Why I Boycotted a Conference at Brigham Young University

Sometimes you find yourself in the spotlight when you least expect it. This happened to me this week when I decided that out of conscience I could not attend a conference dedicated in part to religious freedom on a campus that denied it to its own Mormon students.

Shortly before I was planning to go the conference this weekend I received an email from a group of present and former Mormon students who called themselves “Free BYU.” Because of a Brigham Young University policy, Mormon students who lose their faith, convert to another religion, or leave the church are automatically expelled from the University; and they lose their housing, scholarship, and campus jobs at the same time. This seemed so counter to the spirit of academic freedom—and to the very issues of religious liberty that the conference was promoting—that in conscience I felt that I had to take a stand.

I had looked forward to the conference. The issue was important, the international roster of scholars participating was impressive, and my old friend and colleague, David Little, was to receive an award for his work on issues of religious tolerance around the world. He certainly deserved it. My schedule was tight but I could go for at least a day.

But then I received the Free BYU email and I knew I could not attend. All my adult life I have been a part of academic communities that have prized freedom of inquiry, intellectual openness and the life of the mind. I have been so grateful that in our society we have this one institution—the university—that preserves a domain for intellectual exchange and the marketplace of ideas. This is especially so in our current media climate that is so dominated by opinion masquerading as fact. More than ever, we need the intellectual freedom of the university.

But doesn’t a religious institution have the right to set its own rules, I was asked in one email that I received in response to my decision. I received dozens of emails from present and former Mormon students at BYU supporting my position, some of them telling heartbreaking stories about how their careers were ruined by being expelled for their beliefs just months before graduation. But I also received this one email defending the university’s position on expelling Mormon students who lose their faith.

Of course a church or a temple can limit membership and set its own standards of belief—within its own walls. But we bristle when those standards are imposed outside. I noted that BYU accepts non-Mormon students on campus and does not dissuade them from converting to the Mormon faith. But if a Mormon student rebels, he or she is axed. This is not just unfair, it seems to me, but contrary to the spirit of what a university is.

A university that calls itself a university is a public institution. It is not a Sunday school. Regardless of who sponsors it, the university is a public trust. It provides necessary skills to accredit individuals for jobs in the public arena, and just as important, it provides that social space that I referred to above—the arena for the free expression of ideas—that is important for an educated society and for an individual’s own intellectual growth.

But what about honor codes that many universities impose? These are usually attempts to regulate behavior—not thought. They attempt to prohibit, for example, alcohol and pot in student dorms. Prohibitions against thinking, against ideas that are counter to administrators’ beliefs, however, should have no place in a university.

Although I am not an expert in issues of religious freedom in American higher education, I do not know of many attempts to prohibit the free expression of thought. It would be as if a university expelled a student for accepting the scientific account of evolution, or if another university expelled a student for voting Democrat. Perhaps such cases exist, but I would be opposed to them as well.

And if a religious organization sponsors a university shouldn’t it be allowed to set the rules? Well, yes and no. When it comes to freedom of thought, I’d say no. If some rich donors come to our campus (as indeed they have) and want to create a position to promote their own ideas, we might thank them for their money but politely explain to them that the university is dedicated to the life of the mind and the free expression of views and they can’t control what our faculty and students think. Neither should the church or any other entity that wants to sponsor a university.

I’m one of those rare academics who is a practicing Christian. I love the church, but I also love the academic community and its standards of honest inquiry into the truth. I believe that the two, church and campus, should be free from each other’s meddling—for the sake of both.

  • Jim Reed

    That is a great approach, but might not be practical in this case. The Mormon church has a lot of beliefs that need control in their population. We used to have conversations with Mormons and about their beliefs here on RD. I don’t think they could allow that kind of questioning in environments that they control.

    You can say at the university level we need academic freedom, and I would agree, as would others. But I don’t think it is that easy in Utah. If you have freedom to think at the university level, then it will spread to the high school level. It will spread to the Sunday School level, and to church and the community. You don’t have anywhere that you can draw a line. The Mormon religion can’t allow people to question. The only way the religion can work is they have some control, and that has to extend to the university. It needs to include some mechanism to administer control, like excommunication, or kicking out questioning and unrepentant students. The Mormon faith can’t include eeryone, and it can’t rely on everyone to self deport. Even if they say their policy is to allow free thinking, they still have to get rid of thinking that would damage the religion, and that means those who question and ask the questions that can’t be answered. We know from here on RD the Mormon religion can’t work in an open environment and it needs some control over its people. It needs to separate itself from people who would be trouble

  • https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.FlyingKiwi.Kiwi MediumHarris

    Thank you for publishing this. BYU students need people like you to stand up for them. Mormons who doubt are just finding their voice and need reassurance that they are not crazy for disagreeing with the church. There are now several Facebook groups and other public forums where they can find people with similar views and get the social support they need. I only wish this kind of support existed just a few years ago when I was still at BYU.

  • Stephen R. Marsh

    The degree connotes an endorsement as either a member or an ally.

    While I support a change in the policy (let the person pay the cost of the subsidy back) I understand the thought that if you reject the status then the university has the right to replace you with someone who embraces the alliance.

    Otherwise you are taking the position that they are not free to create an aligned space.

  • Stephen R. Marsh

    Which is normative that no group has a right to create aligned spaces. But the essence of religious freedom laws is that they are.

    I appreciate your position that no group can create an aligned university.

    I don’t know how you would apply that to the edge case of theological seminary graduate schools.

    But the purpose of BYU in a religion that lacks a trained and paid clergy is to provide an aligned space for a similar purpose.

    Religious freedom laws exist to allow such things. I understand that you feel that such spaces should be destroyed.

    Personally I think change can occur without destroying the space. So I think we have a fundamental disagreement that is masked by the fact we both feel the policy should change.

  • DKeane123

    Awesome stand.

  • DKeane123

    If the school was just for Mormons (no outside faiths allowed), then I can see a clearer path for your position.

  • Stephen R. Marsh

    Though they welcome aligned groups, a number of whom have their own student organizations.

    I get that you feel they should exclude the concept of allies and aligned groups.

    But that is why I referred to it as an aligned space.

    That said, it seems better to allow those who cease to be aligned to just return the subsidy and be allowed their degree if close to graduating.

  • Jim Reed

    They are a religion, and they can do what they want. All we as outsiders can do is try to help people see why there are many reasons to avoid that religion and its institutions.

  • tomjohnson

    Why anyone attends a private, religious college is completely beyond me. Doesn’t going were dogma is “god” sort of diminish the educational process?

  • Jim Reed

    You have to believe they are the true church, and all the others are false. That would be the only reason. Sometimes this is a phase that young people have to go through.

  • JeffSAnderson

    As someone with 2 degrees from BYU, I find your stance admirable and important.

    I don’t think there is any legal recourse for opponents of BYU’s policy. They have the right to create a private institution that excludes individuals who are not aligned in their attitudes and beliefs. To BYU this is critical, because for the church the ultimate value of the university is primarily as a “safe space” where young professionals can receive training to be leaders in their communities and church without the challenge to their faith they might receive elsewhere. Allowing hostile opinion to church beliefs would seriously undermine the value of BYU for the church.

    But BYU desperately seeks respect as an institution of higher learning. They have devoted great resources and made real strides toward this end. Many professional, scientific, and even humanities programs at BYU include recognized scholars and rigorous training programs. As a neuroscientist at neighboring University of Utah, I know and deeply respect many of the BYU faculty as colleagues and peers. BYU seeks to be a “University Plus” that offers comparable training in most fields to other universities but with the additional religious training and shield from hostile discourse over religious foundations.

    Your actions show well that while BYU may indefinitely control the religious climate in their university, they cannot demand respect in the academy as a full peer among institutions that recognize an educational mission of encouraging students to seek truth, whatever the cost and wherever it leads. In this BYU must choose if it has nothing to hide or everything to lose. As long as students are threatened with such consequences for dissent, BYU will have frequent reminders that it is not yet a haven of academic freedom.

  • Sanpete

    This piece gives a one-sided and partly inaccurate view (one that will find a welcome home in this one-sided venue dedicated to liberal and secular visions of religious issues–I wonder how long an author who converted to a thoroughly conservative religious view would last here).

    Students who lose their faith aren’t automatically expelled from BYU; they’re not expelled at all unless they do something against the honor code. Not believing isn’t against the honor code, not even for an member of the LDS Church. If you get expelled from the Church, then you have to leave BYU. But the Church doesn’t expel members for losing faith.

    Nor is there is a prohibition on having ideas. I came to BYU as a nonbelieving member of the Church, and stayed there in good standing with the honor code until I graduated as a disbeliever, an atheist. I remain an inactive, atheist member of the Church. My ecclesiastical leaders were fully aware of my lack of faith the whole time. I discussed my views freely with them and others, but I didn’t try to convert others to my way of thinking. That’s where the line is. I knew that and respected it.

    There is a prohibition against teaching ideas harmful to the mission of the school. That is indeed a restriction on academic freedom. It’s also necessary to maintain the environment of faith BYU seeks to foster. That’s the price of a school dedicated to a particular vision, sacred or secular. There is plenty of room in our pluralistic culture for institutions of learning dedicated to and protective of a vision.

    Some of the author’s argument seems to hinge on a particular view of what should be allowed to be called a university. That’s a semantic issue, not a substantive one. It would need to be shown why no school that would normally be considered a university in other respects should do what’s needed to foster a certain view. Those who come to such a place do so voluntarily, and they can leave voluntarily if they’re no longer comfortable.

    A lot hinges on whether a university is conceived of primarily as a place of learning or as a place of freedom. While there is some connection, they are distinct goals. There’s no question that BYU is a place of learning.

  • Sanpete

    “they cannot demand respect in the academy as a full peer among institutions that recognize an educational mission of encouraging students to seek truth, whatever the cost and wherever it leads”

    On reflection you may agree BYU does teach students to seek truth, whatever the cost and wherever it leads. They believe that some of the most important truths can only be successfully achieved through faith, in opposition to the secular model that rejects faith as at most a potential impediment. It’s consistent with BYU’s foundational beliefs to do what’s needed to foster faith as a precondition to true learning. With that foundation, they believe freedom of thought will lead to truth. But if the foundation of faith is eroded, they feel the most important truths may be missed.

    BYU does seek respect as a place of higher learning. I don’t think it can be established without some controversial assumptions that they’re going about it the wrong way.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    You seriously don’t understand why someone would go to Georgetown or Notre Dame?

    These are some of the best universities in the country.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    You have no idea what you are talking about. I know plenty of Jewish people who graduated from Notre Dame, a Catholic school, and got fantastic educations. Ditto for Georgetown. Ditto for Fordham University.

    Do you even think at all, before you say this stuff? I mean, really?

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    There’s no question that BYU is a place of learning

    ——————————————————-

    Like what? Fraudulent archaeology of the Americas?

    Seriously, reading your remarks here, it is quite clear that you are confused about what a university is for. If critical thought — even directed towards the institution itself — is forbidden, then its mission, as a university is seriously compromised.

    Universities are places of scholarship and learning, where the pursuit of the truth is overriding of all other considerations. Truth can only be pursued in a critical environment. It cannot be pursued in a dogmatic one.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    They believe that some of the most important truths can only be successfully achieved through faith, in opposition to the secular model that rejects faith as at most a potential impediment.

    ———————————————–
    This is nothing but empty rhetoric. So long as *any* questions are off the table, as an a priori matter, truth cannot be effectively pursued, regardless of what folks at BYU “believe.” We’ve known this since at least the Scientific Revolution.

  • Sanpete

    I’m not very interested in quibbling over words. You have a common notion of what constitutes a “university,” but it goes well beyond the dictionary definition and reflects your personal values, not some objective fact about the word, as you seem to imagine.

    It’s also a controversial view that truth cannot be pursued in a dogmatic setting. On its face, that’s plainly false, and history is full of examples of important truth discovered in such settings. You may mean something else, for example that the search for truth is inhibited by dogmatism about the area of inquiry. That may be, but it too remains controversial, and not only at BYU and other religious schools. It’s probable that dogmatism inhibits some discoveries while making others more likely.

    Even if some version of what you’re trying to say is true, the areas in which BYU insists on certain starting points are so limited as to not interfere in any substantial way with the vast majority of inquiries. Even assuming dogmatism as a barrier at BYU, it’s of no more importance in practice than many other impediments to learning, such as less formal forms of groupthink (very common at universities), poor scholarship, lack of motivation or skill to discover truth, and so on. BYU excels many other schools in some of these areas and should judged as a place of learning as a whole.

  • Sanpete

    What “we” have “known” since the scientific revolution isn’t as universally agreed on or beyond questioning as you appear to assume. It’s questioned not only at BYU but in the philosophy of science and philosophy of knowledge more generally. You appear to have your own challenges in regard to dogmatism.

  • Jim Reed

    We were talking about BYU. People go there because they believe it is the true church, and the others are false. I also know sometimes it is a phase that young people have to go through because I went through a phase of going to a college like that for that kind of reason.

  • cranefly

    This whole comment could not be more disingenuous. The bottom line is that if you stopped attending your LDS ward (which many people do for reasons of conscience) and went to a different church instead, you would be in violation of the honor code and expelled. If you joined a different religion, freedom of conscience would protect your right to speak with others authentically in favor of your views. BYU does not have freedom of conscience. You can argue that freedom of conscience isn’t important, but that is not a “semantic” argument. It makes perfect sense for someone who finds this honor code ethically objectionable to boycott BYU.

  • Jim Reed

    We have nothing against BYU. There are plenty of people who have left BYU and left the Mormon church who can question the religion and university. All we can do is discuss Mormonism with people who post here. A while back there were lots of Mormon articles, and they tended to draw lots of Mormon responses, and those tended to draw lots of questioning comments. Then everyone had the data to draw their own conclusions.

  • Jim Reed

    An author who with a thoroughly conservative religious view might not last here too long. They are not preaching to the choir here, and thoroughly conservative viewpoints don’t do well when they are questioned.

  • Sanpete

    Can’t tell what you find disingenuous in what I actually said. You may have misread some of it.

    You certainly won’t be expelled from BYU or the LDS Church for merely attending another church, that’s just false. If you join another church, yes, that’s grounds for expulsion. But nothing I said conflicts with that.

    I didn’t say anything about freedom of conscience, if by that you intend something more than freedom to think what you will. If it includes the freedom to act accordingly, I agree that there are limits on freedom of conscience at BYU. There are also limits on that kind of freedom of conscience at most, probably all, other universities.

    I agree that if one objects strongly enough to BYU’s honor code, or anything else about BYU, it makes sense to boycott it. I would hope the reasons for such a thing would be based on an accurate and fair understanding.

  • Sanpete

    Putting aside the hyperpartisan presumption underlying your remark, the point (which I think was clear) is that this venue insists its writers promote a progressive view.

  • Jim Reed

    I think what they insist on from the writers is far more complicated than that, and I also think it varies over time. Going back in the distant past, I think there was a time when they wanted an evenhanded discussion between evolution and creationism, and when things slanted way in favor of evolution, something happened to the science writer who was arguing heavily on the evolution side. That is just an old issue that has long been resolved, and we don’t hear much against evolution any more because the world has resolved that issue. Other issues come and go, and sometimes writers leave, and sometimes writers who left and said they would never come back do come back. I think the website at some level would like to favor Christianity, and sometimes they pressure the liberal writers to tone it down or change things, and sometimes that doesn’t work well. One of the great things about this website is after the first couple years, they no longer try to manipulate the comments to make them more pro Christianity. I think they know they can only influence the article writers. Of course I don’t know for sure because they don’t discuss things like that.

  • Sanpete

    It may be complicated, but I don’t see any indication in what you say that RD has any conservative writers, or would long tolerate any. It used to be fairly directly stated in its mission statement that it’s a site dedicated to progressive views of religion and allied matters. Now that’s gone, but the practice doesn’t appear to have changed. The mission statement still tips its hand when it claims the media of the last century was dominated by “an ultra-conservative fringe.” That’s a laughable notion on its face, one that could only pass as stated at a pretty insular progressive site.

  • Jim Reed

    They don’t have conservative writers, and conservative writers tend to get wiped out when people respond to them. Mormons used to post here, but they learned Mormonism doesn’t present well in an open discussion. I think the website now tends to let things drift any way tings want to go, and conservatives always look bad. Look at the Republican party. The entire world except for Republicans can see they are a joke. Christianity is not doing well either. The only way to change that is to have more of a closed board where other points of view are removed. RD seems to be an exercise in letting discussions go where they want to go, and see what happens.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    That is not what you said or what you were replying to.

    Tomjohnson said: “Why anyone attends a private, religious college is completely beyond me.”

    and then you answered: “You have to believe they are the true church, and all the others are false. That would be the only reason.”

    Tomjohnson clearly was *not* just talking about BYU and in responding to him, neither were you.

    Again, some of the best universities in the country are Catholic universities — and plenty of people besides Catholics go to them.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    I actually teach philosophy of science and epistemology for a living. Do you?

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    If you join another church, yes, that’s grounds for expulsion.

    —————————————————–
    Does this not bother you at all? Does it not suggest that there is something rather cult-like about LDS?

    A Catholic student at Notre Dame who converts will not be thrown out of the school.

    A Jewish student at Brandeis who converts will not be thrown out of the school.

    A Presbytarian student at Princeton Theological Seminary who converts will not be thrown out of school.

    So what exactly is the problem with BYU?

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Do you object to all the overtly conservative/right wing media organs that are out there?

  • cranefly

    Joining another church is what we’re talking about, and it is a matter of conscience. Don’t pretend you don’t know exactly what I meant.

    You claim to be indignant because the author stated the fact directly: If you join another church, you will be expelled from BYU. You prefer that this lie buried in pointless diversions about some “honor code” and how technically you can think your thoughts without anyone reading them, and as long as you keep acting deferential to LDS authorities you might not be expelled. That is disingenuous.

  • Sanpete

    Yes, emphatically, to the extent they tend to cause polarization. But my point here was to note some slight irony in complaining here of BYU’s restrictions on points of view.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Well, I appreciate that. Thanks.

  • Sanpete

    I think it would be better if you said what you meant instead of blaming others for not reading your mind correctly.

    I didn’t take issue with what the author said about joining another church. Again, yes, I agree, that’s grounds for expulsion.

    I didn’t say what you attribute to me. What I did say is that I openly discussed my unbelieving views with my ecclesiastical leaders and others at BYU. That’s just a fact. Why you think what I said is disingenuous I still can’t divine.

  • Daniel Ortner

    Having attended Brandeis as an undergraduate and BYU Law as a law student, I can say that at BYU I actually felt far more free to express my.views on moral, social and political issues. Coming to a place where students have a common belief allows for a flourishing of incredible conversation. In law school classes, we have had some of the most nuanced and open discussions of questions regard race. gender, sexual orientation, morality, and a wide range of topics.

    The problem is that the conduct/belief dichotomy the author relies on breaks down in practice. For members of the Church, we have made sacred covenants with God, and when we break the commandments and especially if we leave the church we have committed a serious transgression. The choice for someone to abandon their LDS faith isn’t simply a matter of belief, but it is an act that is seen as a rebellion against God. For that reason, because members have made certain promises to God the choice to leave is a serious action that is in a way more serious than breaking the word of wisdom or.the law of chastity.

    Questioning and searching is allowed and encouraged. But the choice to leave is one that is seen as a sin and therefore an action that is punishable by kicked someone out of BYU.

  • Sanpete

    No, it doesn’t bother me, for the same reasons I explained above. The purpose of the school is to foster faith, as well as some behavioral standards consistent with that. I don’t know what you understand to be cult-like, but merely insisting that members not join some incompatible group doesn’t seem overly cult-like. (You can find much that is cult-like in the early history of Mormonism, but less and less since then.)

    I don’t know enough about Notre Dame, but I suspect that those excommunicated from the Catholic Church are subject to expulsion. Whether joining another church is in general grounds for excommunication I don’t know. It may depend on which church it is. Probably, becoming a non-Christian would constitute heresy, which is grounds for excommunication.

    As for Brandeis, Jewishness is mainly a cultural thing there. I don’t think they’d care. Princeton isn’t sectarian in any meaningful way.

  • cranefly

    There’s nothing inaccurate in the article, but you called it “inaccurate,” saying:

    “Students who lose their faith aren’t automatically expelled from BYU”

    as if that was the issue, when we all know that it isn’t, and:

    “they’re not expelled at all unless they do something against the honor code”

    as if the honor code didn’t prohibit students from leaving the LDS Church. Then you said:

    “Not believing isn’t against the honor code, not even for an member of the LDS Church.”

    The only reason to say such thing is to intentionally mislead. Because “not believing” is one thing, and believing something else is another entirely. You have left out half the issue in order to make a technically true but misleading statement. Believing something else compels one to leave the LDS Church as an imperative of conscience, but one can’t leave the LDS Church without being expelled.

    “Nor is there is a prohibition on having ideas.”

    Again, technically true (because no one can read minds) but misleading, because there IS a prohibition on authentic expression of ideas, which is the whole point.

    These are the kind of statements I referred to as pointless diversions. I hope this helps you understand me, and I hope in future you avoid confounding the issue in such a way; it is completely disingenuous.

  • Django

    Since 1993 the school has maintained a policy which precludes the admission and retention of former Mormons. Unfortunately for a Mormon it is against the honor code to express a different faith or to not actively participate in the Mormon tradition. They are required to remain Mormon and prohibited from affiliating with another faith tradition. Additionally ecclesiastical leaders are not only able to arbitrarily deny an endorsement to a student, resulting in their expulsion, but they are encouraged to not endorse Mormon students who they think disagree with Church positions. Even if those students are in good standing with the Church and adhere to all of the tenets of the schools honor code. And often, yes, even if those students don’t rock the boat and express their concerns to others. If you attended the school while these policies where in place, you were lucky. You had ecclesiastical leadership willing to still endorse you despite your disbelief. You did not seek to affiliate with another faith. Many others are not so fortunate. Like you, these students and faculty want to be affiliated with the school. They do not leave voluntarily, they are thrown out because the institution finds them uncomfortable.

    BYU thrived without this policy and would continue to do so if they reverted to the pre 1993 policy which allowed students to disaffiliate from the Church and be treated the same as any other Non-LDS student.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    We have very different fundamental values, indeed. We probably won’t get very far discourse-wise.

  • cranefly

    I would be astounded if you could find a lay Notre Dame student who was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. If you did, I pretty much guarantee they wouldn’t be expelled for something that didn’t involve crime.

    The Catholic Church does not even keep membership records the way the LDS Church does. It doesn’t bother to excommunicate the laity who voluntarily leave.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    That’s one of the reasons why LDS is so cult-like — indeed, in many ways, it is almost like a 19th century Scientology.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    I was actually going to call him on the Notre Dame thing too, but it struck me as so preposterous on its face as to not require a response.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    “Princeton isn’t sectarian in any meaningful way.”
    ———————————————————————-

    I said Princeton Theological Seminary (where Bart Ehrman was a student), and you are wrong.

    From Wikipedia:

    Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) is a seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, and the largest of ten seminaries associated with the Presbyterian Church (USA).

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Having attended Brandeis as an undergraduate and BYU Law as a law student, I can say that at BYU I actually felt far more free to express my.views on moral, social and political issues

    —————————————————-
    The committed Mormon feels more comfortable at BYU than Brandeis.

    Shocking.

  • Sanpete

    I suggest you take more care in accusing others of being disingenuous or attempting to intentionally deceive. Carelessly accusing others of forms of dishonesty has its own issues in regard to honesty.

    The author plainly said that BYU automatically expels students who lose their faith. Again, that’s simply false. He himself distinguished losing faith from leaving the Church. You appear to think the two necessarily go together, but that too is simply false, as I’ve illustrated already. It isn’t misleading, intentionally or otherwise, to treat them as different and separable. Again, I openly discussed my heretical, apostate views with both Church leaders and others at BYU with no repercussions. Your claims about BYU don’t match my own experience or what I know from other sources.

  • cranefly

    I hate to downplay Catholic excommunication too much, because they use it to show their misogynistic colors, but I always think it’s amazing how Mormons seem to think every church is as controlling as theirs.

  • Sanpete

    I think it’s more a political thing than a religious one. I suspect he found the atmosphere at Brandeis stifling in its political correctness. At BYU I had professors who ranged from Marxist to the far right, and no trouble with the entire range of thought being taken seriously.

  • cranefly

    You may have won leadership roulette. Your experience does not reflect the spirit of the policy, or the experience of every BYU student whose loss of faith compels them to act differently. Even if I had never heard of anyone being subjected to LDS church discipline for unbelief and/or heterodoxy (I have heard of countless), I would consider it pedantic to take “loss of faith” so narrowly as to assume that it should be differentiated from authentic expression of that loss, especially when the sentence you reference includes such expression in its very next words.

    But at this point the argument is surly pointless. Have a nice day. Thanks for the discussion.

  • Django

    Even at BYU about two percent of the student body is not LDS. Clearly these do not attend because they believe the LDS Church is the true church. There are plenty of reasons to attend that would allow someone to fundamentally disagree with the truth claims of the sponsoring institution.

    The more important question is: How can a law school seek to champion religious freedom when it clearly engages in religious discrimination?

    Dr Juergensmeyer was invited to speak at a conference on religious freedom at a University that clearly does not believe that their students and faculty should be allowed to exercise that freedom. He declined to attend.

  • Sanpete

    As far as I know the policy about not admitting or retaining former LDS goes back a lot further than 1993. Joining another church has always been grounds for excommunication, and thus incompatible with BYU’s requirements or LDS students.

    It is a violation of the honor code to insist on expressing views directly contrary to basic Church beliefs if you’re told not to, though that only rarely leads to expulsions. An LDS student may be expelled for not going to church too, as you say, as that’s something she commits to do when she enters BYU, but I don’t know how common it is for it to lead to expulsion by itself. A lot does depend on your bishop’s view of whether you’ll contribute to or detract from BYU. Most bishops are supportive of members who live the behavioral rules and have issues with the beliefs.

    The standards for teachers are more strict as to teaching ideas contrary to the Church’s, at least with regard to basic things.

  • Sanpete

    I appreciate the change of tone, but it isn’t pedantic or any other kind of fault to treat loss of faith as different from leaving the Church, as the author does by listing them with a disjunction. They’re plainly different in principle and practice. I disagree that my experience doesn’t fit the spirit of the policy. I wasn’t trying to damage the Church, and was participating in it in a constructive way, so there was good reason to keep me, for the good of all involved including me.

  • Django

    The honor code distinguishes between disaffiliation, excommunication, and disfelowshipment. Prior to 1993 you could resign your membership and still attend BYU as a Non-Member. Once you ask the church to remove your name from their rolls they cannot excommunicate you. Adding disaffiliation to the policy created a complete ban on attendance by former Mormons, regardless of how they left. Their statements at that time made it very clear that this was the school’s intent.

    As to teachers these policies do not apply to what they teach. They are fired for what they profess to believe. And especially if they choose to act on what they believe.

    Legal right aside, it is a little hypocritical for an institution to advocate for a human right that they don’t even afford their own students and faculty. This is a relatively new policy in the history of the school and personally I think one that they would be better off without.

  • Sanpete

    Could be. As I said, I don’t know enough to say how common it is.

  • Sanpete

    That’s such a bizarre remark I wouldn’t know where to start with it rebuttal.

  • Sanpete

    I certainly didn’t imply that.

  • Sanpete

    “Prior to 1993 you could resign your membership and still attend BYU as a Non-Member. ”

    Never heard of such a thing, and I don’t see how it would have been possible. For one thing, before 1993 a member couldn’t just resign. There would be a church court and an excommunication, and any excommunication would lead to expulsion. I don’t see any change in the intent or application of the policy about ex-LDS.

    I’ve never heard of a BYU teacher being fired for beliefs without publicly expressing, whether in class or some publication or forum accessible to students, some basic heterodox belief.

    I can’t follow your remark about hypocrisy. BYU doesn’t teach anything incompatible with its practice in this matter.

  • Sanpete

    No. You should be able to see then that what I said is correct. But if you disagree, please explain how.

  • Sanpete

    Now I see what you were talking about before in regard to BYU’s supposed hypocrisy. BYU champions religious freedom of the kind that exists in the context of US law, that is, religious freedom from state interference. More broadly it supports freedom of conscience, in the sense of not being compelled by law or other force to adhere to any belief. Those are entirely different ideas than whether voluntary associations such as the Church is should be able to have whatever standards they please for their own members. No one should make that confusion.

  • Sanpete

    Ha, yeah, sorry about that.

  • Sanpete

    Fundamental values? I doubt they’re very different. Most people share the same basic values, though they may weigh them somewhat differently.

  • Django

    At question is BYU’s use of policy to compel association with a religious organization. The school is not a church. One does not need to be accepted by or accept the LDS Church to associate with the school. There are students and faculty who are Muslim, Catholic, even atheist. The question is really whether the LDS Church can continue to control the religious expression of on individual after they disaffiliate from their organization or if an individual can express their own religion. A former Mormon Catholic is just a Catholic. A former Mormon Muslim is just a Muslim. A former Mormon is just a Non-Mormon. And last I checked religious discrimination by an institution that advocates for it in other quarters is still discrimination.

  • Sanpete

    BYU. like the Church, is an entirely voluntary association. No one, LDS or not, is compelled to associate with BYU. Everyone who does voluntarily accepts its rules. That’s simply not the same as lack of religious freedom or conscience, as explained before. You’re confounding fundamentally different ideas. It’s no more discrimination in a relevant sense than Democrats insisting that party members not be Republicans is discrimination.

  • Jim Reed

    We can’t go back to a world prior to 1993 because the political divide is now so deep. The divide grows, and the Mormon church is stuck on the conservative end. They have far more to fear now from other beliefs than they did in those earlier years. They need more rules, and as the church shrinks that need will continue to grow.

  • Jim Reed

    If they vote for Republicans.

  • Jim Reed

    Conservatives are welcomed here, and they are questioned. There are hundreds of issues where they have a hard time in an open discussion, so things never go well for them.

  • Jim Reed

    I think he is making good progress discourse-wise. This discussion is about how rules at BYU are like rules at other places. The discussion is not about Mormon books or beliefs. It might be Romney is getting ready to run again, and being smart people they learned from the discussions last time, so this time they are setting the stage with a more toned down approach here.

  • Jim Reed

    The discussion was about BYU

  • Jim Reed

    You could start with the golden tablets, and from there perhaps discuss the angel Moroni, or American Israelis, or ancient Egyptian written languages known only to Joseph Smith. That could probably branch into dozens of other topics. Just make sure to avoid any currently politically sensitive areas like blacks or women or gays.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Lol. I quoted back to you word-for-word what both you and he said.

    Never mind.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Do their students receive Federal Student Aid?

    If so, you got a problem.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    With respect to the point I made — that dogmatically refusing to allow certain questions on the table hinders inquiry — there is no disagreement among serious academic philosophers, working in epistemology or philosophy of science. I’m sure you can find someone like William Lane Craig to say such things, but then again, he’s not a serious academic philosopher.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    The shunning of apostates. The invasive and deliberate attempts to set families against one another. The weird science fiction. The extraordinary efforts at control, while one is in the institution.

    I have a number of good friends who are ex-Mormons and tell such stories, often much worse than this. I have also dipped into some of the extensive ex-Mormon material that is out there and available.

    Quite a bit like Scientology in fact.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    I forgot to add the fake languages (there is no such thing as “reformed Egyptian,” at least not according to credible Egyptologists) and fraudulent archaeology.

  • Sanpete

    You might as well consider the Catholic Church as a primitive Jewish cult that went rogue. Plenty of bizarre beliefs there too. A lot has happened to Catholicism and Mormonism since their foundings.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Yeah, if you don’t see the difference between what people in 500 BC might plausibly think and people in 19th century AD, industrial America, then I don’t know what to tell you. We just see things differently.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    I notice that you ignored the point regarding the fake language and the fraudulent archaeology.

    Unlike Reformed Egyptian, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek are real languages. And unlike Mormon archaeology, the archaeology being done in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, etc., is real archaeology.

  • Sanpete

    It should have occurred to you that ex-Mormons are a lot like ex-spouses, not always reliable in their perceptions of their exes. Do you know any believing LDS? I live in Utah and have had a close association with Mormonism most of my life. There’s very little shunning anymore, and no attempts to set families against each other. One is likely to get more of that over politics these days than over religion. I don’t know what control measures you have in mind. They certainly do their best to get people to practice the beliefs.

  • Sanpete

    No, I covered that with bizarre beliefs. FYI, LDS are very much involved in real archaeology. You appear to be relying on a skewed view of the kind one might expect to find here.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Yeah, that’s not going to fly. There is a substantial, real difference between the sorts of things I’ve heard (both personally and in doing research on the subject), between what commonly happens to people who leave Judaism, or Catholicism, or other mainstream religions, and what happens to people who leave religions like LDS.

    So, sorry, not buying.

  • Sanpete

    Hard to follow why you bring up 500 BC in connection with either Catholicism or Mormonism. But in any case, people still believe those things now in both cases. Some are at the heart of the religion.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    They have engaged in fraudulent archaeology (and anthropology) concerning the Americas, something that is disavowed by credible academic archaeologists, something you could find out, just walking down the hall of my building to the anthropology department.

    And no, you didn’t cover it. Judaism and Christianity are not based on texts written in fraudulent languages. LDS is. There is no credible Egyptologist who will agree that the “Reformed Egyptian” of the Book of Mormon is a real language.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Okay, we’ll just have to disagree. You think LDS is a perfectly normal, ordinary religion, just like Judaism and Christianity, whereas I think it is much more like a cult, such as Scientology. I’m sure the world will survive our inability to get over this impasse between us.

    I think it’s enough, no?

  • Sanpete

    It’s odd that you seem to think it matters what form the bizarre beliefs take. Why does it matter so to you that Mormons believe in unattested languages and archaeology, while Catholics believe the mother of Jesus comes and visits people? What the credible evidence for that?

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    I don’t know how to explain myself any better. I am more than happy to allow our statements to stand and let others decide which makes sense to them.

  • Sanpete

    This isn’t a subjective matter, and it’s been well studied by experts. But of course you’re free to believe what you will.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Lol. You just won’t quit, will you?

    Whether something is a cult or a mainstream religion is obviously a subjective matter. That doesn’t mean that social scientists can’t study these phenomena, but it’s not as if these make up natural kinds. These are conventional categorizations and are as much valuations as neutral descriptions.

    Let’s just drop it, OK? We don’t agree on this. And no amount of footstamping on your part is going to turn it into some matter of objective, scientific dispute.

  • Sanpete

    Yes, there are differences. It’s a long way from that to where you’ve arrived.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Okay, we’ll have to disagree on this as well. Different experiences, etc.

  • Sanpete

    You seem to have an unreflective view of your beliefs about this. You dismiss contrary argument and evidence, happy to rely on skewed sources. You retreat to subjectivism when there are clearly objective matters at issue (such as how much two groups have in common). You view me as foot stamping, but my rhetoric is probably less florid than yours.

    You’re probably right that this will go nowhere, though. This isn’t a place where people who wish to challenge their own beliefs congregate. It attracts those who share the goals of the site, to expand and promote a type of view already arrived at. I don’t come here hoping to change the views of regulars.

    However, others also pass through here occasionally, and may actually learn something.

  • Sanpete

    That’s better put than what you said above. I’ve already responded to that in effect in other posts, so I won’t repeat that here. I’ll just add that I’ve oversimplified the way faith is treated at BYU, just to keep things simple. There is a wide range of approaches to it, some of which fit modern views better than others.

  • Sanpete

    Yes they do. What problem do you have in mind?

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    If you think that degrees of similarity are an objective matter, then I can’t help you. Whether or not two things are suitably similar for the sake of comparison is a matter of judgment and may vary from person to person.

    As for your thoughts about RD and the people who frequent it, that is also your opinion, and you are certainly entitled to it.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Receiving federal funding generally means that one cannot discriminate. I know that some religious institutions have received exemptions from Title IX, but this strikes me as highly regrettable.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Being written in a fraudulent language is reason to think the text itself is fraudulent.

    We have good reason to think that Deuteronomy is a real text from antiquity. We have no good reason to think that the Book of Mormon is a real text from antiquity. Indeed, we have good reason to think it is not — i.e. the fraudulent language it’s written in.

  • Sanpete

    BYU is bound by Title IX, but it doesn’t relate to how former members or those of other religious views are treated, though.

  • Sanpete

    More subjectivism. There are certainly objective matters at stake in deciding how much two groups have in common. You retreated immediately from even considering them. Same with what I said about RD and its denizens. These aren’t purely subjective things. If you have reasons to disagree, you should express them.

  • Sanpete

    Yes, but why does that matter? We have reasons to reject many of the things presented as facts in those texts, old as they may be. To get at the heart of it, we have good reason to think Jesus didn’t come back from the dead, and that Catholics aren’t eating his transubstantiated flesh too. Why does it matter to you whether it’s fraudulent language or fraudulent visitations, etc?

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Read your Wittgenstein. Questions of relevant similarity are entirely matters of judgment.

    Your footstamping that your subjective feelings are really objective facts is just that…footstamping.

    Which means that doing it again won’t change anything.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Because it is a significant reason for thinking the text itself is a fraud. That’s why.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    I was using Title IX as an example.

    Never mind.

  • Sanpete

    Wittgenstein wasn’t silly enough to disagree with what I actually said (nor would it matter to me if he were). Objective matters do bear on this. You made your claims as though they had objective weight, and then you started retreating to subjectivism in the face of contrary evidence. Reasons matter.

  • Sanpete

    Again, how does that differ from the significant reasons we have to think these other things are also fraudulent? Is one more false than the other?

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    If you are happy to accept the claim that the Book of Mormon is likely a fraud — i.e. is not really an ancient text — because it is written in a fraudulent language, then that is more than enough for me.

    Not only do we not have reason to think that Deuteronomy is fraudulent, we have things like the Dead Sea Scrolls that attest to their antiquity.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    I made the claims that I made. Some involved an appeal to matters of fact — i.e. whether Reformed Egyptian is a real language. Some involved an appeal to matters of judgment — i.e. whether something is reasonably deemed a cult. Regardless, you have provided no serious reply.

    Best wishes to you in all your endeavors.

  • Sanpete

    Again, what is the significance you attach to this in the context of differences between Mormonism and Catholicism? I can’t see any relevance. As I keep pointing out, we have strong reasons to reject the truth of the basic religious claims of both. Both operate based on faith.

  • Sanpete

    Nonsense. At every point where I offer contrary evidence and reasons you retreat. If you don’t consider evidence and reasons serious, that’s the real problem.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    It matters to me whether my religion is a fraud, created by a con-artist, who wrote a fake book and peddled it as an ancient text.

    But, then, I’m funny that way. Must be a Jewish thing.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Again, I am more than happy to allow others to read our exchange and decide for themselves whether you’ve offered serious arguments.

    Best wishes to you in all your endeavors.

  • Sanpete

    You seem to be trying to say that Mormonism is fraudulent in some way that Catholicism isn’t, without showing any reason to believe that. Do you think Moses really went up to a mountain and talked with God, who gave him plates engraved by His finger, or did someone make up that story?

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    I’m not a Catholic, I’m a Jew.

    And no, I don’t believe that Moses really walked up a mountain and talked with God.

    However, the Jewish people are a real people. The Greeks were a real people.

    The Lamanites are not. The Nephites are not.

    It matters to me that the people and nation to which I belong are a real people and a real nation, with a real history and yes, a mythology, but one that actually *is* the inherited mythology of our people, rather than some crude modern invention.

    So, yes, it would bother me quite a bit, if I discovered that it was all a fraud, written by some guy in 19th century Upstate New York. Yes, it would.

  • Sanpete

    You seem to think it matters when basic points of the stories were made up, or something. Why would that matter?

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    I explained it already. It matters to me that my people are a real people, with a real history, rather than something made up by some guy in 19th century upstate New York.

    You’re starting to remind me of a three year old kid, yelling “Why?!” “Why?!” over and over again. Surely, by this point, if you don’t undrestand what I’m saying, you’re never going to, right?

    Can we just drop it, please?

  • Sanpete

    I’m pressing you because what you say makes no sense. The plates the 10 Commandments supposedly came on were made up. The whole story was probably made up. How is that better than the Lamanites?

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    I have explained myself more than fully enough. The fact that it makes no sense *to you* is becoming less and less interesting to me, with every round.

    I will not answer you anymore. I am happy to leave our exchange to the judgment of others.

  • Jarnauga

    Yes, when one is produced in the same century as railways and the theory of evolution are developed and the other is two millennia old, written by people who have little knowledge about how the world works scientifically. Incidentally, the most influential modern sacramental theology in Catholicism does not believe in the ontology of the Thomist interpretation of transubstantiation, which is what I assume you were referencing.

  • Sanpete

    You’ve steadfastly refused to answer why it matters. That it matters to you is plain, but nothing else about it is.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    You’ve steadfastly refused to answer why it matters.

    ——————————-
    This is a bald-faced lie that anyone can verify, simply by looking at our exchange.

    Goodbye.

  • Sanpete

    Yes, it’s more false? That’s a very curious claim that what you surrounded it with doesn’t clarify. How is it more false than something else that’s flatly false?

  • Sanpete

    You’ve completely gone off the rails. Your answers do nothing but repeat that it matters if it was New York, the 19th century, a made-up language, etc. You refuse to explain why any of that matters in comparison to other made-up beliefs.

    Well, your beliefs are safe here in this haven for the likeminded.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Goodbye.

  • Jim Reed

    He said, “Why anyone attends a private, religious college is completely beyond me”. This is a BYU article, and I took his comment to be about BYU, and not Georgetown. It makes sense that way. Same with my response. In relation to BYU these comments make perfect sense. You are the one who tried to add Noter Dame and Georgetown to the mix. That is not what we meant, and everyone else can see that.

  • Jarnauga

    Legitimacy is not the same as falsity. Something can be a legitimate tradition and not be true in a literal sense. Something invented yesterday is not a tradition, nor does it have legitimacy if it talks about angels with golden tablets, etc.

  • Sanpete

    So it’s not more false, but it’s less legitimate. You suggest that a standard for that is recency. Is Mormonism then about as legitimate as the 10 Commandments story when it was only a hundred years old? And will Mormonism become increasingly legitimate as it ages?

    You are aware that the Catholic tradition is full of angels too, right? How does that fit in? How is the angels with plates less legitimate than God with the inscribing finger?

  • Jim Reed

    You are arguing with someone who is not a Mormon, but he sounds like a Mormon. I don’t think you can get anywhere.

  • Sanpete

    You can see from what I said earlier that I’m still a member, but not a believer, if that matters.

  • Jim Reed

    You might be right on that point. The Mormon lies might be equally legitimate with the Catholic lies.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Well, it’s just as infuriating as all the conversations we used to have with orthodox Mormons, so….

  • Jim Reed

    So does this mean Romney is going to run again?

  • Jarnauga

    You assume that Catholic or Jewish legitimacy is based on ahistorical analysis and a literalist reading. I reject those presuppositions. They have no bearing, for example, on the sociological aspect of religion.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Lol.

  • Sanpete

    Yes that would be the point. I’ve been allowing words like lies, fraud, etc, without pausing to consider the ways in which those terms may be misleading, but the apparent equivalency is the point.

  • Jim Reed

    This is a refreshing change. You are just arguing for the legitimacy of the Mormon religion, and not of the beliefs.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    He cannot imagine why a person would rather that his people and their history be real, as opposed to made up by a 19th century con artist. It’s useless to try and explain it to him, as my exchange with him shows.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Yes, but that’s precisely the point. Putting the truth of the beliefs aside, the people that LDS claims Mormons are the descendents of, are fictional. Unlike, Jews and Christians, which, historically, are real peoples.

  • Sanpete

    Not at all what I’ve said or implied. Again, the history of the Ten Commandments is no more real or less made-up than that of the Book of Mormon plates. That’s the point.

  • Sanpete

    Yes, I’m aware that liberals in religious matters tend to reject such things. There’s an equivalent view within Mormonism. That’s an important subject in itself, but maybe this isn’t in ideal context to get into it.

  • Sanpete

    Again, as I keep pointing out, fundamental points of the other religions are just as made up and unreal. You appear unwilling to accept the significance of that. (Joseph Smith was as real as Moses, by the way.)

  • Jim Reed

    Moses was not real. Joseph Smith was.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Yep. And the Hebrews — my ancestors — were real people, whereas the Lamanites — the ancestors of the Mormons — were not.

  • Sanpete

    I was being generous. There are still many scholars who accept Moses as a historical figure.

  • Jim Reed

    We know from archaeology that the nation of Israel did not spend 40 years wandering in the desert because that would have left lots of evidence that is not there. No wandering means the exodus was not real and no exodus means Moses was not real either. Jewish scholars seem to understand this better than Christian scholars, going by the fact that when documentaries on TV talk about it, it always seems to be Jewish scholars making this point.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Yes, you are correct about this as well. When we celebrate the Passover, we are celebrating a mythical story whose significance is allegorical and metaphorical.

    A story that has played this role for our people for millennia. Our people. A real people. That is, not a fictional people.

  • Sanpete

    Mormons are real too, just in case that matters.

  • Jim Reed

    They are real, but they keep trying to fake us out. That might work sometimes on their missions, but it never works here.

    Also remember, there are real Mormons in other southern states who the LDS Mormons want to forget about.

  • nightgaunt

    Putting Evolution on equal terms with a religious myth of Creation is cretinous. A false equality. Would they do that with any other science?

  • nightgaunt

    Most of the Conservatives would rather make money than go into academics. That is untold truth of that.

  • nightgaunt

    Most religions don’t “present well” if their critics have knowledge of them and can bring out the dirty laundry generally hidden.

  • nightgaunt

    I wonder how Deuteronomy was thought of when it was fresh and the ink still wet?

  • Jarnauga

    Perhaps, although I think that’s part of what is at issue. Legitimacy is not only a numerical matter of how many years but also when, where, and how a religion developed. Even if the stories of the Hebrew patriarchs, etc are likely folklore, they are stories which arise in a pre-modern context where religious narratives and corresponding belief are unremarkable. Moreover, given the age of the narratives and the long, continuous pre-modern history of the Jewish people, they play a constitutive sociological and historical role not available to Mormonism, for a number of reasons. First, these sorts of new religious narratives are alien in the modern world and the attempt to construct one is anachronistic. The ability to create new religious movements with the same heft as traditional religions is no longer available to any of us, precisely because we all live in the modern world and not in a pre-scientific age. My suspicion is that part of the regulatory infrastructure in Mormonism is a response to this. Second, the time span has been very short. Third, any archeological confirmation is altogether absent. While it is likely that the conquest narrative in the Hebrew Bible is folklore, there are many other elements described in the text which have been confirmed as consistent with our historical knowledge. The lack of archeological verification also puts added pressure on the argument that Mormonism is the creation of Smith, rather than an organically developed body of memories, tales, wisdom literature, founding myths, etc which is what we have in the Hebrew Bible. Fourth, religions like Judaism (and Christianity) are formative in the development of Western ideas, which means all of us, even atheists, are influenced by them in terms of who we are as modern people.

  • Sanpete

    Your analysis seems to have overflowed the usual banks of the term legitimacy. You’re welcome to make a case that it’s still the right word, but it seems to me what you’re considering now is more exactly described as usefulness, mixed with an aesthetic preference. In short, the older narratives are useful in this way and that, plus they’re organic with the time of their origin.

    To take the last point first, a common criticism of Mormonism has been that’s too organic with its time, that it’s just a cobbling together of what was in the air at the time. Mormonism regards itself as organic not only to its age but to the entire history of the Judeo-Christian tradition back to Adam, to which tradition it’s anchored and tied in myriad ways. Whatever the case may be, I’m not clear on why the organicity you’re concerned with matters in itself in any material way. Maybe you think it affects its usefulness, but how that would work isn’t clear either.

    Your claim that Mormonism can’t serve the purposes older traditions do doesn’t seem to fit experience. Mormonism definitely plays a central constitutive role in the lives of Mormons and the culture of Mormonism. That it strikes you as anachronistic in the sense of not fitting the time of its creation hardly matters. Its narratives are no more anachronistic now than the older narratives.

    Granted Mormonism hasn’t had the influence of the older religions. I’ll gladly acknowledge it hasn’t been as useful over time or in as many lives. But for those it has reached it has had a powerful effect.

  • Jarnauga

    “Your analysis seems to have overflowed the usual banks of the term legitimacy.”

    You assume that there is a simple answer to the question of legitimacy. I reject this assumption.

    “Mormonism regards itself as organic not only to its age but to the
    entire history of the Judeo-Christian tradition back to Adam, to which
    tradition it’s anchored and tied in myriad ways.”

    Its age was the age of the steamship and the locomotive. The nineteenth century is the time of the Industrial Revolution, not the age of the religious over-enthusiasm of the Burned-Over District, which was an anomaly. Anchoring is a bit strong. It may regard itself in any number of ways, but the basic historical fact is that an American religious enthusiast created this, on the basis of a fictional history, pseudo-Egyptian, etc. glued on to the Biblical account. That the borrowings include Judaeo-Christian texts does not constitute an “organic” connection in any substantive sense of the word.

    “Mormonism definitely plays a central constitutive role in the lives of Mormons and the culture of Mormonism.”

    As does Scientology for Scientologists, I’m sure.

    “That it strikes you as anachronistic in the sense of not fitting the
    time of its creation hardly matters. Its narratives are no more
    anachronistic now than the older narratives.”

    On the contrary, it does. There are no difficulties in pre-modern beliefs of a pre-modern society. Pre-modern revelations of golden tablets and the like in a modern society are an altogether different story. Mormonism is a modern invention, and there is simply no way around that. If it works for you, knock yourself out. That it has had a powerful effect I have no doubt. But in terms of legitimacy understood as a long diachronic development and the history of a people or civilization? No, it does not have that. You can’t bootstrap your way to that kind of legitimacy.

  • Sanpete

    I can’t see how I’ve assumed there is a simple answer to the question of legitimacy. I reject that assumption too. I just don’t think the points you raise are obviously criteria for what’s normally termed legitimacy.

    You seem to be arguing that a long diachronic development in the history of a people is a criterion of legitimacy, and a necessary one, and that since Mormonism, in your view, lacks that in a sufficient way, it lacks sufficient legitimacy. Tradition confers a form of legitimacy, at least in some minds (contemporary nonreligious liberals generally reject it as a source of legitimacy), and maybe that’s all you mean. Other religions have deeper traditional roots in some respects, and so in that regard they have more traditional legitimacy. I accept that in the respects in which its applies. But I hope you’ll agree that’s hardly the sum of the question of legitimacy, which as you say isn’t so simple. Nor is the question of traditional and Mormonism so simple.

    Mormonism has a rich and deep tradition of its own, which you seem to dismiss.

    And, as I pointed out, it also draws on the traditions that came before. You claim without much argument that the connection to the earlier traditions isn’t substantively organic, whatever that would mean. But you would need to show that Mormonism doesn’t in actuality derive legitimacy from those traditions that it was formed in and adopts as its own. It seems clear to me that it does, even if it may be limited in some ways. It’s widely accepted as a form of Christianity by outsiders, and it definitely derives legitimacy from those connection internally.

    Other criteria for legitimacy are at least as important, including getting at deeper truths of life, helping people live better, etc.

    We disagree about whether Mormonism was organic in its initial setting. I think the vast majority of historians take my side on this point. You see a conflict between steam engines and angels, but the people of Joseph Smith’s day mostly did not. It remains unclear why this matters here.

    Yes, Scientology also plays a central constitutive role in the lives of Scientologists, as Catholicism does in the lives of Catholics. You brought it up, but your dismissive response now makes it unclear whether you still consider it a criterion for what you call legitimacy.

  • Sanpete

    Thanks for the link. I think the policy change became necessary because of a change in how name removal was being handled. It used to be that you couldn’t just request your name be removed, you had to have a church court and go through excommunication. At least that was the standard practice. It was a point that some leaving the Church complained about, and finally the Church changed the policy to end that practice. I don’t think there were ever many former LDS at BYU. I never heard of any while I was there.

    You (and apparently the author of the article as well) are still mixing together two very different things. The Church and BYU do indeed oppose the use of force to compel belief or religious practice. BYU doesn’t compel anyone to believe or do anything, because it doesn’t compel anyone to be a part of BYU. It’s all entirely voluntary, agreed to by all involved. The Catholic Church requires its priests to hold to certain doctrines, and occasionally it fires or even excommunicates one for not doing so. That’s not a violation of freedom of conscience because no one forces the priest to be a priest or to be a Catholic. The distinction between a church and a university doesn’t matter at all in that context. It’s all based on voluntary association in both cases. (I’ve already addressed elsewhere the separate issue of whether a university must require additional freedom.)

    I see no reason to think BYU would regard the expulsion from a private Muslim university of a student wanting to convert to Mormonism a violation of religious freedom. It might be different if the university were state-owned, especially if the expulsion reflected a state policy, as that would violate the separation of Church and State that BYU also favors.

  • Sanpete

    Don’t know why your post and a couple others didn’t appear where I could see them earlier.

    My post you replied to explained one way in which the atmosphere at BYU might be more open than that at Brandeis. You pass over that entirely and suggest a way in which it wouldn’t be. Granted, there are ways in which Brandeis might well be more open, particularly those that favor a liberal, politically correct view. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t less open in other ways. Gay issues are openly discussed at BYU with lively arguments for all points of view considered.

    As for the case you cite, the article doesn’t support the conclusion you leap to.

  • Murmur1

    Mark, I completely agree. I, too, am both a practicing Christian and a believer in academic freedom. Well said!

  • bbmike

    Jim, You are consistent, I’ll give you that. I come and go from this site from time to time as the partisan nature of discussions wax and wane, but you remain faithful to your role as oil on troubled waters. Problem is that I’m not sure you really stand for anything in particular other than mediation and conciliation.
    When you are a church with a specific set of doctrines to promote and defend, you actually have to stand for something substantive.
    The LDS church has acknowledged mistakes of administration in past times, and is fairly sensitive to the possibility of being unfair these days to a degree unheard of in earlier times.
    Still and all, they stand for something. I’m not sure the evidence is in that they stand for the destruction of the lives of dissenters from the faith. Show me the hard evidence of an Inquisition at BYU these days and I’ll consider it. But please, less oil on the water.

  • Here here

    Is this a serious article? BYU is a private campus. Their rules are their rules. Deal.

  • Jim Reed

    This seems like a good topic of discussion, but first I think I need to know where my comment is that this applies to. I got sidetracked here when Sampete said RD insists its writers promote a progressive view, and I was trying to explain how RD works, from my point of view, and what I said I don’t think applies directly to the BYU topic.

  • fiona64

    Questioning and searching is allowed and encouraged.

    As long as you come up with the same answer as TSCC.

    FIFY.

  • fiona64

    Gay issues are openly discussed at BYU with lively arguments for all points of view considered.

    As long as you come to the same conclusion as TSCC.

    FIFY.

  • fiona64

    But the Church doesn’t expel members for losing faith.

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  • Sanpete

    No.

  • Sanpete

    Use your words. If you have evidence against what I said, please share.

  • fiona64

    The purpose of the school is to foster faith

    That’s funny; I thought the purpose of schools was to *educate.*

  • fiona64

    FYI, LDS are very much involved in real archaeology.

    Nope, sorry. The so-called Maxwell Institute is all about apologetics, not actual archaeology.

  • fiona64

    Two words:

    John. Dehlin.

    You’re welcome.

  • Sanpete

    News flash: Not all LDS are part of the Maxwell Institute.

  • fiona64

    Really? Has TSCC rescinded the so-called “Proclamation on the Family” when no one was looking?

  • fiona64

    News flash: You are the twit who tried to pretend that LDS, Inc., is all about real archaeology.

    No love, an anthropologist

  • Sanpete

    Dehlin was excommunicated for publicly teaching against the Church, encouraging people to leave the Church, things like that, not for personal beliefs. You’re being very casual in your approach to facts and reasons.

  • Sanpete

    No, I didn’t say that at all. I truly hope you aren’t really a scientist, if this is how you deal with evidence.

  • Sanpete

    Read in context please. Thank you.

  • fiona64

    But you just told us that people weren’t excommunicated for what they thought. I guess it’s only if they dare to tell others what they think that it’s a problem? In other words: “If you won’t tow the line, keep your mouth shut … but really, we encourage intellectual inquiry and discourse.”

    Risible.

  • fiona64

    You can always tell a TBM, but you can’t tell them much.

  • fiona64

    Oh, I did.

  • Sanpete

    No. It doesn’t prevent other ideas from being discussed. As you ought to know, if you’re pretending to know what goes on at BYU.

  • Sanpete

    If you want to know what I’ve actually said, it’s here to see. You appear to have no serious interest in being truthful or in useful discussion.

  • Jim Reed

    They are a private school run by a religion, and it is our responsibility to sort through the religions and analyze them. The Mormons put themselves in the public eye when Romney was running, so they get extra analysis.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Receiving Federal funds in the form of financial aid.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Discussed, sure. But, at the end of the day, rejected. It’s not as if the pro-gay argument can even “win” at such an institution.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    She is very well-acquainted with Mormonism, at a very personal level. And she is an invaluable resource here, whenever Mormon apologists try to come on and whitewash the record.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    C’mon man, you’re bobbing and weaving all over the place.

    The idea that you can accept the fraudulence of the Mormon scriptures — in the sense that they are actual fakes, not in the sense that the stories are untrue — but then claim that there is no difference between LDS and a genuine religion, like Judaism or Greek Orthodox Christianity is such a hopeless, impossible position, that you have no choice but to bob and weave.

  • Sanpete

    You still haven’t explained your theory about how that’s relevant.

  • Sanpete

    First, how is that a response to what you’re replying to?

    Second, I haven’t said there are no differences. You have a problem understanding other views, evidently.

    What I have done is challenge your still unsupported claims that Mormonism’s fraudulent claims, as you like to call them, are worse somehow than the fraudulent claims of the religions you appear to like better.

  • Sanpete

    Rejected by whom? There are students and faculty at BYU who accept the arguments in favor of same-sex marriage. The point remains that these things are openly discussed there.

  • Sanpete

    And? That wouldn’t justify the routine distortions in her comments here. If you disagree with what I said, address the points at issue more directly.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Frankly, I got tired talking with you, once it was clear that no matter what answers you were given, you were going to claim that no answer had been given. You revealed yourself as a dishonest interlocutor, which leaves me completely uninterested in wasting my time talking with you, that’s why.

    I don’t find her comments distorted. I find yours distorted.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Rejected by the institution. That’s what we’re talking about.

    Genuine open-inquiry means that the arguments that prevail actually prevail.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Not unsupported. Just supported in ways that *you* don’t accept.

    This is why I tired of speaking with you.

    I have no trouble understanding other views. And the universities that have employed and continue to employ me don’t think I do either. Only you do, and frankly, I could care less.

  • Sanpete

    We were talking about open discussion, not institutional positions. Genuinely open discussions don’t require their conclusions be accepted by any institution.

  • Sanpete

    Not surprised. It’s characteristic of closed minds to be unable to see good faith in views they oppose. You’re seeing what fits your desires, not what’s there, which is what this one-sided kind of venue encourages and attracts. I’ve shown where Fiona’s remarks are distorted. No doubt you’re too tired to show where mine are, but not to accuse me of dishonesty. Shameless.

  • Sanpete

    Another nonresponse. It’s humorous that you imagine your employment has any bearing on this.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    And it’s characteristic of apologists like you to lie and misrepresent what others have said. That’s why I told you I was happy to let others look at our exchange and decide for themselves who was being straight and who wasn’t. I answered your question in a straightforward, substantive way. You just didn’t want to accept it. That’s fine. But then you went and lied and said I hadn’t answered you at all, and that’s where I got off the bus.

    I could care less what you find shameless, and I suspect that most others could care less as well.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Well, you said that I “have trouble undertanding other views.” Given what I do for a living, that’s rather hard to sustain. Its more likely, rather, that you have trouble dealing with a person who disagrees with you and can articulate their disagreement.

    We are hijacking this thread. I suggest we stop.

  • Sanpete

    Wow, you’re completely off the rails yet again. And with such irony.

    No, I have not said you didn’t answer at all. Of course you did. I plainly explained to you what specific point you had repeatedly failed to answer, in response to which you became increasingly hot-headed and unconnected to the facts, as you have again today. I haven’t lied at all, but you’re again failing at hitting the plain truth.

    Your frequent references to what others think, of you or me or the issues here, are of a piece with your preference for this venue where your views will receive far more uncritical support than criticism. You’ve chosen well if that’s what you want. (I should point out that the same is true for many at BYU, by design. I’ve mentioned before there are some significant parallels between BYU and RD in this context.)

  • Sanpete

    Philosophers are trained to understand other views, and are often capable of doing so to an excellent standard if they apply themselves. But it should have occurred to you by now just from direct observation that they aren’t beyond the usual inclinations of human nature in most of the ordinary conduct of their lives.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Sanpete:

    1. I answered your “repeated point” quite clearly. I said that it matters to me that my people and their history are real, as opposed to fictional. Regardless of the truth or falsity of various mythological stories in the Bible, the texts really are ancient, they really do describe a real people and a real kingdom, in antiquity, and thus, the Jewish people — my people — are a real people, with a real history, that extends back to antiquity.

    None of this is true of Mormons. Mormons are Scots-Irish or Scandanavian, or German … but one thing they are not are the descendents of peoples who came to the Americas from the Near East, in Biblical times. Their Mormonism, therefore, is not an identity that extends before the 19th century, and is one based on a wholly fraudulent history and a non-existent people.

    2. My “frequent references to what others think” is a direct response to your constant effort to psychoanalyze your opponents, in order to demonstrate some sort of epistemic closure on the part of RD participants.

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    What a lot of nonsense.

    That’s exactly how serious, credible institutions — as opposed to unserious, crazy cults — operate. They engage in genuinely open conversations amongst themselves and evolve in ways that match the evolving consensus on various points. Do you think that the Conservative movement in Judaism just woke up one day and decided to ordain women? Or gays and lesbians? No, they had serious internal conversations over a period of time.

    The Mormon Church changed its racist policies concerning blacks — embarassingly late, but that’s another topic. Was this not the result of an open conversation? Or was it just a PR move?

  • http://theelectricagora.com Daniel A. Kaufman

    Fiona has personal experience with the “church.” It’s practice of shunning apostates and driving wedges into families and in between family members is her *personal* experience, with her own family. You cannot “show them to be distorted.” They *are* her experience.

  • Sanpete

    Her experience with her family wasn’t at issue above. (And of course personal experience, taken as perception, can be distorted. You seem to be drifting back to subjectivism.)

  • Sanpete

    Yes, you said that it matters to you that your people have real history, etc. What you didn’t do is explain how that was supposed to answer the fact that large, central parts of that history are just as false as anything in Mormonism. You still haven’t done that directly, or at least not in any adequate way, as I’ll show below.

    But from what you’ve added now, I do get a somewhat clearer view of what appears to be some basic confusion that may explain part of the disconnect here.

    Mormons, with a few exceptions, don’t view themselves as descendants of the peoples described in the Book of Mormon. Their sense of identity isn’t based on that. It’s based on being adopted into or actually descended from a real history of pioneers and faith since the founding of the Church and, as I pointed out before, an adopted identity with the ancient Christians and their heritage back to Adam, as they see it. For the most part, that’s as real as the heritage you value.

    (The main exceptions would be American Indian LDS, who do believe they are descended from the people of the Book of Mormon, in addition to the above.)

    On the other point, if you review your references to the views of others, I think you’ll see most of them can’t be explained as you suggest.

  • Sanpete

    Again, the particular matter at issue was the existence of open discussion at BYU, not how serious, credible institutions operate or don’t. What I said makes perfect sense in the context you keep sliding away from.

    As for the institutional issues, of course BYU and the Church aren’t very open in some ways, and that does cause serious problems, as you say. It also strengthens the institutions in some ways, including their power in the lives of those who are part of them, and less directly others, for good and bad. That’s true in general of faith-based or vision-based institutions. Their power tends to depend over time in large part on what might be seen as conservative traits. The more liberal they become, the more diffuse and dissipated the power. To put it very broadly.

  • cgosling

    Getting expelled from Brigham Young is the best thing that can happen to a student. After the trauma storm, the sun will shine brighter than ever.