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Ralph C. Hancock
Thursday, June 26 2014

The Idea that is Rotting our Brains

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BrainAging 

“Progressivism” is rotting our brains, and souls are never far behind in the process when brains are rotting. Now, if you, reader, are already turning away in outrage and disgust at my blasphemy against “Progress” (a.k.a. “Social Change” or simply “Society”), the chief idol of our age, then I’m afraid I have to warn you that you are exhibiting a symptom of the very disease against which I was hoping to warn you.

In case it might help, let me reassure you that I fully recognize that “progress” is by definition a good thing, assuming we define it as “change for the better.” But the problem with the rampant ideology of progressivism is that it refuses to take responsibility for the moral judgment inherent in the term. To judge some change to constitute progress, we have to be ready to affirm that it makes things better and thus to stand behind some understanding of what is good.

But the rotting power of progressivism consists precisely in its dazzling power to make apparently intelligent people think that they can advance a moral cause, and thus of course advance themselves as enlightened leaders in this moral cause, without taking responsibility for an actual moral judgment. In fact they propel their cause forward and themselves upward in status by castigating the moral “judgmentalism” or “narrowness” of those with whom they disagree. They brandish the virtue of intellectual humility – as something that obviously needs to be applied to those who lack their full faith and confidence in the progressive cause. It is this purely logical or intellectual dimension of the Progressive rot that concerns me here – I leave it to God to search souls.

Only Good Change is Good 

The intellectual problem is at bottom extremely simple, but apparently very elusive for those already caught up in the dynamics of Progress: only good change is good, and society does not always change for the better; but “Progress” provides a cover for evading the question of goodness.

This evasion is at the heart of the spiritual-intellectual rot of “Progressivism” that continues to work its way throughout our Western Societies, and the membership of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to my great disappointment and indeed alarm, is proving to be no exception. To be more precise, one would have to suppose that the rot has been working its way for a generation or more, hollowing out the cognitive fiber of citizens and believers, until a moment of decision arises in which the individual’s supposedly independent moral structure collapses in the face of popular pressure (or intellectual-media elite pressure so disguised), because the heretofore invisible process of decomposition has undermined all sources of resistance.

One might momentarily be inclined, by some ancient inclination or dimly remembered promise, to stand up for some substantive understanding of the good or some moral principle, but one finds no conceptual legs of support, no bones and no sinews.

How the Mormons Conquered America

A recent and particularly lamentable example of effects of this insidious cognitive decomposition, with its all-to-familiar moral-spiritual effects, is an article published at “Nautilus,” a serious and substantive online journal (as far I can tell) that addresses “the sciences, culture and philosophy.”

Under the heading, “Mutation Creates the Most Successful Religions,” we find the article “How the Mormons Conquered America.” And if you will excuse my going straight to the punch line, the answer is: By Letting America Conquer Mormonism.

The keynote is taken from the Broadway version of The Book of Mormon, which offers this distillation of the Mormon genius: “We are still Latter day Saints, all of us / Even if we change some things, or we break the rules.” The subtitle states the bracing (if not original) thesis more academically: “The success of the Mormon religion is a study in social adaptation.” Any backward readers who might “associate the church with the squeaky clean image of the Osmond family and Mitt Romney” are invited to chill and have a sense of humor, to join the Broadway laughter about Joseph Smith having sex with a frog to rid himself of AIDS.

The article’s well-worn premise, ultimately, is that “the Mormon story is quintessentially American,” and the resulting imperative, naturally, is that Mormonism should change with Americanism.

Mormonism’s secret (no longer a secret should this article become well known, of course) is this: “being able to change without having practitioners feel like they have changed is a powerful adaptive tool.” (My emphasis) This “fascinating… sleight of hand” (R. Sosis, evolutionary anthropologist) is supposed to be possible, I read further, largely because, according to the University of Virginia’s new Professor of Mormon Studies, Kathleen Flake, Mormonism is built on “a narrative structure rather than a philosophical belief system.”

Professor Flake’s favoring of a “narrative structure” over “a philosophical belief system” is a common intellectual move that seems to allow a member to be faithful to a “story” without becoming too attached to definite beliefs, since such an attachment might be socially and historically inconvenient. 

But I must point out that, from the point of view of an actual “practitioner” of Mormonism, it is hard to see how the great story of Mormonism, the “great plan of happiness,” which of course includes the need for a Savior, for commandments, for covenants, for repentance and forgiveness – it is hard to see how such a “narrative” can be separated from definite beliefs, such as the belief in the eternal significance of the difference between male and female, for example, and in the sacred laws that surround sexual activity. 

Of course there are some beliefs, some elements of the Grand Narrative, that must be considered more fundamental than others, and we know that some less essential beliefs have changed under the guidance of continuing revelation.  But in general the attempt to separate “narrative” from “belief system” seems to be an example of the “fascinating sleight of hand” by designed to facilitate “adaptation” or “mutation” by separating ordinary “practitioners” from their “belief system.”

The key “changes” in question in this article will surprise no one. In the past, there were (1) polygamy and (2) extending the priesthood to male members of black-African descent. The (3) prospective or presumably ongoing changes can be reduced to one word – one powerful word, the keystone, I would say, of our secular religion of Progress: Equality. As Professor Flake notes (paraphrased in the article), “two of the three major social movements in America and much of the world in the last 100 years include equal status for women and gays and lesbians. The Mormons are among many religions that do not give full equality to women, gays, and lesbians.”

Patient "Progress"

So the agenda seems pretty clear.


23 Comments

  1. Thank you for this most excellent article. You have exposed the progressive argument using great logic which is so needed in discussions these days. I really chuckled at your final closing line. Praying that the majority, if not all of our members will "catch" the tricks before we are caught by them.
  2. I concur. It reminds me a critique of similar (if not identical) ideologies: "Other philosophies more wicked have been devised: none more vulgar." -C.S Lewis, "The Abolition of Man"
  3. I have heard some members predict that the Church will eventually endorse gay marriage. But this would be such a fundamental change in our theology that it would prove that the Church was never true to begin with. Members will have to choose which they believe more, secular progressivism or the plan of salvation as summarized in the Proclamation. Those who cling to the bedrock of our beliefs are in for a bumpy ride.
  4. You might wish to check your information about Fitzgerald. He came out with a statement that his comments were not quoted properly and take out of context.
  5. Ralph Hancock is guilty of doing what many "progressives" do, which is put up a caricature of the opposition and then proceed to carefully demolish the value/purpose of that false image. Brother Hancock could have made some good argument, but a clear reading of his approach proves that when one mis-represents the opposition, it's easy to make a rebutting argument (c.f. most anti-mormon literature).
  6. I don't like the simplistic use of labeling. Many could be considered progressive Mormons for a variety of reasons and just as humbly submit to religious requirements without fuss. It's better to focus on the errant partisan attitude of people in all ideologies than create a defined label to place people in.
  7. I don't like the simplistic use of labeling. Many could be considered progressive Mormons for a variety of reasons and just as humbly submit to religious requirements without fuss. It's better to focus on the errant partisan attitude of people in all ideologies than create a defined label to place people in.
  8. Regardless of whether progressivism is good or bad, the reality is that church members of 150 years ago would not recognize the church today. The church has changed many core beliefs. The practices of baptism, word of wisdom, tithing, marriage/sealings, endowment and priesthood etc. have all changed. Even basic doctrines regarding grace vs. works and repentance have changed. Therefore where do we draw the line that defines further progress as bad and rotting our brains? Your view that a quest for equality, that you define as equality for women and homosexuals, ignores equality for race. Should conservatives accept race equality as it is today or reset the view to match the doctrine from 50 years ago? I find it interesting that many of those who fight hard to prevent future change in doctrine and brand it corrosive are perfectly comfortable with current practice and the progressive changes from the past.
  9. Regardless of whether progressivism is good or bad, the reality is that church members of 150 years ago would not recognize the church today. The church has changed many core beliefs. The practices of baptism, word of wisdom, tithing, marriage/sealings, endowment and priesthood etc. have all changed. Even basic doctrines regarding grace vs. works and repentance have changed. Therefore where do we draw the line that defines further progress as bad and rotting our brains? Your view that a quest for equality, that you define as equality for women and homosexuals, ignores equality for race. Should conservatives accept race equality as it is today or reset the view to match the doctrine from 50 years ago? I find it interesting that many of those who fight hard to prevent future change in doctrine and brand it corrosive are perfectly comfortable with current practice and the progressive changes from the past.
  10. The progress vs progressivism dichotomy reminds me of hugh nibley's distinction between sophic (wisdom) and sophistry (rhetoric). I also wonder what other people consider the core "good" aspects of the gospel. The things that they personally don't want changed. Historical changes arevnot strictly linear. Societies emerge, grow decline and die just as people do.
  11. Ralph Hancock is guilty of doing what many "progressives" do, which is put up a caricature of the opposition and then proceed to carefully demolish the value/purpose of that false image. Brother Hancock could have made some good argument, but a clear reading of his approach proves that when one mis-represents the opposition, it's easy to make a rebutting argument (c.f. most anti-mormon literature).
  12. This was a stimulating article. It is easy to see how Lucifer has been effective in converting governments to say good is evil and evil is good. Like Elder Nelson's talk if everybody is doing it, it doesn't make it right.
  13. It's always interesting to hear Non Mormon experts like Ms. Flake define the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Saying the Mormons do not give full equality to women - WRONG. Totally untrue. But she speaks like the expert she THINKS she is.
  14. I enjoyed Dr. Hancock's characteristically well-written article, and I agree that to the extent religious progressives insist on the presumption that change is always good or that there are no moral absolutes which could rightfully defeat any equality claim, progressivism could "rot" our minds and souls. The converse is also true and presents a useful caution to the religious conservative; to the extent religious conservatives insist on the presumption that demand for change is always an affront to authority and that gender equality claims are tantamount to the the abandonment of family values and the endorsement of immorality, conservatism could "rot" our brains and souls. Closer to the center of the spectrum, away from these rotten extremes, is a place where useful dialogue can take place. A place where progressives see the gospel-rooted devotion to faith and obedience which is so admirable in conservatives, and where conservatives see the gospel-rooted devotion to love and the golden rule which is so admirable in progressives. A place where we can engage in pragmatic discussion of the pro's and con's of particular ideas and -- as you insightfully emphasize -- their consequences.
  15. I believe it is complete hyperbole that a person from the past would not recognize the Church if today. Changes in some practices? Yes. Surprises? Certainly. But the core beliefs and doctrines, the same Spirit, is here today as it was then.
  16. This articulate and thoughtful article hit the nail on the head. Yes, the church will be refined and revealed in certain matters as God deems necessary. However, the Restored Gospel will always teach us to love one another, be chaste, be moral, be honest and do not kill. It should be a difficult stretch to include homosexual acts and abortion as part of those basic tenets of a Christlike character. The downfall of civilization begins with humans believing their own intelligent is superior to their Creator. The progressive walk from humility to superiority is all downhill.
  17. @Realtrgrl3 - Kathleen Flake is not a "Non Mormon" - she is LDS.
  18. The problem with this article is that is full of assumptions . The church will get entrenched more and more , while society changes for the better around it . The church has been opposed to every civil right reformation if the last century. The narrative will become " the world is getting more wicked , Jesus is comming soon" . Wake up people . The world is changing right under your noses and Jesus is not comming back, the church is not the bastion of morality .
  19. I am baffled by the idea that the church might evolve to accept same sex marriage. Will that eventually morph into same sex sealings? Such an idea runs counter to fundamental doctrine as does same sex marriage within the church. What say you enlightened Mormons? How far does the church have to "morph" to deliver your idea of true equality? Perhaps the next enlightened Mormon who dies should petition the Lord in person to communicate to his prophet some much wanted change. I wonder how that would turn out.
  20. Kevin: I'm quoting established authors; I'm not making this stuff up. You seem to be the one operating with caricatures. Realtrgrl3: Prof. Flake is LDS, active I'm told. David: Of course there have been significance changes, but you exaggerate: the core is very recognizable. Read Parley Pratt, for example. The plural marriage is gone, but the eternal view of familial bonds is constant. And the eternal role of sexual difference.
  21. Progressives cannot be clear about their wishes or their ultimate objectives, because the name itself is a cloak to conceal those things. There's a reason that the 'change everything' crowd has to change its name so often; once they make themselves odious under one appellation they must switch to another. Yet despite the supposed love of change, they haven't changed one whit in over 200 years, and the ideas they espouse are not progressive, but regressive in the extreme. Even the equality trope is false, because progressives really REALLY don't want equality, except in the sense that everyone else will be equally required to do and to believe as they're told. And as far as these supposedly unrecognizable changes...I've read lots of diaries from the time the Church was founded, and the differences are minor. These examples used were always inferred and by many expected, even 150 years ago. I personally think women will also hold priesthood ranks at some point in the near future (they already hold offices such as auxiliary presidents), almost certainly during the Millennium and absolutely certainly in the Celestial Kingdom. It is not progress in the sense that progressives mean, however. Women themselves have to grow into it, not because they are inherently incapable, but because thanks to the small, concealable pistol, women can finally be physically equal to men, and that technological change has ushered in myriad social changes. Before that muscle-powered weapons always kept women at a disadvantage, and survival strategies always took that into account. That has changed, but the mores of millennia don't change overnight. Women to this day don't see themselves as true free agents; the central premise of current feminism is that no woman has free will, because every bad thing she does is the fault of a man at some level. That is only one of many obstacles to women accepting the responsibility of the priesthood, which at heart is accepting responsibility for all actions, good and bad. Many women are already there, as I know perfectly well from my own experience. This is not progressive in the sense that the movement means, but it is progress. The reason why God doesn't just announce the change tomorrow is because He has to wait until we're ready. He gave the Israelites the Law of Moses because they just weren't ready for meat, and the same rule applies. We know from the temple that in the Celestial Kingdom there will be perfect equality between the sexes, hence that is the heavenly ideal. The only question is: are we, men and women both, ready to take the step up to that greater ideal? I believe the answer to that question remains 'no,' but we're getting ever close to a 'yes.'
  22. I am baffled by the idea that the church might evolve to accept same sex marriage. Will that eventually morph into same sex sealings? Such an idea runs counter to fundamental doctrine as does same sex marriage within the church. What say you enlightened Mormons? How far does the church have to "morph" to deliver your idea of true equality? Perhaps the next enlightened Mormon who dies should petition the Lord in person to communicate to his prophet some much wanted change. I wonder how that would turn out.
  23. I'm probably too 'progressive' in the view of some. I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut during Sunday School discussions. Yes, but...... Please read Carol Lynn Wright-Pearson's article in the Sunstone Mag about why she has remained faithful. Many of the changes in the Temple ceremonies are, in seems to me, direct answers to my prayers. I do wish we could hear more, in the Ensign, etc., from Sisters like me whose husbands have refused to join the Church. Being alone is not always joyful

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