24 September 2007

My take on the "Inoculation" debate

To know what the debate is about, you'll want to read/listen to the following:
Sorting Out Inoculation at Mormon Mentality
and the podcasts #12 and #13-15 over at Mormon Matters.

For those not willing to invest a couple of hours to get into the whole debate, I'll try to give you the gist of the argument in a few short sentences.

- There are some weird, bad, potentially-faith-damaging things in Mormon history/doctrine, especially when they are introduced or explained by someone who is not a believer and/or is not sympathetic to the Church's history and/or truth claims.
- The Church currently and historically has done a poor job of explaining its own doctrine and history to members (and in some cases, may actively conceal it) in a way that prepares them for eventually finding it and being shaken by it.
- It would therefore be better for the Church to "inoculate" the Saints by giving warts-and-all history and explaining all the weird and difficult doctrines clearly, in order to reduce the shock and disillusionment that comes when one learns of this through an independent and unfriendly source.
(Incidentally, if you want a more general view of Social Inoculation Theory, see this page.

First of all, let me say that while I totally understand the idea of the term inoculation to describe what the result should be, I agree with the poster over at Mormon Mentality that the inoculation metaphor is incorrectly applied. Inoculation in the biological/medical sense means deliberate "infection" (hard to avoid such polemical terms) with a weaker version of a disease, in order to prevent infection with a truly virulent form of a pathogen. What some folks are advocating is hitting members will the full dose of the Truth, which should prevent them from being infected with other, more virulent mutations, of the "Truth". I'm a lawyer, not a doctor, so I don't know what this is called. But hitting members with a weaker/tidier/incomplete version of the Truth is what the Church is already doing. And it is not having the effect to prevent members from becoming disillusioned when difficult matters of faith and history arise. It may abate curiosity for a time, but many come to possess the uncomfortable information not due to curiosity, but because of contact with other people.

One school of thought among the GAs regarding the "inoculation" of Church members is that of Boyd K. Packer that "all truths are not necessarily useful." As a matter of theory, I agree. Knowing about the Mountain Meadows Massacre or about Joseph Smith's plural wives does not inspire faith in or allegiance to the Church.

But as a premise for how instruction in doctrinal and historical matters should be done, I cannot. for me, it boils down to a single question: Does the Spirit testify of Truth or of Utility? If the Spirit does indeed testify of Truth, "things as they really are", (which I believe that it does) then it will not testify of a convenient untruth. If we insist and focus upon members obtaining a witness of the Spirit, the only reasonable and viable choice ought to be to teach the Truth and not the Convenient, warts and all.

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