A Discussion with Sandra Tanner at
"Standards of Proof"
Along with two other LDS scholars, Dr. Louis C. Midgley visited with Sandra Tanner at the Utah Lighthouse Ministry bookstore. The visit, which focused on Larry Foster and Sandra's affirmation of what constitutes a "Christian," is summed up by Dr. Midgley as follows (emphasis added by SHIELDS):
Now, with witnesses, I have teased Sandra Tanner about Larry Foster. She said that "we" [the LDS] just love Foster simply because he blasted her and her husband. One of the witnesses then explained to Sandra that I have a really low regard for Foster as an historian. And they could have added, as a person as well. Sandra was puzzled.
She wanted to know why I had raised the issue of Foster. I said that I had brought Foster into the conversation because he was very upset because the Tanners had never responded to his essay on them. He, like the Tanners, wanted to get an "official" response to his essay. Sandra made two points: (1) Foster had attacked them because they had published Quinn's essay without his permission, and (2) he had made claims about correspondence and conversations he had with them that were inaccurate.
Sandra Tanner told me that she could see no great ethical issue in publishing Quinn's essay because he had been circulating it (and even charging for it), and he had never once complained about the Tanners circulating it. She took his silence as evidence that he actually wanted it circulated by ULM. Sandra also said that Foster had said untrue things about an interview he had with them and about their correspondence. Foster claims that his version was right, but he cannot locate the correspondence. My hunch is that the Tanners have Foster on this issue.
Now Sandra thought that what she had told me answered Foster's essay. I told her that it did not address the central issue raised by Foster. She had no idea what that might be. I explained to Sandra that Foster had correctly argued that the Tanners are entirely unwilling to subject their own faith and its foundations to the kinds of demands that they make of Latter-day Saints. To this Sandra replied that Foster was right. I tried to explain that there is something wrong with insisting that we satisfy her demands for what she calls proof and for consistency, when she does not require that Evangelicals satisfy those same standards. Her reply was that her evangelical faith was true and hence did not need to satisfy any standards of proof. And Latter-day Saint faith is false and hence must satisfy her really demanding standards. Like what, I asked? We have no "proof" for the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon. What might constitute such "proof," I asked? Artifacts that showed that Nephites lived in meso-America? Yes, exactly, was her reply. Would you, if I could show you such an artifact--say, something in stone with Nephi's name on it, agree that the Book of Mormon is authentic history? No, she replied. That would only be a matter for further discussion. She could not think of anything that would convince her that there actually were Nephites.
She then argued that the Bible has the backing of the kinds of "proof" she demands from Latter-day Saints on the Book of Mormon.
I asked Sandra what was the core or crucial or fundamental historical element in her faith. She replied: "the resurrection of Jesus." Then I asked her what "proof" there was for the resurrection. Which artifact "proves" that Jesus was resurrected. She was silent. Then she began to say that the followers of Jesus believed that he was and some claimed to have actually seen the resurrected Jesus. But, I argued, the mere fact that people believed something does not make it true. After all, lots of Latter-day Saints believe things that she does not accept as true. At this point she was reduced to telling us about her positive "feelings" about Jesus and her negative "feelings" about Joseph Smith. She abandoned her talk about "proof" entirely.
Incidently, Foster now argues that Joseph Smith can be explained in psychological terms--he was bi-polar. But so was Jesus and just about every large figure in the history of religion. If we had only had lithium, we would not be troubled with religion. What an idiot. And it turns out that Sandra Tanner denies that Foster is Christian. Why? He denies the resurrection. Why, I asked, is that an issue. Because, she insisted, the acceptance or rejection of the resurrection is the issue upon which a distinction can and must be made between being Christian and not being Christian. I asked her over and over if that is the issue upon which one classifies people. She insisted that it was the sole issue separating Christians and non-Christians. Now you can see where I was headed, I hope. I then asked Sandra if she would admit that Latter-day Saints are Christians, since we insist on the resurrection. She was caught in her own little trap and changed the subject.
Sandra wanted to know if I consider Foster a Christian. I said that if he wanted to think of himself as a Christian, I had no objections. Though, of course, I think his version of Christianity is simply absurd. But not much more absurd than most liberal Christians and probably not more absurd than that held by other apostate Christians.