Song of the Week: I'm Trying to Find It
A Matter of Conscience

"I Respectfully Dissent"

When a Justice of the United States Supreme Court disagrees with an opinion rendered by the majority of the Court, he or she often will file a dissenting opinion. These opinions traditionally include the words "I respectfully dissent." Even when the Justice passionately, vigorously, strenuously disagrees with the majority, it is customary to include the words "I respectfully dissent." (For an exception, see here). More than just a nod to decorum or a tip of the hat to tradition, this act is emblematic of the strength and vitality of the American republic. It demonstrates that even on issues of tremendous import involving, quite literally, life-and-death issues, we can treat one another with dignity and respect. The peaceful exercise of ultimate power is our nation's greatest triumph, in my opinion, and it is reflected in the simple phrase used by Supreme Court Justices in their dissenting opinions.

In religious discussions on the Internet (including here at Equality Time) and "in real life" the ideal exemplified by our nation's highest jurists is seldom achieved. I think participants on both sides of a given relgious debate contribute to the problem. On the one hand, religious devotees are often thin-skinned, unable to dfferentiate between criticism of an idea and personal animus. On the other hand, some who criticize religious dogma sometimes do engage in ad hominem attacks. On balance, I think that, at least on my blog, the discussion board I help moderate, and the blogs on which I comment (all dealing with Mormonism), the biggest impediment to a dialogue that could result in mutual understanding (if not ultimate agreement) comes from a mistaken belief among devout religionists that those who criticize specific religious ideas or practices lack respect for people of faith. For me, nothing could be further from the truth and I must say to those who hold such views, I respectfully dissent.

I respect most Mormons. I believe most are sincere, honest, devoted, faithful people doing what they believe is right. I appreciate the young people out on missions and people who sacrifice so much of their personal time and treasure to "build the kingdom." I harbor no feelings of ill will toward any Mormon, not even Boyd K. Packer. I mention him by name because I have been critical of his ideas. This is an important point: when I criticize a statement of Boyd K. Packer or Gordon B. Hinckley, or I question the reasonableness of a church doctrine or policy, I mean no personal offense to any individual Mormon. This is a problem.

There are some (no, not all) faithful Mormons who view any criticism of or skepticism about anything the church does as a personal attack on every member--as an insult. Quite frankly, I think this is because Mormonism in some of its adherents is so wrapped up with the individual's identity that a criticism of the organization is felt as an affront to the dignity of the member.

So, let me say that when I criticize the church and its leaders, I do try to offer an alternative vision for how things could be better (see my 96 Theses, half of which are criticisms and half suggested improvements.). My criticisms are offered to show, I hope, that things do not have to be the way they are--there might be a better way.

I don't think I am smarter than devout Mormons. I don't think they are stupid. I do think many devout Mormons are basing their beliefs on insufficient and sometimes incorrect factual bases.

I don't harbor any hate or bitterness or disdain for devout Mormons. After all, I was one for most of my adult life.

I respect people with whom I have honest disagreements. I respect people who evaluate the facts and evidence concerning the LDS church and choose to remain connected with and devoted to the church. I do not respect ideas and assertions that are absurd on their face or ideas for which there is no evidence in support and, indeed, an abundance of evidence in opposition.

If one chooses to believe in things for which there is no tangible, objective evidence (such as the proposition that the soul survives the death of the physical body), I can respect that because there is no conclusive evidence to refute the notion. On the other hand, if someone chooses to believe that the earth is flat and the sun is pulled across the sky by a god maneuvering a chariot, I will have no respect for that idea and I think I will be justified in ridiculing such a notion because not only is there no evidence to support the idea, there is a wealth of objective evidence refuting it.

The passion or fervor with which one might believe the idea matter not to me. I see no reason to grant greater respect for the "Apollo" theory of celestial mechanics simply because its adherents may adorn the idea with a religious gloss.

Ideas backed up with facts and evidence and supported by the observations and experiences of those who have tested the ideas garner my respect. Ideas that observation, experience, and the accumulation of information over time have proven to be erroneous or wildly implausible earn my disdain. It's really that simple. As for the people who may cling to discredited ideas, well, let me just say in most cases I respect the person but not the idea. By way of analogy I illustrate the point. I am a rabid Texas Longhorns fan. As such I am constitutionally disposed to loathe the Texas A&M Aggies. I hate their uniforms. I hate their stupid song. I hate their stadium and their offensive mascot. I think it's dumb that they stand for an entire game when they paid for perfectly good seats. But while I am a zealous proponent of all things Longhorn and despise all things Aggie, I have no disrespect for any individual Aggie fan. Indeed, some of my best friends are Aggies. Likewise, while I am critical of much of LDS doctrine, policy, and culture, I suffer no loss of love and respect for my family and friends who continue to associate with the church and believe in its teachings. So, if you are a devout member of the LDS Church I am happy to be your friend. And I hope you will be mine. But asking me to say nice things about Elder Bednar's "pickle metaphor" or the "alternate dimension" Book of Mormon geography theory is like asking me to raise my thumb and say "Gig 'em." And Satan will be donning a puffy Gore-Tex ski parka before that will happen.

Respectfully yours,

Equality.

Comments

-Domokun-

I respectfully dissent.

Zelph

Excellent post! Amen, Amen, Amen and Amen. I think it is very difficult a lot of times particularly on my spouse, because she thinks that it is an attack on her personally.

You draw an excellent point on how people in the church lose their individuality because the church becomes who they are. It is like the borge in Star Trek.

SML

E,

Well said. I appreciate your thoughts and will try to explain these feelings in the same way when I tell my sister she's safe to invite me to her daughter's baptism if it happens.

mel

Fortuanately for us, ideas are the only enemy ... and we can attack and even murder said ideas with prejudice.

Unfortunately for the religious, the quality and value of people is often inseparably tied to ideas. Brutality by the godly becomes god's justice and assaults by the ungodly upon godly ideas become personal.

Great post as usual, Equality.

Probative

I would sign this opinion.

In part, Mormons react emotionally to some intellectual and rationale inquiry because there is a firmly rooted persecution complex in our collective consciousness. Our parents and those leading the Church have unwittingly trained us to see a mob of would-be Hauns Millers behind every criticism.

Likewise, those who reach the shores New Order Mormonism, or who leave the Church altogether, have to overcome some of their own hard-wired emotional and psychological programming. That is, we too sometimes react emotionally, and I think it flows from the fact we also feel disrespected, maybe even persecuted by those with whom we still closely iddentify. It is as if the first persecution complex gets compounded.

So like you said, it so important to dissent with respect.

Probative

BTW, I am glad to see that your work pace has allowed for some blogging again.

:)

DPC

On reading and re-reading your post, I feel inclined to disagree with several points you have made.

"I do think many devout Mormons are basing their beliefs on insufficient and sometimes incorrect factual bases"

I believe the above is an unfair, inaccurate generalization. Although I'm sure you have anecdotal evidence to the contrary, I don't think many Mormons base their religious beliefs on the truth or falsity of historical events. This may sound like heresy to some, but it's my contention that Mormons believe in their religion because of religious, mystical and spiritual experiences. I'm reminded of 1 Corithians 2:4-5 where Paul discusses the perception that Christian beliefs are crazy. He says:

4: And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
5: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

Mormons (and Christians in general) believe that faith is to be founded upon spiritual experiences. (In that vein of thought, I don't see how a religious experience could be considered an insufficient basis for a religious belief.) Religious belief based purely on history or science would fall quicker than a house of cards were contradictory evidence to appear. Paul seems to understand this and says that we have to compare spiritual to spiritual. (1 Cor. 2:13-14) He says this because he believes that (wo)man's wisdom is ephemeral. It can change at a moment's notice. Comparing the spiritual to that wisdom is a mistake because the spiritual is unchanging. Perhaps devout Mormons feel the same way and gauge their religious beliefs by their spiritual experiences.

"I do not respect ideas and assertions that are absurd on their face or ideas for which there is no evidence in support and, indeed, an abundance of evidence in opposition."

Then you should at least apply this to your 96 theses. What evidence do you have in support of those ideas? To anyone sympathetic to your ideas, they sound great. To a person less sympathetic to your views, what evidence do you have that those ideas are anything but absurd that would convince them? I think it shows an alarming amount of hubris to maintain that an idea is a good idea just because it happens to correlate to your (American liberal) world-view. Consider the following statement:

"Is it not He who, from the beginning of time, decreed for all the ages and for all peoples liberty, good faith, and justice? He did not create kings to devour the human race. He did not create priests to harness us, like vile animals, to the chariots of kings and to give to the world examples of baseness, pride, perfidy, avarice, debauchery, and falsehood. He created the universe to proclaim His power. He created men to help each other, to love each other mutually, and to attain to happiness by the way of virtue."

A great statement that sums up a lot of good ideas. Unfortunately, the speaker was Robespierre announcing his new of cult of the (un-Christian) Supreme Being, at the height of the Reign of Terror in France. Should we disregard this statement because it was spoken by a tyrant during a bloodbath? Any person looking for evidence of its truthfulness who looked at the situation surrounding it would consider the weight of the evidence being against it because of the fear and suffering felt by those who were in France at the time.

Having read your post, it appears that you are most likely a fellow attorney. Assuming you are an attorney, you should know that evidence is a tricky thing and that it can be spun in different ways to say different things to different people at different times. (If you're a lawyer and you can't do that, you're in the wrong profession!!)

To sum up--> You're being disingenuous in this post. It's one thing to say you think that pickle parables are ridiculous and that green Jell-O salad is an abomination before God. It's another thing to state that Mormons are basing their believes on false premises or ideas. That is a personal affront because, in effect, you're saying this: "I totally respect your right to be a misinformed, misled ignoramus." Who wouldn't take offense at being told that? Look at some of the comments to the post that say: "Hey Mormon, you've lost your individuality you mindless conforming Borg!" Is that a comment made in the spirit of Christian brotherhood and love?

True respect for the ideas of others comes when you ask "Why does that person believe that? What does it bring to their life that they would be willing to give up experiences and opportunities, which a self-interested rational person like myself does not want to live without?" It does not come from the gainsaying of empty phrases.

Probative

DPC,

I agree that the faith of most LDS, mine included, rests upon mystical experience. And our doctrinal emphasis on the Holy Ghost and personal revelation support this.

But that is not what most LDS say.

Their faith (like many religions) is built up and articulated within a construct of certain factual assertions. And these matters of fact are most often, and as a matter of orthodoxy, expressed and understood as being strictly literal. To use your language, they don't see it as "a house of cards."

I believe Equality's point is that when matters of fact and history are fully explored through rationale inquiry, free from the narrow faith-promoting limitations of orthodoxy, much of the official line is hard to defend as a matter of fact and history.

That is not to say that beleif, and real spiritual experience are not still possible, or without meaning and value.

In terms of the law evidence, I think what is going on is a Rule 403 fight. Regardless, the rules of evidence do not apply in the court of history and science.

Truth, Goodness, and Mystical Experience are entirely different than Fact and History. We can agree on the former even while we disagree over certain aspects of the latter.

Equality

DPC,

Thank you for reading and commenting on my post. I do appreciate your perspective and the respectful way in which you presented your disagreements (with the exception of questioning my "ingenuousness"). Also, thank you, Probative, for your thoughtful and able reply. I would like to adopt and extend your remarks.

DPC, I stand by my comment that many Mormons base their beliefs on insufficient and sometimes factually incomplete bases. Indeed, the LDS church, through its correlation program, its active suppression of historical documents, and its discipline of church scholars, works hard to prevent members of the church from becoming aware of and thinking about a wide array of facts concerning both church history and current church policies and practices.

If members of the LDS church based their faith solely on the mysitcal and spiritual experiences they had enjoyed, there would be no need for the church to suppress information, spin its history, and discourage its members from seeking information aboout the church from non-church sources. Nor would the church need to conduct interviews to discover if its members' beliefs were properly aligned with what the Brethren dictate is within orthodox boundaries. The only test for membership would be whether a member had had a mystical spiritual experience with the divine. I'd be OK with that, but it is, I think, absurd to suggest that such a circumstance in any way describes the culture of the LDS church today.

On my 96 Theses, I do not allege that they are good ideas simply because they comport to my own values and opinions. I think they are good ideas because time and experience have shown that they are good ideas. And the difference between my proposals and the doctrines and policies advanced by the leaders of the LDS church is that I am willing to acknowledge that my ideas are merely the "ideas of men." Unlike the leaders of the LDS church, I claim no divine approbation for my ideas, nor do I claim any exclusive pipeline to the God of the Universe as the LDS leaders do. I put my ideas out for criticism and would be willing to adjust my thinking if shown to be in error. Again--unlike the LDS leaders who claim to be speaking the "mind and will of the Lord." Who is exhibiting hubris?

I am not sure what your point is about Robespierre. That a bloddy tyrant might have said something that, taken at face value, sounds sensible? So what? What does that have to do with anything? I do think Robespierre is another on a very long list of powermongers who have used religion as a tool of social control and manipulation and as a means of securing power for themselves. I guess we could agree on that, no?

I am indeed an attorney and am familiar with the way evidence can be viewed differently depending on one's perspective. However, that a good attorney can make an argument regardless of the amount of evidence against her client does not mean that evidence has no value, and it doesn't mean that one cannot reach ultimate conclusions after weighing the evidence and arguments based on the evidence. I am preparing a longer post on this subject and have addressed it somewhat in earlier posts titled "On Doubt and Certitude" and "Thoughts on DNA and the Book of Mormon" accessible in the left sidebar.

For now, just one example will suffice to make my larger point. In the O.J. Simpson murder trial, there was a wealth of evidence that, inferentially, pointed to Simpson's guilt in the brutal slayings of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. Simpson's attorneys looked at the evidence and came up with an alternate possible explanation: a Colombian drug gang had put a hit on Ron and Nicole. Now, there was no evidence, other than the way in which Ron and Nicole were killed, to suggest any connection to a Colombian drug gang. But Simpson's attorneys advanced the theory nonetheless, arguing that it was at least possible that there was a connection. And they even said that the lack of evidence was a result of the failure by the police to seriously look at the possibility. Of course, the overwhelming weight of the evidence pointed to Simpson's guilt. But some people (including some very bright and educated lawyers) apparently saw the evidence differently.

I think that some Mormon apologists today act similarly with respect to, say, the evidence concerning the Book of Abraham. They look at the evidence but, believing so strongly in a conclusion they have already reached without evidence (i.e., a spiritual experience), they refuse to give the evidence the weight that someone without a heavy emotional stake in the question would give it, and they concoct any possible scenario to allow them to maintain their preconceived belief. I thnk that Mormon apologists, when they act this way, are acting no differently than those who protest O.J. Simpson's innocence (indeed, I think it more likely that O.J. Simpson was framed and is innocent than that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham from a papyrus scroll written by the hand of the biblical patriarch Abraham).

SML

Well said, Equality.

Dathon

Great post Equality. I feel that I respectfully agree with most of it. I also enjoyed the exchanges in the comments which highlight a few of the possible approaches to belief, faith, and reasonable doubt or skepticism. Ironically what is absurd on its face to one may be faith promoting to another. I wish more people could agree to disagree while discussion views in a civil manner without defaming those who hold a different position.

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