Like many New Yorkers, my initial reaction to hearing that a large Mosque was to be built 2 blocks from the World Trade Center site was one of shock and opposition. I wouldn’t characterize my opposition as strident or terribly passionate; I didn’t attend any anti-Mosque rallies downtown nor did I make my personal views widely known. I did, however, oppose the Mosque’s construction simply because I felt that building such a large Islamic center of worship so close to site where nearly 3,000 people were murdered by radical Islamic extremists, was insensitive at best, and possibly nefarious at worst — although I was never convinced of any ill intent at play. The Financial District of Manhattan is not a residential neighborhood and I thought there were plenty of other, more suitable places in Manhattan, such as the Upper West Side where I live, for a Mosque of this size to be built (a demonstration to be sure of my ignorance of Islamic worship practices).
This past week while reading a conversation at the Mormon Apologetics and Discussion Board (MADB) I learned that my initial reaction was one borne out of ignorance and myopia. In particular, there was one comment made by a poster, J Green, which changed my entire perspective on the matter. I quote it here in its entirety:
My perspective from fighting elements of radical Islam in my profession in US Army Intelligence:
Objection to the center due to a perceived link between 9/11 and Islam is possibly the worst mistake we could make as a country in our struggle against terrorism and radical Islam because it represents another victory for AQ. In the midst of all this objection, they are receiving a return on their original investment in atrocity by scoring another hit in almost the same location, as well as all over the country and, apparently, among some on this board as well.
The center of gravity in assymetric warfare, counter-terrorism, and counter-insurgency rests with what is called information warfare (or information operations), essentially attempting to get your message accross to a targeted populace such that it influences them politically and culturally in order to leverage desired strategic results. (Our own doctrine is captured in Joint Publication 3-13, Information Operations.)
Since the beginning, Al Qaeda has tried to create an information operations message that defines this conflict in terms of a jihad between Islam and the “idolatrous infidels” (al-kufr al-mushrikin) of Christianity. On their intent to use the media to spread this message and create this paradigm, see for example the letter from al-Zawahiri to al-Zarqawi captured in Iraq in 2005. Our own information operations plan seeks to take this conflict out of the false jihad/crusade construct and into the reality of terrorism and extremist criminal behavior.
Certainly the thousands of good Muslim men and women in the Armed Forces and State Department who served with me in both Iraq and Afghanistan would object to the paradigm that ties the 9/11 event to Islam. So would my good Muslim counterparts in the militaries of Iraq and Afghanistan. That many of us here in this country have done so is simply an indicator that Al Qaeda’s infomation operations campaign is gaining ascendancy over ours here in the US. Comments like the following make me worried not only from an intelligent perspective but from an Intelligence perspective:
[QUOTE FROM EARLIER IN THE THREAD:
I see nothing in the plans to assuage the hurt, to calm the rational fears of those who have seen the hearts of an aggressive Islamic atrocity perpetrated on us, and not just once, not even twice, but a dozen times in the past few decades. ]
If people here really believe this, then they have purchased Bin Laden’s message at the expense of our own.
When I read this I realized that I was, unintentionally of course, playing right into the hands of Al-Queda and the minority elements within Islam who seek to make this conflict appear to be between the West and Islam or Christianity/Judaism and Islam. In truth, we are not at war or in conflict — in any way, shape or form — with the religion of Islam. We are, however, in conflict with radicals who use violence, murder, and fear in pursuit of their own interests. Why had I not seen this before? It now appears so patently obvious and I sincerely thank J Green for offering his unique and enlightening perspective on the issue.
That fact is that radical and violent elements exist within all religions (except perhaps, in some Eastern traditions). These violent elements have ebbed and flowed over the years. It is true that radicals within modern Christianity and Judaism in the United States are *relatively* non-violent (of course we have the tragic murder of Abortion doctors and some ultra right-wing paramilitary groups to contend with). Yet, if we go back to the settlement of North America by European Christians we find a history filled with genocide, atrocity, and mass murder.
It would, of course, be foolish to ignore the religious aspect modern Islamic radicalism. However, we cannot allow ourselves to be drawn into offensive and inaccurate portrayals of Islam at a point in our history when forging positive and productive relations with Muslims around the world is a vital national interest.
So, let us oppose violence, terrorism and murder but let us do so without marginalizing the many millions of good, honest, and devout Muslims throughout the World who like us, seek peace and reconciliation.
I have been involved in the Mormon community online since 2006 or so when I began to study ex-Mormon narratives as part of my studies at Yale Divinity School. A simple Google search will demonstrate that Mormonism on the internet is presented, discussed, analyzed, and debated in a variety of ways.
I have been a participant at two sites, primarily: The Mormon Apologetics and Discussion Board (MADB) and the Mormon Discussions Board (MDB). Apparently there is a long history between these two boards but this drama predates my personal involvement by several years.
MDB is run and operated by ”Dr. Shades”. It was Shades who first proposed the Internet vs. Chapel Mormon dichotomy:
The enormous popularity of the Internet has brought a vast amount of information into the hands of a great many people–information that, until recently, could only be accessed through inconvenient trips to far-flung libraries and archival repositories. Nowadays, a simple visit to google.com places nearly any sort of information into the hands of the average user with only a few keystrokes.
This has meant that a great deal of information regarding Mormonism’s early history and prior beliefs are now widely available–information which was, until the advent of the Internet, largely unknown by the average member. Therefore, apologists for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are no longer able to just ignore certain issues and hope they go away. They must now deal with virtually all the controversial aspects of Mormonism, since increasing numbers of LDS members are becoming aware of these issues.
A typical apologetic ploy is the “that was only his opinion” tactic. By reminding readers that Mormonism never claimed its leaders to be infallible, any controversial or repugnant teaching of yesteryear–such as the Adam-God doctrine–can be dismissed as being only the prophet’s opinion. Nowadays, with knowledge of such historical items becoming more and more widespread, that tactic has been put into “overdrive.” Similarly, apologists are now spending a lot of time reminding readers that prophets in the Bible did and said many foolish things, so it would be absurd to hold modern prophets to a higher standard.
In this way, apologists have collectively (and perhaps inadvertently) redefined what most Mormons have been taught regarding the role and importance of prophets. Unfortunately, and perhaps most importantly, the prophets themselves have never defined their own role the way the apologists have. Therefore, a dichotomy has been created: Mormonism as interpreted by the apologists, and Mormonism as interpreted by the average member and by the prophets themselves.
These two different schools of thought are typically encountered in separate venues. Since Mormonism’s controversial issues are widely and freely discussed on the Internet, many apologists likewise seek to make their own views and interpretations known via the Internet. By the same token, Mormonism’s chapels are settings for religious instruction and ordinances–as opposed to places for debate or argument–so only official teachings are shared therein. Therefore, the adherents of these separate schools of thought can be termed “Internet Mormons” and “Chapel Mormons”–not because of the only places they inhabit, of course, but because of the places one is most likely to encounter them. Lest anyone be confused, I also acknowledge 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. It also pays tribute to the fact that the Internet was the catalyst for the recent explosion of this particular brand of Mormonism.
Not surprisingly, many Mormons take issue with Shade’s proposed dichotomy. According to the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR), a non-profit group dedicated to Mormon apologetics and the genesis for MADB:
The entire premise that one has to be either a “Internet Mormon” or a “Chapel Mormon” is itself setting up 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.”
Scott Lloyd of Salt Lake City’s Deseret News has tentatively proposed a “folk vs. orthodox” Mormon dichotomy:
On the one hand, we have Mormons who seek to learn and understand the authoritative doctrines, policies and positions of the Church so as to use them as guidelines for their own faith, belief, worship. For the purpose of discussion, I shall call them orthodox Mormons.
On the other hand, we have Mormons who, for whatever reason — laziness, intellectual neglect, intransigence, invincible ignorance, whatever — cling to folk doctrine as though it were scripture. I shall call them folk Mormons.
To illustrate how this breaks down, here are a couple of applications:
A folk Mormon is convinced that all faithful Church members one day will be called upon to walk en masse to Jackson County, Mo., there to build the temple of the New Jerusalem.
An orthodox Mormon understands that the above notion is a tradition handed down from the early Utah period of Church history, when some Church members were convinced the Second Coming would occur within their lifetimes and they would have the opportunity to go reclaim their Missouri lands.
A folk Mormon is wedded to a traditional understanding about Book of Mormon geography (i.e. hemispheric or North American model) to the point of calling into question the faithfulness and loyalty of those who are not.
An orthodox Mormon knows that the Church takes no official position about locales for specific Book of Mormon events and thus understands that Latter-day Saints are not bound to accept one particular model over another.
A folk Mormon is prone to gospel hobbyism at the expense of a wholesome balance in scriptural and doctrinal scholarship.
An orthodox Mormon lives “by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.”
Critics who are prone to attack strawmen are likely to focus on the folk-doctrine beliefs of folk Mormons as an excuse to beat up the Church, because such beliefs are often easy targets. They express frustration and resistance when told that such beliefs are not authoritative.
The categories (orthodox vs. folk Mormon) are archetypal, and I don’t insist that a person must be either one or the other. A generally orthodox Mormon could have folk Mormon elements in his attitude.
And I’m not yet saying this model is valid; I’m only thinking out loud here. It might be altogether unworkable, just as Internet vs. Chapel is.
While it is certainly true that some Mormons have a deeper interest in history, theology, archeology and apologetics in general, I don’t find these dichotomies in any way descriptive of how Mormonism is actually practiced. In fact, in the majority of cases I believe how an individual views such issues a a global flood, the accuracy of the King Follett Discourse, or the relevance of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers to have any bearing, whatsoever, on how that person chooses to practice the Mormon faith.
Today in Sunday School we discussed the story of Job. Personally, I believe Job is an apocryphal text — one of great literary value — but non-historical. To open the lesson our Sunday School teacher asked who in the class believed the book of Job represented actual history or was merely a morality tale intended to convey specific theological conceptions. I would say about 1/2 the class thought it was real history and the other 1/2 felt it was a morality tale. That discussion took about 3 minutes. We then moved on to the real point of the book of Job and had a very uplifting and spiritual discussion.
My point here, of course, is that it didn’t matter whether or not the people in this class felt Job was real history or apocryphal. Such notions or beliefs had no impact whatsoever on the interpretive meaning of the text or on its potential spiritual applications. In the end, the question of Job’s historicity didn’t matter.
Different shades of belief are common to any religious tradition. Mormonism is no exception. I simply question the stark and rigid dichotomies proposed by both Scott and Shades.