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soren

Why ONUG Is Poor

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I was writing a post for Richard Abanes "FAIR Exposed" thread, when it got shut down for nastiness and cheap shots among the participants. I fear that will happen to this thread too, but I will venture to point out some of the reasons why spotting the problems in Abanes' book does not require anyone to read a FAIR or FARMS review. I should know, because I did not need to when I read it.

"One Nation Under Gods" was probably one of the first five books I ever read on Mormonism. While Abanes has defended the reputability of his book on the basis of its high sales, I can attest that the only reason I bought it was that I was looking for a comprehensive history of Mormonism and only one book on the store shelf claimed to be such. Many crummy books get sold in just this way: by superior distribution and marketing, while many excellent texts collect dust.

I read ONUG with no particular expectations, but could quickly tell from the internal evidence of the text that it was a piece of sensationalism. The reddest flag to indicate this was the absense of any interaction with alternative viewpoints. (Even The God Delusion is a more balanced polemic.)

A second obvious evidence of ONUG's sensationalism is its expository structure, which is determined mainly by rhetorical considerations. One of the strangest things I noticed in the book is that although its title alludes to polytheism, the subject of plurality of gods does not crop up until late in the book after Abanes has primed his reader to be shocked by it. Abanes gives the history of polygamy right from the start with his account of Joseph Smith, but he refrains from explaining the relationship between polygamy, celestial marriage, and exhaltation until he has chronicled all kinds of bad things about polygamy in Utah. Why this delay?

If I were writing a history that involved the weird and disturbing practices of a given group of people, I would begin with the explanation first, becasue that is what makes it possible for a writer to maintain a sympathietic stance towards his subject. It would increase the reader's sympathy for Mormon polygamists to know that they were trying to obey a divine commandment, which made sense within a particular worldview. Yet for a reader to learn first about their actions with little of the deeper explanation makes the Mormons seem instantly odious. I don't remember if it was Abanes who compared early Mormons taking wives to children let loose in a candy shop, but that analogy certainly coincides with the depiction he gives. Only after painting polygamy in the worst colors does he pull out the big guns by revealing its startling theological underpinnings. At this late point in the narrative, the explanation does not make them sympathetic, but drives the wedge deeper in.

Apart from dramatic impact, what does the book gain by following such a structure? It certainly does not gain in factual or analytical content, because withholding the explanation for the behavior of the Mormons actually makes the story less intelligible. It seems that the author sacrifices expository order in favor of shock value. Reading Abanes as a non-Mormon with only a little background in LDS history and theology, I could still discern a botpoiler when I was reading one.

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I would say that Abanes' approach is the antithesis of antithetical to what we tend to find in Church curriculum. As Abanes tends to focus on the negative aspects of Mormonism at the exclusion of context that would make those aspects appear less sensational. The Church curriculum does just the same but opposite, generally focusing on positive aspects at the exclusion of context that would make those aspects appear less sensational. Both are agenda driven, and both are effective at achieving those agendas. Church curriculum seeks to win converts and affirm the faith. Abanes' book discourages potential converts and undermines the Mormon faith.

Edit for clarity.

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I complete agree with the original post.

However, I really dont like giving this book more undeserved publicity. This is exactly what Richard wants.

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I would say that Abanes' approach is the antithesis of what we tend to find in Church curriculum. As Abanes tends to focus on the negative aspects of Mormonism at the exclusion of context that would make those aspects appear less sensational. The Church curriculum does just the same but opposite, generally focusing on positive aspects at the exclusion of context that would make those aspects appear less sensational. Both are agenda driven, and both are effective at achieving those agendas. Church curriculum seeks to win converts and affirm the faith. Abanes' book discourages potential converts and undermines the Mormon faith.
I don't agree with this analogy. Everybody is always complaining about how whitewashed LDS literature is. While I agree with that criticism in part, I must admit that I have taught sunday school at my own Catholic Church as well as history classes at a junior high, where I used extremely oversimplified, white-washed texts. Is that a bad thing in itself? No, because the innocence of children is a factor in the way you choose your content. Also, when your are teaching something at a church, you are trying to focus on things that incline the imagination towards worship rather than give a full exposition.Abanes's book, however, has a totally different context, purpose, and audience. When you write a polemic against another position you have far more responsibility to represent the other side favorably than at any other time.
I complete agree with the original post.However, I really dont like giving this book more undeserved publicity. This is exactly what Richard wants.
I don't think enough people read these posts to give his book sales that big of a boost.

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I don't think enough people read these posts to give his book sales that big of a boost.

I just bought 12 copies!

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I read ONUG with no particular expectations, but could quickly tell from the internal evidence of the text that it was a piece of sensationalism. The reddest flag to indicate this was the absense of any interaction with alternative viewpoints. (Even The God Delusion is a more balanced polemic.)......

Apart from dramatic impact, what does the book gain by following such a structure? It certainly does not gain in factual or analytical content, because withholding the explanation for the behavior of the Mormons actually makes the story less intelligible. It seems that the author sacrifices expository order in favor of shock value. Reading Abanes as a non-Mormon with only a little background in LDS history and theology, I could still discern a botpoiler when I was reading one.

Thank you for taking the time to post this. It is always very interesting to read nonmembers' reactions and your summary was very informative about why you reacted that way.

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I would say that Abanes' approach is the antithesis of what we tend to find in Church curriculum. As Abanes tends to focus on the negative aspects of Mormonism at the exclusion of context that would make those aspects appear less sensational.

The Church is not interested in sensationalism, period.

That said, the Church does not sanitize its history in a way directly antithetical or converse to Richard's treatment. If that were so, the Church would suppress The Book of Mormon, modern revelation, exclusivistic claims to priesthood authority, the Law of Chastity, the Word of Wisdom, the Law of Tithing, and all the other claims that give people heartburn.

Most of the "sensational"-type topics that Richard and his ilk emphasize are not relevant to the core doctrines of the Church, and so are not reflected in the Church curriculum. So while Richard and his compatriots relish discussions about the Mountain Meadows Massacre (Richard even recently slurred a Latter-day Saint by suggesting the LDS fellow would have participated in the massacre had he been there), that event has no relevant to what the Church is trying to teach its members.

The expectation that the LDS Church should lard its curriculum with every cherry-picked controversy from its history is absurd.

The Church curriculum does just the same but opposite, generally focusing on positive aspects at the exclusion of context that would make those aspects appear less sensational.

It does not.

Both are agenda driven, and both are effective at achieving those agendas. Church curriculum seeks to win converts and affirm the faith. Abanes' book discourages potential converts and undermines the Mormon faith.

The two approaches to LDS history and doctrine are not symmetrical.

-Smac

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I would say that Abanes' approach is the antithesis of what we tend to find in Church curriculum. As Abanes tends to focus on the negative aspects of Mormonism at the exclusion of context that would make those aspects appear less sensational. The Church curriculum does just the same but opposite, generally focusing on positive aspects at the exclusion of context that would make those aspects appear less sensational. Both are agenda driven, and both are effective at achieving those agendas. Church curriculum seeks to win converts and affirm the faith. Abanes' book discourages potential converts and undermines the Mormon faith.

While I definitely agree that the Church has an agenda as well, I think it is comparing apples and oranges. The Church makes no claim of objectivity or scholarship or balance in its teaching in my experience, but states up front their purpose is to bring people to God through the LDS faith. OTOH, RA's publicity has made those claims.

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Thank you for taking the time to post this. It is always very interesting to read nonmembers' reactions and your summary was very informative about why you reacted that way.

Part of why I viewed it as I did was that I was already familiar with the literay genre of "Anti-Catholic Potboiler," which peaked about 50 years ago, and has simmered down. "Anti-Mormon Potboiler" is still in its heyday, but follows many of the same patterns of style and content. After you've read "Hitler's Pope" you learn to be wary.

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calmoriah: I think it is comparing apples and oranges.

Apples to Oranges?

I identified my comparison as an "antithesis." Of course motives and fruits are opposite, different, whatever.

Antithesis. noun: the juxtaposition of contrasting words or ideas to give a feeling of balance.

Does my comparison fit perfectly, in all aspects? No, or corse not. Comparisons rarely ever do. The specifics I compared, however, are accurate (in my view).

And to Smack: Although I end my sentences in periods too, I don't feel the need to draw people's attention to it. You may think that punctuation substantially adds to your arguments, but it doesn't. Besides, you are interpreting the word "sensational" in a different way than I am using it. This is the meaning that I intended: "Arousing or intended to arouse strong curiosity, interest, or reaction, especially by exaggerated details."

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Apples to Oranges? Analogy?

I identified my comparison as an "antithesis." Of course motives and fruits are opposite, different, whatever.

Antithesis. noun: the juxtaposition of contrasting words or ideas to give a feeling of balance

I am pointing out the differences in the claims made about the motives. When using the term "antithesis" you are implying imo a certain equality of methodology/expectation though with an opposite purpose. The Church does not make the same level of claims about the type of information that they are publishing. That is what I mean by apples and oranges.

I agree that the agendas are opposite/antithetical, what I don't believe is that the agendas that have been attached to ONUG's promoters are as up front about what that agenda is. I think this is a significant difference that needs to be recognized when comparing the two methodologies of conversion.

I have to agree with Smac that the Church does not emphasize positive aspects of Church history or its leaders. What I have found in my experience is the aspects of an event or person that best teach a faith principle are put forward whether that's an example of what not to do (such as the 116 pages) or what to do to fulfill God's will (Joseph's acceptance of his role in the martyrdom). Since it is generally easier to learn from examples that show you how to do it, it's not surprising that it comes across as an emphasis on positive experiences of people doing the right thing the right way at times, but I think there are plenty of cautionary 'tales' out there as well.

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Apples to Oranges? Analogy?

I identified my comparison as an "antithesis." Of course motives and fruits are opposite, different, whatever.

Antithesis. noun: the juxtaposition of contrasting words or ideas to give a feeling of balance

Antithesis, if it is to create a "feeling of balance," needs to contrast things that belong to the same category. This requires that some analogy exist between the antitheses on the level of generic similarity. Because there is not enough generic similarity here, the antithesis is not balanced.

If you mean to contrast them on a purely descriptive level, then ok. But the descriptive contrast alone is not very significant and can be misleading.

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After you've read "Hitler's Pope" you learn to be wary.

Dude. So you're telling me those Jack Chick comics about Catholicism are faulty? :P

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Dude. So you're telling me those Jack Chick comics about Catholicism are faulty? :P

I'm afraid so, but it goes too far to make that comparison. Abanes is substantially better than Chick.

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I'm afraid so, but it goes too far to make that comparison. Abanes is substantially better than Chick.

Chick's art is superior.

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Chick's art is superior.

Ha ha.

One thing that Abanes does that Chick does not is show his face and attempt to interact with his critics. As much as people dislike him here, it gives him some credibility in my eyes that he does post responses. That by itself pulls him out of the worst-of-the-worst category, even if you don't like his responses.

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Ha ha.

One thing that Abanes does that Chick does not is show his face and attempt to interact with his critics. As much as people dislike him here, it gives him some credibility in my eyes that he does post responses. That by itself pulls him out of the worst-of-the-worst category, even if you don't like his responses.

Jack Chick kinda frightens me. Abanes certainly doesn't.

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Jack Chick kinda frightens me. Abanes certainly doesn't.

I should also clarify that I wasn't intending a straight comparison between ONUG and "Hitler's Pope" either. I only mean that familiarity with a certain type of bad literature teaches a person to recognize warning signs of bias even in less skewed works.

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Antithesis, if it is to create a "feeling of balance," needs to contrast things that belong to the same category. This requires that some analogy exist between the antitheses on the level of generic similarity. Because there is not enough generic similarity here, the antithesis is not balanced.

Certainly not balanced perfectly. But it is not my intent to claim that the balance is perfect.

It seems to me that authors of sensational publications (critical to Mormonism) tend to be reactionary to the imbalance that they perceive in Church curriculum. And thus, their attempt (whether conscious or not, or whether it is achieved it or not) is to provide a kind of balance.

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Certainly not balanced perfectly. But it is not my intent to claim that the balance is perfect.

It seems to me that authors of sensational publications (critical to Mormonism) tend to be reactionary to the imbalance that they perceive in Church curriculum. And thus, their attempt (whether conscious or not, or whether it is achieved it or not) is to provide a kind of balance.

That's fine.

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I weighed in on that now-closed thread and defended Abanes's characterization of Quinn's excommunication as stemming from the content of his writing. (Since Quinn's account is the only one available, Abanes was perfectly justified in using it as the documentation for his characterization.)

But I want to make it clear that I haven't read any of Abanes's work outside this forum (and perhaps ZLMB). From descriptions I've read, including Soren's, I'm pretty sure it's nothing I'd be interested in, nor would I recommend it to anybody I know.

You can be technically accurate and still be misleading. In at least that minimal respect I see some commonalities between publications by the Church and by Richard Abanes.

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Does Abanes discuss the problems with attributing Quinn's excommunication strictly to his writing? Does he enlighten one on the totality of the issue, or does he use it as a polemical tool to show the devious way the church must "hide" its past? Come on, now, Alf. It wasn't a responsible moment.

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Does Abanes discuss the problems with attributing Quinn's excommunication strictly to his writing? Does he enlighten one on the totality of the issue, or does he use it as a polemical tool to show the devious way the church must "hide" its past? Come on, now, Alf. It wasn't a responsible moment.

Was the Wall Street Journal also irresponsible in their article? Is the Church similarly irresponsible when it retells the story of Joseph Smith's childhood leg operation, since we don't have the surgeons' account of it?

Given the context of the other disciplinary actions being taken against Mormon intellectuals at the same time, Quinn's account of the excommunication is entirely plausible, and reporting the event using his account is by no stretch irresponsible. If there are any distortions in that account, the Church or its agents can provide their side of the story any time they choose.

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Certainly not balanced perfectly. But it is not my intent to claim that the balance is perfect.

It seems to me that authors of sensational publications (critical to Mormonism) tend to be reactionary to the imbalance that they perceive in Church curriculum. And thus, their attempt (whether conscious or not, or whether it is achieved it or not) is to provide a kind of balance.

It all depends upon how one defines balance. How did Sean Connery define balance:

You wanna know how you do it? Here's how, they pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.

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