It is not personal

I’ve noticed several very strange things about the unfolding of this phase of the Dehlin Affair.  First, no one I’ve seen has actually criticized the substantive content of Greg Smith’s articles.  No one that I have heard of has claimed that Greg got it wrong.  The only claim is that he is incomplete.   Second, some of those who criticize Smith’s article do so with a litany of ad hominem insults.  Greg (and even more so, his editors) are bad people who have done a bad thing.  For some of Dehlin’s supporters, this is a personal vendetta, not a rational discussion of ideas and their implications.

Everyone needs to realize that the article is not about Dehlin as a person.  It is not personal.  The article is a review of Dehlin’s ideas and practices as reflected in Mormon Stories.  That’s it.  There is absolutely no reason to personalize this, and neither Greg nor his supporters have tried in the slightest to personalize it.  We want the discussion to be about ideas.  Dehlin and his supporters have consistently cast this as a war between Good Dehlinites, and Bad Danites.  (In fact, one Dehlin supporter sent me an email saying he was going to war against me.  Really?)  It is Dehlin and his supporters who have consistently ignored ideas and attacked personalities.

Imagine if professor X wrote a book about the Roman army.  I write a review of his book saying he misunderstood the nature of the Roman army, and give a list of a dozen serious errors in his book.  Then imagine that professor X’s friend began to object that X is a really nice man, who volunteers at a homeless shelter each weekend, and is a loving husband and father.  The friend then says I am a vile and nasty man for criticizing X, while not mentioning X’s good qualities in my review of his book on the Roman army.  My reply would simply be that X’s marvelous character has precisely nothing to do with whether or not he is right about the Roman army.  This is, in fact, the reverse ad hominem–to argue that because professor X has many noble and endearing qualities, we should not criticize his book on the Roman army.  And it’s hogwash.

Some people have criticized the article saying that it does not present a full picture of Dehlin.  That’s very true.  But the article never claimed to.  And there is not reason to think it should have.  Dehlin may be a marvelous and loving father.  But this has nothing to do with the review.  I’m sure Dehlin sincerely believes he is trying to help people.  But this has nothing to do with the review.  Dehlin may be a veritable saint among men, but it would still have nothing to do with the review.

Greg did not set out to write a complete biography or intellectual history of Dehlin.  If he had Greg would certainly have included things about Dehlin’s wonderful qualities.  But, the article is not about Dehlin as a person.  It is a critique of Dehlin’s ideas and practices on Mormon Stories.  The abysmal failure of many of Dehlin’s supporters to separate ideas from personalities means that their only response is about the wickedness of Greg and his supporters.

 

3 thoughts on “It is not personal

  1. “I recall to mind certain professors of natural science who could not give a lecture without taking potshots at foolish and gullible people who accepted things on faith. These men with monotonous persistence fire millions of rounds at the opposition, but when the opposition proposes to present a few of their duds for our inspection, they instantly appeal to our humanity and insist that it is not sporting to advertise the chinks in their armor.”

    Hugh Nibley, The World and the Prophets
    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=54&chapid=500

  2. In reading Gregory Smith’s (he’s no relation to me and I have never met him) piece on John Dehlin in the latest Interpreter, I was struck by Dehlin’s genuine pride in not bothering to read widely so that his knowledge base would be similar to many of his podcast listeners — tabula rasa — and how starkly different that is from the best interviewers, such as long-time host Doug Fabrizio, whose well-informed interviews for “Radio West” on KUER are always on point. Charlie Rose does the same for his wide variety of nightly television interviews. It is a mystery to me why Dehlin is so anti-intellectual and proud of it!! And he is in graduate school?

    The other remarkable thing about Dehlin is his lack of familiarity with the basics of LDS scripture and theology. On the one hand, it is no wonder that, with such false premises, he reaches such extraordinarily false conclusions. On the other hand, with such hard-cast a priori notions about Mormonism, it is likewise no surprise that he can learn nothing from well-informed and genial experts such as Brant Gardner (I listened to the whole 5-hour interview and came away astonished at Dehlin’s insistence on the pertinence of his own lack of basic information).

    I can think of no more apt illustration of Dehlin’s utter failure to produce useful interviews than he and Mike Coe wallowing, as it were, in the mire of their mutual ignorance. A skilled interviewer would have come to such an interview prepared to ask Coe relevant, substantive questions — thus drawing upon Coe’s considerable expertise and allowing all of us to learn something.

  3. “Imagine if professor X wrote a book about the Roman army. I write a review of his book saying he misunderstood the nature of the Roman army, and give a list of a dozen serious errors in his book. Then imagine that professor X’s friend began to object that X is a really nice man, who volunteers at a homeless shelter each weekend, and is a loving husband and father.”

    Historian David Hackett Fischer called this sort of thing the fallacy of the irrelevant proof. “All of these statements [about professor X being nice, generous, and loving] may in fact be true,” Fischer might say, “and yet [professor X's book] remains [deeply flawed].” (Historians’ Fallacies, pp. 45-47.)

    Those of us who are nonspecialists thank Dr. Smith and colleagues who, at the risk of being attacked and smeared, do so much to keep the conversation about Mormonism from being one-sided.

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