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Neutral Scholarship Re: Joseph Smith - Is it Even Possible?


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Having said this (post above), it is very painful to see loved ones become enemies. There are some who leave and adopt a position of indifference, but usually they never knew much about it all to begin with.

I have found that most who leave, and who knew something about it before they left——I have found these do not just forget it. They cannot. It’s like Richard III, who says, “And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover/ To entertain these fair well-spoken days,/ I am determined to prove a villain/ And hate the idle pleasures of these days.”

Or: “And therefore, since I cannot prove a saint, I am determined to prove an enemy.”

(Perhaps this judgement is too harsh and comes across as a slander of ex-Mormons. If so, I apologize in advance. But it is what I think. I didn’t always think like this, but I do now.)

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They do it because they think it harms the members that are in it, I'm thinking. But I'm not one to go that route. I believe the church is lovely to many, and why try to take that from anyone. For many it's a family they never had. 

Edited by Tacenda
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I've thought about this a lot, as it's seems to me that some want our scholars to 'prove' that the truth claims of the Church are true, and frankly that's just not what the Lord wants, IMO.  I love that scholars, archeologists, etc. offer examples to help support our beliefs, but to me, these are appreciated, powerful for those who already have a testimony, and have a valuable place, but they will never and should never be a basis for thinking they are useful in conversion, or proving the 'Church is true', imo.  However, I think the efforts of LDS scholars and writers can be extremely useful in countering the efforts by others (such as RFM and Dehlin) to plant seeds of doubt and cause members to question their faith and even reject their beliefs.  I really appreciate their efforts and feel they have a valuable role, but it is not to try to win an argument with a hardened non-believer, or dissident.  Like missionaries bible bashing, it is usually just futile to think it might help in conversion.

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11 minutes ago, Tacenda said:

They do it because they think it harms the members that are in it, I'm thinking. But I'm not one to go that route. I believe the church is lovely to many, and why try to take that from anyone. For many it's a family they never had. 

Well,  I think it harms people to drink alcohol, but I don't make it a personal crusade to try to stop others who choose to drink, by making podcasts about it🥴  In all seriousness, I think some cross a line in their efforts to try to 'save' those they believe are deceived.  Some seem incapable of seeing it from a different point of view,  not willing to respect the choices of others, and they can be very condescending in suggesting that all believers are ignorant and following blindly, and if they were just informed, they'd see the light and leave the  church.  I also think it's especially egregious when former members, such as RFM and Dehlin do it.

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21 minutes ago, Tacenda said:

For many it's a family they never had. 

Or to look at it in another way, we recognize the family that all of us have shared from the beginning. We are, after all, all brothers and sisters.  

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10 minutes ago, alter idem said:

I've thought about this a lot, as it's seems to me that some want our scholars to 'prove' that the truth claims of the Church are true, and frankly that's just not what the Lord wants, IMO.  I love that scholars, archeologists, etc. offer examples to help support our beliefs, but to me, these are appreciated, powerful for those who already have a testimony, and have a valuable place, but they will never and should never be a basis for thinking they are useful in conversion, or proving the 'Church is true', imo.  However, I think the efforts of LDS scholars and writers can be extremely useful in countering the efforts by others (such as RFM and Dehlin) to plant seeds of doubt and cause members to question their faith and even reject their beliefs.  I really appreciate their efforts and feel they have a valuable role, but it is not to try to win an argument with a hardened non-believer, or dissident.  Like missionaries bible bashing, it is usually just futile to think it might help in conversion.

My two adult sons resigned from the church and from what I can see, JD and RFM a long with Bill Reel were their stepping stones to leaving. My faith crisis started out small and ballooned up ever since listening to Mormon Stories podcast. So it's working, maybe there are some that can come full circle eventually and come back. I read some ex or struggling LDS that miss so much about the church but don't know how to navigate it because of unbelief. Hopefully the church will figure out a way that those that don't believe, can still take part in things and be open with their beliefs. 

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I am not sure you are really looking for an answer.  The way you frame your question, you seem to be more interested in finding fault and discrediting former members.  But I can give you an answer why Mormonism is so completely different than every other religion.  It is the claims that Mormonism makes.  They claim to have a prophet of God.  Someone who receives direct revelation from God. That key point is at the core of why the Church is important.  People make life changing decisions trusting that is true.  

I married a woman based on that trust.  I was told by Church leaders that if I married, then I would no longer be gay.  Church leaders claimed that this promise was not one they were making, but came from God.  Think about the implications of trusting that promise.  Think of the trajectory that put my life on.  And think about how devastating it was to find out that promise from God came solely from men.  There was no promise from God.  There was no revelation.  I never became straight.  Not even a little.

Think about others who relied on the belief that the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was restored by the power of God.  Believing all the stories that were told to them.  A book written by Abraham himself, which Joseph claimed to translate by the power of God.  Only to find out that the scrolls had nothing to do with Abraham, could not have been written by him and were common burial scrolls.  Golden Plates that brought forth the Book of Mormon only to find out, it came from Joseph Smith sticking his head in a hat.  Joseph having an adulteress affair with their maid and then claiming that he was told by God to marry her.  Using his power as a prophet of God to trick other young women to marry him, even promising them eternal salvation.

The list goes on.  And yes, I realize that faithful members can either ignore these and other issues or figure out a way to explain them away.  I think most of these former members start out explaining things away, until they can't any longer.  There is no other Church that basis its claims of a living prophet and revelation from God.  That it is His Church restored to the earth.  Hence, when for some, they look at the facts and find out that promise is not true, they start exploring all the other things that were told to them that don't hold up.  That is how you end up with a Bill Reel or a John Dehlin or a Jeremy Runnell.

I have long ago made my peace with the Church.  I recognize the good that it can be in peoples lives even if the revelation claims of Mormonism is not true.  The teachings are sound.  The goals are good goals.  The ethics are beneficial.  Families can be strengthened by its teachings.  

I am not going to debate the pros and cons of the reasons I have stated.  I have no interest in trying to undermine other peoples faith no matter what church they belong to.  But you asked the question.  And you do know that others have problems believing the issues that I brought up.  That part one can not argue.  Hopefully you will understand that my answer does not come from some easily dismissed anti Mormon diatribe, but rather an honest answer to your question.  You may not like the answer, but there are reasons for the way former members want to continue to disprove the claims of Mormonism even if they are no longer members.

 

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32 minutes ago, alter idem said:

Well,  I think it harms people to drink alcohol, but I don't make it a personal crusade to try to stop others who choose to drink, by making podcasts about it🥴  In all seriousness, I think some cross a line in their efforts to try to 'save' those they believe are deceived.  Some seem incapable of seeing it from a different point of view,  not willing to respect the choices of others, and they can be very condescending in suggesting that all believers are ignorant and following blindly, and if they were just informed, they'd see the light and leave the  church.  I also think it's especially egregious when former members, such as RFM and Dehlin do it.

So you would never tell anyone the dangers drinking alcohol can lead to?  If you had an 18 year old child that was drinking, you wouldn't say anything?  No pamphlets?  No medical research showing the harm that alcohol can do to the body?  No leading experts giving their opinions?

Edited by california boy
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There are plenty of Catholic bashers.  Plenty of Protestant bashers.  Your wife's experience is not evidence.   The number of bashers likely exceed the membership of the LDS Church. 

During the Reformation, St Thomas More burned Protestant priests at the stake. 

So many bashing books.  Dozens of books authored by former Catholics who became Protestant.  

The Republican party in the 19th century pushed a constitutional amendment to ban the Catholic Church. 

Edited by Bob Crockett
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I mean, I don't really believe in the idea of "neutral scholarship" at all. Everyone comes at questions with an ingrained way of looking at the world that will affect their conclusions. It is not avoidable and it affects what we view as evidence and how we weigh it. But I am not the first to preach such cautions and certainly not the last. So, since I don't believe in truly neutral scholarship, my answer is no, there can be no neutral scholarship on Joseph Smith. 

Admittedly, the problem is more pronounced when it comes to Joseph Smith since the questions involved require staking whole lifestyles, worldviews, social connections...in reality, we stake our lives on the answer. This is as Jesus Christ wants it; "he who loveth his life shall lose it and he who loseth his life shall find it" and all that. So I believe that the idea of "neutral scholarship" is even less plausible for matters regarding Joseph Smith. 

Now, it is possible for scholars to approximate neutrality by working with deliberate charity for the other side, giving due regard for counterarguments, etc. But "true neutrality" is frankly an incoherent idea, philosophically. So no, I don't believe it can exist. 

@california boy, I think your discussion of the motives of former-members-turned-critics is valid but in essence says that no, neutral scholarship and commentary cannot exist. You offer a defense of the moral justification of criticism of the Church, but that does not say that such criticism is neutral. 

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8 minutes ago, Bob Crockett said:

Your wife's experience is not evidence.   The number of bashers likely exceed the membership of the LDS Church. 

16 million bashers? Maybe on a casual dinner-table-conversation level, but really dedicated ones? I'd bet there haven't been that many in all of recorded history. 

Also, his wife's experience is, in fact, evidence that a peaceful rupture is possible. 

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How can faith be harmed by truth? If a person knows that the church is misleading believers with their Book of Abraham claims, then it is no mystery why they'd want to enlighten others with that knowledge.

Some who leave might be indifferent about the church. Others may understand that it is actively harming people. 

So I think there is room to give exmormons and believing Mormons credit for good intentions unless a given individual proves otherwise. Each type may believe they're advancing truth. 

If LDS apologists are in an untenable position due to the Book of Abraham not being what Joseph Smith claimed, something will suffer. It's hard to predict what will be crushed by that and can vary by person. But I think many here will agree that if the position is untenable and they're trapped in it somehow as scholars and truth-seekers, the result will not be good, and the result will not ultimately be faith-promoting.

 

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9 minutes ago, OGHoosier said:

I mean, I don't really believe in the idea of "neutral scholarship" at all. Everyone comes at questions with an ingrained way of looking at the world that will affect their conclusions. It is not avoidable and it affects what we view as evidence and how we weigh it. But I am not the first to preach such cautions and certainly not the last. So, since I don't believe in truly neutral scholarship, my answer is no, there can be no neutral scholarship on Joseph Smith. 

Admittedly, the problem is more pronounced when it comes to Joseph Smith since the questions involved require staking whole lifestyles, worldviews, social connections...in reality, we stake our lives on the answer. This is as Jesus Christ wants it; "he who loveth his life shall lose it and he who loseth his life shall find it" and all that. So I believe that the idea of "neutral scholarship" is even less plausible for matters regarding Joseph Smith. 

Now, it is possible for scholars to approximate neutrality by working with deliberate charity for the other side, giving due regard for counterarguments, etc. But "true neutrality" is frankly an incoherent idea, philosophically. So no, I don't believe it can exist. 

@california boy, I think your discussion of the motives of former-members-turned-critics is valid but in essence says that no, neutral scholarship and commentary cannot exist. You offer a defense of the moral justification of criticism of the Church, but that does not say that such criticism is neutral. 

I agree with you.  It would be very difficult to be neutral in scholarship.  When it comes to religion few people are neutral, even those that don't follow a particular religion.  My post was explaining why some ex Mormons can't always leave the Church alone.  And why the claims of Mormonism is key to that happens sometimes.

Edited by california boy
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4 minutes ago, california boy said:

I agree with you.  It would be very difficult to be neutral in scholarship.  When it comes to religion few people are neutral, even those that don't follow a particular religion.  My post was explaining why some ex Mormons can't leave the Church alone.

Sounds good to me. I'm glad you've made your peace and are in a good place (or at least it looks like it from here.) 

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4 minutes ago, california boy said:

I agree with you.  It would be very difficult to be neutral in scholarship.  When it comes to religion few people are neutral, even those that don't follow a particular religion.  My post was explaining why some ex Mormons can't always leave the Church alone.  And why the claims of Mormonism is key to that happens sometimes.

Neutral scholarship is only relative, but it is better with robust epistemological rules in place. It's better with peer review and scholarship, it is better with continually-informing dialogue.

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1 hour ago, bdouglas said:

Alter Idem on Robert Ritner thread said:

This is a curious thing. What is that prevents the ex-Mormon from simply leaving and finding another church or belief system that suits him better than Mormonism, and then leaving it at that?

Because they have been taught better:

 President Joseph Fielding Smith (President of the LDS Church in the early 1970’s) stated: “Mormonism must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a Prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground. If Joseph was a deceiver, who willfully attempted to mislead people, then he should be exposed, his claims should be refuted, and his doctrines shown to be false…”(Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1 pp.188-189.)

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3 minutes ago, pogi said:

Because they have been taught better:

 President Joseph Fielding Smith (President of the LDS Church in the early 1970’s) stated: “Mormonism must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a Prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground. If Joseph was a deceiver, who willfully attempted to mislead people, then he should be exposed, his claims should be refuted, and his doctrines shown to be false…”(Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1 pp.188-189.)

Exactly, and we've also been taught to anxiously engage in good causes and proselytise the truth. 

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1 hour ago, Meadowchik said:

Neutral scholarship is only relative, but it is better with robust epistemological rules in place. It's better with peer review and scholarship, it is better with continually-informing dialogue.

There is actually no such thing as neutral scholarship. But if one thinks about it, one would not have it any other way. 

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, pogi said:

Because they have been taught better:

 President Joseph Fielding Smith (President of the LDS Church in the early 1970’s) stated: “Mormonism must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a Prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground. If Joseph was a deceiver, who willfully attempted to mislead people, then he should be exposed, his claims should be refuted, and his doctrines shown to be false…”(Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1 pp.188-189.)

Joseph Fielding Smith was right (as was Elder Holland, who said the same thing). JS is what he said he was, or he is a fraud; there is no middle ground (none at least to stand on). So portraying JS as a fraud becomes a sort of existential imperative among ex-Mormons i.e. the very safety of their souls is at stake.

The stakes are very high, and maybe this does account partly for the way some ex-Mormons spend hours and hours (for some it has become almost a career) engaging with Mormonism long after leaving.

Edited by bdouglas
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46 minutes ago, bdouglas said:

(for some it has become almost a career)

I'd drop the almost for people like Dehlin. 

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1 hour ago, bdouglas said:

Joseph Fielding Smith was right (as was Elder Holland, who said the same thing). JS is what he said he was, or he is a fraud; there is no middle ground (none at least to stand on). So portraying JS as a fraud becomes a sort of existential imperative among ex-Mormons i.e. the very safety of their souls is at stake.

The stakes are very high, and maybe this does account partly for the way some ex-Mormons spend hours and hours (for some it has become almost a career) engaging with Mormonism long after leaving.

And what if JS was a fraud? Then where will you be? Doesn't leave much room, I wish Pres. Hinckley hadn't made it so black and white. The reason the ex-Mormons have engaged so long with Mormonism is because they might have gave years and years to it, and time, talents and money towards it. That is usually a big one on the list of feeling like they need to warn people away. And research for so long. Maybe verifying that they've made the right decision. It's people that were all in heavily that are the ones that won't leave it alone I'm guessing.

 

Edited by Tacenda
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A scholar is neither an apologist or critic. There is an element of curiosity and an eagerness to discover facts. Of course scholarship can be neutral and it is easily distinguishable in the writing style of the scholar. 

I don't care to comment on individuals; the critics mentioned bore me; they move from the banal to complete deceitfulness. I wish them well and pray for the salvation of their souls. 

I do think it is more rare that one simply leaves the Church, finds a new home, and leaves the past behind them. I have met several individuals that have done so, but it does seem that some, most?, have a horrible time following a path of peace out of the Church. 

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21 minutes ago, Tacenda said:

And what if JS was a fraud? Then where will you be? Doesn't leave much room, I wish Pres. Hinckley hadn't made it so black and white. The reason the ex-Mormons have engaged so long with Mormonism is because they might have gave years and years to it, and time, talents and money towards it. That is usually a big one on the list of feeling like they need to warn people away. And research for so long. Maybe verifying that they've made the right decision. It's people that were all in heavily that are the ones that won't leave it alone I'm guessing.

 

“Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.” - Ambrose Bierce

I think this applies to some ex-Mormons who are disappointed idealists, literalists.

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