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.