Is MormonThink “Anti-Mormon”?
What follows is an unbalanced, critical, but honest examination of a deceptive website.
Anti-Mormonism is discrimination, persecution, hostility or prejudice directed at members of the Latter Day Saint movement, particularly The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The term is often used to describe persons or literature that are critical of their adherents, institutions, or beliefs, or physical attacks against specific Mormons or the LDS church as a whole. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-mormon
I’m shocked at how many people claim that the website MormonThink is not anti-mormon. What doesn’t surprise me is how all the people who make this claim are former Mormons themselves.
I admit I had previously called the site anti-mormon without ever spending more than five minutes there. I have not read all the articles. In fact, before today, I had avoided the site.
Today, however, I decided to give it a shot. Perhaps the mainstream Mormons had been unfairly categorizing a site which was simply critical of their beliefs. So I loaded it up. I gave it 15 minutes of browsing. But I didn’t need to. Within moments I discovered several big problems with both the site’s claim of being objective, and with this statement right at the top of the front page: “We present both viewpoints fairly and let the reader decide.”
Mormonthink is full of prejudicial language, appeals to ethos, pathos, and peripheral persuasion attempts aimed at creating sympathy for mormonthink as well as anti-mormon sentiment and antipathy for the organization of the LDS church and its leadership. In my opinion, anyone who has taken a basic critical thinking or persuasion class would recognize it. It only took me a matter of minutes to find 6 big problems with it’s claim of being objective, fair, and presenting of both viewpoints.
Here are the ways I saw in which mormonthink fails to be objective, fails to be fair, and fails to present both viewpoints.
1. rife with sarcasm / emotive / persuasive language as opposed to objective / scholarly / neutral language when speaking about the LDS church.
This was the first thing I noticed, and it’s evidenced within seconds. I found the following examples in a single article about 3 minutes into my reading:
“Perhaps that kind of thinking explains such travesties as the Mountain Meadows Massacre and such blind obedience to practicing polygamy and racism.”
“Amazing that an apostle would bend over backwards to try to justify a document to prevent it from harming people’s testimonies…”
“But for one of the Lord’s anointed to think that way and publish it in a very popular fundamental church book makes us wonder just how inspired our leaders are.”
“Like many things in the LDS church, it’s a lot less impressive the more you know about it”
Remarkably, they also bend over backwards and act as if they never said anything critical at all, as evidenced by number 2:
2. Language designed to create a positive prejudice for the mormonthink perspective. AKA “you can trust us cause we’re nice and sincere.” Language which has no bearing on the facts, but which is designed to create a sense of community and belonging.
Examples were evident on the front page, but also found in every article I saw. These examples were found in just 2 minutes of browsing:
“There is a lot of misinformation on the LDS Church that is presented by both critics and defenders of the faith – particularly on the Internet. We present both viewpoints fairly and let the reader decide.” – aren’t we great?
“We have always regarded the prophets in The Holy Bible as heroes and our modern-day prophets as heroes as well.” – we’re very pious!
“We’ve always admired the prophets and apostles and enjoy listening to their talks at general conference. We earnestly believe they are good men with good goals and are not trying to deceive us.” – Just like you! It really hurts us to imply that they are idiots and deceptive in the previous paragraphs!
3. Conclusions based on opinion, with no sources, often implying facts not in evidence.
The pages were absolutely full of leading conclusions based on nothing more than opinion. Examples (found on the main page and in 1 other article after about 2 minutes of reading; emphasis added):
“…the LDS Church will soon begin publishing on the official Church website a series of at least 13 essays addressing controversial historical Church topics. The rising tide of accurate, first-hand historical source documents available for faithful members to research on the internet has forced the LDS General Authorities to move beyond giving shallow answers to the issues these documents raise.” – implying motive which fits the MT narrative.
“…a subject that will undoubtedly catch many lifelong members by surprise as most will learn about these alternate, conflicting First Vision accounts for the first time.” – implying behavior of the church which fits MT narrative.
“During May 2013, under the apparent direction of the Church, LDS apologist Terryl Givens…” – implying a connection which we don’t have any reason to believe exists.
3. Avoiding LDS responses to criticism – pages often include an LDS stance followed by a critical response to that specific stance – no lds responses to said criticism, nor any alternate LDS interpretations of said stances. Independently contrary critical claims are left unchallenged.
4. Size of arguments, the site is heavily weighted in favor of church criticisms, with nothing near equal space or time given to church responses to said criticisms.
examples: In one, randomly selected document: 180 words on the mormon perspective, approx 18,000 geared towards criticisms.
5. Scholarship, the site is lacking any peer review, and instead relies on editorial and commentary. Most Mormon apologetics are submitted to peer review and scholarly analysis.
Examples: Do they have an unbiased, unaffiliated professional editor to keep them “fair and balanced?” No. The managing editor is a “retired management consultant” with no academic training or achievements of any fashion, either in editorial work, or in historical analysis. Instead he offers a story of disaffection with Mormonism following a sacred ordinance, and represents the highest “fallen member” available – a former stake president. This indicates scholarly research and writing is not a primary concern of the site. This is remarkable since their main criticism of Mormon apologetics is that they are all written by Mormon scholars rather than unaffiliated scholars. (This is silly since why would secular scholars have any interest in Mormon themes?) If having secular scholarship review the work of apologists is so important, then why don’t they do it? I submit that the reason is that because doing so would require peer review, which mormonthink authors would have a dismal time at.
As far as I am aware, no mormonthink articles have been submitted to any scholarly journals.
[EDIT: some have suggested that no pro-lds works are peer-reviewed, or that lds sources are equally lacking in scholastic rigor. Here's a response from an online discussion on peer review and mormonism:
It turns out, the most prestigious peer-reviewed academic presses publish many Mormon scholarly works such as: Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism, Rough Stone Rolling, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader's Guide, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter, By the Hand of Mormon, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, Carthage Conspiracy, Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction, Nineteenth-Century Mormon Architecture and City Planning, Great Basin Kingdom, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, The Viper on the Hearth, People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture and actually many more but I am getting tired of cutting and pasting such actually-scholarly books.
One interesting thing to note is: these rigorous treatments of Mormonism published in academic environments are almost universally by faithful members. The big two exceptions to this I know in modern times is Pioneer Prophet that on one hand is written by a non-Mormon and yet "faithful" enough to be carried by Deseret Book and the scholarly books written by Quinn who, though having been ex-d by the Church, like most published academic scholars on Mormonism is still a believer.
Let's also not forget, The Joseph Smith Papers Project which is sponsored by the Church, has received the "endorsement by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, a division of the National Archives, to ensure research is conducted according to the highest scholarly standards". (An endorsement that you cannot say about a single anti-Mormon project that I am aware of.)]
6. No Explanatory Power
It may be helpful to give an anecdote on this topic as told by Bushman. Let’s pretend a mother has five children, all of whom grow up to rave what a wonderful mother she was. However, a biographer decides to write a biography on the mother and decides he will only list “facts”. Interestingly, he decides the only facts he will refer to will be the few times the mother spanked and yelled at her children.
So there is nothing factually incorrect about his biography (a defender will ask “point to one place where there is a lie!”), so what is wrong with it? What’s wrong is it has no explanatory power. (It’s just like a bad scientific theory) It doesn’t explain why her five children all grew up to call her beloved. It conveniently doesn’t mention how the mother also read them stories, dried their tears, gave them lots of love, went to all their sporting events of extracurricular activities, was their biggest fan at every turn, etc… In other words, it does not tell the whole story, the whole truth.
So: If you didn’t know the rest of history, based on Mormonthink you would probably assume Joseph Smith was just yet another charlatan with fraudulent claims brainwashing a vulnerable people. Just another crook holding up a false facade. But if you believed that, you would probably, like the rest of the US at the time, conclude with the brainwashing fraud holding up the false foundation gone, Thus Ends Mormonism . But as with the newspaper in the link, your hypothesis would fail as you would quickly learn this work is so much bigger that Joseph Smith and his faults. Something that you would never conclude from Mormonthink!
Mormonthink has no explanatory power where it counts. It doesn’t have the capacity to explain why, with the “charlatan” gone, Mormonism continues to flourish with millions testifying of the very real spiritual changes in their lives. It doesn’t account for why millions more give years of their lives for this service, some of them willing to pay the ultimate price. It doesn’t explain how the very book Joseph produced is perhaps the most cherished work in the lives of millions more. It doesn’t explain why Mormons are so charitable , so likely to get an education , so successful in the real world , have such high scores for well-being , etc…
It would be very hard to explain why such a people, who all it can be said is that they were duped by a charlatan, would go on to achieve these other inconvenient facts.
Is MormonThink Anti-Mormon?
Yes. Glaringly, obviously, cruelly so. It is remarkable that a site run by so many who claim to be victims of deception would choose to use these methods in the name of fairness and truth. It sickens me. MormonThink is the quintessential wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is a site which aims to deconvert, and destroy testimony; to sow doubt and distrust. I’m done with that site and those who promote it under the guise of “truth.”
If the truth speaks for itself, then it does not need the kind of dishonesty that MormonThink uses in its efforts do de-convert. Instead, the church is truly leading the way with efforts like The Joseph Smith Papers Project, which has been been endorsed by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, a division of the National Archives.
Finally, let me say this: I have said nothing about the LDS church in this post. Proponents of MormonThink always bring up the church when the site is criticized, as if something the church has done or taught has anything to do with how MT operates, so I wanted to leave it out of this post. Whatever you may think the church is or was, it does not excuse MT to behave so dishonestly. The LDS church has often taught that those who leave the church can never seem to leave it alone, and turn to persecuting it. By continuing this kind of tabloid criticism, Mormonthink only proves them right.