Thursday, June 7, 2007

Functional Infallibility

From the blog that brought you Evolation comes...Functional Infallibilty!

What is functional infallibility? Infallibility that exists in spite of denial of the same. This is easier to demonstrate than explain. Here's how to do it in seven simple steps.

  1. Find a believing Mormon.
  2. Ask if the President of the Church is infallibile.
  3. Wait for the "No."
  4. Ask for an example of a mistake by the current President, or any of his last three predecessors.
  5. Listen to the silence.
  6. Ask for an example of a mistake that might be made in the near future.
  7. Listen to the silence.

Viola, functional infallibility in action. You see, nobody wants to outright claim that another human won't make a mistake, so presidents of the church must not be infallible. But when it comes to leading the church (which requires the kind of spiritual connection Mormons routinely teach comes from strict obedience), devout Mormons generally get extremely uncomfortable at the prospect of such a mistake actually occuring. It just isn't possible.

I have seen this used to defend even the "crazy" statements, such as men on the moon or sun, Native Americans turning white, etc. They simply won't give a single example of a mistaken teaching. It's a beautifully simple example of double-think:

Fallible Prophets Don't Make Mistakes.

Not every devout Mormon believes this, of course, but I don't think I've ever had the seven steps play out differently. The one time I saw it more or less happen in the 'Nacle, an Iron-Rodder asked, "Do you think you're smarter than the Prophet?" at which point the Liahona shut up. Functional infallibility in action.

So while Webster's defines infallible as:
incapable of error in defining doctrines touching faith or morals,

Liminal Blather defines functional infallibility as:
incapable of error in defining doctrines touching faith or morals, while not possessing the attribute of infallibility.

Simple enough?

12 Comments:

Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

You should see the grin on my face here!

June 7, 2007 at 11:29 PM  
Blogger Sideon said...

"Iron-Rodder"

Priceless :)

June 8, 2007 at 10:08 AM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...

Before you get too proud of your little seven step program to stumping "believing" mormons consider the following.

As a believing mormon I raise my right arm to the square on a regular basis signifying that I uphold and sustain the leaders in the Church, including the prophet. To me, and I would think most members, part of upholding and sustaining the prophet doesn't include rattling off his mistakes and critisizing his decisions when asked....especially by someone with your particular motives. This is a loaded question. Wouldn't you love it if I were to tear off into a crit of the church leadership now just to prove you wrong? I don't deny the fact that he is a man and prone to error, but I don't carry around with me his recent or probable future mistakes on the tip of my tounge. So, don't be so quick to take the silence of your question as an intellectual victory, or that you have backed a believer into a corner.

I'm sure that given a little time to think about it the average member can think of something. There were church programs instituted by The First Presidency that didn't go so well and had to be canned. One in particular was the "adopt a Lamanite" program in the seventies. Didn't go so well. I guess you could say it was a mistake, but for some families it might have been a great blessing. It's all in the eye of the beholder.

June 9, 2007 at 2:56 AM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

SS,

Sustain. What does that mean, exactly? When I'm trying to build a successful business, do I surround myself with yes-men? Is that what guarantees success? Or do I choose to pick those people who aren't afraid to tell me when I'm completely off-base? Sustaining is not just the somnambulant act of arm-raising that's done in sacrament meetings--it's about making sure things are successful where the rubber hits the road. And that's done by the free interchange of ideas, not unwavering agreement.

I am happy to wait for a response for an extended period of time. Even from you. You've had some time to mull this over--any ideas? (You have, at any rate, demonstrated that the silence might be replaced by an indigant, "Of course I know some, but I'm not going to tell you!") And you surely realize that saying, "I don't deny the fact that he is a man and prone to error," is part of functional infallibility.

You're close with the Lamanite Adoption program. But then, you quickly back yourself out of disagreement, saying, "you could say it was a mistake, but for some families it might have been a great blessing." So you're not really disagreeing with this in the end, even though it isn't even a doctrinal issue! Functional infallibility to the rescue: the leaders of the church never have wrong ideas, just ideas that can be misunderstood, even though they are a great blessing to us. In addition, you probably believe that inspired programs (such as Adopt-a-Lamanite) can fail because of members' disobedience, not because the Q15 were wrong.

Just embrace the truth--functional infallibility is one of the fundamental beliefs of Mormonism today.

June 11, 2007 at 5:23 AM  
Anonymous ungewiss said...

This is a great post because it describes the disconnect between what we say we believe and what we actually believe. It's possible members like shadow spawn might be exceptions, but as a rule you describe this frustration quite well.

June 11, 2007 at 8:14 AM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...

Sustain. What does that mean, exactly? When I'm trying to build a successful business, do I surround myself with yes-men? Is that what guarantees success? Or do I choose to pick those people who aren't afraid to tell me when I'm completely off-base? Sustaining is not just the somnambulant act of arm-raising that's done in sacrament meetings--it's about making sure things are successful where the rubber hits the road. And that's done by the free interchange of ideas, not unwavering agreement.

The definition of sustain according to Webster's in this context is: To support as true, legal, or just.

You are right. To sustain the prophet is much much more than the act of raising your arm in sacrament meeting. To each member the meaning behind that sustaining vote probably changes and varies from person to person. To me raising my arm to signify my sustaining vote, is to recognize Gordon B. Hinckley as prophet, seer, and revelator of the restored church of Jesus Christ. I sustain him by doing my home teaching, paying my tithes and offerings, holding family home evenings, reading the scriptures, attending meetings, fulfilling my calling, etc. I do this, while at the same time realizing that the prophet is a man capable of human error. Although I recognize he can make mistakes, I have faith that his mistakes will not be in the magnitude that would lead the Church to destruction.

There is a reason the Lord has instituted in the leadership counselors. Every person in a position of leadership within the church is given counselors to advise and help with decisions. Yes, even the prophet himself. In fact in can be said that he has fourteen counselors. I imagine their advice and counsel to the prophet comes non-stop, as they recieve feedback from the seventies, who hear from area presidencies, right on down the line to branch presidents. I'm not sure you are insinuating the church is just a bunch of "yes men" but if you are than I think you are greatly mistaken. To me part of sustaining and upholding the bretheren does not include openly critisizing them or keeping a running tally on their mistakes. If I thought they were grossly mistaken on a major point of doctrine or commandment then I'd have to do some deep soul searching and praying before I raised my hand again in church. Fortunately that has not occured for me. Does that make me a blind yes man?

You're close with the Lamanite Adoption program. But then, you quickly back yourself out of disagreement, saying, "you could say it was a mistake, but for some families it might have been a great blessing." So you're not really disagreeing with this in the end, even though it isn't even a doctrinal issue!

The program as a whole could be qualified as a failure. Personally as a program I believe that the adopt a lamanite program might have been well intended, and was worth a try. I mention that although the program failed as a whole, in my situation it turned out to be a blessing. I have an uncle and cousins who I'd have never had without the program. That doesn't mean I'm trying to make an excuse for the program failing.

In addition, you probably believe that inspired programs (such as Adopt-a-Lamanite) can fail because of members' disobedience, not because the Q15 were wrong.

I do believe that in this case the bretheren were mistaken, but I don't immediately jump to the conclusion that therefore they are not inspired men. I sustain my bishop even though politically he and I are on opposite sides of the aisle. I think he couldn't be any more wrong on his political beliefs, but spiritually I sustain him as the inspired bishop of my ward.

Another example could be the Mark Hoffman ordeal. When Hoffman started producing documents (later to be proven forgeries) that cast early leaders in a very damaging light, the Church was buying the documents from him in an attempt to keep the information from getting out. Many left the Church before the documents were discovered to be frauds.

Well, one could ask: If the bretheren are inspired men why would they purchase forged documents? My answer is because they are fallible men. They made an on the spot decision that seemed the safest way to contain things at the moment. Maybe it WAS the right thing to do under the circumstances. I don't know, but I don't automatically assume they aren't inspired men because they made a mistake.

June 11, 2007 at 7:18 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

This whole thread reminds me so much of a conversation I just had with my branch president about the Savior. The scribes and Pharisees so often tried to trap Christ in logical dilemmas like getting him to say we should not pay taxes to Rome or we should - either way he answered (in their mind) he was set up for an attack. So often, though, he demonstrated that their presumptions regarding how their questions could be answered were false. There was more than just an either/or situation in what they asked. In this case, just because someone is fallible but does not necessarily demonstrate any notable faults does not mean they have this "functional infallibility" you claim. In fact, to believe in your idea is to discount the entire atonement - which, granted, may be your purpose. See, the atonement was a sacrifice made by Christ who chose to live without sinning. He was, however, capable of it. If he were not, then he would not have been able to serve as such a sacrifice, and even if was able to serve it would be a terribly cruel thing to send someone to live here with no ability to choose anything, but instead to just know they had no choice but to die a gruesome death. The crucifixion satisfied the price for all sin because it was done of Christ's own free will, and he chose it. He, therefore, is an example of a man capable of error who never sinned.

No, the prophets are not equal to Christ. But then, if he - being the greatest man ever - was capable of sin and error, then how can we ignore the fact that all men have such an ability to err? We cannot, so it is wrong to deny the fallibility of the prophet or authorities of the church. There is no need to find faults to point out to prove they have the ability.

The inability of someone to point out another's faults is, in fact, quite admirable, when you consider it. Even in the state of general apathy we find in America today, you can probably walk up to anyone on the street and ask them "Can you name a mistake the president has made during his term of office?" and many, if not all would be happy to list some. Most people have the ability to find fault with leaders, and absolutely they have the ability to find fault with their fellow man. The fact that they have not kept a tally of the errors of the general authorities speaks to their quality of character more than their mindlessness. If only more people could go forward without looking so hard for the faults of their fellow man, but instead spent their time trying to uplift those around them. Functional charity at work... what a beautiful idea.

June 11, 2007 at 7:56 PM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...

Robert,

Very well put.

June 11, 2007 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

The inability of someone to point out another's faults is, in fact, quite admirable, when you consider it.

I have considered it, and I don't know how such an inability could exist. You can certainly choose not to dwell things you dislike about someone--that's admirable, and something I'm always working on (long way to go, I daresay). But an "inability?"

That's not really resolving functional infallibility though. (SS, I think you may almost be off the hook here--well done. Next step, apostacy!) I have never advocated criticizing church leaders (or anyone else) as individuals. You won't find me using terms like "Boyd KKK Packer" or calling leaders morons. That's just not constructive. But that doesn't mean they don't make mistakes, or talk about things that I think are trite, like earring counts. And I believe it is good to voice opposition to bad ideas.

...you can probably walk up to anyone on the street and ask them "Can you name a mistake the president has made during his term of office?" and many, if not all would be happy to list some.

Which illustrates the greatness of our government. Recognizing the tendency of leaders to get disconnected from their organizations, and the tendency to self-serve, the founders were careful to protect criticism of leaders and their choices. The church could stand to learn from this experiment--the US has grown quite nicely, don't you think?

The fact that they have not kept a tally of the errors of the general authorities speaks to their quality of character more than their mindlessness.

Well, that would be true if they acknowledged the errors in the first place. Quality of character would be demonstrated if people could honestly say, "There have obviously been numerous errors, but I think they're doing a fine job overall--I certainly wouldn't want to be in the Q15." "Mindlessness" (to quote you--I would never use that word, I hope) is to say, "Errors? The President wouldn't teach errors--God would kill him first. And even if he did make a mistake, I would be blessed for obeying anyway."

June 12, 2007 at 9:39 AM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

"Errors? The President wouldn't teach errors--God would kill him first. And even if he did make a mistake, I would be blessed for obeying anyway."

I have been taught these very words at church.

June 12, 2007 at 12:47 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

The way you have defined it, functional infallibility is easy to prove. My pint is your definition does not prove anything, and certainly not what you claim. Because there is another plausible (and likely) reason for a member not to answer you, then the argument you make falls apart. Of course you do not see it that way. I could say, "Do you believe that as a follower of Christ we should not fear death?" wait for the yes. "Then throw yourself off that building." and wait for them to look at me like I'm crazy. Have I proved they fear death? No, but then, that's about as logical a method of proving my point as your method of proving "functional infallibility." Just because someone does not choose to list faults, or suggest potential future ones, does not prove your point - just as the Pharisees' traps did not achieve their goals in trapping the Savior.

June 12, 2007 at 7:24 PM  
Anonymous Dathon said...

I think your neologism 'Functional Infallibility' works reasonably well.

However, I believe that there exist exceptional believing members who are intellectually honest enough to come up with a few cases where modern prophets have made errors. I agree that it's likely that many orthodox members would find the question paradoxical and would be loathe to even consider that the current or other modern prophets have actually made errors.

I don't believe that sustaining any leader requires that one not acknowledge a leaders mistakes. Human beings are fallible. There is, imho, a distinct difference between acknowledging that a prophet has made an error and being overtly disrespectful of the prophet.

I am not at all sure how the concept of Functional Infallibility would discount, undermine or even impact the validity of the atonement. I'm not sure I follow Robert's reasoning at all. Further I'm not at all certain that an inability to identify the faults of another is entirely admirable. Being circumspect, diplomatic and gentle when discussing faults of others is charitable and commendable; but it doesn't require pretending not to be aware of errors.

July 18, 2007 at 5:24 PM  

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