For many years cultural Mormons and critics of the LDS Church have repeatedly trotted out something they believe to be the defining point of LDS Apologists and specifically evidence that FARMS (now the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship) is mean and nasty. The critics claim that much of what FARMS writes is ad hominem (we link to the definition because it seems those making such claims do not really understand the meaning of the phrase.) As recently as March, 2009, these people have brought up the issue again.
The issue is an acrostic that was included in a FARMS Review from 1994. Louis (Lou) Midgley discusses this issue and the absurdity of it continually being used to bash FARMS instead of actually attempting to deal with the writings of some 230 authors that have been published in the FARMS Review over the years. Lou asked that his response be posted on the LDS-Library list where the issue was being hashed over yet again. Although much discussion has ensued, to the best of our knowledge, no one has as yet responded to the points Lou makes. What a shame for those who represent themselves to be superior to the rest of us “mean and nasty” people.
On a personal note, I would like to make two points:
- My copy of that issue of FARMS Review does not contain the acrostic, and
- The acrostic certainly did not affect my opinion of Brent Metcalfe.
Posted by permission of Lou Midgley:
Would someone please post on that Library list, with my name attached, the following [Request accomplished]:
Brent Metcalfe and some others have made a big fuss about an acrostic that appeared (or sort of appeared) in an essay by Bill Hamblin entitled “An Apologist for the Critics: Brent Lee Metcalfe’s Assumptions and Methodologies,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/4 (1994): 434-523. I suspect that one or two on this list have used this incident as a way of avoiding having to deal with the contents of the most recent issue of the FARMS Review. This sort of thing has been going on for fifteen years.
In 1994, an entire issue of the Review was devoted to a careful critical commentary on Metcalfe’s New Approaches to the Book of Mormon (Signature Books, 1993), with one additional essay by Bill Hamblin examining the essay by Brent Metcalfe, which had been published in 1993 in Dialogue. In that essay, Brent had argued, among other things, that the hosts of inverted parallelisms that are clearly in the Book of Mormon are merely accidental. To test this proposition, Hamblin fashioned an acrostic consisting of the first letter of each full paragraph that read “Metcalfe is Butthead.” The point of doing that, in addition to having a bit of quite harmless fun, was to demonstrate that complicated literary devices are not accidental but must be intentional. Hamblin obviously consciously contrived that acrostic. But no one would have ever noticed it unless its author pointed it out, which Brent chose to do for his own reasons.
Hamblin fashioned that acrostic for the purpose of demonstrating that Metcalfe’s assertion about chiasmus in the Book of Mormon is simply wrong-that is, that those inverted parallelisms simply cannot be accidental any more that “Metcalfe is Butthead” was accidental. But this point has never once been addressed by those who seek to divert attention from an intellectually interesting issue to an essentially lame joke.
Now I agree with those who at the time were involved with what was called FARMS that the particular message buried in that acrostic was tasteless and inappropriate. I also wish to apologize for whatever real, and not merely imagined offense, this might have been to Brent. All of those involved with the old FARMS and now the Maxwell Institute, of course, deeply regret any emotional strain this put upon Brent by that acrostic, and everyone regrets the choice of a popular cartoon figure that has provided critics an excuse for not addressing any of the relevant arguments, analysis or evidence offered by Hamblin in his essay responding to Brent’s essay in Dialogue or any of the other essays responding to Brent’s book contained in that 650 page issue of the Review. It turns out that it would have been much more effective for Hamblin to have fashioned an acrostic that would have read something like “Metcalfe is a fine fellow.” If Hamblin had done that, then it would have been a bit more difficult to bawl about that acrostic that didn’t really appear fifteen years ago. The fact that, when it was discovered, a very serious effort was made to suppress it, shows the good intentions of all involved in the publication of the Review. And it would have been slightly more difficult, but not impossible, given the passions involved, for those who are deeply troubled to find faithful Latter-day Saints defending their faith to use that acrostic as an excuse for bushing aside the essays authored by at least 230 authors that have appeared in the twenty years the Review has been published. But, given the passions involved, I am also confident that some other reason would be trotted out to justify their current stance on their former faith.
I want my remarks to be read as my abject apology for the inclusion of a tasteless cartoon figure in that acrostic. I am confident that I speak for others currently involved with the Maxwell Institute. But I also insist that what was behind that incident involved a serious intellectual issue that has still not been addressed by critics of the Book of Mormon.