Saturday, August 3, 2013

FAIR Conference

Yesterday, at the FAIR Conference (Foundation for Apologetic Research and Information) Professor Ralph C. Hancock, gave a thought-provoking speech entitled Mormonism and the New Liberalism: the Inescapability of Political Apologetics.  His speech followed Michael R. Ash's Shaken Faith Syndrome, Part Deux, Ron Barney's Joseph Smith's Visions (a very insightful presentation), and a panel discussion called Charity Never Faileth: Seeking Sisterhood Amid Different Perspectives on Mormon Feminism on feminism and Mormonism with Neylan McBain, Valerie Hudson, Wendy Ulrich, Kris Fredrickson and Maxine Hanks.  (For the rest of the conference agenda, see here.)  The members of the panel on feminism placed great emphasis on Articles of Faith 1:9 "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" as if to imply that the proper interpretation of this verse of scripture is that eventually the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will adopt feminism as a vital philosophy. As many in the audience were writing questions on 3x5 cards and turning them in, I did the same, but my question was ignored or discarded.  One of the panelists claimed that Jesus Christ was a feminist and that he taught that equality was "the basis of all social philosophy."  My question for the panelists was simply, "Where in the standard works or scripture, ancient or modern, does the Lord state or imply that 'equality is the basis of all social philosophy'? and since 'feminism' is a modern term, in what way was Jesus Christ a 'feminist'? How does the modern 'feminism' differ from the alleged 'feminism' of Christ during his time?" I would be interested, although probably not surprised, to know what their response might have been.

In any case, I would like to provide a summary of Professor Hancock's remarks below:


In the first place, Hancock pointed out that religion and politics, while certainly distinct, are never quite separate, and that they spring from the same source.  Politics asks questions such as "What is Justice?" "What are the ends, the objectives of man?" and "Which rights belong to individuals and communities?"  These questions necessarily rest on a more fundamental question, namely, "What is good"? and such a question has a religious dimension.  In the words of Alexis de Tocqueville:

"When a religion seeks to found its empire only on the desire for immortality…, it can aim at universality; but when it comes to be united with a government, it must adopt maxims that are applicable only to certain peoples… Religion, therefore, cannot share the material force of those who govern without being burdened with a part of the hatreds to which they give rise.” (DA 283)

Hancock points out that while the LDS Church's official position is to maintain political neutrality,
clearly common principles are essential to both. Quoting Tocqueville again:

"There is hardly any human action, however private it may be, which does not result from some very general conception men have of God, of His relations with the human race, of the nature of their soul, and of their duties to their fellows. Nothing can prevent such ideas from being the common spring from
which all else originates."

This concept is something that Elder Robert Wood, Emeritus 70 has also seen very clearly:

"…institutionally as a church we have certain vital interests… [for example] to insure that the communities in which we live will be morally healthy (which is to say, to reflect certain family and personal values which we believe are essential for the propagation of the gospel and are essential for the viability of any free community). So the church institutionally and necessarily has an interest in the political sphere because it affects even our mission as the Latter-Day kingdom."

James Madison wrote in Federalist 51: "Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be, pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.”

In other words, any understanding of what is right, of justice, is dependent upon one's understanding of what is good.  Hancock reminds us that the Church does encourage responsible citizens (see The Family: A Proclamation to the World) to play an active role in the communities and nations in which they live.

Moreover, as Hancock explained, no religion can be wholly neutral concerning political matters, because no political order can be neutral concerning fundamental moral questions.  John Stuart Mill (who may be considered the founder of liberalism) stated: “…in all political societies which have had a durable existence, there has been some fixed point; something which men agreed in holding sacred; [something] placed beyond discussion.”  (“Coleridge,” CW 10, 133)

But liberalism has many meanings, and there is a distinction between classical and modern liberalism. Classical liberalism is concerned with liberty or freedom, and the connection between equality and freedom. It is this kind of liberalism that conservatism seeks to conserve.

But the "New Liberalism", as Hancock calls it, makes claims to define the meaning of human existence, and to answer "essentially religious questions about human purpose.  It aims to replace a traditional view of what is sacred with a radically new understanding of human existence." The distinction between classical and modern liberalism could also be understood as the distinction between "practical" and "theoretical" liberalism.  As Hancock states: "Practical liberalism is compatible with a traditional and religious view of morality and the family; in fact, it presupposes it.  Theoretical liberalism aims to replace traditional morality with its own view of human meaning." As George Washington once stated in his farewell address:

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. .. [and] great pillars of human happiness, [the] firmest props of the duties of men and citizens."

Traditional morality and religion were not suspect, and the Founders agreed on what Tocqueville called the indirect role of religion in American politics:

“Of all countries in the world, America is the one in which the marriage tie is most respected and where the highest and truest conception of conjugal happiness has been conceived.  …  Despotism may be able to do without faith, but freedom cannot …. How could society escape destruction if, when political
ties are relaxed, moral ties are not tightened?  And what can be done with a people master of itself if it is not subject to God.”

As Elder Christofferson recently explained: "The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments. ("Moral Discipline," October 2009)

Unlike practical liberalism, theoretical liberalism aims to create its own understanding of human existence, casting aside all dependence on traditional morality and religion, and derives from the "radical beginnings of modern thought: there is no authority above human beings."

This leads to a kind of radical individuality which found expression in the cultural and political upheaval of the 60s and 70s

The links for the text of the FAIR speeches will soon be available on the FAIR website, so this is just something to whet your appetite in the mean time.