BYU Honor Code Debate: Tactics

Last week, I had posted the article entitled, Gay Students vs. BYU Honor Code (archived here), to my Facebook account. This, along with my opening comments on the article, caused quite a debate (you can read more about this on my previous blog post). What really struck me were the tactics being used by those in favor of BYU’s honor code (and by extension, LDS morals). What I mean by “tactics” is the way in which they presented and ‘justified’ their argument, not the argument itself. Some of these tactics are somewhat universal, in that most people use them regularly, including myself (though I’m trying to improve in this area). However, I’ve noticed certain ones being extremely common among Mormons specifically.

Mormons have a tendency to think of personal revelation as practical evidence that can be cited when trying to justify their position. I accept and appreciate that these seemingly miraculous events may have had significance in their lives; I don’t deny that. However, different people have had ‘revelations’ that conflict with one another, so who’s to say which one is really from God? These personal experiences are just that: personal. So how am I supposed to believe your revelation is any more valid than someone else’s or even my own? “I just know” is used so often, it makes me cringe to hear it. How do you “know” something if that thing is not objectively observable? Mormons tend to use the phrases “I know” and “I have faith”, interchangeably, despite the incredible gap between the two. “I know” is definite, while “I have faith” acknowledges that there isn’t necessarily any evidence for their conviction. To make the claim that you “know” something, you better have some kind of evidence or reason to support it, otherwise you’re just simply lying or ignorant. If you have faith in something, you believe something to be true while having no such evidence or reason and therefore, it has no validity in an argument.

For a bit of a side note, Mormons are taught that God answers prayers best when asked in simple ‘yes or no’ form, and only after you have done as much pondering on the issue yourself beforehand to have made a conclusion and are only asking for confirmation. The answers, as Mormons are taught, will be a “yes” with a “burning of the bosom”, “no” with an uneasy feeling, or “not now, ask again later” with a sense of confusion. This scenario sets you up for confirmation bias in the extreme, as you’re inevitably going to feel good about your already determined conclusion, thus giving yourself a “yes” or “no” answer, depending on the question. If you truly hadn’t made a decision prior to praying, then you’re going to get the “not now, ask again later” response. This whole method of praying is no better than asking a magic 8-ball for guidance. To all my god-fearing readers, I ask you to really think about where the answer to your last prayer for guidance came from; did you receive an answer you hadn’t considered, or did you think of the answer yourself?

Playing the victim seems to be another tactic, but this one is more of a method to guilt the opposition into stoping what is perceived as an attack. Just because one is critical of a belief, doesn’t mean their attacking it. Anything that doesn’t put the Church in a positive light is automatically seen as an attack, when if fact there’s a lot of room in the middle where people should be free to think critically without it necessarily being negative. Critical thinking is a necessary life skill, one that is used by everyone on a daily basis. All too often, Mormons compartmentalize their Church life from their “worldly” life. This means that they tend to have two very different (and conflicting) ways of thinking, which they apply to each scenario, and try not to have the two worlds overlap. For example, if a Mormon Lawyer was a work in a courtroom, she’d have to think very logically & rationally in order to produce a case against the defendant. This would include gathering evidence and data, then using critical thinking & reason to fill in the most logical explanation for what connects A to B. However, this Mormon Lawyer will then go to church on Sunday, and be presented with an abundance of hearsay, anecdotes, and prophecies, which have absolutely no reality-based evidence. She doesn’t question her church’s teachings because she’s compartmentalized her theistic side as being different than her non-theistic side, thus allowing her to separate the two. The deeper the belief in theology, the stronger the separations seem to become; at least, this is what I’ve noticed. My question is, if religious theology is actually true, then why can’t we apply the same rational & critical thought to it, just as we do to everything else in our lives? Feeling victimized, simply because someone asks for evidence or explanations for theistic claims, is a sure sign that those claims are not well-founded in reality.

Testimonies of the Church’s divine authority is another form of baseless claim, which seems to be used as a last resort when one’s ability to debate a topic has faded. This method of falling back on one’s testimony is something I was always taught to do while attending the Church, since it requires no critical thought, education, or rationale. All that is required is to recite the cliché lines that were taught to you as a child: “The Church is true”, “God loves each and every one of us”, “there is a living prophet”, “the Book of Mormon is true”, etc. None of these can be used as evidence of truthfulness, because it can be rendered moot with a single testimony to the contrary, thus leaving you stalemated. This is why testimony and hearsay are not reliable sources to determine truthfulness – though what’s said could be true, it has to be backed up with corroborating evidence before it can be accepted. And just because there are a great number of people who have testimonies, doesn’t mean it’s true; popular opinion isn’t fact. Personal testimonies of the truthfulness of the LDS gospel are commonly used to trump an opposing view. This is because they see their testimony as coming from some supernatural higher power that is more reliable than even concrete physical proof. The funny thing, to me anyway, is that Mormons are more than willing to accept evidence, science, or any other kind of “worldly” methods of finding truth, so long as it supports their claim. As soon as this evidence contradicts their stance, then they’re quick to dismiss it as not being conclusive, or claim the facts have been twisted in some way. Again, this is confirmation bias.

Lastly, the fear-tactic. “Think of the dangerous road you’re on and the harm you’re causing.” This line is rather funny to me, since it suggests that I will suffer the wrath of God for turning on the Church, yet it completely fails to recognize that I don’t believe in their LDS definition of God! If I don’t think God works the way they do (or if He even exists at all), then why should I fear His wrath? Of what danger am I at risk? What harm am I causing? “Why criticize something of which you cannot be 100% certain?” This line is absolutely hysterical to me, because they don’t seem to recognize the hypocrisy. If no one can be certain of God’s existence (let alone his purpose, will, involvement, etc.) then how can you claim to “know” the truth any more than I can? Both of these lines have been used in attempting to scare me into obedience and compliance. How is this a useful tactic at all? We have learned that fear isn’t even a good way of getting dogs to be obedient, so why the hell would we think this is good/useful for humans? This is the lowest of the lows, and comes down to the basic premise that a lot of theists use: “I’ll believe in God, just in case He exists” – this is just pathetic. Any just & all-knowing God would be able to see how lame his ‘evidence’ is for His existence, and wouldn’t judge his subjects on their loyalty to superstition and ignorance. But, that’s my atheistic view, I guess.

Though there is so much more I could write about, regarding the tactics used during this debate, I’ll draw this to a close. I’m sure I’ll come back to these themes in the future, so I’ll expand on them then.

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Posted on 2011-03-20, in Mormonism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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