my standard is more one of likelihood and preponderance of evidence. I haven't found any facts that can't be more reasonably explained in a naturalistic way than by the supernatural.


I've found many of the "naturalistic explanations" to me much less explanatory and fruitful than the "supernatural." Kuhn, a philosopher of science, talked about viewing things through various paradigms. I feel that the ones presented by Metcalfe, Vogel, Palmer, and others to be full of more holes, problems, unexplained phenomena than the explanation offered by Joseph Smith. That is something that would take much more time to detail, and I do not have that time right now.

Finally, I'm not a historian nor an apologist so you won't find any footnotes in my posts. I'm pretty sure that the list is correct and the only item that is not fact is the tar and feather incident and you'll note I used the word "may" to indicate such. The rest are pretty well documented. If you aren't aware of them you are welcome to research the issue more. But, if they are true, what more is there to be said?

I'm aware of a very good deal of various accusations regarding JS and plural marriage. I'm aware of some of the terrible problems it caused. I also believe, however, that there is a great deal of undocumented speculation on the subject, and historians should take care in their presentation of evidence and consider their sources very carefully.

As far as using his position, I don't see JS as doing that. I see him fulfilling what he really believed was a command from God, and even asking his most trusted and beloved friends to do the same. I also must take care not to commit the fallacy of presentism when dealing with the subject of plural marriage.

Again, thanks for all your thoughts, Bull.

And as for you, "anonymous," you're a coward!

hehe ;) Thanks for the kind words.

Bull said...

Actually, I think even Bushman admits that RSR doesn't really address polygamy thoroughly since it has already been covered so well by others. If you want the details you should read Mormon Polygamy or In Sacred Loneliness. Both are thorough unbiased treatments of the subject. I found FARMS response to the latter and the author's rebuttal particularly enlightening.

WRT to question 1). You'd be surprised. I had a friend struggling with his faith and he never could answer the question. However, my father's response is also typical: "Of course I'd want to know. But the question is ridiculous since it's so obviously true." Even you took a paragraph before responding. It's what makes apologetics so successfull; the faithful dearly want to believe and really don't want to have their bubble popped. The question doesn't assume bad faith; it just asks the questioned to consider their biases in the same way the consider the biases of the non-believing.

WRT 2) Because of the lenses we view the world through and the inherent biases they introduce I really doubt that any evidence that could be found would satisfy you. I believe that there are at least 3 things that are pretty conclusive and as a result they have produced a huge quantity of apologetics. I've read the apologetic responses and just had to shake my head in disbelief. It would seem that any evidence against the church's claims, can be explained away.

Bull said...

Anon: I don't think you are a coward :) After all I'm still officially a member.

I feel for you. It's pretty traumatic to experience such a radical change in belief and the consequences on friends and family can be pretty bad. I hope my blog helps in some way.

LifeOnaPlate said...

PS- you never really fully answered my question: What would convince you the Church is what it claims to be?

Bull said...

My answers:

1) Of course

2) More evidence for the church's claims than evidence against them. A lack of contradictions. Explanations that obey Occam's Razor.

By the way, I have a BS detector firmly in place. It's summarized very well in Carl Sagan's "Demon Haunted World". I guess that it would be helpful to understand that if you want to understand what I'll consider as evidence rather than BS. And it might be helpful to understand that I'm an engineer whose profession is logic verification; my job is to break stuff or figure out how to break stuff so I tend to think critically.

LifeOnaPlate said...

In that case I am surprised you took Sagan's anti-religious polemics at face value. I thought DHW had some good points and some very tenuous points. He clearly lacks any legitimate experience in studying religious history in any other way than polemical. His is a slightly more sophisticated version of the Hitchens style pop-atheism.

Bull said...

Oh, so you've read the book? Or are you trusting the polemic in the FARMS review?

The subtitle is "Science as a Candle in the Dark" and the thesis is the dangers or irrationality and the time tested value of the scientific method for evaluating truth.

I'm honestly perplexed at what objections anyone can have with the book unless they believe in witchcraft, alien abductions, think the earth is flat, think the holocaust never happened or think that ad hominem attacks, circular logic, and appeals to questionable authority are valid means for supporting their beliefs.

I've discovered a huge hole in question number 2. Some people fall into all kinds of traps and accept all kinds of questionable things as "evidence." I guess there needs to be some common ground in understanding what is and isn't valid evidence.

That's the whole point behind demon haunted world.

I'm actually not surprised that religious people dislike the book. It points out the problems with a lot of religious people's cherished methods for finding "truth" and the stupid and sometimes hideously immoral things that such methids justify. But It's specifically NOT anti-religious. It's pro-reason and pro-science. It's against irrationality and flawed logic. It's as useful in combating flawed in politics or any other field as much as in religion.

LifeOnaPlate said...

I'm not speaking strictly from a religious standpoint, I am saying historically his book is flawed. Have you read Kuhn yet? He's a good one to check into. ;)