470-471: Adam Miller’s Letters to a Young Mormon

976700_10151676573204560_309625471_oAdam Miller has been described as one of the most interesting and important writers in Mormonism today.  In this episode we speak with Adam about his new book, “Letters to a Young Mormon,” published by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.  According to Adam, this book attempts to address the real beauty and costs of trying to live a Mormon life.

Adam is a professor of philosophy at Collin College in McKinney Texas.  He was born and raised in a small Pennsylvania branch, and served an LDS mission in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  He has been married for 15 years to Gwen Miller, has three children, and is currently serving as an adviser in the Teachers Quorum in his ward.  Adam is the director of the Mormon Theology Seminar, and is the author of five books including Letters to a Young Mormon.

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  1. Doubting Thomas


    I am so happy you are finding time again to interview great people again who can help all of those individuals associated with Mormonism feel comfortable with, and positive about, their lives.

    I make this statement before listening to this particular episode knowing if you have found the topic worthy of our attention it must have value.

    All the best.


  2. There are certainly many wonderful things about a good life… and I say “good life”, rather than “Mormon” life, as those very-human-behaviors we think of as promoting health and well-being are exhibited by people of all faiths and of no faith.

    I still must return to this: is the LDS religious dogma true? You are enjoying the benefits of “good” behavior within yourself, your family, and your community, and rightly so. But, the cost is that you continue to teach lies and support an organization that requires real suffering by those that “don’t fit” or fit poorly… like homosexuals, and women and men who find the gender rules unbearable.

    To what lengths do we continue to support a fantasy because we personally experience comfort and joy from it? Do we really want to indoctrinate our children in the mythology of heaven, hell, sin, gods, etc., before they are old enough to ask legitimate questions and reason through the claims of the “true” church?

    Is it

    As always, I appreciate to my core the quality of these interviews, and the willingness of participants to deal honestly with actual evidence and to be forthcoming with the nature of their personal experiences.

  3. John, you reminded me again why your podcast is my favorite. You understand the issues so well and ask just the right question in a respectful way.

    It seemed that you made Adam uncomfortable a few times (in a good way) because there are some questions for which the faithful answer is always going to be lacking. That’s always going to be the case when you defend the indefensible. When Adam hesitatingly said (paraphrasing), “The proof is in the pudding… You have to see if what was organized stands the test of time and lasts more than 200 years.”, all I could think was, “Welp, I guess the SDA church is true. I guess Mohammed was a true prophet. I guess the Jehovah’s Witnesses got it right.”

    The thing that is true is goodness. The thing that is not true is ONE AND ONLY ONE PATH TO IT. D&C 1:30 isn’t going away anytime soon and until apologists can deal with it they will never understand the opposing viewpoint.

  4. I just finished listening to both episodes and feel like it’s one of those interviews that I’ll have to listen to 2-3 times to really understand it all. I do have a couple of immediate questions, and if the answer is that I need to read Letters To a Young Mormon first, I’ll understand. But if I could get some answers before I have a chance to read it, that would be appreciated. First, I don’t think I understand exactly what Adam means by “life” when he talks about being loyal to life and accepting what life puts before us. It seems that he means being responsive to what God gives us in our lives, but then in other places it seems that God isn’t really a part of his description of what being loyal to life means. Second, I got the impression that what Adam suggests is necessary about being part of a faith community is the community piece of it. That part of our being responsible for “life” is in supporting and challenging the people in the community we are in. To not only be concerned with our own experience, but to lift those in our community as well. I would agree that community is important, and that through community we can improve our own existence as well as those around us. But I still fail to see how it is necessary that this community be a religious one. I tend to lean toward secular humanism which I feel is very focused on living an honorable life and with helping others to do so as well. I think, John, that you and others have commented that secular communities have been less successful at creating this community than religious groups have, but I still fail to see how religion is necessary to achieving the goals Adam spoke of. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s possible for secular people to form communities in which we support and help each other. We may not have done a great job of it in the past, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. So is there something else I’m missing about why I should pledge to care and consecrate my experience within a religious community?

  5. From 37-38 minutes in, Adam says,

    “It’s that at that point, when life deviates from your story about it, that you’re going to have to choose sides….are you going to be faithful to the story you were trying to tell about your life, or are you going to be faithful to the life that’s unfolding, regardless of your stories? And I don’t think it’s the case that religion is about being faithful to our stories…I think religion is about always siding with life, against our flawed and failed and small versions of stories we were telling about it.”

    But it seems to me that this is going to seem very foreign to many folks. It doesn’t seem that religion is about being faithful to life (or rather, that life itself cannot be lived without being processed through a story.) Instead, religion is about adopting one story over another. For example, a story of LDS ideas of sexual morality (the Law of Chastity) over other stories. But if you don’t fit the LDS story here (e.g., you are LGBT), then the question is…do you follow life or do you follow the story that was told to you in the church?

    Well…the problem is that saying what “life” is is begging the question. Maybe “life” is realizing that it’s “struggling with same-gender attraction” and sexual fulfillment is a story you tell yourself.

    So, at best, this could be vague and undecidable.

    But at worst, this could just be very alienating to most religious projects. (I would say that most religions are not about following life, no matter what…but about applying the religious story *to* life.)

  6. I just happened to finish the book before this was released. I found it somewhat frustrating that John kept trying to pigeon hole Adam into defending the current church, and the churches past failures. Reading the book does not give that sense at all. In at least one place he explicitly said that the churches story or the religious story may be what “life” takes us away from. In fact the opening chapter goes over this where he states that the “map” given to the young mormon seems very simple and straight forward and not far into the journey of life the young mormon will realize that the map or story given to them is at best a rough guide and can’t be trusted in the details.

    I found the book very broad and accepting of all folks who meet the challenges of life in an honest way, not just those who stay in the faith. It was not a call to stick with “the program” at all. It was somewhat vague but I imagine the vagueness of it was intentional because trying to give specific guidance in 78 pages for all the varieties of human experience is going to fail for sure. Also, giving explicit guidance can chip away at the responsibility and experience of the individual to make their own choices and live their own life.

    He clearly has a bias toward believing and feels there is value in staying and struggling within the church but in no way by reading the book or during the interview did I get the sense that Adam’s philosophy was limited to those options. During the first half of the interview I wondered if John had even read the book. The second half was much better.

    1. I think John wanted to focus on the book, but when Adam started giving his weird definitions of faith, sin, and metaphysical stuff, that’s when things got sidetracked. As John said, he wanted to define the terms beforehand, and I’m glad he did, because NOTHING that Adam defined regarding faith, sin, and the metaphysical has anything to do with their traditional LDS definitions.

      “I found the book very broad and accepting of all folks who meet the challenges of life in an honest way, not just those who stay in the faith.” – He did say that he understood those people, but then he said they should stay in the church anyway, and to give the testimony even if they didn’t feel like. That part sounded as if he was saying “Make yourself believe by saying that you believe, then everything’s going to be OK”

  7. Seasickyetstilldocked

    So the penny is starting to drop regarding the position of these new pastoral apologists. Adam represents himself as a believer in the Church and yet his rhetoric has almost no resemblance to the one true church paradigm. For some reason, this is supposed to come off as deep thinking when it really is simply avoiding the subject. At least these guys are more polite than the old apologists. However, it should come as no surprise that both the old guard apologists and these pastoral apologists all come to the same conclusion……go every week for three hours, pay your tithing and don’t disagree publicly about the brethren.

    Instead of demanding loyalty to the church like the old guard apologists, these new defenders of the faith make a plead for fidelity to the church like you would have to your spouse. They would have us buy into the paradigm that our relationship with the Church is like our relationship with our spouse. I can’t think of a much more unhealthy way to frame this. Marriages that last the test of time do so in a healthy way only because both spouses have compromised with each other. Both spouses have admitted their mistakes and weaknesses……they admit when they are wrong and they admit and accept when their spouse is right. Healthy marriages makes changes that accommodate their spouses needs and beliefs etc.

    The church does not share power. The church does not admit when it is wrong. The church does not listen to their members. The church does not accommodate members who have different needs and beliefs. AT ALL. If anything, a members relationship with the church would be like living with an abusive spouse who has all the money, all the power, controls all the friends etc and demands obedience and fidelity. I really hope these pastoral apologists drop this paradigm and pick something else. It is incredibly manipulative to look at the church as a spouse or a parent.

    1. So very well said. And you probably noticed how when John asked whether Adam thought leaving the church is a better path for some people, his response was something to the effect of, “It might be a better choice for some people *for now*.” They still believe it’s the one true church and the only way to maximum happiness in this life and the life to come.

      I’ve said it before here and I’ll say it again: you will not find a Mormon apologist of any brand who does not fit all or almost all of these criteria:

      -Early identity tightly integrated with Mormon experience
      -Above average intelligence (so as to intellectualize inconsistencies)
      -Unorthodox views (things they probably couldn’t share in church and you wouldn’t hear in GC)
      -Social/familial pressures to remain a member
      -Likely Caucasian
      -Many years spent in the church (upwards of ~20)
      -Has made big sacrifices for the church (years of tithing, mission, callings, etc.)

      There are certainly more, but these are the big criteria I’ve identified so far. They generate the necessary psychological pressures that cause an individual to remain faithful no matter what counter-evidence surfaces.

      1. Matt… brilliant. And, so true. it is precisely these criteria that allow people to dismiss easily the claims of other religions while ignoring the obvious difficulties within their own.

        1. John succinctly calls it “privilege” a few times and he’s spot on with it. “Unprivileged” members are far more likely to leave. I have a hard time believing that God’s one true church favors the privileged, because Jesus most certainly didn’t.

          1. Smiling…. don’t get me started on Jesus. We really don’t even know the man, but the jesus encountered in the NT (in his early 30’s) is hardly a role model for good living. In terms of religion… he was actively rejecting the religion of his birth and of his community. Hmm….

            Obviously I’m of the mindset that all religions are man-made (less often woman-made), which explains why they are all marred by typical human failings. At every level of every organization I have ever encountered (religious and secular), those “in power” typically have some difficulty sharing power and/or go to great lengths to protect what privilege they have acquired. Just like our politicians who complain about helping the average citizen while collecting lifetime benefits including health care.

            If there is a god… I imagine “god” could do whatever “god” wants. Why do we always assume that god wants what WE think is right? Oh yeah… because we made up god in the first place.

            But back to your point…. Agreed. People who have less to lose can let go easier than others. It is also true that when you are holding on very tightly to something, you are not free to grasp something else. I try to be honest about what I’m holding on to… and why… and sometimes I have to admit it’s because I’m comfortable.

      2. “-Early identity tightly integrated with Mormon experience”
        i.e., raised in an active LDS community?
        “-Above average intelligence (so as to intellectualize inconsistencies)”,
        i.e., smart. are you saying only smart people intellectualize inconsistencies? Or just Mormon smart people?
        “-Unorthodox views (things they probably couldn’t share in church and you wouldn’t hear in GC)”
        i.e., retains a sense of individuality and uniqueness in conjunction to being raised in an active LDS community?
        -Social/familial pressures to remain a member
        i.e., every social/family grouping involves pressure
        “-Likely Caucasion”
        “-Many years spent in the church (upwards of ~20)”
        i.e, has lots of personal experience and insight?
        “-Has made big sacrifices for the church (years of tithing, mission, callings, etc.)”
        i.e., has walked the walk, didn’t simply talk the talk?

        Regardless of the characteristics you point out, your assessment is a classic case of ARGUMENTUM AD HOMINEM. Apologist, non-apologist, race, sex, family history, social status, privileged or non privileged, all of these labels have literally zero bearing on the merit of his ideas.

        1. england, I think you misunderstood a number of things from my post.

          First of all, at no point did I reject any of Adam’s ideas. They obviously work well for him and a privileged subset of Mormons. But they will not work for many “unprivileged” Mormons. So accusing me of ad hominem is off base.

          “i.e., raised in an active LDS community?”

          Sure. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But however your identity is shaped in your early years, it is very difficult to “shake” it in later years (Proverbs 22:6). This is true of any religion that reaches so deeply into people’s lives. Islam is another example (again: not ridiculing or saying it’s necessarily a bad thing).

          “i.e., smart. are you saying only smart people intellectualize inconsistencies?”

          Nope. Smart people are much better at it though. It is a well-studied psychological defense mechanism. See: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectualization

          “i.e., retains a sense of individuality and uniqueness in conjunction to being raised in an active LDS community?”

          This is a mischaracterization. Unorthodox views are only one of many ways to be unique in an LDS community. What I’m specifically referring to is something like believing Noah’s flood was figurative. It solves a whole set of problems with science but no one at general conference could ever say that.

          “i.e., every social/family grouping involves pressure”

          Not like the Mormon church. Not even close. I can walk away from my family’s gym membership and no one would be upset. Very few can walk away from the church in a TBM family without making people upset.

          “i.e, has lots of personal experience and insight?”

          That’s one way of putting it. Another way of putting it is that 20 years or more of church activity is a huge investment, it greatly shapes your world view, and therefore potentially causes the sunk-cost fallacy (https://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/03/25/the-sunk-cost-fallacy/) to be committed.

          “i.e., has walked the walk, didn’t simply talk the talk?”

          Again, huge potential for the sunk cost fallacy.

    2. Well said, “seasick”. It seems to me that one characteristic of almost any organization created by human beings, is that it becomes oriented toward its survival at the expense of the people it purports to serve. That is why it is always a step, or two, or three, behind the will of the people within or beyond the organization. We have watched in horror as prophets, priests, popes, Imams, politicians, etc., have done what is necessary to protect the organization at the expense of individual members.

      “This is my doctrine: Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself.”
      ― Robert G. Ingersoll, The Liberty of Man, Woman and Child

    3. I don’t know. The only thing that has ever resonated with me as to why I stay engaged with the church of my childhood despite my disaffection and resultant atheism is this:

      “The church is a whore, but she is my mother”.

      1. Morning Glory

        Hey, Rude Dog, I am intrigued by you. I don’t know how you do it. I stayed in the church way too long after realizing it was bogus. Almost drove me crazy. Do you keep your disaffection to yourself, or is it known to others? How do you stay sane in a crazy system?

        1. Thanks man.

          I wish I had a good answer other than “I don’t have a good answer than it gives me and hour ten to sit quietly next to my wife and hold her hand”. Otherwise Morning Glory, I wouldn’t even be here.

          Yea, holding her hand….heaven….

    4. While the handbooks or the Organization itself will not or cannot compromise like in a marriage; I, you and we do so of each other. For me this “allowance” for forgiveness, patience and tolerance in both the leadership, general membership, and the organization itself is what allows for me to find peace and feel the spirit in a positive meaningful way. O

  8. I also like what Matt said. And I liked what Bonnie said about secular humanism. I usually read the comments before I decide to listen to the podcast, but so far I don’t see any reason to listen to more apologists. Since I have stopped attending, I have been working more on loving my neighbor and being concerned with all people all over the world, and way more than when in the church.

    Since I live in a rather sparsely populated area, it has been somewhat difficult to find a community with similar views as mine, but I am beginning to read more and enjoy nature–forests, ponds, creeks–very close to where I live. And I don’t need a church or faith. As a deist/agnostic, I can enjoy what I believe (not know) has been created by a master intelligence.

    And thank you seasickyetstilldocked. Some great posts here!!!

  9. If you had not revealed that he was LDS prior to the interview, I would have guessed that he was. Certainly a very thoughtful person with a well framed personal religious philosophy, but its not “mormon” in my experience. At minute 44, when he describes the testimonies beared at Church, those testimonies are what we are taugh and counselled NOT to bear (stories and personal anecdotes). Instead we are supposed to stick the basic party-line of the supernatural: Joseph saw God and Jesus, they have bodies, BOM is true, TSM is a current Prophet, etc. I wish you had pushed him a little harder on if he had party-line testimony, too, in addition to his personal religious philosophy.

  10. Very interesting interview. I enjoyed the perspectives shared by both parties. Though Adam’s use of language and metaphors was soothing to the ear I feel it lacked substance and the bite that I was hoping to hear from the apologetic side. Overall he had a few points worth digesting but his philosophical idea resonated more closely with an eastern philosophy than that of the hard stance Mormon doctrine conveys.

  11. The fact that so many here, including John from what I heard in the interview, want to cast Adam in the role of apologist – shows a misunderstanding of his thought as I understand it. I don’t see Adam’s work as having much of an apologetic bent. John’s tone and questioning seemed to force Adam into the role of apologist, but my reading of his various books tells me that he is more interested in exploring the possibilities within Mormon thought and life than he is in defending any particular reading of Mormon theology or history.

    1. JasonU- For the record, I didn’t intend to force him into the category of apologist. If I did that, I apologize. Then again, I will admit that if someone is defending marriage-like loyalty to the religious life (which I think Adam was…which for him includes church participation), it’s somewhat hard for me to not see that as a form of apologetics, even if a softer form. But I certainly don’t think it’s useful to label Adam in this regard…so again, I apologize for my ambivalence.

      1. John-Thanks for the reply. I think Adam was very clear at the end of part one that the marriage metaphor was aimed at fidelity to life as it is given ,rather than fidelity to the institutional church.

          1. I have to say that I agree with JasonU.

            At BEST, it would seem to me that Adam believes that there’s something to Mormonism that is true to life — and that therefore justifies continued striving with the church. (I got this sense from the 2nd part, where he stated several times that he didn’t think that the church had anything comparable to the faith healing example, as well as parts of the podcast when he pressed against the idea that Mormonism is about the supernatural. His response was that testimonies are about lived experience things, so to the extent that Mormonism encourages people to bear testimony, it’s tsetimony in being faithful to *life*.)

          2. He did. It’s a different and more compassionate brand of apologetics (pastoral apologetics), but it’s still apologetic. When you have lines like, “What should you do when you have doubts? Hold on and bear your testimony anyway.”, it’s saying to me that despite all your doubts, you should keep believing because the church is true. A non-apologetic answer would be “When you have doubts, go wherever you feel the truth is leading you. Follow your heart.” I don’t think that’s what Adam was trying to say. He was very hesitant when John pressed him to admit that leaving the church might be the better path for some people. He indicated that “for now” that might be a better path, as if to suggest that the issues one has with Mormonism might be resolved at some future point after they’ve spent some time away.

          3. He did say that, in his opinion, people should give the church a good try. But if you were to boil down the ideas presented in his book, that would not be what was at the core. The core seems to be “be true to yourself and the life that you are given.” My interpretations of apologists is that they seek to explain or defend the church and its doctrines. This is not what Adam’s book is trying to do, not even an appendage. He is trying to model a way to be true to life for someone in the Mormon context, and that does not mean that they have to stay in the Mormon church. His BIAS is toward keeping people in the faith, but that should not be conflated with the overall goal or core of the book, IMO.

            I disagree wholeheartedly with the idea of taking a few select sound bytes from a long interview that was derived from the content of a book (and really from the author’s entire philosophy)and taking that as the whole purpose of the work in question.

          4. “I disagree wholeheartedly with the idea of taking a few select sound bytes from a long interview that was derived from the content of a book (and really from the author’s entire philosophy)and taking that as the whole purpose of the work in question.”

            I don’t think anyone is doing that, Brian. The thing that some of us are taking issue with is the idea that The Church is still the best option for everyone. While not explicitly spelled out and probably not the primary focus of his work (and I haven’t read his book), the implication was there.

            If you want to discuss other aspects of the conversation, feel free, but it’s clear that there were specific parts that stood out to some of us.

          5. I can agree with that Matt. I guess I am in a place where I am wanting to expand what is possible in Mormonism and many on here don’t have that desire (which is fine). So I read his book and find it very expansive and open. Then the interview seemed to push towards simplifying the situation down to “well is it true or not” or “do you want people to stay in the church or not.” I find those sorts of views limiting, lacking and coming far short of describing what Adam is about and trying to do. I don’t like labels like apologist or apostate because they take a complex person and a wide variety of experiences and pare them down to some lifeless factory made thing.

            The way I read the book affirmed folks who are true to themselves and leave the church/faith. Perhaps that is coming to me through my own lens, and not through the interview questions and answers (which John admittedly said he wasn’t getting even after Adam explicitly said that his model is NOT a marriage between the individual and the church). That model does not exist in the book, BTW. People are going to see/hear what they want for the most part (that includes me).

  12. Listening to this episode gave me a sense of intellectual whiplash. When Adam was explaining what he meant by his religious terms I was going along and saying, “Okay, I can see how it would be recontextualized that way.” But then he would say something using those terms in a more specific context (quoting a scripture, or repeating an oft-used Mormon phrase), and I couldn’t make the two things fit. It didn’t compute. His definitions of faith and sin and the like are so different from what I consider to be the common Mormon usage that it was really jarring. And maybe he came by his definitions honestly. Maybe that actually is what he picked up from his experience in Mormonism. But I can’t shake the feeling that he’s just using the terminology in order to better fit in as a Mormon, when the actual ideas he’s talking about would be communicated much better if he didn’t tie them to the very specific religious language and all the baggage that goes with it.

    Here’s a related complaint. Adam defines sin as (I’m paraphrasing) something that keeps you from seeing or realizing the real life around you, or holding on to your stories at the expense of life. Earlier in the podcast he said that one of the reasons he sees for religion, and why he’s skeptical of secular communities, is that the secular world underestimates sin, and only religious communities provide the strength that is truly necessary to continue the struggle against sin. But going by his definition, I see no evidence that religion is any better than non-religion at getting people to focus on life instead of the stories we are told or that we tell ourselves. From my perspective, religions are better than just about any other kind of institution I know of at getting people to ignore their lived reality in favor of the stories that are told! What else would you call young earth creationists, virulently religious homophobes, or people who will sacrifice everything they have here on earth in the hopes of gaining a reward in the afterlife? Perhaps he would say that is not true religion, but at that point you start to get into no true scotsman territory, or perhaps just definitional denial.

    The last thing that really bugged me was his comments about bearing testimony. He said that saying “I know the church is true” is like saying “I love you” in that they are both descriptive of what you think, but also a way to show where you put your devotion. But in both cases, if you say it when you don’t really mean it, it can be very harmful, not to mention deceptive. If you want to love somebody, but you don’t, the answer isn’t to tell them you love them until you do, it’s to continue to treat them mindfully and communicate how you feel to them, and see where it goes. And at a certain point, it may become clear that you just don’t love them, and you should probably move on. Seems to me that the same should apply to the church.

    1. Craig… must agree with you wholeheartedly. Paragraphs 1, 2 and 3.

      I was also struck by the discussion of sin. He said (I wrote it down), “We tend to choose our stories about life over life itself. Whenever we choose our stories over life instead of being faithful to life… then… we’re sinners. …we prefer our fantasies, and daydreams, and expectations to the actual stuff, and the actual lives of the people that we live with and love.”

      I really don’t like using the word “sin” at all. Talk about a STORY that is rigid (and psychologically damaging)! In terms of freeing myself from the story of my life rather than experiencing life, and being open to a new story, indulging the concept of sin is crippling. I also consider religion to be the ultimate fantasy, daydream and expectation. Every religion has beliefs that are declared immutable and eternal.

      One more thought about sin and human beings. Secular people are simply people that don’t believe in YOUR particular fantasy/daydream/expectation. They are individually as caring, loving, ethical and “spiritual” as any religious person. I agree with Adam that a community provides the opportunity, and usually permission, to actively engage others in meaningful relationships. This is probably the highlight of all religious communities. Secular people may not do this at a religious building, but as human beings, you can be certain they seek out similar opportunities. I personally resented his assumption that I am less capable of moral behavior without external motivation and intervention.

      Great interview… even if I was grinding my teeth the whole time!

  13. Jenny Yergensen

    This is definitely one of my favorites and between your questions and his comments, I was hooked on every word. I finally set up my monthly donation and am sorry it’s taken me hundreds of podcast in to do it. I really appreciate the variety of notable folks you have on here to learn from.

  14. Seasickyetstilldocked

    Whether Adam wants to be lumped in with the pastoral apologists is irrelevant. If you are making a case for people to stay in the Church, then you have to address the one true Church paradigm (one true church, exclusive authority, exclusive or all truth, exclusive and superior modern day revelation). If you believe in the one true church paradigm and you are trying to convince people to stay in the church or why this problem and that problem are not important etc, then you are an apologist. Period.

    It seems the last thing the pastoral apologists want to talk about is the one true church paradigm when it is the first thing they need to clearly address if they want to have any credibility. You can’t represent your self as a believer, with the assumption that you belief in the one true church, and then talk as if you believe in anything but….It comes off as disingenuous and sneaky and that is the last impression you want to give when you are trying to convince people to stay in the Church after or during a faith crisis.

    So which is it Adam? The old guard apologists died on the one true church hill defending all of the preposterous one true church claims. The pastoral apologists seem to realize the hill has been lost because they are defending some new hill where the church is your mom and you make mistakes but you still love her and you don’t abandon her and there is good in the Church and we just need to…….

    Look, I am sorry good guys like Adam have to do the kind of philosophical heavy lifting that the Church should have been doing within the top 15 30 years ago. I am sorry that smart and well meaning people like Adam are trying to build a philosophical framework with no “authority” for members to grab on to when they realize that the truth claims of the Church are bogus.

    However, guys like Adam are clearly choosing sides in a way that guys like the three interfaith amigos don’t. If you are going to choose the side of the Church, you have to start with being VERY clear on your position regarding the one true Church.

    Which hill are you defending Adam?

  15. I enjoyed this episode a great deal, John and Adam. By your publicly sharing your own faith journey, John, you’re something of a bellwether for folks examining their beliefs and assumptions about the gospel that Joseph Smith restored. If we can allow ourselves to be honest and authentic, sooner or later we’ll all get to assess our beliefs and assumptions.

    Adam, are you familiar with Damon Smith’s series, ‘A Cultural History of the Book of Mormon’? Smith plots the influence of the Campbellites right from the beginning of Mormonism on the theology that Joseph Smith restored. Would it make any difference to you if some of what we believe came from a Scottish churchman instead of Jesus Christ?

  16. High–Camp persuasion trumps doubt.
    Miller, by embracing a theology of ambiguity to confirm the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is like rowing against the the St Laurence River fifty yards from the precipice of Niagara; he must keep rowing like the devil.
    Seems a stretch when demanding the fealty of millions to obey, to tithe, to sink untold hours in ritual and testimony for the sake of soothing the soul before being swallowed whole into the hereafter. The Tribe (mormons) are sworn to share a reality of conjecture.

    Why are mormons called Saints? Sainthood is reserved for the departed, or is it presumed, if once a Mormon the devotee is already part way there. Being of the Earth but no in the Earth is the fundament of Miller’s postulate while disregarding the rest of humanity. Myopic Mormonism is so self-indulgent, it takes a philosopher to further muddy the waters, as the roar of the falls spits mist above –– and row like Hell.

    1. Evidently you missed the point. Church Good! Service Good for the soul! Being around like minded good people working for a good cause is Good! Paying Tithing brings blessings that are Good and promotes more Good throughout the world. Adam’s point is a great way to to stay in the church and do Good!

      Please read regarding why Mormons are called Saints:


  17. This is why apologetics fails every time. Mr. Miller does not come across as being honest. Because he comes across as being deceitful, his explanations fail. He may very well believe what he is saying when he says “I don’t see this or that when I go to church and attend fast and testimony meeting”, but the vast majority of people in the church do believe “Jesus lives” and this is the “one true church”. They believe in a supernatural being with supernatural powers. When he claims he doesn’t see it that way, he comes across as deceitful.

    His argument for religion then falls upon “getting together” and discussing “how deep the problem of sin goes”. Surely if that is all religion offers, religion as a whole fails. Sin is defined by men under his no supernatural influence ideology.

    It’s frustrating listening to something like this as it comes across as lacking all honesty and integrity.

    1. Totally agree with your insight that religion completely fails under Adams’ senario —– it is hard for me to believe he is really an active Mormon doing all that stuff Mormonism requires. I am a Christian (exmo) but would have quit going to any church for social or other reasons long ago had I not had numerous spiritual experiences to solidify my faith and belief. Unfortunately, I believe he is totally honest but agree his integrity in working through a church that claims it is the only “true church” is questionable.

  18. I am amazed —– I am so much different from Adam. I totally respect him for all the effort/work that his church requires and yet he infers he doesn’t have periodic spiritual experiences. I do agree there are not really many people that bear testimonies with spiritual experiences probably because they don’t have them —– my estimate is only about 5-10% of active members have “regular” experiences and I estimate about 80% of the actives have had a few spiritual experiences. I am a Christian now but as a Mormon or Christian I would have quit long ago without the supernatural/spiritual experiences I have had —– I have a book of hundreds of experiences and have only been recording them the last 10 years of my life. The only problem I had as a Mormon is I didn’t ask the right questions in prayers until a few years ago. I believe people (especially religious people) should have a personal relationship with God evidenced by routine spiritual experiences —– may not be gigantic given your life circumstances. Love these podcasts. How little I understand about how others think and act based on what they experience.

  19. i like adam’s style a lot. i really liked him a lot.

    i found myself a little frustrated though because i never felt like we got to the essence of why or how he practices mormonism. i really enjoyed his thoughts on posture, boredom, grace, marriage to life, and the relationship to faith (not as impressed with the ideas on sin). while we disagree on a lot, i loved his perspective and especially how thoughtful and open-minded we was about things.

    none of the things he talked about were uniquely mormon though (except the boredom). his loyalty to life was a great life philosophy, but it didn’t reflect much mormonism.

    i left this the same way i have left podcasts with dan wotherspoon–i admire him, but i don’t get where his need to stay comes from. dan is not a mormon. he’s a fowlerist with mormon history, mormon family, and mormon friends that matter more to him than doctrine. similarly, adam isn’t a mormon as much as he is a modern french philosopher who practices his life philosophy on and with mormons.

    this unique group of mormon attenders don’t operate on the same wavelengths as mormons. if everyone believed as they do, there would be no mormonism because truth claims and exclusivity define mainstream mormonism.

    the assertion that mormonism is obliviously not focused on the supernatural was really off. the supernatural is intrinsic to gold plates, angels, the first vision, the endowment, priesthood restoration. it is essential to every major truth claim of mormonism. it is also essential to the major truth claims of christianity.

    if adam were leading my local unitarian church (and with his philosophy he could), i would go. i really liked him. i’m just not sure he’s very mormon or even very christian. perhaps that is why i liked him and identified with him.

    thank you both.

    1. I think your comment here describes things pretty well. Dan and Adam would fit very well in UU. I appreciate their examples and their ability to draw out the good/interesting parts of Mormon scripture and philosophy. There are many that cannot cut the cord and perhaps do not want to cut the cord because of family, history, loyalty, etc. I think that is fine. Why not make lemonade if you are stuck with lemons. I don’t think that Mormonism is fully characterized by mainstream Mormonism (GC, ensign). I think it is much more broad than that.

    2. I wanted to ask the same question. Why Mormonism? What about Mormonism is uniquely suited to what Adam is searching for through his religious experience? I felt, like John, “edified” by Adam’s approach, but after reflecting had second thoughts about searching for that edification in a religion that is not benign. In some ways I am privileged but in other aspects I have been very concretely harmed by this religion and its dogma.

      Historical problems are not unique to Mormonism and living in Utah, I can rationalize my activity in the Church by saying that it’s just the population in which I live and to which I was born. But that creates some cognitive dissonance for me because I am still an individual with a responsibility to others coming after me. And in light of women’s roles in the church, the effects of the doctrine on LGBT individuals, etc. it seems to me that it would be more helpful to seek edification elsewhere. I would really like to know, Why Mormonism? Especially as someone living in Texas?

    3. I also resonate with Adam’s and Dan Wotherspoon’s expansive view of Mormonism set in the larger context of a universe created and run by God. I like Dan’s quietly independent and subversive attitude of being the change you want to see. He and Adam seem to hold to a faith that things will get better, that there is a brighter, uncorrelated world waiting for us, in part, of our own making.

      1. “I like Dan’s quietly independent and subversive attitude”

        Passive-aggressiveness is not quiet-ness

  20. In anticipating a response I wanted to clarify my question. I understand that all people are capable of causing harm and that is part of Adam’s point. We all need people to stick with us when we “sin” and all people are capable of making these choices. But what to do when the harm is coming from the doctrine or the story of this specific religion?

  21. Seasickyetstilldocked

    I think I have finally landed on precisely what is bugging me about this podcast.
    Adam is a believer and is the TQ advisor in his ward.
    Adam is all about how the lived experience is what it is all about in Mormonism
    Adam talks this big philosophy game where everybody has to be true to their “life”
    At the end of the day, regardless of how great his lessons are to the teachers (and I am sure they are amazing lessons), by supporting and sustaining the church programs he is still shoving each kid into the same square hole……….still telling them that there is one BEST and TRUE lived experience that they need to have……

    Are we to just think that it is merely a coincidence that each teacher in his ward, when they are true to their own authentic “life”, happen to all participate in scouting, get their duty to God, become a priest when they are 16, do the same thing on Tuesday nights, dress the same way, be told to believe the same things and on and on and on….oh and I don’t want to forget….now putting in your mission papers when you are still a minor…..

    From his podcast, I am sure Adam would agree that it is what you do that defines you instead of what you say (I am sure Batman would agree with that as well) So what is the point of going all French and Buddhist when philosophizing about the Church when the Church he believes in is a giant sausage factory committed to producing the same kind of human product? If the Church is not committed to producing and supporting the same kind of human product, then why are all the humans that are different rejected?

    If “life” is actually not the Church and Adam’s message is for each person to be true to their own “life”, then how does Adam believe and support with time and money in a Church where the programs produce one shared and specific life experience? (especially of course for the youth, which is what the church is really all about). Are we to believe that being true to your authentic “life” is to have all these super sophisticated and deep thoughts about life but the go out and live a life that never rises in practice above the herd mentality?

    He is trying to have it both ways. Adam wants the youth to be true to their authentic life……and then go out and do what everybody else is doing, at the same age, looking the same way, being given the same questions to ask about life and the same answers to those questions, married with kids by 23 and God help you if your gay, or really, God help you in this Church is you don’t do those things regardless of sexual orientation. If he does not believe in that, then he does not believe in the Church because that is what the Church is and that is what the Church does….down to a science.

    To be clear, I have nothing against Adam and I am no anti mormon. I have tried for almost 10 years to be true to “life” with my marriage and my kids and have my spouse and my kids be true to their “life”. It does not work. The Church is only interested in one thing, producing future tithe paying tbms willing to give their kids over to the Church and they use the one true Church paradigm to get it done. If the Church were anything different (or if it was all about getting together weekly to discuss the depths of sin), then it would look way different in its programs and practice and the lived experiences of its members would be diverse in significant and meaningful ways instead of whether you met your wife at BYU Provo or BYU Idaho or Mesa Community College etc.

    It bugs me that smart Mormons, in an effort to create ways for kids stay Mormon, ignore the reality of the Mormon Church itself. I have to believe that Adam and that guy you had on a couple podcasts before, know better………and yet they carry on anyway. How is that not being an apologist?

    1. Seasickyetstilldocked, I think I finally get why you are so frustrated with the church. I admit that what I am going to say comes from an apologetics point of view of the church, but anyone that advocates/supports/defends anything can be called an apologist. I think you have probably summed up Adam pretty well, but you miss the bigger picture of what the true church means. It simply means that the Priesthood has been restored, an organization has been produced to assist in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (God’s purpose) by offering saving ordinances to all of mankind. The church is not true in the sense of having all truth. The church does have those saving ordinances that revolve around an anthropomorphic, family oriented God. The mission of the church is to share the message with all mankind that there is a Savior and a Father in Heaven that cares and loves them. Members gather like minded inspired brothers and sisters that have been touched with the message by the H.G. and by doing so we start to build a zionlike society here on earth that hopefully will be acceptable to God and usher in the second coming of the SAvior. Saving ordinances for the living and the dead suggests that God is all merciful to all His children whether they here the message in this life or not and by giving everyone the same chance to become like him and share with Christ an inheritance with Christ in the highest glory that there is. God allows all others to be whatever it is they want to be and provides a place for them.

      The church will fill the earth geographically, but it will more than likely not be very big compared to the rest of the world population and will not include all people and yet it will serve all people. It does not make LDSs better than other people it simply means that we have a unique work to do. If you remember anyone that repents receives the saving ordinance whether living or dead can be joint heirs. LDS are doing their best to build a Zion society here on earth in all of our faults and failings in each home and family and meet each week with like minded potential Priests and Priestesses. (Right now we are only endowed to become such)

      So God love you if you decide to stay and help. God love you if you don’t and God love the diversity of the world. It would be a pretty boring place if we were all alike. I love the diversity in the church members and all the many unique talents, wisdom, and love that they bring with them. It makes me a better person by being associated with them.

      Thanks Adam for your unique and insightful points of view.

      Seasickyetstilldocked, thanks for letting share my view with you I hope it brings come comfort.

    2. Seasickyetstilldocked… I hear your pain and my sense is that you are someone who found out as an adult that things you took literally in church teachings when you were growing up did not turn out to be literally true. You are probably also angry about not being given accurate details about the warts (polygamy\polyandry, racism, translation medium, blood atonement, etc.). I have wrestled with the same things and spent some time being angry about interpreting them the way I did. However, over time, I have found a community of non-literal believers who embrace the narratives and find tremendous fulfillment by doing so. I now find many true stories in the church, even if the facts of the narrative may not have every actually occurred in a literal, historical sense.

      My spiritual life is much more rich with the church than without, even though I have abandoned the literal interpretations of my youth. The church gives me a community to socialize spiritual experience, a trusted community of friends, narratives that provide meaning to both joy and suffering, and a language for faith, morality and social responsibility. Those are incredibly valuable to my personal well-being and the well-being of many people that I care about. I know many others in the church enjoy the same benefits – so I do reject your suggestion that the church is nothing more than a sausage factory \ self-perpetuating tithing machine.

      I don’t agree with everything I hear in church but I don’t agree with everything I hear from any organization I belong to so I am not surprised the church is any different. However, this church is true for me because it is a path I have found to the experience I call God and benefits I have listed above. I think that is also the theme of Adam’s book, which I found very insightful.

  22. I see Adam as a philosopher and not an apologist. He offers views and theories on ethics, metaphysics, logic, it happens to be in a Mormon Context. I don’t see any of his work as being in defense of Dogma, doctrine, or historically claims. It’s easy to put him in that category based on the publisher, but I believe he wrote the book with no publisher in mind.

    I have read much of his other work,(Rube Goldberg Machine’s is particularly thought provoking) and in fact pushes back on the mormon cultural dogma around grace and works, which brings me to the next point

    -Adam’s philosophical view uses familiar language, but the way he makes meaning around that language is foreign to many of us if you have not further explored his work. Adam talks about Grace, Sin, Prayer, Faith etc… Each thing he says has much deeper context than was explored in the episode.

    To the last point, I was frustrated many times in the interview as it seemed like there was a language barrier that could not be overcome.

    Much of the interview while I enjoyed it, I kept thinking Adam is talking over John’s head, and oh now John is talking over Adam’s head. Finally I came to the conclusion that I think there is a “language” barrier.

    Thanks again John Dehlin for keeping Mormon stories going, been there right along with you for the past 500+ hours of content.

    1. “Much of the interview while I enjoyed it, I kept thinking Adam is talking over John’s head, and oh now John is talking over Adam’s head. Finally I came to the conclusion that I think there is a “language” barrier.”

      Yes, there definitely was. Adam’s personal brand of Mormonism isn’t one you’ll hear from church leaders, which is a big part of why a lot of people on both sides of the fence will take issue with it.

      1. I too got a sense of that, however I took a more cynical interpretation. It seemed to me that Adam was intentionally prevaricating in order to sidestep John’s more direct questioning and not be pigeonholed. For example, the whole masturbation bit…Maybe I need to listen to it again and maybe I was so frustrated by the response that I shut down, but John must have fine-tuned his listening comprehension to say he “got it” because I didn’t.

        I’m just singling out one example but I kept on getting the impression that this was some wishy-washy, intentionally vague politician trying to straddle both sides of every issue in order to please all sides. To be sure I understand nuanced, new-age, new-order, unorthodox, pastoral, philosophical Mormonism (or whatever you want to call it) seeks to do that very thing, but I guess I just no longer have the stomach for it.

    2. Seasickyetstilldocked

      What he is doing is not in defense of Dogma, doctrine, or historical claims. What he is doing is defending still going to Church. At the end of the day, it’s all the same thing. Adam is smart enough to know that defending the truth claims is a lost cause. Note how he just chuckles when asked to opine on the Book of Abraham. No, he is not an apologist in the classic sense of what we are used to but the double speak is the same. Instead of horses not being horses and steel not being steel, we get true not meaning what the Church teaches as true and faith not meaning what the Church teaches as faith and even the Church not meaning the Church but instead, “life”.

      It would be fine if this slight hand were not being done in the name of actually convincing kids to stay in the Church. I think it is brilliant in its cleverness. Adam is basically punting on the spaghetti mess of doctrinal and historical claims that prop up the one true church belief. Instead, he is simply creating a massive detour around this because let’s be honest, that ship has sailed if you are trying to use those arguments to keep people in the Church.

      So what we get is an effort to redefine all the terminology in the Church to such an extent so as to intellectually render the problems associated with the one true Church claims unrecognizable. This would be great of course if we lived our lives in our minds only…….but we don’t and we all know it. We also know that what Adam is recommending and even defending, even if he makes us listen to his message through glass darkly, is that kids should stay in the Church, that adults should stay in the Church and that people that are struggling should eventually return to the Church.

      If pastoral apologetics hopes to have better luck than the classic apologetics, then they need to START with being honest about the one true church paradigm. The one true church belief is the lid on the pressure cooker. This belief is why people for get frustrated in the church cut themselves, it’s why a spouse divorces their non believing partner, it’s why parents disown their children (or at least lose respect for them even while they raise an incredible family, which describes me), it’s why homosexual members kill themselves and on and on.

      There is nothing nice about the one true church mentality. It is not forgiving and it is not tolerant and it is at the very center of the doctrine of the church and the lived experience or “life” of its members. And who does this mentality benefit the most anyway? It benefits the Church the most by a mile. Members don’t need the one true church mentality in order to get value from the church or the atonement but the Church sure needs that mentality in order to secure the money and labor and children needed to perpetuate its own continuation and success. It should come as no surprise then that there seem to be an abundant amount of people willing (and profiting) off of making the church work as opposed to the other way around.

      So no, if your a pastoral apologist or even somebody like Adam, who we could call a Mormon pastoral philosopher…….well, I am not going to cut you any slack if you are encouraging people (even kids) to stay in the Church until you step up and address the one true church paradigm. And where are the pastoral people who are defending the members from this mentality? Why are those people in such short supply?
      Why are there plenty of people willing to come up with the most incredibly convoluted ways to make the Church work and so few people willing to put the members first and hold the church accountable?

      Pastoral apologists may not be able to get away with holding the top 15 publicly accountable, yet. But I do believe the time has come where they can get away with holding the one true church paradigm accountable. If these pastoral members really want to help people, then they need to have the courage to take the lid off the pressure cooker.

      I really apologize for writing so much on this thread. I don’t have the education or the skill for it but I sure as hell can’t sit by while this next generation of Mormon geniuses find creative ways to justify the same old game.

      1. I appreciate your comments, Seasickyetstilldocked. I love the Mormon people and the community, but I can’t stand the baggage that comes along with it. The pastoral apologetic crowd gets us one step closer to bridging that gap but as long as the guys at the top aren’t making the effort themselves, the baggage will always be there. And like you said, as long as they think it’s the only path to ultimate happiness, we’re likely at an impasse.

        1. Matt – You have it all wrong my friend. How many people are there in the world? That is how many paths there are back to God. Each individual works out his/her own salvation and we will all have the same chance to be joint heirs with Christ, not just we Mormons. LDS are only assistant facilitators of the ordinances. You may choose to help or not. Doesn’t change the narrative of the church. Just because one believes the brethren to have a problem does not make the mission of the church any different. We are servants of God to mankind. We gather the gatherers to help and try to bless all. That’s about it.

          1. Wow, your lack of knowledge of our doctrinal claims staggers. Or is this time not the short but clumsy theater for “men to prepare to meet God”? Please enlighten us as to the knowledge of how our acceptance of the doctrine and ordinances given narrowly (as opposed to your many paths plan) with restored priesthood authority without the flesh in light of scripture and prophetic decree just as meaningful? And if most of the Plan of Salvation is indeed not fulfilled in this realm of the living but in the world of the dead, how was it the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for pre-existent joy when only a small part would respond to the cup drank to the bitter dregs? Sounds like a plan where one can wait and get it done next life.

            Your concept is an inch deep and a mile wide. Please square your loose speech with the revealed word and scriptural back up, and acknowledge how many paths? Silly me, thinking the gate is narrow and few….

          2. Rude Dog, Why are LDSs doing all of this work for the dead in the temples? What’s the purpose? The laborers are few, but the work in this life and the next is for all of God’s children, bar none. Somehow I don’t think God is a loser when it comes to His children. Jew, Gentile, Black, White, Poor, Rich. We as Covenant Makers in this life simply help facilitate the teaching and ordinance work and prepare a place for the Savior to come. The down side and the upside is that we covenant makers will be held accountable for our actions as well as those that reject the message in this life (a very small part of God’s children I might say that have even heard the word) making for us a very narrow path indeed. But what about all of the billions of people that have not heard the word? They all have a path back if they choose to accept the ordinances making there path outside of the church in this life rather unique would’t you say? I know that my experience in the church is unique to me. The Priesthood Authority used to perform my ordinances is the one constant in my path back to the Father that will be needed by everyone else as well, but my path is as unique as my genetic makeup not unlike everyone else in the world.

            I would suggest that we LDS loosen up on the dogma, get a clearer picture of the work to do and be better missionaries loving more into the fold. We need help with the work.

  23. I am really in shocked this person is a college professor of philosophy. It’s astounding to hear his logic (or better said his lack of logical reasoning).

    1. Part of me, I confess, is actually envious that he has been able to make Mormonism work for him. (Envious because of the indelible void leaving the church has left in me) But the other part is just utterly confused how he manages to jump through so many mental hoops, tie himself up in so many logical knots and at the end of the day say “Yeah, this makes sense..” I just can’t wrap my head around it.

  24. Ugh. I was able to listen to the first part of the interview, but I could not bring myself to listen to the second. People like Miller and Kramer are just… well, weird. The kind of mormonism they describe seems completely detached from what everyone else experiences. Somehow they grew up in an environment where “religion,” as they describe it, isn’t religion at all, but instead some ambiguous appreciation for “life” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) and apparently has little to do with the supernatural. Jon asked a lot of really good questions that received convoluted, confusing answers. But don’t worry if you’re confused Jon, because you’re not dumb, he’s just a strange character.

  25. This was a FANTASTIC interview. I loved every bit. I’ve been an avid listener for years. John, you do such an excellent job of interviewing. You combine the tough, relevant questions with great care and I think it is a good example to all listening.

    I purchased Adam Miller’s book shortly after it was released. Profound, thought provoking, expansive work. I also grabbed the Rube Goldberg Machines. That one is a bit more of a doozy for me! I’m a psychology major, not philosophy!

    I just have a response to many of the commentators in this forum. I am really surprised by the level of anger and vitriol I hear coming through, more bent on demonizing Miller’s work than engaging with thoughtful critique or discussion. Miller is a philosopher, opening a new strain and elaboration on common Mormon topics. It is delightful and refreshing! It is evidence of the very sort of variation within Mormon thought that so many here claim can’t possibly exist within the faith. Well, apparently, it does. And their works are getting published by Mormon sources. So, yay! Right?!
    To me, it doesn’t seem like it is the believing active Mormons who are insisting that thinkers like Miller can’t possibly be a real Mormons, but rather other ex/disaffected/non active who are.

    Also, has anyone actually taken the time to read his book? If not, what are you commenting here for? It is intellectually lazy to posit discussion when you haven’t even given the material a thorough and open-minded examination. The book was excellent. There were spots I found myself questioning, or even disagreeing with, but the experience of reading Miller’s thoughts was tremendously rewarding and well worth my time.

    When I read through the Mormon Stories FB threads and online forums, I’m afraid for any guest on this podcast who chooses to remain active in the church. Unfortunately, the spirit of the responses feels more like being thrown to the wolves than engaged with respect. It makes me sad, because I am such a big fan of this podcast.

    Keep up the good work, John. I don’t know how you do it! I feel like my mind and heart get regularly ping ponged back and forth with every episode. I can’t imagine how this kind of stuff impacts your personal life. My sincere, best wishes to you and Adam Miller!

  26. I’m sure Adam is a wonderful person, and a great thinker, but his answers were such fluff that they pretty much don’t say anything.

    “Adam Miller has been described as one of the most interesting and important writers in Mormonism today.” – If this is the best the church has to offer, they’re in big trouble.

  27. Adam,

    I’m putting it out there that I would love audio versions of your books.
    Think about it? Wonderful thoughts, thank you!

  28. tropical animal

    I am so amazed at how smart the people are on this podcast. And how well they are able to reason and express themselves. I did research
    on eminent philosophers and psychologists to get their worldview. Practically all of them, with the exception of those involved in religious institutions, which was less than five percent, did not accept a supernatural world. They were realists and pragmatists. And I was surprised that most of the eminent people in educational fields were right on the heels of the philosophers and psychologists. While those in the material and tech fields were more accepting of a supernatural world. Latest research shows that educated people,
    especially under thirty, are no longer identifying themselve with a

    I’ve thought about why members go to the Mormon church. And I think they go, not for intellectual reasons, but for emotional and social reasons. They have friends there. There are loving people there.
    I don’t think they go for Joseph Smith or Jesus, or because they
    think the gospel is true, but they are bonded, like a wolf is bonded to their pack, and like bonded to a mate, as was mentioned, and they are motivated by their emotional bonds, not their intellect. The experiences that take place there in the loving group increase the release of oxytocin, a bonding hormone. This is more true for women than for men.

    We humans are group animals who have lost their group. We want and search for the loving caring group. But unfortunately our civilization wiped out the grouping system we evolved to live in–the small, loving caring group–leaving us living in disconnected isolated dysfunctional mass non-communities. Thus, today we are living totally out of the ball park were we evolved to play the game of life. And the loving Mormon community may be the closest thing we can find to fulfill that group need–like monkeys clinging to a wire mother in Harlow’s sensory deprivation experiments. Women especially need other women to fulfill this need for the survival group. Facebook demonstrates this need. In just ten years they have a billion users. But Facebook, with it sensory deprivation, doesn’t really fulfill this need. You can’t hug a computer screen. Rather than words and images on a screen, we need to connect with live bodies on the ground. If the Mormon hierarchy would eliminate all those litmus test questions that screen people out and that kick people out, allow for free thought, and conduct their classes like John does his podcasts, the Mormon church could go viral around the world. Why? Because it fulfills the genetically-determiined need for the small loving community, the group we evolved to live in, the group we are searching for but cannot find in a civilization that unwittingly wiped it out. However, today, as much as we need this group experience, it is difficult to find it in the church. Though the church has a loving small group, which was activated and perfected on the Mormon frontier, it operates in an unacceptable framework. One must give up the intellectual part of their existence in order to experience it. The church needs a makeover. But it doesn’t seem like it will happen any time soon.

    1. Very cool thoughts. Thank you. Reminds me of Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone.” Society is ironically producing more isolationism and complexity rather than cohesiveness and happiness.

  29. We should not be surprised that great minds wanting to believe in their faith and their religious dogma have set about the task with the intelligence and artistry exhibited by Adam Miller. Thousands have done so over the centuries. Unfortunately, this does not address all the pure baloney that is inherent in “the stories” that these religions have created out of thin air. Inspired by a desire to have a god and to have everlasting life… what truths about existence will we ignore? What day to day shackles will we “gift” to our children so that they to can have the comfort of a fairy tale? Loving and valuing each other and the community is compromised by the dogma, and it frustrates and angers me that so many people try to make it “fit”, when it doesn’t.

    1. While I don’t share your frustration and rejection of the Mormon Church, Debbie, I do admire your clarity of thought and your passion. Thank you for being a part of this conversation. The upcoming Sandra Tanner interview should be interesting!

  30. Seasickyetstilldocked

    Adam’s words from his book intro on Amazon:

    “And I hope only to show something of what it means to live in a way that refuses to abandon either life or Mormonism.”

    It is clear that Adam is writing to young Mormons with the agenda of giving them ways to not leave the Church. He is not just philosophizing.

    How can the three interfaith amigos represent their religions and yet not have an agenda to tell people not to abandon them? How are they able to appreciate their religion and other religions and even atheism equally? And why is there so much positive energy about their message? This is exactly how you represent religion without being an apologist.

    If some youth is having problems dealing with the bogus truth claims and narrow life script of Mormonism, the last thing the kid needs is for some philosopher try to convince them to not abandon the very church that is creating the problems. Unless of course, said philosopher actually believes the church is “true”. Which brings us back to the truth claims.

    If you don’t believe the church is “true” , then you may as well get on with putting people before church like the interfaith amigos. If you do believe the church is “true”, then you need to be up front and clear about it.

  31. I enjoyed this interview and especially Adam’s focus on the interplay between faith and action. Whether bearing of an honest testimony or performing simple works in the community, faith is actualized. I find that a beautiful theme in this book.

    However, I found that Adam’s “life” rhetoric did not work for me. While Adam described it with some poetic flair, I had a hard time accepting that “life” is a narrative that somehow lives on a plane separate from the other stories we tell about ourselves. I was disappointed that John, who I expect has training in cognitive behavioral therapy and is the leading purveyor of “Mormon Stories”, did not challenge this idea (beyond a chuckle about the irony). To me, “life” is nothing more than just a particular set of experiences. They can feed our stories, for good or bad, but they are not a unique and objective reality that can be separated from narratives we tell ourselves about our lives.

    I would even go so far to say that it could be psychologically unhealthy to hold the view that Adam advocates. “Life” can often be miserable and we find stories to apply meaning to those experiences and manage through the pain. Religion and faith communities provide essential stories to make sense of our suffering. To quote Paul’s letter to the Corinthians “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” My experience is that we can choose the stories we embrace to interpret “life” but simply choosing “life” seems to be a very naive and potentially lonely and unhealthy approach to the challenge of applying narrative to experience.

  32. Doubting Thomas

    I purchased 8 copies of Letters to a Young Mormon and passed them out to all my kids and gave one to my wife to read who is the stake young women’s president. The reviews are very positive with one stating he has had an “epiphany.”

  33. the Manichean Mormon Fantasy

    Adam Miller’s parocial treatment repeats the fright of sin repeately. Sin being what? Sin is a human construct for control of the flock; It must be remembered, we humans have vestigial tails, as such, Elohim must have one too. Good and evil reside in all Saints whether here or in the afterlife, and so, the battle goes on in heaven.
    Of note: John Larson just posted a discussion on Mormon Expression,
    Eouside 254, https://mormonexpression.com ,
    The grand Demonic Conspiracy is worthy of Adam Miller’s research on SIN. I hope he is able to weave this material into his next edition of LETTERS TO A YOUNG MORMON.
    As I have stated, Being of the Earth but not in the Earth is the fundament of Miller’s postulate while disregarding the rest of humanity. Myopic Mormonism is so self-indulgent, it takes a philosopher to further muddy the waters, as the Niagra Fall’s roar draws closer spitting mist above while rainbows arc across the sky and currents swril –– on the brink –– Adam must remember to row like Hell.

    John, again you smack it outta-da-park with the wonderful Tanner intverview followed by Adam Miller’s metaphysics –– the siamese twins of mormonism.

  34. I got some great stuff out of this interview. I’m glad you spoke with him. This is why I plug in and listen to stuff on this site.

  35. Thanks John for interviewing Adam. I had read his book “letters” about a couple of months prior and found it very engaging. I hope you will interview more individuals like Adam. I’d love to hear from Maxine Hanks but I doubt she is willing to subject herself to the banter in the comment section that will inevitably follow such an interview. There are several regulars who comment who are very articulate and intelligent but who appear to be as certain that they are right as the Mormon’s they despise. Ironic.

    1. Jay, I agree with you I’d like to hear more. Adam Millers podcast enabled me to look at the three hours I spent in church reminding myself that I am in need to being honest with myself in telling my own story. I’ve never been too big on “sin” as it is formally taught. It breeds guilt which is destructive and therefore useless. This past Sunday was far more enjoyable due to what I took away from Adam Miller.

  36. I think James 1:27 sums up well Adams definition of religion and faith:
    “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

    1. Mike, I agree with you. The fact is that if we focused meeting the needs of each other rather than the insanity of program worship that is the focus within the church we’d be doing better to live an honest religion.

      As a therapist I see a great many people who do sin. They drift from the honesty of their own stories, tell themselves lies and become incapacitated in life. When they return back to the truth of their lives and accept that life they can then move forward. As I look at what Jesus taught I find that he did ask us to be honest with ourselves and our life stories.

  37. In response to John’s question regarding his own experience with conference and Sunday meetings being different from Adam’s, “What am I [John] doing wrong?”:

    My instinctual response is that Adam seems to be looking in the mirror, observing his experience as a reflection of himself, while John is looking out the window observing his experience in relation to others. I mean, the question itself belies this perspective, this set of expectations that John has built up, rather than an acceptance of what grace grants.

    1. I forgot to also downplay the idea that John is doing something “wrong.” He’s just doing something different.
      We have to be careful while looking in the mirror, and we have to be careful while looking out the window. Both have their pitfalls.
      The difference in the approaches is evident throughout the interview, poignantly in relation to boredom.

  38. Hi John,

    I couldn’t listen to than more 30 minutes without you challenging Adam on the “Doctrine of Inadequacy” that plagues his philosophy and all dogmatic belief. In order to get the benefit of salvation, one must first believe he/she is a sinner. The natural man is an enemy to god is a violation of sound self-belief and good parenting. With ourselves and our children, we need to follow the notion of “first do no harm” derived from the writings of Hippocrates. How is it acceptable to force a child to believe that he/she is born in a state of wickedness when you have no proof? You are certainly not starting with the null hypothesis and therefore are very susceptible to making a type 1 error!

    Maybe you challenged him eventually on that point, but I’ll never know. That would have been my first question.

    Sorry Adam, hopefully your kids won’t experience the utter self-loathing that I constantly felt as a mormon youth and adult, and see all around me in my large devout mormon family…it comes with believing that external forces are real and have the power to control your thoughts and actions.

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