I don’t know if he’d like my saying this, but I was just handed this before I got up here to speak. Mark Tuttle, an employee of Church Public Affairs, handed me what I’m to say; so the Church does dictate what is done here. He’d heard that I hadn’t written a talk. This is a blank note card. It contains everything I need to know. There you have the Church’s nefarious influence illustrated. I’m going to put this up on e-Bay.
Alright, you know I’ve been telling everyone and they think I’m joking, that I’ve got a talk. I actually did write out some notes, I don’t like them at all, I’d like to talk about something else. Kirby yesterday inspired me, I thought as I was listening to him, dang, or I should say in the spirit of Kirby, damn! That’s the kind of talk I’d like to give. But this one is serious, it is so serious, I’m already bored just looking at it. Good, I have a screens right down here. That was my son’s contribution, that little bit of art. Let’s move on to the next one. It’s a little less off putting. Is there anybody out there in charge of this or am I controlling it? Is the remote up here? I don’t see it. OK. Good, I can do this.
There were a couple of announcements I wanted to make. I use the opportunity for advertising. Some of you may have heard already or run across the announcement that we’re going to be doing a conference on Science and Mormonism, this is the Interpreter Foundation sponsoring it with the co-sponsorship of FAIR and also LDS Agents, I believe. There may be others at some point. I just wanted to ask a favor of you. If you could, you can go to the Interpreter website, and you can register for that conference. I think things have been handed out giving a place where you can go. We would really appreciate it if you could register if you’re interested in coming. It’s free, but if you’re interested in coming if you could register fairly early. Because we face a decision it’s going to be in this building, not in this room about how much space we want to rent. And it costs a little no-budget operation like ours a considerable amount to rent that space. We want to know as soon as possible how big that space needs to be. So if you’re at all interested, if I could ask you as a favor to go and register early rather than late. The meeting is on November 9th. It’s a Saturday and it’s called “Science and Mormonism: Cosmos, Earth and Man.” We’ve got some really fine scientists involved who will be participating in this and tackling the difficult issues. There’s going to be no skirting difficult issues in neuroscience and evolutionary biology and so on, so please register. And also another little Interpreter thing and I’m not going to talk about Interpreter today, I did last year, sorry about that. We’re also trying an experiment where we’re trying to get people who want to read it in hardcopy, to subscribe. We don’t get a dime from it, we just thought it would be easy for them. We need a minimum number to make it sort of worth our while, so if you’re at all interested in subscribing and having the print edition delivered to you, we do it at cost, I think it is 35 dollars for five or six issues, for a year, that’s a pretty good deal, that’s pretty cheap. You get what you pay for, maybe, I don’t know. No, I take that back. I didn’t say that. If you could do that sooner rather than later too that would help us. We’re trying to figure out and trying to get sense of our bearings and what our audience is and so on.
Ok. I’m talking about the idea of “Toward a more effective apologetics.” I want to say right up front that that doesn’t mean that I think apologetics thus far has been a failure. Even good things can improve. Everything must adapt. Surely, Darwinist naturalists can sense that. So it seems to me there’s always room to make something better. I want to talk first about the concept of efficiency and the concept of effectiveness. Efficiency refers to the degree to which expenditures of time, effort, or money are well used for an intended task or purpose. Inefficiency is wastefulness. The term efficient should not be confused with the term effective. Efficiency is at least in principle measurable. It’s quantifiable. It refers to the ratio of output to input. So in engineering, efficiency corresponds to the ratio r=P/C. The amount “P” of some valuable resource produced, per amount of “C” of valuable resources consumed so production over consumption. For example, if you analyze energy conversion efficiency of, say heat engines in thermodynamics, the product P might be the amount of useful work output, while the consumable C might be the amount of high temperature heat input. It’ll never be more than 100% or greater than 1. It can’t be because of friction and so on. But I digress, I just happen to like this kind of stuff.
So forget engineering and equations, the simple point is that if it’s traditionally required three hours to produce a widget, then new measures that reduce that time to two hours per widget will, if everything else holds constant, make the process more efficient. Effectiveness by contrast, is a relatively vague idea. It can’t be so easily quantified or measured. It concerns the evaluation of objectives. Are widgets worth producing in the first place? A common way of distinguishing between efficiency and effectiveness is expressed by the saying, and you’ve probably all heard it, efficiency is doing things right, while effectiveness is doing the right things. The selection of an objective is even more important in some ways than the processes for achieving it. The selection and evaluation of an objective often occurs within a hierarchy of such objectives. There’s always presumably an overall objective that justifies an entire process. There will typically be subordinate objectives as well. These are justified by the usefulness in achieving the overall goal. Thus to pick out a few high points from what is in what is in our intricate industrial economy, a hugely complex process; miners extract iron but not for its own sake and certainly not for the shier fun of mining. They work in the mine to make money. For my purposes that’s just an intersecting but tangential line, I’m following another. The iron is mined so the steel mill can produce steel; which in turn is produced so that another factory can produce pistons. But pistons too don’t exist for there own sake; they’re produced so that engines can be made. And engines are made so that cars can be produced. Cars are produced so that people and goods can be transported, and there are hundreds of motives for transporting people and goods. All of which comes down I suppose to something like human comfort which is important as an aid to human happiness.
So what is the purpose of apologetics, is it worth doing? I say typically I want to do apologetics to defend truth, to fight falsehood, to fight for justice and the American way. Untruths bother me. But also I want to put a more human face on it. This is also true. I also wanted, when I got involved with apologetics, to help faltering members, and to help interested observers see enough plausibility in the gospel’s claim to take the gospel seriously, to overcome their doubts. Now, there is a book and I’m going to be responding to it. . I don’t necessarily recommend the book. I’ve just read it. I think some of you might find it interesting and most of you would not. It’s very post-modern, called The End of Apologetics — Christian Witness in a Post-Modern Context by Myron Bradley Penner. And I’m going to be responding to it, in fact I’m going to be summarizing a fair amount of it, the parts that I think are worth while. He is very much against apologetics, he says it flat out. He’s an Anglican priest in Canada, up in Alberta, Edmonton I think. And he says I am against apologetics because its modern forms undercut the very gospel it wishes to protect. That’s a very harsh judgment but it’s the kind of judgment that sometimes is wielded against Mormon apologetics as well. He says apologetics is a serious threat to Christian faith. Now, I reject Penner’s judgment partly because I reject his postmodernism. He’s not really into truth and objectivity, he says that the best we can do is an approximation of truth or an approximation of reality, to which I respond: happily airplanes do fly. Apollo 11 did land on the moon. It’s nice for us that our approximations are fairly close. There are some postmodernists who seem to deny the possibility of modern science and I think, do they fly, do they ever get on airplanes? How do they dare? If they really don’t believe that science has any access to truth. So I can’t go as far as he does along that plane.
It seems to me that apologetics help to further the mission of the church. It’s only a part in a sense a relatively small part of the mission of the Church but it is a part. You remember the old three-fold mission of the Church as it was defined: 1) to perfect saints, 2) to proclaim gospel, 3) to redeem dead. Well, perfecting the saints includes, among other things, defending testimonies; helping the saints to retain, to develop and retain testimonies. And they encounter conflicting information. Apologetics of a kind can help them. To proclaim the gospel, number two; it can help there too. There are people out there who are attracted to the gospel but they find there are questions that they need resolved before they can commit themselves to it. A form of apologetics can help there too. I don’t know exactly how we help redeem the dead? I thought of several jokes, all of them inappropriate to make. If I were Kirby, I would have made them. But the goal it seems to me is worthwhile, the task is legitimate. But we have to be aware because other goals can substitute themselves for the principle goal of bringing people into the church, helping people maintain and retain testimonies. Some are worthy goals: the desire to win I suppose can be a worthy goal but it can easily become very very dangerous. These goals can slide into the unworthy, for example, ego gratification, revenge, satisfaction of “righteous anger.” All of those things are temptations along the apologetic path and they’re very ineffective. They don’t accomplish what they are intended or what you initially intended to do.
So how should apologetics be done? Are we being inefficient — have we been? Well, of course we have been. Humans are inefficient. Humans are idiots as professor Kirby pointed out yesterday.
Penner tells a couple of stories, well several stories but I was struck by two of them. I’ll read story one. He comes out of a Protestant background, One of his particular “bêtes noires,” one of the people he takes on several times in his book is a very effective Christian apologist by the name of William Lane Craig. Craig is a great debater, he’s brilliant, he’s got two PhDs. I actually have debated him and I know what the experience is like. I respect him tremendously but he’s tough. I don’t think he’s talking about Craig here but someone very like him.
One of the popular forms of modern apologetics discourse is the academic debate. My initiation into apologetic debates happened during my first year at university. A Christian apologist who was touring university campuses was invited by my university’s chapter of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) to debate the resident atheist in our philosophy department. This particular atheist professor had banished belief in God as a rational thought from countless freshmen philosophy students minds and had planted seeds of doubt in the hearts of many a fervent member of our IVCF group. So a good number of us were elated to learn that an expert in Christian apologetics was coming, who would definitively prove to everyone at our university that belief in God is rationally superior to atheism and that we Christians are not as naive and asinine as we are often made out to be. Now, I see merit in that. I actually do. The fact was that there were members of his group who were faltering because of this philosophy professor’s argument. I like the quote from C.S. Lewis which he quotes, I think to denigrate it, “good philosophy must exist,” Lewis said, “if for no other reason than because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” My goal for apologetics though would be fairly modest. I think Lewis’ is too. It’s not to prove the rationality of Mormonism or of Christianity. It’s to defend its rationality, to defend it as a rational option that rational people may choose, not as something they must choose. I don’t believe faith comes from rational arguments, but it can be destroyed by rational arguments. It can be salvaged by rational arguments, but it’s not where it originates. Here’s a quote that you’re all familiar with, it was for many many years a kind of unofficial moto for the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and its successor organization the Maxwell Institute. This is from the Oxford theologian and New Testament scholar, Austin Farrer, very familiar to you all, you should commit it to memory. This is what he said in an essay about C. S. Lewis published shortly after Lewis’ death. “Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced. But what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandon. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.” Now I think that that’s exactly right.
Back to Dr. Penner’s story: To make the conclusion unambiguous, the audience would be polled to determine the winner of this debate that they were putting on at his school. In the end the Christian apologist was the winner with about 80 percent of the popular vote. The result was decisive we felt and was regarded as a triumph for the cause of Christ. I remember being a little uneasy though as I looked around the room and noted that about 80 percent of the people in the room were people I knew from IVCF or their guests. So his suspicion is that it changed no minds. Now I don’t know if it did or didn’t but to me it’s significant that he says about 80%. The fact is that the changes are going to be made at the margins. You’re not going to have mass conversions probably out of a debate like this. But there is a small percentage of people who will come in who are wavering on either side–people who are wondering about their Christian faith, people who are considering adopting it. Those are the people who can be influenced. In Gary Lawrence’s book, “How Americans View Mormonism” (2008); a marvelous book that he did based on survey data and so on. According to his findings, 5% of Americans say they would be willing to seriously investigate the Church; 95% have basically said they’re not, but 5% say that they would be. That’s impressive. That’s still a sizable number. We’ll come back to that. Apologetics will appeal to some, it will help some, not everybody, but some. I’ve told this story before of my father whom I was privileged to baptize on the night I was set apart as a missionary. He had been friendly to the Church for years. One of the factors that changed his mind was finally picking up a book by Hugh Nibley, beginning to read it, and having the thought occur to him: Is it possible that this could be true? He hadn’t really seriously considered that. So it wasn’t the decisive thing, but it was a crucial factor in helping him to make the decision that he made.
Story two from Penner: This is a kind of horror story. John is a self-described atheist Roman Catholic. He earned a PhD in Philosophy at an Ivy League university and is a philosophy professor at a small prestigious college in the United States. We met several years ago in a research center and I noticed a deep spiritual hunger in him. John was fascinated by my faith and confided in me that although he no longer had faith, he never-the-less experienced this as a profound loss. John confessed that he desperately wished he could believe in God again and even spent time in two different monasteries hoping to reignite his faith or find some deeper spiritual reality in which he could believe. During our second week at the center, John and I were joined by two graduate students from a nearby seminary who had come to research for their Master’s thesis. Our two friends informed John and me that they had just finished a modular course on Christian apologetics with one of the leading contemporary apologists. Jokingly they related how the apologist described himself as the hired gun, who rode into town to shoot down the bad guys, atheists and their arguments, and make the streets safe again for Christians. It didn’t take our budding apologists long to clue into the fact that John wasn’t a professing Christian. And despite John’s protestations that he was not interested in arguing about faith—what he did or did not believe or how far his beliefs were or were not justified our two apologists went to work. They took aim and started to shoot holes in the reasonableness of John’s beliefs with their shiny new apologetic six guns. John objected to this treatment. What bothered him he said was the impersonal way both he and his beliefs were being treated as if they were abstract entities like propositions instead of reflections of spiritual realities with which he personally struggled. John told the apologists he found what they were doing offensive. Undaunted, our defenders of the faith assumed the apologetic right-of –way and continued with their inquisition in the name of unloading their responsibility for John’s errors into God’s hands. They actually quoted the thing about wanting to clear their garments of his blood. “Apologetic arguments,” commenting on this says Benno Van den Toren, “when used as battering ram will only force people to barricade their doors stronger, notwithstanding its cracks, as long as they feel they have no valid escape.” Now, Penner concludes that Christians should be against apologetics because this idea that you develop faith by listening to experts, by being argued into it against your will, is just wrong. Well, I agree with that. It may surprise some people to hear me say that I agree with that. I do not believe that people can be argued into faith. I think it’s really important that we treat them as whole persons not simply minds. Let me read you a passage from Romans; Romans 12, that is, I think, directly relevant. Think about apologetics with this in mind. This is Paul talking about the responsibility of Christians, “I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” So he wants our total dedication. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” I’m going to skip some of this because I’m running short on time, but he goes on to talk about loving, (read chapter 12) loving, being eager but serving in your different ways. If your strength is teaching then teach, if it’s ministering then minister, and so on. He closes with one of the most cynical lines in scripture. It’s almost the close, verse 20 of chapter 12 of Romans. He says, “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” I love that, that appeals to my vengeful side. But he is advising people who serve Christ to be kind, to be loving, to be genuine and so on. To me there is a limited but important role for reason.
Let me quote some more of Penner who is talking about this. “Human beings,” he says, “are not adequate in and of ourselves to discover the more important truths about ourselves, others, God, or the world we live in. We’ll need to shift from an epistemological approach (epistemology is the study of knowledge, how we come to know things) to something like a hermeneutical approach.
Hermeneutics doesn’t go back to basics, it talks about interpreting texts, making sense of what’s been delivered to us. It doesn’t attempt to establish the existence from God from square one. It receives texts and talks about them and text analogs, things like texts; it comments on life. Reason’s function, he says is not to ground our truths but to explain them. Reason depends on a logically prior Truth, with a capital T, to situate it. Now to me, that’s what Mormons talk about when they talk about a testimony. That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about personal revelation. You can’t establish truths without revelation. You can’t talk a person, coerce a person, reason a person into a testimony. But once that testimony is in place you can think about it, you can reflect upon it, reason about it. You can show that it’s coherent, that it makes sense, that it sheds light on things that we value and that we experience, and so on. He says, “revelation is proclaimed. It’s ours to understand and interpret it. Not to justify it or rationalize it directly in the sense of establishing its legitimacy.” We just have to show that it’s rich that it’s consistent and so on. So Interpreter, by the way, isn’t a bad name for our journal. Well, I’m going to skip some more of that. I obviously, wrote much more than I should have on this. I go between extremes, no notes at all or way too much junk.
But one of the points that Penner is making is that Christianity is not a matter of pure reason. I like this passage from him, he says, “given the modern epistemological paradigm that human beings,” (this is what he attributes to apologists who try to argue you into believing) “that human beings are essentially things that think, who’s most basic need is to accept the right propositions. It’s easy and perhaps even natural to assume that the best thing I can do for an unbeliever is to reason with him militantly in such a way as to win the argument and force my conclusion. It’s true after all and I am right. The focus will be on what I argue about: the conclusions, the prepositions, the facts, the evidence and whether my opponent and I believe them. Not how I engage with another person. In the end, it will be difficult to escape the conclusion that my primary objective in an apologetic encounter is winning the argument. I may further believe that people with different beliefs from mine are morally suspect, since there can’t be any other explanation for why they refuse to accept my rational conclusions. How can you be so stupid? You must be evil.” We concentrate sometimes, and this is part of the problem, on winning arguments and not winning souls. You have to remember, what are we trying to do here? It is easy to forget that in the furor of an Internet fight for example. Penner says, “the reason I accept Christian faith is that it enables me to interpret my life fruitfully and the world meaningfully through the practices, categories, and language of Christian faith. So that I have a more authentic understand of myself, a sense of wholeness to my life. Christianity isn’t just a set of propositions.” Austin Farrar again: “Religion is more like response to a friend than it is like obedience to an expert.” Ok. That’s really important or so it seems to me. Faith is a whole-souled response. It’s not merely intellectual acquiescence to something. We accept faith for a whole lot of reasons, because things feel good to us, they have to make sense to us as well. But it seems to me at the end, when we approach God, when we approach the ends of our lives, we’re not going to be examined as to which theological propositions we accepted. It’s like when you go in for a temple recommend, there’s not a panel of theologians there asking you about your definition of the Holy Spirit in relationship to the Father and the Son and how do you precisely understand the atonement and so on? I have strong reason to believe that when we appear at the veil, we will be asked about what it is we wanted. Ok? What it is we were seeking to do.
I was talking to a friend, Randy Paul, the other day, yesterday I guess or the day before yesterday, and we were talking about Hebrews 11 [verse 16] where this is the line that is given: “But now they desire a better country,” speaking to the faithful, “that is an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God…” It suddenly hit me, God might be ashamed to be called our God if we behave badly? Then I thought, think of this passage, I viewed it in a totally different way, Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone that sayeth unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast our devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Now the idea that God is not ashamed to call us his people or not ashamed to be called our God, made me wonder if when we get up there and he says, “depart from me I never knew you,” it’s like he’s saying to others, “I didn’t know them, I don’t know who they are, they’re claiming my name but I don’t know them and I don’t want to be associated with them” because we’re not worthy of it.
I was struck by the passage in his account of John, the lapsed Catholic, “I noticed,” Penner says, “a deep spiritual hunger in him. John was fascinated by my faith and confided in me that although he no longer had faith, he never-the-less experienced this as a profound loss.” Now that to me is crucial. That is the kind of person we are looking for, that’s the kind of person we want to find, the person who wants to have faith, to believe. How do we find those people? Tracting, you just go door to door and you never know what going to find behind that door, and believe me from my experience in Switzerland, it could be anything, anybody, or any kind of buddy behind those doors. You have really experiences sometimes but I’ve always thought gee wouldn’t it be fun to serve a mission in a visitors center where by definition the people who come to the visitor’s center want to talk to you. They can’t say I’m not interested. Well, what in the world are you doing here? You drove up, parked, walked into the visitor’s center, what do you want? You would have an audience that was self-selected. And I’m going to come back to that because that’s important. But we need to handle things properly and not lose sight of what our objective is, that’s a matter of effectiveness, we need to do it efficiently and find the people who we can actually talk to, that 5% that Gary Lawrence talked about. Here’s a quote from my friend, Randy Paul, “Roger Williams, that patron saint of all apologists said, and he stood adamantly for the unimpeded liberty of his critics to call him wrong, that Truth and Peace are virtuous cousins who rarely meet in a friendly manner, but when they do it’s with another cousin: Patience.” And then this, also from Randy, “The assumption of bad faith undergirds much mischief in apologetics. If a loving and all-powerful God has given the clear and obvious truth to me then can give it to anyone. So if someone disagrees with me over divine truth that I’ve received, it proves the person is resisting the loving God. This can only be because the person is too stupid to get it, too duped by tradition to grasp something new, too cowardly or lazy or proud to change, or an evil liars who knows the truth but has sold out to the dark side. There are no alternatives. So now. Let’s have a mutually honest and respectful dialog.” Well, it really is a matter of trust and a matter of building a relationship with others in order to be able to talk with them. Not to bludgeon them into the Church.
I’ll tell you a story, I’ve told it before, I think, of something that happened to me in Switzerland. When I was in the mission home and I was called by members of my mission. They had set up an appointment with the Jehovah’s Witness, the leading Jehovah Witness in maybe all of Switzerland, certainly that part of Switzerland. And now they were scared and they wanted me to come and help them. I came down from the mission home. I was up on the hill and they were down in the lowlands, the flat area of Zurich and we had a kind of debate. And, I have to say in all modesty, well maybe it was because he wasn’t so good, not so much that I was really good, it was that he was pretty bad but it was an easy debate. I have to say in retrospect, I think I mopped up the floor with him, but as the evening went on, I felt worse and worse and worse about this. I hated it. I just hated it. It was very unpleasant, it accomplished nothing, and the man never joined the church obviously. I felt I’d had humiliated him. And I remember contacting them and saying don’t you ever, ever invite me back to do something like that again. If you set something up like that, you’re on your own. I’m not coming. The point was that it did no good. It was a nasty evening and it’s lingered on in my memory as a very bad taste in my mouth. It doesn’t do anyone any good. You don’t bludgeon people into the kingdom of God. What you want to do is build a relationship with somebody. It’s not simply a matter of coercing them to accept propositions. It’s a matter of modeling for them also what Mormonism means, what the gospel means, what being a Christian means. Now I will confess that I’ve spent a long time learning this lesson. I should have learned it with that experience, but I didn’t.
I’m reminded of a cartoon. You’ve probably all seen it, it shows a fellow sitting at his computer terminal and his wife is calling to him, and she says, “Come up for dinner.” He says, “wait just a minute, this is really important,” and she says, “what’s really important?” and he says, “there’s somebody wrong on the Internet” and so he has to stay there. Well, the Internet is virtually infinite and there’s always somebody wrong on the Internet. It may well be one of us. My friend Lou Midgley describes it as the doors of a tavern, you swear it off and then you come walking by and the doors are swinging and you think ah just one more drink. In I go and then you’re sucked in. I remember once going to the Hill Cumorah Pageant and there was a man there, I could name him but I won’t, a very prominent local anti-Mormon in Palmyra who was haranguing two young kids, they were pre-mission age and I listened to it for a while and I had vowed I am not going to duke it out with anti-Mormons at the Hill Cumorah Pageant, but I watch him and they were unable to respond to what he was saying and I thought oh gee, it’s my duty. So I stepped in and they were gone within a couple of minutes and there I was with this professional, he’s full-time anti-Mormon, and we went at it for a long time and by the time I went to the pageant and sat down, the steam was coming out of my ears. I don’t remember anything about the pageant. I didn’t even pay any attention. I was so furious at some of the things he had said. The Book of Mormon warns against contention and it is wise to do that. You lose the Spirit, we all know that, but at least some of us, predominantly guys I think, have a hard time learning the lesson that it doesn’t do any good. No one ever joins the Church out of something like that. So you’ve got to choose effectively, efficiently, who it is you’re going to talk with. If you could find people, the real seekers, those are the ones you want to talk with. Missionaries can spend hours with people who just want to fight them. There are millions of people waiting out there who are ready to hear the gospel. But we don’t get to them sometimes because we’re busy fighting with somebody. Just move on. Their time might come later, just move on. There are people out there.
Now, I say I’ve regretted this, many hours spent wasting time, but I don’t want people to give up going online to defend and advocate on behalf of the Church. And so I’m kind of excited about something I’m going to introduce to you today. I’m want to do some preliminary remarks about that. It seems to me that one of the things we need to do. We need an army of people going out there to preach the gospel and it doesn’t always mean apologetics in the conventional sense. Not everybody is an expert on Chiasmus or on any number of things, Mesoamerican archeology, whatever it is. You have access to expertise if you need that you can use it. But a lot of it is about just presenting the gospel as an option that makes sense in your life; responding to some criticisms, directing them by means of a link to this or that treatment to allay their concerns or something like that, but building up the positives. I will read you something really quickly, that I think is relevant to this. This is something that I blogged on a while ago but it’s relevant. Some of you have asked why aren’t we talking about the Swedish rescue or the Swedish crisis whatever that is. Well, the news just broke on that and a lot of these talks were prepared before then and I’ll talk about it, I will, later on, not today. But I wrote this on the blog sort of in response to that. Suppose that one day you hear a shockingly negative report about someone. What effect will the report have upon your opinion of that person? Phrased in such a way, the question is essentially unanswerable. Why? Because it matters very very much whether you’ve had any prior experience with or knowledge about the person in question, and if so, what kind of experience or knowledge that was. Suppose that this report is the first thing that you’ve ever heard about him. In that case, the report will most certainly color your opinion of him in a fundamental way. Because it is the only color you really have for him, the only information you possess about him. It represents 100% or close to 100% of your total information about the person and obviously will loom large in your judgment. Suppose as an alternative scenario, you’ve known him to be a bad sort for a very long time. You’re not surprised to hear this latest account. It fits right into the picture of him that you had in your mind for years. It’s not going to take a lot of additional evidence to persuade you that the new report is true. The report doesn’t fundamentally transform your opinion of the person because it represents only about 1% or even a millionth of 1% of your total picture of him. But because it’s consistent with what you already thought, it does reinforce your own pre-existing opinion and you’re strongly disposed to accept it and take it at the worst. Now suppose though that this person has instead been a friend of yours for decades. You’ve always known him to be good, honorable, reliable, and kind. The report that you’ve just heard doesn’t fit with the man you know. It doesn’t seem consistent with his character as you’ve observed it over the years. You don’t necessarily pronounce the report a lie, but you’re certainly more incline to withhold judgment; give him the benefit of the doubt. To postpone your verdict until you can get his side of the story. It’s going to take quite a bit of solid evidence to persuade you to revise your longstanding opinion of your friend. Why? Because this account provides a relatively small portion of your view of him; perhaps say just a single percent or a millionth of a percent. You may even decide to go forward as before, trusting that this report is merely an anomalous blip. Maybe a definitive resolution will come soon, maybe it won’t. But if you chose this course, you suspend judgment. You simply exercise faith and move on.
Now I think this applies to things like Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. If you run into an argument against the Book of Mormon but you’re already convinced the Book of Mormon is a deep rich text, it’s going to take a lot more to overturn your love for the Book of Mormon than if you hated it or thought it was stupid or knew nothing about it. If you have a great feeling about Joseph Smith, if you believe the things that were revealed through him, an added reports may affect you but not as much if that’s the only thing you know about him. So it seems to me that part of the task that we have as Latter-day Saints, even if we’re not apologists, is to build up those positives in ourselves, in our families, in our acquaintances, in people we talk to about the gospel. We need to tell why the gospel means a great deal to us and we need to find the people inclined to accept our witness.
Now, that was a very long and incompetent lead up to what I’m trying to introduce; which is something I’m quite excited about, something that some of us have been involved with for a while now called “The World Table.” You can see it up here on the screen. This is a chance; I’m calling upon members of the Church to become an army of apologists, to go online as Elder Ballard has asked us to do, to bear testimony, to share videos from the Mormon video series the Church produces and other places. There are all sorts of resources we can use. Share links of articles that you like; make those public. Go online and get those out there. And this is one new avenue where we can do it. It’s not about brilliance; it’s not about being an expert. I’ve just come back from England, Heber C. Kimball went over to England as a missionary for the Church in 1837. He was terrified of the call. Joseph Smith came to him in the Kirtland Temple, leaned over and said. “Brother Heber, the Spirit of the Lord whispers that you should take the gospel to England” and Heber Kimball said “me?” You know, “the least learned of the Twelve and I’m supposed to go to this country famed for learning and piety and so on.” Well, he didn’t really know England obviously because of course there are Oxford and Cambridge but there are also places that are not Oxford and Cambridge. And it turned out he was a smashing success, a remarkable success in England. He was a success because he didn’t connect with the professors, the dons of Oxford and Cambridge, he connected with people that he maybe didn’t even know existed who were much like him in England; the craftsman, the people at his level that he could speak to them in a way that the Oxford-trained vicars could not.
Everyone in the Church speaks a language unique to him or her. Everybody has a background unique to him or her. You can connect with somebody out there in a way that nobody else can and that’s why we need to get active and get out there and do the work. Remember the worth of souls is great in the site of God and if you save even one soul, if you bring one soul to Christ, then great will be your joy. [Doctrine and Covenants 18:10, 16]
Ok, The World Table. This is to me an exciting new avenue for doing some of that. And I haven’t left as much time as I wanted to but we’ll see what we can do here. The World Table is a platform for a kind of new apologetics. What if there was a place (a question) where people had to actually disclose who they are and agreed to live by a certain set of rules? Now some of you have been active on Internet message boards. You know that people don’t always disclose who they are. In fact, they are routinely full of awful pseudonyms and so on. People can behave in any way they want because they’re not accountable. They don’t live by any set of rules, they can call you any name. A lot of you have tried to go on say the Tribune comments page. Have you ever tried that? Try having a serious conversation in the comments section to the Salt Lake Tribune. You’ll be called obscenities within three posts, I predict. And for a lot of people I know go on there and say this is it, I’ve had enough, I’m out of here; so serious people are driven away. You can’t have a conversation in a place like that.
Well, The World Table is a place where we want to invite people in and say, first of all you have to identify who you are. So, we’re going to take me through this very quickly. You go on, you have to identify yourself. No more anonymity. You have to say who you are and roughly where you are; not your address or anything like that. That won’t go public but people will know who you are. Ok? Once you’ve told us who you are, you have to tell us where you stand. So you’re given the option of choosing: Are you agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, Christian, East Asian whatever? There are a whole list of possibilities there. You choose Christian. We’re doing mine. That gives you a list of options: Catholic, Evangelical, mainline Protestant, historically black churches, and so on. There a Latter-day Saint option or Mormon option. You chose that. It refines it still further, Community of Christ, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It will also then ask you about your political preferences. I’m listed here, this is kind of funny, I’m listed as moderately right. Actually, I’m somewhat to the right of Attila the Hun. But, you know I’d characterize myself as conservative with libertarian leanings or something like that. You can describe yourself and that all goes on so people know where you’re coming from. And then you have to agree to what is called “the way of openness.” There are certain principles. You’ll be honest, you’ll be kind, listen well, you’ll share the floor, presume good will, acknowledge differences, answer the tough questions, don’t be evasive, give credit where credit is due, speak only for yourself, and keep private things private. And you sign that; you agree to it. You’ve been identified. You’re now representing you faith community. So that if you behave badly, it does not reflect well on your faith community. You say I will practice the way of openness. Now what if everybody then could be judged by the same standards? Well, let’s assume that I want to comment on the recent remarks made by Pope Francis about homosexual priests? I can make a comment there. But I’m operating under my own name, people know who I am, they can look me up, find that sort of thing out. And I can rate him. I can rate him on a scale. Honesty, is he respectful; the Pope? I love this idea. Actually, I was a twitter friend of Pope Benedict but I haven’t gotten around to Pope Francis yet. Is he knowledgeable, is he fair, is he likable? Well let’s hypothesized that I give him a score of 82 on a scale of a hundred. Not bad, pretty good. Now, the thing is of course, other people can evaluate my comment. Oh here for example, my comment goes up. You see it there. And this is what I say, “I really like how the Pope is handling this issue. Typically, I don’t tend to agree with the Pope on most doctrinal things. But I appreciate his compassionate stance on a very difficult issue. I don’t agree with the media’s portrayal of his words or intentions though.” Ok. I’ve commented. Now, what if every comment or critique could be equally critiqued in return? Here we have the Pope responding to me. I fanaticize about these things. So, I have a score box, he has a score box. Now on comes the Pope. This is an authentic message actually from Pope Francis. I didn’t make this up of course. And he says, “Dan, so true. Everything you say is wise and profound. If only my church and I could be as thoughtful and pure as you are.” Ok. Now, I would rate that comment very highly. And he gives me a high rating. And it’s a mutual admiration society. Now some of you have been online long enough to know that this is not likely to last. Coming up next, because this guy also has the right to respond, a typical response to one of my articles from an anonymous source on a different forum. There he is. This is Joe_Smith_cradlerobber. Hum, cradle_robber. He can’t spell either. At truthasitis.com. And he writes this: “Danny Peterson is an anti-truth propagandist, a paid professional liar, in the service of a proven con man, holy Joe Smith. Danny gets paid beaucoup bucks by his cult to create a mirage of “plausibility” so that those sheeple will keep writing those tithing checks to the corporation despite the mountain of evidence that demonstrates that Moronism is a fraud. I don’t think Petey does it only for the bucks though, he’s an attention whore; an old white fat male Mormon narrow-minded, spiteful, vindictive, rude, judgmental, misogynistic, homophobic, racist piece of, I think he meant gold, May he rot in his non-existent Mormon hell.” Now, you may think I’m making this up. But this is a pastiche of actual quotes within the past few days. Yeah. He says I didn’t mean it. The funny thing about it, I really love this guy with this long list of adjectives about me. One of the worst things about me is that I’m narrow-minded, spiteful, vindictive, rude. I’m judgmental too. He’s obviously against judging people. I loved that. Anyway, how would this look at The World Table? Well, this is how it looks. It goes up and we find out that Joe_Smith_Craddlerobber is actually a man by the name of Billy Buford. He’s a Baptist in Tupelo, Mississippi. And his rating is 17 out of a hundred. Well that kind of tells you something about how seriously to take him. And, in fact, one of the things somebody will be able to do on this is to say I want to have a serious conversation. Nobody with a rating under 50 even gets on my thread. There posts won’t even appear. Or 80 whatever you want it to be. You can say I don’t want them. I don’t want the bottom feeders. They don’t show up. Just set the rating and they’re gone. By the way, there’s a symbol for each of us. I have a little Angel Moroni on mine. The Pope has a cross. Who knew the Pope really is a Catholic. Anyway, so the idea here is that you have a place where if people continue to be, I think the technical term is “jackasses”… I was sued some years ago and after I went through a couple of hours with the university legal council about this, it was an anti-Mormon down in California who had sued me and President Hinckley too, at the same time. I loved that. This was some years ago. I kind of envisioned us manacled together in orange jumpsuits. But anyway, the university legal council listened to my explanation. He was very thoughtful and I thought sort of grim and I thought I’m in trouble even though this guy that was suing me was nonsense. Finally, he listen to it and commented we have a technical term in the law for people who file this sort of lawsuit, and I said, “what,” and he said, “moron.” Anyway, but the fact is that you will be able to have civil conversations without these people jumping on and taking over as it so often happens. It will be a place that good Latter-day Saints who don’t want to have a fight and a blood nose every afternoon will be able to go and share their thoughts and people who are just jerks about it will eventually be revealed as jerks. Most people want to be well thought of. If you’re operating with a rating in the teens, most normal people will want to bring it up. And eventually, they may be banned altogether. It’s an attempt to create a table where people can come together and talk not just about religion or about politics, cultivation of rose varieties, or whatever it is they want to talk about. Already some newspapers have said gee we’d like a system like that so we don’t have to monitor our wretched comments section which is a toxic waste dump. I was talking with Peggy Fletcher Stack and she said, “I never read the comments on my articles, they’re too depressing.” Well they are. I understand that. She’s at the Tribune. What we’re asking and I hope some of you will volunteer; The World Table is about to go up but right now it’s in the process of beta testing and so I believe that cards are being handed out, which will take you to an address where you can go if you want to and participate in the beta testing. Were not only looking for computer geeks, we’re look for normal people who want to use this so that we can find out is it clean, is it easy to use, is it user friendly; because we see this as a chance at revolutionizing communication on the web. People want to get on and have their conversations. They want to bear witness to their convictions. They want to talk with serious people of other traditions. Not everybody wants to start up a website. Neylan McBain has this wonderful Mormon women’s project, there’s Mormon Scholars Testify, not everybody wants to do that kind of thing. But every one of us has been called to be a missionary, every one of us has been asked to get involved, get up on line, Elder Ballard says,and do something. Well, this is a chance to literally have a world table. There’ll be people in Nigeria, and Ghana, and Perth, Northwestern Australia, and Moscow, and Bangkok, and so on, who will be looking in on this eventually as we envision it. But it will be like bypassing all those doors where the people don’t want to hear. It will be like trying to find the 5% who might actually want to have a serious conversation and learn. It will be like being in the visitor’s center, they come to you for a serious discussion and the door miraculously closes eventually in the faces of the people who don’t want to have a serious conversation, Now, the thing is you have to be open here. The kind of dialog we’re talking about is one where we’re open to hearing from other people, you know; you want to teach them and they want to teach you. That’s not a bad situation to be in. We can learn from others too. So, I’m excited about this and I hope some of you, at least will join up, and have a look at this; participate in the beta testing and when it finally goes up, which won’t be that far away; we hope you’ll join up on it and take part in those conversations. We anticipate really rich conversations going on there.
So new apologetics, it’s not really a replacement of the old apologetics all together. Much of what has been done is worth while. There is a treasure trove of stuff that has been produced by the Maxwell Institute, now by Interpreter, up on the FAIR wiki and places like that. This is very useful material and it’s going to continue to be generated. But that’s not all there is. It’s not just the intellectual issues. It needs an army of Latter-day Saints to go out there, whole-souled Latter-day Saints based on their experiences, their love for the gospel, the things they know, the things they feel who will bear record to the world at large about what they know, what they believe. You can sit there in your basement in Provo, Salt Lake, Boise, wherever you are and reach the world. It’s an amazing thing. It’s an unheard of opportunity. We’ve never had this kind of tool at out fingertips before and The World Table is going to make it better. So, I just want to bear you my testimony that the Lord does want us to do this, we are called, all of us, by virtue of the covenants we’ve taken upon ourselves to bear record to the world and we should avail ourselves of every tool we have. I just want to thanks for your support of FAIR, these are wonderful conferences, it’s a wonderful organization, you can help in so many ways including donating, but including just participating as believing Latter-day Saints with voices and experiences that are unique to you, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.