Having A Form of Godliness : Modern Mormon Pharisees

As an LDS missionary in South America, I once knocked on the door of a staunch catholic. At least that is how he described himself as he hurriedly explained why he wasn’t interested in our message. I had heard this same excuse from others many times before. But this particular man sticks out in my memory because of something else he said. Just before slamming the door shut, he blurted: “Look, I don’t believe in the Virgin; I don’t believe in the Saints; I don’t believe in the Pope; I don’t even believe in Jesus or God! But I was born Catholic and I will die Catholic!”

In recent years, a number of Mormon intellectuals have been spreading the meme that what matters in the church is not correct belief (orthodoxy) but correct practice (orthopraxy). In other words, like the Catholic contact I met years ago, they believe that it doesn’t really matter if you believe in the principles and doctrines that the leaders of the church teach. So long as you conform to the practices that the church can easily measure, such as paying tithes, obeying the dietary restrictions of the Word of Wisdom, attending church meetings, and holding regular family night, then you are a good, faithful Mormon and beyond reproach, even if you spend your time on the internet, and elsewhere, trying to convince others to adopt unorthodox beliefs that are clearly contrary to church teachings and leaders.

Let’s call this “Orthopraxy” meme what it is: Pharisaism. Those who practice Mormonism after this fashion are modern Mormon Pharisees.

Despite the fact that it is the conservative members of the church who are more often labelled “Pharisees” for their perceived rigid insistence on conformity to church teachings, it is this liberal cafeteria mode of Mormonism that matches more closely to the doctrine of the Pharisees.

Contrary to popular modern assumptions, in many respects the Pharisees were not the conservative, entrenched church hierarchy we often envision. It was the conservative Sadducees who were the wealthy, aristocratic, and priestly class that clung stubbornly to scriptural literalism. Politically the Pharisees were by comparison the more liberal populists, receiving more support from the common people and having a more democratic sentiment. The Pharisees were the intellectuals and scholars. Unlike the Sadducees, they believed in a continuously expanding understanding of the scriptures based on ongoing intellectual debate between rabbis and continual analysis and arguments, as well as “oral Torah” traditions and the precedents of previous debates. The Talmud’s Pharisaical declaration that “”A learned mamzer takes precedence over an ignorant High Priest” is echoed by their modern intellectual heirs who insist, contrary to President Packer, that the intellect is far, far greater than the mantle.

Were there righteous Pharisees?  Yes, of course.  Jesus condemned the Pharisees of his time not for being intellectuals but for being hypocrites. The word hypocrisy comes from Greek roots related to “stage acting”. Hypocrisy is about putting on a show; it is “feigned belief.” The Pharisees were not condemned for their rigid insistence on conformity to church teachings, as common modern accusations against faithful Mormons would imply. All of the competing contemporary groups of the time were also legalistic and rigid regarding following the law, including the followers of John the Baptist who earned Jesus’ approbation. It was the fact that the Pharisees insisted on conforming rigidly to the open, visible religious practices while in secret rejecting the Lawgiver himself and conspiring to have him unjustly put to death that made them truly hypocritical.

In practice they had a form of godliness (orthopraxy) but they didn’t actually believe in the power thereof (orthodoxy).

We all fall into the kind of hypocrisy where our private actions conflict with our public statements. This is often a hypocrisy of weakness, where our actions do not always conform to our verbal statements of belief; not because our belief is not sincere, but because in our imperfection we fall short of that sincere belief. The Pharisees were clearly guilty of this kind of hypocrisy, and in that sense we are all Pharisaical.

But those who advocate “orthopraxy” as a mask for unbelief are endorsing a systematic hypocrisy in which they knowingly go through the motions of belief before men, to give the appearance of belief, when they do not in fact believe. That is truly Pharisaical in a way that true believers can never achieve.

And like their ancient spiritual progenitors, modern Pharisees often try to justify themselves using legalistic technicalities: technically, they believe the Book of Mormon is “inspired” because “inspired” means something more nuanced than what most believers mean…; technically they believe Joseph Smith is a prophet, because a prophet is something more broad than most believers understand; technically they believe the church is “true” in the sense that….

Even in their “orthopraxy” they use technicalities to claim belief: they gave about 10% directly to a charity of their choosing instead of the church, so technically they are a “full tithe payer”; since the Word of Wisdom says people should eat meat sparingly, and people who eat a lot of meat answer the temple recommend question about obeying the Word of Wisdom in the affirmative even though they clearly don’t obey all of what it says, they also technically can say they obey the Word of Wisdom, even though they regularly drink coffee or alcohol; technically, Faith is the same thing as Doubt because Faith means that you don’t know for sure, and not knowing is technically doubting….

This is the same technicality-game played by bright children and rebellious teens with their parents in which they conveniently vacillate between ambiguity and an absurd degree of literalness to achieve a technical win: “You said I couldn’t GO play with my friends, you didn’t say that THEY couldn’t COME HERE to play with me!” “I didn’t bite her, I pinched her with my teeth!”

They aren’t really fooling anyone. Getting off on a technicality isn’t the same as being innocent, and they know it.

To make these kinds of pettifogging justifications, they employ a Reductionist approach in which they try to break Faith down into oversimplified, singular, analyzable steps and definitions; linear hoops through which they can jump, the sum of which supposedly amount to “Faith.” But Faith is more than the sum of its apparent parts. It is not reducible. This is the exact error that the Pharisees made. They tried to reduce Faith into orthopraxy; a multitude of strict hoops through which they jumped as an alternative to real Faith. And just as faith without works is dead, works without faith are dead. Modern revelation makes this concept of “dead works” explicit. If you show me your faith by your works when you don’t actually have faith, then you are being Pharisaical.

Where does this leave those who do not yet believe, but are trying to get a testimony through action? Clearly even Jesus taught that if you want to know if the doctrine is of God, you have to do it to find out. And Alma taught that you plant the seed in order to see if it grows. In fact, all our beliefs almost always come about through action. The confirmation comes through action. What if a person does not believe in God and so they attempt to pray to find out if God exists? Isn’t this also “orthopraxy” without “orthodoxy”? Why isn’t this also hypocritical?

The difference lies in the fact that the Pharisee is going through the motions in order to maintain an appearance of belief to other people, or at least certain other people. The Pharisee’s goal isn’t to increase his belief, but to legitimize and maintain his unbelief while reaping some kind of benefit associated with belief.

The searcher, on the other hand, does not claim to believe, but is honestly seeking belief through action. It’s the difference between dishonestly pretending to be what you are not and honestly attempting to become more than you are. The seeker isn’t going to feign belief or quibble about technical belief in order to get a calling, or receive a temple recommend, or keep family peace. The seeker isn’t looking to influence the Church into changing to match her views, she is attempting to change her views to match those of the church by putting into practice what the church teaches.

In his interview with PBS, Elder Holland made it clear that we aren’t going to kick people out of the church just because they do not believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. But he also warned that if they try to convert others to that view then they have crossed a line. Even then, he says, the church tries to be patient, but that patience is an act of charity, not acceptance. It’s still apostasy. And the church is exhibiting patience with apostasy motivated by love, not tolerance for a different kind of acceptable faithfulness.

“But, they have fervent testimonies of the Atonement of Jesus!” I hear some remonstrate. “They are good people.” These things are equally true of many Catholics and Protestants I know and it doesn’t make them Mormons. I have no problem with my Catholic and Protestant friends who want to hang with us Mormons, come to church, participate in activities, and basically participate to the full extent any non-member can. They may even come to hold Joseph Smith in a favorable light, and consider the Book of Mormon to be inspired after a fashion. But that doesn’t make them Mormons either.

So let’s resist this new Mormon Pharisaism and aspire to real faith; to be real, believing Latter-day Saints and not Mormons in Practice Only. And to those who do not yet believe: aspire to believe; yearn to receive a personal witness and act upon that yearning with integrity.

Let us strive to have not only the form of godliness but also the power thereof.

UPDATE: Please see my comments in the conversation below where I address some of the immediate criticisms of this post, as well as some of the more common criticisms I have seen elsewhere.  My comments are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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38 Responses to Having A Form of Godliness : Modern Mormon Pharisees

  1. I was reluctant to follow your argument in the opening paragraphs because I don’t think you accurately identify the motives of most internet participants who focus on orthopraxy, at least not in the corners of the internet where I spend time. Things could be radically different elsewhere. But to whatever extent there are in fact people who advocate orthopraxy as a disguise and who then justify their deceit this way (and I’m sure there *are* some, I just don’t know how widespread it really is), I think you make a valid argument.

    I’ve been working on learning about the historic context of the New Testament to better understand Jesus Christ’s condemnation or praise or behavior when he associates with different kinds of people. What I appreciate most about your post is that it caused me to work back and forth between modern Pharisees and what I’ve learned about New Testament-era Pharisees, helping to clarify other reading I’ve done. I learn easiest with examples and analogies, which are often in short supply in academic writing, and you’ve supplied some necessary help to me here.

    I suspect you will have riled some feathers somewhere with this, so I’m going to sneak my comment in at the beginning and run from the fireworks I expect to follow.

  2. mwtowns

    This is a fantastic essay. Thank you for writing it. I agree with just about everything you have written here.

  3. Great blog post JMax. This really hits close to home, for reasons that I won’t mention in public though. Thanks for your insights.

  4. Ah, Max, you are always such a breath of fresh air. Thanks for this; I know the courage it takes to speak up. It is no wonder that the Lord says the cleansing will begin upon His House first. I would much rather spend time with those who are earnestly searching for truth, than those who pretend to already have it, but value the ways of the world more than the ways of truth.

  5. JMax, interesting observations. Thank you for this: http://bit.ly/ejKZje A good read for all my Mormon friends.

  6. Did we meet the same person, J. Max?? I met a similar man while serving in Vitoria Da Conquitsa, Bahia, Brasil. Even before I could get a word out of my mouth, this man, speaking to me in English, clutched a necklace of a saint, said he was Catholic and only needed his saint. I hope and pray that this man will soften his heart to the message of the Restoration.

    Thank you for sharing this post with me. I have a good friend who is on the fence, as it were, as it relates to Mormonism. I pray for my friend often and hope this friend can rediscover their faith.

  7. RT @ldsblogs: SixteenSmallStones: Having A Form of Godliness : Modern Mormon Pharisees http://bit.ly/hw50j3 #lds #mormon

  8. J. Max,
    I think you are casting your net far too wide and missing your mark as a result. There may be people who go through the motions while being entirely without belief, but I think they are few and far between. Don’t mistake sheep for wolves in similar clothes.

    That said, the most problematic aspect of this post is not that you find other people to be hypocrites and pharaisees. There is no doubt that there are many in the church (and that I am probably one of them). It’s that you don’t find yourself in the same boat.

  9. J. Max, thank you so much for this–you bravely, perfectly say what a lot of people think. This is an important post.

  10. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I really appreciate it.

    @John C.

    I’d like you to clarify your comment. I think I was fairly clear that I include myself among the kind of hypocrite whose actions often fail to live up to my declarations of sincere belief, but I would like you to explain why you think I should include myself among those who adopt the public practice of a believer while privately not believing?

    What exactly troubles you? Please elaborate.

  11. I guess I’m confused…does this post implicitly reference something else that completes the puzzle? I can’t imagine the rationale for keeping the WoW, paying tithing (however defined), or sitting thru a three-hour block without at least some level of belief in the value of those things.

    And if the person is getting value out of that kind of behavior, why exactly should we be discouraging that? Is it our business to determine what level of belief is appropriate before someone pays tithing, or whether they’re coming to church for the right reasons?

  12. J. Max,

    I think what I see in this post, especially the second half, is a denunciation of complacency, not hypocrisy. And I think that would have been a better way to frame the whole post.

    If you take a given act alone, say, paying 10% to some charity instead of the church, it is I think much harder to make a case that there’s something terribly wrong with that per se. If that’s really the best someone can do right now, then I welcome them doing that, exercising that particle of faith. If coming to church even though she doesn’t believe in the Book of Mormon is the best someone can do right now, I welcome them doing that too. It sounds like you agree with that(?). When I start thinking people are going wrong, and I think we agree on this too, is not in the action itself, but in getting complacently stuck in that action and not striving to grow and reach higher next time. (and, as you point out, supporting that complacency with various rationales)

    So, I think, if I’m reading you correctly, the core of the thoughts you have here could be very positive and inspiring–a call to abandon complacency, to get off the ledge and back on the face of the rock, etc. Where I suspect this post will raise some ire in some quarters is in how you took that positive, inspirational kernel, and framed it as hypocrisy and pointed to specific actions (which, again, I don’t think you can blanket label as good or bad, it depends on where the individual sincerely is in their progression). All things being equal, I’d rather have all these people, even the complacent ones, in a pew than not. Therefore, I’m less inclined to go naming names of specific actions that, if people are doing them, they should get lost. Complacency can use a good kick now and then, but isn’t, I don’t think, very malicious. It might help you have more charity for those you are preaching against here, if you saw the problem more as complacency than hypocrisy (which implies deception, malice), and anyhow I think that is a more correct view of the problem in the vast majority of cases.

    Hope that makes sense.

  13. I’m sorry, little typo: where it says “All things being equal, I’d rather have all these people, even the complacent ones, in a pew than not.” It should read “…even the hypocritical ones…” since that is the “worse” of the two cases.

  14. Max,

    For Mormons who believe in some level of value in the religion, and even some level of value in some level of adherence and loyalty, but who don’t see literally eye to eye with much of the story and structure, what would you like to see them do?


  15. RT @ldsblogs: SixteenSmallStones: Having A Form of Godliness : Modern Mormon Pharisees http://bit.ly/hw50j3

  16. @Kyle M. and @Cynthia L.

    Of course everyone is welcome to pay tithes, attend church, and keep the word of wisdom whether or not they are a member of the church. Our meetings are open to all. We certainly aren’t going to refuse their tithes. And by all means I think we should encourage them to keep the word of wisdom, though if they don’t, we should certainly welcome them among us anyway. Even if they do not believe, we welcome them in the hope that they will eventually come to believe.

    I appreciate, Cynthia, that you try to look for a positive way to spin my words, but I am not talking about complacency. I’m talking about apostasy and hypocrisy. And while I agree that it is not always motivated by actual malice, it is often motivated by fear, cowardice, or pride, and it is usually deceptive and hypocritical.

    I agree that I’d rather have these people in the pew than not. But I do not want them serving in the bishopric, teaching Sunday school, giving talks, baptizing, or giving priesthood blessings.

    And I think we can certainly label some actions as good or bad. Confirming that you have a testimony of of the prophet Joseph Smith, when what you really believe is that he was only inspired to the same degree as a mother Teresa or a Martin Luther King Jr. is a definitively dishonest, regardless of the ingenious technicalities they might come up with. Saying you keep the word of wisdom when you drink coffee or tea is a lie. Where the individual is in their personal progression is irrelevant. If they haven’t progressed to the point that they can answer these questions honestly then they shouldn’t be going to the temple, or serving as bishop.

  17. @Tom

    By all means come to church participate in whatever ways a non-believer can. Pay your tithing. But don’t come with the intention of changing the church, or converting others to your position. Consider yourself an investigator or a non-believing friend of the church. But don’t pretend to be a believer. Make sure your bishop knows where you stand and submit to whatever restrictions he feels are appropriate regarding your participation in meetings etc.

  18. J. Max,
    I suppose that I see the Pharisaism here in the sense that this post isn’t making a useful distinction. The person whom I declared a fervent believer, in spite of (or possibly because of) their lack of belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon hasn’t proselytized anyone to that view (to my knowledge). I’m not even certain you know them, so making that assumption seems premature.

    For that matter, this person is a person of faith. So this criticism doesn’t even apply. They want to believe in God and Christ and Joseph Smith and this is the way that they are able to do it for now. You are seeing someone dissembling when they are trying to believe as best they can.

    And that, in particular, is what is pharisaic about this post. The Pharisees, accurately or no, are portrayed in the Bible as the group devoted to form above all. However, they were devoted to certain forms, irrespective of the worth of those forms. So Christ’s disciples failed their tests, not necessarily because they were bad people, but because they didn’t adopt the forms that the Pharisees preferred.

    I worry in this that you are confusing orthodoxy for personal preference. We are all of us sinners. It disappoints me that we would call our own sins small so as to make someone else seem the greater sinner.

  19. Thanks for the #16. I think I get it, although I’m not sure this is the danger you describe it to be. But perhaps that’s just because it’s not something I can relate to. I’ve spent my life trying to get my actions to correspond with the fervency of my testimony, and it’s crazy hard. So it’s a bit disconcerting to hear that there are people out there who have fervently righteous actions (for instance, the type of behavior and sacrifice required of a good bishopric member) WITHOUT the testimony. Boggles my mind.

  20. Of course I agree that we shouldn’t be hypocritical. But I take issue with some of your technicalities. You seem to define doctrine by “what most believers believe”. First, that isn’t how we define doctrine. (I know you wouldn’t disagree with that.) I think there are some things that “most believers believe” that are incorrect, in that sometimes people believe something was a prophetic statement when in fact it’s something else. For example, the idea that the Savior was born on April 6, which Talmage extrapolates from D&C 20. Others, like McConkie, apparently placed the Savior’s birth at a different time of year. Joseph Fielding Smith was dead set against any idea of natural evolution, whereas I understand that some of the other apostles of the time, such as Talmage and Widtsoe, were not but did not publish about it. Some of these views become popular canon even though they are not doctrinal per se. I would not think of taking issue with them as hypocricy. The prophets define doctrine. Again, I’d be surprised if we disagree on this.

    But second, and more importantly, I believe there is room for nuance in belief as we seek to understand. I agree with Elder Holland that we have to be careful about what we share with others and in what context, as we seek and learn and puzzle things out. But I don’t think that opening one’s mind to heterodox interpretations of events – if that is what one feels drawn towards, in the course of study and prayer – is inherently hypocritical. But I do not think that to entertain heterodox views is hypocritical. I think much of this comes down to INTENT. Are we seeking to satisfy our pride in our intellectualism, or are we genuinely seeking truth, in humility and prayer? If we look at the evolution of our knowledge of truth, it seems clear to me that many things that I currently believe are true will turn out not to be true, or at least not in the way that I currently conceive them. That isn’t an excuse for a lack of faith in the prophets or their counsel, but I think it gives me room to obey while keeping my mind open to the future.

    PS The Catholic guy you met was NOT practicing orthopraxy. I bet he hadn’t gone to confession in 30 years.

    Sorry, last comment. I think that what you are warning against is not heterodoxy (unorthodox belief) but rather apostasy (i.e., teaching unorthodox belief). I think these are very very different things.

  21. I think this is sad. I know that a few years ago I probably would have told you how courageous you are for posting such an article too, but I have to agree that I think you are missing the mark entirely. As I read this it felt like I was reading an article about a controversial topic in Mormon history by someone who has little experience with the LDS church. I don’t think I know anyone who would accept you characterization of those who are struggling with their faith. I understand that you believe that your beliefs are 100% correct, thus why shouldn’t everyone accept what you are saying? I just think you are missing the fact that almost every faithful member of the church, that I know, who has doubts or unorthodox beliefs, came to those doubts by trying to follow the same spirit that gave them a testimony of the Book of Mormon.
    You make the broad assumption that all those who are living the gospel with doubts or unbelief are merely doing so to make themselves look good. I believe that if you sincerely ask someone who has doubts about them, they will not hide it at all. Many of these people that you seem to be attacking are trying their best to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as trying to be the very best people they can be. I believe that you have good intentions, but I believe that you are attacking very sincere people who like you are trying to follow their hearts. I think if you were willing to, like Holland said, love people (This doesn’t mean you have to believe like them. It just means you should make an honest effort to understand them)then you might come to different conclusions. There are valuable people who do not believe like you, and if this is right or wrong, we should be careful not you do things that make it impossible for these amazing people to have the church in their lives.
    P.S. I have some friends who wrote some comments could be beneficial to have them in your post, but they haven’t been accepted. You should allow them to post too. That is if you
    even let my comment on here.

  22. @Dave Evans

    You are right, as you so often are. And as you expected, I mostly agree with you. There is a difference between disagreeing with Elder Talmage’s speculation that has entered Mormon culture, and the kind of disbelief I am talking about.

    To a great extent I am concerned more about Apostasy than strictly Heterodoxy. But I do not think that Apostasy is only defined by the fact that one teaches heterodox beliefs to others or advocates for them publicly. That is when the church disciplines apostasy, but that does not mean that privately held heterodox beliefs are not still apostate.

    That does not mean that I disagree with you that people shouldn’t be open to new interpretations while seeking truth, it just means that not all unorthodox interpretations are acceptable.

  23. @Brian Kissell

    You make the broad assumption that all those who are living the gospel with doubts or unbelief are merely doing so to make themselves look good.

    Read the post again. I left ample room for those who are “honestly seeking belief through action” and are “attempting to become more than [they] are” and “aspire to believe; yearn to receive a personal witness and act upon that yearning with integrity.”

    I believe that if you sincerely ask someone who has doubts about them, they will not hide it at all.

    I have enough direct personal experience with apostates to know for a fact that this is not true. Yes, there are seekers, for which, as I said, my post makes ample allowance. But there are also those who feign belief and remain in the church in an effort not to change themselves, but to change the church and to target those with weak faith and convert them to their own apostate views.

    Many of these people that you seem to be attacking are trying their best to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as trying to be the very best people they can be. I believe that you have good intentions, but I believe that you are attacking very sincere people who like you are trying to follow their hearts.

    The things you describe here are also true of many Catholics, Protestants, and other Christians. It could even be said of a Deist or Agnostic who believes in the ethical teachings of Jesus, but does not believe he was the Messiah or the Son of God. As I mentioned in my post, that doesn’t make them Mormons. They are all sincere people following their hearts. That doesn’t make them Mormons.

    There are valuable people who do not believe like you, and if this is right or wrong, we should be careful not you do things that make it impossible for these amazing people to have the church in their lives.

    Again, there plenty of valuable people who do not believe the core doctrines of the church. They are called Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, and innumerable other names that identify their particular set of beliefs. I am not preventing them from having the church in their lives. They are by rejecting the doctrines of the church.

    You seem to be advocating for Unitarian Universalism and calling it Mormonism. Sorry. Being a Mormon means believing at least certain foundational teachings and doctrines, and accepting and submitting to the authority of the leadership.

    Those who cannot do that are welcome to participate in the church as an unbeliever. But they shouldn’t feign belief in order to reap the additional opportunities intended only for believers.

  24. I understand that you feel you are leaving “ample room for those who are “honestly seeking belief through action” and are “attempting to become more than [they] are” and “aspire to believe; yearn to receive a personal witness and act upon that yearning with integrity.” But this seems to only be acceptable if they come to the same conclusions as you do. My problem is with statements like this “technically, Faith is the same thing as Doubt because Faith means that you don’t know for sure, and not knowing is technically doubting….” I love the church more than I can describe. It has made me who I currently am, but I cannot agree with that statement at all. I do not know without a doubt many of these things that you seem to believe that I have to know to be a faithful member. I am troubled by many of the events of church history, as well as things that happen today, but I have faith that this is where God wants me to be. I can answer affirmatively to every temple question, and I am so grateful for the fellowship and spiritual growth that I gain from the church. If I were to believe the way you do, I would have to leave the church. I believe that Mormonism is extremely beautiful in that it allows us to accept truth wherever we find it. I am not Unitarian, but very Mormon. I believe in the words of Joseph Smith where he says “Have the Presbyterians any truth? Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc., any truth? Yes. They all have a little truth mixed with error. We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true “Mormons.” (History of the Church 5:517). Again I don’t want to sound too critical. I think you should have the right to believe what you want. My problem is when people sound like they are saying “You have to believe like me, or get out of here.” I love the quote from Joseph smith where he says “I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodists, and not like the latter day saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not good because he errs in doctrine.”
    Joseph Smith Jr.
    Again perhaps you are really were not speaking to me, like you said, but I still think you are painting those who do not totally believe in an unfair light.

  25. @Brian Kissell

    You say: “I do not know without a doubt many of these things that you seem to believe that I have to know to be a faithful member.”

    Read the post yet again. Nowhere do I say that you have to “know” certain things with certainty to be a faithful member. Again, I gave ample room for those who believe, and even those aspiring to believe who do not yet believe.

    The Faith vs Doubt sophistry I allude to is an example of the kind of intellectual technicality-game people often use to justify their disbelief. The point of Faith is to make correct decisions without sufficient information. Faith is not knowing but Trusting. Not knowing is not the same thing as doubting. Doubt is not knowing and Distrusting. Faith and Doubt are mutually exclusive.

    My post is very general. It focuses on principles and analogies and I gave very few specific examples of beliefs that are inconsistent with calling oneself a believer. I am not sure how exactly you come come to the conclusion then that I am saying people are only “acceptable if they come to the same conclusions as [I] do.”

    You say “I believe that Mormonism is extremely beautiful in that it allows us to accept truth wherever we find it.”

    And I agree with you, with a caveat: the operative word here is Truth. The Truth you find must be consistent. If the truth you come to accept contradicts the foundational truth claims of the church, then accepting that as truth is by definition a rejection of the church’s truth.

    I am talking about those who reject the truth claims of the church but pretend to believe. If this does not describe you, then there is no reason for umbrage. If people take umbrage when I say that it is hypocritical to feign belief that you do not have, because it does describe them, well then I am not surprised or sympathetic.

    Finally, you say “If I were to believe the way you do, I would have to leave the church.”

    I hope you see the inadvertent contradiction in this statement. The fact is that if you believed the way I do, then you would stay in the church because you would believe it’s truth claims and submit to the authority of its leaders. What you seem to really mean is that if being a member of the church requires you to actually believe the truth claims of the church, as I say it does, then you would have to leave the church because you do not believe them. But that seems inconsistent with the rest of your comment where you say that you do in fact believe.

    So please clarify. What do you disbelieve about the church that would, under my framework, require you to leave the church?

  26. J. Max: Great post. I got it. You echo the smack-down that Elder Holland gave at a recent conference about those who disbelieve the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

    Brian obviously grabbed the wrong end of the stick in regards to your phrase “… Faith is the same thing as Doubt because Faith means that you don’t know for sure, and not knowing is technically doubting….” He assumed you were _agreeing_ with that phrase, though I thought it was obvious that you were disagreeing with (decrying) it. One has to notice the parallelism with the previous segments of the same sentence in order to understand your meaning.

    Some of the others miss the boat likely because they have not seen the examples that you allude to. Having read many blogs in the Bloggernacle over the last 6 years or so, I can easily picture (though I can’t cite exact names/blogs) some instances to which you allude.

    Adam Greenwood gave voice to a similar frustration at Times and Seasons. Years ago, you expressed similar misgivings about participating in group blogs.

    In a post that I have simmering in my mind, “friction” and “doubt” are two of the “Seven deadly heresies of the Bloggernacle.” They are improperly hailed from an intellectual standpoint, and, essentially, I’m with you on the matter.

    I think your post is appropriate because there are bloggers (some blog owners and some “perma-bloggers” of group blogs) whose message or theme seems to be “it’s okay to disbelieve” or “it’s okay to doubt”, in their responses to questioners; whereas it should be on the _encouraging_ side, as you explained in the OP (plus at least 2 of your comments). As in “Yes, you _can_ come to a faith/belief” or “Yes, this seeming contradiction or seeming anachronism _can_ be explained” or “Yes, there _is_ evidence for historical/archealogical/geological/scientific _plausibility_, even though there is not slam dunk _proof_.”

    It’s as if the modern Mormon pharisees whom you are decrying are saying to the questioner “Naaah, don’t worry. It’s okay not to believe, I don’t either.”

    In effect, it’s what Protestants have done to the Bible and gospel since the reformation in their sophistry to explain away the need for a line of authority, and to explain away a lot of biblical things they no longer posess nor believe in. I call it “protestantization of Mormonism.”

    I totally get, and agree with, your point about non-members or non-believers attending and participating as much as a visitor can. It’s an effective point. (That’s where I am as an ex-member.) And, even for those members who never gained (or have lost) their testimony/belief, participation is still a good thing, but I’m with you about their not being given callings of leadership or teaching.

  27. Being a Mormon means believing at least certain foundational teachings and doctrines, and accepting and submitting to the authority of the leadership.

    I think this is the core of what you are getting at, and I agree with this statement. The difficulty arises when we try to define which doctrines and teachings it is necessary to believe and what it means to submit to the authority of the leadership.

    As you know, LDS doctrine is difficult to pin down, but everybody knows what a Mormon does. So we are happy to have people in the pews who don’t drink or smoke and do home teaching and we never inquire into their position on whether God is progressing in knowledge or viviparous spirit birth.

    Submission to the authority of the leadership falls into the orthopraxy category, doesn’t it? This is where I think you are looking for apostasy in the wrong places. In the past two weeks, I’ve seen blog posts and comments which challenge the authority of the leadership. The first one dealt with the part of the handbook which allows for bishops to help poor people get public assistance. There were several comments stating that this practice is wrong. The second example involves the way scouting is implemented and attributes a bad scouting experience “to a failure of leadership in SLC”.

    I live in a place (AZ) where I have to sit through priesthood meetings with a bunch of former bishops and high council members and listen to them complain that the Brethren haven’t taken a harder line on illegal immigration.

    So in a sense I agree with you, Br. Wilson. There is an ever-present danger of apostasy within the church. But for every person you can show me who believes the Book of Mormon to be inspired fiction, I can show you 500 “orthodox, mainstream” members who think the brethren should shut up when it comes to illegal immigration, anti-discrimination ordinances in Utah, or the BSA.

  28. It was an error, I meant to write “If I were (Forced) to believe the way you do, I would have to leave the church.” What I meant is that I interpreted you to say that adjusting or reinterpreting ways of understanding certain principles and commandments was wrong. I know that you were writing about behavior such as making rationalizations to be able to act in a way that is wrong. I would agree that making excuses so you can do things that are wrong, as well as people pretending to believe so they can get to the top of leadership to change the gospel are both dishonest and bad things, although I have never met anyone who had serious doubts who is not open about it. They may not announce it in sacrament meeting, but why should they? In my experience people are way too quick to make strong judgments and assumptions about the intentions and personal motives of those who are struggling. Going back to explain what I was saying about myself. I am definitely a believer, but I am not a knower. I used to have an extremely intense conviction of the Truth of almost everything that I was taught through my life. My questions have come to me through study, prayer, church attendance, and (what I believe to be) an honest search to do what the lord wants me to do, but I have had to change beliefs a great deal, and I have had to abandon other beliefs as well, to remain a believer. I feel bad that I seemed to judge you too quickly. The problem with the internet is that I sometimes forget I am dealing with real people. If we were in person and having a conversation, I would probably agree with many of the things you believe. Just a couple things to support what I wrote yesterday. In your response you wrote “The Truth you find must be consistent. If the truth you come to accept contradicts the foundational truth claims of the church, then accepting that as truth is by definition a rejection of the church’s truth.” I totally agree, but my problem is that that things that seem to be true are not always so. If we were alive more than 100 years ago, I am sure we would have argued for the “truth” that the blacks would never be able to hold the priesthood, but that wasn’t true. Perhaps we would have argued that if polygamy was ever taken from the earth, the church would be in apostasy, but that seems to not be the case. As you probably know, there are many other examples of these sorts of events. I believe that the church is run by prophets of God, and I fully sustain the leadership of the church. I think that by trying to decide who “true” Mormons are, we will push others away who could otherwise be great contributors to our wonderful community. There are those who do not believe who continue practicing the faith for other reasons than spiritual growth, or belief in the church, but they are not trying to trick us. I guess I can only speak from my experience. I do not know those in your community, but I am very close to many who doubt, and you description of them did not seem accurate to me. They are in such a difficult situation, and I do not believe we have the responsibility to change their minds, because I am sure that the ones I know are searching for true as well. I think what we do have the responsibility is to love them. We do not need to agree with them, but we do need to make a place where they can be involved and influenced by the saints. You might again think I defending something you are not attacking, which might be true, but I think there are so many who are trying to believe that your paper would describe as Modern Mormon Pharisees. Even if you are right, I think all that means is that we should be even kinder and encouraging helping every member of the church to be better. Anyways, I have enjoyed the conversation. I apologize for misunderstanding some of your comments, but I appreciate you letting me make some comments.

  29. Brian, #29:

    … although I have never met anyone who had serious doubts who is not open about it.

    If they never told anyone, no one would know they had serious doubt. Though Max is alluding to people who have openly expressed active doubt in the bloggernacle.

    I am definitely a believer, but I am not a knower.

    Then your reward is greater than mine; and my condemnation is greater than yours. When I don’t live up to what I know, I sin against the light.

    In my experience people are way too quick to make strong judgments and assumptions about the intentions and personal motives of those who are struggling.

    If Max is being judgemental, it’s not towards those who are struggling, it’s towards those who have come to a conclusion, a conclusion of disbelief, such as those who have concluded that the Book of Mormon is not historical, and are not further struggling with the question. The “offense”, if I may call it that, that I think Max is talking about, is that such people (active disbelievers), from a position of supposedly good standing in church, are communicating those conclusions of doubt/disbelief publicly on the nacle, and perhaps in real life too, towards people who _are_ struggling. They’re giving cause or reason, and a supposed justification, to the strugglers to give up their struggle in attaining a belief in, or faith in, the items with which they struggle.

    In other words such disblievers can be stumbling blocks to the seekers. I’ve personally encountered various forms of this, and was puzzled by many online blog posts and blog comments in the ‘nacle because I didn’t realize the writer was a disbeliever while still participating in church, or a totally inactive member, or even an ex-member.

    Those comments I’m referring to (alluding to? since I’m not linking to them) can be “land mines” to the faith of investigators, new converts, and struggling members. Some have been very insidious little digs at faith, and I see how they could have a cumulative effect.

    Let me back up a step and state that I believe whether or not someone who actively disbelieves (ie, a person who has concluded that certain foundational truths are not in fact true, and who is no longer struggling over the matter) should hold leadership positions is a private matter between the person and their local priesthood leaders such as the bishop and stake president. I left that out of my previous comment.

    Bishops and Stake Presidents have knowingly ordained, endowed, and set apart as full time missionaries, tens of thousands of 19 year olds who consciously (actively) doubted the foundational truths of the church, and who (the young elders) sometimes were up front about actively disbelieving. Local leaders have knowingly ordained, endowed and set apart as full time missionaries tens of thousands of young men who would not even qualify for baptism (due to disbelief or unworthiness) if they were not already members. AND, I’m convinced that the general authorities were fully aware of such practices. I’m talking about the time prior to “raise the bar” in 2002.

    As was explained to me, the “rules” were broken (in ordaining unworthy or unqualified 19 year olds) in order to save as many as they could. If they were denied the higher priesthood, they’d go inactive. Or if they went on a mission, there was a chance they’d get converted.

    Perhaps there is a parallel with giving local leadership positions to active disbelieving adults. There’s hope that as long as they participate they might come around. But…. as Max points out (or implies), if the active-disbelievers have given up seeking, and publicize their conclusions (of disbelief), they become stumbling blocks to those who are sincerely seeking and struggling.

    And as I think might have been pointed out above in the comments, personal apostasy doesn’t get one excommunicated if it’s kept private. But publicly speaking against the church, or attempting to lead others into apostasy does.

  30. To clarify that last, even if someone tells his bishop or stake president that he does not believe the Book of Mormon is true (and doesn’t believe JS was a prophet, etc), I’m pretty sure the bishop/SP aren’t going to excommunicate him as long as he doesn’t go around spreading his belief or publicizing it.

  31. Right, but who decides which unorthodox beliefs are acceptable? I think we can all agree (at least you and I) on some basic beliefs: Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. Joseph Smith was his prophet. The Book of Mormon is true. (We might disagree on whether heterodoxy is okay on exactly what “true” means, but recent statements from the prophets are on the side of orthodoxy, so I concede the point in advance.)

    While the timing of the Savior’s birth is a bit of a straw man, the question on evolution is one that people might care more about it.

    Are you just talking about “fundamental doctrines”? For example, beliefs that we talk about in the temple recommend interview? Otherwise, I have trouble seeing how one who is not called to be a judge in Zion could come up with any internally consistent system. (For example, would it be apostasy in 1975 to believe that all worthy male members should receive the priesthood? Was is apostasy for Hugh B. Brown to give an interview to the New York Times much earlier, saying the Church was likely to repeal the policy soon. President McKay made him recant, but was it apostasy?

    The point is not to get caught in my individual examples; I hope you see what I’m getting at. I’d be more interested in the sepcific examples that you’ve seen. I may be missing the point; I haven’t read these naysayers on the web, so I concede that in advance as well.

    Peace, best wishes,

  32. Well said. – Having A Form of Godliness : Modern Mormon Pharisees « Sixteen Small Stones http://t.co/YqkzWJj via @jmaxwilson #lds

  33. I don’t have a lot of time to respond to some of the excellent comments. But I do want to take a moment to address a couple of frequent criticisms I have seen.

    The first is about my assertion that the Pharisees were in some respects the more liberal of the groups, and that the Sadducees were the more conservative.

    Notice that I said “in some respects.” I tried to show some of the ways in which they were comparable. But, of course, there is no perfect analogue and I never said that there was.

    Some have objected saying that I have it wrong because it was the Sadducees who rejected the doctrine of the Resurrection and the Afterlife, and the Pharisees who believed in both, so clearly the Sadducees were the liberals and the Pharisees where the conservatives. I think this represents a superficial and anachronistic reading.

    While this description of the beliefs of the two groups is accurate, I don’t think that we should label liberal and conservative based solely on what they believed; I think that you have to also look at why they believed what they did, and how they functioned in relation to one another.

    The Sudducees rejected the doctrine of the resurrection and the afterlife because, as I pointed out in the post, they were scriptural literalists. They saw resurrection as an extra-scriptural doctrine because it did not appear explicitly in the scriptures of the time. They were also the wealthy/elite/ruling/aristocratic/priestly class. Their name means “righteous.” Some have suggested that “Sadducee” is derived from “House of Zadok”, who was the High Priest during the reign of Solomon. They were the “authorized” priesthood and they controlled and administered the Temple. So both the way in which they approached belief, and their position in society, and even their name, in many respects, are all similar to those that we associate with “conservative” even if their specific beliefs are not what modern conservatives believe.

    The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection and afterlife, but they arrived at the doctrine through liberal interpretation and through the exta-scriptural oral Torah, and intellectual debate. While the Sadducees sought to conserve their priestly authority over the people, the Pharisees taught that everyone could become priestly through living the scriptural and oral laws that were originally given for only the priests. And they taught through scholarly exegesis and not by authority. So in many respects, their objectives and methods were similar to those we associate with “liberal” even though the doctrines they taught are closer to what modern conservatives believe.

    Clearly both groups were apostate.

    The second criticism of my comparison is insistence that the Pharisees were the believers and their actions were an authentic representation of what they truly believed. These critics claim that Jesus was condemning their authentic, conservative insistence on following the law and therefore my comparison to Modern Mormons who feign belief doesn’t hold up. Again, I think that this argument represents a superficial reading of the scriptures.

    Of course there were Pharisees who were not hypocritical. Nicodemus seems to be one of these. And, as I pointed out, Jesus approved of John the Baptist who it seems was as legalistic as the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. The Pharisees Jesus condemns he explicitly calls “hypocrites.” Hypocrite means “presenting oneself as something one is not.” If, as my critics contend, the Pharisees were authentic, true-believers, in what way were they presenting themselves as something which they were not? The scriptural answer is obvious. While in public they presented themselves as dedicated to the law, in private they were conspiring (secret combination like) to have Jesus killed. Can someone really believe in the law while secretly plotting to murder? Of course not. That is why they were hypocrites. They presented the outward appearance of piety and belief, but inside they rejected it.

    Enough for now. Reasonable people can disagree on exactly how far these comparisons can or should be taken, or what weight they should be given, but let’s not pretend that my comparisons are ignorant, baseless, or irrational.

  34. One more clarification. In multiple places my words here have been twisted to claim I am saying things that I never said or intended. SO, I will reproducing portions of a clarifying comment I wrote elsewhere:

    Nowhere have I said that I want to change the temple recommend questions, add additional questions, or excommunicate those who believe differently than I do, or seek out and exclude them from holding certain callings.

    Those who have misconstrued my words to mean these things are doing so dishonestly and uncharitably.

    I have no desire to be a bishop. But if I were one I would ask the temple recommend questions with exact obedience to the instructions of the church. I would go so far as to say that if I knew that someone I was interviewing had expressed apostate views on the Internet, but they answered all of the questions correctly, I would give them a temple recommend anyway, in order to comply with the instructions from the Brethren.

    In my post, there was no complaint about or criticism of the Brethren.

    While I did specify certain callings which apostates should not fill, my hope, now proven vain, was that recognizing their own hypocrisy, they would attempt some integrity and voluntarily exclude themselves from these callings, or at a minimum voluntarily make their lack of faith known to their Bishop and submit to his direction or restrictions.

    If the Bishop gives them a calling anyway, I have no problem with that. That is his stewardship and right or wrong he will be accountable to God for it. The Bishop should follow the spirit for each individual. Ironically, a bishop that does not believe cannot have the spirit to make such decisions. That is why those who do not believe should not be Bishops. In a nice twist of irony, the very people who want to let someone with no faith be a bishop will be the same people who complain on the Internet when that Bishop makes an uninspired call or decision, and use it to justify not following their local leaders!

  35. A little late to the party here, but I really enjoyed the article and agree with it completely. there is a big difference in the hypocrisy of the sinner, who knows he/she is a sinner and tries not to, but always fails due to our natural inclinations and the one who claims to be one thing but is really another. Those that wish to re-write commandments and situations for their own purpose.

  36. David Evans: One of the reasons it may be appropriate to leave out examples of names and quotes is that it would come across as being judgemental of the individual. I would hope that we limit our discussion to various ideas.

    I don’t know if the posts are still online, but another blogger, Adam Greenwood, made statements similar to Max’s when he quit T&S and created his own blog at jrganymede.com. (I don’t remember how specific he got, but if I remember correctly Max also made similar comments about time-wasting or faith-quenching blogs/bloggers when he started a vacation from blogging a few years ago.)

    I think there are, or were, posts and hundreds of comments on the matter at both of those blogs I mention. Adam named names and I think he quoted quotes. The other party defended himself. Others joined in, and it all got a bit heated.

    The Brethren occasionally have made oblique non-specific references in General Conference to print publications such as Dialogue and Sunstone. If you were not familar with those publications, you wouldn’t recognize the reference. I think it was under the title of “alternative voices.”

    I assume the Brethren are as aware of the well-known blogs and bloggers as they are aware of Dialogue and Sunstone and their editors/writers.

  37. I stumbled upon your blog a year or two ago when I noticed my sister having an argument with you on facebook. I was very impressed with how well you worded gospel teachings. I stumbled up your blog again and now I have it bookmarked in my head and regularly check to see if you wrote anything new. If there’s nothing new, I dig up treasures like this.

    I loved what you had to say on this topic.

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