My Reflections from My Interview with Richard Bushman

Most of you will likely consider this a rambling mess, but I wanted to post my reflections from my interview with Richard Bushman somewhere–so I’m doing it here. I include these comments in audio form at the beginning of part 5, but here they are in text form:

Hi. This is John Dehlin, and thank you again for joining us on Mormon Stories. You are about the hear the final portion of my 5 part interview with Dr. Richard Bushman, former Stake President and current Patriarch of the LDS Church, professor of U.S. history, and author of the book: “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling.”

Before I play the interview, I wanted to share a few final thoughts

  • At the beginning of the series, I indicated that Dr. Bushman and I intended to cover 10 or so of the toughest issues surrounding Joseph Smith’s history. Unfortunately, because of the breadth and depth of the first several segments, we burned through all the time that Dr. Bushman was able to offer–and will not continue beyond this final episode (at least for now). Dr. Bushman has indicated that he may have time at some future date to continue the series, so there’s still some chance–but for now, this will be the final segment of our 5 part interview with Dr. Bushman.
  • I want to take the time again to thank Dr. Bushman for his willingness to come on Mormon Stories podcast. In making that decision, it seems as though he had everything to lose, and precious little to gain. In my opinion, Dr. Bushman walks a very fine, and difficult line. On the one hand–he is viewed almost universally as a faithful, devoted member of the LDS church–not only in good standing, but currently serving as a Patriarch for the church. His books have been widely sold in church book stores, and many feel that he has (at least tacit) approval from the leaders of the LDS Church to do what he is doing. We should not underestimate the heavy burden that he must feel, in this position. Notwithstanding, Dr. Bushman is not only a scholar–but remains a clear champion of more open, honest, and accurate history withing the LDS Church. He is not merely defending Joseph and the church–he is also calling for changes, improvements if you will, on all of our parts. This position, between the extremes, can be a very lonely road to walk. On the one hand, he risks being criticized by conservatives as eroding faith by airing too much “dirty laundry”, as they say. On the other hand, he exposes himself to ridicule, derision and even blind dismissal by disaffected Mormons–for acting out the role of apologist. Again–this can be a very lonely road to walk–one that requires deep faith, heavy preparation, strong integrity and conviction. In my estimation–Dr. Bushman deserves great praise and admiration for trying to walk this middle path. While dissenting scholars like Brodie, Quinn, Palmer, and Vogel clearly deserve our respect–so does Dr. Bushman. Regardless of what type of Mormon, or ex-Mormon you are–for those of us who are interested in mainstream members of the LDS Church finally coming to grips with the factual, toughest aspects of Joseph Smith and LDS church history–including peep stones, masonry, polyandry, Kingdom of God, the Nauvoo Expositor, the Kinderhook plates, and all of the other tough topics–I cannot think of another Mormon historian who has done more to drive awareness of these issues deeper into mainstream Mormonism than has Dr. Bushman. In that respect–he deserves credit and praise from all sides of the faith spectrum.
  • And yet he continues to believe–perhaps the most amazing, inspiring and for some –maddening– aspect of all.
  • Still–as I’ve re-listened to these interviews, I remain almost stunned at the non-traditional language Dr. Bushman is willing to use in his discussions of LDS faith. He describes his testimony as being centered upon goodness, rather than the traditional language of truthfulness with a Capital T (though I’m sure that he also holds the gospel to be true). Still, this is reassuring language, for the many saints who struggle with the words “know” and “true”, relative to testimonies. It is like a breath of fresh air. Instead of avoiding the issue, Dr. Bushman openly acknowledges the paradox of the honest, yet faithful saint and scholar–who experiences the conflict between a belief in the exclusive truthfulness of the LDS church, and the awareness that there is so much good outside the church, and that there must be more to God’s plan than what we currently know. This, again, is refreshing. He boldly calls for more openness and honesty with our history–at all levels–and acknowledges that perhaps our hesitancy to be candid with the historical evidence has caused many to feel unnecessary pain, and feelings of having been deceived. He does not blame the victim. In addition. Dr. Bushman was willing to step out from the safety and control of the written word–and directly confront charged question after charged question (from me) with both poise and acceptance–never shying away from the harder aspects of the history–always validating the historical evidence, and never resulting to ad hominim attacks, as so many Mormon apologists have done in the past, and continue to do. He is respectful enough to show deference to, and even praise for someone like Dan Vogel–in spite of the fact that Mr. Vogel is not a traditional believer in the church. And perhaps most importantly of all, Dr. Bushman extends words of support and encouragement to those who are struggling, and questioning their faith. He does not demean them–but instead shows compassion and understanding for their plight–and openly encourages them to consider the struggle–to not give up the quest. He even reduces the dilemma to something very simple: he calls belief in prophets “a choice”–something that our current heavy emphasis in “the spirit” and “feelings” often does not allow. In conclusion–if every faithful member of the church — from Apostle, to Prophet, to General Authority, to Stake President, to Bishop, to ward member, to neighbor, to family member — were to follow Dr. Bushman’s example of how to deal with Mormon history, and those who have been negatively affected by it–I firmly believe that there would be significantly less pain, anguish, suffering, divorce, isolation, disaffection, antagonism, loneliness, depression, and maybe even suicide within Mormonism.
  • If I have any criticism of the interview at all–it is in a slight contradiction that I, and a few others, have noted in Dr. Bushman’s narrative. On the one hand, he begins this series by speaking so highly of his early Harvard days–where other members of the church were able to spend hours upon hours of time studying, exploring, and discussing all aspects of Mormonism — without any real fear of judgment or castigation. While I acknowledge that the Mormon Historical Association allows for dissenting views–I remain uncertain as to what forums regular Mormons (not historians) today have for similar types of discussions. Certainly not sunday school. Study groups and symposia have been formally discouraged by church leadership. And while Sunstone has made GREAT strides under the leadership of Dan Wotherspoon and others to emphasize what is positive and faithful within Mormonism–the stigma remains. I will ask our listeners, and Dr. Bushman an open, somewhat rhetorical question–where, other than the Internet, can faithful LDS members go to openly discuss the issues and controversies of both LDS church history, and other social aspects of the church–without fear of judgment, disloyalty, or punishment? Where are the open forums for thought and faith within Mormonism–accessible to all? Sunstone has definitely been through its ups and downs–but until I learn of a better place, I will continue to give Sunstone, Dialogue, and the Bloggernacle my time and support. For those who are not comfortable with Sustone and Dialogue–but are aware of the dilemma of disaffected LDS saints–I’ll ask it one last time: where can disaffected Mormons go for open, friendly, informed, non-judgmental, Church-sanctioned support? If it is not the Church’s role to directly and officially reach out to those struggling with their faith–what is their role, exactly? And if not Sunstone and Dialogue–Who? Where?
  • Now…about this episode. After 4 hours of interviews with me, it was clear that Dr. Bushman felt as though, in his words, I had gotten the best out of him. Once we realized that it was time to wrap up, there were a few final thoughts that Dr. Bushman wanted to share with my listeners: so the first part of this episode represents his final thoughts about the interview, and the challenges of dealing with tough Mormon history in general. The last part of the interview, however, represents something that was very important to me. After drilling down so deep on the controversy of Joseph Smith’s life, I didn’t feel comfortable ending on a negative and controversial note, so I asked Dr. Bushman to share with us a story or two that would encapsulate his view, and even testimony of Joseph Smith, after a lifetime of studying the man, and the prophet. This segment ends with that story, and those expressions by Dr. Bushman.
  • As a final request–If you end up appreciating, finding value, or even experiencing renewed faith because of this interview with Dr. Bushman, please take the time to send me an email at addressed to Dr. Bushman, and I will make sure that he receives the email. Since Dr. Bushman is quite likely to receive some grief simply for coming on Mormon Stories (given our open format, and our willingness to explore all sides of an issue)–I would really appreciate it if the listeners of mine who felt inspired or appreciative of the interview would take the time to let Dr. Bushman know what his scholarship, and faith, have meant to them. And who knows…maybe we can convince him to complete the series!!! (when the time is right of course).
  • And now, on with the final segment of my 5 part interview with Dr. Richard Bushman, author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. Your story, today on Mormon Stories.


  1. John,

    These interviews with Dr. Bushman are the finest yet in Mormon Stories. My hat tips to both you and Dr. Bushman for such an enlightening, edifying and insightful series of interviews and discussions.

    Dr. Bushman’s approach/testimony is personally reassuring to me. I have been inspired and moved by Dr. Bushman’s efficacy based testimony that acknowledges difficult issues in Mormonism. In many ways, that is where my testimony is. It’s good to hear Dr. Bushman because sometimes when I read the DAMU I am left to conclude that acknowledging difficult issues in Church History will inevitably lead to my leaving the Church if I am to be true to myself. I love the Church, wart s and all, as they say, and listening to Dr. Bushman reassures me that my position is teneable, logical and sustainable over the course of my life. I love Mormonism, and it is my DNA.

    It’s a cliche, but it’s true- Mormonism is a beleif system of paradoxes and tension. Dr. Bushman makes strong arguments that these paradoxes and tension are not only manageable, but beneficial.

  2. I want to add one more general thought. I know that some prominent apologists have attempted to make John feel guilty for the work that he does here at Mormon Stories. They argue that by discussing these controversial issues, John and others are exposing people to ideas and facts that would undermine faith and ultimately hurt them. That anyone would denounce an open sincere inquiry of truth is absolutely disgusting and revolting and a reflection upon their deceptive and morally rudderless character.

    I know that because John sincerely cares for his friends and in a broader sense the Mormon community and in a broader sense humanity, it causes him great concern and stress that he might be engaging in harmful material.

    I want to state unequivocally from my experience that scholars like Dr. Bushman, Leonard Arrington and John Dehlin have done more to affirm my faith than anything done by so called apologists. As I have waded through crises of faith, the work of apologists has only made me more doubtful and more skeptical.

    The very nature of the apologists work is selective use of facts and manipulative interpretation of them. People aren’t dumb and they can see through it, whether that be on a level they are willing to acknowledge or a level of cognative dissonance. I further repudiate and denounce the idea that there is harmful truth. Truth is truth and will always emerge triumphant whether we are talkign about Mormonism, religion in general, politics, finances, or personal relationships. It is our moral duty to seek after truth and embrace it.

    I am so grateful for what John Dehlin has done here at Mormon Stories. It has done more to affirm my faith in recent years while still providing an outlet for honest exploration than anything else. I would be on a much different path without his work.

    I am also grateful for scholars like Dr. Bushman. To answer John’s question about where people can go- they can go to Mormon Stories. And we as a people need to do more to promote outlets like this and to seek to understand each other and be willing to understand things in ways that we never thought of or that make us uncomfortable.

  3. Hello Tom,
    I am going to try to take exception to the following statement about the apologist’s work.

    You said:
    “The very nature of the apologists work is selective use of facts and manipulative interpretation of them”

    I am not much of an apologist, but I do not think it is a word that should connote a universal negative. Through RFM (limited) and John’s site I have seen things pointed to that I knew were part of apologetics in some instances. The degree to which these aspects of some apologetics are used to dismiss apologetic arguments did however surprise me.

    I have seen from apologist an attack of the person rather than solely (or even primarily in some cases) his ideas. It was clear to me that such things should be avoided.
    I have also seen poor apologetics. Things like not answering the objection, not admitting/acknowledging the facts, not offering consistent or reasonable arguments, and other things.

    I also believe that there are good apologetics. Responses to criticisms that eliminate (even turn the tables on) the objections are infrequent but occur. Things like the “land of Jerusalem” or biblical views on deification.
    Some responses to criticisms ameliorate the weight of the criticism. Things like the witnesses speaking of their “Spiritual eyes” are ameliorated though points like Dr. Bushman made.
    Some responses to criticisms just don’t do a tremendous amount. The BOA theories I find all problematic, but perhaps not impossible.

    There are positive apologetics arguments which also vary from outlandish stretch to compelling.

    The very nature of apologetic work I think is best captured by this statement. It was quoted by Elder Maxwell a BYU conference in an address titled “Discipleship and Scholarship.”

    “… though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.” (Austin Farrer, “Grete Clerk,” in Light on C. S. Lewis 1965)

    I have no intention of suggesting that bad apologetics do not exist. I have no intention of saying that bad apologetics do not exist within the more professional apologetic venues in the CoJCoLDS (or at Catholic Answers or …). In addition to this, there are particularly poor and uninformed critics of the CoJCoLDS who are every bit as capable of producing poor apologetics for the opposite position. I suggest that you have painted apologetics with a black brush. I suspect this is not your considered opinion (though I could be wrong), but it is what you offered in your post. I just want to offer another perspective.

    Charity, TOm

  4. TOm,

    I appreciate your feedback. My criticism of apologists isn’t that they are always wrong, but in there methodology. The conclusion is first determined and then facts and interpretations are selectively constructed to create an argument. Inevitably in this approach the apologists work will occasionally align with truth. Even with the occasional correct ends, the methodology is still incorrect and flawed.

    Just becasue someone correctly refutes a given flawed argument against the Church doesn’t make them an apologist. The method of starting with the conclusion and then looking for facts is what makes an apologist, and that methodology is reckless, irresponsible and ultimately undermines faith.

  5. I’m in a funny place with you, John. Your work with Mormon Stories has both torn down my old faith and helped in building the new one. However, this is not a bad thing. The old faith had so many holes. Philosophies and doctrines that just didn’t make logical sense, and some that didn’t even feel good in the heart. The new faith allows the room for other things to actually fit and change and things that feel good in the heart yet are not canon in SLC to be OK to run with for now. The things that don’t feel good in the heart yet are/were canon in SLC don’t have to be “swallowed down like a pill”.

    Much love John. Just think of that missionary cliche of how you could convert one person who converts x number more who then convert x number each and so on. Your impact could be as the sands of the sea shore.

    Keep rockin’ the beach.

  6. om Grover: “The very nature of the apologists work is selective use of facts and manipulative interpretation of them. People aren’t dumb and they can see through it, whether that be on a level they are willing to acknowledge or a level of cognative dissonance. I further repudiate and denounce the idea that there is harmful truth.”

    Which apologists did you have in mind? Or do you think that you can lump them all together. Or is the methodlogy you describe definitive of apologetics in some sense so that if one doesn’t do this, then one isn’t an aplogist? Since I consider myself an apologist in many senses (certainly not this sense — and I don’t know anyone who does) I was wondering which of my works, if any, you have in mind?

  7. Blake,

    Just curious. You really don’t see at lease some of the work of FAIR or FARMS to be as Tom describes above? I know SO many really thoughtful people — many of whom I imagine you would respect — who share Tom’s concerns about Mormon apologetics.

    As one small example — take Hugh Nibley’s “No Ma’m…That’s Not History.” You really don’t think that that was an embarrassment to Mormon apologetics?

    Or how about Lou Midgley’s attacks on Grant Palmer?

    Just to name 2 really egregious ones (from folks I’ve spoken with).

  8. John: So how does that justify smeering all apologists or all work by FARMS and FAIR for example? That’s kind of like saying all science is bunk because of the Piltdown Man hoax isn’t it?I see these kind of blanket statements and wonder at both the use of the simple smeer tactic that they decry and the failure to appreciate some really intelligent, well-argued and well documented articles and reports. I like “No Ma’am that’s Not History for its sheer rhetorical flare — especially since Nibely constantly put down rhetoric. Lou Midgley is a good friend of mind. I wish that no one made comments about any person and focused solely on their arguments and interpretation of the data — but there is a place for pointing out that it is inappropriate to trumpet one’s insider status to give credibility to one’s arguments — I don’t like that from church leaders and I don’t like it from critics.So what I’m suggesting is that this kind of blanket statement is a failure to seriously engage the diverse range of apologetics and focuses on a very few articles.

  9. BTW John, I also wanted to thank you for the great work on these Bushman interviews. I really like Richard and his gracious willingness to share his perspective has been very valuable. I am a bit chagrined at the tone of the responses on this web-site here and the failure to truly appreicate the depth and wisdom he brings to these issues.

  10. Hey Blake!

    2 things…

    –I only asked about Midgley and Nibley because you said you didn’t know ANY apologists who did stuff like Tom mentioned….so I wanted to get a sense for if you really meant to say “not any.” But I’m with you. Down w/ ad hominem (sp?).

    –Thanks for the kind words of support about Bushman. I’ve received probably 20 emails so far from people who have said how inspiring and faith-promoting the interviews were to them (and forwarded them all on to Dr. Bushman, of course). As for the comments here–the mainstream Bloggernacle has sort of shunned and/or ignored Mormon Stories a bit in the past (with occasional exceptions) — perhaps because I’ve been willing to interview folks like Grant Palmer, or Buckley Jeppson–in addition to my interviews w/ folks like John Lynch, Darius Gray, and Bushman. I also am not a typical conservative, orthodox LDS believer–so that may also play a role.

    Anyway–since the bloggernacle is not always comfortable w/ what I do–I tend to get most of my support/commetns from the other side of the spectrum (liberal and ex-Mos)…which is why my comments are sometimes skewed in that direction.

    It’s kinda like the Sunstone dynamic. Conservatives stop coming to Sunstone, and then they wonder why/how Sunstone got so “liberal.”


    I’m sure that I’m oversimplifying things, but this might be one answer. Glad you’re here, however!!! I LOVE balance.

  11. Tom,
    Thanks for the response.
    You say (concerning apologetic methodology) “The conclusion is first determined and then facts and interpretations are selectively constructed to create an argument,” and I do not know exactly how to respond. It is obvious that you very much disapprove of this method.
    I will not advocate the systematic exclusion of facts so that a position disconnected from the data (even disconnected from the data for only the subject being addressed) can be argued with one-sided data. And that is surely the greatest danger that we should all try to avoid. I do have to offer some thoughts on “the conclusion is first determined.”

    The simplest response is the standard tu coque “argument” (if I knew my Latin I would say “and them” rather than “and you”). There are numerous examples where conclusions are first or largely determined and then facts and interpretations are selectively chosen and constructed. This happens in physics, archeology, and history. It surely happens with similar frequency within the apologetic presentations offered by critics of the church (and I suspect you would, and perhaps have, called this as you see it too).
    Next, I am quite convinced that there is not a single apologist for the CoJCoLDS who does not honestly believe that the CoJCoLDS is essentially true and from God. I also expect that as theists they honestly believe there are eternal consequences associated with their actions/beliefs. They have engaged the material offered by critics, still believe, and even believe others will be served by their apologetics.

    Speaking more personally, I usually admit when I find a particular issue something that the critics have the stronger position. My favorite (or least favorite) example is the BOA. If there was no BOM, no witnesses, no … and all I had was the BOA together with about three theories for its production, I could not form an intellectual reason to be a LDS, and I am not sure God would see fit to offer me the magnitude of spiritual confirmation necessary to believe in the face of such contrary evidence.
    That being said, I find the idea that the BOA was a fraud & much of the rest of the restoration is true to be a pretty weak position. So faced with “it is ALL not generally what is claimed” or “the BOA is from God somehow,” I think the evidence points to the BOA being from God somehow. I have listed off two papyri theory, spiritual catalyst theory, and even mnemonic transmission theory in the past. Does this mean that I drew my conclusion on the BOA, evidence be damned? I do not think so. I have drawn my “conclusion” on the BOA because of the strength I see in other evidence.

    I believe the faithful apologist cannot help but attack problems from their previous convictions. I believe most apologist are also thoughtful (all good ones it would seem are thoughtful and intelligent) and as they address real problems their views move.

    In the past I acknowledged my concerns about the priesthood ban. But still, I explained that while I am truly thankful that there is no doctrinally sanctioned racism in the church today, the Old Testament and some of the New Testament seem to teach that discrimination based on race and/or lineage was from God. The evidence (largely encountered through and/or resulting from John’s podcasts) has moved me. I believe that the priesthood ban was not from God and that Brigham Young was a racist (I guess I always believed that BY was a racist, but not that he largely initiated the priesthood ban from his racist predilections and perhaps certain triggers).

    So, I do not know what to do with your suggestion that apologetics is hopelessly flawed because it starts with a conclusion. If there was no conviction to a position I doubt there would be much discussion and debate. I share your love for truth, and I ask that I may be regularly disillusioned (because I do not want to be illusioned), but I cannot help but start from a certain position.
    Also I strongly suspect that the perfectly objective truth seeker is quite rare. And if we found a few dozen of them, I think they would move our dialogue forward much less than the passionate believer and critic.

    Charity, TOm

  12. TOm Says “I am so grateful for what John Dehlin has done here at Mormon Stories. It has done more to affirm my faith in recent years while still providing an outlet for honest exploration than anything else. I would be on a much different path without his work. ”

    John, can I just echo the sentiments above. Shame on me but I only discovered Mormon Stories (and the cultural hall) around a month or so ago. Its not so much the excellent podcasts but more your belief and efforts in promoting the middle way philosophy. In the greatest possible sense of the word you`ve given me hope, .

  13. John said: “because you said you didn’t know ANY apologists who did stuff like Tom mentioned.”

    John, I’ve re-read my posts and I don’t think I said that.

    I appreciate your candor.

  14. Blake,

    I am not familiar with any of your work specifically, but I am more than happy and willing to read it. My email is My criticisms are not of individual apologists themselves, but of the practice as a whole. It seems your arguments want to shift my criticism of the methodology to a personal indictment of those practicing apologetics. And I do think there is a level of deception involved in that methodology.


    I really like a lot of what is in your last post, especially the idea that beginning with the conclusion and then looking for facts is quite pervasive. It is pervasive not just in religious studies, but many other disciplines as you correclty note. I also believe all of us do this frequently. I know I catch myself often beginning with the conclusion. Even so, I think it is something to be avoided.

    I suppose that my personal experience with apologetics, faith and difficult issues in Mormonism is a little different than yours (and that’s ok, I’m not passing judgment here). For me, reading apologetics on BOA or BoM or Church History issues required a degree of mental contortion that strained my faith and made me doubt and have turmoil inside. My testimony has evolved and changed and is really efficacy based. I eventually fell back on, “I can’t answer or explain every jot and tittle of the Gospel. But I can say, without a doubt, that it’s influence in my life has been 100% good and positive and I would be a fool to get rid of it.”

    At this point, it is much easier for me to expand and promote my faith by relieving tension over these issues through honest discussion about them. Not dealing directly with them causes an internal acidic erosion of my faith. In the past, as a missionary, and immediately upon my return, I feared a full exploration of issues. I feared I would lose my testimony and drift down a path of unrighteousness. But as I questioned my motives for such fear I had to question whether I was choosing to be decieved.

    Ultimately, that growing fear and tension has been absolved. The reason I am so grateful for Mormon Stories is that John has covered a broad range of issues that caused me such tension and grief.

  15. Hey Blake,

    My bad. I thought that’s what you meant by, “and I don’t know anyone who does”. I though you meant that you didn’t know any apologists who acted as Tom mentioned. Rereading it, I think I goofed.

    I think I was reading too quickly. Sorry!!!

  16. P.S. Blake–do you agree that there has been some really bad Mormon apologetics, that sometimes can even serve to harm, vs. foster faith? I get emails like that all the time–people saying that when they had questions, the FAIR/FARMS just made it worse.

    If so, what is your idea of good vs. bad apologetics?

  17. Tom: Not knowing what you’ve read, it is impossible to comment. I know that I have done my best to stick to arguments, avoid anything personal and focus on what I consider to be valid responses. Having said that, I once pointed out in a letter to Sunstone that Simon Southerton had admitted to committing adultery. I regret that statement. I consider what he did to be within the parameters of adultery but I realize others might not. (I pointed that out to suggest those who don’t publicly attack the Church can take a wide number of views on issues even at the center of the faith such as BofM historicity [as I have done] without incurring any threat of sanction).

    I don’t see a lot written on the BofAbr. to be very persuasive. But I believe that Kevin Barney and I have written on issues related to the BofAbr. that are both honest and persuasive — tho admittedly not a knock down for a traditional view. We point out that there are numerous very close parallels to the BofAbr. and the Jewish (probably 1st cent. B.C.) Apocalypse of Abr. and the Test. of Abr. We show that both of these pseudepigraphic works referred to the Egyptian Book of the Dead and use ch. 162 and the psychostasy scene (the judgment scene) to replace Osiris with Abraham (as is done in facsimiles 1 and 3), the Horus falcon with the rescuing angel of the Lord (as in fac. #1) and several other correspondences. That is, the Jewish writers of Abraham material wrote works surprisingly parallel to the BofA and actually used Egyptian papyri similar to the Book of Breathings and hypocephalus which Joseph Smith had in his possession to illustrate the story of Abraham in a very similar way. I think that is significant.

    Most on this list know that I have written on the Book of Mormon and presented a non-standard theory to account for what I consider to be both genuinely ancient and modern aspects (both of which have to be accounted for in my view). Most of my stuff can be found easily on the net.

    I give these not to puff myself up (which I suspect we all have to guard against) but to show the kinds of things I think are good apologetics. I also think there is a place for demonstrating that arguments against the Church are fallacious — as I regard the DNA argument to be. It is bad reasoning and doesn’t show what those who put it forward claim it shows. I think it is important to put arguments pro and con in proper perspective.

    John: Of course there are bad apologetics. I am against anyone who tries to smear anyone. It is not about personalities unless personalities are the issue. For example, there was nothing new in Grant Palmer’s book An Insider’s View. Its primary selling point was that he was once with CES. Indeed, the title makes that the primary point. I regard that as putting his credentials directly at issue. However, I’ve been on two panels at Sunstone with Grant and I like him.

    Let me wonder out loud at the vast double standard occurring here. I have seen Tal Bachman’s slanderous (and I know slander, I’m a trial attorney and an expert about that) and contemptible parody of my Dan Peterson. Compared to Bachman, Peterson is a veritable Einstein. Bachman’s attack was personal, meant to slander and hurt without a shred of decent argument. Why aren’t folks in the DAMU all over that? The histrionics on ex-mo websites are beneath contempt –yet nary a word about that. It is always the Mormon apologists who have acted out of line. Frankly, these ex-mos who act this way are there own worst enemies. The behavior of ex-mos doesn’t justify the same from Mormon apologists, but I point to that to show that those critiquing are willing to simply overlook a lot and ought to make similar critiques in their own backyard.

  18. Blake,

    I consider the vast majority of what both Peterson and Bachman do on the internet to have the value of a circus sideshow act. Why we should laud one over the other, or claim to have a grasp on the comparison of their IQs, is somewhat mysterious to me. I have not seen any evidence to suggest that either man is justly comparable to Albert Einstein, or any other weighty intellectual figure of the past century.

    Both men have noticeable intellectual talents. One is a musician and the other a PhD-trained apologist. Is either man worthy of my consideration in more than passing? In spite of their witty verbosity, I would hope both men would willingly say no with sincerity. How many people in this forum mark the boundaries of their values, loyalties, or aspirations with reference to these men? I would hope the answer is vanishingly few.

    Since I take neither man very seriously, I will leave it to you to be upset about how they are treated in various fora. I have better things to do with my time.

    As for Grant Palmer, the virtue of his book goes beyond the fact that he was a CES employee. Indeed, if that were the case, there would be nothing to discuss. His book gathered many of the controversies regarding early Mormonism in one volume, and in an easily digestible form. I do not recall him claiming that it was startlingly original, or somehow much more than it appears to be.

  19. Blake — Just so you know, I see the slander and bile coming from the average exmo as exponentially worse than what comes from the average apologist.

    We’re totally on the same page there. That’s what my rant last week was about.

  20. Blake,

    What I am about to say is probably going to drive exmo’s and apologists nuts. I really don’t care about any evidence that empirically proves a gospel claim. Exmo’s will read that and think I am a mindless sheep, and apologists will read that and think I’m not interesting in promoting the gospel.

    My “evidence” is the way the Gospel works for me. Nahom-NHM, dead sea scrolls, cimeters, are all good and fine, but their existence and what they prove doesn’t actually do anything for my faith. To be honest, I really don’t care much any more about the Historicity of the Book of Mormon or Jesus (just as empirically doubtful) or any of it. The Book of Mormon’s teachings are true because they work (isn’t that the thrust of Alma 32 and Moroni’s challenge?). Jesus’ teachings, or at least the teachings attributing to a fellow that supposedly existed who went by the name of Jesus, are the best moral code the world has come up with. So I follow and I really don’t care if Jesus never really existed or if Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon like a novel (which, btw, doesn’t emprically jive either).

    Faith is based upon principle- proven principle.

  21. Trevor: Just how you can think that Peterson’s scholarship is somehow on par with Bachman’s intentional slander is beyond me. I have only my eyes to see with; but I just can’t even begin to see where you’re coming from.

  22. Tom: If that works for you fine. For others, like me, who find great solace and meaning in life after death and that life has meaning in light of its eternity, such doctrines and truths are not negligible.

  23. Blake,
    I think you totally missed the gist of Tom G’s last post. In fact the comment you made about it has an air of self-righteousness about it that will only feed the stereotypes of apologists. You imply that if the details you focus on are not the focus for Tom, then he must not “find solace and meaning in life after death” and/or that he doesn’t see life having any meaning in light of eternity. Gigantic leap there, and if I could be so presumptuous, seems more like a defensive backlash. Try easing up on that stuff if you are trying to convince people that apologists are noble.

    Tom G,
    You make the complaint about starting with a conclusion and then researching for the purpose of supporting that conclusion. I think that is just plain old humanity. I think that probably 90% (if not more) of all efforts to “test” anything starts with at least a hope of what the result will be. That is the very motivation for doing the test in the first place. I don’t call that deception. The slippery slope comes when you are very personally invested in the outcome and then the outcome starts to sway towards the end you didn’t want. As long as you are open to change and accepting that your initial conclusion/motivation could have been wrong… “beginning with the end in mind” is really not such a bad thing.

  24. Blake,

    I still beleive in Salvation, Kolob, and the whole nine yards about the after life. I just don’t feel like I need empirical evidence (one way or the other) to justify or prevent me from making that leap.


    Spot on about human nature. I think you are right about the intent regarding starting with the conclusion and I appreciate the distinction you make.

  25. Clay: I believe that the imputation of self righteousness is all you own. I’m fine with Tom and with his views. What more can we ask than that a view work for us? I was simply suggesting that for me that would not be enough — that doesn’t imply anything about Tom at all. It seems to me that you are too quick to pull the trigger on judgment here. I’m perplexed at all the defensiveness that you impute to me. Maybe you missed this? “Tom: If that works for you fine.” How is that defensive and presumptuous and self-righteous?

    However, I agree with your point that we all experience dissonance and seek way to make sense of the world within an already received or adopted view before we abandon such views.We are surely entitled to see if the arguments against a view are valid.

    Tom: Like I said, I’m fine with your view as long as it works for you.

  26. Blake,

    I would ask that you read what I have written with a little more care. I said that the bulk of what both men do *on the internet* is a circus sideshow. Given the amount of time Dr. Peterson commits to discussion boards, I should have thought you would understand to what I was referring. This is the second time you have mischaracterized my comments. You seem to have an itchy trigger finger and poor aim.

  27. Trevor: I admit that I pay little attention to what Dan Peterson writes on blogs or boards. If I mischaracterized what you were referring to, then my bad. I cannot judge what he writes on blogs. What he publishes is generally erudite and well-reasoned in my view. He’s also my friend.

  28. Blake,
    I was trying to tell you what comments like that sound like to people outside of yourself who read them. I didn’t claim I knew what you really meant.

    Also, I didn’t miss “if it works for you fine.” Its not about missing anything at all. Its about what I *didn’t* miss. Namely “For others, like me, who…” Its really just about the language you are selecting. Starting out a statement with that implies that Tom is outside the group you are about to detail, regardless of what you say next. That might be fine if you knew him as intimately as you know yourself. But without that, when we examine the actions you then describe, by implying Tom is not a part of the group that *values* and “finds meaning* just has a tone that is not pleasant. No mental gymnastics here. The docile nature of “if it works for you fine” does not take the sting away from “For others…who find meaning in the after life”. Which reads like “you may not find meaning in the after life, but I do, and if that works for you, fine.”

    Bottom line, I am only asking that you take more care in the language you use in responding to someone of an opposing viewpoint. I’ll take your word for it that you didn’t intend for it to sound like I have described above.

  29. “What I am about to say is probably going to drive exmo’s and apologists nuts. I really don’t care about any evidence that empirically proves a gospel claim.”

    Well, I am neither an exmo nor an apologist but I, for one, think this is a healthy attitude and one which the church as a whole woyld be wise to adopt. All this trying to prove the gospel with faux archaeology and faith-promoting science-ish rumor does more harm for the cause than good. Much better to just admit that your faith is not based on external evidence but on personal experience.

  30. Blake,

    I think the point, from my perspective, is that comparing these two men (Peterson and Bachman) is like comparing apples and oranges. There is no doubt that Peterson is a learned man, and that his published on Mormonism generally reflects his erudition. I also think he has quite a biting wit.

    Bachman, on the other hand, is a trained entertainer. As a popular entertainer, he was able to attract the attention of a number of people who were on their way out of Mormonism, because he presented an “everyman” sort of face in that struggle. In my opinion the man has clearly gone beyond the pale in terms of reason and civility, but I would also have to say that to watch Dr. Peterson on the internet is not to see him at his best either. Neither could I be overly generous with some of the pieces he has written for the FARMS Review.

    In any case, I don’t know how many times the name Tal Bachman has been raised on Mormon Stories. I can’t recall that many occasions. What has struck me recently is the emerging tendency for intelligent members of the Church to voice concern about the rhetoric of apologists.

    I think it was Dr. Peterson’s review of Brooke’s book that first put me off, and then perhaps Midgley’s review of Buerger’s book on temple ordinances. The withering tone and sharp wit of these reviews, to name only two, were in my view representative of only the underbelly of scholarly discourse, and certainly not something to be emulated by any serious scholar or aspiring gentleperson.

    And here is where the subject comes back around to Dr. Bushman and his interview. In contrast with your Midgleys and Petersons, whom I do not deride in terms of learning or loyalty to the Mormon Gospel, we have a true gentleman in Dr. Bushman, who could actually find a number of positive things to say about Dan Vogel (and nothing biting or overly negative), a man many would agree has a great deal of disdain for religion. For that single act of rhetorical gentlemanliness, Bushman is to be regarded over every Mormon scholar who engages in the rhetorical fireworks that have begun to be a concern.

    I recommend, by way of direct comparison with Peterson, reading Jan Shipps review of Brooke. She is equally critical of Brooke’s work but in a way that is positively noble and much more enlightening.

    Why is it that we are hard on our apologists and not taking Mr. Bachman to task? This is the question you seem to have posed. I think I have a partial answer. Many of us feel sensitive about the way we are being represented by some apologists. It is not that we champion the enemies of the Church. It is that we would prefer to be represented in a manner that better reflects our best aspirations to Christlike behavior.

  31. I have been giving this discussion we’ve had here a lot of thought. I want to thank everyone for the great contributions they have made to it. I have been personally benefited from it.

    In thinking about what I said, I became aware that my explanation of faith was grossly incomplete.

    My experience with Mormonism is more than just a really swell moral code, heritage and community. I can honestly say that I have had very meaningful and profound spiritual experiences throughout my life through Mormonism. I am sure that many, if not all of you, have had similar experiences so you know what I am talking about. So when I say I believe in Mormonism because of it’s efficacy, I am not just referring to the moral code, but to deep intangible spiritual experiences as well.

    Part of the tension I have had and at times continue to have comes when I am given empirical evidence that contradicts the truth claims of Mormonism. And while this evidence is compelling, just as compelling are these spiritual experiences for me (I cannot be honest with myself and explain them away or deny their reality), so I am left with competing and contradicting evidence. So I have chosen the evidence that yields me the greatest proven and known benefit.

    I just thought I needed to clarify my statements.

  32. LDS apologists are human beings and are certainly not perfect. And one can say the same for apologetics. To be a lds apologetic is not an easy matter. Apologists constantly play the black pieces against the attacker’s white pieces.

    To defend one’s religion against reason and intellect or for that matter against science is a difficult game to win. How can god be proven to exist? How can one prove a church true? It cannot happen, nor will it happen. Faith is not about scientific proof. And faith is not about intellectual reasoning. It has more to do with understanding the sensation that brought the person into the faith. For many lds it implies that strong sensation that has been experienced by the holy ghost. And how to prove the holy ghost to scientific reasoning or to intellect?

    I take my hat off to lds apologists. They are fighting the good fight. Are they perfect? No. Can they answer all questions effectively? No. And as Bushman implies, there is always room for doubt but he believes in the Joseph Smith story. And he speaks from his heart and soul…and that is good apologetics.

    And to those who play the white pieces…well…you haven’t won the game and you never will unless a smoking gun is produced. But you can sow seeds of doubt…but you haven’t proven the lds church false. The book of mormon still stands in all its complications inside and with all its plots. And that small scripture in Moroni is still answering people’s prayers. Lest we forget.

  33. It will probably come as no surprise to you, why me, if I disagree. I think Mormonism has been much better served by intelligent folks who have not written specifically to counter anti-Mormon claims. Intelligent work about Mormonism as opposed to slick rhetorical fencing will have a greater impact in the long run. That is why Bushman’s work is so important, and it is little wonder that the attitude he generally displays avoids the explicit tension with anti-Mormons.

    I do agree with you that the Moroni promise is still powerful, and it will be regardless of anti-Mormon attempts to discount Mormonism or religion in general. Mormonism is in a relatively good position vis-a-vis the competition. First, Christianity holds up to scholarly scrutiny no better than Mormonism does, so a rational examination is even less favorable to its claims. Second, religion will continue to hold more appeal than atheism as long as atheism fails to satisfy the longing for a spiritual community.

    Oddly, in neither advantage does Mormonism particularly rely on the help of apologists. Perhaps apologetics deserves thanks for pointing out that Mormonism is no less respectable than other faith positions. I would prefer, however, that they would learn to act more respectable as they set about doing it. Scholars like Bushman and Shipps have much to teach them in this regard.

  34. Trevor,

    I would agree with you in your first paragraph. There needs to be more intelligent writings about mormonism. In my post, I just wanted to defend the imperfections of apologists as they attempt to respond to those people who are critical of the lds church. And at times, the critical can have a tremendous impact on the apologist mind and reactions. To take up a defense of the lds church in this age of doubt is not an easy proposition. But you are correct about professionalism and yes, Bushman has much to teach the apologists in how they respond to lds critics.

    But in the end, it does seem that this game of chess is a constant draw. And that is unfortunate and yet, perhaps a draw is still a lds win. Mormonism is holding up well. Changes are coming and perhaps now is the time for change. I know that for myself, after I read Bushman’s book, I felt good about Joseph Smith.

    Joseph became a human being to me, a man, who had a mission to do and to accomplish. In the end, he was a man who had imperfections and yet, accomplished a great work. And he died for what he believed and for what he wanted to accomplish. Joseph Smith,like me, had moments of joy and when alone, had moments of sorrow. Joseph and I share such melancholy moments.

    I like him more now, not just as a prophet, but as a human being.

    Thanks Trevor for the response.

  35. I found the Bushman interviews very interesting. Having been an ex-mormon for years, influenced in my exit by the work of Wesley Walters and further by the BOA it was interesting to see how Bushman approached the same “facts” that others have seen as evidence of fraud.
    I heard Bushman at Griffith Uni (Australia), he was easy to listen to then as he is now on the podcasts. I remember reading his review of Inventing Mormonism and noting his tone was not as nasty as some LDS writers and actually praised Walters for his tenacity for searching out important and hard to find sources on the early life of Smith.

  36. Greetings John,

    I would like to put in my 2 cents regarding the Bushman Series Podcasts. Feel free to forward this to Dr. Bushman as you see fit.

    I experienced a crisis of faith about 2 years ago. I went (and probably am still going) through many of the emotions that many folks have mentioned before– shock, anger, betrayal, thoughts of suicide, etc. I could have simply abandoned Mormonism entirely – would have probably cost me my family if I did – but I choose to stay in as an openly non-believing active member. For a while I thought this was going to drive me insane so I decided that to keep my sanity about me, I would ‘stock-up’ on some academic Mormon history. Among the pile of books that I purchased was your book “Rough Stone Rolling”.

    Dr. Bushman I would like to say thank you. Your (and other scholars) effort to provide a careful and honest treatment of events – while acknowledging your biases has helped me move past the anger and tendency (like many other disaffected Mormons) to characterize Mormons as blind to the truth. While I have disagreements with some of your interpretations of the evidence and have ultimately chosen to no longer believe in Mormonism, I no longer have the abrasive emotional reaction that I used to have as I continue to attend weekly as a support to my wife.

    You and your fellow scholars have given many of us another chance: a chance to realize that while there may be absolute truth out there – somewhere, each individual has the divine right to perceive such truth in accordance his or her own understanding and experience in life. This is a beautiful thing in my opinion and also serves as a constant reminder that there is always another way to look at any issue – no matter how ‘right’ one thinks one is. Your interview series with John serves a capstone to this reminder.

    Indeed, at the end of our lives, we may all look back and find that each of us was a ‘Rough Stone Rolling’.

    Thank you Dr. Bushman for your thoughtful exploration into a fascinating faith.



  37. Wow, I came on this one late as well, and wanted to comment about the Bushman article and find a different discussion. Mormon Stories is to be commended on this one, and Dr. Bushman in particular as he didn’t seem to be feeling well. I remember in my teens reading his JS and the Beginnings of Mormonism from my father’s bookshelf. I am glad to finally have the expansion of that series. It sure helped when I ran into a strange cult on my mission claiming to have revelations from Hyrum Page’s seer-stone.

  38. Just to add my 2 cents to the conversation about apologetics. My personal opinion is that if you haven’t read enough of Mormon Apologetics that Blake Ostler’s work isn’t known you are not yet able to pass judgment. Too often I’ve seen one side represented very well without granting the other an even playing field. This very conversation has some of this overtone, FARMS, FAIR are mentioned in harsh tones while Grant Palmer seems well reasoned.

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