Paul James Toscano's The Sanctity of Dissent should have a space on every bookshelf. Although Toscano writes within a Mormon context, his ideas and arguments can apply to any institution or organization. You don't need to understand Mormonism or be a Mormon to appreciate these essays.Toscano discusses a wide range of ideas, including spiritual abuse, overemphasis on the rights of authority figures, sexism, and abuse of authority within a religious context. He calls for leaders to be responsible and accountable and for members to hold their leaders accountable. The title essay presents the central concept of the book - that dissent is a sanctified act, that Jesus was a dissenter, and that dissent is the obligation of members of any organization. We must dissent when we see an organization to which we belong making mistakes or its leaders abusing their power; this is especially essential in something as important as our faith. Toscano doesn't validate dissent for its own sake; he calls us to dissent when reform is needed, when abuses must be resisted and corrected. As members of any organization or church, we have a moral obligation to dissent to abuses. As dissenters we must be "the loyal opposition" - faithful to the organization, its success and survival. Dissent can be an attempt to reform abuses, mistakes and missteps of an organization.Toscano's challenges his readers to rethink their views and values and to be prepared to pay the price. He knows first hand the cost of challenging orthodoxy; in 1993 he was excommunicated from the Mormon Church. Toscano was excommunicated because of the ideas in this book but is loyal to the Mormon Church. The conflict between individual conscience and institutional demands for obedience drives Toscano's book.Read more ›
Toscano makes a good case for the sacred nature of dissent, and he is qualified to say something about it...his dissent cost him his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Many is the member of that Church and countless others whose own spiritual experience and insight differs from that of the accepted dogma, or worse, the acknowledged leadership. Should they keep their mouths faithfully shut, or do they have a sacred obligation to disagree? The principles of synergy and diversity are aligned with Toscano's position, though one has to be prepared for the inevitable fire-storm of criticism that will come from those faithful who disagree with you! In this period of fanaticism and fundamentalism (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, doesn't matter...) Toscano's message is timely. Failing to dissent is often giving way to much deference, and ultimately power, to a handful of men (they are almost ALWAYS men...) who are notoriously irresponsible with that much power. His arguments are convincing, his insight often piercing, and his motive *appears* to be wholesome. This is a book that can be enjoyed by readers of many faiths, not just Mormons, as his argument is broadly applicable. As I write this, the Catholic Church is being rocked by the scandal of priests engaging in sexual molestation of young boys. If dissenters of the Catholic Church had not been burned at the stake historically, perhaps we might never have gotten here. If the Taliban had been willing to listen to alternate opinions, perhaps Afghanistan would not be the war-ravaged nation that it is. And if the Mormon church were tolerant of diologue and introspection, perhaps its brightest minds wouldn't being leaving the fold, either voluntarily, or in Toscano's case, involuntarily.
I read Mr. Toscano's book years ago, when it was first published. His words present the timeless problem with freedom of speech in a theocratic or any religious environment. Any member of a religion who, at times, has felt that his or her innate thoughts and feelings were at odds with their religion's canonized or preached pronouncements should read this book. But beware, as with all truth, this book might shake your religious foundation. Paul has a delightful way of revealing the truths of eternal principles with self-deprecating humor. "The Sanctity of Dissent," is a wonderful, quick read. His experiences are relatable for anyone who has censored him or herself in order to conform to religious mandates.