Someone called "g.wesley" wrote this really effective analysis in the "Comments" section of the Patheos Website/blog:
Again, sticking to the fine example from the opening post.
Compare and contrast what Peterson writes about Inventing Mormonism by Marquandt and Walters with what Bushman writes in the actual review of that book in the very same issue of the FARMS Review (6.2). Call me crazy, but I think it points to the same kinds of tensions that are manifesting now and have been around basically forever.
I know this is a ghastly long comment, but I think the comparison and contrast will be worth the time.
In the intro, Peterson reproduces a letter from “a local leader of the Church in a distant country.” According to the letter as reproduced, the man does not describe himself as “troubled” necessarily, much less as a “casualty” resulting from “attack” in some “war.” Unless it occurs elsewhere in a portion of the letter that was not reproduced (and if so why would that not have been used?), it is Peterson who couches the letter in this language.
The man simply asks whether there has been “any refutation of the claims” in a Signature Books publication, in the book Inventing Mormonism (also essentially published by Signature), and in some articles in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Again, he does not say that the authors of these publications are on the attack or that he is a casualty of war. What the man says is:
“I am almost persuaded that Joseph Smith was the author of the Book of Mormon, the First Vision and … of the temple ceremonies. … If their claims are valid, it deprives Mormonism of its special appeal….Their arguments and evidences, I think, are solid. I’m asking for more compelling evidences or arguments.”
The man may or may not have been considering the prospect of leaving the church as a result of this near persuasion. But let’s say that he was. At any rate we know that he was a local church leader in his area, and that he found what he had read to be rather convincing.
So how does Peterson respond? He sends along a copy of the previous issue of the FARMS Review (6.1), the issue reviewing the first Signature Books publication mentioned by the man. In Peterson’s intro there, the man would have been quickly brought up to speed on the feud between FARMS and Signature, or vice-versa, and glancing at the table of contents he would have seen from Midgley’s contribution that there was a “Current Battle over the Book of Mormon.” If he had pursued Midgley’s review further, he would have found Midgley “Surveying the Battlefield,” starting with Brodie’s well-known biography.
Back story, which the man could have gone on to discover: among other things, two years before in FARMS Review 3.1, BYU Religion professor Stephen Robinson opened his review of another Signature Books publication with the now famous quip: “Korihor’s back, and this time he’s got a printing press.” This was of course in reference to the satanically deceived anti-Christ who is eventually trampled to death in Alma chapter 30. Based on this and two other FARMS pieces, Signature (implicitly) threatened to sue unless there was some kind of retraction. On my reading, Peterson defended Robinson at length in spite of a call from England, founder of Dialogue, for “Healing and Making Peace—In the World and the Church,” and there was anything but a retraction in the FARMS Review.
See http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publica ... id=78#ref2
Returning to the intro to 6.2, Peterson says that he “was very pleased” to send 6.1 to the man, and that he is “also happy” that 6.2 treats the book Inventing Mormonism which the man referred to in his letter. This pleasure and happiness seem to be tied to the hope of saving the man as a soon-to-be or already lost casualty of war, even if the local church leader did not know he was one.
Next something curious happens. Suddenly there is a move from the publications that the man mentioned in his letter to the way these publications are being used by “hardcore anti-Mormons.” Such as:
“Utah Missions Incorporated, of Marlow, Oklahoma, enthusiastically offers Inventing Mormonism for sale, along with classics like Latayne Scott’s Why We Left Mormonism and The Mormon Mirage, David Reed and John Farkas’s Mormons Answered Verse by Verse, and a volume of Colleen Ralson’s dreadful anti-Mormon cartoons. Luke Wilson, of Gospel Truths Ministries in Grand Rapids, Michigan, remarks of the same book that it provides ‘airtight and inescapable evidence’ of Joseph Smith’s dishonesty.”
So it is not only about the publications that have nearly persuaded this local church leader. It is about the less than academic world of outright religious rivalry. Here the pugilistic and martial language enters … the French saying about a vicious animal defending itself from attack, etc. “We did not pick this fight with the Church’s critics,” Peterson says, “but we will not withdraw from it.”
Wait, what fight and with whom? With the authors of the publications mentioned in the man’s letter? With ‘hard core anti-Mormons’ that are using and selling these publications along with others less professional? It is impossible to sort out in Peterson’s intro and perhaps intentionally so. Answering the man’s letter, reviewing the publications he mentions in it, and one-upping the antis are rolled into a single enterprise.
And where might this polarizing technique leave the man himself? By his own account, this local church leader was ‘almost persuaded’ by the publications, thinking their arguments and evidences to be ‘solid.’ In other words, it is safe to say that the man was torn. The rhetorical force of Peterson’s intro to 6.2, assuming the man read it, is to put immense pressure on the tear until only one part or the other is left. Peterson does not suggest ways in which the tear might be patched or stitched together, not to mention how it might have been avoided in the first place with more pliable fabric.
Now compare and contrast this with the actual review of Inventing Mormonism in the FARMS Review, where Bushman concludes:
“All in all, Inventing Mormonism is a far cry in both spirit and substance from the iconoclastic studies of Mormonism that descend from E. D. Howe and Alexander Campbell to Fawn Brodie and the early Wesley Walters. The book assembles material that has not been part of the record before, and in good faith offers variant readings of Joseph Smith’s history. I have taken exception to the most critical conclusions, but I like the book. I admire the research, and I appreciate the generous, fair-minded tone of the writing. The book makes a genuine effort to be irenic, and I hope that Mormon readers will accept the work in the spirit in which it is offered.”
The contrast is unmistakable. There is disagreement here, perhaps a kind of apologetics even. But instead of polemical language the book under review is said to have a ‘generous, fair-minded tone,’ and to make ‘a genuine effort to be irenic.’ Instead of ruling it out as guilty by association with Peterson’s ‘hard core anti-Mormons,’ Bushman says he likes, admires, appreciates ….
Bushman hopes that ‘Mormon readers will accept the work in the spirit in which it is offered.’ Did they? I would venture that Peterson for one did not in his intro to 6.2 or in his reply to the man whose letter he reproduced. Hopefully the man himself did.
I've said before that I think the comparison between someone like Bushman versus someone like Dan Peterson is absolutely striking. This is a terrific analysis, imo.