It’s Not My Default

Rusty - September 2, 2009

The other day I was having some software problems with my iPhone and had to restore it to its factory settings. The phone had been highly customized (as are most cell phones with contacts, photos, rings, etc.) which were all whisked away at the click of my mouse. For a moment my phone was back to its original earth photo, Apple ringtone and single page of apps. This was ideal because I was then able to customize again according to my particular needs.

Last week I participated in a thread over at FMH in which the post argued that bishops have no place asking women about the Law of Chastity. Naturally there was discussion about patriarchy’s dominance of female sexuality and dozens of examples of creepy/inappropriate bishops/stake presidents. I have no interest in re-hashing that discussion over here, but at one point it occurred to me that we were mostly speaking past each other because we have different church default settings. And by default setting I don’t mean testimony or universal truths, rather it is more a matter of the basic common ground upon which we are having a discussion. If we can wipe away our cultural bias and anecdotal evidence, or wipe our contact list, photos and ringtones, if you will, what is our default setting on a certain issue?

So here’s a for instance: in that thread I kept getting the feeling that most of the commenters defaulted on “bishops are suspect” whereas I default on “bishops are trustworthy.” Now, I’m not saying that that was the fulcrum of the argument (which I think was patriarchy and sexuality, which we likely have different default settings for as well…), but was nevertheless something that kept getting in the way of a productive discussion. Our default settings were at such odds to begin with that I had little hope of finding any common ground.

Some of my other default settings (off the top of my head) are:
- God exists and is the traditional god of Mormonism.
- Joseph Smith was always sincere and acting in good faith.
- Thomas S. Monson believes what he preaches.
- The FP and Q12 take members’ concerns very seriously.
- The organization of the LDS Church is a positive force for good.
- Most men respect and consider women their equals.
- We know basically nothing about our pre- and post-mortal lives.
- All members (including the prophet) are imperfect (and not in the “because he sometimes gets impatient” stupid imperfect, but we are really, really imperfect).
- Greg Olsen is the literal manifestation of evil.

Notice that these are not so much Truth claims as much as a starting point to how I approach various gospel issues. So I guess if you need a key as to why you disagree with me so vehemently, check this list and you’ll see that it is all because of your love of Greg Olsen.


  1. An excellent observation Rusty. My defaults are similar to yours. I don’t quite get the Greg Olsen thing.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 2, 2009 @ 9:06 am

  2. Good stuff. I do believe that starting from generous default positions will save people a lot of heartache. Except Greg, as he has no heart at all/

    Comment by Steve Evans — September 2, 2009 @ 9:12 am

  3. Wow, what a great post. And how nice it would be to know someone’s Starting Point at the beginning of a conversation. (Oh, that God had implanted little computer screens on our foreheads that flashed the assumptions we have about a particular topic.)

    So, your list is good. And I think your distinction between a Truth Claim and a Starting Point is important, too. I think all bloggers would do well to state their assumptions up front. In that spirit, I’ll contribute a couple of mine:

    1. Our Father in Heaven is a very hands-off God most of the time.
    2. The scriptures are not always meant to be taken literally.
    3. Many of the scriptures should not be read to be applied to everyone’s lives in all times and places.
    4. An isolated statement by a random General Authority that is used to prove your point is of no relative weight and is not binding on me.
    5. An isolated statement by a random General Authority that is used to prove MY point is of great weight and is binding on everyone.

    Comment by Hunter — September 2, 2009 @ 9:22 am

  4. Rusty: I like your list and Hunters.

    Here are my problematic starting points that I need to not just default on, but that I need to upgrade to a different model, so as to no longer have.

    1: I know more than you about what we are talking about.
    2: I am smarter than you.
    3. I am more Righteous than you.
    4. My tastes are more refined/perfected than yours are.
    5. I am always right.
    6. Even if all my assumptions are wrong, my conclusions are correct because of 1-5.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 2, 2009 @ 9:38 am

  5. You nailed it, Rusty.

    Comment by Scott B. — September 2, 2009 @ 9:46 am

  6. Rusty,

    I like how you mixed the first 6 with this one:

    All members (including the prophet) are imperfect (and not in the “because he sometimes gets impatient” stupid imperfect, but we are really, really imperfect).

    This makes too many heads explode – and it shouldn’t.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — September 2, 2009 @ 9:52 am

  7. Rusty, I’m not sure what you mean by your first point, where you say “God exists and is the traditional god of Mormonism”.

    Other than that, here are my defaults:

    God exists and loves me. In fact, he loves us all, even though I don’t really get that.
    God is anxious for us to grow and mature and to find joy in the process.
    He’s not the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus or any other sort of “gives me everything I want” or “plans every aspect of my life” entity.
    I have a hard time thinking that God punishes us for making mistakes — there’s plenty of pain without any diefic intervention. Or, to put another way: sufficient is the day to the evil thereof.
    Our bishops and stake presidents are more like the prophet than we’re willing to admit; and the prophet is more like a stake president than we’re willing to imagine.
    There are exceptions to the rules — but they probably don’t apply to me or you.
    The rules approximate eternal principles (hopefully).
    We’re expected to follow the rules, regardless.

    I should think about this more. Hm…

    Comment by Silus Grok — September 2, 2009 @ 10:02 am

  8. A couple others:

    I’m bright and insightful … you should listen to me.

    I don’t mind being wrong, as long as I have the time to sort it out. Don’t corner me.

    Comment by Silus Grok — September 2, 2009 @ 10:08 am

  9. Fantastic, Rusty. This will give me a good point of reference for relating to others- and hopefully will help me be more charitable, too.

    Who DOES like Greg Olson? Someone must… right? Or is it like communist eastern Europe, in that choices are so limited, people think the Yugo is a great car just because it rolls?

    Comment by Tracy M — September 2, 2009 @ 10:13 am

  10. I like Greg Olson and I am not ashamed to admit it.

    Comment by Alpha Echo — September 2, 2009 @ 10:24 am

  11. Here’s a default of mine that gets me in trouble around the ‘nacle:

    What we know about our Heavenly Mother is essentially a truck load of assumptions.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — September 2, 2009 @ 10:30 am

  12. Rusty,
    If all members are imperfect, how could all bishops be trustworthy? Is your default set to most bishops?

    Comment by Howard — September 2, 2009 @ 10:33 am

  13. Howard, are you suggesting that you have to be perfect to be trustworthy?

    Comment by CJ Douglass — September 2, 2009 @ 10:36 am

  14. No, not suggesting, just asking for clarification. But, you bring up an interesting point, what percentage of perfection is enough to qualify someone as a trustworthy

    Comment by Howard — September 2, 2009 @ 10:48 am

  15. I met Greg Olson once. He lives in the ward next to my in-laws’. They said he’s “a wonderful guy.”

    What more do you snobs need to know?

    Comment by Mark B. — September 2, 2009 @ 11:07 am

  16. I like and appreciate Rusty’s list. I think I agree with most, except I kinda like Greg Olson.

    My only real editions:

    1. I do not believe coke or pepsi are prohibited products but probably best limited in consumption

    2. What is said in church by members needs to be taken in that light rather than as gospel or as instant contention.

    3. Brigham Young really was a nice guy despite what some have you believe.

    4. Utah and Idaho and parts of southern Alberta are not the litmus test for “real” Mormons. In fact it can be the opposite of the Zion ideal.

    5. Polygamy is not a dirty word, it is part of our past and we must deal with it, with understanding and with less cultural prejudice.

    6. Institute teachers are not always the best places to get answers on gospel questions.

    Comment by JonW — September 2, 2009 @ 11:18 am

  17. This same disconnect is the basis of a lot of the rancor in our political discourse. Case in point: the health care debate. We have:

    –Government power is good, or at least benign


    –Government power is bad, or at least highly suspect


    –Government is reasonably competent


    –Government is inept

    These divisions aren’t usually explicitly part of the debate, but they’re always there beneath the surface.

    Comment by Tom — September 2, 2009 @ 11:42 am

  18. I like this post, but it doesn’t address FMHLisa’s post or the proposition that the “default” should be the default that protects the most people. Therefore, if your default assumption is that bishops are trustworthy, you’re less likely to incorporate safeguards to protect vulnerable members for when your default inevitably fails (because not all bishops are trustworthy).

    We shouldn’t hide behind defaults to perpetuate unfair or dangerous practices and beliefs.

    Comment by ECS — September 2, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

  19. Thomas Kinkade is far more evil than Greg Olsen ever thought of being.

    Other than that, great list Rusty.

    It’s pretty tough to have a conversation with someone who approaches the subject from such a different place. That thread is a good example of that. People who come at that subject from a place of trust are not going to understand those who approach it from a place of suspicion.

    Comment by MCQ — September 2, 2009 @ 12:09 pm

  20. ECS, your point is well taken but after reading that thread I felt like the solutions were few or non-existent. If all people are imperfect (and they are) then some people (both male and female) are not going to be trustworthy. Even with those who are trustworthy, mistakes are going to be made. Is the answer that we have no one ever counsel anyone else on sexual issues? Should we do away with confession entirely? I don’t think those are realistic or desirable outcomes.

    We already have the ability to have another person present during counseling or confession. We already have the ability to teach children and prepare them for these issues and the questions that may be asked of them in interviews. Beyond that, I don’t know what possible solutions there are that don’t have just as many issues as in the present situation.

    Comment by MCQ — September 2, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

  21. MCQ-

    My points are:

    1. Because of the default assumption that bishops are trustworthy, actual evidence (meaning physical abuse) that they were not all trustworthy was needed before any safeguards were implemented, and
    2. The safeguard of having another person in the room during interviews is not given to many (any?) members. It’s an option set out in the CHI that is not widely known.

    I know Rusty wants to avoid debating the substantive issues, but approaching everyone and every situation according to “default” rules is dangerous.

    Comment by ECS — September 2, 2009 @ 12:38 pm

  22. I don’t want to speak for Rusty…

    but I took the OP as meaning – this is why we talk past each other


    we should all have rigid “defaults” that we don’t let go of


    my “defaults” are better than yours

    Comment by CJ Douglass — September 2, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

  23. ”If all members are imperfect, how could all bishops be trustworthy? Is your default set to most bishops?”

    My default is that they are trustworthy (not perfect). Then when I’m confronted with a specific case I will pack on my additional bits of prejudice, anecdotes and context onto that bishop which will then inform my perception of his trustworthiness. But they all start at “trustworthy”.

    ”They said he’s ‘a wonderful guy’…What more do you snobs need to know?”

    I think the Bible says the anti-christ is a wonderful guy too, and I’m sure he is, but that doesn’t make what he does for a living wonderful.

    I think you perfectly understood what I was trying to get at and are exactly right in your application of it to politics.

    I think you completely misunderstood what I was trying to get at. I purposely avoided addressing the FMH post and I never claimed my default on that position was “correct” or without potential problems. I only claimed that it differed from the other commenters on that thread, which, I claimed, was why I felt it wasn’t a very productive conversation (a conversation, let me remind everyone, that is a great one to have over at that FMH thread and not here…)

    Thank you for speaking for me because that is exactly what I was trying to say.

    Comment by Rusty — September 2, 2009 @ 1:03 pm

  24. What CJ said.

    Comment by Steve Evans — September 2, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

  25. CJ- I get that Rusty is being lighthearted with this post – it’s a fine post. I followed the original discussion at fMh, however, and I wouldn’t characterize the exchanges between fMhLisa and Rusty as “talking past each other”. I think commenters on that thread were concerned that the LDS leadership overlook(ed) the potential for abuse precisely because of the “default” rule (even now) is for a bishop to interview children without their parents present and behind closed doors.

    Most bishops are trustworthy, but the few who aren’t can and do easily use their position of power to exploit young children. Because the damage caused by sexual abuse is often irreparable, the default procedure should be to protect vulnerable Church members from abuse.
    The overriding point being that default assumptions often occlude real problems which aren’t addressed until disaster strikes

    Comment by ECS — September 2, 2009 @ 1:25 pm

  26. OK, Rusty. I was annoyed that you used a post about sexual abuse as a jumping off point to a casual discussion. Probably as annoyed as you are about me bringing it up in the first place notwithstanding your request to ignore the substance of the fMh post. Sorry to intrude.

    Comment by ECS — September 2, 2009 @ 1:33 pm

  27. Rusty,
    I agree each bishop I encounter begins with a trustworthy rating. At the same time, I recognize that some bishops are not trustworthy.

    Comment by Howard — September 2, 2009 @ 2:07 pm

  28. Thomas Kinkade! Oh egad, yes MCQ. TK is the Evil Overlord of all Sofa Art.

    Comment by Tracy M — September 2, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

  29. Russ,

    At first I thought “What is it with Rusty and Greg Olsen?” But then, keeping in mind this posts objective I realized what your default REALLY is is “I want the great majority of members out there to realize there is a whole world of better art available to them than Greg Olsen’s garbage!” Which makes a lot more sense kinda like how my default is ” I want everyone I can to know that there’s a whole world of better board games out there than Monopoly, Risk, and Settlers of Catan!” :)


    LOVED these:
    Our bishops and stake presidents are more like the prophet than we’re willing to admit; and the prophet is more like a stake president than we’re willing to imagine.
    There are exceptions to the rules — but they probably don’t apply to me or you.
    The rules approximate eternal principles (hopefully).
    We’re expected to follow the rules, regardless.

    I have some personal experience with the first considering all the anecdotal counsel and stories we here about the Prophet through my bishop’s 1st counselor (who is Pres. Monson’s HT)!:D

    Comment by Bret — September 2, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

  30. Bret, where do you live? Pres. Monson lives in my stake.

    Comment by MCQ — September 2, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

  31. @MCQ: I’m still waiting on that night out with you and the misses! ;)

    @Bret: yeah, Bret, where do you live? And thank you for noticing. I’ve been working on that aphorism for a couple years, now. :)

    Comment by Silus Grok — September 2, 2009 @ 9:51 pm

  32. Across the street from Olympus High SChool, next to the church building there in a duplex.

    Comment by Bret — September 3, 2009 @ 6:49 am

  33. Hey Bret,
    You should do a post on board games for Kulturblog. I’d love to hear about some cool ones.

    And you should do it in the next few weeks because I have visitors coming who like board games and I don’t have anything cool. Specifically, I want something that’s not too expensive, is well-suited to four players, and doesn’t get old right away.

    So get on it. Email me or Rusty a post and we can put it up.

    Or if you don’t have energy for that, maybe you could just give me some recommendations here. Or email: towens2 at jhu dot edu. Or you could ignore me. But if you do, so help me, I’ll buy Risk.

    Comment by Tom — September 3, 2009 @ 7:42 am

  34. Bret, I live about a hundred yards from you.

    Comment by MCQ — September 3, 2009 @ 7:54 am

  35. Bret, where do you live? Pres. Monson lives in my stake.

    Comment by MCQ — September 2, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

    Across the street from Olympus High SChool, next to the church building there in a duplex.

    Comment by Bret — September 3, 2009 @ 6:49 am

    Bret, I live about a hundred yards from you.

    Comment by MCQ — September 3, 2009 @ 7:54 am

    I’m predicting that Bret’s next response is, “Yeah, I’m your home teacher.”

    Comment by Hunter — September 3, 2009 @ 8:44 am

  36. That would be awesome, I’ve been wondering who that is for ages.

    This being a Utah ward however, Bret is just on the other side of my ward boundary. Plenty close enough for a BBQ though. I smell a SLC bloggersnacker. Silus, you in?

    Comment by MCQ — September 3, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

  37. My only contribution is to third the motion that Thomas Kincaid is the undisputed master of kitsch and despair.

    Actually I really like this idea. I have to remind myself often of one of my defaults:

    -Even though you disagree with me on political/religious/moral/physics issue X, you are most likely a rather intelligent person, actually.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — September 3, 2009 @ 10:43 pm

  38. Hey wait…I AM YOUR HOME TEA…oh no…sorry nevermind. Funny thing in my YSA ward is I home teach my home teacher. Now that’s efficiency!

    I’m in on the bloggersnacker, too. I’ll bring the games:D

    Speaking of that. Tom, ok ok! I’ll do it, just PLEASE don’t buy another wide distributed game! Oh, except for Sorry! Sliders. That one’s awesome!

    Oh, and now back to the thread at hand…

    Comment by Bret — September 4, 2009 @ 12:14 am

  39. I think this is a good way of framing disagreements, Rusty. So if I understand right, what you’re saying is that our defaults are the positions we take prior to getting evidence, and the burden of proof is on moving us. In other words, if the arguments against aren’t strong enough, we stay with our defaults.

    Tom, I particularly like your example in #17.

    Comment by Ziff — September 4, 2009 @ 8:36 am

  40. Hey, Rusty, you’re a guy, as are most of the commenters on this thread. My reading from the FMH thread in question is not that “Bishops as a class are untrustworthy,” but rather, many of us females have encountered untrustworthy bishops, and do not wish our children to undergo the heartbreak that we experienced. Hence, sitting in on delicate conversations, and so one. It’s not that all bishops are bad; rather a broad cross section of us have met one at a particularly vulnerable moment in our lives.

    I actually find it kind of astonishing that you’re getting your back up at women trying to protect their kids.

    Comment by djinn — September 4, 2009 @ 10:41 am

  41. Ziff,
    I don’t know if it’s so much a “position” you take as much as it is what informs that position. The FMH thread wasn’t about the trustworthiness of bishops, but their and my positions on the trustworthiness of bishops informed our opinions on the substance of the post. That’s why I think Tom’s examples are indeed good because they make that point clearly. So I don’t know if I think “staying with our defaults” is really even at play because the arguments aren’t going to be against our defaults, rather they will be against the substance of the argument. The FMH gals weren’t necessarily trying to convince me bishops are suspect, they were trying to convince me that patriarchy has no business dealing with female sexuality.

    Comment by Rusty — September 4, 2009 @ 10:43 am

  42. I actually find it kind of astonishing that you’re getting your back up at women trying to protect their kids.

    That’s an excellent example of completely misreading someone, presumably because of your defaults, djinn. It’s such a complete misrepresentation it’s hard to imagine it’s not intentional.

    Comment by MCQ — September 4, 2009 @ 11:35 am

  43. Very interesting stuff.

    I would like one of my defaults to be _my defaults are in need of adaptation._ And one of my personality traits, _I can suspend my defaults._

    Since defaults are not truth,- they are a combination of our wishes, subjective sensibilities, mingled with experience often seen through our defaults,- we are not truth seekers except to the degree that we can suspend and adapt our defaults. I think that probably we can’t expect answers to prayers,- which by definition bring additional light and truth and therefore force a modification of our defaults,- unless we have some ability to suspend our defaults. We are probably only able to get from the Lord information where our defaults are adaptable. Otherwise, we are the man with one talent – fixed, fearful, fundamental. There is the Liahona side.

    Here comes the Iron Rod. But by adapting I say adapting, not tossing our defaults out the window the first time they are challenged by experience or information, true or false. It seems to me that virtually all defaults contain an element of truth, even if that truth looms large only in our own experience. It isn’t as if reality is unknowable, only that it is difficult to know. It is just as essential to stand by known true experiences as it is to be willing to adapt. Otherwise we will be victims of our sensibilities the other way: always learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth, tossed about by every wind of doctrine, etc. Our store of truth should grow not merely shift from this to that. The little thread of truth becomes a rope or truth becomes the iron rod of truth until our whole existence is bathed in light.

    Also, we don’t just have a handful of defaults but our whole way of experiencing, feeling thinking doing, is riddled with defaults both acknowledged and unconscious.

    Groovy. :) Thanks for the exercise. ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — September 8, 2009 @ 6:13 pm

  44. MCQ, you explicitly said that your default was that bishops were trustworthy; you then give a long list of other assumptions which are fine as they go, but they don’t address the point that I or any of the other commenters made, which I will repeat. We are acting out of personal knowledge. We are protecting our kids whether you like it or not. Apparently you don’t. Please explain how I misunderstood you.

    Comment by djinn — September 8, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

  45. The disconnect here is huge.

    Comment by djinn — September 8, 2009 @ 8:16 pm

  46. Ok, I think you’re saying that there’s currently enough safeguards in place–that is, parents can tell their kids to not answer certain questions, parents or other adults can attend worthiness interviews. OK then. How many people know this or do this; do you? My feeing is no. But if yes, then please accept my apologies.

    Comment by djinn — September 8, 2009 @ 8:38 pm

  47. I agree that the disconnect is huge, djinn, but that’s because you’re making unwarranted assumptions and setting up ridiculous straw men. No one is “getting their back up over women trying to protect their kids.” No one. In fact, no one is getting their back up at all. Your first sentence betrays your defaults:

    “Hey, Rusty, you’re a guy, as are most of the commenters on this thread.”

    The question is why you think that matters so very much.

    Comment by MCQ — September 9, 2009 @ 6:19 am

  48. I am close to someone who was sexually assaulted by her bishop in his office, and he justified it by means of his position. Yet my default still is that most bishops are good men trying their best. I also have a default to that default that not everyone is exactly who they seem to be.

    Because of that bad experience from an abusive bishop, I have always worn a beard and rarely wear white shirts to church. For my friend, the “uniform of the priesthood” is unfortunately also the “uniform of her abuser.” It probably means I will spend my whole life as an elder, since most callings you have that make you a high priest require comformity to the dress standards of a very evil man.

    Comment by CS Eric — September 9, 2009 @ 8:08 am

  49. CS,

    Lots of people wear white shirts, ties and are well shaven…

    I agree though that not everyone is as they seem. I too am close to someone who was abused. It wasn’t by a bishop, but it was by a bishop’s son, and it was basically swept under the rug by two bishops who believed the bishop’s son over the person I know.

    Comment by Ian Cook — September 10, 2009 @ 2:55 pm

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