For many years, it has been my observation, and that of many others, that Sunstone, as an organization, has always leaned fairly clearly to the Left and been a home for dissident LDS intellectuals, “NOM” members holding avant garde or idiosyncratic doctrinal views, and progressives who seek an accommodation with and meshing of the church and the surrounding secular (and often militantly and intolerantly so) world and the the progressive/leftist ideological assumptions, beliefs and values that ground much of the modern world and the popular political, academic, media and entertainment framework upon which it has increasingly come to be defined and conceived.
The 2017 Sunstone Symposium presents us with yet another institution that, while first perhaps only “leaning” to the Left, and seeking a heterodox environment of intellectual dialogue, views and perspectives, has succumbed to the inexorable fate of any organization that allows the Left a foothold or nurturing soil and then cultivates it over time: complete assimilation.
As William F Buckley noted decades ago, “The largest cultural menace in America is the conformity of the intellectual cliques which, in education as well as the arts, are out to impose upon the nation their modish fads and fallacies, and have nearly succeeded in doing so.” He was also quoted at one time as observing that there is no stasis in politics or culture. That which is not moving the the Right, is moving the the Left, and the Left, being evangelical and and messianic in psychology, temperament, and ideology, presents any organization or institution with an aggressive viral infection of a kind that winking and nodding at, or ignoring as a nuisance, will only encourage as it metastasizes and begins to consume the healthy tissues of its host.
This is, it became apparent to me long ago, as true within the church as without. Progressivism, being itself secular humanist faith and surrogate religion (or, at least, experienced as such by many of its adherents) with messianic and utopian pretensions and vision, always seeks to colonize, dominate, and eventually wholly absorb (the traditional Cultural Marxist alternative to outright confrontation) any institution within which it comes to have presence and influence.
Like the process of absorption and imitation of The Thing in John Carpenter’s surreal remake of the original film, we can say of Sunstone that “assimilation is complete.” One will note, as we move through each workshop/presentation in order, several things.
1. Sunstone is now utterly dominated by the cultural and political Left. Not one, single, solitary presenter or leader of a workshop comes from the conservative or libertarian sphere. Not one. The domination of the symposium by the progressive Left is total, and, as we see in the American mainstream news media, entertainment world, and, probably in its most concentrated form, academia, the sense is of a monochromatic, monoideological, monocultural chamber of carefully cleansed, scrubbed, and controlled intellectual conformity.
2. Presentations by faithful LDS intellectuals or scholars are wholly absent. Virtually the entire program is dominated, when doctrine and church standards are in question, by a “NOM,” neo-orthodox, or frankly dissident/apostate perspective.
3. Most of the traditional Cultural Marxist “studies” and “social justice” concerns are represented here, including the classic trinity of race, class and gender.
With this in mind, let’s look at what one would have encountered as an observer and participant in the various workshops and lectures.
We begin, at 8:30 in the morning, with an art exhibit showcasing all 56 wives of Brigham Young, a burning subject that doubtless keeps untold thousands of LDS Millenials up at night sweating in the early throws of faith-transition.
Next, one Erik Robinson presents “Faith in Our Differences,” and in doing so introduces a theme – multiculturalism and race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual proclivity, and race, race, race, race and, again, race, that will prominently feature in other presentations throughout the symposium. The core of it is, of course, not our unity and oneness as saints, but, following the underlying imperative of multiculturalist ideology, difference, looked at, as is usually the case, in a soft, “socially conscious,” emotive, sentimentalistic light:
Faith in Our Differences is an ongoing photo interview project involving individuals who are or have been members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More than a platform for people to openly speak, it is an invitation to openly listen. As it continues to grow, the goal is to encourage understanding, unity, and love in our diverse perspectives and experiences. Though different, we are all part of the human family and no one deserves to be put into a box. Consequently, the images have no frames.
The multiculturalist (and nakedly political) focus continues with a talk titled “The Banality of Progress,” from one Mehrsa Baradaran, Professor of Law at the University of Georgia.
This presentation will: 1. Think through the complex and conflicting trifecta of identity, politics, and activism. 2. Help to shed some misconceptions about identity so that we can more effectively fight against injustice.
Next, Boyd Jay Peterson and Daniel Wotherspoon “veterans of Mormon faith shifts,” discuss – of course – how to leave the church intellectually but still enjoy going to church as an apostate member. This theme will return.
Following this is the no doubt intellectually stimulating talk, “My Father is Warren Jeffs.”
Or, you could skip that intellectual feast and attend the next presentation featuring William Bradshaw, on “The November 15th Policy Change in Light of Matthew 27,” in which the Church is taken to task for its policy clarification. This presentation also features – and a classic technique of the Left (usually deployed as a political weapon, especially during election time) for generations – the doubtless tear-jerking personal stories of those affected by the policy change.
This, as we will see, is hardly the last of the presentations that will take a sharp and unambiguous pro-homophilia position against the Church on this issue.
No Sunstone symposium would be complete without an attack on capitalism, economic liberty, individualism and property rights, no? Next we have “The Mormon Ethic and the Spirit of Neo-Liberalism,” by one Justin Pack, a Ph.D in philosophy who studied, ironically, “thoughtlessness” at his alma mater.
Pack’s basic idea here is that “neo-liberalism,” (itself a neo-Marxist concept not found in either conservative or libertarian economic theory and a term that normally would only be used on the Continent, having there still much of its original meaning, while its meaning has radically shifted in the United States), by which he means, not only free-market economic relations, private property rights, limited government and individual economic liberty, but classical liberalism itself – the founding body of ideas underlying the American constitution and the very concept of liberal democracy as it arose and spread throughout the Anglo-American sphere and later, to a lesser extent, into Europe – as a political and social philosophy is, in certain salient senses, a doctrine of Korihor, which he describes as “the idea that society should be shaped by the free market,” a claim that no serious conservative/libertarian thinkers of which I’m aware have ever made.
The abstract provides enough illumination for the reader to conclude that this was an exercise in economic and historical illiteracy not to be understated in its ideological gravity. Claims such as that classical liberalism, capitalism and freedom have “failed” virtually begs us not to take the speaker seriously at this point. Similarly, his assertion that “many Mormons have embraced neoliberalism, despite the clear scriptural injunctions against radical individualism” indicates the presenter’s knowledge of classical liberal/modern conservative thought is probably in the general vicinity of nil, and that he is probably conflating libertarian anarchism or Randian Objectivism with modern conservatism and mainstream libertarianism, neither of which, and in particular, modern conservatism, have any relation to something one could term “radical individualism,” whatever “radical” actually means here and to whatever such individualism is being contrasted (socialism/communism?)
It is a stark and ironic gaff, it must be noted, that radical individualism, or the idea of radical, atomistic self-autonomy, is a doctrine and creation, not of classic liberalism but of its arch nemesis, the Left, concentrated in its initial exuberant manifestation in the late sixties and beyond but having much earlier origins on the Left. Radical individualism – part of the teachings of Korihor – are, with ever cascading irony, exactly what modern conservatism has been struggling to contain and overcome for some fifty years now, and hence, what has failed, by Pack’s own argument, is progressivism.
Note too that, for the remainder of the symposium, there is not a single workshop or presentation offering an alternative or contrasting perspective, and not one, single, solitary presenter coming from a Chicago School, Austrian, or broadly conservative/libertarian standpoint. None. There are no divergent or dissenting views on this subject offered during the entire two days.