Of Nuance

Of Nuance November 16, 2023


A pensive JS
On the set of “Six Days in August,” Brigham Young ponders what to do in the aftermath of the assassination of Joseph Smith.


Why do I pay attention to the Peterson Obsession Board?  My nickname for it explains the reason.  I look in on the POB several times each week because, on a daily basis for something like the past fifteen years — in other words, for however long it has existed — I have been a regular target there and, arguably, the single principal target, for criticism, mockery, and, yes, character assassination and defamation.   It’s the only anti-Mormon website to which I pay any kind of regular notice, and that is entirely because, every single week of every single year, and pretty much daily, I’m a significant target there.

The late Richard Lloyd Anderson, an admirable scholar and truly a saintly man if I’ve ever met one, was profoundly and strikingly indifferent to attacks on his scholarship and on himself.  He wasn’t even curious about them and he paid no attention to them.  If I ever mentioned to him something unpleasant that I had read about him, he would simply chuckle and move on to something that interested him more.  On the only two occasions that I can recall offhand where he responded to criticisms, he did so because I pestered him into doing so.  I always found his attitude amazing, and I cannot claim such indifference.  I am curious about the accusations (of unethical and even illegal acts, cruelty, incompetent buffoonery, brazen dishonesty, and the like)  that are made about me.

I respond to them relatively rarely, though.  (To take two very recent examples:  The suggestion from the always-mendacious Everybody’s WC that I’m gleefully happy about civilian deaths in Gaza is too contemptible to merit response, and my Malevolent Stalker’s claim that I’ve expressly declared my intent to make Six Days in August an anti-Community of Christ film is a flat-out lie.  As he knows perfectly well, I’ve explicitly said the contrary, and more than once.)  Replying to such accusations could easily become my full-time job.  That is why, many years ago, I gave up responding over at the POB itself.  Answering accusations and defending myself did no good and was wasting too much of my time.

Sometimes, though, an issue is raised at the POB that isn’t about me — they do also discuss topics other than Daniel Peterson there, and, on rare occasions, even do so relatively substantively — to which I think it worthwhile to respond.  In this regard, I see the POB as a helpful and efficient way of monitoring the currently popular themes among secularizing critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I’ve long since ceased to look for serious dialogue with the folks there.  When I participated on the POB, the discussions, such as they were, invariably descended into criticisms of my honesty and personal character.  It was boring.  Even now, though, the criticisms of me and of what I say here on this blog, which they watch faithfully, every day, rarely rise above the disappointing, when they reach even that level.

Take, for example, the recent back and forth about whether Brigham Young was a homicidal tyrant and a bully, which I contended (and continue to contend) is a crude caricature.  (In deference to the folks over at the POB, let’s call this judgment of Brigham Young, that he was a homicidal tyrant and a bully, the Nuanced View, or NV.)  In support of the NV, the proprietor of the POB (who has also favored the Spalding Manuscript theory for the origin of the Book of Mormon, and may still do so) recommended a list of four nineteenth-century specimens of potboiler anti-Mormonism, which he apparently regards as fully trustworthy historical documents with regard to Brigham Young

I countered with what, in order to distinguish it from the Nuanced View, we might call the Simpleminded Whitewashed View, or SWV.  In my exposition of the SWV — and true to my failure to recognize historical nuances — I contended that Brigham Young was a complex figure and I suggested, among other books, a pair of academic biographies of Brigham Young, by the respected professional historians Leonard Arrington and Thomas Alexander, that one might wish to read in order to obtain a more balanced view of the man and his life, “neither of which,” I said, “can fairly be classed as an uncritical hagiography.”

Here are a couple of my other previous comments, from my first post (“Some thoughts on reading about Brigham Young”) and my second post (“Brigham Young, homicidal tyrant and bully?”) on this topic:

“A full-orbed view of any given historical topic must pay attention to negative and critical accounts.  Of course.  But it isn’t obliged to give them full faith and credit.”

“Was Brigham, by our enlightened and educated twenty-first-century standards, a rough-spoken frontiersman whose rhetoric and whose views on race and criminal justice and many other issues sometimes jar us?  Absolutely.  But that’s only part of the truth about him.”

As could confidently have been predicted, the tut-tutting about my espousal of a Simpleminded Whitewashed View of Brigham Young has continued.

According to what might be called the Nuanced View of me, why do I mention the full name of Wife No. 19 as Ann Eliza Webb Dee Young Denning?  It’s because, for some quite inscrutable and seemingly irrelevant reason, I suddenly want to stigmatize all divorced people as unreliable — and not because the thrice-divorced Ann Eliza’s behavior toward her husbands before and after Brigham Young (and toward her son thereafter) seems, as Hugh Nibley pointed out decades ago, to say something directly relevant about her.

I didn’t recommend those five Simpleminded Whitewashed books as a counterpoint to the Nuanced View (which, remember, is that Brigham Young was a homicidal tyrant, bully, and thug).  Oh no.   It seems that I cannot countenance any criticism of Brother Brigham or any other leader of the Church of Jesus Christ, living or dead. And only hagiographic treatments of them should be read.  Brigham Young may have been called “the Lion of the Lord” by some of his contemporaries, but I want to insist that he was a flawless and perfectly saintly lamb.  Moreover, I don’t feel any obligation to be fair, or understanding, or nuanced in my view of Brigham Young, Church leaders, and the history of the Church as a whole.  They were and are perfect.  And anyone that I perceive to be criticizing or attacking the Church is, by definition, unjustified and wrong, and perhaps even mentally ill, and my response to such a person will always be robotic and predictable.

Pay attention, folks, and learn.  Behold!  That is nuance.


Posted from Richmond, Virginia



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