Patrick Mason holds the Leonard Arrington Chair in Mormon Studies at Utah State University. He’s written a couple of books on peace and violence in Mormonism. We’ll touch on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, whether the Book of Mormon promotes peace, violence, or both, and we’ll touch on the recent kerfuffle between him and John Dehlin over a fireside Patrick gave last year. Does he accept the label of apologist or neo-apologist? Check out our conversation…
Patrick Mason talks Mormon/Catholic Studies
Patrick 05:35 In more ways than one, actually. I mean, I actually have very deep sensibilities, but, also, I’ve learned a lot from Catholicism, both from my Catholic friends and from Catholic theology in general. So, yeah, Notre Dame gave me the professional training I needed, but it also informed my spiritual life in lots of ways.
GT 06:03 So Notre Dame plays BYU this fall? Who are you rooting for?
Patrick 06:06 Notre Dame all the way.
GT 06:07 All right.
Patrick 06:07 Yeah. So, we are an Irish family. I met my wife there. She’s from South Texas. She was there as a student. We met. She actually came as a Catholic and joined the LDS Church. I had nothing to do with it. I met her at church.
GT 06:22 Oh, really?
Patrick 06:23 Yeah, while she was there.
GT 06:25 Now wait a minute. Was she a Catholic at Notre Dame and converted to Mormonism?
Patrick 06:28 Yes.
GT 06:29 No way.
Patrick 06:30 Yeah.
GT 06:30 She didn’t get kicked out of school?
Patrick 06:32 She did not kicked out.
GT 06:32 That happens with BYU, you know?
Patrick 06:35 Not at Notre Dame. We actually had dinner several years later, we were sitting next to a priest. It was a guy who I knew really well, just a great guy. We told him this story about how she had become Mormon while she was an undergraduate student at Notre Dame and he just started laughing. He said, “We’ve got a billion. We can afford to lose a few.” I mean, he wasn’t that cavalier about it, but he wasn’t offended, either.
GT 07:03 (Chuckling) Okay. Do you ever see that happening at BYU?
Patrick 07:07 I’d love to see that in the future. I mean, Mormonism isn’t going to work for everybody, right? People are going to follow their different spiritual and religious paths. I mean, what happened for my wife is that actually Notre Dame awakened in her some spiritual and religious feelings that she didn’t have. It actually made her a seeker. She didn’t find the answers that she wanted in Catholicism, while a lot of her friends were finding those answers. So, she found Mormonism. And if the converse happened at BYU, I mean, I certainly couldn’t complain. I mean, it would be the universe balancing out, as far as I’m concerned. But, I think if BYU makes people religious seekers, and if that search takes them [elsewhere, like] if they ended up landing in Roman Catholicism, I for one, I’m not sure I’d be in any position to complain about that.
Troubling BoM Stories – Laban & Jesus
GT 19:19 Okay, and so, obviously, we’re going to talk about the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Patrick 19:24 Yeah, we’re going to talk about that, but a lot more too. So, for me, the first chapter of the book is all about violence in Mormon scripture.
GT 19:35 Right.
Patrick 19:35 Because I think we have to start there. Then, I moved to history. Again, it’s a relatively short history. It’s only 200 years. Most of the violence occurs in the first few decades of the Church’s history, especially the 1850s. So, the 1850s get a fair bit of attention in the book. I mean, it’s a skinny little book. So, there’s more to say about everything in here. This was the page count they gave me. They want these to be skinny little books for classroom use. So, I focus, especially, on the 1850s, because there’s just no doubt that was most violent decade in Mormon history, and with a lot of really troubling incidents and troubling implications for the faith.
GT 20:26 Well, and probably the most troubling scripture in all of Mormonism is the story of Nephi killing Laban. A lot of times we justify that, but, of course, the Lafferty brothers justified that.
Patrick 20:43 They specifically cited it as part of their rationale. Yeah.
GT 20:47 And is that something that we should not rationalize away so easily? Should Mormons be more troubled about the story of Nephi killing Laban?
Patrick 20:58 Yeah, absolutely. It’s a really troubling story on every level. It’s troubling that the spirit would tell Nephi to kill this man. It’s troubling that Nephi does it. And it’s a little unclear how troubled Nephi is by that. Different people interpret some of the passages like in Nephi’s psalm differently, to know whether this haunted him for the rest of his life or whether he did it, felt good about it, felt like God told him to do it, and he moved on. But, we should be troubled by it precisely because of the implications. If you hear a voice in your head, telling you to do this, are you supposed to just say yes? And that’s where I think there are problems with Jon Krakauer’s book, Under the Banner of Heaven, which of course, is a TV show now, too. But he’s right to raise that question, and he raises that question directly. For him, Mormonism is a cautionary tale about the dangers of revealed religion, when you don’t have any guardrails, when the voice of God can just come in and say, “Do this,” and then you have to obey. So, I think we should all be [cautious,] regardless of where you land on this. I think there are different places to land. People that I respect come to different conclusions about the Nephi story. But it’s not just a nice primary story. We shouldn’t glide over it. Partly is, we’re desensitized to it, because it comes right at the beginning of the book. We’ve read it 100 times, 1000 times. So, any story that you tell too many times, you forget even what the story is about. And so this story, it’s been told so many times, that I think we’ve forgotten what it’s supposed to do to us. We shouldn’t glide right on through. We should stop. It should force us to stop and say, “Whoa. What’s going on here?”
Making Peace with John Dehlin
GT 1:31:54 You know, he [John] also did a critique of your fireside.
Patrick 1:31:57 I’m well aware. That was our last significant interaction.
GT 1:32:04 What do you have to say about that? Did you watch the caffeinated or the caffeinated version?
Patrick 1:32:09 I watched the caffeinated. I don’t think I called him. I think we were emailing/chatting, or whatever.
GT 1:32:21 He’s not the easiest person to talk to sometimes.
Patrick 1:32:27 Well, none of us are. Right? I’m not either. And, he has an audience. He has a job to do. I thought the caffeinated version was unfair. Yes [it was] to me, but also, he was just taking all kinds of potshots, and actually, I think he was mischaracterizing and misrepresenting some of the things that I was even saying, or even just using what I was saying to then just launch off on all kinds of things.
GT 1:33:01 Well, it was like he’d give you give you a sentence and then he’d go off. And then he’d give you another sentence. It wasn’t really in context.
Patrick 1:33:07 Yeah, again, fine. Right? I mean, whatever. It’s his show. He can do whatever he wants. But in the course of our spirited behind the scenes conversation that night, one of the things I really appreciate is that John went to the trouble–and it was. It was a big investment of time to re-record it, and do the decaffeinated version, and do his best to be fair to me to some of the points that’s made. Of course, he and I just fundamentally disagree on all kinds of things when it comes to the church. I hope we don’t fundamentally disagree about the facts, because again, I think the facts should be neutral. Sometimes we don’t have all the facts, or sometimes our knowledge of the history is imperfect. But I hope we can at least agree on those basic set of things, but then we’re just going to interpret them very differently. And so I don’t expect John and I to agree about all that kind of stuff. I do want us to be respectful and civil and even loving towards one another. He apologized. Again, I gave him credit that he did a redo. A lot of people wouldn’t. And so I hope that I would do the same. We all have feelings, and we all have audiences and constituencies. And I hope that if I ever got out ahead of myself that then I would have the courage to publicly reel that back in. So, I give him credit for doing it. We still disagree. There’s still things in the decaffeinated version that I that I don’t agree with. But I appreciate that he did it.
We also cover other topics like “Righteous” War Theory in Book of Mormon, Jesus & John Wayne, Non-Violent Successes/Failures, Comparing Brigham Young to Malcom X and Batman, and How Do We Proclaim Peace? (Nobody wants to be MLK). What are your thoughts on these topics?