I used to love the Lectures on Faith, but I must admit that I soured to them several years ago and every time I pick them up I remember why. I know there are some pretty smart people out there who like them, so I’m hoping one of you will set me straight and restore my faith in the Lectures.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the history or authorship of the Lectures, but I should say that I don’t think Joseph Smith was the principal author. I know he was on the committee that approved publication and he may have been involved to some extent in the development of the Lectures (it is unclear to what extent), but textual and historical analysis convinces me that we have Sidney Rigdon to thank for the Lectures on Faith.
One of my biggest complaints is against the Lecture’s description of faith as the “principle of power.” Lecture 1st says:
15. By this we understand that the principle of power which existed in the bosom of God, by which the worlds were framed, was faith; and that it is by reason of this principle of power existing in the Deity, that all created things exist; so that all things in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, exist by reason of faith as it existed in HIM.
This lecture describes faith as an attribute of God by which all created things exist. God’s power of creation is said to be faith. “By it they exist, by it they are upheld, by it they are changed, or by it they remain, agreeable to the will of God.” Clearly, the author believes that faith is a power by which God imposes his will upon his creation. Thus, “God spake, chaos heard, and worlds came into order by reason of the faith there was in HIM” (1st). The idea here is that God forces chaos into order with his faith-sort of like “the force” from Star Wars. The closest the Lectures come to explaining the mechanism behind this principle of power is here:
3. We ask, then, what are we to understand by a man’s working by faith? We answer-we understand that when a man works by faith he works by mental exertion instead of physical force. It is by words, instead of exerting his physical powers, with which every being works when he works by faith. God said, “Let there be light: and there was light.” Joshua spake, and the great lights which God had created stood still. …Faith, then, works by words. (7th)
But, what does it mean to work “by words”? It is tempting to account for the mechanism by saying faith works because things obey God’s words. Thus, one could argue that what the first lecture actually meant was that “God spake, chaos heard, and worlds came into order by reason of [chaos's] faith …in HIM.” However, the Lectures don’t allow for this interpretation. They speak of working by “mental exertion,” analogous to physical force, but on a mental plane. It is clear that God is the one mentally exerting himself. Further, all attempts to interpret it as chaos’s faith in God shipwreck on the following statements:
It is by reason of this principle of power existing in the Deity, that all created things exist (1st)
Take this principle or attribute-for it is an attribute-from the Deity, and he would cease to exist. (1st)
If faith is “an attribute,” then it is God who has faith. My trust in and obedience to God are not attributes of God. Also, notice that faith is described as being logically prior to the existence of all created things. This could not possibly mean that God creates things using the faith of those things, because it says those things would not even exist in the first place without the prior attribute “faith” which existed in God.
I find this description of faith totally unworkable. Faith is not power. The constant equivalence drawn between man’s exercise of faith and God’s exercise of faith is very problematic. Does anyone think that the mental exertion required of Joshua to perform a miracle is the same as God’s mental exertion creating the world? Does anyone think that the faith exercised by Joshua is primarily a mental exertion in the first place? We have faith in God, so what does God have faith in? (Please don’t get into some explanation involving a plurality of Gods because this was written in 1835.) I see no way to make these ideas either coherent or compelling.
I have other problems with the Lectures, but I’ve already gone on too long. Quickly though, I totally disagree with the forth lecture when it says we could not have faith in God (and God could not save anyone) if he did not have knowledge of all things. Also, the fifth lecture portrays the Holy Ghost as the shared Mind of the Father and the Son, rather than as a separate personage, which I find very hard to reconcile to current Mormon theology in a satisfying way:
The Only Begotten …possessing the same mind with the Father; which Mind is the Holy Spirit. ….The Father and the Son possessing the same mind, the same wisdom, glory, power, and fullness; filling all in all -the Son being filled with the fullness of the Mind, glory, and power; or in other words the Spirit, …being filled with the fullness of the Mind of the Father, or in other words, the Spirit of the Father (5th)
So, where am I going wrong in all of this? Help me love the Lectures on Faith again.
[Associated radio.blog song: Faith No More - Falling To Pieces]