Mormon Inquiry

Mormon Inquiry

Inoculation: That word does not mean what you think it means

In the small world of Mormon Studies and online blogging, the term “inoculation” refers to teaching mainstream Latter-day Saints enough accurate LDS history that they won’t contract a terminal case of apostasy when they encounter publications or talks that use select historical events and interpretations to present an anti-LDS message. [And, speaking broadly, that also includes publications or talks which are relatively objective or scholarly with no overt anti-LDS intent but which come across as anti-LDS to a mainstream Latter-day Saint who reads it.]

I have posted on this topic at some length before, for example in “The Devilish Details of Inoculation.” I’m guessing a similar debate about the merits or risks of “inoculation” occurs in other denominations — perhaps what to teach Evangelical teenagers about evolution or what to teach Catholic teenagers about the string of historical forgeries that were relied on to establish Catholic authority for a millennium (Hans Kung is especially good on this point) or what to teach Jewish teenagers about the documentary hypothesis or what to teach Muslim teenagers about almost anything or what to teach teenage atheists about scientific eugenics and race theory. Anyway, here are a couple of recent posts on Mormon inoculation.

  • The Hard History — is faith enough to get us through?” at BCC. A controversial statement: “I like the idea of being informed and faithful, but I would certainly choose ‘faithful’ over ‘informed.'”
  • A Meandering Thought on Inoculation” at NCT. First line: “One thing I loved about my high school freshman year of Catholic History was the chapter on the Spanish Inquisition and discussing the horrible things done then.”
  • Trying to Understand My Friends Who Didn’t Leave the Faith” at Mormon Matters, from a different perspective, with 284 comments and counting. It starts out: “If someone told me three years ago that I would be where I am now, I would have never believed them. And yet, here I am.” This post that shows why inoculation remains such a controversial topic.
Comments read comments(9)
post a comment
Chino Blanco

posted June 11, 2009 at 4:29 pm

And learning about scientific eugenics and/or race theory would precipitate what response exactly in teenage atheists?
Oh my.

report abuse


posted June 12, 2009 at 12:30 am

That science has its blindspots too. I don’t want readers to think that Mormonism is unique in having to deal with inoculation-type problems. All denominations and groups have them.

report abuse

Chino Blanco

posted June 12, 2009 at 4:09 am

I understand, but evidence of bad science hardly diminishes the utility of the scientific method in the same way that evidence of bad faith undermines belief. Anyway, I’m gonna leave it alone. I’ve been infesting again and should give it a rest. The inoculation discussion is an interesting one.

report abuse

Andrew S.

posted June 12, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Yeah, Dave, I’m finding myself with Chino Blanco seriously wondering how this has anything to do with atheism.
For example, atheism is not equivalent to scientism and scientism is not necessary for atheism. HECK, scientism isn’t even necessary nor equivalent to science and the scientific method!
For that matter, atheism isn’t even a “denomination.” It would be like saying that a theist should be worried about the string of Catholic forgeries that actually only affect Catholicism…or the documentary hypothesis that only actually affect Judaism…do you get my point. Atheism is broad and tells you very little…other than someone doesn’t believe in a god…in the same way that theism is broad and tells you very little…other than someone believes in some formulation of higher power. You have to get into details before you can actually…get to the tough spots of those details.

report abuse


posted June 12, 2009 at 6:18 pm

Most people who supported what you call scientific eugenics and race theory were good Christian gentlemen, some of them even your fellow religionists.
People who support such reprensible theories today, as far as I can tell are called neo-Nazis and are pretty much 100% Christians. What does this have to do with atheism, again? Oh, that’s right, NOTHING. Please try again.
Let’s not forget that scary “Science” did what science does — self-corrects when new evidence is found — and showed such theories wrong, wrong, wrong. Science worked.

report abuse

Bill Kilpatrick

posted June 12, 2009 at 10:28 pm

“Innoculation,” as you define it, is not much better than “indoctrination.” In fact, the former is really the latter in disguise. Teaching just enough of a controversial topic to make the adherent think he or she is informed is really deceptive and counterproductive. The end result is not retention. It’s disillusionment, once the adherent realizes there’s more to the story than he/she has been told. Openness is the best policy.

report abuse


posted June 14, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Bill, whether it is official policy or just the reality on the ground, “opennness” is what we already have: anyone can read anything. Whether from your public library or Amazon or Googling terms of interest, there is unprecedented openness and access.
The inoculation discussion is not about restricting information or access — that’s a straw man argument. “Inoculation” is about encouraging mainstream members of the LDS Church (most of whom don’t really have that much interest in the details of LDS history or doctrine) to do some reading and thinking. It complements openness.

report abuse


posted June 18, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Dave, if the LDS Hierarchy wished to encourage mainstream members to know a little *actual* Mormon history, they could talk about it somewhere. Church manuals, perhaps; talks during conference; during all those infinite seminary lessons? That none of these opportunities are taken, and that the internet is roundly condemned) can only be parsed to mean that the least knowledge the better, as far as the institutional church goes. How many wives did Joseph Smith have? How many were married to other men at the time? How often have you discussed this in a meeting?

report abuse

Your Name

posted June 19, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Dave, openness is not what we already have. While it’s certainly true that we live in an age of unprecedented access to information – including materials that might challenge the testimonies of the faithful – it is much more common for churchmembers to be counseled to stay away from what Elder Oaks called “other sources.” BYU professors have been dismissed, not for writing diatribes against the Church, but for writing in the wrong journals. I can only speak for myself, but if I can remember any pattern detectable from Conference talks, firesides and other words from on high, it has been to follow the living prophets and ignore the rest.
Such counsel may be dead-on for those in need of more milk than meat, but the lack of leadership in this area is counterproductive. It’s not hard to see why the leadership would want to avoid sticky topics with the propensity to take it off message, but when rank-and-file members are left to either avoid such topics or approach them at their own risk, people are often left ignorant (and unprepared) or devastated by what they find on their own.
My approach, when confronted with weird Mormon statements from the fossil record (including one of Brigham’s many infamous rants) is to hunt down and read the original source – in its entirety. This is not innoculation. It’s research. Inquiring minds want to know. Doing so does not un-weird the weird, but it does provide badly-needed context. Instead of depending upon the facile spins of a faithful handler, I’m able to discover the larger context for myself. If weird-comment-lookup were less a guilty pleasure and more a matter of Gospel study, it would suck the poison out of many uninvited discoveries while helping some of the faithful temper their credence for any stray comment uttered by a long-dead Mormon leader on an odd Tuesday when it was really the chili talking.

report abuse

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Mormon Inquiry. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Most Recent Mormon Story on Beliefnet Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 2:21:45pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

The meanings of Zion
This is the third post on Richard L. Bushman's Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2008). [See Part 1 and Part 2.] In Chapter Three, Bushman reviews the several meanings of the term "Zion" in LDS doctrine and thinking. The Mormon sense of Zion has no real parallels in Protestant though

posted 11:00:37pm Jul. 29, 2009 | read full post »

A statistical portrait of Mormons
The Pew Forum recently issued a detailed summary of survey information about Mormons gathered as part of a much larger survey of religious life in the United States. It is a very readable summary, noting that Mormons comprise 1.7% of adults in the US; 35% of Mormon adults live in Utah and 13% live i

posted 12:33:08pm Jul. 29, 2009 | read full post »

July 24th: Pioneer Day in Utah
July 24th is a state holiday in Utah, designated Pioneer Day. It commemorates the entry of the first wagon train of Mormons into the Salt Lake Valley in the summer of 1847. They came down Emigration Canyon, somewhat north of the present I-80 corridor which comes down Parley's Canyon. Brigham Young w

posted 5:38:50pm Jul. 23, 2009 | read full post »

Finding heretics in strange places
A very interesting post at Mormon Matters, reviewing a 1989 book titled "Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?" The book was written by an attorney who grew up a Jehovah's Witness, then became an Evangelical Christian. That lasted until he conducted a thorough reading the original writings of the

posted 6:27:09pm Jul. 22, 2009 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.