I wrote a letter today

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Was I just making a big deal of nothing?

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angela n
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I wrote a letter today

Postby angela n » Sat 05 Jul, 2008 01:35 pm

So I don't often do stuff like this, but I read this column by USC Law professor Susan Estrich in the paper (it's a syndicated column). Something she said rubbed me the wrong way, and so I wrote this response:

**WARNING: Wall of Text Incoming**

Dear Ms. Estrich:

The opinion page of the newspaper is one of my favorite parts. When I don
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Postby EricDSnider » Sat 05 Jul, 2008 02:33 pm

She seems to be defining "tolerant" as "believing that other points of view might be just as correct as yours," which is not what that word means. The word really means "allowing the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with" -- i.e., I think you're wrong, but that's cool; to each his own.

Mormons are generally tolerant in that latter sense. (Doctrinally, they are, as noted in the 11th Article of Faith. Culturally, there's some work to be done.) By the author's incorrect definition of "tolerant," they're not -- they don't believe that other points of view might be just as correct as theirs. The author should be corrected on her word usage, for sure, but I don't think she meant Mormons were "intolerant" in the way that normal people would use that word.

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Postby Ryan Reeder » Sat 05 Jul, 2008 05:39 pm

I'd be more inclined to let Susan Estrich off the hook there; it seems to me that she's just using that Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey as a jumping off point for a brief, innocuous essay about the role of tolerance in American politics and society. The comments about Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are simply quoted from the findings of the survey. Therefore, it is my belief--and I hope I don't offend you--that taking Ms. Estrich to task with a lecture and comments like "you appear to be somewhat ignorant" are largely unwarranted. I'm not too worried about your hurting her feelings, though. I don't know her personally, but she does write newspaper columns for a living. I'm sure she's heard a lot worse and developed a pretty thick skin in the process.

I wouldn't let the Pew Forum off so easily, though. I'm not going to express the problems with the survey, but here's an article: where Rodney Stark, (best known to Mormons as the non-Mormon professor of sociology who once said that there could be 267 million Mormons by 2080) takes apart the survey pretty handily, in my opinion. (Money quote: "The problem is the people who write these questions at Pew don't believe that you should believe in Jesus -- let's be honest," Stark said. "They've got ... an agenda.")

Also, I don't know if you're interested at this point, but I might have a few suggestions for corrections on some historical points you brought up. I do commend you for standing up for your beliefs. Just from reading her article though, I think Ms. Estrich is innocent of the charges brought and implied against her. Pew, not so much.
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Postby angela n » Sat 05 Jul, 2008 08:13 pm

I am very interested, Ryan. As Dumbledore said, truth is generally preferable to lies. :)

The part that really irritated me about her column, and the reason for the letter, was the line, "And those two groups ... total some 2.4 percent of the American public, which leaves a lot of tolerant people out there." That was her own commentary; she wasn't quoting the study at all on that, and that's what really rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe some might see it as a tomato, tomahto sort of thing, but it really irritates me when people call me intolerant for not discarding my own beliefs and espousing every one of theirs. While she may not have meant it that way, I'm fairly certain that a lot of people will take it that way, which is pretty irresponsible on her part. Intolerant is almost a dirty word nowadays, and the fact that it's more often than not used incorrectly just adds to the migraine factor.

Also, upon further reflection after sending it, I decided that the part where I suggested she might be ignorant was unnecessary. Too bad I can't edit the version sitting in her inbox. >_<
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Postby Ryan Reeder » Sun 06 Jul, 2008 03:35 am

Yeah, I still doubt she meant to offend; but sometimes you can say things without realizing how other people might take it. People in the public eye make so-called gaffes all the time; rarely is the offense intentional, just foot-in-mouth disease.

Even though, as you mentioned, you can't change what's in her inbox, since you said you were very interested in my points, I'll go ahead and make them:

You didn't state it explicitly, but you implied by where you put the sentence that the visit with Martin Van Buren took place between the expulsion from Nauvoo and the westward pioneer journey, i.e. about 1846-1847. That meeting (the first, at least with President Van Buren) occurred 29 November 1839 as the Prophet sought redress for the Missouri persecutions.

The circumstances surrounding the assassinations of Joseph and Hyrum were more complex than you suggested (and more complex than I intend to summarize here). The incarceration, however, stemmed from the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor press, which, after much deliberation and determining that they were within their rights to do so, Joseph, as mayor, did order destroyed. This created a public outcry, and as a result, Joseph ordered martial law to protect the community from mob violence.

Finally, about two weeks after the destruction of the press, Joseph surrendered to authorities with the personal promise of protection from Governor Thomas Ford. He was charged with riot for destroying the press and treason for declaring martial law--defensible charges, certainly; nevertheless there was a cause which led to those charges. Joseph and his companions were incarcerated in the Carthage jail to await trial, which, of course, never happened as the assassination took place two days later, the governor having broken his pledge of protection. Had they been given a fair trial, it is likely that they would have been found "innocent of any crime, as they had often been proved before" (Doctrine and Covenants 135:7), but I feel that saying that they were "being held for crimes they hadn't committed" is a little simplistic. Rather, the acts which they had committed were accused of being crimes of which they hadn't been proven guilty.

Also, statehood was granted in 1896. The manifesto was issued in 1890.

Of course, your point in reviewing some of the persecutions in LDS history was valid, saying that Mormons love and accept others despite perhaps having cause not to. Implying that we are intolerant could equate us with, as you said, Islamic extremists, like Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. And if that were the impression being created in her readers' minds by not being clear, as Eric pointed out, about her definition of tolerance, then that would be irresponsible, like you said. But again, I think the root of the problem lies in a flawed survey, rather than a columnist's celebration of Americans' tolerance (living with others' differences)/tolerance (holding all ideas to be equally valid).
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Postby AdamOndi » Mon 07 Jul, 2008 08:27 am

The word "tolerant" gets horribly misused in our society today. Eric pointed out how Susan Estrich uses an incorrect definition of the word as a basis for the main point of this article. The misuse of that word spreads to a lot of different things in America. Far too many people equate tolerance with acceptance, when they are not the same thing.

I was actually very surprised that only 57% of Mormons said that their religion is the only true faith that will lead to eternal life. It should be much higher than that, though I suppose that there might have been a lot of less active members who took part in the survey.

My feeling about other religious beliefs has always followed along closely with the article of faith quoted by Angela. Go ahead and worship how, where, and whatever you want, and let me do the same. However, I have absolutely no problem stating that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one and only true church and therefore the only way to eternal life. If I didn't believe that my beliefs are the only correct way to do things, I wouldn't bother to subscribe to them.

I have never understood people that will say that they believe in the tenets of a certain religion, but think that any beliefs--even those which directly contradict their professed religion--are an equally valid path to eternal life. Logically, that would be impossible.
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Postby Ishmael » Tue 08 Jul, 2008 12:25 pm

AdamOndi wrote:I was actually very surprised that only 57% of Mormons said that their religion is the only true faith that will lead to eternal life. It should be much higher than that, though I suppose that there might have been a lot of less active members who took part in the survey.


The problem with a survey like this is that the questions are worded so generally that a lot depends on how particularly loaded terms are interpreted. For many Mormons, words like "hell" and "eternal life" mean different things depending on who you are talking to. Can non-Mormons attain eternal life? Sure, if you define eternal life as living happily ever after in one of the TKs. Or you could define it narrowly as the highest echelon of the CK, and then only a select few Mormons will qualify.

Ask a Baptist whether adherents of other religions can attain eternal life, and the answer depends on how you define "religion." If religion="southern baptist" then yes, they will allow that other non-southern baptists and a fair amount of conservative protestants from other denominations will manage to find their way to heaven. Define religion as "believing in the right version of Jesus," however, and the answer becomes "oh my, heavens no." So you have this image of greater tolerance which is basically an artifact of the way christian denominations have evolved.

Another question in the survey was whether the respondent believed in hell. Again, it depends on how you define it. Mormons don't believe in the traditional hell of evangelical and mainstream Christianity, but they do believe that when the scriptures mention "hell," the term refers to something. So two active, knowledgeable Mormons who believe exactly the same things about the afterlife could give completely opposite answers depending on how they interpret the question.

Having said all that, I believe that in the end, the Pew survey arrives at a valid conclusion, which is that Mormons and JWs are generally more conservative, strict, orthodox, hardcore--whatever you want to call it--than the rest of mainstream Christianity.

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Postby Momma Snider » Tue 08 Jul, 2008 12:44 pm

Ishmael wrote:Having said all that, I believe that in the end, the Pew survey arrives at a valid conclusion, which is that Mormons and JWs are generally more conservative, strict, orthodox, hardcore--whatever you want to call it--than the rest of mainstream Christianity.


That sounds pretty reasonable.

I have to disagree with this statement, though: Or you could define it narrowly as the highest echelon of the CK, and then only a select few Mormons will qualify.

First, the term "select few" sounds to me like predestination or something, like the winners have been chosen in advance. I don't know if that's what you meant or not, but that's how I interpreted it. I also think there will be more than a few. Just being a Mormon isn't going to do it, obviously, and not being a Mormon in this life won't prevent it. Being on the right path and firmly pointed in the right direction is what's going to get us there, and the path is well-traveled.

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Postby Ishmael » Tue 08 Jul, 2008 03:41 pm

Far be it from me to judge who, or how many, will end up where. I only intended to illustrate two extremes of the spectrum of possible Mormon interpretations of the term "eternal life."

But I agree, "select few" makes it sound like only GAs need apply or something. Maybe "relatively few" or something would be better. I was thinking of estimates I had seen that out of 12,000,000 members, maybe 4,000,000 are active, and maybe half of those have temple recommends. Those could be off quite a bit and you'd still be pretty safe saying that less than half of nominal Mormons are upper-CK-bound, if we're defining that as temple-sealed and temple-worthy.

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Postby Mrs. Goofy Gordon » Tue 08 Jul, 2008 04:03 pm

I am just glad that it is not my job to make those types of judgements.
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Postby Momma Snider » Tue 08 Jul, 2008 06:54 pm

"Relatively few" sounds more accurate, compared to all the people who have ever lived on the earth.

This little discussion reminds me of something, though. My brother asked to have his name removed from the Church records a few years ago. I was sad when he told me, but I still have hope that he will open his mind and heart and accept the gospel and receive all the blessings available. He and his wife are sad that the rest of us are so blinded by our "cult" that we don't accept Evangelical Christianity. The difference between our two sadnesses, though, is that while I believe they will be taught in the spirit world and can accept the gospel then, they believe that I am going to hell. Period.

So I think there will be a lot more people there than just those who hold temple recommends right now. The Atonement makes anything possible.

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Postby Ishmael » Tue 08 Jul, 2008 08:18 pm

That brings up a whole other aspect of belief (and tolerance) that can't possibly be reflected in something like the Pew survey. I think LDS doctrine encourages us to look at the potential inside each individual rather than focus on the particular requirements for salvation. The whole idea of eternal progression demands a broader perspective.

So if you ask a Mormon, "Can Baptists attain eternal life," again, it depends on how the question is interpreted. Are the ordinances required for salvation found in the Baptist church? No. But when I look around at all the Baptists I know, do I think a lot of them are going to wind up in the CK? Certainly.


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