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?
Like many of you I listened to Patrick Mason’s recent interview on Mormon Stories. I was really looking forward to this interview. To me it was kind of a Mormon Super Bowl; one of the most prominent x-Mormon Church critics vs. one of the most renowned active LDS Church defenders who knows the history. I tried to pretend like I had no biases going into it and let’s see who is more convincing.
Honestly, Mr. Mason is a very nice fair-minded guy who seems very pleasant and perhaps even open-minded who knows the doctrine and history. But some of his comments were absurd:
1. polygamy and priesthood ban were mistakes and even sins but Joseph Smith still a Prophet
2. Joseph Smith (contrary to what we were taught) was a contributing author of the BOM. It wasn’t pure translation (but there were indeed Gold Plates) but a kind of revelation/translation. Same with BOA.
3. scriptures are not perfect and contain errors
4. Joseph Smith himself was not aware of his own role and identity in the Restoration (i.e., he might have thought he was translating even if he really wasn’t).
I appreciate his frank admissions but honestly if you believe #1-4 how can you make a case for the Church being what it claims to be? It’s absurd. Perhaps the most telling admission he made was when he said that if there is a “religious gene”, he possesses that gene. He is RELIGIOUS. Makes me think that if he were born in the deep south he’d be just as dedicated to some Evangelical movement.
I enjoyed Patrick’s story about his wife joining the Church while attending Notre Dame University. And Catholic university officials not hassling her, or expelling her. BYU needs to mature and treat students similarly.
Glad you had the opportunity to interview Patrick and appreciate his willingness to be open about his biases. Sorry to draw attention away from your own interview, but lke josh h above, I listened to his recent podcast interview with John Dehlin (I guess it’s kind of a reconciliation for Dehlin’s critique of his fireside), and it made me wonder what evidence Patrick would need in order to conclude that the Church is true or at least not worth belonging to. I also came away feeling that Patrick believes in a very different Church than the one that I have experienced.
Mason’s interview with Dehlin was healing.
It was authentic, and a type of “turning first,” [borrowing from Chad Ford’s peacebuilding book, “Dangerous Love” (2022)]. Mason’s interview with Rick at Gospel Tangents was equally insightful, and way more approachable (not a multi-hour commitment). I don’t see anything but good to come from these open exchanges.
Those who have commented here have generally sided with Dehlin. I’m curious. Do you think Dehlin’s attack on Mason’s fireside last year was a fair attack?
I didn’t think Dehlin’s critique of Patrick’s fireside was an “attack”. Candid yes. Impassioned yes. Honestly, I quite like and admire Patrick Mason. His open-ness, candor and good humor are quite disarming. I know 15 “grumpy old men” in SLC who could learn a great deal from him.
I generally like Dehlin. I haven’t followed Mason but he seems like a stand up guy.
The answer to your question is that Dehlin’s “attack” on Mason’s fireside, although I’m sure I heard it, didn’t make a big mark in my long term memory. I vaguely remember an episode where Dehlin was over-the-top upset about some things. Probably one of the rant episodes was about Mason’s fireside? Most likely I’d side with Dehlin on most of the facts but not necessarily the tone. But I kind of loathe time policing, too.
* I loathe tone policing. I’d probably have a problem with time policing, but that wasn’t what I was talking about.
Gospel Tangents, I can’t recall listening to John’s line-by-line critique, but having heard him do similar critiques, I don’t find them to be fair to the extent that the speaker isn’t speaking from a pre-rehearsed script and thus doesn’t have the ability to carefully weigh the words they want to use in order to appropriately convey intended meaning. When you’re doing a presentation live, it’s virtually impossible for every word out of your mouth to perfectly reflect your position, feelings, and intent, especially when you’re talking about something that requires great nuance and about which people have very strong feelings. In fact, in John’s interview with Patrick, during the third session when Patrick got to ask John questions, Patrick pointed out some verbatim statements that John had made in the past about using the word “cult” in reference to the Church and trying to get people to leave the Church, and John admitted he said such things either reflexively or unthinkingly and that that didn’t accurately reflect his feelings or position on the Church.
I’ll take listening to this interview and The Foyer (hosted by Patrick Mason) to Mormon Stories (especially their TikToks) any day- which seem to be the epitome of throwing rocks from the sidelines into the arena. As a person who’s choosing to “stay defiantly,” as Brian McLaren so wisely puts it, I’m not interested to listening to people who’s primary goal seems to criticize, loudly, instead of inform and transform.
One of my favorite questions when I interviewed John a few months ago was
My focus is to be fair to my guests and fair to the audience. That’s not John’s focus anymore. I wish it was. It used to be.
So for all the back-slapping of John in the comments here, I think that just shows you are a partisan, and clearly aren’t interested in a fair representation of Mormonism. You’re a cheerleader for John. I guess that’s fine, but it shows your bias, and at least John has admitted he is biased and unfair.
By the way, to bring this back to the topic of the post, I think Patrick had some provocative and insightful things to say about peace and violence. I’d love to quit talking about the tribalism so many love, and get back to what he said about proclaiming peace and renouncing violence. He takes issue not only big issue with the story of Laban, but also the violence in 3rd Nephi 9. That’s not the kind of thing anyone is going to hear at church, and I thought his comments were quite noteworthy.
“So for all the back-slapping of John in the comments here, I think that just shows you are a partisan, and clearly aren’t interested in a fair representation of Mormonism. You’re a cheerleader for John. I guess that’s fine, but it shows your bias, and at least John has admitted he is biased and unfair.” Honest question Rick B, do you believe the Church as an institution is interested in presenting a fair representation of Mormonism? What evidence would you provide for your response?
I LOVE Patrick’s take on violence, and I really appreciate him calling out Nephi as a murderer. I loved that he discussed Nephi’s lament as maybe feeling godly sorrow for what he did.
What triggers me in all of this is that Patrick can say this and his platform only grows. If I got up and said this at Church, my mic would be cut and I would be persona non-grata. That’s not Patrick’s fault, so I don’t dislike him for this. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t harm me personally to listen to a podcast where his privilege is on full display (which Margi brought up and Patrick agreed with).
In closing, I also listened to your interview and I also really enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing that incredibly balanced interview. Your approach helped John to be forthright and was very insightful.
I’m nonplussed. Not sure what you are referring to.
Neutral does not mean unfair. For example: “Some people believe, without credible evidence, the last Presidential election was stolen.” That statement is neutral. You might say that the phrase “without credible evidence” shows bias, however to counter it one would have to provide instances where credible evidence was presented. The sentence might then read: Some people, using credible evidence, have proved/demonstrated the the last Presidential election was stolen. So JD saying he’s neutral is not an omission of unfairness..
“Yeah, absolutely. It’s a really troubling story on every level… We shouldn’t glide right on through. We should stop. It should force us to stop and say, ‘Whoa. What’s going on here?’”
I’m trying to imagine a family scripture study session where Nephi’s beheading of Laban comes up. Mommy and Daddy stop the lesson, as Patrick says they ought to, and interrogate the narrative with the children, asking what’s really going on here.
What are they supposed to say? That God’s will trumps all other considerations and we should always follow the spirit no matter what (like I was taught growing up)? Or that this is a really messed up story and either Nephi or Joseph Smith is mistaken that God would command such a thing? Sounds like Patrick is leaning towards the latter, but that begs the question of how we view prophets and revelation. To me, it really is an obstacle to viewing the BoM as the word of God. As others have said, I find it troubling when people concede that x prophet did such and such horrible thing but insist we should still follow them anyway. What ever happened to “By their fruits ye shall know them?”
Krikstall, absolutely yes, it’s a hard story to make sense of. I’ve broached it with my fairly young kids just a bit, and they didn’t really know what to make of it. I will say though, that it went over better than an attempted adult Sunday School discussion on the matter. It’s amazing to me how VERY uncomfortable the class was even considering the idea that Nephi was in the wrong.
When it comes to religion, we are all cafeteria something. Whether we are cafeteria Mormons, cafeteria Catholics, cafeteria Muslims, etc. So, I don’t understand the need to debate doctrinal issues. But I do find it useful to learn more about other religions, in non-confrontational matter. I don’t see a need for a Delhin/Mason “discussion.” It’s not something I’m interested in. Besides, I find Dehlin’s interview style off-putting.
My religious beliefs are all over the map. Since my mission back in the 1960s, I have had no interest in converting anybody to my way of thinking. It’s my personal religion. It’s who I am.