In this second post of this reading club I will cover pages 11-13 in Sterling McMurrin’s 1965 book The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion. (The original plan was to cover pages 11-18 like Clark did in his reading club but the post got too long.) I think this series might be helpful to lay the groundwork for the philosophical terms that become required as we discuss Mormon theology here at the Thang. I’m hoping I can refer back to this series of posts when discussing theology in the future. But beyond that, I think these subjects are interesting and worthy of discussing in their own right as well.
On Being and Becoming
McMurrin points out that an important question in metaphysics (the nature of reality) is whether reality is essentially “static and changeless or dynamic and in process”. It is the being vs. becoming debate that has reportedly been raging for thousands of years. Heraclitus was a champion of the becoming camp, saying things like “Everything is on the move.” The idea is that everything we can discern can only be discerned because it is in some kind of changing state. McMurrin cites Parmenides as a champion for the being camp (and notes that Plato was strongly influenced by Parmenides). Regarding the being camp, McMurrin notes:
It is important to see that when reality is described as absolute, static, and changeless it is regarded as timeless, and if it is described as dynamic and moving, it is held to be temporal. … There cannot be time without motion or motion without time.
So in the being camp atemporal (timeless) “eternity” is reality and all this temporal motion we perceive around us is an illusion. In such “eternal” states there is no time and thus no motion or progress. In the becoming camp there is no such thing as atemporal existence and everything (including God) is and always has been temporal.
McMurrin was of the opinion that Mormonism is firmly in the becoming camp and I agree with him:
Now from its beginning Mormonism has laid much stress on the dynamic character of reality. This is evident in many connections, as in the occasional tendency to think of matter as being in some way active rather than entirely inert, or in the intense emphasis on freedom of choice and action in opposition to determinism. Nowhere, however, is the Mormon metaphysic of becoming more in evidence than in the idea that God himself is a temporal being with a past, present, and future… The common Mormon idea that man participates with God in an endless and progressive creative process is dependent on the concept of the temporality of God.
I find it interesting that 40 years later the idea of a timeless God has made such inroads into common Mormon thinking, with many Mormons clinging today to the notion of a timeless God. I agree with McMurrin that timelessness and progress are incompatible with each other.
He goes on to remind us that the word “eternal” has classically meant “timeless” but that in Mormon jargon it has come to mean “unbegun and endless time”. This is an important distinction that certainly still causes confusion between Mormons and others that use the word “eternal”.
As a concluding thought to this section McMurrin says:
… Mormon thought is oriented to a grand conception of cosmic process in an infinite time and space in which human freedom plays a fundamental and crucial role.
In other words, in the debate between being and becoming, Mormons are firmly in the becoming camp. That means timelessness has to go. Further, in the debate between causal determinism and free will, free will wins in Mormonism (a post on that is in the works).
What do you think? If either timelessness or progress must be jettisoned, is there any question that timelessness ought to go?
[Associated radio.blog song: ABC - Be Near Me]