Zelophehad’s Daughters

The Idiosyncrodoxy Fallacy

Posted by Kiskilili

A. I’m completely orthodox. I believe and advocate everything the Church teaches (if understood correctly).

B. I don’t believe or advocate x.

C. Therefore, the Church must not teach x, regardless of the evidence. Since I don’t accept it, x must be folk doctrine, or “culture,” or a misunderstanding of what Church leaders actually meant.

What’s wrong with this line of thought?  Ideally, we should maintain an ability to evaluate what the Church teaches separately from whether we agree or disagree with it. Rather than taking our personal orthodoxy as axiomatic, we should evaluate our orthodoxy as part of our conclusions.

26 Responses to “The Idiosyncrodoxy Fallacy”

  1. 1.

    So you’re saying there is something wrong with my line of thought? Impossible!

    Seriously though, how in the heck are you going to define “what the Church teaches?”

  2. 2.

    One of my FMH sisters (Lisa?) shared that word you created. Classic! It’s a perfect description of that oh so common aspect of humanity.

    E has a point about defining what the Church teaches. As much as we like to believe that doctrine is all set in stone, eternal principles passed down from God, in reality separating canon from opinion is much more tricky. The portion of the Gospel which I suspect is subjective continually expands.

  3. 3.

    The portion of the Gospel which I suspect is subjective continually expands

    That has been true for me ever since I started reading both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young on the weakness of human language and the impact of context and experience in our ability to understand communications from God.

  4. 4.

    Ideally, we should maintain an ability to evaluate what the Church teaches separately from whether we agree or disagree with it.

    This separation is how I am able to teach some things that I don’t necessarily understand or agree with at church. Teaching and testifying are two different things.

  5. 5.

    E, I agree–that’s a challenging question. But I think the point being made here is that in trying to tease that out, it’s a problem if we assume that the “real” church doctrine must be what we like/believe. I think it can be a temptation for those in any place on the theological spectrum–whether it’s that I’m a feminist, so I’m convinced that the “gospel” (as opposed to “culture”) is feminist, or vice versa. And while it might be difficult to cleanly or clearly define “what the church teaches,” I think it’s a conversation worth having.

  6. 6.

    The string sounds less absurd if it starts a step earlier: I never have to conceal my beliefs in Sunday school, I get callings with responsibilities, and the Bishopric seems relaxed when I approach the pulpit in testimony meetings. -> I’m orthodox. -> Ideas with which I disagree are personal opinions or folk doctrines and not what the Church teaches.

    This relies on local acceptance of opinion rather than axiom for identification of orthodoxy. It also implicitly defines “what the Church teaches” as the set of beliefs common to all in a ward that can call themselves orthodox with a straight face. Better definitions of what the Church teaches probably can be devised, but this one is not without appeal.

  7. 7.

    Has the doctrine in question been taught seriously in General Conference in the last 15 years? If yes, prolly doctrinal (unless I disagree with it). If no, prolly safe to let it go (unless I still like it).

  8. 8.

    So what you are really saying is that I need to accept polygamy?

  9. 9.

    I, too, often feel that the “just culture” approach to dealing with church problems is a cop-out. I’ve stopped considering myself orthodox and settle for a separation of God and church. Nonetheless, this, too, strikes me at times as a way of avoiding the possibility that things I don’t like may be a part of my religion.

  10. 10.

    I would counter the idiosyncrodoxy fallacy by asking, What do you mean by “the Church?” I think people too often assume that “the Church” is a natural person, with a single viewpoint that can be consistently expressed. But “the Church,” as an entity, doesn’t teach anything, and leaders at various levels interpret and teach some things differently. (We see less of the backroom discussions at the highest levels today, although I have to assume that the Twelve even don’t see everything exactly the same.)

    None of this is to diminish the True-ness of the Church, or the fact that there seems to be solid knowledge on some points, but nonetheless, as members, we have to evaluate what we hear as to truthfulness. The Spirit’s confirmation, it seems to me, is the best determiner of truth, but the next is going to have to be, It makes sense and feels right to me.

  11. 11.

    I can relate, Chris. Much as I question the anti-homosexuality, the patriarchy, and the doctrine of polygamy in the Church, I hesitate to claim definitively that those things are wrong. It may well be that I’m out of tune, and for some reason I cannot comprehend, they are the will of God.

    John, even when it comes to recent conference and GA talks, I find that there can be a fairly wide range of interpretation, don’t you? Whose interpretation is the right one?

  12. 12.

    I would tend to say your own (+ the Spirit) is the best interpretation. I think that there are meant to be a wide range.

    Consistency is the devil

  13. 13.

    I chronicled my own struggle with this (and how I see it affect the church at large) in this post, if anyone cares.

    John C., the problem then becomes which interpretation of how the Spirit manifests itself do I accept as true? What if it is the “x” in question? (Not sayin’ that’s my problem, necessarily… just sayin’…)

  14. 14.

    Excellent point, Sam, about the phrase, “the church teaches.”.

  15. 15.

    I keep coming back to the whole Abraham and Isaac narrative. Usually, it’s invoked to show that we need to submit to God’s judgement and sacrifice our own desires and understanding of what’s right. This has the potential to completely shatter my usual spiritual approach, in which I accept that God’s sense of right may be very different from my own, but that “right” cannot mean something I find morally repugnant (like, say, human sacrifice). There needs to be at least some relationship between my sense of right and God’s, otherwise what’s the point of my own sense of right and wrong?

    The Abraham narrative threatens this worldview, but I (unorthodox as I am) am inclined to think that we misunderstand the story. Abraham, after all, never actually had to commit the sacrifice.

  16. 16.



    Guilty as charged.

    I refuse to think about this any longer.


    That was close.

  17. 17.

    Thanks for the comments!

    I actually think that once we let go of the expectation of consistency, identifying things the Church teaches is relatively easy. I’m deliberately using the phrase “what the Church teaches” rather than “doctrine” because I’m looking for a more neutral descriptor–my question here is empirical, not metaphysical; I’m not attempting to untangle what’s ultimately true or false.

    Of course, we’ll undoubtedly quibble over what relative weight to assign various texts and how best to interpret them, but I think we can probably find a general consensus that current liturgy, scripture, official proclamations, and GC talks cluster somewhere near the top of the scale where the off-kilter testimony a member off their meds bore last month settles toward the bottom.

    Perhaps it’s imprecise, as Sam B. suggests, to refer to the “Church” as a personified entity, especially considering the diversity of beliefs and attitudes that have accrued under that rubric across space and time. All the same, the Church itself is propogating the idea that many of its publications are nameless and faceless, as if authored by the institution itself, the ultimate authority. This climate is not entirely amenable to a post-Enlightenment emphasis on individual subjectivity. I’m in favor of drawing the line around “the Church” pretty inclusively, but I do think it’s fair to demarcate–perhaps in concentric circles from core to periphery following the scale idea above–Church from non-Church.

    Must we then accept human sacrifice and polygamy as genuine commandments of God? I like to hope that’s not the case, especially given the afore-cited inconsistencies in Church teachings. Like ChrisKay, I’d like to believe God’s sense of right and wrong has some accountability to my own. But I do think it probably means there’s no cheap way to get out from under them.

  18. 18.

    There needs to be at least some relationship between my sense of right and God’s, otherwise what’s the point of my own sense of right and wrong?

    I love this. It articulates something I have been trying to explain to a friend.

    I am still laughing over comment 16. Great stuff.

  19. 19.

    Well put, Kiskilili. I’ve certainly see lots of people take positions like this. (Needless to say, I would never be guilty of such a thing. :) ) Could this be seen as a specific instance of a more general line of reasoning about how we see ourselves as good?

    A. I’m a good person.
    B. I don’t believe or advocate x.
    C. Therefore, x is not good.

    Or I guess more often, the last two are:

    B. I do activity y.
    C. Therefore, y is a good thing to do.

  20. 20.

    In other words, we decide what’s appropriate based on how we’ve been behaving; we don’t behave based on what we consider appropriate?

  21. 21.


  22. 22.

    it’s a problem if we assume that the “real” church doctrine must be what we like/believe. I think it can be a temptation for those in any place on the theological spectrum–whether it’s that I’m a feminist, so I’m convinced that the “gospel” (as opposed to “culture”) is feminist, or vice versa

    Good point, how do we avoid confirmation bias, so that there is nothing to learn from the gospel, only our vision of how we inform it of what it should be.

  23. 23.

    Great post Kiskilili! I’ve found this contradiction to be both rampant and troubling for me personally. Like ChrisKay, I would like to think my morals approximate God’s, and maybe they do, maybe they don’t. Could we say our morals are at least aligned in so far as principles? Take this statement, “order is good.” To our mortal minds, that means hierarchy, whereas maybe in God’s mind, it means egalitarianism. Thus Mormons tend to fixate on teaching the principles, which perhaps square with our sacred texts, while not contemplating better ways to implement the principles.

    One potential issue is that this type of thinking puts mortals in a position of defining God (we think hierarchy is good, therefore, we believe God thinks hierarchy is good) rather than allowing God to tell us who is is through revelation, etc.

    I guess one could use the spirit as a guide . . . like THAT’S easy to do.

  24. 24.

    Good points, Stephen and Markawhy. It remains a troubling issue to me personally, the degree to which we can determine what’s good and then attribute that to God.

  25. 25.

    I just accept that I’m not the typical Mormon and my testimony is nuanced. And with that, I happily reject what I don’t agree with. If all else fails I’ll figure it out in the next life.

  26. 26.

    In the New Testament church, members were not expected to agree on every matter of doctrine. Paul beautifully explains in Romans chapter 14 that one person can believe X while another can believe Y, but both believe faithfully and one should not put a stumblingblock in the way of another.

    “The Church” really teaches very little, as others have said. Individual members and leaders say a lot, teaching and encouraging each other, and trying to help each other, and making illustrations or imagining patterns to teach certain points. And these teachings and encouragements and helps and illustrations and patterns are “true” in the sense that one Latter-day Saint offers then to another in good faith, and maybe even with some inspiration. But these explanations are not the Gospel itself.

    The truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the core doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are very simple and very basic and very few. There are many other truths that I learn as I journey on life’s pilgrimage — some of them are true to me for a time, and then they grow into slightly differing truths for me as I progress in age and experience. So I differentiate between (a) core Gospel truth and (b) the truth of my understandings of what God has taught me, and I allow for changes in (b) over time as God continues to teach and I continue to learn.

    In this, I appreciate that some others will view core Gospel truth much more broadly, as the original poster shares. Perhaps they’re not discriminating between (a) and (b) as I sometimes try to do.

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