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Published: Sunday, Sept. 4 2011 12:40 a.m. MDT

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A voice of Reason
Salt Lake City, UT

"How can a person like you believe all these things?"

This question is a red herring.

The issue at hand isn't our view of Joseph Smith, but Joseph Smith's claim.

To say 'do you believe Smith's account?' fails to address anything other than how this man reasons. If someone actually wanted to know about the LDS Church, they should ask more about the account of the first vision, rather than how others view it.

With that, I don't see this as real curiosity about the Church as a plausible true choice... but rather an examination of either a foreign group and philosophy- or an examination of how the Church or members currently play a role in current events.

With how much incivility arises from a lack of understanding the LDS position and paradigm- I think that it would be better for people to ask what we believe, rather than IF we believe. And "How can a person like you..." seems to only be asking if he believes, not what he believes.

It would do more good by wanting to learn other views, rather than put to question the legitimacy of believing them, which this seems to do.

Texas_Reader
College Station, TX

This was a fantastic article. I wonder if Professor Bushman knows how much his life, his books, and his approach to our faith has meant to Mormons like me during my life. I'm in my mid-thirties now, with a family of my own, but while in high school I read his book "Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism," and then of course later read Rough Stone Rolling, which is without question my favorite biography of all time--and I read a lot of books! Prof. Bushman has had a profoundly positive impact on my life and my testimony of the gospel. Even his simple but thoughtful responses to the "Book of Mormon" musical (referenced in this article) made me feel proud to be a latter-day saint. It means everything to me to know that a person of his capacity and understanding is so profoundly faithful at the same time. I wish I could thank him in person, and hope someday I'll get the chance.

Montana Mormon
Miles City, MT

In his classic talk, "Profile of a Prophet," Hugh B. Brown explained how he, as a rational and educated man, could believe such a thing (the First Vision) during a conversation he had with a highly educated and respected (though unnamed) judge, just prior to WW II, I believe it was.

I recommend this talk to anyone who would be interested in the approach he took to this very question.

KM
Cedar Hills, UT

Why do you believe the things you do? Its a good questiona and one that is answered every day by truth seekers around the world. Go to the source of all truth, God. I know that he is not dead, as some religions would say, but that he lives and will answer the heartfelt prayers of his children, just like he answered the prayer of a young boy named Joseph Smith.

New Yorker
Pleasant Grove, UT

Great article. I really like what Richard Bushman has to say and the way he says it.

The religious of this world should have little cause to say "How can a person like you believe all these things?" because they themselves believe in miracles. Yet they do ask the question because such an event, if it really happened, would require them to change their view of God.

Incredulity from religious persons seems to come from two perspectives:

God couldn't do that.
God wouldn't do that.

Of course the first doesn't make sense because, by definition, God is omnipotent. If He wants to appear corporeally to Joseph Smith, he certainly has the ability.

To the second, Latter-day Saints answer, "Of course he would! He loves his children."

For others to accept that God would personally speak to his children, will take a big shift. The Old Testament says Moses and others spoke with him face to face in Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The New Testament says Stephen saw him. Nonetheless, most people alive today, even those who believe the Bible, cannot accept this. Of course, the LDS are excepted because it's happened multiple times since the restoration.

Idaho Coug
Meridian, Idaho

Bushman's approach is refreshing. LDS claims, like all religious claims, can come across as strange and difficult for outsiders to understand let alone accept.

Some LDS are so comfortable and familiar with LDS claims and beliefs that it is hard to put themselves into the shoes of outsiders. I hear the full-time missionaries in our area say that if someone doesn't accept the message they just "weren't ready" or "sufficiently humble". We don't empathize with the real and honest "strangeness" of the story to someone who has not grown up hearing it repeated multiple times a week.

Bushman seems to get that and is willing to acknowledge the difficulties of accepting or understanding the LDS story while sharing his own personal belief and faith.

A voice of Reason
Salt Lake City, UT

I should clarify- I am not criticizing Bushman or the interviewer. I'm only examining the interviewing methodology.

With how much incivility, hostility, and even violence has come from such a subtle distinction, I think it's important to clarify the difference and the outcome of each option. Questioning only whether someone believes only offers to examine that individual- where questioning those beliefs for yourself is not just potentially more productive, but it is far more conducive to a peaceful dialogue.

I also want to clarify my original post (it's hard with the word limit)... The interviewer said, "How can a person like you believe...?" I realize that "how" isn't "If" as I was examining. But in the second to last paragraph I was addressing why I see it actually meaning "if" instead. However, in the case that "how" was intended, then the question would only serve an even less appropriate end. "How can someone like you" casts doubt and is fallacy, specifically the "loaded question" as it will be understood most often as "Someone like you shouldn't believe this".

So- not asking if or why, but 'what one believes' is the most productive approach in preserving peaceable public discourse.

OHS 89
PLEASANT GROVE, UT

Every Mormon should read this. Every Mormon should understand this. Having the skills to talk to the media should not just be reserved for Mormon celebs. Just like his sweet and wise wife Claudia said, we all need to be less defensive and more generous with our answers and our attitude. We need to teach our kids the first lesson offered in this article - which is that most people think we are NUTS for believing in Joseph Smith. Love his rules for talking with the media - and those rules could apply to everyone. I echo Texas Reader's comments. I'm a big fan of Professor Bushman's work and am grateful for his perspective. It's difficult for the "leadership" to publicly take on sensitive issues but more and more that's what we have to explain - so it's great to have a "leader" such as this.

utahprincipal801
Sandy, UT

I am a great admirer of both Richard Bushman and Hugh Nibley. I loved Bushman's biography of Joseph Smith and have read much of Nibley's work concerning LDS topics. I appreciate the insightful, thoughtful and kind way Prof. Bushman reacts when he is asked to speak or is interviewed. I loved knowing his approach to speaking and being interviewed, " I am a follower of Jesus Christ". I wish to follow his example as well.

skeptic
Phoenix, AZ

The controversy and conflict with the public perception of Mormons doesn't seem to be with Mormon believes, everyone is entitiled to their believes, it is with the Mormon fatuous claim to know. Mormons seldom say what they believe, it is what they think they know; and they almost always bear their testimony that they do know, therefore they are right and all other believes are wrong. Mormons seldom prove what they say they know, it is a magic spirit that witnesses to them that no one else knows. It seems to be an arrogant and false witness to others who have to listen to it.

Michael De Groote

Here is a quote from Richard Bushman that didn't make it into the article. I asked him what question he wished reporters would ask him:
"I think what reporters need to ask, but don't, is, 'Why is Mormonism valuable to you? What do you get out of your religion that is really important?' Mormons should have that question asked them more. They should answer it all the time because we have such prefabricated (language for our) testimonies that they begin to be drained of authenticity after we've said them a thousand times. It's a good question to be asked and to think about. I'd like to have reporters ask me that," Bushman said.

Here is a quote from Terryl Givens also not in the article:
"We've come a long way from Parley P. Pratt, the LDS Church's first really prolific proselytizer and defender. When he was queried about the church's position on orthodoxies, not only did he not shy away from them, he exploited them. He exploited the opportunity to emphasize Mormonism's radical break with a Christian tradition." (Givens has a great new biography of Pratt coming out in Oct.)

marxist
Salt Lake City, UT

In the presidential contest a major issue is the degree to which an LDS president would have to take direction for the president of the LDS Church. Sooner or later Romney and Huntsman are going to have to answer that question. What is the correct response to that question? What is the official LDS Church view of that question? There are a number of different views.

A voice of Reason
Salt Lake City, UT

Michael De Groote,

The 'value' and 'what do you get out of your religion' quote is something I certainly agree with. I obviously don't know the whole interview experience myself, which is why I was trying to avoid sounding critical of Bushman or the interviewer. I do feel that the 'why is it valuable' is a worth while question, it's just that one of my biggest worries about public discourse is the idea of justifying hostility for a different belief, simply because it's different- without even fully understanding the stance one is fighting. Because of this, I made my "what do you believe" comment.

BUT, with that in mind... I loved the quote about Parley P. Pratt. I like the mentality. Some of my recent comments on this article and others have been heavily focused on the need to listen to each other. I'm not saying I'm perfect here, just that it's the right thing to do.

The idea of exploiting the differences in LDS doctrine resonates with the idea of welcoming diversity, welcoming civil discourse, and ultimately the freedom to share one's views.

Thanks for the quotes! In my opinion, very relevant to the article and thought provoking.

sisucas
San Bernardino, CA

The Joseph Smith story can seem pretty wierd to outsiders. I met a stake president in europe who told me when he first heard the story he figured it was probably true becuase if we were going to make a story up we could come up with a lot better one.

BYR
Woods Cross, UT

Skeptic has a point. But as a believing, knowing LDS, there are parts of my testimony that I KNOW because of empirical experience. And yes, I KNOW I cannot prove those experiences to someone else, regardless of 'the magic spirit' he cites. But those experiences are real, very real, very knowable.
On the other hand, in our LDS culture, we do conflate 'know' and 'believe' far too often and it should not be so.
But I still know what I know and believe what I believe. Now if I can only live accordingly, eh? But I am trying. You?

Full-on double rainbow
Bluffdale, UT

"Why is Mormonism valuable to you?" is a nice question. A reporter could also ask: "Why is being a member of the NRA valuable to you?" The differnce is that the NRA isn't claiming to be the only true rifle association across the face of the earth.

Admiring Gentile
Salt Lake City, UT

To me, it's ridiculous to ask, "How can you possibly believe these things?" for the simple reason that beliefs, by their very definition, can't be factually proven. That's exactly *why* they're "beliefs."

A better question to ask of anyone is, "How do your beliefs govern your behavior in the factual world which we both share?"

If I had been Dr. Bushman, I would have suggested that the interviewer rephrase the question to the above-mentioned one because, again, beliefs can never be "rationalized."

If the interviewer agreed to do that, then Dr. Bushman could have presented an excellent case for Mormonism, based not on beliefs which many people (myself included) simply cannot share, but on the many admirable effects of those beliefs.

As Jesus said, you can tell what a tree is like by the fruit it bears.

A voice of Reason
Salt Lake City, UT

Skeptic,

First, no one "has" to listen to anything. If you don't believe that the LDS paradigm has any merit and/or logical claim, then I invite you to move on. But where I have a problem with such a claim is here- 'Regular' poster's who frequently take issue with the LDS Church, complaining about 'having to listen to Mormon claims', on an LDS Church owned paper, on an article appealing primarily to Mormons... are you aware of the logistical problem of such a complaint? It would be like going into an LDS Chapel and saying "I'm sick of having to be around you people". I'm simply pointing out that you are in control of what you listen to or read.

I know this Church is true. However, every last argument, political point, or other view I share, is supported by deductive reason. Even if I'm reasonable, anti's still fight because 'anti' means 'refusal to listen'.

I believe in peace, which I believe is accomplished only through listening, and focusing on points of agreement, where we find common ground... ultimately, by working together. There is no "together" in spending all of one's comments fighting another human beings beliefs.

Wayne Rout
El Paso, TX

Nice man. Good article. I'm glad he is here, now, helping the way he is.

Elder Dave
Livermore, CA

To: Montana Mormon @ 8:44 AM

Hugh B. Brown's "Profile of a Prophet" was a Great Presentation, a true
classic.

I'm sure there's still copies of it around. The main focus, if I recall,
was the concept that with All the trouble in the World of today (and at
the time just before World War 2 got really big), we certainly Need a prophet like in times of old for Today. Hugh B. Brown was an attorney before being called to high LDS leadership positions and he presented his "brief" just as a lawyer would Do in trying to win a "case".

Very well done. There's Nothing there to be embarrassed about.

Thanks Montana Mormon for bringing up Brother Brown's
Great Presentation!!

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