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Apologetics And Polemics


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#1 Benjamin McGuire

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 07:02 AM

Rather than clutter up Will's thread, I thought I would start a new one.

I work with FAIR from time to time. One of the popular features of the FAIR website is the ask the apologist form, where people send in questions that get answered. We get a tremendous amount of positive feedback. What fascinates me is that the most vocal proponents of the idea that apologetics is harmful are the critics of the church (and it doesn't matter if they are still on the membership roles). I have to wonder if part of this isn't a rather unorganized campaign to try and smear apologetics writers in rather the same sort of way that they are accused of hurting the church.

There is perhaps a useful comparison though to be made in a comment from Indiana Jones (the character) in the Movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Near the beginning Jones speaks to a class of his students: "Archaelogy is the search for fact, not truth. If you want truth, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is just down the hall." This line gets quoted quite a bit (I have even seen it referenced on RFM). Most of the time, those who quote it ignore the next part, where Jones continues: “We do not follow maps to buried treasure and X never, ever marks the spot”. The irony intended in the movie that gets lost by extracting the quote from its context (and so is ignored or missed by those who use it), is that the movie presents an Indiana Jones who is indeed searching for truth, who follows a map to the buried treasure, and over the course of the adventure discovers that X can indeed mark the spot. My point though here is that apologetics and polemics are (on some level) just as interested in truth. Generally speaking, we use these terms within the contexts of religion and politics, and rarely elsewhere. Some will try to tack on other things - that polemics are more of an emotional appeal and apologetics are more of an intellectual enterprise. Really, these are merely quibbles trying to deal with the problem that polemics has a decidedly negative connotation (far more so than apologetics). The discussion about what makes apologetics and what makes polemics has been of particular interest in the field of the study of religions. (This is at least somewhat relevant because of Bradford's vision of the NAMI apparently).

Nearly two decades ago, Terrence W. Tilley wrote a short (13 pages) review article of a book titled Explaining Religion: Criticism and Theory from Bodin to Freud by J. Samuel Preus. The book itself is interesting, but, as I often do, I really enjoyed the review of the book (which leads me to the books themselves) and the observations that it makes (of course, reviews are often like this, right?). Tilley lets us know in no uncertain terms that Preus's work is itself a polemic. And he describes quite well the conundrum faced by this field and its struggle to come to terms with itself as an academic endeavor. He writes:

Preus’s tradition is clearly a skeptical one. Indeed, he remarks that “it has been an ongoing concern of this book to note the extent to which the study of religion emerged out of criticism of religion” (p. 152). But is this not a bit odd? If one noted that the proper, academic study of the origins and persistence of science or philosophy or sport or war or poetry emerged almost exclusively out of the criticism of those practices, and consistently discounted or ignored the analyses of participants in those activities, would one not be suspected of a significant bias in constructing a history of the “tradition” of study in those areas? Why is it that “academic” scholars of religion can get away with constructing such undialectical and un-self-critical explanations of the origin and persistence of religion? In other fields, analogous constraints would preclude scientists or philosophers or athletes or coaches or soldiers or poets from contributing to explaining the roots and endurance of their fields. Such absurd limitations would not be countenanced. Why are they tolerated – even praised – when the field is religion?

Typically, this question receives three sorts of answers. First, in religion, unlike other fields, nonskeptical accounts are hidden apologetics, so skeptical accounts are to be preferred as more honest and fitting in the humanistic academy. Second, nonskeptical accounts treat religion as irreducible, as autonomous, as sui generis, thus protecting religious meaning from being explained, leaving religion inexplicable, and thus defeating the goal of explanation, so skeptical accounts are to be preferred as not self-defeating. Third, nonskeptical accounts posit a mysterious “supernatural” or “sacred” cause or ground for religious experience and meaning, thus thwarting the attempt to explain religion at the crucial point of its origins, so skeptical accounts are to be preferred as not obscurantist. Hence, the only legitimate approach to religion in the liberal academy is a skeptical one arising from the criticism of religion." (Journal of Religion, April, 1991, Vol. 71 No. 2, p. 244)


Some of you will agree with Preus. Tilley disagrees with him (which shouldn't be a surprise I suppose given the publication). This is the sort of thing that dogs Mormon apologetics. Our critics jump on this bandwagon (whether they recognize what it is or not). Apologetics as the voice of the nonskeptic is excluded from the academy. In a nutshell, this is the impetus in some ways behind the changes at the NAMI. Tilley, by the way, has some profound ideas for his perspective in this discussion. In June of 2009, he discussed some more of these concerns in his outgoing presidential address at the end of his term as the president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, titled "Three Impasses in Christology". There he made this observation (which I think is highly relevant to the work of polemics and apologetics within religion):

What Thomas S. Kuhn has called a “paradigm shift” in science results from impasses in “normal science.” Paradigm shifts are not theoretical solutions to problems. Paradigm shifts involve fundamental changes in scientific practice and theory. The classic example is that when Newtonian mechanics failed to account for the motion of subatomic particles or light near stars, Newtonian mechanics was accounted as only a “special case” that works only for more medium-sized items. The “special case” strategy is a practical resolution to the impasse, not a purely theoretical one. Only retrospectively can we see if a resolution was a good one. Beyond impasses there can be stalemates. A stalemate is the result of playing a game to the point that neither side can win. Stalemates in chess, of course, simply mean that a game has resulted in a draw. The players simply go on to another chess match and change their tactics – or take up different games. Stalemates in academic fields are resolved more by attrition than intellection; theories are not refuted, but go out of style.

Academic stalemates may be rather benign, but stalemates in real life can be malignant. The nuclear terror of the policy of “mutual assured destruction,” for example, was not a benign stalemate, but one that scarred a generation. Electoral stalemates – the Florida presidential vote in 2000 and the Minnesota senatorial election in 2008 – have to be wrenched out of the electoral system into the courts, a tactic that resolves the impasse by external force and sometimes even political shenanigans. Real life stalemates can be quite vicious, even destructive. Impasses in the real life of the church can become and have become stalemates. Stalemates in the church have splintered the ecclesial community. The Great Western Schism was such a stalemate. The Protestant Reformation was such a stalemate – one that the strategies of the Catholic Reformation did not resolve, but exacerbated. These malignant stalemates destroyed the possibility of ecclesial unity – and will not be overcome as long as the shepherds of one flock demand that separated brethren repent of their errors to be accepted back into their sheepfold. Sadly, the nexus of impasses currently facing the Church in the U.S. suggests the possibility of a church in stalemate.

This presentation he made really rings home for me in this context. After all, we have a large group of people (well 'large' may be an exaggeration) that are dissenters. That have a particular agenda. Their objective is to repeatedly say that the church needs to be more honest about its history and its narrative, to be more open - this is of course quite similar to the situation I see with John Dehlin. Dehlin portrays himself as a shepherd of those disaffected from the church, of having had a faith crisis. But he doesn't offer any real solution to restore unity. And, it isn't benign as he suggests. In the present course, if it moves on to stalemate, then the option left is to splinter the community. Is this Dehlin's goal?

It is the beginning of the second paragraph I quote that highlights another problem. Academic views refuse to see the problems created by these impasses - the human problems that we as apologists have come face to face with regularly. Not too long ago, I engaged in a discussion with a member who was having a faith crisis. She was impacted by polemical and apologetic arguments - and one in particular that was mentioned was the material produced by John Dehlin. Notice that when John Dehlin is defending his approach to the gospel and what he does, he is an apologist. When Dehlin is critical of an idea or when he attacks the church and its leaders, he is a polemicist. It is true that FAIR and NAMI have engaged in both polemical and apologetic discourse (I have published both sorts myself). But the issue here for me is that in this sense, from an academic perspective Dehlin isn't terribly interesting. He hasn't really published anything in an academic venue. His influence though, and the real malignancy of what he is doing creates problems for the members of the church. And note the similarity to the situation described by Tilley - the impasse cannot be overcome as long as the church is being called to repentance (i.e. to come clean with the "truth"). The situation will not go away by simply ignoring it. This doesn't have much to do with changes at NAMI other than to point out that if NAMI stops engaging on this level or in the fashion that it did in the Review, the impasse isn't marginalized, it becomes more likely to move from impasse to stalemate. I should note, I am using Dehlin merely as an example (in part because he is a useful example and in part because so many - including John himself - have connected him to the events at NAMI).

While both apologetics and polemics tend to claim that they are portraying truth (and "truth" here is somewhat malleable - it is more about perspective and position and really any sense of unalterable or absolute truth), polemics in particular tends to use a specific kind of language. One of those elements is comparison - and the pushing or dividing into two groups. About a decade ago now, David Rozema did a piece in the Journal of Philosophy of Education (Vol. 35, No. 2, 2001), titled "The Polemics of Education". And he describes this function (pp. 237- 8):

In his marvelously lucid and notably passionate essay, 'Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community' Wendell Berry writes,

There are two kinds of human economy. There is the kind of economy that exists to protect the 'right' of profit, as does our present public economy; this sort of economy will inevitably gravitate toward the protection of the 'rights' of those who profit most. Our present public economy is really a political system that safeguards the private exploitation of the public wealth and health. The other kind of economy exists for the protection of gifts, beginning with the 'giving in marriage,' and this is the economy of community, which now has been nearly destroyed by the public economy. (Berry, 1993, p. 138)

What Berry describes in this passage are two poles of how one understands 'economy'. The effect of the description is to expose which pole a person is drawn to and to thereby align the opposing forces for battle, just as a magnet will expose and align the opposing forces in a collection of iron filings. Any given individual may have some attraction to both poles, but the effect of being placed within the magnetic field is to show which pole the individual is most attracted to, and therfore which pole he will eventually get to. Thus, even for a person who finds himself in sympathy with both of the economies described, the polemical description serves to expose the strongest force within him; the one that will, when faced with a situation that demands a show of allegiance to one side or the other, expose his true bent.

In this paper, I want to describe a similar polemic, a polemic of education that shadows - or perhaps foreshadows - Berry's polemic of economy. I will investigate the idea that, corresponding to these two kinds of human economy, there are two kinds of education. ...


You can see here that Rozema is embracing this polemical approach, he wants and expects his readers to figure out which of these two possibilities they are most drawn to (and where he envisions they will inevitably end up) and thus draws the battle lines accordingly. Here we see the inherent polemic in things like the "Chapel Mormon" and "Internet Mormon" dichotomy. Why do we see this division into two? It is to create battle lines between them. To force them into conflict. This is the core of polemic arguments. It is pushing one thing against another. John Dehlin has done the exact same thing - although the labels are (of course) different. For him, the battle is between the "correlated" and the "uncorrelated" Mormons. Once he starts speaking about us on these terms, we can know immediately that he is in polemical mode. He is no less of an apologist and a polemicist than anyone who has written for FARMS/NAMI, and is probably more deserving of the title of polemicist than most of them. Unlike Shades with his chapel/internet Mormons where he largely wants to create friction from the sidelines, Dehlin has taken a seat on the uncorrelated side, and the battle is a bit more personal - although it is still polemical dialogue. Anytime we introduce the us versus them mentality we have immediately stepped into a polemical environment. (This is why, of course, it crops up most often in religion and politics).

This is getting long, but I think I want to include one more example. In the Fall of 1996, Christoper Leighton published an article titled "Contending with a Polemical Tradition" The Rhetorical Art of Christian Self-Definition" in Religious Education, v. 91, no. 4. In it he attempted to define polemics more along the lines of the popular usage and less so the technical definition:

The term polemics generally denotes the art of controversy and disputation. Polemical discourse is more often than not speech animated by anger and fear. It deploys explosive language that compels the listener to take a stand. Religious polemics are frequently used to combat opposing interpretations of the truth. Polemics serve to demarcate and fortify the boundaries between "insiders" and "outsiders," offering protection from contact with the carriers of "sin and unbelief." This indelicate art of theological self-defense may be an indispensable rhetorical strategy in threatening circumstances, but this verbal habit is loaded with toxic possibilities that can be released over a long period of time. Therefore, Christians need to attend to the polemical practices that were certainly instrumental in the shaping of Christian identity, for these linguistic habits continue to exert a powerful influence.

In the wake of (1) the assassination of Yitzak Rabin, the late Prime Minister of Israel, (2) the rhetorical debates that erupted with the announcement of the Million Man March, and (3) the 1996 presidential campaigns in the United States, the importance of deciphering the uses and abuses of religious polemics needs little justification. Students who learn to identify polemical discourse and decipher its function will not only gain critical insights into the formative dynamics of Christian self-definition; they will also acquire the tools to analyze much of the political and religious discourse that swirls around them. In what follows, I will direct the reader's attention to three examples of religious polemic as a way of entering into the larger task of reconceptualizing Christianity's understanding of Judaism.

The article is interesting - and it is part of the beginning of that interest (I could bring dozens of other authors to the table here - not the least of which is Johnathon Z. Smith). But, what do we notice here (and by comparison, what do we as FAIR members try to avoid)? In the recent comments by Dehlin on his facebook site (which I think he removed), he said this: "It's clear to me that the LDS church leadership is uncomfortable with your (and Dr. Peterson's) brand of apologetics. To blame Bradford for this seems like scapegoating. Unfortunately you can't critize LDS church leadership and remain an apologist (ouch!) ..."

This reminded me a bit of a piece written many years ago (which in and of itself is a kind of contradiction of Dehlin's thoughts there) by Bill McKeever (of CRI fame), who in short essay titled "LDS Apologetics and the Battle for Mormon History" noted: "Mormon apologists admittedly speak with no authoritative capacity within the Mormon community; nevertheless, they often contradict the authoritative positions of the very men they should be defending. Even biblical interpretations by LDS authorities are subject to criticism when they do not square with the apologist’s point of view.

One example of this is how Daniel Peterson of FARMS and Ben McGuire of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) contradict LDS apostle JamesE.Talmage’s explanation, in his book Jesus the Christ, that John10:34 refers merely to human judges. Many Mormons may not realize that this disagreement must extend to the Mormon First Presidency itself, since Jesus the Christ was one of two books written by Talmage “to have been commissioned by the First Presidency, reviewed by committees consisting of general authorities and published under the president of the church’s official imprimatur.” Peterson and McGuire’s criticisms have not received such LDS notoriety. The fact that these apologists are not reprimanded for contradicting LDS authority lends credence to Priddis’s claim that apologists who are faithful to the church on certain issues are given a “free ticket” despite their criticisms on other issues."

Two very different statements in terms of conclusions and contents (apparently I can "criticize" church leaders - assuming that's what I was doing and remain an apologist). Both dealing with Mormon apologetics. Both coming from individuals I view as critics of the faith. Both using highly polemical language to divide, to draw battle lines, and so on. It's not the facts that matter - its the emotional appeal to the idea that apologists are contradicting their leaders (and so cannot be trusted), its the idea expressed all over the place right now, that apologetics is somehow filled with bitter, ad hominem attacks (not just an occasional piece, but filled with it). It is fear mongering. The odd thing, is that everywhere I see the critical discussions, I see the same things only amplified from our critics - this appeal to emotion (and not to some kind of facts), the labels (which is nothing more than name calling), the suggestion that it is disagreement with leaders that is the source of the conflict - all of these things are concerted efforts to create division, to put the "faithful" members of the church with their leaders on the one side, with apologists on the other. It is fascinating to me to recognize that Analytics (in the other thread) brings up his example of what he calls "An example of a FARMS Review that Peterson edited which is below the dignity of BYU ..." This article is now more than two decades old. It wasn't published under the auspices of BYU. And yet it is his poster child? Again, this isn't so much evidence as it is a polemical argument - being used to create division (FARMS and Peterson versus BYU and ostensibly the church and its leadership). What you don't see from them is the praise given to the work of apologetics by then President Hinkley when he invited FARMS to become a part of BYU - the recognition of the necessity of their work. Of course, these kinds of recommendations don't fit the agenda of the apologists and polemicists for the other side, do they?

In my opinion, there is a place and role for apologetics and the scholarship that it presents. There is also a place for polemic. It is quite possible that the change from the perspective of BYU as an institution was appropriate (even if the way in which it was handled was unconscionably inappropriate). But one thing is certain - it has guaranteed the eventual widespread dissemination of the article Dehlin tried to suppress. And we all know how he tried to suppress it right? Anger, and fear.

In his comments on this message board, John Dehlin wrote this:

So why did I fight the article? I did it because I believe in my heart that the old school, disingenuous, ad hominem-style apologetics a la Daniel Peterson and Louis Midgley are very, very damaging: to the church, to its members, to its former members, and mostly to its targets.

Mostly, of course, to John Dehlin. Why was this article being published? Probably because people believed in their hearts that the old school, disingenous, ad hominem-style apologetics a la John Dehlin are very, very damaging: to the church, to its members, to its former members, amd mostly to his targets.

But, as far as I can tell, what is most important right now is the campaign to make the labels (like apologist) stick only with those who defend the church, and deflect such criticisms from its critics (who are also apologists - just working from a different side of the coin). FAIR and FARMS doo good work, try to be responsible, try to limit the emotional appeals that come in their polemics, try not to engage in the fear mongering of their opponents - and they try to be intellectually responsible. They help members of the church far more than any harm that comes from them. But this is not the potrayal that any critic wants to hear (or to present).

Ben M.

Edited by Benjamin McGuire, 26 June 2012 - 07:04 AM.

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... suppose, contrary to legend, that Oedipus, for some dark oedipal reason, was hurrying along the road intent on killing his father, and, finding a surly old man blocking his way, killed him so he could (as he thought) get on with the main job. Then not only did Oedipus want to kill his father, and actually kill him, but his desire caused him to kill his father. Yet we could not say that in killing the old man he intentionally killed his father, nor that his reason in killing the old man was to kill his father. (Davidson)

#2 why me

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 07:23 AM

Rather than clutter up Will's thread, I thought I would start a new one.

I work with FAIR from time to time. One of the popular features of the FAIR website is the ask the apologist form, where people send in questions that get answered. We get a tremendous amount of positive feedback. What fascinates me is that the most vocal proponents of the idea that apologetics is harmful are the critics of the church (and it doesn't matter if they are still on the membership roles). I have to wonder if part of this isn't a rather unorganized campaign to try and smear apologetics writers in rather the same sort of way that they are accused of hurting the church.

Ben M.


Yes, it is. And this is why Daniel is so valuable. The critics dislike him for the work that he is doing. Even Tal Bachman wrote a piece about the harm that Dan has done the apologist effort and deserved to be fired. That must tell us that Dan has been successful in his effort to defend the church.

Here is Tal:

Tal Bachman wrote:
Dan Peterson: A Eulogy

For many ex-Mormons, the name of Dan Peterson elicits contempt. Maybe this is unfair. Maybe Dan, in person, is a great guy. But Dan has created, and then nursed, a very off-putting public persona for many years. Mormon head-counters will never know how many people struggling with their faith might have returned to church if, instead of being sarcastically berated by this so-called "defender of the church" for merely raising a concern in an online forum, they were heard out, patiently, or sensitively engaged. But, that was not Dan's style, at least in public. His own need to fuel his vanity by belittling others was always far more important to him than, say, a Christian duty to lovingly regather the lost sheep. For Dan, no matter what he enjoyed telling himself, it was only ever about him, and his own desperate need to feel smart, important, and powerful, at the expense of others.

Maybe this is why, also, so many members viewed him, and his colleagues, with shock and embarrassment: there just didn't seem to be anything there reminiscent of the spirit of Christianity which Mormonism pretends to represent. Peterson may have been entirely genial in person. Online and in print, he came across as self-absorbed, vainglorious, rancorous, mean, obsessed with even trivial score-settling, and in some palpable, but kind of inexplicable way, sociopathic. If, by some chance, his recent career troubles have resulted from his superiors finally realizing how bad he has made their beloved church look for the last thirty years, all I can say is, what took them so long?


He continues along in this vein for a few more paragraphs. My own experience with lds apologetics has been extremely positive and I owe a lot to you, Dan and many others at FAIR. And this is one reason we need to defend Dan. He has been doing great work for the cause. And we need to defend lds apologetics and challenge the critics and their understanding.

Tal's message is on an exmormon board getting many kudos from the exmormon crowd. I did not want to post the link.

Edited by why me, 26 June 2012 - 07:25 AM.

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Joseph Smith Quotes
... I love that man better who swears a stream as long as my arm, and administering to the poor and dividing his substance, than the long smooth faced hypocrites. I don't want you to think I am very righteous, for I am not very righteous. God judgeth men according to the light he gives them.
Words of Joseph Smith, p.204 (18 May 1843)


http://www.lds.org/e...tation?lang=eng

#3 treehugger

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 08:28 AM

" But one thing is certain - it has guaranteed the eventual widespread dissemination of the article Dehlin tried to suppress. And we all know how he tried to suppress it right? Anger, and fear."

If a General Authority was involved, does your statement change.

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#4 Buzzard

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 08:29 AM

I'm more of a spectator than a participant in this whole hulabaloo, though I have tremendously enjoyed the articles I have read from both FAIR and FARMS/MI. Maybe I have a different point of view because I don't have a "faith crisis", but efforts like Dehlins strike me as dishonest. Pretending to "support" members who want to leave by bringing in guys like Simon Southerton, I just don't get it. Why not take the leap and invite Sandra Tanner or Ed Decker over for a chat?
Frankly. I would like to see some numbers. I just don't buy the whole "members leaving in droves" over what they discovered on the internet. Because each soul is precious, we care about anyone struggling with faith, but the idea that there is some kind of church-wide crisis...well, like I said, I just don't buy it. Of course, some leave the fold, for reasons as varied as the Book of Abraham to they want to drink beer guilt free. But it seems sometimes each and every one of them becomes a profligate poster over on exmormon.org, leaving us to worry that the pace of defections is increasing, which I have yet to see evidence for.
As young people reach adulthood, a certain percentage decide the church is not for them. But that was true in the 1970's as well as today.
Someone convince me I am wrong.
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#5 selek1

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 08:40 AM

If a General Authority was involved, does your statement change.

No.

Can you offer a compelling reason why it should?
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#6 William Schryver

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 08:45 AM

Ben is right on the mark here. I cannot add anything of value to his observations, except to note that "polemics" is consistently mislabeled by Mormon critics as ad hominem attacks, when, in fact, polemics does not necessarily entail anything in the form of ad hominem attacks at all. FARMS polemics is virtually never guilty of ad hominem, one of the best examples being Bill Hamblin's quasi-famous polemical/apologetic article That Old Black Magic.
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#7 Benjamin McGuire

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 09:03 AM

treehugger writes:

If a General Authority was involved, does your statement change.

No.

Don't you think that it is more than a little odd, that if a General Authority was involved, and that the churches highest officials collectively agreed that this was the right move, that instead of there being an appropriate normal process - where the editor helps select a successor and then steps down, that it was done (seemingly intentionally) while Dr. Peterson was out of the country and unable (along with his fellow editors) to actively advocate for the outcomes they want to see?

It reminds me a great deal of my last week at home before leaving for university now these many years gone by. As one of 13 children I had the honor at the time of having the only private bedroom in the house (it was small). I was at work, and one of my younger brothers called me and asked if he could move his stuff in - that Mom and Dad had given him permission to have the room when I left. As it turns out, he hadn't asked. He simply assumed that if he got in there first, he would be allowed to stay.

The problem is there are a lot of rumors - and rumors involve interpretation. To think that a high ranking member of the church hierarchy would personally intervene in this kind of situation apart from their interest in BYU (as a church owned institution) is rather silly in my opinion. It hasn't before. Why would it start now? No - what has happened is that the interest level in this paper has simply been pushed through the roof, and at some point one of those copies that is out there is going to find its way into the public awareness (either after being published someplace - or simply posted at Scribd anonymously). It will be read. It just seems unlikely that it will be published at BYU at this point.

Edited by Benjamin McGuire, 26 June 2012 - 09:05 AM.

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... suppose, contrary to legend, that Oedipus, for some dark oedipal reason, was hurrying along the road intent on killing his father, and, finding a surly old man blocking his way, killed him so he could (as he thought) get on with the main job. Then not only did Oedipus want to kill his father, and actually kill him, but his desire caused him to kill his father. Yet we could not say that in killing the old man he intentionally killed his father, nor that his reason in killing the old man was to kill his father. (Davidson)

#8 3DOP

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 09:12 AM

Hi Benjamin McGuire.

Thank you for taking the time to prepare such a detailed post. I have an observation and a question if I may. I don't mind if others chime in.

I may have missed it, but I never found what I thought was a good clear definition of either apologetics or polemics. We had some good descriptions of what the one or other looks like.

My question is to ask what you think of a definition that recognizes that polemics are verbal arguments aimed at deconstructing an opposing point of view, while apologetics are verbal arguments aimed at repairing and defending a particular point of view? I have suggested before that polemics use offensive strategies and apologetics use defensive strategies.

If I am correct about the simple way to distinguish which kind of argument is being presented, we wouldn't be surprised to see that there are different tactics for each kind of argument. One of the cited references speaks of the stalemate as being harmful. In siege warfare, the goal of the defender under siege is to reach a stalemate and have the attacker leave. There is not any question of prevailing over the attacker. In a stalemate, the defender wins and the attacker loses.

My view of stalemate is why I see offensive polemics as being much much more difficult. I believe all of us are better at apologetics. It is always going to be easier. I rarely engage in polemics, not because there is something wrong with taking the offensive against perceived error. I admit that for the salvation of souls, the unity of Christ's Church, and glory of God, if I could present an offensive argument that would turn everyone into Catholics, I would present it immediately. I believe in polemics. There is nothing inherently wrong with polemics. The reason I think polemics often result in detraction and calumny is when those who engage in it fail to be ready for their opponent. When they do not succeed, perceiving they lack the necessary verbal weaponry, they slink off in frustration, or just out of range cursing like Shimei at King David. THAT in my opinion is the reason for the phenomenon of rancorous behavior we see so often on the internet. It happens to untrained zealots attacking madly with pitchforks and clubs against a well defended stockade without understanding the art of verbal warfare. Then when some wise guy drops water balloons on their heads from the top of the walls (I won't name any names, heh heh.), they really get furious!

I admit, I sometimes have a pleasure in seeing the water balloons dropped, but I have also been the guy who enjoyed antagonizing angry animals when I knew they were safely chained or caged. It is probably a habit I should not indulge.

3DOP

Edited by 3DOP, 26 June 2012 - 09:20 AM.

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#9 calmoriah

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 09:35 AM

If a General Authority was involved, does your statement change.

It would depend on how he was actually involved, I suspect.
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When you climb up a ladder, you...begin at the bottom...ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top...so it is with the principles of the Gospel--you must begin with the first...go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world. Joseph Smith
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#10 calmoriah

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 10:14 AM

Howdy,

My brother who has some position in the LDS has been attempting to "save" me by argument as to the validity of the faith and using BoM historicity claims as evidence of the authority. Each time I check the validity of the historicity argument I have failed to find supporting evidence and, usually, find contradictory evidence.

Frequently he will attempt to argue the validity of the BoM using the BoM as the Authority in support of its validity. Obvious circular reasoning, so I don't get anywhere with that discussion.

I am open minded and reasonable on the subject of faith. If it is faith, so be it. If there are facts that support the foundation of the faith then, I would like to review the evidence.

So, I want to start at the beginning; Is there any evidence, other than the verbal assertion by Joseph Smith, of the supernatural source for the Book of Mormon? Please point me to a scholarly article on the subject and I will investigate.

Sincerely,

Starting another thread for you. Mods will probably delete these off topic posts after Billy posts on the new one.

Billy, you will be able to start your own thread in 24 more posts, until then, I suggest you use the thread I made for you, but stick to one topic at a time, BoM evidences is a good one to begin with.

Edited by calmoriah, 26 June 2012 - 10:18 AM.

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When you climb up a ladder, you...begin at the bottom...ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top...so it is with the principles of the Gospel--you must begin with the first...go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world. Joseph Smith
UMW forever!

#11 Benjamin McGuire

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 10:22 AM

I may have missed it, but I never found what I thought was a good clear definition of either apologetics or polemics. We had some descriptions of one the one or other looks like.

One of my favorite authors (Umberto Eco) once in a book on semiotics discussed the difference between a dictionary meaning and an encylopedic meaning. One of those situations we have is with the word planet right? Pluto, we were taught as children, was the 9th planet in our solar system. Well, that suddenly was no longer the case in 2005, when the definition of the word "planet" changed. Of course, that doesn't mean that I still don't think of it as a planet, its just technically not one anymore (another good book - How I killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming). At any rate, we can start with just this sort of technical dictionary definition:

Apolology: a formal justification : defense

Polemic: an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another

So there we have it - and attack, or a defense. The problem with these two seemingly polar definitions is that you cannot have a defense really without it being a response to corresponding attack (either a real or a potential attack). And so while we can have polemics that are purely an attack, its much harder to have a pure apology.

In this somewhat confusing state, we have developed a more practical sort of definition - an encyclopedic meaning (as Eco would put it). There is in this a sort of play that we see in the difference between eisegesis and exegesis right? An exegesis is "exposition, explanation; especially : an explanation or critical interpretation of a text" while an eisegesis is "the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one's own ideas". This leads to that well known maxim (in all of its variant forms) - What I do is exegesis, what everyone else does is eisegesis. Polemical carries with it an overtone of violence, and has this negative connotation. It was in the other thread that Will started that Verum made this statement:

"... but I would say FARMS has been more guilty of having a more polemic, hostile style in responding to critical work that challenge church history and origins."

We can see that polemic is a "hostile style" - and that has become more of an apt description in the common usage. In fact, in general terms, this is to some extent the way that it gets separated from apologetics. The hostile tone. And why in many places you will see those two described in other terms - apologetics as a more intellectual pursuit, with polemics as more of an emotional pursuit. I am not sure that this is entirely useful either - but - at least in those terms, it becomes much easier to analyze (and so that kind of difference is often followed). What we can say is that polemical works carry certain styles of approach. You can list them (Johnathon Z. Smith does this in his Drudgery Divine for example). And so it becomes easier to discuss bodies of work as this type of literature based on its features. This has little to do with the contents often - and so this kind of classification shouldn't be taken as a substitute (as often happens in these kinds of forums) for dealing with the substance. But, at the same time, we can find dozens of scholarly articles that are written to deal with the "polemics" presented in the New Testament (which are numerous). So, we shouldn't say that polemics are bad necessarily. They only become bad (and this is from that rather negative view of the term) when you expect a certain amount of decorum.

Now, (and this is where my analogy comes into play), for the most part (and one of the articles I quoted from is an unusual exception), polemic is what everyone else does, not me. In fact, most of the uses of the term (and perhaps many of the misuses of the term apologetics in these various topics) are themselves an attack, are hostile, are being used because of the sentiments that term evokes in the reader - and so they are polemical in and of themselves.

So, do we have a good definition? Probably not. The best definitions I have seen are not about what they are, but what they do (and how they do it). In other words, the best definitions of polemics and apologetics tend to revolve around describing how they work and how they are produced and not so much about what they technically are.

My view of stalemate is why I see offensive polemics as being much much more difficult. I believe all of us are better at apologetics.

The challenge with the stalemate isn't that the defender wins by default, its that the problem hasn't been resolved (for either side). In religion, it means that the issue will continue to come up, over and over again. What we want isn't a repetitive cycle of schisms in the church and while we have only really had a few, the LDS Church is very young - the Catholic Church had its fair share early on, but then over time has consistently had various splinter groups. I am not saying that there is some kind of magic solution here, but what I am saying I suppose is that a group that is suggesting to find a middle way but is in reality moving towards a more intensive disagreement is wanting to do one thing and doing something else entirely (there is a wonderful euphamism in Sirach I think - "like a eunuch's desire to ravish a beautiful woman is the man who would do right by violence").

I admit that for the sake of the unity of Christ's Church, if I could present an offensive argument that would turn everyone into Catholics, I would present it immediately.

I have to admit, if I wasn't Mormon, I would be Catholic. I have a profound respect for the Catholic theologians I have interacted with personally, and I think that two millenia into its existence, Catholicism has created room for its apologists and theologians apart from its authoritarian hierarchy.

I think that one thing we haven't focused on much that is of real importance is that these debates often occur (as I noted elsewhere) in the cracks, at the edges - apologetics in its constructive aspects is about theology - and the great theologians (and this will include future Mormon theologians) are also apologists. I see myself more as a theologian than an apologist - but its a kind of dangerous title for some within Mormonism with its rather conflicting views on authority (again - that conflict creates tremendous discussion in these forums - what really is doctrine, etc.).

Ben
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... suppose, contrary to legend, that Oedipus, for some dark oedipal reason, was hurrying along the road intent on killing his father, and, finding a surly old man blocking his way, killed him so he could (as he thought) get on with the main job. Then not only did Oedipus want to kill his father, and actually kill him, but his desire caused him to kill his father. Yet we could not say that in killing the old man he intentionally killed his father, nor that his reason in killing the old man was to kill his father. (Davidson)

#12 Benjamin McGuire

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 10:25 AM

BillyOhama writes:

I am open minded and reasonable on the subject of faith. If it is faith, so be it. If there are facts that support the foundation of the faith then, I would like to review the evidence.

Sure. I have lots of personal evidence. But that won't help without some ground rules - so what is it that you would classify as "evidence"? What is the proverbial evidentiary bar that you set? As I noted in the OP, this is a very problematic area, since by default most of those who want evidence to exclude from the outset most of what believers would call evidence.

Ben
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... suppose, contrary to legend, that Oedipus, for some dark oedipal reason, was hurrying along the road intent on killing his father, and, finding a surly old man blocking his way, killed him so he could (as he thought) get on with the main job. Then not only did Oedipus want to kill his father, and actually kill him, but his desire caused him to kill his father. Yet we could not say that in killing the old man he intentionally killed his father, nor that his reason in killing the old man was to kill his father. (Davidson)

#13 ERayR

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 11:19 AM

treehugger writes:
No.

Don't you think that it is more than a little odd, that if a General Authority was involved, and that the churches highest officials collectively agreed that this was the right move, that instead of there being an appropriate normal process - where the editor helps select a successor and then steps down, that it was done (seemingly intentionally) while Dr. Peterson was out of the country and unable (along with his fellow editors) to actively advocate for the outcomes they want to see?

It reminds me a great deal of my last week at home before leaving for university now these many years gone by. As one of 13 children I had the honor at the time of having the only private bedroom in the house (it was small). I was at work, and one of my younger brothers called me and asked if he could move his stuff in - that Mom and Dad had given him permission to have the room when I left. As it turns out, he hadn't asked. He simply assumed that if he got in there first, he would be allowed to stay.

The problem is there are a lot of rumors - and rumors involve interpretation. To think that a high ranking member of the church hierarchy would personally intervene in this kind of situation apart from their interest in BYU (as a church owned institution) is rather silly in my opinion. It hasn't before. Why would it start now? No - what has happened is that the interest level in this paper has simply been pushed through the roof, and at some point one of those copies that is out there is going to find its way into the public awareness (either after being published someplace - or simply posted at Scribd anonymously). It will be read. It just seems unlikely that it will be published at BYU at this point.


Also, as I stated in another thread, I cannot think a high ranking member of the church hierarchy going outside of the proper channels to intervene.
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#14 Bill Hamblin

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 12:25 PM

Ben has it exactly right.
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#15 3DOP

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 12:36 PM

Hi again Ben.

Thank you for clarifying the way you understand polemics. There is never any use in arguing over what a word means. It means what the user says. I would much prefer its use to be limited to the simple and precise definitions which distinguish between offense and defense. However, I have known that the word "polemical" has taken on negative connotations that cannot be escaped and perhaps I will need to use four words instead of the two. I can recall on an occasion or two when making reference to polemics, to be understood, I had to write a whole sentence anyway explaining how I meant it. So perhaps in speaking of the two basic forms of verbal argument I will need to refer to offensive apologetics or defensive apologetics.

I definitely take a brighter view of stalemate. You suggest that it is unsatisfactory because the words and arguments will continue to be repeated again and again.

But it isn't my task to vanquish my opponent. For my own sake and those within my "castle" if you will, I am most satisfied to defend them without seeing the need to pursue those who were beseiging the castle. Not until they begin to lure those within the castle to defect would it become necessary to put the "enemy" to flight if I can. Even then, my polemics are more for the sake of those who are sympathetic than for those whose ideology I oppose. Those whose hearts you have will respond to reasonable arguments. But until they find that you love them, and are well disposed to them, the enemy will remain your enemy no matter how you dismantle and explode their verbal edifices. That is why I try more and more to refrain from provoking them. Two faculties must be satisfied if we will persuade an ideological opponent, the will and the intellect. But the most important is the will. Nobody has ever been argued into believing something to be good or true if they it is associated with what they find to be revolting. That is why false historical propaganda is so effective and popular. If you can succeed in making someone despise the historical character of the Catholic Church or the CoJCoLDS, or the Czar or George III, you really don't need any arguments. Arguments are only effective when the will is already softened. And sometimes a soft will can lead to a soft intellect...but that is another discussion.

3DOP

Edited by 3DOP, 26 June 2012 - 12:41 PM.

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#16 why me

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 12:44 PM

" But one thing is certain - it has guaranteed the eventual widespread dissemination of the article Dehlin tried to suppress. And we all know how he tried to suppress it right? Anger, and fear."

If a General Authority was involved, does your statement change.


No, it doesn't. Why should it? General Authorities can be wrong especially when they act outside their calling.
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Joseph Smith Quotes
... I love that man better who swears a stream as long as my arm, and administering to the poor and dividing his substance, than the long smooth faced hypocrites. I don't want you to think I am very righteous, for I am not very righteous. God judgeth men according to the light he gives them.
Words of Joseph Smith, p.204 (18 May 1843)


http://www.lds.org/e...tation?lang=eng

#17 LifeOnaPlate

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 07:35 PM

Quick question before I read the rest of the thread, for Bill Hamblin, Ben, and others:

Is it possible in your view to

1) Dislike much of the work and results of John Dehlin

and

2) Object to the publication of a full-scale review, aspects of which have filtered out here and there

and

3) Believe there are other ways to deal with the problems Dehlin's approach manifests

and

4) Like and respect some of the authors/editors involved in the non-published Dehlin review?

Is that conceivable?
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#18 Bill Hamblin

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 07:47 PM

Quick question before I read the rest of the thread, for Bill Hamblin, Ben, and others:

Is it possible in your view to

1) Dislike much of the work and results of John Dehlin

and

2) Object to the publication of a full-scale review, aspects of which have filtered out here and there

and

3) Believe there are other ways to deal with the problems Dehlin's approach manifests

and

4) Like and respect some of the authors/editors involved in the non-published Dehlin review?

Is that conceivable?


Sure. But that's not the point. The point is that Dehlin is a public figure engaged in public discourse of interest to Mormons. He is not, and should not be immune from criticism. The standard form of academic discourse on such matters are essays. That's what scholars do. The standard response to an essay is an essay. If Smith published an article critical of Dehlin and Dehlin objected, Dehlin could have written a response or done a podcast, etc. Rational discourse would ensue.

But that is not the path Dehlin chose. He chose 1- engage in a public ad hominen attack by claiming that the article (which he hadn't read) was an ad hominem hit piece. (Note that the leaker who let Dehlin know of the forthcoming article had not read it when he leaked the information. When he was later asked to read the article by the editor of the Review, he was unable to point to any specific instance of ad hominem. I've read it, and I haven't either. 2- Try (apparently successfully) to (at least temporarily) suppress the publication of the article.

It is not clear to me why Dehlin feels he should be above criticism, especially considering how much he criticizes the LDS Church and many of its members. The proper response is to respond to the criticism through rational discourse. Why is Dehlin unwilling to do this?
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#19 CASteinman

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 08:09 PM

" But one thing is certain - it has guaranteed the eventual widespread dissemination of the article Dehlin tried to suppress. And we all know how he tried to suppress it right? Anger, and fear."

If a General Authority was involved, does your statement change.



I don't think so.
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#20 CASteinman

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 08:29 PM

I have to admit, if I wasn't Mormon, I would be Catholic. I have a profound respect for the Catholic theologians I have interacted with personally, and I think that two millenia into its existence, Catholicism has created room for its apologists and theologians apart from its authoritarian hierarchy.


Your posts in this thread have made me feel stupid and dull by comparison. I finally got some relief from this conviction when I read this passage. Because, years ago, I came to this exact same conclusion -- "If I were not a Mormon, I would be Catholic". And for nearly the same reasons that you mentioned above. With regard to "respect though", its not theologians that I have interacted with personally, but ordinary common lay individuals. Certainly not all, but some Catholics have been raised in a manner that gives them permission or inspires them to be exceptionally generous and kindhearted human beings. Even as a Mormon, I still hope to be "like them" in this regard.
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