There are 17 thoughts on “Sophic Box and Mantic Vista: A Review of Deconstructing Mormonism”.

  1. The Atheistic Riskas types always seem to use the same old tactics to build up their lists of “reasons” why not to believe. Witnesses for God’s existence are vilified, because of their imperfections, while we’re to believe, without witnesses, that some goop of substance slithered its way out of the primitive water to eventually evolve into human forms with complicated features as complex as eyes to see with. American Atheist Press & the organization that publish Riskas type books, have had their own controversial “imperfections,” in the case with Madalyn Murray O’Hair (4-13-1919 to 9-29-1995 (?), who was murdered by fellow American Atheists to get 600,000 in gold. If Riskas is upset with so called ill treatments towards him & others, as coming from LDS & Theistic believers, towards him, as O’Hair also complained (End note 1). The questions I’ve asked before, is that unless Atheistic thinkers like being mistreated, beat up, their things taken, or all of the other by products that hate produces. Do they then hope that people will “keep the commandments,” & have love for one another, so that they won’t be mistreated as many complain that they’ve been, or give examples of others that have been mistreated? How are Atheists doing in that area with others & their kind? (2) For Riskas to claim that Mormonism & other theistic beliefs cause bodily harm, & that children are at risk, goes against the plain teachings of the church for years that we all should do good, have love, be kind, etc. Such claims, & those like them, were answered by Boyd K. Packer in his conference talk, April 1979, Judge Not According to Appearance, (3). Certainly Riskas & the O’Hair types would rather that people would treat them goodly (by keeping God’s commandments), than badly. Makes me wonder if O’Hair shouted out to her murderers something close to “thou shalt not kill,” if she tried to talk her fellow American Atheists into not killing her & her family members. If so, do Atheistic type thinkers also want Mormons & other faiths to continue to do the good that their official teachings say, such as lovingly help feed the poor, & send plane loads of humanitarian aid to problem areas? How many American Atheist plane loads do they send off themselves? It’s one thing to complain about faiths that do or try to do good, or teach moral concepts, but then complain of that allegedly are “harming” children. Listing ill deeds of those who claim to believe in God, in contrast to the ill deeds of Atheists, such as communist-atheists, seems to point out the double standard tactic being used by the Riskas types! Why couldn’t we argued that Atheistic teachings do more harm to a person, the family, & children, (Communist Atheists said to have killed 100s of millions); than those who didn’t keep the commandments, (militant Christianity during the Apostasy), when they claimed to be followers of Christ? What is often left out from such Atheistic books as that of the Riskas types, is the good that Christianity did, such as the different monks & saints throughout history that fed the poor & live true loving charity. Plus, the good that Mormons do in the world, or at least the good that those who do live the official teachings, do do, for we all know of many that don’t. But such is the imperfect human side of life that is unavoidable. We’re not perfect, so how about letting us continue to improve ourselves & correct & change for the better!

    [Moderator note: links to other sites were give as end notes. Interpreter does not often provide links to other sites and therefore the links have been removed. Otherwise, the post is as submitted.]

  2. After rereading you quote a few times, I have finally figured out my error. I thought that because you had placed the note “13” at the end of “By suppressing contraries, ideology is made manifest.13” that it was part of Joseph Smith’s quote. I now understand that it is not part of Joseph Smith’s quote. Joseph Smith’s quote ends with “truth is made manifest.”
    Sorry for my confusion.
    Waldo Johns

  3. You give a quote from Joseph Smith as ““By proving contraries,” Joseph Smith said, “truth is made manifest.” By suppressing contraries, ideology is made manifest.13” Your note 13 says “History of the Church, 6:428.”
    I have the History of the Church on my computer and did a search on all 7 volumes and the “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith by Joseph Fielding Smith” and could not find the quote. Could you please tell me were you got the quote?
    Waldo Johns

  4. I have now listened to the podcast of this article 3 times (filling time while commuting in the DC area). I thank you for providing so much fodder for thought. You have helped frame ideas I have been thinking about for a long time in numerous ways including:
    (1) what is the problem with creeds (what they don’t include more than what they do include, and you take that thought several steps further reminding me what I once knew from Joseph Smith about stakes–thanks)
    (2) why do so many see LDS doctrine as restricting or authoritative, when I see it as open and liberating–great explanation using the Perry scheme
    (3) what paradigms mean and how they influence our paradigms
    (4) why do my fellow scientists (I am a physicist and an operations analyst) discard so much data from experiments as “outliers”
    (5) science and the LDS framework as self-correcting processes and not static sets of absolute truths. I have long seen them both that way.

    I also see a very different approach than in other churches. Our members are in almost all walks of life and they bring what they learn into the Church, especially when they serve in callings and leadership. Other churches train leaders for years at centralized schools and then send them out with sophisticated methods, techniques, and answers to serve their members. But, ultimately, it is controlled from the center and sent out. Mormonism absorbs a lot from the outside by its approach to spiritual leadership. I have sat in leadership training sessions or in priesthood or Sunday School classes learned from senior military commanders, from a Virginia legislator, from lawyers, from bankers, from school teachers and principals, from bureaucrats, from farmers, from university professors, from FBI agents, from people from many countries around the world, from dentists and doctors, from homemakers, from grandmas, from road construction engineers, from HVAC mechanics, from auto mechanics, from musicians, from some best described as adventurers, and from many others all bringing their insights and expertise impacting on doctrine, how to be happy, and how to lead, to other members of the Church. The Church is like the borg assimilating all that is good, but not by force. We try out and keep what works and discard what does not (and that decision is often different for different people).

    Thanks for your own densely packed treatise.

  5. Really nice work, Kevin. I found your brief cross-cultural comparison between the different orientations towards the divine found in world religions to be terribly important. My appreciation for the LDS paradigm stems precisely from the notion that the Good Stuff from other traditions is found within Mormonism in an inclusive, comprehensive way, even as their tendencies towards extremes of various kinds are offset by the fabric they are woven into in Mormonism. Nibley touched on it in his “Stage Without A Play” lecture – there is truth in the Egyptian and Babylonian and Hindu scenarios, and yet Joseph Smith gives us a simply enormous framework to fit world religions into like a jigsaw puzzle. Or a Restoration, even.

  6. Thank you for this review. I am (now) too old and there are too few years left to waste my time reading books which will not help and/or entertain me. (Selfish, isn’t it?) Riskas book appears to be one of these, especially if the lengthy excerpts which you provided are any indication of the other pages.

    However, one interesting thought rose up and beat me about the head and shoulders while reading your analysis and the comments. It is not merely “educated”, ie Mormons with a college education, who are more active and faithful. In other faiths, those who have the more “professional” degrees, medicine, law, engineering, etc., tend (tend, I said) to go along with their religion or reject it without much reflection (whatever that religion might be, from atheism to Fundamentalism), while those more in with the humanities, religious studies, or “social sciences” tend to be far more critical.

    With the LDS, the area of study doesn’t seem to have an effect (anecdotal research only here).

    I’m nor sure how this information would affect those who firmly have as an article of faith (!) that *anyone who believes in a God is stupid, especially Mormons* as Riskas seems to hint.

  7. I think we can learn at least two things. We now know what the Atheist Press thinks constitutes a fair, balanced, impartial review of Mormonism, and their definition of these words differs dramatically, at least with how I understand those words. Second, Kuhn’s work is validated once again.

  8. Riskas included something written by Richard Packham, who is known for his essentially secular criticisms of the faith of Latter-day Saints, in an effort to provide some support for his own objections to the Church of Jesus Christ. See “Appendix B” to Deconstructing Mormonism (pp. 440-464). He did this, I assume, with Packham’s full permission. Later Packham reviewed Deconstructing for the Association of Mormon Letters (AML), and found it an incomprehensible mess. I agree with Packham that Riskas fails to communicate for vast stretches in his book. One reasons is that he has no training in or disposition for doing philosophy.

    However, there is one place where Riskas is able to communicate clearly and coherently. He manages to do this in “Appendix A,” which carries the title “Analysis and Assessment of a Personal Conversion Experience” (pp. 407-439). In this portion of Deconstructing, most of the convoluted, awkward formulations and blurred sentences and paragraphs that mark and stain the first four hundred pages are gone. Instead, when Riskas tells his own story, including especially an account of a visionary experience that momentarily transformed him and which he mistook as proof that he was now perfect and hence no longer subject to temptations and sin. When driven by mercenary motives he soon fell back into old habits, instead of seeking mercy and sanctification from his carnal desires, he came to the conclusion that he was the victim of wishful thinking. And hence he passionately sought to explain away an encounter that he knew was real. From my perspective, there is a profound lesson to be learned from the autobiographical portion of this book. Latter-day Saints should, I believe, keep in mind and constantly contemplate the fact that Nephi’s older brothers seem to have had encounters with God, but they were soon to their old ways, and were apparently able to ignore or explain away those experiences.

    Those tempted to read Riskas should, I believe, begin with this autobiographical material and then they will better understand what he is attempted to accomplish. He places God in the Dock and appoints himself the prosecutor and judge. He neglects to notice that, after his extraordinary vision, it was his own needs that drove him to militant, dogmatic atheism. “Appendix A” thus provides the explanation for his confused and confusing book. Those who desire to use Riskas to bolster their own unfaith should avoid giving any attention to “Appendix A.”

  9. Nice article, clearly presented, good ideas.

    Three ideas you stimulate:

    First: Of the supernatural claims of Christianity, from before the foundation of the world to Pres. Monson, the only really problematic one is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If one accepts that, then everything else is of no problem. Then, the test is not whether such a thing is possible (e.g. a book written by the gift and power of God), but what is contained in the book. It is like the Bishop of Paris who walked around for a hundred miles after being beheaded, where it is the first step that is hard to believe.

    Second thought: An uneducated (or un-degreed) friend of mine commented that a co-worker’s atheism wasn’t worth believing in. I like this test immensely. The PEW Foundation and other studies have shown that faithful people live longer and are happier than atheists, and they are more inclined to humanitarian efforts (and that educated Mormons are more likely to be devout than uneducated ones). Few of us that I know of have seen or heard proof of a metaphysical reality. We all claim we want to believe in the truth, but since you cannot prove God exists or doesn’t exist, why not make the logical choice that has real benefits for living. Happily, living faithfully will lead to a certainty at least equal to the knowledge of the senses that faith is real, and worth believing in.

    Finally, who’s to say who’s brainwashed or boxed? The world and its philosophies do plenty of boxing. Why not choose the happier path that protects from addiction, disease, divorce, disaster and discouragement?

  10. Ah Kevin, someone just showed me your review. I will take a close look at it as I have time. I am honored to still be considered your friend.
    Kerry A. Shirts

    • Kerry,
      I am happy Kevin considers you a friend too. As I just read through these comments I saw that he did this for a friend and I immediately thought of you and wondered if you were “the friend.”
      About 6+ months ago I looked into Riskas because I saw your name attached to it. My limited impressions were not favorable. I read some of his work on Amazon and read Richard Packham’s review. I do not consider many folks to be more unnecessarily long winded than I am, but Riskas would be one.
      I researched “the outsider’s test” and because of my intellectual dishonesty OR because I have already carried an “outsider’s test” into my post-relativistic-commitment (as opposed to dualist-commitment) I was not particularly shaken.
      Long ago I posted on FAIR (I think pre-MADB) about “the other shoe” were I acknowledged for all my certitude I could not absolutely declare the outsiders deluded. The thing I am much more certain about is that Riskas touches my certitude very little if at all. I am still committed either through a post relativistic retreat to dualistic thinking OR due to post relativistic commitment.
      Anyway, as a committed LDS I am never totally unconcerned when folks move away from the CoJCoLDS, but I can say that your love of learning and excitement as you absorbed Riskas and continued to learn and explore left me mostly happy for you. God bless and learn well!
      Charity, TOm

    • Kerry, I hope you find my essay helpful and a sincere expression of friendship and respect. I hope you also take a look at the dropbox link to Veda’s summary of the Perry Scheme in note 54. I think it has the concentration of great poetry. I didn’t have space to quote the bits about what happens in transitions, but I think you’ll find it enlightening.

      Kevin Christensen
      Bethel Park, PA

  11. Excellent analysis, Kevin, and a worthwhile read. I tried reading through Riskas (glancing to my right I can see it on my bookshelf) but found his analysis neither excellent nor worthwhile.

    I particularly like the thought that our active choice of paradigm controls what we accept as evidence and how we interpret the evidence we accept. In past generations one would hear of one putting on “rose-colored glasses,” as doing so colors perceptions. Paradigms selected are like glassed donned.


    • Thanks Allen. My own motivation for reading Riskas was not a matter of intoxication with his prose (obviously) but concern for a friend who had been impressed by the book’s claims.

      Yes, our paradigms do affect our perceptions. It’s important to think as much about what they help us focus on and value, and what they tend to overlook. Goff is very very good on that.

      Kevin Christensen
      Bethel Park, PA

      • I enjoyed the pod cast of this review. There were a lot of things to think about in it.

        One observation. I think we are always in a “box” to use the analogy. Even when you think you have escaped an undesirable box, you are still in a box. You may be in a large or a small box, but you still have a paradigm with which to look at the world.

        Another observation. I couldn’t help wondering if the author feels comfortable in his “Positivism” box. He seems to react negatively–based solely on some of the quotes–when he interacts with or thinks about people outside his box who don’t accept his paradigm. That must be an uncomfortable situation. This isn’t to say there aren’t people in the Church who also feel uncomfortable with people not in our box.

        • You are correct that everyone has their own box, paradigm, conceptual frame, ideology, or world-view. It does make a difference in how a person relates to people in other boxes. And it matters whether one’s own box is closed, or open, self-reflective, and adaptable. Which I why I brought in Barbour and the Perry Scheme. And D&C 1. Thanks.
          Kevin Christensen
          Bethel Park, PA

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