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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Article(s) of the Week: Daniel C. Peterson on Secular Anti-Mormonism

I have missed the last two sundays and hence my ability to post my weekly Article(s) of the Week. Because of such, I will post two more editions now; one for the week of 0f 07-27-08 and another for the week of 08-03-08.

This article of the week, although not directly connected to the Book of Mormon, is nevertheless an intensely fascinating study by Daniel C. Peterson, professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Brigham Young University. It was originally presented at the 2005 FAIR Conference under the name Reflections on Secular Anti-Mormonism and was subsequently re-published in the FARMS Review (17/2). 

In this fascinating essay, Dr. Peterson presents what he calls "merely preliminary thoughts" on secular anti-Mormonism and how it has affected not only the Church but the direction of Latter-day Saint apologetics. He briefly touches on the distinction between the Evangelical form of anti-Mormonism (which he describes has "come, with a few exceptions, to bore me intensely") and that of secular critics such as Dan Vogel and John Krakauer. Dr. Peterson further elaborates on some secular online critics on an unnamed message board (possibly the Recovery From Mormonism website) and how they, instead of dealing LDS scholars on intellectual grounds, tend to lean towards vicious ad hominem attacks and cheap caricatures. Further on in the essay, Dr. Peterson details European secularism and its relationship to secular anti-Mormonism.

I found this essay extremely interesting in a number of ways. First, Professor Peterson is absolutely hilarious in disarming the ridiculousness of online secular critics. His whit and sharp rhetorical skills creates an essay that is not only interesting, but fun to read. And, true to form, his subtle jabs into anti-Mormonism create an enjoyable ethos and pathos throughout the entire essay.*

But Professor Peterson does not just appeal to the audience in a rhetorical fashion. His analysis and critique of secular anti-Mormonism is backed by a mastery of secondary literature on the subject and a careful exposition on the arguments of critics such as Dan Vogel. At one point in the essay, for example, Dr. Peterson takes Vogel's ad hoc "tin plates"** theory to task and rebukes the accusation that Mormon apologists overly indulge in ad hoc approaches.

So, considering these factors, I nominate Dr. Daniel C. Peterson's essay Reflections on Secular Anti-Mormonism as the article of the week for 07-27-08.

Reflections on Secular Anti-Mormonism by Daniel C. Peterson. 

* Truth be told, this has landed Professor Peterson in some hot water before. Some have criticized him for being too sarcastic in his writings and employing ad hominem attacks. However, it must be considered that in order to connect with the pathos and ethos of an audience, one will inevitably be forced to involve some form of sarcasm or irony in one's piece for the sake of rhetorical appeal.

** Dan Vogel, an influential albeit critical biographer of Joseph Smith, in order to combat the testimony of the 3 & 8 Witnesses and others who testified to handling the plates (such as Emma and Lucy Mack Smith), has previously argued that perhaps Joseph Smith crafted a set of bogus tin plates to fool his contemporaries. On the flaws of this argument, see Richard L. Anderson in Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the 8 Witnesses.