Mormonism and the internet

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Mormonism and the internet

Summary: A collection of articles that criticisms related to Mormonism and the internet

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Question: Do Latter-day Saint ("Mormon") leaders teach us to avoid the internet?

Critical hyperbole: the "scary internet"

One critic of the Church makes the following claim:

Elder Quentin L. Cook made the following comment in the October 2012 Conference: “Some have immersed themselves in internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and in some cases invent shortcomings of early Church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony. Any who have made these choices can repent and be spiritually renewed.”

Elder Dieter Uchtdorf said the following in his CES talk “What is truth?”: “…Remember that in this age of information there are many who create doubt about anything and everything at any time and every place. You will find even those who still claim that they have evidence that the earth is flat. That the moon is a hologram. It looks like it a little bit. And that certain movie stars are really aliens from another planet. And it is always good to keep in mind just because something is printed on paper, appears on the internet, is frequently repeated or has a powerful group of followers doesn’t make it true.”

Who cares whether you received the information from a stranger, television, book, magazine, comic book, napkin, and even the scary internet? They’re all mediums or conduits of information. It’s the information itself, its accuracy, and its relevance that you need to focus on and be concerned with. With all this talk from General Authorities against the scary internet and daring to be balanced by looking at what both defenders and critics are saying about the Church, it is as if questioning and researching and doubting is now the new pornography. [1]

The same critic also claims that "Under [Elder Quentin] Cook’s counsel, FAIR and unofficial LDS apologetic websites are anti-Mormon sources that should be avoided. Not only do they introduce to Mormons “internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and in some cases invent shortcoming of early Church leaders” but they provide many ridiculous answers with logical fallacies and omissions while leaving members confused and hanging with a bizarre version of Mormonism."

Church leaders encourage us to use the internet to spread the Gospel

The author employs hyperbole (the "scary internet") to make it seem as if Elder's Cook and Uchtdorf are telling Church members to avoid using the internet. He has missed the point of their comments entirely.

According to the portion of the quote by Elder Uchtdorf that appears just prior to the portion quoted by the author, it doesn't matter by what medium you receive information:

it is always good to keep in mind just because something is printed on paper, appears on the internet, is frequently repeated or has a powerful group of followers doesn’t make it true.

Elder Uchtdorf is not telling members to avoid things that "appear on the internet" any more than he is telling them to avoid "printed paper." He has, in fact, precisely answered the question that the author asked after the author presented Elder Uchtdorf's quote.

Elder Cook is talking about the type of internet materials one looks at:

Some have immersed themselves in internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and in some cases invent shortcomings of early Church leaders.

Once again, this is not an admonition by Elder Cook to avoid the "scary internet."


Question: Can Latter-day Saints be divided into two distinct groups called "Internet Mormons" and "Chapel Mormons"?

The entire premise that one has to be either a "Internet Mormon" or a "Chapel Mormon" is itself setting up a logical fallacy called a "false dilemma"

There is no allowance for anything in between the two extremes. When people complain about not being able to determine what Mormons (collectively) believe, the real issue they miss is that the Church does not tell its members what to believe. There is a lot of room for divergent views, and the Church thrives on the idea that its members are a vital part of the search for truth. Personal revelation plays a significant role in every Latter-day Saint's life. Ironically, many of the same critics who complain about not being able to "pin down" Church doctrine, also complain that the Church exercises too much control over member's lives. The questions in the temple recommend interview have very little to do with doctrine and very much to do with actions. Ultimately Church leaders are trying to determine if members are dedicated followers of Jesus Christ—not whether they believe that the flood of Noah was local or global, or whether they believe that science contradicts religion.

Anti-Mormon critics want to label various views as being somehow heretical and not reflective of most Latter-day Saints. This allows them to artificially define two "camps" within the Church, who are allegedly pitted against one another. This, in turn, feeds the critics' ongoing hope that the Church is destroying itself from within. Such a belief allows critics to more easily dismiss arguments that defend the gospel from their attacks. The truth is, there are Latter-day Saints along the entire spectrum between the definitions of "Internet Mormon" and "Chapel Mormon."

Two choices are presented, without allowing for answers which do not fall into one of the two extremes

This specific terminology was introduced by a critic of Mormonism, Jason Gallentine, who presented his theory at the 2004 Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City.[2] It is clear from his comments—and from his lack of rigorous survey methodology — that he started with a polemical argument and conducted his research to fit his predetermined conclusions.

The multiple choice survey contained the following questions, with answer choices in the form of "Yes," "No," and "I don't know."

  • When science contradicts the prophets (regarding the age of the earth, for example), which/who is right?
  • When LDS apologists (F.A.R.M.S. and F.A.I.R., for example) contradict the prophets, who is right?
  • Do the terms "Lamanite" and "Native American" refer to two entirely separate cultural and linguistic groups, or are the terms interchangeable?
  • Was Noah's flood local or global?
  • When Lehi arrived in the Americas, were there lots of non-Jaredite Asiatic inhabitants already present?
  • When discussing the words of the prophets, is God displeased if we say "it was only his opinion?"
  • Did the Nephites make their last stand against the Lamanites on a hill in Central America or on a hill in New York?
  • Is binding Mormon doctrine to be found between the covers of the four Standard Works only, or can it be found elsewhere?
  • Which is most likely to lead us to the truth: To "filter" a prophet's words through both his likely cultural influences and his limited sphere of knowledge, or to take his words at face value?
  • Do a prophet's words apply to everyone he's addressing, or do his words sometimes not apply to some of the people he's addressing?
  • If a married couple uses birth control, is God displeased?
  • Did human beings evolve, or were Adam & Eve the first—and parentless—humans?

Most of these questions set up what is known as a "false dilemma" or "false dichotomy". In other words, two choices are presented, without allowing for answers which do not fall into one of the two extremes. For this reason, many Latter-day Saints would answer most of the questions by pointing out that there is not enough information to answer the question as posed, or that it depends on what various terms mean and how they are understood.

Most of the issues that show a difference between "Internet Mormons" and "Chapel Mormons" are not fundamental to Mormon belief

Most of the issues that Mr. Gallentine thought showed a difference between "Internet Mormons" and "Chapel Mormons" are not fundamental to Mormon belief. For example, the following questions are topics of debate among believing Latter-day Saints, and are not matters upon which anyone ought to base their testimony of the restored gospel:

The issue of birth control is addressed directly in the Church General Handbook of Instructions, which states:

Husbands must be considerate of their wives, who have a great responsibility not only for bearing children but also for caring for them through childhood…. Married couples should seek inspiration from the Lord in meeting their marital challenges and rearing their children according to the teachings of the gospel.[3]

The remaining five questions relate to how Latter-day Saints view prophets (both new and old), their statements and writings. These questions are geared toward emphasizing the critics' position that "Mormon doctrine" cannot be defined and is constantly changing, and that everything that a prophet utters ought to be considered scripture.

Latter-day Saint belief is more of a broad spectrum, not two isolated positions

Most Latter-day Saints do not sit exactly at the opposite points Gallentine proposes; they are somewhere in-between. This being the case, there isn't some kind of tension that exists between two groups which are clearly delineated — rather, they blend into each other. Only if you start with a need to separate Mormons into groups for polemical purposes does such a system make any kind of sense at all.

Another issue that must be considered is that these differences in perspective existed long before the Internet allowed Latter-day Saints to discuss various views, and will continue long afterwards. There are members of the LDS faith who could be classified as "Internet Mormons" (using Gallentine's schema) who never used the Internet — including those who died long before the Internet was invented. There are also very active LDS members on the Internet who are best classified as "Chapel Mormons." Gallentine himself acknowledges this on his web site, stating that "Internet Mormonism—at least in its embryonic form—has been around much longer than the Internet itself has. Again, the name 'Internet Mormonism' merely calls attention to the place at which one is most likely to encounter this brand of Mormon thought."

Most FairMormon volunteers would be classified by Mr. Gallentine's survey as "Internet Mormons", and yet they still attend church every Sunday, participate in regular callings, and have disagreements among themselves on the finer points of LDS belief. Many Latter-day Saints who would be classified as "Internet Mormons" are in positions of Church leadership, serving as Bishops and Stake Presidents. This alleged conflict has no significant impact on the Church or their participation in it.


Notes

  1. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (2013)
  2. Jason Gallentine, Internet Mormons vs. Chapel Mormons, 2004 Sunstone Symposium Session.
  3. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, General Handbook of Instructions (Salt Lake City, 1989), 11–14; cited in Homer S. Ellsworth, "Birth Control," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 1:116–117.