|Patrick Mason (left) John Dehlin (right)|
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.