Saturday, May 31, 2014

Short Announcements

I haven't posted here very much lately, as I've been rather busy with other matters.  I do have a list of posts I'd like to write up when I get the time, energy, and drive to do so, though.  (Some are further examinations of Evangelical and LDS teaching, while others are critical engagements with popular positions among the ex-LDS atheist communities.)  In the meantime, a few quick updates on what's been going on in my life:
  • I've been spending most of my time lately - as always - reading.  I have a number of books to work through before I return them to the seminary library in mid-July, so I've been making them a fairly high priority.
  • I have graduated, as of May 2014, from Asbury Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity (MDiv) degree.  It's been a long four-year journey!
  • On 29 May 2014, at the National Conference of my denomination, I was given my preacher's license and my clergy membership card identifying me as a "licensed pastor".
  • Starting in July, in addition to continuing in my current position teaching elementary-school children in a local Christian daycare, I will begin serving as the part-time assistant pastor of a small congregation out on the fringes of my home county, in the middle of heavy Amish territory.  (The horse-and-buggy nearly outnumbers the automobile on the road there!)  From what I've seen so far, it's a lovely community, and I've heard nothing but positive things about the church.  I strongly suspect that, as removed as the village is from any of the more urbanized areas, that I'm (sadly) rather unlikely to spot any LDS missionaries anywhere around!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"Cuttle Fish Hypocrisy": An LDS Article from 1900

The following article originally appeared as "Cuttle Fish Hypocrisy", Latter Day Saints Southern Star 2/24 (12 May 1900): 188. 
When the cuttle fish wishes to hide his true position it opens its spleen bag of black gall and squirts the inky substance into the water around it.  There are, in the so-called Christian world of the nineteenth century, a great many professed "preachers of righteousness," who take a delight (apparently so, from the numerous instances thereof,) in using the same methods, and going through the same manoeuvres as the cuttle fish, when they wish to turn the public mind against that system of religion erroneously known as "Mormonism."  This "cuttle fish hypocrisy" on the part of our good "Christian" friends is neither sound nor convincing.  Preachers may rant and rage about "Mormonism;" they may howl and storm from their lofty pulpits; but after they have foamed and frothed, and their boiling anger is somewhat cooled, they look down upon this strange, peculiar sect called "Mormons," and behold! they grow, increase, and multiply in numbers.  Let us reason for a few moments, Christian people, for we do not look down upon you with scorn, derision, contempt or hate.  No!  Our mission is one of peace and good will; our labor one of love, forgiveness, gentleness, and sweet charity.  You know the Lord says through His servant Isaiah, "Come now and let us reason together;" and, if the Father of all mercies will condescend to reason with His erring children on the earth, have we not the right, and should we not exercise the same, by reasoning among ourselves?  Yes! for "wisdom and reason make us men."  To reason then; would it not be a great deal better for Mr. Baptist to preach Baptistism; Mr. Methodist to preach Methodistism; than for either of them to fight against and endeavor to tear down "Mormonism?"  Yes!  And why?  For this reason: They are commanded by the Lamb of God to let their light shine, and in fighting "Mormonism" they are railing at what they suppose to be darkness, and not exhibiting the light they profess to possess.  As well might you shout to a man who is struggling in the deep, "You are drowning," and not throw out a life line, or buoy, or any other means by which he might be saved, as to rave and abuse the doctrines and teachings of "Mormonism" without casting forth your precious beams of holy light which you lay claim to have.  Why do modern Christians forever continue to slander the Mormon people, and fail to give reason or Scripture for so going?  It is simply this, they, like the cuttle-fish, are desirous of concealing themselves, they are anxious to have the minds of the people turned from the shallowness of their own systems, hence they belch forth wild anathemas against the Latter-day Saints, hiding themselves at the same time behind this sectarian fog of error, heresy, vile abuse, and misrepresentation.  They define "Mormonism" as being a system of lust, false, heinous, treacherous and vile.  Their definitions of the subject - Mormonism - puts us in mind of the student's answer, when asked by a zoological teacher, "What is a crab?"  The student's answer was this, "The crab is a red fish which moves backward."  "Very good," said the teacher, "your definition is correct but for three things.  First the crab is not a fish; second, it is not red; and thirdly, it does not move backwards."  So it is with those who would define for you, that "Mormonism" is a system of lust, vice, and fraud.  They are as far from knowing the truthfulness of what they speak, as the boy in the zoology department; i.e., they know nothing of its virtues, divinity, and praiseworthiness.  You cannot draw water from a dry well.  If the Christian world has light we shall expect them to produce the same, that we might walk in the paths of righteousness.  As yet they have failed to bring the light of the Holy Scriptures to bear upon us, but have gone astray from all righteous precedents, and have resorted to vile abuse, mob law, and scandalous reports.  These are the cogent arguments, the powerful reasonings, the spotless eloquence of those who pose as "Truth Reflectors" in the van of modern Christendom.  The mason generally uses the materials at hand for the erection of the structure he has contracted to build; so do preachers, therefore we are forced to admit that better material, sounder logic, more honorable eloquence, and God-like conduct are needed in the sects of distorted and turbulent Christendom today.  Brother, you can never build up your own church by striving to pull down one with kindred objects like as you profess to have.  If your own cannot stand on its miry foundation you should keep perfectly quiet and let it have an early and peaceful death.
Some questions and points for discussion:
  1. This article features considerable invective toward mainstream Christianity, reflecting a long history of LDS polemics.  The author of this piece deems mainstream Christianity only a "so-called Christian world", suggesting by intimation that mainstream Christians are not really Christians after all.  Frequently, when some modern Christian critics of the LDS faith designate Latter-day Saints as non-Christian, however, this is taken as a highly intolerable offense to those Latter-day Saints.  Is it fair for modern Latter-day Saints to take this sort of offense, given (1) the long historical tradition of making the same accusation towards mainstream Christians and (2) the continuing LDS doctrines that analogously deny certain key soteriological benefits to mainstream Christians?
  2. This article appears to portray mainstream Christian preachers as undertaking, as their primary task, the exclusively negative goal of scurrilously attacking the LDS faith.  Does this impression continue to have reverberations in the modern LDS mindset(s)?  In my own personal experience, I have never heard a negative reference to 'Mormonism' in a sermon by a modern mainstream Christian preacher, let alone a particularly scurrilous one.  I have, however, heard several very clear negative attacks on mainstream Christianity in talks delivered by a modern Latter-day Saint speaker over one of their "lofty pulpits". 
  3. This article uses some particularly vivid images to describe the alleged general behavior of mainstream Christian preachers.  One such image is that of the cuttle-fish, which muddies the waters with other issues in order to distract from its own vulnerability; and this is contrasted with offering deep substance in terms of one's own "system of religion".  In a modern context, however, there is an increasing perception that these sorts of tactics are more to be associated with significant trends in the LDS faith: that the goal is never a real conjunction of clarity and depth, but rather the implications of many historical lines of LDS thought are dismissed as speculative, leaving only a relative theological "shallowness"; and, to distract from this, various rhetorical methods are utilized to move attention away from engaging substantively here.  Such is the perception, at least - and in my own experience, it has some quite unfortunate credibility.  Would it be fair to connect modern Mormonism with the cuttle-fish imagery?
  4. One of the article's complaints is that mainstream Christian critics of Mormonism offer a factually inaccurate presentation of Mormonism.  Is this still generally or near-uniformly the case now?  In what specific ways do prominent mainstream Christian ministries misrepresent the LDS faith?  Conversely, I have repeatedly seen and heard misrepresentations of mainstream Christianity (both in terms of doctrine and practice) in LDS correlated manuals, the writings and speeches of LDS leaders, and conversations with LDS friends.  What dynamics might lead to LDS sources misrepresenting mainstream Christianity in these ways?
  5. Another of the article's chief complaints is that mainstream Christian critics of Mormonism are exclusively negative but offer nothing positive of their own, no positive alternative to the LDS faith.  I cannot comment on what led the article's author to conclude this in his own era, but it is of course manifestly false in ours: Many leading mainstream Christian critics of Mormonism are not exclusively or even necessarily primarily negative, but rather are critiquing Mormonism chiefly as part-and-parcel of the task of offering a substantive alternative, usually some variety of Evangelical Protestant Christianity.  Just as preaching "Mormonism" in certain social contexts must necessarily include a negative attack on mainstream Christianity in general (for frequently, the alleged faults of mainstream Christianity was a key element in early LDS preaching and apologetics), so preaching "Methodistism" [sic] in certain social contexts must invariably include a negative apologetic against Mormonism - but this is not to reduce the message to a purely negative one.  So what is the holistic context in which a religious critique is a healthy endeavor?
  6. Yet another of the article's chief complaints is that mainstream Christian critics of Mormonism were not making their case by invoking reason and Scripture.  The author explicitly lauds reasonable dialogue as a way of effecting a change in perspective.  The author faults mainstream Christian critics for "having failed to bring the light of the Holy Scriptures to bear upon us", for "fail[ing] to give reason or Scripture" as the prime element in their critique.  The clear implication seems to be that, once some other faults in the critique are remedied (on which, see the preceding two questions), a critique based on reason and Scripture would be fully above-board, and indeed would be in principle a commendable act in the sight of the God who invites us to reason with him.  Yet today, it is commonplace in modern Mormonism that appeals to reason or Scripture are viewed in a much more negative light, as contrasted with a fairly fideistic or subjectivist approach to religious truth in conjunction with private affective experiences.  Why this unhealthy change?  What would it look like if modern Mormonism were to embrace the legitimacy of giving and receiving critiques based on reason and Scripture?