Kierkegaard, Abraham and Isaac

July 2, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 6:42 pm   Category: Ethics,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Scriptures,Theology,Truth

Clark has mentioned in a couple threads how he thinks my position is very similar to that of Soren Kierkegaard.  There are several important parallels between Kierkegaard’s thinking and my own, but this should not blind us to the important differences.  At the heart of our differences is that Kierkegaard follows the Protestant thinking of his time – the same thinking that he so strongly disagrees with is other ways – in assuming that religion in deeply and irretrievably individualistic.  This individualism is exactly what makes Kierkegaard the father of existentialism, while I on the other hand, am much more of a pragmatist of sorts.

A convenient way of looking at the differences between myself and Kierkegaard can be found in his reading of Abraham’s being commanded to sacrifice Isaac.  For Kierkegaard, this story illustrates how God and our faith in Him is neither reasonable nor moral, at least not in any human-centered or social sense that Kant, Hegel or any other modern thinker would recognize.  Abraham did not explain himself to Isaac for the simple reason that he could not explain himself.  There was, quite frankly, no reasons to give on the matter.  Any attempt at explaining, discussion or arguing, according to Kierkegaard, would have inevitably brought Abraham’s faith back into the realm of socially regulated reasons and morals.  (It is very much worth noting what Sartre also noted: that Abraham never for a single second questioned his interpretation of God’s commandment.) (more…)

Sources of Legitimacy

July 1, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 3:32 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Scriptures,Theology,Truth

In this post I wanted to briefly sketch out some of my own thoughts and taxonomies regarding how we go about legitimizing claims and positions.  I realize that the distinctions I make aren’t all that fine grained, but I prefer to sacrifice a certain amount of complexity for the sake of clarity.  When somebody calls some belief, position or claim into question there are, I submit, 4 primary ways in which we legitimate such things:

  1. They look “up” to authority, office or some other person who is set apart to answer such questions
  2. They look “out” to nature through observation, experiment, measurement, etc.
  3. They look “inward” to feelings, promptings, instincts and passions, etc.
  4. They look “back” to the past in traditions, customs, sacred texts and other things that have stood the test of time.

(more…)

Tokens and Signs vs. Evidence and Reason

June 17, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 5:56 pm   Category: Apologetics,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Scriptures,Theology,Truth

The story of Adam and Eve is about as anti-intellectual as they come.

When confronted by teachers they did not ask for evidence or reasoned justifications that might support an abstract proposition or truth.  Instead, they asked for simple signs, tokens and other indicators that the teacher (rather than their message) was authorized by God.  Indeed, they essentially ignored those people that could offer nothing more than scriptures or philosophical reasoning and seemed pretty uninterested in the explanation or justification for those things that they actually did accept as binding upon them.

Whatever we might call this approach to the gospel, it is not apologetics or systematic theology – approaches that basically agree with Lucifer in thinking that the (scriptural) evidence and (philosophical) reasons for a teaching have anything to do with the authority of the teacher.

Edit:  It’s also worth pointing out that when Adam and Eve finally did get an explanation for the sacrifices they had been performing, the explanation was simply the declaration of an unobservable (even in principle) purpose or meaning.

The (Non-)Problem of Interpreting Revelation

June 16, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 4:40 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Theology,Truth

“[After Newton t]he universe is one great harmonious order; not, as for Thomas and the Middle Ages, an ascending hierarchy of purposes, but a uniform mathematical system…

“Nature was through and through orderly and rational; hence what was natural was easily identified with what was rational, and conversely, whatever, particularly in human society, seemed to an intelligent man reasonable, was regarded as natural, as somehow rooted in the very nature of things. So Nature and the Natural easily became the ideal of man and of human society and were interpreted as Reason and the Reasonable. The great object of human endeavor was to discover what in every field was natural and reasonable, and to brush aside the accretions irrational tradition that Reason and Nature might the more easily be free to display its harmonious order.”

John Herman Randall Jr., The Making of the Modern Mind, p. 260,76

Within the scriptures we find very little, if any mention of some “problem” with interpreting (personal) revelation.  While we do find numerous example of how problems arise from interpreting scriptures (JS-History), we also find that revelation is always the clarifying solution to such problems of interpretation.  Why is it, then, that the interpretation of revelation is mentioned so often within the bloggeracle?  What assumptions and values must be in place for interpretation to be construed as a problem and what was the historical emergence of these assumptions and values?  In order to approach the “problem” of interpretation I will first draw a conceptual trichotomy and will then draw a brief historical sketch of how the problem of interpretation was invented. (more…)

A Brief History of Absolute Truth

June 9, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 4:31 pm   Category: orthodox,Theology,Truth

In the beginning, prophets (or priests) were the source of truth.  What they said was binding upon all within their stewardship and beyond question.  In this way, authority and revelation were two peas within the same pod.  Since prophets had no competition, truth was thought to be single and unified, but only within the immediate context.  Since different prophets have stewardship over different times and places, their truth was not universal and unchanging in any transcendent sense.

As the stewardships of these prophets expanded, it became practically necessary to record and transmit their words by writing.  Thus, scribes came to be a derivative source of truth in that they interpreted the written word to those to sought access to prophetic guidance when there were no living prophets at hand.  In was in this context that the words of prophets could and often did travel in space and time beyond their limited stewardships.  Truth, then, began to appear more heterogeneous and at times conflictual.  Within this context, the difference between living and dead prophets became blurry. (more…)

Reason After Authority

June 2, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 6:36 pm   Category: Apologetics,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Scriptures,Theology,Truth

Over at Mormon Metaphysics Clark has a great post worth reading about how much of the discussion surrounding the nature of truth can be replaced by a discussion regarding how to adjudicate disagreements.  I am very much on board with this suggestion and thought I’d provide a bit of history to this conversation.

Even Galileo owed his formulation of dynamics to no experimental discovery. He tells that he rarely resorted to experiment except to convince his Aristotelian opponents, who demanded the evidence of the senses; and all his life he retained the very considerable error that g, the acceleration of gravity, is fifteen feet per second…

In the Renaissance, as always, men turned to the careful observation of nature only after every other idea and authority had failed. What the revival of ancient learning did for science was to bring a wealth of conflicting suggestions into men’s ken, and force them to appeal to reason to decide; just as the Reformation by its warring interpretations of the Bible similarly forced a religious rationalism.

-John Herman Randall Jr., The Making of the Modern Mind, Pg. 218

What this passage is meant to suggest is that in the Scientific Revolution and the Protestant Reformation appeals to reason and empirical observation came only after appeals to authority had been made and were themselves a way of adjudicating situations in which there were competing authorities.  Regardless of whether one agrees with the priority suggested by this passage, the strongest point worth making is that there are means other than reason and evidence by which disagreements might be settled.

Within this context it is worth noting that one is hard pressed to find authorities within the LDS priesthood that are at a similar level such that they can be placed in competition with one another.   Only one person is allowed to have a particular level of keys and authority over any stewardship (see D&C 28), thus leaving no need or room for appeals to reason and empirical evidence to settle disagreements.  It is only by artificially placing priesthood authorities in competition with one another that reason and evidence could ever appear to be necessary.

Milgram: A Sociological Perspective

May 23, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 12:28 pm   Category: Ethics,orthodox

I assume all of our readers here are familiar with the Stanley Milgram experiment.  (If not, I strongly recommend that you plug it into a google search and watch the numerous fascinating articles, summaries and (especially) youtube videos.  I guarantee that it will not be a waste of your time.)  Essentially every reference made to this experiment within the bloggernacle uses it as a sort of smoking gun for the dangerous possibilities to be had in “blind” obedience to our priesthood leaders.  I want to push back, not so much against this specific application of the experiment (such dangers do exist), but against the worldview that motivates such an application.

For starters, the Milgram’s was a psychological experiment in that it was meant to speak to our shared human nature and our (unfortunate?) inclination toward trusting authority figures with moral decisions that are rightly ours.  It is  this psychological interpretation that justified its generalization to our obedience to and trust of authority figures that simply happen to lie within the church’s priesthood structure.

The problem is that the experiment did NOT involve religious authorities.  Instead, it was an experiment regarding our obedience to and trust in scientific authorities of a fully secular stripe.  A more sociological interpretation of the Milgram experiment would thus not be that human beings are (unfortunately?) naturally inclined to defer to authority figures, but rather than us Westerners have (unfortunately?) been taught to defer to scientific authorities and that this trust in lab coats is far more dangerous than we often assume.

Indeed, even if one were to generalize the experiment to religious authorities, one can only do so by equating scientific authorities in religious authorities in some important sense.  I am fully on board with this, but it has interesting implications and contradictions for those who would appeal to the scientific authority of Milgram in order to critically examine appeals to religious authority.  Since the Milgram experiment is more relevant to science than it is to religion, it is likely the case that such people are cutting off their own noses to spite their faces.

 

Against Natural Theology

May 22, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 2:33 pm   Category: Apologetics,orthodox,Scriptures,Theology,Truth,Universalism

“Of course it was not given to mortal reason to decipher the hieroglyph of the universe in detail; but the important fact is that this was the fundamental aim of all wisdom and learning, coloring the whole intellectual life and all but excluding any interest in prediction and control, in “natural science” as we know it. From this follows the intense faith in the intelligibility of the world that makes the medieval scholar, whether mystic seeking wisdom by intuition and vision, or rationalist seeking it by dialectic, reject our modern agnosticisms and romanticisms…
“Whether the mystic sought symbolism in nature or in history, or the scholastic sought the form and end of all things, there was this same hierarchical order of importance leading up to God, supreme reality, supreme end, supreme genus. And since such was the use of learning, it mattered little, after all, whether nature be exactly described or history accurately written…
“Indeed, a knowledge of natural history for its own sake would have been regarded as almost blasphemous, taking men’s thoughts away from its essential meaning for man.”

                                        – John Herman Randall, Jr., The Making of the Modern Mind, pg. 35

“…all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.”

                                        -Alma 30:44

(more…)

Science: Demarcation and Democracy

May 9, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 2:31 pm   Category: Truth

At the heart of the debate surrounding the teaching of creationism in schools lies two issues that each side wants the other to focus upon.  On the anti-creationism debate lies the “problem of demarcation” as it has been called wherein we wish to determine what is and is not science.  On the pro-creationism side lies the issue of democracy wherein we wish to determine who does and does not have a say in what children are taught in schools.  This post will discuss the relationship between science, education and democracy. (more…)

There is no contradiction here

May 6, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 9:28 am   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Theology

“If the [Holy] Spirit guides me in a way that involves these multitude of documents,” he asked the bishop, “who am I to resist the enticing of the Spirit?”

The bishop replied, according to Dawson, “The Spirit is telling me to tell you not to use those documents.”

Let’s just assume that this is an accurate representation of what happened and let’s also sideline the politically charged topic that that “multitude of documents” was about.  There is still no contradiction here.  A contradiction only emergence if we see the truth of revelation as logically consistent, factual information rather than value-laden counsel that is adapted to the recipient’s stewardship.

Of course the whole point of the Protestant Reformation and the Scientific Revolution was an attempt to sideline the asymmetries of stewardship altogether by a focus on sola scriptura and the book of nature, respectively.  But this is exactly why Mormons cannot fully embrace either of those movements.  We do not believe in reformation or revolution but in the *restoration* of those same asymmetries of stewardship that the former were specifically meant to reform or revolt against.

A Genealogy of the Tall and Spacious Building

May 2, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 4:31 pm   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle,orthodox,Theology,Truth

A three step identification of and response to disloyal criticisms of the church:

  1. The values and premises that motivate the criticism are not universal, timeless or necessary.  They arose through a specific historical process.  They are not “just there” to be recognized.
  2. These values and premises historically arose outside of the legitimate priesthood channels and as such are not binding revelation.  They are the philosophies of (wo)men.
  3. These values and premises were specifically designed to either sideline or undermine priesthood channels as such, and were never aimed exclusively at the priesthood authorities of some other church.  The proper constraint upon unrighteous priesthood authority is the restoration of righteous priesthood authority, not a reformation through critique and reason.

A faithful criticism, by contrast, would be rooted in values and premises that 1) at some point in history were 2) either received or endorsed by the proper priesthood channels and 3) does not sideline or undermine priesthood authority as such.  Exposing the hidden personal unrighteousness of a leader would be a perfect example.  Exposing how that leader’s policies or teachings are incompatible with premises and values that go back 300 years to a philosopher who was fighting against “traditional” authorities is not.

The ongoing enabling power of the atonement

April 11, 2015    By: Matt W. @ 5:14 pm   Category: Life

The below is a work in progress in my continuing effort to articulate a theory of the atonement. Feedback needed and welcome.

I remember it well. What had once been one of the most powerful doctrines of the Gospel for me had become now a challenging open sore through which doubt flowed into me. If God was loving and good, why would he punish his son for our sins? Why would he require such a punishment? It had been my faulty assumption, based on the idea that Christ acted as a substitution for the penalty affixed by God, which had led to my hurt and my doubt. It had created distance between myself and God and undermined the power and efficacy of the atonement in my life.

That’s not to say I had not felt the power of the atonement before then, but as my perception of how the atonement worked was shaped, I began to confine it to certain parameters within which it could be utilized, and thus boxed it in. Further, when I had inevitably thought through some of the implications of my misconceptions, it left me troubled and eroded my faith. However, because I persevered and studied and prayed and took it to the Lord with fasting and prayer and a leap of faith, I believe I came to a better understanding of the atonement and became more empowered to feel its power in my life.

This is why I think it is important to have a clear understanding of the atonement and to study beyond the basic assumption that it is penal substitution. I believe we study the atonement because we yearn to better apply it to the challenges of life and to make Christ and Heavenly Father more accessible. The risk, of course, is that in studying the atonement, we end up with a conception formed by man, and miss experiencing the event itself.

(more…)

Capitalism and Consecration

March 12, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 12:45 pm   Category: Ethics,Money and getting gain,orthodox

Most Mormons in this country vote conservative and there is a good reason for the harmony between these two stances.  I’m not saying that these good reasons are the actual reasons why most Mormons vote the way they do.  I can’t help but agree with the many criticisms and suspicions from left-leaning Mormons bring against this strong correlation.  While I do not wish to reduce all the political differences between each side to economic issues, the case of private property makes for a very generalize-able example.

I have no doubt that, in practice, many right-wing Mormons do indeed vote Republican because they are against the redistribution of wealth.  I have no doubt that there is some selfishness at play here.  I’m also convinced that many right-wing Mormons are against it because they honestly believe that a free market wherein the individual rights to private property are strongly enforced are either better for society overall, or simply the morally right social arrangement.  None of these reasons account for the harmony that I see between conservatism and Mormonism.

The reason why Mormons ought to be against the compensation of property by the state for the sake of redistribution is because that property belongs to the Lord and His kingdom to which we have consecrated it.  Right-wing Mormons want to limit the secular state as much as possible since that state is not the sovereign in which they have placed their faith.  It is the church and not the state that Mormons think ought to redistribute property.  In other words, right-wing Mormons ought not to privilege their individual rights, but those of the Lord and His kingdom over the state.

While this is clearly a criticism of some left-wing claims, I think this also functions as a badly needed criticism of many right-wing claims from within the church membership.  To the extent that they presuppose and endorse the individualism of capitalism and classical liberalism they also depart from the collectivism of Mormonism to that same extent.  Of course the individualism of capitalism, while not ideal, is still much more harmonious with the voluntary collectivism of the church than the compulsory collectivism of the state ever could be, practically speaking.

 

10 Years in the Bloggernacle

January 30, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 3:22 pm   Category: Bloggernacle

10 years ago, give or take a few days, I started my first Mormon blog: Issues in Mormon Doctrine.  A week or two prior, I had happened upon Jared’s blog (which was also brand new at the time), and realized that I had finally found a forum in which I could discuss the many issues that had been stewing in my head.  While I shared with Jared an intense curiosity regarding the relationship between science (especially of the Darwinian stripe) and religion (of the Mormon stripe) my blog focused more on the tensions and contradictions that I saw in Mormon doctrine, as I understood it.  It was a couple months later that Jared, Christian and I started Mormons and Evolution: A Quest for Reconciliation.  (It was Christian who would eventually accuse me of playing Aaron Cox in the Banner of Heaven hoax, a part which he, in fact, played himself.)

Looking back on my first few years in the bloggernacle I feel a strange mix of embarrassment and nostalgia.  On the one hand, I (thankfully) deleted Issues in Mormon Doctrine and can hardly stomach my posts that remain at Mormons and Evolution (it looks like Christian has since taken down the 2nd iteration of the site).  My “issues” and “reconciliations” all seem so naive and unpolished in retrospect.  Of course, I was putting out about 2 posts a day at the time, so I consciously sacrificed form for the sake of content – or so I imagined.  Perhaps the high water mark at Issues in Mormon Doctrine was a long essay dedicated to the distinction between revelation and inspiration and why we as members were only bound to the former.  This essay was later presented to and well received by a mid-sized Sunstone audience that included an approving D. Michael Quinn.  It was not long after this presentation that I posted another long essay on my blog in which I announced my disbelief in God and the church.  This was a very, very sad time in my life that I will not dwell much upon it. (more…)

Galileo and the Book of Nature

January 22, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 2:05 pm   Category: orthodox,Scriptures,Truth

A while back, Morgan over at BCC wrote a fantastic post about Galileo and his immense influence on modern science.  While the post was fantastic and well worth reading, it was somewhat tangential to the interests that I have in the “Galileo event”.  Yes, Galileo was a major figure in promoting heliocentrism, and the mathematization of natural philosophy, and a theory of gravity, etc. and, NO, I am not interested in defending the Catholic Church in any way or getting into the historical details and political intrigue surrounding the inquisition.  I am, however, very interested in using him as an example of the ways in which reason and science can come into conflict with religious authority.  I’m not sure that the case gives us clear advice on how to negotiate such tensions, but it does give us a clearer map of the terrain. (more…)

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