Apologetics by the Numbers

Daniel C. Peterson

Apologetics by the Numbers

“His IQ was somewhat lower than that of a backward clam—a clam, let us say, which had been dropped on its head as a baby.”1

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“Considered by fellow members of the Drones Club to be a dangerous intellectual.”2
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“Ideologues are all-but-incorrigible.”3
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Among the many flaws in my character and personality—further information regarding them (some of it even true) is abundantly available in considerable detail at a number of public venues—is one that compels me to dip from time to time into what critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are saying. Occasionally, this leads me to the Internet and to a small group of Web sites and message boards, as well as to their search functions, which I’ve found to be good sources of data and to provide fascinating glimpses into a certain type of human behavior.

Recently, I came across an effort by one profoundly alienated former Latter-day Saint to provide what he called a “FARMS Review of BooksReading…Formula.”4 Having at least a passing acquaintance with FARMS, I was immediately interested and very soon hooked.

It occurs to me that some people, interested in Mormon studies and apologetic topics in general, might be interested in seeing how FARMS’ alleged approach has been distilled into a sort of paint-by-numbers method by one rather unsympathetic and, it must be said, none-too-perceptive passerby. And, of course, anybody who might someday be invited to write something for FARMS—or FAIR, for that matter—will find her writing much easier to do once she’s mastered the simple formula on which, it seems, such organizations rely (not to mention all the editing time that it will save). I’ve also gathered up a few items of relevant commentary from the same source, which will, I think, illustrate the old dictum that truth is stranger than fiction. I hasten to add, also, that the passages I cite here could easily be multiplied many times over. While their authors are, at best, indisputably on the fringes of civil discourse, I have not cherry-picked rare and unusually horrendous examples. These marginal characters are highly representative of their marginal location.

Formulaic Fiction

On 11 October 2006, the initial poster (whom, in order to protect the guilty, I shall call “Alvin”) strummed his lyre, invoked the muses, and began to recite the epic encounter with the forces of darkness in which he had engaged the previous evening.

For some bizarre reason I decided to do some reading on the FARMS website last night. They have their Review of Books thing and I attempted to read a couple of the ‘reviews’

First, they write to ‘sound’ smart. They make it sound like they are actually doing a serious objective review, and then they start tearing into the ‘anti-mormon’

1. Tell how bad the author is and how biases they are. Also let the reader know that the author doesn’t know what they are taking about.

2. Make a statement about how most objections in the said book were answered hundred of years ago and that MOST members are not even phased by the arguments, they are so silly.

3. Take the arguments in the ‘anti-book’ and refute them by making reference to ‘apples’ when the argument is actually about oranges.

4. Use lots of references and tons of footnotes.

Why do they feel a need to attack the author of the books. I don’t care if the particular person runs around naked and becomes a werewolf at night. If the research they have done is true, then it’s true. And why all the ‘big’ college level speech. “Look at how smart we are, if we as super intellectuals are not concerned about the argument then you average mormon should not be either.”

why can they just take the argument and go a, b, c, and d, show the argument is false like a real essay or review?

It’s not a review really. It’s more of a biased trash session. Their job is NOT to do a FAIR review, their job is to tear the piece of work down using whatever silly arguments they can come up with.

I read Dan Vogels review of his book, and of course they ripped into his reseach. How come I thought his research was reasonable when I was reading it for the most part?

Oh, I must be one of those ‘average’ uneducated members who will fall for anything.

I’ll return shortly to comment upon Alvin’s post. But first, let me introduce one I shall call “Beaver,” formerly a self-described Mormon fanatic who has, it seems, lurched to the opposite extreme. Often in error but never in doubt, as the saying goes, Beaver is one of the reigning stars of the message board on which he makes his intellectual home, and (routinely singling this editor of the FARMS Review out for special mention) he has chosen what he terms “the embarrassing horror that is Mormon apologetics” as a major focus of his extensive message-board literaryoeuvre.5 Latter-day Saints who write in defense of their beliefs are, Beaver explains to his eager disciples, “deluded loons,” motivated by “the wish of the deluded, that the founder of their religion not turn out to be a nearly sociopathic charlatan.”6 “Typical apologetic arguments,” he reveals, are “rather like projectile vomited toxic cocktails of sputum, stomach acid, and half-digested Golden Corral meals.”7 “I feel almost a kind of guilt for deriving pleasure from the stuff,” he confessed to students of his thought on 5 January 2005, “as if I’m making fun of the mentally handicapped.”

Beaver commented upon Alvin’s aforementioned post within the hour, entitling his own remarks “What else can they do?” Indeed, no doubt inspired by that forceful title, Beaver pressed his point, opening his essay with the imperious demand of “What else can they do?” And then, in response to his own urgent question, Beaver answered that

They have nothing else. They can’t argue facts; they can’t argue credibility; they can’t argue logic; they can’t do anything but the equivalent of jumping up and down screaming, hoping enough members are convinced by the show to NEVER read the book in question. Seems like that’s what it’s all about—just trying to keep as many people from reading the stuff as possible. That’s all they can do. The whole thing depends on forever depriving one’s mind of the material which, at some level, one cannot help but sense would force a dramatic re-evaluation of [Joseph] Smith’s claims.

A few hours later, a third writer (whom I shall call “Caleb”) offered his own thoughts on the matter. In the course of his meditations, he laid out further elements of the formula followed in the FARMS Review:

They always claim that any legitimate quote was “taken out of context.”

They also claim that “antis” use poor methodology and logic. “As measured by contemporary standards of scholarship, recent attacks on the Book of Mormon as an ancient document often are characterized by poor logic and methodology.”

But then if the logic is sound, they start saying words like “magnitude” and “undermine.” “What is more, the authors of these attacks seem unaware of the magnitude of the problems they face in their attempts to undermine the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon—even if they do reason well.”

http://www.farmsresearch.com/display.php?table=review&id=551

What?! Which is it? Poor logic, or naive good logic?

Here’s the formula.

Poor Logic by Anti = Church is True

Good Logic by Anti = a) Quote taken out of context. b) “Anti” doesn’t understand the bigger picture. c) That was a different time. We can’t judge them by today’s standards.

And then, finally, a fourth “philosopher” (whom I shall call “Doogie”) very quickly submitted his own reflections:

For most TBM’s8 that is all it takes. I have had many converstaions with people that end like this. Oh the church has responded to that question. So I ask, what did they say? I really cannot remember but I know the church is true.

Totally irrational thinking.

Facts Are Stubborn Things

I’m intrigued by Alvin’s revealing comment that he “attempted to read a couple of the ‘reviews'” (my emphasis). My impression, candidly, is that his attempt failed. It might prove instructive, nonetheless, to consider some of his claims.

“First,” he generalizes about the several hundred authors who have appeared in the pages of the FARMS Review: “they write to ‘sound’ smart.” His complaint is not entirely clear. Perhaps he would prefer that all authors (or, at least the ones Alvin attempts to read) write to sound stupid? More likely, though, he appears to be claiming a kind of privileged access into the minds of hundreds of authors whose essays appear in theReview, a mystical insight that allows him to reveal that they’re really just trying to show off. (He doesn’t, though, explain how he gained this access, particularly since he seems to have obtained his data from an abortive attempt to read a few FARMS reviews.) Moreover,

They make it sound like they are actually doing a serious objective review, and then they start tearing into the ‘anti-mormon’

Since one of the recurring themes of several authors in the FARMS Review has been and continues to be the impossibility, incoherence, and undesirability of scholarly “objectivity” in the naïve sense that Alvin seems to expect, it would have been interesting to have him expand upon his perception that FARMS Review authors “make it sound like they are actually doing a serious objective review.”9 Unfortunately, though, Alvin’s work appears on a message board from which dissenting voices are strictly prohibited, so no questions may be posed to him.

Critics of FARMS and FAIR commonly make several claims. Among them is the notion that writers for each organization offer neither evidence nor analysis in support of Mormon beliefs, but simply bear their testimonies. Honest readers of the FARMS Review or articles on the various FAIR Web sites will know how seriously to take that allegation. A related accusation commonly leveled against both organizations (including, not very implicitly, by Alvin) is that they routinely call everybody who disagrees with them “anti-Mormon” and then let that epithet do the heavy lifting. Once an author is branded an “anti-Mormon,” rational argument is unnecessary. The presumably ad hominem label makes the author and her claims so radioactive that the apologetic work is done. But Alvin’s assertion that standard operating procedure at the FARMS Reviewrequires “tearing into the ‘anti-Mormon'” offers something that can be objectively evaluated. So I did just that.10

Lost

For reasons best known to himself, Alvin also doesn’t number the first paragraph of his purported FARMS Review formula. Thereafter, though, he lays it out in organized outline form, befitting its scientific and scholarly status.

1. Tell how bad the author is and how biases they are. Also let the reader know that the author doesn’t know what they are taking about.

Alvin probably doesn’t expect his readers to believe that writers for the FARMS Review regularly decry the “badness,” bias, and ignorance of authors whose works they recommend. That would seem a bit counterproductive. So he must be referring to the books that reviewers dislike. And, surely, incompetence, ignorance, and bias in a book’s author would seem to be reasonable grounds for panning it and plausible explanations for a book’s poor quality. Perhaps, though, Alvin would prefer that purely ad hominem reasons be given for praising or criticizing books—say, on the basis of an author’s lifestyle, ethnicity, religious preference, or eye color.

2. Make a statement about how most objections in the said book were answered hundred of years ago and that MOST members are not even phased by the arguments, they are so silly.

Alvin plainly found his attempt to read a couple of the reviews quite taxing. Reference to large numbers of relevant but previously published works is simply too much for him.

3. Take the arguments in the ‘anti-book’ and refute them by making reference to ‘apples’ when the argument is actually about oranges.

An actual example or two might have strengthened Alvin’s case at this point. Even the finest theoretician needs to nod, from time to time, in the direction of a fact or two.11

4. Use lots of references and tons of footnotes.

References and footnotes, it seems, are very undesirable in academic publishing as Alvin envisions it. Of course, he might possibly concede that they are a necessary evil but insist that the fewer of them we can get by with, the better. And best of all would be to make assertions without providing any supporting evidence whatever. (Perhaps by subtle design, Alvin’s post offers an excellent example of the kind of writing he evidently favors.)

Caught up now in the sheer passion of his prose, however, Alvin forgets the numbering system that he began late and carried through all the way up to four. From now on, his writing takes on an almost Joycean stream-of-consciousness flavor as it surges from outrage to outrage:

Why do they feel a need to attack the author of the books. I don’t care if the particular person runs around naked and becomes a werewolf at night. If the research they have done is true, then it’s true.

Having something to do with each volume of the FARMS Review, I must admit at this point to a genuine concern about FARMS security. Formal disclosure of the fact that critics of the church tend to be nudist werewolves was slated for FARMS Review 20/2, and, frankly, I’m mystified as to how Alvin managed to gain access to our computer files for that number. I can assure our readers that heads will roll over this one. Still, nothing is likely to change FARMS’ strict policy of avoiding any and all substance in their writing. Alas, though, FARMS’ reputation for personal attacks is grossly exaggerated by the standards of academia. Consider, for example, a little item about a scientific conference in Boulder, Colorado, that came to my notice (thanks to Greg Taggart) as I was writing this very paragraph:

Colorado State University’s William Gray, one of the nation’s preeminent hurricane forecasters, called noted Boulder climate researcher Kevin Trenberth an opportunist and a Svengali who “sold his soul to the devil to get (global warming) research funding.”

Trenberth countered that Gray is not a credible scientist.

“Not any more. He was at one time, but he’s not any more,” Trenberth said of Gray, one of a handful of prominent U.S. scientists who question whether humans play a significant role in warming the planet by burning fossil fuels that release heat-trapping gases.

“He’s one of the contrarians, some of whom get money to spread lies about global warming,” Trenberth said during a break following his presentation at the 31st annual Climate Diagnostics & Prediction Workshop.12

Alvin will be hard pressed to come up with anything in the long history of the FARMS Review that even approaches that level of scholarly/scientific discourse. But his likely failure to do so may or may not really be important, since it actually appears that Alvin’s true beef is with the very existence of scientific or scholarly discourse itself:

And why all the ‘big’ college level speech. “Look at how smart we are, if we as super intellectuals are not concerned about the argument then you average mormon should not be either.”

Big words are bad. Small words are good. Short words that plain folks use are best. No long words. Long words make it seem that Ol’ Smart Head Big Brain wants to trick plain folks. This is wrong. It is bad. It is a bad thing in books. It makes FARMS look bad. It makes life hard for Dick and Jane and their dog Spot. Bad FARMS!

Alvin continues:

why can [can't?] they just take the argument and go a, b, c, and d, show the argument is false like a real essay or review?

It would be helpful to know how many academic book reviews and essays Alvin has read. Perhaps not many. But his suggestion is a good one. Maybe, in the future, one of our more enterprising writers will attempt to write something using evidence and analysis in some sort of order. I know that FARMS has never tried anything like that before, and it sounds intriguing.

It’s not a review really. It’s more of a biased trash session. Their job is NOT to do a FAIR review, their job is to tear the piece of work down using whatever silly arguments they can come up with.

Sensing, perhaps, that some specifics would have been nice, Alvin mentions a particular case:

I read Dan Vogels review of his book [Dan Vogel's book? a review of Dan Vogel's book?], and of course they ripped into his reseach.13

Academic book reviews, Alvin seems to feel, should never criticize the research in a book that they’re examining. That’s bad form and not relevant. And, by the way, the contents of the book are off limits, too.

Alvin’s rule seems to boil down to this: To question a critic’s research is unacceptable. To question a critic’s competence is unacceptable. To question a critic’s fairness is unacceptable. And to question a critic’s expertise is unacceptable. In fact, to question a critic is just downright unacceptable all around. Critics should be treated rather as if they were the sacred cows of India. Their ideas are beyond question. Alvin’scertainly are. Alvin thought that Dan Vogel’s book was good, and so, well, it is good. The FARMS Review‘s failure to agree with Alvin’s impression of Dan Vogel’s book is ipso facto proof that the FARMS Review is a very bad thing. Alvin is simply incredulous that anybody could have a different opinion:

How come I thought his research was reasonable when I was reading it for the most part?

Life is chock full of mysteries. But one thing is absolutely clear: If Alvin thinks a book was good, any review that disagrees is a bad review, full of “silly arguments.” Why, there’s no point in even reading reviews if they’re going to offer a different viewpoint! Fortunately, however, Alvin seems to have found a believable answer to his question:

Oh, I must be one of those ‘average’ uneducated members who will fall for anything.

The Entire Gamut from B to C

But let’s return now to Beaver’s response. “What else can they do?” he asks, emphasizing the theme first sounded by the title of his post (which was “What else can they do?”).

They have nothing else. They can’t argue facts; they can’t argue credibility; they can’t argue logic; they can’t do anything but the equivalent of jumping up and down screaming, hoping enough members are convinced by the show to NEVER read the book in question.

By this point, of course, astute readers of FARMS and FAIR publications will be nodding their heads vigorously in agreement. Astonishing as it may seem, among the many thousands of pages published by the FARMS Review thus far, no appeal to facts has ever been made. (As Beaver himself once advised his acolytes in a different context, “Write this on your hand in Nibley cryptogram: ‘Fact—my mortal foe’. Pretend you work at FARMS or something for a second. Just forget facts exist.”)14 No point of logic has ever been argued. (Again, as Beaver himself has bravely observed at his rigorously moderated, disagreement-free message board, “For Mormonism, there is safety only in stupour. Not in hard, brave thought.”)15

The hundreds of FARMS Review authors published to this point do nothing but, metaphorically, jump up and down, screaming and waving their arms, in a desperate but ultimately farcical attempt to distract attention from the fact that they have, quite literally, absolutely nothing whatever to say. It’s a matter of public record. If you don’t believe Beaver, just go and see for yourself.

Caleb doesn’t seem to understand, however, what is so absolutely plain to Beaver: He doesn’t realize that the FARMS Review never, ever, raises questions of logic. Perhaps he didn’t receive the memo.

They also claim that “antis” use poor methodology and logic. “As measured by contemporary standards of scholarship, recent attacks on the Book of Mormon as an ancient document often are characterized by poor logic and methodology.”16

Demonstrating his own admirably firm command of logic, Caleb points out that, if the claim is made that some critics of the Church sometimes reason poorly, no critic of the Church can ever (without self-contradiction) be admitted to reason adequately. I’m speculating, but I suspect that Caleb’s position assumes, as certain critics rather strangely tend to do, that FARMS and FAIR are a collective mass- or hive-mind, “the Morg,” in which, all individuality having vanished, the action of any one writer is, ex hypothesi, the action of all writers, past, present, and future. Curiously, though, Caleb also seems to assume—and this would be his own unique innovation, so far as I can determine—that critics, too, constitute one undifferentiated whole. Thus, if one FARMS or FAIR author says that a certain critic has committed a logical error, FARMS and FAIR, collectively, will have flagrantly contradicted themselves if any of their other authors ever seem to suggest that any critic, anywhere, at any time, has ever escaped logical error:

But then if the logic is sound, they start saying words like “magnitude” and “undermine.” “What is more, the authors of these attacks seem unaware of the magnitude of the problems they face in their attempts to undermine the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon—even if they do reason well.”17

What?! Which is it? Poor logic, or naive good logic?

Caleb would appear to believe that the propositions “Some critics use poor logic” and “Some critics don’t use poor logic” are mutually incompatible. So, incapable of not contradicting themselves, FARMS writers are reduced to employing power words like undermine andmagnitude. The typical FARMS Review procedure seems, according to Caleb, to run along somewhat the following lines:

Bobbie Sue: “All men are mortals. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is a mortal.”

Rev. Brigham Orson Smith, Th.D., of FARMS: “Magnitude! Undermine!”

Bobbie Sue (swooning): “Oooh. You’re right! What was I thinking? Socrates isn’t a mortal.”

Informed students of Latter-day Saint history will recognize this verbal magic as functionally equivalent to the mesmeric powers possessed by early Mormon missionaries and brilliantly chronicled in the important 1922 documentary Trapped by the Mormons. Practically speaking, there isn’t much real difference between the bulging hypnotic eyes of that film’s maiden-seducing Elder Isoldi Keene (memorably portrayed by the immortal Louis Willoughby) and FARMS writers’ incantatory repetition of “Magnitude! Undermine!” Both are designed to dull a victim’s mental faculties.

But formulas are in the air, and Caleb now eagerly offers his own:

Here’s the formula.

Poor Logic by Anti = Church is True

Good Logic by Anti = a) Quote taken out of context. b) “Anti” doesn’t understand the bigger picture. c) That was a different time. We can’t judge them by today’s standards.

Unfortunately, although illustrations of this formula must abound on virtually every page of the FARMS Review, Caleb doesn’t trouble himself to offer even a single instance. Sticklers for consistency, however, will surely notice that he seems almost immediately to contradict himself:

They always claim that any legitimate quote was “taken out of context.”

But if FARMS writers “always” avail themselves of his option a (“Quote taken out of context”), what is the point of Caleb’s options b and c? If the FARMS writer chooses to argue that “‘Anti’ doesn’t understand the bigger picture,” or claims “That was a different time. We can’t judge them by today’s standards,” isn’t that writer more or less granting that the quotation in question has been taken in proper context and, thus, requires some other explanation? But doesn’t that seem to contradict Caleb’s rule that FARMS writers “always claim that any legitimate quote was ‘taken out of context'”?

But no matter. “Do I contradict myself?” asked Walt Whitman. “Very well, then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”18

Leave It to Beaver

On the other hand, maybe there’s no contradiction. Perhaps there are occult forces at work here. “Of course,” Beaver has written on another occasion, “the work of FARMS, like the work of any organization which enlists magic as a research tool, deserves to be ignored.”

At first glance, one might suspect that Beaver has stolen a glance into my private study, where beakers boil and flasks bubble, reference books levitate right into my hands, astrological tables cover the walls, a crystal ball sits beside my computer, and I’m within a hairsbreadth of transmuting lead into gold. But no. Beaver is simply a garden-variety village atheist who knows that civility to religious believers is far more than they deserve:

Even our criticisms of them qualify as unduly gracious. …Anyone who would seriously engage such a crew only embarrasses himself, for the simple reason that there is no good reason to believe that magic, or its incarnation as super- or extra-naturalism, exists. Dignifying them with serious criticism only makes you look as ridiculous as they do!

“Arguing with them,” Beaver has explained elsewhere, “is rather like mud-wrestling with pigs.”19

Having definitively settled the perennial questions that still occupy many scientists, historians, philosophers, and other such lesser mortals, Beaver understands that the positions of those who have failed to see the Light are self-evidently absurd and that simply exposing their arguments to public view, without even a pretense of engaging them, will destroy those arguments:

I would like them to speak and publish as much as possible, because their stuff strikes everyone but totally gone Mormons as bloody daft. I don’t know of any way to better illustrate to people that there is something profoundly screwed-up with Joseph’s church than to show them Mormon apologetic writing. That’s one big fat difference between me and them: They’d shut all of us up forever if they could,20 whereas I’d put Dan Peterson and [John] Gee and the other dudes over there on TV as much as possible, especially with sharp interviewers. To most people, they sound like madmen.

For the questions are now closed, and only the ignorant, the dishonest, or the mad and mentally defective can pretend otherwise. As another poster (not, I’m guessing, long out of college) has recently put it,

There is no reason anymore for an intellectual justification of Mormonism. Dialogue and Sunstone had a purpose I suppose when there was at least a very, very, remote possibility that Joseph Smith and his tall tales had some validity. It gave some intellectual BIC [born in the covenant], ethnic Mormons a place to rationalize their faith and vent their frustrations.

However, the passage of time has proven to be cruel to Mr. Smith and his creation so anyone with an IQ of above room temperature can now find enough information to easily prove Mormonism false by a simple Google query. Virtually no educated people join the LDS church anymore, while many converts who joined years ago have left. The younger generation of Mormons are not even taught about free agency anymore, instead they are force-fed the doctrine of obidience, slogans, and the church magazines that are starting to resemble comic books.

This leaves a group of old, intellectual, LDS coots who cannot understand that the train has left the station. Currently, the LDS church just demands blind faith and discourages any sort of intellectual query. Of course, any sort of intellectual query will quickly disprove the LDS church so why even bother to do so if you are an ethnic LDS type that is terrified of leaving this wonderful instituition. Therefore, what is the point of making an intellectual pretense of Mormonism when it will not work and only make one miserable??? Instead, you have two choices, specifially, turn-off one half of your brain and just “live the spin”, or resign.

Beaver concurs. Speaking of the pathetic and inferior souls whom he has taken to describing as “cult loons,”21 he assures his followers that

The apologists in fact are ridiculous—they make a big show of assembling “evidence” to support their desire to continue believing in Mormonism, and then in the very moment someone points out how the evidence doesn’t really support Mormon claims at all, they immediately say, “well, we deny that evidence can show one way or the other whether the church is true anyway. It’s all by the spirit”. Obvious question: If you really believe that, why does FARMS exist? When I call it the propaganda arm of the church, I am deriving that judgment from the iterations of FARMS writers themselves, who whenever cornered say that physical evidence cannot prove or disprove Mormon truth claims. Well, if that is true, then church defense efforts ARE totally divorced from reality, and can be nothing but propaganda masquerading as “scholarly research”, which in fact, it is, even though it is not true that evidence has no bearing on Mormon truth claims.

Beaver is absolutely enthralled by what he describes as “the fascination with anti-realism BS Mormon apologists seem to have.”22 “Davis Bitton and the other would-be philosopher kings,” he’s revealed to the considerable astonishment of Davis Bitton (a retired professor of history at the University of Utah and a former assistant historian of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and others, “have attempted to encourage members to ‘uncouple’ their testimonies from the church’s founding historical facts, from those historical facts themselves.”23

Back on 24 January 2005, Beaver alerted his audience, in passing, to “the connections between the thought of Nietzsche and Heidegger and Sartre, Derrida and Kuhn and modern totalitarianism, and Mormonism, which of course is at the very least a latent totalitarianism.” He has also, on occasion (e.g., on 17 August 2006), alluded to a vague but apparently ominous relationship between Mormon apologetics, the editor of theFARMS Review, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, and Marshall Applewhite, the leader of the suicidal comet cult known as “Heaven’s Gate.”

Another important writer on Beaver’s message board, who, like Beaver, hails from a remote and very cold country that few Americans can find on a map, appears to share Beaver’s fascinating take on contemporary intellectual history. I shall call him “Eeyore.” “The smell around Daniel Peterson and his ilk at FARMS,” Eeyore wrote on 13 March 2006,

are [sic] symptoms of an ideological system in distress as much as the smell of decaying flesh is of a dead body. They are Derridian postmodern fog machines whose purpose is to make the terrain around the borders of Mormonism so hard to find and to appear so baffling and unattractive that the faithful who wander in that direction will turn back in dismay. Don’t hold your breath (though it is hard to resist doing this) while waiting for Peterson or FARMS to clarify anything. But even smelly fog shows can be enjoyed at a distance. Peterson and his FARMSy friends put out some spectacularly pungent fog.

Although I’ve attempted to conceal my deep intellectual debt to M. Jacques Derrida by such usually reliable methods as never quoting him, never citing him, never referring to him, and never expressing any idea even remotely related to his, shallow ploys like these fool neither Beaver nor Eeyore.

On some days, however, such links with evil philosophers terrify Beaver. On 5 January 2005, for instance, he was very near panic at the “absolutely insanely horrific” nature of faithful Mormon scholarship and at “the Schultzstaffel-like, sociopathic anger and tribalism that characterizes the writing of…FARMS guys.”24 And, by the following 17 February, Beaver’s frame of reference had transcended the merely political and soared into the realm of the occult: “Whenever I try to read one of their articles,” he confided to his audience, “I think of that scene in ‘The Excorcist.'”25

Usually, though—or so he says—he’s happy to have us around. In a rather lengthy post dated 3 November 2006 and entitled “The Ego-Flattering Joy of Having The Right Enemies,” Beaver, a very vocal (even obsessive) mocker of theism and of theists, exclaimed:

Praise Jesus—who could ask for anything better than to have cult loons as your bitterest enemies? What else could you make you feel so good about yourself, than to have people who spend their lives sitting around trying to invent ever more ridiculous theories to defend their obviously fraudulent cult of choice, call YOU a “liar”? What joy! What honour to one’s reputation!

I hear tell that certain Mormon apologists continue to proclaim to anyone who will listen to their endless victimization stories, that I tell all sorts of lies about them. The main “lie” apparently is my opinion that Mormon apologists are far less interested in the truth, if they are interested in it at all, than they are in defending regardless of what is true, what they would most like to believe is true—obviously, two very different things. That this opinion is called a “lie” by the folks in question, of course, only makes them look just like the loons they really are, and helps make ordinary joes like me look far wiser and more courageous than we are. Who wouldn’t take that?

I want to thank [the proprietor of the message board on which Beaver publishes his scholarly work] for giving me the opportunity to be despised by obvious propagandists who moreover, I am sure, would gladly hand over their eight year old daughters to any prophet who insisted he was “speaking as a prophet” for him to have sex with, or (come to think of it) kill, roast and eat, just to stay in that prophet’s good graces, or perform any other grotesque deed demanded by their man/god. If the prophet demanded it, I have no doubt they would POISON THEIR OWN CHILDREN just like their counterparts in another man/god’s cult did thirty years ago, in yet another version of “Zion”.

These are JUST the kind of people I CRAVE as enemies; they are disgraces to the very name parent, just as I was when I was in that very same psychological state. They are disgraces to true citizenship—they pride themselves on their patriotic bona fides, but if their cult leaders spoke but a word, they would throw the Constitution they claim to revere so much into the fire and be quite happy supporting a theocratic regime as repugnant to individual liberty and concepts like checks and balances as was Brigham Young’s. And they are people who will not bite the hand that feeds them, even when they begin to see that that hand has not the authority it claims, and is corrupt and illegitimate.

And I crave the enmity of such types so badly, that part of me would rather LIKE to start making up lies about them just to antagonize them all the more; but then I can’t, for that would start to make me just as bad as they are.

So bring it on, lurker cult loons. I couldn’t be more serious. I can’t get enough of the insults and attacks from the likes of you.

At the time of this writing, no plausible hypothesis has been advanced by anybody trained in the relevant fields to identify the stimulus that provoked Beaver’s remarkable self-revelation.26

Perhaps, though, an explanation is due as to why old intellectual LDS coots like myself engage in apologetics. The loquacious Beaver, of course, already has an explanation. (He always does.) With regard, particularly, to the FARMS Review, he reveals:

Seems like that’s what it’s all about—just trying to keep as many people from reading the stuff as possible. That’s all they can do. The whole thing depends on forever depriving one’s mind of the material which, at some level, one cannot help but sense would force a dramatic re-evaluation of [Joseph] Smith’s claims.

Some, inclined to skepticism, may wonder whether it really makes sense to attempt to hide damaging books by featuring them in a special publication, reviewing them, and discussing their arguments, claims, and positions at length. (Of course, FARMS doesn’t really do that. They simply call their authors names.) But Beaver knows that those who direct FARMS and edit the Review are preternaturally stupid, if not altogether insane. Thus, it’s not surprising that they (and those writing for FAIR) shoot themselves in the foot multiple times each day.

However, if I may, I would like to offer my own explanation.

We who write such things engage in apologetics because we believe that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, that the two of them appeared to Joseph Smith in a grove of trees near Palmyra, New York, in the spring of 1820, that the Book of Mormon is the record of ancient inhabitants of the Americas, and that the Church and gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored. And, what is more, we believe that defending these and related claims against attack, misunderstanding, and distortion—very often from writers who offer a great deal more in the way of evidence and reasoned analysis (it would be difficult to offer less) than anything Alvin, Beaver, Caleb, Doogie, and Eeyore have provided thus far—is a worthwhile thing to do, and something that we’re obligated to do.

At some future time, perhaps FARMS and FAIR will also want to consider some of the stellar insights into comparative religion that are available at the scholarly venue where Alvin, Beaver, Caleb, Doogie, and Eeyore publish their best work. A very recent specimen (31 October 2006) will serve to illustrate the almost unimaginable richness of discoveries available there:

Mormonism is really a break off Islam They dont think Jesus is the god , they cover up their women and give them no rights, They hate all other religons and you must convert to their religion or go to hell. They get violent tempers when you question their beliefs. They want to take over the earth. The two groups have too much in common.

Such sweeping statements, of course, do not go without response. “I have said this very thing for years,” commented the longest and most substantive reply. “Not quite like you’ve stated it but similar.”

I’m not making this up.

Notes

1 See www.fortunecity.com/campus/books/845/1books.htm (accessed 10 January 2007).

2 P. G. Wodehouse, “Barmy in Wonderland.” For the second sentence, see www.sitcom.co.uk/jeeves_wooster/characters.shtml (accessed 10 January 2007). The “dangerous intellectual” in question is Cyril “Barmy” Fotheringay-Phipps, a friend of Bertie Wooster and a supporting character in several of P. G. Wodehouse’s classic Jeeves and Wooster stories.

3 “Beaver,” 4 November 2006. There is no point in providing URLs for the posts I quote in this essay. By the time my comments here are made public, the materials I’ve cited will have vanished. Wisely, I think, the message board that is my chief quarry does not maintain an archive.

4 In what follows, the names, “handles,” or pseudonyms of the posters have been changed in order to protect the guilty. I have, however, reproduced the posts in their entirety, unaltered (e.g., with their original spelling and grammar).

5 The quoted phrase comes from a post dated 15 August 2006. “I remain a huge fan of Daniel Peterson’s,” Beaver confided to his acolytes on 13 March 2006. “I can’t think of anyone else over there, with perhaps the exception of [Louis] Midgley, who so consistently makes the church, and Mormon belief, look idiotic.”

6 Posted 4 November 2006. Beaver has also described the editor of the FARMS Review as a sociopath.

7 Posted 2 March 2005.

8 TBM is technical vocabulary, in the demimonde of the disaffected, for “True Blue Mormon” or “True Believing Mormon.” It is not, I think, intended to convey respect.

9 See, for example, Daniel C. Peterson, “The Witchcraft Paradigm: On Claims to ‘Second Sight’ by People Who Say It Doesn’t Exist,” FARMS Review 18/2 (2006): liii–liv n. 41; “William J. Hamblin, “Time Vindicates Hugh Nibley,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 2 (1990): 119–27 at 120; Louis Midgley, “The Myth of Objectivity: Some Lessons for Latter-day Saints,” Sunstone, August 1990, 54–56; Midgley, “The Challenge of Historical Consciousness: Mormon History and the Encounter with Secular Modernity,” in By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley, ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 502–51 at 521–24, 544–47; Midgley, review of That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession, by Peter Novick, John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 10 (1990): 102–4; Midgley, “George Dempster Smith, Jr., on the Book of Mormon,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 4 (1992): 5–12 at 11 n. 13; Midgley, “The Shipps Odyssey in Retrospect,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7/2 (1995): 219–52 at 228, 237–38; Massimo Introvigne, “The Book of Mormon Wars: A Non-Mormon Perspective,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/2 (1996): 1–25 at 1, 8–9; Alan Goff, “Positivism and the Priority of Ideology in Mosiah-First Theories of Book of Mormon Production,”FARMS Review 16/1 (2004): 11–36 at 12; and Louis Midgley, “Knowing Brother Joseph Again,” FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): i–lxii at lx–lixx. Numerous authors whose essays have appeared in the FARMS Review have cited Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

10 See Daniel C. Peterson, “The Witchcraft Paradigm: On Claims to ‘Second Sight’ by People Who Say It Doesn’t Exist,” FARMS Review 18/2 (2006): xxxvii–xxxix.

11 I’m unaware of any cases where FARMS reviewers referred to “apples” when the argument was really about “oranges.” Alvin could, of course, have been misled by an overly literal reading of four references to “apples” and “oranges” that actually occur in the pages of theFARMS Review: John Gee, “A Tragedy of Errors,” review of …By His Own Hand upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri, by Charles M. Larson, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 4 (1992): 110 n. 48, citing John A. Tvedtnes; Gary P. Gillum, review of Eldin Ricks’s Thorough Concordance of the LDS Standard Works, by Eldin Ricks, FARMS Review of Books 8/1 (1996): 174; D. Charles Pyle, review ofQuestions to Ask Your Mormon Friend: Challenging the Claims of Latter-day Saints in a Constructive Manner, by Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson,FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 241 (twice). But there is no evidence that his experience with the Review goes beyond his arduous partial reading of two more recent essays.

12 Originially from the Rocky Mountain News; see www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110009174 (accessed 11 November 2006).

13 Given his use of the plural pronoun they, Alvin may have been referring to Andrew H. Hedges and Dawson W. Hedges, “No, Dan, That’s Still Not History,” FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 205–22. But he may also simply be revealing his own adherence to the curious belief, common among certain critics, that denizens of FARMS and FAIR represents a kind of collective mass- or hive-mind, “the Morg,” in which the action of any one writer is the action of all. (See below.) Alvin would now have to steady his nerves for a reading of Alan Goff, “Dan Vogel’s Family Romance and the Book of Mormon as Smith Family Allegory,” FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 321–400; and Larry E. Morris, “Joseph Smith and ‘Interpretive Biography,'” FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 321–74. It is not clear that he is up to the task.

14 Beaver’s advice was given in a post dated 23 November 2005.

15 This important discovery was revealed on 13 June 2006.

16 Caleb takes this representative FARMS quotation from a paper that was delivered by Dr. A. Don Sorenson, then of the Brigham Young University Department of Political Science, on 11 May 1984 at the Mormon History Association’s annual meeting in Provo, Utah, but that was published in the FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 117–48, as “The Problem of the Sermon on the Mount and 3 Nephi.” Sorenson was never affiliated with FARMS in any way. He never presented or responded to any paper at any FARMS-sponsored event. Nor did he ever write anything specifically for FARMS.

17 Caleb continues to quote Sorenson, “Problem of the Sermon on the Mount,” 117–18.

18 Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself.”

19 Posted 4 November 2006.

20 Perhaps Beaver has never pondered the significance of the term Danites? I cannot—nay, will not—say more.

21 As on 4 November 2006.

22 Posted on 12 June 2006.

23 See Davis Bitton, “I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church,” presented at the 2004 FAIR Conference (http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/2004_I_Dont_Have_a_Testimony_of_the_History_of_the_Church.html) and later printed in FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 335–54.

24 It’s likely that Beaver was referring to the infamous Nazi Schutzstaffel, the dreaded SS, although a whimsical reference to Sgt. Schultz, of the old American television comedy Hogan’s Heroes cannot be altogether ruled out. Perhaps he has the two confused. (Beaver earns his living in the pop culture business.)

25 By which he evidently intended the famous 1973 William Friedkin film The Exorcist. But Beaver doesn’t know the half of it. See, for example, “The Shapeshifting Reptilian Mormon Brotherhood,” at www.reptilianagenda.com/exp/e062700a.shtml (accessed 10 January 2007) and “The Secret Underworld of Salt Lake City,” at www.angelfire.com/ut/branton/lds.html (accessed 10 January 2007).

26 DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is not scheduled to appear until approximately 2011.

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