Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dealing with Detractors, or: Rusty, well said!

Over at Mormanity, Jeff Lindsay published a great post about the need for living apostles and prophets. As sometimes happens on Jeff's blog, there were some negative comments from detractors. And that's fine, because the discussion is great.

I took the bait and entered the fray. But I confess, I'm not very good at it. I have a distinctive approach when it comes to gospel argument, and that is I like to state my piece and get out. I am not a fan of "proving" anything with scriptures or quotations from arcane sources. I don't think it's that I am not eloquent (others may judge that for themselves) and I have been a fair debater through the years. But as I age, I just don't have the energy to fight, and I frankly don't think the spirit of contention is such a great thing.

I haven't always been this way, mind you. There was a time I was ready to bash with the best of them, and my hot head would often get me into trouble. In my response to a particular poster who had it out for all the members posting, I tried to be calm and simply express my view.

Well, after my last response, in came what I consider to be a remarkable response from a Rusty Southwick (who has, by the way, a pretty cool, yet offbeat blog, Rusted Ruminations.) His comment (which you can read in full at the Mormanity link above – scroll way down -- it's about the 43rd comment) starts remarkably well:

"I'm really trying to understand the issues you have with LDS doctrine, but the problem is that you're attacking things that are not LDS doctrine. Your characterization is quite off. Mormons don't believe that our works save us. Those are propaganda talking points, and I've seen it all over the Internet. It's used as an attempt to smear the LDS faith, and if you promulgated it unwittingly, you should be aware of the inaccuracies of propaganda. It's like trying to discredit the U.S. Constitution by means of graffiti. Basically, it doesn't wash. If you call us enough bad things that don't represent us, then job done, right?"

He goes on for six more terrific paragraphs with a clarity that is really impressive to me; the sixth and concluding paragraph:

"So if you want to make a better argument, don't attack things that we don't believe in, and look to be consistent in your application of other criticisms, otherwise you throw out much of the Christian community with the bath water."

I say, Three Cheers, Rusty! Thanks for saying it so well, and for setting an example for me.

- Paul


  1. I really enjoyed Rusty's comment also; I thought it was extremely articulate and well reasoned. I confess, I was a little confused by the whole comment thread; apart from my early comment, I didn't feel qualified to join in. What I don't understand is why some people a) have so much anger in response to the church, and b) seem so rigid in terms of their beliefs. I guess their pastor, or whoever, told them that we're all evil and horrible and un-Christian, so they believe that.

    What gets me the most is it seems like some people are really fanatically devoted to what their individual pastor tells them, to the point where they don't exercise their free agency at all. Even if there's good evidence that they're wrong (i.e. they've been taught that LDS folks believe "x", but they're saying they actually believe "y"), they ignore that. That kind of "blinders on" thinking is so alien to my own church experience--where I've always been really encouraged to question, use logic, think things through, and respect my free agency. It seems like it's the people who aren't willing to be open minded, though, that accuse LDS folks of not being open minded/being drones who just "follow the Prophet"--when they don't even understand what it means to follow the Prophet.

    Sometimes I wonder if they think our Prophets just issue us instructions (the "would you jump off a bridge" comment), but I wish they'd actually watch a few clips, at least, on YouTube (we love "Mormon Messages" in our house) before they tell us what we do and don't believe and how we do and don't relate to our own leaders.

    Sorry for the rant...

  2. Ah, rant away!

    We have some dear friends who are Christian. They are open about their faith, and when a member of their family went through cancer treatments (successfully, I might add) they maintained an online blog of sorts about progress, including many open and heartwarming accounts of God's blessings in their lives.

    Their children took piano lessons from my wife, and for years we've had three lovely paintings of the Savior in our living room. When we had recitals, parents and kids and all got to stare at those pictures while the kids played.

    Our friend told me that one day at work one of his friends said something about how Mormons weren't Christians. All he could do was say, "I think they are." (Pretty cool to have a non-Mormon defending us.) He remembered those prints on our wall, and hopefully he saw something of our Christian way of life in us.

    That said, years ago I met a work colleague in Korea. He was a minister in a Korean Christian church, as well. When he learned I was LDS, he said, "Oh, that's terrible! You're going to change, aren't you?" I laughed and told him I had no plans to change, but if he were ready for a change, I'd be happy to discuss it with him.


  3. Thanks for the encouragement and kind words, Paul. It's very nice to know that others appreciate the effort that one puts into thoughts and sentiments. Plus it impressed my wife to see your commentary about me. :)

    Yeah, and I thought that critic's comment about "If a prophet told you to, would you jump off a bridge?" was a rather bizarre question. That's eerily similar in construction to the riddle about whether God could build a boulder so heavy that He couldn't lift it. Sure, if you set up a hypothetical to fit your own conditions, then it kind of distorts the reality of the situation.

  4. Rusty,

    Glad you saw this. Happy to help impress your wife.

    It must be hard for a non-believer (or a former believer maybe even moreso) to get why we would follow God or a prophet. I still struggle to figure out how to explain it.

    You're right that the hypothetical questions often trend toward silly. Yet somehow telling people not to "overthink" also seems disingenuous.

    My own experience is that I've found reasonable answers to every question I've ever asked so far; sometimes it takes a while, sometimes not. But given my experience so far, when I don't find a satisfying answer right away, I'm not ready to throw in the towel.

    Anyway, thanks for reading.

    Loved the Cud Chewing Visionaries, by the way. Still pondering the Zen of Zed. :-)

  5. The way I've tried to explain it, to non-believer friends and family, is like this: I know the Gospel is true, the way I know gravity is true--through hypothesis, testing, and results. When I drop something, it falls; when I follow the Gospel, and the counsel of the Prophets, my life--while never perfect--is better. I feel better about situations, even the "these are never going away" situations; I can make more sense of my world. Generally, overall, I just experience better results--which doesn't mean that I always get what I want (I don't), only that I'm happier in my life. When I don't follow the Gospel, and the counsel of the Prophets, I don't get the same results. Therefore, to me, it's really a pretty results-oriented process.

    I think the frustrating thing, for non-members, is the evidence issue (e.g. Book of Abraham, etc). I, like many members, approach these issues from a hardly scientific perspective: I've already decided it's true, so I guess I'm hardly weighing the evidence in a "scholarly" fashion. But, to me, that's where the faith comes in. Is the fact that I know in my heart that this is right, and it's the right thing for my family, enough? To me it is, but I still recognize the problems others have. I'm just not sure how to address them effectively.

  6. CJ, I've had success with that same type of explanation when discussing with a non-believer who still has a willingness to talk. They may not agree with my approach or they may take exception with my conclusion, but they are willing to engage in a civil conversation.

    I do have an issue with those who debate for debating's sake, or with a prior agenda to prove me wrong.

    And frankly in my mission there were plenty of missionaries who still did this (though we were counseled not to): they'd memorize all the right scriptures to attack someone's point of view, rather than listening, acknowledging, understanding and then responding.

    I find myself weighing carefully before casting my pearls, so to speak. I'm not interested in boring someone with my fervent testimony who does not want to hear it, but I don't want to miss the opportunity to share with someone who may be looking. Sorting out which is which is the challenge, and I fear I err on the side of caution too many times.

    Maybe that will come up in another post...

  7. I think that's a great subject for a post. At what point are you helping someone who needs help, and at what point are you "feeding the trolls", i.e. feeding into someone's negative agenda? It can be really discouraging when you're having a discussion with someone, and you think it's going well...only to realize that, really--and this is putting it harshly but, I think, in some situations it's accurate--someone is using you. They have an agenda of their own, and everything you say is being funneled through the "fodder for my 'the church isn't true'" argument.

  8. I started drafting it this week. We'll see how long it takes to season...


  9. After reading the mourning post (my 1st encounter with a great LDS blog) I thought January might be interesting, so my 2nd was "Dealing ..." --terrific! Thanks again.