It has already — shockingly — been a couple of months since I promised to respond to some responses to my “Mormonism and Liberal Authenticity.“ I have finally freed up the time to draft some thoughts — just in case some of you are still waiting (in fact a couple have told me you are). I have had to be very brief and therefore direct. In many cases, especially my reply is very brief, readers will need to reference the earlier comment in order to understand my response.
Hawkgrrrl: Am I “someone with power”? J. Haidt shows conservatives understand liberals much more than the reverse. Should the Church exclude “liberals”? Or “liberalism”? It depends on what that means. If an aspect of liberalism comes to mean something that contradicts fundamental teachings, then it is excluded, and not by me. If. See Michelle, below: “politics” should be indeed a non-issue as much as possible, but when a political ideology contradicts basic Church teachings, how to avoid? Tolerance (as Elder Oaks has argued plainly) is not an absolute virtue. See Adam G. below.
star: How am I “sexist”? Where did I deny “wiggle room” regarding male/female roles in the Family Proclamation?
MC: Thanks — very calm and reasonable. You define the question in terms of authority/command vs. contemporary ideas of “fairness.” Authority is important, but I would not divorce it altogether from reasoning, from an inward assent that includes thoughtful consideration. I would not associate our latest “fairness” with reason and leave only “command” on the “conservative” side. Many reasonable questions can be left open about the roles of male and female in society, but I do not think modern “reason’s” assumption that equality=sameness (same “contributions,” equal representation in all activities, etc.) is self-evident. I think the continued strength and cohesiveness of a “peculiar people” will require questioning “what larger western society believes” on more than one point. Why not?
On one point you are certainly right to conclude that I see authority as essential to what a church is for, what it is. In this sense, I’m not fond of the “both at the table” imagery. I think it is a disservice to members who need a church with authority to suggest there are “ways of being Mormon” that dispense with authority. I have no interest in excluding anyone personally, but I don’t see why I would not have the right to criticize arguments I think are misleading, harmful.
JAC has taken on “enemies” (too strong a word, of course) on the “right.” See JAC’s Brandon Dabling’s review of Connor Boyack’s recent book as well as Bryan Benson’s review of Mark Levin’s Ameritopia — not to mention our continual challenges of the “right” in the blog review.
Casey: It’s very possible I could do better at entering imaginatively into the sensibilities of “liberals” like Ms. Brooks. (By the way, would you say that she does a good job of entering into “conservative” sensibilities?) But, in fact, I quote JB at length, track her narrative and her argument as faithfully as I know how. I read her book 3-4 times, annotated it, analyzed it. That’s my idea of respect. Her argument is in the end pretty simple and pretty familiar — not very complicated, and we all understand its appeal: fairness, equality, tolerance, etc. Where did I misstate her views? I don’t think you’ve paid my argument half the attention I paid hers.
R Couch: thanks. & T Allred.
JSH is right that the political-legal question does not follow immediately and necessarily from the religious premise. But he exaggerates the neutrality of a constitutional order. And when did I ever urge that being a “homosexual” (as opposed to practicing) should impact membership status?Good dialogue between JSH & Tracy!
L Craig. Thanks. But I didn’t make JB famous, a “national voice” for a new way of being Mormon. And JB’s “liberalism” has nothing to do with HB Brown’s, etc.
Clint: Thanks, but why is society’s most basic institution less important than healthcare, deficit, etc?
Brad Kramer continues to focus on my tone, and I don’t know what more to say about that. (What makes an argument “condescending,” for example?) Re. my challenge to the BCC & T&S: Perhaps my observations were based on too small a sample, including my own guest-posting, when I knew that people who sympathized with what I was saying did not find it prudent to brave the torrent of abuse directed towards me. (Ben Huff seems to refer to this in his comment here.) And note that a number of people agree with me, and have had similar experiences. An impressive number. But you yourself admit that you treat liberals differently from conservatives. Of course there are some voices that are not left-liberal that you have treated respectfully, but I’m not sure they tend to raise the same kind of hard questions touching on ideology as plainly as I do. I should no doubt be more careful in general characterizations, but I remain convinced that you and many of your colleagues’ sense of fairness and civility is powerfully conditioned by ideological commitments of which you may not be fully aware, because they are so commonly shared in your circles. I remain convinced that a kind of structural asymmetry prevails at the blogs that combine a certain intellectual ambition with an interest of speaking from “within” the LDS community; this asymmetry is less a matter of numbers and more a reflection of deep tendency to associate rigorous rationality with an imperative to weaken authority; more traditional opinions may be admitted, but they are assumed to rely only on authority. (Thus Steve Smith’s recent suggestion in T&S discussion that maybe voices like mine would be better suited to other blogs — you know, the simple, thoughtless believer blogs, not here where bold=progressive minds strut their stuff.) (The question all that begs is precisely the relation between reason and moral-political-religious authority. That, I must mention, is the essential subject of my Responsibility of Reason — which is not said to suggest you should read it, but just to indicate how close this subject is to my heart, or should I say my mind?)
Then Brad gives a pretty cool summary of this whole discussion, evidently crediting me with “a well-written summary of concerns… I appreciate your apology for some rudeness at BCC I had forgotten, and I am altogether open to further attempts to communicate. I do think, though, that you continue to exaggerate the harshness of critiques leveled at you and your friends; I think you often take a straightforward disagreement as insulting, condescending, etc. (OK, there was the one word “equipped?”, but it was followed by a question mark, and meant as a challenge=invitation to substance.)
MikeInWeHo: Good point. Constraints of space and time often lead me to compress arguments into terms that could certainly bear further explanation and defense. Still, is a term like “extreme tolerance” really hard to understand in relation to our “late liberal” culture? I am referring to a tendency of liberalism to progress from a political arrangement to an understanding of the meaning of life. Individual freedom is not, on this view, simply a sound political principle but the core of an authentic existence: the deepest meaning of life is my creation or assertion of my own meaning (as per Justice Kennedy in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, for example), without a view to any higher authority in God or nature. Of course no one defends anything “extreme” under the name of “extreme.” But the whole tendency of progressive liberalism is to progress from the toppling of one moral obstacle of individual freedom to the next. The idea of “equal respect” for the “homosexual lifestyle” is now the cutting edge, the new frontier in this “progress.”
JSH: Very reasonable tone and substance, but again, the argument that we can’t really know the truth and that everything can change obviously proves too much. We must know something, or have firm convictions about something, or we have no basis on which to order our lives as individuals or communities, religious or political.
Michelle: Thanks muchissimo. I too am suspicious of the political labels, but they may be increasingly inevitable… See john f. just following. John exaggerates the capacity of “toleration” to solve our political and theological problems.
John f.: Is conservatism eternally normative? Of course not. In what respects it overlaps with and/or supports certain eternal norms is discussable, I trust. If part of conservatism = defense of heterosexual family, then that strikes me as an overlap. See my discussion of liberalism above. If liberalism = rejection of any authority above the individual, and if conservatism = opposition to this liberalism… then it seems to me the overlap with the gospel will be significant.
By far the most sustained and conscientious attention paid to my critical reading of JB has been provided by B. Hodges and by John C. at BCC. Let me try to respond in kind.
Hodges: “Hancock seems to completely miss the raw feelings Brooks labors so diligently to deliver throughout her book.” I see no evidence of this. I summarize the emotional narrative fairly, I think, and I even note its genuine poignancy. I just don’t find that anyone’s “raw feelings” should prevent us from critiquing the reasoning and the project that those feelings are supposed to justify.
“Hancock concludes her book is incompatible with ‘the Gospel,’ most especially because it is grounded in her personal experience — a memoir, a personal testimony…” Not quite. I would just say that, if she holds views that are incompatible with central LDS teachings, then the fact that “her personal experience” has not been able to resolve this incompatibility does not in itself justify “her personal experience.”
Unrighteous dominion? I exercise no authority over you or over JB, and, in fact, you (and especially JB) may have more power to exercise and to worry about than I do.
I do not argue for Church infallibility or that personal revelation can only “rubber stamp” authoritative views. I do think it is a mistake to set “personal conscience” and “hierarchical instruction” at odds. I sympathize with circumstances in which the most sincere and faithful personal conscience and even testimony might encounter difficulty in understanding and accepting an authoritative position. But I think JB’s “conscience” is manifestly conditioned by a progressive liberal ideology whose authority she never shows any sign of questioning. I think she is imagining a conflict between rational conscience and religious authority that does not need to exist. I take the trouble of addressing her ideological project in personal narrative form because I don’t want others to accept the assumption that “personal conscience” must lead away from LDS teaching concerning the family, in particular. In any case, finally, there is no point in having a church if we do not in some way defer to its authority, withholding judgment when we cannot manage authentic assent.
That said, I have no reason to question JB being, not only a nice and engaging person, but a good, Christian person.
Meridian Magazine? Why are you preoccupied with how I reach an audience? I wanted to reach a broad audience, quickly, and I knew the folks at Meridian. To be sure, their magazine includes lots of lighter stuff, but also some thoughtful work, including posts by Grant Hardy, for example. Anyway, it seemed to work. You read it there, for example.
“Lifestyle liberalism,” “extreme tolerance” are not meaningless phrases; I think you have a pretty good idea what I mean. The main idea is to distinguish a more aggressive, recent form of liberalism which seeks to define the meaning of life in terms of “authenticity” detached from any authoritative norms, from an earlier, more circumscribed political liberalism. See above.
Liberal bias at BCC, T&S etc. I may have exaggerated, simplified. But I think I raise an important question, and many agree with me. See above.
Too focused on JB? I just don’t see this. She’s visible, influential, makes large claims. Why shouldn’t I address her ideas, her claims ? And who else has been critical of her in a fundamental way?
“Making the personal political doesn’t grant immunity from criticism.” So we agree. But many have attacked me for daring to criticize a personal narrative.
“I, like you, think that changes in our approach to homosexuality will require changes in how we envision the afterlife and its meaning. However, unlike you, I think those changes are likely coming.” Thanks, I appreciate your candor. And you welcome those changes? Why? You must be aware that most ordinary (non-progressive-intellectual) members of the Church would find your position a real head-scratcher. The question is not whether “homosexuality will become normative,” though I think it is already becoming fashionable, chic. And while there is no doubt some upward biological limit on the number of people drawn to homosexuality, I can’t see why, if you decrease the cost, you wouldn’t increase the demand. What will become normative is what I call, in one of my abbreviations, “liberationism,” that is, the further detachment of sexuality from procreative responsibility. Of course there are responsible homosexuals, but every step we take to weaken the natural family (the family that channels together powerful desires and long-term needs of children and others), the more we favor self-expressive and finally selfish views of sexuality.
“If this is what Sister Brooks believes, then I agree with you that it is a wrong-headed belief.” Well thanks, I appreciate that. But a further point I would emphasize is the connection between the 2 Greatest Commandments and all the other 8.
“Less judgment all around is probably a good thing.” Now this may touch the heart of our disagreement. Of course we must avoid final, self-justifying, comparative judgments of other people. But we need more and firmer moral judgments, not fewer and weaker. We tend (in modern Western societies) towards relativism, not absolutism.
“Nobody is arguing that all lives are equally good.” That’s not quite what I said, and it seems you’re not trying very hard to get my point here. You’ve never heard an argument for “equality of lifestyles”? Of course you are right that no one takes this argument to the limit (except an experimental nihilist, a certain Foucault, maybe), but many use it to attack any existing authority that discriminates between lifestyles.
Then you quote what may be the heart of my argument:
RCH: “Over the last generation liberalism has broadened and absolutized its claims, making equality of worldviews and lifestyles and thus absolute Toleration the only truth, and many political liberals have begun to interpret their religion according to this extreme liberalism, especially where sexual and familial norms are concerned. It seems a large number, even a preponderant number on the more “intellectual” blogs, have convinced themselves that this liberalism is the underlying, latent truth of Mormonism.”
John C: “This is a strawman (and a rather odd one). I can’t come up with a counterpoint, because I don’t believe the argument that is being ascribed to me. So no response possible.” Really? You haven’t noticed that liberalism has penetrated the foundations of religions? Think of the Episcopal church, I suppose. Indeed, think of your own (apparent) welcoming of an eventual erosion of any religious barriers to homosexuality. Why do you welcome them? How can I avoid the hunch that it is because a liberal interpretation of “all are alike unto God” has penetrated your religious understanding, and replaced traditional moral contents? I don’t know whether your complete befuddlement before this argument of mine stems from your being not particularly a student of contemporary ideological and cultural trends, or simply from the fact that you are so much inside these trends that you cannot see them. But I guess those are two parts of the same explanation. I really am not trying to be accusatory here; I’m just dealing with your wholesale dismissal of my characterization as something you cannot even recognize. But then there is also the fact that you have not read Book of Mormon Girl, which is the basis of my reflections. (Despite many loose charges on various sites to the contrary, I read the book several times, took notes, outlined, reflected…)
“As someone who believes that the Church will probably do those things [including same-sex temple marriages], I don’t quite know what to say. I have my reasons (the Church has altered its positions on many doctrines considered fundamental several times already; why not this?), but my testimony isn’t based on it. I could be wrong. My testimony is based on the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the power of the priesthood and revelation. My testimony has nothing to do with whether or not gay couples will one day get temple married. Why would you have a testimony of that?”
Well, thanks again for your candor. “It boggles the mind,” you say, that one’s testimony would be connected in any way to a little thing like the man-woman-eternity thing. What can I say? It boggles a lot of our minds that this boggles your mind, and yet you think of yourself as adhering to basic LDS teaching. At least I’ve succeeded in bringing to light this mutual bogglement.
“Prove it. I’m serious. Prove it.” Is that our standard of reasoned discussion? Some kind of statistical proof, or incontrovertible “fact.” No, I can’t assume that burden; I can’t undertake all that research. I’m arguing “anecdotally” like everyone else, from my experience and from many readings and conversations. But of course I think you yourself are an example of someone who has been led “away from [certain] distinctive, substantive commitments of the Church.” Of course we disagree on that, because we disagree on what counts as such commitments.
“What are the outcomes you are preventing or supporting here?” I know from direct testimony of women close to me that it is not uncommon for women whose lives are mainly devoted for years to bearing and caring for children feel a lack of respect from more professional, career-oriented women, including LDS sisters, and from society in general. I think we are too preoccupied with finessing the Proclamation and not enough with taking to heart its central message.
Well, I’ve run out of steam, before I can take on all the questions about man/woman/eternity. We both confess that there is much we don’t know. But to me it is clear that the man/woman thing is essential to eternity, more essential, it seems than to you. For “Mother in Heaven” to be a meaningful belief, it must be the case that “motherhood” in the eternities is significantly continuous in some ways with “motherhood” as we know it on earth. As in other areas, our argument comes down to negotiating the territory between what we know and what we don’t know. Liberals want to insist on what we don’t know — which is always a valid point, up to a point — but the main question I’m raising concerns the motivation for minimizing what we know. That motivation seems so often to be rooted in the desirability of liberalism, tolerance, “fairness” towards homosexual lifestyles, etc. But do we know the desirability of this liberalism? Why does our progressive skepticism always yield before this authority?