Saturday, November 7, 2015

Apologetics for Not Doing Apologetics

Yesterday at Utah Valley University there was a panel discussion on Mormon apologetics. The panelists were Brian Hauglid, Ralph Hancock, Brian Birch, Julie Smith, and Ben Park. Each had ten minutes to make their case and then there was an hour-long discussion. Here are some brief summaries of the arguments (losing most of the detail to perhaps the point of caricature--sorry, I do not mean to be inaccurate, just brief).

Brian Hauglid summarized Stephen Cowan's classification of Evangelical apologists but did not deal with how this classification system might apply to Mormon apologetics or which Latter-day Saint scholars might fit in which classification if it did apply. He argued that apologetics should not be a full-contact sport. He said that apologetics ought to be done in such a fashion that no one got their feelings hurt.

Ralph Hancock argued that apologetics meant defending one's beliefs using arguments. Thus everyone does apologetics for their own opinions. He argued that irony and satire have a legitimate place in apologetics and that it was generally best to be straightforward in presenting one's arguments.

Brian Birch applauded the Maxwell Institute's abandonment of defending the Church. He reiterated a claim that he has made elsewhere that apologetics of any sort could only have a chair at the academic table if it bowed to scholarship. He claimed that no satire or irony ought to be used in academic arguments and put forward the academy as a model of being humble and charitable. He voiced his opinion that apologetics was not really ready for the rough and tumble of scholarship.

Julie Smith thought that apologetics was most appropriate for missionaries and seminary teachers. She thought apologetics was dangerous because it fossilized the status quo and made women collateral damage. She wanted more numbered lists. She voiced her opinion that the next frontier in Mormon apologetics would be the Bible.

Ben Park thought that there should be a wall between apologetics and Mormon Studies. Maintaining a wall between the two would, he claimed, make better apologetics and better scholarship. For him Leonard Arrington and Eugene England were his heroes because they used the latest scholarly fads in their work. Mormon Studies was, however, better because it sheds the insider focus in the study of Mormonism.

The panel was big on generalities and short on specifics. This was most clearly apparent when an actual apologist asked them about how they might respond to a hypothetical sister in Parowan who might be troubled by things she had read. None of the panel betrayed the least indication of ever having done such a thing. It was like witnessing a bunch of arm-chair quarterbacks who had never set foot on a football field discussing what a professional team ought to do. To extend the metaphor and grossly oversimplify the arguments: Hauglid seem to be arguing that the best way for a team to win was to play touch football. Hancock was arguing that the team should actually play football since they were engaged in a match whether they wanted to or not. Birch seemed to argue that one team should only be allowed on the field if it was not allowed to score any points. Smith seemed to think that the best strategy was for the coach to provide the players with a numbered list of all possible plays without any guidance on which ones were likely to work in a particular situation. Park seem to think that there should be a wall between the football team and the stadium to keep the team out of the stadium. Which of these would you rather have coaching your team?