But there is one group of people for whom the holidays have a very, very special meaning. I'm talking, of course, about TV show producers. What producer hasn't leapt at the opportunity to produce a Christmas-themed show? So many of the elements of interesting television are already in place: atmosphere and context, preset drama and excitement, rich opportunities for character development and plot twists. Plus, there's that special, snowflakes-in-the-air feel to everything. People have loved Christmas specials going clear back to Dickens's A Christmas Carol.
Speaking of Christmas episodes, does anyone remember the TV program called ALF?
The title of the show was actually an acronym for "Alien Life Form," and the program, which aired on CBS in the late 1980s, was essentially a situation comedy that centered on a furry, long-nosed puppet-creature from planet Melmac named Gordon Shumway (nicknamed "ALF"), who had an unidentifiable accent and an insatiable hunger for domestic house cats. After crash-landing on Earth, ALF is adopted by the vaguely Mormon-y Tanner family, who live in the San Fernando Valley. As you can imagine, most of the episodes derived their comedy from the various "fish out of water" situations that ALF found himself in.
But most fans of the show know that the most powerful and memorable of all the episodes was (arguably) the holiday-themed program which aired in December of 1987 and was called (somewhat ironically) "ALF's Special Christmas." The plot involves a toy dealer named Mr. Foley, who swings by to visit the Tanner family, who are vacationing up in the mountains. Unsurprisingly, ALF somehow winds up stuck in Foley's truck, which soon makes its way to (of all places) the pediatric cancer ward at the hospital. It's here that ALF is given away as a "toy" to a terminally ill young girl, whom he quickly befriends.
It goes without saying that this is grim stuff. Although ALF later helps a woman successfully give birth in an elevator, it's not long before he finds himself back aboard Mr. Foley's truck, as they head out into the bitterly cold and snowy night. Before long, though, Mr. Foley parks on on a bridge, and ALF briefly wanders off, shuffling hauntingly along through a curtain of falling snowflakes.
"Why did they park on a bridge?" you might ask. If you were thinking, "Because Mr. Foley is depressed and wants to commit suicide," you are exactly right. Three gold stars to you for knowing your 1980s sitcom trivia.
Now, as to whether or not ALF dresses up like Santa in order to talk the man down and save the day--I'm not going to tell you. No spoilers here, my friends! You'll have to hunt the episode down and watch it for yourself.
In any event, I'm sure you can understand why I've taken the time to preface this year's Top Ten list with a recap of this stunningly disheartening and yet oddly absurd Christmas TV special. The parallels with Mopologetics ought to be blindingly obvious. But if not, it's no great matter.
Without further ado, I'm overflowing with emotion this year in my role as the B. H. Roberts Chair of Mopologetics Studies at Cassius University, since it's once again time for the Top Ten Happenings in Mopologetics in this year--the Year of Our Lord, 2013.
10. Mike Ash Peddles Shaken Faith Syndrome at Costco. Members of the FAIR e-list received a special announcement in October of this year thanks to a "SPECIAL EDITION" of the e-journal which informed readers that the affable yet oddly mole-like Mopologist Michael Ash would be signing copies of his book, Shaken Faith Syndrome at various Costco locations around Utah. The notice continued:
Costco will only schedule book signings when a book is selling well, and will only continue to carry a book so long as it is selling well. It also sells books at a significant discount. This would be the perfect time to buy multiple copies to share with friends and family members as Christmas presents.
This marked a seemingly important transition in the world of Mopologetics. Who ever would have guessed that Costco--the retailer best known for selling discounted big-screen TVs, 5-gallon cans of lima beans, and giant vats of nacho cheez sauce--would become a key venue for spreading the word of Mopologetics? What this demonstrates is an aggressive power-play on FAIR's part as they look to penetrate into previously unexplored marketplaces. It's worth mentioning that, in the same SPECIAL EDITION journal, FAIR President Scott Gordon made a special plea for FAIR members to help vote in the FAIR podcast towards a win for "The People's Choice Podcast Awards," mainly so as to avoid the indignity of being defeated by an "atheist podcast."
9. Old Copies of the FARMS Review Are Shredded. The Mopologists' flagship publication, the FARMS Review, became a collector's item in April of 2013 after it was learned that the entire back supply of old issues was shredded. Some observers pointed out that this was nothing more than standard publishing-industry practice--a "housecleaning," if you will--but it was impossible to avoid seeing this as having something of the same totemic power as burning an effigy. As to whether to old, physical issues will one day command a high price on ebay... Time will tell.
8. Continuing Fallout from the Maxwell Institute 'Purge'. As I noted last year, the events of 2012 were absolutely earth-shattering, and I predicted that we would never again see such a momentous and game-changing Number 1 on these annual lists. So far, that prediction has been 100% true, as evidenced by the fact that we are still seeing echoes and aftershocks from the events that were set in motion in June of 2012. Indeed, 2013 was littered with ongoing potshots from the Mopologists--ranging from DCP's endless barage of complaint aimed at the MI, at Gerald Bradford, and at Mormon Studies more generally, to John Gee's somewhat tasteless Memorial Day postings, to his more recent attacks on Gay/Transgender-themed papers delivered at academic conferences.
Two key "aftershocks" stood out, though:
--Daniel Peterson resignedas Editor in Chief of METI/ISPART
--The Book of Abraham Project, to which John Gee had been attached for over a decade, was terminated.
It seems safe to say that, in 2013, the power and influence of "classic-FARMS" has continued to dwindle, with the very uneven work in Mormon Interpreter representing their primary efforts.
7. Daniel Peterson Publicly Apologizes for Racist Photos. In the same year that saw the decimation of Paula Deen's reputation after news of her racism came to light, Mopologetic "Kingpin" Daniel Peterson also found himself in hot water after he posted images of a lynching on his personal blog, Sic et Non. At first Peterson defended himself, claiming that, due to his upbringing in southern California, he believed that the lynchings were actually of horse thieves, and that he hadn't realized that they carry a powerfully upsetting racial connotation. Of course, some found this rather hard to believe, given his odd tokenism with respect to African American Utah politician Mia Love, or his bizarre blog posting in which he seemed to argue that US Blacks should be "grateful" for slavery since now they're living in America rather than Africa, or his own admission that he's advised interracial couples on the "problems and challenges" of being married, due to the issue of race, or his extraordinarily harsh attacks on Martin Luther King's character on MLK Day. Nonetheless, good sense ultimately prevailed this time around, and he issued an apology:
DCP wrote:It is never appropriate, and will never be appropriate, to use a graphic image of a racial murder to make a satirical or humorous point. I showed a lapse of judgment in this instance, and I am deeply sorry for any offense that it has caused. I took the image down rather quickly, but I ask forgiveness, nonetheless, of those who have been offended. No offense was intended, nor was any race-related point on my mind. Those who have ever made a remark that they’ve instantly or soon regretted, or who have ever told a joke that went gravely wrong, or who have ever felt that their basic moral character has been misconstrued (perhaps because of something they themselves have done or said) will, I pray, be willing to pardon my relatively brief posting of that appalling image. I hope they will show the charity that they themselves would hope for and that all of us routinely need.
6. Bill Hamblin Resigns from Mormon Interpreter. In a stunning development, Prof. William Hamblin announced via his blog that he would be "stepping down" from his role on the editorial board of the fledgling Mormon Interpreter. Even more jaw-dropping was the explanation he gave:
Bill Hamblin wrote:Why I’m Resigning from Interpreter
Effective immediately, I’m resigning as executive editor of Interpreter for the following reasons.
1- My department told me today in essence that both my editorial work with Interpreter, and publications with Interpreter will not be considered serious scholarship. They explicitly advised me to publish in other venues. (This has been, by the way, the consistent policy of both my department and college for a quarter of a century. I have consistently been told essentially the same thing about not publishing with FARMS by every administrator. The fact that I’ve published with FARMS in the past has directly led to delayed promotion and sub-cost of living pay raises.) I am tired of receiving poor evaluations on my scholarship because publishing with FARMS and now Interpreter is considered unscholarly by BYU.
2- The directors of the Maxwell Institute complained to the administration about my public criticisms of their new policies. The administration, without giving me a chance to see or respond to those complaints, told me to stop criticizing the Maxwell Institute’s new direction.
3- I’m tired of the relentless torrent of abuse from anti-Mormons and apostates, including them sending anonymous slanderous email accusations to university administrators.
4- A person I thought was a friend recently decided to describe me (indirectly) as an apologetic hack instead of a real scholar. (This, by the way, has been the fundamental, most insidious, and perpetual slander of apostates–that a believing LDS scholar don’t do real scholarship. It is also, a classic example of ad hominem.) It’s rather depressing when your friends desert you.
5- I love research and writing. But I literally hate the bureaucratic and editing work required to run Interpreter. I’ve spent a great deal of my free time for six months trying to get Interpreter up and running. I think it is firmly established and viable now. Someone else can take it from here on out.
It’s clearly time to move on. I will have nothing more to say on these matters, and will not be taking phone calls, answering emails, or posting comments on the subject. (Sorry, I need a break.)
I wish Interpreter well, and believe it has a very important role to fulfill in LDS intellectual and spiritual life. The Board of Editors and associates have done a truly miraculous job in producing a journal ex nihilo–the third volume will be published this week. I appreciate all their efforts in creating the journal. I have every confidence that they can move ahead to a great future without me.
This marked a watershed moment in the history of Mopologetics since this was the first time that a high-ranking, upper-tier Mopologist openly admitted that BYU administration not only disapproves of Mopologetics, but that it doesn't even consider it to be "serious scholarship." Doubtless this left a lot of the FAIR/FARMS supporters scratching their heads: if other academics don't consider the material from FARMS, FAIR, and Mormon Interpreter to be scholarly, then why to Peterson, Midgley, Gee, et al. insist otherwise? And who is it at heart that the Powers-That-Be (i.e., the Brethren) are supporting and listening to?
5. A Shakey Launch for 'The World Table'. During the summer's annual FAIR Conference, Daniel Peterson, in his keynote address, announced a new project called, "The World Table," which was touted as an online forum that would "fundamentally change the way we interact online." Users would be required to use their real names and to declare both their religious affiliation and politcal leanings up front. Even more provocatively, users would have the option to rate one another's remarks and behavior on the basis of things like "honest" and "fairness." Peterson promoted the new venture to the FAIR-goers as an opportunity to assembel an "army of apologists." Critics, on the other hand, immediately predicted that the project would fail, and sure enough, after the launch in late September, Mopologists like Wade Englund, Russell McGregor, and DCP himself all found themselves with "failing" ratings down in the 60s and 50s (out of 100). McGregor, Peterson, and Ray Agostini were all banned for a time, in fact, do to "ratings wars" or other uncivil behavior (though they were all reinstated, apparently).
Meanwhile, speculations swirled about the true intentions of the Web site: Was it being used to collect data on Church critics? Did the leadership consist of a "cabal" of apologists-friendly LDS, who were merely putting on airs as a means of luring critics into the lair? Was this all just a dog-and-pony show, meant to lure critics and non-LDS Christians to the site, where DCP and the apologists would at last show the entire world who the real "villains" actually are?
Unfortunately, the answers to these questions remain unclear, though the CEO of the site, Bryan Hall, did make an appearance in order to tell users that they would need to send scans of their driver's licenses and mortgage statements in order to continue participating.
So "The World Table" has been a mixed bag to this point. The ratings system, it's widely agreed, has been a complete and utter failure--something with more potential for abuse than benefit, though the CEO seems committed to keeping it. Nonetheless, "TWT" will be worth continuing to watch in 2014. Certainly, as the ultimate Mopologetic panopticon, it will be keeping an eye on you as well.
4. FAIR is Funded by The More Good Foundation, Which is Funded by the LDS Church. In spite of decades of denials on the part of apologists that they are in any way "affiliated with" or "connected" to the LDS Church--be it financially or otherwise--a series of absolutely stunning documents surfaced which revealed a fascinating chain of payments being shifted from one apologetic organizaiton to another. The "More Good Foundation," connected to notable FAIR Mopologist Allen Wyatt, was shown to have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars from the "LDS Foundation for the LDS Church," which appears to be one of the many organizations owned by the LDS Church proper. Further, at least one of the documents shows that FAIR was given $2500 one year by The More Good Foundation.
In spite of this, the apologists--notably FAIR President Scott Gordon--continued to deny that they've ever been "paid" to do apologetics, or that the Church has in any way funded them. While these documents *do* seem to show rather definitively that money is changing hands in a very interesting way, it nonetheless feels like we haven't yet come to the conclusion of the strange and secretive shell game that is the Funding of Mopologetics.
3. Mormon Interpreter Publishes the Dehlin "Hit Piece". One of the key developments in 2012 was a rumor that goat-like Mopologist Gregory L. Smith had penned a 100+ page "hit piece" attacking "Mormon Stories" founder John Dehlin. When Dehlin learned that Editor in Chief Daniel Peterson was planning to publish this "hit piece" in the Review, Dehlin panicked and began to email first Peterson, and then a series of influence Mormon scholars and a couple of General Authorities. Though there are conflicting accounts, the "hit piece" was pulled from publication on the orders of some "higher-up" (possibly the BYU president; possibly Apostle Jeffrey Holland), and it was assumed that we would never know what it said. Of course, we do know what happened next: in June of 2012 the edifice of FARMS collapsed after MI Director M. Gerald Bradford told DCP that he wanted to take the Review in a new direction. Observers speculated that the Dehlin "hit piece" played a key role in bringing about the fall of "classic-FARMS," though the apologists rigorously denied it.
Meanwhile, they continued to taunt critics: "It's not a hit piece. You haven't read it, and we have," they said. In spite of all the evidence to the contrary--including close-readings of Smith's other publications--the apologists swore up and down that the "hit piece" was completely fair and objective, and that anyone claiming otherwise didn't know what they were talking about, since they hadn't read it.
Unfortunately for them, copies of the "hit piece" found their way into the hands of an anonymous source, and a review of the Greg Smith "article" was posted in February of 2013. This "forced the hand" of the apologists, and the "hit piece" was subsequently posted on the Web site of Mormon Interpreter, where it was more or less unanimously judged to be a "hit piece," and a long-winded assault on John Dehlin's character. Not only did Smith & Co. publish the actual "hit piece," he also penned a long-winded companion article meant to defend his and his comrades' actions (e.g., harvesting conversations off of Dehlin's Facebook feed, and posting supposedly "damning" things about him on the FAIR Wiki). Still, some apologists continued to insist that the article(s) was nothing more than a "concantenation of Dehlin's public statements." Whatever the case may be, the Mormon Interpreter editorial board refused to put Smith's articles into print--consigning them permanently to the amorphous trash-heap of the Internet.
2. The Late War Obliterates Decades of Mopologetic Theory. One of the longest threads of the year was begun in late October by the Revered Kishkumen, who was alerted to a seemingly new find by a Facebook friend. It turns out that an early nineteenth-century book called, The History of the Late War between the United States and Great Britain by Gilbert J. Hunt, has a number of incredibly remarkable parallels to the text of the Book of Mormon. In post after post, readers noted all kinds of similarities: both in terms of phrasing and description, and in overall thems and plot points. Further, historical details emerges showing a strong possibility that Joseph Smith and his associates either owned, or had read or knew about this book. Its influence on the Book of Mormon, in any case, seems practically beyond doubt. Further, the Mopologetic response was stupefyingly bad--little more than a straw man dismissal.
Nonetheless, the discovery of this book has completely destroyed a number of old Mopologetic claims about the ancientness of the Book of Mormon. Since most--if not all--of the "Hebraisms" present in the Book of Mormon are also present in The Late War, decades of claims about the Book of Mormon's authenticity have been pulverized into tiny pieces. To date, the apologetic response to this discovery has been minimal, and it seems unlikely that any real response will ever be forthcoming.
1. DCP Violates Church Policy in an Attempt to Exact Revenge This incident, the most important Happening in 2013, actually takes us back over two years. In November of 2011, the affable and frequently satirical poster Everybody Wang Chung announced to Mormon Discussions that he would be "Traveling to the Holy Land with Daniel C. Peterson." He elaborated:
Everybody Wang Chung wrote:I mentioned to my DW a few months ago how much I would like to travel to Israel/Egypt at some point.
This morning, my DW excitedly informed me of my early Christmas present. She has booked us on a Holy Land Tour escorted by Dr. Daniel Peterson for Apr 25 - May 4, 2012.
I pretended not to act too shocked. I guess I will be posting daily updates of my trip. I will be sure to include photos. Who knows, maybe I can get Dr. Peterson to start posting here again.
Anyone want me to bring back some souvenirs? I will be taking requests soon.
Some readers took him completely at his word, asking him to be sure to take photos. Others figured it was probably a joke, and merely laughed it off. Meanwhile, dark forces were in play that would eventually bring the issue to a head. Of course, as both this list and the list from 2012 indicate, a maelstrom of chaos was roiling beneath the surface calm of the apologists in mid-2012. We all know what happened in June of that year. Thus, it's easy to imagine that Dr. Peterson was under a great deal of stress during this cruise to the Holy Land. Indeed, in May of 2013, DCP revealed that he had been stewing over the question of Everybody Wang Chung for close to a year and a half:
DCP wrote:Everybody Wang Chung claims to have been surprised by his wife (who seems to be unaware of his attitude toward the Church) with an early Christmas present: She’s signed him up for a tour of Israel, late in April 2012, led by Daniel Peterson. He promises to report to the message board on Peterson’s ludicrous antics and ridiculous statements while in Israel, and to post photographs. Some amused comments follow for several days, encouraging him in his plans and suggesting needling questions he might ask. Peterson, who checks in on this particular message board from time to time in order to find out what the critics are up to, is not happy at the thought of a contemptuous apostate covertly sneering at him throughout the tour (e.g., when Peterson is speaking, and testimonies are borne by tour participants, at the Mount of Beatitudes, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and at the Garden Tomb).
He continues elsewhere:
DCP wrote:There's always "Everybody Wang Chung," I suppose. He claims to be a currently serving bishop. He also claimed that his wife surprised him with a tour to Israel this past April/May, led by me. He was, he promised, going to go and to report back to his apostate buddies on all my silly Mopologist antics there. Later, when asked, he claimed to have actually gone, and again, under prodding, promised to provide a chronicle of my ridiculousness while he was with me in the Middle East. So far as I can tell, he's never done so.
All of these doubts and questions ate away at "The Kingpin" of apologetics until, at last, he did the unthinkable:
DCP wrote: Finally, just the other day, I got out a list of all of the people who accompanied me on that tour, and I had a friend who is a bishop cross check it against the Church's leadership directory. There were no currently serving bishops on that tour. I suppose Everybody Wang Chung's claim could still somehow be true, but I very much doubt it. It seems far and away most likely that he isn't a currently serving bishop, despite his assertions (he doesn't seem to believe much of anything, and is contemptuous of those who do, often in pretty foul language), and that he didn't go to Israel with me. In other words, if I had to bet, I would bet that he's a fraud.
And as Mr. Stakhanovite demonstrated, in a powerful act of investigative reporting, this was indeed a breach of Church protocol:
The records of the Church are confidential, whether they exist on paper, in computers, or in other electronic media. These include membership records, financial records, notes of meetings, official forms and documents (including records of disciplinary councils), and notes made from private interviews.
Leaders and clerks are to safeguard Church records by handling, storing, and disposing of them in a way that protects the privacy of individuals. Leaders ensure that information that is gathered from members is (1) limited to what the Church requires and (2) used only for approved Church purposes.
Information from Church records and reports may be given only to those who are authorized to use it.
Information that is stored electronically must be kept secure and protected by a password (citation omitted). Leaders ensure that such data is not used for personal, political, or commercial purposes. Information from Church records, including historical information, may not be given to individuals or agencies conducting research or surveys.
What ensued in the wake of this was an epic-length, 50+ page thread that involved a number of "Danpologists" attempting to explain that, in fact, DCP hadn't actually tried to "out" Everybody Wang Chung's identity, and that, instead, he was merely trying to soothe his freyed nerves--the thought that someone somewhere might possibly have been making fun of him was apparently too much for this hardened apologist to bear.
But this was the most important Happening in Mopologetics in 2013 because it functions as the most accurate temperature gauge for where Mopologetics is today: angry, paranoid, and willing to break the rules of the very institution it's supposedly defending. Just like ALF on that lonesome winter bridge, you can't help but feel like the Mopologists have been in a tough spot this past year.
Still, there's always room for eggnog!
* * * * * *
As always, there are always more noteworthy events than can be covered in a mere 10 slots. Even though 2013 was not as momentous as 2012, it still had its share of memorable happenings. Here are a few of the runners-up:
--Kerry Mulhestein tries to defend the Book of Abraham
--Don Bradley attacks "MormonThink" and "FutureMissionary.com"
--The Narrator is slammed for his "Dear Dan's Diary" blog
--Denver Snuffer is excommunicated
--The "October Surprise" never happens
--The NY Times provides coverage of "The Swedish Rescue"
--Will Schryver is notably absent from the Mopologetics scene
Now, I hope the rest of you will join me at the Cassius Faculty Lounge for our annual Christmas Party! Dean Robbers has purchased several turkeys for our feast, and of course there will be our annual, festive reading-aloud from the theological trash heap of C. S. Lewis (I needed a hanky to wipe away the tears of laughter last year).
Merry Christmas to all!