66: Responding to “Witnesses of God” by Dallin Oaks

Heather, Clay and Ryan discuss Oak’s recent devotional at BYU-IDaho, “Witnesses of God.”


Oak’s “Witnesses of God” Devotional at BYU-Idaho
Transcript of Oak’s 2009 Address about Religious Freedom


  1. Chris

    In the last few years I have learned to better understand and sympathize with the struggles disaffected Mormons go through. I have gradually been learning to breakdown the stereotype of the angry, bitter ex-Mo. But what I heard in this episode fit the stereotype to a T. I felt no sympathy as I listened to this one-sided diatribe.

    Reply Mar 26, 2014 @ 08:42:31
    • Craig

      Sounds like a ringing endorsement! I’m excited to listen.

      Reply Mar 26, 2014 @ 13:41:21
    • Canuckaussie

      Speaking of stereotype – your comment is a typical TBM fingers in my ears La La La response, where any legitimate criticism is bitter and unjustified. There are times when anger is appropriate and it is whenever Oaks makes his judgemental harmful lying remarks.

      Reply Apr 01, 2014 @ 23:52:12
  2. Ryan Rebalkin

    No sympathy is required and none was sought after. Thank you for taking the time to listen and comment.

    Reply Mar 26, 2014 @ 12:15:21
  3. Ryan Rebalkin

    Look forward to hearing your thoughts Craig !
    And yes, it is a great endorsement from Chris, love it !

    Reply Mar 26, 2014 @ 14:03:25
  4. John

    I think the outrage had more to do with his anti-secular comments than anything else. The angry tone in the podcast was, to me at least, the result of being insulted as a secularist rather than an ex-Mormon.

    I am an ex-Mormon and an Episcopalian and I could tell that the message of Oak’s talk were not guided at me but rather at Atheism. It offended me in that he insulted and threw an entire population under the bus without understanding their point of view.

    Reply Mar 26, 2014 @ 16:11:15
  5. John

    Although, now that I think about it, considering the current stance of the Episcopal church in regards to homosexuality and equal marriage, he wouldn’t hestitate to throw me under the bus as well. :)

    Reply Mar 26, 2014 @ 16:12:13
  6. Craig Stiles

    Now that I’ve listened to the podcast, I’ll just say Amen! Oaks’s talk was ridiculous, and you guys said many of the things I thought after I read it. One thought I had that wasn’t really discussed was how Oaks (as well as many, many conservative religious people) conflates atheism with secularism. There are lots of secular religious people. All you need to do to be secular is think that religion shouldn’t be a part of government. But Oaks and his ilk think that if their particular brand of religion isn’t given special privileges at every turn, they’re being persecuted.

    As for Chris’s comment, I guess he only likes one-sided diatribes that he already agrees with. Oaks certainly wasn’t at all concerned about accurately conveying the position opposing him. Also, I wonder about the lack of empathy it must take to listen to someone completely shit on a whole group of people and then get upset with members of that group when they object to being shat upon. Heather, Clay, and Ryan spent an hour explaining all the reasons why they found Oaks’s talk objectionable, but all Chris has is a half-assed ad hominem that they were angry, bitter stereotypes. Sorry, Chris, you’ll have to do better than that.

    Reply Mar 26, 2014 @ 18:09:26
    • Chris

      Actually, Craig, I don’t have to do better than that–I’m not the one with a podcast. I’m just a fairly new listener who was suggesting (poorly, I admit) that some balance within the episode would be helpful and appreciative and probably good for their cause, even. But if Heather, Clay, and Ryan are content with preaching to a small choir, then great for them. Actually, it’s great for Mormonism, too, if they choose not to have a discussion outside of their bubble. And, I’m not upset about anything, as you suggested. Quite the opposite, in fact. I learned a lot by listening to this episode as it was another reminder on why I’m happy to be a Mormon.

      Reply Mar 27, 2014 @ 06:37:39
      • Chris

        Some more feedback: Craig says that Oaks didn’t convey an opposing position. Of course not! It’s a speech! Why should anyone expect a speech to be balanced? It’s supposed to convey his message. Now a podcast discussion, on the other hand, ought to have some discussion (an exchange of ideas). This one had three people patting each other on their backs and agreeing with each other 100%. That is a bubble.

        Here’s one example: when all three talked about the “tone” of Oaks talk being cynical or dismissive (I don’t remember the exact words), my thought was, “huh?” I didn’t get that impression in the least! As a listener, I would like to hear someone challenge that. I’m not at all suggesting you can’t have that opinion or even that your opinion is wrong. But I am suggesting that your podcast would be much improved if you expanded the scope of the discussion. That is all. Not upset or angry. Just giving some feedback.

        Reply Mar 27, 2014 @ 08:14:25
        • Expositor's Heather

          Sorry this episode didn’t do it for you Chris. You might find some of our others more to your liking. If not, no hard feelings. I do this as a hobby. So I have the conversations I find interesting. It’s not like I’m selling advertising space and need to maximize my listtenership. I do what I enjoy. People either appreciate it and listen or they dislike it and don’t. I don’t spend time worrying about it. Cheers.

          Reply Mar 27, 2014 @ 10:16:28
        • Craig Stiles

          Chris, thanks for responding. I can appreciate the desire for listening to multiple perspectives on a topic, and the three panelists were pretty much in agreement on this one. However, in your first comment, you didn’t really say that, you just said that they were angry and bitter and that you didn’t have any sympathy for them. I was responding to that, not to whatever you were actually thinking but didn’t say at the time.

          Now, as to the issue of balance, I’m going to push back on this one a little, too. Yes, it can be annoying to hear an echo chamber all the time, but if you continue listening to the podcast, I’m sure you will find that there is usually more disagreement among the panelists than there was in this episode. But some positions are just ridiculous, and Oaks’s talk fits that bill. Think of this episode as a debunking. If someone were to put together a program responding to arguments put forth by conspiracy theorists that the moon landing was faked, we would expect them to get scientists, astronauts, and other people qualified to explain why those arguments are wrong, and we wouldn’t really hold it against them if they didn’t include a conspiracy theorist in the discussion. I mean, I guess Fox News does that for ratings, but I don’t blame the Expositor crew for not emulating that format. In this case, Heather, Clay, and Ryan are all qualified to respond to Oaks’s screed against atheism and secular humanism because they are all both atheist and secular themselves. Moreover, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they tried to get Brandt on this episode and he wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

          Also, I notice that your comments are mostly about meta-issues in this episode, and you haven’t said much responding to what was actually discussed in the podcast. The example you give regarding Oaks’s tone is 1) a pretty minor point, and 2) not very convincing, because you are not one of the people he was being dismissive of, so it’s not too surprising that you wouldn’t pick up on his dismissiveness. But do you have any other disagreements with the points they made, reasons why they’re wrong about something? You didn’t like the one-sidedness of the discussion on the podcast, but you’re here now. Let’s have a discussion.

          Reply Mar 27, 2014 @ 10:34:48
        • Chris

          Heather and Craig, I appreciate your perspectives on this.

          Craig, I didn’t articulate well in my first post, so I don’t blame you. My feelings were that after listening to this episode, I had just taken a step or two back in my perspective of disaffected Mormons. That’s probably not the direction intended, unless the intention is to divide us further. (I know, you’ll say Oaks was dividing us…I’ll disagree.)

          I really don’t want to listen again to get details for an online discussion with you. Ultimately, it will be a difference in opinions.

          Take care.

          Reply Mar 27, 2014 @ 13:55:28
          • Clay

            Chris. Thanks for taking the time to listen and challenge. I won’t argue with you on the fact that I came across angry. I was angry and I seldom get angry at Mormonism anymore.

            In regards to the cynical condescending tone – also know that we watched the live feed (not only listened) and there were plenty of sideways smirks.

            Having said that, I whole-heartedly support your right to strongly disagree with us. Thanks again for listening.

            Apr 03, 2014 @ 17:23:31
      • notchosen

        Chris, what bubble do you live in?
        so glad you are happy !

        Reply Oct 07, 2015 @ 16:08:54
  7. Ryan Rebalkin

    Great points Craig ! And yes there was do much to cover in this talk, it was hard to get it all.
    Great counter point to Chris. Thank you :)

    Reply Mar 26, 2014 @ 20:13:36
  8. drpepaw

    *Fascinating* analysis and comments. Good podcast. Thanks, very informative…….

    Reply Mar 27, 2014 @ 18:09:45
  9. Ryan Rebalkin

    Thank you Dr Pepaw. ! Glad you liked it :)

    Reply Mar 27, 2014 @ 18:28:04
  10. James J Hill

    After listening to the points Oaks provided I am reminded just how dangerous and ultimately damaging the “reasoning” he gives is.

    This approach concerning the rejection of logic and reasoning truly is frightening to me. Those who hold the position of Oaks are antithetical to the rule of law. Ultimately the bigoted and angry approach Oaks takes is on the decline but in the meantime we will see this sickening approach get worse. Mormonism is once again circling the wagons and holding their head low while looking for any excuse to appear (gleefully) oppressed.

    Am I the only one who feels frightened by the continuance of this bullshit?

    Reply Mar 27, 2014 @ 20:52:17
    • JT


      I see your point – but I’m more optimistic and not so frightened by this “old guard” rhetoric.

      19th century wagons don’t offer very good protection – so to speak – and circling them is a defensive strategy taken from a position of weakness. This hitching of the Mormon wagon to the Christian right also admits to weakness, if not desperation.

      I also think that their narrowing of morality to god-belief and sexuality – which are really just tools for institution preservation – is losing traction, particularly among younger people. And both are going to be swamped by the much larger human suffering aspects of morality heading our way, particularly with regard to economic and human rights problems associated with climate change and economic inequality. I’m more frightened by these.

      If there is call to be frightened by fundamentalist religion, it would be about the more dominant religious groups, including those in the Muslim world that thrive on suffering. My guess is that Mormonism is going to become more marginalized and impotent. It is ironic that Oaks ended with the bit about the “salt losing its savor.” There was virtually no uniquely Mormon “salt” in his talk – he quoted Tim Lahaye for goodness sake!

      Reply Mar 29, 2014 @ 09:56:37
    • Ryan Rebalkin

      Great comments James,

      I don’t necessarily feel frightened by the Church’s inability to see past their own doctrine, just sad.
      Sad that there is just so much more for many of my family and friends to enjoy in this life, and yet they can’t due to the constraints of Mormonism.

      Reply Mar 30, 2014 @ 18:57:00
  11. Ben

    I wouldn’t expect some balanced discussion in an episode title leading with the word response. I’m glad they didn’t take the CNN approach of equal time for each side. When an issue is discussed that warrants two different perspectives, the Mormon Expositor team does a great job of inviting believers into the discussion. Oak’s talk was clearly promoting one value set; it would be repetitious to include more discussion in favor of the subject matter…. But hey, this is coming an Anti-Christ you make not want to adhere to my reasoning.

    Reply Mar 28, 2014 @ 10:14:49
  12. JT

    Thanks Heather, Clay and Ryan for drawing attention to this talk.

    I’ve noticed Mormon leaders making Evangelical Christian sounding noises the few times I’ve checked in recently. Perhaps it’s been an ongoing thing – but Oaks was trumpeting it here. Feels like the transformation is almost complete. Here’s what I made of all this.

    – pandering to his “bubble-dom” starting with the atheist bogeyman on the verge wholesale Christian persecution.
    – still griping over the end of school prayer. (It’s been 50 years Dal, get over it).
    – confusing legal attacks with Constitutional defenses.
    – Countering the honor (not “glor[y]”) secularists give to reason with the dogmatic assertion that God has all wisdom (most of which man doesn’t comprehend)
    – joining the battle against the “war of Christmas.” (That bit about Christmas and sympathy cards was just silly.)
    – fantasying about the Christian piety of the US Founding Fathers.
    – fantasying about how democracy owes its existence to god’s “Kingdom.” (How ironic was that?).
    – pushing the “free exercise of religion” in the direction of imposing one’s own on others.
    – quoting Tim Lahaye! (He should have “left that behind.”)
    – exploiting the false dichotomy between God’s absolute morality and unbridled moral relativism.
    – Falsely asserting that that those who reject God as a basis of morality would substitute science in its place.
    – some handwringing over the undermining of a bigoted state’s constitution by the U.S. constitution.
    – attacking secular intellectuals out of one side of the mouth, then begrudgingly admitting their contributions out of the other.
    – cherry picking quotes from the 1973 edition of the Humanist Manifesto. (it’s been updated).

    A few general thoughts

    It is really interesting to see two “apostles” of “the one and only true and living church” (Oaks mentioned Holland) seeking to join forces with the Christian sects whose clerics it represented as incarnations of the devil not so many years ago. Indeed, that was the whole point of his redefining the “Great and abominable church” in terms of atheists/secularists. Pretty clever – very strategic. On the other hand, making such a “deal with the devil” seems an act of desperation and weakness.

    Yes, as Heather mentioned, their are relatively overt few atheists. But I think it is also true that atheists/secularists dominate the intellectual landscape and are winning the arguments. I think Oaks and other Christian leaders are justifiably scared. Despite the herds they so easily persuade to fall in behind them, they don’t get much respect anymore at the “grown-ups” table – unless they have votes to deliver. And that’s because they are not growing up. Their dogmatic thinking is stuck in the information-poor past. They bring nothing authentically useful to the broader conversation about the future – they don’t produce anything useful. And then they are always dragging their feet because they are so narrowly focused on their entrenched parochial interests. Perhaps it is also as much a matter of their personal egos taking a beating. On some level Oaks must understand that his ideas and arguments are ill-informed and weak.

    And so, Fawell-esque rhetoric is all Oaks can muster as he seeks to transform Mormonism into just another Fundamentalist Christian bubble and, in doing so, find self-preserving anonymity in their frothy midst.

    Bubbles of the world unite!

    Reply Mar 28, 2014 @ 21:29:18
  13. The Strategic Witness for the Mormon Right | JTurnonMormonism

    […] [6] One commenter used the wagon train analogy:  “Mormonism is once again circling the wagons and holding their head low.” Yes, and I would add that their strategy is to first paint their own wagons to look more like the more dominant Christian Right wagons and then find an inconspicuous safe spot among them. (See http://mormonexpositor.com/66-responding-to-witnesses-of-god-by-dallin-oaks/) […]

    Reply Mar 29, 2014 @ 08:56:05
  14. Eric

    I’m not sure what blog setting shot the above footnote here, but for anyone interested, here is the blog post that this episode inspired. I offer my own summary and analysis of Oaks talk


    Reply Mar 29, 2014 @ 09:20:11
  15. Eric

    Now I’m not sure what funky blog setting just outed me as Eric (rather than JT).
    Oh well, I’ll answer to either.

    Reply Mar 29, 2014 @ 09:23:05
  16. lookinthemirror

    I wonder how Elder Oaks, and those of his persuasion, feel about the Church of Satan wanting to erect a statue of satan in Oklahoma. Just a thought.


    Reply Mar 29, 2014 @ 12:24:05
  17. Rusty

    I personally love it when you callout these apostles on their BS. Someone has to hold them accountable. We know members don’t and non Mormons don’t care, it’s up to exmormons to hold these guys accountable. Keep up the good work. I personally enjoy the one sided podcast way more. If people want to hear other people say good things about Oaks etc. go to general conference or church.

    Reply Mar 31, 2014 @ 10:48:08
  18. LDSRevelations

    Nice job all. You guys kicked butt on this one.There was certainly no shortage of passion in the comments made. Heather was in especially fine form.

    I agree that Oaks’ arguments are not only specious but that in the end he argues for religious preference and not tolerance. He actually admits as much and I can’t disagree more. Everything including religion competes in the marketplace of thought and the ideas that don’t survive should be re-thought…including Mormonism. Nothing gets a free pass.

    That said I’ve tried to get tot the point where I see being called ‘anti-Christ’ or whatever else as nothing more than religious people voicing their ideas. Knowing the background of that term and how Oaks uses it makes that hard to not see it as a personal attack. In the end though Heather was right about letting go of that sort of hurt though. All emotion aside, Mormonism and other obsolete belief systems are on the ropes and Oaks knows it. People that are cornered tend to lash out so I’m going to try and muster some sympathy for him. T-r-y.

    Thanks for your efforts.

    Reply Apr 01, 2014 @ 16:05:01
  19. ozpoof

    I found it so difficult to listen to Oaks’ blather. He must have been a good lawyer because he knows how to BS.

    I think it’s telling that on the BYUI site this talk has over 50k views and only 2 likes. I’m guessing the students have to attend this drivel or risk losing credits. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to listen to this to feel better, unless witnessing a human train wreck babble himself into a corner is fun.

    I don’t have anything to add to the splendid analysis. There’s enough material there for a 5 parter. Absolute garbage spewed by a pathetic man in a small pond.

    Reply Apr 03, 2014 @ 03:31:17
  20. Clay

    Thanks everyone for taking the time to listen and to give input.

    Reply Apr 03, 2014 @ 17:28:53
  21. Blorg Jorgensson

    Heather: Do get around to reading On Being Certain, by Robert Burton (which I believe you mentioned). It’s a great book. One major epiphany that it provided me was that our brain is constantly processing information subconsciously — hence “revelation” from the Holy Ghost. The fact that it FEELS like something “just occurred to me” out of nowhere doesn’t mean that it did.

    Also, he wrote a follow-up that was also very good: A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind.

    Reply Apr 17, 2014 @ 01:19:08
  22. James

    And I used to like Elder Oaks. Hmmm, I might need to rethink that.

    Reply Jan 19, 2016 @ 14:26:06

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