The Rise of Ad Hominem (and the decline of everything else.)

(Title gleefully lifted with apologies to Hugh Nibley.)

Sadly, the Mormon faith has become a place that incentivizes the survival of the least fit. Since strict obedience is demanded and harshly enforced, only the least talented, least articulate, least nuanced thinkers, least likely to take a stand against abuse, and the least courageous people thrive in the Church today.

– Kate Kelly, former Mormon and current leader of Ordain Women, writing for the UK Guardian.

So there!

As one of the untalented, inarticulate, nuance-free, abuse-tolerating cowards who remains in the church, I obviously have no standing to answer this charge. Which, ultimately, is Kelly’s purpose here. Once you accept her premise that all Mormons are knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, you can save yourself the aggravation of listening to anything they have to say.

If not “skeptic,” what should the opponents of climate science be called? … The dissenting scientists have been called “lukewarmers” by some… It is perhaps no surprise that many environmentalists have started to call them deniers.

The scientific dissenters object to that word, claiming it is a deliberate attempt to link them to Holocaust denial. Some academics sharply dispute having any such intention, but others have started using the slightly softer word “denialist” to make the same point without stirring complaints about evoking the Holocaust.

The above is from a column in the New York Times devoted to finding the appropriate ad hominem label with which to utterly dismiss people who notice the earth hasn’t warmed at all in 17 years and that all the alarmist climate models have been wrong by a factor of 300%, and so maybe a regressive tax on the poorest of the poor that even alarmists admit won’t lower global temperatures might not be a good idea.

I’ve written about Shakespeare denialism many times before… and I’ve started to feel like I’m running around in circles while simultaneously banging my head against a wall (do not try this)… When the media use false balance in stories about the “authorship question,” they also bestow undue legitimacy on a discredited notion. Shakespeare deniers have received sympathetic treatment in surprising places for a long time.

A recent article on skeptic.com from an orthodox Shakespeare scholar that maintains the best way to deal with the myriad of problems with the conventional wisdom about Shakespeare’s authorship is to call those who ask questions “deniers” and refuse to create the “false balance” that comes from letting them speak.

“And lest we get on our high horse and think that this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

– President Obama, February 10, 2015

Rather than be concerned about the barbarism being perpetrated in 2015 in the name of Islam, Christians should recognize they are disqualified from passing judgment because other Christians committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ a thousand years ago.

To sum up:

Contrary opinions no longer need to be refuted; they only need to be disqualified. And disqualifying opinions these days is remarkably easy to do.

Heaven help us all.

Logan’s History of Sound and Fury

“It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.”
 – William Shakespeare

Sonia Johnson, like John Dehlin, came from Logan, Utah. And like John Dehlin, she asked a lot of questions and didn’t much care for the church’s answers. Johnson’s issue was the Equal Rights Amendment, and she cited the Church’s opposition to same as evidence of “savage misogyny” in the Mormon hierarchy. She refused to support church leaders and even vocally shouted “No! No! No! E.R.A. says no!” in the Tabernacle when it came time to sustain Spencer W. Kimball as the President of the Church. She gave speeches across the country counseling people to turn away Mormon missionaries until the church reversed its position on the ERA. Finally, when she was excommunicated in December of 1979, the news media reported it as a major story that would generate a tremendous backlash against the LDS Church.

Indeed, excommunication did little or nothing to slow Sonia Johnson down.

She chained herself to the gates of the Seattle Temple to protest the church’s position, and she found herself thrown in jail for her efforts. She ran for President of the United States in 1984 and came in fifth, with over 70,000 votes. (She lost to Ronald Reagan, who got considerably more than 70,000 votes.) She announced she was a lesbian and founded an all-women commune in Arizona. She spoke at a number of radical feminist gatherings and made a name for herself in various academic and feminist communities.

She is still alive today, but no one knows where she is.

Wikipedia says her last known speaking engagement was in 2007,  and in 2010, a Logan newspaper tried to do a follow-up, “Where are they now?” story about Johnson and came up short. The reporter of that piece contacted one of Johnson’s relatives, who said they thought Johnson was now living in Costa Rica, but they weren’t sure. My own Google searches have come up empty, too.

This is very different from the 1980s, when national stories about the church often included a quote from Sonia Johnson, who invariably used the occasion to criticize the church of which she was no longer a member. Johnson had every bit the national profile that John Dehlin and Kate Kelly now enjoy, and her arguments were very much in line with what Kate Kelly is now saying to every media outlet that will listen. Yet in Johnson’s case, we now have more than three decades of hindsight to determine what kind of lasting impact her excommunication and subsequent anti-LDS activism has had on the Church at large.

Time has not been kind to Ms. Johnson’s legacy.

The Church has not made the requisite changes to its doctrines and practices that Sonia Johnson demanded, yet it has somehow continued to grow and thrive. The media, once infatuated with Sonia Johnson, have forgotten her entirely, as have the vast majority of current church members, most of whom have likely never heard her name. It’s hard to argue that all the sound and fury she generated all those years ago has signified anything other than nothing, at least as far as Mormonism is concerned.

Understand my purpose here. I am not trying to mock or vilify Sonia Johnson, just as I am not trying to mock or vilify  John Dehlin or Kate Kelly or anyone else whose spiritual journey leads them outside the boundaries of the Church. I am, rather, trying to provide some needed perspective. If you  think Dehlin’s excommunication is some kind turning point, or that it heralds the inevitable decline of the corrupt Church he has exposed, or that Dehlin’s and/or Kelly’s influence will continue to expand while the Mormon house of cards comes tumbling down…

If you’re of that opinion, you might want to talk to Sonia Johnson about how all that worked out for her.

If you can find her, anyway.

From the desk of Scott C. Kuperman

By way of introduction regarding our guest post today, I ought to recount some blog history. I have recounted this history in-depth previously here, but newbies may want a more streamlined explanation for why this is relevant.

In the early days of this blog – September 16, 2007, to be precise – I wrote a post titled The Order of the Arrow. In it, I recounted my unpleasant introduction to the Boy Scouts of America’s goofy secret society which I don’t much like, as you’ll discover if you read the post.

I never expected to mention the Order of the Arrow again. I certainly had no desire to become the online locus for all things Order of the Arrow, nor was it my intent to lead some kind of crusade against it, despite my lingering distaste therefore.  However, in a Google-fueled irony, my site ranks high in searches where people are trying to find out the secrets of the Order of the Arrow “ordeal,” i.e. the O of A initiation ceremony. Consequently, this blog still gets a steady stream of daily visitors to my various O of A-themed pages, even six-plus years after the first one was written.

This occasionally makes for some colorful comments, the latest of which I received today from our new friend Scott C. Kuperman, who, unlike me, does “not hide behind anonymity.” I offer you Scott C.’s full diatribe unedited and intact, but I must confess that, as of this writing, I haven’t actually read the good Mr. Kuperman’s full remarks. I started skimming after he assured me that “no one can be you but you,” and I checked out soon after. I did like the cryptic paragraph about “Lord of the Flies” and decaffeinated polygamists reading inscriptions on rocks, though. You don’t read stuff like that every day.

There was a time when I found O of A defenders to be charming in a Dudley-Do-Wright-Gone-Sour sort of way, but now they just bore me. However, this one seems more literate than most. I still enjoy passing the better ones along because I’m of the opinion that highlighting the humorless scolding I receive on the subject helps to reinforce the original point I made six years ago, which is that the Order of the Arrow is, you know, kinda dippy.

So, without further ado, I’ll let Scott C. Kuperman take it from here. He gets the last word.

__________

Greetings, “stallioncornell”. I do not hide behind anonymity.

An obvious, but pertinent statement: “No one but you, can be you.” None of us can or should comment on your personal experiences since your perceptions equal your reality. Neither I, nor anyone else besides you can understand your experiences as you have.

Having first explained that fact, it is important to explain another: I don’t believe the year or ‘era’ in which you experienced your ordeal has anything to do with your hazing experience. Hazing has never been permitted by the Order (or the BSA for that matter). Both the written and unwritten codes expressly forbade and currently forbid it. To this end, how you now hold the entire Order accountable for the actions of a few miscreants is equally abominable to your experience.

Whether you experienced your ordeal under the heavy hands of Budweiser-fueled, Silent Generational sadists, and Lord Of The Flies driven Scouts; or loin cloth wearing, no caffeine, weird rock transcription worshiping polygamists, and brain washed, Children Of The Corn driven Scouts, should make no difference. Hazing is as wrong as *stereotyping*. And what is right is right even if no one is doing it. And what is wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.

I first experienced my honor into Brotherhood in 1991 at the age of 16. I experienced my Ordeal at 14. I endured events as you have similarly described by action, but I took away nothing but positive feelings. After I was told not to look, I’m sure I peeked. I’m sure I got a quick, but gentle slap on the back of the head. I learned not to peek and instead to hold my honor as I had originally promised not to peek. I took part in ceremonies designed to unify and solidify bonds of fellowship…

I had a day of eating similar foods (minus the gum drop). I encountered days of similar work. However, my take away to this day is still a feeling of alignment with those who walked the path before me, of understanding the value of service to others. My “slave labor” afforded thousands of campers the ability to experience a great summer week instead of a crappy, bug infested week without campfires or fun activities. No one “hazed” me. If I had felt hazed for one instant I would have reported those who hazed me in conflagration with the values espoused by the Order. If it became an even larger issue, I would have quit.

It is exactly what you describe in your original post that offers controversy. Your story tries to indicate that you were “hazed mercilessly”. While the term hazing can have different meanings to different people, your description of hazing, to me at least, makes you seem like an intolerant, immature, whining infant. You accepted your Troop’s nomination into the Order. You had to have known what the Order was about long before you conducted your ordeal. For someone so tied to the proper use of vocabulary and grammar, what part of ‘ordeal’ do you feel was misrepresented? Why not just quit if Scouting wasn’t your bag?

It is a good thing you do not remember anything about the Order to further denigrate it, and yourself (by proxy having taken the oaths,) any further. The “secrets” of the Order exist to elate future Ordeals and Brothers who desire a path of self discovery through trials. This is why such secrets are now completely open to parents who wish to be assuaged that their sons are not joining a cult. The Order’s “secrets” do not exist to create a secret society to be falsely feared, let alone by small minded individuals with an apparent childish vendetta against a group with values and methods he cannot understand.

It is true: No matter where you go in America, you can find small minded people in positions of power over others. Whether you’re looking at Paris Island or Salt Lake City; the “City of Brotherly love” or the state of multiple matrimony… Unfortunately, the internet provides those with even false gripes to have a limited amount of power. Your blog exemplifies this. You now feel that you have the power to ruin for others what you felt was ruined for you.

Your problem isn’t with the Order of the Arrow, sir. The problem you have is with yourself. Once you realize this, you will be able to see that your fellow Scouts didn’t haze you – instead, as a youth you allowed yourself to take part of an honor that simply wasn’t meant for you.

Your experience wasn’t tragic. However, what is tragic is your current need to denigrate the Order.

__________

Brian, Beck, and Bitterness

So NBC anchor Brian Williams was caught telling a lie. He was not in a helicopter hit by enemy fire in Iraq, despite having said he was on a number of occasions.

The reaction to Williams has been widespread outrage. Most people recognize that lies don’t happen in isolation, and someone willing to make up one story is likely to make up a lot of stories. And, predictably, tall tales told by Williams are now coming out of the woodwork. His reputation is shattered, and his career is likely over.

But what if I were to tell you that the people who called Williams’s falsehoods to light didn’t like him? What if they worked for ABC News or some other competitor? What if they had a longstanding grudge against the guy? Or, for you Mormons out there, what if Brian Williams were a member of the LDS Church? Would any of those qualifiers lessen the severity of what Williams did? Would any of them make him an honest man? Would they restore his credibility and salvage his career? Of course not.

But when you change the name “Brian Williams” to “Glenn Beck,” all bets are off.

This began on a Facebook thread, where noted Mormon scholar Daniel Peterson linked to this article about Glenn Beck’s “crisis of faith.” I jumped in and pointed out that Glenn Beck, like Brian Williams, doesn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story, so, like Brian Williams, he can’t be trusted. Beck’s defenders then leapt into the fray with weak attempts to claim Beck was just misquoted by his own website, but the conversation quickly shifted to… me. Because, see, I worked for a Democrat at one point, and Democrats are Beck’s ideological enemies. And I’m just a bitter Beck hater because Beck said nasty things about my father. Also, Glenn Beck is a fellow Mormon, and one Mormon has no business calling another Mormon a liar.

That same sentiment spilled over into the comments section of my previous post. A comment from Andy said my  “infatuation with all things Glenn Beck is… disturbing,” while a commenter named Nate directly referenced the Facebook exchange and concluded that my behavior there was “at least as” bad as Beck’s original lie – meaning it was probably worse.

“In a recent Facebook thread where you repeatedly attacked Beck as a “liar” who had embarrassed the church, I couldn’t help but feel that your behavior in that Facebook thread was at least as deplorable and embarrassing to the church as you think Beck’s comment was on that radio show.”
– Nate, February 7, 2015

Nate and I discussed this further in what was, I hope, a civil exchange in the comments section, but I wanted to bring this to light on the main page here, because  many who read my original posts may not pore over what is said about them in the comments.

I found it interesting when I raised the Brian Williams comparison, Nate had no problem with using the “deplorable and embarrassing” language he criticized previously. To quote Nate again:

It is beginning to look like Williams is a pathological liar. How could he possibly retain his position as the face of NBC News?

How, indeed? Also, why is it okay to call Brian Williams a pathological liar but not Glenn Beck? Referring to Williams as a liar is entirely appropriate, but referring to Beck as a liar is “deplorable and embarrassing” – indeed, “at least as deplorable and embarrassing” as the vicious lie Glenn Beck told to millions of listeners.

I don’t get that at all.

I also have no patience for the idea that because Beck is a Mormon, he should get a pass. If anything, Latter-day Saints should have less patience for dishonesty from one of their own than for someone like Brian Williams. Beck’s prominence as a Mormon requires more moral accountability, not less, and Mormons ought to be the first in line to expose Beck’s dishonesty.

Also allow me, for a moment, to address the issue of my oft-cited “bitterness” and “infatuation with all things Glenn Beck.” I have repeatedly written on this blog about the damage that festering hatred can do to the soul. You’ll have to take my word for it that my so-called “obsession” with Glenn Beck – who is mentioned in only 32 of my 833 posts here, and usually only in passing – is not fueled by half a decade of festering bile. Rather, it is motivated by concern for the damage Glenn Beck is doing to the church, which is considerable. A dishonest, inaccurate, and apocalyptic prophet of doom is the most prominent public face of the church to which I belong and a stumbling block for good people who are rightly disturbed by his bad example. I have a big problem with that.

Still, you may not believe me. You may think this is nothing more than a schoolyard grudge. Such is the way of things – I’m the only one who knows my heart on this subject, and there’s nothing I can do about whatever judgment you choose to make on that score.

So let’s suppose my detractors are right. Suppose I really am nothing more than a seething cauldron of anti-Beck bitterness, and that I spend every waking moment of every day nursing my anti-Beck wrath to keep it warm.

How does that change the facts I’ve cited?

How does my being a terrible person make Glenn Beck an honest one?

Peeves

I’ve never really understood the expression “pet peeves.” I love my pets. I don’t love my peeves. But I have a lot more peeves than pets. So, that said, here are some things bugging me at the moment.

1. I just read this article, where Ordain Women leader Kate Kelly comments on podcaster John Dehlin’s likely excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She asserts that Dehlin “is facing a church trial for supporting marginalized Mormons and the ordination of women.”

This is factually inaccurate.

The LDS Church keeps strict confidentiality about the reasons for its discipline, yet Dehlin has chosen to publish the letter from his Stake President that specifically outlines why he faces excommunication. (I don’t want to link to it, as I have no interest in sending any traffic Dehlin’s way, but Google will back me up on this.) The letter does not mention, either directly or indirectly, Dehlin’s support for the ordination of women or support for marginalized Mormons as reasons for discipline. It does mention the fact that Dehlin has very publicly and repeatedly rejected every foundational truth claim upon which his church is built. Specifically, John Dehlin has repeatedly and publicly stated that he believes there is no God, that Jesus was not only not the Son of God but that he likely wasn’t even a historical figure, and that Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon are both abject frauds.

I wish John Dehlin no ill will, and I think he is entirely welcome to believe what he wishes. It so happens that I have many friends who believe there is no God and no Christ, that Joseph Smith was a con man, and that the Book of Mormon is 19th Century fiction. In fact, there are many fine people believe such things, so John Dehlin will find no shortage of companions and allies who share his point of view. I am not even remotely upset that he believes these things, and his difference of opinion with me is not at all peeve-worthy.

Here’s the problem that earns peeve status.

The people I know who believe the things John Dehlin believes are not Mormons. They have no desire to be called Mormons. They certainly don’t expect that a church filled with Mormons should endorse their belief that Mormons are part of a massive theological delusion. Yet, somehow, Dehlin – and Kate Kelly, if this article is to be accepted at face value – both think The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should allow people to remain members of said church while they are publicly and passionately fighting against it. On his website, Delhin himself puts it this way:

“One can be Mormon or claim a Mormon identity without necessarily adhering to the teachings or doctrines of any religious organization. We can retain the label ‘Mormon’ but remake it and redefine it in the public mind as a mere cultural label.”

Or, in other words, John Dehlin does not wants to stay Mormon so much as he wants to fundamentally change what a “Mormon” is.  He is not trying to stay a member of the church; he is demanding that the entire church declare itself meaningless. Were he to succeed, he would diminish what it means to be Mormon for every Mormon on the planet.

This peeves me to no end.

The church welcomes a much wider diversity of thought than Dehlin and Kelly suggest, but it should not and cannot continue to accommodate those who are actively working to destroy what it means to be a Mormon. Whether or not his name is on the church’s membership records is largely irrelevant at this point. It’s obvious that John Dehlin has made the decision not to be a Mormon, and he doesn’t get to avoid the consequences of that decision by making all Mormons less Mormon in the process.

2. Hey, did you know Glenn Beck thinks it’s terrible when Mormons mix religion and politics?

“There is something really wrong in Utah. There is something really, really wrong,” he said. “Remember, it was the Mormons, the two Mormons Smoot [and] Hawley, they were two Mormons that brought us the Smoot-Hawley Act which brought us the Great Depression.”

Yeah, great. Just another instance of Glenn Beck not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. Not sure this is as deliberate as when he manufactured a meeting with my father out of thin air, but Willis C. Hawley of Smoot-Hawley Tariff fame wasn’t a Mormon. And he was from Oregon, not Utah. So when our pal Glenn complains about Utah Mormons mixing politics and religion and cites a non-Mormon and non-Utahn as one of his key examples, he’s once again making stuff up.

But it gets better – or worse, as the case may be. “Sometimes [Mormon] theology can go and mix with politics and go wildly wrong! When Mormons go bad, they go really bad. They go socialist. They go socialist. They mix the Gospel with government.”

Good heavens. So, SO peeved.

To hear this man complain about mixing Mormonism with politics is to witness a white flash of hypocrisy so potent that it could make Spock go blind.

spock-is-blinded(That above image is from the episode “Operation: Annihilate” in which Spock goes blind during an experiment designed to keep people from being murdered by flying pancakes made from plastic vomit. Look it up.)

Mixing Mormonism and politics?! Glenn Beck’s entire existence is predicated on mixing Mormonism with politics! And not just any Mormonism and politics – he taps into the very worst of both worlds to produce a Cleon Skousen/John Birch society paranoid nightmare that has God sending tsunamis to Japan because of gay marriage.

Beck is famous for predicting ridiculous things, so I don’t feel bad about making a few Beck-centric predictions of my own. Prior to his “Utah-Mormons-like Willis-Hawley-are-socialists” rant, Beck made cryptic rumblings on his Facebook page about a “crisis of faith” that involves rejecting “men of the cloth” in his own church.

Now, I have no hard evidence for what I’m about to say, but if Glenn Beck has taught me anything, it’s that evidence is the enemy of wisdom.

I think it likely Glenn Beck has had a negative experience with one of his local church leaders, perhaps a bishop, who, hopefully, asked him to tone down the apocalyptic hooey and stop saying dishonest and/or crazy things. Given that Beck’s instability correlates directly with his messianic delusions, I think he’s currently chafing at the limitations of reasonableness imposed by church membership. The day is not far distant when Beck parts company with the Mormons in order to have an unfettered hand to practice his unique brand of moonbattery, which will likely lead to him becoming an outspoken enemy of the church to which he now belongs.

You read it here first.

3. I have other peeves but I’m tired of writing. So you only get two peeves. But that’s more than you had before I started, so don’t get all peeved on me.