Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mason and Dehlin: Can it work?

On September 19, 2016 Salt Lake Tribune columnist Peggy Fletcher Stack alerted the public (or at least the public who did not already know), that John Dehlin and Patrick Q. Mason would be co-authoring a blog on Patheos dedicated to talking about problems in Mormonism. Dehlin is an ex-Mormon and founder of the Mormon Stories Podcast. Mason is a historian and chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, best known for his book Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (which I reviewed here).

Patrick Mason (left) John Dehlin (right)
After seeing the article, I shared it on Facebook with the caption "Mason buying into Dehlin's publicity stunts. Smh." This lead to over a hundred comments and arguments within the thread, and as often happens the arguments went in a far different direction than I what I had originally intended; such are the joys of social media.

My problem with the Mason/Dehlin project is twofold. First, these sort of conversations have been done before and are not usually fruitful. Take for example the book Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue where neuroscientist and atheist activist Sam Harris has a dialogue with former Islamist Maajid Nawaz. Harris and Nawaz try to have a productive dialogue, but it is doomed from the start because Harris wants to see Islam come to an end (as well as all other religions) while Nawaz says that Islam is for the most part not dangerous and is open to reform.

The DehlinMason project mirrors the Harris/Nawaz one in many respects. Dehlin believes that the LDS Church and religion do more harm than good, taunts believers who disagree with him, and his podcast would now more properly be called "Ex-Mormon Stories" because it now focuses on people who are transitioning out of Mormonism rather than on LDS scholars and intellectuals like it has in the past. In a recent interview, Dehlin also compared excommunication hearings to torture in the 15th century, which I find odd since Dehlin came out of his hearing untouched and in perfect health, and he had the option of not attending if he didn't want to. Simply put, Dehlin would delight and rejoice in seeing the LDS Church fail and be replaced with a secular humanism.

Mason's position is summed up well in the introduction to his book Planted:
"When it comes to Mormonism, I'm "all in,"to incongruously use the poker term, and have been my entire life. I like being in. I go to church every Sunday, and  (mostly) enjoy it. I know it is good for me. I know that I find redemption and satisfaction in the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through its prophets and members."
Close quote. So Mason, like Nawaz is a believer, but sees that there are problems within the LDS Church that need addressing, and he does a good job of laying the framework for addressing them in his book. But again, keep in mind that reform and destruction are not compatible. It is one thing to say that a house has a broken window, floors that need to be mopped, and light-bulbs that need to be replaced; it is another to say that the foundation has rotted, the walls are moldy, the roof is collapsing, and that it would be simpler to tear the house down and build something new that bears little resemblance to the former house. Mason sees the former as modern Mormonism, Dehlin sees the latter. These paradigms are so different that is extremely doubtful there will be much agreement and progress on issues that need to be addressed.

Secondly, it is not clear that Mason and Dehlin are qualified to have some of the discussions that they are having. In their second post titled How We Know What We Know, Dehlin and Mason discuss religious epistemology. Epistemology is one of the five main branches of philosophy, and deals with how a person can have knowledge, or what counts as knowledge versus belief. While their dialogue is interesting, keep in mind that neither Dehlin or Mason are philosophers, and therefore are not equipped to address this area. If Dehlin wanted to talk about epistemology and various issues in theology, he should have talked to Brian Birch or Blake Ostler, who are trained philosophers with extensive training in epistemology. The conversation concludes with a mention of the Book of Abraham, which leads me to believe that subject will be discussed by the duo in the near future. But since neither is a linguist or an egyptologist, the same problems that plagued their discussion of epistemology will come through again. If Dehlin wants to talk about various issues in blog form, he should address them with experts in the field. But even that would be doomed to failure, since Dehlin brings up red herrings and non sequiturs ad nauseam in his past podcasts with intellectuals (such as his four part interview with philosopher Adam S. Miller).

The title of this post is "Can it work?" In short, no it cannot, at least in the sense that it will resolve issues that plague Mormon and non-Mormon. Especially not with two people who are on the polar opposite side of the spectrum on just about everything related to Mormonism. While they will have some fun conversations that will be worth reading, don't expect any real problem-solving to come of this.


  1. You can tell from the tone of their article that John doesn't care to understand Latter-day Saints or resolve differences between former and current members. Their blog is monetized to the max and John is using his ex-communication to make $$ again (still).

    The issues they tried to discuss are much deeper than their comments even began to broach. And, neither of them have any credentials to speak for the group they are trying to speak for. In order to have these conversations you have to have lots of different perspectives from both sides, not just 2 people. There are members who are familiar with the imperfections in our history and don't just stick our fingers in our ears and repeat "la la la la" when they are brought up. If you want to create useful dialogue, you have to remember its not "them" and "us" and members of both groups aren't clones. They're people.

    John needs to stop showing off his pride and victimization issues. Him calling himself a "post-mormon" makes it sound like he's some how better than all current members. Until he's willing to drop the pretense and level with the other side of the conversation, it's not going anywhere. He tried to say that he wants to believe in God and Angels, but he just couldn't ever have the same experiences like those in the bible. It's not poor John because he never got revelation. It's poor John for not understanding it and not noticing it. It's not a God problem, it's a him problem. For pity sakes, God isn't going to send an angel when your next door neighbor will do. That doesn't mean that the revelation or experience was any less real. As President Uchtdorf said last night, it's usually not that former members who don't believe God spoke to them should have tried harder, it's that they should have been trying differently. If he wants to be taken seriously by the other side, he needs to state things honestly, humbly and level-headedly and stop whining. Until then, this is a former member who's happy to sell his soul for a little extra cash and a scholar that should have been smarter than to engage him.

  2. It seems that Mason may not realize how bad and deep the problems and falsehoods are in the LDS Church and religion. And it also seems like Dehlin may not realize how much good the LDS Church (or any false Christian Church) does for society, despite it's falsehoods and wrongs, for it still teaches alot of universal natural laws and truth, like the ones Christ taught, that people would not be taught anywhere else, even though the Church or it's leaders may distort or not often follow those good teachings.

    I believe it might be helpful to list the pros & cons of what society would be like if everyone was active LDS (in today's church, not in polygamous times) compared to what society would be like if everyone was no religion at all (though some still believed in God).

    I think most Christian religions, like the LDS, help keep society peaceful and free longer (especially if they don't believe in or allow things like polygamy), despite their errors and falsehoods, for at least they still preach Christ's basic commandments and the importance of marriage and family, which are the basis of a free society.

    It seems to me that even 'half true' Christian Churches usually do more good for society than those who believe in no religion at all or who don't adhere to at least the 10 commandments, Golden Rule, Charity and Unconditional love.

    Although I believe the ideal is to live Christ's basic commandments and teachings (natural universal laws) on one's own or as a family, without supporting or giving money to organized religion with all it's falsehoods and errors and where the needy are still neglected.

    The purpose of religion after all, is to teach people to take care of the needy and stop the suffering around them, starting with the needy in their own marriage and family.

    I agree with Gandhi, "If all Christians acted like Christ, the whole world would be Christian."

    1. If you are going to do a drive-by accusation about "the deep problems and falsehoods" of the LDS religion you had better get more specific to allow those of us who are believers to respond to your slander -- OK?

    2. I could not agree more Tarik. They purport to discuss religious epistemology without the foggiest idea of epistemology in general or the extensive work done on religious epistemology and the parity of sense experience and religious experience. It is clear that they are ignorant of the seminal works by Plantinga, Alston, Wainwright, and Swinburne. They show no awareness of the work done on religious belief and cognitive psychology.

      In addition, Mason is the worst one to deal with Dehlin's double-speak. His contributions so far have been generally to agree with Dehlin and shake his pom poms. He is a historian who is not equipped to deal with these issues. Dehlin is clearly clueless about these issues. These are not two learned interlocutors debating issues important to Mormons -- it is a farce.