Andrew S gave a great reply to my post last week, which I decided to turn into a new post. I always like bantering with Andrew because he is a smart, thoughtful guy, and we don’t see eye to eye on things, so it provides a good opportunity for me to expand my point of view.
See here for the comment and original post. https://wheatandtares.org/2018/03/08/john-dehlin-brooke-and-josh-miller-and-their-not-so-shocking-discussion-with-spencer-fluhman/#comments
On my misuse of the word nuance. I knew I was not being precise. I used a definition of the word that some use in the Progmo world and thought I gave enough context to explain. But I obviously failed. I’m not defending that. Everyone piled on me for that, but I deserve it. Live and learn.
I really wish there was a good word to describe what I intend with this. It’s not nuance. Because as Andrews rightly says, many people use nuance to retain literal belief. Example would be FairMormon view of BOM historicity, ie molding BOM belief with known science and history to come up with theories like LGT, two Hill Cumorah, Mixing Populations, etc.
In a facebook thread earlier this week, we tossed this around and the following words were suggested:
Liberal, progressive, unorthodox, secularist, humanistic, heterodox, normal, post-liberal, emerging, mystical, transrational, non-normative, reconstructionist, disbeliever, pragmatic, metaphorical, apostate, cafeteria, Liahana Mormon, non-traditionalist, non-literalist, woke, informed, independent.
Then there were many that said don’t try to describe it at all. Stop focusing on the differences. That goes back to my post last week asking the question, why do we seem to be so afraid to acknowledge the spectrum on this, or the difference on that spectrum between the mainstream Church and Neo Apologists?
Liberal is the best word for what I mean. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_Christianity But it’s too tied together with liberal politics, which has completely different meaning.
Let’s come up with a good word but for today we will use ABCXYZ, which is to denote a variance from the most extreme, literal, orthodox belief. Not in terms of progressive ideas like LGBT stance or female equality, but purely on scripture historicity and literal belief.
Andrew’s main point of contention was that he is looking at belief in terms of three aspects: literal, metaphorical, and disbelief. And that since the Neo Apologists I mention are all literal believers, there is no valid distinction between them and mainstream Mormonism.
I am modeling it as a spectrum. Last week I threw out a simple test and scale of 0 to 100. That is useful, but really this is a multi-dimensional model with every belief being rated on a scaled of 0 to 100 and combined to provide an ABCXYZ score. I strongly believe this model is valid and provides important insight into the Neo Apologetics trend.
Take for example, one’s view on the Book of Mormon.
20: Word for word translation of an ancient document containing 100% accurate history and doctrine. No modern elements. No mistakes. Joseph dictated God’s words.
18: Word for word translation of an ancient document containing possible minor errors in history. Joseph dictated God’s words.
16: Ancient record translated by the power of God, but in Joseph’s language. Errors or modern elements could be present and could be due to Joseph using an imperfect word in translation.
14: Ancient record translated by power of God. Joseph used a KJV Bible in the process when he thought he should.
12: Ancient record translated by power of God, with Joseph expanding the text. Riffing on the ancient words of Nephi, Alma, etc. But probably only in small amounts here and there.
10: Ancient underlying text, greatly expanded by Joseph.
8: Ancient text with something on it that little resembles the Book of Mormon. Nearly all of it came through Joseph’s translation process. He didn’t use translation the way we do. It was translating worlds and ideas and true doctrine in a midrashic kind of way.
6: No ancient text, but the gold plates were delivered to Joseph to prompt him to seek revelation and produce the Book of Mormon which may be Joseph’s creative invention through the power of God or may be loosely based on an ancient people.
4: No ancient text, no ancient people, no gold plates. The Angel Moroni is real, but Joseph created the gold plates in an Ann Taves materialization process. Text is inspired.
2: No ancient text, no ancient people, no gold plates, no Angel Moroni, but the text was inspired in a miraculous process that is outside human ability.
0: No ancient text, no ancient people, no gold plates, no Angel Moroni, we consider the text inspired because we canonize it and treat it as a sacrament, and we observe its transformative power, but we don’t think there is anything necessarily pushed from God to Joseph in the inspiration process.
Metaphorical belief would be a 0. Pure fundamentalistic belief would be a 20. Everything else would be a mix on that spectrum of fundamentalistic to metaphorical. None of these would qualify as disbelief in the Book of Mormon, but there certainly are strong distinctions between the different views, with significant theological impact. And these positions are contested very seriously in the Mormon world.
We could do a similar test on various other issues: Book of Abraham, First Vision, Polygamy, divinity of Christ, nature of God, Old Testament and New Testament historicity to come up with a more precise score than I threw out last week.
Basically, what we’re measuring is “how involved is God in this religion”. From extreme/always to not at all in a direct way. That’s a spectrum. Not something binary. And the reason it’s significant is that it spills into the important theological concepts of exclusivity and authority. It’s also very important, because in my opinion the high side or the “dominant narrative” is getting killed by the CES Letter and we are dropping our loved ones like flies. Down on the low end of the scale, the Neo Apologists have answers that work.
I can’t say for sure where each Neo Apologist or each apostle sits in this spectrum. But I suspect Bushman-Givens-Miller-Mason are lower than the average Mormon. I suspect there is variation in the Q12.
It’s probably not good to sit and speculate where a given person lies on the spectrum. BUT, I always wonder WHY? Why it such a taboo to peg any given person at a certain spot? This goes back to the main question from last week. Why can’t we talk about this?
Neo Apologists don’t want to get tagged as being low on this scale because they’re deemed apostate and become targets for the ultra conservative Orthodox. Even those on the high end of the spectrum don’t even want to get tagged or tag a Neo Apologist. I think they want to pretend the distinction doesn’t exist, because there are some good people that have some sway and are deemed very rational in that Neo Apologist list. And they are afraid it might make them look backwards if someone else is further down? Don’t know. Please tell me. Why can’t we talk about it?
Another point from Andrew:
But what I want to emphasize is that I don’t think that most of the folks placed in the “neo-apologist” bucket are operating that way. The Givens aren’t just feigning deference to the brethren — no, because they are actual believers, they actually have deference to the brethren.
If Neo Apologist was code word for disbeliever, then yes I agree with this critique. I believe the Givens are somewhere lower on that ABCXYZ scale than the average member, but I know they’re not metaphorical believers. Lower than the top but higher than the bottom. They would call themselves true believers and have sincere deference to the brethren. I am way further lower on the scale than Givens or Bushman, yet I consider myself a believer. I also have deference to the brethren.
You may look at all this and think, what’s the big deal. So some people have little bit different beliefs. But this is critically important to talk about and get in the open.
At BYU, where religion professors should be up on the most recent research, my son’s teacher taught that positions 16 and lower were incorrect and on the slippery slope to rejection of the Restored Church. Yet, in his department there are others who are acknowledging modern content and looking for better ideas. The Neo Apologists are breaking down how Joseph used the word translation and encouraging us to move lower on the scale.
The reason it’s vitally important is that the Neo Apologists have the answers to the CES Letter. But they require members to move down the scale. The message is difficult to understand. The Millers from the post last week were shocked at the answers they were hearing from Neo Apologists. They never knew this view existed.
It’s time we push back against the taboo and the ultra-Orthodox of the church to make the Neo Apologist message visible and accessible to all who are struggling with historical problems.