A Skeptical Baptism

I ran across this podcast called “Oh No, Ross and Carrie!“. They are a pair of ex-Evangelical Skeptics who take it upon themselves to investigate religious claims and experience them personally. In their most current episodes they investigate Mormonism and go so far as to become baptized. After baptism they let their missionaries know the truth and reveal their deception.

I don’t think what they have done is right. They have no belief in Mormonism’s truth claims and cross the line in several places to make people think they are sincere. I think what they do is unethical. They could have experienced everything they report on through observation. If they had asked if they could see a baptism or a confirmation for themselves I’m certain their missionaries could have accommodated them. That being said, they offer an interesting view into Mormonism from an outside perspective.

The part that really got me was that one of their missionaries had only baptized one other person. My heart broke for him when they let him in on their ruse.

Their experience is broken into two episodes. If you only have time for one, I would recommend episode 2

Episode 1

Download link

Episode 2

Download link

This is my response I left in their comments section

I enjoyed listening to your story. Both of you are funny, interesting to listen to, and of course, so very smart. You have a good chemistry and make a great podcast duo.

As a non-Mormon I can resonate with some of your experiences in visiting a Mormon chapel for the first time. My wife and I got cornered and hounded for our street address as well. So weird.

Unfortunately, I think what you did was unethical. It was fine up until the point you decided to get baptized. It got worse when you knowingly “cheated” the baptism interview. It went over the top when you delivered your fake testimonies. Granted you were careful to “tell the truth” (mostly) but not in a way that that was honest. You offered truths in a way that you knew your listeners would accept as an embrace of their beliefs, all the while sharing the hidden smirk with your friends in the know. You gave your Mormon friends what they needed in order to get something from them that you wanted (an experience to share on a podcast). But you didn’t pay the price they requested. You wrote a bogus check.

And the sad thing about this is that it was completely unnecessary. If you had wanted to observe an LDS baptism and confirmation, you could have done so. I was specifically invited to one by some missionaries. I learned everything you learned but I didn’t have to fool anyone to gain the experience. The integrity in all of my relationships remained intact. I didn’t invite 40 strangers out of their holiday plans in order to witness a fraud. I wasn’t forced to overcome any guilt by telling a couple of wide-eyed 19-year-olds that I had been using them and their sacred ceremonies to appear cool to my Evangelical friends.

Your ex-Mormon friend justified your actions by saying “The LDS church has hurt a lot of people too.” Perhaps, but does this really justify YOUR actions. If you want to stand in judgement of them shouldn’t your behavior be superior to theirs? Shouldn’t you be setting the standard for them in authenticity and honesty?

As it stands you could continue moving forward as Mormons and even gain access to their temple ceremonies. You’ve clearly figured out how to deliver the answers they want to hear and the requirements for ten percent of your “increase” are vague enough that it could cost you very little. Yet I think you know that this would be inappropriate.

I find your project interesting. But I hope you move forward with some stronger ground rules and that you don’t join any other religions under false pretenses.

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71 thoughts on “A Skeptical Baptism

  1. As I read this, Tim, one thing screamed out to me:

    You could rewrite a few minor details in your post and send it to folks over at StayLDS.com and NewOrderMormon.org.

    Cultural Mormons here who condemn what these two guys above did should first ask themselves if they are doing much of the same thing.

  2. For once, I get to agree with Tim!
    Psalm 32:2: “Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.”

  3. Authenticity is hard to find anywhere, I try not to judge people who are not fully expressing their true selves because of societal constraints. So I do think there is some difference between affirmatively going out to fool people and maintaining family and social connections by not rocking the religious boat.

    I am a “cultural Mormon” in that nearly all of my family are Mormons. But I don’t think you could consider me a “true believing” Mormon. I don’t go to church or participate in ordinances, or follow the outward rules. That said, I do have a “testimony” of the truth inside the LDS Church and firmly believe that God can be found in the way Mormons seek Him. I believe Joseph Smith was somehow inspired and many Mormon conceptions of the meaning and purpose of life and how to live it still resonate with me. I also have a lot of respect for those who believe in the Church (as well as those who are believers in other faiths.)
    So it is not difficult for me to authentically participate in LDS Church, or even other churchs, to some extent. Just as Tim can authentically visit and participate in LDS services to some extent. But I do strive to try to push myself to be as authentic as possible, even if I sometimes fail.

    I am fully with Tim on criticizing this sort of behavior, I think it disrespects the human process of finding God through conversion, as many LDS have done, even when it is conversion from Evangelical churches. I think it does it in a very blatant and uncaring way that is not in keeping with the golden rule. I think some of the “passing” done by New Order Mormons can be justified by the end of sparing the feelings and heartache that a break with the Church could cause families. If the New Order Mormon doesn’t have a compelling alternative religious path, passing seems to be a decent choice. This couple doesn’t have that justification.

  4. Aaron I completely agree. I couldn’t but help to think of the fifth part of this interview. http://mormonstories.org/?p=1476

    If you don’t even believe in the Atonement but are going to adjust your answers so that the bishop hears what he wants to hear, you’re not all that different than Ross and Carrie. You’re obfuscating the truth despite being barred barring from participation. The intent and purpose may be different, but the action and outcome are the same. People around you are being duped so that you can take something from them.

    I’m not sure Terryl Givens is all that different than Jared Anderson in this regard.
    http://thepierianspring.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/givens-on-atonement-agency-and-the-war-in-heaven/

    This kind of behavior within Mormonism is a problem. It’s a problem that people think it’s okay, It’s a problem that people think they need to do it. It’s a problem that in some sectors it’s encouraged. If people are upset about Ross and Carrie, they may need to look internally as well.

    Jared you are in another field all together than this. You participate as you can. But you don’t seek to participate in ways that you’re requested not to.

  5. As a former Mormon with not a whole lot of good things to say about my experience or about the church structure, I agree with you Tim.

    My whole beef with the LDS gospel is the deceit and “lying for the Lord” aspect of the culture. But two wrongs don’t make a right and it doesn’t seem justified to lie to get in…especially since they didn’t experience anything that couldn’t be experienced without the deceit, as you pointed out.

    Perhaps if they wanted to follow through and experience the temple, the undercover life would have been warranted because that is indeed secretive and off limits otherwise. But even then there’s a whole lot of lying they would have had to do over a period of a year to actually make it. But enough people have been in as members and are willing to talk about it as non-members, however, that it seems totally unnecessary.

    I’ll tell anyone anything they need to know.

    I had a valid temple recommend in my possession for a full year after I resigned from the church. I thought about using it to gain access…maybe with a camera, or maybe just to write about, but I couldn’t ever really do it. Like I said, such a thing would have been completely hypocritical since I was claiming to have left because of honesty and integrity.

    I think the same goes for these two. They’re not really interested in the truth. It’s publicity stunts they are after.

  6. I don’t think there’s much of a parallel between these refugees from “Punk’d” and “cultural Mormons” (however you define that term).

    One group knows they’re acting like douchebags. The second group sincerely believes in their stance within the LDS Church and that they belong there.

    It’s the difference between being merely mistaken (or self-delusional if you prefer) and a shameless liar.

  7. I do agree with most of the comments made here, especially by Aaron.

    I began to read the Bible more carefully a year ago, and could not muster the courage to lie about my temple recommend. I told the Stake President that I could honor and sustain Tom Monson as President of the Corporation, not as a prophet and that I had no faith in Joe Smith as a Prophet. I was immediately denied a temple recommend.

    That said, I have a little more respect for New Order Mormons. The difference between them and Ross and Carrie is that many of them were born into the faith, whereas the previously mentioned opted to be baptized on their on volition. I was a cafeteria Mormon for a long time before becoming an Evangelical. I didn’t hide certain areas of dissatisfaction, but didn’t believe polygamy was ever inspired, nor the ban on priesthood for the blacks.

    Being an evangelical, I now find the whole temple recommend process ridiculous. I understand that I am a vile sinner from the get go and likely not worthy, no matter what I do, to enter God’s house (assuming that that the temple with a bronze idol on the roof WERE His house). It would only be upon my confession of NON-WORTHINESS and accepting His GRACE would it be that I could attain a “pass.”

  8. Being an evangelical, I now find the whole temple recommend process ridiculous. I understand that I am a vile sinner from the get go and likely not worthy, no matter what I do, to enter God’s house (assuming that that the temple with a bronze idol on the roof WERE His house). It would only be upon my confession of NON-WORTHINESS and accepting His GRACE would it be that I could attain a “pass.”

    And I find that ridiculous. You are not a sinner because there is no sin.

  9. I enjoyed hearing Just Me’s and Jared’s personal testimonies.

    Just Me said, “It would only be upon my confession of NON-WORTHINESS and accepting His GRACE would it be that I could attain a ‘pass’.”

    And, having attained that pass to the kingdom of God by grace, we become WORTHY by the blood of Jesus Christ. Then we can come boldly to His throne for whatever we need. “If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask . . .” (1 John 3:21-22).
    No physical temple needed!
    (I’m not suggesting people don’t have powerful meetings with God in LDS temples.)

  10. I think there is a place in religion for the personal: why you get baptized is, at the end of the day, really none of my concern. I thought this way even as a “true believing Mormon.” I am not horrified by the skeptics’ “conversion” — maybe it brought some meaning into their lives that would not otherwise have been there (for all that some of the people involved understandably lack the perspective to see this). I am not being facetious when I say this.

    Maybe the world should be completely transparent, with every person entirely honest (with himself and everyone else) about exactly how much (or how little) he buys into every social contract he undertakes. Real life is never so neat. Benedict XVI and Thomas Merton are (or were, since Merton is dead) both Catholic, but they do not think alike on all things (judging from how they express themselves in public). Does this make one or both of them liars? I don’t think so. I was born a Mormon. I believed it all simply, naively, whole-heartedly. Then, I learned some things about reality. Today, I no longer believe the same way I did, but I have not suddenly lost interest in friends, family, or the religious and cultural tradition in which I spent the last 20+ years. Yes, I can put some distance between myself and the current leaders of the LDS church (and I do), but I cannot just dump Mormonism (and pretend like the last 20+ years never happened: for better or worse, a large part of my cultural footprint is, and will always be, Mormon). I cannot go back and undo my birth into a Mormon family (and all that followed from that). I don’t even want to do such a thing.

    For purposes of full disclosure, let me say that I have not taken the temple recommend interview and “given the man the answers he needs.” But I have family members and close friends who have done this. They are some of the best people I know. I respect their morality, and I think there should be a place for such people in Mormonism (and in every faith community). Why should they miss out on important faith experiences (experiences which for them do not exist outside Mormonism) because they read the mumbo-jumbo a little differently from some stuffed suits who never bothered to think things through before making correlation the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Mormons believe in saving ordinances, i.e. sacred experiences that change the individual radically. Mormons believe that God speaks to them through ordinances (like baptism). They believe in making those ordinances available to everyone (to the point of being obnoxious and proxy-baptizing every dead person whose records they can find, at least once). If dead atheists can have the saving ordinances, why should a faithful member (who happens to be unorthodox by kooky McConkie standards) be denied them?

    At the end of the day, Mormons teach that you are changed, “saved,” or whatever, by experiences that are supposed to be personal, intimate, (and so unique, though the correlation committee kind of misses this). No one sets out on purpose (as far as I can tell, but don’t think about David Bednar here) to make LDS ordinances the spiritual equivalent of a frontal lobotomy, replacing the individual’s gray matter with a robot-brain that says, “Yes, Master!” every time the prophet speaks. That is not how the best Mormons see themselves, ever (in my experience, and I have interacted with many, over the years, including close friends and family). I admit, there is something to be said for ditching churches where nuts (like McConkie or Bednar) are in charge, but there is also something to be said for blooming where you’re planted, living your own integrity and owning your own tradition (which the McConkies cannot control completely, for all that they do own a nice bully pulpit). I have as much right to consider myself Mormon as those people have. I am as much a person as they are. I have studied the scriptures as much as they did. I am as morally competent as they are. Their Mormonism is not more “real” or “authentic” than mine just because they have more power, more social capital, and I am not obligated to yield them abject obedience (which they do not really want, even if they seem to sometimes: they are just working with a very small view of the world). They do not own Mormonism anymore than your politician of the day owns patriotism. You cannot own culture. You can only express it. We all express it the best way we know how. So let the skeptics be baptized in peace, and mock away, I say.

  11. Like I said, full authenticity is much easier when the cost is low. The main difference i see in the false Converts and a unbelieving Mormon that lies in temple recommend is the intent of their actions. Most un-believing Mormons are lying to maintain full social participation in their communities, not mock or undermine the church. It could be said that passers are ultimate good for the church by providing a way to include more types of people in a very excluding group. Generally their closest friends and relatives are LDS and are happy to support the church and its people. The false Convert’s intent seems ultimately to tear down Mormon ceremonies and beliefs. this doesn’t make the falsity any less false, but I think the ultimate effects are different.

  12. (also, the “authenticity” I am talking about is not determining who owns or controls the “authentic” Mormonism, I am talking about letting your speech and actions reflect your who you really and really believe. I don’t think passers are being authentic, they, like most every human, sacrifices authenticity for social benefits. )

  13. Hermes —

    Wow that was great!

    All religions have 2nd generation problems. Kids don’t necessarily share their parents views on religion. Lasting religious communities have to bring in kids that are quite often only culturally connected to the faith.

    2nd generation pilgrim kids refused to make adult professions of faith until they were very old so as to avoid having to live under threat of church discipline. So 3rd generation pilgrim kids weren’t being baptized, grandparents freaked out and all the sudden the halfway-covenant was created.

  14. I just posted the same on Ross and Carrie’s website:

    Hey guys, congratulations on violating so many rules of ethical conduct as established by the American Anthropological Association! It really was a tour de force. If you care here are the ethics rules as laid down by said organization.

    Here are a few of the highlights:

    Anthropological researchers must do everything in their power to ensure that their research does not harm the safety, dignity, or privacy of the people with whom they work, conduct research, or perform other professional activities.

    Anthropological researchers should obtain in advance the informed consent of persons being studied, providing information, owning or controlling access to material being studied, or otherwise identified as having interests which might be impacted by the research.

    Anthropological researchers who have developed close and enduring relationships (i.e., covenantal relationships) with either individual persons providing information or with hosts must adhere to the obligations of openness and informed consent, while carefully and respectfully negotiating the limits of the relationship.

    As atheists, I am sure you are big proponents of science. So I have to wonder why not follow the ethical rules as laid down by the scientists who practice this kind of research, namely anthropologists?

    I also have to question what data you were trying to get out of the whole thing. You didn’t get any data which you could not also have received through observation. This is mainly because you did not experience that which a person going through this process honestly would have experienced. There was nothing at stake for you, nothing existential mattered. Thus whatever you experienced, it had nothing to do with Mormons or what they experience. For example, during the baptismal interview, nothing was as stake for you, so whatever anticipation, nerves, or whatever you may have experienced is nothing like what a real investigator would experience. You had the same experience as you would have had if you just read the interview questions to each other. And I might add that would actually be ethical.

    Finally, as an ex Mormon I no longer believe what you were taught and experienced, so this is not a matter of me being an offended Mormon. But I would hope in the future you would take basic ethical considerations into account and do good science, not crap sensationalism. Not believing does not give you carte blanche to be unethical towards groups whose beliefs you do not hold. Allow me to conclude with more from the AAA code of ethics:

    These obligations can supersede the goal of seeking new knowledge, and can lead to decisions not to undertake or to discontinue a research project when the primary obligation conflicts with other responsibilities

  15. Less stringent than the anthropologists’ rules are the traditional ethical guidelines of journalists, which allow for deception under limited circumstances. But the Oh No stunt fell far short of even those guidelines. As has already been mentioned, they could have received the same information without hurting people, so such action is extremely difficult at best to justify.

    As to whether Ross and Carrie are in the same league as “cultural” or “cafeteria” Mormons who participate fully in the Church, I’d say … it depends. Motivation and intent are certainly relevant factors.

  16. Very interesting question, and the connection between Ross and Carrie’s approach to baptism and non-literal believers is a thought-provoking one.

    Tim and David Clark, I really enjoyed your response to this podcast. Tim, I would like to respond to the core part of your comment, “The intent and purpose may be different, but the action and outcome are the same.” I agree with most of that except that the *outcome* is the same. And I would add that “intent and purpose” transforms the same action to something completely different.

    Morality is all about the same actions under different circumstances with different intentions and purposes. A graphic example that comes immediately to mind is rape…. it is not the action of sex that makes it wrong; it is the intention/purpose and circumstances around the action. There is no principle that is absolutely right or absolutely wrong all the time—intention and purpose are what make something right or wrong.

    David, your comment made me think about Mama Lola, which you might be familiar with. This book raised controversy in academic circles because Karen Brown, an anthropologist, went through a voodoo initiation to better understand the object of her study. It raises the question of appropriate boundaries in study.

    What Ross and Carrie are doing is beyond even anthropological study; from what I have seen in these comments the intent is mockery.

    Here is what I think is the key in determining whether such actions are appropriate: Whether a non-standard approach or behavior (such as selective disclosure or even being misleading) is DEFENSIBLE. In this case, it would be whether an action is defensible to the body of believers.

    I do not think any faithful Mormon would approve of what Ross and Carrie have done. I would hope that ANY cultural sensitive human being would disapprove of joining a faith community in order to mock it. I have appreciated the comments on this post that react in just this way.

    How those who are already members navigate the contours of their membership and their relationship to the community, I see as something completely different, though I acknowledge that one could say a level of “deception” or lack of full disclosure is not involved. But once again, the key is whether such careful (non)disclosure is defensible.

    Tim, as I stated in my Mormon Stories interview, I was completely honest with my bishop about the state of my beliefs. I don’t quite understand then how you are equating my approach to Ross and Carrie’s. Another key difference is that my approach is motivated by a desire to serve and help the community rather than “pull one over” on anyone. I am as honest and disclosive as I feel will be beneficial. I actually wrote up a paper on this called “On Love and Lying: Integrity, Identity, and Interpretation in a Pluralistic Mormon Culture” where I propose guidelines for such interactions.

    Thanks again for the interesting conversation.

  17. Jared, I for sure think you should listen to the second part of their podcast where they describe their testimony bearing in much the same way you do. I think it should give you something to at least consider.

    I’m aware that you have at least told your bishop that you don’t believe in the atonement. But you’ve also expressed your rejection of being subjected to “priesthood-holder roulette”. The implication being that you reserve the right to “nuance” your answers for anyone as you please.

    You say “Another key difference is that my approach is motivated by a desire to serve and help the community rather than “pull one over” on anyone.”

    I’m certain that Ross and Carrie could defend their actions by saying that their desire is to serve and help the larger community of non-Mormons by giving us an insider’s view. Just because they can point to some worthwhile outcome does not necessarily mean that their actions justify their behavior. Their deception might be worse than any positive outcome.

    I think the same can be said of your actions. You’re choosing to engage the community on terms they reject (presumably The Brethren do not regard non-belief as a valid expression of belief). You’re choosing to serve the community but not in ways they wish to be served.

    If you want to continue to be a part of the community despite your lack of belief, have at it. But I think you should do so on the community’s self-defined terms. Glen Ostlund sets an excellent example for you. If you don’t like the community’s terms don’t force yourself upon them. Save yourself the pretzel-twisting justifications.

  18. Thanks for engaging with me Tim. But the difference is that Carrie and Ross cannot give the “insider’s view” on these terms. You spun the situation around a bit… Self-defining as Mormon puts us understandably at the judgment of other Mormons. This is what I mean by maintaining a “defensible” position. I can’t imagine you would find any faithful believers who would approve of what Carrie and Ross did. It is unethical to masquerade as something you are not in order to serve a separate community… you are a social double agent in such a case.

    For a variety of reasons, I really am a Mormon. I was raised Mormon. This is my faith language, my community. I have experienced a large degree of not only acceptance but also appreciation for my approach. The “community’s self-defined terms” presupposes that there is only one way to be a good Mormon, which is an idea I reject.

    “Lack of belief” is also misleading. I believe Mormonism is good. I believe spirituality is real. I believe Joseph Smith was inspired. I also believe that Mormonism has serious flaws, and believe plenty of other individuals were inspired. Yes, the position that “I can still be Mormon on any terms” can be problematic, but there is more room for diversity of belief and actions than one might expect. If you don’t want a temple recommend, for example, things have to get pretty extreme to be excommunicated.

    But again, my motivations are to serve and help the Mormon community, and I feel my position is defensible. I am willing to defend my outlook whenever necessary. This is why I deserve to be considered an insider still. I wonder at your investments in saying I should follow Glen Ostlund’s example rather than choosing the path I have.

  19. Also, similarity in approach or rhetoric does not equal similarity in purpose or result. All players in a given sports event are going through the same motions, using the same techniques…..

    But which team you are really playing for makes all the difference.

  20. Tim said to J.A.:

    If you want to continue to be a part of the community despite your lack of belief, have at it. But I think you should do so on the community’s self-defined terms.

    I see your point; I really do. (And, to be blunt about it, I read “On Love and Lying: Integrity, Identity, and Interpretation in a Pluralistic Mormon Culture” and found it arrogant.)

    But is it really entirely accurate to say that J.A. is acting contrary to “the community’s self-defined terms”? Assuming that J.A. is using his real name and/or picture, I think he’s pretty much said openly what he believes (which is, as I understand it, that we know very little about what is reality in spiritual things, but whatever it is, Mormonism does a better a job of having a narrative symbolizing that reality than other religions do). Yet so far (and correct me if I’m wrong), J.A. is still a member in good standing. By not taking disciplinary action against him, isn’t the Church saying that his unorthodox views are acceptable, at least to the level of participation he has in the church?

    And if that’s what the Church is saying, why should it matter to an outsider?

    Actually, I find myself a bit divided here. On the one hand, there are many things I take less literally than most Mormons do. I certainly wouldn’t want to be told that I’m less than genuinely LDS (for lack of a better term) because (to pick a minor example) I doubt that the Fall literally took place in Missouri. On the other hand, I’d argue that there has to be something that has to be believed to be genuine — I’d say that a literal Resurrection of Jesus would be an example (it’s not clear to me if J.A. believes this), and that the LDS church has something in terms of divine authority that others don’t (I’m not sure what he believes about this either) — these would be absolute minimums. Beyond that, I’m not sure where I’d draw the line. I’m not sure I’d see the point of being in a church in which it doesn’t matter much what you believe; if I thought that, I’d probably become a Unitarian (no insult to Unitarians intended, as the ones I’ve known have been admirable people).

  21. CD,

    I am afraid I have to disagree with you again over Presbyterian history.

    Any comparison between Machen controversy and new order Mormons fails because unlike Mormonism the 1920’s Northern Presbyterian Church had a confession of faith. Machen’s position argued for adherence to the ordination vows of ministers to uphold and teach the doctrines found in the Westminster standards. He was also opposed to financial support for a mission board that was teaching contrary to Westminster Standards.

    Unless the LDS church adopts a confession of faith or ordination vows or a precise system of doctrine and then requires subscription to that confession any similarity is less than tangential.

  22. Eric, I don’t necessarily think church discipline is the only way to handle the issues. On the other hand, I don’t know how many different ways they can say “We believe in a personal and supernatural God. We believe that Joseph Smith was inspired BY God. We believe we are the only true church.” Jared might as well say that he affirms “community,” “people” and “gathering”. His affirmations of faith are as tenuous as can be and he’s certainly not placing his faith in the things the LDS church teaches him to.

    I know I’m old fashion, but I think adherents of a religion should put their faith in the object of the religion’s devotion. In this case, Heavenly Father. “Faith” is irrelevant, it’s the object of faith that matters. Jared has faith, but in humanity. He thinks Joseph Smith was inspired but no more so than Oprah. He doesn’t think Joseph was being directed by a supernatural personal being. His confessions always require the listener to ask “what do you mean by that?”

    If he doesn’t believe in Mormonism, that’s fine with me. But he shouldn’t bear his testimony in a way that makes those in his ward think he’s talking about the same things they are. He’s being coy with them. I think he should mean what he says and say what he means. If not, his testimony is on par with Ross and Carrie’s. He’s encouraged and sharpened those in his faith community by mimicking their language but not by actually teaching them something from his experience. His true experience and insight has been selfishly hidden away from them in order to avoid rejection. He people-pleases, but not in an effort to actually uplift his community and give them his true insights into faith, spirituality and God.

    Where CD-Host’s comparison is not appropriate is that this isn’t a disagreement between conservatism and liberalism. This is theism vs. humanism. This is supernaturalism vs. naturalism. Jared could much easier find fellowship with Ross and Carrie at a humanist fellowship than he could with Thomas Monson.

  23. gundek —

    He was also opposed to financial support for a mission board that was teaching contrary to Westminster Standards.

    Let me weaken that just a little bit and see if you agree, just to make sure there aren’t factual disputes:
    He was also opposed to financial support for a mission board that was willing to fund missionaries who taught contrary to Westminster Standards.

    The reason this is important is that its my contention in the article that in 1926 the denomination developed an explicit policy of tolerance. That is when the denomination didn’t split over the Auburn affirmation there was IMHO an official policy of tolerance for liberals. Of course there is a difference between not excommunicating someone for a view and subsidizing it which is what the debate in the 30s was about.

    As for “ordination vows”, Mormons don’t have a paid clergy but there are quite a few confessional statements required for baptism, temple recommend, melchizedek priesthood… They don’t call them that, and have a theology against such things but they do have it.

  24. You can weaken the statement but it doesn’t change the fact that the mission board was funding missions teaching contrary to the Westminster Standards.

    The reaction to Auburn did show a majority indifference to confessional standards but the reaction to prohibition shows that tolerance only went so far.

    Finally Machen was a confessionalist not a fundamentalist, and like traditional Presbyterianism, one that did not require confessional subscription for the laity. I’ll leave it up to the Mormons but the baptism, temple, priesthood interviews don’t seem to have any similarity to the Westminster Confession, Shorter &Larger

  25. Gundek —

    I’m not disagreeing with much of what you wrote, so I’m not sure what we are debating. I guess I could nitpick… Machen was a fundamentalist in the 1930s sense but not in the 1940s sense. He rejected the term because it became associated with Baptist Arminian groups….

    So what exactly do you think I’m asserting that you are disagreeing with?

  26. I do not agree with your assessment that the Machen affairs of the 20’s or 30’s is in any way the same issue as new order Mormons.

  27. Tim, Ross and Carrie are not Jared’s family. He may not even like them. (I don’t automatically feel more at home with people whose intellectual credos most closely match mine: I like being with friends and family, even if some of their intellectual positions strike me as ridiculous. God and religion are bigger than words, for me.) If you want to make true religion an intellectual assent to some kind of formal credo, good for you. Why should the rest of us be forced to play along?

    Have you ever considered that God might have a different way of looking at things than you have, that he might like churches that you hate, people whose intellectual positions you find uncongenial? As long as they are willing to let you be, can you not do the same to them (“do unto others…”), in another church (for crying out loud)?

  28. Tim, re your comment of 4:25 p.m. yesterday:

    Like I said earlier, I’m a bit divided on this issue. Except that I don’t know enough about Jared to characterize his beliefs in the way you do, I don’t flatly disagree with anything you said.

    On the other hand, I’m also sympathetic with some of the things that Jared said in his paper “On Love and Lying: Integrity, Identity, and Interpretation in a Pluralistic Mormon Culture” (even though I don’t care for what I perceive as an arrogant tone). For I, too, am more inclined to see some matters more metaphorically and less literally than to than do many, make that most, Mormons.

    I suppose one issue is whether the differences between me and someone like Jared are differences of degree or kind. I suspect the latter; I certainly accept the basic LDS narrative, while Jared apparently does not.

    But, if I say that I believe Joseph Smith was inspired as a prophet (and I do), I’m not sure that what I’m saying is exactly what a typical Mormon believes by that statement either. I wouldn’t say that he was inspired merely in the same sense Oprah is (your characterization of Jared’s view). On the other hand, I do put him in the same position as the Old Testament prophets. Many of them were flawed human beings, and I’m open to the possibility that the same was true of Joseph Smith, something that many LDS aren’t, practically speaking, open to. So when I say that I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, do I believe the same thing that many LDS would understand me as saying? I’m not sure. Am I being honest when I say without qualification that I believe he was inspired? I think I am. Or am I being dishonest by not defining what I mean to say someone is inspired?

    One more example that’s more than a theoretical: I would characterize the book of Jonah as inspired fiction, not because I don’t believe in miracles, but because various elements of the story have characteristics of it being a fable. (I’m certainly open to the possibility it’s historical; I just think it probably isn’t, although I do think there was likely a real person named Jonah. Basically, in my view, the book is true whether or not it’s historical.) But when I taught a lesson in Jonah, did I say that? No. I did talk a lot about the themes of Jonah and the Christological symbolism. I mentioned that we don’t know who the author of the book was, or even for certain when it was written, and even that it probably came from a long oral tradition, as the satire made it the kind of story that people would enjoy telling.

    It’s a great story with many valuable lessons. And chances are that most (perhaps all) of the class saw the book as historical. Was I being dishonest by “hiding” my view that I don’t know if the book is historical (and don’t really care)? I don’t think I was. Should have I stated my views and detracted from what I see (and the church’s teaching manuals see) as the important parts of the lesson? I don’t see what good it would do.

    And that’s basically what Jared was saying in his paper; the difference, and it’s a significant one, is that he apparently views nearly all of the LDS narrative in that way, and I don’t.

    But that’s why I have some sympathy with Jared’s position even though I can’t help but characterize it as an attempt to justify hypocrisy.

  29. Hermes

    The LDS church has an intellectual creedo. I’m merely recommending that Mormons respect it. You’ll notice my critique is not against the unitarians. I’m not forcing anyone to do anything. I would wish that my creeds be accepted. So I’m doing unto the LDS church as I would want done unto me

  30. Tim, the LDS credo (Articles of Faith, temple recommend interviews?) has no unitary, clear, or undisputed meaning. David O. McKay (the prophet when my father was converted) refused to excommunicate Sterling McMurrin, who was every bit as heretical as Jared (and was open about his heresy, teaching and publishing books). Joseph Smith leaned heavily toward Universalism at several points in his ministry (as you will know from the latest Mormon Expression podcasts with George Miller).

    Jared has as much right to be a Mormon as Sterling McMurrin (or Joseph Smith). The church cannot steal his heritage. As for participation in the LDS church, again, Jared is as much a member in good standing as McMurrin (or Smith) — until the current leadership decides to kick him out (which they haven’t thus far). The only real credo that the LDS church has is that what the top brass says goes: for all the overtures today’s leaders seem to want to make toward literalism and even fundamentalism, they carefully avoid saying as much (respecting at least some of the Universalist streak in Smith).

    My mother-in-law does not believe in the gospel as history, and she has never had trouble getting a temple recommend (even though she tells her leaders exactly how she feels point blank). I think Mormonism, even LDS Mormonism, is a bigger tent than you seem to think. (To be fair, some of your issues are a result of pushes from guys high up there in the church hierarchy, but you have to keep in mind that the smiles you see at General Conference do not register complete agreement: McKay disapproved of McConkie’s doctrine in my dad’s day, and today there are similar schisms. Read Quinn’s Hierarchy of Power, and know that the LDS church is not homogeneous enough to warrant your attack on Jared’s character.)

  31. Also, returning to the “fake” baptism that initiated this conversation, my reading of Alma 32 convinces me (even before I became aware I was “apostate”) that Mormons believe in giving doubters the benefit of the doubt, particularly when they are willing to put the seed of faith to the test by complying with the rules of the church community (as Jared certainly does). In fact, insofar as even Ron and Carrie laid themselves open to taking part in an ordinance encouraged for “investigators,” Mormons have to think that they may have been touched by God at some point during the process. While they might not realize this now (or live up to their baptismal covenants fully), the possibility that they might be inspired and experience a change of heart is real (for Mormons) and respected. As a returned missionary, I am aware of many cases like theirs: such people were always approached with genuine interest: well-meaning believers have no reason to doubt that (no matter what these people might say in their podcast) Ron and Carrie might have felt the Holy Ghost and offered some kind of assent to the will of God (even if they did not follow through as the community of believers would like). If they had gone as far as getting temple recommends and videotaping the entire proceedings, then the shoe would be on a different foot, but baptism is different from temple rituals: it is public, open, and requires no great commitment (in my experience), whereas the temple is private, closed, and requires great commitment (which people like Jared and my mother-in-law cannot just fake, any more than anyone else can who gets that far: if you are admitted, you have to be either really poor or very generous in your financial contributions, and you have to put in significant time doing church service, time which no muck-raking investigator is going to have unless he is in this for the very long haul.)

    I think what I want to say has three separate parts. First, people like Jared and my mother-in-law are not low-life hypocrites lying their way through temple recommend interviews for some nefarious purpose. Second, there is really no useful comparison to be made between mockers (like Ron and Carrie) and “New Order Mormons” (like Jared and my mother-in-law). Third, Ron and Carrie (in my view as a Mormon, even when I was a naively believing Mormon) did not really do anything that bad. Let them have their laugh if they want. God is big enough to take that laugh and turn it to good use (in their lives and/or that of others with whom they come in contact). If he couldn’t take it, he would not have set the bar for baptism so low.

  32. I’m not and no where have I advocated excommunication for Jared or Ross or Carrie.

    I’m approaching it from the individual’s side not the church’s.

    You’re reacting to someone other than me.

  33. I’m just reacting defensively against attempts to prescribe spiritual regimens to other people based on one’s own personal preference. If that is not what you are doing, then you are right and we don’t disagree. I guess I could see your line of thought being something like this: “Jared won’t be able to employ the full range of his spirituality in the LDS church. He needs to find a faith community that engages him fully, taking (and to some degree actively accepting) the good he has and giving him in turn goods that he can really appreciate.” I resonate with this, but I would not go so far as to say that this means Jared cannot be who he is and be fulfilled as an active LDS.

    From my point of view, that is a decision only Jared is equipped to make. If he wants to be LDS, I think he should be (as long as the church lets him, of course: we cannot make leadership do anything it is not willing to do). I do not think the decision to stay makes him necessarily a hypocrite or a spiritual cripple (though I think I understand why you or someone else might feel this way: I myself am not comfortable being fully active in the LDS church, largely because I see the world the way Jared does; the difference is that I am a different person, with different circumstances, a different ward, a different family situation, etc.).

  34. I do not agree with your assessment that the Machen affairs of the 20′s or 30′s is in any way the same issue as new order Mormons.

    Lets take the definition:

    New Order Mormons are those who no longer believe some (or much) of the dogma or doctrines of the LDS Church, but who want to maintain membership for cultural, social, or even spiritual reasons. New Order Mormons recognize both good and bad in the Church, and have determined that the Church does not have to be perfect in order to remain useful. New Order Mormons seek the middle way to be Mormon.

    Now lets do some word replacement:

    Liberal Presbyterians are those who no longer believe some of the dogma or doctrines of the traditionalists in the PCUSA, but who want to maintain membership for cultural, social, or even spiritual reasons. Liberals recognize both good and bad in the Church, and have determined that the Church does not have to be perfect in order to remain useful. Liberals seek the middle way to be Christian.

    Yeah this strikes me as exactly the point of the Auburn affirmation especially:

    — None of the five essential doctrines should be used as a test of ordination. Alternated “theories” of these doctrines are permissible.

    — Liberty of thought and teaching, within the bounds of evangelical Christianity is necessary.

    Obviously the specific points of dispute are different. But concerns about historicity of the bible are not structurally that much different than concerns about historicity of the BoM, for example.

  35. I imagine that we will have to agree to disagree on this but this is what happens when you take something out of context.  

    My point is that the Presbyterian church in the 20’s and 30’s had a Confession of faith and a constitutionally mandated ordination process for the examination of clergy by Presbyteries.  Mormonism has no comparable system.  I also disagree that Mormonism has no paid clergy because they certainly do, but something tells me that 70’s and apostles are not required to pass Hebrew, Greek, doctrine, Bible, and ecclesiology exams much less state their exceptions to the LDS system of doctrine.

    I’m not critiquing your post, this is not the forum for that.  The issue is that Westminster, Auburn, Fosdick, Machen, or the fundamentals have only a cursory similarity, at best, to new order Mormonism, because subscription to the Westminster Standards as the “system of doctrine taught in the bible” or affirmation of the 1910, 1916, 1923 “fundamentals” was required for ordination, not membership.  This was not and a debate about membership.  

    Mormonism has nothing comparable to Westminster’s 33 chapter Confession, 107 question Shorter Catechism, and 196 question Larger Catechism.  As has been pointed out there is great flexibility regarding doctrinal positions inside the LDS church, as long as it is tolerated by local leaders.  I have been told many times that Mormonism has no “system of doctrine” and I believe it.  Furthermore Presbyterianism has nothing comparable to a temple recommend or tithing settlement where members are regularly examined for their worthiness by local leadership. There simply is not a doctrinal or financial test for continued full communicant membership in a Presbyterian church.

    If you want to say liberals are liberals the whole world round, then fine the similarities are uncanny.  But if you look at mainline Presbyterianism in the 20’s and 30’s and compare it to 21st century Mormonism the actual debate is quite different except that they spell liberal the same way.

  36. There simply is not a doctrinal or financial test for continued full communicant membership in a Presbyterian church.

    And here is the rub, if there were, you would probably see a lot more New Order Presbyterians subverting the tests in order to maintain close connection to their community.

  37. A lot of passing can be justified by the argument that the Church incorrectly has put in place burdens to full activity in the community that are not in keeping with the way God wants this church to be available. ( There is historical precedent in the statements of Joseph Smith, David McKay, and other that Mormons should be granted wide latitude in what they should be allowed to believe and remain inactivity. ) Subterfuge may then be justifiable to undermine unduly restrictive policies.

  38. What about Evangelical christians in China that keep their religion hidden for fear of prosecution or persecution, or missionaries that conceal their evangelical intent? Are their actions as offensive or bad as either the Skeptical Baptists or New Order Mormons?

  39. This kind of lying to get into places they wouldn’t otherwise have access to isn’t limited to religion. Happens in politics all the time. We often hear about pro-life activists who go into Planned Parenthood clinics pretending to be underage pregnant girls who had sex with older men. You can’t accept this practice and then criticize those in the original post.

    It is also unfair to compare what the two in the original post did and what New Order Mormons do. Many New Order Mormons know that if they were honest about their lack of belief in the Mormon faith, their friends and (often) family would reject them and stop talking to them. That is cultural blackmail and is openly encouraged in many faiths. Until people have true religious freedom and don’t have to deal with social blackmail, then I don’t blame people for lying in order to spend time with their family and friends.

  40. Until people have true religious freedom and don’t have to deal with social blackmail, then I don’t blame people for lying in order to spend time with their family and friends.

    “Until social and cultural norms cease to exist” you mean. Good luck with that. Who says that would even really be a good thing?

  41. Jared, I think you have something there with Bible smugglers.

    I think the difference is that they are being intentionally subversive. I don’t think lying or being deceptive in all circumstances is wrong. Hiding Jews from Nazis is good.

    I might have more acceptance of disaffected Mormons who secretly tape the temple ceremony than Ross and Carrie. If someone is being subversive they think a system or organization is somehow being oppressive and needs to be exposed or undermined. Ross and Carrie, on the other hand, don’t appear to be in it to do an expose’. If they were, they wouldn’t have broken the news to the missionaries. If they were, they wouldn’t confess what they were up to if asked a direct question. So I don’t think their deceit was justified based on their assessment of the situation. They were merely satisfying curiosity, which could have been done from simple observation.

    Jared A. also stands in contrast because he says he’s not trying to undermine the LDS church. He claims he’s supporting it and helping it flourish.

  42. Kullervo: Well, the Mormon church, for one. Mormon youth in places like Mississippi and Alabama are often bullied by their classmates for being part of the “Mormon cult”. Evangelical mothers sometime forbid their children from playing with Mormon children, fearing that their children will be “infected by Satan’s lies”. The Mormon church has been releasing ads on TV and the internet to combat this by showing people that Mormons are regular people just like the rest of us.

    Kullervo, when you changed faiths, you had the good fortune to have a wife that didn’t leave you and, I’m guessing, an extended family which stuck by you as well. Many people aren’t so lucky. We shouldn’t scorn those who have to face the horrible choice between being honest about their beliefs and keeping their family.

  43. Evangelical mothers sometime forbid their children from playing with Mormon children, fearing that their children will be “infected by Satan’s lies”.

    I’ve certainly NEVER heard of Mormon mothers doing the same thing in regards to Evangelical kids in Arizona. /end sarcasm

  44. Tim: Sure. I provided an example of Mormons doing it in my August 9th comment. We need to reinforce the idea for everyone that religious beliefs need to be based on personal choice and nothing else. Not government support. Not social influence. But personal choice based on what people think is true. May the best belief win.

  45. We need to reinforce the idea for everyone that religious beliefs need to be based on personal choice and nothing else.

    Again, nonsense. This line of thinking shows that you are imagining somehow that “religion” can in any way be meaningfully disentangled from “culture, in general.” It can’t. It never has been.

    If you think you can have a religious life that is somehow independent from and not deeply wedded to your broader cultural context, you are kidding yourself. That doesn;t mean that you are somehow obligated to be the majority religion of your culture, but it means when you choose not to, you are making a culturally significant choice with social impact.

    As a practical matter, your religious beliefs do not happen in a vacuum. And even as an ideological/aspirational matter, the idea that absolute cultural pluralism is the paramount value is not the self-evident thing you seem to be thinking it is. You are making claims about how things “should” be, but you’re making an argument not stating an unimpeachable fact.

  46. Kullervo, when you changed faiths, you had the good fortune to have a wife that didn’t leave you

    I’m not going to apologize for having the foresight and good judgment to marry the kind of girl who puts our marriage over our religious affiliation, and the character to be the kind of guy who does the same.

    I’m guessing, an extended family which stuck by you as well.

    Not that it’s relevant, but you’re guessing wrong.

    Many people aren’t so lucky. We shouldn’t scorn those who have to face the horrible choice between being honest about their beliefs and keeping their family.

    Who’s scorning? I’m just saying that an impactful (even though that may not be a word) and culturally significant decision like religion doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and I don’t think it’s somehow self-evident that it should, or that we are somehow obligated to re-engineer human sociology from the ground up so that it does.

    At every point in my own spiritual journey, the wider cultural meaning and the cultural significance of my religious beliefs were a high consideration.

    One of the reasons that I was ultimately able to “settle down” into a particular spiritual mindset was that I was (and am) convinced that despite my beliefs being a ludicrously extreme minority, they are completely consistent with my cultural context as a modern, educated American. While not that many people admit to real religious belief in my gods, my gods are deeply, fundamentally and inexorably woven into the cultural fabric of western civilization. In fact, I think most modern cultural values and virtues actually match my religion a hell of a lot better than they match Christianity, and I think that has been the case consistently throughout history. Americans and Europeans may be nominally Christian, but the vast majority of us are still stubbornly pagan, and we have been for the last 2,000 years.

    So when I say I believe in Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and the other Olympians, its certainly an unusual thing, but it is not at all culturally alien. And I think that matters quite a bit.

    In the end, I think the cultural and social impact of your choice of religion can and should matter, and that it’s a fool’s dream to think that there’s any way to make it so that it doesn’t. That’s just reality. I don’t believe that we should nerf our social rules so that there are no consequences for a culturally significant decision like that, even if it were possible.

    I think intellectual freedom is laudable, but I think it’s also inherently risky. That’s just the cultural transaction you engage in, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting that balance of risk and reward play itself out.

  47. Kullervo, you might be right that religion and culture are almost always intertwined. I, however, think that this is both sad and dangerous. The idea that a person’s beliefs about the universe should be based on where they were born is ludicrous. People should base their beliefs on their study of the world, not on what their particular culture believes. I’m sure there are many Christian ministers who wish that more people in the Middle East thought outside their culture, just as there are many Imams who wished the same about the West. Truth needs to be based on fact. Otherwise people will believe whatever they want, completely disregarding reality(which, given the number of religions that exist in the world, many people already seem to do).

    Cultural pluralism is taken for granted in America, but perhaps I should step back and explain why this is good to those for whom it is not self evident. Yes there are certain moral rules that need to be inforced (do not murder, ect) but harrassing someone based on how they dress or what music they listen to is cruel and being cruel violates the moral rules that we set down. There are many different parts of different cultures that can mesh perfectly if people are willing to accept something outside their past experience. Hopefully that should be explanation enough.

    The argument for religious freedom is the same as the argument for freedom of speech. If a person’s religion is truly right, then that person should be able to convince other people based on its merits alone and shouldn’t need the government or culture to force it down other people’s throats. Maybe that person thinks people of other religions are confused. But they should respect that the other people truly believe what they teach and that they are trying to find the truth just like the first person is. Most people are able to make friends with people of different political beliefs despite the fact that their votes directly affect their lives. Why can’t people do the same for religion? Why must they seek to punish those that don’t agree with their personal picture of the universe? Are they scared that they might be proven wrong?

  48. “People should base their beliefs on their study of the world, not on what their particular culture believes.”

    You believe that people should base their beliefs on their study of the world, not on what their particular culture believes, because that is what your culture believes.

  49. Why can’t people do the same for religion? Why must they seek to punish those that don’t agree with their personal picture of the universe?

    1. They really seriously believe that their religions are true.
    2. They are human beings.

  50. but harrassing someone based on how they dress or what music they listen to is cruel and being cruel violates the moral rules that we set down.

    What? making fun of the way people dress and what music they listen to is a national pastime.

  51. Cultural pluralism is taken for granted in America, but perhaps I should step back and explain why this is good to those for whom it is not self evident. Yes there are certain moral rules that need to be inforced (do not murder, ect) but harrassing someone based on how they dress or what music they listen to is cruel and being cruel violates the moral rules that we set down. There are many different parts of different cultures that can mesh perfectly if people are willing to accept something outside their past experience. Hopefully that should be explanation enough.

    Moral rules are cultural.
    A moral rule against “being cruel” is cultural.

    “Culture” is a hell of a lot more than how people dress and what music they listen to.

  52. This is making interesting listening.

    A minor pedantic point: I think Carrie rather misreads the imagery of the hymn ‘Jesus the very thought of thee’ (at about 23 minutes in), since I think ‘breast’ was meant in a gender-neutral sense. Given that it was written by a 12th century monk (Bernard of Clairvaux), I doubt that it was “written for women originally”, though Bernard can be prone to fairly sensuous imagery – he did preach 86 sermons on the Song of Songs.

  53. Jared C: If they truly believe that their religions are true, then why do they think that God needs lowly humans to enforce his rules? If they really think that they are correct, then they ought to just sit back and let God judge the world instead of trying to use human legal, military, and social pressure to force people to follow what they believe. If God truly supports what they believe then he doesn’t need their help.

    Kullervo: “Moral rules are cultural” and Racticus “[you believe that you should be objective] because that is what your culture believes.”

    Really? I was not expecting moral relativism to be very popular on this site, but perhaps I was mistaken. But if you want an argument for my position from a moral relativist point of view, then fine. A person has a better life if they make allies that they can trust. The best way to make allies you can trust is to treat everyone with respect. You treat people with respect by allowing into the fold anyone who doesn’t hurt the group. This produces powerful nations like America who, by promoting Democracy, can gain the respect of other nations (even if they sometimes dislike our methods). Intolerant violent groups which want to force the rest of the world under their heel, such as Nazism, Communism, or Islamic Fundamentalism, are eventually defeated. In Democracies, respect for others has a track record of success as civil rights, women’s rights, and now gay rights roll back the legal and cultural restrictions that were put in their way. People are just happier when they work together. So regardless of whether you believe in right or wrong, the fact is that you are more likely to have a good life if you act like you do believe.

  54. Raticas and Kullervo are both non-Christians and ex-Mormons.

    I understand why you think they’re being relativistic, but they’re actually not in this instance. They are just describing a culture.

    I don’t believe that they are saying “moral rules are merely cultural” (though they may believe that). I think that they are probably saying that “moral rules are a cultural element”.

  55. I think it’s fair to describe “culture” as the beliefs, habits, and expectations of a group of people.

    So to me, the idea that adopting a value-neutral study scheme (“of the world”) presumably analogous to the scientific process in order to find spiritual truth will actually help you find spiritual truth is “culture,” since that’s an expectation.

    Also, I think the idea that such a scheme actually exists or could exist, that you are capable of actually adopting such a scheme (despite other biases), and/or that you actually have your hands on such a scheme is also “culture,” because that’s a belief.

    Those things might also be objectively true in addition to being culture, but that wouldn’t make them not culture.

    However, I think those things are not actually objectively true.

    That’s not moral relativism.

  56. I definitely do not believe that moral rules are merely culture. I believe that moral rules of universal applicability do exist. However, I also think that the subjective/objective dichotomy is completely useless as an analytical tool.

    But the topic here is whether “religion” can be meaningfully differentiated from “culture in general” such that it even makes sense to assert that religious beliefs should or can be adopted without reference to other cultural realities, which has very little to do with the question of subjective versus objective morality.

  57. The question you bring up is how we should judge those that negatively differentiate those who are of a different religion.

    I think its a very difficult thing to do, even when it seems bigoted. If a person actually believes that your children could possibly lead his children into the path of damnation, its really hard to judge them for being overcautious about letting them befriend each other. Even though the effect is the same, such discrimination is slightly different than forms where eternal destiny is at stake.

    I personally think that those that engage in this sort of discrimination are are misguided, overly paranoid and, as you say, probably misinterpret the bible, but even if all this is true, the slight to my children may still be less of a burden than the consternation they might feel. Asking for the sort of open-mindedness that you advocate start to become simply asking them to give up their deepest beliefs, as misguided as they may be.

    Guaranteeing my freedom to reject idiocy requires that I support idiots in their ability to reject those they think are idiotic.

  58. @ Racticus and Kullervo: It seems to me though that if you define any belief, no matter how basic, as culture, then that makes everything culture in which case the word doesn’t help much. That does seem to lead to relativism in every sense unless you can decide an objective way to decide which parts of which culture are actually true and which are false.

    And if you say that you can’t objectively study the subject of religion and prove what is true to any person willing to listen, then you really have only two beliefs open to you:

    A. that you have a closer relationship with God than everyone else and that everyone else is just wrong about their experiences and that you are special. If you believed this, it would strike me as not only unsupported but also arrogant.

    B. you can’t know which, if any, of the religions in the world are true. If that is the case, then why spend all of this time worrying and arguing with others? Why not just accept everyone’s beliefs as just as likely to be true as yours?

    Jared C: I think what you say is true. Probably most of the people who don’t allow children of other faiths to associate with their children do it because they fear for their child’s eternal safety. While I can understand their concern because of how they were raised, it should be noted that we don’t give that same excuse to racists. Sure someone might truly believe that blacks are inferior because that’s how they were raised, but we still fault them for not listening to others who explain why that isn’t true. We also don’t allow that excuse to Al Qaeda. They might truly believe they are doing to will of God, but we still fault them for not realizing that any God who would tell them to commit acts of terrorism is evil and shouldn’t be worshiped. Similarly, we should be able to say that any God who would punish a child or anyone else for their beliefs if He didn’t give them a more objective method for determining what is true is an evil God and shouldn’t be worshiped. I think that these parents who do not allow children of other faiths to play with their children need to face this moral question.

  59. Hibernia86 —

    Great comment. Let me just throw out there is a 3rd method of evaluation. You can evaluate based on internal consistency. Apply their standards to themselves and see how they do.

    So Christianity makes claims of historicity while Hinduism does not. While Hinduism makes claims to things like breath control and non-sensuality which Christianity (at least the non mystical forms) do not. So you evaluate each according to its own claims.

  60. Hibernia86:

    It seems to me though that if you define any belief, no matter how basic, as culture, then that makes everything culture in which case the word doesn’t help much.

    It means all of your beliefs–particularly the most fundamental ones–are culture, but it doesn’t mean “everything” is culture. So yeah, the word helps a lot. Especially when it turns out that all of those beliefs, from the most trivial and superficial (how to style your hear and what colors to wear) to the most deeply-held and influential (what are good and evil), are ultimately intertwined in one big complex cultural web and in many ways they are products of–or at least informed by–each other.

    That does seem to lead to relativism in every sense unless you can decide an objective way to decide which parts of which culture are actually true and which are false.

    How does acknowledging that all of your beliefs are cultural “lead to relativism in every way”? That’s a non-sequitur. In addition to being cultural, your beliefs may also in fact be accurate ideas about the universe, for a variety of reasons. Thus, while they are all cultural, they are not necessarily merely or solely cultural. But they’re definitely cultural. And the cultural reasons are most definitely the main reasons you, and everyone else, believe what you do.

    And if you say that you can’t objectively study the subject of religion and prove what is true to any person willing to listen, then you really have only two beliefs open to you:

    You can’t objectively study anything. There’s always an observer doing the observing. And that observer always has a point of view, a host of biases, and a deeply-ingrained cultural context. You can work hard to try to account for and minimize all of that, but it is a basic human limitation that you just have to accept because it is inherent to the equation.

    A. that you have a closer relationship with God than everyone else and that everyone else is just wrong about their experiences and that you are special. If you believed this, it would strike me as not only unsupported but also arrogant.

    B. you can’t know which, if any, of the religions in the world are true. If that is the case, then why spend all of this time worrying and arguing with others? Why not just accept everyone’s beliefs as just as likely to be true as yours?

    That’s a completely false dichotomy.

    The idea that religion is a way to evaluate the objective truths of the universe is itself a religious idea. From a maximally neutral, areligious viewpoint, religion has a number of functions for human societies and individuals, and while forming and shaping cultural beliefs about the universe is one of them, objectively determining the truths of the universe is just not. Them’s the breaks.

    But the notion that “because all religions are equally bad at objectively determining the truths of the universe, all religions must be therefore equally worthwhile/worthless” is nonsense, because it rests on the premise that the sole function and of religion is to objectively determine the truths of the universe and the sole value of a religion is how well it does that. And like I said, that premise is itself a religious idea about religion; it’s not a given. And from a viewpoint that is as relatively-neutral-as-possible, it’s just clearly not the case at all.

    From a pragmatic standpoint at least, the scientific method has pretty much amply demonstrated for centuries that it is flat-out superior to religion in terms of accurately describing the universe. If religion’s only function were to accurately describe the universe and its only value were in how well it did that, as some atheists insist is the case, then religion would pretty much be an obsolete methodology.

    But when you take a look at what religion is and what religions do, what roles they play in individual lives and in and across social groups, you see that, like every other cultural artifact, religion does a whole lot of different things, many of which have nothing to do with correctly describing God or the universe, but many of which are nevertheless arguably extremely valuable (especially because of how intertwined different cultural elements are).

    And that’s why I say that it’s not as simple as “let everyone have whatever religious belief they want without coercion or influence.” The notion is itself basically impossible given the nature of culture and how culture works. Religion is not separate from other cultural elements and artifacts. Religion did not develop and does not exist in a vacuum. Religion is steeped in, intertwined with and made up of cultural norms and values, and cultural norms and values are fundamentally how human beings evaluate things, people, behaviors and ideas.

    Every tool you and everyone else has for evaluating a religious belief is a cultural tool. There are no other evaluative tools. Evaluate = value; value = cultural norm. As such, decisions about religious beliefs can not be made independently of other cultural considerations, because you’re using other cultural considerations to make the decision. What you are essentially advocating is a human cultural vacuum, which would be a dangerous thing to advocate if it were in any way possible. But it’s not possible, because as long as you have humans, you have human cultural norms.

  61. Hibernia86 –

    You are making a point about ” the moral rules that we set down.” In the multi-cultural system you are attempting to describe, it’s not against the rules to choose your friends wisely, according to our most core beliefs, even when our core beliefs seem false to everyone else. And the burdens this imposes on others is generally justifiable.

    Choosing not to associate is not the same as terrorism or violence. Bad beliefs can be imparted by social contact and within whatever truth you accept you must have the freedom to guard children against destructive, false influences. Ultimately such freedom made lead to some degree of injustice, but that is the price of allowing divergent viewpoints. It would be much easier to force other people to raise their children like I think they should, but barring that, i need to be able to keep my kids away from associating with the “wrong crowd”.

    I am all for pointing out people’s inconsistent or destructive beliefs, I will roundly condemn them for this. But I am not going to judge them too harshly when they choose not to associate with those whose beliefs conflict with their most core principles, even if i find their core principles abhorrent.

    On that level I give a pass to almost anyone. I fault them for their dumb and destructive beliefs, not their choice to choose their friends according to their conscience.
    This is because I give myself the same pass, Unless you are advocating that there is no moral basis to withhold social contact, it all goes back to judging the threat of a bad belief on my kids. I reserve the right to keep my kids from playing with rabid racists, kids that lie, and kids that are cruel, and kids that are batshit crazy. And I don’t think its at all immoral to do so, and not just because I think those viewpoints are wrong. The reason why I think this is acceptable is the same reason some bigoted Evangelical or Mormon think it’s acceptable to keep their kids away from others of a different faith. My highest moral responsibility is to protect my kids from influences that I believe are bad, not provide playmates for the deluded.

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