Where is the Mormon Theology and Doctrine Love?

September 12, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 7:01 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Mormon Culture/Practices,Theology

Ronan made a funny comment over at BCC the other day that I thought was worthy of posting on. After my favorite doctrinal sparring partner Jeffrey Giliam made a comment and I agreed with it Ronan said:

Has anyone seen Geoff J and Jeffrey G. (GJ>JG>GJ) in the same room together? … Doctroholics come only one per generation. I’m checking your IP’s. New Cool Busted!

The sad part is that I’m starting to think he is on to something… Where are the other doctroholics? Jeffrey and I post heavily on Mormon doctrine and theology, but not many others do. Why is that?

To be fair, there are others that occasionally like to blog on doctrine too – even if not as compulsively as I and JG do. Clark, J Stapley, Don, Kim, RT, and others at the big blogs break out doctrinal/theological posts on occasion. Plus Blake Ostler makes the rounds on the blogs and he is the current Godfather of Mormon theological thinkers. But in general people seem to shy away from the subjects. Instead of blogging on theology and doctrine they like to post on social issues or Mormon history or politics.

I have a couple of theories why thoughtful Mormons shy away from putting energy and time into serious theological study.

1. The S Word. The word speculation has a bad reputation in the church. If you don’t like what someone has to say in a Sunday school lesson, call it speculation and watch them flee from it like it was the plague. We have a real aversion to S word in this church and posting on doctrine and theology is almost by definition speculation.
2. Gunning for callings. I posted on this before. Basically my theory was that otherwise good Mormon theologians learn to keep their mouths shut because they realize that too much speculation could ruin their chances to serve in the church in the future. I don’t think this is unrighteous; rather it is expedient for many people.
3. Intimidation. Lots of people simply feel intimidated by doctrinal discussions. They assume that there is an in group of “knowers” and they aren’t in it yet. Of course they are wrong (not even the GA’s qualify as the unified knowers). One doesn’t have to go very far before we are all making educated guesses. As long as you can support a theory I see no reason not to talk about it.
4. Practice obsession. There is a false idea out there that focusing on what we do is all we need and there is no reason to dig into what we believe and why we believe it. This is a bit short-sighted, of course. Without the foundation of doctrine and theology we have little to inform our choices of correct behavior. Beliefs and practices cannot be separated and focusing on one to the exclusion of the other is generally unwise.
5. Blabbermouths. This is related to the S word. This is the idea that we aren’t allowed to talk about theology that is not in the current correlated materials. It is a belief with little or no scriptural support but there is a lot of cultural support for it.

Now for purposes of brevity I won’t go into the reasons I think we should be studying doctrine and theology right now, but I will suffice it to say I see lots of support for it in the scriptures. It seems to me that we are supposed to seek the mysteries of God here on earth – but for the reasons listed above and probably lots of others many Mormons are just not interested in that task.

What do you think? Where are the doctroholics? Where is the Mormon theology love?

(PS – Check radio.blog in the sidebar for musical support of this post)

43 Comments »

  1. My excuse is #3. I’m too lazy to do the research. Therefore I like to speculate on cultural issues. Or just not write at all, like lately.

    Comment by Rusty — September 12, 2005 @ 8:09 pm

  2. Today in my psyche-class at BYU we were told not to study philosophy because it leads us to the questioning of our faith. This came from the professor, which to me seemed pretty appalling. Should we not question? Is this the answer?

    Where are the doctroholics

    I think you underestimate the silencing of individuals by the institution. I think it’s much deeper than what you argue, but that’s my opinion. Even at BYU, there is no substantive discussion, and I’m a philosophy major.

    The only place I’ve found freedom to elaborate on any ideas outside of the status quo is online, writing in anonymity. I wish it were different, but I don’t want to lose my education over allegations of heresy.

    Comment by Jason S. — September 12, 2005 @ 8:42 pm

  3. Jason: What?! Jason S. isn’t your real name?

    Well, if it makes you feel better, I blog under my real name and I still hold a stake calling. I think the fear you describe is real for many people but unnecessary in most cases. My attitude is that as long a I don’t offend God then I don’t much care if a few others get a little bent over my posts.

    BTW — That anti-philosophy advice you received today is appalling. Send him an anonymous note to check out my blog… I suspect his his might explode with a few of the posts I’ve put up (and I’m tame compared to Giliam).

    Rusty: Ah, but you do what you do so well bro…

    Comment by Geoff J — September 12, 2005 @ 8:52 pm

  4. I think you need to add a category (or perhaps modify #4) to include those who feel that they have enough to work on without expending mental energy on what amounts to “educated guesses.”

    I hate to be that pragmatic about it, but I know that’s how some very thoughtful people feel about literature. I study and teach literature for a living and find it immensely important to my life (and think it’s probably pretty important to everyone’s lives, whether they think so or not). But some people just aren’t interested.

    Your concluding paragraph points out the fundamental inadequacy of this analogy (ie, doctrine is more important than literature). That may well be so. I just can’t be bothered right now to think of a better one… ;-)

    Comment by Justin H — September 12, 2005 @ 9:20 pm

  5. Without the foundation of doctrine and theology we have little to inform our choices of correct behavior. Beliefs and practices cannot be separated and focusing on one to the exclusion of the other is generally unwise.

    I believe this is true. But it seems like a jump from the knowledge required for such a foundation, and the edifice of “serious theological study” you’re interested in building on top of it.

    Comment by Justin H — September 12, 2005 @ 9:27 pm

  6. In looking at the theological systems that have been developed in our own tradition and in others, I’d suggest that Justin H.’s analogy to literature is a helpful one. Theological systems vary widely even though they start from a finite set of texts. Often, we can get farther in understanding the origins of a theology by looking at the social circumstances surrounding it than by examining the scriptural source texts. Thus, for example, Christian liberalism fits nicely with the context of the Progressive era. Christian neo-orthodoxy, by contrast, seems to directly reflect the pain and pessimism of the world wars.

    All of this simply means that theological systems are very human things. But that doesn’t mean we should try to do without them. First, if we’re religious, that’s impossible. Second, I think developing and refining theological systems–or studying those developed by others–pushes us back to the source documents and ideas in a very useful way. Talking about God, even if we get the details wrong, is a way of communing with Him. Third, developing theology builds on the beautiful edifice of Christian thought that we’ve inherited. We owe it to future generations to transform our experience of the divine into something as beautiful as that which has come before us.

    Just never forget that we’re the ones doing the building. God will do as He will, but I doubt very much that He will reject our best efforts, even if we never really get too close to understanding Him in this world.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — September 12, 2005 @ 10:20 pm

  7. Studying the Scriptures is time consuming and difficult, and there are plenty of distractions, so people generally dont do it. Instead, they tend to read lightweight stuff, or nothing at all. Mormons also tend to think they are entitled to inspiration on the meaning of the Scriptures, so they dont really need to study them. A lot of those who do study them think if some GA didnt comment on them, then its surely beyong their grasp, so why bother? And, of course, failing to toe the CES/BRM/JFS line at Church will get you shouted down by those eager to defend the staid norms. Then you just get cranks who spout off about crazy stuff, and nobody wants to look like them, right? So, Mormons tend not to delve too deeply, and those who do tend to keep quiet about it. If I had a $1 for every member I have made uncomfortable in GD or EQ (not to mention the bloggernakkle) with comments I have made, I could pay off my mortgage. And what I have learned in the process is people really dont want to know what the Scriptures say.

    Anyway, I would like to take exception with point #4. The doctrine that is essential is encapsulated in 3 Ne. 11:27-40, which namely is that we need to have faith, repent, get baptised, and be sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Period, thats it. What it is saying is the gospel is practical and must be put into practice. Going into the deeper doctrines, the theology of all of the wierd and cool stuff, is completely nonessential. Sure, sure, you need to read some to know what you are and arent supposed to do, but thats hardly complex theology. Knowing God is experiential, it is not an intellectual process. People dont obtain a godly walk by reading the JofD.

    Comment by Kurt — September 13, 2005 @ 4:46 am

  8. RT, I really like your post, and am intrigued especially by this statement:

    Third, developing theology builds on the beautiful edifice of Christian thought that we’ve inherited. We owe it to future generations to transform our experience of the divine into something as beautiful as that which has come before us.

    I don’t know if you’re intentionally invoking an aesthetic vocabulary here or not (I’m guessing, having enjoyed your careful writing in other places, that you write very little unintentionally!) but it’s an interesting move–we often, I think, want art that reflects the power and profundity of our spiritual natures, and vice versa are attracted to elegance in theological schemas.

    There’s a post over at You-Know-Where that hints towards the aesthetics of doctrine, too. (The Thang’s take is of course vastly superior!):-)

    Comment by Justin H — September 13, 2005 @ 6:22 am

  9. I’m with Rusty, Kurt and Justin H on this one. I am both too lazy and too distracted with everything else to go into any solid, in-depth scripture study. I have some projects I’ve wanted to do for a long time to help overcome that hurdle, but never seem to have the time to do them. Or I just forget.

    I also don’t seem to have the time or the patience to do any serious reflection on doctrines. Occasionally, I do, and that’s why Our Thoughts has occasional posts. It just seems that every time I try to focus on contemplating a doctrine, thoughts of remodelling a brand new house or farming on a hobby farm or living in Scotland or some other far-fetched dream of mine somehow pervades my mind.

    Comment by Kim Siever — September 13, 2005 @ 7:49 am

  10. I’ve studied a great deal of the scriptures and the many various commentaries on the scriptures. I love to get into the “meat” of the gospel. However, I find all the conflicting opinions, speculations, and contradictions a bit overwhelming. If all of these authors (Mormons and other Christians) have truly prayerfully studied and asked God the same questions and still come up with different answers: it makes me wonder if reliable communication with God is even possible. For those who simply want to accept whatever the prophet has said, remember that Brigham’s Adam-God doctrine is no longer accepted and later church prophets have taught differently.

    Intellectually, I like Mormonism because Joseph Smith, Brigham and other earlier prophets were not afraid to get into the meat of doctrine and take it to its more-often-than-not logical conclusion. (Unfortunately these forays into the meat have seemed to come to an end with our later prophets). The King Follet sermon helps Christianity make more sense. Mormons at least know what they believe overall. Talking to the local Baptists, they seem so clueless as to what Baptists believe, that the conversation quickly ends as they simply say its all a mystery. So I enjoy the fact that Mormons seem to enjoy discussing the heavier matters more than others (although those who do, keep silent in church meetings about such things).

    I’m at the point now, where I just want to focus on increasing my communication with God and discerning answers/feelings/etc. I’m tired of speculating and ready for some real answers. I do wonder, however, if prayer is really enough, and if there is a better more efficient way to communicate. (i.e. seer stones, meditation, etc.)

    To those on this board who like to speculate: is it because you’re frustrated in your lack of answers to your questions in prayer? Do you have to speculate, since you can’t get an answer? Or do you feel like you cannot discern the answers if they be from God/devil/yourself? Or do you feel too unworthy to get answers?

    If James 1:5 means what it says; than we really shouldn’t have to speculate. So why do we do it?!

    Comment by Speaking Up — September 13, 2005 @ 8:30 am

  11. Speaking Up: If James 1:5 means what it says; than we really shouldn’t have to speculate. So why do we do it?!

    This is true, but you can’t quote scriptures in a vacuum. I think the relevant verses regarding your question are:

    7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
    8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall eburn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
    9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.

    So the reason to speculate and discuss theological and doctrinal ideas is to study them out in our minds before we go to the Lord about these tings. Throughout the process we continue to engage in communications with God and often we can begin to feel more and more confident in certain concepts while feeling we should disregard other ideas. If one tries to go to God unprepared and have Him do all the work for him/her, that person will not likely be very successful.

    I believe this is the pattern that Abraham and most of the great prophets followed to learn the mysteries of God.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2005 @ 9:16 am

  12. I’m afraid I wouldn’t take anything most psychologists say as terribly meaningful Jason. (Yeah, my personal bias) I’d say if there is anything problematic to religion it is the views of most psychologists. Philosophy seems much, much more open and embracing of religion. That a BYU professor would say this given such prominent Mormon philosophers as Truman Madsen, Jim Faulconer, and Chauncey Riddle is quite surprising.

    (I should add, that I just have a bad attitude towards most psychologists – although not necessarily psychology – I’ve simply seen far, far too much bad mathematics and science in that discipline to have much faith in most psychologists)

    Comment by Clark — September 13, 2005 @ 9:40 am

  13. Just to add, regarding whether I write on doctrine. I actually thought most of what I write was about doctrine. I just come from the school of though that you have to get the lower level stuff worked out before you can move to the higher level. But I’d say at least half my posts on M* are doctrinal. Even the stuff that seems technical and dry on MM has doctrinal themes. So my post on tense, sentences, and time was to me very much tied to the issue of free will and the meaning of freedom in the scriptures.

    Comment by Clark — September 13, 2005 @ 9:42 am

  14. “So the reason to speculate and discuss theological and doctrinal ideas is to study them out in our minds before we go to the Lord about these tings. Throughout the process we continue to engage in communications with God and often we can begin to feel more and more confident in certain concepts while feeling we should disregard other ideas. If one tries to go to God unprepared and have Him do all the work for him/her, that person will not likely be very successful.” – Geoff J

    So when does the speculation end, and the revelation begin? In other words, after you’ve thought it out in your mind and are prepared, you should be able to ask and receive. Then the speculation has ended and the relation has taken its place. Then new speculation on other ideas may begin. But, all I find is NOT someone’s revelation on an idea, but just more speculation.

    How about Geoff and Jeffrey (the two theologans I see post a lot here) pick a topic they have different opinions on? Both really focus on the matter, both take it to prayer with their perspective speculation, and find out. Report back to us on your respective blogs.

    Thats what I find so maddening about speculation. Take any one, single, small topic. Speculate, mull it over, meditate on it, whatever, but finally pray over it and settle the matter and move on. BUT NO ONE SEEMS TO DO THIS.

    Endless speculation with no revelation has got to rank up there with talking in tongues with no interpretation. Lots of noise; no content.

    Comment by Speaking Up — September 13, 2005 @ 10:10 am

  15. Speaking Up,

    The “meat” (i.e., solid food) of the gospel isnt just more complex deep doctrine, its actually doing the doctrine (cf. John 4:34) and learning God’s will by having a godly walk, understanding God’s mind by doing the works He would have you do so you understand His thinking of why. The milk is learning the basics, and the meat is the doing of the word, after you are weened of the mother’s milk of just hearing the word. People who work unrighteousness cannot bear the meat of the gospel because of their walk, this is the context Paul used and is also used in the D&C.

    With respect to speculating over the nature of things and then going for confirmation on each point, thats just not the way things are done. The passage in James isnt talking about a means of obtaining intellectual knowledge via deductive reasoning which will be verified by the Holy Spirit at some point. The James passage is talking about wisdom with respect to knowledge of God and of divine things and of action. The entire context of James 1:2-12 is that of being tested by the trials and tribulations of life and people ought to have God’s wisdom when dealing with these problems so they know what to do so they dont faulter.

    So when does the speculation end and the revelation begin? When a person really does begin to wholistically understand the Scriptures as a result of reconciling themselves to the Lord by a godly walk. Studying the Scriptures without putting them into practice will result in a lot of bad interpretations. Studying them and putting them into practice will result in a lot of good interpretations.

    Additionally, it is plain from the Scriptures there are gifts of the Spirit with resepct to discern their meaning.

    Comment by Kurt — September 13, 2005 @ 11:19 am

  16. I think the “speculation” is the reasoning it out in our minds in preparation for revelation. However it would be immanently inappropriate to discuss our personal prayers and revelation on the matter (or lack thereof) So all you’ll see publicly discussed is the preparation and not the ends. That’s not in the least to say the ends aren’t sought after.

    Likewise one must recognize that God answer prayers in his own time and according to his own order. So it may be that we do continual preparation without an answer. One can think immediately of the revelation on Blacks and the Priesthood as an example of that. I think many of the brethren had done immense preparation in the decades prior to the revelation. But God works in his own time. To condemn the preparation simply because the answer hasn’t yet come is, I think, inappropriate.

    Comment by Clark — September 13, 2005 @ 12:30 pm

  17. I feel honored to be included in the same sentence with Geoff, Clark, J. Stapley, Kim, and RT.

    I don’t consider myself too deep, but very inquisive. When I run across an interesting point I like to ponder, speculate and ask others what they think about the matter. Sometimes like Kurt I like to ask to see the reaction of others. But I don’t necessarily expect a resolution.

    No matter how much studying and pondering is done, no matter how much praying, God isn’t going to give me, you or anyone else the answers. Those are the subjects I find most interesting. The other subjects can be a great learning experience for me, sharing, listening and discussing.

    As far as great doctrinal people or posts, I agree the Geoff. And I suppose we’ll never see any of the General Authorities make comments to clarify any of our speculations. We are too much a corporate church now, not a doctrinal revealing church.

    Comment by don — September 13, 2005 @ 1:03 pm

  18. I plead #3 Intimidation. I don’t think I usually have much to offer by the way of fascinating insights on doctrine. But this post is a great example of what I like to read (interesting, respectful, no one is carefully grinding and polishing their axe of choice) and I love the classic Geoff/Jeffrey exchanges. I’ve really learned a lot from them. So even if I don’t have a lot to say, I appreciate those of you who do. In fact I’ve wondered if any of you take topic requests?

    Comment by C Jones — September 13, 2005 @ 1:28 pm

  19. Geoff, you have inspired me to try and finally articulate why I think you are wrong about the bicycle/mortgage thing and my take on salvation/atonement in general. Those thoughts are here.

    I am not afraid of doctrine, but I find that I either agree or disagree enough with most posts that I don’t feel sufficiently inspired to comment. I assume that that is also the case when I post on doctrine and others fail to comment.

    Also, I think that you are selling short the doctrinal musings of the Bells at M*. Although the conclusions they come to are “orthodox”, they are no less reasoned or thoughtful than your own. I assume that they aren’t mentioned because they are not frequent sparring partners on doctrinal issues, but they really do write some good stuff.

    Finally, I don’t post on this much because I really believe the things that I relate to doctrine. It is hard to put things that are closely held up for public (rational) scrutiny. Especially because we are unlikely to convince others, no matter what level of justification we provide.

    Comment by John C. — September 13, 2005 @ 1:37 pm

  20. We need gospel discussions, our own meditation and the Holy Ghost to better grasp and obtain a more perfect understanding of the truth-we are told that we cannot be saved in ignorance. Here is a preliminary draft of why I feel we should have more postings, more dialogs and more pondering. In conclusion, I refer to an experience that has kept me from open discussions over the years.
    I do not consider myself a Mormon intellectual or theologian by any stretch of the imagination. I do enjoy reading and participating in gospel topics because I realize how little I really know of the ‘whole truth’ or the whole truth about a principle of the gospel. We are presented in Sunday School, Priesthood, Relief Society settings lessons that declare truth or present principles of the gospel, but the whole boundaries or facets of a true principle cannot be covered in these settings. I find it helpful to listen to others as to their understanding of the boundaries or facets of truth which is mainly dictated as a result of their life’s experiences.
    I have used a quote from Goethe that I came across on my mission in Germany as a model for my quest in gaining better understanding of gospel truth. Goethe said, “To know only one language is to see the world with only one eye.” I realized that from my own limited life’s experiences I cannot see all the truth-I need as many other experiences as possible. A simple physical example may help to illustrate my point. This last year I developed lower back pain. Up until that point in my life I was free of back pain and had little understanding of what one was experiencing that had back pain. From this experience, I have a new awareness and sensitivity to those who do have or have had back pain. We talk from a common experience. Not all of us have the same spiritual experiences or do we have the same life experiences to give us wisdom and is that not what we strive for in this life, wisdom of gospel truths for our lives?
    We should encourage discussions, whether they are speculative, far-out, out of the box, etc. to help each of us see and discover for ourselves boundaries or new facets of true principles. It is sort of like the story of the blind men describing what an elephant is from their experience in groping in blindness and trying to understand from touching what an elephant is. Of course, as we discover through pondering, meditating and prayer to better understand true principles we are sometimes left to faith alone-to exercise faith and live the principle or test the truth and gain wisdom from our own experiences. As I truly ponder, meditate and seek for understanding, my spiritual eyes of understanding seem to be opened when I am ready to “see the elephant”. My experience is that it does not come per my time table, but the Lord’s.
    President Hinckley has encouraged us to take the time to read, to meditate and ponder the things that we read in the scriptures. In the new missionary manual, “Preach My Gospel”, which every family in our ward is suppose to have and use, it states in there that we are to have a “Spiritual Journal” and write our thoughts, feelings and impressions down about what we are studying. The act of writing down my own thoughts helps me to crystallize in my mind how I see and understand something. The exercise of writing helps me become more exact in my thoughts, feelings and perceptions. The journal is personal, but my view is to include ideas from others which help me to understand, gain insights into topics I am studying.
    Now to the crux of my own personal experience that has kept me from publicly discussing gospel truths-that has kept me silent besides the fact that I consider myself not an intellectual of the gospel. My experience came from participating in a study group outside of the official Church setting. I was a graduate student at BYU and along with some of my other friends in the ward we felt frustrated by the limited amount of time for discussion in Sunday School, hence we formed a study group that met weekly for about 2 months. The discussions went well and everyone was encouraged to participate. One frustration that was voiced by some members in the group, (probably not ready for such a group), was that we never came to “an answer or definite conclusion”. Those of us who led or directed the discussion felt that this was correct, because we as group were not there to declare doctrine, but to discuss and apply doctrine from the pulpit in different situations in hopes of gaining insight and wisdom about truths. The sad point was that someone was told that we were on a “list” and immediately the meetings were stopped. I have never participated in another study group. There is validity to each of your points, but for me it was this personal experience that has kept me from being public about my thoughts.

    Comment by Mac McKeen — September 13, 2005 @ 1:53 pm

  21. No offense, but I find very few posts on speculative doctrine to be very interesting. They often seem hollow and of little relevance to my spiritual welfare. I also think there is a fair amount of psuedo-doctrine that is discussed and held up as legitimate doctrine. It can be fun to think and speculate; I was quite taken with exploring “doctrinal” issues quite heavily for a time. Ultimately, it wasn’t getting me anywhere; these endeavors were not appreciably leading to an increase in understanding, wisdom, and righteousness.

    I think someone mentioned that there is an active aspect of understanding doctrine. Church doctrine is best understood as you try to live it. Nowadays, my speculation involves reflecting on what I have done to try to follow the doctrine; what works, and so forth. My understanding of doctrine is personal and I can’t easily discuss it in straighforward definitions, let alone bring obscure quotations and cold logical formulas into the mix. In that sense, I think doctrine is often informally at the center of much of what is written in the bloggernacle. It simply doesn’t happen in the terms and manner you would prefer.

    Comment by O Nony Mouse — September 13, 2005 @ 3:01 pm

  22. Wow! So many great comments. I picked the wrong day to get distracted from the Thang. Here are some responses in reverse order:

    O Nony Mouse
    : Are you related to the a nonny mouse that comments around here? In any case, you voice a common opinion. I don’t think I agree. (See my response to Kurt below for more.)

    Mac: Thank you for the thoughtful comment! Your points are well taken. (And welcome to the Thang)

    John C.: I came that close to including you on my call-out list actually. Your posting has diminished a lot lately though so I thought you might have fled the ‘Nacle. As for the brothers Bell I lumped them in with my catch-all “others at the big blogs”. That was for expedience and for the fact that I am a little irked that so few of the big blog (mainland) folks leave the big blogs venture out into the islands (there are some notable exceptions of course). I’ll respond to your latest post next.

    C Jones: Starting today I’m taking requests! Fire away. And don’t sell yourself short — I have found your comments on the theological/doctrinal posts to be very insightful and useful.

    Don: You’re the man.

    Clark: I was thinking of a lot of the purely philosophical posts with you but you make a good point that a lot of that is really working on the underpinnings of our theology and doctrine. In that sense, you might do more theological/doctrinal posts than any of us (even if I can barely understand much of what tickles your fancy). Also, your response to SU in #16 was just what I planned to say.

    SU: Interesting and challenging comments and questions (as ever). I agree with Clark’s last response (ie I am not entirely against the Blabbermouth concept — just misapplication of it).

    Kurt: Excellent comments all around. Regarding our doctrine only being the first ordinances and principles; I agree. However I have argued before that that 4-step pattern is actually a repeating pattern or four-step upward spiral that we must repeat in therough the eternities until we become as God is. (See my post on that subject here) As we do that we require deeper and greater theological understanding.

    Kim: I think your comment speaks for most of us on these things.

    Justin H: Excellent input. I personally especially appreciated the compliment you gave to the Thang (even if it was largely tongue-in-cheek). I was interested to learn about your specialty in literature as well. That helps explain the excellent quality of many of your comments.

    RT: Thoughtful and eloquent as ever. I have an ongoing worry that we are miles apart on the absolute vs relative nature of truth, but you say things in such pleasant ways I sometimes hate to ask about what you really mean.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2005 @ 3:56 pm

  23. We seem to be overlooking a very important aspect of speculation: it’s interesting. Maybe it’s because I’m my father’s (Don) son, but I find virtue in good discussion, regardless of content or possible conclusions. I echo what Mac McKeen said, that we don’t always have to come to conclusions, we don’t always have to be spiritually uplifted, moving forward. Can’t we just discuss if God can create a rock so big he can’t lift it WITHOUT someone coming in and saying, “You know… we can’t know the answer to this. You’re wasting your time. The Bretheren don’t speculate.” or whatever.

    If you have something interesting to say about hydrocarbons, I’ll read it. Interesting is the operative word though.

    Comment by Rusty — September 13, 2005 @ 4:44 pm

  24. I agree Rusty — in my opinion the biggest problem that our LDS Sunday school classes face the world over is they are boring the class members to sleep (doctrinally, theologically, and occasionally literally). I am not advocating being like the Athenians of Paul’s time insatiably seeking the new thing to talk about or being types that are ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth; rather I am for seeking diligently and taking the truth we can find as a result of searching more diligently than others.

    if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come. (D&C 130:19)

    I have admittedly always been interested in doctrine and theology. But I seek answers for very practical purposes. One of those is described in section 130 above. But beyond that, I deeply want to better understand the world, the Universe, the role of humankind in it, the details of the bigger picture of life (including pre and post earth existences). I want to improve my view of the eternities so I can then improve my and actions here. I really believe that a more correct understanding of doctrine and theology will lead to greater faith, greater ability to work miracles, and the ability to be a more useful tool to God.

    In other words, I completely disagree with those that call my fervent doctrinal and theological searching vain flailing. I see it as preparing myself to be a more powerful, even miracle-generating servant to God in the years and decades to come.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2005 @ 5:32 pm

  25. Don,

    Now don’t be putting me up on any pedestal (#17). There’s nothing in my imperfect bones worth honouring.

    Comment by Kim Siever — September 13, 2005 @ 6:32 pm

  26. Geoff, relative vs. absolute truth? This is a tricky distinction. Which kind of truth is it to say that pressure times volume is a constant? This is, of course, correct–given that temperature is held constant. So PV=c is a relative truth because it’s only true for a given temperature? Or is it absolutely true because, when you have the right set of circumstances it always applies? But I don’t think this is necessarily the kind of distinction you have in mind.

    I think you’re more interested in the question of what we mortals think we know about God. Are those knowledge claims truth pure and undefiled or are they a human and mortal approach to something which is fundamentally outside of our grasp? Note that this isn’t really about whether truth is relative or absolute–it’s about the character of our access to the sacred.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — September 13, 2005 @ 9:01 pm

  27. But beyond that, I deeply want to better understand the world, the Universe, the role of humankind in it, the details of the bigger picture of life (including pre and post earth existences)

    I like looking for the big picture, too. Kind of like searching for the grand unified theory of the gospel.
    I think Joseph Smith would agree with that desire. After warning us to beware of “a fanciful and flowery and heated imagination” he goes on to say that finding out the things of God requires a mind that can stretch “as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity” and even to commune with God.

    My question is how to do this. Joseph implies that pondering is important. We’re told to search the scriptures and the revelations. Reading and study are important. Then we are to ask in prayer for God to manifest the truth to us. Revelation is key.

    President Kimball adds the requirement of submissiveness. “The necessary procedure is: study, think, pray, and do. Revelation is the key. God will make it known to you once you have capitulated and have become humble and receptive. Having dropped all pride of your mental stature, having acknowledged before God your confusion, having subjected your egotism, and having surrendered yourself to the teaching of the Holy Spirit, you are ready to begin to learn. ”
    Why the connection between learning truth and submission? I’ve learned to be more submissive to God’s will mostly by the things I’ve suffered. Is suffering ever a necessary prerequisite to learning doctrine? Or can “learning things the hard way” be avoided?

    Comment by C Jones — September 14, 2005 @ 8:39 am

  28. Geoff, I should admit that when you didn’t put me on the list, I realized that I hadn’t been posting enough (yes, I am egotistical enough to assume that I should be on it). So, you have inspired me to action, which is good.

    RT, I find that I agree with you on the relative nature of the divine and eternal truth we recieve from God. I don’t know that we know as much we think we do, especially concerning God. All our knowledge is gained through the subjective lens of our brain and body which, at best, can only approximate an understanding of Divine reality. I am skeptical of people who claim that the scriptures provide a clear outline of the afterlife (or Divinity). What the scriptures do provide is a clear idea of which source you should trust (hint: it ain’t human).

    Comment by John C. — September 14, 2005 @ 9:51 am

  29. RT – I was largely thinking of our differences of the facts of history and their importance to us now. I’ll probably post on that subject in the next few days.

    C Jones – I agree that Joseph would encourage the faithful kind of searching we’re doing. I think in many ways what we are doing is similar to the theological meeting they had at the school of the prophets (though we lack the leadership they had there to be sure.) As Clark mentioned, I use our discussions here as part of my studying things out in my mind. I only believe things when I feel that God believes them and that can be a gradual process. And I only hint at those things here even as my confidence in various ideas grows. This is a gradual process of gathering light and truth I think.

    John C – Nice to see you back in the saddle!

    Comment by Geoff J — September 14, 2005 @ 1:30 pm

  30. This is my first time trying this, hope it works. I have found that most mormons are willing and in fact eager to discuss deep doctrine as long as it is in private between solid members of the church. I feel part of this is not wanting to distract those who are weak in the faith. I mainly go to church not for what it does for me, but to worship the Lord and serve others. My speculations can easily be discussed more privately at other times.

    Comment by OOOOOT — October 27, 2005 @ 9:35 am

  31. Good point OOOOT. (And welcome to the Thang). That’s what I love about having a blog – I can bounce doctrinal ideas around on my own time and not mess up any Sunday School classes.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 27, 2005 @ 10:28 am

  32. This is very true. As a youth, I had so many doctrinal questions, but I was always given the same answer: It doesn’t matter for your salvation. You don’t need to know these things. However, the appeal of the church was/is to extrapolate on ideas that we have a (I guess, ahem) common understanding about like The Plan of Salvation and then wonder, well who was God’s god? Does He still worship Him? Is he our Grandfather in heaven? How does it all really work? What the real meaning of life (beyond what we’re told), etc. But I have yet to meet a real person in church who is excited about discussing ideas. These posts are wonderful.

    Comment by meems — October 27, 2005 @ 6:23 pm

  33. Hey thanks meems! That compliment really makes my day. I sort of feel like I might have been spending too much time at other blogs lately anyway. I feel inspired to spend more time around here spucingthe place up. Thanks to you kind words.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 27, 2005 @ 9:47 pm

  34. Just for fun I have been reading a few of the anti sites. Most are quite lame. Mormon doctrine is kind of an easy target because we actually have something to say about many question. Like Jesus and Satan being spirit brothers. OK, so that goes against traditional ideas, but what does anyone else have to say on the subject? What explanation do they provide? How, and I suppose why, would anyone bother criticizing Methodist doctrine for example? We may complain about a lack of deep doctrinal discussion at our services, but what would attending a typical protestant service be like? I think we sometimes take for granted how deep and meaningful even our basic beliefs are in comparison to what other religions provide.

    Comment by OOOOOT — October 28, 2005 @ 8:47 am

  35. I agree OOOOT. In fact I have so much faith in our scriptures and doctrines that I am willing and anxious to dig deeper than most saints ever bother digging. I have no fear that I won’t like what I finally dig up.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 29, 2005 @ 12:11 am

  36. Hello. I hope somebody reads this even though it’s on an old thread.

    I think OOOOT hit the nail on the head for me. We need to remember that unlike most other Christian churches, our Sunday practice of going to church really just provides opportunities to serve. It is a time to strengthen those around us, and to lift up the arms which hang down. It isn’t necessarily a place where OUR minds get stretched.

    It is a preparatory place. When we go to church, we are going to the Outer Court, the House of Aaronic Priesthood Ordinances. It’s even run by the president of the priest’s quorum, the bishop. It is where faith, repentence and baptism is taught, and anything beyond that really shouldn’t be the focus. It may look like a building, but really it is a stage with a big curtain behind it, and the purpose it serves is to prepare people for what’s behind the curtain.

    And what is behind the curtain? The temple, yes. But in addition to being a house of glory, a house of order, it is also a house of work! So much of the purpose of the temple relates to getting something done, there is hardly a place for sitting and pondering -other than the Celestial Room. But even then, the purpose of the Celestial room is a place to “finish” pondering, rather than a place to start pondering …and discussions are always hushed …and more people are always coming in …you feel like you should stand give your seat …so you only feel like you can discuss the most pressing issues with whoever you may be visiting the temple with.

    In short, the temple isn’t tailored for School of the Prophets-like discussion, even though it requires the same sort of faith and open-mindedness.

    So where else can we turn? Our homes should be temples, of course. And our homes easily accomodate free thinking and discussion (if we’re running them right). But having a large number of people with different thoughts/experiences/education/points of view/etc over for dinner is quite a task for just one dinner, and an impractical burden for continuous meetings.

    And (until recently) brainstretching discussion grew only where it could take root, here and there, mostly in missionary apartments and (I assume) in some places at BYU. (I went to the U, sorry.) Now that I think about it, I can think of a number of individuals who have gone inactive because their intellectual needs weren’t being met at the church (which, like I said, isn’t necessarily the church’s purpose) so they felt that their intellectual needs weren’t being met by The Church.

    Fortunately, the Lord has now blessed us with the internet. A place where private, even annonymous, discussions can take place, and even those who have a hard time putting together coherent sentences when speaking can take their time expressing themselves.

    It’s nice to be here.

    Comment by britain — November 16, 2005 @ 8:44 am

  37. Welcome britain. Excellent observations and analogies. I hope you find some worthwhile discussions here at the Thang. Don’t worry about any threads or topics being old either — they are all open for discussion.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 16, 2005 @ 8:58 am

  38. I’ve enjoyed reading all your comments so much that I’ve decided to add my own, which is from a different perspective. I know that some of you aren’t interested in what a psychiatrist has to say; however, I read something recently by one that struck me as very insightful. Scott Peck, who has written several books on spiritual development, had the following to say about the topic that you have been discussing. I’m over summerizing, but here goes.

    Scott Peck said that his observations of his patients over the years have lead him to the conclusion that there are at least four levels of spiritual development. For lack of better names, he called them Level 1, 2, 3, and 4 people. He said that many Level 2 people have earlier in their lives been Level 1 people–people who were living their lives in utter chaos, because they did whatever they wanted with no thoughts about the results of their actions. They had few morals or ethics; they were the “natural man”. Eventually, at some point in their lives, the pain they were enduring as a result of their way of life caused them to become willing to latch onto anything that could make the pain go away. For those Level 1 people transitioning into Level 2 people, that “anything” was a church. Whichever church they joined, it provided them with a set of rules to live by. Those rules gave them stability in their lives, freedom from the chaos and pain that they had been living in before. Those rules satisfied the need they had, so they continue clinging to those rules, and as a result continue to have a much better life than they had as Level 1 people.

    I’ll skip Level 3 people, because they aren’t relevant to this discussion and get to Level 4 people. Scott Peck described Level 4 people as mystics. They are people who realize that they really know very little about God, life, and “reality”, when compared to everything that can be known. And they have reached the point where they have learned to accept that there are many, many mysteries that they will probably never understand. But they are still trying to understand whatever they may eventually be able to understand. So they keep looking for the truth, yet at the same time accepting that their current level of knowledge is no better than it is.

    Scott Peck said that he believes that all the major world churches are filled with level 2 people, and to a much lesser extent Level 4 people. The problem is that Level 2 and Level 4 people are looking for different things. Level 2 people are clinging to the stability that a church provides, while Level 4 people are to some extent looking for truth, for opportunities for service, and for other people who share an interest in the pursuit of the truth. Level 2 people distrust and even fear Level 4 people, because Level 2 people feel that Level 4 people are threatening the staus quo, the rules that Level 2 people are trying to live their lives by. Level 2 people want to have a simplified view of life and of God, because this simplified view gives their lives the stability they need through a simple set of rules to follow. Level 4 people threaten that simplified view by asking too many questions.

    It seems to me that Scott Peck’s analysis gives insight into what you are discussing here. The topic of your discussion here is really just a narrower part of a discussion of the ongoing clash between Level 2 people and Level 4 people that is occuring in all the major churches.

    Please do not misunderstand what Peck is saying about Level 2 people. He is not saying that Level 2 people are wrong or bad or anything like that. He realizes that there is a spiritual growth “path” that we are all on and that we just are where we are.

    I hope this helps.

    Comment by Bill B — November 30, 2005 @ 10:39 am

  39. Level 4 people threaten that simplified view by asking too many questions.

    Ha! Ain’t that the truth.

    Thanks for the insight Bill. Interesting overlay of that model Peck lays out. Which book are you quoting from? I read The Road Less Traveled a long time ago but I can’t remember if these levels are in there or not.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 30, 2005 @ 2:05 pm

  40. Geoff,

    Scott Peck wrote several good books after The Road Less Traveled. I got the
    above information from The different Drum–Community Making and Peace. He
    talked about this from pages 187 through 200. Since this book was published
    in 1988, you may be able to find it in a library.

    Comment by Bill B — December 1, 2005 @ 8:00 am

  41. I come from Australia, and I can assure you that I feel exactly the same as Geoff J. It is no different here.
    Doctrine is alive. It raises us up that bit further toward God. The D&C tells us that truth is light and life (section 93). We are an intelligence and we exist more by learning and applying truth. And we exist less by not learning truth and remaining ignorant (verse 39). D&C 42:61 states that learning the mysteries will bring us eternal life. Doctrine brings my spirit to life. It totally enlivens it.
    It is true that the beginning of our path requires faith, repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost for direction. This will free us from hell. The main application of this gift should be to help us learn what is true and what is false.
    But getting eternal life requires us to KNOW God (John 17:3). That is, how he thinks. Thereby we will think the same. You aren’t going to learn that out of a manual. Sensible speculation makes a person think about spiritual things more fervently. Thus we are more open to the Holy Ghost and he communicate more effectively with us. With more truth we come to realise that bit more just how fair and loving God is. We feel that greater love for him and our relationship with him improves.
    To those who feel a bit ignorant for discussions let me say that with the Holy Ghost onside you needn’t feel inadaquate to discuss anything with anyone.

    Comment by Doug Towers — November 3, 2006 @ 2:11 am

  42. Welcome to the Thang Doug.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 3, 2006 @ 9:24 am

  43. I would like to open for discussion something that I have been considering for some time. It would be good to get others opinions. Is Heavenly Father the literal father of Adam and Eve? Many will pose, “doesn’t it say that Jesus is the only begotten in the flesh”? I believe this is possibly referrring to (as is sometimes the case in scripture where the word “flesh” is used) the fallen flesh. Before answering, “no”, let me present my thoughts. There are several scriptures that state that he was. Brigham Young also says some things in this direction that I think he finally got confused on.
    To support the idea of a pre-existence Acts 17:28-29 is often quoted. However what does Paul say? “For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” What Paul has said is that if we are the offspring of God how can he be made of gold, silver or stone? Why not? Because we are made of flesh and are his offspirng. This is proposing we are God’s literal offspring in the flesh, not just his spirit children (not that we aren’t that as well).
    Luke chapter 3 contains the genealogy of Jesus. In verse 38 it states, “Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.” While the word “son” is an assumed word the relationship between Enos and Seth, Seth and Adam, and Adam and God isn’t referred to any differently. Through tradition we have just always assumed this last part to be through a magical invention of Adam and Eve. But the scripture uses no different statement at all.
    Moses 6:22 states, “And this is the genealogy of the sons of Adam, who was the son of God, with whom God, himself, conversed.” Again our traditional belief takes over and assumes this old magic invention as being a sort of son/father (invention/inventor) relationship being referred to here. But the scripture doesn’t say this. So why not accept the scripture statement?
    Brigham Young said that Adam’s parents were glorified, celestial people from another planet. I totally agree with him. Considering this idea as fact for a moment, if you were a God looking for a celestialised, glorified couple to begin your spirit children on a planet who would be the logical choice? You and your wife, of course.
    If invention were true why didn’t God just invent Adam and Eve with fallen bodies? They were born children to parents with perfect bodies that they had to muck-up by making a mistake themselves.
    In the temple we are all sealed as families. Child to parent. Back to where are we sealed? Back to Adam who is sealed to God. Child to parent all the way.

    Comment by Doug Towers — November 6, 2006 @ 12:25 am

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