I am putting together a list of the harmful and/or dishonest tactics employed by Mormon apologists – tactics that ultimately harm questioning Mormons who are earnestly seeking truth in order to make important decisions about what to do with their lives. Can you please help me complete the list?
- Explicit, overt bias: Mormon apologists explicitly, overtly start with the premise that the LDS church is true, and thus naturally ignore, deny, or confuse credible evidence against the church, while cherry-picking evidences for the church. For questioning Mormons seeking honest, objective answers in order to make real decisions about their lives, the a priori position that “the church is true, regardless of the facts,” makes Mormon apologists excessively biased sources to consult. This qualifies as an obvious, classic logical fallacy known as begging the question which “…occurs when an argument’s premises assume the truth of the conclusion, instead of supporting it. It is a type of circular reasoning: an argument that requires that the desired conclusion be true. This often occurs in an indirect way such that the fallacy’s presence is hidden, or at least not easily apparent.”
- Insularity: Mormon apologists generally avoid direct dialogue with thoughtful, earnest critics. Instead, they tend to only interact (at least in public) with people who agree with their premises. Mormon apologists tend to avoid any forum for discussion where they have to face critics of the church, or direct criticism of their techniques or arguments. This seems both cowardly and counterproductive for those seeking truth.
- Ad hominem attacks: Mormon apologists often employ ad hominem tactics to smear the reputation of the church’s critics, as a way to undermine or avoid the arguments made by critics. This tactic is mean-spirited, un-Christlike, harmful, and is counterproductive to helping people with sincere questions find credible answers. Daniel Peterson, Greg Smith, and Stephen Smoot are notable examples of this tactic.
- Misusing science/scholarship: Mormon apologetic organizations (like the Maxwell Institute) are often led by folks with Ph.D.’s from reputable universities, and operate under the guise of credible “scholarship.” However, much of the writings produced by these apologetic “scholars” do not actually employ the scientific/peer review process, and instead present shoddy, muddled, confusing, distorted, or ridiculous arguments that often run counter to the prevailing wisdom of the scientific community — thus creating the “appearance” of scholarship, while in fact, betraying many of the basic fundamentals of the scientific/academic community. In this sense, they are betraying both science/the academic community AND the earnest learner, simultaneously. Hugh Nibley, John Gee, Kerry Muhlestein, and John Sorsensen are three of the most notable and egregious examples of this point. Most would be/are considered shoddy scholars, or even “laughing stocks” within their respective academic fields (e.g., Nibley, Gee, Muhlestein, John Sorenson), but carry undeserved respect within the believing Mormon community as “scholars.”
- Financial/social incentives: Historically, the most notable Mormon apologists have usually received either significant monetary compensation or social status from their associations with the church, thus providing them with financial or social incentives to mislead earnest seekers. Folks like Hugh Nibley, Daniel Peterson, John Gee, Terryl Givens, Richard Bushman, Patrick Mason, Spencer Fluhman, etc., all fall under this category. Their respective positions are absolutely dependent on the power and financial support of the Mormon church and its wealthy elite, and they all derive significant financial and/or social benefit from holding down a church-affirming position.
- Blaming the victim, not church leadership: Mormon apologists too often blame those who have sincere doubts as being responsible for their own predicament, while never publicly blaming the church or its leaders as the ultimate source of the problems.
- Duplicity: Mormon apologists often withhold their harshest criticisms of the church and its leaders from their public writings and speeches, out of a desire to maintain favor or social capital with said church leaders. This is duplicitous at its core. As an example, both Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens have been noted as being willing to share harsh criticisms privately that they have been unwilling to share publicly.
- Creating a church within a church: Mormon apologists often advocate for doctrine, theology, and history that are completely out of step from the explicit teachings of the prevailing church leadership. In this way, they create a “church within a church” that is neither endorsed nor supported by church leadership. This becomes confusing and sometimes harmful for those who try to remain in the church.
- Complicity in the harm: By defending and advocating devotion to the LDS church – Mormon apologists become complicit in the harm that church inflicts upon individuals, families, and society as a whole. The includes complicity in all of the ways that the LDS church causes harm to individuals, families, and society, including the wasting of time and money, individual depression and anxiety, family strife and division, divorce, and suicide….along with the perpetuation of beliefs and behaviors that are inherently racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-science, and anti-intellectual
- Gaslighting: The net effect of Mormon apologetics is (in some cases intentionally, and in other cases unintentionally) to gaslight earnest, questioning Mormons. The term gaslighting entails the following: “Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes including low self-esteem. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs. Instances can range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents occurred, to belittling the victim’s emotions and feelings, to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.”
What else am I missing? Please share!!!!
NOTE: This post is not meant to attack Mormon apologists as people. I am aware that all of these Mormon apologists are generally beloved. I, myself, believe that the people mentioned above are thoughtful, sincere, kind humans. I just happen to believe that they are causing more harm than they are doing good, and I want to express why I feel this way. Finally, it is super important to note that not all Mormon apologists are the same, and that some Mormon apologists (e.g., Nibley, Peterson, Gee, Smoot) are much more guilty of the aforementioned offenses more than are others (e.g., Mason, Bushman).