Posted by: Loran Blood | August 3, 2015

Sunstone and the Progressive Challenge to the Permanent Things

The recent Sunstone Conference, ending on August 1, has been an object lesson for me in several areas, not the least of which being a further testament to the inherent, congenital incompatibility existing between the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and “progressive” social and political philosophy, including and encompassing its many and varied assumptions, values, beliefs, activist causes, and policy prescriptions as manifest within institutional politics.

Virtually nothing of its core worldview, and because of this, virtually none of its analysis, perspective, conceptualization, and practical application of fundamental principles respecting, for all intents, every aspect, challenge, and question of the human condition, can be harmonized with the gospel and the teachings and standards of the church, or, at least, while some motives and desires may appear on the surface and in the broadest of general outlines (Who wants war?  Who doesn’t want to feed the hungry?  Who doesn’t want to alleviate poverty?  Who supports wanton, heedless pollution of the environment?) to be harmonizable with gospel principles and philosophy, closer inspection reveals what lies behind the progressive happy face.  At the very least, we can admit, some progressive concerns appear at least gospel-like, at this level or resolution and when stated as general, underlying interests in the welfare of other human beings and in human felicity and flourishing.

As resolution becomes sharper and more detailed, however, and as fundamental ideological pre-assumptions and core premises about the nature of the human condition, the human subject, human nature and psychology, and the relationship of the human subject to other human beings and mediating institutions (most saliently, to the state and to other human beings or groups of human beings) becomes clearer, clouds begin to gather.

Fundamental assumptions regarding the proper role, prerogatives, and scope of the state, the nature of legitimate government, the nature and meaning of freedom, rights, and equality, and even deeper questions in which the meaning and definition of good and evil, the literalness and applicability of gospel teachings to contemporary conditions, the historicity of a number of scriptural narratives, and the relevance, meaning, or even existence of divine priesthood authority and its mantel as given to certain men on earth chosen to lead the church as a church, fall with what can be alarming ease into intellectual skepticism, existential doubt, and even hostile, accusatory questioning and critique under the influence of progressive ideological assumptions and a psychology given or susceptible to such modes of thought. I shall be frank here as I’ve probably not been frank before upon this particular subject, while attempting to be as diplomatic and balanced as the subject matter allows:

1.  Progressivism (i.e. leftism, “liberalism,” “social justice” etc.) is essentially and inexorably, at its core and in each and every detailed application of its principles, beliefs, and values, inimical, to a greater or lesser extent, to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and to the teachings and standards of the restored Church bearing that gospel to the world.  This incompatibility does not always lie at the level of emotional or psychological intention or desire to do good or “make a difference.”  It lies, for many, at the level of core worldview assumptions and the nature of the perceptual filters through which one views the human condition and interprets that condition and whether one takes progressive philosophy itself or the gospel of Jesus Christ as one’s fundamental frame of reference.

2.  As a central organizing template for our perception of the world, ourselves, and our relations to others within it, progressive ideology presents us with two closely related problems, the first being this ideology’s critical misperception of the nature of mortality and equally, the nature of the the human beings who inhabit this world under mortal conditions, and the second being the unfailing tendency of policies, counsel, and advice for the solving of various human problems, grounded in progressive ideas, to either simply fail to even approach the desired goals, or to produce results and unforeseen effects wholly in opposition to the original aims sought, and to generate serious negative social consequences, including large-scale social pathology and the exacerbation, sometimes at potentially catastrophic levels, of exactly the conditions the polices or counsel were intended to alleviate.

3.  In a gospel sense, and because leftist ideology and cause activism is for many itself a religion (or surrogate religion) and is experienced as a religious calling or ministerial commitment, leftists within the church have little choice other than to attempt to import philosophies, ideas, interests, and activist concerns important to the progressive Left in the secular world into the church and then either work from within the church to acclimate the church and the body of its membership to them, or become disillusioned and disaffected and distance themselves from the church and/or leave it altogether.

Progressive ideology must colonize, displace and subjugate established church principles and standards or it cannot remain as a presence within the church in an open, unconcealed sense, let alone thrive (as it has in mainline Protestantism, Unitarianism, and within regions of Catholicism).  Progressivism is, in all its salient forms, and despite the historical mountain of majestic talk of “liberation,” “freedom,” “brotherhood,” “democracy,” and “a better world,” by its very nature and by the nature of the way it sees the world and the goals and vision it must justify and then seek to realize, authoritarian and, as its grander and more extensive aims are pursued, totalitarian.

As a meta-religion within the restored gospel, or an alternative call to the ministry of social justice (not individual justice, which is grounded in the rule of law and equality under the law, not in ideologically conceived status/power relations between collectives) in which the church may be seen either as a peripheral, diffident spectator or a bulwark of the very conditions the struggle for social justice seeks to eliminate and transcend, leftism displaces the fulness of heart, might, mind and strength required of true discipleship, and diverts our  focus, time, talents, energy, and resources away from both living the gospel and encouraging others to live it to the “quest for cosmic justice” and the vision of the anointed,” to quote Dr. Thomas Sowell’s conceptualization of the underlying psychological and intellectual dynamics at the foundation of progressive thought processes and self-concept.

Sunstone was once, some time ago, at least modestly open to conservative and faithful “orthodox” thinkers, scholars, and presenters as an adjunct and flavoring within an environment of generally center-left, progressive, cultural Mormon thought and analysis of all things LDS.  Today, we see at Sunstone, Dialogue, and sundry other informational spaces populated by the LDS Left exactly what we’ve seen over the past twenty to thirty years within the secular non-LDS Left: the relentless and continual drift farther and farther to the left, heedless of the boundaries and thresholds crossed and seemingly without philosophical or moral compass; the mainstreaming of ideas, causes, and beliefs once situated on the outer fringes of serious intellectual discourse, and the displacement of serious intellectual exploration, debate and scholarship with naked activism.

Rarely, it would appear, does the gospel and membership in the church change a progressive.  LDS progressives, however, are intensely interested in changing the Church.

Advertized as a conference focusing on “mental health,” a substantial portion of the presentations made were unabashedly ideological and activist in nature, having little if anything to do with mental health but centered strongly in promoting various causes, agendas, and belief systems, virtually of which can be considered inconsistent with or openly hostile to church teachings. Ubiquitous and disproportionate numbers of workshops on the political, social, and spiritual domestication of a variety of sexual philias and mental derangements centered in gender identity/sexual orientation were featured prominently throughout the conference, paralleling exactly a similar saturation of the secular, non-LDS Left and the pop culture with interest in and support for the new post-homosexual marriage movement for sexual rights (just “sexual,” encompassing all sexual potentials and possibilities) or “LGBPTTQQIIAA+.”

Homosexuality/sexual philias, polygamy, marijuana, environmentalism, transgenderism, support for and celebration of “exmo” status and critical analysis of the meaning and process of excommunication, and mixed in with these, here and there, a few interesting workshops on actual mental health issues that LDS therapists and the average member might find of value.  One must note, however, that most of the presentations on sexual orientation/gender identity appeared, unambiguously, to be either completely neutral as to LDS doctrine, philosophy, and standards, or openly dismissive of church teachings in this area.

What becomes clear, after many years of observing, analyzing, and discoursing with numerous members of what I call, appropriately I believe, the LDS counter-culture, is that the Left within the church, irrespective of the LDS glaze glistening on its surface, is essentially the same Left as exists and works outside the church on the same issues and in behalf of virtually the same ideological vision.  As in both mainline Protestantism and on the Catholic Left, what one does in the name of Marx can be just as easily done in the name of Jesus, and the divination of what are otherwise purely secular concerns have the perverse effect, not of sanctifying the profane, but profaning the sacred.

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