Follow the Fowler

Dan Wotherspoon of Mormon Matters on an episode about Mormon Doctrine recently stated (track 2, 1:04:58):

Many people know that I have found a lot of value in James Fowler’s “Stages of Faith.” This sort of human development thing, and he talks explicitly there that every faith tradition basically, generally orients at a conformist sort of authoritarian stance. Where you look to others for external authority, validation, etc. So the religion is very good to say ‘here’s what we believe, here’s who we are, trust us we know better and it brings you up there’. That’s basically the stage of young adulthood, that’s 100% appropriate that you’re in that stage until young adulthood . . .

There comes that next stage though, stage 4. There comes a taking apart, it’s a complicating, it’s a moving from external authority to internal authority, it’s saying ‘I love and honor my parents, I love and honor my teachers, these prophets, these apostles. . . they’re always going to be valuable voices for me, but I’ve got to figure it out for myself, I’ve got to own it.’

I made it through Stage 4 in about 12 years, this was a long period of time. But I continued to hang in there . . . I was still having religious experiences that let me know somehow or other that there is still in the midst of the more chaotic part. . there is still peace to be had, that we’re on the right path. And then slowly but surely we gain that confidence of owning our own spirituality, owning our own truth; to where eventually as it talks about in Stage 5 & 6 that openness to paradox . . .

I’ll tell you, I have found room within Mormonism to hold all those things, to feel oriented even in the midst of the chaos. And if I have my plea. . . Please everybody, stay in this fight. If you can. . . . I tell you I want more people to own their spirituality. . . .

I have a problem with Wotherspoon’s statement in that I think he’s misapplying the Fowler Stages of Faith. I think he’s using the Stages of Faith as a prescriptive tool rather than a descriptive one. What I mean is that he’s setting Stage 6 as a goal for religious believers, as a benchmark of spiritual maturity rather than using Stage 6 as a means of describing a certain type of religious believer.

The problem with viewing Fowler’s theory this way is that it sets progression up Fowler’s Stages as superior over any religious activity or belief strategy. Stage 6 becomes the ultimate goal of religious belief rather than whatever goals or ambitions a religion may prescribe. Mormonism might only produce faith in a way that can be explained by Fowler’s Stage 2. To stretch a religion’s epistemology past Stage 2 might actually violate and do damage to it’s intended practice.

For this reason I don’t think Wotherspoon is at heart a Mormon. Rather he’s a Fowlerist who happens to be practicing his faith within Mormonism. He pursues a religious M&M; where Fowlerism is the center of his faith and Mormonism is the thin candy shell around it. Mormonism is just a tool he is using but the goals and objectives of Fowler Stage 6 are his ultimate aims. Where Mormonism conflicts with Fowler Stage 4 (or 5 or 6) he chooses Fowler over the authority of any Mormon scriptures or Mormon leadership. Wotherspoon isn’t calling people into Mormonism but rather into Fowlerism.

In a strange twist, what Wotherspoon sees as a rejection of authority for autonomy is actually the rejection of one kind of authority for another; in this case he rejects Thomas Monson as an authority and embraces James Fowler in his place.

Fowler may be a better religious role model than Thomas Monson. Fowlerism may be a superior belief system to Mormonism. I’m not really arguing the merits of either right now. But I don’t think anyone should naturally assume that both are naturally compatible. Fowlerism may fit in nicely with any number of belief systems, but it may also severely conflict with them.

If Fowler’s Stage of Faith are a tool for describing the way people live out their faith I don’t think anyone needs to be encouraged to strive for the next Stage. They just will or will not find it. No one needs the admonishment to hang in there and fight for enlightenment. If Fowler’s Stages of Faith are some sort of template for spiritual growth, then I think religious believers should carefully consider if it is inline with their own religion’s teachings or if it conflicts and offers an alternative path of growth and an alternative form of transformation.

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101 thoughts on “Follow the Fowler

  1. I’m not claiming to totally understand Wotherspoon’s or Fowler’s stages of faith, but I do believe the Bible teaches that the guidance of the Spirit should be put above the guidance of human authorities. Romans 8:14 (NLT) says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God,” whereas 1 Corinthians 3:4 (NLT) says, “When one of you says, ‘I am a follower of Paul,’ and another says, ‘I follow Apollos,’ aren’t you acting just like people of the world?”

    Today we follow Joseph Smith, or James Fowler, or Billy Graham, or Benny Hinn, or orthodoxy, or Methodism, etc. I think we can go higher.

  2. Pingback: Are Liberal Mormons even grappling with Mormonism? « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  3. Abuse of Fowler’s system is rampant in the bloggernacle and amongst liberal Mormons. You are correct in that many people take what is supposed to be descriptive and make in prescriptive. When you say something like “I made it through Stage 4,” you know you are dealing with someone who misunderstands the entire point of Fowler’s system.

    The other main problem I have with Wotherspoon’s analysis is that I don’t think there are many resources for people who are not in stages 1-3 inside Mormonism. I wrote some articles a while ago about this. My guess is that Wotherspoon is having a stage 4 experience while inside a Mormon chapel; Mormonism is not engaging nor providing anything for him to aid in this. The LDS church encourages stage 3 type faith and holds it up as the definition of faith. That’s actually fine for most people, Fowler himself recognizes that a solid majority of people are perfectly happy remaining in stage 3 for the entirety of their lives.

    It takes an incredibly rich and solid faith tradition to provide resources for anyone at any stage of Fowler’s faith, and Mormonism simply isn’t there yet. Nor would I add are fundamentalist Christians, they too top out at stage 3.

  4. In thinking about this more, I think if Dan wants to making a lasting impact on Mormonism that reforms it into something more like Fowler Stages 4, 5 and 6 he needs to use internal Mormon sources to make his case. He needs to quote Mormon scriptures as a motivation rather than outside sources. If he points to outside sources of encouragement and enlightenment, he might convince individuals to remain in the LDS church and find new paths within the church, but he won’t actually change the church. At best, he’ll take uncomfortable people and make them uncomfortable in a new way.

    This example applies to Mormonism as well as Evangelicalism. If you want Mormons and Evangelicals to accept homosexual activity as normative and beautiful, you have to find that justification within our scriptures. You might be able to convince a number of people of your new found truth, but if you have to look outside the faith tradition to support that idea all you’re really doing is leading people out of the faith. They’re bodies may remain but their minds have left. This is why liberal Christianity is dying. At the end of the day, what has motivated and inspired liberal Christianity is not Christianity but liberalism.

    If Dan wants people to stay and fight, rather than suggesting that they look at the Fowler Stages of Faith, he needs to recommend that they study and meditate on scriptures which point in the same direction. As David Clark suggested, those resources may not be available within Mormonism. But if you want people to remain Mormons you better look for them.

  5. Another thought I want to throw in is on this notion of maturity.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses definitely strive to live out their faith at about Stage 2. This is what is recommended to them as THE way to live out their faith. IF Jehovah’s Witness are right, that this is the way God wants you to practice your faith, it’s not more mature to move up the Stages of Faith. The most mature thing to do is to live your faith at Stage 2 and conform your thoughts around it.

    If someone wants to persuade JWs towards a more mature faith inline with Fowler’s upper stages, they are making a prior assumption about what is and is not true. As I said before, in this case Fowler becomes the template for religious progress rather than The Watchtower.

  6. So, I haven’t read Fowler’s book, so this is based on the relatively brief summaries I ahve read, but I ma not at all impressed by Fowler’s states at all. The problem is that Fowler’s model itself is prescriptive, trying to masquerade as descriptive. In particular, Fowler’s 6th stage appears to me to be the product of extreme bias. Fowler has decided what he thinks the most “mature” spiritual person is like (or what he wants spiritual maturity to be), and has built a construct that leads to that. His whole model appears to be an exercise in begging the question. Fowler’s universalism (which is certainly not descriptively the same thing as “enlightenment” in any faith tradition I know of that has enlightenment as a goal) is itself a prescriptive religious doctrine, and it is not somehow self-evident that universalism is the highest, best, or most mature prescriptive religious doctrine.

  7. Tim, this feels more like attempts to keep Mormonism small than anything truly about me and where my spirituality is grounded or my reading/misreading of Fowler. I encourage you to listen to Mormon Stories episodes 15-17, in which I give a much fuller presentation of Fowler, including plenty of attention to the descriptive/prescriptive issue. To take one statement that you transcribed and for you and then David Clark to imagine you have any sense of either where my spiritual confidence comes from or how I understand/don’t understand Fowler makes me want to both laugh and cry. Same thing with the view of Mormonism you present. If what you or Dave say above constitute your claims about how large/small Mormonism is, that it imagines anything other than people becoming directly grounded in Spirit themselves and instead asks them to eternally grant authority to books, traditions, people and the spiritual experiences of others, then neither of you have ever really taken its challenges/call to know God for yourself seriously.

  8. Well, I haven’t read all the way through Stages of Faith yet (just started it), but my preliminary understanding is that Stage 4 is inherently transitory; an adolescence of sorts. While many people never make their way into Stage 4, those who do find it tumultuous and trying.

    I agree that it’s problematic to use Fowler as prescriptive instead of descriptive. I far prefer the old mindfulness concept: “Wherever you go, there you are.” It’s very western to want to frame things as a hierarchical progression, when it’s not a question of who’s “better” or “more developed”; Stage 3 works long-term for the vast majority of people, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Having said that, as someone who has been in Stage 4 and now I believe am in Stage 5, it *was* really nice to know that the pain I was experiencing was normal, and that it wouldn’t always necessarily be so difficult — the way adolescence feels difficult, you know? Kind of like spiritual high school. 🙂

    As to Dan’s Mormonness (of course, a lot of what he says resonates with me, so I’m speaking of myself as much as him), I think your question itself reflects Stage 3 thinking. In Stage 3, spiritual authority is external: it belongs to the institution, the pastor, the prophet, the Pope. In Stage 4, you begin to question that, just like in adolescence, and begin to grant yourself your own authority. In Stages 5 and 6, spiritual authority becomes internal. In a sense, you become your own prophet. It doesn’t matter that the Stage 3 institution doesn’t want you to do that. You realize that you’re a grown-up; you can do whatever the heck you want. You draw on the resources of your faith to shape your own concept of the divine.

    I do agree with David that Mormonism as a culture doesn’t do a great job supporting and encouraging people beyond Stage 3. But for the record, I think there are plenty of Mormon theological resources to justify the transition.

  9. Wow, Tim. Even more while I was writing the above reply. I recommend listening to more podcasts of mine if you want to understand me rather than prescribe how I might change the church. Even imagining that as my goal is presumptive. Everything I suggest is grounded in scripture (wider Judeo-Christian and Mormon), the sensibilities of the universe Mormonism points toward (uncreatedness of all, fundamentalness of agency of all existents, eternal progression, genuine power only exercised via persuasion not coercion, etc), and my own spiritual experiences. You have not found something significant about who I am or where my spirituality is grounded in the fact that I occasionally refer to Fowler or find his model worth engaging. I also occasionally talk well of insights about us as human beings from Maslow, Piaget, Erikson, Kohlberg, Gilligan, Wilber, Wade, and other developmental theorists. I like Aristotle, William James, and process theology, too–to name just a few.

  10. So, I haven’t read Fowler’s book, so this is based on the relatively brief summaries I ahve read, but I ma not at all impressed by Fowler’s states at all.

    The summaries generally don’t do justice to what Fowler is trying to do. Having read his main book, I think a lot of the problems you have with it might be answered. For example:

    In particular, Fowler’s 6th stage appears to me to be the product of extreme bias.

    It is a bias, but this is something Fowler is pretty up front about. When you read the book it’s pretty clear that Fowler has no data about stage 6 and doesn’t claim any. He does list the sources of his bias. Stage 6 is really a category for placing exemplary people who Fowler thinks wouldn’t be in stage 5. For example, Fowler imagines that people like Mother Theresa don’t fit in stage 5, so he makes another category to put her in.

    Fowler has decided what he thinks the most “mature” spiritual person is like (or what he wants spiritual maturity to be), and has built a construct that leads to that.

    For stage 6, this is probably the case. For the other stages, Fowler does have data and discusses his criteria for placing people in different stages. In all honesty, stage 6 should probably be just dropped from his stage system. It’s mostly theoretical and it gives the false impression that he has data on it. He doesn’t. For stages 1-5 his data is pretty good for the social sciences (which isn’t saying much). It’s really not much more complicated than observing that people tend to fall into 5 basic categories of how they approach faith and then observing that the older you are, the more likely you are to fall into one of the later stages of faith.

    His whole model appears to be an exercise in begging the question.

    In some sense it probably is. But then again, any question in the social sciences of this type is going to involve some form of begging the question as you gather data, refine the assumptions, gather more data, etc. I don’t think his approach is all that different than say Piaget’s stages of cognitive development or Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. They aren’t meant to be iron clad universal laws, and they aren’t meant to make value judgments. Unfortunately, in the bloggernacle community there is a tendency to do both of those things.

  11. I am curious about some of your engagements with Dan, too, Tim. At times you’ve seemed kind of hyper-critical of him, taking things out of context, the few times I’ve seen you around Mormon Matters. Is it because you believe his approach is helping people remain Mormon, and as an evangelical Christian you’d rather see Mormons in faith crisis convert out (That would be understandable.)? I’m genuinely curious.

  12. Tim — That was definitely an interesting post. I’m not going to say anything about Dan Wotherspoon specifically, except to say that if Brother Wotherspoon is not “at heart a Mormon,” then perhaps neither am I. While I can’t speak for him, I can speak for myself, and I wouldn’t be LDS if I hadn’t been somewhere in a Stage 4 process (and probably still am) when I joined.

    I wasn’t aware of Fowler until he was brought up on this blog a few days ago; he makes an interesting analysis of the stages of spiritual development, which I was fascinated to learn more about in a few hours of Internet browsing. For what it’s worth, I think Kullervo’s analysis of 10:24 a.m. is probably right.

    About my experience: I entered a Stage 4 phase as an evangelical during my college years, maybe starting in late high school. This was precipitated by two things: first, “secular” knowledge about things such as biological evolution and the documentary hypothesis, which called into question the sort of fundamentalist approach to the Bible that was held by many (not all) in my denomination; second, my failure to understand how so many of my fellow evangelicals could read the same Bible as I did and yet continue to support the Vietnam War. I also struggled (and had since childhood) with the evangelical doctrine of hell; in those days, it was not so common as it is now among evangelicals to allow for the possibility that those who had never heard the gospel would not be destined to eternal torment.

    For some years after college, I sort of alternated between evangelical and mainline Protestant churches; the latter at least had the “right” answers to my questions, but I think what I felt relates to what you said above, that “[a]t the end of the day, what has motivated and inspired liberal Christianity is not Christianity but liberalism.” I hadn’t thought about it that way before, but you may be right.

    Eventually, Mormonism entered my life. I found its theology incredibly in harmony with where I was at. Unlike liberal Protestantism, it was fully Christ-centered; unlike the mildly fundamentalist evangelism I grew up with, Mormonism offered an open theology and placed a strong emphasis on seeking guidance in matters of faith and practice from the Holy Spirit. It also had a semi-universalist soteriology I found appealing. Deciding to join the LDS church wasn’t an easy one, and it took me two years of what Mormons call investigating. Unlike many converts, I knew what I was getting into for better and worse in the church, and I was aware of the historical issues that have challenged many. But I was fully convinced, and remain so, that this is where God wanted me to be. I find the church’s theology, and the teachings of Joseph Smith, quite affirming of my Stage 4-style approach to dealing with paradox. I find incredible beauty in much LDS teaching and symbolism that simply isn’t there in other versions of Christianity.

    I have to agree, however, that the institutional church probably has more, maybe a lot more, to offer Stage 3 people than it does us Stage 4 folks; certainly much of the curriculum and much of the culture (not all in either case) is geared toward conformity and other Stage 3 characteristics. (I don’t know if that’s bad or good, but that’s the way it is.) I also think the same is true of much of evangelicalism. But because of its emphasis on personal revelation, Mormonism may actually be in a better position to deal with Stage 4 thinking than some other churches are.

  13. But because of its emphasis on personal revelation, Mormonism may actually be in a better position to deal with Stage 4 thinking than some other churches are.

    Modern Mormonism’s “emphasis on personal revelation” is problematic at best.

  14. If I could make a recommendation, it would be don’t self-diagnose the stage of faith you are in. The criteria for placing people into stages is actually fairly well defined and I’m pretty certain that most people haven’t looked at the criteria closely. Plus, self diagnosis generally is going to be biased.

  15. Eh, I’ve done a lot of work on myself and am pretty self-aware and willing to accept what is. I’m no longer a mystery to myself (I was for many years); I’m am a woman who knows her own heart, and I understand what I think and feel and believe and why, both positive and negative. Lots of therapy will do that to a person. (Well, good therapy will.) 🙂

    Like I say, I haven’t finished Stages of Faith yet, so I might be misunderstanding the criteria, but once I do I won’t have any problem diagnosing myself…because I know myself and am genuinely willing to accept myself as I am.

  16. David, I’m going to disagree that Mormonism tops out at Stage 3. I think there is room enough for Stage 4 in Mormonism as long as I don’t equate Stage 4 with obnoxious imposition of my own journey narrative on everyone around me (which tends to be disruptive to community).

  17. Modern Mormonism’s “emphasis on personal revelation” is problematic at best.

    Why? Because it’s like, “You can have personal revelation as long as it’s not different from our revelation!”?

    Also, aren’t the Stages of Faith about people? Similar to the conversation Kullervo and I had the other day about “mature” vs. “immature” beliefs, a belief system CAN’T be at a developmental stage. Right? It’s not a human being, it’s a collection of ideas. It’s meaningless to say that “Mormonism is inherently Stage 2” or whatever, because Mormonism isn’t inherently anything, developmentally. People within Mormonism are at different developmental phases, and the institutional programs might be more or less designed to cater to people who find themselves at a certain developmental stage, but that’s different from saying “Mormonism is Stage 2” or “Mormonism ‘tops out’ at Stage 3.” Unless I’m wrong? I need to finish this book. 🙂

    I will say that I find that there is A LOT that is expansive about Mormon theology, even if, as a culture, we don’t do a great job of exploring it.

  18. The problem Tim, with your conclusion that Dan is not “at heart a Mormon”, is Mormonism.

    If some Mormons have refused the call to seek after the virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy in this world, that’s not really Dan’s problem is it?

  19. Dan said:

    Tim, this feels more like attempts to keep Mormonism small than anything truly about me and where my spirituality is grounded or my reading/misreading of Fowler.

    Katie said:

    I am curious about some of your engagements with Dan, too, Tim. At times you’ve seemed kind of hyper-critical of him, taking things out of context, the few times I’ve seen you around Mormon Matters. Is it because you believe his approach is helping people remain Mormon, and as an evangelical Christian you’d rather see Mormons in faith crisis convert out (That would be understandable.)? I’m genuinely curious.

    For sure this post is intended to challenge some of Dan’s suppositions. I have listened to his Mormon Stories interview and listened to probably 75% of the Mormon Matters episodes. I don’t in any way think I’m taking one quote out of context. I understand who Dan is and the message he wishes to convey.

    It’s taking it too far to suggest I’m attempting to keep Mormonism small. What I’m after for all religious believers is for them to take their religion seriously and for them to pursue it in the way the religion itself describes as authentic. I’ve got no bone with Dan or Katie pursuing Fowlerism. Have at it. My contention is that no one should describe it as Mormonism. If Mormonism is big, then use Mormon resources to describe it as big. If something in Mormonism is keeping it small (it sure as heck isn’t me) then use Mormon resources to expunge those things that limit it.

    If you want “big” believers then admonish them to be fully Mormon in every way Mormonism recommends. If Mormonism can produce Stage 4 or Stage 5 believers there is no reason to encourage people to strive for Stage 4 or 5. There’s no reason to plea with people to remain. Simply let the religion teach itself to it’s followers. If Fowler is really being descriptive it will happen quite naturally. If Mormonism is big, live it big. If Mormonism is small, live it small. Regardless of the size of the believer, he’ll always feel comfortable in the room made for him by his religion.

    In my experience, no one needs to plead with a comfortable person to stay a bit longer.

    Katie said

    I think your question itself reflects Stage 3 thinking. In Stage 3, spiritual authority is external: it belongs to the institution, the pastor, the prophet, the Pope.

    To ascribe to me Stage 3 thinking is to miss the point of my post. Do you think Stages 4 and 5 are possible to achieve by authentically pursuing any religion (by “authentically” I mean “on the religion’s own terms”)? If The Watchtower Society disciples its followers to believe at Stage 2 and no more can anyone truly live out Stage 4 and 5 and say they are obeying the tenets of their faith?

    I’m not saying that Mormonism can not be lived at Stage 4 or 5. That’s something for Mormonism to explain for itself within it’s own resources.

  20. Resources? Like –

    We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true Mormons.

    Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 316

  21. If Mormonism is big, then use Mormon resources to describe it as big. If something in Mormonism is keeping it small (it sure as heck isn’t me) then use Mormon resources to expunge those things that limit it.

    I’ve been thinking about this and I’m a little skeptical. I think that your core idea here assumes clearer boundaries (to Mormonism or any other religion) than exist in reality, and moreover, assumes that those fixed boundaries remain the same over time. And I don’t think that’s really accurate for any religion. It assumes an essentialism that does not really exist.

  22. Katie:

    Why? Because it’s like, “You can have personal revelation as long as it’s not different from our revelation!”?

    Basically. I mean, that’s putting a complex tension probably a little too simply, but the point is, there’s a tension there that I think would be really difficult to untangle from personal revelation in practice in modern Mormonism.

    David,

    Your comment about Fowler’s stage 6 and his social science data clarified my concerns. Thanks!

  23. CJ,
    You can quote mine all day long. I’m well aware of all of the “expansive” teachings. As I was saying, comfortable people don’t need pleas to stick around.

  24. Tim, the 13th article of faith is not a fringe teaching. Also, if my JS quote is not a Mormon resource (a very commonly known one at that) then what is?

  25. I think that your core idea here assumes clearer boundaries (to Mormonism or any other religion) than exist in reality, and moreover, assumes that those fixed boundaries remain the same over time. And I don’t think that’s really accurate for any religion. It assumes an essentialism that does not really exist.

    Amen. I also think you’re overstating the authority that any religious institution has to define or prescribe the spirituality of its members.

    Having said that, I can grant that certain belief structures might be generally designed to appeal to adherents at a certain level of spiritual development. And I think everyone in this conversation would agree that church-on-Sunday Mormonism caters to people in Stage 3.

    This should not be surprising, though: most people are much more comfortable orienting around a faith paradigm of clean, clear lines as opposed to the muddy waters of ambiguity and paradox. That we don’t tap the expansive resources available to us isn’t the resources’ fault — and may not even be such a bad thing from an institutional perspective.

    Still, I think the reason you see these sorts of conversations arising out of Mormonism as opposed to, say, Jehovah’s Witness or fundamentalist Christian corners (there is no JW equivalent of the bloggernacle, for example) is because Mormonism has profoundly expansive theological resources. Resources like the quote CJ shared, or the idea of the uncreated, eternal nature of the human soul and our potential for eternal progression, point to a HUGE cosmos that far transcend the mentality of “pray, pay, and obey” that you often (but not always) find in the pews.

    In the end, I believe it will all work out for our good: the tension between institutional discourse oriented around Stage 3 type belief and the massively expansive Mormon cosmos is part of what makes Mormonism so dang effective and compelling, IMHO.

  26. As I was saying, comfortable people don’t need pleas to stick around.

    Tim, two thoughts.

    1) No one is arguing that church-on-Sunday Mormonism doesn’t orient around Stage 3. We all grant that it does. The question is if church-on-Sunday Mormonism must define the totality of “authentic” Mormonism. Church-on-Sunday Mormonism is an authentic expression of Mormonism, but it is not the only one.

    2) Dan was speaking explicitly to people in Stage 4. Stage 4 is, by definition, uncomfortable — “a stage of angst and struggle” per the Wikipedia article you linked to in your post. Why shouldn’t he offer comfort and encouragement to those going through something difficult?

  27. For those of you who think the LDS church offers resources for people who are not in stage 1-3 please answer a simple question: Which resource on offer at a standard LDS meeting house, institute of religion, conference center etc. caters to this? Put another way: When does the LDS church knowingly offer its property to cater to these non stage 1-3 Mormons?

  28. David,
    To answer your question: I have a good friend who teaches institute for the LDS Church in NYC. He recently started posting his lesson plans etc. at T&S. I’ve linked to his first two lessons on Genesis, but there are many others that, I think, fit the criteria. I’ve also linked to a handout he gave to his students when at BYU that you may find interesting. He told me that his institute director approved all of his material.

    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2012/01/institute-report-genesis-week-1/

    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2012/01/institute-report-genesis-week-2/

    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2012/01/the-standard-packet-the-book-of-mormon-and-critical-thinking-at-byu/

  29. It’s the “stick around” stuff that’s mostly bugging you, Tim? If someone was crashing and burning with their version of Christianity no longer satisfying what their brain can take or what their heart yearns for, you’d not ever send out a “stick around, there are broader/deeper ways to look at this, greater experiences for you to have” kind of message? I’m immersed in a community of Latter-day Saints struggling in this way. I was once there. I am grateful I didn’t surrender and retreat to the literalism that everything in me knew was only a shadow of the kind of deep spirituality that I saw in many around me, that I read the scriptures calling me toward. I was glad for messages of patience, encouragement to keep pushing through to see what might be on the other side of the confusion. Growing up to trust one’s own experiences with the spirit, to experience the fire for oneself rather than only warming in reflected heat, takes a lot of time, a lot of discipline. I’ve had experiences with this fire, they are good, the views I have now of God and the universe are stunning and cannot be captured in words. I’m anxious to share my story and hints from those views with others that they might also partake and know for themselves. What’s sinister about any of that?

  30. Still, I think the reason you see these sorts of conversations arising out of Mormonism as opposed to, say, Jehovah’s Witness or fundamentalist Christian corners (there is no JW equivalent of the bloggernacle, for example) is because Mormonism has profoundly expansive theological resources. Resources like the quote CJ shared, or the idea of the uncreated, eternal nature of the human soul and our potential for eternal progression, point to a HUGE cosmos that far transcend the mentality of “pray, pay, and obey” that you often (but not always) find in the pews.

    I think this does not follow. There aren’t these conversations arising out of Lutheranism or Methodism on the internet either. Does that mean they don’t have “expansive theological resources?” No, it just means they feel comfortable enough living out their faith in their churches and don’t feel a need to get on the internet to whine about it. What you can get in real life you rarely need to experience in cyberspace.

    The reason that JW’s or fundies don’t get on the web to complain is very simple, they want to withdraw from the world and live in their own universe. That’s what they value, so it’s not surprising that they don’t do what they don’t value. The phenomenon of the LDS bloggernaccle comes mainly from LDS desires to simultaneously have a high tension faith (like JW’s) but also engage the world like a low tension faith.

  31. The scriptures.

    Nice. Since both JW’s and fundies offer “the scriptures” at their meetinghouses, let no one ever accuse them of only catering to stage 2 or 3 faith either.

  32. Right, but that’s what I’m saying: it’s the tension that’s compelling.

    Tim is trying to argue that “authentic” Mormonism is inherently Stage 1-3. I’m saying that if that were the case you would not see these kinds of conversations flourishing at all. There is something authentic or organic within Mormonism that leads a sizeable minority of people through Stage 3 to Stages 4 and 5, even if the institution doesn’t know how to deal with it.

    We have an institution geared toward Stage 3 belief set against a massively expansive theology. That creates sparks.

  33. No Protestants on the internet?

    They’re on the internet, just using it for different purposes. Please point to the Protestant equivalent to the bloggernacle and I’ll concede the point.

  34. The call of the scriptures is an invitation for people to become like God/Christ/prophets. And the path is not through simple belief but rather embodiment of the virtues. These, in turn, come through following the same disciplines, striving for the same experiences, having faith to actually test things out and push through the fears and hesitations about whether one actually wants to know how big and huge and beautiful their spirits are. Mormonism begins with the story of a young man wanting to know for himself, and we’re all called to the same path. Nephi wants to experience for himself the vision that his father has, and we are encouraged to do so. Enos tried it, and we are encouraged to seek in similar ways. King Lamoni’s father shares his willingness to give up all he possesses, and even to give up all his sins, to know God the way Aaron does. This is also taught as something to emulate. D&C 84 asks us to “receive God” and all that God has and is will be ours. 93:1 that we can know God face to face. 121 teaches that if our bowels are full of charity towards others and virtue garnishes our thoughts unceasingly; our confidence shall wax strong in the presence of God and power within heavenly realms will naturally distill upon our soul as dew does from heaven. We’ll also naturally have the Holy Ghost with us constantly, we’ll naturally be righteous and truthful, and without compulsory means the things of God will simply flow unto us forever and ever.

    All of these are from just ten minutes thinking about some of the things in Mormonism and its scripture that point to where I’m focusing. It makes zero sense that anyone can become godlike simply by reciting certain descriptors about God. We are not called to know with our minds things about God but to “know” with our entire lives, in our bodies, in celestial burnings. Anything short of actually practicing the disciplines and gaining the confidence that comes via that practice is equivalent to a student who can pass exams but who has very little capability of actually performing in the real world. Many in Mormonism, just as many in Christianity, live religion at the level of a child interacting with a parent. The call, however (and in both the Bible and LDS scripture) is for us to be brides to his bridegroom, to be his beloved, to interact with him as equals in a marriage. This is the call I hear, seek in my own spiritual journey, and it is the one I try to share when openings into such areas arise during Sunday or other common discourse. Those who hear me nod, as they know this is truly where Mormonism does indeed point.

  35. “No one is arguing that church-on-Sunday Mormonism doesn’t orient around Stage 3.”

    I will.

    Fowler is a structuralist. He defines faith without regard to its object. For Fowler faith is “… a person’s or group’s way of moving into the force field of life. It is our way of finding coherence in and giving meaning to the multiple forces and relations that make up our lives.” Today some people would describe this as worldview.

    Take a look at the stage coding criteria for his 7 aspects.

    For instance a Stage 5 Form of Moral Judgment

    “At Stage 5 too, there is the possibility of multiple perspective taking in the making of moral
    judgments. Stage 5 will be able to assume the perspective of several actors in a moral conflict
    situation, and will be aware that there are multiple points of view that can be taken toward a moral
    issue, i.e., the legal, the technical, the interpersonal. Often Stage 5 will have difficulty integrating
    these multiple perspectives, and this is in accord with the conflictual nature of this stage in general.”

    Or Stage 4 Locus of Authority

    “The Stage 4 relation to authority, however, does not generally reflect the “prior to society”
    perspective nor the emphasis on subjectivity and pluralism that one finds at Stage 5. Rather, it is
    based on a more straightforward deduction of the authority’s compatibility with one’s self-selected ideology or set of principles. An emphasis on rules or law and a sense that authority is derived from these because they function to maintain social order and harmonious relations among people is properly characteristic of Stage 4.”

    Stage 5 Bounds of Social Awareness

    “At Stage 5 the quality or mode of group identification is principled, i.e., the person at Stage 5
    selects groups on the basis of the principles they represent. Stage 5 also typically is interested in the individual qua individual, and not only as a part of a group or system. Stage 5 social awareness, however, contains a paradox. Its sense of who is included and who is excluded is often based on a utilitarian principle. It typically excludes those whose interests are not served by the utilitarian calculus.”

    I could easily see a church-on-Sunday Mormon personally take in either of those descriptions.

  36. Fowler is a structuralist. He defines faith without regard to its object.

    Which is the correct approach, to the extent that he is trying to set up a model that describes people of dtifferent religions from a relatively objective outsider’s viewpoint.

    A Mormon apostle’s General Conference talk proposing a model of spiritual maturity would be very different from Fowler’s model, because it would be an insider’s model, assuming a priori Mormonism’s truth claims.

    This is why Fowler’s stage 6 is so problematic.

  37. Those who hear me nod, as they know this is truly where Mormonism does indeed point.

    This is so problematic, I don’t even know where to start.

  38. Cool, Gundek.

    Another example of why I need to read the source material itself all the way through instead of just going with the snippets and summaries I’ve heard here and there ’round the internet.

  39. I could easily see a church-on-Sunday Mormon personally take in either of those descriptions.

    Question: can you see a distinction between what individual church-on-Sunday Mormons do/believe personally vs. what church-on-Sunday Mormonism tends to emphasize?

  40. I’m not critiquing Fowler. His system is based on the logic of ones “conviction” and how the individual deals with the “other”.

    To treat it as a ranking structure seems to miss the point or at least place someone closer to stage 2 that they may perceive.

  41. Katie,

    Fowler’s systems asses the individual not the corporate. You would need to look deeper into the structure of Salt Lake to see why they emphasize what they do. All I saying, and this is an outsiders view, I have spoken to Mormons who have a high view of the authority of your prophets and are able to express their reasoning in ways clearly resembling stage 4

    1. Explicit authorities for the person at Stage 4 are likely to take many forms–an authority figure, law, tradition or custom.
    2. The mode of assessing the claims of authority is always conceptually mediated at Stage 4, usually in terms of compatibility with the self-selected set of ideological or relational principles.
    3. The relationship to authority is explicit and rational at Stage 4, in contrast to the tacit fusion that can occur at earlier stages.
    4. Stage 4 tends to locate authority in ideas, systems and institutions, rather than in persons. When there is identification with an authority figure, he or she is usually selected for the way he or she represents a system, institution or set of ideas.
    5. At Stage 4 there is the ability to stand back from authority relationships and evaluate them from the perspective of a worldview or ideology.
    6. Stage 4 authority is internally located, based on a self-ratified, ideological perspective.

    if not stage 5.

    1. The key criteria for classifying a particular statement as Stage 5 in terms of locus of authority are that it display a tensional or mediated approach to any form of authority or authority figure as a result of multiple perspective taking. When one mode of appropriation of authority appears to be absolute, it is more likely to reflect Stage 4 thinking.
    2. Stage 5 will judge authority from the perspective of universalizable principles.

  42. Too many links? Or were my comments unwelcome? (awaiting moderation)

  43. I’m really loving this discussion (if only because it’s pushed me over the edge to buy Fowler’s stuff directly…because I had definitely gotten the sense that it was about a progression with stage 6 being the end goal).

    I’ll have to read Fowler to determine if what I’m about to say is totally off-base, but it seems to me that there are interesting things to say about the possibility of Mormonism being a tradition that can accommodate different faith stages…

    It seems to me that Stage 4 and 5 aren’t really about confirming or aligning to an institution because it is an institution…is that correct or still based on distorted understanding?

    Well, if it is correct, then it would make sense that institutions don’t cater to serving Stage 4s and 5s…because those guys have to “go it on their own” (and are better equipped to do so than 2s and 3s).

  44. What I said:
    Many in Mormonism, just as many in Christianity, live religion at the level of a child interacting with a parent. The call, however (and in both the Bible and LDS scripture) is for us to be brides to his bridegroom, to be his beloved, to interact with him as equals in a marriage. This is the call I hear, seek in my own spiritual journey, and it is the one I try to share when openings into such areas arise during Sunday or other common discourse. Those who hear me nod, as they know this is truly where Mormonism does indeed point.

    Kullervo says:
    (Citing my last line only) Those who hear me nod, as they know this is truly where Mormonism does indeed point.

    Then offers: This is so problematic, I don’t even know where to start.

    ______

    I welcome you to try to start, Kullervo. Please share how any genuine religious walk might defend a position that God/Universe wants us to forever remain children in relationship to Him/Her/Them/It versus drinking directly from the fountainhead and being nurtured from it ourselves. I guarantee that even when they are swept up mostly going along for the ride of others doing the thinking/experiencing for them and them mostly just obeying their leaders and their counsel and being generally satisfied that they know the key answers to life and its purposes, Mormons DO get that there is a deeper, more profound way to live their religion and be in the universe and that eternal progression implies that they will necessarily have to grow into these deeper ways eventually. They know the truth of this when they hear it. They may not be equipped emotionally or with enough experience moving from external to internal authority orientations in other areas of life to make the move to start the important weaning of themselves from mother’s milk in the realm of spirituality, but they don’t reject the message/deep call. And with each exposure/each modeling of richer faith, they have a chance to gain just that much more incentive/confidence to move more toward it.

    I’m excited to hear what’s problematic about what I’m saying.

  45. Andrew S., I think you’re onto something. A brief survey of Mormon History can demonstrate what you’re saying. B.H, Roberts and J F Smith were both firmly in the fold after all. And that’s the irony here. Mormons are criticized for the fluidity of their doctrine – for not be “Orthodox Christian” enough. Then you have here a case of Mormons embracing that fluidity and being called out for it. “You’re not aloud to LIKE Brigham’s crazy speculations!”

  46. I’m excited to hear what’s problematic about what I’m saying.

    Not only are you are asserting that some kind of essential Mormonism exists, but you are further asserting that your personal interpretation of Mormonism–which may be at odds with the interpretations of a large number of other Mormons–is conveniently that essential Mormonism.

    In order for there to be such a thing as an essential “one true” Mormonism, i.e., a place to which “truly . . . Mormonism does indeed point,” there has to be some metaphysical existence (and more critically, a metaphysical truth) to Mormonism beyond its descriptive existence as a religious system practiced by a given community of human beings.

    And I am confident in saying that it ain’t so; as a non-Mormon, I obviously reject your premise.

    But even if I was a Mormon and did believe that there was a True Mormonism, I would be extremely skeptical about your claim to know what it is. Because I have heard it too many times about too many different Mormonisms.

  47. Sounds like you’re longing for a foolish consistency.

    Maybe you didn’t understand my comment. I will try again.

    Dan W. said a bunch of stuff and summed it up with “Those who hear me nod, as they know this is truly where Mormonism does indeed point.”

    This is problematic because it assumes that Mormonism “does indeed point” anywhere at all.

    Mormonism is a religion practiced by a community of believers. Like all religions practiced by a community of believers, there is inevitably diversity of belief and practice. All Mormons (just like all [any religion]) don’t believe the exact same things about everything. So there is not just one Mormonism; there can be said to be many Mormonisms. In other words, a description of Mormonism, in order to be complete and accurate, must address the diversity of beliefs and practices of Mormonisms and must grapple with the “fuzzy edges” or Mormonism. Since “Mormonism” is a mental construct, a human-invented category, it is difficult to draw a clear line between what is Mormonism and what is not Mormonism without assuming that some kind of essential Mormonism exists.

    Mainstream Mormon teaching generally asserts that there is an essential Mormonism: most Mormons believe that there are “eternal truths of the Gospel” that exist regardless of what any given human community practices or believes. That’s what I mean when I say a “metaphysical essentialism.”

    The belief in a metaphysical essential Mormonism is made problematic by the existence of diverse beliefs among Mormons: most Mormons believe that there are “eternal truths of the Gospel” that are revealed and taught by latter-day prophets, but many Mormons, as it turns out, disagre on precisely what these eternal truths are. In other words, most Mormons believe in an essential Mormonism, but many disagree on what that essential Mormonism is.

    Dan W.’s comment indicated that he believes that the stuff he said is essential Mormonism. His ideas about Mormonism are True Mormonism. The reason that is problematic is that for me (or anyone) to agree that Dan W.’s ideas about Mormonism are True Mormonism, we have to accept that a True Mormonism exists. But there is only such a thing as a True Mormonism if Mormonism’s truth claims (i.e., that there is a God who knows certain eternal truths and he has one True Church which he restored through Joseph Smith through which he reveals said eternal truths to modern-day prophets) are correct.

    But I reject Mormonism’s truth claims. And so does everyone else who is not a Mormon. Therefore I reject the premise that there is such a thing as a True Mormonism, or, to parallel with Dan W.’s assertions, I say that there is nothing to which “truly . . . Mormonism does indeed point.” There may be something to which Dan W.’s interpretation of Mormonism “truly . . . does indeed point,” but that’s not the same thing.

    So I’m not asking for a foolish consistency; in fact, I am specifically acknowledging that one does not exist (about Mormonism at least). And that’s why Dan W.’s pronouncement about where “truly . . . Mormonism does indeed point” is bollocks.

  48. At the same time, don’t misunderstand me here. I am not saying there is no such thing as Truth: I certainly believe that there is some kind of deeper, grander Truth that we are all looking for in different ways. If Dan W. wants to assert that God wants “us to be brides to his bridegroom, to be his beloved, to interact with him as equals in a marriage,” not only do I find that unproblematic, but I may actually agree with him!

    What I disagree with is that “this is truly where Mormonism does indeed point,” because that’s nonsense: there’s no truly Mormonism to do the pointing.

  49. Dan said:

    It’s the “stick around” stuff that’s mostly bugging you, Tim? If someone was crashing and burning with their version of Christianity no longer satisfying what their brain can take or what their heart yearns for, you’d not ever send out a “stick around, there are broader/deeper ways to look at this, greater experiences for you to have” kind of message?

    Dan, First off I appreciate you engaging the conversation. Thanks for honoring the discussion.

    To answer your question, if someone were experiencing doubt I absolutely would encourage them to stick around in the community.

    If someone had moved beyond doubt and started saying things like “I don’t believe in the Atonement” and/or “I don’t believe in sin” and/or “I’m going to start investigating Tantric Hinduism so that I can have a more expansive view of Christianity” I would not encourage them to “stick around”. They’d still be my friend, but I don’t see any value in them remaining in a community of faith if they reject the core of the faith. If I were a Mormon, I’d probably be willing to see people go if they don’t believe that the LDS church is the “one and only true church” or if they don’t believe that Thomas Monson is a prophet.

    The point of being in a community of faith is to center yourselves around and encourage one another to believe and practice the tenets of the faith. Once someone rejects the tenets of the faith they cause an imposition to the rest of the community’s shared values. I’m not saying that people can never look outside of their faith for something more, but I am saying that looking outside the religion for something more is to move outside the faith. If someone wants to move outside my faith, they are welcome to it, but they shouldn’t try to synchronize the faith with outside influence unless that is a value of my faith community (e.g. Unitarianism).

    I think religions should be honored and be taken seriously on their own terms. Their creeds and self-definitions should be respected. I don’t value the structure of a community nearly as much as I value its worldview.

    Those who hear me nod, as they know this is truly where Mormonism does indeed point.

    The reason I think this is problematic is that a stated value of Mormonism is that Thomas Monson is the one who tells Mormons where Mormonism truly points. Dan Wotherspoon might have all kinds of great ideas (and he might even be right about them), but the practice of Mormonism is not to look to a smart guy with a graduate degree, but rather to discover essential Mormonism from a prophet instated by longevity of service. If you hope to operate within the Priesthood, any answers you receive that conflict with the Prophet’s are subject to further seeking.

  50. The reason I think this is problematic is that a stated value of Mormonism is that Thomas Monson is the one who tells Mormons where Mormonism truly points. Dan Wotherspoon might have all kinds of great ideas (and he might even be right about them), but the practice of Mormonism is not to look to a smart guy with a graduate degree, but rather to discover essential Mormonism from a prophet instated by longevity of service. If you hope to operate within the Priesthood, any answers you receive that conflict with the Prophet’s are subject to further seeking.

    In my experience, Mormons who believe diverse and contradictory things all insist that their Mormonism is in fact the one that is taught by Thomas S. Monson.

  51. Another way to say that is “Mormonism might be open for individual interpretation, the Mormon priesthood doesn’t seem to be.”

    I’m not sure there is such a thing as a separation between Mormonism and the Priesthood. It seems to me that when Mormons fall outside of the Priesthood, the Priesthood almost always counsels them to fall in line or gives them the consequence of not participating (e.g. no temple recommend, not allowing someone to baptize their own child, being excluded from prayer circles, no callings of great significance).

  52. If you hope to operate within the Priesthood, any answers you receive that conflict with the Prophet’s are subject to further seeking.

    I think it is important to remember that the church operates similar to the military. People follow the leadership, even if they are not 100% correct. There is a recognition of fallibility in temperament or even doctrine, but authority is inviolate. Just as in the military Mormons often feel comfortable holding views that are unsupported by the leadership, so long as they follow the leadership. This allows some Mormons to remain faithful to the church while holding diverse views (e.g. Fowlerist ideas of how people should believe). You can be a good soldier even if you don’t support the commander-in-chief’s politics at all.

  53. Tim and Kullervo, I really appreciate your last few comments. They helped me see where you’re coming from a lot better.

    A question for Tim. Would you be willing to consider that you might be wrong about what the LDS community values and/or tolerates? You say, “The point of being in a community of faith is to center yourselves around and encourage one another to believe and practice the tenets of the faith.”

    If I may, this is a very Protestant way of seeing things: don’t like something, go find another congregation that values what you value or believes what you believe.

    That’s simply not how we roll in Mormonism. We all get shoved together to worship by geography, not preference in theology. We are, in a way that I don’t think outsiders can fully understand, a tribe with a shared heritage and identity that gets in your blood.

    More than doctrinal purity, Mormons value loyalty. You will run into trouble with the community not for aberrant beliefs, but for perceived public disloyalty. This carries its own set of challenges, which I acknowledge are problematic, but the greatest taboos are not doctrinal as you assume.

    You are trying to make Mormonism, as a culture and a belief system, into a creedal, monolithic entity. It is not. It is a tradition of profound contradictions, inconsistencies, ambiguities, and paradoxes that are very frustrating and impossible to cleanly navigate.

  54. Kullervo, to confirm, your biggest issue with Dan’s position is that he claims that Mormonism itself points toward the conclusions he draws?

    So you would be more comfortable with phrasing it, “The way I understand or engage Mormonism, it points to XYZ” instead of “Mormonism points to XYZ”?

  55. A question for Tim. Would you be willing to consider that you might be wrong about what the LDS community values and/or tolerates? You say, “The point of being in a community of faith is to center yourselves around and encourage one another to believe and practice the tenets of the faith.”

    If I may, this is a very Protestant way of seeing things: don’t like something, go find another congregation that values what you value or believes what you believe.

    I don’t even think Tim’s statement is necessarily Protestant. I just think it’s dissmissably normative. Anytime you say “the point of x is…” you are wading into problematic territory. Who says that’s the point of a community of faith? Who decreed that? Who polices that?

    You can reasonably assert what the point of your, community of faith is, but even then, I think you might find if you ask around that its members have some diverse opinions on the subject. But to make a normative pronouncement, universally applicable, about communities of faith in general? I call BS on that.

  56. Kullervo, to confirm, your biggest issue with Dan’s position is that he claims that Mormonism itself points toward the conclusions he draws?

    So you would be more comfortable with phrasing it, “The way I understand or engage Mormonism, it points to XYZ” instead of “Mormonism points to XYZ”?

    I think that would be significantly less problematic. Even to say “I believe Mormonism points to XYZ” is less probnlematic. But Dan W.’s statement, as it stands, is pregnant with a very strong assumption of Mormon essentialism that is chock full of nonsense, although in my experience it is a fairly typical/representative Mormon assumption.

  57. Katie, I recognize diversity within a religion. I’m only discussing core doctrines which the religion itself has defined as core values.

    I acknowledge that a community of faith might be intentionally open to conflicting values.

  58. From my perspective, there is no such thing as a religion staying true to itself, dogmatically speaking. Religious communities can cohere, remaining “true to themselves” (so to speak). Historically speaking, they do this by evolving dogmatically (tacitly admitting that their dogma is adaptive, contextual, and diachronically incoherent). They admit heretics (either openly or not). They introduce something like “grace” or “the Spirit” to give people room to be themselves without necessarily renouncing the community. Religion is not rational (any more than human life is: this does not mean that religion has no reason, only that reason is not the only or even the most important thing in any historical religion). It is historical, contextual, organic. It changes. This means that there is no ironclad Mormonism for Dan Wotherspoon to be true to. How is he supposed to hew to some imaginary Mormon line (that he personally may not even be able to see)? This kind of standard will destroy any religion (from my perspective: people should always feel free to have their own ideas and hew to their own lines, including the ones that I cannot see).

  59. If there are core values in Mormonism, they are (1) follow the Spirit and (2) follow the Brethren. Historically, Mormons have always differed over the relationship between these two values. Ideally, they never conflict. Many Mormons fervently believe that they never conflict, and convince themselves and others that any apparent conflict is an illusion. In this way, faithful Mormons on occasion end up preaching their inspiration from the Spirit against the Brethren, and invoking the Brethren to squelch other believers’ Spirit. (Notice that the Brethren disagree with each other all the time, too.) There is no unity. There never was. There never will be. If Dan Wotherspoon found a way to solve this problem, then he would do what God has been unable to do (in Mormonism or any faith tradition since people have been keeping records).

  60. David, responding to your much earlier question about what resources the LDS Church or meetinghouses, etc offer to “stage 4″…

    Why does the church infrastructure have to offer resources to this group in order for me to claim there is a place for them inside it? Isn’t getting resources from the scriptures and theology sufficient?

  61. Katie, I recognize diversity within a religion. I’m only discussing core doctrines which the religion itself has defined as core values.

    Right, but I’m saying you’ve misidentified our core values.

  62. Tim said:

    I’m not saying that people can never look outside of their faith for something more, but I am saying that looking outside the religion for something more is to move outside the faith. If someone wants to move outside my faith, they are welcome to it, but they shouldn’t try to synchronize the faith with outside influence unless that is a value of my faith community (e.g. Unitarianism).I think religions should be honored and be taken seriously on their own terms. Their creeds and self-definitions should be respected. I don’t value the structure of a community nearly as much as I value its worldview.

    But I’d argue that there is a degree to which Mormonism is like Unitarianism. (I admit, that does sound weird to say.) Brigham Young taught repeatedly that Mormonism embraces all truth, and in a statement appearing in current instructional manuals, President Joseph F. Smith said, “We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure.” And as I said before, we’re urged, commanded even, to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives and to seek personal revelation. Tim, I think you’re being extremely limiting when you say what Mormonism’s “own terms” are.

    I’d concede, however, that the Sunday experience doesn’t always live up to the expressed values of Mormonism. I just find it more than a bit ironic that you criticize the LDS church for teaching that humans are in some sense divine, and then when someone runs with that idea, as Dan has, you say he has abandoned the faith.

  63. I suspect that the notion of a group’s “core values” suffers from the same insider/outsider essentialism problems.

    That’s not to say that the notion of values held by a group is nonsense (it’s not–it’s one of the ways groups cohere in the first place), but rigid definitions of what is and is not a “core” value raise red flags to me. Probably its more realistic to discuss a group’s shared values, the relative value placed on those different shared values, and the likely large and fuzzy boundary area that causes problems for strict definitions with clear delineations.

    So again, while we can talk about Mormon (or any other group) values, but we’re going to need to acknowledge that the conversation is always going to involve certain kinds of contradictions and tensions, and we are going to have to figure out how to accomodate that.

    That’s the problem Tim’s position with respect to group belonging and diversity within boundaries: rigid boundaries never really exist for constructs like “Mormonism” or “the core values of Momronism,” so Tim’s strict in/out approach does not map to reality very well. I think Katie and Dan are reacting to that.

    Is this all complex? Yes. Sorry, but we are talking about socio-cultural groups, and they are really complex things, so we have to suck it up.

  64. Brigham Young taught repeatedly that Mormonism embraces all truth, and in a statement appearing in current instructional manuals, President Joseph F. Smith said, “We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure.”

    Tell that to Grant Palmer, Michael Quinn and Margaret Toscano.

    I just find it more than a bit ironic that you criticize the LDS church for teaching that humans are in some sense divine, and then when someone runs with that idea, as Dan has, you say he has abandoned the faith.

    WhhaaaaT?
    I didn’t criticize Dan for exploring expansive doctrines within Mormonism (in fact I encouraged it). I criticized him for expanding Mormonism by exploring things outside of Mormonism and claiming it’s Mormonism.

  65. Tell that to Grant Palmer, Michael Quinn and Margaret Toscano.

    I stand on the side of these individuals, so don’t take this as a defense of their excommunication.

    From the institution’s perspective, its quite simple really: “We are willing to receive all truth…these individuals did not teach truth.” Having an expansive theology does not mean you draw no lines.

  66. I guess I don’t see “exploring things outside of Mormonism” as outside the Mormon tradition. The First Presidency itself said in 1978 that the world’s great religious leaders and philosophers (among those mentioned by name were Mohammed, Confucius and Plato) received a portion of God’s light and “brought a higher level of understanding.”

  67. Having an expansive theology does not mean you draw no lines.

    Okay, now we’re talking. Does the institutional religion think those lines have value? Should observers of the faith seek to conform to those lines?

  68. A better way to ask the question: As Mormons, should Palmer, Quinn and Toscano have sought to conform themselves to LDS leadership?

  69. Okay, now we’re talking. Does the institutional religion think those lines have value? Should observers of the faith seek to conform to those lines?

    Line-drawing is an exercise in futility because we are not talking about natural categories. In reality, you get fuzzy boundary-areas and tension caused by contradictions, even when you (or “the institutional religion”) tries to draw lines.

    Also, once more for the record, “the institutional religion” can’t think. Only people can think.

  70. I guess I don’t see “exploring things outside of Mormonism” as outside the Mormon tradition. The First Presidency itself said in 1978 that the world’s great religious leaders and philosophers (among those mentioned by name were Mohammed, Confucius and Plato) received a portion of God’s light and “brought a higher level of understanding.”

    It would be deliberately obtuse to insist that there is not an obvious tension between statements like this and the rest of Mormon doctrine and practice.

  71. A better way to ask the question: As Mormons, should Palmer, Quinn and Toscano sought to conform themselves to LDS leadership?

    In my ideal world, the leadership wouldn’t have been so up in arms.

  72. Should LDS leadership agree with itself? Historically, it doesn’t. How are people like Margaret Toscano supposed to agree with leadership that doesn’t agree with itself?

    Should every cardinal agree with the Pope? Should every parish priest agree with every cardinal? Should every parishioner agree with his priest? Should every US citizen agree with his congressperson, senator, or President? I sure hope not.

  73. Should LDS leadership agree with itself? Historically, it doesn’t. How are people like Margaret Toscano supposed to agree with leadership that doesn’t agree with itself?

    Should every cardinal agree with the Pope? Should every parish priest agree with every cardinal? Should every parishioner agree with his priest? Should every US citizen agree with his congressperson, senator, or President? I sure hope not.

    “Should” is not as useful a question as “does.” And if the answer is “no,” whe next question is, “and what happens then?”

    Every religious community is laden with similar tensions and blurry boundaries–these things are effectively universal among all human social groups, and their mere existence does not somehow make Mormonism unique (contrary to the apparent assumptions of a lot of NOM/cultural/postmodern Mormons).

    The specific manifestations–and therein lies the rub–may be unique to Mormonism, but the general pattern is not.

  74. Every religious community is laden with similar tensions and blurry boundaries–these things are effectively universal among all human social groups,

    Tell that to Tim: comfortable people don’t need pleas to stick around.

  75. It seems that the problem with Dan Wotherspoon’s statement that Tim is bringing up is that Wotherspoon appears to be placing a higher priority achieving a higher “stage of faith” apparent priority of achieving stages of faith vs. remaining true to Mormonism. Conceivably the honest seeker of truth may likely shed some important aspects of Mormon doctrine and practice as they try to “own” the religion.

    Tim’s critique seems valid in that, unless achieving a higher Fowler stage of faith would necessarily lead one to become a better Mormon or otherwise fulfill the mission of the church, then it seems that Wotherspoon is placing this goal above the stated goals of the Church. Without some very strong caveat’s it may not be in keeping with the mission of the Church at all to have people move into “higher” stages of faith as described by Fowler.

    However, Tim’s critique raises the issue that Mormonism has always had with its focus on personal revelation AND following the revelations of the prophet. A promise (the promise?) of Mormonism is that the mysteries of God are accessible to all who diligently seek rather than simply to biblical authors. The problem with this approach is that there will always be those who believe they have achieved “light and knowledge” beyond or different what the prophets have. One side of Mormonism tells people to trust in their spiritual experiences the other side tells them to doubt or disregard them.

    I think the inherent tension in these two sides diffuses much of Tim’s critique. Mormonism will always be a strange blend of divergent views that would be very difficult to overtly contradict or undermine simply by including some source of knowledge or truth that may not be faith promoting to some people. However I think the baseline in Mormonism has and will be the Spirit. If the Spirit leads Wotherspoon to seek or advocate a higher stage of faith, while still following the guidance of church leadership, then Wotherspoon’s Fowlerism seems to be a fully compatible with his Mormonism. (And by the “Spirit” I mean that process/influence/being/what-have-you that leads him toward God and Mormonism in the first place.) Mormonism is pretty clear, however, that absent the spiritual element this could be simply part of a slow bastardization of the faith i.e. “philosophies of men mingled with scripture”.

  76. I will say this: once I let go of the need for any belief system to be consistent and unified and delivered from heaven with clear definitions on a Silver Platter of Truth, the world started making much more sense. 🙂

  77. Yeah, but that’s your individual beliefs, which are honestly a drastically different question from that of the beliefs and practices of your religious community.

  78. This went huge while I wasn’t following. And now I have to run really soon to Moab for a few days camping with the Varsity Scouts in my ward, so I don’t have time to really reply.

    A few quick things, though. On Kullervo’s claims that I’m pointing to an essential Mormonism, I don’t think so. Never enters my head that there’d be something like that. My comments were in the context of what I replied to Tim in the beginning with, that it seems as if many are trying to limit Mormonism in what seems like a way that makes it smaller and perhaps easier to not have to take seriously. Whenever anyone says “this is Mormonism” in a way that seems to want to reduce it to just a few things (such as “follow the spirit” and “follow the prophet”) I have to go, “What?!” When someone wants to say that people don’t recognize the difference between deep soul transformation/true embodied knowledge and incarnation of the qualities of godliness in one’s life and head belief and following another, I will always call foul. Even if you want to play the formulaic game and take the stated three-fold mission of the church, the first one is “Perfect the Saints,” which hearkens to Ephesians 4:12-13 and “knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” This is huge, deep, rich stuff that will always resist easy reduction to pray, pay, obey, let others lead you always. Mormonism is talking godhood; it’s laughable to think that a god is always and forever checking upstairs to the higher god to get her or his marching orders. Certainly, any “follow the prophet” message will always yield in Mormonism to “would that all were prophets themselves.”

    In what I’m saying in all the “everyone nods as they recognize this is what M points toward” stuff, I am simply claiming that there is a deeply felt/understood aspect to spiritual depth, that people recognize the power of an embodied faith over a professed one, a person’s character over their rhetoric. That’s what I say Mormons nod toward when reminded of it, hence it’s Mormon in the sense that Mormons are human. And furthermore, the LDS tradition has many, many teachings that point toward embodying qualities over simply affirming them.

    Maybe pointing toward a deep common sense in people and intuitive recognition of deeper, more profound spirituality has a resonance with Fowler’s Stages Four, Five, and Six, but these certainly don’t originate in Fowler for me or I imagine anyone. If people are connecting with his descriptors, it’s because they map their own experience (“their own” meaning also what they observe and admire or intuitively recognize in others as deeper/richer ways of being oriented in the universe). In none of it is it prescriptive any more than anything that is held up in ways that it might serve as an attractor.

    If it’s still going, I can rejoin the discussion on Sunday…. Best to all…

  79. Katie said: I will say this: once I let go of the need for any belief system to be consistent and unified and delivered from heaven with clear definitions on a Silver Platter of Truth

    Kullervo responded: Yeah, but that’s your individual beliefs, which are honestly a drastically different question from that of the beliefs and practices of your religious community.

    CJ scratches his head: I wonder how someone can give this sort of response with an even LDS/correlation-approved understanding of Mormon history. 19th Century Utah Mormonism looks drastically different than the “I’m a Mormon” touting institution of today. Shoot, the pre-1978 Church would call us all to repentance. Do you really think these changes occurred without the collective efforts of the Mormon body of Christ? Thank God for people like Dan and Katie and B.H. Roberts and Orson Pratt and Lester Bush and my father – who defied the Church’s racist policies and (in some small way) brought about a better, higher looking community. Its the collective reaching and yearning for something more that is at the heart of what JS Mormonism was trying to accomplish. If we don’t see it much today, shame on us – not the tradition.

  80. Thank God for people like Dan and Katie and B.H. Roberts and Orson Pratt and Lester Bush and my father – who defied the Church’s racist policies and (in some small way) brought about a better, higher looking community. Its the collective reaching and yearning for something more that is at the heart of what JS Mormonism was trying to accomplish. If we don’t see it much today, shame on us – not the tradition.

    Is there any evidence that any of this had or has any effect? I’m dead serious about this, because I think at the levels that decisions get made, none of this makes any difference. I had long suspected this, mainly based on the fact that general authorities have tried to shield themselves from interacting with average members for a long time. Now having read “The Book of Mammon,” it seems pretty clear that the church is structured to not care about the average member.

    I know it’s popular to say that people standing against racist policies somehow had an impact, but the timing of the change makes the exigencies of politics, legal challenges, and collegiate football much more likely answers. Plus the lack of any apology, retraction, or any action (other than simply pretending that it never existed) mitigates against any conclusion that this was some sort of moral and ethical pressure imposed from the ground up.

    More recent changes also seem much more likely to be based on PR consultation than on genuine member needs or pressures. If there is sometimes overlap between the demands of the two groups, then that’s just gravy on top.

  81. CJ scratches his head: I wonder how someone can give this sort of response with an even LDS/correlation-approved understanding of Mormon history. 19th Century Utah Mormonism looks drastically different than the “I’m a Mormon” touting institution of today. Shoot, the pre-1978 Church would call us all to repentance. Do you really think these changes occurred without the collective efforts of the Mormon body of Christ? Thank God for people like Dan and Katie and B.H. Roberts and Orson Pratt and Lester Bush and my father – who defied the Church’s racist policies and (in some small way) brought about a better, higher looking community. Its the collective reaching and yearning for something more that is at the heart of what JS Mormonism was trying to accomplish. If we don’t see it much today, shame on us – not the tradition.

    I’m not sure what any of this has to do with “my response.” I assume you are reading a whole lot of something into my comment that I did not intentionally communicate.

  82. David,

    I hear you. Because of the Church structure, even if there are grass roots effects on change, its hard to verify, since the brethren would /have hardly admit it effected them.

    But, the BYU sports protests were staged by individuals. Cultural or political pressure is placed by individuals. As you concede, these events had an effect. And then there’s this: http://bycommonconsent.com/2010/06/08/the-long-awaited-day/

  83. Katie, I recognize diversity within a religion. I’m only discussing core doctrines which the religion itself has defined as core values.

    I acknowledge that a community of faith might be intentionally open to conflicting values.

    Fowler stages of faith aside: I agree with Dan that “owning your faith” is a critical part of Mormonism as established by Joseph Smith. Seeking and finding for yourself is the strongest theme that I took from First and Second Nephi.

    This passage was always a summation to me of the promise of Mormonism:

    Nephi 10:

    And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.

    18 For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him.

    19 For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.

    Admittedly the promise is not always fulfilled in some of the ways Mormonism is practiced. But I was taught as a very young Mormon child to focus on finding answers for myself above any sort of blind obedience to authority. In a real way, the authority of the First Presidency only has currency because of the independent judgments of the members to embrace Mormonism. Heaven knows there is no cult of personality holding it up, even in regards to Joseph Smith.

  84. . . . My counterpoint to Tim being that owning your faith and experiencing for yourself, is a “core value” of Mormonism

  85. . . . My counterpoint to Tim being that owning your faith and experiencing for yourself, is a “core value” of Mormonism

    Yes. Agreed.

    Is it in conflict with other core values such as obedience sustaining leaders?

    Yup. Sometimes. Welcome to life. 🙂

  86. Pingback: Mormonism is not primarily a religion at all, turns out… « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  87. Are you guys familiar with ‘ladder-theology’?

    Here’s an excellent explanation of it:

    [audio src="http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/the-two-christian-paradigms.mp3" /]

    I think many Evangelical, Catholic, and Mormon folks unwittingly fall into this category.

    Give it 6 min. (then you’ll start to be in the meat of it).

    Thanks.

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